There comes a time in many a woman’s life when she waves goodbye to slimy condoms and welcomes the easy intimacy that comes with other forms of birth control. Since its arrival in the 60s this has by and large been the pill, which is used by nearly a quarter of women of childbearing age. But the IUD (intrauterine device, also known as the contraceptive coil) has also seen a dramatic rise in use in the last ten years…
It is so boring. It’s talked about every year. And every year, despite all the criticism, it happens again.
This year, Creamfields has just 11 all-female DJ acts in a weekend of 230. This year, as usual, Forbes’ list of highest earning DJs was 100% male. This year, the RA Top 100 DJs was 9% female. Compare that to the British Parliament, which is now 32% female. But whatever you do, don’t ask why electronic music is still so far behind on gender imbalance, because…
There are bums gyrating at me from every direction, sheathed in lycra, revealing every twitch of wobbling flesh.
“Work it bitch,” I hear, and try my utmost to do so.
I am at a twerking lesson, along with 12 other hopefuls, to learn to squat, thrust and jiggle my way to a toned posterior.
Twerking has its roots in American strip clubs and hip hop’s New Orleans Bounce scene of the Nineties, which itself traces back to West Africa, most likely to the very similar Mapouka dance in the Ivory Coast.
Since Miley Cyrus shook her booty up against Robin Thicke’s crotch at the MTV Video Music Awards, the dance move has come under the spotlight. Twerking has been rejected and defended by and on behalf of women and African Americans, serving conflicting arguments on sexual objectification and cultural appropriation.
London-based Tone N Twerk’s founding instructor, Brooklyn Sanchez, has been cashing in on the boom in interest since 2013, and has taught the stars, including shopping guru Mary Portas, radio DJ Nick Grimshaw and TV presenter Alexa Chung.
Now I’m here in the basement of Gymbox in Covent Garden at a 45-minute class to find out what it actually feels like. Resident DJ Chillz is booming hip hop and the luridly coloured strip lighting and outsized metal tubing running through the building make it feel like a nightclub on board a space ship.
I am slightly terrified that the other people in the class will take one look at my thin, pallid body and shriek “imposter,” but instructor Brooklyn Sanchez reassures me: “It’s those skinny-ass Russian bitches who are the best.” A big behind is not required; it’s relaxing your muscles that creates the signature twerk wobble. A variety of skin colours and bottom sizes are in attendance, but while men are welcome, everyone is female.
We are told throughout that we won’t be able to master the twerk this week, nor next week, nor even the week after. It’s much harder than it looks, requiring a core of steel to maintain a squatting position. For some reason any rhythm I have is not revealing itself. After 10 minutes my eyeliner has mingled with my sweat, my thighs burn and I have developed an alarming and unfortunately arrhythmic spasm in my bottom.
“The real twerking is not sexual,” says Sanchez. “Miley just ‘jacked it – I’ve been doing this since I was six years old at Carnival with my aunties and my granny.” I nod slowly, mesmerised by her pelvic pumping.
For one tiny moment I am doing it right, twitching cheeks and swivelling hips, and I hear her purr: “Yeah, you got it, girl.” Uh oh, I’m welling up with pride and before I can stop myself I am grinning. I am definitely not playing it cool and sexy; the only thing I could arouse is laughter. Next time I’ll bring a friend – the sight of me is too entertaining not to share.
A quick guide to twerking: turn your feet out and arch your back, drop your bum in, bring it back up, drop it again and so forth. This is the basic twerk, which we learn first.
However, we are not simply “basic bitches” and there are many ways to twerk, so we then learn to drop it down low “pon de floor”. By the end we are doing it up, down, side-to-side, and one-legged in a booty-twitching routine.
On the bus home, stroking what I think could be new definition on my thighs, I have a flashback to catching sight of my bottom in the mirror, thrust outwards, gyrating ominously.
Did I achieve the elusive twerk? In one session I may not have been reborn totally stripper-tastic, but I find myself strangely proud that I did get it right for a few brief, gratifying seconds. And no one can take that away from me.
It was the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I was studying for my history PhD at home, in my basement flat in Hackney, London, and my partner was at work. After lunch I sat down at my desk and was reading a survivor’s account of 9/11 in The Times, when I heard a clattering coming from the front of my building. Somebody had pinched our garden pots a few days earlier. “Maybe it’s the same person,” I thought. I closed my two black Cocker Spaniels, Jessie and Hal, into my study, so that they wouldn’t bark, and went into the hall to find out what was happening outside.
A man’s face appeared through the windows of my front door. He was peering in. I felt a surge of outrage and thought “how dare you look in my home?” I opened the door to tell this person to eff off, but at first I couldn’t see anyone. Then he appeared from behind the door. He was in his late twenties, hair shaved close to his head, scruffy and wild-eyed, with scabby pale skin like a crackhead. Before I had time to react, he started through the door.
“What the f*** do you think you’re doing?” I shouted.
That’s when he punched me in the chest. So I grabbed him. I knew it wasn’t wise to fight, but I thought he was coming in to steal my stuff, and I absolutely couldn’t just let him. We fought in the narrow hallway, locked in a kind of embrace, me trying to push him out of the door and him trying to push his way in. He was reigning blows on me.
Then I saw the knife and realised that I wasn’t being punched, I was being stabbed – over and over again. I didn’t feel pain, just a tremendous pressure with each blow to my thigh, my back, my chest, my neck, my skull. It seemed to go on for a very long time. I thought, “I wonder when I will die.”
He left me lying on the ground, stepped over my body and had a look around my flat. Then he went, leaving the front door open behind him. I was able to close it and stagger to the phone, which was in the hallway, and dial 999. I was gurgling from the blood in my lungs. After I spoke to someone, I called again, unable to remember what I had just done. I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t put the moments together. When I was convinced someone was on their way, I crawled to the kitchen and lay there on my back. I felt no pain, but it was so hard to breathe that I assumed I wasn’t going to make it.
I am told that the ambulance arrived in a few minutes, though it felt like hours. I thought about what it would be like to die, and cried, not for me but for the people who loved me. I was able to open the door for the paramedics, and then I let go of everything that was happening and they bundled me up and drove me away.
Later, when they were stapling up each of my knife wounds, I found out that I had been stabbed 25 times. One of the wounds had narrowly missed my heart. I was very lucky to be alive and in hospital for only two weeks with a punctured lung. Once it was drained, the function returned, and today I have only short scars on my chest and back.
They found him in the end: a few weeks later, somebody on a train from London to Bristol overheard two men talking about a series of robberies one of them had committed. This person phoned the police straight away, so that when the train arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station, they were waiting to arrest him. One of the things this man had stolen was a decorative, Turkish knife with a short blade which about matched my wounds. I must have inflicted some damage in the fight, because the forensics were able to prove he was my attacker from a spot of his blood on my trousers.
There was also a lot of blood in the study which wasn’t mine or his; it turned out to be from one of my dogs. I didn’t realise at the time, but he stabbed her too. It’s funny, that’s the bit that triggers me getting upset, when I think about my dog Jessie being stabbed.
When I finally saw him again at the Old Bailey, over two years after the attack, he looked much younger than I remembered, and vulnerable. At first it was upsetting to be where he could look at me; that felt like a new violation. But it was better to realise he wasn’t the threatening figure that loomed large in my hallway. It helped me learn to let it go.
He was cleared of attempted murder but convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, a string of other burglaries and handling stolen goods. He was sentenced to eight years, which, if he behaved himself meant he was probably going to serve half of that – four years. I thought to myself, “that’s not very much, but at least he’s been convicted”. I wasn’t going to let myself go through the pain of being angry about it.
These days I’m embarrassed when it comes up in conversation. I’m a university lecturer now and my students often Google me and ask about “the horrible thing”. I tend to giggle and joke that I’m a have-a-go-hero. That’s the only way I can deal with it. Maybe I did the wrong thing, standing up to him, but the alternative was too awful.
What do razors, edible sugar flowers and kangaroo meat have in common? They are all taxed as essential products. Tampons and sanitary pads, on the other hand, are classed as “non-essential, luxury” items.
“Non-essential”. So what would happen if women did without? One of two things: they could stay at home and bleed unobtrusively into their toilet bowls, or continue about their daily lives, staining clothes and carpets and disturbing any olfactory systems in range.
When the tennis player Heather Watson said last month that she lost at the Australian Open partly due to dizziness and nausea from “girl things”, the furore that followed showed that by mentioning her period she was doing something very unusual or even shocking. Yet periods often cause excruciating stomach cramps, aching legs and back, mood swings and headaches; periods can be a major pain.
The topic of tampon tax is beginning to reach national consciousness after Laura Coryton, a 21-year-old student at Goldsmith’s University, started a petition to scrap tampon tax, which has had nearly 140,000 signatures. Cameron was asked last week if he would remove the tax, to which he responded that it was very difficult to change the tax within the framework of European Union laws: “I’ll have to go away and have a look and come back to you.” This doesn’t sound promising.
Designating tampons as luxury taxable products implies an institutionalised misogyny in which women’s needs are routinely dismissed. Tampons form a keystone of female independence: they allow us the freedom to gain an education and earn a living, instead of staying at home – which is what many women did in the past and still do in some cultures.
In India, girls stay at home for an average of 50 days of school a year because of their periods. Some 88 per cent of menstruating women do not use sanitary protection. Many of these women use unsanitary alternatives such as newspapers, ashes and dried leaves, and have a 70% higher incidence of reproductive tract infections. But we are not in India and the vast majority of British girls are not missing school because of about 11p extra in tax per pack.
Campaigners got the tax lowered from 17.5% to 5% in 2000, to align with the EU minimum for non-essential products. It is not that we should be arguing to avoid paying taxes while the government is cutting disability and child benefits. It is the principle that matters. Sanitary products are health care, and should be designated as such.
I had mixed feelings about writing this article, it not being a subject everyone would air in public. To do so risks attracting the attention of marauding misogynists. But to avoid the subject would be to remain complicit in maintaining the taboo.
American feminist Gloria Steinem said in 1986 that if men had periods instead of women, a period would be the “envied beginning of manhood” and that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies”. But men don’t. They have never been sent out of the kitchen for fear of tainting the cutlery; had to sleep in a separate bed; been spurned from their homes; made others impure by their touch; been banned from the tops of mountains; polluted the sacredness of temples; been hung upside down; lain writhing in pain while sucking a lemon; sat out of swimming lessons; ruined dozens of knickers; leaked through their clothes when there’s nowhere to hide; or spent unexplained hours in someone else’s bathroom secretly washing their underwear. If they had, they would realise that having a convenient sanitary product to keep themselves clean is not a luxury, it’s essential.