Blowing in the wind

Watching the Winter Olympics in complete awe of the bravery, determination and talent shown by the competitors, it upset me to hear that the female ski jumpers had to fight for years to finally be allowed to jump in the Sochi Olympics four years ago (apparently one argument against it was that their reproductive organs may get damaged on landing) and even now they only get one event, while the men get three.

There are still, as we know, huge inequalities in sport across the board: from prize money, to coverage, to access…it makes for depressing thoughts and until there are more females holding top positions on boards, progress will continue to be slow. Women are underrepresented and therefore open to exploitation and abuse.

The female snowboarders competed in horrendous winds in Pyeongchang a couple of days ago and most people, including the competitors, felt it should have been postponed as it was dangerous. Yet the message that came across was that the female athletes hadn’t made their voices heard. That they hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, to rock the boat. To me this mirrors the bigger picture of where female athletes see themselves in the pecking order.

Women need to have a voice in sport – they need to make themselves heard!

As I was pondering this inequality (and I ponder it often, as my daughter is a footballer) I thought about how important it is that we get girls into sport and keep them there! The vast majority give up sport as teenagers.

Teenage girls are incredibly self conscious and I’m convinced this is one of the main reasons why they quit sport: the outfits, the gear, the sweat, the performance- it all draws attention to them at a time when they prefer to hide behind screens with filters and two hundred takes for that perfect look.

How do we convince our girls that sport will rock their self-esteem far more than 100 likes on Instagram and more than comments such as ‘beaut’ and ‘hotty’ ever will?

How the hell are we going to convince them, when actually there’s not enough action coming from the top? This is the problem.

IF we are going to get more girls into sport, we’ve not only got to smash stereotypes at the ground level, we need to get a huge momentum going at the top end of the sports themselves.

Yes, we need sportswomen as role models, we need females in the boardrooms, we need female coaches, we need a VOICE!

The struggle is real. Sadly I think that we are years away from big change. As an International female Taekwon-do competitor, as a Taekwon-do coach, as a mum to a female International footballer, as an avid spectator of sport, I see and have seen terrible inequality.

In my sport I teach people how to fight in the ring. As a female it can often feel as if every step towards equality is a fight. Not all women are taught to fight. The ‘fight’ response is often quashed by gender stereotyping at a young age. While boys are told to ‘man up’ girls are conditioned to be ‘like a girl’ – both are wrong.

But the fight is on!

We must all play our part. We must not allow our voices to get lost in the wind.

      Stepdaughter fighting in the ring

What if?

Whenever a debate opens up about female objectification, the waters always get muddied with ‘what if’s’: what if I want to compliment a woman on what she is wearing? What if I want to wear skimpy clothes? What if there were male grid boys? What if I want to ask a woman for a coffee? What if a 60 foot banner of David Beckham in pants is adorning Piccadilly Circus? What if the grid girls enjoyed their job? The list is endless as the debate goes on.

Yes, muddy waters.

#metoo has now become muddied. People are asking if it’s gone too far? Is the movement sexist towards men?

At a time when the heated debate around the inequality of women is moving on a pace (faster than any meaningful action) I think we need to rewind and consider history.

Women have always been and still are unequal to men. But let’s for a moment rewrite the history books.

What if men as well as women had always been objectified? Human nature loves a beautiful form (beauty, of course, being subjective). Women are sexual beings with huge sexual appetites. Women love to lust over semi-naked males. Women are apt to flirt, to tease and to touch. So what if the male form had, since the beginning of time, been championed as something to openly admire? What if there had always been grid men and males in speedos telling us what round it is in the boxing ring? What if products aimed at females had always been sold by the objectification of the male?

Because women love that too – right?

If we rewrite history, where would we be now? Would there be equality? Would women have always been paid the same as men? Would girls not be growing up thinking that their feelings matter less than men’s? Would women be less harassed?

We’ll never know. It’s complicated. It’s muddy and ‘what if’s’ seem a little pointless.

History has been written in a tangled web of words, emotions, actions and conditioning. It is going to take years to untangle the mess it has become.

100 years ago women stood together and gained the right to vote. 100 years on and women are arguing with other women about the meaning of equality. Sometimes accusing each other of jealousy if they don’t agree with women wearing bikinis and parading as eye candy for men. Suggesting that fellow females are exaggerating harassment or criticising them for not speaking out. Some are saying that women’s rights have been taken away by the end of the grid girl.

So, what if we focus on our children? What if we teach our sons and daughters that they are equal? What if we reflect this in our actions? What if we don’t limit a girl’s potential by always referring to her first by her looks? What if we tell her that it’s what she thinks and feels that matters most and not how someone reacts to her? What if we tell our boys that ‘no’ means ‘no’ and girls that it’s ok to say it? What if we stop telling our sons to ‘man up’ and stop crying ‘like a girl’? What if the future, 100 years from now is a more gender balanced place?

‘What if’ doesn’t have to be pointless.

Click on the link:

Not just ticking boxes

When I did my teacher training (PGCE) over 20 years ago, we were encouraged to plan our lessons to the minute. To set out our objectives to the students at the beginning of the class and to summarise what they had hopefully learnt at the end. All of this is important, and yet through this admirable meticulous planning I think that sometimes, something gets lost, perhaps forgotten. That is the very people who we are going to teach. Our students.

You see, as we are focusing so intently on our lesson plans, we are perhaps seeing the lesson through our own eyes. We are imagining how we are going to teach it. How we are going to get our points across and how we are going to make ourselves understood so that boxes can be ticked.

Through many years of experience I have come to realise that this isn’t the way.

When I blog I use my own voice, but as I write I imagine the reader. I think about how they are receiving my words and what it will mean to them. I try to put myself in their shoes as the receiver, rather than concentrating on myself as the giver, the planner, the font of the knowledge. I took the same approach when writing my book. I wrote it as if I was the consumer, which tragically meant laughing at my own jokes!

When I teach my Taekwon-do classes, I see every student as an individual. Everyone has a different goal. Even those students who are grading for the same belt will be approaching it in very different ways. This is why it is so important not to just tick the boxes. This is why meticulous planning must remain flexible and it is why Instructors must approach the lesson from the student’s viewpoint and not just from the point of view of what they want to get across.

This approach, although it sounds sensible and obvious, actually takes a flip in the Instructor’s head. It probably takes confidence that perhaps comes from experience. It means that every time I address a student, I am trying to think about what I am saying from their point of view and not just thinking that what I am saying is imparting great knowledge.

Each student hears things differently. Each student walks in to the dojang with a different agenda. No student fits in a perfect square box. When I take the time to immerse myself into each of my students’ heads, then I know that their goals will be reached and their individual boxes will be ticked.

Photo credit to Radnor House

 

 

Melting worries

I turned to my 18 year old daughter the other day and asked her if she’d ever smoked. 18 years old and I’d never asked her before. It seems I’d only just got around to it. As I was rather pleased that I had finally thought to ask one of the questions that is surely in the parents’ guide of things to ask, I asked her one by one if her sisters had ever smoked (just in case I didn’t get around to asking them myself).

This morning I was thinking about this as I remembered how, when my daughters were really little, I was dreading the fact that they might smoke when they were teens. Of course, even now I don’t want them to smoke. But the point is that I forgot to worry about it when they became teenagers. I forgot to worry about it because bigger worries came along and took up my head space. I worried about them taking drugs and then this worry was displaced with a worry about screens and now this worry has been displaced with a worry about dreadful things happening to them when they get drunk.

Of course I am not suggesting that I am only capable of one worry at a time, but it made me realise that many of my worries simply melt into nothing and are replaced with trust.

When we reach a point with our teenagers that we feel able to trust them, it feels as if a huge weight has been lifted from us. We are quite literally able to take a big step back and observe.

We can observe their fuck ups. But we can also observe that they are doing just fine.

As parents we will never, ever stop worrying. However, we must not smother our kids with our worries. I don’t think there’s any harm in letting them show either – it makes our children feel secure and maybe, perhaps, think a little more about how they act and what they do.

A teenager needs to feel trusted, because just as parents we feel more relaxed when we trust, our teenagers will gain in confidence with the knowledge that we trust them.

Snowflake Parenting

Our kids are being called, ‘the snowflake generation’ – lacking resilience and emotionally vulnerable, but you know what? It’s not their fault. It’s our fault as parents. We are parenting them from a position of fear. We are snowflake parenting.

When you go with your gut instinct in a situation, you usually make a quick decision. You don’t necessarily work through every possible scenario and consequence, you just react to your initial thought. You then will probably go about the rest of your day without it taking up much more head space. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how most parents these days parent. Parenting from the gut is a dying art and I blame Google, Facebook and Mumsnet.

Back in the day when you had a persistent cough or a weird rash, you’d get one or two people’s opinions on what it might be, and that may or may not have included a doctor, and before you knew it, it would have gone away. Nowadays we google the shit out of every ailment, so that within an hour we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s something far worse than it probably is.

It’s the same with parenting. We have a concern about our child. We voice our concern… to literally thousands of people online. We get back a deluge of opinions, many of which are basically telling us that our parenting is shit. We doubt our ability to parent. We wonder how we are even allowed to parent. We sit in a darkened room, lit up only by a computer screen and we worry and we are confused and we may even cry.

We are parenting from a position of fear. It’s making us forget what we really should know: that our kids will be ok. Because my mum didn’t breastfeed me and I am ok. I walked to the shops on my own when I was 7 and survived. I went up to London with a friend from the age of 12 without a mobile phone and I didn’t get lost. My mum didn’t care less, she worried less. She went with her gut and then carried on with her day.

Yet now we are parenting from fear: fear of what others might think, or even worse, say. Fear of defying the online majority’s opinion. Fear of being told by someone we don’t even know that we are a bad parent.

Fear takes hold and spreads like a wild fire. We quickly lose control and our way of trying to regain control is by smothering it.

We are smothering our children. They are unable to think for themselves. We would rather rescue them from difficult situations than watch them struggle.

They are delicate and so are we.

The snowflake generation can blame us for their emotional weakness, but it really isn’t our fault. The internet has stripped us of our logic and is leaving us vulnerable too.

In my book, ‘Raising Girls who can Boss it’ I address this fear. I talk about how we as parents need to have the confidence to let go a little. To give our children space to breathe in their own air and to exhale their own thoughts.

We need to worry less. Stand back, take a breath and hope.
…and yes, nowadays this is easier said than done.

Like good girls

I’ve just opened the paper and there are two articles on one page relating to sexual harassment. The first has the headline, ‘I struck a deal to escape Weinstein, says star’ and the other is headlined, ‘Minister is named on secret chat group about sex pest MP’s’.

It strikes me that the main theme that these articles share is not just harassment…it’s fear.

Fear is allowing sexual harassment to perpetuate. I mean, how crazy is it that there needs to be a WhatsApp group for women working in Westminster, on which they share information on MP’s with a reputation for sexually inappropriate behaviour? Seriously. Why the hell do us women feel the need to keep it amongst ourselves? Why aren’t we shouting this stuff out, rather than keeping it in the confines of WhatsApp?

Why?

Why are we muttering quietly to each other about intolerable and unacceptable behaviour, which is allowing that behaviour to carry on?

Why did every woman who put #metoo on her social media feed, not feel able to expand? Why did many women who thought it, not put it?

Fear. Fear and shame.

Women aren’t supposed to have a voice. We’re supposed to be nice and kind. When we get angry, people get very nervous. It just doesn’t sit right. We’re supposed to be the epitome of calm and control and really shouldn’t lose our shit. Society brings us up knowing this as it’s seemingly better that way.

There are so many reasons for our fear: fear of losing or not getting a job, fear of being disbelieved, fear of being ignored…perfectly legitimate reasons for fear. Then the shame – shame that we didn’t leave/shout/retaliate/say ‘no’ more forcefully.

Fear and shame are the two reasons why men are ultimately in control. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s the truth.

This is why we must bring our daughters up to have a voice.
This is why they must not feel shame.
This is why they must face their fear.

Because we are failing to.

Where are their role models? Whispering and silent. That’s where we are. Hiding the truth to keep the peace…like good girls.

Why give a f**k?

I think the advertisers who are withdrawing their advertising from Mumsnet (no doubt clammy, shaking and requiring therapy) are seriously missing the point. An advertiser is surely looking to scoop up its largest target audience. If you are advertising on Mumsnet then one would presume that your target audience is, well erm, mums. I think it is frankly hilarious that the advertisers in question must think most mothers are Mary Poppins. Well, I really hate (love) to burst their advertiser’s bubble, but Mary fucking Poppins we ain’t.
I’m so sorry if you find it a little bit scary hearing the ‘f’ word, but after a few (hundred) sleepless nights, it does tend to slip out. Christ knows we were nuns before we had kids, but now the little fuckers (oops, look at me…there I go) push us to voice our thoughts where we feel we can. At Sunday lunch with the MIL, rocking in the corner saying, ‘fuck, fuck, fuck’ under your breath, isn’t deemed appropriate. So we turn to a forum for mum’s, who we know won’t mind the odd expletive. In fact, they’ll actually love it! Because funnily enough, the majority of us mums go through our entire mummy life saying, ‘fuck, shit, bollocks, wankers’ under our breaths on such a regular basis that when the nursery teacher turns to us and asks why our little darling uttered a swear word today, we can only hang our head sheepishly and admit defeat.
But defeated we aren’t! Because places like Mumsnet come to the rescue and bind all of us together (and sometimes against each other) in a communal pool of understanding.
And so, dear advertisers: more fool you if you shun the opportunity to reach millions of fairly like-minded souls. No-one actually gives a fuck.
Image result for shocked face

Hypocrites

When it comes to our preoccupation with screens, us parents are hypocrites. Perhaps it’s our earned prerogative, or simply a rebellion via the back door. We pop off to bed early to read our book, only to find that an hour later we are still scrolling through the dregs of Facebook. Just one more person’s news, just one more click and then we’re surprised (every night) that it’s suddenly the witching hour and we’re absolutely knackered and can’t sleep because something we’ve read has pointlessly wound us up. And so we lie in our bed worrying, (because every little worry creeps around at night), and one of those little worries is that we forgot to take the kids’ mobiles off them an hour before bed (again).

We’re nothing but bloody hypocrites. But it’s ok, because we are the parents and so we are allowed to take photos of of our food, our cappuccino, our glass of wine and put them on Instagram without fear of reprisal. Being an adult gives us this right. We can wake up in the morning and grab at our phone and glasses and check our e mails and the news, because we have to know what’s been going on (obsessively).

‘Screens are a drug’, we tell our kids, as we feed it to them when it suits. When we want that moment’s peace. Like the chocolate bar, the trip to MacDonald’s – just a treat. The treat that leaves them wanting more. That leaves all of us wanting more. The treat that becomes addictive. On their birthdays and at Christmas we are their dealers. Dealers with a conscience and a sense of responsibility to those who score. A responsibility that we aren’t quite savvy enough to handle.

‘You are always attached to your phones’ I tell my teens and I don’t think they can be bothered to reply the obvious. They notice, but they think it so normal that I am attached to mine. That I check every buzz, every ‘like’, every tweet. Just like them.

I think we need to stop kidding ourselves that any of this is going to change. If we can’t change, they can’t change. This addiction is assimilated in all our lives. We can read articles about its dangers and nod and agree, but at some point we have to put our hands up and say: this is life and not just our kids’ lives, but our lives too. We are hypocrites and when we admit it, then we will accept it. And you know what? We will adapt to it (we already have). We are feeding it. What’s important is that we understand it.

Do you?

We’re human, we think, we judge. Yet I’m still surprised at how judgmental some people are. How self-righteousness. I am surprised how one person’s choice gives another the feeling that they have a right to feel superior. That they have a goddamn right to judge. That they feel able to say whatever they like to someone and to others around them about that person, without having walked in their shoes, but because they think they know.

We all judge. I often find myself saying to partner: “between you and me and I would never say this to anyone else…” He is my sounding board. My safe place to voice a potentially judgemental thought. I know that my thought will go no further and at the same time I know that he will tell me if he disagrees, or validate my judgement by agreeing.

I play it safe. I have no right to judge. But people are so quick to blast their judgments openly and cruelly on social media. Unthinkingly, it seems. Yet I think that some people do think. I think that some people think it’s ok to openly judge another because what the other has done is just so wrong (or different).

But is it? Is it what it seems? Do we know?

Do we?

Are you the one who feels able to judge
Are you?
The one who presumes
The one who knows
(She thinks)
Are you?

Are you the one who feels in a position of power
Are you?
The one who looks down
Not ahead
(Not forward)
Are you?

Are you the one
Who goes beyond just thinking it
Are you?
The one who has to comment
Can’t help yourself
Are you?

But do you really know
Do you?
Do you really have a right to judge?
Because you know
You never really know
Do you?

Alison Longhurst

 

Standing outside the box

I was chatting to my sister about disciplining teens and the old chestnut came up about giving them barriers to kick against. “Yes” my sister said, “but what if those barriers don’t work?”

It came to me that there are different types of barriers and then this analogy popped into my head. Imagine your teen in a cardboard box. Firstly, imagine that they are screwed up into a ball. They have no leg space to unravel themselves and they are struggling for air. It’s uncomfortable and oppressive and they can’t talk because their face is pushed downwards onto their chest, with their knees digging into it. They are getting hotter and more frustrated as they literally cannot move. It’s dark in there. Their parents are sitting on the box, preventing them from opening the flaps. 

Now imagine the scenario of the same teenager, but they are in a bigger box. There is room in there for them to stretch out their legs. They can breathe freely and when they want to talk to someone, they can open the flap. Their parents are standing just outside the box. When the teen stretches out their legs, their feet touch the sides. They feel secure in their box, as the cardboard walls make them feel safe. 

One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years, is how important it is to parent outside that big box, rather than sitting on it. Teenagers want to know you are there, but not too close. They need to feel trusted, but they also need to know what the parameters are. They need rules so that they can argue against them, whilst knowing you care and have certain expectations of them. In short, they need a box, but they need space in that box to move. If we don’t give our teens space to explore, to make mistakes then they will never learn what to do when they fuck up. If we are always on them, rescuing them when they fail, they will never learn resilience. If we don’t give them the space to be able to kick the sides of the box, they will most probably eventually explode out of it, catapulting us far away and abusing their new found freedom, because, like a kid in a toy shop, they want all the toys they were never allowed. 

So back to my sister’s point: what if those barriers don’t work? Well, if the big box isn’t strong enough, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: poor friendships, incident-induced anxiety, perhaps some nature and a little nurture, then we will watch them fuck up. That’s ok. We did and we survived. But we will be there, standing right outside that box, to help them get back on track.