Sociology/Politics

What Drives Me?

WordItOut-word-cloudI’ve been giving some thought to the things that are important to me. I’ve been a passionate campaigner for a few causes throughout my life, and while at first it may seem as though those subjects are unconnected, there are common threads weaving together the causes in my life; empowerment, equality, and the environment.

Common wisdom in the world of blogging as a writer is to steer clear of politics. Writers are in danger of putting off potential readers by expressing our political opinions. I guess this is supposedly true of all types of artists and even businesses. But my political opinions and the action I take because of them are such a big part of my life that it would feel disingenuous to ignore them. If the purpose of blogging is to connect with my readers and allow them to get to know me better, then I shouldn’t hide who I am behind a veil of politically neutral blog posts. That said, this is NOT a political blog, and I don’t intend it to become one.

All I want to talk about today are those core values that intertwine the threads of my life and drive me to do what I do. It’s all relevant to my writing too, and those who read my books will see what matters to me glinting through in the actions of my protagonists. It’s not consciously done, far from it, but when you carry fierce beliefs, they are bound to sneak their way into what you write in the form of character traits that you admire or threats you perceive.

reclaiming birthOne area that I have been engaged with for about 6 years now is childbirth. My first birth was a traumatic one, like too many women, and since then I have been involved with a number of groups and organisations seeking to improve birth for women in Britain. I won’t get on my soapbox now, but suffice it to say, I believe that women should be empowered by their birth experiences. Every single birth can and should be handled with care, dignity and respect by all those involved. Sadly one or more of these is absent from far too many births in this part of the world. These days I don’t attend many marches or demonstrations, as my commitments often prevent travel. But I keep my toe in the water by supporting women to get their birth choices met by care providers, and being there to listen if they have a negative experience.

When institutions steal power from people, it is up to every individual to reclaim that power and speak up for what they want and need from those institutions. In the birth world that means women doing their research, finding the right care provider, and having a robust plan that covers various contingencies. It shouldn’t be necessary for women to have to demand dignity and respect from their midwives and obstetricians, those things ought to come with the job, yet it is often necessary in Britain today.

The same guidelines for empowerment are true in all walks of life. One of the things that many people need in order to feel happy and fulfilled in life is a sense of empowerment; to feel in control, listened to and confident of achieving the things we set out to achieve. In a society rife with inequality, like ours, it can be nearly impossible to feel empowered. So to me, these two things are intimately linked. We could see a snowball effect if we can generate the kind of society that nurtures individuals and communities, rather than worshipping at the alter of wealth and inequality.

Every year for the last few decades Britain has been getting less and less equal, we’re now one of the least equal countries in the developed world. A shocking claim to fame and not one to boast about. With the current government we’re likely to see inequality accelerate even more over the next 5 years.

earthMy third driving passion is the environment. I’ve always had a green core and supported environmental causes. At times it feels like a lost cause, with those who hold power seeming to care little for the planet we live on. But there are small victories along the way that make it worth continuing to champion the cause. Recently, campaigners managed to prevent Lancashire Council giving planning permission to fracking giant, Cuadrilla. Also, at a summit in Germany last month, G7 leaders (Germany, Britain, France, the US, Canada, Japan and Italy) agreed to a commitment to “decarbonise” the global economy by the end of the century and to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. But they have to be held accountable and be made to follow through on these commitments.

Which brings us back to empowerment. Individuals have to stand up and make their voices heard. We are powerful when we speak together, we can achieve anything if we set our minds to it. I’ve blogged before about technology predicted in sci-fi, especially Star Trek. Well that’s the future I’m aiming for: technological advancement, but not at the cost of the planet. Green technology, an equal society where everyone has their basic needs met and everyone can achieve their dreams.

If you love the idea of people taking back their autonomy and believe in communities working together to achieve great things, check out the Transition Town Network. And if you’d like to support this author in getting the best books possible published then please chip in to my crowdfunder on Pubslush, which is running through July!

Whatever you believe in, even if it’s very different from my vision of the future, I hope you can take something from this post. Leave a comment and let’s see if we can have a meaningful dialogue about it. Maybe there is common ground to explore?

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My Top 5 Ted Talks of All Time

Inspired by Vicky over at Single Mother Ahoy! I decided to list my top five favourite Ted Talks. I absolutely love Ted, the whole idea is amazing. People come together in venues all around the world to give inspirational talks on all manner of subjects. It was hard to narrow it down to just five, but here goes.

5. Hackschooling Makes Me Happy – Logan LaPlante. Learn from a teenager how unschooling works and why his home education is focused on what really matters.

