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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Empowering Girls and Young Women

How has a masters in Feminism changed my ESL teaching?

Completing a masters in Feminism and Gender, in my second language, while working part time, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My family and friends were mostly against it. “It won’t improve your job prospects” they told me, not realising that many jobs simply require a masters in a range of subjects, not just in a specific area.

Whether it is my pass into the upper middle class and financial stability or not, the masters changed me so much. I started out knowing that things were basically unfair, but the masters gave me specific tools to measure that unfairness, while the reading of various philosophers opened my mind to unthought of possibilities.

I make money to pay my rent through teaching. I started to notice the theory in real life. How boys readily answer questions more in class, how girls seem to like dancing and not play football.

Here are some practical things I do in my ESL classes now, since the masters:

I don’t treat all students the same

There is nothing more unequal than treating men and women the same. Women are discouraged from playing football, men singing and dancing. So I try to encourage each group in what their normally discouraged from.

Fancy dress is for everyone, as is singing and dancing
I have a big box of old fancy dress stuff to use in class to motivate younger kids to read. I let the boys pick first, and I also do their make up first for special events like Halloween.

I play football/soccer with the kids at break time

I’ve played football a handful of times. But when I’m teaching little kids, I make sure they see me playing football with them for a few minutes of their break.

I ignore the boys

When I’m answering a question from a girl, boys very often interrupt to ask their own question. I ignore them or say: Wait!

I let everyone answer

Every class when we are correcting, we go round in a circle and everyone gives one answer

I ask the girls what sport they did today

I believe that sport (or lack of access to sport) is a major part of modern female oppression, affecting physical and mental health, as well as with social and self-esteem implications. That’s why I ask the girls what sport they’ve done today.

I use a pink ball in class, with skipping ropes that have “boy” colours

Studies have shown that girls are more likely to use pink balls, while boys don’t necessarily associate skipping ropes with being “for girls”.

I don’t criticise myself

I don’t allow young women to hear me saying I’m on a diet or anything like that. Firstly, because I’m not, and secondly, because that’s harmful to them. I dress casually and spend a short amount of time each day on my appearance.

 

Do you think about gender equality in your classes? What things do you practice daily?

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I don’t love you anymore with short hair

My boyfriend of almost four years didn’t love me, so I broke up with him. Did I love him? I think so. But I loved myself more, and I couldn’t handle the way he was trying to control me, so I left him.

He wasn’t serious about having a relationship with me. He couldn’t compromise. If I wanted to do thing A, and he wanted to do thing C, he would not look for thing B. He would not even consider option B. For him, meeting in the middle was other people doing exactly what he wanted. Sadly, I did that. But only for about 10 seconds.

He physically couldn’t empathise. He didn’t want to spend time with me outside of the house. We only saw each other in the apartment we rented. He drank a lot.

Two of our friends who were a couple broke up, but were still friends. “I admire that. I hope we can be like that” I said. “When [not if] we break up, I will never speak to you again. My friends are my family”. Why do I live with someone who speaks to me like that? Why do I spend so much of my time with someone who sees me as disposable?

He didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I should have ended it then but I was too broken to move out.

It all started when we moved to Bilbao. He fell in with a bunch of very traditional, very culturally Catholic Bilbao guys, the type who shout and sexually threaten women in the street, then complain they don’t get any sex because it’s a “matriarchy”, completely ignoring the fact that women can have multiple orgasms and that if it were up to us there’d be a lot more sex in the world. They brag about cheating on their girlfriends, as if it were something to be proud of, they refused to call me by my name, insisted that I share cards with my boyfriend (a girl doesn’t know how to play poker, do they… After I wiped the floor with them, I was never invited back), and screamed racial slurs in my friends’ faces. He wanted to fit in with them, so he ignored all the ways that they disrespected women in general, and me specifically. I was making it all up, I was exaggerating, my feminism course was the real problem… After 2 years of arguments in our 4 year relationship, I’d just had enough. If he could turn a blind eye to this, what else would he turn a blind eye to? These friends were his “family”. I was nothing.

Every relationship I have ever had with a man has basically started and ended the same way, although the time span, names, faces, and nationalities have varied. “You’re so different to other girls” they tell me. “I love how strong and independent you are. My last girlfriend always wanted me to travel with her, she could never go anywhere alone” they croon. “I love the way you talk so openly about sex” they say.

Then, everything about my strong character seems to start to bug them. Or maybe I just seem to attract men who are looking for a challenge, who get off on breaking the wild horse. Why do you have to talk so loudly? You’re so vulgar. Stop acting like a man, you’re a woman. Don’t go on that trip, anything could happen. I like your hair long. Are you cheating on me?

“You’re becoming too feminist” he told me, six months before I left him.

I still thought it could work. I thought if I just explained to him in the right way, just… I deluded myself, as does everyone who sleeps with the enemy. Fear of being alone made with stay with him. I also liked the way that very few men sexually harassed me while I was “taken”.

“What’s the matter, don’t you love me anymore?” I said quietly, after coming back from a trip.

“Not with that haircut, no” he said quietly. “I don’t love you anymore with that haircut”.

“Ok. I’ll leave  this weekend then”. And I did.

He cried every time I saw him after that. I had to be strong and move my stuff out. He cried and cried. “My friend asked me was I willing to change anything. I said no. I’m not willing to even think about changing one thing”.

“Why are you fucking crying then? You’ve made me do this. All I asked you to do was listen. That’s all I asked”.

I put on a brave face to my friends. “I’m fine” I said. I really wasn’t fine, but after having survived the agony of losing my mum two years ago, this was unpleasant, this was painful, but it was like a nasty paper cut compared to losing an arm. There was no comparison.

I felt sad. I did feel sad. I do feel sad. I grieve the loss of the relationship. But in the end, our dreams did not even come close  to aligning (namely because he had few dreams and was not willing to make them work with mine, although they were very compatible), and all of my dreams he outright hated and tried to steer me away from with his negativity. One day I want to foster girls, I want to give them a home and love them unconditionally for as long as I can. He said he hated children. I thought “Maybe it’s a silly dream”.

Another dream. I want to buy a van and travel around, then live in my van while I build my own house. He told me that I can’t because I can’t change a tyre. I said I’d learn. He said he didn’t want to go, that he’d rather take a back pack. I told him he wasn’t invited.

Another, smaller dream. One day, I want a dog. He has a phobia of dogs. I said I had a phobia of men, and unlike him and dogs, men have actually attacked me, and all women live beneath the constant threat of violence from men. He told me that my feminism course was ruining our relationship. I told him the feminism course was more important than a relationship with him. He tried to pay for my dinner, claim my swiss army knife was his, be the macho man in public. I seethed.

I stayed so long because the sex was still good, and as a female, I feel that selecting men for sex is like playing the penile lottery. (Maybe it’s too long, maybe (more likely) it’s too small. Maybe it’s a good size but prematurely ejaculates. Maybe the man it’s attached to is so self-absorbed that he’s entirely untrainable in the art of getting you off and gets miffed when you do it for yourself).

Usually, in my previous relationships, the sex peters out and that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but that wasn’t the case in this one. I suggested to him we carry on boning. He declined. What a waste of good flesh, I thought. Life is just too short.

Hair care for swimmers

Protect

Change into swimming costume. When hair is dry, apply conditioner/coconut oil to the ends. Wet hair in the shower, so your hair absorbs normal water, rather than chlorinated water. Plait so you can fit it in to a swimming cap.

Condition

Add a few drops of argon oil to your conditioner for super silky hair. I apply conditioner to my hair, then wash my swimsuit with shampoo, leaving the conditioner in my hair for longer (chlorine can make your swimsuit disintegrate really fast!).

To a beautiful girl

15 years old, and the life of the party. A smile like the skin, and skin that burns so brightly you can’t look away.
Bragging about going out drinking.
You say you’ve quit smoking weed, but you offer me a joint.
Discovering sex, and the frail power that gives you.
You talk about sleeping with men 2 and a half times your age.
Fights with your mother.
Partying until dawn.

We are so different but you remind me of me when I was a tearaway teen. You think now that your friends are your family, and that they would be by your side forever. You’ve never tasted that  disappointment.

Fights with your mother. I’m 27, 12 years older than you, and I have just watched my mother die. What I wouldn’t give for one more blazing row with her. Cherish every moment.

Speaking Up, Educating, or Cowardly Silence?

