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In praise of stridency

Josie Long recalls the student protests, UK Uncut and her activism over two years of Tory government, and celebrates the joy of “coming out” as a feminist.

My name is Josie Long and I am a stand-up comedian. I had a kind of political awakening in 2010 (along with most people my age, I expect). I had to learn to cope with unexpected daily doses of anger and horror towards our new government, the Maniac Oligarch Thieves. I also started to protest, discovered activism and UK Uncut, in particular, and met a lot of like-minded people. What I didn’t expect was that it would also feel quite powerful and at times thrilling and fun.

The past year, by comparison, has been a lot harder. People I know are getting tired. Health service and welfare “reforms” are testing my resolve. The 2010 student protests inspired me and made me feel I was not alone in opposing this government. In 2012 I and other speakers were shouted down by a Socialist Workers Party counter-demo, which broadly agreed with us, during a protest by the National Union of Students. That couldn’t have been more depressing.

It’s been hard not to feel like being on the left in England – whatever that is any more – means that you are born, you live, you’ll fight and you’ll die on the losing team, and every day you’ll get kicked for it and called thick and mad in the Metro. Which is not what I want from the Metro. I just want lengthy restaurant reviews that focus heavily on the main course and photographs of unlikely friendships between animal species.

Despite 2012 being tiring and saddening, I feel defiant and confident in a way that I haven’t felt before. I am 30 years old, I’m a proper adult and I’m definitely correct in wanting a fairer, more equal society. So there. So I thought I’d sum up my year by writing about my four favourite political things of 2012.

Taking you higher

First, arts emergency. My friend Neil Griffiths and I have been setting up a charity for the past two years. (He is very much the brains.) We wanted to defend the idea of studying arts subjects as something viable for anyone from any background and to fight against the rampant marketisation of higher education. Many young people that we meet feel frightened to study what they love, or even to study at all, because of the extent of the debt they face. We want to reassure them that if they study what they love, it will benefit them and society immeasurably in the long term.

What has been most amazing is how much the idea has flourished. We have a hundred people signed up to our alumni scheme – a kind of alternative old boys’ network to give people without privilege the kind of connections that allow wealthy students to sail into life. We have eight schools signed up to our pilot mentoring scheme, which pairs young people with en - thusiastic BA graduates and creative adults. We have a proper board, with lawyers and accountants. Something born out of hours, months, nearly years of discussion is finally taking shape as a real thing and it could not be more inspiring and wonderful.

My second favourite thing: watching Owen Jones on anything. He is so well prepared and such a good speaker. It makes me so happy. Then there’s the video clip “Dennis Skinner Trolls the Queen” on YouTube.

Finally, there are my two favourite campaigns: the Everyday Sexism Project and the No More Page Three campaign.

Two years ago I was touring a show where I outed myself as a feminist. At the time it seemed like that was something necessary, as I felt a bit beleaguered and outnumbered. It was the first time I’d tried to talk about it on stage and the material I did was about the kind of hassle I’d get for having opinions about feminist issues. I’d start by saying, “I’m definitely a feminist and I’m not creepy for having said that . . . I don’t like to bang any less. I didn’t think it was an issue but then whenever you say anything remotely strident, people are like, ‘Who invited the frigid puritan cow?’ and I have to be like, ‘Heyyyy! I’d just like to get paid the same! Hiyaaaa!’”

It could be my own perceptions entirely, but now mentioning it on stage doesn’t feel difficult or confrontational. I feel more confident, yet it’s more than that. Teenage girls (and boys, but girls especially) who follow me on Twitter and come to my shows often talk to me excitedly about being proud feminists. Talking about feminism gets me cheers and not the awkwardness that it used to.

Page creepy

These two campaigns make me feel like there’s a change happening. WhenFHMtried to make a joke about rape and domestic violence in the magazine – “it’s never acceptable to wear your girlfriend/mother/victim’s socks” – they were called out on it until they backed down. I felt the sense that other people have my back in a way that I didn’t before, that more dynamic and intelligent people than me are taking up the challenge and will keep it up.

No More Page Three is strident and demanding but has such a good sense of humour and fun to it. It doesn’t demand a ban; it just says: “Stop doing this, this is totally creepy. It’s weird. Stop it.” And I love it. I also love having a long list of reasons why page three should stop. When I’m trolled about it now I can say: “There are tens of thousands of people who agree with me. Why not take a look?” That is wonderful.

If 2010 was the year when I realised that I wasn’t alone in opposing this government, then 2012 was the one when I realised I wasn’t alone in struggling to keep going, or occasionally feeling despondent. It’s always been easy for me to be an optimist but recently, when the NHS reforms in particular have threatened something that I need in order to feel secure, it has felt meaningless.

I feel as if I’ve learned that sometimes you have to force yourself out of bitterness and cynicism and despair. That it’s a choice to make initially and to keep making over and over and over again, no matter how hard or tiring or unlikely it feels that you will win.

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This article first appeared in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince guest edit