Guyland – a morning with Dr Michael Kimmel

As I walked into school on Monday morning it was suspiciously quiet and there were no kids hanging around. It wasn’t until I got into the office that I was reminded that we had a late start and there was staff professional development. Staff PD is not something that always gets me going; it’s not the highlight of my professional career, but thankfully on Monday I was left inspired and motivated after having the absolute pleasure of hearing Dr Michael Kimmel address the whole staff for just over an hour.

Dr Kimmel is one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities and working in a boys’ school his visit seemed more than apt. As it turned out he got me thinking about a lot more than just the boys I teach on a daily basis.

Dr Kimmel said a lot on Monday morning, but there are few things I want to mention here. He acknowledged how the world is changing for men and boys because of changes in women’s lives and how there is often a defensiveness from males that is derived from their fear of this. For many men masculinity is not something you have, it is something that you prove; something that you prove predominately to other men. I have witnessed this first hand teaching in a boys’ school. And as Dr Kimmel went on to explain, it is something that we have to challenge in boys in order to make them more resilient in today’s society.

There is a tension that exists in what it means to be a good man and what it means to be a real man. When boys were asked what it means to be a good man, words such as loyal, protective, honourable, strong were thrown up. When asked what it means to be a real man, the responses were very much more about proving their masculinity to other men – to not show emotion, to harden up. This conflict of ideas is where the problem lies. Other men are constantly judging and policing masculinity in society.

To explore this further, Dr Kimmel went on to discuss how we must take gender seriously and build character through discussion. As an English teacher this puts me in an enviable position. I am able to explore feelings and emotions through the texts I choose to teach. I am able to create a classroom environment where boys are comfortable to discuss poetry, present dramatic performances and write about both male and female characters and how they are presented in a text. Having also taught in co-ed schools I have witnessed how in an all boy environment boys are more supportive of one another, more affectionate with one other and have more empathy for one another than in a mixed environment. It is something I have always found interesting. Dr Kimmel reinforced the importance of the subject of literature for boys.

He argued that we need to make gender visible; that when girls look in the mirror they see a female, when boys look they see a human. We need to encourage boys to recognise their masculinities (plural yes, I’ll talk more about this in a minute), and if they do they will then recognise their privilege. Yes, underpinning all of this was the fact that privilege needs to be visible too. Something that I said in my last blogpost. If we can recognise our privilege, we can use it to help others. Dr Kimmel said the same about the privilege of masculinities. It’s a good point, right?

So, on to this masculinities business. Quite rightly, he acknowledges that we are not all the same. Indeed, not all men are the same. We need to take masculinity seriously and accept that different groups of men view themselves differently, and once they recognise this and it becomes visible, then so too does the privilege of being male.

Boys are in crisis in how they fit into today’s world. They need their parents, “charismatic adults”, male friends and female friends to see them through it. They need guidance and a range of these supportive people around them to point out when their behaviour is unacceptable, or in turn to say, “yes, what you did there makes you a good man.”

As always it is always good to hear a well-educated speaker talk about their life’s work and even Dr Kimmel acknowledged the irony in him being a middle class white man, but for him his privilege is certainly visible and he is using it to help and improve the lives of those without it. This is just a brief snapshot of my thoughts on the morning but I hope you find it thought provoking.

If any of this interests you, I suggest you check out some of Dr Kimmel’s TED talks which can easily be found online.

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The iPod shuffle challenge: Friday afternoon edition.

Just a little blog post today. Going to set my iPod to shuffle and write down the first ten songs…judge away, I would 😏

1. Locked Out – Crowded House

2. Misunderstood – Robbie Williams

3. Bad – Michael Jackson 

4. Orange & Mango – The Phoenix Foundation

5. Life Turned Upside Down – Badly Drawn Boy

6. Won’t Do That – Robbie Williams

7. The Acid Queen – The Who

8. Poker Face – Lady Gaga

9. Here It Comes – The Stone Roses

10. Mambo Sun – T Rex

Yep, eclectic as ever. No surprises there…what does your iPod do on shuffle?

The thing with privilege is that you have to use it.

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s something I tweeted about a few weeks back in one of those “thread” things I promised I’d never do (if you need to thread, why not just blog? I know, I even got annoyed with myself for doing it). Anyway, with NZ political news being the way it is in the last few days, it seems even more relevant now. So here I go.

