Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Now if Corbyn had sat ON the train THAT would be a story

This so called 'traingate' saga really annoys me no end. For those who have missed this non-story, Corbyn alleges that he had to sit on the floor of a train because it was packed and that there were no seats were available. Virgin trains, whose train he was on, have issued a statement alleging that Corbyn was not telling the truth i.e there were seats available but Corbyn chose to sit on the floor. A number of people have verified Corbyn's version of the journey.

If ever there was a non-story this is it. There are thousands of people up and down the country who will testify to a lack of seats especially when travelling on a Sunday afternoon. Often these seats are reserved with reservation notices stuck into the headrests. You sit in these seats at your peril because if the person whose reservation it is turns up then you are left without a seat. Better to look for an unreserved seat when you board and good luck with finding one of these too.

With the story now running for a number of days anybody would think that Corbyn had done something really silly like sing and dance and sit ON a train.

Friday, 19 August 2016

On 'World Humanitarian Day' remember that humanity begins at home

The phrase 'charity begins at home' is, when you think about it, talking about a sense of humanity that ought to be nurtured in the home. We are all exposed to little acts of humanity and kindness everyday - the person who opens a door for you, money given to a homeless person, the bus driver who stops when he sees you running for the bus - but we don't equate these acts of kindness with the concept of humanity. Therein lies the mistake.

The word 'humanitarian' is always only associated with the work carried out by aid agencies, NGOs, the UN and government agencies that provide aid whether in money or in kind. It is always seen as a delivery mechanism as opposed to a cumulative or individual act of helping others in need. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “One Humanity.” According to the US Department of State, this year's Humanitarian Day 'asks all of us to stand together, to recognize our shared responsibility to help those overtaken by calamity'.

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It falls to everyone of us to help to make a difference. It starts at home with not looking away when large scale disasters, war scenes or stories about refugees are featured on the news. By not turning away you are more likely to experience sympathy or empathy which will spur you on to act in a variety of ways to help. It starts at home when you decide to donate a sum of money, no matter how small. It starts at home when you share via Facebook or Twitter or any other social media medium news of human suffering to raise awareness of what is happening. By raising awareness it also puts pressure on governments and agencies to act in the interests of those who are suffering.

So you see, on 'World Humanitarian Day' let us remember that all of us have a role to play while still applauding those courageous men and women who physically make monumental humanitarian efforts to work in areas where strife is endemic.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A one click quick guide for parents on where to access help post A Level Results

Tomorrow, 18 August, is A level result day. Parents, understandably, can feel quite confused and in the dark about what to do once the results are given out. Most children will go into school to get their results in the morning while others will receive it in the post. Almost all universities will be on standby to advice students on whether they have been accepted onto their preferred course or not and to assist with clearing.

While there will be plenty of help and advice on hand it is still helpful to know where to go to especially when time will be of the essence to get into the university that your child has set his or her sights on.  Remember A level result day can be stressful for both parents and children but knowing where to go for help and what the process involves can reduce the level of anxiety.

Below are links that can help demystify the process.

1. A detailed step by step guide on what will happen on result day and what you need to do

2. Explanation of the UCAS clearing system.

3. A detailed guide on how to apply for a different university than the ones originally chosen if your child has performed better than expected.

4. Childline has published advice on how to deal with disappointing results. Mental wellbeing will be am important factor to consider.

5. UCAS website

All the best.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Mother Blame Game

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Have you ever felt the burden of blame being heaped on you as a mother? Mothers are blamed for a whole host of child activity ranging from the mundane like having a child with a snotty nose to something major such as having a child who is a mass murderer (Adam Lanza the mass shooter in 2012 whose mother was blamed even though she was the first person he shot).  'Mother blame' is the name of the game.

A journal titled 'The Mother-Blame Game' published by Demeter Press lays bare the extent to which blame permeates the lives of mothers. The journal is an interdisciplinary and intersectional examination of the phenomenon of 'Mother blame' in the twenty-first century. It dissects the socioeconomic and cultural expectations of what constitutes “good motherhood” because 'Mother Blame' is a divisive concept which sifts the supposed good mothers from bad mothers.

I have a special interest in this book because feminist mothering is not a well known concept in the UK so I often use 'Mother blame' as an entry point explanation of how feminist mothering is a mitigating and fight back set of ideas which frees mothers from having to conform to a patriarchal idealist version of a good mother.

The patriarchal narrative assumes that mothers have a monopoly on their children's lives and, therefore, can be blamed for things that go wrong. In the introduction to the journal the editors, Vanessa Reimer and Sarah Sahagian, challenge this supposed monopoly by arguing that "family members, peers, and social institutions such as schools, churches and media play varying roles in children's lives as they grow". 

The myriad of participants in a child's life does make one wonder why and how the patriarchal culture locates only the mother with blame. The journal uses the explanations of the maternal theorist, Adrienne Rich, as a starting base for analysis. Rich wrote about how the patriarchy determined what part women shall play or not play and "in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male".
Subsequently, Rich explains, the patriarchal society assumes that women are 'natural mothers' who have no further identity beyond that of being nurturer to their children. Consequently, mothers who 'fall short' are blamed.

Falling short of mother perfection results in 'mother blame' which , according to the journal, is commonly used to persecute "the welfare mother, the teen mother, the career woman who has no time for her kids, the drug addict who poisons her fetus, the pushy stage mother, the overprotective Jewish mother" and, scarily, this is not an exhaustive list.

The chapters are divided into four thematic sections which cover facets of 'mother blame': Mother blame and the body, blaming 'othered' mothers, mother blame in popular culture and sharing mother blame stories:strategies for success. The cultural practice of 'mother blame', as evidenced in these sections is pervasive.

This journal isn't a read only for mothers. The editors don't have children but confess to being guilty of 'mother blaming' in the past. Their transition was helped with a "critical lens informed by feminist politics and maternal theory" which enabled them to recognise the standards against which mothers are judged that "no human being could ever live up to them".

In the spirit of collective sisterhood the editors invite readers to join them in "daily, purposeful efforts that will continue to debunk-and finally end-the 'mother blame' game".

I have responded to this invitation by making a list of ways in which I have personally suffered from 'mother blame'. As a start, I am not going to defend myself anymore when my daughter eats at McDonald's. She only does it about once a month and sees it as a treat rather than a staple diet. Yes, 'mother blame' even creeps into eating habits. I was once also blamed because she got off an escalator in a train station rather slowly.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The shaming of a mother's ambition in 'Child Genius' is misplaced

I started this blog about six years ago and named it 'Ambitious Mamas'. Straight forward enough you would think but I soon tired of having to explain what the title meant. No, make that 'very, very soon' instead of just 'soon'. The concept of a mother being ambitious for her child was, to put it mildly, alien and seemed to contradict some unwritten ethos in the British culture. 

I was made to feel as if 'mother ambition' was something to be ashamed of. Judging from the Twitter storm and negative media coverage of the mother of the 2016 winner of the Channel 4 programme 'Child Genius' the concept of a mother being ambitious for her child is still fodder for mother blame and ridicule. 

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My daughter, Maelo Manning, giving her first speech at the age of 10
I have one daughter whom I have had big ambitions for from the day she was born. At the age of 10 my daughter became the youngest political blogger in the country. It was a natural step for her to take for two reasons. Firstly, I have a huge interest in politics and from a very young age she and I would watch the news together. I would explain issues and events to her which she listened to with great interest. Secondly, my daughter showed promise from when she was a baby. She said her first words and sentences well before the average age of when these things develop. 

Being ambitious for her seemed and still seems to be the best way of mothering her. If I was not ambitious for I would be letting her down. I am hellbent on her reaching her potential. 

What puzzles me is why mothers like me are seen as being oddballs. It is far more acceptable to be a totally laid back parent who wants their child 'to be happy' than my style of ambitious mothering which seeks to define and help her navigate ways in which happiness can be found. Happiness is not plucked out of thin air. My daughter gets joy from being challenged and achieving goals. She also gets joy from hanging out with friends, having sleep overs and fighting with me.

What people don't realise is that a child has the ability to absorb much more than we give them credit for. They are able to do the serious and the fun stuff. Childhood is made up of both but more often childhood is sanctified as something that should not be sullied by anything that detracts from fun and play. What is even more puzzling is the elasticity attributed to childhood. It seems to stretch forever and I often wonder about when the seriousness of exams and setting personal goals is allowed to kick in. 

When my daughter was 11 she was interviewed by a popular radio station during a political party conference. She prepped for this by going through the questions that she thought she would be asked on the party's policies. Instead the first question asked was about whether she felt that she was missing out on her childhood and whether she resented seeing her friends doing child things while she was at this conference. 

When the book 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' was published I was jokingly referred to as the 'Brown Tiger Mother' by friends. I do resent this label because the style of mothering described in this book scares me with its' familiarity. You see I come from a background where 'pushy mother' takes on a whole different meaning. If you thought Rhea's mother was pushy you ain't seen nothing yet. 

The threshold for being a 'pushy mother' in other cultures is much higher. Simply putting up your hand to challenge a quiz master would be seen as 'normal'. A 'pushy mother' in another sense would not even have to raise her hand because her child would/ought to have given the required answer at first go. These mothers will expect academic excellence from their children regardless of whether or not their children are capable and/or able to deliver this. This is 'pushy parenting' that really does damage children's wellbeing. I saw it first hand when I was growing up. 

I am often asked whether I would have 'pushed' my daughter in the same way if she had not had the ability as she does. I believe that every child has a talent and it is the parent's responsibility to discover what this is and to nurture it. I constantly tell my friends off for forcing their children to excel academically when the child's talents are grounded elsewhere, like sport. Academic excellence is not the only trophy in town. 

Guiding and nurturing your child with parental ambition is natural. Omitting this component from one's parenting is, to me, abnormal. One Christmas I bought my daughter a book on neoliberalism. Friends who dropped by were horrified at my choice. Never mind that my daughter enjoyed receiving this book. Years later these same friends who questioned my ambitious mothering and who insisted that childhood should only consist of making and doing 'creative things' now make fun of their own child and refer to her as being thick because she is not ahead academically. 

I see this happen time and time again with various families. An artificial divide is drawn around childhood through which nothing else must permeate except non-challenging matters. When this ring fence is removed arbitrarily the child is blamed for not adapting quickly enough to challenges. I see this as irresponsible parenting. 

I am sticking to my ambitious mothering. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Feminism and female leaders

Every time a woman leader is appointed it is seen by the masses as a victory for feminism. Never mind that feminists themselves may not be united in proclaiming the appointment as some sort of milestone advancement. The appointment of a woman in public office is enough for the ‘feminist’ label to be trotted out.

Theresa May is now the second female Prime Minister that Britain has had. Hillary Clinton is set to become the first female President of the United States of America and is the first female Democrat nominee for the Oval office. Another high office female appointee in the Western World is Angela Merkel who is Chancellor of Germany.

Yet, this time in history is not being unanimously celebrated by feminists as a pivotal moment. As to why this may be so is to unearth the basic ideologies that underpin feminist.

Firstly, let me make something clear, the patriarchy is lazy and elitist and hates feminism. When it has to accommodate women it goes for the low hanging fruit. In this case, a female in a high standing position is enough for the patriarchy, regardless of whether her policies are feminist friendly. Theresa May as PM will be seen by the patriarchy as the ultimate accommodation of women’s rights and gender equality.

But is Theresa May a feminist? There is a photograph of her wearing the Fawcett Society t-shirt with the words ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ emblazoned on the front. It bodes well that May is embracing the word ‘feminist’ unlike Margaret Thatcher, the first female PM of Britain, who famously declared that feminism had done nothing for her.


As an aside, Thatcher did very little for women too with her right wing neoliberal ideology. However, it would not be logical at this stage to draw a like for like comparison between May and Thatcher because the latter was in power for 11 years. May has only been PM for a few weeks.

If May calls herself a feminist does that make her a feminist? Many feminists, like me, do not believe that any woman who calls herself a feminist is one. Being a feminist involves far, far more than gender. There are men who are feminists too because they are more than ready to embrace all that it entails but I only intend to concentrate on women here.

At the crux of feminism is a debate on whether it is of a left-wing or right–wing persuasion. It is a debate that has to be considered when deciding whether a female leader of a right wing political party is a feminist. Feminism is a political issue because it fights for and advocates for equal rights for women in social spheres like education, in marriage and equal pay. A lot of these issues rely on either funding by the state or the state’s support.

The right or centre right ideology is not conducive to feminism because it is associated with political ideas and practices such as rolling back the state, cutting back on welfare and the privatisation of essential services that women traditionally rely on such as health, legal aid and charities devoted to providing specialist services to women and children.

While many right wing women would dispute this view on the basis that any woman is free to identify as a feminist, I do think that feminism does have universal core beliefs and values as a social movement. Many of these beliefs and values go against right wing ideology.

As an example, would you call Marie Le Pen a feminist? She who stirs up race hatred and encourages divisive societies. Is the female PM of Bangladesh a feminist even though she has done little to combat violence against women? Get my point!

This is not to say that a right wing female cannot be a feminist ever but the space within the feminist belief system for this is small. The entry points into feminism in this case would, probably, be whether the woman promotes female considered policies.

While it is too early to judge whether Theresa May’s policies for the country will be feminist friendly it is, nevertheless, justified that a cautionary position be adopted as to whether she is a feminist or not.  She may have got rid of the old macho club of Bullingdon Boys from the cabinet and replaced them with politicians who come from ordinary backgrounds but she is first and foremost the head of the Tory party. This is the very party that rolled out an austerity regime which resulted in severe cuts to the services which women rely on. When she was at the Home Office she, sadly, did not heed the calls for an end to the detention of pregnant women or women who had suffered violence and abuse in their country of origin.

What would make a whole load of difference to women’s lives in this country would be if May refinanced the cuts in legal aid which have severely decreased women’s access to legal justice in cases of domestic violence and looked at cuts to childcare services. Another big issue would be to consider what effect Brexit would have on women’s rights.
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While most politicians would be less concerned with women’s issues, seeing them as being less important than monetary and trade policy, I do hope that having a woman as PM will make a substantive difference to our lives, even if she is right-wing.