Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Every Music Fan Community Ever

I honestly don't know if this is one of those blog posts that should be an email or a blog post, and it will probably cause ruffled feathers either way, but it's still bothering me days later, and that means I have to write it out. The main reason I don't want to make it a private email is because I don't want it to look like I'm singling *one guy* out for censure when it's a way larger and more recurrent problem than that, and I'm not saying "you as an individual are being sexist" so much as I'm saying "the entire culture around this phenomenon is so riddled with deep and engrained sexism that I just wish someone would, you know, even *notice* it."

And there's the whole thing where people shrug and say "but I'm just laying it out the way it is!" And it's weird because those same people, they are the ones that have definite PINIONS on The Way It Is and why it shouldn't have to be that way, when they are talking about X-Factor or Heavy Metal or shit pop or shit culture or even dynamic range compression in modern mastering. But suddenly, turn the conversation to engrained sexism and there's this shrug of "I'm just describing things the way they are."

It's frustrating, because this stuff, this "that's just the way society is" stuff (and the refusal to problematise it) is just that - abstract discussion - to men, when, to women like myself, it is this huge barrier to participating in parts of culture.

Add to that, it's never *just* telling it like it is. Because it is really telling, the things that *are* enumerated, or even considered worthy of being mentioned, and the things that are left out, either as not possible, or as not even needing to be noted. (This is one of those things that comes from Feminist linguistics - that English has the phrase "woman doctor" but does not have one for "man doctor" - because the idea of a doctor being male is simply not extraordinary enough to require its own epithet.)

It's a jokey list thread on ILX (Yes, I know it's a toxic place for me now, and I should just leave it alone, but it's hard, when you have a ten year investment in a place, to just walk away.) called "on every artist-specific message board ever." Which is, you know, a topic I know quite a bit about. I've left - and in some cases, been driven off by a lot of the behaviour I'm going to detail below - more music messageboards than most people have ever been on.

I mean, look at this one.

Middle-aged women with kids who seem to spend all their time ignoring their kids and following said band around the country to every gig in some attempt to reclaim their youth.

I'm not denying the existence of this phenomenon. But you know who isn't mentioned? The middle-aged men who do exactly the same thing. You know what else isn't mentioned? The way that, when a heterosexual couple have children, the man carries on in his fandom, almost exactly the same way as before (dependent only on how much money is available) but the woman just disappears from her fandom. Because that's just expected. A woman's fandom, hobbies, career, her entire life, is expected to just end when a baby arrives, but the man's just... don't. In fact, it only becomes a notable *event* when they do.

Yes, I know quite a few women who, once their kids get old enough to fend for themselves, or maybe they've been through a divorce, get back in touch with who they were before marriage-and-babies, and part of that is a return to obsessive fandom, perhaps because they're catching up on all those concerts they missed during the diaper years. But for each one of those women, I know easily half a dozen men that, when I go to a club, or a gig, or a forum meet-up and I ask "where is your lovely missus?" the answer is "home with the K.I.D." THAT is something that happens in every music community ever, but that is not considered noteworthy enough to even comment on. Only the "misbehaviour" when women fail to conform to the motherhood-is-everything expectation that is not expected of fatherhood.

So far, so straightforward in terms of engrained societal level sexism.

And now is the next one which is much more complicated.

Poster A: 65. New girl who tries it in with various prominent male form members in an attempt to go in ever decreasing sexual circles towards the singer.

Poster B: 65b. This results in a complete bitchfest amongst the more established various prominent female forum members

It's hard to untangle why this provoked such a furious reaction in me. Partly because, in a fast-moving thread, it took nearly an hour before an even remotely similar problematisation of *male* sexuality was posited:

Predatory male poster who repeatedly targets emotionally vulnerable female posters for sex. Eventually marries one who has a baby with him.

(Note also, that dudes who circle bands and their entourages, the ones that ingratiate themselves not through sex, but through drugs or claiming to be from a fanzine/club night/record company that doesn't exist anywhere except on paper, or other assorted favours - the hanger-on dude who's always backstage, always on the guestlist, cadges rides on the tourbus, tries it on with girls in the audience with the old "do you want to get backstage?" line, who drinks the rider, wears a free tour t-shirt, who behaves in every other way, short of sucking the singer's dick, *exactly* like that circling girl - he's never problematised as a "groupie" even though that's exactly what he is, bar a couple blowjobs.)

((Not to mention that, if a male interloper attempted to join a new community by attempting to sleep his way through prominent men's wives and girlfriends, would the resulting complaints be trivialised as a "bitchfest"? I think not. The words "taken out back and shot" spring more easily to mind.))

But mostly it's because of another set of unspoken "in every music fandom ever" rules. I would add:

65c. "Groupies" are universally despised by all members (both male and female) of the community.
65d. Male musicians who enjoy the sexual favours of female fans will be lionised for it by young, male fans and excused or pretty much blind-eyed by all others.

From these two unspoken rules follow on another set of behaviours. The form it will take usually depends on the number of female participants in the fandom and the number of high profile female posters on the forum, but it will always take one of these two options (and sometimes aspects of both at once) in which the threat of "groupie" status is used to denigrate or control the behaviour of female fans.

65e(i) On forums that are predominantly male, "groupie" becomes a stick used to beat female fandom of *all* types, therefore all "feminine" coded aspects of fandom will be discouraged and disparaged.

This includes not just the expression of sexual or romantic interest in male musicians, it also covers stereotypical "feminine" concerns such as photos, haircuts, clothes, families or relationships. Any female poster will be subject to censure for "fangirling" - and the few female posters may even censure themselves and other female posters to avoid the taint of fangirl. To survive as a woman in this kind of fandom means, often, erasing any part of your identity that might code as female.

Note: this prohibition does *not* extend to the discussion of female musicians. In this case, the discussion of the appearance, sexual attractiveness etc. will be considered completely appropriate, even obligatory. This double standard can result in such bizarre states of affairs as a forum running one thread for the posting of pornographic photos of female celebrities, and at the same time a fangirl-ish thread devoted to photos of the changing hairstyles of the (male) musician whose forum it was, being swamped with posts decrying the female threadstarter, and calls to have the thread closed/poster banned.

65e(ii) On forums that are more gender mixed, or predominantly female, "fangirling" will be tolerated, even encouraged (there may even be "teams" allocated for fanciers of particular band members.) However, a sharp distinction will be drawn between "fangirls" and "groupies" - with women policing themselves and other women far more than men ever do.

This is one of the weirdest and most frustrating effects of the Patriarchal demonisation of female sexuality, and the endless madonna/whore dichotomy of women into "nice girls" and "sluts." It is bizarre to see women - even women who have had sexual relationships with the musicians they admire - bend over backwards to invent new categories whereby *they* are just "with the band" while it is those other women, those nasty women, who are the "groupies." And it is precisely because of these patriarchal strictures on female sexuality that *women* have the most to gain (or lose), assigning themselves to the "nice girl" category by thrusting other women into the "slut" one. So this is where the "it's not sexist because women do it, too!" thing really is no excuse.

I could write a whole nother post on the problematisation of "Groupies" within fandom and music culture.

The thing is, my objections to groupie-demonisation revolve around two contradictory ways of thinking. This isn't necessarily a flaw of *my* logic - it's a flaw within the whole messed-up contradictory expectations of women and perceptions of female sexuality.

The first is the idea that Groupie-Sex is exploitative. It revolves around the idea of unequal power dynamics - older, more powerful, usually very spoiled (women throw themselves at them, after all) and over-entitled men, with young, powerless, naive, often exploited women, coerced, in the liminal zone of "on tour" into fulfilling sexual acts they would never normally countenance, seduced, used and discarded by the lies of romanticised rock'n'roll mythology. (Because, of course, all women *only* want relationships, marriage and babies, and never ever want just hott sex, for one night only, with a Dionysian love-god embodiment of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Never. At all. Honest. Not even if said dirty dronerock boy is wearing leather trousers and eyeliner. Nope.) And yet, in this dynamic, despite the fact it takes two people to have a heterosexual encounter, it's the *girls* who are demonised, problematised, and used to justify the exclusion or second-class-citizenship of female fans in the *whole* of fandom, not just backstage.

The second is, as you've probably guessed, an *objection* to the Paternalism expressed in the above problem. The idea that women are passive, exploited nonentities in their own sexual experiences rings really false in comparison with my memories of *being* a teenage girl. Aged 17, I was a simmering maelstrom of hormones and sexual urges, and the pop idols of the day served as a locus for those desires. And this is probably closer to a deeper truth of why groupies are so demonised in musical mythology - because the *idea* of actively sexual women who are the agents of their own desires, rather than passive receptacles for male passion, threatens to bring down the "nice girl"/"slut" dichotomy, male supremacy and the whole patriarchal house of cards on which not just fan culture, but general culture rests.

I don't even know that those two things are contradictory. It's entirely possible for both of them to be true. That yes, there are young women who are exploited (the heart-breaking tales of women who think they're in a real relationship when they are just tour playthings) - and also that women whose groupie sex experiences are more Germaine Greer than Pamela Des Barres scare the *shit* out of more than just the teenage boys on music forums who have never actually had sex with a woman whose surname wasn't .jpg.

So that's why I'm troubled by the enumeration of the "sexually circling female" and the "bitchfest" that accompanies her arrival. The stuff that gets left out, as much as the stuff that gets mentioned. And it's the stuff that *really* gets missed out when these conversations become all male, often *because* of the dynamics described above.

There's so much more here that I don't have space for. The unwritten assumption that, by default, bands = male and groupies = female is, obviously the massive elephant in the room that I haven't even touched on. (Someday when I write my memoir, I'll blow a hole in Louise Wener's assertion that male groupies don't exist. They do, and I've fucked them.) The utterly heteronormative assumptions with regard to this dynamic stink like a week old fish, but that's another blogpost, too. I am countering stereotypes with more stereotypes, but if I didn't, this would be a PhD rather than a blog post. And that has to wait for another lifetime.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Words Matter: tl ; dr

This morning, I found a brilliant quote in Robin Talmach Lakoff's groundbreaking work, Language and Womens Place which neatly summed up the concepts I was writing around yesterday. In dicussing the political and linguistic power of racist and sexist slurs, she made the following observation:

The presence of the words is a signal that something is wrong, rather than (as is too often interpreted by well-meaning reformers) the problem itself.

This is the idea I'm trying to get at, when I'm trying to get people to look at the language they use. It's not that the word is "offensive" to others, but that it signals that there is something wrong with *your* conception and expression of the world.

The reason that a white feminist should not use the N-word in the context of what is supposed to be a feminist safe space, like Slutwalk, is because *you* are holding up a sign declaring "I do not give a shit about Black women."

The reason that a working class male talking about gentrification (or anything else) should not use casual rape metaphors is because *you* are saying "I don't care about actual crimes committed against actual women."

The reason that it's not OK to turn "sexualisation" into "stripperfication" and say that the agency of women (especially Women of Colour) is "irrelevant" is because *you* are saying "I find women's agency irrelevant" and "sex workers are not people."

I'm not saying that these things aren't offensive. They are. But the problem is *not* in the ears of the people hearing them, but in the brains of people who can SAY. THESE. THINGS.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Words Are Powerful

There is this idea I have been circling around for the past couple of days, and I don't know how to get into it. It is this: that the words we use matter.

And they matter, not just because of the power of some words to ~offend~ others (which is important, but it's also kind of passive, in that, it puts the problem in the ears of others, rather than in the mouth of us, the speakers) but because the words we choose use do not just express our viewpoints (including our prejudices, conscious or not) but also, actively shape our perceptions.

I got this wrong, the last time I tried to talk about it. It got bogged down in mudslinging with someone who felt personally insulted by the context that provoked it. I didn't know as much then, as I have now read, about linguistics and power.

But I keep coming back to it, this past week. At least three things got me thinking about it.

1) A series of posts on Racialicious about not just the *use* of an incredibly offensive racial slur on a placard during the NYC Slutwalk, but also about the refusal of a group of white feminists to engage in debate about, or understand why it was not OK. Sure, I recognise that my understanding of racial issues is crude at best and I have (and continue to) get it wrong and try to learn from my mistakes, but jesus christ, the lack of understanding - or even willingness to listen - made even me cringe. Dear fellow white feminists: we do not get to define the bounds of racism. We just don't.

2) A twitter conversation about this piece on Sociological Images about the different rates of sexualisation in images of men vs women on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. That was the word used. Sexualisation. Yet the man whose retweeted link alerted me to the article chose to use the word "Stripperfication." (And oddly, tried to claim that the reason for changing the word was the 140 character limit of twitter, even though, as you can see "Stripperfication" - with all its inherent slut-shaming and demonisation of sex workers - is actually a longer word than that the researchers used.)

And oddly, even though the women in the images displayed in the post were all the kind of passive, childlike (young, white, slim, blonde) images of submissive and objectified women that tend to annoy feminists - when he responded to my concerns, the person that raised *his* ire on the "stripperfication" front was Rihanna, who is well known for her images of assertive, female-directed depictions of sexuality which highlight her own desire and agency of the kind that some feminists call "sex positive" and other feminists, well, aren't so sure. It's complicated. We're still working this one out, but Feminists are allowed to agree to disagree.

Thing is, when I pointed out that perhaps there was a difference between passive sexualisation (like the Rolling Stones covers) and the kind of active, agental sexuality expressed by Rihanna, Electrik Red or Nicki Minaj, he told me that "Minaj's own plan is irrelevant." That's right. The agency, actions and sexuality of women - especially Women of Colour, whose sexuality has been long been demonised - is irrelevant, in the face of White Man On The Internet, Splainin'.

He then went on to tell me that the whole visual and sexual marketing of boybands like Take That is based *entirely* on gay culture because oh yeah right, women aren't ~visual~ in their sexuality and all images of naked men are homoerotic - sorry, I just forgot all that, with me being a visual artist who works with erotic images of men sometimes even for a feminist porn magazine.

Then of course, he starts in on how I'm just being picky and "squandering my energy" by "berating someone about the language they use" because that's the problem here. Just the language, and not the racist, sexist, slut-shaming, agency-denying, demonising-of-marginalised-people (because when he's saying the problem is "stripperfication" or "pornification" that's not making negative judgements about sex workers, not at all) ideas inherent in those words that he's using.

Because, yeah, I agree that the endless dichotomy of "men clothed, women naked" is something that I'm really tired of. But I don't take the easy route of blaming strippers, I see this as being down to the endless pressure that men act, women appear and women will only ever be judged on their appearances, whether they are strippers, or platinum recording artists or cabinet ministers. The pearl-clutching over Rihanna or Britney, it's that age-old tool of patriarchy, that you narrow and constrict the paths and means available for women to achieve power or success - and then you condemn the women who *do* play by those rules and use those paths.

There are so many words that he could have chosen. Yes, I have a problem with the *commercialisation* of sex and the sexualisation of commercials. I have a problem with the *genderfication* of childhood which involves the *pinkification* of girlhood - my biggest problem isn't that children are being *sexualised* but they are being squished into narrower and more constricting definitions of gender, of which a highly sexualised and passive presentation of femininity is just a part. But do we talk about body image, media literacy and the Beauty Myth? No. We talk about Strippers and their bad, pornified sexuality corrupting our youth because demonising sex workers has never been used to justify the oppression of whole classes of women, oh no.

So is this a petty argument about just ~language~? No, I'm afraid it's not. It's an argument about agency and power, and who gets to define those things, and when you tell me that women's desires don't exist, and the artist's own plans are *irrelevant* and I should just STFU and not challenge your assumptions because they're just words - I'm sorry, but we are not on the same page here, and you and that whole "not listening to women" thing are part of the problem in a way that a lady taking her clothes off to pay the rent, well, isn't.

