Category Archives: Social norms

Bloody Hell

Standard

It’s ‘that time of the month’ for me, and I’ve been going through my regular bunch of issues. This is something I’m sure most women out there can relate to. Not only are periods physically uncomfortable, but they’re loaded down with a whole lot of social crap that just makes the whole process hell.

The experience of menstruation is something that can’t be pinned down. It’s common knowledge that every woman experiences menstruation differently. Some will get PMS, some snack down on piles of chocolate, some get all weepy, others get horny, and still others just want to curl up with a hot water bottle and a large box of naproxen. Menstruation is so loaded up with various stereotypes, you’d think we’d be more open-minded when it comes down to it in real life.

But for something so everyday and talked about, it’s surprising just how screwed up common understanding of what it actually means to experience menstruation is. In fact, I don’t think I’d be taking a risk to wager that menstruation is hands-down the most common ‘invisible condition’ out there.

Starting with the symptoms: they are different for everyone. This goes beyond stereotype. The same woman can experience a drastically fluctuating range of menstruation symptoms over the course of her life. The physical presentation of menstruation is often unpredictable and inexplicable. Health, diet, stress level, daily activity, environment, and a never-ending list of other factors can have surprising and crazy implications when it comes to menstruation. Most women couldn’t tell you which factor has caused which particular change in their experience, or why. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed, yet suddenly a woman’s periods have become drastically different.

This has happened to me over the past year. When I first started having periods, I didn’t experience a lot of symptoms. I had no noticeable mood changes, cramps were at a minimum, and about twice a year I’d just get really tired and sleep a whole day away. That was it, really. Then suddenly, this past year. Excruciating cramps that don’t go away no matter how much I apply warmth and sleep (and medicine). And a whole range of other, more surprising symptoms too – monthly fatigue, migraines, neck and back pain, and so on. It’s hell, and since I’m fairly active and I’m eating healthier than ever, it’s possibly caused by stress, but how would I know? I’m pretty damn sure I’ve experienced stress before this year. Who hasn’t?

So yeah, that’s the physical shit. Unpredictable and not at all pleasant. But you know what? There’s a hell of a lot of crap every woman goes through because of menstruation that’s got nothing to go with the physical.

I’m pretty sure it would be safe to say that most women keep going with their daily lives despite unpleasant menstruation symptoms, most of the time. I mean really, who has time to take several days off every single month? Not to mention that in the average job, there just isn’t enough paid sick leave to take that time off and still make a living. This is what women do every single month of their lives, starting from first blood and continuing right until the end of menopause, whenever that is. This is where the real problems start.

You see, most women who are working through menstruation aren’t going to mention it. They just want to pretend it’s not happening, because frankly it’s easier to function when you’re not thinking about how much discomfort you’re in. Even the ones who will complain about it mostly just make the passing comment here and there, and otherwise seem completely fine. Women don’t spend too much time thinking about working through menstruation, because it’s just something women have to do. And men who know women who are working through menstruation spend even less time thinking about it, because either they don’t even notice, or in their minds, from what they can see, it just doesn’t seem so bad.

(Although what’s with men and the idea that menstruation is gross and icky and taboo?; although blood is fine, and vaginas are frankly AWESOME)

Anyway, take that whole ‘working through it’ scenario, and then throw in a woman who really feels like she just can’t get through the day while functioning even remotely normally. This woman feels like shit. She knows she’s not going to get anything useful done, and that the best thing she can do is rest. And she knows that in order to get the rest she so sorely needs, she’s going to have to tell someone that she’s not coping. With her period. That thing that comes once a month, that she’s been having for half her life or more.

A woman in this situation isn’t just going to pick up the phone and call in sick. Before she even gets near that phone – maybe even as she picks it up – there is a massive debate going on in her head over just how horrible she feels vs. a range of other issues. For an example, I provide a rough estimation of the debate going on in my own head when I was trying to call in sick yesterday. It went something like this.

