Blood Moon: We don’t want a heat pillow. We need sex!

 

“Bleeding is normal. We women are normal. Blood is who and what we are. Love a woman, then you must learn to love the bleeding too.”

Women bleed.

It sucks. You can dress it up however you like, and call it our “special sacred time”, and do ritual, and preach on about what a gift our bodies are.

But for me, and for many others, bleeding sucks.

I hate the way our periods are something shameful that we don’t talk about, and I hate the way I feel so godamn awful – sick and bloated and crampy.

Now I’m getting older, I also hate the way my cycle is becoming increasingly unpredictable. At present, my current thing seems to be that I bleed for a morning, then nothing for a few days, then it’s full on heavy heavy let’s turn the bathroom into a scene from “Criminal Minds” time for more than a week.

It’s tiring, it’s stressful, and I’m forever struggling to keep my iron levels up with copious amounts of vitamins and floradix. My doctor, to add insult to injury, has the indecency to call my cycle “normal…for a woman of my age.”

The worst thing of all, though, is the impact it’s having on my sex life. And how men just don’t understand.

Goddess_Venus____by_Villenueve

Yes, I’ve got a partner who thoughtfully gets me heat pillows for my aching back. He’ll even give me back rubs, when I ask for them. But sex during this thing that is rapidly turning into half my life?

No. Never.

I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been raised to never complain of course, because I’m female and god forbid we should ever complain about the lack of satisfaction in our relationships. We don’t complain: we just let it get worse, until we leave.

The rejection was even worse with my previous partner. I remember once when I bled on the sheets at night. He was horrified when he saw it: It was like I’d committed the most heinous crime. He wasn’t content until the sheets had been sterilised and I’d been given a top to toe shower. At 3 am in the morning.

Even then, when I returned to bed (feeling pretty bloody awful) he looked at me sideways. He didn’t want to touch me. He rolled over to the other side of the bed, as far away from me as he could get.

Hug me? Hell no. I was on my own.

That was probably the beginning of the end of our relationship: when I realised that my body and its normal functioning was abhorrent to him.

My current partner, as I said, is a bit better. A bit. He even went down on me – once – when I was bleeding. I was amazed by that.

But now that I seem to be bleeding more days than not, the sex is dwindling, and once again, I feel like a monster. An untouchable monster.

A female untouchable. Just like it’s always been.

What I want to say here, amongst all these reminiscences and all this very personal pain, is that bleeding is normal. We women are normal. Blood is who and what we are. Love a woman, then you must learn to love the bleeding too.

Our bodies are messy and wonderful and painful and we hurt. We feel pain and we suffer through this Goddess-given mess that is our femininity. It’s horrible, and lonely, and it is at this time of the month, above all other times, that we need to be told by those that profess to love us that we are beautiful.

It is at this time of the month, when we’re bleeding, that we need to know that we’re desirable, and sexy, and wanted. Because it’s at this point that we feel vulnerable, and weak, and sore, and in need of love and support.

Yet so often it is when we bleed that our men turn away. This is the time that we need them most, only to find they’re not there.

We don’t need a heat pillow. We need sex.

Men wax lyrical about our loveliness, but we need to know we’re desirable when we feel our ugliest. We need to know we’re wanted right at that point that society has deemed us most undesirable and untouchable.

This is something that I don’t think men, as a whole, will ever quite understand. But we women understand it very, very well.

When my partner gives me a heat pillow but refuses sex with me, he’s saying a lot about what he thinks of my body. He might not realise it, but he’s saying that I’m acceptable to him only when I’m neat and tidy in masculine, not feminine, terms.

He’s saying that he loves me only when he can have neat, porn-quality sex with me. But when I have my period, I’m dirty and unwanted and so it’s out with the heat pillow and on with his right hand instead.

I’ve told him I don’t feel like sex the first day I bleed heavily. And I don’t, mainly because it’s crime-scene central (I bleed really heavily). It’s so bad I don’t think he’d cope, and I wouldn’t enjoy it as a result.

But the rest of my period I get very horny. Yet by taking what I say about my first day and applying it to the rest of my bleed as an excuse not to have sex with me, he’s telling me that I’m not desirable when I bleed. At all. And that affects how I feel about our relationship the rest of the time, whether he realises it or not.

I don’t know what my body will do as I move into menopause. But it’s common for women at my age to bleed more days than not. Does this mean that I’ll be relegated to a “cuddle-only” partner?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know this: women bleed. That is what we are, what we do, what we will always do. Bleeding is the definition of what women are: it is our experience of life.

I just wish that experience could be a better one.

Lunar_eclipse_April_15_2014_Minneapolis_Tomruen2

The contraception conversation

When I was 16, my mother found my contraceptive pills in my top drawer.

She brought them and held them out in front of me, like something dead and dirty, accusing:

“What are these, and where did you get them?”

“They’re my pills,” I said. “I didn’t want to get pregnant.”

“Are you having sex?” she demanded, her face angry.

“No, no,” I denied, lying to her face. “I just want them…just in case…you know…” My voice drifted away into nothing.

That was how the brief conversation went, all those years ago, but I remember it clearly.

pill

Pressure from all sides…

What I didn’t tell my mother was the fact that those pills were like gold to me. Three months earlier, I’d started having sex. We’d used condoms that time, but then my boyfriend had asked me to go on the Pill.

