Having it All.

When discussing the Kirstie Allsopp controversy with my mother, she took the opportunity to remind me that “you can have it all, just not at the same time.” This kind of follows on from what Kirstie herself was saying; we can have a career as a young professional, but that should take a back seat by the time we settle down to become a walking nappie-changer. 

In my eyes, the whole idea of feminism is about choice, and I think that’s what she was really trying to say; it wasn’t some backwards comment about motherhood or an attack on female education. Women fought to have the right for political choice, choice over what to do with their bodies, their time, their money. We have come such a long way – the classic cliché – and we should continue to discuss the different choices that are available for women so that we don’t teach our daughters that there is a certain type of lifestyle path – school, uni, work, babies, empty nest syndrome – that is the only option. It seems to have worked for my mother, who won’t be crying on the phone to me about her empty nest for a couple of years as long as my brother remains at home, but the whole idea that we have to choose between personal development and looking after children really doesn’t make me very enthused to grow up. Why is 27 the perfect age to have babies? I’m sure there are thousands of responsible, capable and parentally minded woman at that age…I’m just not in a hurry to become one. 

Also, to be honest, starting work at this age really doesn’t speak to me. For one, if it were that easy to find a job as school leaver then girls like me would probably be getting into the world of work without having to fork out thousands for a degree in what many would call a ‘pointless’ subject, just to try and broaden our horizons. Has anyone looked at the employment stats lately? Yes, unemployment is falling, but young people are still not being given the opportunities they desire to flourish in the workplace. I like the idea of finding a job at this age – 18 – but does anyone really want to hire me when my only skill set is making tea, sweeping the floor of a tiny baber shop and learning quotes for my A levels? To quote another out-there feminist, the candid Lily Allen, it really is hard out here (bitch or otherwise). 

So Having it All, “just not at the same time”, seems to be the only real choice for me here. In my case, this will mean going to university and hopefully discovering what it is I want to do with my life, before I take chosen career by the horns. Babies and husband I would hope for, but I would like to think that I can do more than be the woman in the background of every photo. As long as there is choice to be a professional, and to raise a family either as a part of that professional life or apart from it, I don’t really see what else I can ask for. So thank you, Kirstie, for inspiring this discussion of feminine choice. 


Inside the Box

After a recent report on the education system in Wales, it was decided (in a nutshell) that none of us can spell, count or read. How education authorities reached this decision I do not know, but I do know the outcome; artistic and cultural studies have been slashed from many curriculums. My comprehensive no longer offers drama for children under 14 – it can only be studied from GCSE level – and the children of key stage three (those in years 7, 8 and 9) have only one art, French and music lesson a fortnight. Although I felt this was an unfair victimisation of some of my best loved subject areas, I did understand that maths, science and (of course) English are integral to ones general academic development. Yet what message is this sending to, often insecure, children? In cutting artistic and cultural programmes from the core curriculum, we are not only undermining the intelligence of children whose strengths do not lie inside a test tube, but we are also shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. What is the use in mass producing a certain way of thinking? Those in power in fifteen years time will be facing a problem with “aah, yes. Let me just pop back into my box and then we will get started.” We should be encouraging a freedom of thought, a creative and expressive way of forming new ideas or picking up the pieces of old problems. Quite frankly, we are the fools for not noticing how short sighted it is to cut out language and art programmes; we universally cringe when our athletes or celebrities are interviewed by a foreign journalist and do not even know how to introduce themselves in the target language. We also tut at anyone who utters phrases like “who even is Picasso? Is that a footballer?”

Growing up with only the skills to light a Bunsen burner, find X and underline the pronouns will only go so far. X is just a number. Words are just thoughts given an outlet. We should be teaching our next generation to use those numbers to create, or find the words they love and repeat them with different tongues. Give the words a song, or give their meaning a colour on canvas. Turn the numbers into counts for a dance of self expression. Talented kids are not ours for the moulding. We are lucky enough to have free education in our wonderful country, and I do fully support the in erase in literary studies, yet we are only scratching the surface of what teaching really means; education should encourage confidence and tolerance, inspire questions and motivation to be the best at what you love. To quote “Catch-22”, “it is neither possible nor necessary to educate people who don’t ask questions.” The arts not only encourage but require this; it is not about a retention of factual knowledge or algebraic manipulation, but inquisition. Why do the Spanish/German/French etc celebrate in that way? What inspired this artist? How can I learn to improve my own skills, find my own voice? What is the story behind this piece of music? It is these thoughts, these frames of mind that we must not let dwindle. Give the children a chance to escape the box in which society seems to be hiding them. This is a plea, if nothing else, from a child of the arts; please do not let creative minds stop expressing themselves. Don’t descend into the abyss of technology and forget that some of our most celebrated people are the writers, the painters, the musicians and actors, because they all felt like their work was worth putting in the hours to produce. This is the message we should really be teaching. 

