Greer on a Bike!
A v.broken attempt to explain my relationship with feminism. It’s all over t’shop – I do apologise…
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!
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.
* 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.
Until recently, The Female Eunuch wasn’t even lurking, War and Peace style, in my reading pipeline. Nobody had ever suggested that I read it, Amazon included, and it just never seemed to home into view, so to speak, though I’ve always been a fan of Germaine Greer. It was actually a Guardian article, The Female Eunuch 40 Years On, that made my little grey cells prick up thoughtfully and, on a whim, I finished said article and instantly bought a second hand copy of the 1970 edition online. And once I started to cart the book around with me, I realised that it was no wonder it had never been recommended. Not because it is unrecommendable (far from it!), but rather because of the peculiar reactions it produced in people. I got sneers, raised eyebrows; ultimately looks of disgust with… what was that flickering… was that… it couldn’t be… could it? Yes, it could. It was fear! People were afraid of this book. What made it all the more bizarre is that I couldn’t find a single person who’d actually read it and when I asked any of the fearful what they thought it was about, they just said something along the lines of “man hating, feminist nonsense,” and the sentiment was almost certainly followed by “I can’t stand Germaine Greer.”
What I discovered in the first few pages of this book was life changing. Not in the sense that it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, but that it corresponded, almost exactly, with what I’d spent my life being told was a weird perspective on life. I was wrapt. For once, someone other than my mother was in agreement and it felt like a homecoming. I was a feminist by default, not design, it would seem.
I haven’t felt this way about a book since Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Erudite, witty, insightful and delightful, this book should be every woman’s bible. The anger and force of a strong writer pervades throughout, but this is not merely about slating the male. In fact, Greer’s points are often as sympathetic to the man as to the woman, which is particularly pronounced in her denunciation of the way we are brought up to believe women the fairer sex; feeble creatures who should be treated like glass dolls to be looked after like possessions. As Greer rightly questions: what man wouldn’t be grateful to have the burden of being the protector lifted from his shoulders? In addition, when the question of female superiority is raised, Greer highly criticises women’s lib’ groups who attempt to elevate themselves above men, deeming them childish. These groups are, in her eyes, one of the reasons feminists have a bad reputation amongst the male population.
From burning witches to burning bras, The Female Eunuch is a history lesson on the lives of women, female liberation, the suffragette movement and the shortfall of western society. The inefficiency of our social order is Greer’s main bugbear, as it is mine. But, like anything that threatens to drastically change our way of life, it brings about a fear. Fear of disruption, fear of revolution, fear of change and the uprooting of the comfortable morals we lazily live by.
Of course, every person is different and not every point rang true for me. The unforeseen pooh-poohing of female ejaculation made me positively cross, since, without going into too much detail, I know for a fact that it is not a myth*. And, what with it being written some forty years ago, some sections are slightly outdated or irrelevant. It all added to the charm as I found myself comparing the life of the ‘70s woman to the woman in patriarchal society today and I put the book down and instantly wanted to know how Greer felt these days. Luckily for me, she has written another book: The Whole Woman.
Fiercely interesting from beginning to end, this book hit no lulls. Germaine Greer concisely presents the problem as she sees it, the history, the facts and the solution; a rational and shrewd theory of how society ought to be broken down and rebuilt on an equal footing.
* If you e-mail me nicely, I might explain
The Women’s Room ~ Marilyn French
The Golden Notebook ~ Doris Lessing
I began writing a blog several weeks ago on the subject of running; however, since beginning said blog, I have managed to break my back* and, whilst I fully intend to pick it up once I am healed, the thought of blogging about running, my beloved sport, seems unnecessarily masochistic at present. Still, there is many a blog subject whizzing around in my head just waiting to be put into writing.
During the last flat-bound week, a subject on which I have recently ruminated much, has been pushed to the forefront of my mind. You see, what with the vast majority of my friends tying the proverbial noose… I mean knot… buying houses in true grown-up fash’ and even dropping sproggers, I have been driven to study my own situation in greater depth.
It has been suggested that my views on relationships, nay on society in general, are somewhat unorthodox. I can’t even begin to summarise on such a broad subject without going off on a tangent, but I can say, just to give the general idea, that the middle-class myth of romance, marriage and happily-ever-afters leaves me cold. Don’t get me wrong, I v.much believe in love, but not in quite the way that western society dictates, although I have been Disney indoctrinated on my life journey as much as the next person. Anyway anyway anyway, to conclude before I really begin, I have no intention of marrying**, no interest in bearing babbits and I am clinging to my solitary studio as if my life depends upon it. All well and good and that’s my prerogative, you might say. But for the past few months, this resolution has been tinged with a nagging doubt. It isn’t the body clock rapping on my maternal instinct and it certainly isn’t the sight of yet another blushing bride in a strapless*** wedding gown. It is simply the matter of security.
