Monday 2 August 2021

Don’t Call Me ‘Badass’

The air of the late 2010s was thick with platitudes for the ‘empowered’ woman. Hashtags were affixed before phrases like ‘girlboss’ and ‘bossbitch’, and bandied about equally–if not more–by women who had had enough of not being taken seriously. It was language employed specifically to help us rise in a universe where we had been routinely pushed down, meant to elevate us to the warrior status we felt we deserved handling all the things we did. 

And it soon became exhausting. 

To go into the sexism of a phrase like ‘girlboss’ is a train of thought for a different track. It is a qualifier that is as demeaning as the terms ‘actress’ or ‘comedienne’, but it is not what I’m going to talk about today. Today is reserved simply for this idea of the ‘superhuman’ woman that the media–both traditional and social–has created in its quest for empowerment. The woman from that Netflix series that makes men quake in their boots. That woman from new literature that has an unerring instinct, one no man can compare to. The woman from your Instagram feed who manages her self-owned business, two children and rock-hard abs with equal aplomb, and never fails to hashtag it in her Sunday selfies. 

It was an idea that was created to exalt women, to give us respect that was centuries due. It was a crusade to highlight exactly how much we do–and how much we’re capable of it.

The idea of the ‘invulnerable’ woman, the woman who is a ‘boss’ at everything she does, was created to combat years of subtle (and often overt) media oppression–from the relegation of female leads in cinema to romantic interests, to sexist washing machines advertising, directed to women as a tool to make homemaking easier. From Arya Stark to Moana to Gadot’s Wonder Woman, characters were crafted as a response to the sexist perception of weakness. And, in doing so, made them infallible. 

Don’t get me wrong; It’s intentions were as noble as any young man of breeding seated at the Downton Abbey dinner table. But, in its endeavour to do good, it created a monster. It created the idea of a woman that could always ‘get it’. She had every solution, every snappy comeback, every kind of confidence the universe had to offer. She could outwit the best of men, run a company at 23 with minimal training, or win in a physical fight through a combination of skill and dexterity. She was invincible, and you’d be sorry to fuck with her. 

Which is great, sure, if you look at it as a counter to women having been portrayed as props. To having their lives and careers treated as tertiary to the men in their lives. It was a great counter to the patronising ‘pat-pat’ vibe that the 1960s and 70s cultivated whenever a woman had achievements outside of the kitchen area. It was a strong answer, a slap in the face to the patriarchal POV that had dictated women be treated as second best. 

But its 2021. And it's not enough. 

In an era that claims a higher degree of ‘wokeness’ than any of its predecessors, to try and push a view of women that ‘girlbossifies’ them is weak. Its a form of problematic that’s different from diminishing them, but it's problematic all the same. By venerating women to the point of superhero status sets up a mental health crisis of its own, just waiting to happen. It pushes an idea of women that can–and should be able to–do anything. It pushes an idea of women that always have the answer, the skills, the power and the will. It pushes the idea of women that can’t fuck up. 

And that is just simply not fair. 

We can fuck up. We do fuck up, and we should be able to fuck up. On some days, I will glide through the waters of life like a sailboat–doing at work, at the gym, at my relationship, at my writing. On those days, I’m a star. On others, though,I will be breathing dead weight, incapable of anything productive–or, rather, anything outside of Netflix binge of a show I’ve already seen too many times (I’m looking at you, Gilmore Girls). And on those days, nothing upsets me more than watching a woman on screen problem-solve with her left hand and while she slicks on a fabulous lipstick with her right. 

When we ask for equality, we ask for it in real terms. You have men treated and portrayed as fantastic, flawed, successful, brilliant, failing–you have men treated as human. Capable of greatness, but also of weakness. And that equality is exactly what’s lacking.

In the elevation of women to this exemplar of ‘everything’ lies an act almost as patronising as reducing her to a sandwich-fixer... though perhaps with slightly better intent. Think of it as as the feminism equivalent of people who ‘Don’t See Colour’ or ‘Have Many Gay Friends’. 

The valorization of the mother as the caregiver, as the selfless nurturer. The rah-rahing of every woman with a family and career as ‘the diva who does it all’. The idea of the power CEO who still makes time for philanthropy. It's a taxing ideal, one most men don’t have to contend with, because they only really need to be good at something, never at everything. 

So if you want to be an ally who is actually validating, not patronising, retire this buzzworthy jargon, this idea of the woman who ‘kicks ass, no matter what.’ I can kick your ass, sure, but I can also be afraid, and tired, and nervous and strung out. I don’t want my human tendencies to be glossed over in favour of being this ne plus ultra of the ‘perfect 2021 woman’. I don’t want to be a ‘bossbitch’. I don’t want to be a ‘badass’. I just want to be a person. 

Friday 15 December 2017

An Open Apology To Writing

I never thought I'd lose writing.

It seemed as natural as always having toes. It was the one thing that warmed the cockles of my waning spirit as I traversed a sea of mathematics and technology that terrified me with its arctic depths. It was almost this mother-figure that would love me and stand by me, no matter how rigorously I put it through the wringer. It tried not to judge me as I grappled desperately with the ever-fattening demands of journalism, and twisted a phrase so it was grammar-unfriendly, but a moth-to-clickbait's-flame.

It watched patiently as I sacrificed a turn of phrase dripping with derision and delicious audacity for one that was, to put it simply, 'on-brand'. It watched as I replaced language with jargon, and forgave me for the haphazardness of youth. It took a shafting on the regular, happy only in its service, pleased to be part of my day-to-day with such unwavering delight that it took what it could get; misogynist undertones and the fondant of frivolity in tow.

And it didn't sound out so much as a peep as I chose ambition over passion. As I neglected to acknowledge that, in the jelly-mold-set career paths we all drone down, onward and forward with unfettered singularity, I was giving up the one thing that made getting up on a grey day with biting candour in it's chill, worth it. In even the lowest moments of candy-almond vapidity, there was solace, because the writing was there. It was the long-distance of loves, but the commitment was there.

And in one fell swoop of a pre-packaged society-spurred desire to propel myself upwards into the vagueness of the 'bigger, better', I renounced the one thing I had promised myself to in the Bambi-eyed freshness of my youth, and renewed in the mild (mostly misinformed) wisdom of the twenty-something: That I'd 'do what I loved'.

And now, as poor writing stands aching for a way to break into my everyday, it watches me tweak, admonish and shape other writers as my own mighty pen (or rather, solitary typing finger) is laid to rest, only to be brandished in gentle spurts as it control<deletes a dying phrase and replaces it with my own voice, quietly yearning to sing.

It watches, as I labour in the hope that someday, I'll find a few spare seconds to check if I remember how to write. And I wonder, with my desperation at its discreet best, when I will forget.

Friday 12 May 2017

A Hack Of All Trades

“I’m Exactly Like That!" is a phrase I use too often. I say it every time someone picks tomatoes out of their food, and talks about how they can spend 17 solid hours marathon-ing British panel shows. I feel akin to somebody that’s never seen Lord Of The Rings, or that doesn’t know how to cycle. It’s not unusual to have that almost consanguineal feeling with a friend or a stranger, but I sometimes wonder if that tends to govern the way I function.

It’s a messy little pastiche of thoughts—I’ll separate the elements to try and come to some compromise on coherence.

I feel that way like, 97 percent of the time.

It’s unreal how often I find a natural tilt toward someone frame of mind, someone’s opinions or someone’s world view. You’d argue that well, 'of course you do'. Doesn’t everyone agree with someone? What’s so unusual about having an opinion that syncs up with someone else’s?

There is the theory that there is no such thing as an original thought—and this surprised gasp of yours flows seamlessly into this theory—if someone has an opinion, how unlikely is it that you’ll have it as well.

That’s the thing, though. I agree, and I don’t. That’s a quintessential example of my dual-view of the world. I agree with everyone—and disagree with them in equal parts.

There are certain things I can’t counter myself on—the things I mentioned at the start. When something about me is a Definitive Fact.  I don’t like whole tomatoes, I just don’t. Non-negotiable. I’ll never like them, so I’ll never be able to nod in compliance with someone who could make love to a chunky bruschetta.

But the other things—the ones that aren’t set in stone but, perhaps, fast-drying clay, are more up for debate. When I hear somebody talk about how they can’t live without a workout, I feel all their feels. But at the same time, I feel a hearty kinship with someone who prefers fries to free-weights, and I think to myself, 'I’m so much like her!' I love working out, and I look down on it simultaneously.

This strange discord extends to multiple things. In my head, I’m just as much an insouciant flower child as I am a hardwired corporate bitch. I’m just as big on going out as I am on staying in. I’m as much for living out your dreams as I am for being staid, stable and paycheck-centric.

It becomes hard to pronounce my loyalties to a certain school of thought, because the idea of choosing that archway means closing every other door. I can’t be competitive and collaborative. I can’t be forgiving and vengeful. I can’t be body confident and wildly insecure about it at the same time…now, can I?

It’s extremely stymieing to have binary opinions about everything, but damnit, I do. I want to be all the things. I am the judge and the judged in every scenario. I hate Rom-Coms (so formulaic) but I love Rom-Coms (so comforting). I love the idea of living in a small town, but I loathe the idea of giving up the Big City Life. I think I'm a Jessica Pearson and a Liz Lemon. I’m pro animal rights, but also pro bacon.

I don’t know if anyone identifies with it at all—it is, after all, a terribly skewered thought. But I felt like I just had to write about it.

And at the same time, I really wish I hadn’t.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

“It’s not your fault...”

It was a mantra she’d started to recite on the way home. His mere presence in the front seat of the gargantuan jeep they were in was making her feel the desire to quake, but her muscles were thankfully abiding by her mental instructions to keep her body in check.

The liquor should’ve left her system, but it felt like it had blended with her blood. She felt the same way she always felt when she got off a long bus ride—dirty to her very core. Usually, a hot shower and whatever fragrant, floral shower gel was perched on her little shower stand had served as an immediate remedy. She had an inkling it might not be quite as effective this time.

Her best friend clutched her hand. She’d only been able to piece together her dismantled thoughts to tell her about it in the morning, when she'd finally mustered the courage to burst in on her, as she was finishing up her liaison with her indefinable 'friend'.   

As she’d stumbled through the words in front of her shocked, naked friend, set to the soundtrack of running water and the visual effects of shower steam, she felt for the first time what it might mean to be ‘handicapped’. Her body was betraying her mind, failing to act as the vessel of communication it should, and it was making her want to scream—but again, she couldn’t.

She hadn’t been able to all of last night. She could count how many times she had wanted to. It was a feeling she would remember all her life, that rhapsodical yearning to shout aloud in protest, with not one crumb of the strength she needed to do it.

She had wanted to every time her friend had left her drunk and immobile, in the darkened room she had deposited her in, folded like a calzone in a threadbare mattress.

She had wanted to every time he entered the room after he’d ascertained she had left. Every time his six-foot-two football player’s figure slid into the sliver of space beside her, and took it over with the immenseness of his frame.

The same eyes she’d commented on as being attractive in a private whisper to her friend now glinted occasionally at her in the shades of the black the room had settled into, and she had wanted to every time they darkened a little more with every touch.

She wanted to every time he left with a nervous quickness at the sound of approaching voices, and every time her friends returned to ‘make sure she was okay’. Her unintelligible squawks were classified as drunken attempts to join in the chatter, and petted away via friendly strokes of her disheveled hair.

She had wanted to when he came in again. And again. And again. Moving in a fluid pattern of timing and precision and once upon a slip, the pretence of ‘checking up’ on her. It became a circle of hell in its litany, and she was frozen.

She wanted to when they came in and spoke to her in hushed tones, telling her they were going to go over and sleep  in another friend’s house, but that she shouldn’t worry. He would stay with her. ‘Look after’ her. Drive her home the next morning.

She had taken all her screaming-strength and sent it to her legs, that buckled in myriad ways as she fumbled chaotically for support to stand. She had clung to her friend’s neck and not let go, and she had let them take her away with them.

She had wanted to when her friend lay her down gently and with the innocence of oblivion and good intent in a room, and gone off to fuck the man that had been waiting to all evening, in the room next door.

She had wanted to when he came in lay down beside her, charged afresh by the frantic moans flowing relentlessly from the adjoining room.

She had wanted to the hardest when his girlfriend came in, the after-tones of happy conversation in her voice and called out for him. Her body had never felt as exhausted as the last four hours had made it. With the battered breath of someone who had just returned from battle, she had gone to sleep, her arms clutched around her body by default.

Her friend finding out had made her Fort Knox herself, and he couldn’t come anywhere near her without her friend almost emanating a near-feline hiss. (It hadn’t touched the mood of the rest of the collective that was gathered around coffees and last night’s leftovers, the tenor of the soiree unsuspecting and dynamic.)

And now, the car they had piled into (simply because they had piled out of it together last night) had skidded to a stop outside her house. She started the short walk up the narrow artery that led to it, and her friend scrambled out of the car to walk with her. After assuring her several times that she didn’t, in fact, need her to stay, her friend hugged her tightly for many minutes and said:

“You can’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.”

And she knew, with the fire of a thousand burning suns, that she was right.

And she knew, that for everything she wrote about, rallied about, talked about and preached about, she still felt like it was. And that made her want to scream the most of all.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Stop. Hillary Losing Does NOT Equal Women Losing.

And proclaiming it with your social media loudspeakers blaring on ‘neighbour alert’ doesn’t make you a feminist.


I’m going to start with a quick disclaimer: I’m no expert on politics. People here to find bones in my soup of ponderment (let’s hope this phrase sounds believable enough to evade Googling) can bow out now—you will probably win your little battle.

My main mission statement here is less about the election itself, and more about social media’s extremely diverse (but unfailingly entertaining) reaction to yesterday’s damning results.

In what seemed like a surreal, lucid dream (or an episode of Black Mirror/South Park, to reference social media), Donald Trump was declared the 45th President of the United States of America last morning.

It’s safe to say it was in the internet’s job description to explode.

As much as the very thought of this man being the leader of the superpower that is America filled my chest with bile, the creative flicker in my soul was happy just to be a party to a segment of history that would go down in the books as something that truly shook the world.

And how do you relish in the very moment, and celebrate being alive to witness something so momentous (albeit horrific)?

You turn to social media, of course.

I chose to stick to Twitter—in my opinion, the closest to actual self-expression that social media can get (suffice to say, I’m still not an Instagram type of ‘gal’), and it delivered—the place was awash with hilarious cries for help, some genuinely heartbreaking post-election reactions, and, far more upsetting than anything, the odd Trump-ed Twit talking about how the ‘good days were on their way’.

Luckily, there were enough Tweets about this officially being the apocalypse to assuage my ebullient panic. Including, might I add, a hilarious George RR Martin—whose books I haven’t read, and the shows based on which I’ve never watched, but who’s enough of a cult giant for me to have garnered a small arsenal of catch phrases (“You know nothing, Jon Snow", and ‘I drink, an I know things’ being top of the pile)—to go ‘Winter is coming. Told you so”.

But none of these Tweets annoyed me quite as much as every woman in the fray choosing this time to go, “Oh, you know why this happened, right, right, RIGHT? It’s because Hillary’s a WOMAN.”

Wow. Um, No.

What’s upsetting is how a little a grasp of the situation every person who has Tweeted or Facebooked this has of what has actually been happening here.

I’m going to start by quoting Tim Urban’s post on WaitButWhy, because the moment I read this line, I felt a brother-from-another-mother feeling take over my body. He says, succinctly and bluntly:

I don’t believe that for a second [that we’ll never have a female president] and I don’t think you do either. Hillary didn’t lose because she’s a woman. She lost because Hillary is bad at campaigning and because Trump had a message that resonated with a lot of people and she didn’t. The country is unbelievably ready to elect a woman as its president and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next election or the one after. And it’ll be so awesome whenever it happens.

Straight off the bat, in said post, Urban declares that he was supremely crushed at Trump’s victory, but instead of going blind with seething rage, tried to analyse the situation for what it’s repercussions might be for the country, and the world.

The point he makes, however, is one I have been too wary to make because the world is currently up in arms, waiting to slice and dice anyone that toes the myriad lines of political correctness in the smallest of measures.

Regardless, as someone who may not be able to call herself many things with the kind of ardent axiom she can call herself a feminist, I feel like I can be candid.

I will be damned if you make this about feminism.

Has America screwed up? Yes, indeedio! Will it’s consequences have a catastrophic domino effect for generations to come? Probably! Did they just vote in (even though popular vote says they didn’t, but ah, semantics) a man who’s going to be the political equivalent of termites? They sure have!

But that’s the thing though? They didn’t do it because Hillary is a woman.

The people that voted for Trump did it because this man is out and proud about having the wildly bigoted, sexist and ruthless worldview he does (and believe me, ruthlessness is frightening enough in an intelligent man)—and because they like that about him. They don’t hate Hillary for being a woman, they hate her for her views on abortion, on letting in refugees, or racial harmony—and those views to them would have been as unattractive in the guise of a man (or so I’d like to believe).

 The proof of the pudding is how wildly the same people slammed Obama, asked for his birth certificate, and called his legalization of gay marriage ‘a straight move to landing the country in hell.’ I speak of those that genuinely think #MakeAmericaGreatAgain is a stellar idea, and now there is nothing to do but watch from the sidelines as the country unravels, and its whole foundation of liberty comes apart at the seams.

The fact is, the America she was standing for isn’t smart enough, or liberal enough, to want her.

But to peg that on the fact that she’s a woman demeans not only her, but the idea of feminism. The one kind of woman I detest, is the kind that uses feminism as a shield, at the ready. ‘Oh, you don’t like my poem? You’re just hating on me because I’m a woman?’ ‘Oh you think I’m not funny? Is it because you think WOMEN aren’t funny?’ ‘The only reason I didn’t get that promotion is because I’m a woman.’

I’m sure there are lots of circumstances where that’s true—but there are many where it really fucking isn’t, and to pretend that’s why it’s happening makes you pretty despicable. The whole idea of feminism is to stand level, not to try and use it to get a leg up. In this case, you are boiling everything the person that is Hillary stood for with her gender—which is a part—not the essence—of who she is. To say she lost because she’s a woman is a cheat, a low attempt by someone who either knows nothing of, or has totally misread, the election, and wants to feel included in the conversation.

Hillary didn’t win because America doesn’t deserve for her to win. And I’m pretty sure Hillary is woman enough to know that.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

You ‘Allow’ Your Wife What?

Hello, men. I figured it was about time I wrote to the gang. This is not to all of you, because there's a whole bunch of Radcliffes and Ruffalos out there who'll know exactly what I mean. But for those of who flagrantly fling about the aforementioned 'A' word, I feel like we need to chat.

This has been plaguing me since this one, fine Thursday that I was at lunch with some colleagues, and when that most ‘buzzworthy’ phrase from the millennial dictionary of trending shit (it is, in fact, the hot, hot 'feminism' I refer to) was brought up, the men at the table find themselves having to reluctantly contribute.

“Oh, but you should know that I let my wife wear whatever she wants,” quips a man well above a decade older than me, his voice dripping with pride for himself. “I allow her to go out late, wear short skirts—there's nothing I don’t allow her to do.”

The table is abuzz with murmurs. Everyone is terribly impressed. 'What a feminist man', they are thinking. 'How good of him, to let her do things her way What a lucky gal'. And I find it a slightly redundant exercise to try and make a point that’s clamped it’s hairy claws tight over my heart.

Because, um, who the flying fuck are you to ‘allow’ her anything?

It’s a hard point to raise to a table that’s all over itself for its progressiveness already. To them, they have taken a giant leap towards a liberal utopia, and it feels unfair to inform them of how skewed their views really are.

Men, not at this table, though—I feel like we can speak freely. The idea that it is your right, as a man, to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ a woman from making her own decisions essentially ties in to the belief system that the buck does indeed, stop with you. As the male figure, the figure of 'authority', you have chosen to afford the woman/women in your life certain freedoms.

But the truly fucked-up part of all this is that you look at these distributions of partial autonomy as some major benevolence on your part. “Look at me! I’m so terribly enlightened, I let my wife out of the house in a pinafore! I didn’t scream at all that she wasn’t wearing a salwar kameez. I didn’t beat her, or call her names, or cut off her allowance. Aren’t I fabulous? #McDreamy.”

The trouble, see, is that our notions of freedom are still so deep-fried in patriarchy that it becomes a natural phenomenon to work from it as a starting base. It seems the natural ‘prerogative’ of the man to either choose to give a woman—or withhold from her—her rights.

That’s the thing, though. You have nothing to do with those rights.

It’s comes clad in the couture of progress, sure—it has the fine-ass threads of gender-equality free trade all over it. You feel like you deserve a Costco-sized bag full of kudos for saying it’s okay for your ‘gal’ to gallivant till 2 a.m. or have a hemline that flirts with fate.

Not to sound militant about it, or anything—but hi. You actually don’t own her. Your marriage certificate doesn't double as a proof-of-purchase. She is not your pre-teen child, or your handheld device that you get to decide what she can and can’t do.

“Oh, no, but that not what we meant…” you might think to yourself, branding me a touch hysterical. I’ll clarify—I’m not trying to be callous or over-analytical. I’m simply exposing the dark patch of patriarchy that's been cauterised onto our minds, and how it’s impacted how we view the world. In your head, it may be a woman’s prerogative, but it exists in a ‘man’s world’. The minute you remove yourself from the equation altogether, though—ding, ding, ding!

It’s as simple as just realising that the freedom was never yours to give. You may be her husband or her lover, but she is your partner, not your property. She should be wearing her clothes and drinking her drinks because she’s okay with it, not you. That all-pervading skin of ownership that makes you believe you are making a decision to afford her her God-given freedom is precisely what you need to shed. The minute you realise that you can’t 'decide' if your wife can do XYZ, only support it, is when we can claim, for our cause, a small (albeit vital) victory.

So the next time you’re at lunch with people talking about how your wife chooses to dress, drink, drive or do whatever—drop the ‘A’ word. Makes you a little less of an ‘A’ word yourself. Thanks for listening, and, you know, for 'allowing' me to speak.