Menopause – what I have learned so far….

Following on from my last blogpost calling for older women to step into their power especially at Halloween, I thought it might be time to share some insights into menopause; something that is not talked about as much as it should be.  And perhaps if we ‘women of a certain age’ start talking menopause we would encourage women of all ages to keep talking about all related topics (fertility, periods, childbirth etc) which until recently have been solely the preserve of ‘female conversations’.

Ok, so first off, let me say I am no expert in anything but life.  And so, these top tips are all based solely on my personal experience, thus far!

Top Tip – all women experience menopause differently.  We won’t all suffer the same symptoms so sharing our experiences and our methods of coping are very important.  So please leave a helpful comment after this post if you have something that worked for you that you would like to share.

The heat is ON…. and it’s not the immersion!

I had heard horror stories from some friends who suffered terrible night sweats, sweating so profusely that they had to change nightwear and bed sheets.  Thankfully, thus far this hasn’t been my experience but having spent at least 52 of my 56 years feeling the cold, my body now thinks it’s in the tropics most of the time.  A kind of personal global warming that means I now have a horror of woolly jumpers, even on the coldest days.  And polo necks are for the moment definitely a no no.

So, some top tips for dealing with the heat of menopause are:

  • Wear light fabrics and layers that can easily be removed. Scarves (not woolly) ones are fabulous – the disguise a multitude and also can add warmth around your shoulders should you need it, especially in summer.
  • Make sure your car has functioning air conditioning… my aircon was kaput for a few weeks and I was lucky I didn’t expire in that time. I now travel in the comfort of an ice-cold car.  Not great for passengers but in my car the driver calls it on music and ambient temperature.
  • Bedside fan – although I don’t suffer bad night sweats, during sleep I do tend to go from too hot to too cold thought the night. So, a bedside fan is wonderful for blowing some cool air when you get uncomfortable.
  • Gel Pillow – I am still trying this out but it certainly cools down a hot head. Called Your Sandman Cooling Pillow, this gel insert can be placed inside your pillowcase (on top of your regular pillow) and it is cold, icy cold.  Will help cool you down and I then turn it over if I no longer need it.  It’s a bit heavy and bulky but I am still working out how to best use it and am hoping that it will be a great help when I get my next migraine.  But if you want to try it they are available on Amazon UK.

Gone in the head and not gone in the head.

I have suffered with migraines since my mid thirties when they were usually triggered by stress and often (although not always) by my menstrual cycle.  Since I hit menopause my migraines have come back with a bit of a vengeance and can be very debilitating.  Migraine is, like menopause, something that also affects everyone differently so it is vital to try to work out your personal triggers.

As we get older our bodies ability to deal with alcohol changes too and many of us find that we just can’t tolerate the kind of drinking we may have happily indulged in in earlier decades.  Many of us will find that after drinking even a reasonably modest amount (by Irish standards) we don’t sleep well, suffer heartburn and hangovers become worse.  So many of us naturally cut down on our intake.

Me, however, well… I discovered that alcohol (all alcohol) hates me.  And even after a tiny glass of wine I will get a headache that in most cases morphs into a full-blown migraine.  So, after a year of two of experimenting with low alcohol and organic wines I have given up.  No more booze for me.  It’s a bit sad, but hey ho.  And that there is top tip number whatever this is.  Listen to your body and make changes you need to in order to feel better.

On a related note I have also found that I need to drink lots of water…  Yeah, yeah, I know we are all told that.  But I have genuinely found that having a bottle of water with me all the time means that I do drink way more and it also helps me generally feel better, less headachy and less bloated.  Another top tip…. stay hydrated.

The ‘OUCH’ Factor

As we age we naturally become stiffer and less flexible.  And for a few years I kind of accepted that this was just the way it is now.  I thought exercise might help but I hate exercise for exercise sake only.  In other words, I love a nice walk in the countryside but pounding the pavements around suburban Dublin doesn’t really do it for me.  I keep vowing I will take up swimming as I do enjoy it but the palaver of defuzzing and wet hair keeps putting me off…  and yeah, I know that that is only an excuse.  I have also toyed with idea of buying a bike.  Having spent a few days in Sweden and Denmark earlier in the year I have a vision of myself making stately progress through the burbs on my high nelly.  But would I?   Bike lanes terrify me as a car driver…. I would be too terrified to use them on a bike.  Even if I could work out how not to get a sore arse!  Regular cyclists must have bums made of steel.  Mine is made of soft cotton wool!

However, thanks to my youngest daughter I have started doing stretches, yoga moves mainly and I have definitely noticed an improvement in my ability to move without going ‘ouch’.  So, I aim to keep that up and once I am more flexible I might actually take up yoga.  Which won’t make my hair greasy!  Another top tip right there – stretch and bend

Is it bedtime yet?

One of the first symptoms I noticed and put down to menopause was the fact that there are days when I am bone tired and weary.  You know the kind of days that just getting up, showered and dressed makes you feel exhausted.  The kind of exhausted that makes you want to close your eyes and sleep immediately.  Not always possible of course.  Life gets in the way.  But – top tip alert – when I can, I am kind to myself and if I feel that I need a nap and can avail of one, I do.  Although this symptom has lessoned in the last year or so and my energy is generally returning to normal levels now.

Right, so.  These are my thoughts for the moment.  I intend to revisit this topic every so often and would love feedback from you so that we can all share what we have found works and what doesn’t.  Leave a comment if you can!

 

 

Halloween Reminder To Claim Your Power as an Older Woman

Tomorrow is Halloween; the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter and (most importantly) the celebration of woman as Crone. In ancient mythology woman was represented by the Triple Goddess of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone.  The triple spiral found in ancient Ireland is said to be a representation of this triumvirate view of woman.  The maiden was of course revered for her physical youth and beauty, the mother respected as the nurturer and carer.  And the Crone was esteemed for her wisdom.

Of course, we know that by the middle ages this idea of the wise older woman had been hijacked to become the evil witch and although we don’t burn witches at the stake any longer, the power of the older woman is now eroded by the constant message that we should be fighting ageing and that, for a woman, growing older is somehow a failure.  When in fact, once a woman passes through the fires of menopause she emerges into her most powerful phase of life.

By the age of 50 most women are on the verge of menopause if not fully engaged with all the joys of hot flushes, and periods that come straight out of nowhere and aching joints etc.  But hey, at least we are very unlikely to become pregnant.  And in this decade, most of us will have finally arrived in a place where our biology, for the first time since we were girls will have receded completely.

For at least four decades we have coped with school, exams, college, more exams, work, travel, relationships while also coping with the monthly mess that causes logistical problems that men never have to deal with.  We become just brilliant at not only powering through cramps, heavy flow, leaky tampons, headaches but all the while pretending that we are fine.  Because to admit you feel like shit would be to display a girly weakness that might come back to haunt you.  This is especially true in the workplace.  You become so brilliant at it that you don’t realise just how heroic you are.  Could you imagine if men had periods?  There would be red tents full of soft cushions, gentle music and hot water bottles in every workplace and tampons and towels would all be issued free and delivered to your doorstep once a month.

With apologies to Dr King but we ‘50 plus’ women have arrived at an age where we are “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”  So, why the hell aren’t we throwing parties?  Freedom from bleeding and all that accompanying side effects means that we are also (more or less – be careful) also free of our fertility.  Fertility is a precious gift and one that most women experience with joy but being the ones who get pregnant means that forever we will be the ones who worry most about getting pregnant.  So, no more worries.  No more pills, diaphragms, coils, other medieval sounding devices to ensure those sneaky sperm don’t get to our baby eggs. Sure, that right there is enough of a reason to be delighted you are now in your fifties. But there’s more.  And you might take a bit more convincing on the next but bear with me.

The Heat is ON…..Kundalini rising

There is a theory is Eastern Esoteric thinking that the menopause signals the rising of a woman’s kundalini energy up through her body, which would explain hot flushes I guess.  But seriously, the menopause can be a huge hassle between hot sweats, aching joints, thinning hair and a variety of other inconveniences.  This ‘change’ can make life very difficult and I plan more blog posts on the subject.  But for now, hang on in there…  I am not ignoring or making light of it.  And remember that this kundalini energy is a very creative force and so menopause was considered to be a great time for personal growth.  What makes me mad as hell is that modern Western Culture tells us precisely the opposite.

