Archive for the tag 'Career'

To infinity…and beyond!

NS April 22nd, 2010

Further to my recent post in which I told you about signing up for doula training, a 5K race and a long-pined-for trip by myself, I have continued in the same locomotive manner and have been charging full steam ahead with other ideas and plans, many of which have me waking up in the middle of the night to tap urgent notes into my iPhone.

Just last night, I was contemplating going to law school. The night before that, I was looking up information on starting an advocacy or non-profit group. I’m still tossing around the idea of writing a (non-fiction) book and have recently submitted essays to three magazines (one rejection, two still pending) and keep scribbling down ideas for more. I’m feverishly devouring books on the politicalisation of motherhood and the one I finished last night, this one, absolutely blew me away. I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s got me wanting (even more so than usual) to shout from the rooftops about changing the world [a review is forthcoming but suffice to say it will undoubtedly end with 'Go read it. Now!']

I’m even changing or wanting to change things about my appearance, which is very unlike me. People who know me well or have been reading this blog for any length of time will know that I’m not fashion’s biggest fan, that I’m pretty comfortable in my body and don’t believe that I need to soften my skin, cover my greys, whiten my teeth or enlarge my breasts to feel like A Woman. What I’m wanting to change isn’t down to some lack of confidence or desire to transform my body or my image but simply to express my true self, finally. I haven’t had the time, money or motivation to retain or evolve my sense of style and have devolved into wearing whatever is the cheapest, easiest to find, most practical and covers up all my ‘wobbly bits.’ I’m not going to be going on a shopping spree any time soon but I’d like to add some more interesting and ‘me’ pieces to my wardrobe over the coming months (via the vast array of charity shops on my high street) and get a more modern haircut; the ‘shoulder-length with layers usually pulled back in a ponytail’ look is getting old. I’ve also been meaning to get a second tattoo for awhile now and am looking into designs and artists.

So what does all of this mean? Is this my 1/3 life crisis? Am I taking on too much, spreading myself too thin? Do I have adult ADHD? Or, most likely, am I just feeling like myself again, like anything is possible and that I can do or be anything I want? Because right now it feels very much like I am at a crossroads but instead of not knowing which way to go and hesitating, I am putting a foot on each path and taking a few test steps in each direction before coming back to the middle to weigh up my choices and make decisions.

This, coupled with the good weather and my much-improved mood have me buzzing and singing and just generally bouncing around like the inside of a pinball machine. I feel excited, charged up and…happy. Such a welcome change from the darkness that often pervaded last year.

Everyone kept telling me my 30s would be good. It hasn’t disappointed so far. With 31 just around the corner, I can barely wait to see what the rest of the decade brings.

Exciting news and a free smell

NS April 14th, 2010

I have a few items of exciting news to share. Well, they’re exciting to me. You? You’ll most likely yawn and say ‘Is that all? This woman needs to get out more.’ And to that I would say you’re right but avoid saying that to my face, especially if I’ve been drinking red wine or whiskey. I’m a pacifist in theory but we all know how theories pan out in practice. Like that communism one that was supposed to make all the world one, big, happy, altruistic family but instead led to people queueing up for miles to get their hands on a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese, extra onion and pickle, in Red Square. Need I say more?

Anyway.

Exciting item #1: Inspired by Gappy’s post, with accompanying photographs, about her trip to Hay-on-Wye, I’ve booked myself in for a train ride and overnight stay there, a few days after my birthday this summer. I’ve been dreaming of going away on my own just to read and relax and I knew right away that this would be the perfect place to do that. Second-hand book stores in which there are comfy chairs to sit and cats to stroke? I’m sold.

Exciting item #2: I’ve booked into a doula training course for the end of May. After I’ve completed the course I have to attend four births to become fully qualified. I’ve already got one lined up in August (a good friend’s) but need to find three more. If you, or anyone you know, are due this summer and live in the South West London or Surrey area, and are looking for an inexpensive doula, do let me know! I’m quite excited about this new career path, really. Not only will I get to help women with something I’m passionate about but I can earn a more reliable income from home which will take some of the pressure off of needing my writing to become a paid venture right away. A win-win situation, really! Besides which, I think I’ll be good at it and enjoy it.

Exciting item #3: I’ve entered into the Race for Life to benefit Cancer Research UK, in which I will run 5k a the end of July in Clapham. Me. A woman who has never been a runner and hasn’t done any form of exercise (other than walking loads and chasing the children) for a good four years. I’ve been getting up at 6am and running twice a week (and once or twice at the weekend) for a couple weeks now. I’m feeling good about it. If you’re so inclined to want to sponsor me (thus blackmailing me giving me more motivation), there is a button on my sidebar that will take you to my sponsorship page. Watch out, Clapham! There will a woman huffing and puffing her way through your streets and commons come July 31st, and she will likely be tripping over her shoelaces as she Tweets about it at the same time.

Exciting item #4: My first guest post, in which I give my thoughts on the term ‘mummy blogger/blogging’  is up at Gappy’s ‘Single Parenthood. Tales from the front-line’ blog. In five years of blogging I have never been asked to do a guest post so I was very excited and flattered to be invited into someone else’s space, especially by Gappy whom I greatly admire and like immensely. She’s a real talent and a new blogger so if you haven’t already got her on your list of must-reads, go check her out!

And finally, a sniff. I’ve managed to capture my favourite smell (line-dried sheets) and convert it to HTML. If you move your mouse rapidly over the blank space below, the scent should release itself. You’ll probably have to lean in quite close and give your screen a good sniff but it’s there, I promise.

 


 

Lovely, isn’t it?

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Tiring of aspiring

NS April 3rd, 2010

By now I thought I’d be a writer. A ‘real’ one with a regular byline or a book jacket, my name in ink stamped upon the printed page. So far, the name that has gotten me the furthest, the closest to my dream, is not my own but this one — Noble Savage.

It’s a great name, isn’t it? I read it or say it and I feel more confident. Noble — grand. Savage — grrr! It makes me feel smart and unique and clever. But it’s not me, it’s the spinner of this particular tangle of web here in cyberspace. As Noble Savage, I can tell you my darkest secrets,  sweetest moments, most haunted memories and things that make me laugh until my atrophied stomach muscles collapse into puddles of quivering mirth. I can write off the cuff with little self-censorship and press publish before a clearer head, a red pen or a no-nonsense editor can tear chunks out of the sometimes nonsensical and emotionally-overladen projectus that spews forth from my brain, dribbles down onto my keyboard and then out onto the information superhighway. This freedom of self-expression can be a gift but perhaps it’s also a bit of a curse.

Am I actually bettering my writing by blogging or am I, without any structure or professional feedback, actually distancing myself from my dream of being published? Does blogging make me a lazy writer? Should I be taking my ideas for posts, all those raw emotions, and pour them into the articles, essays and book proposals that swirl around my head at any given moment, or am I selling blogging short as a real avenue for creative and professional fulfilment? Maybe being a middlin’, indecipherable and often-times apathetic member of the blogging community is as far as I’m going to get. And maybe I should stop fighting that and just accept it.

After all, blogging is New Media. It’s the wave of the future! It’s what everyone wants a piece of, right? Except that very few bloggers actually ‘make it’ so I’ve never really taken it too seriously. But is getting published any easier? Is standing out from the crowd clamoring to get their names in ink any different, less competitive or easier to crack than the elusive blog success story most of us secretly dream of from time to time?

I know this is all going to sound really self-pitying and melodramatic; I don’t mean it to be. I’m just trying to sort the wheat from the chaff and which bits of my words are me and which bits are Noble Savage and whether either have any hope of success. Am I a blogger or a writer in the more traditional sense? Can I be both or does one always have to be done well to the detriment of the other?

For those of  you looking to become published authors or journalists (or who already are), how do you balance your professional aspirations with your blogging? Do you think they complement each other or do they compete for your attention?

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Book review: The Equality Illusion

NS March 4th, 2010

This is the first in a run of book reviews I hope to do in the coming months, seeing as I have a backlog of relatively new feminist non-fiction to read. First up is ‘The Equality Illusion’ by Kat Banyard, former campaigns officer for the Fawcett Society, an organisation that campaigns for social and economic justice for women in the UK.

