A creative choice

An open letter to James Rhodes, pianist (in reply to his article).

James, on the off-chance you do read this (since I’m going to tweet you a link to it!) I don’t know you at all, of course, and please forgive my direct way of addressing you here – it just feels more comfortable, and easy, and inspiring to write straightforwardly in the second person rather than making an abstract response into the void – but it’s more a response to ideas I read between your lines rather than any specific commentary on your own life or experiences.

Continue reading “A creative choice”

Feminism, subjecthood and the right to desire

As an undergraduate in history of art at Cambridge, I remember struggling with the ‘feminist theory’ class. I found it hard to stomach what was being taught, which (it seemed) was concretely the rejection of all art which treated the female body as desirable. ‘Feminist’ art as it was presented to us seemed to embody anger and hate. Continue reading “Feminism, subjecthood and the right to desire”

Some folks’ lives

One of my favourite Paul Simon songs is “Some folks’ lives” and I was reminded of it today meeting some other Harrogate Gingerbread mums and sharing stories. Here are the lyrics; have a listen:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbagtXi4HBs?rel=0%5D

It’s a song that, to me, now, poses an implicit challenge. Will we catch our star? Where do you turn when you’re at rock bottom?

And does stumbling always mean you fall? It’s the challenge to be one of those who stumbles but who doesn’t fall; to be a person who picks him or herself up and tries again, the star still in reach.

Maybe some folks’ lives do roll easy. Most, however, have been touched by loss, trauma, and darkness in life.

Many single parents have experienced very extreme situations in our personal lives and we are still negotiating them (and I’m increasingly realising that we are more numerous than it would seem on the surface). For us, a life that rolls easy is a distant dream from childhood. It’s a lost innocence. We feel there’s a small, dark sense in which we’ve grown up, and we can never go back.

For those of us who have been through nightmarish times, the only way to survive them is to plant our feet and claim back normality for ourselves and our children; to refuse to be beaten and to succumb to the darkness; and to take little steps to protect ourselves and make sure that we are surviving. We WILL be happy, and we won’t hear a suggestion otherwise.

Every separation, every heartbreak and relationship trauma is acutely painful in its own way and has its own idiosyncratic horror built in; on whatever scale that horror plays out. Sometimes the most spectacular endings are the easiest to deal with. Amicable relationships can result from horrible crises, and nasty fallout can result from apparently calm separations. Sometimes angry, passionate breakups might be easier than silent, private, empty tragedies: and vice versa. There are very few stories that resemble each other, and all of us have different feelings about our exes, and different wishes for the future.

All our lives are playing out at different speeds, and we’re all on different stages. There are the first weeks into single parenthood, the adrenaline-fuelled pangs, anguish of separation and battles for visitation; the philosophical 8 months in, where the immediate fog has lifted and you can enjoy a little perspective; the optimistic 16 months in, where life has settled, the urgent loneliness has faded, and the horizon forward looks clearer; and people four years down the line whose lives are reshaping and resettling gradually into new forms. Then there are people trapped in stagnant situations and for whom time doesn’t seem to effect change. Those of us who are just beginning to emerge from the darkness wish we could help them in some way.

We’ve all been at the lowest points where we don’t know where to look for help. And maybe help is there, in the shape of family, friends, or perhaps a faith that helps us feel stronger. But in the end, we have to rely on ourselves to grow a strength from inside: it’s the only way. We’ll deal with the ex, we’ll deal with the divorce, we’ll deal with being short of money, we’ll deal with the house, we’ll deal with the children’s tantrums and potty training and childcare, we’ll deal with the arguments and the tears and the fun things and the tiring things, we’ll deal with learning to live again, learning to love again, and finding a new place in life on our own.

Because no matter what we end up doing or who we end up living with, we’ll always be single parents. That inevitably defines us, right from the moment our innocent hope of making our ideal family broke apart, and until our children are adults and beyond. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s something liberating and strengthening about learning to negotiate life on your own terms and drawing up your own rules.

Now that we’ve been through what we’ve been through, life can roll however it wants; we’re ready; we may stumble but we’ll get up again; and some day, we’ll catch our star.

Gender stereotyping in children’s toys

The Achilles Effect explores gender bias in the entertainment aimed at primary school boys, focusing on the dominant themes in children’s TV shows, toy advertising, movies, and books: gender stereotypes of both sexes, male dominance, negative portrayals of fathers, breaking of the mother/son bond, and the devaluing of femininity. It examines the gender messages sent by pop culture, provides strategies for countering these messages, and encourages discussion of a vitally important issue that is rarely talked about—the impact of gender stereotypes on boys.

via The Achilles Effect.


Pinkstinks is a campaign that targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. We believe that all children – girls and boys – are affected by the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. Our aim is to challenge and reverse this growing trend. We also promote media literacy, self-esteem, positive body image and female role models for kids.

via Pinkstinks.

I first heard about this issue because of fancy dress costumes. Doctor, scientist, astronaut are marketed to boys. Girls’ options… princess, fairy, ballerina, overwhelmingly. Pinkstinks campaigned successfully and got Sainsbury’s to remove the gender labelling. I just think it’s one of the areas where individuals can genuinely have the power to affect the values of wider society of the future. Girls, even small ones, must have the culturally validated right to want to be a scientist or astronaut if that is what they choose. It applies to boys too, in different ways, which is what the Achilles Effect website campaigns about.

As parents, we have the opportunity to encourage children to be whatever they can and to aspire to anything they dream to be, but mass marketing which perpetuates ridiculously out of date caricatures of gender makes it very difficult: which is why I keep trying to support the campaigns against reductive stereotyping.