A Woman Scorned

Last month, Beyoncé broke the internet after she released her visual album, Lemonade. It has been deemed the ‘most elaborate diss in hip-hop history‘, given that much of the content is given to Jay Z’s alleged cheating with ‘Becky with the good hair’.

I personally love a good ‘woman scorned’ outburst – I don’t subscribe to the dignified silence, I prefer a huge wodge of revenge served with a side salad of cold blood. Even better if you can deliver the requisite revenge like a deadly artistic assassin, making you look so glaringly bright that the guy in question can’t bear to set eyes on you again.

Well done, Bey.

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What always strikes me about these situations is that the women scorned are always burning so much brighter than these guys in the first instance. They’re often more talented (Bey), intelligent (Hillary) and better-looking (everyone) than the guys who’ve cheated on them. I’ve seen women I consider to be magnificent left for someone with nothing more than a homely smile, and I’ve wondered if that’s the motivation. They can’t handle the magnificence, let alone control it, so they find someone infinitely more ‘manageable’.

Time and time again I’ve seen women going through this, and there are always friends exclaiming, ‘But she’s not a patch on you!’ And now I know that this is the whole point of it. The cheating is a way of re-establishing a form of control, and they will always opt for a ‘not-a-patch’ option. It happened to me a few years ago and I understood straight away. Steps had been taken to try and control me and they hadn’t worked. Cue an easier target.

I remember that scene in Sex and the City where Samantha posts leaflets all over the city, telling everyone that her ‘Richard’ is, in fact, a dick. When I enacted a digital version of that, I felt the same bewitching sense of control and freedom, as the ‘leaflets’ were similarly carried away on the wind.

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I’m never going to be someone who sits back and silently suffers – I’m on Team Trierweiler. Valérie Trierweiler wrote a bestselling memoir of her betrayal by François Hollande (Thank You For This Moment), and it is described as:

300-odd pages of deliciously backhanded barbs, sentimental hand-wringing and vicious putdowns, seasoned with large dollops of self-justification.

The same article describes her as ‘magnificently unrepentant.‘ Amen to that, sister.

I don’t know why, but a strange silence descends when a woman pours out her scorn. Men call her a ‘vindictive harpy’, and in hushed tones, women tell her she should be more dignified. What if we don’t? What if we call them out on it like Bey? The world doesn’t end,  does it? It just realises we know what’s going on and we’re not prepared to live with it.

The greatest service to womanhood Bey has done thus far is to make ‘calling a guy out on his shit’ into an art form.

There has never been a greater woman scorned…

 

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You Go, Girls

I have bought the tiniest pair of patterned Ali Baba trousers from a stall in Dahab to take to a one-year-old girl’s birthday party today. I’ve been looking at them every time I visit, wishing I had someone to buy a pair for, and finally that moment has arrived.

I met the baby’s mother – a Norwegian woman who is married to an Egyptian – when I was walking into town to meet friends one evening and she asked me to walk with her. Another man had been hassling her (despite her being married with a baby) and she wanted me to talk to her as we walked past him. Turns out she was really nice and we met again for coffee a few days later.

We agreed that there is an unspoken alliance between women when it comes to hassle from men – I understood what she needed immediately and it was no problem. We’ve all been in that situation, in any country. This happened on the day that I’d had to deal with hassle from a British man here in Dahab so I was feeling ultra-protective of myself and women in general.

The day after this happened, a young Egyptian woman who works at my hotel asked me to go to the doctor with her. She’s twenty-three and she has come to Dahab on her own, which I gather is a very rare thing to do in Egypt. Women here are policed by family and strangers in a way that is horrifying to me. A few days earlier she’d been made to go to a police station where they called her parents to make sure they knew where she was. A friend of hers had overhead one of the police officers refer to her as a ‘whore’, simply because she was alone, and unveiled, it seems.

Anyway, she was afraid of going to a male doctor alone, so I was her chaperone. She only needed her ears syringing, but I was glad I could offer comfort, having had it done a few times myself. Earlier, my young friend had told me about her ambitions to be a journalist, but that her intelligence is seen as a threat. There is so much fire in her eyes – I told her to stay strong and to keep doing what’s she’s doing. I will do what I can to help.

On my last visit to Dahab I went on a ladies-only boat trip to Ras Abu Galum and had a wonderful time. The women were a mixed group – some Egyptian, some European, most married to Egyptian or Middle-Eastern guys. They told me about Dahab’s ‘woman problem’, which turned out to be feminism. Yes, it’s right here: women doing things that men don’t like. Having heard male friends comment that a woman shouldn’t be smoking shisha in her hijab because it’s ‘disrespectful’, I’ve seen it here for myself. I look at those women admiringly, and think, ‘you go, girl’.

On that boat trip, we were given lunch by a Bedouin woman and her daughter and I asked about the numbers of Bedouin girls running about in Dahab selling bracelets. Isn’t it dangerous? Apparently not. It’s only when they hit puberty that they are taken indoors and covered. I’ve been told that some mothers are hiding the onset of puberty in their daughters from the male members of their family to preserve their freedoms for a precious while longer. Again, ‘you go, girls’…

When I first came to Dahab I couldn’t see any local women in public and assumed they were all being kept indoors. I think it was just the time of day that I’d arrived in town, because now I see them everywhere, particularly at night, when families come out for tea and cake. There are lots of young girls doing the ‘hijab and skinny jeans’ thing I’ve seen in the Middle East, and then a few who are completely covered. The best thing I saw on my last trip was a large group of the former on quad bikes, heading towards the mountains one evening. You go, girls!

I think Europeans like myself come here with a lot of preconceptions about the lives of local women which can only be challenged or vindicated by meeting them and hearing what they have to say for themselves. I’m constantly told by local men that the women are ‘free’, and that may be true in comparison to their Saudi neighbours, but the level of policing of behaviour here tells me the real story. The women *can* do what they like to a certain extent, but they may be called names by anyone for doing it.

On my first visit to Dahab I was invited into the house of a Bedouin woman who’d just had a baby. I was told that hers was a love marriage – she in her twenties, he in his forties – but they had encountered problems conceiving. Then along came Aida, the miracle baby. I was led into the woman’s bedroom, where every single female member of the family was gathered. It was like an all-girl nativity scene, with Aida as the centre of attention. She had a shock of black hair and was sleeping, swaddled in cloth. I was offered Helba tea, made from fenugreek seeds, which is a popular Egyptian health drink. We sat round, me only able to communicate in appropriate cooing sounds, looking admiringly at the baby and the sublimely happy mother.

I was invited to the feast to celebrate the seventh day of the baby’s arrival, at which they would slaughter a goat. As the person I’d gone with was vegetarian we politely declined, but the hotel guys told me I was really missing out. When the Bedouin party, they really party. I wasn’t brave enough to go on my own, and I didn’t know anyone else in Dahab back then.

So today I will go to the birthday party – one that doesn’t involve goat sacrifice – and celebrate all the women I’ve met in Dahab and how many I now count as my friends.

You go, girls.

Poor You!

I’ve just come back from a trip to Dahab in Egypt (an hour north of Sharm El Sheikh in South Sinai) and one of the fun parts of the holiday was teaching my friend silly English words and phrases in exchange for Arabic ones.

I told him a story about a person I know who loves it when things go wrong in my life, so I’ve stopped saying anything negative about what’s happening to me on social media. If I post something really positive, with only an iota of negativity, she will pick up on the latter and exclaim, ‘poor you!’ This makes me feel angry.

The Egyptian, as he has become known, seemed to pick up on this phrase and repeated it back to me randomly the next day, pulling the pseudo-sympathetic face that goes with it, that I’d obviously used the day before. It made us laugh so much – everything that didn’t go to plan came with an explosive ‘poor you!’ and we’d collapse into giggles.

This happened on a day when the British were exercising their right to vote (well, 66% of them were) and I was struck by the ridiculousness of The Egyptian exclaiming ‘poor you!’ when I told him of the horrific result. Just the fact that we are allowed to choose our own government and vote in a democratic and free society is something of a privilege. Yes sirree, I checked my privilege.

The election happened to be in the same week that disgraced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was due to find out his fate: just three years’ imprisonment for embezzling millions of pounds of state funds. His earlier life sentence for the deaths of 800 protesters in the 2011 Revolution had been thrown out the previous November. The month before my trip, Egypt had seen its first democratically elected head of state in Egypt sentenced to 20 years in prison. Mohamed Morsi had used his status to grant himself unlimited power, resulting in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. The Egyptian said that the freedom everyone felt after the Revolution was so sweet, but so fleeting. There was no follow-up plan, so corruption and power-wrangling quickly set in.

The Egyptian had been working in one of the restaurants in Dahab where three anti-Mubarak nail bombs went off in 2006. He’d been lucky, but he stumbled outside to see bodies everywhere and people running into the sea. The emergency services were not quick enough to save all the casualties. Twenty-three people died, mostly Egyptians.

Now, the police crawl all over Sinai, ostensibly to protect the tourists from the threat of terrorism, but the reality is that they prefer terrorising innocent Egyptians. There are two checkpoints between Sharm and Dahab, but the police are only interested in who the drivers are, not who’s in the back of the cab. They make a huge deal out of making people wait, checking ID, being suspicious. If they think that tourists don’t notice what they are doing, then they are very wrong. It stinks.

The general consensus is that the police are bored, just making stuff up to give them something to do. Their directive is to leave the tourists alone – even if they’re the ones committing a crime in public, they will pick on the Egyptian with them and ignore the foreigner. It’s horrible but a fact of life and the locals’ response is a chilled ‘what can we do?’

I ended up going on a glorious day trip with a group of women of all nationalities: Egyptian, Swiss, Austrian, Anglo-Greek and me, Welsh. One of the main topics of conversation was the ‘woman problem’. Apparently the women of Egypt are rising up in a way that is making the male population uncomfortable. Of course, being a feminist, this was music to my ears. Some women are not happy with the deal – just staying in and looking after children and cooking for their men. (Some of them are, it has to be said, and some of these aren’t Egyptian. Russian women seem to enjoy it and many Egyptian men in Dahab marry them. It’s a good match.)

One night, I saw two Egyptian women having a ‘ladies night’ out – their kids were running around outside while they sat in a restaurant, chatting and drinking tea. One was breastfeeding. One was sitting alone with her child. It was so great to see that.

Initially it wasn’t as great to see little local girls running around the town all day selling homemade bracelets. I’d see them walking on isolated roads carrying their wares from town to town, and worry for their safety. No, the women told me, this is their moment of freedom and they are completely safe. As soon as they start their periods they are confined to the house, drinking tea with the other adult ladies of the family. It seems as though some mothers have started hiding the onset of puberty in their daughters from the men in the house, just to prolong their freedom, even to the point of trying to make the girls look younger. It seems to work.

As I sat there in my bikini, being served Bedouin food by a woman fully covered except for her eyes, I checked my privilege again. I could stride into Dahab and into this beautiful Bedouin isolated beach settlement (Ras Abu Galum, in case you’re interested) and literally let my hair down, wearing a bikini.

I may never say, ‘poor you!’ again, unless in jest with The Egyptian. Poor, poor us, and our democratically elected government who aren’t embezzling millions of our pounds to fund their palaces (I’m sure someone will point out that they are doing this), or killing 800 protesters who happen to disagree with their policies. Poor us, and our freedom as women to go about as we choose after we become adults, to have jobs, wear what we want and have sex outside marriage.

Yes, yes, I know everything is relative, but it is worth putting things in perspective every now and again.

Anniversary

Today would’ve been my twelfth wedding anniversary – I got married in 2002 in a small Scottish castle hotel on a crisp, beautiful November day. There were kilts, a ceilidh, fireworks, friends and family. It still ranks as one of the best days of my life, even though the purpose of it has gone away. In many ways, it was a brilliant party that just happened to have a wedding attached to it – I thought so then, and even more so now.

