Book Review: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Being a feminist can be exhausting. There are only so many times you can hear someone say ‘but we have gender equality now, why can’t you just shut up, why do you hate men?’ before you start to daydream of a world where the problem (the men) just doesn’t exist at all. Don’t deny it, I know you’ve thought it. My boyfriend, obviously a man himself, has even said it out loud. It’s very difficult not to when you’re faced with a constant stream of unending privilege, arrogance, sexism, racism and classism from half the people you come into contact with. I’m not saying we should think it, or that it’s a good thing. I’m just being honest about how shitty being a feminist can feel sometimes.

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Well, lucky for me, 19th century feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman shared my guilty daydream. Herland is a story about three male explorers who happen upon a civilisation formed entirely of women. As they explore this utopian society full of harmonious, selfless citizens, the explorers teach them, at the women’s request, what it’s like in the real world full of men. Unsurprisingly, the women are not happy about what they hear. Perkins Gilman’s clever way of pitting the brutality and selfishness of our world against the serenity and beauty of Herland are almost upsetting in parts, because of how terrible they make our world seem. However at the same time you are rewarded with the understanding that she is absolutely ripping the piss out of the male protagonists.

Herland sends a very clear message about being wary of the affect that competitive, exploitative, selfish behaviour has on a society. While it’s easy to see the story as just an expression of frustration, I do think it goes a lot deeper than that. I also think that it is a must for any man to read. You’ll find it unsettling, but it’s important to see such a believable, rational evolution of an all-female society. After all, we live in a patriarchy, you’re the ones with the power and you’re the ones that need to be challenged.

For me, this book was a wonderful way of harmlessly working through some of the serious issues I have with men who won’t acknowledge their privilege. It was an incredibly cathartic, amusing and interesting read, even though it really did make me feel sad in parts. I would highly recommend it to any tired feminist, and if you can find a way of making the sexist person in your life read it to the end, it’ll probably give them a lot of food for thought too. Get it from Waterstones – link

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Thinx: Period Underwear

Two months ago, I discovered my holy grail. Not skincare, not hair care, not make-up. My holy grail? Five pairs of period underwear that make me feel sexy, comfortable and confident. These pant(ie)s have changed the way I feel about my period, and I honestly believe they are the best investment I could ever have made for myself.

Also…I would never in a million years have expected to be posting a picture of me in my underwear on this blog, but that just goes to show how amazing Thinx underwear make me feel. Read on to find out why!

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I’ve always been very forward about periods – I don’t find them disgusting and have never felt embarrassed by them. When I started my dad was the first person I told, and he reacted with pride. I cannot express how important that was, his joyously positive response to something that women are shamed for and silenced about. It taught me not to accept men’s immaturity in the face of a bleeding vagina, and to question phrases like ‘oh my god don’t make period jokes that’s disgusting’. I think this is one of the reasons I’m so annoyed by the lack of options when it comes to sanitary products, and allow myself to loathe both pads and tampons.

For a long time, I used a Mooncup, which I loved. However I’ve had an IUD for a year and was told by both my doctors and the Mooncup team that using a cup in conjunction with an IUD is a bit squiffy – so the cup went back into its box, and I went back to using pads. I never use tampons because my flow isn’t heavy enough and it’s like lighting a match EVERY SINGLE TIME I take one out… but after a while I got sick of pads, especially since discovering that the only brand I actually liked now puts perfume in all their products (really, Always?) So I started looking for an alternative.

And that’s when I discovered Thinx. Made of four ingenious layers of absorbent, antimicrobial, leak-resistant and moisture-wicking fabrics as well as an incredible design that just fits PERFECTLY, Thinx underwear come in six styles that can hold up to TWO tampons worth of blood! The level of absorbency varies depending on the style. As you can imagine, the hiphugger holds a lot more than the thong, so you can choose your pants based on your own flow. I bought five pairs of hiphuggers because I decided to use them without anything else, and I thought the style looked really comfy. Thinx recommend that you use them with tampons or a cup, but also stress that you know your own flow, and if you think it’s light enough to go it alone, that’s up to you.

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I went with the large size, which is bigger than I would usually buy in the UK (I’m a 12, sometimes even a 10) but about right for American undies – genuinely I think they make them differently as I’ve bought medium size underwear in Peru, New York and Toronto and they’ve ALL been to small! Anyway, large fits PERFECTLY. Despite being thicker than normal underwear, it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in a knicker-sized sanitary pad. It does feel different, but not uncomfortable, or even noticeable after a few minutes.

It’s amazing to just be able to get up in the morning and simply pull on some underwear, without having to worry about packing enough pads for the day. To be able to wear my skinniest jeans, and to be wearing underwear that I actually like! Washing them is so easy too. You rinse the top layer of blood off at the end of the day in cold water, and then pop them in a cold delicates wash with natural detergent (I use Ecover’s Delicate Laundry Detergent) along with all your other underwear and delicates.

Thinx are more than just an amazing underwear company though. Their factory in Sri Lanka is a family run company that is committed to training and educating their female employees so that that they can become empowered leaders in the community. Thinx ALSO contribute some of their profits to ARFIpads, an organisation that trains women in developing countries to sew reusable sanitary pads. They sell these pads to girls in their communities who are then able to attend school whilst menstruating, something that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

In total my pants took me to about £100, which I was completely happy with to be honest. Yeah they’re not cheap, but the technology, ethics, the comfort, confidence and convenience make them more than worth the investment. Take a look at their amazing range here.

How to talk to a doctor about your vagina

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Women everywhere are taught that their bodies, sexuality, and as a consequence, genitals, are dirty. We’re taught that enjoying our bodies is sad and wrong, that periods are disgusting and that unless you’re as trimmed as a porn star, no man will ever eat you out. So it’s NO SURPRISE WHATSOEVER that it’s hard to talk to a stranger, face to face, about an issue you might be having between your legs. I’ve been there – and I broke through the apprehension, so I thought I’d share with you how I did it…

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  1. Be honest with yourself. I don’t mean that in the sense of asking yourself why you’re nervous about talking to a doctor about your vajajay. What I mean is DON’T put off seeing a doctor. Don’t tell yourself that it’s nothing. If you are worried about your body, then you have a responsibility to yourself to do something about it. Make that appointment!
  2. You can always request a female doc if that makes you feel better. If it does, go for it! For the record I’ve had a lot of male doctors and nurses talk about/look at my vag and it was exactly the same. They all have the same level of education, they all ask you the same questions.
  3. The hardest part of talking to a doctor is the beginning. When you start, you’ll get a twinge of ‘oh god what if I blush’, but just push through. Even if you do blush! Like, they’re a doctor, they probably won’t even notice because they’ll be listening to you describe your symptoms.
  4. Remember that you do not need to feel ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ talking to a doc about your vagina, or even asking them to look at it. Yes, you CAN ask a doctor to look at it. It is EXACTLY the same as asking them to look at a mole. Every GP in the world has has been elbow deep inside a human body on multiple occasions. I cannot begin to express how unfazed they will be by your vagina.
  5. Make eye contact. If you pretend that you aren’t feeling awkward, then it magically becomes not awkward. Honestly! If you don’t have a problem with eye contact usually, then this is a really useful way of forcing yourself to be comfortable.
  6. It’s normal to feel exposed or uncomfortable on an exam table. Especially if it’s cold! Just remember that feeling a bit uncomfortable is worth it to know that everything’s fine, and even more worth it if everything turns out NOT to be fine.
  7. If you’re having an examination, relax your muscles, control your breathing and count the ceiling tiles. You’ll barely even notice that speculum going in! (Jokes)
  8. Even if you can’t make yourself feel at ease, it doesn’t matter. A doctor sees people at the worst times in their life. Elderly people who can’t remember where they are. Women who have just lost a baby. Alcoholics with liver cirrhosis. I’m not belittling your concern (remember, I’ve been there), what I’m doing is reminding you that being able to walk in, tell a doctor what’s happening and have them look at it? That is a privilege. Even if you have to stare at your shoes the entire time.

I wanted to write this post because I know a lot of people are worried about discussing their vagina with a stranger. I hope this made you feel better and inspired you to book that smear test, get that lump looked at, or ask your doctor why you’re having pain during sex. You have a right to free healthcare, and your vagina is damn important!

I can prove that make-up is feminist

I don’t think we place enough weight on the role that socialisation (learning to fit into the society we’re born in) plays in the development of our personality. We know that socialisation is important to our development, but what I’m not sure people understand is that when you’re brought up to want something (and you don’t end up rebelling against it), you genuinely want it. It’s not performative and it’s not lying to fit in. Society doesn’t just make us feel like we want something, it actually makes us want it. 

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For example, if you want to wear a white dress at your wedding, you want it because society told you to. But you also GENUINELY WANT IT, as honestly as I want a cup of coffee right now, or I wanted a shower when I woke up. Every fibre of the ‘what do I want to wear to my wedding’ part of your brain wants that dress. Being told that you shouldn’t have one is akin to being told that you aren’t allowed to have a cup of coffee. Your wants and needs are being denied, and it feels bad because they are real wants and needs.

I first started thinking about this because I couldn’t understand why it was that I liked make-up and pretty dresses so much. I wasn’t raised to like them, in fact my fairly radical parents went to great lengths not to expose me to gendered behaviour. Yet, there were influences. I still watched TV, I still knew what make-up was and who it was for. A child’s desire to fit can easily make it attracted to a certain toy, way of speaking, item of clothing or type of behaviour. I wanted to wear make-up when I was older, I felt a burning desire for a really pretty dress, and yes, it was because my friends and the women on TV had them.  I’d learned that make-up and dresses make you pretty, so I felt pretty in them. Kinda sheds a light on why we find it SO difficult to define beauty, doesn’t it!?

When we criticise something like make-up as ‘anti-feminist’ or damaging to women in some way, we are wrong. To say that would be to say that I am not allowed to do something that makes me feel good. We can’t simply overcome the way we were raised, especially when it’s something as relatively unimportant as putting stuff on your body to feel good. Getting a career, maintaining our mental health, enjoying life, these things are far more important. Let’s go back to the first example I gave; the white wedding dress. I’ve spent a lot of time being vehemently against them. However, after thinking about the idea that the ‘wants’ we learn from society are real and valid, I realised that actually, if you want a white wedding dress, it would be hurtful to hear someone say it was a bad thing. The white dress is steeped in the history of female oppression. It was wrong that society taught you to idolise it. But it is not wrong for you to want it. The same is true of nearly every ‘feminine’ behaviour that one might claim to be a result of a misogynistic society. Taking the man’s last name? Stay at home mums? Taking sexy photos? Think of anything you like. It isn’t just that women have been told they should want these things. They really want them.

At this point, it sounds like I’m being really patronising. ‘Leave women alone to do all the silly things they like doing, they’re not hurting anyone’ … but actually no, it’s much more important than that. We live in a society where we are simultaneously praised and put down for doing things that we want to do. We should have sex when men want us to, but if we have sex too much we’re sluts. We shouldn’t dress in revealing clothes but if a woman covers her hair she’s being oppressed. Society is not on our side, because society is not angled towards women’s wants and needs. I can’t think of a better way of telling society to fuck off than picking a few of the things it taught me to like and celebrating the shit out of them. I will tell you how beautiful you look in your wedding dress because it’s true, I will try to recreate that YouTube make-up look, and I will argue until I’m blue in the face about a woman’s right to cover, or uncover her body in front of others.

Counter examples, where people are raised to think, or want something that negatively impacts other people, only serve to highlight how ridiculous it is that we sanction harmless desires like wearing make-up. Being raised as a racist? A homophobe? These are serious problems, and honestly, I think a lot of people who have these feelings may need real help. You do not need counselling because it makes you feel good to post sexy instagram pictures.

It doesn’t matter whether society taught you to like something, hours of deep thinking taught you to like it, or it came ready made in your brain at birth. If you like it, do it, wear it, live it. Celebrate other women for doing the things that make them feel good, so we can finally enjoy ourselves without society’s permission.

What do you think? I would love to hear some feedback on this!

 

Book review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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One of the most engaging, vivid and interesting books I’ve read for a long time, Purple Hibiscus is an incredible ‘coming-of-age’ story about fifteen year old Kambili, daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. I describe her in this decidedly non-feminist way because this is how she appears to see herself for much of the book. Her father is the sun around which her family revolves and having an identity of her own isn’t just something she isn’t allowed, it’s a concept that would never even have occurred to her. Until, that is, life throws Kambili and her brother into the life of their Aunty, the brilliant Ifeoma, and her spirited children.

I think my favourite aspect of the book has got to be the characters and the way they each influence Kambili in a unique way. Her tyrannical father, the quiet developments taking place under the skin of her brother Jaja, the gloriously intelligent teenage anger of her cousin Amaka, the budding philosopher in her cousin Obiora, and the quiet, heartbreaking tragedy of her mother, these are fantastically written, deeply complex people, who all have a part to play in unfolding the story, and enabling Kambili to wake up into her own person.

Another aspect that I absolutely adored were the intellectual conversations taking place around Kambili, about colonialism, nationhood, westernisation, racism and corruption, without her actually joining in or having an opinion about them. I thought this was a neat little trick of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who let’s not forget, is a very important figure in the field of modern feminism. It is a joy to read these parts because they were written by someone who really, really knows what she’s talking about. Like watching an interview with an actor who indulges the audience by slipping into their best known character for a moment, except here, Adichie is sharing her brilliant insights into deeply important topics.

At it’s heart, this is a story about people in pain, and it is a moving, thought-provoking, intelligent and compulsive read. This story tugs at everything in you, and you simply must read it.

Have you already read Purple Hibiscus? What did you think? Put a spoiler warning at the top of your comment and let’s talk about it!! 

 

Learning to love my armpit hair

Today, I went to my first ever yoga class, and I was a bit nervous. Being naturally flexible and weirdly good at balancing (thanks, five years of gymnastic trampolining), actually being able to do the poses wasn’t the thing that was worrying me. My nerves were to do with the fact that I haven’t shaved my underarms for almost a year. I was wearing a vest top and sports bra, and was about to spend an hour with my arms up in the air, surrounded by beautiful strangers.

I love my underarm hair. It’s so soft, and it curls like the hair on my head. My partner thinks it’s pretty. think it’s pretty. The fact that I can have body hair, not worry about people seeing it and still feel confident is a huge thing for me. I struggled with body image until I was about 22, so here I am making myself less attractive in the eyes of society, and I still feel good?!

The yoga class was a blip – I was unsure of the people I’d be around, and knew that if anyone looked at me there was no chance they wouldn’t see my underarms.This experience was definitely the most intense ‘armpit hair display’ I’ve ever had, and I got through it because I knew that I liked my armpit hair, and I wanted to share with you the way that I actually learned to love it. Yep, that’s right, this is my underarm hair beauty routine. And what?

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Step one: Washing. 

My boyfriend sports a lovely Aragorn-style 5 day beard, which looks insanely sexy but has a tendency to scratch my delicate face apart when we make out. When shopping around for something to tame it, we came across this Kalamazoo Beard Wash in Lush and he bought a small tub. A couple of weeks later, he went back to buy this bucket size, because this mixture of pineapple, almond oil, jojoba oil and cupuaçu makes body hair INSANELY soft. I asked James if I could try it on my underarm hair one morning and he enthusiastically agreed, and ever since my hair has been baby soft and super smooth.

Step two: Deodorise. 

I haven’t used anti-perspirant for almost a year. Natural deodorants are great as they allow you to sweat (which you NEED to do) but if used correctly, do help prevent body odour. I use Pit Rok Spray in the morning, as this prevents the smell, and then Weleda Sage Deodorant later in the day if I need to cover up. I’ve tried tonnes of natural deos, and these are definitely the best. I keep my arms pressed to my sides to make sure the liquid gets through the hair and all over my skin.

Step three: Conditioning.

Using oil on your armpit hair is entirely optional, I usually only do it when I’m wearing something sleeveless. It is, however, the most absolutely gorgeous thing you can do with your underarm hair, and an excellent way of feeling more confident about it. When you lift your arm up to point at something and are greeted with the smell of some beautiful essential oils, how could you, or anyone else, think anything bad about your body hair? It smells of flowers and fruits! I had this little bottle of Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil and have been using that because it smells divine and my hair loves it – while it’s pricey, I am SO tempted to buy some more when it runs out. But I’ve also recently bought some Elbow Grease, a exclusive Lush Oxford Street product that is without a shadow of a doubt the most gorgeous collection of oils EVER. It melts into skin and hair immediately, and actually smells just like my Serge Lutens Fleur d’Oranger perfume. When I put oil on my armpit hair, I like to comb it through with an eyelash comb. You’d be surprised how tangled  an inch of armpit hair can get! It curls and sits beautifully after I do this (and no, it doesn’t look greasy, the hair is too thick for that!)

Step four: Nighttime. 

I often shower before bed rather than in the morning as it helps me sleep, and as part of my night time skincare routine, I always sprinkle some dusting powder on my underarms to make sure they’re fresh in the morning. If I’m showering in the morning instead, I don’t bother, but it’s lovely to go to bed with fragrant, dusted underarms. Lush’s dusting powders are the only ones worth using if you ask me, and their Princess Dusting Powder, bought for me as an in-joke gift by my boyfriend (and another Oxford Street Exclusive), is gorgeous. Silky Underwear is another stunning option that I’ve raved about before.

So that’s how I grew to really enjoy, embrace and normalise having underarm hair! Is it different? Yes. Do I care? Hell no, I’m having SO much fun. One day I might even dye it green. 

