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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

I’m all for positive discrimination when it’s merited and, let’s face it, it very often is. Having witnessed the progress of women in Irish politics being systematically thwarted over the decades I fully support the proposed introduction of candidate quotas – many of the most enlightened and progressive democracies in the world have used them very effectively to introduce some much-needed gender balance into their parliaments.

However, I’ve always struggled with the notion of women only prizes in the arts, such as the Orange Prize for Fiction - due to be announced later today – or the MaxMara Art Prize for Women. To me the establishment of such closed competitions is tantamount to admitting “we can’t play with the big boys in the park so we’re taking our ball home to kick it around in the safety of our own back garden”. That sporting analogy prompts me to mention those sporting competitions where women are unable to compete directly against men but where they refuse to let this hold them back. For years women who competed at Wimbledon grudgingly accepted less prize money than their male counterparts despite thrilling fans with edge-of-the-seat showdowns time and time again. Finally in 2007 reasonableness prevailed and Wimbledon joined the United States and Australia in paying equal money across the board, from the champions down to the first-round losers in all events.

We can sing, draw, sculpt and write just as well as the next man.

It’s different in the arts. We can sing, draw, sculpt and write just as well as the next man. Any handicap we have suffered from in the past has been a lack of access to the funding and critical evaluation long taken for granted by men. For that reason I’m all for supporting women in the arts and introducing their work to the widest possible audience. I hate to see fiction trivialised when it happens to be written by a women while at the same time the latest considered and weighty tome gestated by some male, white middle-aged sage is fawned over and lavished with praise by the predominantly male reviewers writing in the quality press.

Loath though I am to give them the oxygen of even more publicity the recent musings of Nobel laureat and highly acclaimed author, VA Naipaul are relevant in this context. The venerable old gent is certain that there is no woman writer he could possibly consider his equal and that we are held back by our “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. This, he feels perhaps, cannot be helped. As Naipaul helpfully points out,”inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.” Do we really want to live in a society that encourages highly respected and accomplished men like Naipaul to believe that remarks like these are acceptable? Although patently and painfully antediluvian it is the existance of such distain that makes me believe that we should focus all of our attention on getting our work out there and beating them at their own game. For men who remain convinced that wimmin’s books are not for them Joylandmagazine.com has helpfully compiled a list of 250 gems that are worthy of their attention (and this is just for starters – there are many, many more).

We can undoubtedly kick ass. Whilst more men have carried off the prestigious Man Booker prize the women that have triumphed to date are undoubted stars – women like Anne Enright, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Attwood, Pat Barker and Iris Murdoch. The shortlisted authors for the 2011 Orange prize includes books that are arguably deserving of a place on any Man Booker shortlist - Room was in fact included – or international equivalent:  Emma Donoghue’s Room, Aminatta Forna’s  The Memory of Love, Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says it Loud, Nicole Krauss’s Great House, Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Kathleen Winter’s Annabel.

I’m far less ambivalent when it comes to the showcasing of women’s talent. Women have historically been denied the power, influence, resources and encouragement to produce and display our work to the widest audience possible and that imbalance needs to be redressed. Our art galleries are still stuffed to the gills with work produced, promoted and prized by men. Events like the inaugural Women of the World festival at London’s Southbank Centre provided the head-and-gallery space to allow a wide audience to view, critique and comment on the work of many hundreds of talented, imaginative, creative women who were all too often pushed into the shadows in the past.

These event and others like the Birds Eye View Film festival seem like a good idea to me. They are undoubtedly a valuable vehicle facilitating the promotion of oft neglected work. Feminist commentator Bidisha recently wrote in the Guardian, “people who loath women’s events do so because they loath women and cannot stand to be around them”. She adds that these events help to shatter the myth that women are in some way unworthy of hanging their work alongside that produced by man, saying, “women are not too shy, too talentless, too scarce, too petty, too this or that…or not enough of something else”.

This I applaud. My problem is with the prizes; the artificial pat on the back for the woman who sees off fifty percent of her peers without troubling the other lot. By all means push us forward, give us a platform, review our work on an equal basis, give us the gravitas and the column inches but when it comes to the prizes let us compete with the boys and not just amongst ourselves. I’d be genuinely interested to hear the counter argument or any comments as this is something that  has always caused me a degree of discomfort.

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This is a small rant, or maybe it’s not really a rant but an appeal. I was at the recent National Women’s Council of Ireland meeting titled ‘Women in the Media, Not’ and it was generally brilliant. There was an initiative to encourage radio and television producers to air more women, including an innovative list of possible experts in a wide range of areas so that the old excuse of ‘there are no women’ would not hold up. However a big element of the conference seemed to be to encourage women to say yes! if they are asked to give their opinion on any subject, as hesitation and unavailability are the real enemy to female participation in the media. A very encouraging and motivational atmosphere so far, the underlying message seemed to be that individual women had to take some responsibility for being out of the limelight, and increased exposure of any description is good for all women and especially girls who are used to taking a back seat.

However, one member of the panel got up to speak and revealed that a year ago she had been handed her ideal once-in-a-lifetime job. As editor of a newly launching news website she was being given creative and directional control, and full respect and power, by her financial backers, the only reservation she had going in was her two young children. She then rather painfully revealed that she had decided to give up this position, which she admitted to loving and being good at, as she could no longer cope with the responsibility of motherhood and a more-than full-time job. I say ‘painfully’, as the decision was still raw and the language she used to describe her obligation to her children was of guilt for neglecting them and uncomfortableness with leaving her children in substandard childcare (being unable to afford a more stable solution). I did not know what I expected after such a statement, but I’m still in shock over what did happen. Over the course of the conference audience members were allowed to talk and shortly one women rose to say she supported this journalist fully and that motherhood was the most important function of women and the youngest years were the most formative yadda yadda yadda and then someone else at the back concurred. Susan McKay as chair did emphasise that the NWCI supported all women, no matter their position, yet the one voice suggesting mothers and fathers be joint parents was lost.
Now, I do not know this journalist or her husband’s profession, and it’s none of my business personally how she arranges her work and childcare, but I was dissatisfied with the response from the room full of experienced worldly women. I realise now that I expected genuine sympathy for this journalist, and anger that she has all the opportunities in the world and is unable to take advantage of them. At a conference detailing the lack of women available to talk on radio, or appear on television, or write, we did not lament this loss of one more fiery journalist.
Parenthood is great, I’m sure and people do find it fulfilling, but in Ireland it is also a trap. By elevating expensive childcare out of reach of the poorer classes we denigrate their struggles as working parents and by elevating motherhood over parenthood, or any ‘other one versus the other’ mentality we will always feel guilty over our choices. That is another argument. This argument is: where is the anger? It may be an unanswerable question for the women’s movement, but that does not mean we should feel helpless. Why is no one else angry that this accomplished, intelligent woman has to sacrifice her dream job because she simply cannot juggle anymore? So I will say it now, to this woman. I am genuinely sorry that she had to give up a position that had obviously brought her much joy and professional satisfaction. I understand that she wanted to give her children the best childhood possible and I hope that they appreciate all that she does for them. I also hope that in the future there are more options available.
Anna-Lena Dubé Fuller is an Irish-Trinidadian artist studying Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. Some of  her work will be shown as part of the ‘Queer as Political’ art exhibition in Cork opening on June 3rd at The Other Place.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of travelling. I can’t take people seriously when they talk about going away to ‘find themselves’ – I tend to want to point to them and go “Look, look, you’re right here! You don’t need to spend thousands of euros trekking across the desert or jungle, after all!”

A very large part of it is that travelling itself – actually moving from one place to another – does not agree with me. Boats make me seasick, while airports just depress me. This recent story about a six-year-old girl in the States being selected for an ‘enhanced pat-down’ while going through security dismays me, but honestly, fails to surprise me.

I’ve been on four short flights in the last month or so, to and from the UK. On the plus side, unlike travelling to the US, you don’t have to fill out wacky forms stating that you’ve never been involved with the Nazi Party. On the down side, there’s still the tedium of security to go through.

You can’t complain. No. You can’t complain, because then it looks like you’ve something to hide. I complained in a painfully polite way on one flight, when my contact lens solution was over the 100ml limit. Much in the same way as I wouldn’t bring the doctor’s original prescription with me if I had necessary medication – why on earth would you feel you needed to? – I didn’t have a letter from my optician stating the solution was necessary. I don’t stick things into my eyes on a near-daily basis for the fun of it, after all. But EU regulations are tricky little things – and, somewhat conveniently for those that work in airports, completely out of their hands. You can’t complain.

They’re small moments, but they accumulate. On another flight, a friend of mine had bottles of cosmetics tested. I asked whether they’d been under the limit. “Oh yes, of course they were,” she said calmly. “I think they were just doing a random check.” And then, seeing me getting cross and irritated by it, suggested we go for a cup of tea.

I freely admit that I’m not the most fun person to travel with when airports are involved. I do get annoyed. I do get bothered. I do get grumpy if I ask security folk what’s set off an alarm that necessitates my being patted down and they reply with a sentence that includes the word ‘random’. I do find the fact that you have a choice between the delay and expense of checking in a bag or having strangers scrutinise your hand luggage completely repulsive.

But I’m not apologetic about it. It should annoy us. It should seem invasive and intrusive – as many things in modern life are, of course, but there’s something particularly bothersome about airport security. It’s the way we accept it, grumbling quietly if at all, because we fear not being allowed to travel. Being labelled as disruptive or dangerous. Being troublesome. And we fear, perhaps, what might happen if the regulations weren’t there.

Only… I don’t feel safer travelling on a plane simply because a potential terrorist will have a limited amount of liquid. I don’t feel safer travelling on a plane because I’ve had a stranger (usually unattractive, alas) run their hands over me to ensure I don’t have a concealed weapon. I’m sure some people do. I’m sure that some of those who are nervous flyers find it vaguely reassuring to think that there are some measures in place to prevent certain kinds of disaster. I’m sure those who adore finding new places and, indeed, finding themselves, feel a bit of intrusion at one stage of their journey is nothing compared to the joys that follow. I’m sure that many people just get used to the strange dystopian universe that is airport security.

But I can’t. So I’ll continue to be grumpy, and complain. I’m honestly not sure what I can do about it, and I don’t travel enough to make it a mission of mine to pen endless letters or campaign or whatever might make some kind of a difference. (I suspect the answer involves getting the airlines on board, and lots of time that I don’t have.) I’ll just stay a decidedly un-fun person to be in an airport with. I still haven’t found a good enough reason not to be.

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Feminism and the art of burlesque have traditionally had a complex relationship. It is empowering? Degrading? Subversive? Creative? Clichéd? Pandering to the male gaze? Subverting that gaze? Here feminist and burlesque fan and performer Ciara O’Connor gives her view.

The word “burlesque” has cropped up in polite conversation quite a lot recently. Christina and Cher’s affront to the word notwithstanding, every so often someone brings it up when out for drinks if I say I’ve just been to a show… and often there is a reductive remark about strippers. Take for example Maeve Higgins’ recent comment on the Tweeter : “Burlesque is so shit. Stupid middle class women stripping.” I’m not sure if Maeve has ever been to a show, but I know her comment was a reflection (if a slightly more abrasive reflection) of some peoples ideas and conceptions of what Burlesque is and is not. There are always people who are indifferent towards any medium, the decriers declaring Burlesque is dead, those who say it is anti-women, and those who couldn’t care less.

Feminist burlesque performer Blackbird, aka Emily

Because I’m a fan of the art form, and I occasionally perform at cabaret shows and see a lot of different types of burlesque, I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring.

