A note on pleasing yourself

  • By Jo Murphy
  • 02 Jun, 2017
I once followed a man half way around the world because I thought it would please him. I followed him all the way to the top of a mountain where it actually pleased him to try to end his life. He survived. So we parted ways and I came home to deal with a life-threatening issue of my own.

It’s called co-dependency.

The nuts and bolts of this particular relationship were complex to say the least, but my main takeaway was crystal clear. I was addicted to pleasing people, not just the men in my life, but everyone. And my addiction had been life long. I didn’t have the first clue how to please myself, and any attempt to do so was followed by self-recrimination for being, you know, selfish .

So what about the nuts and bolts of co-dependency? Does it make us selfless ? The experts tell us it’s an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner who needs a lot of support. Typically this partner will have an addiction. And so the co-dependent is addicted to pleasing the addict. More than that, they gain a sense of worth and identity from being wanted and needed.

Fine, you say, but what’s this got to do with me? Well, my friends, I fear that co-dependency is becoming a modern epidemic. Consider this. It’s often not that far of a leap from being easy going, the cool girl , to being downright passive.

And there’s a fine line between accommodating and over-accommodating.

But being co-dependent isn’t all about boy meets girl; girl dotes on boy. The vast majority of us are fixing for it. Yes, society is certainly set up to support female submissiveness – it has been for centuries – but the truth is we’re all being conditioned to indulge in mutual co-dependency. While the experts tell us it’s a learned behaviour passed on by parents, it’s not the parents doing the passing.

We’re all teaching each other day in, day out to have an excessive emotional and psychological reliance on a sociocultural system that requires conformity above all else.

Take a look around. Notice the ways in which we consciously behave. These are also the ways that make us self-conscious – as if we were looking at ourselves from the outside in. We want to know that we’re doing it right, saying it right and wearing it well. And this pull of conformity impacts every choice we make from relationships to jobs to, well, life in general .

Our very real, very human need to be accepted and liked means we’re always trying to please someone somewhere. We want to be wanted. And so our conformity is tantamount to co-dependency.

We want to belong, of course we do, but here’s the rub: we must belong to ourselves first and foremost.

Let me explain.

Imagine life as a sliding scale. On the one side you have the individual experience. On the other side you have the shared experience. Ideally we move up and down that scale, compensating as necessary  without overcompensating . But co-dependency, and the pull of conformity, prevents us from doing so. It’s like a barricade.

If you depend on something outside of yourself – a person, a system – for your sense of identity and worth, then your dependence builds the barrier. You’re asking this person, this system, to deliver something they cannot. And when they don’t deliver you can neither connect with them nor yourself.

While we look to others, to our peers, to our social feeds for inspiration, we will never know what is uniquely ours to bring to the world. While we may actually want to live in the service of others, we cannot give of ourselves until we know who or what it is that we’re giving.

And so it follows that we can know nothing of the shared experience until we get up close and personal with the individual. Great, you say, now how do we dismantle the barriers we’ve built between the two?

We do it from the inside out. We dig them up by the roots . We burn our allegiance to a culture, a system that tells us who and how to be. And we start making those decisions ourselves.

We become independent.

Now, our independence is something that we can cultivate in each moment. And each moment is an opportunity to choose differently, to see things differently. We simply use the contrast between what’s going on outside of us and what’s going on inside of us to craft the pertinent questions.

Why do I spend time with these people? How do they make me feel? How do I want to feel? What do I want from this relationship, this situation? Where is it taking me? Where do I want to go? What can I do to change this?

Whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, it provides fertile ground for self-discovery. This doesn’t mean hours of naval gazing, it simply requires that we become conscious in new and different ways. That we become self-conscious in new and different ways. We start looking at things from the inside out.

This is how we build the foundations of lasting and mutually satisfying relationships. This is how we marry the individual experience with the shared. When we remove the barriers of dependence, we can interact with each other in new and different ways. In fact, we begin to see each other’s difference as a gift.

Conformity, be damned.

Our contrast becomes our point of reference. It’s how we know who we are. And so the point at which we separate ourselves is also the point at which we identify ourselves. Therefore the point of identification also becomes the point of reconciliation – it’s where we meet on that sliding scale.

When we build relationships upon mutual respect for the individual, we can build wider networks based on the same. This is how we create a whole new culture, a whole new system that cannot exist without all its parts – even if each of those parts is separate and unique.

So slide away my friends, up and down that scale. And remember that whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, you are both a part and apart .

And that’s okay.


By Jo Murphy 18 Sep, 2017
Men are watching women. Women are watching each other. And so the foundations of relations between men and women, between women and women, between women and themselves, are laid (so they can get laid).

Yes, that’s me in the red swimsuit, aged 16 and full of hope. I’d just received my GCSE results – a big shiny buffet of A* – but that didn’t matter at the time because, well, thighs , and I was already envisioning my thin future full of men. Oh my.

Fast forward 20 plus years and I’m sorting through old photo albums when I see her. She’s staring out at me, page after page, imploring me to see her beauty . And I do. I see that she was indeed beautiful. She still is.

Wait, did I just pay myself a compliment? Ballsy, I know.

It’s not always been this way though. I was never enough of anything; you know, the usual story . But if this story is so commonplace, why dismiss it? It is, after all, at the very core of all that inhibits our ability to form fulfilling relationships.

When I look at this bright young beauty I know that, despite her academic success, she was clueless . Thinking too little of herself, giving too much of herself away. Life had thus far taught her she needed someone else, likely a man, to validate her existence. To tell her she was, over and above anything else, easy on the eye. Sigh.

My sense of identity was wrapped up in what others thought (or what I thought they thought) of my body . And I readily ditched my principles if they threatened to interfere with the possibility of someone acknowledging that I was, indeed, easy on the eye.

I was, we might say, ‘male-identified’.

But when I think this over, I wonder if men sometimes become female-identified? Do they edit themselves in order to bag the shag? I’m sure they do, and yet somehow this idea falls flat. The classic heterosexual set-up will still pitch him as the predator (the watcher) and her as the prey (the watched).

It’s a game in which we’re all complicit since we’re all motivated by the desire to be desired. We all want to be seen. To be held. No matter the cost to the image we hold of ourselves. So that means we’re all in this together, right?

And yet, as a woman, I cannot deny that I’ve repeatedly objectified myself in order to be held. Nevermind that I want to be respected, the yearning to be desired runs deeper. Nevermind that I want to be seen as both a sexual and an intellectual being, I struggle to reconcile the two. Most of us do.

When we look at a woman, we just can’t get past her sex.

And who can blame us? Turn on the TV and it’s tits galore. Strippers idly gyrating (in the background) of mainstream shows as men (in the forefront) have the conversations pivotal to the storyline. Switch channels and we see murder victims picked over in all their naked rape-torn glory. It’s a constant stream of female flesh being broadcast into our subconscious.

And this is the very thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women, between women and women, between women and themselves. We have no hope of truly seeing and holding each other until we get past this matter of the female flesh. We’re wielding it like a blockade.

Sex, we believe, brings us together. But really it’s driving us further apart so long as men desire – and women desire to be desired – in this superficial way. It’s a system of conquest and seduction that propagates all of our insecurities.

But I’m not here to blame the men. Instead I want to ask the women this; are you subscribing to your own objectification, knowingly or unknowingly? What kind of ideals are you holding yourself, and other women, to?

We may buy the glossy magazines without knowing what we’re really buying into. We may say we want equality but puke up dessert and run to the scales. Worse still, we may judge each other for doing – or not doing – the same.

When we chase physical perfection, we may believe we’re chasing an idea of freedom and empowerment, but it will never come to us this way. Beauty, and the value we place on it, has nothing to do with appearance. Instead it prescribes a type of behaviour, it’s a cultural requirement that allows the watchers to watch.

And, even if a woman challenges the beauty industry for profiting from her insecurities, she may add “but it’s just as bad for men these days”. No doubt it is, but we don’t always have to look at the things that hurt females through the lens of the male experience, as if to validate the pain. It stands on its own.

Until we understand this, women will remain sexist too.

It doesn’t serve us to simply attack or blame yet another patriarchal construct that we believe exists outside of us. Instead we must deconstruct the ways in which we are perpetrating it ourselves .

If we don’t address our own inner prejudices we won’t change a damn thing on the outside.

Trust me. I struggle to come to terms with the amount of time and money some women invest in their appearance. I can’t get my head around the idea you can be both ‘woke’ and get your nails done every week (sexual and intellectual). Thus I stereotype my glamorous sisters and inhibit my own emancipation.

My conscious (feminist) mind tells me a woman can dress however she damn well pleases, so long as her motivation is founded in self-expression, self-celebration – dressing up should empower, not debilitate. But my subconscious mind still tells me dressing up means dumbing down (sexual, not intellectual).

And that’s the problem. However honourable our conscious intentions may be, our subconscious mind is mostly running the show. It’s what fuels our confirmation bias – the way we seek evidence of what we believe to be true; that a woman is to be watched and, if she does have an opinion, this serves to negate her femininity, her sexuality.

So let’s look at the ways in which we’ve been wired by this belief system and the ways we engender its continuation. If we bear witness to the system at work on the outside, we’re better equipped to start changing it on the inside.

With this I want to take you to Rome, the veritable birthplace of patriarchy and a city I have a longstanding love affair with. I know; the irony is not lost. Whenever I’m there, however, I actively seek out the women. It’s a form of overcompensation, of redressing the balance, as men in clericals line the streets.

I was on my habitual pilgrimage two weeks ago, looking for Our Lady, for pagan goddesses, mythical heroines; the divine in female form – I sought her out in churches, temples, galleries and museums. I saw saints, chaste with downcast eyes, sinners in states of undress. I met the tragic, the transcendent, the holy and the slutty. I noted the number of naked beauties fleeing their impending abduction and rape.

Male active. Female passive.

It was all so binary, this or that, either-or . Not just in the rigid gender scripts played out by men and women over the centuries, but more so in the grotesque parodies women have had to embody – her flesh defines her, detains her.

Next I took in a collection of Hollywood portraits from the 40s and 50s. Nearly all were girl-next-door types transformed and catapulted into stardom – their allure manufactured to meet a collective desire, their talent an afterthought. And yet, behind the smoke and mirrors, each had a story to tell.

Then came an exhibition on Marilyn Monroe, a sexpot whose activism is oft overlooked. She used her body to gain influence and set new precedents for future female stars. She was also used for her body. It may have served to emancipate others, but it sadly trapped her .

So let’s pause here and ask, what does any of this have to do with the girl in the red swimsuit?

Everything. She’s grown into a women who aspires to embody each and every one of these female icons, in all of their grace and disgrace, their serenity and disquiet, their sensuality and intelligence, their vulnerability and stoicism, plumptious, fecund, taking up space.

I am all of these women inside one woman, one body.  

The way I look does not tell you one story, but a hundred different tales of who I am, who I’ve been and who I want to become. I do not have to choose just one. And whichever I choose doesn’t have to be beautiful in your eyes, but mine. And whichever I choose doesn’t have to be desirable to you, but me.

Our bodies are physical manifestations of all the uniqueness that’s contained therein.

Understanding this is how we make the transition from male-identified to self-identified, how we become a woman one-in-herself. Until we make that transition, however, we play into the hands of prescriptive social and heterosexual ideals that prevent anyone from truly seeing or holding anyone else – no matter how deep our desire runs.

Girls may temper their talents in school to appear more attractive to boys. Grown women may hide their intellect so as not to threaten their lovers. Are we truly willing to believe that men and boys are intimidated by the female brain?

I’d like to think not.

Defining masculinity and femininity in such narrow terms (active and passive) also narrows the terms of our relationships. But if we allowed a woman to be real, to fully occupy all of her dimensions, physical or otherwise, we allow a man to do the same. If a woman is free to explore the person she is because and in spite of her body, she invites a man to do the same.

We must, however, start with the women and our long fight to live in and love our bodies, as they are , before we share them with anyone else. I know we cannot be feminists if we think only of women, but our feminism takes root first and foremost in our experience as women .

For centuries we’ve had no control over our outer worlds, and yet we’ve readily relinquished control of our inner too – the very place we can instigate change. So let’s stop watching each other and let’s start watching ourselves instead.

Notice the space between your conscious intent and subconscious discontent. It is here that liberation awaits you. It is here that you can decide what you want to believe and discard the rest.

And let the men watch.

Let them observe your emancipation, the way you see, hold and respect yourself irrespective of them. That’s sexy as hell, IMHO, as your flesh, no longer a barrier, takes on new resonance as the container of you .

And you are enough.

Feminism, you see, doesn’t take sex off the menu. It aims to get us all off on the experience of being fully alive and free, relishing the skin we’re in. It aims to give new meaning to our coming together . Amen to that.


By Jo Murphy 01 Sep, 2017
I’m sorry for trying to change you into someone you had no desire to be. 

There’s a flaw in my plan. I see it now. This whole dating debacle has been a revelation. I was so focused on changing this man that I overlooked one vital fact – a person can only meet you as deeply as they have met themselves

And this applies to many people who’ve challenged my convictions and inspired me to dig my heels in deeper. Too deep, in fact, and I’ve found myself shouting louder, losing my cool. Dammit. 

My frustration can get the better of me since I’ve spent the best part of 39 years trying to be seen as a person rather than an object

And this is where the ladysplaining comes in. I want everyone to understand that (despite my frustration) it doesn’t serve me (as a woman) to try to flip patriarchy on its head and create a matriarchy. 

Power is the same destructive force no matter who holds it. 

I’m more concerned with the exchange of ideas and opinions – having real conversations with people who hold different ideas and opinions – than winning any debate. My mission is to achieve mutual understanding, not world domination. 

Yet, as a woman, this is harder for me to do than it is for a man – all thanks to that little thing called the male gaze. Maybe you’ve heard of it. And, even if you haven’t, you’re most certainly familiar with it since it’s the way we all view the world through the masculine lens. 

Consider for a moment how women are portrayed in the media as the objects of discussion. Rarely are we permitted to become a subject engaged in the discussion. So, to simplify, the male gaze abides by one rule. 

Male active. Female passive. 

It’s a system of domination that always puts the powerful above the weak, which, of course, is not limited to gender. We see it in racism, homophobia – all zealotry. I simply draw inspiration from my own experience, which tells me this.

Gender is irrelevant when you’re on a power trip.  

Who is anyone to impose his of her views upon anyone else? Indeed. And yet, as a woman, this has been happening to me my whole life. I’ve been subjected to those who’ve practically held me down and force-fed me their worldview. 

Once again, I’m not attacking men. I could, in fact, say something about feminists needing male allies, but this would imply that only women can be feminists, and the very word ‘ally’ implies there’s a fight for power going on here. 

No, no, that’s the very antithesis of what I’m trying to do. Instead I want to be an advocate for the female gaze , the awareness that there is no one dominant way to view the world. 

The female gaze asks us to open our eyes to the many different views of life, to open our ears to the many different stories of life, to open our hearts to the many different experiences of life. To meet people where they are. 

It’s all about inclusivity, connection and understanding. It focuses on the objectification rather than the object. It empathises with the experience of others rather than trying to impose upon that experience. See? No power play. 

So why do I feel compelled to ladysplain this lady gaze if it’s all-inclusive? Is it because women are believed to empathise more readily? Or is it because we are expected to empathise more readily?

Woman, as the perpetual object, has become more responsive to the gaze (and opinions and needs) of the subject. Which means she often sees and hears things that hurt her, she can feel ‘under attack’. 

And, if a woman has felt disempowered her whole life, she may try to instigate power play as her defence. She attacks back. Believe me, I know. Remember that poor sod ? I all but eviscerated him during a heated ‘discussion’ the other day. 

I’m ashamed to admit this, but it feels good and right to do so. 

We ended up on a second date because I wanted to make a point. When someone won’t listen to me, won’t acknowledge that I have an opinion, I find myself trying to gain control of the situation. Worse still, I find myself force-feeding some poor sod my particular brand of self-help feminism, even if it’s making him gag. 

It’s one thing to hold myself to a high ideal, but quite another to do the same to someone who is neither interested in nor aware of the need to change. On the whole, I’m all-empathy. I’m all-ears. I always want to talk about it, to level the playing field and forge meaningful connection. And yet, in certain situations, this can come off as power play.

Maybe it’s the coach in me. Maybe it’s the feminist. I can call out someone’s shit in record time. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have to throw it in their face.

So, yes, things got heated when he wouldn’t listen to me, wouldn’t acknowledge that I have an opinion, that I too am a subject . What part of me believed I could change the mind of someone so set in his ways? No matter how much I raised my voice, it fell on deaf ears. It often does. 

To shout about the female experience can inspire eye rolls and instruction to ‘calm down’. And this is what inspires our female fervour. Which is what causes the female gaze to go awry. So riled are we that we can no longer see past our own subjective take on the matter. 

And yet if our only tactic is to keep drawing attention to the things that make others uncomfortable (like sexism), we will never instigate the change we so desire. People will keep turning away from us because society – the male gaze –permits them to do so. The current system suits them very nicely, so banging on about equality to people who don’t want to hear it won’t change a thing. 

When you’re accustomed to power, equality can feel like oppression. 

But we don’t have to become bigots to challenge bigotry. It is not for us to change those resistant to change. Instead let us change the things that influence them, shape them, hold them in place. Let us shake the containers of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, all the power trips.

Let’s change the ways people are motivated to gain approval , acceptance and power by moving the social parameters that define these things. Ah, now they have to sit up and take notice. As long as the male gaze dominates, it remains ‘acceptable’ for certain people to behave in ways that hurt everyone else. They feel comfortable, reassured, of their behaviours. And yet, if we activated the female gaze, they might not feel so comfortable, so reassured. 

They may ask themselves, is this what it feels like not to have all the power? And, having experienced life on the other side of the fence, they may know something of empathy. They may feel compelled to meet themselves, and others,  on a deeper level . They may be compelled to change of their own accord

Our aim, you see, is not to threaten or disempower anyone, but to give them opportunities to relate . There is no one person whose truth is not threatened by someone else’s truth. There is no one person who isn’t hurting in some way. Even those holding the power are in pain. 

All attack is a cry for help.  

So, let’s help. Here's what I propose. Challenge the male gaze not by attacking it, or trying to seize control of it, but by controlling your reaction to it . You do not have to respond in kind. Take the higher road instead. Lead by example. Be open and empathetic, yes, but also firm. 

Don’t take any shit; don’t give any either. Don’t turn the other cheek; look them straight in the eye. Don’t put up and shut up; ask for an explanation. If it's not acceptable, tell them why. Raise the standards, not your voice. You are your own authority. 

The aim is to act like equals. Male active. Female active . Let’s show the world what this looks like by creating better outcomes in each situation. Like that second date: I cannot revisit it, but I can tend to the aftermath. 

I’ve since apologised without expecting anything in return. And I've explained what caused my anger. But I cannot coerce his response and nor would I want to. What he does with this apology is none of my concern. The fact I said sorry is. It's simply an invitation to meet me somewhere in the middle. 

I can see how he’s hurting himself (as well as me). And I can empathise. But that’s where he is and this is where I am. We are men and women, and we will never be the same, but we should be able to meet each other where we are .

We’re all human, after all, and our shared humanity means we all have the ability to empathise. We all have the ability to meet ourselves and each other on a deeper level. Not just the women. 

So yes, I’m sorry I tried to change you into someone you had no desire to be.

But I will never stop trying to change what I can without imposition

Thank you for reminding me of what I came here to do.  
 
By Jo Murphy 22 Aug, 2017
Confession time folks, I’m angry . So I guess that makes me an angry feminist; the very thing I’ve been in denial about for months, years, hell, probably my whole adult life.

When I came out I thought it was a big deal. Daring, even. But I wanted to be the warm and fuzzy feminist, you know, all compassion and good vibes. How wrong I was.

But it’s been a slow burn, this anger, as it often is for us girls.

On some level I’ve been abiding by the old school feminine ideal . The one that says look pretty, play nice, don’t upset the boys. Until one day, a week or so ago, I decided I no longer wanted to play nice. And I unleashed the hounds of a woman scorned.

Well, sort of. Here’s what really happened.

While watching the news coverage of Charlottesville I was reduced to tears. I’m a highly sensitive soul, you see, so when I witness this kind of hatred ‘out there’ in the world, I feel it intensely ‘in here’. I have to work hard to separate the feelings that belong to me from those that belong to everyone else.

So, there I was, all teary eyed, watching the horror unfold when I realised that this hatred belongs to all of us .

Oof, sounds harsh, right?

Indeed. So let me reframe it for you. Hatred, in this instance, is a combination of three things. Resentment, fear and denial: resentment that someone else enjoys privileges unavailable to you; fear that you are not truly deserving of those privileges anyway; and denial that you actually have any power to change this.

Getting angry, I believe, is the way we solve this problem because it requires us to address these feelings, to take responsibility for them and find ways to change them.

Anger can therefore be a force for good and there’s more on that here .

But what happens when we don’t get angry? What happens when we just let our resentment, fear and denial fester instead? We relinquish our personal responsibility, that’s what. And we look for someone to blame, which is where the hate comes in.

It’s also, I guess, what a lot of people believe to be the driving force behind feminism. We’re a bunch of man-hating sour grapes, some might say, hence my own resistance to the anger. Until the day the penny dropped.

I could not arrive at the warm fuzzy goodness of compassion until I’d truly addressed its opposite. And I could not really reach my feminist destination until I’d crossed the angry bridges of resentment, fear and denial still standing in my own life.

So I took those tentative first steps and here’s what I discovered.

The vast majority of our anger stems from the relationship we have with our boundaries – be they the personal boundaries that we consciously build to protect ourselves, or the social boundaries we adopt from others in the belief that they will protect us instead.

Let’s look at both in isolation, starting with the latter. These are the social contracts we abide by simply because it seems more straightforward to do so than not. They’re like warm body syndrome. We conform to them for an easy life, which ultimately means that we self-censor.

In turn, self-censorship becomes self-sabotage. Deep down we know something’s amiss so we look for ways to dull this awareness rather than face up to something we’re not ready to see.

It seems safer to numb out than act out.

Over time we come to believe that these social boundaries are the issue; that the problem exists outside of us. Other people are responsible for stealing our freedoms . But it’s actually the absence of personal boundaries that’s the real problem. Without these we can never be free.

We may get a sense that things are fundamentally unfair – that our sense of worth has been violated in some way – but we don’t really know how or why since we have no real understanding of our personal worth.

But the truth of this is too troubling to process. It requires us to admit something is wrong on the inside rather than the outside . It necessitates that we take ownership of our feelings of resentment, fear and denial, which left unchecked will mutate into hatred.

And, left unchecked, hatred can rule our lives.

So what’s the solution? We have to dismantle the social boundaries that inspire hatred by constructing personal boundaries that cultivate compassion. Let me give you an example that seems lightweight at first, but truly is loaded.

A week or so ago I was on a date. Now, this date is a big deal. It’s been two years since that happened and I’m feeling brave to be back out there . Well, I was, right up until he says ‘he wants to treat me like a princess’ and I think, oh Christ, the role-play has begun. But I willingly partake in the game.

He buys me a drink. It’s not what I asked for. I smile. I sip. I say nothing. He asks me the same questions over and over, each time neglecting to pay attention to my answers. But whatever I say is irrelevant since he’s soon groping my bottom in plain sight of the whole bar.

No, I’m really not feeling the slightest bit princess-y.

