Saturday, 22 September 2012

Shoes, Bras and Fantasies

Recently I was reading Caitlin Moran's book How to be a Woman. It's mainly really good - lots of fun and a few insights about feminism that have made me think. My main criticism is that I wasn't particularly interested in the long autobiographical sections about the author going to parties and getting very drunk with famous people. It sounded fun, but just not relevant to most women's lives, which surely is what the book is supposed to be about. Anyway...
There were two particualy interesting points that I have been thinking about (apart from the bit about yellow shoes going with everything, which I plan to try out).

1. It takes to your thirties to get good at being a woman

By the time you get to your 30s you have finally become quite good at being a woman - you're doing OK with your job, you own at least three dresses, etc. etc., says Ms Moran. In my case, I have come to terms with the handbag as something useful and pretty to put stuff in, rather than a symbol of femine dependency; I have learnt how to apply eye make-up without looking like I've been punched; I have discovered what a bra is meant to look like when it fits; and I have and earned enough money to have several of said bras in pretty patterns. Most importantly, I believe that I am attractive - not in a jaw-dropping boys walking into things and dribbling kind of a way, but in a sort of acquired taste for some people who might like that kind of thing.

Moran's point is that you get to this age and you are on the decline, tits moving south, fertility declining, hair going white/grey (not quite yet), wrinkles appearing. Cheerful things like that. I suppose it suggests that the business of being female, and doing it well is so incredibly difficult and complicated, that it takes fifteen years from puberty to learn how to do it. Maybe I will spend the next fifteen learning it was a colossal waste of time, or maybe I will just be able to enjoy my handbags, dresses, underwear and yellow shoes, safe in the knowledge that I am not contributing to the repression of women by doing any of these things.

2. Fantasies

The second thing I want to talk about from Moran's book is fantasies. I don't mean this in a fun, sexy way, I mean it in a weird psycho way that is actually quite tedious, so you may want to stop reading now. I've given you a picture of some pretty shoes and mentioned bras a couple of times - you can go away happy.

The lovely Caitlin talks about day-dreaming fantasy relationships with casual acquaintances, which go into a minute level of detail and incorporate the beginning, duration and ending of the relationship. Often the relationship ended badly, though no fault of her own, but leaving her with smouldering feeling of resentment to the other person, that spill over into actual life. I do that, and I thought it was just me (I love reading books when the author describes a thing that I do that I thought no one else did, it's a beautiful feeling of  not-anloneness [or is that just me?]).

I have long become used to imagining a disagreement with a colleague over some small issue, that resulted in a screaming row and left me feeling off-kilter and resentful towards them, before I even arrived at the office. Occasionally I have confided in my (real) beloved about these situations, to be met with incredulity. He doesn't do this. But what he and I do isn't necessarily a yardstick for the whole of humanity. The fact that Moran and I do this, isn't much more conclusive, but she seems to have gathered more circumstantial evidence on this (she asked her friends) and suggests that it is something common to women.

Moran's theory is that women test relationships in our heads with these scenarios, and when they don't work out we have thus saved ourselves the trouble of pursuing the person/relationship for real. Since my arguments are generally with colleagues and aquaintances, I'm not sure this bears out. I don't know what it says, other than that a lot of women seems to do this really odd thing, that can actually be quite stressful, and doesn't really serve musch purpose, since the level of invented detail we put into the scenrios we imagine make them unlikely to ever come true. It's like our brains just constantly need extra and more complicated things to think about, or that life doesn't provide us with enough angst, so we invent new, fantastical confrontations. What's going on there?

Monday, 17 September 2012

A delicate condition

Today I was editing a piece of writing about the human condition. At university I was taught to avoid talking about how a text articulated universal truths, that everything was a product of its own time and culture and that the impulse to read like this was very old fashioned and imprecise.

Of course there must be some consistencies with our past. We still love, hate, live, die. And we still appreciate so many of the stories from the past, so we can't be that different. But isn't it a bit fatuous for anyone of use to try and define the human condition, or say that a particular thing emulates the human condition.

Wikipedia of course has something to say on this matter:

The human condition encompasses the unique and believed to be inescapable features of being human. It can be described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not dependent on factors such as gender, race or class. It includes concerns such as the meaning of life, the search for gratification, the sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, or anxiety regarding the inescapability of death.

Is my condition the same as yours? Is the condition of a man the same as that of a woman? Come to think of it, is the condition of a black, disabled woman, who has grown up in poverty likely to be the same as that of a white able-bodied man from a privileged background? To say no, I suppose is to de-humanise one or the other. If you say we are all essentially the same, you are claiming equality, which has to be a good thing, doesn't it?

Are we all the same deep down? I think probably not. We have impulses: we're never satisfied with what we have,

And what if the reason we haven't yet discovered the meaning of life, is that it's different for everyone? Call it 'raison d'etre' instead of meaning of life (I know that's not meant to be the same thing) and it seems more likely that everyone will have their own. Why should the meaning of my life be the same of yours?  Maybe I live for other people, maybe I live to be loved, maybe I live for my religion, or maybe I get a kick of the sheer fucking amazingness of just being alive.

Just saying.