First apologies for my neglect of this blog in favour of other writing engagements.
The Classically-minded or masochistic can read my gradually growing report on the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals, and Space: Fantastika and the Classical World Conference here. I am also still writing that godsforsaken article and trying to prep a business plan.
What I want to write about today however is the weirdness of being a woman. Not just that inevitable gripe about female hormonal shifts or a pseudo-feminist rant (which isn’t really my forte) – though both of those will turn up. Rather, what I want to try and express is the sense of disconnection I feel from my gender.
To forestall any questions.. I am perfectly content with the genitalia I was born with and at peace with the physical shape of my body. I have thought long and hard about whether or not I want male parts and male hormones (and yes if you gave me the opportunity I’d love to know what it feels like to have and use a penis) but whilst I’d comfortably give up menstruation I’m not sure I’m ready to give up a clitoris and womb. I think that now the conscious decision I made aged 9 that I want to act/dress/be treated as a man but have no actual desire to change my shape holds even more strongly (I’ve learnt to use my body for fun and quite frankly don’t want to re-learn that stuff).
I also want to point out that my problem is more fundamental than a desire not to be stereotypically ‘feminine’ – Its not just about not wearing make-up very often or the fact I don’t like shoe-shopping or gossiping and waxing or whatever girly girls do with their time. Though let’s be honest that type of femininity is a complete mystery to me. [I’d love to tell you I totally respect women for whom that works but whilst I defend their right to do it, I struggle to have any understanding of it.. sorry].
On the other hand I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, to a certain extent, about all the things that inaccessible to me as a woman.. certain monastic libraries and gentlemen’s clubs are pretty high on my lists of cool places to go.
Really though, I struggle with being female because I feel like someone made up a set of rules about how to do it but didn’t give them to me. Some of that I can recognise as social conditioning – though knowing it to be true does not automatically lessen the sense that one should conform – but some of it feels like being wired differently (even when it might also be social conditioning).
The social and cultural role of a woman isn’t just about material expressions of femininity (like looks and the way you dress) but shows up in the expectation that you are more empathetic and emotional and less aggressive and competitive than men, that you are shy/reserved but form large strong friendship groups amongst your peers, that you will have an instinctive skill with children but that your brain is less analytical… There are even social rules about how to be a lesbian and the way relationships should work. More capable people than me have drawn huge lists of traits, behaviour patterns and pathologies – some patently ridiculous and some undeniably statistically evident.
It feels weird and insidious. Research into how men and women’s brains differ creeps me out, advertising sucks and role models are hard to come by.
The good news is of course that I am personally lucky enough not only to choose to ignore most expectations thrust upon me but also to recognise them as unnecessary. What that doesn’t help with is the process of decoding the behaviour of other women. I can read body language on a basic level (Thankyou Desmond Morris’ Manwatching & Drama lessons) but there seem to be more subtle aspects of people’s behaviour that are based on social understanding of gender roles and I don’t get it.
So where is the manual girls? Is it because I didn’t read Cosmo or watch enough chick flicks? Or does everyone feel like this and not mention it because they are too busy acting out the roles they heard about?
My mother was a teacher, my step-mother was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher.. my sister has wanted to be a teacher since she was 4 years old.
I didn’t want to be a teacher as a kid and as I watched my sister battle through her teacher-training it became easier to articulate why the family trend was never going to work for me. – Despite the assumption that a classics degree destines one to teaching and that if your PhD is not a pathway to academia then you must also want to teach, I still don’t want to go down that route.
It wasn’t just that I never had the vocation (though I don’t) and it wasn’t just that it struck me as too much work for too little reward (it is) but there has always been something about teaching as a career that seemed very alien to me. There seems so little about ‘teaching’ that has anything to do with knowledge and the power of information, the skills of interpretation and exploration and the strength of education for changing the world, not because teachers are unskilled or uninterested but simply because of the system and I think that would sap all of my strength and passion for my subject(s).
I have expecially watched my sister’s disappointment that being a maths teacher didn’t fuel her love for mathematics.
In recent years having watched the ever increasing administrative hurdles friends and family have faced in their efforts to impart knowledge and the baffling attitudes of so many young people to that knowledge I have become more confident that I don’t have the patience. I had once thought that I would be ok with teaching adults who wanted to know more about my subject but now I know that I am not passionate enough to deal with all of the hurdles that one faces just to do that.
But even more than that the idea of being a teacher fills me with fear. Ever since I was a child I have been afraid of failing. And there is something about the vulnerability of children that makes it feel like my failure would be especially awful. But its not just that my failure might hurt a child or more likely disadvantage them for the rest of their lives its that it especially makes me a “bad” person. It is easier to refuse to interact with children than to let them down & it is easier to never try to impart knowledge than to acknowledge that you are bad at it, that you don’t know if you can do any good.
As a woman there is a lot of social pressure to ‘like’ children, to instantly attempt emotional attachment to them and to be good at it – and if you don’t manage that you are expected to disavow all contact/interest in kids and get a career instead. When certain careers in the family they are either all-consuming or out of the question – in my experience teaching can be one of those, if you grow up with it you either get involved or run away as soon as you can – you learn the lingo and the tricks and whether or not you can fake it. [This is not unique to teaching – it happens with the forces as well]. Like with being uncomfortable around other people’s children generally, once I had expressed doubts about teaching I realised that the expectation for a vocational career (and I think especially for women) is that you will be all-or-nothing. I wasn’t good enough, confident enough, for all so I knew it was nothing..
Its not a decision I regret; but its hard to admit that I made it not because I don’t like children, or because the admin is soul-crushing but because I was afraid that I wasn’t passionate enough and afraid of failing.
Let me start by saying I applaud the current UNICEF campaign encouraging people who are coping to try living below the poverty line and practice some hardcore reality checking…
I may have mentioned before that I am comparatively financially comfortable and I think I have also pointed out that we as a family constantly have to manage our budget to keep it that way. So what I want to have a bit of a whinge about is the proliferation of articles demonstrating the numerous recipes and ways you too could feed yourself for under a pound a day (UK £) from a very practical level.
What I have a problem with is the unrealistic shopping experiences necessary for these meals. Not only is shopping at a variety of different shops to find the best possible bargains time-consuming (which is obviously not a problem while you are on the dole you scrounger *sigh* cos obviously taking your kids with you and applying for jobs at the same time is a doddle especially if you have mobility problems) but it is often expensive – the best deals are usually in out of town hypermarkets and who can afford a car… so do you stump up for expensive public transport or heft your rucksack through the rain to carry back your bulk buys? Because believe me things are only that cheap if you buy a lot at once. Sure 1 egg costs 9p but you have to buy 30 to get that price and to get your 3p 50g of rice you need to buy a kilo. Now rice lasts a while but eggs are a bit more limited, likewise once you have opened your tin of value kidney beans you have to use it up. Don’t get me wrong bulk buying works but its also hard to keep interest and variety in your meals and that is a pressure when you know that the twenty quid you scraped together and spent on those bulk buys in one go had better not go to waste with rotting food. We are regularly told how much healthier fresh food is, but the reality is that actually on a budget you have to go for longer-life stuff – its often not the end of the world nutritionally speaking but it is easy to end up with added sugar and salt (great cheap preservatives) to compensate for the lower cost. If you want the fresh stuff, it has to be from the ends/just about to go out of date sections but that means only getting whats available and being flexible re-writing your menus – good luck creativity!
Yes, you can eat cheaply and moderately heatlthily on quite a small budget but posts highlighting one person’s week and the many meals they managed with lots of ingredients fails to really show the effort and planning it takes to organise those menus for several people for possibly a week or more at a time – a feat that I struggle with even using a calculator and a crib sheet suggesting nutritional values for portion sizes and I have a Maths A-level and nearly a doctorate to my name.
Its not impossible but it is very hard and time-consuming and sometimes demeaning, surely that is the point?
It has got to the time of year where one traditionally assesses the progress of the last 12 months and sets out ones plans for the next 12 months.
Its a somewhat depressing tradition for those of us not inclined to make the newspapers with our epic adventures and financial gains; but it does help put some perspective and motivation to the whole time-passing malarky Continue reading
In case I haven’t mentioned.. this summer I went on holiday with both W & B (and very nice it was too). This is a bit of a change from the last couple of years where I have had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with B while W visits the smother; going away for our anniversary and separately going away with W for ours.
I find myself torn – I adore exploring places and spending time away from daily life with my loves, I would spend more time with both of them together if I could; but on the other hand each of them deserve time on their own, time especially for them. I know that W particularly needs the sense of things that are unique to us as a couple and I know that B especially values nights he & I spend together since they are rare.
So how do I make each of our anniveraries special, make everyone feel appreciated, and still get to enjoy time together?
On the subject of anniversaries…- anyone ever feel like they are gilding the lily? I celebrate a minimum of 3/year. W & I celebrate our 1st handfasting (Oct 31st – will be 10yrs this one coming) And our legal commitment (May 1st – 3yrs just gone). And of course I try to celebrate a date with B too; we chose Aug 21st as an arbitrary we-started-our-relationship-on-this-day date (though it would be fair to say any time in the fortnight before or after that might be a plausible suggestion) and this year makes 4. I also tease him that our ‘wedding’ date is my birthday the following year on the basis it was the date his former fiancee wanted to get married and I rescued him from that foolishness…
Thats a lot of special days for each other and time for hols. But how can you ask your friends to shell out for cards on that many dates or even remember?
So if anniversaries feel like an unnecessary encumberance for one’s mono/straight friends how about the fact that I can’t help feeling like a fraud for not being available. [Incidentally, I do understand that these ideas are not related for most people]. Point being: How is it possible for me to whinge about lack of ‘poly’ awareness when I don’t fall into general categories of being open to more relationships? I know that poly doesn’t have to mean sleeping around – but most blogs and websites are dedicated to those looking for more partners. I have to say that though I knew (and admitted) I couldn’t commit to exclusivity I never looked for anyone. I never meant to fall in love with either one of my partners (in fact in both cases I was avoiding commitment for various reasons) and I can’t imagine having time or energy for anyone else. In that sense I don’t feel ‘poly’: I’m not about openness any more than anything else and I am not defined sexually by the fact I happen to love 2 people (or that they are 2 different genders) – I don’t have a lovestyle, I just love these people. I’m not bisexual or polyamorous – I am in love with W & B, I am w/b-sexual.
Its not true of course there is enough of me to have a political rant, to say we should be allowed to make a family and stand up for just being us. But that dont feel internet.
So Happy Anniversary B my love and good luck to all of us and I hope being an example is enough.