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When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy – a review

Author:
when i hit you

By Anna Hill

Content warnings: domestic and sexual violence

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy is the first book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year (you can see the whole longlist and the newly released shortlist here), and it has certainly set a high standard.

I’ve never read anything from Kandasamy before but after reading this I will be picking up her other works. I originally heard about When I Hit You when it was being talked about last year with its full title When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. I was really drawn to it because women, writing, and survival all interest me. The book has a pretty simple plot; it’s about a young wife leaving her marriage with an abusive leftist man. As a survivor of sexual violence I always struggle to figure out if I want to read things that I know will contain some traumatic experiences similar to my own because I’m searching for other ways to explore, survive, and escape from my own life, or out of a place of self destruction – out of an impulse to consume media that I know will be triggering for me. But the way this novel sets itself up – saying from the beginning that the unnamed main character gets out of her marriage – allowed me to read, and even enjoy, the narrative, and to find a kind of sisterhood within the pages, despite our very different experiences.

The reading experience, far from triggering me, was actually surprising, at points funny, and ultimately hopeful. The tone of the novel was something I was absolutely not expecting: it’s this clear-sighted voice, which at times is poetic and at others has a kind of astute dry humour. In part it was the tone of this novel that allowed me to read it, and to read it as fast as I did. There are these accurate, painfully funny moments scattered throughout the entire novel. The opening can provide some kind of glimpse into the irreverence of the narrator and the way she creates in-jokes between her and the reader; when talking about how her mother retells her escape she notes that, “this is how my story of Young Woman as a Runaway Daughter became, in effect, the great battle of My Mother versus the Head Lice”.

As the subtitle would suggest, this book is not just one about domestic violence, it’s also about the act of writing itself and the way that fiction and stories can help you escape. The narrator thinks during an episode of violence from her husband that “I just have to wait for this to end and I can write again”. The instruments of fiction allow an escape from the abuse which is such a relatable impulse, and a really interesting one. Kandasamy is so eloquent about the way that writing your own story and crafting a narrative is an empowering and sometimes life-saving tool, with the young wife talking about her impulse to survive as her “restless urge to tell a story”. This desperate wish propels her out of the pain, and offers her a balm. When she is writing a poem about the situation she says “the poem is the healing, I tell him. It’s by writing this that I can get over it.”

Another aspect of the book that I wasn’t expecting was the way it ruthlessly presents men on the left’s deep misogyny and “distilled hypocrisy”. The abusive husband at one point writes a poem which articulates the horrendous and almost laughable approach to violence against women that they have:

When I hit you,

Comrade Lenin weeps.”

Like so many Leftist men he uses left ideologies as “a cover for his own sadism” – always presuming his own integrity is superior, his own violence is called for – “in this marriage in which I’m beaten, he is the poet”. Later on, the novel covers the difficulty in calling out abusive political men and how consistently people ask you to find kind things to say about abusers. When I Hit You exposes some of the ways that the left wing specifically (but also people in general) facilitate and allow domestic and sexual violence against women – and how it refuses to genuinely listen to women alongside feminist critique.

The novel intensely and clearly debunks myths about victim blaming throughout; why and how women stay in abusive relationships, who is vulnerable to abuse, and even how abuse is underplayed and how the outside world (and language itself) refuses to intervene. In my paperback copy of When I Hit You, one of the reviews of the novel is included at the back, and I’d like to end my review by sharing some of it. The review is formatted as a list of people who should read the book and this is part of number three:

Women who have escaped or those who need to know they have a right to”

This is such a kind book to us. Kandasamy’s affectionate concern for her fellow survivors triumphs over any editorial demands of explicit sensationalism. Trigger warnings are folded in gently at the beginning; I was married to a rapist, he beat me, I left and am living still. This is not the kind of binary story that says the only acceptable survival is escape or death – every tiny rebellion, every pragmatic compromise is documented, meticulously, as the victory it is. Kandasamy understands that winning sometimes looks like just coping.

(emphasis mine)                          

In case you do want to read this and you’re a survivor, as this review and the quoted one covers there’s obviously a general warning for the whole book of domestic violence. More specifically (in the paperback version) there is a mention of sexual violence against the narrator as a child on page 60 and intense description of rape from page 163 in depth for about 20 pages. Please do take care and remember that you don’t have to finish the book if you can’t!

“Probably Just” – a poem by Jane Atoms

Author:
selflove

Content note: Domestic violence, partner violence

My mother says, “I know you can do better”
But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible father”
But she probably just thinks you party too hard.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”
But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”
But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”
But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your ex says, “Don’t believe him, he’ll cheat on you too”.
But she probably just hasn’t gotten over you leaving her for me.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”
But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”
But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”
But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”
But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”
But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”
But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”
But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”
But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”
But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”
But I was probably just young and angry then.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”
But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”
And I realised that I haven’t asked myself…
Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

I thought, “I know what love looks like”
But it probably doesn’t look like this.
Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”
But it’s probably not going to work this time.
Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”
Because it was probably just my fault
Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

So today I say, “See ya later”
But it’s probably just “goodbye”.
Because I love me.

Head over to our Facebook and Twitter to get involved in a discussion about “Probably just”.

If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence you can contact these organisations:

UK –

National domestic violence helpline

Women’s Aid

Refuge

Solace Women’s Aid

Rape Crisis

NHS

My Body Back

US –

The national domestic violence hotline

NCADV

Domestic Violence Resource Centre

H.E.L.P

Women Against Abuse

Government website

Domestic shelters

It’s either lunch or a tampon

Author:
download (1)

By Kaylen Forsyth

What could easily be mistaken as the dismal opening to some generic dystopian fiction is actually a common reality for over 1.2 billion women across the globe. Yes, you read that figure correctly. You can put down your cup of coffee and rub your eyes as much as you want – the figure won’t change. At least a billion women on this planet do not have access to basic sanitation, which means when they menstruate every month, they endure with little to no period products. And it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women; many trans men and non-binary people are also living with the brutal reality of period poverty as well.

Whether you’re somebody who has periods or not – just imagine being in such a wretched position that you have to suffer circa six to seven days of bleeding without the necessary products to ensure not only hygiene and dignity, but also basic health and safety.

More and more people are unable to afford sanitary items like pads and tampons during their period. This puts them in an unimaginable position each month and it’s not like they get a month off where they don’t have to worry about this problem. It’s a constant source of distress and anxiety. Ceaseless.

Nobody should have to make the decision between buying some tampons or buying lunch- but so many people are forced with that choice. In Kenya as high as 50% of school-age girls cannot afford period products. What’s even more harrowing is that 1 in 10 Kenyan teenage girls (aged 15 years) have had to engage in sexual acts in order to receive the money to buy sanitary products. A similar situation is happening in India with 12% of over 350 million menstruating people unable to afford products.

However, this isn’t an issue exclusive to developing nations. It’s prevalent in British society as well. And of course, it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women. As many as 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom can’t afford either pads or tampons at some point in their lives.

Those of us who can afford such necessary items when the time comes take that for granted. I’ve complained about the cost of period products at times because it’s a degrading outrage, but I’ve rarely stopped to question the wider ramifications and how other people in a less fortunate position than myself might be affected.

A regular packet of tampons costs between £2 to £3. During a monthly period the average person will use around two packets meaning the ridiculous cost of around £6. That’s six pounds just to go through a natural (unstoppable) bodily function with at least some element of cleanliness and dignity. This doesn’t even factor in the cost of painkillers for those who might suffer from severe pains and cramps.

Given the soaring levels of poverty in this country, it’s obvious that mass amounts of people just cannot afford this, which is why so many women, particularly those living on the streets, go without food during their period. It’s either lunch or a tampon.

Period poverty has always been a major issue. For as long as there’s been poverty, there have been menstruating women desperately trying to get through their time of the month as best they can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake that the gravity of period poverty really hit home. The film showed a harrowing scene in which a poor single mother reaches her wit’s end and shoplifts sanitary pads because they’re priced way higher than she can afford. According to RightsInfo, following the release of I, Daniel Blake at least 15 food banks reported a significant increase in the donation of period-related items. This highlights a remarkable sense of both compassion and empathy sparked within the public consciousness, with the potential to grow bigger.

With the Tories in government since 10BC, there has been a substantial surge in the use of food banks. Austerity has meant that in the year of 2016/17 charities handed out up to 1.2 million emergency food parcels. Intense poverty such as this leaves younger people fighting the brunt end. Whether it’s the children of poor families or young people attempting independence away from their parents or carers, poverty hits them with a force. Because of decreasing levels of benefit income, families that include children are more likely to live in harsh poverty. Inevitably this means young girls and women are economising on the number of tampons they use during a period. This runs the risk of infection and the sometimes-fatal toxic shock syndrome.

This risk is enormous for homeless women. Those who do manage to purchase or get a hold of pads and tampons do so at the expense of their own nutritional health, sometimes not eating for days on end. To make the products last, they rip up sanitary pads to create makeshift tampons. On the other hand, women who haven’t been able to get access to any products at all must use alternative methods. For example – toilet paper, cotton balls, paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper and magazines, make-up pads, socks, ripped pieces of clothing. Basically, whatever is available in bins or on the street or what they already own.

The fact that there is a myriad of women in this kind of rock and a hard place position in our country is simply unacceptable. The truth of period poverty serves as a disturbing symptom of wider social issues brought about by a callous government of austerity and apathy. We need to display our anger at a government content to let women suffer in this way, without hygiene and dignity. We need to voice our outrage and empathy, to combat cool indifference.

There is an unjustified stigma attached to menstruation. Surely society will benefit from dismantling the taboo surrounding periods. Isn’t it time we stop shying away? We should keep an ongoing dialogue about it with the hope of making more people aware of period poverty – to work towards making sanitary items available for everyone. After all, it’s not a privilege but a basic human right to feel clean and dignified.

Ways to help:

You can donate or get more information from-

http://thehomelessperiod.com/

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/#intro

https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-free-menstrual-products-for-all-children-on-free-school-meals-freeperiods

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-43148080/period-poverty-helping-homeless-and-vulnerable-women

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/british-girls-period-poverty-menstruation-sanitary-products

https://www.studyinternational.com/news/period-poverty-hinders-childrens-education-globally/

And donating sanitary products to your local foodbanks and homeless shelters helps too!

Being open about mental health: what about eating disorders?

Author:
2109

By Isla Whateley

Content note: Mental health, eating disorders

Society, in the last couple of years, has changed with regards to attitudes to mental illness. Depression and anxiety are becoming less stigmatised – people talk about them a lot, it’s more acceptable to use humour as a form of coping with them, and it’s more understood. Maybe this is just in my social circles and the corners of the Internet I personally inhabit, but it’s a change I have noticed and one I’m thankful for. The rise of mental illness memes too, for me, normalise these conditions without trivialising, and help those suffering find solace and a sense that they’re not alone.

But this is only really for the two ‘main’ (i.e. most talked about, most understood and most focused on) mental illnesses – depression and anxiety. Although I suffer from both, and find these online communities and acceptance very helpful, one of my other illnesses is still hugely stigmatised.

I have an eating disorder. My first appointment with the mental health services is next week, although I’ve suffered for nearly 5 years now. It was only a few months ago that I realised what I had was an eating disorder and went to the doctors to try and get help. Now I’m being open about it, both to myself and everyone else, I’ve noticed some things.

It’s a lot more stigmatised than depression or anxiety. Family members tiptoe around it, and ask me when my “special appointment” is, or will say things like “how’s the food thing” instead of being upfront. Every time I try and use humour as a way of coping, I’m met with awkward looks and uncomfortable silences. Although I have many friends who can relate to ‘depression jokes’, I have comparatively few who ‘get’ the ones I make about food and eating. I know it makes people more worried. People don’t know what to say. And it’s isolating.

A huge symptom of eating disorders is hiding it and denying the fact you have one. I should know, because I did it on and off for 4 years, and still sometimes lie about my eating to friends. So by nature, it’s not talked about nearly as much as it should be. There’s not the same level of understanding in the general population, so people are taken aback when you make a joke about food and how you haven’t eaten all day ha ha. Especially at the stage I’m at right now, where everyone KNOWS you have an eating disorder (because I’ve publicly posted and spoken about it online and to most of my friends), so there’s that constant level of concern every time you make a joke that implies you haven’t eaten, or that you’ve eaten the ‘wrong thing’.

I like to think that I’m doing the right thing by speaking up about it. I hope one day we reach the point that ALL mental illnesses are on an equal playing field with regards to awareness and discussion – even the ones with the worst stigma and stereotypes, like schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar and OCD. It’s isolating, and it’s lonely. There’s only so much that a couple of ED-related Facebook meme groups can give you. But I’m not giving up. I hope that someone might see my posts or my tweets, or even this article, and realise it’s okay to talk about it. It’s not easy but it’s okay. And the more you talk, the more people listen.

If you are worried about your eating habits or think you might have an eating disorder, beat is the UK’s national eating disorder charity. They offer a wide range of support which can be found on their website. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services

Find Isla on Twitter at @islarosem

Naming myself witch

Author:
moons

By Anna Hill

As a kid I desperately wanted to be a witch. Now I’m grown up (kinda…) and I am one! I was always fascinated by the idea of witchcraft, but it was only in January 2017 that I really decided to dedicate time to witchcraft and develop my own practice. I think my first witch was The Worst Witch, and then the next were from Harry Potter. I vaguely remember that when I was five I wore a beautiful black and gold velvet dress to be Hermione Granger to go and see the first film in the cinema. I was so proud to be dressed as such a powerful magical girl. I’ve come a long way since then, in terms of perspective, age, understanding, dress sense and more. Despite this, that core spark that draws me to witchcraft stays the same: femme power.

Before I talk more about my witch identity I just want to be clear – being a witch is not the same thing as being a wiccan. Of course, you can be a wiccan witch, but you could also be a Jewish Witch, or a witch of any other faith (or no faith). Secondly, there are many ways to be a witch, many different paths to choose (or not choose) from. Examples of these might be an Eclectic Witch, or a Kitchen Witch, or a Solitary Witch (here’s a video about 13 types (although there are many more!)). Lastly, you don’t need anything to be/come a witch – if you want to be or decide you are a witch, then that is what you are! You don’t need to spend money on anything (unless you really want to, of course)!!

Dodie Bellamy once wrote that “the monstrous and the formless have as much right as anybody else,” and this quote – I think – speaks to the core of how I make magic and how I make sure to centre my rage, ugliness, and wildness in my craft. I feel very lucky to be able to share my energies within a coven, although not all witches do practice in groups. My coven is a space of care and sharing, where we practice collective self-care and validate the shit out of each other – both in terms of our traumas and our victories. The solidarity and inspiration I feel from practicing with such a lovely group of strong, interesting and open people helps me survive under the oppressive hellscape we live in.

Being a witch to me is also about seeing and stoking my own inner power and using it to make the world better and to heal/endure my sometimes sad, always queer life (and yes, I do believe cursing people is a valid way to engage with magic). Naming myself as witch is a way to mark out that I should be feared because I am vengeful and emotional, I am fluid and free.

Witchcraft, and specifically the eclectic type of witchcraft I practice, is also very accessible to me as a disabled person. I am in control of what I do and can adapt or create spells and rituals that need only small amounts of energy or that don’t require me to stand up for long periods of time. Being a witch whilst you’re sick is also a way to contribute to the revolution(s) even if you can’t leave your house, or even your bed.

To me, being a witch is about making sense of myself; using magical tools to understand myself and find wisdom. Through tarot, for example, I can figure out potential ways to change my behaviour or perspective on topics or my future/past/present. Naming myself as Witch is also an invitation to look closer at the world, and noticing is a kind of worship. “Looking closer” includes re-examining my identities, holding myself accountable, working towards self acceptance – and maybe even self love.

Being a witch allows me to trust in something or somethings, whether that’s my own inner power, the moon’s protection, the earth, my coven, or even the stars. I’m a Capricorn, so I feel connected (and often disconnected) to the Earth. I’m also invested in a kind of activism that centres our roots; the lineages of survival of mad and queer people. Naming myself as witch is a way to resist dominant toxic ideologies and instead focus on the “smaller” things, on the histories and people who are erased and hurt, and to lift them and myself up.

Being a witch is fun! The joy I take in my practice is radical too; it keeps me alive, it keeps me connected, it gives me a vocabulary and even a culture that helps me enjoy life and my friends. The art of my witch identity is inspiring – I make zines and watch art that is about, or is, actual witchcraft and it’s fun and exciting and close to me. Naming myself as witch is a way to see the beauty in the world and the beauty in being alive and present.

With all that being said, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with your own craft so I have compiled some resources that I hope will be helpful to you!

Cool resources/people to follow and check out

For those interested in activism and witchcraft

the yerbamala collective

This is an incredible anonymous collective who create and share words and poetry and artwork that is about countering fascism (focused in the US). They release these incredible and powerful spell books and encourage other witches to make their own as forms of antifascism!!

YOUWILLNOTWIN is my favourite spell book, but they are all incredible! You can see links to all the documents here.

W.I.T.C.H

I’ve written about W.I.T.C.H before, but it is basically an international witch group, with anonymous branches in various places, fighting against oppression of all kinds. On the starter groups website (W.I.T.C.H. PDX)  it says this: “A single witch is a dangerous outlier. A coven is a force to be reckoned with. An international circle of witches is unstoppable.” For more inspiration and witchy activist art check our their winter 2017 zine here!

For those interested in tarot

Little Red Tarot

This is the best tarot resource I’ve found online so far!! Not only does the blog try to centre marginalised, and especially queer, voices, Little Red Tarot is a cute shop based in the UK (really helpful if you are looking to buy some independent tarot decks but you can’t afford shipping from the US). There are some regular columnists on Little Red Tarot and my two favourites are called See the Cripple Dance by Maranda Elizabeth (about disability and tarot, generally) and Heathen’s Journey by Abbie Plouff (about Runes).

Other specific folks to check out:

Asali Earthwork

Maranda Elizabeth – especially their zines Telegram #36 and Telegram #38.

I really like this tumblr although it hasn’t been updated in a little while!

For those interested in astrology/horoscopes

Chani Nicholas writes amazing horoscopes and I personally love Mask Magazine’s monthly poetic and radical horoscopes written by Corina Dross!

General people to follow/information

To ensure your witch practice isn’t culturally insensitive or appropriative I would recommend firstly doing your own research and also checking out this zine as a starting point!

Haylin’s beautiful and gentle witchy newsletter is a must read – it often focuses on the moon cycles and rituals of self care.

The Hoodwitch, or Bri, has a great website

Two Witchblrs (witch tumblrs) to check out: Wishful Witchy and The Witchy Stuff.

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