International Women’s Day – Getting Over “The Fear”

I know most of you are here for my overly excitable book reviews, and this blog has become very literature-heavy of late, but I do on odd occasions have an opinion on something else. So, today I have decided to bestow upon my readers a piece of wisdom (I know, you’re so welcome for this); something which I thought about writing a while ago but never really got around to – and International Women’s Day felt like the perfect time to share this.

It’s a natural human instinct to be wary of other people. I think ever since we stopped needing to get together to tag team a woolly mammoth and cook it for a communal dinner in front of our caves, humans have been avoiding each other – at least in Britain anyway. Women in particular seem more programmed towards this. It’s drilled into us from a young age to be suspicious of other women. Mean Girls, Bridesmaids, even Sex and the City – popular culture warns us off other women like the road safety advert with the Hedgehogs from the 90’s. Other women are something to be feared and the culture of “I much prefer speaking to men, women bring too much drama” is drilled into teenage and even pre-teen girls; it’s definitely something to which I adhered during my school days, usually when I was on my third fight of the week with yet another ex best-friend.

Although I managed to maintain a solid group of female friends, I definitely carried this view into adulthood. ‘Other’ women are something to be viewed with fear and suspicion, this is a common value to which I adhered by pure avoidance of the enemy whenever possible, so when I moved to my current house and realised that the nearest affordable gym was a female-only, my heart sank. Gyms I’d used in the past were mixed and although women tended to stay together in the cardio section, safely avoiding the prying eyes of the sleeveless men on the weights bench on the rare occasions that they look up from their phones, I never felt there was any sense of unity in this. If anything it was the opposite, I was always very aware of the side eye glares between us all with undertones of “who is she trying to impress with those lashes?”; “is she really taking ANOTHER selfie” and “she is definitely judging my frayed, Primark leggings”. From the moment I joined this female-only hell, I would enter the building with my head down and earphones in, talk to no one and only looking up to ensure I didn’t accidentally walk near a complicated machine and feel an obligation to pretend to know how to operate it.

Eventually, when I realised my motivation was wearing out and I had no idea how to exercise effectively without proper supervision, I got up the confidence to sign up for a class. I reassured myself with the logic that classes are generally less busy than the communal gym since there’s a booking limit and I could hide in a back corner away from the scary women. After a few weeks of attending this class however, something weird started happening. Regular attendees started smiling at me. Eventually, they started talking to me. Scary muscly women at whom I’d previously spent my workout time glaring and thinking “I bet she’s so fit because she spends all her time at the gym due to having no friends and clearly thinks she’s fitter than everyone else”, would chat to me about the weather and joke about how confusing they found the class. And just like that, a penny dropped. Other women were probably just as scared of me as I was of them. Like my boyfriend always tries to say is true of spiders (even though it obviously isn’t because I would never feel confident enough to just chill in someone’s bath and give them the shock of their life when they tried to go in the shower).

So, having become woke to the fact that women aren’t actually that scary, I started going to more classes. Sometimes I even speak first now, and always chat to the newbies who come in and look at me with apprehension that suggests they believe I might literally bite them. Now, I will speak to women that I don’t know. I will ask for help in shops and chat more than the bare minimum that’s required, I chat to my neighbours, I compliment strangers in toilets (not in the actual cubicles, I haven’t gone full George Michael). What always surprises me when I do this is the look of genuine surprise on the recipient’s face. Why are we still so scared of each other? When women get together, wonderful things happen. Look at The Spice Girls, The Runaways, The Suffragettes. If we all stopped being so wary of each other just imagine what could happen. Not to be a total Pankurst about it but I definitely think this fear and suspicion between women comes from a seed planted by a man generations ago to protect themselves against total female world domination, because if we could get over this it would be like Girl Power x10000. We could lift each other’s confidence, we could take over, men would have no chance. And it would be amazing.

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