Sunday, 9 October 2011

Am I A Feminist?

I often hear women asked, "So are you a feminist?"

Personally I wouldn't know how to answer that question, mainly because I don't know what the genuine meaning is anymore. It has been blurred to extremes, from the "I will never cook for a man", to "Beyonce can crotch-dance in her hot pants because girls run the world". Say what? I can't make much sense of it anymore. To me, feminism means standing up for our right to be on an equal playing field with, and treated with the same respect as men. Ensuring women have the same opportunities as men, and the same freedom of choice.


So am I a feminist? I'm not sure. I know many strong, intelligent women doing good things for our gender who say they would not call themselves feminists. While on the other hand, many of those who consider themselves one often fall into one of two categories:
1) Feminists who hate men; and
2) Feminists who attack women.

I get why men are seen as the enemy. Misogynist language and sexist behaviour is a huge part of the problem, and it needs to be tackled. But don't forget, this doesn't just come from men. We do it to ourselves and we do it to one another. But the man-hating kind of feminists seem hell bent on creating lines to read between, convinced that everything has sexist undertones and I don't see the good this does. We need to tackle the behaviour, not the gender. After all, women are not the lesser sex, but neither are men. If we want men to respect us we need to respect men. Equal playing field, remember? At the end of the day, misandry is just another form of sexism, and how can feminists be taken seriously if they themselves are the very thing they're fighting against?

Then - and this baffles me - there's the type of feminist who attacks women. In particular women who bake cakes or wear dresses or like to leave the house in a full face of make up to go get a pint of milk. So? We should be celebrating the fact that a woman can do whatever the hell she wants with her life. Marry, not marry, procreate, not procreate, start a business, not start a business, bake a cake, or go down the shop and buy one. The woman-bashing feminist wants no bar of domesticity, and seems to believe a woman who gives up her career to play housewife, or spends her days making muffins might as well get down on her knees and let a man walk all over her. Get out of the kitchen, you're holding back our gender! But why should anyone conform one way or the other? This is about freedom of choice, and telling a woman to wear trousers, choose career over children and order a takeaway is not the answer. Let them bake cake.

It's these two angry definitions of feminism which make it hard to decide whether I am a feminist by name. But I do believe in women's rights. I am proud to be from New Zealand, the first country where women were given the right to vote. I believe both men and women have a part to play in holding us back (and it's nothing to do with kitchens). I also don't think enough young women are aware how much choice they now have. I want more female role models who are celebrated for their actions and their words and their talents - not for their appearance. And I don't believe the overtly-sexual nature of women in entertainment makes any sort of statement about girl power, because all it is doing is fueling the concept that women need to be sexually aggressive in order to be considered strong or powerful. That's what I believe.

(And I like to bake, but I don't because I'm terrible at it.)

So don't bother asking me if I'm a feminist, because to answer that I'd have to know your own personal definition of the word. I can tell you that I think women can do more to make themselves heard, and that one doesn't have to act like a man - nor a nubile temptress - to do so. Just use your voice. Your voice.

If that's still not clear, then this video (while centered on America) expresses everything I believe in.

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

No Such Thing As Road Tax

Photo by akatori 
Tonight BBC News featured a story about a group of cyclists who were protesting for safer roads. They were calling for 20mph zones to be implemented in London, to slow down traffic and prevent casualties for those on bikes. I have my own thoughts on that - (more in a moment) - but what struck me was the level of bile in the responses coming through to the BBC. All but one viewer had a venomous opinion of cyclists. One person used the term "self righteous cyclists" while another woman complained that cyclists don't pay road tax, and therefore should not even be on the roads. She argued that "the roads are for cars", and only cars should be on them.

Firstly, in regards to the news piece: the idea of slowing down traffic seems to be another case of tackling the symptoms, rather than the root of the problem. The core issue - which few seem to be addressing - is the general attitude of drivers towards cyclists, and in many cases, of cyclists towards drivers. Demanding drivers slow down is only going to exacerbate the problem. I honestly don't think anything will improve unless there is a way to segregate cyclists and drivers with separate paths. In other words, car-free cycle lanes, and bike-free roads. If only this were possible! Instead we must continue to share the road.

As for the anti-cycling BBC viewers and their comments, I have to say one thing.
Road tax was abolished in 1937. Yes, 1937! Winston Churchill did away with it as he figured that "it will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads." It's interesting that despite scrapping the road tax, this is still happening.

These days every taxpayer contributes to the upkeep of public roads. That means cyclists too. Yep, we all pay our share. What drivers pay is actually a vehicle excise duty, which focuses on Co2 emissions. It has nothing to do with roads. Or cyclists. So please stop taking it out on us.

At the end of the day it's important to get the facts right before building a battleground. We all pay for roads, and we all must share them.

Don't believe me? More helpful info here:

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Cycling to Paris

I cycled from London to Paris on my wee bicycle this July and have created a separate bike-themed blog HERE which covers all the two-wheeled adventure.

Of course, don't forget to tune back in here for everything else!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Gold Stars For Grown Ups

Life gives you little reminders in funny ways.

Today I got one in a queue.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people in queues do not want to be queuing. In fact I think it's safe to say that anyone who has ever stood in a queue has not been happy about it. This evening I was in my third queue of the day: after the Underground ticket line, the Post Office, I was now standing zombie-like in the supermarket. I only wanted some milk, and the shortest line had three people in it. As anyone would agree, that was THREE PEOPLE TOO MANY.

As I waited, the checkout lady seemed to operate in slow motion and my mind sunk deeper into a pit of impatience. I watched the checkout staff distract one another with conversation. Why did they have to chat? The man in front of me had a little girl and I watched as she played peekaboo with the checkout lady. I smiled, but in my mind I wondered how long this was going to go on for.

And then AT LAST the man took his change and was turning to leave, when the checkout lady asked the girl, 
"Have you been good?"

The little girl stopped to consider the question.

"Yes! I-I-I....I got a gold star!"

The checkout lady smiled at her. "Did you now?"

"Yes! I got.... three! Three stars."

The queue stared at the checkout lady, waiting, watching.

The father stared as his daughter wondering what to do.

At the same time the little girl stared at the checkout lady, waiting for a response to what she clearly felt were notable achievements.

And so the checkout lady said, "Goodness! Was that today?"

Proudly, the child replied, "Yes...  But also..."  

And she counted out on her little fingers, staring up at the ceiling as she worked it out.

"Monday.... and then... and then... and yesterday..... and...... and..... TODAY."

said the checkout lady, ready to wrap this up but not really knowing how.

The father looked nervously at the growing queue.
But everyone was looking at the little girl, who clearly had more to say on the matter.

"Cos.. cos... we get gold stars..." continued the girl, "but you have to be good!"

And so, the conversation reached its conclusion.
The relieved father led his daughter away, and everyone in the queue was smiling, looking a little dazed. Like they'd all experienced a moment of clarity.
The checkout lady gave me an apologetic smile as she scanned my milk.
"Well hey," I said to her, "One should always be proud of one's achievements."
"Oh yes, " she replied, "A gold star is a big deal at that age."

Then she added to herself, "I'm still waiting for mine!"

You know what?

We don't get gold stars anymore; nor do we give them out. That's because we're adults - we don't really need a sticker to acknowledge when we've done well. Or do we?
Unfortunately (being adults) we're all far too coy to shout about our achievements. 
That's kind of depressing, don't you think? Given we surely achieve a heck of a lot, being grown ups and all? We're so busy worrying, scowling, getting stressed, getting distracted, welling up with impatience in queues... what about the good stuff? What about that great feeling of accomplishment? The fact we are here! Doing what we do! Making life happen! Why do we forget about that?

Next time you do something you're proud of, freakin' well shout about it! TELL someone!
Even if it is the supermarket checkout lady.

Feel free to give yourself a gold star and shout about something you did that you're proud of in the comments. Anything at all! SHARE IT!
I'll go first.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Shaken City

I landed in Wellington, New Zealand, just 6 days after the massive earthquake which rattled Christchurch so violently that the ground literally turned to mulch. I was in the country for a wedding but the timing felt very poignant, and it was a relief to simply be closer to home amid such devastation. The official death toll is at 166, and given the entire country's population is a mere 4 million, that's a significant blow and one which is felt throughout New Zealand.

My second night in New Zealand an earthquake hit Wellington, where I was staying, although I was so wiped out by jet lag I slept right through it. My dad, in the next room, said he felt the whole house rock backwards and forwards. It was not a massive quake, and it caused no damage but it was a reminder that something like this can happen anywhere, any time. Meanwhile, Christchurch was being hit by several aftershocks, which further threatened recovery operations. A third of the city was going to be bulldozed. Whole suburbs were going to have to be demolished, and rebuilt somewhere else. Can you even imagine such a thing? It was hard to mould this information into a fathomable, realistic shape within my consciousness.

There was a video which was being shown around the world the day after the quake, which featured a man being rescued from the rubble, groaning in pain. On that day, that small piece of footage touched something in me and made me cry. After that video went out the rescued man, a Christchurch baker, disappeared and nobody - not even his family - could find him. By the time I reached New Zealand I discovered via the national newspaper that he had been found... and that he had died in hospital from his injuries. It is small portions of the disaster such as this which are somehow easier to digest, and therefore break my heart.

Even those who were fortunate not to have known someone hurt or killed or left homeless by the quake are feeling the strain. As Christchurch's population flees the damage and spreads itself out across the other major cities including Auckland and Wellington, the demand for jobs, flats, and education in these places has skyrocketed. Trying to rent a flat may come down to bidding wars. The country's financial situation is under strain as billions of dollars is required from somewhere to rebuild the country's second biggest city. This year's Rugby World Cup, the international event expected to bring in huge revenue to the country, is now having to relocate its matches as bringing thousands of tourists to Christchurch is not going to be possible.

Of course, what made it so wonderful to be back in New Zealand while all of this was going on was that I got to experience that incredible community spirit that bonds the whole country. The news covered Christchurch above everything else, telling stories of generosity, kindheartedness, loss, sadness and the mind-boggling damage. There were interviews with people who gave suggestions on building makeshift toilets, strangers who were giving out food to families, and TV presenters encouraged support and sent their wishes to the city during every programme. 80% of newspaper coverage was focused on the quake. Every little shop, pub, school or church in every town across New Zealand were hosting fundraising events, offering profits to the city's recovery, or showing their support through positive campaigns.  You could not walk down a street, open a paper, watch TV or listen to the radio without feeling an invisible pair of arms embracing everyone and pulling them close in this time of devastation. I have never felt this anywhere else - I accept this might simply be because New Zealand is my homeland, and perhaps others would say the same community perspective is found in their home country as well. All I know is that New Zealand might as well be one big city, because we're all in it together.

My thoughts also go out to the people in Japan, who I know are dealing with something so incredibly awful on such an enormously bigger scale.... but I will not forget Christchurch, who still need our help and support.

What A Mug!

I still don't know whether this is one of the most amusing marketing errors I've ever come across, or simply a very, very clever sales idea, but this advertisement by Guangong Enterprises for a Will & Kate Royal Wedding mug has caused me much amusement this week. What's so funny about it? Well, look closely.

A part of me hopes this really is just a glaring oversight, while the cynic in me has begun to wonder whether someone is putting out a product with a difference, in the hope that it will bring them more sales. Mind you, so what if it is? It's very clever - I know I would be far more likely to buy this mug over a more accurate one. Whereas a proper Will & Kate mug causes eye-rolling and reeks of chintz, with this version from Guangdong Enterprise, at least I would have a jolly good chuckle every time I made a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Big One

I grew up in a little town called Eastbourne, in Wellington - the capital city of New Zealand. As a child I learned all about my country's curious geology and I knew that the country sat on two separate tectonic plates. I knew that there is a major fault line in the earth's crust which runs directly down the centre of New Zealand like an underground spine. I knew that it was this fault line - part of the Pacific Ring of Fire - which created our volcanoes, caused geothermal geysers and boiling mud pools. 

New Zealand's fault line

I also grew up in the knowledge that New Zealand has a propensity for earthquakes. Schools taught us all about them - we would practice drills where we all curled up under our school desks, peering out at our classmates to see if anyone had carelessly left a foot or a leg exposed. As children we were both scared of and excited by the whole idea of a major earthquake. Wellington was supposed to be particularly prone to quakes, and my class was regularly informed that given the position of the city, and with only two main roads heading north, if a big earthquake struck we would likely be trapped. For this reason we learned about stockpiling food and water. We learned that in an earthquake one should brace oneself in a steady door frame or under a sturdy table. The children in my class would watch black and white footage of the major earthquakes, including New Zealand's most renowned one: the Napier earthquake of 1931, which killed 256 people and flattened the city like a pancake. Afterwards, the teacher would flick the video off, stand before the class and tell us solemnly: "The Big One is well overdue." 

Despite the very terrifying notion that we were waiting for a disaster which was running late, it was volcanic eruptions and tsunamis which concerned me the most. The idea of having a wall of ocean or a sea of lava coming at you seemed so hopeless to me, and by comparison an earthquake was less frightening. I knew you couldn't outrun a tsunami - we learned that in school - but if an earthquake struck you could at least get into a doorway. I would have nightmares about trying to outrun rivers of volcanic lava, and when walking along the beach I would mentally plot the best routes into the hills in case I ever happened to see a tsunami rise out of nowhere. 

Eastbourne beach

Besides, I was used to earthquakes. In Wellington there are regularly little tremors, and on a couple of occasions, there were bigger ones which rattled the ornaments in my room and got everyone excitable. Yet the Big One we were warned about never felt like a realistic threat. Then adulthood arrived, and I left Wellington, and then eventually I left New Zealand altogether. In the UK earthquakes are a foreign concept. Apart from those opportunities where I could share my own knowledge with fascinated Brits at dinner parties, earthquakes were no longer something I thought about. The whole threat of the Big One had been archived in the recesses of my mind.

And then in September the Christchurch earthquake happened. The second biggest city in the country (bigger than Wellington), Christchurch suffered widespread damage. The quake surprised everyone in its ferocity, but amazingly, wonderfully, not a single person was killed. It was one of those moments when everyone counted their blessings, and pulled together in what was a truly scary situation. Yet just as everyone was getting over the shock, and focusing on recovering from the damage, today's major earthquake hit. And it looks like the Big One.

Just 3 miles beneath the surface, it was big enough to completely demolish buildings, turn ground into liquid, and create absolute destruction. Of course I say these things because I read the news, but actually, I can't even imagine it in real life. At least 38 people are confirmed dead, but the toll is expected to be a lot more grim as rescuers search through the rubble of the city. Even the beloved Christchurch Cathedral - New Zealand's Notre Dame - was toppled and broken, a rather poignant symbol of how much this city has been hurt. A quake like this is something which not even I, as a New Zealander, can comprehend.

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after

The one shining light through all of this is knowing that New Zealanders are hardy folk, and that kiwis know how to pull together. We are a country that is so far from everyone else that we are used to seeking help from one another. After all, when one part of New Zealand suffers, every New Zealander - across the globe - will grieve. I saw this happen at the time of the Pike River Mine disaster last November, when 29 men lost their lives, their bodies unable to be recovered. I didn't know these people, or their families, and I'd never even been to Greymouth, yet I shed real tears for them. It broke my heart. Other New Zealanders around the world spoke of their own heartbreak. Those are the moments you feel so far from home.

My heart breaks again today for Christchurch, and my thoughts go out to everyone who has been affected. I feel grateful that I am flying home to New Zealand in a few days for a wedding, because right now I want to give my homeland a hug, and to stand on my native soil. 

Kia kaha, Christchurch, we are all here for you. 


More information:

A relief fund is still being set up, but in the meantime the New Zealand Salvation Army
are accepting donations. Click Here To Donate

To share information on those missing or people who have been located, Click Here.

For more information on how to help, or for those who are in Christchurch Click Here.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Short Scene From The Underground

It's 6.15pm on the London Underground. The Circle Line.
Two young lads are sitting side by side at the end of a Tube carriage, and having a passionate discussion. The lad wearing the beanie is confidently advising his companion on what he knows about the world. His mate listens, clearly fascinated.

I am sitting across from them. Though I am pretending to read, for the journey home, I am their audience.

Beanie: Like, prostitution for instance. It would be so much safer if it was legal. I mean, if somethin' is happening and you can't stop it, isn't it better to make it safer?
Hoodie:  Yeah.
Beanie: I think drugs should be legal too.
Hoodie: Well...
Beanie: Nah, like hear me out man. Think of heroin addicts, yeah? They die because they take bad heroin. If the government gives it to them, then it's safe. If they're gonna do it, then why not control it?
Hoodie: True.
Beanie: I mean, you know weed? Most of that shit is sprayed with glass. Actually sprayed with actual glass. Like, dust. So when you smoke it, that glass goes into your lungs. 
Hoodie: Shit.
Beanie: Yeah. So they should make it safer, and regulate it, yeah? Like, tell people the dangers, and stuff...
Hoodie: Like smoking?
Beanie: Yeah, like how smoking gives you cancer... so tell 'em what's what and they take the risks on themselves. But controlling it will make it safer. That's what they do in Amsterdam, and they doin' alright.
Hoodie: Hey, does your mate still live in Amsterdam?
Beanie: Nah. He lives in Germany now. 
Hoodie: Yeah? What's he doin' there?
Beanie: He just smokes weed and spins decks and shit.

Hoodie: [laughs] Cool.... so does he like living in Germany?
Beanie: Nah, he says he wants to move.
Hoodie: Why, what's wrong with Germany? [incredulous] There's good food in Germany!
Beanie: He wants to live in America. Better money for beats.
Hoodie: [considers something] Y'know ya can't get done for speeding in Germany. There's no, uh, y'know, speed... Um, no like, speed... Y'know. You can drive however fast you want. I'd like to live in Germany.
Beanie: If I could live anywhere it'd be Japan.
Hoodie: Why Japan? Technology and shit?
Beanie: Nah, it's not that, it's like, they have no crime. It's a really safe place.... I mean, except if you're a woman.
Hoodie: [nodding] Yeah.
Beanie: Statistically, Japan has the lowest crime rate in the civilised world.
Hoodie: Yeah, 'course.
Beanie: Also it would be one place where I wouldn't have to learn a language.

Hoodie: You speak Japan? I mean.... like, Japanese?
Beanie: Nah, but you know, 70% of Japan speaks English.
Hoodie: Wow.
Beanie: And they have no dairy products.
Hoodie: Nah?
Beanie: Nah. And you know, like, how Britain is like, one in ten people have cancer? In Japan it's like, one in ten thousand.
Hoodie: Wow, serious? And that's from no milk?
Beanie: Yeah man, I'm telling you. Like, when you take the milk from the breast, that's it, that's all you need. And like, if you really can't live without it, drink soya milk.
Hoodie: Oh. So is that better?
Beanie: Yeah, soya milk has less fat for one thing. It's more natural. 'Cos see, normal milk is from an animal, and soya milk is like, from the seed of a plant. 
Hoodie: Yeah?
Beanie: Yeah, soya has loads of vitamins and nutrients as well. And it has way less fat.
Hoodie: Like how?
Beanie: Like, if this much milk had eleven grams of fat, the same amount of soya would have, like, two.
Hoodie: Wow. Does it taste the same as milk then?
Beanie: Sort of. It's fruitier. Like.... let me describe this. [thinks] Ok, imagine herbal milk.
Hoodie: Uh, yeah. Yeah.
Beanie: It's like that.