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Category Archives: Feminism

Editing my daughter’s life chances (er, or her Fairy Tales at least)

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I joked once about how we have changed the words to “This Little Piggy went to market” – creating a more liberal, less Capitalist version. We did that with vegetarian tongue firmly in hippy cheek but as Ramona grows older I find myself doing it with quite a few things and intentionally too. I’ll sometimes change the gender of the leading boy characters in books, and will improvise the fate of the girl in the fairy tale (“She went on to be the President of the Free World…”)

I am fairly committed to giving Ramona a sense that she can do or be anything, be it a poet, a plumber or a Prime Minister. I feel as if there could be a way of providing a foundation of opportunity for her, even though the stats are stacked against her.

Little minds start whirring young, eh? Interpreting the world, and people, and their roles.  The next door neighbour toddler lads throwing our ball back over in disgust because it dared to have poor pink Peppa Pig on it. The boys in the playground telling Ramona she can’t kick, as she is a girl.

As if those interactions aren’t shaping her enough, I then snuggle in bed and read her yet another book with some naff sacrificial role for the lady, while the men fight for justice, but because I am a bit sleepy I can’t be bothered to ad-lib it. Tonight it was a story about a daughter being sent to marry an evil giant and she didn’t want to go.  “No Go” Ramona kept repeating, jabbing her finger at the girl, as if she could see how unfair it was. Whoah. She is totally getting this storyline. “She went because she was brave!” I began adlibbing again.

And then when she drifted off I got the paper, pens and glue out and fixed the tale right up.

Some pages needed the odd word, and others whole paragraphs. The patriarchy won’t catch me snoozing again!

I know, I know. It’s only minor. But isn’t life mostly just a collection of small stuff, layered on top of each other, gently kneading who we are and what we think and what we do? Ramona’s not going to think women are just the weak bystanders, guileless love interests, not on my watch. Not on your nelly.

How do you make sure your kids grow up with a strong sense of gender equality and justice?

PS Some cool Tweet mates have created an awesome reading list- so if you are out to buy a feminist friendly story check here first!

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Boobs are brilliant, but not news

Honestly, I LOVE breasts.

Did you know, when you are breastfeeding, MILK comes out of them?

OMG. That is like some kind of magic.

And then, as if that is not like Mind= Blown enough for you, this other incredible thing happens whereby, if your little one gets a bit crook they communicate this to your boobs and then the milk adapts to produce the right kind of antibodies to fix your sick babe right up.

Come on. You couldn’t MAKE it up.

It’s funny, I have spent most of my life not liking my boobs, they were too big to wear vests without looking skanky, too bouncy to dance and deflected too much from my brain. I spent most of my teenage years thinking I was a bimbo because of my big ‘uns and only when my sister took me aside one day, after I had successfully navigated a team of older teens around the complicated underground of the Czech Republic and said, “Lucy, you know you are not thick, don’t you?”, did I stop allowing my boobs and blondeness to define me.

It is tough being a teenage girl and have a sense of being so much more than your image. Let alone when you are surrounded by the objectification of women in songs, television and films. Let alone being faced with it EVERYDAY in Britain’s most popular newspaper. I remember being on the bus and seeing men “reading” Page 3. I recall jumping on a train trying to ignore the paper tossed on a seat,  folded open on Page 3,  while men passed it with a quick ogle.

You know, I would constantly fold my arms over my breasts  in a subconscious attempt to disguise myself and disassociate myself from such sexualised bodies. (And you are going to think I am distinctly mad now) for I while I used to even TAPE THEM DOWN when clubbing, such a hateful relationship I had with these carnal buoys.

And now, here I am, age 30 and a mother and I love my boobs. I love that they provide food and comfort for my toddler. Having a never ending supply of nutrition on tap is one of the most liberating aspects of mothering. I will skinny dip in secret rivers and nurse on the bus and shower in the changing rooms of the pool completely in the nick.  They aren’t so buoyant, having been tugged and stretched and knelt on by a boisterous toddler. But they are a miracle.

