Dear Men of South Africa*

south african man braaing

I love you. I really do. With your PT shorts from matric, your weird relationship with fires and your insistence on drinking brandy and coke because someone told you it’s what real men do, you are my uncles, my cousins, my boyfriends, the first guy I kissed playing Spin the Bottle when I was 11. I know you, and there’s a comforting familiarity in your Boy Speak (‘howzit, bro! My China!’) and the way you view the world. But (you knew that ‘but’ was coming, right?), I feel like the time has come to clear up a few things. In terms of gender stuff, you are just not getting that memo. You know, the one they seem to have sent out in most other parts of the world about it not being the 50s anymore. I know that change is hard and that as human beings we’re inclined to repeat old patterns, but the world is a different place now and it’s time for you guys to catch up. So, I’m going to take the time to explain a few things to you. Like our ostensible leader, a truly South African man says, ‘listen properly now.’

1. We Don’t Like it When You Pay Us Sexual Compliments

We might smile and say thank you but that is because we were brought up to be polite and we don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean we like it. It is an objectification: what you are telling us, in essence, is that we have no value over and above our physicality. Those well-intentioned ‘compliments’ make us feel demeaned and irrelevant and, frankly, a little bit dirty. Like you’re having thoughts about us we’d rather you didn’t have. We know you mean well, but unless we are in a relationship with you, stop it already.

2. We Can Open Our Own Wine, Thanks

Last weekend at a lunch a man offered to open the bottle of champagne I was holding. When I said, ‘thanks, I’ve got this,’ and started to peel off the foil, he tried to wrestle it out of my hands. Sometimes I just hand the bottle over because I can’t be bothered. This time, I didn’t feel like it and I stood my ground. He looked confused and a bit offended, like I was breaking some unspoken rule. I am certain he was oblivious to the nuances of the situation; what the unconscious message is when men do stuff like this to women. And I’m sure he was perplexed about why I was being so ‘stubborn’. I don’t have the energy to go into the whole thing now, so just take it from me. We can open our own wine.

3. Chivalry is Cool as Long as We can Repay the Compliment

You want to open the door for me? That’s really nice. And in return I will pay for dinner. Or buy you flowers. Or pour your beer. Treating people with consideration and respect is a beautiful thing, but it goes both ways. As women learn very early on in the dating game, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you insist on paying for our evening out, that’s fine, but please don’t think that means I owe you anything. We are equal players in this game.

4. We Are the Same as You, Just with Different Details

So, look us in the eye when you speak to us. Ask us about our lives and listen when we answer. Something I learnt in my years in Scandinavia is that women and men can actually talk to each other at social gatherings without anyone getting antsy or beaten up. There, it’s normal to make conversation with members of the opposite sex. Here, there is total apartheid of the genders, and when I insist on going outside and standing by the fire I get funny looks. I’m not hitting on you, I swear. I’m here with my partner and children. I’m just making conversation. And please – don’t talk exclusively about yourself. I know you find your job in finance fascinating. I’ve been listening politely for an hour. I also have an interesting job. Why don’t you ask me about it? Maybe we could even find a common area of interest. If not, at least we tried.

5. Stop Insisting Your Wife Takes Your Name

You married each other. Why should she become Mrs You? It’s such a weird norm. Two adults get married and the one has to sacrifice her identity because she has a vagina? This country is totally in the dark ages when it comes to that stuff. The amount of times I have had to explain to my bank and Home Affairs people why I have a different surname to my husband is beyond. Again, to use a foreign example – in Denmark and Sweden when two people get married it’s up to them to decide if they’re going to adopt the husband or the wife’s name. The better name wins. It’s equal and democratic and how it should be here too. It’s time we moved on from that patriarchal rubbish.

