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Am I the world’s freest woman?


4:34 pm - June 19th 2010

by Jennifer O'Mahony    


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I am twenty-one years old. Female. British. Middle class, and agnostic. I attended a good university, and came out with an arts degree. If I want to make money, I can, and if I don’t, I can borrow it without impediment. I don’t feel the need to compulsively buy things. I’m healthy, and I don’t hate myself.

No one will stop me if I want to leave my country, stay in my country, sleep in until midday, go out and not come home, get a boyfriend, get a girlfriend, study, drop out, claim benefits, get married, or do none of the above.

Am I the freest woman in the world?

I feel none of the constraints of religious morality that so affected women, especially women of little education, in earlier times. I live by my own code, partly informed by the law, and partly by my upbringing and experiences. My parents felt no affinity with their Christian religion, and I was brought up in a Muslim country, so religion had no space to flourish in my childish mind.

When I met people who were swallowed up by the inconsistency of their religion and their lives, I tried not to feel smug. If only they could see, I used to think. Now I am less arrogant, though I think some of them lack the courage to reject what they know is rationally unlikely.

There was no question that I’d get an education. No question that I would learn to swim, to drive, to use a knife and fork properly, and to hold decent conversations. I was born to be a productive member of society, for I am a part of the industrious British bourgeoisie, who prop up the economy with their quietly dutiful existences.

No one was ever going to cut out my clitoris or burn down my school because there were girls inside, forming their own opinions.

My ascent in life recognised the female mind as a functioning entity, rather than something to be suppressed and controlled. At university I could talk about women in the context of my studies, or I could ignore them entirely. I could dress in men’s clothes, women’s clothes, and sometimes I didn’t need clothes at all.

What about capitalism? I know how to get money, but I don’t care enough to devote all my attention to attaining it. I have met enough unhappy rich people to know that its pursuit is not fulfilling. Tragedy surrounds the compulsively rich. This makes me luckier than my American peers, say, who in other ways are so similar to me. They often need the comfort of products, and if they can’t find them, they panic.

Equally, if they choose to self-consciously reject the capitalist ideal, they are still only too aware of it in their refusal to cooperate with it. I shrug in the face of capitalism. It has worked for my family and I, but I don’t love it back. I use it to my advantage, and try to avoid its control.

The government don’t want anything from me, and neither do my family. My friends just want me to be happy.

I must be free, then.

Except that I’m not. I can’t walk home at night alone without looking over my shoulder. I will never fight on the front line for my country. I will statistically earn less than my male peers for doing the same job, and if I stop to have children my career will almost inevitably suffer.

I am bound by social conventions, those barriers we place in our own minds, received from others. I wouldn’t dream of never shaving (and neither would most British men and women). I was desperate to pluck my eyebrows and wear a bra by the age of 12. If I don’t exercise, I feel guilty.

Every accomplishment is a second-long thrill, followed by the question: “what now?” If I went into politics, I would have to spend my life lying and smiling and caressing egos before I got anywhere near to power.

I may feel freer than others, but these self-doubts are completely typical. The body image problems, self-hatred, childishness and self-denial of so many of the women I know are endemic. The bulimic brigade. The women who have to be drunk to have sex, because they feel they are doing something dirty with their bodies.

The ones who are silent, and then later feel a pent-up anger they cannot release as they allow sexists to mock them to their faces. And these are the freest women in one of the freest countries in the world.

If we, the free women, could just stop turning everything inwards, and express ourselves to the people that want to keep us less than completely free, then we could rid ourselves of the final remnants of what made us poor, ignorant, and abused for so long.

Do it yourself, because no one will do it for you. Do it for all the other women who don’t have the choice.

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About the author
Jennifer is a regular contributor to LC. She blogs here and is on Twitter here.
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Reader comments


1. Flowerpower

I feel none of the constraints of religious morality that so affected women, especially women of little education, in earlier times. I live by my own code, partly informed by the law, and partly by my upbringing and experiences.

I doubt if your personal morality is all that different from the morality common to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the major Indian religions.

Pretty well all religious codes of morality hold that it is wrong to murder and steal. They enjoin us to treat our parents with kindness and respect. They encourage us to put the needs of others before our own selfish urges. And they recognize the enormous power of the sexual instinct to make us do things which might involve hurting or betraying others, even those whom we love.

All the rest is commentary.

2. Jennifer O'Mahony

Flowerpower – agree. UK law is, as we all know, formed partly from Christian values. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill etc etc.

People say that our morality is based on Christian values. I retort that Christian values are based on our morality. People have been round a lot longer than gods have.

Possibly – but being the freest doesn’t make you free.

The freest woman in the world? I’m sure we could find one or two freer….someone exactly like you who also has the £1 million in the bank for example.

But in terms of the average human experience around the world today, or the average experience among all the generations of human beings that have ever lived….yes, you’re around and about as free as anyone has ever been.

As, if we’re honest about it, are all the rest of us.

“If I want to make money, I can, and if I don’t, I can borrow it without impediment. I don’t feel the need to compulsively buy things. I’m healthy, and I don’t hate myself.

No one will stop me if I want to leave my country, stay in my country, sleep in until midday, go out and not come home, get a boyfriend, get a girlfriend, study, drop out, claim benefits, get married, or do none of the above.”

That pretty much applies to all of us lucky enough to be alive in an early 21 st century rich country. Sure, some are freer than others, but compared to hte general or historical experience of humanity, we’re living very high on the hog.

6. Chaise Guevara

“UK law is, as we all know, formed partly from Christian values. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill etc etc.”

While UK law is partly formed from Christian values, it’s completely fallacious to claim that that applies to laws preventing theft and murder. These, like any acts that are considered immoral across practically all of society, are pretty fundamental taboos that predate Christianity and almost certainly humanity itself.

Where religious (in the case of the UK, Christian) values do directly affect law tends to be in the more contentious areas such as homosexuality, marriage and divorce, gender issues, abortion and so on. It’s also worth noting that the law in Britain and many other states has generally been moving against religious influence recently by mandating equal rights for women and gays, making divorce easier and so on.

The freest woman in the world? I’m sure we could find one or two freer….someone exactly like you who also has the £1 million in the bank for example.

Interesting,

since only the other week you were telling us that a £1 million did not amount to much.

Make your mind up Timmy.

All religions hate woman, and treat them as shit.

It is only in countries where the state is more powerful than religion do woman have more rights. Left to their own ways religions will always attack woman.

I don’t know where you live, or where you’re from, but the freedoms which you describe are hardly universal – not in the UK.

I’m from Liverpool; a few months ago, a young man was stabbed outside a gay club and died. Fabulous, for you, if you’re “free” to get a girlfriend, but I don’t know quite where you’re living.

I think all your post shows is that you’ve had a comfortable upbringing and “adopted” a moral code of assimilation. The system is pretty much set up for you, after all.

What about people who don’t enjoy your birthright?

Just because we’re no longer living in the middle ages, doesn’t mean we – women, men, gay, straight, whatever – are “free”.

In the interests of transparency, I currently have -£200 in the bank. That ‘borrowing without impediment’ part I took a little too seriously.

Whether people are deliberately refusing to see the irony of the title or not, I realise that I am not ACTUALLY the freest ever. That is the point of little satirical section. The point I’m making is yes, we’re freer than ever, but still not free.

And therefore the people who are free should make it their business to stop letting this be corroded, and try to extend it wherever possible.

J – funnily enough my whole family is from Liverpool. I lived there for 5 years. I am sorry to hear about that experience, as my gay friends still in the area seem to find it one of the better places for being open about it.

No, you are not the freest woman in the world.

By choosing to dispense with the religious, you risk imprisoning yourself in a rationalist straitjacket. People who are open to seeing the world in a religious way are not so constrained.

The freest woman I’ve ever met is my auntie Margaret, a cloistered nun.

“By choosing to dispense with the religious, you risk imprisoning yourself in a rationalist straitjacket”

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Ooops, I cut the article by mistake earlier. The full version has now been restored.

Sally

You should read Marilynne Robinson’s latest… do you some good.

Here’s the New York Times review.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/26/AR2010052604894.html

…. sorry The Washington Post’s!

I don’t wish to read anything more about religion thank you or the opinions of religious nuts who think that if you don’t have religion you can’t be moral.

Tell that to all the child molesters’ in the church.

@14 – Sunny, you eejit!

@11 – I apologise. Due to Sunny’s “edit”, I completely misinterpreted your words. I got only the first three paragraphs, minus the question, ending at “I live by my own code.”

I actually agree with a lot of what you say…

Incidentally, whereabouts in Liverpool did you live? I think it’s a fabulous city, but (in my opinion) better to be in Manchester for the gay scene!

19. Shatterface

Flowerpower: ‘Pretty well all religious codes of morality hold that it is wrong to murder and steal. They enjoin us to treat our parents with kindness and respect. They encourage us to put the needs of others before our own selfish urges. And they recognize the enormous power of the sexual instinct to make us do things which might involve hurting or betraying others, even those whom we love.’

What a crock. All religions treat women as second class – some more than others – and regard homosexuals on a level with vermin. Religious sexual codes are oppressive and repressive. The liberation of women and homosexuals has had to be fought every step *against* religionists. How many religions respect women’s rights over their own bodies?

Jennifer O’Mahony: ‘Flowerpower – agree. UK law is, as we all know, formed partly from Christian values. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill etc etc.’

Nick Griffin has made the same claim and it falls down on two points: (1) that these aren’t exclusively Christian values, and (2) Christians are pretty happy to ignore the stuff about killing and stealing when it suits the purposes of the Church.

Sally: ‘It is only in countries where the state is more powerful than religion do woman have more rights. Left to their own ways religions will always attack woman.’

Except a powerful State is as totalitarian as any religion. Do you really think Stalin was any better than Torquemada?

Any system which makes the individual conform to the needs of that system rather than respects their individuality will treat sexual relationships first and foremost as a way of replicating *itself*. That means ultimately women are baby-making machines and homosexuals are a drain.

No gods, no masters.

“I will never fight on the front line for my country.”

Yup – and since 1842 it’s been illegal for women to work down a coal mine. Strangely enough these exemptions from the sex discrimination act have never featured very highly on the list of feminist demands.

@8.

“All religions hate woman, and treat them as shit. “

Bit of an over-generalisation that, albeit generally true of most world religions in their traditional forms. But then if a religion developed a couple of millenia ago, it’ll reflect the cultural norms of the place and time it was formed.

As with any generalsation, there’s exceptions, particularly in those religions with a much younger pedigree – the Bahai faith, for instance, has the equality of men and women as one of its key tenets.

See also Quakerism, which, when it formed in the 17th Century was ahead of its time when it comes to womens rights, but which admittedly took many years before male and female Quakers achieved a truly equal footing.

Then there’s various new religious movements that take an overtly feminist stance as part of their teachings – certain strains of Wicca and Neopaganism spring to mind.

Then of course, there’s the myriad currents of feminist theology that exist within the more mainstream religions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_theology

I’m not saying this to proselytise for this or that religious belief. Just making a point, y’know.

I will statistically earn less than my male peers for doing the same job

The average of women’s earnings in some jobs may be less than the average of men’s. But you are not an average, you are an individual. Because of some of the freedoms you list you are in a strong position to decide to earn more than the average of your gender and make the appropriate choices.

About a third of the gender pay gap is explained by the differing propensity of men and women to enter certain well-rewarded fields. In my workplace nearly everyone in HR management is a woman. But women are in a minority in the higher-earning finance and sales departments. Those women who do make a choice to shun the soft-option and work in finance/sales often outperform their male colleagues.

23. Ryhs Williams

Shatter
A super post. As an agnostic, I am hedging my bets. But the idea that our present moral philosophy is down to the judeo-islamic-christian religion is a nonsense. Pagan philosophies certainly had rules against murder and stealing and knew these acts were wrong.
Judeo-Islamic-christian religions are based on some pretty horrendous moral aberrations. For instance Abraham taking his son out to kill him, just to prove his loyalty to god.
Our present laws are based on a number of influences. Mainly it was down to control. Henry 11’s need to control his rebellious barons by using the jury system is certainly one example.

24. Ryhs Williams

Zara
Good points but the was equality in those religious organisations down to their religious beliefs.
Maybe it was down to other influences such as the innate need for a stable social community. For instance the equality of women made their community more harmonious

25. Ryhs Williams

Gould
Your aunt is not free, she made be content. There is a difference.
Freedom is about risks.
She lives in a cloistered, sorry for the pun, world without any pressures. A little like a citizen in Orwell’s 1984.

26. Mike Killingworth

[22] You are making Jennifer’s point for her and better than she does herself. Why are jobs in sales and marketing better paid than jobs in HR?

The former require aggression, the latter conciliatory skills. Gould, you show very clearly what our culture values and doesn’t value. Indeed, I would say that Jennifer’s “lack” of freedom boils down to two points – the fact that she has to live in a culture of some sort – because that is part of what it is to be human – & the fact that she lives in an aggressive one.

In an earlier generation, the Greenham Women would have told her that aggression is a consequence of the existence of men. For some reason, feminists have gone off that line of argument…

Is there actually an active campaign here now to find as many women as possible who will paint themselves as victims in 600 words? Am I the only women of the liberal left’s acquaintance who feels this obsession with publishing this type of whinge is sexist in the extreme? Why not just replace half the site with a nice pic of a Stepford wife?

This article is fucking offensive and I’m keen to know why its type is continually solicited, by both the blogworld and the mainstream media. Anorexics, bulimics, depressives, girls who are too scared to walk down the street – talk about falling over yourselves to reinforce male stereotypes of women as sad, weak little creatures. I’m a woman and a feminist and I’m sick to the teeth of this whining, middle class shit. Stop talking about your minor worries for Christ’s sake. Your personal experiences are neither representative, nor important. Neither are mine. Nobody cares. Start writing about people other than yourselves and get a sense of perspective. Use your advantages to help people who haven’t been as lucky as you. Women are smart, strong and capable. Stop insisting that we’re all just creeping around quietly, waiting for a good raping.

Jesus Christ, but this fucks me off.

And while we’re at it – if we’re all so concerned about women as equals, and we’re all such great feminists and so in tune with the female mind, why are there two pictures of gorgeous young birds in their underpants on the homepage?

“why are there two pictures of gorgeous young birds in their underpants on the homepage?”

Umm, because it’s an illustration to an article about the airbrushing of photographs of swimsuit models?

Ah, Mr Worstall. You catch me in poor humour.

Let’s just say that strikes me as ANY justification to have tits on a page. If you want to talk about photoshop, put a screengrab of photoshop on the page.

I’m going to upload a picture of MY ass in a minute. That’ll learn somebody.

Okay, this thread just took a turn for the interesting…

“Let’s just say that strikes me as ANY justification to have tits on a page”

I must have missed that line in the rule book insisting that there has to be a justification for tits on a page. They’re just a secondary sexual characteristic, as unusual in the human race as beards. Perhaps, what with moobs, more evenly distributed than beards….although there are always the follically abundant on the distaff side to make up for that.

33. Ryhs Williams

I’m going to upload a picture of MY ass in a minute. That’ll learn somebody

I suppose it would be a case of “Kiss me kate”

Yep, I certainly sympathise with Jennifer.

On the face of it, she seemed to have everything, then she realised there was something missing from her life, something she could never have, and that’s so unfair.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penis_envy


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jennifer O'Mahony

    RT @libcon Am I the world’s freest woman? http://bit.ly/9bzKc2

  2. Elly

    RT @sunny_hundal: Am I the world’s freest woman? http://bit.ly/9bzKc2 asks @jaomahony

  3. The World’s Freest Women? « Jennifer O'Mahony : Journalism & Opinion

    […] This appeared on Liberal Conspiracy here. […]

  4. Nadia

    This really is a naff post. @sunny_hundal: @jaomahony asks: "Am I the world’s freest woman?" http://bit.ly/9bzKc2.

  5. sunny hundal

    Am I the world’s freest woman? http://bit.ly/9bzKc2 asks @jaomahony

  6. AdamRamsay

    RT @libcon Am I the world’s freeest woman? http://bit.ly/9bzKc2

  7. Emma McBride

    RT @AdamRamsay: RT @libcon Am I the world’s freeest woman? http://bit.ly/9bzKc2

  8. Emma Bonar

    Comment 27 on this inane article http://bit.ly/cXlSVp is genius

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    […] Liberal Conspiracy – a site I generally love with a passion – has managed to find yet another educated, well-off woman to write a ‘women are victims and sad fannies’ piece. […]

  10. Women – hear me roar | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Liberal Conspiracy – a site I generally love with a passion – has managed to find yet another educated, well-off woman to write a ‘women are victims and sad fannies’ piece. […]





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