Spit out the Poison
They say that you need to capture a reader in the very first line of a story, or if not, say that you’ve blown that line by exposing what is needed in order to read on, then your last hope is your first paragraph. So let’s start here by me admitting that when you see stats that only 35% of domestic violence is reported by its victims, I could be considered in that 65% who did not seek justice. Yes I could be viewed with the correct spin as a victim of domestic abuse, assaulted by an ex partner in front of my young children in our kitchen, who witnessed this shocking and unprovoked attack and remember it to this day. This is not a joke, but a hook to pull you down to the words that follow, words that as someone who has read this told me “makes me want to kill you, until I read on…”. This is long and rambly and difficult and complex and dangerous, so maybe best if some stop here so we can part friends.
A few weeks ago summit magazine had a picture of Gwen Moffat bedecked in a bikini on its front cover, and as a joke I tweeted that it was outrageous and misogynistic, to which I got some funny replies, because - well - it was obviously a joke, who could be offended by a woman so vital and alive climbing bare footed across some sunny sea cliff? Also once people knew that Gwen was now ninety years old they could see no harm, whereas if she’d been nineteen the impression may have been one of a more troubling and politically sexual nature. Then I got a DM from the BMC asking about my comment, that someone thought I really was offended and was no doubt ready to offer apologies for any offence given (hey I’ve got 13k twitter followers, people in power fear me, I make the ‘man’ tremble dude!). I didn’t think much about it at the time, but put it down to living in an age where the gap between reality and parody can be as small as an emoji. And so I just replied with ‘it was a joke!’, thinking it a good ‘spell’ (a ‘spell’ is a game I play, the object being to make someone think you’re thick, like saying: “I never saw one polar bear in Antarctica” - I’m good at spells).
A few weeks later I overheard another comment the BMC had had, a real one this time, a complaint that their KMFF event ‘waking up with Hazel Findlay’ was sexist and offensive to women, and that they had to somehow defend it, the event and title thought up by one of the UK’s most talented female climbing creatives, about UK climbing’s best female climber. I guess my first response, if I was the BMC, if I had thought I’d offended someone to such a degree that they’d actually take the time to comment on Facebook or Twitter, would be to tactfully suggest they make a quick inventory of their reality, in relation to actually being a living, breathing human being. Was their problem simply with that title? I know a lot of people who would love to wake up with Hazel, in bed, in a tent, bivied in a cave, clothed or naked, spent after a night of passion, or just a night of talking, who wouldn’t - to spend some time, sexually or not, with such a genuinely fascinating woman would be a treat to remember (perhaps it’s impolite to admit - given the chance - say after a zombie apocalypse - we’d all like to shag our heroes?). Perhaps it wasn’t the title at all, but some distant trauma that left them angry with the words and their human and cheeky meaning? What world would we live in without the spice of such things, of desire and passion, anger and envy, the cogs that turn us around three hundred and sixty degrees of living.
If they were offended, then it follows they have feelings, and know what it is to be an adult human being in the 21st century. If not then perhaps they were instead an essay from a university communications or gender studies degree on feminism in climbing that had mistakenly thought itself human? Did that person know these women who had thought up such a title, who needed correcting, self hating sisters doing the dirty deed for their misogynistic overlords at the BMC (the BMC is obviously a sexist and racist organisation, never having had a female chief officer, or one of colour, just as climbing and mountaineering is inherently sexist and racist to its core… if you need to ask, that was my being ironic). Yes it seems we have made huge gains in our search for artificial intelligence these days.
I would ask if they had ever been in love, had their heart broken, felt the beat of uncontrollable passion when they saw a man’s strong hands or arms (or a woman’s), or wondered over the shape of a body or a mind beneath another’s clothes. Had they ever had base or animal thoughts? Had they cried without knowing why, or felt anger for no reason at all? If the answer was yes I would say to consider this offensive assault nothing more than a false positive. The war is won sister, all that is left is the skirmish of words, there is no glass ceiling, only the weight of a misplaced anger. You are not a woman born in Iran, forced to have sex, and get married and divorced in an hour in order stick with the doctrine. You are not being trafficked over many borders, forcibly hooked on heroine. You are not a baby girl raped by a man who believes it will cure his aids. You are free, and instead of fighting free women over words that carry no poison, you should get yourself down to meet these women, who are defined by what they do, not by their reproductive organs.
