There is no reason and the truth is plain to see

Driving down the highway, the pavement disappears beneath me and I have the extraordinary sense of going somewhere. The street lights sparkle against the night sky, I streak past the few other cars, always going just a little bit too fast. There is a moment of silence as the song switches on my playlist. The first chords of A Whiter Shade of Pale float through the air and I smile to myself.

My head is full of imaginary scenarios. Me rolling all my clothes into small bundles and boarding a plane. The first time I set foot in Newcastle, lost, confused and slightly stressed, but so full of the future. Buying sheets for my bed, decorating a small but cute one bedroom apartment. Stepping into my first class, nervous but excited, meeting all of the other MA students. Walking along the river, watching fall turn into my first English winter and actually missing the snow. I see a favourite pub, with dim lights and Newcastle Brown on tap. I imagine my favourite cafe, with brownies for bad days and lattés for early mornings.

I picture myself on my first excavation, sweaty with the dust sticking to me, but smiling. I imagine finding that one thing that catches my attention on a random day in class - my thesis in the making. I see the Colisseum, the Parthenon, the Pantheon, the Acropolis.

I imagine what it will be like to be doing something I love everyday, for the first time in my life. What it will be like to be unemployed, to devote my time only to my studies.

And I smile.

Bitch

This post is inspired by Jessica Valenti’s book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. But I’m going to take a different approach to my response on this book because I want to talk a little bit about feminism first.

I am not a feminist. Or at least, I never thought I was. My sister would probably say I am, I just don’t know it yet. I think what I struggle with most is the term “feminist” itself. Because of the connotations it has. Because I’ve had countless annoying English classes where people argue that every piece of literature is actually about repressing women. Because I’ve had a very close encounter with a group of the pointing, accusing kind of feminists that give the word a bad reputation.

But what is a feminist, exactly?

I believe in equality - sexist, racist and ageist. I believe that women are treated differently than men in society, that we have a different set of expectations. I believe that we are conditioned to be a certain way and raised to behave differently and have different expectations. I believe that there is inequality between men and women, professionally and personally. That’s not even a belief so much as a proven fact.

So I guess what I’m saying is that this makes me a feminist. Still, I shy away from that word. This is probably one of the biggest challenges facing women’s rights today, the stereotypes that go along with “feminism.”

I am an intelligent, successful woman. I know what I want in life (most of the time) and I fight not only to get it but to excel at it. I am not a pushover. I was raised to go after what I wanted.

Because of this, I have been called a “bitch” more times in my life than I can count. I’m a bitch because I know how to get what I want. I’m a bitch because I’m in control of my workplace. I’m a bitch because I’m not a pushover, because I will stand up for myself and for what’s right. I’m a bitch because sometimes I simply refuse to stand for the patterns of social niceties that we’re expected to perform. Because sometimes people just really need to be told that they’re not doing what they should.

Let’s take my friend Kaitlyn for example. Kaitlyn is the smartest person I know. She’s driven and focused. She does amazingly well in school. She doesn’t accept anything less than perfect from herself or anyone else. And because of this, she’s already gotten so far in the last 22 years, and I’m sure will soon be working for Pixar and making millions. But you see, Kaitlyn is a bitch. Because she dares to question her teachers. Because she dares to demand better. Because she stands up for herself when no one else will. Because she’s a woman in a “man’s field” and she doesn’t fade into the background.

Apparently, “bitch” doesn’t mean “nasty” at all. Apparently “bitch” is actually a compliment, because Kaitlyn and I are both glad that we’re all of those things.

But I guarantee you that a man with the same approach as Kaitlyn or I would never be called a “bitch” or even an “asshole.” No, he would be the boss, a go-getter, competitive. This is absolutely the most annoying double standard that exists in the vast world of sexism.

I am tired of being called a bitch.

One day I was having tea with my sister, and I was particularly upset about being called a bitch, yet again. “I don’t think I’m a bitch,” I said. “I care a lot about people, I have lots of friends. I go out of my way to help people. But if everyone keeps saying it, it must be true, right?”

My sister looked at me and said, “You’re not a bitch because you’re not nice. You’re a bitch because you’re a strong, empowered woman and you’re not what society says you’re supposed to be.”

It was with this in mind that she leant me the book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, insisting that it be one of the 50 Books that I read for my list.

The book really opened my eyes to things that I already knew. That is to say, what she was saying seemed so obviously true that I was surprised I had never really thought about it before.

19. He’s the Boss, She’s a Bitch

“If you’re a woman in a position of power, you’ve probably been called a bitch… Or maybe you’ve been called a “boss lady.” Or ball buster, ball breaker, or some other word that means castrating, pushy, loud, and basically out of line. Why out of line? Because women don’t belong in positions of power, silly! So if you’ve gotten there, you must be a bitch. Men, though, arenatural bosses. Just think of the way men and women in the workplace are described. Men are ambitious, women are ruthless; men are commanding, women are bossy.”

1. He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut

“Despite the ubiquity of ’slut,’ where you won’t hear it is in relation to men. Men can’t be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy ‘a dog,’ but men simply aren’t judged like women are when it comes to sexuality.”

Jessica Valenti has another book called The Purity Myth alllll about this obsession with women’s virginity. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to.

7. He’s a Bachelor, She’s a Spinster

“There’s something hot about single men. They’re bachelors, with cool apartments and the freedom to do whatever they want without judgment… Single women, on the other hand - especially single women who have the gall to be over thirty - we’re old maids. Spinsters. Desperate to be Bridezillas and moms. There’s no such thing as a happy single woman. We’re all just wives-in-training or crazy cat ladies.”

I will not be a crazy cat lady. If no one worthy comes along then I will be a) a single mother  b) a lady who was always crazy and has always liked cats and c) probably better off anyway.

22. He’s Himself, She’s Mrs. Himself

“Now, most American women who marry men will change their last name [...] to their husband’s… The reason I hear most often when women talk about why they want to take their spouse’s last name is tradition. To which I say, meh. I’m unimpressed. There are plenty of traditions worth keeping… But holding on to traditions that not only make your life more difficult - legally changing your last name, and all the paperwork that goes along with it - but are also mired in sexist ideals of women being owned? That’s just too much. (Quick remedial lesson on last names for those not in the know: The idea is that owmen were passed as property from father to husband; we don’t really have an identity of our own - just that which the men in our lives define for us.)”

I have a lot of personal feelings on this one because my mom never changed her name. When asked why, she simply answers that she knew exactly who Shirley Francis was and hadn’t a clue who Shirley Montgomery was supposed to be. This is highly unconventional, even for our time. Countless teachers and friends asked me growing up if my parents were divorced. The other day my banker just assumed that my mom was a single mom. But I agree completely with my mom’s choice and I’m pretty sure I will chose the same. Mostly because I plan to have made a name for myself in the world before I get married, and why would I want to take that name away?

There are a lot more double standards to read about in this book, and all very interesting at that. These are just the ones that really got the feminist in me going. Now just don’t talk to me about bush shaping and we’ll be okay.

If you’ve ever been called a bitch and hate it as much as I do, Valenti suggests we take the word back. The next time someone calls me a bitch, I’m promising to say “Thank you” in return. And for now… change your Facebook/MySpace/Twitter status to “is a bitch.” and be PROUD!

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I love Jeanette Winterson. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is often seen as her most definitive book. In fact, it’s often seen as one of the most definitive books of the 80s. It one her a Whitbread Award in 1985, and is now studied in literature classes around the world. Oranges was one of the books involved in the recent Amazon Fail debacle. Why? Because in this book, the protagonist is a lesbian. Winterson doesn’t call her book lesbian fiction, though. And I would say myself that this book is hardly at all about the sexuality of the character. It’s about the spirituality instead.

Oranges is often also categorized as Winterson’s memoir, since the character has her name and their lives have certain similarities. Winterson addresses this herself in the introduction: “Is Oranges an autobiographical novel? No not at all and yes of course.”

This book is rich with things that I am going to have to go back and figure out for myself. There were so many levels to Oranges, that I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, done a once over on the plot. I can understand why this would be studied in a literature class because there is simply so much material. Material that’s difficult to digest in a casual read. That being said, I still found Oranges to be enchanting and poetic, like everything I’ve read by Winterson. And on top of that, it seemed a lot more philosophical than her other ones.

Oranges isn’t my favourite Jeanette Winterson book. That place was won long ago by Weight and can only be challenged by the likes of Sexing the Cherry. But Oranges was Winterson’s first book, and I can see that clearly while reading it. It’s the place from which all of her other books stem. Where all the stories and ideas start. Where she starts to develop her unique style.

To pick just a few quotes to share was very difficult. Like I said, the book is heavy with thoughts and ideas, and I seemed to tag most of them, some to share with you and others simply so that I would remember to go back and read it over a few times, think about it.

“There was a woman in our street who told us all she had married a pig. I asked her why she did it, and she said ‘You never know until it’s too late.’ Exactly. No doubt the woman had discovered in life what I had discovered in my dreams. She had unwittingly married a pig.”

“Time is a great deadener. People forget, get bored, grow old, go away. There was a time in England when everyone was much concerned with building wooden boats and sailing off against the Turk. When that stopped being interesting, what peasants were left limped back to the land, and what nobles there were left plotted against each other. Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make of them what we will.”

“People like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history which is fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe. This is very curious. How is it that no one will believe that the whale swallowed Jonah when every day Jonah is swallowing the whale? I can see them now, stuffing down the fishiest of fish tales, and why? Because it is history. Knowing what to believe had its advantages. It built an empire and kept people where they belonged, in the bright realm of the wallet…”

“Uncertainty to me was like Aardvark to other people. A curious thing I had no notion of, but recognized through second-hand illustration.”

“Walls protect and walls limit. It is the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the c0nsequence of blowing your own trumpet.”

“The hall is empty. Soon the enemy will come. There was a stone that held a bright sword and no one could pull the sword because their minds were fixed on the stone. Arthur sits on the wide steps. The Round Table is decorated wit every plant that grows growing circular-wise like a target. Near the centre is a sundial and at the centre a thorny crown. Dusty now, but all things turn to dust.”

“The unknowness of my needs frightens me. I do not know how huge they are, or how high they are, I only know that they are not being met. If you want to find out the circumference of an oil drop, you can use lycopodium powder. That’s what I’ll find. A tub of lycopodium powder, and I will sprinkle it on to my needs and find out how large they are.”

To grasp the full scope of Oranges, or at least to begin to work towards such, I suggest you read it. I would definitely say that it is one of those modern classics.

Number 22

#22 on my list of 100 Things to do Before I Die: Buy a really expensive item I don’t need.

This is the story of my Xbox.

When I went to visit Fae in April, she introduced me to the game Fable 2 on her Xbox 360. I have never been a huge gamer, but I do love a good fantasy rpg. Fable 2 was gorgeous and so fun. It reminded me of a prettier, more plot based Diablo. And I have been a Diablo girl since Diablo II first came out.

I have never owned a video game system before. I had friends growing up who did, but I was never really passionate enough about any game I tried to want to play it at length. When I played Fable 2 I couldn’t get enough. And so I decided to buy an Xbox 360 on Ebay, used, for less than half the price of a new one.

It shipped very quickly, and I had the system in a couple of days. I had to wait a few more days to buy the game, more my pay cheque to come in. Finally, the Thursday I got paid I rushed to EB Games and bought a copy of Fable 2. I got home and immediately put it in to play.

That’s when Fae texted me excitedly to sign up for Xbox Live so we could play together. I went to sign up and the Xbox told me it had to install some updates and then I would be able to play.

Three and a half hours late, I was ready to go to bed an the updates were finally done. I would have to wait until Saturday to actually play. But it was okay, because Fae and I were going to have our first nerdy gaming date.

Saturday morning arrived and I woke up before 10, very excited to get started. I popped the CD into my Xbox and signed on. I started playing the game again, just barely starting the first quest.

That’s when it froze.

I spent the next three hours starting and restarting the game and the system, on the phone with the Xbox hotline half the time and Fae and Sean the other half of the time, trying desperately to figure out why everytime I started Fable 2 it froze less than a couple of minutes in.

Finally, around 2pm the Xbox people decided that I had a faulty console. Luckily for me, I had bought  it from a really respectable guy on Ebay, who had a 7 day exchange policy. I shipped it back the next day for a new one.

Yesterday when I got home, another Xbox was waiting for me. I opened it eagerly, this time anticipating the hours of updates and not asking too much from it. So last night I let it do it’s thing, and at about 8pm it was finally ready. I got up to put the game in and play some Fable 2!

Only to discover that I have somehow lost the CD for my game.

There are two options. Either I left it in the first console. Which sounds like something I would do. But since it’s so much something I would do, I remember thinking exactly that and checking. Or at least I think I did. The other option is that somehow between this week and last the CD got moved and no longer wants to be found.

Either way, I have not been able to play Fable 2 at all yet. And I can’t afford to buy the game again, at least not right now.

#22 on my list was designed to please the capitalist in me. To give myself something for the sake of it.

Clearly this is a lesson that capitalism is a bad idea. The truth is that capitalism is never over, there’s always something else to buy - even if it’s justified by trying to improve something else. And in the end, how much of this stuff do we really need?

Formulating an appropriate action plan

The responses to my e-mail:

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