feminism

I am 35 and stuck between Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath

Everyone has his coming-of-age story. Mine was Sex and The City. I bumped into it on TV in 1998, while visiting a friend in NYC and it was love at first sight. To my 20 years old self – who had only watched and enjoyed Friends before without being able to actually relate to that – those girls seemed to have it all. They incarnated the dreams of my generation: they were pretty, educated, successful, financially independent (most of the time), wonderfully dressed and were able to live and talk about sex as guys. That is what I saw in them, at least.

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Season by season, I watched every single episode over and over again with my girlfriends ending up to buy not one but two complete set of DVDs (one to keep in case the other became overused). In the early 2000s we were young and crazy about clothes and shoes and fashion and having a career and finding true love. We thought that we were going to live like the girls in SATC and that the way ahead of us was paved with interesting men and tons of glamorous nights out. Feminism was then an outdated word, something our mothers would talk about but that we weren’t concerned with anymore. After all, as Charlotte York puts it, feminism is about freedom of choice. Nothing more. I was a decade younger than the main characters in SATC but I grew up in the same atmosphere of economic optimism and conventional man/woman relationship. The openness about sex was already, per se, a revolutionary point in the show.

Time passed. I don’t watch SATC anymore on a boring night at home. Most episodes feel outdated as are the clothes, the values, the talks. I went from feeling like Carrie to being a Miranda to ending up a little bit like Charlotte. But then I was done. I always missed, though, watching a show I could completely relate to.

When last year I read somewhere on the web of Lena Dunham’s accomplishments and of Girls as a modern answer to SATC, I didn’t hesitate one second to order it on the amazon. Before the parcel arrived, I spent a couple of weeks in the States and had this TV in my room with that thing (I can’t remember what’s its name) that allows you to watch past episodes of current TV shows. There was Girls, of course. Season 1. It might have been the jet lag or the fact that it was like 2 PM and too hot to stay inside watching TV but I lasted less than 10 minutes. Why? I found the show ugly. It was so completely, shockingly different to what I was expecting. It was like chewing into raw beef fillet for the first time. There was no glamour, no extraordinary lives, no optimism, no prince charming and no Manhattan’s nights out. I found myself in front of 4 confused young girls, scraped walls, weak men and sick relationships. And bad clothes, of course. The SATC fan within myself switched off the telly, swearing I would never lay eyes on that again.

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Of course, once back in Europe and dealing with jet lag again, I changed my mind. I watched the entire season 1 of Girls in a night and fell in love with it. Once I cleared my mind of what I thought a show about young girls should be about, it was another world. There is no glamour and male characters are painfully deprived of a backbone as the girls seem constantly unworried about their looks and their reputation but it is so powerfully R E A L. My 20s weren’t as naked as theirs but the insecurities, the bad clothes and the messy boys were there. They always are in that decade. I can relate to Girls – after all – much more than to SATC. I lived Girls, with some sugarcoating, but I could only dream of living SATC.

Lena Dunham took feminism on centre stage again and today it doesn’t sound anymore as an obsolete word, reminding us of burned bras and 70s hairstyles. Hannah Horvath sails through her time with more confidence we could expect from young women in the past and learns what is right, and wrong or simply works for her in the oldest way: trial and error. Instead of received ideas.

I don’t think Hannah and her friends risk in any way to become Carrie and co. later on. They will be something completely different, despite – maybe – some designer clothes and better apartments. These Girls are not interested in pleasing men anymore. They prefer to please themselves and to be liked for what they are.

Alice Munro and all those women who had to find the time

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Some time ago a friend sent me a link, just saying: “I thought about you while reading this. Have a look”. I have a certain aversion to links and seldom open them. Most of the times any email containing a link ends up straight in the trash. But this time it was real good. The article, published by The Guardian at the beginning of October, is a sort of anthropological study of famous writers’ daily habits. It took me a while to understand why my friend thought of me. After all, I don’ t indulge in alcohol and drugs (not as much as my creative side would like, anyway), don’t wake up at dawn, am unable to stick to a schedule and, most of all, I am not a famous writer.

Towards the end of the article I found the only lines I could relate to and felt something between elation and depression:

” Alice Munro.

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In the 1950s, as a young mother taking care of two small children, Munro wrote in the slivers of time between housekeeping and child-rearing. When neighbours dropped in, Munro didn’t feel comfortable telling them she was trying to work. She tried renting an office, but the garrulous landlord interrupted her and she hardly got any writing done. It ultimately took her almost two decades to put together the material for her first collection, Dance Of The Happy Shades”.

I have been writing since I learnt to and, to put it simply, there is not much I can do beside it. (cooking, maybe. But I only briefly toyed with the idea of making a living out of that). From the essays and literary competitions in school till the day I sat in front of a laptop as a professional journalist, I have felt that urge to put my thoughts and feelings into words, to observe, analyze and sometimes detangle lives, habits, dreams and weaknesses in my fellow human beings.

When I was on my own, I spent my whole day reading, writing, watching films and bad tv. It was great. Then life happened, and I wanted it to happen, don’t get me wrong. Those thoughts that once became words, letters, emails, essays now stay in my head for a couple of hours while I look at the chicken’s expiration date, pay the weekly grocery shopping and drive absent-mindedly, so that I always get lost and forget where I was going. They come while I talk to the children and suddenly I keep saying yes or no or I don’t know without listening to their question and they get upset and yell: “Mami, are you listening or whAt?”.

At some point, passed the early infancy stage, I thought I had it under control. I worked hard on a book I ended up hating for almost a year. And it worked. Then came November, and my first NaNoWriMo. I still remember the overwhelming joy on the morning of the 1st of November, 2012, sitting with a huge teapot in front of my unfinished novel. Unfinished, but still loved, every time I lay eyes on it. I walked on clouds for barely a week. Then pneumonia hit the house and goodbye literary aspirations. More or less at that same time, I started this blog. If I can’t keep focus for longer than a day, at least I’ll be writing something.

I wasn’t new to blogging: I’d had a couple in my 20s. One that covered the time between my engagement and my married life. It was fun but once at the end of the ride, I didn’t think it could live simply as an online, public journal of a too ordinary life. I tried out another one on being a new mom and lasted a couple of months. Truth is, I had some lyrical moments while busy with prams and milk bottles and my friends urged me to cheer up a larger audience but I realized almost immediately that it didn’t define me. It was, and it is, a part of me, probably the best. But I felt like I was talking of an arm, when I wanted to write about the whole thing.

I started this blog impulsively while high on powerful antibiotics and thought none would listen. Plus, I struggled between languages for a few days because I had never written actively in English (sauf emails and some crappy free-lance articles) yet I didn’t want to stick to my native language, which I don’t master  they way I used to. The first like happened in the middle of the night. When I found it in the morning, I laughed. it felt like when I was six, and got an obsession for putting letters into glass bottles and then leave them to the sea. Someone actually found that bottle this time.

I have blogged as much as I could this past year. And yet, it is not enough. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in and out of the hospital with one of my children (he’s fine now, thanks) and as every time a small disaster hits home, I go back into brackets and wait, silently, for the storm to pass.

I maybe suck at running my household but I feel I am not alone. How many women, out there, put their dreams in a drawer to dive into real, happening-now, heartbreakingly bare life and at the same time keep opening an inch of that drawer some nights, when everybody’s sleeping, just to make sure those dreams are not gone?

I chose to raise my children in total freedom and every day I am more convinced I couldn’t have it any other way, given the circumstances of my everyday life and the joys of the job. (Yes, it is filled with joy. And a few migraines. But there’s strong stuff to cure that).

Still, I can’t but wonder: what was Alice Munro thinking during all these years, when she was filling lunch boxes in the mornings and getting up in the middle of the night to change a wet bed?

Julia Gillard, the knitted kangaroo and the future of feminism

A hundred years since the first suffragettes marched in the streets of London asking for the right to vote, the public opinion still appears very confused when it comes to women.

I almost fell off my chair yesterday when I read that a photograph of the Australian prime minister in the act of knitting had sparked a huge debate on feminism.

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Julia Gillard, pictured above as she appears on Women’s Weekly’s cover, said she was knitting a toy kangaroo for the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby, due in a few weeks.

The Australian press went nuts. Columnist Andrew Bolt – I read on The Guardian – said Gillard was “giving encouragement to young female politicians by plying a hobby now synonymous with mad old aunts” (Dear Mr. Bolt, I am a knitter too and far from being a mad old aunt. Knitting is back in vogue since some time now). Other even less nice comments followed and the international press started taking interest in the subject.

They pointed out how Gillard never showed any interest for housework (so what? Can’t a man collect stamps and at the same time be unable to cook an egg? What’s with judging hobbies now??) and how her press office asked specifically for this kind of picture in order to market a new image of Australia’s iron lady. (In case you didn’t hear about it before, last autumn Ms. Gillard became world famous and a feminist icon when she publicly accused of misogyny the opposition’s leader, Tony Abbott. You can watch the video here).

It’s clear that no one really cares about Ms. Gillard knitting skills or the honesty of those pictures. The point is that every single time a woman successful in a typical men’s job decides to show her feminine side, a large part of the public opinion rises up to stigmatize her.

In these past decades, powerful women have been implicitly requested to play along with men’s rules. All the female editors, politicians, lawyers, business executives I have met in my life showed the same personal traits: determination, pride, courage, inflexible discipline and the strength of character you need to rise up in a men’s world. They don’t always look happy despite their remarkable accomplishments, but they certainly are inspiring.

For my mother’s generation, success wasn’t only a goal. It was a symbol of freedom. I remember her telling me when I was a child that she wasn’t often home because she was building her career and that for a woman it was of utter importance to be financially independent and socially recognized as an individual, not only as someone’s wife or mother. I frankly didn’t like the implications of her pep talk: I was raised by not always nice carers and I never saw her handing me a slice of cake at teatime but I respect her choices.

I understand that for someone born in the 40s modernity was irresistible and that feminism in those early days needed a total commitment of those believing in its assumptions.

Things have changed, though. To say it with Charlotte York, “feminism is about freedom of choice” and I truly believe it is. If men are now discussing their career choices, their quality of life and their right to family and personal time, why do we still expect women to work twice as hard and to renounce to femininity? Maybe because we still assume, as thirty years ago, that a career woman would disqualify herself if caught baking cupcakes? That in order to validate her brain she should abstain from any stereotypical female activity? Why are we still so insecure?

Less than ten years ago an extremely successful fashion designer called Phoebe Philo announced she was leaving the artistic direction of the french brand Chloé, citing among other reasons the desire to spend more time with her family. I still remember the press reaction then. None could understand how someone would leave such a promising job to go home, change nappies and cook pudding. Ms. Philo, luckily, knew better. She did her thing, came back a couple of years later, went on to design clothes for Céline and totally rocked.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In goes in the same direction. It’s outdated in my opinion. Some women will lean in, some others will lean back for a period of time and then in again, some others will just stay off the front line. The point is that in 2013 any woman should be able to choose her destiny, to time her choices and to play according to her own rules. Which don’t include being ashamed of knitting in public.