Womanly things

Sometimes I get so frustrated with how anything associated with women is deemed frivolous and unimportant. Women’s fiction, women’s  cinema, women’s interests, women’s issues.

Being girly in common parlance means being into fashion and make up and skin care and interior decorating and having things match. Basically making all things including yourself pretty. There is nothing innately wrong with this it is just simply the assumption that this should be all a woman should want and could ever be interested in that is deeply problematic.It is just as problematic that ANYONE who is interested in these things is frivolous and stupid and womanish because that is what they are womanly.

I feel like that the way things operate right now is that it is awesome for women to like things that are traditionally associated with masculinity and that these things are ‘gender neutral’ and that this neutrality has freed us from having to be interested in silly traditionally womanly things, as no one would REALLY be interested in these things given the choice.

This is obviously not true and makes many women feel at odds with the mainstream feminist movement and also does nothing in terms of making socially constructed gender boundaries more fluid as it is OK for women to be interested in and to do more masculine things because they are ‘better’ but not for men to do the opposite because traditionally female things are ‘worse’.

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Underwear

I work out in my underwear because it makes me feel sexy. A sports bra and briefs make me feel like those be-hot-pantsed fitness instructors with cut lines from here to there. I don’t have cut lines anywhere but that doesn’t matter. I can see my muscles tensing and contracting, shifting and moving under my skin (and adipose tissue) to make the movements I do.

I feel like super woman when I see that. I have muscles and they do things! A fact I knew intellectually before I started working out at home in my underwear but now I can see it happening for real I see all the little movements it takes just to do a press up or a squat ( I also work out in front of a mirror) and I can revel in the miracle of all the little forces coming together to make it so that I am able to do these things.

In the gym I could feel my muscles moving but I couldn’t see them and so it did not impact upon me in the same visceral way.  I did not have that punch to the gut realisation that I have a body and it is good. That my DOES things many things which I do not actively control.  As a result I am more grateful for it than I ever have been.

NGO funding again

Over time I am becoming more and more frustrated and disgusted when it comes to the funding of NGO’s. Funders seem to have no clue what it takes to actually provide services or achieve outcomes. I strongly believe that it this is in large part due to the lack of value care work has to contemporary society because it has in the past always been done for free by women.

NGO work is in a lot of ways on a macro societal level what a home maker does on a micro individual/familial level. Trying to make sure that everyone one is cared for, that they have clothes and food and are as healthy as they can be, that they get a reasonable education, They they stay out of trouble and away from things that could harm them.

These tasks in contemporary society both on the micro and macro levels have often been considered of little value because they are not related to income generation or economic development.

The only way our capitalist system can fucntion is if there is someone to do this care work. With the advent of the dual income family there has been the rise of cheap domestic labour travelling across borders.  With the advent of governments being unable to provide baisic services to their needy citizens NGO’s have stepped in to fill the gap.

However just because this work is now being paid for does not mean it is valued any more than in the past. In the vast majority of countries domestic work does not count as ‘real’ work and is not covered by labour laws leaving (the almost all female) domestic workers open to exploitation. NGO’s have to fight tooth and nail to get money for actual staff, even programme staff and finding money for support staff is a joke. There is an expectation that these things can just happen without people being paid even a fraction of what they are worth.

This way of thinking is deeply embedded and needs to change, some work is considered important and some is not and it has very little to what you actually in real terms contribute to the world. I challenge you to think about how you view the people in your life that do domestic work, I challenge you to think about all the mundane things that make it possible for you to live the life you do.

SHARK!

I had most of last week off work due to the Thai new year so my partner and I decided to head to the southern islands to soak up some rays while we had the opportunity.

While there I took my fat belly ( I don’t really have a fat ass) snorkeling (in a lovely blue polka dot bikini I might add) I was having a great old time bobbing along with the fishies.  It was very peaceful being in the incredibly beautiful clear blue water seeing all manner of wildlife. Until I saw a shark. For real, an honest to good shark. I’m pretty sure after posting siting googling that what I saw was a grey reef shark and although it is a bit hard to judge size in the water it was roughly around 1.5 meters long.

