Tag Archives: children

Kahlo’s work still tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today

Happy Birthday Frida Kahlo! A mere 107 she would have been on 6 July; alas she died young at only 47.

60 years later, her 1932 painting Henry Ford Hospital (otherwise known as ‘The Flying Bed’) still pierces us with a painful image of womanhood we barely allow ourselves to talk about, let alone look at. Frida Kahlo dared to paint it. She was one of the first female artists to ever portray the realities of womanhood on canvas: the earth red ground beneath her a symbol of her loneliness. “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares,” she said, “I paint my own reality.” Decades later, her reality still beguiles us.

As Frida Kahlo lies splayed on the blood-splattered bed, hovering above ground, reality and reason, six images surround her, tied down with umbilical cords like six lead balloons against a barren sky: the foetus, Dieguito (“Little Diego”), who will never exist; a snail representing the slow horror of losing a baby; an autoclave, a device for sterilizing surgical instruments, the symbol of infertility, “bad luck and pain”; an orchid, a hospital gift from her husband Diego Rivera – a strange mix of sex and sentimentality; the pelvis and uterus, two anatomical signs of her broken body.

On 4 July 1932, Frida’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital. With this loss came the painful realisation that she would never physically be able to carry a baby to term. It was a reality she had already mythologised seven years earlier. On 17 September 1925 Frida and her boyfriend got onto a school bus. Minutes later it was hit by a tram. In addition to suffering a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs and a broken pelvis, a metal handrail pierced her abdomen, exiting through her vagina, permanently damaging her reproductive capacity. While in recovery, Frida was forced to face her reality: she may never be able to walk again, let alone have children. She responded by creating a birth certificate for an imaginary son she called “Leonardo”. It was at this moment of reality-versus-imagination that Frida Kahlo began painting seriously for the first time.

To understand Frida is to understand her pain. That doesn’t make her a victim, or her suffering a perversion. Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera once talked about Frida’s art as “paintings that exalted the feminine qualities of endurance and truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering.” He would go on to conclude: “Never before has a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas.”

Whether Frida would have ever identified herself as a feminist remains punctuated with a question mark. For many today, her traumatic life and powerful works communicate a strong feminist message which dream weaves the reality they experience in their own lives. In fact, without the feminist art movement of the 1970s and 1980s, Frida Kahlo’s work would have remained an obscure footnote to husband Diego Rivera’s own artistic career. Second wave feminism in America brought Frida to a mass audience and she has captivated us ever since. Her stark presentation of the harsh lives women face has retrospectively made her a striking feminist at a time when a woman’s reality was hardly ever talked about or discussed. Her battle with miscarriage and infertility tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today.

According to her own count, Frida Kahlo would suffer two more miscarriages. Her art reflects a lifelong fascination with procreation, birth and the female body. Lithograph Frida and the Miscarriage is a stark example: Frida’s one dimensional body is divided into light and shade, two tears fall either side of her face as the tears of blood haemorrhage down her darkened leg. A male foetus is attached to her via an umbilical cord as her third arm holds an artist’s palette: artistic productivity her solace in the absence of children. It isn’t easy to look at but, in the words of her husband Diego, it is agony and poetry.

“My painting carries with it the message of pain,” Frida Kahlo once explained. In each and every canvas Frida painted, there is both the message of pain yet also survival. Paintings such as Survivor (1938), Roots (1943) and The Broken Column (1944) communicate strength, even at the point of physical breakdown and despair. It is also worth noting that her paintings display the true reproductive anatomy of women, a shocking and controversial undertaking in the early 20th century. In 1932 painting My Birth Frida gives birth to herself depicting the moment of childbirth in all its glory. My Birth succeeds in blending both imagination and reality, communicating a woman’s inner and external truth. For every person who struggles to look at Frida’s outstretched legs, its power and relevance is affirmed. Her reality is no longer hidden.

In the last year of her life, Frida told a friend: “Painting completed my life. I lost three children…Paintings substituted for all of this.” 60 years later, her work still endures.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor at Feminist Times and a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

Photo: Chris Weige

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

A Womb With a View: After birth – what I’ve learned…

IMG_6788So, here he is. Or, should I say, here we are.

Meet my five-week-old little boy, Evan, and his heavy-lidded, rocket-boobed, topsy-turvy mother. I’m someone changed quite a lot by the last month and a bit. I’m writing this with my thumb on my phone at 4.07am while feeding for starters (EDIT – I’ll be writing the rest of this column in 10-minute bursts in the next week-and-a-half when the baby’s gurgling at his cot’s mobile while farting/sleeping in his pram, which I’ve gingerly inched in from outside as he only conks out in the open air/cooing in the sling with his dad, at a time when I should really be catching up on sleep, blah blah blah).

I’m also someone who remains, despite everything, the same person.

The birth? Not conventional. Then again, whose is? I had an emergency caesarean section after 3 days of failed induction, at nearly 2 weeks over due date, and after countless alternative therapy sessions (yep, even this sceptic tried everything – and isn’t having your feet fiddled with for £60 divine). Pessaries and drips were applied, Mister still wasn’t shifting, his mum wasn’t dilating, and his heart-rate started levelling out.

And so the necessary was done. At 10.06am on Monday 28th April, in a bright operating theatre, my son made his entrance into the world. He was 9lb 4, 57cm long, with brown hair and a chubby belly. And yes, I’m lucky that I love him so very, very much.

Here’s some other things I learned about having a baby:

* Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels. First-time mums do very little that other people do, but they do keep another tiny person alive, with no specialist training or experience, one-handed, on no sleep, in mismatched leisurewear with a stray, leaky tit.

* Yes, yes – I know I’ve barely started, and I’m proving that happy mums whinge a lot. We got ourselves in this position etc, etc. But as a person largely responsible for fulfilling the needs of another breathing human, while you’re in recovery from 24 hours+ of agonising pain/major abdominal surgery/a torn perineum, while everyone else tells you this is all normal, surely you’re allowed a grumble. You disagree? Then bugger off.

* Newborns rarely sleep for more than three hours at a time, if that. I missed this fact in the endless reams of baby literature I read beforehand. Mine is pretty good at kip (EDIT – I lie – the last two nights have been like living with the creature off Eraserhead – EDIT – he’s changed again, he was an angel last night ­- EDIT – this only proves the inconsistency of babies). Anyway, their short sleeping cycles should remind mothers of three little words. Take. Things. Easy.

* A diversion for my brief Caesarean Section. The idea of being too posh to push – ie that caesareans are the easy option – is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Before mine, I hadn’t realised how big an operation a c-section was; five weeks on, the seven-inch smile on my abdomen and the residual aches and pains reminds me I’m still recovering. If you have one, don’t panic – I am still in awe of them, genuinely, as a baby with an impacted head got pulled out of that tiny slit, somehow – but you need to remember how big these ops were after the fact. So: accept help from all sides. Buy a load of high-waisted, non-sexy granny knickers (thank you, John Lewis). Live in yoga trousers bought hurriedly online that make you look like you eat quinoa for breakfast. Take your bloody painkillers. Slob in front of DVDs you love when you’re feeding to cheer yourself up. Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to be Superwoman.

* Don’t accept too many visitors. Or be prepared to tell people to sod off. You will probably be knackered and crave your own time more than ever before (then again, do see friends if it’ll make you feel a bit better, and if family are bringing warm arms to help you with the baby, then accept them).

* Our generation give ourselves a lot more shit about parenting than our mums and dads did. They only had people around them to ask, and most of us turned out OK. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

* The internet is unhelpful. Type any question about your baby’s health into Google, and the responses you’ll get will largely be from “normal mums”. Normal mums who a) you don’t know, b) might be mad, c) might be smug, d) keep telling you to “trust in the Lord’s work”, e) keep telling you to “trust in nature”. If I’d trusted in nature, as many women have to in countries less developed than ours, my baby and I might not have been here now.

* The internet is amazing. During endless night feeds, you can play Word Scramble, read the news, nose at people’s normal lives on Facebook, receive advice from countless wonderful people about your baby through Facebook, and text your mum-pals on Whatsapp. Which last point brings me to the the biggest tip of all…

* Meeting people having kids the same time as you, through antenatal classes or activities, or post-natal support groups, is essential. Knowing you’re not the only mad harpy worrying about every burp, sick or poo will change your life.

* The mental health of new mothers is a huge priority for healthcare professionals, as it should be, but normal anxieties get pathologised too much. Worried you might break your baby? Or drop it down the stairs? Every mum I’ve spoken to thought that too, so these worries aren’t necessarily a sign of incoming depression. Other medical issues get less attention, however, like babies that have tongue-tie (this is when babies’ tongues need a snip to help them feed properly). I know four recent babies who had this condition, and their mothers had to fight hard to find out if their children needed help. Without help, babies struggle to gain weight, spend hours at the breast, making their mothers, ironically, more and more distressed. All these women need is someone trained to have a very quick look at their little ones. So listen up, NHS.

* Becoming a mum soon? You will be endlessly grateful for having cooked and frozen meals before the big event. If you like being at the hob, as I do, this is what maternity leave is for (I also enjoyed solo cinema trips, afternoon dozes, and forages for weird old documentaries on the iPlayer – do use your maternity leave to do gentle things you enjoy). If you haven’t cooked and frozen food before baby comes, tell friends not to bring presents round, but something that can be shoved into a pot, or the oven in one dish, and eaten out of a bowl with one hand.

* A tea towel placed over a baby’s head helps you eat out of a bowl with one hand.

* Long, patterned, diaphanous scarves are essential pieces of kit for any new mum (not plain colours, ladies – these will show up dribble, or worse). Scarves help you feed discreetly when you need to, or hang over your pram, especially when the sun suddenly deigns to blaze out on a previously grey day (thanks for that, British spring).

* “Nature is amazing, science is awesome”. My friend Ellie, who gave me advice about what to do about the in-hospital Bounty reps in my previous column, said this to me in a text while I was still in recovery. It’s still the best sentence ever. For instance, when I was sad about Evan not having arrived in the usual way, and my body not having done what it “should” have done, I realised that every time he fed – which was, and is, often – I felt my stomach cramp, and this was helping me heal. Breastfeeding helps the womb contract, and reduce to its old size; now, five weeks on, I look pretty much as I did before I was pregnant. Somehow, our bodies also keep us awake in these difficult weeks, and power us through. But science also has its place, beyond doubt. Take Evan, on antibiotics for a week after he showed signs of infection, who is now absolutely thriving (EDIT – today’s weigh-in – 11 pounds – oof). Things don’t have to be either/or. Let’s use everything we’ve got to keep Mum and baby well.

* If your mum/friends seem to be posting pictures of their babies too often on social media, consider this: that may have been the most constructive thing she felt she did with her day, or the one moment when baby was happy that she wanted to preserve. Facebook pictures are little markers that say, yes, world, I can manage this.

* Midwives are brilliant, undervalued people. One upside of me being in hospital for a week is that I had fantastic midwifery care. I’d go further, in fact: when you’re a new mum, there’s something to be said for having a longer stay in hospital than six tiny hours (the usual time now), and being cared for by people who have been there, and done that. In hospital, I got specialist breastfeeding advice that proved invaluable later, was watched over by a midwife while I slept in bed with my baby (who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, when I’d hardly any sleep for five days), had every question answered about my baby’s qualities and quirks, and felt properly monitored. It’s helped me ever since.

* I’ve also got a new-found respect for the power of women. I’ve had so many of them help me immeasurably since Evan arrived – both professionally and personally – and as a result, I’m enjoying my little boy so very, very much. Here’s to all of you, ladies. And here’s to us. We’re still here!

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers 

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

“I call on those who live in the shadows”

All good stories get told over and over again, and every time they are told they get changed. The Brothers Grimm censored some fairy tales and softened others as they collected them; Angela Carter and Anne Sexton subjected them to radical revision in the name of feminism and a love of the new. More recently, Gregory Maguire‘s novels about Oz and the musical version of his Wicked shifted attention from heroine to villainess, asking interesting questions about how victims of injustice become perpetrators of evil.

Maleficent is an inventive subversion of the story we know from Perrault. More specifically, it revisits the Disney studio’s animated version. The new film’s hapless prince shares the name Philip with the rather more active 1959 character and the credit titles’ music is a sinister seductive version of the cartoon’s theme song, itself an adaptation of the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Primarily, of course, it is a vehicle for Angelina Jolie, whose glittering eyes and high cheekbones make her a remarkable double of one of Disney’s most spectacularly beautiful villainesses.

Critical reactions have varied – everyone agrees that Jolie’s performance is spectacularly good – noticeably, some critics were not paying quite as much attention as they should have done. There are some things that revisionism cannot change – the story is in the end about a woman who places a terrible curse on an innocent child – but this particularly thoughtful version manages to combine a radically subversive rethinking with popular entertainment. (The Peckham cinema where I saw it was full of delighted children.) Maleficent trusts both the material and its audience enough to work really remarkably well.

It posits two kingdoms – a human world which is all iron, blood and male tyranny and an adjacent realm of faerie, the Moors, of innocent playfulness and Rackhamesque cute weirdness. Even as a child, Maleficent is its hawk-winged protector; a sequence in which her parents were played by Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi was cut, partly for length but also because, in the end, this tough fairy needs no parents. It is no stretch of imagination whatever to describe these two kingdoms as Patriarchy and the Queer world.

As children, Maleficent and the boy Stefan become sweethearts. He goes away and his ambitions make him a lieutenant to the evil King – played by Kenneth Cranham – whose invasion of the Moors Maleficent defeats with giants and dragons made of tree roots. Promised the succession if he succeeds in removing her power, Stefan returns to the Moors, renews his pledge of true love’s kiss to Maleficent, drugs her and severs her wings, leaving her a cripple who has to learn to walk using a staff that becomes the new centre of her power. Not only is this a fairly obvious rape metaphor; it’s more interestingly a way of talking about how we adapt to trauma. She cuts the Moors off from the human world he now rules, with her wall of thorns, and swears vengeance.

The standard good fairies are replaced by a trio of slightly idiotic pixies who think the antagonism between Stefan’s realm and their own can be smoothed over with a few presents; Maleficent’s arrival at the christening and curse that the child will prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday and fall asleep forever is as much a rebuke to their stupidity as revenge. One of the most intelligent features of the writing at this point is the proper respect paid to the idea that words are magic – it’s not just that Maleficent’s sarcastic use of ‘true love’s kiss’ as the thing that will wake Aurora. It is that she reinforces the blessing that all will love her, and hardens the curse by saying that no power can break it.

The neglectful dimness of the pixies – to whom Stefan hands the child – means that Maleficent spends Aurora’s childhood protecting her from walking off cliffs and starving to death. Her constant bitch-faced iteration of how much she hates Stefan’s child by another woman is entirely contradicted by her actions – and of course she has trapped herself; all will love Aurora, includes Maleficent.

When they meet and talk, Aurora tells Maleficent that she recognizes her shadow as the fairy godmother who has always protected her – and she is not wrong. Maleficent comes to want desperately to protect Aurora but the terms of her curse, which no power can break, make it impossible for her to do so. Aurora duly pricks herself on a spindle and falls asleep.

Maleficent fights her way into the castle to deliver the charmingly useless Philip, whose kiss – he hardly knows Aurora – is entirely ineffectual; true love turns out to be Maleficent’s maternal devotion – she promises to protect Aurora in her sleep and pecks her on the forehead. This is the kiss that wakens the sleeping beauty. Stefan is far more interested in destroying Maleficent than saving his daughter; he neglected his dying wife to monologue Macbeth-like at the severed wings. He springs his iron traps – and Aurora saves her adopted mother by retrieving her wings. Stefan falls to his death trying to kill Maleficent even after she has defeated him – Maleficent hands both kingdoms over to Aurora, and both realms come out of the darkness of conflict into a sort of innocence…

To say that what is on offer is a queer feminist reading of the story is not to regard Maleficent’s love for Aurora as specifically sexual; it’s not grooming and there is no sign of desire. What we have though is two women who form a mutually self-sacrificing bond that lets them escape from a traumatic past and smash the patriarchy; if that’s not a queer feminist reading, I don’t know what is, irrespective of Aurora’s future relationship with the ineffectual Philip.

I guarantee that before the month is out, some right-wing American pundit will be even more upset by this Disney film than they were by the far less challenging Frozen. Maleficent is far from perfect – Sharlto Copley is far too hammy as Stefan, and Elle Fanning’s Aurora manages charm with almost no good lines – but it looks gorgeous and manages to be a good deal smarter than most Disney products.

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready

We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.

Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.

Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.

This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.

This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.

These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)

A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.

Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.

The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.

So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.

No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.

But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a Change.org petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.

“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.

This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.

After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.

Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.

We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.

Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page www.bounty.com and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.

At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at telluswhatyouthink@bounty.com.”

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

“You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?”

Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz explains her “Life Once Removed” project, after it went viral online.

What would drive you to pack a family of mannequins into your station wagon, and take them on a road trip? Enough pressure to conform will send anyone packing. Conform to what? Well, it was getting late. Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger. People said, “You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?” No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it.

THE HAPPIEST DAY - 650px-wmk

Even my mother must have thought she was setting me straight when she said, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.”

I snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, I found a way. I bought a beautiful family… of mannequins. I decided to start a photo project out of the Kodak Moments I’d capture with my new Store-Bought Family.

At Home - DISHES - 650px-wmk

My own home was the backdrop for the first images. Over the next decade, scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards. However, the project took a turn after taking them on a road trip. I saw the potential in shooting in public. Seeing me work with the mannequins is such a peculiar and funny thing to witness, that people are immediately disarmed. As soon as that happens, their mind is open and impressionable. Using humor, paired with shock, allows my message to penetrate, and the work can have greater impact. The aim is to get people to reconsider their stubborn allegiance to traditional life expectations.

Holiday - FEAST - 650px-wmk

Ozzie & Harriet are dead. So why is this antiquated idea still affecting our image of marriage? It is the reason why this series is named “Life Once Removed.” A family relation, a generation apart, is “once removed.” So is our relationship with our path in life. It’s passed on by the previous generation, once removed from our own. Why do we cling to past tradition as the measure of success in the present? 

Christmas00 - THE TREE - 650px-wmk

This is a weird time in Women’s History. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch that I was born when I was. I have more choices and opportunities than any generation of women before me, but our roles have never been more complicated by deeply ingrained mixed messages, from both previous and present generations. The term “perfect” is no longer used to describe what we’re all striving to be. Now it is called, “fulfilled.” But for women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things: Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are.

Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.


I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about women in regards to marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was. I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like. I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.

Paris - 9 - NOTRE DAME - LAP OF LOVE - 650px-wmk

Suzanne Heintz is a Conceptual Photographer, based in Denver, Colorado in the USA. Find out more and view the full “Life Once Removed” series at: www.suzanneheintz.com

Feminist Times is 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

Charlotte Raven

Again! Again!

My conviction that I am a bad mother has cast a pall on Mother’s Days past. When I’m depressed, motherhood feels like an ironing pile that never goes down. I will be wiping bums, pairing up socks, adjudicating disputes, sweeping floors, scolding without end. Wracked with guilt, I want Mother’s Day to pass unremarked sans daffodils, sans nice-lie-in. It’s not the normal working mother’s guilt but something more subtle which sadly wouldn’t be solved by putting in more hours at the parental coal face. It’s not what I do, but who I am.

When a good friend was agonizing about whether to have children, I invited her round to discuss the pros and cons. My husband was away at the time and I was in sole charge. The cons were immediately apparent: the mess, fuss and constant clamour of competing demands. I knew she’d miss the freedom to create storylines and choose the dramatis personae in her life from an international cast of characters. She looked terrified and I hadn’t even mentioned the guilt! The cons list was as long as your arm. But were there any compensations? I said running jokes, because they are easier to communicate to a third party than unconditional love.

My kids love repetition more than me. “Again,” they say.  “Again.” Not again, I think. I try to distract them with a debate about the dumbing down of children’s fiction.

“In my opinion, Thomas and Friends was a wasted opportunity. The modernisation could have given birth to something whacky and off the wall like The Magic Roundabout. Amazingly, Thomas and Friends is more banal and no less offensive than the original. Over to you John. Where do you stand on this issue?”

“Mum, stop talking, read it again.”

Thank goodness for running jokes; the one repetitive bit of family life we can all get behind.

Every night, John asks: “have I got the ring of confidence, mum?” when he’s finished cleaning his teeth. A few weeks earlier I had commended his brushing and declared: “you have the ring of confidence,” when he bared his teeth. “What’s the ring of confidence mum?”

“It comes from a toothpaste ad from my olden days. The ring of confidence will make you feel a million dollars, even when you’re wearing your holey jeans.”

“Like you can climb Mount Everest?”


“In real life?”


John hates tidying up but loves polishing our taps until they gleam. “Mum, this tap has the ring of confidence.”

Running jokes can be redemptive as well as reassuring. Some of my personal favourites deploy black humour to alchemise angst and redeem family life from my depressive tendencies. When I was depressed ‘doom’ became a verb. My family maintained that I was more dooming than doomed. I thought it was the other way round. I was forced to exist in a house of doom, drive a car of doom and navigate biblical rainstorms every time I left the house.

In our family running jokes, rather than photographs, reveal us as we really are. I look terrible in pictures and feel more at home in one of the comic set ups I’ve had a hand in creating. I wouldn’t say this was in my DNA; it was nurture rather than nature that led me to understand the importance of catchphrases and comic tropes in rescuing family life from the quotidian.

I can’t picture the inside of my childhood home, but I do remember my dads catchphrases: “hit the switch titch”, “put it there pal” and the secret rabbit face my mother wasn’t allowed to see.

My dad liked running jokes because they allowed him to maintain his mystique. He never anecdotalised or reminisced.

Like fine wines, his running jokes get better with age . For forty years, he said “plagiarist” every time Germaine Greer came up in conversation. He repeatedly claimed that he could write a better Bob Dylan song than Bob Dylan and repeatedly assured us that he was within a whisker of finishing his poetic opus The Last Great Whale.

As long as families are full of people repeating themselves, there will be running jokes.  You can’t escape them, even if you want to; we are captive audiences!

My grandmother used to say: “I’ve got a lot of secrets, I will take them to my grave,” every Friday night after four huge glasses of Pinot.

Running jokes are sometimes in the eye of the beholder. My brother and I thought this was hilarious, but it irritated my mother. One evening, we found out why: “If you mean I’m not Mick’s daughter I already know.”

I don’t have any secrets I’m planning to take to the grave; my kids know that I’ve suffered from depression for years, and have found that running jokes and other rituals often cheer me up.

This Mother’s Day is the first one in living memory where I haven’t been depressed. Ironically, I am now in the early stages of Huntington’s Disease. I’m constantly breaking things and bashing myself. Yesterday I bashed the top of my head on a sharp edge of the bathroom cabinet door. “Shit”, I always say, and sometimes “fuck”.

“You must have your Mother’s Day present early,” John said. I got a beautiful installation of found objects on my bedside table and four letters full of kind words in blue envelopes. At least I think they were full of kind words – John favours highlighter pens over pencils or biros, so I asked.

Modern children are meant to be self-absorbed and unempathic. Mine are more accepting and tolerant than most of the adults I know. Now that we both have children, my friend and I agree that this capacity for forgiveness is one of the biggest surprises of motherhood. I thought John and Anna would retreat somewhere hard to reach and would mistrust me after all those years of dooming. Their forgiveness means I will have the ring of confidence this Mother’s Day.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

A Womb With A View: Antenatal depression

Read the first in Jude Roger’s series, A Womb With a View: The Anti-Medicine Brigade.

Thirty-five weeks in, I am enjoying lots of things about pregnancy. Watching my stomach doing a John Hurt in Alien. Getting seats on trains (when people aren’t cocooned in their technological bubbles, anyway). Waddling. Napping. And my favourite: not holding my belly in.

But then there are the other things, of course: the niggles, the concerns. The guilt about what food and drink you can eat. The worries about whether baby is moving enough. Random pains. Itchy skin. Recently, I’ve been physically monitored to check some of these out (and I’m fine, all is well), but I’ve been surprised how rarely their psychological repercussions are acknowledged by health professionals.

The thing is, everyone knows about post-natal depression. It’s a regular headline on women’s magazine covers and something addressed, very rightly, in many birth preparation courses. Antenatal depression, however, is a fairly unknown term. Perhaps, once again, it’s because pregnancy is meant to be a blooming, beautiful time, when an ordinary woman becomes a walking, talking miracle. For many of those people, pregnancy is not the easiest draw, though. The pregnancy may have been unexpected or unwanted. It might bring up difficult emotions from the past. It might feel uncontrollable.

According to pre- and post-natal charity PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support), one in ten women will experience antenatal depression. In the UK, it’s meant to be on the health agenda too. In 2007, NICE [the National Institute for Clinical Excellence] published guidance to help women at risk from the condition, and encouraged healthcare professionals to ask women at risk of it three simple questions: if they had felt down or hopeless, found it hard to find pleasure in doing things, and whether they wanted help with these feelings. Even if these women didn’t have specific mental illnesses, NICE advice continued, they should be encouraged to get support from professionals or voluntary organisations.

From my experiences, and those of others I’ve talked to, this isn’t always the case. At 19 weeks, I texted one of my healthcare contacts in desperation, worrying madly about having felt the baby move a few weeks previously, but not since. I felt bleak and couldn’t stop crying, I said. She replied to say sometimes movement changes happen, but didn’t address my state of mind.

At my next appointment, she had forgotten our exchange entirely. Ah, everyone gets anxious, she said, when I reminded her. Worry is normal. Which is all correct, of course, but that wasn’t the point.

A lot of anxiety in pregnancy is put down to hormones – and yep, there’s a lot of them, swirling and rollercoastering around. But bring up slight concerns about your state of mind and most health professionals plump for the “don’t worry, dear” response. A friend of a friend of mine who felt very low during her pregnancy was asked if she wanted to be monitored on machines more often for reassurance. She was never offered what she really wanted: services to help her emotionally.

In October 2012, Netmums, in association with the Royal College of Midwives, published more research about antenatal depression. Their findings reinforced a causal link between antenatal and postnatal conditions. Press headlines at the time had a specific focus, as a result: ITV’s typical example was “Report reveals antenatal depression affects relationship with baby.”

There’s something missing from that headline, of course – the mother herself, and her initial experiences. Once again, the individual growing a new life inside her doesn’t have her own taken seriously. This makes me wonder, dispiritingly, if post-natal depression is given more time because there are two people involved by that point. Still, in so much rhetoric and care, the woman alone, the mere vessel, doesn’t matter as much.

What this comes down to is how psychological illness is treated in healthcare, of course. This requires resources and money, but more importantly the communication of guidelines to all staff working within the system – something that should make the treatment of these issues frustratingly simple. After all, sometimes all that pregnant women want is a listening ear, and a mouth that responds. They want the opportunity to tell someone, “this is how I feel when I wake up in the morning… this is how unmanageable things feel when I think that’s something’s wrong”, and then be given some leaflets, or website addresses, rather than flail around in the dark.

Only then can pregnant women start getting on with the business of enjoying their strange, pregnant lives – something we can only do if we can feel happy with ourselves.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her @juderogers

For more useful information on antenatal depression, go to:

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

A Womb With A View: The anti-medicine brigade

Blissful, perfect, glorious pregnancy. A woman who is pregnant by choice, rather than chance, floats along like a princess on a cloud. Her child is the centre of everything, the reason for her existence. She is a happy, gracious vessel to the angel growing inside her.

That’s not the Daily Mail approach to childbearing, but the prevailing attitude to modern motherhood – or so it seems to me, experiencing it long-term for the first time. This is my second pregnancy after an early miscarriage a year ago and, 30 weeks in, I can reliably say it’s a messy whirlwind of emotions. There’s excitement and happiness, yes, but also terror and fear, and the people who exacerbate the latter, more than anyone else, are the ones who say they’re there to make it all better – the anti-medicine brigade.

To illustrate this, I’ll begin my first column with a personal, Dickensian story. This Christmas I got ill. A sniffle became a head cold, then a great, gurgly swamp in my chest. Every time I breathed I sounded like a human accordion, but with extra crackle and rattle at the end of each chord.

It being Christmas, and surgeries and chemists being shut, I scurried online for advice from various pregnancy forums. Most of it followed a theme: don’t take any drugs. Try steam inhalation. Concoct a hot drink from lemon, chilli and ginger. I did both, but still sounded like a French cafe busker every time I exhaled. Out of desperation one night, I doused a pillow with Olbas Oil, then looked online the next morning and dissolved into a wreck. Anything could harm your baby, went the chorus. Mum must suffer instead.

I ended up at an NHS walk-in clinic after my third night propped up on three pillows to open up my chest, my third night weeping in bed because I could barely draw breath. A week later, after a course of amoxycillin to treat my chest infection, I was right as rain… but judgement day arrived a few days after that. I made the mistake of telling my yoga teacher that I had been ill (yep, I’m not that un-alternative – my back’s always been dodgy and I’ll try anything to make it not hurt). “How did you treat yourself?” she asked. “Antibiotics,” I replied. Her facial expression suggested I’d said I’d been mainlining heroin.

“What about steam?” she railed. “Oils?” I wasn’t allowed an answer. My teacher moved on to another woman instead, who was anaemic and praised for treating her iron deficiency not through drugs but through diet (my iron’s low too, and you know what – I do both). The night continued from there. I carried on trying to make my dodgy back better while sneers wafted around me – not the most relaxing night ever for someone wanting to make her pregnancy better.

And that’s the rub. This isn’t just a rant about my yoga teacher and her irritation at me being desperate to, you know, simply breathe… but about the anti-medicine brigade and the effects they really have on other pregnant women. You’ll find them in newspapers, on chatboards, in antenatal classes, and constantly in your head. To me, the brigade seem more interested in policing women’s behaviour than improving their situations. Hey, don’t do that. Or do this. Your own needs? Forget them. Call me glib, but isn’t this basically the rhetoric of the right-wing press? Aren’t you, the woman carrying this baby, the one giving them life? As a consequence, shouldn’t you be allowed to exist as comfortably as possible?

I understand why some people don’t want to rely too heavily on conventional medicine, of course. Antibiotics shouldn’t be dished out for every little cold. Big pharmaceutical companies aren’t the greatest businesses on earth. The psychological legacy of the thalidomide has lingered long in our collective consciousness too – but that was half a century ago, and regulation has tightened and hardened like hell. Back then our mothers didn’t worry about every single sip of alcohol and pill they took, but we must. Is this progress?

These days, pregnant women are encouraged to deny decades of regulated, monitored science and behave like martyrs. I ask again: how exactly is it progress for women to deny progress? Because, you know, doctors are bad, girls. And we understand our own bodies, after all. But here’s the biggest thing I’ve discovered about pregnancy: we really, really don’t. Pregnancy is one long trek into the unknown. And the scariest thing about it, I’ve found, is the lack of control that you have – something I’ve experienced first-hand having gone through a miscarriage. Last time round, I ate healthily, rested and didn’t take drugs… in short, I did everything ‘right’, and still it went wrong. This time round, I’ve taken medicine that’s long been approved not to cause harm during pregnancy. It allowed me to breathe, rest and simply be – and surely that’s good for both me and my baby.

After all, before the progress of medicine changed the wellbeing of Western women forever, women ailed, women struggled, women died. This woman wants to be relieved, wants to prosper, wants to live life to the fullest – for both her precious baby, and for herself.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

Young mums are Stratford’s biggest Olympic losers

Wherever there’s an Olympics happening, BBC’s Panorama send in their top corruption-uncoverer John Sweeney. Just last week Sochi was “Sweenied” when he reported the Russian Games was considered by some to be the most corrupt ever. Six years ago he did something very similar in China. However in 2012 there was a distinct lack of Sweeney in Stratford, East London. Two years later, there is a group of young mums in a hostel in E15 who might just want John to take a little look around, because their reality of the London Olympic legacy, and so-called regeneration, is social cleansing.

It’s so easy to level corruption charges at our former Cold War enemies with their human rights violations, low levels of democracy and the disappearance and imprisonment of dissidents. After all, while the Olympic Park’s nearby Tower Hamlet’s council is a staple of Private Eye‘s ‘Rotten Boroughs‘, I think I’d get away with performing a Punk Prayer in St John’s on Stratford High Street without too much impact on my freedom.

It’s so much harder to look in the mirror and see where our own games could have been more transparent – less generous to big billion pound business and kinder to the people who just happened to be born in Stratford, like the gorgeous little babies of the mums in Focus E15 Mothers. There’s no better way to explain their situation than letting the women speak for themselves.

Focus E15 Mothers’ statement:
We are a mix of mothers and mothers-to-be who have lived in the E15 hostel from a few months to 3 years. Having been told this would only be temporary accommodation, we are no closer to finding permanent housing and now Newham council has stopped funding the mothers and baby unit and those of us who have been in the hostel for over six months have been served with a possession order with a date of 20 October.

We have been told we will not be offered council housing but that we will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside of London in places like Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester. If we refuse this offer, we will be classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless and face temporary accommodation with little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council. Also if we chose to rent privately we are not entitled to get sufficient help with deposits which we cannot afford ourselves.

We want secure and suitable housing for mothers in east London!

Every Saturday they take to the streets of Stratford in what they describe as ‘meetings’. They hang up banners with slogans that say “Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism”, “Caution, Social Cleansing in Progress” and “Don’t Make Our Babies Homeless”. On Facebook they share photos of ex-council housing in their area boarded up; ““no housing” my foot” says a commenter underneath the photo of a huge tower block.

And is that not the very essence of uncovering corruption? Being told one thing by the powers that be and then seeing evidence that proves it’s a lie. Being told there’s no housing while the Olympic village lays empty, no lights on. Being told there’s no council housing while estates are gradually boarded up and packaged up for redevelopment. Property prices rising high because Waitrose and John Lewis followed the IOC into town, all the while being told it will be easier to just go to Hastings, and if you don’t you’re purposefully making yourself homeless – that you, the single mum and your baby, deserve to be on the street.

I didn’t go to the Olympics when it came to London. I left and went to Camp Bestival instead, which has more of the sporting activities I excel at. Even hundreds of miles away in a Dorset valley, I and the thousands with me were moved by the Danny Boyle spectacular that was projected from the festival stage. The opening ceremony’s most touching part, the part that made me cry, was the Mary Poppins-style tribute to Great Ormond St Hospital and the NHS, with dancing nurses looking after children who were jumping on flying beds.

Reality is no magical fairy tale; there’s no super nannies blowing in on the wind to comfort the anxious mums of Focus E15 Mothers. They are the casualties of our Olympics and while Panorama waxes on about Sochi we must remember that our own backyard is not squeeky clean. The legacy of a transparent, caring Olympics should always be that local people will benefit, that their home town will be improved for them and their children to enjoy, but in Stratford those children are no longer welcome.

Photo: Lorraine Murphy

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

Farage, it’s the system that needs changing – not biology

Earlier this month Nigel Farage memorably opined that women were “worth less” than men and do not face discrimination in the City. His comments joined the list of provocative UKIP statements which only the ‘daring’ purple and yellow party are willing to make and which are greeted as ‘refreshingly honest’ by a depressingly large number of people. They shed light on an entrenched attitude which is in fact insulting to both women with and women without children, as well as both mothers who work and those who don’t.

When Women’s Libbers demanded free, community-controlled (and 24 hour) childcare as one of their original seven demands in the 1970s they didn’t differentiate between work in the home and work outside of the home; they wanted the right to access to both. In the forty years between then and now the role of mothering has been diminished (as well as strangely fetishized) along with other caring roles; the cost of living has risen making two incomes almost essential for every family; market forces have been unleashed on childcare making it a low-skill, low-wage job; and state support for dual earner families, both fiscal and linguistic (“hardworking families”) far outweighs support for single earner households. This can’t have been what Second Wave women had in mind.

What Farage said in his speech was that women were not paid less because of discrimination by firms in the financial sector but instead because of the “lifestyle choice” some made by having a baby. He said that he does not believe that there is “any discrimination against women at all” in the City because women who are prepared to remain childless do “as well or better than men”. Not only is this inaccurate (figures released in August indicated a widening gender gap on bonus payments: in 2012, male managers received an average bonus of £6,442 compared with £3,029 for women, according to the Chartered Management Institute) but it is also the kind of lazy thinking shared by a huge number of people who think feminism has done its job because, on paper at least, women have equality. I’m inclined to believe that a society that thinks women should feel grateful to have achieved gender equality, on the proviso that we don’t procreate, is not one which is really listening to women and what they want.

This kind of ‘Choice Feminism’ is limited and limiting because it means that women are expected to suck up the consequences of the choices that they make on the basis that they made those choices ‘freely’. This is disingenuous when so many intersecting issues of gender, age, race and class dictate which choices are available to us and what the consequences of making them are. Once again, women are presented with a smorgasbord of ‘choice’ which has been carefully laid out by the patriarchy, and told to help themselves, but to keep quiet about any consequences they’re not satisfied with.

Changing the underlying structures which put women at a disadvantage when they take time out for their family is one of the tasks for 21st century feminism. Networking forum Citymothers’ survey revealed last year that only 12.5% of women in the City said their employer had taken a proactive role in supporting their maternity transition. Although 77% of respondents had a flexible working arrangement in place, 45% of these felt their path to career progress would be slower as a result, whilst 32% felt it would be unachievable as long as this arrangement was in place. Rather than smashing the glass ceiling only whilst simultaneously crossing our legs and forgoing motherhood, Citymothers say we need to normalise flexible working for women and men, change management perceptions that it is less productive than full time work, and eradicate a culture of presenteeism.

We also need to give proper respect to the work of mothering and recognise that it doesn’t result in complete atrophy of a woman’s brain. Beyond humorous posters which advertise motherhood as a ‘24/7 job with no holiday or pay, requiring the diplomatic skills of Ban Ki Moon’, there needs to be proper recognition that time taken out from employment does not represent a gaping hole which has to be justified or excused, particularly now many of us don’t anticipate retiring until we’re aged 70+; that women are as employable, if not more so, after time spent raising a family as they were before. Similarly, as well as asking women questions about whether the cost of childcare is a barrier to going back to work, we need to remember to also ask them if the high cost of living is a barrier to staying at home when their children are young. The results might be surprising.

Nigel Farage may quip that he “can’t change biology” and carry on swilling his pint while enjoying the workings of a system which favours men, but I say: “No, Nige, but we can change the system.”

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or donate a one off amount…

flattr this!

What is Feminism? banner

Rebecca O’Connor: Feminism is…

Name: Rebecca O’Connor

Age: 47

Location: Maidenhead

Bio: Full-time manager at Channel 4. Two teenage children. Husband at home.

Sharing the stress and responsibility of bringing up children 50:50 with their father – all else follows from that.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


flattr this!

Off with her problem bits! iTunes release plastic surgery app for kids

Editors note: Since Feminist Times published this article the app has become unavailable on iTunes in the UK, US and Canada. We downloaded the app at the time of publishing to check it was not a spoof and within 60mins of the article being published the app was no longer available.

We are through the looking glass.

The other side of the looking glass is a world where plastic surgery apps – what are effectively just cartoon games – are marketed at children as young as 9. In this wonderland, Alice would have been drawing lines all over her body, begging the Queen of Hearts’ men: “not my head please, just my belly”.

Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie Version by Corina Rodriguez is an app/game for iPad and iPhone that is rated as 9+, which means it’s unsuitable for children under nine, and by the power of logic therefore suitable for people over nine. It contains, according to iTunes: “mild or infrequent instances of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence”.

This is an app where the user/player – remember who could be as young as 9 – cuts up a girl’s body to make her more “slim and beautiful”. The game’s online sales blurb goes as follows:

“This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We’ll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her, doctor?”

We’ve contacted both iTunes and Barbie, having been unable to even find so much as a website for Corina Rodriguez, the supposed developer of the app; we have received no response so far. We wanted to know if Barbie had given permission for their trademark to be used in this app and, if so, why?

We also believe iTunes and Apple should make it clear what checks they have in place to make sure they are protecting women and girls from harm and why, in Susie Orbach’s words on Twitter earlier today: “Apple mines girls bodies for profit by selling cosmetic surgery apps.” Susie continues: “Let’s coordinate protest.”

Looking at Rodriguez’s repertoire, this developer already has form with another app named Leg & Foot Surgery & Doctor & Hospital Office for Barbie Version, though in this one Barbie got hit by a car and needs appropriate surgery. Maybe this is a more altruistic app, for 9-year-olds who want to be a surgeon when they grow up, but the imagery is just as grim with an open wound and scalpel dug into Barbie’s leg.

Unlike the current advert for Innocent smoothies, which illustrates a “Chain of Good”, apps like this – readily available to any child searching iTunes for the word “Barbie” – can create a long, uncontainable Chain of Bad.

The app teaches young girls that happiness and beauty comes from cutting “problem” parts of yourself away, actually becoming the surgeon themselves as easily as pressing “download” on a touchscreen – the game being free at point of download. Meanwhile, the faceless developer appears to be totally unaccountable for the messages and images that start that chain.

Surgery used to be extraordinary and as advertisers in women’s magazines try to normalise it for us adults, with their interest-free loans and payment plans, an even more insidious message is being trickled into the childhoods of those kids around us. We thought we had it bad when we were kids? The kids nowadays are being told even Barbie needs fixing. I can’t help but think I had it much easier; in my childhood imagination I only had to fight off that Queen of Hearts and her wayward axe.

We’ll let you know what happens when Apple and Barbie get back to us.

Photo: Twitter

flattr this!

New Year Message from a Crone: Woman’s Inner Time

I’m calling on Dames, Matrons, Crones and Hags, Witches and Medicine Women – “Granny” can be rather patronising and too comfortable – to set up a network of ‘WIT Eldership’ collectives, supported by trusted and respected people of other age groups and genders.

Eldership is a source of strength, especially in old women who acknowledge our species is self-destructing (destroying many other species along the way) and who recognise that true teaching is a receptive process; knowing what the Earth needs requires solitude and quietness.

I often feel lonely and irrelevent, and in the great tradition of older people, feel concerned that the younger generation is losing its way. From the perspective of age we can see what’s important. It’s our role to steer us all back onto the path of intuition and deep listening.

Yesterday at Oxford Antiques Market I got talking with a Moroccan who sells old stuff that appeals because of its mystery. He has no idea where it comes from, we know nothing of its history. I picked up two horses that were skillfully made with leather; I could feel the way the person who made these objects loved and respected animals. This knowledge came from a sense that is beyond words.

Both of us have been watching our grandchildren using their iPads and computer games, and realise they appear to be disconnected from their heritage. They feel masterful in their own worlds, but are they able to reach out to each other and communicate complex & subtle emotions? In a time of urgent and evolving crisis for our beloved Earth, these skills will be paramount.

Young people need to be listened to. I want us to move beyond patriarchal authoritarian concepts of ‘the expert’ to a deeper place where people search within themselves for their own innate skills and capacities, which the alienating forms of exam-based education tends to squash. All human beings have amazing capacities, which older people can draw out with patience and insight.

It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb with African Roots

How do we construct that “village” in our world of super speedy communication? How do we find communion between different ages and levels of society? I request that we invest in old women who feel ‘called’ and have been moved by the sixties/seventies liberation struggles, by that age of interactive self-exploration.

I’m an old hippy and I’m remembering how earlier in my life I was so full of hope, as so many of us were. Aware we had work to do and willing to pledge and honour that sense of being called; but now I’m questioning myself and sometimes feel powerless and daunted to the point of numbness, but I know that it’s not hopeless. The Work is increasing in its depth and demands.

We’ve just moved through solstice time, nurturing our bodies and developing communal bonds. We’re also at a stage in our human development where we need to nurture the inner realms we sometimes call ‘soul’. I’ve developed the concept of WIT (Woman’s Inner Time); as contemporary Medicine Women, we would not be teaching children, but rather supporting adults who teach kids, including parents and professionals.

We older women would develop the art of listening without imposing agendas, judgement or opinion, but rather create ‘sacred’ space for uninterrupted personal exploration. We would be a resource and would begin with ourselves and our own ego-nurturance, in order to move beyond old wounds and the habits of internal conflict and self-sabotage.

Raga Woods is a frequently-photographed, much-travelled mad Crone . If you’d like to find out more about WIT email her: ragawoo@gmail.com

flattr this!

Charlotte Raven

All I want for Christmas… is a large measure of faux bonhomie

This Editorial is taken from the Charlotte’s speech at the Feminist Times Anti-Consumerist Christmas Party last Friday Night at Conway Hall, London.

Christmas is a terrible time for a depressive like me. The Pearly Queen singing carols at Angel tube seemed like an affront.

The worse thing about being depressed at Christmas is being mistaken for a Grumpy Old Woman. Unlike Helen Lederer and the other TV Grumpies, I like crap Christmas songs and the fact that Christmas gets earlier every year.

I don’t object to Christmas, just the lies we are susceptible to at this time of year. Santa is the biggest – parents still believe in him! My four-year-old son was visibly relieved to discover that his haul of presents isn’t dependent on good behaviour. Unlike Santa, my love for John is unconditional.

Like the Christians, I think the lie of consumerism has ruined Christmas. The lists of must-haves in the magazines at this time of year exert a particular kind of pressure that makes it hard to concentrate. And parents are under even more pressure. I’ve read about people trying to kill themselves because they can’t afford to get their kids any presents and totally empathise.

I can’t really afford to buy the kids a big present and lots of little ones, like I normally do, and have been wondering how to get round this. God knows what it’s like for people who can’t afford little ones either – if nothing else, my depression has helped me connect with those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in at Christmas.

What should Christmas be about if not God or stuff? My family Christmasses were about drinking, talking and telly. We never played consequences or charades. There was little physical activity; the novel idea of a walk on Christmas day was introduced years later by my in-laws. This break with tradition has been good for my health but does make me feel as if my identity and essential Ravenishness is imperilled during the festive season, now that my mum’s dead and my dad’s in a nursing home. The fact that I get Christmas cards addressed to Tom and Charlotte Sheahan doesn’t help.

One memorable year, when I was my daughter Anna’s age, I danced with my mother to the D:ream song, Things Can Only Get Better, before it became the anthem for new labour. We were both holding Dr Seuss string puppets with tufts on their heads that moved to the beat.

My favourite Christmas song is Fairy Tale of New York because of its realism. It’s more miserable than Slade by a country mile. Is it possible to be happy without lying to ourselves? I hope so. While I’m waiting to find out, I wish I could act festive and sport reindeer deely boppers like the receptionist at my doctors this morning. At this time of year, faux bonhomie is better than no bonhomie.

My psychiatrist says my black humour stops me from acting on my impulse to “do a jimmy” and chuck myself off Beachy Head. And the thought of being stopped on the cliff edge by the Christians who have been stationed there for the past few years is also a powerful deterrent.

Feminist Times has the same mordant wit, with the same redemptive purpose. We think modern life is crap but don’t moan about it like the grumpy old women.

I am a highly ambivalent consumer – in certain moods, I think scented candles are the key to happiness.

I left the Mumsnet blogfest with a massive goody bag and felt genuinely pampered and appreciated, until I ate too many New York Cupcakes and felt sick to the stomach about how easily I can be bought.

Working with Deborah and Sarah has made me realize that wonderful things can be conjured out of nothing. Deborah’s DIY ethic has rubbed off on me and I feel liberated from my belief that more is more.

You won’t leave this party laden with boob firming cream and beige nail varnish, because unlike Mumsnet we haven’t sold our souls. Our magical Christmas party was conjured by some amazing people with no commercial partners.

I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Deborah is taking over as editor. It’s a relief to be able hand over the day-to-day management of Fem T to her and focus on writing, ideas and the big Feminist Times picture. Deborah’s the only positive person I’ve ever respected, mainly because she isn’t bland or deluded. And she respects my Ravenishness; she never tries to talk me out of my negativity, but I do always leave the office feeling better than when I arrived.

Deborah and Sarah have assured me that it isn’t a North Korean style purge, but I will be paying close attention to the pictures of past events to see whether I am photoshopped out…

Sarah is taking over as Deputy Editor – she’ll be brilliant. I never thank her enough. I just wanted to say publicly how proud and pleased I am with everything she’s done at Fem T, in fair winds and foul.

The party was an intimation of Christmasses yet to come. I hope to wake up one Christmas morning with no presents, feeling Sheahanish and up for life, because the depressed and depressing capitalist system has been replaced by comfort and joy.

Thank you to Gabriela Cala-Lesina, Ruth Barnes, Jenny Roper, Eleanor Westbrook, Carly Smallman, Sarah Campbell, Fari Bradley, Conway Hall, Tobias Amstall & 4th Floor Studios and all our other helpers on the day.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: High street stores ‘less sexist’ this Christmas than last year

Gendered ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs in toyshops are on the decline, according to a survey by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys.

The survey, carried out throughout November by supporters of the campaign, found use of gendered signs has decreased by 60 per cent compared to last Christmas, when the campaign began.

Kerry Brennan, one of the founders of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, said: “While there’s still a long way to go to address sexism in the toy industry, the changes in major retail chains like Debenhams are just brilliant to see.

“They’ve replaced pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs with new colourful signs that say ‘Vehicles’, ‘Superheroes’, ‘Soft Toys’, and ‘TV Characters’, among others.”

Supporters found just a fifth of high street stores using ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs to identify their toys, compared with half of all shops last year.

Hobbycraft was crowned ‘best of the high street’ for marketing toys without relying on gendered or sexist stereotypes, with Toymaster and Fenwick respectively second and third.

Fenwick, Debenhams and TK Maxx were all named ‘most improved’, having recently removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs.

Supermarket Morrisons was found to be most ‘sexist’, with supermarkets tending to use gendered stereotypes more frequently than independent toy retailers.

Ms Brennan added: “Everything is much easier to find and children are no longer being sent the message that science and adventure are only for boys, crafts and nurturing play only for girls.”

Of the fourteen major retailers contacted by the Let Toys Be Toys campaign in 2013, seven have already removed the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signage from shop floors or own-brand toy packaging: Hobbycraft, Boots, TK Maxx, The Entertainer, Debenhams, Fenwick and Next.

Five stores – Toys R Us, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons – are in the process of doing so.

However, the survey also found that just over 70% of stores still used some kind of gender cues, with 40% of stores using gender to sell the majority of their toys.

“We still have a way to go,” said Rebecca Brueton, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner.

“We made getting rid of the signs our priority this year and the survey shows it’s working. Even so, you can still find plenty of shops promoting outdated and limiting ideas, giving children the message that science is only for boys and creativity for girls.”

Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots campaign group established in November 2012. The campaign believes both boys and girls benefit from a range of play experiences, and should not be restricted by marketing which tells them which toys and activities are for boys or girls. Let Toys Be Toys is run and organised wholly by volunteers.

 See www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk for more information.

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

‘Who can afford 50 weeks of unpaid leave?’

This week I went through a life-changing event: the birth of my first child, a little girl we’ve named Marnie Rose Lorette. Obviously to my wife and I she’s the best baby that ever existed. Having spent the bulk of my 20s declaring I would never get married and never have children, this is an unexpected place to find myself, but d’you know what? It’s actually great. Proper great. Even her cries are the best sound in the world. Mind you, we’re only on day four. It’s all still to play for.

With almost perfect timing, this week the government has announced their long-trumpeted, much debated changes to parental leave entitlement. The big headline is that fathers are now able to share up to 50 weeks of leave with their partners. Rather than the current two weeks of paternity versus nine months of maternity leave, from 2015 new parents will theoretically be able to divide their time off into multiple extended breaks between them, subject to the agreement of their employers.

In an interview this morning, Nick Clegg has particularly trumpeted two points – firstly that this creates much-needed flexibility around parental leave arrangements and secondly, it also provides greater equality between the sexes, allowing men to be more involved in childcare.

