Thursday, 23 April 2015

When Women Just Don't Help Ourselves...


 

This won’t be the first time I’ve written about empowerment. Oddly though, in my daily life, it’s not something I think about all that much. I don’t particularly feel, with regards to the educational, civil and employment opportunities afforded to me, that I am any less than equal to my male counterparts—I know this makes me luckier than a lot of women.

But I think there are still huge problems in the way women are viewed in society—often, by other women.

As high school teacher Ms. Norbury tries to explain in the popular teen movie, Mean Girls:

“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. That only makes it OK for GUYS to call you sluts and whores.”

How can we expect respect from everyone if we don’t show respect from each other? I’ve noticed many women shamelessly judging each other for things they’d never want to be judged for themselves, by women or men. While respect should not have to be earned in this way, I still can’t help but feel that as a group we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.

When I read articles about how the media gives women an unrealistic body image for instance, it would be foolish not to agree. Seeing ridiculously photo-shopped images of women with “perfect” skin, slim, toned bodies and gorgeous hair that I will never have would probably not have the best impact… but as a teen I always found it quite easy to keep in my head the knowledge that these people are not real. This is not how I am supposed to look.

What did make me feel bad about my own body image were the comments from other girls. I suffered from acne which was always commented on. One bully in particular would make me feel self-conscious about my weight—which I can tell you now was actually nothing other than distinctly average—until I went through phases of feeling too guilty and disgusting to eat, and really disliking my body. Luckily, this did not last long. My mum was very blunt about the fact that skipping food would not make me healthy, and my good friends re-assured me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my weight. This did open my eyes to the fact, however, that girls who feel insecure about themselves will often bully other girls about the same things. In this way, we are creating divides within groups of young women who could be coming together to overcome adversity. How can we complain about men judging us by our bodies when we judge each other so harshly?

If you’re part of a group which you feel is marginalised, it is important to weed out judgement from within the group before looking to the outside.

 

However, the way not to do this is the way many people have been going about it. To place your group either on a pedestal or define the group as victims can only be detrimental.

 

Promoting a healthy body image for girls and women who might have larger frames or more curvy bodies does not need to entail Meghan Trainor referring to slimmer girls and women as “bitches.”

Promoting gender equality does not need to entail Natalie Bennett bringing every SINGLE political point back to the fact that she is a woman, and referring to all public service workers as “she” in a recent debate. (For future reference, that accepted form for gender neutrality would usually be “they”).

Promoting rights for LGBT+ people does not have to entail asking a straight person: “Yes but are you sure you’re straight?” and trying to get them to kiss someone of the same gender, just to make sure.

 

Equality and security in ourselves has to come from within before it can be promoted to the outside.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Discarded Candles: Is Ireland Ready for Marriage Equality?


On 22nd May 2015, the Irish public will vote in a Marriage Equality referendum. In Catholic Ireland, the subject of same-sex marriage is controversial…or is it?

 

I am itchy all through Mass. I watch the paschal candle being lit, light my own candle symbolising the light of Christ in each of our lives, sit in the balcony and sing with the choir. But all the time I know that directly below me sits a pile of leaflets advising members of the congregation to “think carefully” before voting for marriage equality. It states, not in so many words, that the answer should be “no”. These A4 pages, I must stress, were not actually handed out. They were simply left at the back of the church for people to pick up should they choose to do so.

One made it back to my house last week, where it was closely read, had its arguments carefully considered, and was then thrown unceremoniously into the fire. Throughout the Mass which celebrates the story of Christ sacrificing himself for all of us, I couldn’t stop thinking about these bits of paper and was half-decided on taking the pile when everyone had left, putting them under my jacket and taking them all home with me to be disposed of.

Two things stopped me. First of all, I do believe that everyone has the right to their opinion in a democratic community. Even though this is one—and perhaps the only—decision where I feel there is a very clear-cut right answer for everyone, people are still entitled to gather information from all sides in order to make an informed decision. This point made me hesitant, but I was still fairly decided on what I was going to do if I got the chance. I should point out here that it takes a lot to get me to “fuss” about anything, really.

The second thing that stopped me was that I realised there was absolutely no need to take the leaflets away. I came down to the back of the church when the Mass was over, and the leaflets were not visible. They were still all there on the little table, in just as big a pile as they’d been in before the Mass, covered in a pile of discarded Easter candles which had been carelessly thrown on top of them, dripping wax onto some of the pages.

The truth was, nobody wanted to know. There was no need for me to do anything because, as my mother later summed up, the argument dismantled itself. People who attend church, no matter how much they really enjoy it or how strong their faith is, are on some level Christian. No matter what form your beliefs take, the most fundamental point which Christians agree on is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” To love everyone equally and to treat others as you would want to be treated. This is what most things we speak about at Mass boil down to at the end of the day.

And in following that, not many people at Mass really wanted to hear that marriage was only for men and women. Nobody wanted to be told who was allowed to fall in love and bring up a family.

The Church is ever so slowly modernising and moving forward. But however subtly this is happening within the Vatican and the higher echelons (and I believe that, though subtly, it is happening), it is taking place among the lay community with much more efficiency and vigour. And after all, the lay community are what make up the Church. They vote with their feet in deciding whether to come to Mass, and with their wallets in deciding whether to make a donation. And in a few months’ time, Catholics everywhere will vote at ballot boxes on whether love should be universal. I’m proud to say that I haven’t met a single one who has said they were voting “no”.

In Dublin the other weekend, it was great to see members of the, shall we say, older community (over sixties) out on the streets campaigning for equality. I think this showed that if they can reconcile same-sex marriage with their traditional views, then it shouldn’t be a problem for the older or younger generations. Not in so many words, they were essentially saying, “If I’m not that backward, nobody else should be.”

The Church gets a lot of flack. And much of it over the years has been deserved. But I can see, from the inside, from the everyday church-goer, from the modern Irish Catholic community… things are changing, and people, as always, are fundamentally decent.  The power no longer lies, as it has done in the past, with bishops and higher authorities. It now lies with the lay majority who, it appears to me, are ready for equality and fairness.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Review: The Glam Guide by Fleur DeForce


 
 
 
I first discovered Fleur De Force (beauty blogger, Youtuber, dog owner and as of recently, author) circa 2012, when I was starting Fifth Year of secondary school and couldn’t wait to be out of there altogether and off to Uni. I trawled through Youtube videos in vain attempts to find out what University life was “really like” and how best I could prepare to get there (FYI: this is an impossible feat. Nothing can prepare you. More on that at a later date). One of the two most helpful and interesting videos I found was one Fleur had made with her friend entitled “Our Uni Experience”. I thought it was really down-to-earth and realistic: she assured viewers that University would not be the same for any two people, but that this was her personal perspective, and in fact she had decided to include her friend—who fortunately features in many other videos—because Fleur herself hadn’t had the best experience, and so she wanted to share a more positive story as well.

I lost touch with this for a year or so but had another look at the videos while I was beginning Sixth Year and going through—with alarming speed and efficiency, come on, hurry up with my reference, I want to get out of here—the process of UCAS. As the year became more and more stressful due to both academic and personal elements, of which I’ve learned I can only deal with one at a time, I kept coming back to Fleur’s videos. I’m not terribly interested in beauty or fashion, though of course it comes up in my daily life, but what I really began to enjoy were her Vlogs. I began to see the appeal of watching snapshots of another person’s life—much like reading a novel, “vlogs” can provide an escape from the mundane, the everyday and the stressful. It was quite fun to relax into watching her videos about decorating her house, preparing for her wedding, sometimes just having a regular day… and at just ten minutes or so each, I didn’t feel I was wasting valuable revision time.

While I watched a few videos from other content creators, Fleur’s were the only ones I really followed with interest and became addicted to. I’m not sure why exactly she appealed so much: perhaps her positive manner, how well-spoken she was, and yes, her rather idyllic home and family life. While we can all surmise her life must not be as perfect as all that, Fleur gives the viewer what they want: the positives. It’s the same when I write my blog posts: I don’t want to tell you all of my problems and you shouldn’t have to listen to them. I give you something that should cheer you up or make you laugh, rather than depress you.

That said, Fleur’s video “The Worst Day” where we watched her go through the loss of her dog, Woof, did make me burst into tears. That’s another beautiful thing about a vlog: we access a very personal part of someone’s life, and even the creators themselves won’t know what the vlog will be until it is finished. People like Fleur take a gamble whereby their videos could either be the most boring thing in the world, or the most personal, tear and joy filled, and dramatic.

Another thing that appeals about Fleur how perfect an example she is of the “Hermione Granger Effect”. It has become “cool” to be well-educated, intelligent and hardworking. Fleur’s University degree and enterprising spirit combined with a strong work ethic gave me both something to identify with and aspire to.

Which is why I bought her book.

I wasn’t really convinced by the ever-growing trend of Youtubers writing books, and I wouldn’t in a million years spend money on a book which boasted makeup tips and fashion advice. Not because I don’t like them—if someone handed me one I’d read it—but simply because I’d be more interested in books about British monarchs since 1066, and so forth. The reason I bought The Glam Guide was because I wanted to support Fleur and all the hard work she puts into such projects. At only £7 on Amazon, it was a bit of a bargain too!

When it arrived even my boyfriend, who I expected to scoff at it in favour of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany”, commented on how well-made it was. The cover was beautiful and the paperback included glossy pages each full of gorgeous illustrations and photographs. Content-wise, there was something for everyone in there, or at least every woman if not. The expected make-up, hair and travel tips took centre stage, and I was able to skim through them and pick out what was relevant. The chapters were a little short, but this did mean you could dip in and out of various sections whenever you liked. What I really enjoyed were the chapters at the end of the book about confidence and success—how to follow in Fleur’s footsteps and make your dreams come true. There were also smoothie and juice recipes and some advice on making relationships work in a healthy and caring way. Even if we may not always follow advice books such as these, the general public are suckers for them! What made The Glam Guide unique was that it did not give “Instructions” but accepted everyone as unique and suggested how this can be allowed to shine through.

Overall, I think that if someone else had written the book I might not have bought it, but I did enjoy it very much and it looks beautiful on my shelf. It’s a great one to flick through with friends and read in your coffee break. My enjoyment of this book also shows that in content creation such as blogging, YouTube and non-fiction writing, personality goes a long way!