Of course, it was the woman’s job to get contraceptives and sort all that out. It still is mostly, here, nearly thirty years later from back then.

But I did what I had to do. The sexual health clinic was nearly two hours away by bus, and I didn’t have a car. I was 16. I arrived way too early for my appointment, and walked around the block near the clinic about three or four times before I summoned up the nerve to go inside.

I felt like a criminal. All I wanted was to not get pregnant. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to avoid that. Yet it was, for me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I’d been taught to think of sex that way.

The people in the clinic were friendly, and put me on a low dose pill, but it was really expensive. I wasn’t earning much at that point, and it used up all the money I had just to get three months’ supply. But what else was I supposed to do?

I remember wondering if my boyfriend, who had a lot more money than me, would chip in for some of the cost, then threw that idea right out. Guys didn’t pay for this sort of stuff. Sex was free for them.

My mother held my pills in her hand. “I’m throwing these out. You shouldn’t be having sex yet. You’re too young.”

And she took them away.

I looked in the bins to see if I could find them, and even went through the garbage cans outside, but no luck. They were gone. And I started bleeding a couple of days later, because I’d stopped in the middle of taking them.

The next day, I rang the sexual health clinic again the moment my parents were out of the house. They couldn’t get me in until the following week, and I asked if I could pay for just one month of pills, not three. I couldn’t. They were sorry about that.

I said I’d see what I could do and made the appointment anyway.

That was the only thing I ever stole money from anyone for: I took the money I needed from my mother’s purse.

I don’t think she missed it.

Next time I got hold of my pills, I made sure Mum wouldn’t find them – I hid them in my secret hiding spot that even she didn’t know about, under the bottom of my wardrobe at the back. If she found them, she never said anything.

From then on, whenever I needed more money for more pills, I just stole it from my mother.

I think that was the point at which I began to grow up: when I stopped trusting my parents. When I realised they would steal my things and they weren’t on my side.

I stopped trusting them when they stopped trusting me.

Sluts and whores

Looking back, there is so much wrong with my experience that I don’t know where to begin.

The fact that contraception was, and still commonly is, solely a woman’s responsibility.
The fact that I had to deal with all this alone, even though I was hardly still a woman.
The fact that my boyfriend was absent from the conversation and from responsibility.
The fact that my mother felt she had control both over my body and my property.
The fact that my mother judged me, and felt she had the right to judge.
The fact that caring for my body was seen as a shameful thing by my mother, as was sex.
The fact that, even at 16, my mother had still never talked about sex with me, even though I desperately needed her support and help.

Most of all, looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was angry that I took care and responsibility for my own body.

If I had a daughter do that, and go get pills all by herself, no matter what age, I’d be proud of her actions and initiative. I’d be glad she was keeping herself safe from pregnancy.

I’d be sorry I didn’t get a chance to help her first, but glad she respected her body enough to care for it and plan ahead.

But maybe I don’t see sex as something we should be ashamed of.

For my mother, women who had sex before marriage were sluts and whores. I don’t know whether she was silly enough to believe that taking my pills away would stop me having sex, but if she was, she was wrong. All it did was make me steal from her, lie to her, and not trust her.

prudewhore

The contraception conversation

Contraception – and sex generally – is the conversation we desperately need to have with our children.

And it’s the one conversation we’re not having.

When we judge our kids, this is what happens.
When we judge our kids, this is what happens.

Over and over, I hear parents say that they want to talk to their kids about sex, but “just not yet”.

If not now, then when?
When they steal from you for their contraception?
When they get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant?
Or maybe when they get an STI?

“Tomorrow” is too late.
We need to talk today.

It is our responsibility to keep our children safe, until they’re able to do that for themselves. That’s what parenting is.

Our kids need to be able to trust us, and in order to earn that, we need to start the conversation by trusting them.

We need to talk.

Cinderella shoes: Why I, in my oversized body, said FUCK IT to the world

I’m a big woman. Not fat, not wobbly (which would be an entirely different sin of its own).

Just big.

I’m nearly six feet tall. I’m broad-shouldered, big-boned, and long-limbed.

There was absolutely no point in my life that I was not going to be large. Genetics decided that for me.

I take up space, which apparently in our society is a crime worthy of punishment if you’re a woman.

Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, we women are supposed to be small. Underweight, taking up no space, not making any noise or having any opinions. We’re supposed to be pretty, according to a very narrow definition of pretty.

Women are not supposed to eat.
Women are not supposed to eat.

The first time I was told I was too tall I was about 12. A guy I liked said I would be pretty if I wasn’t so huge. I was about an inch taller than him. We got on well as friends but he told me he couldn’t be seen with a girl who was taller than him.

Two years later my father started calling me “buffalo butt” and laughing at the “joke” because he thought he was a wit. I was medically underweight at the time. I started my first diet about then.

When you’re meant to be big, and your frame and your bones are big, and your feet are fast getting up to size 11, there is no diet in the world that will make you smaller.

My best friend said she was embarrassed when we went shoe shopping and the shop had nothing to fit me. My mother kept saying I should be more ladylike – whatever that meant.

I think it meant “less like me”. I think it meant less everything to do with me. Less of me.

I started to realise that’s what the world wants. It wasn’t just me either, with all my size. It wasn’t personal, even though it hurt like hell.

