Category Archives: Feminist Books

Gender, My Arse: Part II

Hanging out with Hello Kitty

In much the same way as I hesitate to describe Boogie as transgender, I similarly hesitate to describe L’il Boo as such. Partly, this is because he’s so frickin’ young still and I find it hard to believe that kids even do gender at his age (a grand old three).

I know that they do ‘do’ gender in the sense that they’re massively aware of it, if only in that they understand there are ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ and that this distinction, whilst still fuzzy for them, is incredibly important. I know this because Cordelia Fine told me; all hail The Fine! And seriously, if you haven’t read Delusions of Gender yet, why the hell not? It’s informative, funny and the only book you need to understand how the Patriarchy fucks us from the moment we’re born. What’s not to like?

But ‘do’ do gender? I don’t think so. He’s still at a stage where, while he’s figured out there’s a distinction, he’s no real idea where the lines are drawn. So whilst he may shout ‘I’ll crack you like an egg!’ as he launches himself off the sofa at you, he’ll still cry if he can’t find his kiwi Pinypon doll. Course, as he’s just started school, this will all change too, too soon.

But there’s no two ways about it. If you take a literal translation of transgender – ‘denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender‘ – then that’s what he clearly is. Because he’s, like, a real, actual human being and not a cardboard cut-out of Batman.

All of us, but especially kids as young as L’il Boo, are at least a little bit transgender, aren’t we?

Because not a single person on this planet ‘conforms unambiguously‘ to notions of gender. Show me somebody who does and I’ll show you an unhappy liar.

I, for example, get all teary over Dogs Trust adverts, but can assemble flat pack furniture like Bob the Builder’s show-off sister.

The BoogieMeister can watch sport – any sport – for 7 hours straight, but can rock a scented-candle-lit bath like a fragrant porpoise.

And L’il Boo? Well, the poor schmuck’s all over the place gender-wise. The poor little sod still thinks he can just be who he likes, do what he likes and like what he likes. ‘Gender confused‘ is what he is.

He’ll learn, bless him.


Shattered

I have been offline for almost three weeks and I wish I could say it was because I took a conscious decision to free myself from the chains of the constant stream of Internet information, but I didn’t. My period offline was forced on me by the total and utter ineptitude of a certain other (who shall not be named) and I still haven’t got over the shock.

But I’m back (I know! wow, how much you’ve missed my rancid pearls of ranty wisdom). And having been suffering severe information-deprivation, I’m now suffering from information-overload as my news feed flashes manically before melting under the weight of 3 trillion unread items.

Ah, I love the Internet.

One of the nice things about being cut off from the Internet is you remember that some pieces of information come in things called books. These pieces tend to be quite long, but often, the effort of reading to the end is well rewarded. Not something that can often be said for the Internet.

I’ve just finished reading Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, by Rebecca Asher.

Before I go any further, I’ll just say this: Rebecca, when you step into someone’s head and steal their exact thoughts then write them down and sell them, at least give a credit, eh?

This woman has clearly been living in my head for long enough to acquire matching towel sets and a bowl of pot pourri.

Then I’ll say this: if you’re a mother, read it. If you’re nearly a mother, read it. If you’re ever thinking of becoming a mother, read it. If you’re a fully-paid up bride of christ, read it. Oh, and if you’re a man, read it.

Got that? Yes, that does mean you. Well, actually, that means you if you’re heterosexual and (generally) partnered. Though I’d suggest gay parents peruse it as well, just to make sure they don’t fall for the same shit we do. As for single mothers, if you’ve managed to actually carve out enough time to read a book for pleasure, you’re more incredible than I thought, so you can do what you please. If you share the care of your children in any way with the father, I’d still suggest you read it, but hey, if you’d prefer to spend a couple of hours reclining with a cat licking your toes instead, feel free.

I’m not suggesting it’s a ground-breaking book. Actually, it seems to me it was a doddle to write. The bulk of the book is made up of quotes from mothers, all saying, essentially, ‘I love my kids, but “motherhood” sure sucks like a big sucky lollipop.’ And how hard could they have been to find? And then Asher finishes off by saying motherhood shouldn’t suck and here’s how we make that happen.

It’s genius in its simplicity and yes, I certainly do wish I’d thought of writing it first.

The real genius of the book, of course, is that it takes what you’re thinking and makes it universal. These mothers’ words – all of them – could quite happily have come straight from my own lips.

And it all just reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with a friend of mine – a designer who has always worked independently from home – who was talking about how fortunate it was that she’d chosen a career which was compatible with having children. She then added something to the effect of: and girls need to be told that they also need to choose a career which is compatible with having children. Somewhat shocked, I replied that what we needed to do was change the fact that so many careers were incompatible in the first place, not lock out girls from such jobs.

Fortunately, I have nice, intelligent friends.

‘Of course we do,’ she said, but the situation isn’t going to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, we tell girls to aim high, enter into all these high-flying, intensive careers without bothering to tell them that they’ll be totally fucked over if they have kids. We’re lying to them and it should stop.’

After reading Shattered, I can only agree more than I did at the time. Asher talks at length about the cost to society as a whole (and yes, child-less people, that includes you) of highly educated women dropping out of the workforce only to re-enter it, if they do so at all, in jobs for which they are entirely over-qualified but which have become attractive to them simply because they’re compatible with their child care responsibilities. Society apart, the loss to these women of what they thought was equality with their male partners, is profound and tragic.

This is the problem when we pay lip service to female equality without backing it up with anything meaningful. It would be a brave person indeed who suggested that all careers advice to girls at school include a segment on which careers to avoid if they intend on having children (which could be a bullet point list or, more simply, consist of the statement ‘Any job which carries both prestige and a hefty wage packet’). That, we’d all agree would be regressive in the extreme, wouldn’t it?

But by not giving this advice to our daughters, we are lying to them. We are ignoring the great big trumpeting elephant in the room of their lives. They won’t realise it until they do actually have children; until that point, they will believe themselves to be – give or take the odd 13% or so – equal to the menfolk in their lives.

Then the baby will come along and they will drop out of their careers to care for it and they will understand from the moment they even think about going back to work – even if they go back to exactly the same job – that equality is a joke. They, not the baby’s father, will be asking for flexible working, will be going part-time, will be pushed off the promotion track, will suffer ‘working mother’ guilt, will be discriminated at work by disgruntled colleagues, will be taking days off to care for sick children, will be leaving early to do the school run, will be spending work time organising child care, dental appointments and other ‘home and child’ activities, will, in short, be taking on the whole burden of having children.

The father, meanwhile, as far as his working life goes, will barely notice he has kids.

I generalise somewhat of course. Fathers do sometimes share the care of their children. Families throughout the country cobble arrangements together which include fathers providing primary childcare. But as Asher’s interviewees make clear, even then, the division is never equal: overall responsibility for the fact of children remains with the mother. Hands up who’s ever heard of a (heterosexual, partnered) father noticing, without prompting, that his son needs new underpants and then, without prompting, actually taking time out of his day to buy some? And if such a creature exists, has he done all of that without expecting brownie points for doing so?

Currently, when she grows up, in addition to her desire to have babies, Boogie’s dream is to play football for a living. For Barcelona (what can I say? the girl aims high). And, yes, I have gently pointed out that the team she loves so much (‘it is absolutely the best team in the whole world’) is made up entirely of men. Whilst I have no wish to destroy a small child’s dreams, I felt that basic fact needed saying.

Where I haven’t gone, however, is what that really means for her. Barcelona probably has a women’s team; let’s assume for the minute it has. So she could play for Barcelona, in theory. But gone are the stadiums full of people, gone is the worldwide adulation of athletes at the top of their game; gone, more importantly, is the money. The career. As things stand, she will have to get a ‘proper’ job and one which allows her sufficient time to fit in enough training to be good enough in the first place to make the team. So no high-paying, long-hour job then. A ‘good enough’ job, so she can play football for love.

And the non-paying football will, my dear Boogie, be the first casualty of you having children, which you profess to want to do. Free time, especially for you, the mother, will become short to non-existent. The hours of dedicated training required to keep you at the top will disappear.

I’m not going to lie to her. But how do you tell a six year old that her future, on some very fundamental level, is going to suck?

I have this fucking problem all the time.


Bodies

I’m currently reading ‘Bodies‘ by Susie Orbach.  I’ve never quite got round to reading ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’, so this is my first experience with Orbach and I have to say, she’s got some pretty bloody interesting things to say for herself.  In a nutshell, Bodies basically explores how, in the last thirty or some years, our whole concept of what a ‘body’ is has changed from being merely the physical structure housing a person, to being the sum of what a person is, and as such, something that we must now ‘perfect’ in order to ‘perfect’ ourselves as people.  Or bodies must be tamed, made to conform to ever decreasing notions of of what is physically acceptable, or we will be found wanting as people.

This made me laugh (wryly):

People whose wardrobes are so various, jangled and changeable as to engender in the observer a sense of not knowing who they are encountering from one meeting to another are not living easily in their bodies.’

For a large portion of my adolescence and early adulthood, this described my wardrobe perfectly, and whilst I knew even then that I wasn’t ‘living easily in my body’, I never connected my sartorial promiscuity precisely to that fact.  I just imagined I was too damn hip to be tied down to one fashion tribe.

But then I guess I did kind of make the connection eventually.  About ten or so years ago, I came to the quite startling revelation that every single item of clothing I’d ever bought and never really worn had one thing in common: they were perfectly good items of clothing, but only for people who weren’t me.  More precisely, they were for the person I wanted to be.  Even more precisely, they were for the people I wanted to be; because when you want to be anybody other than yourself, there are a lot of choices.  It took a little while to rid myself of inappropriate clothing choices completely, but from then on in, I couldn’t stop myself from asking Is this me?  Or is this the glamourous Soho private club member who is universally considered to be the life and soul of the place and who occasionally crawls across the piano in a sequinned shot-to-the-hip number and croons soft show tune interpretations?  Or is it the stylish Left Bank intellectual who spends her day reading Sartre before donning a YSL mac and spending the evening drinking absinthe at the Zinc bar, later picking up some skinny-hipped youth and orgasming over Simone de Beauvoir?  Or is it… You get the idea, I think.

A lot of choices.

And as I got older I began to find it increasingly ridiculous if I did purchase something which the answer to Is it me? was no, no it really isn’t.  I had fondly thought that I was just growing up, but I realise that I was ‘growing in’, growing into myself.  And in much the same way as women under the age of about 35 almost universally find it impossible to attain the ‘capsule wardrobe’ so beloved of fashion magazines, I could no more have limited my fashion ‘choices’ when I was younger than I could have made sense, in any shorter time than I eventually did, of the events of my childhood and the effect they had on me.  I had to grow into my self – into my actual self – before I could accept my body for what it was and clothe it accordingly.

I think it’s because of my own journey that I have endeavoured to encourage Boogie to be unthinking about her own attire, to view clothes as simply coverings which change according to season and activity.  I want her not to have to walk the same journey I did.  I want her to just ‘be’ in clothes in the same way I want her to just ‘be’ in her body.  I want her to ‘live easily’ in it.  Given the preoccupation we now have with the body and the clothes it wears being projections of our very selves, however, I wonder whether I have done the right thing.  Boogie may not yet judge her own body, or her own clothes, but others will, and indeed already do (apparently, she ‘dresses like a boy’, said with a smile of faux-concern). Am I effectively preventing my daughter from understanding the relationship between how you look and dress, and how you’re treated by others?  Is it possible to teach her to understand these things without making them chains to bind her with? Is it possible to teach her to comprehend others’ perceptions whilst at the same time making her aware that she doesn’t have to accept those perceptions as relevant to her?

I’m honestly not sure, but one thing I do know: if she does end up on the same journey as me, I’ve got way more wrong that giving her the wrong clothes.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers