Help Save the Funding for NCT Practitioners!

This came to me via a friend who is one of the women who has trained to become an NCT Practitioner.  The NCT is an important support network for women. Let’s try to save this as well.

Please can you take a few minutes to write to your MP on Wednesday 18th April


NCT is the UK’s largest charity for parents. Last year the charity provided antenatal classes alone for 91,500 parents, including 14,500 parents who are sent to us by the NHS – 11% of babies born in the UK are ‘NCT babies’. NCT also provides a range of free support to more than 1,500,000 people every year.The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is considering proposals to remove grant and loan funding for people training to become NCT Practitioners (Antenatal Teachers, Breastfeeding Counsellors and Postnatal Leaders). If this funding is removed, it would result in significant strain on local midwifery services, reduced services for new and expecting parents, and prevent many local mothers from entering work after giving birth.

This is because NCT training is university accredited and of high quality, so that the charity can be assured of providing parents with the very best support when they need it most. The charity recently launched a new strategy with an ambitious goal to reach 20 million parents by 2020- but can’t do that without enough practitioners to support them.

NCT has launched its Help NCT Help Parents campaign to ask Government to work with the charity to find a solution to this problem so that nobody who wishes to train to help parents is turned away because they cannot afford it.

You can Help NCT Help Parents by:

· Joining the campaign on Facebook – take action and tell your NCT story

· Contact your MP to ask them to help NCT help parents

· Sign the e petition

· Get your friends and family involved – send an email like this one!

· Tell NCT how they helped you – email your story about training or getting good support from NCT Practitioners to campaigns@nct.org.uk


On Wednesday 18 April NCT is holding an online day of action asking supporters to contact their MPs – find out why and how you can Help NCT Help Parents


The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is considering proposals to remove funding for people training to become NCT Practitioners, raising the cost of training to £6,000 per annum per person. This is prohibitively expensive and would lead to a dramatic fall in the number of people undertaking training. NCT needs your help to help us help parents and achieve our goal of reaching 20 million parents by 2020.

NCT currently trains 250-300 people each year to become NCT Practitioners. Once qualified, these practitioners provide antenatal education courses to 91,500 new and expecting parents each year, as well as other support (including breastfeeding support) to more than 1,500,000 people throughout the year.

We are launching a short term campaign aimed at finding a solution to this problem and are hoping to meet with representatives of the Department to discuss innovative solutions because there are many important social, economic reasons and health reasons for ensuring NCT Practitioner training can continue.

NCT practitioners provide social benefits by improving people’s parenting skills:
Children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in pregnancy and the first two years of life. NCT practitioners provide support to parents to help ensure children have the best possible start in life. The Government has estimated that failure to improve these skills costs between £11,600,000,000 and £20,700,000,000 (£11.6bn and 20.7bn), as poor parenting raises the prospect of future unemployment, ill health, and criminal activity.


NCT practitioners support NHS midwifery services:
In the past 10yrs, the birth rate in the UK has risen by up to 22%. Over the same period, the number of midwives has risen by only 9%. The NHS spends £2,053,829,000 (£2.05bn) each year on maternity services. NCT practitioners provide a value supplement to this spending and allow NHS resources to be more closely focused on areas of urgent medical need. We help bridge the gap between the growing demand on NHS maternity services and the NHS resources available.
The Health and Social Care Bill proposes changes to the way local midwifery services are commissioned and will mean varying levels of midwifery provision around the country. This means it may be harder to identify service shortfalls before they happen. NCT Practitioners will be able to mitigate this by providing flexible services which complement midwifery services, improving health outcomes for parents and children.

NCT practitioners can be trained at low cost: 

Annual spending on university training currently stands at approximately £25,400,000,000 (£25.4bn). A comprehensive training programme for 250 NCT practitioners could be provided for £1.5m. While this is still a significant amount of money, it accounts for only 0.006% of university spending. We feel this offers significant value for money and would have a disproportionate effect on education and economic outcomes in a number of important areas. Moreover, NCT has established a partnership with Worcestershire University, to ensure training costs per student is limited to £6,000 per annum. This enables us to deliver a comprehensive training programme for 250 NCT practitioners at an annual cost of £1.5m, delivering a saving of £750,000 each year.

Once qualified, NCT Practitioners are completely self-funded. They require no further investment or financial from the public sector.

NCT practitioner training provides employment opportunities for women returning to work after having children:

NCT Practitioner courses offer an effective way of helping women who have had children return to the workplace. NCT Practitioners are overwhelmingly female, 51% are aged 35-44yrs, 15% come from households with incomes of less than £25k, and most have at least two children. Becoming an NCT Practitioner gives women from these demographic groups an opportunity to return to the workplace that they would not otherwise have, and to work flexibly around their childcare commitments.

Stop Cutting Funding to Domestic Violence Services

On Monday April 16th, the House of Commons will once again debate the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill after the House of Lords made extremely important amendments to the Bill which should improve eligibility for legal aid in family law cases which involve domestic violence. There have already been closures with Haven Wolverhampton closing its counselling services on March 31st. The full scale of the cuts to domestic violence and its effects on women is evidenced in article in the Independent this week.

We have one last chance to ensure that cuts to domestic violence services stop. 
Please email your MP with your concerns about the cuts to services. Rights of Women: helping women through the law has a template letter that you can use. 

Petition Here: Stop Cutting Funding To Domestic Violence Resources.
Responsible department: Her Majesty’s Treasury
The recent cuts to domestic violence resources mean that more women will be forced to return to abusive relationships, thus risking the lives of more and more women and children. We ask the government to refrain from making further cuts to the Domestic Violence resources, which so many women rely on to escape abusive relationships; cuts which risk the safety of women and children across the UK.

The following information is taken directly from the Rights of Women website. I will take it down after Monday but this information needs to be out there:

Briefing for the House of Commons, April 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2011 (the Bill) removes almost all legal aid for private family law cases. The Government has stated its commitment to ensuring that legal aid for family law cases continues to be available to those affected by domestic violence. However, the Government plans to introduce dangerously restrictive evidential gateways through secondary legislation which will exclude the majority of domestic violence victims. Rights of Womens research with Welsh Womens Aid indicates that at least 46% of domestic violence victims would be ineligible for legal aid under the Governments proposals because they will not be able to satisfy these evidence gateways.[1]

The House of Lords introduced vital amendments to the Bill to ensure that legal aid will truly be available to victims of domestic violence in family law cases. Baroness Scotlands amendments 192, 194 and 196 to the Bill ensure that the evidence gateways reflect the reality of victims experiences of violence and the broad range of evidence they are likely to have.

       Amendment 192 ensures the cross-government definition of domestic violence is included in the Bill; which reflects the range of violence experienced by most victims.

       Amendment 194 seeks to widen the evidence gateways to include evidence most victims are likely to be able to produce, for example evidence from a doctor, or a domestic violence support worker, in order to access legal aid.

       Amendment 196 removes the 12 month time limit the Government proposes to apply to most of the evidence; so women can use evidence that is more than 12 months old.

Evidencing domestic violence is very difficult, if not impossible for many women. The routes which women seek to find safety from violence and abuse are many and complex. They are also entirely dependent on a womans individual circumstances. Despite attempts to address it, domestic violence remains a largely hidden crime. Many women will not disclose the violence they are experiencing to anyone and will not report it to statutory agencies for various complex reasons.

The NFWI conducted research into violence against women and legal aid, to inform the development of the Bill. One woman who took part in the research told us;

Ive never reported any incidence of violence with my ex-partner, the only time I reported it was when I got pregnant. And Social Services were involved so I reported it to them. I never saw the police as an option because I didnt think they could help abused women.[2]

In 2010 124,895 women accessed Womens Aid England member services including 17,615 who escaped violence to live in refuges. In their 2010 annual survey only 15% of women in their member refuges had a conviction against their perpetrator, only 25% had a protective injunction and only 19% had been referred to a MARAC (see the evidence gateways proposed by the Government below).

The evidence gateways in Amendment 194

(a) a court conviction or police caution;

(b) a protective court order such as a non-molestation order, occupation order or forced marriage protection order;

(c) relevant criminal proceedings or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic violence;

(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference;

(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm to the victim;

(f) a medical report from a doctor;

(g) a letter from a registered general practitioner;

(h) an undertaking given to a court by the alleged perpetrator of the abuse that he or she will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;

 (i) a letter from a social services department;

(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic violence support organisation; or

(k) other well-founded documentary evidence of abuse, such as from a counsellor, midwife, school or witness.

The evidence gateways proposed by the Government

(a) a non-molestation order, occupation order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction is either in place or has been made in the last 12 months;

(b) a criminal conviction, or ongoing criminal proceedings;

(c) the victim has been referred to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference; or

(d) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm to the victim

It is worth noting that the alternative criteria laid out in Amendment 194 is tried and tested; the UK Border Agency uses this list to assess applications under the Domestic Violence Immigration Rule.

The twelve month timeframe will unnecessarily exclude women

The Government has applied a twelve month timeframe to most of the evidence criteria. This arbitrary timeframe fails to reflect the reality of domestic violence and the ongoing risk to womens safety. One woman who took part in the NFWI research told us;

He will always be a risk to me and my children and to women generally. I would love to know who the government are getting their advice from.In my case, yes, I couldve shown all that evidence had it been last year. Next year I cant because itll all be out of date.

The twelve month timeframe fails to take into account the fact that women are often put at risk again, after being safe for some time after leaving a violent relationship. For example many women will leave a violent relationship along with their children, years later the perpetrator applies for child contact or custody. At this point women need access to legal aid to effectively negotiate these legal proceedings. If the twelve month timeframe applies, they will no longer have the support of legal aid at this point.

It is therefore vital that the criteria for eligibility for family legal aid reflects the reality of domestic violence and both the legal, statutory and non-legal and informal routes which women choose to tackle the violence in their lives. We urge you to support Amendments 192, 193 and 196 to retain legal aid for victims of domestic violence and to raise your concerns on this issue with Ministers.

Rights of Women: Emma Scott or Katherine Perks 020 7251 6575 / emma@row.org.uk

National Federation of Womens Institutes: Sophie Howes 0207 371 9300 / s.howes@nfwi.org.uk


[1] Rights of Women and Welsh Womens Aid, Evidencing domestic violence, January 2012 (see www.rightsofwomen.org.uk)

[2] Legal Aid is a Lifeline: women speak out on the legal aid reforms, 2011 available at www.thewi.org,.uk

I Never Said Yes

I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:

… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?

But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.

Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.

What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:

The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.

Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.


Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:
Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.

Well, it just made me want to bang my head against the wall. Although, the reference to one of the survivors as an “incredible bird” was equally cringe-worthy.


Really, it just made me wish that Kat Banyard of UK Feminista who was interviewed for her credentials as a feminist campaigner had been in charge rather than used for a sound-bite on porn which wasn’t explored properly. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.

Children’s Fiction Recommendations


Children’s fiction has always been something I’ve enjoyed; retracing treasured books from my childhood or raiding my daughter’s bookcases. I like to tell them it’s a quality control measure but it’s really just an excuse to read books adults aren’t “supposed” to read. We have an extensive collection of children’s fiction, some of which is positively dire: Linda Chapman’s Magic Unicorn and Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic spring to mind. I bought them because my kids read them and encouraging a love of literature when they are young is one of the two most  important gifts you can a child (the other obviously being unconditional love).

