A TUC report (produced in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project) was released earlier this week. According to the research, over 50% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.
I was asked to talk on BBC Radio 5 Live and the Victoria Derbyshire show about an experience I had while working in an art gallery. It was when I was in my early 20s, and one of the (male) trustees wanted to photograph me for a listings guide. The other (male) trustee said that it could be a “glamour shoot” (a topless photoshoot, rather than a glamorous one).
I was challenged on air (by men – only men) about whether this was actually harassment, or if I should have been lighthearted about it. My response is that while sexual inequality prevails, it’s of paramount importance that women are respected, and not made to feel small, insignificant or scared at work. And everywhere, for that matter. When we’re all equal, perhaps there will be more scope for jokes and ‘banter’.
Interested to hear other people’s thoughts?
Following a fairly atrocious article in the Daily Mail, where I was misquoted and generally misrepresented (I won’t do them the favour of linking to it) I was asked to speak on the Niall Boylan show about raising children as gender neutral. The presenter (Niall) was biased and ill-informed on the subject, so it wasn’t quite the intellectual debate I was hoping for, but I at least got the opportunity to share my unedited views on the matter, as it went out live. If you fancy having a listen, the programme is online here.
‘I thought motherhood would make me weak and passive but it has filled me with fury and passion instead’
Here’s a piece I wrote for Baby Centre about how using alternative therapies (acupuncture, hypnotherapy) helped me to conceive my daughter. You can read the full article here.
Becoming a mum can be a bit like starting school again. Suddenly, you’re thrown into a playground of new potential friends and have no idea where to look or who to play with. I wrote about this for Selfish Mother.
This morning I was sitting on my bed, naked, after having a shower. The Gypsy Kings were playing through the Spotify app on my phone and Joni was holding it up to her ear saying “ello” repeatedly, while running around the room – occasionally stopping to twerk.
The song came to an end and she looked me in the eyes. She came over and started to point to various parts of my face and body: “eyda” (eyes), “non” (nose), “air” (hair), “booboo” (boobies). She got to my stomach and stopped. She looked a bit confused. Then using both hands, she lifted a piece of flab and found the “tata” (tattoo) she was looking for on my hip bone.
I laughed. And then I thought: shit, we’re a year and a half post-birth – should that flab still be there? And then I thought: yes, it should, because it’s winter and I although I run every morning, I also like (in fact LOVE) drinking white hot chocolate every day, and eating flapjacks and thick slices of sourdough bread with chocolate and almond butter.
In a recent interview (coming soon to The Early Hour), a mum told me that she feels we are all in awe of a pregnant body but disgusted by it post-birth. And I agree with her – pregnancy is buoyant and blooming and rosy, while our postnatal bodies are flabby and sagging and feel as if they’ve been used and are now just getting in the way.
Funnily enough, in the photo above – taken three days after I gave birth – I remember looking down at my stomach with its stretch marks, linea nigra, flaps and indents and bobbles and loose skin and feeling amazed and so in love with my body. Rich caught me taking a photo and asked why I wanted to photograph “that”. He didn’t see the beauty in it, like I did.
But my amazement at what my body had achieved in growing and birthing and feeding Joni ceased after a few months, when I started to feel frustrated that I couldn’t run without getting mastitis, that my back ached and that those rolls of loose skin/fat weren’t shifting from my belly.
So this morning I was imagining a world where a female’s body is considered beautiful throughout childhood, teenagehood, adulthood – through pregnancy, birth, post-birth – into the menopause, out the other side and all the way into old age… Wouldn’t that be so lovely? If us women didn’t have to feel guilty about what we eat, how much we exercise (or don’t), and the state of our frame after growing and pushing out a baby…
And then, after my initial moment of horror/hilarity as Joni shifted my belly fat around while hunting for my tattoo, it dawned on me that there is a world where women’s bodies are revered whatever their size, shape, texture, age. It’s the world through children’s eyes. Joni is fascinated by my body – crevices, rolls of skin and fat, hair (wherever it may be. She excitedly referred to my pubic hair as ‘dogon’ – yes, DOG – in the bath recently).
And her love and fascination of bodies extends beyond just me, her mum. She loves her grandma’s “booboos”, her auntie’s “booboo” (as well as breasts, this means belly – her auntie has a lovely big round one, as she’s six months pregnant). And any other woman she is fond of will undoubtedly have a body Joni thinks is just wonderful.
So for anyone feeling down about their body today, try to shift your perspective. Take yourself back to childhood – when beauty was about kindness and warmth and smiles and playfulness; not skinniness, flawless skin, youth, cool clothes – and keep that outlook firmly in place as you look at your sisters. If we all start loving our own and other women’s bodies just as they are, as children do, the world will be a better place.
Parenthood is riddled with guilt. In fact, it should be renamed guilt-trip-hood, because there seems to be an inordinate amount of it weaved into the journey from conception to birth to childhood. It even continues when your children have grown up into adults, moved out and have their own kids.
It’s rare that I step back and applaud myself for the job i’m doing with Joni. Like most parents, i’m highly self-critical, anxious that i’m doing the wrong thing and am constantly making adjustments in an attempt to provide the safest, happiest, most stimulating environment I can.
However… there’s this little thing that keeps popping up and I thought it was time I addressed it. Since launching The Early Hour (a culture and lifestyle magazine for parents), I’ve spent a large part of my time interviewing mums and dads. One piece of advice I hear time and time again is: when you’re with your children, put your phone away and give them 100% of your attention.
I can’t argue with this: of course you should interact with your kids rather than scrolling through photos on Facebook, but I’m beginning to wonder (read: am desperate to prove) that ignoring your kids, just a little bit, might actually be quite healthy.
When I was young, I distinctly remember my mum, probably aged about 34, hopping onto the kitchen counter and calling her friends from the phone attached to the wall. It was so long ago that you actually had to pull the circular dial around to each number with your index finger. She’d then spend what felt like HOURS chatting away to her pals. We’d have to write notes to get her attention. (Sorry mum).
At the time, I didn’t understand why it was so important for her to communicate with her friends, surely we were SO MUCH MORE FUN AND INTERESTING??? But I now completely understand. When you spend all day with your children, you need a break; you need adult company – and whether that’s in real life, on the phone, or on Facebook messenger doesn’t really matter.
But not just that. When you ignore your children, as long as you know they’re safe, you’re giving them the opportunity to use their imagination – to make up their own games and stories, to play with toys in new ways that they’ve discovered, to get bored and have to creatively find a way to fill the time. (Like writing notes begging their mum – who’s on the phone – to let them have a biscuit).
At the moment, i’m caring for 17-month-old Joni full time while working nearly full time hours during her naps, in the evenings and on the weekend. Perhaps if I went out to work during the day, I’d be more inclined to dedicate the smaller amount of time we had together to fully-focused play. But as it stands, we have eight waking hours together – so if a proportion of that time is spent with me on my phone or computer: replying to emails, editing an article or liaising with advertisers – it shouldn’t be too great a loss.
Writing this article has been somewhat cathartic. I now feel a lot more at ease with the fact that Joni is playing, alone, with her Play-Doh balls in front of me as I tap my thoughts into my iPhone. YEAH RIGHT. I think there’s no escaping the guilt-trap you fall into as soon as you realise you’re pregnant (can I have a ‘drink’? Is a tiny slice of brie ok…), which gets worse after the birth (is she too hot/cold/hungry, should I cuddle her more/less, is she napping enough, should she still be breastfeeding…).
All we can do is make sure the child is happy and loved – and that we feel happy in ourselves too. If that means averting your attention every now and again to check-in with a mum friend or to get a bit of work done, it’s not going to ruin your child’s upbringing. It will help them to become really good at entertaining themselves – honestly, I love my own company. (Thanks mum).
This week saw the launch of my new online magazine The Early Hour – culture, lifestyle and parenting. Articles are published at 5am (‘The Early Hour’) so that parents don’t miss out.
So far, there are interviews with Gorgon City, poet Hollie McNish (Hollie Poetry), Benjamin Zephaniah, Rudimental’s DJ Locksmith, the actor Barry Ward, Working Mums, Working Dads, a Full Time Dad, film reviews and more…
Come and check it out!
The Early Hour