Monday, September 30, 2013

Can a feminist be a girly girl?

My name is Josie Bisett, and apparently, I am a Feminist.

Yeah. That one kind of took me a bit by surprise too. I don't think anything has changed. I'm still me. I just guess I hadn't really got the definition figured out until recently.

See, many many years ago back in the days when Margaret Thatcher ruled Britannia and Princess Diana was adored by Royalists and the rest of the world alike, I thought 'feminist' was the vernacular synonym of the slang word 'dyke'. Nope, sadly, I am not kidding.

And in my childish ignorance, I didn't really know what a 'dyke' was. Growing up in the North of England, prejudice slurs were bandied around in the playground like a soccer ball. We all used these unsavory words and phrases, but we didn't know really what we were saying. We just knew we didn't want to be on the receiving end of the name calling.

Sticks and stones may break my bones 
but calling names won't hurt me.

Righto. Fuck that shit. Some of those verbal abuse scars run much deeper.

To me a 'dyke' was a lady that looked and dressed like a man: big hobnail boots, a lumberjack shirt, and maybe a pair of dungarees would be her chosen attire. Obviously, she had short short 'boyishly' cropped hair. 

Diana had boyish hair but she was indisputably not a 'dyke'.

A dyke was a lady that did not want to be seen as a lady. At some point in her life she will have burned all her bras and started drinking her beer from a pint glass. In hindsight, all that sounds pretty great. 

Here's the kicker, no one will like you. Especially not the boys. Oh. My. God. How awful would that be?

Was Maggie Thatcher a dyke? Maybe, but I wasn't sure. Nobody seemed to like her so it was possible.

My training had me believing being a feminist, and hence a 'dyke', was a terrible terrible thing. Maybe supplanting the word dyke into primary schools in the UK was all a big conspiracy to keep the girls from inevitably taking over the world. 

Perhaps I should have revered Thatcher, but I was taught to hate her. 

Here's Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her! 
Squish squash squish squash here's Maggie Thatcher!

Today, my response to all this nonsense would be an indifferent shrug, but back then, I didn't know any better.

I wasn't raised a girly girl either, wearing pink fairy dresses, frills and ribbons. I grew up with two brothers almost the same age as me who laughed heartily when I wore my brown cardigan. We played bull dogs charge and take-off and other boyish games outside in the fields until it got dark. They would pin me down and spit snot on me or stick grass blades up my nostrils until I nearly cried. Boys.

At least it kept me out of boy racer cars and off of street corners drinking cider and smoking like a lot of my peers were doing at the same age. Yup. I was a total geek. But whatever, I wasn't interested in boys that way, or dating until I was 17. My brother's best mate tried to kiss me when we were hiding in long grass one evening, and it was enough to keep me celibate for the rest of my teenage years.

When it rained we played battleships or cards or a board game, and my brothers had a pool table and dartboard in their room. When we came of age, like my brothers, I became addicted to SEGA's Sonic The Hedgehog and Nintendo's Mario Bros. No matter what subliminal messages society or my upbringing tried to instill in me, I never - NOT FOR ONE SECOND - believed there was a single thing my brothers could do that I couldn't.

I don't quite know who to thank for that instilled belief. Was it school, or my parents, or TV? Or was it simply me? I wish I knew the secret so I could pass it on to my daughter.

School didn't put limitations on what we girls could do. I was awesome at Design & Technology, not so much Home Economics, and the boys all baked cakes and sewed too (if they wanted to). I hated having to wear a leotard and twirl around with a ribbon, so much so that I would dream of getting lost in the woods on Sunday afternoons so I wouldn't have to go to gym class on Monday morning. But I didn't fancy the boy alternative of running around outside in the cold either. 

I tried out for rugby just because I could, but it was way too rough for me. In spite of being an invariable tom boy, I was way too much of a big girls blouse. I loved wearing a school skirt ~ it was my ONLY skirt and in an attempt to run with the cool kids, I rolled up the waistband, so it was sluttishly short.

I remember one of the male teachers referring to it as a belt, and I was misguidedly flattered that he'd noticed.

Luckily, I made it out of school not pregnant. Not all the girls fared so well.

TV wasn't much help on the equality front. Last year, I watched an old episode of the Jetsons that I'd seen decades earlier: George didn't want Judy to drive the car. I mean, seriously? How is it I know all the degrading women car jokes out there? Did this sexist humor mess with my confidence to excel in life in any way or are my girlish genes already destined to follow the path of insecurity and hesitation. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 

From an early age, my Father had me regularly making him cups of tea. He never asked the boys.

My Mom would pay me to iron the family shirts. She never asked the boys.

I sometimes thought that was all very unfair. Why was the girl expected to help with the upkeep of the house but not the boys? But ultimately my brain morphed this into a positive. It was just a reflection of my own willingness to help my parents (see how nice I am?) and my advanced capability to take on very adult chores. After all the boys would have likely just messed it up. 

Dad was (and still is) pretty old school. He was the breadwinner, and Mum stayed home to look after us kids. But in spite of the way things were, he was and still is a very fair husband and father.

Dad helped out around the house. I mean really helped out. He would often clean, garden and do dishes. I wondered if this was his army training. Yes, he wanted Mum to look after him and bring him his cup of tea and plate of biscuits. But then I would see him sneak away to the kitchen and whip up a super fancy toddy for Mum.

Although my parents were raised in the 60s and both subscribed to a degree to society's unequal structure. I was seeing this archaic inequality crumble before my own eyes.

And most importantly, Dad never put any limitations on what I could be.That's not to say he approved of all my choices. And there was possibly one pathway that may have caused irreparable damage.

I remember the day he said, 'Women should NOT fight on the Frontline.'

Now don't hate me, but I think I might agree with him. But that's a whole other blog post.

Needless to say, I didn't join the army. Not because of dad's words, but because I had other ideas.

I also remember the day he said, 'You can't have it both ways.' By 'YOU' he meant 'WOMEN'. He was alluding to my being a woman and wanting a career and a family with kids. We were sitting out in lawn chairs having a deeper than usual conversation. I loved these conversations with Dad. He's the most intelligent person I've ever known. The worst part is he knows he's right. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

But we can't BOTH be right, can we?

Being young is hard.You want to believe you've got it all figured out. But you don't. I hated Dad for those words. That's the most painful thing about being a parent. You can get it right only until you get it wrong. And getting it wrong in the eyes of your offspring is inevitable. I was young and in love and about to fly to the Middle East to start an oil career and embark on a long distance relationship.

That relationship is long over, as is that career. But neither failed because I couldn't have them. They failed because I didn't WANT them.

I still believe we can have it all. We just have to want the right things for us.
Joining the Oil Industry was something I just did. I wasn't following a lifelong ambition or even a plan. I just so happened to graduate with a First Class Degree, and the job of a lifetime was thrown at my feet. Quite literally. My Dad was so incredibly proud he danced around the car outside the building where I'd interviewed in Cambridge.

I remember being slightly concerned that my would-be employers would look out of the window and catch a glimpse at the Yorkshire man doing a happy jig in the car park. That didn't diminish the pride I felt at making my Dad so happy. These were not the actions of a man who didn't believe a woman had no place in a man's world.

But I'm not sure either of us realized on that fine day that where I was going was offshore.

A few months later, in the aftermath of 9/11, parental approval was lost under a wave of fear and judgement. To say a lot was going on in the world would be a bit of an understatement and being returned home from the Middle East because war had been declared on Afghanistan was a false start to my career. At this point, I think Dad and Mum would have been super happy for me to have jacked it all in for a cleaning job in our home town if it meant keeping me away from that side of the globe.

I digress.

I had entered a man's world. And I was a slender 21 year old, with long red curl locks and a pretty face. I had been a late bloomer, and I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 18. I confess, I was a sucker for male attention. All wolf whistles were welcome. 

Why, sure! Of course you can buy me a drink!  

I didn't see anything wrong with using my beguiling feminine attributes and whiles to make my work life easier. I'm not talking about sleeping my way the top. That's just nasty. I'm talking about being seemingly pliant and smiley and bubbly and a pleasure to work with, as opposed to bitchy and aggressive which was the successful stereotype of most of my female counterparts. 

It wasn't like I set out to deceive or intentionally win over the men. I wasn't behaving connivingly or even begrudgingly. It came easily to me ~ almost like second nature. I knew how to be around boys.

And on an offshore oil-rig where women were a rarity I was like a movie starlet.

The boys LOVED me.

This is where my inner feminist might be confused. Maybe even a little misguided.

Operating in a man's world 101:

Women on average aren't as physically strong as men. FACT. So why not let the boys do all the grunt work if they want to? It makes them feel good.