We do have the usual classic childen’s literature written by women and featuring strong female characters: L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, and Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. There really is a lot of excellent children’s literature written by women; this list is also weighted to Canadian writers). 
These are some of my favourite and less well-known children’s books (at least in the UK; some are winners of major children’s literary prizes in North America:
Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust: This a very harrowing tale of a young girl living in the Depression in the US who suffers a major family tragedy. It is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly sad and isn’t for sensitive children. It’s also written entirely as poetry which makes it utterly incredible.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: Like Hesse’s Out of the Dust, A Wrinkle in Time is also a Newberry Prize winner. Meg Murry and her small brother have to rescue their father after he goes missing whilst expirmenting with time travel and the Fifth Dimension. It’s a book about string theory and physics aimed at 8-10 year olds. What’s not to love?
Jean Little’s Mine For Keeps: All of Jean Little’s books are beautiful but this is the first one I ever read and I have a soft spot in my heart for it. Sally Copeland has just returned to her family after boarding at a special school for children. Sarah’s cerebral palsy is the reason she lived away but the book is really about family and love main fitting in. Home From Far is my other favourite.
Kit Pearson’s A Handful of Time and Awake and Dreaming: These are both aimed at 8-12 year olds but deal with issues of death, homelessness and loss. Beautiful but difficult for sensitive children.
Susan Terris’ Nell: Nell is the story of a 19th century woman who is affianced to her cousin but does not want to marry him. She responds to the lack of control over her future by developing anorexia. 
Carol Matas’ Lisa: Lisa was the first Carol Matas book my mother bought me for my 12th birthday. I’ve since collected all her others but this one remains my favourite. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl in Denmark during World War Two who, along with her brother and his best friend, joins the Danish resistance. Jesper is the sequel to Lisa but Matas’ most famous book is Daniel’s Story which was used as the basis of a touring educational program by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy: This is the story of a young girl in Medieval England who does not want to just be another member of the landed gentry sold off into marriage by her father. The best part of the story is the flaming chickens as weapons of mass destruction. It’s worth reading just for that line. 
My daughter’s current favourite books:
Small: Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy, Polly Dunbar’s Penguin, Gillian Rogerson’s You Can’t Eat a Princess, Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace and Julia Donaldson’s Zog
Teenager: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals and Song of the Lioness series, Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest, Trudi Canavan’s Magician’s Guild series, Allison Croggon’s Book of Pellinor series, Rochelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires.

Gok Wan Redux: The Tale of Samantha Brick

I’m going to be completely honest here and say I didn’t read the Samantha Brick article. In fact, I spent most of the past two days somewhat perplexed as to why someone I had never heard of was dominating my twitter feed with comments about how ugly she is. Generally, I assume it’s someone from a reality TV program and then ignore. In this case, the level of misogyny and hatred leveled at a woman surprised me enough to google. Now, I have no intention of reading the article and, thereby, increasing the Daily Mail’s revenue streams as the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disablism they perpetuate on a daily basis is without equal. I do think the fallout of the Samantha Brick article is worth examining though, since it represents everything that is wrong with The Patriarchy.

I haven’t read either article written by Brick, but I’m fairly sure Harriet Walker’s article in today’s Independent would sum up my criticisms of the Daily Mail’s incurable misogyny:

Samantha Brick … A glutton for punishment perhaps; woefully misguided, certainly. Doing it for the money? You bet. But Samantha Brick’s message and martyrdom go right to the very heart of a patriarchal culture that we normally just put up with, one that makes everyone a little less well-disposed toward one another. Bear-baiting and cockfighting might be illegal, but woman-baiting is not, and certain institutions are content to cynically set up and sell ringside seats to the most horrid and vitriolic of catfights. … 

Brick is clearly an insecure and socially inept sort of person; she’s also patently not as beautiful as she thinks she is. But that’s the point: Brick is a witless puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power partly from the myth that all women everywhere are endlessly patronising and hurting each other. That women don’t like each other, especially if one happens to be more attractive, is “a taboo that needed shattering”, says Brick. But the real maxim begging to be flouted here is that women – both the bullies and the bullied in this scenario – are set up for this kind of fall again and again. … 

They’re much more likely to be subject to character assassinations because of this – but that has become the system we work by, and we don’t question why the men aren’t getting the same sort of flak. “Why must women be so catty? Men wouldn’t be bothered by this, I’m sure,” snorted one commentator on a radio chatshow about Brick. Yet many of those who were most acerbic about her on Twitter were men: public figures, comedians, TV stars and the like. … 

Generally though, men are immune to this kind of baiting; they are not subject to anywhere near as much scrutiny as women are, either in terms of their appearance or the way they relate to each other. If a woman is sloppily dressed or fat, she can’t be taken seriously; if she’s beautiful, she’s a harpy; if she’s sexy, she’s up for it. The constraints are so embedded now that we take the bait without realising it’s a trap. And the newspaper that perpetuates it all rakes in the cash. …

This is why I find men like Gok Wan so destructive and Patriarchal. Now, I have no idea if Gok Wan has waded into this debate and, frankly, I have no intention wasting my time checking this out. But this situation is precisely why I loathe Wan’s Patriarchy-approved physical attractiveness as the only way to body confidence for women. It’s reductive, arrogant and completely lacking in basic human kindness. Sheila Jeffrey’s talks about women using Patriarchy-approved tools like make-up and high heels as armor against sexualised humiliation and bullying and this is precisely the type of behavior Wan insists is “beneficial” to women. It might be “protective” for women to engage in Patriarchy-approved behavior [and judging individual women for wearing make-up/heels/spanx is unfeminist as Jeffreys rightly points out], but we can not pretend that it’s not a problem for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. That isn’t an excuse to be deliberately rude but rather recognising that the Patriarchy functions by isolating and belittling women.

The Daily Mail set Samantha Brick up to fail as Gok Wan does weekly in his “truss yourself up in some spanx, throw on some high heels that will damage your feet the same way Chinese foot-binding did for a millenium and pretend that make-up is what separates you from poor self-confidence”. Jeffreys doesn’t argue that wearing make-up is the same as plastic surgery or foot-binding but rather that they all exist on a continuum of woman-hating which makes women’s bodies the visible sign of The Patriarchy. What Wan perpetuates is those harmful Traditional Cultural Practices under the UN definition which, as Jeffreys points out, is generally only applied to non-Western practices despite labiaplasty in the “West” having the same consequences as female genital mutilation which is constructing female sexuality as only for the benefit for men by removing/ decreasing women’s pleasure.

We need to stop focussing on whether or not Samantha Brick meets the patriarchal-approved definition of physical beauty and start looking at the reasons why women who do not meet it are punished by becoming unfuckable. We need to stop celebrating breast implants which decrease sexual pleasure and the ability to breast-feed as a “good” thing when it is nothing more than self-harm by proxy. We need to start celebrating women for being women; for being strong, beautiful, incredible and so very intelligent. All that the Tale of Samantha Brick proves is that the Patriarchy hates women. Let’s stop buying into the Patriarchy’s discourse and make our own and be that very powerful Feminist armed resistance of women loving and supporting women.

Twinkling Lights: A Short Story

This is a short story by my beautiful daughter who has finally given me permission to publish it. 

Twinkling Lights.
            Little sparkles filled the dark heavy sky that stretched like a dome over her head. Ellie looked in awe, the back of her neck aching slightly. She blinked and pictures appeared in the night sky. Taking her favourite fairy wand, she traced pictures of people, animals. She imagined a thin sparkly silver trail following the tip of her wand… And the pictures came to life. The great hero Hercules with his sword chased a lion across the night sky. Ellie spun around, her wand wafting in the air and her tutu whirling around her as she pretended to be a lion. Pouncing on Hercules, she jumped onto a chair and clawed the air, growling in the back of her throat. Hercules armour shredded beneath her sharp, mighty claws and then she was Hercules. Raising her sword, she clasped the hilt with both hands and brought it down on the lions’ neck. She jumped around waving her wand and princess cloak in the air. In her mind, the lions’ thick, golden skin was heavy in her hands, and her huge sword glinted silver with red.            

            George carried two mugs of hot chocolate round the corner, and almost spilled them. A little girl in a tutu was dancing round the balcony, waving her wand and cloak. Her luminous pink outfit stood out against the dark marble floor and plain ledge. The whole house, pinewood, looked out over a cliff: a very steep and dangerous cliff. Sharp rocks jutted out of the grass. But George wasn’t worried about that. He smiled fondly at his daughter as he set the mugs on a table.

            “Careful of the hot chocolate okay sweetheart.” Little Ellie kept dancing, yelling something about victory over a lion. George watched her for a minute then suddenly swooped down and picked her up. He tickled her and she screamed with delight.

            “Daddy, stop it!” Ellie giggled. Chuckling to himself, he put her down.

            “What were you talking about?” George asked her curiously.

            “I was pretending to be Hercules and the lion. You know… That story you told me about last night?” Ellie boasted. “When Hercules killed the lion with his sword.”

            “Actually, Hercules strangled the lion. The lion’s skin could not be pierced by any weapon, remember?” George gently reminded her.

            “No he didn’t. He killed the lion with his mighty sword!” Ellie stamped her foot crossly and folded her arms. Pouting.

            George laughed. “Do you want another story tonight?” He asked gently.

