March, you were better than the others

I’m trying to channel that law of attraction thing. Because positivity breeds positivity, right?

Let’s hope so.

After more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’ these past couple of years, I feel like my body has fixed itself into a permanent brace position. March has been predictable in that it’s added new challenges to the ones we were already dealing with (yay), but it’s also given me more hope than I’ve had in a long time.

Hope is transient though, especially during tricky times, so in a bid to eke out the good bits and stay positive, I’m celebrating March by joining in with Morgana’s Little Loves link up. Here’s what I’ve been up to this month…

Read

Two energetic little boys and a job that keeps me reading until the wee hours leaves me with little room to read for fun, which is a bummer, because reading has always been a precious thing to me. So, it took waaay longer than it should have done, but I finally finished reading Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl at the beginning of March. It’s just as brilliant as you’ve probably heard. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys bullshit-free writing about being a woman.

I’m now reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler (so far it’s hilarious and pertinent), and Radical by Majid Nawaz. I’ve been excited about that last one. It’s an autobiographical account of one mans journey into (and escape from) Islamic radicalisation.

I can’t wait to read Mona Eltahawy’s latest book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. I’m a big fan of Eltahawy. She’s a brave woman and her writing has had a huge impact on my life.

And I’m still reading Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes. It’s a great book. I know it is. I’m sure it is. But it’s going to take me frigging years to finish it. My long suffering skin is desperate for me to develop a longer concentration span when it comes to all things beauty, but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still reading this next year.

Blog-wise I’ve not read a huge amount recently, but this post by Lucy made me smile. I love her take on motherhood and parenting and her tales of living sustainably in New Zealand *wistful sigh*

Watched

Wild with Reece Witherspoon. I loved it. It’s based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, who did a solo hike of over 1000 miles after grief and trauma ripped her life apart. The film is based on a pretty extreme experience, but I think its focus on the need for isolation, challenge, and validation, after trauma, is something most of us can relate to.

Wore

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So I haven’t actually worn this yet, but I will as soon as it arrives. As part of a birthday tradition that I started this year, I bought myself this top from Etsy store JazzDominoHolly. £1.50 from each sale goes to Daughters of Eve, a non profit organisation that works to protect girls and young women who are at risk from female genital mutilation.

Heard

I listened to a brilliant Radio 4 programme called Sick of School, about how the insane workloads and brutal culture of blame that are part and parcel of teaching are increasingly making teachers physically and mentally ill. It’s a topic I completely identify with. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks working until way past midnight to get just a fraction of what I need done. I’m on my knees most weekends, too stressed about the work I need to do for Monday, and too drained, to enjoy my time with the boys. It’s a tough time for those of us in education, and programmes like this are essential for lifting the lid on the reality of our workloads.

Oh dear. That wasn’t very positive was it? Hopefully the law of attraction works with realism too…

I know that’s not strictly how I’m meant to do the ‘heard’ bit of this linky, but, as you can see I don’t have time for music right now. Unless you factor in the Beastie Boys that I listen to every morning, but that’s mostly because they’re Little E and Bean’s favourite band ;)

Made

Watercress and chicken stir fry. It was quick. And tasty. I’m about as good with recipe talk as I am with beauty talk.

We’ve also started to make the most out of the warmer weather…

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^^ Park-time is all about tickles and licking the equipment, right? ^^

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^^ This sums up the boys so well. E pondering, and Bean with a hint of mischief in his eyes ^^

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International Women’s Day 2015 and why you should never apologise for being a feminist

This post was first shared on my other blog

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^^International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. The theme this year is Make It Happen. You can get involved by sharing your support on social media and wearing purple (the colour used by suffragette’s to symbolise justice and dignity)^^

I’d hoped to write a post about International Women’s Day before, erm, International Women’s Day. But life got in the way. An insomniac* baby, a poorly 4-year-old, and an insurmountable pile of work to do by tomorrow has left me a bit weary, and I considered not writing this. But then I remembered how much today matters, and how the voices of women are too often stifled by brute force, guilt, shame, and exhaustion.

* I jest. Kind of.

Women are still effectively being punished for being female, and in so many ways. One of the most significant and far-reaching issues is the objectification of female bodies. It’s a feature of most, if not all, cultures. In the best case scenario objectification riddles us with shame, in the worst instances it brutalises us. I truly believe that no woman is free of it, we have all, at some point, felt obligated to contort our minds and bodies into society’s vision of Girl and Woman. And all the while we have to carry on with the work that’s been designated to us by a world that defines femininity in the most rigid of ways.

Too often we are exhausted to our bones from spinning more plates than men, from working for less money than men, for employers who take little responsibility for challenging gender disparity. We tend to the financial, domestic and emotional needs of everyone around us, with little help, as if we were born to do nothing else, and it leaves us with no energy for the resistance needed to make our lives more manageable. Such is the nature of patriarchy – we become so tightly woven into its structure it becomes difficult to see an alternative.

So when it comes to talking about girls and women and that epic list of inequalities we still suffer, those of us who can must make time to share our thoughts and experiences this International Women’s Day. Each time we tap away on WordPress and Twitter and Facebook, we should remember our words encapsulate the autonomy that many woman are still denied. I know I’m privileged to have a voice that I no longer have to hide. I know each blog I write is an opportunity to call out inequality. But I’ve not always been so vocal about my passion for feminism. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I realised my voice needn’t be an apologetic whisper and that I could contribute to the debate.

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^^Jasvinder Sanghera (actual hero) ^^ (source)

In 2010 I was asked to attend a conference on forced marriage, honour based violence and FGM, on behalf of my employer. I jumped at the chance. Having been forced to convert to a strict form of Islam as a child I was all too familiar with the topics of forced marriage and izzat (the South Asian concept of honour that subjugates women and seeks to control their bodies), and I was desperate for a different perspective on what I’d heard and witnessed growing up. We listened to several brilliant speakers, but the person who shifted my world on its axis that day was Jasvinder Sanghera. As a British child Jasvinder faced the prospect of a forced marriage. She experienced abuse, ostracism and rejection because of a misogynistic culture that still prevails in many communities. Thankfully she fought her way out and as well as demanding autonomy for herself she established Karma Nirvana, a charity that supports women, men and couples trapped by abusive cultures that limit human rights.

The day was inspiring, motivating and hugely educational. But I hadn’t expected to feel so drained by the facts. Being presented with the numbers of girls being subjected to honour based violence, FGM and forced marriage in the UK, and being told about the lack of support they receive and the cack handed response by agencies that should be helping was hard. I felt devastated both for the women whose stories I heard, and because of the realisation that what I’d seen in my own community – the physical and emotional manipulation of women – was abhorrent. It was a sucker punch of a moment, and it changed me.

After that the word feminism, which I’d nervously toyed with for years, made complete sense. I was a feminist. I am a feminist. I don’t care about the men who are offended by the word,  and I’ve no time for the apologetic term ‘egalitarianism’, because there is no compromise when demanding that women be free. So those of us who can must fight sexism and misogyny until we lose our voices and make our fingers numb from typing. And for those of you who feel like we’ve already made it because your lives are good: you’re wrong. This isn’t about you, or me, it’s about us. Women, not woman. So many of us still suffer because we were lucky enough to be born with a vagina. Take a look at this, read it, weep. Then, fight.

1. Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales, each year. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year. 1 in 5 women has experienced some sort of sexual violence since the age of 16

2. Nearly 30% of women in the UK have experienced domestic abuse

3. Women are massively under-represented in government, making up just 22% of our MP’s

4. and in journalism. In a typical month, 78% of newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s Today show are men. Relatively few women are rising to senior jobs and the pay gap between male and female journalists remains a stubbornly wide one. And this is despite the fact that women substantially outnumber men in journalism training and enter the profession in (slightly) greater numbers. (source: Women and Journalism by Suzanne Franks)

Just take a moment to remember that these are professions that are key to shifting policy, influencing culture, and changing society. And that glass ceiling is still there. 

5. The gender pay-gap is still very much present. In fact the UK is among Europe’s worst offenders, with a pay gap of 19.1 per cent

6. The top earners in all societies are men. Just 11% of all billionaires are women

7. The cost of childcare continues to keep women out of the workplace and limit their choices. In 2012 an Australian study found that a mother from a low-income family faces losing 69% of her income if she returns to work after having a child, partly as a result of the extortionate cost of childcare, the average cost of which has risen by 150% over the past decade

8. In 2012, the Forced Marriage Unit had to give advice or support related to possible forced marriages in 1,485 cases. But this figure is deceptive because it only factors in those who have been made known. Jasvinder Sanghera estimates that the actual figure of forced marriages in the UK is well above 100,000. This abuse remains underreported as victims are extremely isolated with multiple perpetrators.

9. There are approximately 12 reported ‘honour’ killings per year in the UK. This doesn’t take into account the many people who are taken abroad and don’t return. ‘Honour’ killings are murders in which predominantly women are killed for perceived immoral behaviour, which is deemed to have breached the honour code of a family or community causing shame

10. Over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 IN THIS COUNTRY have had their genitals mutilated* This figure rises exponentially when you add to it to the number of girls outside the UK who have also had to endure the practice

11. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of war, and it overwhelmingly affects women more than men. The Independent reported only a few months ago that Yazidi girls were killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants, and the problem isn’t isolated to Iraq. According to the Global Justice Center rape is being used more than any other prohibited weapon of war including starvation; attacks on cultural objects; and the use of herbicides, biological or chemical weapons, dum-dum bullets, white phosphorus or blinding lasers.

12. Worldwide, girls constitute over half of the children out of school. Only 30 percent of all girls are enrolled in secondary school. In many countries, less than one third of university students are women

13. In the UK females outperform males in examinations at all levels of the education system, but go on to earn substantially less than their male counterparts

14. Girls and women suffer disproportionately in countries that lack hygienic sanitation. The impacts are far-reaching, whether it be poor maternal and newborn health, inadequate facilities in schools for girls on their period (and the related stigma associated with menstruation), or being vulnerable to harassment or violence when travelling the long distances to use shared toilets, or practice open defecation. Just imagine if every time you went to the toilet it involved harassment, violence, and indignity

* the source I took this statistic from refers to FGM as ‘circumcision’. It’s not, it’s mutilation.

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Falling in and out of love with mummy-blogging

Each time I blog on littleeandbean I think: ooh, I’ve not been here for a while. My elusiveness isn’t out of habit, or coincidence. It’s not even about how crazy-busy I am. It’s a little bit about me being fickle, and quite a lot about me moving on.

I started blogging as a way to record life with the boys. In the heady newborn days and the months where every new ‘first’ felt like it might blow me away, this blog was a gift. I adore the record I’ve created here and I’ll keep adding to it for as long as it feels right, but it will be intermittent (as it has been for a while), because my writing has changed.

The reason I’m on here less is partly to do with Little E getting older. He’ll start school this year. He’s a little boy. And he’s so full of ideas and desires and questions that it’s made me realise how carefully I need to tread when sharing his life online. As a passionate feminist I spend a lot of time thinking about autonomy, particularly about how girls and women have their independence and self-governance stripped from them. But it dawned on me recently that I also need to be invested in the autonomy of my boys. How and what I communicate has implications for them, and (as I see it) part of my role as a mother is to allow my children to choose how to present themselves in the world. The fact is it was never their choice to be written about here, which is why I now blog more about me than them.

Another reason why my mummy-blogging* has gone off the boil is because writing about parenting doesn’t capture my imagination the way it used to. I still have beautiful moments with Little E and Bean that I want to remember forever, but I don’t have the time, or feel the need, to share them the way I previously have. The posts I have darting around in my head, the ones I’m desperate to make real, are for my other blog, a space that I intentionally separated from Little E and Bean. It’s where I write about women’s rights and feminism, where I reflect on making it out the other side of oppressive sexism, and where I offer a narrative that seems to be helping women and girls faced with similar situations to the one I was in.

* I’m really not so sure about the term ‘mummy-blogger’ anymore (Annie got me thinking about it after commenting on my last post…which reminds me, I still haven’t replied to my comments. I. Am. Rubbish) because:
1. I feel restricted by it. I’m not just a mummy-blogger. Yes, I’m a mummy and a blogger, but I’m also a feminist and a blogger, a teacher and a blogger, a woman and a blogger. I don’t think my mother identity is necessarily more valuable than the other parts of me.
2. The word ‘mummy’ is often used to trivialise and patronise mothers. I don’t want to be part of that.
3. I could go on. Oh how I could go on. Actually this asterisked bit should totally be another blog post one day.

I do lots of gushing about blogging (because I LOVE it), but my experience hasn’t been entirely positive – there are people who would rather I didn’t share my thoughts on RMR. I’ve had online trolls and exasperated comments from a family member. And despite the fact that it’s helped me heal and grow and learn after a painful experience, my blog often generates uncomfortable silences from the people who matter to me. And then there are the several members of my family who have disappeared from my life altogether since I started writing about my past. But thankfully my creative process is no longer about searching for validation or catharsis. I write because I know my truth counts, because it helps others, and because each time a woman writes to say “I’ve been there”, or “I’m living through this too, and your words are helping” I know it’s worth any judgement.

So, littleeandbean, my ‘mummy-blog’, was a seed of creativity that’s grown into something I never anticipated. It’s directed me to a place where I feel stronger but also a little terrified, and not just because of the judgement and hostility. It’s taught me that parenting and adulthood are full of choices I should be proud of. It’s taught to make no apologies for the spaces within which I talk. It’s taught me about confidence and creativity. And now, what’s unfolding away from the pages of my ‘mummy-blog’ is teaching me that I’m probably capable of more than I realised.

I’ll be back at some point, in-between navigating the new stuff. In the meantime, here are the boys I love so much.

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