Men like speaking to Women. FACT. Why not tell them stories and entertain them with jokes ~ perhaps even flirt a little? It passes the time of day offshore (for one thing) and it makes you a popular commodity regardless of expertise. What! Who wrote that?

Men are attracted to pretty women. FACT. What's wrong with putting a bit of bronzer on and lip gloss? If the men enjoy being around you, they'll enjoy working with you. They'll also be more willing to 'help a pretty lady'. It's the easiest way to covertly direct your minions. And if they think they came up with the idea themselves.....

Some men like to swear and act like animals in the presence of other men. FACT. They don't want to modify their behavior for a woman coworker (unless they have designs on getting inside your knickers), so don't provide them with the justification that you can't stomach being around them! Pretend like you don't hear them. Smile like you find it amusing. But don't fart or belch yourself. How unladylike is that???

Oh and don't judge their unseemly behavior. What happens in Far East Asia stays there. 

I catered to all of that!

I didn't expect the boys to modify their banter when I was present. I heard all sorts of shockingly sexist stories and jokes, often 'true' rehashes of the kinds of adventures every wife fears their husbands get up to on rotation.

Don't hate me. But your fears are not unfounded. Every single one of them. I hate to be the bearer of such bad news, but in this situation there is no such thing as true blue.

If there is, I never came across it while I was in the oilfield.

I was young, carefree and naive. I did not want to conform to that feminist 'dyke' stereotype. I needed the men to want me around. I needed to make out like I was one of them - only a prettier version. I wasn't opposed to special treatment, like scoring the Company Man's quarters. Who wants to hot-bed in an eight berth room with farting sweaty roustabouts?

They tolerated me on a different level. They had to have me there. I was their token woman. I was representing a very important little segment on the equality pie charts which would be shown to the shareholders at the next business meeting.

But fuck all that! I was good at my job. I'm smart, and I can solve problems, even problems that involve drill bits and greasy machinery.

It's not easy being smarter than 88% of the men you are offshore with. It's a bitter pill to swallow for most guys and so being easy on the eyes and giggly is a great disguise. I got my job done with barely any harm done to the male egos surrounding me.

"You can definitely come back to my rig!" I remember one company man saying. Something he probably never felt the need to say to any man that came out.

So here I am, 10 years on, reflecting back on what I'd thought to be a modernistic and equal opportunistic oilfield career, and I'm thinking "Holy Crapola!"

I really doubt much has changed.

The weirdest part is, I hated that job! I mean, how many women really want to wear greasy overalls, safety glasses and toe capped boots on a floating factory harboring only stinky, unkempt men hocking up loogies, picking their noses and scratching their balls?

Take away the gross men factor, and it's still a pretty awful environment.

One day, I was offshore, and a Chinese man asked me quite candidly why I was there.

I told him I was there to survey the well, to which he shook his head.

"No. No. No. Why you do THIS job!"

He couldn't understand why a young woman like myself would want to pursue this career. And as outraged as I so wanted to be at this sexist query, I couldn't answer him.

Why the fuck was I out there? It was boring and miserable and rife with depravity. What was I trying to prove and to whom?

I didn't leave straight away; something strange happened to me. I started to wear pink.

Until then, I was a black clothes and denim only girl. Sexy - for sure - but it had to be black. I wasn't a punk or a goth or anything like that. I just felt stronger that way. I'd always loved my Gossard Wonderbras, and I wasn't opposed to enhancing my boobs or squeezing my butt inside a snug pair of Levis. But girly stuff was out. No dresses, or skirts and floral patterns or light colors. Nothing that could be described as feminine. Eugh. That was simply not me.

But the more time I spent with the blokes, my wardrobe became girlier and girlier. It was like I was afraid of turning into a man myself, so I started to rebel against all the manliness in my life. I started buying cute tops with tassles and even a few skirts found their way into my wardrobe. Then, I discovered something shocking about myself; I liked being girl.

And why not? It was okay to be a girl! That didn't mean I couldn't work in a man's world, did it? Which begged the question, why was it a 'man's' world?

That's a question that will mess with your brain for hours.

I remember thinking about the offshore environment and the industry's endless quest for filling its female quota, and I toyed with the idea that the environment needed to change in order to attract females. Maybe pretty upholstery, some flowers and an offshore beauty salon would pull in the ladies?

If there are any females out there worth attracting.....?

I'm not saying we're not smart enough. Just not qualified enough. Look at the numbers!! How many women were sitting next to you when you took Physics? I think there were only 5 of us in a lecture theater of over 100. And you really had to look closely to tell if these women were really women....

There's no gender discrimination in a physics class. The ladies just don't want to be there. Is this because we don't believe in ourselves enough to figure out why our flats work better in soft sand than our high heels?

Or is it simply because Physics is boring, and - let's face it - hair styling, cosmetics, and sales is WAY more fun!

This morning I watched one of my favorite people Ellen DeGeneres mop the floor with BIC for their sexist line of Girl Pens, and I started to wonder all over again what being a FEMINIST actually means. If you haven't seen this video yet take a look - she's hilarious!


I have a confession: I kind of want my own girl pen. In fact, I want 15 of them to clip on my Passion Parties' order forms. These days, I am a far cry away from my oilfield career. I am in Network Marketing, and I specialize in Passion Parties. Yes, you might say I do THOSE parties.

The girlishness factor in this line of work is at the other end of the spectrum to the oilfield. The company colors are pink and purple, and boy do I embrace this. I've never been happier in a company and in sales no less! I'm no less smart (well perhaps a little baby brain remains) than when I was as an engineer. In fact, in order to be successful in this biz, I need to be creative, personable and intelligent too. Hold the phone! 

But BEST of all, this job is all about supporting other women and promoting our God-given right to experience equal (okay MUCH greater - sorry guys but you definitely drew the short straw. Who's anyone to argue with physiology?) pleasure in the bedroom.

Until you watch Mad Men or sit in a room with a mother who doesn't know what or where her clitoris is, it's hard to relate to a world where women really are second class citizens, whether it be in the workplace, at home or worst of all in the bedroom.

So here's my new deal. I am a Feminist. I want equal rights to every other being on this planet. I want to have my carnal needs taken care of as much as the next man. I want to be paid as much as my male colleagues if I deserve it. I want to be listened to if I make sense, and I want to be appointed leader if I'm the best person to take charge in the room.

I want to be pretty. I like pink and I like to wear skirts and look all soft and feminine for my man. I love it when he opens the car door for me, pulls out a chair for me at a restaurant and takes my coat. I want him to smack my ass if the urge takes him, but only if I can smack his too. I want him to be in control - but only sometimes.

I am both attractive and intellectual. I am a girly girl, and I am a feminist. Can I really be both?

I have two sons and a daughter, and never before has my opinion on this matter mattered like it does today. Not just for her, but perhaps even more importantly, for the boys.

I stand for equality.


My boys wear pants. My girl wears dresses. Both boys like to wear her tutu.

My son twirling in his sister's tutu
She has pink flowers and butterflies on her walls. The boys have frogs and tractors. They love spending time sleeping in each other's rooms. The boys have cars and trains. She has baby dolls. They share all of their toys.

My youngest son playing with his sister's baby doll

I worry that by the kids' room designs and the gift choices we make, we are forcing these little unisex beings into sexist boxes before they realize their anatomical differences.

I hope they learn to value their differences and that the balance of masculine and feminine toys and clothing we have on offer allows them to freely explore their natural tendencies. I want them to know that they are unique as an individual irrespective of their sex. And above all, I want them to believe without a shadow of a doubt that they are all equally capable of greatness.


  1. Whew! Had to read that in two sittings. You've touched on so many things in this post that could go off on a whole other side discussion.

    I've started to think about feminism so much more lately, and I want my boys to know that despite the fact my husband and I take on more traditional roles, our marriage is an equal partnership and that their mum is strong and independent and she can do anything she sets her mind to do.

    Recently, I've started to paint their bedrooms, (while their dad wouldn't touch it with a barge pole). I was in the hardware store and I saw a book called DIY Painting for Girls. It was like something from the 50s with cartoon images of pretty girls in full make-up and nails. It said things like "Don't overload your paintbrush, because it might drip and ruin your hair and that's not a good look!" The intention was good, but it was all kinds of wrong. I think I would have just preferred a DIY Painting for Beginners book.

    Glad to see you blogging again.

  2. I was raised sort of the same way---I didn't figure out what feminism was until I went to a private women's college. At first I thought all the feminists must be dykes...but then I got into the college groove and began to understand what feminism is all about. I learned so much in my four years there and learned even more about myself. I love how you are raising your children without gender bias---the tutu comment is priceless. You're doing parenting right, my friend! XO

  3. Great post, Josie! My name is Heather and I was wondering if you could answer my question about your blog! Please email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)