Get Allergic

UnknownPicture it, the year’s 2013 and the Glasgow and west coast branches of my family clan are gathered in my cousin’s beautiful dining room in Eaglesham for Christmas lunch. A sea of candles decorate the table for 10 which seats 16. We’re squashed shoulder to shoulder with a boxer dog snuffling round our knees under the table, looking for head rubs and sneaky titbits.

Amongst the chatter, laughter and pouring of wine, a basket of bread’s passed round. I grab two pieces and make desperate pleas for the butter before sending the basket on its way. Slathering my bounty generously and sticking an entire slice in my gob I become instantly aware that Houston (my tongue) has a problem (my allergies). Thankfully, banter levels are high at the table. Three rellys are already squawking about needing the butter and there’s a lively group discussion about whether or not my Grandma had teeth in an otherwise glamorous looking sepia photo of her as a twenty something on Dunoon prom. In the photo Grandma’s smiling so enigmatically that she may well be hiding the fact that she’s waiting delivery of her falsers having had all her rotters recently pulled. Or, perhaps her elegance was just innate. We’ll never know now without a visit from The Other Side. Anyway, I get up, squeeze between the backs of chairs and the wall, gesture to the toilet and pick up my bag in the hall on the way. I don’t make a fuss because I hate fuss. With huge relief I find the downstairs loo empty, burst in and begin spitting bread (and 6 tons of butter) down the toilet. I break from the spitting only to hang my mouth under the cold water tap, catch a mouthful, swirl and gargle ferociously then spit that down the loo too. After several vigorous rounds of swirl and spit, with water dripping from my chin onto my sparkly Christmas top, I delve into my bag, pull out my strongest anti-histamine tablets and neck one. I then find my weak anti-histamines and neck one of them too for good luck. I swirl and spit more, then, happy that the familiar tingle isn’t progressing to a 999 inducing swelling, I sit on the edge of the bath, pull the shaving mirror toward me and survey the mascara rivuleted scene that is my sweaty Christmas face.

As there’s no YouTube tutorial instructing how to put ones’ face back together following a near-miss anaphylactic shock I do my best with my ever-present stash of baby wipes, mascara and concealer and thank the season for the candlelight I’ll walk back into.

I emerge to find the gang still raucous and hear my uncle commenting that the pistachio bread is lovely. My aunt hears him too and screams, ‘get that bread away from Heather’s plate!’, within seconds the piece of bread I didn’t shove in my mouth is whisked from my place and everyone’s delighted that they’ve saved me from near death. I thank them all and wedge myself back in, thinking I really need to ask what kind of bread it is in future before tossing it in my piehole, since hipsters seem hell-bent on murdering me by revolting against the paranoid caution of the ‘may contains nuts’ generation and acting as if anything that doesn’t contain nuts is basically a two-day old Greggs sausage roll with a fag extinguished on the top. No harm done though, I think, and praise be to the irresponsible antihistamine cocktail that will shortly commence and later end with me singing Hotel California in the manner of a flaky Cher impersonator at the top of my lungs and the bottom of a wine bottle.

“The nut in the bread is a good example of how we often take stuff that’s shit for us and put it inside ourselves as if it were harmless or, even more ridiculously, a desirable thing. When I think of internalised misogyny, I think of the nut in the bread and how it was necessary to spit and swirl that fucker out like there was no tomorrow because, lets face it, nothing brings Christmas to a halt like a puffy wench wheeze-screaming about her Chablis as she’s stretchered out, goddammit. Equally, nothing today limits a woman’s self-esteem more detrimentally than the drip-feed of internalised misogyny.”

Internalised misogyny’s a phrase I started coming across increasingly as my feminism moved from one awareness to another a few years ago. It basically refers to the misogyny that’s conditioned into us that we’re not immediately aware of as being harmful or even present. It’s behaviours and structures exist as commonplace and yet, when we see them we kind of squint our eyes and go, ‘no, no that is maybe not fucking massive sexism. No. I think it’s maybe a seagull instead’, etc. Like pink for girls and blue for boys. Like the fact there’s still a woman on Page 3 but no semi-naked man because men would find that strange, especially around their kids. Like the nonsense that means male dominated clergy and political ‘think’ tanks are still discussing whether or not women should be allowed bodily autonomy and access to medical services that respect their humanity. Like the self-styled pukka man playground of Muirfield Golf Club in East Lothian who this year decided (again) not to allow women as members. Some excused it saying women are allowed in the club (with a man, lest they get too womany) and that all the men there have lovely wives and do a lot for charity through their club connections so it couldn’t possibly be sexism or anything vulgar.

However, if you’ve become aware of the perpetual nut in the bread, you know that the concept of rich men defining different rules for their lovely wives (and everyone else’s) in an environment they exclusively own and control is a massive cocking allergen for us all to choke on. Because, surprise surprise, it’s not just golf and charity raffles that happen at Muirfield; it’s business, politics and Panama bank accounts that shape all our lives and women (and anyone without wealth) not being fully permitted in another space where society’s designed and reinforced.

I think we very often take a denial approach with sexism and internalised misogyny. We go along with lame but laughable excuses for the friend who just ‘doesn’t get on with confident women’, even though intuition tells us that doesn’t register as a good thing at all. We validate choices to stay in bad relationships because we believe we mightn’t be worth more. We undermine other women in top jobs because we think about their relationships, dress sense and emotions in ways we just don’t apply to men. We decide against the chat with a relative who keeps telling sons to reach for the sky and daughters to reach for the lipstick. We try not to think too much about how Trump being President Elect emboldens people who keep their fingers aggressively on the trying to speak mouths of rape culture and racism. We stay complicit because the alternative – calling it out – is the thing that sexism needs us to believe isn’t worth doing because it’s too much hassle. Reality though? It’s not that much hassle at all. Sometimes just pointing out that the time is almost 2017 is enough. Every gesture towards a better status quo counts and, to borrow a well-worn phrase that normally has us subconsciously believing otherwise , we’re worth it.

The bottom line? Get allergic. Pack the cure in your bag and have a plan. There’s a lot of nuts out there this Christmas.

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