But - if I did say that I think, in the hope I’d sort out this non problem, such a response would lead me to being arrested for cyber bullying, followed by the BMC being sued for giving the offended person PTSD, leading to the sacking of staff - especially that self hating woman who thought the whole thing up. The whole culture of the BMC and climbing would change. We would all be more careful in future not to let reality lead us astray.
Luckily I don’t work for anyone, and I only have to look myself in the mirror (not that I do), give myself verbal and written warnings, and I do - believe me - try and shine a bright light into every corner of my mind (that beam is called a blog!) and although I would definitely sack myself if I could, it would never be for the offence of offence. You see I’m not only a victim of domestic violence (this trumps being a woman - ha!) I’m also against feminism, as well as black rights, religious rights and freedoms, in fact I’m against the rights of every single group who seeks special treatment and dispensation by our weak and apologetic society, which must be hung over and wrung with post colonial guilt to put up with so much bullshit (we’ve never been the same since Princess Diana died!). I’m old fashioned, from the 70’s, where sexual assault was called ‘free love’, I’m ‘badly made’, and beyond political realignment, and like things simple, going for plain jane, happy shopper and much despised human rights - after all being human, be that gay, black, stupid, ginger, clever, big eared, old, boss-eyed, is a starting point we can all agree on, working together for some genuine equality, through law, not through the construction of a ghetto or ‘space’ of self pity, self pity and its associated entitlement the ruination of our age. I’ve been there, I’ve seen how self pity and victimhood disempower, do no favours and simply imprison the victim. I’ve done it myself, that chip on the shoulder, that ‘poor me’ with my spastic brain, a poor start and shitty prospects. But worked out late that only by starting at the baseline of being a human being can you build any kind of personal utopia, and that it has to be inclusive of everyone, both the awesome and the asshole. Perhaps you may judge such sentiment as being a little ‘Tory’, a little ‘self made man’, turning my back on my poor brothers and sisters, sat down the golf club drinking G&T, as ignorant as… anyone who jumps to such a conclusion. This is a view born from real poverty and real wealth, and time taken to consider a view not based on my own relative truth not right or left.
Oh yes - this domestic abuse thing… are you still reading in order to find out more? Great isn’t it, it really helps give some weight to what I write, keeps you reading on, and I am getting there - trust me.
Today I lost a few dozen followers for daring to question IBM getting a good kicking for their ‘pimp a hair dryer’ drive, a drive designed to get more girls interested in science and engineering. Misguided in this deathtrap world of junk ideas yes, but no doubt it went through many hands before going live, male and female, who no doubt - being pragmatic human beings - could not see this as outrageous sexism that subjugated woman via man’s oppressive desire to sexualise women through their enslavement to silky smooth hair - no - it was meant but to promote more women to an industry that is dominated by men. Why is this you may ask? Well you probably didn’t ask, you probably already think you know or don’t give a shit, those that know, knowing that women are kept out of engineering due to an obvious male bias, just as men are kept out of teaching for the same reason. My retort (because I don’t know obviously, but would like to guess, like we all do) is this: “How many women do you know who own a fucking drone?” also what’s the ratio of men to women who go to Comic-Com each year? Well it was 65/35 in 2010, and 59/41 in 2013, and like the BigMac index that tracks global prices via the price of a BigMac, I suspect science and engineering will follow the Comic-Con index, when free thinking human beings - who speak Klingon - make their own choices, free from self pitying, negative, victimhood rhetoric. Trust IBM to fuck it up!
Sadly for IBM there was a shit storm of self indulgent indignation and victimhood, women looking sad or angry on twitter, the story coming out that - yes - science and engineering is full of misogynistic assholes bent on the propagation of gender stereotypes. It seemed such a shame, reminding of that lazy intellectual short cut the majority take, such as all politicians are crooks or toffs, when really it’s a minority (the same in any group), thinking and slander of the most important social institution we have that actually stops young people getting involved in politics… which hands politics to crooks and toffs. The thing about engineers and scientists - apart from being weird odd balls who live in their heads, is they tend not to be so socially sophisticated, not like those doing degrees in communication or gender studies, academics and social workers, media and politicians who prefer upsetting ideas to upsetting a crazy mob of self licking ice-creams. No, these geeks tend to see things for what they are, a slide rule, a Large Hadron Collider, they deal in facts and logic, seeing no difference between a man and a woman than unimportant details of design (the uniforms are different on the Enterprise), that yes, women are more likely to own a hairdryer than men, just as it would not be sexist to suggest men ‘pimp their lawnmower’. They don’t see colour or gender, if you like Empire Strikes or Return of the Jedi, just intellect - they don’t do bullshit.
