opinion

The Lionesses

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I have been thrilled at how the World Cup has been received here in the UK. Record after record was broken, people were talking about it at work and at home and it felt like there was a real buzz in the air. Could this be it? Could this be the time we win? 

Unfortunately it was not to be, and after Tuesday’s heartbreak (and truly I have spent time mourning that loss), I think it is important to reflect on the impact that the Lionesses have made this past month. I wrote before about the Change The Game initiative launched by the BBC at the beginning of May and how excited I was by this prospect. But my expectations have already been exceeded and it’s only the beginning. 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the Semi-Final, just over 50% of the audience share and the most watched programme this year so far, what a result! 

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I have been far more emotionally invested in this World Cup than I thought I would be, but I think that’s because it has been a real watershed moment for women’s sport. When I was growing up (which wasn’t too long ago – I’m not that old), the only time you could see women’s sport on the TV was Wimbledon or the Olympics. Now, across the country there are little girls turning up to football training sessions wanting to be the next Lucy Bronze, Ellen White or Nikita Parris and that just shows that representation does matter. 

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My friends at work and I have been talking about it. Gearing up for every game. Talking about the one that was on the night before. I even got a wall chart (cool right?). I hope that enthusiasm continues not just over the summer but for years to come (anyone fancy going to watch the Euros in 2021 with me?!). The moment that really solidified what an impact this team have had on women’s sport came on Wednesday when I heard an interview on Radio 5 Live. A 17 year old boy called Abe had phoned in when they were talking about Tuesday night’s match, and he said that at the beginning of the World Cup he and his mates laughed at and mocked women’s football. But on Tuesday they were all down at the pub cheering them on, getting annoyed at VAR when the decision went against us and cheering VAR when it went our way. At the beginning of June, he knew nothing about the team, now he knows all their names and the teams they play for and he’s looking to watch the Women’s Super League come winter. Now isn’t that an achievement! They may not win the World Cup but they have changed people’s hearts and minds like you wouldn’t imagine and that’s arguably bigger than any trophy. Although I would still like to see them bring that bronze back!!

Catch the third place play off live on BBC One at 4pm!!

Radio 5 Live: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006sq4 

Photo credit: @Lionesses (Twitter)

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Wellbeing and Winter

For a lot of us, it can be difficult to feel on top form during the colder months. Even if you are a winter fanatic, love all things Christmassy and get excited about what comes with the new year, it can still be difficult to manage wellness on cold and gloomy days. So, in anticipation of the winter blues/January blues/Monday blues/basically any unwanted blueness, I’ve worked up a checklist of things to help prioritise our wellbeing this winter.*

((*Note: This article isn’t medical advice. If you’re looking for more specific mental health material – check out the links at the end!))

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Diet and Nutrients

No, I’m not going to tell you to chuck out all the Christmas choccies! This isn’t about having an immaculate diet; what I suggest here is just keeping a mental note of when you last said ‘Hi’ to some fruit and veg. As we head into December and beyond, it can be tricky to keep on top of doing a healthy food shop – especially when there are so many tempting treats. Indulgence is fun, especially in the festive period, but do make sure to balance it out.

Our digestive system and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and long story short (and all science averted because I don’t really get it), what we eat contributes to how we think and feel. As good old Saint Nick gets ready to do the rounds, by all means, head to the Quality Street! The praline triangles aren’t going to steal themselves. But remember to get in those greens and some vitamin C too. Similarly, because we lack so much sunlight during this time of year, if you’re someone who gets particularly down in the darker months, it could be worth picking up some vitamin D as well!

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Exercise

NO GYM REQUIRED. Fear not- this isn’t a you-must-start-a-spinning-class-and-go-to-boxercise-every-day article. Just get out and about. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be the same thing each time. In fact – the more variety the better. If you’re someone who likes exercise or sport then fab! Doing what you enjoy is a great way to get out of the house. It can be gross to go into *nature* when it’s cold and wet and windy, but when the weather is relatively calm, jump at the chance to go out and explore. Anything from a quick stroll to a little micro adventure to a local park.

Remember the Vitamin D we talked about earlier – making the most of the daylight hours is key when it is of limited availability. If you have a hobby that you can adapt to doing outside then use it as an excuse for a change of scenery. For example, photography or other artistic pursuits are a great way to explore outside and get some exercise in at the same time.

