The Granny Weatherwax Award for Awesomely Written Women #1

While 2016 was a great year for me on a personal level, it’s been a horrible year world- and society-wide. When times have been bad, frightening, or all-out facepalm-inducing, I’ve found myself turning even more frequently to good stories about fighting baddies and resisting evil. Now it’s 2017, and we’re in a period of history where we need those good stories, and good representation of marginalised characters in stories, more than ever. Stories have immense power, and good representation in fiction can go a very long way to combating lazy stereotyping in the tabloids and demonisation in political rhetoric (and vice versa).

I’ve spent a lot of the Christmas period thinking about these good characters, good stories and good reps, and this led me to make up a silly-fun-but-also-pretty-serious award, which I’m calling the Granny Weatherwax Award for Awesomely Written Women (or GWAAWW for short. And yes, that is pronounced like an angry dinosaur charging). The criteria for this award are as follows:

  1. The woman can be a strong female character – as in strongly-written, strongly-characterised, with a strong and memorable impact on the reader. She must, however, not be a Strong Female Character.
  2. She can be good, or right, or kind, or a combination of all three – but she must not be “nice”. (For a bit of background on Granny Weatherwax and “niceness”, read The Sea and Little Fishes)
  3. She can be a character you might like if you hung around with her, but she should not be “likeable“. Instead, she should be interesting, compelling, and engaging.
  4. She can be from any example of fiction – novels, comics, TV, film, podcasts, anything.

The winner of this inaugural GWAAWW is probably very predictable if you know what I’ve been binge-watching lately, and I am proud to announce that the award goes to (insert drumroll here):

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Carol from the TV version of The Walking Dead.

(spoilers below, for anyone who started watching this show even later than I did)

Carol starts out as a frightened, abused woman who is barely visible in her terrible husband’s shadow, but she has the greatest development of any character in the show, becoming one of the most competent, decisive, and downright badass figures in TWD’s dystopian world. She’s a woman who can fight, at one point single-handedly rescuing the group from a townful of cannibals, but she defies the Strong Female Character stereotype in so many ways – by carrying on caring, by using her femininity as a weapon, and even by choosing not to fight. Carol also defies “niceness” and “likeability” – she suffers fools not at all, and greets any threat to her group with steel, both metaphorically and literally. (And I would still happily hang out with her, talk tactics and eat cookies). It’s also wonderful to have a story where a grey-haired, middle-aged woman has such a significant role, and is treated with such respect by the people around her – shamefully, this isn’t something that happens often.

Carol was one of the factors that made me carry on watching The Walking Dead, which, let’s admit it, started out with some truly dreadful representations of women (it’s got a lot better, both with Carol’s development and the arrival of characters such as Sasha, Tara and Michonne). She shows that women can be spiky, angry, deadpan, can make the tough decisions and occasionally the wrong decisions, and don’t have to be soft, sweet and nice to deserve attention and respect. Most importantly, she shows that women aren’t there to complement the men around them, but are significant in their own right. I can’t wait to see how her current storyline develops – and if the world goes to hell in 2017, the first thing I’m going to ask myself is ‘What Would Carol Do?’

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Sad Vampires Revisited

Facebook reminded me that it’s the four-year anniversary of my trip to see Breaking Dawn Part 2 (it was for uni research, leave me alone). I wrote a commentary that still makes me giggle to this day, so I share it here for your entertainment.

On the afternoon of 19th December 2012, Ally Nuttall went to see Breaking Dawn Part 2. Several hours later, this notebook was found.

– I’m in the tiniest cinema I’ve ever seen, and I’m the oldest person in the room by about ten years. I feel like I’m supervising a really non-educational school trip.
– Ominous blood-red mist! Bet this is the closest we’ll see to blood in the film.
– Ooh, Lee Pace (mentioned in the credits)! Oh Lee Pace, why are you in a Twilight film?
– First thing Bella looks at – Edward’s crotch. Did I really need to see that?
– Oh Kristen Stewart, you are not a remotely scary vampire.
– Kept the line about Jacob smelling bad. Why am I not surprised?
– ARGH THE CGI BABY! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
-Alice seems to have had even more coffee than usual…
– And another sexless scene. This is just as bad as part 1.
– This is less erotic than a Herbal Essences advert.
– Charlie SPLITS LOGS because that’s what men do when they think their daughters are dead!
– Showing this scene is just an excuse to show Taylor Launtner with his clothes off. (I shouldn’t be surprised about that by this point).
– They all seem far too cheery about the fact that she might kill her dad…Also, why did they need the whole Jacob reveal bit when she looks no different to how she did human?
– Where’s Renee during all this? Worst mother ever.
– Don’t call Renesmee your “niece and daughter”, Edward, that’s fucking creepy.
– The sparkling just makes her look like she has a terrible skin condition.
– Oh good, CGI baby has been replaced by random child actress.
– Do the Volturi ever stop posing?
– Have they slapped a load of CGI on the child actress? Her face doesn’t look real.
– Oh, here come the horrifically racist stereotype vampires – shrieking, dressed in skins, animal mannerisms. FFS, it’s the 21st century.
– Is that Lee Pace as Garrett? Yes, it is. Well, at least he’s good-looking.
– Tiny, TINY children as werewolves. Totally cool to make them fight thousand-year-old vampires for the sake of two boring prats and their kid.
– Vladimir and Stefan…what is this I don’t even…
– Alec, who kills people with CGI. (Bet Renesmee is immune!)
– No! Not more awkward sex!
– Poor Leah doesn’t even get face time in this film…
– Shut up about the War of Independence, Garrett…is that the only thing you did in your hundreds of years as a vampire? I’m not even all that patriotic and you’re pissing me off.
– Aro, what the fuck are you wearing? And what the FUCK kind of noise was that?
– I’m sure you shouldn’t be making that kind of face at a child, Aro.
– This fight scene would probably be awesome if I didn’t know the “clever twist”.
– And everybody dies! Okay, this fight scene IS awesome. Genuinely had to stop myself laughing when the heads started coming off.
– Stephenie Meyer must’ve HATED this scene! Too chicken to kill your characters off, Meyer? WE’RE NOT!
– This fight has made up for the entire rest of the series, it’s like someone’s found the most epic way to troll the fans. I love it.
– And “what a twist”! It was all a vision. All the teens are giggling in relief. This is still cheating, screenwriter.
– And it’s smooches ever after, apparently.

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To the man who street harassed me today

You’re brave. So very, very brave. It must have taken a lot of courage to shout at a person walking alone while you were surrounded by your snickering friends, but you plucked up every scrap of courage and did it anyway.  It was especially ballsy, the way you waited until I was so far past you that you could pretty much guarantee I wasn’t going to turn around, come back, and confront you about what you said. Ballads will be written about you, I’m sure. Little children will hold you up alongside Robin Hood and King Arthur as a legendary hero.

You’re clever. Witty as Oscar Wilde, sir, and far more original. Mocking the way I walk, with a sprinkling of fatphobia thrown in to spice up the mix? It was a stroke of genius that would have made George Bernard Shaw weep into his beard. I’ve never heard incisive witticisms like yours before, except from pre-pubescent bullies at every single school. With material like that, you should try a career in comedy. I’m sure the crowds would eat you up.

You’re a true hero. Us women are getting so unreasonable these days, aren’t we? With our ‘being in public’ and our ‘doing things for ourselves’. Without men like you, who single us out, and smash our confidence wherever you see it, and remind us that we’re only allowed to be in the world on your terms, where would we be?

You’re confident. I only saw you for a few moments, but I can tell just how confident and happy in yourself that you must be. Only a truly content man would need to show off for his friends by tearing a stranger down. Only someone with great self-esteem would have such a burning need for attention and approval. Only someone who was totally okay with themselves, the way they look and the life they live, would want to direct people’s malice at someone else. If only we could all be as self-assured as you!

You’re a real winner, and certainly the real winner here. Because I spent a short while feeling like I’d been kicked in the gut, and then I took my anger and my sadness and put it into working, writing, creating. I poured time and feeling into my novel. I applied for a job that would be perfect – and that I could do extremely well. I faced up to the demons you summoned, and I slashed them into pieces. But, you know, you made a woman turn her head and stare at you, puzzled, for a single moment, so I think we all know who won.

