Justice vs Retribution

We are intelligent creatures, do you know of any animal other than man or woman that can calculate or strategize or manipulate across a multitudes of disciplines and challenges?  I do not. One of the reasons for our survival is because we are the most intelligent creatures of all time. Yet recently as beings, the social media activity has become frenetic with advice on how to be even better, better behaved, better understood, etc. the list is seemingly endless. I will leave you to decide whether what you read is good or bad advice. 

Certainly, when Joe Biden was declared as 46th American President in January 2021, I believed the media about the challenges he was to face. EvenTrump himself, declared that the result was more about Trump being beaten than it was about Biden winning. This led to many saying that Biden would have to galvanise the communities first, as winning by only an approximate 3% meant that he had to garner the respect of the 47% who voted for Trump.

With a country divided, like it clearly is, and with the public sphere via social media acting more as a gang intersection, Biden now has a delicate problem to solve. One as leaders we have all had to conquer when we inherit a dysfunctional organisation.  How much does he have to preach and determine unity and healing and how much does he pursue his version of justice and come in with a clenched fist?

Either way, tensions will rise before they fall, people will unite and some will fall. It is an enormous task that will take more than 4 years to address. Can he survive should have been on the voting papers, not just his name!

Commitment over Compliance Must Prevail in Schools

As an experienced and successful leader, in the summer I left a multi academy trust (MAT) that was not functioning well. 67% of its sponsored schools had been put in special measures in 4 months after 4 years of being sponsored by them and 60% of its leading staff had also left. According to Monster employment website “15% of staff turnover is considered healthy and anything more than this can lead to a lack of underperformance”. Later newly appointed staff in the organisation continued to leave at a rapid rate, therefore the organisation was unable to make the necessary improvements so that pupils accessed a good quality education. Improvements were not sustainable.

I joined an organisation 3 weeks ago as a headteacher of 2 primary schools, that on paper had all the attributes that aligned with both my personal and professional beliefs and values. I chose to take up an interim role over a permanent role as it would give me time to reflect on my practice and enable me to make firmer decisions on my next step in my career.

I am passionate about teaching and learning and take risks that have led to transformational change within the schools and improved outcomes. My newly adopted multi academy trust has 4 schools, 3 of which are all through schools responsible for 3-18-year olds. The federation has a teaching school with quality assured and accredited programmes to equip its staff to better undertake strategic aspects of their roles. It invests time and funding into its staff by providing these training courses.

At the recent annual conference for senior leaders, the aim of which was to update the annual improvement plan across the federation, we were presented with discussing 3 themes on 6 tables. The themes were all focussed on improving outcomes for pupils or specifically improving the exam progress across the federation from 0 to 0.5; which would demonstrate the federation was adding value to pupils’ progress.

Designated seating meant that I sat with the CEO, the director of the teaching school, a HT of a primary school, a vice principal of the secondary and an HR leader. With the headline focus clear each table was afforded a sub heading to discuss in relation to the main heading. Ours was workforce, specifically how can our strategic plans for the workforce be improved to improve outcomes for people? We were encouraged to write down any plans or ideas that we could implement during the following 5 years that would impact positively on the workforce. Then we had to discuss and prioritise these. I had written - increase income (to cover the costs of protecting and developing the workforce) and reviewing recruitment and retention plans and policies, with the knowledge that the school I was working in had 76% teacher turnover in the last 15 months. We then had to discuss which strategies that we had recorded were key to improving outcomes for pupils and delete the ones we felt had no place. Both of mine were later vetoed. As the newest person in the organisation I was faced with a dilemma. In the pursuit of both wanting my experience and views validated, demonstrating that I have both emotional and intellectual insight, but also wanting to improve outcomes for all. I have two of Federation’s most influential players on my table; that decision for me to be in their sights when there were 5 other tables was probably a strategic one they had both made. How do I strongly present my vetoed views without fully knowing their aims and values well enough and risk being labelled as an arrogant daredevil?

Realising that I will have other platforms where I can share my visions and my experience, I sat back and listened for the remainder of the session, but undoubtedly compromising my values as the team continued to discuss how they could introduce more robust accountability systems to ensure the workforce is high functioning.  Having been there for two weeks I felt that there were high accountability systems in place that didn’t need much adjusting. My role was not to system change yet, but to contribute towards a team in a positive manner.

I believed that valuing people should be at the forefront of any leader's strategic plans and not unnecessarily using tools to hold the team to account. One tool used in the new MAT is the headteacher’s performance management pupil targets, ensuring they are aligned with the national targets; that year set at 65%. Not necessarily taking into account the cohort’s strengths and the quality of teaching they have been exposed to over the last 4 years. Given this, the federation’s KS2 targets should be 52%. This system, should the 65% target not be reached, will undoubtedly lead to a personal dissatisfaction and further turnover of staff. It appeared the leaders within the MAT had a strong belief that the reason for a high turnover of staff was owing to a lack of robust accountability.  As Russell Hobby, National Association for Headteachers’s Chair reporting to Schools Week in 2015 states:

“Figures show a further deterioration in retention after three years, which is a source of great concern for school leaders. We lose a quarter of those who enter service by this point. This has been steadily worsening over the past four years, and the government needs to look at the drivers – workload, stagnant pay and an over-bearing accountability system – behind this worrying trend.”

In my opinion the reason there is a high turnover of staff in the new MAT is for a myriad of reasons, but probably having more robust accountability systems may not address the retention and recruitment issues when the federation already has such clear systems in place. These systems complement those also delivered by both local and national accountability mechanisms such as monitoring of pupil outcomes by the Regional Schools Commissioner, Ofsted and the local borough. What will make a transformational difference, in my experience, is strategic plans where people's wellbeing is at the heart of the decision making and not systems which are predicated on telling them that what they are doing wrong and where commitment over compliance prevails.   

Narrow the Gap Between Our Ambition and Our Reality

A story

Recently I reviewed the death of the main cast of Gone with the Wind, all were born in the early part of the 20th century, all deaths seem to typically correspond with those as detailed in the ONS charts above.

Hattie McDaniel – 59 - breast cancer

Butterfly McQueen - 84 – burns

Vivien Leigh - 53 – TB

Clark Gable - 59 - heart disease

However, as we venture into the 21st century and nearly a century of using penicillin many infections are becoming resistant to its once potent capacity, mainly due to overuse; overuse in animals and people. In India, Eastern Europe and Russia there is a lot of TB. TB is a highly contagious disease that is proving to be resistant to penicillin and a once nearly eradicated disease in western Europe has now been on the rise for over a decade.

In 1967 Cicely Saunders, introduced a new concept and policy into her practice which was live until you die. Hence the birth of the hospice movement. Up until this point people were ‘left to die’ and their thoughts and appropriate care was not always carefully considered.

A story:

I have read two books over the last few years, which reference end of life and how communities might respond. Acabadora also given the title of The Finisher. The book addresses the theme of death within an Italian community.

The anguish of a prolonged death can be painful for all, including the one who is dying. Facing the last step with compassion and dignity across all communities is difficult and one that rarely we become an expert in managing, but we are more likely to fear. Taboos, coupled with an atavistic community, means that confusion of how to deal with and respond to death transcends across generations. 

In a small village in Sicily some relatives of those dying prefer to implement an age old tradition of using an acabadora to end the life of what they see as the suffering. There are various methods used by the acabadora to ensure a premature death, as the book details. A must-read book and a practise still discreetly in use today, I have no doubt. 

I believe we provide our communities with compelling arguments to ending life prematurely because of our values of love and compassion, which leads to ideologies centred around why we should ‘put them out of their misery’ when in fact it is often our end of misery that we are expediting. Physical pain often leads to emotional and spiritual wrangling and contemplations which then cause us to make decisions that we rarely make. There are right and wrong answers, but there are laws and statutory policies, that hopefully have been well researched and documented, which prevents the heart from ruling the head. So, while we do take their end of life into our own hands, we shouldn’t, and the choice must to be left to the patient and their voice interpreted with absolute integrity. That's what love and compassion really is. 

A story:

Recently I watched a programme about Richard Rudd, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/7896432/Parents-of-coma-blink-patient-Richard-Rudd-speak-of-emotional-turmoil.html who, after a tragic motorcycle accident, was left seriously ill and paralysed. At one point he was pronounced brain dead. Prior to the accident he told his family that if he was left a quadriplegic, he would want to end his life swiftly.   However, during lengthy assessments doctors determined that despite his severe disabilities and his previous wish to die should he find himself in this position, he did want treatment to continue. Again, this story demonstrates the need to be determined to involve the patient in decision making, as opposed to taking the decision into our own hands, regardless of the patient’s previous wishes.

The gap between reality and hopes and aspirations can be narrowed if conversations are had and integrity of the patient’s wishes are used between them and the care giver. An important practise within any palliative care model. With one case study a woman who was considering ending her life early, was given talking therapies and it enabled a significant drop in her pain medication. Often it is the prolonged pain that is often the cause of the person’s desire to enter an assisted dying programme.   

A story

In Travels with Epicurus, a book centred around how to live a fulfilled life, author David Klein outlines the complexity of knowing when it is suitable to offer euthanasia. Indeed, during Llora’s lecture at Gresham College she states that when lethal doses of medication were administered to the patient it still takes between 1 minute and 500 minutes and in that time, they are rarely offered suitable palliative care in accordance with Cicely Saunders’ model of palliative care. Llora also stated that 8 people in a study of approximately 300 awoke or survived the potential lethal dose and all 8 decided not to retake the medicine, but to die naturally. These statistics generate more questions about the practice of human euthanasia.

Death is a gentle absence of life. Palliative care is essentially the science of helping people 
make sure that they are valued until the last minute of life – living until you die. Those that work in hospices seemingly develop an acute awareness of when death is imminent. This is key, so that loved ones can be present, offering appropriate comfort, ensuring that the patient knows that they are valued and so that appropriate medication and care can be given by the whole team. Often in general hospitals care givers do not possess the necessary expertise to identify the imminent end of life and so patients are left on their own and feelings both by the family and the patient are left open along with many questions. The gap between aspirations and reality are not always realised in these instances and are a cause of much anxiety.

Nowhere is it more obvious that we are connected than when we are dying. Across all nations and communities we use this time to remember the life with the aim of showing love and ensuring our loved one dies with dignity.  However, within those last moments we, as the care givers, are encountering our own suffering and while we love them and usually don’t want them to suffer, we don’t always make the right choice for them as to the care as or to the medication or to their needs or to their aspirations etc, as they enter the last stage of death. Often the thought of the ones that are witnessing their loved ones dying are I just want you to stop suffering or I just can’t live without you. Each of these extremes disables the witness to make unemotional decisions and hence why many feel the need to enter into an assisted dying programme. Hence the need to listen carefully to the patient about their needs.

My story:

My dad, a stalwart. Never complained about pain, well sometimes he did, his teeth were the bane of his life. With dentistry in the life of a 1940s child being lukewarm at best he was destined to deal with this pain in the 1980s.  I remember thinking he was brave when he went and had them all taken out and replaced with dentures when the thought of having just one tooth removed horrified me.

My mum had told me that he had been to the doctor several times about the pain in his back and neck, but probably hadn’t been completely honest about the severity of it. I agreed to accompany him at his appointment with the RHRD in Bath. I remember telling the doctor that my dad doesn’t roll around in pain unless it was bad. They kept in him and agreed to control his pain and investigate. Sadly, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I never did find out how my estranged brother for 4 years found out that our dad was dying, but he did, and I for one was glad of this. From the day of diagnosis to the day of my dad’s death it was a total of 3 months. During that time my brother provided most of the palliative care once at home with absolute love, much to the relief of me. I couldn’t imagine managing the bodily functions of my dying dad. Which returns to what Llora cited  ‘we just want to be valued and die with dignity.’ He would have died with dignity if I did have to offer care, as I would have overcome this initial embarrassment, but I distinctly remember being there once when my brother was changing my dad and thinking, thank god you are doing that and not me. Not ever having seen my dad naked before determined this level of sensitivity and embarrassment. I had seen him half naked just once during a celebratory bath he had  taken after the instalment of the bathroom to check that it all worked. He had completed this in the early 1970s; although the water was soapy and murky, so I still didn’t see anything. We had one tin bath until that point.

Dignity is a sense of having personal worth and this enables us to live until the last second, as opposed to having the thought I just want to die. I suggest when pain is managed well and love is offered, right up until the point of death we die with dignity and in peace and so do many of the surviving loved ones in time. If we feel embarrassed or great pain or unloved, I imagine we die restlessly and so those who continue to live around us may also be restless.

Needless to say, that my brother’s return to our life was as a consequence of us being connected and his desire to ensure that he validated the man that had given him his life and values and shown him much love. It was a blessing in many ways that my brother returned.

On Reflection

When we identify the ambition and the reality and look with purpose at the space in between it can enable us to better identify plans to mitigate the space between the two. If the space is too wide we have to negotiate. If options can be considered we should conisder them, even if those options mean taking a leap of faith, we should consider them. 

A Story

After being made redundant in 2017 from my job as executive headteacher in Bristol, I was soon appointed afterwards into a simiar role in London. Not only was the job in London similar to that of the one in Bristol, but so were too many of the behaviours of those responsible for my welfare and the standards in the schools, which were sadly based on a lack of capacity and integrity. I grew concerned. 

In order for me to thrive, I have to work within a culture that is healthy. I soon realised that in the drive toward improving outcomes, there was a culture in London that I found unhealthy. Meetings where bullying took place, unrealistic targets, inflated outcomes and wild deviation from the truth with inspectors and governors.  I made the decision that the space between my reality and my ambition was in a fragile state and I had to take a leap of faith and lessen the distance between the two. I resigned and took a sabbatical to reconsider my future options. 

