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Robin Williams is dead. The world is a little less wonderful today.

The great Robin Williams is dead. It seems to have been suicide. Damn.

I think we always knew (at least, I always knew) that he was a troubled soul. I remember reading about his battle with addiction in the first interview I read about him, the first time I thought of him as anything other than Mork from Orc, or the stand up comic who always made me laugh until it literally hurt. I got great core strength workouts every time I watched one of his HBO specials. It seems yesterday, at long last, he lost his fight and the depression won.

This morning I was counting up the movies he made that meant something to me, and I almost couldn’t count that high. Not just because I’m bad at math.

The Fisher King.

Good Will Hunting.

A wonderful cameo in Dead Again.

The most unlikely of war movies, Good Morning Vietnam.

Patch Adams.

And Dead Poet’s Society.

Oh, that movie. My cousin and I used to watch it over and over again, and each time we would half convince ourselves that THIS time the talented young man not kill himself. We’d pretend holding our breath could keep him alive. Or looking away at the right moment.

I feel like I’m doing that again with Robin Williams’ whole life - maybe THIS time he’ll see how much he gave us, how rich and valued his life was, how rare and necessary his talent was.

Robin Williams wasn’t talented because he was mentally ill. He was talented AND mentally ill. But would his talent have been the same if not for the illness? We can’t know. It’s facile to guess.

We watch him be funny, and we watch him be sad, and we are equally gripped, equally moved. If it was his personal misery that gave the edge to his comedy, the empathy to his acting, then what a price he paid to keep us entertained.


Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy writes to Clarks CEO about #letshoesbeshoes

Hello friends! I’ve got big news to share about the ongoing #letshoesbeshoes campaign:

I’m delighted to report that my own local MP and the Shadow Minister for Business Innovation and Skills, has written to Melissa Potter, CEO of Clarks about the campaign. Here’s her letter:

Dear Melissa

I’m writing as the MP for Walthamstow to ask for your assistance in responding to the queries made by Karin who is a local resident. In particular, I note she has requested to meet with representatives of Clarks and for a response to the concerns that Clarks may be using gendered stereotypes in its marketing which could be considered counterproductive to promoting equality in our country. Having met Karin and campaigners on these issues I’ve always found it helpful to discuss these concerns to understand how best they can be address, and so I would welcome confirmation you are able to meet with them on this matter and how they can arrange this? 
Furthermore, as a Shadow Minister committed to promoting equality as key to our economic growth we are currently looking in parliament at how companies are not only portraying women, but also promoting them and paying them within the supply chain too. Therefore I would welcome details on the following issues: 
a) the numbers of women who are members of the Clarks board and whether their position is a non-executive or executive role
b) the numbers of companies with whom Clarks works to produce its goods and what assessment Clarks has made, if any, of the numbers of women these employ and which are owned by women 
c) the feedback from customers about the images of women and girls used in Clarks marketing materials and what guidance Clarks produces for its marketing and merchandise on the portrayal of women and girls in its advertising 
I look forward to your response on this matter and would welcome your involvement in our work in promoting equality as a way to promote the economy, 
kind regards


Clarks Shoes responds. They are not sorry. They will not meet with us.

A few days ago, I wrote to Melissa Potter, CEO of Clarks Shoes, on behalf of the #letshoesbeshoes campaign. Today I received her response.

In the original letter, which you can read here, we asked for a meeting and indicated our eagerness to restore our faith in Clarks as a family-friendly business.

The response is below:



What do you think?

Here’s what I think: we asked for one thing. We asked for a meeting to discuss our concerns. This letter doesn’t even reference the fact that a meeting was ever requested, so I assume that this is a refusal to meet? I will write again to confirm this.

I note that nowhere in this letter is there any acknowledgement of the actual thing we were writing to compain about in the first place (gender stereotyping) nor is there anything that could in any way be construed as an apology - not even of the weasly “we’re sorry if anyone was offended” variety.

This is exceptionally disappointing.

