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I’m Left Handed. 11, July 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Thoughts.
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We signed a lease on a new flat today and it was my job to hand over the deposit as I’m the one with the cheque book. As I was writing out the cheque I encountered one of many items on the list of irritations faced by a left handed person. Cheque books weren’t designed with me in mind. It wasn’t so bad writing out the portion for our new landlord but writing on the tab for my personal records? Nightmare. I end up wasting half a line because the spine of the book won’t allow me to get my hand in any further. I sometimes encounter the same problem with notebooks. Even the notebooks with the spiral spine have a tiny gap between the edge of the page and where my sentences begin – and not just for the start of a new paragraph.

It got me thinking. I’ve spent my whole life adapting to a world that sometimes acts like I don’t exist. Of course I exist and of course the world knows about left handed people but my hand-orientation is sometimes an after thought. Those exam desks at university with the table that was attached so you lifted it up to get into the seat? I hated those things. What is a comfortable position for a right handed person is horrible when you’re left handed. It means I was leaning across the desk with my body so I could actually take notes. I couldn’t sit right back in the chair and get comfortable. Occasionally my lecture theatres would have a token desk orientated the other way or the pure magic that was a desk with an arm that could be moved to your hand-orientation of choice but guess what? Often a right handed person sat in them! I don’t know if they even realised most of the time.

I don’t get very many opportunities to be an Other. I’m heterosexual, white, middle class and educated. Cry more, right? I definitely wouldn’t say the sort of discrimination I encounter as a left handed person is anywhere near the same level as that encountered by a person of colour or someone who identifies as gay. I suppose being a woman my sexuality and interests get Other-ed sometimes but there’s no denying I’m in a privileged position. At least there are left handed tools. It’s a pain because they’re not always available in the shops so you have to order but my left handed status will never get me thrown out of anywhere or yelled at in the street. If it ever does, I’ve yet to experience that.

However, I do still get annoyed sometimes. I lost count at a fairly early age of the amount of times someone suddenly said to me “are you left handed?!” or variations of when I was writing or generally doing something with my left hand. No, I’m just pretending…

This might seem like a trivial gripe but I have honestly never felt the need to exclaim “I didn’t know you were right handed!” to anyone. It just doesn’t matter to me. So it adds to my feeling that right hand is assumed default to the point where it is deemed amazingly noteworthy when someone is left handed, even though anyone over the age of about five knows that there’s such a thing as being left handed.

That’s genuine curiosity though, which is fine in small doses. There’s some horrible stuff too. Seeing as I at least pretend to be a medievalist I always forget that fear of something different, no matter how daft, didn’t get left behind along with a belief that evil spirits could influence people. My grandma apparently noticed me picking up objects with my left hand as a baby and desperately tried to correct me by placing the object in my right hand. My mum says that it caused a few arguments. As far as my mum was concerned, it didn’t matter. Her mum had other ideas. Not really surprising considering my grandma was from an era where it was still common to tie a left handed child’s hand behind their back at school.

I was too young to remember my grandma’s treatment but I can remember the dinner ladies at my primary school. Correcting a left handed child is hurtful. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I am a left handed person who eats with my knife in my left hand, fork in right. A couple of dinner ladies would always switch them around as I ate and chastise me for it. Obviously they failed to correct me permanently as I still eat that way around. Still, they made me feel like a freak by making a point, in front of other kids, that I wasn’t eating properly. This was the early 90s, I don’t think there was any place for that sort of thinking even then. I’d wait for the dinner lady to walk off out of sight and switch back. It’s probably my earliest example of personal defiance.

I try to explain to strongly right handed people how this feels by telling them to imagine a world where left handed people are 90% of the population and they’re still right handed. Imagine everything being set up for the other hand-orientation to the point where using as conventional tin opener is an epic struggle, often ending with the tin still unopened but with several dents in it. Imagine trying to write on a notepad but having to angle your hand and the page a specific way so you don’t smudge. Imagine your primary school teacher coming along and telling you off for not having the page “straight” on the desk. Yes, that one happened to me too. Imagine being told off by another teacher for your “sloppy” cutting out but the reason it’s sloppy is because the scissors were made for the other hand-orientation. Now I’m older I’ve become a pro at using right handed scissors in my left hand or I’ll give in and use them in my right but the cutting isn’t quite as neat. As a child I couldn’t understand why something as simple as scissors wouldn’t work for me but I tried anyway. So I ended up with jagged edges when I cut things out. This teacher was right handed and chose instead to see my work as sloppy rather than me being at a disadvantage.

There are some people who say “well, most people are right handed, so deal with it” but if you think about it, that’s almost slippery slope thinking. You know who else uses that kind of logic? Homophobes. I have heard such people say “most people are straight, I shouldn’t have to look at that” when two men are obviously in love and holding hands in public. Again, the comparison is trite because nobody will prevent me from getting married to the one I love for being left handed (for example) – but the same basic logic is there. Everyone else is X so Y should just stop complaining.

I don’t know where I was going with this exactly. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot because it affects me. Sounds quite self centred but most of us are to some degree. I think if there’s one request I could give to he world it wouldn’t be for more left handed scissors or can openers. It would be this: please stop saying “wow, you’re left handed!” as though it is something that has just snuck up on me and you’re the one to point it out – I’m 26 years old. Believe me, I’ve noticed.

To have or not to have. 8, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Thoughts.
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I wish I didn’t feel like I will be defined by whether or not I have children.

What has brought this on? I’ve noticed a trend when reading news or gossip pieces about a person of note who happens to be a woman. No matter what their achievements, many articles are at great pains to mention the number of children born to that woman. I often feel a woman could cure all disease, end poverty and stop all wars and she’d still simply be “the mum of three” I don’t think I’d even know her name until a good sentence or two in, something like“A woman has cured all the ills in society. The mum of three credits hard work and determination as the reason for her success. Jane Smith, 32…” etc.

Now don’t take this to mean I think no woman should pick her family as her main purpose. I know some women feel born to be mothers and see their kids as their best achievement. I’m happy for you to feel that way – it’s your choice after all. I just feel it’s a bit off when a woman achieves highly elsewhere that the number of times she happens to have given birth will be wedged in there. It’s often not relevant and it’s done in a way that I think is rarely done to men. I can’t remember the last time I saw a famous man who happened to be a dad referred to as “the dad of two”  in an article that wasn’t about his kids.

I feel I could be Jane Smith. I couldn’t be because I’m not a scientist so am in no position to cure disease but imagine I’m Jane Smith. At the moment I would be known as the woman who cured everything. I have no children you see. But I fear the moment I had one, I’d forever be “mum of one, Ms B” before anything else. I don’t really like that idea.

I have a confession to make that sometimes makes people look at me like I’m an alien species. I’ve never felt like I want children. Even when I was a child, other kids generally annoyed me. I can’t find babies cute, I just can’t. As a little girl I thought those toy dolls that defecate were revolting. Actually, I still do. Who wants to play with excrement even if it is pretend? Parents deal with dirty nappies because they have to but in my mind a toy that poos is one step too far up the realism ladder. I wanted my toys to be fun. I didn’t want them to shit on me.

I don’t hate children. Too many people go on the defensive and mistake “I don’t want kids” for “I want to eat your child for breakfast because his existence offends me” – I know the world needs the next generation and I know for most people the urge to reproduce is strong. Apparently I’m not most people.

I know I’m not the only one who gets a hard time over my child status. However, I don’t think some mothers realise how hurtful their language is – even when they mean well. I’ve been told I won’t ever know real love. Thank you for invalidating my feelings for my boyfriend. I’ve been told I won’t feel like a proper woman if I don’t give birth. I wonder if people would say this if I turned out to be infertile? Doubtful.

Then there’s the downright nasty. Calling me a genetic dead end and saying my life will have no meaning. Calling me unnatural and a selfish bitch. Humans do a lot of things now that aren’t natural and yes if I don’t reproduce then I am somewhat of a dead end. But there’s no need to say it with such smug superiority. Most of us, kids or not, will be a footnote in history at best. And that’s if we’re lucky. I doubt most of us will be remembered in a century apart from by future generations who will be researching their family tree. I don’t know why some people with kids feel like their immortality is assured whereas mine isn’t and that makes them better than me. It doesn’t. Genetically, ok you can have that one, your genes will live on for at least a generation. But I don’t need kids to do something memorable. I probably won’t, but you probably won’t either.

Again, I am not against the choice to have kids. In fact I get just as angry when I see women who decide to go back to work described as unfit selfish mothers. I am full of rage when a stay at home mum is referred to as obviously stupid and unambitious. Why can’t we respect all the choices women make?

But there’s the rub. It really is a case of women can’t do right for doing wrong. Someone, somewhere will criticise you for your choice and unfortunately it feel like women are our own worst enemies here. They’re usually the ones pouring scorn on another woman’s decision. However, I am enough of a pro at this Internet thing to have encountered male trolls with a particular ire reserved for western women who shun traditional gender roles. Even the ones that DO fit traditional gender roles are treated with suspicion at best and pure hatred at worst, you know…just in case she wants a divorce and gets the house and kids. Lucky for me I’m involved with a man who knows that the 1950s ideal didn’t exist for most people, especially in the working class. So he doesn’t care if I don’t fit the mould. He’s also not particularly bothered about children.

I think it’s very likely I won’t have children. As well as not particularly liking the idea I’m now 26. My fertile window is ever diminishing. Even if I wanted kids I am in no position at the moment to have them. I’m ok with my choice but yes, sometimes I have intrusive thoughts to the contrary. Am I going to regret not taking part in what “almost everyone does”? It’s how life goes isn’t it? You’re born, you grow, you have your own kids and you might live long enough to see them have kids.

My parents are in their 50s now and I’m becoming increasingly aware of their ageing. I have to face the reality that some day they will die. They’re almost certainly going to die before I do, unless disease or an accident intervenes. My parents say they’re not bothered about grandchildren but I still wonder – am I denying them? I only have one sister, no brothers. What if I could give my dad a grandson to make up for not having a son? He says he didn’t mind but there does seem to be a social expectation that all men want a son really, so I can’t help thinking this. At the same time I feel it would be quite callous of me to basically say “sucks you’re going to die one day. BUT behold! Your genetic legacy continues!” as I hand over what looks like a screaming prune swaddled in a blanket.

I think the above is me admitting something that the childfree feel they can’t say without conceding defeat. It isn’t a competition and it’s ok to have doubts. We do often think about our decision. We probably think about it a lot more on average than people who want or have children. Having children seems so automatic, most people do it. But deciding not to – it’s a big deal. You’re rejecting a social norm and as a result become the target of anything ranging from surprise to contempt. And yes you’re missing out on something. But missing out doesn’t mean lesser experience. I hope I can find meaning in other ways. I hope I can inspire the children of others. I work in a museum and seeing kids with a thirst for learning always makes my day.

When I state the above I often get asked “well why not have your own?” Occasionally I’m positively guilted into it with quite prejudiced language “it’d be a shame if a highly educated lady like you didn’t have kids. Too many morons breeding” – I don’t like that. For one thing it’s more mummy-judging (“ha! mothers are sooo stupid!”) and it also implies that I’ll have sole control over the adult personalities of my offspring. I don’t know if my imaginary kids would follow me to Cambridge for example. I haven’t exactly done anything spectacular with my degree from there. Also I could raise my kids as best as I can but they’ll still interact with others and form their own worldview. They might even go off the rails. Children aren’t clones.

I have the best level of respect for women, and men, who choose to be parents. I know most of you are just trying your best to raise the next generation. And you’re only human so it isn’t always easy and often doesn’t go to plan. I’m annoyed by ill-disciplined children but I don’t see a mother and automatically think “stupid breeding moo” as some of the more hostile childfree appear to do. Kids can be unruly, I get that. As long as you’re trying you’re alright in my book.

I’ve thought about this a lot because having children is a big decision. I’m not sure if I could do it. My only hope is that if in the unlikely event I become famous for something people don’t state “yes what she did was brilliant…but did she have any kids?”

The “friendzone” and why the whole concept annoys me. 7, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Personal memories, Thoughts.
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There’s a certain website that I browse more or less every day where a heavily used term is beginning to outstay its welcome. The concept of a “friendzone” has always existed, I can remember people complaining about it when I was a teenager. However, I feel that recently in cyberspace there’s this attitude that a man and a woman can’t interact on any level without someone insinuating there’s an ulterior motive. It’s also becoming increasingly likely that someone will make a joke about this so called friendzone.  Every time someone posts a nice item involving a man and a woman, probably doing something as pals, out come the guffaws about how badly one of them is obviously in the zone. As though just being friends isn’t enough.

For the uninitiated, friendzone is apparently what happens when you’ve got two people, usually of the opposite sex, and one of them harbours romantic feelings for the other. Those feelings are not returned. Unfortunately the friendzone seems highly gendered. It’s believed that it’s usually the man who has the feelings and the woman who rejects them. Often the woman is shocked because she didn’t see her male friend as anything else. It can be quite traumatic for both parties involved.

Nobody likes being rejected but equally no genuine friend wants to hurt someone’s feelings. Yet on this website I see it all the time that because the man was nice to the woman, she at the very least owes him sex. It really devalues the idea of friendship and also relationships. I like the physical side of my relationship very much but I have to say if that’s all I wanted, I just wouldn’t bother with the relationship. My boyfriend offers me so much more and I’m very glad to have him in my life. So it annoys me when I see people reducing all male and female interactions to just being about sex. Excluding situations where sex is all you’re after (nothing wrong with that) we’re worth so much more to one another, surely?

But there’s something that annoys me a little more. There’s this idea that the friendzone very rarely happens the other way around because men will accept sex from anything that offers and if you’re a woman who finds yourself friendzoned well, it’s your own fault. You’re obviously ugly. 2 out of 10. Would not bang.

Why does this get under my skin? Well you see, I’m a woman. And I was friendzoned.

It’s been about six years now and I think I’m more or less over the bitterness. Maybe it’s because I’m in a long term relationship with someone else now or maybe time is a healer. Still, when I see the friendzone conversation a little part of me reverts back to being the 20 year old who believed the only reason this happened to me is because I wasn’t attractive enough to fuck. Even I wrongly associated all male to female friendships as having a sexual element. Of course, I wasn’t long out of my teens and my hormones were still raging. I wanted sex…but I also wanted a relationship too. In my mind we were perfect for one another.

Unfortunately this guy had other ideas. He, I think, took on the role that is traditionally assigned to the woman. He thought we were just friends. I don’t know why but in my mind the fact that we hung out with each other more than anyone else, seemed so similar and were pretty much best friends for a few short months made me think that the only logical conclusion was a relationship. I tried to make the friendship work but after feeling rejected so many times (I couldn’t get over my feelings) I basically ended it. And yes, I was bitter. For years. Every attempt made to contact me over the next couple of years was cruelly rejected. Was it revenge? Probably. Do I regret it? Maybe a little bit. But emotionally I was no way stable enough to keep him in my life. As long as he was around I had hope. Having your hopes and dreams dashed is ok the first couple of times but after the fifth or sixth attempt to move things along I started feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall until nothing but a bloody pulp of skin and bone remained.

As for “men will always accept a free shag” – not this guy. I was very much offering it on a platter. Now here’s the part where people will go on about how sexually unappealing I obviously was/am – well why don’t you say this when the friendzone happens the other way around? I have rejected advances from men (what a bitch!) because I just wasn’t attracted to them and couldn’t imagine having sex with that person. But apparently because I’m a woman I’m not meant to have sexual desire and am meant to “give him a chance” and maybe his sparkling personality might make me ignore the fact that the thought of sex with him leaves me cold.

My boyfriend’s personality is what made me stay but when we first met there was something about his mannerisms and the way he looked that I found attractive. I met him around three and a half years ago and back then I thought I had a type. The type didn’t match my boyfriend’s description. But there was a spark between us and lucky for us it led to something more. I also realised having types is a bit silly.

If there’s no spark I can’t help that. Personally I have never been able to get over the “no spark” – I know some women (and even men) say they can and good luck to them. So when I allegedly friendzoned guys I wasn’t trying to be a bitch. I thought very highly of them. As friends. I just couldn’t see anything romantic happening between us.

That’s probably how the guy who friendzoned me felt. Yet even at the time my female friends of all people said variations of the phrase “you can’t make him attracted to you” – what happened to “oh give her a chance, you might grow to like her!” – does that only apply to men who are hopelessly in love with a friend? I know I couldn’t make someone attracted to me but the difference in language used did wonders for my confidence. Not.

Right from high school until my early 20s I believed I was only worth something if men found me attractive. I was bullied at school, mostly about my academic performance (I did very well – other kids didn’t like this) but occasionally there’d be an insult about my looks thrown in there. The guy who friendzoned me was really unlucky. He was the latest in a long line of men I had feelings for who had then seemingly rejected me. He wasn’t rejecting me as a friend but as far as I was concerned rejecting me as a lover was the worst thing he could’ve done.

Really I think people are doing men a disservice when they say that men will accept sex from anything. He could’ve used me, but he didn’t. Still, in my love sick mind that was very much craving physical contact as well I hated him. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t willing to give me a chance. I was using exactly the same kind of throught process behind women being pressured into giving men they don’t fancy “a chance.”

So I have great sympathy for people who feel like they’re in the friendzone. You start thinking things like “what more do I need to do for you to make you see?” and when they show interest in other people you graduate to “why? I spend more time with you than she does!” and “what’s she got that I don’t have? She looks like a rodent” – yes these are actual things I thought, and I’m not ashamed to admit that because we’ve ALL done it at some point. It’s not right but it seems it is perfectly normal to be angry and try to find something at which to channel that anger. There are other circumstances in my case where the anger was justified but for the sake of my point, I don’t need to get into those. My point is: you have to try and accept things the way they are and it IS difficult but eventually you’ll come to a point some years down the line and wonder what all the fuss was about.

And before anyone says of course I thought bitchy thoughts. I’m a woman. Well all those guys complaining that “she dates jerks and then comes crying to me” YOU are being bitchy. Very rarely is there a nice sentiment behind calling someone a jerk. I’ve also heard men call love rivals much worse things than that. In matters of the heart, we’re all capable of being nasty towards rivals – and again, it’s understandable because rejection HURTS.

I can understand both points of view, having lived both points of view. I don’t think being just friends is a bad thing, even though I was terrible at it. I admire people who can make friendships work in spite of an unrequited attraction. I just couldn’t get past my issues. I also feel that if all you wanted out of a friendship was sex then you probably don’t value that friendship as much as you think. If you wanted a relationship you probably value that friendship a little bit but it’s still not nice to pressurise someone into something they don’t want under the pretense of friendship. Trust me, I feel a little bit awful about how I must’ve acted when I did this myself.

I don’t think I’ll ever successfully campaign to rid our language of the word friendzone. I just wish people didn’t use it to mean “that bitch, I did all this lovely stuff for her and she won’t even give me a blowjob!” I see what roughly equates to that sentiment all the time and all I can think is: poor girl. She thinks she has a really good friend there.

Addicted to the World Wide Web. 8, August 2009

Posted by Iphigenia in Internet, Personal memories, Thoughts.
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Another of my favourite haunts on the World Wide Web appears to be down at this moment in time. Instead of logging off and getting an early night for a change it has sent me back here to the resting place of my many aborted attempts at serious blogging.

It has made me think about exactly how much of the last ten years or so of my life have been documented on the web. I’m old enough to remember a childhood where I didn’t waste hours in front of a screen but young enough to remember becoming so addicted to this new privilege in my household, the Internet, that I spent many school nights up until an ungodly hour. I’m amazed I managed to pass my GCSEs with more or less my predicted results. I spent so many school days in the years 2000-2002 feeling utterly exhausted because I had been chatting on a rugby website until 2am.

I’m not as dependent on the web anymore. There used to be a time that if I couldn’t get on the computer for whatever reason (another family member for example) I would start to get withdrawal symptoms. I’d start banging doors and huffing to let the person occupying the chair that they were using up MY time. Now I only feel a sense of urgency when I want to chat to my boyfriend on MSN. I can take it or leave if it I have to neglect all my other web duties for a few hours.

Now I’m older I do try to restrict how much information about me can be traced. Of course I know that the only way to be certain is to not use social networking sites at all. It’s too late for me however. I’ve become so used to using them that I use them out of habit. Perhaps I’m still addicted in some ways.

I do restrict my profiles and don’t publish personal information in public, the usual precautions. I know deep in my heart it will never be enough but I feel a bit safer.

It does worry me however that a simple google search will turn up remnants of years long gone. Somewhere in cyberspace the 16 year old me still exists. I don’t like that idea, not for reasons of security, but because it’s an embarrassing permanent record of my opinions and sometimes actions from that era. There’s websites I used and passwords I’ve forgotten and yet 16 year old me is still there. I can’t erase her.

I really have the urge to give talks to school children now. I want to tell them to forget messageboards and stop using social networking sites. I want to hug each of them and scream that if they forget to delete these things when they’re much younger, they’ll regret it when they’re a 23 year old graduate wishing she’d not been quite so addicted to the Internet…

Now I’m wondering if giving away my age and graduate status is too personal for a public blog. I guess I’m fine as I haven’t said much else. Besides, this is  supposed to be a bit more anonymous than my other blogging efforts on other websites.

It’s my way of making up for 16 year old me. It’s my fresh start.