Tag Archives: Feminism

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

When I was about 19, I went out for a night of karaoke with friends at a local nightclub. Although I’ve done a lot of singing in public in my time, karaoke was new to me, but, ever the performer (I hesitate to write ‘show off’ – I really do try not to get too up myself), I chose a song from the catalogue and signed up to the list without a second thought (I’ve always been a bit overconfident on the singing side of things, comes from my early childhood experiences when I was constantly being called upon to Do The Singing bit in school shows, church and amateur dramatics). For my turn, I chose Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and, I remember, I sang it to much applause (afterwards, when I went to the loo, I was accosted by another young lady who, rather aggressively I thought, asked me if I was the one who had been singing earlier; when I rather nervously admitted it was me, she told me I had been fookin’ ace – I’m taking that as rapturous). I remembered the experience when I was out in the car earlier today and it came on the radio (an expedition into the cold and rain in search of Forgotten Items From the Supermarket). It made me smile.

My friends and I, when we were at College (we were 17 and we thought we were the bees knees) used to request this song regularly when we went out to discos (a regular occurrence); we’d jump on to the dance floor in our Doctor Martens and bellow the words to each other, bouncing with the joy of being young and brave and having the world at our feet. We’d sing the lines ‘Some guys take a beautiful girl/and hide her away from the rest of the world/ I wanna be the one to walk in the sun/ cos girls just wanna have fun’ and vow that we would never put up with the sort of nonsense from our chosen partners that would have us stuck in the house being subservient. We were feisty, and determined.

As I drove along the slick streets, brown with the slightly thickened ending to raindrops, I turned the volume up and sang along, happy to be diverted down memory lane for as long as it lasted (I had taken the precaution of writing myself an actual list before I set off from the house, I thought I would be safe), remembering the days when I was younger and thinner and much, much fuller of energy. The younger me isn’t so different to the older me I thought; I’m still determined never to be shut away, an adjunct or an add on to someone else. It’s just that back then, I thought it was personal. I thought it came down to the person you chose as your life partner.

Now, though, I know different. I can see that this shutting away, this turning of a woman into some sort of silent trophy, or idealised image of supportive womanhood, or motherhood, or whatever else it is that women are supposed to represent or do, is not so much, not in my life anyway, personal and private, as systemic.

R thought I was going on a bit, but when he found that he was the one who had to curtail his working day in order to meet the kids from school and damage his career prospects (and I don’t mean extras, school events such as assemblies or school shows or sports days or anything like that).  Not that schools are in any way the same as places of child care, but dropping everything at half-past two in order to make it to the school gates for three does kind of cut in to your day. And, when you add in the magnifying effect of caring for a disabled young person – right at the point when you’d think things would be getting easier in the school run department you find out that it is actually worse, what with the even shorter educating day at college and the difficulties in finding the sort of care support you actually need; not for S the wander round the shops with friends that I used to do, while I was waiting for the bus. Holding down a part-time job, or even working at all, becomes increasingly challenging the longer I am in this game, and I haven’t even begun to write about health or social care. I’m lucky to be able to work the way that I do; I don’t for one minute think that my working arrangements are the norm. Employers pay you to do a job, and if you aren’t there, because you have to share the caring load, they will look for someone else who can. Part-time leaders? I’ll believe it when I see it.

I don’t know about you, but today, as I consider the opportunities I might have had, the chances I’ve missed to make a wider contribution, to effect a bigger, direct change in my chosen field of education, Cyndi Lauper, and her bouncy, buoyant, rebellious song doesn’t really do it for me any more. Yes, the personal is political, but now, it’s more. It’s bigger than me and my choices. Now, today, I might have a reminiscent singalong in the car, and smile at my youthful innocence, but tonight, when I do the washing up, next week, when I sit on the train, hurtling though the early morning chill to London, now, when I sit here, editing this post and considering what it is I am trying, so clumsily, to say, I will be, I am, choosing a different song. In so many ways, I’ll be singing, ‘what about us?’

 

 

She Stands at the Window and Weeps

The suds slide slowly,
Abandoning the porcelain
For the cooling, greased greyness
And a diminished, laboured repetition.

They echo, with their soft descent,
The trickled tracks
Of raindrops;
Crystalline sisters, wedded to glass.

