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“we don’t need to compromise on our femininity to be taken seriously” – free periods founder amika george offers her notes on being a woman

The trailblazing teenager and Free Periods founder on human bodies, being a grown-up and the illusion of being cool.

by Tish Weinstock
25 January 2018, 11:27am

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Am I doing this woman thing right? Do you do this woman thing the same as me? Does it matter? Existential lady crisis -- we all have it. Notes on Being a Woman is an ongoing series that examines the many myths and meanings of what being a woman is all about.

Not all heroes wear capes, but at least 50% of them wear sanitary towels, whenever they’re on the blob. So imagine this hero’s horror she found out that many young women in the UK cannot afford sanitary towels. The hero I’m talking about here is, of course, Miss Amika George. Schoolgirl by day, activist by night, Amika made headlines back in April when she launched her #FreePeriods campaign. Her mission? To end period poverty with free menstrual healthcare and break down the stigma surrounding menstruation, period.

Gathering momentum over the course of the year, Amika ended 2017 with a peaceful protest outside Downing Street, urging evil nemesis Theresa May to provide free menstruation products for all girls already on free school meals. Now a new dawn is breaking, and Amika will stop at nothing until she fulfils her destiny. But first, taking time out from saving the world, here she offers some notes on what it means to be a woman.

The best thing about being a woman is that we have each other’s backs. Men can be a bit coy and self-conscious about looking out for other men, but women aren’t scared to show their solidarity, and will jump to defend and protect another woman in a heartbeat. I love that. Since I founded the #FreePeriods movement, I see this every day. I’ve lost count of the number of amazing women who’ve contacted me to say they want to help the girls suffering from period poverty, and if ever I’m criticised for doing what I’m doing, I get another ten messages saying: “Keep going! We’re with you!”

The hardest thing about being a woman is that it’s incredibly difficult to deal with the fact that your own expectations and ambitions for yourself may not always mirror other people’s. As women, we have our boundaries clearly marked for us and we’re constantly told what society may allow us, or forbid us, from doing. So it can be really hard to overcome societal expectation and find the energy to pursue our own personal goals, when striving to fulfill the expectations we have for ourselves, as opposed to those imposed on us by others.

The best advice someone ever gave me about human bodies is that being healthy in your body is an extension of the healthiness of your mind and that you can never truly be totally healthy unless your mind is in a good place. Conversely, to be healthy, you can’t set too many rules and restrictions, you need to enjoy what you really love.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 16-year-old self to just stop overthinking and stressing out about the little things, and, instead, embrace individuality and work towards creating real, positive change in the world. At 16, I was way too obsessed with being ‘cool’, but I’ve now realised that there’s just no point chasing such an undefined and entirely subjective thing. I used to think there was a very set, idealistic definition of ‘coolness’, but I’ve now accepted that coolness is actually determined by individuality, and not caring about what other people think, or might think, about you. There’s nothing cooler than being enthusiastic, passionate and willing to fight for what you think is right.

Jane Eyre taught me so much about womanhood. There’s a wonderful quote that is plastered all over the English classrooms in my school: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” It’s a book that taught me never to sacrifice my identity for the sake of expectations I had no part in creating.

The most unexpected thing I’ve found about being a woman is that we don’t need to compromise on our femininity to be successful and taken seriously. We can totally love jewellery, shoes, pretty clothes and bright lipstick and STILL be able to stand in a room full of men and be taken seriously and respected.

"If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 16-year-old self to just stop overthinking and stressing out about the little things, and, instead, embrace individuality and work towards creating real, positive change in the world."

My favourite song about being a woman is Feeling Good by Nina Simone.

The strongest woman I know was my great grandmother. She travelled to Ohio on her own from a tiny village in South India and, at a time in which women weren’t expected to get an education or do much more than raise children, did a Masters in journalism, then wrote about women’s rights in national American newspapers, before becoming a professor of English literature. Her courage, perseverance and genuine belief that she could do anything, regardless of what was expected of her, has left an indelible mark on me.

The best thing about getting older is making your own decisions, and having the confidence to say no. As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt that saying no is totally fine. I think we start over-thinking a lot less, and have confidence in the paths we take without spending every waking hour wondering what could go wrong.

The biggest lie about getting older is that everyone knows what they’re doing and everyone has a plan.

I don’t really feel like a grown-up yet. I definitely don’t feel old enough to be applying for university, and the thought of actually going this September excites and terrifies me in equal measure.

I’m happiest at Christmas. As cliché as it sounds, I honestly don’t think there’s anything better than being with family and feeling sick from too many mince pies. This year, I made a ‘how well do you know your family’ quiz, and it ended in tears. No regrets, though.

Love smells like shakshuka and buttery toast on a Saturday morning when I really need it, because my mum knows it’s my favourite breakfast ever.

Dolly Alderton asks: If you could have a big night out with one woman dead or alive, who would it be and where would you go? Michelle Obama. Without a doubt. We’d go to see Hamilton (I know she’s as obsessed as I am!), then dinner at Smoking Goat in Soho for some Thai BBQ deliciousness, and then a silent disco because I think they’re the best thing ever.

My question for the next woman doing this column would be: How can women and girls stay hopeful about the future of feminism in a Trump era?

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

notes on being a woman
amika george
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