Nagging Kills: Let’s Stop it

This piece was originally posted over at The Independent

Poor, beleaguered men.  Wherever they go they are surrounded by swarms of nagging women, sucking at their very lifeblood like a cloud of banshee mosquitos.  And now it’s become even worse: what was seen as simply an irritating affliction is now apparently a fatal one.  “You really can be nagged to death!” squeals the Mail, whilethe Telegraph warns that “nagging could cost the lives of hundreds of men”.

It’s the result of a report released this week by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health on stressful social relations and mortality, the conclusion of which is that “stressful social relations are associated with increased mortality risk among middle-aged men and women.” This risk is higher amongst men, and particularly men “outside the labour force”.

None of this is particularly shocking news: we all know that social relationships can cause stress, and we know that stress leads to potentially fatal issues such as cardiovascular disease. We also already know that men are more susceptible to these diseases: about one in five men die of coronary heart disease, compared to one in eight women.

But it’s hardly surprising that the headlines have opted for the rather more sensationalised conclusion that women are nagging men to death.

‘Nag’ is part of a long linguistic tradition of invalidating women, in the same vein as ‘ball and chain’ and the dreaded ‘missus’. These words hold the idea of woman whose constant scolding forbids the henpecked husband from staying out for another pint lest he ‘get into trouble’. They can be whipped out as a handy excuse to allow a man to avoid the notion that he might – imagine it! – actually enjoy spending time with his partner.

Mary Beard’s brilliant lecture on the silencing of women throughout history “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!” covers this cultural phenomenon in detail. “Do those words matter? Of course they do – because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. It’s an idiom that effectively repositions women back into the domestic sphere… it trivialises their words.”

Linguistic traits such as this aren’t limited to the domestic space, but bleed over into every area of public and professional life. When women speak, they’re often described as ‘strident’, ‘shrill’ or ‘whining’, especially if they dare to do so within traditionally masculine spaces, such as politics.

Consider David Cameron’s patronising suggestion that MP Angela Eagle “Calm down, dear”.  These words are designed to undermine and invalidate women’s voices, painting our concerns as trivial, irrational and overbearing.

There are a lot of interesting things which we could talk about as a result of these research findings. We could talk about the relationship between stress and masculinity, and the damaging societal expectation that men bottle up rather than express feelings. We could talk about the pressure of trying to live up to the traditional male role as provider, sole breadwinner and head of the household, compounded by dealing with the evolution and cultural shift away from these roles.

The study’s finding that unemployed men are most at risk of going to an early grave – those “outside the labour force” – is certainly one that’s worth exploring, especially given the current heightened levels of ‘nagging’ from the government, as dole-seekers are forced to sign-on on a daily basis, complete mandatory work-placements and generally jump through more hoops than Crufts’ most put-upon poodle.

But rather than explore issues around the construction of gender roles and expectations, and the negative effects which these might be having on all of us, we fall back time and time again onto old and familiar narratives, reinforcing them as we do so.

Women nag, men don’t talk about their feelings, and eventually we’ll all drive each other into an early grave. Until death do us part.

in which i accidentally interact with a human being

I had an odd encounter last night. I was walking down Tottenham Court Road way, not particularly heading anywhere and not particularly doing anything, when a man stopped me in the middle of the street. Naturally I assumed I was about to be either propositioned or mugged; he was an enormous hulk of a man, and I was a woman alone. I stopped anyway for some reason (Greetings, Herr Thanatos, & welcome) and he shook my hand. “It’s ok”, he explained, noting my obvious anxiety, “I’m a writer.”

Naturally I quirked an eyebrow and said “Aren’t we all?”

– at which he laughed, and protested: “No, I’m being serious.”

He said he was writing a book about how modern society and technology are making us alienated, and how we miss the fleeting connections that make us human. “Just twenty years ago, people stopping and talking in the street like this used to happen all the time. Now you never see it.” I pulled on my Digital Native dungarees and explained that it wasn’t necessarily the case that technology was causing disconnection; it was only that the connection had migrated elsewhere. “That doesn’t cheapen it,” I said, “It only changes it.”

What if you were speaking to someone and you couldn’t see their face, he said; they had a hood pulled down over it. Wouldn’t that make you uncomfortable?

“That’s very dependent on the context,” I said, “Who they are, and why they’re hiding their face.”

They’re telling you a really harrowing story, he said. Something awful that happened to them at some point. Rape, or torture – something like that.

