When David Cameron announced his cabinet reshuffle a short while ago and more women were appointed to Cabinet, the headlines talked about “girlpower” and, of course what the “girls” were wearing. No talk of “womanpower” because so often we women are described as “girls” as we are not supposed to become fully-grown, mature, strong WOMEN. (I might add I am wholly cynical about the promotion of women as I see it as a cynical attempt to garner women’s votes rather than a genuine dedication to women’s equality.)
If you have a look at the photos on the right, the top row is of girls, the bottom is of women. The images in the top row are a vision of us as girls, never growing into a womanly shape, shaving our pubic hair so we look like constant teenagers, torturing ourselves with ripping out that hair (and I can tell you, I had my pubic hair shaved once, when I had my tubes tied at 27, and the constant itching of it growing back made me swear NEVER to shave that hair again!) and keeping us confined in the straitjacket of thin as desirable and right.
In the bottom row, the images are of mature women but now, in the same vein of keeping us as eternal girls, it is not considered appropriate to talk about women as “luscious”, “juicy”, “reubenesque”, “curvy”, “succulent” – because they all imply – shock, horror” – women who aren’t thin and possibly look like (whisper) mature, adult, powerful women.
I decided to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with one about weight issues because, looking back from the time I got involved in women’s liberation in the early 1970s until now, I got to thinking that the focus on diets and thinness is an act of sabotage – it has been a misogynist weapon to dis-empower women and keep them focused on weight issues instead of on living up to their full potential. A woman focused only on her weight and shape if far less powerful than one who is at home and comfortable with herself and makes her way in society as a formidable, strong individual.
The cult of “thin is good” didn’t always exist. Because I grew up in the ’50s and 60s, I have a perspective which isn’t possible for younger people, and that is, I can remember when women were weightier than accepted cultural norms now. It was accepted that as you had children and headed to your senior years, that weight gain was a normal process of life on earth. So it seems to me that the focus on thinness (mainly for women but now affecting men too) started getting stronger around the time women’s liberation erupted and started questioning women’s status in society. But thin is “in”, so to speak, at least on the part of women’s magazines, the diet industry, the medical establishment, the fashion industry and so-called fashion mavens who we’re supposed to follow like headless chooks.
While we’re busy focused on diets, size, weight, fatness or thinness, we are diverted from standing strong in our own right – as juicy, strong, powerful women, at ease with ourselves regardless of our weight, getting to know our own bodies intimately so we know what weight is right for us, and leading full, adventurous lives . As this quote from Naomi Wolf puts it so succinctly:
Marilyn Monroe would now be considered obese – which sounds ridiculous given the sex goddess she was. Yet we are repeatedly lectured that what I see as normal women are obese/morbidly obese/likely to peg it overnight because if they’re overweight they must be harbouring god knows how many life-threatening health challenges, and so on and so on.
This of course is a godsend to the enrichment of the diet industry, Big Pharma and medicos who see what is considered a fat woman now (but wasn’t when I was young) and like Pavlov’s dogs immediately start talking about diets, losing weight, yada, yada, yada. I know when I’ve walked into so many doctor’s room, their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes and cholesterol levels and heave out the good ol’ blood pressure apparatus. Sadly for them, and they look quite taken aback, all my health signs are, well, healthy!
And as we’re on the subject of medicos, I have to say that I personally find the term “obese” quite offensive. It’s as if doctors conjure up a word which is designed to make normal/not so fat/ and fat people seem as sub-human as possible and to cow us into submissive slaves of thin worship. I sometimes wonder if the medical industry creates such words as “obese” or “geriatric” to elevate the power of medicos and reduce us patients to obedient, malleable, cowed, uncertain, unquestioning clients. I also despise doctors who lazily judge the health of overweight women by their size rather than their uniqueness and medical history.
I can remember having a meal out with some other women, all good-looking, fairly slim, about my age when I was in my late ‘thirties and the whole damned dinner talk was about weight, thinness and diets. I mean – what a ruddy great waste of women’s lives to spend it worrying about weight and what diet you’re on and whether you’ve gained or lost a couple of pounds from one week to the next. Being frightened of food, obsessing about calories, fat levels, carbs and all the other catchphrases of the thin mafia is absolutely ridiculous.
All the research which gets pumped out about what makes you live longer,what causes cancer, how to avoid heart attacks, etc., simply doesn’t take into account that people are individual, have their own genetic heritage and shape, and need to consider what their heart and soul tells them about what is good for them, not scientists and health gurus who change their minds a few years down the track or even from year to year and, dare I say it, month to month, week to week.
And having gone through some literature on this subject, I have found out – and this will no doubt amaze you – that if you carry more weight than that which is supposed to be healthy these days and you are fit, you are far more likely to live longer than a socially acceptable thin, unfit woman. Also, wasting your life on a yo-yo of dieting, losing weight, then gaining weight again and often extra weight than before you dieted, is putting your health far more at risk than a woman who looks at herself, smiles, smacks her booty gleefully and tells herself she’s a yummy individual with far more to do with her life than waste it on worrying about what is a current societal obsession about thinness.
Plus we need to get a perspective on the health hysteria which prevails at the moment – new food fads, super-foods, how to live longer, anti-ageing tucker – and so on. You can be the healthiest, fittest person around and then drop dead of a heart attack or get a life-threatening illness for no apparent reason. And everyone says it’s unfair because someone who doesn’t exercise or is fat doesn’t die at an early age. But it’s LIFE, outrageous, unpredictable, unfair, fair, dropping surprise health bombs into our lives – our time of death is unpredictable so get the most out of each day and you’ll have a wonderful life – exciting, adventurous, questing, humorous, fun, loving, fully adult, powerful and, above all, SATISFYING.
I can pretty much guarantee that when the truth comes out about – as it will – that the current BMI holy bible is a heap of old cobblers with no scientific foundation, and thinness is recognised as a trumped-up cultural creation to control and disempower women – the pendulum will swing towards an acceptance of women as they are meant to be – short, tall, medium, thin, fat, stocky, lean, weighty, or whatever is their natural, womanly shape. And if they’re pink with purple spots, or orange with red stripes, or green with turquoise hair – so be it!
This post has been a long time in the making because I’ve been bogged down with sciatica again. It’s thrown my sleep patterns out, left me feeling very tired and also lethargic and aimless. So I decided to go with the flow, simply tread water and wait until I felt the urge to start writing again. Which is now. And at the same time, I’ve decided to make space for new adventures in my life by getting rid of all the shelving with my crystals on and storing all my crystals in my cupboard space. I’m focusing on my art and writing my book as blog.
New beginnings, new paths, new energy. I probably needed the break to process where I really want to work in my life right now. So now on to my adventures with Women’s Liberation in the early 1970s.
I had my teenage rebellion in my ‘twenties when I moved to Australia. Until then I’d pretty much been Ms Goody-Two-Shoes, not rocking the boat, head down and studying assiduously to get a good degree as I was the first in our family to go to university, and fairly conservative. At least, that’s the image that I have of myself but I’ve been interested to catch up with old friends from my University days who see me quite differently – organised, organising people and quite adventurous. Weird how you see yourself and how others see you!
I guess working on a kibbutz in Israel, which is what I did prior to travelling to Australia in 1972, and then hopping off Downunder could be considered quite adventurous although at the time it just seemed to me that both were interesting things to do. Perhaps I also did this bit of travelling as I had no idea of my direction in life. In fact, I never did find a direction until my mid-fifties – late starter, you might say!
I began throwing over the traces with gusto when I joined the Australian Union of Students as the organiser for Western Australia and subsequently got involved with Women’s Liberation. I had seen a news report of women in the movement handing out contraceptive advice at secondary school gates and it interested me.
Why did I become interested in Women’s Liberation?
It’s so easy to forget what life was like for women back in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, so here are a few reminders that Women’s Libbers rocked the boat because women:
• Were denied equal pay
• Were clustered in low paying work
• Were paid less for the same work done by men
• Weren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts without permission from their husband, boyfriend or father.
• Couldn’t get a mortgage as a single woman.
• Were victimized all too often if they were raped, labeled as the “temptress”, “seductress”, or whatever, because rape wasn’t recognized as an act of violence.
• Had to leave the public service when they married.
• Had to leave the workforce when they had children.
• Had to leave the workforce when menfolk came back from war and wanted the jobs (see the move Rosie the Riveter and a documentary about women pilots in World War II flying planes around the UK to the various aerodromes where they were needed)
• Were invisible in history, the media and film. Apart from a few odd exceptions like Katherine Hepburn, women were pretty much bitches (Betty Davis) or goddesses up on a pedestal (June Allyson)
• Were sex objects
• Were forced to resort to illegal abortions because of unwanted pregnancies, often dying dreadful deaths from scepticaemia.
• Were vilified if they chose to have an abortion despite the vast majority of women agonizing over such a choice.
• Were denied free, safe contraception and planned parenthood.
• Had enormous difficulties accessing advanced education
• Were going off their rocker in the suburbs with frustration and boredom.
And we in Women’s Liberation were impolite, rowdy, feisty, hollering, rollicking, loud, raucous, marching, holding demonstrations, rejecting ideas of being “nice” and “lady-like”, and standing together in large numbers to organise for women’s right to be treated with respect, dignity and equality.
This is one of the songs from those time:
“Don’t be too polite, girls, don’t be too polite,
Show a little fight girls, show a little fight,
Don’t be fearful of offending, in case you get the sack
Just recognize your value and we won’t look back.
All among the bull, girls, all among the bull,
Keep your hearts full, girls, keep your hears full
What good is a man as doormat, or following at heel?
It’s not their balls we’re after, it’s a fair square deal.”
In early 1978 I went on a tour to China just as it was opening up. We visited a women’s brigade on an oil field in Shandong Province (one of the coldest places I’ve ever been by the way!). The women’s brigade was set up as Chinese leaders in the oil industry found that men looked down on women workers and sidelined them. So the aim of the women’s brigade was to encourage emancipation in the industry and self-respect among the women workers.
We sang the above song to them, and they sang back women’s revolutionary songs to us. Our interpreters told the Chinese women the meaning of our song, and then translated the Chinese songs to us. We had a wonderful time, laughing, singing, talking (via our interpreters) and shaking hands when we left with many waves as our mini-bus drove away from the oilfield.
“Don’t be too polite, girls” is a fighting song from the history of working women in Australia. I use the term “fighting” deliberately, because we women have never been handed our gains on our plate. We’ve had to organize, fight and stand together as sisters to achieve anything. I don’t ever want young women to forget that because, as a young woman myself, I stood on the shoulders of the mothers, sisters, grandmothers and great-grandmothers before me who took action, in big and small ways, to advance women’s interests, including the right to vote. And I honour and remember them with pride.