Tag Archives: women

Women’s technology in prehistory

These aren’t wholly original ideas.

I have seen for myself plenty of examples of pre-historians talking about prehistoric stuff that could be charting the moon. The assumption is that our ancestors needed to keep an eye on the moon for whatever they were doing. But why potentially lunar markings are divided up in ways that don’t seem to relate to the moon, is anyone’s guess, apparently. Except of course that the same monthly cycle has huge implications for female fertility.

The people in pre-history who most needed to be tracking lunar cycles, were fertile women who needed to be in control of their wombs. And who maybe also wanted to be able to educate younger women about how to do that.

When it comes to tools, there’s a tendency to focus on things with cutting edges. Partly this is because stone is what survives most reliably from the Stone Age. But, there are things to infer. Humans don’t hit the ground running the way baby horses and deer do. We aren’t furry in a way that makes it easy for babies to just hang on. Depictions of pre-historic women with babies tend towards the nearly naked, with the baby clutched to the mother any way they can.

Small babies wriggle. If you get you and them wet, they are almost impossible to hang onto. If you are holding a small baby in your arms, it is nigh on impossible to carry much else and the only thing you can do is carry the baby about. I refuse to accept that the majority of pre-historic women spent all of their time trying not to drop wet, wriggling babies. Also, babies get cold really easily, and not having a baby die of cold when it is naked in your arms all the time is going to be hard.

Our ancient ancestors were hunter gatherers. We know from modern hunter gatherers, that it is the gathering that makes up most of the diet and that gathering tends to be women’s work. You can’t gather much if every woman of breeding age is trying to do it while holding a baby in their bare hands. You can’t move around effectively if anyone under the age of two is walking. You certainly can’t run away. You can’t navigate any kind of complex terrain if both your hands are occupied with a baby.

The obvious inference, to my mind, is that one of the oldest pieces of human technology must in fact be the baby sling. Once you’ve got sharp edges, you can do things with skins, so it’s not a far-fetched idea. Women carrying babies in slings have their hands free for gathering and getting about. The baby, or small child in this arrangement is warm, safe, and easy to move about. You can’t have humans as mobile hunter gatherers if you don’t have baby slings. Our getting into colder landscapes and travelling any distance depends as much on the baby sling as it does the stone tools, the wearing of skins and the getting to grips with fire.

Women being nice

Being nice is seen as feminine, and there’s a lot of pressure on women to present themselves as nice, and to act nicely. Men can be celebrated for being ambitious, good leaders, and changemakers, but women who do the same are often called pushy, demanding, and unreasonable. I’m writing this post about the pressures I see put on people who present as female. If you identify with it for whatever reasons, I’m not going to argue with you! (not because I want to be nice, but because its not a good use of my energy.)

Being nice is a passive sort of state. A nice woman is not too sexually active or enthusiastic. She isn’t sweaty, or dirty. She doesn’t smell of alcohol or cigarettes. A nice woman is physically clean, and pleasing for others to look upon. She has no strong opinions or passions. Her voice is soft and quiet. She is a care giver and nurturer but doesn’t draw attention to that. Her home is nice. Her children are nice. She’s a fantasy figure for everyone obsessed with controlling female bodies and going back to an age when women knew their place.

There are things you can’t talk about while still being nice. Nice women don’t talk openly – and especially not in front of men – about sex, menstruation, menopause or pregnancy. These are dirty things that nice women know to hide, and thus don’t educate each other about. Nice women don’t talk about sexual assault, rape or child abuse. They don’t talk about abuse by men, they defend men, because it isn’t nice to suggest that men are abusive. Nice women are quick to say ‘not all men’ if they do have to deal with not-nice topics. If you are a nice woman, male comfort is more important than talking about things that aren’t nice.

The pressure to be nice is used most unpleasantly against black women, who often have the greatest need to speak up about abuse and oppression and are often characterised as aggressive and unpleasant for doing so. Being nice is proportionally harder in relation to how little privilege you have. It’s not so tough being nice when you’re comfortable and life is easy. It is a massive burden for people who are struggling. Making it the priority that disadvantaged women should be nice is an easy way to try and shut them up or ignore them.

Even in all female spaces and relationships between women, the pressure to be nice can cause a lot of problems. Nice women can’t easily talk about problems they have, and this can make them excellent facilitators for bullies and abusers – of all genders. Toxic women can be greatly enabled by nice women who won’t hear a bad word said about anyone. Nice women are likely to try and silence women who need to speak up about male abuse. Nice women minimalise abuse, encourage each other to see the best in people, to assume the motives were good, the intentions kind. ‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that’ is a staple of the nice woman.

Nice women don’t deal in problem solving. They deal in soothing noises and emotional support. This often functions to avoid changing anything. Nice women soothe each other over the behaviour of their men and children, their colleagues and families. Nice women are often made uncomfortable by people offering solutions. The point is not to challenge or change things, the point is to help each other cope with things as they are. Emotional support is nice. Radical change isn’t.

Being nice is a trap. It’s something we so often do to ourselves and each other. When we value it as a quality above all others, what we’re really valuing is people who don’t make a fuss, don’t change things, don’t speak up about what’s wrong. We don’t deal with social inequality by being nice and only saying nice things. We don’t deal with domestic violence, sexual assault and rape by only saying nice things to and about men. We don’t get to be complete human beings fully engaged with our own lives if all we can be is nice. In fact, nice can be pretty disgusting when you stop and look at it.

How women talk to other women about men

In this blog what I specifically want to look at is the kinds of unhelpful stories women tell other women about men. I suspect this won’t be an exhaustive list. Some of these stories I suspect women tell to male children as well as female children, but I’m not well placed to comment on how that might play out.

He hits you because he likes you. He hits me because he loves me. We turn experiences of actual violence into stories about how this is an expression of affection. It keeps us accepting abuse, letting abusers off the hook, and setting each other up to be victims.

We tell each other that bad boys are sexy. We do this especially through the medium of romance and erotica fiction. We treat rude, demanding, unreasonable, controlling and violent men as desirable. We perpetrate the fantasy that magically, for us, they will become better people because they just need to be loved. We do not tell each other to run away and never look back, to find someone kinder and more cooperative. We imagine saving them when what we need to do is save ourselves.

We excuse male acting out, we tell other mums that this is just what normal boys do. We say ‘boys will be boys’ and then we teach each other how to stay safe and what to wear. We tell each other stories that the men who perpetrate violence just can’t help their bad behaviour. We say ‘he’s a good man really’, and we disbelieve the stories other women tell us to the contrary.

We bring up our daughters to feel responsible – the buck stops with us domestically. Women who find themselves living with overgrown man-babies who can’t or won’t take responsibility for home or children may tell each other how tough it is, but don’t reliably tell each other how to call said man-baby out and get him to do his fair share. Instead we tell each other that of course they don’t notice, remember, keep track, feel it’s their job and thus it continues not to be their job and stays wholly as ours. We make excuses based on how busy they are, or their upbringing. We accept that they can learn how to do a paid job, but not how to wash a nappy or cook a meal. We accept the role of mother and let them carry on being indulged boys when they’re at home.

We participate in the stories that work men do, or work done by men is more valuable than traditional female work, or work done by women. We accept that work done on the home front isn’t as valued as work done in public places. We accept that domestic arts aren’t as important as ‘fine’ arts. Women’s work is craft, not as valued as art. It’s cooking, and not valued like being a chef. It’s only interior decorating when you pay someone else to do it.

We use magazines to tell each other how we should look, in order to appeal to the male gaze. We share those magazine stories with each other.

In my family there were stories about boys being better treated than girls and stories about men who really didn’t make an effort. There were no stories about how to fix this. There were stories about how a mother can except to be judged over how clean and tidy her child is, but no sense that a father would be judged the same way. The kinds of stories women tell women about men go back to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and beyond. Expectations and beliefs are passed from one generation to the next. Changing the stories that are part of your fabric of reality is not easy, but change them we must.

Whatever stories you have, it pays to start by identifying them and trying to remember who told you these tales in the first place. Some stories aren’t spoken, they just underlie the way a family treats its men and the differences between that and how it treats its women. The stories are there in expectations and criticisms, in what we were allowed and what we were told was not for us.

Favourite things – Steampunk Women

I’ve never heard a story about a woman being harassed, assaulted or otherwise abused at a Steampunk event. No doubt it happens from time to time, but compared to the treatment women can expect in many places, Steampunk is friendly. Women at events dress as they please – from the most outrageous of burlesque-style costumes, through to a full-on emulation of Victorian prudery, and all places in between. It’s all fine. With corsets worn on the outside of clothing, cut off crinolines, knickerbockers, and all kinds of padding, a person can emphasise and de-emphasise as the fancy takes them, and play with ideas of sexuality in clothing.

As artists and authors, clothes creators, models and musicians, poets and peacocks (really, literally as a peacock), as organisers and facilitators and innovators, women are active participants at all levels. On one hand I feel bloody stupid writing this, because it should be obvious, and how the world is, and not worthy of comment, but there are still a great many places where this just isn’t true.

A community is what you make it – it is nothing more than the sum and total of the people involved. One of the few rules of the Steampunk community is good manners. It’s amazing how quickly the various forms of sexism generally manifest in the world can be wiped out by this one simple thing. It’s rude to make negative comments about other people’s clothes and appearance. It’s rude to treat another human being as an object for sexual entertainment. It’s rude to assume another person is obliged to pay you attention. Any assumption of entitlement, is basically rude.

Steampunk women tend to have rejected the narrow, mainstream version of what it means to be female. Often in mainstream spaces, women are the ones who will pull other women down for not fitting in. The female author who complained that the first female bishop wasn’t wearing lipstick, is a case in point. Amongst Steampunk women I have found a more supportive culture. We are, collectively, more interested in lifting each other up than putting each other down.

The paying of compliments is a normal part of a Steampunk gathering. Out there in the rest of the world, compliments can be used as a veil for harassment – highly suggestive and sexualised compliments, statements designed to reduce and disempower the target. And if the target objects, she’s no fun, has no sense of humour, can’t take a compliment. She will be told she should be pleased that she’s getting this attention. Many women have learned to fear compliments. A Steampunk compliment is more likely to go ‘nice squid, did you make it yourself?’ It’s more likely to be about the wit and genius of your costume – things you as a person had a choice over. It means there is no gender aspect to who pays compliments to whom, no aspect of body shape or size.

At Steampunk gatherings I see women of all ages and shapes, and women from groups often considered to be marginalised. I see other women getting to enjoy how they look, getting to play with appearance and identity, and enjoy other people doing the same. As a middle aged women uncomfortable in their own skin, not always very easy with the whole ‘woman’ thing either, I feel safe in this space. No one is going to tell me that I’m fat or funny looking, or too old for what I’m wearing, or not sexy enough, or too sexual, or any of the other things I can and have fallen foul of in other places. People are nice to me. Usually it’s my hat that gets all the attention, and this is fine.

If we start from the premise that we owe each other courtesy, so many other things are better. We live in a culture that makes entertainment out of sneering at people on the telly, and that goes in for celebrity appearance shaming in magazines, relentlessly sells us sexualised images of women while at the same time condemning women for being sexualised. It would be easy to fix, we just have to stop thinking assholes are funny, and that ridicule is funny, and start being polite.