I remember the book sitting on the shelf in my Dad's study, and because it was towards the top of the bookcase, I assumed it was a sex manual - which is exactly why I nicked it when I was 14 and sketchily read it under my covers.
Bloody hell, was I cacking disappointed. If there was any sex in it, I hadn't got a clue what sort of sex it was. And by the time I got to the bit about women drinking their own menstrual blood, it was time to slip it unseen back onto the shelf, and try that book that said 'Kama Sutra' on the cover (whatever THAT was).
I do not know enough about feminism to write about it properly, like a proper person who knows things. I do know that I, and all the women of my generation, are indebted beyond belief to writers in the Age of Enlightenment, who defended the rights of women, and the Suffragettes, and social and electoral reform, and proper contraception, and probably even the second world war - plus the post-war feminists of course, including Germaine Greer. If I was born in 1870... well. If I wanted to write, I'd have probably done it in secret and under a male pen name. I'd have been a dab hand at using a mangle. I may have been called Fanny. And as for being a pilot - it was 20 or so years before the plane was invented and 60 years before the infamous Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic.
And so here I am, with a wealth of hope and opportunity being tantalisingly dangled in front of me. I could be a doctor, or a brick layer, or even - yes - a pilot. But I've also got to think about having babies because unfortunately, men can't do that yet. And there's this other related thing that's getting in the way. My periods.
Women and hormones
The day before my period, I feel so shit that I can hardly see straight. My head is banging and my spine aches. I feel really low and very cross at the same time. I've been to the Docs and there's nothing to be done. Just sit tight and wait for the menopause to pop it's delightful smiling head round the front flap and say, "YIPPEE! YOUR WOMB HAS DRIED UP!"
Millions of women suffer similarly. And you can handle it if your job is sedentary, or if it's not too complex, or if you're at home. But when I was flying - shit, sometimes, it scared the effing pants off me. You try and ride over it, forget about how you're feeling, for various reasons - the main one being that you are EXTREMELY BUSY proving that women are just as good, and able, as men at flying effing planes.
Which is stupid. Because one of the first things you learn as a pilot is not to fly if you're feeling ill. Even if you know that whatever it is that's wrong will not get any worse. Feeling off colour is just another layer of stress to deal with in the cockpit, and however well you think you're dealing with it, it will cloud your judgement.
My premenstrual-ness would affect my ability to talk on the radio, my landings, my navigation. I'm not saying I flew like a twat - I didn't (at least to my knowledge) fly dangerously - but I wasn't on my game. And when you're a pilot, you've always got to be on your game.
For example. A typical radio conversation with the tower when the painters were in would be something like:
Me: Golf Tango Whisky Alpha Uniform ready for departure.
Tower: Golf Alpha Uniform, runway 27 out to the west, left turn, wind speed 9 knots, clear for take off.
Me: Ummm... say again, Gold - um...Aqua Dolphinium Uniform
Tower: ....is that you, Golf Alpha Uniform? Got the painters in again?
Tower: Just effing take off. We've got a jet coming in in a minute and you're cocking everything up. Piss off.
Me: Oh. Righto. Golf Alpine...oh, fuckit.
*Accelerates off runway and into carpark*
So I'm eventually getting round to the point I want to make. *Obvious Klaxon* Women are biologically different from men, and their lady parts present issues that men don't have. Our hormones and smaller body-frames mean that perhaps we are less able to do the physical jobs that men do. But perhaps our fundamental ability to bear children makes us naturally better at other things; roles that involve caring for others, as an example.
It's wonderful living in an age where women are generally offered the same opportunities as men (and yes, I know that there are exceptions). But I wonder if we (women) are sometimes guilty of forcing our square pegs in round holes. Not a euphemism. I know that this sounds like a comment from the stone age, and I am honestly not saying that we should all become nurses and primary school teachers - although many of us are, and damned good ones too. And I'm definitely not saying that we should simply stay at home and look after our children. Only that we shouldn't ignore our strengths.
Because some of them are strengths that most men do not have.