Twinkling Lights: A Short Story

This is a short story by my beautiful daughter who has finally given me permission to publish it. 

Twinkling Lights.
            Little sparkles filled the dark heavy sky that stretched like a dome over her head. Ellie looked in awe, the back of her neck aching slightly. She blinked and pictures appeared in the night sky. Taking her favourite fairy wand, she traced pictures of people, animals. She imagined a thin sparkly silver trail following the tip of her wand… And the pictures came to life. The great hero Hercules with his sword chased a lion across the night sky. Ellie spun around, her wand wafting in the air and her tutu whirling around her as she pretended to be a lion. Pouncing on Hercules, she jumped onto a chair and clawed the air, growling in the back of her throat. Hercules armour shredded beneath her sharp, mighty claws and then she was Hercules. Raising her sword, she clasped the hilt with both hands and brought it down on the lions’ neck. She jumped around waving her wand and princess cloak in the air. In her mind, the lions’ thick, golden skin was heavy in her hands, and her huge sword glinted silver with red.            

            George carried two mugs of hot chocolate round the corner, and almost spilled them. A little girl in a tutu was dancing round the balcony, waving her wand and cloak. Her luminous pink outfit stood out against the dark marble floor and plain ledge. The whole house, pinewood, looked out over a cliff: a very steep and dangerous cliff. Sharp rocks jutted out of the grass. But George wasn’t worried about that. He smiled fondly at his daughter as he set the mugs on a table.

            “Careful of the hot chocolate okay sweetheart.” Little Ellie kept dancing, yelling something about victory over a lion. George watched her for a minute then suddenly swooped down and picked her up. He tickled her and she screamed with delight.

            “Daddy, stop it!” Ellie giggled. Chuckling to himself, he put her down.

            “What were you talking about?” George asked her curiously.

            “I was pretending to be Hercules and the lion. You know… That story you told me about last night?” Ellie boasted. “When Hercules killed the lion with his sword.”

            “Actually, Hercules strangled the lion. The lion’s skin could not be pierced by any weapon, remember?” George gently reminded her.

            “No he didn’t. He killed the lion with his mighty sword!” Ellie stamped her foot crossly and folded her arms. Pouting.

            George laughed. “Do you want another story tonight?” He asked gently.

            “Yes please! A Greek Mythology one!” (Ellie felt very big and proud at knowing such big words.) She eagerly climbed into his lap, and looked at him expectantly.

            Daddy looked up the sky, and pointed to a group of stars. Gently he told her another story. It was about a princess called Andromeda. Just then the phone rang. George picked her up, and put her on the balcony ledge to admire the stars.

            “Don’t move.” He said sternly. And left.

            Ellie looked up and traced the constellation of Andromeda with her finger. Craning her neck back, she looked at every little star she could see. She counted them. She wanted to touch them. To name them.
            Cautiously, Ellie stood up on the beam. She wobbled, her balance off… And found it again. Ellie looked up at the stars again. Stretching on her tiptoes, She reached with her finger, and pretended she was touching each little star. She took a step forward.
And fell.

            George listened vaguely, twirling the phone chord around his finger. He wasn’t particularly interested. Just then, he heard a scream. A high-pitched scream of terror of a little girl.

            “Ellie.” He whispered.

            Throwing down the phone, he ran to the balcony… But Ellie wasn’t there. Panic crashed through him like a tsunami. It pulled him towards his daughter. A terrifying force that he willingly gave himself too.

            Ellie felt the air battering her cheeks, her hair. One minute, she was gazing at the stars, and the next, she was watching the ground race towards her at an alarming rate. She felt the wind snatch tears from her eyes, and she tried to look up. Up at the stars that were sure to protect her. Protect her from this nightmare. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to imagine it was all a dream. Just a dream. She opened her eyes, and just had time to widen them in fear before she felt the pain of a sharp rock explode against the side of her head.

            George watched in horror at his little girl. He could feel the wind tugging at his clothes, but that didn’t matter. The wind robbed the last of his breath as he tried to take a gasp of air. Tears blurred his vision. But that was okay. He didn’t want to see his precious daughter covered in blood, and limp. Lifeless. Lifeless as she kept falling onto 
more rocks. He choked back a sob of despair as the rock got him too.

            Ellie coughed and rolled over. Her head hurt so badly. It was like a drum was pounding through her head. Her sides hurt. Her back hurt. She tried to stand up, but yelled in pain as her leg collapsed underneath her. A muted thud to her right made her look. Her heart leaped as she recognised the greying hair.

“Daddy?” She tried to whisper. It came out like a croak. The head shifted and looked at her.

            Relief washed through him.

            “It’s going to be okay Ellie. Alright.” He murmured to her. He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.  Himself or his daughter.

            Crawling over on his belly, he quickly made an assessment of the damage. A broken arm and leg. Several cracked ribs. A throbbing head. He was sure he could feel blood running down the side of his head. He looked at his daughter and realized she must be broken the same way. He gently pulled her towards him, and cradled her.

            Ellie breathed in the scent of his clothes. She didn’t like the blood, but she could faintly smell his scent. She looked at the stars. Twinkling little lights that filled her life.

            “Thank you stars.” She whispered. “Daddy, tell me another story.”
She heard her father draw in a breath, and felt him wince in pain. And then his voice drowned out the pain. But all the time she kept gazing at the stars. The regular, steady heartbeat of her fathers was slowing down. Smiling at the stars, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

            After all, she thought, it’s only a story.

Body Confidence (Or Why Gok Wan is NOT a Feminist or pro-woman)

The first Body Confidence Awards will be held at the House of Commons on April 19th with awards being presented in several categories including retail, fashion, and advertising. I generally ignore these things because they serve only to annoy the crap out of me as its usually an action in narcissism. Frankly, I can’t see how the fashion industry could ever be feted for encouraging body confidence but that may just be because I’ve recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny.

Really, the only reason I have even heard of this campaign is because Mumsnet is involved with it as a continuation of the Let Girls Be Girls campaign. As a feminist and a mother, the issue of body confidence in children is very important to me so I was pleased to see Mumsnet was behind this campaign including running its own award about promoting body confidence in children. That is, until I saw that Gok Wan was being nominated. Now, I don’t usually watch reality television since I think it is nothing more than the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. I think they deliberately set out to humiliate and belittle people. But, even I’ve come across Gok Wan and nothing he does makes me think he likes women.

Having confidence in your body is about loving yourself for who you are and regardless of how you look. It isn’t about being trussed up like a turkey in spanx and told to suck it in. As a general rule of thumb, men grabbing your breasts is sexual assault, not entertainment. Or, as the very lovely Mme Lindor said:

Not a fan of Gok since his message seems to be that you are FABULOUS as you are, but here is a corset that will pull in all your wobbly bits, make you feel uncomfortable and restrict blood supply to your vital organs. 

I thought we were past all that.

No idea what his teen program was like, but based on his love of spanx, I wouldn’t say he promotes body confidence.

Wan may use feminist discourse to parade about on television but he’s about as far from feminism as you can possibly get. Feminists do not associate appearance with body confidence. Feminism is about real women who have opinions and beliefs and are intelligent; it is not women stripped naked, belittled, grabbed and humiliated on national television. That’s the essence of the Patriarchy: naked, vulnerable women being humiliated and tortured.

My vote remains for Pink Stinks. They are an incredible, small, but utterly brilliant organization who are all about letting girls be girls (and boys be boys) by challenging pinkification and genderisation. Their campaigns, notably against The Early Learning Centre, have been run successfully by 2 sisters with little budget and a lot of will. They are fighting the destruction of childhood and the idea that girls only have value for their appearance. Gok Wan is all about how women look; not whether or not its healthy to wear corsets [because any nincompoop can tell you corsets are bad for your body and that anything which restricts breathing is a stupid].

The idea that someone who dislikes women’s bodies as much as Gok Wan does could possibly be awarded for increasing body confidence just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Our daughters would be better served with a non-sexist education without sexual bullying and violence and a copies of Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

Vote here for someone who inspires Body Confidence in Children.

In Defence of Women-Only Spaces

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women-only spaces recently but two events have crystallized for me just how necessary women-only spaces are and how much the requirement that “everyone” be included simply excludes women. At least, when I first started thinking about writing this blogpost it was based on my feelings of two protest marches that I had just attended. Then, the unnecessary violent response of a group of MRAs towards the women dominated safe space that is Mumsnet made me realise just how frightening some men find women-only spaces. Or, as my dear friend Blackcurrants, once said:

Honestly, I think some men walk into a space where they are not likely to be (1) amongst other men and thereby automatically treated as ‘in the gang’ or (2) fawned over by women who think they exist to make men feel good and have a complete existential crisis. If the world doesn’t revolve around ME, an insecure man thinks, it can’t be working right! PANNIIIIC!

