What I read in June…

img_8694Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith – the most recent addition to the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, where Mr Polopetsi gets into some difficult bother for being too trusting and Mma Ramotswe goes in search in someone’s childhood to some unexpected results, and a dog doesn’t seem to want to leave Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s apprentice, Fanwell. As always the book is full of wise ponderings of Mma Ramotswe and reasons to rage against Violet Sepotho. I love that Mr Polopetsi is back in the series again and very excited to find out what will be happening in Gaborone when we go to the book festival in August!

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The Complaints by Ian Rankin – Another Edinburgh author, but with a far more macabre view on things! I read the sequel to this years ago when I went on spa day with my friend Carrie, and didn’t know you sat next swimming pools and read at spa days. I borrowed the book she had brought while she was getting a spa treatment and got hooked. Of course then I had to go and read the first book. I really love the character of Malcolm Fox, and the conspiracy theory elements to these books. I really am hoping for a third…please Mr Rankin?!

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Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Well this is basically exactly what it says in the title. A friend of Chimamanda asked for advice on raising their daughter to know her gender shouldn’t make her unequal to others. This is a simple and thought provoking read that I think is worth everyone taking time to meditate on…not just parents. And let’s not go into the fact I didn’t manage to get a ticket to see Ms Adichie at the book festival this year. *shakes angry fist at Nicola Sturgeon*

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Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – It’s rare that I read so much fiction in such a short space of time, but with some unexpected time off and the fact I was still reading Between the World And Me, and a couple of other non-fiction books I felt I needed to keep a fiction book in my Currently Reading pile. Only problem was that I started reading and had to find out what had happened. The story really focuses on a mother and daughter, and a night when a woman was found dead, and the mother found injured at the elephant sanctuary where they worked and lived. As always with Jodi’s books, the different chapters tell different elements of the story from perspective of different characters – their present thoughts, past thoughts and memories.  It’s not quite the ‘real life’ feel of her other novels. The twist at the end was not what I expected, and was saddened by how it ended. But I guess it wouldn’t be a Jodi Picoult novel if I didn’t finish a book without that feeling!

The one where I get angry about endometriosis research…

*A Pre-warning, that this blog post contains details that may be considered as ‘TMI’ or ‘oversharing’. If menstruation makes you uncomfortable…don’t read on!*

I don’t talk about this on my blog much anymore, mostly because until very recently this illness that I unofficially got diagnosed with at 22 has not affected my life as much as it once did, thanks to the wonderful NHS, the availability of a contraceptive treatment that also works to control my symptoms in the form of injections into my butt cheek/hip area every 12 weeks. But the other week, this article popped up on my twitter feed, and I felt just a tad enraged about it.
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Why did it make me angry you might ask? Well. First of all the fact that hardly any research money goes into endometriosis. I’m one of the lucky ones. At 22 my life was miserable. I ended up in A&E more than once because of the horrific pain I was in for about 1-2 weeks of every month. I never took myself to A&E…it was usually a friend, or one time a doctor who was driving past when I was collapsed on the pavement dizzy and in pain. I imagine this is because watching their friend wretch (and then start panicking because she has a phobia about being and seeing people be sick) because they are in so much pain while also passing out because they are in so much pain (sometimes hitting their head off bathroom furniture in the process) was a little bit scary to watch. Especially when you are a young adult and not entirely sure what to do because all of a sudden your parents aren’t there to call on. My friends made me go to GPs multiple times and watched as they came up with the most ridiculous answers to the problems I was facing.

Part of the issue was that doctors didn’t know about endometriosis, how to diagnose it and how to properly treat it. Add the fact that at 18 I’d had quite a radical change in my religious beliefs and had chosen to not engage in a particular activity ever again unless I decided to marry someone. Most doctors I met didn’t see the point in checking for a diagnosis or investigating further unless I was at a point of deciding to start a family.

There was no support whatsoever. It was just let’s keep trying every medication we can think of to deal with your symptoms and hope you don’t find out your totally infertile later.

There is little research into treatments, what causes it or cures.

