Monday, 16 November 2015

Look for the Helpers

(Andrew Meares, via Sydney Morning Herald)

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world"
-Fred Rogers

In the aftermath of any tragedy or inconceivable event, in this age of social media there follows an outpouring of noise; as people try to understand what is happening by hurling views and opinions out into the ether. 

I feel like there have been numerous academics who discussed the problems of IS more eloquently than I can (I'd recommend the most recent New Statesman podcast and my former uni's Political Worldview podcast to get an idea); and besides, anything that I might say about blowback and how frustrated I remain by the international community's refusal to act in Syria when Assad began killing his own people, isn't going to be much consolation to the families and friends of the 132 people who have died so far. Nor will shouting about the hypocrisy in the Western media's lack of coverage of the Beirut attack bring back the 41 people killed there. These issues are massively complex and can't be boiled down to click-bait blog posts or opinion pieces. The only thing I can really say, is that we are incredibly lucky to only have to feel this fear and anxiety about the future when attacks as rare as this happen. That we do not live somewhere where either our own government or fanatics with guns pose a daily threat to our lives; to the point that we would risk everything to travel to a continent that offers hope; only to discover that the things we are running from are there as well.

However, amongst the noise and the bigots who use attacks like this to further promote division, there are always people doing great things, and I'd really like to focus on them.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Clicklist #9

So I wasn't expecting to do another one of these quite so soon, but I've gotten quite into signing up to newsletters and therefore getting an inbox full of really interesting things to read. This round-up isn't quite as blog-focussed as normal, but we're all well-rounded people here.

Mallory Ortberg re-imagines literary classics via the medium of text message. They're hilarious, especially if you're a Bronte lover. My friends once bought me a book which did a similar thing but via Twitter, and I am *for sure* picking up her whole book.

Emma has launched a newsletter, and one of her picks was this great podcast which is an interveiw between the authors Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's really worth a listen.

Rookie continues to be the site that I wish had existed when I was growing up. This illustrated article on how to be in a relationship should be recommended reading for young adults, and serves as a good reminder for us adults too.

Hannah went to Switzerland, and now...I want to go to Switzerland.

This clicklist's recipe corner: Joy's French Toast, Olivia's ideas for making porridge more interesting, and Hannah's breakfast ideas (carrot cake for breakfast guys).

Cllr Jones wrote this fabulous post about being a woman in science, politics & society. It's amazing and she's lovely.

Emma's post on why being nice isn't the drippy thing people make it out to be is great.

Rose's trip to the South Downs just looks beyond idyllic, as someone who grew up in the country, rural settings always just remind me a bit of home (even if home is no where near as pretty as this).

Jon Ronson is an endlessly compelling writer, and his coverage of a man who has created a model WW2-ravaged town in his garden is really interesting.

Great article to use against that guy on your Facebook feed who claims that women aren't included in panels or on boards because ~meritocracy~

Fast fashion tends to be a term that is reserved for the high street, but what happens when it begins to seep into 'high end' fashion too?

Vice recently launched Broadly, a section of their website dedicated to stories with women at the centre. This article on dealing with the aftermath of the Colombian civil war, in particular for the women who have faced sexual violence throughout the conflict, is really interesting.

Amazon have opened a real life bookstore (called Amazon Books). This is a really cool look inside it (and I'm fascinated by the amount of corrections at the end of the article-no one protects their brand like Amazon).

One of my internet crushes Ann Friedman was interviewed on the Am I Allowed to Like Anything podcast. Even though I'm not that interested in a career in the media, I found this interview really interesting.

Also, in other podcast news, I'm super late to the party but the Longform Podcast is pretty ace too.

Finally, this piece by Lindsay Kelk about being told you don't need make-up.

And if you need cheering up about some of the heavier pieces here....

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Month in Books: October

October wasn't such a successful reading month, I'm not sure why but I just didn't find myself picking up a book automatically at the end of the evening; a fact that towards the end of the month could definitely be blamed on the highly addictive How to Get Away with Murder landing on UK Netflix. However whilst the first two books I read were okay, the final (which I steamrolled through on Halloween) was actually pretty fantastic. Also I've officially completed my 50 Books challenge which makes me very happy.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945, Penguin)
I've always been a little interested by the Mitford sisters, just because their actual lives sounds like the stuff of costume dramas. This is the first of Nancy Mitford's collection of novels following the lives of an extended family. It tells the story of Linda, a privileged young woman desperate to find true love; marrying first a Conservative MP, then running away with a Communist before meeting an enigmatic Frenchman. This was generally a pretty fun ride, with larger than life characters-especially Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie-Linda's parents. The former is hugely bombastic and his default setting is angry, whilst Sadie seems generally slightly detached from the life she's living. Mitford is excellent at skewering politics across the spectrum, with some lines making me literally laugh out loud. There is a rather jarring use of the n-word partway through the novel, the character's aren't wildly developed (the story is told from the perspective of Fanny, Linda's slightly more straightlaced cousin which is a shame) and the ending takes a sudden dark turn. However, I'd recommend it if you'd like to branch out into classics, and fancy something a little light.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (2012, Penguin)
Daring Greatly is one of those wildly popular books that I just felt I kind of missed the boat on. Brene Brown's TED talks on this topic is really interesting, and the book's focus-on allowing yourself to be 'vulnerable' and the positive impact that can have on all areas of your life was one that I found particularly interesting. Whilst Brown, a 'shame researcher' is very good at talking about anecdotes and pointing to the problems that refusing to be vulnerable can create in our day-to-day lives (I found the parts that discussed men and shame particularly interesting) her apparent solutions just didn't really jive with me. They mostly involved some kind of mantra or stopping in the middle of a sentence to tell everyone that you're feeling anxious and I just can't ever imagine a situation where I can be on board with that (perhaps it's just my stiff-upper-lip Brit coming out). It's also written in that kind of cheesy style that seems to be a trademark of empowering American self-help books which can definitely take a while to get into. I would recommend it, and I am keeping my copy because I think it could be an interesting one to lend out, but perhaps lower your expectations if you've heard a few too many "life-changing" reviews (or pick up Quiet).

Slade House by David Mitchell (2015, Sceptre)
I really love David Mitchell and really liked his last novel The Bone Clocks, so I was eagerly awaiting Slade House's release. Slade House is set in the same world as The Bone Clocks, so uses the same fantasy structure, but I feel like you can definitely read this if you haven't read the previous book-you'd just miss out on some of the references to characters in that novel, but this also means that the tension would really last right through the final chapter, whereas if you've read the previous novel it's pretty clear what is coming. Slade House is seriously creepy; not much can be said about the plot without totally spoiling it, but it is essentially the story of a house that appears every 9 years and people who visit it are never seen again. As with most Mitchell, he creates really distinctive characters and voices and I was just totally sucked into this. I really, really recommend it.

I am currently reading this year's Man Booker winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James which is really engaging with excellent character voices; but is also massively violent so I keep having to take little breaks from it!

How was your reading month? 


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Thoughts On: Suffragette

I decided to take myself to see Suffragette as a Halloween treat and I am so glad that I did. The film (written by Abi Morgan & directed by Sarah Gavron) follows the story of a group of working class women that become involved in the suffragette movement. It centres on Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who works in punishing conditions in an industrial laundrette where working conditions are bleak and sexual harassment is rife. When she becomes acquainted with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud becomes drawn into the movement, with heartbreaking consequences. 

The film does take a while to get started, although this does mean that you get well-immersed into the working class world that Maud lives in, with her husband (my boyfriend Ben Whishaw) and son (an adorable Adam Michael Dodd). Plus, when it gets going, it really gets going. The suffragettes are regularly taught in school, and so most people are aware of force-feeding tactics, police brutality and the death of Emily Wilding Davison. However, it's something completely different to see those events depicted on screen; the final event is the films climax and is just brilliantly done (and I spent that entire sequence somehow wishing that history was different). It's also wonderfully acted; Mulligan is always a good screen presence, Anne-Marie Duff is great and performances by Helena Bonham-Carter as a female chemist and Romola Garai as a middle-class recruiter are also really wonderful (Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst pops up for all of five minutes). When it ended, I definitely just felt incredibly grateful that these women did so much and risked so much in order that women today can vote, and women like me can study & work in politics.

But what really stuck with me is the moment in the film when the lead police inspector (Brendan Gleeson) says to Maud that people would never listen to people like her, because what she has to say just doesn't matter. The idea that the suffragettes were just somehow above their station, and just needed to shut up, is something that permeates the film...and still feels painfully familiar today.

This issue seems to have come to a head in the past week, when in the wake of the Tampon Tax debate, Philip Davies (an MP whose previous achievements include claiming that gay marriage is discriminatory to straight people) stated that he wanted an International Men's Day debate in the Commons to look at the issues that affect men. Jess Phillips dismissed this idea, stating that until women have equity in parliament there's really no need to have a specific debate on men. Regardless of the fact that it seems that important issues such as a male suicide and male domestic violence are only ever bought to the fore when women try and talk about anything to do with them-the response to Phillips suggesting that such a debate is unnecessary has been pretty grim.

(a fun sample)
The suffragettes were incredible women who help enfranchise millions to vote, yet for many the fight for women's rights seems to have begun and ended with them. Whenever any woman suggests that things could be in any way better, the response is usually that they should be grateful for what they have in comparison to women living elsewhere and, as suggested above, if they're not happy to be quiet they should be violently made to be. It's a shame that whilst we have come so far from the events in the film; in terms of women having the vote and being able to have a say in how their children are raised, and yet some people's attitudes are still very 19th century.