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The Power of Plants

There’s a lot of research to show that plants can have a positive effect on us. Having some greenery or flowers around the place can be a mood booster. Equally, having to care for a plant reminds us to care for ourselves. When we’re watering or feeding the plants, and making sure they get enough sunlight, it’s a casual reminder to make sure we pay attention to our own needs. Caring for something else and having that small responsibility with plants can also make us feel good and remind us that we are accomplishing things even if they’re small. (Also, they look really cute!!) 

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Another thing about FOOD

If you’re someone (like me) who finds it a drag to prepare food when your wellbeing isn’t amazing, here are some ideas. Find foods that minimise prep time and are good for you. For instance, yoghurts require zero effort and can be eaten whenever. Also, consider fresh veg and fruit that is in season and doesn’t need a lot of intervention. (And when you do feel like making stuff, stews are great, because they use all the in-season veg, you just leave the pot to do its thing, and you can freeze portions for ages.) Lastly, meal replacement powders (not weight-loss ones – just complete nutrient ones) could also be a solution for some people – I find them handy when my work schedule is a bit crazy or if I don’t have the energy for a big food shop.

In the new year, when everyone’s insisting they’ll start going to the gym, hating going back to work, and remembering how cold February is, this can all be handy to remember. Having quick fix food around that is not just junk food makes it much easier to look after yourself.

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Reach out!

We shouldn’t leave it until we’re actually feeling unwell or not taking care of ourselves to reach out to others. Make sure you check in with your loved ones over the winter period. This can be especially important if you live away from the rest of your family or are a university student away for the holidays. Reach out to close friends and make an effort to get together, or at least call for a catch-up.

Socialising can be difficult to organise over the Christmas period when people can be quite busy and public transport ceases to function, but come the new year when everyone’s aligning themselves with the ‘normal,’ it’s really important to make sure you’re maintaining those connections with people.

Depending on individual needs, doing what you love either solo or sharing it with friends can give you some well-needed space to relax – which does wonders for wellbeing.

Remember not to put your wellbeing on hold just because normality gets a bit suspended during Christmas and New Year, and opportunities to get out and about can seem to dwindle during winter as a whole. When considering your self-care regime, factor both your physical and mental wellness into it!

 

I hope this gets the ball rolling with some ideas you can utilise for maintaining wellbeing this winter. Below are some further sources of wellbeing advice, and also more distinct mental health resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/#.W_24Yq2cbPA
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-to-do-this-weekend-to-boost-your-mental-wellbeing_uk_5bd2d714e4b0a8f17ef6413f?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Be Brain Fit, Mental Health Zen, Garden Collage, The Best Brain Possible and Practice Business.

Welcome To The Sex Bus

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have a positive experience of sex education in school. Either from it lacking any real information or because it ignores key issues such as consent, and LGBT+ issues. This is largely due to sex education not being part of the national curriculum and schools being left to decide how much they want to teach, if anything at all. Sex is still a taboo subject and our desire to keep young ears and minds protected is harming young people as they enter into adult life unprepared.

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However, not all sex education has to be like this. It can be a positive and inclusive experience, as we have seen this week, which actually does what it says it’s going to do – I was very fortunate that this was my experience.

My sex education lessons started aged 9 and continued throughout my time in school until the age of 16, getting more in-depth as we got older. We covered a wide range of topics; from the usual how to put condoms on, to the signs of an unhealthy (and healthy) relationship. Whilst these lessons did largely take place in the classroom, I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking into physics to instead be greeted by a room full of penises – we also had some more unorthodox locations…welcome to the Sex Bus.

The Sex Bus is a bright purple double-decker bus adorned with condoms, various leaflets on STIs, pregnancy, birth control, and relationships. Alongside this are sat the professionals; school nurses, family planning experts, health visitors and district nurses. Together this was the Sex Bus, and it travelled around schools across Somerset. The aim of the Sex Bus was to engage pupils with sex education and as a result increase their knowledge of sexual health issues, raise the profile of health services in the local area so that young people would know where to turn should they ever need to, to enable young people to make more positive choices concerning their sexual health and to explore gender roles, myths and expectations in relationships. All of which I think are imperative to learn at a young age, and also why I think I found it so informative and engaging.