One of my biggest concerns prior to the nipper’s arrival was the hours I work. I often leave the house at 6.30am and get home after 8pm. Once she settles into a routine and a normal bedtime, I run the risk of never actually seeing my child during the working week, let alone being able to actively contribute to childcare. So when I saw this on the news, I got all excited. As the story unfolded, random thoughts popped into my brain.

“50 weeks off?! AMAZING!”

“Unpaid. Oh.”

“Um, how is that different from a standard unpaid leave request?”

“Who can bloody afford 50 weeks of unpaid leave?” (“Millionaire old Etonians!” Cries the gallery.)

“Oh well.”

Elation turned to a disaffected shrug. There isn’t anything that looks that helpful. Fathers will have the right to attend up to two antenatal appointments unpaid? My work lets me do that already. The rest of it? The employer has the right to decline. So not massively helpful. Why?

Parental leave is described by ‘business leaders’ as a massive pain. I can understand why, but any large block of time away from the job can be planned for. Employees have to inform employers of maternity/paternity leave plans well in advance so businesses can plan cover effectively and arrange handovers to ensure a smooth transition. Even then, there is risk of further disruption.

Our child was early, and I was struck by manflu just before she arrived, so I was not able to provide as much handover as I would have liked. My team are all super-competent, so I’m more than sure they’re covering for me just fine, but does any business want this level of disruption every other month? I can’t help wondering how long-term leave cover would work if my wife and I were to split the time off between us. Where I work, if someone goes on maternity leave for nine months a temporary replacement is found for the full duration. In practice, how would this work if my wife and I were to take every other month off in rotation? Or every couple of months?

It’s worth noting that I’m writing this from the perspective of working for a large, global organisation. Can I see smaller businesses jumping at this one? Even without the disruption and recruitment costs. Advertising, agency fees, interview time. None of this is free.

I also can’t help but think that it’s a shame that the proposed extension from the current two weeks of paternity leave to six weeks didn’t happen. I’m coming to the end of week one of my leave. I have one week left before I’m back to work. Caring for the baby is a big job. My wife has just been through an incredibly traumatic physical experience. There is the pain of the actual birth itself, but then there are 9 months of body changes and unpredictable hormones before that, and then after? More body changes, more unpredictable hormones. Recovery from any complications, difficulty using the toilet due to stitches. So she has just over a week left of me being around to help before I’m back to work, leaving her on her own regardless of her physical state for 13 hours a day alone to look after a needy newborn.

So in theory? Brilliant! Anything that helps us split the childcare is a Good Thing. I can’t see how anyone could complain about that. Personally, I want to be an active participant in bringing my child up. I know lots of other men who would also jump at the chance. We’ll have to wait ‘till 2015 to see how many couples decide to share leave, but from where I’m sitting at the moment, the whole process feels like a logistical headache – great in theory, but far too easy to pick apart once you start thinking about practicalities.

Steve Horry is a resource manager by day, club promoter, freelance illustrator and guitarist in the regenerated Menswe@r by night. He has a website at http://www.mrstevenhorrythesecond.com Follow: @shedsteven

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

flattr this!

Zaha Hadid or Ann Widdecombe: What’s your idea of the childless spinster?

Just a generation ago, one of the most socially unacceptable things a woman could be was ‘an unmarried mother’; now it seems that it’s the single, childless older woman – the ‘spinster’ – who’s once again become the social punch bag. Whether it’s by choice or circumstance, being in this situation once you’re past ‘child-bearing age’ (a newly taboo phrase) is to be seen as some kind of freak and an easy target for office jokes and Daily Mail articles.

1 in 5 women born in the UK in the mid 1960s have turned 45 without having had a child. It’s too early for the data, but it seems likely that the rate of childlessness will be higher for those born in the 1970s. That’s almost double what it was a generation ago.

The last time childlessness was at a similar level was for those women born around 1900, who lost a generation of young men in the First World War and then lived through the Great Depression. In the 1920s they were known as the ‘surplus women’.

Whilst some women today do chose not to become mothers (and may refer to themselves as ‘childfree’), many others are childless-by-circumstance – with those circumstances including a great deal more than medical infertility. An increasingly common reason, termed ‘social infertility’, is not finding a suitable partner during your fertile years.

While ‘bachelor’ is a term that implies a future, ‘spinster’ is one loaded with implied social failure – and reinforces the idea that it’s only by finding a (male) partner that a woman’s life can move forward to a truly ‘adult’ state. It’s as if all possibilities of happiness are quashed by the word ‘spinster’. Ironically the term was originally benign; in medieval English it meant a woman who span wool, and was later the legal definition of an unmarried woman.

Spinsters also had the potential of remaining unmarried and able to support themselves – which, as any reader of Jane Austen novels will know, was a radically new development. However, it didn’t take long for this potential independence to be cast as a problem and Victorian women who remained unmarried were seen as ‘finicky’ – a criticism today often levelled at unmarried women as being ‘too picky’.

These days, the term spinster also carries the unstated prefix: ‘bitter’ and implies a woman who is presumed to have been too stupid, unattractive, picky or ambitious to form a long-term partnership during her fertile years. For many women this is not a situation they’ve actively chosen but one that they’ve ended up in because they’ve made intelligent, honourable choices; many of them have cared for vulnerable family members through their fertile years, have refrained from getting pregnant ‘accidentally’ without a partner’s consent, and have worked hard as members of their families, workplaces and communities.

One of the hardest things to bear about the stigma of being a childless (rather than childfree) spinster today is the sense of having ‘obeyed all the rules’ of our culture yet to have ended up without the ‘prize’. Many have been careful not to get pregnant as teenagers or at university, have studied hard, broken up with partners deemed ‘unsuitable’ (according to their family, peers and women’s magazines), have worked hard to establish their careers, actively sought out relationships with partners who would be good ‘father material’ and given disciplined attention to their emotional, mental, physical and economic health. And the end result? To watch their peers attain ‘respectability’ because they have given birth, whilst they are seen to have ‘failed’ because they haven’t.

It’s a cruel irony because many of them didn’t see the spinster gulag coming – for many formerly ‘successful’ women it first comes into view as a potential identity in their mid to late 30s – a realisation that can lead to a desperate search for a partner. Many either find one and are unable to get pregnant due to age, even with the help of fertility treatments, or ‘fail’ to mate and enter a period of profound grief and shame – not only grieving for the family they will never have, but also for the shock of finding themselves isolated and ridiculed as social outcasts.

I have described being an older, single, childless woman in our culture right now as akin to being an exile in your own land. Those who haven’t experienced it think I’m wildly exaggerating, but the many thousands of women who are involved with the Gateway Women Online Community, who self-identify as being in the ‘double whammy’ category, know exactly what I mean.

Apart from the spinster, who in acceptable modern usage is referred to as a ‘career woman’, there are other, equally unappealing stereotypes for the mature childless woman – the mad old cat lady, a dried up old bat/bag/hag, the maiden aunt or old maid, and perhaps even the witch.

Could it be that much of the misogyny that it is no longer acceptable to use towards women has settled on the childless spinster?

When young women today look at how older childless women are ridiculed, what possible message can they take from this except that equality is bunk? That, despite what feminism says, having a family is still the only guaranteed route to having lifelong power and social standing as a woman?

Where are the visible and acceptable role models in either real life or fiction of older childless women that aren’t also seen as a joke or a cautionary tale? Most people when asked will mention Miss Haversham, Bridget Jones, Ann Widdecombe or Jennifer Anniston: insane or neurotic fictional spinsters, a life-long celibate and a Hollywood film star who can’t ‘keep a man’. Personally, I choose Zaha Hadid, Germaine Greer, Carmen Calil or Gloria Steinem as my role models.

Many childless women now look to me as a role model as I am one of the very few childless women who is prepared to speak openly and publicly about my life. I am 49, divorced, single, menopausal and live alone with my cat – and if I refuse to be ashamed by that, no one can shame me with it. That’s how taboos get broken – by individuals choosing not to buy into them – for good or ill.

Those of us born in the 60s and 70s are what I call ‘the shock absorber generation for the sexual revolution.’ But it’s not just mothers who are adjusting to this new world – it’s childless women too.

The ‘surplus women’ post WWI were the first generation of women who felt the brunt of inequality between men and women’s life opportunities and felt powerful enough after their experience of war to do something about it. Many of them supported the Women’s Suffrage Movement as a result.

In many ways, the women’s movement owes a big debt to the childless spinster, so it’s time to let our voice join that of our childed sisters, as a valid part of the continuing fight for equality for all women – whether we choose not to be mothers, or whether life and history makes that choice for us.

Jody Day is the founder of Gateway Women and author of Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children. Find out more @gatewaywomen.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

flattr this!

Taboo corner

Taboo Corner: Why did I have kids?

Taboo Corner is a small space on Feminist Times for women to be open about uncomfortable thoughts they have and the personal reasons behind them, helping uncover disconcerting female truths that are normally repressed and opening them up for honest debate. Feminist Times is different to other magazines in that it won’t airbrush your frown lines or your emotions… Submit your own Taboo Corner piece: editorial@feministtimes.com

My words, “If I knew then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have had children”, are usually met with derision by female friends.

I am bombarded by: “Oh how could you say that? Your boys are lovely”, and yes they are. They’re adults now and I care more about them than any other person in my life, however if I’d known the constant worry that being a parent brings I don’t think I would do it again.

I had a good job, had hobbies and interests, wonderful friends and had never been bored in my life.

I embarked on parenthood because my partner wanted children and I thought it might cause problems in our relationship if we didn’t have them. I even worried he might leave me if I didn’t.

My friends were amazed when I became pregnant and wondered how I would raise a child as I knew nothing about them and had never shown any interest in finding out. Even I had no idea how I would cope and, as an only child, babies were a mystery to me.

Ironically, their father left me anyway when they were four and five and I had the hard work of bringing them up alone.

Had my sons not been born, I do believe I could still have had a fulfilling life and enjoyed different aspects of my life and personality. Of course I can never prove this but feel sure I did not need children to “complete me” as a person.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

flattr this!

#ManWeek: Son Preference… ‘where girls vanish with no trace’


son pref4_ec

Reprinted from The Atlas of Women in the World by Joni Seager. We are delighted to be able to offer Feminist Times subscribers a 20% discount: please order here quoting code MRJ81. This offer is valid until the end of December 2013.

Joni Seager is Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, a Global Policy Expert & Feminist.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

flattr this!

India’s Forgotten Children

Last Thursday saw the launch of India’s Forgotten Children, a powerful documentary film exposing the trafficking and oppression of some of India’s poorest children, from the 250 million strong Dalit community.