To the man who street harassed me today: remember my strange gait and my fat arse, because you’ll never see either of them again. I’ll always be too far ahead of you for you to ever catch up.

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PMT and Me

Update: I ended up having a really good and positive chat with the team behind the image described in this blog – thank you to Clue for listening.

 

 

Hi, my name’s Alice, and I’m currently deep in the throes of PMT.

I don’t say this simply as part of my usual oversharing – it’s actually a very timely occurrence. This morning, I saw a link to this study about ‘positive premenstrual syndromes’, and have been mulling it over – with a scowl and quite a few mutterings – ever since.

I have Thoughts about this study – or rather, about the posting and phrasing. The study itself sounds promising – I’m all in favour of demystifying periods and PMT, dismantling stereotypes around them, and tackling the taboos that make people (cis men in particular) go “Ewwww that’s gross! (But also it’s not a big deal and you’re all just faking).” But, to my mind, there’s a lot in the wording, and particularly the image, that needs unpacking.

I will freely admit that a lot of my reaction here is due to personal bias. My body has been playing a long and painful game of Gynae Issues Bingo with me since I was twelve years old, and as a result, I don’t have any positive associations with any aspect of my menstrual cycle whatsoever. My uterus is an unwanted stranger squatting in my body who periodically (hah) likes to indulge in a bit of physical and emotional torture. I’m never going to use it for anything, and it’s taking up space that could instead be occupied by…I don’t know, an entirely new organ that lets me perceive multiple timelines at once. Or a small internal air-conditioner that stops me getting too hot in summer. Or just empty space. Something more useful and pleasant than the current tenant.

Based on this, it’s not a surprise that when I first saw the image from the study, I mentally ran down the ‘Negative Symptoms’ column and put a big fat tick next to every single one.

01

Seriously, I was like the aliens from Sesame Street:

yep

Being a curious little Martian, I was interested to see what kind of positive premenstrual symptoms people experienced, because in my eighteen years of sporadic bleeding, I’ve never had (or heard of) a single one. The closest I can think of is that, in the week leading up to my period, my sense of smell and taste gets more acute – which is kind of cool and makes me feel like I have superpowers, but is also annoying because it comes with an aversion to some of my favourite, staple foods, like salad. None of my friends or relatives who menstruate have ever mentioned anything good about the whole PMT lark. But just because I’ve never heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, right?

So, I looked at the list of positive symptoms.

02

I had two main reactions to this, and I’m going to deal with the less-irritated one first. If anyone out there gets more energy and motivation, and feels more efficient and in control, when they’re up to their eyeballs in pre-menstrual hormones, I would genuinely love to know about it (the comments section is open if anyone’s happy to share their story). When I have PMT, my focus is so poor that I can barely work out questions like “Why did I come to the stationery cupboard?” (answer: to get stationery), and the only thing I’m motivated to do is curl up on my bed and binge-watch whatever TV show I’m on at that particular moment. I’m so far away from relaxed that my fists are near-permanently clenched, and my energy levels are non-existent. So, if anyone turns into the enhanced individual described above, I’m deeply envious of you and I also kind of want to know your exact hormone levels throughout the month and attempt to replicate them.

Now for the second reaction. Two of these things are not like the others. Can you spot them?

03

There they are. Two of the ‘most frequent positive symptoms’ of PMT are, apparently, ‘younger facial appearance’ and ‘more attractive breasts’.

What’s wrong with this? Oh, so very much.

First of all; attractiveness is completely subjective. Look at the way beauty standards have changed over time, and how they differ from culture to culture. Think about all the different things that you and people you know find attractive or unattractive (if you experience sexual and romantic attraction, which not everybody does). So what does this study mean by attractive breasts?

05

The answer, apparently, is “bigger”. Which plays into the most basic tropes of white Western patriarchal beauty standards, and is just plain insulting. “Yeah, your boobs might feel like two bags of rocks and hurt with every step, but they’re slightly bigger, and that makes them better!” The same goes for ‘younger facial appearance’ – when I’m crying because my hormones are picking my brain apart for funsies, I don’t care that I might look like a weeping 28-year-old instead of a weeping 30-year-old. I’d rather look 50 and feel cheerful, thanks.

