Tag Archives: Ellie Stewart


Ellie StewartImage


For a long time now I’ve found winter, and Christmas in particular, very difficult to get through. The cold and the gloom, the ascetic trees, the sparkling lights in shop windows and the saccharine cheeriness all remind me of terrible times. In certain locations and when the darkness has really set in, I feel transported back in such a way that the vividness of those feelings and images becomes unbearable. I will forever associate Christmas, and the months that precede and follow it, with the death of my mother. 


The 20th of January was the twelfth anniversary of her death. I wasn’t able to visit her grave because I can’t drive, and she chose to be buried on a remote hillside in Stroud, which is impossible to access without a car. But I will make a pilgrimage of sorts to Wimbledon Park. I lived there until I was 11 years old and my childhood there was the only time in my life so far when I have been truly happy and content. 


We moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1998 and, one year later, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had a hysterectomy, then chemotherapy, and many more treatments in the following two years. Natural cures, a change of diet, herbal remedies, healing- she even turned to religion, in a sense, towards the end. None of it worked. In November 2000 she told me and my younger sister and brother that she was going to die. 


Christmas was strange that year. As my mother grew thinner and thinner, the fact that she was dying was not mentioned out loud. I went with my father to buy presents as if things were normal. Standing in The Body Shop, filled with people wrapped up in winter coats, I showed him some lavender bath essence.  

‘Do you think mummy will like this?’ I said.  

‘Oh, no,’ said my father, shaking his head. ‘You can’t get her that, Ellie. She can’t bear to look at her body any more.’  

I looked down at the lavender bath essence. Then I shuffled through the crowded shop and put it back on the shelf. I was so ashamed for not knowing. There were lots of things I felt ashamed for not knowing. Outside, it began to rain. 


My mother had long been insecure about the way she looked. She had been very thin and beautiful as a young woman, so after she’d had her three children she had a surgery to try to return her stomach back to the way it used to be. She was always changing the colour of her hair, and I’m not sure what colour it naturally was. When all her hair fell out from chemotherapy, she wore a wig. When it grew back, it grew back grey. I remember a teacher saying flippantly to me: ‘Well, if it means it’ll save her life, it doesn’t matter if her hair falls out!’ I didn’t think that was fair. I thought: no, it does matter if her hair falls out. I think it affected my mother profoundly, as it would me. And anyway- the chemotherapy didn’t save her life. 


By Christmas Day, she looked like a skeleton. We had decorated the tree, wound the tinsel round the banisters and hung the lights, and she had sat on the sofa and complimented our efforts. She looked in terrible pain when she smiled. The cancer had started in her ovaries but, despite the medical interventions, it had spread throughout her body and eventually reached her lungs. In the last months she had to have an oxygen tank with her everywhere she went. When we went to look at the plot of land where she would be buried, we had to walk very slowly up the hill as my father wheeled the oxygen behind her and my mother struggled for air. Her clothes sagged on her body and the skin on her arms hung off her bones. On her face the skin pulled tight, and outlined the shape of her skull. When once I hugged my mother and was wrapped in the warmth of her soft folds, and felt so safe- now hugging her was terrifying. What if I snap her?, I thought, as my fingers touched the jutting vertebrae of her spine. What if she breaks? 


I was distressed that she wouldn’t eat. I thought that her not eating was the reason she was losing weight. I would chop up tiny portions of the food we were eating at the dinner table and take it to her as she sat in her study, writing in her pink dressing gown. She would say thank you, and smile with effort. I couldn’t comprehend that the reason she was getting thinner was because she was dying. 


It might seem an odd thing to get your head around: surely if someone has told you they are going to die, then you accept that as truth? Just as, if I told you that the moon is 239,000 miles from earth, you would say: ‘Yes, the moon is 239,000 miles from earth’. Or if I told you that whales evolved from land mammals that returned to the sea, you would say: ‘Yes, whales evolved from land mammals that returned to sea.’ 


But no- for a child it’s different. My mother was my whole life and my whole world. I was too young to have yet understood her as a person and as a woman. She was My Mother. She was the source of all my love, and all my warmth; she was my safety, she was the stillness and the constant. She was always there. Coming to terms with the fact that she was going to leave me forever was like coming to terms with the idea that the sun would never rise again. Impossible. I lived those last months with the immovable notion of doublethink. Two opposing thoughts, both equally true: ‘my mother is going to die’ and ‘my mother will never die’. 


