Tag Archives: feminism

Invisible invulnerable invaluable

And then poor George Michael only got one day in the news because of Carrie Fisher. What a crappy year, seriously.

I heard an interview with Carrie Fisher on the radio recently, and she struck me as a woman who is at that point in life where she really has no fucks to give. She tells it how it is and she doesn’t have to be something for anyone else any more. She wasn’t putting on her best self for the Terri Gross interview, she was just there, talking. If we wanted to listen, that was up to us. We should all aspire to such levels of notgivingafuckitude. I feel like she and Hilary Clinton could have run the world so well, but instead we’re left with TinyHands OrangeFace and a fairly vague Han Solo.

(I found it hilarious that from what Carrie said, Harrison Ford didn’t actually have to act at all for Star Wars. That terse, ultra-dry-witted man is exactly who he was/is in real life.)

There’s this thing about how older women are invisible, and how it’s really hard to come to terms with this new phase if you’ve been generally known as a pretty or beautiful woman in your younger days. But older women have such strength – think of Carrie Fisher, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hilary Clinton – women who kick ass, take names, and give no fucks. (I hope Hilary is doing yoga, centering herself, drinking red wine, wearing leggings and letting her pores breathe, enjoying not having to give a shit about what she’s projecting to anyone any more. She’s proved herself a million times over.) Who told me that the Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world? If only the world will let them – but hell, they’re trying so hard.

Women over 50 have walked through the fire of the gaze, the vulnerability, the judgement, for all those years. They’ve held it together, all of it, all at once, probably for everyone else at the same time as for themselves. They’ve done it all and fallen down and got up again and done it all some more, and even if they think they failed they’ve done it anyway. That’s what women do.

And then sometimes some of the best of them have a massive damn heart attack and it’s not fair at all.

Why is it different for women? Because men are never vulnerable. Not until they’re aged and infirm, and even then they’re less vulnerable than old women. (I just heard a story about an old man who confronted a burglar in his house, made him a cup of tea, and saw him out the front door. Admirable; but an old woman can’t do that.) Most young men have no enemies but themselves – if they can avoid getting killed through their own sheer foolhardiness or stupidity, they won’t have to worry about their personal safety for a long time.

Men don’t even know why women move in packs and go to the toilet in pairs and bring a friend to the party – we barely remember ourselves, we think we’re just more social than boys, but the truth is that we don’t go places on our own at night. One of us always has to be the more sober one, the most sensible one, the one who can make sure everyone else gives the right address to the taxi driver and doesn’t throw up in the car. One of us will always rise to the occasion. The boys can just get rat-arsed all they want, because they can probably wander home as slowly and alone-ly and darkly as they like.

Apart from personal safety issues, women have run the gauntlet of each other’s judgement since they were old enough to be told that’s a pretty dress now go and brush your hair. Opining on other women is like breathing. It’s what you do while you’re not doing anything. You look around, you see other people, you think things. Good, bad, pretty, fat, thin, nice shoes, horrible jeans, I wouldn’t do that with my hair. Older than me, younger than me, more friendly than me, quieter than me, shrill, short, bossy, judgmental. Who’s judging me today? Who am I doing this for? Who am I trying to impress? Why is this important?

And eventually you might get past it and stop trying to impress and you start seeing inside people a little better and ignoring their outsides a little more easily.

And then maybe, just maybe, you get to be something near as kick-ass as Carrie Fisher.

 

Pantsuit universe

Yesterday one of my Irish readers was surprised by the feminist slant of my post – that aspect of the US presidential race seemed to have got lost in the general melee of “Crazy Trump vs. Hawkish E-mail Lady” media attention that people overseas were seeing.

I was surprised that she was surprised, because from where I’m sitting that’s one of the most salient and exciting parts of the whole thing, and one that I find totally uplifting.

In my experience, the glass ceiling is a lot tougher in the US than it is in Europe. Sexism in and outside the workplace is more prevalent. Attitudes are more trenchant. Personally, I’ve had more female bosses than male in Ireland and I’ve only ever had male bosses in the US. Maybe that’s coincidence, or maybe it’s something more.

I’ve been catcalled in America but not in Ireland. I’ve had dodgy experiences in Ireland and in Spain. I’ve walked home in the dark everywhere, and felt nervous as a woman alone in an unfamiliar area everywhere, and clutched my keys in a parking lot so I can stab someone in the eye at short notice everywhere. Nowhere has a clean record. Nowhere has a monopoly on good or bad behavior. But you can’t deny that when women earn 80c for every dollar men earn, and that a government made up of mostly men thinks it should be able to legislate on women’s bodies, things could be fairer.

Today women in America are wearing pantsuits for Hillary Clinton. They’re wearing white for suffragettes. They’re wearing family heirloom earrings and pendants and voting with their mothers and their grandmothers in their hearts, and with their daughters in their arms and their minds. They’re lining up at Susan B. Anthony’s grave and covering it with the little “I voted” stickers you get when you leave your polling place, because this is what she worked for and didn’t get to see.

Irish people are always quick to point out that Ireland elected two female presidents in a row, starting way back in 1990. Which is true, and wonderful – but the president in Ireland is mostly a figurehead, much like the English monarch. Ireland has yet to elect a female Taoiseach (Prime Minister). If Hillary Clinton is elected she will be, to coin a hackneyed phrase, leader of the free world – and also, simultaneously, a woman. While the rest of the world has to bite their nails and just wait and see, I got to go out to my local polling place this morning and have a say in that decision – as a woman, and an immigrant, and an American citizen.

That’s democracy. It’s an exciting time.

"I voted" sticker.

Yes I did.

 

Just a girl

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a boy. He lived at the top of my road, and our parents were good friends, so we were in and out of each other’s houses, and riding our bikes up and down the road, and happily duelling Sindys against Action Men and all that sort of thing for several years. But sometimes, especially as I got a little older, I didn’t always want to play the same games he did. “Let’s play cops and robbers!” he’d say. “Let’s do acrobatic tricks on our bikes,” I’d counter. So I’d be a robber escaping acrobatically from the cops, or a policeman doing an arabesque on my saddle as I pursued him.

Now and then, I had to pull out the oldest excuse in the book to get out of playing some game or other I didn’t feel like. I knew it was wrong at the time. The burgeoning feminist inside me cringed, but sometimes, to get out of things that looked too hard or too high or basically too uninteresting, I’d say to him “I’m only a girl.”

I don’t even know where my burgeoning feminist came from. She’d never heard of feminism. Her mother was not really flying the flag of liberated women, coming from the generation who had to give up work as soon as they got married, and not seeing any reason why a married woman would “take a job from a man”, as it was so quaintly perceived in those days. But she was the part of me who scrambled over rocks and climbed trees and turned cartwheels and read books and knew perfectly well she could do everything just as well, if not better, than her friends who were boys. Maybe that was why I knew it was wrong to say – it clearly wasn’t the truth. I may have heard it somewhere or read it in books, but in my own experience there was no reason to connect “only” with “girl”.

Tomorrow I’m taking my daughter with me – my fierce, independent, trail-blazing fighter of an eight-year-old girl – to vote for a woman to be the president of the United States. And I know that my daughter will never ever say she’s only a girl, because those words don’t go together at all. She’s everything a girl.

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