These sexual assault scandals are horrific. But they’ve made me feel safer

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SpaceyWestwickHoffmanSeagalBlaineCK. Weinstein (Harvey and Bob). Affleck (Casey and Ben). The list goes on. In the past few months, seemingly half of Hollywood and half of government have stood accused. Since the New York Times and the New Yorker exposed Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour, the floodgates have opened as more and more women have felt that finally here was the chance they needed: to make accusations about the wolf without being told they were just crying.

In all the conversations that I’ve had with men about what I’m terming “man-fear”, I’ve heard the same comment time and again: “It can’t be that bad”. Womencan’t be scared all the time, can’t be constantly looking over their shoulders, looking out for the next could-be predator about to graze their behind and “accidentally” squeeze while reaching for his drink. Because not all men are like that you see. Well, thanks to this ongoing pile-up of scandals, all’s gone a bit quiet on the “it’s not all men” front.

Now, instead of expecting to see news of a terrorist attack when the ding-of-doom comes from our phones, we all expect it to be the dethroning of yet another man we once admired, a childhood crush, a filmic father figure. With most women, my friends included, the very reasonable response to this has been to become more afraid of men. This is what our mothers warned us of: men are predators, and we need to be on our guard.

I grew up with a mother whose customary warning was a happy “watch out for mad axe murderers!” – she felt darkly validated when an actual axe attack happened in our county last year, and, half-joking paranoia satisfied, she’s barely mentioned them since. As a child, I spent a lot of time looking around rooms trying to establish what in there could fall, collapse, and subsequently kill me. Cheery. With such a light-hearted, jovial temperament, a mother worried about axe murderers and an overactive imagination, I’ve been paranoid all my life. Nowhere has this been more palpable than with my fear of men.

To clarify, I’m not some weirdo who can’t have a conversation with a man. I’m good with men, can spot a creep, take a joke, and have a wonderful long-term boyfriend. I am very aware that not all men are despicable. But when I’m walking alone at night I, like almost every woman I know, will have wolverine claws of keys in my hand; will have established how to incapacitate with a heel and then leg it. Every strange man on the street is a potential attacker, and must be watched. It might sound insane to some, some men, but this is life for a lot of women.

Since all these allegations have surfaced however, I feel like my mum with her mad axe murderers. Now that the horror story turns out in some cases to be true, it’s like that movie moment when the monster from the shadows becomes real, and he’s just not as scary any more. If anything, he’s a little pathetic. Women have always known that we should be wary of men, particularly men in power. It’s just that now everyone else does too. Men will finally back a woman’s allegations, cross the street and smile to let a woman know she’s not being followed. Major artists such as Drake and Architects’ frontman Sam Carter will stop their gigs to call out perverts, because they know to look for this behaviour.

It feels as though not only will anything which does happen be taken far more seriously, but that with so many eyes trained to look out for the monsters lurking in the shadows, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to reach us. We’ve cried wolf, and finally the pitchforks are out and on our side. If that’s not at least a little reassuring, then I don’t know what is.

 Sarah Gosling is a freelance journalist


Big Mouth — The cartoon making a joke out of puberty

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Aside from the lilo-shaped-like-a-sanitary-towel product pitch, I can’t think of any meeting I’d rather spy on than the commissioning of Nick Kroll’s new animated series, Big Mouth, to Netflix.

My guess is, it went something like this: “So, you’ll know me as ‘the Douche’ from Parks and Recreation and I want to make a show about a bunch of super horny 12-year-olds who drink, make out and hallucinate giant hairy hormone monsters that make them watch pornography and masturbate all the time. It will feature all the gross stuff that happened to you and your friends as teenagers but are too embarrassed to talk about. And we’re showing everything.

A brief silence follows. “Sorry, Nick, just to confirm, you want us to run a NetflixOriginal showing explicit underage drinking and sex?”

“Oh, right. D’oh!” (At this point Kroll mock face-palms). “It’s animated.”

And just like that, Netflix gained one more great original.

Arriving late to the cartoon craze, Big Mouth has learned its craft from the best. Taking the Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman “sad-com” structure of crass-yet-clever humour and emotional vulnerability, Kroll, Goldberg, Flackett and Levin take on those most untouchable of topics: periods, penises and pubescent lust.

We all remember puberty being awful: developing too quickly, too slowly, too openly, too shyly; no one wins. All, it seems, anyone can hope for is to maintain a shred of dignity at the end of it, or to move far away soon after. That doesn’t mean that we remember how it feels, though. That’s where Big Mouth transcends. It puts the stories of teens on an emotional par with those of their parents who, between marijuana addictions, sexual awakenings and physical changes, seem to be experiencing a second adolescence of their own. It respects teenagers while at the same time humiliating them.

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 Big Mouth: respecting teenagers while at the same time humiliating them. Illustration: Courtesy of Netflix

Since watching Big Mouth, I have found that teen memories have flooded back with such nauseating violence that I feel the need to sob and listen to loud Paramore. It’s all so horribly relatable: the boys’ heads exploding at the news that “girls get horny, too”; the girls sneaking a mirror “down there” to see what the deal is; the boys realising that they can get heartbroken, too. We have all been there (although admittedly, we’ve never had those experiences voiced by Kristen Wiig. All women everywhere are jealous).

But it’s not just about cringey nostalgia. What sets Big Mouth apart is the way it positions itself firmly within today’s generation of teens – a world of mean hashtags and internet pornography addiction. At one point, the female lead, Jessi, goes through the trauma of having her first period in the Statue of Liberty while wearing white shorts. Then her dorky best friend, Andrew, vomits at the mention of “the P-word”. As Bodyform announces its intention to use red blood in its adverts, REM the tampon (don’t ask) sings “everybody bleeds”, and Jessi punches a guy in the throat for mocking her period.

It all feels wonderfully relevant. Another particularly horrible encounter sees Andrew declaring: “Look at all these houses. You never know how many people might be eating jizz inside them.”

It might be simple gross-out comedy, but it also feels like we should be talking about this stuff more openly and more often. It’s either that or people will still think an Ookie Cookie is a good idea and that women bleed blue. Your call.

Originally published at on October 23, 2017.

Little Evil: A Review in Conversation.

Bro 1: Hey, have you heard of this film, ‘Little Evil’?

Bro 2: Nope, cinema or online?

Bro 1: It’s on Netflix so it came up as super highly recommended, but it’s a Netflix original so…

Bro 2: So they hijacked the whole system to basically force you to watch it?

Bro 1: Probably yeah. I mean, afterwards it came up telling me to watch a Netflix documentary on firefighters, which did seem a little shifty…

Bro 2: Well I have no idea what this film’s about yet, so can’t help.

Bro 1: Oh right. It was alright, it’s basically a satirical horror concept I guess. There’s this kid who might be the antichrist and there’s loads of deaths and tension and suspicion, but it’s cool, because it’s done to be funny.

Bro 2: So, like Hot Fuzz.

Bro 1: No no, right, so it’s that Adam Scott guy — you know, Ben from Parks and Recreation — So he’s an estate agent and has a super boring life, and then he marries this woman — Evangeline Lilly, pretty but super boring — has this life-changing event, and then after some tornadoes and bad speaking in tongues, starts to realise that his son is the actual antichrist, shit goes down and he has to save the day.

Bro 2: So, kind of like in Shaun Of The Dead where Simon Pegg’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he realises his life was terrible and it takes him an age to realise that there’s a convenient zombie apocalypse going on, thus providing a way for him to prove himself to his soon-to-be-once-again-girlfriend?

Bro 1: Huh. Okay yeah. Little similar. But it’s not just Adam Scott right, he’s got this funny best friend played by Bridget Everett, who’s like his sidekick all the way through and she’s super blunt…

Bro 2: …and a bit overweight and funny in a crude, self-deprecating way but don’t worry, they always come through when you need them to, as long as it’s in a stupid way like with an oversized gun, as a zombie or in some giant car? Like Nick Frost in both Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead?

Bro 1: It’s actually a monster truck but okay, I see where you’re coming from. It is pretty funny in parts though — there’s this really good bit where it starts raining blood after Scott’s character’s been buried alive and he’s all like “Great, now it’s raining blood… Not cool Lucas, not cool!” … no? Seemed funny at the time. There’s these quick shot close-up sequences too though, with like, dynamic sounds to add tension and switch scenes. They’re pretty cool.

