My intention with my blog today was to re-post my spoiler free review of the Red Dwarf screening I went to on Friday, written for Ganymede & Titan; because going to see Red Dwarf filmed live is something I have wanted to do since I was <ahem> years old in 1988 and first saw it and because you must never underestimate my laziness. Why write a thing on Sunday I’ve already written a thing on Saturday.
But then I went to have my last swim at the ladies pond in Hampstead for many months, as it closes today for renovations to be carried out to the changing room, decking and lifeguard room, and there were so many resultant FEELS that I had to get it out of my head. That’s why I write, usually. To get the feels and the nagging voices out of my head.
Long term followers of this blog may remember that I started swimming at the pond halfway through my alcohol-free year, and that it was a big moment for me in my journey of accepting myself and my body. It became a fundamental part of my journey, so much so that I marked the end of that year at the pond itself, with a New Year’s Day swim. I have continued swimming there regularly (bar a few enforced breaks due to tattoo sessions – pond water and healing tattoos do not mix) ever since.
My little swimming group of women, the “snowflake ladies” as we’ve come to be known by the other regular pond swimmers, have become some of my closest friends and confidants; they are supportive, challenging, intelligent, fun and they have probably helped me over the last year more than they even know. They were the inspiration for my blog about women and the myth of competition. They get me out of bed in the morning, keep me sober, and remind me that there are truly wonderful magical things about this world that are worth working to keep, to save and to treasure.
They’ve taught me the importance of holding an open mind (even if it’s only a teeny tiny opening) and the value of being able to say the phrase “I haven’t thought about it like that before” about anything – especially subjects about which you think that you think a lot about already. My understanding of feminist issues has developed in conversation with them, along with my understanding of my own privileges and prejudices, my flaws and strengths. I am better at accepting challenge and criticism, better at accepting compliments and praise, and better at believing in myself and my own opinions and not so needful of validation from others.
Yes, all of this from a regular all-women swimming group. Amazing, no? If you don’t have a group of amazing women to surround yourself with on a weekly basis, I recommend you find yourself one. (Not necessarily to swim in cold water with of course, you do you.) Nothing will cure a case of internal misogyny (I am not like other girls. Women are just so annoying. I am just not interested in girly things, you know. I just get on better with guys. Women don’t talk about things that interest me. Groups of women are so bitchy, aren’t they?) than a group of women like this.
Every woman I have ever met at this pond has been warm, friendly and open; the only thing that links us all as that we’re all women and we all have shared understanding of the joy of swimming in the pond and of the weird burning sensation in odd places when you immerse yourself in near-freezing water. The “snowflake ladies” are comparatively young compared to much of the wider regular pond swimming community, both in our ages and in the length of time we’ve been part of it. Many of the women have been swimming there for decades – some for 60, 70 years or more. Seeing the pond closed for what will be really quite major changes was a huge moment for many of the regulars, and they dealt with it with their usual cheerfulness, openness, warmth and community spirit. Many women leapt in to the water in fancy dress or comedy hats. A huge picnic feast was provided, much of it home made. There was tea, coffee and a home-made cheesecake-esque dish decorated with berries that spelled out “we <3 pond”. Chalk was provided for everyone to draw on the walls, soon to be demolished. Women wrote messages; “we will miss you”, “the pond is a source of joy forever”, “farewell ducks, see you soon”, “this pond saved my life”.
Just as we were about to leave, the ladies pond choir lined up at the front of the decking – they take well known songs and re-write them to be pond-relevant. Reluctant to leave the fuzzy warm glow of the community (and the food) we lingered on to listen. At first we listened, then, as we picked up the familiar tunes, we joined in. We stayed for all of the songs in the end, which culminated in everyone holding hands in a cramped circle, all crowded onto the decking, singing and crying and laughing. One of the women from the choir stepped forward and said she’d like us all to sing a song that she sang when she was at Greenham, that other women that had been there would remember it, and that the rest of us would pick it up. We did. We sang. And it was beautiful.
There are times in your life when you realise you’ve just been hit by the figurative hammer of internal bias, and this was one of those. Even as a feminist, a mouthy opinionated one who mouths those opinions all over the internet, you can never be intersectional enough not to be hit with that hammer. As the figurative hammer of internal misogyny hit me in the face, the figurative piano of internal ageism landed on my head.
I was suddenly struck by how very powerful all these women were. How much changes they’d seen, and how many changes they’d driven and been part of. How many times these women, and others like them through history have changed the world, against the odds and despite a world telling us that we’re weak and powerless. Despite a world which minimises the importance of what women do, that criticises what women like, that demonises anything perceived as “feminine” to the point that it’s used as an insult. The world tells us all day after day that women are not powerful. The world tells us that older women are invisible. That once our looks and youth fade, our usefulness has passed. But older women have so much knowledge and experience; and can develop that Teflon skin that enables them to give absolutely no fucks whatsoever about what society thinks about them which can give them an even louder voice.
The patriarchy has a vested interest in the idea that women are not powerful, that women cannot get on, that women compete, that women cannot invent or challenge, that women cannot effect change, that the voices of older women are not worth listening to. It’s a myth, a lie. A convenient untruth that even I had internalised.
The woman leading us all in song was part of a movement that changed the world. The women I have regularly spent the last two years swimming with have changed my world.
Women are powerful. We just have to recognise it.
(If you’d rather read my spoiler-free review of the Red Dwarf filming, you can do so over at Ganymede & Titan…)