I am privileged. I was born with privilege. I am white, straight and educated (with a university education that I didn’t have to pay for). I am married, I am employed. I am of good health and of sound mind (most of the time). I was raised by two married parents in a state house, that they eventually bought when I was a young teenager. My parents both worked, mum part time and dad full time (with two jobs at some points in life). I’d say we were most definitely working class and I was the first in my family to ever go to University. It was a big thing. What I’m saying is that some of this privilege has come with birth and some by situation, and a lot of the situation stuff can obviously change at any point in our lives; jobs can be lost, relationships can break down, health can suffer. We all hope it won’t but it can. Any of us could end up needed help at any time and we hope to live in a society where there is a safety net.

This brings me back to my original twitter rant a few weeks ago. I had seen someone on twitter make homophobic and racist comments. I had long ago stopped following this person but good old twitter wanted me to see other people’s responses. It made my blood boil. Her comments came in the light of Pride day. She said they were just her opinion, but frankly they were hurtful and quite frankly abusive. She said that people made life choices and she was entitled to her opinion. No. No you aren’t. Being gay or trans or a person of colour is NOT a life choice and you certainly don’t have the right to have an opinion on in. People are born that way.

At this point some people dared to defend her, some citing her lack of intelligence (they maybe had a point there) but defending this kind of behaviour, and even that train of thought come to think about it, is part of the problem. Plenty of people however began to call her out on it and I’m glad they did. I wish I had. I should have. Would it have made a difference? I doubt it. I’ve called her out on it before and she still does it. But more importantly I shouldn’t give up.

So now to The Green party’s announcements this week. The #IAmMetiria hashtag is heartbreaking and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. It is a true representation of how people on benefits feel and what they have experienced. My timeline is flooded with it and quite frankly, New Zealand, it is not good enough. We have to do something about this and we have to change the status quo. This cannot go on. The hashtag has challenged the preconception a lot of people have about people who receive benefits; a preconception often pushed forward in mainstream media.

Will voting for The Greens help my family financially? No. Will it help many many more families in New Zealand? Yes. Will this make New Zealand a better place to live? Yes. Do I want to raise my family in a country that helps everyone when they need it? Yes. I don’t want tax cuts. I want everyone to have everything they need to be warm, healthy and educated. We need to stop thinking about just ourselves and think about others; less about the individual, more about society.

Twitter has educated me. Of course, it’s a bubble. I don’t agree with everything I read but it has given me insight to the struggles other people face and the kind of lives they lead.

If we have privilege we need to use it. We need to use it to help others.

Ten years from now…

…I’ll be a mother to two teenage girls. My hair will be grey, my skin will be wrinkled. My social life will revolve around being mum taxi and my house will be full of teenage laughter.

I will be a patient shoulder to cry on, someone for them to share their worries with. I will try not to be an impatient, over protective dragon waiting to burn anyone who hurts my girls with their mean words.

I won’t go to sleep until I know they are safely tucked in their own warm beds. I will remember the times when I had to snuggle in with them because of scary nightmares, and hope that all their dreams come true. I will tell myself how easy it was when I knew where they were when they were little.

I will continue to encourage them to grow into strong independent women but not too quickly, they will always be my little girls.

In ten years time, life will not be that different from now. I will still worry. They will still cause me stress. Doors will still be slammed. Feet will still be stomped. I will still cuddle them and smell their hair, but they will have to bend down so I can reach.

Maybe they will bring me tea in bed on lazy Sunday mornings. More likely, I will have to shake them from their teenage slumber around 11 so they at least make it to lunch after having missed breakfast.

I will still be mummy but definitely only ‘mum’ in front of their friends. I’ll be the embarrassing mum who dances and sings around the house, even when their mates are over, and they will only dance with me when we are alone.

Ten years seems a life time away, but knowing how quick the last six have flown by I’ll be there in a blink of an eye. Slow down time…you’re going too fast.

Happily ever after.

15 years we’ve known each other this year, and 12 of those married. It’s one of those occasions where it feels time does that funny thing; it only seems like yesterday that we met and at the same time it feels like we have known each other forever. I can’t imagine life without him.

We met in the days before social media, the days before smartphones; we met on a mutual friend’s birthday night out and when we said we were dating everyone seemed surprised. I still don’t know why they were so surprised really. It had never crossed our friends’ minds to introduce us to one another apparently, but we feel like we were made for one another.

That first evening we smuggled him into a basement club which had a strict “nae trainers” rule (we were in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and these rules were normal) but of course he had trainers on. It seems daft now to think he would be wearing anything else out. He still wears the same clothes as he did back then; a jeans, t-shirt, trainer kind of guy. Suit and shirt for work, of course. We chatted all night in the cheesy club, the kind where you stuck to the floor when you walked, and apparently I was the one to make the first move (I finally admitted to this at our wedding three years later, to be fair). At the end of the night I handed him my Nokia phone to put his number in.

We texted for a week and the following Sunday we had a lunch date, then a dinner date, then met our friends for a movie date. True story: our first date was 12 hours long. And that’s how it began. We were best of friends pretty early on and I think that has been key to our success. We went out with all of our friends a lot and my best friend, who only lived round the corner, loved him too. When a relationship starts surrounded by others who love you both, I truly think it helps a lot.

We were in the early stages of our careers, but just out of uni. It was the best of times; the independence of youth and first salaries, the energy and time to burn the candle at both ends. We didn’t grow up fast, we were silly, we had fun, we were reckless, but it was great. Pre-loading in my flat before we got the bus into town, hanging out at house parties, country drives around Northumberland on Sunday afternoons. Eating space cake before going to see a subtitled movie and thinking we could all of a sudden speak Spanish, me getting locked in his flat by his flatmate after he had gone to work, him waiting to meet me for an hour in town because my phone battery was flat. These were the early days of our relationship and we had so much fun.

I still look at this man and remember these times and they make me smile, but we have been there through good and bad; tough times at work, family bereavements, we held each other tight through them all and still do today.

I told him that I loved him by writing it in a crossword puzzle. He asked me to marry him as we crossed the road in New York on the way to the jewellery quarter (but that’s another story). We decided to emigrate to the other side of the world because he trusted my opinion on New Zealand without him ever having been here. We talked about having a family, and when we realised it didn’t look like it would happen we started planning our travels around the world. We cried with joy and disbelief at the positive pregnancy test only a month after that discussion. He let me squeeze his hand until it was white as our first child was born. He held our second child in his arms while the medical team all rushed in as I started to hemorrhage. Thick and thin…always there for one another.

Moving to the other side of the world will either make you or break you. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Thankfully it made us. Nearly a whole year of not really knowing anyone, our first year of marriage was spent playing scrabble and exploring our new home. I truly think it was the best thing for our marriage. We basically had a year long honeymoon with no interruptions from friends and family. It’s a good job we liked each other’s company!

We have always been equals and that stands as true today as it did 15 years ago. We discuss everything and make decisions together. I trust his judgement, and he trusts mine. We are both stubborn, but to be honest, we rarely argue. I respect him too much for that and we kind of have an unwritten rule that if other one of us is being a dick, we say so. It works. Trust me.

He is a wonderful father and husband, but bottom line is, he is my best friend, and for that I thank him. Are we lucky to have this relationship? Maybe, but I’m happier to say we work at it and never give up. And yes we’ve grown up, but we haven’t forgotten our younger selves. They are still there everyday, they just sometimes have to be reminded to come out and play.

 

One term down…going back to work wasn’t so bad after all.

It’s been a busy three months, so busy I have once neglected writing but here I am with a little update.

Basically: I survived.

No, that’s being hard on myself. I did more than survive. I was bloody awesome.

I guess when I look back to this first term back at work teaching part time I can break it down in to four parts: my children, my house, my teaching and me. So, here goes.

Part time is great. I am at work Monday, Wednesday and Friday which means the girls go to before school care and kindy early on those days. I drop them off at 7.30am and then drive 15 minutes to work. My first week back, I had to creep into their room and wake them up in the darkness. For six and a half years I have been striving for them to sleep longer and here I was waking them up. It all felt so wrong. A couple of weeks in and they were naturally waking up. They know on “quick days” as we call them that they need to get up and get dressed while I’m in the shower, and they will have breakfast there, not at home. For the most part it’s working. They love seeing their friends in the morning and I’m lucky that where we are this is affordable ($21 for each child for those three days before school). The only problem was last Monday (school holidays) when the youngest demanded she still wanted to go to kindy at 7.30am!

In the afternoons I’m fortunate enough to have my mum pick them up, bring them home and give them afternoon tea. I’m home by four at the latest and pick up from there. I’m so grateful she can do it and the routine is working well. 

So, check to number one on the list. The children have survived…with smiles on their faces.

Next up, the house. It’s still standing! That’s the main thing and for the most part it is still in order. I do like order in my life. It’s important. A month or so in, we decided to start getting My Foodbag and it has been life changing. Yes, I no longer have to plan meals and do the shopping at the weekend but more importantly we are eating a much wider range of healthier food than we we before. No more Friday night calls to Hell’s pizza to deliver! And here’s the weird thing, the kids are eating it without complaint. I’m pretty sure there’s some weird psychology going on here but basically because the lady at My Foodbag is choosing what we eat (their words) and not mummy they will eat it! Win win. 

The laundry is a pain but I’m getting into habits that I can sustain when I go full time next year (more about that later). I stick it on at night before bedtime (electricity is cheaper then too) then hang it out to dry in the morning. It seems routine and organisation is key in this blog post.

Okay, my teaching…I was nervous about going back. Could I remember how to teach? Would they run circles around me? The usual Sunday night dread and fears, but instead of two days away from school, six plus years. But you know what? It was fine. Absolutely fine. In fact, it was awesome. I love it. Like, really really love it. Being a classroom teacher and no longer a middle manager, all of my time at school is spent on teaching, planning and marking. I’m trying new stuff and the kids are responding well. I’m remembering my knowledge of literature and my teaching skills and it’s an absolute joy. And teenage boys? They are amazing. They get such a bum deal sometimes but their energy, wit and spirit is worth going to work for. Remind me next year not to say yes to any responsibility outside of the classroom though. 

Being a parent I have clearly learnt how to get things done quickly and multi-task. I have got nearly all of my planning and marking done at school, rather than bringing it home. I have made a real effort to communicate frequently with the parents of the kids I teach (because I can appreciate now how important that is). It’s like I’m the teacher I was before, but a better version. 

And so yes, I have been offered, and accepted, a full time permanent role at the school I’m teaching at. I didn’t have to think about it for long and it feels good to have that security. There’s a lot of changes happened at the school but maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post sometime.

Finally, me. I have survived. I am here to tell the tale. The gym has gone out the window unfortunately and there is less time to do the things I love but thankfully I do love what I do, and I think being away from it for so long and coming back to it has reminded me about that. It has also meant that time with my own family feels that little bit more valuable. Weekends are a premium now; mornings are a lot more lazy with cartoons, cuddles and crumpets, but that would have happened anyway with them both being at school as of this November.

I enjoy earning my “own” money (even though it all goes into a big pot that we share) but more importantly I enjoy having stuff to talk about other than the kids. I enjoy having grown up discussions (about what’s on Netflix or what so and so had for dinner last night) and I love the intellectual challenge of teaching. 

So there we go. It is all going swimmingly, and I know people do this all the time, that some people go back to work when their kids are babies etc…but I’m talking about me. We chose as a family for me to stay home with them as long as I could and it was most definitely the right decision for us. I would not change that for the world, but this is the start of a new phase and I, for one, love it.

Finally! The end of my 30 day music challenge.

Day 28: A song by an artist with a voice you love

This seems like quite an odd category to have on this list. Maybe the person who wrote it was running out of ideas? Surely you would love the voices on all your favourite songs? Anyway, pushing along…this would have to be Jump by Gary Barlow. It is such a beautiful song and the words mean so much to me. They are perfect for when you are facing a challenge in your life and I know I will be listening to them tonight before I go back to work for the first time in years tomorrow. Gary, you are a legend.

Day 29: A song you remember from your childhood

Music was a huge part of growing up. I can remember sitting down on a Sunday evening with huge headphones on and listening to the charts, and flicking through my parent’s vinyl collection at the weekend. I think this song was on a Top of the Pops album with a very risque cover! I still listen to it regularly now: Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles

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Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself

This was really hard. I don’t think there is a specific one, but I will go for True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. It’s a great song and a gentle reminder to be who you are, which we all need from time to time.

 

So I finally managed to finish the challenge! Here is the complete playlist: 30 Day Music Challenge. Let me know what you think and feel free to share your recommendations with me.