It might seem that I am quite late to pick up on this one, but for me it is such an important issue that I have thought long and hard about how I can write something that could really mean something. I thought now would be a good time to write something that my daughters can read in years to come, hopefully by then, the battle to validate our female selves will be over.
There is a very fine line between over exuberant sexual advances, awkward passes, inappropriate attempts to get the attention of the object of our desire, and the need to take power through sexual means. That phrase in itself seems strange, in that a person you desire could be classified as an object; a clumsy turn of phrase, but so much could be read into it. People, not all people, but many people, like the company of others; young and old, there is a continual search for that soul mate, life partner, one true love. Call it what you want; it’s all about partnerships, so how do we create this equal ground of mutual respect that leads to long-lasting, comfortable and balanced relationships? Does it stop in our personal lives? Surely, relationship building and respect comes into all parts of our lives. We expect the ones we love to respect and value us, so why not have the same expectations for everyone else? I feel that education and enlightenment is the key, along with teamwork. This thing we call life is hard enough without causing rifts between us. Men might have had a balance of power in the past, but possibly they would say that women had a balance of power in a different way. Let’s talk it through, not battle it out.
I am not a lover of the word equality as it suggests that we should all be the same; we are unique beings and in no way are any of us the same. We are amazing, special, different, similar yes, but mainly we are individuals. People should be respected for who they are, what they are, who they choose to be and the decisions they make. There should not be a battle to be recognised as equal, but just to be recognised, nurtured and encouraged to grow. What is the point of this life if we are not able to be who we are and be happy? My attitude to life changed massively after having the children; possibly it all fell into place. I found my purpose, this made me look back on how I undervalued myself and put up with negative behaviour, whilst in pursuit of ‘life success’. I never found out what ‘life success’ was, but I certainly met some people who wanted to stop my search, both male and female. Now I feel the need to be strong, be me, and be the best role model I can be for my children.
Men and women, women and women, men and men; whatever the mix, there is a desire to be with another person, often in a physical way, but not always. It can be difficult; I’m sure many of us have had that friend who wanted ‘more’, but the feeling was just not mutual. Did that person take advantage, make an awkward declaration of love or lust? Probably. How we deal with the awkward moment of finding out if the other person is interested is one of the mysteries of being human. One of the hardest things to deal with is the rejection of a failed pass, but as both men and women we need to find a way of handling this kindly, to avoid those negative moments when things can turn sour. I’ve had those negative moments; things have turned sour, I have been abused verbally and physically, by both complete strangers and people I called friends. Back then, I accepted it as how things were, but now I would tell my daughters to stand up and say no more. That is not what my children will grow up to accept, they will not accept being undervalued, and they will not accept abuse for saying no.
What happens when things take an even more serious turn? Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, abuse are all ways of taking the power / control; by taking away the body or mind of another, the balance of power shifts to the abuser because of their physical and mental strength. Abuse is not always physical, it is equally painful and destructive when mental. Rape is not always about a person being physically forced into a sexual act, it is also about the mental control an abuser has. These relationships are not about your everyday relationship building, or about the awkwardness of rejection, they are far darker and often difficult to anticipate, or accept that they are happening at the time. Hindsight can often lead to a clarity that might not have been there when an abuser was in control. It is not always about a dark alley and a complete stranger, it is often about a person you trust, or feel that you should trust. They can be convincing, overpowering in their conviction that what they are demanding is right. But if anyone has the slightest doubt about a situation then walking away is the only answer, not always an easy answer though. It is so easy to say and so hard to do, how we get into these situations is never straight forward, but for me, I know that my lack of self-esteem and confidence made me easy prey for manipulators. Confidence and self-awareness is the key, believe in who you are and who you can be.
As a young woman, the hardest thing is anticipating and understanding the potential danger of a situation. The most important lesson I can teach the girls is to ask questions, never be embarrassed to ask, “What is going on here, what is it you think is going to happen?” I survived men in positions of power asserting their position to manipulate situations to achieve their aim, but I never want my daughters to feel that anyone is more powerful than them and, in a position, to demand anything. This is not just about sex, this is about power and manipulation; as women for too long we have felt that we should conform, should do as we are told, but that time is over, our time is now.
I grew up in a world so far removed from today. My mum grew up in a single parent family with no contact with her father at a time when this was not the done thing. I believe it made her quite independent, which she then passed onto me and my sister. I grew up in a Yorkshire farming family; it couldn’t have been more old-fashioned if it tried; men worked and women kept home. Dad was always on the farm and Mum looked after us and the home side of things. But beyond that, she broke the mould and set off on her independent journey to find herself. So even though, it was the full on traditional story there was also something completely different about it. I wanted the same thing for the adult me; a family life, but with that little twist. I never want to rely on a man, but I enjoy having one around. I want to be independent physically and mentally, but still enjoy companionship and sharing my life with someone. But I also want to see good in everyone, which left me exposed in the past; some would say that I want to fix those that are missing the good part of them, so I possibly set myself up to see and experience more of the negative things out there. I will always be there to help someone find their true self, but I will no longer open myself up for abuse in doing so. Be kind girls, but do not let yourselves be used.
I’ve had some unfortunate incidents with men and women; people in power and also friends; incidents that have taken away that feeling of control, made me feel insignificant and belittled. There is no need to go into details, but what I need to pass onto my children is that, they must never feel like this. If something doesn’t feel right, then there is a strong chance it is not right. If someone makes you feel sad, or unsure of yourself, then maybe they are not worthy of your time. I don’t feel this is a gender issue, this is about people in general. There are too many people who feel the need to over power another person for their own benefit, this is not OK and we need to stand up and say “No!” To my girls; never feel that you can’t stand up and say no.
The right to say ‘no’ is always there; up to the very last second. The word ‘tease’ was bandied around a lot in the past, to the extent that many women and men went ahead with something they didn’t want to do, because they thought they had ‘led someone on’. It is never too late to say no; if it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right. Women are taking control of their feelings and listening to their instincts. We are not hiding away or covering ourselves up for fear of sending out the wrong message; there is no wrong message, we are out and proud, beautiful and strong. We all do things that we regret, that is part of the learning process, but don’t spend time regretting, spend time learning and moving on.
This is in no way just about women; I have heard some horrific stories of male abuse, as well as witnessing male domestic violence from a partner, there is no case for men versus women on this, was are all one voice when it comes to #MeToo.