When J first moved in with me, there was a brief phase during which he would come to me to tell me – with some pride – about what he’d done that day. Like, for instance, loading the dishwasher.*
Nine months on, J comes to me to tell me – with a lot of pride** – about what he’s done during the day. Like, for instance, telling one of his (young, male) colleagues that he, J, thought that the sacking of Sky’s football presenter Andy Gray for his off-air sexist remarks was absolutely justified.
According to J, the subsequent discussion about equality involved him asking his colleague – who lives with his parents – whether he did any housework, and why (not)?
This, my friends, is what we call progress.
That, and the beautiful sound of Flatmate hanging up the washing.
*It didn’t take long for him to stop that. Especially when I came in from uni one day and walked into the kitchen with the words, “Hi J, guess what? I’ve just walked in and taken my shoes and coat off, and emptied the washing machine and hung up all the clothes, and then put another load of clothes in to wash, and now I’m saying hello to you, and oh, look, the dishwasher needs emptying so I’ll do that, and once I’ve done that maybe I’ll get round to putting the kettle on, and if you’re really, really lucky, I might even offer you a cup of tea. You can ask me about my day now.”
**He was so pround that he ended his account of the day with “…you could blog that. If you wanted.”
OK. This story begins like this:
Rachel walked into a bar.
It’s kind of like a joke, except for how it quickly turns into a huge wall of WTF?!
She had a couple of drinks, and then went to find the toilets. Eventually, she found three doors.
The first door had a picture of a stick figure in a wheelchair on it, a standard sign that could have been bought from a wholesaler.
The second door had a picture of a toilet hanging on it, lovingly hand-painted with a blue background.
The third door had a picture of a toilet hanging on it, lovingly hand-painted with a pink background.
Because I was (a) a little tipsy and (b) not thinking so much about how much I like pink, it took me a good couple of minutes of staring at the doors in confusion before I realised which one I was meant to use.
This has been your daily dose o’ weird. Remember, don’t take more than your recommended dosage, as this can result in a permanent frown of confusion.
Hey, guess what? Pregnant women are doing it wrong again! I’ve transcribed the interview between John Humphrys and Mike Kelly that forms part of this article, because I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I would say “enjoy”, but, well… you probably won’t.
JH: Eating for two is dangerous. Women have been for generations – forever perhaps – that that’s what they should do when they’re pregnant, but National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says they shouldn’t. Professor Mike Kelly is the institute’s public heath director, good morning to you. Um, why not?
MK: Because if they do, they’re likely to put on more weight than they need to and um produce an obese, er, an obese pregnancy, and that’s very bad for them and very bad for their baby.
JH: But haven’t you got to eat a bit more if there’s another little person inside you munching away as well?
MK: In the third trimester, in the last three months of pregnancy, the woman should be eating about 200 calories a day extra, that amounts to about two pieces of toast and a milky drink, that’s all.
JH: I see. I have this image of pregnant women, who goodness knows have enough problems – some of them anyway, not all of course – but thinking, the one thing I *can* do is a little bit of comfort eating – is it really going to hurt them that much?
MK: Yes it is, the – um. Well, first off, around about 40% of women of childbearing age are already overweight or obese and presenting at our –
JH: [interrupting] – Are they 40% of –
MK: – That’s –
JH: [incredulously] – of women of childbearing age are *obese*?
MK: Overweight and obese.
JH: [skeptically] Mmm, yeah, there is a big difference, isn’t there.
MK: Overweight is a body mass index over 25, and obese over 30.
JH: But I mean, can we put it into very simple terms – if you look at somebody who is, as you say, overweight, do you say “oh my word, that’s a fat person”?
MK: Not necessarily.
JH: Right. So therefore aren’t we getting this a bit out of proportion?
MK: No, not at all. Because it’s um, a direct, um, line, if you like, a ratio, as with each pound that’s put on, the risks increase.
JH: [surprised] Really?
MK: Yes, indeed. And the risks that we need to get people to understand range from miscarriage, subsequently, pre-eclampsia, thromboembolism, gestational diabetes – and that’s very important because the diabetes often continues post-pregnancy, so the woman is becoming diabetic for life potentially. During delivery more pain relief is required, slower wound healing, potential miscarriage, foetal death. The risks are enormous. This is not a minor minor problem, this is a major difficulty. It also of course adds cost because if a woman has to have a caesarian as a consequence of having a larger baby, that’s an additional around about £2000 per delivery. [Emphasis mine, because… wow.]
JH: But I come back to this difference between being obese and overweight. I mean, *clearly*, if somebody is grotesquely overweight, then there are going to be – we can all see that, that’s blindingly obvious, but aren’t we in danger of *scaring* women into thinking “oh my god, I can’t have that extra piece of toast or bar of chocolate or something because I’m gonna put my baby or me at risk”?
MK: What we should be doing is explaining that the amount of extra calories that are required, they’re very small amount and they’re only in the last three months of pregnancy, and that’s why this business of eating for two has to be knocked on the head. What we need to do is make clear that a healthy diet – this is the diet that you or I needs to stay in reasonable shape based on starchy foods, avoiding sugary drinks, drinking plenty of water, avoiding fatty food, all that sort of thing, that’s a healthy diet and that’s what a pregnant woman should eat, that’s what a woman before she gets pregnant should eat and that’s what she should eat afterwards. It’s the standard advice on diet and nutrition that we’ve been giving for forty or thir- forty years or so. Nothing in that regard has changed. The myth about eating for two is one that needs to be knocked on the head, as is the idea that they need to do the same when they’re breasfeeding – they *don’t* – a small amount of extra calories during breastfeeding, the natural bodily processes will take care of it. We need to alert health professionals as much as anybody that this is a significant problem.
JH: Professor Kelly, thank you very much indeed.
I’m a skeptical soul, but I’m also running a temperature, so I’m not about to do any sums for you. Not even to prove how awesome I am. I have, however, found the guidance from NICE, which contained the statistics that Mike Kelly was quoting:
“At the start of pregnancy, 15.6% of women in England are obese (Heslehurst et al. 2010).”
“About half of women of childbearing age are either overweight (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m²) or obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m²) (The NHS Information Centre 2008).”
Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that women who are “obese” have a higher risk of having a caesarian delivery in part because their doctors think they ought to have one because they’re “obese”. Not because they actually needed one.
The problem with having a hotmail account is, simply put, MSN. Usually it makes me angry; today I just rolled my eyes so hard I fear I may have lost an eyeball.
Description: Picture shows part of a screen shot of MSN’s uk website from Tuesday 27th July 2010. A picture of a racially ambiguous woman with brown eyes and straight brown hair fills most of the screen. She is shown from the shoulders up, wearing a white strappy top (I assume) and a white headband, using a hair straightener. To the right is a headline: “Look slimmer instantly” with the tagline “2o ways to look like you’ve lost weight – without diet or exercise“. Underneath are two links, in this order:
- Why do women hate their bodies?
- How to avoid gaining weight on holiday
Oh, MSN. You’re practically a bingo card all by yourself.
(Incidentally, I clicked on the link, so that you didn’t have to go looking for it, and it turns out that the dude who wrote the opinion piece – there go my eyes again! – has begun to see where the problem might lie, which kind of makes it worse:
“Marketers tell men to be fit and strong. They tell women to be beautiful. And when the essence of beauty is an unhealthily skinny supermodel whose wrinkles have been airbrushed away, that’s an impossible ask.
So my advice – and I know it’s easy for me to say – is to ignore them.“
Why, thank you, Captain Obvious. Now, moving on: why do smokers hate their lungs? 870 words later, I have concluded that smokers should just pack in the smoking! Because it’s just that simple!)
Last time I posted, I was just about as dejected as I ever get. (This makes me feel extremely lucky, by the way, because the way I felt then – although grim – was nothing compared to the way I felt when my granddad died, and nothing at all compared to the way some people feel every single day.) But, you know, for somebody who’s not depressed or recently bereaved, I was pretty fucking sad. And angry, too. Don’t forget angry.
It turned out that what I’d decided to do, which boiled down to taking back my space in the flat, both literally and metaphorically, was exactly the right thing to do. I told J what I’m doing, and why, in a conversation in the pub that involved two big gin & tonics and a lot of arm-flailing. And I haven’t told Flatmate at all, because I can’t be arsed to deal with the conversation about self-esteem that will inevitably follow.
(Our house rules are a little unusual:  food is not a moral issue.  your actions do not reflect on your worth as a person. This means that nobody’s allowed to talk about foods being “good” or “bad”, because really, shut the fuck up. And while you can say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. That wasn’t very good of me. Sorry.”, you can’t say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. I am a terrible person.” Flatmate is basically ok with , but has difficulty with .)
I was full of unholy glee as I deliberately ignored the washing machine, J and Flatmate. It was incredibly relaxing to hear and see all of those things that would usually infuriate me being directed at people who weren’t me. And it helped, too, that I’d done a couple of days of paid work. That always makes me feel better, because at the moment I work in a warehouse full of cardboard boxes, which as we all know, are brilliant for taking out your frustration on.
What have I learned from this? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Firstly, I have to work this summer. If I don’t, bad things will happen. But I kind of knew that already.
Secondly, it turns out that the easiest way to get other people to modify their behaviour is to modify your own. Because, you know, I talked with both J and Flatmate on multiple occasions about the housework, my impending exams, and so on. But it’s easy to listen to requests that you change the way you’re behaving, and easier still to listen and then not change your annoying behaviours.
In my case, the behaviour that I modified was the way I was saying what I was saying. By asking, I was giving them the opportunity to ignore me. By telling them, I denied them that option. For instance, asking them to remember that I was studying for my exams and to be considerate of that – that’s easy to nod along to and then forget about. Telling them that because of my exams, I was studying on the desk, that I’d already had dinner and that they’d just have to work around me – that’s impossible to ignore. I was where I said I’d be, doing what I said I’d be doing, and completely ignoring them.
When I say it like this, it seems obvious. And there’s a big bit of me wondering why on earth I ever thought that just asking them to be nice would work. And an even bigger bit of me wondering how I ever managed to take over the clothes washing so comprehensively without any of us noticing. But then I start wandering into the kind of territory where I blame myself because the men I live with weren’t considerate of my stress, and didn’t think in any sensible way about how they could help with that. And that there, that’s not right.
So, I’m just not going to fret. I tried an approach that didn’t work; now I’ve found one that does. Hopefully it’ll start to become a habit for all of us, and then I won’t need to even think about it anymore. Well. I live in hope.
Who would’ve thought it would be so difficult?
Not me, that’s for sure.
It’ll be fine, I thought. J and Flatmate know I’m doing exams; they’ll cut me some slack, I reckoned. I’ve told them that I’m not doing housework, so someone else will do it, I assumed.
The washing built up. And built up some more. And some more. Flatmate went and bought new underwear, but didn’t think to wash the dirty underwear in the basket. J got down to his manky, I-need-to-do-my-washing underwear. I didn’t care. I always have at least two weeks’ worth of clothes. The floor remained grimy. I didn’t care. I walk around barefoot, but I just wiped my dirty feet on the huge pile of dirty washing accumulating on the floor of our bedroom.
J tried to cook new and exciting dinners. Even more excitingly, he tried to make up his own recipes. Those conversations went like this:
J: Can I talk to you about dinner?
Me: [pausing my revision] Sure. What were you thinking of making?
J: Roasted vegetables!
Me: What are you going to serve them with? You can’t have a whole meal made entirely of roasted veg.
J: Um. I don’t know. Paninis?
Me: Ok. Well, you’ll need to go and buy them, then.
J: Should I do something else?
Me: If you don’t want to go to the shops, yes. Why don’t you have a look in these cookery books?
…[some time passes]
J: What about rice?
Me: You could do. There’s some in the cupboard. What are you going to do for protein?
Me: Protein. You know – meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans… protein.
J: Oh. I don’t know. Do you have to have it?
Me: [deciding that the nuances of this argument can wait] Yes. You have to have some protein. I know we don’t have any meat in, so how about you use a tin of kidney beans? You could cook them and mix them in with the rice.
I started to care. I had an exam that afternoon. The discussion about food, and what components you need to make a meal, took up a good couple of hours. True story. J had the right idea – that cooking dinner for me after my stressful exam would be a nice thing to do – but went about it badly; and, to be honest, the thought that I might come home to be presented with a plate full of roasted vegetables, and nothing else, was far more stressful than any exam. Actually, the really stressful bit was the thought that I’d have to appear grateful for it.
I mentioned this conversation to A, a female friend of mine who was also taking the exam that day. She looked at me in horror. “Didn’t anybody ever teach him basic nutrition?”, she responded, shocked.
“No,” I replied bitterly. “Why would anybody think he needed to know? He’s a man.”
These past weeks, I’ve been trying hard to set boundaries, to retain the vestiges of my sanity, or at least to save my emotional energy for fretting that I’ll never get that first that I want so badly. And yet – it feels like squishing a balloon. You can try to make a dent in one place, but all that seems to happen is that the problem pops up somewhere else.
I set a clear boundary that says “I refuse to come home and have to plan and make dinner for all three of us after an entire day of studying and sitting an exam. If you want to eat together, you’ll have to cook for all of us. If not, you’ll have to cook for yourself. And I’ll have a sandwich.” And I end up giving an improptu lesson on the different elements that make up a meal. I might not have done the cooking, but I’ve sure as hell done the thinking. I would’ve thought less if I’d just cooked the damned thing myself, in fact.
Yesterday, J had a day off. I did not, because revision is relentless. J had chosen to clean the floors as his big chore for the week. And he chose to do this in the middle of the day, which made sense, but while I was trying to revise at the kitchen table, which did not make sense. He hoovered around me, and I ignored that, although it isn’t a very sensible way to get the dirt up. But then he tried to mop around me as well. And around every other object in the room – guitar, chair, amp, tea chest – that he hadn’t bothered to move.
I cared. Oh, how I cared. But I had almost no emotional energy left to give. For the first time since he’d arrived five weeks ago, I shouted at him. I felt myself losing my temper. I saw him pouting. Taking it personally. I started losing it faster. When I felt tears of rage in the corners of my eyes, I tried to stop. Turned away. Took deep breaths. Tried to make my body language less aggressive. He didn’t stop being defensive. Didn’t try to listen. I tried to stomp on the rage, but only compounded it.
You’re the one who keeps talking about how high his standards are, I snarled. You’re the one who wanted to mop the floors every week. But you don’t know how to do it properly, do you? No wonder you keep talking about how easy it all is! You only do the easy bits! You’ve lived in a house with carpet your whole life. I’ve had a bedroom with wooden floors since I was ten. And my parents didn’t clean it for me! If you’re going to interrupt MY studying to clean the floors that YOU spilt compost over yesterday, then you will listen to me when I tell you that what you’re doing IS NOT MAKING THE FLOOR ANY FUCKING CLEANER!
In the end, I “helped” him. I refused to let him mop until we’d moved all the moveable furniture out of the room. I showed him how to mop effectively. I refused to move the furniture back in until the floor was clean. Start to finish, it was an hour and a half of prime revision time, gone. I point blank refused to eat dinner with J or Flatmate, even though Flatmate hadn’t done anything wrong, and made myself noodle soup, which took me ten minutes to cook and used only one pan and a wok. And I calmed down by reading the archives of Blue Milk, because there’s something very comforting about knowing that other people have these kinds of arguments too, albeit about different problems. And after they’d eaten and cleared the table, I caught up my lost hour and a half of revision. I stopped at 9 in the evening, when my brain turned to mush.
Now I’ve got nothing left. I’m more emotionally drained than I’ve been for weeks. The straw that broke the camel’s back turned out to be an argument about mopping the floors, of all things. Tonight I’m going to make sure I eat before J and Flatmate get home. I don’t care if I have to eat four meals today, just so long as none of those meals is for anybody except me. I’m home alone today, and even though I’ll do a solid day’s revision, it feels like a holiday. I’ll even commandeer my desk back. J’s been sprawled out there playing on his computer, but today he can’t get there before me. Where negotiation fails, unilateral decisions win. And today, I unilaterally decide that I am the most important person in the house, and this means that everybody else will just have to work around me. J and Flatmate can come home to a dirty kitchen, which I won’t have noticed because I’ll be at the desk, having moved J’s keyboard and mouse to the floor, playing angry girl music, singing to myself and revising.
This is the point at which I stop trying to negotiate for my sanity and start demanding it.
So, one of the things about me that is probably well-known by now is this: styling my hair does not interest me.
I’ve had, oh, maybe four hairstyles in my life:
- The little-girl bob. This is how my mother got my hair cut, because it was all one length apart from the fringe, and she could totally do that herself. Which is why my fringe was always just that little bit wonky. The rest of my hair started out just above my chin and got as far down as my shoulders before being cut off again.
- The “this doesn’t even have a name” long hair style. Which is to say, my hair was one length all over. This is what happened after I grew out my fringe. And it just kept getting longer, because I was lazy about arranging a haircut.
- The “just cut it all off” short hair style. This is what happened when I eventually made that appointment. It went from being half-way down my back to being up above my ears. I looked like a page boy at first, but by progressively getting shorter and shorter styles, it started to look halfway decent sometimes.
- The “I should really get my hair cut” short hair style. This is what happens now. My hair starts off as short as it can actually get cut using scissors, and grows until it’s in my eyes. At which point, I reluctantly head to the hairdressers, for another thrilling installment of….
“I’ll make it a girly cut, shall I?”
Sometimes I think I must have a sign on my head saying “for the love of Ceiling Cat, make this woman feminine!!”
People hear what they want to hear. This is a thing I have learned. It doesn’t matter if I tell them – as I did – that I don’t want to style my hair, that I just want to wash it and ignore it, that I don’t give a fuck about looking feminine, but I do care very much about it going in my eyes… All that this means is that they’ll nod along in that oh-so-understanding way, before saying, “well, why don’t I do you a pixie cut? It’s not very much work, you just need to blow dry it after you’ve washed it, maybe put in a bit of wax…”
And then, then they’re really surprised when I laugh.
Because I don’t own a hairdryer.
Now, this is an epiphany I don’t quite know what to do with.
Fantasy books for women perpetuate a binary that makes no sense: be ordinary, with company, or be extraordinary, alone. Well, I say “ordinary”. I probably mean “feminine”. And I say “extraordinary”, but I probably mean “masculine”.
All those female leads, with no family, no female friends, only one or two men, at least one of whom they invariably end up having sex with…. To only realise now what kind of message that gave me, that it still gives me – well, it feels about as clever as the time I spent half an hour looking for my glasses, only to find them on my face.
I always wanted to be that girl.
Always alone, always the best. Never needing anybody. Especially not other women. I don’t like to write that, but it’s true. Yay for deeply entrenched misogyny. It’s always fun discovering that in yourself.
And only now do I realise that I’m not that girl, that I never was and I never could be. Not only that, but now – now I don’t want to be her anymore.
Evolutionary psychologists would no doubt tell me that I “see dirt” better than any man, regardless of my shortsightedness. But evolutionary psychologists would also tell me that I like the colour pink, possibly because of menstruation, so I think we can safely ignore them.
On the other hand… I do see dirt. When I have my glasses on, I see dirt all the time. I think of it as my cleaning-brain. The one that tells me that I’m a disgrace to femininity. I’m hearing from it more than usual at the moment, actually, because revising at home means that you notice the cleaning that you haven’t done. And we have hard floors (as opposed to carpet) in almost every room. You really notice the dirt when it doesn’t get ground into textiles!
I live with a man. Not a man that I’m in a relationship with – he’s a friend; we have separate bedrooms – but a man nevertheless. And this creates a certain dynamic, whether I like it or not.
For instance, I get very touchy about how much housework we both do, because I don’t want him to revert to a stereotype. I don’t want to have to ask him to “help”, because it’s his flat too. And I don’t want to divide the housework by task, because frankly, I don’t care if he doesn’t like cleaning the bathroom, it’s a life skill that he should know. Likewise, I don’t always want him to do the washing up, partly because I can wash up my own damned plates, and partly because – cynic that I am – I don’t want him to have an excuse to not do other housework.
All of this is making life quite frustrating at the moment. I don’t want to do any more of the housework than I do already, but I keep seeing the dirt. It is a dilemma. Thankfully, not one that I’m spending too much time over. My mother’s excellent example has shown me that in the long run, exerting your willpower over your own cleaning-brain and refusing to do more than your fair share makes for a more equitable household. Even if it does get a bit dusty while the other party works out that there isn’t a magic bathroom-cleaing pixie.
And one 11-year-old girl had done some research (link loads as a powerpoint presentation) into “boy, girl relationships, in other words, a girl and a boy going out with each other”.
The research was really interesting (and a bit sad) in and of itself, as she – a muslim – focussed on attitudes of different religions and found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of children of every religion she sampled, including her own, were disapproving.
But the bit that really made my heart ache was the conclusion:
“I’ve learnt a lot in this research and If I could do another research, I would research about racist bullying. Most schools in England have more white people than any other colour. Some people like to gang up on people and bully them because of their race.”
Yeah. I remember that.