Women’s Voices – Part 2

(Part 1 here: https://megkingston.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/womens-voices-part-1-small-talk/ )

So what did we learn from Mary Beard’s programme on the Public Voice of Women? A lot of examples from History and Art and Literature, a few from Geography and Entertainment but nothing really from Sports or Science and Nature. (Yes, I nicked the headings from Trivial Pursuit, what’s wrong with that?)

Mary Beard is a highly intelligent, articulate and well-read classics scholar. Hence her experience in and bias towards certain subjects, which made for a fascinating presentation about the historical records (factual and in the fiction of the times) that demonstrate ways in which the sound of a woman’s voice has been regarded. She tried to separate the issue of women’s voices from straightforward misogyny, which I’m not sure is possible. Yes, there are differences, but are these the reason for the discrimination we see today? Shakespeare regularly had women passing themselves off as men by changing their clothes in his plays (never the other way round, as far as I recall), which is even more amusing when you remember that all of his actors would have been male. So a man playing a woman pretending to be a man…

More recently, we know that Margaret Thatcher had training to lower her speaking voice – one way to be taken more seriously in the male-dominated political arena. As a matter of fact, some men in the public eye have had similar training – including actors who’ve been advised to take up smoking to give them gravelly tones. Not a price I’d be willing to pay for a sexier voice!

So men and women alike have realised that we judge people by their speaking tone. Deeper voices are more serious, mature, trustworthy, sexy and therefore something to be aspired to. As a young man, my Dad tried to push his singing voice into the bass register – until he gave up and learned to make the most of his lovely tenor range later in life.

While we’re so close to home, my own voice is deep for a woman – a low alto for any singers reading this. I’ve had people mistake me for a man on the phone. Even one person (Receptionist at the dental surgery I used to attend) who behaved very oddly, asking if the appointment was for me and my “wife” – and once referred to me as “him” to another member of staff. I was amused to realise she must have thought I was cross-dressing or transgender or something. I never bothered to put her right – if she hasn’t learnt after working in that sort of job, then she’s never going to learn that women’s voices aren’t all high, soprano or strident.

I’ve been a member of various writers’ groups over the years and I’ve noticed that the majority of members tend to be women. Yet any men who attend seem to be more likely to get the opportunity to read their work to the group. At a series of meetings in a local group, the men who attended all got to read at every meeting, whilst I was refused the opportunity for four meetings in a row. One man in particular would read long, waffly chapters every week. Now, it could be that my writing wasn’t liked, or any number of reasons, but I believe a gender bias is in operation here. The nominal chairperson at the time was a woman, but she never really took control and the pro-men reading bias steered the meetings.

So, I propose that there’s more at work here than the simple fact that women’s voices are (on average) higher than men’s. That seems to be more a symptom than the cause and the way we’re disregarded goes beyond that. Men with high-pitched voices are regarded as frivolous in the entertainment industry – but in business, they’re still taken more seriously than women, even ones with a lower voice range. I won’t cite personal examples, because I’d risk embarrassing the men in question, but there have been a few. In the working world, I found that men could easily talk over a woman and no-one would blame him for it. The Miss Triggs cartoon cited by Mary Beard is only too true.

In the 20th Century that bastion of UK tradition, the BBC, were responsible for the chocolaty tones of news readers giving out news, both good and bad, in deep, reassuring tones. Nowadays, the “BBC Voice” is something of a joke, but it echoes through our society. They didn’t create it, just gave us a convenient label for the way some men speak. And thinking about the battles that women fought to be allowed to read “serious news” to the nation, media broadcasters haven’t been exactly willing to confront the issue.

So how should we try to rectify the imbalance? How can we tilt ourselves towards a more level playing field?

I don’t have a simple answer. Anything a woman says will be seen as further evidence that she doesn’t have anything useful to contribute, that she should not be listened to. “Oh, you’re always whining about men ignoring you.” I would ask that men start noticing the phenomenon – look out for a woman being shouted over in a meeting, etc. Even if you (a “he”) don’t intervene, it may make you more aware of how often it happens. Women, stand up and be counted when you hear someone complain she’s being ignored. (At least think about supporting her or maybe speaking up for yourself next time.)

This isn’t a trivial matter and it won’t be resolved in a hurry, whatever we do. The examples I’ve cited above all happened, but I’m not saying everyone thinks in a particular way, or that all men will shout down any woman who speaks. But even once would be too often – and I’ve seen it happen many more times than that.

I did suggest at the writers’ group I mentioned earlier, that we should have a time limit on each person’s reading. I even offered to bring an egg timer. This didn’t go down well. But I would propose that idea if I were chairing meetings where a few voices dominated in this way. Feel free to borrow the idea!

Like Mary Beard, I don’t advocate voice training as a solution. I’m sure it does some good for a few individuals, but that isn’t really the problem. The only way this will change is if all of us, men and women, realise we’re more inclined to listen to men, and make a point of hearing women when they do speak.

After all, we might have something worth saying.

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Women’s Voices – Part 1 (Small Talk)

We’ve all heard, “Children should be seen and not heard”, but an awful lot of men seem to think the same should be applied to women.

From Les Dawson’s jokes about his Mother-in-Law talking too much to Family Guy’s catchphrase, “Shut up, Meg” (Yes, I know. If you want to berate me, come up with something original, can’t you?), it’s a deep-rooted cliché that women should talk less.

Now, after a recent discussion online, I happened to spot this programme coming up on Sunday:

And I’m really looking forward to it. From my earliest years, I’ve been aware that females are judged to be not worth listening to when we express our opinions – my parents used to joke about it, in front of me and presumably when I wasn’t listening, too. (“We used to wish she’d start talking. Now we just wish she’d shut up.”)

The strange thing is that women are expected to be able and willing to make “small talk”. This derogatory term is never used to refer to men talking, however trivial the subject matter. Only women’s conversation is considered small. (Sometimes it’s even small when there are men involved, but there has to be a woman in the equation.)

We use different words to describe the behaviour of people according to their gender, from a very young age. For example:

Male………….Female
Assertive……..Bossy
Confident……..Pushy
Self-assured….Domineering
Emphatic………Aggressive
Forceful………Strident

A woman who raises any issue like this will find herself described as whining, whinging, grumpy, belligerent, difficult and (only too often) hormonal. The nearest a man ever comes to being described by that last term is if someone says “he’s a bit of a lad”. In the office environment, male hormones result in laddish, but accepted behaviour – female hormones are a weakness, something to be ashamed of.

I have direct experience of this. In the days when I worked in an office, an email was sent by a male colleague, complaining that people were not routing their desk phones to their mobiles, so phones in the office would ring and he objected to answering them. He was thanked for being proactive at the next team meeting and staff were all asked to ensure their phones were correctly routed.

A couple of weeks later, I was alone in the office and fed up of phones ringing unanswered, so I sent a copy of the same email to the same people, asking they route their desk phones to their mobiles.

Bear in mind, I copied and pasted his email. I sent exactly the same words to the same people.

I was reprimanded by the manager who’d thanked my male colleague, saying I was “being bossy” and “pretending to be a manager”.

On a disability note, I’ve been on the receiving end of comments like, “If you used your body for what it’s meant to do” far too many times. Male doctors who make it clear they feel they can dismiss many MS symptoms as “female problems”. It doesn’t help that the condition affects more women than men.

Back at the forthcoming programme. Mary Beard is a respected classicist historian, so I’m sure she will incorporate some excellent examples of “Oh Do Shut Up, Dear” from ancient sources as well as her own recent experiences on social media and in the populist press. I wonder if any of her detractors could rebuff her comments with one-tenth of her eloquence?

There is a lot of low-level sex discrimination in the UK, and one definite issue is the way that girls and women are criticised for expressing ourselves.

(It’s not just a gender issue – the same criticism is levelled at all sorts of minorities for daring to speak out. Drawing on my own experience, I’ve heard:

“What do you know about hillwalking?” (With a gesture towards my wheelchair.)

“You don’t know anything about sport!”

“How would you know how long it takes to walk there?”

And many other comments that my opinion is irrelevant, specifically due to a physical impairment.

And I’ve frequently been shouted down when I dared to express an opinion – often without my even saying enough for my views to be clear. I’ve been female all my life but visibly disabled only for the last 20 years, so I have a good perspective on the difference between gender bias and disability discrimination. I’m not saying one is worse than the other, and I know that other forms exist – but I can tell the difference between the two in many cases.)

I like to measure the ####-ism of a statement by reversing the polarity, or translating it to apply to a different flavour of discrimination. So – how would it sound if I made a similar joke, but made the subject my Father-in-Law? It wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t be funny because we don’t have the same cliché about men.

Or what if I made it a racist joke? I’d be (rightly) pilloried for saying it.

And yet we accept this sexist view of women (and a similar one about disabled people) without questioning it.

Rather than duplicate effort, I will watch the programme on Sunday and post another comment afterwards.

Let’s hear what the good lady has to say before we offer our opinions on her.

Balancing a Diet

Hardly a day goes by without some new edict from an expert telling us what we should be eating or drinking. The advice is usually confusing, often contradictory and, frankly, requires more effort than I’m inclined to make over every meal.

Hubby and I eat a varied diet, heavy on tasty veg and fruits, with one portion of protein each day, including oily fish most weeks. That used to be enough – but expert opinions are going further. It seems that we’re meant to reflect the appropriate proportions of different foodgroups on every plateful. So I’m only allowed to eat a snack if I check that it’s properly balanced between protein, carbs, sugar, fat and micronutrients.

Come ON!

Did our remote ancestors hesitate during a mammoth hunt to wonder if they’d had enough greens that day?

We’ve become obsessed with tick lists and numbers. Every meal has to tick every box and have exactly the right number of Calories and grams of fat. We have several different labelling systems for our food and unregulated claims splashed across the packaging in big, bright letters.

At the same time, manufacturers and retailers are doing their best to make it too complicated for us to work out just how little nutrition we get from their food. They’re determines to hide the outrageous sugar content of their foods by highlighting the “low-fat” message. We crave fatty food and sweetness – it’s part of our DNA. The two factors are intrinsically linked – if you reduce one, you have to increase the other to compensate. We are also programmed to seek out saltiness – our bodies need salt to function, but too much is dangerous.

Processed foods are made attractive to us by playing on this trinity of basic desires. Unfortunately, competition has driven manufacturers to add more and more of each one. Just look at the ingredients list for things you would never expect to see – sugar in savoury sauces, salt added to sweet treats. This is how the Western diet has got so bad – we don’t realise what is being smuggled into our bodies by food we assume is good for us.

And as a result, we see diet fad after diet fad, exercise craze after exercise craze being advertised, endorsed by celebrities and people making money from our credulousness.

A healthy diet is not rocket science. If you strip away all the advertising, hype and deliberate complicating by food manufacturers, we can all improve our diets by following a few simple rules:

* Eat fruit and veg. Recommendation is five potions a day – just aim to eat one more than you do now. A portion is the size of your fist. Tinned is fine – but check the sauce / syrups they’re packaged in.

* Reduce fat. Avoid fried food and cut the fat off meat before you eat it.

* Ask your doctor’s advice on your weight and activity levels. Most of us need to shed a few pounds and exercise more, some are the opposite. Listen to your doctor and make small adjustments to your lifestyle.

* Pay attention to your food – enjoy it, savour it. Avoid snacking while you work or watch telly, etc.

* Be honest – with yourself if not your doctor. There are Calories in drinks, sauces and dressings – don’t assume these are too small to count.

* Don’t make excuses – make yourself a promise.

* Cook at home. It’s easier than you think and you can be sure what’s in it that way!

* Don’t let anyone make money out of your wish to be slimmer or fitter.

It’s hard to make big changes in your life, so just do it for one day a week. Cook a meal from scratch on a Sunday, dig out your exercise video for each Wednesday evening – whatever. If it makes you feel good, extend to another day. My chronic condition makes it very hard for me to exercise and my body doesn’t absorb nutrients properly, but that doesn’t stop me balancing a diet and keeping as fit as I can. Give it a try – what have you got to lose?

Feeling Good Alone

January: a dark month to be alone.

You’re stuck in the house – haven’t left it for days. The last conversation you had was with that weird guy who tried to sell you a dodgy-looking Blu-Ray last week and you’ve started talking to the house plant. And that’s been dead for years.

Whether through illness, career choice, retirement, a baby, personal circumstances or something else, you may find yourself entirely on your own for days on end – even months. But we are gregarious animals, we need to be part of the herd. So how does a solitary human cope on their own?

Many writers spend the working day on their own, a lot of people with chronic illness barely leave their home and an increasing number of single people have little reason to leave an empty house. There are many of us living alone with no real interaction with the outside world – and that number looks likely to increase.

I’m luckier than many stay-at-homers, I have my Hubby to keep me sane. Or is it conversations with the cats? Anyhow, my disability makes it hard to leave the house and go somewhere, while my writing work keeps me chained to my computer. But I’ve found a few little tricks to stop me going stir-crazy.

Don’t be Alone All Day

For a long time, I used to make a point of getting out of the house and having a conversation with someone – even if it was only the person making me a coffee. But between worsening health and the closure of my nearest café, that isn’t realistic any more. But there are still options. There are friends I can call – or they may call me. I have some good friends I can connect with online – real friends, not just social media contacts. One way or another, I can interact with another human being.

But not everyone is so lucky.

Yes, there are organisations who will listen if someone is desperate, but they aren’t much help if you’re just feeling a little lonely. The internet is a great resource, with chat rooms and social media, free phone calls to be made and a worldwide community where someone is always online. Many of my social media contacts are also friends, but you can’t beat the face-to-face conversation for making you feel human.

There’s a lot to be said for shopping from home. Whether it’s the postman ringing your doorbell with a parcel from an online retailer or a uniformed man bringing a week’s shopping from a supermarket – it’s human contact and that’s a bonus that comes with the free delivery service offered by many retailers.

If you can get out of the house, take a walk when the dog-walking brigade are out, visit a café, a church or your local library. Many clubs are free – it doesn’t have to cost anything to socialise.

Love Yourself

Not leaving the house isn’t an excuse not to make yourself respectable. Many stay-at-homers report living in their pyjamas, not bothering with personal hygiene and generally letting things slip because no-one’s going to see them. I don’t agree – you will see yourself. Aren’t you worth getting dressed for? Is your life so busy you don’t have time to wash and dress?

Yes, I have days when I’m officially “ill”, worse than just the usual disability problems. And I’ll spend a day or three in bed when I need to – not dressing, even not brushing out my hair. But as soon as I feel that bit better, I behave as if I’m going back to “work” – as myself. Someone who has a bath, gets dressed and wouldn’t have to apologise if the doorbell rings and there’s a hunky young man come to deliver a parcel.

I go further. And these are some of the things that make me feel human when I’m on my own all day. I wear perfume every day, just for myself. It’s a luxury, but it doesn’t cost much for the number of days’ wear in each bottle. Sometimes I wear a necklace or a pair of earrings, just because I can. I’m not one for makeup even when I go out, but if I was…

Or for the blokes – why not shave each morning? Or keep the facial hair trimmed, as you prefer? Assume you’re going to open your door and see someone so fanciable you’d regret not having made an effort.

Create Something

I know my books aren’t great literature, my knitting isn’t going to win any fashion awards and I’ll never be a Celebrity Chef. But people appreciate my writing, my jumpers and the food I make – people including myself! The feeling I get from baking a loaf of bread is completely disproportionate to the small effort that goes into it. Even doing a craft I’m useless at is fun (I can’t draw for toffee, but my notebooks are littered with sketches of machines / clothes / maps I’d be embarrassed to show anyone!) One of the benefits of giving up work is having time to make stuff and I only wish I had more time to create in my life!

Look After Yourself

Cooking for one is such a hassle. It takes so long to prepare food. It’s easier and cheaper to eat ready meals that will poison me. Or nothing at all. I mean, I don’t have time to peel veg!

Wanna bet?

There are myths in the media about how difficult it is to eat properly. How expensive fresh veg is – and that there are no greengrocers anywhere. Programmes on telly give the impression only celebrity chefs can prepare food that’s fit to eat – so buy their latest book and drool over glossy photos of five-star cuisine while you stuff your face with greasy takeaway food full of salt and sugar.

Or buy some good old-fashioned veg from a supermarket and cook it for yourself. It doesn’t have to be exciting or exotic – it doesn’t take much effort to wash a carrot. And if your experiments don’t always work, is it really a disaster? It’s probably edible – and you’ll do better next time.

Endorphins are Your Friends

Big word – tiny chemicals. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones generated by your body. They are the way your body is programmed to reward you when you do something right. From the happy feeling when you eat a good meal to the warm afterglow in the bedroom, we should all take time to get a little of this legal and safe “high”.

Yes, even stay-at-homers have sex drives.

Research shows your body will produce endorphins when you eat a good meal, meet someone you fancy or go shopping. But also when you meditate, exercise, talk to someone or make something. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!

The Little Things

One of the greatest perils of the stay-at-home life is the blandness of daily existence. Don’t let yourself be shut in like a cockroach in a tiny cupboard. Open the curtains and look out at the world. If you’re down – have a good cry. Get it out of your system and step back into the world. Treat your life like a job – something you have to make an effort for.

Because YOU’re worth it.

If you really can’t cope with being alone, there are many organisations to help. On a really bad day, there are always The Samaritans on 085457 90 90 90 (UK) for anonymous, non-judgemental listening.

Organ Donation – a Rant

I’ll be straight with you from the start. I’m a great believer in organ donation. I carry two donor cards, the general one that many Brits have – and an extra one for the MS Tissue Bank. I’ve blogged before about this and you can read more here:
https://megkingston.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/when-a-donation-is-taken-for-granted/

What got my goat this week was a studio guest on the radio, saying she didn’t want her organs to be used after her death because it’s her body and “The Government” doesn’t have any right to take bits of it off her. (The Welsh Assembly Government has passed legislation for an opt-out system here in Wales.)

Aside from the fact that everyone alive today has benefited to some degree from research carried out on donated bodies / organs, I wondered how she’s react if she needed an organ transplant. And that got me thinking even further…

What if we had a single register for organ donations – it doesn’t even matter whether it’s opt-in or opt-out. But only those on the register would be eligible for organ donations. Or transplants. So a person could only receive a donated organ if they were prepared to donate their own after death.

Let’s rule that there’s a two-year probationary period, too. So you’ve got to be on the register for twenty-four months before you could receive a donated organ. Just in case anyone tried to cheat the system.

That would be fair, wouldn’t it?

Heat, Fatigue and Victorian Clothing

The UK has just experienced the hottest July in years and everyone’s really enjoying the summery weather.

Except those of us who aren’t.

Most people with neurological disorders find their symptoms are exacerbated by heat. In other words, we’re the grumpy ones who complain it’s too hot when everyone else is hunting for skimpy clothing and slapping on the factor 15. Or in my case, sweltering under heavy clothes to keep the rays off my vampiric skin that burns at the first touch of sunlight.

MSers commonly list fatigue as their worst symptom. It’s also the hardest
to explain. It isn’t “feeling a bit tired” or “tiring easily” – it’s more like something suddenly stealing all your energy without warning and leaving you unable to do anything. No, getting more sleep doesn’t prevent it, not does taking things easy for a few days. And it usually gets worse when we’re too warm. One of my MonSter’s favourite tricks is to lie in wait while I cook dinner and pounce so I’m too fatigued to lift the fork to my mouth. It’s debilitating, annoying and can be downright embarrassing.
So why do I agree to attend an event in Victorian-style clothing on a hot day? It could be that I don’t want to let the organiser down. Or it could be plain old-fashioned masochism. Or maybe it’s because I’m too bl##dy-minded to give in to the MonSter today.

Whatever the reason, looking forward to seeing some more lunatics in Steampunk attire at the Punknic. And I’ll try not to be too grumpy!

BTW. Chrystal Heart is at the reduced price of £2.99 for the weekend. (Amazon willing!)
Click Here

A Meditation on Modern Life and Pleasure

Following my recent comments on the nature of stress, here’s a similar analysis of pleasure and how not understanding what makes us happy may be making us unhealthy.

Like stress, pleasure is divided into three phases. – surprise, anticipation and denouement. Let’s take the example of your other half deciding to give you a treat.

Surprise – you get a text message at work, “I’m home early and preparing your favourite meal” or “The kids are staying with Grandma and I’m not wearing any underwear”. Hey – whatever floats your boat.

Anticipation – you spend the afternoon daydreaming about the evening awaiting you at home. (Probably not doing your job very well, but at least you’re happy.)

Denouement – you get home from work and…

Simples.

But what we forget is the pleasure of the first two phases. Many of us are so focussed on the final stage that we fail to see what we’re missing. Is this why people overeat? Are we stuffing our faces with fast food, when what we really want is the smell of dinner cooking for an hour before we’re able to sink our gnashers into it? Is this why courting is out of fashion? Why no-one saves for anything? Perhaps this explains why we make impulse purchases we later regret. Food for thought indeed.

There’s a lovely line in Jurassic Park (book and film) that sums this up. The scene centres on a goat being staked out to attract a T. Rex. Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill in the film) observes, “He doesn’t want to be fed – he wants to hunt.” Prophetic words in the story – but maybe that’s the root of our unhappiness about food. We don’t want a double-mega-stackhouse burger with gigantic fries, onion rings and full fat cola. What we really want is a house full of the smell of a pot roast in the slo-cooker. Or bread baking. Or sizzling bacon.

Maybe there’s something to be said for satisfying our appetites with anticipation as much as the end product. Maybe the best diet is one that includes enjoying the preparation of our food as much as eating it.

Right – I’m off to the kitchen. I’ll be the one frying onions.