Burlesque’s etymology denotes a send up, it is a derisive imitation, grotesque parody. Burlesque is close in meaning with caricature, pastiche, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque). From the Wikipedia entry on Burlesque we see that it isn’t just all 1950s pin-up wither, its been around a long time: “”Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics.“

Later forms of burlesque came in the popular variety show format. These were common from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and striptease as part of the show. Burlesque has historically been seen as a cheeky, low-brow and very bold form of adult-only theatre.  Performers draw from theatre, mime, improvisation, movement to music, as well as all forms of dance. They are also usually loaded with cultural reference and spoof.

There has been a resurgence of interest in classical Burlesque in the 1990s which quickly became popular in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe. This resurgence also birthed what is referred to as Neo-burlesque (see Hot Press this month for a very interesting round-up of Neo-Burlesque in Ireland). Neo-burlesque often removes the nostalgic aspect of burlesque and uses contemporary music and themes, so you may find yourself watching Jessica Fletcher do a striptease to Gothrock. The beauty of burlesque is that it can be anything and everything, as creative as your imagination and the boundaries you put on yourself as a performer.

A friend writing a blog on fashion and feminism recently described me as “someone who I imagine came into the world screaming ‘I am a feminist!’.” As a feminist-from-the-womb – or at least a young age, I was needless to say not immune to the impressions the media give out about burlesque, and my inner feminist was in twitch-overdrive when I went to my first ever burlesque show. My twitching quickly subsided – and not only was I completely hooked: I was fascinated, enthralled and excited, brimming over with ideas after it – I was convinced that in my eyes, burlesque was decidedly feminist.

As I wrote recently in a guest blog for Dr Sketchy’s,  decontextualised women’s bodies are everywhere in society.  Disembodied perfectly round arses in Reebok trainers, floating breasts selling car insurance…. our world is saturated with nudity, implied nudity and women’s body parts, exposed, scrutinised, made grotesque and vilified… or portrayed as perfection and symmetry and the ideal we should all strive for/compare ourselves to. Burlesque shows are one place where you get to see real women’s bodies… not on display for the sexualised gaze, nor for “auntie Gok” to truss up like some Christmas ham and stuff into magic knickers to try to fit into normative beauty standards, but just – celebrated.  Cheered.  Whooped at and hollered for.  Breasts, bellies, smiles of all ages and types, none of them detached from the woman they belong to.  In fact, firmly in context as the performer is not only showing off her body but her creativity… her body can be tattooed, pierced, decorated with body paint, breasts all different shapes and sizes adorned with nipple tassels; they have meaning, they have context.  These are real bodies, (ab)normal, individual, all appendix scars and jiggly bits.  In a society where nudity has become so… meaningless… here it is loaded with meaning.

Also, the burlesque scene in Ireland is decidedly radical. The performers are smart, creative and quite amazing men and women who do fantastical things with the medium. A great example is my friend and fellow fabulous feminist Emily. She is a stunning performer – she creates acts that are thought provoking, political, visually stunning, sometimes hyperfeminine, sometimes very masculine, always impeccably costumed and gripping from beginning to end. She tells a story and makes a statement in a way that is firmly tongue in cheek and yet quick off the mark and very intelligent.

Lilly DeValle's barbershop act gradually turns from cute to creepy

Another burlesque performer, Lilly DeValle, cuts a striking figure on stage, playing a cheesecake cutesy character who has a dark and evil side – for example her cute barber shop act which quickly transforms into a bloodbath as she hacks up the poor unsuspecting customer in her barbershop chair. She is a true storyteller and has impeccable comedic timing. One of Dublin’s queen’s of the burlesque scene Miss Bella A Go Go is one of the most creative people I know, sewing and handmaking all her costumes, her  incredible mind is full of fantasy which she expertly brings to life on stage with incredibly intricate themed shows, such as her recent Steampunk Cabaret.

So for those who may reduce burlesque to “stupid, middle class women stripping” – I’d like to extend an invitation to come and see a show. The scene here is vibrant and bristling with life and energy. The performers (male and female) are dedicated to making you smile, cringe, cower and giggle like a kid. I asked my friends when writing this why they attend these shows, and the consensus was strong – the striptease element is the last thing on the list. They come to find something different, something entertaining, to find like minded people and to have fun. The nudity in the shows is a great leveller. It’s an opportunity to dress up, to drink cocktails and smoke cigars, to travel to another world for one night only. And who among us doesn’t enjoy some escapism now and then?

If you think you’d like to give a show a go, then I would highly recommend any of the following nights:

The League of Decadent Bastards

This will be the show of the summer – an all male cast and an amazing line up including some of my favourite cabaret artists, a proper treat for the senses!

Burlesque and Cabaret Social Club

The mainstay of the Dublin scene, mostly classical and vintage burlesque and music, monthly, at the Sugar Club

The Love Cats Burlesque

Fabulous troupe of burlesque artists, comedians and musicians in Dublin

Dr Sketchy’s anti-art school – for the artists among us – where life drawing meets cabaret

AND watch out for shows from: Sedition Industries, AWOL tattoo studio Galway, The Pony Girls, Midnight Burlectro, Sideshow Cabaret and many more over 2011.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She has been working in women’s health and education for many years. In her spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and is a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi.
Her twitter is ciara_oc

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A couple I know recently adopted two little boys. The boys are four and five years old and had a very difficult start in life. I only know tiny bits of their history (I wouldn’t ask – it’s none of my business) but what I do know was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Initially, I welled up because of what the boys had seen and been through; then I welled up with gratitude that they had been removed from that situation and placed at the centre of a loving home and family.

These boys will be loved and cherished for the rest of their days. They now have the opportunity to have a childhood. They are part of an extended family which has embraced them and folded them into its bosom, letting them know that they are loved and accepted and wanted.

Should the unthinkable happen – and one of their parents become incapable, for whatever reason, of taking care of them – the other parent will step in and assume the role of sole care-giver. As is only right, of course, because they have adopted the boys together.

It’s just as well they’re in the UK, so, because they’d never get that security here in Ireland. You see, my friends – the adoptive parents – are gay. They have been in a committed relationship for over ten years, and five years ago, they become legally recognised as a couple. At the beginning of this year the adoption of their boys was finalised.

In Ireland, it is perfectly legal for a gay person to adopt a child – as a single person. Even if they are in a relationship, the non-adopting partner will not have equal parental rights – even though their relationship will have been taken into consideration during the adoption process.

This issue is back in the news again in Ireland because we have a new incoming government. They are ‘looking at things’ and trying to see what they can do to improve matters for citizens and residents.

I am stunned that we are even having a discussion about this. Why shouldn’t gay people be allowed to marry? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to adopt children as a couple? Surely the focus of any adoptive legislation should be on the child/ren involved and the perceived ability of the potential adoptive parents to parent?

Surely, as a nation, we should grow up and stop worrying about what loving, consenting adults do in their bedrooms? Surely, what is important is that the parents love each other and their children? Surely, all that matters is that children are loved, safe, secure and have their needs met? Surely, what their parents do or don’t do to express their love for each other in private is irrelevant?

I have heard the argument that the ‘ideal’ is for every child is to be brought up in a family with a mother and a father. And that’s marvellous – but guess what? Ideals are things we strive for, not standards that we impose as minimums and then use to punish people who don’t meet these minimums.

If we are to apply the ‘rule of ideals’ across the board and extrapolate it into every situation, I guess I should get my children ready to be taken into care. I’m a divorced woman with two children. That’s not ideal. My eldest child has not seen – or heard from – her father in five years. My youngest has never seen her father. Well, that’s not ideal either, is it?

I find it very difficult to comprehend how anyone would fight to deny a child a loving, secure, safe home. I am reminded of my own childhood. My parents were heterosexual and married to each other. For the first 15 years of my life, I went to bed worrying about which one of the heterosexual males floating around would get into bed beside me on any given night. I cried myself to sleep every night of my life until I was 20.

If you had offered me the choice between living with two, married heterosexual parents and suffering abuse – physical, mental, emotional, psychological and sexual – every day of my life and living with two homosexual parents who loved each other and loved me, I would have walked across hot coals to get access to the latter.