Abuse by care givers to those that are vulnerable - back to the lecture content

Llora, who was a palliative consultant, went on to explore the power differential between the care givers and the types of abuse that can be rife. She said that she had been conned several times as people during periods of great sadness can appear to be so sincere and for fear of not wanting to challenge someone when they are bereaved or at the point of bereavement, meant that her guard was down too.

In March 2017 the House of Lords debated assisted dying and the debate was always centred around 'why not?' Llora provided me with a compelling argument as to why we do not engage further with considering leaglising an assisted dying programme in the UK. Identifying the point of death is complex. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-03-06/debates/D4662B1E-E4DA-40BF-99F1-254F2E14D8FF/AssistedDying

  • Often the patient feels a burden – address this and reduce the gap between reality and aspirations and hope – offer networks, opportunities and therapies
  • Often the patient feels pain – carefully manage the medication and the administering of this – although 80% of the worlds dying do not have access to morphine 6% children.
  • Often the patient feels depressed – offer talking therapies and other support networks.

When we introduce laws, Llora goes on, these are not just regulatory instruments, they are social messages too. If we think of the introduction of the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces and how this has led to a social response to smoking in all public spaces, this serves as an example.

Llora shared several case studies:

  1. In the Netherlands a young person – aged 29 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-45117163 was given the opportunity to die using the legal assisted dying programme, because she was depressed. Consequently, many others in Holland have now requested that they die using the assisted dying programme because they are depressed. With depression the patient often displays a disparity between what is reality and their current state of mind. Surely this practice of offering euthanasia has to be questioned if the patient is depressed.
  2. A patient from Oregon, Barbara Wagner, upon realising her lung cancer had returned and was likely to be terminal, was told by her health insurance company that she was covered for an assisted dying programme but not for her cancer medication and treatment programme. This led to a dilemma over the assisted dying programme and the integrity of the health insurers and the medical cartel.   https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/4736927/Right-to-die-can-become-a-duty-to-die.html
  3. Finally, Roger Foley was another victim of this policy of assisted dying being offered over appropriate care. He outlines his removal of rights to be appropriately consulted again a desire to be validated and loved until he point of death. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/chronically-ill-man-releases-audio-of-hospital-staff-offering-assisted-death-1.4038841
    There have been cases of victims, who had once agreed to assisted dying and then reversing this permission, being held down and forcibly being given the medication.
  4. Furthermore, when 56% of 34% of UK doctors were surveyed, they said they would not participate in any assisted dying programme and only 23% of the 34% said they would participate. 77% declared their desire to or not know whether they would is a decision that is made possibly owing to their loving values and determination to preserve life as to end it prematurely.

Source of ONS reference

Maybe Something in Me Had Shifted

I knew I went to the best gym in London, but what happened on Wednesday 31st January 2019, confirmed it.
At first I thought it was someone trying to look like Mamadou Sakho. No, it was him. Just to be sure, I left the comfort of the spa pools and followed him into the sauna. Checking that it was still ante meridiem, as I pulled the door I chirped ‘Morning,’ as I looked him in the eye as he momentarily lifted his head. ‘Morning,’ he replied drowsily. I studied his head. That infamous bleached inch high Mohawk overshadowed the sophisticated tramlines, which could only be seen upon close proximity. It is him. I was sitting in the presence of greatness. I was suddenly lifted with a life affirming energy. It was boiling in the sauna; the gauge read 98 fahrenheit. Despite this oppressive heat, I was going nowhere. We were going to enjoy the sensation of the intense heat simultaneously. I was sitting in the presence of greatness and I was going to savour every moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wanted to tell him all the times I had rooted for him, praised him during his miraculous performances from the stands or from the comfort of my sofa or a pub chair. I didn’t, preferring to just use my grin as validation of his greatness. My energy grew.
He got up. Stood up. Enormous stature with his head levelling with the top of the doorway. Minutes later I left and returned to the spa pools walking on cloud nine.
Wilfred Zaha came out of the poolside shower, Zaha! Bleached locks, normally held in position by pins, flowed to just above his shoulders. Then Luka Milivojevic, Andros Townsend, Wayne Hennessy, Aaron Wan-Bassaka, Vicente Guaita, Patrick Van Aanholt and Jordan Ayew all followed him into the children’s pool. Their behaviour was apt for this space. Their sophisticated hairstyles, tattoos and demeanour suggested that there was something special about them.
An elderly lady, who normally uses the 3ft deep children’s pool as a way of exercising, walked down the poolside steps oblivious that she was in the pool full of greatness, only to walk out seconds later.
I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. Sakho stood poolside checking his phone, no doubt searching the latest updates as the deadline for transfer day loomed. Benteke and Bakary Sako arrive with what appears to one of their mum’s and enter the spa area to be greeted by comforting bubbles and a space to relax together. It was mesmerising and exhilarating watching my heroes be just like me.