And oh what a shame for these poor men! What about how it effects OUR lives? Or are we still under this weird assumption that women don’t like doing that activity (I’m not a prude, if we were in person I’d say the word, but know if I type it all sorts of issues are created in terms of search engines, spam and people not being able to access this blog).

There is so little funding for women’s health research, so why is THAT a priority?

And then the photo chosen.

How is THAT representative of a woman suffering from endometriosis?

First of all…one hot water bottle ain’t going to do it. I would have them on my front, my back even between my legs because the pain was basically from the inside out and down (if you catch my drift).

Second of all…I would not be that relaxed. If you had a picture of me in the foetal position lying on the floor screaming and crying…sure. Perhaps holding onto a toilet bowl. Basically writhing in pain trying to find anything that makes the pain bearable, and praying to anyone to be able to like…stand, sit or whatever.

Third of all…I would not be lying there in a white vest and pants. Dark clothes, anything comfy and tatty because chances are it’s going to have to be soaked in warm water and be treated with any remedy I’ve heard of that removes blood from clothing before I’m able to put it in a washing machine if I have a chance of being able to wear it again. I might even be wearing two pairs of pants (something my friend used to do – both pairs with a sanitary pad that was meant for ‘night’ use). Even then we could still wake up soaked with blood stained pyjamas and bed sheets…so we would sleep on top of towels.

Fourth of all…I’m going to be a lot more gross and sweaty. Because all those heat packs to try and deal with the pain are making me way too hot and I’m probably wearing a cold wet flannel on my head and arms to compensate….not to mention the pills I’ll be surrounded by and taking maximum doses of every hour I’m safely allowed to.

That’s the reality.

And as I said, I’m one of the lucky ones. At 25 they put me on injections which stopped my menstrual cycle and for the most part that has worked. I put on 2 stone in weight (and thankfully lost 1/2 stone of that eventually) and my hair started falling out and going grey but it was a small price to pay for no longer being in pain and spending a fortune on tampons and sanitary towels which I needed 40% of the month at times. Yes, in the last few months it would seem that I’m having a return of some symptoms and now I’m on a new medication to see if that works before they go down a surgical route. But if you go on the Endometriosis UK forum, there are women who had far worse and symptoms 24/7. I could tell you so many stories of doctors who have been clueless and unhelpful…but some of that is not really their fault. It’s because women’s health is not studied or seen as a priority for research and treatment. You can bet your ass if men had to deal with a uterus and ovaries things would be different.

Ok.

Rant over.

(For now).

 

The one where I have a rant about sexism in sport…

I grew up with a Dad who worked in football. I was the first female born into the family in quite a number of years, and the boys – well they were introduced to football from an early age. Like most kids, I wanted to be just like my Daddy – and that meant I wanted to play football.

When I got to primary school, the boys in the playground told me and my friend Tracey (who was probably the best at sports out of anyone in our class -male or female) that we couldn’t play football with them because we were girls. Kids will be kids, and we were mostly at that stage were the other sex is apparently ‘gross’ and ‘icky’. But the main injustice that sparked for me was when I was around 7 (I think) and our primary school teacher announced that our school was starting our first sports team – a football team! I was sooo excited. And then I got told I wasn’t allowed to join because it was only for the boys.

Yes folks.

Our school only provided a sports team for boys to join, but nothing for the girls.

That may have been when I started campaigning for a pupil council so we could change things like that. Sadly, the ‘boys only’ football team remained so while I was there. The same happened in high school. There was a rugby team for the boys, a hockey team for the girls. About a year into high school they introduced a football team – only for the boys. Despite the fact we had some talented female football players in my school (one of them was in my class – even the boys wanted her on their team during the football module of the hideous compulsory P.E. lessons I endured for four years of high school).

Like what the actual ding dong heck?! This was the 90s people. Hadn’t feminism already been through a few waves by this point?

People have asked me once again during this Olympics – “Laurie, how do you know so much about gymnastics?” They assume I grew up a gymnast.

I’ve never done gymnastics in my life.

I mean, I had a few lessons as part of P.E. at school which involved doing forward and backward rolls, attempting handstands and I think at one point trying to somersault through the air and landing on a crash mat. But I was pretty terrible.

