Monday, 10 November 2014

It's Fun To Be Free...

This year has seen the launch of #likeagirl, #HeForShe, #FreedomTo, and #TweetYourFeet, all working- alongside many others- to make equality the norm in the UK and across the world.

For those of you that have not followed these, #TweetYourFeet was Essex Police's campaign to encourage the county and beyond to Stand Together Against Domestic Violence. To remind us that men and women should be equal in relationships. There should be mutual respect, love and power in a relationship, and that's all there should be. 

#FreedomTo was this year's Pride campaign. People from all over the country and the world thought about, discussed, and tweeted what they wanted the #FreedomTo do without judgement from others, or fear of what could happen if they were just themselves. 

#likeagirl was a (brilliant, in my opinion), campaign started by Always in an attempt to show the world that no matter what steps we think we have taken against sexism, we have got so much further to go. They asked a number of teenagers and adults (male and female) to do a variety of actions like a girl. They were asked to act out throwing a ball, running and fighting like a girl. 

What would you do? 

Chances are, you would do exactly what the participants in the experiment did. You'd mime worrying about your hair, you'd make your feet fan pathetically out behind you and your hands dangle in front of you as you ran. You'd mime slapping your hands about and holding your head back in a fight, making stupid noises, and you'd pretend to try and throw the ball and drop it right in front of your feet. 

They asked girls under the age of ten to do the same thing. 

They did their best. Showed how they would run, throw, and fight. 

They asked the adults again. 

Women: Is that how you run, fight, throw? No? But you're a girl. 

Men: Do you think you might have just offended your sister?

But my sister doesn't run/throw/fight like that. Girls do. But not my sister. 

(I can hear my little brothers saying mine does right now. Cheeky monkeys. Maybe that's why I'm writing this.) 

#HeForShe was the campaign started by Emma Watson in her UN Speech. She pointed out that the word feminism has negative connotations. (I totally agree with that, and have not used it in this post yet for fear of putting you off. In my experience feminism is given a bad name by the man-hating few that unfortunately have the loudest voices. The extremists always do, why is that?) 

#HeForShe was started in an attempt to get men and women on board with making men and women equal. Not moving women up to men's level. Not getting evil men to submit to us women, but making the world equal for everyone, no matter what. 

We have quite different opinions on  equality in my house, which has got me thinking a lot lately about what it means to me. 

As most of you will know (because I never stop talking about it), I have been lucky enough to work, live, and talk with people from all over the world, and the result is that I find myself endlessly grateful for the fact that my background, race, sexuality and culture mean that equality is very rarely an issue for me. But I have seen how much of an issue it is for others and continue to see it every day. It is an issue and I am proud of the fact that Britain seems to have acknowledged and taken steps to change that in 2014. 

The one that does affect me, of course, is sexism. 

Not particularly in a deep, woe-is-me, men-are-trouble, let's-burn-our-bras, we-must-define-gender kind of way. I don't get paid less than my male peers, I'm not less likely to get a promotion in my line of work, my opinions aren't dismissed because I'm a woman, but in a general, every day sense, I guess I am affected by it. 

At the risk of sounding like Samantha Brick (remember her? The journalist who wrote about how difficult it is to be so beautiful?), I cannot walk down a street in London alone without being accosted. Just to be clear, I am totally aware that it is not because I am so breathtakingly beautiful that men immediately forget what they were doing and feel the need to sweep me off my feet, it's because all the weirdos of the world collect in London, and if they see a girl on their own without headphones in, they are going to take their chances. 

I actually don't mind this, I like talking to new people and I've met some fairly awesome strangers this way that I still talk to now. 

What I do mind is when the first question is do you have a boyfriend?, the second question is can I take you on a date then? And then when told no they don't understand why. 

"But you don't have a boyfriend. There's no excuse." I need an excuse to say no to a date with a perfect stranger? One guy continued to chase me down the street when I said no, insisting (very loudly) that we just go for a coffee, that I was boring, a spoil sport, I needed to be more adventurous in my life, that by saying no I was proving that I wanted every day in my life to be the same, that I need more spontaneity. 

Believe it or not that didn't make me want to go on a date more. 

Anyway, the point I'm making is not that all men are weird and stupid and unfair like the ones that stop endless girls in the street, but that I honestly don't believe that this happens to men walking alone in Leicester Square (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, I am genuinely interested.) 

So why is it that men feel that they have the right to do that, and not women? (Again, I am aware that I am hugely generalising. No offence meant.) 

I have actually had a similar experience with men I already know, as well. 

I've been told that by being friends with a lad who knows I haven't got a boyfriend I am leading him on- even if I've told him that nothing will ever happen. 

But he knows you haven't got a boyfriend Rebecca. Even if you've said you're not interested, it's not fair to keep texting back when he knows you're single. 

Am I supposed to have no friends when I'm single?

 Does the same apply to men without girlfriends? 

I was recently told by the man next to me on the train that I was "clearly dressing for male attention." 

I was wearing leggings, a baggy t-shirt with a long sleeved t-shirt underneath, a scarf, boots, and a winter coat. The only skin he could see was on my hands and face, and my body shape was totally hidden by the size of the t-shirt. 

When I pointed this out, he said "exactly. You've totally hidden everything. Left it all to the imagination. Totally on purpose for men. You're clearly a tease." 

It's not the first time I've been accused of bringing it upon myself. 

By admitting I'm single, by the way that I dress (quite sensibly, by the way), by the fact that I don't wear headphones, the fact that I suffer from Resting Pleasant Face. It's all my fault. I lead men on by simply being myself. 

I found a new campaign yesterday in which women send pictures of themselves in what they were wearing when they experienced a similar encounter to the ones I've described. This is an attempt to prove that women do not bring it on themselves, and it's working. 

Lily Allen has talked this week about the fact that when she was pictured coming out of a Halloween party with Chris Martin, the world went crazy accusing her of abandoning her two children for a night out. 

Nowhere did any journalist feel the need to point out that Chris Martin also has two children that weren't with him. 

There is, however, a flip side. 

There's an episode of Friends in which Ross and Rachel hire- to Ross's great dismay- a male Nanny. When the men are horrified by this they say "but that's like a woman wanting to be a...", and they can't think of the end of the sentence, and are too scared to suggest anything and have to deal with the consequences from the women. 

Why is it that we can say that it's weird for a man to be a Nanny but God forbid anyone ever said anything similar about a woman? 

Similarly I recently read an article that explained that in relationships men are generally expected to be taller, more athletic and earn more than women. I know that this doesn't apply to every relationship in reality but it generally is expected. There's a storyline in Sex and the City in which the characters end up breaking up because Steve just cannot deal with earning less money than Miranda. That's a storyline that I genuinely believe applies to real couples all over the world. 

I've also noticed since I've been dating again that there is a general expectation from men and women that either the man will pay or the bill will be split. I have never (thank goodness) been on a date in which the man expected me to pay for the whole thing, but I have been on dates where they expect to pay for the whole thing, and definitely have friends who expect men to pay.

We had a big discussion about this when I was working as a waitress, because everyone was concerned that if you give the bill to the man, you may be implying that the woman cannot pay, and offend her. 

My thinking was- what about the poor guy?! Why is he expected to pay? Forget offending the woman by implying the man might be treating her, worry about offending the man by implying he should cover the whole thing. 

I've also noticed- primarily on television but absolutely in real life as well, that it seems far more acceptable for women to discuss famous men that they fancy than it is for men to discuss their fantasies. Obviously it does happen- especially when men are in a group together- but I've noticed that women will happily talk about how hot Bradley Cooper is and make silly remarks about what they'd like to do if they met him, and everyone laughs and agrees and it's all wonderful. 

Have you ever seen a man do that in front of a woman? Most of the time they get an eye roll and told "you wish" or even that they're coming across as leering and disgusting. 

That can actually apply to all emotions, I find. 

It's totally acceptable for women to cry over tv adverts and episodes of Downton Abbey, but it's generally not as openly okay for a man to cry. 

I can't imagine not being able to cry, or openly discuss my feelings about everything from my new job to the lyrics of Jessie Ware's new song with my friends, but we happily look down on men for doing it. 

I went on a date once in which the guy I was with teared up relaying the events of an episode of The Middle to me. Guess what? I do stuff like that all the time, and it only assured me that we were going to get along just great. But he would probably kill me if I told anyone that he did that. (This doesn't count, nobody will ever know who I'm referring to.) 

As I'm fairly sure I've made clear, I am absolutely for equality. I'm up for men being able to cry and for women to be able to walk down the street single, proud, alone, and safe. 

But I also think that we just are different. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, right? Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but generally there are some traits that will always belong to men, and some that will always belong to women, and no amount of clever hash tag campaigns will ever change that.....

1. Friendship. 

Pumbaa was on a train next to a group of middle aged men last month when she heard the following conversation: 

"Chris can't come to football anymore, the doctor told him his arthritis is too bad in his hip, he's quite upset actually...."

*The whole group burst out laughing.*

"That's hilarious, oh mate I've got to text him telling him to get his goalie gloves out."

If that was women that conversation would have gone very differently. 

2. Interaction. 

I have always been fascinated by men and their behaviour towards each other. When I was at uni I used to occasionally go to my friend's house full of boys and just hang out with them while they got ready for a night out. One of them once frowned at me and said "why on earth would you want to just come and be here with us? You must be so bored." 

It might be the most fun thing I've ever done, I think about it quite a lot actually. Boys are hilarious when they're together. 

A few weeks ago I was working in the Grand Circle at The Lyceum when one of the boys was looking out of the window (the Lyceum is directly opposite a hotel and from the Grand Circle you can see into bedrooms. You can imagine what he was looking for.) One of the boys noticed some kind of stick on the side. I have no idea what it was for, opening high windows, maybe? He reached across from the bar and started lightly tapping it on the top of the first lad's head, not heavy enough that he was aware it was there but so that he felt a tickle and kept scratching his head. 

How do boys even think to do stuff like that to each other? 

3. Domestic Bliss. 

I discussed this at length with Minnie Mouse a few weeks ago, and what we agreed was potentially controversial so I won't go into it too much. But the fact is that- as much as I am for equality among all people: regardless of race, culture, nationality, gender, sexuality or background- nobody will ever be able to change the fact that it is women that give birth. 

Yes, women can be the sole breadwinner, they can be wonderful mums and have successful careers, some women don't want to have children and shouldn't be judged for that....but the fact that only women can have children means that men and women will never be exactly the same. Sometimes equal and exactly the same can be confused. But because it is women that give birth it will always be more likely in a lot of households that women will be the ones running the day to day life of the house. Obviously not every house is the same, and plenty of men cook and clean and look after their children, but generally it is more likely to be women that take charge of those things. 

Not with Pumbaa and Baloo. 

I was there the other day when Baloo was asked which washing powder they used. Someone interrupted, asking, "wouldn't you be better asking Pumbaa that?" 

The answer is absolutely not. Baloo is most definitely the domestic head of that household. 

When I discussed it with Pumbaa later, she said people ask her things like that now because she's just a boring wife. 

I pointed out that she clearly isn't, because she didn't know the answer. 

"Does that mean I have a boring husband?" 

No. It makes him a sexy, domesticated hero right? Mums at the school will be saying "She is so lucky. Her husband does the washing AND cooking during the week," and they'll all sigh and make some derogatory joke about their own husbands. 

Imagine that conversation happening among men? 

Me neither. 

4. Honesty. 

One of the lads who works at The Lion King told me that I've recently developed swagger. Yep, I had Cher Lloyd in my head for the rest of the day as well, sorry about that. We ended up discussing my confidence in detail and decided that I perhaps did need to keep an eye on my ego. I hadn't noticed it inflating but apparently it had. I told him something would definitely happen for it to deflate. I'd trip and fall in public, for example. That happens often enough. 

I thought a lot about my confidence that day, and considered ways of keeping it in check. 

Then I got home. 

Mowgli immediately hit the mole on my arm and shouted "got it!" with glee, as he does every time it is visible. Chip then made some comment about me needing to check a mirror, and a (male) friend called me and proceeded to make (predictable, honestly) driving test jokes (I took a lot, okay?!) 

As long as I have brothers and boy mates, I think my ego will be just fine....

5. Jokes. 

Similarly to the story above, Flounder recently told me a story about her best friend's brothers that has stayed with me because it perfectly demonstrates the difference between boys and girls. 

Her best friend was dating someone that her family suspected to be gay. A few people had mentioned it to her, as nicely as they could. 

One day she was saying something about her boyfriend and commented "that's what happens when you date an older guy I guess..." 

Her brother responded: "No, that's what happens when you date a guy who wants to be dating other guys." 


That's exactly the kind of thing my brother would say. 

A girl never would. 

6. Arguing. 

This is where I believe boys absolutely have it right. Whereas girls tend to tiptoe around being annoyed at someone, bitching behind their backs and then become quite defensive if they're accused of anything, boys' arguments tend to go like this: 

Man 1: That really annoyed me when you did that the other day. You're an idiot sometimes. 

Man 2: I know mate. Sorry about that. Beer? 

It's one of my favourite things to watch. 

Since Pumbaa sent me the text about the group of men talking about Chris, his arthritis and his goalie gloves about a month ago, I've done a lot of thinking about this and noticed a lot of differences and similarities, in adults and children. 

Whilst I totally believe that we should all have equal rights and be treated with equal respect, and am super excited about the developments that #likeagirl and #HeForShe are certain to bring about, I also believe that girls should be allowed to be girls and boys should be allowed to be boys, without any pressure to make us all the same. 

Exactly the same and equal are two different things, and I think it's important to remember that. 

Boys and girls are different, everyone is different, and we should be embracing that, learning from one another and appreciating one another for what we are. 

Minnie Mouse found out this month that she is having a bouncing baby boy. 

I want him to come into a world in which he can be himself. He can have the same rights as everybody else, he can tell his mates they're idiots, drink beer, and find himself hilarious. But he can also tear up at the BT advert, take charge of the household chores, and expect to only pay half of the Nando's bill. 

So let's continue to work for equality, and continue to remember that everyone's different. 

Let's Stand Together Against Domestic Violence; run, fight and throw like the real, strong women that we are, stand up for men and women alike, give everyone equal rights, no matter what their background, and make sure everyone has the Freedom To be themselves.

It's Fun To Be Free, and I want this gorgeous little man that's going to change my best friend's life to know exactly what that means...


  1. I personally love it when I see the look of panic on a waiter's face when they realise that there are two men on a date...WHO TO GIVE THE BILL TO?
    Simba x

  2. HA I hadn't even thought of that!! That's brilliant :) xxxxx