Tag Archives: gender

Childcare & the Stay-At-Home Mother

Fairly recently, the lovely El Kitten and I went for cocktails and, not having seen each other for a couple of months, a lot of chatting. At the time, I was midway through posting my marriage rants and, El being married to the wonderful Mike Infinitum, we conversationally veered in that direction. We don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the subject of marriage, although I have to admit that El’s wedding was a small, intimate, rockabilly affair with the most amazing red 1950s swing dress, and balloons and table spreads by yours truly*. Her relationship with her husband is as fabulous as it was on their wedding day and that’s plain for all to see… so why, I repeat why, does everyone now feel the need to pressurise them for children? Can society not leave them be to enjoy each other and do as they please? If they don’t want kids, they don’t want them. If they do decide that they want kids, what the hell has that to do with anyone else?!

Although I myself am not averse to the idea of sproggers – somewhere in a future so distant I still refer to it as “when I grow up**” – what happens if you are married and are destined to be child free? Obviously, not having succumbed to the marriage palaver myself, questions about when I’m going to have kids are few and far between, so it wasn’t something that had occurred to me until rabbiting away with the kitten over a well made Kajuma***. That society puts people under pressure in any regard is unpleasant enough, and I can’t say that the children thing has ever really bothered me, but on the back of the conversation I had with El, in which she was incensed about the brazen lack of privacy of people, she sent me the following article…

http://m.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/

I love it. I love it so much, I tweeted it. Of course, I upset some people. So what else is new? Twitter is a fantastic place to find events, share the love, promote your work and begin debates, but it is not a good forum for holding said debates. 140 characters a well thought out interjection does not make. The thing that enraged one particular lady was the suggestion that a stay at home mum was wrong to not work… a statement I never made and don’t necessarily agree with.

I admit that I am slightly biased in this regard, though. It was drummed into me from an early age that I would get a job and from that moment on would never be out of work, whether I stayed in that same job or found another. Ma Mum worked full time as I was growing up and because of this I feel that I developed a fierce independence and that I appreciate her presence so much more as an adult. So, though I try to fight it, my initial reaction on learning that someone doesn’t work (whether with or without sproggers) is always to pull a scornful face, which is unfortunate and makes me look like a bit of a judgemental twat. I realise that this is my own programming and that it’s not necessarily the correct response, but I do my best to overcome it. Anyway, my parents worked hard and, later on, my mother single-handedly sent me to university, a working-class, single parent. The thing is that, although ma Mum may have wanted to stay at home with me when I was a kid, we just couldn’t afford for her to be out of work. So, immediately, there is the question of cash, which was the other enraged tweeter’s bugbear. If ma Mum hadn’t worked full time for so long, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to move out when my parents split up because she would have lost her independence entirely by being out of work; and I’m sure it goes without saying that ma Mum is as independent, if not more so, than I am. She also wouldn’t have been able to help me through university, though I worked full time in a shop and temped in offices during the Uni holidays for the most part. The thing with becoming dependent upon someone else is that, should it end (and I know nobody wants to think about the end when they’re happy and settled, but it would be naïve not to consider the possibility), you have no way of getting out.

I once lived with a partner myself and, although there was no chance of me becoming a housewife, I had a hard time affording the move to leave anyway. Moving into rented accommodation requires a stupidly expensive admin’ fee, a month and a half’s rent as bond and a month’s rent in advance. You’re talking a sum of at least £1,000 before you’ve ever even really begun (and I’m talking about the cost up north). It kept me trapped in an unhappy relationship for a lot longer than I wanted to be. So much so that the thought of not having had the small amount of money I did have makes me quite panicky to this day. My credit card got a serious bashing that year.

There’s no getting away from the impact that staying at home will have on your finances, your employability and your self-sufficiency. However you look at it, caring for your children and cleaning your house is not a job in the strictest sense of the word. I’m not suggesting that either of these things is easy or pleasurable, but they are chores that anyone with children has to partake of when they’re not working, even if the only time they’re not working is in the evenings. In fact, cleaning your own home is something everyone who can’t afford to hire a cleaner has to do, children or no, although I can see that having children would make the job infinitely more tedious. The stay-at-home Mum simply has more time to do these tasks. I cannot imagine a world where I would have  to ask someone for money when I wanted to buy something, whether a necessity or a treat; to lose my independence, my contribution to the household would make me feel castrated and vulnerable. You are incredibly lucky if your household income is such that you are comfortably able to stop work, but if something should happen way down the line, how would you, personally, be able to cope with the blow without some of your own monetary security behind you? The financial argument is not the only one I wish to make on this subject, but money does, unfortunately, play a vital part in our lives and it affects many things. Money is power and freedom, whether we like it or not.

To subsidise my freelance art business, I have an admin’ job, which until recently was based in the pensions industry. I didn’t much care for it – the position required a high level of numerical accuracy, which for someone who suffers from dyscalculia is rather difficult to achieve. Putting maths aside^, one of the most distasteful elements of the job was processing divorce cases, especially ones where an ex-spouse would end up with half of their ex’s pension. This used to do a proper rage on me. In one particular incident, a well paid man had built up a fantastic nest egg of a final salary pension… after his divorce, he was entitled to only 20% of it while his wife walked away with a whopping 80%. Now, I don’t know what happened in that relationship – the man may have sexually abused his ex-wife and beaten her to a pulp every night, in which case, the bastard should definitely pay… but not with his pension. Your pension should be sacred – it’s possibly the only sensible thing some of us do, not that my pension will be anything to write home about. Your pension is your reward for giving up some of your hard-earned cash in the hope that you will live long enough to see it pay out in the future – it is yours because you earned it yourself and if, when it pays out, you wish to share it with someone, then so be it, but you shouldn’t have to share it before it pays out or give some away under duress. To build up a huge pension is really really tough and comes from years of hard graft, and even then what most people end up with is pitiable. So this couple both decided that one of them would work and the other stay at home and they both knew that there was some risk, however small and unlikely it seemed at the time, that they wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives together. I’m telling you what, though, this man didn’t know that his ex-wife would be able to get her hands on his pension. It was all news to him. Gutted doesn’t quite describe how he was when we broke the news, a faceless administrator on the other end of a telephone call.

Being at home all day is a luxury most people can’t afford; it may not be a constant holiday, but you have a hell of a lot more freedom. You don’t qualify for a pension of any description if you’ve never worked, but then, and this is a biggy: you’ve never had to work! The people you’re looking after are the people you chose to give birth to and be responsible for, and the house you’re cleaning is your own, so you can hardly expect to be paid for it – a lot of people clean their houses and work full time. Of course, I am simply talking about people who can work but choose not to, not people who cannot get a job because of ill health or sheer bad luck. Being out of work is stressful if it isn’t a choice.

A friend of mine recently became a stay at home dad. This friend is a v.unusual creature in that he has no qualms about what people think of him – he has no stupidly macho ideals. He loves and wants to take care of his son and, because of the rising cost of childcare, it made sense for him to give up his job and become a full time parent. It is not more ok for a father to do this than it is for a mother to do this, and it is in no way wrong that my male mate wants to do this, but what is disconcerting is the fact that he is as vastly outnumbered in his new role as women are in positions of power. There are still a large number of women who acknowledge childbirth as the end of their autonomy and their careers and yet don’t see a problem with that. It’s almost as if they’ve been waiting for it to happen and so didn’t think to seriously build a life of their own. As it happens, this friend of mine (I shall forthwith call him Grouse Hunter [GH] for comedic value that none but the friend in question will understand) happens to be married to a woman with a great career. As the cost of the childcare was about what he took home, it made sense for GH to stop working; GH’s son has someone with a vested interest in his overall wellbeing to look after him and the income didn’t change too drastically. This is a rare case scenario. Most men earn more than their spouses and whether that’s to do with unequal pay in the workplace, or whether men are more driven to build a career it is still a feminist issue. Inbuilt attitudes are every bit as powerful as physical actualities and they are something we can change if we work together to instil better principles in the children of today. Before they grow into people who think that men make money and women clean and care for babies.

Most men have the inbuilt attitude (yes still!) that if someone is to give up their career for a life of childcare and housework, it should not be them. In fact, most men won’t even question it. For a start, that’s a bit “gay” isn’t it? Housework and babies are women’s issues, and all that. Regardless of what your average man would say to a woman, there is still a residue of sexism coating their thought processes. A lot of men (please note that I’m not saying “all men”) would be unhappy to earn less than their spouse, let alone allow them complete control of the household finances, as if the v.fact would make their balls shrink. We can’t blame these men entirely for this – it’s the way they’ve been brought up to believe the world works. Admittedly, those who have managed to ignore every feminist rant going must either be v.ignorant or frightfully obtuse, but then a lot of people don’t think too deeply about certain things because they’re still under the illusion that it’s “just the way things are” and it’s never occurred to them that it could be, or should be, any other way.

Most women are given toy dollies as children. Most men aren’t. Women have babies and look after those babies – it’s their raison d’etre, is it not? At least, that’s what we’re brought up to believe. The fact that most stay-at-home parents are mothers means that little boys and little girls learn early on in life that women look after children and men have careers and win the bread. Most nursery nurses are women, so this has the same effect. It’s something that is as ingrained in society as the fairytale wedding. True, if a woman is breastfeeding, she could do with having the babbit in front of her, but then if that is the only reason that so many women are child-looker-after-ers, what are breast pumps for? And breastfeeding doesn’t last forever. If a couple decides to have a baby, both people in that couple should be equally responsible for its upkeep; it shouldn’t be a case of mother looks after the kids because she was the one who gave birth , father brings home the cash and plays with the kids occasionally because fathers are breadwinners.

A savvy employer will look after his staff in order to get the best work out of them and inspire some respect. Mothers get maternity leave to recuperate after pushing something the size of a melon out of something the size of a pencil lead, and these days fathers are granted two weeks paternity leave, which is a start in the bid to encourage men to get more involved with their offspring. But I have overheard my employer say before: “I’m not hiring any more women of child-bearing age – they just get pregnant, get their maternity pay and then leave!” Which both incensed and intrigued me: I am of child-bearing age and even if I were to have a child in the near future^^, I certainly wouldn’t leave because of it. The implication of what my boss had said being that all women will either become full time mothers or drop their hours down to work part time if they have a child… or that all women of child-bearing age clearly want children. But then, given how many women have left the office or dropped their hours down for just such reason, part of me doesn’t blame him. If I was an employer, knowing as I do that society insists on women of a certain age becoming broody and having the urge to give up their own income, I probably would hire more men. More men work full time than women. Men generally earn more than women. Men tend to be the people at the top of the business food-chain, as they are in government. Men are the majority that run the world, and why wouldn’t they be when we women don’t do anything to oppose them? When we happily sit back and allow them to run the show whilst we nurture the next generation of misdirected people? If we want things to ever improve, we need to get some women into positions of power and to change the way people perceive the sexes. We need to get an equal amount of stay-at-home Dads as stay-at-home Mums, if there is to be a parent to stay at home at all. If my employer considers women in their 20s and 30s as a flight risk, then others must consider them so; but if more Dads stayed at home, the position would become equally as risky to hire men, or less risky to hire women; whichever way you look at it, it’s an improvement.

If you don’t believe that men prevail in positions of power, try this: Inga Muscio, in her wonderful book, Cunt, suggested that you walk around your flat/house/caravan/wigwam and pop a gold sticker on everything you own that was invented or created by a woman. Then go out and invest in some things that were invented/created by a woman. When your place of residence has as many gold stickers as not, then we’ve cracked it.

I realise that decent childcare plays a large part of the decision for one parent to stay at home – I was v.lucky in that my Grandmother was willing (for a cost) to take care of me in the school holidays and after school until my mother could collect me. As that was several moons ago, the cost of having your child kept alive whilst you are at work has exploded to ridiculous heights and there should definitely be an overhaul of childcare costs in some way – especially when it’s a necessity that children are looked after and looked after well. Clichéd as it sounds, children are the future and should be taught well and brought up healthily, because when Alzheimer’s beckons us, we want some bright young thing to have made a significant scientific breakthrough in the quest for a cure, even if the end product is nowhere in sight. We want to cark it knowing that the world is in safe hands. And it all starts with those noisy, runny little fuckers that charge about in nappies and put sticky hand prints on everything. Unfortunately, I have no idea what would have to happen in the world for there to be affordable and yet excellent childcare… mainly because I don’t have children and haven’t become involved in the nursery game yet. But if one of the reasons women become stay-at-home mothers is down to childcare costs and poor childcare, when in actual fact they want to work, then I think something needs to be done about it.

But childcare is something of a tangent. The fact remains that far more women choose the stay at home option over men, leaving more men in full time jobs and high positions. And the crux of the matter is that while this is the case, feminism still has cause to burn.

As an aside, I’d be willing to bet that GH’s son will be as well-balanced, successful and beautiful as his parents, with GH and Wife of GH to guide him through the misogynistic pitfalls every step of the way. See, “AC/DC kid” – not even a year old and people are writing about you!

FOOTNOTES:

* We ran out of helium mid-balloon blowing and there was a mad rush before the ceremony as we sent out to Clintons.

** I recently met a great lady who, despite being a successful civil engineer, still refers to the future in the same way. I’m taking this as a sign that I am not alone.

*** A Kajuma is a cocktail served at Browns in Leeds. I fell in love with this little, deep-red drink. So I
googled it and came up with kajuma.wordpress.com… spooky stuff.

^ And aside I’d be happy to leave it for the duration of my life

^^ Don’t panic – I’m being hypothetical!

RECOMMENDED WATCHING:

Mona Lisa Smile

An Education

The Stepford Wives (of course) (the proper one, not that shite with Nicole Kidman)

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Love & Marriage in Modern Society ~ Part IV

DISCLAIMER

I began writing this blog many moons ago. I have taken advice and gleaned insight through the opinions and circumstances of others. However, I have not based this on anyone or anyone else’s relationship and I am certainly not referring to myself, though I draw on personal experience to ask questions.