Before I get to the review, I’d just like to make a somewhat-tangential aside about Ms. Banyard’s place of employment. While I know that there are sectors within which unpaid internships are the norm and that non-profits are one of the biggest culprits, I was pretty disheartened when I emailed the Fawcett Society a few months back to eagerly ask how I might assist them with some volunteering of some description. I didn’t mind if it was stuffing envelopes or whatever, I just wanted to get involved with an organisation I’ve always admired and would love to work for some day, when my return to paid employment outside the home is imminent. In reply to my query about volunteering on an occasional basis, I was sent details of an unpaid internship (what other kind is there?) instead. The kicker was that the job would’ve been perfect for me and I would have happily applied right then and there…if it actually paid any money. Travel expenses and £4/day for lunch isn’t going to pay the bills or the childcare though, that’s for sure. When I wrote back to say as much and again asked if there were any more occasional tasks or weekend events I could help with, I was told they “don’t really do that sort of thing.”

Now, the only reason I bring this up is because I think this is a good example of an organisation trying to do good work but putting restrictions on who can actually work for it. I mean, who else but the wealthy or those just out of university and living with their parents, sans any immediate financial responsibilities, could afford to work for three days a week for 3-6 months, completely unpaid? The assumption that those interested in feminist activism can do unpaid internships (especially by an organisation that campaigns for fair wages and equal pay for women!), just comes across as astoundingly arrogant and clueless to the realities most of us face. And the only reason I’m pointing this out is because some of my criticisms of this book are based around this general appearance of excluding some topics in favour of others that may be more sensationalist or controversial but less relevant to the majority of women’s everyday lives in the UK, ones that are affecting their livelihoods and personal lives in deeply-ingrained, meaningful ways. So with that grumble out of the way (and with it having no direct bearing on Banyard because she is not the sum of her employer’s policies, obviously), on to the review.

First off, I will say that my overall impression of the book as a tool to get the general public thinking about ways in which gender inequalities still exist is a fairly good one. If you ever heard someone say “We’ve/you’ve got equality now, what are you complaining about?” or use a term like “post-feminist world,” (has a more laughable phrase ever been uttered, aside from ‘post-racial’?) you could do worse to hand them ‘The Equality Illusion.’ For those unversed in gender issues, this is a good starting place. However, as Jess at The F-Word already pointed out in her review, Banyard is kind of preaching to the ‘yes, we all know this’ choir as far as how already-established feminists are likely to react to it.

The first chapter, on body image, does a pretty good job at dissecting the main issues —  media representations of women,  objectification, gender conformity, beauty standards and the beauty industry and how all of it is damaging to girls and women. The young women she interviews for this portion of the book indeed have heartbreaking tales of shattered self-esteem and distorted views of their bodies, but I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t include much in the way of how we can combat these images in our daily lives, not just by taking on the huge structures perpetuating and capitalising on it, which is a huge task that no one is really sure how to undertake.

One of the most important ways we can help girls (and boys, for that matter) build healthy self-esteems and realistic body expectations is through involved parenting and leading by example. The messages sent by a constantly-dieting mother who is always (only half-jokingly) calling herself a pig can be far more harmful and seep into a child’s subconscious than a parade of billboards with conventionally attractive, airbrushed models on them. Talking to your children about the messages they receive and the images they see can be a very effective tool in keeping their expectations healthy, yet Banyard does little, if anything, to mention empowered parenting as a potentially massive part of the ‘solution,’ as it were.

I have similar complaints about the chapter on education. Overall it’s very good in presenting facts and providing a context in which we can see the gaping inequalities still present in today’s schools, but where are the interviews with parents? What do they think of gendered behaviour, gendered education, the arguments for and against biological and socially-conditioned differences in the way boys and girls think and perform? What are their thoughts and concerns on how gendered education is effecting their kids and if they are counteracting that at home in any way? Speaking to the teachers and to the children themselves is all very well and good, but leaving parents out of the education equation just because they don’t actually attend school with their kids is trying to complete a 24-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 18 of the pieces.

