When girls should be girls.

lipstickWarning: this post contains expletives, feminism, anger and lipstick.

I originally began to write this blogpost a week ago as a sashay through sexism to explore how my girls can be the people they want to be, regardless of their gender, personality or politics; why they should be able to be feminist, feminine, angry, caring, defiant, ambitious or just downright moody, if they want, without succumbing to, or grating against stereotypical pigeon-holing.   We had just come back from two glorious Swallows & Amazon-esque weeks in the wilds of Donegal where, isolated from TV, wifi, and city-pressures, we all became pure versions of ourselves – a little unwashed, a little un-hinged and more than a little sunburnt (who thinks about suncream in Donegal???).

It was going to be mildly amusing, terribly trendy and a little aspirational on my part as I reminisced, misty-eyed, about the joys of single parenting holidays with no technology whilst conveniently forgetting the horrors of single parenting holidays with no technology. The only reminder of that being the two empty Gin bottles I surreptitiously threw into the glass recycling on the drive home. 

Then something happened which took me on a 5* Cruise tour of the far-flung emotional destinations of despair, horror, fear, revulsion, humour, anger and pride, and what was meant to be a funny look at the glorious aspects of being female, might possibly turn into a tirade of tyrannical outing.

You’ve been warned.

So last Thursday I had a feature published in a UK national paper on how mid-aged women were finding it hard to find suitable men, because men still believed they should date younger women, but mid-aged women no longer wanted to date older men.  We women, on the whole, are ageing better than our male counterparts and prefer men our own age and younger (I speak to hundreds of women as part of my book research and a weekly column I write on mid-aged dating).  So I profiled five fabulous women in their late forties, and early fifties.  I had the audacity to call them sexy, sassy, and successful.  They, like me and many women I know, are single, independent and investing in our fitness, wellness and looks, and find a dearth of matching men in our own age group.  At this age, we are not that interested in much older men who perhaps don’t make that same investment. Apparently this outrageous outburst by mere woman woke the sleeping dragon of angry little men who marched out of their caves of criticism, brandishing their clubs and vile vitriol. Over the next 48 hours, I was subjected to quite the barrage of misogynist assaults.  I was called a cunt, a man-hater, a slag, a fucking feminist (I assume this was meant to be an insult) and even had one particular little angry white man make a 24 minute video (yes, that’s minutes, not seconds) on me and my article in which he laughingly asked is it any wonder an old slag like me is single – what man wants a woman who can no longer breed.

In the piece I spoke to an educational psychologist (more of this in a moment) who told me there are 7 mid-aged women on dating sites for every man.   As if that wasn’t depressing enough, I have a tirade of abuse making sure I don’t stick my head too far out of the kitchen confirming that yes, at 47, I am too old for most decent men and called a man-hater by angry little men who are afraid of anyone who might want to just be an equal.

On the behavioural psychologist, he actually went on a ridiculous rant about ‘when’ men allowed women to get jobs, instead of getting ‘real’ jobs like lifting fridges up stairs (yep, ladies, we missed out on that one), we instead became things like educational psychologists instead of plumbers, electricians and people who carry fridges upstairs (I’m not making this up). The only thing that stops me being so depressed about the fact there are men out there like this, is the fact that it makes me laugh as I know he can’t even say psychologist properly, never mind spell it.

Someone took the time to bash women (and I would put his handle here except it would give him the publicity so I won’t… but you can look up my twitter @AlanaKirkWords and if you have 24 minutes to waste feel free.)  I spent a rather perplexing evening reading his – and his pal’s threads (one called Anti-Feminist) -where they just slag off women.  Quoting the article one said, “Successful women?  Successful at being cunts.”  Can I also add that I received a lot of emails from men wanting to date the women in the piece and agreeing with me (although they didn’t feel the need to make a video and post it on twitter using my handle.)

I’m not going to lie. I was initially pretty upset. I was a little scared, a lot hurt, and hugely angry.  In this post-Trump world, where pussy-grabbing is deemed irrelevant for a President who will swear to protect and serve a population of which half have said pussies, it’s given these cavemen a whole new lease of life. Which is why I took my three girls on the wonderfully joyful, and energetic and child-friendly march in January as part of the Women on Washington march.  When I wrote a piece for the Irish Times on why I took them (and my 80 year old dad) to the Dublin march I was abused online, by little angry men, one of whom suggested my children should be taken off me.


and here

Feminism is about equality. Plain and simple. It’s about the right for women to be and have anything they want, just like men, for the work they do.   Why does that scare some men so much??  And why does feminism scare women so much?  I was out with some gals a few months back, and the conversation must have turned to that awfully depressing picture of Trump and his white, middle-class male buddies all standing around him while he signed away women’s reproductive rights.  I mentioned something about being a feminist and one of the party turned to another and said in quite the snotty tone: “I’d never call myself a feminist.”