I suspect that for some men, women-dominated spaces are a threat to their perceived sense of entitlement to be the voice that gets heard. And women-only spaces are threatening because, as the oppressing class has always known when they try to restrict the ability of the oppressed class to gather together unmonitored- they must be up to something. Protecting women-only spaces is more and more important as formerly safe places are lost under the guise of being “fair” to all sex/genders, which is a policy that just ignores the political, social and cultural implications of The Patriarchy as it affects and effects all marginalised groups.

I’ve been on lots of protest marches: against the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons, against the current destructive cuts in the Welfare Bill, in support of youth and leisure centers, Reclaim the Night, and Million Women Rise. Of these only the Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise marches in London have been advertised as women-only. There is a very real difference in being in a woman-only protest march. It simply feels safer because the organisers make the effort to include vulnerable and marginalised women. This starts with allowing disabled women to march at the front in a protected space. It does have secondary impact of slowing down the march and ensuring that the march take up as much space as possible for as long as possible. More importantly, however, it ensures that disabled women are considered an essential part of the protest and not simply an inconvenience.

The two events which crystallised this for me were the Million Women Rise March 2012 and the International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts. Million Women Rise was inclusive with transport arranged for those who did not feel physically able to complete the march. This included women who were pregnant and had mobility problems as a consequence. This is a group of women normally ignored because pregnancy is a “choice” and it isn’t “permanent.” Both of these theories require a refusal to acknowledge just how much damage pregnancy can do to a woman’s body. More importantly, no one was bumped into or knocked over and children were free to bounce about shouting slogans and dancing because they were safe. They were safe because they were in a protected space where everyone’s particular needs were catered for and attended to. Being knocked and bumped is a very real problem for many women due not only to physical disabilities which make it extremely painful but also the added trauma of women who have experienced sexualised violence. Being knocked into by men does not make these women feel safer or feel like the protest respects their bodily integrity and personal experience. It simply further marginalises already marginalised women.

The International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts held in Glasgow on the Saturday following Million Women Rise was a very different atmosphere. It was specifically organised to recognise the very deliberate gendered effect of the cuts on women but it was not a women-only space and it showed. Two men holding a large banner kept walking over women in order to get closer to the front of the march. Having a large banner bash you in the back of the head is hardly a pleasant experience. It is also completely defeats the purpose of a march about gendered political experiences when two men decide that their voices must be more visible that women. There was no attempt to make sure that the march was inclusive of marginalised women and resulted in disabled women being left behind and trailing the march whilst the police tried to hurry us on. The police always try to hurry marches up; in a protected march this doesn’t happen because the organisers are aware of the issue. This is not the deliberate fault of the organisers themselves but is what happens when men are involved and women’s [and other marginalised people] needs are not addressed. Men take over the space and make it about them. They marginalise women without even being conscious of doing so because they are so used to being in charge and being heard.

The last two Reclaim The Night marches in Edinburgh resulted in similar behaviour with the distressing addition of the male band conductor repeatedly banging into several disabled women without ever once apologising or making an effort to be more aware of the effects of this behaviour. When men are involved, women’s voices get silenced. We need to stop that. One of the best academic examples of this type of male behaviour is a study of classroom behaviour of men and women undertaken at Harvard. As feminists, we need to stop pandering to these men and make sure that all our sisters are involved and heard.

The second problem with including the men who whine about not being allowed to participate in women-only marches and demonstrations is that they never ever show up nor do they bother to take responsibility for organising their own protests. If they did, I would show up because I truly believe that the Capitalist Patriarchy is harmful for everyone. But, they never do and that is the problem. Women are asked to be “inclusive” which allows men to abdicate responsibility for standing up and being counted. The notable exception to this the White Ribbon Campaign which is organised by men in response to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989 wherein a male gunman killed 14 women, injured 10 more women before killing himself. However, it is not surprising that when we think of the massacre of these beautiful and talented women, we can immediately name the perpetrator and not his victims. These are the women who paid with their lives for the “privilege” of entering male-space:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

We need only-women rooms to give us space to breathe, to love and support one another and to hear one another. Unless we start hearing each other, we won’t ever be able to support one another and that is what women-only spaces give us: the opportunity to just be.

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised.
1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for bad management, poor teaching and under resourced schools. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK schools. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours. These bans are reasonable.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can also tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S, even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]; many of these jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

It is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old implies that the opposite, children, require no respect. As a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about; such as children who are being abused at home, or who are being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have multiple severe problems, which makes continuous school attendance difficult. Arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, anxiety, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are a form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.