I need feminism because EVERYTHING

So recently my university has been taking part in a nationwide campaign run by student unions (though I think it started as a tumblr), where people of all genders are photographed holding up signs that say ‘I need feminism because…’, and filled out however they like. (My sister’s university also took part a month ago, and it made me insanely excited to hear her talking about how inspired she’d been.) The tumblr is here, and I’ve been following it for a while, but it was really fantastic to actually be out there doing it, and seeing people I knew taking part as well. There are dozens of things I could have said, but I couldn’t write all of them, and so since I still don’t have time to do a post on any proper topics, I thought I’d jot down a few of things I definitely wanted to say. Oh, and the series as a whole is brilliant, with lots of people being far more powerful and inspiring and articulate and hilarious than me, so I would definitely recommend taking a look. Okay, here goes.

I need feminism because wanting to be treated like a person does not make me ‘crazy’.

I need feminism because she was never ‘asking for it’.

I need feminism because you can make your own damn sandwich.

I need feminism because men are ‘players’, but women are ‘sluts’.

I need feminism because I said no and he didn’t stop.

I need feminism because your ‘intellectual debate’ is my real life.

I need feminism because my sexual orientation is not for anyone’s entertainment.

I need feminism because I love sex, and won’t be made to apologise for it.

I need feminism because I am more than a sex object.

I need feminism because people like this still exist.

I need feminism because my right to choose is not up for debate.

I need feminism because feminist men are better in bed.

I need feminism because someone else’s gender identity is no one’s business but their own.

I need feminism because I wear short skirts and corsets for me, not for anyone else.

I need feminism because I won’t always be there to protect my little sister.

I need feminism because ‘almost equal’ isn’t good enough.

I need feminism because I still need to remind myself to check my privilege.

I need feminism because I don’t know if I want children.

I need feminism because it shouldn’t be controversial not to shave or wax.

I need feminism because I know men too afraid of being mocked to call themselves feminists.

I need feminism because there are so many people out there who think it’s irrelevant.

I need feminism because I care.

I need feminism because I expect more.

I need feminism because I haven’t given up yet.

That rare and exotic creature: the feminist man

Aaaaand it’s the holidays, everyone breathe. I am becoming reacquainted with a long-lost friend, sleep, and with a host of terrible TV shows offered on iplayer. It is wonderful. Happy holidays to everyone, and I hope that you all get the rest that you deserve. Short days (dark at 4pm – what is this madness?!) and weather that freezes my ears make me hate this time of year, so it’s good to remember that there are some benefits.

I never did find out what happened with Icarus and Mystery-Girl, but sadly I think he probably didn’t take my advice to just ask her what was going on. People seldom do. Maybe sex-positive communicative feminism is just too extreme and hardcore for the world to handle. Or maybe my friends are afraid of becoming sexually frustrated bloggers who chronicle their lives on the internet in order to avoid the harsh truths of reality. Which would be fair enough. I sympathise either way.

Anyway. Some of you might remember Leander, an absolutely awesome guy I was seeing last year, and who remains one of my closest friends. Leander has had a wonderful girlfriend since February, and they have the sort of healthy, communicative relationship I keep going on about. He is also still a passionate feminist and addicted to the progressive blogosphere, which is one reason why I love him. This can sometimes surprise people, since Leander is a straight white male (or ostensibly straight, at any rate), who went to a posh school and has professional upper-middle-class parents. In other words, he’s basically the poser child for privilege.

This has a couple of interesting outcomes. For one thing, people tend to listen to him a lot more than they ever do to me, because while I am either a crazy man-hating feminist or an irrational and hysterical woman, Leander is a calm, reasonable man who talks sense. Even when we are making the exact same arguments about the exact same topics. This is often frustrating for me, but it’s not his fault he’s more persuasive, and really, I should be happy that he’s out there making an impact. Any way to win battles, and all that.

But I don’t think I ever realised the flip-side of this until about a week ago, when Leander posted a general acknowledgment on facebook that he is proud to call himself a feminist, because he believes that men and women are equals, and doesn’t see why other people who believe this wouldn’t want to be called feminists. It was, in my opinion, a nice gesture, but nothing particularly loaded or provocative. I post about abortion and rape apologia and sexism all the time, usually in response to news stories, so this didn’t seem that shocking in comparison.

The responses he got astounded me. One was a genuine concern from a black female friend that the term ‘feminism’ has a problematic history for non-white women, which is why she prefers not to use it, and I can appreciate that. But the rest? It was like someone had unleashed the Men’s Rights Brigade. Immediately there were comments about Bad Feminists, the kind who actively discriminate against men and think all men are rapists and want to castrate them all. When Leander pointed out that these are a tiny minority (if they even exist) and that every group has its fringe extremists but that these don’t speak for the entire group, he was called out for being a hypocrite. Sexism is widespread and mainstream in our society (check any article on rape or on the appointment of a woman in a position of power for some instant evidence), but apparently it’s more important to criticise radical straw-feminists than to fix any of that. Until the movement is perfect, no one should identify with it at all. Or… something like that.

Now, these aren’t new arguments, much as their proponents might think we’re all hearing them for the first time. I’ve lost count of the number of times ‘well-meaning’ guys have approached me with horror stories about Things Feminists Have Said, expecting me to either justify extreme anti-male prejudice or admit that I’m not a real feminist because I disagree. But usually it comes out of some previous discussion, not out of the blue. These were people – men, I should add – reacting to a simple statement of support for women with shock and horror, as if Leander had said he believed passionately in killing kittens.

It’s not that I don’t get negative replies to what I say and write – I do – but somehow this felt different. Leander didn’t get dismissed as irrational, or have anyone patronise him by trying to explain ‘logically’ why he was incorrect, which is the most common response to me. His gender and his privilege protected him from that, but also added to the shock these commenters clearly felt. It was as if they’d latched onto the fact that one of their own was turning against them, and come out in force to bring him back in line. People who argue against me, however much they disagree, can usually understand where I’m coming from, even if that understanding only goes as far as ‘she’s a woman and she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about’. Not so with Leander. When I reread those comments, I can sense the confusion. Why on earth is a straight white guy like Leander supporting all this womanly nonsense?

And if the feminist-equals-woman link wasn’t clear enough, someone even commented with: ‘Don’t listen to haters Leander. You’re a strong independent woman!’. Because supporting equality for women, supporting an ideology that takes privilege away from those who have historically always had it, means you must be a woman, or at least gay and effeminate. That’s why Real Men don’t listen to feminism.

Leander is one of the most amazing guys I know, because he has such privilege, and instead of trying to cling on to it and refusing to see that he has it, he recognises it, and actively tries to make a difference. I hate everything about the assertion that men who do this aren’t masculine enough, from the gender-binary element of that idea to the way it automatically implies that being feminine or womanly is undesirable. But if we have to have it, then I want it on record that Leander is the realist Real Man I know, and I wish I knew more guys like him.

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.]

A lesson in ‘value’

Exams are over, and I am between hangovers. Let’s talk about sex.

Specifically, let’s talk about one particular night of sex, just before one particular hangover. Not even the sex, actually, but the night that preceded it. Or rather, one particularly conversation that night.

Confused? Okay, me too. Let’s start again. There have been parties, and drinking, and flirtation, and basically lots of fun all round. And so I find myself at one such gathering, getting slightly tipsy, and being seduced by someone I know to be a shameless womaniser. He is buying me drinks, and I am alternating between flirting coyly and being outrageously forward. It feels good to be able to relax like this again, and not have to worry about getting up early the next day to go to the library. The fact that this guy  has a bit of a ‘reputation’ just makes it more fun. I know what he’s like, and I know I can get what I want without too much trouble afterwards. He seems to have come to the same conclusion. Plus he is effortlessly charming. It’s all good.

At some stage in the evening, he is off getting drinks or talking to someone else or something, and one of his friends comes up to me. This is another guy I know quite well, someone I’d definitely consider a friend, but wouldn’t invite out for coffee. He sits down next to me, takes my hand, and says ‘Whatever your problems are, he’s not going to solve them’.