            “Yes please! A Greek Mythology one!” (Ellie felt very big and proud at knowing such big words.) She eagerly climbed into his lap, and looked at him expectantly.

            Daddy looked up the sky, and pointed to a group of stars. Gently he told her another story. It was about a princess called Andromeda. Just then the phone rang. George picked her up, and put her on the balcony ledge to admire the stars.

            “Don’t move.” He said sternly. And left.

            Ellie looked up and traced the constellation of Andromeda with her finger. Craning her neck back, she looked at every little star she could see. She counted them. She wanted to touch them. To name them.
            Cautiously, Ellie stood up on the beam. She wobbled, her balance off… And found it again. Ellie looked up at the stars again. Stretching on her tiptoes, She reached with her finger, and pretended she was touching each little star. She took a step forward.
And fell.

            George listened vaguely, twirling the phone chord around his finger. He wasn’t particularly interested. Just then, he heard a scream. A high-pitched scream of terror of a little girl.

            “Ellie.” He whispered.

            Throwing down the phone, he ran to the balcony… But Ellie wasn’t there. Panic crashed through him like a tsunami. It pulled him towards his daughter. A terrifying force that he willingly gave himself too.

            Ellie felt the air battering her cheeks, her hair. One minute, she was gazing at the stars, and the next, she was watching the ground race towards her at an alarming rate. She felt the wind snatch tears from her eyes, and she tried to look up. Up at the stars that were sure to protect her. Protect her from this nightmare. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to imagine it was all a dream. Just a dream. She opened her eyes, and just had time to widen them in fear before she felt the pain of a sharp rock explode against the side of her head.

            George watched in horror at his little girl. He could feel the wind tugging at his clothes, but that didn’t matter. The wind robbed the last of his breath as he tried to take a gasp of air. Tears blurred his vision. But that was okay. He didn’t want to see his precious daughter covered in blood, and limp. Lifeless. Lifeless as she kept falling onto 
more rocks. He choked back a sob of despair as the rock got him too.

            Ellie coughed and rolled over. Her head hurt so badly. It was like a drum was pounding through her head. Her sides hurt. Her back hurt. She tried to stand up, but yelled in pain as her leg collapsed underneath her. A muted thud to her right made her look. Her heart leaped as she recognised the greying hair.

“Daddy?” She tried to whisper. It came out like a croak. The head shifted and looked at her.

            Relief washed through him.

            “It’s going to be okay Ellie. Alright.” He murmured to her. He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.  Himself or his daughter.

            Crawling over on his belly, he quickly made an assessment of the damage. A broken arm and leg. Several cracked ribs. A throbbing head. He was sure he could feel blood running down the side of his head. He looked at his daughter and realized she must be broken the same way. He gently pulled her towards him, and cradled her.

            Ellie breathed in the scent of his clothes. She didn’t like the blood, but she could faintly smell his scent. She looked at the stars. Twinkling little lights that filled her life.

            “Thank you stars.” She whispered. “Daddy, tell me another story.”
She heard her father draw in a breath, and felt him wince in pain. And then his voice drowned out the pain. But all the time she kept gazing at the stars. The regular, steady heartbeat of her fathers was slowing down. Smiling at the stars, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

            After all, she thought, it’s only a story.

Body Confidence (Or Why Gok Wan is NOT a Feminist or pro-woman)

The first Body Confidence Awards will be held at the House of Commons on April 19th with awards being presented in several categories including retail, fashion, and advertising. I generally ignore these things because they serve only to annoy the crap out of me as its usually an action in narcissism. Frankly, I can’t see how the fashion industry could ever be feted for encouraging body confidence but that may just be because I’ve recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny.

Really, the only reason I have even heard of this campaign is because Mumsnet is involved with it as a continuation of the Let Girls Be Girls campaign. As a feminist and a mother, the issue of body confidence in children is very important to me so I was pleased to see Mumsnet was behind this campaign including running its own award about promoting body confidence in children. That is, until I saw that Gok Wan was being nominated. Now, I don’t usually watch reality television since I think it is nothing more than the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. I think they deliberately set out to humiliate and belittle people. But, even I’ve come across Gok Wan and nothing he does makes me think he likes women.

