The F Word

There is a word that has developed a bit of a bad reputation. Yes, I’m talking about feminism.

I don’t call myself a feminist (even though I am), because there are people out there who misunderstand what that word means. Do I believe in women’s rights? Of course I do. Do I think male privilege exists? Of course it does. Do I believe there is inbuilt gender bias in our society? You’re damn right I do. Would I like to wave a magic wand and change all this? You bet. By definition, I am a feminist.

Just for clarification, here is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘feminism’:

“The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”

Okay? Are we all agreed on that? Alright, moving on.

And yet, I choose not to identify myself using that word. Why? Because I’m concerned that if I do, there are people who won’t take me seriously.

The sad reality is that the debate on gender inequality has long been centered around the issue of ‘man-hating feminists’. All feminists are lumped together under the one umbrella, and the F word has become something that even women who believe in feminist ideas don’t want to be associated with.

I’m not trying to play the blame game here. Feminists are often angry (and rightly so) about the inequalities women face. In turn, men come across this anger, feel it is directed at them, and lash out in response. Well, that’s productive… Issues like this tend to polarise people, so of course there are going to be opposing sides of the debate. But this kind of us vs. them/’I hate you, you hate me’ debate gets us nowhere.

Gender inequality is much more accurate name for this issue than ‘feminism’, because there are inequalities on both sides. Unfortunately, these are not distributed evenly and women tend to bear the heavier side of the scales.

As a young, white, Australian woman, from a small, middle-class family, I have privileges. Both my parents obtained university degrees and used them to good effect. My dad was the main bread-winner, while my mum stayed home looking after me and doing part time work. She was lucky that she had this option, as many women do not. But do you not think that my dad would have jumped at the chance to be home all day with us too? Unfortunately, someone had to support the family financially. My dad had (and still has) a well paying job, which meant that my mum was not forced into the workforce and I was not forced into childcare. My mum did not have to fight for adequate maternity leave and risk not having a job to come back to. As my years steadily advance, I am faced with the prospect that someday I will want to start a family of my own. And, when that happens, what will become of my career?

As of right now, I have very little career to speak of. Due to health issues I’ve had in the past, I can’t work and simultaneously study full-time. So, here I am, at 24, finally studying a degree in a subject I’m passionate about, with the goal of then getting a job that uses those skills – a job that pays well, and that will provide me with choices when the time comes to have kids.

Anti-feminists argue that having a child is the woman’s choice. Which is (mostly) true. They argue that if a woman chooses to have a child she knows what the deal is, so she shouldn’t complain when she’s forced to take time off work. However it is not our choice that we are the only gender of our species who can bear children. And it’s not men’s choice either. It’s just biology. So why is it that women are often forced to choose between their career and their family, while men are not? There are plenty of stay-at-home dads out there, and I think that’s fantastic. But the reality is that women are the ones expected to become the main carers for their children, while men are expected to provide for their family. This separation of gender roles is one thing that really irks me. Our culture has been this way for so long, that it’s not going to change overnight. But so many women accept their position in society without asking why. This inbuilt gender bias is something that all people experience and perpetuate, sometimes unknowingly.

Another anti-feminist argument that annoys me is the one that goes something like “Men and women are different and have different needs so gender equality is impossible”. True, I have different needs to my male counterparts. But the issue is that my needs, as a female, are often not taken into account as much as a man’s. The best example of this is the ‘tampon tax’. In Australia, sanitary products such as tampons and pads are taxed. Condoms are subsidised and therefore cheaper than they would be if they faced the same tax as sanitary products. Condoms are important. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you’re having sex, you should use them (unless you’re trying to get pregnant, obviously). But sex is optional (again, unless you’re trying to have kids…), it’s a choice. Periods are not a choice. Trust me, if they were optional most of us women would choose not to have them!! They’re a pain (literally). They’re uncomfortable and unpleasant and a hassle. But we put up with them because we have to. What’s crazy is that the products we need to manage our periods safely are not subsidised. We pay what they cost because we don’t have a choice. But how great would it be if each month your period didn’t cost you the best part of $20?