Bro 2: Mmm hmmm…

Bro 1: What?

Bro 2: Firstly, that line doesn’t sound funny. Secondly, picture those shots in a sequence where someone’s buying a Cornetto. Like Edgar Wright does. All the time.

Bro 1silence

Bro 2: Getting it now huh?

Bro 1: Holy shit. It’s just an Edgar Wright film. But American. And not as funny. God, some of the script really was bad, but Adam Scott’s so charming you know? Oh god, they literally had the demon-hunter be a dwarf just for a cheap laugh, because of course, how could a dwarf ever be a demon-hunter?! I don’t think any of the women did anything but nag. And the antichrist is converted with love and ice cream. Oh god, I actually sat through that kind of movie. What happened to cinematic progress? Oh, poor Edgar Wright. What have I done?

hangs head in shame and horror

Bro 2: Yup. There it is.


Empty Pushchair, Tin-Pan Baby.

FullSizeRenderThe saddest thing I’ve ever seen was a woman pushing an empty pushchair. She could well have just dropped the child off somewhere, be collecting them, have even just been to get the buggy fixed. She hadn’t though. I saw her eyes. They were glazed, empty as the hollow seat trundling in front.

Years before, lounging in a dirty pedalo drinking dirty cheap cider on a beach littered with the debris of the day, a friend I’ve since lost touch with and I saw a similar strangeness. In the small, endless hours of the dark morning, a murmuring made its way along the promenade. Giddy on the late hour and the sour liquid, we found the whole picture innocently amusing as a haggard man in his forties formed from the dense shade, cradling an infant in a sling on his chest and whispering sweet somethings. He walked by without seeing us. He carried on and so did we, less concerned by the lone man at night than we would be in years to come, more concerned with our lie bought freedom and the seaweed on our shoes.

That changed as he walked back the same way, maybe an hour later. With dawn approaching and the angle changed, we saw what our inattention and the light had obscured: it wasn’t a baby he cradled, but pots and pans. Large and small, rusted and gleaming, a selection had been arranged in the dirty, unkempt sling to give the vague appearance of an infant. The charade was weak but had worked for a time on us, and still captivated him. He was entranced by the creation, pointing out distant specks of light on the horizon in trips and falls as he stumbled along, the odd clang of the kitchenware occasionally striking him with a blow of reality.

In our sheltered little lives of 10pm curfew or hidden sneakiness in woods, of parent chaperoning until fifteen and a kind, well-meaning school in a kind and rural county, we thought that everyone was as the adults we were used to. At that time I didn’t know of the abusive parents of my peers, of adulterous adults and the fact that most of my teachers probably wished they were doing something, sometimes anything else. Everything, even when it seemed bad, was golden.

Seeing that man walking alone with his tin-pan baby in the witching hour struck at that time, a distant chord. What I didn’t realise then was that that note, the sort that ought to be played at a funeral, exaggerated by the ache and depth of tombstones and the dry eyes of onlookers, would carry on. It slowly built to crescendo and triggered something in me. After seeing that man, I started seeing the sadness in people.

Sure that man was haggard but he wasn’t poorly dressed, and the sheer expanse of utensils in his sling suggested a kitchen and perhaps – a stretch, agreed – even a penchant for cooking. If that was the case, surely he had, or had at some point, a job? If he had a job, then that meant that he spoke to people in woken hours, that he functioned in the conventional way, that a veneer of normality could smother his naked departures from reality. This man had to have gone to school at some point. He had to have watched football at some point, whether he liked it or not, had to have eaten in restaurants, pretended to like movies he didn’t, bitten his fingernails too short and regretted it, woken late and made up an excuse no one believed. He had to have been normal.

It wasn’t the night. I did consider it. There’s a great line in an Arctic Monkeys’ track which croons “the nights are mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day”. I thought maybe that explained it. Conversations with a tin-pan baby would be tricky to explain in the cold truth of day. It was the empty pushchair which snuffed this though. She didn’t hide in the dark, but walked like a martyr down a heaving high street, shuffling along with her pain and solitude brazen as a sword through the chest. Watching her, I slowed to a spectator’s stroll as she made her sombre way through irritated and irritating school children, mumbling to herself just as tin-pan man did. Occasionally she’d stop for a moment, look down at the pram and smile. She saw the emptiness, and she smiled. With that, with knowing that the man on the beach had heard the clanging of pans and carried on regardless, I could see that they knew that what they were doing was a falsehood. Not a falsehood maybe, but a fairytale. Somewhere along the way, life had chewed them up and spat them out. Somewhere along the way, a decision had been made to spurn truth for joy, reality for a dream, to swathe the pain in layers of fantasy the colour of the life they thought they’d have.

I don’t know these people. I don’t think that I know anyone like them. But maybe that’s the point. These people, these people who had these items which they used, as a sculptor does to create a newness from the detritus, could be anyone. Someone like me even, seeing this, writing about it, and likely getting it all wrong. I’m making something up from maybe twenty second encounters. What if I just kept going one day? One small thing, one huge thing, could tip anyone over the side of the tightrope of normality. I might go too. The people walked on by, and the teenagers giggled, confident in their newness. In the pedalo, I finished my cider.

Bloodied feet, big thoughts.

FullSizeRenderNot too long ago on my walk home from work, a girl strolled in front of me, brushing around the corner by the graffiti drenched phone-box. There was nothing of any particular interest about her. She wore blue jeans, a large coat, and was swaddled away from the screeching of a moped by her large headphones. There was nothing of particular interest about her, other than that she was wearing sandals.

“Are minor sartorial faux-pas really worth the characters you’re typing with (initially the ink I wrote with, but mediums change), I hear you side-mouth my way. Agreed, it seems a daft thing to notice. It wasn’t even that they were bad, they were perfectly fine sandals. It was that it was cold. I looked at her from beneath my two jumpers, two shirts, one scarf and one coat with my hands plunged into the disappointing warmth of the pockets. I considered her through the mist of my own breath and saw that her heels were worn down, blistered and scabbed, their visceral mauve to mud colour contrasting with the white sandals like a child’s grazed knees peeping from beneath a summer dress.

So that was it. Normal service had been eschewed for cold toes and slightly salved heels. Even though I’d found the answer to my inconsequential question, I felt confused and naked before the strange pseudo-epiphany that followed. Looking at the scabs on the cold feet on that January street, I somehow saw that time and events and thinking and pain and walking and meeting and life had gone into that need for chilly toes. Some series of events, which I would never know, had gone into the abandonment of appropriate footwear and led to her stepping out in front of me and me then writing all of this. As I walked behind this woman who probably (based on the headphone-centric obliviousness) didn’t even know that I was looking at her, much less re-considering the way I thought about every stranger, I (not for the first time) felt completely overwhelmed by how unfathomably huge the world is, how full of individual meaning and potential for interpretation every item, every brick is.

They (whoever the eponymous “They” may be) say that “everyone has their own Paris, and each is individual”. They say this, but how can that be when there is only one Paris? What they mean, surely, is that that city with its solid bricks, its ancient gargoyles, amber-lit avenues and swarming cafés was built from notions and ideas, and that it’s in those that it exists most fully. I could walk down the same street at the same time as someone else, and where I might miss the chips in the masonry on a veranda or the way that the sweep of a roof reminds them of their Grandma’s summerhouse, I’m instead absorbed in a blackbird fruitlessly pecking at the cherry blossom in the park opposite. We’re in the same place, but taking entirely different things from it. It’s a different film from the same set, each scene informed by the last, some shot through a haze, some in monochrome, others in bright, burning, overwhelming technicolour.

And if this is true, if the actual geography and intricacies of a street don’t matter, if directions and a sense of place only make sense from one point of origin  – ever taken a turn where you normally don’t and felt off balance and a little nauseous? – if a dress can be gold to some and blue to others, then that woman’s cold toes and sore heels are the consequence of an entire, unknowable world. By that logic, there are six billion worlds and counting, all coexisting, all paradoxical, all unknowable. Where I heard the birds that day and felt snug in my socks, she lingered among melodies and discomfort just a few steps ahead of me. As many thoughts as I have had today in my brilliant, terrifying,  cavernous brain, so had she, so had the father holding his daughter’s hand as they crossed the street, so had the driver who shouted them as they walked across for what seemed to me (but not to him) no reason at all.

The girl with the cold, bloodied feet heard none of this and walked away, oblivious and full.