How to be a woman

You may remember that in the autumn I went on a bit of a feminist rant. Having never used the label, my new life as an ordinand in a church which is still divided over women in leadership, it’s now a word and state of mind I have to inhabit. [That post has also become a major issue of contention between a male friend and I – in fact, we had an argument about it while in Paris. I will take this opportunity to apologise for unintentionally labelling him a misogynist. He is not. He’s just a bit of a patronising git sometimes…]

Prior to returning to the French building site, I’d had a bit of a chat with a friend from last year’s trip who had shared some of my ill-feeling about such behaviour. [At this point I feel I’m having a can open – worms everywhere moment with that aforementioned male friend… Ooops.] We got onto the subject of girl power and feminism, which ended with her own mantra for life as a woman:
“Live and let live and don’t get breast implants”
The conversation also included an enthusiastic recommendation of a book that had been languishing on my wishlist for quite some time – Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman.

Serendipitously, it was on offer at WH Smith the following morning, so I snapped it up as ideal holiday reading. It was begun with glee on the Eurostar to Paris and was immediately engrossing. As described on its back cover, it’s part memoir, part rant and that’s a combination which was always going to go down well with me. In the back of the car en route to the Limousin, it amused me so much that passages had to be read aloud to the female friend I was sharing the back seat with – but in hushed tones, not wanting the men in the front to hear. After all, how would they respond to this explanation of how to work out if you’re a feminist:
“Put your hand in your pants.

(a) Do you have a vagina and
(b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist!”

Holiday perfection, right there.

The following day, another friend arrived bearing a copy and we rejoiced at how much we were learning and how ridiculous parts of it were. I was able to question whether she had been shocked/mystified by some of Moran’s revelations – was I the only woman not to have named parts of her anatomy? [No.] Did she agree with the plentiful use of the C word? [No. And I have written about my views on the subject here.] Had she ever gone commando? [No.] The women gathered and discussed feminism in serious and non-serious measures. A Texan builder picked up a copy, read a chapter, and had his eyes opened considerably.

Most amusingly of all, the book helped me overcome some of my more prudish tendencies. As I mentioned when extolling the virtues of Ackroyd’s London Under, we spent an evening alternating between it and Moran’s book – the latter providing some light relief from deaths via cess pits. I read aloud most of a chapter relating to underwear – which culminated in an excellent passage about the trials and tribulations of bra wearing (a subject that’s very close to my heart…). Moran has a manifesto against society’s passion for tiny pants which includes the following hilarious anecdote, which couldn’t really be left out:
“I was on a crowded tube with a friend of mine, who gradually grew paler and quieter until she finally leaned forward, and admitted that her knickers were so skimpy, her front bottom had eaten them entirely. ‘I’m currently wearing them on my clit – like a little hat,’ she said.”

I wasn’t sure I could read it out loud. I’m a trainee vicar. There were near-strangers in the room. Heck, there was a man in the room! But I took a deep breath and read on as if I said such things on a daily basis. [Interestingly, when any of us happened to get to the other C word, we always referred to it as ‘the C word’. Our sensibilities were not to be undone to that extent.]

I don’t agree with everything Moran writes, but it is written in such a way that you understand why she’s done, said and thought what she has. The chapter on her abortion was painful reading – but it is an admirable thing to have written about it in the first place. It isn’t a feminist manifesto in The Female Enuch sense, but it is a logical, coherent (and hilarious) text that illustrates just how ridiculous society’s attitude towards women – and women’s attitude to themselves – can be.

Cosmetic Frustration

You know how some things in life are beyond our control?

The weather; the TV schedule; the dominance of Federer at Wimbledon…
You can try to resolve them, but often they simply leave you frustrated and searching for answers and solutions.
Currently I am facing a major frustration that is totally beyond my control:
Clinique have discontinued *my* mascara.
Seriously, this is a big issue! (Don’t even think about suggesting that it isn’t!)
For years I struggled with mascara, getting poked in the eye with wayward wands (honestly, there is little in life that’s more painful); having it run down my cheeks in streaks of brown/black when crying or in a rainstorm; rubbing off at the slightest touch…
The biggest problem is that I have super sensitive eyes (I’m generally a rather sensitive person, don’t you know) and a lot of eye make-up aggravates them. It also means that they run frequently – in the wind, in hayfever season, in the sun, when I’m tired, when I’m emotional…
Discovering Clinique’s Gentle Waterproof Mascara solved all these problems and I’ve been using it for nearly two years. (It also propelled me into the world of ‘proper grown up make-up’ which saw me spend just under £50 at the Clinique counter a couple of weeks ago – I only bought 3 things!)
And now they’ve gone and discontinued it. I’m not happy. Neither is my mother (we have the same eye issues). I complained, but got little help in return, so I’m stuck. I might have another couple of months use out of my current mascara, but then nothing. I’m left with a few options:
Do I continue the battle with Clinique in the hope that they’ll bring it back? (They have u-turned in the past.) Do I begin searching for another waterproof sensitive mascara knowing that there are very few on the market? (My first trial at the weekend, at the Benefit counter, was disastrous.) Do I buy up all stock left in Clinique’s ‘Gone but not forgotten’ programme?
Or, do I accept that this is simply a beauty product that makes me conform to gender stereotypes; one that I don’t need because my eyes are amazing regardless (!); and that there are far more important things going on the world that I should be firing off angry e-mails about – like Gaza, famine, debt, terrorism, poverty, trafficking and climate change?
But honestly, anyone got any mascara recommendations??