And then she did die. 

I watched her take her last breaths at 7pm on a cold night in January. The whole day she had sat in her armchair with her eyes half-open, zonked out on a lethal dose of morphine that was, I learnt many years later, supposed to make the end less painful (though she frequently moaned in pain that day, and slid down in her chair, and was unable to speak and, because our father and the doctor hadn’t told us that she had been given that amount of morphine, I didn’t know what was happening). When my father reached over to turn off the hissing oxygen tank, the bottom fell out of the world. I was hysterical- briefly- and I told her dead body that I loved her, over and over again. Then I said nothing at all. My sister and I lay on the sofa in our living room and listened to our father calling people and hearing the words over and over again, ‘she’s gone.’ 


That night we all slept in my parents’ bedroom with the corpse of my mother downstairs, and the next morning my brother and sister and I watched through the bannisters as she was wheeled from the house on a stretcher, in a green body bag. 


I think a lot of people misunderstand how people grieve- especially how children grieve. You don’t cry for days and then ‘pull yourself together’. You don’t feel sad for a bit but then, after a year or so, are pretty much OK. I didn’t truly start to grieve for her until I was 21 years old. I finished university and suddenly the great loss I’d experienced opened in front of me like a chasm I could no longer ignore. I was deeply depressed for several years. And I am still very much coming to terms with it all. 


One of the main reasons for this was that I wasn’t given the chance to grieve. My mother died on a Saturday and on the Tuesday my father insisted we went back to school because, he said: ‘If you don’t go back now you’ll never want to go back’. Unfortunately, my school had no idea what to do with me. On that first day, they sat me in a room on my own with the company of a dusty TV and piles of books for the English GCSE. After a few hours I decided to go to my maths lesson, because I felt guilty for missing school. (And I’ve always hated maths.) One of the girls turned round to me and mouthed ‘are you OK?’ and I smiled and mouthed back ‘yes’. The teacher- a substitute, well past retirement age- clearly hadn’t been told about my… ‘situation’.  


After my mother’s funeral, (which I didn’t cry at because I couldn’t bear to in front of all those people) I went back to school for good. I had a total of three days off to mourn the loss of my mother, and it was the same for my sister who was 12 and my brother who was 10. 


I grew up suddenly when my mother died. She taught me how to cook from when I was little, so I was able to make meals for the family. I felt deeply responsible for them. My father cried often in those first few months, but I felt that someone needed to be strong to hold it all together. (Now I feel this was somewhat unfair: my father had adults to talk to and comfort him, whereas I only had 14 year old girls. I remember once sitting with my school friends on a lunch break in which they spent the whole time complaining about how annoying it was to have to go shopping with their mothers. I guess they’d forgotten that mine had died just months before.) My sister and I took over all those ‘mum things’ people take for granted: sorting out Christmas presents, writing cards, entertaining guests. I felt very protective of my younger brother who, on top of all the anger and confusion that comes with being a teenage boy, was trying to come to terms with a terrible loss. I once flew into a rage when I found out that a teacher at school had berated him for not doing his homework and barked repeatedly at him: ‘why didn’t your mum help you?’ I was ready to march into the school myself and give the teacher a piece of my mind, but instead my father wrote an anaemic letter. Our schools were truly appalling with dealing with what is an incredibly rare occurrence in the lives of English children. They were better trained in matters of divorce, sex, bullying, eating disorders and drug use. Death, I suppose, is the final taboo. 


I was also, at this time, going through puberty and trying to figure out how to be a woman and how to be an adult. My mother was, like me, very opinionated and fiery. She had strong principles and taught me about sex when I was five years old. She wanted me to meet a man who respected women, and instilled feminist ideas in me at an early age. She talked to me and my sister about periods, gave us books and sent us off to school from the age of nine with sanitary pads and a spare pair of knickers in a dinky little make up bag, just in case. I didn’t start my period until my 15th birthday, and remember how lonely and frightened I felt sitting in a silent white bathroom, that first shock of scarlet marbling the water in the toilet bowl. 


My father has difficultly expressing his emotions, hugging, offering praise and so forth. The loss of my mother meant the loss of that assurance and that tactile, all-encompassing love. In its absence I grew to feel that I did not deserve it. I had no female figures in my life to offer me love and guidance. My mother had a very difficult childhood in Australia and New Zealand with a mentally ill mother and a father who was constantly moving the family in the middle of the night to run away from debt collectors. She became estranged from all of them except her second sister Shirley, who stayed in New Zealand. She never had children, and now her partner of 30 years has been diagnosed with lung cancer. My father was an only child and his mother died from a form of Alzheimer’s when he was in his early 20s. Because my parents had moved across the other side of the world to start a life in London in 1979, the only family member I have ever had in this country is my great aunt who lives in Gloucester. From these experiences I have realised how important it is for children to have female role models around them. A mother alone isn’t enough because if she dies when you’re young a deep and essential sense of love and safety is ripped away forever. All you’re left with (especially if you don’t believe in God, which I never have) is yourself, and the air around you, and the terrifying emptiness of the sky. 


I long to believe in God. I think that the idea of knowing there is someone who loves you unconditionally and is looking after you must be incredibly comforting. For years after my mother died I was desperate to find a love to fill that great emptiness; to feel safe again. Unfortunately, being young and heterosexual, I had only young men to turn to for that kind of love. When I was 19, one such young man told me I needed to ‘get over’ my mother’s death as we sat together on a long car journey back from Cornwall. He had already fallen out of love with me and some part of me knew he was going to go. Two days later, he broke up with me on a park bench beside a children’s playground, and that was the first time my mother’s loss really hit me. He was disturbed at how upset I was, and made himself scarce. I couldn’t understand why I was so devastated, why my body went numb and I had terrible, dark thoughts. And yet I realised, later, that it was because someone was leaving me again. Someone was leaving me and they were never coming back, and there was nothing I could do to change that. This realisation and anxiety reached such a height that for a long time I couldn’t bear for someone to leave a room- in case they never came back. Over the years it became increasingly difficult to be close to people. After all, if you don’t allow yourself to get close to anyone then you minimise the pain that you feel and the damage that occurs when they inevitably leave. (Yes, it is a cliché. It is a cliché because it is true). 


I wish I could say that my mother’s death has made me stronger. I wish I could say that there are positive things that have come from it. But there aren’t. It will define my life forever and take me many, many more years to truly come to terms with it.  Eddie Izzard, who is now 50 years old, lost his mum to cancer when he was six. I was deeply moved when he spoke in a documentary made by his ex-girlfriend Sarah Townshend. He’s asked what drives him and he says this: “I keep thinking that if I do all these things, and keep going and going, then… she’ll come back”. And then he bursts into tears. 


I am proud that I have become like my mum in many ways: I write, like she did (she always wanted to be a novelist but died at 50, before she had the chance), I am opinionated and argumentative, I am insecure about my appearance, I love ideas and discussion, I am attracted to intelligence, I want to learn as much as I can, I want to read as much as I can, and travel, and I want children- more than anything. Yet I’ll face the same thing as she did: having children with no one to guide me or give me advice. I won’t have her there to help me. I’ll never be able to hand her my first child. But I want to be a good mother, and I want the father of my children to be as loving and caring as a mother is. Because I couldn’t bear for my children to be to left without me, and have the love they need and deserve torn away from them.  


I feel that my writing is- and perhaps always will be- defined by two things: one is that great loss, the fear and emptiness that it left, the pain of having no mother and of being apart from God. The second is my childhood in Wimbledon where, in my made-up memories, it is always late summer and insects dance in the dusty yellow sunlight. And my mother is in that place, and she is smiling, and I am happy, and there is so much hope and possibility and magic.  


That was a good start in life. Those days were real, and true, and of a different time. And those matchsticks still glow bright.


You can follow Ellie here https://twitter.com/Elliemayonnaise

You can read her short stories here: http://elliemayonnaise.weebly.com/Image


Filed under Book Reviews

Erotic rape- cinema’s dark entertainment

Ellie Stewart

You may not have heard of Teeth, the 2007 B-movie directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of pop-artist Roy Lichtenstein). It is a film that focuses on a virgin teenage girl who preaches Christian chastity to her peers, before discovering that she is in possession of the mythical vagina dentata: a toothed vagina, that enables her to maim any man who sexually violates her.

It was billed as a black comedy horror, and, upon the recommendations of film critics I have great respect for (Mark Kermode and The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who called it ‘good, clean fun’), I made the mistake of watching this film the other night. I got through less than half of it.

I thought the film was going to be a witty (albeit silly) schlock horror movie exploring male anxieties about female sexual power. The idea of the vagina dentata is a fascinating symbol: what if a woman’s body had the internal power to fight her rapist? And what does the existence of the myth tell us about the male anxiety of entering the dark female space that they withdraw from diminished?

Writer and director Lichtenstein clearly had no interest in these ideas. From the moment we see Dawn talking to an audience of school pupils about the value of ‘saving yourself’, I realised the film was (at least in part) a piss-take of the absurdity of the Christian right’s abstinence movement in the US and their scare-mongering tactics used to discourage impressionable teens from taking parting in sinful sexual activities. Lichtenstein chooses to use Dawn’s terrifying biological abnormality as a symbol for this anxiety: WHAT IF YOUR DICK ACTUALLY GOT BIT OFF? Therefore all power is taken from the female protagonist and we are just watching a film in which a director has used the sexual assault of a young women as an entertainment device in his shitty movie.

I watched a man rape a woman and get his penis chomped off by Dawn’s angry vagina.This scene was unequivocally constructed for entertainment purposes: to shock the audience, and make every man watching it cross their legs. All I saw was rape. All I felt was empathy for this thinly written character. When it was time for the scene in which a male gynaecologist rams his hand into Dawn’s vagina, as her cute Bambi eyes bulge and she pleads ‘no! that hurts!’, I reached for the remote and turned the fucking thing off.

What a despicable thing for a man to do: use rape and sexual abuse in a black horror context, for fun and entertainment: the ‘good, clean fun’ that Peter Bradshaw describes. Men are obviously meant to identify with the dudes getting their wangs munched off. The depiction of a rape is merely the set-up: yes, the men are punished for their crime but, in the end, the rape that has occurred is forgotten as it is superseded by the visual violence of male castration- presented unashamedly as the greater horror of the two crimes. Not morally, but certainly in terms of terror, pain and injustice.

My immediate and instinctual distress at witnessing the rape of a woman on screen to serve entertainment purposes led me to consider the depiction of rape in cinema in general. Is it ever OK to show rape on screen? And if so, when is it OK to depict it and where do we draw the line as to how it is portrayed? (Apologies: that sounds like a question Carrie Bradshaw might pose in an SATC episode that focuses on real issues and, you know, not shoes).

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has very clear guidelines on sexual violence in films. Their judgement of the portrayal of rape in a film determines what rating a film is given, whether it requires cuts to be rated, or whether it can be rated at all (if not, it is banned as unwatchable, like the infamous experiment in depravity ‘A Serbian Film’).

One of the key issues that the BBFC addresses is whether the portrayal of sexual violence eroticises or endorses sexual assault: if so, the film will be required to make cuts in order to remove this possibility. While the BBFC rightly concedes that ‘proving direct causal links between the viewing of any media item and subsequent specific undesirable actions is almost impossible,’ it does maintain that ‘sexual violence and media research suggests a number of different types of harmful effect from certain depictions of sexual violence including: the stimulation of aggressive sexual thoughts and fantasies; the cultivation of anti-female attitudes; and effects on subsequent behaviour.’

This is exactly my problem with depictions of rape on screen, and is one I also apply to my views on violent pornography. It is easy to dismiss someone who finds depictions of women being violently raped on cinema/television/computer screens as being someone who is against freedom of speech, or even a killjoy and a prude. But closing down all discussion is as fascistic as right wing activists like Mary Whitehouse who condemned so-called ‘video nasties’ in the 70s without even having seen the films she was so incensed by.

I suspect that by using rape in cinema for entertainment purposes, by the acceptance of showing the sexual abuse of women in mainstream films, and by the constant drip, drip, drip of such imagery and ideas, an undercurrent of misogyny pervades in society. It is insidious. If you regularly view women being victims of sexual abuse in mainstream cinema- a medium which is intended for entertainment- surely that is going to have some impact on your views of rape and of women?

When I searched ‘rape in cinema’, the first result was ‘Movies Rape Scenes – A Video PlayList on Dailymotion’. This is a collation of clips of rape scenes from movies on a mainstream video sharing website clearly intended as masturbation aids for highly disturbed individuals. The infamous, harrowing 9 minute anal rape scene from Gaspar Noe’s gruelling Irreversible is titled ‘Monica Belucci gets fucked hard from behind’.

