24 July 2011

Guest Post: Girl Talk

I’m having a feminist moment… Before you balk scornfully at the ignorant modern connotations this once liberating, powerful word embodies in 21st century vernacular, take comfort that I’m not heeding sensationalised tabloid stereotypes of ‘feminists’ as angry, baron, man hating, bra burning nutters, too unattractive to find a man and so they bash them. My sole intention is to recognise the innate comfort and pleasure I derive from the company of exceptional women. We all know those special women… Our ‘sistren’, ‘girls’, ‘best friends’, ‘homies’, ‘mothers’, ‘book club’ – however you describe them, they are a constant in our lives that keep us sane. Their value unquestionable, their voice imbued in our consciousness, their laugh infections (despite their poor jokes that last 20mins and loose the punch line), their company treasured and their judgment proportionate. It is these women I celebrate.

One autumnal London day, awaking in a daze, the erosive routine of life grinds down on my forbearing soul. Mechanically I bathe, dress, pack my bag and find myself on the back of a bus, my absent mind wandering. A focus descends as I fixate on the faces surrounding me - Wise women whose stories rich with content are drawn on the lines of their weathered faces stare back at me. There is a bizarre comfort that transcends their unearthly stillness, a quiet confidence as I look at them in turn. Nobility radiates from the old black woman with locks reaching the crest of her back. Her head is wrapped in a scarf; crimson colour, similar to the skirt of the decadently dressed fashionista, with a bald head, to my right. She is in her early twenties, exploring her sexuality, experimenting with daring looks, evolving her sense of worth.  I envy her this time, remembering my insular approach to this period of my development. Wishing her well as she grows into womanhood (where she learns the value of saying no and listening to herself) I can see she is not the type to turn heads or illicit grunts of approval from the boys we pass, but there is mysticism about her, an intriguing manner to beguile any man with the sense and courage to seek her out. I pray that he is out there.

Sorry if I’m getting a little Nina Simone or Maya Angelou on you, but this very morning I began to contemplate life in a way I hadn’t before. I’m approaching thirty; a milestone by any measure, the result being a harsh critique of my achievements and my flaws.

There has been a flurry of activity among my girlfriends over the last 12 months (as we draw our twenties to a close), a panic stricken search for…. let’s call it (hmmm eyes look up and right, pen waggles, shoulder twitches, crossed leg flaps in irritation and yet no word comes to mind) ‘greater pursuits’ – not quite what I’m looking for, but you get the picture. Several have absconded as fast as their Prada heels can take them to Dubai, Qatar, New York, Norway, Jamaica; anywhere they can get a work permit. At first I assumed the tax free incentives drew my friends abroad, but as I looked at the women on the bus, all immigrants, or their descendants (a true melting pot on the 136 bus) I observed the monumental experience, development and growth a move of such scale bore. My friends’ new experiences won’t be restricted to a new car or job (although a pay increase and recognition of their toil isn’t to be looked upon lightly), but a new life, a chance to reinvent themselves and to evolve in a new socio economic context.

Amid those of us that stayed a new openness has evolved, a frankness about life, money, love, family and ambition that we previously felt taboo. I guess with age comes a refreshing sense of honesty that youthful competitiveness previously curtailed. I tell my sister my salary, not to compete, but to gauge my value in the workplace. It’s so important that women talk earnestly (like men do) about these things as silence only stunts our development. When I was applying for jobs and I’d tell my girl the starting pay, it was she who said, ‘no – you are worth more’. When friends have been looking to change careers, I don’t hesitate to send them my CV or put them in touch with someone in the industry they are exploring. We discuss family, the ups and downs of marriage – not just the glossy tosh expedited in magazines, but the arguments, the imposition of in-laws, the birth of children and their effect on the dynamic of a relationship, the frustrations of monogamy – the good the bad and the ugly. When I wrote my first blog and subsequently published in New African Woman Magazine a friend said, ‘at last! Why has it taken you so long to realise your talent? We’ve been waiting and listening and reading for years waiting for you to have faith in yourself. At bloody last!’ In her uncompromising belief, I drew strength.

Of course, like everything in life, our relationships have changed over the years – some dramatically. Gone are the days of clubbing every night (now I save my fine frocks for weddings, christenings, birthdays); living in and out of each others flats like we did at uni (not unless I want to be interrupted by screaming babies); shopping on the Kings Road (I’ve destroyed the credit cards I could not afford, that funded my extravagant shopping trips; now it’s markets and H&M). These days we see each other less, but the time we spend is quality. The breadth of our conversations has grown as there are so many experiences to reflect on (life abroad, marriage, careers/ start up businesses) issues to dwell (racist bosses, insufficient maternity cover, adultery) and more laughs to be had (life itself).

Dedicated to the women supporting their sisters to become better versions of themselves. I salute you!

Calamity Jane


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