Wednesday, 19 November 2014

In Defence of Pink (AKA the blog post I never thought I'd write)

This article by Jessica Valentini was recently published in the Guardian, I read it, thought it made some good points but wasn't brilliant and then largely forgot it.  Later it cropped up in my time line on facebook posted by the PinkStinks campaign and triggered quite a lively discussion.

To be honest I don't know much about Jessica Valentini, like most commentators sometimes I agree with what she writes, sometimes I don't.  I have long been a fan of PinkStinks having come across them when my eldest daughter was very tiny and I was panicking about stemming the tide of pink that threatened to overtake my life.

Back then I was very concerned about the effects of indoctrinating little girls into a belief that their lives must be dominated by one colour, a colour that stands for femininity and weakness.  A colour that must be applied to anything before girls or women can use it. (Bic pens, cooking toys, wellies, gardening equipment etc etc).  Girls can't possibly use the same version that boys use, it has to be prettified, appearances are after all important.  I didn't want my tiny daughter's life to be channelled into such a narrow view.  I banned pink from the house and set about bringing up my mini me.

Of course life isn't always so cut and dry.  This small person who is now nearly five turned out to have a personality of her own which was nothing like what I expected.  She is wilful, stubborn, opinionated (OK OK, I get where that's all from), she's also funny and bright and very very into princesses and pink (and space and science incidentally).  For a while I struggled against this but I have learnt to just go with the flow.  If I give her a choice she will go for the stereotype girly stuff every time.  Sometimes I get things for her without giving her a choice and I'll deliberately not buy the pink girl's option to get some variety.  This usually backfires spectacularly when she just refuses to use it.  That fabulous denim jacket that was a Christmas present last year has been worn about four times, each time under sufferance.  Also I always feel a bit guilty for going against what I know her choice would be.

The thing is how can I tell her or imply that the choices she makes are wrong?  How can I consistently tell her that the way she chooses to express herself is wrong?  Surely that goes against everything that a good feminist parent should be doing.

I sometimes feel that in some parts of the feminist online community mothers who let their children wear pink are looked down on as being substandard.  We can't possibly be properly offering our children choice or they wouldn't choose to wear that completely impractical pink flowery dress to the play park.  I commented on the PinkStinks thread about this and how my eldest hasn't worn trousers for the last two years.  This attracted a slightly aggressive sounding comment which didn't really articulate anything very much but seemed to imply that it had been my choice and not my daughter's to limit her wardrobe to skirts and dresses.  Cos obviously I just love putting tights on a pre schooler every bloody day.  I also got a slightly patronising comment about keeping her options open.  Yes, thanks for that.  It's much more useful if the campaign against pinkification is directed at manufacturers, not the parents of children who conform to gender stereotypes.

Part of giving our children (of both genders) choice is respecting their decisions.  If we do that we can teach them that they don't have to conform to a whole mind set if they are a girl who loves pink and princesses or a boy who loves blue and dinosaurs.  We can still help them to explore the world and their options while respecting their autonomy.  Banning pink was a simplistic way of dealing with what I now realise is a very complex issue.  From now on I pledge to let both my daughters be who they choose by giving them as much choice as possible (including all the pink rubbish).

My fabulous daughter proving that you can still climb a climbing frame in a pink dress and fake lelli kellis.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Thorny Issue of Women in Politics.

There has been a lot in the media recently about David Cameron mooting the possibility of all women shortlists as a tool to get more women in the House of Commons.  I'm a bit torn by this to be honest because while I agree that something really needs to change, it is rubbish that this is the best way of going about it.

The fact that the current cabinet has three women to nineteen men is pretty crappy.  I very much doubt that women just don't want to get into politics, yet we wind up with very few women at the top.  All women shortlists would do nothing to address why this is, they merely try to fix the situation in a similar way to wall papering over the cracks in the sitting room wall.  Eventually the paper falls off and the cracks have gotten worse and worse.

In fact I think the cracks run deeply through society, the media and the whole of government.  There are some in the electorate will often not vote for women on the basis of her gender, or if they will vote for a woman then she has to prove herself way more than a man every would.  There are large sections of the media who focus on women in politics in a way they never would about men (their appearance, their age, their family life, the list goes on and on).  This often serves to make women look distracted, frivolous, naive, stupid or all of the above.  Then there is parliament itself which by all accounts is a hellish place to be if you don't have a dick in your pants.  Yvette Cooper had the details of her mastitis leaked to the press amongst many other misogynist incidences.  I can't imagine it very likely that a male politician would have the details of his prostatitis leaked in the same way.  It also appears that the upper echelons of the Conservative party particularly resembles the Bullingdon Club all grown up.  It must be tricky for David Cameron to encourage more women to the top when non of them went to Eton.

