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Things Florence Given has taught me about being a woman in a patriarchal world

by Virag Dombay about a year ago in book review
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A blog about things I've learnt about myself from Florence Given's debut novel.

For the past few months, I've been following Florence Given quote closely on Instagram. Like many social activists, she uses her instagram platform to raise issues of awareness of sexuality, race and gender and has created some pretty incredible artwork embedded with sharp and witty slogans about the above issues, one of which is my desktop background. Florence recently published a book called Women Don't Owe You Pretty, which broke a bunch of records after its publication and is probably one of my favourite reads of 2020. It's definitely my favourite feminist manifesto and opened my eyes to many behavioural, emotional and psychological things that I was subconsciously (or consciously) doing to myself and additionally, what norms living in a patriarchal society inflicts upon women. So I thought I'd share a few points which stood out for me and made me ponder on my own internal and external thoughts, actions, lifestyle and tendencies. I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, some of them will resonate with you too. They are as follows:

What Florence says: To practise self-love and protect your energy, you need to set boundaries with the people you surround yourself with, including say no.

What I do: I could beat around the bush, but instead I'm going to flat out say it. I've always struggled to say no and to set myself that boundary, especially to work commitments. With social commitments, I've found it easier to say no (but I did struggle with that quite a bit in the past) as I understood myself, my personality types and my needs a lot more. I know that parties predominantly full of people I know make me feel very anxious, uncomfortable and unsafe. So unless they're a close friend, I normally decline the invite. I work with adults and children all day so most of the time that fills up my social quota. I've always struggled to say no to work commitments as I have this massive fear of letting people down.

For example, I work as a director for a theatre company and I just recently turned down a directing gig that had rehearsals on Sundays because I need my Sundays for myself and my family as it's my only day off. Before I made that phone call, I'd been stressing myself out for the month prior as I was scared of letting my boss and colleagues down and I was afraid that I'd pressure myself into saying yes, even though I'd already decided that I was saying no. I also work as a casual at one of my workplaces and whenever they call me in I often struggle to say no, even when I need that day to myself. And there's so much more where that came from. But I am, truthfully working on it, especially now when I have to look at my work, uni and life schedule for 2021 and piece together what I'm going to have to say no to.

Copyright @ Florence Given

What Florence says: Take ownership of your healing and stop judging others in an attempt t0 feel control of your own insecurity.

What I do: Reading this chapter in the book, made me understand why I judge women who have a lot of sex with different people and women who wear clothes why are short and tight. A part of it is that I'm afraid for them: I'm afraid of how certain men will treat them differently because of the length of their skirt or their heels and I'm afraid of all that non-consensual things that could happen them. This not only refers to what could happen in the bedroom but also as they're walking home or on a train carriage all by themselves on the Beenleigh or Caboolture line. I'm afraid for them as I have the same fear myself.

However, it also dawned upon me that I judge these woman because I'm unable to do those things. I have a chronic illness called endometriosis, which means that sexual intercourse for me is like having a beehive stuck up my vagina. This means that I rarely have sex and do other things with my partner instead. Unfortunately, my body has made the decision for me that I can't have sex all the time or really at all which is why I resent these women who have that freedom. Because I menstruate for 14-15 days at a time, I can't wear short skirts or dresses otherwise everyone will see my soaked, maternity pad. I can't wear short singlets or tops as I have scars all over my stomach from my surgery, which I don't feel comfortable parading to the world. Instead of feeling jealous and judging these women, I need to try and feel grateful that they have that privilege and opportunity.

What Florence says: People who do not have a strong selse of self will constantly change to reflect their surroundings and the people they are with. We need to stop wanting to be liked and be ourselves.

What I do: I can safely say that I'm not a people pleaser. Whilst I step into different roles depending on who I'm with, like when I'm in a classroom I step into the role of a teacher, or when I'm in a rehearsal room I step into the role of the actor or when I'm hanging out with my best friend I step into the role of a friend. But I don't think I've ever changed myself to be liked. I remember on all of my Christmas cards I got from my high school teachers, one common comment was that they loved how I was always unashamed to be myself and stand out from the crowd. Florence's comment made me reflect a significant amount of my previous long term relationship and how my ex was your archetypal people pleaser. Like a chameleon, he changed his colours for everyone and transformed his identity to adapt to each social situation. This constantly uncertainty of what role he would play next, made me feel very unsafe and uncomfortable when I was in social settings with him. I liked to think that he was his real self when he was with me, but in hindsight, I'm not even sure if he had discovered who he is yet or whether he appreciates the chameleon lifestyle more.

There's a lot more of Florence's quotes that I could reflect on, but I also am very aware that not everyone wants to read a Vocal article that contains over 1000 words. So, I'll leave it there for now. I hope that you may find solace in some of my experiences.

book review

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Virag Dombay

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