Their tired decay
A contrasting parallel
To tears
As she stands at the window and weeps.

Be a Man

Not so long ago I asked Sam what he wanted to be when he grew up.  It was part of the process for converting his Statement of Special Educational Need to an Education Health Care Plan.  It’s a question I have asked children many time before, often with hilarious results, but, seeing as the previous question had been ‘where would you like to go when you finish at school?’ and I had been met with a blank look, as if the very idea of there being a life beyond the school years, that they might one day finish, was beyond comprehension, I didn’t have much hope of a sensible answer.  It was part of the form though, so I steeled myself and prepared to write down everything he said.

And, as is so often the case with my eldest child, he surprised me.  Rather than reeling off a load of old nonsense about Lazy Town or the latest (or not so latest, he is very fond of Pasha and Abby) results from Strictly, he gave me the joyous beam of confidence and roundly declared, “I want to be a man.”

Sam is delighted by his slow transformation.  Not so delighted by the spots, it has to be said, but chuffed nonetheless.  It started before I’d even realised.  There I was, lying in bed, silently bemoaning the fact that Sam was not, and that he was, in fact downstairs and playing loudly (in a successful bid to wake the rest of us dirty rotten layabouts up), and I slowly wondered to myself what the terrible noise he was making was.  In a bolt of realisation that shot me from my slumbers (although didn’t force me out from under my warm duvet) I realised that it was his voice.  It had changed.  Without us really realising it had deepened and Sam was experimenting with a kind of ‘how low can you go’ game.  Along with the deeper voice have come hairy legs, the need to shave and bodily changes that are rapidly leaving little boy-hood behind and, as his mother, a kind of bittersweet pang at the passing of an era.  My tiny boy is leaving.  He is becoming the next generation, and I, therefore, must be old.  No longer a Young Mum.

And along with the changes come the aspiration.  When he made his declaration we left it at that.  It was soon followed by a desire to have the entire collection of Eddie Stobart lorries, and, when I went to the EHCP transformation meeting there was a whole load of other things he had told everyone else, when they, too, had asked him the same question.  As we sat and gulped, and swallowed down the rush of emotion that came with such a statement I found myself asking a question.  Well possibly two, or maybe three.

What did he mean, when he said that?  He will grow up, but I wonder what he means by being a man?  Does he mean that he will go out to work, like daddy?  Drive a car, have a home and put a wife and family in it?  Does he see himself taking on the role of provider?  The man who sustains and keeps his family safe?

And why, when he said that, did we feel such emotion?  Why is it so difficult for us to see him being a real man?  A real grown up?  Is it because he will in all likelihood always need to be helped?  Is this somehow not compatible with being a man?  Is it because he is, by the nature of his difficulties, less powerful, more needy, weaker?

And what about his sexuality?  Interested in girls he most certainly is.  But, somehow, we seem, as a society, to be uncomfortable with the very notion.  When he was a baby, someone talked to me about men with Down’s being sterilised.  I can’t remember exactly what it was they said, so full was I of anger and outrage that someone should even contemplate doing that to another, that he couldn’t be expected to exercise some responsibility for himself.  The whole idea of boys like him turning into men with needs and desires seems to strike some people with horror.

I look at my son and I think about all the expectations we have of him, who he should be, in which box he should sit, and stay.  I look at him, and I say, ‘You know what Sam, you be whoever you want to be,’ because feminism isn’t just about the girls.

When my son grows up he wants to be a man.

024

Mother

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s not often that academic research drives me to tears.  Actually, it’s not often that academic research drives me to anything, but there you are.  I have an excuse; I’m on a course.  Still, the last time I read anything in an academic journal it was about how views of femininity were expressed through medical texts about childbirth in the 16th Century.  I, a young woman, a baby, was reading about long dead women’s lives, and the connection stopped there.  It was four and a half centuries away after all.

But now, today, a fully fledged grown up woman, a mother to three children, I don’t feel the same distance.  Instead of the pleasure of interest and stimulation, a firing of the brain cells and a connection between a philosophical standpoint and evidence, I felt a sense of shock.  There, on the page, without me having contributed anything at all, were aspects of my life; my mothering life.

I don’t think of Sam as disabled.  To me, he is just Sam.  OK, so we have more appointments to attend than anyone else I know, but, to me, he’s on a journey towards adulthood the same as anyone else.  Since the day he was born and we were told that he had Trisomy 21 it’s been exactly the same.  I know that he has a learning disability – I mean I live with him and it’s pretty hard to escape, but still.  To me, he is just my boy.

But then, there is this thing about it being really difficult for me to work.  I was at home for ten years before I ventured back into the workplace.  R was stuck in a job he hated for seven of them.  Yes, we were busy creating our family, but it would be disingenuous of me to claim that Trisomy 21 had nothing to do with my long years out.  It did.  We only just managed to send him out to the office.

And now that I am back at work it’s difficult.  What am I supposed to do about blood tests, or eye checks, or orthotic appointments or hearing tests that fall on days when I am in the classroom?  How realistic is it for me to have career aspirations when I keep having to take days off to care, to be poorly myself because we have Down’s syndrome in the family?

In a way it’s easier.  I’m not so bored by the domestic duties of housewifery,  I’m no longer going slightly mad.  I’ve got something else to think about, other than obsess about my own children; I’m not so worried about money.  And strangely, I don’t feel so voiceless.

There is a funny thing that happens to you when you become a mother, especially when you become the sort of mother who stays at home.  You start off as a rational creature, your importance magnified, like your size, until that baby appears.  And then, slowly but surely, you find your voice weakens, less heard in direct proportion to your length of service.

It’s partly the increasing ability of your offspring to say ‘no’ to you that saps your confidence.  It’s partly living in a world dominated by relationships, a private existence, rather than a public one, and it’s partly what happens when other people get involved with your child.

For those of us with out of the ordinary children this happens straight away.  Did that baby really belong to me?  Was I really allowed to take him home?  If I was a good girl, and checked in regularly, maybe they’d let me keep him.  Once they’d got over the apologies for not spotting it, and the pressure to make sure it didn’t happen again, to find out who was responsible, genetically speaking, who was to blame, that is.

It starts off OK.  Your observations are welcome in the matter of health.  As a closely watching mother you can add plenty to the picture; you are an important decision maker, your word is final.  But as the years pass and you move into the realms of education there is a subtle shift.  You move from the foothills of acceptable anxiety, it’s new to you after all, to the mountain tops of pushy.  Unrealistic.  Hysterical, even.  It’s astonishing how quickly your word is dismissed.

Before you know where you are you have to insist, you who kept your own bank account for years, who kept your own name, that he takes the morning off work and comes with you to a meeting because you can’t seem to make yourself understood and you watch, amazed, as he, your softly spoken wingman, stuns a room to silence with a single word and you feel as if you have travelled back in time, back to the days when women’s voices didn’t matter.

That education you had, those years you spent in the classroom, that professional and personal knowledge you garnered, becomes as nothing because you, as well as your son, carry a value laden label.  Mother.

I thought it would be different.  I thought we had moved on.

Digital Docs

I’m not known for holding my own counsel.  Like my middle son, I am a chatterbox-thinker, a talker-througher.  I’ve never been backwards about coming forwards with my opinions, which, I have to admit, got me into endless trouble as a youngster.  I never seemed to learn to keep my mouth shut, even though this was hardly the sort of behaviour expected of 80s girls in rural Devon.  It took until I went to sixth form college, followed by university, before I found my niche; a set of friends and a seminar-style of teaching that positively encouraged me to speak my mind. Writing is good for me; it makes me slow down, consider what it is I really want to say.

Being a teacher is a great job for a woman like me.  I get paid to do what I do best; talk to kids.  Obviously, talking all day for a living does have some disadvantages.  Tonsillitis is a regular winter occurrence, and, like many of my ilk, I have suffered a traumatic loss of the ability to utter a sound in anything other than a husky squeak at all the wrong moments, usually towards the end of the Christmas term.

Occasionally, towards the end of August, I start having the Teacher’s Dream, that is, not the one where I am searching endlessly for a toilet, or the one where I have left my children on the train; no, the one I mean is the one where I am standing, usually at the front of a class, or milling about in the middle, or on the school field, and no one is listening to a word I say.  There I am, teaching my little heart out and they, the class that I do not yet know, are running amuck, as if I am opening and shutting my mouth with not a sound is coming out.  I am some sort of celluloid woman, there, but not there, a projection, ghostly.

It never fails to amaze me, the difference in the listening ability of the children I teach in the classroom, and my own.   At home, as my babies have become children, soon to be three teenagers, my word has weakened as their ability to resist me has grown.  Every day I must insert more and more assertion into my requests to lay the table, or empty the dishwasher (they are reasonably keen to do this, believing, as they innocently do, that there may be money in the offing).  But getting them to do what they don’t want to, which, for Sam, could be anything from putting his cars away to cleaning his teeth, is a tricky business.  At school, generally, I say jump, and they do.  I only have to raise my hand, or clap them together, and silence (eventually) falls.

That said, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon.  Back at the end of my second year at university, I got it into my head that I really ought to have some sort of plan, you know, the sort that involves getting a job and earning some money, so, as you do, I trotted over to the careers office and filled in some questionnaires.

Turns out that I am completely unsuited to life as a civil servant, particularly one on the fast track for graduates.  I had already discounted the law as an option, and I didn’t have the confidence for journalism.  I wasn’t interested in making shed loads of money so I didn’t want to work for some sort of evil capitalist bank or advertising agency.    Admin and management looked boring.  The man looked at my answers, looked at me, and suggested I might like to visit a few schools and see what I thought about teaching.

Outward signs of status held no interest for me, fast cars, fancy houses and jetting around the world wedded to my career held little attraction, and I, at twenty, assumed that meant that it didn’t matter at all.  After all, everyone around me listened to what I had to say, and if they didn’t, I donned my Doc Martens and insisted.  My parents were amused, and sometimes, infuriated.  The thing I’ve found out though, is that it does matter, although not in the way I thought.

It crept up on me, my silence.  It crept up on me while I was busy having babies, (how ironic that it was a midwife who advised me not to make a sound, for fear of the consequences to my throat?  My throat being the last thing on my mind, I ignored her) and, at first, I didn’t notice.  I hung around with other young women in the same boat as me, and together we cackled about our predicaments, our voices raucous, laughing away the frustrations, the indignity of vomit or snot on your shoulder.  During that time I wrote the piece I’ve given a page to itself, ‘I never thought it would happen to me’, and sent it around to various newspapers and magazines.  Thanks to it, I picked up some paid writing, and was interviewed by John Peel – we talked, him and me, for over an hour.  He listened.  It was freaky.

But slowly, over the years, somehow my voice became smaller and smaller.  As my children grew, I seemed to shrink.  A SAHM.  One of the legions of fussy mothers, overanxious know-nothing parents, powerless at the school gates.  I might have the ability to make suggestions and put them in a little wooden box, but they carried little weight, were easily dismissed.  I thought it would get better, once I went back to work, and, for a while, it did.  As a class teacher, your word is law again, people come to you, they want your advice, your opinion; as the part-timer, the one who needs to come in a little bit later, to leave a little bit earlier, it’s not quite the same.  Nobody, children or adults, is quite sure who you are.

Last weekend I went to an @SLTeachmeet.  I’m not a senior leader in a school.  I’m no SENCo, no Assistant Head, I’m not a Deputy Anything.  And yet, thanks to Twitter, thanks to this blog, thanks to Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), Emma Kell (@thosethatcan) and Carol Webb (@cazzwebbo) I found myself up at the front, not speaking, but delivering sweets and chocolates rather in the same manner I have been known to deliver exercise books, accepted into a community because of these words of mine, this blog (or maybe the sweets).

I met a very nice lady (actually I met a load of nice people), a lady who, like me, has three children, and who unlike me, is a headteacher.  We talked.  I didn’t explain my circumstances, you know, the ones that mean it is impossible for me, at the moment, to set my feet firmly down the career path.  I make no apology for my decision, but I thought the battle was won.  I didn’t think that I would ever be talked over, or ignored; transparent, ghostly.   I must, for now, carve an alternative route; I must find different ways to make my voice heard.  I must don my digital docs.

 

Proving I was there with the selfie challenge.  @cazzwebbo takes a better selfie than me 🙂