Issue 1: Autumn 2018
Challenging the Status Quo
* women who actively work to reconstruct a better world. We support intersectional feminism, inclusiveness, sustainable living, black lives matter, alternative relationship styles, queer rights and a variety of sexualities.
Except don't talk to us right now because we're really tired and pissed off. And there's a bottle of white in the fridge that needs drinking.
Letter from the Creator
All hail She-Ra.
I have recently been reborn after 6 months of maternity leave and 9 months of what felt like incarceration in my own body.
He is my third & final child, my miracle child who surprised us all— brewed as he was from my forty-three-year-old eggs and my boyfriend's chronically ill sperm. But no regrets. And also, now that his father is on paternity leave (more on that point soon), I can get a life again.
I’ve been pondering e-zining my work since Monday. It's Tuesday morning and I've decided to go for it. After 10 years of writing hundreds of articles web-wide, I can't find anything but the latest ten articles which means none of it is of use to anyone.
There's some great stuff out there already in the feminist stratosphere; I like Bitch Media and Teen Vogue, but I’m a Mum with three kids--too exhausted, too old and maybe not American or intellectual enough to read that shit. I want a new mag.
I need gallows humour with a dollop of trauma-informed analysis. Some good old-fashioned escapism and the entire series of 'Politics for Dummies'. I need an e-zine which helps me try to live a better life and to fight this dystopian future we’re living in. Also I need something meaty I can read in the loo (it’s the only free time I have).
Welcome to the MetaModern Woman E-zine. Contact me if you want to discuss:
- Advertising & Sponsorship, or
- Writing a guest article, or
- How I can help you (or we can collaborate, yay!)
“Some Never Awaken is a tale of balancing on the delicate edge between darkness and freedom, a story that burrows under the skin and illuminates the reality beneath, a glimpse into the pain and lies we hide behind.”- Michon Neal, author of The Black Tree series
“Louisa Leontiades has a talent for capturing the beauty and humanity in sorrowful moments. This story is relatable to anyone who has ever silenced their own power, and then found that inner voice again.”- Tikva Wolf, creator of Kimchi Cuddles
“A beautifully grim account on the reality of domestic abuse. This is an extremely readable and valuable book that hooked me from page one.”- Alice Grist, author of The High Heeled Guide to Spiritual Living
METAMODERN WOMAN CHALLENGES THE STATUS QUO, FOR FREE.
Fighting Yeast Infections*
(& Other Unexpected Discussions with my 3-year-old)
*They sent me an e-book to review:
“Fight Yeast Infections the Natural way”
It was priced at $27.00. I don't recommend it and luckily didn't pay for it. Even though it was hilarious and did give me a good opener to talk to my children about poorly vaginas.
There are some discussions I didn't expect to be having with my daughter. Not now (when she's three). And actually not ever (before I became a feminist).
"What's that a picture of Mummy?" said my daughter looking at my Google search results.
I resisted the temptation to fob her off and summoned forth my most ardent feminist archetype.
"Well darling that's a picture of a very poorly vagina. It's a grown up vagina like Mummy's but these ones need medicine because they're sick."
"I don't have a vagina,"' she replied. "I have a willy like Daddy and Freddie."
As I looked down I saw a green Duplo Lego flower innocently nestled between my daughter's labia.
"Are you sure? It looks more like a plastic flower darling."
"Nope," she said proudly. "It's a willy."
It's a conversation that's surprising (for me) on two levels.
- That once upon a time I couldn't say the word vagina comfortably and would definitely not have been able to speak so openly about poorly yeast infected ones to my daughter at any age (let alone three).
- Neither did I expect my attitude to a Duplo flower prosthetic to be so blasé… especially with a ‘willy’ I had seen lying on the [not 100% pristine] bathroom floor half an hour earlier.
Over the last ten years, I've come to realise the fluidity and beauty of gender. Nothing will stop me accepting my children, whatever they have or choose to have, between their legs. And if it turns out to be dirty Duplo, well I'll teach them to wash it first and themselves afterwards.
Like most women who have a vagina, I'm no stranger to yeast infections, but they all had pretty much one name. Thrush.
Chaffing condoms with chemical lubricants, two day old knickers, tight jeans, high sugar diet, antibiotics and of course the usual reason - no identifiable reason whatsoever.
In search of a solution I've gone round smelling like sour milk from smearing probiotic yoghurt on my undercarriage, I've downed neat lemon juice in the morning and having done so--when it comes to—thrush, I'm not a fan of 'natural' remedies. They might work eventually. But eventually doesn't cut it with me. I'm a fan of heavy duty torpedo-like pessaries.
So I'm not going to recommend this (badly formatted) e-book, still it did contain some food for thought. For example, there are three broad categories of vaginal infection (so the book says) -Yeast infections, Bacterial vaginosis, and Trichomoniasis.
Telling them apart
Bacterial vaginosis can sometimes can make the vulva itchy, burning and painful... as opposed to yeast based vaginitis, (which can sometimes can make the vulva itchy, burning and painful) and Trichomoniasis (ditto). And you might have them at the same time.
"Vaginosis discharge can be yellow, grey and greenish and may smell like fish or rotten food. Sometimes the thrush discharge might have an odour similar to that of the yeast, whilst at other times, it will be completely odourless.
Naturally I was curious, hence the ill-timed google.
