Sunday, 22 February 2015

Being a woman

I was born in 1970, the year that The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer was published.

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: that you, Golf Alpha Uniform? Got the painters in again?
Me: *burble*
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.


  1. I couldn't agree more that women should play to their strengths but what gets me is the fact that the caring roles are so undervalued in society still - being a care worker seems to be akin to cleaning toilets - anyone can get that job and it is minimum wage. Yet we would all like to be cared for kindly and efficiently in our old age. Maybe I'm being too simplistic?

    1. I think you're right, Sam. A ridiculous world where Carers get paid a fraction of bankers. The world is topsy turvy!

  2. On the subject of period pain I've always had awful pain but recently started using a cup and wow!!!! No pain at all, didn't believe that would stop all pain and wish I knew it years ago. Sure it takes getting used to puttin it in and takin out but worth it for no more cramps, shootin pains and back pain I used to get!

    1. Hi Claire - thanks so much for commenting. Most of my pain is premenstrual, sadly - but I've been thinking about looking at a cup anyway. Thanks for the prompt! (And the comment!) x

  3. I can totally relate to the thing about your period. I have TERRIBLE cycles and they panic me trying to plan things because besides being heavy and painful, they are frustratingly UNPREDICTABLE.

    I do, however, think that there are plenty of women who have little or no issues with PMS or periods or flow. I have a friend who has already gone through menopause and she said she might have had one cramp her whole life and her period was always light and just a few days long.

    Women who have serious period issues basically have a disability part of the month. The rest of the time, I'm sure you're a crack pilot. But you have to make allowances for when that horrible period sets in.

    1. Oh Heather, that sounds awful! Poor you. I've been to the Docs since writing the post and have been prescribed the mini pill. So we'll see how that pans out. Lots of love and fingers crossed that things improve for you. xx

  4. A lot of the carer payments have to do with the fact that the companies most freelance for take 45% of the hourly rate (or more for night work, weekends and public holidays).

    This article is one of the weakest I've read on the site - men don't usually develop caring skills when the women they're surrounded with don't support and enable them - the same way a hundred years ago women didn't often grow into doctors because the men around them told them they'd be rubbish at it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tigeh, and I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this post as much as the others. As I said, I don't really know enough about the subject to write about it sensibly - all my posts aren't really 'articles'; they're just outpourings of idiotic thoughts, strangleholded into some sort of order.

      I think we'll have to agree to disagree on those points, but thanks for your comments.


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