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Louise O’Neill discusses “Asking for it”

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

CN: Discussion of r*pe culture and victim blaming

In the summer, I was lucky enough to hear the Irish author Louise O’Neill talk about her ground-breaking novel, Asking For It, at my local bookshop. It was an incredible evening, and Louise made some very poignant points. I feel it would be selfish of me not to share some of them…






“There’s always a big debate on whether or not my books are YA. I’ve been told that they’re too dark and bleak for YA. I mean, have these people ever been teenagers? When I was 16, I genuinely thought that Sylvia Plath was the only person who understood me.”


“I set out to write the truth, to be authentic, and if that makes people uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing. I can understand discomfort when reading about rape, you SHOULD be uncomfortable with it. It was especially important to me in writing Asking For It because there is such a culture of shame that silences victims. It’s ‘what were you doing?’, ‘what were you wearing?’, ‘how much did you have to drink?’, ‘why did you go back to his house?’. You just hear ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’. Victims are being made to feel ashamed, but that’s wrong. It’s the rapists, they’re the ones who should feel ashamed.”


“It’s interesting to me that Emma (Asking For It protagonist) is described as ‘unlikable’, because who says she has to be likable? That was never my goal. Male characters are never treated in the same way – the male antihero is well established in literature, but with women it’s shocking. People are shocked by women who are not ‘nice’. But female characters need to be compelling, not necessarily ‘likable’.”

Louise on ENDINGS (*spoiler alert!*):

“I definitely resist neat endings, I don’t like them and I don’t write them because they don’t feel real, they are not true to life.

Of course I wanted Emma to take the case further, but it doesn’t matter what I wanted her to do. It’s about what she would do. Also, my research showed that conviction rates with these cases are very low, especially in Ireland. I wanted the book to reflect the reality in which she lived. That’s why it ends the way it does.”

(you can pick up Asking For It here)

Powered By Girl: the power of showing not telling

By Yas Necati


Hi, I’m Yas, the new editor here at SPARK, and also editor over at our sister blog Powered By Girl. When I first started calling myself a feminist, I was 15. It was confusing, inspiring, life-changing – as you can imagine. I began to campaign with, and make friends with, a lot of people who were a lot older than me. Some people thought this was weird, but it taught me something really valuable; when we work across generations, we learn so much more. There’s power in intergenerational communities.

Around the same time I labelled myself a feminist, I reached out to an online community that I’d come across through googling “teen feminism” on the Internet. This community was called the SPARKmovement, and through connecting with them, I began writing for Powered By Girl. I met someone called Lyn Mikel Brown, an older feminist who became like a mentor to me, and 5 years later, we’re still working together on PBG.

Lyn’s one of the wonderful co-founders of this website, and she made me feel at home as an activist. It was pretty daunting as a teen to step into a community I knew nothing about. At first I felt young and silly, but a year on, when Lyn interviewed me for her book – also called Powered By Girl – I felt confident, welcome and even like my voice and my actions could make a difference to the issues I cared about.

As well as working with Lyn to write for PBG, I started campaigning too. I learnt a heck of a lot from the people I campaigned with, mostly because they showed me how to campaign effectively by treating me as an equal member of the team. When I was 16, I started campaigning for No More Page 3. I was the youngest team member, the oldest was in her 50s, and I really believe the campaign was as successful as it was because we learnt from one another, and reached out to people of all different ages to get involved. It was a revelation being on that team because I was treated and respected equally to everyone else, whereas in most spaces I would have been dismissed because I was still a teenager. No More Page 3 made me feel welcomed and supported, and this helped me gain confidence as an activist. After all, how many other mainstream campaigns do you know of that would take a 16-year-old onto their main organising team?

I think the best thing about the teams at No More Page 3 and Powered By Girl was that they trusted me, respected me, and treated me like an equal, rather than trying to tell me what to do. I can’t speak on behalf of any other young people, but I for certain know that I’ve never liked people who think that just because they’re older, they understand everything better than I do. I think if at 15, the adults I’d met had tried to lecture me/act as if I was naïve compared to them, I would have shunned away from the movement. Instead I was lucky enough to meet people who were much more experienced, but didn’t treat me like I was immature in spite of this. Instead they used their skills, knowledge and networks to bring me into the community and support me to make my own decisions as an activist, by having faith that I could.

PBG is a perfect example of this. Powered By Girl is a community of 13-22 year old activists, supported by a few adults who overlook everything, and support us along our activist journeys. Powered By Girl has always been about us, the young women. From the moment I started writing for them I knew that our voices were central, and from the moment I took over as editor I knew that our choices as young women would be respected, and it was up to us how we shaped the organisation, what we wrote about, and what we wanted to get across.

This year I turned 20, and it feels really strange not being a teenager any more. For the first time, I feel like one of those adults who might be meeting teen feminists, and I’m not sure I’m prepared for that. I’ve started reflecting on how I was supported, and how I can offer this support to young activists. I often look back and wonder how Lyn made me feel so included and empowered when we first met 5 years ago. I take inspiration from her when I say that intergenerational activism is about supporting and respecting each other, showing not telling, and sharing what we know with others, generously and with kindness.

I’m really proud that I could be a small part of her new book “Powered By Girl: A field guide for supporting youth activists”. The thing about Lyn is that she’s always showed young people different opportunities, rather than trying to tell them what to do. It’s scary thinking that soon, or even now, I might be meeting teen activists, and in the same position tat she was when we first met. I don’t think I could do as good a job as she did at supporting me. But at least I’ll have her book to help!

“Powered By Girl: A field guide for supporting youth activists” is published by Beacon Press. You can buy it here:

Research Blog: Sometimes compliments can hurt

by Kim Nguyen

Compliments. I love giving them and am generally comfortable getting them. I love original and artistic expressions that people rock (because I’m slightly jealous of people who can pull off super unique looks) and I like to make other people feel good. I like to think I have an eye for design and I LOVE fashion, art, and creative looks. Whenever I see a friend with a great new outfit or haircut, or someone with a cool look, I tell them so. I also appreciate it when someone notices something interesting about my look. But lately, I’ve been thinking about the fact that some ‘compliments’ end up making me think a little too much about how I look. The more I get noticed, the more I tend to fixate on my looks. Herein lies the conundrum.

I’ll tell you what I mean – When I started college, I put on the typical Freshman Fifteen. But then, in the spring semester, my boyfriend and I broke up. I got depressed and when I get depressed, I just can’t eat. After a few weeks, I noticed I started getting comments from my friends, like this: “Wow! You lost weight, you look great!” Little did they know that it was because I was devastated. Instead of making me feel better after my breakup, comments like this made me mindful about not putingt back on the weight I had lost. I’ll admit that even now, I still monitor my body and am self-conscious about my waist. My belly has always been my “problem area” and I’ve never been able to get a six-pack like the models I see plastered all over the media. I know my friends didn’t mean to make me feel self-conscious or obsessed with my weight, but it still made me uncomfortable. I certainly don’t want to make someone else feel the same way that I did. In psychology, this fixation on appearance is known as self-objectification, when we focus on how we look rather than how we feel. As we have written about in other research blogs, self-objectification has been linked to a bunch of negative outcomes for girls, like depression and eating disorders.


Nowadays, internet trolls and bullies can be vicious about how people look and so sometimes I feel the need to tell people how beautiful they are – that not everyone does or should fit the standard mold of beauty. But what if, what if… the more we talk about and focus on our looks, the more we, in fact, objectify ourselves and each other? I know negative body-related comments make me and my friends feel bad, but I started to wonder about how even positive appearance-related comments might also affect young women’s self-objectification. Turns out, researchers, Amy Slater and Marika Tiggemann[1] have studied this, so I turned to them for some answers.

Slater and Tiggeman conducted a study to look at how appearance-related comments affected high school girls’ self-objectification, self-surveillance (habitual monitoring of one’s appearance), body shame and disordered eating. They wanted to know not only if negative appearance comments (like, “I don’t like your hair”) had harmful consequences for girls, but if seemingly positive or well-meaning appearance-related comments (like, “You look hot”) also had a negative effect. The 1,087 girls who took the study reported how often they received negative and positive appearance-related comments from other girls, boys, and parents.

And what did they find out? Well, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that negative comments about how girls looked were related to self-objectification, body shame and disordered eating. It makes sense that hearing something bad about your body would make you feel bad about how you look. Their other finding though, may surprise you. It turned out that positive comments about girls’ looks were also related to self-objectification and self-surveillance. Basically, the more attention that girls got about their looks, regardless of whether it was good or bad, the more that girls became aware of their appearance and the more they monitored their bodies.