I laugh, nervously. I’m tispy, and not necessarily at my best for judging tone. I tell him I don’t have any problems, and lightly ask if it’s that obvious. He says ‘blindingly’. He goes on to tell me how this guy really isn’t all he makes out. I mutter something about being able to look after myself, really, and wander off to talk to someone else. There is dancing (I like dancing). I am bought tequila (I don’t like tequila, but I drink it anyway, for the head-rush). More flirtation with the charming womaniser. It is decided at this point that we will be going home together. I approve of this. It is, after all, what I came for.

At some point I wander outside to get some air. His friend is there again. Preemptively, I tell him that I appreciate his concern, but I’m not that innocent, really. He sighs, and takes  me by the shoulders, looks at me sadly, and tells me ‘you ought to value yourself more than this’.

Let me say that again. You ought to value yourself more than this. Because going home with someone who clearly isn’t relationship material isn’t valuing myself. In fact, it’s devaluing me. Sleeping with someone I want and who wants me would make me less valuable a person. Think about that for a moment. Think about all the bullshit and double-standards and sex negativity that goes into a statement like that, presumably intended as friendly advice. Think about the world in which we live, where something so downright insulting is considered not only acceptable, but a sign that someone apparently cares about you and wants to help.

Every time I think I’ve worked through my insecurities and shame about sex, something like this happens to remind me that to some people, people I know and trust and like, the fact that I want to sleep with someone who has no intention of dating me is a matter for concern. It’s something I need to be protected from, warned against, because I can’t possibly be making my own decisions. No girl would actually choose to go home with a guy like that.

I note, a little bitterly, that no one felt the need to warn him about me. I’m hardly relationship material either, and I have a reputation of my own, but sleeping with me is unlikely to devalue any man. At any rate, I went home with him all the same, and we had a lovely night together. Easy, casual, surprisingly fun sex, which ended on friendly terms. Exactly (and I mean exactly) what I was after.

So I’m happy. Disillusioned with the world, perhaps, or maybe just disappointed, but happy. Exams are over, and I am going to have fun. And much as I hate to admit it, I know that he really did mean well, and that if he knew how furious that comment would make me, he’d be shocked and upset. But damn it, can’t a girl get laid around here without the world judging her for devaluing herself?!

…No one answer that.

The bitter aftertaste of too many lovehearts

Only two days to go before Valentine’s Day! You see, I have a feminist blog, and I feel that what the feminist blogosphere really needs right now is another post on how ridiculous Valentine’s Day is. Not really. But I have thoughts on this, and no time like the present, so I’m going for it. If you wish to discount this post as just another single lady whinging about being alone on February 14th, feel free to skip it. Everyone else, it’s good to have you on board.

I have been in and out of a variety of relationships for over six years now, and I have never had a date on the infamous Valentine’s Day. This is for a number of reasons: I wasn’t actually anyone’s ‘girlfriend’ for quite a long time, and the casual on-and-off relationships I had didn’t really lend themselves to this Hallmark holiday. Last year, when I was in a committed exclusive relationship (not that this is to be valued any higher than any other relationship), I worked a barshift on Valentine’s Day, while my boyfriend was on a business trip overseas. The best thing I have ever done on February 14th is to go ice-climbing up a frozen waterfall, while on holiday in Switzerland with my parents. This was fucking awesome. Seriously, it is one of the most incredible and terrifying things I have ever done, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think any other Valentine’s Day could possibly live up to it. It’s hard to argue with a frozen waterfall.

I’m not one of those people who hates the occasion, who thinks it’s all just a commercialistic excuse for card companies to make a fortune. I’m fairly sure that everyone thinks this deep down, but I know how it all ceases to matter when you’re with the person you love. Just like that new couple in their honeymoon phase is the most nauseating thing ever, but when it’s you, calling each other pet names and kissing in public just feels perfectly natural. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a specific date to show someone how much you care about them, although I’m a little dubious about that date being the same for everyone. (Personally, I find anniversaries much more important, but who says it has to just be one day?) And if you want to spend money and go out on a lovely date, then again, I’m happy for you. Just because the card companies are making a fortune out of it, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be happy. (They make a fortune out of Christmas cards too, but no one is suggesting we ignore Christmas.)

