The Untold Story of Rosemary Kennedy

By Jack Ford.

The sad but true story of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of former US president John F Kennedy, highlights a lot in terms of the treatment and portrayal of women with mental health issues in the 1950’s

The third oldest of Joe Kennedy Sr.’s children, Rosemary Kennedy had difficulties from a young age. She was regularly excluded from her siblings’ games, as she found it hard to take part, and she also had big problems with reading, which saw her fail twice to graduate from kindergarten.

At 15, her parents had her removed from public school, largely out of shame, and sent her to a boarding school in Rhode Island, where she was kept separately from all the other students. One letter she wrote home read: “Darling Daddy, I hate to disappoint you in any way. Come to see me very soon. I get very lonesome every day.”

Despite her educational struggles, she was seen as an even-tempered and happy young girl, who had a number of hobbies and interests, enjoyed social outings and showed a great interest in social welfare and education. Rosemary was briefly educated in England, where the family had moved to after her father was appointed US ambassador. It was during this time she was said to have made great strides in her character and school work.

A young adult when the family moved back to America, those around her would see sudden, evident changes in Rosemary. She had become boisterous, combative and was prone to mood swings. In an attempt to remedy her new behaviour she was placed in a convent, but she would regularly sneak out.

The family did not know how to control her, and with her two oldest siblings – John and Joe Jr. – about to enter the world of politics, there was a fear that Rosemary’s behaviour would threaten their chances of winning office.

It was then that a doctor friend of Joe Sr. told him about a procedure that could fix neurological problems like his daughter’s – a lobotomy. Without hesitation, and not hesitating to inform anyone else in the family, Joe whisked 23-year-old Rosemary away to Wingdale Psychological and Correctional Facility in New York to have one performed. He ignored all the warnings about the risks associated with the procedure, and any possible wishes of his daughter, and Rosemary was lobotomised.

She went silent on the operating table, and when the doctors tried to get her to respond, not only was she unable to speak, she was unable to move. The operation had gone wrong. The Kennedys’ fought to keep Rosemary out of a mental institution all their lives, but following the botched procedure, there was no other option but to commit her. It took months of physical therapy to get her to move again, but she never regained the ability to walk or speak.

Rosemary spent the rest of her life in Jefferson, Wisconsin, at a specialist support school. The family largely played down her disappearance, and when they did eventually acknowledge her, they cited mental deficiencies as the reason for her absence from the public eye. Aside from her mother, on one occasion, she never received a visit from any family member, and in 2003, at the age of 85, Rosemary Kennedy passed away.

Rosemary Kennedy’s actual condition is open to speculation, but in a new age of understanding of mental conditions, it’s easy to see signs of a variety of illnesses that today are easy to treat and manage.

She was not alone in her persecution either, history has seen innumerable people with easily treatable and manageable conditions either being given the wrong care or institutionalised. Women have fared particularly badly; with their own feelings not regarded. Often, any change in personality was jumped on and scrutinised, and until recently, emotional changes associated with the monthly cyclecould have been classified as ‘hysteria.’

Accounts from history like this go to show us is how far we’ve come in how we view and treat mental illnesses.  Rosemary’s sad story unfolded at a time when there was little known about the causes for mental instabilities and stigma surrounded them, not helped by the Kennedys trying to protect their now famous name.

About the Author

Jack Ford is a charity worker, anti-rape activist and volunteer art gallery attendant from Somerset. Currently, he abides by the Hunter S Thompson quote: ‘I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.’ His work has appeared in Jupiter magazine, on the Bristol Sport website and he writes for The Redeem Team and Nondescript.

My Vagina Monologue

By Amelia Brown

I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ three years ago today on a coach back to London, laughing and sobbing the entire way. I used to not even be able to say the word “vagina”. It terrified me. It stuck in my throat, liked folded cardboard, choking me. If I did manage I’d say it quietly, coming out more like a splutter than a word, said with hands folded and eyes averted. Eve Ensler (author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’) says that the word ‘vagina’ sounds like a disease, even a “medical instrument”. To me, it sounded stoney and cold and rooted in Latin. It took me a long time to get past that. I had to go back through all the letters in this short word, turning them into my own.

V – smooth on my tongue, buzzing at the back of my throat like a vibrator or a bee, open to an a, ah, a laugh, a song, g, oh that g, the softness of the g, like plunging your fingers into warm clay. ‘In’ came together, inside, centre, then a again, moaning. V.A.G.IN.A.

On Ensler’s advice, I bought a hand mirror, I set aside an afternoon, I closed all my curtains, and I looked. First thing: the hair. As a child I would spend hours, eyes tight shut, wishing the hair away, hoping that if I wished hard enough it would just disappear. I dreamt of waking up one day and seeing nothing and feeling so happy and not feeling ashamed. For years it was red, barren, and itchy. Now I do not shave. The hair is my comfort, my softness, my safety. I like to twirl it in my fingers at night. I like its darkness after I have showered. Monique Wittig refers to pubic hair as a “pubic fleece”.  I nearly cried when I read that. Yes, I thought, yes. It keeps me warm, holds me soft.

Beneath the hair was red lipped softness that I could fall into like love. I discovered vaginas at the same time as I discovered love. I fell faster and more hopelessly than I ever thought was possible. There were some bruises, but mainly I experienced an overwhelming sense of life and wonder.

My love affair with vaginas will be one for life.

My vagina terrifies me some days. I do not understand it, I cannot control it. But I trust it.  We are a team, my vagina and me, us against the world.

If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

Silver doc martens, my favourite crop top, dungarees, wings in case it ever needs to fly away.

If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?

Be kind.

What does a vagina smell like?

Home.

About the Author

Amelia has always lived in London and finally made the move from the dreaded suburbs to central London. I’m 22 and I a writer and theatre maker, who also pulls pints in an attempt to avoid the 9-5 grind. I love dancing all night long (I’m told enthusiasm is more important than skill), art that changes the world and pizza.

The Pill and Me ♥

A note from the Editor

Dear Friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gender + the City would like to send you a Valentine’s Day card this year…

It’s an amalgamation of our stories and perspectives, pains and pleasures, experiences and insights on the subject of the contraceptive pill. I’d like to thank all our lovely contributors for sharing so candidly.

To start off our hot V-day date with the pill, here’s my own contribution to our contraception collective:

image (6)

Katie Staal

I was on the pill for seven years; from the age I started having sex with my first boyfriend up until last year. I went on it because that’s what every girl did when they started having sex. For seven years I went to the doctors alone and picked up my prescription alone. I was weighed and questioned, the blood pressure armband squeezed tightly around my upper arm. My contraceptive world ticked along, invisible to eyes of my boyfriends who in total peace and serenity, came inside me.

I loved my little sugar-coated dose of Microgynon every day, it made me feel safe and protected. I trusted it. I never missed a day. Taking it became so much a part of my sense of self, that it seemed abnormal when I stopped consuming them (for one week of the month to have my period.)

It was only last year that confusion and concern began to invade my contraceptive bubble. In reality, I knew very little about the long term effects of my daily dose. What happens to your body when you stop taking it? What about if you want to come off, and then go back on again? Was I still too young to think about quitting? All of these questions simmered as I eyed my pill with suspicion. 

There are over one million pill takers. And yes, the pill can have a damaging effect on the long term health of women and girls[1] The pill is a Feminist issue, and men (the very men that fuck women on the pill all the time) are often ignorant of the emotional, mental and physical labour that we go through to avoid unplanned pregnancy. To be truly equal, shouldn’t both sexes share the load? What the hell happened to the infamous male pill?! We’ve been ‘five years’ away from male contraception for fifty years! 

Then I began to get really pissed off. Do all these questions fall on deaf ears because contraception is still deemed a ‘women’s issue’, and therefore irrelevant, unimportant and underrepresented in scientific and medical research?

The pill just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed to go cold turkey.

As it turns out, the most useful advice on how to quit the pill came from sharing stories with my girlfriends. In a bar in Soho one night, a friend looked me straight in the eye and said ‘come off it, trust me, The Pill fucks you up, and then you can’t go back’. She continued gravely: ‘The side effects makes it feel like we still don’t really have a choice, it’s a lose/lose situation.’

The Pill was introduced in 1961 and yet in 2017, my friend echoed the same sentiment expressed by the first wave of Feminism. Their fight has become ours, and it’s clearly not over yet. Even worse, there’s a superpower cheeto out there who at the flick of a pen, seeks to reinforce the oppression female bodily autonomy.

I’ll admit, I’ve been off the pill for over a year now and I’m still a little confused about what’s going on in my body. Many of my original suspicions have continued to simmer, taking on new shapes and forms. Alarmingly, I lost a lot of weight in a pretty short amount of time and experienced painful period cramps and other weird PMS symptoms that I’d never had before. The worst was something I affectionately named ‘fart brain’, where for the first couple of days of my period, I basically feel like I’m on another planet! I can’t think straight and struggle to concentrate.

Through all of my frustrations and anxieties, my friends provided a listening ear. Talking to them helped me check in with myself, and eventually, realise how I really felt about the changes I was going through. I hope the stories to follow in this article are equally valuable, and can help you to find comfort in solidarity with our pill taking sisters.

[1] Side effects of the pill include: heart disease and stroke, depression, DVT, blood clots, migraines and an increased risk of cervical cancer to name a few.

Please like GATC on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter. You can also follow Katie on InstagramSpotify and Goodreads.

image-14

Anonymous 

The Contraceptive Saga: A Series of Limericks

There once was a young girl at school
with pills as her protective tool.
She didn’t know others,
but came to discover
an IUD was not as cruel.

Once she missed the pill and got stressed.
Plus side effects made her depressed.
A nurse gave advice:
“This copper device
will have all your problems addressed!”

Though she met the change with intrigue,
the coil gave her cramps and fatigue.
She squirted much blood,
proclaimed “It’s a dud!
A method for men is in need.”

But she hadn’t quite lost her will:
protection without getting ill.
She spoke to her doctor.
His answer did shock her:
“Not condoms nor coil? Try the pill!”

Tried condoms, an NFP app,
but these were refused by her chap.
Why should she feel sick
for the sake of his dick?!
She gave up and told him to fap.

image (3)

Angelique Jones

My experience with the pill is by no means unique: the doctor told me so.

When I was 15 I went to the GP with my mum, because I had a few pimples on my chin, and (something called) period pains; but, I didn’t really have a period: I had an extremely long one once for a week when I was 13, I had to sit on towels, couldn’t go to school. What I hadn’t mentioned was that I heard at school, that it makes your boobs bigger, too, but that so-and-so got fat. It was a risk; but I was 15, and so foresight – what’s that?

The doctor said Microgynon would clear up my skin and give me regular, painless, bleeds. Sweet, whatever that means. So, I took the tiny pill for 3 weeks, stopped and had a bleed. But, most of the time I chose when I would have a period, sometimes I took it every day; periods are annoying, especially when you have to wear shorts for P.E, and you have to buy tampons because it’s “ew, gross” to wear pads.

After two and a half years of playing around with the pill, I was getting pretty depressed, and a bit fat – but I was also binging on sugar, and skipping meals because I didn’t know how to express myself: girl, age 17-18 years. I would just cry, and then eat a loaf of bread and 5 KitKat Chunkies.

The doctor’s told me to take Citalopram 20 (anti-depressants) and keep taking the pill to regulate my hormones. I didn’t feel good.

I stopped taking the pill after 3 years, and the anti-depressants after 5 days. I bled for 10 days. I haven’t bled since. I’m now 26.

The doctors keep telling me to take the pill, so that I can have a “normal” period.

Angelique is Film Editor for both The Rational, and On the Beat. You can follow her on Instagram @Angeliquejones_

image (2)

Ariane Laurent-Smith

I am 22 years old, I’ve tried four different types of contraception, and fingers crossed, I think I found my perfect match. I was put on Loestrin 20 at the age of fifteen because my periods hurt so badly that I was near to fainting. When I became sexually active, it made sense for me to go on Loestrin 30, deemed a ‘proper’ contraceptive pill. I took it for two years, but never trusted it enough not to use condoms at the same time. Really, it was more of a back-up. It’s funny that I took something with awful side-effects as a ‘back-up’.

I didn’t connect the dots until much later, but every time I stopped taking my pill, whether it was to have my period or I forgot (we’ve all been there!) I would feel extremely emotionally fragile for following week or so. I felt like I could cry at the drop of a hat. After this, I tried the contraceptive injection. Also, a no! The emotional side-effects were even worse than the pill, and I refused to accept the idea that I should stick with it for another three months because the side-effects ‘should’ tail off. It’s just not worth the risk.

Enter my knight in shining armour. I’m not talking about a man. In fact, men don’t even have an option for hormonal contraception, since development of the male injection was cut short. No, my knight is the IUS. Otherwise known as intra-uterine system, the hormonal coil, the Mirena, heaven in a contraceptive. That is, unless you’re unlucky to be on the receiving end of one of the major side-effects. Although these are rare, in some cases it can pierce your womb (I love being a woman!) Even my dream contraception hurts to get inserted – the cramps and contractions I experienced, I can only compare to what I imagine the pain of labour is (oh the irony).

My boyfriend at the time rubbed circles on my back with one hand and called a taxi to go home with the other. The pain lasted a few hours but since then, I’ve felt like I’m floating, with a peace of mind I never knew was possible.

Hear more from Ariane on Oxide News Radio.

image (5)

Ellis Taylor

After 8 years, I made the decision. My life was good; I’d overcome some really tough experiences and gone through plenty of counselling. But I still didn’t feel right.

I was 18 when I went on the combined pill and 24 when I came off it. I was 18 when I started to feel anxious and low. When I was 21 I was prescribed antidepressants. Was this a coincidence? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it was.

Before making my decision, I spoke to friends and researched the effects of the combined pill on mental health. Finally, I decided that it was time to stop taking it. I thought it would fix my mood swings – hell, I thought it might even ‘cure’ my depression.

When I first came off the pill it was wonderful. I felt like I was meeting my body and my natural rhythm for the first time! My body was doing what it was meant to be doing – not what it had been instructed to do by a little pill. My antidepressants reduced, I was getting closer and closer to being totally medication free for the first time in years.

It’s now been a year. My natural monthly rhythm lasted a couple of months, but now that my body has had time to adjust, problems that I never knew existed have revealed themselves.

When I came off the pill it was because thought it would ‘fix’ my mental health issues. It has helped, but coming off has also revealed a new knowledge of my body, an awareness that uncovered potential problems, problems otherwise discovered.

Follow Ellis on Instagram.

image (1)

Freya Turner

Drug in Greek is Pharmakon. This word refuses to define whether it means to cure or to poison. ‘Kon’, as if to cheat us of meaning.

Granting me my last resort for acne treatment in a little windowless office, some doctor put me on Yasmin. It was a flippant decision for him, and a hesitant one for me. I was living in Amsterdam at the time; my first time living abroad. Just outside the clinic, one of the beautiful and unsure canal rings was winding away and away, coiling together a paper cut-out city. It made me lose my way home.

Washed down somewhere, into my blood, silently. It’s an intoxicating idea. It is tiny and slight and light, barely detected by the tongue. Is this dangerous slightness the feeling of a womanhood?

I took it for the time it takes to grow a baby. At least that’s what I remember. Having ‘moderate’ acne, it felt as if I had a clinical diagnosis warning me of my constant uncertainty and wavering.

Is this a numbness? // Maybe it is hyper awareness. // How am I to ever know when I am feeling drug mood or my mood? // Then what is mine? // Is medically constructed good skin a contract; all moods suddenly mine? // What is more possible: absence or unusual movement of emotion? // And who is to say which out of frequency or size of spot, is the most destructive?

I couldn’t answer the questions. This medical exchange became a project, I realised, in a woman’s capability of tolerating what she thought and her own and others’ politics of health and superficiality.

Like many projects, this one ended. I now let the acne thrive, and I use nothing for it.

Freya is a regular contributor to GATC, you can read more of her recent writing here and here

image

Polly Hember

Discussions on birth control are deeply political, revolving around reproductive rights, female autonomy, body politics and so on. Second-wave feminists in the 1960’s and 70’s argued that control over a woman’s own fertility was, in no uncertain terms, power. This was a power that gave women access to more control over if and when they wanted to have children. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) stated in 1920 that a woman who relies on men for birth control, is a woman ‘exploited, driven and enslaved to his desires.’

However, a trend I have noticed with young women in their twenties now is a deep sense of resentment about their pill. Why should women have to risk blood clots, weight gain, mood swings, acne, loss of libido and more in order to enjoy sex and avoid pregnancy, when men get all the benefits without the side effects?

At 19, I experienced inconsolable mood swings due to the brand of my contraceptive pill. At 23, I was nearly hospitalised because of an infection caused by the copper coil. At these times I have to admit that I have felt it unfair that women shoulder the burden, the risk and the sole accountability of pregnancy-free sex.

Contraception is always going to be a multifaceted, emotive and complex discussion. President Trump is attempting to enable US employers to deny women insurance coverage that pays for their birth control. Whether you feel empowered or resentful, the issue is freedom of choice. The support, education and the availability of birth control one decides on more critical than ever before.

Polly Hember is Art Editor for The Rational and found of On the Beat.

image

Izabella Karasinska-Stanley

When I got a boyfriend, I knew it was time for me to get the pill. Oddly, I never considered any other option. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was using the coil, or the implant. For me, it was this, or condoms, and condoms break, or we might run out. The pill was entirely up to me. That’s what I wanted.

I was slightly nervous when I waited in the Sexual Health clinic, but mostly I wasn’t. It seemed so easy. You just ask the doctor to prescribe you a contraceptive, as if ordering a pizza in a restaurant. You say what you want, they ask follow-up questions, like if you want added parmesan, or if you have multiple sexual partners, and then you wait a bit, and then they give it you. It’s very easy.

It’s been just as easy ever since. I know I’m lucky. I have plenty of friends who reacted badly to it, or who keep forgetting to take it. But for me, it works fine. I don’t forget it. And most importantly, it hasn’t completely fucked me up. I’m really lucky. I can have sex all the time, whenever I want. I’m never scared. I’m always protected.

And yet, I think I might stop taking it soon. Switch to something else.

That’s the thing about the contraceptive pill. It’s like social media stealing your data, or your GPS tracking your every move. Those sites are convenient, but something about them seems wrong. It’s the same feeling. You don’t get real periods. Your hormones aren’t working right. So many things about the running of your female body line up with your menstrual cycle. What about all of that?

It’s the same feeling Miss Clavel has in Madeline, you know?

“Something is not right”.

Follow Izabela’s film photography Tumblr and find her on Instagram @izabela_ks.


Illustrations by Anna Sudit
@annasudit
http://www.annasudit.com

A New Perspective on Bodies

By Ruth Ankers

‘You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection. Like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you’[1]

Stacy London’s got it right.

There have been countless articles, books and ideas created around discussions of body image and body shaming. They often conclude that we should love our bodies no matter what.

Don’t lose interest yet, this is not another one of those articles.

I’m not here to tell you to feel better by eating a bag of kale, nor am I going to assure you that “big is better”.

In fact, I think on the whole that both these types of expressions miss the point.

So what is the point?

If you ask me, addressing our bodies shouldn’t be limited to “celebrating” our different sizes and shapes. The conversation has the potential to extend in focus to consider our obsessions with the body.

I’m sure you’re ready and armed with your “healthy body healthy mind” shotgun, and yes, that would be a valid shot. But, I’m not suggesting that eating well doesn’t have a positive impact on your state of mind. However, an obsessive mind is not a healthy mind, and we need to be careful where we draw the lines.

This is a particularly pressing conversation, as millennial women are labelled by their seniors as the most ‘self-obsessed’ of any generations that have come before.

It would be pointless to open up a debate about the types of food which are right and wrong to eat. I’m not a nutritionist, although I am a good cook. I cook healthy food, I eat healthy food … and I eat cheese, bread and pasta and all the things which make my mouth water.

This article isn’t about food, exercise or diet plans. It’s about perspective.

Can we take the heat off ourselves, please? Can we eat and be healthy and well without having to plaster it all over the internet. Social media can be more dangerous than we often notice. When we jump on the public body bandwagon, we push our obsession with bodies to the forefront, keeping them in the spotlight. A spotlight which could be shifted and distributed to different issues.

I’m not suggesting you should abandon your relationship with your body. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t love and enjoy your partner’s body. After all, we are all beautiful, and deserve to be admired. But is it possible to have a time out?

Is all the chatter around bodies getting a bit much?

Stacy London thinks we should spend more time looking into the eyes of the people we love, instead of at our reflection. I agree. We need to make sure, going forward, that we save looking at our own bodies (or other bodies on the internet) and use this time to look more into the eyes of people we care about.

That’s how we find “body confidence”, no matter what shape or size you are. We can always find beauty by looking at someone we love, and recognising that they see you – your soul, your views, your experiences and your kindness. Not your jean size.

[1] http://www.thehumangathering.com/stacylondon/

About The Author

IMG_20170907_103552_343

Ruth Ankers is a Drama and Applied Theatre Practitioner and Teacher. She favours writing poetry and short plays. Ruth is a firm believer in equality of gender and is really exited to be writing for Gender + the City!

Illustration by Laura Callaghan
http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/
@lauracallaghanillustration

Mind the Gap: Children and Gender Stereotypes

BBC’s No More Boys or Girls: Can our Kids Go Gender Free? confirmed many of my suspicions. Today, gender differences for young children are still significant and our supposed accepting values regarding individual creative gender expression have regressed.  

By Giuliana Friselli

BBC’s No More Boys or Girls: Can our Kids Go Gender Free? confirmed many of my suspicions. Today, gender differences for young children are still significant and our supposed accepting values regarding individual creative gender expression have regressed.  In this observational experiment girls articulated a total lack of self-confidence and boys were unable to articulate emotion at all, displaying extreme over-confidence.  But when taught under a new atmosphere of gender neutrality, within weeks vast improvements were made.  They displayed more mixed play, with boys able to show more emotion and girls showing more confidence, performing better at spatial awareness tasks.

We’re in the middle of a progressively liberal ‘gender revolution’ where young adults are thinking outside the gender box, so why on Earth are we contradicting this by polarising gender for children when it should be the last thing on their minds?