I’ve often wondered why I felt such a strong urge to get married – I pride myself on not following the usual rules of behaviour –but there I was pursuing this goal because it was just ‘what you did’. All my friends had done it or were doing it, and I just had to tick that box. I decided that it had to happen before I was ‘too old’ to go down the aisle, and that thirty-five was my cut-off point. 2002 was my thirty-fifth year.

I knew it wasn’t quite right from the start and yet I pursued it relentlessly. I was the one who asked him to marry me, I was the one who made it all happen, even though he was extremely stressed with work in the year of our marriage and wanted to delay things. I just thought it was procrastination, but in retrospect, maybe he knew it wasn’t right either.

We did it anyway, and it was a huge and wonderful party for about seventy of our friends and family. Neither of us had big families, especially as my parents had died and he’d lost his dad, so there were ‘missing places’ at the wedding that we filled with friends and other loved ones. I made a speech (because of the missing persons), I took myself down the aisle, I arranged the whole thing. I even made myself stay on my own in the hotel the night before, not surrounded by friends and family, and actually a bit scared in the allegedly haunted room. This was all while he enjoyed his last night of freedom with his family and best man back in the village. What was I trying to prove? How alone I could be? I stayed awake pretty much all night.

I knew it was the wrong decision back then, I knew it was wrong on the honeymoon, and I knew for the next eight years. And yet I did it anyway. I know many people – men and women – who’ve admitted to me that they’ve done the same thing and are just going through with it, especially if they have children. It’s really scary, even considering leaving a marriage, and it took me time to gain the courage, and crucially the financial independence, to be able to do it.

When I finally did it, it was so sad. By doing what I’d done over the years, and his going along with it, we’d both lived inauthentic lives and it was time to face reality, in our forties. Essentially, we had been great friends who’d lived a great life, filled with adventure holidays, starter homes, dinner parties and burgeoning careers. There was much to be thankful for and the more distance I get on it all, the more I appreciate it for what it was, and him for what he added to my life. Thank you, if by chance you ever read this. (And by the way, I still can’t watch Out of Africa…)

What I’ve learned from it all is that your gut instinct is entirely correct, every time, in every circumstance. If your heart isn’t in something, your brain and gut know it and they tell you. You must listen to them, because they will steer you correctly through life. I’ve ignored mine in both professional and private life and it’s cost me. I suppose this mistake-making is all part of life experience and everyone does this. If only we’d listen to ourselves earlier in our lives and trust in what we hear. That so rarely happens.

I’ve applied the rule of Gut Instinct to quite a few things now – I only buy clothes if I absolutely LOVE them. Anything less, I know I’ll end up going off them and they’ll be given to charity. I only accept invitations to things I REALLY want to go to, rather than do things because I think I should, or because ‘everyone else’ is going. I only maintain friendships with people who truly add something good to my life and at the first sign of toxicity, back away fast, rather than labour away on something worthless.

The downside is that I often trust an initial feeling about something or someone and back away too quickly, making an ‘insta-decision’ that is so typically too-fast of me. I now catch myself doing it and make myself slow down to really look at the thing or the person, just to see if I’m missing something, if I’m being too hasty. This is the sort of thing I do when I visit new countries (see my Kaleidoscope Effect post) – I go there with all my preconceptions and first impressions and then wait for the reality to reveal itself.

It’s fun, waiting to be disproved about something, because you know, your gut instinct is usually telling you there’s something in there worth waiting for.

My Name Is…

Much has been made of international human-rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin’s decision to take the name of Clooney, following her marriage to the actor, George. The world is still divided into those who do and those who don’t take their husbands’  surname, with a venn-diagram central portion who put both names together. Cute.

It made me remember that moment when I got married and took my (now ex-) husband’s name, and how wonderful it was to state it proudly on every bit of paper, and in every situation. Hello, I’m Mrs Mudie.

I know what you’re thinking. How do you say that? It’s east-coast Scottish: pronounced Mew-dee. Every time I went anywhere or made a phone call involving stating my name I inevitably had to do two things: a) correct their pronunciation from ‘Muddy’ or ‘Moody’, and b) spell it out: M. U. D. I. E.

At first, I rather liked the novelty of it, but it soon became tiresome. Especially when I received a letter to ‘Mrs Nudie’. But we laughed about it, and all the variations on pronunciation and spelling just became a fact of life for me.

During the final year of my marriage and my push for independence and freedom I began to realise that I’d lost something of myself. Part of that self was to do with my name. The only situation I’d not changed my name in was work, and at the time, my career was burgeoning. I was working on movie tie-in publishing, getting a name for myself on the conference circuit and making my mark in the world. The person doing this wasn’t Mrs Mudie – she was very much Lisa Edwards, and still is. She was who I wanted to be.

When I became single I wanted to change my name back so badly, but there was a period where I was waiting for the divorce to come through, where I had to remain with my married name while the paperwork was completed. I went on holidays, alone, as Mrs Mudie, bought a flat as Mrs Mudie and paid my bills as Mrs Mudie. How weird to still be her and yet doing all of these independent things.

I finally changed my name back last year and it felt so good. One of my favourite bits in Sex and the City is when Carrie loses her precious ‘identity’ necklace with her name on it – the one she wears throughout the series. She is with a man whose ego – his life, his work, his needs – threaten to subsume hers and the moment is poignant. And then comes the joy of rediscovering the necklace in a hole in her vintage purse – marking the moment when she comes out of this unsatisfactory relationship to find herself again. Fairly obvious stuff, but it always makes me very happy when I watch this scene – I know how delicious that feels.

There are still a few moments when the odd bit of mail comes through from a company that still has my old name and they hit me like a tiny electric shock. Oh yes! That used to be me! I have loved getting my real name back again. Edwards. It’s such a Welsh name and I am proud of it. My grandmother’s name was Dilys Myfanwy Edwards, and I always say you can’t get much more Welsh than that (although I don’t know her maiden name – but I’m betting it was Jones, Roberts, Thomas or Davies).

I’ve recently been typing up my father’s attempt at writing a memoir – he didn’t get very far, but I loved all the names in the first part of the story – Welsh names aren’t hugely varied so the Joneses and the Roberts’s feature heavily. There’s even a Mrs Roberts the Shop, like something out of Under Milk Wood. I like that my name comes from a small pool of names that are an immediate regional identifier – of course I’m Welsh.

People ask me where I got my Twitter name from @Redwoods1 – this comes from the fact that my full name is inevitably pronounced Lisa Redwards, because there are two vowels together in Lisa Edwards so it’s easier to put an R in there when you say it out loud. Redwoods then became a bit of a nickname for me on a holiday during my final months as a married lady. I’d gone away on the spur of the moment with two work girlfriends to San Francisco. It remains one of the best things I’ve ever done – we’d decided to go during a wine-drinking session after work, and put our plan into action (I still can’t believe the company let all three of us managers go). For part of the trip we stayed in a gorgeous cabin in the forest in Sonoma. After visiting various wineries by day, we lounged outside in the hot tub, drinking Corbel sparkling wine, surrounded by Redwood trees. ‘Redwoods!’ one of my friends exclaimed. ‘Lisa Redwoods!’ The name stuck, not least because of my reddish hair.

That holiday was a turning point for me. Redwoods beckoned – the woman who wanted to experience the world as an independent person, who wanted to get on a flight to SF without thinking about it and end up in a hot tub in Sonoma with two girlfriends, a gay couple and a load of sparkling wine, smiling up at the trees.

So here I am.

Because I can.

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Why do we care so much when women change their maiden names?:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/poorna-bell/amal-alamuddin-clooney_b_5981286.html

My Former Life as a Cool Girl

The release of Gone Girl in cinemas recently has reminded me all over again about why Gillian Flynn’s book resonated so loudly with me and other women when it was published.

This key paragraph, from the main character Amy Dunne, establishes the central concept of womanhood in the book:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

And in the brilliant article on the subject by Jezebel’s Tracy Moore (link to the full article below), she encapsulates the concept:

“…when a woman for whatever reason embraces traditionally straight male interests while retaining aspects of straight female interests, and is hot (she always must be hot)—when she manages, for all intents and purposes, to somehow combine the best of both genders into one bangin’ superpackage of awesomeness—you have what is called a Cool Girl.”

I was trying to be Cool Girl, at least for a while. My phase timed with the emergence of the ’90s ladette, which to all intents and purposes was the defining era of the Cool Girl. Women like Sara Cox and Zoe Ball were bouncing around on our TV screens and in lads’ mags, drinking pints, partying ’til dawn and still managing to look oiled and hot in a tiny vest and denim shorts as they leered lairily at the Loaded cover-shot camera.

When I met my husband I tried desperately to be the Cool Girl – he seemed very keen on the Loaded ladettes and I scoured the pages of his magazines to pick up tips on how to be one. I was determined, unlike his friends’ wives and girlfriends, to give him as free a rein as possible, to never complain (indeed, actively encourage him) when he announced a boys’ golf weekend or a skiing holiday, or when he got wasted with the boys. I even actively embraced any trips they made to a lapdancing bar, which I was told to keep secret from the other wives – I was the ‘Cool Wife’ who would laugh at their stories of who got a dance, and then ask questions about how they controlled their erections in a public place (I’m still not quite clear on that, or on why they would want to risk it happening).

I remember feeling really aggrieved when I once overheard him talking to the lads, referring to me as some kind of social sign-off person on their latest boys’  weekend plan – they were all discussing how they’d get it past their wives. I burst in on their conversation and pointed out that he was free to do what he liked (subtext – I was not like the other, more controlling, wives). They all looked at me, rather shocked, and he was embarrassed – I’d spoiled his ‘lads-only’ camaraderie over their shared experience of the stereotypical controlling woman.

Over the years, I continued to be a version of Cool Girl and kept any grievances inside. And they festered. And in the end, these internalised resentments built up and up until they spoiled everything. I wasn’t really me during those years and I wasn’t honest with myself or my husband. I don’t know why I pretended to be someone else who was cool about everything, when I seriously wasn’t. This is why my ‘honesty policy’ is so important to me now. During those thirteen years of the relationship, I hardly ever raised any grievances, for fear of a horrible confrontation –  I just saved them up into one massive one that ultimately couldn’t be resolved. It had all gone too far.

It really surprised me that my ex and his friends pretty much all ended up with women who clearly ‘set the rules’ in their households, and seemed to enjoy being told what to do. I tried and tried not to be that woman, but ultimately it backfired. But I always maintained that I was a director at work and didn’t want to direct the marriage at home as well – I’d still maintain that mantra, if I ever went there again.

In many ways, the last four years have been about gradually shedding the need to be Cool Girl. I’ve found myself more and more exposed to the realisation that I don’t need male approval to be in the world, and that some men aren’t expecting to approve me according to the Gone Girl rules (some are, though, it has to be said.) I now see female friends masking grievances in their own relationships with gritted-teeth smiles and feel glad that I’ve left those scenarios behind. If I ever got there again, I would make sure I never let these scenarios pass without comment – that a reasoned discussion would happen about every single one, if I felt something unjust was happening to me. I’m pretty sure any reasonable guy would expect me to do that – it’s how they would deal with those things. Mostly.

When I first read Gone Girl I couldn’t believe that someone had written about Cool Girls so brilliantly – lots of female friends were clearly experiencing the same self-resonance as I was when they read it. Our online book club was alive with comment. I think we all recognised something of ourselves in Amy, although of course, she takes the concept to an extreme level.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many women of my age find the concept so familiar – I do think the ’90s emergence of ladette culture really didn’t do us any favours. Men were being marketed with a feminine ideal that has no basis in reality – a complete fantasy of sexual availability, hotness, and, well, blokiness. I know I struggled to meet its impossible criteria, but it didn’t stop me trying.

Thank goodness that’s over.

http://jezebel.com/the-cool-girl-is-not-fiction-but-a-phase-1642985632