What I really dislike is the mad frenzy to find a date. All the sitcoms and pop culture show a sad, unhealthy view of this holiday, where single women cry and are snapped up by pick-up artists on the prowl for some easy prey, while women with partners stress about it not being special enough. If Valentine’s Day is about spending time with someone you love, then dating a stranger for the night just seems a little pointless (and this is coming from a girl who enjoys dating strangers). And similarly, if you and your partner really do love each other, it shouldn’t matter what you do, if you can’t afford that meal in a fancy restaurant or don’t want to spend money on the perfect card. My best friend and her boyfriend are doing Valentine’s Day for 35p each this year, and I think that’s beautifully romantic. (I have suggested that she buys him an onion, complete with this poem.) Alexander and I went out the weekend after, and had a lovely dinner for prices that hadn’t been raised extortionately for that one special day.

I also have an issue with the idea that grand gestures can fix an unhealthy relationship. If your partner doesn’t care about you for the rest of the year, if they forget the things that are important to you and don’t make the time you feel your relationship needs, then why should one ‘perfect’ night change any of that? I would much rather have someone who treated me with respect all year round than someone who felt a card and some chocolates could make up for a year of disappointment. And the idea that it’s men who will give presents to women, in return for sex that is perhaps kinkier or more adventurous than usual is also total bullshit. Sex should be something awesome that you do (or don’t do, if you’re not a couple with a high sex drive) all the time, not something that needs to be bought or bartered for.

Then there’s the hierarchy of relationship that Valentine’s Day inevitably evokes. At the top, monogamous heterosexual couples, followed by gay couples, as long as they’re doing something suitably traditional. But what about people in open relationships? Or threesome situations? Or casually seeing each other? Or in the first tentative stages of a relationship where doing something for Valentine’s Day seem a bit over the top? What about me, in my series of ridiculously complicated situations? My style of dating and sex just doesn’t fit with the standard Valentine’s Day dynamic, and I’m mostly okay with that. I think if you’re with someone you really care about and you want to celebrate, then it can be lovely to have a special occasion to do that. But if you’re not, it doesn’t make you or your indefinable unconventional relationship any kind of failure. There isn’t a card that says ‘I like fucking you and I hope to continue doing so, along with various other people’, and maybe that’s a good thing! Not all things can be printed on cards with cute little messages. Not everyone likes flowers and chocolates, just like not everyone likes bondage and erotic asphyxiation. But I’d never call anyone a failure because of it.

So what will I be doing on Valentine’s Day then? Well, I’ve got a two-hour dance class, and then I’m heading off to the theatre bar with a group of friends, and we are going to drink G&Ts and sing songs from musicals. And the next day, we will all still be happy, successful, sexually confident people, whose lives don’t quite fit with the pink heart scenario right at this moment. Maybe next year, maybe not next year. I don’t need an anonymous card to know that I’m sexy and desirable, and I’m sorry, but if you need to mark this day somehow to be sure that your partner really loves you, then maybe your relationship needs some work.

As Holly Pervocracy put it so beautifully, I don’t need you, I want you is one of the sexiest things you can hear. And I hope to be hearing it a lot.

If I’m making you uncomfortable now, you probably can’t handle what I’ve got in mind later

Okay, so I sort of abandoned this blog for two weeks or so. I didn’t mean to! But I was doing another show (a one-woman-play written and acted in by a very close friend of mine, which was utterly brilliant), and then it was the end of term and I had to finish my dissertation, and then I found out that my application to direct a play next term had been accepted, so I immediately had to finish writing the script and start holding auditions and trying to get funding for that (which, by the way, we still don’t have). All in all, it has been an extremely manic few weeks, and I haven’t really had a chance to sit down with my laptop and write. Oh, and speaking of my laptop, I spilt tea on it a week ago, and it now kernel panics a couple of times a day, which means I am constantly losing work. (It just did it again now.) But despite all that, I have feminist sex positive things to say (and then that gender post to write). So here goes.

