Times have changed: From a different era, when women weren’t expected to achieve—from fashion magazines constantly shoving it down our throats—the unrealistic goal of the “emaciated runway model” look.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite message in this ad.
My first reaction on hearing of the international “Slut Walk” movement was “brilliant.” About bloody time! What a horribly demeaning word, one loaded with judgement that denies a person the basic enjoyment of their own sexual activities and bodies. “Slut” is rife for reclaiming - because there is no term for a person who enjoys copious amount of sex that is not pejorative. Why not, as other social groups have done in the past, take an already existing term of abuse and strip it of its negative meaning? It’s hard to fathom that the word “slut” still holds so much power in this, the twenty first century. Are we still to feel shame for our sexual desires and appetites? Does Michael Sanguinetti believe that if all women were to suddenly don burkhas all rape would be wiped out? No, because a rapist will commit a rape regardless of what a person is wearing, slutty or otherwise - the risk factors lie with the rapists not the victim.
So, my partner and I turned out for Slut Walk Manchester on last Friday evening, to show our faces and bodies and in some small way reclaim the place will live as being safe from harassment and abuse. Of course it’s only a small gesture but that in itself does not make it invalid or worthless. By all accounts Manchester is a very protest-friendly city, but the turnout of roughly a thousand was very healthy and exceeded expectations. We walked for over an hour, winding our way through the city centre streets, stopping traffic and emptying public transport. The reaction from passers by was supportive and not negative like I had assumed it would be, and even though no official license had been granted for the march by the council, the police were helpful and friendly, and guided the mass of people on their way rather than hemming them in.
The crowd was mixed, with a lot of men walking and a good range of ages (though most on the march were young). There were a handful of drag queens and queer activists as well - Manchester has a large gay population and an active male sex industry, so male rape is not uncommon. If I have one gripe it was with the placards handed out to the crowd by the Socialist Worker Party, an act that to me seemingly hijacked an apolitical march for its own ends. The placards read “No Means No” on one side, with “Clarke Must Go” on the other. Sure, Ken Clarke, the British Secretary of State for Justice made some very unwise comments on rape a few weeks ago, but I did not need the SWP to help me call for his resignation, or tell me that my body was my property. It just came across as petty point scoring. Other placards of interest held by members of the march included “Police Rapists, Not My Fucking Wardrobe”, “My Minge My Rules” and “Queer As in Fuck You (But Only If You Consent)”.
At one point during the march I was approached by a man for a cigarette an we got chatting. He seemed not to be of the typical student/protester mould, more a working class guy fond of a few pints, but I had noticed him before and though he might have been one of the organisers. As we were walking he asked me if I had been raped. I answered that thankfully I hadn’t, but I still wanted to show my support as I know people who have. Almost with a sense of confrontational pride he told me that he had been raped, and that it had happened while he was 9 years old and living in care. He asked me what the march was about and if it was specifically for women. He didn’t know what a “Slut Walk” was, he had never heard of it, he just happened to be in town and saw it passing. So I explained about the concept, the reclaiming of the word, and the comments on rape Ken Clarke had made. He kept clarifying that he was not gay - at first I thought this might have had to do the leather gear I was wearing, but soon realised it was more to do with the societal taboo of male rape and this man’s own experience of it. Eventually he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said he had never told another man about this before. I shook his hand. I understood where the confrontation was coming from - it was not with me but it with himself and the fact that he was facing up to a dark part of his own past he had buried for god knows how long. A part he probably would not have faced up to had it not been for the Slut Walk.
In the late 1980s, Wendy James was the goddess of choice for many a teenager’s bedroom. She was sexy, beautiful and her band Transvision Vamp dominated the UK charts with their post-punk pop. Wendy was everywhere, a teenage wet dream, which kinda overlooked the singer’s real talent and incredible energy.
It was her unacknowledged talent (and a fan letter from Wendy) that led Elvis Costello to write the pop princess her first solo album, Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears in 1993. It was a bloody impressive recording, which kicked even her harshest critics into touch. But let’s not forget, the pop world is fickle, and riddled with jealousies, which means, sadly, there are always those who will not think about Wendy beyond the pull-out posters that once decorated their bedroom walls.
Now, this should be about to change, as Wendy James has released the best album of her career so far, I Came Here To Blow Minds, which she has written and produced herself. I spoke to Wendy over the ‘phone last week and asked her about the process of writing the album.
Wendy James: ‘I wrote it in summertime in New York. I went up onto the roof of my apartment, with my guitar and worked on my songs up there. I write all the time, and have notebooks full of writing and songs all around. Then one day it just starts, and I have an outpouring of these songs and ideas, for about two months. And when I write I have to lock myself away. I just can’t enjoy other things. It’s kind of like a pressure cooker, and you put a lid on to stop it boiling over, but then you can’t stop it boiling over.
‘For me, it’s a very solo outpouring. It takes everything you’ve got for that moment in time. But it’s the ultimate thing for being an artist.’
It’s a cathartic process, and writing the last song, is like ‘waiting to exhale.’ On I Came Here To Blow Minds, Wendy’s songs range form the punky “New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby”, through “Municipal Blues” and the jangly indie pop of “One Evening in a Small Cafe” and “You Tell Me” to the sixties’ Marianne Faithfull-like “Where Have You Been, So Long?”. The musical references are all there, and have developed over Wendy’s twenty-plus year career, from teenage pop star to older, wiser solo artist.
It started in her teens, when Wendy saw Joe Strummer of The Clash in concert and thought “I want his job.” Her wish soon came true, when she formed Transvision Vamp with Nick Christian Sayer in 1986. Sayer wrote the songs and James supplied the image. Three albums and a slew of hit singles were released, including “I Want Your Love” and “Baby, I Don’t Care”.
Wendy James: ‘Without really knowing, I was in Transvision Vamp. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But you learn really quickly, it was a fast track, you learn how to rehearse, how to deliver. It all came together so quickly. On the first album, I was just singing. By the second I wanted more.’
Their second album, Velveteen was a massive hit, but Wendy was growing up.
Wendy James: ‘Something in my soul was telling me I had to live in my own world. I had to do my own thing. Something was going on inside, and by the third album, it wasn’t enough.’
Then Elvis Costello wrote an album for her.
Wendy James: ‘But still there was this inner voice, you know, these were Elvis Costello’s songs, and not mine.’
It took time. In 2004, James returned as Racine - ‘...the name I called myself for two albums…’ - and then began writing the songs for I Came Here To Blow Minds, which she recorded in Paris. Now, Wendy has plans to tour the UK, Europe and the US later this year. She is also working on songs for her next album.
An initial pink vinyl pressing of ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’ is now available
Wendy James: “New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby”