- It was a whole day of listening to interesting, articulate and intelligent women with only a few token men (most of whom were also quite good, I should say).
- I laughed. A lot. Particularly when Jo Brand came on. (And when I learned the phrase ‘mimsiwoowoo’).
- For nine hours, my having kids was just assumed and not seen as a disadvantage I had to overcome.
- People wanted me. Well, mainly advertisers. It was a new experience – as a teacher you have nothing to give, so nobody tries.
- I got to interact with friendly strangers as we tweeted each other on the big screen while the debates went on.
- I discovered some new role models; Stella Creasy, Viv Groskop, Sonya Cisco, Prof Tanya Bryon, Laura Bates, Sarah Crown, Helen Lewis, A L Kennedy and Jo Brand. (If I’m honest, some of these may have developed into girl-crushes).
- I got to bump badges with other bloggers (no really, we were wearing fancy badges that share contact details when tapped together).
- I was reminded how special words are. As A L Kennedy said, ‘I love shoes, but nobody burns f*cking shoes’.
- I learnt a new word – ‘aphorism: a truth written or spoken in a concise and memorable form’.
- The champagne and canapés.
Sometimes I feel invisible. Or, if not invisible, at least that people have categorised me as something generic and made assumptions about who I am so that they are not actually seeing me.
I find this at its worst when people other than my children call me Mum. People who know my name, who have known me since before I had children, who chose to call me Mum because my children are around. I love Quibble and Squeak calling me Mum – it shows that I have a special place in their life – but there is no reason for anyone else to. It strips me of my name, my individuality and my identity.
I know I am a Mum. It is the most important job I have, because even when I’m at work, I’d drop everything for my children if they needed me. It is both frustrating and wonderful (although I like to think there is more of the latter) and it does mean that there are times I have to put myself last or make little sacrifices, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be anything else.
There seems to be an idea that once you have become a mother, you have to put your children above all else; be a mum first and rarely anything else second. Watching films and TV, I see dads getting to be action heroes, politicians and lifesaving doctors, while mums get to be, well, mums. Or bad mums if they do something else (their juggling always seems to fail). Where are the women my age being more than solely a mum? Where are the people like me?
This is the reason why love the challenges at work. Why I have booked tickets to Mumsnet Blogfest. Why I was so excited to spend last weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon at the RSC. So that I get to keep being me. So that I get to do things and have conversations that are not just about babies, children and housework. It’s also the reason why I blog: I get to write about the things that interest me; the important things in my life. And yes, that may involve my children. After all, being a mum is part of being me. Just not the only part.
Thirty-odd years ago, I was born into a world where a woman ran the country and that simple fact made me feel that one day I could do the same if I wanted. My daughter has been born into a world where there is now a pink version of Lego just for girls and Paris Hilton is somehow a role model.
I have a rule that Squeak is not allowed pink – not on clothes, not on toys, not on bags or plates or, well… anything. I have no problem with her having things which are feminine, but I do have a problem with the pinkification of being a girl. Some of my friends think it is ridiculous. They tell me that Squeak will rebel and want to be like her peers and have nothing but pink as soon as she is old enough to have an opinion and that may be true. They say that I’m the one being sexist because I let Quibble wear blue, but that is where difference lies.
Quibble has some blue clothes, but he also has orange, red, green, brown and yellow. His toys are a variety of bright primary shades. If you ask him his favourite colour, it changes every time. But it is almost impossible to buy anything for Squeak which doesn’t have at least some pink in it and there are pink versions of toys which aren’t even particularly gendered; tricycles, pianos, trampoline, shape sorter, art table, sandpit, ballpool… In many ways, the fact that I have to actively seek out non-pink items makes me even more determined, because it really shouldn’t be this difficult to want your child to know more than one colour.
I need Squeak to know that just because there is a pink version, doesn’t mean that if things aren’t pink they are only suitable for boys. And for me, taking pink out of the equation makes things much more gender neutral. Because yes, she’s a girl, but she’s also so much more than just a gender.
She will be a person in her own right. She will be the product of her upbringing. She will be influenced by her age, by the media and by her friends. She may become an engineer, like her father, or a teacher, like her mother. She might be very into crafts or cooking or reading or dolls and I would accept any of those (Quibble has tried all these). But I need her to know that if she wants to watch racing cars or kick a football or climb trees, she can. There’s more than one way to be a girl.
Most importantly, at the moment she’s a baby who has no concept of gender – hers or anyone else’s. She loves making things move; cars, balls, the pages of a book. She loves cuddles and tickles and being thrown up in the air by Stanchion. She just doesn’t wear pink.