Newt In A Tea Cup

{December 29, 2006}   Where Do We Go?

Lately I’ve been suffering from a particular French word- “malaise”. Whilst the English translations say things like “dissatisfaction” and “melancholy” or “disquiet” the word is subtler than that. Breaking it down it simply means ill at ease (mal a l’aise) but it also has connotations of physical discomfort. It certainly sounds close to “maladie” the word for “illness”. So it’s the word for mental anguish and discomfort taking a physical presence and form.

I feel physically ill because of the things I see and mentally perceive.

The lad’s mags on the shelf made my head tighten, the pink and fluffy Playboy merchandise made my throat go raw and dry. I don’t feel well and my arms and legs feel heavy.

So what do I do?

More importantly where do I go?

When someone is ill, they go to hospital, but there are no hospitals or doctors available to someone feeling socially and culturaly ill. I guess activism is the answer but it’s difficult to fight for a better world when one has no idea what that would be like. It’s fighting for something that feels as intangible as a cloud sometimes, and that brings its own problems.

Here is the philosophical conundrum: truth and misery that you cannot fully change? Or ignorance and happiness?

Where do I go?

I remember reading Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple (a book I recommend to everyone) and in it the protagonist- a black woman living in the era of segregation and who is further victimised by seemingly all the men in her life – dreams of Africa. Africa is the home she has never seen, where she can be free. It is the home of her mothers and of proud people just like her. It is a place that symbolises her identity even though she has never been there.

So where is my own place?

Where do I go?

I do not even pretend to have faced that same degree of struggles, as I have grown up with a lot of privilege; I’m white, able-bodied, relatively well-off, well-educated and whilst I’m certainly not considered traditionally pretty I’m not at all fat. I don’t believe that anyone has gone out of their way to oppress me consciously because of those reasons, though I have dealt with a lot of bullying when I moved to this country.

(Some was racially motivated- I came from France and spoke with an American accent which isn’t a good combination in the days coming up to the Iraq war and especially not in England which has a natural antipathy to those countries anyway. However I’m not about to start on woe-is-me.)

But sometimes the collective cultural pressure gets to me. Sometimes, like today, when I’m shopping for clothes and see all those shop assistants with perfect smooth and acne- free faces, clothes that will never look good on me and all the other crap pressures hoisted on women I feel like crying.

And when I feel like crying – where the hell do I go?

I know there are a nice group of safe-spaces for women on the Internet but sometimes I want a physical safe-space because the problems are just that- physical.

And tell me, what do women have that men haven’t had first or created or appropriated?

It’s funny but sometimes I wonder if a great problem that women face when it comes to actualising ourselves is that we have very little, or very little acknowledged, cultural heritage. We have no Motherland to dream of, no Africa. We don’t have an identity of our own. Everything written about women, everything said about women (and I accept there may be a slight hyperbole there) has to do with men and us – not us alone.

We are not allowed to stand-alone and together as one group, and so we don’t know what we want because we have never had it.

I am speaking as a white woman here, and this does not hold true for everyone but I know that I want this- I want my own Africa.

Because where else do I go?


{December 26, 2006}   The Fear

So here I am with my glass of Vermouth and Creme de Cassis, reeling from all the food of the holiday season and I feel it’s time to write something. I’m not quite sure what yet and I’m ever so slightly tired but here it goes anyway.

I guess what I’m going to talk about is The Fear.

We all know It, us women. We live beside It and sleep beside It. We walk with it burrowing in our minds and It has a little conduit that permits It to climb up and out at any time.

And yet, we don’t like to talk about it. Oh, of course we infer. We chat about the men who came up to us, about their chat up lines and how we wish they’d stop. But no one talks about The Fear. We don’t need to.

But at the same time, we don’t know how.

Funny how we aren’t encouraged to talk about much more than the superficial (probably cause in my experience that as led to a lot of feminist-style conclusions and general wickedness.)

How do you express something so primeval, something so basic and so ingrained that we think about it without knowing we are? How do you describe breathing?

Ever since we are little we are told what to be aware of, not to play too rough (because we’re fragile aren’t we?) and all the stories we hear tell us exactly how easy targets (because we are targets, they say) we are.

The world is full of bad people and they all want to hurt you, to do things to you. Watch out where you walk, who is there, be discreet.

