International Women’s Day, And Why We’re Still Having This Conversation

Happy International Women’s Day! So far this week I have fielded my mum’s concerns that a picture of me wearing fishnets on Instagram ‘gave the wrong impression’, as well as her accusatory questioning as to whether ‘all my friends are feminists now’. I have argued with a man about what defines the ‘shared female experience’, and had him disagree with me when I said it wasn’t giving birth. I have acted professionally towards a male colleague who suggested that a picture celebrating IWD on the work social media account shouldn’t just be of the women who work there ‘because men support women too’. I have felt guilty about eating pizza for tea, because as a six foot, size 10/12 woman I feel constant pressure to lose some weight. I have been called a misandrist. It is currently Wednesday.

I was brought up in an environment where women were seen as helpmeets to men, who are the head of the household. The pressure to marry so that you were spoken for, so you belonged to a man and could be neatly identified as his problem, was an overwhelming part of daily life. When I announced that I was going to university, I was quietly warned that it would make me unappealing, that no man wants a woman that is cleverer than him. Someone genuinely once said the words ‘if you act like a slut, you get treated like a slut’ to me. Women from the Bible were used as examples of how not to behave. Delilah the seductress, who cut off Samson’s hair as he slept in her lap, thus sapping his God-given strength, was the worst of femininity. No mention of the fact that he went along with her rather willingly. Dinah, who went into the city and was raped repeatedly by the King’s son – her own fault because she was friends with the local women. These were the women that were paraded before me as examples of why I wasn’t good enough, as a fifteen year old girl literally and figuratively tearing herself to shreds. I would like to say that it was a very different world but, realistically, it wasn’t.

Strangely, now I am newly empowered and happier than I ever thought possible, I find myself fielding new, different concerns that people have about me. I am called outspoken, wild, intimidating, aggressive – new words designed to police my behaviour. Men especially, but other women too, use words like this to suggest we should be smaller, quieter, we should not disrupt the status quo. Look at Donald Trump, calling articulate, powerful, knowledgeable Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’. With those words he reduced her power to nothing, she was a caricature, a Disney cartoon witch holding out a poison apple to the people of America. People do it all the time, because words are important; words are power. I have heard male friends describe girls as ‘fundamentally unfuckable’ – and with that assertion she suddenly is nothing. Her brains, her success, her kindness, are impotent in the face of her lack of desirability. And yet these same men roll their eyes when we talk about the need for feminism. They say ‘not all men’, and ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate here’, and ‘you’ll be burning your bras next’, because these phrases are reductive, they steal our power, make us laughable – make us nothing.

Well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m nothing. I will not sit down; I will not calm down, dear; I will not ‘oh shut up’. I refuse to be scared to speak up. Female oppression might not seem as visible to you as it once was. Yes, we have got the vote, we can drink in pubs, we can be the token one or two – alongside ten men – sitting in the boardroom. But the micro-aggressions of daily life are still going strong, as is the very real gender pay gap, the disproportionate number of women in low paid jobs, the unequal unpaid labour. I could go on. There are women across the world that have it much worse, for sure. I know this, so put your pint down and stop interrupting me. But here, in the United Kingdom, female inequality is still very present, very real. I, for one, plan to keep on speaking out against it, to keep on fighting it. I hope you do too. We are fifty percent of the human race, and it’s about time it felt like it. If this conversation is boring you, ask yourself this – why are we still having it?

Shrunken Jumpers, Smelly Dogs, And Why It’s Okay Not to Be Okay

“How are you?”

“Yeah, I’m okay”

How many times have you said it? How many times have you meant it? Okay is the polite position. It is what we all want to be, and even when we’re not, it’s what we all say we are. It’s a whispered pacifier, a half spoken prayer, a hoping: it’s going to be okay. We use it as a euphemism for sanity (“She’s not, you know, okay”), a marker stone for whether or not action needs to be taken (“Well, as long as you’re okay”). But what happens when we’re not okay?

This week my friend’s dog died, and she wasn’t okay. She’s always the person that is in control, that doesn’t cry, that can cope, and this week, for the first time in a long time, she wasn’t. Her blog post got me thinking about the notion of being okay, and how obsessed we all are with it. I know I certainly am.

