Hello friends, family, and, most importantly, fiery females…
The creators of this blogging venture, Rachel and Sarah, are two young women who met at a strange remote university that takes up more than half of an absurd and quaint medieval village on the Scottish coast. After befriending each other, confessing to each other their deep fear of not being cool enough and eating lots of cake and cheese together, they both stumbled upon a book – a very good, very funny, very smart book. Indeed, it seemed that all that the cakes, the fear of lack of coolness and their friendship was about was expressed in this book. Unfortunately, the time of the book’s discovery coincided with the time when Sarah had to go away (to a very dark place called ‘the real world’ outside of the medieval academic bubble). However, since they kept needing to talk to each other about the book, or their lives, or how the book was relevant to their lives, they wrote to each other spectacularly long messages. Many long and late messages that need to be scrolled back over for pages to be answered properly. Thanks to this book they realised that despite their fears, the book trusted that they were cool, so ultimately, they decided to prove it – so, here it is, the blog that Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman prompted (assisted by lots of cheese and cakes, and personal insecurities). A very cool, and very fiery, blog of our own.
Now, to understand more about the authors of this blog:
Hello, I’m Rachel. The British fiery female of this Anglo-Swiss partnership. I am an Art History student, so I’m frequently smacked in the face by artistic representations of the ‘perfect woman’. In fact, my friendship with Sarah began after I went on a caffeine high in the library over an Art History essay – I started jabbering away mindlessly at the poor girl to rid myself of my excess energy – thank you caffeine, you found me a dear friend. So, how did I come to decide to write this blog with Sarah? Where do I begin? Let us start with my childhood. From a young age I was a bit of a hungry caterpillar, and when I hit puberty my puppy fat turned in to big, bold curves. Surely this was the moment where my natural female instincts should have kicked in? Surely this was the time when I would become more bootylicious than Beyonce? Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Despite anatomical developments, I have had a long lingering sense of not being ‘girly enough’. I have always been far too serious, ungainly and awkward to ever be dubbed ‘cute’, or perhaps the alternative, ‘sexy’. This is where Caitlin Moran struck a chord with me. All those years of wondering where my inherent feminine qualities had disappeared to. Why am I not cute and soft-spoken like the rest of the girls in this world? Why am I not a real woman?
Over time, and especially thanks to Caitlin’s personal accounts in her book, I have come to realise that maybe there never has been anything wrong with me. In fact, there is something deeply wrong with societal notions of womanhood. We have been conditioned in to thinking that there is a certain way to ‘be a woman’, or perhaps a more desirable ‘type of woman’. Deep voiced girls who don’t know how to be quiet or handle their curves don’t fit that bill. If these artistic representations that I frequently come across in my studies have taught me anything, it’s that throughout history there have been notions of the ‘perfect woman’, sadly for her she’s normally naked and laid out like a roast turkey for our delectation with her eyes cast to the floor. However, on the upside, lucky for us, there have been glorious artists, like Cindy Sherman, who have set out to challenge this. So, my contribution to this blog, and primary concern, shall be to expand upon and explore Caitlin’s challenge against the notion that there is a way to be a woman.
Naturally, I feel this challenge leads in to further feminist debate. Is the woman dressed in next to nothing on a Friday night objectified or liberated? Why is there such a spectacular taboo around menstruation that you cringe at the thought of talking to a boy about it? Why when I wear a low-cut jumper do men fall over themselves to help me, as opposed to when I’m wearing something with a high-neck? (tried and tested by yours truly – the results are depressing). To answer these questions, and many more, we need a strong re-evaluation of societal notions of womanhood. We cannot hope to restructure the treatment of women without first addressing conceptions of them.
I’m Sarah, the other half of this fiery writing collaboration. I met Rachel at university, but actually, the proper beginning of our friendship came quite late in my time in Scotland, and has blossomed perhaps even more so since we parted and started writing each other insanely long messages. These messages were so brilliant that we thought it was a shame the rest of the world could not profit from our inputs. (Yeah, that’s a plausible genesis tale).
As my experience since I left university a couple of months ago is teaching me the hard way, there is a gap between theory and reality. I know, without thinking about it, that men and women are equal, and ought to be treated accordingly. However, since I was instilled with this notion at a very young age, things don’t seem to have unfolded that smoothly around me. Let it be clear, I personally haven’t particularly felt that I was heavily discriminated against because I am a woman, but I have acknowledged that there have sometimes been ways I am expected to behave or react. Never aggressively, no, but I have had minor discussions about trivialities that appear to have been undercover debates about what it is to be feminine, and how bad it feels to not be it. And sometimes, though rarely, I have had proper heated arguments about it too. Despite the position I have held in these debates, I think that on these occasions I have worried and doubted myself because I felt I wasn’t doing that right either.
In theory, I have come to terms with the idea that there is no absolute right or wrong way to debate these issues. I say this but in practice I’m agonizing at this very moment over whether or not any of my experiences or opinions are valid enough for this blog. And I can pretend to be screaming “who can validate you and who needs validation anyway?’, but inside I am still reasoning against myself – “well, no social validation, fine, that’s all very nice… if you want to be alone”.
Strangely enough, I think my utter lack of self-confidence ultimately made me a more self-affirmed woman. Not attracting boys and feeling unable to do anything about that has forced me to focus on other things. I’m not blaming being single on being a feminist, nor do I use one as an excuse for the other, nor do I feed a despicable cliché about both these facts. I’m only assessing that the years of relentless self-scrutiny have had the logical outcome of making me aware of my little self and its failures (to an absurd degree), but also of all the other ways to avoid feeling like you’ve failed without actually earning the damn prize. This is a way too elaborate metaphor to say plainly – but too often the prize of being ‘the right kind of girl’ is presented as getting the boy. And as I wasn’t getting the boys I had to develop others ways to feel that I was ‘the right kind of girl’. Now, I’m still not getting the boys but at least I can affirm that it does not make me less of a girl. However, the fact that I have to go to such a length to express it is a clue that this is still an issue I’m struggling with, and what I thought was going to be a blog is turning into therapy.
So, to paraphrase, Caitlin Moran (whose book I loved for articulating these things in not only a more eloquent, but also much more funny way than me): this is not so much “how to be a woman” as “how I’m somehow trying to be the woman I think I want to be (maybe).” This blog is not the answer, this blog is all of my freaking questions!
So, as Caitlin once said, she was hoping her book would open doors to other discussions, and challenges of her version of what it is to be a woman. Here we are, with our combined neurosis, trying in our own little ways to emulate her. We can’t pretend this is going to be as good as her book, but it’s because it’s not going to be like it. Both our experiences are not the same, and they definitely aren’t Caitlin’s, and that is what should be interesting. We can’t write about our maternity experiences but we can talk about coming of age at a time where the Spice Girls were around – so you know, plenty to get excited about.
And as little seeds grow to form flowers that disseminate pollen and other seeds to make more flowers (we think – we’re arts students…), our blog can only have the ambition to prompt even more reactions and discussions about the subject of womanhood. Perhaps even just make people think with us, against us, or even for a moment on their own. At the same time we’ll also try to nurture our own fears and insecurities better, because obviously, we still haven’t got a clue about what we’re doing.