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Where Are the Women In Your Life

February 10, 2014

There has been a lot of discussion about all male panels on TV programmes of late and Katy Brand said on Twitter how the vision of a 50/50 split was a far away dream and I remember thinking that if it was representative it should probably be 52/48 split in favour of women. In an earlier twitter conversation on a similar topic about who represent us I tweeted  ” I don’t live in a world with only middle-class/rich white men in it”. Well I’ve been thinking about that statement for the last few days and it’s bugging me, because sometimes it feels like the world is over-flowing with them. Yes middle-class/rich white men aren’t don’t make up the majority of the world population, they don’t even make up the majority of Britain’s population but the power they have wielded of my life have been overwhelming. The majority of my teachers, my childhood doctor, my local MP; The sixth form head who told me that “he didn’t want a girl like me in his sixth form” , my crime was that I’d failed my O’level maths (they probably designed the course and wrote the exam paper). The owner of a local cafe where I worked when I was 17 who tried to kiss me in the stock cupboard then fired me when I told the other waitresses. The surgeon who called a meeting to keep me as his department receptionist (I was working there under the youth training scheme) but was defeated by the board members as they couldn’t afford me; they never employed any of their subsequent youth trainees either. The man in the council who said I seemed like a nice girl & my next offer of housing wouldn’t be in a troubled area where they preferred to put the problem families as he could see I wasn’t going to be a problem. The careers advisor who said I was a sturdy girl and I would be fine. The Maths teacher who hated me. The Head of my Primary school who didn’t like me. I could go on but it would get very boring. When you list it like that together it seems very different to the life lived and experienced maybe you (and I) can’t fully appreciate the huge impact these men had on my life, maybe you’re doing what I am doing and thinking ‘hang on’ how is this fair where are the women in my story and would it have been so very different?

The women in my story are my Mother, my friends, my daughter, Grand-daughter, daughter-in-laws. They are the women I work along side with in the various charities that I have worked at, the nurses, PSCO’s,  the women on Twitter and they have always been the people who have inspired me; the thing that the majority of these women have had that I have found lacking in the men that have wielded their control over MY life is passion for something other than themselves. I often wonder if being denied access to the positions and places of power, this constant keeping down of women just meant that they were pushed sideways? Historically women may have put all their passion into their families but it wasn’t enough, it’s never been enough. We’re intelligent and capable but a woman like me for example could never be a local MP let alone Prime Minister because women are STILL held back by the idea of the IDEAL woman and no woman can be this ideal created by the media and be a woman of noticeable power. What about Margaret Thatcher I hear some of you ask,well I say she wasn’t a feminist, did she have passion for something other than herself? I can’t answer that it wasn’t immediately obvious to me, all I heard was criticism and disapproval and blaming and finger-pointing, no encouragement or understanding, or solutions that didn’t have casualties and losers, like families and communities. This is unlike the ‘ordinary’ women in my life and that I observe, who think to themselves how can I make this better and act in non-destructive ways.

I went for an interview aged 40 something for an Access course in humanities and yes there sat the middle-aged white man, yet a man very much out-of-place a brilliant, passionate capable man who dedicated his life to helping mature students mainly women to reach their potential I’m sure there are others out there who make the conscious  decision that power isn’t their thing, not how power is generally perceived anyway, but how many women have that real choice, maybe it’s not actively removed (though I’m not convinced it isn’t). This choice that women may think they have is a guided choice; women are seemingly channelled by their own decisions, for example you choose to have a child therefore only doors D & E are open to you career wise forget A,B & C unless you are prepared to sacrifice X and if you complain that this isn’t fair well you chose to have a child. For example trying to negotiate maternity leave is unpleasant and unsatisfactory for many women especially the lower the pay scale you are on, employers aren’t always accommodating, they don’t have to be really if they can get away with it and after all they have the power. Equality hasn’t arrived in Britain well maybe it’s arrived but it hasn’t got through customs yet and we need to stop pretending that it has. Too many middle-aged middle-class/rich white men make too many decisions about my life, my daughter’s life, my grand-daughter’s life, your lives; whether male or female; so few people with so much power, are they wielding it for your benefit or for theirs, is their passion for helping you? Where are the women in your life?

