The F Word

I was digging around this evening, looking for something laptop sized and I found a 2009 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. I used to keep every one I bought for a range of reasons, until I lost faith in them, (and it turned out my mum used to do the same!) 
Later on, I decided to have a flick through it and I discovered an article that impressed me.
It featured interviews with lots of different women including singers, columists, writers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. It was based around how they felt about feminism.
Some of my favourite quotes included the following:
“I define a feminist as a strong woman who knows who she is and is comfortable with that. It’s about embracing your womanliness, not toning it down or trying to be  a man.” (Estelle, British singer)
“Never have we been so critical of famous females, poring over images for the tiniest flaws. It’s supposed to make us feel better about being mere mortals, but it just makes us look at our own bodies with greater self-loathing. Its time to put a lid on the bitching. It’s cruel, unbecoming and all it does is spread misery.” (Janice Turner, columnist for The Times)
It had me musing over feminism and what it meant to me. The first thing that came to my mind, was how much women mean to me as a species (can we be called a species?!) I know it sounds mad, because women are half of the population  but without women in my life, I would have had such an empty, lonely existence. Women have probably made up 95% of all of my interactions and conversations in my life! And most of my experiences feature women in them.
Growing up, it was my mother who I spent the most time with. We were great friends and occasional enemies  – from time to time worlds apart not seeing eye to eye in the slightest. There were drama’s, arguments, reconciliations; and equally there was laughter, joy and happiness.
I had friends across the road who became like sisters to me, whose family became like my family – who all of my growing up experiences, sleepovers, adventures and silly little fights got shared with. There were my best friends in school who I talked about my dreams and hopes for the future with – who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, knew my quirks and who loved me back (despite getting them into strange and awkward situations, making up stories when I got bored and passing them off as bald truth and of course – who did I talk to about boys, only them.)
I ended up joining the girl guides when I was ten – simply because my best friends went. It shoudn’t have been my sort of thing – as I despise rules, but it ended up being exactly my sort of thing and I flourished there, having some of the most amazing experiences like abseiling down 100 metre cliffs, getting lost in the ring of kerry with 10 other girls and sleeping in bunk bed hammocks and tents, singing songs around campfires and sneaking out during the night to, excuse the famous five sounding idealistic quote here, but, get up to mischief.
I ended up in an all girls secondary school next so I didn’t really have a choice from there onwards, apart from the year in Spain where I ended up meeting one of the coolest girls ever who became one of my best friends and also her amazing family and strong single mother and grandmother, who also became like family. When I came home, I ended up making another heap of cool female friends and also finding one of my closest friends and soulmates now, who had been in my class since I had been 12 but whom I never spoke to before (and because lots of girls decided to be bitchy to me, thankfully) I ended up hanging out with and getting close to her. She knows the names of every one of my ex boyfriends and every one of their defining characteristics, despite having met none of them. She has listened to me cry over the phone, held my hair as I have thrown up, held my hand as we have danced and listened to every one of my radio shows so far, even though I’m only learning and they might not be the best thing ever yet! She has eaten Tikka Masala with me at 3am, we have an imaginary sheep ‘child’ together for 8 years now, and our friendship has stood the test of me living in the UK for 5 years and she in Australia for one year. She knows my star sign AND my moon sign – and she believes in astrology because of me. She has listened to thousands of hours of moaning, she has provided hundreds of hours of moaning in return. She has made me laugh until I cry, sent me emails that took an hour to write that have almost had me kicked out of libraries while I was in college due to my uncontrollable giggling. I could go on…
Then in university, I not only met one – but I met hundreds, perhaps even thousands of amazing women on my way through.
Through the numerous jobs I had, the classes I took in every subject, the many places I lived, the nightclubs and bars I visited, the clubs I joined and sometimes just random women in a clothes shop changing room. I couldn’t count the amount of women I met that inspired and amazed me.
I’ve listened to tales of woe, seen the happiness in friends when they talk about the men in their life, watched excited flatmates and friends going out on dates, and seen the embarrassment yet usually gentleness as they deal with awkward relationship moments, or awkward one nights stands! I’ve seen them insecure and rambling about someone they fancy, someone they’ve dated or are dating – but are getting mixed signals from – and also confident in the face of someone who really wants to be with them. I’ve seen them old and grey, with husbands of 50 years (namely my granny!) I’ve seen them happy in relationships and unhappy in relationships. I’ve seen them blossom, grow and shine under the love of a man who makes them feel special, and crumple and fade away into shells of their former selfs, under the abusive control or lack of attention of a man they’ve given their all to.
