Sophie Thompson-Hyland – “I don’t have enough time or energy to expend thinking anything negative about myself. There is enough hate in the world, I don’t need to hate myself too.”

How do you self-define?

I’m a woman. That’s all I can think of as a self-definition.

What does feminism mean to you?

It’s equality between the genders; not the male-bashing type of feminism. I don’t agree with all that extreme stuff. These people are kinda like terrorists with religion in that they that take it to a whole new level and put a bad name on it for everyone else. When you say you’re a feminist people are like “oh, do you hate men then?” or “are you a lesbian?” I’m always like, no, no I’m not. I think that probably happens because it’s called ‘feminism’ though.

What do the words “woman” and “man” mean to you?

Being male and female is to do with your biological gender. Being a man or a woman is something you choose to identify with. Which is weird because that wasn’t a big thing a few years ago. It didn’t seem like people weren’t so concerned with “him”, “her” or “they”. To be honest, I’m still not certain how to refer to non-binary genders. I’m quite confident with my own gender and I’ve never had to question it, so I find it hard to relate. For those who do struggle with it I reckon it’s very difficult.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I guess I’ve always been slightly aware. It’s pretty easy to be aware because as a kid going into Woolworths you’ll be seeing the pink aisles for girls toys and the blue ones for boys. Obviously that’s complete and utter wank. Colours should not be solely associated with gender. Colours are natural. What does it have anything to do with what gender you are? Unfortunately in marketing it does and it works for the most part. I liked princesses as a child but I also wanted the pirate ship so I bought both. I was aware I was a girl, and I like the dresses and so on, but I would still race the boys and get muddy in the playground, so it didn’t really bother me.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?

Yes. I remember walking back from a nightclub, and there were three of us walking home and some guys pulled up next to us in a car and offered us a lift. We were a bit tipsy, but I looked in the car and it was already full. I was wondering, why would they be offering a lift? Not that we would get in the car anyway, because they were strangers and all. We said no, and they didn’t really get the message so they just kept driving alongside us. It started to get really weird and uncomfortable. We started walking a bit faster, and we took off our shoes and went even faster after that. They then turned around and followed us up our road, so we started running and they continued to follow us. We had to hide behind some bins for about twenty minutes. Nothing happened, they didn’t do anything, and they just got bored and fucked off. But for us it was one of those moments when your heart is in your mouth. I think the alcohol probably didn’t help the situation but it was really quite scary at the time. It wouldn’t have happened if we were men. They weren’t going to stop and say”hey lads, want a lift?”

Do you feel treated differently by men and women?

In certain situations, yes. I think for me it was in terms of intelligence, boys at school would always assume they were smarter than me. I think it’s because girls are a lot less confident about this sot they underplay their talents. I think when I start working it will happen too, because I want to work in a very heavily male-dominated environment. You have to be able to take what they are saying about you and not be offended, and there is nothing you can do as an individual. If you stand up to them about it, the likelihood is that you aren’t going to keep that job for very long.

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

Women tend to be viewed as nurturing or as sexual objects. People these days see it as such a negative and it’s not. The things you are associated with can be powerful. Women manage to achieve a great deal using their sexuality or the mother-like persona. I think you have to use what you’ve got to get ahead in the world. I think on the other hand, I definitely have some traits that would be more fitting with “male” stereotypes. I’m quite bossy and ambitious and definitely career-orientated. They tend to be viewed as male attributes. I think sometimes guys I’ve dated have sometimes found this a little bit intimidating. But I’ve never had the urge to change that or tone it down; if anything they should tone themselves up if it’s going to work. It’s a competition, everyone has to compete for something in life. If someone put me down about it, they clearly aren’t someone I’d want to spend my life with. They can piss off basically.

 

Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to womanhood?

 

When I was younger I was too concerned with what people thought about me, but when I was about fourteen or fifteen there was so much other shit going on at home that spending time worrying about other people’s opinions of me was not an option. I was just like, “Why am I taking note of this trivial information when I’ve got all this other stuff going on? Why am I even expending energy thinking about this?” Ever since then I just don’t respond to people’s bullshit. I simply lost interest. I literally give zero shits about it these days. It’s not my business what other people think, and I judge people all the time, everyone does. I just don’t have the energy to share my internal judgments or to accept it from other people. Basically I don’t need people’s opinions on my body, my life and my choices.

