Feminist cheeseboard

I want to revisit my last post. Specifically, this poster – and how utterly awful it is.

(Sorry for making you look at it again. This will be the last time, I promise).

When Mark read that post, he said, “I’m glad you’re not like that anymore. I wouldn’t have wanted that person to be my girlfriend.”

I desperately wanted to be able to say truthfully, “I wouldn’t have wanted that person to be my friend! She is clearly awful!”

And yet obviously I didn’t think she was awful. In fact, I thought she was brilliant and hilarious and had excellent taste in posters. 

It is hard to reconcile that past self with my current self. This weekend, Mark asked, “Why can’t I get your phone to fit in your pocket?”.


(He is very patient).

A few weeks ago, I went for dinner with Becky. I say, “dinner”. We got a bit confused by the layout of the place we’d arranged to meet, and never quite made it to the restaurant level. Instead, we sat in the bar, methodically making our way through a cheeseboard and a bowl of chips. As we have often arranged to meet with the specific goal of devouring a cheeseboard, this was no great hardship.

Becky and I have two main registers of conversation:

  1. Full on deep and meaningful
  2. Surprise horses

This evening veered towards the former.

We talked at length about the nonsense people we had been when we first became friends. Becky works at a student union now, where she spends her days interacting with politicised, articulate, impassioned young people. When we were at university, we not only weren’t those people, we didn’t know any of those people.

We laughed at rape jokes. (“It’s not rape if you shout surprise first.”)

We unquestioningly attended an event where our table had been assigned the fancy dress theme “Pimps vs. Hoes”, and did not think it was anything but hilarious that this was so the theme-allocator could see our friend Dan in fancy underwear.

We allocated ourselves the fancy dress theme “Playboy Bunnies” for a night out, and pranced around town in high heels and small skirts and jaunty ears and what on earth were we thinking???

So Becky and I sat, munching cheese, and pondering. The students she works with seem to arrive at university as fully-formed feminists: woke, angry and ready to fight the good fight. Were the LSE students of a decade ago equally fired up? (We think: possibly). Are the Durham students of today? (We think: probably not).

What’s unclear for both of us is at what point we actually became aware of the awfulness we were perpetuating. Ironically, the one module we took which might have equipped us with the tools to identify and challenge our own idiocy – Introduction to Literary Theory – is the very module for which we sat together, writing silly notes and drawing cartoons and giggling. (I do not entirely regret this. Without our nonsense, we might never have asked nor answered the important question: What if a pig had a moustache?)

Anyway, neither of us had a lightbulb moment. Every morning, I wake up slowly. My feminism was as heavy a sleeper as I am. 

I can’t discount the influence of Twitter. While there are enormous pools of festering misogynist hate lurking in the hashtags, at the same time it plays host to so many interesting, challenging, funny, clever, angry, generous women. I have learned so much by looking through the windows they present.

Should you be looking for your own bubble of social media smarts, here is my (obviously non-exhaustive) primer for Interesting Feminist Women Of Twitter. Follow them and learn stuff.

  • Roxane Gay. To steal one of the endorsements for her book, Bad Feminist: “Praise Roxane Gay for her big-hearted self-examining intelligence, for her inclusive and forgiving stance, for her courage and determination, for humanizing the theoretical and intellectualizing the mundane, for saying out loud the things we were thinking, for guiding us back to ourselves and returning to us what was ours all along. Now that she’s here, it’s impossible to imagine what we ever did without her.”
  • Tavi Gevinson. When she was 15, she found it difficult to find strong female, teenage role models. So, she built a space where they could find each other, in the form of Rookie Magazine.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She doesn’t actually tweet much, so perhaps you’d be better watching her TED Talk, “We should all be feminists“.
  • The Everyday Sexism project will make you feel disheartened…
  • …you may wish to enjoy some light misandry courtesy of Mallory Ortberg as an antidote.
  • If that’s still not enough, try Danielle Henderson. She’s excellent in her own right, and she created Feminist Ryan Gosling. Hey girl.
  • Lindy West and Ijeoma Oluo. I present them as a pair because they are Uber Feminist Sisters-in-Law Extraordinaire. What a family! You might be interested in what they have to say about the intersectionalities of race and gender, about fat and feminism, about internet abuse, about sexual abuse, about raising boys, about pop culture… They are never not interesting. 
  • Nerdette Podcast. Follow them, yes, but also go and actually listen to the podcast. Their series “GREAT LADY NERDS OF HISTORY” will make you feel like you can change the world.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, here are some of the specific ways in which that poster is terrible:

  1. Use of the word “hooker”. There are some sex workers who are sex workers by choice, who are exercising their right to choose what to do with their bodies. There are some sex workers who are very much not sex workers by choice, and who are in dangerous, desperate situations. There’s a whole spectrum of people in between. I do not have the right to call any of them hookers. It’s neither cute nor funny.
  2. Implication that sex workers are stupid. Some might be; many aren’t. Belle De Jour certainly wasn’t.
  3. Suggestion that pursuing someone for their money is a good thing to do. It isn’t. This is so misaligned with the way I feel about money and love and financial independence. Mark and I are currently getting used to having a joint account for our household expenses, and I’m so aware of the responsibility of spending his money that he has to check after every visit to the supermarket that I’ve actually brought myself to use the shared account. My mum used to joke (?) about maintaining a “running away from home” fund: an account that was hers and hers alone. While typing that has made me feel a bit sad for the veiled truths I wilfully ignored, it’s a sentiment that resonates with me. I’m proud of the career I have and the salary that I earn, and the independence that it affords me. I recognise that a huge degree of unearned social, cultural and financial privilege provided the cushion that allowed me to follow the path that I have. Talking or writing about money makes me really uncomfortable in ways that are probably worth examining in a lot more depth at some point, but this bullet point has already got quite out of hand and I’m not sure how to deal with paragraph structure within a numbered list so I think I’ll stop here for now.
  4. It’s not even a nice design. 

Perhaps there are other ways in which you hate this poster? Do share in the comments! HATEFEST.

[Do you like colouring? Do you like swears? Have you always wished you could find a way to combine your interests? You will enjoy Becky’s book very, very much.]





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