I put a huge load of washing in on Monday and when it had finished, I realised that it had shrunk my favourite wool sweater to a size that would only fit the smallest of toddlers. Absolutely devastated, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried, as I awkwardly hugged a damp and strangely sheepy-smelling sweater. Sat there, I whispered to myself “It’s fine, it’s okay.” Now, this seemed like an enormous overreaction to the shrinking of even a treasured sweater and it made me think that maybe I wan’t okay.

Now, the sweater was important. Being a stupid nineteen year old who thought life was going to be an endless party now I had finally attained my freedom, I took hardly any pictures during my year abroad and so I don’t have many keepsakes of that time. The top I bought in Paris to make me look like a chic french girl long ago wore into holes and the disposable camera turned out to have lots of fuzzy shots of the inside of a car on it. What I did have, though, was my Norwegian sweater, reliably cosy, utterly comfortable, and a delightful reminder of a time when my biggest worry was the condition of the snow.

In a world when I feel increasingly adrift without an anchor, after eighteen months of enormous change that have altered the course of my life forever, crying my eyes out about the sweater wasn’t quite as crazy as it seemed. The washing machine just ate my past, and at a moment when I’m trying to hold on to it as much as possible, being upset feels like a valid response. Just like, for my friend, having to take the time out to mourn the death of your family dog is a valid response.

We need to admit that it’s okay not to be okay. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives, a statistic that is often cited in arguments against feminism. The reason that men are more likely to commit suicide is because they are less likely than women to seek help. Basically, it is less socially acceptable for men to admit that they’re not okay. Not only does this show that unequal social expectations harm us all, but it also shows how damaging it is when we stop ourselves from admitting that we aren’t okay.

Often, if you do seek help about the fact that you’re not okay, you are prescribed medication to numb that feeling. Rather than addressing the problem, we medicate ourselves. We are so obsessed with being okay that we will sacrifice our emotions, our creativity, the ups as well as the downs, to be able to reply to that dreaded question about how we are.

Well, do you know what? I’m not okay.

I’m lonely. I’m worried about my future. The giant hairy wotsit in charge of America scares me. I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve anything more impressive than being able to eat an entire large pizza by myself. I think I might drink too much. Sometimes I cry for no reason and then worry that I’m going mad. I dream about my ex leaving me over and over again. I’ve put on too much weight to wear most of my clothes. I think I might be bad at my job. Some days I feel an overwhelming, bottomless sadness that I can’t shift. I still worry about stupid things I said more than a year ago. I think my cat might hate me.

Some of those things are more important than others, and it is always the important things that are harder to say. If you’re not okay, don’t tell yourself you should be. Reach out to someone, either someone you trust, or a professional person that can help you. Call the Samaritans on 116 123. Stop saying you’re okay if you’re not. Remember: that’s okay.

Female Friendships, and the Only Resolution I’m Making in 2017

In 2017 I will be drinking alcohol and eating cheese. If I exercise more it’ll be because I’m walking my friends’ dogs, dancing on the tables, and searching for cool bars. I don’t care about having a six pack, and if my eyebrows are better, you can guarantee it’s because my friend gave me a tutorial. 2017 is the year that I’m going to celebrate my female friendships.

Through the years, they’ve always been there for me. The ones that told me that the boy was punching, over a fancy gin cocktail, when I got dumped. The ones that don’t just hold my hair back when I’m sick, they plunger the sick out of the sink, tell me they still love me, and bring me lucozade and crisps the next morning. Girl friends should never be taken for granted, because through the boy troubles, the family troubles, and the work troubles, they’re always the ones who have got your back.

Women are encouraged to always be in competition with one another. Is she prettier? Smarter? She’s always more successful, and have you seen her Instagram? To die for. More and more though, I’m realising that women have something special, and that is our friendships with each other. I’ve never had such a large group of amazing female friends. Spread across the globe, I’ve got a girl for every occasion. They’re clever and funny; whether I’m waxing lyrical about feminism or discussing the latest highlighter, debating American politics or crying about how hard being an adult is, they always join in. I’ve never felt so lucky to know so many amazing women.