Growing up in the late eighties I was never denied playtime with my favourite He-man toy or told to stop wearing boys’ clothes.  Outdoor adventure was always readily available, with little-to-no restriction under a watchful parental radar.  Even at primary school, my gender expression came with no barriers, allowing me to enjoy a natural freedom to explore my identity, equipping the tools of tolerance for my later years.  Like many androgynous girls of the nineties – and now a seemingly endangered species – we were commonly known as ‘tomboys’.   A sleep deprived parent on the wrong side of 30, my identity is an infinitesimally small part of my life now, but had children like me been around today we’d probably be destined for the gender identity clinic.   Similar sentiments have been echoed by actor Rupert Everett: “I really wanted to be a girl. Thank God the world of now wasn’t then, because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15 I never wanted to be a woman again.”      Consequently, it has jogged recent memories of seeing parents reduce the opportunities for gender creativity to occur, from boys being reprimanded for wearing Mum’s lipstick to energy-fuelled young girls coaxed into wearing highly impractical party dresses.  Yet, the happiest I’ve ever seen kids behave at a party was when they yanked their clothes off at the end of a sunny day and proceeded to run around the garden naked, in sheer delight.

It’s baffling that modern society is exhibiting a visible downward spiral of old fashioned gender stereotypes which live at the Darwinian North and South Pole of the gender spectrum, in which females are choosy, submissive and coy and males are strong, unemotional and systematic.  Bizarrely, in our walking-on-eggshells politically correct era, we avoid using such stereotypes among adults in the fear we will be deemed ‘sexist’, but are quite happy to unleash them on children who do not have the maturity or experience to distinguish satire from reality.

Children are not simply children like we could be – they are now either strictly boys or strictly girls with no movement for anything in between.  Despite being among those parents who endeavour to avoid excessive stereotyping we recognise the neon pinkness of our daughters is a stark contrast to the muddy boots we grew up in.  My daughter is yet to attend a birthday party without all the girls garbed in en vogue sparkly dresses, where everything is centred on looking like a ‘pretty princess’ – all the time.  Whether they’ve just been glued to watching Frozen and others alike, there’s a persistent breeze of superficial gender-specific commodification whirling around.  In much greater quantity.

It may be harmless fun to the parents, but this superficial world of gender socialisation is the foundation upon which children start to build their gender identity and it’s sleuthed its way into our lifestyles, reaching the acute senses of our children and encroaching the pure spaces of their natural world.  Greater traffic on roads means children spend less than half their time outside than they did just 10-15 years ago.  An increase in smaller families and older parents together with an internet culture of shock stories has made helicopter parenting more common.  Nurturing children in such attentive measure is being done under a binary spotlight and with more screens around there’s greater opportunity for a narrow notion of gender behaviour to shine before their very eyes on a perpetual basis.  Experts suggest this cultural shift of screen-watching is a huge paradox, building an enclosure which stifles natural creativity and thwarts healthy imaginative play that they would otherwise get from engaging with nature.  The need for an expert to tell us this is worrying on its own.

Mainstream entertainment and video games project unrealistic androcentric narratives spawning degrees of misogyny.  Young women are frequently sexualised with airbrushed femininity because of instant, often uncensored, internet content and we are yet to know how the explosion of this social-media-obsessed ‘selfie’ culture will impact our children, but it’s not looking promising.  Phrases like ‘man up’, ‘you kick like a girl’ and ‘grow a pair’ to describe boys who aren’t ‘macho’ enough, still litter our language and girls as young as seven –  yes, seven – are now having spa-pampering parties for birthdays.  It’s an insipid, sickly hyperbole of masculinity and femininity, for the worse.  The latter of which has been exacerbated by the vacuous decade-long Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Although helpful for busy parents-especially when you need your toddler on silent for half hour to catch up on endless chores-even Peppa Pig resorts to old fashioned gender stereotypes of the ‘nuclear’ family with Pepper always in pink and George, unsurprisingly, in blue.  I’m not inferring that a family of cartoon pigs is unsuitable, but reasonably, a ubiquitous reiteration of gender difference in a child’s environment will mould their brains to override a harmless nature of gender creativity.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, the full flow of consumer capitalism and sexing scans since the ’90s has caused a hackneyed trajectory of the boys-are-blue-and-girls-are-pink rhetoric to be much more pronounced today, especially within marketing and advertising.  The colour concept was brought in to brand the genders to maximise profits for baby wear companies which is why so many kids’ companies still heavily categorise the sexes, especially in toys and clothing.  Even Clarks made archaic steps on gender by thinking it was appropriate to bring out a range of shoes called ‘Dolly Babe’ and ‘Leader’ this summer.  What next, for heaven’s sake?  For our daughters to slip back into the tight corset of a repressed coquettish Austenian character to impress their Mr Darcy?  (Well, it won’t work for John Lewis.)

It’s painfully clear that society is entrenched in a technological age where our consumer market is projecting everything but a healthy view on gender in children and is perhaps the cause for well-meaning parents inadvertently reinforcing these stereotypes, whilst naively underestimating its consequences.  It’s easy to forget we grew up with far less technology and with a better balance of outside and indoor time in our crucial early years.  With a primeval past of dial up and delayed gratification the outdoors was sometimes a revered distraction for many.

Unlike Jaden Smith and Shilou Pitt, unless children are born into the privileged and artistic realm of the super-rich elites where gender expression is unbounded then they’re set for this gendered world -a rigid binary construction which doesn’t reflect the rich tapestry and intricacy of our gender spectrum.  At all.  And in conjunction with gender identity cases soaring to unprecedented numbers where three-year olds are being admitted, it raises suspicion that this should happen in a supposedly gender-equal country.  If science shows that most boys and girls are biologically the same until puberty, then is it our environment which is partly the cause for this emergence?

Children are the most impressionable members of society and if we continue to widen the gap between boys and girls then those who creatively or innately digress from society’s expectation of their assigned gender may feel lost between two extreme worlds, possibly falling on a breeding ground of confusion and doubt.

It’s time to lessen the disparity between how boys and girls are treated.  This doesn’t mean responding with another extreme by making boys wear pink dresses or arming girls with toy guns.  Simply soften the emphasis of gender altogether by creating opportunities to encourage the freedom of individual creative expression.  It will allow for better adaptability and encourage natural talent whilst preparing children for a potentially difficult job market in the future.  Interacting more with the natural world will productively keep the inhibitive forces of stereotypes at bay whilst extending the mental wellbeing of our children in a positive and natural way.  We need to be aware of gender as a social construct and resist the temptation to pressurise children into being the extreme version of their assigned gender whilst being consciously aware of the external cues that dangerously reinforce it.

Let’s fill the gap for all children to walk freely.

***

About the Author

Giuliana is studying for an MA in Politics at the University of Essex.  Her areas of interest include current affairs, gender, sexuality, the environment and political philosophy.

Read more of Giuliana’s work here: http://through-our-senses.org/

 

Another Brick in the Wall: Schools are Still Letting Girls Down

Graduating from University recently has got me thinking about my school experience. How did I make it to University? How did my education, leading up to my degree, better me as a person? How did it help me to understand the gendered world?

By Freya Turner

Graduating from University recently has got me thinking about my school experience. How did I make it to University? How did my education, leading up to my degree, better me as a person? How did it help me to understand the gendered world?

Well, quite frankly, it prepared me to live in a country where gender is rigid and sexism is not only practiced but celebrated too. There are so many things that I could say about my five year secondary (state) school experience. I could talk about the lack of class time scheduled for arts subjects, or the absence of healthy food in the cafeteria, or the neglect of a student’s autonomy and independence (as demonstrated through the archaic rules, such as having to ask a teacher to remove your blazer). But in light of recent, scary statistics that a quarter of young girls have depression by the time they reach the age of 14, I think it’s necessary for me to discuss the experience that girls at my school had.

In the UK, we begin secondary school aged eleven and are prompt thrown into a new school uniform. Cumbersome, and sweat-festering, our school’s uniform consisted of black trousers or a skirt, a white blouse, a horribly synthetic blazer complete with shoulder pads to bulk you up and appear more ‘fit for work’ – i.e. masculine, which was completed with a tie. Nothing like preparing the young for the long years of professional, misogynistic work ahead, am I right… am I right? Or perhaps it would be more suitable to ask how many of us will actually end up donning this sort of pompous attire in our careers? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that from the first day at school, girls from my school, in fact, all schoolgirls have long struggled to identify themselves within an education that boxes them in a blazer and tie-d institution. Their education literally doesn’t fit them.

Girls don’t have to be at school long before other problems arise. The insults ‘slag’ and ‘slut’ begin to fly around on a daily basis, boys are continually lifting up girls’ skirts, twanging their bra straps, making unwanted advances on them, and girls will simultaneously feel the need to make their skirts shorter and shorter to appear attractive. Teachers will, consciously or not, tolerate boys’ bad behaviour because it’s just ‘boys being boys’, listen to boys more often, and involve them more than girls in classroom discussions. We can deny all this as much as we’d like, but in my five years at secondary school, I noticed this being very real and the effects of this were very noticeable.

If girls are going to undertake years of education, whether this is up to the age of eighteen or twenty-one, then they must be listened to and encouraged on an equal basis as their male equivalents. If they’re not, their confidence in their abilities are obviously going to be lower, and therefore, the likeliness of them pushing themselves and taking academic risks is going to be much lower. It would be an injustice to deny that this is linked to males generally outperforming females at University. After years of being encouraged to think outside of the box and think boldly, it’s no wonder that when faced with independent assignments at university, boys are psychologically better equipped at executing them than girls.

There’s the added fuel to the fire of sexism flouted at my school with teachers telling us that it was forbidden to wear coloured underwear beneath our white blouses. There was the girl who received the prom queen award because final year students voted for her on the basis of being sixteen and pregnant. You constantly had an ear out for both subtle and all out brash comments from boys about the way girls looked. There was the culture of girls not eating during the school day, or being on a diet because they wanted to lose weight. For me, there was the issue of wanting to wear a skirt, but wearing trousers instead, because I was worried that I’d wear my skirt too long (and not appear attractive), or too short and (and get criticised for the same reasons).

I went with trousers instead because I couldn’t be bothered with being scrutinised by other students, whilst getting into trouble with the teachers for looking too sexualised, on top of the already frustrating experience of being a girl at school. I knew that I couldn’t win. And this sentence really sums up the experience you have as a teenage girl.

We also experienced the painfully significant lack of professional sex education, which in my experience, was based on a shrewd, Victorian discourse of negative reinforcement, where it was all about ‘do not’s’. We had the school shows which often shared sexist, inappropriate themes and costumes. Even the teachers themselves were targets of differing treatment based on their gender. I noticed that female teachers were generally more likely to be interrupted, teased, and taken less seriously than the male teachers. It’s just the way it worked, and this happened whether people were behaving consciously or not. We are so wired to a gender hierarchy that we’re not even conscious of it a lot of the time.

We can disregard these issues as insignificant, trivial realities of British education, but to do so would be to exacerbate the problem of gender rigidity and disparity in the UK. Our younger years are so, so crucial to our development. They have a lasting impact, and to undo the discourses we have been taught in our younger years would be a challenging, if not nearly impossible feat. If schools are taking responsibility for addressing (whilst often fixating) on the ways in which students are behaving outside of the national curriculum, regarding matters such as attendance, punctuality, and ‘professional’ appearance constructed through a uniform, then why isn’t gender finally being treated as a subject worth taking some responsibility over? Why on earth are we teaching young people about criminal punishment, ancient scriptures, and STIs without even touching upon sexism- in classrooms, assembly halls or tutorial time?

Our education system needs to grow up, otherwise the same patterns of oppression and limitation will get played out again and again. But how likely will this be in a culture of academy schools with ever narrowing curriculum options, funding cuts, and 1% pay caps debilitating our teachers? Pretty unlikely. The urgency with which we need to change our education system is therefore pretty much a state of emergency.

***

About the Author

Freya is a recent English literature graduate from UEA, where she specialised in reading minority cultures, political writing, urbanisation, alongside being generally cynical about modern life. She has been curious about gender representations since a young teenager, and over the past year has experimented with writing to set out her thoughts on feminism and gender through monologue, poetry, short story, and a creative-critical style. She has recently enjoyed working in the arts, through a radio station and a national archive, publicising literary organisations and material. She is an advocate of Europe and urges students in higher education to study abroad.

Is Feminism ‘En Vogue’?

The link between fashion and Feminism is one that has appeared throughout history – from the liberation of women in the 1920’s, represented by flapper dresses and short hairstyles, to the mini-skirt revolution of the 1960’s, coinciding with second wave Feminism.

By Shannon Carey

The link between fashion and Feminism is one that has appeared throughout history – from the liberation of women in the 1920’s, represented by flapper dresses and short hairstyles, to the mini-skirt revolution of the 1960’s, coinciding with second wave Feminism. While fashion has often reflected the development of Feminist politics, 2017 has seen fashion embrace female power in an entirely new way. Earlier this year at arguably one of the most prestigious events in the fashion industry, New York Fashion Week, the catwalks displayed models sporting not their typical elegant dresses and avant-garde creations, but simple t-shirts bearing Feminist slogans from the likes of Dior. High-street stores have begun to replicate this trend, with companies such as Topshop showcasing T-shirts adorned with the female gender symbol, as well as the aforementioned slogans such as “Females of the Future” and “Babes Unite”. To some, these may just be T-shirts, however, this new trend highlights a change in the relationship between Feminism and fashion. Fashion is no longer just a reflection of Feminist movements, but instead Feminism has morphed into fashion.

‘Feminism’ historically has been treated as a dirty word by the majority of people (particularly those who are not politically engaged) and internet spaces in particular often seem to reflect an antiquated perception of Feminism. Anyone who has ever deigned to even mention the ‘f’-word on social media will be able to describe to you the backlash they’ve received from so-called ‘Menists’, online trolls and other commentators. ‘Feminist’ has become synonymous with terms such as ‘Feminazi’ and ‘man-hater’, showing that for many, the Feminist ideal isn’t a welcome one. With such a backlash, it’s hardly surprising that some women shun the label ‘Feminist’. Only a few years ago, there was a trend of female celebrities distancing themselves from Feminist ideology, with big names such as Kaley Cuoco, Shailene Woodley and Lana Del Rey all publicly refusing to call themselves Feminists. While their reasons for this were varied, and while they all still advocated the need for equality, the refusal to associate themselves with Feminism spoke volumes: for these women, Feminism was a negative label, and something to play down quickly. For a long time, this was the common trend, with the ‘Feminism’ label being associated with hard-line activists, rather than the ordinary girl on the street wanting to be equal with her male acquaintances. That is, until the fashion houses stepped in and reclaimed Feminism for their own.

This new trend of Feminist fashion is welcome for many reasons. Rather than being hidden away, the confidence with which female consumers go out and purchase ‘Feminist’ clothing items suggests identifying a Feminist is no longer a source of shame. Now that women are consumers with spending power in their own right, they can chose to invest in products which speak to them. Therefore, as fashion reflects the world around us, brands create products to cater to the world their female customers live in. Judging by the popularity of ‘Feminist fashion’, this can be a method of empowerment for women and girls alike.

Of course, as with most things, there is a controversial side to the Feminist trend. Whether it’s Tamagotchis, Pokemon Go or butterfly clips from the 1990s, we all know that trends rarely last. While it’s great to see Feminism featured in fashion now, will we see a dip in the number of Feminists out there once the trend is no longer relevant? And what about those of us who have been fighting the Feminist cause long before Topshop decided to stock T-shirts with slogans on them? The reality is that Feminism isn’t and can never be just a trend. Decades of struggle and strife cannot be represented in fabric. An item of clothing cannot tell you that the gender pay gap in the UK still stands at 18%, or that one in 5 women in the US will experience rape during their lifetime. While it might be fashionable for a young girl to wear a T-shirt boasting a Feminist statement, it’s much more important that she knows the reasons why we still have to fight for female equality.

Additionally, there is a lingering hypocrisy surrounding the image of the ‘female empowerment’ as a fashion trend, in contrast to the conditions and pay of the (outsourced) female workers who produce our high-street fast fashion. There has been vocal criticism of Beyonce’s fashion label Ivy Park for this very reason, and soon after this of fashion giant H&M (this backlash in particular was catalysed after the release of a diverse advertisement, which although perceived as a move in the right direction, highlighted the need for more work in other areas to improve the ethics of the brand). Some have raised the issue of ‘Empowertising’ – that female consumers are merely manipulated by fashion advertising into exchanging their cash for a superficial sense of empowerment[1].

This illustrates how Feminism itself is a complex issue, and Feminist fashion trends trigger the discussion of different issues such as capitalism, fair pay, working conditions for women and whether girls are really engaging with Feminist thought. Of course, it does not matter if Feminism is fashionable or not, a trend should never take focus from the roots of the fight for gender equality. However, if a few garments can convince a new generation that Feminists is something we should all be, and if it can help shift the perspective of Feminists from feminazis to trendsetters, then it is clearly positive. Regardless of how many T-shirts Dior or Topshop sell or how long the trend lasts, the fact that fashion is embracing Feminism represents its growing acceptance into society – and that is something to celebrate.

[1] For more on this, the podcast ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ discussed this in depth. [http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/empowertising.htm]

***

About the Author

Shannon is an English Language graduate, with a passion for writing. She has been interested in gender studies since her school days, and believes equality should be achieved for everyone, everywhere. In her spare time, she enjoys exercise, blogging and drinking a cocktail or two.

The Handmaiden: Exploring Gender Roles, Relationships and Changing Attitudes

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film.

By Jack Ford

Guest Edited by Dafydd Jenkins.

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film. On a base level, it’s an expertly crafted multi-layered story that becomes far more interesting and intriguing as it goes on. Furthermore, it deals with complex, difficult and even repellent issues in a thoughtful and highly sensible manner; presenting them in a way that’s easy for audiences to engage with. Thematically, The Handmaiden is largely concerned with the roles of women and their fight to control their own destinies in a male-dominated world.

Based on Fingersmith, (Sarah Waters, 2002) The Handmaiden’s main deviation from the source material is the change in setting: from Victorian England to wartime Japan. Despite this, remaining true to the book’s intentions caused Waters to respond positively about the treatment of her work. “Though ironically the film is a story told by a man,” she says, “it’s still very faithful to the idea that the women are appropriating a very male tradition to find their own way of exploring their desires.”

One of the great joys of the film is to watch its plot unfurl, so the less detail given about it here, the better for the uninformed. At its core, it’s the story of a relationship between reclusive Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), the Korean thief hired as her new handmaiden.

Lying somewhere in the subtext of The Handmaiden is a harrowing and haunting historical event – the ‘Comfort Women’ of the Second World War, where many young women and girls were kidnapped, held hostage and repeatedly raped by the invading Japanese army during their wartime occupation of Asia. This event continues to cause tension in particular between Japan and South Korea to this day. While there is not a single mention of these Comfort Women anywhere in The Handmaiden, the film can’t help but echo this horrific piece of history.

It might be, subconsciously, investigating whether the values and attitudes at the time could have caused the event to happen. Without doubt, the characterisation of the film’s male contingents make it easier for the audience to understand the mind-set of someone who would have committed and allowed such an act.

As well as Hideko and Sook-hee, there is a con man who calls himself Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), who hires Sook-hee as part of a plot to make off with Hideko’s fortune, and the heiress’s Uncle Kouzki (Cho Jin-woong). Neither are respectful to the women of the film – approaching them with an air of superiority – and they both allude to their views on how sex is for men to enjoy and women to endure, along with a belief that women enjoy the act more when it is ‘forced.’ An alarming mind-set, yet one that will no doubt sound familiar to many of the audience.

These flippant sexual attitudes branch into much darker territory. For as long as Hideko has known, her uncle Kouzuki has threatened female family members to read graphically sexual stories from his vast library of erotica to a crowd of high-paying aristocrats. When Hideko comes of age, she is no exception. In some cases, she is even made to perform the acts she describes with a mannequin.

Both Sook-hee and Hideko eventually go on to destroy Kouzuki’s book collection, in a lengthy and gleeful montage. The sheer screen time dedicated to this sequence serves two purposes: the destruction of the wide array of antique books which emphasises how long women have been depicted as sexual objects, whilst also acting as a symbol for the two, liberating themselves from sexual subservience. When Kouzuki finds his collection destroyed, he barely seems moved – he claims they can be repaired, and those that can’t can be re-created. This is the film making the point that chauvinistic attitudes continue to exist, and at the same time asking how long will it be before they change.

As the film moves on, the female leads’ defiance of their male oppressors’ will extends to the passion they start to feel for one another. Yes, they both go nude and, yes, there are sex scenes, but these moments are not in the film for sensational reasons. They are there to show the growth of the intimacy between the characters, and the awakening of emotions that have long been dormant within them.

For Hideko in particular, her only experiences of this supposedly wonderful thing have left her feeling jaded and unsatisfied, even sad. It’s only after falling in love with Sook-hee that she starts to feel any sort of excitement. She realises that the act of sex itself is meaningless, it’s the emotions that go with it and whether you feel a deep connection with your sexual partner that makes it valuable.

The central themes sexual liberation and the gender hierarchy are some of the key elements that make The Handmaiden such an absorbing experience; these ideas linger with you long after the film has ended. The Handmaiden is generous, not only with its inventive storytelling and lavish production, but how much thinking space it gives to the audience. It allows everyone who sees it to take away as much or as little from it as they want to or feel they can, and for that it is a highly commendable achievement.

***

About the Author

Jack Ford is a charity worker, anti-rape activist and volunteer art gallery attendant from Somerset. Currently, he abides by the Hunter S Thompson quote: ‘I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.’ His work has appeared in Jupiter magazine, on the Bristol Sport website and he writes for The Redeem Team and Nondescript.

What About Feminism Today?

I have always been concerned with global issues on a personal scale.

By Ruth Ankeres

I have always been concerned with global issues on a personal scale.

The Individual.

The way one feels when they wake up in the morning, and the way they feel when they go to bed at night.

Feminism is that. Equality is that.

It is the human, painful, feeling, every morning and every night, no matter how big or small, that somehow “It’s not fair”.

And it isn’t.

Amazing women and men all over the world are fighting to put this right. Going out into the world and doing amazing things to ease some of those feelings, to lift some of the weight for us.

Women and men worldwide are making speeches which are demanding change. Intelligent, thought-provoking pleas which beg for understanding.

And here I am, not there, feeling just the same, but not having a platform to voice it.

And here you are, reading this article and feeling the same?

What can we do? How can we feel like we are part of this? How can we wake up every morning knowing we are not complacent, that we are doing something towards the cause, to make a difference? If all of these wonderful men and women are making changes and all of this oppression isn’t going away, where do we fit in?

Are you ready?

Be the change every day. Wake up every day and be the change.

Change starts here. Today. Right now.

Change is defending the woman breastfeeding on the bus. (Well done her!)

Change is defending the girl who is getting wolf whistled.

Change is defending your mother who is being spoken to like a fool.

Change is holding your best friend’s hand in a green and grey abortion clinic.

Change is telling your boss he is wrong and his actions are unjust (Even though he is your boss).

Change is talking about it and challenging it and making other people aware (even if it’s only in the pub, or over dinner to begin with) You have to start somewhere!

In a nutshell: t’s waking up. Waking up and seeing that you have the power to step in, you have the power to make sure every day, that our rights aren’t stolen.

It happening everywhere and until we see the smoke and we do something about it, we will never put out the fire.

Feminism boils down to something so simple, it’s so ancient that it’s a wonder we even need to write about it, to pick it apart, to make speeches to “important people,” to “intelligent people”.

Feminism is this: Treat other people as you would wish to be treated.

It’s not all that complex is it?

There is no longer any good enough excuse.

Wake up every day and defend that, in the same way women have been doing for years, decades. Wake up and make it your duty to defend that, because it needs defending. It’s not going to go away by itself.

Opposition won’t respond to violence, they won’t respond to words, they won’t respond to seeing criminal things happening before their very eyes?

So, let’s go back to basics. For all of you who can’t understand this?

We will do what we do with our children; we will do just as our teachers have done for us: we will show you. We will show you how to behave. We will show you how to treat each other. We will set an example, for everyone. And then maybe you will see that in practice it isn’t hard. It isn’t scary.

It’s just fair.

***

About the Author
Ruth Ankers is a Drama and Applied Theatre Practitioner and Teacher. Although this is her first publication she has been writing for years. She favours writing poetry and short plays. Ruth is a firm believer in equality of gender and is really exited to be writing for Gender in the City!

IMG_20170907_103552_343

 

Image credit: Hannah Barczyk

The Gendered Experience of Time and Numbers

The extent to which women are conditioned to position their identity in numbers deeply upsets me. Shopping with female friends and family often sticking to your given number. Your given identity. If women have to try a larger size, they are conditioned to feel shame. The larger size is said as if it is a dirty word. The larger size is incomprehensible.

By Freya Turner

The extent to which women are conditioned to position their identity in numbers deeply upsets me. Shopping with female friends and family often sticking to your given number. Your given identity. If women have to try a larger size, they are conditioned to feel shame. The larger size is said as if it is a dirty word. The larger size is incomprehensible. The clothes shopping experience isn’t intuitive. It isn’t about holding an item up to the body and seeing how it looks and feels. It’s instead carried out through a prescribed number with huge significance. But of course this number has no inherent human meaning. The meaning behind this number is faux, established only by the marketing, fashion and beauty industries.

Our experiences are coloured by undefinable, subjective movements that are ever changing and shifting. Our body shape alters over the course of a day due to what we’ve fuelled it with. It changes due to our cycle and hormones. We can have a different body shape from one year to the next depending on the type of exercise that we’ve been enjoying at any certain time. Why are we still finding value in a compartmentalised unit, a category, and in self-branding? We do this because it is easy; it transforms our experience into one that is recognisable and relatable to society. However, subjectivity is complex and difficult. Of course, we also find value in a clothing size because we see what sizes are available and we make judgements on where we fit in those available or unavailable sizes.

The woman’s experience is defined by a spectrum of units, where every part of our existence is precisely definable, dated, and set within boundaries, unlike the male identifying experience. The majority of men’s sizes occur in some version of small, medium or large, with trouser sizes defined in waist measurements. Men have a somewhat meaningful language to describe their clothing, along with a scale that reflects the truth. Women experience clothing their body through an arbitrary scale that is unrelated to body measurements. The industry for planners, diaries, organisers, calendars and lists is huge, and the majority of it is marketed towards women. This perpetuates the idea that women must log, sensibly plan, and organise their lives in secret, inaudible, and beautiful ways. Those who identify as men are barely a part of this world.

It used to be commonplace for women to ask whether their bums looked big in something. Now we barely hear it. Now women pay money to get bigger bums. Whether that’s through gym memberships or surgeries, people are paying to the look. Women’s ideal body types change all the time. Our bodies are commodified, dated trends.

Think about one of the most recent women’s razor adverts, where we are sold three different razors for three different sides of you. Women’s bodies, personalities, and day to day experiences are things to endlessly measure and label as if they are a material item. This is happening whilst it is becoming more commonplace for women and men’s experiences to be tracked and compartmentalised, through the spread of new technology. Myfitnesspal and fitbits have taken the fitness industry by storm. Youtubers share their daily or weekly eating and fitness routines with their followers. The same thing happens on Instagram. It seems like it is more vital than ever before to measure the productivity of our bodies and share it with others. But the way this rhetoric is shaped and used is gendered. Online influencers who are in the wellness/fitness area are predominantly women. The majority of Myfitnesspal users are women. The majority of Instagram users are women.

Women are expressing themselves through these platforms, but it is done in a way that limits their experience. For example, the language of wellbeing often involves words like ‘clean’ and a string of hashtags. Women, conscious of this or not, are believing the false idea that we must oblige to compartmentalise our experiences into single words. This is a sign that women still lack the sense of autonomy, spontaneity, and expression that men do.

Also, this ties into the issue of time. Men are more able to live their lives feeling as if they have time on their sides. Women, on the other hand, will be more likely to feel as if they are on the wrong side of time. This is because in Western society in 2017 it is still a common perception that when women age, they become invisible, resentful, and worthless. And if women decide to have children, they then risk triggering the end their own autonomy. They lose themselves, their time and even their own names as they become ‘mothers’. Employers still fire pregnant women, and rearing children still entails mothers joining an institution where it is commonplace for women to do the majority of the unpaid, intensive childcare and emotional labour. Women are painfully aware that with age comes disadvantages and distrust from others. All the more reason to get more organised and use a weekly planner.

What I have found particularly disturbing recently is what I’ve heard from women who have experienced some sort of body change; namely weight gain or loss. They find it almost incomprehensible. They feel disembodied, as if that cannot be them, and that they must revert back to what they used to be. This body change may be the result of some sort of emotional trauma, or physical illness. Regardless, she will likely punish herself, due to the guilt and shame of occupying space in a new body, through implementing a strict diet and exercise regime in order to get back to ‘herself’. God forbid that a woman does the amazing feat of having a baby and has a body which has grown in size to enable and support the entire process. She must lose the baby weight, of course! Erase your body’s ability and adaptability. Why is this still happening?

But we are societies who, in reality, are inflexible about identity. In the era of the individual, where the individual is free in the midst of a disjointed, disparate political society, it is no wonder that we are seeking to say something about ourselves in a way that is audible and comprehensible to others. We want our identities to be consistent and definable because it seems like that is the only way that they can be noticed. This works paradoxically for women, for the more that they self express through the numbers of their bodies and experiences, or reductive codes like hashtags, the more that they are exposing the instilled belief that women must be kept an eye on, tracked, and defined. A woman’s true experience is defined by subjective changes but we are not happy with this. We are playing a numbers game which cannot grant us our freedom.

***

About the Author

Freya is a recent English literature graduate from UEA, where she specialised in reading minority cultures, political writing, urbanisation, alongside being generally cynical about modern life. She has been curious about gender representations since a young teenager, and over the past year has experimented with writing to set out her thoughts on feminism and gender through monologue, poetry, short story, and a creative-critical style. She has recently enjoyed working in the arts, through a radio station and a national archive, publicising literary organisations and material. She is an advocate of Europe and urges students in higher education to study abroad.

 

Are We Choosing Marriage Consciously?

By Taniya Shandil

“So, have you been thinking about boys and relationships then?” said Kal, one of my inquisitive neighbours. She popped over to my house for a cuppa and a catch-up, which we did whenever we met up. I was venting to her about how my dad had been hinting that I should be ‘doing certain things in time’. He would occasionally joke about posting my biodata online for some suitable matches to come through, so that he can get rid of me (quite literally is own words!). He said it teasingly, as a joke to wind me up, but to me it was more than a joke. He never said it directly but to me, but I felt like he meant there was a time to do everything, namely: a time for studies, a time for career and a time for marriage.

So, I being totally unready to even have that conversation or think about marriage at 25 was something that Kal found a bit surprising too. As we were discussing our life experiences, she said, “Well, you know, I got married at 24. I didn’t know what it would be like. But I learnt to understand how my life would change, and how to understand Ravi better. And now, two kids later we know each other well … we share our own little banter and that’s what it’s all about!”

She then went on to say, “You know marrying early is good because you can have your children, play with them and see them grow up while you’re young. I have some friends of mine who were very career-minded – now they’ve turned 32, 36 years old and they can’t have all that now!” “All what? Marriage and children?” I asked.

“Yes, you know. When you turn a certain age, it becomes difficult to have children. Also, it’s harder to marry!” she said.

I listened to her intently, yet had this strange feeling that she wasn’t entirely confident in her marriage at such a young age. Surely, we need to learn a little more about marriage before we go ahead and do it – just like you learn about the job prospects of a career before entering into it. Marriage being one of the life-defining decisions that we make deserves to be thought about, and not just ventured into blindly because it is the correct age to do so.

Practically speaking, the thought of ‘marrying at a certain age’ might be somewhat true since the biological clock exists, and has its limits. However, do we need to marry to have our children? Are we consciously choosing marriage and then kids, or is the choice being made for us?

Is it easy for a person, especially a woman, to make her own decisions without being judged? What happens if a woman decides she wants to marry when she is 40 years old, when she is filled with life experiences, financially stable and comfortable with herself as a person? Not to mention, she can emotionally support her partner better! Yes, with the biological clock ticking perhaps it would be difficult to have children. But isn’t this mind-set the stability that lays the foundation of a successful, and emotionally communicative marriage?

Why does it seem easier for men over 35 to find a younger woman to marry but not so vice versa? Logically speaking, isn’t there a higher risk of the marriage not working out when the woman is young and coming to terms with the idea of living with someone, discovering herself and trying to begin her career? Or does marriage choose her because she is of a certain age and can bare children? Is it biology, or our own conscious decisions? Do we feel incomplete if we don’t marry or don’t ‘have it all’? Is it necessary to ‘have it all’?

I am not saying that we should ignore our biology or shun marriage as an institution, but I do think it is important to question whether we looking at women as autonomous individuals? Are we accepting the fact that people will choose their marriage decisions? What about same-sex couples, are they similarly restricted by the social constructs which seem intrinsic in heterosexual couples? Are we acknowledging the fact that people will grow into more evolved beings with age who can provide better emotional, mental and financial support to their partners? Or are we associating a woman’s age as old = loss of youth = not a child bearing age?

Is the idea of ‘not having it all’ and ‘being left behind’ scary?

As I sit here and wonder about what Kal said, all I can surely say for now is that I don’t know what path I will eventually end up taking. Whether I will be ready mentally or not, whether I will find a decent partner or not, whether I end up having children or not. But one thing is for sure: whatever happens, I want to make sure that I choose it and not the other way around.

***

About the Author

Taniya Shandil is a recent Chemistry postgraduate student from Cardiff University who is interested in gender and feminism issues. She has recently completed her master’s in Chemistry, and has took to writing for the purpose of self expression, creativity and making a difference by challenging perceptions of gender.

She also enjoys music, dance and reading as hobbies. One day, she wants to make a difference in the chemical industry with her work, and at the same time become a writer who can make a difference.

Taniya Shandil

Redefining ‘Woman’

By Rachael Haylock

If you google the word ‘woman’, one of the definitions states:

“a peremptory form of address to a woman e.g ‘don’t be daft, woman!’”

(Peremptory means “insisting on immediate attention or obedience, especially in a brusquely imperious way.”)

Whereas if you google ‘man’, you get:

“used, irrespective of the sex of the person addressed, to express surprise, admiration, delight, etc., or for emphasis.”

The very word given to women at birth has become an order, an aggressive and autonomous way to speak to a female. On the flip side, the word ‘man’, is the opposite, and serves as a light, friendly way to greet both men and women. From the day we are born and named ‘woman’, the first word used to describe us entrenches our obedience and subservience to our male counterparts. As women’s futures seem to be changing and shifting around us, the discourse for redefining what it means to be a woman needs to be discussed.

At birth, the first thing that the nurse probably said about us was “It’s a girl”. ‘Female’ becomes our very name and our very definition. In that moment, much of our lives are defined for us. We will probably be dressed in pink, watch Disney princess movies and take ballet classes. We will learn that to be female means to be beautiful, fragile and dependent.

As we get older there is very little change, by the time we are teenagers, all the social norms that envelope the term ‘woman’ have permeated our identity. Maybe we will start learning how to use makeup and how to lust over shoes and clothes. Maybe we will read shiny magazines with beautiful woman, maybe we will start developing a fraught relationship with our bodies. Maybe we will begin to associate society’s definition of beautiful with our self-worth. In our culture there is only one ‘Ideal Woman’, and it becomes our life purpose to try and fit that mould.

In 2015 alone there were 279,143 breast augmentations; a 31% increase from 2000 (plasticsurgery.org, 2016). This is a direct result of the notion of the ‘Ideal Woman’. She has led many women to dress the same, do their hair the same, buy the same things and even adapt their bodies so that their bodies look the same. In turn, this creates competition between women. There can only be one ‘Ideal Woman’ and we are all subconsciously trying to play that role.

In order to break down the concept of the ‘Ideal Woman’, one must realise the differences between sex and gender. Our sex is female or male, the biological composition of our bodies, however, our gender is how we chose to express ourselves. Our gender is a construct that we have the power to create. The ‘Ideal Woman’ forces a certain type of gender expression on us. She limits us, and is often subconsciously attached to much of our unhappiness. Essentially, we have been denied the freedom to choose our own truth. Our truths have been clouded by the do’s and don’ts of how a ‘woman’ should behave, dress and conduct herself.

Women (and people in general!) everywhere seem to be undergoing a transition. They are realising that the world does not exist in binaries. The traditional concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are dissolving, to be replaced with an array of creative gender expressions. At some points we can almost feel like it is almost enough to just be yourself, without any kind of gender attachment. As we start to recognise that we have the ability to define our own standards of beauty, we realise that as part of human nature, the only constant in life is that we are all different ever-evolving. Everybody is different, and in our difference, everybody is beautiful. Our purpose as women emerges, unashamed in our expression of ourselves. We are unashamed of our self-expression and we can speak our own truths, inspiring others to do the same.

What if we don’t want to be a woman, biologically or otherwise? We are on a constant journey with our womanhood, always evolving and adapting. Most importantly, by redefining ‘woman’ we can also become more aware of the different struggles women everywhere face in their daily lives. We can be thankful to be in the position where we can redefine what is means to be a woman freely.

Every woman is different and every woman is beautiful and every woman should be treated as such. I believe that the future of womanhood is to encourage and support each other to express and love who they are, rather than participate in competition and rivalry. The future of womanhood is to teach our sons and daughters that all people, regardless of sex, have equal opportunities to explore and express their hopes and dreams; that beauty comes in all forms, shapes and sizes; and that your sex does not define you. Our journey as women is just beginning, and together we can redefine the cultural norms that surround our sex, and create a better future for all women.

References:

https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/new-statistics-reflect-the-changing-face-of-plastic-surgery

***

About the Author

Rachael is a dance practitioner, yoga teacher and writer. She has a Bachelors in Dance studies, and was first introduced to gender studies at university, by looking at dance practices through gender as a cultural lens. She hopes to use her voice and movement practices to inspire and help break down habitual and cultural limitations. She is a passionate believer in expression, travel, freedom and an equal voice for people everywhere.

13321954_10157010999365512_2265243618475136798_n (1)