In honour of National Poetry Day, I am going to sing the praises of Enheduanna, whose name is displayed below in cuneiform, the first known author and poet.

enheduanacunieform

A Brief Biography  of Enheduanna

Writing around 2500 BCE in the city of Ur (in what is now Iraq), she was the first fully attested holder of the En Priestess of Nana title which became a long lasting office traditionally held y the daughter of the King and which was one of the most influential religious offices. Despite being Akkadian she composed in Sumerian, the language of the religious and literary traditions of the Sumerian south, which was newly conquered by her father, King Sargon of Akkad. To further assert his dominance over the Sumerian south and to create a sense of unity between the two cultures Enheduanna was tasked with composing a series of  Hymns known as ‘The Sumerian Temple Hymns’ designed to be read in all the temples of Sumer and Akkad.     The office she held, En Priestess, may itself have been designed to suit this new idea of religious and cultural unity between Sumer and Akkad, taking elements from older traditions and creating a new office.  The office of En Priestess – The High Priestess of the moon God Nana at Ur – lasted for hundreds of years after Enheduanna and there is evidence later En Priestesses were aware of Enheduanna and held her up as a influential figure; indeed she may have been elevated to a semi divine status.

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It’s a disease that spreads throughout our language and culture, if you throw badly you throw ‘like a girl’, we tell men to pull themselves together to ‘be a man’ and to ‘stop being pathetic, stop acting like such a girl’. ‘Girly’ , ‘Womanly’;  these are used to imply things and people that are weak, insubstantial, fluffy, throw away and inconsequential.  It’s been said that the worst thing a man can be called is a woman, and the worst thing a woman can be called is a woman. I would argue that the worst thing a woman can be called is ‘un-feminine’. To decry a woman as ‘not feminine’ , an insult often applied to feminist or any women who dares speak up for herself or challenge the narrow confines of what a woman should be. This goes beyond a negative perception of femaleness to imply weakness and flaw, it seeks to deny us an identity, it not only seeks to belittle women but denies us any association with our womanhood. It goes so deep into misogyny and touches the very core of it; it is something that seeks to divorce us from what we are, the deny us to ability to be ourselves. Female. Feminine. Women. By calling us ‘un-feminine’ someone not only implies we are ‘wrong’ for breaking the mould of ‘acceptable’ womanhood but seeks to deny us any association with our gender and identity as women.
Women sometimes don’t want to identify as feminist because ‘I like to be feminine’. Female sports stars get ridiculed for their ‘un-feminine’ appearance. Their broad shoulders strong thighs; things which makes them so amazing at what they do, features earned as the result of head work and dedication, they get poured over and insulted. We have this paradoxical pressure upon us to be both feminine whilst the very idea of ‘feminine’ seeks to deny us the reality of being female.
This myth of the ‘feminine ideal’ that is wheeled out every so often in these sorts of arguments is all pervading and poisonous. It seems to be less about celebrating what is wonderful about femininity and womanhood and more about presenting some airbrushed vacuous ideal of ‘femininity’ that has nothing to do with reality. It’s an ideal imposed upon us from outside, it’s impractical and stifling. It implies a weakness and submissiveness, things which are implied as an ideal that should be looked up to and replicated.
It presents women as ‘Female Eunuchs'; cutting us off from our essence, from what we are and making us void shells. The idea of the ‘female eunuch’, sterilised and sanitised to the point of being ‘Stepford’ women is an image that is so strong and so resonant. It illustrates the idea that this ideal is depriving us of something vital and real; It’s trying to destroy us by divorcing us from our very essence, cutting off what makes us women.
This is what ‘feminine’ has come to mean; a paradoxical image of femininity that is nothing but smoke, mirrors and a hollow core.  The words we associate with ‘feminine’: weak, passive, dependent, fragile, superficial. What is implied by this is submissiveness, a ‘seen and not heard’ a sit down look pretty don’t bother your brain. It’s the passivity that’s implied that irks me; physical and mental. ‘Feminine’ women and girls don’t get sweaty playing sports, don’t dirty themselves playing in the mud, don’t tax their ‘delicate’ brains with ‘difficult’ books. They stay inside, they play home or make home. It’s a passivity that has constrained and sent so many women to madness and misery. A Barbie doll with plastic tits with no nipples and plastic pants with no cunt. That’s what we ‘should’ be if we’re ‘feminine’. A mannequin. A vacuous void, but one that looks pretty on someone’s arm like a status handbag made of living breathing flesh. It is sold to us as ‘feminine hygiene’ products which are designed more to mkae us ashamed of our bodies than for hygiene, most in fact the are downright unhygienic with their chemical scents triggering irritation and infection.

Maybe we should reclaim the word? ‘Feminine’ should not be about passivity and superficial vacuous ‘beauty’ feminine should be redolent of strength; the blood sweat and tears we emit our whole lives, the scars we gain from puberty, pregnancy and life in general. A sharp mind and a quick intellect. The strength we have in endurance, to endure hardships; the women throughout history who have had to endure endure endure, the women who still do, the women who are belittled for the colour of their skin, their social status and for the fact they are women. It is no coincidence that women of colour, women of lower social status, women who do not appear to fit the stereotypical appearance of ‘female’  and those who do not fit in the painfully narrow ‘norms’ of rich able bodied heterosexual whiteness are vilified and seen as ‘un-feminine’  a lot more.They keep going, they endure, the create wonderful things, they are so goddamn strong, a strength that is used against them when it should be celebrated. They are the ‘true feminine’. Strong. Enduring. Intelligent. Challenging. Headstrong. Bold. Courageous. Heroic. These words describe the women I know, these words describe what is really feminine, not some scented waxed and airbrushed simulacra woman.
Insulting women who do not fit this mould by decrying us a ‘not feminine’ is denying us our womanhood, our gender, our whole identity as women, as females as ‘feminine’. It is casting us out as aliens, as unnatural and as ‘wrong’. It seeks to undermine us and deny us the very thing we are.
I wish to reclaim the word and celebrate femininity for what it really is, not celebrate a white washed, bleached out restrained and damaging fantasy. I’m feminine and proud.

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This article at Ms Magazine “How a Nonexistent Study is Predicting the Future and Ignoring Women” got me thinking; I admit I am too fucked of brain (I dunno the cutesy ‘brain fog’ seems to be too generous in describing the intellectual impairments depression can foist upon you) right now to read it all thoroughly but here are my hazy thoughts.

Why is it when women consistently suffer higher rates of depression do we never, or very rarely, get an in depth analysis of why this may be beyond ‘ohh hormones eh?’ yet as the article points out, when male depression is an issue the societal causes are often looked at in some depth.

Now I make no claims to even attmept some sort of scientific analaysis and reserach here but my experiences as a depressed woman would suggest that;  of course women’s role in society plays a part. When your gender is constantly seen as second rate, when objectifaction and exploitation  of women is everywhere from posters for lap dancing clubs on the streets to music videos glorifiying disembodied female body parts gyrating for the pleasure of menfolk and magazines offering boob jobs for the ‘lucky’ girlfried of a reader alongside the casual misogyny masquerading as witty journalism. When we are told that our bodies are not good enough, that we must be thinner, younger, more tanned, paler, more pert. When the majority of women surveyed say they hate their bodies. When we are gaining equality in the workplace yet still lumbered with the vast majority of domestic chores and childcare, when our careers are sacrified if we should have children yet the father of the very same kid can climb up the ladder with ease. When you stand up against this and voice objections you are insulted with vitorol and angry spleen ‘you’re just a prude’ for wanting to be seen as a human being and not an object for the relief of male sexual tension, your anger is based on jealousy  as you’re not ‘pretty enough’, for daring to step outside the idealised role of sweet , quiet non complaining woman (or should that be ‘girl’?) . The supposedly discredited notion of the ‘hysterical’ woman making a fuss over nothing, the insinuation we are attention seeking, that pretty much everything can be blamed on ‘hormones’ (belive me there is a HUGE difference in PMS and feeling suicidal). All these things may seem trivial, but these issues are still there and the constant drip feed of these ideas that linger in the shadows of our culture is posionous.

So really is it any wonder women get depressed in greater numbers?

This quote from the article says it all:

“I cannot help noticing that what they truly seem to argue is that having certain female life experiences might make anyone more depressed”

Depression is a complicated illness and I belive it has some biological chemical cause but the world we live in does affect our mental state, and in this world it seems women are far from the equality we crave. The fact that it is pretty normalised for women to hate their bodies and constantly feel they are not good enough cannot possibly be benign.

 

Edit: I am pleased to see that Mind are aware of this issue, though my ranting is mainly aimed at less aware outlets such as the dreaded mainstream media (who are wonderful in dealing with mental health generally, ha!)

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