“I think I’d be more interested in the story,” I said, “I like to think that I would”. He was worried that you don’t know who anyone really is online – there could be anyone sitting behind the other end of the keyboard. I questioned the idea of ever knowing who anyone really is; what is it that necessarily makes the meatsack standing in front of me more “real” than an online avatar? Aren’t they both just a form of representation? There could be anyone sitting inside of that face.

“You’re being purposefully contrary,” he said, “You don’t really think that.”

Maybe I am, I said, and maybe I don’t. But I do definitely think we place too much emphasis on the facial and the corporeal. Isn’t it the stories and the ideas that matter more? Doesn’t the internet give us direct access to other people’s stories without having to go through all the palaver of a skin-interface?

“What ARE you?” he said, looking faintly aghast.

“I suppose I’m a writer”, I said.

And then I fucked off to the pub.

Writeidea Literary Fringe, Tower Hamlets

AND (I know) I’m curating the fringe of a Writeidea literary festival in Tower Hamlets this coming weekend. Blurb below:


For the very first time this year, we’ll be presenting a fringe as part of the festival – focusing on non-traditional forms of writing, alternative narratives and creativity in all shapes and sizes.

The fringe will run across both days of the festival, from 2-6pm, and feature a wide variety of sessions – think of it as a sort of cultural smorgasbord of delights for you to sample!

Nat Guest

The Writeidea Festival Fringe is curated by Nat Guest.

Nat Guest is a writer and blogger, and the founder and organiser of Hackney’s ‘BBC Question Time Tweet-a-Long’ (featured in The Guardian, Total Politics and The Londonist). She has written for The Sunday Times, The Independent, the New Statesman and Skeptic Magazine, amongst others.


2pm. Performance: Grace Petrie

In 2010, singer-songwriter Grace Petrie’s music began to take a new, political direction. She picked up a guitar and wrote what has become one of the most celebrated anti-establishment anthems of recent times, ‘Farewell to Welfare’. When folk legend (and Grace’s personal hero) Billy Bragg heard her music and invited her to play at Glastonbury on the Leftfield stage, she went down a storm and, in Bragg’s own words, “stole the f@!#ing show, sister!”

Alongside UK tours with Emmy the Great and Josie Long, Grace has had a string of festival appearances including End of the Road, Greenbelt and, of course, a triumphant return to Glastonbury. National airplay on BBC 6 Music from Josie Long, Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq as well as interviews in The Guardian and Diva magazine have cemented Grace’s name in the public consciousness.

3pm. Discussion Panel: How Our Words Shape the Future

With the rise of the citizen journalist, where everyone with an internet connection can easily become a publisher, more and more people are using the power of blogging and social media to hold power to account. But is the pen really mightier than the sword? And can writing have an impact on our political future – or even on our political now?

Join Liberal Conspiracy founder and political blogger Sunny Hundal, green activist Adam Ramsay, author of ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’ Tim Gee. This panel will be chaired by Dawn Foster of The Guardian’s Comment is Free.

4pm – 6pm. Workshop: Writing Poetry, with Hannah Chutzpah

Come along and join us for a session of poetry-writing. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert, all are welcome – all you need to get started is a pencil and your brain!

Hannah Chutzpah is a copywriter and editor by day, and a blogger and performance poet by night. She studied English Literature with Creative Writing at UEA and has been published in magazines, chapbooks, on various blogs and in The Guardian and The Independent. She runs the ‘Whippersnapper Press’ ( for short, sharp, funny creative writing. Hannah has been described as “fine” by three therapists, “of good character” by a high court judge, and as “a rotten brat” by her mother.


2pm. Discussion Panel: The Future of Comics

Comics are one of our oldest ways of storytelling – just think of Egyptian hieroglyphics, or the pictures that cavemen daubed onto the walls of their homes. They’re also one of our most varied, imaginative and innovative types of narrative. So how are comics changing? What impact is digital having upon them, and are webcomics paving the way forward? And is the success of Joss Whedon’s recent reimagining of Marvel for the silver screen making superhero comics popular again?

Joining us to discuss are Marvel writer Kieron Gillen, New Statesman resident comic writer Tom Humberstone, and author of graphic novel ‘Britten & Brulightly’ Hannah Berry. This panel will be chaired by Alex Hern, tech reporter at The Guardian

3.30pm. Rehearsed Comedy: Wil Hodgson

Retro culture geek, stand-up comedian and general subculture enthusiast Wil Hodgson takes us through his recollections of growing up as a comic book nerd – and wherever else his twisted mind might drag us.

