Monday, 30 April 2012

On having an audience...

...I have to give a presentation tomorrow. Which, presumably you already know, as I've been venting about it to anyone I come across who'll listen - friends, housemates, people in the street - because giving presentations is really, really Not. My. Thing.

If you enjoy speaking in front of an audience, you're a freak. Unless you're a stand-up comedian, in which case I probably fancy you a little bit. You're still a bit of a freak though.

Yes, I'm a massive drama queen, but presentations really are everything I hate about life, condensed into one hideous little time slot. (Apart from jellyfish. I also REALLY hate them but thankfully they've never got involved in any talk I've done.)

As I was saying.

Everything I hate about life - being the centre of attention (contrary to popular belief), the sound of my own voice (ditto), trying to sound intelligent, being asked questions*, having people watch me do stuff...

Hey, I never said I wasn't a coward.

*I really don't like this. I get funny when people ask me about my eating habits, so anything more complex than that is going to be a non-starter.

I don't like having an audience. I'm an observer, not a player. I watch, I make smart-ass observations, I write them down, I put them on the internet. There's a reason I'm a Linguistics geek, it's 'cause I write far better than I talk... it doesn't really bode well, does it? Never mind. Working behind a bar a couple of summers ago was, for me, the emotional equivalent of being plunged into ice-cold water - I had an audience most of the time. And when I didn't, I was being shouted at by an angry chef. I would say it toughened me up a little, but I'm not sure it did.

I fantasise about winning an Ivor Novello, not a Grammy. (You can figure that one out yourselves. And I suppose I'd take the Grammy, you know, if they were going to insist...) Even the osteopath I used to go to - following an incident where the plan was to go over the jump together, but the horse had other ideas - said, "I get the feeling you don't like having an audience". No idea what prompted this conversation, but he turned into more of a therapist anyway. Who gave exquisitely good back massages. (Don't make it weird.)

I can't even handle people watching me cook.(I do love watching other people cook though. Mainly attractive males. Who are cooking something more complicated than scrambled eggs. That's pretty hot.)

I spend a significant proportion of my time writing songs and playing guitar, or attempting to, and have been doing so for about ten years. How many people have heard me play my own songs? Two.

I can fake a fair few things, but right now, confidence does not seem to be one of them.

What I probably need is tough love. Man the hell up, get on with it, it's not a big deal, et cetera. All of which I've already said to myself, repeatedly, and none of which is succeeding in drowning out that bitchy little voice in my head that's going, "You don't know what you're talking about. They're going to be judging you. You're going to be standing in front of lots of people, hot-faced and dry-mouthed, and it's going to go horribly, horribly wrong." (Is anyone else's internal monologue this cruel?) My problem is, I assume that if people are watching, then they must automatically be judging, and deeming me a failure. In reality - and in the ever-diminishing part of my brain labelled "rational, logical thought like what normal people have" - I know damn well people are far more concerned about their own issues and worries than anybody else's. I still can't shake the chilly, nauseating feeling of panic, that's not going to subside until this is over, and I have a stiff drink in front of me.

Wish me luck! I am aware that I'm not exactly heading off to battle, or starting off on a trek through the Amazon, or about to enter into a political debate with Boris Johnson. Just, you know, I need all the help I can get. 

I would leave you with a song but this was meant to be a quick post. Incidentally, I've listened to Poison and Wine by The Civil Wars so many times that someone needs to take it off me and not let me play with it for a while. It's just too good.

Ciao for now.

Friday, 27 April 2012


This week has brought a few things to my attention. One, that I really need to work on my physical and mental responses to stress. (Walking home from Tesco the other day, I wondered why pretty much everywhere above my waist was aching. Turns out that being a tightly-wound ball of anxiety isn't good for your muscles - they don't like being kept in a constant state of "clench".)

Two, if, at any point, I do pursue a career as a writer, this MA will have been spectacularly useful in that if nothing else, I've learnt to endure great lengths of time in a room with only words for company.

Three, families can really surprise you - a parcel from my mother arrived yesterday, containing a serious amount of (home-made, so-sweet-and-sticky-it's-a-total-foodgasm) flapjack, a bar of Dairy Milk and some of those amazing Lindt balls. Oh yummy. (It also justifies the salad diet I've been attempting lately.)

And four. The biggie.

That there is a small, slight, skinny outside chance that maybe, just maybe, I'd feel a lot more relaxed if I, like, told people how I felt about stuff. To their faces!

What fresh hell is this?!

I don't mean I want to become one of those crazy psycho-bitches who's always freaking out - loudly - about something. I mean, I know fine rightly I can be Miss Over-reactor 2012, but I pride myself on being able to internalise it quite well. Or rather, vent at length to everybody else except the party concerned. Sometimes, things have come to pass that I haven't been totally happy with  - generally in friendship/relationship scenarios - and I've bitten my lip and held my tongue, having weighed up the costs and benefits of raising the issue. Sometimes it's a case of, "Is this situation going to improve if I say something? Or is it going to make it into an actual problem the minute I open my mouth?" My favourite way of talking myself down from a "but why would he do that?" freak-out is, "Am I going to care about/even remember this in a week/month/three months?" Often, the answer is "no, of course not. Get a grip".

But the effort. Oh, the effort. The very nature of being a "bottler" means that no-one appreciates the effort that goes in to not going nuts from time to time. On the one hand, it's probably a good work-out for my mental strength - being able to claw back some perspective and not make a big deal out of every little thing is an advantage, surely? On the other hand, it does make you want to exclaim "Do you know how hard I am trying to not make an issue out of this? Do you?" when you finally snap. (By which point you're sounding somewhat hissy and exactly like you are making an issue out of it.)

So, in a sense, internalising everything and only letting yourself confront your feelings when you're alone in your room, with some very shouty aggressive music playing, is kind of a protective thing. It protects other people from potentially being hurt or pissed off by your feelings. But it's also quite damaging, and I think I'm finally starting to see that (I can almost feel friends and loved ones thinking "What? She's realised? At last!!"). The number of times where I could have said to people, "what you just said/the way you're treating me is really not OK" - and they might have been arsey about it initially, but no one can be blamed for having feelings. Hell, they might have even apologised. It's not an "anything-for-a-quiet-life" thing - it's a fear of how others will react that keeps me quiet, as well as a fear of hurting them, I guess. Even if they have pissed me off.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to go and start arguments on a twice-daily basis. When it comes to friendships and relationships, I like to think I have a keenly-developed sense of perspective. (Stop laughing. Where my MA is concerned, that's another matter. There's no room for perspective there.) I guess there are people who, if someone has riled them, aren't afraid to let that person know. And then there's my kind of people - we bottle. We always bottle. Which is OK sometimes, and really bloody exhausting the rest of the time. That bottling tendency is thrown into especially harsh light when you come across someone who not only cares how you feel, but isn't afraid to tackle things head-on. Someone who wants to be actively involved in your life.

I'm not entirely sure how I go about breaking the firmly-entrenched habit of a lifetime. There's that quote about saying how you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind, but I don't think Dr Seuss is going to help here. Easier said, and all that.

So yeah. One day I'll be able to say exactly how I feel - to the relevant people - and that ability will spare me, and the people I live with, no end of angst. 

I'm late to the party as far as these guys are concerned, but you should listen to this song. By God, it's beautiful. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

5 people...

This week hasn't been ideal, to say the least. It's been the kind of week that's felt like the intellectual equivalent of walking blindfolded through a minefield. In the dark. With a broken arm. It's been the kind of week where my emotional weather has had a lot in common with Cardiff weather - in that they've both been changeable, unreasonable and liable to piss people off.* But I've just made the tiniest bit of progress with a literature review (it's still practically non-existent, but a structure has maybe, almost, possibly, been formed) and am currently shoving pasta into my face, in an undignified but satisfying way, so I'm probably approaching the nearest I'm going to get to "happy" between now and the middle of September.

*I wish my default response to everything wasn't blind, ice-cold, nauseating panic. I wish the panic-spiral thought-train had an off-button. Especially at 4 in the morning. I really don't want a repeat of my second year of uni - it featured far too many panic attacks, sleepless nights and I-actually-can't-breathe moments in A & E. (I wish I was exaggerating for effect.) Oh, and note to self, when your grandmother calls to see why you haven't rung her back in the last four days, don't tell her "I want to jump off a freaking bridge!" She won't take it well.


To distract myself from the Masters Misery, I played a little game of "fantasy dinner party". You know, the pub/car journey favourite, where you pick a handful of people - famous/influential/intriguing - that you'd have to dinner. (This is where you get further proof of just what a geek I am.)

So here goes.

1) Lady Antonia Fraser.  Who? Writer and historian. She wrote, amongst other things, pretty much the definitive biography of Marie Antoinette. She had what was, by her own account at least, a rather dignified affair with playwright Harold Pinter, and then married him. (She published the story of their life together, "Must You Go?" in 2011. Pieced together from her own diaries, it's quite the romance.)

2) David Crystal. "Who are these people?" I hear you ask. Linguistics expert, academic, writer of all things wordy. He's written some lovely books on the quirks and mysteries of the English language - not just dry, technical, academic books, but also the sorts of books you can flick through in Waterstones and say, "Oh, I didn't know that's where that saying came from." The kinds of books geeks like me enjoy getting in their Christmas stockings. Top bloke.

3) Dylan Moran. (He'd scorn the very notion of a dinner party, I think, but good God it would be a dream come true for me.) Without a doubt, he's my favourite comedian. Ever. Black Books is the work of a mad genius, and I love his dishevelled, slightly chaotic and cynical live delivery. I first saw him on Channel 4 late one night, when I was 14, and have been in love with him ever since. When I saw him live last year, it was totally worth the seven years of waiting.

And that accent...

4) Diane Warren. Yeah, her.

I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing by Aerosmith? She wrote it. How Do I Live? by LeAnn Rimes. She wrote it. Can't Fight the Moonlight from Coyote Ugly? (In fact, all the songs from Coyote Ugly. She wrote them.) There You'll Be from Pearl Harbor? She wrote it. She's the queen of the overblown power ballad. She's the possibly the most successful female songwriter there has ever been. And I want to pick her brains re: choruses.

5) Hugh Laurie. (Possibly in character as House - or maybe we could request that over port at the end of the night...) There's just something about him - I love him in Blackadder, and I love him playing "cold hard messed-up bastard genius" in House. I bet he's got some good stories to tell.
(And, side-note, he might be able to hook me up with Olivia Wilde... That may be a story for another day though.)

I should stop there really, but say one of them couldn't make it - I think I'd have to chuck Sophie Dahl in there too. To my unending delight, I found all 6 episodes of her cookery series on YouTube yesterday, so didn't get anything useful done at all. TV critics didn't take to her attempt to get her Nigella on, but I bloody loved it. She makes me want to live in a rambling cottage in the countryside, and have an Aga, and spend my days being whimsical, and baking, all the while wearing pretty tea dresses, with artfully tousled hair.

She'd bring a scrumptious pudding, too.

I think that's all the nonsense I'm going to inflict upon you for now. I'll leave you with this, 'cause it's heartbreaking and cute. And unlike most other normal people, I didn't hear of this band until about 3 years ago.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

I will always be 17 at heart...

While I was at home over Easter, my mother asked me to go through some of the drawers and boxes in my room, and to chuck out anything that I didn't want anymore. And as much as it kills me to admit this, the diaries I kept on and off from the age of 13, through to about a year ago, joined the "crap I no longer need" pile. I didn't want to get rid of them, but as my younger sister will be moving into what is currently "my" room (though I'm only there for uni holidays now), I realised there was nowhere for them to go. Especially if I wanted them to remain unread by anyone who isn't me. I couldn't really bring them back to Cardiff with me - my room here is tiny. Anyone who wants to stay with me has to be OK with spooning in my not-quite-a-double bed. Consequently, the Boy is the only one who ever wants to visit. (I can be a bit of a bed-hog. My favourite sleeping position is "the starfish".)

As I was saying.

