tits and all

Reading: One Dimensional Woman.

Thinking: about all the women I’m going to give it to, sadly because I happen to know women – yes, friends – who talk about their tits as though they were their kids i.e. other human beings with minds and brains. What does that say about me? That I have these people in my life? I’m not sure. I’ve never spoken about my tits as beings because they’ve never done anything spectacular like slip out of a dress or a bra or a t-shirt. I live in hope (and perhaps they do too). But the book is making me think, with heavy sighs, about my own working life. To give you a potted summary of the lows: I’ve been asked to leave a job by a boss’s wife who accused me of having an affair with her husband, the boss (in fact, not long before I got the job, I’d had my first ‘proper’ sexual encounter and barely knew what an affair was). I left. A few years later, I worked for a man who asked me if I’d try to look more attractive at work, and promised he’d buy me a red silk dress for Christmas as a present.  ‘You’d be so beautiful in it, if only you’d wear it,’ he said. I told him, appropriately, to fuck off and resigned a few days later. A few years after that (or was it months), I approached the BBC for a job, directly visiting the editor of the section where I wanted (no, longed) to work. I showed him my CV and smiled beneath my shaved peroxided little head of hair. He looked up at me and said, more or less like this: ‘You aren’t Oxbridge. We prefer Oxbridge. And you’re a 28-year-old woman. You’ll be getting married and having kids soon.’ This, as you might expect, left me breathless. Shocked. At that time of my life, my brother regularly referred to me as a Baader-Meinhoff Lesbian (which may say more about him than me, but anyway). But I’d also studied and got two degrees at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London, which I had (stupidly) imagined was more important for a department of news about Africa than an Oxbridge degree. I stomped off for a whisky, & returned a year later with more qualifications. In fact, as I write that, I realise that I did what Nina says women do in her book: I went and got the added skills I needed (basically, reporting experience in West Africa). This time I confronted the same editor – my short peroxide hair had become natural coloured longer hair – and I got 4 weeks unpaid work ‘experience’. A few weeks after that I became the BBC’s Angola correspondent. A few years after that, I was advised to apply for a particular regional correspondent position (this is how it tends to work at the Beeb: you are picked for a job, told to apply democratically, and then you get the job regardless). I applied. At the same time, I met my current partner, one Mr J. News got out that I was going to get married (I barely understood this fact myself) and shortly after that I was called by a senior female boss:

‘Look, we know you’re gettting married… You’ll probably have kids… Speaking from experience… We’re both women let’s face it… You won’t be able to do this correspondent job… They need someone who can go anywhere at the drop of a hat… A married woman in your early thirties… It’s not going to happen is it.’

And that was that. (They gave the job to a young game man who would go anywhere, any time, any place just like a bottle of Martini.) I learned the lesson that being an attached woman in my thirties meant the end of my career. A year or so later, I was working as a correspondent – covering for a series of men who’d left the job early for a variety of reasons – and I became pregnant. By mistake, I might add. The irony is, I had a miscarriage in the middle of a fairly sensitive situation in a West African state. I did think, This is going to kill me but that was because the doctor ‘treating’ me had discovered I was a Western journalist and, for a variety of reasons, seemed to have the desire to kill me. Luckily she didn’t. Note the She in there: and she also said to me that I was completely irresponsible to be working as a reporter away from home and getting married. She was a well-educated Ivoirian woman if you must know. I’d put money on it she was a mother, too, but I could be wrong. Perhaps she was being charitable: it certainly didn’t feel like it when she began stoking up my insides with her ‘tools’ all in the name of ‘saving the baby’. Anyway, a few months after that, I was pregnant again. Another miscarriage. My femaleness – the fact I was now useless to the Corporation because I was not only getting hitched and getting pregnant, but I was also unable to fulfill my female role and ended up in hospital, thus time away from work and thus proof of my failure to produce the goods (24 hour news etc etc) – had finally caught up with me. I had been snared by the womb and by the ring around my finger. At least, that’s how it felt at the time. I’m particularly glued to the memory that it was a woman at the BBC, a relatively successful woman, who told me that I should give up my ambitions to be a correspondent and accept that being a woman would make it impossible for me to stretch being hitched to a bloke and being a reporter. I should, quite simply, rein in my ambitions and accept a desk job. (Interesting too, that when I was albeit briefly pregnant, two females in my life questioned me about my working life, both suggesting strongly that it would be simply dreadful if I had a baby and worked. A little while later, my mother told me that she often wished I hadn’t had such a ‘good education’ because the choices it had opened up for me had made me a tormented, childless, bookworm who would miss out on all the joy of the nuclear family. She felt guilty for increasing the number of ‘choices’ I would have to make in my life.)

So here I am: married, (aiming for a divorce followed by a civil partnership – to the same man I might add: he’s great), childless, and – ha ha ha – no longer an employee of the BBC. And the more I ponder the nuclear family, the more convinced I am that it is probably bad for people. What we need is the extended family and/or the community. Not only does the nuclear family fuck you up (nod to Larkin), but it makes many people in it utterly miserable, not to say inward looking and afraid.

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