little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: but of course i’m a feminist

Being old

I’ve seen a meme floating around Facebook and it’s really grinding my gears. I won’t link to it, but it originated on the page of some bloke called David Beansprout Beare or Paul Apple Foxi or some such. It shows two women. One is very muscular, is in gym gear and is smiling at the camera. The other is in a flowered blouse, has soft grey hair and it looking out of a window with net curtains on it (subtle touch, that). The caption says, “Both of these women are 74 … what choice are you going to make?”

Some thoughts:

  1. Great. We’re body-shaming 74-year-old women now.
  2. These pictures tell me nothing about the women depicted apart from the most superficial — it’s not even straightforward to assess their health, let alone how they have lived their lives, what they have accomplished, the sorrows they have faced, the love they have given and received, the learning that has marked and shaped them.
  3. The woman in the blouse looks a bit like my Granny, and she was a gardening, walking, whiskey-drinking, agile, sociable ninja-nana for most of her old age. At a certain point, her choices became much harder and her resilience took a blow too many and her physical health deteriorated. To blame her for that (to blame anyone for that, at any age) seems cruel and illogical. The individualising of health messages without recognising structural impediments, inequalities, privilege and disadvantage is bullshit.
  4. I’m 40, I go to the gym three or four times a week, I eat reasonably healthily and my life is generally happy. I have never had the physique of the woman in gym gear, and the thought that I might get there by the age of 74 is laughable.
  5. Do we really fetishise youth to the extent that we value the body of a gym bunny more highly than wisdom and life experience?
  6. The expectation that women should be beautiful has not served me well at any point in my life, and the idea that I will still be measured against that ideal and judged on my physical appearance when I’m 74 is utterly depressing.

Anyway … another day, another dose of internet outrage. My granny wasn’t on Facebook either. Might be time to introduce whiskey to my life.

Then I got curious and decided to find out who these women are and why Donald Beetjuice Ramface was using their images. The woman on the left is Ernestine Shepherd. She’s the world’s oldest competitive bodybuilder, a marathon runner and personal trainer, she was inspired to compete by her sister’s death, she likes Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Obama, and I hope she gave permission for her image to be used like this. Here’s her website. If the meme was just about her, I might be fine with it.

But there are two women in the picture, and the one on the right is more elusive. Her picture comes up when you google ‘elderly woman looking out a window’. The image is by Chalmers Butterfield, but I can’t find anything about her name, age or life.  To use an image of someone like that as a marker of what bad or unthinking or socially driven choices look like … well, it’s just damn rude, isn’t it?

International Women’s Day

Lucy of Lulastic and the Hippyshake is hosting an International Women’s Day 2016 Blog Link Up. You should check it out immediately. It inspired me to write about this woman’s day.


6.40am: Alarm goes. Do not want to get up. Curl up for just five minutes more.

7.15am: Ooops. Stumble to kitchen and find that partner has made the school lunches and put the coffee on. Domestic equality winning. We get through breakfast, tidy-up and have showers, then the boys leave for school.

9am: Beautiful Women’s Day text arrives from one of the most inspiring women I know. Think of the women I love, the ones I miss, the ones I look forward to seeing every day, the ones I want to hang out with more.

9.10am: Head to the gym. Struggle with feelings of inadequacy and middle-agedness, but smash the rower, nonetheless. No longer give a shit what I look like in gym gear.

11am: Stop on the way home for groceries. Forget the chicken food. Listen to an interview with a terrific bonsai expert on the way. She sounds about 80, and when Kathryn Ryan asks her what the deal is with air bonsai, she says, “Well, if anyone would like to find out more about that, what they really need to do is Google it.”

12pm: Lunch, coffee and a chapter of the book of feminist essays I’m re-reading.

12.30pm: Attempt to work, admit to self that day is something of a write-off. Am distracted and irritated by a Facebook discussion about training girl children out of shyness. Try five times to articulate anger and pain caused by discussion, decide it is all based on white capitalist patriarchy, delete all drafts. Send love and solidarity out into the ether and hope they will reach all my favourite shy people.

1.30pm: Find out that a woman has been shot in Seacliff. My friend’s mother lives nearby, my partner is being called out to report on it, and it just never, never stops, does it? Do the things women do: get in touch, cry, look out the window, write.

2.09pm: Receive invitation to a Cilla McQueen book launch. Respond YES with whole being. Put event on calendar and discover it clashes with partner’s return home from Australia and elder son’s futsal match. Can vaguely appreciate the irony, I suppose.

2.10pm: More work.

2.35pm: Decide to walk to school. Fresh air’s gotta help, right? Smile at every woman I pass, lean into the hill.

3.00pm: Exchange comfort, hugs and stories with the mothers and grandmothers at school. Embrace my boys. Join the girls’ team in the after-school soccer match. We lose, but with a strong sense of solidarity, y’know.

3.40pm: Walk home with my boys, feel tender towards the world.

4.10pm: Enter the afternoon tea, animal feeding, chores, dinner vortex. Decide to be cheerful about all the domesticity in a kind of “Making the World Go Round” way. Remember my favourite exchange along those lines.

Friend: What makes the world go round?
Me: Curves.

6.51pm: The afternoon went much better than I expected, which might have been the walk home — or perhaps the sisterhood is even more powerful than I imagined because the boys put stickers in a space book together, did their screen time, had afternoon tea and then put away their dishes and set the table with nary a scrap or grump. My approach of deliberate good cheer seemed to work too, although the glass of wine and feminist reading while stirring the risotto possibly worked better.

Ian came home and we debriefed the day. The Rabbit made himself a homework book while the Cat checked top goals of the week.

7.30pm: Update blog while supervising the Rabbit’s photocopying. He is making alphabets for the kids in his class.

7.40pm: Publish post. There’s more of the day to go, but I’m done. I mean, I’ll update if anything REALLY THRILLING happens, but it’s not that likely.

Naming sexism

Well, it’s been a busy week here and I haven’t had time to read much, just the first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath and a few articles about sexism in Australia. The Grapes stopped me in my tracks — it’s so damn good — but the rest made for a lot of feminist rage.

The Julia Gillard-quail thing was horrible enough (and the attacks on her are by no means isolated), but what struck me on reading The Guardian‘s coverage was the inability of any of the male political leaders interviewed to confront the attack head-on and name it for what it was.

Hockey called it “offensive and inappropriate”, which is so vague as to be meaningless and also kind of indicates that it’s mainly wrong because some people (ie. sensitive women) might take it badly.

Abbott called it “scatological”, which is inaccurate and just plain weird. He does know what that means, right?

And Rudd said that it was a “sexist trick” — the “trick” softening and undermining the blow of the “sexist” — and then suggested that the right and proper thing would be to donate all proceeds from the fundraising dinner to the RSPCA. The RSPCA? Why? Why not Rape Crisis or the Women’s Refuge, or whatever their Australian equivalents are? What’s the RSPCA got to do with it? Please God, tell me that he’s not worried about the quail.

Some things helped. This article makes a strong and coherent criticism of another attack on Gillard, this time over her partner’s sexuality, although I got a bit side-tracked when the writer admitted that it’s a bit, well, awkward talking about sexism and suggested that maybe we should think of it as being about manners instead. Yeeeesss. He went on to discuss the sexism inherent in this particular manifestation of bad manners, but it left me wondering again, why? Why is it so hard to name what’s going on here? Why is it awkward, and why are women so often accused of playing the gender card when they use the word “sexism”?

And there was another story, this time about the Chief of Army, who said that he would not tolerate sexism in the armed forces. Which is great, right? I mean, personally, the more feminists out there the better, and Lieutenant General David Morrison spoke with conviction and gave no ground to those in the army who think it’s acceptable to demean women.

But the article and comments went on to say what a feminist hero he was, and what a great leader, and called for him to be Prime Minister.


Australia, you have a feminist Prime Minister. She’s been weathering a storm of vile sexist attack for years. She made this amazing speech naming all the sexist stuff she’d had to put up with. You may not like all her policies, but then challenge her on her policies. Don’t start on about how you’d like to replace her with… what? Someone who’s a better feminist because he’s a man? A soldier?

Wow. You really can’t handle having a woman as leader at all, can you?

Things I liked this week

A big week, this one. My partner had a birthday, our little boy turned two (today!), we cranked out some good family times for the last week of the school holidays, we spent time with friends, I conquered a formatting problem, the sun shone every day. No, really. Every single day.

And a few good things came my way, via Facebook, other blogs, serendipity. So I thought I’d share some with you.

The subversive copyeditor: How could I resist a name like that? Someone posted a link to this article on Facebook, and that led me to the rest of the blog.

Smitten Kitchen: Someone recommended this blog to a Facebook friend. A cook who can write — sign me up.

An ohhhhh, that’s interesting graph: with thanks to Blue Milk. I’ve been thinking about what it means all week.

Shetland ponies in cardigans: Epbot posted a link to these photos (via the Modern Farmer), and it made my day. Tourism NZ people, I’m afraid this blows both 100% pure and Middle Earth OUT OF THE WATER.

But hang on, isn’t this a business blog?

Oh, so you noticed. Noticed that along with the writing tips, the wordplay, and the grammar musings, some other things keep slipping into this blog. Bits of fiction. A poem (!). Stories about my children (good grief). Words like decolonisation (really?). Reflections on motherhood (enough already). Feminist analysis (settle down, ladies). Politics, family history, Christmas presents. What’s all that about? Am I confused? Do I know what I’m doing?

Well, “yes” and “not really”.



My main aim with this blog is to treat it like a scrapbook. To gather together snippets of the things that move or inspire me, that have me laughing in agreement or making sense of another day spent trying to fledge a business and hold together the threads of a full and busy household. To say, “Look, this is what writing can do. These are the words we need to guide us into a more hopeful future.”

And I’m also trying to be as open and generous as possible in my understanding of what a business can be. Because why shouldn’t a businesswoman think about colonisation or feminism or children or any of that? Because those things don’t go away when we say, “No, you didn’t see the boundary there; this is business, this is work.” Because I’m not going to cut myself into pieces and sanction one little bit to build this business up. What you’ll get is all of me, stroppy, reflective, silly, curious, ratbaggy as I might be. And I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my views, but I do think that there’s space in the business model for me to wander off the page and write about the rest of my life, about the questions and anchors and truths that keep me alert and keep me whole. And if there’s not that space, there should be.


“Not really”

But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it?

Because I do put my own boundaries on what I write, and I do worry away at the distinction between a personal and a business blog. I question my decisions. I self-censure. I link to other people’s words instead of putting my analysis and thinking on the line. I feel vulnerable when I post creative writing and a bit soft when I write about mothering or my children. I tell the funny or appealing family stories — not so much the ones where I am less than graceful and composed.


“Well maybe”

So, what to do?

You know, the thing I keep coming back to is the idea of wandering off the page. Of saying, “Yes, this writing is connected to my business, because it all stems from me and my writing self, but it’s a little bit to the side, a little bit meandering. It’s where my thoughts turn in my quiet moments, or where they snag as I’m playing with the kids or making dinner or listening to the radio or having a shower. It’s the writing I do when I’ve got something to say.” And what I’d really like is to live in a world where the page origamis into new shapes, where the centre no longer holds and the eye is free to follow those wandering, marginal lines.


I’ve been thinking that I should write a post about John Key and his “gay red shirt” comment. I made some notes, I turned some thoughts over, I ranted to all and sundry. And then Jody Hopkinson published this and I thought I could just link to her. She says it all, really. Although I do have some unexpended ranty energy built up here, so you might yet get a post from me on the issue.

Sticks and stones

My latest crush

I just read Caitlin Moran’s column “Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls” while waiting for the kettle to boil. It made me:

  • exult
  • cry
  • really need that cup of tea
  • want to ring my sister.

That’s quite a lot to pack into a minute and a half.

Subverting the patriarchy one snarky review at a time

No BIC for Her pens in my office.

Writing motherhood

Love this.

Love the words, love the ideas, love the whole damn thing.

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