by Diana Rusu
My whole body aches. I had some trouble going to sleep last night, and the last thing I remember is praying to the Universe, promising I'll be good and do whatever needs to be done, now that I'm making this change (and it feels dreadful and I really don't want to move a finger).
I looked at my phone; it showed 22:44. I fell back asleep and the Universe gave me what I wanted while I was dreaming something weird, as usual. A wave of pain took over my body that started vibrating from the sounds of women screaming while falling from high cliffs and smashing their bodies on the rocks. Blood.
I was menstruating.
Did you know that menstrual cramps, or Dysmenorrhea as it's technically called, has finally been ruled as painful as having a heart attack? Well jeez, I could have told you that plenty of times. 240 times, probably (I started menstruating exactly twenty years ago). No wonder my heart is shattered and I'm having problems with it, the poor thing.
I have been bleeding for twenty years and you still call me dramatic sometimes?
I’m sorry, I don’t see you bleeding out of your dick.
A month later, later edit
Dicks are people that make you feel rejected, belittled, ignored, not deserving. Not good enough, not smart enough. Too sensitive.
When a friend of mine told me her friend is doing this challenge of not sleeping with any man for a year, therefore calling it a no dick challenge, I was intrigued and quite excited. But then I thought, what difference would that make, anyway? It's not like I haven't done it before (just haven't named it). This needed to be something more, something beyond the dick. So, I decided to set up a symbolic #nodick challenge for this year. I mean, it's never too late, so I still have plenty of time. Unless I experience sudden death, which I just read about in a study; "most young sudden death victims with MVP were asymptomatic females without significant mitral valve regurgitation". Well fml, good to know. I could die at any moment, so why spare my precious time with dicks?
The #nodicks2018 mention of the month goes to some of those marching "the march for life" in Romania, an anti-abortion (among others themes) event organized by the Coalition for the Family. But don't even get me started, I am not a fan of politics nor religion, and I hate them even more when they work together in the remaking of Rhinoceros, Ionesco's theater of the absurd, only with a twist: a man marching with a banner writing "I regret my abortion".
By Iulia Gheorghe
The Macmillan dictionary says a hero is “someone who has done something brave, for example saving a person’s life”. Naturally, when we hear the words “life” and “saving”, our minds instinctively fly to doctors, soldiers, lawyers, sometimes social workers, artists, and psychologists. We rarely think about people who are incredibly close and almost mundane characters of our lives. Family is more associated to giving life than to saving it. But when defining “living”, let’s not limit the concept to breath, heartbeat and neural connections. Perhaps living is also about acknowledging self-worthiness and respecting oneself. Saving a life is not only preserving a bunch of cells, animating a body, but also empowering a spirit, nurturing a character and freeing someone from the tyranny of clichés including gender roles centered on rigid ideas about how men and women should act and live their lives accordingly to what has been done before.
When it comes to poisonous and destructive behaviours, our marvellous species didn’t do so much progress. It’s crazy to think that we are able to create artificial intelligence which (who?) is capable to teach itself and figure out pretty anything, but we are not able to regulate our own emotional intelligence and still struggle with atrocious conducts and abuses on a large scale, that the #metoo phenomenon has taken into the limelight.
And while two camps are debating whether men should have or not the right to “bother” women, little girls and boys are still not treated like human beings with universal feelings, but as packs of hormones trapped in a mix of power struggles and seduction games. Maybe time’s up also for children to be seen and heard just as they are and damn’ they are much more than reproductive systems enclosed into bodies that should either grow a beard or shave their legs, cooking dinner or trimming the garden. Childhood is the rabbit hole. Of course, people can change, heal, improve, and figure out issues later in life, however, a good start is jumping over a big pain in the ass.
I’ve grown up, like a lot of children in the early years of capitalist Romania, in a family in which the role of grandparents was crucial. My parents were very young (charming, but nonchalant) and working full-time, so I was spending a lot of time with my mother’s parents. We even shared the same house. My grand-mother was ruling over pretty much everything, except what was happening in the what we call in Romanian “sufragerie”, some sort of dining room in which we rarely dined. Most of the time, we used it as a workspace. I shared it with my grandfather. He was a history teacher and also a journalist. He breathed to read and his biggest pleasure was to lock himself in the “sufragerie” and devour the morning newspaper. I could feel the burden of the world fading away, worries discoloring on a canvas when he was starting to write an article.
I remember being a curious kid, eager to absorb everything and he always treated me not as a little girl, but as a human in progress: he respected my choices, he praised my curiosity and he never told me that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. He didn’t serve a moralistic sermon as expected from a man born in the ‘30. Instead, he thought me about Hera, Athena, Artemis, those Greek goddesses in all their complexity, generous and vicious, capable of great love and vibrant wrath. About Elizabeth I, fierce and tormented. About Veronica Micle, the lover of Mihai Eminescu, a popular poet in Romania, and her sorrowful pathway. I don’t think that he did it on purpose, as an enactment of a feminist official position; he was doing it naturally, from a humanist point of view. He simply watched through the curtains. And there was also the way he told my grand-mother “I love you”. I laughed so hard when he told us (without any malice in his voice) that he adored my grandma’s hairy legs. “Being hairy is normal”, he was saying. Gosh, I guess he was more millennial than a true millennial. Sometimes, he told me and my mother “You are beautiful”. In a transparent unflawed way.
Later in life, I discovered Simone de Beauvoir, sexism, gender inequality, me too experiences. I'm not saying that I haven’t fallen, sometimes, in the trap of gender roles; it’s obvious that I did. My hair comb is bright pink and how many times I didn’t do the first step, because I thought it was not appropriate for a girl to do it (or maybe that was just a lukewarm justification to hide the universal fear of rejection)?. I can’t help but shave my armpits and I often heard myself saying ‘I’m a girl, I don’t know how to change a light bulb, so you should do it!” (like really?!)`
But I am so grateful that there was by my side, in the first years of becoming myself, that person who saw the human in the woman and saved me from later possible frustrations by encouraging me to pursue my path in my own freakin’ way. Thanks to him, I am able to see through the curtains too. And to trust myself and other human beings, all genders included.
by Diana Rusu
It was one of those moments when you’re stuck in front of a freshly bought coffee in a paper cup, steaming next to your idle computer, somewhere in the space of a well-connected area: everyone’s tapping at their devices all around, mixing plastic water bottles, packed lunches, extreme typing skills, emotions, etc. I unbuttoned my jeans (to be free baby!!!) and ... I completely lost it. What was I saying? What was this story about??
The coffee starts to kick in and I’m trying to get myself together. Right. I’ve only now finished a book that I started 3 months ago; a book that I consider to be one of the very best memoirs that came out in the last few years. If 2016 was Zadie Smith’s year, this is the book of 2017. And I’m completely going crazy about it. I’m basically throwing hands in the air and my pupils dilate every time I recommend it to everyone that crosses my path. I’m that Moses person, raising my arms and thanking the Lord for these 14 chapters that have been given to me through a divine intervention.
WARNING! This is not just a memoir that needed to be written by someone who understands the power of comedy and also knows grief; it is a book that needs to be read RIGHT NOW.
“I mean, it’s not called a snow-woman, is it? A seven-year-old in pursuit of the Paramount Objective of Despising Girls finds it all conveniently laid out for him: the culture, the language – it’s really no effort.”
When I first saw this book I was like “is that Robert Webb???!! Has he written a book?? I. MUST. HAVE. IT.” So I got it. And as soon as I got it, I cried the minute I saw the contents, in the bookshop, standing.
How not to be a boy starts with a hilarious adolescence memory and feels like it happened yesterday; it even makes me question my abilities to stay focused on the story and not drift off to a Mitchell & Webb sketch. But I managed to read the first ten pages with tears of laughter and then something magical happened: age 15 started a conversation with age 43!! And then it hit me, I was crying & laughing at the same time and I thought this memoir has something of Johnathan Safran Foer’s wittiness in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Plus, it is incredibly open and sincere. It is like writing a book based on your therapist’s notes about you (which by the way I intend to do very soon). Seriously now, these authors have some out-of-this-world storytelling skills, without forgetting to stay grounded. Writing, when you have this level of sensitivity, is as surprising as life; writing is the only consolation, as Pamuk would say it in his Black Book.
“15: Bit self-indulgent, isn’t it?
15: This. You, talking to yourself.
43: You were expecting to grow out of it?
15: I wasn’t ‘expecting’ anything. Christ.
43: Can you stop that?
15: Stop what?
43: Looking at my hair. It happens.
15: Sorry. Just a bit of a shock. I mean, what the fuck – “
(How not to be a boy, p. 13)
The pain of childhood
Robert Webb was born in 1972. I imagine him growing up surrounded by brothers, friends, parents and grandparents – and his father, Paul, who was a “proper” man, with an explosive temper sometimes. Webb kept journals which he constantly updated. A blogger, no less (the first thing that I liked about him). And then there was this other thing, called childhood. I don’t even know where to start!
“ together with Mum or alone in my bedroom, stories were a way to reach distant places. But also, and without noticing, a way to reach distant people.”
Looking back at himself in journals and memory, he clearly has a story to tell. And this is where it all gets interesting and psychoanalytical. Personally, I kinda see where he's coming from. And I reckon it’s easier for people who didn't grow up with all the love in the universe to understand what I’m talking about. The lack of his father’s presence and attention only opened a door to other ways of getting that love: stories, acting, being famous. Because “dads don’t hit famous children, right? They don’t ignore them either. They take them fishing. You can be quiet when you’re famous, but people can’t ignore you. Not really.” (p. 116)
For some reason I fully resonate with this. I wanted to be famous so bad when I was little! I guess children want to reach fantastic worlds even though they’re fully present in the moment - the problem is, parents are not on the same page (it might be slightly getting better now). A child has only got Here and Now, so when the others aren’t there, sometimes they're going to reach for Narnia.
“Here’s the wardrobe that never yielded to Narnia no matter how faithfully I reached for the cold air.”
Speaking of ignoring, the memoir "with a hidden agenda” starts to reveal something else. We all know it, but prefer not to talk about it, innit? Webb talks about training young boys to ignore their feelings. Which is not bad, no, that's not enough: it is dangerous as fuck, but hey, we don’t have time to change the habits. Webb’s not surprised that most feelings of anxiety, fear or pain a boy might have will only come up as anger. He lived with it, and learned that boys aren’t shy; boys love sports; boys don’t fall in love (with other boys); men don’t need therapy; men are good at directions; men know who they are.
“And ‘femininity’ – what is it? Having hair? I mean, long hair on your head but none on your legs, under your armpits or within a square mile of your Feminine Ladysecret. Taste in scarves? A sense of colour? The capacity to shut the fuck up when men are talking? What is this stuff?”
Robert Webb starts a polemic against what he calls the trick. It’s a code name for all the gender nonsense that his young daughters and their male/ female friends often encounter. Now this is what I call parenting. Making sure that a child doesn't have to play different roles/behave in different ways just based on their gender. Not anymore, as someone's there to point out the trick. I wish every family talked about this, I wish there was a gender blender in every household. Yeah, the world would be a better place. Hell yeah.
My favorite bit of this memoir, though, is the bumblebee story. Which I'm not going to tell you about, so now you have to get the book and read it.
But I will share this, the most accurate portrait of a relationship in 2017, which I want to print on a giant canvas and hang above my bed:
“The stereotype of the Nagging Wife has proved very useful to those of us who are often the primary cause of all the nagging: the Useless Husband. Because these days, women who find their domestic situation deeply unsatisfactory won’t just need to complain, they’ll need to appologise for the complaining. Times change: the gin has given way to Pinot Grigio and nagging has gone post-modern.” (p.140)
Whatever Robert Webb wanted from this book and however he wrote it (it would be amazing if someday I could interview him) I’m grateful that he made himself helpful to others. Because not only women’s, but also men’s mental health is at a crucial point right now. It always has been. I don’t see it as a manifesto, and it doesn't need to be one, but as an excellent point to start a must needed conversation.
photo © Diana Rusu