Thursday, 25 February 2010

A Female Run "Utopia"

Why has it become popular to sentimentalise the notion of a matriarchal society? To fantasise that a world governed by women would be somehow better? The idea goes, apparently, that disagreements would be worked through and calmly resolved, equality a reality and egomania a thing of the past (or possibly an endearingly harmless male foible). The world would be dreamy and lovely and sweet; all things bright and beautiful.

Sorry? So women don’t argue? Women aren’t competitive, hierarchical or egotistical by nature? Since when??

Obviously, it‘s codswallop - a defective answer to the defective status quo. We all know it would be equally, but differently, shit; still defunct but our focus would be at the other end of the spectrum. Our girlie governed globe would, for example, consider ‘It’ll End in Tears’ a world target - a big, cathartic Bennetton style cry. The Bawl to end all Bawls. If that doesn't make you shudder there's something wrong with you.

In our exemplary alternative reality, even an Hundred Years War would be celebrated for its swift resolution. If only we could always let an argument drop so quickly, we’d all say. Sure, there are some that still feel that we never got to the bottom of what at all means but hey, we were never going to believe they were telling the truth anyway - however many times we demanded an explanation. Good job they deployed the silent treatment, it always works in the end.

International politics? Over to the news:

“Day 3 of the World Summit for Sustainable Chocolate Supplies today, and talks rarely stayed on topic. Three hours in everyone knew how everyone else was and naturally sympathised. However, once the subject of an agreement on aid was finally raised, the phrase “Yeah, I know what you mean” was suddenly dropped. At least we think it was, it was hard to tell because everyone kept breaking off to chat to the person sitting next to them so it was hard to keep track.

"The US led the way and released their pledge to give a billion Hershey bars, which was met with an initial positive consensus because it was “a brilliant idea, that’s what I was thinking, we are SO alike.” However, France said that such a gesture may go unappreciated, that they have “given and given” in the past and they didn’t know if they could take the rejection a second time. Many other delegates identified with this, despite pep talks from Ireland and Japan who stated that you’ve just got to get back out there.

"Talks resumed after everyone decided to treat themselves to a few bottles of wine.

"We now go over to our correspondent Princessina Twinkletoes, who’s on the scene in Brussels, to tell us more. Princessina, that top really brings out the colour of your eyes. Wait.. Hold on, I need to top up my wine! Right, sorry sweetie. Tell me the gossip, I want to know EVERYTHING!”

"Thanks Babes. Well, a lot of painful memories for everyone today and it’s been quite emotional. But, unofficially, the main tension came, not from the failure to reach an agreement over how much funding should be allocated - after all, it’s only money isn’t it? - but from the fact that France caught the look on Britain’s face when she was talking about her problems. Italy and Germany went off to the loos with France because they’ve all been getting on really well lately after discovering they were all so similar, even planning a holiday together as they are definitely going to be best friends forever. Italy is said to have told France to “not worry about it, Britain’s a bitch.”

"Talks were also apparently further disrupted when John Mydaddylovesme, Australian representative and one of the few men present, is said to have rolled his eyes and said “Jeez give it a rest” after being asked for the tenth time what he really meant when he spoke at the Huggles For the World Convention four years ago. “Yeah, I heard about that too, apparently he couldn‘t even remember” said an anonymous source, “he‘s such a bastard.”

"However, there were a few lighter moments towards the end. “Well, we’ve put the world to rights,” laughed US President IamBeautifulNoMatterWhatTheySay (resplendent in a pink sparkly cowgirl hat), causing an outbreak of cackling. It may have been the wine."

I’d weep for the future - but then I am a girl.

Yes, ok, I’m being facetious. I’m not really suggesting that this is what women would do with the world any more than a male dominated world currently runs emergency porn or football summits. Women at their best can be a powerful combination of altruism, compassion and a steely resilience. But equally, given licence to do so, can be vain, self-indulgent and manipulative. I’m merely suggesting that the fight for top cat would always be as vicious as the one for top dog.

Men See the Point But Not the Process

Men claim they don't see the point in women's obsession with looking nice. Why do they take so long to get ready, they cry? Why all the agonising over what shoes to wear? What's with all the faff and fuss? What they actually mean, but don't know it, is that they very much get the point but don't understand the process. Being one of the world's leading statisticians* I can reliably inform you that if you are an average man, women with an penchant for looking nice will have made up a good 99-100% of all the women you've ever fancied.

The misunderstanding comes from what consitutes a woman who's made an effort. Men often believe that effort=Jordan=a bad thing. The natural beauty is more prized - if only for the fact she spends less time in the bathroom getting ready. But who is this rarest of rare creatures? (I'll give you a clue. Not me.)

The same men who moan that women are wasting their time worrying about their appearance will turn their heads, as one harmonious being, towards the woman who clearly knows her sartorial stuff. And a thing or two about avoiding Mars bars and her way around the Estée Lauder counter. It's just that if she's got it right, she won't look to men as if this is the case. We women, on the other hand, can see it a mile off and that's because we understand the process behind such an undisputedly fine achievement. It's not really devalued because men can't see it, but it is nevertheless a little bit sad.

I once went out with a guy, years ago, who upon seeing Isabella Rossellini's face showcasing Lancome's wares commented that she was a natural beauty, that she looked great even though she wasn't even wearing any make-up. On an ad for make-up. Not the cleverest thing to say and I grant you that he may not have represented every man there. But I would argue that it would only have been the presence of the make-up counter that would have given the game away for a lot of men.

I will concede that you can go too far. You've got to know how to get it all into perspective and the self-mutilation that is plastic surgery or even the tears and tantrums that follow having 'nothing to wear' are ridiculous. Being a rational and intelligent woman, this is something I see plainly for what it is and have it totally under control - as I readjust my mascara and steady the sobs of depair.

But there is nothing wrong or in fact trivial about looking as nice as possible. No, it shouldn't be your entire raison d'etre and no, it shouldn't be a cause of anguish. But beauty, or in fact being quite pretty, is still a highly valued thing in our society and this is surely as true in the opinions of men as it is in women.

I doubt most women would welcome a man backstage before the performance (which incidentally is an allegory, not a euphemism) but at least understand that we're not just turning up and winging it.

*A sadly much disputed fact.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

House Prices in Cambridge...

...are one of the few things in life that are not funny because they're true.

Circle of Life(‘s A Bitch)

There’s always someone worse off than yourself apparently. Actually I’m not sure why I disparagingly used ‘apparently’ there - it’s very much apparent and a quick glance at the news should be enough to stop me being a spoilt, little, self-obsessed whinge bag. But I’m going through a bit of crappy time and therefore this nugget of consolation has popped into my head a lot recently.

It’s a ‘count your blessings’ type mentality and there’s nothing wrong with that. Slightly odd that we should also take comfort in the fact that others will be suffering more than us but there you go. It also makes me wonder who’s at the bottom of this cascading principle. Who’s the poor, unfortunate soul languishing at the bottom of life’s shit pile?

The answer is, of course, no one as it all changes far too quickly for that to happen. Life is cyclical - a series of twisting and turning ups and downs and we are all of us susceptible. There are few things as pitiful as those who smugly assume they’ve made it in life and are now infallible. And even fewer things as annoying as when they start with the lecturing.

Anyways, it is the cyclical pattern that I’m putting my faith in at the moment. Terrifying though it is for people when they’re loved-up, affluent or as popular as a Terry‘s Chocolate Orange at a Weight Watcher‘s meeting (or whatever one might class as happiness), for me it’s currently a comforting thought that life will have its better moments once again.

During these times it’s very easy to blame yourself for your circumstances. Or at least if is if your me. I’m a strong believer in the 'taking control of your own life' approach; that if you want things to change, you’d better get off your arse and change them. Therefore if things go wrong I‘m prone to self-hate. All well and good but this doesn’t account for the outside world and its unrelenting hand in your thwarted plans. Events and other people are highly efficient filibuster.

So balance is essential. You’ve got to persevere in order to be ready for the opportunities and luck that should come your way at some point - a concept as old as the hills. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Older Women, Run for the Pills!

You know how it is when it comes to, you know, the birds and the bees. It all starts out innocently enough - you pick up on the little signs, you start thinking about it more and more, wondering what could happen. Momentum builds, feelings take over, one thing leads to another and you’re in need of a counter awareness campaign.