Great as they are, miraculous even, they are not news. I could talk about them all day, press releases sent forth about their healing properties. But bare boobs with the sole purpose of titillating have no public place, least of all in a newspaper. To be gawked at in busy spaces, securing in the minds of menfolk that boobs are for the pleasure of their eyeballs.

For the sake of our teenage girls AND boys, we need to get them out of The Sun. Of course, it is the tip of an iceberg but as all tips are, it is hugely visible and hard to ignore and SURMOUNTABLE. (Are icebergs surmountable?) We can VIABLY CARVE THIS TIP RIGHT OFF. In the last week the No More Page 3 campaign has gathered momentum and signatories are piling up by the second.

Let’s do it.

I have signed the petition. Tweeted the heck out of it. Even got on the old Facebook and shared it. But I wanted to do something just a little bit more bespoke and felt a Craftivist style action would be perfect.

So during Ramona’s nap yesterday I stitched a little banner. 

Then when she woke up we cycled to News International, HQ of The Sun, 3 St Thomas More Square, and left them a little message. Hastily attached with my guilty hands.

It was a bit scary. Full of suits and security guards and we stood out like a sore thumb, Ramona pulling along her little toy dog, making an insanely conspicuous scraping noise that reverberated off the stark buildings. (Oh, cringing in memory. She just kept insisting on dragging it. I’m like “Oh, does doggy need a carry?” “Nooooo mummy.”)  And there was not a single spot to hang it in the square. So the old gate by the entrance way had to do.

So. Boobs. In the paper. What do you reckon? Have you signed, Tweeted and Facebooked? Would love to hear of any other creative actions going down…

Retro Razors – on shaving, not shaving and thrifty beauty

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Let’s talk about hair. Hairy coarse hair on women; on legs, pits and bits. I veer from being COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AND ANGRILY ANTI shaving – why in the world would we do it? It was an invention by those hoodwinking Madmen who wanted to create a new market for razors!!! To feeling like I would quite like a frivolous smooth finish on my pins once in a while, and not have people stare at my bushy arm pits.

Not shaving

You know, I didn’t even shave for my wedding. And Tim has told me that it doesn’t interrupt his idea of sexiness. When I see other women avec hair, I love them, I respect their courage and their bold gesture towards oppressive ideals of beauty.  I want to be part of this brave mob challenging these norms. I want Ramona to know that beauty isn’t about tweaking and pulling and stripping and squeezing into some tiny grotesque mould a group of strangers built.  So. For years and years I have tried not to shave. I do say try because it is REALLY HARD to do something that literally makes people STARE AT YOU every day. Sometimes I just wish all women could do this in solidarity, so no one got stared at! (For a great insight on what it is like being hairy read this Guardian piece.)

As a result sometimes I don’t want to be hairy. I want to wear a short skirt and look at my legs and think nothing, and not have other people eye-grazing them. (Although the hair does cover up the bruises I have routinely because I am the clumsiest person in the whole world.) Sometimes I do want to attempt the appearance of traditional prettiness. There. I confessed. It is hard to completely overthrow that feeling.  Genuine question- have any of you managed to get totally get rid of that niggling, deep idea that you should look a certain way?

Shaving

So, let’s talk about getting rid of it. Once, some friends waxed my legs. IT KILLED ME! It was honestly about 50 brazillion times more painful than my tatoos! Perhaps it was to do with what I was prepared to cope with in the name of beauty = not much. I don’t even pluck my eye brows.  So, if I am feeling a smooth day coming on, or if I fancy going without deodrant (well, bicarb) for a while and require bare pits to get away with it,  I am totally indebted to my trusty double edged retro razor.

Thrifty beauty

And right there lies a beauty tip that will save you proper dosh and will give you the best shave EVER. An old double edged razor. It looks beautiful, has already last a life time and will last two more, costs around 5 p for a blade that will last for 5 shaves and hacks off ANY amount of hair.  It may seem weird for me to be like “Oh, shaving sucks BUT HERE do it with this!” – it is just I think it is so unlikely that womankind will cast off shaving, it make sense to promote the eco, thrifty option. The one that doesn’t pour money into the pockets of rich corporations.

My friend Dan Fone took this snap of some of my dad’s stuff http://www.hammerheadrabbits.com

Get started

Because they have become such a collectible they aren’t incredibly easy to come across; you will have to keep your eyes peeled. Antique shops and car boots are the best place. You want to find a Gillete – any era will d0 – chose the style you fancy in good condition. Little rust, no cracks. Then get a packet of blades from Boots and away you go.

My dad first got us into all of this. At first I kind of thought he was a tiny weeny bit mad but he has slowly convinced us all. It is truly the greenest and thriftiest way to get rid of hair, and also really celebrates the beautiful design of the last century’s different eras. My dad has a small collection now, each one sitting perfectly in it’s time, with a story behind it.

Technique

The technique is different, a different angle (a right angle) and use short strokes, washing off the hair inbetween. I use conditioner in replace of shaving foam. Take it real slow the first few times, until you pick it up. Rinse and dry the razor once finished. This site has some bits and bobs on it and quite a bit more info.
So. Are you a feminist shaver? A razor boycotter? A smooth waxer? Let’s hear it! 😀  Think you might get into this retro razor shenanigans?

Gender Schmender – how the world denies our daughters

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When I was a little girl, five or so, I had a desperate desire to be called Eric. You can’t be Eric, the world said, with incredulity! Fine! I replied! I would be Girl Eric! (No one mentioned there was such a name as Erica.) And for quite some time I corrected people if they dare say Lucy; “It’s Girl Eric, actually.”

And then there is my little one. Ramona really does love a plane. When we are out and about if she sees one fly past it really gives her fits of giggles, she’ll point and squeal and fall about in stitches. What is going through her little mind? Is it total glee in simply spotting something so random in the sky? Does she think it’s kind of like a duck? (She is obsessed with ducks.)  Is she taking joy in the scientific conundrum of human defeating gravity? Ramona also passes many a happy minute chugging her little trains along, crashing her cars together, exploring the carpet with her little tractors.

That’s how we roll, Ramona and I. PAH! Boy things?! Boy names?! Whatever!  We don’t care about your gender constructs!

Of course, I could use these as an ideal example of how girls just simply aren’t hardwired to do and be the things that we always associate with girls. See! Look at Ramona! She loves planes and trains and automobiles as much as any little lad! 

But I’m not going to, as it is this kind of personal anecdote, albeit from the opposite angle, that perpetuates myths around the differences between boys and girls

. I have been slowly working my way through  the epic book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. To put it simply boys and girls are born with slight differences, but it is very much how we treat them that determines their choices and “gendered” personalities eventually – often by the age of two. Robust research like this should be enough for us! But it isn’t. It is as if we want there to be a great divide between our boys and girls.

The truth is this divide isn’t actually there originally  – but the chasm between their future prospects IS.

It is curious having a little 17 month female who acts more “male” then her male chums. Ramona is the toughie- leading the climbing expeditions, throwing herself fearlessly down slides while they look on, trembling. She is so hardcore she has even BROKEN HER LEG! HA!  I am working hard to make sure that her gender doesn’t define her at any point- trying to show an equal interest in her micro machine play as her cabbage patch kid tea parties.

It is particuarly curious knowing that were she to wake up tomorrow age 20,  she would not only be defined by her gender but she would be absolutely limited by it.

A report released last week showed exactly how stark the pay inequality is between men and women in London, and just yesterday as I flicked through Stylist on the tube (Oh! The LUXURY of browsing a mag whilst on public transport as opposed to convincing a toddler not to suck every surface/pick chewing gum off the seat/ run out of the doors!!) I came upon some rubbish info about the English female Footy team – despite their MASSIVE success, they are NINTH in the world (male team is 7th) yet get around 1% of the pay of their male counterparts and occupy only 5% of the media coverage.

Playing football proffesionally wouldn’t really be an option for Ramona, tomorrow. (For lot’s of other reasons too, of course, namely that her Kiwi dad would go nuts.)

We have had quite a few tradesmen in lately, doing jobs on the house, and I say men because they are ALL men. I am sure something so subtle as this provides limitations on our daughter’s futures too. And just to cement it, as if the message isn’t coming in loud and clear, old Lego go and release a new package for girls where they can chose from such  wonderful hobbies as baking and visiting beauty parlours – and all featuring many shades of pink. (The especially sad thing is how far they have retreated from their excellent gender neutral stance of the Eighties.)

Gosh, it all gets me pretty ragey actually. To look at my little daughter and know that her chances of realising any career ambition, or getting access to more physical lines of work,  are slimmer than her little male counterparts.

To look at myself, and know I missed out on simply being Eric.

What can I do?

I can email Lego about their ridiculous new line.

I can try and employ more female tradespeople.

I can reflect on my own language and play with Ramona – encouraging those areas that are naturally not quite  as strong in her female brain.

I can take more direct action, like that time I did vandalism.

Do I reject all  pink/ princesses/ and beauty?

How do you do it? Do you take some hardline approaches because the default is to exacerbate the differences? Part of me wonders if this is what needs to happen. I would love to hear from you.  

Routine Schmoutine – the tyranny of parenting Must-Dos

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You know when you read something that makes your heart leap? It was a sentence from a mother that I could have written myself, it just resonated that much. It was Adrienne Rich, a famous feminist mother who has since passed on, on what she experienced when she went on holiday and abandoned the usual routines.

“This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself.

“Driving home once, after midnight, from a late drive-in movie… with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a ‘bad mother’. We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life.”

I have been getting Baby Centre emails since I signed up excitedly when Ramona was but 4 weeks in my womb, every time they ping in to my inbox I open them to read about how absolutely, vitally, extraordinarily critical ROUTINES are. Even when she was 3 months old they were suggesting I schedule in naps and begin a pre-bedtime menu of bath, story, massage, songs.

I have dutifully read this and taken much of it on board. I don’t want to risk my daughter being sleep deprived or feral because of a routine failure! But more often than not, it just wasn’t the be all and end all for us.

I wore Ramona in a sling every moment of every day until she could crawl, this meant she just cat napped throughout the day. People would always ask about her sleep schedule. I was also obsessed, counting the minutes she slept to the SECOND. Paranoid that her catnapping wasn’t right – even though it felt perfect.

Then when she began sleeping less we went more or less down to 3-5 naps, depending on when she was tired. Despite reading of other babies on strict napping plans I felt like I should just let her do her thing. I want her to understand her own feelings- to know that when she is tired, that she should sleep. Not to just do something because it happens to be 12 o clock.

Most nights we do have a bit of bookreading and quiet time before she drifts off to sleep at my breast. But it could be anytime between 7:30 and 9. It just depends on how much she has napped, and what time she wakes up. If I try putting her to sleep 12 hours after she woke up in the morning, having had a 1.5 hour sleep, she will be like “Whhaaat? You kidding me?”

But the best nights, the times when I feel so easy and relaxed and liberated, when I feel we are just like an ancient wild Tribe of Camberwell, is when she just falls asleep on the way home after dinner out, or snuggles down on my lap while Tim and I chat in the lounge.The times when any bed time routine soars out the window.

The funny thing is, I still feel kind of guilty when this happens. As if I have let down the Motherhood. As if Ramona might grow up to be an ASBO’d up delinquent.

Because my mind is bursting with wisdom words about routine and rules and schedules, as if it is the ONLY way. Even mamma’s who I respect so much that I feel sorry for Ramona that she isn’t THEIR daughter, even they hold fast and tight to routine.

I understand that for lots of mummies it is their key to sanity, and that for lots of children it works really well.

But what if it isn’t for everyone?

What if some children were just born to be a bit untamed?

It feels to me to be a bit of a feminist issue. Because I am sure these great grand parenting must-dos are oppressive and patriarchal in nature. They chip away at a mother’s natural instinct, cause us to question what we feel to be right. They undermine our inate, empowered, motherhood.

I have wanted to get this off my chest for a while. In the hope that writing about it would help purge me of any guilt for not following the Must- Dos. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, PLEASE don’t see it as a critique of your own parenting- we are all just loving and bringing up our children in the way that is best for us. But there must be other mamma’s whose best ways aren’t the Must- Do ways? Do you rebel against any Must-Dos?

I would like to be liberated from this parenting tyranny, to embrace life with Ramona as unfettered, guilt-free.

Perhaps the first step is unsubscribing from those Baby Centre emails.

My tiny tyrant? Feminism and attachment parenting

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Er. Ramona has a new thing. It involves calling my breasts baps. “BAPS! BAPS!” she yells as she pats my mammary glands.

It isn’t particularly pleasing – clearly she is spending too much time in the company of those objectifying truck drivers and sweaty sexist builders. (Must get new baby sitters.)

I am currently wrapping my aching brain around the concept of feminist motherhood. (Yeah. One who loves a dash of fashion, who staggers towards bra-off-o-clock every evening, because, shiver my timbers, I do have to wear that thing most of the day.) I am wrapping; embracing it, wrestling with it, assuming it.

For these first 17 months of Ramona’s life I sat a little uneasily- kind of comfortable on the sofa of my new mummydom, but with a pesky toy car under my thigh- this small sticky sense that being a mother was gobbling me up;  my other identity, my desires, ambitions, hobbies.

Credit: The Radical Housewife

It is AMAZING that becoming a parent does that to you- you suddenly realise that you think NOTHING of yourself in comparison to your baby, without one single doubt you would put aside everything just to love them. Knowing that you have an intrinsic goodness, an inherent ability to sacrifice all of you– that is a pretty incredible human experience.

But, in practice it is the mother that actually tends to do that. Especially so when practicing attachment parenting, I genuinely do reckon that the first year of a baby’s life is like a second gestation. They need us, they want us, to be there every moment, our nipples in mouths. For most, daddies just don’t cut it. (Although, there is one society where moobs/ daddy breasts will dosome even lactating?!)

And in practice is really does have an impact on our empowered selves. This nurse all night, lugging on backs, mothering option we choose can seem to subsume who we are, our newborn tyrants rejecting the space we have carved out as Women with Rights .

Yet at the same time, there is a freedom in it -it allows us to get on with life. To go where we need to go, heedless of nap time and nursing  schedule. Attachment parenting turns its back on normal parenting structures, built by “experts” and imposed onto already guilty and harassed parents.

Blue Milk (brilliant blog, must read!) suggests another place that attachment parenting and feminism meet. Attachment parenting is about treating your child as if they too have rights, respecting their personhood, regardless of anything (in a child’s case, them being so small) – an idea central to feminism.

There isn’t quite enough nuance involved in mothering conversations, don’t you think? I am an attachment parent, I buy whole heartedly into the principles and have practiced nothing but. However, a lot of non-nuanced attachment parenting  philosophy would despair at me going back to work. When in fact, despite it being one of the hardest decisions to make, turns out to be one of the best I have made.

I work 2.5 days a week, my husband the same, and we share work and parenting equally, an ideal situation. And something I never thought would ever, ever happen has happened I am enjoying it as much as I used to pre-Ramona. For real, I didn’t think it could happen. Maternity leave was AWESOME, I felt fulfilled mothering but had the opportunity to get involved with Occupy London and spent days hanging out with other activist mamas. Being a full time mother has huge, under rated, potential for world changeyness.

And yet here I am now, loving my days at work as much as I love my days at home. I love my colleagues, the activists I work with, the campaigns I work on.

And it allows me to be who I am- which is exactly the person Ramona needs me to be.

A recent F Word article by Jane Chelliah heralded a new groups called Outlaw Mothers – “An outlaw mother is an empowered mother who believes that her personal self-fulfilment is a key enabler of her child’s happiness”. I love that – I am so in.

I am going to be thinking about this a bit more… with some posts in the pipe line imaginatively called “Routine Schmoutine” and “Rules Schmules”. Hehe.

Meanwhile I am off to see if I can teach Ramona how to say “Mamm-a- ry gl -an ds