My reaction went something like this”Oh look a shark!! That is so cool! It is a decent size too! I must tell my partner! So I swam over to my partner to tell him and somehow my excitement turned into blind panic.  I got out “OH MY GOD I JUST SAW A SHARK” and then the panicky breathing started and I had to swim (calmly but I didn’t stop) back to shore.

I knew intellectually that this shark was too small to see me as a meal but that didn’t stop a highly irrational emotional response from kicking in. There is so much emotional conditioning around sharks that just hit me like a punch in the gut.

The fear response was very primal and it made me think more about other forms of social conditioning and the emotions we attach to things.   It really hit home for me that we can internalise things even when we don’t think we are. For example Shark = FEAR, Fat = Disgust, Women = Lesser. All these things seem ridiculous but it is so hard to keep what we really think and feel straight with all the other messages sent to us and so sometimes your emotions default to the shortcut, what we have been told is true even though we know it is not.

I know the next time I see a shark (I really hope there will be a next time sharks are really cool) I will be able to resist that fear much more easily because I have experienced it once and I feel that each day I spend resisting those other proscribed feelings and associations really does make it easier and easier. I’m not sure if I will ever kick the conditioning for good but I will do my damnedest to try!

Sucker Punch The Movie – A Reading

I found this movie really interesting to me. Of course there were some deeply problematic elements (there almost always are in mainstream pop culture) but there was also a lot that spoke to me. This post is going to have a lot of spoilers so don’t read if you haven’t seen it yet and you care about that kind of thing.

I suppose because of my particular experiences and perceptions I read this film very differently from many other people who seem to think it is purely  a male masturbatory fantasy.

The story goes like ths: A young woman known only as babydoll is framed for the murder of her younger sister by her step father who after their mother’s death becomes enraged as she has left all of her money to the two girls. As a result Babydoll is committed to a mental institution. From here in order to cope with the realities of life in the institution Babydoll descends into her mind where the institution becomes a girly bar and brothel and further from there when she dances to please the men she goes deeper into her mind and creates vivid mental pictures of fighting villains with swords and guns in order to complete missions. These missions are linked to retrieving the objects she and her friends require to escape from the asylum.

What I saw that was deeper about this movie than a mere sexy chicks and guns gore fest was this.

The film presents a world that is ruled by men. Even when women are in charge they are not actually, they have some power but they still have to play by the rules which are created by men. This is seen by the character of Dr./Madame Doskey who is meant to be the real authority at the mental asylum but is subverted by the orderly Blue and who is in charge of the girls in the brothel but is ruled over by the pimp Blue. She is an authority figure but her authority is never absolute, she is always either not being taken fully seriously or ignored when what she is doing does not suit the men around her.

At the same time however the movie indicates that subverting male authority is difficult but possible. This is seen when the ‘girls’ (babydoll and the other patients and the asylum) band together in order to find the things they need to to get out. This to me spoke of using the tools of the world order to subvert them – Babydoll would do her sexy dancing to distract men while other stole or copied the items they needed.

At the end of the movie it is made clear that a group of orderlies have been sexually abusing the patients of the asylum and it is likely that this is where Babydoll’s inner fantasy of the brothel comes from – she sees the asylum as a place where men can use women for their pleasure and they do. This speaks to the disturbingly high rates of sexual abuse in institionalised women because society does not value them and their voices are not heard, something I feel is a running theme throughout the movie.

This is not to say that prostitution is always victimisation, just that the particular juxtaposition of the two environments in the film leads to this particular contextual reading.