This is a work of opinion and enquiry. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

THE OTHER WO/MAN

What happens if you are married, have been with your partner for years and suddenly you meet someone who knocks you off your feet? Do you diligently stay faithful, all the while resenting your partner and fantasising about this other person? In actuality, you promised to forsake all others when you tied the knot, but that was a while ago and the shine has started to fade a little. Still, a promise is a promise and you decide to leave well alone; after all, you are the reason the other person is happy and you’d make life difficult for yourself if you made them unhappy.

In the fairytale version of this, you wouldn’t have even been attracted to another person and, even if you were, would never dream of being intimate with anyone but your spouse. But this isn’t a fairytale. True, you can be wholly devoted to and completely in love with your partner and still find other people massively attractive, but the decision to not risk your relationship by allowing something to happen would be a genuine choice and not one based on a sense of duty and fear: you want to be with your partner, your partner would leave you if they found out, so you don’t pursue this other person. That’s a fair cop, I’d say.

Everyone has to accept that attraction between their partner and others is inevitable – to attempt to prevent it would be futile and puerile; but what if you were the partner of someone who was actually in love with someone else, not just attracted to them? How could you ever be happy with that person knowing that they wanted to be elsewhere? The problem is that the partner who wants to leave probably feels duty bound to stay – they promised, after all – and so in all likelihood won’t say anything, which leads to resentment on both counts. There is an undeniable element of cowardice in not coming clean, but given the stigma that accompanies leaving someone, the coward who feels they can’t just be honest with their spouse is not entirely to blame.

But then again, what if you’re on the other side of it and found that you’ve fallen in love with someone else? If you’re in a position whereby somebody has placed their entire happiness in your hands and constantly reminds you of this, would you indeed stay faithful or would you have an affair, considering it to be less hassle and less upsetting to your partner than to leave them?  What they don’t know won’t hurt them, and all that jazz. Except that if you don’t love that partner, surely it would be far more respectful to tell them so that they can go out and find someone who does love them. Or so that they can be alone and learn to love themselves so much they don’t need to be validated by someone else. It is massively arrogant of a person to believe that the other cannot live without them, even if the other has intimated as much; even if the other believes it, they won’t always feel that way.

And then there’s the “Other Woman” herself. Songs have been sung about her, poems and novels have been written for her, films have been based on her. Women warn other women about her. Women threaten their husbands because of her. I have been her; I have been cuckolded by her. The woman who dares to sully the “sanctity” of marriage*. The evil, she-devil. The Lilith of the modern day. A nymph. A nymphomaniac. Femme fatal. Women live in fear that she will “steal**” their husbands and poison their husbands’ minds out of sheer spite. So when a man does leave his wife for another woman (which isn’t often), it is the woman who is at fault, while the man’s only part in the whole thing has been that of bewitched fool. The man is absolved of responsibility because a witch trapped him with her feminine wiles; he is free to continue relations with this sorceress until the magic wears off and then return to his wife, sheepish and apologetic; or he can continue to stay trapped with the minx, the enchantress who stands as the only obstacle in the marriage she single-handedly broke.  Oh yes, the witch hunt is still on and those women who rest any blame solely on other women don’t do anything to help it.

This acrimony between two women, both of whom have generally been deceived in equal measures by the man in question, is rather vile. But it’s the women who are indoctrinated into hankering after marriage so much more than the men, so the need to have it and preserve it has a far greater drive in women. It leads to desperation and desperate unhappiness and jealousy and hatred and other violent emotions that cause women to work against each other rather than with each other.

Admittedly, it’s hard to even consider that the person to whom your lover has just flown is a human being in their own right. Rather than accept that the person who has left you just didn’t love you any more, it is so much easier to blame someone else. There are spikes of sheer hatred that pierce your psyche no matter how unbidden, even when you have come to terms with your partner’s decision. After a certain length of time, and possibly because of the way the ex-wife views the new partner, the other woman generally grows to hate the implied or actual presence of the ex-wife.

Haven’t women been hostile towards each other too long? Men seem to be able to have some semblance of a brotherhood cum pack attitude, whereas women see threat in each other. Of course, there’s always an instance of more than one dominant male in any given place from time to time, and most amusing it is to watch too, as wildly exaggerated tales of fisticuffs are followed by displays of scars, which are followed by bench-pressing fibs. Somehow, though, women see the need to ostracize other women. Are we not a force to be reckoned with as one for all and all for one? Would it not work in our favour to be able to communicate with any woman we chose to communicate with, knowing that they would offer their support and advice?

 

DOING IT FOR THE KIDS

I’ve heard many people tell tale of the discontent marriage that must never be dissolved because the unhappy couple has children.

On the one hand, children are moulded within the first seven years of their life and divorce is incredibly hard for them to get their little minds around. To a child, who has only ever known unconditional, familial love, falling out of love has never crossed their minds. They need the security of knowing that when people say: “I love you” that means “I will always love you.” So when parents admit that they are no longer in love, the child is distraught – if they no longer love each other, how can they still love the child? Yes, I agree: divorce when you are a parent is a tricky business indeed.

On the other hand, a child’s perception of a relationship – what a relationship is, how two people in a relationship relate to one another, the way they act around each other, their gestures and loaded looks, their contact with each other – is what a child will grow up believing a relationship to comprise of. So, if all they’ve ever known of their parents’ relationship consists of snide comments and glares and underhanded remarks (and, believe me, children see these things that parents think are above their doughy heads, even if they can’t articulate it), chances are that they will fall into the trap of creating an unsatisfying union that is exactly the same themselves in later life.

Then there are the parents who use the children as bait. One parent may threaten another that if they should ever leave, they would never see the children again. Which, let’s face it, is pretty childish and not fair on said children. In this situation, “staying together for the kids” is v.much “using the kids to make someone stay,” which is in no way shape or form in the child’s interest and solely to the advantage of the threatening parent. If there is someone else involved, it could be that the hurt party will not allow the children to see the other parent while the new partner is around. This, in itself, breeds yet more hatred by planting the bitter seed in a child when it is at a vulnerable stage in life. Presumably, this act of outrageous jealousy is to prevent the child from developing any attachment to the usurper – it smacks of the fear of losing this child’s affections just like they lost the affections of the partner who left. It also causes contention in the new relationship, which is probably an added bonus to the hurt party. There are even parents who attempt to turn their children against the other parent.

I feel v.much that I am on uncertain ground here. I am childless as yet (and maybe will be so for the duration of my life) and I am no child psychologist. I can remember being scared, when I was a child, that my parents would get divorced and then, later, wanting them to. I don’t think it’s healthy to stay together for the kids, and it’s certainly not healthy to use them in relationship bartering. Divorce is probably harsh for a child, but then, staying in a failing marriage can’t be conducive to a happy family. There is a collective attitude that, if a marriage doesn’t work out, one or both people involved are failures. I see it as being more of a failure to continue with a marriage that has no benefit to either party than it is to call it a day and move on.

FOOTNOTES:

* Obviously, that word does not apply to me, but you know what I mean.

** I hate it when people say that someone has been stolen from someone else. It takes two people, not one stealing the other. Nobody belongs to anyone else for them to be stolen. It’s akin to “giving the bride away” at a wedding… is she an object to be owned?

