Clever things my friends said.

In no order whatsoever, here’s a pile of brilliant stuff my friends and friends’ friends said in the last few months. I’m not crediting anyone in case they don’t want to be associated with me in public, but none of this is my work.

The ultimate leverage as an adult is the ability to withhold your participation in someone’s life.


It’s weird how many philosophers/business thinkers are only wrong because the context they were right in is gone.


There’s another good life-directive: “Be easy to cheer for.”


You can either be weak and in pain or strong and in pain, and strong usually takes away the pain.


Unfortunately the combination of a very socially accepting place for people with less social skills, and exposure to what can be a very permissive environment, can cause people to make really bad social choices at cons.

[Note: same factors can be in play in many other settings.]


I think bravery is doing something regardless of the fact that you feel scared. What I’m talking about is doing something BECAUSE you feel scared. Fear is still the motivator, hence the issue. It may lead to the same actions and results as actual bravery, or it may not. If it doesn’t, it can be kinda catastrophic.


One thing I find funny in regards to people who can’t sympathize/identify with a hero of the opposite gender; out of all of the traits that those people don’t share with the hero, gender is the smallest.


I find good [self-defence] stuff carries through systems and even entirely disparate activities, and shitty stuff tends to be really specific. Which is kinda interesting considering how many instructors are giving themselves aneurysms trying to generate something trademarkable.


The problem with self defense is that it is a negative feedback system; if it works nothing happens. That can be very difficult to analyze. Did that guy not try to grab her and drag her into the shrubbery because she was adept at maintaining distance or had an unconscious air of confidence? Or was it because he never intended to in the first place? Or was there simply people off in the distance that he saw that she did not? There’s no way to know. You could spend a lifetime of diagrams and charts analyzing each moment.


The cost of survival is security and company. The cost of thriving is control.

Thriving is an evolution. Thriving means being willing/able to let survival worries go so that you can focus on creating an environment in which you can be vulnerable and open and reap the associated benefits and happiness. However, this involves maximizing effort with other people trying to do the same. That means that growth/health are the priority, not the specific individuals. Survival is personal and what you do about it is under your control. Thriving is (in my opinion, inevitably) communal and means surrendering personal control to the process.


Writing advice:

try the best you can
and do the things you always wanted to see
and all the things you’ve never seen
and crush the things you’ve hated
the worst that will happen is you will cringe while editing it in draft 2


Booby prize.

I have a disastrously poor metaphors to explain how I view human connections. I think of myself, my private life, my soul, whatever, as a house with a porch, garden, front gate, etc. There are people I speak to at the front gate. I neither need nor want them to actually enter my property. Our connection doesn’t warrant any further intimacy. That doesn’t mean that I have to be awful to them. I can be perfectly polite and pleasant to the guy who delivers my parcels, but I’ll be so at my front gate. No need for him to get further into my property, my life, etc.

[I think that’s one trick we’re missing in the modern world: we don’t have to like or care about someone to be “nice” to them. Manners, for me, are as much about me, my opinion of myself, how I choose to present myself to myself first and then to the world, as about the person they are aimed to. Unless people give me cause to be an asshole, I’ll be (relatively) nice, because that’s what I like. But asshole is absolutely on the menu.]

Access to other areas is by invitation only. There are people I speak to in the garden, on the porch, at the front door, in the hallway. There are people I invite into my living room. There are some I invite into the bedroom.

In different settings, different rules and expectations apply. The nearer anyone gets to my inner sanctum (which is why the metaphor is truly awful – “inner sanctum” and “vagina” are not in fact synonymous), the more rules apply and the more important the expectations are. The more trust I give, the more trustworthy I expect people to be.

Any attempt at barging into a more intimate area – and that doesn’t just mean the bedroom – means an automatic ban from all private areas. If you show me that I can’t trust you, then I won’t trust you. If you don’t respect my consent about the little things, I will take that as a significant data point and never, ever assume that you will respect my consent about the big things. So, out the front gate you go. If we can talk at all, we’ll do so over there.

I absolutely hate how consent got co-opted as into a purely sexual concept, because it is a major underpinning of healthy interpersonal relationships. I will not talk to your mom about you without your consent. I will not reveal private things you’ve said without your consent. If you let me in your house, I will not look through your drawers without your consent. In a very real sense, trusting people who are unwilling or incapable of being invested in your consent is a recipe for a trainwreck.

These days I’m forever seeing people complain of having been “friendzoned,” and it pisses me off mightily, mostly in two ways. It pisses me off when I see people (seems to be mostly women) deliberately leading on other people (seems to be mostly guys) with sexualised behaviour in order to get them to do stuff. Yes, nobody should expect sex in exchange for goods or services unless otherwise specified beforehand; however, that game gets rigged way too often.

It pisses me off even more when I see people (seems to be mostly guys) who are told that sex is clearly entirely, unequivocally, most definitely off the menu, are not happy about that, and neither accept it nor move on. They are not really interested in a platonic friendship, but they choose to hang about just in case the sex ban gets lifted.

Most of them behave harmlessly enough, manifesting their displeasure solely by moaning incessantly about the iniquities of some people and acting all deflated and hard-done-by. The fact that this makes them about as enjoyable as companions as a foot fungus, and about equally as likely to be invited into anyone’s bed, doesn’t seem to register. Some of them are less harmless, though. A lot of them just seem to wait for that opportunity for sex to happen – that sex that they were clearly told wasn’t going to happen. I find this unwholesome, if not downright unsafe. Way too many of them spend way too much time hanging around that metaphorical bedroom door, waiting for the time you forget to lock it behind you, because that means that they now can come in, right? They know that you said “no” in X set of circumstances, but now that the circumstances have changed the “no” doesn’t still have to apply, does it? And if some of them accidentally-on-purpose happen to fall on the doorknob, and the door springs open, and they walk right in, well, how could they know that they shouldn’t?

Anyone who doesn’t want to be your friend cannot be “friendzoned;” because they weren’t friends in the first place. To me, a friend is someone with whom I have a mutually consensual, respectful relationship that encompasses what we both want it to encompass, but doesn’t have a romantic/sexual element. The absence of that element doesn’t make the friendship an inferior connection, because neither of us sees our friendship as some kind of booby prize.

Tiptoe through the heather.

It was a perfect summer day in the English countryside. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the flowers were blooming, the butterflies were butterflying. The sundry wonders of nature were all doing their very best to fill me with joy and happiness. With a song in my heart, I skipped and hopped down a lovely footpath across a coastal heathland. I didn’t have a care in the world.

Such was my state of mind that when Large Hairy Naked Man emerged from the shrubbery right by the path, he gave me a bit of a start. (He never got the chance to properly introduce himself to me, the poor chap, so I picked him a moniker that seemed to fit.) He was tall and broad-shouldered, looming over me at that short distance. He was hairy almost all over, a fact which I became aware of because he was naked all over. He was also most definitely, if not impressively, a man, and apparently rather happy about it.

His sudden appearance was unexpected to say the least, and my surprise stopped me in my tracks. I was particularly surprised by his choice of attire, or lack thereof. Heathland shrubs are notoriously unkind to the skin; although a joy to behold, they’re not a joy to touch. Laying oneself down amid those flowers is only a good idea if one is planning to spend the rest of the day picking out thorns, or possibly getting a skin graft. It requires either an impervious hide, spectacular self-hatred, or a serious amount of dedication. It seemed rather odd that one would choose to lay down there with a beach not two minutes away. It seemed rather odd that one would do so in that particular spot, right in the middle of nowhere. And for that poor person to happen to emerge all sudden-like right when someone happened to be passing through… and for that someone to be an unaccompanied female… What a truly unfortunate series of coincidences!

Poor Large Hairy Naked Man! All nekkid and exposed in front of a perfect stranger!  I would have been mortified, if I were him. He must have been made of sterner stuff than me, though, because he seemed perfectly unperturbed. He stared at me. I stared at him. He stared at me right back. I stared at him some more. We continued to stare at each other. After a cat-like amount of mutual staring,  he started to look a bit uncomfortable. His poor face dropped, as if he was terribly disappointed. He looked at me, hope leaving his eyes, shoulders drooping… all manners of other things drooping too, actually. I felt as if I was letting him down; as if I was supposed to be saying or doing something crucial, and had missed my cue.

I was starting to wonder whether anything was going to break this impasse, when bounding down the path behind me came my adorable little girlpup, who’d been lagging behind, smelling the flowers and generally doing her dog stuff. She was the cutest girlpup ever, with a cute brown button nose and little white socks on her footies and flippy floppy little ears and a waggly tail. She was also an outgoing girl, full of energy and always happy to meet new people. I swear, she was the most adorabubble murder dog pitbull cross in the whole wide world.

She looked at Large Hairy Naked Man, smiling her toothy pitbull smile. Large Hairy Naked Man looked at her, not smiling at all. I looked at her, and at the man’s face, and at his now very-much-dangling bits, and then at her again. It was then that I recalled the magic word; the word that had eluded me all along:


And my pretty girlpup, who was as clever as clever can be, tilted her head all keen-like, and her smile got even toothier.

At that very moment, Large Hairy Naked Man must have remembered some very urgent business he had to conduct . Was he late for a waxing appointment? Was his laundry finished, and in need of hanging before it got creased up? I shall never know, because, without so much as a by-your-leave, he turned on his heels and galloped off into the distance. He was in such urgency, in fact, that he apparently couldn’t spare the time to negotiate the vegetation. From his repeated and plaintive cries, the shrubs must have been shredding his extremities. I can’t say I was too sympathetic. It is foolish to dillydally in the undergrowth and then waste time in staring contexts with passing strangers when one has things to do.

My girlpup and I shrugged our shoulders and carried on with our walk, with the sun on our backs and joy in our hearts. And, to celebrate the end of a beautiful and uneventful day, we both had sausage for dinner.


On consent.

A supremely useful convo unfolded on Dillon’s page last week. I’m going to literally cut-and-paste chunks out of it here, because I can’t improve on it.

