Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Sarah effect

The shocking murder of Sarah Everard has unleashed a torrent of emotion around male harassment of women. Abductions of young women are tragic but thankfully rare - I reminded my teenage daughter of this when she told me a friend was worrying about walking into town. However, the case has shone a light on the commonplace fears that many women experience throughout their daily lives. 

White orchids
Darkness and light:
In memory of Sarah Everard
 ❤️
For the most part, these fears have become normalised: don't walk down a dark alley, spike keys through your fingers for protection, be ready to press the alarm on your phone, walk confidently, send texts to make loved ones aware of your whereabouts, etc. 

It's just common sense, right? Or have we learnt to subjugate ourselves to the threat of violence?

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Time with the tribe

This one is about friendship. The long-lasting kind. I've just got back from a reunion weekend with my university besties and I'm still basking in the after-glow. We drank too much champagne/wine/gin, ate too much chocolate/cake/canap├ęs and contended with Storm Ciara, but my goodness it was worth it!

Four friends walking along a path together
The journey's more fun with friends
Picture credit: Harriet Bell
So often we take our friendships for granted, particularly during the decades of parenthood and middle age. Even the early narratives of our lives are spun around meeting a romantic partner, or having a child... and yet in the background, friendships run deep like a rich seam.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

In the pink

A friend and I were discussing what I should buy her little girl for Christmas. We hit upon Lego. "Friends Lego, the pink stuff?" I clarified nervously. She grimaced apologetically: "Yes, I think she'd like it. It would make a change from all her brother's kits." We both experienced that twitchy, self-correcting thought - in this 'woke' world of new feminism, should we really be buying our girls pink Lego?

A bouquet of pink roses
Are pink roses just for girls?
The fact is my daughter enjoyed her pink Lego back in the day and I suspect this little girl would too. I'm guessing the 'Friends-themed' Lego range wouldn't have expanded as quickly as it has, if it didn't sell. The treehouses, camper vans and art studios, all decked out in pastel shades, are clearly designed to appeal to a feminine sensibility. Heck, I probably would have loved Friends Lego too as a child, had it been around then. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Removal quotes and books

Two themes are dominating my notebook this week - literary festivals and our imminent move to a new house. In amongst pages of removal quotes and a transcription of my conversation with BT about changing over our broadband, are my notes on the Henley Literary Festival and the Cuckfield Bookfest.

Emma Clark Lam and broadcaster Cathy Newman
Cathy and I celebrate with a glass of fizz
As ever, our local lit fest in Henley offered up a smorgasbord of knowledge and current affairs. A highlight for me was attending a session by my fabulous friend, Cathy Newman, who was promoting her new book, Bloody Brilliant Women

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Don't stop believing...

Self-belief is a powerful but fragile gift. One of my personal heroes has always been Amelia Earhart, a pioneering pilot and a woman of incredible courage and vision. This week I was reading about about how she may have ended her days as an injured castaway on a remote Pacific island. New research indicates that she made a series of distress calls from the island after her Lockheed Electra crashed in the summer of 1937 during the final stages of her attempt to fly around the globe. 

A woman pilot dressed in the style of Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart: an inspiration to modern women
© Yuri Yukhimchuk | Dreamstime.com 
A celebrity in depression-era America, Earhart earned her stripes after she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. Five years later, on the cusp of turning 40, she sought one more challenge: to become the first woman to fly around the world. "I have this feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system," she declared rather ominously.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Glass splinters


Back in June, during our days of political turmoil in the UK, a friend texted me to say that her six-year old daughter had stated Theresa May couldn't become prime minister because she was a "lady". Needless to say, her mum - who works in the City - soon set her straight. But when May finally took office, my first thought was that a new generation of girls could now grow up thinking they too were entitled to aim for the top job.

It feels like there is a new era dawning for women leaders and clearly I am not the only person to be thinking about the importance of female role models. On Tuesday, after Hillary Clinton officially became the Democratic Party's nominee for the next US President, she told the cheering crowd:
"If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman President. But one of you is next."

Monday, 18 May 2015

Don't you believe it!

Social conditioning has a lot to answer for. It is one of those vague terms used to explain away all sorts of injustices in the battle for gender equality. In the past, I have felt ambivalent about it, believing that it was all too easy to make social conditioning the scapegoat for our difficulties in achieving equal pay, boardroom roles for women, or penetrating male-dominated professions. However, a startling survey by Privilege Insurance last week on female and male drivers not only challenges the old myth that men are better drivers, but also demonstrates just how pernicious social conditioning can be.

Infographic showing statistics from Privilege Insurance driving survey
Firstly, the survey finds that women are better drivers than men, in use of speed, observational skills on the road and response to other road users (among other things). Secondly, it suggests that there is a discrepancy between women's ability on the road and how they are perceived as drivers by society. The results from the survey actually show that both sexes tend to believe men are better drivers. 

Anecdotally this is borne out by my experiences of being in a car. On family outings, my husband is always the default driver because there is a general assumption that he is the better driver. Similarly, when I was learning to drive as a teenager, my family use to tease me for being a bit dopey, while they described my brother as a "natural driver". Possibly I am the exception to the rule, but how many times do we observe a car making an error on the roads and then assume it must be a woman behind the wheel?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Domestic democracy

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Stay-at-Home Dad and I had our first tiff the other day. It was over the washing-up of all things. I was so angry with him, I wanted him to leave the house and never come back. When I'm like that it's usually because I'm in the wrong, although that only becomes apparent a few hours later. In the heat of the battle, I am Joan of Arc, hounded and persecuted for my moral stance. 

A work of modern art from Nice Museum of Modern Art
Girls: more loafing and less chores
Our disagreement grew out of Saturday night suppers. Recently I've been inviting Stay-at-Home Dad (SHD) over with his twin girls for pizza and X Factor. It's part of our soft campaign to get the kids used to the idea that we're an 'item'. It was all going swimmingly until SHD happened to comment that Middle Child wasn't pulling his weight in the washing-up department. Was this because he was a boy, he wondered out loud. Was I over-indulging him? 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mummy's on her soapbox again

It is a funny business, blogging! There you are, tapping away at your computer, broadcasting your thoughts, without knowing if anyone is really listening. Back in the old days (circa 2001) a colleague of mine at the BBC walked into the newsroom one morning and told us he had started a blog. Once he had explained to the uninitiated (including me) what a blog was, my first thought was: Jeez, how conceited! Who wants to listen to you pontificating? Fast forward thirteen years and here I am doing that very same thing.

Mothers with children
'Mummy is going on about her blog again' (yawn)
Credit: Tim Bevan
Some days getting on my technological soapbox feels awkward and graceless. Then there are days when I get shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging (BiB) Award by BritMums - as I did last week - and suddenly all those hours of shoehorning my thoughts into a blog post seem worth it.

The mainstream press is often rather rude about so-called 'mummy bloggers'. Even one of my favourite novelists, Jojo Moyes, once wrote an article for The Telegraph, asking "where do these mothers find the time?" as if there were more important things we could be doing. Others have criticised mummy bloggers for focusing on the domestic humdrum of raising kids to the detriment of feminism.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The battle for a woman's working soul

New research from the US shows that mums are crying out for flexible jobs. Hulafrog, a network of US parenting sites, co-founded by my friend Kerry Bowbliss, recently surveyed more than 2,000 mothers on the thorny issue of working full-time or staying at home with the kids. The results find that 65% of the women would prefer to work part-time as an ideal career choice, while only 9% would prefer to work full-time. Some 59% would also be willing to earn less money if it meant they could work flexibly. "No suprise that moms want flexibility," says Kerry. "But it still surprises me that there aren't more flexible opportunities available." 


Kerry Bowbliss, co-founder and chief publisher, Hulafrog
Kerry's company Hulafrog offers flexible work
There has been much chatter about women and work on the internet recently after The New York Times Magazine ran a feature on stay-at-home moms trying to opt back into their careers. This was a follow-up to another NY Times feature written 10 years ago about a generation of elite, super-educated women who chose to "opt out" from their careers in order to raise children at home. Here is an excerpt from the most recent NY Times article:
This magazine, in a cover article by Lisa Belkin, called the phenomenon of their leaving work the “Opt-Out Revolution,” and other coverage followed: a Time magazine cover story on “The Case for Staying Home” and a “60 Minutes” segment devoted to a group of former mega-achievers who were, as the anchor Lesley Stahl put it, “giving up money, success and big futures” to be home with their children.

At the time, these women attracted criticism for turning their back on feminism. Now - shock, horror - some of these same mega-achievers are looking to get back into the job market. A few working mothers have pointed the finger and said, I told you so. To me this overlooks an obvious point: these women have been out for 10 years. Now their children have grown up and become less dependent. The time is ripe for a return to work. I doubt any of them would have ruled out a resumption of their careers when they decided 10 years ago to look after their children. 

This chop-and-change approach goes against the prevailing trend of 'leaning in'. Sheryl Sandberg's much-publicised book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, argues that women are unconsciously compromising their career goals, even before they have children:
In addition to the exterior barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in... We lower our expectations of what we can achieve.
It is a powerful message, exhorting women to try harder in their careers, but as Hulafrog's survey demonstrates, there are many more women who would prefer a middle way between "opting out" and "leaning in". 

The founders of Hulafrog - Kerry, chief publisher, and CEO Sherry Lombardi - passionately believe there are not enough flexible opportunities for women. This is what motivated them to go to their parent subscribers and ask about the "age-old issue that haunts moms from pre-school pick-up lines to corporate boardrooms: work full-time or stay at home with the kids?" They were overwhelmed by the response.

Among other things, they discovered that a staggering 57% of stay-at-home moms would have continued to work if they had been offered the ability to work from home. "Think of what our workforce is missing," says Kerry. "All the educated, professional women who are sitting on the sidelines because they haven't been able to find the flexibility they need." (See my previous post on this untapped workforce.)

The debate surrounding women, work and children will always be emotive, depending on which side of the fence you sit. However, in a modern age we should strive for an ideal that suits all types, including the option of flexible work hours or working from home. Employers need to sit up and take notice. More than 2,000 women have spoken. Have a look at Hulafrog's Infographic on the subject and see for yourself.


Moms@Work




Further links

Hulafrog's press release on the survey
Lisa Belkin's NY Times feature on opting out
Judith Warner's NY Times feature on opting back in
Lisa Belkin's recent article in The Huffington Post
Comments on Facebook




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"I absolutely loved this book and will miss the family that I became so involved with over the past few days. I hope Emma has another book in the pipeline!" 
-- Annabel at CountryWives 


I welcome reviews of my book on Amazon!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Pink wellies and cigarettes

"I didn't know ladies could smoke!" my young son once exclaimed sotto voce after watching a (female) friend light up in the garden. Until that moment, he had only ever seen his grandfather smoking a pipe. His reaction made an impression on me: I realised that children form some pretty fixed ideas about gender from an early age. This was about the same time that he started objecting to wearing his sister's hand-me-down wellies.

Such startling observations are not infrequent in our household. After my sister-in-law finished her maternity leave and went back to her job in social work, my daughter remarked, "Gosh I didn't know mummies worked!" It was a galling moment. How had I managed to bring up my daughter in such ignorance? There followed a long lecture on a woman's right to work. 

A pair of pink wellington boots
Why can't boys wear them?! 
© Brookebecker | Dreamstime.com
A few weeks ago I attended a session on 'new feminism' at the Britmums Live conference. It was comforting to hear The Sunday Times journalist Eleanor Mills confessing that her own daughter had asked if a woman could lead a political party. "I feel we are stuck and in some ways we are going backwards," says Ms Mills, whose aunt, Barbara Mills, held the post of Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1990s. Ms Mills worries that her generation has become complacent about feminism and the hard-fought battles for sexual equality.

While I was researching my current novel, I came across a 1970s group of women who named themselves the Pussy Cat Club. This was a group of housewives who didn't agree with sexual equality and believed a woman's role was to serve and pamper her husband. One member told a BBC reporter: "[Women] want to be equal with the men, well it's not meant to be. They are completely different, their emotions and the way they're built." 

It was a striking (and nauseating) reminder of how far we have come since the birth of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. But, although attitudes have changed and women have learned to value themselves on par with men, there are still problems to overcome. As Kat Banyard of the UK Feminista movement puts it: "Scratch society and you expose vast inequalities."

In a recent blog, my friend Cathy Newman, presenter of Channel 4 News, reveals how she once challenged a senior executive at the Financial Times (where she worked previously) over pay. Cathy had discovered that a more junior, male reporter was being paid £10,000 more than her. The executive told her, "You don't have a mortgage or a family, what do you need the money for?" 

The nub of the problem, I believe, is women like me who choose to put their careers on hold to bring up their children. I feel passionately that choice should be enshrined in any feminist tract, but I also acknowledge that women dropping out of the workforce reduces our visibility and the pool of high achievers who reach the top.

There are no easy answers, but I do resent the government's campaigns to get new mothers back into work. Such policies devalue the choices made by stay-at-home mums and their commitment to looking after children full-time. Instead, more effort should be put into welcoming these women back into professional life once their children are older and less dependent. I know an army of mothers who would love to work flexibly during school term times, and yet this potential labour force remains overlooked and unaccommodated.

Ms Mills believes now is the "real time to rehabilitate feminism". I couldn't agree more - the fight goes on and each of us is responsible for shaping our society and weeding out prejudice. How we apply these principles to the thorny realities of life is challenging, but we can start by opening our children's minds to equality and choice. Pink wellies and cigarettes might not be the solution, but I hope my daughter and son will learn that gender should never be a barrier to anything.