I am a Leo. Due to my propensity, as a stereotypical teenage girl, towards medieval superstitions, I believed it was this – my August birthday – that determined my obsession with clothes, costumes, fanciful miscellany and make-up.
Now, I am far more skeptical and think clothes are the key that release or indeed restrict, my introversion. The stars have little input.
When I am bare faced – no moisturiser, no foundation, no concealer, no mascara to outline my ghostly lashes – I feel bare. Exposed. Unable to muster up even my true self, let alone a performance.
But, after I have administered layer upon layer of cream, paste, powder and colour, I feel wholly ready. And it is the same with clothes. My garments can shape my mood as much as my figure. One of the things I find so trying about work is the dress code: smart casual. What the hell do you mean? I like boxes and order and boundaries when it comes to anxiety inducing things, like my job. I don’t want to roll in to my workplace, a school full of hormonal teenagers, inappropriately dressed as if I’m trying to impress anyone. Equally, wearing formal attire makes me feel like a contrived guest at a funeral.
I like clothes that provide rocket fuel and somehow launch me into more of myself, giving me that extra push of energy I need when the words I have, or my all-too-revealing face, fail me.
Clothes; identity; uniform; non-uniform. Much of my day is spent reminding students of how to dress ‘appropriately’ for school. “Tuck your shirt in. Pull your skirt down. Do your tie up.” Imperative after imperative command these kids to align themselves with the rules and they have a deep fixation with the power of cloth and dye to destroy or create a personality.
Take Curley’s wife. For those of you that haven’t read Of Mice and Men, go grab a copy now, it’s a fantastic, bleak, novella that virtually all high school kids read at some point. Curley’s wife is a character with no name, she is her husband’s and her appearance is of the utmost importance: “she wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little red ostrich feathers.”
The sexual imagery is obvious to even the most naive of 14 year olds, but what has struck me is that every time I have taught it, Curley’s wife has incited so much rage amongst the students, particularly the boys. Her sexuality angers them and this has been reflected in class discussions about freedom and clothing:
“What a girl wears is obviously significant.”
“I’m not saying it’s right to rape a girl, but if I was on a rape jury then I would want to know what the victim was wearing.”
“Just don’t go out dressed provocatively if you want to stay safe.”
Obviously, I have addressed and will continue to address these kind of comments, but as a woman, a feminist, a human, I am still shocked by the old-fashioned ideas that tumble out of the same mouths that animatedly defend other wrongs. These are wonderful 21st Century kids in a multi-cultural setting who would never dream of discriminating, but these ideas of image and femininity don’t feel like discrimination to them. They feel like common sense. Like the rules.
How can we operate in a world where teachers tell students how to dress, employers tell employees and magazines scrutinize every image of every d-list celebrity and yet still be surprised when superficial stereotypes persist? I genuinely don’t know. What I do know is that my cheeks could do with some blush.
Michelle from The Green Study, has published a very witty and interesting post 50 Shade of Blue: The Use of Profanity at The Green Study. This made me laugh and got me thinking about my own profanities.
I love to swear.
There is something so forceful and punchy about an expletive. It hits the spot where reams and reams of endless adjectives would fail. It still feels a bit naughty and yet empowering. Particularly the C-word.
C U N T.
4 little letters: 3 consonants; 1 vowel. Awkward acronyms (Cambridge University National Trust Society). Humourous homophonic insults “See YOU next Tuesday.” A good time had by all.
In fact, should you wish to delve further into the linguistic world of cunt you will find numerous explorations of its etymology here, here and here. However, it is my personal history with cunt that I feel compelled to share.
The Cat’s Timeline of Cunt
1996: Playing outside with step-brothers. Neighbours having domestic. “You stupid faacking cunt” rings around the cul de sac. What can I say? It was a classy area. Come visit sometime. Wee 10 year old me goes inside to enquire from my step-mother the meaning of this noun.
“Oh, well I can’t tell you the meaning of that word sweetheart, your mother wouldn’t like it.” What?
“Of course, look it up the dictionary if you really want to know.”
So cunt = mega-bad-insulting word used by scary drug addict neighbour, too rude to even be uttered. Wow. It must mean something horrendous, something indescribable… oh it means fanny. WTF? Why is that so bad? I’m not even entirely sure where it is, it’s where I pee from right? (1997 was going to be a very eventful year in that department – OMG there are two holes?!)
10 Long Years of Barely Daring To Utter The Word Until…
2005: Renaissance Literature lecture at university. Dr Sexy but Monotone Voice adds a final, “and of course, cunt originates from quaint, which we witness earlier in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale.”
Quaint? My vagina? The source of power and shame that I had been wrestling with for the past 8 years, that glory box of pain, desire, power is quaint?! I am at UNIVERSITY, I am a WOMAN and I am HAVING SEX. Don’t call MY vagina quaint! Quaint is pathetic. Quaint is fragile and somewhat cutesy. I have the power to give life, sweet jesus waiting every month to check I wasn’t going to give life was enough of a stress in itself.
2007: Modern Literature seminar. Sweating away after pulling a fag and coffee fuelled all-nighter, just to finish this week’s primary text: Lady Chatterley’s Lover. All to discuss the following seminal moments:
`Th’art good cunt, though, aren’t ter? Best bit o’ cunt left on earth. When ter likes! When tha’rt willin’!’
`What is cunt?’ she said.
`An’ doesn’t ter know? Cunt! It’s thee down theer; an’ what I get when I’m i’side thee, and what tha gets when I’m i’side thee; it’s a` as it is, all on’t.’
`All on’t,’ she teased. `Cunt! It’s like fuck then.’
`Nay nay! Fuck’s only what you do. animals fuck. But cunt’s a lot more than that. It’s thee, dost see: an’ tha’rt a lot besides an animal, aren’t ter? – even ter fuck? Cunt! Eh, that’s the beauty o’ thee, lass!’
We ruminated over cunt for an hour. A room of thirteen 21 year old females with one 60-something year old male. I was uncomfortable. Maybe it should have been empowering. But he had chosen the excerpt and I still wasn’t quite comfortable with it.
2012: Reading The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time with a class of thirteen year olds. The c-word crops up a number of times and even in these moments of whole class reading aloud, they do not seem as shaken as I was once. And I am glad. I hope that this is a reflection of a lack of shame on their part and a willingness to see language for what it really is – ever evolving signs, sounds and symbols without the power to conjure up wickedness or leave you to face a terrible wrath, as I once feared.
2013: Still having an inner debate about the issues of profanities, wondering whether to try and abstain for good and discovering this on Pinterest:
What is your personal history of profanity?
A friend of a friend was directed to my blog. Her first comment, after reading one of my posts, was, “she uses a lot of foul language”. All that writing, all that effort and her takeaway was the occasional swear word?
I’ve wrestled for years with my propensity towards the profane. As a parent, I managed to go the first 7 or 8 years of my daughter’s life without swearing in front of her. Lately, that’s been slipping, as I’ve struggled with health issues and exhaustion – just too tired of trying to do everything “right”. So a damn or shit or hell slips out. Then she and I have a discussion about language and I do penance by wondering how much her therapy bill will be in the future.
It’s not as if I don’t understand some people’s reactions. As a teenager, I was prim and proper and pious…
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Sick of the weight of patriarchal oppression and desperate to share thoughts, musings and ideas with the world, I am a young woman in my late twenties seeking to join others in a virtual world filled with creativity, cats and cups of tea.
In other words, I am fed up with having my gender define my income; prospects and ability to stroll to the shops without having some sketchy bloke leer at me. It is unacceptable.
There is already so much bad in the world. Let’s inject some good.
Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.
– Janis Joplin
Wise words from Janis Joplin, although after 13 years of listening to them in various states of inebriation, I am still not entirely sure of their meaning. Either way, her voice is growly and soothing, like a scratchy woolen blanket knitted by yer granny.