Feminist Times was invited to the premiere, at Leicester Square’s Vue cinema, by Dalit Freedom Network, one of three charities that partnered on the making of the film.

The Dalit people, formerly known as Untouchables, are victims of India’s ancient caste system: outcast, destitute and oppressed. The one-hour film made by Pipe Village Trust, a human rights filmmaking charity, examines the scale of trafficking and exploitation that Dalit children face daily.

What the film lacks in production values, it makes up for in harrowing, rarely told stories from some incredibly marginalised people. Filmed in villages around Bengaluru, Lucknow and Hyderabad, filmmaker Michael Lawson interviews boys in bonded labour, working gruelling jobs to pay off their parents’ debts, and a 13-year-old runaway who was abused by her father and uncle.

Later we see a young woman manual scavenging – cleaning out human excrement by hand. The footage shows human waste, teeming with maggots, being mixed with ash, as the woman takes a pill to “numb my brain, so I don’t vomit.”

Pipe Village Trust presents the modern-day slavery of Dalit children as threefold: trafficking into bonded labour, organ harvesting, and the sex trade – an industry that exploits millions of young girls, and increasingly boys.

Much is made of India’s status as a rising global power; to those campaigning on behalf of the Dalit community, this oppression is part of India’s dark secret.

There are laws in place to protect Dalits from discrimination but, according to Lawson’s interviewees, the Indian government largely turns a blind eye to the reality, and the Dalits’ plight is all but unheard of in the West.

The film has a broader scope than I expected and, as well as focusing on children, much time is dedicated to the double oppression experienced by Dalit women and girls – exploited and outcast not just because of discrimination against Dalits, but also affected by deeply entrenched gender discrimination.

One interview is with an older woman – a ‘Jogini’ or ‘Devadasi’ prostitute, sold into ritualised sex slavery at the age of nine – explaining the lifelong impact of being trafficked as a child. Her story begins with superstitious parents dedicating their young daughter to a goddess, a tradition that leads to forced prostitution and a devastating lifetime of abuse and exploitation.

The statistics set alongside these stories are equally shocking: every day four Dalit women are raped and eight children under the age of fourteen commit suicide.

Following these poignant encounters the film ends, somewhat inevitably, on a note of optimism and redemption, highlighting what is already being done by NGOs to change the future for India’s Dalits.

Indian women’s activists Cynthian Stephen and Jeevaline Kumar explain how services like the Tarika Women’s Training Centre empower Dalit women by giving them a trade to escape from exploitation.

Similarly, the film suggests English-language schools set up by NGOs across the country offer India’s forgotten children a future – a way out of child labour, an education leading to a career, and the confidence that so many would otherwise lack.

The Dalit children we see at the end of the film are smiley and confident, well fed on their school dinner, smartly dressed in school uniform, and describing their ambitions to be a doctor, a cricketer, and a police officer. They are a far cry from Mariam – a 16-year-old girl interviewed earlier in the film who, following a failed suicide attempt, has faced persistent threats of death and violence from family members and is too scared for her life to be shown on film.

Kumar Swamy, the South India Director of Dalit Freedom Network, features heavily in the documentary and spoke in the post-film discussion about his experiences growing up as a Dalit child. He is evangelical about the transformative power of English-medium education, but is clear that much more remains to be done at all levels of Indian society.

To find out more or get involved in campaigning on behalf of Dalit women and children, visit Pipe Village Trust, Dalit Freedom Network, Free a Dalit Child or Red International.

Image copyright Michael Lawson.

flattr this!

These women are not me

Women with strong career ambitions are the ones who find themselves in the few positions of power available to them, yet they cannot represent others whose ambitions fit less easily into a patriarchal world.

I once confessed to a friend that I wasn’t very ambitious.  She immediately contradicted me: “Yes you are; you’re ambitious about your life,” she said.  Our concept of what it is to ‘achieve’ or ‘succeed’ has been appropriated by a consumerist system, which operates in a patriarchal framework. To step outside this system in any way you’ll need a very good sense of your goals and how you want to achieve them. My friend’s reassurance has sustained me for a decade

As someone with strong maternal feelings, my objectives have been to look after my children at home and to make sure that, for the fleeting time that they were growing up, I was engaged with and available for them. All hail the feminists who allowed me the freedom to become educated, choose my partner, control my fertility, and have an equal say in how our family was run. Where this freedom is curtailed, however, is in the arena of ‘achievement’ and its equivalence with success in the world of work.

I’ve only ever encountered respect between women whose maternal feelings led them to make differing choices about working and parenting. The so-called ‘Mommy Wars’ are a divisive concept invented by the media to weaken women’s resolve about their choices and it diminishes us all.  What is real, however, is the fact that women in positions of power (and therefore making decisions which affect us all) be they in the board-, the newspaper- , or the cabinet-room are, by the very nature of the fact that they’ve arrived in those positions, likely to have less strong maternal feelings- meaning they’ve delayed or avoided motherhood, and most likely outsource childcare. That’s fine – there’s room for us all – but these women don’t represent all of us. Similarly, to equate full-time parenting with privileged cupcake baking is to dismiss a raft of ambitious, independent women whose strong maternal feelings make them want to invest time in raising their children.

Politically, we’re faced with the choice between childcare minister Liz Truss who accuses two year olds of ‘wandering around aimlessly’ and shadow minister Lucy Powell who depicts caring for children as a ‘barrier to work’; in politics, if you are not a woman in the workforce you simply do not count, and if you’re not a child in childcare you’re unproductive before you’ve even started school. Female politicians who take stances like these progress the furthest in the existing system; it understands and approves of such capitalist concepts, and getting women into work ticks the box marked ‘equality’. This is something Cherie Blair lifted the lid on when she admitted that she was so intent on “beating the men at their own game” that she didn’t take maternity leave. “It is only now looking back that I realise I wasn’t beating the system but reinforcing it,” she wrote.  By contrast Marie Peacock, who campaigns on behalf of full time parents, finds that when she is occasionally present at parliamentary meetings about childcare, introducing concepts of ‘love’ into the discussion is regarded as a weakness at best, an irrelevance at worse. Maternal feelings are not welcome, but why is that?

Sheila Rowbotham has long rejected the commodification of human relationships and maintains that capitalism and sexism are so closely linked that the only way to destroy both is a radical change in our ‘cultural conditioning’. Voices like those of Rowbotham and Ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, who argues that an obsession with growth has eclipsed our concern for sustainability, justice and human dignity, need to be heard if all women are going to be equally represented in public life.

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

Image credits: Theresa May – UK Home Office, Sheryl Sandberg – Drew Alitzer for Financial TimesKarren Brady – John Morris, Elisabeth Murdoch – Nordiske Mediedag

flattr this!

Austerity Patriots? Pull the other one Dave

David Cameron loves women, especially those of us who’ve started businesses recently. Not only do we make a great photo opportunity, but we’re also going to rebuild our economy and bring Britain back to boom time. Hurrah!

With women-led small businesses already contributing 50 billion to the UK economy annually, Cameron wants to see more “out of work women starting their own businesses” to contribute a further £15 to £21 billion a year.

Cameron speaks about women building recession businesses with a perverse sense of pride. And of course he can take some credit. The reason the number of women registering as self-employed has increased so dramatically since 2008, and continues to rise much faster than men, is because women have been disproportionally affected by the recession.

Thanks to public sector and welfare cuts, many women are starting their own businesses because they have either lost their jobs or their benefits and are in need of an income, or can no longer afford childcare and so need to earn money whilst also staying at home to look after their kids.

Cameron sings the praises of the “entrepreneurial spirit” of those prepared to join the great “global race that’s taking place”. He champions “the chance to go from a very small start-up to a massive business that can take on the world and win”.

Of course his romantic notion of a woman starting a businesses – Sam Cam’ meets Rosie the Riveter – is just not the reality for most.

Most women start businesses at their kitchen table because they need to find a new way to put some food on it – not in a patriotic and heroic attempt to rebuild Britain, but as a strategy for survival.

Though I don’t agree with Cameron’s Enterprise Expert, Lord Young, that recessions are an “excellent time to start a business”, they do force people to become more imaginative and resourceful. They create conditions in which people are desperate enough to try something new.

For most people, the decision to start a business is not the ‘magic moment’ Cameron imagines. It’s the beginning of a long and lonely road, filled with risk and often not much reward – and with very little support.

Despite promises made by the government, banks are still not lending to small businesses. And for women looking for loans – with no business background, no savings, living on a reduced income and/or unwilling or unable to put up their homes as equity – going to a bank is just not an option.

It certainly wasn’t for me.

In the end I managed to get my business off the ground thanks to a patchwork of 25 people prepared to invest in my idea – savers frustrated by low interest rates who each had a small amount of money doing nothing in the bank and were prepared to take a punt.

Patchwork Present has only just launched. We’re a website that lets friends come together to collectively fund one gift that’s really wanted – piece by piece. Like a digital whip round, our purpose is to help people in tough times use gift-giving occasions to get the one thing they really want – and at the same time reduce the amount of money wasted on unwanted gifts that end up in landfill.

We’re certainly not a success story yet, but our site is getting a lot of interest. Most of us are having to do more with less; we’re already becoming more resourceful and we’re prepared to share more so it seems a site like ours just makes sense.

I hope our business succeeds. I hope that all those people starting businesses up and down the country have huge success and make millions. But I hope success doesn’t mean going back to ‘Business as usual’ for Britain.

I hope we learn from a recession caused by criminal bankers and made more painful by tax dodging multi-nationals, corrupt politicians and a system rigged for the rich. With tax-payers bailing out Britain and small businesses now responsible for our economic recovery, true success will be re-building what this government has failed to deliver: “a better, fairer Britain.”

Olivia Knight is a feminist, mother and founder of Patchwork Present. Find out more @projectpatchwrk

Image Jeremy Keith

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

flattr this!

Profile: Mothers at Home Matter

When it comes to the word ‘mother’, it’s all too easy to be labelled. Are you a working mother or a stay at home mother (SAHM)? Is that a question about income, professional status or how much time you spend cooking and changing nappies? The question is too black and white and ignores some all-important nuances. In real life, a part-time working, taxpaying mother may have more time available for cooking than her friend down the road described as being a SAHM, whereas some SAHMs may well have a small income from home-based employment and a partner who shares care. Things aren’t always as they appear. Some working mothers may not financially depend on paid work to put food on the table, and others would really rather be at home full-time. Similarly, few stay at home mums could be described as earth mothers and many struggle with care responsibilities due to lack of support and recognition. Most people just get on with life best they can and their actual circumstances do not always reflect their choices, values or whether they feel equal.

Our campaign, Mothers at Home Matter (MAHM), was set up over twenty years ago, not to inadvertently collude in divisive and often misleading stereotypical labelling, but rather to challenge mounting social and economic pressures on all mothers to access uninterrupted paid employment and paid childcare, rather than devote some time to caring for their children at home. We don’t believe it’s possible to measure a person’s worth or contribution only by assessing how long they’ve engaged in economic activity or whether they earn enough to pay tax. We reject the temptation to ‘label’ people, as most parents dip in and out of work, responding to real-life challenges and depending on children’s individual needs – not to mention other pressures such as health, income levels, changing employment opportunities and unexpected events. It’s not what you do at any particular moment in time that matters, but rather what you’ve done looking back over a lifetime, and hopefully that’s involved some work and care, and you’ve been valued and treated equally in both roles.

It’s regrettable that media coverage of women’s issues often divides women rather than bringing them together, often referring to school-gate rivalry, which is merely a distraction from the policies we try to challenge. Within Mothers at Home Matter we know our campaign attracts a wide range of women with different experiences and ideas. We are not affiliated to any political or faith group, and it’s just as well because it wouldn’t reflect the diversity of our membership. Some of us may describe ourselves as ‘feminists’, whilst other people haven’t found time to engage and some reject it outright, perhaps believing that feminism hasn’t been interested in supporting mothers to nurture their children. Motherhood is universal and children’s needs do not change. But it’s a fast-changing society and there’s less and less time for caring. Are we changing the very nature of human beings by denying people time to learn and engage in caring, whether it’s children, the elderly or the neighbour down the road?

One of MAHM’s strength is in our diversity. People who write to us talk about very different backgrounds, experiences, professional lives and household income levels, as well as numbers of children, marital status and work patterns. What brings them together is a belief that mothers’ voices are not being taken seriously and that it’s all too easy to be invisible in the system when caring for dependents at home. They are ignored because what they do doesn’t ‘count’ in GDP, although they know that it’s the one of the most important jobs in the world and if it wasn’t done it would cost the state billions to step in with more formal replacement care. There’s growing unease about the commercialisation of care and an instinct that children deserve a more natural, gentler start to childhood. The language of policy lets mothers down, depicting motherhood as somehow ‘retrograde’, whilst juggling work and family is a ‘progressive’ model. A puzzle then that having a dad at home is deemed by some to be a ‘modern’ choice. Same job, different label; one is celebrated, whilst the other implies you are downtrodden and demoted.

Yet many mothers find motherhood immensely satisfying and liberating. There’s a sense of disbelief that when women’s groups have campaigned for so long for equality, motherhood itself continues to be devalued and sidelined in policy and endless barriers put in the way of nurturing your child. Child benefit is constantly under threat and fiscal policies discriminate against couples with a parent at home so that the ‘one-wage’ family is expected to pay more tax on the same household income than another couple using childcare. There is effectively a penalty on care and family time and the main losers are women. Taxpayer funded subsidies are directed at commercial transactions in childcare but not to support family life. Meanwhile, working women often find employment in the care sector where they continue to be underpaid and undervalued while simultaneously denied the opportunity to care for their own children.

Mothers at Home Matter seeks to provide support for mothers who feel they’re somehow out of step by being at home. Whilst some parents have a voice in policy by virtue of their employment in journalism, research, politics and other professions – where their opinions are regularly sought and valued – their equally hard-working sisters at home find they have no reliable outlet for expressing their views. It’s vital that professional ‘gatekeepers of information’ do not deny other women a voice and the opportunity to campaign for a level playing field where all roles are respected as part of the family life cycle.

We applaud campaigns for decent employment opportunities for women, equal pay, access to education, more part-time work opportunities around the school day and other feminist campaigns in the UK and further afield, but MAHM questions why we can’t also have a more honest debate about motherhood and how much the role of ‘caring’ means to a lot of us. Surely progress, equality, choice and a decent standard of living for all women means an end to mothers at home being ignored, and the same goes for fathers at home. How can it be ‘progress’ if babies as young as three months are increasingly likely to spend most of the day away from both their parents?

A MAHM volunteer recently took part in a live BBC debate about women’s lives, motherhood and equality. They debated these questions: ‘’Is motherhood a barrier to equality?’’ and ‘’Can women escape their biological imperative?’’ As one mother commented: ‘’Actually, economics just needs reforming to ‘include’ motherhood and factor in the time we all need to care for one another, young and old.’’

flattr this!

Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: unisex clothes are expensive

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

A week ago my mum and me went to John Lewis to get my winter clothes. Usually we just get pajamas and gloves because the girls’ part is all pink and the boys’ is totally blue.

But when I went they had a total reform – most of the clothes are unisex. We went there because the unisex clothes shop we normally go to was too expensive.

So now we are probably going to go there in future for all my clothes, which is good because it is not too expensive.

But we can’t get everything there so we are still looking for cheap unisex clothes shops.

flattr this!

Why feel sorry for people on The X Factor?

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

When I occasionally watch The X Factor at my friend’s house I always feel very sorry people who try so hard and persevere and then the judges can just say that was horrible.

I think people have forgotten to feel sorry for the contestants and just watch it for the pleasure of people being sent off by rich people. They forget that all these people try so hard and persevere and just get sent off.

If I had my way I would say contests witch include people leaving with nothing should be banned because as I said people try as hard as they can. Also I don’t know why they get so worked up about a record deal from Simon Cowell I know this could start someone’s career but they could get it a fairer way.

This could damage the participants because they entered and some people hated them. Thats why people should tell white lies and not take sides. This could also damage society because in real life people may forget to feel sorry for the less fortunate.

So to sum it up I don’t really like The X Factor.


Image courtesy of Rocor

flattr this!

A is for Apathy: Why is Mr Gove not championing Abuse campaign?

This is Abuse, the landmark Home Office campaign, is a laudable effort to change the attitudes of young people, aiming to prevent violence and foster respect in their relationships. This multi-million pound campaign is ongoing and you might have noticed the infomercials on TV – though of course they are aimed at teenagers, and smart partnerships with the likes of E4 mean some of us over 21 might not have seen them. As This is Abuse goes into its third year, we ask why this campaign is not being followed through into our schools, an obvious place to tackle young adults’ attitudes towards women and girls.

It started in 2010 when the Government produced a strategy to end violence against women and girls, in response to the evidence of crisis levels of domestic and sexual crime. The publication is a grim snapshot of female life in the UK: in one year there are one million female victims of domestic violence, 300,000 women are sexually assaulted and 60,000 women raped. In our lifetimes we have a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim of domestic violence and 70% of teenage mums are in a violent relationship. Globally, the report concluded, violence against women and girls is at “pandemic” proportions.

They promise to “develop a cross-government communications strategy”, emphasising that “violence against women and girls is a gender-based crime which requires a focused and robust cross-government approach” and they commit to “work together across government… to ensure that our response is cohesive and comprehensive”. The ambition is clear. So why then is this campaign, part of the strategy set out by the Government and aimed at teenagers, only championed by the Home Office as a criminal issue and not being taken into every school in the country as an education issue?

Holly Dustin, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “it is extremely disappointing and quite baffling that schools have not been told directly about This Is Abuse.” Baffling is exactly what it is; it’s a vital opportunity missed. “This is a critical initiative at a time when abuse and harassment of girls is at an all-time high. It is vital that all parts of government pull together on tackling violence against women and girls,” she added. It seems obvious that by copping out the Department of Education risks compromising the success of the campaign and the whole strategy.

At the time of publication the Home Office had declined to comment on why the Department of Education were not rolling out the campaign in our schools. A Department of Education spokesperson suggested it’s down to teachers to find out about the campaign, pointing out that the teaching resources were all available online. “We expect teachers to ensure that all pupils develop an awareness of the issues around physical violence and abuse as part of sex and relationship education. We trust in the professional judgement of teachers to do so appropriately,” the Department of Education said. But even if Gove won’t prescribe it, how about flagging it up to the teachers? Drawing their attention to it? Teachers, like many of us, are busy, tired and unlikely to be watching E4.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper did respond to the Feminist Times saying, “it’s hardly surprising that there’s a block coming from a Department run by Michael Gove. A third of teenage girls in relationships have experienced physical or sexual violence in relationships, yet Michael Gove is living in a time-warp; he doesn’t even think sex education should be updated to teach children about online safety and how to deal with exposure to online pornography.”

Campaigners like the teenage girls behind Campaign4Consent, and the Telegraph’s campaign for #bettersexed have an uphill battle on their hands if Michael Gove won’t even roll out an existing, multi-million pound Government campaign in UK schools.

The only way for the government to fulfil it’s own promise for a cross departmental strategy is to make sure every teacher knows about This is Abuse, where to get the materials to teach it and understands why this campaign is critical to the safety of women and girls across the UK. You would have thought a pandemic was too important to leave to chance.

Contact Mr Gove

flattr this!

Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: Football

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

Since the magazine was thought of I have been writing more than usual. In one of my speeches I talked about stereotyping.

I was playing football – we play in a mixed team, which is good, but the boys never pass to the girls so we end up having to tackle our own team to get a touch.

flattr this!

Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” everyone says. I used to say “girl” but now I just say “what do you think?”

Being a Tomboy has its advantages and disadvantages, like people are constantly asking if you’re a boy or a girl, but it’s good because you are kind of a mix between two genders.

I am interested in why some mums won’t let their child be a Tomboy – I really don’t know why.

The thing that is hard is clothes. When I buy my clothes it’s very hard to find unisex clothes nowadays because the boy clothes are too boyish and the girls’ are too girly. If I want to wear pink my mum said she would let me as well.

But overall it’s very fun. There are lots of inspiring examples of Tomboys, like Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, they make me feel like I’m not alone.

flattr this!

Anna Sheehan

Why are French children better behaved?

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

I have been reading this book about a woman who moved from America to France. The problem with this is that her child is not as well behaved as the French. She won’t eat her vegetables as well as French children do. That got me thinking: are French children better behaved and why?

I have a French friend in my class. I asked her why are French children better behaved and she said that her French mother treats her differently to English mothers. In the book the author Pamela Druckerman describes one of these differences, for example when it comes to broccoli, they say not that it is good for you but that it is nice.

In America, parents normally say try it once or twice and then if they don’t like it they just say my child does not like broccoli. But in France they try several times and that seems to work better. English parents could definitely learn some tips from French parents. But my mum and dad do a really good job even though they’re not French.

Anna has been reading French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman.

flattr this!