21 Orbits Worth of Life Lessons from FRIENDS

1 week until I will have completed my 21st orbit on this glorious Earth (aka my 21st birthday) and given this momentous occasion in my life I feel only one blog topic is appropriate:

What lessons, throughout my life, have been instilled in me by the single greatest form of wisdom ever known to man, FRIENDS?

1. Keep your teeth clean.

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2. Follow your passion, even if people think you’re lame and don’t support it; don’t be afraid to learn new things.

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3. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t feel the need to comply with societal norms just because everyone else does.

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4. Put the greater good before your own needs, but also don’t feel bad if you want do something for yourself.

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See booby blog ‘Body Positivtitties’ about the whole big boob conundrum

5. It’s okay to have fun LIKE A CHILD even when you’re a grown up because who says that adults shouldn’t do fun things like wrestle with their siblings and jump on the bed.

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6. Those nights out where you drink too much and want to die the next day and the pictures are all horrifically embarrassing and you have to catch up with your friends to find out what actually happened last night… they’ll be precious memories one day.

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7. Similarly, regret nothing.

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8. Dating can be mad and sad and crazy but also very fun and even if I’m single when I’m in my 30s like most of the FRIENDS I shouldn’t worry because based on their experiences it’s all a lot of fun.

and that my friends is what they call closure friends rachel.gif

9. Self-awareness and connection with your surroundings is key to emotional contentment… and physical security.

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10. Exercise is necessary -and it can be fun too!!

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11. Equally don’t get obsessed because you should accept and love the way you are.

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12. Cuddles are great.

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13. Broken hearts are okay and they’re all part of the journey, and singing songs with friends and eating ice cream and going to strip clubs will make it better. Actually scratch that last one.

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14. Grammar is key.

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15. Don’t be mean to people because they might end up looking like Brad Pitt and then you will feel very silly indeed.

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16. Money isn’t the end goal.

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17. Birthdays, or more accurately getting older, can be difficult to cope with – so it’s best to cope by getting drunk, buying a vintage sports car or making a deal with God to stop the ageing process there and then.

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18. Feminism rocks and women have to take control of their lives and relationships.

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19. The facts of life, the birds and the bees.

lol(On a side note, my Grandma introduced me to FRIENDS when I was around 5 and sometimes now I’ll see an episode I’ve not seen in years and only just understand the sexual references.)

20. Things change when you grow up and it’s scary and it can be sad but it’s okay.

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Most emotional scene ever screened

21. Always be there for your friends and appreciate them lots and lots.

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Happy Exclusive-to-humans Are We Hypocrites(?) Women’s Equality Day

*Happy US Women’s Equality Day, I mean. Woohoo.

Today is the 47th annual celebration of female suffrage in the USA, a day in which Americans will celebrate the 19th Amendment which, in 1920 provided that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It was a victory for women – well, for some women. Women of colour were excluded from the right and barred from voting; it wasn’t until 1965 that a true right to vote was implemented.

Women’s suffrage is something I care A LOT about, and if you’re not passionate about it I implore you to watch Suffragette and try not to cry.

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But today in our celebration of womanhood and equality, I’ve been thinking about an article I read a while ago. This article claimed that “to be feminist is to be vegan” and was super controversial. A friend of mine posted the article in our university Feminist Society Facebook group and holy moly did things get tense – non-vegan feminists were not happy.

I mean, eating meat and dairy surely cannot render someone who believes in equality between the sexes to be unfeminist. Being a meat-eater doesn’t make you an avid supporter of the patriarchy, a Trump fanatic, a woman beater, does it?

But, I reckon that feminism still has a long way to go – for humans and our rights, but also maybe our diets might be a necessary factor in attaining true equality.

Perhaps not, but looking at the relationship between feminism and veganism can elucidate whether rather than merely female human equality day, we should instead strive to celebrate female earthling equality day.

  • The animal agriculture industry depends on the exploitation of female reproductive systems. Dairy cows experience an enforced repetitive cycle of insemination, pregnancy and birthing. A cow is subjected to this because she is female and humans seek to reap the benefits of her body. Sounds a bit like the mistreatment of human women.

