Feministy Shit

I’ve been sitting on this article for a while now, and have decided to write it in order to avoid marking and writing my teacher training essays.
Fia x

Part 12: The Feminist Necklace

I’m not a fan of labels, but one label I do regularly stamp on myself is that of a feminist. While I deeply wish to own a Vulva Love Lovely necklace, being a teacher it would probably get me in a serious amount of trouble (and I toe the line between appropriate and inappropriate as it is!), so I went on the search for similarly feminist-inspired jewelry… Just without the presence of vaginas.

My search lead me through the wonderful world of Etsy where I was spoiled for choice. After opening a million tabs (bad habit), I finally found the perfect shop: Modern Girl Blitz, self described as ‘Lady Empowering + Quirky Art + Accessories by Midge Blitz’, where I proceeded to indulge in a pair of Venus symbol earrings and a feminist banner necklace. Whilst I am yet to find a suitable work outfit to combine with my bright pink Venus earrings, the FEMINIST necklace has become my favourite new accessory.

Labelling myself
Labelling myself

Not only does the necklace look super awesome, but it has encouraged all kinds of conversations with both my colleagues and students. Whilst my colleagues have heard me rabbiting on about feminism and equal rights and gender and equality (sorry guys), my students have only had snippets, which is generally when I call them out on misogynistic, homophobic and racist comments. This week, that changed.

The first thing I noticed was that students who identify as women generally complimented the necklace (which I thoroughly enjoyed, my vanity gets the better of me).

I like your necklace,

In reply to most of these comments, I asked the girls what feminism meant to them; it was great hearing about people’s journeys and knowledge of feminism in their life.

I was also really pleasantly surprised by questions I had from students, and their responses when I explained my reasoning…

What does your necklace mean?

I explained what it means to me – equality regardless of race, gender, disability or sexual orientation, with a strong emphasis around choices. Often this definition is met with surprise due to the portrayal of feminism in the media as a troop of man-hating harpies, hellbent on finding ways to procreate without men. Upon being told what feminism means and hearing about different feminist fights ranging from No More Page Three to FGM campaigns, these students actually appeared to think about feminism in a different light. It was a beautiful moment of realisation.

Of course there was the occasional, slightly more frustrating conversation:

So why aren’t you wearing a necklace that says ‘equality’ then?

At this point, I was chanting in my head “Educate, don’t berate.” I set out to explain where the word comes from, how it stemmed from a movement created by women, for women – the suffragettes. Their response was that I should buy a ‘suffragette’ necklace instead. At this point I dropped the conversation as the lesson was about to start (and I may have lost my temper), but I feel that this conversation simply highlights that the main problems which people have with feminism stem from the word as opposed to the movement. It is all about semantics. Feminist really has become ‘the f-word’.

And last, but definitely not least, there was one student who asked me the following:

Which kind of feminism do you most relate to? We studied it in anthropology, there were radicals, liberals, black and one beginning with the letter ‘i’ that I can’t remember…

This was probably my favourite discussion about my necklace. The question came from a man of a similar age to me, and his genuine interest absolutely made my day (cheers!). Firstly, I explained that the ‘i’ word he couldn’t remember was ‘intersectional’ and that would be my particular little pigeon hole – that to me feminism is not just about the inequality between men and women, but about all minorities and striving for equality for all people. He responded that he identifies as a liberal feminist. I nearly HI-5ed him, but thought that might decrease my ‘student cool points’ so decided against it.

And yeah, buy a Feminist necklace. They are cool.


Autistically happy.

On the 17th of June 2014 I turned 21 but, oddly enough, this was not the most exciting part of my day. My dad had booked himself and me to go to a talk about autism, given by Peter Vermeulen and hosted by my younger brother’s school, Freemantles. The talk was titled ‘Autism and Happiness’. 

Autism is a subject close to my (and indeed the whole of my family’s) heart after by brother was diagnosed with autism and severe learning difficulties at the age of three. Gregory turned eighteen just a few weeks ago and we are all more than aware of his becoming an adult – not in the least because he’s 6″1 and still growing! His school education will finish next year and we are currently exploring the next stage of his life: we’ve been considering colleges in the nearby area which may take him on for basic courses in life skills, and also discussing the possibility that one day he will require full time care that my parents will be unable to give.

While some ‘high functioning’ autistic individuals are able to live independently, have a job, etc, this is not necessarily the case for all autistic individuals and we are under no illusions that Gregory will probably never be able to live on his own. While we have come to accept his dependence, there is one thing which still preys on our minds constantly – his happiness.

So my dad and myself were sat in a room filled with mums and dads sat on the edges of their seats, hoping to hear pearls of wisdom that could improve the happiness of their children. My dad knocked over his glass of water, I sneezed seventeen times in quick succession (damn you, hay-fever) and the talk began.

The first thing we were confronted with was the statistics, and the statistics didn’t look good. Autistic individuals are more likely to suffer from depression and have a lower quality of life compared to others – according to studies. And here we encounter the first hurdle: the studies. I mean, how on earth do you measure the happiness of an individual?! It’s hardly a subjective, quantitative measure. Further to that, merely 4% of all research into autism covers this topic of ‘happiness’ and surely the happiness of any individual is worth more than 4% worth of our research resources!

Studies often measure happiness by accounting for certain lifestyle aspects – having a partner, living independently, having a job – but these aspects themselves do not necessarily correspond to happiness. Sat in the audience my dad and I were more than aware that Gregory was currently ticking very few of these happiness tick boxes, and probably never would: living independently – probably not; being employed – probably not; forming romantic attachments – probably not. Yet Gregory doesn’t appear to be unhappy. Sure he can be a grumpy teenager – he hates it when I change the TV channel and he really doesn’t like it when I kick him out of the bathroom in the morning – but that doesn’t translate to unhappiness. Instead we should think of what these factors actually represent in terms of happiness; relationships, jobs, living independently, these aspects all have the ability to give someone a sense of worth, and this does translate to happiness.

So now we were asked to think in far more simple terms – what does make people happy? Doing things they like. What doesn’t make people happy? Situations and doing things they don’t like. While these factors may not come into play with regards to having a job or learning maths (maths is ‘icky’ for most people apparently?!) perhaps we can manipulate them to overlap; perhaps we can manipulate these small pleasures into useful means to give an individual a sense of self worth.

This technique is particularly poignant with autistic individuals, since they have the tendency to fixate and obsess over a certain subject. While subjects of interest will vary between individuals, as carers we have the ability to apply these obsessions in various ways to give individuals little tasks to help them learn or to make them feel useful. In fact, there is a whole book written on the subject called ‘Give him the whale,’ which was inspired by a young autistic individual who was obsessed with whales. When the child’s carers asked for advice as to how to get the child to interact in subjects other than whales, the reply given was simply ‘give him the whale!’ By aligning the child’s interests with knowledge they are required to learn, we can encourage their happiness and enjoyment of such subjects.

Several Weights Off My Chest

Being away from my father, boyfriend and my childhood friends has made me question my sexuality more openly to myself in safety. I do not have to feel threatened by my dad’s presence, or the possible responses my friends may blurt out if I accidentally confide in them. Even worse I fear hurting X – my much loved boyfriend of many years. X is the only reason I am unsure if I am a lesbian or bi or just curious, because I love him with all my heart and have for so long believed that all I want in life is a happy marriage and to bring my children up well with a nice man in a secure home: which X embodies.

Sex has never been a particularly enjoyable thing for me for many reasons, such as feeling threatened and belittled, and even though I trust X, it is probably due to being raped and then coerced into sex with boys I thought I liked, yet feared. Occasionally in the past I have enjoyed sex, but very rarely I feel happy and content afterwards. Recently my thoughts struck me when I could not get in the mood; however I played along as usual. I wanted to cry, I felt physically repulsed, like my body was a toy being played with. I did not feel the connection that I sometimes had felt in being with X. I am not going to deny that in the past it has felt good but, at this point, it is like I have realised that I only have sex to please him, feel normal and attempt to get over the feelings of disgust and vulnerability that sex evokes, as well as in the hope of experiencing an orgasm! When I told my friends I had never had an orgasm or truly enjoyed sex they said it is because X’s penis is not big enough and one of them even suggested she ‘lend’ me her boyfriend (something which horrified and disgusted me, but I let it slide as this is the kind of response I get from my friends generally anyway).

If I am being honest with myself I have always considered that perhaps I preferred girls, yet always dismissed it. As a child I idolised my friends I considered beautiful, such as a skinny blonde girl with her long golden hair and crystal blue eyes, or a small ginger girl with her thick red hair and freckles. However this may be linked to the beauty society presents as an ideal, and my own desire to fit in. I simply explained these feelings as friendship, but on reflection my feelings were pretty intense: could they be better explained by something deeper? Was I actually attracted to them?

This is my dilemma: I cannot imagine being in a relationship with a woman. I can imagine other things with a woman, but I cannot picture the mundane, yet secure, relationship I have with X. I also cannot imagine raising children with another woman; although this could be a perfect scenario as, in my experience, the men in my family have physically, sexually and or emotionally abused me, only evoking fear, loyalty and in some ways dependency on their approval. For example my father: I do not dress in certain ways, wear pyjamas, underwear or swimmers around my father as he makes me feel uneasy as he is a heterosexual man and at the end of the day I am a young female, not dissimilar to those he calls “take away”, to have sex with after a night out.

My deepest secret, thus the thing I am most ashamed of, is not the fact I that as an early teen I was raped by four older boys, but that I have had sex with a number of girls from a tender age. I have dismissed this from my mind for many reasons: for example the inability to understand how someone so young could be so sexually aware, let alone active. I suppose some of this could be ‘explained away’ by how my father brought me up: learning that I was a female and should not do certain things; understanding that my father was a man who could do what he liked and that he was ‘the man of the house’ who had the last, and most important say. Consequently, I was aware of my difference from boys at a young age. Yet, for a while, you could say I was a tomboy: dressing ‘like a boy’ and being obsessed with sports and building up muscle. For a long time pre and during puberty I saw myself as essentially a boy, as I was muscular with no hips and barley any boobs. I have always been hairy (probably due to my genes) and seem to develop incredible muscle definition after only a few weeks training; however so do my mum and sisters, so I soon came to accept my hairiness and muscle definition as inherited, and not that I was meant to be a boy. It did not help that I was bullied and called ‘she beast/man woman’ at school, causing me to wonder whether or not I was a boy and should get surgery, which I proposed to my mum who said she loves me as I am. At home with my mum I had always been comfortable to play with makeup, clothes and shoes and continue to when I feel like it. Sometimes I want to wear boy’s clothes or go for a masculine look and other times I want to be ‘girly’. The confusing thing is when I go out clubbing I want to be sexy (and I think it is sexy to men), yet it unnerves me if men compliment me but delights me when girls do; it feels more genuine when girls compliment me as, I guess, I believe most men only want sex.

In terms of my sexual encounters with girls which happened way before I even considered boys attractive; these were some of the most exciting, enjoyable and invigorating experiences I have ever had (perhaps the fact that we were so young and the secrecy added to it?). I wonder how I have pushed this aside to continue living the life of a heterosexual female.  I guess a lot had to do with the fact that all the girls never spoke about it to anyone, including me, as well as the embarrassment and shame we clearly felt – it was like we could not and should not admit it was happening.

Some of the girls have gone on to have as much sex with men and boys as possible, a couple have been abused by men, one has had a baby, and they are all in heterosexual relationships. I often wonder if they are really straight and if they are truly content that way; part of me thinks that, like me, they are too scared to admit the truth to themselves and that most of them will continue to live as straight women all their lives due to the way society is constructed. To us as children, being a lesbian meant that you were ugly, unattractive, could not get sex (with men), or just that there was something wrong with you. One of the bolder girls, attempted to have a homosexual relationship for a while with another lesbian our age, but she got so much stigma, bullying and threats that she gave it all up and went on to have a boyfriend. It only added to her struggles that she is seen as Asian and doesn’t believe in God, as the Pakistani and Indian boys at school would taunt her saying she is going to hell. My memories of her are that she was aggressive and dominating, much like a man: as if she wanted to take her frustration out on me. We moved on, forcing that skeleton into the closet. My overall experience of girls however, is that we seek to pleasure each other rather than take on dominant and submissive roles; is this felling of mutual respect something I want to give up for life?

I have realised lesbianism is like this untold secret held by many: a lady told me once that she had caught her young daughter kissing her female friend, but she laughed dismissing it as children exploring their curiosities. Which brings me to question whether a child can know their sexuality or whether it is simply exploring feelings and curiosities?

So far I have come across more lesbian women than I have gay men: many of whom were married with children but left their husbands for women. That was always a threat for my dad as he believed that ‘unnatural’ lesbians where synonmonus with ‘women’s lib’ as he called it, which both me and my mum are interested in. Despite this he refused to let me have boyfriends, whilst taunting me about my beliefs feminism; this was complicated due to my extremely close relationship to my father, my undying loyalty and desire to earn his pride/acceptance, since no matter what I did he never seemed truly pleased.

Several times I have toyed with the idea of ‘coming out,’ but never have since I am not sure myself. From the beginning I have always been honest with X, I have told him: I don’t enjoy sex, that I have had sex with girls in the past, and that I think I am bi- or gay. He never seems to take me seriously though, considering it for a moment saying he will always be my friend – the next day he is back to normal and so I do the same! I have a deep seated fear that I will never find another man that likes me, that I like back and who puts up with me and my baggage; if I leave X I am now also worried I will not find a woman either. I know if I do leave X because I am gay, it will break his heart, confuse and embarrass him.  At the same time I want him to be mine forever.

I have considered trying to having sex with women as an adult, to ‘test’ if I am gay, but I feel like a few simple questions leave me trapped: like who and how do I meet her? The thing is I don’t want to lose X or the future we could have together, but every day I want to explore what may be the true me more and more. Also the fear of stigma and people’s responses scares me since I know that if I come out, my paternal family (maybe even my dad), most of my maternal family and pretty much all my childhood friends will reject me. My friends will become uneasy around me thinking that I will try and have sex with them, even though I don’t fancy any of them and couldn’t even kiss them. I am surrounded by straight and gay people who are open and proud of their sexuality and have the freedom to express it, yet I am trapped in my closet of memories, confused feelings and fears.

Maybe I am a lesbian who cannot let go of her old life in a relationship with a man.  I have considered being best friends, but I do not know if it is possible having been in a relationship for years. I cannot cope with utter uncertainty, which is what coming out would entail. I would like to go to lesbian clubs to see how I feel and maybe meet people, but I have no friends who I trust enough to come with me and keep it secret. Nevertheless I think I now know why seeing girls holding hands or kissing on the street makes me so uneasy. While I say it is because I do not agree with public displays of affection, it is really because they have what I do not- the freedom and courage to openly be themselves.

Being a lesbian would be an added burden on top of being a physically different woman anyway, and I am not sure I can cope with that.  The confusion between my attraction to women, my love for X, mashed up with my desire to create a stable family through marriage for my children in the future, is my predicament; to which I do not seek advice but simply a platform to express and air my ‘dirty laundry’, which you have provided me with so many thanks.


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