1. I feel like crap. Ow.
2. I can’t prove that. It’s just a period. Every woman gets periods. What if they think I’m just being a wimp?
3. They tell me that some women just have bad periods. But why am I one of those women? >_<;
4. Do I call in sick too often? Am I risking my job over my periods?
5. Is someone gonna be all like “I work through my periods, she should just suck it up…”?
6. Or “She takes time off so easily…”?
7. Is it even really that bad? Am I just having some kind of nocebo effect on myself because I don’t want to go to work?
8. What if I do call and it gets better right after?
9. I don’t want them to think I’m letting the team down >_<;
10. Even though it’s totally going to be quiet today and they’ll manage just fine without me…
11. Just call. Pick up the goddamn phone and call.
12. Oh my god they said ok so quickly. They’re totally judging me >_<;

And of course, since stress can have a huge effect on menstruation symptoms, this whole debate is making the cramps damn near unbearable and I don’t know if I’m just having period pain because I’m getting so worked up over having period pain. Yes, catch 22.

Note, in particular, points 4 and 7.

Point four: I am worried about getting fired because of my periods. Being fired for having bad periods would essentially be the same as being fired for having a disability. I’m pretty damn sure it’s not legal. I’m also pretty damn sure that it happens. And I don’t want it to happen to me.

Point seven: The inexplicability of menstruation symptoms is such that I’m even doubting what I feel. I don’t know what’s causing the pain. It honestly could be all in my head. But when it comes down to it… even if it is a product of my own mind, there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. I’m still feeling the same pain no matter what’s causing it, and it sucks that the possibility that it might be all in my mind basically equates, in social terms, to it being no more valid than a figment of my imagination.

So yeah. In conclusion. Periods suck. That can’t be helped much, as far as the physical is concerned. But socially? There is no excuse for men judging women, and women judging other women, and women judging themselves, over something as basic and human and common as the menstruation cycle. Menstruation happens. It’s messy, and uncomfortable, and probably noone actually likes it. But as a society, we really, really need to just get over it.

Advertisements

Uniquely Sexy

Standard

My coworker thinks she’s fat.

I had no idea she had such massive body-image issues until quite recently. I observed her pinching her waist flesh through her uniform during a quiet moment at work, and enquired what she was doing.

“Meaty…” was her comment.

“That’s not a bad thing, right?” I was foolish enough to say.

“It’s bad,” came the reply. Wow.

Just to get things straight, this girl is absolutely gorgeous. Amazonically tall for a Japanese, face so striking she could easily be a model if only she wanted to, and a body with actual curves. All that, and so insecure she’s obsessing about her squishy bits at work.

Not that I should be surprised. Thinness is ridiculously pervasive in Japanese society as a beauty ideal. It’s extremely rare to see a woman on Japanese TV who isn’t a lovely, slender twig – occasionally with boobs glued on. In fact, it would be a safe bet to say that the only time my coworker sees anyone even close to her body shape in popular media, would be in the ‘before’ images of all the advertisements proclaiming that “You too can lose weight!”

Popular media like to pretend that there is only one way to be beautiful, and that any person who doesn’t fit with this very specific ideal is not attractive. This is an attitude that has a serious negative impact on the self-confidence of many women – and many men too, because let’s not forget that the media likes to talk about masculine ideals as well. In fact, the media is so insistant on this one perfect ideal, that it’s easy to forget that not so long ago, they were promoting a different ideal entirely.

Body types come in and out of fashion. So, if a plump, lusciously soft, curvy look is good enough for one decade, why is it suddenly considered horrendously ‘out of shape’ just a few decades later? These days, we pride ourselves on individualism. We know we’re all different, all unique, and that’s not a bad thing. So why are we still trying so desperately to look the same?

Rather than obsessing over a single arbitrary ideal, why don’t we all just get over ourselves and accept that a healthy body looks different on everyone? Every person has their own unique qualities that make them attractive, in whatever shape their body is naturally supposed to be. It’s ridiculously sad that most of us don’t even seem to be able to see that.

____

Is there anything you’ve learned to love about your own shape that you had difficulty coming to terms with at first, or that other people don’t seem to be as happy with? Or maybe you know someone who’s insecure about a feature that you actually find extremely attractive. Feel free to share share your inspiring tales of uniquely beautiful body-image in the comments section below.

Not a member of the Girls’ Club

Standard

I think it’s time to introduce a new word.

“Equalist”.

This one’s for everyone currently calling themselves a feminist who is sick to death of people trying to put them in the girls’ club with the crazed femi-nazis and leftover bra-burners from the 60s.

This will be a thing.

I have several friends – male and female – calling themselves feminists. What they really champion, however, is social equality. To them – and to me – combating ‘womens issues’ is an important path to a better world, one in which being a man or a woman is less important than just being a person. In which people can succeed or fail based solely on their own abilities and ambition. And in which freedom of self-expression is not treated as some kind of threat to ‘normal’ society.

I have other friends who believe in the exact same thing – and yet clash with me often due to the negative stigma pasted all over the concept of feminism. No matter how many times I explain that my ideals are basically the same as theirs, as soon as I mention the word ‘feminist’, suddenly it’s as though I just said all men are arseholes and major companies should be fulfilling an enforced quota of female employees in the top job positions – just from the qualification of being female.

To be completely candid, there are times when I do get bitter about the way people treat women, just because they’re women. Walking for ten minutes along a busy road never fails to make me furious. I’m sure most women know what I’m talking about – and anyone who’s confused can check out “My Fault I’m Female”* to bring themselves up to speed. The way women are treated is a problem – but the moment a women points that out (or, gasp, gets angry about it), they’re labelled a paranoid bitch feminist. Like if someone is a feminist they must be imagining there’s a problem. Nothing wrong with our society, nuh-uh.

So it’s time for a new word, free from all the negative connotations built up after years of angry women getting angrier because they’re not being heard. It’s time to realise that women’s rights affect everyone – not just those ‘unfortunate’ enough to have been born with a vagina. The stigmatisation and disparaging of all things feminine affects men just as much as women. Human nature isn’t as black and white as we’d often like to believe – and it certainly shouldn’t be decided and assigned depending on what parts we are born with.

And if you’re calling yourself a feminist – or, alternately, refusing to call youself a feminist – because you believe that the world could be a better place if we no longer had to fight for women’s human right to be treated equal AS A PERSON… then it just might be time to consider defecting from the wounded cause with the irreperably damaged reputation and starting anew – fresh and untainted.

* http://myfaultimfemale.wordpress.com/

~~~

Feel free to air your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below

Sexual abuse: The curse of femininity

Standard

My mother is an amazing and strong woman. She is a living example of both the best – and worst – aspects of traditional femininity. When I say this, I mean that she is a nurturing and caring woman who always does the best she can for her family – but she has also been owned by men her entire life.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a bitch is a woman who is owned by men. But, not every owned woman is a bitch. Unlike the woman described in my previous post, my mother recognises that the situation she finds herself in is not healthy. She does not choose it for herself, nor does she hold any illusions about how much power is granted to her. It’s just that noone has ever tried to show her how to escape this situation, and despite all her efforts, she remains unable to change the culturing of decades.

When my mother was young, she was raped repeatedly by more than one close family member. Her own family not only taught her to be used by men – by uninvolved family members failing to stop this situation, they taught her that she was powerless to stand up for herself, and that even if a man’s behaviour was inappropriate, there was nothing she could do.

The experience of rape, especially in an environment which doesn’t provide the support and justice this serious situation deserves, is one that does not easily go away. My mother does not complain about what happened to her. If she mentions it at all, it is invariably in such a casual voice that belies the seriousness of the crime. But inside, my mother is still a wreck. She suffers from depression, mood swings, and breakdowns, and also has incredibly low self-esteem. Worst of all, she is incredibly wary and cautious of the whims of men. She has been socialised to feel that the safest way of dealing with a man is to refrain from doing anything that may be construed as a challenge to his masculinity. Scarily, this includes running away.

My mother and I once found ourselves in an empty train carriage late at night when a young man boarded the train. From the beginning, it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. Possibly he was drugged out of his mind. As soon as he boarded the train, he noticed us. Coming over to where we were sitting, he began swinging from the poles in the carriage, and proceeded to make moves on my mother.

Obviously, the whole situation was very unsettling, and possibly dangerous. All I wanted to do was move away, and find some people to be witnesses in case the situation turned violent. My mother, equally uncomfortable, had a different instinct. She smiled. Politely, without moving from her seat, she proceeded to answer every single one of this man’s questions (unfortunately, none of which I remember clearly).

Ever since I remember, my mother has been making numerous attempts to resolve her own psychological issues. For a while, she bought every spiritual healing book she could get her hands on. The likes of Deepak Chopra held pride of place on her dresser table. “Think positive thoughts,” many of these books seemed to say, “and your life will become positive.” Well yes, maybe that would help someone whose only problem were severe pessimism. But my mother’s issues understandably run much deeper than that.

Somewhere along the line, she appears to have guessed that gender might have had something to do with her problems. And so, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ appeared on the bookshelf. What she learned from that can be summarised by some relationship advice she once gave me. “Men don’t like to talk,” she informed me, “Don’t try to make him communicate. Just let it go.”

And so, everything my mother has ever read to try to help herself with her deep psychological scarring has not addressed the problem at all. All it managed to do was reinforce the idea that the core of the problem lies with her. If she can’t think positive thoughts, and she needs things that men are apparently unwilling to give, then the problem is her fault, and hers alone. Is it just me, or is that all bullshit?

Over the years, I’ve browsed various self-help books and ‘pop psychology’ publications like ‘Men are from Mars…’. I have yet to come across a single book designed to help someone in her situation, which is frankly astounding. The CASA Forum* states that 1 in 5 women in Australia experience sexual violence after the age of 15 – increasing to a scary 1 in 3 sexually abused before the age of 16. This is Australia, not the Congo. But these figures make it clear that situations like that of my mother are far from uncommon. And the occurrence of rape is just a symptom of a deeper problem with the way we have structured society and femininity. This issue affects everyone. So why won’t anybody talk about it?

We, as a society, need to put more effort into educating both women and men about this issue. It is no longer acceptable – if it ever was – to tolerate, and worse, ignore these blatantly negative aspects of social gender division. Women are not accessories to be owned and controlled by men. Logically, this is a recognised fact. But many women still act like submission to men is unavoidable, and many men still act like it is their right to treat women however they fancy. Both these behaviours must stop. Further, we need to give more assistance to those who are trying to get out of this trap, but are not sure how to find the way out on their own.

*http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics

~~~

Is our society really as resigned to sexual assualt and gender division as the data would have us believe? The below comments section should be used as a discussion board for this topic. If you have an opinion, theory, personal story, etc., please feel free to share it with us.

High heels are not a choice

Standard

High heels. They’re uncomfortable – often painful – difficult to walk in, and incredibly damaging to a surprising extent of the body. Every girl knows this. But there are very few girls out there who will not reach for a pair of heels when they want to dress up.

On my commute home from work every day, I will inevitably see at least one lady tottering in her ridiculous shoes while a row of men in business attire occupy all seats available in the train carriage. “I’ve worked hard all day, I’m tired,” I imagine they’re thinking. “Why should I stand just because some girl decided to wear stupid shoes?”

But is the choice to wear uncomfortable shoes really entirely up to a woman’s own volition? High heels are so pervasive in modern society that the wearing of them is less a fashion option than a dogma which leaves women feeling like they have little other choice. When people think of an attractive, well-dressed woman, they don’t usually imagine her wearing comfy footwear. And this is a bias that women are immediately hit with upon entering a shoe shop. Overwhelmingly, the most decorative, feminine-looking footwear is equipped with a high heel. Anything that isn’t is deliberately designed to be plain, often dowdy – as though women who want to be functional must therefore have rejected any aspirations to beauty.

But, I hear you say, what about ballet flats? Certainly, the recent explosion in the popularity of ballet flats may seem to be an indication that women are increasingly rejecting the heel in favour of more functional footwear. Ballet flats are often intricately decorated, undeniably feminine, and don’t twist and strain the body as high heels do. An improvement, I will admit. Woman-kind has stood up in flat shoes and said “I don’t have to be dowdy to be casual!”. But this is honestly as far as the ballet flat goes. Flat they may certainly be, but functional they are not. The majority of ballet flats have soles so thin as to fail to provide any support for the foot.

Furthermore, the social stigma around flat shoes is such that even highly decorated ballet flats are rarely considered appropriate to replace high heeled shoes for special occasions. They may have replaced the dowdy casual shoe, but they have failed to replace the torturous high heel as an option for formal wear. A woman who wants to look like she has made an effort will inevitably find herself reaching for those heels – no matter how well her fancy, feminine ballet flats might match her dress, they invariably give others the impression that she is ‘dressing down’, and therefore not wearing appropriate attire for the occasion.

Just as heels are still considered the appropriate option for formal wear, they are also considered the most appropriate option for a woman who wants to look sexy – to impress a date, or increase her own self-confidence, perhaps. It is said that high heels visibly define the shape of a woman’s legs and buttocks – and thus increase their sex appeal. In my experience women who look amazing in heels actually look equally amazing without them, but as a society we are determined not to recognise that many women are gorgeous and sexy even without ridiculous footwear.

Of course, there are plenty of women who reject the social pressure to wear high heeled shoes, for various reasons – myself included. But there are still an overwhelming number of women who seem to feel that the social benefits of wearing high heels far outweigh any physical disadvantages. I’m not proposing we burn all high heeled shoes, but I do believe that, as a society, we need to reject the dogma of ‘beauty is pain’. Rather than women putting all of their focus into resigning themselves to suffering through this situation, we need to focus on creating more ways to combine beauty and functionality – and to hold firm to make these functional alternatives socially valid options for any situation.

~~~

How do you feel about footwear options for women? If you have any theories, opinions, or stories you’d like to share, please use the comments section below.

The Conundrum of Love

Standard

It’s the focus of just about every romantic comedy in existence. Two people fall in love. Maybe everything’s rocky for a while, if one or both of them is in denial. But then love is acknowledged, and everything is wonderful. The couple are perfectly matched in personality, and they have a great sex life to boot. It’s what virtually everyone, if they were to stop and be perfectly honest with themselves, desires in a relationship. But it’s not realistic, right?

If the most pervasive stereotype about love we are exposed to in this modern world is unrealistic – what is actually reasonable for each of us to expect when it comes to lasting romance? How do we know if it’s the real thing, or if we should hold out for something better? With divorce rates rising all over the world, many of us stop to wonder if we’re really putting enough thought into our committed relationships. But at the same time, overthinking things seems equally undesirable. Nobody wants to miss their chance at happiness because they were just too goddamn picky.

Thanks to women’s liberation and similar movements, divorce has increasingly become a viable, socially acceptable option for those who find themselves in marriages that just aren’t working. But honestly, this isn’t the only factor at work. Historically, the majority of marriages have been based on some kind of logical benefit. Money, social security, family standing, etc. But increasingly, ‘love’ has become the most considered factor when entering into a committed relationship. And unlike economic and social driving factors, love is highly illogical and unpredictable – particularly to the people who are most concerned.

A large part of what makes love illogical is that there are so many contradicting definitions of the concept. Is having someone who shares your interests and values enough? Or should you hold out for strong physical (chemical) attraction too? Whether you decide to define love as comfortable companionship, or as an irresistible physical attraction, either way most of us are conscious of a perceived risk. On the one hand, if we decide that burning passion is a non-viable basis for a relationship (if it even does exist anyway), we run the risk of finding ourselves trapped in a committed relationship with someone who suits us well enough when we eventually stumble across somebody else who is a perfect match. On the other hand, forever holding out for that one perfect connection can seem like a gamble most people are unlikely to win – with those who lose ending up forever alone.

Too often we may believe that we have found our soulmate, only to break up and, looking back, realise that everything that initially seemed so perfect was an illusion, a trick of our own minds caused by eager willingness to give in to chemical signals of physical attraction. So is every relationship that feels like it is based on some kind of deep connection on a spiritual or physical level necessarily a lie?

We are social creatures, but we are also individuals. The idea of two souls fitting together as one is a lovely image, but in reality we cannot even access the thoughts of another person, let alone connect our own thoughts to theirs. If ever we feel irresistibly drawn to another person, it is a purely physical effect. Chemicals playing with our brain. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that a relationship based on such physical attraction is doomed to fail. The key to every relationship is communication. Even if we feel this strong attraction to another person, we have to remember that a relationship doesn’t turn two people into one being – and we have to make effort to support the flow of communication accordingly. And once communication has been achieved, each of us must give a little, and take a little, and support compromises. It is only when cooperation fails that relationships fall apart.

And as for the original question: What is love? How important is this concept of love as a factor for a successful, committed relationship? And if our happiness is to be shared with another person, how do we know if we’ve found the right person to share it with? Honestly, I’m still confused. I suspect it’s an answer that requires retrospect to be learned. But with all that combined human experience out there, I don’t believe that we should all have to gamble our entire lives just to find out the answer.