After Seeing India

In the words of the BBC’s beloved contemporary Sherlock, “you’re seeing, but you’re not observing.” This is exactly what I felt I had been doing on my fortnight trip around the North of India; I was seeing the palaces and the rikshaws and tuk-tuks, the street sellers and the beggars, but I wasn’t observing what that all really meant.

India is possibly the most beautiful and majestic country I have ever seen, with the snow-dipped Himalayas and the busy cities stacked on top of each other is a mess of noises and vibrant smells. You can walk down the street and hear a myriad of languages and dialects, almost get run down by a cow or a child, on a motor bike, all the while trying not to make eye contact with the beautiful women offering to tattoo your arms with henna. But this is not what I remember most about my visit; despite the sights and smells and sounds, only one image remains stronger than ever. The children who tugged at my shirt with their arms outstretched, sent by hungry fathers and desperate mothers to try and entice the foreigner. There were men without legs and women without eyes who sat with their arms out, crying out for money. I saw all this, and I certainly felt the stabbing guilt – giving money was forbidden by my guide, as either I or the recipient would be mugged by others in desperation – but I did not observe what it was all trying to tell me.

Of course, I am not pretending to be the first person to notice that India needs long term financial assistance, nor do I assume to be the only person to write about the issue at hand. But it seemed to me, as I volunteered in an orphanage in Old Delhi, that all the money we Western do-gooders were donating was futile. It was like putting a plaster, a band-aid, on a gun shot wound and expecting to stop the blood flow. What is the use of spending money on rice for a community who do not have any future in which to eat it? surely, investment in infrastructure would be a way of ensuring long term benefits for these families and these desperate children; building roads, hospitals, water pumps, toilet blocks, schools, hostels and in doing so, creating trade unions and social projects would be a more sound investment in improving an economy which was the strongest in the world before the British took it as a colony. I’m not saying that we should stop sending money for food and shelter to Indian charities, or any international aid charities: it is indisputable that they are saving lives. But for what? Without a long-term improvement for social care of the most vulnerable in society, how can an economy expect to improve? From this, I realized that I was not just observing India; this idea rang true to my own country, to my own situation. How can Britain itself expect to find a way of overcoming the economic crisis without investing in us, the next generation. Okay, we are hardly short of water pumps, but I would see no issue with creating jobs for the young by building new social housing, for which there is a shameful shortage. We think that because we are in the West we are above third world countries, but we are not. Until we can honestly say that we are ensuring a future of prosperity and hope for our children, I personally do not see as drastic a difference. 

Where for art thou, childhood?

So where I work, a small barbers in a smaller Welsh town, I have to pretend to like a ridiculous amount of very excitable children; apparently parents will wait for over an hour to get their little darlings a haircut, lolly and sticker. the whole concept really baffles me. I am not a natural child speaker; I lack the ability to gain their attention and seem to scare the living day lights out of many, even with the simple “would you like a glass of squash, darling?” Apparently this is a fear inducing question. Maybe it’s my hair.

Yet today, in what I will henceforth refer to as “Bernard’s Barbers” in, let’s call it, Aberllew town, I asked what I believed to be a foolproof, fearproof question: “so what have you asked Santa for this year?”

Now I was fairly sure I could have predicted the answer; a jigsaw, a bike, maybe even a serious request of the elves for a puppy. But do you know what I was met with?

“I want an iPad.”

AN IPAD. this child was under 10. An iPad. What has happened to childhood? I cannot believe times have changed at such an Olympic speed; I was only 4 when we welcomed in the millennium and even I feel like I am lost in time, lamenting the good old days. I write this to plead, quite frankly, and not to complain about the unfair amount of haircuts everyone in Aberllew seems to need all at once. (Honestly, I love making painful amounts of tea/coffee/squash/glasses of water and sweeping, while singing Some Day My Prince Will Come in my head, pretending to be Cinderella, but that is neither here nor there). My point is that children need to stay children. We don’t get to stay innocent and naive for long enough; before we know it, exams and school work and gossip and breaking hearts and bank balances that you simply cannot believe start to take over, drowning us in a sea of our own thoughts and conflicting feelings (and, let’s face it, comfort foods to eat our way out of feeling like an overweight failure which is such a vicious but delicious circle). Basically, buy you children a bike and take them outside to enjoy the precious time they have to graze knees, get dressed up in mud and make memories. Buy them dolls to play with, and not Barbies that were pretty much designed to give us all some form of appearance complex, but real rag dolls to be drEssex up and dragged around the garden. Buy them finger paints to inspire their creativity and real, tangible fun. Soppy, I know, but if I see one more child ignore the play box in Bernard’s, this breaking heart might fully crack.