Leaning in to Life and Love

16694809298_94acb43d95_b

Connection. It fuels us.

There’s been much talk nowadays of ‘leaning in’. Women should ‘lean in’ to the workplace, show up, show commitment, and prioritise our career. The fabulous Nancy Fraser rightly points out, however, that in order to lean in we have to ‘lean on’ somebody else – often low paid women or our partner or wider family – to do the stuff of house and childrearing.

But I’ve been thinking a lot since attending and speaking at the Feminism in London Conference about the need to lean in to life and love. And it started on the journey home on the Sunday evening from London.

Walking along the Tube platform I noticed an elderly couple. The woman was on the train, and, through the open doors, she was holding the hands of a man. They were gazing at each other. The emotion in both their faces was palpable. Something was being said between them, unspoken.

I was quite struck. I wondered what their journey was. Among the busyness of the environment, there was a real tenderness shared between these two people. A few steps later and, next to the steps down to the line I needed, I saw a younger couple kissing and holding each other, gazing into each other’s eyes then a gentle kiss, and the hands around the face and shoulders, and not caring what was going on around them.

It really left an impression and I couldn’t shake off what I had seen, in such quick succession, in a place usually brutally impersonal and hurried.

So on my return to my destination, and walking along the concourse to get home to my family, I again smiled as I saw a couple walking along, then stopping to kiss.

But this conveyor-belt of love and shared lives, human gentleness and companionship was shaken as I continued walking and saw Caroline* in the corner of the station, sitting, alone, on the bench, scruffy as usual in a woolly hat, staring at the floor. Her surviving ‘baby’, her dog, her ‘daughter’ at her feet. Only, now, this dog is without her sibling. For Caroline has recently lost a daughter.

I see Caroline regularly, on the bus or in the bus station, usually feeding the pigeons, sitting with her dog and living a life of isolation and mental illness. She has talked to me of her babies – sometimes the dogs, sometimes the birds. We often say hello. My children greet her as though she is a neighbour.

I felt ashamed that on the evening when I had seen episodes of striking human connection, I couldn’t bear to stop my feet and miss my children’s bed time as I had the day before. I did not stop, offer a word to a mother who was grieving the loss of one of her children, the most shaggy and gentle dogs you could see.

Poverty, whilst so often spoken of as an economic issue, can be the isolation of the many people in our country who have nobody, or who experience a mental illness which shapes their isolation, or those who live alone, unknown and unloved.

Support, care, family and family time, so often spoken of as a luxury, are as important as food and money for the bills for a rich life.

And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the imagery of that night. Of intimacy, of affection, of sexuality, of love, of humanity, loss and isolation; and the sight of joy and excitement in my children when I arrived home. I am grateful for that.

It reminds me that a political system and ideology which forgets humanity and reduces us to economic units is not our servant. It is our master.

______________________________________________________________________

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/38912465@N00/16694809298″>Let me tell you about the birds and the bees.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

*Caroline is not her real name

Old women’s bodies: On Germaine Greer, ageism and misogyny

Fabulous piece. It is hard not to acknowledge our female bodies when we grow a person inside us, birth that child through our vaginas and nurse the baby at the breast. Dare to speak the names ‘Mother’, ‘Woman’and ‘Female’.

glosswatch

Sometime during the late 1990s, we stopped having bodies. After thousands of years of sickness, pain and death, we’d finally found a way to think ourselves beyond all that. It is, we told ourselves, a construct. None of it is really “real.” And from then on we no longer had to wait for any Afterlife to become pure spirit. Paradise, in which the individual mind defines and redefines itself on its own terms, is with us now. Thank you, Judith Butler, and all who preach the gospel of the postmodern, transcendent self.

Of course, there were some people who carried on believing in bodies that leaked and bled and bred. Bodies that produced other bodies, then had to care for them, feeding them with their breasts, mopping up their waste. Bodies that creased and sagged and weakened. Bodies that took their place in a hierarchy of bodies that gave and…

View original post 687 more words

A Women’s Party? Less WEP, more like WEEP for the Mothers and Children

WP_20151020_11_59_51_Pro

My brief tenure as a founding member, and contributor to policy development, of the Women’s Equality Party (or WEP) is, I fear, up. As I had feared when the party first came into existence: Some women are indeed more equal than mothers.

Because once you strip away the hoorays, quiet down the ‘you go, sisters’ and whittle down the cash for access subscriptions caste donations system, this new party is less ‘Women’s Equality Party’ and more ‘Women Employees’ Equality Party’ (WEEP).

Today, WEEP – a party essentially formed and dominated by journalists and women of privilege and status – officially launched its policies at Conway Hall in London. Above the stage read the words ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’. Amen, to that. With patient reflection since I became involved in the party from its inception and during the policy development process, I have to be true to myself and own my disappointment at the way the party has, like other mainstream parties, missed a trick.

It risks failing women because it seeks only equality – the poorer sister of women’s liberation – meekly seeking to rock the boat instead of building a new one. In fact, I don’t think I heard the word ‘feminism’ mentioned. Once.

It risks failing women because it seeks only equality rather than justice, fairness and true representation of women.

And it abjectly fails mothers because it fails to acknowledge them except as in the capacity of employee. It fails to explore radical ways to lessen financial hardship for women from across the social spectrum or to reshape the way we value care and those providing care. Rather, the party was alive with youthful enthusiasm, professional and boardroom concerns, and blinkered talk of workplace equality, with no regard to the complexity of peoples’ lives, the diversity of women’s lives and experience and expectations and struggle and desires and strengths and talents. It talks of unfulfilled potential of half the population: conveniently neglecting the wishes of those women. I had had the potential to reach dizzying heights of the legal profession. Did I want to? No – I wanted to stay at home with my children. I am making use of my skills in other ways, no less important.

Women’s equality is only ever going to be a polite nudge, a request within the rules of a previously scripted box which says ‘this is the game: play it or get out’. And my goodness, the WEEP party really is playing the neoliberal, capitalist game.

So how did I even become involved in this WEEP party? After banging on virtual doors since its inception to engage with the party and to invite the party to engage with diverse groups of women, including those which campaign for mothers, single mothers (still the huge majority of lone parents) and women not in professional or elite circles, I was let in. The policy development in the already set brief of ‘equality in parenting’ – which I immediately challenged as blinkered – was coordinated by an employee of the Fatherhood Institute, and contributed to by men and a small number of women one of whom, let’s put it this way, suggested that a mother at home is a ‘complete waste’ and compared ideas to support mothers to be with their children as fascist. Yes. Really. Whilst ostensibly a women’s party, it is so busy apologising for its existence that it has blithely held up mothers and their children as sacrificial lambs.

WEEP is giving every impression that women need liberating from full-time mothering, and that only participation in the workplace can lead to ‘equality’ – a view I cannot share. A mother’s place should be wherever she wants to be.

After suggesting that WEEP might wish to expand the diversity of its working group on the ‘parenting’ issue – although, for a women’s party, surely the word ‘mother’ somewhere, and linked with something positive rather than ‘burden’ and ‘penalty’, wouldn’t go amiss – no mother’s group was brought on board until I insisted that Mothers at Home Matter and Global Women’s Strike were brought in. Both represent a significant number of mothers who want to (but are frustrated financially in realising their wishes) or those who do (by choice but at huge financial sacrifice) care for their children themselves.

We may as well have stayed silent, like the voices of millions of women busy caring for the families, young and old – always ignored, often derided, when not patronised or humoured.

Within WEEP, mothers are seen as a problem to be solved. The debate is still ‘childcare’ and effects on equality in the ‘workplace’ and the ‘pay gap’ of bearing children. Men, women who pursue the career trajectory rather than the family care line (as is their right) and representatives of father’s groups, kept the policy gate on parenting, as though the price to pay for a party seeking to end violence against women is the surrender and trade-off of any ‘privilege of motherhood’ and the denial of the existence and value of maternal care – for mothers and children, and, indeed, society at large.

In effect, the horse-trading at the heart of a party seeking to champion the rights of women is reinforcing the prevailing and insidious mainstream discourse of disrespect, silencing and devaluing of a mother (and there are many) who wishes not to re-enter the workplace while she has dependent children – and is either struggling by financially to do so, or struggling by emotionally in her job while wishing to be at home instead.

WEEP’s premise for its policies on women who are mothers can be inferred thus: her ‘responsibilities’ are decreed to be at home AND in the workplace (irrespective of her family’s wishes, or any wider argument that the work she performs AS a mother, raising and caring for her young children, is itself important work of value); her needs and role are to be subsumed into ‘parenting’; and a gender split 50:50 in matters of the home as though this is something universally desired by every family, every woman, every man, every child – someone tell my children, who, until at least 2 were very often ‘Daddy? Schmaddy. I want my Mummy’.

Democracy in the mainstream parties and, now, from all appearances, the WEEP party, can seem like it is conducted on the basis that the party knows best, that a key vocal and influential elite’s interests are the interests of all, and that any radical, grassroots reorganisation and revaluation is out of the question (although the Labour Party has given the impression of a desire to depart from that model). Even for a party seeking to present itself as radical. What is a wasted opportunity is the WEEP’s failure to address or entertain policies which could actually matter to women, such as:

  • Improved maternity services and investment;
  • Greater investment in midwifery;
  • Greater investment in breastfeeding support;
  • Greater financial support for women and carers;
  • Greater investment in services to women suffering pregnancy loss;
  • Greater investment in the availability of legal aid to women in family disputes;
  • Greater investment in women’s refuges so that mothers and children can be protected from violent partners
  • Greater investment in maternal mental health services
  • Greater investment in community services and projects to support families
  • Transferrable tax allowances where one parents cares for the children
  • Adjusted pay to reflect time out of the workforce to raise children
  • A carer’s income or stipend
  • Reinstatement and increase in child benefit
  • Funded retraining on re-entry to the workplace
  • Four-day working week or obligatory part-time or job share opportunities

You know, the stuff which might actually protect and support women who are also mothers – the vast majority of us.

Despite our efforts, the ‘economic’ and ‘genderless’ agenda pushed through as though we were never there.

Suddenly, the familiar picture of ‘affordable’ and ‘high quality’ childcare and split parental leave took shape as though we had never dared to raise the significant number of families – millions of women – for whom this is not what they would prefer; as though they are an aberration on the image of superficial equality. Sophie Walker, in her speech, quoted a ‘stay at home mother’ who wanted help getting back into the workplace – conveniently failing to quote the thousands of us who were contributing to the policy development through their voice-piece Mothers at Home Matter, or the hundreds who contacted WEEP on email and social media, or the massive number of mothers who, according to statistics, would prefer more time, or exclusive time at home with their children.

It repeated the Labour Party’s trick after it came into power in 1997 when it completely erased mention of data in an important study, which it itself had commissioned, which showed that a significant number of women actually wished to care for their children (a figure remaining as true today as then) – preferring instead to push forward with its version of equality, employment as panacea, and branding women at home just ‘baking cupcakes’. It’s a trick which is well tested – and such a disappointment to see the WEEP party ideologically repeating it, in the name of women.

So, no, sisters. Not in my name.

Shhhhhhhhh. Here Comes Some Feminist Economics

shhhhhh

Yes. It does exist.

Anyway, just enjoyed reading this article by Katrine Marcal

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/11/women-have-always-contributed-to-wealth-of-nations#_=_

and I enjoyed her book Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner so I thought I’d share the article with you.

The Tories Are the Party of the Workers? Translation: A Worker is All You’re Allowed to Be

First published in HuffPost HERE.

So the Conservatives are now The Party of the Workers, eh? Erm, no, George. You are the Party of Capitalism. One that sees value only in money (let’s create wealth at the top) and people as workers (workers who, for that matter, are to be exploited at work and hung out to dry in an increasingly restricted welfare state).

It is a very different thing.

I don’t speak simply as a former NUJ Trade Union Rep, or as a daughter of two Union workers – I am trying not to guffaw in disbelief at the notion of this Cabinet of Millionaires who couldn’t tell their Matchgirls from their Tolpuddle Martyrs fist-pumping the idea of workers’ rights, organised workplaces and all the rest.

 Yet, this Conservative Government, through its Chancellor, seems to feel able to make a bare-faced statement conveying such doublethink we can truly start to wonder when the boot is going to stop stamping on our human faces, forever.

Nowhere is the truth that the Conservative Party has mistaken ‘Workers‘ for ‘Capitalism‘ more visible than the view taken by Osborne and Nicky Morgan and others that full female employment – regardless of the desire of many mothers to take time out of the workforce when they have young children – will transform women into productive workers* (*read low paid, working in insecure jobs and in traditionally female, domestic and caring ‘industries’ commodified in neoliberal Britain). Because, you know, producing children – the future workers under Capitalism – and doing the care is not work. It is not valuable or recognised. We need to get out and do better things. Apparently. When ‘better’ is that viewed under Capitalist, Neoliberal, Biased-Economic, Misogynist and Blinkered politics.

Carework: Social, community and family, work, is relied upon by our society. It is intrinsically human, worthwhile and necessary for us all to flourish. Yet such unwaged work, predominantly by women, is truly the lowest of the low in the new Age of the Worker.

This is why it is increasingly important for the mainstream political parties, the newWomen’s Equality Party (of which I am founding member) and feminists to begin to address female unwaged work. This is why I am very excited about Feminism in London Conference hosting a panel chaired by Mothers at Home Matter on which I will be speaking, which will address these issues. Esther Parry of All Mothers Workwill also be speaking, and it will be a treat, I tell you. It is becoming a radical thing, to recognise the value of women when they mother. It challenges the notion of Capitalism being the overlord, king, master of intrinsic nobility. Even liberal-feminism has to self-inspect to see just how far boardrooms have overtaken grassroots-priorities, how waged work and equality in the workplace have dominated politics and feminist debate.

At their Conferences, the main parties held events on ‘Politics of Motherhood’. The organisers were sent copies of my political pamphlet the Politics of Mothering which challenges policymakers to start listening to mothers at home or those who want to be. Despite this, at those events, once again, the very notion of the existence of a mother actually wanting to be at home with her young children would have failed to register; the words ‘love’ and ‘care’ were most likely absent, and the priority would have been economic. It is the political script of the day. It is sexism, it is Capitalism, and it is fundamentally misogynistic.

So where are we, in 2015, the mothers of young children who want to demand greater recognition and support for themselves and their sisters who are pushed into employment against their wishes? Reduced to nothing but a whisper in the nursery. And the very neglect of those womanly voices? One of the most fundamental, and the most neglected, feminist issue we face. We are looking forward to Feminism in London, and will be rocking that platform, on the tree top.

And what an important issue it is.

Because in modern Britain, women are to be workers, and workers only. Care and family work, the women and men who do it, and any importance placed on their work, are to be crushed by the New Party of the Workers – because a ‘Worker’ is all you are allowed to be.

Come the Revolution…