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!‘
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.