How do you feel about casual sex?

I think it has a lot of stigma around it. I know people who’ve slept with like twenty guys, and others will comment saying “oh she’s a slut”. I always respond with “she just had twenty great nights that you’re jealous of”. I think it’s perfectly acceptable if that’s what you want to do. Humans have needs, and at our age there are hormones at work. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be having sex with whoever you want; as long as they are consenting and willing to do it with you.

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

Pro-choice. From a geographer’s perspective, there are huge issues with population growth; it’s the biggest threat to the earth. Bigger than climate change because it drives and facilitates it and every other issue, like food insecurity, water insecurity etc. Any way of limiting population growth is a positive for me. I don’t see why wouldn’t you be supportive of someone who doesn’t want a child. It would be beneficial for everyone in the long term. I think it’s an awful thing to be forced to have a baby you don’t want. It’s not like you get pregnant and pop, out it comes. It’s a lifetime commitment. No one should have that burden from one stupid mistake, accident or otherwise.

What are your feelings about contraception?

We are lucky that we get it for free for the most part, and education on it is easily accessible if you go looking for it. Obviously in other places it’s less accessible. My school was Catholic and we weren’t really exposed to it. I know some people who got taught how to put a condom on. My first encounter with a condom was when I found one in my brother’s room and thought it was a balloon so blew it up and took it downstairs. My mums reaction was “Sophie, that’s a condom get it out of your mouth.” That’s literally all that was said about it.

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy?

Coming from a broken-home background, marriage isn’t something I’m aiming for. I’m sure it might be nice but it’s not something I want at the moment. When I was with my ex I was adamant that i’d marry him, but now I’ve realised that there are so many things I want to achieve alone. There are things I don’t want to drag someone through. I’m not sure it would be fair. It would be selfish of me and I know I wouldn’t want to be in my partner’s position. I’d probably marry my best friend if I did. I don’t think marriage has to be the nuclear family thing. There is a financial incentive I think these days, so why not marry someone you really get on with so you can be more financially stable? It doesn’t always have to be about the romance.

What are your thoughts on parenthood?

I remember once thinking I was pregnant and I was adamant about it. Obviously I didn’t exactly want a child at that point so I took the morning after pill and it made me feel like the world’s worst person, like I’d killed my child. That weird empty feeling really freaked me out. I’ve never been someone who really wanted children. If I want to have kids in the future then I’ll have kids and if I don’t I don’t. I think my family is more old school about it and probably want it for me more than I do.

Do you think your sex education was sufficient?

I think it’s better now but before it was the whole “don’t have sex” thing. I knew technically what happened and we saw a baby being born. It’s funny though because they never showed the boys the same video, and that always confused me. I mean, they’re far more likely to see it from that angle than I am! It’s half their input too. I hope my school have changed all this now.

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Photo Credit: Nicky Moffat

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

Yes, very comfortable. They may not like it but I can’t deal with beating around the bush. I think if you can’t have an adult conversation about it then you shouldn’t be having sex. Simple.

Has your sexuality ever been used against you?

No, I don’t think so, I think the people I’ve always been with are people who have understood it. I don’t think I’d be attracted to someone who wasn’t open minded and understanding. I remember being called a slut by an ex when I was younger, just for getting with someone, which is obviously a hugely slutty action. I think it was because I was far more sexually open than him and after we broke up he didn’t know how to handle it. Calling his ex a slut is the way a seventeen year old male way of handling it. That’s probably the only time anyone has commented on my sexuality.

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for? 

I like to think I’m quite considerate in the way I speak to people. I’m right to the point and honest but I’m not vindictive. I wouldn’t say something just for the reaction. If I know it would upset them I wouldn’t bother mainly because I don’t want the grief from it. I’m not someone who is overly concerned with other people opinions, and if I want them to respect mine I have to respect theirs. Yes, I have been in heated arguments but at the end of the day it’s just an opinion clashing with mine, even if they are wrong. Yes, some people are wrong because people can just be morons but it’s not my place to question their opinion. Maybe I don’t believe in anything strongly enough. I feel like that is one of my principles though because I believe that your opinion is yours and mine is mine. It’s probably kept me out of many heated situations, and I am pretty happy expressing my opinions but it’s your problem if you don’t agree.