See, this is the thing. It is not just words being ~offensive~ - the words you *choose* tell others the concepts *you* believe, the ideals you buy into and accept as reality.

3. Reading an interview with a band I actually really like and admire, and I think that they were vastly underrated, and have a pretty important story to tell, about how the blossoming diversity of the musical landscape of the 90s, got shut down in the face of the monolith that was Britpop, and how that was all tied up in notions about class. And it was challenging reading to me, sure, because I'm middle class (I was born, by accident, in the very "High Essex" he talks about Blur being a part of and yeah, I'm a Blur fan, though that meant a slightly different thing in the US than it did here) but it's good for me to read viewpoints that challenge my preconceptions.

And there it is. 5 questions down. The "rape used as a cheeky metaphor for things that are not rape*."

(*And before someone decides to be clever and point out that I have used a rape metaphor on this blog before I will point out that I was comparing the emotions of a situation where I felt powerlessness, with the emotions inspired by a real sexual assault that actually happened to me. Not quite the same thing.)

And that is one of those red-letter words that makes me instantly click the little red X in the top corner of my browser. (Ditto rape jokes, which get you an instant unfollow on twitter.)

It's not even about being triggered any more, even though I am a rape survivor. Many other people have written about why this is not OK better than I ever could. And it's just... Why did you have to do that? Of all the metaphors you could have chosen? Pillaging? Harrowing, with its ready made class associations? Here, you are trying to get me, the reader, to align with your status of being marginalised due to being working class, yet you pick a word which so deliberately marginalises *me*, as a woman and a rape survivor? I can't even...

Words are important. Words *mean* things, both overtly and by implication. The words that you pick show what you believe, what you value, what you disparrage. The words that you use describe your world, but the words that you consider available, or appropriate also *define* your world - both internally, and externally, for the people who read or hear them. It is not just that they are offensive to others, but that they show your *own* prejudices, and that maligns you as much as it offends others.

I have probably made mistakes in this blog posts, I am sure that I have expressed mine own subconscious prejudices. If I have done this, tell me, because I never claimed to be perfect, but I am *trying* to learn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Did You Learn About Money?

So I'm sorry, but while I was thinking through this blog and how to write it, the whole thing with the NHS just happened in the House of Lords, and I'm sorry, but I can't even process that, let alone cope with it or think about it. So this blog is about something else.

I had a blog post percolating in my head after an awkward exchange with a man on twitter about the whole "sexualisation debates" that basically boiled down to "porn is not the problem, the deeply inequal structural differences between how society VALUES men and women differently, whether they are sex workers or cabinet members - THAT is the problem." But it's not done cooking yet.

But then I read this and I realised that today's blog was actually going to be about debt. George Monbiot encapsulates some very complicated economics about the causes of great depressions (like the one in the 1930s, and the one it looks like we're a couple of years into at this point) and it boils down to the levels of private debt. And in the midst of a government that seems to be intent on shifting the debt for basic services like healthcare and education from the public sector, to private individuals - that idea scares the shit out of me.

I don't know how I feel about the suggested mass write-off of irresponsibly made loans. It's complicated. Seems a bit less furiously unjust than letting massive corporations off their tax avoidance interest. Many people that I know who took on those "irresponsible" loans were woefully underinformed about what they involved. I remember myself, in the US, when I signed for my first college financial aid package (including a couple of thousand dollars worth of loans) I basically thought I was being given free money.

What I do know is this: People need to be better educated about finance, and how it works.

Were you taught about debt, credit cards, interest, loans, etc at school? I know I wasn't. I was forced to take a semester's worth of "Home Economics" at one point but that was rather more about baking cakes than it was about balancing chequebooks. And yet, I'm one of the lucky ones, who has somehow kept out of the red though a combination of mostly privilege (racial privilege and class privilege I recognise and acknowledge - it's too easy to bang on about "bootstraps" when you are structurally well-heeled) but also partly because I got an early and chilling peek behind the curtain of financial services.

