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So a little later than usual (we hope everyone had a great Easter break and aren’t feeling too stuffed full of chocolate!) here is a re-cap of the last Minefield Meet-Up and some helpful links for anyone wishing to look further into some of the interesting things we talked about.

Quite a few people had expressed an interest in discussions about language and it’s use and connotations so we began with talking about the use of language when applied to ourselves as adult women. The actress Mayim Bialik had that week made a short video that went viral talking about referring to women as ‘girls’. It pointed out the commonality of calling grown women ‘girls’ in our everyday language and urges us all to gently correct (in a friendly and non-hostile way) those around us when we hear them do it, reminding them of the difference between the two.

In todays political climate the language of women’s bodies and indeed the policing of it is becoming a prevalent issue. In the same way that hate speech from people in positions of power and influence gives permission to others to use the same inflammatory and derogatory language themselves; the controlling of language around women and “women’s issues” further controls the knowledge and freedom of those entities. There is a mystery and mythology around women’s bodies that has reduced them down to (an often incorrect and misunderstood) functionality that  can hold back women in society and culture therefore both personally and professionally also. Whether we are talking about the acceptance of everyday sexism in the workplace, permission to physically assault them (“Grab ‘em by the pussy”), legislation that classes periods as luxuries or debates about abortion access that involve no female input at all, women are the ones who suffer here.

Equally women are put at risk when we ourselves police how we talk about our bodies, with each other, our children and the wider world. A lack of frank conversation surrounding periods, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth all mean we very often all face the same struggles whilst feeling like we are alone and isolated within them. Breastfeeding in particular was a subject everyone (understandably) had deep emotive points of view on, we all it would seem, had struggled with it in differing ways and felt we would have benefitted from open and honest dialogue, particularly from health professionals but also from each other. Here is an interesting Guardian article on the vitriol surrounding the debate around breastfeeding.

We moved on to talk about the act of qualifying, a stereotypically female trait where in we use language to weaken our points, apologise for our opinions and de-value what it is we have to say (Note Mayim Bialik start her video with an apology!). Not to be mistaken with the need to be polite – something else seen typically as more female in language terms – women need/are raised to be liked, to be nice and to be well-mannered. Women qualify their language with terms like “I feel”, “I just” or “I’m sorry but..” instead of standing by their opinions with things like “I am confident that..” or “I believe”. Apologising in general for your existence and undermining your voice is not something we see men doing very often with men said to present opinion as fact and women presenting fact as opinion. There is a evolutionary argument that women talk faster because we have had to learn to fit what we have to say into the gaps between men interrupting us (!) as well as the idea that self-effacing language bonds women and shows others you aren’t a threat but an ally. Interestingly when you Google the search “language when women talking” the first page of top hits is all about chat-up lines to use on women. The awesome comedy podcast The Guilty Feminist  have a great episode ‘Speech’ (episode 18) which covers this subject amongst other uses of language.

We then moved the conversation on to talk a bit about the use of language when talking to our kids. This is a huge topic spanning all kinds of areas and can be a little daunting to say the least. Faced with recent research that shows girls (and some boys) start to express concerns with their body image at around 6 years old we talked a bit about positive language – taking about who a child is and not what they look like – to combat the idea that from an early age girls are introduced to the notion that their bodies have a selling point and the power to draw attention. Gender based pre-conceptions about what and how a girl should be start even in early years. This makes it hard for girls to develop a healthy non-sexualised relationship with their bodies – particularly once they reach puberty. Check out The Minefield site for our piece on body image and some helpful resources. As well as The Minefield booklist on Instagram for more reading recommendations not only for you but for kids books also, they can’t be what they can’t see.

This is  a highly emotive subject for us all and I think we all were in agreement that the general advice that one of the best ways to tackle body image and not make “a big deal” of it is to never mention it all – whether in a positive or negative light – was simply unhelpful and frankly naive. Our kids, no matter what gender, are exposed to messages good and bad about how they should think and feel about their bodies and their own self worth all the time. We cannot shade them from the outside influences of society, especially as they grow up and to pretend they don’t exist isn’t helpful to anyone. Instead we opt for encouraging open dialogue and willingness to discuss such things as we try to remain as positive role models ourselves. Research shows that no amount of Barbie dolls, emaciated cartoon princesses or steroidial superheroes will influence kids as much as their parents will when it comes to self love and self acceptance. The fact that we are even having the meet-up shows we are willing to learn to together and to try and take that home with us to our children!

The Meet-Up then moved onto a new topic: Shame. The subject of a really fascinating panel at this years Women of the World festival, Shame was described as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed, unworthy of acceptance and/or belonging, leaving you trapped, powerless or isolated and navigating conflicting and competing societal expectations. Discussions covered as many areas as abortion, religion, dishonour killings, sexual violence and exploitation and female sexuality. It harkened back to earlier conversations about the shame and silence surrounding women’s bodies that goes hand in hand with the policing of language – periods, menopause, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding etc. Shame goes deeper than guilt. Guilt can be worked off, can be redeemed in some way but shame is stigmatising and can last forever, it has power and can be used as a weapon.

It was particularly interesting to find that our conversations about shame circled back around to breastfeeding. Again, something we all struggled with in different capacities but led us all to feel at some point shameful – about our bodies, their functionality, their sexuality and their place in the world both philosophically and physically in the most literal sense. It’s both interesting and disheartening to see this construct being forced on women who are already dealing with something often so fraught with emotion and even anxiety. Something deemed the most natural thing in the world and yet this can be made to feel like a source of shame for women who are simply trying to do their best for their children and for themselves. This for me at least, highlighted the positives that can come from Meet-Ups and dialogues in general – the support, perspectives and common ground we can give each other in a shared space.

Other panels from the Women of the World (both this and previous years) festival are available to watch or listen to online now and they cover a range of topics from the effect Brexit will have on women, the relationships between women and food, the politics of hair, Intersectionality for beginners and interesting talks with the likes of writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, journalist and reporter Fatima Manji, broadcaster and writer Gemma Cairney (in conversation with the awesome Lauren Laverne) and the amazing veteran Activist Angela Davis (highly recommend this one I was there and it was AMAZING!) As well as past talks with Vivienne Westwood, Malala Yousafzai, Alice Walker, Julie Walters, Salma Hayek and many many more. There is bound to be something that takes your interest and it’s easy to and well worth a  listen whilst multi-tasking as we all do at various points in the day!

I have in the past mentioned Laura Bates (the founder of the Everyday Sexism project and author of ‘Girl Up’ – a book you will want to give your 14 year old daughters – who led a great discussion about the book at at WOW 2016 – which you can hear here.

So, another highly interesting and hopefully (oops am I qualifying!?) enjoyable Minefield Meet-Up covering a range of discussions and viewpoints as always.

As a little thought provoking “homework” I challenge you all to try and take note of how many times you qualify your speech over the course of just one day – would be very interesting to see what you all think of the results!

I have been thinking of trying out a new “structure” for the next Meet-Up that I hope will further the interactions and dialogues (and have less of me talking!) so I very much look forward to the next one!




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