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  • Horrifically, the equipment used to restrain cows and pigs while they are artificially inseminated is known as a ‘rape-rack.’ A RAPE-RACK – and this term is used colloquially, casually, without thought. Even on small-scale farms, inseminators invade the animal’s body by shoving their arm up her rectum, to push on the cervix, while inseminating her with the other hand – obviously against her will. This is not to necessarily place this on the same level as human sexual abuse, but it should be questioned whether we feel comfortable and justified in imposing this invasion on these clearly vulnerable creatures.

 

  • For those of you who have seen Simon Amstell’s Carnage: Swallowing the Past you will recall a scene where men become so desperate for mammals’ milk after the UK stops producing dairy that human women begin selling their own breast milk on the streets – direct from the boobs. The parallel between this and prostitution – an undeniably patriarchal and damaging abuse of the female body – is made clear despite Carnage’s comedic overtones. It might be worth considering: if you wouldn’t want strangers taking your own breast milk from you, should you be doing it to another mammal? I wouldn’t, so I don’t – it’s actually that simple.
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Oh my gosh now I must eat some cow’s breast milk, so hot

  • Also ironically, Carnage highlights how sexualised yoghurt sales have become – apparently Nicole Scherzinger moaning over a pot of yoghurt is the best way to sell a product made from exploiting a cow’s reproductive system (and I’m sure Scherzinger’s ‘role’ as the ditsy erotically-charged female has endlessly helped the feminist cause asking for women to stop being objectified…).

 

  • We celebrate Mother’s Day in recognition of the bond between human mother and child, while ignoring that these same bonds exist in species other than our own. Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has a description of the experience of mothering as it happens for millions of cows every year: “Some try to fight off the attackers, some try to shield their babies with their own bodies, some chase frantically after the transport, some cry pitifully, some withdraw in silent despair. Some go trustingly with their keepers only to return to an empty stall. They all beg for their babies in language that requires no translation.” 

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  • There exists a ‘linked-oppression’ argument: human and non-human females are often objectified more so than their male counterparts. Traditionally, both are thought of as tied to nature and to their bodies more so than their minds. Chickens are valuable for their reproductive eggs; dairy cows are valuable for their milk; even in the pet breeding industry, for every stud male there will be many more ‘breeding females’. We have created a system which positions female animals, by virtue of their female-qualities, in a more vulnerable position than males. This is comparable to the sexualisation and disfavouring of women that we see in human relationships. One difference is that while humans can fight for their rights, female animals cannot.

 

  • The meat industry has even fuelled gender stereotypes and sexism among humans. A Guardian article titled Why do normal men turn sexist when they get in front of a barbecue? read “[a] biologically deterministic blizzard of bulls**t sees men as the keepers of the grill and women as mere salad-spinners.”  The bizarre idea that meat is manly  has played its part in furthering the ridiculous distinctions between genders. Best just to get rid of meat then, eh?

You can be a feminist without being vegan, just as you can be a good person while eating meat. The distinctions aren’t exclusive.

The question is how selective you are about your feminism.

Changing your lifestyle to avoid animal cruelty – to avoid the exploitation of females of all species – can only make you more of a feminist. In the same way inter-sectional feminism is critical of “white feminism“, vegan feminists wants us to consider that not only should we fight for the rights of all human women, but we must fight for the rights of females who cannot demand rights for themselves too: animals.

Maybe one day we will be celebrating an even further-reaching equality day.

The Fashion of Paedophilia

I barely wear makeup as a 20 year old; sports-bras are my best friend and if I bother at all with pretty underwear, I wear it for me; if men look at me a certain way I sometimes think, ‘woah there, I’m just a kid compared to you.’

I’m lucky for this to be my reality.

A new show has started in China where girls as young as 5 are dressed up (or rather down) in lingerie, and forced to strut – ‘modelling’ – down a runway.

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Slight departure from the school fashion show I did in primary school with my pink jeans and badman Avril Lavinge inspired top

In a Victoria Secret style fashion show – VS models notorious for being voluptuous, sexy Barbie dolls – little girls are paraded, and, I think (I fear) objectified.