Even now, it’s well known that the easiest trick in the filmmaking book is to show a woman walking alone in an alleyway and bingo! We all know that an unacompanied woman is going to end badly – unless the male hero saves her of course.

We are told that we are at the mercy of men to save or hurt us from Red Riding Hood to CSI.

And this creates The Fear.

Perhaps The Fear is the knowledge and worry that we are not strong, that we are not in control of ourselves. That we are commodities and prizes and worse than that (whisper it) disposable.

The Fear is for when we walk faster and clench our keys in our hands because of the man behind us. The Fear is when we watch our drinks like hawks and forget to dance. The Fear is when we make sure we wear so called “modest” clothes when we go on a walk so we don’t look like all those raped, bruised and battered women in the films and stories- those women whom we were told are stupid and brought it on themselves.

But who else is there?

None of us, I think, identify completely with the other saintly pure version of womanhood that we are given.

Deep down we know that we are the same as that attacked and hurt woman; that we are sisters and linked. And if she deserved it, we think without knowing, then what protects me?

Because The Fear is the one thing we all have to some degree or other- even if not for us, we worry and are scarred for our friends because of that universal primeval Fear that wraps around our very hearts.

We have no one to protect us except for ourselves and we are told again and again that we are fragile and break easily. So we turn to those we are scared of in the hope that they’ll allow us the freedom to be safe.

Whenever I talk to my womanish friends about this (because I’m the type of person who doesn’t shy away from TMI and gets people to do the same after a while) they always say “Men will never understand.”

And they won’t. Because they implement it collectively, a little pebble each to create a veritable mountain of Fear, they do not feel the individual weight of those of us underneath.

Because It is our Fear and our weight as women. But It shouldn’t be.

And once again I’ve waxed poetical and haven’t written much solid. But I’m writing this so I can understand myself and my own- something that women aren’t encouraged to do beyond the consumerist shoe shopping trip.

I’m sick of The Fear. It makes me sick. But it’s all I’ve ever known and I don’t think I’ll ever be free of it. Only we can understand but until the men take the personal responsibility to do their part, It’s not going anywhere. But sometimes I wonder if they’ve got too much privilege to even notice It- because they don’t need to.

{December 21, 2006}   Mom calls out sexism!

My mom just called my dad chauvinistic!

My conservative, women’s-place-is-at-home, mom!

She said- “You’re such a chauvinist. When you pray for a couple you only ever mention the husband as if he completely over-rules the wife.”

She picked up on that which I hadn’t noticed (despite my “fem-dar”) and I believe little details are important because our society and our lives our innevitably successions of little details.

She said “I’ve been fighting him on that since we first got married”.

And this shows something else I think. We all have our daily acts of feminism. We all notice things and agree with things that are feminist- whether it is concern at the size zero trend or feeling annoyed at someone cat-calling in the street.

The difference and the real revolution is in the language.

Labbeling chauvinistic and sexist actions as such is where the empowerment lies because until we understand what the actions are and are born from we cannot change them.

It is being able to articulate what we have always suspected by using the right terminology. So many young women I see believe completely in feminist principles and ideas. The problem is that they don’t understand that they are saying feminist words and therefore the solidarity is weakened because we are without common identity. The importance of the word “feminist” is that it claims that despite all personal differences we are working together for a society that values women and treats genders equally and justly. It is a banner. Without that banner we speak but we do not recognise our allies and we feel alone.

The words “chauvinism”, “misogyny” and “sexism” have a similar purpose. They serve to identify and unite the problems we have so we see a more coherent whole. If we are to destroy a social construct we need to see the entire social construct not just a few individual building blocks. We need to see how it all holds together, where the keystone is, where the foundations lie. We need to see what holds it together and without the knowledge and recognition of what that is (patriarchy) we cannot successfully dismantle or rebuild.

The process of labelling can be incredibly detrimental or positive depending on how and what. In the case of institutions and social constructs this is a step forward. It is recognition.

At the beginning of my mother’s marriage I doubt she would have labelled that as chauvinistic. And therefore it is lessened to a “quirk” that bothers her and can be safely carried on- a small personal habit. But now that she can turn and say “This is what your behaviour actually is and it isn’t a personal quirk but a sign of something bad that we need to change” she has gained a lot of power- even if it is said with a smile and a laugh.

