Read. Watch. Go. Do. 30/03/13

It’s been an unexpected fortnight including a funeral, a Speyside wake, applying for a job that makes me feel a bit icky and a family member slipping on the ice, breaking their ribs and puncturing a lung. They’re out of the woods, but we’re hoping for a calmer, healthier April. And a great job please.

WATCH: Winter’s Bone is available on BBC iPlayer at the moment. It’s a pretty good introduction to the wonder that is Jennifer Lawrence. An incredible actor and someone you could enjoy a pint with. I’m just waiting for her to get political a la Matt Damon and my crush will be unstoppable.

GO: Be organised and book tickets for Leaving Planet Earth as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in August. A site-specific production from the critically acclaimed Grid Iron, the evening involves a bus ride to a mystery location (Ratho) for a performance about future humanity’s migration to New Earth. Can’t wait.

DO: It’s still snowing in Scotland. Defy the calls of ‘Merry Easter’ by planting some seeds for a summer harvest. Because you believe summer will come. One day. I’ve got tomato, cucumber and basil seeds potted up in old yoghurt pots and a couple of empty Quality Street tins from Christmas (I will know I’m an adult when I actually buy plant pots).

Donkey Kong and gifts for little girls

A recent story about a dad who hacked into his ancient Donkey Kong game so that his 3 year old daughter could play the princess and rescue Mario got me thinking. I haven’t spent much time around babies and toddlers, but all of a sudden I have two sort-of nieces and I want to show them that they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. They’re lucky that their mum is a doctor, so they have a great example close to home, but I’m hyper aware that our culture will offer stereotypes in opposition to that every single day of their young lives. Stereotypes in which appropriate behaviour, games and clothes for girls are prescribed and a rigid and solitary definition of girlhood is presented to them through television, books, advertising, shops and the other girls they play with.

I come from a little family, and I’m the eldest of a grand total of five grandchildren. Everything I wore was passed to my male cousin then my sister then my female cousin and finally (if the clothes hadn’t worn thin) to my brother. That wasn’t a problem in the mid 80s to early 90s because we all ran around in wool, cotton and corduroy (so much corduroy) in a mixture of reds, blues, greens and yellows. My parents and aunt weren’t being political or even particularly gender-conscious. They were just buying normal clothes for kids.

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Oh yeah. Now you’ve taken in that smorgasbord of high fashion – let’s take particular note of the buttoned up shirt and green cords combo – try to imagine a little girl from a totally non-political, working class family wearing these outfits now. No skirts, no frills, no cartoon characters and absolutely no pink. It’s pretty difficult.

If the same set up were to happen in 2013, it would require some pretty deft and conscious clothes shopping to avoid the plethora of pink and lilac froth that is the bedrock of little girls’ clothing. Outfits and toys are so gendered that it’s likely that a wee boy would refuse to wear the hand me downs of his elder sister, via two other girls on the way down. And that is, I think, what’s at the heart of the pinkification of little girls – not a deliberate sexism, but money. You can make twice as much if parents have to buy double the amount of clothes, toys, blankets, prams, books etc etc if they have both sons and daughters.

Consumer culture and the idea that children need new, gender-appropriate clothes and toys if they are to be happy and demonstrably well-looked after, is no doubt a source of financial anxiety for lots of new parents. But aside from being financially problematic if you feel ashamed to take hand me downs of the ‘wrong’ colour from friends and family, the ‘one size fits all girls’ model of consumerist parenting is no doubt squeezing lots of girls into a pink, Princess-filled childhood that may not be the best fit for their needs. Growing up I played with Barbies, Thomas the Tank Engine and Lego. Two of those have now been branded as boys’ toys, with a special pink lego range for making beauty parlours and malls (I’m not even joking. I wish I was). It’s all narrowing down for girls, offering them a culturally sanctioned vision of femininity that they have to squeeze into, rather than an open choice of all the clothes and toys available.

Our niece’s second birthday is this week and I’m not sure how a Thomas the Tank Engine figure would go down, but I’m sure as hell not getting her a Barbie. So the answer lies in books, as usual. She’s getting Maisy’s Fire Engine – in which a wee firefighting mouse rescues a cat after her juniour colleague Cyril scares it on to a roof – and The Paper Bag Princess – in which a princess rescues Prince Ronald from a dragon but then he’s rude to her so she dumps him. God bless the internet for helping me find this stuff, because it sure as hell isn’t on the high street.

Read. Watch. Go. Do 14/03/13

READ: Sarah Nicole Prickett asks Where Are All the Women? in a Vice article which rejects the concept of ‘ladies’ as opposed to girls or women. In a funny and filthy rant, Prickett calls out ladies who ‘dine out on the upper echelons of what is called equality, concerned mainly with Democrat victories and amicable co-existence with men and “the status of women,” so long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.’  She hits the nail on the head when criticising the faux-empowering language of ownership when ‘Ladies tell girls to “own” their bodies, skirting the capitalist implication by which everything “owned” can also be bought and sold. Women understand that our bodies are borrowed against time. So we use them: lavishly, well.’*  

New Scottish blog A Thousand Flowers launched on International Women’s Day and includes lots of angry, sweary feminists writing about topics such as Wanker of the Week and the death of Hugo Chavez. Tarzan Girl’s piece on the endemic sexism in the Glasgow University Union GUUdbye ya pricks is a helpful background piece to the recent controversy after members of the GUU debate team verbally abused female debaters from Cambridge University.

WATCH: Ash Beckam is so gay. She doesn’t want to hear you use so gay as a criticism. The words that you choose matter. When you use ‘gay’ in a pejorative way the effect that it has on the gay kid in the room or the kid with gay relatives is that being gay is ‘less than’ or ‘inferior to’. And our bar cannot be that the day you just get through life or the day you don’t get harassed qualifies as a good day.

GO: An event entitled Policy and Prosecco? I’m in. On 28th March Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, for a discussion on human rights in Scotland.

DO: Sign Avaaz’s petition to the EU to ban the bee poisons in pesticides. The final vote is on Friday and both the UK and Spain are expected to vote against, after some serious lobbying from agricultural chemical companies. Sign up and help Avaaz to lobby the UK’s shitty, shitty Minister for Environment Owen Paterson to do the right thing. As Caitlin Moran said on twitter “I have signed this petition about saving the bees because I, for one, don’t have time to pollinate trees.”

*There’s a brief mention in her article of a Canadian feminist and twitter user taking an abuser/troll to court which I don’t know anything about and so can’t speak for Prickett’s opinion on that point.

International Women’s Day

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Today my twitter timeline is full of #IWD chat. I’d presumed this was mainly a demonstration of the kind of people I follow but lo and behold #IWD was trending as the third highest topic in the UK this morning!

Contrary to what I’ve seen around, today isn’t about recognising the special women in your life/turning the occasion into another reason to buy a Hallmark card. International Women’s Day is about campaigning for full equality for all women everywhere in the world. I’ve not had a particularly politically active day, but this is what I’ve been up to:

  • Shamed myself with a measly 5/10 in the Guardian’s International Women’s Day Book Quiz
  • Read my wonderful friend Juliet’s fantastic article Sex and Power on Bella Caledonia. Their description of her is perfect:                Juliet Swann is a feminist & environmentalist who passionately hopes that the independence debate can change the lives of women in Scotland for the better.
  • Attended engender Scotland’s IWD debate ‘Scottish independence or better together: what does it mean for Scotland?’  Both Carolyn Leckie of Women for Independence and Kainde Manji of Better Together spoke honestly and eloquently in a debate which was refreshingly non-party political. Dozens of women listened and asked questions, with most declaring themselves as yet undecided on how they’ll vote. It was the most interesting discussion on independence I’ve been privy to, as everyone was respectful, balanced and shock horror actually listened to the other debater. Both sides, and those in the middle, want to build a society where we support women better by, amongst other things, increasing female political representation, reducing violence against women and creating an inclusive nation in which women who face additional barriers (whether through disability, poverty, carers’ responsibilities, racism, language barriers etc) play an equal role in Scottish democracy.

 

On Unemployment

This is the first time I’ve been unemployed, having worked part-time from the age of 16 and full-time since I graduated from uni. I was lucky enough to secure my first graduate job a few months before Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008 and have been hopping from one job to another in the charity sector for half a decade. I specialise in strategy and project development, trying to move closer to an elusive environmental policy job with each move.

But just before Christmas I stepped down from a job I loved with a charity I really enjoyed working for, as they slimmed down their operations due to the financial squeeze facing most NGOs. Throughout January and February I’ve undertaken some part-time freelance work for an ace environmental campaigning charity and have been pretty preoccupied with moving from Brighton to Edinburgh.

Now we’ve been back in Edinburgh for three weeks and it’s stopped feeling like another holiday home for a visit. We’re here for good and ready to start building our life in this city, but it’s all on hold as we try to sort ourselves out professionally. The freelance contract has finished and I have no work on the cards. I’m learning fast that the recruitment scene outside of London (not just Edinburgh, but everywhere) is a far slower entity than in the Capital, and can’t imagine having a full-time job by April.

I’m so lucky that I haven’t been through this before and that I have the resources which make it infinitely easier to weather unemployment – some (rapidly dwindling) savings and family who are able to put us up until we get on our feet.

When you don’t have much money and, more crucially, aren’t sure when it will start coming in again, it’s difficult to justify spending anything. So it’s easy to wind up sitting in the house day after day, feeling a bit rubbish and binging on iPlayer and 4od (alas, the Netflix subscription has had to go). But that way madness lies. So, as well as looking for decent jobs to apply for and scouting out some relevant volunteering, we’ve been packing in these free(ish) activities to make use of all this time in Edinburgh:

  • A walk to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for this year’s big exhibition, From Death to Death and Other Small Tales. There were a couple of great pieces like the room-sized spice tubes, but overall I thought it was a bit rubbish. There were at least six pieces to which the only adequate response was ‘you have a cock, get over it’. I wondered a few times if I was having a sense of humour failure, but on reflection I still don’t think very many of the exhibits were as witty as they thought. But it’s always a beautiful, friendly place to visit and afterwards we sat outside in the sun eating our home-made sandwiches.
  • A Sunday afternoon climbing the Pentlands with my boyfriend, my brother, his girlfriend and her chocolate lab. We splashed out on daysaver bus tickets (£3.50, bless you Lothian buses) and headed out to Hillend to do a two hour Capital View walk. Mainly I puffed and blustered about how unfit I’d become and that we were so lucky to have all this on our doorstop. After all that exercise we treated ourselves to a couple of pints in front of a fire in The Steading pub. We’re planning to do a big walk every week to help get fit, see more of the city and keep ourselves busy. God, we’ve even borrowed one of my Dad’s hillwalking books we’re so boring!Pentland_Hills_From_Caerketton_Hill_II
  • Spending time with family, especially my boyfriend’s nieces, Isla aged 23 months and Esme, all of four days old. We also got to hang out with Emily and her cutie Maggie.
  • Lots of dog walking around Corstorphine Hill. Three Bernese Mountain dogs require endless dog walking and we’re happy willing to oblige.
  • Reading loads. I’ve finally got around to The Green Collar Economy and Andy Wightman’s The Poor had No Lawyers, both environmental justice books I’ve wanted to read for a while. On the bus down south for a hen do I cracked on with Wuthering Heights which (shamefully for an English Literature graduate) I haven’t read. And this weekend I expect to be racing through Gone Girl for Blook Club on Sunday. All of these books I either already owned or borrowed from the library, like in the olden days.

Unemployment has been pretty fun actually, except for the constant background anxiety about money, boredom and failing to make a positive difference in the world through my job. It’ll all work out though…

Read. Watch. Go. Do 28/02/13

READ – The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

Published in 2009, Jones offers a solution to America’s two biggest problems – the economy and the environment. I am LOVING this book – it’s ambitious, solution-focused and forthright in demanding that the environmental movement make significantly more effort to include people of colour and poor people. It sets out a roadmap for communities and governments to get people out of joblessness and jail and into green and decent jobs which revitalise the U.S economy and reduce carbon emissions through a green-collar army of urban gardeners, solar panel engineers, wind turbine factory workers and home insulation fitters.

I’m half way through but already inspired by the potential application in Scotland.

GO – Rich Man’s World? The global crisis and Scotland’s role in fixing it Edinburgh, 2 & 3 March, Augustine’s church

The world is in crisis: the richest 1% have made a killing while the rest of us have been left to pick up the pieces. From the decimation of public services to the climate crisis; global debt to the erosion of rights at work, people across the planet are demanding change.

This free event is co-hosted by Jubilee ScotlandJubilee Debt Campaign,Democratic Left Scotland and People & Planet. It will bring together people – young, old, hardened organiser or new kid on the block – from across Scotland to discuss our role in the global movement for a just, sustainable future. Book your free place now.

DO – Become a Global Poverty Ambassador DEADLINE 5PM FRIDAY 1st MARCH

Since the beginning of 2010, we have been taking the story of progress to schools, conferences, communities and universities around the UK. It’s an inspiring story and 2012 we searched for selected 150 leaders in their communities to be Global Poverty Ambassadors to tell this story in their communities.

Now, in 2013, we are looking for 150 leaders from across the UK to become Global Poverty Ambassadors.

As an ambassador you will be provided with high level training and exclusive opportunities to engage with some of the world’s most prominent leaders in the fight against extreme poverty.

In 2012, the Global Poverty Ambassadors led campaigns to bring an end to Polio, change the face of aid in the Isle of Man, support the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and many more, whilst delivering the ground-breaking 1.4 Billion Reasons. 2013 Ambassadors will focus strongly on three key campaigning areas: food, transparency and gender equality.

In the next twelve months we will see unprecedented opportunities to reduce poverty – April’s Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, the G8 in Northern Ireland and the announcement of the new Millennium Development Goals will shape the future of the world’s poorest people.

This is your chance to join with us and take a lead in the movement to end extreme poverty within a generation.

A domestic

Having missed Meat Monday (the one day of the week I guarantee my boyfriend I will cook a meal containing meat), we had sausages for tea last night from the butchers a ten minute walk away in posh Hove. I accidentally made slightly too much mashed potato, say half a portion.

As we plated up, my boyfriend divided up the mash, looked at the remainder in the pan and threw. it. in. the. bin. 

I can only imagine what my face involuntarily did because he looked horrified and totally unaware of what he’d done wrong.

‘We don’t throw away food’.

‘It was just a tiny bit’.

‘We don’t throw away food’.

Cue me revealing my plan to make a solitary fishcake for my lunch the next day, lots of ranting information about food releasing methane as it decomposes in landfill sites and a grown up version of ‘there are children starving in Africa’…

Sometimes being all environmental and ethical is deeply unsexy.