Paedophilia is increasingly spoken about. Jimmy Saville opened a can of worms, Stacey Dooley’s BBC3 ‘Young Sex for Sale in Japan’ investigated the child molesting trade (a horrific but super interesting watch, I recommend); we’re increasingly told that like all sexualities paedophiles cannot help their feelings, so we should be helping them to control them instead of automatically condemning them.

I’m wondering then why China is encouraging the promotion of child ‘sexy’ lingerie.

The Free Thought Project reported, “[t]he latest movement within media and Hollywood pop culture seems to be an agenda to normali[s]e p[a]edophilia and the sexualisation of children. The latest example of this was a fashion show that many feel crossed the line.”

But maybe this line is one the media and businesses are willing to cross: Kim Kardashian did what Kim Kardashian does best and created drama when she released images of her new children’s line, which included a lace slip dress. KimK also received major mothering-criticism for dressing North in a corset.

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Fashion or just fucked up? Come on, KimK

I don’t even know how to feel about all of this. As a non-paedophile, heterosexual female I certainly don’t see these images and think, “oh dayum that little child is sexy.”

But other people must. Child rape rates are increasing across the world. In China in 2013, there were a reported 125 cases of child sex abuse – and many many more cases will inevitably go unreported. Stacey Dooley’s documentary highlights the boom of the child ‘escort’ system in Japan, and how Western males partake in sex-tourism, travelling across the world to abuse children.

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Stacey Dooley, my goddess, ultimate feminist journalist goals

According to the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England in 2015, child sex abuse is so rife in Britain that there isn’t enough land in the country to build the number of prisons needed to house the perpetrators.

As many as 750,000 British men are potential child sex offenders according to the National Crime Agency.

750,000.

I want to say that the decision to dress children in lingerie is harmless, an innocent poor call.

Collective Evolution think otherwise: What you see talking place is simply the latest manifestation of what is, without question, a creeping agenda within the mainstream of pop culture to normali[s]e and force public acceptance of p[a]edophilia.”

With girls being sexualised so early on, what chance to fight the patriarchy do females have? Not even that, but what chance do these girls have at being safe?

It’s clear that the media works to shape societal perceptions, and this new ‘advertisement’ of ‘sexy’ children seems crazy stupid, as well as severely messed up.

We know that paedophiles exist, so why would anyone create an industry, a show, whatever that would encourage their feelings, that suggest society is okay with sexualising children?

Let’s not encourage paedophiles to act on their feelings, but let’s also not provide hugely conflicting messages: it’s illegal to molest a child, but feast your eyes on the temptation.

It’s like filling a smoker’s house with ciggies after warning them that it might kill them, like shouting at a dog whilst stroking it.

It’s a mixed message, which is bloody insane. The only message that needs to be conveyed is that children are never ever ever to be sexualised and abused.

Body Positivtitties

Disclaimer: I find the word titties awfully cringe, I just couldn’t resist the word play. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of body positivity promotes the acceptance and celebration of something which, for many of us at least, is within our control: our weight.

I’m all about loving our bodies, not comparing ourselves to everyone else, and developing some good old rocking body confidence.

The problem is as follows: less media attention is given to acceptance of something that half of the population have, and have no control over (unless you have £10k spare to have surgery): boobies.

We’re encouraged to worship the blessed boob as a symbol of sex, and the more similar to Emily Ratajkowski’s the more blessed the boob. (By the way, when I googled her name, the top headline by The Sun read, “Emily Ratajkowski flashes her boobs in sexy pink outfit.” See what I’m talking about?)

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In one of our recent routine talks about boob-things, my best friend told me that she’s read that Emily had claimed that she is discriminated against because her large breasts have prevented her from landing jobs. The model said, “There’s this thing that happens to me: ‘Oh, she’s too sexy.’ It’s like an anti-woman thing, that people don’t want to work with me because my boobs are too big. What’s wrong with boobs? They’re a beautiful, feminine thing that needs to be celebrated.”