Thrush Discharge (yeasty)
Vaginosis Discharge (rotten food)
"Gloopy," said my daughter admiringly.
As a natural preventative measure, the book instructs:
“Just to be on the safe side, every time you have washed your underwear, boil it for five or ten minutes immediately afterwards in order to purge the residue of detergent and/or chemicals.
No. Just no.
Luckily science has given concrete ways to cure these infections. In the form of heavy-duty torpedo-like pessaries.
Boy, You'll Be A Woman... Soon
It's happened at last... a very real prospect of men walking around with painted faces. Cosmetics Design Europe suggests that male grooming is a growing beauty trend, and it's shifting to include make-up for men [Cosmetics Design Europe, 4 Key Trends]. For a woman like me--a die-hard fan of The Rocky Horror Show who lustfully watched Sweet Transvestite on loop--the news that Chanel launched it's first make-up for men on September 1 2018 in South Korea, was wildly exciting.
Boy De Chanel is a makeup line that consists of must-have items for men to polish image and boost self-confidence. [Pulse News]
"Must-have items! They've done their studies," I thought, "there's finally a market for it!" I thought.
On the surface this launch seems feminist. It combats the idea that there is a range of feminine interests and activities a Real Man would not hold--such as an interest in one's personal looks, dressing up and cosmetics. But my initial straw poll indicated that the simple availability of make up for men did nothing to encourage further acceptance of it.
Who's the target market for make-up for men?
Not all men, apparently.
"What do you think about Chanel launching make-up for men?" I asked my male colleagues in the newsroom. The German sports reporter stared blankly at me. Clearly he hadn't wasted one iota of brain space considering make-up for men and didn't intend to either.
"Erm. I think we escaped it thank God," said his Italian colleague slowly, "we might have to worry about it for our kids though."
The sports reporter nudged him and giggled uncomfortably, "You don't need make up," he said "you're already pretty."
His riposte is representative of our society's insecurity. Feeling inadequate is not the preserve of the female half of the population, but admitting it might be, and this may well impact Chanel's future success. But is make-up only used when you're 'not pretty enough'? Of course not. My three kids use make-up to create an impact and a persona, for fun and to dress up for special occasions. But I limit their use of it because although make-up is a cool thing to play around with, dependency on it is potentially a sign of undue social pressure. It is horribly unhelpful when trying to help kids transition through life feeling valued and confident.
Boy de Chanel... if you're not 'man' enough?
Boy de Chanel is a 'range' in the loosest sense of the word. It consists of four products, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, matte lip balm and foundation. Far from the launch campaign's war cry this is not trail blazing, it's barely make-up at all and a world away from Dr. Frank-n-Furter's kohl-lined, cherry bitten lips. For some men, those who use make up to create impact, the Chanel launch thus seems irrelevant. Jamie Moon, an erotic party DJ in Brighton, doesn't believe he's the intended demographic.
"I assume the focus for any mainstream male range is about discreet enhancement, whereas when I wear makeup I’m quite obvious about it - my influences being Bowie, Prince - more New Romantics than new metrosexual."
"I'm not the metrosexual they're looking for"
Chanel's new line, doesn't quite have the pizzazz Jamie Moon is looking for. Maybelline eyeliner is his favourite, and max factor liquid foundation purely because K-Pop band Pizzicato 5 suggested it in a song. Yet for others even dabbing a bit of foundation on a spot before a first date calls their masculinity into question. And on one hand, for these men I am happy such a large, legacy brand leads the way, even if I suspect that such men would be happier nicking the make up from their Mom's purse instead of admitting that they bought foundation named 'Boy'. It makes it easier to stay in denial.
Invisibility As A Unique Selling Point
Chanel has similar thinking it seems, since they see the discreet nature of their make up as a selling point; "by wearing Boy de Chanel makeup, products with an undetectable presence, men can feel self-assured and determined, confident about themselves and their appearance." [Forbes] By inference, Chanel's target market is men who do not want to appear as if they are wearing make-up, but feel unconfident and uncertain going out without it. And that sounds sadly familiar. Where have I heard it before? From women. And more specifically, myself.
I've extensively examined my own issues of self-image and body image--especially in regard to the western media personified Pick-Up Artist which negs the female half of the population, insinuating insults whilst wrapping the solution in a dazzlingly photoshopped model. I've competed with those models for years. Until I became a mother and determined to set a better, more feminist example of self-acceptance and inclusiveness. I'm working actively to reduce such influences in my household and even though I laud Chanel's inclusive make-up-for-everyone-regardless-of-gender initiative, if as I suspect, the end result will be to gouge holes in self-esteem in the name of profit, I'm against it.
Because if beauty really isn't a matter of gender as Chanel claims, then they certainly shouldn't have created a gendered make-up line which specifically exploits what make-up insecure men can use to cover up their real selves.
What Can We Laugh at Now?
Political correctness vs. humour
"I want to laugh, I need to laugh, not least to dispel the dread at our planet’s future, and the despair at the rise of fascism. But comedy is at the expense of our problematic world and I have become like Queen Victoria–not amused."
“Listen, don’t mention the war! I think I mentioned it once but I got away with it all right. [returns to the Germans]
“So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it.
“So that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Göring and four Colditz salads.’
Basil, Fawlty Towers
For a large portion of my childhood, I believed that the Spanish were incapable fools, the Germans were evil dogmatists and the French were bumbling, puffed up nincompoops.
Given these attitudes, it can come as little surprise that I am English and grew up with comedy which relentlessly mocked foreigners, the upper classes, the lower classes, the differently-abled, the neuroatypical, the ‘hippies’, the ‘sluts’, the ‘prudes’ and well, basically everyone.
Of course, we also cruelly mocked our own kith and kin–which somehow made it okay because it nodded to the English notion of ‘fair play’. Little did I realise that the pure fluke of my own privilege contributed largely to my shameless schadenfreude, nor that my self-deprecation was in many ways an expression of my inner self-loathing.
Over the years as self-esteem grew and my awareness took shape, my tastes in comedy changed. I have become like Queen Victoria–not amused. I have veered to the opposite extreme–becoming incensed by tired tropes, stock stereotypes and tokenism in supposedly innocuous series–Friends, Absolutely Fabulous and How I Met Your Mother. I’m sick of ignorant writers using marginalized experiences as convenient plot points.
- Why is Chandler’s father made into a ridiculed trans stereotype?
- Why is the abuse that Edina inflicts on her daughter funny?
- Why does Barney’s constant sexual exploitation of women make us laugh?
In his speech about political correctness, John Cleese declared that ‘when someone can’t control their own emotions, they have to start controlling other people’s behaviour.’ He implies that it is up to the individual to control their own emotions, instead of censoring others’ hurtful behaviours.
Like all blanket generalisations, there is a grain of truth in this. The grain is that it is possible to govern and rationalize our emotions as we gain emotional maturity. To know that insults often say more about to the prejudices of those who say them (and who laugh about them) than those to whom they are directed. Certainly, my affinity for Fawlty Towers said far more about my own learned racism, than portraying the hapless Manuel as an accurate multi-dimensional Spaniard.
Not only does our journey towards emotional maturity include greater pragmatism to help us override our instinct to blame others for our hurt, but also a responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of our actions.
This is not a radical idea. Similar reasoning is recognised for physical actions and consequences by tort law under the principle ‘duty of care.’
The businessman who profits without thinking about the suffering he might cause by shipping a faulty product or by employing child labour would, in less Orwellian times than these, be jailed.
“We are responsible, within reason, for the foreseeable consequences of our actions. And to use the excuse that ‘it was just a joke’, is to wilfully disregard the impact of our words.
Comedy engages people, it associates both the pleasurable rush of endorphins and the reduction of stress hormones to the object of our mockery. When comedy is used by the empowered to belittle the disempowered, it is a form of oppression. It undermines the legitimacy of suffering, removes accountability from those in power and reinforces stigma. I recall the man who told me ‘We don’t stray far from our comfort zones’, where we’re not to blame for perpetuating structural discrimination.
Our favourite sitcoms become a kind of opioid placebo reassuring us that we can always go down the steps to an able-bodied bar ‘where everyone knows our name’ and shield ourselves from the rigours of our self-perpetuated fragility.
What we find funny is indicative of our beliefs, attitudes, judgements and opinions. When we mock those who by birth or circumstance are less fortunate, we become persecutors and make others our victims. We have no less duty of care for verbal abuse even through humour, than we do for physical abuse.
But we need to laugh. And to quote John Cleese, the whole point about comedy is that it is based on criticism. So although comedy is often used as a tool to punch down, comedy can also be brilliantly effective at undermining the establishment. It’s–as always–about the locus of power. Comedy allows us to scrutinise and, yes, also ridicule the corrupt politicians, the bigots, and the dictators of our time.
Shows like John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight receives 4.6 million viewers; he along with other comedians makes important issues accessible to us. And although I find some aspects problematic, he pushes me to look at wider issues and pricks the inflated egos of those obsessed with power. He’s my cup of tea.
I’ve found that comedy has enormous power, but like all power it can be used or misused. And when it is used for clarification and inspires critical analysis it is not only the best medicine for us, but is also a part of our arsenal to fight those fucking fascists.
METAMODERN WOMAN CHALLENGES THE STATUS QUO, FOR FREE.
5 Failed Experiments in Alternative Living
A man once told me that we don’t stray far from our comfort zone, but of course I didn’t believe him. Me, I could do anything, I could redefine myself in any way. Alternative living would be easy for me, wouldn’t it?
1. Getting rid of the TV
The kids rushed in from daycare and stood slobbering over the apple keyboard, attached to the iMac in our living room.
'We want television,' they screamed.
'No,' I said. 'No television until after tea. But I'm so happy to see you! Did you have fun at daycare?'
My words passed unheeded. One child crumpled on the floor crying in despair.
The other child turned puce and screamed louder. 'DORA! I want DORA.' I held my resolve. But not less than two weeks later, that same child learned how to master the keyboard and the mouse. That evening they ended up watching an unfiltered YouTube channel chock full of advertising for the bloody play-doh mop shop.
Exhausted with the struggle, and fearing the histrionics if I turned it off, I let her.
Later I said to my boyfriend,
'We have to get rid of the TV. My morals are too weak to stand up to the children's wrath. We have the iPad if it gets too bad.'
The next morning, the television had gone to television heaven (my boyfriend's office where we could watch it privately).
'I'm afraid the television is gone,' I said.
'Why?' they said aghast. And then the lie inherited from my own mother slipped out of my mouth.
'It broke. That's what happens when you watch it too much.'
Murdered, by Jake & the Neverland Pirates
Reader, I lasted three whole weeks. Doing constructive games, organizing treasure hunts around the house. But I'd forgotten why they became addicted to the television in the first place. Why we'd started to use it.
The fighting. The constant fighting. Usually about the same toy - one they haven't played with for months, but had become immediately attractive and essential when picked up by sibling. And one evening my anxiety reached fever pitch. Television was the ultimate distraction. After thirty minutes of crying, I said in a feeble, beaten voice.
'How about some television?'
My daughter said suspiciously, 'I thought the television broke.'
'Yes, but we have the iPad,' I said. But it was a slippery slope. Because on the next evening when they came through the door the first words I heard them scream were,
'WE WANT THE IPAD.'
2. No poo experiment
Last autumn I grew a sort of horn. It bulged out off centre on my forehead, presumably a clogged pore from the baking soda I'd been rubbing into my scalp in an effort to go 'no poo'.
No shampoo is a movement, where the hair and scalp re-calibrates itself to be naturally balanced. You don't strip the oils from the hair and therefore, allegedly, the scalp stops producing them. I equipped myself with a bristle brush and armed myself emotionally for three months of greasy hair. Donut ring? Check. Alice band? Check.
'I'm going to be one of those women with gloriously thick and healthy hair,' I said to my friend two weeks in. 'They'll talk about me like that 'You know, Louisa, the woman with the great hair'
She just smiled knowingly and tossed her own immaculate coif.
There's a case to be made against L'Oreal of course, no one’s saying otherwise. Those chemicals, that animal testing, no thanks. But with my own no poo experiment, I find there's a case to be made for shampoo. Because four months of no shampoo never helped my scalp recalibrate even after I stopped with the baking powder. I just looked like shit. My sex life suffered because my boyfriend couldn't stroke my hair, or even get his hands through it (you know, those yummy deep kisses, where he puts his hands around the back of your neck and just digs his fingers into your hair pulling you closer? There weren't any).
I gave in quietly, choosing an organic brown sugar shampoo ordered discreetly over the internet. I wash my hair a couple of times a week now and have really good sex.
3. Living without cars
We live on an island without cars. It's blissful, even if I had to re-learn how to ride a bike during the first few months.
'The correct height for a saddle is where you can only touch the ground with your tiptoes,' said my boyfriend tightening the bolt of my new bike.
But braking and then hopping off before the bike cam to a halt proved too difficult for me. Instead I fell off. At the school when I came to pick up my children. In front of the shop, with a good few witnesses. At at home in our gravel path, which was not painless.
Eventually my balance got better, especially when I lowered the seat. But even if cars are banned, cargo mopeds are not. Traditionally they are used to carry cargo. But on this island, 'cargo' is a loose term. My children for example who are at that stage of development where they proclaim themselves 'too weak to walk mummy, CARRY ME' ...but are too heavy to be carried, too heavy even to drag behind in a bike trailer. They are therefore cargo. That's excusable I suppose, but what's not excusable is when I see the ferry come over the horizon and with one minute to spare scream,
'Fuck I'm going to miss the ferry. Can you give me a lift?'
I'd forgotten you see, that I’m human and that avoidance of hard work was what inspired those chalcolithic dudes to create the wheel in the first place. It creeps up on you, the convenience of getting somewhere painlessly in 2 minutes as opposed to panting up hills and learning to balance nimbly as you brake to a halt (or fall off).
Also good for transporting pregnant women
4. A Chemical Free House
For around 6 months after my daughter was born I used soap nuts. They're not soap. Or strictly speaking, nuts. They're berries (but like, the worst tasting ones).
Soap nuts contain saponin, a natural detergent. The soap nut shell absorbs water and releases the saponins which circulate as a natural surfactant in the wash water, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing, they said. .
They smelt like nothing, which didn't smell clean. No lavender scent, no apple blossom. No scent. Believe me nothing smells odd when you aren't used to it. I also used a steam cleaner, all her toys, her bedding, the sofa - any place she might be laid down was steam cleaned. The house smelt like how houses smell with new born babies sometimes sweet, sometimes - well you know. The steam cleaner takes time to fill, take apart, refill and clean after use. It was time I didn't have when my second child arrived. It's there in our hall cupboard languishing with many small pairs of outgrown shoes and some broken wooden coat hangers.
And when your small child reaches in his nappy to explore his own excrement and wipe it on the sofa, well bleach is really only thing for it.
The Soap not-nuts. Not suitable for cleaning poo.
When I lived in France, it was meat all the way. Normally steak 'bleu' 20 seconds sizzled on each side, practically walking. I ate foie gras, which was in no way ethical, but really delicious. In my twenties, I had no concept of ethics, or if I did it was the type that tasted good.
But with education comes a conscience apparently. Living on an island with only one grocery shop is tricky if you intend on going the whole hog. The price of eco-living is high in time and money, but it's not just the price tag that matters. It's also whether your kids will eat chopped, marinated mushrooms and eggplant, when you trill 'This is just a better version of Bolognese. I call it yummy Bolognese!' After some months of trying and failing to convert my family to even one vegan dish a week of say, soy sausage drenched in tomato ketchup, I decided not to inflict my newfound conscience on them, but instead cook for myself separately, in time I didn't have.
I have a boyfriend who, due to health reasons, can't eat vegetables at all. His diet is meat, meat and some carbs. And one night we sat there miserably looking at each others plates.
'If only I could eat that bok choy,' he said wistfully looking at the sad, wilting mess in front of me and forking up pork medallions infused with ginger and chili into his mouth. My stomach growled.
'I just need some salt’, I said, getting up.
It had been a month of attempted veganism (which I had compromised by adding extremely expensive wild forest meat to the mix, because y'know... it's lived a full and happy life and really wants to be eaten by me). I walked into the kitchen and stealthily opened the fridge. And before I knew it, the open packet of salami had mysteriously disappeared.
How I Justify My Choice of Non-Monogamy
As a little girl, I was taught that humans are by nature monogamous, we were supposed to commit sexually and more often than not emotionally to one. The opposite to monogamy was promiscuity, a graveyard for fuck-ups characterized by an inability to commit. It was a sign of a weak character and a perversion. There was no Kinsey monogamy scale and few socially accepted constructs for those who preferred non-monogamy.
As an adult I found another option which suited me better: consensual non-monogamy. Some practiced a type called polyamory, and I discovered there was a global community. But I don't think I was born polyamorous. I choose to live in a polyamorous relationship and have had to fight hard against my own gut instincts on many occasions.
That I believe I've chosen this option is something I constantly have to justify to my monogamous peers. Some push backs I've received for living a polyamorous life tend to be on religious grounds or moral grounds. But due to articles where I enumerate instances of rape, abuse and a difficult childhood there is a significant proportion who dismiss my right to choose how I live my life, on the grounds that I am perverted in the clinical, as well as the sexual, sense. Deviant, fucked up and well, mostly beyond redemption. They think a solid bout of therapy would bring me to my [monogamous] senses. If only I could resolve my issues, I would be 'normal'.
When I discovered the polyamorous community, I expected that I would be sharing war-stories for support and advice. I was surprised to discover that I might have to justify my choice within the community, and that the very idea of justifying polyamory as a choice may even be controversial.
For many polyamorous folk, they were "born this way". They can remember polyamorous attitudes from young age; but that's not the case for me. Considering the success of the US LGBTQ movement in the last years, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at how important this poly-by-nature idea is. It offers a tantalizing reward, the immediate validation of our way of life using the same legal arguments as prior civil-rights movements.
So, just as often as I have to justify myself to monogamous folk, I have found that I have had to justify myself to my polyamorous friends. Just the other day, even one of my boyfriends thought he was calling me out:
'You're not really polyamorous, you're just fucked up.'
Fighting for my right to choose is in some ways a more complicated fight because it doesn't allow me to use the argument 'I was born this way.' I think there is a fear that if polyamory becomes associated with "choice", it will not make a strong enough case for our civil rights. I disagree.
Whilst biological predisposition might make a strong case for some human rights, fighting for acceptance of polyamory on this basis is also what makes it more easily dismissed. At the TED presentation of their Sex at Dawn findings, the TED host asks Dr. Chris Ryan whether a change from polyamorous tribes to monogamous cityfolk wasn't a sign of cultural evolution - the implication being that some biological predispositions are meant to be overcome by our civilized selves.
Science is currently exploring genetic dispositions towards sexual inclinations like pedophilia and bestiality. I don't know many people who care about what any evidence science will produce: the problem with pedophilia isn't whether its biological or not, it's that there are insurmountable issues about consent, if a pedophiliac inclination is expressed through child molestation.
To my mind, biological disposition is therefore a weak premise for legitimizing sexual autonomy. Choice of sexual expression and the form it takes between consenting adults, makes a stronger foundation for establishing the civil rights we so badly need to protect us all against discrimination and unjustifiable action. I claim that polyamory as a relationship choice deserves to be protected. I claim that it is not detrimental to the moral fabric of our society or to our characters, but can on the contrary be highly beneficial.
I love polyamory as a philosophy. Many loves. An ethical, joyful alternative to cheating. A sex-positive adult community which carefully considers consent, abuse and gender identity. I enjoy and contribute to these discussions educating myself as I go, but all those reasons are corollaries. Because there has been a lot of conflict in my life and this is a large part of what motivates my choice.
There have been a lot of lies in my life both hidden and overt. There has also been a lot of anxiety. Lies breed anxiety due to cognitive dissonance. That's a fact. Some are good at lying. I am. But lying also compounded my propensity towards anxiety until I realized that it was far better for my psychological well-being, not to lie. I also avoid unnecessary drama if I can help it, for the same reason.
So one of the things about polyamory which is good for me is that it espouses a commitment to honesty. When you commit to honesty there is a greater risk of conflict, of drama. But I have found that honesty, true honesty, is a two way street. You can only expect honesty from someone else, if you do not judge them afterwards for their honesty. If you recognize and address the drama before it escalates into full blown conflict. Otherwise they will eventually lie to you to avoid your harsh judgement and the ensuing drama - that's human nature. My life is full of honest and open discussion about difficult topics. Attraction. Jealousy. Resentment. We talk about it all, owning our individual shit, calling out drama as it occurs and before it escalates, trying our best to accept each other and often laughing as we talk.
You don't of course have to be polyamorous in order to be honest. But with this level of honesty also comes the freedom to be exactly who you are. Even if the person you are, might not be a paragon of what society defines as virtue. What kind of person am I? As one commenter on my blog nastily put it,
'You just can't keep it in your pants.'
By it, I assume (s)he was talking about my genitals. That's not true. I can keep them in my pants, but I prefer to get it out when I connect with someone so intimately that sex is a natural next step. I like sexual connection, especially when it follows mind connection. I like to be able to love several. I want that freedom (even if I exercise my right sparingly). Why is it so important?
Freedom, I would venture a guess, is important to many. It is valuable in and of itself. But for me it is important because as a child I had none. I was strictly groomed into what I should be, first by parents, then by society and then by an abusive man. When you've been subject to an excessive amount of control, you become sensitive to it. I want freedom not only sexually, but in all areas of my life, to be the happiest I can be. If I ever work in the nine-to-five, it is as a contractor. As a journalist, I write freely about my opinions. I choose to live in a liberal culture. Those who question my choices obsess about my sexual choices instead of my career path though because whilst escaping the nine-to-five is laudable, apparently my genitals don't deserve the same freedom.
You could say therefore, that I am ethically non-monogamous because I hate lying and I want relationship freedom for me and my partners. It's true; I do. You could also say I identify as polyamorous because I adore the idea of community living and love several. That's true, too. I live happily with others like me who believe they are either born polyamorous or have chosen polyamory as a way of life. Love, honesty and freedom between consenting adults who choose the relationship configuration which works best for all involved, are our core drivers and they are not issues to be 'fixed' in a therapist's office. It's why I support relationship choice - the right to choose to live polyamorously or indeed monogamously - independent of genetic predisposition.
My Daughter's Consent And The Boy Next Door
There's a boy hanging out at our house, sniffing around my eight year old daughter. It takes all my feminist pre-frontal cortex logic not to get the hose and spray him off our balony (he'd survive... we're on the ground floor). I respect my daughter, and I must allow her secrets. They're the first she's ever kept from me. So when she says they're friends I say nothing. Her prettiest dress for him. Her pink dressing up lipstick which disguise naturally ruby lips. Her eyes which sparkle innocent invitation. Topped with blonde curly hair. Come and play.
This boy is lonely. He's decided that our home is open access for him. Otherwise he keeps company with his nanny in the immaculate penthouse of our apartment block along with his elderly, absent father--the Russian Ambassador--and two rare leopard spotted cats. Maya and Oleg attend the same school, they're in the same class. He invited her out to the ice-cream bar just him, his nanny and her. She's been up to his house to try out his two hoverboards. Two.
This boy is kind. But being kind doesn't disguise the fact that he has no knowledge of boundaries. He knocks at all hours of the day. If the back door is on the latch, he'll come in uninvited and sit on Maya's bed to await her return until I show him the door. He once tried to force his way in her room to wake her up and play. I scolded him gently but he hardly understood what I was saying. An only child, the world is his and his alone. I fear he will not respect her 'no', even if she has the wherewithal to say it. That precious word which gains power and validation each time it's used and respected. But which might crash and burn in Maya's psyche if overridden at the first try.
This boy feels entitled. I'm not worried about mutual exploration, emotional or--within boundaries--physical. She's only just beginning her journey. I'm worried about him dominating her life, if she's too polite to refuse him entry. To say no. Or if she wants to please him. I'm worried even if she says no... because he doesn't take no for an answer.
It's their third playdate this week. They're drawing minecraft characters on the kitchen table and drinking chocolate milk. Afterwards she plays him the one song she knows recorder until his nanny fetches him. He doesn't want to leave and complains loudly in Russian.
Maya and I have had the the conversations about consent, extensively and often. Drawing from theory and practice. She is loved and we show her. Do we show her enough? Will her desire to be liked by her peers undermine her self-esteem?
Last night he banged at the shutters. Maya was half asleep from her lullaby; she barely noticed. But I froze mid-verse, full alert, thrown back to my past. The red veil of trauma crept over me. I remember my boyfriend knocking drunk at my window late at night. I remember fighting the knowledge and despair that eventually I would open the door because I always did. I remember him not taking no for an answer.
METAMODERN WOMAN CHALLENGES THE STATUS QUO, FOR FREE.
More "Suggestion Column" Really...
I'm bi-romantic and I met a woman around my age yesterday evening, and had a great time playing cards, drinking at a bar and conversing with her. This is the first romantic crush on a straight woman I have had, and would definitely describe us as mutually romantically flirting.
She asked if I wanted to be walked home, to hug, for a FB add and requested I message her. But since I’ve seen her FB status as ‘in a relationship’, with ‘female’ as her gender and ‘male’ as her interested in gender. So, should I avoid friendships with straight people completely in case I feel attracted to them?! That would be extreme aversion… but if I do feel romantically interested in someone like her, with whom I want to pursue a relationship, is it okay to try forging a friendship with them, and in time ask them about their sexuality and relationship views?
I really fear accidentally leading a person to doing something unethical, but as a bi-romantic I also have the capacity to experience a crush to any new people I meet. I know non-sexual same sex relationships get undervalued, but if I intentionally or accidentally become romantically/ emotionally involved with her, for her since she's in a relationship that would be cheating, right?
Let’s try and simplify what seems to be several tangled issues for you. Firstly, that there is a difference between how you feel and what you do.
What you do is on the whole manageable by you. But some people are also able to manage how they feel (although it is not easy). Yes, emotions are also manageable in a circuitous route (playing music, listening to ASMR for example), and some people can, through therapy, learn to heal past triggers but that is usually a lifelong--hopefully joyful--work.
Ethical behaviours are learned over the course of time; some people learn them early on, some later and some not at all. I have learned them, practiced them, revised them and at forty years old, still act too often out of impulse and/or ignorance.
In one way your conundrum is super simple. If you want your ethics to include not getting involved in a relationship where your partner is cheating on someone else, then this is a principle you choose to set and try to abide by. But go easy on yourself. As you’re only twenty-two, it’s unsurprising your relationship ethics are less developed than might be considered gold standard (and even then 'gold' is pretty much aspirational for the majority of us).
So, let’s concentrate on managing what you do–i.e. your actions–right now, especially as I understand from your previous correspondence that you’re twenty- two years old… and fairly young to be coping with the complex business of managing your subconsciously driven emotions.
Yet you do not seem to trust yourself to be able to act appropriately if you fall in love with someone. How can we think about this?
Theoretically, you must know that you can choose to get romantically involved with someone. Or not… regardless of how you feel. Yet there are many reasons why people cannot manage their actions and often this has more to do with awareness, the impulse control mechanism and their own formative environments as opposed to a desire to ‘do the right thing.’
You can want to be ethical, strive towards being ethical and still behave unethically. It’s called being human!
It's pretty clear that you aren't aware of what healthy boundaries look like. I surmise this partly as a function of your age and partly because you ask whether it is ‘okay’ to try and forge a friendship with someone and then ask them about their sexual inclination and relationship views.
It is okay.
Trying to make friends is okay. Asking about sexual inclination is also okay. Direct communication in general is okay. What is not okay, is expecting a certain outcome from your friendship or indeed expecting her to answer your questions. You have the right to ask, equally--as difficult as it seems--she has the right to not give you an answer. And then it's up to you whether you are okay with that. You might choose to ask yourself whether you would be okay being this woman’s friend, if she says ‘no’ to anything other than friendship. Here's a primer:
Healthy Boundaries for Adults*
You are responsible for your actions. You aren’t responsible for anyone else’s actions.
You are responsible for defining your ethics. You aren’t responsible for defining anyone else’s.
You are responsible for your self-care. You aren’t responsible for anyone else’s.
You are responsible for what you do. You aren’t responsible for what anyone else does.
Well, you catch my drift...
* there are always exceptions to boundary definitions. They vary by personal preference and culture. My friend from Afghanistan for example, would not agree about responsibility only extending to herself. But in the west we tend to be more individualistic.
You can of course support others, give opinions (hopefully and usually solicited) and try to stop abusive behaviours in others. But you are not responsible for others’ behaviours.
I also note that you are from/live in the UK where cultural norms will play a part in what is considered an acceptable intimacy in communication. Save yourself a myriad of time and anxiety if you actually ask the question instead of making assumptions from your interpretation of her behaviour. And the way in which she responds will tell you not only whether there is a possibility of a romantic relationship with her, but also how compatible your communication styles are which might indicate the potential longevity of any relationship.
Finally, as to whether someone is cheating or not… that’s an easy one. It depends on what they’ve agreed with their partner as to whether an action or emotion is considered a betrayal. And the only way you can find out, is to ask.
Rewriting the Rules by Meg-John Barker
As Terry Pratchett's great sage Granny Weatherwax put it 'Sin young man, is when you treat people as things including yourself, that's what sin is.'
It's an unlikely reference to find in a book which appears from the outside to be a psychology text book, and yet that's just one of the 'spoonfuls of sugar' found in the book "Rewriting the Rules" written by Dr. Meg-John Barker, senior psychology lecturer and a founding member of BiUK (the same MJ Barker of 'Pink List' 2013 fame).
Yet in another way, it's only to be expected. Because the crux of their book is the comparison and juxtaposition of the current rules of gender, sexuality, love and attraction depicted in pop culture versus how they work in reality without society's imposition of what is viewed as 'normal' and acceptable. And normal - as we all know - means Sex And The City (with specific episodes and events highlighted to illustrate various case studies), Friends and plenty of Hollywood blockbusters thrown in.
However those fizzingly light references are artfully mixed with some profound psychological insights, a dash of eastern philosophy and a few heavyweight quotes from Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Judith Butler. It's not just the big philosophers either...for those familiar with today's fish in polyamorous ponds, relationship scientist Bjarne Holmes, The Ethical Slut authors Eastern and Hardy, and More Than Two blogger also gets a mention.
In fact the whole book is a dichotomous mixture of wisdom and self deprecating wit with serious clinical terms and sit-com humour. In this way it is far more palatable than other psychology text books. And yet it is still a reference book; because the uncomfortable truths which sit in it, need digesting more than once, and each chapter undermines many of our society's traditional rules (which with some expansion could have each been a book in themselves). Which means that it's no less valuable as a guidebook, but it IS a different kind of book. It does itself rewrite the rules of what we might expect from books.
A single book dismantling self, and gender, and attraction, and monogamy, and love, and conflict, and break-up and commitment?
Make no mistake, for the uninitiated this is not a cover to cover read; moreover unless you've been exposed to some non-normative thinking in the past, you may not even make it all the way through quite simply because it will challenge too many ideas at once.