We were discussing how “consent” can be such a complicated issue when applied to sex. In particular, we were discussing the difference between real consent and the illusion of consent that can be obtained by various means (in that particular case, by using one’s power), and implied vs. explicit consent.


Edward Hines said:

You’re right – it’s not always clear. And that clarity is muddied by the emotions involved, and those emotions are stirred by the hormones involved and…

I work in martial arts and fitness. Physical contact is normal for me. Where I work I cue postures through touch all the time and it’s expected. It could be abused, but I’m not willing to go through the whole bizarre artificialness of ‘permission to touch’ because it contradicts what i’m trying to do (make primates stronger, tougher and healthier) so believe me, I get where you are coming from.

Since you are friend of Dillon maybe you’re familiar with Peyton Quinn’s five rules of how not to get into violent situations:

  1. Don’t Insult him
  2. Don’t threaten him
  3. Don’t challenge him
  4. Don’t deny it’s happening
  5. Leave him a face saving exit

This morning I was thinking about the question of consent, and coercion. I thought about the my personal experiences in courtship. There are certainly times when I’ve made women feel uncomfortable or pressured, and I wondered what kind of checklist would help avoid an inadvertent slide towards coercion.

I thought these rules can well be applied with some slight differences:

  1. Don’t insult her
  2. Don’t threaten her
  3. Don’t challenge her
  4. Don’t deny it’s happening -she’s saying No /pretend you’re not doing it
  5. Leave her a face saving exit


Kaja Sadowski added:

Edward: those rules are a pretty good place to start, actually. They cover a lot of the defensive/cajoling behaviors that I’ve seen from men when faced with a “no” or lack of enthusiasm.

The challenge lies in recognition, I think, because it’s easy to spot the overt mode of those behaviors, and harder to catch the subtler versions that usually turn up in cases of this kind of coercion:

  1. Insults can look like “C’mon, honey, don’t be a prude/frigid” or “I thought you weren’t like the other girls”
  2. Threats can be simple reminders of one’s relative social position
  3. Challenges can be, “You know you want it” or “See, that felt good, didn’t it?”. Or any form of gaslighting.

The only big thing missing from the list is chemical means of compromising consent. I’m not talking date-rape drugs, since we’re building a checklist for avoiding inadvertent or subtle coercion, but rather the “I’ll see if she still feels this way after another drink” gambit.


Do not deny it’s happening” is honestly probably the most important one. I didn’t address it in my original omments because its utility struck me as so perfect and obvious, that it didn’t need further elaboration on my part. Bad assumption.

Realizing, “Oh crap, I’m manipulating this person” and then not immediately turning away from that knowledge is crucial.

The thing I really like about this list is that it doesn’t hinge on any labels such as “predator”, “threat”, etc. that may make people recoil instinctively, but rather targets really specific behaviors with clear instruction (“Don’t do these specific, coercive things.” “Do make sure you’re leaving the other party an out and are willing to actually let them take it.”).


I think this approach is brilliant. I’ve previously referred people to the things like the list of predatory tactics in “The Gift of Fear”, but that only sells to those who’re already invested in the subject, i.e. those who’re the least problematic people to deal with anyway. The broader approach of Peyton Quinn’s five rules leaves less room for rule-lawyering by ill-intentioned twerps. Also, the fact that those rules were originally written by a manly man for other manly men may lend it extra credence in some quarters.

Now what?

A couple of guys have asked me “so if a woman comes to us reporting sexual assaults or general creepitude, what the hell do we do? How should we respond?”

I don’t have an answer, because I don’t think there’s an answer that would apply to all people in all situations. I have a whole list of bad responses, but handing out red flags without a map to pin them on doesn’t seem much help. However, I remember very clearly the only time I’ve had a response that made things better for me. The story that will follow is a non-event, but it’s a. real and b. something I’m willing to share.

Storytime. Once upon a time, I was at uni and my bestest friend was called Rob. One day we were walking around campus when we bumped into this guy he knew from back home – they’d grown up in the same small community and gone to the same school. They didn’t really hang out at uni, simply because they belonged to two different sets. Rob introduced me, they chatted for a bit, and then we split.

A couple of days later Rob told me that the guy had contacted him to ask if I was single. He told him that I was extremely taken, and hoped that was OK. As it was the truth and not precisely a state secret, it was OK with me.

A few days after that the guy rang me at home (easy peasy due to the way the university directory worked). He said that he was going to have a bunch of his friends round his place that Friday, and did I want to come along. I said yes. Later on I checked with Rob and he’d not been invited, which we thought was slightly poor form, but as Rob was famously not a party kinda guy also not terribly weird.

When I got to the guy’s dorm room, there was nobody there but him. I thought that was odd, but then again none of us were terribly good at timekeeping and this wasn’t a formal do with a show-up time. An hour later, though, there was still no sign of anyone else. One completely baked guy stumbled in, looked confused, then walked out again. At this point I started to smell a rat – there I was, on my own in a guy’s bedroom…

…and the people who have a problem with that need to tell me what kind of university they went to. There’s a lot of blather spewed about that kind of thing, which completely disregards the fact that at uni most normal people live and sleep in a one-room space. You could hang out in the common rooms, but the list of things you can’t do there is extensive and the amount of disturbance you encounter is high. Technically I spent about 90% of my socialising time as a student in some guy’s bedroom. The remaining 10% was spent with some guy in my bedroom. If we’d had been aware of how risque this is considered in some parts, we might have enjoyed it more. All this sexual misconduct we shoulda been up to, and instead we were playing marathon sessions of Magic? What a waste!

Anyhoo, there I was, no sign of a party ensuing and minimally interested in talking to a near-stranger for extended periods of time, so I decided to leave. The guy wasn’t too happy but posed no great objections, and volunteered to walk me home. I wasn’t precisely mad about the idea, but it was not an unusual behaviour. Most of my friends walked me home, because they were actually invested in me making it there. The night is dark and full of terrors, kinda thing, particularly if you’re a girl and under 5′ tall and in a place where bad men occasionally cruise for girls.

When we got within sight of my humble abode, I told the guy that he could head back. The guy then was moved to tell me how very impressed he was with various aspects of me. I told him that I was flattered, but also very taken, which he already knew. He said something to the effect that my fabulousness had overcome his natural instincts not to poach, and my boyfriend wasn’t there anyway while he was, and would I give him a hug and a kiss. I said no. He asked again. I said no more forcefully, and grabbed the trusty metal mechanical pencil  that lived permanently in my pocket – my sole companion during my hitchhiking days, because knives tend to make the police way too interested in you, and remarkably pointy. The guy tried to make another bid for my attentions, but I got my unkind voice on and he gave up.

On the one hand, this is a perfect non-event. Nothing happened. On the other hand, a jackhole got me to go to his bedroom under false pretences, then tried to press his suit in a dark alleyway, having been previously told that I was entirely uninterested. Entirely non-actionable behaviours, but still fairly shitty.

The day after, I de-briefed with Rob. He sat there on his usual chair (in his bedroom! alone! what a terrible slut I must have been), looking somewhat transfixed. He didn’t make a sound until I’d finished talking. When it became apparent that I’d run out of material, he looked at the ceiling, and in a calm if somewhat strained voice said “So, do I have to go and punch him?” I said “No, it’s ok.” He asked “Are you sure?” with a degree of wistfulness. I said “Yup.” “So you’re OK?” “Yup.” “Well, I’m sorry I introduced you.” “I’m sure you didn’t know.” And we got on to talking about other, more enjoyable stuff, and that was it.

I never saw or heard from the guy again. I’m entirely unaware of whether that was the result of my clear lack of interest, loudly manifested, or of words that may have been exchanged between the two of them behind my back.

I’m NOT saying that Rob’s response would work for everybody. People are individuals – yes, even women; and even women who are going through the same kind of event. I’m saying it worked for me. I never really thought about what about it was so great until now, but:

  • He didn’t even begin to question my account of things.
  • He didn’t press me for extra details, though he left an opening for me to talk more if I wanted to.
  • He didn’t try to make excuses for the guy.
  • He didn’t weigh what he already knew about the guy, who was ultimately a childhood friend, against what I was telling him. He seemed to be just adding what I was telling him to his opinion of the guy, adapting it accordingly.
  • He didn’t try to minimise the event because it had not resulted in any kind of physical damage to my person. He understood the implications, rather than judge by the results.
  • He didn’t try to tell me what to do or not do.
  • This is dodgy: I did appreciate his offer to do so, which I’m sure it’s extremely idiosyncratic. It wasn’t about him being a manly man wanting to chase some other guy off his turf or anything like that; it’s because we were friends, and we were both the kind of people who get seriously vexed when someone attempts to mistreat their friends. If anyone had tried to hurt him, I would have liked the opportunity to hurt them back, too. Us both being that kind of person was part of why we were such good friends.
  • He didn’t take over. He asked me what I wanted him to do; for my permission to act. I didn’t for a moment fear that he’d just haul off and lump the guy.

Thinking back on things, I never realised how important the last element was for me. When I’ve just dealt with something problematic, it’s important for me not to have to fight for it to be accepted as truth by third parties who are supposed to have my back. However, it’s just as important to not have to fight to remain in the driving seat in the aftermath. If someone’s just tried to bypass my consent or to take away my agency, more of the same kind of treatment, even with the best intentions, does not help.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will criticise what I’m saying here because it wouldn’t work for them. They’re right. This is not a will-suit-everyone solution, nor is it intended to be. If anyone would like to add what works for them, please do so in the comments section. If we don’t talk about this kind of thing, we can’t expect to get heard.


Sometimes a major news event forces the lot of us to ask ourselves some difficult but important questions. The biggest question for me last week was: what am I, a hypocrite or a bozo?


Item 1:

In the wake of Trump’s tape circulating, a whole bunch of guys came out to say that they had no idea this kind of thing was going on. They genuinely didn’t know that guys could be that heinous to women. They’ve never seen it. They might have heard about it from women, but the stories had a faintly mythical quality, with no real-life experience to back them up. Meanwhile, a different bunch of guys was busy defending the whole thing as perfectly normal.

Turns out these two different bunches of guys do not interact. Turns out that guys who are not misogynistic asshats do not tolerate the company of those who are. Turns out that misogynistic asshats end up finding themselves in an echo chamber full of other misogynistic asshats, because they’re the only people who will tolerate their misogynistic asshattery rather than throw them out of the metaphorical locker room, perhaps not bothering to use a door.

People normalise their own behaviour and end up surrounded by other people for whom that behaviour is normal. Turns out that this also applies to misogynistic behaviours.

Although I know this is how it goes with people, the fact that it may also apply to guys is somehow news to me.


Item 2:

After we all finished screaming ourselves hoarse in perfectly understandable horror and sharing our experiences of this particularly distasteful aspect of our culture, a bunch of the good guys turned around and went “OK, I get it, but what do I do? What can I do to help?”

This was both a plea on how they can help fix the world, because it seems to be shittier than most of us admitted up to now, but also on how they can help the people in their life who have been directly affected by this kind of thing.

It occurs to me that I have had precisely one decent response to this kind of event in my entire life (which I intend to write about post-haste). I’ve had too many shoddy ones to count (seriously, I wouldn’t even try), and a single, solitary good one. I then realise that at the time I have never once actually told the person I was talking to what I actually wanted and needed; just expected them to respond as per my unspoken wishes. And when they failed to, I was hurt and disappointed. Yet I don’t believe that everyone’s needs are identical, or in mind-reading.


Item 3:

As a result of the conversations the event sparked, the number of men who have been sexually assaulted I know of rose by 60%. In fact, last week more men than women have come to me to tell me their stories. Still a small number compared to the women I know, but anyone who tried to tell me that it’s statistically insignificant so we can brush it under the carpet can go choke on a brick.

Those guys came to me with their stories. And, when they did, I didn’t know what the hell to do or say.

I think, but I’m not sure, that men and women are socialised to give support in different ways. I grew up with piranhas and was socialised with guys, so I think that I tend to do the guy thing when sticky situations arise. I get stuff done, I deal with people and things, but I am simply awful at emotional support. When people tell me their stories my first response is “what can I do about this”, and if I can’t do anything that quickly turns into a fairly panicky “oh god oh god I can’t fix this what do I do what do I do.” I’ve not been at the receiving end of me trying to be supportive when there’s nothing heavy to lift or nobody to terrorise, but I’m pretty sure it sucks. Add to this that I know that I don’t fully understand their experiences, because I’ve never been a guy… but somehow I had never considered that the reverse would apply.

So, not only I’ve been blaming the guys in my life for not giving me what I had not specified I needed; but I’ve been also blaming them for not giving me something I can’t myself provide to others, even when I really want to. I’ve been assuming they didn’t care enough to bother, even though I know I care, yet I still mess it up.


Item 4:

These guys told me their stories. They’re private narratives. There is no platform for them.

Their side of the narrative is getting hardly any space; not just now, but in general. This drives me demented. How can we know that this is a problem if nobody’s talking about it?

At the same time, if any of those guys came to ask me if they should go public with their stories, I’d say no. I’d obviously support them if they wanted to, but I wouldn’t push them towards it. Not only I know that it would likely not be well received, but I also know that it would probably change the way in which other people regard and treat them. It would most likely do them more harm then good, so unless they wanted to sacrifice themselves for the cause, I wouldn’t advise it.

So on the one hand I’m saying that in these situations women don’t get heard, while on the other hand I’m admitting that I know that men in the same situations can’t even talk.

Oh, and those men who aren’t talking about their own experiences are routinely lumped in the “YOU JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR US” diatribes, which is just peachy.


Item 5:

It never occurred to me to doubt anyone’s account of the events they went through. Maybe I’m an imbecile, but I honestly don’t believe that any of my chosen friends are capable of deliberately lying about something like this. If they were, they wouldn’t be my chosen friends. I also don’t believe that any of my chosen friends are capable of being confused about that kind of thing. If they were, I’d work very, very hard to get them professional help.

This makes me think back at the number of times me and countless other people have been shut up by third parties who either just couldn’t/wouldn’t believe what we were telling them, or demanded hard proof that was impossible to provide. Do people really have friends and partners they believe capable of pretending they’ve been sexually assaulted? And, believing that they are lying about this kind of thing, they continue to be their friends and partners? Unless they are themselves people who would lie about this kind of thing, I guess. I call shenanigans!

…then I was reminded by Dillon of a book. A book that tries very hard to explain how people’s ability to process violent events is tightly linked to their existing beliefs about the world and their own sense of safety. Concepts not new to that book, but that I’m familiar with because of that book. Because I wrote the damn thing.

I got so wrapped up in this whole thing, that I forgot that my mental landscape around violence is not standard issue. I forgot that my worldview shapes my beliefs shape my responses, and the same is true of everyone else.


I don’t quite know what’s worse: when I fail to consider my own experiences before thinking, or when I fail to consider that other people’s may be different. The jury’s still out, but I’m hoping for a verdict of “bozo.”


Once upon a time, I had a father-in-law. He was an alright guy, mostly, when he was sober. When he was drunk, however, he had a need to lecture all bystanders on important and urgent subjects. Like “The problem with women these days”, or “Those f***ing immigrants”, or “Why homosexual/ disabled/ retarded people should be put down”, or “How mental illness is not real and the problem is parents can’t beat their children anymore”. The last time I went out with him, for a family function, halfway through the meal he decided to lecture the waiters on “How it would have been better if Hitler had won the war”; because, yannow, “people like them (i.e., non-white) wouldn’t have been able to take over our country.”

I didn’t eat dessert that night, because I’m trying to cut down on the spit I consume. I apologised to the serving staff. However, I didn’t stand up to him. None of us did. We did anything but. We pretended he hadn’t said anything outrageous; we tried to distract and derail him; we fluttered our hands in the air to wave his words away; we tipped more than usual in a pathetic attempt to make up for the offence. But not one of us stood up to him.

We had good reasons not to say anything – or, rather, we gave ourselves good excuses not to say anything. What is the point. He doesn’t really mean it. He’s just old-fashioned. Set in his ways. You’re not gonna change his mind. He’s a good guy, really, when he’s not, errr, verbally abusing people. And yes, if you’re talking about a sad, drunk, elderly man with no pulpit other than what alcohol and other people’s politeness afford him, maybe that’s OK-ish. Maybe it was OK to just let it slide, because his words had no real impact to affect the world around him.  They could offend people, but they couldn’t affect reality.

What I realised last week is that I’ve been applying the same criteria in other settings. In particular, I’ve been operating in the same mode when listening to some self-defence instructors talk about women and women’s issues. I’ve been pretending I didn’t hear certain statements; actually avoided some forums so I couldn’t see how discussions degenerated; and generally excused this kind of behaviour as the old-fashioned, misguided but not malignant, empty talk of people whose opinions are too fixed to be worth addressing.

I’ve been treating established self-defence instructors as if they were harmless random people lecturing the only bartender who didn’t walk away quickly enough and a couple of empty chairs. The problem is that that’s just not the case. The words of self-defence instructors carry. They have a weight. Not only they affect the people who hear them directly, but they can shape the culture of our “tribe.” They can affect the world outside it, too.

There’s more to it than just the weight of authorities, although that’d be plenty. Self-defence audiences contain a disproportionate number of two types of people: young men looking for guidance on “how to be real men,” and women looking for the permission, as well as the ability, to self-defend. Certain words coming from the wrong mouths can make young men think that it’s acceptable, or even desirable, to treat women a certain way. The same words can make women think that, because it’s just the way of the world, it would be futile or even wrong to object to it.

It’s easy to give instructors a pass because “they don’t really mean it”. It’s easy to say that when someone starts riffing on stuff like “don’t stick your dick in crazy” and the discussion degenerates into “fucking crazy chicks is hot, just make sure they never know where you live, har har har” it’s all just banter, not intended to be taken seriously. They don’t really mean to teach young men that it’s OK to objectify and exploit vulnerable women. They don’t really mean to tell women recovering from exploitative relationships that what happened to them was OK. They don’t mean to; but they do.

When instructors compare chasing Pokemon to chasing pussy, they’re normalising the objectification of women. When they dismiss women’s accounts of their own experiences and lecture them on how their lives really have gone down, they’re reinforcing the belief that women’s opinions can be discounted. When they’re tolerating rape jokes… as the saying goes, “the problem with rape jokes is that the rapists don’t know that you’re joking.” That kind of comment may be amusing to some, but coming from the lips of those in authority it’s unhelpful and unwholesome; it’s also ubiquitous, and it’s been shoved in the faces of people who could be seriously influenced by it. And every time I’ve seen that kind of thing, instead of addressing it I’ve pretended I was too busy shampooing the cat to say anything. I’ve pretended that it didn’t really matter.

I’d forgotten what a fine line there is between wilfully ignoring something and condoning it; between condoning it and enabling it; and between enabling it and allowing innocent people to go through it, and perhaps be hurt by it. And, although I have no idea whatsoever how to begin to fix this, the thought of not trying, to continue my collusion-by-inaction with this type of behaviour, is utterly repulsive.

Potty mouth and patty cakes.

My internal patois is a combination of third-rate Regency English and 20th-century swears. For instance, if I’m thinking of “a very large amount” of something, the words I use in my head are “a veritable fuckton.” I don’t do it on purpose; it just happens. This tendency to juxtapose grossly clashing language registers has the distinctive advantage to make me intolerable to most audiences. Some people think I’m an ignorant lout because of the swearing. Some think I’m a pretentious twit because of the occasional archaic term. Some tolerate me, with the occasional eye-rolling. Pretty much nobody is a fan.

I can’t say that the thought of this public disapproval keeps me awake at night. However, my attitude changes when I’m trying to express something to a public audience. For instance, I moderate my language around children. I try to cut down on idioms around non-native speakers. Basically I try to present information so it can be received and processed by those for whom it is intended. Not to do so would seem frankly moronic: if people can’t or won’t understand me, what’s the point in me communicating in the first place? It’s hard enough to express certain concepts without the language I’m using getting in the way.