Of the 12 or so members in the spa area no-one, and I mean no-one, invaded the team’s privacy. So maybe that elderly lady who walked down into the pool and shared that space with them for a few seconds did know, and like me, wanted a little bit of their energy and a close up encounter.

I continue on cloud nine; the energy that encounter created will last me a lifetime.

I don’t know why I had tear filled eyes when I watched Crystal Palace play from the sideline on Saturday against Fulham, but maybe something in me had shifted.

Dear Brown Skin

Dear Brown Skin - Paula Shore

Dear Brown Skin


I have cried because of you and I have smiled because of you.

I have loved because of you and I have been loved because of you.

I have hated because of you and I have been hated because of you.

I sit at tables because of you and I am omitted from tables because of you.

I have learnt because of you and I have forgotten because of you. 

I have been assured because of you and I have been nervous because of you. 

People look up to me because of you and people look down on me because of you.

I have actively listened because of you and I have spoken out because of you.

I have been hit because of you and I have been hugged because of you.

I get into spaces because of you and I get excluded from spaces because of you.

I have been rejected because of you and I have been accepted because of you.

I have rejected you, accepted you, marvelled at you and been true to you.

I love you, brown skin.  

The Country Where You Live, and Are Proud to Live, Has Not Evolved Any Place for You

The value we assign to autonomy could be one of the reasons why activists leading the Black Lives Matter movement on both sides of the Atlantic, continue to pursue fairness. Fairness, however, means diffierently to different cultures, ages, faiths and genders. Since the #BLM movement started in the USA, the agenda has been largely focussed on raising awareness of the disproportionate numbers of blacks that are stopped, searched, arrested, given custodial sentences and died while in police custody, compared to whites in the western countries, including England and USA. 

Any successful activism has to be followed by action to progress the agenda, which will achieve the said mission.  The capacity to progress the agenda can be missed, if there are only protests and no platform afforded for the next phase to take place.

With the needs of Black British being different to those of Black Americans, there is a need for clarity on how to pursue the next steps. For example, while there are disproportionate numbers of black people who are stopped, searched and given custodial sentences on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean compared to whites, advocacy is often sought in the USA to solve problems relating to black Americans. Yet in the UK, rarely are blacks offered the opportunity to discuss solutions that relate to them or do they pursue sitting on numerous platforms that progress activism to notable action. With the latter suggesting that black British are not heralded so easily as part of the solution, but rather, as part of the problem. Equally in the USA, I have been confronted by racism that would have resulted in attending a court room if the same act had been committed in the UK. As a teacher in Washington in the USA in 2006,  I had two children removed from my class and parents were happy to say it was because I was English!

Data can include proportionate number of black CEOs;  governors; pastors; societies that support the progress of the #BLM agenda; businesses; teachers or lecturers or professors; and finally actors, writers, and TV or radio presenters. 

From personal experience, I remember, as I scrubbed my arms as a child to whiten my skin, feeling ostracised and lacking a sense of being loved and belonging. Commiting this act as a child is not like plucking your eyebrows or wearing platform shoes so that you fit in with the other 1970's teenagers. It is a realisation that the country that you live in is defining you unfairly, by the images that you see and the policies and behaviours that you are subjected to. They remind you that your sense of reality is distorted because of the colour of your skin. It comes as a great shock through playing with white dolls, through watching nursery programmes where no black presenters or children are seen, through the use of racist language such as wog and coon being accepted and used by your family and those you call your friends and through the books that you read where black people live on the edge of the town or are often the enemy, that the country where you live and are proud to live has not evolved any place for you. 

Response to Suhaib Khan's Blog on Gatekeepers - Only Thick Skins Allowed

Response to Suhaib Khan's Blog on Gatekeepers - Only Thick Skins Allowed

In order for racial inequality to dissipate, it has to be a goal that the infighting and colourism that currently thrives among the black and brown communities have both got to be addressed; called out and stopped. For a black MP to claim that a brown MP does not understand racism does not help the cause of BLM. Nor does influencers taking sides and seemingly misunderstanding Fanon's mission on how to disarm the argument for racism; but indeed fuelling it by saying that some of our brown and black brothers and sisters should not be people of influence or power because of their careers or beliefs or experiences or the circles in which they work and play in.

