By Jo Murphy 29 Nov, 2017
I’ve been almost losing my shit a lot recently, but I never go all the way. I’m like an engine revving at the traffic lights, waiting for them to turn green before I accelerate. This is progress. Like a baby exercises their vocal chords by making random noises, I’m exercising mine with not-so-random outbursts. I’m saying no, I do not like your attitude, or no, I do not accept the terms and conditions.

And then I find myself apologising for going too far. It’s like a tick that I keep trying and failing to kick.

A couple of weeks ago I was sat in the pub with a group of women after a workshop. We’d spent all day ‘finding our voices’ and now they were lubricated with wine. While the others merrily talked across each other, growing louder, I kept pre-empting my contributions with “I’m sorry to interrupt…”

But this timidity belied the war that had been raging inside me all day. Earlier, when my turn had come to stand up front, hot tears had spilled forth, drowning my words. My voice was all but swallowed by waves of fear and frustration.

Sadly I’m all too familiar with this internal conflict. What have I got to say that’s valuable? Who am I to say such things anyway? And who would listen? If I open my mouth the lions will savage me. But there are no lions, only the roar of internal interference.

So what’s the deal? Do I really hate the attention so much? Even in a room full of friends I panic a little when they all turn to me. Shit, I think, they’re waiting for me to deliver something worth listening to; I’d better find those pearls of wisdom fast .

Maybe this has something to do with the myth of perfection we’re force-fed by the media. We often feel shame if we reveal ourselves to be anything less than perfect, which is why the spotlight can inspire panic and confusion. Which is why this workshop touched on the traumatic. I wanted every word that passed my lips to be impactful, inspirational and fabulous. I’d told them I was a writer so I didn’t dare disappoint with inarticulacy. And this here is the ongoing conflict.

I could happily write you a thesis at whim, but deliver a speech on the same? Pfft.

I know I’ve been quick to jump on the fear-of-public-speaking bandwagon in the past, but I’m fast realising this has become an excuse, a reason to rev but rarely accelerate. Back in January 2016 I attended an event hosted by Gabby Bernstein. She was helping us face down our fears, which is why I found myself standing up front with her, looking out at a packed auditorium. As soon as she placed the microphone in my sweaty hand, my foot hit the pedal and I was off.

But here’s the rub. I remember feigning shyness as I climbed the stairs to the stage. I’d coyly adjusted my dress, knowing all eyes were on me, but the action once again belied the truth of how I felt. I was alight with anticipation, revving like fury. All I’d needed was for Gabby to give me the green light.

Is there something at my very core that tells me I can’t take centre stage until someone gives me permission to do so? Of course the coach in me has a field day with this. Perhaps something happened to me as a little girl, I wonder, imagining an over zealous teacher crushing my seven-year-old self in front of the whole class.

A lifetime pattern seeded in a moment.

But I can’t find the corroborating memory as I sort through the archives. I cannot locate one defining moment. Instead I stumble upon phrases, half sentences, disembodied, repeated time and again: “don’t have what it takes”, “rein it in”, “calm down”. It’s a cacophony of “not enough” and “too much” that I’ve made the instruction manual for my life. Easy slurs etched on my psyche that have nothing to do with the little girl I was and everything to do with the woman I am now.

But whose fault is this exactly? Patriarchy? Perhaps, but I’m sorely aware that the blame game has its limitations. We can create stories about our past that are self-serving. We look for evidence of what we believe to be true – too much or not enough – and cling to it. This becomes a reason, an excuse, not to change.

Too often I’ve seen women wilt beneath the spotlight. Too often we’re told we should have more confidence, as if we could just flip a switch. This gets me revving. Take a male who’s lived his whole life knowing he belongs in every room he walks into. Of course confidence comes more easily to him. Then take a female who’s lived her life confined to the women’s room. It’s only natural that she feels the need to attend all-day workshops in order to find her way out.

We’re entrenched in a culture of shaming those who lack the qualities we deem desirable (like confidence) and blaming someone else for causing that lack. So, yes, we can call out patriarchy for holding us back, for the way women are spoken over, dismissed or mansplained to.

But there was no man holding his hand over my mouth during that workshop. It was all me.

I’ve internalised this story just like the other women I saw crumble that day. We hadn’t the audacity to stick it to the man in our heads because we didn’t think we could. Nobody had given us permission to do so.

And this is the inner conflict that thwarts all efforts towards equality.

When we make someone else entirely responsible for our internal experience, we give up the power to change it. Waiting for an apology means waiting for someone else to change means placing our agency in the hands of patriarchy, which is what gets us so damn mad in the first place. We end up fighting on the inside as well as outside. But fighting is a form of clinging and blaming only prolongs the battle.

So, yes, I could ask those who told me I was too much or not enough to take it back, I could demand it adamantly, but expecting them to change the story on my behalf means I no longer own it. And I let it own me instead. This is what keeps me stuck at the lights, when it ought to be my reason to accelerate. If someone has slighted you, use that slight to fuel your search for evidence to the contrary. And remind yourself of this over and over again until it sticks. Create a new confirmation bias.

