So, it’s been a bit of a furious week. Between that scrap over the Left Futures piece, to receiving 200 tweets from the same person in 24 hours that repeated how privileged I was and how dare I complain about it, to writing an article for the Independent on “massivefuckingtelly”gate, and now I’ve just rolled off the BBC Breakfast sofa, from talking to a doctor called Ann about the hot topic, televisions, again, and opened my emails to find that someone had sent me two things.
The first was an article by Stephen Fry, which I nodded at all the way through. The second was a screen shot of a tweet by Caitlin Moran. More on those in a minute.
Firstly, readers and people on my Facebook page often thank me for saying “what they were thinking” or “speaking for then”, but as Naga said to me on the breakfast sofa this morning, you’re only there as an expert on what you know. I don’t speak for anyone other than myself. I know that I went to a grammar school, left at 16 with a handful of qualifications, had a few minimum wage jobs in retail and coffee shops before landing a brilliant job with the Fire Service as a control operator. I know that when I fell pregnant, I had some difficult choices to make. I know that I applied for flexible working policies, that I looked into nursery places near to my work instead of my home, and that moving closer to work would have meant losing my support network of friends and family thirty miles away – unhelpful when you’re often late leaving work as major incidents kick off, road traffic collisions pile up, and the weather – ice, excessive heat, flooding and snow – all have their own effects on emergency cover across the county. I know that I spent almost a year and a half unemployed, and that I hit somewhere between hell and rock bottom, again and again and again. But you’re only an expert in what you know.
I’m grateful for Twitter followers and Facebook likers and blog readers that take the time to explain what they’re experts in, too. One person patiently talks me through difficulties that she has following my recipes, because a plug in hob and needing to buy pre-chopped vegetables, mean that it’s not quite as simple as it looks. I hope that by responding to her queries, I am in some small way, making a difference.
As a freelance writer, which is as good a description of what I do as any, I take the jobs that are offered to me. Especially in this industry, where I am still owed money from features written in May, and at the time of writing, no less than EIGHT newspapers/magazines/television companies owe me money (for articles I’ve written for them, not articles they’ve written about me). So when a newspaper or magazine gets in touch and asks me to write 800 words in an hour, I drop whatever I’m doing, and write it. It’s how I earn a living. I don’t expect people with secure desk jobs to understand that I don’t write articles and send them off, I write articles that I’m telephoned and asked to write – but then, you’re only an expert on what you know.
A food photographer that I greatly admire mused on Twitter this morning that “that Jack Monroe is going to start p*ssing people off soon.” I’m unsurprised. I’ve been p*ssing people off since I started writing my blog – given that it was started as a counter to a Tory councillor pontificating that “druggies, drunks and single mums are ruining the town”, is anyone surprised that I’m a little bit feisty?
The Caitlin Moran tweet that I was sent in my email inbox wasn’t tweeted to me, but it serves as a reminder that no matter what you do, no matter who you are, people will knock you down. “The abuse is just exhausting and endless”, she said. “It really, really fucks with your head.” Yes, it does. Yes it does.
As Stephen Fry said re a certain national newspaper, the media very good at constructing a fake coconut, and then knocking it down, and claiming a prize for doing so. The “fake coconut” in this scenario was addressed in yesterday’s Comment Is Free article, the idea that austerity cooking has been hijacked by the moralisers. Commenters queued up to take their swipes, at the rich, the poor, the lentils and the lager – and yes, comment is free. Freedom of speech is invaluable. But freedom of speech should not be used to perpetuate lies and myths, and that’s where Angry Bird stepped in. AB was angry over being misrepresented in the Left Futures piece. AB was angry when a celebrity chef used a terrible example of class snobbery to make a point about food culture in the UK. AB was angry when her Twitter feed filled up with endless, exhausting abuse from anonymous, faceless accounts. Every time that phone flashes up a Twitter notification, I sink a little inside.
People have been in touch in droves these past few days to tell me that I was too hard on Jamie, that I’ve messed up, that I’m wrong. And those are the politer things that were said. But whether he was a TV chef or an Army general, I would have lambasted anyone who undermined the issues of food poverty by implying that it was because of “massive f***ing telly”s. I don’t speak for everyone, in the same way that nobody speaks for me – I don’t have a PR team, or an outsourced company dealing with my Twitter feed. I read and answer my own emails, Facebook page, blog, and Twitter feed – which means I also read first hand the abuse, the name calling, the pontifications about my weight and appearance, the swipes and the sneers. I’ve considered leaving Twitter a few times, as the death threats from middle aged white men with England flags as avatars poured in when I came out as gay, and with the torrent of abuse following the Independent article. But I’m here to stay.
I started as an angry bird with an opinion blog, and I’m still an angry bird with an opinion blog. Sorry if you came for the recipes and didn’t like it when you found out that the gingham apron had claws. But you’re only an expert in what you know.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack