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What It Means to Be a Woman in 2018: Mara Altman

To celebrate 100 years of Suffrage in the UK, we’re asking a host of women of note to answer our Q&A

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Author of Gross Anatomy, a hilarious book about female body positivity, Mara Altman answers our ‘what it means to be a woman in 2018’ Q&A, to mark 100 years of suffrage. The Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed on 6 February 1918.

Mara Altman

Mara Altman Photo © Pablo Mason

Mara Altman Q&A

It’s been 100 years since (some) women were granted the right to vote in the UK – how far do you think women have come in the last century?

There’s been an epic shift in the past 100 years – we have far more options – but unfortunately there is still quite a way to go. This year has made that all too clear with the #metoo movement and the uncovering of rampant harassment. It’s heartening to see more and more woman occupy high political offices, but it’s so maddening to see women so regularly continue to be the victims of sexual violence and misogyny.

What does it mean to be a woman in 2018?

There are such diverse conditions women are living in all over the world that it cannot mean only one thing, but for me it means knowing our strength as well as the respect, dignity, care, education and quality of life we all deserve and going out to fight for it (while wearing very whimsical knitted hats). It also means taking delight in the many wonders of the world, such as excavating in-growns.

What do women still need to achieve?

I think women are achieving absolutely perfectly, it’s the system and culture we live in that needs to change and “achieve”.

Your personal proudest achievement?

Honestly, this question is feeding into my very goal-oriented disposition and I love it, but I’m going to go with a subtle moment, the moment I told my husband that I had a goatee that I’d been hiding from him for years. I’m proud of that moment, because I was finally letting me be me. Once I opened up about my chin hairs, I could let go of much of the shame and anxiety I had around my body. It also started the journey that I’m on now – researching the body parts and functions that are entirely normal yet that we tend to avoid, vilify and consider taboo – which has been hugely gratifying and wonderfully gross.

If you could teach young women one thing about being a woman it would be…

To treat each person they meet, no matter their sex/gender, as a unique universe who is worthy of time, kindness and generosity (unless you’re getting super duper creep vibes, then you should trust your gut). Also, you’re f-ing PERFECT and totally normal (even if you have a ton of nip hairs and rank pits).

And if you could teach young men one thing…

The same as above! But I’d also like to instil in them that they are good people. I think there is so much messaging right now that considers men predators, creepy, and insensitive. If young men hear those statements over and over again why wouldn’t they come to believe it or view it as inevitable? I’d want to be sure that young men know that they are good and important and we are listening to their needs, too.

Complete the following: In the next 100 years, I hope women will…

For one, I hope the world is still pleasant and hospitable in 100 years. I hope we aren’t living on that big plastic trash island developing in the middle of the ocean. In fact, thinking this far into the future is giving me agita. I’ll likely be dead by then, which sucks (unless I’m right about that trash island). For reals though, I hope women by that point stop looking into the mirror to try to find their self worth (which also means I hope the culture stops judging women and putting pressure on them to look one very specific way), but realise instead that the body is a wonderful and useful apparatus to do awesome things in this world while they are here.

Mara Altman Gross Anatomy

Mara Altman is a stand-up comedian, journalist and author of Thanks for Coming and Bearded Lady. She writes about issues that embarrass her (i.e. chin hair), because she has found that putting shame on the page diffuses the stigma, leaving her with a sense of empowerment and freedom.

Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman is published 23 August 2018 in paperback original by Harper NonFiction, £9.99.

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