Dunker? Dunkee?

It’s Halloween…. And have I got a spooky tale for you, you allotment of pretty pumpkins. You coven of hot hags. It’s a tale of witches. An angry mob. Premonitions. Drownings. Are you sitting comfortably? Doors and windows locked?  If so, let us begin….

A few years ago, I was sat in a nurse training course (Yep, I used to be a nurse.  Sorry, did I not tell you that?  A nurse.  Yep, they let me train and work as a nurse for ten long years.  And yes, I left by my own free will.  Nope, I was not kicked out.  Yep, they actually let people like me look after people like you.  No Halloween trick. Scary eh?).  It was the kind of training that nurses have to do regularly to show that their brains haven’t rotten away like an over ripe banana being devoured by hybrid maggot-flies.  It wasn’t that interesting.

It was, however, also unfortunate that the course be made even more tedious by a twat of a tutor who was seemingly so insecure that she had to question and humiliate every sensible answer given by her brightest students.  She was possibly the only university lecturer that I ever met who seemed irritated by the intelligence of others.  She was a twat.  No doubt about it people.  A twat.  However, it was during this lecture, when I had my first vision.

“Errrr… What now?” I hear you, my wondrous werewolves say.  Sounds crazy I know but I swear it was a vision.  You see, just as the lecturer responded to her latest bright-spark of a student (a wonderfully wise midwife) I seemed to doze off slightly and a historical scene, clear as day, popped into my head.  I witnessed this lecturer, this female misogynist, leading a large angry mob and dunking this fabulously bright young woman into a lake… Accused of being a witch.

Ducking stoolApart from being thankful for the distraction, I didn’t think much of the flash of a vision until, on the last day of the course and in an impulsive fit of hysterics, I told the midwife.  Instead of the expected giggle, she responded by being pale as garden-centre-Christmas-display snow and telling me that she believed she was in fact drowned in a previous life.  How she believes in pagan teachings.  How she would consider herself a white witch of Mother Earth. Well fuck me – that shut me up.  Completely silent I was – for at least 60 seconds.

That little incident happened over six years ago and yet it remains in my head, the memory settled in my brain and sat like a squatter, refusing to be replaced with other things I should remember like my best mate’s birthday or my child’s non-school uniform day.  In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I understood why this vision had stayed with me.  I had a revelation.  You see, here was a vision of a group of brutal folk.  Of the extinguishing of this liberal, kind, wise woman.  Events that were clearly traumatic.  However this was coupled with an aspect of uncertainty.  I was nowhere to be seen.  And that got me questioning myself… If I wasn’t there.  How do I know?  I mean, what would I be?  Would I be the dunker?  Or the dunkee?

Would I be the dunker?  The kind of woman who says things like “You see… other women just feel threatened by me” to your bare, thirty-something, fine-lined face and seeping mascara eyes (the tube said it was f@cking waterproof).  The kind of woman who spends days preparing a dinner party, insisting it ‘was nothing’ as she is presented with your newest failure of a raspberry pavlova.  The kind of woman who says “Motherhood just never phased me, I just managed to get on with it” as you tell her you’ve been prescribed your second course of antidepressants for postnatal depression.  Am I this kind of woman?  The kind of woman that can only be elevated by another woman’s dunking?????  That doesn’t sound quite right…

Would I be part of the crowd?  Would I follow like a sheep, not wanting to cause a stir or stick up for others?  The kind of woman who believes the victim ‘deserved it’ because of her short skirt.  The kind of woman who, despite intelligence, insists before her argument in a debate that she’s “not a feminist” (WTF?  Not a feminist?  How can you not be a feminist?) in some attempt to obtain kudos and respect.  The kind of woman that turns up the sound of her TV as she hears her female neighbour’s argument turn sour.  Am I this kind of woman?  The kind of woman that doesn’t concern herself with the rights of others?????  That doesn’t sound quite right either…

But, yet the real scary thing this Halloween is… I recognise that I do actually have this potential.  I think we all do.  Yep, sometimes we get insecure and say hurtful things.  Or perhaps, in our darkest moments, we may feel slightly relieved that our pal didn’t get the job of her dreams.  I mean, how would that make us feel?

