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Squeezed Middle: Was it worth giving up a career for a home life?

Hm. Read this article on my first day back at work from maternity leave, and it’s got me thinking… 

In her conclusion, she says, “Caring for children, for all its boredoms and challenges, is an occupation that engages one’s whole heart and soul”. I’m not sure I agree. Definitely, HAVING children engages the whole heart and soul, but the occupation of caring for them? Full time, all the time, every day, as an OCCUPATION? 

Nah. I just did that for over a year, and frankly there were parts of my heart and soul not to mention mind that were left distinctly unused. Other parts, filled to bursting, obviously. But not ALL. 

So… Am I a terrible mother? Discuss?

Story of My Life

Baby goes down for her nap. I tidy the living room. Empty the dishwasher. Clean the kitchen. Take out the recycling.

Think, “Hm… I could write that blog post now. Or work on my novel!” Switch on computer. Type password. Get to Windows.

Baby cries.So now I’m typing this one handed with her on my lap while she plays with my iPhone.

That’s how it goes.

In which I do battle against the forces of retail sexim…

So I got a little enraged yesterday during my shopping, and as a result I’ve just written the following email to Clarks Shoes customer care people. I wonder if anything will come of it?

Dear Clarks,
Yesterday, my husband and I took our almost 1 year old Daughter to your store in Stratford, Westfield to buy her first pair of shoes. Your staff there were unfailingly gracious and helpful, even on a busy Sunday, and I can only commend them for their excellent service.
Nevertheless, I did leave the store yesterday feeling annoyed and disappointed with Clarks as a brand. The reason for this are the two signs that I saw posted there on the back walls - I have copied them below for reference.
Embedded image permalink
Embedded image permalink I find these two contrasting statements to be insulting to both boys and girls (and men and women, for that matter) in their assumptions. Boys don’t care about comfort or style? Girls won’t wear out their shoes?
I can tell you from my point of view that I fully hope and expect my little girl will use your shoes to run and jump and skip and crawl. I hope they’ll be banged and scraped and kicked and scuffed. Because if my active, fearless little girl is anything, she’s a machine for testing everything to the point of destruction. And good for her.
While, equally, it seems to me that the little boys I know very much want the things they wear to be comfortable and stylish. For one little boy I know, stylish happens to mean that right now everything he wears should have dinosaurs on it. And good for him!
I realise that in marketing your products in this way it was not your intention to be offensive. But these stereotypes are not only silly and inaccurate - they limit us. My girl can’t even speak yet, and already the very walls around her are reminding her that she’s always to behave differently than her little boy friends. Your marketing here was not, I am sure, conducted with any malice or sexist intent. But that does not mean that it is without sexist effects.
As a parent, and as a person, I would like to ask you to do better. In the words of my childhood report cards, “Must try harder”.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
With best wishes,
Karin J. Robinson
PS: Just for your information, this email is a follow up from a Twitter conversation that I had with your @clarksshoes account, from my @karinjr account.

I’m Not Pretty.

So I think this TED talk by Cameron Russell, fashion model, is probably my favourite TED talk of all time. And that’s saying something, because there are a LOT of awesome TED talks out there.

But I like this one best because it’s concise, honest and true in an important way. And now that I have a daughter (she’s 7 months old. Yes, thanks, since you asked, she’s gorgeous, amazing. Baby McWonderfulness. I could go on at great length… but I won’t.) I plan to watch this with her as soon as she’s old enough to understand it and certainly long before she enters adolescence. Because before she starts to worry about her appearance, I want her to think critically about her appearance. Because judgements about looks are the burden society puts on all women - the beautiful and unbeautiful alike - and it’s far better to face that battle head on and fully armed.

So here’s the thing: as a lot of you may know, I do a lot of work in politics. (You can learn more about that stuff on my other blog.) And for that work, I sometimes go on TV or on the radio, and I occasionally get some attention for stuff I write or say, or do. And sometimes people say ugly things about me on Twitter or in blog comments. Now, when they say “you’re stupid,” or “you’re ignorant,” or “you’re a Socialist” I know how to reply. Respectively, “pretty sure I’m not,” “Maybe I am, show me your facts and I’ll show you mine,” and “Umm… do you know what Socialism actually IS?”

 But sometimes, instead of these things people will say, “You’re ugly!” “Or, you’re fat!” And then… a lot of things are going on at once.

First of all, I am aware that this is supposed to be the most crushing thing anyone can say to a woman. That’s why they say it, I’m supposed to crumple into a ball of self loathing. Instead, I always feel a bit like Jennifer Connolly at the end of Labyrinth, musing, “You have no power over me…”

Because it’s as if someone had told Roger Federer that he would never win Wimbledon again because he has a terrible singing voice. I mean, I have no idea if Roger Federer can sing or not. And it’s nice to be able to sing - don’t get me wrong, and if he can’t sing I bet Roger wishes he could, and if I can sing I bet he feels defensive and wants to respond, “Actually I’m a great singer, you should hear how I can rock out!” But however natural it would be, when confronted with this bizarre reasoning, to feel sad that he can’t sing, or indignant because he CAN, the right response is, of course to reply, “but my singing voice has NOTHING TO DO WITH MY TENNIS PLAYING.”

And so when people say I’m ugly in response to a political argument, I do feel a bit sad about it sometimes because nobody is as pretty as they would like to be. And I do feel defensive about it sometimes, because I’m not THAT hideous! But mainly I feel like, “But… But… But… I’m not DOING pretty.”

Don’t get me wrong, being pretty, like being a good singer, is a fun thing. A nice attribute. An admirable talent (yes, it’s a sort of talent - more on this later). But to respond “you’re ugly” to a statement of opinion is to reveal your hidden belief that prettiness is a kind of entry criteria for all of public life. This happens surprisingly often.

For instance, when a renowned and admired historian is called "too ugly for TV" - that’s a way of saying that being a good archaeologist and an interesting presenter is of no use if you haven’t crossed the “pretty enough” threshold.

When a female weightlifter competing in the Olympics is attacked for being unattractive that’s the bluntest way of saying that however objectively true your accomplishments (she can lift very heavy weights) they don’t count if you can’t pass the pretty barrier.

But, you know what? Mary Beard is really fucking knowledgeable. Zoe Smith is really fucking strong. Neither them are DOING pretty. They are DOING sport, or history, or (in my case) politics.

That’s of course totally separate to the question whether they ARE pretty. You can be pretty and smart. Pretty and strong. And plenty of people think Zoe and Mary in fact are pretty. But whether you think that or not is up to you, and it’s fine, but it’s got NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

Which is not to say that being pretty isn’t also a thing  that can be achieved. I know that I could be a lot “prettier” than I am. And for “prettier” read “conventionally attractive according to the currently predominant social paradigm”. I could wear makeup - which typically I don’t do. I could lose weight. If I were willing to give up chocolate croissants and pasta dinners and wine. Which I am not. Because I love them. I could wear more fashionable (read, less comfortable) clothes and high heels that would make my legs look longer while making my feet hurt.

I do not do these things, not because I am self loathing but because I have DECIDED not to invest the time and energy required to be pretty. Just like I have also decided not to learn to knit. Or play the accordion.

But nobody ever says to me, “Shut up about health care reform you non-accordion playing bitch.” Funny, that.

Now, if you have made it this far I would like you to do something for me - and please be honest: in the course of reading it did you glance over at my profile picture and form an opinion about my looks? If so, don’t tell me what that judgement was (PLEASE!) please do drop a simple “yes” or “no” in the comments section, and then have a think about why it would matter to you.

I’ll be honest and I say that if I were reading a similar post, I would have done it and I would have subliminally judged the article differently depending upon whether I snap-judged the woman to be hot (“easy for HER to say”) or not (“sour grapes, much?”).


Jubilee! Thoughts on The Fearne Cotton Incident

The BBC So there appears to be a mini-kerfuffle developing over the pointless and vapid BBC coverage of the Jubilee, much of which appears to be directed at presenter Fearne Cotton, whose Battersea park chatter has apparently generated a large number of complaints from viewers. Cotton has replied to rude people on Twitter telling them she won’t be “bullied” by them, the big meanies.

Now, let’s stipulate a few facts.

1) The Jubilee coverage WAS stupid and vacuous. Across the board. How many times were we assured that the collective spirits of the crowds “were not dampened”? I don’t think I can count that high.

2) Complaining about stupid and vacuous coverage is not equal to bullying. It’s not very nice. But it’s not bullying. Bullying is the powerful attacking the weak out of malice. Punters attacking TV presenters is just good old fashioned whinging, a fine and honourable British Tradition that predates even Her Majesty.


If you don’t like stupid and vacuous coverage, I would suggest to the whingers that it makes no sense to take it out on the presenter who has, in a funny sort of way, done a perfectly competent job of delivering the stupid and vacuous coverage that her bosses apparently desired. She was chirpy. She was chipper. She kept smiling through 4 hours of non stop rain and a lot of soggy cake. She did her job, and she did it just fine!

Your objection, dear whingers, is not to Fearne Cotton’s competent vacantness, but to the decision of the BBC programmers to pack the whole day full of cotton candy nothingness.

Leave the poor girl alone and go find a balding man in a suit to complain to.  

Deep Thought of the Day

We all want to be nice. Well, I do anyway.

But sometimes, fiery rage is the compassionate response to a situation.

Being polite when powerful people in big boots kick the faces of our friends (metaphorically speaking)? This is not a virtue.

Nice is different than good.

Party tricks

I can recite all of the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock from memory. While drunk. I taught myself to do it years ago.

I don’t feel like this accomplishment gets the credit it deserves. It wasn’t EASY, you know. But people just stare.

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