Last night I was on Resonance FM talking about the Protein World ad, feminism and online activism. It was for The Subtext – a great show hosted by Louise Simpson and Rosy Rickett. You can listen here.
Waking up on a Saturday feels different to the other six mornings. Monday feels slightly daunting – even if you’re not working, as it’s the start of something new. By Tuesday you’re settling into it but there’s a long way to go until the weekend. Wednesday is a solid day: slap bang in the middle. Thursday is creeping, daringly and delightfully, into the weekend. Friday is the weekend (but not quite) and Saturday is: YES. It’s sunshine, reggae, BBQs, brunch and dunch: mid morning meal, then mid afternoon meal – and a late night. (Sunday, if I imagine it visually, is black. Personified, it’s feeble and drooping at the shoulders; as a sound it’s white noise.)
So today I woke up feeling good. Rich is working so it’s just me and Joni this morning. I fed her a big bowl of porridge with berries and banana then we set off on our morning run (me running, her kicking back in the buggy: cushioned by sheep’s wool, wrapped in blankets, drinking milk). We stopped off at the poshest Spar in the world in Walthamstow village and picked up two loaves of freshly-baked sourdough. The smell reminded me of mornings in the south of France with my family, popping into the boulangerie for croissants and strawberry tarts and hot chocolate and a stick of French bread. I also treated myself to some organic body wash made with orange and cinnamon. It’s more expensive than your average shower gel but smells so delicious and helps me to be mindful in the shower.
We bought a newspaper from the friendly newsagent across the road and I tried to pay with an odd foreign coin that looked curiously similar to a 20p but was of a lesser value: 2 (something). Friendly he may be – stupid he is not, so he didn’t accept it. I rummaged in my bag for more change, while the man behind me patiently waited. I was grateful for his patience; so often people grow fidgety and start tutting if you’re slow. I left the shop and ran about five metres with a now quite heavy buggy across the newly-paved part-pedestrianised strip of Orford Road then swung down a side road, narrowly missing a builder and his scaffolding pole. It was about 8am so the only people on the streets were me, builders, old people with dogs and men (not being sexist – they were all men) changing bin bags in the park.
On another residential road, a house was decorated in the most beautiful climbing wisteria. I ran past it and then stopped and walked back. I decided to enjoy it for longer than a passing moment. I decided that today I should be mindful. I stood there for a few moments, took a photo then ran on. I saw some bluebells on the next street and contemplated the seasons. Spring is full of hope, blossom petals swirling through the streets; like confetti, bluebells blooming everywhere, the sun becoming warmer – teasing us; beckoning us into summer. I wondered if perhaps it’s easier to be mindful in the spring and summer, with so many flowers in bloom and bare skin being warmed by the sun and painted toe nails and sweet fruits to eat. But winter can be lovely when your cheeks are bitten by the cold air and then toasted by a roaring fire and you can drink hot chocolate and toast marshmallows. And autumn leaves are enough to make autumn exceptional.
We carried on roaming the streets, flying past irises and tulips, and stopped to peer into a sweet ‘free books’ box that lots of people around London are putting on their front garden walls. You can take a book to read but you’re asked to return it or replace it, if you can. I just took a photo:
We got home and I realised how cold our fingers were from the early morning chill, so we rubbed them together to warm up then sat on the rug in the sitting room and I put on some music for Joni. She loves to bop her head when there’s a good beat so i’m compiling a Spotify playlist for her. Bedouin Soundclash ‘When the night feels my song’ is a firm favourite, as are ‘Roxanne’ by The Police and ‘Bamboleo’ by the Gypsy Kings. I slipped in Blackstreet’s No Diggidy as an experiment but she’s not sure about R&B yet. No worry, she’ll grow into it.
After some deep breathing and pilates (with Joni using me as a climbing frame and trying to put her very small socks onto my comparatively very large feet), I put Joni down for a nap, showered (using my lovely new shower gel) and drank a decaf coffee with almond milk, ate a slice of the delicious fresh sourdough bread, toasted, with almond and vanilla butter and sliced banana, and begin writing this. Now Joni is cooing for me to collect her from her cot. The end of my mindful morning alone with my daughter, as soon we’ll be off to meet a friend for lunch. So good to enjoy the simple things sometimes: flowers in bloom, upbeat music, smells, spring time, fresh bread – and to just enjoy being alive.
During pregnancy I relished the weekly emails I received from the NHS about the development of my baby. They were always spot-on; offering perfectly-timed information about both the baby and me. I also dipped into online forums for quick answers to any questions I had. But I avoided ‘how to’ books on pregnancy and parenting because I wanted to work it out for myself, at my own pace.
Whenever i’ve had a practical question and haven’t wanted to go to the doctor or health visitor (which is always because I never want to go to either) i’ve gone to my mum. That’s probably why we started off feeding Joni puréed food rather than opting for the popular baby-led weaning. Basically, all the things I think my mum did really well for me when I was growing up, I want to repeat.
For people who don’t have a network of mothers around them to answer their questions, ‘how to’ books (ie. how to breastfeed, sleep train – or not – co-sleep, feed your baby etc) may offer some reassurance. But I can’t help but wonder if – on the whole – they actually confuse, rather than help, new parents.
When using forums, mum-friends, our own mothers/ aunts/ sisters for advice, there will be a variety of ideas about everything but then you can pick and choose. In contrast, a ‘how to’ book suggests that there is only one way. It acts as a bible and the fact that it has been scribed by a ‘professional’ makes it seem more legitimate, so people are being led to believe that these pages can actually transform them from a tired, emotional, confused, scared parent into a sleeping, head-strong, fearless parent with a clear vision.
I may only be nine months into this parenting game but one thing I know for sure is that no parent feels that way all the time. What’s more, how can the author of a book offer you sage advice for rearing a baby s/he has likely never met? Your mum’s met your baby. And your friends have too. So when Joni, aged five and a half months, was up feeding for two hours during the night and my parents wondered if she was hungry for something more filling than breastmilk, they were looking at me and Joni and making a sensible suggestion. They waited for me to ask, which is important – ‘cos I don’t know any new mum who wants unsolicited advice – and then jumped at the chance to tell me that she was probably ready for proppa grub.
We mashed up some veg, gave it to her, she spat it out, we tried again the next day and eventually she started gobbling it down. She also stopped waking for those epic night feeds. Then we started to introduce lumps and to give her pieces of banana to feed herself. She loves it. So feeding = tick. With no book consulted.
Next came sleeping. We wanted to be able to get Joni off without me nursing her to sleep (ie. feeding her from my breast until she dropped off into a milk-induced-coma) and to sleep through. This is where the books really fuck with your head. I know this because at 4am one morning, I ordered one from Amazon. I was desperate for sleep. Sleep book sales must peak at ungodly hours as blurry-eyed, sleep-deprived parents decide they can no longer cope and will pay for any help they can get. Only, it’s not help. Because it’s talking about a baby that doesn’t exist, or belongs to the author, or a sleep clinic trial – and how that baby learned to sleep.
So I read a few pages of this book, freaked out that Joni’s naps were all at the wrong time, decided that I was terribly disorganised and failing at motherhood and stopped reading. Then I realised that the book was the failure, not me. I talked to Rich and we decided to try our own techniques – after all, we know Joni better than anyone else. We soon found our own solution. She now gets herself to sleep and stays in her cot from 7pm until 7am. This might change, but we’ve had about four delightful months of it and can now cope with unsettled periods, as and when they arise, with the knowledge that all babies eventually get themselves to sleep and sleep through. Joni has done it before, she can do it again. You don’t need a book to tell you that.