My friend had a friend come to stay, so I went to meet them for an afternoon of fun.

This friend seemed nice enough, but a bit sort of frenetic energy, a bit gossipy, but basically alright.

In telling me the story of their adventures the previous night, this girl started to talk about realising that they were dancing next to a trans woman. She referred to the person as “transvestite”, “man”, and “he”. I asked some questions about her appearance as I thought I had seen a trans-woman but the person I saw had light brown hair and the trans-woman they saw last night was young, with very dark hair.

I didn’t correct the person speaking but I didn’t sneer with her, and she started to back pedal a little bit. “Transvestite and transexual. I never know the difference”. I explained, neutrally, using my limited knowledge.

The conversation flowed on. I wondered if I did the right thing (by not reacting and explaining what I knew) or if I was cowardly. My anger wasn’t triggered because I’m not part of the group being attacked, so I was able to calmly respond with factual explanations, not shaming the other person in order to “win”.
I wonder if the conversation served to help this woman change her point of view. I suppose it’s our life experiences that cause us to rethink our positions and resulting behaviour.

Deciding not to have children

I’m 27 years old, and it started recently. People keep on speaking as if I’m going to have children.

I adopt a cat. There’s a phone interview. It is impressed upon me that cats are not a danger to babies.

I go to the doctor with a cold. He suggests I change my pill to a “softer” one “just in case” I decide to have a baby.

I have a hangover. My housemate suggests that I might be pregnant.

My cousins had their children (one each) when they were over 35. “Just hurry up and do it” they tell me and my sisters. “There’s nothing that compares to it. And if you have one late (like us) then you will only be able to have one. Do it young and you’ll have more energy.”

All very sensible.

At the moment, I just don’t want to have children. Money, time, energy, and (most importantly) selfishness.
Here’s a list of specific reasons why I don’t want to have children:
>I want to be a writer, which means…
>I need/want to get a PhD
I would love to get a PhD and work as a professor at a university (in person or online)
>I want to travel
I’d love to live in a mobile home and travel the world, working online, proofreading, editing, teaching.
>I don’t live near my relatives
If something bad happens, like a death, divorce, or illness, I don’t have anyone to help me with childcare
>My partner hates children
>My mother told me (before she died) that “children aren’t everything”. She sacrificed everything for us. I’m not capable of that.
>I don’t want to be incontinent after childbirth
>I despise going to the gynaecologist
>Patriarchy
In our society, child rearing is pushed on to women. That’s why women are almost automatically awarded custody of children in divorces, and why women are passed over for promotions and high powered/paying jobs.

The Problem with Penelope Trunk

I recently was talking to a friend of a friend about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, saying how I loved how it gave a broad overview to the conundrum of why women are doing better and better in university but these gains are not translating to women gaining powerful jobs. She suggested I read a blog that provides some counter arguments by a writer called Penelope Trunk. After reading the past year of blog posts from Trunk, I’ve compiled my response in this blog post, trying to be as brief as possible.

Here’s an example of some typical words of wisdom from Trunk:
I want people to feel like it’s fine to put getting married ahead of having a career. I want to feel like the friend who sits you down, with a hand on your shoulder to help steady you for the news. In this respect I think I’m part of a movement. And in that vein, here is a blog dedicated to showing the truth about life as a partner of a big law firm. I especially like the post that isan interview with a woman who couldn’t take maternity leave for either of her babies.”

Although she says “people”, I feel she’s specifically talking about/addressing women/women’s issues. As is typical with her writing/point of view, she accepts the status quo in the USA without question, celebrating/encouraging women to “lean out” of their carreers as being “better” for them (due to lack a societal/political protections), without showing awareness of having analysed other systems where there are fundamental differences, e.g. countries in which the state pays maternity/paternity leave, such as in Germany and Sweden.

Maybe that’s her defence mechanism. Contemplating changing society is too great for her,  so instead of comparing and contrasting different systems, she  vehemently embraces her situation and the society that made it difficult for her to carry on with her career. If she was really, truly satisfied with being a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mum, why have a blog as a platform to promote her books about career advice?