The Sex Bus was about teaching everyone good habits and behaviour, not about shaming people who do have sex at a young age, or at any other time in their life. As mentioned, there was also information available on, and people to discuss gender roles and myths with, such as whether women can orgasm/will orgasm like you see in the movies. I think education such as this is important because it helps to demystify sex and relationships for both men and women and also demonstrates that women can enjoy sex, and not just be a participant.

However, I’m not saying my sex education was perfect, I think it still had further to go. There should have and could have been more information on LGBT+ relationships – yes there were leaflets available and it was discussed, but it was more a passing comment rather than a real discussion. Additionally, the issue of consent; again whilst talked about and discussed it was never in-depth and the real bare bones facts were never laid out clearly (although we do now have the tea video). Overall though, it was largely a comprehensive and informative education and one I believe sets an example to other schools/counties with what they can do. It shows that it is possible, and all without scarring children for life.

Words: Eleanor Manley
Image/Videos: 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons, BBC Two/Miranda, Paramount Pictures/Mean Girls.

TV, Film & Sex Education

TV & Film have always been part of our sex education, and now in 2018 some writers are realising their responsibility and the power they have to change the narrative.

On the rare occasion that society discusses sex education, and the papers are full of opinion pieces, the word that always gets thrown around is ‘pornography’; specifically the dangers of its accessibility. The government, teachers and parents are so terrified of what their children are seeing online, that a debate on sex education in parliament will usually turn into a debate on pornography. While this is an important debate to be had, and we are in a unique time when people are using the internet for everything from banking to dating, in all these debates and articles I can’t help but think that society is missing a big part of the puzzle.

To access porn, you have to know where to look, you have to google and browse and be an active user, you are alone in a room. On the other hand, media within the entertainment industry will always be a communal event. You sit down with family to watch the new Sunday night drama or go with friends to see the latest film release. What always follows is conversation between family, friends, and the wider audience, which thanks to social media is more expansive and immediate.

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Porn is not where people go to find great plot devices, the end goal is very simple, and sex is viewed in the abstract. Whereas TV and film in its nature use sex as a plot device and even when a sex scene is clearly put in for titillation (take Game of Thrones for example), the writers will still argue its relevance. In the last seven years or so I have seen a shift in the stories being told; from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, there is a need for the narrative around sex to change and for women to control the story.

Pheobe Waller-Bridge has said in many interviews that she wrote the original play Fleabag because she wanted to talk about sex. In 2012 when Lena Dunham’s new show Girls aired in the US and the UK, all people could talk about was the awkward sex scenes. Many journalists described them as explicit and awkward, however, there had been more explicit scenes depicted on TV before Girls appeared on our screens. Game of Thrones was being commissioned for its third season, a show in which it was normal to see at least four sex scenes in one episode and seemingly, an actress couldn’t get through an episode without at least once walking into a room of men, having forgotten to have got dressed. The sex scenes in Girls were new and interesting because Lena Dunham was showing her own experiences of sex and many women responded to this with glee because it allowed them to have the conversations that society deemed taboo.

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Caitlin Moran says in her book How To Be a Woman, “the sexual imagery of teenage years is the most potent you’ll ever have. It dictates desires for the rest of your life. One flash of a belly being kissed now is worth a thousand hard-core fisting scenes in your thirties”. Up to a certain age, and I am aware that age is getting younger, parents can control what their children see on the internet and to a certain extent what they see on their TV screens thanks to the 9pm watershed, however, we can’t control everything.

Remember the time when you were younger, on the brink of adolescence, and woke up past your bed to go to the toilet? On your way back to bed you heard the noise of the TV and the chatter of adults, and intrigue led you down the stairs. You poked your head over the bannister and saw your parents and their friends glued to the telly, then you looked up to the screen to see an image that you knew not to be looking at. Laying in bed, your mind boggles and so many questions arise, but you don’t know who to ask. It feels like being on the last word of a crossword puzzle and knowing on seeing the answer it will make sense, but at that moment you feel lost. Instead of talking to your parents and friends out of embarrassment, you seek out the same image in books and films. It takes you years to finally have those conversations with friends and eventually partners when sex has become a reality. Only then do you start to question the scenes you watched and the depictions of sex in your favourite films.

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Now, in 2018, we are having those conversations, whether that be the writers of The Affair making sure every sex scene pushes the narrative along, or Rachel Weisz discussing the importance of the sex between the two female protagonists in her new film Disobedience. I truly think that one of the many reasons famous actresses who have the money and the platform are turning to producing is so they can control the narratives they are telling about female sexuality. Sex is still a taboo subject, and we still cut off conversations with the excuse of being British, but we can’t shut down conversation and then worry about the lack of sex education children are receiving, or what they are seeing when they turn on the TV.

In the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the industry is trying to be more inclusive and give everyone a voice. People are asking for the narrative to change and the choice of stories to grow. The conversations about sex in the last year have revolved around power and abuse and what we want the next generation of women to know and experience. If we want to carry on making change for the better, and the film and TV industry wants to take responsibility, it needs to take sex seriously.

Just as we need diversity in the stories we tell, we need diversity in sex scenes and the relationships we see. Teenage girls and boys should see LGBTQ+ stories more than just once a year, and be shown different relationships and the multiple reasons people choose to have sex with each other. Our government, parents, teachers and most importantly our storytellers can’t be scared of answering questions and giving children the power of information and choice.  

 

Words: Lara Scott
Images: BBC/Two Brothers Ltd, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Sky Atlantic

 

365 Days in London

Friday 23rd June 2017. I graduated from Oxford Brookes University at 3pm in the afternoon. I took photos, stole a bunch of mini scones and headed into town with my family. I then boarded a coach to London in my nice graduation dress, switching my new heels for my favourite beat-up trainers. 

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Hooray for me!

A lot of people move to bigger cities after uni – some by accident, some with sincere intent to live a big city life. I didn’t plan on it and wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. Five or six months prior, I had gone for an interview for an internship that was successful and so I was heading to London for at least two months to try that out. I arrived in London on a Friday night and got straight to work on Monday. Even as I moved into London, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay forever but knew that now was the time to try. 

It’s been a year since I moved to London – yes I’m still here – and I have a full-time job working on a different team at the company I started interning for last June. I live in a flat share, I have a cinema loyalty card that I don’t use as much as I should (the sign of a true grown up), and I’m staying here. I’m staying in London and I’m staying at my job. I have a set of great friends that also happen to be my colleagues, and have access to so many cool events and things going on in London.

I wanted to write this piece for two reasons – firstly to celebrate my first year in London, and secondly to share some of the things I’ve learned since being here. So let’s get to it!

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I live (near) here now.

Being a grownup is exhausting.  

The thing about London is that this all sounds really glorious, partly because I’ve written it that way and partly because I’ve totally omitted the countless times I’ve wanted to go home and all the stressed-out evenings and weekends spent fretting over work or social events. London is hella tiring. Very few people live close to where they work and if they do they don’t live near their friends and if they do they don’t live near their family or favourite market or museum etc. London is praised for having everything but if you thought about it logically, you’d realise how much space you’d need to have everything you loved. Everything is spread out and not everything is accessible when you want or need it. It’s very easy to glamourise London and say ‘well it has the best doughnuts and pizza’ which it probably does but you have to actually have the energy to go and get those doughnuts and pizza.

I moved to London and thought to pretty much everything I faced ‘it will get easier’, but I don’t know if it does. It’s not that you’re not used to it, it’s that it’s freaking hard. Travelling with hundreds of other sweaty bodies for hours a day, lugging bags around, working, exercising, enjoying a social life. It’s ridiculous. I had resigned myself to long periods of coming home, showering, cooking and watching a film before going to bed until my laptop broke. Now I watch TV on my Kindle.

The thing is that everyone is the same. I thought my London friends were London people and let me tell you, I think that’s a myth. London isn’t a fictional place where everyone is either a businessman or really super unbelievably cool. First of all, my London friends are all equally shattered and tell me how hard London is, and secondly, it’s a city goddamn it, not a club. Anyone is welcome. 

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I won an award for always having biscuits at my desk. #Winner

There’s room for everybody.

Everyone is welcome in the Big Gherkin (is that right?). It’s a funny double-edged sword because nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (drags old merch clothing out the wardrobe) but also nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (sits in pile of Gryffindor t-shirts with a sad, hopeless face). I work in an office that deals with a lot of film and television. As expected, my office is filled with merch; we probably keep Funko in business and that’s cool. I had been to an all-girls school which although relatively progressive still separated out the nerds from the rest, and then a university where I didn’t make many friends. I didn’t proudly support things I loved in my possessions and clothing anymore, but I hadn’t realised until I started this job.

My desk has only just started gathering stuff but it’s great. My birthday presents were all cat or feminist related and what more could you want? I frequently wear a Bart Simpson printed shirt to work or jumpers printed with slogans about equality and quotes from Pride and Prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you’re a ‘nerd’ about, it’s all good. Nobody gives a fudge. It’s grand.

I went to a Comic-con for the first time in May and was taken aback at how little people cared that anime girls and Jon Snows were boarding the DLR. Princess Belle in a giant yellow dress? Didn’t notice. It was so nice that I actually got a bit emotional. These people were doing what they wanted and nobody was making fun or questioning them for it. I actually cried when I went to Pride last year too. I’d only been in London for a short while at this point, but here were all these people celebrating and mourning simultaneously with thousands of allies just happy to be around. Everyone was friendly and talking to one another and there was music and glitter and colour and people were allowed to be themselves. What a dream. 

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I did not win this cat, and I am low-key furious.

I can be myself, whoever that is.

For the first time in years, I haven’t even considered dieting or getting fit to lose weight. Why you ask? Because I don’t care. Because nobody else cares. I had to stop wearing makeup earlier this year because my skin went to pot and although I started my internship wearing a full face of makeup every day, I have not worn makeup to work in at least a month or two. Nobody cares. It’s a great thing to embrace. Share what you love, talk about your passions. 

*I know I should’ve started this article with the disclaimer that I know I’ve been pretty lucky getting a job where I work and very occasionally being able to afford some of the fun things London has to offer (like DOUGHNUTS) but it’s too late now, the disclaimer is going here.*

I actually got to help on a friend of a friend’s short film as a runner this summer which was amazing. Suddenly I felt like filmmaking wasn’t off the table again (although realistically I don’t have time so it’s back off the table but still!). I’ve made friends who would gladly support or help my writing if I wanted feedback because they write too. Most of the time I can find someone to take advantage of cheap theatre tickets with me, and most excitingly I’ve discovered karaoke. Karaoke is fun damn it.

Then you have the fact that I can discuss feminism with my boss or Wonder Woman or Pusheen the cat or some obscure animation on Netflix with someone at work. It is no longer a secret that I’ve watched pretty much every Christmas movie available on Netflix, and not necessarily in December either. I like stuff and people know, and nobody thinks any different for knowing. Maybe it’s a growing up thing and not a London thing, but I feel like I belong at my current job. 

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Get it, girl.

Difference will help you grow.

This last one is less something I have learned and more something I’ve always believed that’s confirmed on a daily basis. I know a lot of people that are quite old fashioned and think it would be better if we could just get rid of or stop dealing with certain people. The thing is, we cannot get rid of people we disagree with. I’m a proud feminist and if I got rid of people who disagreed with me, then there probably wouldn’t be a population crisis anymore. You will never ever learn or grow or change if you only spend time with people like you. I genuinely believe that you will learn way more from people you dislike and disagree with than you will from similar people.

Learning to get on with people you don’t like is one of the most valuable social skills you can learn. Learning and changing to not be like people you dislike or learning how to defend yourself and your argument against people who disagree with your beliefs is equally valuable. The thing about everyone in London being different is that you learn to be friendly with dozens of people for different reasons. Being able to talk to people and discover something in common is brilliant, and learning to deal with people you don’t like is only going to help you. Living somewhere where every single person you pass is different is an amazing confirmation of how much you’re going to learn and grow and become accepting of so many different people. So remember that. 

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Treat yo’self to a good doughnut.

That’s it really. I just can’t get over how solid that message of acceptance has been since I’ve been here. I know it’s not the same for everyone but this is my personal account of London. People are either going to like you or they’re not, and there’s actually not so much you can do about that. You can be the most pleasant person in the world and someone’s still going to think you’re too pleasant. London is so busy and there’s so much happening all the time that it kind of forces you to just get on with it.

People who are very different end up being friends and that is so good for you. It is so unbelievably good for you to make friends with people who have different interests and backgrounds and lives. If you can support your friends and their super niche hobbies and interests then they will support you in yours. It’s a win-win. 

It’s been a tough year but an interesting one. I’m confident in my job and my personality in a way I haven’t been before. I’ve learned to take the bad with the good. If nothing else, I’ve learned to say “it’s swings and roundabouts” at least once a day. Welcome to London, I guess.

 

Words and Images by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.

THE MANLEY GUIDE TO FEMALE AUTHORS – Part 2

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‘The Outrun’ – Amy Liptrot

As I sat writing this I realised that Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun’ is one of those hard-to-describe books. It is an autobiography, but it also feels in some way like a travel guide, and love letter, to Orkney (I myself now have a long list of places to visit). Really though, it is about her journey through alcoholism, her descent into it, her recovery and her re-discovery of the wild and beautiful place she grew up.


‘I’m the King of the Castle’ – Susan Hill

If you didn’t read this at GCSE (as I first did), you should definitely give it a go now. ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ is written entirely from a child’s perspective – Kingsley’s. This is a particularly effective method as we the reader have to experience his bullies, his fears and his pleading with adults first hand and the devastating effect all this has on him. Susan Hill, in my opinion, is a fantastic writer and I believe this to be one of the best examples of her work – and a great gateway to her other books.


‘He Named Me Malala’ – Malala Yousafzai

As I’m sure everyone knows, in 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for the equal education of women and girls in Pakistan. She survived, and is now studying at Oxford University and continuing her fight on a global scale. Yet her autobiography tells us the stuff we didn’t know. Malala documents her life growing up in the Swat Valley, the beautiful mountains and it’s fascinating history, the rise of the Taliban and her road towards activism as well as her life after that moment in 2012.

I loved this book because of that different knowledge; it was refreshing, heart-warming (and a little heartbreaking) to hear about life in Pakistan for the normal people like you and I and not just what we see on the news. ‘He Named Me Malala’ is an informative and inspiring read that should be added to your shelves.


‘The Bloody Chamber’ – Angela Carter

‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a collection of short stories by Angela Carter. Each story is based on a traditional fairy tale, but with a twist. Carter takes the basic narrative of each tale she is using and infuses them with something both dark and mystical whilst also echoing reality. As with a lot of traditional fairy tales, each story centres on a female protagonist. However, Carter uses her stories to highlight the very real problem of violence against women, whether that is social, economic or physical.

This was the first book I read by Carter and it got me hooked (which I’m sure you’ll hear about in other posts), I loved the twists and the ability to debate and discuss the topics with others. I also found it fascinating (and a little sad) that the issues raised are still so relevant today almost 40 years later.


‘Women and Power’ – Mary Beard

The fifth book on this list is the critically acclaimed ‘Women and Power’ by Professor Mary Beard. In this book, Beard chronicles misogyny all the way from ancient Greeks and Romans through to today and assesses how these ancient mythologies are still used to undermine, and target, powerful women in modern times. Perhaps one of the most notable was the use of the Medusa head against Hilary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Although this is a bit of a challenging read, it is well worth the time and effort.

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‘And Still I Rise’ – Maya Angelou

‘And Still I Rise’ is one of Maya Angelou’s poetry collections featuring the two poems that first lead me to fall in love with her – ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Phenomenal Woman’. Angelou’s poems discuss love, life, her experiences as a black woman and growing older,  and whilst each one is deeply personal the themes have universal resonance.


‘Everyday Sexism’ – Laura Bates

This book was the cumulative result of a social media campaign started by Laura Bates in 2012 to document the sexism experienced by women on a daily basis in all areas of life and work. Bates has split the book into various chapters (as authors often do) so as to best examine each sectionality and area of life as closely as possible and backs everything up with facts, which are quite often depressing.

However, despite this, I found it weirdly inspiring and after reading it I bought it for a friend who gave it to her friend and recommended it to others, as I also did. It really is a book that no matter how old you are it is relatable to every one of us (unfortunately). It is a book that should be read by, and affects, everyone. It not only educates, it also makes you say ‘me too’. To quote Caitlin Moran, “it will make most women feel oddly saner”.


‘H is for Hawk’ – Helen MacDonald

‘H is for Hawk’ is a moving account of grief, depression and falconry. Following the death of her father, Helen MacDonald travels to Scotland to buy a goshawk and sets out on a mission to train it – despite no previous experience and only what she has read in books since she was a young girl. I get that this sounds like a slightly strange mix, but it makes for a beautiful one. It is a combination that makes you laugh, cry and gasp in awe along with MacDonald every step of the way and leaves you fascinated by these fantastic birds.

 

Click here for Part 1 of Eleanor’s guide.
Words and images by Eleanor Manley for Anthem.

 

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.