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Where Is Benefits Street

January 22, 2014

Somebody posed a question on Twitter a few months ago and that was ‘If you were a young Mum did you ever stop being a young Mum?’ For me that’s an easy question to answer and that’s no, I am still a single Mum in my mind, even though my children are grown up. I suppose it’s like class and status do you ever move up the ladder or do you just appear too? For example I’ve seen several people on Twitter who to me seem like middle class state that they are working class. Are some things intrinsically part of you know matter how far you distance yourself from them physically?

My friends and I lived on our council estate bringing our children up together and over the years our lives have separated I no-longer live on the estate though my financial situation is worse than some that remained and better than others, you don’t have to be out of work or live on a council estate to be on benefits or poor, you just escape some of the stigma if you’re lucky, hiding in your privately rented house amongst the owner occupiers you could nearly become one of them. I wonder what’s more important you knowing or others? Mind you everyone in that row of seemingly owner occupier houses could be claiming benefits believing they’re better than those on actual Benefits Street, or they could praying that the neighbours don’t find out because well just because.

Now myself and friends have adult children and are now becoming Grandparents and I just witnessed a Facebook attack on one of these children because of the money they are spending on their child. She is a full-time mum living with her working boyfriend who owns his own house but she is still seen as one of those kids off the estate with the single Mother. Apparently she still lives there. Benefits Street isn’t just a place, isn’t just the place the unwanted are sent to, isn’t the purgatory that some want it to be. I think people like to think that generations upon generations of work-shy people live on Benefits Streets because that way they can pretend that they wont end up there themselves, because they’re better than that, deserve better than that. The reality they see is that it’s hard to move from Benefits Street literally and figuratively and the reality they avoid is that is that anyone can end up there through no fault of their own like illness, redundancy and through other events out of their control, as well as consequences of mistakes that we all make throughout our lives.

I’ve decided to try (and it’s surprisingly hard) and not to judge my successes by others successes, or failures for that matter, seeing others fail does not make me a success and vice versa. Having a job, claiming no benefits or owning your own home doesn’t mean you’re more deserving or necessarily harder working, it doesn’t make you a superior being, it’s a difference just as being healthy and unhealthy is. One day those hating on those ‘Others’ on Benefits Street will be collecting their pensions, their pensions that they’ve worked hard for and deserve but is still a benefit when all is said and done if you want to argue that point; but this benefit is paid from a pot that we ALL pay into through VAT, income tax, fuel duty, duty on alcohol and cigarettes, council tax, income tax and so on and we all take out of the system from birth to death, what is fair about this system is each according to their need , it’s not about amount it’s about support, you get the minimum amount you need to live on and no more.

Where is Benefits Street? It’s everywhere, as wages freeze and rents rise the minimum amount needed to live on becomes harder to get hold of and the need for support is going to grow. It’s an employers market they have control as do the landlords and anyone with money, it talks you know money and it says if you don’t have me no-one has to listen to you and they wont and those with money will try to persuade you that you deserve this and the really sad thing is you might believe them.

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Benefits Street

January 18, 2014

I have a confession to make I haven’t watched Channel Four’s Benefit’s Street,’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benefits_Street’ self named the program that reveals the reality of life on benefits; I’m not going to watch it either. I don’t need to watch this program as I used to live on a council estate and I was on Income Support as a single mother for a few years before moving onto Tax Credits (which is still a benefit btw) and I already know the reality of being poor, which isn’t exclusive to being on benefits, you can be in work and be poor but I’m fairly certain this program chose to ignore this fact. 

