We have always been told about animals hibernating; hunkering down in their warm habitats while the colder weather rages outside, snuggling up to their loved ones and snoozing it out, waiting for the warmer weather to arrive in Spring.

I know myself that in Winter, my energy levels drop drastically. The shorter hours of sunlight make the mornings tough, having to force myself out of bed when all my body wants to do is to stay within the warm sheets. The evenings drag after sunset, waiting for bedtime to roll round again. Winter 2020 we find ourselves in a strange and uncertain time. A virus threatens the stability of everything we have ever known. We have been told to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus and therefore, save lives.

In contrast to the first time we were asked to do this back in March, the weather is mostly awful. When it is cold, wet and windy outside, the warmth of home feels much more inviting, so let’s embrace it.

I appreciate we can’t sleep for months on end, like a bear would, emerging fresh and renewed in the Spring sunshine, but we can take inspiration from nature and use this time to do less and look after ourselves. Get the blankets out of the cupboard; fill that hot water bottle and stock up on warm tea. This Winter, and every Winter, is the perfect opportunity for self-care.

Lockdown has been filled with frustrations. Being told to stay at home has meant many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, businesses have been taken out overnight, with only the lucky of us being able to work from home. Being at home has for some meant plenty of free time and new hobbies have taken hold. Instagram is filled with new master bakers, skilled sewers and talented illustrators all released from the shackles of the daily commute. This Christmas will see bookshops filled with books celebrities wrote in lockdown, their publishers finally able to get them to sit still long enough to jot down some memories. For some, lockdown has been incredibly productive, but I would say for most of us the constant bad news has been overwhelming and saddening, any motivation zapped out of us. This is a completely understandable reaction to these uncertain times and I think, in fact, the lack of productivity shouldn’t be shameful, it should be encouraged.

Winter is a period of rest. In nature’s cycles Winter is the pause in the year. Animals hibernate, trees lie dormant and flowers hide away. In my thirties now, I feel like I finally understand my own body’s cycles. With menstruation and ovulation come ebbs and flows of energy and, therefore, productivity. I have come to accept that some weeks I am more productive than others, and that some weeks I don’t have much inclination to do anything at all.

In life, productivity isn’t a linear progression as we would like to believe. We don’t get more and more productive as we get older, getting increasingly efficient and therefore getting more work done until we reach some sort of peak before retirement. There are times when we have to pause and slow down. An example of this would be having a new baby. Tiny babies take a while to understand day and night and for the first few weeks, the days are blurred into one another for the parents too. Putting the needs of the baby first means slowing down and stepping out of busy modern lives and we do this without question.

Lockdown has in some ways forced us out of modern life. We don’t have a choice. We can’t go anywhere or meet anyone. Whilst it is disconcerting and worrying it can also be seen as an opportunity to embrace a time of rest. It could be a relief, for example, to not have to make excuses this year to avoid the onslaught of Christmas drinks and parties. This year we can listen to our bodies as they crave rest and renewal in the colder months and use this opportunity for self-care. So please, if you haven’t found that lockdown hobby baking bread or you haven’t written that life-affirming novel, don’t worry. Getting through this Winter one day at a time is enough, looking after ourselves and each other.

Forget Summer with its sun beaming down on roasting skin, sizzling in the heat. It has never been my favourite season.

Stark shadows mark the ground like a warning sign. The sun: a danger to delicate skin. Fair and freckled, I hide under the canopy of trees; their shade is my safety.

I sense relief as the leaves fall to mark the sun’s retreat. Slowly the days draw in. Anticipation builds as the greens radiate into oranges, reds…

Eager to move through the seasons I remind myself to cherish the glow of early mornings. To catch the sunrises through the window, misty from the outside chill, before they disappear into the months of darkness ahead.

Winter is long and equally relentless. The absence of the sun’s warmth is as much of a challenge to me as its presence. I hide wrapped inside blankets, relying on the comfort of warm cups of tea and hot water bottles.

To me, those few days in early Autumn are the most precious. When the sun shines in cloudless skies but its power is muted by a gentle breeze. A touch cooler. Is it too early for a scarf? I long to be outside, swaddled in soft knits, found like long lost treasure at the back of the wardrobe.

The bright blue sky comes alive with the glow of burning oranges in the trees below. Crisp leaves underfoot; the ground is coated with spiked conkers, undiscovered by squirrels. Inside the deep red gloss shines.

I am reminded of back to school and fresh starts. The clean page of a brand new notebook, or a the shine of a new pair of boots; adventures lie ahead; marks are yet to be made. Autumn’s beauty lies in its endings, paving the way for new beginnings one leaf at a time.

I had never really understood Feminism. Back in the noughties when I took my History A-level, feminism was a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned we had completed it once women’s right to vote had been achieved in 1928. Now, after a few years of experience in the big bad world, I can see there is a lot more still to be done.

I attended an all girls school and we were sold the dream. We could have any job we wanted, marry who we wanted, if we even wanted to marry at all, and children; they were also optional. Most of our teachers were women; they were our role models. If they could have a fancy countryside house a few miles from the beach, a nice car and a family, then so could we. It didn’t really occur to me to look closer to home because the two worlds were so different. Perhaps my own mother hadn’t achieved everything she wanted to due to the limits of society, but she also left school at fifteen and had her children very young. Anyway, I knew my life would be different from my mother’s. I believed I could have it all, or at least most of it.

Alongside the uplifting education we received, there were strange elements of sexism at play at the school. When I first joined, the pupils were amidst a battle with the Parent Teacher’s Association and the Governors over the uniform update including the option of wearing trousers. I had just spent the last 6 years of my school life with my legs covered and I was devastated that a presumably pro-women all-girls school would then deny their pupils the option of covering their legs. (The reason I wanted to cover my legs was of course because society demanded smooth shapely calves, with a light tan, which I knew even at eleven years old I would never be able to achieve or maintain, but that’s another story.)

I distinctly remember a friend was suspended for shaving her head for charity, obviously it was too short and too unladylike. She stayed in hiding until it was deemed presentable enough because, of course, hats weren’t allowed either. We were often pulled up on our choices concerning our hair design against the tight rules and regulations, right down to the detail of which scrunchie we were wearing. I wondered if the boys in the neighbouring school were equally harassed for how they looked.

I always found it entertaining that we had to learn how to put a condom on a banana, whilst the boys must have slept through their lesson on menstruation and pregnancy, if they had one at all, if my experience having to explain it to them was anything to go by. I remember the fear of pregnancy was drummed into us so hard, most girls were on the pill before they left school. Not because we were all whores servicing the boys in the school field at lunch, but because education was too important to us for it to be destroyed by a silly mistake. It was clear even then, that it would be the girls who suffered the consequences in that situation.

I got a paper round as soon as I could but I knew friends that “weren’t allowed” whilst their brothers were. Their fathers were limiting their independence from a young age based on the perceived vulnerability of girls from the potential actions of men. My own father, whilst I was encouraged to go out and earn money, had issues with my sister and I having boyfriends; a stark contrast to his enthusiasm over my brother’s multiple girlfriends and sexual exploits. He is a year younger than me.

The trouble with change is it happens slowly. Here we were almost eighty years after women’s suffrage had been achieved with presumptions about gender still hanging around. Unfortunately not a lot has changed since then, either. I know, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a part of the world where while women and men might not be on quite an equal footing, it’s a better situation than some. I got an education. I was able to go to school and to university. Crucially, I have been able to make my own choices; they were not defined by my gender and not decided by my father.

I do, however, think we have some way to go. Feminism is the focus of equality for the female of the species, but there is much more equality needed in this world. Equality for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, mental and physical health. I don’t understand why in 2020 we are still trying to close the gender pay gap or why there are so few women in the top jobs. Why does it feel like the country is being run by exclusively white men from Eton? I hope we can increase the visibility of diversity across all groups, including those from poorer backgrounds in all industries. Encouraging young people, like our teachers did back then, that they can be this person, they can do this job. There should be no limitations on ambition.

History is what has defined certain groups to have a so-called easier time today and history is where it should stay. Feminism, however should be in the history books with an asterisk. *the pursuit of equality is still ongoing.

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© 2020 Kylie-Ann Homer.