‘The most charismatic of storytellers’ (Scotsman). ‘Genius’ (Russell Howard). ‘A creature of rigorously maintained authenticity … he remains one of the most original and consistently funny performers in the UK’ (Guardian).

4.30pm. Getting Better Acquainted: Helen Zaltzman

Join Dave Pickering in conversation with Sony Award winning podcaster Helen Zaltzman. They’ll be talking about her experience of writing for BBC Radio and TV, changing the UK’s most popular entertainment podcast, ‘Answer Me This!’( into a book, and making the ‘Sound Women’ podcast, which focuses on and advocates for women in radio.

This is a live recording of Radio Production Award nominated podcast ‘Getting Better Acquainted’ (, in which Dave Pickering captures intimate conversations with people he knows about their lives. Daveis a Sony Award nominated writer, musician, performer, producer and podcaster. He co-produced and wrote for the CBeebies Radio series ‘Ministry of Stories’, hosts the Hackney branch of true storytelling night ‘Spark London’ and is the creator of the variety night ‘Stand Up Tragedy’.

A Cinematic Smörgåsbord

I also wrote some words for the Independent which they DID want, on gender bias in films and the move from Swedish cinemas to introduce a Bechdel-inspired rating system. YOU CAN READ THOSE WORDS HERE.

The problem seems to stem from an industry belief that, whilst both men and women will happily watch a film with a male protagonist, men – for whatever reason – are seen as incapable of engaging with stories that focus on the experience of a woman. Despite the fact that they can happily suspend disbelief in order to accept any amount of reality-bending plot-lines (spaceships, time travel, talking animals, anyone ever falling in love with Adam Sandler), apparently relating to a female protagonist as an actual human being is just, y’know, pushing things a bit.

A Harmless Alcohol Substitute? Not as Nutty as It Sounds…

Some words about David Nutt’s latest SCIENCE, for the Independent

Ah, Science. From the discipline that brought us classics like penicillin, lightbulbs, and adorable mice with ears implanted into their backs, comes possibly its greatest achievement yet: alcohol without the hangovers. Happy news for our proud nation of pissheads!


In today’s news, Michael Gove is encouraging children to stop sexting and write love poetry. So I did.


The problem with the world today?
An all-pervading moral decay.
Our children’s heads are full of rot
And online porn, and lord knows what
I find it rather disconcerting
All this texting, sexting, flirting
Who knows what goes on in their heads?!
(And, god forbid to think, their beds)
Too many kids these days are idle
What they need’s a nice free bible
Whilst we’re at it, if you please
We’ll have no more of these GCSEs
A nice school song, some smart house banners
And teach the little shits some manners
A bit of “sir”, a spot of “ma’am”
It didn’t do me any harm
I want no part in innovation
I’m Minister for Education
All learning should be done by rote!
PS. Let’s give the queen a boat.

Behind Enemy Lines with the EDL

Yesterday, I went down to Downing Street to join some of my friends who were involved in holding a counter-demonstration against the EDL. As is traditional, though, I was running horribly late, so by the time I got there the police had cordoned off the whole area and my friends were kettled inside. I hung around for a bit to see what I could see (other than riot vans, very little), then headed to a pub nearby.

Whilst nursing my pint and checking twitter to see how people were faring inside the kettle, I was approached by a man who – given his burly nature and bald head – I judged to probably be an EDL member. I know, I know, book/cover &c&c, but I’d seen enough of them around on the street in their identikit uniform to be a little wary by this point. That said, I was in dungarees and dishevelled red hair, looking every inch the stereotypical lefty, so you could probably say the same about me.

It turned out the guy was approaching me to talk about a painting I was sitting near to (Westminster Abbey, in case you’re bothered). After a bit of preamble about that he got onto the subject I’d been expecting; that day’s EDL demonstration. Rather than risk a punch in the face, I decided not to let on that I was a raving lefty loon with friends in the kettle, and grunt noncommittally whenever he said anything abhorrent. I was also genuinely curious to hear things “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak.

Some of the things he said bewildered me. He believed himself to not be racist in any way, and to genuinely believe that feminists ought to march alongside the EDL as allies. About half way through the conversation I decided to turn on the voice recorder on my phone.

I’ve transcribed the following conversation rather than post the audio, to retain his anonymity. I’ve also redacted some of the personal information which I think may have made him identifiable. I’m fairly sure – although not positive – that as we were in a broadly public space, this is legal, if perhaps not entirely ethical. Given the latter, I struggled with whether to post it at all, and only do so because I think it’s an interesting and perhaps valuable insight into this particular mind-set. No offence is intended towards the man I spoke to by my posting this, and I’m going to post it in the same spirit that our conversation was conducted – without condemnation, and in the spirit of intellectual curiosity and fostering understanding.