6. No Woman Ever Needs a ‘Good F?ck.’

Some months ago a man who was driving too fast in a residential area smashed into a parked car outside the home of a friend. When she went outside and pointed out to him he was driving recklessly he told her she needs a ‘good f?ck.’ The violence and misogyny implicit in a statement like that defies belief, and reflects the rape culture that permeates our society. It’s a shame that this young man driving an expensive car grew up without somebody to teach him about what it means to be a man. To show him how to treat and speak to women, and to help him out of the adolescent emotional state he somehow got himself stuck in. He is like those young male elephants which get kicked out of the herd and align themselves with older, bachelor elephants who teach them how to be behave. Only, there is seemingly nobody to teach the lost men of our society. Instead, they get jobs as investors and bankers and are rewarded handsomely with fat salaries and fancy cars. They have no incentive to reflect on their attitudes and behaviour. Any man who says this about a woman is a product of a very sick society.

7. You Are Not the Kings of the World Because of Your Unsurpassed Brilliance

You run the show because, since forever, society has favoured your maleness. You’ve been pushed, promoted and encouraged purely because you have dicks. Time and time again, as the world changes at its snail’s pace, women are proven to be better at many things than their male counterparts (flying planes, doing maths, investing on the stock exchange) but biology – combined with the deeply entrenched patriarchy into which we are born – continues to be a major obstacle to our achieving success on the same levels you do. In many parts of the world we are still denied an education. We get overlooked for promotion because at some point we’ll probably breed. Despite having better qualifications and higher levels of competence than many of the men we will compete against, the Old Boys’ Club otherwise known as the western world still means that the guy who played rugby with the boss will get bumped up the corporate ladder. And it’s a given that we’ll be paid less for doing the same job. Even Scandinavia, with its so-called gender equality, has very few women running its big businesses, never mind running the country. We don’t blame you because it is what it is and we’re ready and willing to fight this system. But don’t be too damn smug about the fact that you live in an expensive apartment and have piles of disposable income. You were given leg ups. That’s all. Be humble, be nice. Promote the women on your team. It’s the very least you can do.

8. You Are Not Raising Your Boys Right

So many times I have stood in my kids’ school playground and listened to dads telling their 4-year-old sons to ‘man up’; to not be a ‘girl’, to ‘stop crying like a sissy,’ and I cringe as these tiny children try to be something other than what they are. Something dies in little boys when you don’t allow them to feel. They become dull, blunted men who grow up to say things like the guy who crashed into the car. Your 4-year-old is not a man, he is a baby with feelings and worries and fears. Stop telling him not to have emotions. You, as his primary role model, need to create a safe space for him to be what he is. Only then will he grow up to be healthy, happy man who has good, fulfilling relationships with the people around him. Whatever he is, let him be that thing. He doesn’t like sport? That’s okay, give him books. Let it be good enough for him to be himself. Love him just the way he is, and maybe he’ll grow up to teach you things you didn’t even know.

*Disclaimer:

There are men in my life who are more passionate and eloquent about gender equality and vocal in their promotion of feminism than I dare to be. And there are men who choose not to make a noise about it, but quietly and determinedly love and support the women and girls in their lives. This was not written for you.

How Hard it is to Truly Be Okay with Yourself

Me in Montagu. 43 years old, no makeup, no highlights, sun damage and laugh lines. It's okay. It's me in Montagu.
Me in Montagu. 43 years old, no makeup, no highlights, sun damage and laugh lines. It’s okay. It’s me in Montagu.

Some months ago we spent a few days in one of my favourite places in the world, a house high in the mountains outside the Karoo town of Montagu. I love it there because there is nothing to do but swim in the dam, go for walks, read, eat and sleep. I can’t get agitated on social media because there’s no signal and my partner, removed from email, can’t worry about work. So we drink wine and make fires and sit long under the stars and our children are happy and it’s heaven. On our first evening there we came back from a late-afternoon dip and, as the shadows of the pines starting getting long and it was time for that first glass of wine I put on a sweater, went into the bathroom and automatically reached for my lip-liner. Because we were going to have drinks and snacks and chat and admire the view. Because I had been in the water and my makeup had washed off. Because… I’m a girl and if I don’t look pretty? Well, that’s a problem. I saw my reflection in the mirror, a woman of 43 with two children and a career and opinions and a brain and I looked away, out the window, at the trees and the big, blue mountain and I thought what the fuck am I doing?