Or, maybe sometimes life is just too bloody hectic and we feel so frazzled we avoid the troubled friend we spied in the supermarket.  Or perhaps we keep our head down as our colleagues bitch about the weirdo at work who we secretly like despite everyone else having an irrational fear / hatred of them.

I know I do have this potential.  The potential to be the dunker.  To be part of the angry mob.  We all have this potential.  How bloody depressing.

So therefore ladies, my group of gorgeous ghouls, I have a challenge for you this Halloween.  After trick or treating, after hanging up your pointed hats and parking your brooms, make yourself a promise.  Turn your cloaked back on your dunker potential.  Refuse to be part of the angry mob.  This Halloween, be the dunkee.  Give a bit back to Mother Earth.  Be liberal.  Be wise.  Don’t waste your time making judgements.  Celebrate in someone else’s achievements.  Don’t be a bitch.  It’s better to be a witch 😉

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Burlesque me away…

Put down that Agatha Christie… There is real life scandal afoot.  Hertford, my sleepy little market town, has been brought into disrepute.  The townsfolk are in uproar.  Local churches are fearing the beginnings of Armageddon.  Council officials are reinstating the ducking stool.  We need to protect the vulnerable women within this, our precious community – BURLESQUE HAS COME TO TOWN!!

As a family, we migrated to Hertford three years ago.  We yearned for the quiet life – the kind of place that only concerned itself with first-world problems.  Our journey followed the northbound A10 and allowed us to find that place in Hertford.

Hertford.  A pretty town where split ends are not tolerated thanks to the vast amount of hair salons.  A serene town that only comes to life when the local celebrity swan gives birth to some, quite frankly, ugly cygnets.  A town where middle-class mothers crumble at the prospect of their child going to a (wait for it…) “good” school with “outstanding” features rather than an “outstanding” school with “good”.  Hertford is an island.  Separated from the real world.  It’s our Hertford bubble.  But, God damn it, this fragile bubble was about to be popped by some corseted she-devil in fishnets.

I first felt this evil presence when I stepped inside the local theatre.  Hertford Theatre, our precious, community hub, torn apart by An Evening of Burlesque.  Some West End floozies set to dirty the usually pristine stage with this “exotic” cabaret.  Pure.  Fucking.  Filth.

Then… the bloody Burlesque Jems caused havoc offering lessons, a FREE taster session no less.  Tempting (how dare they?) regular-sized (scandalous) women to shimmy their breasts and butts at no financial cost.  Local churches were in uproar because they (the poor things) had mistakenly hired rooms out to these saucy little minxes.  It was bedlam.  Sweet Hertford life was over as we knew it.  Pure pandemonium…  There was pillaging.  Looting.  A swarm of mutant locusts destroyed our monthly farmers market.  A zombie, flesh-eating duck replaced our celebrity swan.  Survivors barricaded themselves within the castle walls for protection.  Complete and utter chaos… Hertford was about to be outrun by harlets… and I, dear reader, was definitely NOT going to miss out on all the fun…

Burlesque me away

My husband nearly choked on his spag bol when I told him I would be attending the Burlesque Jems lessons.  He didn’t say anything.  Instead he simply gave me that look.  You know the one.  That look that personifies the complete shock of another.  The truth be told, I didn’t need a glance to reign me in.  I was already full of doubt.  Why the hell was I putting myself through this?  However, good old pride took its place over the mozzarella so I, no matter how scared, embarrassed or anxious, was clearly going to go for it…

When entering the first lesson, my brave friend and I were welcomed by the deliciously busty Kimmy Von Shimmy.  Our anxiety was quickly replaced by hilarity as we started our pelvic thrust warm-ups.  Then, a few hip rolls, butt and breast wiggles later, we were ploughing through our first exotic routine.  The learning of steps was interspersed by the gorgeous, red-lipped Kimmy shouting “Look at my Hertford Harlets moooooove…”  I cannot remember the last time I had spent a good thirty minutes laughing – laughing deep from my belly.  So deep, my uterus and bloody fallopian tubes were in hysterics.  The hilarity then gave way to me concentrating on the dance steps meaning the constant chatter of my usually fucked-up brain was switched off for a blessing of a moment.  I was confident.  I was beautiful.  I was sensual.  I was…. uncoordinated.  But, who cares… It was fabulous darling.