If he should contact me and ask me to take it down, I will of course comply – though I suspect he was the kind of guy who would proudly stand by his words.

Trigger warnings for: rape, violence against women/children, islamophobia, hate-speech.

He: The Sikhs gave the EDL food, and they’re eating together and everything, and the so-called United Against Facism, they was there, and in the end the Sikhs were booing them – and all they did all day was try and wind the EDL up, and the EDL had Sikhs talking for them, black guys talking for them, just saying – you know, not all muslims are bad but some are disgusting like we’ve seen. And everything they said was fair! You know – everything!

Me: What were the UAF doing to try and wind the EDL up?

He: The UAF are basically communists, and they hate any form of patriotism, they hate it, they just can’t stand it. And they are far left. And what they’ve done is, they knew the EDL wasn’t racist, they knew, but they’ve managed to convince – well, it’s fading now, because people are finding out now at last. But they’d managed to convince them – the blacks, and everybody – that the EDL hate people. It’s all lies! It’s just to further their cause. If the EDL was marching in Luton tomorrow, the UAF would go there early and tell all the muslim youths that the muslim women were being raped by the EDL. Then they’d go away, leaving the muslim youth furious. This is the kind of thing they were doing! Because they can’t physically take on the EDL. The EDL are top working class guys, where the UAF are wimpy middle class students. And I am so proud, today, that they didn’t react, and they broke bread with the Sikhs.

Me: It’s good to hear there was no violence.

He: Well the UAF tried their hardest. And the BBC was there, to film it in case they got negative.

Me: Well of course, I mean…

He: Seven and a half thousand in Newcastle! You know what the BBC said? 1500.

Me: Yeah. But they always completely misnumber the amount of people at things.

He: Well they shouldn’t, they’re a news channel! They’re so left wing, the BBC – they’re supposed to be impartial, they’re not supposed to jump on the left wing boat all the time – they’re supposed to be the Independent of the newspapers, if you like. They’re not supposed to be the Telegraph or the Guardian. So what do you do yourself?

Me: Me? I do like… web content writing and digital marketing, that type of stuff. And I do a bit of… I write articles sometimes, do a bit of writing.

He: That’s not bad! If you’re writing articles, you know, and people read them. You have a voice!

Me: Yeah! I’ve had a few months off now because my day job’s been really busy, so I haven’t really been writing anything.

He: You like what you do though, innit?

Me: Yeah yeah yeah, I like my day job!

He: That is half the battle, if you can get out of bed Monday morning and go and do something that you like, that is really important.

Me: Yeah, d’you know, it’s the first job that I’ve had that I’ve actually felt like that about and that I’ve got on with my colleagues and felt like they were friends, so that’s made a big difference. What do you do?

He: [Redacted]

Me: Wow. Lots of fun…

He: You could train a chimpanzee to do it, you know? [Redacted] I don’t often have to deal with that, you know, I’ve got the easiest job. [laughter] But you know, it’s a job, it’s pretty hard at the minute to get any kind of job.

Me: Yeah! I mean, absolutely, I mean there are times when I go, “Well, I quite like my job but maybe I should try to move on and get more money, try and progress”, but it’s so difficult to get anything at the moment that…

He: No point in slinging your hook – find a job first before you sling the one you’ve got.

Me: Yes! No, absolutely.

He: All around this country, well – I was in Japan for three years. Fabulous country; every window is shining, gleaming. There’s no litter on the streets, it’s generally safe – the children, the women, you know? Also, you know that —

[Noise of shouting from street outside]

He: That’s the EDL.

Me: Oh, they’re coming past?

He: They’re singing “I’m English til I die, I know I am, so I am, I’m English til I die”.

Crowd: [chanting] E, E, EDL, E, E, EDL, E, E, EDL….

He: E, E, EDL… they’re just ordinary working class people who have had enough, you know?

Me: That’s a funny colour police van.

He: Hm?

Me: Funny colour police van.

He: Yeah. Well, you knew they’d be on their tail. And there you are, you see, that guy there immediately said “It’s the racists” – they’re not racist at all! But that is the same – people are proper brainwashed. He doesn’t know anything about the EDL, he’s saying what he’s read in the newspaper.

