THE CRUNCH POINT
I wasn’t even wearing a short skirt.
Stupid thought. Totally stupid thought.
But, afterwards, as I stewed and cried fat hot tears of rage, I kept thinking…
…I wasn’t even wearing a short skirt.
If you really want to know what I was wearing, so you can reassure yourself that I was the perfect victim in all this, it was just a normal pair of jeans. And my lacy jumper. BUT CALM DOWN – all that erotic lace was FULLY HIDDEN under my duffle coat. So, unless pervy van men have X-ray vision – and let’s all for a minute thank God that they don’t –
I was wearing nothing, nothing, to trigger what happened that day.
Which was this…
I was running late for college, due to an epic argument with my parents about My Future. This was a regular thing. My Future is their obsession, but this particular spat over My Future had been pretty nasty. For reasons known to nobody, not even me, the argument ended with me shouting, “Meditate on THIS!” and grabbing my crotch. I’d then slammed the door in their stunned faces and dashed down the road. Almost crying.
It was cold and bright. A nice October day, but one where the golden sunshine has no impact on the temperature. I was half-running, partly because of my lateness, and partly to keep warm.
I saw the van as I turned the corner.
Two builder-types sitting in the front seat noticed me straight away. They stared at me through the windscreen. The way they assessed me sent an instant blodge to my stomach.
That female intuition blodge.
The there’s-going-to-be-trouble blodge.
No – screw that. It’s not female intuition. I’m not psychic – I’m just highly experienced in sexual harassment, like pretty much every other girl on this earth who dares to
The van was parked on my side of the quiet, residential street. The only side of the road with a pavement. I paused for a second, weighing up my options. I sensed trouble, but I had to walk past the van. Even though I already felt sick from the way they looked at me. Like I should be ashamed…
Maybe I’m wrong about them, I thought. One of them was as old as my dad. Maybe they were just innocently looking out their windscreen. Maybe there wouldn’t be any trouble. And because I was exhausted and alone and already upset and all-the-things-I’ve-just-told-you, I didn’t walk past them with my normal confidence.
I instinctively averted my gaze, pretended they weren’t staring, pulled my coat further over my totally-concealed chest and walked faster towards them.
I was approaching the van. I could still feel their eyes on me. But I was almost there. And almost there meant almost past them…and…it would be fine…I would be fine…and it was broad daylight anyway and I could always scream but I wouldn’t need to scream because it would be okay and I’d imagined these builders being worse than they are, and…and…and…
…and then the van door opened.
I stopped dead. Their open door now blocked the pavement. The younger man was slowly getting out and I looked up, all darting and scared. Because why had they opened the door? I heard a slam and flinched. It was the other van door. Because the other guy had got out too. My head whipped in his direction and I saw him walk around the bonnet, closing me in. He was bald, old, all red in the face like he’d had one too many for too many years.
I had one man in front of me, one behind. I was pinned in. Hardly any space to get around either of them.
The man blocking my way forward spoke first.
“You look very sexy in that red lipstick,” he said, his voice so leery I shuddered and recoiled.
Oh yes. I forgot to tell you. I was wearing red lipstick.
IS IT MY FAULT NOW?
He bent over, right in my face, giving me no choice but to look at him. He was younger than the other – with fluff instead of proper facial hair.
The bald man behind me joined in.
“You wore it especially for us, didn’t you, love? We like it. We really like it.”
My heart beat so fast I thought it would combust. My breath was already short and sharp. There was a man in his garden across the road, deadheading a plant. I looked at him desperately, silently asking for help. But he seemed to be deliberately pretending not to notice.
“What’s wrong, love? Why aren’t you talking to us?”
“I…” I stammered. “I…”
“Shy, are you? Shy girls don’t wear lipstick like that.”
The younger man stepped forward again; I had no personal space left. His breath stank of something sweet, like he’d been drinking Red Bull. I looked around frantically, sizing up the gap around him. Calculating if I could fit through.
I saw a chance. I took it.
I barged past, pushing his arms up as I fled down the road as fast as I could. My feet thumping hard on the pavement, my heart going nuts. Were they going to chase me? It was broad daylight.
“PRICK-TEASE,” one of them yelled after me.
The insults pelted off my back. I ran and ran – so sure they’d follow me. So sure this wasn’t finished yet.
“COME ON, LOVE, IT WAS ONLY A COMPLIMENT.”
The cold air hurt my lungs, ripping down my throat.
My stomach wanted to empty itself. I shook so hard I could hardly run in a straight line.
I couldn’t hear their footsteps behind me. When I reached the end of the street, I dared myself to quickly look back.
The two men were leaning up against their van. They were laughing. Leaning over and grabbing their knees, giggling like children.
And, as I struggled to hold back the tears that had bubbled up and lodged in my throat, I thought:
But I wasn’t even wearing a short skirt.
Steadily, my day got worse.
I got to class just in time and whimpered my way through politics and economics – hardly able to concentrate. My hand shook as I held my biro, scratching down notes that made no sense. I kept replaying the scene in my head. The way they’d looked at me. The way it had felt when they’d blocked my path.
