My sister is 18 – only 19 months younger than me. And, whilst I grew up tomboyish and vain, she grew up feminine and vain. So we make quite a good combination, all things considered, and never have to compete for being ‘the best’, because we’re so very different there’s nothing to compete for – I’ll be best at wearing skanky jeans, she’ll be best at wearing frilly skirts. It’s fine.
It also means that whilst I get quite animated about feminism, and LGBTQ rights, and fat acceptance, and so on and so forth, she…. doesn’t.
So when, a few days ago, she told me about this, it made me hurt inside. Because although I’ve read a fair amount about it, she hasn’t – and for her it’s personal.
My sister’s friend, V, is anorexic. Severely, can’t-leave-the-house-she’s-so-weak anorexic.
She had all her lessons at school rearranged for the morning so that she could get through her A-levels and not collapse and die. So far, she lives.
But she wasn’t the “fat” girl in their friendship group. Not by a long shot. That was my sister. Not that my sister was fat, of course, but when everybody around you is 4’6″ and wearing child clothes and you’re 5’3″ and wearing adult clothes, then you feel fat. And she did. But she didn’t diet, other than the odd half-hearted cutting-out-chocolate-for-a-month type diets, and eventually the tiny thin girls that she was friends with got taller and filled out a bit.
It’s just that when V filled out a bit, she took it badly.
And my sister got very upset.
It could so easily have been her, she told me. She read the same magazines, she saw the same adverts, she watched the same programmes – and everything told her that she needed to diet. It’s just that she never did. It wasn’t, she said, that she was any stronger willed, or any more clever – she just got lucky. It just didn’t affect her in the same way.
But it could have done.
The girl lying listlessly in her bed, refusing to eat, terrified of being “fat” whilst wasting away before her friends’ eyes – that could have been my sister. It could have been me.
And, she said, it made a real difference to the way she felt about food.
She and V have a male friend who is very close to them both. They’ve both known him for years. And he, seeing V wasting away, is now terrified that every female friend he has will do the same. Which means that my sister is faced with a dilemma whenever she goes out with him – because he wants to see her eating “normally”.
“I can’t eat salads in front of him now,” she told me, sadly, “he thinks it means I’m dieting, just like how V started out. He always wants me to eat burgers and stuff, and I don’t always want to. And I know he’s only scared but I’m scared for her too, and it’s hard enough as it is to not get funny about food without him watching what I’m eating all the time.”
My sister knows. She didn’t have to read Shapely Prose to learn about fat acceptance – she worked it out on her own, growing up. She didn’t have to read a few hundred articles about the pervasive messages of self-hatred that the patriarchy throws at us – she can see them in every magazine she picks up.
My sister is 18. And she’s a brilliant feminine feminist.
Sometimes I start doubting myself. Not often, because as we all know, I am a genius and entirely modest with it, but sometimes, when I haven’t had enough tea, or food, or outlets for my prattling mind.
Sometimes I start to wonder whether I’m right, believing what I do. Whether my particular brand of voluble feminism is accurate. Whether I’m just being a bit paranoid, after all.
And then I get conversations in which the following conclusions are reached by my all-seeing, all-knowing colleagues:
I hate men. Because I am no longer pleasant to Creepy Guys. Duh.
Therefore, I am frigid, and incapable of passion.
And they’re not quite sure why my boyfriend would want to be with me, due to the aforementioned hating of Teh Sex.
Because he is a man, and that is all he wants. (Sorry, J)
And I am frustrated, sexually, because even though I think I don’t want sex, I do really, and this spills over into my entire mindset.
Which is why I do things like point at the head of the bank of England when he’s interviewed on the news and say “I want his job!”
Therefore, feminism is evil.
And it wants to take over the world.*
I remember this when the “hahaha you’re craaaaazy” thoughts rear their ugly heads. And this teaches me that I will fucking well be paranoid if I want to be, because I’m quite often right. And modest, too.
