Reasons not to be strong

  • By Jo Murphy
  • 13 Oct, 2016
Strong (adjective): the ability to withstand force, pressure or wear.

Strong is good. It’s one-on-one with success. Today’s mantras tell us so. You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have. Nothing worth having comes easy. Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations…

And so it goes. Motivational speak worthy of the militarian. We’ve come to revere each other’s capacity for wear and tear, and to admire those beating all odds. Hard graft begets reward. And we love a tale of adversity overcome. Rags to riches stories give us hope that we too will have our time in the sun.

And yet, why should we have to suffer first?

All of life brings an element of suffering: our fear of impending death, of losing what we have, or of never having had it in the first place. This is all self-imposed.

So long as we’re striving for what we don’t have rather than taking a long hard look at what we do, we will suffer. So long as we look to the outside world to provide our benchmarks for success and happiness, we’ll be at a disadvantage.

The media mind tells us day in, day out, how to hack life, how to be perfect , how to beat the competition. We win or lose. Live or die. No pain, no gain. You’re either in or out, black or white. Grey becomes the excluded middle.

We’re unable to think in threes, obsessing instead over opposites. If you’re not strong, you’re weak. If you’re not winning, you’re losing.

It’s as if there’s not enough to go around. Unless we fight for what we can get, we’ll be left with the scraps. This, my friends, is scarcity mentality. So what’s the opposite of scarcity? Abundance…

Abundance (noun): overflowing fullness; ample sufficiency.

Ah, that’s better.

Abundance says we all get a go on the carousel. It says live and let live. We’re all worthy here. There is enough. Life is enough. You are enough; you have enough. Gain without pain. And so, with this, abundance becomes gratitude.

Gratitude (noun): a readiness to show appreciation for what is; a readiness to return to kindness.

A return to kindness, how gorgeous is that? It gives us a new idea: that we can cut ourselves some slack. Bugger the grindstone. Sod the media mind. Let’s instead consider what we really want and what we’re really capable of. Let’s set our own benchmarks for success and happiness.

You see, both abundance and gratitude are not things we must earn or win or strive for. They are experiences we each cultivate in each moment. If we focus on how we feel about what we’re doing, then the reward comes in the act rather than the result. We begin to enjoy ourselves. No suffering required.

Life is no longer about keeping your eyes on the prize while you slave away, because life becomes the prize. It allows you to be both strong and weak and everything in between – we live in those grey areas between black and white.

Which means we have the freedom to do what we want however we want. We can climb mountains, but we don’t have to carry them. We can take on huge tasks, but they need not be thankless. So, if you’re struggling, stop. If you believe that life is hard, then consider this… life can be easy.

Easy (adjective): achieved without great effort, free from problems and worries.

But easy doesn’t mean slacking off. It actually means taking the middle path, or “the way to wisdom” as Rumi called it. This is the path of least resistance. It softens rather than hardens us to life. It flows in between the extremes.

In between not trying and trying too hard. In between action and faith. In between fate and destiny . In between what we want and what we are capable of.

We meet the universe half way.

This isn’t about endurance and nor is it about apathy, it’s about balance. Michael Singer explains it well in The Untethered Soul . He writes: “The more you work with balance, the more you can just sail through life. All forces are in harmony.”

So, if you feel like you’re forcing the issue, take a timeout and take a look around. Ask yourself this: are you who you want to be? Are you where you want to be? Are you doing what you want to do?

Are you moving towards what you want with ease and kindness and gratitude, or are you slaving thanklessly towards some false ideal?

If you have more reasons to be strong than grateful, we need to talk. Whatever you’re aiming for and whatever you want, don’t get mired in the motivational BS. Everything worth having can come easy. Beautiful roads can lead to beautiful destinations.

No hardship required.

There is so much more available to each of us in each moment. To be here is glorious. Every shade of grey is glorious.

And if you’re not enjoying what it feels like to be in-between the black and the white, please remember this… strong is never the only choice you have.

By Jo Murphy 06 Jan, 2018
“When we women offer our experiences as truth, as human truth, all the maps change.”

Ursula K Le Guin has a point that’s pertinent as January bears down on us, demanding that we resolve to do life better, amplifying the toxicity of our overculture. But life doesn’t need to be improved; it needs to be shared.

We don’t need resolutions or betterment. We need truth.

Women have been calling for it, for sure. We want our suffering at the hands of others to be outed, but what about the suffering we impose on ourselves? While our culture of comparison and competition puts our public lives under constant scrutiny, cultivating an image of perfection (or being seen to strive for it) becomes our first line of defence.

Meanwhile our private lives remain stoically and safely hidden away.

If a woman’s work is to create harmony for others, we pay no mind to our own disharmony. Often the people around us define us (wife, mother) as we tend to their comfort and happiness, leaving little room for our un happiness. All because female feelings threaten the social order, earn us the crazy label.

A simple heartfelt declaration that we no longer accept this social order could undermine it more swiftly than any grand-scale revolution. That’s why we’re shamed for sharing the truth of our experience. Over Christmas, for example, I noticed my embarrassment whenever I let down my guard around the male members of my family.

The festive period demands more of the female caregiver and caretaker. But, as our emotional labour ramps up, we can use it to see more clearly the ways we’ve internalised this need for perfection – to keep ourselves under wraps in order to keep the peace.

So, by way of recovery, I indulged in another pilgrimage to Rome where I took in an exhibition documenting 100 years of photography with the Leica. The poster outside the gallery offered up a monochrome glamourpuss sipping espresso. Perfect, I thought; how wrong I was.

It was all wars and whores, dead bodies and naked ladies, glossed over by that glamourpuss doing her woman’s work.

I took in about two thirds of the exhibit before making a break for the exit, blinking into the sun. I wanted to shake it off, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this central truth of our lives. Sex and war serve as mechanisms of control, just like the expectation that women cultivate harmony for all, while remaining resolutely harmonious themselves.

It’s simply too shameful to be seen as anything else.

But if we throw out our neuroses, we also throw out our wisdom. Systematic denial that something is wrong perpetrates the problem. Believe me, I’ve tried just about everything over the years to avoid facing the truth of my life, indulging all the self-help fads , always bettering, burying. I even ran away to India, the promise land of ashrams and enlightenment, where I thought I could transcend all the shit.

But enlightenment, says Marianne Williamson, is the unlearning of the thought system that dominates the planet. And you can’t unlearn something you’re not willing to face up to. Sidestepping it screws with our frame of self-reference since we’ve no way of knowing the women we are beyond this overculture.

We’ve no way of knowing how much we’ve internalised it.

Luckily, however, while trying to check out of myself, I checked into an eastern philosophy that helped me with the unlearning. It said we have two selves, an individual and a shared, which I’ll reframe here as the personal and the cultural. One is who we really are and the other is who we’ve been told we should be.

They each provide a point of comparison, helping us to separate what’s true from what’s learnt, helping us to wrench the personal free from the cultural. And this is where the sharing comes in, you see, since it helps us understand how tangled the two have become.

Let me explain.

I’m prone to deep self-analysis – call it a hangover from my self-helping days, call it internalised misogyny – and I can get stuck in a story about a situation that has no foundation in truth (my embarrassment at Christmas, say). But if I share that story with someone who responds with empathy, it dies.

It’s far harder to kill a phantom than a reality, so said Virginia Woolf, and if we keep things to ourselves they become phantoms. That’s why, while feeling tender after fleeing the exhibition, I phoned a friend. We’d not spoken in two months since she, like me, leans towards analysis. Things can get pretty heavy going when we’re together with all that loaded silence.

But I needed to reach out and tell her how I was feeling about our friendship, and life, and I wanted her to reciprocate, which she did. We outed all those misconstrued inferences, imagined judgements, unfounded fears and phantoms.

It felt vulnerable, yes, but all kinds of courageous too. 

We’ve never before had a conversation like this despite nearly two decades of friendship. And it will now serve as a control. We can keep coming back to it to measure how far we’ve strayed from the truth. 

Truth can make life more visceral, but this enhances rather than diminishes it.

Whatever your story, it’s not for any of us to judge since it’s judgement that got us here in the first place. Instead we discover, through honest sharing, how our individual experiences of the overall map merge (a #metoo reprise). More than that, we see how we’ve been complicit in the mapmaking all along.

So if you really need a resolution, resolve to speak your truth this year. Don’t shoulder the shit for everyone else. Kill your phantoms so we can change this reality. And share your feelings without shame, since a world without women’s shame is a dangerous place for patriarchy.

Happy New Mapping, my loves.

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.

By Jo Murphy 22 Oct, 2017
Google will tell you a woman wants a man. Mr Right, to be exact, on bended knee. She cannot know her life or herself without him. A woman, this suggests, is not an autonomous being able to go it alone.

She wants commitment.

Repeat the search, however, swapping ‘women’ for ‘everyone’ and we’re told something different. We all want to be happy . Of course we do, but happiness is just so intangible, isn’t it? It’s such a personal thing.

I believe happiness is founded in freedom.

By that I mean the freedom to be who we want, to do what we want, however, whenever and with whomever we want, unafraid of the backlash, unencumbered by fabricated limitations of gender, race or class (you know, like white men have been doing since forever).

In case you hadn’t guessed, Mr Right can’t deliver on this singlehandedly.

You have to set things in motion yourself, nevermind the toxic dating advice that tells us 10 ways to please a man because anything is better than being alone. I really want to believe that we’ve evolved beyond this, yet still I see us chasing after fantasies concocted by someone else on our behalf, as if we’re unable to think for ourselves. But think we must. It’s up to us to decide what we really want and whether we’re truly committed to going after it.

You have to commit to your own freedom, your own happiness.

Nobody else is going to do it for you. And nobody is going to sweep you off your feet but you. I could talk here about social conditioning, how we’ve been bred over the centuries to expect a man to make the first move. I could focus on how fine the line is between sexual harassment and ‘harmless’ flirtation...

But instead I want to emphasise this: when we put the onus on men to ride in on their white stallions and rescue us from the perverts and patriarchs, we might as well kiss any hope of freedom or happiness goodbye.

We have to rescue ourselves.

More than that, we have to do what we can to create a world from which we no longer need rescuing. It’s a tall order, I know. That’s why we start with the parts we can reach. We start with ourselves and address the role we’re playing in all of this.

Pointing the finger of blame doesn’t always serve us. In fact, it astonishes me how often I’m blamed for blaming men for all that’s wrong in the world, thereby making the place untenable for them (sigh). Yes, naming and shaming those raping our bodies raises awareness of the severity of the situation, but a more powerful way to bring about change is by empowering ourselves.

If women don’t give a f**k about their own freedom, no one will.

We begin by cracking patriarchal codes from the inside out. Which means fessing up to our own internalised sexism , since patriarchy isn’t just some pussy-grabbing president, it’s system of values and beliefs that has taken root in our collective psyche.

Our social and cultural infrastructures favour the powerful and the privileged, which means we’re all vying to get our mitts on a piece of that power and privilege in whatever small way we can. Sometimes that means pledging allegiance to those who hold the majority share.

Obedience becomes our sanctuary.

It keeps the target off our backs if we seem less important in order to allow someone else to feel more important. Mr Right, for example. We actually choose to disempower ourselves out of habit . Which is why waiting for that white knight to bestow us with his approval is indicative of the kind of thinking that engenders everything from the pay gap to female genital mutilation.

A patriarchal mindset pitches all things masculine (action, ambition) above all things feminine (intuition, emotion). Think of them as the two hemispheres of the brain. The left side (masculine) solves problems. But the right side (feminine) could create a world without problems .

She may be oppressed, but she is most certainly not obsolete.

The goal here is to amplify the feminine without muting the masculine, to activate her without deactivating him. One without the other falls short, as illustrated by the many problems we now face. But we’ve no hope of healing all this hatred unless we begin with some radical self -healing. And that comes through radical self-knowledge.

We enter into relationship with ourselves.

Why not get to know you ? What makes you happy and why, what makes you angry and why. Put down the media trash and pick up your own ideas. Find out what you’re really good at and do more of it.

Discover what you really want and go after it.

Date yourself, even if you’re ‘with’ someone else. And, if you are, use the relationship as a mirror rather than a mechanism for self-deflection. Don’t hang your hat of passivity on Mr Right. Find out if you want to commit to him rather than chasing commitment from him.

You may be surprised by what you unearth, like an adversity to commitment for example, which I’m very familiar with. It took me a while, but I finally realised how much I’ve struggled to commit to anything or anyone over the years. I’ve rejected whole chapters of my life because I believed they denied me what I wanted the most.


I turned my back on London after ‘committing’ to it for 18 years. I flitted here and there, exploring relationships with exotic men in equally exotic locations. I pursued a life on the road with passion, but I was chasing a freedom fantasy for all the wrong reasons, seeking the shock factor, rebelling against a system of conformity from the outside in . I was playing at it, not committing to it.

I always had one eye on the exit. My life had become one big get-out clause.

Whenever I entered into a relationship or contract, I felt like I lost myself. I seemed to naturally assume a role of subservience, of the minion to the manager, of the student to the teacher, of the woman to the man. I had come to associate commitment with entrapment, disempowerment, hence the dramatic nature of my rebellion.

But here’s the catch.

I’d chosen subservience
. I’d chosen to seem less important so that someone else could feel more important, even if they hadn’t asked me to .

Freedom had been available to me all along. It was simply a choice.

I’d been basing my future potential on past performance, assuming that what had always been is what would always be. No matter how much I chased the fantasy, so ingrained in me was this idea of obedience that on a subconscious level I didn’t believe I could really be free.

Commitment issues, you see, aren’t always the by-products of play away egos. They can stem from a deep lack of self-belief, a lack of self-worth. If we commit to something, we fear we will eventually lose it. Yes, we may get it at first, but there’s no guarantee that it’s a keeper.

There’s a deep sense that we’re not allowed to keep it.

The precariousness of this situation spins us into a panic. If we become dependent on someone other than ourselves , something outside of us, to make us happy, what happens when they leave? If we commit to Mr Right over and above committing to ourselves, what or who is left when he’s gone? Worse still, what if we blame ourselves for his departure?

If, fundamentally, we don’t believe we’re deserving of the things we desire, we get caught in the dreaded confirmation bias loop, tripping over evidence of what we believe to be true: that we’re not worthy . So, while we think we’re looking for someone to prove our worth, we just keep hooking up with those who show us the opposite. It's a battlefield. 

It’s the kind of relationship rot that patriarchy both creates and perpetrates.

But here’s the good news. It’s all role-play and we don’t have to accept the part. It’s all wiring that can be re-wired. Our internal patriarchs have thus far ensured that we remain strangers to both each other and ourselves. You can change that. And you can begin by dating yourself (safe in the knowledge that you won’t walk out or cheat, I hope).

I’ve been going steady with me for a while now. Checking in with my happiness levels in every situation. It sounds batshit, I’ll give you that, but this commitment to myself has been one of the most radical steps I’ve ever taken towards freedom.

It means asking over and over, is this acceptable, is this making me happy, what do I want instead? I may not always act on the answers, but at least I asked the questions rather than waiting for someone else to do so. More than that, this inner dialogue has become a constant source of love and reassurance.

If I want to become the revolutionary I desire to be, I first have to deal with the BS on the inside. That’s where the revolution begins.

We can march. We can say “me too”. We can sign all of the petitions. We can do these vastly important things since they’re the threads that will weave a new tapestry. But these threads will be weak and snap unless they’re spun from a place of conviction and integrity .

It’s no good dipping a toe in the waters of women’s lib before retreating into the arms of our inner patriarchs. If, on a subconscious level, we still don’t feel deserving of equality, we’ll never get it. So we have to give it to ourselves.

We have to choose freedom, to see ourselves as equals.

Our history of oppression is no small matter. But if we hold too fast to the past, believing it impossible to create something different, we’ll just get more of the same. We'll relinquish our responsibility to become a part of the solution. But if we acknowledge that the problem on the inside creates a problem on the outside, freedom is there for the taking.

These are unprecedented times…

To think I got all this from a random Google search on a Tuesday afternoon. And a lifetime of commitment issues. And a lifelong hunt for freedom. But it reminded me that we have a choice every day, in every moment. Commit to ourselves or commit to someone else’s idea of who we should be. It’s a no-brainer, surely?

So, here comes the irony.

Google isn’t wrong. Women do want commitment. But we can lose the dude on bended knee (unless Mr Right is right on).

Women want commitment from women.

When we turn towards ourselves, we turn towards all of us. So when I say I give a f**k about my freedom, what I really mean is that I care deeply, passionately, unwaveringly about yours too. This is my commitment. It’s what I want the most.

This is me on bended knee…

By Jo Murphy 02 Oct, 2017
Learn the subtle art of only giving a f**k where it counts…

We build prisons out of other people’s opinions. The thoughts we think they think form the walls that keep us locked inside ourselves, afraid to come out. When we care too much for other’s judgements, and too little for our own, we’re reduced to the twofold existence of attack or retreat. It’s an oversimplification, I’ll give you that, but we tend to understand our world better through the binary lens . Opposing ideas offer us the comparison we need to expand our worldview.

Indeed, comparison is as much an art form as giving a f**k is.

It’s a key sociocultural driver behind the resentment, fear and denial that shape so many of our relationships. When we measure what others have against what we don’t – who they are against who we are not – we resent anyone enjoying privileges we deem unavailable to us. We may fear we’re not deserving of those privileges, but deny ourselves the opportunity to do anything about it.

Denial is retreat. While we believe it provides a way out of having to deal with oppression or prejudice, it’s actually the way into the prisons they form. It's the way we internalise our culture of compare and despair. It's the way difference destabilises us. 

Denial saves us the hassle of having to admit to a problem and therefore having to do anything about it. And so we maintain the status quo by giving f**ks where they’re not due. When we place our sense of identity in the hands of others we’re challenged far too easily, retreating at the slightest whiff of opposition, even if we’ve no clue what we stand for, even if we deny ourselves an opinion.

As we retreat from the world, we retreat from ourselves.

Any offering we make at the altar of approval serves only to keep other people happy. So if we go about the business of belonging, of inclusion, to the exclusion of ourselves, we misplace far too many of our f**ks. And this is what hems us in, keeping us unsure of ourselves and unknown to anyone else.

Our imagined ‘self-preservation’ hinders all relations.

How can we know what others truly think of us? Any perceived judgement is not necessarily a value judgement. All positive and negative evaluations are relative to each other. This makes it impossible to see someone as worthy without seeing someone else as worth less .

That’s why we must challenge our perceptions or they will continue to challenge us .

So what’s the solution? If we don’t yet feel brave enough to step out into the world without inhibition, we have to create a safe space of our very own where we can explore and deconstruct those inhibitions. It’s here that we can tend to our roots before we branch out. Yes, I’m talking about boundaries again. They’re the foundation of our feminism.

Our power as activists and individuals does not come from simply raising our voices. Nor does it come through artificial bravado, which requires the mirror of another to tell us if it’s convincing. We don’t fake it until we make it.

We find real conviction in our cause instead.

We understand and honour who we are (within our boundaries) so that we can fully occupy ourselves. This is how we dismantle needless apology. This is how we cultivate presence. This is how we forge identity through integrity, no attack or retreat required. But we do not indulge in the kind of trite and trendy badassery that makes us assholes.

This is not a zero f**ks situation.

Because that would infer apathy, indifference, allowing us to tolerate the kind of intolerance that’s f**king us all over. In an ideal world we would indeed go about our business as if no one were watching, but that doesn’t simply mean we become overly self-involved. If we cared less for each other’s judgement, we’d be free to care more for each other’s wellbeing. Yet we still begin with ourselves.

Otherwise, who gives a f**k?

Let me explain. I recently relocated and I’m the new girl in town, so it’s time for me to make friends. On the whole, I’m not a fan of small talk. It feels like a form of disconnection rather than connection – self-preservation rather than relation. And yet I’m proceeding with caution.

It’s not for me to spout feminism at every opportunity. Instead I’m treading the middle ground, staying mindful of what I’m giving out as much as I’m taking in. So even if I find myself occasionally lingering in the shallows, talking about the weather, that’s ok. I’m still rooted in integrity, but I don’t want to poke my branches where they’re not yet welcome.

Which means I still give the wrong kind of f**ks sometimes.

I find myself walking away from an exchange wondering if I was too much, if I should apologise. I care for other’s experience, for sure, but I also care not to lose myself to it. When I stop caring about my own experience, you see, I'll eventually stop caring about anyone else's too. There comes a point when all our f**ks run out and nothing and no one matters anymore. If I deny myself opportunities to take up space, and be who I am, I’m denying others the same.

That’s why zero f**ks actually f**ks us all over.

And it sets a precedent. It becomes the one thing that informs the way we do everything . What we say yes to. What we say no to. How we walk into a room. How we start a conversation. How we end it. How much credence we give to other people’s BS. What we’re willing to accept and what we’re not.

So if I stop giving a f**k or start throwing them down left, right and centre, I build barriers where my personal boundaries should be. And yet it’s inside these boundaries that I can stay rooted, not only in my integrity, but my humanity . Once there, I can branch out, reach out, connect with conviction.

Barriers, however, have the opposite effect. They keep us locked in, and everyone else locked out. They represent our allegiance to questionable social standards over and above our own. And when we put social codes ahead of personal, we actually disconnect further from each other.

So please give a f**k about your boundaries, not your barriers.

Boundaries enable relationship. They’re the property line, if you like, without the ‘keep out’ sign. They allow us to invite in difference without feeling threatened. They allow us to use comparison as a platform for connection, understanding.

Boundaries give us the balls to come out .

People may not agree with us and that’s ok. We may not agree with them and that’s ok. What’s important is that we use this platform to launch useful dialogue without attack, without retreat. A word of warning, however, while we grow comfortable with difference of opinion, others will not always follow suit. You will meet with hostility.

Most of it really isn’t worth a f**k. Trust me.

When I read negative and unconstructive comments posted in response to my writing, I take care not to engage or retaliate. The vast majority comes from those who give more of a f**k about attacking feminist thinking (because, feminism ) than understanding how it addresses the human experience. Not just the female.

I’ve made myself a target for any misogynist with internet.

But women are not without guilt here. Some still challenge our feminism since it challenges their post-feminism. Perhaps even their internalised misogyny . Our refusal of the status quo makes it uncomfortable for them to maintain it.

Our activism throws light on their passivity .

But I welcome these challenges as continual reminders of what I came here to do. As continual reminders to have the courage to speak up, even when I know I’ll get slapped down. Because I know that I’m speaking up about something they’re in denial about. Because I know they want to make me feel ashamed as a mechanism to cover up their own shame. Because I give a f**k.

So don’t let anyone else’s discomfort become your discomfort. Please, please, save your f**ks . Those who challenge you don’t yet know you’re doing them a favour. They don’t yet know you’re paving the way for shared freedoms. They won’t admit you’re part of the solution because they won’t admit to the problem.

The key is in knowing when, and when not, to take it personally. If someone reacts to you violently, negatively, this reaction is simply a projection of his or her own perception of reality. They are the main protagonists in their own stories. You are merely a player who disrupts their script. So don’t waste your time, just let them get on with it.

Remember instead that you remain the main protagonist in your own story, so you get to influence how it plays out. You get to make it personal by focusing only on the factors within your control – like caring less for the players who want to hog the limelight, and caring more for those who need a bigger part.

That means making their plight your personal responsibility.

When we learn to value ourselves as empowered individuals, you see, we begin to notice those who are disempowered – all positive and negative evaluations are relative to each other. We begin to measure our privilege against other’s lack of privilege. And thus comparison becomes a tool for the greater good. 

When we can no longer deny that change is both necessary and possible, we no longer fear adversity. We no longer resent difference, but respect it for what it teaches us about the world. When we stop stressing about other people’s responses and pay mind to our own, we get smarter with the f**ks we give.

This is how we rally effectively as feminists and activists – when we truly understand our individual worth. Only then do we become sensitive to the injustices, the violations, the daily discriminations that imply others are worthless. Personal integrity therefore brings empathy, humility . And through humility we remember our humanity.

We don’t take up all the space; we share it.

We cannot give a f**k about anyone else unless we truly give one about ourselves. And this, my friends, is absolutely the kind of f**k we should be giving. While some may say pursuit of individual freedom is selfish, and that feminism is concerned only with the rights of women, I counter their argument with this.

We are the individual threads that weave the overall tapestry .

We’re all different, yes, but we’re all connected. To embrace yourself without apology, without inhibition, is to embrace all of humanity. To empower yourself is to set a precedent that empowers others. To free yourself is to free everyone.

To make every f**k count is to make every life count.

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 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.

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