~~~

What are your thoughts on the nature of love? Is it like in the movies, or is it actually something much more mellow? And is it really necessary for a happy, successful relationship, or are other factors much more important?

Contribute your theories, opinions, and personal stories in the comments section below. Maybe together we can make some sense  out of love.

Sexist Japan

Standard

When thinking of some of the world’s most modern societies, most people tend to expect a certain amount of technological and social advancement. While there can be no doubt that Japan is right up there with the best on the technology front, as a society it remains somewhat lacking in anything along the lines of gender equality.

The other day, I met a Japanese friend (Miss Kitty, in case I ever need to refer to her in a later post) to discuss the possibility of my participation in her extremely ambitious plans for her startup business. About halfway through this meeting, I was honestly shocked to hear the details of what she had decided would be a reasonable fee for her customers to pay. But what shocked me wasn’t the actual amount of money she required, but the fact that she had calculated her fee differently for men and women.

Last month, I stumbled upon a sign announcing the existence of a ‘Gender Equality Promotion Center’ in the vicinity of a train station some distance out of central Tokyo. While I have yet to check it out, just knowing that it is there gave me some hope that Japan was at last starting to make real progress towards equality. Of course, Miss Kitty’s plans were a real kick in the face for my pretty dreams. Not only does she expect men to pay double that of women – but she also intends to offer a 1/3 discount to every woman who brings along a man. That is to say, a 1/3 discount for each man a woman can convince to accompany her; there would conceivably be some women who would receive Miss Kitty’s services for free. Crazy, right?

The truly shocking part of Miss Kitty’s plan is that it is genuinely conceivable. Even these days, it is very common in Japan to see entertainment-related services charging more for men. This is limited not only to places like clubs, where the thinking is obviously “men want to meet women, so we’ll attract all the women and the men will flock to pay more”, but is also a policy encouraged by the local cinemas, all of which host a ‘ladies day’ once a week allowing women to see films at almost half price. Although some few cinemas are recently beginning to incorporate a similar ‘mens day’, these fee-related policies are continuing evidence that Japan, as a society, is reluctant to let go of two central ideas which promote gender inequality. These ideas are namely: That a gender wage gap is completely normal and acceptable, and; That men should naturally provide the financial support that women require.

All of which leads directly to another problem. “If you get married and start a family, do you think you might still be able to participate in this business?” asks Miss Kitty, quite seriously. Japan has one of the highest rates of university education in the world, for women as well as men. But it is still more conceivable than not that a Japanese woman will quit working and become a fulltime housewife as soon as she has children. This is not to say that Japanese women are not interested in a career, and do not have goals they wish to pursue outside of the family. Rather, Japanese society as a whole has failed to provide any decent support for working mothers. The childcare system is exclusive and expensive (as another friend trying to get into the workforce after giving birth complained extensively), prospective employers are unwilling to hire a woman who does not have a guarantee of finding childcare for her baby, and anyway, even if a new mother had a job, trying to divide parenting and career responsibilities with the father just seems ridiculous when you take into consideration how much more his employers likely pay him for his time.

And so, all my pretty dreams of an egalitarian Japan are all gone to dust, and seem unlikely to be resurrected anytime soon. Of course, I certainly hope that something soon will precipitate real change, and trigger a genuine step towards gender equality. But with the country still run on such a conservative basis, we’ll have a real fight on our hands to make anyone with power even see that the situation is broken, let alone that it needs fixing.