Who blazed your trail?

It’s taken a long while for me to feel confident in saying that I’m a feminist.  When I entered the work place as one of the few female mechanical engineers in the UK, I was far more visible than was comfortable and sometimes I had to laugh/accept situations that weren’t as fair as they should have been.  Dealing with surprise that I was both a female and a capable engineer was a daily occurrence.  Sometimes that opened doors for me, causing resentment from equally capable male colleagues.  Sometimes it meant that I had to shut my mouth and smile at crass remarks.

There are so many women who have inspired me, and made my life and career a little richer.  So thank you to all those feminists who stood up and challenged those in power enabling me to study, to work after marriage, to own property and to vote.  Thank you to those who endeavoured to get me equal pay.  Thank you to those who are making it clear that sexual harassment is not OK.

These days I’m proud to be a feminist.  Helping other women achieve their potential.  Drawing attention to practices and beliefs that hinder or limit female opportunity – or anyone’s opportunity.  So yes, I know that bra-burning never actually happened on the feminist marches in the late sixties; but that doesn’t stop it being an incredible metaphor for the removal of restrictive practices to create a richer world for us all.

Lock up your daughters

I don’t often get the chance to make my work in situ, but having chosen to fight it out with brambles in the name of art, I found that the best place to work was in the middle of Hampstead Heath.  So I was sitting there, minding my own business, cursing as I got scratched for the hundredth time when a dog and its owner wandered over to take a look.  ‘Are you making a basket’ he asked; ‘No’ I replied ‘it’s a piece about patriarchal society and their oppression of women’.  At which point he looked rather confused and wandered off.

At least I was able to be outside, by myself, engaging with others as the fancy and opportunity took me.  This is more than can be said for women in Taliban controlled areas.  It’s horrifying to read about the depression and harm that is being caused by female enforced confinement and denial of any education beyond age 8.  All in the supposed benefit of creating a ‘secure environment where the chastity and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct’. 

But it isn’t just the Taliban who see no value in women being educated beyond age 8.  According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom.  What’s taking us so long to get this right; when people like Mary Wollstonecraft was arguing as early as 1791 that women were deserving of the same fundamental rights as men and were not just ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage?

I’m firmly outside of any ivory tower or gilded cage and will do all that I can to help anyone else who wants to be.

Touch Screen

In the early days of the internet (and I’m talking pre-millenium here) we used to while away a dull moment in the office by googlewhacking. Typing in 2 words to see if we could find a combination that resulted in just one return. These days with the proliferation of data it’s almost impossible – in English anyway. But if you speak one of the 5,870 languages that you can’t Google search then you are effectively excluded from the information age.

In 2011 the UN declared access to the internet as a basic human right. Yet the pool of information on the web looks very different from one language to the next. Giving different answers to the same question depending on how you ask it. Dividing rather than uniting us.

How does it feel when you can’t read something that others take for granted? Well judging by the most common question from viewers of ‘Touch Screen’ at the Bloomsbury festival I’d say frustrating.

Want to know more? These are a couple of articles that might help you get started from the Guardian and the WE forum:

  1. http://labs.theguardian.com/digital-language-divide/
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/12/chart-of-the-day-the-internet-has-a-language-diversity-problem/

The Surrendered Wife

From an early age I’d always wanted to make a quilt.  Some kind of childhood fantasy about stitching around an open fire, making a beautiful heirloom from treasured scraps of clothing.  You only have to think about Red Riding Hood’s grandmother tucked up under the covers, or Goldilocks examining the beds in the bears’ house to see the image of a traditional home that my early reading matter was encouraging me to yearn for. 

For Amish women it’s still a cause for excitement to meet to sew together and discuss homemaking and other community news.  After all it’s their men who have to be the providers and the leaders and take on all those challenging career choices.  The women can be subservient, rather like Laura Doyle’s Surrendered wives. 

My quilt is rather different.  It escapes the traditional role of a bed mate and the restrictions of approval by a community.  Like me, it is free to access opportunities without limitations and restrictions of education, profession and lifestyle.

Some day my prince will come

When I was a child, I would read fairy tales late into the night by the light on the landing outside my bedroom (unless I was caught that is…).  I despised the insipid heroines waiting patiently for rescue instead identifying with those who used their skills to rescue their brothers or cursed princes by weaving nettles into shirts or outwitting evil captors. No reliance on a man for me.

On this basis, surely stitching in tree bark will lead me to fame or fortune?

Darn It

Darn It, Apple bark and embroidery thread, 2014

I was listening to woman’s hour quietly sipping my coffee (a white americano since you ask), when I nearly spat it across the room with outrage. An elderly lady was describing how, when she was a young child, her mother had bought her an expensive pair of silk stockings and immediately ripped them in front of her. She was meant to do an invisible darn and then keep the stockings in a drawer to show her skills to future in-laws to demonstrate her value as a mate. How utterly pointless.

So, thinking about pointless darning I picked up a piece of apple bark from a fallen tree in my garden and wondered if I could repair it.

Sold to a lovely man from Milton Keynes – no marriage offer though…..

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