Tag Archives: Feminism

New worlds, old stars and red lipstick: some advice on being a woman, for my daughter

Little girl, you sleep.

I wanted a girl desperately, and you came like a song in the night. That’s a true thing – but in person you are less melodious. Squawky, hungry, passionately attached to us. You take up all your allotted space and more, and I am quietly proud of you for it. There are things I will need to tell you about being a woman in the world, and that’s probably first on the list.

No, here’s what’s first, always: you are loved, fiercely loved. But your worth does not depend on who loves you and how they show it. Your worth is intrinsic. You came with it, and you have it still. No amount of rubbing around in this world can take the shine off it.

This is number two, then. Take up all your space. Speak truth and keep speaking till you’re heard. Some people might tell you that a woman’s place is to be soft, tender, (most of all) quiet. You may know already what I think about that. Be abundantly kind, kinder than people expect. But don’t ever turn gentleness into self-erasure. Don’t beat yourself up for your spiky edges. You are meant to have those, too.

For various reasons, teenage girls are often the absolute worst to each other. Sorry. It can’t be helped. You may be in your thirties by the time you stop doing things just because other people expect you to. This is fine. If you get it earlier, even better.

Food is not your enemy. Your body is not your enemy. You are a thing of wonder, an atom in each of your fingers made in a different, distant star. You are a miracle. Treat yourself gently. Eat things you love, with people you love, getting your hands messy. Exercise because you want to look after yourself.

Your experiences and your history are your own. You get to tell your own stories. Other people are allowed theirs, too. Learning to properly listen and validate is one of the most powerful gifts you can give.

Don’t be afraid of red lipstick. It’s the best kind of warpaint I know.

It’s really alright to lie down and put a pillow over your head the day your period starts. Would the boys you know battle silently on if they got crushing penis pain, a distended stomach-balloon of rage and a gushing bloodbath in their bed once a month? I THINK NOT.

Read, and never stop reading. You’ll visit more new worlds than you can imagine – breathe their air, stand on their soil, then come back to your own able to see magic in everything.

A great many problems can be solved with a chocolate biscuit and five minutes outside with a good view. Or dancing in the kitchen to your favourite song, turned up very loud. It appeared in all those eighties montages for a reason.

Your older brothers love you, but it’s not their job to protect you or vet your boyfriends. Their job is to be the only people in the world who know the exact and particular madness of your parents. Keep them close.

Things that have brought me the most joy in life: loving your father; finding a field I was interested in and good at and pursuing it tenaciously; the grand cosmology of our faith; reaching out to people in need; being vulnerable and authentic in female friendships; loving my children.

Things I have found the hardest work: see above.

Be brave, dear girl. So many things need bravery. The best things. Go and find them.

With all my love,

Your mother.

(PS: if we’re at a point where it helps to pretend that someone cooler than me is telling you all this, feel especially free to do so.)

Real girls fly helicopters: why gender really matters on children’s TV

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Kids have horrific taste in TV, but you don’t hold it against them. Back in the tender early days of their development, when they watched three carefully vetted programmes occasionally and on rotation, I thought this TV thing would be a doddle. Har. They just didn’t have trashy opinions yet, and trashy opinions always come. Twenty years ago we spent many hours watching Power Rangers and the Chuckle Brothers, so I try to remember that things made for five-year-olds are not necessarily made for me.

But there’s one thing I can’t get over. It’s in more of their programmes than I expected, and it’s like noticing the disturbingly cavorting fruit on Maoam wrappers: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee. Let me take you through a brief summary.

Paw Patrol – a pre-teen boy miraculously owns six dogs that can use human language, operate machinery and have mastered individual trades. Rather than hot-dialling The Sun to make his fortune, he runs a rescue service, mostly saving cats and chickens from their own stupidity. Five of the six dogs are boys. One is a girl. She wears pink. She flies the helicopter. Her name is Skye.

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Dinotrux – in a strange, post-apocalyptic world, a race of dinosaur-machines have arisen: large, aggressive Dinotrux, and tiny, timid Reptools. It has occurred to no one that the Reptools might usefully run their economy by fixing the Dinotrux, until a group of Dinotrux and Reptools agree to live in bro-harmony in a clubcave. Four of the Dinotrux are male. One is female. She’s a long-necked dinosaur, and does the intricate high-up jobs. Her name is Skya.

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Transformers Rescue Bots – Four Transformers are sent to earth with a mission: impersonate rescue vehicles and integrate themselves with a police chief and his rescue-service family. I don’t know why. Reasons. All four of the Transformers are male. Of the five humans, four are male. One is female.  She flies the helicopter. She wears a skin-tight jumpsuit, and her head is bigger than her waist. Her name is Dani.

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Good luck if you can find her.

I know, I know it would be easy to say ‘so what?’. It’s a children’s programme. It doesn’t matter. Killjoy feminists, reading too much into everything. I would probably have said the same a few years ago.

Before I had sons. Before it was my job to raise them into men who truly respect women as their equals, and expect them to be so. The stories we hear turn into our expectations. They show us what looks normal, how things should be. Last time I checked, the male population didn’t outnumber the female by at least four to one, and we’re allowed to wear whatever colour we like (though you’d never know it, in your average children’s clothing aisle).

I want sons who enter a scientific field and aren’t surprised to find girls there too. I want sons who participate in group discussions and don’t feel, subconsciously, that their opinion counts for more because they can shout louder. I want sons who expect and encourage their partners to take whatever career path excites them. I want sons who can have a female superior at work and never resort to calling her ‘mouthy’ or ’emotional’ or ‘bitchy’. I want sons who know a woman’s body (and the way she dresses it) has absolutely nothing to do with her capabilities or her culpability.

I want all of this to feel like it’s not too much to ask.

How can they make space for the women around them, if their stories don’t? It’s not like it will get better by itself as they get older. Boys who don’t think women have a place in their stories become the men raising hell about a female remake of a janky eighties film. Or the men making Star Wars merchandise and excluding the main character because she’s a girl. Or the powers-that-be behind comedy panel shows, who exert themselves to book one female comic per six shouty males. Or the men covering the Olympics and writing headlines like this.

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We have conversations about Paw Patrol or Dinotrux at least once a day. They like to choose favourites, discuss their favourites, ask what mine are. They always assume my favourite will be the girl, and of course I only ever have one to choose from. Tough luck if I don’t like helicopters. Tough luck if she doesn’t appeal to me. There’s only one of her, and that’s an awful lot of representation to carry. I tend to choose another character and give different reasons, but there’s only one of me, too, and a lot of this.

It matters. It really matters. I can handle the terrible jokes and background music (it even becomes endearing after a while, in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome way). But oh, please, please: do this mother of sons a favour, and give me some real girls.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the f-word

Today is voting day for the European elections in the UK. We’ll be heading down to the polling station as soon as we find the cards they send through that we always manage to lose two days before the election. Politics is not perfect. It’s not even, often, very good. But thanks to the great-grandmothers that scrapped and screamed and threw themselves in harm’s way until the establishment listened to them, I have a stake in this democracy and I want to use it. Emmeline Pankhurst and her kind are why I call myself a feminist.

It took me a long time to strip away the negative associations I had with the f-word. Perhaps you still have them – I wouldn’t blame you. I am not a feminist because I hate men or bras or love being angry all the time. I’m not frothing about the fact that the female ‘lioness’ is only a suffix on the end of the male ‘lion’, signifying the insignificance of the female (as I read in a textbook at university and snorted over).

(Note: there’s a lot to be said about the way we use language and the effect it has on men and women. It’s just, I suppose, that there are more relevant things to the lives of most women than ‘lion’ and ‘lioness’. Unless you write blogs on The Lion King.)

Here is why I call myself a feminist.

I am a feminist because I wanted a university education, and got one without being sent to a special women’s college, being refused a degree or having eyebrows raised at my frivolity.

I am a feminist because I can vote without being arrested.

I am a feminist because no one forced me to hand over my assets to my husband on getting married (Greatest Hits of Elton John, YOU ARE MINE FOREVER).

I am a feminist because I could choose to keep working, stop working or fashion my own working life after I had children, and all of those choices are valid.

I am a feminist because I could buy a house if I wanted.

I am a feminist because the decision about how many children to have and when is one we make equally, together.

I am a feminist because my husband has no more legal right to beat me than I have to beat him.

I am a feminist because I believe that women can think, and learn, and influence, and achieve any damn thing they put their minds to.

I am a feminist because Tim and I work in partnership, our strengths boosting each other’s weaknesses, and both of us have valuable things to contribute in every sphere of our lives.

I am a feminist because I owe all of these rights to women who didn’t have them, and made noise until they got them.

I am a feminist because so many women still don’t have them, and there is so much to be done.

I am a feminist because my boys need to internalise these things until they are unremarkable, and they’ll only do that if I show them what it looks like.

I am a feminist because if I have girls too, I want to send them out into this world on fire with purpose and possibility.

I am a feminist because I cannot, in having respect for the life I lead, be anything else.

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