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?


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