Women were supposed to be less than men. Not just less in our achievements and our abilities, but in our size, our space that we control, our earnings, our ideas, our voices. Everything.

We were supposed to be “assistants”, not the person being assisted.
We were nurses, not doctors.
We were teachers, not Principals – unless of a primary school or kindergarten.
We were secretaries, not the boss.
We were the scenery – the eye candy – in the movies.

Not the hero.

Nothing seems to have changed. We're still the "eye candy" and the "romatic interest".
Nothing seems to have changed. We’re still the “eye candy” and the “romatic interest”.

At school I remember asking about being an engineer, and being told, “Oh, you don’t want to do that! and being steered towards a career as a nurse or a teacher. I didn’t fancy cleaning, so I opted for teaching.

There weren’t many “acceptable” options for girls to choose from, after all.

Women live in a smaller world, and we’re supposed to be smaller to fit into it. But as I grew older, something clicked. I guess I started wondering what happens when a person demands a bigger world? What happens when we’re too big for the boundaries others set for us?

I sometimes wonder if I would be the same person today if I hadn’t been born too big to fit the role society wanted me to fit?

If I’d been born the “right” size, looked the “right” way, would I have challenged the role that I couldn’t fill?

Those Cinderella shoes were never going to fit me. So I created a new fairytale with myself as its champion. Would I have done so had the glass slipper fit?

cinderella

I don’t know. I don’t have answers. But I know one thing: I, in my oversized body, said Fuck It to the world.

The world as it was didn’t fit me, so I created a new world that suits me better. That I liked better.

And, as I look around, the Ugly Sisters – all of us who never, ever could fit the shoes we were told to wear – we are all creating our own worlds, side by side.

    They told me I was too big, so I used my height and strength as an asset and began to think of myself as an amazon, proud and strong, with a heritage that goes back thousands of years.

    They told me boys were smarter than girls, so I got myself a few degrees at University.

    They told me computers were for boys (I wasn’t allowed to touch my brother’s computer when it was bought for him, in case I – less than two years his junior and a teen at the time – “broke it”). So I created the largest online community for Pagans in Australia at the time of its creation, became a WebMistress, ran webpages and online forums, and learned my way around the internet, before taking on a Software Engineering degree.

    They told me I couldn’t fight because I was a girl, so I joined the Army.

    They told me sport was for boys and that I sucked at it, so I went to the State Championships in rowing.

    They told me girls were weak, so I became a bodybuilder and weightlifter.

    They told me girls couldn’t be Leaders, so I became a Leader of several communities, transforming them and removing previous corrupt leaderships.

    They told me I couldn’t write music, so I became a choral composer whose works have been performed worldwide.

    They told me girls couldn’t change the world, so I wrote stories with new worlds in them.

Be the change you want to see in the world

I’m just an ordinary woman, with no special abilities. Except I don’t believe in boundaries and rules, and I don’t believe in Impossible.

Maybe that’s what has made my world so amazing? Because only by believing in the impossible can we make it happen.

Women can do anything.
Too long we’ve been told to keep our horizons near, and our world small.
Too often we’ve believed it when we’ve been told what we supposedly can’t do.
The combination of being told to keep ourselves small and being told to appease others is deadly.

It’s time we all said Fuck It to the world, and made some noise. Because, by doing so, we might just discover who we truly are.

Does God care about gender? Transgender people and the Divine

Everyone is talking about Bruce Jenner at the moment. So here’s an interesting thought: does God – or do the Gods – care about gender?

Do our souls – if we have them – have genders?

You know, this never really occurred to me until recently. I remember reading somewhere that hardly anyone has a transgendered friend, and it’s something that few people connect with.

I must be different, because I can’t count the number of transgendered friends I have on one hand – I think I have eight or nine, last time I stopped to think about it.

The thing that strikes me most about people who transition is how little it affects who they are, to we people on the outside. To me, perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole process is how much they remain the same. They’re still the same people.

I remember being worried, when my friends have transitioned, that I’d lose my friends. But my friends have remained the same people inside. Their souls, if that’s the right word for it, have remained the same.

I suppose it’s naive to expect that gender should make such a huge difference, but before I knew people who had become male when they’d been female before, or female when they’d become male, I guess I’d expected their innate personality – the person they are inside – to change dramatically. It didn’t; it hasn’t.

So if it doesn’t matter to me, does it matter to the Gods?

A Goddess for everyone across the spectrum of gender

My patron Goddess is Aphrodite. Of all Goddesses she’s one to have a little fun with gender. She’s the Goddess of switching forms, of hermaphrodites and androgyny, and of playing games with gender roles.

A lot of people, when they think of Aphrodite, imagine this very, very feminine Goddess. But they forget that Aphrodite is also the Goddess who was spawned, so the legend goes, from the sea foam created by the castrated genitalia of Uranus, and her children include Hermaphroditus. She governs gender fluidity and transition, and is accepting of transition and non-traditional gender roles. The Gods aren’t necessarily easy to categorize.

Looks can be deceiving

Nor are people easy to categorize. Bruce Jenner, of all people, was portrayed as the stereotypical All-American male – the perfect athlete, the good-looking man who every man wanted as his friend and for his daughter as a partner. He was incredibly desirable and high-profile. Could anyone have seen this coming?

According to Jenner, it’s been here inside him all his life – inside him, waiting to come out. He started taking female hormones in the 1980s, 30 years ago. This isn’t a new thing for him.

That’s something you hear, again and again, from people who transition. The pressures to remain the gender they were born into are incredibly strong, and it is only once the pain of remaining who they are becomes too intense that they break the chains and push for the freedom to become themselves. Transitioning isn’t a kick, or a fad: it’s something they must do, and have needed to do for many years. It’s only society that has held them back.

We are all in transition

It’s both an indictment and praise to our societies that people feel such pressure to remain hidden for so long, yet are finally able to become who they feel they are meant to be. I think we’re societies in transition too, perhaps. But the signs are good that we’re becoming more tolerant, more accepting, and more positive for transgendered people.

We are transitioning too: we are learning, as a society, to be kind, open-minded, and to love unconditionally.

Do the Gods care? Personal perspectives

So – do our souls have gender? Do the Gods care? Will the transgendered be judged? Does any of it matter, apart from the happiness of the individual?

Or are the Gods, as the ancient Greeks might imagine, just playing games with us all, throwing the dice, making life more difficult for some than for others?

As a woman who, I suppose, is very gender-neutral, I’ve never felt the need to be a man. I can’t imagine what it is like. Yet I certainly fit more of a male stereotype than a female. I don’t own any skirts or dresses – at all. I wear a lot of men’s clothes. I’m a bodybuilder and weightlifter, spent time in the army, own a farm, castrate sheep and do most of the yard work around the property, work in tech, have tertiary experience in software engineering…the list goes on.

I can’t think of anything worse than knitting or sewing or quilting or wearing frilly clothes. But do I want to be a man? No. I’m just me. Somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, I guess. I don’t feel confined by any roles. Why should I be? But my experiences are different to those of others. I have no right to judge. My right is that of support, and of friend.

If I have a soul, it’s not pink or blue. It’s probably orange, or yellow, or maybe lime green. I’m not really into the concept of souls anyway, but if the Gods care about gender, then I believe it’s a very small part of what makes a person worthwhile.

So my view is, if a person needs to transition to be complete and whole and happy, then let them. Support them. They’ll still be the same person inside. Because they always were that same person inside.

We just couldn’t see it.

The hardest person in the world to love

I remember the first time I met J. I’ll call her J instead of her real first name, just in case by chance she is out there somehwre, reading this.

I couldn’t see any beauty in her at all. Short, dumpy and blonde, with a chin so minimal as to be non-existent, watery blue eyes, freckles. Nothing exciting.

We sat next to each other in our lecture, and as we were both new to Uni and didn’t know anyone, we started talking. She was so friendly and interesting. She was cool.

J told me about her plans (to be a pediatrician) and her background (a family of farmers with no education at all). Over the next few lectures I learned how proud her parents were that she was here at Uni, the first of her family. And I learned how she’d topped her school in, well, just about everything.

As time went on, I started to see J differently. I saw the character in her face, and the warmth and intelligence in her eyes, and the humour – and wickedness! – in her smile.

Over time, everything that had once been ordinary in my eyes disappeared.

She was beautiful. I couldn’t see her as anything other than beautiful.

The eye beholds…

Our eyes see what we want to see.

Once I began to know J, I saw everything that makes up the unique person that she is. I stopped seeing everything our society judges and criticises in women. Because she brought positive experiences into my life, everything I saw in her was positive.

I forgot how plain I’d thought her when we first met. Even now I can vaguely remember, but not well.

So it surprised me a couple of years ago when she confessed that she’d always struggled with the way she looks. She had difficulty accepting compliments. She found it hard to accept that a man could be attracted to her for anything other than short term sex. She – like me, and practically every other woman I know – compared herself to the images we see everywhere online and on TV and in the media, and she found herself lacking.

She thought her body freakish. And ugly. And bad. Anything but beautiful.

Mirror, mirror…

I’ve always found it odd that our friends and lovers can see the beauty in us that we cannot see in ourselves. They see us, as we are – all the good and bad. They see the whole human being, and they love the things that make us what we are, even if we don’t fit stereotypical beauty.

Like J, I find it hard to accept anyone could find me beautiful. Being dedicated to Aphrodite helps, because She is a Goddess who helps the beauty and power of all women shine forth. But it’s still hard.

Aphrodite empowers us.
Aphrodite empowers us.

I’m over 40, and all I see in the magazines is 20-somethings or very very airbrushed celebrities if they’re older than that. I see nothing that can make myself feel normal, feel beautiful by comparison. So I don’t look.

But it’s still there, that insecurity. It’s not just women, either. I told my boyfriend that he was beautiful the other day. He is. Yet he shrugged the words off awkwardly, disbelievingly. I think he thought I was saying so to make him feel good.

The thought that I could be saying the truth – impossible! How could he be beautiful! He’s not tall, dark and handsome. He’s actually kind of chubby and gingery and pale. But I happen to find him beautiful, because I see the person inside. I like what I see when I look at him.

Painful reflections

When I look in the mirror, all I see is flaws. I see the wrinkles around my eyes, and is that another grey hair? I see the lack of skinnyness, despite my hours and hours in the gym and watching what I eat. I see a very ordinary woman staring back at me. Nothing special. Tall, gangly, blue eyes, brown hair (going grey)…I’m no Scarlett Johannsen.

So many of us find ourselves the hardest person to love. We’re told we’re supposed to look like this or that, and of course we fail. Even the celebrities, chosen for their genetics, need to be airbrushed before they are perfect enough to be consumed by the masses. What chance does an ordinary human have?

Gwen Stefani is beautiful...but not beautiful enough, apparently :(
Gwen Stefani is beautiful…but not beautiful enough, apparently 😦

Maybe we need to look in the mirror less, and listen more. Maybe we should listen to those who see us, know us, love us, instead of comparing ourselves with a perfection that doesn’t exist.

Not only do real women – and men – come in all shapes and sizes, but different people find those different shapes and sizes attractive too. Brad Pitt is meant to be the most handsome man on the planet, but he does nothing for me. Everyone’s tastes are different.

I can *see* that he's handsome, but he does absolutely nothing for me. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
I can *see* that he’s handsome, but he does absolutely nothing for me. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Maybe when someone tells you they think you are beautiful, they’re telling the truth. They’re not saying that you look like Scarlett Johanssen or Angelina Jolie. They’re saying you are beautiful as yourself. Not even Scarlett or Angelina can manage to look like you.

Maybe the mirror lies. Maybe it’s a story-teller, weaving pretenses of what we think we should be, when we’re actually okay just as we are. Maybe the mirror is cruel, and untruthful.

mirror

And maybe we’re not hard to love after all.

I’m not a partial human! Sidelined and disappeared…

I’ve always felt like a complete human. No matter whether you’re male or female, or what race or culture you’re from, I’m guessing you have too. Not a partial human.

So today I want to talk about this.

I'm sure there was *ANOTHER* Avenger...
I’m sure there was *ANOTHER* Avenger…

And this.

I seem to recall there being *FIVE* "Guardians"...
I seem to recall there being *FIVE* “Guardians”…

And this.

Something strange is going on here...ummm...do I remember an Avender in a black outfit called "Black" something...Black, black..it's clearly slipped everyone's mind...
Something strange is going on here…ummm…do I remember an Avenger in a black outfit called “Black” something…Black, black..it’s clearly slipped everyone’s mind…

And this.

Here's what to do. If you need to sideline or "disappear" a character, simply double over with more socially palatable characters.
Here’s what to do. If you need to sideline or “disappear” a character, simply double over with another white male character.

And this.

Looks like a bizarre racoon creature is more palatable than some genders of human...
Looks like a bizarre racoon creature is more palatable than some genders of human…

And I won’t even comment on this, which is so awful it just makes me furious.

The t-shirt in Disney girlswear on the left, and boyswear on the right.
The t-shirt in girlswear on the left, and boyswear on the right. This sucks.

Very occasionally, we won’t be “disappeared” but we’ll very definitely be sidelined…

Who is that character with the red hair in the far right? They couldn't possibly be a REAL Avenger! It's clear from their lack of space in the pic that they're a "helper", and "assistant" character, possibly only "eye candy" for the real stars, the males...
Who is that character with the red hair in the far right? They couldn’t possibly be a REAL Avenger! It’s clear from their lack of space in the pic that they’re a “helper”, and “assistant” character, possibly only “eye candy” for the real stars, the white males…(notice the other sidelined character on the extreme left)

Sidelined and disappeared…

I want to point out a few facts now.

We’re nearly 50% of the tickets. Women make up nearly 50% of movie sales at comic book movies (one recent survey suggested the figure of 44%). We’re a BIG market, not a tiny percentage of viewers and attendees and fans.

Women are attending ComicCons in large numbers. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con had 40% female attendance. These events aren’t all white male antisocial geeks from basements. The crowds have changed, if they ever were that stereotype to start with.

Women buy stuff. We want to buy merchandise, and we want that merchandise to feature our favourite characters. Not some of them. ALL of them.

We want fairness. Women are increasingly pissed at the way we’re being sidelined in comics. We want our female characters, and we’re pissed that they’re not appearing as the STARS of movies.

We want to be seen as real people. Women are also pissed at the way we’re being overly sexualized in comics and the movies that spring from them. We want accurate, diverse representation. We want to be seen as real, whole people, with real strengths and weaknesses, and real stories to tell. Because that is what we are.

Most of all, we don’t want to be seen as things. We want to be seen as people.

Speaking for myself and my daughter…and my daughter’s generation

It’s not hard to write real, strong women. Just write us as people, because that’s what we are. We screw up, we have frailties. We’re not governed by our relationships all the time. We are goal driven a lot of the time, especially if you’re writing a hero character.

Women can be heroes. Often we are.
Women can be leaders of men. Often we are.
Women can be strong, yet still completely feminine and powerful and amazing and uniquely beautiful. Often we are.

Even in real life, when I look at some of the strongest people I know, my mind often travels to the women I know rather than the men. We don’t typically hold higher career positions, because of the boundaries and limits that society has set us, but heck, we can be powerful.

So don’t sideline us. Don’t “disappear” us. It’s offensive and nasty and cheap and hurtful. It’s degrading and demeaning to some of the most incredible people I know.

Sure, these are superheroes I’m giving as examples, and you could claim it doesn’t matter. But it does. We all need our role models. We all need to believe we could be that hero on the screen. We all need to believe that we too can be the “chosen one”, the hero with a destiny greater than we thought possible.

We all need to dare to dream. Give us our dreams. We deserve them.

Tell her she’s okay

I just read a post online. By a 24 year old girl. Her post was a manifesto of self-loathing.

She was talking matter-of-factly about how she’s a bit overweight, and she has extra tummy fat, and she doesn’t have a “thigh gap” and never did even at her leanest.

I felt like I wanted to cry reading her words.

Because I remember being age 13 and having a BMI of just over 20 (which is on the light end of things, and well within the normal, healthy range), and feeling fat. My father used to call me “buffalo butt” and laugh at me, so the dieting began.

I haven’t had a normal relationship with food ever since.

I remember my mother asking me “should you be having that?” when I wanted to have dessert along with my brother and dad, and I remember being hungry a lot of the time, but wanting to lose weight so badly. Because I didn’t look like the girls in the magazines. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much weight I lost, I still didn’t look like the girls in the magazines.

Ever since then, I’ve never been able to eat a meal without guilt – without either “watching it” or, if I ate normally, then compensating the next day for actually eating my fill. It wasn’t long after I turned 13 that I started binging on chocolate and chips, and being unable to control my portions in some types of food.

I’d restrict my eating for days at a time, then have a blowout and break the reins a few days later. I couldn’t hold it in, and I thought something was wrong with me, because I wasn’t strict enough with myself. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t good enough at denying myself the good things in life. I was a bad person. I was a failure at being a woman, because successful woman were thin, and you couldn’t be pretty and attractive if you weren’t thin.

When I talk to my friends about this, now we’re all grown women, I find that my experiences are really, really common. In fact, none of my friends seem to have what I would call a “normal” relationship with food. We see foods as “good” and “bad” – we associate eating with guilt and denial. We starve ourselves way too often, only to binge when we break the unattainable rules and goals we set ourselves later on. We all feel like failures, and we all hate our bodies.

When I think back on everything I’ve been through, and how disordered my relationship with food and my own body is, I can’t help thinking that we have severely damaged our femininity and sense of self with all of this. I don’t know why my dad thought it was appropriate to call his 13 year old daughter abusive names. Maybe he thought it was funny. Maybe he thought it would encourage me to diet and get skinny. But it stuck, and made me hate myself instead.

I looked at my body, and everything I saw was ugly. If my own father saw me as horrible and not worthy of love, what chance was there that any other man could ever find me appealing? Obviously I was truly horrible.

The truth, looking back on it, was I was a normal teenager. I wasn’t fat: I was lean and gangly, all arms and legs. I wasn’t hideous, although I felt that way.

But even if I had been fat, that’s exactly the time in my life that I would have needed support from my family, not words of abuse. I needed their love and acceptance when I couldn’t find it inside myself. Maybe I’d have felt different about myself my whole life if they’d treated me differently, and taught me a different relationship with food.

I don’t know, and it’s too late now.

But I’m a mother with a daughter of my own now. I have the power to change things. For her, there are no good foods or bad foods: there is just food. We don’t restrict food, and if she is hungry she can eat. We never force her to clear her plate. I tell her she is beautiful. And we believe it, all of us. She is beautiful. She’s amazing.

Getting back to the girl who posted, the 24 year old whose article I read, no wonder she hates her body. All she sees are photoshopped pictures of women who who are so manipulated by photoshop that they can’t physiologically exist.

This woman can't physiologically exist. Yay for photoshop!
This woman can’t physiologically exist. Yay for photoshop!

She sees images of models who are so skinny they literally risk death. Women who all fit just one mould, one shape, one age, one size. The women who she sees are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart. They’ve ceased to look real, and photoshop takes away any remaining humanity.

I don’t know the girl who posted in real life but I say she is beautiful. She is okay. We’re all okay. I’ve had enough of the one-size-alone-is-acceptable rubbish. I want moulds of a million different colours and shapes and heights and builds and musculatures. I want variety. I want to see role models for all of us. I want our young women to know that whether they’re a size zero or a size sixty, they’re okay.

If I could go back in time and talk to my 13 year old self, I would teach her so much. But most of all, I would tell her that she is beautiful, exactly as she is. She doesn’t have to look like a model to be beautiful. She just has to look like herself. And I’d tell her father to shut the fuck up. He has no right to call her names. No one has any right to call anyone names.

I never intended this to be a rant, but maybe we need more rants. There are too many women hurting here. Too many women who can’t eat a meal without feeling that they’ll need to diet the next day. Too many women who don’t want to look in the mirror because they hate what they see.

It all starts when we’re so young, and if we’re going to change our world, we need to start with our girls. Support them. Nurture them. Love them.

Tell them they’re beautiful. Tell them they’re okay.

They're all okay. Exactly as they are.
They’re all okay. Exactly as they are.

Being the object…

I remember the first few experiences that made me uncomfortable with being a woman.

They weren’t even anything to do with my body. Some women cite their first period (which was definitely embarrassing), or going bra shopping the first time (yes, definitely awkward!).

But for me, what made me uncomfortable was the realisation, for the first time, that the world wasn’t built for me. It was, instead, built for men. My place, as a woman, was to be the object.

“Out of bounds”

I must have been eleven or twelve when I garnered the attention of a local workman near the building I lived in, in Hong Kong. I was so naive, and I thought of him as my “friend”. I used to go down to the carparks in the basement below, and rollerskate there, and I’d often see him, working on construction.

