I’m not beautiful. I’m feisty.

This is a quote from my step-daughter.  To give you some context, we were having a discussion about someone being beautiful.

‘Like you.  You’re beautiful.’

‘No I’m not.  I’m feisty!

Hemerocallis 'Bonanza'
Hemerocallis ‘Bonanza’

I love this.  I love that she chose feistiness over beauty.  She is feisty.  And beautiful.  But she chose to identify as feisty.

When I was her age, I would have chosen beauty.  I have had to grow into feistiness.

I found feminism in my late teens.  I studied sociology at GCSE and A Level, then English Lit at Uni, where I took electives in feminist theory.

I think I was a fairly meek and mild feminist. I chose to celebrate femininity, rather than to question binary gender stereotypes. I was very non-threatening. I didn’t want to be mocked as a bra-burning* feminist.

My boyfriend at the time nicknamed me ‘Femidom’.  If we try to ignore the rustling sound, I quite like the association with ‘Freedom’.  But maybe there were undertones (overtones?) of domination?

I would like to point out that he was a perfectly lovely person.  Do you hear a note of apology for being a feminist?  Making sure you know I am not a man-hater?  I’ll hide my dungarees.

P6280095
Hemerocallis buds, biding their time, looking at things from different angles.

More recently, Stevie christened me ‘Feminatrix’.  His nickname for me is also tongue-in-cheek.  It works because it plays on the fear of the feminist takeover.

P6170104
Hemerocallis ‘Zagora’ wondering if she should tone it down.

I lost my way in my late twenties and thirties.  I was busy building my career, but wasn’t overtly thinking about feminism.  I got married.  I got pregnant.  I asked people not to buy pastel pink when I knew I was expecting a baby girl.  That was probably my most radical move.  That, and getting divorced.

P6270086
Hemerocallis, unspecified.

My eldest daughter reminded me of my latent feminism, when she was 11.

She is what is known as a ‘tomboy’, but should probably just be accepted as being another way of being a girl.  An active, tree-climbing, den-building girl.  She was begging me to buy her school trousers, rather than the stupid school skirt she was currently sitting in.  ‘You would if I was a boy.’ she said.

P6270072
Hemerocallis ‘Flore Plena’.  A lightbulb moment.

That shut me up.

If I am honest, I had been afraid of her standing out, and being different.  I didn’t want her to be teased.  She is one of two girls in her year who choose to wear trousers.  She has since told me that she chose her current school because there was a trousers option.  I chose the school because of its academic rigour, and because I could see my free-spirited daughter thriving there.  We were shown around by another kooky character, and there were several girls with short hair.  This girls’ school does a fantastic job of raising the profile of talented, driven, creative women.  In three years, my daughter has only studied one male artist.

P6160034
Hemerocallis fulva. The common or garden one.

‘You would if I was a boy’ woke me up from my feminism coma.

Not for the first time, my eldest daughter made me see things in a new way.  Why was I limiting her choices because of her gender?

So now she wears the trousers and has short hair.  She wants to go into aeronautical engineering or artificial intelligence.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.

P6280094
Hemerocallis ‘Crimson Pirate’, standing out.

Our younger daughters might not be so obviously blazing a trail, but are also clear-minded, opinionated, questioning young women.  I don’t think any of them will be afraid to identify as feminists.  They can deconstruct a perfume ad, and pull me up if I make an assumption based on gender stereotypes.

_6290127
Hemerocallis ‘Crimson Pirate’. Self-assured.

Do you remember the school bus?  Where the alpha males chose where to sit, and non-alphas and girls moved out of the way?  Where girls were verbally appraised and humiliated if their appearances were found wanting?  Where sexual innuendos flew freely, and girls couldn’t speak up if they’d had enough?

P6270067
Hemerocallis ‘Summer Wine’. A fine vintage.

That all still happens.  There is a long way to go.

Feistiness will be a heck of a lot more use than beauty.

I chose Hemerocallis (day lilies) for this post, because they are both feisty and beautiful, but the feistiness wins.

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Hemerocallis ‘Crimson Pirate’, full sail.

There are exuberant, exploding ones and quietly smouldering ones.  There are ones that sparkle, and ones that glow.

Hemerocallis are tough nuts.    They can survive flood or drought.  They can be out in the cold or frozen out.  They can be roasted and still come back.

Hemerocallis are polymaths.  They provide interest year-round with their fresh foliage.  Their colours come in a range of tones, some subtle, some out there. They are a sculptural presence. They are multi-dimensional.

_6290126
Hemerocallis ‘Flore Plena’.  Not holding back.

They make excellent partners.  They do well with roses, geraniums, penstemons, phlox.  The cooler blues of these plants are the perfect foil for the daylilies’ warmth.

Hemerocallis vary in height. Some like to be upfront in the border, some take the middle ground, some backstage. They can be single or double-flowered.  There are many ways to be a day lily.

All day lilies reinvent themselves. What worked yesterday may not work today, and certainly won’t do for tomorrow. They like to make a space for the next generation, and they appreciate you snapping off the spent flowers of an evening. Don’t look back. What’s done is done. Now is what matters.

Hemerocallis put on steady growth, reaching their potential in just a few years. They respect boundaries, not encroaching on others. They divide well if they need to move on. They can undergo this transformation in spring or autumn.  They will adapt to a new situation with ease.  I’ve never known one to succumb.

*The whole bra-burning thing is an urban myth, by the way.  Feminists never burnt their bras.  No woman would ever burn a good bra.  They are far too expensive and useful.

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Hemerocallis ‘Summer Wine. Slightly singed, but not burnt.

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors.

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder.

37 Comments Add yours

  1. Such stunning pictures and a beautiful post from you. I too think that it is quite a journey for me for preferring feisty over beauty. I am thrilled for the next generation for their clear choices. To me feminism is a stepping stone to finding our humanity and honor for each other in a way that is beyond gender.

    1. Ali says:

      That is beautifully put. ❤️

      1. I am glad you think so 🙂

  2. Big smile on my face! Perfectly perfect post in every way…. I wonder if you would consider allowing me to share it on my site?
    I have never felt that I was beautiful. I’ve always leaned on my strength and brains and at 58 I think that was a good thing.

    1. Ali says:

      I would be very happy for you to share it, Michelle. I am always delighted when posts resonate. Here’s to strength and brains.

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I definitely would have chosen beauty when I was younger. Much more feisty now and it’s been quite a journey! A terrific post Ali. How lucky your girls are to have such a Mindful Mum.

  4. Great post though I confess to being confused about feminism! I’ve always loved pink (as I love most colours) and long hair and whiskey and tree climbing (still, aged 44) and trousers and I was in the police

    1. Sent too soon by my annoying phone! And there you go, I’m a techno geek too. So am I girlie, or a feminist or just being me? Help! My daughter is the same, a dress-wearing tree climber and a trouser-wearing flexi-schooler.

      1. Ali says:

        And all these too! It is less about ‘should’ and more about ‘could’. And can, and does!

      2. Then I guess I’ve been a raging feminist since birth!!

    2. Ali says:

      There is no contradiction! Feminism allows us to do all!

  5. Your daughter is so right, there are so many interesting and worthwhile traits to be other than beautiful – like fiesty or kind or funny or intelligent to name just a few. I feel there’s so much pressure on young people but especially girls to look a certain way, (I suppose there always was but it seems to have intensified with the rise of social media), but it’s always heartening to know there are some young women out there thinking for themselves and defining themselves. Oddly enough, I was fiesty at school (I wore trousers! And climbed trees, dyed my hair or cut it short depending on my mood, among other things) and kind of lost it for a while in my twenties, but found it again in the last few years, I guess the urge to belong and the pressure to fit in affects us all at times but the older I get the less I care about what other people think. X

    1. Ali says:

      Absolutely. I am looking forward to a very eccentric old age!

      1. Yay to that! Aft 58,I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been! And, I’ve got a blog! Those are two things I never expected…not an athlete and afraid of technology. I’ve always been a feminist….loud and clear! Oh, and of course, I love pink! Cheers to your eccentric old age!

  6. rabirius says:

    I actually find these flowers beautiful.

  7. Feisty flowers and a step daughter with proud feminist views, what a fantastic combination and beautifully written about.

  8. pommepal says:

    A thought provoking post Ali. I would love your daughter and my 16 year old granddaughter to get together my GD is so feisty, she is staying with us for a few days and today she came home just bubbling over she had been playing soccer with a team of older boys, being the only girl on the team and she loved it. Times have certainly changed. I heard some boys are quite intimidated by the “girls can do anything” campaign and single sex schools are on the rise

    1. Ali says:

      I would hope work can be done to help boys adapt! I reported concerns re: bus behaviour to the boys’ school and their response was great – that they are planning sessions with the boys on how to talk to girls and treat women with respect. I think it has to come from home and everywhere, including other people on the bus, actually. I like the strategy of expressing surprise if someone behaves disrespectfully.

      1. pommepal says:

        So much change in the past 50 years, but will always be a need for more

  9. Gorgeousness all around. Great post and Happy Sunday

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you. Xxx

  10. A powerful post. At 33, I’m still struggling coming to agreement with my own brand of feminism. But I know this is an important struggle, as I’m raising two girls….

    1. Ali says:

      I think you are at a crucial age, because that’s when you can lose sight of your own needs. I remember feeling with young children as though I was just keeping my head above water. Your own brand of feminism should be about being you, making time to do what you love, sharing it, and not being self-critical when you make mistakes, because we’re all doing our best. From what I read, you are a pretty good role model!

      1. thank you! I can say the same about you 🙂

  11. bcparkison says:

    Nothing wrong with being a tomboy.My late husband would tell you they are very feminin because they can be as comfortable in a dress as in jeans. And as good in the kitchen as in the fields.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes. I think I feel this when Stevie and I are out there digging. He respects me for being able to physically work hard.

  12. Fantastic! Beautiful pictures and I love the last one .. the colours just zing! I like feisty. No, I love feisty. Feisty is good. Insipid is not. Great post! Katie x

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Katie.

  13. Penny Post says:

    Love your feisty plants. My daughter often reminds me that I brought her up to be a strong independent woman especially if I raise the topic of her having a male companion to maybe enable her to move out.

    1. Ali says:

      Nothing like a daughter to put you in your place!

  14. Jane Lurie says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on feminism, gender and your early influences. You are a great role model for your daughters, Ali. Love your flower images as always. My career was in education and we were very careful to allow kids to have interests in all activities and worked hard to help teachers be aware of unconscious gender stereotyping. It’s so ingrained people don’t realize they are doing it. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s great that you were aware of that in your teaching career. As you say, much of this is unconscious, so just bringing it to the surface helps.

      1. Jane Lurie says:

        So true. In any behavioral change, self-awareness and practice are key.

  15. Eliza Waters says:

    Feisty is good! I like that!

  16. susurrus says:

    Two posts in one here – or perhaps three if you count the pictures. I enjoyed them all in their different ways. I sometimes wonder if the word for feminist had been womankind whether it would have been as easy to put negative connotations on it – the word itself would fight back.

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