I have similar complaints of the reproductive rights chapter, which deals, unsurprisingly, with teenage/young pregnancy and abortion but not much else. There is no mention of feminist issues relating to pregnancy or birth rights, or of the changing role and consequences of reproduction throughout a woman’s life. Again, the focus seems to be on young(ish) women and those who have chosen not to have children, at least for the time being.

From my corner of the feminist parenting blogosphere, there hasn’t been much hope that this book would be any different from most of the others in really dissecting some of the issues important to mothers, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the ‘Sexism in the City’ chapter to be dedicated almost solely to the injustices and inequalities that women face with regards to work and childcare and the division of domestic labour. The case study she uses to open the chapter is about one woman”s struggle to care for her children and earn enough money to support them. Banyard asks some good questions and raises relevant topics, such as:

Why do so many women have to work below their skill level because those are the only jobs that fit around their caring responsibilities? Why are cleaning and other forms of traditional ‘women’s work’ (like carers and caterers) paid so little — and in particular less than traditional ‘men’s work’ (like plumbers and decorators) that require equivalent levels of skill and effort? Because gender discrimination in the workplace is illegal and women make up nearly half the workforce it is easy to assume that all is now fair and equal. But the near equivalent numbers of women and men in the workplace is where any ‘equality’ ends: 30,000 women are sacked each year in the UK simply for being pregnant, women make up only 12 per cent of FTSE 100 company directors and women are paid on average 22.6 per cent less per hour than men.

She also writes:

When discussing women in the workplace a standard media refrain is to ask whether women can ‘have it all’, i.e. a family and a career. But women have always had to combine work and caring. For many, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, that question is redundant; if they don’t work their family doesn’t eat. The real question is why is it only women who have to choose between a family and maximising their career potential? And, in fact, why should anyone have to choose between these two things at all?

Banyard goes on to talk about discrimination against mothers at work, the belief that women’s careers are curtailed by their ‘choices’, not because the system is set up to favour those without caring responsibilities, and the concept of a ‘sticky floor’ that exists well below the ‘glass ceiling.’ She interviews a charity that supports working parents and talks to working mothers themselves, making a real effort to understand and explain the disparities they face. There were things she didn’t touch on, of course — issues relating specifically to mothering are about more than just combining work and family — but for a feminist book by (from what I gather is) a relatively young, childless woman, I thought it was pretty well done.

Finally, the chapters on violence against women and the sex industry were informative, compelling and passionate. It seems pretty obvious that these issues are the most important to Banyard, and many young feminists, and she/they are doing a great job of speaking out against them. However (didn’t you know that was coming?), I will say that while I am 100% supportive of feminist aims to help women exit prostitution and to combat the pervasive and often-unpleasant sex industry, I can’t help but feel that the intense focus on it can be a bit off-putting to the general public. As Rachel Cooke pointed out in her review in the Guardian:

Mostly, she is preoccupied with finding ways to help women exit prostitution, and while I’m all for that, too, there are 30 million women in Britain, of whom not even a quarter of 1% sell sex for a living. What about the rest of us?

That’s not to say that prostitutes or sex industry workers don’t deserve our help and attention, because they unreservedly do. But if a book about gender inequality is trying to reach out to large swathes of people in one country, many of whom probably don’t identify as feminist in the first place, it needs to be relatable to their lives. Focusing on the sex industry, or female genital mutilation or forced marriages in other parts of the world (for example) can be, rightly or wrongly, seen as directing focus away from the issues that women right here in the UK face, all around them, every day. Portrayals of Western feminists as young, childless, middle-class, white girls who want to save ‘those poor women’ (sex industry workers, African women, child brides, etc..) from themselves may be off base entirely, but the fact is that this is the image they (we) have been saddled with by some. If a book’s aim is to foster greater understanding and enthusiasm for gender issues within a Western framework and amongst the women who inhabit it, I have to wonder if narrowing the focus a little bit and not necessarily worrying about casting the net wide in an effort to be ideologically diverse would actually catch more fish, as it were.

Again, I don’t want to insinuate that international problems or ones affecting a small, specific minority are not our problems or that we should be discouraging others from thinking about and acting upon them, but if Banyard truly wants to inspire ‘grassroots feminism’ (to which she devotes most of her last chapter), she would do well to remain focused on issues a bit closer to home and our hearts and remember that most of us — especially those living with children, or with disabilities, or financial hardships — can’t easily attend meetings and marches, or get online to check out all the latest blogs and conferences, or partake in unpaid internships.