And yet the date continues. I let it continue . I choose to give him a chance because I believe he’s unaware of his behaviour. Poor sod. He’s been socialised to get whatever he wants when he wants. And I’ve been socialised to give it to him. To look pretty, play nice and not upset the boys – even if they’re not playing nice at all.

So I am not ignorant in this situation. Nor am I in denial. Instead I am watching us both as we conform to this bullshit social contract that exists between men and women. I am witnessing the boundaries that exist between us; that prevent the occurrence of any real connection or compassion or relationship. And still I say nothing.

Instead I drink to dull my awareness until it’s time to go home.

A week passes and he asks for a repeat date, giving specific instruction for a meeting at a time and location to suit him. I’m busy so I pass. But the text correspondence trickles on. He clearly expects me to meet him at his convenience for more bottom groping. This is a man who values his schedule. This is also a man who devalues mine. So I push back.

'Get you, lol; I think Missy likes to have her way', he retaliates, trivialising the boundaries I am laying down. I cannot tolerate this any longer.

My response is deeply considered, but it is also angry. I’m suddenly acutely aware of the sovereignty of my personal experience, of my boundaries, of my bottom . And I am not only speaking to him, but all of the men in my life. I say all the things I’d wished I’d said all those times I’d stayed silent while they groped.

Yes, I am waking up to the truth of my anger, but I am not a man hater. My anger comes from a place of compassion since I expect better from him. I expect better from all of them. And I expect better from myself.

More than any of this, I expect better for all of us.

I didn’t just call out his bad behaviour; I called out mine too. I called out the ways we’d hurt each other, the ways we’d conformed to our gender roles. Man unable to relate; woman unable to retaliate . And I knew that as I’d censored myself, as I’d sabotaged my own freedom of expression, I’d stripped him of his too.

So I wasn’t just angry with him, with all the men, I was angry with myself.

No matter my apparent external emancipation, it seemed I was still internally bound to these social contracts that demand submission . And I finally understood why I’d found it so damn hard to lay down boundaries in the past. To know what it is that I value, to know what it is that I’m allowed to value.

I understood that I am allowed to value myself, since knowing that I matter as an individual is the premise of my compassion for others .

And so my anger is compassion. My anger is freedom. And feminism is freedom. It is liberation from the lies I have told myself repeatedly. It is liberation from the ways I have not only imprisoned myself, but also imprisoned others by playing into the hands of this system that demands our conformity.

So this is my vow to no longer behave in ways that permit our mutual self-sabotage to continue. And this, my friends, is how I become both the angry and the compassionate feminist.

I don’t just want to be free; I want to care for other’s freedoms too. I don’t want to seek out men and attack them, but understand them. I want our experience as men and women (whatever our race or class or sexual or religious orientation) to be shared. I want us to shape this experience to support and nurture our mutual freedom, our self-discovery and expression.

And if that means calling bullshit when I see it, then that’s the way it’s going to be. If not, my silence simply becomes permission for the bullshit to continue. I know the results will not be immediate, but my efforts will be consistent. 

Take my date, for example, who remains unaware of the ways he’s limiting the possibility of real connection, compassion or relationship to unfold in his life. But maybe, just maybe, over time and with guidance his awareness will grow. Maybe he too will find freedom.

And this is my hope for all of us since we have a responsibility to value each other as free and uncensored individuals – to acknowledge that the ultimate privilege is freedom.

And freedom belongs to all of us.

We must be willing (and brave enough) to not simply please others so that they like us, but to do what’s right for everyone. It might not make us popular at first, but it will be worth it. We are worth it. So call out those who treat you badly and you will treat yourself better in the long run. As will they. You may even help them to treat themselves better.

What goes around comes around, so let us take hatred out of circulation.

Now that, my friends, is compassion in action. It is feminism in action. And I, for one, am feeling very warm and fuzzy at the prospect.


By Jo Murphy 03 Aug, 2017
We exist in the space between who we were and who we want to be.

But boy, do we fight it, this ‘here and now’ stuff. We want to be thinner, richer, smarter, never truly settling in the skin we’re in, always seeking more or less of some aspect of mind or body. And, once we are thinner, richer and smarter, we set our sights on the next new horizon. And then the next…

Eyes ever forward.

And yet, the way we move between where we’re coming from and where we’re going to, is the way we weave the very fabric of our lives. Like the thread that passes from one side of the loom to the other, nothing can take form without this rhythmic backwards and forwards motion.

As much as we want to be out with the old and in with the new, we must find a way to happily exist between the two.

But there’s often a snag in the thread, some obstacle that prevents the smooth transition between what was, what is and what could be. For you it might be a job or a relationship. For me it’s place, since wherever I find myself physically is where I also find myself emotionally and mentally.

Location changes everything on account of my sensitivity. I can get lost to who I become while I’m there. Which is why I’ve written at length of late about context and the relationships we have with (and because of) it.

Whatever we see outside of ourselves is what we have called into existence through our experience of that place.

Or job or relationship…

And the onus is always on us to bring the love and the beauty wherever possible, but what if that place or that job or that relationship is blocking our ability to do so? Holidays bring reprieve , of course, but a holiday has to end. And we have to return to the life we’d briefly turned away from.

Our homecoming may reveal that we’ve changed in some way. A shift may have taken place. And so we’re faced with a critical decision. Do we turn once again towards this life and pick up where we left off? Or do we turn towards our experience of this life and begin to unpick the snags?

When we explore ourselves in different contexts, we get to know different aspects of ourselves, we awaken to new ideas that propel us forward . But exploring ourselves in our current context is where we unravel the threads of our reality, and awaken to the old ideas holding us back .

Let me explain.

I’ve been living in a place not of my choosing for two years now. After everything went to shit in India , I returned to the family fold feeling sheepish, childish even. I’d leapt feet first and landed on my face. So I figured I had to make do and make a life with the few pieces that were left.

I spent months sorting through them, looking each over, assessing which parts could be salvaged. But this analysis was so loaded with melancholy that I soon changed tactic and started prematurely planning my exit strategy instead.

I disallowed myself from having any real relationships in, or with, this place. I refused myself any real experience or exploration of this particular void. I simply couldn’t accept where I was; or that this would become anything more than a brief suspension before my next overseas adventure.

I buried myself in my writing, my deep inquiry into where I’d been and where I wanted to go, and my deep rebuttal of where I actually was.

And this is what I learnt.

When we live divided from ourselves, from the truth of our present experience, we suffer a form of personal, physical and emotional destruction. We enter into denial . We grow ill or anxious or angry or isolated.

This is our wake up call.

But when we live undivided from ourselves, from the truth of our present experience, we undergo a form of personal deconstruction. We dismantle the old ideas we have about ourselves, the things we do (and keep doing) that hurt us and hold us back, and we decide that these things are no longer acceptable.

With this comes new insight. We understand that the perceived limitations of a place (or a job or a relationship) are not our own. And with this comes new freedom. We can walk towards ourselves without actually walking away from anyone or anything or any place until we’re truly ready.

Yes, we have to move through the mulch before we can move on, but if we make everything about the past, things get stale pretty quickly. Equally, when we become fixated on a future desire, all we experience is the unfulfillment of that desire, and things get depressing just as fast.

And yet, if we move between the two without getting attached, taking what we need and leaving what we don’t, we can weave the threads of the here and now, of the lived experience, which is all we have.

And that is why a change of context can be so fundamental to proceedings – be that a holiday or a breakup – since these are the things that awaken us to the snags. When we physically step away we get the meta-view, the perspective we need to decipher the essential threads from the inconsequential.

And if we keep one eye on this bigger picture, we’re better able to live inside just one part of it. More than that, we know that whatever our lived experience is right now, it is only one part of the overall piece.

If we lose sight of it, however, we too get lost. We get mired in the minutiae, muddling through without making sense of it all. We obsess over the inconsequential, forgetting that the small things only really matter if they become the threads weaving the bigger tapestry.

And we can never know what the finished piece will look like since it will doubtless never be complete. But this is not our concern. Finishing is not the point; contributing is . Our sole purpose here is to keep weaving these lives.

Your personal threads are sacred, my friends. Weave them carefully.

Walk away from what’s not working. Grieve the loss, yes, but only as long as is necessary to harvest the seeds of something better. And don’t fret that quitting calls your ability to commit into question. Think of it as a deeper commitment to the overall tapestry, a way to tend carefully to each thread that weaves into it.

And make those threads your own. Give up pursuit of things you think you should want, but don’t really. Stop striving for social and cultural ideals that don’t belong to you. Discover what makes you come alive. Uncover your values. Honour them. And honour yourself.

Know that whatever you’re ending and whatever you’re beginning, there’s a whole world that must be experienced between the two. Immerse yourself in this space, in the in-between, and you’ll gain full liberation from the past, full access to the future, full appreciation of the ways in which the two intertwine.

This is where we collapse time.

It took at least a year for me to understand this – to move through my pride and acknowledge that the family fold was exactly where I needed to be. I eventually stopped fighting the truth of where I found myself, and set the intention to stay for as long as I needed to come to terms with it all – to de-snag .

And, over time, I’ve made my peace with this particular place – with the girl I was when I arrived and the woman I’ve become because I stayed. I’ve strengthened and refined my threads. But I also know that if I stay much longer , these threads may well run out. My work here is done.

This is good news.

The time has come for me to extend my work on this tapestry. A new void needs filling. I simply need to make the necessary adjustments that permit me to keep coming alive, to keep weaving. And, if I move physically, I can move mentally and emotionally too.

Perhaps you’re also ready?

If so, I hope my coming clean helps, since I’m weaving this life with you. And I would not be able to share what I now share had I not been here, for two years, in this place. My stories are considered, deliberate, and intended to reveal how my threads intertwine with yours, if you’ll let them .

We all share this universal tapestry, and we each have a responsibility to honour the individual contribution we make. Our social and cultural parameters have not, on the whole, allowed for the creativity, exploration and expression that are essential to self-discovery. We must buck the trend.

If we never discover ourselves, how can we ever hope to discover each other?

If we give ourselves the gift of presence we can extend the same kindness to each other. If we know ourselves better, and improve the relationship we have with our real-time experiences, this can only nourish the relationships we have with everyone else sharing that experience. And beyond.

When we turn towards ourselves, we actually turn towards each other – our shared tapestry, our humanity. Together we can weave the fabric that fills the void between you and me, now and then, here and there.

Together we can weave something new.



By Jo Murphy 17 Jul, 2017
Love doesn’t exist. Love calls everything into existence.

Quite the declaration, isn’t it? Love doesn’t exist . So, how does that work? Think of it this way. Love is not an object that stands outside of us – even though we think it is, as we hunt it down like starved animals. We’re hungry for it, for sure, but we forget that both our appetite and the ability to satiate it are found in the same place. Ourselves .

We are the subjects doing the loving. We call everything into existence.

But it’s not always easy, is it? Deadlines need to be met and dinners need to be cooked, and so we call forth mundanity, stress and exhaustion. Believe me, I know. Having written a harsh review of humanity last time, I was acutely aware of the lack of love in my own life.

Beneath that flowery pinny my heart had been breaking.

Everything felt so restrained, so strained. But whatever I was experiencing, I was the one calling it into existence. I was literally starving myself of love, like so many of us, through the ways we do or do not relate to our lives, to others, to ourselves; the risks we are willing to take or not take; the way we colour our canvas inside or outside the lines .

Consider, for a moment, the restraints you impose on your life with daily routines and regimens and diets and goodness knows what else drains the colour from your days. It’s all so risk adverse. But we get rewarded for these things, for being good , for being seen to be the same as everyone else.

That’s how the lines give us context. They promise to deliver personal progression within a particular situation or circumstance. But these lines also become limitations. They isolate, encourage competition, inspiring us to call forth resentment, jealousy, fear, pride – all the gremlins – but none of these things exist either .

We call them into existence.

If we breach the lines, however, we call forth a new experience, something different, something more . But ‘more’ isn’t your next promotion. It isn’t your new conservatory. It isn’t an accolade or an object. These things are nice, very nice, but ‘more’ means joy, aliveness, relationship .

It means creating a world that’s more compassionate and inclusive  where we remember to look up and see each other. Yes, we want to be the same as everyone else, but we’ve forgotten how we’re the same as everyone else. Our humanity is the thing that binds and unites us. Conformity inhibits it. Diversity informs it.

Everything hinges on relationship. But relationship brings risk .

It brings exposure to whatever or whoever is outside the lines. And so we choose instead to meet each other (and ourselves) only as far as our current limitations allow – like me in that tearoom. We play it safe and continue to starve.

Wow, heavy, right? How on earth do we carry on?

Holidays, that’s how. We get on planes and trains and get the hell out of here so we can colour outside the lines for two weeks out of every fifty-two. We go forth and put ourselves in the way of beauty so we can feel beautiful.

We get away from our lives in order to remember them. We get away from each other for the same reason.

As our external environment shifts, we notice our internal environment differently. As our internal environment shifts, we notice our external environment differently.

Breaking from routine throws us into the unknown and demands that we tune into ourselves (and each other) on a deeper level. When unfamiliar objects and people surround us, we must pay more attention to our subjective experience of it all. We are no longer going through the motions. We can no longer numb out. So we begin to ask, who’s colouring this canvas? How have I not seen all of this before?

Trust me friends, this happened to me last week. After months and months of misery I hung up my pinny, got on a plane and got the hell out of here. And I fell in love with humanity all over again. I began to relate all over again . Everywhere I looked compassion kept catching me right at the back of the throat.

Christ, I thought, we’re hilarious and gorgeous and daft and beautiful.

I noted how different we are on holiday. We drop the pretence and the posturing. Our excitement catches us off guard. Our vulnerability is heightened by the risk of it all. New horizons become new lines for us to cross and we do the crossing together . There’s no push-shove , and, if there is a queue, it’s an opportunity to make friends. Have you been here before? Where do you come from?

Small talk takes on new resonance as we cross the lines between self and other . A shift takes place. We take interest in each other’s difference. We delight in it. We begin to see each other all over again. More than that, we allow ourselves to be seen . A shared joke, a random kindness, forging connections makes the adventure seem less risky. The lines become blurred .

We call forth more.

I certainly did. And all it took was one week for me to replenish my love reserves. Truly. My craving for travel had been bone deep for months and months. It has historically been a form of escape for me – a way to run away from everyone and everything – but I knew it would be different this time. It would allow me to run towards everyone and everything.

I needed to get away from my life in order to remember it. I needed to create physical distance to cover the emotional distance.

A change of context is always a gift since it gives us context, but not in the way we imagine. While we want it to separate us from the pain, it actually brings us closer to the love. Yes, the place may be different, but our humanity remains a constant . We are always there, with each other, wherever we go. And whatever our relationship with a particular place may be, it’s merely a reflection of the relationship we have entered into with each other, with ourselves, at that time.

Sunsets, mountains and oceans, we believe, are the elixir we desire, objects that exist outside of us. But it is us who calls forth their magic. If we let our crayons wander, we also begin to wonder, what if life could always be like this? We feel insignificant and significant all at the same time. We’re overcome by a sense that the world is so much bigger than we’d remembered. But we’re also reminded that we have a place in it.

We belong to it. We belong to each other.

Okay, you say, it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy watching the sun dance on the waves, but how the hell do we call forth the love when the holiday ends?

We remember that the daily parameters we place on ourselves and our lives are not compulsory. We are free to break the ‘rules’ a little, to colour outside the lines at any time. And if this feels risky then know that the disruption of risk is only ever temporary . And it always liberates us in the end.

Whatever we see outside of ourselves, whatever we experience, is simply something that we have called into existence by loving or not loving ourselves, each other, our lives, in that moment.

We are free to look up and see the world with new eyes at any time, wherever we are. We wield the crayons that colour the canvas, so we can call forth a world with lines or no lines, love or no love. Either way, our future depends on it.


By Jo Murphy 03 Jul, 2017
Few (if any) of you know that I’ve been wearing a flowery pinny and making frothy coffee three days a week, every week for the past 15 months. I’d voted to keep myself in pocket money while I polished the book proposal, but while this ‘little job’ was my safety net, it often felt like a shameful secret.

And my pride often got the better of me.

Pride, the dictionary tells us, is the belief that you’re better or ‘more than’ anyone else. I beg to differ. Pride is a defence mechanism born of the fear that we really are much ‘less than’ everyone else. It makes you haughty and secretive, and ashamed of having a bridge job.

But really, who cares ?

We do what we have to do in order to get where we want to go. Which is where humility comes in. This, the dictionary tells us, is the quality of having a modest view of one’s importance; free from pride or arrogance.

Importantly, however, this doesn’t mean seeing ourselves as unimportant – it means knowing and valuing ourselves enough to not need pride or arrogance. But we fight humility. We fear it, believing that being humble means admitting we’re not enough. Pride seems like the safer option.

The customers certainly knew this, but not all of them, since I must acknowledge a handful of regulars with a deep bow of gratitude. Every day they came with ready smiles, bringing joy to an otherwise humdrum exchange. As for the others, well, people generally treat each other like shit, don’t they?

On a busy day it became the norm to be barked at, patronised or dismissed as a second rate citizen simply for serving up cake. At first I thought it was the pinny. Do we see people earning minimum wage as having minimum status, I wondered, the cleaners and cooks and caretakers?

Or maybe it had something to do with my gender? No, it wasn’t that. The female customers could be as abhorrent as the male. Was it because I couldn’t make seven drinks with two hands in less than five minutes? Or maybe it had nothing to do with me at all and was all about them ?

So I paid attention and began taking field notes.

On a daily basis I witnessed the pain of people acting out their insecurities, protecting their most private selves with public shows of one-upmanship . Skipping the queue. Questioning the prices. Complaining about everything .

People wielded their impatience like a weapon with which they could intimidate me. But, you see, impatience is a crucial part of the fight against humility. It says I will not wait for my slice of the pie. I am deserving of it right now .

But fighting for first place serves no one. There’s a space in the queue for all of us and we all get to the front in the end. Until then, we do what we have to do to get where we want to go.

At least this is what I kept telling myself as I dug deep to find my compassion in the face of all this bad behaviour. I wanted to understand why so many of us are so deeply committed to hurting ourselves (and each other). I watched those who were clearly oblivious to anything outside of their own sphere of existence.

Humans have a knack of being totally self-absorbed and yet totally self-unaware. It’s all push-shove, sod the queue and sod you.

Sounds harsh, I know, but it’s also fair. We’re all caught up in life’s fundamental paradox of self and other . While we mostly think only of ourselves, we do so primarily through the lens of how we’re perceived by others – aka whether you think I’m important or not . And while we’ve learnt to compete, to exclude, to separate, we desperately crave acceptance and inclusion.

And this is precisely why we push and shove, so we don’t get forgotten or left out. This ‘them and us’ mentality is all consuming. We’re so engrossed in the business of self-defence (and getting to the front of the queue) that we imagine attack where there is none. And when we make enemies out of everyone, we undermine our shared experience .

Really, you say, all this from a tearoom ?

Oh yes. I watched and listened and learned. We need that queue so we have a place alongside everyone else. And we need each other to know ourselves. Our point of difference is our point of recognition – and this doesn’t make us any less important or any less worthy as individuals. Pride, you see, is vastly overrated.

We need to get over ourselves and get to know ourselves instead, to become both aware and self-aware.

Trust me, I learned a thing or two about myself while frothing that milk. After months of scrutinising the customers, I let them become my mirrors, my teachers. As I watched them, I witnessed my own pride and my own impatience – more than that, my fear of being left at the back of the queue for the book deal.

With every flat white (which is what, exactly, a coffee with milk?) I had to move through my pride (not swallow it) to remember that we are always in transition – that we do what we have to do to get where we want to go, but it need not be a struggle. And this is another of life’s precious paradoxes.

Every day we walk the line between what we really want to happen (book deal, swift service) and what needs to happen first (write the book, wait in the queue).

If we get too mired in either extreme, we get stuck in a place where we could never be happy. If we always get what we want, we’ll always be hankering for more. If we’re always hankering for more, we’ll never get what we want. There has to be a balance, a middle path that we can happily walk between the two.

While pride wants everything now, humility is much more chill. It sees the setbacks and queues and delays simply as lived experience. Nothing is wasted . Humility doesn’t do defeat, defence or attack. It tells us life can be two things at once (self and other). It tells us we can be two things at once (pinny wearer and writer). This can be as enriching as it is painful.

It’s also as empowering as it is humbling.

So now that the book proposal’s finished and I’ve hung up my pinny, both have changed me (arguably) for the better. It all counts. Everything counts . Remember this, my friends, and embrace the paradox wherever you are in the queue.

There’s no shame in it.


By Jo Murphy 18 Jun, 2017
My friend's four-year-old daughter told me with all sincerity the other day that girls “can’t be in charge”. But boys can.

Oh shit, I thought, how can I show her otherwise?  

We’d been watching a cartoon about a team of male undersea explorers led by a male captain. Its aim, I’m sure, was to educate young minds about the wonders of nature. Only it’d been teaching this darling girl something quite different.

The men are in charge.

This cartoon is no exception to the rule. I’ve been paying close attention to the media available to young minds and the messages they convey. And the main takeaway, unsurprisingly, is the importance of traditional heterosexual ideals. In other words, boys will be boys while the girls vie for their approval. And this hurts all children , male and female.

Yes, quality parenting can expound equality, but we cannot control everything that children are exposed to. Nor should we hide them from the world. Instead we can change it for them.

We do so by deconstructing patriarchy. I know, I know, I can hear you sigh. Patriarchy has become a catchall phrase for the blame mongers, a punch bag for those who feel hard done by. But attacking it does not serve our cause here simply because patriarchy isn’t outside us. It’s inside .

It's a mindset. It’s the values, ideals and beliefs that have taken root in our collective psyche as human evolution has favoured the powerful – not just men, but the privileged and strong. We don’t just worship men and deride women, you see, we deride all weakness and difference.

Patriarchy isn’t just about male domination, but all forms of domination.

Take a look around. Within any relationship, personal and professional, there will be both a dominant and a submissive party – black, white, gay, straight, male, female. And the stronger party will inevitably be the (straight, white) male simply because the world is set up in a way that supports his (superficial) empowerment.

Okay, let’s take a breath. How did we get all the way over here from that cartoon? Simple. Patriarchy begins with something as innocent as a cartoon or a throwaway comment. This is how we plant the roots .

I’ll give you another example.

While strolling through the park this week I overheard a conversation between two teenage girls and a teenage boy. One of the girls said to the boy, jokingly , “are you watching porn already?” Cue much hilarity. Oh, how they laughed, like it was a fact of life that boys watch porn and girls accept it . I mean, WTF?

I don’t know if women watch porn because they like it or because they want to be cool. But I do know that women have been raised alongside the idea that the female body, the female person, is an object to be owned and oppressed.

But wait, you say, oppression is a word that can come off a little heavy; surely we’re all too progressive for that kind of thing? I’m afraid not. We’re way more regressive than we realise, merrily maintaining this system of oppression through our patriarchal relationships.

And we take our cues from the likes of pornography and children’s cartoons – apparent extremes – because they’re not only teaching us how to be male and female, but also how to interact as males and females. And they perpetuate patriarchal dualism that says the world is understood through binary categories – there is always an inferior and a superior, a strong and a weak.

Think about any relationship in which one person gives and the other gains. The heterosexual ideal tells us women do the giving because females are wired to nurture others , right? And yet, if we’re programmed to submit to and care for others, how is it that we don’t know how to do these things for ourselves?