I have a bit of a thing for the written word - I don't know if you've noticed. One thing I refused to do when asked to begin this clear-out was to go through the four boxes of books currently occupying one corner of my room. I can't get rid of books. I still have a copy of The Rainbow Fish. And The Tiger Who Came To Tea. And all the Malory Towers books. And the Jill pony books (my mother read them when she was young, despite being the least horsey person I know). You get the point. I have a nigh-on obsessive attachment* to the written word, so consigning my diaries to a bin-liner felt like a moment of some significance.

*It's even more severe when it comes to the handwritten word. When I receive cards/notes/letters from people I'm especially close to, I keep them for ages.It's a shame I've never received a proper, old-fashioned love letter, it really is.

Naturally, before the handful of notebooks I'd unearthed from my bottom drawer were scrapped, I had a good root through them, and found myself laughing, cringing and remembering. And judging my younger self. All at the same time. I could see brief snapshots of myself: aged 13, cocky and capricious; aged 15, still both arrogant and unsure, in a way that only teenagers can be. Aged 19, slowly wising up but still tripping over the eternal mystery that is the opposite sex, and aged 20 - stumbling happily into my first serious relationship, and almost simultaneously falling prey to an onslaught of anxiety and stress that seemed to last the whole of my second year of university. (I don't think these two events are related...)

 And finally, I saw myself as I was for the first few months of last year. Falling out of that first relationship, in a none-too-dignified fashion.

I haven't kept a diary since around March last year. I suppose the blog is filling that role at the moment, and if I were to continue with an actual handwritten journal now, almost every day would consist of "I can't wait for this MA to be over, it's going to be the death of me, oh and I have no money." Which, while all true, isn't half as fun as writing about having too much drama in my love-life. (I'm not saying I miss the days of love-life drama. It made me impossible to live with, I can tell you.) 

I think my original intention was to keep them all, until I was a "proper" adult - i.e. with kids of my own. Then, when they hit the impossible teen years, I'd be able to look back at myself at that age - in excruciating detail - and remember. Now I don't have the words of my 13-year-old self to refer to, I hope I do remember.

I'll leave you with this little ditty. A couple of Christmases ago, I spent four days trying to make it from Belfast to Gatwick, due to snow. A friend of mine was making the same journey, fortunately, and drove me insane by singing this. Over and over. It's bloody catchy, don't say you weren't warned.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

2012 and I: it's complicated

...or, "Oh, it's fine, everyone hates doing an MA!"

2011 was possibly my favourite year of my life so far. Great things happened in it. I graduated, for a start. My excessive word-geekery and ability to bullshit had paid off at last. I finally had a summer job that actually made use of my one talent in life (being really pedantic, in case you were wondering). I got accepted on to what is currently the only full-time MA in Forensic Linguistics in the world. And jumped both-feet-first into a relationship with someone who a) is all kinds of amazing (yes, you can vomit), and b) should really know better. Oh, and I also had some bloody good times with a certain cake-baking, cocktail-loving, incisive-wit-providing flatmate. (I'm not just saying that because I know she'll be reading this.)

2012 is like the younger sibling of an all-round golden child - it was never going to measure up. And sure, it's only April, so I'm not really giving the poor kid a chance, but I know what's coming - a summer spent writing a dissertation for an MA I'm only completing because the fees have been paid, and hey, I'll be able to write on my CV that I have an MA. In what, nobody really knows. ("Forensic linguistics? I've not seen that on CSI. Do you analyse handwriting?") And then...

Yeah, and then. And then what? Well, ideally, a rich-but-distant elderly relative will, erm, end their earthly career (thank you, "euphemisms for death" Google search. And calm down, I said elderly), leave me a large sum of money and maybe a little flat, somewhere in Brighton, or London, or Bath... That would be handy. Or some rich banker will appear out of nowhere, sweep me off my battered H & M ballet flats and whisk me into a house in Chelsea, or Richmond, or Notting Hill. (It's fine - I'd divorce him as soon as it was possible to cite irreconcilable differences, keep the house, and get back with the Boy. He'd be fine with it. Especially if I had a recording studio built. Everyone's a winner.)