But why Burlesque??  I hear you, my lovely reader, ask.  Why have I made you sit through my Rambling Red rants about feminism and the sisterhood just to shake my hypercritical ass at some class for strippers?  Why not figure skating?  Pottery?  Karate?  I clearly had other options…

You want the truth?  The honest truth??

My dear friend, I could describe how my body has become purely functionary.  How it has given birth, breastfed, wiped arses, comforted newborn babies for hours, carried lazy toddlers, pushed buggies and stomped its way through numerous school runs.  How Burlesque helped me to get back in touch with the elegance of my feminine form.  But, this isn’t really true.

My lovely pal, I could confess how I grew ashamed of my figure.  How the constant changes of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and the simple act of ageing has affected my confidence in my body.  How I panic as younger women begin to flourish against my fading youth.  How Burlesque empowered me and helped me to accept myself, just as I am.  However, this just ain’t true either.

The truth is… I have no rational answer.  The only tale I can tell is that Burlesque makes me happy.  Ferociously happy.  I mean, when else is it deemed OK for me to pile on the eye liner and wear inappropriately slutty clothes?  When else in a group situation, can I hopelessly attempt to be provocative and not be judged?  When, since the girlie sleepovers of my teenage years, do I get chance to giggle hysterically with a group of women?  I definitely can’t remember the last time I asked a lady “Can I feel your knickers?” before asking her name.  I realise it probably all sounds bizarre in a ‘real world’ kind of context but the truth is… I love it.  I love Burlesque because it makes me happy.

But… how do I justify it with my feminist principles?  Is Burlesque good for feminism?

The answer: How should I know?  There’ll of course be numerous debates.  Undoubtedly, they will touch upon the objectification of the feminine form, the example Burlesque sets to young women, how we all have a responsibility over the example we set to others, blah, blah, blah.  Well, maybe I’m sick to death of responsibility.  The responsibility over my kids, my marriage, my house, my work…  Why the hell should I have responsibility over the 3 1/2 billion women across the world too?  For this protected hour each week, during my Burlesque class, the only thing I take responsibility for is my own happiness.

So, is Burlesque good for feminism?  Who bloody knows.  Is Burlesque good for me?  Hell YEAH! 

Long Distance Clara: My Feminist Inspiration

It’s my birthday today… I am now 35 years of age.  That’s right…  This redheaded blogger was born in the 1970s.  However, it was the 80s when I finally crept (with some caution) outside the insular yet imaginative little world I inhabited with Duncan (my pretend friend).  By this point the decade in question was in full swing.  I had my first crush (Jacko from Brush Strokes).  Pass the Dutchie and Total Eclipse of the Heart LPs were played on loop.  I barely survived the emotional trauma that was the death and resurrection of E.T. while my family basked in the technological advancement of Spectrum Computers and Yamaha Synthesizers…

For fucks sake… Don’t we just love the cultural references to childhood???  Possibly because it makes us feel cool again as we secretly freak out about our increasing age.  Hey… I’m so cool… I remember My Little Pony’s (the FIRST generation).  Vintage!  pigeonHey… I’m so cool… I had a full size Care Bear (Type?  Friendship – Of course).  VINTAGE!  BUT… It’s the reminiscence of TV that really helps us 80s kids bond… Mr Benn, Button Moon, Dungeons and Dragons, Dogtanian, Willy Fogg, Bananaman.  You get the idea…  Beer.  Brainstorm.  Bond.  But I have a problem.  You see, my favourite 80s kids TV programme is a little more obscure so tentatively, risking the blank faces of companions, I declare: “My favourite was (and of course still is) Pigeon Street!”

This programme was colourful.  The stories were fun.  It was liberal, forward thinking.  It had pigeons!  What’s not to love?  IT HAD PIGEONS!!  BUT even more inspiring (dare I say ‘influential’) was the character Clara, the Long Distance Lorry Driver… my first feminist role model.

Long Distance Clara stole my heart.  She enthused my mind.  Her big blonde curls, her curvy, womanly figure, her brightly painted lips – she was a hottie – AND she drove a Juggernaut.  A Juggernaut!  Yes… it had red, heart-patterned curtains but it was undoubtedly a Juggernaut.  She’d control, Long-Distance-Clarasteer, dominate this, the hugest of vehicles to the Docks before returning to Hugo, her chef husband who had lovingly prepared her an American-sized portion of Sausage and Mash.  She was an inspiration.  However, it’s only as a grown woman that I can look back and admire her true power.

Imagine… you’re a five year old girl, sat cross-legged on the reading carpet in your school’s reception classroom.  The teacher asks “What would you like to be when you’re older?”  Nurse?  Hairdresser?  Lawyer?  Artist?  NO.  “I want to drive a Juggernaut”.  Imagine the sniggers from classmates.  Imagine the patronising responses from the adults in your life – a soft giggle, a gentle tap (of sympathy) on your head, smug whispers to their friends “Bless her… she wants to drive a Juggernaut”.  Imagine having the balls to look them straight in the face, smile and quietly think “Fuck you.  I’m going to do it.”

Imagine… You’re in your early twenties.  You finally have the job of your dreams – your first real job.  You drive a Juggernaut and this Jugernaut-driving-world is a world dominated (and I mean DOM-IN-ATED) by men.  Imagine… as a young woman you have to navigate your way around (not just the UK motorway system but also) the politics of this working world: the stares from colleagues, the derogatory comments, the sports conversations, the suspicion that you may not be up to scratch.  Imagine having to prove your ability over and above your male colleagues in order to snatch their acceptance only to be reminded of your difference with the arrival of each innuendo or inappropriate remark.  Because remember, in this world you ARE ‘the other’.  You have a vagina for God’s sake – you will ALWAYS be different.

Imagine… You get up each morning, shower, blow-dry beautiful curls into your blonde hair, apply make-up liberally.  You are movie-star beautiful.  Imagine following this morning routine knowing that it will only serve to further separate you from your colleagues.  You are no short-haired, plain-faced, zero-breasted, androgyne.  Imagine spending your day in the cabin of your Juggernaut with only a rear-view mirror to truly appreciate your effort.  Imagine being feminine for your own enjoyment.

Imagine… returning from a tiring day at work to your loving husband.  After hours of packaged sandwiches and Yorkie bars, imagine tucking into a carefully prepared meal, savoring each nurturing mouthful.  While numerous women around the UK clear away dishes of the meals they themselves cooked, imagine snuggling with your man in front of the latest episode of  Knight Rider.

It was this Clara that was an inspiration to me.  My first feminist inspiration.  Clara, my dear… you taught me so much.  You showed that I could be both different yet equal to men.  You taught me that I could be nurtured within relationships yet still consider myself strong.  I can play ‘dress up’ for my own feel good factor without believing that men around the world had somehow created my image to objectify women.  You taught me to eat and enjoy.

So… It’s my birthday… I have been cared for and nurtured throughout the day, I have just managed to rise from the hottest bath in history to put on a slutty dress and full make up.  I’m off to eat garlic bread topped with mountains of cheese.  I will possibly drink copious amounts of wine.  Or enjoy a few pints of beer.  I may have a debate with my husband.  If he’s lucky, I may give him a kiss.  All these options.  All these contradictions… AND I’m still a feminist.  Thank you Clara.  I’m a feminist.

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The Booby Trap – Quite Literally…

This morning, as we both stood in our pants getting dressed, my 5 year old grabbed my cerise pink brassiere (an original Sainsbury’s design) and using the elastic, pinged it at my head while earnestly saying “There’s your booby trap Mummy”.  Booby Trap.  Booby Trap?  After much laughter (him because of the excellent flickage.  Me because of the confusion of phrase) I was suddenly drawn to this ‘trap’ that encased my boobs.  This evil breast holder that locked away my beautiful bosom.  This evil device that restricted my tits’ freedom.  My poor darlings…  Held captive in a booby trap.  Be Free!  BE FREE!

Mmmmmm… actually… don’t.  Let’s face it girls, you two have seen better days and while I am very grateful for all that you have done, your days of being free (while saunaing, sunbathing, attracting swingers – which their offer, may I add, we NEVER accepted) are probably in the past.  I am still completely in love with you both though – in a companionship kind of a way.  I mean, we’ve just been through so much together…

Remember the summer of 1993 when you decided to make your delayed appearance?  Leaving school at the end of the year as a girl and returning in September as a ‘b’ cup WOMAN, I was just thrilled by the commentary from my male classmates “She’s wearing a bra”, “She’s almost as big as Mandy Cartman” (the second smallest boobs in the classroom) and the inevitable “Would you screw her now?”  Ah ha…  That period of my life wasn’t embarrassing at all.  I never once cringed while listening to these pimple-faced adolescents describe me as a quasi-desirable female.

BraOr how about the University years my boobies??  Remember how I popped ‘the pill’ for half a decade and you decided to grow into a magnificent pair of rounded melons?  Beautifully pert.  A terrific cleavage-making machine.  Fabulously perfect timing as I donned low cut tops and boob tubes.  Oh how I took for granted the appreciative stares and (sometimes quite inappropriate) comments.  Oh how I now yearn for the double hoot for my hooters from passing cars.  I took you both for granted only appreciating you after you had left (at some speed) when I decided to stop the tablets.

But then, my little puppies, all was forgiven and you returned!!!  I was 29 years old.  I was pregnant.  I swore I would appreciate you this time.  I didn’t.  My tummy grew fat so you were just relative to this growing swell.  All in proportion until… I popped out the sprog and four days later my milk came in!  Woo Hoo!!!  No need to steal that 5K for a boob job anymore…  Rock.  Solid.  Breasts.  Unbelievable cleavage.  Brassiere overspill.  I remember screaming “LOOK AT THESE!!” to both male and female friends alike!!!  I didn’t care about their discomfort or any psychological damage caused.  I had been reunited with the body I was always supposed to have.  I was desirable.  Until, of course, breast feeding…

My functional mammaries… you served our little family so well.  I remember the soft hum of the breast pump, lulling me to sleep after a night of no ZZZs.  I remember being compared to an old sow by my husband as I lay sideways on the floor (exhausted) allowing my little ‘piglet’ child to snuffle and suckle at my milk.  I remember the unintentional leakage… As my little one would cry out, you (my breasts) would respond with a comforting squirt of milk before my mind had even realised that the baby was upset.  I loved the nursing bras.  The visible veins on my skin.  The ridiculously bumpy nipples.  I loved being sternly told by others to “cover up” as I became so matter-of-fact about whipping you darlings out to feed.  They were just functional boobs after all?!?  What was everyone’s problem?

But now…. it’s the present day.  I am 35 years old and my breasts’ journey has come full circle.  I am now an established mother of two young boys and boys, it seems, have the natural inclination to find a woman’s chest (and indeed anything breast-related) a source of great amusement.  They take such pleasure in prodding my pair and shouting “Boobies!!!” in between bouts of hysterical giggles.  My ‘booby trap’ bra is a great way to transport Lego.  My nudity is apparently hilarious.  I am now once again the target of male commentary.  Not that I care anymore because I now know the breast kept secret.  I am now proud of my boobs – not because of their size or shape but because of their true function.  They helped my tiny babies to grow strong.  How can I not be proud?  A woman’s body is amazing and I am a woman.

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