I felt so many emotions at once, as my teacher droned on at the front about the failures of our first-past-the-post voting system.
Shame – like I was to blame. For wearing my stupid lipstick, just because it matched my bag and, until that morning, had always made me feel happy.
Embarrassment – at letting them get to me so much. Though it felt like the builders had ripped off my clothes and exposed me to the whole neighbourhood.
Fear – that they’d be there on my walk home…
And pure, white hot rage. At them – why did they think they could treat me like that? Why didn’t that man help me…? But also at myself… Lottie, why the hell didn’t you yell back? What sort of weakling are you?
When my lesson finished, I went straight to the college canteen for my philosophy study group. A few of us queued up for chips, as was our custom. By then, I’d stopped shaking, but I still had all the emotions.
“Hey, Lottie.” Jane joined me in the queue, with a milkshake on her tray. “You okay? You look kind of wiggy.”
I smiled back at her. Jane was old friends with Evie, one of my two best friends. We’d been put in the same philosophy class again for our A-level year and I was finally warming up to her after a couple of false friendship starts.
“I’m okay…” I found myself lying. “You ready for all the fun of deontology?”
Jane sighed and ran her hand over the new pink section of her hair.
“I’m ready for you to help me understand it.”
I nodded to Mike, and a few others who’d joined the queue behind us as we inched our way towards the hot food section. I stood on my tiptoes to see the state of the chips.
“Ergh,” I said loudly, “they’re nearing the end of the batch. I hate end-of-the-batch chips – they’re always soggy and cold.”
“Maybe someone before you in the queue will order them first?” Jane said.
“Let us hope, Jane. Let us hope.”
But nobody ordered chips before I got there. I looked down at the measly leftover ones – some crispy, some bent and soggy – and frowned. I turned to the other study group guys in the queue behind me. “So, it’s going to be very ‘utilitarian’ of me if I order these,” I joked. “I’m going to take the hit by finishing off this batch of old chips, but then you guys get the good ones.”
But no one was really listening and it pissed me off, because now I had a plate full of poo chips and no one laughing at my amazing philosophy joke.
While Mike and the others ordered chips from the lovely new tray that was brought out, I walked towards the table in the corner we always used. It was stuffy and smelled of egg sandwiches. The sunshine flooded through the giant glass windows, making my face hot and the egg-sandwich smell worse. When we’d all assembled, there were seven of us in total – me, Jane, Jane’s boyfriend Joel, and four other guys. Mike was running the group today. I’d kissed him when drunk and overexcitable about my five As on AS results day and he hadn’t quite forgiven me yet for not letting it turn into anything more than that.
Mike gave me his obligatory evil over the table and began. “So, guys, I talked to Mr Henry and he said that deontology and utilitarianism will definitely be on the exam…”
His words faded to background babble as I picked up a cold chip unenthusiastically and the morning whirred through my head again. It had been SUCH a bad argument with Mum and Dad. Dad still hadn’t got over me dropping my fifth A level at the start of term. Even though I only need four to get into Cambridge. And he’d tried, yet again, to change my mind this morning – even though we were a month into the academic year now. Mum had flittered nervously between us, as always. Trying and failing to keep the peace.
“You need to think about your priorities,” Dad had said. It was always Dad who started these things. “You only get this one shot, Charlotte.”
Mum chipped in. “I know this Spinster Club is very important to you, darling. And we’re so proud of you…but don’t you think the time is better spent doing that extra A level, just in case?”
Me, Evie and my other best friend, Amber, had formed a feminist discussion group last year called The Spinster Club and it had really taken off. College had even turned it into
a proper club – FemSoc – that we ran together. The whole thing made me supremely happy, but Dad wasn’t so chuffed.
“Look, Charlotte,” Dad added, “aren’t you worried how this feminism group will look on your UCAS application?
I mean, it’s not the most…traditional of extra-curricular activities. Doesn’t your college have a debate team or something? It’s a bit more Cambridge…”
He was such a hypocrite! All let’s save the world and we’re all equal until it came to his ambition for his one and only daughter. Then his obsession with The Prestige And Importance Of Education rendered him all double-standardy. And Mum, well…she was mostly chanting half the time
or just saying what she thought she should say to make us stop fighting.
I shook my head, bringing myself back to Mike’s drony voice droning on and on…
“Okay, so the way I see it, utilitarianism is all about the greater good…”
He was so stupid… We’d gone through all this on, like, day one of this module. I hated it when I wasn’t allowed to run study group but we all took it in turns. Why had I kissed him again?
“So, if we apply this theory of utilitarianism to…” Drony drone drone… My brain faded out again and I watched Jane play with her pink hair.
Those builders…the way they’d looked at me…
I’d spent the morning arguing with Mum and Dad about feminism – only to walk out my front door and straight into a glaringly obvious reason why we needed feminism.
Why didn’t I yell back at them?
The way they looked at me…
I shuddered. So noticeably that Jane gave me a small I’m bored too smile.
I gave her a half-smile back, and turned my attention to a group of students over at the ancient college jukebox – shoving a pound in and giggling.
