Life

I am a feminist

 

I have been on a bit of a blog hiatus. My parents were here all through May and it all just got too much – the blog was something that had to slide. Been feeling a bit burnt out these last few weeks. But anyway. Here I am again.

I’ve been reading some feminist and female-focused stuff lately. Well, I guess I’m always reading this but somehow it’s all come together, as things tend to do. I read Viv Albertine’s autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. And Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist (followed by her novel An Untamed State). And a million online articles (headlines at least) about the Stanford rapist, the Cincinatti gorilla, Johnny Depp & Amber Heard’s breakup and the fucking US election. All of them seem to relate to the topic.

I don’t know. I feel a bit hopeless and helpless with all this stuff. We’ve come so far and yet we’ve come barely any distance at all. I look at my two little boys’ willies in the bath at night and think – how can these mini-Elephant-head-looking bits of the human body be responsible for so much crap in the world? I don’t even need to say “Why do men think they have a right to women’s bodies?” because I sort of know why – because it’s been like that for a very long time.

Why do we tend to believe the male story over the female? Because we’re so much more used to male-led stories, it’s familiar. It’s the authority we know. The norm.

I loved Viv Albertine’s book because it was a female perspective on a time and movement I’ve read so much about (the London punk scene circa 1976-79). I loved her insights on music – that women often focus on the lyrics rather than the instruments because you didn’t see many females playing instruments (still don’t, really) but words are relatable – I totally get that. It’s something often said in feminist and anti-racist discussions but I’ll repeat it: it’s so much easier to do something when you can see an example like “yourself” already doing it. I was somehow disappointed when Albertine disappeared into motherhood and domesticity – someone so obviously talented — (although she’s back on the scene now).. And that she was so concerned with appearance – clothing, her weight, hair removal – but then that’s also me. Completely. So I appreciated the honesty. And it’s not like being a mother or doing domestic stuff is non-feminist… is it? I guess maybe a part of me kind of does believe that. Probably a post for another day. And don’t even get me started on the struggle between motherhood and artistic endeavour…

This leads me to why I read Bad Feminist. Because the synopsis struck a chord – about how the author, Roxanne Gay, strives to be a “good feminist” but lives with the contradictions of things that are considered anti-feminist, such as wanting someone to look after her and loving music that’s horrible to women. In her case, rap à la Robin Thicke and the Ying Yang Twins et al. In my case, hair metal à la Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Motley Crüe etc. (I’d say Steven Tyler is a feminist in many ways but that’s a whole other blog post again). I liked that she was so articulate about not having to be a perfect feminist to still be part of the cause. And how there’s still this lack of… stuff… for women — so few examples where you see “yourself” as I mentioned earlier — so we kind of want everything to tick all the boxes and fill all the gaps, which is impossible, of course. I was also enlightened by her words about how women of colour have so often been excluded from the feminist movement over the years. The book takes the form of a series of essays. Some of her arguments, particularly early on, were a tad patchy, but towards the end, some chapters are searingly on point: concise, cutting, powerful. Her essay on reproductive freedom, The Alienable Rights of Women, nailed it. Really worth reading. You can also watch Roxanne Gay’s 11.5-minute TED talk.

Heard/Depp and Gorillas. Well… you read my poem Over Heard and Cincinatti (didn’t you?!) We enjoy judging, feeling superior, BEING superior. Watching and jeering from the sidelines. It’s human nature. It’s nature-nature: survival of the fittest, red in tooth and claw. I guess that feeling of superiority and entitlement that’s so appealing is something like being a top-of-the-foodchain white, heterosexual alpha male? Maybe I’m oversimplifying. Maybe I should just stop reading my Facebook news feed. All this stuff really has nothing to do with us – it doesn’t really change my life one iota knowing, or not knowing, that, on the other side of the world, a child was endangered and a zoo animal died, or the state of two strangers’ marriage.

The US election probably does affect things. Although maybe not as much as America, or the world’s news organisations, might like us to believe! This week it officially became about Hilary-first-woman-everything and Trump the bigoted alpha male. It will be both fascinating and, I fear, horrific to see how it plays out.

In some ways, feminism, and perhaps even the wider equality movement (if you can call it that), is trying to do something completely radical, get us to go against the grain. Use our brains first, instead of our bodies. Ignore and/or embrace difference rather than fear it and/or seek to oppress. But then we’re too much in our heads they say, we need to live in the moment, be instinctive, feel ourselves breathe.  I wonder if that Stanford rapist was “in the moment” for his 20 minutes of action? Ugh. I feel sick thinking about it.

When I break up playfights between my boys, I’ve been trying to explain to my five-year-old that it’s not cool to push or take advantage of someone younger / smaller than you. In fact, that it’s not OK to physically take advantage of anyone ever. That disputes can be solved in different ways and that violence and using your larger body to push down a smaller body is not one of the acceptable methods. But he is still small (except compared to his brother).  I want him to be able to defend himself. I hope I can give him non-violent tools to achieve this throughout his life.

I’m sad. I’m not writing this very well nor expressing all the stuff I want to say properly. I don’t have any insights, others have said it better (see above). It’s a statement that will surprise precisely nobody but I still feel the need to say this: I am a feminist. I am a feminist. I am a feminist. Everyone should be. I’m not sure I even want to know you if you’re not one. I don’t feel a lot of joy in the world right now. I really hope things get better.

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Time out of Mind

Inbetween days

This is going to sound a bit wacky but I wanted to say it.

A few months ago, I started getting some bad feelings, Paulo Coelho Alchemist-style, that the universe was somehow telling me I was on the wrong path. Or rather, that I was ignoring the signs to the right path. I think I wrote about it at the time but maybe didn’t publish it. No matter. I tried to start paying attention and I guess I changed some things. Not major, earthshattering changes but those small incremental shifts that happen almost subconsciously and kind of simultaneously. The changes where it almost feels as though, by the time you’ve formed the thought, the deed is done, things have been set in motion…

I did the poetry month, which was pretty major for me. I made some decisions about work and life that have led to me feeling a little less restless than usual. Maybe I even grew up a smidge.

I sort of hate when people talk about this stuff in a self-helpish way because they never give you any REAL information, or practical steps to follow. Listen to yourself, pay attention to the signs, it’s all so ephemeral. I’m sorry because I don’t think I can offer practical advice either, beyond a cod-version of my patented “hands-off parenting” advice (maybe it’s my general life advice) which is: You do know what’s right. And even if you don’t think you know, you do. Trust yourself. Then go on and do it and meanwhile, butt out of bossing other people! (Unless they ask for your advice, I love giving sought-advice IRL). So why am I even saying this here? Sigh… I don’t know. I’m not trying to help anyone else out particularly, just understand myself a bit better.

I’ve been trying to allow myself some time to think as well. I find it almost impossible to sit around and contemplate stuff though. I am a do-er, but that’s OK – with doing comes thought. I can think while I do. That said, one of the few ways I can give myself a break from “doing” is by reading. I read novels. A lot. I’ve recently finished the Earthsea quartet by Ursula K. LeGuin and some of the words really struck a chord… surely a level up from Coelho at least 😉  Anyway, one of the ideas I always come back to when I consider my life here in Switzerland is that it is a unique time. A time-inbetween-times where I am almost inexplicably free of the burdens of what I’d call “normal life”.

“each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.’” (from “The Farthest Shore: The Third Book of Earthsea (The Earthsea Quartet 3)” by Ursula K. LeGuin)

I’ve also been allowing myself to feel my emotions more and maybe that’s helped? I find it hard to value emotion over rational thought and planning. Considered along with the gender bias stuff I inexpertly wrote about recently, I guess this can be directly correlated to a lot of what’s seen as important, valuable and success-making in our society – traditionally “male” traits of rationality, consistency or unwavering-ness, disregarding emotion. (I say “male” in inverted commas because I don’t think men and women are really that different, but we’re conditioned in so many ways to believe we are.) And I wonder if, in this world gone mad with all the focus on negativity, where commercial enterprise wins out almost every damn time against caring for the natural world or human decency; where we’d rather catch a longhaul flight to holiday in another country than let a starving refugee take up residence in our own, if this denying of emotion, of love, of trying to push away fear with hatred and never allowing ourselves to feel compassion because we’re so afraid that it will in some way diminish us, open a door through which all that we value can be taken away from us; where appearing strong, virile, invulnerable and unbending is paramount, while showing you care, or admitting you don’t understand, or are afraid, saying you’ve changed your mind and you feel different now, even saying sorry, let alone that you made a mistake, is seen as weak and therefore bad… I wonder if that’s actually a big part of what’s wrong with the world right now.

Anyway, while I still shy away from too much touchy-feely stuff, allowing my emotions to be felt more often is probably a good thing. They say only the truly strong can show their vulnerability, or something. And, like anything, the more you practice, the less out of control you feel with it all. Emotions are not just the light, frippery, insubstantial butterfly girl-things we should ignore because they’re so silly (although why you’d want to disregard something so delicate and beautiful I don’t know). They’re also the deep, dark, bloody and important things that make us human, that touch our roots, our history, our compassion, our tenacity and our integrity. I’m not free of my demons by any stretch, but maybe I’m starting to balance the burden towards freedom a little better. I hope.

“She did feel it. A dark hand had let go its lifelong hold upon her heart. But she did not feel joy, as she had in the mountains. She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free. What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveller may never reach the end of it.” (from “The Tombs of Atuan: The Second Book of Earthsea (The Earthsea Quartet 2)” by Ursula K. LeGuin)