Tag Archives: feminism

My Extraordinary Daughter – the best idea I ever had.

IMG_0368When I first posted ‘My Extraordingary Daughter’ she was just about to begin her degree at Glyndwr in Wreham. She was working for Calon Lan Caring Services and had just become the youngest Special Constable in North Wales. I talked about her: ‘pounding the beat in Rhos and on Wednesday and Friday she will be sat in university lectures on Crime and Criminology. She will also spend at least one morning or afternoon doing housework at home. She will walk the dogs, pick up some grocery and go out with her friends.’ I said: “And she will do all this with grace, and humour and energy and above all, enthusiasm. Because that is what my extraordinary daughter does. And as if all of that is not enough, she will do all this looking absolutely beautiful. She will light up each and every room she walks into. Because that is what she is: a little ball of love that lights up everywhere around her.”

She has now left home for her final year at ‘uni’ – house-sharing (shacking up, we used to call it) with Mr ‘Well Fit’, and is working for another caring service. Now approaching her 21st birthday next week, a lot has happened, but little has actually changed since my original post: she continues to be the best idea I ever had. 🙂 

E. was my idea. The best one I ever had. She was carefully planned because I didn’t want any more maternity leave, we simply couldn’t afford it and because once I had finished changing nappies, I really had finished changing nappies.

It was quite a fun pregnancy really – I ate zillions of tins of fruit cocktail, and cream cakes, and drank loads of tea for the first time in years. I also went off alcohol. I got really fat really quickly, and Eddie, the caretaker, commented immediately. I remember starting to worry about ‘doing this one properly’ – ‘natural birth’ ! And just like last time, I started making crap, nervous jokes about the crap system of babies having to come out the way they got in again. And again, it didn’t happen.  I was marking GCSE exams, as usual in those days: the deadline was the 12th, ‘it’ was due on the 21st. But then it all went pear-shaped when the final scan was mis-read. It appeared she had stopped growing and she had to be whipped out sharpish. Unfortunately, I told the nurse, that was not going to happen: I still had papers to mark. The nurse was aghast; the doctor was fairly calm, and agreed I could have till Wednesday night and come in on the Thursday morning.

We got up at the crack of dawn to get to the hospital by 8 am. I was wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital and put in a queue. And that is where we stayed pretty much all day. There was one emergency after another all morning. After lunch, which I didn’t have, there was one emergency after another. It was 3.30 in the afternoon before she was unzipped.

At some point, flicking through a baby magazine (I bought loads, read some and ignored all) I learned that the worse age gap between siblings was between 2 and 3 years – apparently it was the age difference which created the greatest sibling jealousy, which in turn could create loads of other issues. GM was 2 and half. Great. To combat this we presented E to him as his present and his responsibility, which he took to with the same gusto he had for all his toys. So when we finally arrived home with her, not only did Benjy the dog take a couple of sniffs and immediately hop into her carry cot with a protective stance but GM raced upstairs and returned with his sunglasses and placed them over her face.

E could hold her head up within a matter of a few weeks: GM watched her like a hawk, imagined every possible harm that could come to her, anticipated her every need – and picked her up at every alarming gurgle or cough. He would waddle across the sitting room with her in his arms – her arms, legs and head flopping all over the place – much to the disgust of many a visitor. But she thrived on it. And could hold ber own bottle around 5 months, could walk in her ninth month and could use a small knife and fork before she was one. In fact she surpassed every baby and toddler milestone miles ahead of all the textbook expectations. Until she went to school.

She went off to O P  Primary nursery before she should have. She could, and did, dress herself completely and was appalled to learn one of her first targets was to be able to put her own coat on. S., the childminder, was equally appalled and pointed this out strenuously. S. was a governor at a local Catholic primary school and didn’t like taking E to O P. S. also pointed out and then demonstrated that E could even ride her two-wheeler bike without stablisers. This did not go down well with the other ‘mums’ – they had 7 year olds with theirs still on.

E. had an extraordinary vocabulary for her age. She could calculate and was extremely dexterous for her age. But her school work was ropey. She was chatty in class but clearly struggled to get on with the other girls. She did make one friend, J. E. and J. were always falling out though.  J. tried to bully E. and E. soon got fed up with this. J. tried it one time too many – pinching E. in an afternoon lesson. E. did not pinch J. back. E. punched J. hard. J. did not try to pinch E. again. 

By the end of the third week  she declared that school had been great so far, but she wanted to know how much longer she would have to keep going. S. and I laughed – I told S. she could tell her it would be another 11 years. E. gave up on other girls somewhere around the end of Year 1. And she also gave up on her school work. I didn’t have the time to coach her at home, didn’t know how to coach her at home, being fearful of making matters worse by confusing her, and decided rather than to work on her school work, we would make sure she was good at other stuff. 

E. was again bullied by the girls at W B Gymnastics club. It was quite a big thing, the ‘choosing the activity’ decision. GM was doing football with T. FC and also went to kick boxing with H. from next door. E was told she had to find an activity to do when she was 6. And just before she was 6 she announced her choice: gymnastics. We were gob-smacked. Where on earth had she discovered gymnatics and did she even know what it was? But I was impressed, and made enquiries.

I still remember the first few sessions. She was obviously new and couldn’t do anything. The girls overtly shunned her, and she came over to me quite a few times and said that no-one would partner her. I sent her back. Just do it anyway. And she did. I was appalled at how the mothers of these girls condoned their behaviour. But it was one of the best things that ever happened to her. Because when she was no longer the new girl, she didn’t avoid the new beginners, she offered to partner them. And my extraordinary daughter began to take shape.

She decided to be a policewoman just before her fourth birthday. They had been playing in the dress-up box and the toy kitchen had bored her as usual. So had the dolls and the princess stuff. And then she found the police uniform. And came home and declared this is what she was going to be.

We moved to HK in 2002. She went to Y. D. She was in year 4, and surprise, surprise, not, the girls bullied her. She was the new girl again, and was shuffled around from ‘friend’ to ‘friend’ for the next 3 years. Eventually she settled on I. Just like J., I. tried to bully her. They argued and fell out all the time. But things were different this time because she was discovering she didn’t need girls at all – she made friends with the boys instead. And go down well this did not. This is  probably best illustrated by describing the party to which every girl in the class was invited except I. and E. This remains one of the most callous and rude things I have ever witnessed: people drive through what looks like this idyllic little Welsh village, and yearn to live somewhere like this, oblivious to that old adage that money can’t buy everything, including class.

Towards the end of the first term at YD Emma brought home a piece of school work. It was a history piece. It was paragraphed. The sentences had capital letters and full-stops. The names and places had capital letters. The words were spelled correctly. More importantly, it made sense. Half-way through reading it I burst into tears. Finally, E.’s academic performance matched her ability. and there was loads of it. When E. left YD we bought Mrs J. a thank you card, and I wrote a note in which I attempted to express a fraction of the gratitude we felt for the difference she had made to E., to the difference she would continue to make to E. In deed everything she went on to accomplish would be based on the difference she had made to E. Mrs J. cried when she read the note, I cried when E collected her A level results – and thanked Mrs J. all over again.

“No-one bullied M. again …”‘

When E. started secondary school she didn’t get bullied. This time she ‘got’ bullies. She didn’t attempt to make girl friends, they attempted to make friends with her. But they were too late, her best friend was M. and D. and A. All boys. Because she couldn’t pursue her gymnatics here she took up judo instead. When someone tried to bully M. she stepped in, hooked his ankle with her toe and floored him. No-one tried to bully M. again when E. was around.

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And despite, or even because, she had given up on the girls, she was elected form rep. year after year. She was on the School Council as Year 11 Year Rep when the school was inspected –  the School Council was deemed one of its outstanding features. She organised and sorted out the room allocation on the Year 10 skiing trip to Austria ensuring no-one was left out, and as a result of her intervention in a couple of other incidents, was then invited back the following year to help with the next year group: Year 11s aren’t even usually allowed to go at all. She raised huge amounts of money for charities each year selling sweets. She made Flintshire Senior County String Orchestra, playing the violin in one of the country’s most predigious junior orchestras. She got her orange belt at judo and played netball for the school. When she went to Wakestock at the end of Year 11, a fortnight before her sixteenth birthday, she spent the first night in the First Aid tent helping to sort out an O-D case. It’s what she does.

102_4832And when she wanted to go to Leeds Festival, she went. Going to Leeds was more than a matter of just buying a ticket. She had to pass her History GCSE with a C. Which was not going to be easy: she had worked her little butt off at the beginning of the course, and got an A* in her coursework by writing everything that could be written about some castle somewhere, without understanding a single word of it. Her end of Year 10 exam was an E, her Year 11 mock was a G. She had two evenings left before the exam and she knew nothing about the history of medicine or the American West, and frankly, cared less. But I didn’t want anything below a C spoiling her certificate. So if she wanted to go to Leeds she would have get the C in History as well. It’s not easy learning an entire GCSE syllabus in two evenings. But it can be done, because she did. And that is why she went to Leeds.

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So when she became the youngest Special Constable in North Wales Police for as long as they could remember it was no surprise to anyone who knows her. As they read out the personal synopsis of each candidate at the Attestation Ceremony most began “and X has just left Y Univeristy, where they attained a degree in … ” : E.’s began “and E. has just completed her A levels… “.

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GM with his favourite’toy’.

My daughter is everything I would have liked to be. She is a talented athlete and a very talented musician. She is kind and  caring and thoughtful. She will work till she drops. She does not know how to give up. She is absolutely stunning. Above all though, she is totally unaware of most of this. And that is why she is my extraordinary daughter, and why I love her so very much.

Margaret Thatcher

Mrs Thatcher died today. Many people are glad. This seems to me a ridiculous reaction, as everyone  – ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – is going to die – it’s not like it’s some ‘punishment’ for all her ‘evil’ deeds.

I remember the fear she created, the despondency of socialists who supported the miners’ actions, the hatred towards the police as they ‘over’- did their job, some will say. But as I recall, Britain wasn’t a particularly great place to be before she came to power. There was fear and despondency during the 3-day week and the winter of discontent.

My outstanding memory of the Thatcher years is the Cold War and her relationship with Ronald Reagan – and eventually the Berlin Wall coming down in November 1989. I watched the news that evening, and after years of teaching ‘Brother in the Land’ – a novel by Robert Swindells, set in a post-nuclear landscape – I cried as if some huge weight was being lifted off the shoulders of the world. Kennedy will forever be revered for averting war in 1963. He faced the Soviets down – recorded for prosperity in the Kevin Cosner film, ‘Thirteen Days’. And yet the Cold War continued for over another twenty years. I am still waiting for the film of Thatcher and Reagan ‘ganging up’ on Gorbachev – with Reagan’s  “Mr Gorbachev, take down this wall.” And for the exploration of the role Margaret Thatcher’s “I can do business with this man” played.

Most literature courses and historians have designated 1945 as some kind of point to mark the beginning of the ‘modern’ era. But as a child brought up in a rural area I confess I can’t remember anything very modern about either our house or the society I was brought up in in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Everything was brown: wallpaper, carpets, furniture. Yes, there was supposed to be the Swinging SIxties – plastic, psychedelia and eventually colour tv. But it was the 80’s that mark the beginning of the real modern age for me: the mobile phone, O level Computers and female, happily unmarried lecturers at the local FE driving sports cars. And a female prime minister not being a ‘feminist’ but playing – and beating – the men at their own, and most exclusive, game. The year Margaret Thatcher became a barrister, she also gave birth to twins. Not bad going for a shop-keeper’s daughter. That was ‘modern’.

I remember the men at my school criticising her – and her government. Satire thrived and Ben Elton, and serious playwrights made a living out of her. ‘Spitting Image’ was brilliant. Where is this kind of reaction today?  Blair, never mind Cameron, and his gang did things even Thatcher would never have dared – and although she privatised water, she didn’t make working class kids pay to go to university: we had a free education from start to finish, with support grants to drink away in the student union bar. And I don’t remember many of the grand socialists leaving their cosy jobs to take up politics and stand against her and her policies. There was a lot of talk – as there has been today. But in the end most people ended up better off than they were in 1971. Whether they are prepared to admit it is another thing.

