Friday 9 October 2009


While writing this, I’ve had Power Of A Woman by Eternal stuck in my head. Which, somewhat tragically, rather illustrates my point, given that I opened up my laptop to indulge in a rare, aren’t-women-great type post. 

It’s not really like me to rave about my fellow gender. Much as I’m precious about my shoes and my frocks and my Sex and the City box set, I’m also the kind of girl with an iPod full of male vocalists, who tends not to vote for other women on reality TV shows and who, on careful inspection of this week’s free magazines, will definitely be sticking with ShortList over Stylist

I’m not proud of this stuff, and it’s a position I’m trying to coach myself out of. As a teen, I would often haughtily declare that I had more in common with the boys at my school than the girls, and spent years positioning myself as ‘one of the lads’, only to be periodically yanked back into more girly ways by the lure of Wonderbras, body glitter, Gary v Robbie hair-pulling and fruity alcopops.

And so I’m sure I’m not the only occasional tomboy in the village to have spent a large portion of her life lurching between celebration of and embarrassment for the sisterhood. The Bullshit hasn’t helped matters. Because, seemingly inclusive as the empowering, sweep-you-along, pink-ribboned approach to breast cancer is, in truth it’s often had me feeling even more confused; simultaneously embraced and alienated. I’ve tipped from wanting support on women-only message boards to actively avoiding real-life stories in magazines; and from itching to get involved with breast cancer charities to cringeing at being forced to listen to S Club 7 as I wheezed my way around the Race For Life course. One morning I’ll want to flaunt my new – and, let’s be honest, rather spectacular – cleavage in a low-cut top; the next I’ll be so embarrassed by my falsie that I’ll hide it under high-necked layers. It’s exhausting, I tells ya.

But, just as I had to concede mid-treatment that it was okay to feel conflicting things at any one time (relief at finishing chemo yet Stockholm Syndrome once I’d been released from it), I’m going to have to apply the same here. Because, while the feather-boa’d, Gloria-Gaynor-led approach to breast cancer just isn’t my bag, the supportive, sisterly, we’ll-get-you-through-it attitude most definitely is. And nowhere was that more apparent than at Breast Cancer Care’s annual fashion show, where I volunteered this week. 

‘Oh heck, here we go,’ I thought, looking at the list of celebrities due to appear at the event and sensing the atmosphere of high-pitched excitement as flocks of eager women waited at the doors of Grosvenor House, like a Friday-night bingo queue on acid. I was as nervous as an adolescent boy on a Blackpool hen night as the women descended into the ballroom in packs, armed with purses and champagne tokens. For a moment I wondered what the hell I’d got myself into. As it turned out, however, it wasn’t the hen-nightmare I’d expected – and rather, a dream of an event which was a credit to every woman (and the few men) involved. 

‘I never get through The Show without crying at least three times,’ said my volunteer team leader before the event got underway. I assumed she must just be one of those girls who likes Jennifer Aniston rom-coms or listens to tearjerkers on Magic FM. ‘It’s the real-life stories that do it,’ she continued. ‘They show them on the screen and they have me in floods every time.’ And she was right, of course – they were emotional… but they weren't the thing to make me cry. Because, as well as the punters who’d turned up for afternoon tea (or, later, a four-course dinner) in aid of Breast Cancer Care, there were the folk who weren’t just there to support the charity – but also their friends or relatives who were among the 25 Bullshit-affected models taking to the catwalk. And that was what got me. 

In truth, it’s what always gets me. Not the stories of diagnosis or surgery or treatment or breaking the news to those whose hearts it’ll shatter. Instead, as I took the best seat in the house, peering over the balcony into the ballroom below, I crumbled. Not for the amazing models – each of whom had come back from their own devastating diagnosis to flip a middle finger to what cancer had tried (and failed) to do to their still-gorgeous looks. But rather for the beaming, whooping, pride-swelled friends and family who were there to applaud every strut, and celebrate the achievements of the Bullshit-beating beauties before them. (Try saying that after you’ve used your champagne tokens.) The very same kind of exceptional folk who gave me a piggy-back through my scrap with The Bullshit. And so there on the balcony, my carefully honed disguise of cynicism unceremoniously fell away, like a weepy Scooby Doo villain (Curses! I’d have succeeded if it weren’t for those pesky cheering women!), and I turned from haughty, feminist-distancing ladette to fully paid-up, honoured member of this supreme sisterhood. 

And yeah, I might prefer my empowerment to a soundtrack that’s more Aretha than Shania, in a wardrobe that’s more punk than pink. But that doesn’t mean I have to pass up on liberation altogether for the sake of playing the grumpy geezerbird. There is a middle ground here. It’s okay to watch the football while painting your toenails. It’s okay to call yourself an independent woman yet hate the Destiny’s Child song. And it’s okay to wear a pretty pink ribbon on your leather biker jacket. All that said, I’m off to lock myself in a room with OK Computer. Any more Power Of A Woman and I’ll be using my pink ribbon as a noose.


lilianavonk said...

I too hate most traditionally feminine interests (you've got a far greater tolerance for reality tv than I do, in fact) and prefer the company of men as well, but at this point my cognitive dissonance is fairly minimal about the fact that I'm typing this wearing fuchsia nail polish and sparkly lip gloss. (I'm just a drag queen at heart, really.)

But you've absolutely hit the nail on the head here in terms of how much as the "sisterhood" is frequently given a bad name by its so-called proponents, there is nothing like the true love and support you get from your girlyfrens. Absolutely nothing.

Which is why I'm once more immensely proud to count such a gorgeous, funny, brave gal like you amongst my friends as well.

Re: the article--well, it's The Mirror, whadaya expect? They're always gonna go for the easiest target and lowest common denominator. (Nonetheless...though I did think that colour looked fab on her, I personally would have chosen a somewhat different ensemble, admittedly.)

Anonymous said...

Great post, absolutely agree with you about the cognitive dissonance thing.

I was a tomboy as a kid, wanted a train set, hated dolls, climbed trees, preferred my cousin's Raleigh Chopper to my "girls' bike", and have grown into a geek more likely to read Wired than Hello. It's only very recently (in my mid-30s) I've started to get comfortable with showing my more feminine side in public, especially at work.

For me, feminism is about being able to be a woman, my way, and not being judged or discriminated against for it. Anyone who thinks I'm letting the side down by enjoying Glamour magazine or getting excited about sparkly nail varnish (OPI Designer series - OMG!!!) can just fuck off.

And you're right as always, the 3am girls are beneath contempt.