A few months back, I realised that I’d been slipping badly on the swearing front. I was spending so much time in the company of people who use swearwords as punctuation that I was finding it harder and harder to turn my filters on. I didn’t want to unnecessarily alienate a huge proportion of my potential readership, so I decided to make a conscious effort to lay off the swearing as much as possible. Like a numpty, I made this decision public. The backlash was intriguing.

Apparently I shouldn’t have to moderate my language; people should just put up with it. If they don’t, it’s their loss. In fact, I absolutely shouldn’t moderate my bad language, because doing so deprives my readers of a useful educational experience. My swearing inoculates them to the swearing of others. And being immune to swearing is essential to self-defence.

The first time I heard that “theory,” I was rather taken aback. Had I heard it once, I would have assumed that the person expounding it was very silly, and just walked away from the conversation. But I keep hearing it. I keep being told that the ability to tolerate swearing is something that anyone wishing to enter the field of self-defence must develop, and even that instructors should swear around their students to help the process along.

I’m sorry, but that’s a crock of shit. In fact, it’s several crocks of the stuff, badly stacked on top of each other, so that their content is spilling all over the floor and making an ungodly mess.

First of all, most of us know that swears are still broadly recognised as Bad Language. The vast majority of the time, that’s the only reason they are used – because they shouldn’t be. Crowbarring permutations of the F word into a sentence adds nothing to the meaning; it’s done for emphasis or for style, because of what the usage of the word indicates, not the meaning of the word itself. It can also be done out of habit, but even those who swear habitually generally know that it is still broadly socially unacceptable. And even many of the people who swear “all the time” because “it’s OK” somehow manage not to do it in from of children, their grandma, the clergy, the cops… Weird, that.

Secondly, swears are not linked to the ability to self-defend. Swearing won’t improve how hard you hit, how fast your reflexes are, or your environmental awareness; training might. Not freaking out if someone swears at you is a useful skill to develop; that’s why some systems use woofing, which can combine aggressive language and aggressive body language. I’m seriously doubtful that increasing one’s written output by inserting an F word in every other space could achieve the same result.

Thirdly, swears are also not linked to the inclination to self-defend. People who don’t swear are not necessarily too emotionally weak to defend themselves if required, or too fussy to want to deal with messy stuff. They can quite simply be people unwilling to unnecessarily compromise on their standards of behaviour. I know plenty of grandmothers who would never, ever let a bad word pass their lips, and are rather unimpressed if anyone uses that kind of language in front of them; yet you go to their homes and often find them happily engaged in mucking out a stable, or butchering a home-killed animal. They tolerate death and blood and guts because they are essential parts of a useful process. They don’t tolerate the F word because it isn’t.

….you know what? Scrap the last two paragraphs. If I’m wrong, that would only confirm my theory.

Let’s assume that an aversion to swearing really shows a lack of ability or inclination to self-defend. Wouldn’t this makes the use of swears in teaching self-defence even less appropriate? If you truly believe that an aversion to bad language is a sign of weakness, of excessive fragility, of an inability to deal with reality as it is, then by using bad language you’re deliberately alienating the students who most need your teachings. As gatekeeping behaviours go, this seems particularly nonsensical.

Oh, and you’re also automatically excluding the children, the young teenagers who’re just about to learn how hard this world can punch, people’s elderly relatives whose victim profile is changing… So you might find yourself teaching only those who need your lessons the least. On the plus side, you’re guaranteed to look like a badass while you’re doing it.


I learnt it wasn’t OK for me to eat ice-cream in public when I was twelve. That’s when I realised it, anyway. It might not have been OK for me way before then, and I missed it because I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t really understand what was going on even at twelve; I just noticed that, when my mom took me out in the evening for an ice-cream and a stroll, men were looking at me weird. Grown-up men, not kids like me. Where in the past they might smile and ask me if my ice-cream was nice, now they stared intently. Hungrily. As if the sight of me eating ice-cream was something extraordinary, entrancing. I didn’t understand it, but it made me very uncomfortable. Then there was a time on the bus when this guy sat right in front of me and my mom and stared at me all the way home, and when we got off the bus looked as if he might follow us, and I decided that ice-cream was just too stressful. So I stopped eating it.

I didn’t discuss the problem with my mom. I’d already learnt that some guys were not OK, and I’d already learnt that I couldn’t get any help about it at home. The year before, when I told my mom that one of the teachers was weird, that he kept making the girls sit on his lap to talk about our homework even if we didn’t want to, she told me that I was wrong. That he couldn’t mean anything by that. Later on he pushed it a bit further with one of my classmates who’d been held back a year and was starting to wear a bra already, and her mom descended upon the school baying for blood. My mom convinced the school not to do anything – not only to not punish him, but to not investigate the incident, to pretend it never happened, because “it could ruin his career.” And who’d want to ruin a paedophile’s career in education, hey.

