As some of my readers know, I was really struggling with the situation regarding my alcoholic Mother last Christmas so paid to see a therapist. I come from a working class background (both parents worked in a factory and don’t have a qualification between them) and live in a farming community – if you have a sensitive disposition you’d sink where I live because swearing is the order of the day and men dominate. And I do mean dominate. Everything from their wives to the Chamber of Trade which as far as I know doesn’t contain a single female. In my local newspaper 80% of the editorial is written by men – the only page dedicated to women is the ‘Women’s Institute’ – jam and craft making. Yay.
One of the things the therapist said to me which really struck home was that I am a strong, intelligent woman and it appears that my whole life there has no been no place for that in my family. How right she is. Men can be as dominating and rude and dismissive as they like, but if women speak up they are classed as “opinionated”, “troublemakers” or just plain gobby. I have been accused of all three on several occasions. I rail against the differences in how the genders are perceived because it makes me furious.
To live an entire life so torn between conforming to the expected norm yet feeling the exact opposite has been confusing to say the least and has left me with huge inner conflict. Take what happened at our Club dinner on Friday night for example. I hated the seating plan. To be told who I could speak to at a social event like I was 5 years old irritated the fuck out of me, so I told the organizer I wasn’t happy. That’s all I said “I’m not happy” and all hell broke loose. I then felt so guilty for upsetting the organizer that I was tearful on the way home, yet I had a valid opinion which I should be able to vocalize.
I’m still stressed about it nearly a week later and as stress badly affects my health I’ve barely slept or eaten all week. I now face having to attend a committee meeting and put my views to the organizer who is a formidable, quite frankly rude and dominating personality. Part of me wants to simply not do it while the other half knows I have a sodding right to my opinion. However, when you’ve been told your whole life that having an opinion makes you a troublemaker the desire to just roll over and bow to other people’s wishes is overwhelming.
My best mate said to me once that for someone who hates conflict I seem to be involved in it a lot and she’s right. I hate conflict – it genuinely makes me ill – but despite that I refuse to act like I don’t exist. My needs, views and desires are as important as anyone elses. So despite what it takes out of me I stand up for myself, and in doing so for women who don’t feel able to stand up for their selves. But it makes for a stressful life.
When I first joined my Camera Club I realized that 98% of the judges were male and that while photos of steam trains did really well in competitions more feminine pictures of flowers for example did badly, which disadvantaged women photographers. So I challenged the status quo, which let me tell you didn’t go down well. One of the male camera club members said openly to me that “I prefer women like x, who just quietly get on with their photography without making a fuss”. Yes, I’m sure you do. However, it’s a good job not all women go about their business not making a fuss otherwise we would never have been emancipated and we’d all still be tied to the kitchen sink, the property of our husbands, without the right to vote, be educated, hold down a job or attend a Camera Club for that matter. I’m still convinced some men mourn the old days where they had absolute power and women had none. Four years later I’m still teased at the Club for “throwing my toys out of the pram” because some judges didn’t like my pictures. How to not get the fucking point about gender equality and be patronizing to boot.
Because of the domination of men the only way women have their voice heard is to be LOUD which is then seen as aggressive. Men of course can be loud and it’s just seen as normal! Will we ever reach a time where women can gently and quietly have their viewpoint heard without having to shout? I hope so. And I hope I can one day put forward my opinion without feeling guilty for even having one.