The feminist bias always amazes, and no doubt I only see this as bias due to my male, white privilege, blind to my abuse and subjugation of women all around me - but then most of the women I know rock the world and out do men in most things, pay included. To ignore the fact that men and women are different, that men are dumb enough to plow their cash into a stupid game like football, while most women I know seem to spend it on books, is why male footballers make so much, while female ones do less well (while six out of the ten richest authors are women). If I could come back as a woman I would, because maybe I’d get some shit done! If I wanted to be indignant about female on male sexism I could crack open a mighty can of whoopass, anyone who no doubt is feeling enraged right now (take your pulse to check - feel it? That proves your human), all men could, we could open a pandora’s box that would have life tied up in knots about male inequality. The other day I was subjected to a base display of highly offensive and explicate sexism AND ageism, when on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, there was a conversation with Kate Winslet, where they disussed, in the most sexualised and lip smacking terms, the youth and beauty of Michel Fassbender. I even considered writing in to complain, but then found on finding the correct address to spell out my outrage to the BBC that I actually didn’t give a fuck, and just watched Game of Thrones instead.
Anyway, my response to the article about IBM and ‘pimp your hair dryer’ was perhaps a little pointed, as the previous one I’d just read on the BBC site was about the conviction of adultery of a Sri Lankan woman in Saudi Arabia (by adultery, I take it to mean she had sex with a fellow Sri Lankan man outside of marriage, which is illegal, the lack of free love amongst some perhaps one reason for jihadi rage), her punishment stoning to death, her lover only brutal lashes (liberal apologists for Islam take note of how Sharia lacks our western sense of equality here). My response was “It’s petty and undervalues something of far more value to women then bitter self harming pity” - and there went a bunch of follows, probably ones who have the word ‘feminist’ in their twitter profile, and no doubt this little rantage will knock off a few more (I’m actually trying to buck the trend and reduce my twitter followers each day by intentionally self sabotaging my reputation - targeting religion, the Scots and Bear Grylls, which - like getting fat - is much more liberating and fun than getting thin).
You see I think we live in fucked up times were people get angry over this shit, they fight over words, hold onto them with all their might, love to be the victim - it gives their lives some direction, fighting shadows instead of things far more valuable to us all, because we all know, if we look up from the small print, there are bigger fights to be had, we are divided on matters of detail when details such as these don’t matter - the war is won for most, victory for the rest tomorrow, but, don’t we all want to be a tin pot Che Guevara? That’s the thing about our move towards a civilised utopia, it moves like a glacier whether we like it or not, the world - the actual world we live in, not the one on we see in the fourth and fifth estate - is better than all our yesterday’s.
I feel we’re in some crazy head fuck spiral though, perhaps a side effect of the speed of history, where society is heading up its own arse. What would Tony Benn say if he knew that someone would have the gall to use the term ‘repulsive’ over the simple turn of phrase that he would be ‘turning in his grave’ at his sons speech? This great man would not have harried and bullied his son, but respected his opinion, that it was based on true conviction. We all have a right to disagree, and to disagree does not make us wrong or stupid, and only the true brain dead or enslaved by dogma can judge their views as being beyond doubt. What would a man in the gulag think about a politician being attacked for saying another who’d had depression ‘should get his head examined’? I think they’d imagine we were in utopia already, if such things took up our time, that the media covers this chaff, chaff that snows down and obscures real fights to be had.
The problem with shit like this is that instead of fulfilling its promise to emancipate humanity, it separates and divides and actively dehumanises the dialogue. Such arguments over hair dryers lack wit, compassion and basic human empathy and good will, the stuff that makes us human beings. Instead of the good there are too many that seek out the poison to justify some old slight or perversion of thought, search for anything that confirms twisted ideology. Isn’t there enough poison without the semantic conjuring of more? Didn’t someone at IBM set out with good will and intention to actively help more women enter a male dominated world? And where are they now for their trouble - no doubt looking for a new job.
Two things come to mind. I once had a girlfriend who was as disabled as someone can be and still be independent. She achieved more than any able bodied woman I know in adventure sport - a lifetimes more than those that actively trade on a nice arse and blond hair and good teeth - and yes they do. I loved and lived with her for years without working out why she did so well and why I did so badly - after all she was ‘handicapped’ while I could do whatever I wanted. It took me until this year to get a answer, and when I did my life flew - flew like a lot of peoples could if they took this simple lesson to heart.
Want to know what it was? This lesson?
Well we once sat on a train to Manchester, in the disabled compartment full of suitcases and stuff on wheels, a place disabled people often get shunted. We shared the cabin with a fellow traveler, another woman in a wheelchair. The whole way there we listened to this woman go on and on about how shit life was in a wheelchair, a long list of how crap trains where, travel, stations, buses, taxis, buggies in the eway, tea trollies that never came, every little thing a reminder of how shit life had been, was, and always would be. And the whole time my girlfriend, who I suspect had more to complain about, as this woman could walk a little, said nothing - well not until the woman got off and she said “what a fucking moaner!” And there was the answer, she did not make her life a battle, life was war enough, as it is for many, she would not be defined by her afflictions or her sex or her class, but by her humanity, and chose not to indulge in self pity because she knew it did no good. If you allow what you think, what you believe, about yourself and others, to make life a nightmare, full of monsters, always ready to defend or attack, no one will ever wake you up. You need to do that yourself. She did and simply got on with life.
I could not put this better than my favourite director Steve McQueen, to this long and rambling question that sums up the tribal nature of empty self pity and victimhood:
Have you made it too the end?
Do you hate me? Do you understand what I write is written without malice, is only what I believe, not a pulpit or a spoon inserted, your nose pinched.
I’ve kept you waiting so here’s my tale of domestic abuse, that little grubby gossip we all love, like that sneaky peak of Hello magazine in the dentist’s waiting room. So - I was once punched in the stomach by an ex partner, like really punched - sucker punched - not for fun, but out of the blue and with real visceral anger, something that stunned me at the time, as well as my kids, children brought up to understand violence is wrong (I did once give Ella a flick with a ski pole, but it was only a tap, and she’s never forgotten it and will no doubt appear in her memoirs). My crime for this unprovoked physical assault? Well I’d scratched the dining table, which I must point out was mine, and was of the cheap folding IKEA variety, not worth a punch at all (I have been hit, punched, slapped, had drinks thrown in my face by woman, but I knew I deserved it). If she’d been a man I’d have punched him back. I guess if I wanted I could have called the police, had her arrested, charged with assault, and people have ended up with criminal convictions for less - because that’s the world some people live in, a man who cannot see his kids the proof of his dangerous nature, the fact he punched a wall instead of the wife who was leaving him for another man. There is an epidemic of such absolutism, but I reject it, I don’t believe that domestic violence is always domestic violence, that rape is always rape, that all men are monsters in waiting, or that woman use a justice system that favours them to destroy men who have done them wrong. There are so many of us, so soft and over sensitive, raw nerves and not adults at all, who have no grasp of real violence, of brutal and murderous rape, of real ‘abusive’ and ‘repulsive’ behaviour, what really should constitute offence and intervention by the state on our human drama. No, I reject a world were anything that hurts us is a crime, upsets our feelings, thoughts, ideas, opinions, action or words. By being the victim we rob real victims of their valid voice, a woman half buried in a hole, her head smashed in with rocks of less importance than a feminists charge that GTA propagates violence on woman. I chose instead to be a pragmatic and human realist, anti anything that has a conviction is more valid than the rest, of all short cuts and absolutes, that we need to fucking shut the fuck up and listen to voices that need to be heard, not just the din of our twisted whining opinion. I’ve seen and heard real psychical and mental abuse, know something of the politics and reality of rape and sexual violence. We can see before our eyes true theocratic subjugation and enslavement be we look past it to pimped up hair dryers. While we fight over a war that is won, not one single case of female genital mutilation has ever been won in the UK, a world were honour based violence and murder destroys the lives of UK woman, and what do we do about it? We bitch on Facebook about elites. It shames us that so much energy is wasted on details that only divide us. It would be outrageous to see that a punch in the gut, over a scratch in a table, is not over a scratch at all, but something deeper and more human, that takes some leap of understanding, not offence or victimhood best saved for someone doused in acid or burnt alive. I don’t apply the rule of poison to what she did, or what | say or write, I know I am a person with some degree of as much moral certainty as I dare believe is healthy. I look instead for the truth, not of what it is to be a man or a woman, of one colour or orientation or another, but a being of infinite complexity, of animal feeling, the manifestation of who we are the scars of our living.
I take the punches like I take the kisses, hang onto love and good intension, let the glacier creep beneath my feet, as I try to spit out the poison.
A Snicker's bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram
2017 Banff Mountain Film
Collected writing on life, death, climbing and everything in between
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