One Day I Will…

We look to our mothers. As women, I mean. We look to our mothers to see what being a woman is all about, what’s going to happen when we grow up, what our place in the world might one day look like. Little girls with too big handbags on one shoulder, a playphone tucked under our ears as we stir fake soup on a tiny version of the kitchen we beg for treats in. We take everything in, and learn silently how to hold ourselves, how to talk and argue back and reason and pick our battles. How to care and nurture and go out to work and build a home.

But what happens if what we’re looking at is intrinsically flawed? If that formative relationship is poisonous instead of restorative? You want to find a life-long partnership and your mother insists on being hopelessly alone. You want to create a career which you love, but your mother never loved a thing in her life. You can’t imagine a future where your children don’t mean everything to you, but your mother doesn’t know the first thing about you or your siblings. Who should you look to then?

I don’t know about you, but I look to my daughter. This week is Mothers Day, and International Womens Day too. So many people seem to feel that they can’t be feminists, or worse still, that they are somehow ‘bad’ feminists because their main focus is on being a mother. Whether you choose to work at home or out, have kids or not, wear red lipstick and thigh high boots or dungarees and army boots, I wish more women understood that simply to support each others choices and freedoms is to be a feminist.

“My mother taught me…” “My mother showed me..” I won’t pretend I don’t envy the strong and smart women around me who have been given their confidence in feminism as an inheritance. Passed down, from one generation to the next. My feminism is uglier than that, more awkward, self-made. But there’s something pretty special about that too. I’m creating something brand new, something I never had. I was told quite plainly by the woman who should have made me feel invincible, that “It’s only natural to love your sons more than you love your daughters.” So how could I help but feel somehow inferior? Almost.. unwanted.

And yet, this year on Mothers Day, and this year on International Womens Day, for the first time I have a daughter of my own. A daughter I love so much I sometimes think I might squish her little face off. A daughter I want to inherit not just my feminism, but the whole wide world too. A daughter who I want to feel invincible.

So I look to her. I look to her despite my gaze being dragged towards the past more often than I’d like. I look back to her every time I forget that I’m not inferior. I look to her to decide what my place in the world should look like, what being a woman should be all about. I look to her so that ‘One Day I Will’ see her looking back at me.

 

 

 

Where has Carrie Bradshaw gone?

Most people like to think of this as a generation of sexual liberation. We have greater freedom to express ourselves, better laws to protect ourselves, and with the Internet-a wider forum than ever to indulge in whichever proclivities take our fancy.

But there is something strange about the way us 21st century women, us beacons of a sexually emancipated generation, read and view the act itself.

We are in a time of gay marriage, of open relationships, of fetish wear for sale right next to the frilly nighties. No one can deny how far we have come. So WHY am I surrounded by so many sexual myths in popular culture and opinion?

Like so many other issues, I believe the media has a lot to answer for, and that we haven’t really taken any steps forward in well over a decade when it comes to imitating life through the art of television, film or books.

I remember being 15 years old, given free rein for the first time on the wide world of the web, streaming episodes of Sex and the City, with one finger poised over the minimise button and one eye on the door in case my mum walked in. While the show has become less of a ‘guilty’ pleasure, it still holds a massive fan base, myself included. And I would argue that entertainment today cannot hold a candle to its honesty and realism when it comes to relationships and sex.

You’re crazy! (I hear you shout.) What about Girls? What about the 50 Shades phenomenon?

Yawn.

Is this really the next level for us in sexual expression? Shock? While SATC might not have got as far with BDSM as a descriptive spanking scene or images of nipple clamps, and while Girls may arguably present a more realistic version of financial life in our twenties, there is absolutely nothing remotely modern or real in their presentation of relationships.