Me: Yeah… so what’s, like… I mean, I don’t know much about it, so what’s your – their? – would you call yourself part of the group, or would you say you have some issues in common…

He: Basically they can’t stand muslims, they can’t stand islam, that is it. They love Sikhs, they like Indians – you know, they just cannot stand muslims full stop. And we’ve seen videos on our websites of what they do to women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi-Arabia – and our government and the American government was on the side of ousting the president of Egypt. Remember?

Me: Mm.

He: You know who’s moved in now? The Muslim Brotherhood. Who are now raping women for not covering up, when they didn’t have to before. [Inaud] prisoners are being pulled from lampposts, set on fire. And this is all because that presidents gone, who our government helped get rid of. Honest to god, if you actually took time and studied how evil it is, you’d be absolutely amazed.

Me: I guess it’s quite tricky, because obviously with religions there’s no one, definitive version of that religion-

He: How can you be racist against a religion?!

Me: -so you can be extremist… there could be extremist muslims or quite liberal muslims, there are different versions I guess. I mean, I’m an atheist so I kind of think that most religion is a bit ridiculous, and I think a lot of terrible things are done in its name…

He: The muslims are like we used to be 400 years ago, burning people at the stake, you know? The world moves on, 400 years ago – they’re the same.

Me: But plenty of muslims are moderates though, who don’t do things like that…

He: The moderates are – get off your arse, you march down the streets and you condemn these terrorists, otherwise – fuck off. That’s what we’re saying. You do not have the luxury of being empowered, you know? These people are doing it in your name.

Me: Mm…but then you get plenty of people who do things in the name of Christianity that are really really –

He: Name me one thing.

Me: The crusades? I know, it is a while ago.

He: Ok, tell me one thing recently.

Me: Erm. Ok, what about Anders Brejvic in Norway?

He: He wasn’t doing it because he was a Christian, he just couldn’t stand muslim. He was angry with the politicans for appeasing all the time. 96% of rapes in Norway and Sweden are committed by muslim youths, that is a fact, that is not an opinion. They’ve allowed all these people in as asylum-seekers, not realising the monster they were creating – they thought these people would appreciate what they’d done for them, but they didn’t – they didn’t want to say thank you for the kindness they’ve shown, you know – they’re raping Swedish women willy-nilly! They are! You know? And it’s racist to acknowledge this. Where are the great white feminists? Why are they not marching on these muslim womens’ side? All they do is mouth off at white men, I mean how safe can you get?!

Me: Mmm….

He: You know, they’re not exactly putting their arses on the line, are they? You know, an eight year old girl in Pakistan, she was forced to marry a 50 year old – this is not a one-off, this has happened many many times, right – and she lay there during the night and slowly bled to death because she’d been so badly damaged inside. I don’t understand..I can’t understand how people can see this, know this is going on, and say nothing. They might say I’m racist, but if I can stop one girl from dying, you can call me racist every day of the week: I don’t give a shit. And these guys, the EDL, you know – they’re not chopping anyone’s head off, they’re not raping anyone. And guess who gets the most condemnation? Them! It’s just sick. And just to irritate the EDL, you know what the left have done? About that Lee Rigby, who’s had his head chopped off? They’ve put it all over the internet that he was a paedophile. He wasn’t! They just want to irritate the right-wing.

Me: I…hadn’t heard that.

He: It’s all over Facebook! You have to look at the proper pages though…if you’re just look at moderate Facebook, or the moderate news, you’d never know anything. We watch the real what’s going on in Syria, you know – there was two guards who were working for the government, they were caught by the rebels, they were tortured – horrifically tortured. This was all caught on the video. And these are the guys Cameron wants to arm, to help fight to get rid of the president. But also, Al Qaeda is helping them. And who are the british soldiers fighting in Afghanistan? Al Qaeda! But most of these people don’t know this, they don’t know anything.

Me: It’s so difficult though to tell how much of what you read – obviously any paper you read is going to be biased in either direction.

He: No it’s on both sides! The atrocities are on both sides. So how can you arm one when they’re both – you know, Iran is saying, if we arm them then they’re going to arm them, then Russia’s saying if America arms them then we’re going to arm them, so… sorry, I’m rabbiting on aren’t I, I didn’t mean to.

Me: [laughs] Well, I’m going to go and meet a friend now, but – nice to meet you…

He: Oh, let me walk away first, otherwise it’ll look like I’ve pissed you off and then I’ll seem like a twat.

Me: Ha. Okay.

He: Nice to meet you then, love.

Me: Have a good day.