Kitteh break

It has been pointed out to me by several people now that this blog is significantly lacking in kittens. The tagline offers ‘Feminism, Sex Positivity, Classics and Kittens’, and there is certainly a lot of feminism and sex positive musings around, and even occasional references to the classical world. But no kittens. If you know me in real life, you will realise how strange and unusual this is, given that kittens are, like, my favourite thing ever, and I talk about them all the time and spend ages looking at cute pictures of cats doing weird things and even occasionally make mrowing noises when I want a cuddle. But I’ve been trying really hard to think of a way to link them to feminism, and sadly failing. Kittehs are, in most cases, just kittehs.

Anyway, my very close friend Delia (who comments here as Corinna’s Friend – I’ll let her make the classical link, yes I really am that pretentious) saw an impossibly adorable story about a cat on Jezebel, and demanded that I post about it. And given that Jezebel is sort of a fluffy-feminist site (we can argue about that later, if you object to that description), I had absolutely no excuse. Also, the video is, while not the cutest thing I have ever seen on the internet, quite probably the cutest thing I have ever seen human do. And that definitely makes it worth sharing. If you need cheering up, which I definitely have recently, this will do it for you. Behold!

((The Jezebel story is here.))

My closing thoughts on this are that I would almost certainly marry this guy. Anyone who shows so much love and attention towards a pet has exactly the right kind of qualities I’d want in a relationship. Also, I would love for someone to build me a castle of cardboard boxes to play with. Who wouldn’t?

Girlspace: no boys allowed

That last post was depressing, and rather more emotional than I am accustomed to writing. I should probably point out that I’d been trying to write it for about a month, but had been finding it understandably difficult, so most of the sentiment there has calmed down a little. By which I mean, it had calmed down the point where I was able to write about it. In other words, I am fine, but thank you to everyone who sent me their support. And what I wrote still stands, even if it’s not entirely up-to-date.

Now, feminism. One of the wonderful opportunities I’ve had this summer has been the Edinburgh Fringe. For non-Brits out there, this is a 4-week theatre festival held every August in Edinburgh, and basically consists of the am-dram world relocating to Edinburgh for a month, putting on several thousand shows. I went for a week, as a reviewer with a student-run theatre website, which was brilliant because they provided a flat for a us, and finding accommodation during the festival is an absolute nightmare. There were ten of us staying in a shabby but cosy four-bedroom flat, which we used as a base for reviewing. Since we had reviews to write, we all spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen area, lounging on sofas in our pajamas on our laptops, talking about theatre and watching videos of cats on the internet. Blissful.

On the fourth day, I was paired up to review with the only boy in the house. Yes, it was nine girls, one boy. This had been mentioned briefly on the first day, when deciding that he should probably get the single room to himself, but otherwise hadn’t been an issue. He wasn’t the sort of guy to make an issue out of it or make anyone feel awkward – in fact he was ridiculously sweet and mild, and generally great to live with. Quiet though – I hadn’t actually really spoken to him until we were paired up together. We saw a show, and went to a cafe to talk about it and make notes for our reviews. I asked how he was enjoying Edinburgh, and didn’t we have a great dynamic in the house? And he nodded and shuffled and looked vaguely nervous, so I asked what was wrong.

And this boy, this quiet, shy boy, looks at me and asks ‘Is this what girls are like all the time?’.

So I ask what he means, and he explains to me that he’s never really seen girls talking and acting the way we have. He went to an all-boys school, and doesn’t have many female friends because (he admitted) he finds it really hard to talk to girls. Women, to him, were these exotic, almost mythical creatures he’d heard about but hardly had any time to interact with. But living with nine girls in an apartment that was very much a women’s space had given him a perspective he’d never seen before. He’d heard us talking, about, well, everything. Theatre and politics and fashion and sex and relationships and kittens and basically anything else that came into our heads. He’d heard us be frank and direct when talking about sex, about our boyfriends and girlfriends and exes, about the beauty standards we did or didn’t accept. This was the week after I wrote about Assange, so a lot of what we were talking about was that, and rape culture in general, and all the horrible comments various politicians had been making about ‘legitimate rape’ and women making the whole thing up. Oh, and we talked about Fifty Shades Of Grey, and how there has to be better erotica out there. And because there had been nine of us, and because this guy was so quiet, we’d all acted very much like we were in a women-only space.

This isn’t to say this was in any way deliberate. None of us were trying to make him feel awkward or excluded, and once we’d had this conversation I started to make more of an effort to include him. I think the point is more that, because it felt like we were all girls, we instinctively acted in certain way. It wasn’t conscious – I certainly don’t make a decision to behave one way around women, another around men. But once he’d mentioned it, I realised how right he was. And I realised, much as I hate to admit it, how nice that was.

I went to an all-girls school, so for me that kind of environment is normal. I know for others it was strange and suffocating and unnatural, but it just happened to work for me. When I came to uni, living and working and having classes with boys was temporarily the most exciting thing ever, until it became standard. And I thought that was that. But I think about how much I enjoy the dances classes I take where I’m surrounded only by women, and how refreshing that is. I can’t explain quite what it is, but somehow we all seem more relaxed and easy-going than elsewhere. We’re panting and sweating and contorting our bodies into unattractive positions when we warm up, and every non-perfect aspect of our bodies his highlighted by the exercises and the tight dance-clothing, but somehow none of that matters.

I don’t think I act differently around men. Oh, sometimes I’m flirting and hoping that sex is on the cards, but that’s not true for every man I meet (despite what others may think), nor is it really the case in a mixed group. I should be just as relaxed around men as I was in that Edinburgh flat, or in a dance class, but somehow I know I’m not. I’m not saying I dislike male company – I love it – and nor am I blaming my male friends, or implying I’d prefer an all-female environment all the time. But there is a difference, it does affect the way I feel and behave. And I think it affects other women too, in a way that is noticeable to an ‘outsider’ (in this case my fellow-reviewer).

