feminism

my space

Hello, all. I’ve written for my friends over at Women From the Blog again. Follow me there for the rest of the post. 

I’m sitting in a small cafe in a small, safe Pennsylvania town. I’m writing a friend a very long email while also working on writing a blog post. An older man, probably in his 60s, comes into the coffee shop. It’s rather busy, but not very. He stands right next to my chair and in the main walking area, inches away from me. He keeps looking at me, looking down my shirt from behind me, but stares down at his phone whenever I glare at him. I cough. I move my chair across the floor very loudly. I get up, push my chair into his space, excuse myself, pull out a book from my backpack. My email conversation with a friend is, ironically, about casual, low-level sexual harassment and how differently men treat us when we’re on our own versus with a male companion. He’s right over my shoulder, and I’m so deliberately trying to keep my computer to myself. Finally, I take my headphones off.

‘Pardon me,’ I say firmly, ‘but would you mind giving me a little more space? It makes my uncomfortable when someone’s right over my shoulder when I’m writing.’

‘Oh.’ That’s his response. He shifts a few inches. ‘Is that enough?’

Follow me here for the rest of this post. 

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culture & society, feminism, personal journeys, Uncategorized

I am not a strong, independent woman

Sometimes I go traveling or rappelling or hitchhiking by myself. Other times, I drink wine in the bathtub because it was a really hard day and I just want to listen to Celine Dion in peace, goddammit. Sometimes I’m strong and sometimes I’m a mess. Sometimes I’m independent and sometimes I just really, really need to be cuddled and probably want someone to give me chocolate five minutes ago.

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stacking stones at the Brough of Birsay, Orkney Islands: a balancing act

I don’t believe anybody can be strong and independent all the time.

The cliché really bothers me, mostly because ‘strong, independent women’ are pretty much made to look all the same. You know what I mean: in movies, you get a ‘strong, independent woman’ who’s innocent but sexy, as strong as a guy but still definitely feminine, independent but happy to take a guy on board. She’s different from all the other girls, acts like a guy, and is almost completely strong and independent.

This strikes me as a wee bit unrealistic, no? Also, the stereotype is based on the assumption that being strong and independent is a very male thing to be. Think of any Mission Impossible movie and you get my point.

This stereotype is dangerous because it focuses on one person or character as a ‘hero of the story’, an ‘intrepid adventurer’ but neglects to show a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. It’s great we have Wonder Woman and Khaleesi (and I love them dearly), but I also think if we think that only unrealistically and narrowly-defined strong, independent women can do strong and independent things we’ll limit ourselves horrendously. I want to see more action movies with young, scared single moms as the leads; I want to see more far-less-than-perfect characters.

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Women–simple, everyday women–who are sometimes strong and sometimes weak can do incredibly strong things. They can go on adventures, be the unexpected hero like Bilbo Baggins, and be independent even though they sometimes also aren’t.

Instead of trying to be strong, independent heroes, let’s try to be strong characters: interesting characters who grow and evolve, fail and thrive throughout a long story that defies a linear plot and simple answers. Love the strength and weakness, the muscle and the frown lines, and allow yourself to feel everything that comes with being alive.

 

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feminism, love, mental health, personal journeys, poetry

what’s helped me: on recovering from mental illness

This is very much a practical post. Lately, I’ve really wanted to share the resources (blogs, books, podcasts, apps, etc) that have really helped me during this process of recovering from panic attack disorder, depression, and disordered eating. I know I talk a lot about the outdoors and adventures, but I couldn’t have done those things without these smaller bits of help. They have and continue to work small-scale, everyday changes in how I think and process the world around me, and have thus enabled me to experience life in a more balanced, more joyful way. Thus, without further ado, here are my ‘top resources,’ in no particular order.

I – Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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This book is a memoir of dealing with depression and finding hope and reasons to live in the small things. The chapters are short, the reflections are captivating. It completely changed my perspective on depression and helped me see not only how to get through it, but how to learn from my struggles and empathise more with others.

 

II – Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaeffer

Jenni Schaeffer’s books gave me the crucial skill of learning to separate myself from eating disorder and depression thoughts: to see them as an illness, not as truly me or what I really value. This enabled me to ‘talk back’. It helped me get in touch with what I really believed and loved and to use that to build truth back into the fabric of my life. Chapters are super short–it was perfect when my depression was really bad and my attention span basically nill–and there are lots of practical exercises to help you separate from the negative voices in your life.

III- Jessi Kneeland 

This is a recent find of mine–a random google result–but it’s already had a huge impact on me. She’s coach, counselor, and writer dedicated to helping women love, live in, and make peace with their bodies. Think body acceptance versus body change, empowerment versus perfection. A lot of her blog posts dig deep into the messages women receive about their bodies and worth on an everyday basis, and almost all of her writing features probing questions that have helped me to uncover and let go of the root of many insecurities. Honestly, I wish her so much success. Very few bloggers have had such a powerful impact on me in such a short time.

IV – Emily Dickinson

It’s simply impossible to read Emily Dickinson’s poetry and not feel wonder for the small things. My paperback collection of her poetry seems to find its way into my hands very, very regularly, and it never leaves my hands without having left something in my mind’s eye. Find a poet or writer or musician or anyone whose work you connect to, and give yourself a daily dose of beauty.

V – Food Psych

Food Psych is a podcast devoted to body acceptance, intuitive eating, health at every size, and eating disorder recovery. Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, leads weekly discussions with people from all backgrounds and walks of life about their relationships with their bodies and their journey to body acceptance and health. I listen to a sampling of this podcast’s extensive library of episodes a couple of times a week, and I’ve learned so much about the history of diet culture and how badly it affects our society, from sending people on diet cycles to completely messing with hunger and fullness cues. In turn, I’ve started to learn to honor my body’s signals, let go of a set beauty ideal, and have a hell of a lot more energy (since I’m not massively restricting or binging nearly as much).

VI – Pacifica

A free app, Pacifica is essentially CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in your pocket. You can track your moods, write down your thoughts, and it guides you through recognising ‘thought errors’ that reinforce negative emotions. It also guides you through ‘reframing’ those thoughts and offers free guided meditations and podcasts. Awesome resource.

VII – YouTube’s free yoga

Not everyone can afford yoga studio prices, but if you have access to a phone, computer, fancy tv, tablet, or laptop (granted, a privilege of its own), you can pull up yoga teachers on youtube. Yoga’s health benefits–from mental calm to decreased pain–are very widely known, but for me it really powerfully connects me to my body and brings my anxiety levels way down. Some of my favourite teachers are BadYogi and fightmaster yoga. They have videos for all levels and you can pause, stop, or modify without any judgment and without an audience.

VIII – the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur

This book of poetry is simple and stunning. It speaks to so many aspects of what it means to be a woman in the world, addressing love, lust, poverty, politics, and far more. I can’t really say enough to describe it, so I here’s some poetry throughout in the hopes that you’d become a fan as well.

 

 

Much love to anyone who’s struggling or supporting someone with mental illness. I hope these practical tools prove helpful–much love xx

 

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feminism, love, poetry, Scotland

a poem for sisterhood

a poem I wrote after my time in St Andrews in April, almost a year after I graduated. I’m sending love and gratitude to all those who helped me along my way, all those women who loved each other and didn’t take shit from anyone. 

 

I came back to a place that was trial by fire

only to find the hearth of a beloved inn

here, my sisters–hillwalkers, anthropologists,

philosophers and domestic goddesses

have pulled up chairs and rockers to gossip

to mhmm over mistakes and knit scarves

for our daughters caught in the cold

to drink down spells of sisterhood

and to eat the flesh of slain monsters

St Andrews 2018

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feminism, Scotland, travel & adventure

why and how I hitchhike

When I tell people I hitchhike and often do so on my own, the first question usually is: “But isn’t that rather unsafe?” Raised eyebrows, comments on being a young female, etc. My response usually is: “Half the time I’m carrying an ice-axe and pointy poles and can be found by sniffing the wind, so I don’t exactly scream Vulnerable Pretty Little Thing.” 

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wildcamping on Skye near the Quiraing, because why wouldn’t two females wildcamp where they damn well choose? Photo by Maryam

Hitchhiking is dangerous, just like crossing the street, hillwalking, driving, rock climbing or, hell, going out on a date with a relative stranger. Did you know some kids these days have Tinder? The nerve.

More seriously, I’ve been told far too many times that hitchhiking as a female (especially alone) is “asking for it”. Unless “it” refers to a lift rather than sexual assault, that assumption is not okay. It blames the victim, rather than holding perpetrators responsible for their criminality. Kind of gross. By hitchhiking and being more-or-less smart about it, I challenge this idea and take ownership of my adventures and my body.

I see becoming a more assertive and confident woman–and maybe inspiring other women to do likewise–as a bigger attack on the Baddies of the world than huddling indoors ever could be.

In an age of fear-mongering, it can be easy to think that our era is unsuitable for such shenanigans and that people just aren’t to be trusted these days. This is another assumption that demands thought, but I’m not going to dig into the statistics here. We are each responsible for researching the facts, clarifying the risks and trying to understand likely rewards.

We don’t need to be told we don’t understand the Big Wide World or to feel like we can’t or shouldn’t take ownership of our own adventures. Also, can we just not all assume that everyone is out to get us? Given so many seem to be assuming that and huddling inside, it probably isn’t true, strictly speaking. 