And so it follows that this week has been Contraception Awareness Week, AKA Conceivable?, a campaign to remind women over the age of 35 that they are still fertile and far from over the hill when it comes to getting pregnant.

The previous message, that waiting until later in life to start a family comes with risks, has hit home so successfully it has apparently led to the statistic - that I found genuinely astounding - that the rate of abortions in women aged 40-44 was as high as for the under 16s. Pregnancies sadly considered as unlikely as they were unwanted.

Now, there’s no doubt that fertility does decline, as you can see from the chart below, that I nicked off here.This is nothing but pure guesswork on my part but I was left wondering what part stress might have to play in this. The findings on declining fertility would surely predominantly include women who were trying to get pregnant in the first place. Meanwhile, a separate bunch of women who weren’t aiming conceive found themselves succeeding where they hadn’t tried.

Again, I know it’s pure conjecture but could there be another group of ‘victims’ in the fertility campaign? If a group of women believed they were positively barren and had no need of contraception, why would we assume this belief is not more widespread? Could stress and anxiety, as opposed to age alone, be having a larger part to play than is acknowledged?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Frenemy Academy

I know a very complex person. Not horrible, but not always that nice either. Apparently I’d been fortunate in getting half way through my thirties before meeting one, as friends younger than me can testify. There was me naively believing friends were adorable little treasures who always made you feel great and then WHAM - I get me a ‘frenemy’.

In case you are not as hip and street-wise as me (and I’m aware I’ve just blown my chance of being anything of the kind by using those phrases) a frenemy is someone who is by and large your friend but can’t seem to help with the jealous or bitchy put downs. They may pick up on your weaknesses, diminish your achievements or try to project personality traits and characteristics onto you to suit their agenda. My frenemy is special - she does all three.

Like I say, I’d avoided all of this hoo-hah until what appears to be quite late in life and have found myself totally unable to cope. Obviously I’ve had run ins with friends before. There have been times when I’ve felt taken for granted and had to assert myself. But these are one-offs - they leave me no less fond of the friend afterwards and can even understand their reasons.

My frenemy, however, operates by persevering with a version of me that is unrecognisable to both myself and those who know me. I’ve always been known to love clothes and fashion - she described me as ‘slobbing about’. I have more lipsticks than red blood cells - she’s never seen me wear it before in my life. I have never knowingly cracked on to someone else’s bloke - she accused me of doing so.

They are all interestingly focused in the one area; attractiveness to the opposite sex. We got on like a house on fire before she met the guy she’s with now. The moment he appeared on the scene something happened and I felt a distinct air of hostility surround us. After a while, he even started to join in with comments about my lack of a love life. But his behaviour aside, I suspect the frenemy is sadly always going to be more of a female problem than a male one. Sexual rivalry, though lost on me, is always thick in the air wherever women are present.

I truly mean it’s lost on me. My best friend is utterly gorgeous and has always been deliciously flirty with it. Yes, secretly I’d love to have her style and charm but I adore her company and there isn’t a scrap of competition between us. So in the company of the frenemy I feel out of my depth and dragged down to her level. I find I am constantly having to defend myself - which always ends up sounding like boasting - about something I couldn’t care less about.

I’m aware that this isn’t isolated behaviour - psychologists will tell you that the human mind is programmed to stereotype. We filter everything we experience and form a point of view to help us make sense of the world and our place in it. A sense of identity comes from how well strike the right balance between the two. Sometimes it misfires when individual insecurities are involved and jealousy, hatred and misdirected anger justifies some otherwise pretty shoddy behaviour. We feel bad, we panic, we shape, judge and blame others for a quick fix. Far from being uncommon, I’d say this lies behind just about all of the world’s biggest problems - past, present and future.

The frenemy blurs the line between who they are and who you are. But surely it’s better to deal with the truth than to waste your time battling to make lies true? Popular human failing or not, I’m not really inclined to sit by and watch this fictional, somewhat crap version of me get dragged out every time we meet. I want to remain friends with this woman, she has so many redeeming qualities and can be fantastic company. I have found bold, straight-forward denials to be the most effective method so far, followed by reminders that others might disagree with her - although I’m desperately trying to avoid any tit for tat style arguments!

But other than that, I’m still lost. My learning curve has a distinctly negative gradient. Any tips? Answers in a comments box please!