Why?   My heroine, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defined a feminist as “A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”  She is a virulent and vocal advocate for girls to be strong and wonderful, and I literally cannot see how anyone, male or female, could or would disagree with her.   She also loves her lipstick and actually represents a make-up brand too.  Yet she is strong and sassy and knows her own mind. Perhaps that’s the rub. Some men, (and by no means all obviously) don’t like that as it might just challenge their rung on the ladder.  For ANYONE who doesn’t think they should identify with feminism, please read this letter she wrote on how to raise a feminist.

Of course I was temporary hurt by these sorts of assaults. No one wants to feel that level of hatred. But that usually drifts way in boredom to be replaced by amusement and sadness. Amusement that men are so frighten by someone who is not aggressive, abusive or stronger, but by someone who just wants to stand on the same level playing field.  Sadness that it’s even an issue.  Just like I took my girls to vote YES in the marriage equality referendum for gay people, so I took them on  march for women’s equality

I don’t want me or my girls to become aggressive, bra-burning bitches (unless we choose to of course), but to be able to be exactly who we want to be. I don’t want them to have to ask permission to be themselves. I want them to know they can turn the knot in their stomach into a fire in their belly if they want to.

I love men.  I haven’t an issue with a gender… I have an issue with a mindset. There are plenty of male feminists who counter the cavemen.   The fabulous Irish Times Fintan O’Toole is just one of them and he wrote this great piece

But I just have to scroll through my twitter feed or read newspapers to read and see continual reminders that me and my girls still do not live in an equal society.   In the last few days alone The Huffington Post reports on latest research that women have to be ‘nice’ in the workplace to get the same as men who have no need to be nice.  You have The Sunday Times apologising for Kevin Myers anti-semitic views but not his blaringly, blatant sexist ones. You have The UK Times reporting on Algerian women campaigning for the right to wear what they want on the beach, but men telling them they can’t. On and on and on.

But there is lots to show my girls too.

The fact that the US nearly had the first woman president (she won the votes, the hearts and the Kudos, even if not the office)

The fact that Wonder Woman not only kicked butt but stole the box office show.

The fact that we have inspiring young role models for girls now – from Malala, Emily Watson and Katniss Everdeen to all the glorious reliables.

We even now have our first female Dr Who.

When I was a girl, hiding behind the sofa, while the rest of my family watched Dr Who in the 1980’s, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to wonder if and when it would be a woman’s turn to morph into the long coat and take over the Tardis.  The trolls are already out, no doubt making jibes about driving skills and galactic map reading. Will it be possible to fight Dileks and wear the latest season shade of peach lipgloss?  Of course it will.

And this is the debate that rages inside of me as I raise three girls.  I want them to be free to be any kind of woman they want – and not be ashamed if they like lip gloss or speak ‘too’ loudly.  They can do and be both – feminine and feminist, strong and sexy, clever and superficial, intelligent and funny, career focussed AND / OR an earth mother.

Why can’t you be smart and funny and wear lipstick?  I am.

Why can’t girls be adventurous and brave and love nail varnish?   They are.

Why are girls who express a more adventurous side referred to in relation to their male peers – tomboys?  Girls are girls – and that encompasses all behaviours whether it be pink nailed, swashbuckling, rock clambering, glitter-loving, song-writing, surf-riding, piano-playing, tech-savvy, messy making, aggressive-fighting, lovingly-caring… and that’s just my girls.

They can beat the crap out of each other one minute, and then be making up a dance routine the next. They can be doing home-made science experiments (and not cleaning up afterwards) one day, and having face-mask pamper sessions the next. I am ‘guiding them’ to hoover as well as mow the lawn.  We meet the Ikea flat-pack challenge with gusto and bake prink frothy buns to celebrate.

Yesterday morning I lay in bed with my head against my daughter’s back. She had been scared in the dim darkness and had crawled into my bed for comfort. I listened to the beat of her sleeping heart, and wondered where it would beat a path to, what rhythm would it beat her drum, and I hope will beat for love, and beat the bullies, and most of all, I hope that heart is strong enough to beat all the -isms and -ists it might encounter.

But with the voices if my misogynist attackers still wringing in my head, I held her a little closer and vowed to give them the full force of my feminine love.

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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