Having confidence in your body is about loving yourself for who you are and regardless of how you look. It isn’t about being trussed up like a turkey in spanx and told to suck it in. As a general rule of thumb, men grabbing your breasts is sexual assault, not entertainment. Or, as the very lovely Mme Lindor said:

Not a fan of Gok since his message seems to be that you are FABULOUS as you are, but here is a corset that will pull in all your wobbly bits, make you feel uncomfortable and restrict blood supply to your vital organs. 

I thought we were past all that.

No idea what his teen program was like, but based on his love of spanx, I wouldn’t say he promotes body confidence.

Wan may use feminist discourse to parade about on television but he’s about as far from feminism as you can possibly get. Feminists do not associate appearance with body confidence. Feminism is about real women who have opinions and beliefs and are intelligent; it is not women stripped naked, belittled, grabbed and humiliated on national television. That’s the essence of the Patriarchy: naked, vulnerable women being humiliated and tortured.

My vote remains for Pink Stinks. They are an incredible, small, but utterly brilliant organization who are all about letting girls be girls (and boys be boys) by challenging pinkification and genderisation. Their campaigns, notably against The Early Learning Centre, have been run successfully by 2 sisters with little budget and a lot of will. They are fighting the destruction of childhood and the idea that girls only have value for their appearance. Gok Wan is all about how women look; not whether or not its healthy to wear corsets [because any nincompoop can tell you corsets are bad for your body and that anything which restricts breathing is a stupid].

The idea that someone who dislikes women’s bodies as much as Gok Wan does could possibly be awarded for increasing body confidence just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Our daughters would be better served with a non-sexist education without sexual bullying and violence and a copies of Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

Vote here for someone who inspires Body Confidence in Children.

My Top Ten Feminist Fiction Texts


At the behest of a lovely friend, I have compiled my Top Ten Feminist Fiction Texts. Not all are necessarily Feminist although all are written by women and have beautiful women as characters.

1. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton: I first read this at Uni. Technically, we were supposed to be reading Gaskell’s North and South but I loved her work so much I started plowing through her other books. Mary Barton remains my favourite.

2. Dorothy L. Sayer’s Gaudy Night: Probably the first Feminist mystery book. Technically the main character is male, but Harriet Vane is brilliant, funny and her own woman.

3. Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: It celebrates female friendships; there is nothing more Feminist than women loving and supporting other women.

4. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: I was a historian in a previous life and this is my favourite quote: 

‘I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome: and yet, I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes’ mouths, their thoughts and designs – the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.’

So, it’s not the most feminist of texts but Jane Austen is brilliant [more so than V.S Naipaul in fact].

5. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible: The story of the 4 daughters of an abusive “Christian” man; a story of love, family, racism, and truth. It is a classic.

6. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: Another story of the power of women’s love. It is beautiful, soul-destroying and incredible.


7. Winifred Holtby’s South Riding: Holtby was a Feminist and she writes about Feminism. What else is there to say.

8. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: No explanation necessary for this one.

9. Andrea Levy’s The Long Song: It is a story of slavery but really the story of an incredible woman.

10. Charlaine Harris’ The Shakespeare Books: Harris is more well-known as the author of the True Blood books but this series is by far the most Feminist. It is, simply, about the systemic level of sexualised violence within our Patriarchal society. Many books deal with rape but very few deal with rape as a crime against all women; the way the threat of rape is used to control and punish women. And, just how common rape really is.

11. Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club: Again, a novel about the power of women’s relationships.

12. Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man: Everything Keyes writes is Feminist. It is an utter travesty that she is frequently dismissed as “chick lit”.

13. Margaret Lawrence’s The Diviners: She only wrote 5 books about the same area of Manitoba. All are brilliant but this is my favourite. 


14. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. She rocked. 

15. Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The power of women’s friendship and the inspiration for this blog:)

Top Ten Feminist Must-Reads

So, this isn’t the most imaginative or creative Feminist blog post but it is a topic that comes up continuously on Mumsnet. And, for me personally, I do find it incredibly interesting what individual Feminists believe are the most important texts to read. Books are the windows to people souls: even if they just own copies of leather-bound classics which have never been opened. You just know that a man who owns everything ever written by Norman Mailer and has clearly read them multiple times is probably a nincompoop and undateable to boot. A man who reads nothing but mysteries but has never heard of Dorothy L. Sayers is probably a little bit on the serial killer/stalkery side of the not dateable material.
Some of these books were FeMNist Book Club choices on MN and I have linked to those threads where applicable. I also couldn’t limit myself to 10 but it’s my blog so I didn’t; despite the title.