He’d come on over, and despite his limited English and my even more limited Cantonese, we’d chat and he’d hold my hand while I skated. I never thought anything of it, until one day he started pressuring me for a kiss.

And then I got away as fast as I could, ashamed and guilty – although I’d done nothing wrong, and very red-faced, even though I’d said no and nothing had happened. But from then on I didn’t skate in the carparks any more. I got the feeling that they were an “out of bounds” place for me.

Avoidance strategies

That wasn’t the only “out of bounds” area. Not long after, I started avoiding a street I’d walk down to go to school, because of the catcalls from more building workers. They made me feel uncomfortable and helpless – powerless. I don’t know what their goal was in whistling to a pre-teen, but its effect was my discomfort.

I took a longer, different way to school from then on. My brother once asked me why, but I felt too awkward to tell him. Once again, I felt like I’d done something wrong, and like if I told him, I’d be admitting some type of weakness or defeat in myself for not having the strength to ignore the hecklers.

But I was only a kid.

You get 10%, they get 90%

There were countless other instances like this. When I moved back to school in Australia, I made the faux pas of going out on to the oval to play, and was immediately held in contempt by my new friends when I returned at lunch.

“We don’t play there,” I remember Kathryn telling me. “That’s for the guys. Girls stay on the asphalt. But only in the courtyards, and not near the transportables.”

I didn’t ask why the girls only played in about 10% of the school property, while the boys could go wherever they wanted. We had 10%, they had 90%. I was a young teenager, and you just didn’t ask questions like that: it was social suicide to do so, and even more suicidal to try to violate the unwritten rules.

Conform or die

My mother never got a straight answer when, on my second day at my new school in Australia, I took her dressmaking scissors to my yellow checked school uniform and hacked a full foot and half off the length of its skirt.

“What have you done that for!” she demanded in anger.

“It’s how we wear them,” I said snarkily, parading around in the dress whose skirt now barely covered my ass cheeks. “All the girls wear them like this. Nobody wears them long!”

And I was telling her the truth. But I never asked myself why.

I didn’t ask why. None of the girls did. We just wore our skirts as short as we could, and the shorter the better. Mum didn’t push it. Maybe she knew the unspoken reason better than I did.

Hypocrites and liars

All through my school years I used to sit with my friends and discuss boys and the soaps on TV, neither of which I was particularly interested in. But I had to keep the show up, and if I hadn’t at least pretended to be interested in the conversation, I’d have had no friends at all.

Everyone was talking about who had done what with whom. I hadn’t done anything – I’d kissed a few guys but that was it, but I lied and told outrageous stories of my sexploits with the best of them.

I don’t think anyone believed me but then, I didn’t really believe any of the stories my friends told me either. It was a bizarre competition of lies and one-upmanship, where the best bragging won the day. But at the same time, while we were sharing all our outrageous fabrications, we were slagging off the real “sluts” of the school who everyone just knew were really truly sexually active.

Because they were trash.

In other words, we were hypocrites and liars, and jealous ones at that, who hated the girls who were maybe actually doing what we secretly longed to do. Or longed to do, but were scared of doing. Or maybe were thinking about doing but weren’t ready for just yet.

Diets and magazines

Society makes objects of all women, and it certainly objectified me. I remember starting my first diet when I was in my early teens, even though I was underweight. My best friend ended up in hospital with bulimia – she got down to 27 kgs (59 pounds) and nearly died.

We were obsessed with looking like the girls in magazines, and distressed that we looked…well, like ourselves. Like normal young women.

Looking back, it wasn’t my body I was uncomfortable with, it was the objectifcation that came with being a woman. Being told I had to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way.

When you don’t fit

I didn’t fit the stereotype of small, delicate, weak, meek, quiet, gentle. No matter what I did or how I tried, I was big, tall, strong, powerful, intelligent, geeky, sporty, awkward…and the objectification that came with being a woman made me even more acutely aware that I didn’t fit the gender role I was supposed to submit to.

What it’s really about

I’m grown up now, and these things don’t affect me as much as they used to. But I still cringe when I get wolf-whistles – because that small, awkward girl inside of me remembers. They’re not a compliment. They never were a compliment.

They’re about control. And power.

And there are places in the city where I feel uncomfortable and unsafe, despite being nearly six feet tall and a weightlifter and probably well strong enough to defend myself. This is an experience common to all women – from the moment we learned that we can’t play on the playground any more, because “that’s where the boys play”, we’ve never felt like our world was our own any more.

An experience commonly shared…being the object. That’s what learning to be a woman is all about. That’s why strong girls grow up into awkward women, and take decades sometimes to reover themselves. Our society is cruel.

But I can’t help wondering, would I be a different person if I’d stood my ground, walked on past the hecklers, kept skating in the carpark despite the threat? And maybe we can teach our daughter to be strong too.

Just my thoughts. Because nobody should be forced to be an object.

Is monogamy dying? And did it ever really live?

Most of my friends are, publicly or not, in open relationships.

Most didn’t start out that way. Most started with the whole girlfriend-boyfriend dating thing, and moved on to marriage or permanent de facto status. Many even vowed to “forsake all others”, and probably meant it when they made those vows.

But times change, and when you’re in your twenties, or whatever, you don’t really comprehend, at a visceral level, what “forsaking all others” really means.

marriage

I couldn’t have imagined the person I am now, when I was in my twenties. I couldn’t have imagined everything I would go through, and suffer through, to get to this point in my life.