And yet since the principle takeaway from this book 'is that clinging to the common rules too rigidly, often paradoxically, ends up with us being less likely to get what we were aiming for in the first place'... the beauty in this book is that it may sit on your bookshelf for months and years before you dip into it again. And then only because in your misery over a 'failed' relationship you recall reading something about how break-ups can really be re-framed as positive change. Or perhaps having considered yourself heterosexual all your life a sudden surprising liaison with your same sex colleague will leave you guiltily bewildered until you check in with the 'sexuality and gender' chapter and read about how we all evolve, and change along a continuum for our entire lives.
Whilst I can truly say that if I had read this book during my youth (caged by my mind), I would have scorned it as a ludicrously over intellectualized and liberal piece of dangerous propaganda. But now in my 38th year I read it nodding along, unsurprised by its content and pleasantly comforted by some good analysis. In an ideal world I would have liked THIS book to introduce me to my medicinal philosophies that have been painfully swallowed through my own bitter (but enlightening!) experience because its language and style couch previously unacceptable truths in a respectable veneer of humble pedagogy. And had I read about those truths framed in the sugary language of Nick Hornby, Terry Pratchett and Frank Zappa the medicine would have gone down so much easier.
As it is, I hope that my recommendation of Meg-John's work helps others rewrite their rules more joyfully.
Why My Mother Hated Grease 2... Along With The Rest of the World
My parents divorced when I was 11 and whilst it was probably the worst move for my relationship with my mother, it was the best for my relationship with my father. For the first 11 years of my life he'd been writing a Very Important Book because that's what university professors did. Consequentially I didn't see him a lot. But after the divorce he was forced to spend one whole day a week with me. When Saturday came around, he picked me up and we went shopping at the bookstore and rented a video at Blockbusters. My Dad and I returned to watch something usually highly inappropriate for my age after which we watched our usual re-run of Grease or Grease 2... and danced round the living room. That was every Saturday for four years, after which he got a Very Important Job because of the acclaim for his Very Important Book, and moved abroad.
Grease and Grease 2 got equal airplay on our Saturdays and I couldn't understand why one was a success and the other wasn't. I loved them both. But I had an inkling of why when my mother caught them for the first time.
Grease follows the traditional stereotype, boy Danny (John Travolta) meets hot girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), girl sacrifices her sense of self and her identity for guy, girl get's guy through wearing skintight clothes and the promise of sex. Tell me about it, Stud.
Grease 2 on the other hand, has a girl Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) who refuses to get off with boy Johnny (Adrian Zmed) says she'll 'kiss who I want when I want' and falls for Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) who eventually turns out to not only be a 'cool rider' but a good student getting as she concludes, 'two for the price of one'. The only thing Maxwell Caulfield doesn't do, is dance... but hey after John Travolta anyone would look useless, so the producers had the good sense not to attempt a comparison.
'Slut' my mother said, whilst watching Michelle Pfeiffer. Well, no. My mother doesn't use the word slut. That word along with misplaced modifiers and dangling prepositions is on the no-no list. Nevertheless she made clear in her own indomitable fashion that Stephanie was an airhead and an easy woman whilst Sandy was a class act nobody could follow. And not just because she could sing better. Because she was the virginal good girl, 'hopelessly devoted' and who sacrificed herself for her man.
Grease 2 was upsetting for so many people because three out of the four pink ladies had too much respect for themselves to play the helpless female stereotype and succumb to their respective T-bird match's machinations to get them into bed. Even Lorna Luft's character, Paulette declares in the end 'I may not be the classiest chick you're every gonna get, but I'm the best you're gonna get...so take it! Or leave it!' The strongest female in Grease - Rizzo - was punished for her choices by a pregnancy scare and being ostracized. 'Let that be a warning to you,' my mother (might have) said.
In the reviews of Grease versus Grease 2, I've seen many justifications for why one was a success and the other was a failure. Lousy acting? They both have it. Uninspired plot? Er, it's pretty much the same plot with the genders swapped. Unconvincing dream sequence? Didn't stop Dallas going on for another five seasons. Shit songs? What?! No one disputes the great hits of Grease, but the production and choreography of Grease 2 songs was often better than Grease... which in a musical film is often what counts for more than the melody itself (give me bolshy Michelle singing Cool Rider slightly off key, over dreary victim Olivia singing pitch perfectly in her nightie, wafting a pink piece of stationery in a paddling pool anytime).
In fact Grease 2 has fantastic songs and more polished dance sequences for many of them. From the opener Back to School Again and We're Gonna Score Tonight, to Reproduction and Prowlin' the songs showcase many of the cast members good vocals. Yes, in Grease 2 all the Pink Ladies and T-birds can sing instead of just the lead characters.
No, the problem with Grease 2 was that it portrayed the T-birds as dumb losers and the Pink Ladies who were too savvy to fall for their crap, versus Grease where the T-birds were also dumb losers but had incontrovertible rights to the Pink Ladies' sexuality. The fact they were dumb losers didn't stop them from being the most desired guys in school. In Grease 2, the T-birds get what they deserve whilst the head of the Pink Ladies strayed from convention and went for someone else who tried to change the way he was for her, instead of him trying to change who she was. And when the time comes for my kids to watch Grease 1 & 2, I'll be sure to point out the lessons of Stephanie over those of Sandy.
(Also, massive cool factor in actress Pamela Adlon who played little Dolores, Paulette's sister in Grease 2. She learned her feminist lessons well in this movie and went on to later play the kick-ass role of Marcy in Californication).