Indeed it is strange that suddenly David "calm down dear" Cameron is dangling this carrot out there.  Not wishing to be cynical but he obviously realises the torys aren't doing that well on the popularity front and so in an effort to appeal to the 52% of voters who are women he decides to make it look like his party is all for women.  In reality of course, they aren't.  If he was really bothered about this he could have done something about it ages ago but he hasn't.  What he has done however is ramp up his austerity campaign that disproportionately affects women, insult women in parliament and generally display himself as a bit of a misogynist.

So no, Cameron and his little buddies don't give a shit about women.  The only way to get women's voices really heard and to achieve true equality is to create change throughout society.  Sexism needs to be called out as much as possible, the media need to really think about what they report on where women are concerned (a tip; what comes out of a woman's mouth is more important than if her shoes match her handbag) and voters need to stop giving a shit what gender candidates are and start voting on people's ability to do the job.  And never forget the Conservatives are still the nasty party; that is unlikely to change.

This is an epic amount to change.  I suspect that the shortlists maybe needed in the meantime, and who knows, maybe just having more women visible and heard will help so in the future men and women can stand equally and be voted in equally.  I hope so.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Yes, I am a f*minist.

As I've got older I've thought more and more about my feminism.  I used to be happy with feeling able to call myself a feminist and that was that but now I want a bit more. 

A few things have happened recently, firstly at my induction for my new job we had an equality and diversity session, during a group discussion my neighbour came out with "...but I'm not a feminist or anything!", because woe betide anyone would think you were.  I said I was and felt a bit pleased with myself for standing by my convictions with no one running off screaming.

The other thing that has been developing over time is a the unfortunate pull of the Comments is Free section of the Guardian website.  There are a helluva lot of trolls below the line waiting for any remotely feminist post to go up so they can jump in with accusations of humourlessness, militancy, man hating etc etc and lots of "what about the menz" type comments.  It is the Guardian so you don't tend to get the "you must be ugly, fat, hairy and unfuckable" crap that floats around twitter but it can still get quite unpleasant, quite relentless and quite silencing.  I decided a while ago that I was going to challenge the misogyny below the line where I saw it and for a while I did.  It didn't take me long to realise that I'd have more luck challenging the brickish nature of a brick wall.

The whole experience has made me feel quite impotent, as if I am screaming my opinions to the wind while the world goes "yeah, whatever" and while I know that what I have to say isn't for everyone why the hell do people go and comment on those articles if they don't want to engage?  Oh yes, they don't want to engage, they just want to tell us what hysterical little bitches we're being and put us in our place.

Image from WickedQueer on Etsy.

Anyway, for the record:
- I am a feminist.
- I do have a sense of humour (I hope) but some things just aren't funny.
- I don't hate men (just the patriarchy).
- When I say I want equality I really mean equality for everyone, not just women...
- And I genuinely believe feminism will help achieve equality.
- I do care about things like the appallingly high suicide rate in young men but again I feel that getting rid of the patriarchy will help as men will no longer feel constricted by societal pressures to behave a certain way.
- I also care about lots of other things besides women's rights but conveniently they often slot nicely together.
- I am sometimes a bit hairy (but hey, that's my choice!).
- I'm probably not all that fuckable to everyone but I really couldn't give a shit.  As long as I think I'm fuckable and anyone I wish to fuck thinks I am then it's no one else's business.  So fuck off.
- I am sometimes a bit militant but some things are worth getting militant over.

So there you go.  I care not if my fellow feminists want to focus solely on women's rights, that is their prerogative.  I care not if they hate men, lots of women have good cause to.  I care not what they look like because it's none of my business.  What I do care about is that women are not silenced, their voices should be heard.  I care that my daughters and nieces grow up feeling confident in themselves with their horizons wide.  I also care that my two nephews grow up feeling able to express themselves however they see fit without censure and with the confidence to treat all fellow travellers of life as equals. 

And now I know that it's not enough for me to pipe up occasionally and declare myself a feminist, it's not enough for me to throw my words to the wind where they can be ignored, I want more.  I will make my feminism a priority in my life (and hopefully at the very least manage to attend the International Women's Day march next year).

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Little Women

An article about an Indian politician who said "sometimes rape is right" was posted into my facebook timeline today.  It's the latest in a long line of stories about rape and misogyny from this part of the world, indeed just after reading it I saw this in the Guardian about a woman who was gang raped by the Police after she refused to pay the bribe for her husband's release.

There are lots of quotes in both articles from politicians, mainly along the lines of "boys will be boys", it's a private issue etc etc.  It's the view from the Prime Minister; Narendra Modi that really said a lot though: Politicians need to work together to protect women.

And that's the thing, the most positive thing that can be said over all this is that women need to be protected.  I am talking about the issue in India but this situation is world wide.  To avoid rape or violence women need to be protected, they need to follow certain rules, behave a certain way.  If they do experience sexual violence (as so many women have) then they must have stepped outside the rules laid down by society and it is therefore their own fault.

I don't want to be protected.  I don't want my daughters to be protected.  I don't want any woman to need protection.  I want us to be able to inhabit this world without fear, as equals with fellow members of the human race.  For this to happen it isn't women's behaviour that needs to change and we don't need to be wrapped in bubble wrap, it's men who need to change.  

This poster from Rape Crisis in Scotland has been seen by everyone but it's so good because it really gets it.

The only people who can stop rape, sexual violence and misogyny happening are men, women shouldn't be tucked away so boys can be boys with impunity, men should be held accountable for their behaviour.

This is why we should challenge rape culture where we see it, we should question our believes and those of people around us and we should start treating women as equal members of the human race, not as delicate flowers in need of protection or dirty whores who deserved it.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tiny Activist

My friend described my eldest as her "Favourite Little Activist" recently which was very lovely!  It is true that she is dragged out on a fair few marches and protests and probably would rather not be there often enough but we try to explain why we do these things and when she's older maybe she'll be pleased that she did.  Anyway, I decided to put together a post about what my little activist has done!

Occupy London, Autumn 2011

She went to this with just her Dad but apparently really enjoyed it, probably because it didn't involve any marching and there was lots to see!  Also produced one of my favourite photos of her at a protest....
Love this one!  Many Small People.

Welcome to Occupy

Occupy London set up camp outside St Paul's cathedral to protest against the lack of affordable housing in the UK, social injustice and corporate greed.  They were there from October 2011 til June 2012.

Public Sector Strike, November 2011

This one was with both of us, I carried her much of the way and she was getting a little heavy by this point!

Sleeping through Ken Livingstone's speech.

Found this on Flickr, the woman who took it called it "United" which I thought was rather sweet!

This march was for the TUC's general strike protesting against pension changes for public sector workers.  Great atmosphere as far as I can remember.

Anti Austerity March, October 2012

This was a great march, we hung out with the Unison crowd from Meanderingfather's work.  Didn't stay for Ed Miliband's speech though, went to the pub with the union lot.  I was around 3 months pregnant with Lauren and this march was also the last time I carried Jess in the sling.  She ate an apple and went to sleep snuggled up on my back.  A small detail I will always remember.

Train home with her beloved NO CUTS sign.

The anti austerity march was protesting against the governments stringent austerity measures.

Save Lewisham Hospital march, November 2012 

15,000 people marched through Lewisham and finished in Ladywell fields outside the hospital.  Fantastic and huge community event despite the rain.  I remember one of the train drivers tooting as they went past on their way to Ladywell station.  Don't think I got any photos, probably because the weather was so horrible!  Met up with my brother and sister in law so escaped from the weather to their house afterwards.

The save Lewisham hospital campaign was set up after the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt decided in his infinite wisdom to shut down some essential parts of Lewisham hospital to help neighbouring trusts who were failing.  It would have set a dangerous precedent with regards to the government being able to shut down any hospital they felt like.  At the time of writing the hospital was generally winning and more info can be found here.

Save Lewisham Hospital march, January 2013

Another nice local march, saw some of our new friends and really felt like part of the community, however I was quite heavily pregnant with sore hips so was struggling towards the end.

 For some reason not a huge fan of being carried on shoulders at this point!

Gay Pride, 2013 

This was one I took Jess and Lauren (newest little activist) to with my work colleagues from 56 Dean St, it was a great place to work and felt a bit like I was part of the vibrant gay community in Soho.  Jess really enjoyed this one, lots of people were dressed up and she had a blast messing around with my friends from work.  Lauren was only a few months old and tucked up in the sling.  We were filmed by ITV news where I came out with the totally hackneyed phrase "it's a great family event", would have been nice to say something more original!  Lovely sunny day and we went for drinks in the big purple cow on South Bank afterwards.

The banner and being carried by the indomitable Jenna.

Know your status!!

Very taken with the feather boa.

Gay pride is held every year to celebrate the gay community.  It has a rich history which you can read about here.

RCN What if....? Campaign, June 2014

Gathering outside Lewisham hospital as part of nationwide protests.  Slightly disappointing as not many people turned up but at least it was a nice sunny day and the girls seemed to enjoy it!  Followed by going round to a friends house to enjoy the sun in their beautiful garden.

Newest activist props herself up.

"My Mum deserves a payrise"

Tasty unison sign.

This protest was part of a nationwide event protesting the governments decision not to award a recommended 1% across the board payrise for NHS nursing staff.

So there they are!  Hopefully many more to come for both of my girls.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Letter To A Friend

To my lovely friend,

You complemented me on how well behaved my children are today, ooh, if only you knew! But thankyou, actually they aren't too bad and like any mother I take immense pride in them so comments like this always make my heart swell with pride!
You are currently in the family way yourself and asked me if there was anything I did in particular as you had been reading some books. I do seem to have some weird compulsion for giving people advice and I have been thinking all afternoon about what would be the best piece of advice I could give and I think it's this:

To be the best parent you can just follow your instincts.

Read as many or few books as you like, research all or no parenting styles, talk to as many people as you can about what works for them then cherry pick the bits you like. When your have your children the best expert for them will be you. No one else has the experience you have of being you and parenting your children. It can feel a bit like you have no idea what you're doing but you'll all be learning together. For what it's worth, after Meanderingdaughter1 was born I thought I had this parenting thing down pat. Total pro. Then Meanderingdaughter2 came along and proved me otherwise.  I've spent the last 11 months feeling like I'm winging it. That's because each child is different and there is no best way of parenting.

It's likely that you'll often feel that you shouldn't be doing what you're doing because it goes against what you may have read or heard but if it feels right to you then I wouldn't worry.  You may well hear the phrase 'building a rod for your own back' bandied about but frankly if you don't want a back rod then you shouldn't have gotten pregnant!

So in answer to your question, I would say that in our family we are broadly attachment parenting orientated but I haven't read in depth about attachment parenting so couldn't accurately describe it to you. What I do know is that we have a fairly unhealthy amount of bribery, shouting, swearing, sweetie eating and television watching going on in our house which all piles on more of that parenting guilt but which really shouldn't cos no one is perfect and the girls are pretty much ok!

Also, there is a lot of baby equipment out there. You probably don't need 99% of it but something you swear by will be something others will swear off! You should use what suits you. For me I couldn't live without my sling(s). Purely because I like to be able to strap grumpy babies onto my back and crack on with whatever I'm doing. Mainly baking cakes. But I know that for many a sling is just a large bit of pointless material!

So what I am really trying to say is, the best person to listen to is yourself. You'll work it all out and you'll be great.

Good luck and much love xxx

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Breasts, boobs and shaming.

If I spend five minutes on facebook these days I'll usually come across a thread about breastfeeding.  The comments on these threads are boringly predictable ranging from support of those who breastfeed, to suggesting that it's all good but woman should cover up, feed in the toilet, only breastfeed at home, are breastfeeding for attention and all the way down to the trolls who call woman who breastfeed dirty sluts.  I tend to think anyone who takes the time to call someone they don't know a dirty slut probably isn't doing it because she's breastfeeding, he's doing it because she's a woman so that can be discounted.  

One view that crops up with quite a regularity is the idea that woman breastfeeding is OK because it's wholesome and good and besides breastfeeders show off less flesh than your typical young woman out on the town of an evening, dressed up like a whore, which is frankly more offensive to my delicate sensibilities than angelic me feeding my child.

I used to let this point of view wash over me, didn't really think about it much and after all, it is such a prevalent opinion if you spend any time on parent's forums that it kind of seemed like the norm.  Recently however it has really got my goat.  Why is it that women are so keen to judge each other?  There is really no need to defend your decision to breastfeed so why is it that woman so frequently do try to defend it by pointing at another woman and saying "I'm not a slut, she's a slut, look at her"?  Given the quantity of men willing to call woman sluts and whores on a public forum why do other woman feel the need to stick the boot in too?

What this boils down to it woman's choice and the society we live in that blames woman's choices for what happens to them.

Women have the right to breastfeed or not, to wear clothes that cover them head to toe or cover very little, they have the right to work in the sex industry or anywhere else that takes their fancy and no one has the right to dictate to them what they should or shouldn't do.  It would be nice to see woman treating each other with a little respect and that could start with a little thing like not saying "I'm not being offensive, she is, that's offensive, not me".  Come on, up the sisterhood!

When it comes to breastfeeding itself, it is another one of those areas (like sleep) where my god parents go off on one!  Again, I suspect a lot of it is to justify our own choices (which we shouldn't need to) but the constant grinching over breastfed or bottlefed is getting a little tired.  I will be the first person to hold her hands up and say I am massively pro breastfeeding.  Anyone who knows me or has read this blog probably knows that.  I was determined to breastfeed and I think I would have felt like a failure had I not.  Meanderingdaughter1 fed for about 16 months and Meanderingdaughter2 is still going strong at 10 months. I am proud of this and I would always encourage women to breastfeed.  However I don't think women should be forced into it.  They shouldn't be made to feel like failures if they stop or like the devil incarnate if they decide not to do it at all.  They shouldn't be made to feel like attention seekers if they breastfeed in public or if they breastfeed over a certain age.  They shouldn't be abused if they are bottle feeding or told they are damaging their child.

The only things, in my mind, that are wrong with feeding your child is if you want to feed in a certain way and feel that you can't due to pressure or lack of proper support.  This should always be about the choice of the mother and society has no place to blame or shame women for what they choose to do.