Tag Archives: feminism

Dear Daughter

 

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To my (at this point fictional) daughter,

I want you to know a few things about your old mum.  First of all, I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my life.  I have a loving family and wonderful friends.  I have been  fed, clothed, educated and supported.  I sincerely hope that if you ever become a real person then the same will be true for you, and that you and I don’t argue very often.  I hope that you haven’t inherited my crippling addiction to caffeine.

Secondly, I owe you an apology.  I owe you an apology because I have already failed you, even though right now you don’t exist.  I didn’t act when I should have and I want to make sure that you never repeat my mistake.

I was walking along a busy road in North London – you know all those stories your aunts and uncle tell you about your mother’s hedonistic twenties?  This was around that time.  It was a perfectly normal Wednesday and I was on my way to work.  (This was before I was made Artistic Director of the National Theatre, by the way.  I was still working at a box office back then.)  I was walking along with my earphones in, listening to a podcast and generally minding my own business, when a man who was walking past me hit me on the arm and said “smile!”

This is the part where I failed you.

I tried to pretend that nothing had happened and I walked away.  I didn’t say a word.  When I got to work I told my colleagues what had happened in a throwaway, “isn’t London hilarious and weird?” kind of fashion.  I should not have done that.

What I should have done was tell him not to touch me.  I should have asked him why he believed that he had the right to tell someone what to do with their own face.  I should have made it clear to him that everyone has the right to walk along a street without being accosted by an unpleasant stranger.  (The other thing I should have at least considered was beating him to death with my lunchbox, but never mind.)

You may well be thinking, “God, Mum, you’re SUCH a drama queen!  Why is this such a big deal?  It’s not like he attacked you, you loser.”  And you’d be right, darling, but please don’t speak to your mother like that.

It doesn’t matter that the physical contact was not particularly painful, or that the language the man used was not seriously abusive.  What matters is that this man genuinely believed that he had the right to treat a stranger that way.

I am extraordinarily lucky because I am one of very few women who has only had to deal with these kinds of low-level examples of sexism and harassment.  Millions of women have to deal with far worse than this, all the time, with little or no hope of being able to assert themselves.  (Ask any barmaid in the world.)

Most women feel like walking around in the world makes them intruders into men’s personal playgrounds, and that at any point we can (and should) expect to called out as trespassers.  Having the nerve to go to work, socialise, drink alcohol, wear clothes that we like and take photographs makes us “fair game”.  Apparently.  Men own the world and if we’re in it then it is because they permit it.

Not all men are like this, of course.  Your father (whoever the hell he has turned out to be) is a loving and wonderful man.  But the fact remains that men who genuinely think that they have the right to tell you what to do, touch you without your permission and make you feel threatened must not be permitted to get away with it.  If any of those things ever happen to you I want you to make the biggest song and dance you possibly can.  I want you to create a huge and humiliating scene for the stupid bastard.  (Don’t tell your dad I swore.)  If you experience or witness harassment in any form I want you to make the most unimaginable fuss about it.  I would rather that a daughter of mine were arrested for disturbance of the peace than quietly walked away from a stranger who was trying to hurt her.

That’s it, really.  I hope you can understand why I think that this is so important.  I really hope that by the time I actually have a daughter this whole letter will be unnecessary and meaningless, because society will have disregarded harassment as a completely unacceptable and stupid thing, but you never know.  This is just in case.

Also, please don’t get any tattoos until you’re eighteen.

Lots of love,

Mum xx

 

 

 

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Dear Future Spouses

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Dear reader, I won’t lie to you.  I have reached The Wedding Age.

TWA is not, thank modern life and all its socially advanced attitudes, a self-inflicted notion of when I should be tying the knot.  I really, really could not give a flying fudge about when “they” (who ARE “they”, anyway?) think that I should be committing my life to a relationship.  It’s actually something that most of us are probably pretty familiar with: the age at which we realise we are spending most of our weekends at idyllic country mansions watching our friends get hitched, whereas we used to spend our weekends watching football, drinking, playing video games or indeed all of the above.

I’m really enjoying TWA so far.  My friends are wonderful people who deserve to be happy, and their weddings are, almost without exception, extremely joyful occasions.  My only qualm with TWA right now is that I am also careering headfirst into the world of bridesmaid duties, travelling long distances in high heels and investing extortionate amounts of money in waterproof mascara.  I am also, heaven help us all, being asked for my opinion on wedding things.  For example, a very close friend of mine recently said that she would like this song to be part of her wedding ceremony:

Now, here is the worrying thing: one of my first thoughts was genuinely “isn’t this song a bit unrealistic?  I mean, isn’t it a bit much to ask men to be nice to us for, like, the rest of our lives?”

Shock, horror and other negative forms of surprise abounded as soon as this thought had formed.  What the hell kind of feminist am I to question what women deserve in their marriages?  What on earth did the Pankhursts fight so hard for, if not women’s essential self-worth?  And for heaven’s sake, why hasn’t someone made a mash up of this song with Olly Murs’ “Dance With Me Tonight”?!

