First up Leni, happy international women’s day. What does this day mean to you?
L: Hello, this is the first year I have ever given it much precedence. I have mostly felt alienated from the idea of being a woman. I never thought it was something to celebrate or be proud of. As I am growing more aware of the structure of patriarchy and the gender imbalances of our world, I can see how these constructs have disempowered me and kept me separate from other women. By acknowledging this day, I am choosing to side and stand with and for women, who have been structurally, physically, mentally and conceptually abused. So this day means a lot to me now and is a day to reflect.
That leads nicely into the questions I have for you. When you were growing up, what were the ideas in your family about gender?
L: My father was a dominant man, impatient, brash, rude and scary. He worked full time, he controlled all the finances and I never saw him cook or clean. My mother was a housewife. She looked after us as four kids, and waited on him hand and foot. She was subservient, submissive and often in the house we felt like we were walking on eggshells. My father used to beat my sister too. I don’t remember much though. He would also call us names when he got angry, he would say we were worthless and a piece of shit. I have two older brothers and an older sister. So I guess some of the ideas I learned about gender are:
- Boys can get away with anything
- Men are strong, women are weak
- Girls / women are bad (they get in trouble)
- Being tough and assertive gets you things. Keeps you safe. You don’t get hurt if you are in charge.
- the man should look after the woman
- Women can’t look after themselves.
- It’s the woman’s fault. She causes “him” to do things.
- Women are stupid.
What do you think these ideas made possible for you and how did these ideas limit you?
L: I think I rejected a lot of these ideas, particularly as a teenager and in my twenties. In some ways rejecting them made me fearless and not care. I didn’t see being a woman as something that held me back, but I didn’t embrace it either. I didn’t feel like a woman. I think I was ultimately scared of accepting my womanhood, as though that meant accepting my inferiority. At the same time I think the ideas limited me because I looked to men to take the lead. I never felt like I had power, I just tried to maintain control, I guess like my mother did to the best of her ability. I rejected femininity for a while. I became independent, almost an F you to my mother. I think these ideas limited me because I had no direction. Deep down I felt worthless, bad and not good enough. Later, I turned to a man to try and save me.
What is the most important role you have in the world? What would help you or support you to fulfil this role in the way you want to?
L: There are lots of things I could say here which is nice. One could be as a teacher but I could lose my job so that wouldn’t count. The other is as a girlfriend to someone but I don’t know if I value that role enough yet. What jumps out at me is as a survivor. Money would help me to fulfil my role in the way I want to. Quite simply, money to start a social enterprise business.
When you think about the kind of person you want to be in the world, how is this different to who you are now and what do you feel needs to change?
L: Right now I feel like my mind is still frozen and I can’t seem to articulate or think the way I would like; with ease, clarity and grace. I feel what needs to change is confidence and practice.
If you think about times when you’ve acted in ways that have harmed others, what would be helpful to understand or know more about so that you can do things differently in the future?
L: I guess I would like to know more about the beliefs and unconscious drivers that contributed to my harming others.
Is there past hurt that constantly sabotages or gets in the way of who you want to be in the world?
L: I guess it’s not one. It’s a series of hurts and repressed memories of trauma that lies underneath my skin. It keeps me from feeling safe, connected and free.
Questions taken from The Dulwich Centre, Intersecting Stories: Narrative therapy reflections on gender, culture and justice. p.66 2020.