Hurrah to the latter part, Em, but I did wonder how such a celebrated and successful female complaining about her big boobs might make less celebrated and smaller bosomed women feel.

I grew up wondering when my boobs would finally grow, keeping my back turned when we would get changed for PE lessons in school, and seeing big boobs plastered over magazines, reminding me of my below averaged-size boobs.

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Don’t worry guys, I like my ‘melons’ now (ha ha)

With the average bra size in the UK reported in 2016 to be a 36DD – a size which makes my bras feel juvenile – big boobs are raved about, as they have been since what, like, the 20s?

The Daily Mail, in true Daily Mail style, gleefully reported that recent years have seen a “boom time for boobs” with the average bra size swelling by three cups within the space of two years. Boom time, eh.

So where does that leave those with less than swelling boobs?

While small boobs remain thought as the boy look necessary to be a successful fashion mode, or alternatively for non-models you’re just boyish and flat-chested, big boobs remain insanely sexualised, and seen as the more desirable – by (many) guys and girls alike.

In the UK in 2014 nearly 9,000 women underwent breast augmentation. That makes me sad. That’s 9,000 women who thought their ‘too small’ boobs were inadequate, unappealing, so much so that they were willing to have surgery. That’s 9,00 women whose boobs made them feel insecure.

You hardly hear about men getting pec implants just as women feel the need to change their bodies, all to meet ‘beauty’ standards which simply make no sense. Big boobs are great, medium boobs are great, small boobs are great and even no boobs are great.

But people still like to have an opinion on how a woman’s baby-feeders should be shaped – something pretty damaging for girls growing up, and even after we’re fully grown.

For no reason at all apparently, people have bloody weird and overly sexualised perceptions of boobs, and all too many people think that it’s alright to comment on how boobs should be, what makes a GOOD BOOB.

I stumbled upon a website discussing why men like boobs, skipped the article and headed straight to the comments – and what a joy that was.

In the comments,  Roy” generously shared his view that “I tend to prefer big boobs but not because of their size but because of their shape. Fuller breasts are my favorite type of breasts and it just so happens that bigger ones tend to be more full. With that said though, I’ve seen a lot of girls with small beautiful boobs that were irresistible, so even a boob man like me can be swayed by small beautiful boobs. Just be glad you have boobs ladies, there’s always going to be a guy that admires you and thinks your boobs are beautiful.”

Well what good news! Even in my boobs aren’t full (your fave, Roy) I shouldn’t worry too much because I won’t die alone because someone out there will think my boobs are beautiful. RESULT! Book by Roy: why having boobs mean you will definitely find love.

But then there came opposition to Roy’s not-at-all-objectifying comments, from another boob-expert, “jIM”. He declared, “This commentary is stupid. Men love big tits, period. A woman’s attitude and demeanor however play a huge role in how sexy men find her. Working out, having a toned body and knowing how to give a bj are sadly the most important parameters.”

Brilliant. I bet jIM’s a feminist.

You can read more delightful comments here.

In the same vain belongs the Free the Nipple campaign, a fairly recent phenomenon I’m excited to see the progress of. Maybe it’s unsurprising that the female body is still seen as inappropriate and worthy of censorship considering the prevalence of views such as Roy’s and jIM’s – that the nipple is a naughty little sexual commodity, something for your man’s eyes and appreciation only, and not for you – the woman – to decide how it’s to be used and seen.

Weird. We’re all born with nipples (apparently males have nipples because in the womb we all start off as females – a fact that blew my mind), so why must we make a distinction between those of males and females. Just as it’s far rarer to hear women say “oh I’m a pec girl, not a butt girl” and discuss what they like about a ‘fuller pec’, it’s unallowable for women’s nipples to be seen publicly while the other half of the population has the right to expose them as they please.

Sexism simply must ground this. Men’s bodies are for men to control and flaunt as they please, women’s bodies are to be determined for the purposes by men.

 

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Free the Nipple is part of a larger  and invaluable mission to reclaim women’s bodies, sexuality, and safety, and I am wholeheartedly – or wholeboobly – behind it.

Breastfeeding is a separate but related issue where boobs and the role of a woman’s body have come under fire. Opposition and discomfort to breastfeeding in public highlights the idea that (without generalising all men) men like women’s boobs in the context that they like them – in porn, and in the bedroom – and no other purpose. Not even the actual reason we have boobs. 


(I recently saw on Facebook group ‘vegan UK’ a woman talking about being asked by another woman to stop breastfeeding in a coffee shop, to which the vegan lady replied ‘can you please stop drinking your cow breast-milk in front of me’ hehe.)

Oh and to be clear, big boobs AND little boobs can both feed babies just fine, too. There’s no need to favour big boobs here, folks.

The point is (nipple pun?) that while we need to stop sexualising boobs and nipples, we also need way more positivity about the different kinds of boobs that exist – and how natural it is for people’s bodies to look different. (On a side and slightly weird note, it was only after watching Naked Attraction that I realised how different female genitalia is and that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ in that region.) Basically, boobs of all kinds are beautiful and should be respected as such – respected, not objectified – and the media must do more to promote this message of self-love.

P.S. here is a list of words meaning boobs, in order to make you dear readers more comfortable with this lovely beautiful natural concept:

  • Breasts
  • Tits
  • Titties
  • Melons
  • Rack
  • Lady humps
  • Bosom
  • Jugs
  • Milk bags
  • Not something women need your opinion on

 

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Homophobes are so anal with their views, ew.

We’re progressive, they say,

Look at all these rights!

An LGBT haven: the UK.

 

We’ve just celebrated LGBT pride month. It turns out when I say ‘we’ I should mean it less collectively than I wish it were.

I thought that in the UK non-heterosexual people were safe, accepted, and that it was only the rare ignorant idiot who would disapprove, or feel the need to make a comment about another person’s sexuality.

It’s easy to be ignorant of issues that don’t directly impact you.

Then I found out that last summer (2016), hate crimes against LGBT people increased by 147%. Apparently, 1 in 4 LGBT people have experienced violent hate crime.

I found out that in London in 2014, Connor Huntley received a hammer to the skull because he was gay.

A hammer to the skull, a month-long coma, the removal of ¼ of his skull to save him, and then a lifetime of learning how to speak again, feed himself, epilepsy, depression – because he was gay.

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The price of being gay for Connor Huntley

The 18-year-old was attacked while he slept by his 21-year-old flatmate. A motive was never admitted, but it was said that having grown up in a strict Catholic family, he had previously spoken disparagingly about homosexuals.

I don’t hate Catholics, I don’t blame religion.

But it’s so fucked up that people believe that judging gay people – people who HAPPEN TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THEIR SAME GENDER – makes them better people, makes them holier, more worthy.

How is it that people come to have such diverse moral codes? I went to a Catholic primary school – and I love gay people as much as I love anyone else.

Homophobia is defined as encompassing a range of ‘negative attitudes and feelings’ towards homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or any of non-normative sexuality.

Here’s a thought – maybe it would help if we stop creating labels to define people, and accept that lust is lust and love is love. If a relationship status or a sexual preference doesn’t harm anyone, does it even need noting?

My lesbian friend Eve pointed out, labels might be okay, but they certainly don’t entail judgement. Why call someone bi greedy? They won’t have a male and female at the same time… necessarily.

Homophobia is defined further as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, and is believed to be based on an irrational fear, and often related to religious beliefs.

In an interview for a BBC documentary, one homosexual guy said on the reasons for homophobia: “Who cares why they do it. Stop, just stop.” Simple, really.

 

Blinded for 8 weeks, beaten across the face with a scaffold;

“Faggot”, “Sinner”, “Gayboy” “Dyke”.

Holding hands in public? Given the potential consequences, you’d have to be bold.

 

I learnt about this stuff through a programme I watched, Is it safe to be gay in the UK? 

When I spoke to aforementioned Eve about it, she didn’t seem surprised by any of the stuff that I reported back to her, and said – way too matter of fact-ly – “yeah I don’t hold hands with [my wife] in public anymore.”