It’s sad to know how much we can be affected by people’s negative comments about our bodies. Now, obviously I never go around insulting girls’ and women’s looks. But the findings from this study made me realize that even when I pay a compliment that’s related to how someone looks, I might actually be doing more harm than good. I remember when my friends’ compliments about me losing weight actually reminded me about how terrible I felt about the breakup. It also made me think “Boy, people notice my weight.” I knew I had put on some pounds my freshman year but I remember paying a lot more attention to my body. Now thinking back, I wish they hadn’t said anything.

So what do we do with this information? Personally, I still want to compliment women when they’re rocking unique styles. I still think it’s ok to encourage unique forms of self-expression. I will just be more mindful to not simply comment on how they look. Instead, I can focus on their achievements, sense of humor, openness, intelligence, and so on. And I want others to notice more about those parts of me than how I look, too! I know people mean well, but I am so much more than my appearance. Ask me about my latest art project or the last book I read that I really loved. If you get to know me, I might tell you how I built my own book shelf! Let’s use compliments to engage with one another past the surface stuff and really connect.

There are people already at the forefront of this movement away from commenting on our appearance to complimenting on qualities of our humanity. If you’re interested in more information, check out this “No Body Talk” summer camp. Eden Village, a farm in Northeast New York, runs a youth summer camp where there is a specific rule about not commenting on someone’s appearance, be it negative, neutral, or positive.

[1] Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2014). Media exposure, extracurricular activities, and appearance-related comments as predictors of female adolescents’ self-objectification. Psychology of Women Quarterly39(3), 375-389.


Loving every inch

By Issy McConville


We all know the feeling. It’s that sigh when catching a glimpse of our reflection in a passing window; it’s the hasty jerk between towel and T-shirt in the communal changing area; it’s the quiet relief that the one-piece has returned to fashion, with it’s forgiving lycra compression. Our stomachs are the centre of our bodies, but so often, they are so hard to love.

We are so quick to punish ourselves for failing to be visually perfect. How many of us have looked down at ourselves and felt disappointed, or have been filled with dread at the prospect of fumbling around in a hot changing room and trying on a series of unflattering bikinis? Recently, our fixation on the flat when it comes to our stomachs is not only an aesthetic pursuit, but has been infused with a sense of morality. ‘Wellness eating’ has seen a staggering rise, with sugar and processed carbohydrates dethroning calories as the ultimate sins. Instead we are encouraged to nourish our bodies with healthy alternatives – threading vegetables into noodles, or mashing avocado into cake. Everything we know about food turns out to be wrong – comfort food is out, white pasta is criminal, and gluten is a food source forged in the fiery furnaces of hell. But who are we listening to when we refuse the dessert menu, or sidestep the potato aisle at the supermarket? Is it our own body? Or are we behaving as we think we ‘should’?

I, for one, am tired of punishing myself for the inches. I will no longer look at my belly as a symbol of weakness, of a lack of a self control – but as an expression of my joy in life. It is the pastries I ate fresh from the bakery in France; the beers I drank in a sunny beer garden with friends; it’s when my boyfriend drove all around the city to find the best place for me to try my first cinnamon roll. He and I often joke that all we ever do on holiday is eat – but this is our discovery – our experience of life through all of our senses. One of my happiest memories is when we were in Berlin, and it was so cold and we were so tired, but we took a walk from our hostel and came across a tiny Italian restaurant where they served giant bowls of pasta on checkered tablecloths. It’s a special human trait that we eat for pleasure, not just for survival. Food is at the heart of family, of culture, of friendship. And too often we deny ourselves the simple pleasure of eating what we want when we want it. Sometimes, it really is best to just sit down with a giant plate of carbs with someone you love, and eat.

In the final rays of summer, let’s see the inches of our stomach not as an end goal, but as an expression of our life. Put on a bikini and show your belly with pride. Let every bit of your skin feel the Vitamin D. Say, today I am here on the earth and I am going to savour it – every inch.

What is queer fiction?


