Tag Archives: Womanhood

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.)

Why I’ll be sending my kids to camp

I’ve just got back from girls’ camp – well, not just: I’ve been back long enough to sleep for a couple of hours, to unpack all my moss-covered, grease-covered things, and to realise I’ll be doing a full-body cringe for the rest of this week while my fiery sunburn dies down. I’ve only been involved in a few camp activities this year, but the feeling is always the same, and it made me think of this post I wrote the last time I was there.

Here’s to helping our girls feel their bright, brilliant, ferocious worth, right to the ends of their muddy fingers. 

the penguins say –

that August is a month worth camping in.

SAM_5405

Yesterday I came back from girls’ camp. Forty-eight teenage girls, thirty-ish adults, twenty-seven million clumps of knee-high, prickly grass. It’s been a long, hard, exhilarating week we’ve been planning obsessively all year. I’ve sat in a smelly marquee eating dinner from a tin plate, sung ridiculous songs in the heat of a campfire, listened and talked and run around like a lunatic, and all of it surrounded by talking, shrieking, singing, laughing girls.

I think there must be nothing on earth like this. I watched them arrive on Monday morning and wanted to reach out for them because I remembered being in their place – impatient, self-conscious, unsure of myself, my place in life, my body. Making decisions that would affect the rest of my life and frightened to death of doing it wrong. I wanted so much and didn’t know how to get it. What do they hear from the adult world we inhabit, these girls? You must be beautiful. You must be popular. Don’t be stupid and don’t be clever. Be funny. Be skinny. Wear this. Take this off for the camera. There, now you’re something. They see a hard, bright world of boxes we created for them to fit in, and they’re lost in it. How could we do it to them? How could we?

We spent last week making spaces to tell them something different. You are something, and somebody, and valued on your own terms. You have potential. You can make decisions that bring you self-respect. You are a daughter of God, and there is so much happiness ahead of you. Not one of you, not ever, needs to be lost.

As I sat with these girls, I knew I’d be entrusting my children to them in fifteen years or so. I want my boy, my girls and boys to come, my girls yet unthought-of, to know the truth: that they are worth more than their skin, that their destiny is their own, that they are loved more than they can comprehend. I do not want them lost. So I’ll be sending them to camp.

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.

SAM_0515

The Penguins Say

that August is a month worth camping in.

Yesterday I came back from girls’ camp. Forty-eight teenage girls, thirty-ish adults, twenty-seven million clumps of knee-high, prickly grass. It’s been a long, hard, exhilarating week we’ve been planning obsessively all year. I’ve sat in a smelly marquee eating dinner from a tin plate, sung ridiculous songs in the heat of a campfire, listened and talked and run around like a lunatic, and all of it surrounded by talking, shrieking, singing, laughing girls.

I think there must be nothing on earth like this. I watched them arrive on Monday morning and wanted to reach out for them because I remembered being in their place – impatient, self-conscious, unsure of myself, my place in life, my body. Making decisions that would affect the rest of my life and frightened to death of doing it wrong. I wanted so much and didn’t know how to get it. What do they hear from the adult world we inhabit, these girls? You must be beautiful. You must be popular. Don’t be stupid and don’t be clever. Be funny. Be flirty. Wear this. Take this off for the camera. There, now you’re something. They see a hard, bright world of boxes we created for them to fit in, and they’re lost in it. How could we do it to them? How could we?

We spent last week making spaces to tell them something different. You are something, and somebody, and valued on your own terms. You have potential. You can make decisions that bring you self-respect. You are a daughter of God, and there is so much happiness ahead of you. Not one of you, not ever, needs to be lost.

As I sat with these girls, I knew I’d be entrusting my children to them in fifteen years or so. I want my boy, my girls and boys to come, my girls yet unthought-of, to know the truth: that they are worth more than their skin, that their destiny is their own, that they are loved more than they can comprehend. I do not want them lost. So I’ll be sending them to camp.

For more penguin posts, see here

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