On ‘whataboutery’, echo chambers, freedom of speech and playing the devil’s advocate – or: Why can’t we all just get along?

As someone who is regularly accused of hiding in an echo chamber of angry feminists patting each other on the back, I thought I’d write to those of you who accuse me of that, who think that I’m not doing feminism right. If you’ve ever thought that I’ve been too angry, that I’ve been wrong to disengage myself from a discussion, that I’ve overreacted to a seemingly innocent statement, that I haven’t tried hard enough to convince the other side – this is for you. Please read it. First of all, I want to highlight that all of the below has been written about beautifully and powerfully and poignantly many times before; but that’s the thing with the echo chamber, isn’t it, that those important articles may well have hit a wall...

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On reproductive justice, the failures of neoliberalism, and why ‘choice’ is complicated

It’s a funny one, the word ‘choice’. I spend so much of my time promoting it, explaining it, demanding it – yet whenever I stop to really think about it, I realise that it’s a word I’d much prefer not to have to embrace. For as long as laissez-faire or economic liberalism has existed, ‘choice’ has been one of its most important buzzwords, second only to ‘freedom’. In fact, the Swedes, keen on optimising language to become its most functional and least wasteful, would talk about a combination of the two: ‘valfrihet’ – freedom of choice. In the name of freedom of choice, neoliberalism has torn down many a welfare state in the hope that the free market, as an invisible hand, would bring us all greater utility by way...

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Meet my sister

Dear new friend, Meet my sister. Her name is Klara. The last time I saw her was on the first of advent 2006 on a train platform as she got on a train back to where she was studying photo journalism at the time. I was living in London and home for the weekend, and she’d decided to ‘come home’ to see me. She took her own life just over a week later. I need to tell you about my sister not because I need you to carry me and tell me you’re sorry. I need to tell you about my sister because she is an integral part of me, and one I adore, and without knowing about her you can never fully know me. And as much as I like you, the opportunity to tell you about that sister I had, who killed herself years before we even met, might never come. We...

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Why I’m marching: for real care and real respect, without judgement

I remember vividly the feeling the first time I found out I was pregnant: the magic of it all, trying to comprehend that what was there inside me was the beginnings of a new life, the beginnings of what could become our firstborn, half me and half him. One loss and two unfathomably amazing children later, I sit here trying to imagine the feeling of finding out now: the panic of it all, knowing full well what that teeny, tiny thing inside would be the beginnings of and how life-changing it would be. We hear the anti-choice campaign talk about the right to life. I’m marching on Saturday because I don’t think ‘life’ is that simple. I remember vividly the moment everything changed – a sonographer’s silence as she turned the screen...

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The end of censoring myself

“I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.” I came across this Brené Brown quote one evening recently just after taking part in a Facebook group thread about authenticity and learning to be yourself fully and whole-heartedly, without regard for other people’s opinions. It seemed funny how this came up just then; and then I realised that I had myself been working on a blog post just days earlier, entitled ‘The end of censoring myself’. It...

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How the predictable can be sad

Who would have thought that some sympathy would cause so much agitation? When Amy Winehouse died on Saturday, we didn’t just lose one of the greatest singers of our time. Her parents lost a daughter, many lost a friend. Yet, most of Amy’s obituaries, along with endless angry tweets and facebook updates, were preoccupied by pondering the apparently surprising scenario that her death left thousands if not millions of people shocked, sad, almost speechless. Amy’s destructive lifestyle had been well-documented by the media: we shouldn’t be surprised, so we shouldn’t be sad. As if the death of a young person could ever really be comprehensibly predictable, because of addictions or depressions or self harm or long lists of tablets you...

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Baby on board – shout it from the rooftops!

“I like to think I’m a fairly tolerant person. I’m not, obviously, but I still like to think it. In truth, as I get older the list of things that disproportionately annoy me gets longer. Grammatical errors. Tourists who walk too slowly down busy London thoroughfares. Pregnant women who wear “Baby on board” badges when travelling on public transport. That kind of thing.” I read the first paragraph of Elizabeth Day’s column in The Observer last weekend and thought: I like her; she’s a bit like me. Because not only am I a notorious grammar stickler, but I used to think exactly that – in fact, I still feel a bit like that – about those stupid badges. Still today, I refuse to wear one. Despite finding out that the back pain...

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