'The true heroes of the BAME community are not the Javid’s, Patel’s and Khan’s. True heroes are the Marcus Rashford’s, Raheem Sterling’s, Patrick Hutchinson’s and Zara Sultana’ of this world. These everyday BAME people, who remain true to their roots and seek to challenge prejudices.'

Suggesting that those not on the frontline should be the true heroes and Khan, Patel and Javid are not authentic BLM influencers because of their roles, behaviours and beliefs. Even if they do hold different beliefs they are not a different shade of BAME.

If we are to pursue the mission of #BLM as outlined by Hutchison, which includes equality for all, then we must cease the finger pointing and blaming because others hold different points of views and seek to empower and respect all. I rarely agree with Diane Abbott, but celebrate and respect her status. 

Living in a black or brown skin entitles you to lived experiences; some are hard and some are welcomed, but all are valid, authentic and 'earned'. Anyone who works for the state, whether this is the BBC workers, MPs, lecturers, teachers, NHS workers, armed forces, police, local government, refuse collectors, etc has made a decision and a commitment to educate and protect people, this is what we should be celebrating, not debating whether their outcomes are worthy of our praise, but debating how  they put themselves on the frontline. Sometimes they are rewarded, but too many times people like Shuaib call them out for things they are not, to ridicule them and make them fall. You don't need to be a heralded detective to imagine what happens next. This attack results in only those with 'thick skins'  staying the distance and sitting at the influencing tables. We repeatedly rehearse the representation matters chant, but how can we achieve this if we don't celebrate Khan, Abbott, Javid and Patel, but repeatedly and publicly attack their failure to be perfect?

If we as black and brown people continue the infighting and the colourism, the BLM movement will not progress and social justice, whatever your best version looks like, stalls. We need to stand together and debate not whether they are worthy to sit at the table, but how they sit at the table.

When was the last time you lobbied your MP or local councils on how they sit at the tables, so that your voice is truly represented? https://www.writetothem.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwqML6BRAHEiwAdquMne0jc8Jc_bAmtu72Bv8rBxbONCVlnaUlN_yeXUokxGA-PBIgNSGsGxoCDtoQAvD_BwE Use to write to them to raise awareness - the first step is often the best step. 

As a Feminist...

As a feminist, I think my opinions and behaviours had an impact on my children - striving for the right to work and live equally alongside firstly white women and secondly men, any ethnicity, but certainly those people that I considered were successful – by being successful I denote this as a mother and wife and then as a member in my community, home and work.

I asked my two sons, now both in their 30s, if they thought that if the above belief was true for them and if there were any anomalies. After reading Bell Hook’s book on Feminism is for Everyone I grew to better understand patriarchy and the influence of it on my world, but equally I questioned what my influence, as someone who passionately sought equality, was on my children as adults. As someone who seeks social justice, (my philosophy changes daily) and equality I wanted to know the possible answers as I believe when we know better we do better. 

he pursuit of self-improvement is something that most humans aim for - to do and be better. I have a strong belief in the Epicurean philosophy to live a free, reflective and simple life, minimising suffering. I lived that life until I entered into a high stakes environment, which often resulted in high anxiety and a high suffering environment. Up until reading Bell's book I never saw myself as a feminist, not wanting to be compared with The Female Eunuch’s author Germain Greer and burning the bra’s fantasists. For me this was how feminists were depicted in the 70s and I did not wish to associate with this image; my race was already represented as an angry anti social group, so I didn’t want to perpetrate that further. With Bell Hook’s book I felt she explains that feminism is the dismantling of the patriarchy model and the pursuit of equality for all. It was in this moment that I completely surrendered to her philosophy of feminism and I didn’t have to burn my bra to prove I was a feminist. Her book, which was 40 years in the making, opens by testifying that her commitment to the feminist movement is stronger than ever. This commitment is possibly because she has witnessed the success of the feminist movement, not only in her own life but that of the world through behaviours, art, music, roles, employment etc. Contained within the book she charts the history of feminism, the feminism movement and the vision of its impact for the future.

I believed I had helped my sons to develop positive relationships with all. As young children I wanted them to develop into happy functional adults. Aiming to help them understand that their role in life is to be a responsible community member of the world first and second to look after their family and serve and help them to become responsible community members too. My children have no extended family; no cousins, aunties, uncles or grandparents. Key influencers today are their community, their own family and their older half brother and sister, who they have grown up with and remain close and engaged with. They have a strong sense of right and wrong, even though it may be different to mine or yours. I believe it is based on their world view and personal experiences. I believe one of the biggest insults you can give any mother, regardless of whether it is true, is that she is unfit to be a mother. She is happy to chastise herself, but woe betide any perpetrator even suggesting that she is.

Growing up in care with parents who fostered over 100 under 5s the subject of unfit mother was part of my lexicon from a young age. However, it wasn’t my parents who were using this language, ‘unfit mother’, but society. My parents saw it as their duty to support the foster children that they cared and loved for and this meant loving and caring for their parents, regardless of these parents’ circumstances. My parents weren’t perfect and didn’t always subscribe to this school of thought, but always had strong morals. So being a parent has been and always will be my most important role I play in this world. Equally in my role as headteacher I often witness the anxieties that both mothers and fathers exhibit should I or anyone else question their capacity to parent, albeit subliminally. Simply, if a phone call is made to the parent to say that their child does not have their lunch money and the school needs it, regardless of how you couch this statement in fact or with sensitivity, what some parents hear is – I am an unfit parent and then challenge this theory, sometimes with fear and anger. Most parents are fiercely protective of their children and are fiercely protective of their capacity to parent; I am no different.

My children have taught me so much about living, for example about when to be selfish and when to be selfless and it is these lessons I am eternally surprised by and grateful for. 2 years ago, my son left an abusive relationship. A relationship that he had been in and out of for 10 years. We had witnessed him commit to be the best father and partner he could be. He was responsible in my opinion. Working, supporting his community and living a life that was liberating and seemingly authentic. But to listen to him give a police witness statement 2 years ago detailing how he had endured years of abuse, physical and emotional, was hard and I felt I had let my son down. My capacity to be a parent was called into question as I had to consider what part I had played in his suffering. He later told me that I had told and taught him to be resilient in a relationship and to consider feminist rights. That to pursue equality it may mean him sacrificing part of himself and his values in order that his partner could live as freely and equally as him. One of the unexpected consequences of this had become that he remained in an unequal relationship where it appeared the other partner had assumed control and dominance; this had become a normal way of life for him. 2 years on, he is in a very different relationship, but I remain nervous for him.

The best predictor of the future is the past but as we develop our sense of who we are and our roles we carve out slowly a better lifestyle for the next generation. When we know better we do better. I don’t not want him to suffer again and I certainly do not want his children to suffer and repeat any of these submissive behaviours. To have the opportunity to have a question answered honestly and openly by those that you respect is a privilege. It is interesting what both my sons say in relation to my question on the influence I may or may not have had on them. There are movements all over the world that are interchangeable and influencing government or community policy. We are responsible for the outcomes, even though we don’t want to acknowledge it at times. There is a reason why we currently have Donald Trump as one of the most influential leaders in the world, making catastrophic and unsocially justified decisions. There is a reason why Europe is experiencing the most turbulent times in politics during peace times. Have these times been carefully engineered by us or a total coincidence or a mixture of the two?

Most plans result in better lifestyles for most the feminist movement has resulted in women feeling more empowered, safer, able to affect the world positively, but has the feminist movement brought about unexpected consequences? There is always a set of people, for whatever reason, who continue to be unknowingly and unwittingly be part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution, as both sons testify. I myself have to be guarded and aware of how our values and expectations we have on ourselves and that of others result in unexpected and negative outcomes, but we continue to strive to be aware of these, mitigate them so we minimise suffering.

As a feminist, I think my opinions and behaviours had an impact on you. Do you think this is true?

Son M It is a difficult question to ask as I never really attribute any single person no matter how influential to be a major part of the growth of my overall personality and way of thinking in terms of moral compass and level of empathy and understanding of issues such as feminism (Even my own mother) but part of a massive puzzle that leads to defining a person’s ethics and personality. Although the most influence does come from family, as this is where most social skills are learned the amount of impact that my mother had on my opinion when it comes to women's rights is far too complex to quantify. I would say that is more a case of looking at what your overall interaction with your family teaches you. Growing up then further down the line you learn more from your peers, in most cases at this point, you have a good solid base to go by. In my case, my close family taught me the basis of equality. This for me is the natural reason for lack of women's rights in the world. If you treat everyone, no matter their background, race, religion, gender, sexual choices, job or anything that makes you decide a general opinion, that equality is pre-meditated then all should begin equal. Does everyone has the opportunity to grow like this with this mindset? As I was growing up I had no understanding of racism, most of this came from being in a family of whereby there were differences in skin tones and this is all I could see it as. I also had never thought about what family in terms of DNA is, blood tied family if you will and no thought process at any time to separate one person’s value in life from another.

This philosophy would only come into play after time was spent with that person that would give me information on their personality that would allow me to have an opinion. So, in terms of my upbringing from an early age I had no thought process to divide a woman from a man or vice versa. I put this down to not just my mother as we never spoke directly about woman's rights, but as I say a part of a bigger puzzle that created a personality in myself that is unbiased in every sense of the word. When it comes to the wider issue of woman's rights, I have little or no understanding of issues in the UK or USA or the more developed countries in the world but growing up I have spent the past decade in the charity sector and woman's rights is one of the biggest and contentious issues on the planet. It is a cycle that needs to be broken but is much harder to break due to the lack of platforms women have in order to change the way men think and see them.

Things are moving in the right direction, but in very small steps, the most frustrating thing about it is, all that needs to happen is men and women need to be educated alike. In certain countries, for example, women are starting to flee FGM and villages are popping up naturally standing up for these brave women and providing refuge. In other countries you find charities such as OXFAM educating women in trades or vital skills for the community that men are now looking to learn from them. Off the back of this what is often seen is a complete turnaround in the way women are treated and regarded in these small pockets what this suggests is the way men value a woman needs to change and it is up to woman to change that as in most cases when men are asked in these countries to change their thought process and treat women as equal 90% agree very quickly and you see the overall wealth and growth of the village or areas nearby. The problem lies within women being held down and uneducated from a young life thus being given an unfair chance and men passing down miss directed views to their sons on how to treat women.

So in terms of fixing the issue, it comes down to education from a young age and to elders as well as the communities out there that are not treating women equally and they need to start now to understand why it is so important and beneficial for all and younger men and women need to be taught, this so the cycle is broken. The problem of course lies with how you go about that in the most effective manner of course charities like Amnesty Plan UK, Oxfam, Red Cross, etc. can continue to educating small pockets of the worst affected areas, but until women get more significant and wider platforms to change things my concern is it will be generations until women in the developing world are given the chance to go to school, seek equality etc. despite their fathers seeing the value in them from how bright they are, as opposed to their gender. So to answer your question, I can't answer your question, as I feel everyone that lives takes a lesson from how they live, not from any individual family will always be the most influential player. My understanding of equality in all people comes from my whole family to my peers for example.

The reason why I am so passionate about women's rights is the line of work I have taken has educated me on the wider impact this has on the planet. Had I not taken that route who knows if this would even be a subject I could even comment on in depth. But if I had to say who has influenced me the most it would just so happen to be the women in my family as my mother has always taught me to be fair to all and my Nan taught me that just because people have an opinion on something trust in yourself and what you feel is right; she did this simply by adopting my mother.

Son A Well you could say that I never really saw or experienced the ‘patriarchy’. The man as the ‘head of the family’ didn’t exist in my childhood. The man contending with a sort of fierce force of nature -- whose submission to any kind of instruction not aligned with her own agenda was minimal -- this was probably closer to reality. That’s probably not politically correct but there we go. The man who earned one pound for every 80 pence his spouse earned, or the man who expected his wife to cook and clean, or the man who was even married, he also didn’t exist. Essentially this power this spooky power dynamic espoused by feminist was difficult to identify in my close relationships. In fact, it’s fair to say that nowhere in our family can it be observed -- like, not even close.

You might say the opposite is true in some fashion. So, it does feed into a discussion of power. In these intellectual spheres power is often conflated with income wealth. OK well I was the only earner in my relationship -- did it mean my ex had no power? Yes housewives really do have power and influence, and men really are beholden to that in myriad ways. I say ‘housewives’ because of the conflation of money and power.

But really the broader reality is women do have power which isn’t really accounted for in the traditional theory of patriarchy; at least so far as I can tell. Y’know, who raises you? Who are the adult figures at nursery? Who are your teachers predominantly up until secondary school? You really think the female authority figure isn’t by that stage mapped out and established? OK so yeah the archetypal female authority figure was mapped out for me just fine and it is probably that which may have influenced the romantic relationships in our close families.

All the above along with some other social pressures probably did lead to a mindset which accepted female dominance, even to the point of abuse, as just part and parcel of being a man. This works just the same way as male dominance might be traditionally mapped out for girls… we’re just witnessing pendulum swings here -- or probably more accurately just different spheres of power dynamics. My general thrust on this subject is that power and dominance is infinitely more complicated than one could glean merely from a basic understanding of patriarchy. My final thought is that we have a tendency to become that which we fight against; and nowhere is this more true than in feminism (the women fighting misogyny can quite easily give into misandry, the anti-fascist can become the fascist, the civil right activist becomes the racist etc etc etc. I see this literally every day, in fact fighting against these things, paradoxically, appears to be the only occupation in which such behaviour is actually accepted, even in the mainstream).

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