The threesome I had in mind, that I mentioned a while ago, did not happen. And I am pleased that it didn’t happen, because the cute thesp guy (who has assumed the pseudonym Caelius) was clearly confused and uncertain about a lot of stuff, so that when we talked and he gave me a polite but firm ‘no thank you’, I knew that it was probably for the best. He is still lovely and a great friend, and I’m pleased that we even got to the point of considering it. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is, my method of asking someone out, whether it’s for coffee or a romantic dinner or a night of passionate casual sex, is notably direct and forward. There are ‘games’ that women are meant to play when it comes to this, that you see in ever sit-com or drama or romantic comedy. The ‘playing hard to get’. The ‘do you think he likes me?’. The ‘I can’t do that or I’ll look like a slut!’. One of my friends has a formula: she’ll fall for a guy, go out for coffee with him, then refuse to talk or contact him in any way, because ‘then he’ll just think I’m desperate! Besides, I don’t think he likes me in that way’. The result? She gets a lot of coffee-dates with nice men, who she rarely sees again, because she never contacts them, and even if they contact her first, she’ll play it so unbelievably cool that it looks like she has no interest in them whatsoever.

If that works for her, then fine, but it sure as hell doesn’t work for me. My first words ever to Alexander were: ‘Hi, I’m Electra’s crazy ex-girlfriend, and I’m quite tipsy and having a really rough night, so if you wanted to take advantage of me I totally wouldn’t say no’. (As it happens, he politely refused this offer, and it wasn’t til a week later that we ended up in bed.) My standard pick-up-line if I’m in a bar and have been dancing with a girl I like is usually ‘I think you’re gorgeous, and I would really love to take you home’. And one of the reasons Leander and I get on so well is that when we ended up cuddled on a sofa after a truly exhausting day, even though we didn’t know each other that well, we had the following exchange:

Him: I’m sorry if this sounds really inappropriate, but are you and I going to end up having sex at some point in the next few days?
Me: Yes.
Him: Cool.

So you see, my methods are not exactly subtle. And while it certainly doesn’t work every time (I propositioned Caelius with similar directness), and I’m not saying it’s right for everyone, it tends to suit me well. I don’t have to play games of pretending I don’t like someone when I do, of mentally censoring myself so I don’t appear too promiscuous, of trying to send secret signs with body language rather than simply saying ‘I think you’re awesome and incredibly hot’. If you add to that the fact that I talk about my sexual opinions and experiences as openly in real life as I do on this blog, this gives me a certain reputation. And I don’t mind that, because while I would never want anyone to feel awkward or pressured because of what I say, I don’t want to waste my time trying to sooth people who would be ‘scared off’ by me and my attitudes towards sexuality. Which is why the following story pisses me off so much.

I was in the theatre bar (where, it seems, I spend the vast majority of my evenings – G&Ts for £2.20!), and Caelius was there, as was his friend Atratinus, who I have also flirted with a bit. Atratinus has a reputation in the theatre for being (and I hate this term) a ‘man-whore’. This is probably because he appears shirtless in almost every play he has ever been in (and he does look great without a shirt), because no one actually knows anyone who has actually slept with him. Not that this means anything, or even that it would be a bad thing if it did, but over the years I have got the impression from him that he likes to pretend he’s a lot more experienced than he actually is, because he likes the attention. Again, just my opinion, and certainly not a bad thing. But we’re in the bar together, and somehow we end up talking, and I say something mildly flirtatious (because that’s what I do), and he laughs and tells me he knows what happened with Caelius. And I shrug and smile and say it was his loss, and that’s the end of it.

Except then Atrantinus tells me I’m too forward. That I scare guys off. That I throw my sexuality around to the point where everyone thinks I’ll sleep with anyone and have no standards, and of course no guy wants a girl like that. That I’d have had more luck if I’d been subtle. That Caelius doesn’t like forward girls. In short, that if I wasn’t such a slut, I’d have a better chance.

Granted, he didn’t actually say the last part. But it was heavily implied. And it made me furious. Because okay, we were both a bit drunk and we’ve never got on hugely well, but that attitude is one I contend with every day, and genuinely upsets me, even now. As women, we are taught that all men want sex with all women all the time, and that they never want to commit. Using that logic, any guy would be thrilled to have a woman come up to him and offer him no-strings-attached sex. Except when that does happen (and it does – I do it), there’s suddenly this implication that there must be something horribly wrong with this woman. She must be damaged, or desperate, otherwise she wouldn’t be offering something that she’s supposed to hold back until the last possible moment. And why would anyone ever want to sleep with a woman like that?

I don’t mind that Caelius turned me down. In fact, as I said at the beginning, I’m pleased he did. I’d much rather that than if he’d put himself in a position where he was uncomfortable. But I mind that anyone could think I was wrong to ask. I mind that there are still people who feel that I need to play those ridiculous games to be taken seriously, that I am less desirable because I am clear and honest about what I want. Surely any girl who has the confidence to ask directly for sex is more likely to be confident while actually having sex, which leads to more enjoyment for both partners? Or maybe not. Maybe guys like Atratinus  don’t want a girl who knows what she likes in bed, because they’re scared about not being able to live up to it. Maybe they want coy virginal girls (or girls who act coy and virginal) because it’s less threatening, and a girl who is too shy to proposition a guy will be too shy to tell him that he’s not meeting her needs, so he can go on believing he’s fantastic.

I’m sorry, this probably comes across as bitter. And it’s not Atratinus’ fault that what he said hit me so hard. It’s a struggle I face every day as a sexually confident woman, as more and more people tell me that I’d just get along so much better if I hid this side of my personality and pretended, at least initially, that sex means nothing to me. But being honest about my preferences and desires has improved both my sex life and general well-being exponentially, and I’m not going to stop just because some people are scared off by it. Because I really do believe that more honesty means better sex all round, for everyone, and that’s something that’s worth the occasional insulting put-down.

Why I don’t need to be a doctor

I don’t want to be a doctor.

Don’t get me wrong, doctors are amazing people. Saving lives, every single day. Working ridiculous hours to ensure that people get the healthcare that they need. Being part of cutting-edge research that improves the lives of millions of people. Doctors are incredibly important to our society, and I am so grateful that we have them.

But I wouldn’t want to be one.

I would make an absolutely terrible doctor. Seriously. I faint at even the thought of needles, let alone the sight of them. I hate blood and get all queasy if people talk about it too much. I was okay at science at school, and I found some of it quite interesting, but it never inspired me the way literature and history did. I find maths and chemical equations beyond GCSE level difficult (for non-Brits, those are the compulsory exams taken at age sixteen here), and the thought of spending at least six years of my life struggling with them does not appeal.

And lets not forget, being a doctor takes a lot of work, a hell of a lot. I have lots of friends at various stages of the medical process, from first-year medics who are dissecting their first cadaver, to clinical students who actually get to go into hospitals and care for patients. These people work incredibly hard. At my university, if a medic is sick for more than two weeks, they have to take the rest of the year off and restart, because they’re never going to catch up. Personally, I think I work pretty hard at my subject too, but then, I love it. If I wasn’t doing something I enjoyed this much, I would be miserable like, all of the time. So I look at my medic friends and think thank goodness, there are enough people who want to be doctors that people like me, who would hate it and be terrible, don’t have to. I have a huge amount of respect for them, and I certainly value them (especially when I have a cycling accident and break my ribs, or come down with a horrible case of labyrinthitis). But I don’t want to be one.

The thing is (and this is where it gets controversial), being a mother and a housewife is, in my mind, exactly the same thing. Women who choose not to have a standard career but to raise their children and run a household full time can work incredibly hard. They are also caring for other people and devoting their lives to what I think is a very noble calling. And I am genuinely happy for them that they are able to do something they love and enjoy, that benefits other people as well.