Anyway what am I about to say about this program that I haven’t watched you may be wondering? Nothing much except that I’m sure whatever has been filmed has been cleverly edited to provide popularist entertainment without showing what it’s really like to be poor or on benefits, though it clearly shows the housing situation if you are poor or/and on benefits, generally councils or housing associations like to clump people together; ” you’re a young single mum, right you need to live in these flats, oh you are a couple on a low wage we think you’d like this house,’ this happens, so yes there are streets in every town where everyone can seem to be on benefits. But of course many people use benefits in the short term moving to at work benefits or coming off them completely. But that doesn’t really make much difference to your housing as moving around in social housing is very very hard to do; so housing and planning officers have created these areas (I am sure they were very well paid in the process) and these communities not in fact the poor themselves.

it’s very hard to describe what being poor and knowing that you are poor is like, my experience was entwined with being a young single mum as well so there is stigma, class and status thrown into the mix and the thing that drove me, apart from survival was the desire to not appear broke or to be looked down on or to be pitied and the desire that my children didn’t suffer. I like many many poor people are Very good with our money, I realise this goes against common perception but common perception is very much like common sense it’s surprising how many seemingly intelligent people don’t have it. Poverty is time consuming for example looking for bargains in supermarkets, visiting jumble sales and car boot sales, making things, fixing things, walking everywhere rather than bus or car. But don’t get me wrong I managed to extract every moment of enjoyment and fun out of this life, because what else should I have done, wept everyday shouting unclean unclean as I walked my children to school? 

Everyone on this council estate that I lived on, the ones like me on the bottom of the pile already pilloried and stigmatised for daring to be so publicly poor found ways of coping and surviving, I took the route of growing my own veg (luckily I had a garden), collecting fruit from hedgerows to make jam and wine which could either be drunk or bartered. I helped myself to items from skips and bins, I made things and fixed things and my social life was other peoples houses and home made wine. I trawled the charity shops and yes I had to borrow money from the social because the weekly amount to live on was just that, if anything went wrong with my second hand everything there was no money to replace it.

Everyone knew the drug dealers/addicts the shop lifters the ones fiddling the dole and the social and everyone including those not poor did business with these people, the man in the pub with the dodgy tobacco and the pirated videos everyone. Everyone paid someone cash in hand for a bit of plastering or fence mending or using their van to move a sofa, everyone. The women selling half price children’s clothes in the school playground used to get mobbed by all the middle-class posh mums. I’m sure this behaviour continues exactly as before and that people like those middle-class mums still benefit from those poor people with their half priced clothes and their DIY jobs done for the fraction of the cost or Mr So & So down the road.Let’s not forget the people at the DWP’s with their comfortable jobs only there because of the unemployed, the single parents and the disabled, it seems many make a profit from the poor, it’s a growing business; look at our high streets; at the pawn brokers, betting shops, Brighthouse, pound stores and charity shops galore. Then the adverts for Wonga & other pay day loans and Magpie and other selling sites, yet it’s said that the poor contribute nothing to society….I wonder if the poverty shaming headlines in the Daily Mail boosts sales? I wonder how much money the makers of Benefits Street has made? There is the stench of hypocrisy and it’s permeating all of our media and the society it feeds, if it wasn’t for the poor how could the middle-classes measure their hard working success, how could they parade their status without someone to look down on?

Did you know that the poor are getting poorer, because of austerity measures, but somehow the richest in society are getting richer. if all of society is in the same boat how can that be true? How can cutting benefits help our country? Will it create more jobs? If everyone earns enough money or gets enough benefits to live comfortably what would happen to Wonga et al? If there are more poorer people Wonga et al are going to do very very well aren’t they?  As are programs like Benefits Street that show people who have deliberately made themselves poor and behave so extraordinarily in their attempts to live fulfilling lives, not like ordinary hard working people at all.

 

 

 

 

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Duty of Care When Mountain Climbing.

January 5, 2014

I watched a programme on ITV1 yesterday called Secrets From the Workhouse, it talked about Victorian values and that poverty was criminalised, it also told how that once the actual workhouse was left the stigma of being an inmate was never thrown off. It seems that the poor have always been a problem to be dealt with, not by making them ‘not poor’, just as problem people to be got rid of. It’s 2014 and we can’t ship the poor to Australia any more and the post war efforts with it’s NHS and Social Security the ladder for the poor apparently have been found wanting, so the Tory answer is to remove them whilst crying out “We should not reward the poor, they’ve brought it upon themselves!” 

Today I was just reminded of mountain climbing with my family and being with my very very safety conscious Dad. We all carried a map, whistle, chocolate and glucose sweets in a water proofed bag round our necks in case of emergency, we also had water bottles, torches, matches etc everything we needed to survive. We were also joined by ropes so we wouldn’t get lost, our job was to keep an eye on the one in front calling out if there was a fall or if they were struggling. Dad had one really important rule we all had to obey as a group and that was we were only as fast as the slowest member, only as strong as the weakest member; Yes that was me, always me as the youngest and smallest they were always slowing down for me. It was Dads job as the biggest strongest and most experienced to look after us but we shared the responsibility between each other. Maybe he enjoyed being in charge I don’t know, did he make me feel bad for being so little; no he didn’t; I still remember him carrying me aged about seven part way up Snowdon. Being ‘weak’ was just biology not my fault, I wasn’t punished or made to feel bad because I needed help, I was just helped and I felt safe. I know these aren’t original or ground breaking ideas but they do seem to be relevant ones.

Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society I think what she meant was cut the ropes tying you to your sense of place, belonging and responsibility and I think people did as she said in their race to get to the summit where they were awarded with their own homes. What happens to the slower paced the less physically abled, the young and less experienced, the elderly, the sick, the single parents, to the child of the undeserving single/parent when their benefits are stopped because they can’t get to the summit? If they lose their homes as a consequence will their ropes to their parents be cut, will they be taken into care? I realise these are stupid questions because if you are a Tory none of this matters to you, “get your own rope” I hear you cry “you should have attached it to someone better, you should have taken better safety precautions, you should have kept up in the race to the summit”. But I’m standing here with my map and torch and whistle and water and emergency rations as I struggle to keep my job during a health crisis and I feel afraid roaming alone on this mountaintop and all I’m looking for is some shelter from the rain and a sense of worth rather than Tory inflicted pain.

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A Short Pointless Rant

December 6, 2013

I am a school caretaker which makes me a lone worker for approximately 90% of my working day, bearing this desperate loneliness I suffer in mind I listen to the radio whilst I work,it penetrates the silence helping to keep me relatively sane, unfortunately the radio is old and temperamental if you look at it wrongly even sideways it goes silent and I can only get Radio One, some classical channel and a local commercial station (adverts are awful). So for several years I listened to Chris Moyles in the morning and Scott Mills in the afternoon/evening. Every thing was fine I could dip in and out of their chat as I moved round the building, there was nothing wrong with this arrangement, I enjoyed the comedy, the rants and the chat. But of course some great executive in the sky decided that Chris Moyles was too old and Scott Mills too afternoony (why did Mills move?)! What do we have instead we have a preening, insipid celebrity loving Grimmy who quite frankly hasn’t got a funny bone in his body and can’t deal with anything more serious than Lego;if Grimmy had the Dalai Lama as a guest he’d ask him which barber he uses and what brand conditioner he uses, Grimmy would then spend the next ten minutes telling his audience his own hair secrets, *yawn*. He would then make him play call or delete so that we could see how many celebs the celebs know. Whenever Grimmy  gets anyone on that’s intelligent, serious and with an important message he silences them or slags them off later accusing them of being boring, ha! Pot kettle black (see Henry Cavill etc etc).  Is this what our youngsters really want,need,deserve; dumbed down safe twee entertainment, no real opinions, no new ideas just soft safe fashionable fluff? I have come to terms with Greg, Scott Mills replacement, with his life at the tap end, secret teacher and the film reviews on Thursdays redeem him, but OMG if I don’t find something better to listen to in the mornings I may just have to bin (kick it in with my steel capped work shoes) my radio.

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Is breast best?

November 12, 2013

In this world that we live in we basically thrash around on our own figuring things out as we go along, until that is  you become pregnant and motherhood beckons, this of course is when women become public property and everything you eat, drink, wear, touch and breathe will be commented on and criticised and you will have more advice than you can handle and with so much of it contradictory it’s quite possible your head may explode. For example on today’s news a new initiative was announced; £200 of shopping vouchers would be offered to Mums to encourage them to breast feed for six months, this would happen in a few selected areas, areas of deprivation. all I could think when I heard this was ‘Oh FFS!’ More guilt, more pressure, more interference. Isn’t information giving meant to be about empowering women to make their own decisions? NOT about emotionally manipulating them to agree with you?

Perhaps before I go into rant mode about the rights or wrongs of breast-feeding I should give you my credentials, I have none, I’m not a health professional I am just a Mum. However I remember when pregnant at 18 my boyfriend told me that I should breast feed as it would be best for our baby and I still remember the abject horror I felt, I remember arguing with him, I remember crying with revulsion at the thought and telling him it wouldn’t happen. I was always self-conscious about my body and already hated my big breasts, I did however research breast-feeding because I never seen it, if anyone I knew had ever been breast-fed I never knew it and it was never generally discussed. I was a bottle fed baby and I was a perfectly healthy individual what difference did it really make? my Mum and her generation were sold formula milk and bottles as the clean, hygienic option also as the option where you could guarantee quality and quantity, you could see that your baby was being fed the correct amount, also breast feeding causes saggy boobs is still a belief and regardless of the attitude of health professionals now these ideas sold to those past generations of women still persist today. Anyway eventually I changed my mind and decided to give breast-feeding a go at least for a few weeks (this was in 1985). It was six months later when I stopped breast-feeding and I went on and breast-fed all my other children for six to eight months each.

As it turned out breast-feeding for me was an extremely rewarding experience though not without its issues. Initially I looked like I had two over inflated footballs down my top and nothing fitted me, it was very uncomfortable and feeding was very difficult, but after five days it had settled down then for the first few weeks as my uterus contracted feeding increased the frequency and intensity of my contractions, causing me pain and discomfort, this could put many Mums off. My breasts filling (the milk coming in) with milk also caused me breast pain, unfortunately for me this pain never went away, the pain only lasted for about five minutes until the baby started to feed properly but it was every feed for the whole six months. For many women this pain only lasts for the first few weeks but once again can put many off in the first few weeks. I also suffered cracked nipples, Mastitis (with my first), leaking, and to be quite frank giant boobs which aren’t great, they’re heavy, uncomfortable and intrusive, forget jogging or exercise to regain fitness. When the six months was up and I gave up breast-feeding there was a certain amount of regret and sadness but there was also a sense of relief at getting my body and my time back, but not just that but the ability to go anywhere at any time, because whipping out a bottle to feed a crying baby is far less problematic than your breast.

How can £200 in shopping vouchers address these issues? How can £200 solve the problem that breasts first and foremost are seen as sexual objects? Look at page 3 it’s out there every day a clear indicator that breasts are for others to look at and that they should look a certain way, the breast shape, the nipple and areola need to be neat and perfect, slight variations are allowed but not much and the bigger the breasts are the more likely a woman is seen as ‘sluttish’ so where does that leave the breast-feeding mother? In my experience and of those I’ve talked too, they are desperate to hide themselves; but of course that is very easy to do in a society where they want you to hide away in public toilets, changing rooms and the occasional feeding room which frequently has an uncomfortable dining room chair, if you can find which member of staff has the key to that room in the first place that is and they’re not knocking on the door after five minutes asking you if you’ve finished, also assuming you can get your pram in there in the first place, Mummies you will struggle when you leave the house on your own because the outside really is trying to exclude you. Health professionals may say ‘breast is best’ but the world outside don’t want to see it and if people never see it why would they then emulate this so-called breast is best behaviour? Health Professionals all recognise that new Mums can become isolated and that this is a problem, can they not also see that breast-feeding can compound that isolation? Where is the support? Where are the places that are safe from gawking and judgemental eyes and where are the other Mums that breast feed?

Basically breast-feeding is easier if you never leave the house and you have a 100% supportive partner, because take it from me breast-feeding is extremely time-consuming; this leads to the other issue with breast-feeding; time, time taken feeding, time taken whilst out to prepare for feeding and the time that society allots women for getting back to ‘normal’ both physically and in lifestyle. for example women are applauded when they recover their ‘figure’ and the quicker the better if you read media headlines and then of course maintaining the perfectly clean and tidy home, continuing the perfect career and of course returning to the bedroom just as sexy as before; sorry to say this but breast-feeding gets in the way of all this. Dear health professionals £200 in shopping vouchers doesn’t address these issues. What that £200 does is imply that breast-feeding is a class and cost issue, it implies that lack of breast-feeding is an education problem, the truth is none of these; Because indirectly and directly women are bombarded daily by messages of how they should look and be and it isn’t compatible with the image of the breast-feeding Mum. In the majority of cases Mum’s Mothers and Grandmothers didn’t breast feed and these are the people Mums will look to for advice before the Health Professional and ultimately when these Mums are healthy can you blame them for questioning advice? Has being bottle fed disadvantaged me? How can I tell? How can a Health Professional really tell?

Don’t get me wrong I would recommend breast-feeding, I enjoyed it and in the main I found it easy and convenient but there are advantages to bottle feeding and Health Professionals need to acknowledge this; there is far too much pressure put on Mothers to perform correctly, there too much guilt and blame attached to Mums who don’t tow the party line, women are individuals with unique lives, they have many people to please, needs to be met and goals to reach so why should they listen to a stranger who waltzes into their lives uninvited? Women may not be able to breast feed they may simply not want too, they may try and then give up, maybe they are just tired of everything being their responsibility and bottle feeding means that they can share it? But whatever their reasons isn’t it time that we respected their decisions? And maybe if Health Professionals really want to bring about change maybe looking at page 3 and the media and the facilities and support for Mums needs to be the things that they try to change first?

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Internet Shopping, Sorry I Meant Dating!

October 25, 2013

I’ve decided that Internet dating is not for me, it may be because that I’m rather grumpy, too selfish and set in my ways as my Mum pointed out, or that for me Internet dating remind’s me far too much of shopping (Horrible Super Market shopping not book shopping) and do you know something just maybe I’m a bit of a romantic deep down in the secret part of me I like to hide (except to the ten or so of you that read this blog). Shopping? I hear you exclaim, well let me explain…

You walk into a Super Market and the shelves are full of products you might want, not just different products but different brands of the same products. Imagine for a moment that you are in the breakfast cereal aisle (I don’t know why breakfast cereal, just bear with me) and imagine you are looking at the range of packaging, forget the contents just look at the range of shiny packaging, I wonder do you bother to read the list of ingredients? Maybe just the main ones like rice or wheat whilst ignoring the iron content. Or do you only check the ingredients if you like the look of the packaging.

Internet dating especially sites like Plenty of Fish seem to me to be just about the packaging, You browse through the photos and if you see any packaging you like (I mean it’s the same basic product with a variety of brands) you check the ingredients, but of course the products that you are viewing are also viewing you as a product, so the list of ingredients is also a list of requirements as to what ingredients they are looking for and if the product you are looking at is male then nine times out of ten the listed requirements refer directly to your packaging and not your actual ingredients!

There we all are lined up with our best packages showing, all shiny waiting for viewers to click on us and make their judgements. Do they message us because of our packaging or ingredients, or both I suppose we will never know, we can only really know how we use those sites ourselves. But have you ever met someone in real life whose packaging may not have been that impressive but then got to know them so well that eventually they seemed like the most impressive and shiniest person you’d ever met? How likely if we are honest with ourselves are we to find that amazing person in the Super Markets of romance where the packaging is just there to advertise and entice rather than reflect reality. I mean has anyone ever wondered what on earth a tiger has to do with Frosties?

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Caroline Criado-Perez

A Pox on the Patriarchy

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Lady things, explained.

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"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik