Tag Archives: women’s issues

Is having it all all it’s cracked up to be?

If I were the sort to think of my blog as my ‘baby’ (and it’s probably a good thing I don’t) then someone should really have called the digital social services a long time ago.  The fact that I have neglected it for so long is, however, the perfect illustration for the subject of this, my come-back post: are modern women trying to do too much?

I got a bit of a wake-up called last winter.  I arranged an appointment with the doctor after feeling ill for a while.  The symptoms were a bit of a mish-mash: headaches, achey bones, lack of concentration, irritability and a constant, crushing fatigue which meant I was lucky if I made it to 5pm every day without having to take a nap.  I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing, but I knew something wasn’t right.  As my brother had recently been diagnosed with glandular fever I felt sure that that must be it; after all, it is highly contagious.  Although it is quite an unusual illness, it didn’t seem like that big a leap to suspect that that might be the root of my problems.

At my appointment, to my surprise, the doctor seemed sceptical.  It was when asking me to describe a typical day prompted me to burst into tears he came to the conclusion that rather than contracting glandular fever, I was most likely suffering from anxiety.  That in itself was a shock to me.  I didn’t feel anxious.  I felt ill; in physical pain.  I expected that if I was suffering from anxiety, I’d know about it.  I’d feel stressed, unable to cope, panicky.  Sure I was busy, I had a lot on and was feeling increasingly resentful towards things which I usually enjoyed, but that surely was just how things are for someone who has a challenging job, a social life and a home of their own to run?  A subsequent blood pressure check and blood test confirmed his suspicions; I did not have glandular fever and my BP was worryingly high for someone of my age with a reasonably healthy lifestyle.  There it was.  I was suffering from anxiety.

I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I was embarrassed when he said that.  I thought that it was a sign of weakness; that I couldn’t cope with the pressures of my own choices.  Even a few people responded with comments like, “that’s rubbish, that’s not you,” or “Doctors will do anything to try to get out of giving sick lines.”  This made me feel even worse.  I knew something was wrong, I could feel the physical symptoms, but this diagnosis made me feel like a fraud, a shirker.  What I had hoped for was a prescription, even a sick line, but instead I was given the advice to try to slow down.  This was not what I wanted to hear.  My lifestyle was a choice I had made, which parts of it could I choose to cut out in order to let me ‘take it easy’?  I had commitments: work, social, domestic.  Who did I choose to let down?  In the first couple of days I think that hearing this diagnosis actually raised my stress levels.

In the end it took a couple of concerned loved ones to sit me down and tell me to get a grip, that I would be no use to anyone if I burned myself out.  I had had some bad news in work and was facing an upcoming promotion; this coupled with the busy lead-up to Christmas had just been the final straw.  I was so run down that I felt like I couldn’t give my best to any of the things I was trying to do, and this was compounding the pressure.  The thing about anxiety is that it is a self-fulfilling condition.  By its very nature it reduces your ability to cope with the everyday pressures you come up against, and by not being able to deal with the things causing the pressure, it then grows and becomes less and less manageable.  I had gotten to the point where I was finding it difficult to see the joy in anything, and looking on every task and commitment as a chore.  Not a particularly nice place to be.

Seeing how concerned some of my loved ones actually were made me realise that I had to just become ruthless and ignore some of the things that were making demands on my time.    The only way to start to tackle it is to break that cycle by admitting that some of these things are not worth the damage to your health.  I had a holiday where I didn’t take work home and spent it entirely doing things that made me feel happy.  I didn’t go to every party I was invited to, and didn’t feel guilty about it.  I went to bed early every night and asked for more support from the people around me.

I also talked about it.  A lot; and I learned that it was much more common than I realised.  Most of my female friends admitted to feeling at some point like they just wanted to throw in the towel, and an alarming number admitted to the fact that they had cried either at work or because of work (I have and it was not one of my best moments).  Now I am not for one minute suggesting that women can’t cope with the pressures of the workplace.  In fact, completely the opposite.  All of these women have challenging careers that they care about and are good at.  They are all pretty much the boss at home too, and every single one of the people that I talked to probably work harder at these things than their male partners.  These women are high-achievers and they know it.  They all want to be the best they possibly can in their personal and work lives, and I think that sometimes results in us putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

As modern women, we are told from a young age that we can have anything we want, be anything we want and do anything we want.  However, I think that this message is quite often distorted in our minds.  ‘Can’ becomes twisted into ‘must’ and ‘anything’ becomes twisted into ‘everything’.  We are expected now to have careers; families who we are devoted to; empowering relationships; to have an exciting and fulfilling social life; to take part in a range of hobbies ‘for ourselves’; to be in charge at home and to be caring and resourceful friends.  Each and every one of these things is beautiful in its own right and help to enrich our lives.  However, the fact of the matter is that some of us don’t want to have all of these things or to be great at all of them; we are quite happy with some of them, or even one of them.  The important thing should be that our gender doesn’t hold us back from having the parts of the life we want, but equally, it shouldn’t mean that we are all suddenly expected to juggle all of these things, it would be physically impossible, and the expectation that we should try is what is making so many of us feel like a failure when we realise we can’t have absolutely everything that is available to us.  We don’t expect every man we meet to do absolutely everything, so why do we expect it of women?

That is a fundamental difference between men and women.  Because women have been told to expect it all, that no one can tell us that we can’t have it, collectively we feel like we have something to prove.  Because we are so aware of the battles fought to allow us to be in a position where we can be considered as equals, we are at pains not to show anything that could be considered a failing.  Particularly in the workplace.

Mums are kind of expected to want to return to work after having their children, so as not to be thought of as ‘just a mum’, after all, women have fought for so long for the right to be allowed to do both.  Does that mean that someone who makes the choice to not return to work after having children to allow her to devote the time she wants to raising them is selling herself short?  Is she succumbing to the stereotype?  Of course not.  Is the working woman who has a fulfilling relationship but doesn’t want to go out clubbing with her friends every weekend giving up her social life for a man?  Of course not.  Is the woman who works a job to fund the passions in her life rather than building a career not living up to her potential?  Of course not.  We all need to go a bit easier on ourselves and each other and understand that these things are choices we can make, and that whatever we choose to have or aim for, is perfectly acceptable, and won’t let the sisterhood down.  Similarly, we need to recognise that we won’t necessarily excel in all of the things we choose to include in our lives, but we only have ourselves and our own expectations to answer to.

Our predecessors in the fight for women’s rights battled for us to be able to make choices about our careers; to be able to have children when and if we chose; to be able to have goals and aspirations that were only limited by our own imaginations; to be equal partners in the home and to be able to pursue our passions and interests independently, without having to rely on, or answer to anyone else.  They wanted this to make our lives better; not to make us feel like we constantly have to be better.

Over the last year I have learned that I am really happy doing the job I am in, at the level I am at.  I am too tired now to party like I used to and I prefer a night in to going out drinking and dancing.  I have learned that my family means so much to me that I don’t want to be too far away from them, and that I love my partner and want him to be happy, so that means that I can’t always have it my way at home.  So maybe this makes me unambitious and boring.  People might assume that I’d be more fulfilled climbing the career ladder in exotic locations and living a wild and exciting social life, but I wouldn’t.  I know it sounds glamorous on paper, but frankly, it would take too much effort and heartbreak for my liking.  No, I’m happy snuggling on my giant couch on a Saturday night, drinking the drink and eating the food that my unpromoted salary affords me, and shooting the shit with the people I like best in the whole world.  All this is safe in the knowledge that if I do decide to make changes to these choices, no-one can stand in my way.

Next time we feel like we have taken on too much we should ask ourselves, is this making my life better?  Is it making me happier?  If the answer is no, then you need to really reconsider whether you want to be doing it at all.  Sometimes real strength is admitting that we have made the wrong choice; that we need help; that we need a break.   One of my all-time favourite quotes from two of the great philosophers of our generation, Bill and Ted, is ‘be excellent to each other.’  I think this is a great motto to live by, but before we do that, we need to remember that it is just as important to be excellent to ourselves.

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What’s the Opposite of Vanity Sizing?

Now I know regular readers of this blog have become accustomed to well-reasoned, witty arguments on issues relevant to modern women ;-), so this post might disappoint.  This is a rant.  After having a micro-meltdown on the subject in a shop a couple of weeks ago I figured it might be more constructive to write it down.

I am a size 12.  Or at least I thought I was.  Lately I’m not so sure.  I’ve been beginning to think that maybe I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but rather than seeing myself as bigger than I actually am, I was deluding myself about being smaller.  Now, I know that different shops have different versions of UK dress sizes.  It was always a safe bet that fashion shops for younger women would cut their clothes smaller than more traditional brands like Marks and Spencer’s, who always sized their clothes more generously.  In fact, I’m sure a few years back there was some discussion over so-called vanity sizing.  This was when shops tried to flatter customers by cutting their clothes on the larger side, thus enabling customers to purchase clothes in smaller sizes.  Because apparently we women are that easily duped!

Over the last year or so, however, I have noticed that the sizing in some shops seem to be getting smaller and smaller.  So much so in fact, that I got a surprise when I  recently tried on a pair of trousers that I liked in a shop that I have frequented for years.  I couldn’t get the 14 over my thighs!  In fact, the only size I could get on and buttoned up was an 18.  I don’t think that I am that deluded about my size.  The real conundrum is that I recently got a top from the same shop which is a size 10 and fits perfectly, and I ‘aint no Nicki Minaj let me tell you.

It’s not just me, either.  On a recent shopping trip, one of my posse of rocking ladies had to buy a skirt in a 16, and a top in a 10.  She doesn’t have buttocks of Lopez-proportions either.  Even shoes seem to be ensnared in this evil plot.  I’ve been a size 6 since I was about fourteen and on a recent shopping trip I found myself having to try on a size 8 of one pair!  It seems like the whole industry is trying to tell us something!

Actually, in all seriousness, I think this is a bit more sinister.  Even as an intelligent woman who has pretty much made peace with the way she looks, I still felt a bit put out when I couldn’t get the trousers to fit in ‘my size’.  It’s not about the size the trousers were, it’s about how far out of whack the sizings are and the way this can make you question they way you feel, whatever size is ‘your size’.  There is a difference of six inches between a size 12 and a size 18.  If it can make me feel a little self-conscious, I can imagine that it could have a more significant impact on a more impressionable woman or girl.  It may seem like a trivial thing to get worked up over, but in a time when eating disorders and body image issues are at an all-time high, even the trivial things can have a massive impact on vulnerable individuals.

We are bombarded on a daily basis with images of women airbrushed to an impossible standard; it’s difficult to remember that that isn’t real.  That women come in all shapes and sizes, but we should be allowed to be the size we are without being made to feel that we should be smaller, larger or with bumps in different places.  It feels increasingly like the clothes industry is joining in the conspiracy.

Now maybe you feel that I’m making a bigger deal out of this than is strictly necessary.  I’m sure the size 8 shop assistant who had to deal with my complaint about the sizing in the shop felt that.  I think it’s one of these things that we are made to feel guilty about caring about.  Yes, it’s a small thing, but it can make people feel bad and that’s not cool.   I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, stories and indeed, rants on this topic.


Time to Have a Voice

 

“The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise public awareness of violence against women. It has been observed on November 25 each year since 2000.” [1]

International day for the elimination of violence against women is an occasion which aims to give female victims of violence a voice; to make people aware of an issue which still goes on.  To mark this occasion, I’ve decided to tell my story.

Almost nine years ago, I was attacked on my way home from a night out.  It was two days after Christmas.  I had been walking home from a nightclub around two or three o’clock in the morning.  I know this sounds crazy, but I lived in a student-y area where there were always people around and I had done it a hundred times before.  It’s one of those things where you think “It’ll never happen to me!”  But it did.  People have said to me that I was lucky; and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.  It was a sexually-motivated attack, but my attacker was disturbed before he did me any physical harm.  I managed to walk away with little more outward damage than the bruises of his fingers on my face from where he had grabbed me to try to stop me from screaming.

I suppose if you look at it that way I was lucky.  I was one of the first in a series of around ten women attacked by this man over a period of eight days.  Each attack increased in severity as the attacker grew bolder.  In that respect I suppose I’m lucky I was one of the first.  I didn’t- and still don’t- feel lucky though.

This is not an experience that every woman should have to expect to go through at some point in her life, and in my case, I should be thankful that it wasn’t worse.  This is something that should never have happened.  My attacker had a warrant out for his arrest out at the time.  It took the police over a week to catch him.  I had to suffer the stress of police interviews, an identity parade, an impending court case and the prospect of having to face my attacker in court.  All of this took place over around four months, and it coincided with my dissertation submission and final exams at university.  Rather than looking on the bright side and being thankful that the attack hadn’t been worse, I was furious that it had happened to me at all, and people telling me I was lucky made it worse.  It undermined the pain I was going through.

Although I was not badly physically harmed, and the outward signs healed fairly quickly, the damage inside was far greater.  My outlook changed almost overnight.  On the 26th of December I was confident, outgoing, a risk taker and probably a bit too much of a party girl.  By the 28th of December I had to sleep in the same bed as my mum because I couldn’t bear to be alone.  If I was left with my own thoughts for any length of time, I replayed what had happened in my mind and would freeze.  I didn’t leave the house for over a week. I still remember the first time I left the house after that.  I can visualise it exactly, as if it happened five minutes ago.  I only walked to our local shop, but I clung to my dad’s arm like a crippled old woman, constantly checking over my shoulder. In a sense I was crippled.  My sense of who I was had been smashed into dust, and I had no idea how to move forward.

At the time the police offered me counselling, but in the immediate aftermath, I refused.  The title ‘victim support’ made me cringe.  I didn’t want to be a victim.  No one knew how to talk to me about it, and so everything I was feeling was left unsaid, and actually, this is the first time I have ever actually disclosed what I was thinking and feeling.  In truth, I was ashamed, and I didn’t want to drag others down with me.

Over time, and with the absolute unwavering support and patience of my parents (and I will always, always feel a debt of gratitude for this- even though they would say they were just doing their job as parents- I feel like they brought me back to life.  I don’t think they will ever understand quite how much that meant to me.)  I slowly started to regain my ‘self’.  Following this there were a great many ‘firsts’.  The first time I was alone in the house.  The first time I went back to my student accommodation.  The first time I went back to work.  The first time I went out alone.  Each one was a little victory, and a hugely significant step on my path to being able to live my life free of the restraints I was enforcing on myself.

Without being melodramatic, this did fundamentally change who I was.  I am no longer a risk-taker.  I will go to extreme lengths to ensure my personal safety, and I worry about my friends and family when I can’t see them, and not just about something similar happening, I am generally far more anxious about the world in general now.  I would also say that I am more subdued, and even the way I dress is a bit more conservative, but I guess that’s what happens when a policeman interrogates you about the specifics of your clothing on the night of your attack to ascertain whether that might have provoked your attacker.

Now I’m better. Not the same as before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in its own right.  I still occasionally think about what happened though.  Not as frequently as before, but when I do the same thing happens.  I become paralysed.  Fear and panic take over and I forget to breathe, and I have to snap myself out of the trance.  I am still angry.  For what that man did to all of us (I met the other girls at the identity parade.  No one spoke to each other, but we all wore the same expression, averted our gaze and got out as quickly as we could) he was sentence to thirty months in prison.  I assume he was probably out in just over a year.  It sometimes strikes me that I might run into him in the street.  He could be living around the corner, but I have to put that out of my mind or I don’t know that I would ever be able to un-freeze.

I think that not talking about it made it worse.  I wish I had had the balls to just force someone to hear me out, so that I could exorcise all of the hurt, anger and bad I had festering inside me.  If there’s one thing I want others to take from this, it’s that.  Talk.

Below is a piece of writing I did a few years ago to try to get some of the bile out of my core.  I suppose it’s a little of me baring my soul.  At the time it was a form of catharsis, and even all these years later, putting it out on a public forum is terrifying, but it still feels like a sort of release.  Hopefully it will show that even after you fall apart, even when you can’t make sense of yourself, you can fight your way back, it just takes time.

 

Open Letter to J.R.C.

How to begin?  I have so much to say to you and nothing at all.  How are you?  What are you doing now?  Where are you?  The last question is the one that frightens me the most.  It feels so strange to address you as ‘you’.  That feels so familiar, accepting, forgiving.  It seems strange to me that there is no pronoun to use that seems appropriate.  That encapsulates what you are, and what you are to me.

I am fine, now, in case you are wondering, although I don’t suppose you are.  Do you even know who I am?  Do you remember me?  Did you ever even know my name?  It seems strange to think that you had such a colossal impact on my life, in who I’ve become, and I probably barely even registered on yours.  A blip.  An error in judgement that cost you part of 36 months.  Do you hate me for what I did to you?  Can an empty shell feel hate and remorse?

I try not to think about what you did.  Not any more anyway.  There was a time of course, when I could not stop thinking about it; when I replayed it in my mind, and projected alternative endings and fantasised about sequels.  I could not sleep at night.  The darkness and solitude conjured up a weight on my chest which swelled and crushed until I had to physically shake myself out of a trance induced by my mounting panic.  I listened for your footsteps outside my house.  Of course they never came, you don’t even know where it is, but at night, in darkness and solitude, I did not exist in the real world.  I existed in a world where I was alone, and you wanted to finish what you started.

The first few days I was in suspended motion.  I was in limbo.  I honestly felt like my life as I knew it had ended and I just didn’t know how to start it again.  However, just knowing that my parents were there to catch me was just enough to set me back on my way again.  I wonder if they even know how much they did for me.

I sometimes think about how they must have felt, but in all honesty, I cannot even imagine.  Whatever it was, they didn’t let it get in the way.  They must have felt so angry: how dare someone do that to their child?  I suspect there may have been a touch of guilt, as those close to victims of violence probably feel when they cannot prevent it.  Whatever it was, they did not succumb to it.  They poured themselves into carefully putting their broken daughter back together again.  Of course I know they were angry and they were hurting, I could see it in their eyes when they heard me give my statement to the police.  Hearing the things that you did and wanted to do to their daughter must have been heart-breaking.

To their infinite credit, they focused on staying positive for me.  Oh I know that my father would have loved to get you alone, and he told me so once, but for the most part they did not waste their breath on you.  They gave me everything I needed, were with me every step of the way out of the darkness, and for that I will be eternally grateful.  Even today, nearly five years later, they still worry about me a little more than the others.  If I’m running a little bit late, they call me, just to check.  I don’t mind though.  For their endless love and support I will always be indebted.

The first time I ventured back outside was like being re-born.  The whole world seemed different.  It looked the same, it was the same, but my perception was completely altered.  I clung to my father’s arm like an invalid but his strength was my emotional crutch.  Physically, you hardly left a mark.  Some small, finger-print sized bruises on my face, but the real scars are inside.  Although they have healed over, they will always be here, like the mark on my knee from where I fell over in my first year at school.

That was the day that I realised that actually, I would be ok.  That the world had still gone on, it was only me who had stopped.  I knew that my dad would not let me go until I was ready and that the only person who could push me back into real-life was me.

For the first few weeks I was shaky.  I think I sank to the bottom on the evening I had to identify you.  I waited in a room with the other girls and all of a sudden I truly felt like a victim.  The humiliation was like a slap in the face and I hung my head, ashamed at how something like you could define me as such.  I looked at my dad and I think he understood. 

At first I didn’t want to leave the house on my own, then, gradually I regained my confidence.  Eventually I was only afraid to be out alone at night.  I still am.  I don’t think that will ever go away.

In some way, I think you opened my eyes to the way the world really is.  Was I really that cocky and arrogant before?  Sometimes I think it is good for me to be so cautious now- sometimes I think I’m missing out.  My sense of self-worth however, is completely re-invented.  I have a new respect for all of my achievements, however small, because I did it.  Me.

So in a way, I guess you have helped to make me a better person.  Not in every respect though.  I’ve gone from feeling afraid to guilty and now I’m mostly angry.  Not all of the time, but sometimes it hits me.  It takes over and clouds my mind like a mist.

My vitriol festers inside.  An opposite, equivalent to my heart.  Like a living, pulsating entity.  I imagine it would look like a clot of bluebottles clustered round a small, dead piece of me.  But it doesn’t get to take over very often now.

Sometimes, for a few seconds it grabs control and I am literally hypnotised by it.  I have visions of smashing you into a thousand jagged fragments.  Literally as you did to me figuratively.  Even though you are not there, I experience the physical manifestations of my rage.  A quickening of pulse and breath; muscles tensed ready for revenge; jaw set against you.

Then I’ll snap out of it, feeling ashamed of myself for succumbing to thoughts of you.  I look around to check if anyone noticed the change in me.  And this is what I hate.  Despite the fact that to me, you are worth nothing, not even the effort of my anger.  To me you are not a human being.  You are the sum of all the right parts of a human being, but something important is missing.  I don’t even want to think about you, let alone be angry when thinking of you.  You see, when that happens, and I feel like disregarding the fact that you are a person and committing an act of violence, I become closer to what you are, and that disgusts me.

Sometimes I wonder if I am over-reacting, making a fuss over nothing and still going on about something I really should be over by now, after all, did I not escape relatively unscathed?  Frightened?  Yes.  Bruised?  Yes, but they heal.  Some of the others, so I’m led to believe, were not as ‘lucky’ and I was.  The people who consider me so have a strange definition of luck.  I do not consider myself lucky to have met you. 

I have friends who, at the time, didn’t seem to care about what happened.  They expected me to continue as normal, and played no part in the recovery process.  They cannot understand.  The effect of an experience cannot be measured according to the perceived severity of the incident; the effect is wholly personal to the victim.  I am the only person who truly knows the effect your actions had.  Of course, there were consequences for others, but I am the only person who can define what happened to me on the morning of December 27th 2003.  Regardless of how little you may think you did, I am the only person who can tell you the full extent of the impact of your actions, and I am the only person who can decide if you have fully atoned for what you did.

How do I feel about you now?  I’m not sure I can fully answer that.  I don’t think that you acted out of malice or evil, I think you were selfish.  In an attempt to gratify your impulses, you did what you wanted, without any thought for how it would affect me.  It may sound strange, but I don’t think you actually intended to harm me.  That didn’t enter the equation.  It was not about me and how I might feel about what you were doing, it was about what you were doing made you feel.

No, I don’t think you actually intended to harm me, but you did.  For that I can never forgive you, because you see, unlike you, I am a human being.  A human being who has been violated.  You are an empty shell.  Your disregard for others shows a lack of empathy.  Maybe you would not feel like this, but I do.  I am human.  I want to be free from the hatred, but I can’t.  I will always have this putrid, stinking abhorrence for you buried in my chest.  I want to be the kind of person who forgives you, but I can’t.  I don’t think I ever will.  I’m too human.


[1] www.timeanddate.com [accessed 20/09/12]


Oi, Boys! How about no?

Don’t be a dick.  It’s a simple rule, but it’s one I try to live by.  If you’re not sure whether you should do something just ask yourself: would a total cock do this?  If the answer is yes, don’t do it.  Not difficult.  That’s why one of my pet hates is when people act like dicks and then wonder why other people don’t respond positively to it.  Yes, I am thinking of something specific, and boys, you ‘aint gonna like this!

Now before you start moaning, let me just clarify before we get started proper: I am not talking about ALL men.  Not by a long shot.  I am pleased to admit that most of my male friends would never dream of doing this, and also agree that guys who do are dicks.  However, in my experience, there are quite a lot of men (well, boys, actually, in my experience) who do think that the type of behaviour I want to discuss is acceptable, and to be quite honest, however many it actually totals, is too many.

Now I’m not sure what the collective term for this set of behaviours is but it’s characterised by a couple of things: a group of young-ish ‘lads’; usually booze is involved and often, but not always some sort of pub or night club (although my most recent experience of this took place in the car park outside my house- yes, really!)  It can involve comments, gestures, unwanted contact, grabbing and physical violence, all in the name of catching a girl’s attention.  It’s the things that groups of boys do to try to impress each other, while secretly hoping that the girl will fall for their cheeky chappie charm.  It’s the same mind-set as the wee boy in the playground who pulls the girl he fancies’ hair.  Personally, I call these guys gropists.

What I’m actually talking about is sexual harassment, but most of the perpetrators would be horrified with that label.  A few months ago I had cause to speak to a group of young boys that I work with about this type of behaviour.  When I used the words ‘sexual harassment’ at first, they started giggling.  Then this turned into disbelief- they thought I was over-reacting.  Then, when I explained how this works in the real world, and the consequences it could lead to for the guilty parties, the look of shame set in as they realised how shitty their behaviour had been.  The problem, in my experience however, is that very few of the young men who behave like this are willing to accept that they have done anything wrong.

In my (reasonably) short life time I have been subject to a number of experiences where I have had to defend myself from the unwanted advances of socially-inept young men.  I have been grabbed; actually lifted up; yelled at; insulted and followed.  I’ve had someone chap my window in the middle of the night.  He thought it was like ‘Romeo and Juliet’; I was about thirty seconds away from sending my dad out with the baseball bat.  I’ve had someone unexpectedly hand me a pair of prosthetic ears while I was waiting to be served at a student bar.  My friend and I used to go out clubbing together quite a lot and coined the phrase ‘circle of love’ to ironically describe the sensation when a group of boys circled us on the dancefloor.  I had never realised until that point that young men hunt their prey in packs.  I have heard of things worse than this happening.  If you haven’t heard of it already, Google ‘slut-dropping’ and prepare to weep.

Most recently I had a pair of charming young men wait for me to return from walking my dog at half past eleven on a Saturday night and tell me that they had been waiting for me to come back.  What utterly tremendous stupidity.  It takes someone with very little powers of reflection to fail to see why it is not a good idea to say that to a woman on her own late at night.

My responses to these acts of idiocy are varied.  Sometimes a withering put down will suffice; or a death stare can be quite effective.  I had a fairly standard reaction to gropists who grabbed me; I would grab them back by the wrist and cooly inform them, that should they repeat the action, they would be pulling back a stump.  I had to scream in the face of the guy who picked me up before he would put me down.  I’ve been so angry on more than one occasion that I have punched the gropist involved.  In all of the situations I have described, I never once invited the attention, perhaps other than possibly having the brass-neck to wear a short dress (please, get the irony inferred).  In each of them I was left feeling angry, insulted and demeaned.  It is difficult not to be offended when someone you don’t know has treated you like you are a bag of crisps on a shop shelf.

To paraphrase one of my favourite authors, one minute you’re a doll, the next you’re a dog, all because you dared to disapprove of being pawed or catcalled.  We ladies can’t really win in this situation.  There is real danger in the idea pervasive amongst those who are responsible that this is a joke.  It can only be considered a joke if the person it is aimed at agrees, not the instigator.  Any type of attention can be unwelcome, and that should be respected.  No one has the right to touch someone else uninvited, however innocent they think that contact might seem. You do not know a stranger’s circumstances.  You don’t know what experiences they have had in the past, and you certainly don’t have the right to decide what is acceptable to do to another person, regardless of your motives.

To be clear, this is not a post about sex offenders.  I’m not talking about sexual assault or rape, that’s a whole other subject, and I would hope there is no ambiguity about what is not acceptable there.  The real problem here is that a lot of people (the ones responsible) don’t think that there is a problem, and that for me is a bigger problem than the problem itself.  Are you lost yet?  Nearly there.  The attitude that it’s just a bit of fun, and that us harridans who have the nerve to complain about it really need to just lighten up is a throw-back to the times when women were considered to be the property of men, and they had to just put up and shut up.  The normalisation amongst some young men of what is blatantly the objectification of women is very worrying, even more so is the fact that many of them have never even considered that they might be doing something offensive.  It shows that all the progress made towards economic equality is really just a veneer for an underlying core of old-fashioned sexism: the men are the bosses and can essentially do whatever the hell they like to whomever the hell the like.  Providing they are female.

If this attitude goes unchallenged, I think that everything else achieved in the name of feminism seems rather patronising.  That ok, we can have our equal pay and employment rights, but really, all the boys are trying to do is shut us up, because deep down, they feel they are superior.

So, who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs?  Culturally there is a bit of a tradition of this in nightclubs and student unions, where young women are encouraged to take part in sexualised and often humiliating stunts for some sort of prize, usually shots of some variety.  It could be argued that these young women themselves are to blame; if they didn’t join in, these activities would very quickly die out.  I must say there have been times when I’ve wanted to shake some wee lassie who I see being hassled on the dancefloor who smiles up through her eyelashes at the cave man groping her arse in order to get her attention, then turn to her friend and roll her eyes.  If you don’t want him to do it- tell him to stop!  This, however is veering dangerously close to ‘she asked for it’ territory.  The fact is that the girl should not have to respond to this sort of behaviour in the first place.  Many young women are afraid to challenge this, especially if their particular would-be suitor is a member of an above-mentioned pack.

Ultimately, the fault lies with the perpetrators, not the victims, but how do we tackle a problem that many of the guilty parties are not even aware exists?  Does it need to start with the new boys being born?  Do we take responsibility for educating our sons and hope that eventually the problem dies out?  Do we continue to punch the idiots who do this until we punch some sense into their thick skulls?  Do the owners of the establishments where these incidents often occur need to take a tougher stance on this sort of behaviour?  Or is it bigger than this?  Is this something that we need to be making more noise about on a national level?

The answer is, I don’t know.  When it comes down to it, I’m just a torn-faced harridan having a rant about something that really annoys her on a public forum.  What I do know for sure, is that I’m not the only person who feels this way.  Not by a long shot.


Age: is it really just a number?

So, I am fast (very fast) approaching thirty.  I’ve been preparing myself for this since just before I turned twenty-nine actually, and I think I’m ok with it.  I feel like if my sixteen year-old self met me now, she wouldn’t be too disappointed.  Ok, rather than being a full time anarchist I now work for ‘the man’ (read, the local council), my tattoo sleeve never did quite become fully realised and I still can’t drive, but I think overall, I have managed to achieve most of what my sixteen year old self would have imagined I would by the time I was this age (although at that age, I probably actually couldn’t conceive of being 30; twenty-one probably seemed like the end of time).

I never really knew as a youngster what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up;’ I just wanted to be happy in a job that I enjoyed.  So although I didn’t actually get the job as the person who oils up the male models for photo-shoots, (still, I maintain, the only job I would ever do for free) I found my way into a career that I hadn’t thought of at sixteen, but am now wholly glad I did find.  I always thought that I would have a very bohemian relationship with a gorgeous man.  Ok, so the relationship is probably not as unconventional as I’d thought, the gorgeous man is here, and he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, so those two boxes have been ticked.  I worked hard and got an education I’m proud of.  I have managed to fulfil some of my ambitions along the way.  I’ve travelled to Australia, viewed art in Paris and I’ve been to Disney World.  I still do some of the things I loved to do at sixteen, like go to see bands play live regularly, read and write for pleasure, in fact, I’ve probably got more motivation now than I ever did as a teenager to do these sorts of things.

I think the great realisation is that I still want to keep doing these things for a long time yet.  I might go back to study more (seriously, I’d love to be a professor, I might have to make to with a PhD though.) I hope to continue going to see the bands I love and doing the things that make me happy.  There’s a lot of the world that I still plan to see.  I’d like to at least write a book and have a go at getting published (come on, if ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ can become the best-selling paperback of all time surely they’ll publish any old shit!)  When you’re a teenager, it is quite difficult to project into the future.  One of the benefits of being 30 is that you have seen some of how your future can unfold and develop.  It’s given me a taste for it, and a determination to keep pushing on.  Very far from the boring, settled-down, done-everything-I-can person that many young people think you’ll become.

Now, inevitably, approaching thirty has led to some ridicule from others about getting ‘old’, namely from my dad and my sprightly, twenty-two year old brother.  Now I can understand it coming from my brother, but dad?  Come on, what does having a thirty year old daughter say about how old my parents are?  Surely they should be joining in on the old twenty-one again facade?  I try to take it with a pinch of salt.  Banter is a big thing in my family, and we all lovingly slag each other off fairly regularly.  They just want to get a rise out of me, and that’s fine because we all do it.  Then someone made a ‘tick-tock, biological clock’ joke.  I laughed it off, but it got me thinking.  Not about my biological clock (as if) but about how, when my brother eventually turns thirty, I’ll bet the consensus won’t be that he’s getting a bit sad and old, but that he’s maturing nicely.  Men get more ‘distinguished’ as they get older, women apparently just get what’s left.  Men are more respected as they get older; I’ve seen and heard many young men ridiculed for being young, looking young, being the ‘rookie’ or the ‘young buck.’  If a man gets to thirty and is unmarried and without children, he gets to be a bachelor, or, if he’s really lucky, a playboy.  If it’s a woman, then she’s a spinster.  Is the joking, subconsciously, because I’m a woman?

The word ‘subconscious’ is important here, because I don’t believe that either my father or brother are sexist.  Sure, my dad is quite traditional, but he has always been my biggest supporter in terms of what I can achieve and not taking any shit from people.  He instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, follow whatever path I wanted to in life, as long as it made me happy and I didn’t go to the Dark Side.  He supported me even when he didn’t agree with the decisions I made.  My brother is usually so right on with this sort of stuff that he’s practically an honorary member of the sisterhood.  So why does this feel anti-female?  Do they really feel that deep down, a woman of my age is only truly complete if she is married with children?  As I am neither married, nor with child, does this mean that none of my other achievements count?  There is also the fact that, well, I don’t feel old.  I still feel that stuff like this might come in the future, and that I still have plenty of time to think like this.  Or am I simply being too sensitive (read: girly) about a comment that was possibly intended to be taken exactly as it seemed on the surface?  Just another attempt to wind me up.

Whichever is the correct diagnosis, it’s certainly an ailment that is prevailent in society, not just my immediate family.  There are hundreds of examples of ageism in the world of entertainment, from Arlene Phillips being chucked off ‘Strictly’ in favour of the far less experienced, but undoubtedly younger, Alesha Dixon, to the increasingly sinister attempts of the tabloid darlings to inhibit the aging process by ever-more invasive surgical procedures.  There is hardly a young woman in Britain today who does not know what Botox does, so commonplace is it in our media.

That’s before examining the pity we bestow on female celebrities over thirty, purely because they are not married.  Poor old Jennifer Aniston can’t get her boyfriend to propose, never mind the fact that she is a hugely popular, highly successful multi-millionairess actress with her own production company who far out-earns her partner.  No, we must assume that she is unsatisfied with all of her achievements because she is not happily married with a sprog in each arm.  Poor Cameron Diaz, she can never get a man to commit, never mind the fact that she too is a highly successful, rich actress who has regularly appeared on ‘sexiest woman’ lists and in magazines encouraging women to achieve a body like hers.  If Jennifer was a man, people would assume that she was focussing on her career, and applaud her for that.  If Cameron was a man, she would be called a player, and guess what?  Guys get the kudos for that too!

With these ideas and images so readily available in the world around us, is it any wonder that some of that has filtered back to us ‘normals?’ That maybe, after seeing it in magazines and on TV and film posters that someone could possibly misjudge the actual impression a joke could make?

I’m glad that, as a trained student of crap mags, I count myself as quite savvy about how the media works, so I know that, actually thirty isn’t really all that old at all.  If I still feel the same way that I did when I was nineteen, and still have an abundance of hopes, dreams and plans for the future, then age really is just a number.  In a time where people in the western world are living longer than ever, maybe it’s time for the media to re-define its boundaries of youth.

As a matter of fact, being thirty is much better than being twenty-one. Or eighteen even.  Ok, so I’m not as skinny as I used to be, and I can’t hold my booze as well, but honestly?  I’m happier, more confident, at ease with the person I’ve grown into and with an idea of what I’m doing with my life.  At nineteen, I would refuse to eat before a night out in case I looked bloated.  At twenty-nine, I accept that it’s perfectly acceptable to have a bit of a tummy.  At twenty-one I was learning, but still a bit of an idiot, doing idiot things.  I was still a bit insecure and worried about what people thought of me.  Now, I try to do the right thing and be nice to other people, but I don’t agonise over it if someone doesn’t like the way I go about it.  As long as I can look at myself in the mirror, and say I tried my best, then that’s the most important opinion about me.  I own my own house, have my own money and can now afford to buy a round of drinks in a place that doesn’t do vodka-and-mixer-for-a-pound offers without worrying about whether I have enough money for the taxi home.  Oh, and another thing, now it doesn’t matter that I can’t drive, because I made that decision for me, and I can afford that taxi now.  These are all things I would have given my right arm for when I was twenty-one.

So yes, to conclude, I am quite excited about turning thirty, I think as a woman, it’s a time, particularly in terms of your career, where people start to give you a little more respect (on account of all that experience we must have clocked up, being so old and all). Having always looked a bit younger than my age, and subsequently patronised on occasion; I’m looking forward to being taken a bit more seriously. I’m definitely less prone to worrying about the small things, like if my hair misbehaves or if I’ll get a lumber, and more likely to think about how I can do all of the things I wanted to do when I was sixteen, but couldn’t because I wasn’t old enough.

However, I must say, that to be this happy approaching thirty, I needed to go through all of the other daft stuff when I was sixteen, eighteen, twenty-two, twenty six, twenty nine.  It’s all of the daft stuff that makes you who you are today.  The mistakes are how you learn, the happy memories teach you what you value and hold dear.  My only hope is that I still feel this secure when I turn forty, maybe someone could send me a copy of this in ten year’s time?


Love and marriage, go together like a…?

I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I’ll say it.  Stand up in front of the group and proclaim: “I am in love,” and I have been for quite some time.  It’s quite nice actually.  Not only have I found a man that makes me laugh; puts up with my, let’s say, eccentricities; that I fancy rotten and who shares my outlook on life.  I also have someone to tell about how my day went; someone to take along to functions; someone to sit in my pyjamas in front of the TV with a takeaway with.  Of course, that’s just the day-to-day comforts that come with being part of a serious relationship.  The surface veneer of our life together.

And it is a life together.  We ask each other’s opinions.  We own a home together.  We consult each other on big decisions.  Our life insurance policies pay out to each other.  We go to bed together and only with each other.  In every aspect of our lives we are like a married couple, except we don’t have that all-important bit of paper.  In every aspect other than legally.  In some ways, this is the least important thing.  What is important is that we love and trust each other and want to be together.  In other ways, it is very important indeed.  In theory, if I were in a life-threatening condition in hospital, he would have no say in my treatment.  I am lucky in that my parents fully recognise the status of our relationship, and I am in no doubt, that in the event of such a horrible event, they would give him his rightful place, but not all parents are as forward-thinking as mine.  Not all couples in serious relationships, but who are unmarried, have that peace of mind.

There is a difficulty in defining modern relationships.  Not that relationships really have to be ‘defined’ as such, even though as a species, we seem pretty keen on doing just that.  We want to give our relationships their due, but there is a problem with the current words and phrases we have to describe a partner you’re not married to.  ‘Boyfriend’ seems too casual, too ‘we’re seventeen and we’re dating.’ As Carrie and Big found out, ‘manfriend’ is just silly.  I refuse to refer to my partner as my husband if we’re not married, even though he sometimes playfully refers to me as ‘the wife.’  I think if he gets to do that, I should at least get to wear the big diamond!  I quite often refer to him as my partner.  He doesn’t do this as he thinks it’s a word that suggests a same- sex couple.  I don’t think he is bothered by that, or worries about people thinking he’s gay, just that for him, the word doesn’t quite fit.  It doesn’t get across what he wants to say.  For me, although I use it, when I do, I sometimes feel like I’m trying too hard to make our relationship seem grown-up. I also sometimes say ‘My other half’ but that makes it sound like we aren’t people in our own right. It sounds a bit dusty and old-fashioned too.   The truth is; neither of us has really found a label for our relationship that we’re entirely comfortable with.  That effectively gets across what we want to say about our relationship in a relatively few words.  Is that so much to ask? Language needs to catch up with modern couples.

This might seem like a rather abstract problem to people who have not encountered it.  Some people may be wondering why we really care about putting a label on it, why we don’t just let it be what it is.  The truth is; it comes up more often than you might think. We are both (relatively) young professionals and we both work with- probably a majority- of people who are older than we are and come from a more “traditional” school of thought on this matter.  It is difficult when you want others to take your relationship as seriously as you do when you don’t easily have the words to describe it.  Then there are practical situations.  A while ago I asked for a day off to attend the funeral of one of my partner’s relatives.  A relative I was close to, and wanted to pay my respects to.  There wasn’t a box to tick on the absence request form for relative of boyfriend/manfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not husband.  When I filled in the form, at the back of my mind was a nagging worry that, at an already difficult time, I was going to have to explain to someone just what exactly my relationship with the departed was, and why I wanted time off to attend the funeral. As it turned out, this was completely unwarranted worry.  My request was granted without the blink of an eye, even though, on paper, personnel seem to not recognise serious relationships other than spouse.

It has become a little easier since we bought the flat together.  However, I still get the feeling that most people see this as a service station on the journey to getting married, rather than a destination in its own right.  Like signing the missives were just a practise run for signing our marriage license.  I know; I’ve had people say this to me.  I’ve watched it happen to others that I know.  Is it really that important to other people if we get married?  Can other people only value your relationship if you are living in wedded bliss?  If we don’t get married, does this mean that we’re not really in it for the long haul?

We also have to remember that there are people out there having fully functioning adult relationships who don’t live together, and it suits them just fine.  I bet they have to deal with even more questions from the Nuptial Nazis than we do!  Why can’t people just let other people’s relationships be?  Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter seem to be doing just fine, so why can’t people believe that the rest of us in “unconventional” (although, really, now it’s not all that unconventional at all is it?) relationships are doing just dandy too?

It seems that your late 20s and 30s are the wedding season of your life.  It feels to me that most of the people I know and love are either married, or planning to be in the not too distant future.  Some days this makes me question why I am not married.  I’ll go on a wee rant for a few days, and give my poor boyfriend/manfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not husband, you-don’t-have-the-right-to-call-me-your-wife-yet-even-if-you-are-just-joking a hard time about wanting him to propose.  I’ll wonder why we aren’t at least engaged and worry that we won’t ever get married.  Then I’ll start to think about why that would be so bad.  I’ll look at all the planning my seventeen friends or so that are getting married (ok, not quite seventeen, but at last count I think it was around six) and thank some higher power that I don’t have to try to do that on top of a job, running a home and having some semblance of a life that I enjoy.

So why is it that some days I’m desperate to get married and other days it leaves me cold?  After a bit of though I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the actual wedding that scares me.  The marriage itself I think would be rather lovely, just as our life together now is rather lovely (ok, most of the time, no couple are perfect- and who would want to be?)  I don’t think too much would change, we have already made a commitment to each other by signing away our souls to our mortgage lender, and we’ve safely passed the dreaded ‘seven-year-itch.’  We know each other pretty damn well, the trust and mutual support is already there.  The marriage part is the bit I think would come naturally, the rest-of-your-life-bit.  The actual wedding on the other hand; that’s the part of the deal I’m not completely sold on.

Now, I love a party as much as the next person, but your traditional flowers and white dresses wedding isn’t really my thing.  I’m not the kind of girl who really bothers too much about things like that.  I don’t really appreciate fine cuisine and am just as happy with a dinner that costs a tenner a head from Oko or Nando’s, maybe more so, than I would be with a £80 a head dinner in a fancy hotel.  I don’t really like being the centre of attention, although I do love dressing up.  I couldn’t be bothered with wedding politics, who gets invited, who sits where.  Even just the effort of trying to keep everyone else happy in the lead-up to a wedding sounds like an enormous headache.  Despite the mantra of the modern bride and groom being (and God knows I’ve said this to enough brides and grooms-to-be over the last few months) it’s their wedding, so they should just do it the way they want to, it seems that weddings really are for everyone else.  Although the bride and groom plan it, their planning really seems to be about keeping their families and guests happy (why on earth else would anyone offer to foot the bill for an open bar?) even if it means significant expense and stress for themselves.

And before my many soon-to-be-married friends read this, get offended and scratch me off their guest lists, I would like to make it clear that, as a guest, I love weddings!  For all I said in the last paragraph, I really enjoy being at a wedding.  I’m an old romantic, and I’m likely to cry.  What can I say; it makes me happy when I see the people I love that happy.  I relish the planning of the outfit and going all out. I enjoy the food, drinks  and I really appreciate all of the planning you put in to make sure we have a great time, I do, but I’m just not sure it’s for me.  I’ve had a fabulous time at every wedding I’ve ever been to (apart from the one where we had a tray of drinks tipped over us within an hour of being there, but that’s another story!) and I’m worried that I’m coming over a little wedding-grinch-y because I don’t mean to.  I’m just very aware of the fact that I don’t really suit white.

For all my sass in pointing this out, I know, if I’m ever in this position, I’ll be exactly the same.  My ideal wedding would just be the two of us, no fuss, no fretting, just sealing the deal and tying our lives together with that proverbial knot.  But then we think how, actually we want our parents to be there, and our siblings, because family is really important to us.  Then there are the close friends who we would love to share our day with, so they’d need to be there too (gosh, the registry office at Gretna Green is starting to get a bit crowded isn’t it?)  Then there are the other aquaintances who you can’t really not invite, based on some of the prior invitations.  Then the people who invited you to their wedding who you are pretty sure want you to pay them back for the £80 a head they paid for your meal at their wedding (don’t deny it; that thought has run through the minds of some of you, I guarantee it!)  All of a sudden, it’s easy to see how that guest list can spiral out of control, and some wedding politics are going to have to come in to play just to make sure that all of these people can be in the same room together.  I’m starting to panic just thinking about it, so maybe I’ll quite happily be a girlfriend/womanfriend/ partner, but not same-sex/ other half/ but definitely not wife for a while longer, at least until I start to want an excuse to spend a thousand pounds on a dress.

Now, whichever way we look at this, there is one thing that we must remember: it’s actually quite nice to have this ‘problem’ to think about.  Women 60 years ago didn’t even have to think about this.  You were either married or single.  No in-between stage that you didn’t know how to explain to someone you worked with.  Years ago, a woman was defined a success by her relationships; and to have a relationship really meant to be married or engaged to be married.  To be “successful” as a woman, and therefore “happy”, you would be someone’s wife and have a family.  I can imagine that many women keenly felt the loss of their individuality when they became someone’s other half (or in some cases, not even so much as a quarter) yet didn’t really have any outlet to express this.  If you didn’t marry, even if you chose not to marry, people pitied you.  In fact, I think it was widely believed that most unmarried women didn’t actually choose to be, despite their best protestations, they were just left ‘on the shelf’ (what a horrendous phrase).  So to be able to choose how we want our relationships to be, even if we can’t define them, must seem like a luxury to women, who, due to convention, never had that freedom.

Now women have broken free from this, and I suppose, as problems go, this is one I would rather deal with than having no choice in the matter at all.


Make Up Make Believe

I have a confession to make.  I love make up.  It’s one of the things that really smacks at my feminist credentials.  Feminists are not supposed to like things that could be seen as a male imposition to increase physical beauty in an artificial manner.  Feminists are supposed to show their true selves, not hide behind a mask of cosmetics.  The old stereotype of the woman who wakes up two hours before her partner to ‘put on her face’ makes us feminists smile in pity.  The woman who is afraid to leave the own house without her slap on because she is so unhappy with her own appearance is surely the antithesis of what we feminists stand for.

I agree with all of these points at face value.  Women should not be judged purely on their appearance.  Women should feel confident in their own skin; and confident in letting the world see their own skin.  However, to assume that those are the only reasons that women wear make up is, well, quite frankly rather patronising.

Yes, women should not be judged on their appearance.  That works both ways.  Just as women should not be judged for not wearing make up; so should they not be judged for wearing it.  Feminism has made it clear that women should be able to wear whatever clothes they want without being judged; why should this not extend to make up?  I agree that the notion of never letting my partner see me without make up is frightening, disheartening and frankly exhausting, but this is a non-issue for me, and, I would hope, most of the sensible women out there.  I actually think that is quite a good litmus test for a relationship.  I always feel comfortable being seen without make up (although this is more to do with laziness than being super-secure in my looks by the way- please don’t hate me like you hate Samantha Brick!) but if he loves me and finds me just as attractive, or more so, without make up, well, that’s not a badfoundationis it?

Rather than viewing make up as something imposed on women by men and evil media-types to force us to strive for unattainable standards of beauty, I look on it as an advantage afforded to women (I know that some men do wear make up, but to be honest, this blog isn’t about them now is it?) that allows them to play with their appearance as they choose.  I love the way that make up allows me to create a look, become a character, and of course, cover a spot or two!  I enjoy the ritual of getting ready, and yes there is an element of making me feel better about myself (on some days it’s more like an effort to re-join the human race) but what’s wrong with that?  If scientists spent years developing a product that makes me look like my skin is lit from within, who am I to criticise them?   If there’s a day where I don’t feel like putting on make up, I don’t.  I do believe that I, or any other woman for that matter, should not have to apologise for something that makes her feel good about herself, whether it’s making her feel better about how her skin looks, or lets her show off the colours she feels inside.  I don’t wear make up to impress men, or even other women (well, apart from ‘peacock eyes’ but ask me about that another time) I wear it for me.  It’s something that I enjoy, and it allows me to look the way I want to look each day, whether that’s a 50’s pin-up, a gothic princess, a zombie or even like I’m not wearing make up at all, but just look like I haven’t been partying all weekend. 😉

However, I still get the feeling that many people, men and women, have a bit of an attitude about it.  I think that the art of make up is kind of the female equivalent of the art of building flat pack furniture.  Some can do it with precision, finesse and artistry; for most it’s a bit slapdash but it’ll do; but for a few it’s a nemesis of a task which they know will have disastrous results, don’t want to do it, but feel they have to give it a go every once in a while just to keep up appearances.

I say though, whatever your feelings on the issue; every woman has the right to choose for herself, without the fear of being judged for it, but what do you think?  I am genuinely interested in hearing all sides of this argument.

Now, I buy and try a ridiculous amount of beauty products each month; it’s not that I’m particularly insecure and looking for a cure, in fact,  as I get older I’m actually becoming much more accepting of how I look, flaws and all.  I get excited about experimenting with new products.  It’s kind of like how the other half gets excited about new Apple gadgets.  So, for fun, to save newbies some time and just in case any of you are inspired to try something new, here are my top ten make up bag basics every sceptic should have a go with before dismissing make up as for bubble brained bimbos.

And it’s getting fuller as time goes on!

  1. Primer- Good make up needs to start with a good primer, it’s what stops all that hard work from sliding off your face after a particularly exuberant session on the dancefloor or stressful day at work.  I can’t wear make up now without primer, it’s part of the ritual.  There are loads to choose from, but my favourites are: ‘the pore-fessional’ by Benefit- this keeps make up in place and controls shine- this is my day time primer of choice.  ‘Complexion Primer Potion’ by Urban Decay in ‘Brightening’  gives a lovely dewy finish, and it feels really fresh on your skin.  It holds make up in place really well and this is the primer I use when I’m going out dancing as it doesn’t get cloggy.  ‘That Gal’ by benefit is a primer that I’d use on its own because it smells so damn good.  It brightens your skin and works when you don’t want to go bare faced, but don’t want to cover up.
  2. Base- Everyone has their own preference with base, some people like full-on cover up and other like hardly anything.  Whatever your style, I would definitely recommend getting a BB cream- a new invention which is kind of like a cross between make up and skin care.   If you don’t like wearing a lot of make up they give a small amount of coverage while still allowing your skin to show through.

    One of the days when I’m actually trying to look like a zombie!

    They even and brighten your complexion and you can top up with a concealer if you feel like you want a bit more coverage.  If you prefer a bit more to your base, BB creams make your foundation work harder and can act as a primer too if you don’t want to use a separate one.  I like the   Garnier BB cream, and Maybelline also do a good one with SPF 30 and a  slightly lighter formula.  I love Benefit’s ‘Hello Flawless’ powder, again it works over other make up or  gives a decent amount of coverage on its own.  It also comes in super-pale shades which  I’m sure porcelain-skinned ladies like myself will appreciate.  A good concealer can make a real difference on days where I feel like a zombie (the days when you’re not actively trying to dress up as one I mean).   It works better to have  a light-reflecting concealer for under  your eyes (I’m using Clinique’s ‘Airbrush Concealer’ pen just now but Benefit ‘Erase Paste’ is also really good.) and  a matte one for blemishes.  I use Benefit ‘Boing’ for zits as it has  a medicated formula to dry them out, but be careful not to use it on dry  patches- ouch! A really handy product for on the go is the Benefit ‘It  stick’, and no, I’m not on commission from Benefit, they just do a bunch of really good products for base.

  3.  Red Lip- I love a red lip, but it took me years to get it right.  It makes me feel  super glamorous and powerful, plus I love to dress up like I’m in the  1950’s.  I think that every woman should wear a red lip at least once in their lives.  I really recommend that you go to a      proper make up counter and talk to the ladies (or boys) that know their stuff to help you find the right shade for you.  Mac do a great range and their staff are usually pretty helpful if it isn’t too busy.  If in doubt, I find that Benefit’s  ‘Benetint’ red lip/ cheek  stain with a slick of Clinique ‘Chubby Stick’ in ‘Chunky Cherry’ is a fabulous suits-all red which works for day time too.   The stain means that the colour stays visible between re-applications, which is great if you are lazy like me and find normal lipstick a bit too high maintenance.       Incidentally, this is a tip I’d recommend for all lip colour- a stain and a tinted balm are a great, less-fuss alternative to lipstick and      there are loads of colours available now as lots of brands are getting in on the act.  A stain works well  under lipstick too to extend time between re-applications.  I also love the Max Factor ‘Lipfinity’ pen in no 6 under 17’s ‘Lasting Fix’ lipstick in ‘Showbiz’ a pinky-red      which feels a little bit sassier than classic red.  And before you dismiss this as outdated nonsense- try it.  I reckon the right red lip makes you feel like you can take on the world, even if it’s just in your head.  It’s the make up symbol for confidence, so it can help fake it even if you don’t feel it.
  4. Eye liner- There are different eyeliner tribes: smudgy kohl-lovers who favour a smoky look and the precision flicksters who  go for a liquid or gel liner (this is my preferred tribe- see above for  notes on 1950s dressing up.  I also idolised Gwen Stefani and Dita Von Teese in my formative years- still do actually- and spent a lot of time practising the perfect flick so I’m damn well gonna use it!).  Whichever  tribe you belong to, in my opinion, Urban Decay are the masters for  eyeliner.  Their ‘24/7 Glide on eye  pencil’ gives the perfect smudge while also staying put on your water  line.  Their liquid liners have a brush applicator rather than a pen, which is not the best for beginners,  but it’s the way I learned to apply it, so I find it easier, and in my  opinion, you never get quite the same artistry or precision with a pen.  I love ‘Oil Slick’ a dark brown with a  subtle shimmer, a bit less harsh than black (‘Perversion’ is the shade if that’s what you’re after) but still does the job.  They also do a great line in glitter liners- don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, a tiny amount in the inner corner of your top lid can look cool as fuck!  It brings the party to party eye make up (see below).
  5. Killer Mascara- this makes sure that people notice your eyes.  I like ‘em really, really black.  Either Benefit’s ‘That Gal’ or Clinique’s ‘High Impact Mascara’ in black are the darkest I’ve  tried without clumping, and believe me, I’ve tried a lot!  A dark blue mascara can really brighten your eyes, Benefit do a ‘Bad Gal Blue’ which, before you laugh me off the page, does not look like an 80’s nightmare, but has a subtle blue hint to a dark mascara which makes eyes look all pretty and sparkly!
  6. Neutral eye shadow- I truly believe that everyone who wears make up should own the Urban Decay ‘Naked’ eye shadow pallete.  Before a lovely friend gave me this as a gift two Chistmasses ago, I never really bothered too much with eye shadow.  Then there was the Naked pallete. It has 12 complementary shades, all of which give a little eye emphasis (eye-mphasis if you will- sorry!) while still looking really natural.  I’ve had great fun  playing with this and mixing up different combinations.  Some of the shades are a great basis for party eye make up, which leads me to…
  7. Party eyes!-

    Extreme party eye!

    This will be different for everyone in terms of colour and style, but I reckon once you’ve mastered a smoky eye, you can experiment with different shades to come up with lots of  different looks.  I mostly prefer a grey/ black smoky eye, when I’ll use the ‘Gunmetal’ and ‘Creep’ shades from the naked palette to create a really dark, rocky eye.  If I’m feeling festive, I’ll try a gold smoky eye using Barry M ‘Dazzle Dust’ in ‘Old Gold’ which is a bit less ghetto than other gold colours and suits me more.  I love when other girls wear fabulous eye make up in purples, greens, aquas and blues, and maybe I’ll give that a go too at some point.  Urban Decay is the best place to go for eye shadow colours for party eyes (although Mac and 17 have  great ranges too) and the Urban Decay ‘Eyeshadow Primer Potion’  is the best primer for eye make up I’ve ever tried.

  8. Highlighter- Makes your skin look fabulous, makes you look super healthy and draws attention to your best features.  Enough said.  If I could only ever wear one make up product again (but who would inflict such a horrible fate on me?) then I’d pick Benefit’s ‘Girl Meets Pearl’.  This is a really natural looking highlighter that makes skin look  great, either on its own, over, or mixed in with make up.  If you want something a little less subtle, Benefit’s Moon, High or Sun Beam highlighters are great and there  are different shades for different skin tones.
  9. Natural lip- When I was younger, I never used to bother with make up on my lips, I’d do my eyes and then just shove some lip balm on and go.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m finding myself experimenting more with lip colours and even if I’m not in the mood for a lipstick, quite often I’ll wear a natural gloss.  These are not clear, they do have a hint of colour but are relatively low-maintenance.  I find that it’s an easy way to cheat a polished finish (wait, what am I?  Furniture?) , it makes me feel quite well-put together even if I’m really not.  I love the Clinique ‘Superbalm Moisturising Gloss’ in ‘Currant’, it lasts for ages and feels like lip  balm.  A little bit more like lipstick, but still subtle in Urban Decay’s ‘Lip Junkie’ lipgloss in ‘Wallflower.’  Don’t be put off by how brown it looks in the tube (come on, it’s not the 90s any more!) it looks very natural on.
  10. Favourite nail varnish- Last but not least, I  think that a favourite nail varnish brings it all together.  I used to work in a shop which, due to that fact that sales assistants had to demonstrate products to customers and their hands would be on show, insisted that all female employees have properly manicured fingernails while working (I’m not making this up, it was actually written in the employee code of conduct).  Because someone had tried to tell me that I had to do this; I invariably refused to paint my nails for work.  Now that I have a choice, I do enjoy a manicure: I can match them to my outfit and it hides my horrible finger nails.  It’s nice to have a choice, but my favourite shade (back to that 1950s look again) is 17’s ‘Baked Cherry’ I think it’s the perfect shade of red, if only all of  my clothes went with red nail polish!

And yes, I do realise that this is now reading like a Cosmo article, but I had to get it out of my system!  Sorry!  I’m sure many of you could make comment on the fact that a woman who calls herself a feminist spends so much time and money on make up, and in particular retro make up, to look like she belongs in a time when women’s rights were practically non-existant.  I can’t explain this.  I certainly don’t want to be someone’s possession, just there to look pretty, but I do love the way it looks.  Maybe it’s because deep down, I’m actually quite a devious little lady who likes to surprise.  It’s a stealth move.  If you look like a woman who only cares about her appearance, then a lot of people assume that that is what you are, and are subsequently shocked when you turn out to be actually a rather competent, intelligent and accomplished human being.  And I do love to exceed expectations!