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

I don’t think I’ve been in any situation where I’ve felt unsafe. My mum is a 5ft feisty woman and I live in a very matriarchal family with a lot of strong, sassy black women. I’ve never struggled to stand up for myself growing up in an environment like that. The men in our family, bless them, but they are outnumbered. Honestly I think it makes them better men. My brother is one of the best people I know and it’s amazing to watch him with his daughters. He encourages them to be who they want to be and take an interest in whatever they want. My niece is actively encouraged to be bossy; little girls should be bossy. It’s traits like that that lead them into high flying careers.

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

No, it annoys me a lot. It has gotten better, but feminism is almost a cool thing to be into at the moment. It’s the “in” thing at the moment, which I’m not sure I agree with because it should always be cool to care about gender equality. A lot of the time girls are seen as sexual objects in the media but there are campaigns, like the free the nipple campaign which are fighting that stereotype which is great. Women’s bodies are overly sexualised. If I ever had children it’s something I’d want to install in them; the naked body is simply that, a naked body. It’s not inherently sexual; but it can be sexual of course. Your sexuality comes from within not from what puberty is doing to your body. But people are still buying into the media and the only reason it is out there is because we are fueling it. The only way to ever get rid of it is to avoid it. Don’t buy into the cycle.

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

They are usually pink and based on a lot of stereotypes. Which unfortunately seem to sell, because if they didn’t then we wouldn’t see it. People complain about it but that doesn’t stop it. It’s a change that needs to take place within our society and it’s far bigger than different colours and the prices of women’s razors. It’s not as simple and arbitrary as we make it out to be. It’s something that our consumerism drives. I think marketers and advertisers aren’t idiots; it’s clearly a successful way of selling goods. That means it’s all our responsibility – we facilitate and drive it.

How do you feel about the portrayal of feminine hygiene products in the media?

Oh my goodness,  don’t even get me started. The advertising is so stupid. It’s always about a woman in a white play-suit going out to town. I’m always like “mate, if you’re on your period don’t be wearing white”. Even if you have an amazing pad it’s too risky. I don’t know why they’re even advertised to be honest. Nothing has changed about them and they aren’t a luxury item that women really want to buy. So why are we even advertising them? Spend less money advertising them and use those savings to reduce the price of the actual product. I’ve solved the problem in ten minutes.

What are your biggest fears?

Probably not achieving what I want. There are things I really want at the moment and I’m working hard to get there. It would be heart-breaking to just not be good enough. I think that’s really scary.

What are your greatest accomplishments?

My greatest accomplishments haven’t happened yet, but possibly getting my health on track is something I’m proud of, but like it’s not really an accomplishment. I didn’t want to have to deal with a chronic illness, I had no choice. For now my grade one in clarinet seems to be high on my list of accomplishments. I’m not even that proud of it but it’s on my CV.

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

I like to think it’s an honest image. It’s hard to tell unless you are actively trying to come across as someone you are not. I like to think I’m quite a strong person. Strength of character is an important thing to me, and there aren’t any excuses for letting your weaknesses make you weak and impacting who you are. You need to deal with shit. Stuff happens but it doesn’t define you. The fact you’ve dealt with it defines you not what you actually had to deal with.

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

How can there be a world that absolves all social expectations? I can’t answer it. We created society, and it’s one of the most exciting things the human race has done. Expectations come with that. We’d just be devoid of social interactions, there would be no way to create the networks and relationships we have. I’m sorry I just can’t answer that.

What are your most positive relationships?

I have an amazing relationship with my mum. My mum is a formidable woman, she has dealt with so much stuff; she grew up in the black community but wasn’t black. That doesn’t sound that serious but in the 50’s and 60’s that was a difficult thing to be going through. She wasn’t white, and she wasn’t black. Then on top of that she was a bastard child of a single parent. I’ve not often seen her show her weaknesses, and it’s not something you expect from your parents but as I’ve got older she has opened up to me more and more about it. The fact she is sharing this vulnerability with me makes her stronger, and it’s brought us closer.

What do you deeply love about yourself?

I love everything about myself. I’ve got to a point in my life where I don’t have time to hate myself. I let other people do that. They can spend time hating parts about me but I don’t have enough time or energy to expend thinking anything negative about myself. There is enough hate in the world, I don’t need to hate myself too.

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Photo Credit: Nicky Moffat

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