Give yourself permission to reject the old story and write a new one that’s all yours.

But pushing it out of you means pushing through the anger, which means going all the way, no regrets. Is that such a tall order? When I (almost) lose it there’s rarely sweet release, only self-recrimination over loss of self-control – as if I’ve confirmed all those theories about wandering wombs and female hysteria.

After the workshop a fellow feminist told me she dared not let out all of the emotion she was feeling. How far would it reach, she mused, how loud, what of the damage, would it ever end? I’ve often wondered the same, imagining the unending, unwavering white-hot howl scorching all in its path.

I know how big it feels on the inside. And it gets bigger the longer I hold it there where it festers and takes root. The longer I wrangle with stories of sexist slurs and being held back, the longer I let them consume me. But if I truly let rip, I could rip up those roots, creating space for something better to grow in their place.

If this anger is a refusal of what is, it’s also an acceptance of myself. I may be mad at the parts of patriarchy I cannot change, resentful of those in power who refuse to change, but I no longer want to fight what I can change . And that means admitting to the reasons I may be mad at myself too.

The further I travel down this path of self-inquiry I’m surprised by how often I’ve asked for permission to live my life the way I want to live it. How often I’ve ‘told’ someone of my plans when really I’m asking for their seal of approval before I proceed.

It angers me to recall how many times they’ve denied me what I could have given myself.

All the while I’m revving without accelerating my life becomes a series of reactions rather than actions. If I let others limit my life choices, that’s on me, not them. And I’m bored of this now. Whatever the psychology is behind my archetypal good girl behaviour I choose to no longer analyse it. Instead I’m going to get mad about it, really mad, and then I’m going to change it. When we face up to the truth of how we feel, and take responsibility for the part we have played in the creation of those feelings, we’re finally free.

Our emotion is the fuel that moves us from first to fifth gear.

So now I’m revving, really revving, which takes me back to our workshop grand finale… six hours in and I finally accelerated. There was no white-hot howl, but a vicelike grip on my vehicle of articulacy. I just needed to own it, all of it .

Waking up to the fact of patriarchy and the desire to punch some balls is rousing, for sure, but waking up to its presence on the inside is a whole new ballgame. Nobody gets to control that, to change that, but you. Now that is power. And the light’s just turned green.

Vroom vroom.

By Jo Murphy 09 Nov, 2017
Yes, ladies, I mean your inner sexist...

As much as we want to stick it to the men sticking things where they’re not welcome, there’s someone else we need to have words with first. We may be gripped by a fervent desire to right all sexist wrongs but, for this to be effective, it must be coupled with an equally fervent desire for personal change.

Enemy number one is in our heads.

So let’s take men out of the picture for a moment, which is hard to do when they run the world, I know. It’s much easier to project our pain onto them. But our projection doesn’t stop at the men.

Women are also hurting women.

Obviously we want a piece of the pie too, a taste of all that male privilege, so we shun our femininity in order to be taken seriously. We deride each other with fat shaming, slut shaming and judgement of whosoever dares to choose babies over work or work over babies.

All this bickering puts us on a back foot.

We’ve learnt to work against our womanhood rather than with it. And we’ve learnt to work against other women. Yes, #metoo may be a new rallying cry, but the bonds we’re forging are based on victimhood. Our entry point to relationship is shared experience of abuse and shared rejection of men. It’s reactive when what we really need is a proactive  point of entry founded on strength, not weakness.

We must bond through acceptance of women, not rejection of men.

If we were to bond in spite of man, not because of him, we could take action without needing a permission slip from patriarchy. Great, you say, but can a sisterhood really cut it since we associate being female with being weak? And who can blame us when we’ve been conditioned by a culture of male domination ? It’s hardly surprising that we try to separate ourselves from our femininity. Call it a survival tactic, if you like, but I wonder if we resent being female and that’s why we attack other women?

We reflect back to each other the weakness that makes us prey.

What’s more, other women represent the competition. It seems as though we’re still fighting for the best husband since we’re still fixated on Mr Right saving us . Women keep putting men on pedestals then competing for their attention. Meanwhile the boys enjoy their bromance and a little friendly competition. When you’re already on top the threat isn’t quite so threatening. Plus you’re more likely to stay on top when you backslap rather than backstab. But when you’re down here, where the women watch each other , shit gets nasty.

Mean Girls is our relational frame of reference.  

We judge each other for being too drunk, too exposed, too loud, too much of anything a woman shouldn’t be. Our judgements come almost involuntarily, as if they’re second nature. Second nurture, more like. We may deny it, but denial doesn’t take away the fact of our Mean Girls culture. And this goes hand in hand with Weinstein culture. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the things a woman endures in order to thrive in a patriarchal society. Nor can we deny that we’ve been complicit in this charade for centuries.

Women buy into an image of womanhood that belongs to men.

So let’s take it back.

The parameters of our identity have been set by patriarchy. Femininity has become something that limits rather than liberates us, and it will remain that way so long as we look at it through the male lens – so long as we measure each other’s worth according to f**kability and subservience. The feminine, we’ve been taught, exists to service the masculine. But surely it’s up to a woman to determine what femininity means to her ? She decides how it looks and feels. It belongs to her.

Femininity is a woman’s to define.

Why should anyone, man or woman, be threatened by this? If a man feels vulnerable when exposed to a woman’s sexuality, strength or success then we need to have a different conversation about the way we define masculinity. But if a woman feels vulnerable when exposed to the same it’s because she’s been taught to fear it. Our western way of life gives us an illusion of relative emancipation. But our western way of life also means we don’t have each other’s backs. We’ve been pitched against each other, which keeps us weak.

Say, for example, you know a woman who’s winning at work and motherhood. She’s screwing with your frame of self-reference. If you can’t put her in a clearly labelled box, according to patriarchy’s image of womanhood, you can’t label yourself either. And that’s the problem. We only seem to know who we are as women by identifying who we’re not. She’s a slut; I’m not. She’s fat; I’m not. We're lost without the point of comparison . And that’s why the mantle of victim resonates so deeply. We can all identify with victimhood, our collective disadvantage.

This is precisely what maintains the established power differentiation.

Wouldn’t you rather take action inspired by experience of empowerment and not the opposite? Wouldn’t you rather tap into shared strength and collective advantage? Our common ground can be our womanhood, not its violation.

Let’s come together as woman, not victims.  

Victim mentality doesn’t just make us the weaker sex; it’s the very thing that drives us to attack each other as overcompensation for our sense of powerlessness. We’ll never beat men so we might as well beat each other . It’s what pulls us down to the level patriarchy would have us stay at. We demand respect from men without respecting each other. We demand support from men without supporting each other.

Take a close friend of mine who’s chosen to stay at home and raise her children. The working mothers in her community can barely conceal their judgement… until they need last minute childcare and then they play nice. Or how about when cheaters get caught? All too often I’ve witnessed women get locked in a brawl and overlook the fact of it taking two to tango. The men escape unscathed, no responsibility taken.

Boys will be boys. But a woman should know better, right?

Well, yes, so long as we buy into this image of a woman as someone who receives, holds, pleasures and comforts. She does whatever we need her to do. Like taking responsibility for another’s transgression . And that’s why we resent each other because we resent the way our femininity is abused. It’s only natural that women aspire to become more masculine since it represents freedom and power and privilege.

We adopt the kind of behaviours we believe will tip the balance of power in our favour, employing the bullyboy tactics of patriarchy against each other. Projecting our pain is less painful than admitting to its cause. But our projection becomes protection from the truth. We’ve become so engrossed in the business of self-defence that we imagine attack where there is none .

That’s why women shun the feminists who make it difficult for them to maintain the status quo. None of us wants to be the deserter since that’s what it feels like if we reject the status quo. Desertion . But we don’t take this to mean that feminists are right and all other women are wrong. Instead we take it as a sign to help a sister out since all of us need all the help we can get. This shit runs deep . Our mothers taught us. Their mothers taught them. Generations of women have taught each other the rules of engagement.

We can become another link in the chain or we can break it.

Being coached by our own sex leads to the inner conflict that thwarts us. So let’s use the momentum of #metoo to expose and challenge everything we’ve been raised to ignore, like our complicity in this abuse – not just at the hands of men, but women’s too.

We’re calling on men to fix their part, so let’s fix ours.

Our advantage comes with celebrating our femininity, not as something fragile and prone to non-consensual probing, but something multi-dimensional, fierce and worthy of an equal footing. We can define our own standards of equality among women first and foremost.

No woman is an island.

If we want men to relate to our strength, we relate to it in each other. If we want men to respect our womanhood, we must respect each other’s. We can honour every woman however she shows up in the world. We can define our own standards of beauty since femininity comes in all shapes and sizes and colours.

And this is why feminism calls for a shift in consciousness.

The shift from blame to responsibility where women hold each other (and themselves) accountable for actions that defy or deny their freedoms… #metoo has demonstrated how effectively we can hold space for each other’s pain, so now let’s hold space for each other, full stop. We can cultivate different frames of reference for relating to, and relying on, each other. We can cultivate trust and loyalty and acceptance. We can be comparison free. We can upgrade our relationships by upgrading our understanding and appreciation of womanhood beyond its patriarchal image.

You are every woman inside one woman and freedom belongs to all of us .

If we fully express ourselves, and support other women in their own expression, then we reject this binary bullshit that puts us in a box below men. We are the threads weaving a new tapestry without Weinstein. We are the women who give a f**k about every woman’s freedom. Let that be our culture.

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