When girls are too strong

I left my home town when I was in my early 20s. I’m surprised it took me that long to leave.

Since then, I’ve lived in a different city in the same country, and in two other cities in other countries. But the crux of it all is I couldn’t stay in my home town. I was the cuckoo that had to leave the nest.

Our parents expectations of who we are and who we will be don’t stop when we become adults.

My parents wanted a daughter who would be pretty, feminine, traditional – and go on in life to do pretty, feminine, traditional things.

I was the exact opposite.

Born that way…

When a child arrives and they’re not who – and what – we expect and desperately want them to be, things get difficult. Especially for the child, if the parents insist on trying to mould them into becoming something they can never be.

There’s a reason why so many gay kids leave their home town, moving far away. I’m not gay, but in the same way as gay kids often do in traditional families, I didn’t meet expectations.

I was too strong to change who I was. The only way I could be true to who I am was to leave.

When a home is not a home

The best thing I ever did was leaving home. Looking back, I only wish I could have left before I even became an adult, had that been possible. My parents are good people, but my home was fiercely patriarchal.

Even now, when I go home to visit, I’m very much at the bottom of the pecking order. It’s expected that I’ll help with the household chores (together with my mother and brother’s wife), while my father and brother sit and drink whisky.

This isn’t a home in which I feel wanted, welcome or equal. I don’t feel loved there, or accepted for who and what I am. I feel like my parents try really hard, but that’s it – they’re just trying to love me.

My failure to accept my patriarchal roots was an expression of my own inner strength and who I truly am, which was only given a chance to develop once I left home and was no longer stifled.

Once I left home, I went on to become a community leader, a mentor to other women, an internationally-performed composer, a competitive athlete. A woman of strength. A person with purpose.

Why women are not equal yet

Again and again, I see articles in the media querying why women haven’t risen to equality across the board in society. After all, the articles argue, we achieved theoretical equality in the 1970s – surely it has been long enough since then?

Surely one generation should easily be able to erase the inequality of thousands of years of entrenched abuse and inequality? That’s not much! It can’t be that hard!

I know the answer: we’re still dealing with the legacy of inequality. We’re still unequal. We’re teaching what we knew ourselves to our daughters and sons.

I see it in the women who are spoken over in conversation, I see it in the absence of movies and media about women, I see it even in the programming club where I volunteer, and among the 9-12 year olds I teach only 1 of 15 is a girl, because it doesn’t occur to local parents that their daughters might like to learn how to program. Or be good at it.

We’re passing on a legacy of misogyny. It cuts to the core.

Strong-Woman-quote.-4jpg-300x300

Why strong girls leave home

Girls leave home when it ceases to support them. They don’t come back because there’s nothing to come back for. I moved cities because, away from home, I could finally be myself without my parents criticising everything I did. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

When I return home for visits, every two years or so, yet again I feel that stifling, patriarchal, controlling weight holding me down and crushing my spirit.

Family dynamics can be difficult, especially when you don’t fit in with your family’s expectations. In anyone else’s world I’d be a success: I’m a professional woman, I’ve achieved in my career and in my hobbies, I’ve made a positive difference for so many people.

But what I wanted to do and be just didn’t fit in with what my family wanted. I was never going to be subservient and feminine. I was never going to be the pretty girl. I was never going to be the perfect daughter – an exact copy of my mother, minus all her mistakes. I was always going to be my own person. I think that came as a shock.

Raising girls is just raising little humans

Our society has a real problem in raising girls, especially non-traditional girls. We’re fine with girls who want to follow traditional paths, and who are beautiful in traditional ways, but we struggle with women who want to be soldiers, or bodybuilders, or engineers, or programmers.

Or even with women who just want to speak their minds.

We do our best to push and shove our girls into a tiny box labelled “acceptable” and anything else we don’t know what to do with. It’s time we started accepting our daughters – especially our strong, unique, powerful daughters – as amazing human beings in their own right.

It’s time we honoured their strength.

It’s time we welcomed them home.

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Boys will be boys!

“Boys will be boys.” Have you ever said this? I know I have.

sexism

And have you ever realised how degrading it is to say that?

Look, I hate it when someone calls me a “girl”. I’m a woman. I’ve had a woman’s life for the last thirty years, I’ve two kids, I’ve been married. I’m emphatically not a “girl”.

Worse still, a “good girl”. Call me a “good girl” and it’ll really annoy me!

pow

So how can it ever be okay to call a grown man a “boy” and belittle his achievements in the same way?

Our world needs women. And men. Not boys. I’m not saying that we can’t be childlike at times, or playful. I’m not saying we can’t have our toys, or be fun. But I am saying that we need our adults, with our adult viewpoints and experience and responsibilities, more than ever.

The pic at the top of this article is degrading to both men and women. On the one hand, it supports the myth that only women can manage home duties. On the other, it degrades the ability of men to care for a home and family. Neither is true.

I know incredible single dads as well as amazing dads who are married. My own ex-husband is a wonderful parent, and I’d have no doubt at all in his ability to care for our kids on his own for an extended period should he have to.

Men from all walks of life can do these things. These are adult responsibilities for an adult to do, not a child.

Likewise, women are equally capable of holding down a part-time job or a high-powered career, whichever we choose. These abilities are not tied to which genitals we possess.

It’s not the least bit empowering to women to suggest that men cannot do tasks traditionally seen as “womens”, therefore women must do them. Instead, it’s actually a sneaky undermining of the equality that we seek, to the disadvantage of everyone.

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.

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.

Hit like a girl…

This viral video came through on my Facebook feed the other day:

All i can think is, What are we doing in our society that is so, so wrong?

I remember the point in sport when I stopped trying. I also remember the point at school when “popularity quizzes” took over, and one of the girls was asking all the boys who they liked, and ranking the girls in the class, top to bottom. I was pretty much near the bottom. I remember trying to figure out why, and being told it was because I was a tomboy, and “didn’t even try to be pretty or act like a girl.”

I guess I was too busy, well, being me.

I was a late bloomer. Very late. All through school I was on the sidelines in the popularity stakes, mainly because I did my own thing and had my own interests. Girls weren’t supposed to do that. If you wanted to be popular, you had to focus your world around the guys. Everything had to revolve around them. And if you were better than them at anything, you really copped it hard.

There’s so much pressure on our kids – boys and girls – to behave certain ways, look certain ways, have certain interests. It seems to be getting worse. I worry about the effects porn will have on my kids as they move into their teenage years. How are they supposed to experiment safely with sex when there’s so much out there telling them what to do and how to do it? The world is a minefield.

But getting back to the clip above, yes, I remember the point at which I stopped trying. I remember the point at which I was told, in very strong social terms, that to try in sport was “lame” and “square” (the words of the era), and that I would certainly not be socially acceptable if I wanted to run well, throw well, play sport well.

I got over it. University was a blessing to me, because it was a world where doing our own thing was encouraged. I got right back into sport with a vengeance, and I haven’t looked back. More recently, I’ve got into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and I do things in the gym that are very “ungirly”. I lift more than most of the men at the gym, and I’m damn proud of that. I’ve earned my stripes.

I hope that my kids will be proud of who they are, and their interests, and their quirks. I hope they’ll learn that being a girl is a good thing, a powerful thing.

It’s time for change.

Child poverty, contraceptives and abortion: Hobby Lobby hypocrisy

Have you ever noticed how the people who are most vocally anti-abortion also seem to be the least likely to care about child poverty in their communities?

Sure, they’ll rant and rage over a bunch of cells when they’re inside a woman, and talk about the rights of the foetus, and do everything they can to destroy a woman’s rights. But what about those babies who are born, and living in poverty, and whose parents are struggling to feed them, clothe them, educate them?

Child-Poverty-Rates

Ah, well, they seem to be a different story.

I don’t take well to hypocrites. I also happen to be very strongly in favour of women’s rights, and in favour of bodily autonomy. Perhaps this post says it better than I can here:

abortion

But the hypocrisy is getting my goat right now. Take the Hobby Lobby, for instance. On the one hand, obstructing women’s access to contraceptives while on the other supporting, with practically every dollar they make, sweatshop practices that seem to be brutally at odds with the welfare of any children. Or adults.

Then there’s this:

HLmeme

I’m glad I live in New Zealand, where contraceptives are easily, cheaply available and no-one questions it. Where abortions are readily available and they’re nobody’s business but the woman’s and her doctor’s.

All women deserve these rights. We need to stand up against the hypocrites who think they have any sort of automatic access to our bodies and what we do with them, and tell that it’s not okay to tell us what to do. It’s never okay.

And, while we’re at it, how’s about those pesky hypocrites start paying attention to the children in poverty who really need their attention instead!

pleasehelp

Rant over.

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?