Although Trunk criticises Sandberg for lack of details about her home help (nannies, cleaners, child care etc), asking “how the single mother leans in”, she herself is also speaking from a position of privilege. The fact of the matter is that many households can’t afford for one partner not to work, or to work very little. Maybe Trunk can afford to do that as she took her own advice, going to business school “early” to “find a rich husband”
, as she advises young women to do.

I can’t help but think that Trunk’s vehement personal attacks on Sandberg, epitomised by her posts musing on whether Sandberg’s husband “killed himself” or not, come from some sort of feeling of guilt, as if she were being judged by society for making certain life choices (like giving up a career to focus on creating a family). This seems to cause a defensive reaction so great that she forgets about being compassionate towards a bereaved person, instead twisting the knife with a string of controversial posts, all for a few more paltry hits on her blog.

Dear Penelope Trunk,

Your personal life choices are exactly that: yours. No one has the right to make you feel bad about that. And I’m sorry that they do. People always have an opinion, and as women, we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Please stop suggesting that women striving to have their own carreers causes their husbands to commit suicide, no matter how tempted you are by getting some extra blog hits. It is distasteful and damaging.

Also, not everyone wants to have children. And that’s OK too.

I leave you with this entertaining rant by John Oliver on the subject of paid family leave (maternity).

The Espectáculo and Beyond

On the day, all was madness. Last minute changes, computer malfunctions, misunderstandings, tensions running high…

The event slipped out of my fingers, like a boat sailing away. I watched it from the stage, operating the subtitle powerpoint, marveling at the talent I saw before me. Although I had heard all of the poems so many times before, from my vantage point I could watch the faces in the audience, and it was as if I was hearing it all for the first time.

I thought I would feel good after the show ended, but now I feel… disconnected. The stress and pressure has been removed from my life and now I have time to take stock. What went well? What have I learned about myself? What would I like to not repeat in the future?

It was a steep learning curve, and now it has passed. The Universe took care of it all and everything fell into place in the end.

Monday Sexism

Today I had an interesting experience. I spoke with a man for 40 minutes, interpreting/helping a female coworker who is a highly qualified light/photography engineer. The man we were speaking to argued with us for 40 minutes about how what we wanted was wrong, but then immediately “understood” when our male coworker weighed in to explain. This leads me to come to the following conclusion:

“Women’s voices are high pitched, like dog whistles, and only some dogs can hear them.”

Joking aside, I’m pretty proud of myself for the way I handled it today. The last time I was in a similar situation, I let someone waste so much of my time that I finally said to the guy: “I’m going to be very direct. I wasn’t born yesterday. Please stop lying to me or I can’t help you”. I wish I was one of those people who could just smile and nod, but I’m not. Not yet. I wonder if I would still be me if I was that kind of person.

I suppose one has to choose their battles wisely, or else they will spend their whole life fighting. If someone is lying to me, my first instinct is to call them out, but in the world or work, that doesn’t usually result in cooperation, especially when dealing with male egos.

I’ve informed my male coworkers who aren’t cave dwellers that from now on, I want them to speak to this third party. I can’t change him and his ingrained opinions, nor the fact that he refuses to listen to smart women who have different ideas from him. Life would be much easier if I were a man (e.g.not having so much ridiculous and time consuming pressure on my appearance, traveling on my own, people taking me more seriously and allowing me to be a leader instead of cutting me down), but I’m not, and that’s that. I’m only here a few more weeks, I don’t care about this guy, and if he wants to discount what I have to say out of hand because I am a woman then he can talk to my male coworkers, they can say the same thing, and he might be less emasculated by that. But I need to bite my tongue from saying “You’re not listening because we are women”, because unlike Madrid, few people are direct here, least of all women to men. (After all the difficulties that I overcame in Madrid, who ever thought I would miss that city?)

Needless to say, it made me miss my partner terribly. He speaks to me like an equal in all things, he’s not scared to tell me that he disagrees with me, nor is he scared to admit when I am right. He never suggests that my map reading abilities may be sub par, even though we often “discover new destinations” when I am copilot in the car. He’s man enough to cook, and sing, and laugh and be silly.

Then I think about the girls at the home. They live here, they live in this culture. They are highly intelligent, beautiful young women, on their way to university. Will they internalise this crap, sitting in some office doing someone’s paperwork, thinking more about their hair, nails, and makeup, than they do about who they are and what they really want from life?

 

 

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