To further my point: take The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a cultural phenomenon of recent years. The original trilogy by Steig Larsson were a huge success, devoured by a wide spectrum of society. The books were made into a series of successful Danish films directed by Niels Arden Oplev, which are now being remade by The Social Network director David Fincher.

Apart from the fact that it is deeply troubling that graphic rape scenes seem to be accepted in cinema as long as the woman gets revenge on her rapist, I am disturbed by the fact that the graphic, violent anal rape of the female protagonist in the first movie (both Oplev and Fincher’s versions) did not seem to be an issue for the audiences who went to see it in droves. Many reviews barely mentioned it, or mentioned it fleetingly, or jokingly. Fincher himself joked that the movie wouldn’t win awards because ‘there is too much anal rape in it’. If that isn’t a sign that director has used a rape scene in his movie for entertainment rather than to truly show the horror of this terrible crime, I don’t know what is. The rape scene in Fincher’s film is gratuitous, and invites the audience to enjoy it in a masochistic way, in the same way that people seem to enjoy viewing the aftermath of car crashes on the motorway. It is a desire within us all: but why are so many filmmakers keen indulge their audiences’s darkest desires?

Some have argued that if you didn’t show rape on screen in a visceral way (especially when it is integral to the plot), it wouldn’t be as potent. Is it not enough to suggest the rape, to show the aftermath, the trauma of the victim, or to just say ‘this woman was raped’? Do people need to hear the screams, to see her struggling in desperation, to see a man force himself inside her, to see the blood? If that’s a case, then that is deeply, deeply troubling and says a hell of a lot about our generation’s de-sensitisation to violence and horror.

In any case- I think that’s an excuse. I don’t think graphically depicting rape in cinema is the result of anything more noble than a pornographer’s mentality: ‘give the people what they want’. It doesn’t matter how depraved it is- if it sells cinema tickets and DVDs, then it’s worth including in a movie. I also think there is a connection between the fact that the vast majority of film writers and directors are male, and the acceptability of depicting graphic rape scenes of women in mainstream cinema. Child rape is rarely depicted in cinema (especially the rape of pre-pubescent children) presumably because everyone knows how horrendous that crime is. The rape of women is frequently portrayed in mainstream cinema, sometimes in extended scenes. Are they really depicting the horror of the crime, or is their something indulgent and possibly pornographic in these visions? There is no denying that cinematic depictions of simulated rape do have erotic power for many people- it may be disturbing, but it is true.

I am not for censorship necessarily: but I am for discussion. I would be very interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the depictions of rape in cinema, and what should be acceptable, or whether it should be acceptable at all. And do you think that normalising the inclusion of graphic rape scenes in mainstream cinema may have a slow, insidious affect on people and their attitudes towards women, sex and rape?


Filed under Feminist commentary

Things I learnt from Cosmo

Ellie Stewart 

I have decided to convey what I learnt from this month’s Cosmo in the form of Simpsons analogies. Why would you do that?, you ask. A good question. The answer: there is basically a Simpsons example for any argument or topic you want to discuss. And The Simpsons (series 2 – 10) is pretty much the best thing and Cosmo is pretty much the worst. Also: I am a Simpsons mega-fan and I found myself coming up with these examples while writing this post without even trying, and their joyous satire provided a salve to the chocking sensation I experienced when inflicting upon myself the ‘articles’ that thicken Cosmo’s pages, like so much acrid fat.

And now I pass on this knowledge to you, so that you may never have to pay £3.50 for half an hour of self-loathing. Behold: Five Things I Learnt From Cosmo.

1.     There are way more things I need to buy

There’s an episode of The Simpsons that begins with Homer basing his shopping around the new billboards he passes on the freeway, which includes an advert for clown college. He stops in front of ever billboard, making a mental note of what the sign has told him to buy, causing mayhem on the roads in his wake. He gets to work with bags full of English Muffins, barbeque sauce and MSG: ‘Well, I got everything I was supposed to get,’ he says. ‘But I’m not going to that stupid clown college!’.

You know what happens next.

 I did a Homer, and bought everything that Cosmo told me to. I’m a woman, you see, and therefore incapable of distinguishing between ‘things I need’ and ‘things I want’. I came home with armfuls of perfume, make-up, shampoo, jewellery, bras, hair dye, nail varnish, clothes, anti-aging cream, wine, tampons, Lambrini’s new lady cider and a an aphrodisiac vodka infused with truffles.

‘It’s a fact Black Moth Truffle Vodka makes you horny’.

Or does it just make you drunk? Come back next week to hear about the results.

Meanwhile I am living in a room filled with intoxicating perfumes, piles of feathery fabrics and glitter. So. Much. Glitter. It’s like a girly Aladdin’s cave of self-hate.


2.     I will never be the woman that I want to be

…but I should bloody well try to get there. I can buy all things that Gwyneth, Natalie, Kate et al, with their eerily photoshopped eyes, ask me to. Cosmo and the advertising industry (a subdivision of The Man) have a relationship sort of like Mr Burns and Smithers. The advertising industry, (a.k.a. Mr Burns), commands Cosmo (a.k.a Smithers) to carry out his diabolical plans which she does most willingly because she is in love with the advertising industry. The only difference is, Smithers has unrequited love for his evil boss, while Cosmo goes to bed every night with The Man and engages in depraved sexual acts, before snuggling up to his giant chest while they watch an enormous TV screen showing woman desperately buying everything they’ve been told to, crying into their shopping bags as they make their way home feeling even emptier than before. ‘There my pretty,’ says The Man, stroking Cosmo’s hair, ‘what a glorious kingdom we rule.’


3.     I’m probably doing sex wrong 

‘Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films as ‘The Return of The Muff’ and ‘Women: The Unsolved Mystery’. 

Ladies- do you ever cough when having sex? Do you every talk dirty… without warning? Do you ever squeeze a man’s balls like your testing avocados at the Kwik-E-Mart? Well, ladies: YOU’RE DOING SEX WRONG! These are just some of the 50 Most Annoying Things Women Do In Bed you’ll find in this month’s Cosmopolitan. And now over to recently penitent former-editor of Loaded: Martin Daubney.’

‘Thanks, Troy. Well ladies, you should know that if you’re lucky enough to come first, ask us (loudly) to keep going. We’ll think you’re enjoying the mythical multiple orgasm and it’ll help us charge to the finish line.’

‘So sex is basically a race to see who comes first? Like a horse race! With mythical multiple orgasm unicorns. And we’re all just waiting to see whether that final bet we placed this morning is going to save us from the loan sharks who’ve threatened to break our legs.’
Sex through the eyes of a lad’s mag editor. Is there anything more beautiful?


 4.     If I was a proper woman, I would like 50 Shades of Grey

Human beings are pack animals. We like to hang out in groups, and we want to feel accepted by these groups. While each of us is an individual entity with unique experiences, hopes, dreams and desires, we seem to be terrifyingly easy to manipulate into drooling herds of cows eager to suck up whatever slurry has been poured into our feeding troughs. The power of 50 Shades of Grey to influence the millions of women who bought that boil on the face of literature basically went like this:

Women were all hanging out, finding their own sexuality in an increasingly pornified Western world, experimenting with what they liked, on their own and with their partners. Then, one woman chirped up:

‘Hey! Have you heard about this new book? It’s all about a deranged control freak who meets a virgin woman and buys her loads of shit so he can have tedious S&M sex with her over and over again!’

And all the women went: ‘Hey, that sounds GREAT! I like having things bought for me in exchange for repetitive S&M sex! I want to meet a man with lots of money who has a secret sex dungeon in his flat! And I NEVER meet men like that in real life, so I’d like to live out this fantasy on my Kindle.’

So this Woman, who looked suspiciously like The Man (I’d recognise that pointed goatee anywhere), started handing out copy after copy to the eager women, whose eyes had glazed over like cows chowing down on slurry made from pureed cows. Just like Marge Simpson when the monorail charlatan comes to sell Springfield something it doesn’t need and didn’t want, someone raised an objection:

‘This seems a narrow view of sex…’

‘It’s by a woman- don’t be vexed!’ said The Man/Woman, jumping to the piano.

‘Isn’t the writing awfully bad?’

‘Who cares? Just read it- you’ll be glad!’

‘I’m just not into S&M…’

‘You need to buy this book my friend!’

‘Fifty shades!’

‘What’s it called?’

‘Fifty shades!!!’

‘What its name?’


‘Ooohhh Fifty Shades of Grey!’

And yes, so it came to pass that every woman on the planet bought Fifty Shades of Grey, and went unto the sex shops to buy whips and nipple clamps so that they, too, may find fulfilment in the void by submitting to this homogenised version of sex. And yes, so it was like The Simpsons episode where they build a pointless monorail in the town. And yes, everyone was then so blinded by the shiny Answer that The Man (this time dressed as a Woman) had sold unto them, that it went speeding off on its track and looked like it would never slow down.

And yes, The Book of Cosmo did endorse it, saying that women are tired of ‘having it all’ and deep down just want to be spanked back to the 1950s. Behold The Book of Cosmo, that doth proclaim that we should all order our boyfriends to paint our toenails while we’re not wearing knickers, and buy pastry brushes from Tesco with the proclamation ‘This is for you to stroke my breasts and clitoris with!’ And The Man looked upon it, and He saw that it was Good.

And yes, eventually Homer managed to lasso the giant M sign and hook it round a giant donut, thus anchoring the runaway train and saving the passengers on board.

And yes, the Fifty Shades of Grey juggernaut will eventually lose momentum and grind to a halt until another fad appears, and the old pureed cow slurry is removed to be replaced by something more disgusting, more putrid, and yet utterly, utterly tasteless.


Finally, after reading the whole magazine and taking on board its advice, its insights and its pretty, pretty migraine inducing colours, I learnt this:

5.     Don’t read Cosmo

Ever. Ever again. Just don’t.

Even if you’re about to take a really long train journey and think it’s really likely you’ll get bored of the Dostoevsky/Trout Weekly you’ve taken with you. Even if you’re in a dentist’s waiting room about to undergo root-canal surgery and you just need something to take your mind off the horror that awaits you. Even if you sit down on another filthy, cramped train and see one discarded on the seat next to you, glistening under the light filtering through the grime-covered windows, calling to you seductively: don’t read it. 

Don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that buying bottles of shampoo and Viagra vodka will fill the emptiness inside. Don’t read sex tips from an obnoxious ex-lad’s mag editor who recently admitted he went off sex for a year after seeing his wife give birth. Don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking you’re ugly compared to the airbrushed pictures of women who spend their every waking moment working out, starving themselves, having their faces painted by professionals, their hair primped and pulled by top hairdresser’s, their faces and bodies sliced, trimmed, stretched, enlarged, paralysed and cut away.

You’re better than that. We’re all much, much better than that. We are not mindless cows mooing in tune to the whims of The Man. We all have individual minds, and personalities, and thoughts, and desires, and possibly an unhealthy attachment to an American cartoon series that hasn’t been any good for about 10 years but my god, those old episodes still stand the test of time.


You can follow the marvellous Ellie on twitter here : @Elliemayonnaise 


Filed under Feminist commentary

How I became a feminist- My mother, my first feminist role model.

Ellie Stewart

My mother instilled feminist views in me from a young age. She felt strongly that men should hold the same respect for women that they do for men, though she never used the word ‘feminist’ – she just believed her views were the right way of looking at the world!

I realised that I was, in fact, a feminist in my second year at Leeds University. I was disturbed by the number of popular, supposedly ‘normal’ young men with unhealthy relationships to porn who viewed women merely as objects for them to shag and discard. Many female students seemed happy to present themselves in this way, dancing in their underwear on stage at the Friday club night in the union and dressing as hookers at every fancy-dress occasion. It seemed that everyone wanted to participate in this highly-sexed, porn-driven culture in order to fit in.

My decision to call myself a feminist was a bold statement- a conscious decision to differentiate myself from these prevalent, damaging attitudes. I was frequently mocked by male and female students and branded ‘crazy’. Thankfully, I met dozens of young women who felt exactly the same as me in my final year, and together we worked on a feminist magazine. Since then I have chosen my friends more wisely, and am lucky to be able to associate with people who are intelligent, enlightened, open-minded and believe in the oh-so-radical idea that women are equal to men.

If you want to read more of Ellie’s writing, check it out here: http://elliemayonnaise.weebly.com/

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Filed under How I became a feminist

Mrs Dalloway

Ellie Stewart

As a fresher at The University of Leeds studying English and Philosophy, I was just beginning to explore feminism and to rediscover my ability to write stories; an inclination I had lost some years back. Continue reading


Filed under Book Reviews