Terrible things are allowed to happen through the power of anonymity and lack of knowledge. Words hold knowledge but also the ability to dispel anonymity; Using these words to point out the world we live in is yielding power in defining and challenging perceptions.

It doesn’t seem like much at all and in fact it’s just a small gesture. But small gestures add up to create the way we live and the way we live create societies.

I’m very proud of my mom right now. 🙂

{December 15, 2006}   “Vice Girls” or “Women”?

I believe that the presentation of women in the press and the recent spate of murders are linked. Let’s look at what we’ve got now.

We’ve got a scourge of papers talking about “Vice Girls”. The wording is very important there – look.

“Vice”. The connotations of that are tricky. Vice is bad, for sure but we aren’t sure whose vice we’re talking about now- the johns or the prostitutes? The fact is, it’s not made clear at all. We take what we will. Men, and us women to an extent, see vice as something regrettable but not really all avoidable or too tragic. There is a connotation of accommodation here – the “girls” are accommodating something for the men. In this case a sex transaction. They are receptacles for the overflowing vice that inevitably comes out. Of course.

And yet this is problematic for us cultured and civilised patriarchy loving citizens.
After all patriarchy teaches men to value ownership and women to value being owned; hence expressions like “my girl”, “my woman”- the possessive always in front of the subject to make clear what is important in the relationship. But we don’t like the object (the woman) to be simply lending her body- she has to be fully owned. That is a large part of the constant virgin fetish.

A woman must at the very least be completely besotted by the man and heartbroken when he leaves. If one is familiar with ancient myths and legends she will hopefully consider herself void and null once the transaction is terminated and commit suicide. We, as a culture, love the scorned woman who can’t get over her One True Love. (Meanwhile the One True Love is spilling his seed somewhere else.)

And whilst there is a transaction and the prostitute’s body is owned for a time bought, once that is over she moves on. She stops belonging to him and she’s really not torn up about never seeing him again. Another day’s work. And that, to many men, is inexcusable.

The problem with prostitution, to them, isn’t that it’s badly regulated, dangerous and physically and mentally very often degrading work. It’s that the woman doesn’t massage his ego all the time. That he knows she’s being paid for it and that he knows that she’ll do it to someone else. He has ownership but it’s not in full.

That is one of the reasons why women who work as prostitutes are often considered the lowest- they don’t work by the rules of relationships that men feel entitled to (maybe they expect them to be there in the morning cooking breakfast- Goodness knows!)

A woman who takes part in “Vice” is obviously a very, very bad woman.

Let’s look at the second part. “Girls”.

None of the women murdered were under 18. They are “women” not “girls”. Why is this important? Because a girl is young. A girl is naive. A girl needs taking care of. Or maybe a slap on the wrist. Girls don’t know how to think for themselves. People need to look out for girls but don’t need to take them seriously.

Whilst there’s something about girls that we like to think of as sweet- there is nothing “sweet” about prostitution. That is a perversion of girl and by combining the two there is a manifold effect. The nefarious effect of prostitution on those women is lessened to make the men seem less seedy and at the same time, the women are portrayed as disobeying and incapable. Stupid.
No one takes a “girl” seriously.

And these girls did something bad; Maybe the worst thing in the patriarchy (apart from being completely independent). So they deserve a punishment. Since they are only girls – and passive bad “vice girl” receptacles at that- it stands to reason that they are terminated for it.
And look- a “Ripper” did it. A divine dispenser of justice. Not a man. Not an entitled arsehole. A “Ripper”. How archaic. How quaint and full of Victoriana. A kind of cultural heritage. Aren’t we proud of it?

Personally I’m not.

But it stands to reason that following the completely twisted logic of the system the news reports are not sympathetic. The “girls” had it coming after all. So there is much tongue wagging but not much empathy. After all us “real women” play by the rules they decided. We make mature decisions that they approve of. We’re complete tools but we are “women” because they decide we are and we obey them. We are respectable.

More importantly we don’t want to imagine that we could have anything in common with those who are considered fair game for men’s violence. Not even our gender.

If you don’t think this is a gendered distinction replace “girl” with “boy” in the headlines. It just doesn’t seem to work or be seen much does it?