People are made to feel like they can’t hold hands with the person they love because some idiots feel the need to comment and stare: I can’t comprehend how this is a reality.

Imagine a straight couple being told not to hug in public, not to show affection. Imagine telling a straight couple that they shouldn’t really be getting married, that they shouldn’t raise children.

Imagine being afraid of people knowing where you lived, in case they targeted you – all because of something you had no choice about.

I truly cannot understand how some people feel the need to take it upon themselves to have a problem with homosexuality. STOP IT.

I also realised two ironies:

  1. It’s about anal

  • In the programme one guy commented that heterosexual men are obsessed with gay men’s sex lives. It sounded comical, but I’ve actually spoken to straight men before who’ve expressed discomfort with homosexuality because of anal – because it isn’t natural…
  • Sorry but isn’t a ridiculous amount of straight porn anal? Don’t straight people have anal too? Can’t anyone with a bum and willing partner partake? Stop picking and choosing who you have a problem with, heterosexual male homophobes.
  • If straight men don’t like the thought of anal, they are entitled to abstain. They are not entitled to condemn those who chose to do it.
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Get over it, pal

  1. Fear of the feminine

  • This is the greatest revelation I’ve had in recent days: (as a generalisation) men love the idea of femininity – the version they have created of it, i.e. heels, make up, short skirts – but they are afraid of what’s actually feminine, say, periods. Guys generally don’t feel comfortable talking about that time of the month; male governments have imposed a tampon tax; and – although not directly period-related – men traditionally wouldn’t be present when women gave birth.
  • Now, people have an issue with “butch” lesbians. Where’s the makeup and miniskirt eh, darl?
  • Men: please stop defining womanhood, femininity, gender roles.
  • It’s been suggested that heterosexual male homophobes fear homosexuality because they fear the feminine. The male fear of the feminine is a phenomenon that has been discussed since the 1930s. Kierski’s research in 2007 claimed that men do acknowledge that male fear of the feminine can have a strong influence on both hetero- and homosexual men; unsurprising given that self-identified heterosexual males are usually the perpetrators of ‘gay bashing attacks.’
  • It’s almost like a macho thing. Men don’t want to appear less manly, and they view homosexuality as a threat to this. Sigmund Freud presented the thesis that everyone is at some level bisexual, and Alfred Kinsey research results claimed that as many as 37% of American males had engaged in homosexual activity. Despite this – or because of this? – attitudes toward homosexuality have remained hostile

When I realised all of this, I felt lucky to be straight – how shit is that. I don’t want to feel lucky to be straight, because I don’t want anyone to feel unlucky to be gay.

In the programme, one guy said, “Every generation has a battle to fight, and the battles are never won.”

Laws can be changed within a year, but attitudes aren’t so easy to replace. It’s 2017 and racism remains, sexism remains, disability prejudices remain.

It seems that humans are obsessed with creating and maintaining social stigmas. It’s so lame.

I hope that the LGBT battle can be won – won beyond legal sanction, to achieve actual equality, in thoughts and perceptions. Love, equality, respect – they’ve got the beat hate in the end, right?

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Lemurs and living on bananas, rice and beans: a vegan in Madagascar

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Myth-confirmer: Madagascans do like to move it, move it


A year of organising, planning and saving up was finally coming to an end: it was time for two weeks in Madagascar to volunteer before returning to university in September. It would officially be my first time outside of the country (besides Scotland) since being a vegan, and it would be my first time in a country so stricken with poverty, and I was prepared for two main challenges:

  1. The potential for having nothing to eat besides bread and fruit and becoming deficient in B12 without my beloved Nutritional Yeast.
  2. Seeing for the first time what life is like in a developing country. Coming from a middle-class family and home in England, I felt ready to count my blessings.

In the time I was there, there were 60 volunteers in our camp on our tiny island Nosy Komba, or, translated, Lemur Island.

45 meat eaters, 13 vegetarians, 2 vegans. And lots of hungry locals.

Conservation

Volunteers go to Madagascar for a range of projects: teaching, marine conservation, construction or forest conservation. Originally I had signed up for teaching, but then panicked since I can’t speak French beyond ‘il fait frais’ (which wouldn’t have been helpful in 30 degree Madagascar).

Instead, part of my time was spent working on forest conservation, with a goal of monitoring and then obtaining data regarding the endemic species to Madagascar, about whom there is very little scientific knowledge. The dense forest of Nosy Komba is home to many endemic species, but habit destruction threatens them – the current forest is secondary, meaning it has been completely cut down for wood once before, and is now growing back. Volunteers were needed to identify changes in forest dynamics, populations and habitat health. Fitting volunteering for an environmentally conscience vegan, eh?

The forest conservation involved a lot of hiking and a correlative amount of sweating, and a lot of getting bitten by mosquitos (turns out it is possible for vegans to hate certain living things). Many worryingly huge spiders, beautiful if a little unnerving snakes and even more geckos were a daily sighting, a constant reminder of the tropical diversity the island has to offer – and also a reminder that secretly I felt lucky to be living in huge-spider and snake free England.19765204_1907316626192276_2362376169082322944_n

The annoying thing (although it made perfect sense) was that for our data to be usable, we had to learn to identify the species we would be identifying and monitoring. I was due to be volunteering there for two weeks – about the time it takes you to learn the first ‘set’ of species – and so I decided to move on to the construction team (building a school in the local village – or letting the local children play with my hair, whichever) and make my time in Komba more worthwhile. The forest continued however to captivate me, and I can’t express its beauty and incredible diversity enough. Lemurs are cuter in real life than in the film.

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Lemur business

On our weekend off, a group of around 20 of us went to another island, Nosy Iranja – you might recognise it as one of the places Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed (does that count as a claim to fame?). With crystal clear (turtle teeming) sea and near-white sand bridging two tropical islands, the place glittered with appeal. As a local showed me to the hut I would be spending the night in though, what caught my eye was far from pleasing. Rope tied around its scrawny body trapping it between two wooden posts, a lemur.

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The tiny thing looked terrified, and jumped nervously between posts as we walked past. A concerned vegan, I of course asked the local why the lemur was there. Despite some language barriers, it was obvious that the lemur had been taken from the wild and was now used by the local people as a means of income; at weekends, locals and lemur would go to another more touristy island, and pawn off the lemur for photographs.

I couldn’t understand what tourist would want a photo with such a distressed, unhealthy and captive animal. But then I thought about the number of people who go to Seaworld and zoos on a daily basis and it made more sense – people just don’t think about whether the animal should be there.

This created an interesting moral dilemma in my head. With 70% of the Madagascan population living beneath the poverty line – 85% in rural areas, such as Nosy Iranja – should they not be doing all they can to sustain themselves? Or, is the wellbeing of an animal never worth less than human needs?

Language barriers meant that I regrettably couldn’t find out any more on the issue, and left my thoughts somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

Hungry for change?

This thought process extended to issues of mealtimes too.

A few of the other volunteers made jokes about me coming to Madagascar to spread the vegan word here, a vegan missionary, and discourage the consumption of animal products.

I explained (often through gritted teeth) to them that while I think every person in a developed country, with the ease of access to every nutrient we need without animal products, I don’t expect the same from those in developing countries. There is a vast difference between Westerners eating burgers from cattle kept indoors all their lives and pumped with antibiotics just because it tastes good, and the local Madagascan people I encountered who go out daily fishing desperate to bring food home for their families.

I don’t want any animals to have to die, but I don’t want people to die either – the children I met and played with were already skinny.

Ampang

It was strange being in an environment where for the first time I was not staring disapprovingly at people eating meat. I missed this privilege I have back home, when I can glare at my dad and say, “do you really need that?”

Plain hungry

The meals prepared at volunteer camp were, let’s say, a little repetitive.