Here I am in a remote holiday house with my husband and two daughters – the people who know and love and get me better than anyone in all the world – and I’m putting on makeup? It was a strange and sad moment where all the terrible, messed up messages I have internalised during my years on this earth hit me in my gut. I put the lip-liner back and went outside and looked out over the beautiful valley and tried to remember the incidences in my life that had led me to believe so doggedly in my own unworthiness. And how, in this world, I was going to save my daughters from the same fate. I remembered the earliest message where, compared to my cousin of the same age, I was labelled by family members as the ‘clever one.’ And, as any girl will know, you don’t want to be the clever one.

I remembered, many years later, a boy I was desperately in love with telling my best friend at the time he didn’t like me anymore because I was ‘fat’. I was 15 at the time and while I was never skinny, when I look at pictures of myself at that age I was definitely not fat. Still – I was mortified and ashamed, and it was the first time I have a clear memory of declaring war on my body – reading up on diets; taking small green slimming pills that made my heart race; sprinkling artificial sweetener on my All Bran Flakes and weighing myself every day. The idea that there was something wrong with me had taken root in my unconscious mind, and this belief would become more pronounced as time went by.

And, while I have learnt a lot in my time on earth, this is one thing I don’t really know how to change. How do you unlearn the negative messages that have been reinforced your whole life long? How do you decide you’ve had enough of this nonsense and you’re going to accept yourself just as you are – if not for yourself than for the amazing, clever girl children you’re preparing to send into the world? I read something once that posed the simple question: ‘when will you be thin enough?’ and I wept. A while back a girlfriend said something to me that was very scary and very true. She said, ‘your children don’t watch you with their eyes; they watch you with their whole being.’ I can tell my daughters what I think – propagate feminist values; go on about women’s rights; insist that no matter what they look like they are important and they have value, but when they see me unhappy because my jeans are tight; when they watch me eat salad while everyone else has pasta – all the words amount to nothing.

Last week my 8-year-old brought her school photos home. I could see she was unhappy. She sat beside me on the couch in silence and I let her be until I saw the big tears running down her cheeks. It took a while for her to admit that she was crying because one of her school friends had said she was fat and now that she looked at the photos of herself, she knew that it was true. I turned the TV off and I asked her sister to give us a few minutes alone. I didn’t really know what to say, to be honest. It was one of those parenting moments when you want to go, ‘hey, you know that manual? Now would be a good time.’

I opened the iPad and showed her pictures of herself taken at a recent ballet eisteddfod. I asked her what she thought of that little girl in the pictures. We found more pics, holiday snaps taken on the beach. I asked her if she agreed with what her friend had said. My daughter is little; there is no fat on her body. She had to concede that what had been said to her might not, after all, have been true. And then we talked about the fact that everybody is different. Some people are shorter, others are tall, some have dark hair and some are blonde, and some people will be heavier while others are lighter, and that the way you look has no bearing on who you are. I reminded her of the importance of always being kind and remembering that the outside of people says nothing about the inside. And she cheered up and started smiling again and we went and made hot chocolate, but it was a sobering moment which made me wonder, in spite of my best efforts, if I have failed miserably at my job.

Because the truth is, while I’ll order the Hunga Busta burger, throw back beer like the best of them and roll my eyes at women who succumb to cosmetic surgery, that’s only part of me. There’s another part, and one I’m not proud of, that looks at herself in a bikini and feels dismay. That has to beat down the guilt of devouring an XL portion of fish and chips on a Sunday in Kalk Bay. That secretly, while planning a holiday, determines to lose 3kgs so I can wear all the clothes I like. And who is very much a product of her environment. And what if it’s that version my daughters really see? How do I project an image of okayness when it’s not something I always feel?

But then, more than projecting a Stepford Wives-type image of perfection (which I could never achieve anyway) I’ve always been a firm believer in leveling with your kids and being honest no matter what. I mean, they see through your lies anyway. Could it be that there is room for ambiguity and contradiction in this ongoing conversation? After all, little about life is simple. Maybe if we keep talking and I ask them the right questions their (really awesome and strong) sense of themselves will be their lifeline when society tells that them the way they are is wrong. And maybe – this is my hope, anyway – because of the way they’ve been raised, they’ll be better equipped than I was to bounce back from the blows their self-esteem will suffer. For me, all I can do is put the makeup bag down, take a deep breath and go hang with the people who love me.

Café Mischu in Sea Point

cafe mischu sign

It’s harder than you might think, living in this cool city, coming up with cool places to go for coffee which you’ll also want to blog about, so when my friend, Craig, suggested Mischu in Sea Point, I thought, hurrah, yes. Mischu is opposite the Spar, and the reason he likes going there – other than the great coffee – is that he says it’s funny watching women have conversations when their faces don’t move. And while on the day we were there I didn’t spot any of those and I really liked the way they’ve done it up and it’s the kind of place you can definitely hang out with your Americano and watch the world go by, it got me thinking about this whole botox thing and why I have such a problem with it.

And it’s not because I’m not vain or don’t care about getting old and ugly. I care about it much, and I spend ages in the mirror worrying that my teeth aren’t white enough and that my sun spots will eventually take over my entire face and I’ll look like an alien and I hate when I gain weight and my clothes cling. And in the interests of vanity I bleach said teeth and I eat salad when I want pasta and wear BB cream every single day while pretending I’m au natural, but there is just something about the botox thing that makes my toes curl.

It’s like I have these two opposing forces where the one is super invested in looking good at any cost, while the other – I guess you can call her my inner dyke, though I suspect that’s deeply offensive – says ‘fuck that for a lark. I’m a woman, not a girl. I’m amazing just as I am, and I don’t have to buy into that twisted conception of what female adults are supposed to look like. I don’t have to be skinny and hairless to be accepted, and I certainly don’t have to look like I’m 25 in order to have value in this world.’

And while I’m incredibly fond of the vacuous, shallow version of myself and have the bags and shoes to prove it, it’s the other voice that I pay attention to because she feels closer to the real me. Because I am more than the sum of my parts, and I can hold my own intellectually and in spaces that would have scared the daylights out of me when I was in my twenties. I might have had fewer crow’s feet, but I was also rather dof and uninteresting by virtue of not having done very much. Your average 20-year-old has a lot of living to do before they make interesting dinner companions and, honestly, I value having seen some things in my life and having an opinion very much more than I do looking perfect in the mirror.

And fuck knows, when you get to 40 you’ve seen some things. I’ve had my heart smashed more times than I care to count; I’ve given birth twice without so much as an aspirin to help a girl through (what was I thinking, right?); I’ve held sick, feverish babies through the night and got up at the same time the next morning to do the other things that needed to be done. I’ve made a life for myself in a far away, cold country and endured the relentless heartache of being away from my home and my tribe. I’ve written things that have made people laugh out loud, and things that have made people so furious they wanted to lynch me on the spot. I’ve made good choices and terrible choices, and I’m not more special than anyone else, I’m just alive in the world, as we all are, and getting on with this journey I’ve picked out for myself.

And to deny my face the lessons I’ve learned – to pay somebody money to inject poison into my head so that when I’m really, really happy or really, really sad you’d never know – feels like the biggest travesty. Worse, it feels like betrayal to myself, because I have earned these lines, every single one. These lines are living. These lines are what I have lived and the things I have seen and done. They are drinking wine late into the night and talking with my husband about what matters. They are shouting in rage when he doesn’t get a thing about me and I can’t believe how hard it is being married. They are the terror that he won’t get off the plane and I’ll lose the love of my life because he is the coolest human being I have ever known, and they are shrieking with laughter when my maddest friend picks up her phone and talks in the same funny voice that used to have me sent outside the classroom in Std 7 for my uncontrollable hysteria.

They are worrying that my children are safe; sadness that my dad doesn’t feel good about his life; hoping my mom gets home safely when she works late at night. They are consoling our daughters when their daddy goes overseas every month for work, the angst that I might have offended a friend and the secret 3am fear that I’ll never write that book. Maybe it isn’t as ‘beautiful’ as the smooth, blank faces you see on younger women, but to me its beauty lies in something else – in its naturalness and its grace and the message it sends to my daughters about what really matters in life. And it’s not whether their mother has a wrinkle-free forehead. It’s not the hope that people look at me and go, ‘wow, she looks great! How does she do it?’ And I never think that, anyway, when I see someone who’s had work. I feel pity and a kind of sadness for what she thinks she has to be to be loved and to feel okay in the world.

And maybe I’ll change my mind in 10 years when the passage of time really starts marching across my face, but honestly I don’t think so. I think that other me will nip that thought right in the bud. Because the kind of beauty that comes of knowing who you are and what you have to offer doesn’t exist at the end of a needle. Anyhow. I think I got off track. Café Mischu does kiff coffee. My wrinkles and I will be back.

The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.
The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.

How Tori Amos Saved My life

I discovered Tori Amos in my early twenties at the end of a terrible relationship with a lovely man. There is no time Tori makes more sense than when you’re twenty-something, blindsided with grief and reeling in shock and despair. I maintain that this kind of emotional pain you only live through once. Twice would kill you. After that, you get a bit wiser and a bit more resilient. It’s a survival thing. The song was her first hit, Crucify, and I went and bought the CD and drank all day and all night with whoever would sit beside me while I waited for the hurting to stop or, at least, subside. Her lyrics were like balm to my blown apart heart. She put words to the emotions that raged through me, and she spoke the unspeakable. Eventually, after a few years, the pain lessened and went away but my relationship with Tori grew, and in many ways her music has been the soundtrack to my life.

‘Hey Jupiter’ (‘No-one’s picking up the phone…’) for the times I’d sit in the semi darkness with the ring tone in my ear knowing, very well, he wouldn’t be home now, and even if he was, that there was nothing, really to say. ‘Putting the Damage On’ for the first time he took his new girlfriend away on holiday (‘You’re off to the mountain/I guess her skinny legs could use sun…’), and I’m bent double with the hideousness of how he’s moved on and is doing pretty well without me and my histrionics while I pine and lament and wish, with all my heart, that it was me sitting in the front seat of his car with a bottle of Jack between my bare feet and the days ahead wide open and the sky full of summer.

There was just something so arrestingly honest about this woman’s music. It was Girl with a capital ‘G’, and she had been all the places I had been, and she made it okay to be angry and feel sad and confused and fucked up. Like ‘Precious Things: ‘He said you’re really an ugly girl/but I like the way you play/and I died, but I thanked him. Can you believe that?’ The way I would go to school hoping to see The Boy, hoping he would like me enough to say hello that day, and the rejection and misery I suffered when he didn’t. Or the feeling of despair, being schooled in a Calvinist institution during the height of apartheid where any type of free thinking was literally beaten out of you, and her having the audacity to announce, ‘Father says bow your head/like the Good Book says/Well, I think the Good Book is missing some pages.’ Well, bloody well, so did I.

And suddenly it was okay to be a raisin girl and to have different thoughts and to ask questions and not take all you were being told at face value. And there was something very unshackling about that. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the feminist ethos of a lot of her lyrics played a part in forming the person I was to become. Her message resonated more strongly for me than, I think, anything I had ever heard, musically or otherwise. To this day I probably know every lyric to every song, and writing this I have to admit it sounds kinda sad, but it’s the truth. I’ve talked about how we are conduits of truth for one another, and she was that for me. I had nobody in my life at that time to guide me, a clever, headstrong, emotionally messed up young woman with no conception of how to be in a world that felt foreign and hostile and more than a little bizarre.

When I finally made it out of that small town and found like-minded people in the musty lecture halls of the best university in the universe and was introduced to a world of thought where people said no and spoke up and women were strong and fearless I found new ways of thinking and expressing myself and it was a kind of heaven. And still, to this day, Tori has a way of summing stuff up and making everything feel okay. When, 10 years ago, I had the anti-marriage to end anti-marriages in our beautiful, turn-of-the-century apartment in Sweden surrounded by 20 friends in jeans and our baby daughter, Sophie, looking on, it was ‘A Sorta Fairytale’. Like life is. Try as we may, it’s only ever ‘sorta.’ And I always have at least one of her CDs in my car so that, amidst the madness of adulthood and parenting and all that goes with it, her songs are there to remind me of who I really am.

I felt disappointed and a little betrayed when I saw what she’d done to her beautiful face, and I realized that, in spite of her music, she’s not that okay with who she is, after all. But then, like I always say, we teach what we need to learn. Tori is a stunningly talented musician and lyricist, but she’s still a human being and fallible and probably as confused as the rest of us. And maybe that’s why she does ‘real’ so well. And it doesn’t take away from what she gave me when I needed it most. And for that – giving me the voice I never knew I had – I will be eternally grateful.

Where is Miley’s Mother?

I know we’ve all had it up to here with Miley Cyrus hype, but this morning as I looked at the shoot she’s just done with Terry Richardson (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2442749/Miley-Cyrus-simulates-sex-Terry-Richardson-shoot-swipes-Sinead-OConnor.html) all I could think was, where the hell is this child’s mother? Because if there is anyone in the world who loves you enough to take one look you pulling some bizarre underwear garment up so high that you reveal your labia majora to the world and slap you upside the head for your goddamned idiocy it’s the woman who birthed you.

My mother has always been the most amazing champion of my career. When I was just starting out as a writer and the only person who would publish me was the editor of Hustler magazine (I wrote ironic articles about things like feminism under a male pseudonym), she would go and buy a copy and black out the naughty bits and show her friends at work. But, proud as she has always been of me, I can say with absolute certainty that were I to take my clothes off in public and simulate sex with a bear, she would be sad and disappointed beyond – and let me know about it.

Maybe this is my age speaking, but when I see Miley’s emaciated body and huge, blue eyes staring at the camera ‘sex symbol’ is the furthest thing from my mind. What I think is, ‘darling child, what have they done to you?’ As I’m sure Sinead did when she sat down and wrote her letter. I see a troubled, confused young woman who has lost all sense of perspective and must value herself very little. And I remember myself at that age, and how vulnerable young women are, and what an exploitative place this world is. But somehow, because she is Miley Cyrus, and we think celebs are above normal standards of decency, we get confused ourselves and start questioning our own values and think because she’s doing it it must be okay.

And this is where moms come into the picture because no amount of Hollywood/fame/money/stardom would prevent me from dragging my 20-year-old daughter from that photo shoot by the ear. It would be over my dead body that she would demean herself in that way, and the horror that I had raised her so poorly would be devastating and make me question every decision I’d ever made with regard to her upbringing. And I wouldn’t give a crap if she was 20 or 25 or 35 for that matter. ‘Grown up’ means nothing to a mother. And then, as I looked at those pictures of her holding a beer bottle in a suggestive pose and doing all manner of lewd and lascivious things, I realized how lucky I am. Because when I became too arrogant to think my mother had anything more to teach me, I went to an institution of learning where I was surrounded by strong, powerful, brilliant women writers and intellectuals who changed who I was by illuminating the subtle machinations of the patriarchy and showing me how much I had to offer.

And from there I got my first job at a women’s magazine whose all-female staff included some of the brightest, most astute women in this country, and much more than my seniors, they became mentors to me who, with their collective cleverness and life experience, filled in whatever gaps were missing. What these ‘big sisters’ taught me was invaluable, and I guess the point I’m making is that, whichever way you look at it, we live in a man’s world and in order not to get lost in it, young women need this type of guidance; they need mentors to show them that they’re valuable and clever and worthy – otherwise it’s too easy to persuade them that swinging naked on a large, metal ball is a good career move.

I guess because of her fame and her money Miley missed out on this important life stage. She must not have had the advantage of female elders – grandmothers, aunts, big sisters, whatever – to guide and affirm her, and assure her that she is a valued member of her community. No woman who feels safe and loved would do the things that she has done of late. It speaks of a generation of lost daughters; girls who enter adulthood with a deeply warped sense of what it means to be a woman. Exactly at the time we should be achieving power and the balance should finally be tipping in our favour, we have somehow veered off course and lost sight of the things our sisters fought so hard for. This whole thing has been a sad moment for women of the world. It would be nice to dismiss it as every part of ridiculous, but too many young girls (my daughters included) look up to Miley Cyrus not to take it seriously. Her mother should have stepped up to the plate. Mama Cyrus, you’ve let your girl down.

On Raising Girls in a Crazy-ass World

I mean. Really.
I mean… really.

Probably my third thought after finding out my first baby was going to be girl (after oh wow, I really am pregnant and hooray! Now I get to use my favourite name!) was about how I was going to protect her from the world we live in – one that doesn’t allow women to be educated; which stones victims of rape; which marries off 10-year-old girls to 50-year-old men. How on earth was I going to raise her to be healthy and grounded amidst all this madness?

And no, I don’t live in Iran or Turkey, but I do live in a place when 9-year-old girls go on diet and want to marry a rich man and look like Miley Cyrus. And it’s kind of degrees of the same thing. So, I had all these plans in my head – I wouldn’t allow her to dress like a princess or watch American teen sitcoms. I would tell her she was clever instead of beautiful, and I would lead by example by having a career, being with a guy who respects me and regularly asking her questions which would keep her critical of the world we live in.

In reality, I managed three out of six. When I saw what her face did when she came across the Cinderella dress at a toy shop in Malmö at the age of two, no amount of stoning could have stopped me spending my last cash on that mad, pink concoction of tulle and bling. And when she wore it, all the time, over pyjamas at night, to school in the morning, her happy little face wasn’t clever, it was beautiful. And I told her so, repeatedly. How can you not?

Now I have two girls, and I don’t let them watch American teen sitcoms and they understand why, and even though I know they watch them at Granny, the important thing is that they know how I feel about it. We talk a lot about the world we live in, and when Sophie says stuff like, ‘boys are better at maths than girls’, we have discussions around how and why and she figures out sooner or later that that’s just a load of hogwash.

But, they are both girly-girls, as am I, and I’ve realized I have to step back and let them be who they are. Because, as any mother will know, your kids are individuals from the moment they are born. You guide and help and facilitate, but if you’re a sorted, clued-up kind of parent, what you’re really doing is giving them the confidence to be who they’ve always been.

My daughters love clothes and accessories and and dressing up. They’re also clever and creative and avid readers and storytellers, and the two kind of feed into each other. And I don’t think their penchant for pink and sequins is going to adversely affect their lives. God knows, a sparkly top doesn’t shut me up for a second. I know they watch me closely, so I’m super mindful of the things I say and do that will impact the way they understand their role as women. I make sure I have days in the week where I deliberately throw on whatever and don’t wear makeup or jewellery or even look in a mirror. So that they understand that this is an okay option, too.

The world has changed and continues to change, even with the inevitable backlash from certain sectors of the populace. I think, for them – especially if they go to university in Scandinavia – the playing-fields will be more level than they were for me, just a few years ago. And where they aren’t my hope is that their self-confidence will be developed enough to see them through, at least most of the time.

We watched this video together yesterday. No matter how many times I see it, it always makes me cry. And what’s more, they totally got it. More than this I can’t really do.

Why Men Still Need to Open That Car Door

In order not to drive myself demented with my own company all day long, I’ve decided to go down the road to Café Neo once or twice a week. At any given time of day, it’s full of folk with their laptops, probably also saving themselves from the insanity that comes with too much solitude. And it’s cosy and quiet and a good spot for getting things done. It’s also the regular hangout of a girlfriend of mine who works from home, and on Wednesday I agreed to met her there so she could tell me the sad story of her Saturday night.

Now, my friend (I’ll call her Emma) has a smoking hot career and earns a bundle of money. She doesn’t need any man to pay her bills, rescue her or look after her in any way. But, she’d like to share her life with somebody, so she dates fairly often and is on the lookout for a life partner. This particular Saturday she invited a guy a friend had set her up with along to a ball and, as one does when it’s a ball, went to a lot of trouble getting ready. She had on a beautiful dress, her hair looked gorgeous and she was wearing sexy heels. But, when she opened the door, he didn’t say a word. Not a ‘wow, you look pretty,’ or even an ‘I like your dress’ – nothing.

And it’s not like he’s obliged to or that she’s desperate for affirmation, but when it’s obvious that a woman who’s usually quite no-nonsense and in boardroom attire goes to a lot of effort to look good, isn’t it just manners or something to tell her she looks nice? Then, on the way to the car, she had to negotiate some steep steps wearing these high heels. When he didn’t notice and offer her his arm, she asked if he wouldn’t mind giving her a hand. And instead of realizing he was amiss, jumping to her side and doing the gentlemanly thing, he pointed out that her heels weren’t that high and that surely she could manage by herself.

And this pretty much carried on the entire evening – he’d pour himself a glass of wine and forget to fill hers; his attention would wander while she was talking, and when his phone rang he took the call even though they were half-way through dinner. Wrong, wrong, wrong. While one would assume he just wasn’t that into her, he actually was, but by the time the end of the evening came and he wanted to know when he could see her again and leaned in for a kiss, she was so over him that it was all beyond redemption. ‘He’s not a bad guy,’ she assured me. ‘He’s actually really nice and smart, he just didn’t get the memo.’

He just didn’t get the memo. And that memo is a big deal. It’s not about men being dominant and women submissive, and neither does it undermine feminism or contradict the truism that women and men are equal in all the ways that count. But, when a man and woman (and a man and a man or a woman and a woman) are together in a certain context there is a particular exchange of energy that happens; a sort of dance of the yin and the yang. And when men do stuff like not fill our wine glass or hold the door so we can walk through first or they walk ten steps ahead of us, that beautiful push-and-pull gets broken, somehow. There’s a type of old world graciousness, if you will, which simply ceases to be.

Of course we women are perfectly capable of pouring our own wine and opening our own doors, and we don’t need or want men to do these things for us always; just sometimes. Because what this really amounts to is a sort of ‘seeing,’ isn’t it? A recognition of our otherness; and a metaphorical kind of hat-tipping to our femininity. While all week long Emma is the boss and makes the decisions and wears the tailored pants, now and again she feels like relinquishing that role and relaxing into a different sort of space where she’s allowed to just be a girl being taken out by a boy. And that’s completely okay. So, men, next time you’re taking somebody somewhere nice and she’s put on a dress and perfume and is looking every part of beautiful, please don’t hold back from telling her. It doesn’t matter if she’s the CEO of the world – tonight she is on a date and in her heart she’s Cinderella. It’s just your job to be the prince.