 

4. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer. A wonderful and inspirational talk from one of the most successful crowdfunders ever. Palmer describes her experiences of interacting with her fans.

 

3. Why we should give everyone a basic income – Rutger Bergman. I’ve been an advocate of universal basic income for a few years now and whenever I get into a discussion online about it I direct people to this video. It’s a simple explanation of the idea and why it would work.

 

2. The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain. Our society tends to value the traits of extroverts far above those of us introverts. Cain explains why we shouldn’t try to change introverts and how we can contribute to society.

 

And finally, my absolute favourite Ted talk of all time…

1. Changing Education Paradigms – Sir Ken Robinson. All of Ken Robinson’s Ted talks are brilliant, but this one, with the RSA animation, is my favourite. It’s my go-to video whenever I have a wobble about my children’s education.

 

I hope you enjoy these talks! Let me know your favourites in the comments below. I’m always keen to broaden my horizons so would love suggestions of what to watch next!


Stupid Girls

I’ve been giving some thought to the role models I had in my teens, and whether young women today have similar or very different ones. British culture has definitely changed in the last fifteen to twenty years, and it concerns me to think about the influence of that culture on young people in their formative years. I’m coming at this as a woman and feminist, very much aware that young women today are often afraid to identify as feminists.

Joan Jett and Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna on stage and angry in 1994. Photograph: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Joan Jett and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna on stage and angry in 1994. Photograph: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

The teen years are all about self-discovery, and my own journey was one of rebellion against the mainstream. It was the 1990s; we had Britpop, and loud, lary entertainers. We had The Big Breakfast and TFI Friday, entertainment was all about volume. Girls like me had some amazing women in music to look up to; Skunk Anansie, Garbage, No Doubt and Alanis Morissette dominated the charts and blasted from my stereo. We had the flash-in-the-pan Ladette movement, with which I strongly identified, led by the in-yer-face Sara Cox, Zoe Ball and Denise Van Outen.

Even for those whose stream was a little closer to the main one, there were the Spice Girls. Manufactured and awful as they and their pop hits were, they were presented as five distinct young women, each with their own style and the freedom to speak their minds. Their “girl power” mantra defined that era. Today’s female pop stars seem to lack that, they’re pre-packaged, homogeneous tools to sell sex. Young girls aren’t watching Elastica rock out with their guitars, they’re seeing Miley Cyrus in nude underwear, twerking up against a man singing a song that normalises date rape.

At the age that I was reading Point Horror books that featured young women who had to get themselves out of deadly situations, girls today are reading books that romanticise controlling relationships.

What will this mean for the future? In ten years what kind of relationships with these young women be in? Will they feel confident in the workplace? Will there be fewer female politicians?

I am aware that not everything about my influences was positive. At fourteen, I wasn’t really aware of the emphasis on heavy drinking that was attributed to ladette culture, it wasn’t about that to me; the impression Coxy and her fellows made on me was positive and profound. They stood for the idea of being able to express yourself, and not conforming to an outdated archetype of femininity. Social commentaries seem to sit in one of two camps: either that these awful “girls” (adult women are often described as girls in this context, I have noticed) corrupted others into becoming binge drinkers and potential rape victims (Hello? Victim-blaming, slut-shaming culture!); or that ultimately, the movement was flawed because it still defined women in relation to men, and as an inferior version; younger sister trying to walk in big brother’s shoes.

Thankfully it’s not all bad news for today’s teens. They have singers such as Pink, Olympians like Jessica Ennis, and access to many of my own generation’s influences, such as Judy Bloom. Even if the contemporary influences that youngsters group around don’t have much to offer in the way of empowerment, the community they find in fandom can be a good source of friendship and support.

My second book, Ghosts of Winter, will go on sale very soon. I like to think that my protagonist, Ariana, is a positive role model. She’s independent, confident (most of the time) and stands on an equal footing with the males in her society. She has vulnerabilities too, not least of which is her impulsiveness. A while ago I had a moment of doubt over my inclusion of a romance sub-plot in the series, I questioned my feminist credentials if my kick-ass female lead was distracted by romantic diversions. However, I decided not to preoccupy myself with any rules or expectations and to tell the story that demanded to be told. Ariana’s romantic relationships are conducted largely on her terms, she knows what she wants and decides what is best for her. The romance is also interwoven with the primary plot-line, providing tension and conflict as well as what I hope is a good source of character development.

I also hope to be a good role model to my own children, and maybe one day, the readers of my books. As one of my idols, film producer Gale Anne Hurd, is attributed with saying: role-model-1I love to hear from you. Who are your role models, and why? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe for all the latest book news.