Second of all; attractiveness doesn’t matter. It really, honestly doesn’t. Your physical appearance is almost entirely out of your control – genetics rules nearly absolutely when it comes to the way you look. And on top of the fact that (as mentioned above) people’s reactions to it are going to differ wildly depending on circumstances, there’s the much more significant fact that their reactions to the way you look are not important. Sure, other people are allowed to have opinions about you – but the only one that matters is yours.

Implying that a “better” appearance is a “positive” part of PMT ties in with a very old, very sexist stereotype. While not everyone who has periods is a woman (and not every woman has periods), people who menstruate are very often coded as women by society at large – and part of being coded as a woman means being told, not in so many words but repeatedly and pervasively, that you are an ornament to decorate someone else’s life, not an active agent living your own.

I stressed above that appearance doesn’t matter, and I meant it – on the real, fundamental level, where we treat everyone as people, it’s only your actions and your behaviour that matters. However, out in the world, women, and other people put into the ‘woman’ box by society, are so frequently told that our appearance the only thing about us that does matter – that if we’re going to insist on living our lives, making our own decisions, being full and actualised people, then we’d better look young and pretty doing it, otherwise what’s the point of us?

The point of us is that we’re people, like everyone else. Suggesting that a physical process, which may be causing someone immense pain and playing havoc with their mental health, has its good points because it gives some dude bigger boobs to stare at, doesn’t support that. It just objectifies us all over again.

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My Favourite Places: Thirsty Meeples

Living in Oxford is a pain in some respects (incredibly high rents for not-exactly-stellar-and-let’s-be-honest-literally-mouldy rooms being one of the major bugbears I have with this city), but there are still many things I love about the place. One of these is the café that got me back into board games, Thirsty Meeples.

thirsty-meeples

The picture is misleading – it is NEVER this empty.

Thirsty Meeples is the UK’s first board game café, and I fell in love with the place on my very first trip. Games, cake, sweets, sandwiches, a whole range of teas and coffees, and beer, wine or cocktails if you feel like it? What’s not to love? (All right, so most of that sentence was about food and drink – just imagine I said ‘games’ a load more times).

I’ve been to Thirsty Meeples with friends, on dates, and with my boyfriend, and every time, I’ve had the chance to learn a new game – and I’ve very rarely found one I didn’t like, thanks to the staff and their spot-on recommendations.

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This was the only truly dreadful one I’ve seen.

And, since I mentioned the food – I can confirm that there are few better ways to spend an afternoon than playing a creepy haunted house game (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, highly recommended) with your friends while eating a sausage roll and drinking a peanut butter mocha.

If you’re ever in Oxford…then you probably won’t be able to swing by Meeples, because it’s nearly always fully booked, it’s that popular. But if you’re planning a day out, remember to call ahead and get a table – you won’t be disappointed.

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Follow the Stars

As anyone who’s read…well, pretty much any of my previous blogs on writing…will know, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with focus, motivation, all the things you need in order to get your bum in the seat and your hands on the keyboard. (To write, I mean. I have no problem getting my bum in the seat and my hands on the keyboard in order to blather all over Facebook and Twitter).

I’ve had to resort to drastic measures, and they involve several sticker sheets of gold stars.

100% of the credit for this idea has to go to the fantastic LD Lapinski, who wrote about using a star chart for motivation in this blog. I too have set up a star chart, covering all the things I need extra motivation to do (including getting up on time and eating my vegetables, as well as writing the goddamn novel). I wasn’t going to blog about it, because it felt like copying – but then things developed. Suddenly, I realised that stars were everywhere.

I recently signed up to MyWriteClub to track my progress on Sigyn, because if there’s one thing I love as much as stars, it’s graphs. Here’s my WIP page:

screenshot-2016-11-15-19-10-15

And that’s not all. I started doing writing sprints, and look what happens every time you get to 1000 words?

screenshot-2016-11-15-19-12-09

(And you get green stars for every 100, too. Be still my heart!)

