Still I Rise

I have been seeing a therapist coming on 3 years. That’s how long I guess it takes to fix a breakdown. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy to unwrite the pathways in my head and process life in a way that means I won’t just stop breathing. I used to do that quite frequently and without realising. It’s only when my head would swim or I’d get hit with pangs of nausea that I’d notice I’d been sat holding my breath. The resultant sensations would make me want to self-harm and that was my life for a couple of years until the therapy started to take hold.

After the Mary Beard incident, I was really excited to see my therapist. I wanted to tell her how well I’d coped. Coping is something I’ve been learning to do. Years of being silenced, of being disbelieved left me unable to deal with the most basic of situations. Without therapy, the mistake I’d made would have finished me. I would not have been able to admit that I had done something wrong because the toxic shame that feels like internal bleeding would have rendered me incapable. Instead I would think of all the worthless valueless things I’d been called and would take it as confirmation that I must be those things. I wouldn’t have thought to apologise because I would have believed that my apology would be of no consequence and instead would be used against me as a sign of weakness. I really believe this is why Caitlin Moran finds it so impossible.

But I did apologise. Admittedly I experienced the initial gut churning realisation that I had made a monumental mistake but I also knew that I could overcome it. I understood that I could learn from this. I acknowledged we all make mistakes, sometimes catastrophic. It is how we deal with them that makes all the difference. I’m not infallible. I do my best to empathise and I want to understand everything, that’s why I have this need for transparency. So I steeled myself for the fallout. I hadn’t, however, banked on being made an example of when privilege politics gone wrong in a move orchestrated to discredit our progression as intersectional feminists striving for equality for all, not just the white cis commentariat.

I apologised to Mary Beard because I had offended HER. I wasn’t ‘called out’; I was jumped on by someone with their own nasty agenda. Weeks of being shown for the bigots they are and the first time once of us slips up, it’s time to take us all down. I didn’t wait for someone to point out my mistake, I realised it myself and did what I could to make amends. First and foremost, I immediately apologised on Twitter. I also blogged it. I started following Mary because I wanted to learn more about her, and she followed me too. I wanted to learn from this experience. I thought about it many times in the weeks to come, that old cringe that creeps up on you just as you’re about to fall asleep. But it also made me think of how I’ve always felt uncomfortable calling out racism, because of the way it can be turned back on us. In this instance I’d got it so very wrong. But it reminded me of the time a workmate would sing “there’s a brown girl in the room” whenever I’d walk through the door. Or the white ex-boyfriend who told me it didn’t matter how much white people allied themselves with non-whites, most of Britain is the Daily Mail variety. In doing so he’d further compounded the paranoia that brown people like me feel whenever we are in white company. It could be anyone.

Helen acknowledged that I had made an error due to ill health. She would have made this decision because, before the incident that day, I had actually been tweeting the pain I was in. I have a spinal injury and complex PTSD. There was no excuse for my false allegation which is why an apology was made in full. Understanding privilege does not give people the right say and do what they like but it does give people some idea as to WHY something happened. And it provides the platform for respectful discussion. It doesn’t take away the harm perpetrated which is why I wanted to ask for forgiveness. I didn’t do a Caitlin and block my critics, I listened. When the brain fog takes over I try not to succumb to it. I want to understand and compartmentalise what happened and so I take it apart. I realised then that Helen was going to make a show of me. But I also knew it was a very tenuous link she was making and that I was an easy target. This isn’t the first time I’ve been scapegoated. In fact, it is a part of my disorder!

To randomly come across a Storify that I was assured would be deleted was disheartening to say the least. I didn’t understand why it was back up. I thought it was underhanded and kicked myself for trusting someone who had clearly wanted to vilify me. Why was it still there? Only I couldn’t ask Helen because she’d already blocked me. Through dribs and drabs of incoherent tweeting, I saw that she was unhappy about a blog I’d written. I wracked my brain thinking about where I might have offended her. I’d mentioned Mary in a couple of blogs but no real link to Helen anywhere. And then, I saw someone mention the post “There’s no point in online feminism if it’s not intersectional”.

I don’t talk about her at all. In fact her name is tagged on the post but I don’t specifically mention her. I do take objection to the author of the Mean Girls post though. In a debunking of her outrageously misogynistic piece in where she admits to wanting to behave like teh menz, she wrote some very damaging things about the feminist movement. It is my right to debunk a piece which is given a platform like the New Statesman. Did Helen take offence because she was the one who published it? Whatever her reasons, how can she justify republishing something she said she would take down because of the circumstances of that particular day? Am I not allowed to have an opinion now? If, in the future, I am racially abused, can you all discredit me with this one example of when I got it wrong? I’m not super human; I will probably make more mistakes. But I will damn well try to understand why they happened and how I can prevent them from happening again.

Why aren’t we allowed to learn and grow from our mistakes? When is it ever ok for a woman in Helen’s position to falsify a set of events and present them in a way that will encourage people to abuse me? There’s a set of people eager to point out how stupid I am and also the ableist bunch who think I am lying about my health. Or if I’m not lying about my health, then I should refrain from having an opinion. Move over Harry Potter, I need your cupboard under the stairs.

This is why we’re doing the intersectional thing folks. We’re giving those people you wanna shut up a voice. I’ve had enough of silencing. That’s why I’m ok with Helen leaving her skewed version of events up. This incident has strengthened my belief in the cause more than ever before. These are the people we are fighting. They are not our allies. If they were any good at feminism the last time round, i.e. including women like my mother and trans women like my many wonderful friends, we wouldn’t still be in this shit heap of a patriarchy.

When the patriarchy attacks my female critics, they have an ally in me. When their allies attack me, they call me a ‘cunt’. My feminist critics make an example of me.

WE ARE NOT ON THE SAME SIDE.

Dredging up a 3 month old incident is not good journalism, it’s desperate.

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6 comments

  1. I think you did a brave and awesome thing in how you handled your mistake and the aftermath.

    We grow up with ideas like “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” and “take the log out of your own eye before you complain about the speck in your brother’s eye” getting pounded into our thinking, and the result is this idea that if you have ever done something wrong, you have no right criticizing anyone else. Which then becomes, “Well, if you admit that you’ve made mistakes, you have no right complaining about this other person attacking you.” It ties in with victim blaming at all levels of society, and leads to the place where people must, obsessively, defend themselves against any hint taht they might make a mistake, because the minute they admit they’ve been less than perfect, their enemies have the platform to say, “You can ignore everything she says about us because she isn’t perfect either.”

    The problem with this whole thing is, there is a big difference between making a mistake and trying to fix it and actively attacking, denigrating and hurting people and trying to justify it. But that difference gets lost in the “Unless you are perfect you have no right to criticize” dynamic.

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  2. The issue is not about you mistakenly labelling someone a racist and then never being forgiven. Its about the way that ‘privilege checking’ is increasingly used as a way of shutting people who do not fall in line with a particular strand of ideology out of the debate and of devaluing their lived experience and opinions. The exchange you had with Helen Lewis illustrates that perfectly.

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    1. Bullshit. THAT was the best example she could give? Months of discussion between 100s of us and this was the best she could come up with? This one example is going to undermine the whole intersectional movement is it? Nonsense.

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    2. So, Mags, what kind of ideologies are we talking about?

      Nothing wrong with privilege checking. It usually reveals a lot. That is why white racist and sexist men hate it so much. It strikes them in their very core.

      Ideologies do not fall from the sky. They develop out of specific conditions, like privilege.

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  3. …someone mention bullying?
    Jones…Jones…Jones…what you need…is a serious dose of heroic tourette’s to come to the rescue.

    Chin up punk; it gets easier. Trust me!

    #havespandexwilltravel

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