There was a pause, and the first song echoed around the cafeteria’s speakers. A murmur of laughter rippled through the tables.
They’d chosen Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. It was beginning to become a college-wide joke to constantly play this song on the jukebox.
“And, well, if we look at last year’s exam questions…” Mike tried to continue over the shrills of Marvin’s voice, but he wasn’t getting through. Joel had already turned to Jane and begun his own over-the-top serenade. His ponytail flapped behind him as he dramatically mouthed along with the lyrics. Jane wiggled her shoulders…even my own pen tapped in time. I relaxed into the cheesy music until Mike said loudly…
“So a really easy way of understanding utilitarianism is to think about chips in the canteen.”
My pen dropped to the floor, and when I re-emerged from picking it up, Mike was pointing at my plate.
“So, Lottie here sacrificed a nice plate of chips for herself by taking the last of the stale batch, knowing more of us would get better chips after her. A perfect example of utilitarianism, right?” He grinned around at everyone, inviting them to laugh at his point – and they did.
Everyone was smiling, nodding. I shook my head. Too confuzzled to speak.
“That’s a good point, Mike.”
“Yeah, I never thought it could be as simple as that. But you’re right.”
“Sorry about your chips, Lottie.” Joel saluted, like I was a soldier. Then they all laughed again.
I caught Jane’s eye, to see if she’d noticed. She shrugged and rolled her eyes at Mike, confirming my outrage.
I didn’t laugh. I didn’t nod. I didn’t agree with the others.
I couldn’t believe it.
That was my point. And my joke!
And Mike was shamelessly passing it off as his own.
What was worse was that everyone was listening to him.
Because Mike had said it.
And the only reason I could see it being better now than when I’d said it was…because Mike was a boy…
HOW TO START A FEMINIST REVOLUTION:
1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender
2. Don't call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)
3. Always try to keep it funny
4. Don't let anything slide. Even when you start to break...
Lottie's determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other ideas...
Listen to Holly Bourne talk fun and feminism in the Spinster Club
“Brings to mind the late, great Louise Rennison... A book to press into the hands of every teenage girl you know.”
“A gripping read.”
“This is YA at its very best.”
The Irish Times
Holly Bourne is a bestselling and critically acclaimed author. Inspired by her work with young people, and her own experiences of everyday sexism, Holly is a passionate mental health advocate and proud feminist.
Visit www.hollybourne.co.uk to find out more.
“Funny and heartbreaking... A really excellent conclusion to The Spinster Club trilogy.”
“What could have been an "issues" book in the hands of a lesser writer is made relevant, real and so accessible by Bourne, who writes with such wisdom, honesty and heart. It's also the funniest of the trilogy: Lottie has all the comebacks you ever wished you could remember and there are some truly slapstick scenes that bring to mind the late, great Louise Rennison. This is a book to press into the hands of every teenage girl you know.”
“Bourne's political and feminist sensibilities occasionally come across as over-egged, but her snack-scoffing, wisecracking teen characters feel real and vividly alive. Belly-bustingly funny, Bourne also demonstrates how constant, tiny pinpricks can bleed girls’ confidence dry.”
“This novel covers friendship, feminism and fallouts, so makes for a gripping read.”
“Definitely the most powerful of the trilogy... I laughed, I wanted to scream, and I wanted to cry in frustration and anger at the things that Lottie faces and the girls encounter and discuss. This really is a feminist trailblazing series.”
So Little Time For Books
“A powerful and inspirational read, and part of a true gem of a series... I will be pushing this series into the hands of everyone, ever.”
Snuggling on the Sofa
“Holly Bourne captures the teenage voice perfectly every single time, and the attention to detail never fails to blow me away... You know it's a good book when you find yourself smiling throughout. This whole trilogy is well worth reading.”
The Mile Long Bookshelf
“I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing this book is! I honestly believe that The Spinster Club Trilogy are real game changers; where other YA novels have tackled feminist topics, The Spinster Club books talk about feminism itself, what it is, and why we need it... A powerful and incredibly inspiring finale to the trilogy that will spark many a flame in it's readers.”
Once Upon A Bookcase
“A 'turn of the century series', it has sparked such passion, honesty and strength. At the end of this book I felt strong and I felt proud to be who I am... We have a voice and Holly Bourne's books are reason of that! Spinster Club forever!”
Never Judge A Book By Its Cover
“A strong series ender, driving home the overriding messages at the heart of this series about feminism, friendship and standing up for what you believe in... A thought-provoking, inspiring read that takes you on an emotional journey and makes you feel proud to be a girl.”
Jess Hearts Books
“Bourne occupies neglected territory in the world of teenage fiction and makes a success of her undertaking. Bourne takes a deliberately risky attitude towards storytelling, as her characters do towards life.”
Books for Keeps
“The power of female friendships is emphasised, and some of the best moments are when the three “Spinsters” are just hanging out, being silly and eating cheesy snacks. And like its predecessors, it offers up plenty of food for thought alongside the real emotional consequences of what might seem like abstract ideas. This is YA at its very best.”