Jumping on the Palin bandwagon

Last week I had Sarah Palin thrown at me.
I don’t mean literally, obviously, it was in fact another (rather pointless) addition to facebook’s superpoke and a friend thought it would be funny. Actually, he was right, it was funny – far better than having a sheep thrown at me.

This provided a timely reminder that there is just no way of escaping the US elections (unless I choose to hide in a cave for the next few months, but that’s unlikely). Yet again, the fate of the world lies in the hands of 300 million people (give or take several hundred thousand who are in jail or live in a state where votes aren’t actually counted…) and it’s scary just how tight this contest is now looking.

If you’d been anywhere near me on August 29th, you would have heard a gasp of incredulity as I glanced at the BBC News front page and discovered that McCain had picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. My incredulity has done nothing but grow over the last few weeks, culminating in the discovery on Friday that she only got her first passport LAST YEAR!

I know the US is a big country, that there’s not so much ‘need’ to cross its borders, but surely you’d be interested to, just once in a while? Especially if you can “see Russia from the kitchen window” [incidentally, she totally can’t]…would you not be the tiniest bit intrigued by what might be happening elsewhere in the world?

Surely, living in Alaska you’d want to go somewhere with sun, sea, sand and regular hours of daylight once in a while? (Having watched 30 Days of Night just the other week, I’m unlikely ever to set foot in northern Alaska, or possibly the entire state.)

I’m not going down the path of being overly critical of the women – kudos to her, she’s managed to raise a family and have a high powered job in a male dominated world – but honestly, it’s total tokenism to put her on the ticket. “You’ve got a black guy running for President? I see your Obama, and raise you the female governor of Alaska….that’ll get us the votes of all the women pissed off that Hillary didn’t win the nomination.”

At this rate, the night of November 4th could be as bad as election night 4 years ago: I was living alone at the time (& was unemployed – cheery!), stayed up to watch the coverage with a bottle of wine to keep me company and woke up fully-clothed the next morning with a hangover and the knowledge that the world had to put up with Bush for another four years. Doesn’t get much more depressing than that…

It’s pointless using this post to encourage my American friends to vote Democrat – most of them already do. But please, I beg you – for the sanity of the rest of the world – don’t repeat your past mistakes.

One last thing – you know why we have to care so much about the VP candidate?
Because the Presidential one is so old, and as the American saying goes, you do the math. For more musings on that subject, check out

Why life’s harder as a woman…

So, tomorrow I have this big interview. I’m a little stressed about it and my presentation’s not quite ready – but I have this evening to finish it off, so it’ll be fine.

But it struck me today that I’m already at a disadvantage to the other two candidates (who I happen to know are both male). I’ve had to put some serious thought into what I’m wearing tomorrow and how I’ll have my hair…

The men on the other hand simply have to decide which suit they’ll put on (if they happen to be of a suit wearing disposition) and what shirt/tie combination will go with it. Tomorrow morning, they’ll put it on and go to work as normal.

I on the other hand, will probably be getting up earlier than usual to ensure that I have a good hair day; spend quite a while working out which tights to wear (instruments of torture!); which shoes to put on….I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’d claim it was all terrible unfair on women, because this is what society expects of us, however really, I’m just pandering to my own sensibilities – such is the curse of my whimsical gender.*

*It would be wrong to claim that I came up with this phrase myself, but I didn’t. This person did.

Carrie Bradshaw?

One of my friends is bemused by my blogging habit. He can’t understand why I bother (or why anyone would be interested in reading it – he may have a point there!). I told him it was to do with enjoying writing, wanting an outlet where I can practise concise web-writing etc etc – all very worthy reasons.

He wondered if I was like Carrie Bradshaw when I wrote. (By which I presume he’s referring to sitting cross-legged on my bed, dressed in pj’s & thinking through the latest angst of singledom/boyfriends – always the former in my case). I was just about to argue that I wasn’t when I realised that that’s exactly how I sit with my laptop at home. Except that a flat in South Bermondsey isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as a New York brownstone.

In honour of Carrie, and all that she did for the work of feminist writing (probably very little) the next few blogs are going to be à la Carrie…