Heck! I’d have gone to live with two homosexual orang utans if it would have meant that I would have been safe.

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Nescafe’s threesome

"Do you want to come up for some euphemistic coffee?"

I can see the ad pitch to Nescafe in my mind…

A pink balloon that looks suspiciously like a blown up condom skirts across the floor of a trendy loft flat.

A sexy scruffy looking man in his mid-twenties ambles down the  metal stairs. The morning light streams through an open plan kitchen window. He catches the eye of the bed headed beautiful brunette, who flicks up an eyebrow giving him a wanton “You’re a bad boy” grimace.

Another, more dozy, brunette who looks like she’s been shagged into the middle of next week, bumps up against the kitchen sink, turns and realises there are magic sachets sitting there.

Instant coffee. Instant absolution. Instant dissolve of granules and awkwardness.

Being a good, if slightly dumb, third wheel, she makes three mugs of the chemical concoction. They all drink it. Sheepish man makes beautiful brunette an origami bird (yes, an origami bird – it’s a bird that bends and folds easily).

Third wheel, watching this cardboard coupling display, chuckles as the natural chaste order of life returns. Her eyes say “Thank goodness he didn’t prefer drab old me to his stunning girlfriend. Now I can quietly go back to cutting my arms.”

The Voice Over flogs us the product “Nescafe, 3 in 1. White, coffee with sugar. In one.”

*Sigh*

What a long way we have come since the 1980’s Nescafe Gold Blend ad series starring Sharon Maughan and that bloke who went on to mentor Buffy.

Despite the power dressing, the romance was worthy of at least a BBC costume drama. There was even an attempt at purveying sophistication.

There was never the smutty suggestion that, once he got her up for coffee, he would get her up for a randy threesome with that other neighbour that adland keeps in the cupboard for just such occasions.

What amazes me is that everyone watches Mad Men and laughs at the suppression and treatment of women in it. Ha ha, thank goodness we live in a more enlightened society now. But adland is chock full of young men who have grown up on an almost pure diet of porn as their sex-and-relationships education.

A threesome, therefore, is as cool as…um… a cucumber?!

It’s just the way we swing now and then. No big deal. Have a coffee and get over the embarrassment of compromising yourself for someone else’s sexual gratification in the vain hope that he, or possibly she, might like you for it.

The idea of a threesome with two men and one woman wouldn’t appeal in adland. Sure, men can look stupid not knowing how to work a washing machine – there’s a secret badge of pride in that, even if he is a total dud of a human being – but two men naked together in any context other than a Daz ad, is simply unthinkable to that mindset.

It’s not that I mind porn with my coffee, I’d just rather it wasn’t so, winking,  desperate and depressing (yes, I demand happy, hopeful caffeinated porn with my coffee-Red Bull porn). And, like porn, this ad doesn’t leave me wondering, will they won’t they (kind of a given there), so I am less likely to think or talk about it for any length of time, hopefully.

Perhaps I am being obtuse. The romantic ads were for Nescafe Gold Blend. The threesome horror flogs a 3-in-1 sachet for losers who don’t even have fresh milk in the fridge. They are not going for the same market.

Still, it’s a shame. People that good-looking should drink fresh milk and not have such low self-esteem that they feel they have to share their boyfriend during a party. S’all I’m sayin’.

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The W-Word

For my first Anti-Room post, I’m going to let loose a small rant that surfaces, on average, every few weeks.

I kind of assume I’m carping to the converted, here, but even if not … well. This is my bonnet, and these are my bees.

Here we go.

Forget the L-word, the F-word, the C-word. Why, I wonder, is it so hard for some people to say the W-word?

You know the one? Five-letter noun, meaning “adult human female”?

Yes, that’s the one: Woman.

I don’t know what it is, but some people just won’t say it.

Recent example: Henry McKean on Newstalk (look, I know), in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (I know, I know!), tells George Hook (I know – Jesus, would you lay off?) what a turn-on it is when a girl irons his shirts. Clearly (I hope to god), this is a tongue-in-cheek, wind-them-up type of remark, but I sweep past the intended fatuous sexism and leap squarely onto my hobby-horse.

(My hobby-milk-white-steed.)

“Henry,” I growl at the radio, “you’re a grown-up. Physiologically, at least. So if you find that you’re turned on by girls you might want to talk to someone about that before it gets out of hand.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with the notion that “girl” is a cool label for an adult. I just can’t separate it from the infantilisation machine that operates in our culture. Youth is superior to age, smooth skin is better than hairy, females are at their most valuable when innocent and unsullied by the vicissitudes of life – all that harmful nonsense.

Anybody is of course free to label hirself “girl” if it floats hir boat, but I won’t. I’ll never be “one of the girls” – and I won’t call another adult “girl” either (I’d have a hard time doing so even if I knew it was hir preference). Phrases like “a girl I work with” make my teeth itch.

That, or I picture Father Ted judging the Lovely Girls contest (they all have lovely bottoms).

I used to grumble about this a lot at choir rehearsal. Our conductor, an adult human female a few years younger than me (and, incidentally, one of the very best conductors I’ve ever worked with), for years had a habit of saying “men” when addressing the tenor and bass sections, and “girls” when addressing altos and sopranos. Men. And girls.

You see the problem.

I don’t know if it’s down to my disgruntled mutterings or just the passage of time, but she doesn’t do it any more.

Now it’s “men” and “ladies”.

Sigh.

It’s a thing, though, isn’t it? I’m sure most of us can remember when we made that transition – you’re out and about, and somebody’s toddler barrels into your legs, or reaches for your exciting scarf tassel. “Mind the lady!” says the child’s adult, and after the initial urge to look around and locate said “lady”, you feel … well, I felt like my mother’s maiden aunts when it first started happening. Your mileage may vary.

For me, “lady” doesn’t jar quite as badly as “girl”, perhaps because it’s merely elitist and inappropriately judgemental, rather than actually squicky. But I’m enraged that these two are so firmly entrenched as the preferred terms – particularly because in choosing which word to use, the speaker is making an (unconscious?) assessment of my age and/or status. I don’t like living in a world where people feel entitled – or, actually, kind of obliged – to do that.

Another radio snippet, from several years ago, has stuck in my mind (not to mention my craw): I don’t know who the presenter or guests were, but they were discussing the very issue of what to call adult human females. Everyone enthusiastically agreed that you can’t say “woman”, because – and this is what stands out in my memory – it sounds like she just crawled up out of a bog or something.

Until then, I’d lived in a bubble where “woman” was the neutral counterpart to “man”. It was dispiriting to realise that this tiny plank of linguistic equality was an illusion.

When I’m speaking to my two young children (who both seem male so far), I consciously try to refer to strangers as “person”, with “man” or “woman” as alternatives if the context calls for them. But I confess I sometimes stumble. I don’t actively want to give offence to individuals (earnest though my wish to dismantle the kyriarchal order may be), and in some cases, it seems easier to mumble “lady” than to make a point.

And so I shunt the problem on to the next generation. But inconsistently, at least. Baby steps.

The problem, of course, is that “female” is a marked category within the kyriarchy. There is no neutral word for “adult human female” because it isn’t a neutral space to inhabit.

Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to personal choice – which of the available words we adult human females feel most comfortable with. Do you choose youth, respect, or the uncharted barbarism of the bog?

Me? I’m thirty-six years old, with two university degrees, two children, a marriage, a mortgage, and a couple of career changes under my belt. I’m entitled to vote and buy alcohol; I have crow’s-feet, varicose veins, and (about bloody time!) one or two grey hairs. In short it’s a long, long time since “girl” was an appropriate descriptor for me. And you can fuck right off with the “lady” thing, too, with its implied judgement of my behaviour and character.

I’m in touch with my boggy roots. Please refer to me as a woman. Thank you.

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