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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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feminism

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.

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).

American Sniper: 0/5 The Worse Film I’ve Ever Seen

I had reservations about watching American Sniper. I worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it because of American propaganda, but I got lucky; this film has a lot more wrong with it than skewed ideology.

No Female Soldiers/ Soldiers of Colour

Women make up 14.5% of the active-duty force (according to CNN), while African American soldiers make up around a quarter. So with almost half of soldiers on active duty being made up of women and African Americans, you would think any modern war film worth its salt would try to accurately represent that, wouldn’t you? Well, you would be wrong.

Mental Illness/Masculinity

Men are at four times more risk of suicide than women. Some psychologists argue that this is because of hegemonic masculinity, which demands a “tough guy” front from men, who are conditioned from an early age to not talk about their feelings, leading to them not being able to ask for help later in life.

I found it completely irresponsible, that this film portrayed Chris Kyle (who seems to be suffering from classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress), as some sort of “strong silent type”, who’s miraculously cured by a 20 second scene with a psychiatrist who tells him simply to “help others” in order to recover. I don’t know whether this is Clint Eastwood’s old school portrayal of masculinity, or whether the problem comes from the autobiography that the film is based on.

Portrayal of Iraqis

Opens with “call to prayer”, which is normally played in Mosques.

Iraqis are referred to as “savages” by American soldiers.

Characters proclaim: “We’re not fighting for this dirt”

Brutal, unnecessary violence from “bad guys” (such as the scene where the enemy leader uses a drill on a child and then shoots both the child and the father), whereas American soldiers are depicted as just “doing their jobs”/”protecting themselves”.

The film depicts roughly 1 American soldier dying to 6-10 Iraqis. In actual fact, during the whole war, 4,500 American soldiers have been killed,  and 450,000 Iraqis, meaning  that a more realistic ratio might be 1 American soldier dying for every 100 Iraqi deaths.

Badly Made

-Comedy baby doll, completely obviously fake.

-Sound, in general. Car noise random and too loud.

-Wooden characters.

-Doesn’t hold together.

-Passage of time only shown by size of children (not by any changes in adult actors)

-Only one female character.

-Only one black actor.

Trying to understand anti-feminist backlash

Feminism carries a stigma. Why? It seems like when talking about gender issues, people are scared that through change they will lose something. I’ve seen this in both men and women. For me and for many other people, feminism means equality for women. It means that women, as humans, have the right to decide to stay at home and be the primary caregiver if they want to, or to go out to work. It basically means freedom of choice. In my opinion, feminism and gender equality are synonymous/overlapping, and I believe that the key to the next stage in gender equality (in the west), is for us to change our idea of masculinity,  and “allow” men to have a “feminine side” without him being called “sissy”. I want to live in a world where anyone, male, female, hetero, homo, or trans, no matter what they look like, can live their life without fear of being attacked verbally or physically. Here are some questions I would like to answer in my research/future blog posts: Why is custody awarded to women almost automatically in divorce cases? What long term effects does single parenthood (of either gender) have on children? Is it worse for children to grow up raised by unhappy parents than stay together? Are there really less and less male primary school teachers? Why? What are the ways that men and women’s brains differ? How much of gender is socialisd and how much is innate? How does the patriarchy try to control men? Is there a male identity crisis? Are there male feminists? Why do women hate men? Why do women live for longer than men? Do we still need feminism? Rape and sexual abuse: Why do men rape women? Why do men rape men? How wide spread is rape in the west? Are there female rapists? How can we protect children from paedophiles and men from gender prejudice?

Holding open doors

A man I met said this:

“I don’t understand why feminists won’t allow me to hold open doors. For me it’s about respect. I like to open doors and when I take a woman out, I like to pay”

For me personally, the problem here is the social awkwardness of it. I don’t know whether someone is going to open a door for me, or let me through first. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Then, I’m walking along with a male colleague/co-worker/friend, and he opens a door, and allows me to walk through first, and then I’m supposed to be… grateful to him? Smile? Yet if I give up my seat for an old man with a walking stick on public transport, I’m running the gauntlet of causing offense. The old man has a disability, and as an able-bodied woman, I do too? The old man might feel emasculated, and I am… [insert female equivalent of emasculated here]…disempowered too?

Even though I find it confusing, I think: it’s archaic, it’s patronising, it’s condescending, but I have got bigger fish to fry.

I do not, however, let men pay for me. Friends, lovers… I like to take it in turns, like if my friend (of any gender) buys one round of drinks then I buy the other. That’s just me. I like the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. All too often, people pay for things for you, and then expect something in return. And I know that if I accept the gift, I feel obligated to behave in a certain way. It’s far easier just to pay my own way, instead of enjoying a man’s attention, and telling yourself it’s “just a friendship”, and then feel hurt when he tries to kiss me, I reject him, and I feel like I’ve lost a friend. When I was younger I thought I had a lot of male friends, but this kind of pattern/misunderstanding happened again and again.

I do empathise with men who feel cheated by women who accept gifts (e.g. drinks) and then reject them. Flirtation, courtship etc, can be a confusing game. It must be difficult to tell if a woman is receptive to advances or is just being friendly or doesn’t want to offend. I try to be really direct in my dealings with men when I’m single, but not rude and hurtful. If I’m interested in someone, I make it clear.

He told me “It’s about respect. I’m showing respect to  a woman by paying”. I’m in a long term relationship with someone who earns the same as me, and the way my boyfriend shows me respect is by letting me buy the next round, or letting me give him half the bill (we usually pay cash) beforehand.

If he earned double what I earn, and liked to go to places that I just couldn’t afford, maybe he could pay two thirds and I could pay a third. My partner shows me respect by: listening to me, by doing his half of the chores at home, by making me laugh, by telling me I look better without make up, by having dinner with me every night and never looking at his phone…

This friend of mine was a businessman, and I imagined that he probably was more affluent than me. But regardless of economic differences, I don’t like to feel “bought”. I once dated someone who insisted buying us a bottle of champagne at the bar, and I just didn’t feel comfortable. I’m one of those people who would rather a home made gift than an expensive one. I like nice things, but I would much rather go on a picnic with someone than go to a fancy restaurant.

If that makes me weird, I’m weird. If that makes me a “feminist”, then I’m a “feminist”. That’s just the way I am, and I like it, so I see no reason to change!

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Help! I’m volunteering with teenage girls!

There’s nothing that strikes fear in my heart like the thought of working with other women, especially working with teenage ones. I have learned so much from all of my volunteering and subsequent youth work roles over the past 5 years and, but to be quite frank, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Personality clashes, gossip, activities that don’t match the student’s level, unwanted attention from men… But I have learned so much, and every success and defeat has lead me to this point.

There is no such thing as a bad experience. Learn From it!

I’ve spoken to a few friends who work in various fields with young people, and they have all told me one thing:

Building a relationship is the key.

I’ll be walking into yet another situation where I am “the new girl” (and not in a hot way, like Zooey Deschanel in the hit TV show) who doesn’t know where anything is or who is the best person to ask to get things done, but at least this time, I speak decent Spanish and I know enough to keep my mouth shut, my ears open until I know more about what makes the people around me tick.

Here is my plan on how I’m going  get to know the girls.

1. Introduce myself to all the girls on the first night.

Teenagers can smell fear, so in order to pretend that I’m not afraid, I’m going to bring a small something to give to each girl as a gift. One of my skills is arts and crafts, so I’m going to bring enough materials for each girl to make her own head band. On the first night, I’ll introduce myself to each girl, and give her a ribbon (which will be hers to keep to use in the workshop)

2. Bring a Frisbee.

The girls love to play sports at night to blow off steam, but when their ball goes over the wall they can’t retrieve it as it goes into El Bordo, a neighbourhood that is too dangerous to enter on foot. Hopefully by bringing a Frisbee we can get some informal games of Ultimate Frisbee going, which means that we can play without risk of losing the equipment.

3. Juggling.

Acting, theatre, and circus skills help people in their daily lives, from staying focused and calm while under pressure, to helping you to speak confidently in meetings and while giving presentations. I’m going to bring my juggling balls, and if there aren’t mandarin oranges available, get my driver to take me to a local market to pick up 20 or so to use as juggling balls for the girls.

4. Bring T-shirt customizing pens.

A few years ago, I invested in a set of T-shirt customizing pens. I’ve only used them once, so I’ll be taking them with me just in case there is some fabric that I can work with on a project with the girls.

5. Bring a harmonica.

A harmonica is a simple enough instrument that I can use it with the girls while doing rhythm and percussion activities. I know that they already have a guitar, but string instruments have never made sense to me, so I’ll bring something simple, lightweight, and cheap, in case I want to give it away when I leave.

All of these activities require minimal linguistic abilities. My role there isn’t as “English Teacher”, but “Stage Manager and Event Coordinator”, meaning that I need to motivate the girls and help them with rehearsals as well as being a bridge between the film crew and the school. But first I need to lay the groundwork for this, by building relationships with the girls, familiarizing myself with the facilities available, and settling in general.

How can I be confident in this new situation?

I think I’ll feel much more “official” if I make myself a name badge and get a t-shirt printed. That way, there will be no confusion about who I am or what I’m doing there, which often happens to new recruits in organisations both big and small.

Fear of…Teenage Girls

OLR

In 7 days, I’m headed to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, (dubbed by the media as “the murder capital of the world”), to work with the girls and young women at Our Little Roses. I have a lot of experience with under 11s, but working with the age bracket 15 and up scares me slightly.

I think the root of my fear of working with this age group is that I was a bit of a lost soul at that age myself. It was a dark time in my life, where I had a dim view of a system that I had seen fail me and many others, and I especially disliked people who I considered to be “do-gooders”. I was so desperate for peer recognition that I did every rebellious thing that I could, regardless of whether I enjoyed it or not, like smoking, drinking, and going to music festivals.

I made a point of associating with people older than me, and I had zero positive role models. Not that I wanted any anyway; as far as I was concerned, the world was broken, and I had completely lost faith in any force for good.
Although the girls at the home and I are from worlds apart, I know what it is like to feel alone and abandoned. Maybe these girls will be different from how I was; I had seen it all and I wasn’t interested in anything you had to tell me. I really hope that I don’t find anyone there who is as disillusioned as I was.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve managed to make some peace with the past, rediscovering who I am and what I really like to do. I’m very aware that I am privileged to be involved in this project, and I want to be of as much use there as possible. I hope I have the confidence to be myself with these girls. Maybe they have more to teach me than I have to teach them.

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