My Blog List

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Having your cake and tweeting it is just the icing on a fest of intelligence and inspiration

 The inaugural Mumsnet Blogfest was my first foray into engaging with other bloggers face to face. My own blog is in its infancy and I have only recently become a regular blog reader. I had a lot to learn both about and from blogging.
Before arriving, I had already recognised a great benefit of the blogging community; there is no need to come to these events feeling like a complete stranger, even if you are. Having already joined a dedicated Twitter list and read the blogs of fellow delegates, it felt like I knew one or two people already and had some means of striking up conversation.

One of the key things that became clear, was that the Mumsnet blogosphere is hugely diverse and cannot be corralled neatly into the kids and cupcakes stereotype. Particularly impressive was the 'Blogging can change the world' session, where the panel of campaigning women impressively outlined how blogging can be an effective tool in achieving political and social change on our doorstep and in distant countries. The day's speeches and discussions offered up relentless proof that blogging is far from being the vacuous naval gazing enterprise some would have us believe. How can it be derided as such when it has been used to help refugee women, to raise awareness of rape, to help miscarriage care, to aid Amnesty International and to further the feminist cause?

Aside from accelerating my appreciation of blogging generally, it was also heartening to realise that motherhood is a great leveller, beautifully summed up by Miriam Gonzalez Durantes's anecdote, describing how she had discovered that she shared much common ground with a mother of boys in Africa, despite being worlds apart in terms of life experience. Her denigration of spurious labels that expose non equivalence between mothers and fathers such as part time or working mum, was equally welcome. It was also good to hear that even women of her position and esteem have an equally turbulent time wrangling with their children through the morning routine and are sometimes glad to shut the door behind them for a while and escape into another world.

Our lives as mothers have become very complicated jigsaw puzzles with ever more pieces vying for a place to fit in. As Justine Roberts said in her opening speech, blogging suits mothers because it is something that can fit around life's other demands. Technology has been a liberating force for women in that it has helped us make our jigsaw more flexible. Blogging, tweeting and social networking are a kind of interstitial writing we can squeeze into gaps that would not admit traditional pen and paper and, like interstitial fluid, works to lubricate the frustrations and problems we all experience, through writing and sharing publicly and receiving feedback from people our own mothers would not have had the opportunity to connect with. Mumsnet Blogfest was a great vindication of this.

The day itself was, as the lives of busy women everywhere, a feat of considerable multi tasking. Where else would you find a programme so diverse, encompassing technical help, social networking expertise, advice from successful journalists, novelists, bloggers, editors, psychologists and a chance to browse clothing, design cars, try out video games and taste cheese? The list seems endless and I know I have missed some things out. So thanks to the Mumsnet team who put on such a fabulous event, all the hard work that must have gone into the planning paid off in ways that will continue to be realised, as all the good ideas and advice sink in and weave their way into the myriad blogs that will be influenced by discussions sparked by this inspiring day.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mumsnet Blogfest - my intro and why I feel these events are so important

Mumsnet Blogfest is nearly here so this my introductory blog to provide a bit of background detail before the event.

As you can see from the blog - I am far from prolific with my posts: it's a work in (gradual) progress. I have always wanted to write but never got round to it. I remember sitting in the university careers library many years ago and deciding that I ought to get a reliable job and write on the plan was to start a career, have children in my late twenties, hit maternity leave and write a book - oh the naivety of youth. Clearly putting all my writing eggs in the maternity leave basket was not wise, needless to say I have been getting round to writing ever since but never setting aside any dedicated time to do so...until now. My children are both at school now and I have a day a week to devote to my literary ambitions, in theory. In practice my life seems to be like an old computer hard drive, desperately in need of defragmenting. I write to do lists and appear quite organised but somehow the days in front of me get clogged with the little jobs that got filed in the wrong place, which I suddenly remember and have to action before getting on with 'the plan'.

Blogging has been a good place to start and can just about slot inbetween the other balls that are being currently juggled (namely a part time job and family), although it does get dropped or suspended quite often. This is why events like Blogfest and the Mumsnet Bloggers Network are so brilliant. For me they are a prod in the ribs to get on with what I want to do, rather than what I have to do. Obviously there is no pressure, but the fact I'm on a network makes me think harder about blogging beccause I have been given a potential audience. Blogfest itself has opened my eyes before I've even got there. I have already heightened my awareness of some great bloggers who have provided me with inspiration and realised there are all kinds of opportunities to be exploited, just by reading the programme of events.

The premise of my blog is to be a kind of one stop shop for current affairs affecting women, bringing the best and most interesting stories of the day to one easily accessible place...hopefully the Blogfest will galvanise me into further action because at the moment the shop is often unattended and the twitter feed is far from up to the minute. So I am looking forward to Saturday, to having a day out in the capital, where although the streets may not be paved with gold, I know that a couple of floors of Millbank Tower will be lined with like minded people, brimming with new ideas and inspiration and just a little bit of fizz. I can't wait - hope to see you there.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Does EBC Spell Travesty For Gender Equality?

EBC. Elite Boys Club? No, the English Bacculaureate Certificate to replace the repeatedly re-jigged and increasingly maligned GCSE.  This newest political football that Michael Gove is hoping to find the net with, may actually be heading for the crossbar if we consider its potential effect on female students.

Women are frequently reported as not being fairly represented in top positions in the workplace, but many girls outperform their male peers at GCSE level. This is a foundation for future progress which looks set to be eroded. Eradicating coursework completely appears a retrograde step if we consider the progress made in education related to directing learning towards individuals, depending on their particular strengths and weaknesses.  After years of taking into account different learning styles, we are suddenly presented with a one size fits all qualification. Obviously clarity and uniformity of assessment is a principal concern, but surely there is nothing wrong with developing a qualification that plays to different student strengths, not just the ability to produce a good grade from a two hour final exam, on what is usually a hay fever inducing summer's day.

Some students will do better in this system, some will fare less well if they are pressured to produce all of the goods at once in a terminal examination. A system that includes a variety is surely fairer, especially when results indicate that across gender lines, there is a divide: girls tend to be more successful at coursework, whereas boys seem able to perform best in test conditions. Coursework has already been eroded and reinvented as controlled assessment in order to limit plagiarism that is now easier facilitated by Internet essay banks. However, these allow a gradual accrual of marks and hence build confidence and allow children to make mistakes but then learn and develop from them, rather than have all their eggs in one basket in an exam room at the end of their final school year.
It is also disheartening that a more negative picture of the current situation is being presented. This makes students in the current system feel that their work is undervalued. In one article in the Telegraph, it was reported that the new system would bring back essay writing. Students have never stopped writing essays for controlled assessment and exams. The public need a clearer picture of the situation, not a clutch of spurious claims that grab headlines to sell papers and generate confusion.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Parent Tag - The game where the names never stay the same

On the subject of parenting, opinion is perennially propositioned; manuals abound and a litany of new labels enter the lexicon at a rate that as a busy parent, it's frankly futile to keep up with.

Further to the previously mentioned 'French Children Don't Throw Food', I recently read an article on Swedish parenting (Rachel Carlyle, The Times 24th March). Not content with cornering the market in flat pack furniture and crime drama, it appears that our Scandinavian counterparts have perfected parenting too. According to the report, amongst the forest frolics is emerging a new type of dad, 'latte papa'. Better family friendly policies for childcare and parental leave have percolated this pop who is freed up to spend time in coffee shops, baby in tow.
A frequenter of the odd coffee house myself, my observations suggest there is no equivalent in the UK. In fact it would seem that there are fewer labels for dads in general, despite a plethora of prefixes for mums and parents in general. 'Sexy domesticated dad' coined by Fiona Neil in Slummy Mummy is the closest that springs to mind but he is fictional and therefore disqualified from the discussion.
We often talk about gender non-equivalence in relation to sexism towards women but it is the men who are under represented when it comes to parenting tags. We have yummy mummy, tiger mother, alpha mum amongst others and plenty of generic parenting labels: helicopter parenting (recently responsible for the cancellation of an Easter Egg hunt in the States apparently (, blackberry parenting, laissez-faire parenting, authoritarian parenting and if another recent Sunday Times Style article is to believed, retro-parenting, which just goes to show how these things come round in the same circles as fashion. In that case, we just need to stick with what suits us and stop trying to keep up with the latest trends. The 'bucket list' for children under 12 published by the National Trust this week goes to show that the simplest ideas are often the best ( while Gina Ford's new contribution to the parenting game demonstrates how it's probably easier to make up your own rules than to pursue publicly prescribed practice.(

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Female Quotas: 'Frightening the horses' or Forging Fairness?

A friend asked me last week what I thought about quotas for women in boardrooms. Instinctively, I replied that I thought it a bad idea. For a start just the word 'quota' conjures up associations of livestock in terms of business: fishing and milk quotas - which puts me off the notion purely on a semantic basis. Like the idea that there should be quotas at Oxbridge, for undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds or state schools (two separate ideas but often myopically entangled in broadsheet debate), it seems wrong to make people feel they've got somewhere by ticking a box, rather than on merit.

It has been a good week to be mulling this idea over though. With the end of last year seeing the publication of Lord Davies's report and Thursday being International Women's Day, the discussion seems to have intensified in the media. The last few days have seen a call from the chair of Plaid Cymru for all women shortlists for parliamentary elections, an interesting article by Polly Toynbee in last Thursday's Guardian and an anti-quota article by Eleanor Mills in The Sunday Times. Yesterday, Jane Garvey debated female representation in the boardroom with Theresa May and Robert Peston on Radio 4.

Toynbee rather gloomily proclaims that 'it's a bad time to be a British woman', citing lack of women in the boardroom as one of several examples of how current government policy is not endearing us to the incumbent PM. She has a point and demonstrates how he is hardly leading by example by only appointing 21 women out of 119 ministers ( But is his shunning of EU plans for quotas wrong? His Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May and Eleanor Mills say not.

May, who decried the introduction of quotas as 'frightening the horses', points to increased representation of women in boardrooms in recent years and there has been progress: 47 women were recruited to FTSE 100 boards in 2011, compared to a mere 18 in the previous year. Her feeling is that this increase will be a continuing trend and the aspirational target of 25% representation put forward by Lord Davies's report, will be exceeded by 2015. The current percentage is 15.6. Eleanor Mills is very much of the meritocratic mindset, describing the 'plan to stuff boardrooms with token skirts' as 'positive discrimination at its worst'. She qualifies this with the idea that 'there is no point sitting pretty at the top if further down women are leaving in droves. What is required is to keep up the public pressure on companies to improve their female leadership and diversity initiatives'. Changing business culture (and indeed culture in general) is clearly the key to rectifying the under-representation of women in the corporate world. In another Guardian article by Kira Cochrane back in December, Natasha Walter (feminist writer and activist) points out, this time in relation to male domination of current affairs programmes, that often the lack of women is down to 'slight laziness' rather than 'conscious sexism or discrimination'. She explains how 'the masculine establishment reproduces itself. They know the men, the men are already visible, so they're easy to ask'. This is perhaps the case in business and could help support the idea that short term quotas, at least, would help promote the visibility of women, making it easier and more comfortable for women to rise to top positions without the hindrance of feeling exposed as different to the norm. Animal associations are used once again to illustrate this by Caitlin Moran (The Times Magazine, December 2011), who assesses the situation thus:

'When women are in a minority in any situation, they feel as understandably odd as two pelicans in a camel enclosure. And the camels can't help but look at the pelican beaks oddly and go off and do 'camel things' in the corner, while the pelicans feel awkward and alone and go on a weird diet of self-loathing.'

Her solution is pro - quota, suggesting that 'you just need to wang half a dozen stupider pelicans into the enclosure, to keep the best pelicans company, and even out the numbers, so that both 'being a pelican' and 'being a camel' is totally normal in the London Zoo Pelican & Camel Experience'. This solution strikes a chord in a world where women still find themselves under-represented in a variety of scenarios, from the corporate world to current affairs panel shows and in the media generally - over a month it was found by one reporter that 78% of newspaper articles where written by men. This seems surprising in a world where women appear on the surface, to have the freedom to inhabit more prominent positions in public life.

It is crucial, whatever measures are taken to enable greater equality of the sexes, that we don't undermine the progress that has been made so far, even if sometimes this may appear to be incremental and slow. I'm all for 'frightening the horses' if necessary but I do worry that we'll all be perceived as second rate pelicans if we sacrifice quality for quantity.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Using the Illusion - Confidently Really Matters

Confidently Really Matters - Sally Taylor

Rather bizarrely, my first memory of the notion of confidence takes me back to being eight years old and watching Paul Daniel's magic show on TV. On the particular show in mind, a young girl volunteer was helping him conjure up some elusive object, I forget exactly what, but had failed the first time round. To enable success on a subsequent attempt, the magician made a C shape with his thumb and index finger and asked her to swallow the imaginary confidence it contained. She did, and Abracadabra! the trick worked. Paul Daniels is not someone you would normally associate with useful childhood epiphanies but on this occasion he was making a hugely important point. Confidence is just an illusion, a trick I feel that has often evaded me and generally seems to evade more women than men, a notion backed up by a couple of things I've heard and read over the last week.

On last Tuesday's Woman's hour on Radio 4, the need for more confidence and risk taking in order for women to be successful was a feature. The headteacher of Wimbledon High School was explaining her school's initiative for encouraging girls to understand that having confidence to fail and succeed, is a common factor in achieving success. Women and girls are often held back by the fear of failure rather than grasping it as a useful springboard to future achievement. She put forward the obvious (but not necessarily widely taught) notion that girls need to be encouraged "to stand up and say I am a successful person and I am proud of that and I don't need to be shy or to step back or to feel that I am being conceited or arrogant ... and when I succeed I will be very happy and I won't be afraid to say so." Women are all too often reticent in confidently asserting their ideas or celebrating their successes. Moreover, they are often deterred by fear of attracting criticism for their boldness (an example being the online abuse cited in my last post).

Corroborating this lack of confidence in an interview in Saturday's Times, Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem Equalities Minister, shared an anecdote drawn from her experience of visiting primary schools: "When I go into primary schools and say 'Who wants to be Prime Minister?' all the boys go 'me, me, me' and all the girls sit on their hands knowing they could do a better job." Prior to this she had provided a hilarious but pertinent example of male and female behaviour in meetings: "John will say 'fwa fwa fwa'. Fred will say 'I agree with John, fwa fwa fwa' and Terry will say 'I agree with John and Fred, fwa fwa fwa'. And Jane will open her mouth when she has a point to make. Men always reinforce what someone else has said and women tend to be very thoughtful and make a point." It is this thoughtfulness that needs to be taken more notice of and encouraged into the limelight more often. And, with reference to the primary school scenario, girls and young women must be encouraged to raise their hands and speak rather than sitting on them and imprisioning their ideas in interior dialogue.

The image posted above sums it up for me really, it's a painting by Sally Taylor, a friend of mine, whose paintings and drawings 'affirm a desire to understand more about human relationships and the interaction with others.' It is this human, and more specifically female, relationship with confident interaction with others, which we should all seek to affirm more often.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Metaphors of Merit

Time to blog has been evasive of late but I'm persevering. It's been an inverse hibernation - rather than storing up sustenance in preparation for a long sleep, it has been sleeping and dreaming up ideas to nourish a reawakening instead. I have been far too reticent with the idea of blogging but I am being spurred on by wise words from Jessica Brinton in The Times back in January: 'Persistence is power: it's better to create something that isn't perfect - refine, develop, try again - than not to create at all.' Quite fitting being as this is my third attempt at a blog and the only one that has got as far as a second post.

The title of this post has been inspired by some thought provoking metaphors that I've stumbled on recently that help draw attention to experiences of modern women. Having managed to keep up with current affairs more over the last year, I have been quite surprised by some of the obstacles that still face women that had not even crossed my mind. My awakening began with reading Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman, where she draws attention to the fact that women are still markedly underrepresented or discriminated against, in many areas of life. One of the most shocking examples I came across in the press, was the issue of sexist abuse online. One of my favourite metaphors was created in response to this by Zoe Williams in The Guardian, who explains how women online are a kind of pinata being beaten by the sticks of aborrhent web trolls. However, as she puts brilliantly, 'immediately you engage, the worst of it simply slips away. As much as I hate to generalise about them, I think trolls dislike dealing with a human being; they like a pinata, some big ugly spectre they can beat with a stick. If a pinata starts talking back, it might not increase your affection for it, but it makes you feel squeamish about hitting it in the face.' A great observation for making us recognise that we should just have the confidence to fight back rather than ignore abuse.

Another thought provoking metaphor is proffered by Gaby Hinsliff in her new book Half a Wife which I have only just started to read but has thrown up so many relatable observations on the frustrations faced by modern working families, that I am almost tempted to put Thomas the Tank Engine on repeat so that I can read on more quickly (thus completely defeating the object of the book which is to secure a more harmonious family life). On the first page, she cites the architectural concept of ' a line of desire' ... 'the route people take through public space that was never imagined on the architect's drawing'. She goes on to explain how 'There is just such a line of desire in British working life now, increasingly well trodden by parents turning their backs on the narrow old corporate career path.' She explores ways in which conventional career paths for both sexes can be redrawn to be more conducive to modern family life and the fulfilment of both sexes. I'll keep you posted on how it develops.

Meanwhile, I offer you a metaphor of my own that explains my inabilty to write more often. Amongst the clouds that make up the hectic struggle to carve out my own successful work life balance, my ideas for the blog are like planes circling above the laptop screen, waiting for clearance to land once the children are tucked up in bed, the housekeeping tamed and the work brought home to finish is done.

Reading List
How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
Half a Wife, Gaby Hinsliff

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Make like the French and rediscover l'equilibre

Despite the unlikelihood of me ever managing chic French style myself, it was heartening and not a little inspiring to read about the French approach to the knarly subject of raising children in yesterday's Times. The idea of not feeling guilty for taking 'me time' and ensuring that you don't become completely childcentric following maternity leave, are excellent ones to take on board and ones I definitely feel we disregard too often in the UK. However, it did strike me that some of the methods used by our French sisters were not exclusively French and took me back to my own childhood experiences of discipline, particularly 'les gros yeux' which unburied my memory of Grandad's beady eye and indeed the look my parents cast my way for a whole gamut of minor misdemeanours. It would be wrong to assume that these techniques are not employed by British parents, although it would be correct to recognise that in some cases this repertoire of reprimands needs a good dusting off. It was good to finally read some common sense advice and personally to feel for once I was getting some things right, having tried to instill most of the rules into my own children already (single snacks and secret swear words aside!) I look forward to reading more common sense advice in Monday's paper. Let's face it, who wouldn't knock Gina Ford and Supernanny from their pedestals in favour of the chic and sassy Parisian maman?