I digress, I'm not that callous. Mostly. What I really want to do is start building up a base of clients who will pay me for my proofreading and copy-editing skills. (I've not ruled out building up a base of clients who will pay me for any of my other skills, if I'm honest.) What kind of smarts is that if I'd realised a year ago that proofing and copy-editing are what I want to do for the foreseeable future, I'd have saved myself and my family a considerable amount of money and stress. I could have done a course for less than £200. Rage, storm, sigh, et cetera.

At the heart of the matter is the simple fact that I don't like not knowing what's going to happen. And yeah, you can turn round and say that no one does, but some people thrive on that sense of freedom. I don't. It makes me edgy and stressy and generally a whiney pain-in-the-arse to be around. I'm like a child - I need routine and concrete plans. (And constant reassurance, and other people's approval, but that's probably a story for another post. Or a therapist.) My nearest and dearest have already been subjected to my complaining at length about how unsettled I'm feeling this year. Every September for the last eighteen years I've been heading into a stage of education. Now, I'm heading into the unknown and It. Is. Terrifying. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. That, I get. I had a brilliant conversation a few days ago with a very dear friend about how at this stage in our respective MAs, we feel we would rather be doing pretty much anything else.

I suppose the fact that I know what I want to do should be helping to ease that unsettled feeling, but it's not. Is it practical? Am I even good enough? Would anyone even trust me to proof and edit their work, let alone pay me? Will I ever make enough money to move out of my parents' house permanently, pick where I want to live, get a puppy and start my actual life? You know, the one with long-term plans and my own choice of furnishings...

If I let this feeling of "I can't handle this year" get to me any more, I'll give myself a stomach ulcer. (I've almost done that before. Never underestimate my ability to worry. If I don't have things to worry about, I worry about the absence of things to worry about. I wish I was being facetious.) And funnily enough, I don't have anything wise or meaningful with which to end this post. If you have any suggestions  - other than "man the hell up, for the love of God" - I'll gladly hear (read?) them.  So what I am going to leave you with is something entirely unrelated to the above torrent of angst. It's this:


(Oh, and if you know anyone in publishing... No? Worth a try.)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

On constructive criticism... there a phrase that is more effective when it comes to making you want to curl up in a ball on your bed and repeat “No, I don’t want to hear it” over and over?

Just me then?

I know it’s immature. I know. I know, that if I’m ever going to make any kind of living out of writing – and one day, when I’ve made a living out of something practical and useful, I might well give it a try – I’m going to have to man the hell up and get used to constructive criticism. But oh dear me, it’s not easy. I’ve always been someone who takes any sort of criticism personally. Something between my ears can’t seem to accept that there is a difference between a criticism of something you do and a criticism of who you are as a person. To me, they’re one and the same. Tell me I don’t do something particularly well and I will infer that you think I’m a bad person. Yes, it’s childish, yes, it’s a little irrational but I’m just being honest here. Everyone has their flaws; this is (one of) mine.

What’s more, if we’re talking about something creative – writing, something arty, something musical – criticism is harder to take. Without wanting to get too airy-fairy, if you’re artistic or creative, you’re probably quite sensitive anyway. Writers (artists/musicians/actors/delete as applicable) are analytical (possibly overly so) and sensitive by nature. Or they wouldn’t be writers. The very nature of writing creatively entails putting a bit, or a lot, of yourself into your work. So handing it over to someone else to get their opinion on it is like saying “Hey, put a judgement on the stuff that goes on in my head.” 

Obviously, it depends who’s doing the criticising. If it’s a lecturer, an editor or a personal tutor, well, it’s their job. They are paid to show you the faults in your work; it’s up to you what you do with that. I cried the last time I got some negative feedback for an essay. (And then proceeded to get so wasted that I can’t remember the rest of the evening. I know it featured vomit. Though that may have had more to do with stumbling across a bunch of Psych students who were making their way through a LOT of Cava...but never mind. I certainly drowned my sorrows, well and truly. Then chucked them back up again.)

Anyway, back to the matter in hand – that pesky assignment. I’d warmed to the topic, had got quite fiery about it, and had rather enjoyed writing it all up. I’d put genuine effort in, which was a new experience for me. When I got it back, I’d achieved 60% and a page of very mixed feedback. My writing style was praised and I got credit for some original ideas, but otherwise, I was rather torn down a peg or two. And that’s academia, folks – and indeed, life.  I think the criticisms were probably fair, which is why I didn’t contest them. I just really struggled to overcome the “for God’s sake” sense that if putting genuine effort into an essay resulted in a 60, how was it that dashing off an assignment in the last few hours before it was due and taking a real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the last couple of paragraphs could result in a solid 65? It was infuriating. 

There’s a difference between getting criticism for something you know you don’t do outstandingly, and getting criticism for something you have it on good authority you do quite well. I’m not sure which is worse – probably the latter, but the former carries a sense of “yes, I know I’m not amazing at this, you don’t need to point it out.” Like most people, I suspect, for me the latter stings like a bitch. If you think something you’ve done is pretty good, and then someone finds fault with it – well, I don’t know about you but it can spark tears and ruin my day. Feeble? Yes. I know it is. If you’ve got tips on toughening up, I’ll gladly take them. Lord knows I need to. 

And like I said, it depends who’s providing the feedback. It’s easier to handle criticism from tutors, for example, because a) it’s their job, and b) you don’t have an especially personal relationship with them. In fact, the relationship you have with them is based solely on them trying to teach you something, so constructive criticism is an obvious part of that.

Working up the courage to show your work to close friends and/or other halves is difficult, and that moment when you hand over what you’ve written can be a moment of ice-cold, nauseating fear. With someone you’re personally very close to, it’s hard to separate their opinion of your work from their opinion of you. Of course, in reality, their thoughts on a piece of your writing have absolutely nothing to do with their thoughts on what makes you awesome, in their eyes. But it’s hard to compartmentalise – criticism, however well-intentioned, can be fantastically difficult to take from someone you share the majority of the rest of your life with. So I guess the answer is to pick carefully. If someone’s opinion scares you, perhaps give yourself a bit of time to work up to letting them see what you’ve been up to. And, if a good friend/partner is trusting you with their work, then be kind. Be constructive, but for the love of God don’t forget that they’re probably terrified of what you’re going to say. If they feel that this is their one particular talent, then you must be tactful. 

Admittedly, not everyone is as feeble as me. But a throwaway remark made to a novice writer – who is, chances are, going to be pretty sensitive anyway – can cause no end of angst. Kindness and consideration aren’t too much to ask, I don’t think – anyone who’s “going public” with their writing/art/music wants constructive criticism, because they want to be the best they can be. 

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place – you know you need criticism to be able to improve, but your very nature, and therefore the nature of what you do, makes criticism hard to take. I’ll leave you with something somebody else said, because it made me smile:

“After all, one knows one's weak points so well, that it's rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.”
(Edith Wharton 1862 -1937)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The realisation...

...that I actually am a feminist.

I have this friend (well, I say friend... It’s worrying how many times I find myself saying that, but people think you’re a tad odd if you start saying things like, “Well, I have this person that I know and whose company I endure rather than enjoy...”) who looks like a china doll but talks like an old-school, bra-burning, man-hating feminist. I have had conversations with her (not through lack of trying to avoid them), after which I have been left with the feeling that she genuinely thinks women are better than men. Up until relatively recently, I disliked feminism for this reason – the only overt, outspoken feminism I’d been exposed to was the man-hating kind. And I really wasn’t a fan of that.

Because, to quote myself (and I’ve said this far too many times to be proud of) I just like men. I really do. (It’s caused me some problems, I can tell you.) I like hanging out with them in the pub, I like working with them, I like doing other fun things with them. Physically they tend to be stronger than us, emotionally they tend to be a little more logical and rational. Not always, but often. I like it than when I’m ranting to a guy about something, they feel compelled to solve the problem. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for mouthing off to your girlfriends about something that’s pissing you off and getting empathy, rather than a list of suggestions as to what you should do. But – maybe it’s just that I have excellent taste in male friends and love interests – I have noticed this. Boys are good for fixing things, girls are great for empathising. (Yes, sweeping generalisation, but I’m going on personal experience here. Cut me some slack.)

What changed, then? What was is that made me go from “Ha, I’m really not a feminist!” to “Yes, actually, I am. Don’t shoot.”

