Self Portrait in Pain
Used to describe strict headmistresses, dragon-like mother-in-laws and any number of older women who have dared to have assert themselves. ‘A formidably aggressive older woman’ says the Oxford Dictionary online. Their example sentence: ‘a battleaxe with inflexible house rules’. Because the home is the woman’s domain, naturally.
Originally from 19th century Arabic, when it meant ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ – specifically one who was yet to have children.
Nowadays, far more likely to be used as a derogatory term for a woman of advancing years, often prefaced with ‘silly old’.
From Demi Moore to Madonna, any woman dating a younger man is labelled a ‘cougar’. Makes a change from ‘Mrs Robinson’, I suppose.
The online Oxford Dictionary, sums it up with this delightful example sentence: ‘She’s easily 20 years older than you but she’s drinking a Shirley Temple and she’s pretty tarted-up, pretty hot – a bona fide cougar.’
Which is probably about the maximum number of sexist stereotypes you can fit into one sentence.
The Cambridge Dictionary online defines this as ‘an unpleasant or ugly old woman’ or ’in stories, an old woman with magic powers’. Which basically means the male equivalent would be wizard… infinitely less offensive.
Often used alongside ‘revolting old’ or ‘withered’.
Shapeless old-fashioned clothes? Flat shoes? It can only be a frump. The word originally denoted mocking speech and later a bad-temper. It was only the early Victorians who started using it to describe a ‘dowdy’ woman. The current dictionary definition is: ‘An unattractive woman who wears dowdy old-fashioned clothes.’
Sometimes used to describe an outfit itself, to avoid accusations that the woman wearing it is herself being unfairly targeted, for example ‘she was wearing a frumpy dress’.
Never used to describe men.
Belongs in the ‘crone’ category and defined as ‘an ugly old woman’.
While some have suggested male equivalents – such as curmudgeon or git – it is the female-centric terms that specifically denote ugliness, unpleasantness and often poor hygiene.
Definition: an unpleasant woman, especially an older one, who is often angry/bossy.
Thought to derive from the 17th century French for ‘old horse’. Oh good.
You’d be forgiven for thinking than only women had hormones, so often are we accused of being slaves to them.
Commonly used to reference the menopause in older women – because there isn’t enough to deal with.
‘A matronly woman, usually one who is not young, is fat and does not dress in a fashionable way’, says the Cambridge dictionary.
Commonly denotes a motherly, bosomy, caregiver, which is all a bit ‘Carry On’ and outdated.
Unlikely though it might seem, this is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary online – a sign of the times – as ‘a sexually attractive woman who is a mother’. Which is about as polite as this one gets.
In the interests of fairness, the male equivalent is DILF and there are entire Instagram feeds devoted to ‘Dilfs of Disneyland’ and the like. Still, more commonly used to describe women, when father’s lean towards the ‘silver fox’.
‘A middle-aged or old woman dressed in a style suitable for a much younger woman’ says the dictionary, offering up yet another term used to judge how older women dress.
See also the offensive ‘Kronenbourg’ – used to describe a woman who looks 16 from the back and 64 from the front (or as Urban Dictionary puts it: a lady who looks great from behind, but has a face like a chopping board’).
Who knows whether the ‘bag’ refers to under-eye wrinkles, piles of supermarket shopping (see also: ‘bag lady’) or the frumpy clothing older women are so often accused of wearing.
Definition: ‘A woman, especially an older one, perceived as unpleasant, bad-tempered, or unattractive’.
Commonly used to describe a high-pitched female voice (see Hillary Clinton). Margaret Thatcher was so afraid of it that she took elocution lessons to make her voice sound deeper and therefore more ‘serious’. Rarely used to describe a high male one tone.
Surely the days of any woman being seen as ‘left on the shelf’ are over? Yet the word spinster persists, describing an unmarried and ‘childless’ female – typically one viewed as beyond the age of marriage (though research shows that more women aged over 65 in Britain are marrying than ever).
The male equivalent? Eligible bachelor.
This can be used for older and younger women – lucky us!
‘A woman who is believed to have magical powers and who uses them to harm other people’ – yet this fictional (the clue being in the definition) term is still used to describe women, particularly those in positions of power. Theresa May has been called this, while the women sharing their experiences of sexual harassment via the #MeToo hashtag were accused of a ‘witch hunt’.
Work in (slow) progress….
Irish legendary myth has it that Mis was the daughter of a powerful European ruler, Dáire Dóidgheal, who set out to invade Ireland. He landed with a huge army in Ventry, County Kerry, and a battle followed which lasted a year and a day. He was eventually slain by the hero-warrior Fionn mac Cumaill, which ended the battle.
Mis came down in the aftermath to look for her father, and found only his dead body, bleeding, on the beach; overwhelmed by grief, she flung herself across her father’s body, licking and sucking at his bloody wounds to try to heal them, just as an animal might. When this failed to restore him to life, madness overcame her and she rose up into the air like a bird and flew away into the heart of the Sliabh Mis mountains.
Mis lived in the mountains for many years, and grew long trailing fur and feathers to cover her naked skin. She grew great sharp claws with which she attacked and tore to pieces any creature or person she met. She could run like the wind, and no living thing was safe from her. They thought her so dangerous that the people of Kerry created a desert stripped of people and cattle between themselves and the mountains, just for fear of her.
The king Feidlimid Mac Crimthainn, offered a reward to anyone who could capture Her alive. only one person accepted his challenge; a gentle harpist by the name of Dubh Ruis. He set about enticing Mis out of hiding with gentleness, music and offers of love. He coaxed her to a pool and, over days, washed away the dirt and scrubbed away her feathers and fur. He combed her hair, and fed her, and made a bed for her. And eventually, he brought her back to civilisation, and married her.
‘I love the story of Mis; I believe it contains a necessary lesson for women in these times. Sometimes, anger and grief is a necessary precursor to transformation. Sometimes, we need to let the wild woman rage. To grow feathers and fur, and run wild through the woods. Sometimes, we need to bite. To stop being nice and talking about love and light and thinking that we can make the world a better place just by pretending that it’s so, or that we can make Donald Trump a better man by sending him love and light through the ether. These are dark days in our history, and dark days for women. If women want to change that, we need to take hold of that pure, honest energy which fuels our necessary rage and grief, and use it next for transformation. Find the hag energy. Use it. Transmute it; transform it. It’s what all good alchemists do, and women are born alchemists’
‘Sometimes, madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world; sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forwards is to allow ourselves to fall apart. As the story of Mis shows, that madness can represent an extreme form of initiation, a trigger for profound transformation.
… Mis is the original wild woman, that archetypal madwoman who lives deep within each of us. She speaks for us all: for the rage which we cannot express, for the grief which eats our heart out, for the voices we have suppressed out of fear. This old story shows us a brutal descent into darkness during which all illusions are stripped away and old belief systems evaporate, and in doing so it suggests that the extremities of madness or mental breakdown, with their prolonged, out-of-control descent into the unknown, might offer us a path through which we can come to terms with the truth. Like other legendary geilta (the Irish word for madwomen) Mis is driven to extremity in her grief, shape-shifting into bird form, flying away into the hills and woods, growing fur and feathers, eating wild and raw food, leaving the intolerable world behind her. But a geiltcannot emerge from her madness and come back to the world until she has achieved some kind of personal transformation. Through her ordeal – her removal from society and her time spent in the wilderness – she must find a way to reclaim a more authentic sense of identity and belonging. She finds it with the help of a man; she finds it in the union of the masculine and feminine.’
Sharon Blackie (‘If Women Rose Rooted’ http://sharonblackie.net/if-women-rose-rooted)
In the early 1990’s, whilst toiling in the London media scene I was approached by and attended an interview at Dennis Publishing.
My interviewer was none other than the man himself, Felix Dennis; a frankly amusing and amazing man, character of legend and many a magazine myth. He had occasion to recruit a team for a new venture; the launch of the title ‘Stuff’.
A bi-monthly men’s magazine about, well, stuff:
‘Stuff is the world’s best-selling gadget magazine, andis the online version of that magazine (if that makes any sense). It’s where you can find tech news that’s wry but not dry, the world’s most trusted gadget tests and exclusive previews of the latest phones, computers, wearables, tablets, games, apps, TVs, hi-fi, headphones, cameras, consoles, and media players, as well as insights into the technology that’s changing your future.
It’s not all gadgets…that’s not all – cars make us quiver and robots rock our world. We’re seduced by sport and tickled by toys. We worship watches, marvel at music and fawn over films, fashion and furniture. OK, we hardly ever do furniture. And thank goodness for that, eh?’
Stuff, stuff and more stuff. Stuff it seemed to me that was really rarely needed. Though the title was acquired by Haymarket publishing in 1999 and still exists to this day so what would I know…
Needless to say I declined the job offer but left with a kind of a pal, which in turn saw me in 2006 with a signed copy of Felix’s tome ‘How to get Rich’ .
Yeah, yeah, get to the point, I know.
The point being that I still have the book, and I know that it is a signed copy, but I have never witnessed the signature as I have never actually opened the book……
The fact that a magazine about stuff I could see no point of launched by a man whose book I possess but did not buy and have never read says way more about me than anything else I totally concede.
However, by the time the book came in to my possession I had long since left London and Media behind me to return to paint, due in no small part to the fact that working in an industry so wholly unconnected to my sense of self made me unhappy to the point of heaving……
…..and therein we have it. Finally. the point of this month’s blog.
The pursuit of stuff nobody needs can make us sick.
The pursuit of things that resonate with our-selfs makes us well.
The provocative term, vocational arousal, came by way of the visionary thinker Barbara Marx Hubbard.
Vocational arousal describes an internal yearning or calling to our highest work; to our specific duty while on Earth. While this calling used to be experienced by the few, possibly those in spiritual vocations, artists, healers, nurses, physicians, and teachers in particular, this arousal is being expressed more and more now by people not yet sure of where their joy lies; because they have never had occasion to ask…
When you love your work, you spend your days in a heightened state of arousal Marx Hubbard tells us. Good work is sexy, Pretty cool. What’s not to love?
The world has been filled with people who have unwittingly bought into the system. Namely to do as you are told, go to school, get the required education, get a good job and work for the machine – until retirement and ultimately death. Increasingly, though, students are finding that following this path does not lead to a job at all, never mind a good one. Mere qualifications are not enough, educational establishments want life experience, individuality and point of difference. Vocation.
Not job seekers
But what has a job been? And who on earth would want one long term? A job has no vitality. It is a way to fill your day while you are planning what you really want to do. And often in the planning you become numb, totally swallowed by the machine. And you forget who you are. And what role you have to play that makes your eyes sparkle and your heart sing. So we have cities filled with zombies. The most aroused they get is through very ordinary sex, too much social media, or crap TV.
Buckminster Fuller, the American architect, writer, inventor and theorist long ago did the ‘math’ and concluded that it is cheaper to pay people to stay at home, to not commute, to not produce stuff that adds no real value but consumes earth energy. They then might have a chance to discover where they are vocationally aroused. Then we could honour people for doing what was spontaneously arousing within them and that added value to the whole, collective, existence.
We would honour those who love to do the caring roles that our current society regards as worthless; taking care of children, the elderly and the physically challenged. We would not say that they are less valuable than the ‘worker’ who gets paid silly money for trading bits on a screen. We would honour men who wanted to be stay at home fathers, and women who wanted to be stay at home mums. We would celebrate the artists and artisans, music makers, poets and musers. We would measure value by the joy in their eyes, the weight of hell lifted from the collective consciousness and the contribution they make to the joy and well-being of all.
Vocational arousal is the real work of life. It is the twinkle. The divine spark.
As Buckminster said:
‘We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living’.
We need far less Stuff than we have led ourselves to believe.
‘Enough is as good as a feast……’ now was that Thomas Mallory or Mary Poppins? You decide as I am currently vocationally aroused by this:
Ahhhhh Pablo, don’t you just love him?
Me? Not so much, ever since the Hayward.
Lots of gals did though.
In the year that is 100 since women first received a right to vote, owing in the most part to the actions of an active and empowered few, and a slowly emerging narrative [if sought] of self sacrifice and protest at all levels from kitchen to castle, I am reminded of my experience of the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Picasso’s Picassos’  where I first felt the glimmerings of fear.
In 1981 I was 15 and on a school trip. I felt a chill for the first time, inexplicable, a thought I could not then form. A fear of being female.
All because of this:
And so in honour of the man who first ‘fraided’ me I offer this…..
I’d say ‘enjoy’ but you’re not gonna…..
The Guardian, Monday 17 April 2017
Researching further works has led me down many avenues but none so dark, disturbing and remarkable than Immaculee’s story.
This ‘About’ extract is taken direct from her [rather spectacular] website [no disrespect but she is evidently under management…], I would challenge anyone, male or female, to read her story without horror. Whilst personally not a ‘believer’ in some guy in the sky it is her sense of self and strength of character I find so incredibly moving. Very unsure that this is anything that could ever be the justification for a painting but inspirational none the less…
‘Immaculée Ilibagiza was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. Education was very important in her household, so it was no surprise that she did well in school and went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 that Immaculée’s life was transformed forever.
On April 6 of that year, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculée’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughtering of men, women and children.
To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculée’s father told her to run to a local pastor’s house for protection. The pastor quickly sheltered Immaculée and seven other women in a hidden 3 x 4 foot bathroom. For the next 91 days, Immaculée and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country.
While in hiding, anger and resentment were destroying Immaculée’s mind, body and spirit. It was then that Immaculée turned to prayer. Prior to going to the pastor’s home, Immaculée’s father, a devout Catholic, gave her a set of rosary beads. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the anger inside her, and the evil outside the house. It was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Immaculée.
In addition to finding faith, peace, and hope during those three months of hiding, Immaculée also taught herself English. Immaculée was always a good student and already fluent in Kinyarwanda and French. Using only a Bible and a dictionary, she spent countless hours in that cramped bathroom learning her third language.
After 91 days, Immaculée was finally liberated from her hiding place only to face a horrific reality. Immaculée emerged from that small bathroom weighing just 65 pounds, and finding her entire family brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. She also found nearly one million of her extended family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rwandans massacred.
After the genocide, Immaculée came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, Immaculée was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”
Find her full story here: