The pain of school shoe shopping has engulfed me! And it’s not just the cost or having to do it in a stifling face mask. It’s so much more than that.
I am mad.
Why is the choice so poor for school girls? Boys? No problem – robust, sensible styles that you feel might just see out the winter if they don’t play football every lunchtime. Shoes that will actually do a job and keep their feet dry in the wet winter months ahead.
But the girls? Dainty slip-ons, or the occasional thin velcro strap on what looks like a ballet shoe. No match for the lightest of rainfall or the shallowest of puddles. Or…. if you want something that’s remotely weather-proof, then you can opt for a massive, chunky brogue that look like they weigh more than my daughter soaking wet.
We have just returned from a very well-known high street shoe shop, where Martha tried on the heavy brogue and told the assistant that it hurt her heel. We were told that that’s normal and that if she wants a proper shoe, then she will have to wear them in.
Do the boys have to suffer pain and wear their shoes in? I don’t remember ever being told Archie would have to wear shoes in at home to stop them from cutting into his skin.
I walked out. Miffed. And I got madder with every step I took, in my sturdy water-proof winter boots.
I went for my scheduled smear yesterday. It’s never nice is it? But, the nurse was jolly – incredibly jolly – and as I lay back – “knees up and ankles together then drop” I remarked that her glasses had steamed up and joked that she perhaps wouldn’t be able to see properly (I had genuine fear!). She whooped with laughter her muffled reply explained that she can do it with her eyes closed and is referred to by her colleagues as the Fanny Inspector.
I was still feeling the fear and so explained I have a naughty cervix, which means I have to put my balled fists under my bottom to lift my pelvis otherwise my shy cervix hides and cannot be found without it being absolute agony.
“That’s because you’ve had three children!” she said. “Childbirth makes us all go a bit wonky – you had three, so you’re buggered!”
I laughed and then stopped abruptly as she inserted the speculum and I winced.
“Is it sore?”
“Ummm, it’s okay,” I winced through gritted teeth.
“It’s sore isn’t it?”
“A little, but it’s fine. I’ll be fine.”
“No, let’s try something else.” She stood up and smiled. ” It’s only taken decades, but eventually those in the know have realised that not all women are made the same. We now have 5 different sizes!” she was jubilant. “So, let’s try a smaller one shall we?”
And, just like that my head was blown.
Because we know we’re not all the same. Us women know we’re all different shapes and sizes. Both internally and externally. It’s what makes us all uniquely wonderful and beautiful. Our differences and our similarities are what make us fabulous.
So, why did we not shout about this earlier? Why have I winced through every smear and internal examination, accepting that this is okay? Why as a woman did I not demand more? Expect more? Believe that I deserved a better, less intrusive, less painful procedure?
I read a book recently – Untamed, by Glennon Doyle – and it really struck a nerve. She talks about a lot of things, a lot of interesting and insightful things. She also explains that when she was deciding whether to stay in her unhappy marriage or leave, she battled internally over whether this was going to ruin her children and make her a bad person.
As I left my smear appointment yesterday, shuddering with the shame, as is normal after such a procedure, I thought of Glennon Doyle and the decision she made. I thought of her realisation that being a good mother does not mean sacrifice. It does not mean putting everyone else’s happiness above your own. It means valuing yourself and teaching your daughters to value themselves too.
But it’s hard, because it is almost hardwired into us. We are taught from generations of mothers and grandmothers that sacrifice is the ultimate show of love. And we all do it.
My mother did it. She was a clever, bright, capable woman who sometimes felt suffocated in her life. She loved us all, she loved my father, but she wanted to achieve more. She wanted to work, to be independent, to shine brightly, rather than hide in the shadows at home – a wife and mother only. I saw it occasionally – her frustration, her ambition, her sparkle.
I’d occasionally suggest to her that she could easily set up her own curtain making business, she was so talented and able. But her confidence was so dented, her self-belief so low that she never had the courage to try.
When I was pregnant with Archie, my first. I remember saying that I wanted to try childbirth without any drugs or intervention. I wanted to do it as nature intended. And I did. With all three. And the person I wanted to be most proud of my natural birth my suffering – was my mother. I wanted her to know that I would suffer like she did. That I would endure it, like she did. That I was her equal.
The natural childbirth thing is like a badge of honour amongst us mothers. “Was it a natural birth?” we ask, ready to either silently condemn or heap praise on a fellow warrior. And those of use who screamed and mooed through a natural birth are smug. Whether we nearly died or not, we are smug because we suffered.
We have been brought up to believe that women suffer. We have been brought up to believe that being female means we should be kind, pretty, gentle, giving, generous and grateful. That we should sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. That women change their surnames and accept lower paid jobs, or a lack of respect in the workplace.
I was sexually harassed by a man in one of my old jobs. He was lewd and aggressive to me in front of my peers and superiors and I was embarrassed and intimidated. I told HR, I wrote an account of what had happened. There were witnesses. I was then asked to take another job 200 miles away on a lower salary. I was in effect, demoted.
And what did I do?
Nothing. I relocated and I accepted my fate. I thought it was normal.
But the smaller speculum is what’s normal – the one-size-fits-all speculum, the sexual bully who tried to intimidate me, the not-fit-for-purpose-ballet-slipper-like-school-shoes – these things are not normal. But they have become our normal and they feed into the narrative that we are less than deserving. That we should be kind, gentle, accepting of our lot. That we should be grateful for the suffering we must endure.
So, it may be raining cats and dogs outside, I may have an upset daughter with no school shoes and I might as well be an orphan (am not quite ready to blog about my dad yet!) – but I feel enlightened. It is all too easy to blame those in the upper echelons of life, the men at the top. Indeed, the Fanny Inspector and I had a bit of a laugh and a moan – “if men had to have children we’d be extinct” type of chat. But that’s rot. It’s an excuse. It’s us. Us girls. Us women who need to stand up and demand change. We need to ask for the speculum that fits us. We need to demand a decent choice of school shoe – ones that are not going to hurt our ankles or get our socks wet on a rainy day. We need to expect more.
Because if we start to expect more with the small things in life, then perhaps we’ll start to see changes in the bigger things too.
And perhaps my daughters will grow up and believe they deserve more.