Mothering

Ok so once you become a mother you will always be a mother….and your kids, big adults though they might be, will still be in occasional need of your wisdom, cups of tea, your fabulous lasagne or stew or soup and a hug that only a mammy can give.  I know that.  But by the time you hit the mid-fifties your kids are most likely fairly independent.  They may have moved out.  You may be a grandmother.  But your days of active parenting are over.

If you are a mother, then for decades you have had quite a large part of your brain dedicated to ‘kids’ stuff’.  You held all their individual preferences there, what food they liked and what they didn’t.  What books they had read, what their favourite movies were, what cartoons they liked, who their friends are, what those friend’s mom’s names are and where they lived.  You also remembered vaccinations, dentist check-up and doctors’ appointments.  You knew their teachers’ names, kept track of homework and supervised it when they were little.  You knew what extra-curricular activities whey had on what day and arranged complicated rotas with other parents to get them there and back.  You always kept spare birthday cards and possible presents for last minute birthday party invitations – in other words the invites you find when they are a week old and smeared with peanut butter at the end of their school bag.

As they got older you helped with subject choices, and keeping them as calm as possible before exams.  You picked up the pieces when their hearts got broken for the first time.  You saw then through the nonsense of the rites of modern passage such as 6th Year holidays and the Debs.  Whether you worked outside the home or not, you can now retrieve the bit of yourself that belonged to your kids.  Because its now OVER.  Well it’s more or less over!  Your home might still be full but at least most of your head is finally your own.  Well except for the bit they still inhabit and causes you worry.  But in general, you have not got extra brain space; space for you to do what you want with.

Other people’s opinions, so what?

Most of us begin to notice a subtle change in our attitude to what people think of us at around 40.  But by 50 there is a very definite sense of way less fucks to give as to what others really think of you or how you choose to live your life.  And if you haven’t found this particular freedom yet – listen up and then make an effort.  It’s the greatest gift.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that we get to the point where we become completely selfish, pursuing our own agenda regardless of how it may affect others, especially those we love.  But most women have been brought up to be people pleasers, to be nice, to be polite, to be gentle and these lessons learned very early get further cemented into place very often as we get older.

At home we learn to put our own needs last.  We care for our children, our ageing parents, our partners and we run our homes.  Every so often we may have a blow out when the pressure mounts but in general women grin and bear the fact that we are still doing the lion’s share of the housework and caring.

In the workplace if we become assertive we are often labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘cranky’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘irrational’ – oh there is no shortage to terms that are reserved purely to describe women who are a bit ‘strident’ (yep, another one).  Some of us relish being troublesome and couldn’t care less what names we are called.  But for most women, trying to juggle it all, being perceived as ‘nice’ makes life easier.

But then you reach 50ish and suddenly you realise you aren’t as bothered anymore about what people think about you.  You realise that what other people think about you is their business, not yours.  I am not sure why this change in our attitudes happens.  Perhaps it’s just that we get too tired to bother.  Perhaps we realise just how precious our mental health is and worrying about what others think about you is a sure way to wreck your head.  Whatever the reason it’s something I began to realise when I turned 40 and with every decade since that I have less and less fucks to give.  And it’s liberating, I tell you.

So this on the eve of Samhain it’s time to reclaim our true power as older women and the freedom to now, finally become our true selves.  To fully step into our power as women.  It is any wonder that society wants to dent that power be reducing us to wrinkles and lines.  Because the truth is that a woman who can look back and see how far she has come and who now realises that she doesn’t give a flying fig what the world thinks of her is the most powerful of all.

We are all witches.  This is our time.

This feminists view of The Rose of Tralee

If you’re a feminist it’s very, very easy to hate the Rose of Tralee.  A parade of young women (who up until recently had to be unmarried and not mothers) marched out one by one to have inane conversations with the male host, cheered on by their male ‘escorts’ and families.  It’s sexist, it’s patronising to women and something which in my view has no place in Ireland of 2018.  I hate it.  I don’t watch it.

But it appears that I am in the minority.  In another example of how Ireland is a country of startling contradictions, The Rose of Tralee attracts a massive TV audience for RTE.  Last year it had a 66% audience share with an average audience of 637,000.  This makes RTE very happy indeed.  And makes me wonder what is it that makes this country, a country that in recent years voted for marriage equality and to repeal the 8th amendment, actually tick.

Because the real conundrum is not why women would choose to put themselves through this ‘Mart and Market’ kind of spectacle but why so many of us (well, not me) choose to watch it and consider it to be entertaining.  I mean I get why ageing Irish Americans who have a rather warped view of this country might find it charming and reassuringly Irish in a ‘top of the morning’ kind of way.  But why do we, here in modern Ireland, where we boast proudly of our respect for equality and diversity, love to watch this celebration of De Valera’s ‘comely maidens’ who are dancing not at a cross roads but across the stage in a big tent in Tralee?

I have a theory and it’s simply this.  We (well, not me) love to watch the Rose of Tralee because we are sentimental fools.  The competition began in 1959 and it was first televised in 1967 so that most of us have grown up with it.  And in the days before live streaming and Netflix, families would gather around the one TV in the house and watch the show.  My own father was a big fan and prided himself in regularly being able to identify the winner early on.   Is it the sense of continuity that drives so many to watch?  And in a world where the big TV thing of the summer was Love Island, is the Rose of Tralee so bad?

Reader I am conflicted.  I hate the Rose of Tralee and I hated Love Island.  But at least most of the Roses are smart and accomplished young women, despite the daft ‘turns’ they are expected to preform on stage.  I am not sure the same can be said of the contestants on Love Island, although at least that show is not sexist in its crass stupidity.

As I wrestled with all this over the last two nights – well that’s an exaggeration I was in fact wrestling with finding something decent to watch on Netflix.  Anyway, as I wrestled another thing that occurred to me was this.  Why do we still tell women how to behave and what to do and not to do?  If a woman wants to get all glammed up and parade around the show ring in the big tent in Tralee, should she not be allowed to do so, without condemnation?  If she wants to enter a competition to be crowned ‘lovely and fair’ Rose of Tralee, who am I to criticise?

The #ROT (was there every a more appropriate hashtag though?) is like Ladies Day at the races, which is another anathema to me.  I don’t understand why anyone (male or female) would think it’s great craic to get dressed up like they were going to a very fancy wedding to schlep around a race track in the hope of being chosen to be the ‘best dressed’, likes its another horse category.  Although, in fairness, have you ever seen the prizes on offer?  I don’t get it.  I wouldn’t do it.  But surely it’s any woman or man’s right to do just that.

For centuries women have been told how to behave, how and when to speak and how to dress.  If feminism and our search for equality stands for anything, means anything, then surely it means choice.  Surely feminism means that women can choose to be who they want to be.  And sister, if that means you want to take part in the Rose of Tralee, you go right ahead.  And sister if you want to watch and enjoy the resulting spectacle, well fine day to you, as they might say in the old country.

I won’t be joining you.  And I will be happier when I no longer have to try to explain #ROT, (along it must be said, with the Late Late Toy Show), to foreign friends and relatives.  But sister if it floats your boat, on you go.  Not perhaps with my blessing but my tolerance.

“Having it all” – response to Niamh Horan

I will say one thing for Niamh Horan, she’s brave.  Having sent Twitter into meltdown two weeks on Brendan O Connor’s The Cutting Edge on RTE One, she continued on her theme of women not ‘being able to have it all’ in the following week’s Sunday Independent.

But although she made a lot of women very cross, Horan is prompting a conversation that we really need to have and to keep having.  The kernel, the nugget of truth, which should inform this conversation is contained as an almost adjunct to a sentence when she writes that “capitalist culture doesn’t accommodate family.”  It is this culture which causes the problem which Horan interprets, along with many others, as women being able or unable to ‘have it all’.  And this is where the conversation stalls as women get cross and the conversation often becomes a heated debate, pitching the ‘stay at home moms’ against the ‘working moms’ (and I hate both those terms).  Meanwhile the men just stay quiet and continue to leave most of the childcare and domestic chores to the women.

Unlike Niamh, I have children.  I have had the experience of being a single parent, a so called working mother with two children in crèche and latterly a ‘housewife’ (another stupid term).  I surrendered, as opposed to retired, from the world of paid work when daughter number three came along and I just couldn’t juggle any more.  Our lives were mad.  Well the working bit was fine, it was the bits around the edges of the days and weeks that were mental.  Mornings rushing baby and toddler through breakfast muttering “hurry up” in a high pitched and increasingly maniacal voice.  By the time I arrived at my desk I felt like I had done a day’s work.  At the other end there was driving home having picked up the kids from crèche singing and talking incessantly in a bid to keep them awake.  Arriving into the house to be greeted by the detritus of breakfast.  It was only when I stopped that we both realised what madness it all was. And whereas I would take issue with Horan’s assertion that children suffer when women work, I do have some reservations about how some of our crèches are run.

I was very privileged that I could ‘retire’ and it was only possible because it coincided with the Celtic Tiger years and so my husband could work all the hours God sent while I kept things going at home.  We had ten glorious years and I feel very blessed and lucky, especially when as a single parent this was not a choice that was open to me.  In the aftermath of recession, most parents today do not have this choice either as they struggle to meet the cost of mortgages, childcare and all the other bills.

Equality means choice and all families should have the choice as to how they wish to live their lives.  We are now struggling to live in a world that was designed by men for men who had wives at home looking after the domestics and the children.  We need to make huge fundamental changes to how we organise the world of work.  Horan mentioned some of the measures we need to take such as better use of technology, remote working and more flexibility.  But we need way more than that.  We need compulsory paternity leave, we need care breaks, and career breaks for parents who want to park their career for a few years in order to spend time with their children when they are very young. And we need to actively facilitate the path back to paid work after that period of leave.

My big problem with Niamh’s assertions as articulated in her article is that she is framing this as a women’s issue.  This is not a women’s issue, it’s not even a family issue.  It is a society issue.  Because even those who never have children may well find themselves having to look after or support an elderly infirm loved one.

I am happy that Horan has prompted this conversation again but her focussing solely on mothers and making statements about “some women playing the system” doesn’t advance the conversation one bit and in fact steers it very deftly into a cul de sac.

I hope I will live to see real change happen so that my daughters will have all choices open to them – ones that I was just lucky to get.  What is interesting is that in order for this change to happen we must reach critical mass of women in the corridors of power – in Dail Eireann, in media and in boardrooms.  These women will drive the change if they are supported by men and women who want a better family life for all.

Meanwhile I hope that Niamh changes her mind about having a child in Ireland holding little appeal, whether she decides to have kids or not.  Because for those of us who wanted children and were lucky enough to have them it’s not only appealing but hugely rewarding.  That’s why we get so emotional when someone criticises the choices we have made, out of necessity or otherwise.

#askhermore

Feminism is a funny old game.  It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards.  As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal.  Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment.  Take the movies, for example.  While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women.  Less than 12%.  And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.
But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers.  In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts. 
At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right.  It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.    
Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing.  The reality is that they are not. 
Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance.  And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies.  In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants. 
E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so…. who are you wearing?”  E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses.  The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam.  Yes, you guessed it.  A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.  
However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media. 
The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs.  The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media. 
In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore.  This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally.  And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style.  But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next. 
The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’.  You can guess who did and who didn’t.  But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam. 
But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”.  Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious.  Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it.  They were then asked more.  And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight. 

The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.  
You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives  

LET’S JUDGE A PAUSE THERE SISTERS…..

Sometimes being a feminist is kind of confusing.  It is very easy to become hyper aware of anything that could be viewed as being degrading to us women.  And if you look hard enough you will find such things everywhere.
But it is vital that before we decry the culprit that we take a wee moment to think.  I know that I don’t want to live in a world where we are ultra politically correct all the time at the expense of our ability to laugh at ourselves – individually or collectively.  Therefore when your senses are assaulted by an image which shouts ‘foul’ or ‘this is sexist’ as a friend of mine says ‘judge a pause’. 
Three such images appeared in the media this week.  As first glance all three looked sexist but in actual fact only one was…. in my humble anyway.
First up was the full page ad that Today FM took out to announce two new male presenters of their lunchtime show.  The ad featured a bra with the male presenters featuring in each cup and there was a tag line of Double D a play on the image and the fact that the presenters are called Dermot and Dave. 
Next one that crossed my consciousness was the image used in a campaign that has just been launched by Concern and Women’s Aid called ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’  There was a cartoon image of a male figure in a pair of high stilettos.  I guess is asking men to try to imagine what it feels like to be a woman – and a vulnerable one at that.
The last image of the week appeared in the Irish Times yesterday.  It was a PR shot to announce the Cancer Society’s Paint It Pink campaign.  It featured RTE presenter Keelin Shanley (a breast cancer survivor) dressed in pink holding a tin of paint and a very attractive bare chested young man up a ladder supposedly painting the door.  As someone who worked in PR and the partner of a professional photographer it was most definitely a cracking photo which drew the eye in immediately.  The image was also used in The Journal and can be seen here.
So your honour, which of these images is guilty of being sexist?  Only the first one.  Why?  Like most other things in life, because of the context.  This ad featuring male presenters’ faces on a bra is sexist because it was put out by a radio station that has not one female presenter presenting a daytime show during the week.  It is boys radio and so therefore cannot use women’s breasts to advertise a programme not matter how clever the play on words.  If the station doesn’t think that women should present primetime radio shows, then they can leave our underwear out of their campaigns.  So Foul and Sexist can be correctly labelled to this ill conceived campaign. 
The second campaign ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’ I don’t have a problem with even though I don’t own and never had owned a pair of high shoes.  But I know that makes me the exception rather than the rule where women are concerned.  Most women I know own and wear high heels – not every day maybe but regularly.  Therefore it’s fair enough to use this fact to come up with a fun campaign to raise money for vulnerable women.  And high heels do make women vulnerable… but that’s a different column.
Lastly, the PR photo for cancer that featured Keelin Shanley and male model Darragh Hayes was simply a great photo.  Mr Hayes is a model doing what he does best – looking delicious.  Irish (female) models regularly post in bikinis to promote all range of weird and wonderful products.  Yes I agree it’s a lazy photocall but I believe if we even up the score a bit – more handsome chaps looking.. handsome I can live with it.  I am not sure I want to live in a world where being able to admire a beautiful body is outlawed in case it offends someone.  As long as it is models that are used and the score is even – as many men as women – so what?
As we become more aware of women being undermined and belittled we are in danger of over reacting.  We need to bear that in mind, sisters!

Ni Neart Go Cur Le Cheile

“Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, it is the ultimate feminist act.”
Liz Phair – American Singer/Songwriter
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”   The two words that jump out of that sentence are rights and equality.  Surely every woman has the right to make her own choices and live her own life as she sees fit.  You see, for me feminism is as much about choice and freedom as it is about equality. 
And that right there is why I often find myself getting very depressed when feminist women (rarely men) get angry when a woman puts forward a vision of fulfilment that doesn’t rate climbing the career ladder her major priority in life. 
Over the last few days we have had another stunning example of how we women seem to find it next to impossible to accommodate views that do not fit neatly with ours.  Kirsty Allsop is the latest feminist to find herself in very hot water with the mainstream feminists who have been ranting and raving about her in our newspapers and on social media.  You see Kirsty has opinions and has never been afraid to express them.  Surely this is what feminists are all about?  Having women’s voices heard?  Not apparently if your opinions run contrary to the mainstream feminist view which seems to be all about achieving in education and career.
Ms Allsopp had the audacity to say in a wide ranging interview with The Telegraph that she thought that “women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.” 
She went on to say that if she had a daughter (she has two sons) she would advise her to postpone university and to concentrate on having a family while she was young and doing the career and university thing later on.  She further said in an interview with Newsnight that she would have the same conversation with her boys.
Whether she is right or wrong is irrelevant.  The point is that she has every right to express her opinion.  She wasn’t saying that this is what every woman should do but that it is what she would advise her offspring to do.  But the immediate rubbishing of her view along with plenty of derogatory commentary concerning her background (which is reasonably wealthy by all accounts) and her work with interiors, design and crafting surely runs contrary to what feminism should be all about?
For generations women have passed down wisdom and stories along with recipes from mother to daughter; precious nuggets of knowledge borne from experience of our grandmothers.  In our enthusiasm for full equality we have narrowed our vision about what it is to be a woman – what it is to be a feminist.
Some of the greatest feminist women I know are working quietly in the home, caring for children, their aged parents and their household.  They have little if any interest in board rooms or glass ceilings.  Are there views on life less worthy?  Are these women some lesser species of feminist?
We need to be very careful of becoming too macho in our pursuit of full equality and freedom.  Actress Natalie Portman said “I want every version of a woman and a man to be possible. I want women and men to be able to be full-time parents or full-time working people or any combination of the two. I want both to be able to do whatever they want sexually without being called names. I want them to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”