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: This is perhaps the most deliberately misread and misquoted second wave Feminist text. The question: “what intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions?” is central to her thesis but fundamentally deliberately misread. Read it and judge for yourself.

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. This book isn’t actually a “Feminist text” but the basic premise behind the book is that sex/gender differences aren’t biological but rather reflect socialization and cultural practises. Or, at least, there is currently no evidence that sex differences are biological and until the point that we can definitely prove otherwise, it is simply bad science to pretend otherwise. Fine argues that the differences we “see” are simply sexist myths dressed up as science. It also contains my favourite debunking of the theory that men need to be taught to be Daddies: the story of the Daddy Rat. You need to read it for this story alone.

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. This book is 20 years old but basically could have been written yesterday. All you need to do is replace the chapter on kinder-whore fashion with BDSM fashion and replace the names of Right-wing reactionary Handmaidens of the 1980s with people like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir and Nadine Dorries. Faludi does this herself in The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America but Backlash remains as important a Feminist text now as it did 20 years ago. In fact, in many ways, the backlash of the 1980s was nowhere near as destructive as the current backlash which has taken its cues from the pornography industry.

4. Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism: Selling women and girls bodies as “empowerment”: the new Backlash. The real consequences of “choice” Feminism.

5. Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape: The Ms Report on Recognising, Fighting and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape. The title is self-evident. This is one of those books which should be a required text in PSHE.

5. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today: This is basically a catalogue of reasons why Feminism is more important today than it ever was. The fact that a teenage girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than literate or that 2/3 of illiterate people are women and 2 women a week in the UK are killed by their current or former intimate partners are statistics that can not be denied; even by MRAs although they do try. It’s not theory but a manual on how to combat misogyny [or at least recognise misogyny]. This should be another mandatory text for PSHE.

6. Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This is simply about just how damaging hyper-sexuality and the pursuit of physical perfection as the source of female empowerment really are; empowerment being one of those things that people with actual access to power don’t need to bother with. It’s the terrifying story of mass-consumerism and the destruction of girls. This should be required reading for upper primary children.

7. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women: This should be another set text in school. There are far too many people running about claiming that men can’t be good at housework because they don’t “see” it. The real problem is that men benefit from this myth at the risk to women’s emotional and physical health. The idea that men need to be told what to do take live in their own house is misogynistic bollocks of the worst kind.

8. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny: This is another deliberately misinterpreted book and one that you definitely need to read for yourself. The critiques of the fashion industry and the comparison with high heels and Chinese foot-binding are brilliant. Cultural relativism has a lot to answer for.

9. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue: This is one of the classic second-wave Feminist texts which is more relevant today than when it was first written due to the increase in discourse about women’s value being solely about their appearance and the idea that the only women who have value are “thin”.

10. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: This is another classic second-wave text although one which feels a bit dated to those already interested in Feminism and Feminist theory. It was ground-breaking when it was first written and it’s a testament to the power of Millett’s work that we now consider her work “normative.”

11. Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room: This is the only fiction book on my list but it’s the one which demonstrates the true power of Feminism: women supporting and loving other women.

12. Susan J Douglas & Meredith W Michaels’ The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women: It’s exactly what the title says: why mothers are demonized and how that demonization destroys women. It should be given out as a mandatory text at the first midwife/ adoption/fostering appointment.

13. Gail Dines’ Pornland:How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality: This is an incredibly distressing book and one that needs to be read but it is triggering and horrifying and utterly depressing. Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity is worth reading in conjunction but only if you are feeling emotionally capable.

14. Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men: Another required text at PSHE. The ability to identify abusive men is a gift we need to give our daughters. We need to stop pretending Beauty and the Beast is a romantic film and that Norman Mailer is anything but a violent misogynist.

15. I Blame The Patriarchy: Technically, this is a blog not a book but I think it deserves to be considered under the rubric of “must-reads”.

Esther Freud’s Lucky Break


I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy. 

So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].