So, last night, under the influence of the lurgy, I decided I would watch the first episode of The Apprentice.
As you may or may not know, depending on your luck in avoiding the damned thing, each series starts off with the contestants being split into two equal groups, based on whether they are “boys” or “girls”. Except that this year, there are eight women and only seven men, as one of the men pulled out before filming began. They are then given a task to perform, in their groups, which will inevitably be something that is designed to be “beneath” them. By which I mean that it is clear that nobody expects these privilleged, well-educated, weathly-looking people to have, for example, sold fish at a market stall. Or, as in yesterdays’ episode, cleaned for money (as opposed to cleaning their own homes, supposing that they actually do that).
Ten minutes in to the programme, after swearing loudly and violently at my laptop twice, I turned it off in disgust.
Given the nature of the task, I’m sure you can guess why I was swearing. But, to reiterate: the contestants were split into groups defined by gender, and then told to set up a cleaning business.
Five minutes in, in a taxi that is taking the men to their starting point, one of the men says:
“well, come on! It’s cleaning! How hard can it be? My wife cleans all the time…. no, that’s a joke.”
Call me a humourless feminist if you must, but I’ve always thought that if you have to say that something was a joke, it wasn’t fucking funny.
A few minutes after that, with the womens’ team sitting around a table, they have asked everybody and ascertained (surprise, surprise!) that no, nobody has any experience of industrial-scale cleaning. Almost immediately afterwards, one of the women, giving a “pep talk”, says:
“We’ve got to win this! There are more of us that there are of them… and besides, it’s cleaning!”
Yes, well spotted. It’s cleaning, and none of you have any experience. But presumably, you’ll know what to do by instinct, being women. Wow. It’s beyond me why the cleaning companies that I’ve tried to join ask for experience at all! I could just say to them, “hey, don’t worry – I’m a woman! I don’ t need experience when I’ve got a womb! FACT!”
To be honest, it’s probably a good thing that it was full of stupid, nasty stereotypes before anything had really happened. Because the episodes are an hour each week, and I don’t want to waste a whole precious hour on stupidity like that. Although I’ll admit to having to fight the compulsion to carry on watching it, much in the same way that people slow down to look at crashes on the road.
… I bring you…
I love my Paint graphics. They are fantabulous.
Also, I want it to be known that I would definitely buy this underwear. This is in complete contrast to lemon yellow underwear, which I would never, ever buy. Mainly because I associate it with a date-rape scene in a book by Lisa Jewell. That, and it’s ugly. Whereas the image I have created is a vision of wonder and joy.
This is what happens when you have a relapse of the lurgy. Anything seems funny. Even drawing pants in paint.
I become more and more like a big feminist stereotype every day.
First there was the cutting-off-all-my-hair thing, which grew back, of course, because hair does that, but the thought was there! Then there was the not-cutting-off-any-of-my-body-hair thing, which meant that I quite rapidly became quite hairy – it all grew back, because hair does that!
And now, I’ve been going bra-less.
It’s actually really nice. And I can’t quite believe how it can have taken me so long to work it out. I kind of had it in my head as something you have to do, like put socks on before putting on your shoes. But no! It turns out that I can forgo wearing a bra, put my top on, and even so, still remain completely comfortable and not at all inappropriately naked. Wow.
Of course, my breasts aren’t really that big. If bra sizes actually meant anything, I could share my breast size with the world, but because they don’t, I may as well just say that they’re big enough to fall into my armpits a little when I’m lying in bed, but small enough to not form a cleavage on their own.
Writing that makes me wonder how many men would understand the idea. Because I’m sure that most women would know exactly what I mean.
You know, it’s only been four days of not wearing a bra, and already I’m kind of forgetting the “lack”. Although it is slightly strange to feel my breasts in a different place. It’s only now that I realise just how much wearing a bra alters your shape. The bras that I thought were just there for support turn out to have been hoiking my breasts up unnaturally high.
And for the revalation that wearing a bra is not always necessary, I have a woman in my Medieval Society to thank. All she did was to ask me to hold her top down while she took off her jumper – the only drawback to not wearing a bra being that a top that rides up is a little more of an issue. But that casual request got me thinking. And now, it would seem, bra-lessness is catching!
On a list of Things Which Are Not A Good Idea To Say:
Me: It’s strange, because it’s Monday now and I don’t have any signs of an impending period. And I normally get it on Tuesdays.
Me: I shouldn’t have said that. That just means I’ll get the pain, the excess emotions and the blood, all at once.
Me: Tomorrow is not going to be a good day.
Tuesday, of course, was yesterday. True to my prediction, I had everything, all at once, including ravenous hunger. Today is better, but this week is going to be pretty damned tiring.
In related news, I’ve been reading The Woman In The Body. It has some incredibly interesting things to say on the subject of periods, like the way that medical “wisdom” treats them as a form of “failed production”.
To paraphrase Emily Martin’s work, her point is that metaphors have been developed that treat the human body as a kind of factory system – the brain “sends signals” to other parts of the body, like a manager, and those other parts respond, as workers. In terms of the uterus, the “product” is seen to be a sucessful pregnancy, and periods are therefore seen as a failure to produce. She quotes from medical textbooks to underline this idea:
“Given this teleological interpretation of the increased amount of endometrial tissue, it should be no surprise that when a fertilized egg does not implant, these texts describe the next event in very negative terms. The fall in blood progesteron and estrogen “deprives” the “highly developed endometrial lining of its hormonal support,” “constriction” of blood vessels leads to a “diminished” supply of oxygen and nutrients, and finally, “disintegration starts, the entire lining begins to slough, and the menstrual flow begins”. Blood vessels in the endometrium “hemorrhage” and the menstrual flow “consists of this blood mixed with endometrial debris.””
Looking back over the descriptions – “deprive”, “constriction”, “diminish”, “disintegration”, “slough”, “hemorrhage”,”debris” – actually makes me angry.
Now, speaking personally, my period, frustrating though it is, is nevertheless a good thing, signifying as it does that I am not pregnant.
Actually, I’d go further, and say that even if every woman, at some point in her life, actively tried to get pregnant, she would be unlikely to do so for over half of her reproductive years, and therefore, it is likely that, for the most part, women in general will see the arrival of their period as a good thing.
So where is that, in medical descriptions?
Where is the idea that, far from being a “failure”, the occurence of a period is actually more likely, generally speaking, to be seen as a “sucess”?
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to have my ideas about periods challenged in that way when I read the book.And I’m finding it quite hard now to wrap my head around the idea that what I have been led to believe to be objectively true, is in fact extremely negative and unhelpful.
But having been challenged, there’s only one description of a period that I think I now want to embrace, which is something that one of the women in the study said; asked to explain why women bleed, she replied, “to clean out your insides”.
Since moving to Sheffield, I have experienced an immediate, and vast, reduction in the number of unsavoury attention I recieve. By “unsavoury”, I mean the street harassment that plays a part in the lives of most urban women, along with its counterparts, harassment in social spaces like pubs, and harassment at work.
Some of the reasons for this are clear: I’ve gone from full-time work in London, necessitating two bus rides per day, into the city centre and out again, to full-time study in Sheffield, for which I rarely need to visit the city centre and for which I have no reason to use public transport other than abject laziness.
My work now is performed either alone, in the student library, in lecture theatres with one lecturer and around 200 students, or in tutorials, with one tutor, one PhD student and around 40 undergraduate students. Although it would be naive to assume that none of the young men I interact with ever harass women, I can say for certain that they have never harassed me. And, although of course it does not always follow, I would imagine that for the majority of my male lecturers and tutors the risks of reprisals are too severe for them to contemplate harassing a female undergraduate.
These observations are not what I found disconcerting, however. These observations merely are.
What is disconcerting, though, is what I have come to realise:
I cannot give up that way of thinking.
Or, rather, I would find it incredibly hard to do so.
What I mean is this: that I have lived for so long – a whole decade, which is just under half of my age – with the knowledge that, at intervals that remain largely unpredictable within certain parameters, I will be harassed by men, that I find it very difficult to relinquish the coping mechanisms that I developed in response to that knowledge.
Today, on my way to my afternoon’s work, I passed by two men, probably in their forties, wearing work clothes, who were sitting on a wall. I did all of the things I would normally do – I made eye contact, I made sure that I didn’t walk within a couple of feet of them, I didn’t change my pace… all of those things that I have trained myself to do, over a decade of having men leer at me, and shout at me, and make me aware of my own physical presence.
Those men didn’t do anything. They didn’t even look like they were going to do anything. They were sitting out in the sunshine during what was presumably their tea-break, having a chat. The only warning signal that they set off for me (and believe me, I have many different kinds of warning signal, ranging from the merely-annoying vibe to the get-the-fuck-away-from-this-man) was that they were men, and older than me.
That’s all it takes. To be a man, and to be older than me, in public, in a space where I am obliged to walk past you.
Never mind that I’ve only had one really nasty experience with a man in public, in Sheffield, and then only because he was bothering other young women and I intervened.
Never mind that I could see that they were likely to be employed, either directly or indirectly, by the university, and were therefore unlikely to do or say anything to me that could vaguely be construed as improper. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the university makes it very clear that it doesn’t want any negative publicity, because not once have I ever had any nasty shouts from any of the builders who work for them, though I have had the standard wolf-whistle from builders nearby who were not affiliated with the university.)
Those things don’t matter. The reactions I have now are the results of experience gained over a long period of time, and they continue to manifest themselves even when I believe that the actual chance of the men in question doing anything are slim. Since I find myself now working under the assumption that, however many men don’t harass me, the next one probably will, I suspect that these reactions will not be going anywhere, at least for the time being.
And this is the sad part. It’s all very well giving out leaflets, and campaigning on feminist issues, and blogging, and promoting events like Million Women Rise and Reclaim The Night and all those things I do just because, but when I still can’t walk past two men in broad daylight without immediately reverting to my how-to-minimise-street-harassment strategies, how much have I ever achieved?
How can I ever claim to accept men as equals, when I can’t walk past them without feeling afraid?
And how can I ever begin to make it better?
Friday night means that the women in the flat below mine are playing traumatic music at high volume.
At the moment, we’re all listening to Britney Spears.
I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve this.
Oh, good grief. We’re now on Mariah Carey. It’s like that, y’all.
Music hasn’t been this bad since I stopped working in the kitchens with Virgin Radio on all day. They had a playlist of about four, and coincidentally, both of the songs that have just been played were on it.
I expect most of us know the saying: “if at first you don’t suceed, try again”.
Admirable in its way; not so clever if a six year-old girl, attempting to climb her bunk-bed with a scarf (as “rope”), falls, breaks her teeth, but instead of being put off by the experience, tries again in exactly the same way.
However, unhelpful as it was to my six year-old self, I believe it’s now starting to pay off. Not because I’ve now learned how to climb bunk-beds (it turns out that the ladder is the most sensible way after all), although that’s also true, but because for the last month, maybe two, I’ve been jobhunting with more effort than I’ve ever put in before.
Of course, it needs more effort than I’ve ever put in before, because, unlike previous experiences, I’m not flexible – I can’t do full time, I can’t do a single full weekday, I can’t even do most afternoons, because of my lecture timetable.
A couple of weeks ago, I was coming close to despairing of the whole thing, which is the inevitable result of paraphrasing your CV more times than you can wave a stick at, with no results save a blinding headache.
But now, things are looking up. Or at least, more up than they were. I’ve got some temp work tomorrow, and it’s the kind of temp work that can be fairly regular, if you’re lucky. I can at least hope to be working once a fortnight, assuming I don’t do anything wrong tomorrow. I’ve had an interview for a different kind of temp work, which will, if I get it, guarantee me one long day’s work (11 hours, with possibly 4 hours travel time) with the possibility of a few more days over the summer. And seriously, a full day’s work is nothing to sniff at. Not even at minimum wage. It’s more than two week’s worth of food paid for.
Obviously, I need more than I’ve got. Temping, I need to be working at least one shift per week to break even just with food bills. But this is a start. It’s a start that brings me closer to the point of having money than I’ve been in some time. I am feeling hopeful – and long may it continue!
ETA: Haha! I’ve just got another 3.5 hours’ work over the Easter holidays!