Well, firstly, I read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Ok, a lot of people did. Everyone – men and women – between the ages of 16 and 30 should read it. She doesn’t hold back on the gory details of being a woman, but she makes some bloody good points. The main one being, “Are the boys doing it?” If they are, then it’s ok. If they’re not, then why do women feel they have to? (Nitpickers – and boy, I know a couple of those – of course, this isn’t going to work for every activity under the sun. Use your heads.) And also, that being polite is in fact really freaking important. She’s not saying – like a lot of people have – that to get equal treatment, women need to stop bitching about each other. She’s just advocating politeness. 

And while we’re here, blaming the lack of equality between the sexes on the fact that women bitch about each other isn’t just short-sighted, it is utter, utter bollocks. You ever sat in the pub with a bunch of guys? You ever been chatting to your boyfriend about your respective groups of friends? One of my favourite things to say to the Boy is, “Will you be wanting a dish of cream to go?” 

Men can be as bitchy as women. If not, more so. Right, got that bit off my chest. 

So there was the book. But it wasn’t just that. Essentially, I study language use in the legal system – and if there’s ever been a place where being female puts you at a disadvantage, it’s the legal system. I’ve done a lot of work on rape and sexual assault trials – not because I’m a sick, twisted person but because as a crime, it’s something of a special case. It’s very rare that you can prove consent. If your house is broken into and the television’s stolen, well, it’s obvious. A window’s broken and the TV’s gone. You’re not often going to have evidence of consent being given, so rape trials (when it actually gets to trial, which is a whole other story in itself) often become a case of “she said/no I didn’t”. 

And once in court, female victims of rape/sexual assault can face the “sexual double bind”: if they come across as articulate and confident while being examined, then how could they have “allowed” themselves to be raped? And if they’re fragile and emotional (as you probably would be, given the nature of criminal trials in an adversarial system), then well. She’s a flighty, emotional woman. She can’t be trusted. While there are movements to improve the way our legal system works, it is still steeped in archaic traditions and attitudes, and isn’t the most woman-friendly environment I can think of. 

The problem with starting a post like this is that there are so many avenues it opens up – tabloid newspapers and women’s magazines, positive discrimination in workplaces, the issue of maternity/paternity leave, and bigger, more serious issues, like the treatment of women in cultures very different to the one I live in. (One of my best-ever friends moved to Dubai this year, and is moving over to Saudi for a job, so she’s having some interesting experiences.) I could be here for days...

One of the facts from Moran’s book that has stuck with me – and it’s such an obvious little scamp – is this: “it is normal for women to feel pain”. That is standard procedure for us; it’s not a sign that there’s something wrong, it’s entirely expected, on a regular basis. And no, obviously we can’t change our physiology; we know there’s sod-all we can do about the fact that we get the shite end of the deal from Nature - but it’s that one little thing that makes me angry about the centuries of women being treated as inferior to men. Physically, we go through so much more for the sake of reproducing. We deserve the same amount of respect as men. (The ragey part of me says, screw equality, I demand to be treated like a goddess on the basis of the fact that one day I might have to endure childbirth, but I’m trying to be fair about this.) And yes, we don’t have to have children – but the species as a whole would be a tad screwed if all the women got together and said, “Hang on, this is all a bit painful, shall we just not do it for a bit?” 

I’ll get down off the biology soapbox now.

I think that the upshot of the whole thing is this: we should embrace and make use of the differences between the sexes, not use them as grounds for one-upmanship or slagging each other off. 

Just because I don’t mind – hell, it’s still kind of funny – when my male friends joke about getting back in the kitchen, or call me the Boy’s wench, doesn’t make me a traitor to womankind. (The kitchen jokes actually remain funny because I’m the world’s most reluctant cook, to be honest.) And just because I can see that there are many arenas in which women are still seen as inferior to men, and I can see that we sometimes have ridiculous demands placed on us, doesn’t make me hate men. There are still certain situations where I will laugh and say, “It’s ok, I’m really not a feminist” (and no, I’m not elaborating) and there are still situations where I will tell you “Yes, I bloody well am”. 

The important thing is that the choice is mine to make.