Saturday, 26 July 2014

Shouldering Some Weight


It's a Man's World...

Being a woman in an all-male environment is tough.

I was brought up in an all-female house.  My mum, my sister and me - so it was always going to be hard to live amongst the guys.

We weren't 'typical' females though.  Oh no.

Part of the deal about being in an all-female house is that there are no stereotypical 'male' and 'female' roles.  Indeed, our mantra in our house was always, and I mean ALWAYS 'I'm just as good as any guy and I can do it too.'

And we did.

We took out the bins, we put up shelves, we all helped to paint our rooms when we moved house, we were shown by my mum how to lay carpet, how to do basic DIY and how to craft, hang a mirror, fix a leaking tap.  The things I know about cars, machinery and basic medical problems are so innate - it's as common knowledge in our family as how to breathe.

I wouldn't thinks twice about stuff like 'female safety', or 'female roles' or any of that utter bullshit.  I kept myself safe as a person, never thought about how my vagina might make me more vulnerable or how it might stop me from changing a light bulb.  My problems were never really exclusively female.  Until I started dabbling in the adult world.

It never clicked on for me until quite late on - as a young woman I worked three jobs, walked home on my own at night and drank pints of lager because I bloody liked them, and never had a quandry about it.

When I started to live with my boyfriend (who is now my husband), I never broke on any of these things.  I still carried on, business as usual - indeed he looked to me to hang the shelves, fix the washing machine and cut the grass, purely because he didn't know how.  And he would never have been pig-headed enough to claim he did.

He knew the difference between taking the bags from me because I was a woman and just taking his share of the load because he is bigger and stronger than me.  But he would never dream of patronising or hindering my motivation.  If he had we would never have ended up together.

But sadly, not all are like him.

As is the case with a lot of girls and women who have grown up in all-female homes, I began to crave a more male environment.  For some reason I was more comfortable here.  Whether I was hankering for missed male moments or I just simply didn't register with more feminine groups of girls, that is subjective.

In these male environments, I was more comfortable, yes.  But it was here that I also found my challenges and my anger.

I took jobs in bars, and as a physically small, yet surprisingly strong person, I took great joy in exercising my ability to lift full beer kegs around the cellar, or carry boxes of beer up from the cellar and across the bar, in front of my male colleagues, who would only lift half of what I forced myself to carry.

Why did I do this?

I guess I was trying to prove myself.

It is especially tough, as a small, young-looking female, to pull weight with the guys if you can't, well, you know, pull weight with the guys.

So I made sure I could.  And I did.

I also put up with a lot of sexist banter, drunken flattery from older male customers and some pretty lewd comments.  And never thought twice about it really - those were guys.  This was how they acted, right?

I never fit in with girly groups.  My language was always too coarse, I didn't paint my nails (and have no interest in doing so), I use make-up in the most minimal of ways and I find skirts and heels too impractical for the stuff that I have to do every day.  The stuff that I like to do every day.

Yet, I had a yearning to be female too: to be utterly feminine.

I wasn't bad looking - I got a fair bit of male attention - and I enjoyed the sweetness of flirting with the opposite sex. Some guys liked me for my looks. Some, or so they told me anyway, liked my take on the world and loved to talk with me for hours about Philosophy or Art or Literature.  I enjoyed flaunting my female charms and was utterly aware of how to use them.

I also craved female friendships, without really being comfortable in them.  I agonised as much over my relationships with supposed 'friends' who used to never call me back, or openly giggled about me behind my back, or were just  plain mean in front of my face for no discernible reason.

I began to hate female friendships - I found them to be hard work, completely nonsensical in places and found that the undertones were too stressful to maintain; girls have an entirely different way of working and a lot is purely based on subtext, which I neither enjoyed nor embraced.  I liked hanging out with guys - there was never anything too deep or superficial.  For some reason, the majority of dudes just can't even read subtext, which was fine by me.

But here lay the problem.

There was a very strong line between being a strong, powerful female who could huckle grown men out of bars and the sweet lady who would giggle coquettishly at terrible jokes told by potential romancers.

There was an even stronger line between the girl who sat and talked about boys that they fancied with their friends and the girls who hung out with all the guys - apparently girls like that get a name.