The year after I quit ice-cream, I went back to school with a bra of my own, and that’s when the problems really started. My schoolmates couldn’t get enough of talking about my boobs. The men who spent their lunchtimes hanging around the bar I had to walk past to get home couldn’t get enough of talking about them, either. Then again, I was starting to look like those ladies in the comics that the newsagent in front of the school displayed next to the kids’ comics – those other comics, with the really poor quality cover art and a lot of sound effects like “sssssssssslurp!” I really resented my body then; I hadn’t asked for this. All I wanted was to stop these changes; to reverse them, if at all possible. I thought all the bad things that were happening were my body’s fault. My body was making the bad men do the bad things. I tried to cover it all up, but it didn’t seem to help.

That year a schoolmate decided that he was interested in me. I wasn’t interested in him. I wasn’t interested in anybody – I was still playing with My Little Ponies. He kept trying to grab me and I kept scratching his hands off me, so one day he got mad and decided to push me down a flight of stairs. It didn’t work very well for him: I stuck my nails in the back of his neck, so as he pushed me four ribbons of skin came off him, and he screamed and let go. That was before the start of class, when we were still outside. When we got in, the first teacher spotted the bleeding, and my schoolmate started screaming and crying because I’d hurt him for no reason, and I narrowly avoided getting suspended. Nobody asked me why I’d “attacked” him – not in school and not at home. I think they didn’t want to know, because then they might have to do something about it.

The experience was useful, though, and not only because all the other schoolkids learnt to leave me alone. A couple of years later, when it turned out that one of the local catcallers had found out where I lived and was waiting for me in the empty parking lot in front of my house, and he jumped me, and I scratched his eyes out, and he started to scream and cry because I’d hurt him, that didn’t bother me one bit. The police bothered me, later on, when they told me that I couldn’t make a report because “nothing happened.”

Turns out that screaming “I’LL LET HIM FUCKING RAPE ME NEXT TIME THEN” in the middle of a crowded police station is not OK, but they’ll let you get away with it if you’re fifteen.

They didn’t even take me home. On the plus side, they didn’t contact my family, either, so I didn’t get into any trouble. Walking home from school after that was scary for a long time, though.

That was also the year I saw my first adult penis. I saw it on the train, because a guy decided to take it out so he could masturbate in front of me. That was my first introduction to the fact that sitting down pretty much anywhere was not OK, either. Although standing up on public transport isn’t safe, because people’s hands have a way of landing where they shouldn’t, sitting down seems to make you more of a target. Public parks in particular seem to sprout as many penises as they do flowers.

And so it carried on. Over the years, with practice, I learnt how to deal with it. I moved to a better place. Now, on the rare occasions when some guy decides that it’s meant to beeeeee and doesn’t seem to believe that I’ve also got a saying in this, it’s usually more of an inconvenience than a cause for serious alarm. If they catch me on the wrong day, then it’s free target practice on my part. But the awareness that this could be a bad one who could catch you out never goes away; it’s always there, in the background.

I’m routinely told that my problems are made up. That my concerns are either imaginary, or my own fault. That I’m overestimating the danger I’m in, or underestimating my abilities to manage it. That the way I present myself to the world is causing the problems. If I looked less feminine, more confident, more formal, more traditional, less pugnacious, less in-your-face, less obvious, more feminine, then the problems would all go away. I imagine complete invisibility would be the silver bullet. I point out that these are not just my problems – that scores of women experience the same issues day in, day out. But apparently this is a shared daydream we’re living through. All of us women insisting that this is an issue, we’re just all equally confused about our own experience. And it could be so much worse for us… do we know what it’s like in Saudi Arabia?

I’ve taught myself to give up on those conversations, because what’s the point? Then last week happened. I had to watch a prominent wannabe world leader reveal more of his views on women than he ever intended. That was bad. And then I had to watch regular people, including people I know, rush around to justify and forgive him and explain it all away. That was much worse.

Yesterday a friend wrote this:

Woke up this morning to questions from my eleven year old daughter about the news yesterday. I had been trying to ease toward some of those hard truths – we’d talked about boundaries and the right to enforce them, etc. – but thanks to Mr. Trump we had to have the discussion about sexual assault and certain words and it turned my stomach to see the look on her face when I had to explain what a presidential nominee meant when he said what he said. Maybe it’s for the best – this is the world we live in after all. But I sure would’ve liked to buy her a few more months of believing that our leaders might not act like that and millions of people might not make excuses for it. If you want to vote for him for whatever reason that’s completely your business but can we please not pretend his comments (these and many others) are ok?

I’ve had enough of this. I’ve had enough of being told by people who could never be affected by my problems that they are imaginary. I’ve had enough of listening to why I should excuse and forgive and forget and accept and tolerate and go along with all of this.

And now I want to tell those people who keep explaining my existence to me, right here and now,  that they’re talking to the wrong person. They need to talk to my friend’s eleven-year-old daughter. They need to talk to my twelve-year-old self. They need to explain to us why can’t just go for a walk with our moms and eat an ice-cream. They need to tell us that it’s just the way things are, just the way men are, just the way the world is. And they need to tell us, clearly and to our faces, that they have no intention to help us change a damn thing. That they have picked a position in this conflict, and it’s that of defending sexual harassment of women; it’s natural, after all.