I had no idea of the changes that would happen in me, and in my partner. To say I was naive when I got married is an understatement.

My experiences weren’t typical – I had a harder lot than most – but everyone goes through some hard stuff in their life. And everyone’s relationships change, some for the better, some for the worse.

But now, talking privately with close friends the other night, it came out that not one of us was in the closed, monogamous relationship we’d envisaged when we’d made our vows and promises as our younger selves.

Some of my friends are cheating on their partners. Other have divorced, or are separating. Many are in open marriages, with regular partners on the side for one or other of them.

Some have had affairs. Others separated and got back together and separated again. And some are still with their partner, but just don’t have sex and are plain old miserable.

I’ve friends who have been so lonely in their marriages that they cried themselves to sleep at night while their partner snored on unknowingly beside them. Others who might as well be celibate, for all the sex they’re having. And others who have taken on same-sex lovers, after realising that the reason their marriage didn’t work is because they’re gay.

My friends aren’t unusual. They’re a pretty typical mix of 30 and 40-something middle class New Zealanders. Some better off, some worse off. Most in professional jobs, some in blue collar work. Some are stay at home mums.

But all of this got me thinking,

– Is monogamy dead? Is it something that only ever existed in name only, on a church register, while in reality it never actually worked for anyone outside of a Disney fairytale?

– Are we the first generation to experience this? Or did previous generations do the same? Are they doing the same?

– Why is society clinging to the idea of monogamy if it isn’t working for most of us, maybe for any of us? Is it time for a change? And, if so, what do we replace it with?

We’re no different to previous generations

I honestly think, looking at the evidence, that we’re no different to previous generations. With one major difference: women can leave miserable situations, whereas in the past they often couldn’t.

I look at my mother, who was the “love child” of an affair her mother had, in between two marriages.

I look at my paternal grandmother, who had (I think) five, maybe six, marriages in her life. Serial monogamy, maybe, but not exactly Disney. And one of the guys she married was a bigamist – there was scandal attached at the time!

I look at my distant family tree in the past, with relative after relative whose paternity was “under question”. My family was no different from any other. The world is full of bastard children and “young aunts” who were actually unwed mothers.

Looking at all of this, it seems monogamy was always something that people aimed for, rather than the standard everyone typically achieved.

And it shows me that we are no different to the generations that went before. Yes, single mothers get a lot of criticism – but there were always single mothers, and lots of them. It’s just that in the past their ‘sins” were hushed up and the children taken away.

I think the Disney fairytale, the “happily ever after” we’re led to believe in, is cruel and hurtful.
And it’s a fairytale – not true, nor likely to be true.

Why does society cling to monogamy, if it clearly doesn’t work?

I really don’t know the answer to this one. Maybe you do. The best I can do is wonder what would happen if monogamy didn’t exist.

Would people reform into tribes, or poly groups, rather than “nuclear” family units? Would the shape of housing change? Would children be better off with potentially more adults caring for them?

Or would women be left with the burden of supporting any children they gave birth to alone, as men moved from one partner to another without legal responsibility?

I don’t know.

In name only

What I do know is that monogamy doesn’t exist among my friends. It’s probably pretty rare everywhere, once marriages hit five years old or so.

I wonder at what point this will all become open and honest and people will start to discuss what’s actually going on in society?

Food for thought.

What do you think?

Same sex marriage laws change in the UK – and the Churches get all confused

With the change in laws allowing same sex marriages to take place in the United Kingdom, the first marriages have taken place.

gaymarriageuk

Not everyone is happy of course. The Churches are looking all confused – on the one hand preaching that “God is love” while on the other hand saying, “wee-eeeell, maybe God is love – but not quite for all people. Not for you gay people over in the corner, anyway.”

And the politicians who, in not too distant memory were all iffy and uffy about same sex marriage, now rush in their full acceptance of the cause, saying, “We were on your side all along! Yes, really!”

Then there are groups who claim that same-sex marriage will persecute traditional marriage types. I’m not sure how – and neither are they, as they don’t quite specify the details – but they’re vehement on the matter.

Vaguely familiar

The thing is, all this denying and delaying and complaing and whinging about being persecuted sounds eerily familiar. The same complaints were heard, and the same arguments, every time a persecuted minority (or majority) has gained rights.

The same arguments were used against the civil rights movement in the US (didn’t you know whites are discriminated against?), and the same against women rights (men are being persecuted now – didn’t you know?). It’s the same old line, used over and over.

It never held water then, and it doesn’t now.

Australia is a backwater

My home country of Australia is starting to look more and more like a backwater of human rights. I’m embarrassed. I’m living in New Zealand now, but I follow the Aussie news, and I feel ashamed that Australia hasn’t led the way on this issue. Especially when so much of the population is clearly in favour. It seems like the politicians have stopped listening to the people. Or maybe that happened a while back…

But you can’t stop change. The Churches in the UK are against this, but popular opinion is changing so swiftly in favour of this issue that they’ll soon be left behind, if they aren’t already. Just one more way in which mainstream religions are losing touch with popular culture.

These are interesting times we live in. I think there are some issues that are changing a little too fast for my liking, such as the amount of violence on TV and film. But other issues, such as rights for minorities, can’t change fast enough.

What do you think?