What I like most about the movie I think is the idea that men are both in the position of opressors but can also be allies. Throughout babydoll’s battles there is an older man present. He reminded me of the Charlie character in  Charlies angels – telling the beautiful young women who’s butt they were meant to kick. I definitely found this off putting. However at the end of the movie his ‘real life’ role turns out to be the bus driver who drives the bus that leaves from the station near the asylum and he helps the one patient that makes it out to get back to her home town.

Of course there are plenty of elements to this movie that were not necessarily pro woman at all, but I did think there was a lot more there than many other people. Perhaps I am reading too much into it but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Random thoughts

Sometimes I find blogging and engaging in the blogosphere (even just reading) very difficult.

I really really love Melissa’s concept at Shakesville of social justice activism as being a teaspoon against a tidal wave, but sometimes that tidal wave just seems so huge and my particular teaspoon so small.

My job is in social justice and I spend a lot of my free time engaging in social justice spheres trying to become a better activist and ally. It gets very tiring and so sometimes I just have to leave it all for a while to prevent myself from getting burnt out.

To make myself feel better I think I am going to list all the ways I teaspoon on a regular basis.

I am a fat person (particularly here in Thailand) who does not try to hide my body. I am a fat person that goes clubbing and rocks it hard (you better believe it) on the dance floor every weekend.

I try to gently challenge the body hatred of the people around me

I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full even though this means I seem to eat a lot more than the people in my office.

I frequently challenge peoples assumptions and stereotypes about sexuality and gender

I am a critical race feminist even when this means people around me think I am overreacting or making assumptions

I work out nearly everyday and this to me is a political act.

In my professional life I work to give a voice to women who don’t usually have one

I make sure that the work I do involves a lot of shutting up and listening so I can be a good ally

I try to spread this message as far as I can

 

I try my best and no one can ask more of me than that.

 

 

 

Fathlete

I love how often when I am starting to think about something in a new way I will often stumble across a blog or piece of writing on the internet which will verbalise exactly what has been niggling at me.

Shaunta over at Live Once, Juicy has elaborated the beautiful idea of being a defiant athlete and I encourage you to go there and read all about it.

I am at a place right now where I can do more with my body than I have ever been able to in my life. I feel fit and strong and fucking beautiful.

It seems so sad to me that it has taken me 23 long years to find the absolute sheer joy that I now have in being able to move my body. The pleasure I take in being able to do actual full push-ups, how giddily jump lunges make me feel like I can take on the world.

It makes me angry that it took this long to realise that I don’t hate being active, or excercise, or even sport. I was just a quiet nerdy child who was sufficiently uncoordinated to make P.E classes a nightmare. Its funny because I even took part in competitive sport, before I hit my teenage years I was a competitive swimmer and I was even on a netball team. Somewhere a long the line I just started to see myself as someone who just couldn’t do those kinds of things.

Now I know that is not true and so I name myself. I am an athlete. I work every day on seeing what my body can do. How I can make it go a little bit faster, push a little bit harder. At the same time I respect my body’s limits. I do what I can to not injure myself and rest when I need it.

None of this is determined by my girth.

Dating For the 21st Century Human Being

Dating advice really pisses me off. Whether it is the stupid manipulative bullshit aimed at men like ‘the game’ or the ‘how men think’ shit aimed at women. It all really really sucks. So I am going to do something about it and provide an alternative to the stupidity.

Disclaimer I am currently in a stable long term relationship and have not actually dated for some time. You can either take that as my approach to dating works or take the following with a grain of salt its up to you :p

First things first. Women, men and people who identify as neither or both are not monoliths. There is no ‘what women really want’ there is what this particular woman wants. To treat people as though their gender identity can tell you how they will behave in any given situation is EXTREMELY problematic. This one fact alone renders pretty much all mainstream dating advice useless.

So. Think about what you want out of dating. A relationship? Casual Sex? A summer romance that isn’t long term? Some fun? Of course in the process of dating what you want may change and that is fine but it is important to evaluate what you want so that you can ask for it. (now isn’t that a revolutionary thought?)

