the suffragette owl

I watched the film The Suffragette for the third time last night. It’s a film that grows on you – and each time I’ve watched it, I’ve seen and learned something new. And it’s made me think – a lot!

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So what was the vote for women campaign all about really? It’s probably a mistake to think it was only about giving women the right to vote, (important though that was).

In 1912 (when the film is set) only 60% of male homeowners aged over 21 had the right to vote. The means that ordinary men who did not own their own home (or own property) were also dis-enfranchised. In other words of a population of 41 million people only 7.7 million were entitled to vote in the election of 1912 (just prior to the first world war).

The film The Suffragette however gives some fascinating – and troubling – insights into the plight of women in particular. Merely a hundred years ago the husband (or father, uncle) – in both working and upper class families – was the absolute head of the household. Women had almost no rights. Clearly they had no right to vote – but additionally they had no right to a home; no rights to their own money, (this is demonstrated  in the film both by the MP’s wife not being able to sign the cheque to bail out the other women from prison, and also by Maud handing over her wages in their entirety to her husband!); and they even had no right to say ‘no’ to intercourse with their husband and physical abuse – ‘wife beating’ and worse –  was common in all echelons of society. Women even had no rights over husband in terms of access to their children, or making decisions on their behalf. It’s hard for us to understand just how dis-empowered all women were in 1912 – whatever their class – but as the film shows the plight of working class women was in many ways even worse.

The conditions for working men and women in the London of 1912 come into stark focus in the film. Conditions at work were abysmal for both men and women – but women worked 1/3 longer hours and in far worse conditions in the laundry in Bethnal Green for example, and were paid 1/2 of the men’s wage. This was in no way unusual. The sexual harassment of the women and girls by the laundry owner was also sadly typical of the times (and not unknown 100 years later!)

So then what was the Suffragettes’ aim.

Let’s hear from Maud Watts – the heroine of the film:

Dear Inspector Steed.

I thought about your offer, and I have to say no. You see, I am a suffragette after all. You told me no one listens to girls like me. Well I can’t have that anymore. All my life, I’ve been respectful, done what men told me. I know better now. I’m worth no more, no less than you. Mrs. Pankhurst said, “If it’s right for men to fight for their freedom, then it’s right for women to fight for theirs.” If the law says I can’t see my son, I will fight to change that law. We’re both foot soldiers, in our own way. Both fighting for our cause. I won’t betray mine. Will you betray yours? If you thought I would, you were wrong about me.

Yours sincerely, Maud Watts.

In other words women did not merely want the right to vote, they wanted to have a voice – they wanted to change the laws that were unfair and unjust and which were based on discrimination.

“We want to be law makers – not law breakers” – became their cry. ‘The Union’ as it’s called in the film is the WSPU – The Women’s Social and Political Union was a splinter group from the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and came about because of the lack of success in persuading politicians of the day to give women the vote.So why then did they begin to break the law – smash windows, commit arson, attack property, and go on hunger strike in prison?

Here’s Maud Watt’s explanation (emphasis mine) in the film

Maud Watts: We break windows, we burn things. Cause war’s the only thing men listen to! Cause you’ve beaten us and betrayed us and there’s nothing left!

Inspector Arthur Steed And there’s nothing left but to stop you.

Maud Watts What are you gonna do? Lock us all up? We’re in every home, we’re half the human race, you can’t stop us all.

Her cry was the cry of millions of women – who had been beaten and betrayed by their system, and yet still refused to give up. The leader of the Suffragettes, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, made a speech in the US in 1913. This is an exerpt

“We entirely prevented stockbrokers in London from telegraphing to stockbrokers in Glasgow and vice versa: for one whole day telegraphic communication was entirely stopped. I am not going to tell you how it was done. I am not going to tell you how the women got to the mains and cut the wires; but it was done. It was done, and it was proved to the authorities that weak women, suffrage women, as we are supposed to be, had enough ingenuity to create a situation of that kind. Now, I ask you, if women can do that, is there any limit to what we can do except the limit we put upon ourselves? (You can read the full speech here)

You can read about the real women who inspired the film here.

These women inspire me – and their fight goes on, not necessarily in terms of votes for women, but for rights for womenin all walks of life.

Posted in Politics, this & that, writings | Leave a comment

owl equality

Reading a novel at the moment. One of the characters – a young aristocratic woman of 23 – is denied the opportunity to go to university because she hadn’t been to a good school (the old boys’ network!) and thus was not educated in passing examinations.

She had cried and raged for days, and even now thinking aboutit could still put her in a foul mood. This was what made her a suffragette, she knew girls would never get a decent education until women had the vote.

With all the furor surrounding education in the UK at the moment it seems that 100 years on things haven’t changed much, and indeed  the old boys’ network seems to be stronger than ever, with men of privilege still having the upper hand, particularly in politics. It is amazing to read how many of the current government (esp the cabinet) and their flunkies are old Etonians (or other private schools) – or went to Oxbridge – elected democratically, but when a party only puts forward the same kind of candidate in a first past the post system it’s very a hard system to break.

I wonder if there is better equality in the owl kingdom?

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the owl thinks

Not so long ago I did a short (online course) called Literature and Mental Health : reading for well being. It was run by Warwick University (UK) under the Future Learn umbrella.

This owl is a bookworm. Reading is one thing I do for me – it’s a thing of pleasure (and learning) of extending my horizons and sometimes pure escapism. I honestly don’t know what book is my all time favourite – or even which book has influenced me the most and that’s ok – I’m still learning.

Sometimes one of my darkest thoughts is losing my eyesight. I can’t imagine not being able to read. One of the awful things of early onset Alzheimers – for example – is recognising you are losing the ability to make sense of words -written or spoken – and for me that would honestly be akin to a living hell. I think I would also lose the will to live. I could so identify and sympathise with the main character in Still Alice (which incidentally is so very different from the film as you see and feel the progression of the dis-ease as Alice) – but I digress.

Right now this owl is thinking of two – not unconnected – things.

The first was prompted by this article entitled 10 great things when you set boundaries. It lists the benefits of setting boundaries as follows:

You’re more self-aware.
You become a better friend and partner.
You take better care of yourself.
You’re less stressed.
You’re a better communicator.
You start trusting people more.
You’re less angry.
You learn how to say “no.”
You end up doing things you actually want to do.
You become a more understanding person.

What I liked most about the article though was its byline –

“It’s not selfish to prioritize yourself.”

This seems to be a particularly difficult thing for women of my generation to grasp. That might be because – in  English – the word selfish has such negative connotations. It is often understood as ” being a person lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” whereas in the context of self-care, prioritising oneself can – I think – be very much about becoming a blessing to others precisely because you allow yourself (your needs, desires) to be part of the equation too.

The second was prompted by a novel I’m reading called The Widow’s Tale (by Mick Jackson- interesting a male author writing about how a woman feels and reacts).  The main character (unnamed throughout the book) makes an observation

You hear about those couples who retire to the country, and how hubby does all the driving – how, in fact, she doesn’t drive at all. Then, three or four months into their new rural life, when they’ve barely started the redecorating, he has a heart attack. And suddenly she’s in the middle of no-where, doesn’t know anyone, and there’s only one bus into town every second Wednesday …

She (the character) goes onto comment

You can either read it as a cautionary tale against moving out to the sticks (the countryside!) when you’re in your sixties or becoming too dependent on one’s spouse.

(emphasis mine!)

She warns that the latter can actually creep up on you, and in my own observation I think that’s so very true (both for men and women). Being a couple does mean sharing a life – and that in turn must mean (I think) in sharing and delegating responsiblities. The rub is that if we delegate too well, we can become incompetent in areas that were once our strengths. If I never read the map and always take the wheel – for example (which would be my preference) my map reading skills become really rusty, and when I’m driving alone what happens then, I wonder.

Looking back at the first list – in the light of the second – one of the things I might need to learn to say ‘no’ to is indeed the pattern of a partner (or friend) and my self always taking a particular role. Self care might require our self awareness of the dangers in not mixing things up a little.

With that in mind this owl rolled up her sleeves and washed the car yesterday :)

Posted in 2016 the owl, at home, Literature and Mental Heath | 2 Comments

owl wisdom

One of the power qualities of the owl is wisdom.

We don’t actually know if owls really are wise – at least by human definition.What we do know is that animals – owls included – generally have good survial instincts – and more than that – that knowledge is passed down from one generation to another.

I have just finished reading a really interesting novel (Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult). It’s actually not about owls at all, but it’s given me a lot to think about
She writes:

I started to write Leaving Time when I was in the process of becoming an empty-nester. My daughter was headed off to school. I was thinking a lot of how we humans raise our kids to be self sufficient enough to leave us – and how depressing it was for those who were left behind. That theme – of what happens to the people who are left behind – became what I wanted to write about. Then, I was reading something and learned that in the wild, an elephant mother and daughter stay together their whole lives until one of them dies. Given my frame of mind, it seemed so much more pleasant to do things the way elephants do. I began to dig a bit more about elephants, and their reaction to death, and what I uncovered became a metaphor for the novel.  (emphasis mine)

What I’ve learned from the novel (amongst other things) is that elephant babies are allomothered, which means that they are cared for by all females in the herd, and older siblings get to practice their parenting skills before actually becoming moms.

That gave me food for thought.

When I became a mother (26 years ago this week) I knew next to nothing about babies or mothering. I am an only child. My own mother had very little contact with her family, and my father was from a family of only boys. Together that meant that contact with aunts and cousins was also very limited and almost all I knew about womanhood I learnt from my elderly grandmother – and my amazing sisterhood of girls I was at boarding school with.I grew up with them – and much of who I am today is due to them and the experiences we shared – but we were peers – and all living away from home, which in turn meant there were no family responsibility for younger siblings and no older siblings to learn from either! In other words, as a young mother there was no experience bank for me to draw from.

Another thing the novel taught me was about the importance of the mother to the well-being of the whole herd. The untimely death of a matriarch means that the whole herd is threatened.If a nursing mother is killed, her nursing baby dies. If a matriarch dies prematurely, so does the collective knowledge of that family, and the whole society disintegrates e.g. the herd won’t know where the best water holes are, in times of drought. They won’t know the safest travel corridors. Their very existance is in jeopardy.

Leaving Time also taught me that the relationships of elephants last a lifetime, and they have elaborate rituals of grief, much like us humans. Elephants will mourn – together- the loss of one of their herd, and will often cover an elephant who dies with branches and dirt. There’s a three day mourning period before moving on in search of fresh food and water. For example, if an elephant comes across the bones of another elephant, it will be quiet and reverential. The tail and ears will droop. They will pick up the bones and roll them beneath their hind feet. They only do this with elephant bones, not the bones of other animals. They will return to the spot of a herd member’s passing and pay respects for years to come.

What about us?

Life expectancy for humans has increased significantly over recent decades. Today in the USA a white man / woman has a life expectancy of 75/80 years (in 2000) whereas a hundred years earlier (back in 1900) it was only 47/49 .  The situation back then was much worse for blacks- men and women living only until 33/34 respectively. (Today there is much less disparity because of the civil rights moment) In Europe too the life expectancy has increased and there is less of a gender gap (in these terms!) too.

Never before have we had access to so much knowledge, and yet we live in an era where we humans are struggling with information overload (practically everything we need to know is available at the click – or two – of a button) but because there is so much information at our finger tips we are finding it increasingly difficult to understand issues and to make decisions. The really important facts for survival  – those once handed down from mother to daughter from generation to generation –  are being eroded and our wellbeing is at risk.

What would the owls – and elephants – have to say to us were we to have ears to listen to them, I wonder.

 

Posted in 2016 the owl, Literature and Mental Heath | Leave a comment

owl feast

An owl feast …

According to the urban dictionary it’s a real term – who’d have thought? :)

“A meal that you have late at light/really early in the morning (between midnight and 3am). This feast is usually had by bartenders, graveyard shift workers or people who stay awake more often during the night than the day.This meal can be anything from breakfast to dinner, as long as its a meal, not a snack. “

The kind of feast I’m thinking of is something quite different.

Wherever Jesus went, there seemed to be a celebration; the tradition of festive meals at which Jesus welcomed all and sundry …

(N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, p.43)

Celebration – the ability to celebrate milestones and our relationship with others – is really important. My parliament of owls knows how to celebrate, and hold feasts -and I’ve learned so much from them over the years. Celebrations need not be lavish – but they cannot be perfunctory.  We need to reflect well on what we are celebrating and why – and then do it!

Annually I join a fantastic community for their (“our”) annual Resurrection Breakfast. It’s not in a church but a home  – and we celebrate that Jesus lives! It’s a gathering where my heart stretches to breaking point – because of the joy and love that flows. It’s a fixed point in my diary – even if sometimes, like this year – I have to join the celebration from afar.

But there are other celebrations and feasts too.

Some are annual events – birthdays, anniversaries etc; and some are unique special occasions. My family celebrated our son’s engagement only a few weeks ago. He and his fiancee – in a long term relationship – are now committed to getting married. We will celebrate that milestone next year, God willing. It was lovely for the two families to spend time together around the table.

This year too- mid Lent – in the middle of a period of abstinence and fasting – there was a fantastic additional opportunity to celebrate and feast together as we celebrated the Baptism and Confirmation of Faith of a trio of young friends; and just this week we gathered together for another day of overflowing joy – and an additional celebratory feast  –  to do a celebratory victory dance – as these same Godchildren had been granted a leave of stay in Finland (for four years) as refugees. It’s not the end of the road and there will be plenty of challenges along the way- but it was a fantastically important milestone – and we chose to celebrate together!

But not all joined the feast.

At one level this owl knows that a feast is a feast, and something to celebrate is something to celebrate, and part of the art of celebrating well is not allowing the absence of friends to spoil the celebration.

But after the event, the parable of the prodigal Father (yes you read that right – it’s the Father in the parable of the Lost Son who loves lavishly) is on my mind. We read in Luke 15 that the father left the feast to search for his older son, who chose to stay outside and refused to join the feast.

 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  -… we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Wherever Jesus went, there seemed to be a celebration, but not all joined in.  We often interpret that parable to be about saved and unsaved people … but actually its often those who who are saved that most need Jesus to teach them how to celebrate life.

Posted in 2016 the owl, Hungering for Life, inside, outside, this & that

Walkabout v Flypast

This owl hasn’t forgotten this place, but she’s been away from the nest for a while. Back now, for a while.

Many birds migrate, including some owls. Others stay close to home. I have no idea if birds ever emigrate – never to return. Perhaps they do because of a changed habitat that becomes inhabitable or because a scarcity of food pushes them out.

Humans leave home for many reasons. In the so called western world they usually leave the parental home to set up home on their own (with or without a partner) and very often they move locations for economic reasons : a new or better job. We don’t usually call them economic migrants but in fact that’s what they /we are.

Others move because the environment can no longer sustain them. Pollution, nuclear fall out, war …all good reasons to move elsewhere.

Today I used the term walkabout v Flypast. For me while both have great intentionality, the former carries some incarnational DNA. When we go on walkabout -it’s less about going it alone – and more about being on a pilgrimage with God, and building relationships along the way. I like that nuance.

Posted in 2016 the owl, this & that

the owl lunches with a friend

Do owls lunch I wonder?

This one does – not often – but when she does, she does it well!

  • A lunch date must not be hurried
    – and it must involve delicious tasting food.
  • A lunch date is best with two
    -Two is company, three is a crowd. This allows real, meaningful, conversation within a reasonable ‘lunchtime framework’
  • A lunch date is confidential-What is shared is held in confidence, unless permission is given. And even then it must only be shared carefully and with absolute integrity.

In the past two weeks I’ve had three fabulous lunch dates with different members of the owl parliament – two of which were in a restaurant near the river – and the food fantastically taste-full.  I’m salivating at the memory of the tastes right now. oops!

This owl loves her lunch dates because it gives her the opportunity to learn from other owls. Sometimes the process might feel vulnerable – the little owlet is in the spot light for some of the time, and faces some touch questioning at times – but these lunch dates help me take  stock of where I am and where I want to be, and sometimes gives stepping stones to bridge the gap between the two.

More than that they give me the opportunity to hold a mirror up for my friend – so that they too can see the colour, and the light and shadows in their life- and work out steps that might be taken to maximize the beauty.

It’s a wonderous beautiful thing!

Posted in 2016 the owl, food, public buildings, this & that