tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

Feminist chest-beating

On Saturday we had a call from Housing NZ. You see, when the earthquake happened we realised that the house in Tawa is empty and here was something we could do that's actual real help, so we offered it up as free temporary accommodation for the displaced. It's taken a month, but they finally got to us with a person who needed a house. Unfortunately it seems they are going through on a needs basis and since there are probably not many houses here that are actually empty, they're not looking too closely at matching people to houses appropriately.

The person recommended is a single Mum with 5 kids. Our house only has 2 bedrooms and isn't exactly spacious. While it would be an improvement on her current shared accommodation, when we spoke on the phone she sounded really disappointed as it seems unlikely she'd be able to fit her family in there, never mind the 2-people sized hot water cylinder and other small-house practicalities. She is arriving in Wellington on Thursday and if she still has nothing better she'll probably take it while she looks for a bigger one, but realistically we are all hoping something more suitable will turn up for her and our house will be useful for someone who can actually get some relief by living there.

Speaking of the house, I spent all weekend there doing the garden. It looks very pretty now. My hands.. don't.

Women drivers no survivors

I don't know how universal that saying is. Maybe it's only a New Zealand thing. Maybe it's a 'point in time' thing. But having been in New Zealand at a point in time, I heard it a lot. My first recollection of this was in primary school, the first one I went to, and I would have been about 5. It was a thing said by the boys to get a rise out of the girls. I don't know if anyone actually believed it or even really understood what it meant at the time. But by the time I was 10 or 11 we sure did - and by then it'd been added to with other insults:

"You throw like a girl"
"You run like a girl"
"Boys are strong, like King Kong, girls are weak, throw them in the creek"


These were accompanied by the things boys used to insult each other - sissy, girl, bitch, cunt. While I know and understand that these were things that were intended to hurt, to get a rise, and that it didn't necessarily imply that the insulter believed them, What it did was give me the impression that girls were somehow 'less than' - being a girl was a bad thing. We were the ones that killed people in cars because we can't drive, we're the ones that get thrown in the creek, throw badly and can't do maths. We get used as an insult. Girls are not strong, clever and capable like boys are.

This didn't get serious until I wanted to do Agriculture in the 4th form and got told I couldn't and that I had to do Home Economics instead. It wasn't expressly stated that it was because I was a girl, but, well.. there were only boys in Ag. It was 1984, 13 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act.

Meanwhile, like most families we had a TV and we watched it in the evenings. When I was a kid, The Six Million Dollar Man was big. Also, Lucan, the story of a boy raised by wolves. Later, we got Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Robin of Sherwood. I could do a comprehensive list of 70s and 80s TV shows, but instead I'll just make my point - they all had male protagonists. They all contained women of course. They were love interests, sidekicks, people needing rescuing. Every show had a token woman. Some of them were even quite feisty - Maid Marian anyone? The thing these women had in common was that there was only one in each show and she was fairly obviously there to further the plot for the male protagonist - pretty much without fail. I can't think of a single TV show I saw as an older kid/young woman that centred a female protagonist as a hero who had adventures.

So there was me in my formative years being given the message that as a girl, I was weak and not capable, that my role was to support the men who did the stuff. I would not be a doer of stuff because of my lack of a penis. But I had been raised by parents who did not make such divisions and I wanted to have adventures and do stuff and so far my body parts hadn't made a lot of difference to my ability either physically or mentally. The main difference seemed to be in other people's willingness to let me try. And this, for me (this is my blog damnit, I'll navel-gaze if I want!), is where it gets interesting.

You see at 14 I was growing breasts and getting adult hormones and exploring my sexuality and I should have been watching all these male protagonists having adventures and developing huge crushes on them. I wasn't. I thought they were awesome and hot and all the things you're supposed to want, but instead of wanting to be with these men, I wanted to BE THEM.

Because they had adventures and did stuff. I would imagine myself not as Maid Marian but as Robin, running through the forest with my bow and arrow, leading groups, communing with Herne the Hunter. And in my fantasy I wasn't a girl dressed in men's clothing doing all this - I was a man. Likewise my mega-crush on various band members - I wanted to be them, not fuck them. The stories I read of high-country musterers - that was me walking the hills with my dogs.

That's right folks, as far back as I can remember, my adventure fantasies contained Tats-As-A-Man. Because men got to do the things I wanted to do. Like Agriculture.

Yes, I was aware of the existence of feminism, but this was 30 years ago and Marilyn Waring was in parliament, the backlash was in full force and being a feminist was considered to be worse than being a girl. I opted out of both these because neither seemed like an attractive option, and set about Being A Man. I learned to shear a sheep. I learned to drink and swear and dress in a completely asexual way. I learned to fence and drive a tractor and use a chainsaw. I learned to Keep Up With The Men, to keep quiet when men said derogatory stuff about women, and to displace my feelings about this onto other women. Because other women really weren't like me - they couldn't shear a sheep and reverse an articulated trailer and Keep Up With The Men - they were secretaries and wives and the people who told their men I couldn't work for them because I was a woman and they didn't want their man alone with me all day.

They were objects of derision because that's what women are. I avoided the derision through Being A Man. Only I was better than that because I could Keep Up With The Men despite the obvious disability of being female, and I could do it without being all bra-burning-feminist about it. I was special and Not Like Other Women. I had the respect and admiration of men, and all I had to do to get it was to deny being a woman. Because being a woman was still bad, but I wasn't one, right? Right?

Fast forward a few years and I have nothing left to prove. I know that my gender makes absolutely no difference to my ability to do stuff, and I've proven it consistently throughout my life. If someone starts with the bullshit about being inferior through being female, I have choices for refutation - I can outshear them, I can outthink them or I can outdrive them. And weirdly, now that I have nothing left to prove, I also have little call to prove anything. So instead I started looking around at the world.

Those of you who've been on this blog a while will remember that I was still denying being a feminist at age 35. I still believed that feminism wasn't necessary because anyone could do what I did and that I'm not special in any way - just, other women were less driven or less inclined or less capable or less strong.

And here comes the confession - that was flawed logic. I still maintain that I am not special. What I don't still believe is that the reason other women don't do what I did is anything to do with 'other women' as a group being anything that adds up to 'less than'. What I do believe is that I'm stubborn as fuck and had the good fortune to have feminist parents. They didn't burn any bras or shout about anything. They just quietly went about letting me know I could do anything I wanted, in the face of everything I was being told to the contrary. And I owe an apology to all of the 'other women' that I have spent most of my life having a low opinion of. Because being a woman is a constant battle against the pervasive message that you are naturally inferior and that your existence is purely to support men in their pursuits, not to have any of your own.

Don't believe me? I have a challenge for you. For the next week, make a note of what media you watch. Doesn't matter what kind. Just make a note of who the main protagonist is. That's all.

I took the easy way out by copying the protagonists and doing my bit to maintain the status quo - making myself Not A Woman to get respect. Awesome. The people I really admire are those who have retained their identity as Woman, as Feminist, and determined their own selves - because that is way harder. I'm nearly 41 and it's only in the last couple of years that I've been ok calling myself a feminist. That's nothing to be proud of. Being a feminist at 14, 18, 21, 25 is something to be proud of.

Just saying.

I've nearly finished the Sooper Sekret Project of Doom. Like, 2 more evenings' work nearly finished. After that I want to make a dress like this:

I have no idea where I'd wear it but I want one anyway. I want the front to be nicer though and I don't like the blocky look of it. Actually the only thing I do like is the back, which would be awesome for my scar. I'd kind of like something a bit swirlier though - suggestions welcome?
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