Equality and Discrimination


Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

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I wasn’t able to post here for a couple of days but I must have a grump on a couple of themes, one from UK news on Friday, the other ‘news’ from the school in which Petronela is teaching. Those themes? The continuing treatment of women as second class citizens; the disgraceful state to which education in the UK has been ‘allowed’, or forced, to fall.

Women’s pay

The ‘news’ that, beginning this weekend, women are effectively working for free till the end of the year is a generalisation, a simplification, but it makes the point very well I think.

Women in the UK are, in general, paid so much less than men for doing the same job that half way through November men will have earned the amount that women will have to work till the end of December to achieve.

How on earth do we accept this over a century after Emily Davison was killed protesting at the Epson Derby?

Children in UK who cannot read or write at 11

On Friday Petronela began to teach a ‘low ability class’. Of course some children may be ‘brighter’ than others; whether they should be ‘streamed’ as such is an argument I will not get into, it’s basically the same argument as whether grammar schools should be reintroduced. I have mixed feelings about both. However, she was ‘warned’ there are children in this class 7 who cannot read or write. This after being at school, primary school, for six years.

I’m not suggesting that all parents should, or could, teach their offspring to read and write before they go to school – at five years old in the UK (as my mother did for me, for which I’m eternally grateful). What I am suggesting (not a strong enough word) is that children should not be moved from primary to secondary school without being able to read and write at some basic level at least.

That they are gives the high school teacher an impossible task and disrupts the learning of other students.

UK lowest literacy among developed countries

Way back in 2012 there was an article in ‘The Independent’ newspaper giving some reasons why the UK is lowest for literacy in developed countries (confirmed in recent OECD survey and report) which is still relevant.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-obvious-reasons-why-uk-literacy-and-numeracy-skills-are-among-the-lowest-in-the-developed-world-8871402.html

It is almost the same with numeracy, but I will not get too much into that, except to say that I completed the first five questions in a recent GCSE maths exam paper in my head in a very short time. I could not have done that with a GCE ‘O’ level paper, despite all the assurances that standards have not dropped.

I remember well when Petronela was studying English for GCSE so she could teach in UK (at the time she was working as a teaching assistant) she came home with the question “How do you spell ‘read’?” I was surprised as I thought she knew very well. She told me that a teacher had written something on the board with the instruction to students to ‘Reed this’! Since then we have had letters from school, doctors, hospitals, the local council, etc, with basic spelling mistakes and appalling grammar.

C’ grade is not, in my opinion, a high enough grade in the GCSE English exam to teach any subject, as is the case now. Again, I do not believe all the assurances that this is the same level as was needed to get a pass at GCE ‘O’ level. I am sure that it is not.

I sometimes, as a writer/blogger, indulge in some passages which are not grammatically correct but I know I am doing it, for effect. I sometimes indulge in some ‘journalese’ for similar reasons. I may well have done it in this post. But I would not do it if I were teaching a lesson in school.

I used to tell my students in Romania that you cannot learn to use correct English fluently in the classroom, and vocabulary almost not at all. To succeed with these you have to read, read, and read. What chance do those who cannot have? Little.

To add fuel to the fire libraries are being closed, or threatened with closure, across the UK. Our local village library has been rescued by a team of volunteers.

As I said, reading from an early age is one of the many things for which I am grateful to my mother.

I’ve said in recent posts that I don’t believe in coincidence and that I’m easily distracted. Venturing upstairs to the reference and study section of Keighley library after my morning double espresso in Wetherspoons next door (see previous posts), I had to confront both.

Philip Snowden and women’s suffrage

First, ‘talking’ about how I began my blog to another blogger earlier this morning (she’ll know who she is) I mentioned one motivation being my desire to air my ire about discrimination, particularly discrimination against women. What first confronted me when I walked along the upstairs floor of the library? The ‘Snowden Library’, that of  Philip Snowden, a tireless campaigner for women’s suffrage. You’ll find more about him in one the pictures.

Proper parkin – again – and other recipes

Then, resisting the temptation to sit down all day with some of his books, I wandered to another section to see what they had about the beautiful Wharfe valley in which I live. A book about Yorkshire dishes almost jumped off the shelf at me. I opened it at a random page and what recipe did I see? Parkin! A proper recipe, almost the same as that I posted a few days ago.  And plot toffee.

I spent much of the rest of my time today with that book and recorded 27 recipes on the iPad. I’m putting some of them here as pictures. I had to include a fish recipe; in Yorkshire you’re never far from the sea and the superb Yorkshire coast. Then there’s a really weird one, ‘Long life’, using whole eggs, shell and all. I just had to include that.

Chicken stew and dumpings? I was taken back to childhood by the recipe for rabbit stew and dumplings. That was a frequent winter meal (rabbit was cheap, the cheapest meat; then chicken was a luxury, for Christmas). Now chicken is cheap and rabbit a luxury, hence chicken stew: chicken legs, onion, garlic, carrot, red lentils, barley, tarragon, parsley, thyme and sage.

Perfect for the cold, miserable, wet weather today, for which I abandoned a planned trip to one or more Worth Valley Railway stations.

Brontës

Finally, I spent a short time in the Brontë section. I knew if I got immersed in that I’d probably lose all sense of time and get a frantic phone call from Petronela asking where I was when she finished school. I just hope she’ll be returning there after the half-term break; she’s enjoying it having knocked the students into shape in the first two days.

I could spend six months in each of those sections.

I’ve been out of circulation in the blogosphere for a while, partly health (lost 6kg+ in five days) then catching up on life so writing as such has taken a bit of a back seat – more on that below. I did manage to get to the meeting I organised with leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, prior to the general election here. She was as impressive as I hoped she would be.

Making inroads into the second book in her ‘Alpha’ trilogy, fellow writer/blogger Kristina Steiner inspired me to look more closely at my ‘long short story’, which had reached novella length. I decided that perhaps I might achieve my aims by chopping off the current ‘ending/non-ending’ and attempt a trilogy. It’s early days but I’m working on it. A second factor was reading ‘The bestseller code‘ by Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers, lent to me by a member of our writers’ club, Kayla. I’ve often said I have no ambition to write a bestseller but this is such a fascinating read and has so much to point anyone towards writing something really good, which I do have the ambition to do.

About half the full complement of our writers’ club at the meeting today. Far left our founder, Ruxandra, then clockwise Marjorie, Helen, my empty seat, David, John, Kayla and Emma. Another two, Kelly and Becky, joined us later.

At the most recent meeting of our writers’ club I said that, for me, responding over two years to a theme set at each meeting with a poem or short story had exhausted its usefulness and in the future I was likely just to present whatever had come into my head. Then, on 23rd May I awoke to the news from Manchester. I had to write something and the theme we had been set for the meeting on 3rd June, ‘broken mirrors’, just happened to fit in with my thoughts. It turned out that another member, Helen, had had a similar reaction. So this is what I read to the club earlier today.

Shards

Shards of shattered mirrors in Manchester
Reflecting eyes of more millions of children
Blasted to hell by bombs rained upon them.
In Iraq by lies transformed to millions of dollars
Swelling the account of our very own war criminal.
In Syria the children pick among their own shards
Before in desperation leaving for another hell
While we eat cake and perhaps text £5 to feel better.
Thousands of eyes appeal from Mediterranian depths.
From Eritrea to Yemen the children cry bewildered,
Shattered by man’s greedy technology
Or simply left unnourished.
While we lust after the latest iPhone.

Should we not pray for our very own mighty Thor
To swing his hammer one last time
To scatter the shards of what we dare to call our civilisation
Beyond recall
And begin to build a kinder, caring, loving being to inhabit this universe?

You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.

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