Before we can change the world we must change ourselves.  As a women’s movement we must recognise that we women are as different as we are the same.  We don’t all necessarily want the same things.  Equality is essentially about choice.  The choice to be yourself.  It is vital that we recognise the right of each woman to make the choices that are right for her. And we need to support each other regardless of how we personally view those choices.
So if Kirsty Allsopp wants to tell her children that they might consider fertility and plan a family early and put off career advancement till later, that is fine.  It is another way of doing things.  No more and no less valid that waiting until you are established in your career for the babies.
But women can we please stop being so critical of other women whose views don’t chime with ours.  We are often our own worst enemies… Ni neart go cur le cheile (no strength without unity)

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOSSY GIRLS…

Big, glossy and expensive media campaigns that seem to spring out of nowhere make me slightly defensive and wary.  They make me wonder if they are real or something dreamed up in a plush office somewhere by individuals or a group of individuals who want to up their profile, change the public perception of them or are just publicity hungry for one reason or another.  I am naturally suspicious of campaigns that seem to emanate from the wealthy elite who seem to be happy to give the rest of us the benefit of their gold plated wisdom.
The latest such campaign is the ‘Ban Bossy’ one.  Apparently girls who are natural leaders and organisers are often called bossy… yep, I thought, I’ve been there and done that.  But apparently that is not a good thing.  Girls who are told they’re bossy can feel unlike and unpopular and as a result calling girls bossy can result in them not putting themselves forward to take these leadership roles.
My first reaction was – what a load of old nonsense.  I have been called bossy since I could talk and I have always taken pride in that fact.  I took bossy to be a bit of a back handed compliment.  Have I been wrong all these years?
I am also the mother of three daughters, none of whom are backwards about coming forward in varying degrees.  I have always encouraged them to be the leader not the follower. “If something needs to be organised and no-one else is doing it – well do it yourself” I tell them.  I am sure they are called bossy occasionally but it has never been something that has upset them at all.  And I value the fact that they usually, (not always – I’m not that great a parent) are happy to lead and don’t (generally) follow unquestioningly. (As a mother of teenagers I have fingers and toes crossed at having written than.)
When I was thinking about all this before putting pen to paper, one fact leapt out at me.  Like me, they have all gone to all girl schools.  Is the problem here that it is boys that are uncomfortable with girls being leaders?  Is it the boys who seem to have this power to make bossy a bad word and make the girls feel ‘unlikeable’?  This would chime with my experience.  My bossiness (or assertiveness as I generally call it now that I am grown up) has occasionally caused problems with male bosses!  Oh – and are we going to change the name Boss while we are at it?  Or can men be bosses but girls not be bossy?  Sorry I am totally lost with the logic of that.
I am very unconvinced by this campaign.  I think it risks being misinterpreted by our girls; teaching them not to be bossy but to be leaders.  Instead of trying to ‘Ban Bossy’ why not ‘Own Bossy’?  Be bossy and be proud, because when our ‘bossy’ girls get out into the big world of work will be called all kinds of other not flattering names.  Let me see – ‘over-bearing’, ‘shrill’, ‘bloody feminist’, ‘trouble-maker’ – oh the list is endless.  I’ve been called them all.  I have also been told that I wouldn’t succeed unless I toned myself down.   While I admit that my success is questionable I have no intention of toning down.  Hell no.   
Once again are we accepting men’s view of things?  Who say’s bossy is bad.  Beyonce, one of the campaign’s figureheads, says “I am not bossy, I am the Boss.”  That sounds more like the attitude I want our girls to have.

So I will continue to tell me girls – be bossy and own it.  Bossy means that you are willing to give leadership. Oh and I also tell them that if they are going to live their lives trying to be liked by all and sundry they are on a hiding to nothing.  Be kind, treat people like you would like to be treated… but all groups need a bossy boots.  So grab them boots… wear ‘em, own ‘em.  And feck the begrudgers.

ROARING FOR EQUALITY

International Women’s Day and I was invited by the National Women’s Council of Ireland to take part in their SOAPBOX event which took place in the middle of O Connell Street – just opposite the GPO.  A place famous for oration… some more glorious than others.  It’s also around the corner from some of Dublin’s most formidable women – the fruit sellers and traders of Moore Street, whose powers of making themselves heard over the din of the city is legendary.  I didn’t sell any bananas but I was honoured to take my few minutes on the soapbox.  Here is the text of what I roared!

Michael Harding wrote one of the most lyrical and beautiful columns I have ever read in the Irish Times last Tuesday.  It was called What I Love Most About Women Is Their Voices.  He began by saying that while his father was in the dining room talking about God, his mother was in the kitchen talking to another woman.  His father called it gossip – “what are you women gossiping about now?”  But Harding says “my father was full of ideas – but mother – full of stories – was always more real.”  He went on to say of women “They share a ‘knowing’ beyond words. …. They know things men don’t know.  They shelter men in the fabric of their knowing and they intuit a deeper universe when a man’s world is falling apart.”
It certainly is time that this world of man’s design fell apart.  It certainly is time for women to demand much more than just equality with men.  It is time for us to demand a new world; a world in which we can participate fully and as equals but a world which acknowledges that we are not men; a world where we can express our womanhood without fear that it will be perceived as weakness.
All women are heroes in my opinion.  We bleed every month which can often make us feel like crap but we carry on with our jobs, paid and unpaid, pretending all is fine as we pop another nurofen and dream of reaching home where we can fling ourselves on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a bar of chocolate.  I know menopausal women who suffer horrendous periods which are challenging in a practical as well as physical way – and they carry on working wearing black a lot and praying a lot that their super plus extra sanitary protection doesn’t let them down.  Would men be so silent if roles were reversed?  Would they hell? 
How many women are afraid to display photos of their kids on their desks in case it gives the game away.  How many women miss their new baby so much when they return to work after maternity leave that it causes physical pain?  How many women wish they could take a couple of years of reduced hour working  in order not to miss their children’s early years?  How many women hate that their children are in crèche from too early in the morning till too late in the evening?  And why do so few women articulate these feelings openly?
I know some men feel all these emotions too.. but today is about women.
How come we live in a modern and relatively wealthy country where we have unsafe maternity services and where we have so little choice in those services?  And how come we are not raising a holy racket about it?
But most of all how come we live in a country where the work of caring is so undervalued.  Our children are our most precious asset – both individually and nationally.  So how is it that the people who care for them are in general working for a minimum wage?   And of course this is equally true for those working in nursing homes – caring for our most vulnerable elderly. 
Care, that most traditional of women’s work, should not be left to either charities or the private sector.  Caring should be heavily subsidised by Government in the same way education is and should be run by professionals on a not for profit basis.
Michael Harding spoke of women’s voices.  And yet the day after his beautiful column appeared in the Irish Times, we heard that 1 in 3 women in the EU have suffered physical or sexual abuse.  The figure is 1 in 4 in Ireland.  That means women in our neighbourhoods, perhaps in our families, in our circle of friends have or perhaps still are, experiencing violence.  And yet they are largely silent.  There still exists a shame and stigma to admitting that our vulnerability, that which is part of being a woman has been cruelly and viciously exploited. 
But before we can change the world we must change ourselves.  As a women’s movement we must recognise that we women are as different as we are the same.  We don’t all necessarily want the same things.  Equality is essentially about choice.  The choice to be yourself.  It is vital that we recognise the right of each woman to make the choices that are right for her. And we need to support each other regardless of how we personally view those choices.  Ni neart go cur le cheile
We are 51% of the population and here we are marking an International Womens Day at an event organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland.  I hope that some day our  grand daughters and great grand daughters can laugh at the madness of such a concept.
Michael Harding finished by saying that “women have been my compass, my anchor, the ground and the completness of my universe.  As I grow older they are the warp and weft of all my spiritual hope, because it was women’s eyes that saw Christ resurrected and it was women’s voices who sang the song of it – until they were silenced. 

It is time to break our silence.  It is time for us to sing our songs, to tell our stories, to support each other and demand the changes we need to fulfil our destiny to change the world.  Our men need us as women and our grand daughters are depending on us.  

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