There is no doubt that we’ve made leaps and bounds in the “how far can they go” factor. If you want someone to congratulate, find whoever is responsible for ratings and censorship, because they have had a hell of a time since the new millennium. It would seem nothing is too shocking, nothing is too sacred to plaster across screens and pages with abandon when the last ‘hardcore’ topic of conversation becomes old news, as everything eventually will.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s your cup of tea. Sex, as in the act itself has never been more revealed. But don’t mistake that for something entirely different. Because sex, as in the relationship gender battle? I believe it’s as hidden in entertainment as it was before the likes of Carrie Bradshaw ever hit our screens, erasing all the hard work those writers ever did.

I’m not talking about the extremes of Samantha and Charlotte, looking for complete opposites in the dating pool and there to surprise and reassure us respectively, giving us their own version of that “shock factor”. I mean the typical Carrie that is inside all of us while we are dating, or in any long term relationship for that matter. Not sure whether we’re searching for Mr Right or Mr Right Now, The One or the One that suits my current situation. Wondering how or if to fix challenges between partners, and how much to share of ourselves. Carrie’s relationships pushed the boundaries and honesty of sexuality and notably gender further than anything else has since.

It could be dispelling the myth that sex doesn’t get better, with Carrie and Burger’s self professed “quiet” first time leading to a meaningful relationship (pre post it of course), or the propaganda slaying of the opposing dragon, that your partner needs to be ‘the one’ to enjoy a physical relationship, her brief fling with the jazz man giving her the ‘most intense orgasm’ of her life. Either way, where modern culture may have screamed ‘sexually incompatible’ at Carrie and Burger, or placed a ‘happily ever after’ neon sign directly above the happily uncommitted latter duet, Carrie did nothing of the sort. She persevered with Burger, accepting that mood, nerves, lighting, and just simply getting to know one another better, all factor more than the world would let you believe, and after happily finding herself ‘life incompatible’ with physically compatible guy, bravely discarded him to the bonfire of relationships past.

She lived her life. And the men did too. Was Big always there in the background? Yes he was. And that’s okay too. Because her life wasn’t portrayed as a mess without him, or more importantly still- not a mess with him. Her choice (and his too) at the end of the day was to be together, whereas for Samantha her equally legitimate choice was staying single. For Charlotte and Miranda it was marriage and kids, all portrayed as decisions with pros and cons and strings attached, and not a happily ever after in sight. Just life, with all it’s ups and downs, regardless of gender or choice.

Entertainment is there for just that, to entertain you. It’s okay to get swept away in the story, romance or drama included, the same way as you might enjoy fantasy without looking for a vampire at every turn. But can you separate the fantasy of the supernatural in Twilight from the equally farcical nature of Bella leaning on a man at every turn to save her? Find Christian Grey sexy without craving Ana’s virginal experience?

I hope so. Because it doesn’t look like anyone’s creating any alternatives for us any time soon.

“What’s worse than a Male Chauvinist Pig?”

” …A woman that won’t do what she’s told.” 

That’s an actual joke someone told me, before laughing raucously, in answer to my question “Would you call yourself a feminist?”

Until recently, I’ve never thought much of feminism. Not in a disparaging way, I mean it literally hasn’t crossed my mind that much. I suppose I’ve never noticed that much sexism taking place around me. I like to think that if I had been alive a hundred years ago, I would have been one of the women throwing myself under horses for the rights of women, but in all honesty I’d probably have been obliviously popping out babies chained to the kitchen sink like the majority of that generation.

We can vote, we can work, we have birth control at our fingertips, we can be presidents and prime ministers. (ettes?!) We pretty much have it all. Truthfully, I’ve always sighed at women’s lib organisations like Femen, and asked, what more do we want?

After all, Feminism in its original meaning doesn’t exist any more, does it? We’re not campaigning to be allowed a say in politics, or for control over our own bodies. In the western world at least, life is pretty good for women. We can have our babies and return to work. We can choose not to, and that’s fine too. We can have sex, and we can even enjoy it. Of course there is working woman’s guilt, mummy guilt, stay at home guilt, basically vagina guilt, but if we were really honest we would accept that it’s mainly self judgement, and that the rest of the world doesn’t care. Real issues still exist, the gender pay gap being a massive one, but for the most part we are doing pretty well for a gender who couldn’t even go to university when our grandparents were kids.

So if I’m happy enough to let other women deal with what’s left of inequality in the western world nowadays, what’s brought feminism to my attention lately?

Caitlin Moran (in her fabulous biography how to be a woman which you must all go out and read) discusses the kind of sexism that you don’t notice right away. You might leave a situation thinking, wow-they were a massive douche, and then it actually takes another few hours to sit bolt upright and realise that you missed the word sexist out of that description.

And since that written revelation, I’ve been absolutely bombarded by my own memory, to the point where I can’t believe quite how rife my life has been with hidden sexism. And that’s what I believe we should be fighting against.

Last month, I had the displeasure of spending a few hours in enforced company with an extreme male chauvinist. The kind you can’t help but notice. He had a mini fit when his son picked up a pink buggy to play with, complete with a baby doll inside. “Sorry” I just barely bit back from saying, “I didn’t realise you want your son to grow into the type of man who won’t care for his children or help his wife.” Later that afternoon, midway through an intellectual discussion between him and two other men, I joined the debate. After his look of shock dissipated, he continued talking, making sure to explain every word over two syllables with a condescending look in my direction and an apologetic head tilt for his superior knowledge. When I correctly answered the problem he had posed, he shook his head and basically told me I’d made a lucky guess.

I went home livid. How has he got to mid thirties without someone telling him he has a huge problem? And how can his wife let him behave that way without saying something?

Attitude. That’s what the war should be waged on. The next time someone is rude to you, stop and check the conversation. Is it rudeness, or sexism? More and more I can see that what at first glance was brushed off as ‘they’re an idiot” has a horrible undercurrent of latent sexism that maybe even the speaker isn’t aware of. Sentences like “what does your husband do?” before you’ve even asked about my own work, are not just rude, they are horribly sexist. And they paint a reality. A reality where the female intern gets the coffee while the male one assists the director of the company. A world where you plan an important speech for a meeting and two men stand up to leave before you’ve finished the first sentence. A world where it’s assumed you wont want to join everyone for lunch, so you’re left alone to answer the phones.

All of the above have happened to me in the last five years, and honestly, none of them are serious enough as stand alone events to even mention, without dealing with another sexist label, “the hormonal hysterical woman.” But put them all together and you have a quite frightening picture of a woman’s worth.

It’s easy enough to solve. And bear with me here because this is quite radical. Everyone has to see women…. as people.

That’s right. The same as any other person, male or otherwise.

It’s crazy! It’s insane! It will never work!

But taking every situation I’ve outlined above, I think it may be genius. Instead of my new favourite MCP noting that a dress and heels had joined the convo, if he had just noted that another human was now involved, the only change in conversation would have been a slight body shift to include me in the debate.

If I wasn’t immediately wife, but rather person, then obviously the first question would have been “what do you do?”

“2 interns? Flip a coin, decide between yourselves, take turns for gods sake.”

“Oh, a person is talking, I’d better wait to go powder my nose until they are finished. Perhaps I’ll even listen.”

“Ah, we’re going for lunch, every person is obviously welcome.”

I’m not for one minute downplaying the important work that feminists do for women, and I’m grateful every day for our ‘sister suffragettes’ that made my own freedom and choices possible. But the work needed nowadays is different, and I believe it is mostly down to menfolk to make the changes, although of course women can be just as guilty. To see women simply as other people who coexist side by side, separate but equal. To extend the same courtesy they would to any other person, by simply not being rude. To think about an unpleasant encounter in their day and ask themselves whether they would have made the same choices had a man been standing in front of them, or at the other end of the line.

So do me a favour, and pass on the message to the man in your life. After all, they probably will have stopped reading this by now. It’s written by a woman. 

sexism