Breakfast, 6am: bread, with jam
Lunch, 12pm: rice with beans, in – in all fairness – some sort of delicious Madagascan sauce, with a slice of pineapple or orange for dessert
Dinner, 6pm: see lunch
Snacks available: banana

Once a week we had noodles, and once a week we had pasta, for which everyone on camp was abnormally excited. The food was samey, but it was still delicious. The meat-eaters had the same but zebu (their version of a cow) or fish rather than beans, which they claimed was tasty. However, considering that with only 15 of us in the queue for the non-meat option we were sat and eating within a couple of minutes, and the meat eaters queue stretched beyond the length of the canteen (ha), I question whether this ‘tasty’ meat was worth it.

Only once could I not have the main food, when it had egg in it, but since it was early on in the trip, I wasn’t yet bored of rice so didn’t mind all that much. It was, luckily, surprisingly easy to eat vegan. Even the local restaurants would make pizza without cheese and dairy free pasta dishes.

Mealtimes also meant social time and, inevitably, some questions. The expected dessert island question came at me a few times (when will this end?), and lots of ‘but what do you eat?’

I found out that people are genuinely interested in veganism, but most still definitely see it as being unattainable. I also found out that even if you barely mention veganism, some people will still believe you are ‘shoving your opinion down their throat’. I got called preachy once even though I only ever spoke of veganism when asked about it, and did nothing more than answer people’s questions as briefly as possible… I didn’t think I’d have much luck making friends if I was busy telling everyone how unethical and unnecessary their chosen lifestyle was.

One highlight was when I saw a fellow volunteer order a pizza minus the cheese: FELLOW VEGAN! Obviously, he became my favourite person in Madagascar – even when he tried to hide from me the fact that he’d had pancakes for breakfast one morning, despite the likelihood of egg. For the sake of his vegan dignity, I will leave this person unnamed (Tomos Wootton).

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Pls no photos with the fake vegan

I had an incredible trip, and two weeks wasn’t enough – although by that point I was excited for a bath and to feel clean again. I learnt many lessons, and one of the most pleasing and encouraging things I realised was how doable it is to be a vegan when travelling, even in Africa. Having said that, it made me realise how lucky I am to be able to be vegan – I have the luxury of B12 fortified foods, fermented seitan, vegetables and fruits imported from all across the world, Vegan multivitamins to make sure I’m not missing out anything, while so many others across the world have no such luxury.

I’ll be going back to Africa.

Oh, what to think (or write)

When I was in year 6, I got to work on my first novel. It was called Lion Girl, consisted of about 50 pages before I gave up, and when I read it back several years later made me cringe a lot and question my judgement as a 10-year-old. All you need to know is that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were my inspiration for the main characters.

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Author of action-thriller novel Lion Girl photographed being admired by a devoted animal fan 

In secondary school, English was my favourite and best subject, although Philosophy and Ethics was a close competitor. Two of my favourite things: the beautiful outlet of writing, and asking the world’s ‘big questions.’

When my family would go out for dinner on a Friday evening I would want to discuss whether Jane Eyre really was a symbol of feminism, or whether attitudes towards abortion and euthanasia are flatly contradictory.  Friday evening mealtimes were intense.

I thought that when I studied Law at university my passions would be furthered – there’s a LOT of reading and writing in law, and certainly a lot of evaluating. Thing is, reading hundred year old case-law concerning proprietary estoppel and evaluating whether a property contract is a lease or a licence didn’t push my buttons.

I chose as my optional units things like medical law, crime justice and society, sex gender and the law. I want to be challenged ethically, not just academically.

I want to write essays not on the rule of law but on whether porn is feminist; why the government is biased against plant-based food industries (Tories I’m looking at you with your steaks and fur coats); why it is that Daily Mail readers all seem to think prison is a sweet haven of luxury; why life is so confusing and constantly overwhelming for an admittedly very lucky and privileged white female trying to figure out the dynamics of ‘life’ and be the voice for those who need to be heard.

I changed when I became a vegan, I changed when I went to my first BLM event and saw a side to life I’d been blissfully ignorant of, I changed when I stepped inside a prison.

I expect I’ll be changing some more, and change can be confusing.

That’s why I’m starting this blog.

Maybe writing things down will help me to figure this whole thing out.