What to do when your child uses the F word

Family

I worry far too much about the damage I do to my daughter. Or maybe I don’t worry enough. Or maybe I worry in spite of the fact that the things I worry about won’t be the things she will spend her twenties (and thirties…maybe her fourties…even beyond?) carrying around with her and fighting to let go of and instead these will be some other thing I did to try to save her from myself. Or herself. Who knows? All I know is I want to protect her from it all.

An impossible task.

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Her father and I spend lots of time discussing the language we use with her and around her. After some training at work he became a huge advocate of mindset thinking and took from this that I should ban the word clever (something I say all the time) in favour of telling her that she succeeds because she tries hard. I can see the sense here. However, we then spent the weekend using this phase to a ridiculous degree in regards to any minor success she had. Even she started to look at us as though we were crazy. And in secret I still told her what a clever girl she was. I can’t help myself. I think she needs to know.

But what good does all our worry and concern do? She learnt all too quickly to speak of selfies and emails and characters in shows I have never sat down with her to watch. It’s a big, bad world out there and she’s been taking it all in.

And then she said something shocking.

“Look at Mummy’s fat tummy!”

Aside from being a little offended (ok, I was carrying a few post holiday pounds), I instantly began to worry. Where had she learnt that word? Does she know what it really means?

Since becoming a mother, and in turn a feminist, I have worked hard (and evidently failed) to discuss people in regards to their value as a person rather than their external appearance. I have spent a lot of time (and money!) working on my own sense of self worth so I can be a positive role model as my daughter grows up.

I have VERY strong feelings about this particular F word.

Sadly, I know my partner does too.

And I know that knowing the word in itself is not the terrible thing. Being the person I am, upon hearing this I then ran my mind though the books I read with her; Fat Cat (a story about a large cat nobody realised is about to give birth) was the first title I came to before I’d even got to character names, traits, themes,messages or the other places I thought this word might be hiding.

Now you may think I am paranoid (and you are right, I am), but there was something in the way she said it that told me she knew that this word had the power to hurt. My mind raced and I pictured decades of scars. This was then reinforced when, whilst having a tantrum, she called her father fat too.

And this is why I worry.

Despite my care and concern about the words I use, she has picked up on something greater. She has seen the power and fear of this word elsewhere. Our bathroom scales. My sidewards glances into shop windows. And what else has she learnt whilst watching me ‘get ready’ each morning?

I can’t save her from the words, they are out there. She doesn’t even need to search.

But can I give her the tools, the thinking, to fight the fear when everything else suggests it is a battle that can’t be won?

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Women changing the world one word at a time

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First published on huffpost.com, July 2014

I first read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ in the winter of 2012, just after I had become a mother. I picked it up from a charity book table whilst pushing my sleeping daughter slowly around a supermarket and decided to take it home to read because, 1) reading it would provide some much needed escapism from the wonderful but often very, very dull and lonely world of maternity leave and, 2) being a woman suddenly seemed like something I should know how to do.

It was easy to fall in love with her words. She is funny and clever and honest and very, very cool. The presentation of her thoughts is so passionate that you can’t help but see their importance, without any sense of alienating anger. And I wasn’t even half way in before I was utterly convinced; I am a Feminist.

How could I not be?

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But it may surprise you to hear that, as a woman living in the 21st Century, I had spent my entire life believing that Feminism didn’t concern me. I thought the issue (yep, just the one!) had gone away. At school, I could wear trousers just like the boys if I wanted to. Of course, I didn’t, they were horrible, but the option was there if I felt that strongly about it. I didn’t. There was never any doubt that I could go to University. There I found module options addressing Feminist theory aligned with History courses, and that certainly wasn’t for me as I opted instead for anything with the word ‘contemporary’ in the title. And out there in the big wide world, the world presented to me via The Box and MTV, women were singing of Girl Power and apparently taking over whilst still wearing dinky dresses and killer heels. Where was the problem? Clueless, I know. It may surprise you to learn that I had sailed through life for thirty years as a woman without ever realising that Feminism was something for me. But it probably won’t.

Because that is the problem. Girls today (and, by today, I also mean twenty and thirty years ago) have grown up believing that we can have it all. We can be and do whatever we want. We can have whatever any man can. That we need to. We now live in a world where the headline Feminist concerns appear to have already been addressed a long time ago and that anyone left still worrying about the F word is radical, extreme; words we have also been taught to fear.

But, the sad truth is, addressing those headline concerns seems to have been something that has prevented us from getting down to the nitty gritty. Women are worried about speaking up about what concerns them in case we appear to be difficult or crazy. And there we go again, words we have been taught no woman wants to be. So instead we silently struggle to work out our worth against a media backdrop of snap shots of what a perfect post-feminist woman should be.

The trouble is the struggle seems to have split us in to two, or three, or, more likely, many, many more pieces. Pieces in conflict with one another as they try to silence perspectives we have learnt we should not portray. Pieces that prevent us from feeling happy with ourselves. Pieces that prevent us from being whole.

We cannot have it all, all of the time but we are tearing ourselves, and each other, apart trying. And fixing this is surely the new agenda facing us Feminists in the twenty first century.

And maybe there is another problem starting to emerge as the same problem is put to men and pressure grows for them to be all things to all people. But I hope not.

However, as I started to see the problem and realised I was part of it, the solution began to transpire. Because it wasn’t just Caitlin (although with her strong look and powerful words it was inevitable she would become the poster child and my latest girl crush!). After realising I was a feminist (but before I was here with you speaking the word), I began to see other women sharing their truths. Women were confessing to their fears and being honest about what we have become. As I started to listen out, I heard stories that I shared; socially accepted sexism in the work place, body image issues with damaging results, loneliness and desperation and depression and low self-esteem. The stories were at times sad but the women telling them certainly weren’t. They were funny and clever and cool. Their words were something I could identify with. That is not to say that I always agreed but I could see a truth in what they were saying. The representation of what being a woman is, was real.

This month I stumbled across the article A Room of One’s Own. Com in a copy of Red at my in-laws. And there again was the solution. Increasingly, women (just like me) are using blogs (just like this one) to find their voice and share their stories in a world where we are all too often told by others what we are. But, as I type this, I realise that, sadly, this probably isn’t enough. I realise that, in the past, I would have dismissed words like these as false propaganda and opted instead to believe the easy, more obvious ‘truths’ that appear all around.

And so this is where we need to post our words: in our everyday lives. Blogging is a brilliant start but sharing our stories needs to be something that we all do, all day, every day. We live in a world where a simple search term throws up a whole world of possibilities. We are in competition. We need to be creating a world where the real experiences of women, including those that are difficult or crazy or radical or extreme, are the ones that stand true so that we aren’t fooled by the prospect of perfection and we stop stifling the parts of ourselves that we feel are flawed. For that we need to find powerful words. Words like Feminism that might seem scary at first until they become so familiar that we stop feeling afraid. But words that our daughters, and our sons, will hear.