At the end of the day dating is going to be a numbers game. I personally believe that if you want to date then you have to be comfortable with rejection, learn to understand that rejection does not mean there is anything wrong with YOU but that you are probably not the right fit and that is OK! Statistically lots of people will probably reject you and some won’t. Changing who you are to fit what you think another person wants does not up those odds. Everyone wants different things. Just try and remember it is not really about you as a person. This is the single thing that probably revolutionised how I thought about dating.

So in essence here is how I believe is the best way to date.

1) Communicate honestly. Don’t try and be manipulative and play games. In the long run this never works and it makes dating much more frustrating and stressful then it ever has to be. Be upfront. If someone likes you they will like you and if someone doesn’t there is very little that you can do to make them like you. The worst that can happen is that they will say no. Yes that will suck but you will get over it.

2) Check that you are both on the same page. Yes you may both like each other but that doesn’t mean you want the same things out of life or this particular relationship (whatever form it may take) you might agree to see how things go anyway but it is important to know where you both stand.

3)Relationships (of all kinds) end sometimes. Just like rejection this is a part of life. Something that is hard to accept but we all have to do it. Human relationships are innately messy and hard work. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to try not to be assholes to each other and also ourselves.

Anyway I hope that helps.

The Big D

I have struggled with depression for as long time. I remember being 8 years old and being totally overwhelmed with life and not having the words or concepts to understand what was happening in my head.

To many people it seems ridiculous that an eight year old child with so much going for her can struggle so much. Children have mental health issues and it is not just the ‘obvious’ candidates. I had attempted suicide twice by the time I was 14 and I was from a a middle class family,my parents were still together and did not have any obvious issues. Luckily I didn’t really know what I was doing although looking back I did come perilously close. My home life was far from idyllic but what I was going through simply did not fit neatly into the accepted categories that resulted in broken children.

When I finally tried to talk about my mental health issues with my parents they were dumbfounded. The only way they knew how to react was with ridicule. I had every advantage in life, what could I possibly have to be depressed about? When I realised they couldn’t help me and I reached out to others they were horrified because I was airing my dirty laundry in public.

We have come a long way in the perceptions of mental illness but the underlying perception that mental illness can be overcome easily and is something that only happens to ‘those’ people is plain to see when we look how we think about mental illness in relation to children.

Grief

It seems like so many people I know lost important people to them in 2010. It is such an incredibly painful thing to go through. The finality of death, even when it is a long time coming – the human spirit makes hope hard to give up- and when there is no hope left the pain is astounding.

I remember being 14 and just feeling total shock that the world just kept on turning when my whole world had just fallen apart. One of the most deeply upsetting things that happened during this time was people questioning my grief. Treating it like it was inadequate and imperfect. Because I didn’t cry when people thought I should this meant that I didn’t love enough. Because I sought comfort with ‘inappropriate people’ I was not sincere enough.

As time went on it got worse because I was still hurting so deeply when the people around me expected me to get up and get on with life. In the world that we live in it seems as though grief has a time limit. You are only allowed a certain amount of time out before you have to go back to being a productive citizen. If you don’t then you are milking the situation.

It should be obvious but it often isn’t. There is no one correct way to grieve. People process things in their own ways and there is no set period. You can’t just decided to let loss take the back burner and get on with the rest of your life. I hate that the world I live in does not make allowances for broken people. That compassion is a virtue discarded for the bottom line. I hate that appropriate behaviours are often considered more important than actually dealing with feelings and resolving issues.

My main problem with the kyriarchy is that it never allows those who don’t fit just be. It imposes limits and puts people into boxes, taking away their personhood and reducing them to being simply the glaring fact of their marginialisation.

I see this reflected in placing people into boxes of appropriate and inappropriate grief. Measuring their reactions determined by some arbitrary standard calculated by gender, culture and strength of attachment. These are the small but infinitely damaging ways in which the kyriarchy worms its way into our lives – making us small enough to fit.

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