Helen Lewis

Journalism, links and contact information from @helenlewis.

“This is why, even if you loathe and forswear the internet, you should care about trolling – because it is fundamentally about the dangerous gravity of a compelling narrative. No religious patriarch in history thought he was burning sinners or stoning adulterers to preserve his own power or fulfil his sadistic desires. It was always for a higher cause. Race-baiting politicians tell themselves they don’t want immigrants to be demonised, dehumanised or attacked; they just want to stand up for the Common Man. It reminds me of the screenwriters’ adage: no villain knows he’s the villain. He thinks he’s the hero in a different film.”
- how to beat trolls: destroy the stories they tell themselves

“Labour is currently in the grip of AJ fever. At both the top and the grassroots of the party, influential figures want him installed as what my former colleague at the New Statesman Rafael Behr calls “shadow secretary of state for working-class authenticity and having lived a bit”.”

—   My review of Alan Johnson’s Please, Mister Postman - and why Labour are in the grip of AJ fever.
The latest issue is guest-edited by Grayson Perry. I love his cover art, particularly: “Cars and watches - not messy like feelings!”

“Most computer games are about choices — either reacting in a split-second twitch, or carefully navigating a story arc. Depression Quest is the opposite: it asks players to confront a world where their decisions are harshly circumscribed by mental illness.”

"Growing up in the Midlands in the 1990s, there were three main sources of information about sex: More magazine, late-night Channel 4 show Eurotrash and Judy Blume’s novel Forever. (Imagine my disappointment in later life when I realised that no man I met would ever admit to having a name for his penis, or a fetish for dressing up as a penguin.) The sex education lessons at my Catholic school were of the type parodied in Tina Fey’s film Mean Girls: “Don’t have sex … because you will get pregnant and die.” 
When I was a teenager, sex was presented almost entirely in negative terms. Look at this photo of a genital wart! Listen to the voiceover describing the miracle of birth while a woman screams in agony! Understand that sex is largely terrible, boys will try to cajole you into it, and your job is to stop them. If you don’t, best of luck with the foetus and warts that will inevitably ensue.
There was only one problem with this approach – the same one that bedevilled the messages we were given about drugs. If these things were so self-evidently awful, why were so many people so keen to do them?
The sneaking suspicion arose that there must, in fact, be something to this sex business that people in authority weren’t letting on about. Yet a whole edifice seemed fixed in place to protect us from ourselves, and from the dangerous vaginas we were carrying around like unexploded bombs.”
- my Observer longread on the “female f***-up” as a role model, and how women can now talk more honestly about sex than ever before. 

"Growing up in the Midlands in the 1990s, there were three main sources of information about sex: More magazine, late-night Channel 4 show Eurotrash and Judy Blume’s novel Forever. (Imagine my disappointment in later life when I realised that no man I met would ever admit to having a name for his penis, or a fetish for dressing up as a penguin.) The sex education lessons at my Catholic school were of the type parodied in Tina Fey’s film Mean Girls: “Don’t have sex … because you will get pregnant and die.” 

When I was a teenager, sex was presented almost entirely in negative terms. Look at this photo of a genital wart! Listen to the voiceover describing the miracle of birth while a woman screams in agony! Understand that sex is largely terrible, boys will try to cajole you into it, and your job is to stop them. If you don’t, best of luck with the foetus and warts that will inevitably ensue.

There was only one problem with this approach – the same one that bedevilled the messages we were given about drugs. If these things were so self-evidently awful, why were so many people so keen to do them?

The sneaking suspicion arose that there must, in fact, be something to this sex business that people in authority weren’t letting on about. Yet a whole edifice seemed fixed in place to protect us from ourselves, and from the dangerous vaginas we were carrying around like unexploded bombs.”

- my Observer longread on the “female f***-up” as a role model, and how women can now talk more honestly about sex than ever before. 

"As the carapace of fame around her has expanded, she has shrunk within it, leaving only gnomic statements about granola and blowjobs. Reading this book, you realise that Lena Dunham has been playing ‘Lena Dunham’ for a long time. She is not real.” 
- my review of Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”, which turned into a bit of a rant about art, feminism and double standards.

“The simplicity of the requests can give them a plaintive air, and I often find myself wondering what series of life choices ends with a person googling “erectoin” at 4pm on a rainy Thursday.”

“I am failing as a woman,” begins the last essay in Roxane Gay’s new collection. “I am failing as a feminist.” Among the laundry list of infractions she confesses to: listening to thuggish rap music, knowing nothing about cars, liking the colour pink, faking orgasms, wanting babies and crying at work. Yet she concludes: “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”
— on Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist
"On the show, Chris Powell – a personal trainer who looks like a cross between a thigh muscle and a televangelist – takes on patients who need to lose half their body weight. On the whole, over the course of a year, they do. And as I’ve watched more of the programme, I’ve become convinced that behind the blindingly white teeth and unnervingly chirpy demeanour, Chris Powell is a stone-cold genius, and possibly even the man to save the NHS."
- my New Statesman column on obesity.

"On the show, Chris Powell – a personal trainer who looks like a cross between a thigh muscle and a televangelist – takes on patients who need to lose half their body weight. On the whole, over the course of a year, they do. And as I’ve watched more of the programme, I’ve become convinced that behind the blindingly white teeth and unnervingly chirpy demeanour, Chris Powell is a stone-cold genius, and possibly even the man to save the NHS."

- my New Statesman column on obesity.

The abuse of women on the internet, like the hacking of female celebrities’ naked photos, is not just intended to hurt the individuals involved. These are  deliberately outrageous acts designed to create a spectacle and to instil fear in a target population - in other words, terrorism.
- my New Statesman column, 4 September 2014. 
I went to Woman’s Hour to talk about Lucy, the Expendables …  and why Sylvester Stallone never gets threatened with rape, but female action heroes often do.
Every Saturday night 20-year-old Sophia White sits down to play the video game Saints Row IV in her living room in Edinburgh. But she is not alone. Depending on the time of night, between a few hundred and a few thousand people will be watching her play, something she does full-time for a living. They can see her character’s every move in the game, as well as her reactions, thanks to a webcam. Last week, though, she had competition — half a million people were following the progress of two goldfish playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
— for the Sunday Times (£), on Twitch.tv
"Our brains, like our bodies, can get tired. The difference is that there are no aching muscles or sore ligaments to let us know. Studies have shown that every decision we make has a cognitive cost; when ‘decision fatigue’ kicks in, we either get tired and do nothing, or become reckless and do anything."
— on “decision detox” for the Evening Standard

"Our brains, like our bodies, can get tired. The difference is that there are no aching muscles or sore ligaments to let us know. Studies have shown that every decision we make has a cognitive cost; when ‘decision fatigue’ kicks in, we either get tired and do nothing, or become reckless and do anything."

— on “decision detox” for the Evening Standard

Remembering Emma Humphreys

A post by Karen Ingala Smith on the work done by Nia, the Hackney-based violence against women charity that I chair. 

The end of subtweeting: on Twitter etiquette, civil inattention and why we have to talk behind each other’s backs.