UPDATE: I’ve had a further exchange of emails with Melissa Potter. Here’s my reply to her letter above:

Dear Ms Potter,
Thank you for your response to our email.
I must confess that I find it puzzling.
We had requested an opportunity to meet and discuss these issues with you. You make no reference to that request in your reply. Could you clarify, please, whether our request for a meeting is declined? If so, may I ask why?
With thanks,

And here’s her reply to me:

Dear Karin

While I would like to reiterate that your feedback is importance to us, there are channels through which we register, process and act on customer feedback.

I can assure you that your concerns have been escalated in the usual and appropriate manner, and we are discussing them as a business. I would like to have time for our various departments to digest your comments to date and the wider issues, before I can consider a meeting.

Kind Regards

Melissa Potter
Chief Executive

My response to her response so far has been 2 strong gin and tonics to steady my nerves. But I promise I’ll come up with a more constructive follow up shortly.

Le Sigh…


Amazingly, the petition to Clarks Shoes has now reached more than TWENTY THOUSAND signatures. Extraordinary. 

We’ve written to the CEO, Melissa Potter, to request a meeting and hopefully address our concerns. Here’s the letter: 

Dear Melissa Potter,


We are writing to you today on behalf of the more than 20,000 people who have signed a petition objecting to the unfortunate gender stereotyping in your in-store marketing stating that “Because boys test their shoes to destruction, so do we.” “Because girls love comfort and style, we design both into our shoes.”

Here is the petition. 

We are writing as parents and as customers, who know that girls also test their shoes to destruction and that boys care about comfort and style. We are writing as concerned citizens who find these stereoptypes damaging, outdated and inappropriate. We are writing in a spirit of disappointment in Clarks Shoes, a major UK brand which many of us have always trusted and liked. We are writing because we know that Clarks has a proud heritage, going back to your Quaker origins, of standing for social good, and because you yourself wrote that your ethos is “an inherent willingness to do the right thing for consumers, shareholders, employees and the community alike.” We are writing because we believe gender stereotypes limit boys and girls – men and women – in ways that are damaging to your community, and we therefore hope that you will see thsi as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that you can be a leader in ethical business practice by ending this damaging and unnecessary stereotyping that has offended so many of your loyal customers. 


We are writing today, because we are genuinely hopeful that you will help to restore our trust and affection and prove yourself to be the responsible, child-friendly company that we had previously believed you to be. 


Would you be willing to meet, personally, with a small group of petition signatories, and discuss with us our concerns?


To be clear, we understand from your comments to the Daily Mail that the specific poster campaign in question is shortly to end. However, our concerns go beyond the existence of this one poster campaign. We would like talk with you personally, to better understand:


·         Why your marketing development processes led to this campaign, and what changes you can make to ensure that in future you reflect the diversity and differences amongst boys and girls without stereotypes?

·         Whether there is any truth to the perception of many of the parents who signed our petition that girls’ shoes are both less sturdy and less suitable for outdoor play than boys shoes? Many parents told us they were unable to find sensible shoes for their girls, or that the choices of style for each gender was extremely limiting.

·         Whether staff have been trained to discourage parents from buying gender mismatched shoes? Some parents told us that when they tried to purchase the more practical, sturdy-looking boys shoes for their girls, they were strongly discouraged by your staff from doing so. We don’t believe it is your staff’s job to legislate our choices or act as gender police – surely they are here to sell us shoes, of whatever style!


We aren’t claiming that the damaging gender stereotypes we have found in your stores is necessarily intentional or malicious – indeed, we are hopeful that Clarks Shoes will take the concerns of its customer seriously, and that we can work together to improve.

If you would be willing to meet with a small delegation of your customers to discuss these concerns in a spirit of mutual good will, we would be glad to be able to report back that you have restored our trust and faith in the Clarks Shoes name.


Sincerely yours,


Emma Dixon

Karin Robinson

Janet McKnight

Jane Trobridge

On behalf of the #letshoesbeshoescampaign



Hillary Clinton and Ed Miliband are spinning all wrong…

I was first in a room with the now-Labour leader Ed Miliband about 5 years ago, when he spoke at a conference back when he was Secretary of State for Climate Change. And I have to say, he was a pleasant surprise to me! He spoke about energy policy with warmth and conviction, and in a political climate where normally senior figures rush out of the room 20 seconds before their applause ends, he impressed me more by sticking around to chat well past the conference end. He was actually one of the last to leave the hall, talking amiably with some of the scruffier and more hard core activists while others fled for the bar.

I can hardly believe the relaxed, earnest charmer I met then inhabits the same body as the man in this photograph:


The haunting in his eyes… dear Lord. Has anyone checked whether he’s secretly blinking a cry for help in Morse Code? “T H E Y  A R E  H O L D I N G   M E  H O S T A G E.  S E N D  M I L I T A R Y  A N D  E M E R G E N C Y  C O P I E S  O F  T H E  N E W  S T A T E S M A N!”

Poor love.

But he’s not the only one. Listen to this recent interview with Hillary Clinton in which she is interrogated 10 times about her evolving position on same sex marriage and seems to be staging a prison protest.

“These damn media, they’ll never take me alive!” she seems to cry, defiantly.

Goodness me. It’s hard up there at the top, isn’t it?

That sounds sarcastic but I actually do sympathise – I really do. For a politician who is in the public spotlight – a politician who seeks to win popular approval while at the same time being an effective leader of their Party – it must feel like you are living under the glare of a million watt bulb, receiving an electric shock every time you blink.

And, while Ed Miliband has been cowering in the spotlight for only a few short years, Hillary Clinton famously came to the world’s notice for the first time as a political leader more than 20 years ago now when she and her husband formed one of the most effective political teams most of us will ever live to see.

In those days, Team Clinton were forerunners in a new media management style that was custom-fit for the then-newly emerging world of 24/7 cable TV. Their media shop was famous for being on top of ALL the coverage, they had a rapid response team that would fire back within the hour to any story, and they imposed upon themselves the discipline of staying ruthlessly on message, even against their own inclinations to be more expansive. (“The economy, stupid!”)

It was in that world that Hillary Clinton first became the punching bag of the global media. Her hair. Dear lord, how many stories did I read about her hair? Did she bake cookies, like a real woman should? (Hillary proceeds to bake cookies and chat with Ladies Home Journal – or was it Better Homes and Gardens?) about her favourite recipe. Was she a helpless victim of Bill’s dalliances (no, she was, “No Tammy Wynette standing by her man”).

Hillary Clinton’s been living in that world for so long that a young people not even born yet when she started are now old enough to work for her. And her determination to stay tough in the face of all attacks – both those that are outrageous and unfair and those that are merely fair comment - has long since hardened into a persona that mixes carefully balanced, mistake-free public statements with the kind of “How-dare-you” outrage audible in that interview.

But the political and media environment at work today is profoundly different than the one she came of age in, politically. What was then a drumbeat of news and commentary has become a cacophony – it’s impossible to follow it all, still less is it possible to respond to it. The result, in so many politicians, has become the kind of wary, manic stare we can see in that Milliband picture. “What the hell do they want from me? I don’t know, I’ll just smile and hope the deluge passes on.”

How to spin in this world? Well, I’d suggest politicians look for guidance to the way people actually… you know… spin.


When ballet dancers began to spin their bodies rapidly, the disorientation it caused was dangerous and destabilising. They learned to manage this unnatural human state by whipping their heads around rapidly with each turn to refix their gaze on a single, fixed point. This helped them stay on their feet.


But when figure skaters began spinning – on blades and a surface that allowed for far faster spins – it was no longer possible to whip the head around so quickly. Now they had to find a new technique to keep them balanced in an unnatural, disorienting state. What they discovered was that they had to go inward, ignoring the spinning world around them altogether and centering on themselves to keep their balance.

That’s more or less the only way today’s politicians can find a way through the unnatural, disorienting demands on them by today’s world – they need to look away from the outside world and fond the balance within themselves that can keep them steady.

If they had done this, I’m pretty sure Hillary Clinton could have come up with a human answer about gay marriage, and Ed Miliband would have known better than to smilingly endorse a newspaper he has so rightly criticised in the past.

Clarks Shoes - Yep, still using outrageous gender stereotypes

Remove outdated, sexist signage from Clarks shoe shops.  #letshoesbeshoesMany of you will have seen my post many moons ago about the annoying gender stereotyping in Clarks Shoes

I had assumed that their silly campaign to convince me their boy’s shoes were uncomfortable and their girls shoes weren’t durable would have died a natural death by now, but alas no!

It turns out other parents have also been objecting to this nonsense, and there’s now a petition on which has generated over 250 signatures in just a few days. 

I really liked some of the other parents’ comments on the petition, so thought I’d post a few of them here - especially since my daughter’s really young still, so I wasn’t even aware of some of the problems with less durable shoes that some of the parents of slightly older girls have encountered.

Previously, I had thought that this was essentially a marketing problem and that surely the shoes themselves must be substantially the same (even though I don’t much like the style of the girl’s shoes). But according to these comments it sounds like the girls’ shoes are genuinely less sturdy and less practical in design. So… Clark’s tells girls that they don’t like being as active as boys, then they sell them shoes that make it hard to be active. Catch 22 anyone?

I am now going considerably out of my way to avoid buying Clarks shoes for Sophie. Their loss.

From Ben Saunders

I complained about the poor choice of shoes for girls at clarks last year and got the response that parents of girls buy shoes for reasons of style and comfort. Most of the shoes on offer would be destroyed after even moderate play in the garden. What really annoys me is that the boys range features a range of plain, non-adorned shoes which are practical and stylish and gender neutral, except that they were all too wide to fit my daughter. In the end we went with some blue shoes with an aeroplane design which have lasted well, but were in the boys range. Clarks’ signs are unbelievable - whoever came up with the idea should be ashamed of themselves. Apparently, this campaign was informed by ‘customer research’. Well, Clarks need to understand that not all of their potential customers have daughter who sit inside doing needlework whilst their brothers are out building dens.

From Helen Lynn

My son wants his shoes to look nice and feel comfortable more than he’s inclined to “test them to destruction”. And I am fed up of shoe shop assistants who can’t restrain themselves from pointing out, however gently, when he invariably chooses a pair from what they think is the “wrong” section.

From Richard Young

Among the many absurdly gendered products for kids, shoes stand out because every child needs them. And when it comes to absurd gendering, Clarks sticks out like a sore thumb. The brand is a byword for quality and fit - yet I cannot buy my daughter (5yo, size 12) a pair of school shoes that aren’t open at the top (making it easier for her feet to get wet). Surely for the young ones, in particular, there is no valid purpose for this kind of needless design treatment.

From Mary Reeve

Deeply frustrated that #1 high street children’s shoe shop only has scuff guards on boys shoes and does not produce school shoes for girls which cover their whole foot, no one wants a T-bar or strap mid-winter!!

From Ailsa Sadler

I am so sad when I see girls in the park the same age as my son (6 years old) and they cannot play on the climbing frames in the same way as their shoes are not sturdy enough!

From Emma Barker

When I worked at Clarks, I was always disappointed by the encouragement of gender stereotypes. In addition to these signs, free toys in shoes were stereotyped (at that time, cars for boys and dolls for girls) and there was a real lacking of robust girls’ shoes. Whilst parents would sometimes ask for shoes from the boys section for their daughter (I never encountered the reverse of this) they did so usually with embarrassment, especially given the boys and girls shoes were stored in different stock rooms.

Kirstie Allsopp Is a Credulous Myth Spreader, Not a Brave Truth Teller

When the delightful Kirstie Allsopp, cheeky property maven and crafty guru, spoke out in the Telegraph a few days ago with her bizarre rant about how much better off her fictional daughter would be by forsaking University in favour of a life plan that involves mum somehow finding her a nice boyfriend and a flat, I felt the same glimmer of mocking annoyance that was gripping the rest of the Twittersphere.

I imagined the spectre of this propertied but degree-less Kirstie Junior staying in mum’s basement while her friends went off to uni and wondered if she wasn’t rather more rather than less likely to end up childless and single at the age of 35 than the reverse. But I was willing to shrug it off, because let’s face it – just last week a young took a gun to a college sorority and killed 7 people because women didn’t find him attractive. Clearly, Kirstie Alsopp is far from being the biggest threat feminism is facing. I tweeted out my “13 reasons why Kirstie Alsopp’s is being a bit thick” and was prepared to leave it at that.

But then I watched her on Newsnight defending herself by with the claim that she was just raising the important issue of female fertility. “This is a taboo topic!” she said. Women’s fertility, she said, “goes off a cliff after the age of 35!”

Jeremy Paxman nodded along, “that’s inarguable, isn’t it? It’s simply a fact.”

Tabboo? Sometimes I think we talk about it way too much.

Inarguable fact? In fact, no.

Kirstie Allsop isn’t a brave truth teller on fertility – she’s a credulous myth spreader. Most of us are.

I should know. It was only after becoming a mom last year at a mature 38 that I discovered the supposed fertility cliff I’d been nagged about by seemingly every woman’s lifetime publication ever written – and by my desperately grandchild-craving mother – since I was barely even out of my teens was at least a gross exaggeration, bordering on an outright lie.

The statistics used to scare generations of young women in countless heart wrenching lifestyle magazines, were derived from French birth records from 1670-1830. Needless to say, women’s health has come on a long way since then – these data leave out not only improvements in fertility treatments, delivery methods (including the safe use of anaesthesia!) and fetal and maternal health but also basic improvements in nutrition and vaccination!

Search the more recent medical literature, and you’re looking at something closer to a 4% drop of in fertility between the ages of 28 and 37. That’s not nothing, of course. But hardly a looming calamity that should affect the career and university decision of a young women almost 20 years before.

Indeed, I would say the very last thing a young woman should be thinking about at that point is whether and how quickly she can begin popping babies into the world. Goodness gracious, what an appalling thought that is!

It’s appalling for all the tediously obvious feminist reasons, of course. We don’t ask men to take time out from university beer pong to consider how it will affect their sperm count a decade on.

But it’s also appalling because it’s simply a terrible thing on its face to ask a woman – to ask anyone – to start worrying about potential problems that might or might not occur decades down the line instead of the very real and very important problem facing them right there and then: what sort of person should I be? What should I study? Who should I love? Do I follow my passion or should I be practical? Is there a way to do both? How do I learn to live on my own? How do I pay the bills? What moves me, what motivates me, what enrages me?

My daughter is 16 months old, and she’s amazing. I’m lucky to have her. Lucky to have been able to have her, I guess, although not as much as Allsopp seems to believe. But she’s lucky too – lucky to have been born to a mom who didn’t have a child until she was ready. Lucky to have a mom who’s travelled the world, and who was free to quit her sensible job once on a whim so she could move across the world and shack up with a guy my daughter now calls daddy. Lucky that years later, her mom was free to chuck in yet another sensible job to accept the offer of making a third as much working 12 hour days for a political campaign that changed her life. My daughter’s lucky, I believe, that I didn’t spent my whole life before I had her waiting around for her. She’s lucky that I’ll have stories to tell and confidence to spare. She’s lucky I went away to university at 18, because that was when I became the person who almost 20 years later was finally ready to be a mom.

Women  aren’t in danger of forgetting that they have a biological clock – we’re told to think of our future children since we are children ourselves. I think it’s time to tell women that living their dreams today is more important than getting pregnant someday.

But perhaps that subject is “taboo”?

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