Alberta Jarquin – “It’s the woman’s body at the end of the day and abortion is not the easy option to choose”

How do you self define?

Female, straight, white.

What does feminism mean to you?

I think it’s based on providing opportunity for everyone. I’ve educated myself on it during the past year or so, and before that I think I was really blind to a lot of things. I think it has really helped me wake up to loads of different aspects of life that I didn’t know. It’s not necessarily my fault that I didn’t know. I honestly think it should be a part of education for both girls and guys. It’s hard to define what it is though, but I think it’s making sure that we move past prejudices in everyday life for women and men.

What do the words woman and man mean to you? 

With the word woman, I tend to think of words like ‘nurture’ and ‘mother’s instinct’. I know it’s applied to animals as well, like how mothers have this instinct for their young. I also think of companionship with other women. For men, I’d say strength, as in physical or mental. Also, the need to protect. For man and woman there’s different images of the body and how they’re meant to be seen. For women, there’s connotations of beauty and elegance. Women are more encouraged to feel beauty in their body and I think men should be the same.

When do you become aware of your gender?

I’d say in high school. That’s sort of a grey area though. I suppose I became aware of my gender when I started my period, which was a bit of a shock. In college I was in a sort of male dominated environment, with about 80% boys. That also made me very aware of myself as a woman. I was never very interested in boys in high school, but I did see and hear of other girls being sexually active with the boys, but it never appealed to me. An understanding of my sexuality probably came through when I was in college.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?

Yeah, unfortunately. I feel unsafe walking home or anywhere in the dark. That’s a typical situation for any woman. It’s not just me that feels unsafe, people feel unsafe for me, like my mum and my boyfriend. They tell me I shouldn’t be walking on my own. In my previous job I was working late at night, and when I left to go home I had to walk to a bus stop, and my boyfriend would always ring me as soon as I’m out there and walking. It would never be the other way round. Women are vulnerable on their own.

Do you feel treated differently by men and women? 

I did when I was in college, and even my parents treated me differently because I’m a woman, unfortunately. They’re not bad people, I love them to bits, but it’s just an old fashioned way of thinking. Like during my time in college that really came across. I had to figure out what I was doing afterwards, and at the time I had ideas of going into the navy as a warfare officer. That didn’t play well with my parents at all. My mum’s initial reaction was the fact that I’d be surrounded by all those men. My dad was like “that’s a man’s job”, and in the class I was in I was just on my own as a girl. There were two other girls but we weren’t friends, so my only company was the guys who just wanted to know all my dirty stories and what not, which I had none of. I always felt like people questioned why I wasn’t in some sort of sexual relationship. There’s a lot of pressure to fulfill a stereotype, especially if you’re in a girls friendship group I think. There’s this whole thing about losing your virginity where everyone’s wondering who’s going to be next. I’m ashamed to say that I did take part in that too, but it shouldn’t really matter. It’s not okay to pressure people like that.

What do you think are the positive ways the world views women? 

Celebrities are showing female empowerment. Different women have different ways of showing their empowerment. So some show of their body, which I think is really good, because it tells girls that they can be sexual and confident. I love seeing girls posting body positive pictures because that empowerment is spreading. Then there’s also academics who show educational empowerment, which is really positive. I mean, these people do get criticism but it’s good that they’re doing what they do.

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Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to womanhood? 

I’d say the pressure to lose my virginity was a big obstacle. At the time, I spoke to guys in different ways, so some in a more flirtatious way and I probably did fancy a few of them but I always feared that If I continue speaking to them they’re going to expect something from me. I think then you’re put in this situation where you have to make a decision about whether you want to keep talking. I probably could have slept with them but I didn’t really want to and it always felt like if you just wanted to have a friendship with them it wouldn’t be possible, because they weren’t interested in you on a deeper level. It’s a lot better at university, but at the time, things would backfire on me a lot; because even if I didn’t do anything with one guy and we stopped talking, and say I talked to another guy a couple of days later, then I got all the names like “class slag”. That would happen no matter what I did or didn’t do.

What do you think about casual sex?

Do it properly, be safe about it. I’ve never done it myself but I do have friends who have and I’d say girls are a lot more scrutinized for doing it. They’re more likely to receive these subtle comments about being dirty or kinky or whatever. With a guy people don’t bat an eyelid.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice, and why?

Pro-choice, definitely. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation and not being given the chance to make a decision about my own life. There’s plenty of situations, like rape, or  death for the mother or child where it has to be allowed. I don’t think anyone should have to go through that physical and emotional trauma. It can affect your partner, no one wants to see their loved one go through that pain. It’s the woman’s body at the end of the day and abortion is not the easy option to choose.

What are you feelings on contraception?

I think there’s a lot available, mostly for women. I take the pill myself for about two or three years, and I think it’s really important that it’s free. There should also be contraception for guys as well.

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy? 

I’d like to be married one day, hopefully to my boyfriend right now. Sometimes things don’t work out, but I like the idea of being with one person. I want to give myself time to know what’s right though, because marriages do break up and it’s not always going to be one person for life. There’s no point in tying yourself down in the future if you’re not 100% sure what you want.

What are your thoughts on motherhood? 

I think all women should get the option to experience it. I’m not saying that all women should feel pressured to have a child, but you should  have the option if you want to. Some women don’t get the opportunity to do it, and luckily there are ways around it, but they don’t always work which I think is really heart-breaking. That includes trans* women, which I think should be taken seriously if they want to be mothers. Motherhood is on par with fatherhood, and both can be nurturing roles; they shouldn’t be gender based. Like if we consider gay couples who adopt children, there’s no mother figure there but they’re just as capable of nurturing a child as a mother might.

Do you think you sex education is sufficient? 

Only in the biological sense. I was very educated on the menstrual cycle, hormones and how our bodies change. In high school we were taught about sex itself, but that was very basic. It was just on a very simple level. There was no exploration of gay or lesbian relationships, or what should and shouldn’t be happening during sex. I probably would have benefited at that stage from being taught to be careful and not do anything that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t anyway, but many girls would benefit from knowing that, and guys too. I don’t think sex is just about what happens in bed; there’s a lot more to it.

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Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner? 

Yeah I do. I won’t go into detail. We’ve been together about two years now, so I know all there is to know and same goes the other way round. If I’m not enjoying something, I’ll just say. Nine times out of ten we’ll just laugh it off. It’s not intense, as it was at first. What I mean is I was so conscious about how I looked and I wanted to make sure that I’d shaved and so on. At first you’re in this experimental phase where you find out what you like, but now I’m really comfortable and we don’t engage in anything that one of us doesn’t like.

Has your sexuality ever been used against you? 

Yeah, at college and I’ve just left a job at warehouse, which were both male dominated places. Again, I made friends with the guys but I had a boyfriend so it was clear I had no intention of engaging in anything. I earned a reputation of being a little bit too confident with men and being too flirtatious. I even went on a night out for Christmas with some people at work, and I was told I come across as slutty because I speak to all the guys. I’ve only ever been with one guy so it doesn’t make sense. These guys made up these outrageous stories because I’m a straight woman. It was the same at college, probably even worse. They’d call me all the names under the sun just for talking. Just because I’m single I must be interested in them, and if not I’m just a slag.

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for? 

No I don’t think there is. With my parents I sometimes feel like I should undermine my principles because they raised me to believe that a woman should do women’s things. Obviously they’re authoritative figures in my life so I have felt like I should undermine my principles; but in the last year or so, since I found feminism, I know I don’t have to undermine my principles. I don’t have to comply with the ideas they’re raised me to believe about myself. I do find myself bringing up debates about feminism with them. Like the other day I had a necklace on, and my brother was inquiring about it so I took it off and put it around his neck. My mum was like, “no, don’t put that on him, boys shouldn’t be wearing necklaces” and I’d just question, “why?”. She said it was just a girl’s thing, so I ended up bringing out this whole speech. Also on the same day, I told her I had just joined the feminist society and she was like “how can you be a feminist? You have a boyfriend and I thought feminists hate men”. I mean, hopefully I’m not undermining her own principles when I question her, I’m just trying to show her that feminism is an inclusive perspective. I’d say this to anyone, including my friends, in the hope of changing their ideas about feminism and gender roles.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind or stand up for yourself? 

My boyfriend listens to me a lot. He knows that I won’t sit back without stating my opinion. Most of the time he does come around, once his ego dissipates. He’s a philosophy student so we do tend to have these heated debates on certain topics. With my parents, I’m comfortable to stand up for myself now. Sometimes that has come across to them as being rebellious but I think they’re just from a different time. Times aren’t the same anymore. I also feel confident speaking in tutorials and seminars, and my opinions are considered. There’s a great positive environment at university where you can share any opinion with lecturers. They do make you feel very welcome.

Do you feel satisfied with how women are depicted in film, TV and advertising? 

When I was younger I felt like women in films were generally quite perfect. They’d be beautiful and very feminine. I realize now that’s a problem and luckily the industry is slowly realizing that. I’m from Bulgaria, and I feel like eastern European women are presented as sexy and foreign. I think I blend in with all the women here, but in films they’re presented as dirty and mystical almost. They’re over-sexualised, and I think that comes from porn. My boyfriend has told me about all the different genres there is; like there’s women from all these supposedly exotic countries. I think it’s gross that you can choose a woman based on where she’s from. It also happens to Asian women as well. I think it creates these expectations about men’s and women’s pleasure too, like because porn is made for a male audience there’s an expectation of what a woman should do to be attractive. It’s so easy to get into that mindset, and feminists are the ones who ask us to question what this says about how society views women.

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How do you feel about products marketed to women? 

I think things are sugar-coated for women, so like periods are made to seem very pretty and very clean. It doesn’t really represent the actual experience, or market to women who don’t like pretty feminine things. I know a couple of girls who are heterosexual but don’t adopt feminine expectations. So they need to look towards the men’s section, but it shouldn’t be like that. There should be a variety of women’s products. Just because a woman wants to dress less feminine, it doesn’t mean she’s any less of a woman. The other day I was in Topshop with my boyfriend, and I actually realized that the girls who work there are all really pretty, skinny and glamorous. When I was younger I felt like there were all sorts of women working at Topshop, but now it’s been like filtered into one image of what a Topshop girl is. Say I went in there and asked for a job, that’s probably the kind of girl they’d be looking for. I might not be the ideal candidate and I feel like that’s the case for a lot of women’s shops. There’s this expectation to be very petite, although they are providing plus-size clothing, I think there doesn’t really need to be a separate section for bigger women.

What are your biggest fears? 

I don’t want to lose people. That scares me more than my own death. Someone else’s death can be so sudden. When I was ten years old, I lost my first cousin. I was very close to her in Bulgaria. Our relationship when I came to the UK wasn’t as strong when I moved here, but anyway she died of a car crash. It’s such a shock to think she was only 17 and it’s so easy. It can happen to anyone. It’s really sad to think she’ll always be that age in our memories. You’d never think that someone so young could die.

What are your greatest accomplishments? 

As of recently, I moved out with my boyfriend to our own flat. That was quite big, and I’ve really adapted to it. I have my parents to thank for that, they really prepared me for that. I don’t find it very difficult to look after myself, and I think I’m good at it. We’ve got a little cat as well so that’s another responsibility. I’m proud to be able to go home to my rented flat, to go to my own little space. Another thing is when I moved to England with no knowledge of English or British culture. I was seven, and I learnt English and my boyfriend says now, that I seem very English. In my last job, it took people about two years to realize I was actually foreign. When the whole Brexit thing happened, I wasn’t allowed to vote because I don’t have a British passport. Everyone asked me what I voted and they couldn’t believe I was Bulgarian. I did really well at school in English language and literature, which did make me feel really proud as a foreign student. Back then the teachers did make me feel really good as an outsider and help me integrate. I feel accomplished that I’ve come this far, in that I got through college and came to a good university.

What image do you think your project on a day to day basis?

For people that know me, I’d say I come across as quite confident. I’d never be the type to just go along with something that I’m not happy with. I’m not overly confident but I think I know myself and I can be my own person in a group. In my girls friendship group, I think my outlook on life is a bit different from my friends. As much as I enjoy having friends, I don’t depend on their approval, at least not anymore. I think I’m seen as an individual.

What image would you like to project in an ideal world, absolving social expectations? 

I’d like to be approachable. I hope that anyone can feel comfortable telling me things and not get a biased opinion. I’d like to be seen as someone who isn’t afraid to try different things. I like variety in my life.

What are your positive relationships? 

My relationship with my brother. He’s only eight but I consider him one of my best friends. I study psychology, and I learn a lot about developmental psychology and kids behaviour. It’s made me realize how neutral children are to things. It’s sad how are minds are eventually corrupted to believe certain things and ideas. I see in him the ability to see past race and religion. He doesn’t make judgments. He doesn’t question my lifestyle decisions and it’s really fun to be around someone so simple. It makes me want to be a child again. We just talk about the simple things in life.

What do you deeply love about yourself? 

I like my life to be changing, even if it’s just little things. I like that I love experiencing new things. I enjoy change and adapt to change, and I think that’s beneficial because I’m not one of those people who will settle for a nine to five job in the future. I like that I don’t take things too seriously, but I do understand the importance things. Like if I fail, I won’t take it too seriously. I do experience the stress of my work-load but I never let it overwhelm me. I told myself before my results in first year, that it doesn’t really matter because it’s not life threatening. My mum and my grandma always said that health is first. Anything that isn’t life threatening doesn’t really matter that much. Yeah, there are important things that aren’t life threatening, but they have their moments. My mum did help me a lot in telling me to do my best and prioritize what matters in life. A fail is a fail, it’s not the end of the world. That helped me step back when things get too stressful. Take a moment and just realise that it’s not too serious. I know we’re paying for this but we should enjoy the experience too. That applies to other things too, like money. I don’t really understand people who put money over their happiness and do a job they absolutely hate. It’s not really worth your happiness and well-being.

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