When I was about 23, my first post-college job, I spent a few months months temping in the call centre of a well known American credit card company, in the brief period before it was outsourced and moved offshore. In order to answer questions about basic account info and balance, we were given a two-day crash course in the products they sold, and the fine-print stuff. They taught us what interest was and worked, how interest was compounded, and how to calculate the minimum payments on card balances.

Simple stuff, right? (And this was in the early 90s, before much of this stuff was deregulated in the States, too.) I tell you, the scales fell from mine eyes.

As a teenger, I used to beg my parsimonious Scots Mum, nose pressed up against the glass as we passed Pizza Hut, wondering why we couldn't go out to eat every week, like many of my schoolfriends. "Put it on the credit card," I'd beg, looking at Ponderosa or Pizza Hut. "And where do you think that money comes from?" my mother would explain. "You have to pay it back eventually." And how.

They actually taught us to push the scams. Get customers to take out cash advances instead of store point purchases. The interest on cash advances was compounded daily, instead of monthly, like conventional purchases. That meant you were charged interest every day, on a balance including the previous day's interest. A few hundred dollars could shoot up into four figure balances. It didn't help if you tried to pay them off quickly - unless you specifically instructed the company (usually in writing) to apply a partial payment against the cash advance, the money would be automatically applied to the whole balance, interest first. That "interest first" thing was always the catch - they taught us how the minimum payments were calculated to cover the interest, but no more. And we were encouraged to assure the customers to make the minimum payment - even though this would make the debt roll on forever. If you followed the bank's friendly, helpful, free advice, you could pay and pay and pay, and never make the slightest dent in your balance. So long as you kept making the minimum payments, they'd raise your credit limit forever.

I was rubbish at that job. My idealistic younger self, unsaddled by a mortgage, used to patiently explain all of this to the poor ladies who rang up wanting to know why their bills were so high, and my contract was discreetly terminated.

The thing is, had I not worked that job, my 20-something self, nose pressed against the glass of Manhattan, would have signed up for every credit card I was offered and ridden them for the same "free money" that I thought my student loans had been. It wasn't that I was smarter or wiser than my friends who *did* fall into the credit trap - if anything, in a lot of ways, I was dumber, more naive, and believed in ridiculous things like unicorns and piskies and the record contract waiting at the end of the next gig. But that experience taught me just how hard banks work to get people to act against their better interests, and how *easy* it is to get sucked into colossal debt.

So, you know. I am not an economist. I'm just someone who's good with spreadsheets. I know that this economic crisis requires solutions which might be counterintuitive to me. I know that it's mainly not down to the individual, but that strong consumer advocates and legislation to protect the consumer against the interests of banking are absolutely vital.

But I do think that one thing we could REALLY do with, is putting in every school, the kind of financial education that I had to go work for a bank to learn. At the same age that kids learn fractions and percentages, they should be learning how interest works and how it compounds. How loans work, how mortgages work, how banks work. Knowledge is power, and banks trade on our ignorance.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Loving In A World Of Desire

So this is weird. I'm currently editing and "re-mastering" LIAWOD, the final installment of the grand trilogy I wrote through my late 20s and early 30s (I still don't know what for, given that it straddles the line between fan fiction and proper novel, and I am still so highly invested in the concept of fan fiction as folk art that I don't *want* to file the serial numbers off and make it a Proper Novel) and I've just rewritten one of the pivotal scenes of the romance, the one where, after an immensely long (3 novels long) Long Game, the romantic hero finally proposes to the lead female.

It was always going to be a tricky scene. After some spectacularly failed relationships, Kate Gordon (obvious author avatar, subverted MarySue, and yet, at the same time, the kind of Big Bird character through whom the reader enters into the emotional world of the artists whose fandom puts the fan in the fiction) is understandably wary of formalising her relationship with "Damien," the charming but roguish conceptual artist (bear with me, here) with whom she has finally found acceptance, contentment and a healthy, workable relationship which actually meets her needs.

damien hirst, naked except for a suit jacket, with his dick tucked between his legs and I luv you written on his chestIn the original scene, written when I was pushing 30, he essentially bullied, manipulated and emotionally blackmailed her into it. Which probably speaks a lot more to my thoughts, at that age, on marriage, than it ever did to the characters in the novel. It sat uneasily with me for a decade. It was supposed to be a giant romantic gesture, albeit one that backfired spectacularly for the purposes of plot development and ~drama~. His bullying, and her acquiescence - it read all wrong. I rewrote it about 3 times before its initial publishing back in the 90s, but I still couldn't help feeling I'd betrayed the characters.

But re-reading it, safely from the other side of 40, I was struck by how insistently, how vociferously KG protested the she did not, in point of fact, want to get married at all. Some of her concerns seemed valid (as the bass player in a touring rock band, she feared losing her freedom, creative as well as physical, not to mention her fear that she was a compulsive cheater, and just not suited for monogamy) and some of them now seem ridiculously childish (an archetypical kidult, she did not want to grow up and get pulled from her world of backstage parties and Groucho Club booze-ups to a life of "minivans, tupperware and the school run.")

It was actually shocking to me, to remember that aspect of my 20s, and realise how, by my 40s, I have actually come full circle. Not with regards to boozing and carousing, which I've given up, but in a complete resistance to even the idea of trying to aspire to a marriage-type relationship.

My 30s were weird, like some kind of aberration. The pressure, it was relentless, from my family, from my peer group as they paired off, from the cultural climate, sometimes, surprisingly, according to the typical narratives, even from the lads I dated. Maybe part of it was "biological" - not so much a ticking clock, as an almost compulsive hormonal frenzy, triggered by a failed pregnancy when I was 31. Looking back on it it seems like some kind of madness, that frenzy for Coupling. All I can say is, it passed, and looking back on those relationships, I am *so* grateful that it did pass.

So I rewrote the scene, from the wisdom of distance, to be more faithful to the characters' personalities, and to the kind of relationship I would have actually have wanted, and been happy in, when I was 30. Though I still kept the proposal as exactly that - a marriage proposal. Then into the middle of this, dropped a tweet linking to an interview with Samhita Mukhopadhyay about a book I'm actually quite curious to read. In opposition to the cultural narrative that, if you are an older single woman, ~feminism~ is ruining your lovelife, she posits that actually, it's *dating* that is ruining your lovelife. That those old cultural narratives and expectations need a thorough revising, not just a revisiting.

I want to shout back, through the intervening decade, at Kate Gordon "If you don't want to do it, don't agree to it!" But if she'd done that, there would be no drama and no story, no drug-induced elopement with the wrong man, and the novel would be 200 pages shorter. So perhaps it's my own younger self that I want to shout back at. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself!

I suppose that's the nice thing about getting older, as well as the awful thing. People tell me that it's never too late, you may yet meet some nice man... but that's missing the point. It's really freeing, to give yourself the permission to accept failure. I've let myself go. I've stopped trying. I've become the kind of mad old lady who shouts at bus stops, if that's what I feel like doing. One level, sure, it makes me a little bit sad, that nagging reminder of what might have been. But mostly, it's pure relief.

There are days that it's hard. Mostly Sunday mornings. The uncomfortable reminder that I wake up in an empty bed, when really what I would like is some leisurely spooning followed by some energetic sex. But who am I kidding? The other six nights of uninterrupted sleep and what my friend Sarah calls "going starfish" in an empty bed more than makes up for it. Not having to negotiate the endless petty sacrifices of a relationship. The never-ending emotional admin of looking after a man. No thank you. I *like* the freedom to be selfish.

To be honest, it's when I start to wish prostitution were legal - or at least, that it catered more to women. When I wish I could negotiate a contract on those terms - we will have relations on Sundays only. I don't pay you to have sex with me, I pay you to leave, afterwards, with no questions and no entanglements and most specifically, no demands until you return without fuss the next week. Yes, it's an unreasonable expectation, and a selfish one. But why can't I negotiate a relationship that is nothing more than an ongoing series of one night stands? Because, I suppose, like the author I used to be ten years ago, I hear mine own mouthpiece stating explicitly what I really want, but I'm too scared to listen and actually ask for it..