And it wasn't nice.

But I didn't even fit the mold of a 'slut'.  So, go figure.

I was literally in no-man's land.

The amount of times I used to cry when I was around 19 or 20, having not fit in with the latest group of girls.

I'd sit with Dave, in my bedroom, comedically sobbing 'Why does nobody like me?  I never fit in!' while he just shook his head and patted my back.

It was awkward.

  I thought I'd found my group at college, but they were really too dramatic (not surprising really - it was a drama course!), then at University I was bowled over by everyone's openness - but again I was slightly too old, I wasn't living in halls, so I didn't get that  group bond. I spent my nights working or hanging out with my flatmates who were my oldest and bestest friends, and I already had a boyfriend, which at that stage in my life was apparently akin to being married off.  The majority being fresh out of school, a lot of them hadn't even kissed a guy, let alone lived with them.  I was already an oddity.

The one time I met a really nice guy in my Uni class and he invited me out for lunch afterwards, he was more than a bit put out when  brought my boyfriend.  I naively didn't realise he was chatting me up - I thought he was trying to be my friend.  I was actually a bit gutted - especially when he slipped off halfway through drinks and then never spoke to me ever again, even in class.

Fast forward around ten years and a shed load of life experience and here I am, the only female in a house full of dudes.  And never has my femininity been more of an issue.

As a mother of two boys and a wife to a pretty laid back and feminist husband, I have had to defend myself over and over again.

Not only have I had to prove myself continuously, but I have to be this strong, powerful female all the time.  I am no longer the young girl shifting ten times her body weight in beer kegs any more, but I certainly feel a lot of weight on my shoulders.

I carry the weight of showing my sons how to be good, honest and equality-aware men.

I carry the weight of proving myself as a working mother.

I carry the weight of challenging stereotypes every goddamned day in front of my children, who are constantly fed all kinds of stereotypocal pish through various channels; the books they read, the cartoons they watch, the colour of the toys they play with and that they see other children play with.  It is my job, and my husband's job to show them that there is no stereotype.  That in this man's world, we can challenge and question and argue and be right and true and honest.  And that it's okay to be strong and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being weak.  And that we can be weak.  And hard.

And that my husband isn't weak for supporting me in this.  And that it's his own idea!

Is he 'under the thumb'?  I must be pushy, a bit of a pain in the ass, a bit too outspoken, a bit

I will carry these weights my whole life.

Ye gads, that load is heavy sometimes.

With age has also come some sort of settlement within myself.  I am no longer fraught when I realise that some girly acquaintances have gotten together over a bottle of wine without me.  I'm safely out of the game, and that's cool by me - it's usually more bother than it's worth anyway.  Nowadays I save myself for old friends and vintage banter - folk who don't care if I speak about the things I speak about, or the fact that I don't like to watch docu-soaps and prefer a nice cold lager or malt whisky over pink wine.

I suppose sometimes I do yearn for close female companionship.  In reality, I really just want a girly friend to hook up with now and again to shoot the shit with.  No matter what anyone says, being female in a house full of guys is hard going sometimes.  and yes, you do need some affirmation from your own kind in some form.

Being Female is a unique and awesome experience.  It is a constant fight, in the sub-texts, in the borders and in the mainstreams of everyday life.  It's proof to your sisters, your brothers and your elders that you have indeed got this.

It's a tough gig.


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  2. What a brilliant post! So refreshing and honest and strong. As someone who did an engineering degree and then worked in construction for many years, for a long time all my close friends were male, I really wasn't very good at being friends with girls! It's only now, at age 40, that I am starting to get better at having female friends!
    I thought I was doing quite a good job with my boys, no 'that's girly' comments from them, their mum is an engineer for goodness sake, but just recently my oldest (and by extension my 5yo too) has started to make comments like that - totally influenced by TV and peers. It's worrying and I'm very aware of it.
    Now, having a daughter too... god, it's tough! We have such a responsibility to get it right, because the ridiculously 'gendered' context we currently live in will only really change if we teach our children not to be like that...
    Fabulous post, thanks so much for linking to #ThePrompt x

  3. Love this post. Such a honest and heartfelt piece.


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