Anthea Coxe – “The people who get to determine whether certain contraception like the pill is legal are people who never have to use the pill”

How do you self-define?

I self-define as female and straight.

What does feminism mean to you?

A lot of people get very defensive about feminism, but for me feminism means that you believe men and women should have the same rights, the same opportunities, and the same treatment.

What do the words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ mean to you?

This one I’ve thought about for a while. The older I get, and the more aware I become of different things, the more I realise that it means more than what people say they mean. So at the moment, for me they don’t really mean anything, because some people will define as a man, but be very feminine, and some women will define as women, but be very masculine, so you can’t even define them really. Whereas, when we were younger, that’s how we used to define it.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I think I’ve always been aware of my gender, as it really wasn’t something that I questioned. It just always felt right. I was very lucky – my mum is very progressive, and the community I come from is not very progressive at all. I don’t know if it’s because my mum is well travelled; she travelled around the world a lot before she got married, and she lived in Canada for a while. Anyway yeah, she’s always been very progressive, and she’s never believed in ideas like “this if for boys, and this is for girls”. So from a young age, we weren’t shoved into those gender stereotypes. Despite that I’ve always been aware that I’m female, and I’ve never had a problem with that.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?

Yes. More so in this country than back at home, and I’ve said that before to people and they were shocked because I come from Zambia, and misogyny is really strong in Zambia. There’s a lot of problems there for women, but back in Zambia at least there is a mutual respect. Here on a night out, or if I’m walking back home, sometimes I get a little worried because you hear so many stories. I’m not saying I don’t hear stories in Zambia, but I’ve always felt very safe at home, whereas not so much here. I don’t know whether it’s because the older we get, the more we talk about it and the more we hear about certain instances, but I definitely have felt quite unsafe here, even if it’s just in the SU on a night out. It might also just be the age, because we’re at that age where everyone is exploring themselves.

Do you feel treated differently by men and women?

Yeah, especially when I think about it geographically. At home I’d be treated differently by a woman than I am treated here, because back at home, there’s a lot of gender blindness. This is something we’re talking about on my course at the moment; gender blindness and how some women don’t recognise sexism, so a lot of women can be sexist back home. Whereas, here most of the women I know, not all, but most are quite progressive when it comes to gender. But I’m still treated differently by men and women. Here I’m treated more on a par with women, and other women will treat me the way they want to be treated, whereas sometimes the men won’t be so keen to hear my ideas, after I’ve listened to theirs. Also, back at home there’s a lot of sexism with men and women, but it happens in different ways to here.

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

Women, in most cases, are seen as caring. I think that’s an important one because a lot of the time, people will be overlooked for their good qualities, and I think being caring is a good quality. I know it’s not good that women are always seen as mothers, because some women don’t want to be mothers; but women are, in most senses, seen as caring people outside of the workplace. So, it comes with its negative aspects, but I think caring is a good attribute to be seen to have.

Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to womanhood?

I don’t think so, no. Obviously I experienced what most women experience with sexism, but I don’t think that stopped me from getting where I am because my parents have always told me to be myself, and don’t let anybody try to mould me or shape me. Because of that I think I’ve been very headstrong in being who I want to be.

What do you think about casual sex?

If it makes you happy, then it’s your choice. I have the attitude that what’s your business stays your business, and it’s not really my place to judge, so if somebody’s happy with it then I think it’s their right to have that choice.

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

I’m pro-choice, because it’s not my body. Personally, I wouldn’t do it myself, but at the same time I understand that there are reasons that people do it, and it’s not my place to decide what another person does with their body. I’ve done a lot of research and read a lot of articles that give reasons why certain people make those choices, and I think it’s only fair we give people the right over their own body.

What are your feelings about contraception?

I think it’s extremely important, and I get a little bit irritated by the fact that the people who get to determine whether certain contraception like the pill is legal are people who never have to use the pill. And because I have the belief that any person has the right to do what they want with their body in terms of sex, I also believe that they should have the right to control that. And I also know that there are some pills that help control your period and I think that’s really important, especially for disadvantaged people in countries in Africa, because some people get shunned during the time of their period. I know in some countries women are sent away during that time because it’s seen as unsanitary, when it’s actually one of the most natural things that happens to your body.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy?

I know a lot of people are becoming a bit more progressive about this. I like the idea of marriage, and being married to one person and having that relationship, because I’d like to know that somebody was as dedicated to me as I was to them. At the same time, I don’t think that it’s something people should be forced into. Like I said, Zambia isn’t really a progressive place, and people say “you should get married by the time you’re this age and you should have kids”, and again I think it pertains to the person, they should be able to choose what they want. I’d never force it on somebody else, or try to encourage somebody to get married if they didn’t want to; but I’d like to get married one day and be in a monogamous relationship.

What are your thoughts on motherhood?

I believe that not every person has to be a mother. If people want kids, then they should have them, but I think there’s too much of a pressure in society these days for women to have kids. Not everybody is made to be a mother. Again it comes down to choice, and whether you feel like you want to do that. For me, having kids is more important than getting married. In my life, it’s one of my biggest things that I want, because I want to be able to give somebody the kind of life that I’ve been lucky to have, and that my parents have given me.

Do you think your sex education was sufficient?

No! I think in my whole life before university, I probably did about four hours of sex ed. So we did one hour in primary school, which was so bad! They made everybody draw themselves naked, and everybody of course didn’t want to do it, so everybody drew censored signs over their private areas. We were twelve. Nobody wants to draw themselves naked. Then we learned about HIV, and that was in Junior School. Then in High School, they did three hours throughout the whole time at High School, and it was an all-girls school so it was a little less awkward. They taught us about the female condom and different STDs, but our sex education was so insufficient it was scary. I’ve learned most of my sex education whilst being at university, just through talking to friends, which I think should be learned a lot earlier. They never ever spoke about consent, which I think is ridiculous. I think it’s something which should be one of the top things on the agenda when it comes to sex ed. Our sex ed was really pathetic, and I think I probably learned more through TV.

Has your sexuality ever been used against you?

Yeah, as a woman, I’ve been accused of getting too emotional about things before, and people always say ‘Oh, are you on your period?’ I’ve just thought “Oh my god, do you want to see the wrath?” Yeah, it definitely has been used against me a lot. Again, more so back at home, because there is so much sexism in Zambia and South Africa, and it’s not even because a lot of people say sexism is due to people being uneducated on it. It’s also people who are highly educated. I went to an all-girls school, and we had a lot of very feminist, high school teachers and there was just still a lot of internal sexism. It stopped a lot of girls from doing what they wanted to do. At my High School, we didn’t have business studies as a subject, and we didn’t have technical drawing, which all the boy’s schools had. We had a consumer studies and design and technology in place of those two. Our school would always say “We’re all for women succeeding blah blah blah”, but they wouldn’t do it in the most basic senses. They’d say “you can’t do this”. They taught us accounting, but only the most basic forms of accounting. It was just super irritating, because we were always taught that they were trying to help us to go far in life. As for the emotional thing, it’s been held against me a lot at school, and sometimes here at University, but I’ve been very lucky that it’s never been held against me at home. I don’t know why, but my dad is extremely progressive for someone who lives in our area, and I don’t know if it’s because of my mum, or if he’s always just been like that, but it’s never been held against me at home. My parents have always been extremely supportive, and have always said that what you do in life is down to what you want to do and how hard you work.

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for?

In first year I did undermine my morals and values a lot, but I’m becoming a bit stronger since then. There are certain things that I know I won’t talk to about with certain people about, just because I can’t be bothered with that conversation again. Most of the time, when I’ve had a conversation with them before, and we haven’t gotten anywhere, I won’t push to have that conversation again because I hate confrontation, and I’m not a very pushy person. I’ll always have a conversation without the intention of hurting the other person so most times I’ll just say “okay, let’s just agree to disagree” and then I’ll avoid that topic with them. But, when it comes down to core principles, I will stand up for those. So if somebody walked into the office and started making me or somebody else feel uncomfortable in a sexual manner, I’d say something, and I have said something before because it’s sexual harassment. So, things like that, I just wouldn’t put that aside for anybody. But, when it comes to talking in conversations, then sometimes I’ll choose to just step aside from it.

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

As I said in the previous question, there are people who I’ve learned to put things aside for, and there are people who I’ll hold back a little bit with, just because I know that person doesn’t have a huge role in my life or doesn’t hold much value. But if it’s somebody who does play a huge role in my life and I really value their friendship and being around them, then I will stand up to them if they do ever say something that goes against what I stand up for. I also stand up against lecturers, which can be a bit problematic sometimes.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

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

No. Have you heard of the TV show ‘Good Girls Revolt’? It’s on Amazon Prime and I watched it last weekend. It’s in the style of Mad Men, and it shows the sexism of the sixties and seventies. I think shows like that are really good, because they educate you on how it’s been in the past. But then, other TV shows like Game of Thrones show a lot of female nudity. I think in every episode there’s female nudity, but people will lose their minds if there’s ever male nudity, and I think that has kind of built this culture that says it’s alright for a female to be nude in a TV show because it’s happened so much, but as soon as a male is nude it’s like ‘Oh my god somebody call OfCom!’. There’s a massive fuss about it because TV shows and movies don’t sexualise men as much as women.

The reason I have a problem with it is because Game of Thrones isn’t even historically correct. It’s fiction, so it’s just not needed. I think you can portray female nudity without completely showing nudity, if that makes sense. I think it’s a bit problematic as it is now because it often portrays female in submissive positions. I think small things like that can put things into women’s minds that they must be submissive, and condition how we act and react to certain things. If Game of Thrones was made back in the 1990s, a lot of people would be losing their minds about how much nudity is on TV, but then we’ve been so conditioned to it now, it’s just completely normal. Of course, if those women want to show their naked body, then that’s fine, but one of the actresses has apparently signed a contract saying that for the rest of Game of Thrones, she doesn’t have to show any nudity. I think then she chose to in the last season or something. It’s just problematic that she was sort of expected to show nudity whereas men are allowed that privacy. In a way, it makes women feel like their value is decreased. It’s a funny comparison but if you think about the reason why diamonds are so expensive, it’s not because they’re rare, it’s because they are held back.  So, if you see a lot of naked bodies on TV, it’s not going to hold as much value to you as if you saw a man’s naked body.

The way our bodies are devalued sort of gives rise to terms like “slut” and “friend-zone”, which either criticize a woman’s right to say yes and no. You’re going to get labelled one or the other, and these pressures from TV also really mess with your mind. I feel like protecting my younger cousins from TV, who are seven and five, because I don’t want them to feel the pressures that me, my sisters and friends have felt in the past.

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

I think they’re stupid. They’re really really stupid. Last year, I think it was on Mother’s Day, they came out with a pen for mothers, and I’m like, what’s the difference? Oh, it’s pink. What if a guy likes pink, and he’s got this pen that says “Happy Mother’s Day”? Just make pink pens, make blue pens, make green pens. Don’t write “Happy Mother’s Day” on them. I think that marketing certain products to women is stupid, but it also helps increase the price. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but men’s razors cost less than women’s razors. Also, shampoo and conditioner in a lot of cases costs less. Women’s shampoo and conditioner, although it does exactly the same job, costs more than men’s. Our shampoo and conditioner lasts a shorter amount of time because we’ve got longer hair, but it’s the same size bottle!

What are your biggest fears?

I have two biggest fears. One of them is losing somebody in my family, because I come from a very close family, and two years ago, my mum got cancer two weeks before exams and it sent me into a mad downward spiral. I managed to pass my exams, and I don’t really know how, but I ended up flying home straight afterwards when I was supposed to stay two weeks longer. It was the toughest time that I’ve ever gone through I think. She’s fine now, and she’s been given the all clear from January this year, but losing somebody in my family is my biggest fear. My second biggest fear is not being able to have kids. I do worry sometimes about whether I should have kids because there are so many hereditary illnesses in my family, but not being able to have kids or not being able to bring up another child, because I do have the intention of adopting, would leave me heartbroken.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

What are your greatest accomplishments?

I think that my reputation is one of my greatest accomplishments. Not my reputation in superficial matters, but being seen as a caring and an approachable person. Always having the best intentions. I guess I owe those to my parents, but at the same time they’re accomplishments that I’m really proud of having and being able to say I’ve never purposefully or had the intention of hurting somebody else. I really think that’s something to be quite proud of.

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

I’m a happy person, and positive, and a lot of people say that one of the first things they think about is positivity when they think of me, so probably an image of positivity.

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

Sticking with positivity and no-judgement. That’s another thing that I’m proud of, I’m able to put into perspective that people do certain things, for certain reasons, and people feel certain ways for certain reasons, and so I don’t have judgement on a lot of people. I still aim for that throughout my life, and I want to be approachable to somebody regardless of what situation they’re in.

Which are your most positive relationships?

My immediate family, so my parents and my two sisters. We have grown up spending a lot of time away from each other, because we’ve been at boarding school. So I went to weekly boarding school between the ages of six and twelve, and then termly boarding school; so I’d go home every two months when I was in high school, and now here, I only go home at summer and at Christmas. So, when we do get together we are extremely close, and it is an extremely positive relationship. We’re always very supportive of each other and that really helps especially with my mum’s cancer. That was one of the most important things; to be positive and help each other when somebody was feeling down about it.

What do you deeply love about yourself?

The fact that I’m able to look at the good things going on in my life when I’m feeling a bit low. I try to focus on the positive most of the time, and I know that sometimes it can be bad and you kind of do just need to deal with problems, but when it comes to that I’m able to deal with it, but not dwell too much on it at the same time. I love that I’m happy and mostly a cheerful person.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

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