Monday, June 24, 2013

Feminism and the modern world

 When I was very young - say 6/7ish - my mother who isn't prone to taking to the streets to protest, became very angry in our local sweetshop. I dimly understood why at the time. It was something to do with magazines she didn't like. Around the same time I also remember her shooing away teenagers who congegrated in the bush at the park which backed onto the bottom of our garden, to snog and smoke, as teenagers do. 6 year old me was fascinated to see a girl in a bra and skirt, and a little puzzled as to what was making my mum so cross.

As I grew up, I came to understand what had made my mother so angry, and as a young woman, dealing with the casual sexism of page 3, having my bum pinched by boys, or being aggressively chatted up by men in bars, I became angry too. And a feminist. I remember many arguments while I was a student with guys my own age, who simply didn't get where I was coming from. Well you wouldn't would you, if you've never been discriminated against. I was determined that I was going to be independent, combine a career with a family and never rely on a man...

Then real life intervened, as it is wont to do. I didn't stop being a feminist, as such, but quite frankly it went on the back burner in the years when my children were small. Daily life was such a struggle, I didn't have the energy for gender politics. And to be honest, I don't think it was much easier for Spouse. While I was firefighting at home, the onus was (and still is to a large extent) on him to bring the bacon in.

However, I have four daughters, and I want them to learn from my mistakes (have a career that pays you enough to make it worthwhile carrying on working, would be one lesson I'd teach them), and I also want them to feel the world is their oyster, and being a girl shouldn't be a reason for them to ever think they can't do anything. To an extent, I think that's worked. They've grown up in a world which expects equality, and they are so sure that it exists, they think at the moment feminism is irrelevant. The gender war is over, it's all done and dealt with. My eldest daughter is planning on a career in engineering, and sees her sex as no barrier (I can remember there was one girl on the civil engineering course when I was a student) - hurrah for her. The second, however has no idea what she wants to do bar being a wife and mother. Which I find dispiriting to say the least.  She not only thinks feminism is irrelevant, but for her, it's almost as if it hasn't happened.

Because in the time when I had my head down and wasn't paying attention, I feel that we've gone backwards. Sure I had a lot of teasing from boys about feminism in my student days, but they respected my opinion, and on occasion I won some of them round. I was immensely depressed to read this article the other day about a bunch of teenage girls who started a feminist society at their school and got this foul and vicious reaction to it.

Have things really got so bad? Why are boys behaving in such a vile manner because girls are calling for more equality? The guys I knew when I was young might have been sexist, but they knew they were, and they also on the whole have grown into men who've tried at least to take an equal share in domestic tasks, and bringing up families. We've a long way to go still, but I genuinely thought things had got better. But in fact, I think it's got worse, and my daughters face a far harder time then I did.

One of the problems I think is that this generation has been much more exposed to sex from a young age then we were. I can remember being horrified watching Britney Spears on Blue Peter doing a routine which was totally inappropriate when my kids were under 10. Trying to buy clothes that didn't make them look tarty has also been a huge issue. And currently I am battling with my lot about the underwear they buy. They get it from places like Primark, and think it's pretty - a lot of it looks like it should belong in a brothel.  They watch Waterloo Road and Eastenders where people casually hop in and out of bed, with very little discussion about the emotional impact. I know I'm beginning to sound like a prude (I'm really not!), but it seems to me, the pendulum has swung too far the other way from, sex  being taboo, to it almost being something you do as recreational activity.

Added to that mix, there's the hideous modern day fact of online porn, which any savvy teen can access with a click of a mouse. So what? You might say, porn isn't new. Teenagers having sex too young isn't new. And yet, there is something new, pernicious and very worrying about the situation we are currently in, as this article makes clear:
As a mum of teenagers it doesn't surprise me at all. Granted, I did have a fairly sheltered teenage life (being a catholic, kept the boys I knew in check, thank god), but these are some of the stories I've heard from my kids:
- a 14 yo girl who got drunk for the first time, was filmed by a boy as she was being felt up by another boy. He was only stopped from putting the video up on YouTube by her sister threatening to go to the police
- a 13 yo girl was bullied after naively talking openly to a boy she knew about masturbation. Their conversation went viral and everyone got to know, and she was labelled a slut
- a 13yo boy made it his mission to ask every girl he knew to let him finger her
- a 14yo girl was asked to give head to a boy who had an STD. She refused only because he had an infection.
- 15yo girls regularly give head to boys in the loos.

Maybe all that went on 30 years ago, but it certainly wasn't my experience. I wasn't asked to have sex on a regular basis as my 15 year old has been. The latest coming from a boy she barely knew, who asked her if she was up for it now he was "legal", conveniently ignoring the fact that she isn't.

On top of that because of the false image of sex the boys have witnessed, girls now regularly feel pressurized to shave all their hair off to match the expectations of what goes on in porn films. I know that happens because my daughter has succumbed to that one. She's also been sent pictures of erect penises, which she finds funny, fortunately, I suppose, but I don't. I think the pressure on her and her peer group is intolerable. And it's not that great for the boys either, many of whom must struggle with the disconnect between what they see and what they should be doing with girls. And what makes it worse is, thanks to the advent of technology, it's always there, a click away, something they cannot escape from easily.

So what's the answer? In an ideal world parents would simply police it. We'd get savvy, and pull internet connections and block phones, and make sure that we knew what our kids were up to. But it really isn't as easy as that. You can do all that at home if you like (we try to, with patchy results), but as soon as they've left the house, they can do as they please. Plus keeping up with the technology is a real challenge - I was ahead of the game with no 1 being on Facebook before she was, but no s 2&3 have blackberries and I don't have BBM. Nor do I have an ipod and use snapchat - an innocentish app which kids use to send pictures to each other, which could easily be used for sexting purposes. And it's the sheer proliferation of this stuff, that makes it so hard to deal with. It's not something we parents can tackle alone, and most of us aren't equipped for it, quite frankly.

 I think education is one approach, and I thoroughly applaud Sarra Manning for writing about teenage sex in a messy and realistic way. I'd rather my kids read books like that, then learnt about sex via the internet.

And I think being open and honest about this stuff with your kids is also vital. Again something I try to do with varying results - you get a lot of "Ew! That's gross, Don't want to talk about it" kind of reactions. And teenagers are notoriously secretive, so they won't always talk to you about it even if you try. I think schools need to be proactive - making boys aware that what they are viewing is totally unrealistic, and that  they need to respect girls, and making girls aware that No, really does mean no, and empowering them to be able to say it. That's vital more then ever today I think.

I've also subscribed to these two campaigns:
I think it's vital we make both the government and internet providers see that the current situation is unacceptable and we should all be doing everything we can to protect our children. I get there's a freedom of speech issue here, and have no issue with consenting adults having access to whatever porn they want. But children shouldn't be being exposed to this stuff, at an age when they're impressionable and learning to become sexual beings. They need to do that in a safe environment, one that they can retreat from if necessary.  Otherwise, things are only going to get a lot worse.

Feminism irrelevant? My daughters have got is so wrong. Today it's more important then ever.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fair, Fat and Forty...

Lordy, lord. Here I go again... nearly two months since my last blogpost. (I feel momentarily like I am in the confessional).

I do actually have a reasonably good reason this time. Which is, dear reader, that I have recently had an operation to remove my gall bladder.  When I blogged in January, I mentioned that I had had an horrendous hangover in January. What I didn't mention was that though I gave up alcohol for the month and stopped having hangovers, I realised at the end of it I still wasn't quite feeling right. Not only that, but I had two or three episodes of acute pain in the middle of the night. And when I say acute, I mean ACUTE... the sort of pain that leaves you curled up in a ball moaning slightly hysterically as nothing, but nothing makes it stop. Not only that I was having acid heartburn that Gaviscon just wasn't reaching, and I had the faint feeling of nausea a lot of the time. When I gave it some thought, I realised I had been feeling like that this (without the acute bouts of pain) pretty much forever. I had put up with it, as I thought the acid burning etc was a result of the stress I'd been under when mil was ill, but after the first time I had pain, I looked up my symptoms online (I know I know, fatal)  and  in between scary things like  cancer and heart attacks, gallstones screamed right out at me. Particularly as the first bad attack I had was after making a chicken pie (gallstones don't like fat you see. They really don't like it at all.).

It took a bit of to and froing from the doctor to make sure what was going on before he referred me for an utlrasound and an endoscopy (where they stick a camera down your throat. Lovely.). By now I was convinced it was gallstones (except in the stilly watches of the night when my imagination tends to run riot), as my mother suffered from them some time ago and it as as they say familial. Added to which according to the medical mythology  of my ma (an ex nurse), being fair, fat and forty means I am a prime candidate (my GP helpfully added fertile to the mix. Man, gallstones could have been made for me).

I was incredibly lucky in that I didn't have to wait too long for my tests, and the ultrasound revealed in seconds that I had a bag full of gallstones, or "one sick gallbladder" as the cheerful chap doing the ultrasound told me. I was so relieved to hear the words, "normal" repeated as he scanned my liver, pancreas, kidneys etc, I failed to take on the import of what this meant, until when I said cheerfully, "I'm so relieved," he replied, "It's not that great you have to have an operation." Which was true, but quite frankly, considering what the alternatives could have been (part of the symptoms I've been having including pains in my chest, eek, heart attack alert!), I was hugely relieved.  I was not so happy the next day, when I had to have my endoscopy without realising I should have told them I wanted to be sedated first (does ANYONE in their right minds actually want a tube shoved down their throat  while being wide awake?), but I got through that too, to discover there was nothing more the matter with me, then having a bunch of gallstones.

As is the way of these things, as soon as I started to mention it, turns out dozens of people I know have had their gall bladder out, it's really common etc etc, and amazingly you can function pretty well without it. Hurrah for that (apart from the fact it squeezes bile on to your food as it goes through into your stomach, I'm not entirely sure why we need one, and the pain it was causing me was enough for me to want to get rid of it as soon as I could.) I started to eat a sensible low fat diet, avoiding fatty foods as much as possible (one spectacularly bad attack came after I'd made Beef Wellington for Spouse's birthday meal.), giving up on things I really really love, like pate and soft cheeses - my one moment of weakness at a wedding had dire consequences - and waited to see the specialist.

Again, I was really lucky, as I got to see a lovely consultant pretty quickly too, and he too said straight away that the pesky thing had to come out pronto. I had been imagining I was going to have to wait until the summer, which would have been a pain, but possibly more practical in terms of organising the family, but I was initially given a date early in May. Not wanting to turn it down, we said yes straight away and then I started to fret about the children. I wasn't going to be able to drive for a week, how would the housework get done, no 1 had AS levels coming up, no 4 had her Sats, I didn't want either of them worried. Mind you, what do I know? No 1 cheerfully told me she was in a little exam bubble and didn't care. That'll teach me...

The first date turned out to be on a Bank Holiday so they moved me to the next week, the start of exams, and also no 1's birthday week (quite frankly, she was more worried about whether I was going to be ok for that, and I was trying to work out how I could make a cake that wouldn't go off before hand), but luckily as it turned out that got cancelled too. Spouse had arranged to take two days off, and it was too late to book patients in, so we had a pre op holiday, the two of us instead, which was much nicer.

Finally I was given a date of the 17th May first thing in the morning, and then panic started to set in. I've only ever had one operation, a long time ago, and I felt lousy after the anaesthetic. I also hated the feeling of being not asleep exactly, but in a kind of dark space of nothingness - as Spouse so eloquently described it, it's like a little slice of death. Besides, though it's not common, what if I DIDN'T wake up??? (Luckily the research about Friday operations being the most dangerous was published after my op). So cometh the hour, I was a gibbering wreck. So much so that when lovely Mr Consultant came to see me before the op, he said, "You look terrified." - because I was. Who in their right mind wouldn't be?

However, hats off to the medical staff. It's all so routine for them, it makes it feel more routine for you, the patient. The anaesthetists were particularly cheering, one kept me chatting while the other slickly got a line in and injected me with something sleep inducing. I can just remember asking if everyone is as scared as me (the answer was pretty much yes), before drifting off. This time, I am pleased to report, I didn't get a sense of black nothingness. I just shut my eyes at 8.30am, and opened them to discover it was ten past ten, and I was being looked after by a very lovely nurse, who it turned out had trained with my sister. Small world...

Then I was brought back into the side room I had come into in the morning, where Spouse and I sat and had several cups of tea and I attempted to eat biscuits, before the anaesthetist arrived to tell me everything had gone well, and the nurse eventually told me I could get dressed and go home. Yes. GO HOME.... As I'd had key hole surgery, I was up and out before you knew it. To my amazement, though I felt sore, I was able to walk to the car, and didn't feel the need for any pain relief till I went to bed. (Though big sis, who has just gone back to nursing full time, told me off big time. The thing is, I don't think I was being especially brave, but after the pain of gallstones, which literally doesn't ease up for hours, a bit of soreness felt like nothing.)

I had been advised to take at least a week off (eek! how was I going to manage that), but thanks to Spouse who did literally mountains of washing and organised the kids to help far better then I could, my lovely twin for popping over to help for a couple of days, and no 1 organising me while she took study leave, everything happened that had to happen. The second week was half term, and nos 3 and 4 were away for some of it, so that meant less to organise, and so I was able to take it easy. And for the first time in years, I literally stopped. Which has been a revelation, quite frankly. The world didn't end, life went on, the house hasn't fallen apart, the kids have got to school. I could get used to this.

Three weeks in, and the pain is abating, though I notice more twinges if I overdo things, the house is starting to look a little rough around the edges, and work is building up so my period of enforced idleness has to sadly come to an end. But... the good news is my stitches are healing up, I'm beginning to feel better, and I can eat pate again... Bliss.

With grateful thanks to all the amazing staff at Ashtead Hospital who looked after me so well.