So they are neutered girls. Not women. A woman is your Mother. Your sister, your teacher. You respect women. But girls are things that you should have control over and should discipline.
We call them vice girls so they are treated like it, and they refer to it like that when they report it in the papers. It continues. Until these are no longer girls but women in their full proud stature and authority, men will continue believing they are allowed to “discipline”. Whether that discipline is a slap, a word or a murder.

This growth needs to continue in not only lexis but attitude. The two define each other.
It’s difficult to take a “Vice Girl” seriously.

But we are Women. They are Women. And this is something we are dead serious about. Because if we aren’t we’re just dead.

{December 11, 2006}   The Default

Reading the newspaper is something I love doing. Obsessively. I am, it seems, a bit of a paper junkie. I read ‘The Times’, ‘The Guardian’, sometimes ‘The Independent’ and, of course, the free papers that are handed to me on my morning commute – ‘The Argus Lite’ and ‘The Metro’. And this is where it gets interesting. Both are, forgive my judgement, sound-bite papers and only a couple of steps above ‘The Sun’ in terms of quality, mainly because they don’t have Page 3 girls (yet).

They are basically the paper of the journalist who doesn’t bother with deep research and whose longest article is not even half a page, despite the large print and even larger title. They are also brimming with subtle, but oh-so-there sexism.

Look – the paper of the uneducated, of those floating on the jetsam of what society feeds us, of those not looking for any mental improvement, lies in a sexist gutter.

NOTE: When I say uneducated I mean those who do not think for themselves and do not study around issues. I do not wish to base an argument on classism, please!

We can take from this what we will – a lazy life, a self-centred life (as advocated by lad’s mags) and a default life in our society is embedded with little instances of sexism on every page. Since this is the journalism that comes without thinking (and not saying that other newspapers don’t have their problems) this shows us what the default attitude is. Not a conclusive scientific study but it is no coincidence that those who prize intellectual ignorance tend to also advocate sexism.

Because sexism, along with racism, is the sociological, historical and still, though to a lesser degree, economic base of our society, the default fabric of our society is defective. To rise above this default it requires a conscious effort.

Notions of equality are something that our society squashes out of children through object lessons whilst preaching the end of prejudice at the same time. As a result we believe that the injustice is the herald that we have truly arrived and are better off (may I point to ladette culture and the rise of stripping?).

If we do not think, if we do not educate ourselves, we do not stay at the level our grandmothers have fought to achieve; we quickly snap back like a rubber-band to the default position.

The fight isn’t over until equality is the default.

Look around.

We’ve got a long way to go.

{December 10, 2006}   Welcome to the TeaCup!

This is my radical feminist blog where I am going to start hashing out loads of issues that fascinate and affect my life and that of women around me. My aim is to get a discussion going and to make people think. Feminism, to me, is something intrinsic in the way I life my life.
In the world we inhabit it is naive to believe that the battle for equality has been done and put away in a back room to collect dust and only noticed when we smugly pat ourselves on the back over our successes.

Feminism doesn’t go away. As long as we live in an imperfect world women’s issues shall arise and as long as women’s concerns exist so shall the need for a response to that. What we do and how or about what may change. But not the principle. The principle is this – women matter. What women feel matters. What happens to women matters. And society needs to listen to what women say if we are ever going to have a good society.

We are never going to have a perfect world as long as humans are involved. But maybe we can clean up after ourselves and make our corners less unpleasant. A ripple effect on the surface of the stream of lives, perhaps.
But what are feminist issues?

  • Body image affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Fat and eating disorders affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Sex Education affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Reproduction affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Class affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Race affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Poverty affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Rape affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Domestic Violence affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Language affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Politics affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Relationships affect women – it is a feminist issue
    Employment affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Children and their care affect women – it is a feminist issue
    Education affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Religion affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Literature and film affects women – it is a feminist issue
    Medicine affects women – it is a feminist issue
    War affects women – it is a feminist issue
  • Hell, the way men are affects women too!

    It is popular to think of our lives as divided into spheres – the domestic and the public, the male and the female. But these spheres overlap and bleed into each other. What one does shapes the other and it is impossible for us to live ignoring that. People affect and are affected by Politics and Society. The personal is political.

    We can try to ignore that but it won’t work for long. So this is why I’m blogging.

    et cetera