But I fell in awe of gymnastics at the 1996 Olympics. They could do all the things I couldn’t as well as dance. Only throughout the year, it was hard to find coverage of the competitions.

Over the years I’ve been disappointed with the lack of coverage. One year just before one of the British gymnasts won a Bronze medal at the European Championships, the tv coverage suddenly stopped halfway through her routine and switched to a football pundit show. I, along with the British Gymnastics community were spitting mad (especially when it turned out we missed watching a medal performance from one of our country’s gymnasts!)

And so I’ve been the one trying to find live feeds online, befriending sports journalists attending competitions, hounding them for updates and scores and details. When there’s a great achievement it rarely makes the sports homepages, and definitely not the back page of the papers along with the rest of a few select sports where only the men who compete get reported on.

That is annoying enough.

But then there is the sexism. Whether it’s journalists and commentators who simply haven’t done their homework or commentators who spend their time making comments about how a woman athlete is looking or referring to her as a ‘girl’ or ‘lady’ (have you ever heard a male footballer being referred to as a ‘gentleman’ while he is on the pitch?). The 19 year old gymnast is ‘so cute’. The six time gold medallist who hasn’t quite taken in what just happened is described as looking to his four time gold medallist fiancee “wondering what’s for tea”. Apparently women don’t want to win enough if they are having to pose for pictures with toothpaste because that company is giving her an endorsement. Which is weird, because I’m sure I saw two time Gold medallist man gymnast posing with a car on instagram, and it didn’t seem to affect  his performances. And man, that running guy (what’s his name again? 😉 ) he seemed to be on my TV a lot trying to get me to switch broadband companies, and seems to pose for a lot of pics – even taking pictures of his mates with journalists’ cameras during the Olympics – but I think he just defended his Olympic title too.

What is most annoying is the people that argue that “well, they didn’t mean to be sexist”. Well perhaps the woman who wrote about how difficult she found it when her white daughter brought home her black boyfriend “didn’t mean to be racist”. But it doesn’t take away from the fact…IT IS.

And we need to address it. Because it starts with a comment…and some cat calling…then turning a blind eye to women getting groped on public transport..and it can lead to us growing adults who believe it’s ok for men to rape a woman because marriage means sex on demand.

So back to that question everyone keeps asking me: why do I know so much about gymnastics? Because in the lead up to London 2012, I made a concerted effort to do everything I could to give the journalists and spectators some background on the amazing stars we had that nobody else had been watching in the previous four years. Kohei Uchimura, the best male gymnast that’s ever lived. Oksana Chusovitina, who won medals before most of her competitors were born. The British men’s team that everyone had assumed wouldn’t have a chance to place in the medals. So I created their wikipedia pages, updated ones that already existed – and with others created medal tables and stats so that people could easily look back and know if someone had won 3 consecutive All-Around Golds before with just a few clicks.

It’s also why I wanted to make sure at the end of my placement last year, all four of our heroines had their own wikipedia pages. Priscilla Bright McLaren was not just ‘the wife of the Lord Provost’.

And to the men like Andy Murray and Adam van Koeverden who are joining the feminist movement and calling out the sexist commentating and reporting… THANK YOU! Welcome to the club working for gender equality!

On a side note, I do have hope. My friend’s daughter started primary school 7 years ago today(ish). I still remember when I saw her after her first day, her excitedly telling me about the school football team she was joining. And my honourary nephews? They do gymnastics.

🙂

Girls, Bodyshaming and our media…

I’ve done a lot of youth work with teen and pre-teen girls over the latter half of my life (because scarily I’m old enough to have been doing youth work for half my life now). I started at 16 as a trainee Guide leader in an inner city Guide unit, and went on to become a Youth Advice Worker, a Community Education worker, and in later years while working for a charity I went into schools running lessons on pregnancy to dovetail into the Scottish Sexual health and relationships education curriculum. And over time, I’ve become increasingly convinced of my feminist beliefs.

In a world of sexting, snapchat, facebook and kids getting access to phones younger and younger, things have changed radically for teens since I was one myself. I remember vividly what it was like to be a teenager. And I am insanely thankful that digital cameras were not something we had access to. Because I know in a fit of giddiness during sleepovers (which I firmly believe should be renamed ‘awakeovers’) or when we first began experimenting with alcohol – there is stuff that I’m sure we would have posted on something like instagram for a laugh.

Amongst my friends and I – many of us suffered from poor body confidence and eating disorders as we grew up. I still remember all the girls’ magazines telling us about what we should and shouldn’t wear, our mothers reading up on crash diets in trashy women’s magazines. The boys in our class read magazines with scantily dressed women and gave ideas on creative positions for intimate couple activities. And as time has gone on, the actors on television have got skinnier and skinnier. It’s not just women who are being objectified on body image (though I’d argue it’s still far worse for women). The magazines and newspapers have got more judgmental on body shaming women. And last year after overhearing one too many conversations amongst my Guides calling themselves ‘fat’ or confessing that they didn’t want to try an activity for fear of looking silly we did a programme produced by WAGGGS called Free Being Me. One of the first sessions required me to go find some magazines aimed at their age group so they could analyse the visual content of them. I was utterly appalled when I picked up a magazine called Top Model clearly aimed at 8-11 age group which had an article teaching girls how to judge people based on what they were wearing. I had long stopped buying magazines myself – I have strong views on gossiping and refuse to help a market that uses gossip to sell their product – so it had been a while since I had really looked. I remember standing in the supermarket feeling sick. Because that magazine was aimed at my friends’ daughters.

So you can imagine my rage and disgust when someone posted a news article about this American magazine aimed at a similar age group teaching girls about how to pick the best swimsuit for their body shape.

What 8 year old girl has developed a body shape?! And why should they care what they are wearing when they go for their swimming lessons, or play in the ocean with their family and friends in the summer?!

I was enraged. And concerned.

But most of all, I want to know how the heck I can change this awful body shaming society girls and young women are growing up in. A day later, this clip of an interview Melissa McCarthy (who I love, love, love from Gilmore Girls) appeared on my YouTube homepage.


The whitewashing, the ageism, the photoshopping, the judging a person on fashion choices over ability to do a job. I’m trying to think of all the ways I can give them opportunities to see how the world really should be over how it is portrayed in media of all forms.

Because I think it starts with the adults…

My fictional female role models…

As a young girl, it was tough to find role models. When I became a Christian, I discovered that there were a whole new bunch of expectations on young women that I didn’t feel I would ever live up to. When you are younger, if we can’t see what we want in our immediate life – we often look to the arts for inspiration. Books, TV and film often give us ideas and possibilities of what other options of being are out there. And too often as girls we were shown examples of needing to find a guy to come save us and love us to be complete. Thankfully it wasn’t always the case, and I wanted to share some of the fictional female characters that have given me hope throughout my childhood, teen and young adult years…

Abby Sciuto – Abby, the ‘happiest goth you’ll ever meet’ who is a forensic scientist at NCIS. Always compassionate, loves hugging Bert the Hippo, goes bowling with nuns, builds houses for charity and is every bit as capable with IT as Timothy ‘I went to M.I.T.’ McGee. Which is probably why he admires her so much. I love that none of the more conservative characters like Jenny Shepherd or Leon Vance ever try to make Abby dress differently. They accept her for who she is, because they respect her, her work ethic and her talents.

Professor McGonagall – A single woman, a fair if stern teacher. But one that clearly has her pupils’ backs. She never disciplines simply to exert her power and authority. She supports her fellow women. She doesn’t back down from a fight, and she is fiercely loyal to Dumbledore and to Harry. I always loved those little snippets you got of her mischievous side, as she mumbles to Peeves how to unscrew light fittings and in the film that moment of “I always wanted to use that spell!”