I could never be one, but then, that isn’t the point.

All too often in feminism, you see the divide between women who want a ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ role within a family, and woman who want high-powered careers without even the thought of children. One side thinks the other is unfeminine and selfish, and the other thinks their opponents are brainwashed by the Patriarchy, devoid of any kind of choice or personal agency. And that argument hurts both sides. I have no trouble believing that some women really do want to devote their lives to their husbands and children, and I wish them all the best with that. It is not what I personally would choose, but no one is asking me to choose it. I wouldn’t choose to be a doctor, but I don’t judge doctors, or think they’re incapable of making their own decisions. Rather I respect them for doing something that I never could.

Of course, the problem is that women have conventionally been seen as mothers and housewives, so it’s often difficult to tell whether a woman who does fit such a role has chosen it, or has been pressured into it by her family/husband/society. And that’s a difficult situation, and one I can’t condone. But then, you see the same thing with doctors too. So many of my friends, mostly from certain religious or cultural backgrounds, were told in no uncertain terms by their parents that they had to go to medical school. It didn’t matter what they wanted (one, I vividly remember, wanted to study Spanish and Philosophy), they had to be doctors. And my heart goes out to them, because spending seven years in medical school and clinical school if you have no passion for it must be horrible. Yes, they are doing something worthy and noble, but that doesn’t matter if it isn’t a choice.

I should probably reiterate here that the thing that makes being a doctor, or a mother, or a fricking astronaut okay is choice. Choice choice choice choice choice. 

(Incidentally, I know a girl called Lavinia who is in her fourth year of training to be a doctor, whose greatest ambition is to be a mother and have lots of children and give up work to raise them. She is at one of the best universities in the country, for which the competition to get onto the medical programme is fierce. She worked unbelievably hard just to get this far, but she is still ready to move on when she has the opportunity to settle down and have children. I’ll admit, I don’t understand her reasoning at all. She has taken two decisions which are completely alien to me. But she is an intelligent, talented woman, and I respect her enough to trust that she is choosing what she wants. And that’s all that matters.)

There are going to be people who think that being a mother and housewife isn’t even comparable to being a doctor. Doctors are intelligent and hard working and do a job that most people couldn’t cope with. And I say, so? You think being a mother is easy? You think having a tiny human depend on you for every aspect of their life means hours of leisure time? You think organising family life so that everything runs smoothly and there is always food on the table and the house always looks spotless leads to a life of luxury? I couldn’t do it, and I admire women – and, equally importantly, men – who can. If I ever have children, I’m going to want a nanny and a child-minder and a nursery school close by, so that I don’t have to be solely responsible for that kid’s well-being, because that would drive me slowly insane.

Equally, there are going to be people who tell me that women are just better at cooking/cleaning/child-rearing than men, that I’m not a real woman unless I’m a mother, that it’s selfish to put my career first, that my potential children will suffer, that I’ll love it once I actually give birth. No. Some women are better at this stuff than some men. Some women only feel complete when they have children, just like some men desperately want to be fathers. But not me, at least, not yet. And that’s actually a really good thing, because if I have children and give up my life in order to raise them, I will be unhappy and frustrated, which will not make my children happy, or my theoretical husband, or anyone I interact with. And the only person who knows when, if ever, it’s the right time to make that decision is me. Because, you know, I’m the one living it.

With this in mind, I try very hard not to tell people that their decisions are wrong, even if, like Lavinia, I cannot imaging living their lives. That’s okay, because no one is asking me to. I do not judge women who choose not to have careers so they can live like Betty Draper from Mad Men and have the traditional family life they want. That would be like judging someone for choosing to spend their days up to their elbows in blood, performing open-heart surgery. The world needs its mothers, and fathers, just like it needs its doctors. But it also needs its lawyers and teachers and accountants and postmen and writers and artists, and it’s not for me or anyone else to say who should fit it what category.

I’m a feminist. I believe in choice. And that means the choice to do the conventional, as well as the unconventional.

Good luck, Lavinia. I wish you all the best.