Let’s be honest: no one can be nice the entire time.  It’s not a sustainable way to behave and, even if you could sustain permanent affability, your friends and loved ones would start to suspect that you were a robot sent to spy on them.  No one, male or female, can spend their whole lives being unfailingly kind, understanding and romantic.  Having said that, the message of Meghan Trainor’s jaunty tune is basically a good one: we need to have high standards for ourselves.

Relationships are hard, and being in love can be a very messy business.  But if we want to spend the rest of our lives with another human being, we should a) be honest with them about how we would like to be treated, b) give them realistic expectations of what we are like on bad as well as good days, and c) marry the person who wants to treat us well forever more.

Hey: remember that amazing rom-com about that girl who met a guy who flirted with her a bit, replied to her texts after a few days and was a bit stand-offish with her friends?  And then after some clumsy dates and a few awkward advances they got together, moved in because one of their leases was about to end and the guy proposed when the girl half-jokingly pressured him into it?  And then their marriage petered out into a cordial but essentially passionless co-existence?  No?  Of course you don’t.  That, my dearest and most gorgeous reader, is because really excellent relationships and marriages are formed by people who work as a team and make each other the best that they can be.  They are not formed by people who are desperately trying to navigate the complicated world of mixed messages, passive aggression and emotionally distant game-playing.  People who really want you won’t push you away, and even if your loved one falls short every once in a while, the important thing is that they want to be good enough for you.  Trying to love someone well is better than being eligible for a mortgage application.

I sincerely hope that, if you are planning or hoping to marry one day, your future spouse will treat you the way Meghan Trainor wants to be treated.  More importantly, I hope that they want to.

Have a cracking Sunday evening, team.  Don’t let the end-of-weekend blues get you down.

Tutoring Tales

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The very warmest of salutations to you, lovely reader, on this long-awaited day of Fri.  On an unrelated note, my brain is very fuzzy and I am in desperate need of coffee.  Would you like anything from the kettle?

To supplement my rock ‘n’ roll writer’s lifestyle (ahem), I tutor some kids in English and Maths.  The kids are aged between six and ten, and I love them all to bits.  Some of them have their “challenging” moments, and to be perfectly honest I’m not always in the mood to rehash the five times table, but there’s no question that I love my job.

I also love the bizarre (but usually fairly sound) wisdom that my students come out with.  Here are some of the funniest, sweetest and weirdest things my little ones have said during lessons.  (By the way, I put a couple of these on Facebook as and when they occurred, so apologies for the repetition.)

1) The would-be dinosaur owner

Child: did the dinosaurs go to heaven?
Me: oh, yeah, definitely.
Child: do people in heaven get to have dinosaur pets?
Me: probably.
Child: you’ll go to heaven before me, because I’m only six and you’re about a hundred. Will you save me a dinosaur?

Yes, you evil little legend. Yes I will.  Although I should point out that I am twenty-five, which is A LOT nearer to six than it is to a hundred.  I wouldn’t usually mind too much about something like that, but we were at the ends of a Maths lesson…

2) The future feminist

Me: So what kind of characters do you usually find in fairy stories?
Child: Baddies and witches and a Prince Charming.
Pause.
Child: Why isn’t there a Princess Charming?
Me: I don’t know. Why?
Child: Because us guys are sometimes stupid and we need girls to help us.

The cutest thing about this one is that the kid genuinely wanted to know.  It was obvious to him that men need saving as much as women do, and he was baffled by the notion that men didn’t get a chance to swoon and women to ride in and kill the dragon.  Feminists, rejoice and be glad: this kid is a winner.

3) The paranoid artist

Child: I can’t finish colouring this picture in.
Me: ‘Course you can.
Child: No.  No, I can’t.
Me: Why not?
Child: I’ve been poisoned.
Me: …with what?
Child: Poison.
Me: Ok.  Who poisoned you?
Pause.
Child: Robert Mugabe.

Either this kid has been watching too much evening news, or he is an incredibly well-disguised political enemy of Zimbabwe’s current government.  I sort of hope it’s the second one.

4) The sibling swapper

Child: My brother is so annoying.  Do you have a brother?
Me: Yep.
Child: Do you get annoyed with him?
Me: Nah.  We used to wind each other up when we were your age, but we’re very close friends now.
Child: Is he nice to you?
Me: Yeah, he’s very nice.
Child: Can I borrow him sometimes?  You can borrow mine.

Seems fair, doesn’t it?  No?  I’m not allowed to abduct a six year-old boy who can burp the alphabet in exchange for my twenty-three year-old brother (who is pretty busy with his degree but would totally be up for this because it’s an excuse to play with Lego)?  Well, I wish someone’d said.  

5) The one who won’t be fooled

Child: Mum says I need to know about Maths for when I’m a grown up.
Me: She’s absolutely right.
Child: She says if I don’t know Maths no one will talk to me and I’ll have to wear a big pink badge saying “I don’t know Maths” and people will laugh at me.
Me: …
Child: I don’t really believe that, though.  I think I just need it for looking after my money and stuff.

God bless that mother, trying so hard to capture her son’s imagination when all she had to do was tell him the truth.  Apparently, six year-olds are ok with their future financial responsibilities.  Who knew?

Have a glorious Friday, you lovely thing.