This isn’t really a problem, nor do I intend to offer any kind of solution. It’s just something that made me think, and is interesting only really because I’d never noticed it before. If I’m going to finish on some kind of closing thought, it’s that I am living in a mixed household next year, and I intend to be sitting in the living room in my pajamas, painting my nails while reading feminist articles on the internet. I’m not sure if that proves anything, but it seems like a good way to spend an afternoon.

 

[Post script: I know I am making huge generalisations here, and also being really binary when it comes to gender. This isn’t intentional – I’m trying to describe my own experiences rather than making any kind of definitive point. There are some women I don’t feel comfortable around, some men I treat as if they’re girls, and with my genderqueer friends, it really depends on the person. But in general, this is a difference I have noticed in myself, and I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s point of view on this. I hope that’s an acceptable, if badly-worded explanation.]

Crying over cheesecake

When I was in Year 1, aged six, we had a cake sale at school to raise money for charity. I can’t remember which charity now, but I know that a representative came into our class to talk about all the important work this charity did, and how the money we raised in our cake sale would help people. It might not sound like much, but we were six, and it was all terribly exciting.

My mother offered me a choice as to what to make. We could make chocolate brownies, from pre-prepared brownie mix bought from the supermarket, or we could make cheesecake from scratch. Being a really ambitious six-year-old, I of course chose the cheesecake. The trouble was that cheesecake is pretty difficult to make, and I’m really not great at cooking. My mother did her best, but I was determined to do as much as possible myself, and the result was… well, it tasted good, but it looked pretty unappetising. Sort of soggy and off-white and not properly set. Anyway, I was still spectacularly proud of the fact that I’d made cheesecake, and so I took it into school anyway, hugely excited about the cake sale and all the money I was going to raise for the charity.

Nobody bought any cheesecake. Not a single slice. As the hours passed, I remember feeling desperate and frustrated as other girls were selling cupcakes and biscuits, while my cheesecake remained decidedly unsold. To make it worse, several girls had made brownies from the same mix I’d been offered, which were selling brilliantly. I felt like an absolute failure. Then after the cake sale, that same afternoon, we had to write about it in class. I still vividly remember having tears in my eyes as I wrote ‘nobody wanted to buy my cake, but I didn’t really mind’ in my exercise book. But I didn’t really mind. Even then, I knew this was a stupid thing to get upset about, and that intelligent grown-up girls wouldn’t be crying over it. Not only had I failed at baking and raising money for charity, but I couldn’t even handle that failure.

By the time my mother came home from work that day, I was pretty much hysterical, crying my eyes out, sobbing about how useless I was. I think I threw the entire cheesecake away, even though it tasted good, because I didn’t want a reminder of my failure. Thinking back, she must have been utterly at a loss as to what to do with me. After all, she couldn’t have magically forced people to buy it, even if I hadn’t thrown it out, nor could she go back in time and persuade me to make the brownies instead. I think that may have been the first time I was upset about something that my mother couldn’t fix, which if you think about it is a pretty big deal when you’re a kid and parents are omnipotent. And in addition to that, my mother must have known, deep down, that I was more upset than I ought to be about it, and that most children probably wouldn’t be so agonisingly disappointed about a cake sale. I kept repeating how sorry I was for crying, that I knew it was a stupid tiny thing, and that I wanted to be able to let it go but just couldn’t.

And then my mother did something that I will never forget. She drew me a graph with a wavy line, and explained that this was how most people live their lives, with emotions going up and down gently. Then she got a different colour pen, and drew another line. This one had a much greater amplitude (not that I could have explained it that way at the time), and was a lot spikier. My mother explained that this line was for my emotions, that would sometimes be a lot stronger than the average, and so would feel more intense than they were ‘meant’ to be. I tearfully said that I didn’t want to feel this disappointment so strongly, I wanted to be normal. And she explained that unfortunately it wasn’t something I could change, that I’d always be that way, and that there would be times when I would be hurt by something far worse than rejected cheesecake, and would feel like this. But she said that the flip-side was that I’d also be able to feel positive emotions so intensely it would make up for it. And she told me to embrace it, and to never feel like there was something wrong with me for feeling so strongly. And then I think we had ice cream and never mentioned the cheesecake again.

I mention this now because my mother was right. I have always felt everything incredibly strongly. I didn’t realise when I was six that she was talking about love, and about getting rejected, and having my heart broken. (Six-year-olds generally don’t understand these sorts of things.) And while I don’t necessarily think that I feel more strongly than is ‘average’ or ‘normal’, I do think I feel a lot more strongly than society tells me I’m meant to. Maybe most people are this way, but we’re all too afraid to admit it. Because recently I have been devastatingly upset. I have felt like I’m breaking, that the world is falling away from me, that everything I’ve ever believed has shattered. And what’s worse, I know how stupid and clichéd and childish those emotions seem. Emo. Immature. And so I’ve felt utterly humiliated as well, and angry at myself, and like a complete and utter failure.

I’ve been told so many times, in no uncertain terms, that my emotions are irrational, unreasonable, disproportionate, or flat out wrong. As  if any of those words make any sense at all when applied to something like emotion. As if you could be ‘incorrect’ for feeling something.

I’m coping. I’m coping because I know I’ll get through it, and because I can comfort myself with the thought of all the wonderful times I’ve had that were made that much more intense by my ability to feel deeply. And I wouldn’t trade that intensity for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother drawing me that graph, though I doubt she’d even remember it now. Because at the moment, I’m a little girl crying because nobody wanted her cheesecake. And I have to believe, deep down, that that’s an okay thing to be.