Sally Fletcher – The adopted kid of Tom and Pippa, the girl who had the kind heart and got teased for her imaginary friend ‘Milco’. The one who got bullied, was good at school and worked hard at school. No surprises then that she ended up becoming a foster Mum and a teacher…always giving the underdog kids who had had a rough start in life a second chance. Sally was always just that few years ahead of me on TV as I grew up through primary and secondary school watching Home and Away and as the swot of the class, she made me feel a little less alone. (And yes, I did bawl my eyes out when she left Summer Bay).

Miranda Bailey – I know, I know… I’m supposed to love McDreamy, or Meredith. But Bailey was always my favourite character in Grey’s Anatomy. I loved that she was short.  I loved that she wasn’t sleeping around (like all the other surgeons were). I loved that she refused to get a full wax when after her divorce she is trying to find love again (oh, and as a Health Promotion grad was very proud at her responsible attitude to STD protection!). I loved that she was an African-American woman in old white men’s club. Yet she is exactly where she should be as a competent, highly skilled, hard working surgeon. Oh, and did I mention that she is a Star Wars fan?

The Babysitter’s Club – It’s tough to pick one girl out of this group, because they all had their moments. Jessi Ramsey was the ballet dancer of the group but she was much better than I ever was! Dawn was the only one who never seemed to feel like she had to be someone else to impress a guy and I appreciated that about her. I think I most identified with Mallory Pike. Mallory was the big sister, the one that wore glasses, wanted straight hair, had braces, wanted her ears pierced, wanted to be a writer and really sucked at and did everything she could to avoid  PE. I don’t think I was quite so insecure about my looks as Mallory was, but I could empathise with her struggle. Each of these girls had something to offer and their own strengths and weaknesses. It was also refreshing to see that they came from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds and their families all looked different.

Haley James – I used to get One Tree Hill shipped on DVD from the USA (because I couldn’t afford a TV license and it took sooo long to come out on DVD here in the UK and it worked out cheaper usually anyway) and my friend and I watched it weekly at my flat when we were students. The girl who took a while longer to have close friends that were girls, the one who worked part-time, who liked to teach, who loved to sing. I loved that Haley was willing to wait for the right guy, and that even though she was the sensible one she still got pregnant in high school. I also liked that she wore her ponchos and hats that she got teased for, and that she never bailed on a friend. She never tried to dumb herself down and even when she was afraid of failing and pursuing her dreams she found the courage to go out there and try eventually.

Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim – I love Rory and Lane. I kinda loved last year when me and one of my friends (who is a fellow Gilmore Girls fan – several of my friends have borrowed my DVDs) took one of those BuzzFeed quizzes that I came out as Rory and she came out as Lane. That seemed just totally perfect to us. Rory and Lane are equally awesome in my book. Again, two ladies who didn’t act stupid to get boys to like them. Two ladies who knew what they wanted and worked to achieve their dream. Yes, Rory gets a little derailed, but she gets back on track eventually. I’m kind of glad that they showed that part because so many of us have to make mistakes to learn from them. I’d love Lane’s record collection and Rory’s book collection. Oh, and they were Brownies as revealed  by Lane’s note to Rory in 1995.

Lucy Pevensie – I was so mad when my cousin named her daughter Lucy as that was what I’d always wanted as a name for a daughter. Lucy Pevensie is probably the reason why. She’s not the oldest or the obvious leader. But yet she’s the one who finds Narnia, the one who always sees Aslan before the others, and is the one who reawakens the trees. There’s also a glimpse you see of Queen Lucy in the Horse and His Boy where you find that although her sister is off finding suitors, Lucy is not. She is willing to battle with the boys and is a proven warrior.

Precious Ramotswe – Mma Ramotswe is probably my favourite character written by Alexander McCall Smith. I love that her wisdom, her kindness and that she doesn’t feel the need for a husband. When she realises that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is worth teaming up with, she says yes to his proposal. But I love that they are equals in their marriage. And he is a great guy who supports her in her business, and continually fixes the little van because he knows how much it means to Mma Ramotswe. And if you’ve never picked up the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books, um…well…you are going to be lost in many conversations I have with you.

