Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Practical Woman's Guide to Commonsensical Feminism

Perhaps because I'm a single, working, financially independent woman, people often assume I must also be a hardbitten, raving feminist. The kind who doesn't need a man at all and goes around talking men down and putting them in their place. Not quite.

With no brothers and my father dying young, I grew up in a very feminine environment. There was my mother, grandmother and three sisters. No man to kowtow to or lording it over the womenfolk, expecting to be waited upon or cleaned up after. No male so visually challenged or physically incompetent that he must royally summon a wife or daughter to turn on the radio that's just within his reach as he sits hogging the TV. At least that's what a friend once said was one of her father's most aggravating habits. When I reminded her about it recently, she said that was just what her husband now does, adding exasperatedly why is it that men just cannot seem to find anything around the house even if it's right in front of their noses.

I sympathise entirely with women who have to put up with that kind of running-after-grown-men-as-if-they're-infants-in-diapers affliction. At least infants grow out of their diapers into a happy I-can-take-care-of-myself-now independence. If they're not male, that is, hyuk hyuk.

Snipes apart, I'm not really one for an all-out, virulent feminism. In fact, I think men are really very useful creatures. And that's not being sardonic. I do really, actually mean it.

Precisely because I grew up and continue to live in a feminine environment, I've learnt to appreciate and be thankful for the way Nature has programmed and hardwired the male of the species. They don't think like us, for one thing, and I have the greatest respect for the male thought process especially in practical matters. Time and again, there have been problems around the house that leave me stumped and male friends/neighbours/relatives have bailed me out. Their qualifications and training often don't even begin to enter the picture. Just being male somehow seems to equip them with a natural-born know-how.

Unplugging drains and deflooding sinks, working out kinks in the mechanics of all things mechanical, sizing up a worrisome situation and swiftly coming up with a workable solution, I've lost count of the number of times men have come to our rescue with invaluable help and advice. A few years ago when we first brought my paraplegic sister home from hospital, I remember desperately wanting practical male advice on how to re-plan her room and parts of the house, and later her wheelchair so it could hold a toilet bowl. One by one, things fell into place with the systematic aid and advice of male guardian angels.

So it often seems absurd and unrealistic to me when overly strident feminists raise ex-parte slogans like Down With Men! Women Power! and the like. I believe in the indispensability of the male of the species. I believe in the structure of the male brain that approaches and responds to a problem coolly and logically. I believe men complement women perfectly by providing a down to earth take on things while women open up men's eyes to the emotional aspects of life. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, I believe in the perfection of the Maker's design in creating both male and female differently to form a complete whole. And vive la différence.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sotto Voce

Just back from church and another sunday school session where I once again almost caused myself bodily harm trying to make myself audible to my little class of 8 teenaged girls, some of whom by the way, are much taller than me even in my 3 inch heels. That's the story of my life. Not the everyone towering over me bit. At 5'2, I'm perfectly happy with my view of the ground. What I'm not so happy about is my aggravatingly soft voice.

For as long as I can remember I was always told, "Speak up. Talk louder, nobody can hear you." I was always having to repeat myself. It didn't help that I was one of those painfully shy children who hang their heads and just can't seem to bring themselves to say a discernable word no matter how much they're coaxed. Of course as you get older, you don't find understanding, sympathetic adults supervising and helping your every move so I somehow must have learned to make a few slightly more distinct sounds over the years as I grew up. I have fond, proud memories of loud laughfests with friends and family, heated arguments - even the occasional screamathon with siblings, and then standing up in public and saying things without help of an amplifier. I even ended up with a job that calls for good, loud speaking, of all things.

But my poor voice remains my bugbear. Even when I think I'm speaking perfectly distinctly, people say, "Sorry, what did you say?" My sister constantly tells me to stop mumbling and at work, I haven't been given a large class (meaning something in excess of a 100 kids) for quite a few years now. Even with my smallish, 10 to 20 elite Honours classes, I still occasionally notice kids with furrowed brows, obviously straining against the noise pollution outside to catch the pearls of wisdom dropping from the teacher's mouth :D

Once in a while I do try lung exercises - the deep breaths in and out thing, and once it struck me that blowing balloons might be a great help. But I can never really remember to do it on a regular basis. So much as I'd love to sound authoritative and commanding and have people in splits with sharp, sotto voced repartee, I think I'll just have to resign myself to speaking pianissimo and have people eye me dubiously and go, "Yes dear, what was that again?"