The ‘how to’ books instil fear and then offer solace. So the author might (as was the case with the one I read) say that your baby will never sleep through the night if they aren’t napping properly. That means three naps, at the same time each day, in the cot. Not in the buggy, or your arms, or the car. So if you stay in all day, everyday – and DO NOT nurse your baby to sleep, or leave them to cry – they’ll nap perfectly and then sleep through the night. Except that’s not telling me how to get my baby to sleep. The author can’t tell me that because there’s no one secret solution. It’s all trial and error. I walked for miles to get Joni off in the buggy, delighted when she snoozed in the car and used my breast to send her off every night. Until one night when I put her down awake and she went off in her own so I knew she could do it. Since then, she’s had her boob/ bath/ book routine and gone to bed awake, had a moan then dropped off. It comes with age (of baby), patience and not listening to the ‘experts’. But mostly, it comes from using your intuition and instinct – those invaluable things all parents have but that we’re taught, by the ‘gurus’, to ignore.
I recently had a weaning conundrum. I have no idea how much milk Joni drinks each day so couldn’t work out how much formula she’ll need when I ease off breastfeeding. Google couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer to my simple – but important – question so I emailed a wise mother of two little ones whose advice I know I can trust. She instantly replied with the exact info I was after: follow-on milk, three small bottles a day – and with no ambiguity or judgement. Other mothers are a most valuable resource.
And lastly, my latest problem: Joni biting me when she breastfeeds. I read that your baby might bite you once but your reaction will be so strong that they’ll never do it again. Only, that’s not true. Joni bites me all the time when she’s teething. It isn’t excruciating but i’d prefer if it wasn’t happening. As this dilemma is relatively new, i’m yet to find a solution so answers on a postcard, please. But just don’t point me toward a bloody book.
So, it seems Lucy-Anne Holmes’ ‘No More Page 3′ campaign has at last paid off – following three years of activism and 200,000+ signatures on the petition. The Sun, with its new feminist; women-loving hat on, has stopped printing images of topless babes on page three. They are instead printing a daily image of a woman in her underwear. Hurrah? Not quite.
However, Holmes’ hard work deserves recognition and this – albeit small – step should be celebrated as one that’s at least moving in the right direction. If a little step like this could be taken in other areas of sexual inequality it might look like this:
– The gender pay gap reducing from 19.7% to 10%, so that women earn £90 for every £100 earned by a man, rather than £80.30. For doing EXACTLY THE SAME JOB.
– Adopting the Swedish prostitution laws so that punters, not sex workers, are criminalised. Currently in the UK women can sell their bodies legally; the only illegal aspect is brothels, pimps and soliciting. It wouldn’t make prostitution illegal per se but it would shift society’s attitude from denigrating the prostitute to questioning the john.
– According to Women’s Aid, one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. So a baby-step forward might mean one report every two minutes. That would mean the suffering had halved – 720 women a day, rather than 1440. Or 262974.383 a year, rather than twice that very big number.
– Currently just over one in five Members of Parliament are women. Let’s work towards making this two in five initially, and eventually it might even go up to 2.5 in five. That would be half. Or, as there are slightly more women in the UK than men, maybe three in five would make it a more equal representation.
Who knows, maybe one day The Sun will stop posting images of scantily-clad women entirely. They may even post stories about women’s intellectual achievements. But it’s unlikely. So instead, let’s work on educating people – young and old – about the benefits and importance of sexual equality. That will lead to people becoming less tolerant of objectification, exploitation and all other forms of repression. And then they might just stop reading The Sun altogether. And that would deserve a ‘hurrah!’.
Pop artist Allen Jones graduated from the Royal Academy in the 60s, along with Hockney and Patrick Caulfield, and has now returned for a retrospective – displaying his painting, sculptures and those ridiculous pieces of sculpted furniture that he claims are not sexist.
If his work is about so much more than just these sculptures, as Richard Dorment suggests in this article, why did the curator – Edith Devaney – decide to whack two of them in Room 1, so that the first view visitors have of Jones’s work is two female figures, bent over, arse cheeks parted, with a pane of glass on their backs acting as a table top?
Both clad in lace-up knee high boots; one donning a lycra gimp suit and the other a corset, the female models have fake tits, peachy arses and tiny waists. Just like the women depicted in every other sculpture and painting in this exhibition. It’s not so much that I have a problem with the female form being presented in this way, it’s more the fact the Jones claims to be a feminist.
He defends his decision to dress the women like this by explaining that everyday clothes might have made them look like mannequins (because all us wimmin walking around in normal clothes are basically a bunch of walking mannequins, durrr.) Fetish clothing, on the other hand, ‘achieved his aim of accentuating the shape of the body’. Oh yes, of course! Now it makes sense.
I wonder why Jones also chooses to dress the female figures in his paintings and photographs in such a limited wardrobe of clothes and shoes – always painfully high heels, often in tight-fitting; restrictive materials and suspenders, sometimes actually trapped in a cast, like in this famous image of Kate Moss:
Maybe it’s because he’s concerned that otherwise they might wind up looking like mannequins too?
A stab in the dark here. Perhaps despite his best efforts to persuade us otherwise, Jones is actually a sexist, misogynist artist who is desperate to provoke a reaction from the same people he is portraying as nothing more than objects: women. But he continues to defend his work, assuming that us walking mannequins won’t pipe up because our brains are made of fibreglass.
Another room displays a series of sculptures showing the curves of a woman and man as they dance together. It’s as if they blur into one; she becomes his to lead wherever and however he pleases. This is also apparent in his painting Sin-Derella, where the man’s belt is wrapped around both bodies; trapping the woman he is dancing with. Her leg pushes between his, seductively, because Jones sees women as inherently seductive and provocative, but the man still owns her body. Jones has taken the innocent fairytale slave Cinderella and made her a sinner:
It’s always inspiring to walk around an art exhibition that elicits such a strong reaction, as it gives you the opportunity to readdress your values and understanding of people, art and the relationship between the two. So i’m grateful for that. But when men pretend their art is presenting an existing social construct rather than being outright sexist, I do get a little peeved.
Minutes after Joni was born she managed to locate my nipple and latch on for her first milk feed. She was a hungry baby and breastfeeding got off to a good start. Bar the usual early niggles (sore nipples, baby needing constant feeding), Joni took to it well and so did I. Then on about week three, a friend mentioned this infection called mastitis. She told me that when her son was a tiny baby she began to feel unwell, developed a fever and flu-like symptoms (achey, knackered) and had to go to bed. It was to do with a blocked milk duct. Gosh, that sounds terrible, I said.
A few days later I was having a lovely picnic with my mum and sister in Epping Forest. We sat on a rug in dappled shade cooing over Joni. When my back started to ache, unbearably, I put it down to carrying around a heavy baby. But when my right boob also started aching, I felt sick and left my dinner untouched so that I could go to bed, a little bell rang. I spent the night sweating and shivering, and the following morning at the emergency doctor’s surgery, waiting for three hours until they prescribed me antibiotics. I was worried about taking them, as I thought it might interfere with breastfeeding – which was now painful as it was inflamed from the mastitis – but the doctor said it wouldn’t clear up on its own.
I spent the next few days feeling like shit – trying to celebrate my birthday belatedly, as i’d spent it in labour. And then the infection left my breast and I was fine. (Antibiotics didn’t interfere with breastfeeding).
Around six weeks post partum, I got back into running. I left Joni with my mum and dashed around the park, feeling elated as endorphins rushed through my body. I waited a day then ran again – about two miles. But the next day I felt a familiar aching and tiredness. My boob hurt. Mastitis was back. I panicked, tried to get a doctor’s appointment but couldn’t and decided to treat it myself. A combination of cabbage leaves in my bra, hot compresses, baths, loads of rest and plenty of water cured it.
A couple of weeks later I began running again. A few days later mastitis returned. And this pattern repeated three more times until I (begrudgingly) stopped running. I found that running helped when I’d had a bad night’s sleep; the cold morning air woke me up and raising my heartbeat filled me with energy – but it wasn’t worth risking illness. My body was clearly saying: slow down, you’ve just given birth and you’re still breastfeeding a big baby on demand. I had tried three different sports bras but it didn’t make a difference. I also expressed before heading out. Apparently, it can be the arm motion blocking the ducts – but mostly, it’s the body rejecting over-exertion.
An unhelpful NCT breastfeeding counsellor sat watching me breastfeed when Joni was about five weeks old and our group met up. After hearing i’d had mastitis, she told me the latch wasn’t right, ie. I wasn’t feeding Joni properly. I told her i’d had three midwives check and they all thought it was fine. She then changed her mind and said it was good. I remember feeling pissed off that she was sat watching and judging me – new mums can be very self-conscious in those early weeks – and also that she had got it wrong. It didn’t feel helpful, it felt intrusive. The latch was fine – the mastitis was down to trying to do far too much too soon (exercise, cleaning the house, lifting heavy things).
And i’m writing this post for three reasons. 1. So that anyone reading who is breastfeeding and begins to feel the beginnings of mastitis will know what’s happening to them. 2. Because it’s so important to rest and recuperate after giving birth. Some women get back in to running but i’d say start really slowly and stop if your body isn’t coping and 3. because rather than taking antibiotics, which isn’t ideal for mum or baby, it’s possible to cure blocked ducts and mastitis naturally. Feed through it (it won’t hurt for long), stick cold cabbage leaves in your bra (Savoy is best, not sure why – but it worked for me), use hot compresses (a flannel soaked in hot water pressed against your breast, or a hot water bottle), drink loads of water and chill the fuck out. The last instruction is the most important. But if it’s not clearing up after this, best to check with the doctor because i’m not one.
I hope someone else can learn from my mistakes. And happy breastfeeding – it’s such a beautiful way to bond with your baby, even if it does take a while to get into the swing of it.
Growing up, we had ‘Vote Labour’ posters blu-tacked to the sitting room window, so i’ve always known that to be my parents’ political party of choice. When I was of voting age and the general elections came round I decided that I would also vote Labour. Mostly because I thought my views were probably in line with my folks’. I didn’t read up on any policies.
Then I went to university and became very interested in feminism. This made me look at the parties from a female stance – but I wasn’t yet affected by unequal pay, or fewer women in boardrooms (well, so I thought). I cared about women in crisis – victims of domestic violence, rape survivors, those seeking abortions – and Labour seemed to be looking out for these women. This became particularly apparent when the coalition government was elected and funding that the Labour party had allocated to these services was cut so brutally. See here and here.
Just prior to the 2010 General Election, I went up to Cardiff to canvas with a friend’s mum who was running for MP. I think we successfully turned a few voters back to Labour, who’d been influenced by the Sun switching its allegiance from red to blue. We also went to her fundraising dinner and sat with Ed Miliband, who I liked a lot. I felt comfortable with Labour.
And then I had a conversation with my sister who’s a supporter of the Green Party and keen to recruit new members. She asked why I vote Labour and I told her it was because women’s rights and sexual equality were my biggest concerns and that I feel Labour tackles these issues in the right way. She told me she votes Green because she’s worried about the future of the planet and feels this is best dealt with by the Green Party. We concluded that i’m more concerned about the present and she’s more concerned about the future. But I also explained that sexual equality would improve the economy and reduce poverty, as well as meaning greater access to education – and this would all work towards a more environmentally-savvy society.
Anyway. After our conversation I started looking in to Green Party policies on women and was pleased with what I read here. I like their stance on access to abortion, funding for rape crisis centres and domestic violence centres and equal pay.
I also know how important it is to protect our planet and lead more environmentally-friendly lives but I wonder if, like me, too many people are put off by the name? ‘Green Party’ says to me: we care about the environment above all. It’s an issue that needs to continue to be addressed but – for me – it’s not the most pressing issue. I wonder if families living in poverty will see this as the biggest, most immediate priority? Although living a greener life is, in some respects, the cheaper way to live: reduce energy consumption in the home, travel by foot or bike, eat organic vegetables instead of meat, shop locally – when you can’t afford food, clothes or to heat your house, being kind to the planet might not be of paramount importance.
Another problem is that the green debate is often inaccessible and intellectual, so lots of people are left out. This leaves them unaware of what’s happening to the planet and where we’re headed if we don’t take better care of it. I know that schools teach children about caring for the planet, recycling, where our food comes from, healthy eating – and that’s great – but they aren’t voting. Yet. And so it’s the adults who need to be taught.
Articles like this one, which asks Russell Brand to reconsider his suggestion that we should all abstain from voting, as his ‘revolutionary’ ideas are actually encompassed in Green Party policies, do a lot of good for the greens. It highlights a load of the issues that you don’t otherwise hear much about (I don’t, anyway). So this could sway some voters – and it’s once they’ve been won over that they can start learning about the environmental side of things. That should come second. Because, in my opinion, the present needs to be improved before we can start working on a greener future.
I am the needle, with you as my thread;
separate beings but where I go, you’re led.
In those early days, when you were curled up small,
i’d wrap you up in blankets, or muslin to keep you cool.
You were complex and compact, like tightly wound yarn,
and each cry required fixing, so I learned to darn.
We were bonded – and bonding – every waking hour;
you’d wail for my body when I was in the shower
and you’d yearn for my milk as I closed my eyes to sleep
but when nestled near my breast, I wouldn’t hear a peep.
You could say we’re in a bubble – but it’s more a ball of wool
that will slowly be unravelled: you’re the thread and I’m your spool.
I will guide you like a needle, keep you grounded like a bobbin,
let you run, explore, be free –
but keep you safe and bound to me.
by Annie Ridout
My daughter Joni has just turned six months. She is suddenly sitting up at the table with us, shovelling down porridge, pureed kale and beetroot, pear & potato soup, sleeping through the night and making me laugh, cry and gasp – constantly.
This morning I was reflecting on our (/her) journey thus far; remembering the colicky evenings of early months, the piercing cries when we tried to take her around the supermarket in her buggy and the CONSTANT need for milk – like, every 30 minutes throughout the summer. Lanolin became my best friend.
Of course, there is also the first time your baby rolls over unaided – I turned around and Joni was suddenly in a yogic seal pose, big eyes beaming up at me – her first giggle (when I accidentally tickled her) and all sorts of other beautiful, magical, joyous moments. But these moments stay with you, ingrained in your memory, and that’s why I was contemplating the more challenging times. When you’re in the midst of the sleepless nights, hysterical crying and refusal to settle, it feels like it will NEVER end. But it does. And then you forget all about it. I’ve even gone as far as to tell friends that Joni never cried at night. I actually believed that to be the truth, until Rich gently reminded me that it was a big, steaming pile of babyshit.
When the colic arrived – very suddenly, one evening, as our sweet relaxed baby became inconsolable unless my nipple was in her mouth at all times – we panicked. What the hell do you do with a baby who won’t stop crying? Well, just feed her constantly we decided. But this meant feeding her all evening without a moment to myself. I couldn’t go to the toilet without her. Someone said: don’t worry, it only lasts a couple of months. A COUPLE OF MONTHS, we said; we were hoping a couple of hours. Then around three and a half months, it stopped. She was suddenly happy in the evenings.
We went through the same thing with sleepless nights, as in: baby up every hour wanting to feed or be comforted. We were lucky that Joni actually loves her sleep so we haven’t had too many of these but they’re torturous.
And the feeding. I was told by a midwife at the hospital that as Joni was a big baby, i’d need to supplement my breast-milk with formula. I wanted to fully breastfeed so ignored her advice and it turns out she was wrong – I didn’t need to supplement – but Joni did have a seemingly insatiable appetite. Until one day, when she started taking more during each feed and only needed my boob once every couple of hours.
When I think back to the more difficult times I feel like Joni barely demands anything now, which is obviously quite far from the truth – but it just does get So. Much. Easier.
And so for all those new parents wondering if they’ll ever sleep again, get to go to the supermarket without whistling, cooing and trying anything to calm a manically crying baby, and hoping their nipples won’t forever burn and ache – don’t worry: it will soon be a (relative) walk in the park. And you’ll be forgetting all the hard bits and remembering the amazing bits and telling your friends a whole load of lies about how your baby has never cried, was sleeping through the night from birth and had a feeding routine down as soon as she popped out.
I took my little family of three to Humble Bee, a working farm in Yorkshire, for the weekend. We had a hot tub. Read my review in Motherland here.