LET GIRLS WEAR WHAT THE HELL THEY WANT

I’m completely fed up with seeing articles about schools banning girls from wearing short skirts or makeup. The headteacher’s justification is always the problematic notion that it’s ‘distracting to the boys’ which irks me more than enough, but one that really got to me today said “School bans short skirts because they’re ‘distracting’ to male teachers”

In the article they don’t seem to offer any proof, but even still, the idea that girls will be sent home for not wearing ‘school appropriate’ skirts is outrageous, for so many reasons. For a start, telling girls that wearing makeup distracts them from work, and then sending them home AWAY from work, seems a little contradictory. I would have more time for the concept if it was five hours extra school a week in return for wearing a full face of makeup. Well, I wouldn’t, that would be monstrously draconian, but still it wouldn’t be as bad as damaging a girl’s education because she doesn’t fit into the school’s idea of the perfect female student, would it?!

Now, objectively, I’m a well educated, intelligent, successful woman. I’m 25, so measure that success how you will (I’m not exactly a CEO). I refuse to submit myself to the idea that saying that about myself is arrogant because I’m sick of society forcing me to be modest about my entire existence – fuck that – I have a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Philosophy from a great university, I’m writing a book, and I’m a Digital Marketing Executive. I’m happy with where I am and how I’m doing.

What was the point of all that? Well, I wear makeup and revealing clothing, and I have done since I was about 15. I love showing my waist off and making my eyes look bigger, I love accentuating my chest and my full lips. Why the fuck shouldn’t I? My body is a part of who I am, just as much as my arguing skills, my compassion, or my complete inability to organise anything. Is it shallow? Is it really? I could take you on in a debate about the mind body problem, I’ve almost cried whilst trying to understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (like every other Philosophy student), and I’ve written essays on dasein whilst trying to push to the back of my mind the feeling that Heidegger is one of the most useless philosophers ever to write anything. The concept of ‘shallow’ is, ironically, pretty shallow. Mindless consumerism and an obsession with the aesthetic can be flaws, but only when they aren’t accompanied by anything else. To be purely shallow is a rare thing, and the idea that teenage girls, some of the most complex and confused creatures on the planet, fall into that bracket, is absurd, reductionist and misogynistic.

In our society women are expected to look beautiful, no matter what they do. You can be a doctor, police officer or a politician, it’s nigh on impossible to escape the ‘does she look good enough’ magnifying glass. It’s not just celebrities who look perfect – your teacher probably knows damn well how to do her makeup, the woman who serves you in the shop, and lets not forget, the women that teenage girls watch on youtube for entertainment. Girls see women wearing makeup every single day, and teenage girls are in the process of turning into women. In just the same way as boys learning the rules of masculinity during their teens, girls are learning the rules of femininity. Of course they want to conform, wear makeup, shorten their skirts and act like women. They’re about to turn into them.

Lying to girls that wearing makeup and short skirts distracts them from their education is bad enough, but telling them they distract BOYS is worse still. We NEED to stamp out this disgraceful, archaic idea. I have a higher sex drive than anyone I’ve ever met, I’m attracted to women, and I’ve never had a hard time concentrating because a beautiful woman is wearing a short dress in front of me. Not because I’m not a man, it’s because I wasn’t raised to think that women are objects for me to look at. Is it therefore contradictory for me to want to wear tight tops and lipgloss? Actually, it probably is. But that’s because some of the things society teaches us are wrong. Despite my parent’s best efforts, I was still taught by society that women need to be sexy and attractive to feel good – and because I was taught this while I was growing up I genuinely feel that way. 

Society needs to change – there’s no doubt about that. But confusing the messages girls are sent – that makeup is a bad thing and wanting to wear it means you don’t care about school, whilst simultaneously marketing products to them and making physical appearance unbelievably important, just confuses women and girls and makes what they want versus what they know is right completely different. These ideas confuse boys and men in exactly the same way – how often have you thought “What is up with men, they say they like women to look natural but then react with disgust the second they see an acne scar”? None of us understand what we want, because from the get-go we’re taught things that are wrong. We want things because marketing departments know how to make us want things – and you cannot trust a marketing department to act with your best interests at heart. I’ve been lucky to work for ethical companies but believe me, they are rare. This, combined with the fact that no one seems to realise how much of an effect the society we grow up in has on us, has made for a pretty confused group of people. Teaching girls that something as innocuous as makeup and a short skirt is wrong makes them feel bad about what they want. Teaching boys that girls should hide from them fetishises girls in their eyes – makes their bodies into objects, and means they can’t respect us.

We NEED change, and schools are a damn good place to start. Let girls wear what the hell they want, teach boys that girl’s bodies are not there for them to look at, or enjoy, without expressed, enthusiastic consent, and we’ll end up with a more balanced, happier generation than we’ve had in a long time.