So I am not joining the celebratory tonight. I bought my first house on my own in 1987 and have a good deal beside to be grateful for. Much of it comes down to the modernisation of Britain which took place in the 1980s. RIP Maggie – whatever you were, and whatever history writes about you,  you were no worse that the warmongering men who took us into WWI, the male leaders who caused the Great Depression and the war which inevitably followed. And certainly no worse than what we have today.

Why feminism matters and Christianity gets my vote for ‘Best Religion’.

The Suffragettes 100 years on. click on link for Guardian article March 2013

Little girls in China having their feet broken when their bones are still soft and malleable. Female circumcision continuing in 28 countries in Africa, parts of the Middle East and even within immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australasia. Denying girls even basic literacy education. What do these things have in common? Is it religion? Culture or tradition?

In China men like small feet. FGM ensures pre-marital virginity and denying girls education ensures they are obedient wives. The common factor here is not religion, culture or even the women. It is what men want. And particularly what men want in their wives.

This is why women all over the world continue to enforce these tortures – and let us not kid ourselves, denying intelligent, creative and active minds an education is no less a torture than physical violence –  upon their daughters. Despite evidence of the clear health and economic consequences these practices cause and which organisations such as UNICEF regularly lay before the governments and religious leaders of country after country which allows, even encourages, these practices to continue. Because that is what women who are not allowed to provide for themselves have to do: they have to get married.

Yet, despite it now being generally accepted that the only way to tackle global problems is to educate women and to get them working, girls continue to be denied basic primary education and continue to be prepared for marriage and child-bearing alone.

“An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10% to 20%. An extra year of secondary school adds 15% to 25%. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years typically marry four years later and have two fewer children than girls who drop out. Fewer dependents per worker allows for greater economic growth. And the World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. They buy books, medicine, bed nets. For men, that figure is more like 30% to 40%. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist at the World Bank.” Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2046045,00.html#ixzz2P2KElfY5

There is currently huge debate in ‘Christian’ societies about gay marriage. As a result the validity and values of Christianity itself is being called into question by many non-religious groups and individuals. And this is a shame. Because it is masking the one most important message of a man called Jesus – be he god or otherwise: the equality and value of every individual member of humanity.

Too many people in Christian-based societies forget that their laws and customs have been innately influenced by the teaching – although not always the practices – of this message. When slavery was opposed it was opposed on the basis of all creeds being human, first petitioned against by the Quakers in 1783. When the conditions in prisons were reformed it was instigated by a Christian woman, Elizabeth Fry. And when women were eventually given the vote for the first time it was because the Christian values of those societies eventually prevailed.

Other religions have given us much: Islamic scientists gave us many of the principles our modern learning is based upon, the Chinese have given us some of the greatest inventions from paper to the waterwheel, instrumental in the great Industrial Revolution and the Jewish tradition has given us some of the greatest minds and performers in history. But it was a book about a seemingly insignificant carpenter that has given mankind its most important lesson – love one another. And although many other religions and political systems may claim that in their own way they too advocate and encourage this, it seems to me that only Christianity has produced whole societies which actually legislate for it.

When we are outraged by images and reports of how animals are treated in other countries, we are made all the more aware of how people are also treated in these places: when human life is cheap, when children are enslaved and women are mutilated, stoned to death for adultery or arrested for having lunch in public with a man she is not married to, one can begin to grasp the mentality of people torturing animals to perform for entertainment and skinning dogs alive for the fashion industry.

Christianity is not perfect: it has committed many outrageous and immoral acts of war, torture and prejudice. Some could produce much evidence to show it still does. But women in Christian societies no longer have to put their daughters through physical or emotional torture to prepare them for marriage. Women in Christian societies have access to the same education as men. Women in Christian societies have the vote. Whether they wish to take advantage of this or not is up the them. There are many disadvantaged girls in this country. There is still not the equal pay the 1971 Act promised. But at least it is not legalised sexism. And, most importantly, it is not considered acceptable, let alone necessary.

This was first published on March 29th  2013

“My daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh Pandey.”

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/india-gang-rape-victims-father-1521289

In respect with Badri’s wishes he has asked us not to picture her. Releasing a photo of her is for another day. Indian law prohibits naming a rape victim unless she authorises it or, if she is dead, her family agrees to it.

At the moment it is enough for the devastated family to sanction the release to the world of their precious daughter’s name”

One can only imagine the courage and pain it has taken for this father to allow the release of his daughter’s name to the world. But it is act which re-humanises her. It personalises her. She is now a real person, an individual again. Through knowing her name we can imagine her being born, her toddling around and her growing up. We can imagine she had her own ideas and her own personal tastes. Her death now affects us all even more.

It is ironic then, that her father, whilst paying tribute to her male friend’s attempt to save her, adds:

“Badri said Jyoti’s friend Awindra was not her boyfriend – just a very brave friend who tried to save her.  He said: ‘There was no question of her marrying because we belong to different castes.’ “

It is ironic and sad. Because he does not realise that what he is doing is classifying another human being. He is labelling a person. And immediately dehumanising that person. Because that is what labels and categorising people does.

Jokes about women being different to men are often hilarious and celebrate femininity: they identify the differences between the men and women without condemning or reducing. But just as often they do reduce women. Language such as ‘slut’ and ‘slag’ suggest lesser human beings, whilst ‘stud’ and even ‘bachelor’ suggest some kind of superiority. Pornography demeans men and women but it is usually the woman that is dehumanised the most. Christian churches still include the giving away of the bride from one man to another as part of the marriage ceremony.

And women are still fighting for the right to a basic education in too many parts of the world, invariably based on some religious or cultural attitude which frequently claims that girls are too precious to have to work, that their place is in the home. Which is a great idea and appeals to me as much as the next woman who has to keep down a job, run a home and still be the perfect parent. But of course once women are literate it’s difficult to confine their reading to cookery books and flower arranging tips: they wander off into books which contain dangerous ideas such as personal freedom and self-fulfilment. Armed with information they begin to question traditions, customs and religious texts which use gender to define and confine. And they object to being labelled, to having their role defined and confined by their gender. They demand equality. Not same -ity but respect for their differences instead of derision.

Until we stop labelling and classifying people according to their gender, their ‘class’ – even with simple job titles: the police, teachers, traffic wardens, builders – we will continue to dehumanise people. And men will continue to send their mothers, their sisters and their daughters out into a world in which those women are seen as mere objects.

Spelling

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling,
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
However.

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

Margaret Atwood

This entry was posted on January 6 2013

 

New Year Random Ruminations on Men and Women

Irony is funny. I spend much of my time enjoying life’s little ironies. Hypocrisy isn’t. I spend even more of my time trying to avoid it, failing and then being guilty of it. But I pride myself in recognising it and at least I try.

The problem with irony/hypocrisy is that there is a very fine line between them: and that line is often drawn by your point of view.

I am a feminist. This is frequently interpreted as a woman who does not like men because she wants to be one. I don’t want to be one but I still don’t ‘like’ them. They can do things I can’t, like leave a job in the middle simply because the hand on a clock ticks into a certain position. They can walk into a pub on their own, order a beer and no-one will expect ‘a date’ to turn up. They always have somewhere ‘to go’ – soon, and when they get married this often coincides with housework needing to be done. They find it easier to get better paid jobs and don’t need to pack tampons, their pill or bags of make-up, make-up remover, stilettos (just in case) or a hairdryer even on camping weekends. But, and here’s the fine line thing: I ‘like’ women even less.

Women get on my tits. Most of them are obsessed with men – either getting one or keeping  the one they’ve got – or wishing they had a different one. Or wishing the one they have was different. Women also obsess about women who don’t have one and don’t believe women who say they don’t want one. But they do exist.

In the past women were judged by their husbands. A woman’s social class and everything she owned, did or even said was dictated by who she was married to. Today society seems to be more open to the concept that women are independent units. But whilst society may have adopted a more flexible viewpoint, many women still seem to see themselves as some reflection of their ‘man’. Women married to rich, successful men see themselves as successful and attractive, despite the fact that just because a wealthy man may seem to have more choice, it does not necessarily follow he has any more taste. Most of the married women I know still see marriage as a superior state of being, regardless of the state of said marriage.

And so the question then begs itself: as a feminist is it simply ironic or am I being a hypocrite when I have to admit that most of the people I admire and actually like are men?

This entry was first posted on January 2 2013