Possibly this uncertainty has been borne from my mother’s indefatigable refusal to conform and marry her partner of 12 years, and my concern for her future well-being. Regardless of how it sprang into being, the question of security had begun to needle me long before the disappearing chair incident and my subsequent incapacity. A week of disability, however, has taken it’s toll. The question is now not just lurking nonchalantly, but tramping around the forefront of my mind wearing hobnail boots.
It’s all v.well my spouting on about independence and freedom and personal space and self-respect as an active twenty seven year old. It’s ok for me to spurn marriage as a fresh(ish)-faced young woman; no conventional beauty, it’s true, but no munter, either. But what happens when I unravel? What happens when I am forced to give up running, walking, yoga-ing, working out****? What will happen when the lines on my face don’t fade throughout the day, when my hair is grey and thinning and I can’t quite make it up the stairs or even remember where the stairs lead? If I do not marry, if I do not have children, if I never manage to make enough money to hire a good nurse, who is there to look after me?
This week, I have mainly relied on Gary, my boss (or my boss’s boss, if I am to be pedantic), who lives just around the corner from me and is, much to my eternal gratitude, always looking out for me. Michelle would have also been a great source of support, if she hadn’t been seconded to Belfast for the week. And it’s unfortunate that my partner is away skiïng in.. um… Sweden… Switzerland… somewhere beginning with “Sw”, although he did spend the former part of the week running me to hospital and bringing me shopping. I’m sure that both Michelle and my partner would have done their best to take care of me had they been here, but it’s a boring, time-consuming job to look after someone when you work full time yourself, and neither of them are used to me needing them; I encourage and seek autonomy in any relationship. I have been indoors for a week, peering out of the window at the ice-rink that is my street, unable to even step foot out of the door for fear of falling and doing yet more damage. I hate this. I hate needing people.
I hate even needing my mother and consider our relationship to be strictly want-to-know these days. But of course, the fabulous Mrs Dewsnap has, naturally, come up trumps in the hospitality stakes once more. She is my Mum at the end of the day. But when I am old, what then? My mother insists she will live well into her hundreds and, being as solid as she is, I can well believe it. If she makes her hundreds, though, who will be looking after who?
Michelle, my saviour and good friend, will one day pledge allegiance to the U. S. of A., marry a rich American and pop out more bairns than she’ll know what to do with. She does not share my cynicism of marriage. And Gary, great friend that he is, is the same age as my mother.
There is always John, of course. We made a pact, way back in the days of puppy fat, that should we both be single at the age of thirty, we’d marry each other. Thirty in those days seemed so v.far away and as the day of judgement looms, the boundary has been pushed laughably further and further back. I think we agreed on forty five at the last count. It seems John has no desire to marry either… even if I had been the right sex.
So, then, I expect to deteriorate and rot alone in my old age, far away as it seems right now.
Although I have not yet reached the end of the book, “The Female Eunuch” for me so far has been life-changing. Not in the sense that it has opened my mind, but rather because it has confirmed my own existing ideas. Whilst I don’t agree with every single point in an extended essay that is, in essence, a documentation of one woman’s opinions, it has voiced several thoughts that I have often tried to express and been rebuffed for. This book has been a blessed relief. It seems that my ideas are not as bizarre as people would have me believe – at least one other person agrees with me; and one as rational as Germain Greer, no less.
The real eye-opener, though; the section that made me think twice, was the short chapter entitled “Security”. This concern of mine is relatively new and I like to mull things over and really attack the root of any problem to find a solution, which often takes a while to come to fruition. Sometimes I ask questions of people†. The chapter on security has saved me a job, although I’d like to believe that I would have reached the same conclusion in the end had Greer not pipped me at the post. It’s all so obvious when you think about it:
There is no such thing as security
And I don’t just mean in terms of companionship. If you pay into a pension, does that guarantee your financial security? If you marry, does that mean you’ll never again be single? If you invest, does that mean you will get a greater return on your contribution? If you raise moppets, does that mean you will never be lonely? A husband/wife/civil partner can just as easily run off with a temp’ or get hit by a bus as a singleton. People change, companies go bust, markets crash, children grow into adults. All we are guaranteed is the moment in which we live and breathe and all we can do is hope that our investments (no matter what they be) pull through for us in the end.
Contrary to being daunting, the realisation that security is yet another mirage of society is v.comforting to me. At least this way, I can view other people’s situations in a new light when compared to my own. Others are no more secure than I am, they have just bought into the myth. All we can do is our best!
It’s a similar feeling to the realisation that after death comes nothing. Blessed, divine nothing. And once we are gone, none of this will matter a single jot. What a heavenly thought…
* Just my coccyx. It was a hilariously impressive feat performed after the consumption of copious amounts of mulled wine, whereby I hallucinated a chair and sat on it with all my might.
** If it hasn’t happened already
*** It is the fashion, I am well aware of this and each to their own
**** For many reasons that I won’t list right now
† Deep, delving, inappropriate, occasionally downright insubordinate questions.