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Love & Marriage in Modern Society ~ Part II

PLANTING THE SEED

So, you’ve been with your partner for years and they’re still showing no signs of popping the question. If you’re a bloke in a straight relationship and want to marry, chances are you’ll be working out how to ask your lady for her hand, safe in the knowledge that she’ll almost certainly say yes. But, as I have witnessed firsthand in other couples, if you’re a woman in a straight relationship, you’ll probably be dropping hints like crazy: strategically leaving catalogues open at the Engagement Rings section, leaping desperately for the bouquet at weddings and coming out with such gems as: “Tallulah and Tarquin have only been together for three years and they’re getting married already…”

If you’re at this stage, then there is no denying that you’ve submitted to manipulation tactics to get what you want. But is that what you really want? Why do you want it? If you’re happy with your partner, you live together and you have a good, strong relationship, what is the point of marrying? Chances are you’ll spend an awful lot of money on feeding and watering distant relatives, followed by a lavish holiday only to return to the exact same life you had before, only poorer.

Maybe you feel that there’s something missing in your relationship and that marriage is the fundamental link to success and happiness; that marriage will solve all your issues. Or maybe you feel that you’ve been with your partner long enough and after doing so much hard time, it’s absolutely imperative that you tie the knot or it has all been for nothing. That’s the thing about relationships, though – there is nothing to work towards; if you’re in a relationship, you’re in it and that relationship can grow and change, of course it can, but there is no “happy ending.” Marriage is not as dramatic as an ending, it’s not even a beginning – it is a continuation.

Whatever the reason for wanting to marry, why do women drop hints? Why is it such a rare thing for a woman to propose to a man? A hang-up from days gone by, perhaps, but a hang-up that acts as a tiny, but niggling reminder that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. The institution of marriage is fundamentally flawed in many ways, but its inability to change at the same rate as our culture deems it outdated and regressive.

 

CONFORMITY IN FRIVOLITY:

                With This Ring…

An enormous amount of emphasis is placed on the ring that starts it all. The engagement ring. Note the singular: ring, not rings. An engagement ring should typically cost the same as the prospective groom earns in a month. You see, it all starts with a deposit. To secure this man’s future purchase of a wife, he must guarantee it against outside interference with a trinket, and this trinket must be worthy of the item to which he is laying claim. Well, that’s how it used to be in the good old days before these damn women started reading too many books that gave them ideas. Unfortunately, there was something misunderstood in the feminist movement that is still misconstrued to this day: the idea that women battled and battled in order to offer other women the right to own their partners as much as they themselves were owned. Equality – yes absolutely – but surely where ownership of a human being is wrong on one count, it can only ever be wronger on both. Two wrongs do not a happy union make. Note that the word “obey” is often omitted from the woman’s wedding vows to make them more equal, it’s never added into the man’s!

But I digress. The engagement has only one ring; there is only one owner in this part of the proceedings and an engagement ring is a talisman to ward off all other suitors. Worn solely by women. And judged massively by the woman herself. After all, if a man loves his woman, he will all but bankrupt himself to give her what she wants, no? The significance of this ring is now one of power on the woman’s part; the ring is a prelude to a promise almost as binding as the wedding vows themselves. And is this ring something that has been picked out because it suits the wearer? Well, it’s a diamond solitaire on a gold band, the slight variation is irrelevant.

                Dress like a Princess…

Then there’s the dress. White, floor-length and, these days at least, strapless. White. For virginity. Let’s face it, most couples are already cohabiting with each other when they decide to get hitched, so to wear a white dress seems somewhat disingenuous. Why white? Certainly not to imply virginity. There may have been a slight increase in the number of coloured dresses to appear in bridal shops, but for the most part, the dresses are still white (or cream). It’s almost like a fresh start; a blank canvas. But if marriage is neither beginning nor end, it again seems somehow inappropriate. It’s a rare occasion when an affianced couple opt for a small wedding to which only close friends and immediate family are invited. It is also a rare occasion when a girl doesn’t spend thousands of pounds on a dress that she will only wear once for a ceremony that lasts all of twenty minutes.

It’s all about uniformity. Conformity. A diamond solitaire ring in a gold setting, a white wedding dress, flowers, drapes, place settings, a sit down meal, a cake cutting and a first dance. “But it’s traditional” you might say. Yeah, and so is slavery, imperialism and oppression of the minorities, but that’s no excuse for ploughing on regardless. Traditionally, marriage was for uniting countries. Traditionally, marriage was to justify sex and childbirth in religion. Traditionally, marriage was a way for government and church to control the masses. Tradition? Balls to tradition! The Wicker Man was a satire of communities who take tradition too seriously – I suggest you traditionalists watch and take note. In a western world that is evolving cerebrally, there is no act that can be validated because it is an act of tradition.

                The Venue…

Whether the bride and groom have chosen a religious or secular wedding, they will no doubt be heading for a wedding breakfast and reception shortly after they’ve had lots of posed photographs taken. Photographs that don’t portray any natural moment of the day, but capture exactly what the photographer wants people to see. Then the guests will throw confetti at the couple, despite the fact that the custom is rice (or the local grain) and that the rice is to symbolise fertility, not just so some people in posh clothes can throw bits of shit at some other people in posher clothes in the name of convention.

It is popular these days for wedding receptions to be held in expensive hotels, where the wedding guests who have probably travelled to see the happy couple get married, bringing with them gifts they can’t afford to bring, are expected to book themselves into swanky rooms. Luckily for the wedding guests, the bride and groom have arranged for all the chairs at the reception to be covered in organza and for fresh, colour coördinated flowers to adorn every table, so that makes up for the expense, doesn’t it? Well, no, not really. It’s a vicious circle: the bride and groom shell out thousands of pounds to arrange the wedding, so it is expected that the guests spend hundreds of pounds each in return. The bride and groom are probably only really bothered about a third of the guests and about two thirds of the guests aren’t that bothered about the bride and groom. And yet, somehow, the groom’s sister has manipulated the bride into making her a bridesmaid and even though the invitation said “no children,” there’s a suckling sprogger screaming its head off because that particular set of owners couldn’t possibly have found a babysitter in the three months prior to the big day even though every other besproggered family managed it.

It’s a stressful do, is a wedding. There is a massive responsibility when seating guests – one mustn’t forget the row auntie Doris had with your cousin Frank in 1998; the seating plan is created and immediately scrapped over and over for just such reasons. Once seated in carefully designated places, the guests will find favours next to their place names, which are generally little knickknacks for which they have no purpose and which will gather dust in a drawer for years to come. Is any of this sounding romantic to you?

                The Presents…

With the invitation you receive, for which you are required to feel suitably humbled and grateful, you will also receive either the name of a shop from which the bride and groom would like you to purchase the rightfully expensive present that you’re going to give them, or a request for money, with which the newly married couple will buy drinks on the luxurious holiday they’re about to go on. Most couples have already lived together long enough to know that they are capable of cohabiting with each other. Wedding presents were generally given when couples lived with their respective parents and so had none of the things needed to make a house a home when they moved into their new pads together.

An important question I think you have to ask yourself, if you are seriously considering marriage, is: “Do I want to be married or do I want a wedding?” Because if what you crave is the dress, the day all about you*, the party, the presents and the holiday, I’m guessing you haven’t considered the implications of marriage at all. Maybe another question should be: “Would I do this if it was just the two of us, both wearing jeans, doc’ martins and skanky old T-shirts with a quick I do ceremony in the register office and nothing more?”

 

THE VOWS

[Name], do you take [Name] to be your lawfully wedded [husband/wife] to live together in marriage. Do you promise to love, comfort, honour and keep [him/her] For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And, forsaking all others, be faithful only to [him/her] so long as you both shall live?

Groom: I, [Tarquin], take thee, [Tallulah], to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, ‘til death us do part.

Bride: I, [Tallulah], take thee, [Tarquin], to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, ‘til death us do part,

These days the vows are sometimes adapted somewhat, as in the case of Kate Middleton refusing to “obey” Price William. A girl under enormous social pressure to conform and with some pretty daunting boots to fill. Good on her!

I can’t read the wedding vows without wanting to tear my hair out. “Do you promise to love… so long as you both shall live?” how can anyone promise that?! You can promise that at that moment in time you love someone; you can promise that at that moment in time you can’t imagine ever not loving them – you cannot ever promise to love them forever and know that you will keep that promise, because love is out of your physical control. And everybody knows this, deep down. If they didn’t, there would be no instances of jealousy or insecurity. Love is an erratic malady that makes fickle creatures of us all.

Moreover, how can we pretend to not see that wedding vows are superfluous in a world that allows divorce and prenuptial agreements? And how could you not allow divorce?

 

FOOTNOTES:

* I have a day about me every year… it’s called My Birthday.

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The Women’s Room ~ Marilyn French

If The Golden Notebook slapped me in the face, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room positively knocked me for six. If there was ever a fictionalised version of The Female Eunuch, this is it.

And it was the Female Eunuch that reminded me of the book’s existence. Once recommended as A Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, it was soon forgotten due to the unsociable hours I keep. I had no concept of the missed opportunity at the time, but then I had no concept of the issues broached in the book either; nor of the connection and, for want of a better word, oneness that I would find in its storyline. From a gentle beginning, I was suddenly plunged into a world from which I drew many parallels with my own, and as I turned the last page with tears in my eyes, all the hairs stood up on the backs of my arms. It’s not often you can say that about a novel, but I related to it so deeply.

Mira Ward is going back to college; a middle aged, divorced mother of two young boys. Considered a wild child in her teens, Mira narrowly escapes being raped by a group of men after having the audacity to be an unaccompanied female in a bar. In the years subsequent to this, she finally (still a virgin) marries the only man who can see past her bad reputation as a nymphomaniac and begins a family, as is expected of her and, indeed, of all women. Having dedicated 25 years of her life to a loveless marriage, the seemingly static pieces of Mira’s world are thrown up into the air when her husband leaves her for a younger woman, taking her two children with him. In an era when a husband provided financial security and acceptance into society, Mira flees from suburbia to Cambridge College where she meets a number of remarkable women who change her life and perceptions forever.

I found the first part of the book slightly harder to connect with because of the time in which it was written; it focuses on the aspect of traditional marriage and, whilst some elements are undoubtedly still relevant, some of the more archaic traditions have decayed from modern society somewhat. However, this doesn’t detract from the book’s relevance as a whole. After all, the fabled nuclear family is still v.much the life-goal for most people and this starting-point creates the foundations for the female struggle that Mira finds herself embarking on. As a character, Mira represents the incredulous masses; yet through her own experiences and those of the other female characters, with a lot of wisdom and advice, she is finally able to understand the social imbalance and strike out as a whole person in her own right.

I often think it cheesy when the title of the book is found in the text of the literature, and the title of this book is found within the first paragraph. It is, however, utterly forgivable since the title epitomises the v.point that the book is trying to make. The Women’s Room. Formerly The Ladies’ Room. The female toilets in a college in the late ‘60s (a time when feminism was beginning to murmur and bubble under the surface once more) has been rechristened by an anonymous graffiti artist. And if men have the Men’s Toilets, why on earth shouldn’t women have the Women’s Toilets? To call it The Ladies’ Room suggests that little ladies do far more delicate things in there than men… like powdering their noses. It’s a pedantic point to make, but it is v.much the tip of the feminist iceberg that Marilyn French explores with this narrative. Ranging from the presumptuous invasion of a stranger touching a woman at a social gathering, to the intricacies and complications surrounding a rape case; from marriage in the ‘50s and 60s to open relationships, The Women’s Room indefatigably and unflinchingly presents question after question on the subject of equality, the frustrations of bureaucracy and the seemingly endless instances of oppression and obligation faced by women on a daily basis. No matter how small the obstacle, how meagre the offence, French shows that every little helps in the ongoing battle for women’s position in society.

Thought-provoking rather than gripping; a book that certainly takes itself seriously, and well it might for the importance of a struggle that has raged for decades, The Women’s Room takes a bold and vital step towards equality and its inevitabloe rejections and conflicts. That I drew so many parallels to my own life, as a privileged child of the ‘80s, only reminded me that it is a trap to believe that society has reached sexual equilibrium. But whether you are ready to fight for or settle with this western society, this is a book that undeniably poses questions that are not often considered, and its answers, equally as provocative, stem from all sides of the spectrum.

A must read for feminists and femphobes alike!

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:-

Books:

Revolutionary Road ~ Richard Yates

The Bell ~ Iris Murdoch

 

Films:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe

Stepford Wives

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Women! Know Your Limits: Part III ~ Body and Image

BODILY FUNCTIONS & HAIR REMOVAL

It’s been a v.long time since I had a period. For the majority of my adult life, my menstrual cycle has been put on hold with progestogen and progesterone. Initially, this was to alleviate the severe pains I used to suffer as a teenager* and later on became necessary to avoid the droppage of unwanted sproggers. Now that I find myself uncoupled, I’m reluctant to let the crimson wave invade my life once more. There have been occasions in the past where I’ve taken breaks from internal contraception to “sort my body out,” but all I‘ve discovered is that two weeks before a period, I turn into a snarling, snapping, whining, bitching, illogical, nasty, frustrated, irritated, worn out, emotional, violent, tearful, depressed, annoying twat; followed by dreadful bouts of teenage skin and bleeding that is not only painful, but leaves me drained of all energy, bloated, in pain, anaemic and often squicked out**. Add to this the inconvenience of being unable to wear light colours in case of leakage, the expense of buying tampons*** and the dilemma of to screw or not to screw (can I be bothered washing it out of the sheets? If we do it in the bath, will that just make the water look murky? Although they are wipe-clean, is it really hygienic to liberally spatter menstrual blood on the kitchen work tops?) Oh, I can’t be bothered any more. Implanon will be replaced when I finish my first three-year round in November.

But for most women, menstruation is v.much a reality and, for most women, v.much as I’ve described above. You boys have no idea! As well as the physical discomfort and the hormonal turmoil, entertaining Auntie Flo can also be a cause of deep embarrassment. A worrying amount of men flinch when periods are mentioned. It is more surprising to find a man that will quite happily take the topic in his stride than one who immediately blanches at the first mention and says: “Too much information…” or a variable thereof. I happen to be v.lucky in this regard – the men in my life have all been v.understanding and, in the not so frequent occurrence of my being on the blob at the monumentally inconvenient moment of being in a position of intimacy, have all carried on regardless, without hesitation or squeamishness. However, I have had the following reaction from male colleagues, teachers and the like (not during sexual encounters, I might add):-

THEM: Are you ok?

ME [bent double in agony]: I’m fine

THEM: What’s wrong?

ME: Period pain

THEM: I really didn’t need to know that

The insinuation here is that I should have invented a reason for my bellyache. But what? Presumably nothing relating to arses or fannies. It’s just another layer to add the ethereal image women try to portray. Germaine Greer, to return to that particular sage, suggests that we taste our menstrual blood. Well, I’m pretty sure the stuff has ended up in my mouth at some point, but I’m happier when any fluid that comes out of my body doesn’t end up in my mouth. After all, it’s coming out of my body for a reason. I don’t think eating your own blob is a way to accept the natural occurrence of its monthly appearance; I’m toilet phobic, but I don’t think drinking my own pee (or worse) is a way to accept that I have to do it. Learning to hide so diligently this so fundamental of female bodily processes is perhaps the foundation on which we build the greater deception assumed by most females as part and parcel of being a woman.

We shave our body hair. Whilst I understand the attraction with a smooth pair of legs, I don’t understand why the attraction, or why it doesn’t extend to men. We deal with armpit hair and back hair and sack and crack hair and yet the thought of a woman with hair in similar places is rather objectionable. Even women wrinkle their noses at the thought, so deeply ingrained is the ideal of the smooth woman. In fact, the only hair I can actually understand the removal of is pubic hair: of course, hair removal is at your own prerogative, but if you choose to allow your pubes to be unruly, at some point, some poor sod is going to end up with a mouthful of curlies and that is not going to be pleasant for them. Still, despite my lack of understanding, I will continue to remove any hair that isn’t on my head because to not do so is just not on the agenda. Does it not smack of the worst kind of brainwashing that I do not understand the need to do this and yet go ahead and do it anyway? My only motivation is other people. I don’t want to wear a skirt or short-sleeved top and have people see that, on occasion, hair grows out of the places that are on show. And what a ludicrous reason to do anything!

PLASTIC SURGERY

It goes further than waxing and shaving the hair on our bodies. A friend of a friend of mine recently invested in removing something else. Something that required anaesthetic and permanent mutilation. Her flaps! It seems that I was much mistaken when I took women with no flange flaps to be the same as people with no earlobes. People actually want this! I’m not saying that if you only have little flaps there’s anything wrong with that – maybe you’re just naturally neater – but why would you change something that you only ever show to someone with whom you are comfortable being intimate? For a start, that’s going to desensitise a v.sensitive area to some extent and that’s the last thing women need. I’m really not savvy enough on the subject of bajingo surgery to understand the rationale behind it, but I wouldn’t cut part of my genitalia off if you paid me. Since hearing of this outrageous act against muffs, it’s all I’ve been able to think about****. Perhaps they could take the removed flesh and pad something else out with it, since apparently the most effective way to become more attractive is to hack parts of yourself off and shove foreign articles in.

And then there’s anal bleaching! Presumably this is to give an effect of cleanliness, but here’s the thing: a bleached anus is even less clean than a non-bleached one on account of this equally ludicrous procedure causing anal leakage! “Oh, yes, I smell like arse, but at least I paid a lot of money for the privilege.” Here’s a news flash: your anus is the colour it is because of its main purpose in life and no matter what you do to it, that will still be its purpose!

I find the thought of medical procedures in general to be a rather extreme way of enhancing looks. I’m all for make-up as a way of enhancing what’s already there, but even then there is the fact that men don’t do it. Again there is hair removal – plucking the eyebrows. For dark-haired ladies with hair on their top lips, I have been told that bleaching is the best practice for disguising. We cover blemishes and dark circles, change our skin tone†, augment our cheekbones and brow-bones with highlighters and shadows. We make our eyelashes darker and, in my fair case, the eyebrows we lovingly tweezed. If one is to go the whole hog with make-up, the face is wiped out by primers and foundations, only to be redrawn over the top in deeper shades. And men don’t have this hassle. In fact, unless you’re Eddie Izzard or Tim Minchin, male make-up is rarely seen outside the circles of rock and/or drag. Yet I am all for wearing make-up. Make-up that looks like you’re wearing make-up. My eyes have gone from doe to sixties wings to fifties flicks to rockabilly ticks. But never did it occur to me to not do it. In fact, I find it slovenly to not do it – it’s part of getting dressed for me. There always comes a point when I start a new relationship and the person I’m seeing goes: “You look different somehow…” and I have to explain that my face is actually underneath the paint and that the reason I look different is that I’ve taken the paint off. I realise that this isn’t the case for all women, but there’s no denying that there is a great deal of pressure for women to look a certain way and regardless of what anyone says, constantly being bombarded with images of women that have been airbrushed to “perfection”, pouting, dark-eyed, ruby-lipped and vacantly-expressioned really gives us ladies a run for our money.

But at least these images are false: the face has been drawn on, the hair has been backcombed, sprayed, dyed, blow-dried and that’s before the final projection is tampered with. These are realistic goals to strive for, if that’s what you really want. It is possible to go someway to achieving the look of the moment, if the word “achievement” can legitimately be applied here. Of course, some stars go a step further and have plastic surgery – we accept this since they are something of a mythical “other” anyway. The rich and famous, for those of us that aren’t, are fabulous untouchables. They almost cease to be people. They are the beautiful husks, designed for our entertainment and amusement, to which we attribute whatever personality we feel like, since we don’t know them and never will. Somehow, for them to present themselves to us as perfect packages is wholly acceptable, since we effectively pay their wages and if a proportion of the billions we spend on music, films, magazines &c. goes towards a bit of rhinoplasty, then so be it. It does, after all, make the Beautiful Untouchables better at their jobs. But plastic surgery is slowly creeping into the high street. These days it is perfectly normal to see busses rolling by advertising cosmetic “enhancement.” It is no longer beyond our means to afford this sort of luxury.

What I can’t get my head around is that people would actually pay to have someone cut into their flesh for no other reason than that their nose was a bit wonky or their breasts smaller than they would like. The v.thought actually knocks me sick. Having had surgery, and I mean minor surgery††, I can’t entertain the thought of paying thousands of pounds for someone to do that to me if there is nothing wrong with me in the first place. Going under the scalpel is scary, for a start: a person injects you with something that renders you unconscious, which can cause health complications (and in some extreme cases, death), once under you have to trust another person to wield incredibly sharp implements over your naked body and then to actually slice into you. Now, let’s just suppose that everything goes to plan and you awake unharmed – firstly, you’ll probably vomit violently. And you will be in pain. Severe pain. You can’t expect to have your tissue hacked into and wake up feeling fine and dandy, of course you can’t. You’ll feel dizzy and confused, parts of you will hurt that didn’t even have the surgery, because bodies are funny that way, and you’ll probably be full of tubes. I don’t know what the recovery time is for plastic surgery, but after I had my appendix removed and my laparoscopy, it was a good two or three months before I felt ok again and the scars still ache from time to time to this day. And, the pain aside, what happens if you don’t like the finished result? Do you go back for more to correct it or quit while you’re ahead? What happens if, say, you have a wonky nose, have it straightened and then discover that it makes the rest of your face look wonky? What happens if your new nose suits your younger face, but as you get older starts to look out of place? There’s a limit to what surgery can do. And reversing age is another limit it cannot transcend.

So, it’s painful, it’s expensive, there are health risks… but what about just plain unhealthy. Liposuction, for example, is the procedure of sucking the fat out of a person’s body. Just as it is unhealthy to be underweight, so is it to be overweight, yet we have developed a way of reducing the fat in a person’s body without exercise or dietary revision. Bit of a no-brainer, that one. And we all know this and yet about a third of the people I asked said they definitely would have plastic surgery if they could afford it (mainly women), a third said they would consider it (a few more men crept into this category) and the remaining third said they wouldn’t (mainly men).What is this need to be uniformly beautiful? And why do the majority allow the media to dictate what being beautiful entails? True, we’re visual creatures… those of us who are lucky enough to be sighted, at least. I’m not denying the fact of attraction, but surely we are able to decide what constitutes beauty for ourselves. And surely there is an appeal in the irregular features that make one person different from the next. Maybe there are similar pressures for men when it comes to image, but I don’t see that men spend an inordinate amount of time preening, plucking, dyeing, curling, straightening, buffing, filing, painting, waxing and cutting off parts of their genitalia simply for the aesthetics, dressing up like damned male peacocks or tottering around on their tippy-toes.

FOOTNOTES:

* I mean pains that spread up into my chest and down both legs. Pains that made me faint and vomit. Pains mainly caused by Endometriosis, it later transpired.

**  I am squeamish of all blood – my problem is not the location of the bleeding, only the fact of it.

*** Although, should I choose to return to my natural state of affairs, I shall be purchasing a mooncup. Sounds cleaner than plugging my muff with cotton wool, in which nasty germs can grow, and would work out cheaper on account of being a one off payment.

**** A colleague asked me recently why I was staring into space and all I could say was: “I’m thinking about flaps.”

† Historically women would put arsenic on their faces to bleach the skin. Unfortunately for pasties like me, in this day and age, the trend is to apply unnatural shades of orange to create a healthy glow

†† Appendectomy, laparoscopy, lapascopic womb scraping, contraceptive implant &c.

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Women! Know Your Limits: Part I ~ Strength

DISCLAIMER: All generalisations made relate to the “average” straight woman and “average” straight man are purely exemplary

 

Society is bound together by a set of rules that essentially stop us from passing on disease and/or killing each other. What the creators, or should I say “maintainers”, of society fail to realise is that it doesn’t necessarily work. For the most part, we’ve learned the difference between “right” and “wrong” and use this as the basis for our moral compasses (compae?); however, we are still passing on disease and killing each other regardless. Interesting. There is anger to be borne of repression. To be naughty is somehow delicious.

The problem with rules is that they’re open to interpretation. As with everything, from the law to personal moral code, the boundaries of each precept blurs into the boundaries of others and sometimes into grey areas you’ve never even considered. We have solicitors – that’s the law sorted. But one person’s guilty non-compliance can be another person’s norm.

 

OUTER STRENGTH

Men are bigger and stronger than women, as a general rule. But just how much stronger are they? We are sold this idea, right from the start of our lives: boys are big and strong and girls are little and delicate, boys like getting dirty and girls like to clean, boys like blue and girls like pink, boys climb trees and girls play with dolls &c. Forget the fact that some men are short and may have a subconscious issue with this (otherwise known as the Napoleon Complex, which can cause anxiety and aggression). Forget the fact that if a woman is naturally larger, she’ll probably feel hung-up on it for life; starve herself and binge in equal measure, causing nothing but unhappiness and self loathing. What happens if a man’s muscle tone isn’t naturally as firm as he’s told it should be? Does that mean he’s less of a man? If he has pronounced hips, does that make him too feminine? What if a woman has a grip like a vice and a kick like a donkey? If her thighs are hard and muscular should she be considered too masculine? What I’m trying to get at is that, yes, one is a man or one is a woman, but there are varying degrees of the male/female distinction. As with all things, to take the divide at its face value of black and white would be ignorant. Take those who consider themselves to be in the wrong body: technically one thing, emotionally another. Society does not make allowances for disparity. Maybe it’s more a case of there being numerous different sexes that we coarsely split into two categories in order to slot people into this over-simplified civilisation of ours.

Because western culture dictates that men are strong and women are weak, the average man does everything he can to be the big, brawny male and the average woman just plain doesn’t try to be physically powerful. Why should she need to be? Of course, a woman may exercise, but she does that to be thin, surely. What we end up with is the stronger entity becoming even stronger and the weaker entity becoming even weaker. Men carry bags, men drive HGVs, men open jars, men change tyres, men put up shelves and why? Because women don’t believe they can do it; they think, because they have been wrongly indoctrinated to believe, that they need a man to do that. Almost, that it’s a man’s duty to do these things. And more than that, the majority of straight women genuinely lust after big, strong men who can take control and protect them when, in actual fact, they are quite capable of protecting themselves.

Of course, it’s easier to hand a jar over to a man than attempt to get the lid off yourself. I struggle with my bathroom light, for example, which conks out an inordinate amount and which I can’t reach unless I stand on the bath and lean over to it. Unfortunately, the landlord chose a heavy, glass light shade of the sort usually found in public toilets and, given the angle of approach (which involves hanging onto the shower-curtain rail) combined with the weight of said light shade, it’s rather difficult to unscrew with one hand. Being a short-arse is not something I can help. In times gone by I have showered in the dark until someone tall came round. I v.much begrudge letting a man change a light bulb on my behalf, but I have had no idea from whom to borrow a stepladders long enough to do the job and have no room for a set of my own. Conundrum…

It’s amazing how much a mental block can affect your physical ability. As a runner, I know that any self doubt can cause an inhibition in performance, especially following a period of rehabilitation. The minute I think: “I can’t get up that hill” or “I can’t go that extra mile,” I’m doomed. If I allow myself to walk once in a run, I will allow myself to walk twice, then three times and so on. So it’s perfectly understandable that if women have been told all their lives that they’re not strong enough to do something quite simple or that they’ll get dirty if they attempt it and are advised to pass the task to a man, then that’s precisely what they’ll do. And precisely the advice that they’ll pass on to their children. Of course, I’m not saying I could take on a man in combat (I’m not denying the natural physicality here) but I have no necessity for men in order to live, nor does any woman. It is the ultimate ideal, the deeply embedded paradigm, of the nuclear family that makes a woman feel it necessary to have a man around and it is this that often makes a woman feel inadequate if she doesn’t.

Women, have a clue! It’s all in your heads where it was planted by society generations ago. We are strong! Stronger than you could ever believe. Do the job yourself; you are more than capable. If you don’t know how to – learn! And in a world where violence is rife, it’s downright dangerous to allow yourself to be weakened to the point where you must rely on somebody else to protect you. Join a self-defence class, bench press, do weights, tone your core… do everything you can to enhance your natural ability. And don’t forget that your arse and legs are powerful tools!

And men… get over yourselves – you’re not all heroes and it’s a mystery to me why we all seem to want you to be.

 

INNER STRENGTH

Women are known for being in touch with their emotions. We cry easily, we have compassion, we are nurturing and maternal… I, of course, don’t include Margaret Thatcher in this. What happens when a mother doesn’t feel that infamous connection with her newborn baby? It’s written off as post-natal depression because no sane woman would ever spurn her own child. Every woman is maternal, as far as society is concerned, and if she’s not, there must be something wrong with her. It is her role, her duty to want and care for babbits simply because she is the one who has them. She must, therefore, be maternal by nature. She must be caring and loving and because of this adorable trait, she lives on her emotions and therefore, cannot be expected to think logically with her little lady brain. Leave that to the men.

Maybe I’m being a tad unfair here. I had PMT enough times, back in the days before Implanon, to know that for no apparent reason, I would suddenly find myself screaming and shouting, ranting and railing and bursting into tears over nothing. It often took me a while to think: “Hm… when was my last period?” The guru, Germaine Greer, believes this anger and upset is caused by the stigma that has been placed on the menstrual cycle over the decades. Well, maybe – I’m not ruling it out – but I can honestly say that the PMT always hit me before the realisation of the lunar phase did. So maybe, in addition to being naturally smaller and slightly weaker (notice the word “slightly”) we are also naturally slightly more emotional. But these organic attributes have been grasped upon and blown out of all proportion and now we’re in the rut, it’s damned hard to climb back out again and admit that the way we implant convictions in the mind from an early age is not necessarily in the best interest of humankind.

Hormones aside, it is still considered the case that if a man sheds a glistening tear, he could be considered sensitive. But if he cries like a baby, he’s just plain wet. Whereas for a woman to cry in times of trauma, relief, happiness – well, that’s just to be expected. We’re allowed, nay expected, as women, to break down and flap in the face of turmoil, whereas men are expected to take charge. Which is ridiculous. It’s natural to cry when emotions are running high – for both men and women*. It is also possible for both groups to pull themselves together, consider a situation logically and act accordingly.

As with the gender split, maybe it’s more of a case of individual levels of emotion. To give you another example: I’m not much of a crier (although, I used to be), but my last two partners were both major criers. I don’t think for a second that I’m less sensitive than your average woman – I just have a v.long fuse and like to ensure that I fully grasp a situation and have considered all options before I react. Of course, when I flip (and don’t we all at some point?), I really fly off the bloody handle, but I usually get a grip pretty quickly. As I get older, the flips are less frequent and when they do happen, the red mist clears faster. Life becomes harder to compartmentalise the older you get and accepting that allows me to consider every side of a situation. Of course, I’m far from perfect and not every conclusion is correct, but doesn’t the fact that I, as a woman, deal with things analytically enhance my point about basing opinions on individuals and not purely on gender?

It is because of this caring nature we’re all supposed to have that women are expected to maintain the momentum of a relationship. You rarely see relationship self-help books aimed at men – How to Get and Keep Your Woman…? Women are taught from an early age to build close monogamous couplings and you often see little girls hand in hand with their best friend. The problems arise when one of the little girls finds another little girl that she considers to be her best friend and thus sets the other one off in a flurry of frustrated tears until she finds herself another best friend. Sound familiar? In the same way that women are not wont to aim for physical strength, men are not inclined to strive for emotional alliances. And if they do erupt with emotion, it usually manifests itself as aggression. This imbalance creates frustration on both sides of the coin and liability in couplings always lies with the woman. Woman will almost certainly do anything to reach the inevitable marriage and man will do anything to put her off. So when a relationship breaks down, it is the woman who is to blame – woman could not maintain her relationship, woman didn’t care enough, woman smothered man, woman “stole” man from other woman, woman drove man away… At no point does anyone say: “You know, you really can’t help the way you do or don’t feel about someone. Maybe we should just all be honest about how we feel…” because all the women in any given relationship situation are too enraged at the other women involved to look at the bigger picture. It’s all down to a sense of possession, which I won’t touch upon right now as there are no room for tangents** in this blog. But women try to possess men just as much as men try to possess women in the straight world; it’s just that one group of people physically possess and the other emotionally and that’s down to sheer programming.

We are as emotionally strong as we are physically and, once that’s something we all acknowledge, once we stop playing to our set of precedents, the battle of the sexes may well come to a standstill… well maybe not, but it would be a start, at least.

 

FOOTNOTES:

* To some degree. But that is just the initial reaction, not the solution and it will not solve any problem. Cry, by all means; give yourself a moment. Then wipe the tears away and get on with it!

** Meaning my extensive rant about marriage

 

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Toilet Trouble

This is a v.short blog, but I just felt that my tweet on the subject didn’t quite convey the level of my fervour.

There is a reason that men and women have separate toilets, when it comes to public places, and it’s nothing to do with the fact that if men and women shared there’d be a lot more shagging going on, although the actual reason is definitely linked to anatomy. It’s this: your average man urinates standing up and sometimes his aim isn’t spot on, especially after a few beers. Now, if a man wees on the floor at home, he either has to clean it up himself or someone has to do it for him, causing him either to get on hands and knees or suffer a lot of earache. At home, a man will try a little bit harder to get pee in toilet bowl. In a public place, particularly in a bar, it’s not such a big deal. For a start, there are urinals with nice little deodorising cakes for boys to aim at and the space in which it’s ok to pee is wider.

I had the pleasure of meeting a friend in Fibre in Leeds’ swinging gay district last night. Two beers in and I was dying for the loo. I followed the smell of urine up the stairs and it started to dawn on me that these were the toilets I have always hated, but always forget the bar in which they are located. It is dark in those toilets. In the middle of the room is what can only be described as a long, narrow, stainless steel water feature for washing your hands. At the end of this sits two throne-like chairs in black. The stench is unbearable up here. The entire room is tiled in black tiles, the cubicles are black and the lights are dim. I headed for the cubicle nearest the door in a desperate bid to stay as close as possible to the ventilation. As I shut the door, I shut out most of the light and when I took a step forward, my shoe slipped and there was v.nearly a painful moment wherein I discovered that I couldn’t do the splits. Somehow, I managed to stay upright and sprang back to the door. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I realised that there was piss absolutely everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It was all over the floor, up the walls, on the toilet seat. In fact, the only place that wasn’t urine-soaked was the small patch on which I was standing. It was truly vile.

I never understood why gay bars have unisex toilets. I always thought that maybe it was something to do with the fact that it could cause confusion amongst transgender and non-transgender punters. In which case there should STILL be separate toilets and the signs should be thus: Stander Uppers and Sitter Downers!

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