Also, on a related note, whilst having a slightly bemused conversation with a couple of other women about the pros and cons of letting relative strangers rip your eyebrows out, one hair at a time, and debating whether letting a relative stranger near your eyebrows with a razor blade is any better (it isnt; apparently, you bleed if they do it wrong**)…. well, I had to add to the debate in my own special way.
“Oh, but my way’s so much easier – I just run around, free and hairy!”
And I refused to feel ashamed when the head chef made it clear he’d heard every word.
Well, fuck you, funny man***, because I don’t think you would have let us know you’d been evesdropping if we’d stuck to knowing our feminine places in the world. Obviously, looking like a child to gain points in the fuckable category is our calling.
But that is a post for a different time, because it’s just a whole different breed of sick, twisted and wrong.
Happy, happy, happy – that’s your resident genius’s state of mind!
*This line is the only one that has been exaggerated
**A shocker brought to you by the University of the Bleeding Obvious
***My thanks to Dan for this expletive, which amuses me greatly
Actually, this post is only going to be a little bit about chefs.
It is, however, going to have a fair amount to say on the subject of clothing, male or otherwise.
When the Little Chef joined our merry band back in January, I was asked to order her chef’s whites – the jackets, trousers, aprons and hats that we give to every new starter. So I dutifully called the laundry company and requested said items.
There might be a bit of a delay, I was told, because “we don’t do any jackets that small – we’ll have to get them made up specially.”
There was indeed a delay; two months’ worth. When the whites eventually arrived…. let’s just say, the pattern that the suppliers were following wasn’t brilliant.
I had explained patiently that the new starter was, in fact, a woman! but sadly this fact appeared to have gone unnoticed. The jackets were cut straight, all the way down. And they were long.
The Little Chef stands approximately 5′ tall. Which the laundry company should have inferred from the fact that I had to get her trouser legs shortened by a good 7″.
The jackets were long enough to completely cover her arse, which she was grateful for – but not wide enough around her female hips to be able to button all the way down. I don’t think she was particularly grateful for that.
There has been a fair amount of speculation in some areas as to why the lacy, feminine, floral, floaty things are back in fashion. My personal take on the matter is that fashion designers are evil, vindictive jokers, cackling to themselves as they design the next vision of hideousness that they will be forcing upon the foolishly unsuspecting masses. According to most other sources I’ve glimpsed, feminine is back because feminism [has won/ is dead], depending on where you go.
Yeah. So you tell me, how can feminism have won, how can women claim to be equal, if the Little Chef can’t even get a jacket that fits – because they don’t make mens’ jackets that small. Because of course a woman can’t be present in a restaurant kitchen – her place is in the home!
Continuing the work theme, I will once again be courting disapproving looks from my manager*, as I have now filched two mens’ shirts for my own use. There weren’t any more “size 14s” (which, by the way, are ridiculously mislabeled – these shirts strain over my breasts, and I am usually a comfortable, slightly loose size 12).
This manager really does seem to have a thing about womens’ clothing. Not because he’s a perv; as far as I know, he’s gay, and not interested in our bodies, per se. But he always, always buys tight clothes for us.
He’s bought one suit (a skirt and jacket combo) for the cleaning manager, and is reluctant to buy any more, despite the facts that a) you need more than one set of work clothes and b) she has to bend over and doesn’t like the bloody skirt.
He’s bought shirts in a “size 6” for the girl who requested a size 8 only because she was aware the event required shirts to be tight; both he and she are aware she usually takes a size 10. And bear in mind that these “size 6” shirts came from the company that seems to mislabel all of its clothes to make them appear tighter…
He’s now bought shirts for us all that are cut very short – the hem sits at the top of the hips, which means that if you have breasts, reach upwards, or both, the hem rides up, exposing one’s stomach. Which is not what I come to work to do, funnily enough.
So, once again, I’ve taken matters into my own hands, and have liberated two mens’ shirts for myself. I’m sure it’s just coincidence that the male shirts are much, much longer than the female shirts – I mean, we all know that men are shaped in a way that means their shirts will ride up….
And, on a final note, I would like to reiterate that wearing a low-cut, strappy top because it’s hot and sunny and I want to stay cool and comfortable is not asking for trouble.
No, really, I know it’s difficult to grasp, but – I didn’t wear this top because I wanted to get harrassed.
I didn’t wear the hoodie because I wanted to get harrassed, either.
Or the T-shirt.
Or the jacket.
Or the bright pink shirt.
You take my point.
I wore those things because they’re my fucking clothes, dammit! I wore them because they were comfortable. That’s why. And I don’t look for trouble.
*completely off-topic, I am also a little annoyed because my manager plainly didn’t give a shit about my request that, as we celebrate every other damned theme day, perhaps we could celebrate a woman-themed day, and show The Vagina Monologues.
Dammit, where does he think he came from?! Can’t he celebrate that?
(Even if Kirsten doesn’t!)
Because I am nothing if not clear-eyed and level-headed, and after looking at my jeans collection, I realised I might have to make a few wardrobe adjustments.
Like throwing away the jeans that have ripped so far around that on one side, they’re practically hot pants. Need I point out that hot pants are not hot? In either sense of the word, actually, which is useful to bear in mind, as it is only March, which means “Winter” in the UK.
Actually, most months mean “Winter” in the UK, with the notable exceptions of January (which is uniformly grey, rather than cold, to trick you into thinking that the start of the new calendar year means that it’s Spring), May (which tends to have the hottest weather you’ll get that year, to really annoy students since they have to work through it rather than having time off like they usually do) and August (which feels like Spring again, just to confuse people).
But that’s not the point.
The point is that one of the largest piles of old clothes is the “You’re Not Really A Size 10 Anymore” pile.
This pile annoys me for the simple reason that when I was a size 10, I hardly wore these things because they were nice and I was never going anywhere special.
I have officially learned my lesson and after I have disposed of these clothes with my friends that are size 1os, I shall remember to always wear my nice clothes in preference to my ordinary ones. That way, if I change size again, at least I can console myself with the thought that I actually got some wear out of the interesting clothes, and the other ones were a bit boring anyway.
On the other hand, one of the other piles is the “I Know You Loved Those Clothes But They’ve Got More Holes Than A Cheese Grater”. So, swings and roundabouts, I suppose.
Oh, and on a different note, the porter came to me today, and, looking very nervous and not very happy, told me that he’d been thinking things over and what with him doubting my honesty and the fact I’d told him in no uncertain terms that he would never get my number, he’d decided he wanted to “keep to himself”.
I have to say, I’m slightly confused by this as I have been doing my best to treat our two “little chats” as unpleasant interludes – as in, I haven’t referred to them after the event and I’ve been careful to always be civil, so I say good morning and so on regardless of what has been said before.
Perhaps he thinks I’m taking the piss.
Perhaps I should.
All the same, I do believe in good manners, so I think I shall continue to say good morning, and if he has a problem with that, he can come and tell me. Although I’m not sure it would help our working relationship. And also I might end up kicking the little idiot in the balls with my new steel-toed boots out of sheer irritation.
The first is a quick feminist grumble. Because it turns out that being known as Teh Feminist is just as annoying as any other label.
It’s still a stereotype – and it’s like all of the general “female” stereotypes, plus a few more for good luck.
I mean, really. There is only one man in the world who gets close enough to my legs to know whether I shave them. So what exactly is the point in asking me that question?
Besides, by the time you’re that close to my bare legs, back away and you a) look like a bloody small-minded cowardy-custard and b) don’t get any. Which are two really bad things if you’re the kind of man that hears the word “feminist” and feels compelled to ask me if I shave my legs.
Funny, I was going to write something profound – but, as usual, it came out sarcastic. Ah, well, I’ll stick with it – it’s easier that way.
The second is a general woman’s grumble. I don’t think you’d have to be a feminist to think this way (much in the way that those mugs say “you don’t have to be mad to work here – but it helps!”).
One of the porters asked me out a few days ago. He’s not exactly a regular member of staff, but he’s a temporary worker and the porters that he is covering for haven’t been in to work for at least a month, so he’s somewhere in between, really.
I thought he was asking me for a pen at first, because that’s all that the porters ever ask me for. Don’t ask me why, because I ordered a box of 50 from our stationary department and within a couple of weeks they’d all gone. They must eat them or something.
Anyway, it turned out he wanted my number. And my response, without really thinking about it, was “I don’t think my husband would like that”.
Which irritated me anyway, because I dislike implying that I’m somehow at the beck and call of the big strong Alpha Male in my life.
But, regardless of my feminist sensibilities, it made him back off pretty effectively.
And then, today, as I was sorting the laundry (pretty good feminist I’m making today, huh?!), we had the following conversation:
Him [almost inaudibly]: why did you lie to me?
Me [briskly]: hmmm? What?
Him [louder]: I think you lied to me [pointing to ring] – I’m not convinced
Me [more brusque than brisk now!]: Good for you. Whether you believe me or not is your choice. As it happens, I was telling the truth. But I’m not going to argue. And you’ll never get a date if you accuse women of lying.
Him [sullenly]: I’m not really a porter. I’m a student.
Me [cheerfully]: That’s nice. I hope to be a student myself soon. But I already have a man in my life, and I don’t need another one. It would take up far too much of my time, and neither of them would like it.
Him:….. [preparing to leave]
Me: Good night. Have a nice evening.
Now, I know that legally I’m not in fact married. I’m engaged, and an engagement in legal terms – well, I’m not sure, but I don’t think it counts for much. But you know, in my head, I may as well be married. And he annoyed me by the accusation of lying.
So, what he was hoping for? I mean, if he thinks I’m making up a husband, there’s only one reason for that, and it’s because I don’t want to go out with him.
Calling me a liar after that is not going to get a grovelling apology, and nor is it going to make me spread my legs. Funny that.
Perhaps he hadn’t thought it through, or just wanted my attention, or got off on arguments, or something. Goodness knows. Please, though, if anybody can explain that kind of behavior – let me know. I’d be fascinated!
And lastly, continuing the work theme:
Today I was asked to look for some invoices. The task itself seemed pretty damned stupid to me, but not nearly as stupid as it got when I tried to carry it out.
I went to see our finance man, S. He had some, but not all, because I needed them dating back to the start of 2006. So he told me I’d have to look in the archived forms. They live in the basement. I have never been to the basement. He called a guy, P, to show me where they were kept. P reminded him that you need a key to get into that particular store. S phoned A – one of the managers – to ask for the key. It was lunchtime, so A was in the staff restaurant (there has to be a visible management presence at lunch, in case anything happens). I went to the staff restaurant to find A. He could not find the key, but told me he didn’t think it needed a key anyway. So I went back and P and S took me down to the store, which was locked. S called A to inform him that it did indeed need a key. A realised that he’d been thinking about a different store and had had the key all along. P and S went back upstairs – S to do the work he actually needed to do, P to get the key. P returned, and we battled boxes of plastic glasses, pinatas, an old ice cream freezer and the Irish flag to get to the archive boxes. We searched through all 24 and found…. nothing that I needed.
I gave up, went back to my work, and at half past two was finally able to tell my chef that I couldn’t find the information. He called S to ask him to help me search. S promised to find me. He didn’t. At four o’clock, I was finally told not to worry, and that it didn’t matter that much anyway.
It was made worse by the fact that nobody knew what I meant when I talked about a sign that said “beware of the leopard”. For the uninitiated, this is a reference to The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy, and for the sake of humour, and because I don’t want to end my post with “aaaaaaargh”, I’m repeating it here:
* Arthur Dent has woken up to find that his house is about to be demolished. He is now lying in the mud in front of his house to prevent this, and arguing with the head of the demolition squad*
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying beware of the leopard.“
Once again, that pinnacle of education and information, Sky News, has its priorities just right.
To accompany my two thickly buttered bagels for breakfast, the news that even though a recent study of twins has shown that being overweight is over 3/4 to do with your genes (if anyone else wants to shout, as I did, “No! You think?!” – go to Shapely Prose, where they do it brilliantly well!) – that is no excuse for getting fat.
Yes, you might be very genetically predisposed towards being fat – as you might be at higher risk of cancer, or diabetes, or indeed having twin babies – but that doesn’t mean you can just relax! You must stay thin, and cancer free, and diabetes free, and have no babies, just in case they turn out to be twins.
Actually, no – have the twin babies, and then we can race them, and see if a “winning streak” is down to your genes.
And, as a second thought, something I have been pondering.
Kirsten has lent me The Beauty Myth (by Naomi Wolf).
I can’t bring myself to read it in more than short bursts, because it feels very close to home and suppressing the rage makes my head hurt.
Anyway, leaving that aside, she talks a lot about clothes, and work clothes, in relation mainly to women. As you might expect.
One of the points she made runs something along the lines that women are at a disadvantage because, whereas men have a clearly defined work uniform (suits, or at least suit trousers, together with a collared shirt, and a tie as optional), women do not, and where the default setting for professional is male, and therefore uniform, to not have a uniform singles you out as less professional.
At least, I think that’s what she meant. I am paraphrasing, and don’t have the book in front of me.
So, I had a thought. A second thought, even.
Should company dress codes give trousers as the only option?
Technically, I suppose, one could argue that it is sexist to allow women to wear more casual clothes to work than men. Not that men would say that too loudly, in case it looked like they were advocating men wearing skirts, which is something only for women. Which would be bad and wrong, because remember, if you are a woman, you are less than a man.
But I have heard men complaining about it, quietly.
As it happens, I have always worn black trousers to work. In two of my three jobs, I have been required to wear trousers. In the other, at the shop, a skirt would have restricted my movement, impeded me in my work, and also, completely separately, annoyed the hell out of me.
So. Women being required to wear trousers. Is this right? Is it even legal? And what about the women who like having their legs shackled together, and who feel capable of getting through the day without laddering a pair of tights? I think we should be told!
It’s not something that features heavily on this site, or rather, my real world, my personal world, doesn’t.
For a start, not many people want to know about it.
And also, I don’t really want to tell about it.
But hey, things are happening, and although they’re not really A Second Thought related, giving a quick overview does at least explain why I’m not having so many second thoughts right now. As it were. So, on my agenda at the moment:
- My appraisal at work. I have to fill in a form, then we talk about it. Apparently it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that a nice, pretty, typed-up account of the meeting makes its way to me. But as I am the administrator, I’ll most likely be typing it myself.
- My UCAS application. This – hopefully – takes me to university. I want to be one of those elusive beasts, a woman who can both communicate and count. A person who can communicate and count is like finding a dog that can speak – very rare. A woman who will admit to being able to count is like finding a dog that can speak Norwegian – even rarer. (To bastardise yet another wonderful Blackadder quote!)
- My forthcoming interview in a Good Northern Uni. In a little over a month’s time, I have to be in the position I was when I was actually studying for my A-levels. In other words, I have maths revision to do.
- My ever-increasing dress size. (And why, why is it still a ‘dress’ size? I don’t wear dresses. Grrr.) I wholeheartedly advocate Health At Every Size. But when a) your trousers split, b) you begin to wonder if you could be pregnant and c) you work out you’re not actually moving very much, I’d say that’s a good time to join a gym and start swimming. (I’m not pregnant, by the way. I checked.)
- Three new books, because I found a book voucher. One about Anne Boleyn, because I love my historical novels, and especially about that period, another about a woman’s experience of life in post-invasion Afghanistan, because it was all about Teh Wimmynz and we’ve gotta love that, and one called The Abstinence Teacher, about the Christian Right in America. Strangely enough, that little collection just about sums me up. But I should think more about that another time.
If I do happen to have any second thoughts, rest assured I will blog, because I really don’t want to become one of the many sad blogs now on “hiatus” – for the last two years! In the meantime, though, mundane things like my washing machine are beckoning to me, in a rather disturbing join us… kind of a way!