I also signed up to NaNoWriMo, even though it felt like cheating to go in with a novel I was already writing, because I can never have too many of those little hits of dopamine that come with seeing a pictorial representation of your word count increasing.

screenshot-2016-11-15-19-14-12

But what’s that further down the page?

screenshot-2016-11-15-19-14-56

HOLY CRAP, IT’S BADGES.

I love badges even more than I love stars. I’m fairly sure that 50% of my motivation for exercising is to get more FitBit badges (the other 50% is, of course, to become a superhero). I often get quite sad that there’s no grown-up equivalent of Guides where you can work through a book of tasks and earn proper embroidered sew-on badges, because I absolutely adored that.

It all sounds a little bit silly, but I don’t care, because it works. For so long, the story has been difficult and I’ve not been able to get lost in the writing the way I used to – but now, I’ve got something pulling me back. And even if, today, that something is shiny pieces of paper and badges that don’t exist offline, rather than some noble authorly drive, it doesn’t matter – because I’m still writing.

 

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After the Election

On 9th November, I woke up to a text from my boyfriend: “Trump has won.”

It still hasn’t quite sunk in. I spent most of yesterday reeling, stunned, occasionally losing myself in something else, only for the horror to come crashing back. President Donald Trump. The poison cherry on top of the shit sundae that has been 2016.

I spent yesterday reeling, but I spent today thinking What can I do?, because as someone with a fairly large amount of privilege, I have a choice here. As a woman and a person with various chronic and mental illnesses, the swing to the far right that has only been accelerated by Trump’s victory will hurt me, but not as much and not as quickly as it will hurt people who aren’t white, cis, straight, middle-class and able-bodied. I can hunker down, stay quiet and hope to dodge the shrapnel, or I can stand up, shout and do what’s right.

I refuse to do the former. Here are some ways I’m going to try to do the latter. All constructive thoughts and ideas on how to do it better will be very much appreciated.

 

Listen, and amplify people’s voices

Marginalised people are already underrepresented in media, overlooked, shouted down at every turn. I can’t see that getting any better under the current circumstances. So, I will signal-boost the people who are bearing the brunt of the far-right’s rise as much as I can – we need to listen to trans people, LGB people, disabled people, and POC (especially WOC, especially black women) as much as possible. Here are some brilliant articles that have been written so far, and I’ll be adding more as I find them:

Make Something Up – Kristine Wyllys

Good Morning, America. Welcome to your White Supremacy – Ijeoma Oluo

The Audacity of Hopelessness – Roxane Gay

We Who Choose to Stay and Fight – Sara Benincasa

And for God’s sake, listen to the same groups of people I mentioned above. Listen, digest their words quietly, and don’t get defensive and pissy and not all white people/straight people/men. Because that helps no-one and deflects from the real issue, which is that while you, fellow privileged person, may not agree with the current climate, it still won’t harm you in the way it does marginalised people. Listen to them and believe what they’re telling you.

 

Support

If you’ve listened properly to marginalised people, you will have learned of ways to help without throwing your privilege around and making it all about you. Support organisations led by people bearing the brunt of the racism, sexism, disablism, LGBT-antagonism, and do it in the way that these people ask. Give your time and money and skills if you can, and if you can’t, signal-boost and raise awareness. I’ll be taking recommendations of organisations and groups to support and listing them here.

 

Oppose bigotry, big and small

I am incredibly ashamed to admit that, on many occasions, I’ve let bigotry slide – because it’s just one small comment, because it’s just a silly joke, because, because, because. Deep down, I know that the real ‘because’ on all those occasions was because I get very uncomfortable about conflict and chickened out of doing the right thing. I’m not going to do that any more. From the smallest comment to the most violent attack, we cannot let anything slide, because that is how bigotry and prejudice becomes normalised. Our comfort is not, and never has been, more important than another person’s safety – it’s just been perceived and treated as such.

 

I am terrified as to what the next few years will bring. But I know that if people who are able to oppose it refuse to do so, it will be so much worse than the alternative. There are many people who are going to be putting all their strength into just surviving – those of us who don’t have to do that need to step up and give our support to those who do, without expecting a cookie or a pat on the head, because we shouldn’t need that in order to fight for other human beings to be treated as such.

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