I’ve stolen shoes and traffic cones at 3am in the morning with other girls, I’ve played tricks, I’ve set up revenge. I’ve taken sides and loyally made horrible and often false statements about other women, or boyfriend stealers, to make my friend feel better. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve argued and sworn off – hated and loved, but always usually understood, women.
I have never, ever said I hated men – I really like men alot. I love their humour, intelligence, strength – I like them as much as women, as the way I see it, we are human beings not women and men, segregated into groups. 
In fact, in the article The F Word, this is discussed by one of the women interviewed: “People equate feminism with not liking men, but it has nothing to do with men. It’s about being treated as an equal. When women express themselves through tears and emotion why is that seen as weak when its simply expressive?” (Sam Roddick, daughter of The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick)
She is right, and I like this “nothing to do with men idea” but lets face it – it has to be something to do with men. That is kind of like saying Positive has nothing to do with Negative, you cannot define Positive without the use of Negative, or Black without the use of White. I understand that she is trying to define feminism as not being about overruling men – simply about being equal with them, and being proud of our sex, and enjoying being a woman and not allowing ourselves to be undermined by either men or women. 
Nowadays, I think we can be all too eager to jump on the bandwagon of slagging off ‘the other woman’ or women in the media. If our boyfriend cheats, who do we blame and hate on? The woman of course. This is natural (I have to confess, I cannot control my feelings of resentment for a woman who has tread on my patch!) but I think its time for us to stop the blame and the hating game.
For arguments sake, and this will probably ruin my point just stated, but if I personally had to do without one of the sexes, I know which one it would have to be. The sex that has shown me the utmost loyalty and love my entire life, was women, not men. That said, I would hate a world without either. I need both to survive. Sometimes there is nothing like the lighthearted banter, or even logical, other-viewpoint conversation you can get with a man!
I suppose its a bit hypocritcal of me – and perhaps this is the way it is by chance. Had I given men the opportunity they may have provided me with these same experiences as women did.  But I guess I didn’t. Either by chance or by choice, somehow I have managed to filter them out of most of my experiences in life and not many, if any, have ever known me truly or gotten close to me. I find I can only truly relax and be myself with women – I wonder if I am the only one who feels this way? But never have I let in men as close as I have let women in.
I feel sometimes feminism has been forgotten in today’s society. We’re almost lacsadaisical about it now, having won the bra burning contests decades ago. I mean, as they pointed out in the article The F Word – if it wasn’t for feminism, we might not have even been reading Cosmo. Even in my mother’s day all you were expected to do was be a secretary or a homemaker really. The opportunities I was afforded to get such a great education and go on to study anything in the entire world that I wanted, makes me one of the luckiest people alive. I remember often when I was wandering around the libraries in the University of Derby, Nottingham Trent, or in UCD and Trinity College (where I would borrow their library services on my summer holiday breaks at home). I would be around all of these thousands of books, just wandering through the silence and breathing in the smell of them (which I love more then any smell). They gave me this feeling I can’t explain – a feeling that at 26, and past that youthful stage, I may never be able to get back. It was best described as the feeling of being able to achieve absolutely anything, and having the worlds knowledge at my fingertips. It was the excitement of the unknown, and the world of science, art, creativity – right there waiting in patient books just to be opened and read. It would make me imagine my life as a late-20s or 30 something living in an old house, with a study floor to ceiling full of books, one of those cottage kitchens all homily, and an overgrown garden.  
Sometimes I would just randomly pick out a book about a subject I wasn’t studying and read it and then end up with all these useless facts I never used. There was so many things I could learn, I remember thinking. Too many. I wanted to have 50 lifetimes so I could study everything in detail.
At the same time in uni, I was allowed freedom to date as many people as I wanted (sometimes two at a time, which is frowned upon, obviously, but when you’re 19, and lucky enough to have a place in a university and lots of free time on your hands to party and hang out with friends what else are you going to be doing…)
We women, we take our trouser wearing for granted these days, our pay packages (are they equal yet? who knows…), our careers, our ‘here I am and I’m sexy’ lifestyle. We wear girly clothes if its appropriate, we embrace 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s clothes on a whim. We can dress like a boy, cut our hair short, eat how we want, party when we want, take the pill and we have financial autonomy if we so choose. We can dye our hair without being labelled a whore, we can wear a short skirt and not be called a hooker, we can be a lawyer, raise seven kids and write for newspapers and we gain only respect. We can vote. We can run the country. And we’ve proved there is almost nothing a man can do that we can’t match up to. And still, we do it with red lipstick, a smile and often while allowing men to think they got it all under control and are running the show!
So far, however, I’ve left out something key. The fact that all women around the world don’t necessarily have this freedom. That more women, allegedly die at the hands of domestic abuse then in war. 
As Sarah Brown (Gordon Browns wife) points out in The F Word (just to add I’m not strictly a supporter of her or her husband but she speaks sense here): “Not while millions of women are denied basic human rights. In developing countries, 500,000 women die needlessly every year in pregnancy and childbirth through lack of basic medicine, equipment and trained staff. Denied access to education, many find themselves married and bearing children by 13 or 14.”
And its not just in these countries with whom we cannot identify with ourselves because of their huge religious and cultrual differences – its not only women wearing burkas or being genitally mutilated that are quote ‘being repressed’.
But in our country too, women are still made a mockeryof every day. Ireland still has a long, long way to go as regards women. Abortion is still outlawed here, and we’re still allowing sex trafficking to go on, under our radar. Similarly, there is a huge amount of dometic violence going on here – and women are still not allowed to be proper Catholic priests.
Feminists are often thought to be sandal wearing, grow your under-arm hair long, men haters. I hope this view changes. I think it needs to be seen as more of a pride for who we are and what we stand for. Maybe the generation coming up behind me have it sussed, they do seem quite alot more confident then any generation of women so far.
I dislike the fact that if women get angry its often percieved as an undesirable or strange trait, when men get angry it is acceptable.
I am not happy when I hear us being put down, and I dislike with all my heart any form of Misogny. If you’re going to find a reason to put someone down, at least be creative, right?
There is nothing I hate more then being branded ‘a stupid blonde woman’ and some people, not many that said, have managed to make me feel like this – simply because that had such strength of conviction that that was all I was. 
Even today for example, and I know it was a joke, I took it that way at the time – but reflecting on it, I can’t help wondering. I was outside Leinster house going to interview a minister with my mic and recorder and when I walked up there were two tall, broad gardai in their early 30s standing outside. I asked if he was here yet or coming out, and one of them said “Why do you have a daaate with him?” Now I know I am blonde and was wearing a skirt, but I was a professional! Do you think they would have said that to a man in his 40s? Then I laughed and all and asked was he coming soon and they said, he would be there in ten and there was a coffee shop across the way. And then the guys says: “Why don’t you give him a text there on your mobile! Im sure you have his number…”  I was laughing and all – come on, that IS funny. I guess you’ll always be treated in some way because of how you look. Better to be bantered with then rejected or hated, I guess.
Feminism, real feminism, is about respecting yourself. Imagine the strongest, coolest woman you know and then imagine her putting up with a man who makes her feel bad – can you see it? Now imagine that person is you! You’d tell you to move your pretty little ass on from that person…
I’m going to wrap it up here – by saying this: Be the best version of yourself, whoever or whatever that is and never let anyone put you down.  As Constance Brown, writer and lawyer said: “I want to achieve economic and policical equality in a skirt, a bra and preferably a pair of sensible shoes.”

Below is a comment left on my blog which might be of interest to people – it wasn’t left directly under this post so I thought I would copy and paste it as human trafficking is an issue that can’t be ignored.

Hello,
I recently came across your blog and read your post titles “The F Word.” I liked your view on feminism in our society and in others. It was a really honest outlook. I also saw your mention of the sex trafficking issue in this blog post. I thought that you may enjoy and possibly embed the following video on your blog: http://www.newsy.com/videos/dramatic-anti-human-trafficking-tv-ads/
The video shows multiple sources coverage of new, very dramatic ads being shown in the US to make people aware of the issue of human trafficking.
Shelby Voigt

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