That being said, let’s consider the rewards of hitch-hiking. 

hitchhiking: the good

I’ve had hilarious conversations, talks that made me rethink my relationship with religion, dogs curled up on my knee, stories of land rights regulations and its impacts across generations, and a brief education on the marine life of the Firth of Clyde (it’s been overfished, yall). I’ve sat in the back of campervans and in the back of a workvan like a stray dog while my friend sat up front.  I’ve chilled in the front seat of windowless black vans—sorry, Mom—and in suped-up SUVs. I’ve been given lifts by taxis on their way to their next job, expensive Mercedes-Benz contraptions, and tiny wee cars that somehow made it out of the 80’s on 3.6 wheels and a prayer. I’ve met mothers, teachers, construction workers, gardeners, an ex-jockey who is now my penpal, shop owners, taxi drivers, tourists, a bar owner, and mountain leaders. Strangers have a magical knack for extending their best selves. 

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if I didn’t hitchhike, I wouldn’t have gotten to have a beautifully lonesome evening with these sheep and the Stones of Stenness in Orkney

I’ve built up a lot of confidence in being able to read vibes and guiltlessly turn down lifts that strike me as slightly off or sketchy. Because you’re also in a slightly more risk-involved situation, you’re also attentive to the driver in a way you wouldn’t normally be. Mannerisms, turns of phrase, and body language all become more apparent and more fascinating. 

As someone who’s struggled with Panic Attack Disorder, I now can walk up to someone in a car park and ask for a lift with a smile and not a niggle of anxiety. It’s made me about ten times more relaxed around people, because, in some way, everyone’s just looking for a lift and a conversation in this life. Perhaps it’s cringe-worthy and sentimental, but I firmly believe it’s true. 

Also, hitchhiking is free. You get to places you can’t access by public transport. Hitchhiking enables adventures that would have otherwise been impossible. It’s kind of awesome. 

Those are the rewards. What, then, are the risks?

Risks

Conversion to a life of piracy or (another) religion(s), kidnapping, torture, death, alien abduction, etc. 

I’m being flippant, I know, but every single time I hitchhike I do think about the chances of being raped. It’s just what comes with being a vaguely rational woman in a beautiful world marred by violence and sexism. However, risks can be mitigated.

Maybe the following list is gruesomely methodical. However, I find that the more one wants freedom the more willing one has to be to take responsibility for oneself. This means having one’s own rules–breakable should the occasion arise–which above all prioritise kindness and safety towards yourself and others. While also allowing you to challenge silly prejudices. 

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see: life of piracy

risk mitigation

1) I accept lifts only from people I immediately feel safe around. This is my number one rule. If a sketchy-looking guy pulls up next to you and gives you The Look and, by the way, his car doesn’t have a roof but rather a covering of duct tape and tarps (true story), for the love of everything holy don’t get in the fucking car. Dear, dear God. 

2) I only thumb for lifts in safe places where it is unlikely that sketchy characters will purposely frequent. Remember, someone looking for a “vulnerable female” is not likely to go venturing into the hills looking for a stink-bomb mountaineer to ice-axe duel. Cos if they did, crampon-kicks would be totally legal.  I also don’t hitch between big cities. A bus is cheap, more reliable, and much safer than a city context.

3) I make sure there is space for me on the side of the road, that I can see cars for a long way and that they can see me. 

4) I don’t get in a car with more than one man unless with multiple females. If I get in a car with a guy, I have some object that can be used in self-defense within easy reach (see: ice-axe duels). For this reason, I keep my bag on my lap.

 5) I am happy, confident, and willing to talk or to be silent, and I sit with my shoulders relaxed and make firm eye contact. I don’t hunch or make myself look small. Communicate kindness and confidence.

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if I didn’t hitchhike, I wouldn’t have been able to indulge my overachiever penchant for building stone stacks balanced on wood balanced on a cliff on the Brough of Birsay in Orkney, would I?

That said, I’ve only ever hitchhiked in Scotland and Ireland, which are both relatively safe countries. Hitchhiking in the U.S. strikes me as a different ballgame. If you decide to hitch because of what I’m saying here, make all your own decisions and don’t blame me for any of them.  

Hitchhiking is wonderful because it allows you to experience a different side of life—a part of the country that might be harder to get to, a side of the population you don’t normally see, a side of yourself you didn’t know existed. Yes, there have been times I’ve been on a quiet road for an hour or two struggling to get a lift and wondering if I’d have to negotiate sleeping arrangements with some cows, but it’s the adventure that’s worth it.

Above all, hitching shows you that people (and cows), with their kindness and open-mindedness, are adventures in and of themselves. You don’t need to be a professional ice climber to experience this. All you need is do is stick out your thumb, know what makes you feel safe and keep your wits about you. Chances are, you’ll be surprised by yourself. 

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