By Anna Hill

When I first started my search for mirrors in the form of queer books I was often recommended entirely non-queer books. I think this is because people have fundamentally misunderstood what queer fiction is and how good and valuable representation works. Here are some of the problems I have found:

One [side] character does not a queer book make

Throughout my journey the recommendations people made to me simply reaffirmed some of the things I already knew – that only white men are gay enough, or even interesting enough to be represented; and that if you are a lesbian or worse – a bisexual woman – you do not exist. I was recommended good books, but not good queer books. Books with straight girl main characters and straight romance pushed as the most important aspect of girls’ lives, with sad, buried gays and sick pitiful gay friends, but never part of the main story.

The lie that a queer book is one with a glimpse of a queer person has been spread, for example by lists like this. Books like Weetzie Bat andThe Perks of Being a Wallflower have been put on it, but it’s Weetzie Bat’s best friend who is gay, it’s Charlie’s best friend that is gay! The main character in both these stories is straight. On other lists people have suggested Liberty’s Fire, Remix or Letters To the Dead – all of which have queer side characters, brothers or friends, but are lead by heterosexual and heteromantic love stories.

Queer books should be intersectional

On top of that the number of queer books I was recommended to begin with normally told the stories of white, cisgender, male characters. FromWill Grayson, Will Grayson to lesbian classics like Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Carol or Fun Home (all of which do count as queer fiction), all are overwhelmingly whitewashed. The queer literature we continue to celebrate often simply reaffirms the idea that there is an acceptable, palatable type of queer and the majority of the queer community are not it.

The moments when you finally find those books that make you feel seen and validated are radical and nourishing. They are so important that, without them, I don’t think I would have survived. Being able to claim a historical and literary ancestry helps to centre queer survival and power today. Suggesting so-called queer fiction which doesn’t centre intersectional queer main characters allows all queers to be disempowered from their own narratives; we are not important or valid enough to be the heroes of any stories, even our own.

A quick counter-list of 15 queer books to read:

(I have yet to read any aromantic or agender books :()


* are for poc

b is for bisexual characters

a for asexual

I for intersex

t for trans

  1. The colour purple by alice walker*
  2. Snapshots of a girl by beldan sezen*
  3. Huntress by malinda lo*
  4. Aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin alire saenz*(b)
  5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
  6. The song of Achilles by madeline miller
  7. Far from you by tess sharpe (b)
  8. She of the mountains by vivek shraya*(b)
  9. Not otherwise specified by Hannah Moskowitz*(b)
  10. None of the above by I.W Gregorio (i)
  11. Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis*
  12. Pantomime by Laura Lam (i)
  13. From under the mountain by Cait Spivey*(a)
  14. A safe girl to love by Casey Plett (t)
  15. If I was your girl by Meredith Russo (t)

Wait… do I love myself?


By Gemma Garner

Content note: Mental health, references to anxiety and body shaming

If you were to ask me if I loved myself, I would immediately say yes. My yes would be firm, honest and from deep in my heart. I love each and every part of myself, I’d say. Every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I’ve learned to love my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth where I’ve been hit by a beer bottle or a karaoke microphone (I go pretty hard). On most nights, I take a moment to pat my belly and say thank you. Thank you for keeping me alive. When I see my naked face, my spotty chin and my dark circles in the mirror, I feel immense gratitude, and my heart fills up. What a beautiful face, I say.

This immense love, however, seems to retreat into darkness on my bad days. On the days where I wake up with intense nausea resulting in panic attacks, I hate myself. I hate the fact that I can’t deal with nausea like a ‘sane’ person. I hate my stomach. I hate my inability to eat well. I look in the mirror with a scowl and curse my existence. On the days I can’t stop crying and seeking validation, I cannot find the beauty I usually see. I don’t even try to. I look in the mirror and curse every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I detest my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth, a constant reminder of my reliance on alcohol after a breakup years ago. I hate my mental instability. How can anyone love me? How can anybody find me beautiful?

With this in mind, can I really say I love myself? Sure, we all have bad days, but when you can only love yourself on a good day, is that love real, and honest?

It’s important to note that many years ago, my bad days were not bad days. They were every day. Like many people still, my existence was painful. I didn’t believe there was such a thing as true self love. ‘How can I possibly be OK with this?’ I’d ask, looking in the mirror. ‘Who in their right mind could love this?’

Perhaps the reason I love myself with such intensity, is because I want the love to bleed into the cracks that become craters on my bad days. When I love my flawed, naked face with such a burning passion, perhaps I think that I’m looking at a different self. A self that is still debilitated by self-hatred and misery. I’m protecting her, cradling her.

I’d like to believe that these cracks, a reminder of my teenage self-hatred, are still waiting to be filled. They aren’t a permanent fixture in my journey, nor are they a recent instalment. However, I don’t believe this is the case.

Despite having come so far on my journey to self-love and acceptance, my techniques haven’t aged along with my growing body and mind. My idea of self-love that I’ve carried with me for many years; could it have become self-destructive?

Years ago, the idea of eating whatever I wanted was revolutionary. Although my relationship with food has never been too toxic to the point of an eating disorder, at one point in my life, when I was responsible for my own food preparation, I would starve myself at school, only taking 4 crackers with me for lunch. Then, I’d come home, and eat 6 Kit Kat’s before anyone could see. When starting my self-love journey, I adopted the idea that I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, meaning I didn’t have to binge, and I certainly didn’t have to feel bad about my often strange cravings. This was wonderful, and changed my life. Gone were the diets that made me miserable.

Today, this self-love technique has become toxic. As I’ve developed an incredibly sensitive stomach, meaning I feel sick constantly, the act of eating whatever I fancy has become deadly. Not for vanity, but for my physical health. My diet has taken a toll on my stomach, bringing on incredible mental struggles that I would not wish upon any other person.

Years ago, the idea of doing whatever I wanted, despite the social implications, was revolutionary. I learned to make decisions regardless of how I would be perceived. I was debilitated by a fear of being disliked or unloved, meaning the decisions I made did not reflect how I truly felt, only how I wanted to be seen. I vowed to pretend I didn’t care, and do what I wanted. This became one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. My lack of care became real. Now I can honestly say that I do not care about the implications of what I do on how I am perceived. I will stand in the middle of the street and sing at the top of my lungs (badly), without any fear. I speak to anyone and everyone that I feel like speaking to. It feels incredible. I became free.

Today, however, this no longer benefits me. Considering my lack of self-discipline, the idea of doing whatever I want is actually incredibly destructive to my motivation. On my days off, if I fancy getting an ice cream on my own instead of doing incredibly important work, I’ll choose the ice cream. For self-love. In the moment, the ice cream is great. Then I come home, and slowly start to resent myself for being incapable of making appropriate decisions. Or, say, if I want to seek validation in the middle of an important conversation, I will. Yeah, sure I care about your dead dog, but do you think I’d suit a bob haircut?

All of the self-love techniques that I have adopted through the years have once been crucial and essential to my growth. Now that I’ve grown, however, they restrict me from going any further. They widen the cracks in my perception of myself, causing me to regress back into an aggressive state of self-hatred.

I’m learning that self-love isn’t something simple, nor is the same thing for each and every person. To another person, getting an ice cream alone instead of doing work could be a step in the right direction. Self-love also isn’t the same thing every day. That’s why I think it’s time for me to change my self-love routine. It’s time to look in the mirror and say, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done so far, Gemma. It’s changed my life. Now, it’s time to do some new things.’ Also, ‘Why are you talking to yourself as if your reflection in the mirror was another person?’

* * *


-Do the work you need to do every week, even if you don’t feel like it. Find a day that suits you. Sure, you want to catch Pokémon, but surely it can wait until after you’ve sorted your Student Finance out?

-Give yourself the space to have bad days. Just because you think you’re fat today, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being loved forever. See things as they are, rather than catastrophizing it, even if you just pretend to at first.

-Remember that almost everybody suffers with some kind of mental health problem, and that doesn’t make them bad, merely human. That panic attack was just a panic attack, not a reflection of your instability. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it, instead of panic about the next one.

-Try and give your stomach a break, and eat a little better. Eating better does not constitute as dieting for vanity, so don’t beat yourself up for going against your beliefs. You can still eat what you want, as long as you look after yourself.

-Remember that self love is different every time. Sometimes, it’s right to cancel those plans and spend the evening with a hot water bottle and shitty Hillary Duff movies. At other times, for example, if you’re invited to the pub, but you’re scared to drink; just go. You’ll be OK, and your brain will learn new, wonderful things about drinking.