Overall, this is a good ‘primer’ book but its approach is too broad and there’s not enough fire in the belly. We need less theoretical pontificating and more solid ideas for action. Because until we start organising the latter, the former is all we will ever do.

Cross-posted at Fertile Feminism

All good things must end

NS February 11th, 2010

I knew it was coming. It wasn’t a surprise. So why did I still feel like I’d been knocked sideways by the news I received today? Maybe I had been in denial.

But I can’t deny it any longer; my childminder, J, the one who is so wonderful and affordable and resides so nearby, is moving. She’s moving back to the area she is originally from, which is hours away from here. And while I am happy for her and appreciative of all that she’s done for us, I can’t help but feel a twinge of ‘It’s not fair!’ about the whole thing. We only started with J at the very end of October, just over three months ago. It was only two weeks ago that my son stopped crying when I dropped him off every Thursday (he goes one day a week). I loved knowing that he got some playtime with two other children his age (J’s own little boy and another girl she cares for) and many trips to the playground just across the road. And TNC will be gutted, she really will. Her key worker and favourite teacher just left the pre-school she attends a couple weeks ago, and now this. The only two other women (aside from family) who I’ve ever trusted with my girl and have seen her bond with have gone or are going.

Obviously, this is just the way things are. This is life. It’s nothing to get worked up about. People change childminders and teachers all of the time. Children grow, circumstances change and other aspirations beckon. Sometimes it will be them leaving us; sometimes it will be us leaving them. But I will still find it difficult when I have to explain to TNC that J is leaving and why she won’t see her again. It will tear me up to have to go through the process all over again with my little boy — the crying, the clinging, the arms reaching out and the little voice calling “Mama! Mama!” as I shut the door to a stranger’s house and walk away, leaving him, and my heart, inside.

That is, if I do have to do it again. Now that this Good Thing is ending, I’m not sure I have the energy or inclination or even a reason to find a replacement. As it is, I’m only bringing in just enough income to cover the costs of the two-day-a-week childcare, at J’s lower-than-average fee for this area. I simply can’t afford to pay more than I am now and I need someone who also lives nearby, is willing to take each child for only one day per week, with a view to taking them on in a more full-time capacity if/when I start back to work this autumn. I was incredibly lucky when I began my search to find someone so quickly (indeed, the third person I contacted), who shared my views on childcare and who fit all of the above criteria as well. I can’t help but feel that I won’t be so lucky next time around.

The other thing this has made me confront is the fact that the freelance thing hasn’t exactly taken off. I got so busy with creating Fertile Feminism and making noises and notes about a corresponding book idea that I haven’t had much time for trying to establish some paid work. I’m no closer now to earning money from writing than I was before I began this childminding venture. Granted, I said I was going to give it six months and, if J doesn’t leave for another 8 weeks, it should give me just about that. I somehow doubt, however, that I’m going to get a successful freelance career up and running before then. And if I go back to no outside childcare (or just can’t find any that suits), I will have even less time to pursue it than before. Does that mean it’s hi-ho-hi-ho, back to work I go? The thought simultaneously excites me and fills me with dread.

There’s also the small matter of me losing my marbles if I have to give up my two days a week to myself: to write and think and run errands or drink a cup of tea without children demanding my attention and needing me with all their needlessly endless needs. Since I hired a cleaner and a childminder, I have been so much happier. I’ve been full of energy, getting more sleep, getting more done. My marriage has improved drastically. My self-confidence is (was?) at an all-time high and my tendency towards depressive episodes low. And now, I feel as if I’m watching it slip away like a kite string tugged from my fingers by a strong wind, until all I can do is shield my eyes from the bright, burning sun of reality and squint at the receding shape of The Way Things Were as it tumbles and twirls through the sky, flying further and further from my grasp. Can I get another kite up in the air, or will it land with a resounding thud on the ground of some barren, muddy field over yonder?

I have 6-8 weeks to find out.

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