Mulan – because finally we got a Disney Princess who didn’t either a) spend the whole film searching for a husband or waiting for him to save her (yes Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Anna, Ariel…I’m looking at you) or marry a guy that was a bit sketchy (Belle, Pocahontas…). And she basically saves the army, and then saves them again along with all of China. She could have decided to stay, work for the Emperor and possibly be near Li Shang. She chooses to go home. And doesn’t show any romantic interest in Shang until he respects her as a woman. Go Mulan. Until you, the only strong females in Disney were all animals (Duchess in The Aristocats, Nala in The Lion King).

I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten, but did you have fictional characters that inspired you, encouraged you or gave you hope growing up?

Wishing that Edinburgh women were valued more than dogs…

The other day I got slightly irritated when I was following a Edinburgh Council meeting, and a local councillor brought up the issue of asking the council permission for a statue of a male boxer. My immediate response was the following:

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They immediately retweeted my response, and I got a mixture of shock about my statement wanting to know if I’d made that up, and of course a man who tweeted a laughing emoji and I don’t think he used the term feminist in a complimentary manner.

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The person tweeting at the Edinburgh Reporter however, agreed with me when I replied that I thought it was shocking that we have no statues of Edinburgh women who have literally saved lives. And Mr Tweeter had no response to that.

 

Last year, I had to do a 4 month placement with a community education organisation. I chose to go into one that specialised in adult education, because it was the branch of community learning and development I had the least amount of experience in. While there I worked with a women’s history group. Hilarious, as I had no interest in History at school because what they taught and the way they taught it was dull, dull, dull. It was this group that enlightened me to the real stories of women’s suffrage and the campaign to abolish the slave trade and emanicipate slaves. I began to discover what the men that have had monuments and statues built in their honour stood for. It made me feel sick.

Our city values animals more than women when it comes to public statues.

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One of the women’s history group made me pose next to this statue as we were walking into town one day. It is the only statue of a woman in Edinburgh’s city centre. She isn’t named, she is more symbolic. A woman and child to remember the women and children who suffered during apartheid in South Africa.

5 minutes away, you can go into Princes Street Gardens and you’ll find a statue of Bum the dog – apparently needed because he is so important to remember Edinburgh’s connections with San Diego. You’ll now find a bear called Wotjek too. He was a mascot adopted by the Polish troops during the war. And of course, walk in another direction through the Old Town to George IV Bridge and you’ll find a statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby.

To find an individual named woman who has been commemorated with a statue in her honour like Bum, Wotjek and Bobby? You’ll need to go down to Leith to find a statue of Queen Victoria, then further out to the suburb of Craigmillar to find a statue of Helen Crummy.

Why was it as a girl that I felt that there were certain careers that I should shy away from? Why was it that when I came top in the year for Maths, I spent the next year trying not to be good at it (and succeeded). Why did I fear public speaking or debating even though I had plenty of opinions and information to share? Why was it that the only careers that ever came to mind as options growing up were nursing or teaching?

And then I began to look around. There were no women to look up to. The boys had footballers and rugby players that 1000s followed daily in the sports news. They had textbooks full of political leaders, history makers, scientists.

Go into museums…men. Look around at the commemorative statues in our city…men. On our TV shows…male superheroes. In our films…leading men outnumber the leading women.

It isn’t that there are no women who have lived in Edinburgh worth honouring in this way. Elsie Inglis has two statues in Serbia, but none in the city where she opened the first nursing home and maternity hospital for working class women and started the medical college for women since the University of Edinburgh refused to teach women medicine for so long and hospitals also refused to allow women to come learn skills there. The woman who was one of the first female graduates of medicine at Edinburgh University who helped her found the maternity hospital and nursing home. Her name is Jessie Macgregor. There was the woman who climbed Arthur Seat with Frederick Douglass and wrote to the Free Church Assembly asking them to send back the money they got from slave plantation owners to start their church. She helped fund the underground railroad and with other women tireleslly campaigned for the emancipation of slaves. Once that was done, she began the women’s suffrage movement in Edinburgh. Her name was Eliza Wigham. Her friend who became the first president of the women’s suffrage society in Edinburgh, her name was Priscilla Bright Maclaren. There was Flora Stevenson, and her sister Louisa campaigned for the education of women. Flora was also one of the first women to be elected to a school board (after women were finally allowed to do that). Flora has a school named after her in Edinburgh. Thomas Guthrie was honoured for his work in providing education for the poor with a statue in Edinburgh. Flora hasn’t been. Louisa was one of the first women to be elected to a nursing board. Both ladies were involved in campaigning for women’s suffrage. And there was Sophia Jex Blake. Sophia campaigned for many years for women to be allowed to study medicine. When the University of Edinburgh refused to let her in because she wasn’t allowed to be in classes with men, she found six other women to study medicine with her so the university were forced to provide classes and lectures for them. Sophia and the other six ladies became known as ‘The Edinburgh Seven‘. After years of campaigning to the university,  a plaque was finally placed in their honour late last year.

And of course there are our famous female writers. Helen Cruickshank and Muriel Spark to name two. Given that Walter Scott (a very good writer, but someone who openly campaigned for the continuation of the slave trade!!) has a big frickin’ tower monument, and Henry Dundas – another pro-slavery Scotsman – has a column with his statue on top paid for by Navy personnel (the money was taken straight out of their wages). Surely a wee statue for one of these women wouldn’t go amiss.

Heck, if we can celebrate an American dog, a Polish bear and a fabled Scottish dog…surely we can honour a few of these remarkable local women with statues as well.

And then maybe kids will see that your achievements are valued no matter what your gender. And that women are worth more than animals. Or at least equal to them.

BK’s YouTube Picks: Authenticity over Likeability

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It all started when I went to South Africa six years ago. My roommate (and now good friend) and I had many conversations in the evenings trying to articulate some of the anger and frustration we were feeling being there. When we returned home, we discovered a TED talk that articulated our frustrations so well called ‘The Danger of the Single Story’.

I am so grateful for her straight talking wisdom. And this is another important message for women – young and old.

Quote of the Week 14: Emancipation begins with education

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It’s strange to think that more than a 100 years later, Josephine Butler’s words remain true. Education is still feared by those who wish to oppress.

In the last few years we have seen those who are advocates of education be targeted. Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl was shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. Boko Haram kidnapped girls who went to school in Nigeria. And on Friday another group from Somalia targeted a university in Kenya.

Why do we fear education?

Because with education, comes enlightenment. And with knowledge, we discover our power.

I just finished reading the first in a young adult fiction series written by Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman. It’s called Noughts and Crosses. In it, blacks are powerful, whites are not. In it, a white ‘nought’ goes to a ‘cross’ school. He challenges the teachers for not teaching about the achievements of Noughts. He is told they’ve not done anything worthy of being in a textbook.

There are plenty of achievements that have been ‘textbook’ worthy by people who are not white men. But they are not common knowledge – because they don’t appear in our plaques, statues, museums, media or school curriculum.

Over the last months, I’ve discovered more and more that has caused me to question things I’ve been taught that are ‘common knowledge’, and felt sick seeing the names of streets or particular statues around my home city.

I am grateful for Josephine Butler, Hannah More, Eliza Wigham, Elizabeth Pease, Sophia Jex-Blake, Elsie Inglis, Emmeline Pankhurst and many others who came before me and made it possible for me to live in a world where I got to go to school and university…and graduate from said university. They allowed me to vote in elections of leaders of the country of my birth. I’m grateful for Frederick Douglas, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Biko and many others who made it possible for me to have a friendship with my friends who do not share my skin tone.

And yet, still, we see that there are structures in our world which are trying to prevent so many of us from being educated, from learning, from equality.

BK’s YouTube Picks: This Girl Can

As many of you know, a good chunk of my “spare time” is spent volunteering with GIrlguiding UK. Currently I help lead two units – a Guide Unit with girls aged 10-14, and a Ranger Unit with (soon to be two groups) of young women aged 14-25.

One of the things that has come up again is issues of body image, self-esteem and self-consciousness. At our first meeting of Guides this term, we asked them what issues they felt girls their age were facing today. The perceptions of girls and their ability to participate in sport, or unwillingness to participate in sport or what they are told about participating in certain sports was a hot topic that the girls spent a lot of time talking about with no prompting from us. I’ve heard more than one of our girls tell me they think they are fat, or that they ‘can’t do it’.

I had heard about the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign through following Clare Balding on twitter. I love what she is trying to do to get women more equally recognised for their sporting achievements, and saw pictures of the campaign launch night.

Because it isn’t just young girls who struggle with body image and feeling self conscious…women of all ages do. And quite frankly if us older generations don’t get ourselves in a place where we are content with who we are, then the generations coming up are going to learn from us that they should have issues with body image too.

Be inspired. Get active. Quit judging. Find people you’re comfortable with being yourself and do it together, or if you prefer, use the exercise time to have some peace to yourself!

Oh, and get a good sports bra. Trust me, especially if you go on a running machine or do zumba…you’ll appreciate that support (or as I like to call it boob prison…sometimes I wear a bra and then my sports bra over the top for extra boob incarceration!!)

Thank you to the women who took part in filming. Thank you for showing that yes…WOMEN CAN!

What is your favourite way to stay active?

Why youth culture shouldn’t involve discarding older generations…

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This post appeared on my facebook feed on Christmas week, and it struck a chord in me. This year, I officially no longer became a young person. I fell through the cracks as an unemployed ‘mature’ student. With the entering of a new decade, there are privileges that are taken away from you.

The other side is that part of the reason I left a church a few years ago, was that I felt totally redundant. There were ministries I’d been a part of since arriving in Edinburgh, and with people coming up from university I was pushed out of them to let the younger ones in. In one sense, as a person who has been a youth worker in some form or other for half my life now I totally agree with the encouragement of young people into roles of leadership. What I don’t like is that it can’t be intergenerational – that it has to be one generation or another at the helm.

I remember at 22, encouraging my friend to join a smallgroup. His mother turned to me during a conversation about studying the bible and learning more about God and said “well, when you get to my age there’s nothing new to learn about God”.

I found that so depressing. If I get to my 50s and find there’s nothing new to learn about God, then quite frankly I don’t see how there could be a God at all. What makes my God, Yahweh, God is the fact that He/She is so mysterious and ways are beyond our comprehension. As a mere human, there is much I’m able to do and understand and learn…but I’ll never know everything. That’s part of the journey of faith.

Then there are our mothers. Our ageing mothers. Aunts. Co-workers. Who bemoan the wrinkles from months, years and decades worth of laughter and smiles. Scars from children grown and birthed (and meals with friends & family enjoyed…!). Who feel they are too old to offer anything. Who are increasingly often written off, complained about and write themselves off as having nothing more to contribute…

Well, quite frankly….BOLLOCKS to that.

And I know it can be done.

Because there’s a lady who I won’t name  who has proven that I’m right. This lady was like the Mum/Gran to all at my church in Aberdeen. She made quilts for every baby and many of the students. She was one of the first people I met the first day I went there, and on introduction encouraged me to stay for student lunch in the hall downstairs (I’d forgotten I’d agreed to go to my friends’ church and so when they came to my door to drag me to the bus I was still in my pyjamas. I’d pulled my big baggy skater jeans over them and was still wearing the pants from the day before..so gross and embarrassing! so I felt very self-conscious and worried I was gatecrashing). She enticed me with her homemade chocolate cake and made me feel welcome. And over the years, I came to admire her. This lady was nearing 60 and jumped and bounced, she did children’s church as she loved kids. She came to steward at the youth festival, and rather than complain about the loudness of the music would stand at the back with earplugs in, dancing and singing away. She learned how to use poi from our student friend. And when she retired, she started learning how to play the guitar. I never heard her complaining she ‘looked old’ or moaning about diets and weight – something I hear all too often from so many women aged 25 and above. It is refreshing…and it’s how I want to be.

So Annie Lennox…and my retired friend who made me a quilt I still treasure many years later…thank you. I agree. No matter what age, we have something to contribute. And we have so much to learn from those with more life experience, and I so appreciate that, want to absorb all I can from you.

I want to keep encouraging young people…but I will fight for this not to be at the cost of discarding older generations.