Girls, it seems, are growing up with the belief that someone else will lead them, decide for them, and validate their existence. And we women were once those girls, which is why I see so many of us relinquishing our agency, our power of self-definition, in the name of relationship.

We constantly seek approval from whomever we believe holds the power – so that would be the men since we live in a world of (male) domination. But patriarchy hurts the boys too because it defines masculinity in such narrow terms. It asks them to step up even if they don’t want to.

Talk about pressure.

This oppressor / oppressed paradigm is hurting everyone . So how do we kick it into touch? Whatever is manifesting in our outer lives is simply a projection of the inner life. Okay, let’s start there. Even better, let’s start with the inner child.

There’s a part of us that just wants to be loved . But we simply won’t allow for it because humans can be silly like that, believing it to be a sign of weakness, neediness. So the inner child becomes the submissive, we become both the oppressor and the oppressed, and the relationships we have with ourselves become as patriarchal as any other.

We’re constantly critiquing and bullying ourselves, serving ultimatums and denying our inner child’s full development and expression. But love can never take root in a relationship based on domination and coercion, which is why we have such a hard time walking the long road from self-loathing to self-loving.

But we will never truly grow up into self-identified adults until we walk that road and tend to that child within – until we stop projecting our inner pain onto our outer lives, protecting our most private selves with public shows of one-upmanship.

This, my friends, is why we have a responsibility to be kinder to each other, to look after each other better, by first being kinder to ourselves. Mutually beneficial relationships may be built on mutual respect for the individual, but respect for the individual begins with the individual.

So take a look at the ways you relate to yourself and answer me this, when was the last time you did something kind for yourself? When was the last time you spoke kind words to yourself? When was the last time you were gentle with yourself? Oh my, why is this self-love stuff so hard ?

All I know is that it’s not impossible. In a recent moment of panic and pain I made the bold decision to mute my inner bitch and ask myself, what would I want mum to say to me right now? Even better, what would I say to her in her moment of panic and pain?

And then I let the kind words flow.

My recovery was quick. All it had taken was that moment of acknowledgement and gentleness. There was no right or wrong, weak or strong, no binary categorisation, just a parent loving and caring for her child.

So maybe we all need to become our own mothers and big sisters and aunties. Maybe we need to raise ourselves to become the female leaders, the female role models we crave. The ones who can change the world. And we do this through mutuality, not domination. Only then will the cartoons (and the porn) tell a different story.

By Jo Murphy 02 Jun, 2017
I once followed a man half way around the world because I thought it would please him. I followed him all the way to the top of a mountain where it actually pleased him to try to end his life. He survived. So we parted ways and I came home to deal with a life-threatening issue of my own.

It’s called co-dependency.

The nuts and bolts of this particular relationship were complex to say the least, but my main takeaway was crystal clear. I was addicted to pleasing people, not just the men in my life, but everyone. And my addiction had been life long. I didn’t have the first clue how to please myself, and any attempt to do so was followed by self-recrimination for being, you know, selfish .

So what about the nuts and bolts of co-dependency? Does it make us selfless ? The experts tell us it’s an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner who needs a lot of support. Typically this partner will have an addiction. And so the co-dependent is addicted to pleasing the addict. More than that, they gain a sense of worth and identity from being wanted and needed.

Fine, you say, but what’s this got to do with me? Well, my friends, I fear that co-dependency is becoming a modern epidemic. Consider this. It’s often not that far of a leap from being easy going, the cool girl , to being downright passive.

And there’s a fine line between accommodating and over-accommodating.

But being co-dependent isn’t all about boy meets girl; girl dotes on boy. The vast majority of us are fixing for it. Yes, society is certainly set up to support female submissiveness – it has been for centuries – but the truth is we’re all being conditioned to indulge in mutual co-dependency. While the experts tell us it’s a learned behaviour passed on by parents, it’s not the parents doing the passing.

We’re all teaching each other day in, day out to have an excessive emotional and psychological reliance on a sociocultural system that requires conformity above all else.

Take a look around. Notice the ways in which we consciously behave. These are also the ways that make us self-conscious – as if we were looking at ourselves from the outside in. We want to know that we’re doing it right, saying it right and wearing it well. And this pull of conformity impacts every choice we make from relationships to jobs to, well, life in general .

Our very real, very human need to be accepted and liked means we’re always trying to please someone somewhere. We want to be wanted. And so our conformity is tantamount to co-dependency.

We want to belong, of course we do, but here’s the rub: we must belong to ourselves first and foremost.

Let me explain.

Imagine life as a sliding scale. On the one side you have the individual experience. On the other side you have the shared experience. Ideally we move up and down that scale, compensating as necessary  without overcompensating . But co-dependency, and the pull of conformity, prevents us from doing so. It’s like a barricade.

If you depend on something outside of yourself – a person, a system – for your sense of identity and worth, then your dependence builds the barrier. You’re asking this person, this system, to deliver something they cannot. And when they don’t deliver you can neither connect with them nor yourself.

While we look to others, to our peers, to our social feeds for inspiration, we will never know what is uniquely ours to bring to the world. While we may actually want to live in the service of others, we cannot give of ourselves until we know who or what it is that we’re giving.

And so it follows that we can know nothing of the shared experience until we get up close and personal with the individual. Great, you say, now how do we dismantle the barriers we’ve built between the two?

We do it from the inside out. We dig them up by the roots . We burn our allegiance to a culture, a system that tells us who and how to be. And we start making those decisions ourselves.

We become independent.

Now, our independence is something that we can cultivate in each moment. And each moment is an opportunity to choose differently, to see things differently. We simply use the contrast between what’s going on outside of us and what’s going on inside of us to craft the pertinent questions.

Why do I spend time with these people? How do they make me feel? How do I want to feel? What do I want from this relationship, this situation? Where is it taking me? Where do I want to go? What can I do to change this?

Whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, it provides fertile ground for self-discovery. This doesn’t mean hours of naval gazing, it simply requires that we become conscious in new and different ways. That we become self-conscious in new and different ways. We start looking at things from the inside out.

This is how we build the foundations of lasting and mutually satisfying relationships. This is how we marry the individual experience with the shared. When we remove the barriers of dependence, we can interact with each other in new and different ways. In fact, we begin to see each other’s difference as a gift.

Conformity, be damned.

Our contrast becomes our point of reference. It’s how we know who we are. And so the point at which we separate ourselves is also the point at which we identify ourselves. Therefore the point of identification also becomes the point of reconciliation – it’s where we meet on that sliding scale.

When we build relationships upon mutual respect for the individual, we can build wider networks based on the same. This is how we create a whole new culture, a whole new system that cannot exist without all its parts – even if each of those parts is separate and unique.

So slide away my friends, up and down that scale. And remember that whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, you are both a part and apart .

And that’s okay.


By Jo Murphy 12 May, 2017
I’m in a taxi bound for the station. A train waits to take me to Rome. The sky is grey and Mika plays on the radio. I have a flashback to another taxi ride two years ago. I’m headed to Colombo airport, bound for Delhi. The sky is blue and Mika plays on the radio.

Time has collapsed.

These experiences may be years and miles apart, but the feeling they incite is the same. I know it intimately, this sense of simultaneous excitement and disquiet. Change is coming and it’s unsettling, yes, but it’s also deeply regenerative.

The greatest disparity between these two pictures, however, is me.

There’s a chasm between the girl I was and the woman I’ve become. Sometimes I look back at that girl and admire her tenacity, but I also knew her pain. And I know it’s her chaotic journey to womanhood that’s taught me to love this in-between space where both departure and arrival are imminent.

We’re always in transition physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, but travel intensifies this sense of momentum, of endless new beginnings. It’s a process of growing up. So my nostalgia affords me a reminder that without life’s flux we’d atrophy physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

As the taxi moves through the traffic, I consider the way I left London three years ago. I knew what I was turning away from, but hadn’t a clue what I was turning towards. While it was prime circumstance to turn towards myself, I was far too preoccupied with running away.

While I’d happily leapt, I didn’t want to land.

More than that, part of me fought like fury to resist all that was changing, recklessly grasping at passing relationships as a grounding mechanism, relying on others to lead the way, doing most anything to shirk responsibility for my journey.

I’d not yet truly departed from my former life, which meant that anything new I desired was little more than a pipe dream. The irony was that I’d unknowingly catapulted myself into a highly unstable, but highly creative space, which I now know to be chaos – a word (and concept) that makes us twitchy.

If we trace its etymology back to classical Greek we discover the origins of chaos in ‘chasm’ or ‘void’. Better still, Hellenistic mythology tells us that chaos was a primeval state of existence, the blank canvas upon which the universe was painted. So if chaos refers to something that’s not yet formed, it grants us great opportunities for creation as well as destruction.

Chaos is pure potential.

Yet still we fear it. Anything without defining parameters confuses us. We’ve no means of measuring, classifying, ranking, of knowing a thing without form. Just like that girl gallivanting across Asia didn’t know herself.

I was simultaneously running from and craving all that was measurable, definable and knowable. I was falling unconsciously into chaos, resisting the process, which led to knee-jerk planning and overspending as overcompensation for all I could not control.

Fast-forward to today, however, and I now thrive on the chaos, choosing to fall into it consciously . I’ve learnt to recognise when it’s time to leave , and to properly grieve whatever is passing, before painting new beginnings with very broad brushstrokes. I have faith in the process of destruction before (re)creation.

So what changed? How did I get from that place to this one? How did something highly reactive metamorphose into something deeply creative? It did so when I finally understood how the relationship between that girl and this woman was rooted in chaos.

Chaos was the bridge.

And so it goes. However much we want to move from one place to another we simply can’t if we bypass the bridge. And since we worship continuity, bypassing anything that threatens it is the easy choice. We expect change to be preassembled and delivered next day. But life doesn’t work like that.

Chaos is the natural order of things.

Whatever you’re ending and whatever you wish to begin, know there’s a world of mess that needs to be experienced between the two. Consider it your wintertime , the necessary pause before creation springs forth from the mulch.

Full immersion in chaos is what grants us full liberation from the past and full access to the future. It’s where we collapse time. It’s where we learn to love whatever we’re leaving behind ( like I learnt to love that girl ) and harvest it for the seeds of something better.

And this is why travel for me is no longer about escaping but decontextualizing . It’s an essential deconstruction of any routine that breeds dependence on continuity. It’s a way of strengthening my change muscles. But you don’t have to travel to do the same. The chaos metaphor stands wherever you are since life has a way of throwing curveballs whenever you get too comfortable.

So while you may tell me you’re happy as you are and you’ve no desire to change, take care not to atrophy, my friends. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re most certainly drifting backwards.

But if you are ready to leap, know that chaos will always catch you.

By Jo Murphy 21 Apr, 2017
I’m sitting on a marble bench. In front of me stands the Taj Mahal, magnificent, symmetrical. The serenity of the place astounds despite how many of us clamour for the money shot, the memory.

But this moment, and the memory I’m making, has been interrupted.

Next to me sits my ‘guide’, a man with verbal diarrhoea. I’m not sure if he’s visited the Taj so often it’s old news to him. I’m not even sure if he’s aware of his trespass. I am certain, however, that he doesn’t care.

Nevermind the magnificence in front of me, this man insists on talking about himself . Nonstop. And then out come the photos of his wife and daughter. He’s also sitting a little closer than is necessary, breathing his lunch all over me.

I nod, smile and feign interest – my learned co-dependency allows me to coo at the picture, to let him know that I’m okay with his intrusion. But I’m not okay with it, really not okay at all . Beneath the benign smile my fury simmers. Yet my enduring silence grants him permission to continue. I consider filing a complaint after the event .

If I were a man, I wonder, would he encroach on me in this way? Would he pour his narcissism all over me? Would he be so comfortable stealing this memory I’m making, which should be mine and mine alone?

But I don’t have answers to these questions since there’s too much cultural disparity at play. Instead I reach the conclusion that I have led this man on with my niceness, with my need to please. My lack of objection or resistance has signalled to him that I’m okay with this situation. Ergo the situation is my fault .

And there it is.

What do I expect as a white woman travelling solo? It’s my first trip to India, after all, and I’m just learning the do’s and don’t’s. I’m deposited daily at my hotel and told not to leave until a chaperone returns. I wait for hours, obediently, watching others come and go at whim. This is no adventure .

But nobody is holding me prisoner other than myself. I may have taken this trip as an act of a rebellion against the stuffy old prejudices I’d grown up with, but somehow I’m still being the good girl . Despite my efforts to reject beliefs that don’t belong to me, a system I don’t buy into, I’ve dragged it 5,000 miles across the globe with me.

And so it goes.

No matter how badly we want to change a thing, or a belief, we can’t until we burn our allegiance to it. Simply denouncing something just won’t do. Instead we have to dig it up by the roots, to excavate whatever exists at a subconscious level. Likely it’s a belief system we’ve grown up within, which means it’s also grown up inside of us.

So why tell you this story?

Because, in hindsight, I see how this was one of many events that seeded my coming out. One of many happenings over the course of my 30 plus years – both large and small – that finally broke my allegiance to the old system.

This coming out I speak of wasn’t so much an event but an evolution, an emerging clarity. It was something that I’d not been able to articulate for a long time, until I could: I am a feminist .

And there it is.

So what, you say. Here’s what. Feminism burns beliefs – it burns barriers to fairness, respect and empathy – not bras. It’s the complete opposite of the masculine system currently holding us in place – one that’s built on apathy, fear and prejudice.

It’s not about putting women first, or any minority above the majority, but pitching everyone at the same level. It’s about redressing the balance all around. And so feminism strikes a chord with me as a women and a human .

For me it’s not academic or angry, it’s a response to my accumulated experience, my ongoing observation of the ways in which we hurt ourselves. It’s a feeling that’s been with me for a long time, but I’ve only just discovered its name. And, being human, I like to label things.

Ironic how it took a label to help me look beneath all the other labels.

Feminism has helped me to understand what I misunderstood about myself – to put my puzzle together , to understand where, why and how I didn’t fit in. It’s allowed me to dismantle difficult and self-destructive beliefs, to make sense of personal dilemmas, as well as the bigger picture stuff.

Most of all, feminism helps me understand how and why change is both necessary and possible.

Take that day at the Taj, for example, where I sat festering and fuming. I was nigh on terrified of that man’s disapproval. Nevermind that he displeased me, I couldn’t bare not to please him because I (like so many of us) had internalised our world's need for co-dependence and conformity.

If we don’t play by the rules of the system we imagine all kinds of rejection, which is why we act in ways that protect ourselves. We’re so engrossed in the business of self-defence that we imagine attack where there is none.

And when we make enemies out of everyone, we undermine our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

That’s why feminism doesn’t just address women’s problems, but human problems. It’s as diverse as the diversity it asks us to embrace.

Which brings us back to India, a country I’ve visited many times, alone and un-chaperoned, since that day at the Taj. It’s the place that opened my heart and mind in ways I could not have foreseen. It’s the place that finally broke my allegiance to the system (and broke me, but that’s another story for another day).

Once broken, however, I could rebuild something different, but not necessarily new. It’s not that feminism is old news so much as the majority understanding of it is. The f word is still too out there for many, but this resistance tells me it has something of value to offer.

Anything that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges the norm, also enhances our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

I’m told repeatedly that gender is irrelevant in today’s post-feminist world. Does that mean race and colour are also a non-issue, or sexual and religious preference? Feminism says no, fuck the rulebook, and asks us instead to embrace the necessity and beauty of difference and diversity.

I’ve been a long-time advocate for self-expression, for encouraging people to find the freedom within themselves to be themselves, but this takes it to a new level. It’s a rally cry, really, change doesn’t just get delivered alongside your organic veggie box. Yep, I’m gonna say it folks, we have to be it .

Let’s do this. Who's with me? 

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