I challenge you to message them all, tonight, and tell them how much they mean to you. I guarantee that you’ll get back a tirade of love and affection. Every woman that has helped you through something difficult, that has lifted you up when you felt that you couldn’t go on, that has told you that you have green in your teeth when no one else would. And you have done something for that woman in return that shows how generous and loving you are. If I wonder what kind of woman I am, I look to my friends. Would they be friends with someone that I couldn’t be proud of? Of course they wouldn’t, they would only ever be friends with someone that I could be proud of. Those strong, special, generous, loving women that I call my own would never let me be less than one of them. And that is a precious gift.

So, to all of you, to the girls whose lipstick I steal in the toilets, to the ones who bring me wine and sympathy when I can’t stop crying, to the ones that tell me I’m a sassy, beautiful queen when I feel anything but: I love you. I love you more than I’ve loved any boy. I love you when you are slaying in your best clothes, I love you when you’re crying in some dickhead’s old jumper. You are special, you are everything I dreamed of, you are strong and courageous. I’m proud to know you. I’m proud to call you my own.

Bare Faced Prejudice, And Why It’s Not Brave To Go Without Makeup.

I can think of a lot of times in the last few months when I was brave to show my face. I was brave to show my face at work the day after my breakup. It was red and blotchy, not merely snotty but pouring with snot, and prone to crumple at the slightest setback. I was brave to show my face at work again, weeks later, when my medication had reacted badly with alcohol and I had spent two days puking after going out for drinks on the company account. It was shamefaced and pale, no matter that it wasn’t my fault, it knew it had done wrong. But I can also tell you when I wasn’t brave to show my face: every single day that I chose not to wear makeup.

In spite of the fact that, in a world where women are risking their lives for their right to be educated, for their right to freedom, for their right to have their voices heard, I would never dare to call myself brave, other women have been calling me just that.

“I love that you don’t wear makeup! It’s so brave!”

“I wish I was brave enough to go barefaced!”

When did we allow leaving the house in our natural state to become an act of absolute courage? It’s not just my friends that compliment me on the audacity to go without makeup, but also strangers, women I have never met come up to me in the supermarket and compliment me. Two drinks in on a Friday night, women sidle up to me at the bar: “You’re so brave! I love that!”

I’m hardly the first person to discover this phenomenon, in 2014 £8 million was raised for cancer research in just six days by women daring to put ‘No Makeup Selfies’ on the internet for all to see. The idea of letting your friends and loved ones see you without makeup was so stunning, so extreme, so brave, that people actually donated money to charity, so inspired were they by our acts of politicised facial nudity.

Makeup was once considered an expression of female emancipation. In the 1920s, women wore heavy eye makeup and lipstick to identify themselves as women liberated from the control of society. Painting our faces was a war cry against patriarchal oppression, women rejected the image of the angel of the hearth, embracing identities as her enemy: the seductress, the fallen woman, the whore. And yet, here we are, full circle, fully made up and living in a world where daring to show your natural face isn’t even ‘bad’ — it’s brave. 

My wonder at this bizarre attitude to going au naturel was heightened even further when two women I work with, both around my age, were discussing how unprofessional it looks to go to a meeting without makeup. Even in a business suit, with styled hair, they deemed that you couldn’t possibly expect anyone to take you seriously unless you were wearing a full face of makeup. As someone who rarely wears more than mascara during the week, and never applies a full face of makeup except for the most important of nights out, this means that I have look unprofessional at all times since the start of my graduate career. Every meeting I’ve ever had, every outstanding piece of content I have ever written, every time I’ve stood my ground over demanding to be paid the same as my male colleagues, I’ve appeared completely unprofessional without even knowing it. We ask why there aren’t more tenured female professors, more women in parliament, more women on boards, more women in charge of companies, and then we turn around and hold these women to ridiculous fabricated beauty standards as they try to do their jobs. Something needs to change.

It should be brave to stand up for the injustice that you see.

It should be brave to speak up for another woman who does not have a voice.

It should be brave to push forward for that promotion, to apply for that job, to chair that meeting, to start that company.

But it should not, it should never be, brave to go out without makeup.

New (Reluctant) Acitivities

Being new to the world of dating apps, what I have discovered is that I am, in fact, extremely picky. Now, in real life I have no such issues, look a bit sweet and vulnerable, tell a couple of midway decent jokes, and indulge in some armchair intellectualism and I’m yours. Online, however, I’m a completely different beast.

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Reasons I have rejected people this week include: not good looking enough (a given); extremely good looking, but in the wrong way; too intimidatingly good looking; having a girl in the picture (who is that?); having an elephant in the picture (do you know nothing about the ethics of captive elephants?); bad joke in bio; too serious in bio; having a shirtless picture; having too impressive abs; having a picture on a motorbike; looking “a bit douchy”; looking too posh; looking too scruffy; can’t work out if grungy or dirty…it goes on.

This has lead to me having about four matches, which I have then proceeded to complain about because I feel like, four? Surely I’m better than four? – As you can tell, the trial period has been difficult.

All this got me to thinking, why are we so much more critical of each other online? I look at men that, if they talked to me in a bar, I’d dissolve into an awkward, flustered mess over, and think naaaah. I’ve seen it in other people as well, nice lads who’ll go on three dates in a week and not bother to speak to any of them again. Why? Because we constantly expect someone a bit better to be a couple of swipes away. Suddenly, everyone is disposable.

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Back in the day, you had to make do with what you had. Either you married Harry from school, or you moved to the city and married your coworker/friend/someone you met at a dance. You were probably going to meet less attractive people in your life than I can swipe past in less than a minute on my lunch break.

So, what does this mean for dating? Because, the thing is, even though we are all so incredibly picky online, and many of us get to go on dates with people who are much more attractive than we’d usually manage, I actually don’t know many people who have met this way. It’s hard to know if there’s a spark through a phone screen, and we’re all swiping past The One to go on an awkward downing-your-beer date with a solid ten who has no personality.

Is it time to ditch the dating apps? Or do you think online shopping for a date is essential for our super-speed lifestyles? Let me know in the comments.

Oyster. Onion. Shallot.

Well, it’s the New Year and the world is, as my mother has previously informed me, my onion (She added ‘And that’s Shallot!’ before breaking into peals of cackling laughter). And so, with title explained, and the whole onion before me, we can begin.

I had decided not to make a New Year’s resolution this year and snottily looked down my nose at everyone at work today, as they arranged gym buddies and discussed arid, fun free Januarys (Neither you, I, nor the gymnasium you are about to make very rich believes that you are going to swap beer for Body Pump, my rotund friend). That was until I was musing on the train about how I had started the year as I mean to go on, and so my resolution this year is just, frankly, to have much more fun.

On New Year’s Eve I went out with some friends from college that I don’t see very much, and the endless hilarity that ensued reminded me that sometimes what you need is a good night out. It started as all such activities do, with four girl awkwardly contorted around a full length mirror, politely apologising as they each attempt to get at least one eyelash enough in view to put some mascara on it. One girl always turns up fully dressed, greeting everyone with accidental dismay as she takes in their jean/jumper combos. For once this girl was not me, and fortunately for her we weren’t downplaying it so much that we were going out without any make up on. This level of cool I fear I will never achieve.

Many a gin and tonics later, and the clock struck midnight. Twenty boys and girls leapt up and down in the middle of the flat, the floor bowing and springing beneath them. Twenty boys and girls kissed, sticky elderflower cocktails spilling into hair and down pretty dresses. Twenty boys and girls cheered. Not one person turned into a pumpkin.

At 1am we ventured out into a damp manchester street, bottles of gin passed from hand to hand, white breath hung on night air. The bus off-loaded us into a cobbled street and we stumbled towards heaving bass, clutching at each other, wobbling in high heels. The rest is a blur of dancing and faces and awkwardly falling off a weird podium/only being able to dance with boys that weren’t shorter than me if they stood on the weird podium. Fun was had by all.

Eventually, they turned the lights on to get rid of us (“Come on let’s go!” “Dern DernDern DernDern Dern Dern DernDernDernDERN…You can’t leave in the middle of Nirvana!”). Outside, suddenly very sober, a charming gentleman introduced himself to me and Rosie:

Him: Good night, girls?

Us: Yeah, really good!

Him: Let me have a kiss! (Kisses Rosie on cheek. Goes in for fancy handshake.)

Rosie: (Fumbles fancy handshake)

Him: (Turns to me, goes in for kiss and fancy handshake)

Me: (Stone cold nails fancy handshake)

Him: You shake hands like a black man!

Me: (Laughing) Thanks!

(We are called to the bus and begin to walk away)

Him: (Shouting after us) You’re a beautiful woman Elsa, but you shake hands like a black man!

Me: Thank you!

Rosie: (Wets self with laughter)

The next morning I woke up sandwiched between two people. I got up to make all three of us a cup of tea and opened the door to a room full of prostrate bodies. Bodies in sleeping bags. Bodies fully clothed. Bodies using liquor bottles as pillows. And suddenly, grinning, I thought to myself, let’s make 2016 a little bit more like this. 

The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise

I’ve started a new job. A proper, grown up job that is resolutely awful just as everyone warned me it would be. I listened to lots of indie ballads and convinced myself that the city lights were calling me, thus saddling myself with four hours of commuting a day. Needless to say, my biweekly plunges in the local pool have died a death and now the closest I get to a swim is turning up to work wet and bedraggled, with make up running down my face, having been caught in a deluge of biblical proportions on my walk from the train. Never fear though, dear reader (all one of you, hi), for my foray into exercise has not been abandoned! Every day I find myself red faced, sweating and panting in the throes of some new and unusual exertion. I give you, for your reading pleasure, The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise:

The Stair Sprint

To be performed every morning without fail. Groggy with sleep, I stumble to the bus stop and nap fitfully, head lolling against the foggy window, all the way to town. Waking with a start, I leap off and walk to the train station. The orange light of the arrivals board floats eerily over platform one, barely perceptible in the mist of cold breath, puffed out from tired cheeks. The 8.02 service to Manchester Victoria is delayed by approximately 7 minutes. Damn it, that’s all the spare time I have to change trains. I open the National Rail app, which informs me that the train is in fact only 5 minutes late and intends to make the time up between stations. I sink into a seat and instantly regret it as the icy frame of the chair grips my body, chilling me to the bone. Once on the train (6 minutes late) there are no seats, forcing me to reach over the head of the man leaning against the full length of the handrail and prepare for 40 minutes of apologising for falling into him as he leers at me over his paper. I check the digital clock hanging from the roof of the carriage compulsively, like someone with a pronounced and rather alarming tick. If we pull into the station in exactly 20 minutes I’ll be okay. If we pull into the station in exactly 5 minutes I’ll be okay. We need to pull into the station right this minute. Get ready. I rise onto my tiptoes, heels tucked into invisible starting blocks, my finger cocked over the ‘open doors’ button like the keenest of starting guns. Ding, ding, and we’re off. I shoot out of the train doors, bag and scarf flying, knocking old ladies and young men in suits down like so many skittles. I head for the stairs, begin to sprint up, hearing the hem of my skirt split as I leap up, gazelle like, taking two at a time. I get stuck behind two boys chatting to each other and tut frantically, I have exactly 1 minute to make my train. I feint right, then left, eventually abandoning manners and pushing past, sprinting up the rest of the stairs. I’m going to make it!

On reaching the top I realise that the train is leaving from the platform I arrived on. Shamefaced, I slink back down the stairs and stand behind the old ladies I pushed past, frantically trying to stifle the panting gulps of air my lungs are insisting on sucking in. A boy behind me tuts, then giggles.

The Speed Walk

To be performed hobbled/heeled. On a fair day, the stair sprint is to be followed by the speed walk. The station platform in the area I work has inexplicably been placed a good foot below the height of the train carriage, so on arriving I close my eyes and jump, hoping that today is not the day that it really is too far to jump without a parachute and I meet my untimely demise on the broken concrete below. Having landed safely, with all my bones intact, I begin the speed walk. Usually, I am wearing a pencil skirt, which acts as a hobble around my knees and causes any attempt at speed to be quite uniquely ungainly. I also haven’t yet been able to replace my boots with a pair of work appropriate shoes, meaning I am also wearing incredibly clumpy heels. Nonetheless, in order to make it to work on time I have to make the 13 minute journey (google maps’ approximation) in 9 minutes or less. This means the speed walk. To overcome the hobble I have a variety of options. Option 1: pull the skirt up so it resembles a sort of fabric belt. Stride out, propelling each leg forward until I reach a great speed. Stop paying attention to my skirt for one minute, as I run across the road. Find that my skirt has immediately slipped back down, instantly binding my knees together, causing me to take a suddenly shortened stride and trip over the edge of the pavement. Go red and look around to make sure no one saw. One attractive boy and three mean teenage girls definitely did. Option 2: Try to take shorter steps, but also increase speed. This is most effective if I swing my hips from side to side to create more speed. It also makes me look like a manic Miss America pageant winner ON speed and ensures that I arrive at work completely out of breath. Option 3: My preferred option. Leave the skirt where it is, but try to take long strides anyway. This means that means that I can move at a sensible speed and keep it up long enough to get to work without bursting a blood vessel in my eye with the effort. It also completely cuts off the circulation to my calf muscles, causing all the extra blood flowing to my speeding feet to get trapped in my calves on the way back up. They become alarmingly swollen and purplish. Everyone at work definitely fancies me.

The Oh-Gosh-It’s-Raining Half Jog

To be performed in inclement weather. See above, except it’s chucking it down with rain. Torrential. Stair rods. Please-let-me-on-the-ark-I’ll-be-good-promise. I turn my collar up and grimace. I discover that I’m actually getting quite wet. I break into a little trot, hoping that getting to work faster will make me less wet. The additional speed forces the rain more directly into my face, my coat, my skirt, my tights, my shoes. I arrive at work drenched right down to my underwear. I go into the toilets and try to dry myself with some toilet roll. I arrive at my desk completely soddened and covered in suspicious bits of bobbly white paper that don’t come off in the wash, spreading instead to all the clothes I own.

Print Room Aerobics

To be performed on boring afternoons. I spend all day sat at my desk and I have a theory that this causes all the blood to flow away from my brain, rendering me completely useless by 3pm. My solution to this is print room aerobics. First I print something off (that I need, of course). Then I got to the print room to collect it. I look aimlessly out of the window for a few seconds, wondering how this tedium can possibly be my life. I press the big green button on the printer. I check no one is passing the door, then do a few subtle star jumps, followed by a little jog on the spot to push the blood back up to my brain. Then I do a couple of deep squats, collecting my work from the printer at the bottom of the last one, stand up and wander back to my desk as though nothing happened.

Train Yoga (Bikram Edition)

To be performed every evening without fail. To avoid doing too much cardio and developing the gaunt, hungry look of greyhounds and CrossFit enthusiasts, I like to catch the busiest train home possible. Rammed into a rattling train carriage, I instantly begin to sweat, salty droplets beading down into the wool of my scarf, which is trapped between two people behind me and thus pulled noose-tight around my neck. My feet are firmly planted about ten inches forward of where I am standing, causing me to bend banana-like backwards, away from the brandished newspaper of the man in front of me. The position necessitates me thrusting my hips out towards his groin, causing me to have to place my handbag as a kind of shield between us to protect both of our modesty. I hold the handbag-shield-banana until my abs begin to shake, causing newspaper-man to look up alarmed at my sudden amorousness. Just as I am about to collapse, an inexperienced travelled at the far side of the carriage decides to make a bid for the door in preparation for the next stop. Everyone begins to change position. I bend my body sideways into strained-s-shape-supported-by-the-nose-pressed-against-the handrail, before being carried by the crowd into pressed-full-length-against-the-window-with-one-hand-trapped-behind-back. The train stops, the doors open and I am suddenly released into collapsed-against-a-chair-whilst-perfectly-made-up-girl-looks-at-me-in-alarm. I sink into full-length-of-the-train-seat-aka-Shavasana in relief, content to know that I have had as much exercise as any girl could wish for. Train hard, people. Train hard.