There are many other ways in which women are disadvantaged over men. Why is that? Because the people who have the power to change these inequalities are predominately men. Now, before you put me in the ‘man-hating’ box, let me just say this – men are great. To quote Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins, “Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid”. There are many men in my life that I love and respect – my father, my brother, my boyfriend, my grandfathers, my friends, and my nephew (still a boy, but will be a man before too long!) – and their rights mean just as much to me as my own. I’m a lover, not a hater. I don’t hate on individuals. That’s mean. What I hate are ideas and ideologies that are illogical, make no sense, and are founded on fallacies. And anyone who argues that male privilege doesn’t exist, that women have everything they need and should stop whining, is making an illogical argument. Yes, there are issues that affect men more than women. More men are homeless, more men take their own life, and many men feel they cannot be open about their feelings for fear of not being ‘manly’ enough and being judged accordingly. But these issues are seperate to that of women’s rights and should not be bartered against each other. The ‘feminism’ issue gets clouded by ‘men’s rights’ groups which are mostly arrogant white men with privileges complaining that they can’t express their feelings, therefore they are underprivileged. In my mind, these groups just reaffirm the idea of male privilege and make it harder for gender equality to make progress.

As far as I’m concerned, regardless of what gender you are, if you don’t support women’s rights, you’re sexist. If you buy into gender stereotypes, and think a woman’s place is in the home, you’re sexist. If someone mentions the statistics on domestic violence against women and you find yourself retorting with stats on men’s suicide rates, you’re sexist. If you don’t think feminism is a good thing, you’re sexist.

You don’t have to agree with someone’s methods to agree with their ideas.

I have to be a feminist. Because, if I wasn’t, I’d be sexist.

There’s no grey area on this one.

Don’t be an idiot. Be a feminist.

 

But maybe a ‘small f’ feminist for now, until the f word loses some of its power…

 

 

Let Yourself Be Colourful

I’ve always tried to live my life without regret. I know I will make mistakes along the way, because everyone does, but I’ve always planned to just learn from them and move on.

The reality is that I’ve made a lot of mistakes and a lot I haven’t learnt from. And I often dwell on these mistakes and wonder how I could have avoided them.

In my relationships with other people I’ve often made choices that haven’t worked out for the best in the long run. I’ve lost relationships, I’ve lost friendships and, in some cases, both.

Recently I realised that one of my more common mistakes is to play down how I feel. It’s probably due to all my years of theatre classes, but I got very good at covering up how I really feel so that everyone around me thinks I’m an incredibly laid back, chilled out, happy person. If I were to put this bluntly I’d say I’m good at hiding my feelings. When I’m upset I pretend everything’s fine. When I’m overjoyed to the point where I feel like I’ll burst, I act all casual. I’m that annoying female who says “I’m fine.” when I’m really not. This makes romantic relationships problematic, and I think that this has been my downfall in the past.

We’re all afraid of being hurt. Human frailty is a part of who we are. But sometimes we can take it too far. Sometimes in our scramble to avoid getting hurt by others, we end up hurting ourselves.

I started this pattern at a young age. As a child I was extremely badly bullied in school, and I learnt very quickly that getting upset in front of the other kids just led to more teasing. I was told not to react, so that the bullies would think they weren’t hurting me and give up. So I desperately tried not to show how hurt I was every time someone made a joke at my expense. I taught myself not to cry when no one wanted to play with me at lunchtime. If I couldn’t contain my emotions I hid in the playground somewhere until I could.

In the last twelve odd years, not much has changed.

When I’m on my own, my emotions are like a roller coaster. I can feel elated, crushed, embarrassed, excited, overjoyed and pissed off all in one afternoon. If I’m around other people, I doubt anyone else would notice the changes in how I feel.

What this means is that people don’t realise when they hurt me, or when they make me happy. I can feign indifference, then come home and cry all evening or dance around my bedroom (depending on which way it went).

As a teenager, when I liked a guy, I would constantly write in my diary something like “But I can’t do [such-and-such], because then he might realise I like him!” – guess what! I still behave like that! When I really like someone I work overtime to be cool as a cucumber. I don’t drop hints, I don’t obviously hang around him all the time… I might watch him subtly from the other side of the room but that’s about it. And then I wonder why I’m still single…

I’ve been single for three years now, with a little blip half way through which didn’t amount to anything. I used to think it was because the guy met another girl he liked more, so he dated her instead of me. But now I’m not so sure. Now I wonder if it wasn’t my fault all along. I was pretty casual when I was with this guy, especially when our mutual friends were around. I let him make most of the moves and when he stopped talking to me I didn’t ask him why. I tried so hard not to be the clingy, desperate girl that I think I went too far the other way. I went so far the other way that he thought I wasn’t that interested.

This is where I let us both down. Because I was interested. I was really interested. I didn’t just like the guy, I really liked the guy. But I didn’t want to be too forward or too pushy, or basically do anything that might drive him away. And what happened? He left.

So here comes the moral of the story – don’t always stay in the grey emotions. Sometimes let yourself be black or white. Or silver or orange or purple! Let yourself have colour. Let your emotions show sometimes, bring them out when they really matter. Don’t let people you care about think you don’t care at all. Don’t lose them because of something you didn’t say.

But also know when to put on the “everything’s okay” face, because sometimes it’s useful!

You have to open up, to let people see who you really are and what you really feel.

Meet a nice guy? Tell him how nice he is. See a pretty girl at the bus station? Compliment her scarf or her eyes. Your boyfriend of two months dumps you in a cafe and says it’s because things are getting “too serious”? Tip his coffee in his lap and walk out.

Okay, so maybe don’t make a habit out of dumping coffee on people – only use that one when necessary!!

The main thing is, don’t be grey. Don’t stay in the safe zone. You may think no one can hurt you there, but that’s only because no one can reach you.

Let people reach you. Let yourself be a person people will want to reach. Be a person who has colour, who has light and shade.

And, most importantly, be you.

Because, let’s face it, you’re pretty awesome!

The Tale of a Canberra Garden: Winter

Today was one of those spectacular Canberra winter days, where it was absolutely freezing but there was not a cloud in the sky.

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These are the days I remember from my childhood here. I have memories of dancing on a frosty lawn before school, seeing how much of the ice crystals I could crush before our bright red Toyota Camry station wagon left the garage. We had a large tree stump in our backyard and I used to jump off it to see how precise I could make the impressions of my shoes on the icy grass.

I wasn’t doing anything like that this morning (in fact, I spent the entire morning in bed finishing the book I was reading) but, while I made my morning cup of peppermint tea, I stood at the kitchen window admiring the crystals on the ground and the crystal clear blue sky.

The last few weeks have had a lot more rain than usual for the time of year, so it’s a relief to see my beloved winter weather coming back. I don’t much enjoy numb fingers (which are just a fact of life here in the winter) but I can cope with anything as long as the sun shines.

When I lived in New Zealand as a teenager, the weather used to get me down – it just rained. All year round. In winter we could go for weeks without seeing the sun and I used to sit in my room, watching water droplets run down my window, missing the Canberra frosts and fog.

This afternoon I hummed to myself (and to my cat, who was lurking in the bushes), as I hung out the washing. I admired my broad bean seedlings that are growing rapidly after all the rain we’ve had.

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I also noticed that, by some freak of nature, the hibiscus in our pool house (which acts like a glasshouse) are still flowering. They haven’t noticed the frosty nights and are carrying on with their gay blooms as if it was mid-summer. The irony of this is that we’ve spent five summers trying to coax them to flower and this year they finally got the hang of it – it seems that now they’ve started they can’t stop.

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As I headed inside I had to walk up the steps onto the deck, which leads to the back door. The deck is surrounded by the bare tendrils of our wisteria. Bare apart from its velvety seed pods, which I can’t help fingering on my way past.

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In spring the vines will be covered in giant sprigs of glorious purple flowers. Bees will be everywhere. Soon after the flowers drop, green shoots will appear and in a few weeks the entire deck will be encased in a lush green hedge. We’ll eat our summer evening meals out there, swatting away mosquitoes. But soon enough autumn will come around again and the leaves will turn yellow and fall. Mandy (the cat) will make her usual autumn bed in them.

I looked around the backyard before I went back into the warm house and my eyes were caught by the ornamental Manchurian Pears, with their branches covered in buds ready to burst in a few short weeks. Already other trees around town have started to blossom and we even have some jonquils out in our garden too.

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It’s an encouraging sign of the next season, just around the corner.

Canberra winters always seem short to me. I just get used to the cold and I suddenly notice it’s getting warmer. It won’t be long now before I stop needing to wear my woollen coat every time I leave the house. That won’t be happening this week though – on the weekend we saw the first snow on the Brindabella ranges to the west. I watched it falling from our kitchen window on Friday afternoon. It had melted by lunchtime the following day, but it’s made the last few days extra cold.

So, for now, I’ll huddle into my cosy bed every night and try to avoid spending too much time out of doors during the day. But when I do step out and look at the blue sky with a smile on my face.

Life is good, whenever the sun shines 🙂

And if all else fails I just listen to this song: