Why We Still Need International Women’s Day

Someone made a comment that my début novel, Talk of the Toun (TOTT) has just about every ‘ism’ featured in it – racism, sectarianism and sexism.  This was not a conscious decision on my part, it was purely to reflect the societal norm of the main characters whose environment is a working class small town in central Scotland in the mid-80s.

downloadWhen I organised a blog tour for TOTT, several of the hosts asked me to take part in a Q &A. This was quite daunting as until the questions popped into my inbox, I’d no idea what they would be and only hoped I’d be able to answer them. Some of them were light-hearted, such as, “Do you have any strange writing habits?” but there was a recurring theme that focussed on the darker issue of women’s sexuality which is explored in TOTT.

I was often asked how I felt about attitudes to women regarding sex and pregnancy and how relevant I felt this was to today’s outlook.

For me as the writer, it was a case of trying to create a realistic situation and use my own memories of the attitudes to sex and pregnancy when I was a teenager in the 80s. Like the main characters, I was brought up as a Catholic and was indoctrinated at school and within the home that to become pregnant, unmarried, would bring shame on the family and scupper any thoughts of further education or a career.

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Image from the anti-abortion film featured in chapter one of Talk of the Toun.

The first chapter in the novel has a scene where the senior pupils are shown a graphic anti-abortion film and this was based on my own experience at school.  Being force-fed these messages meant that sex was equated with fear amongst me and my friends, your worst nightmare was to fall pregnant. I feel that attitudes like those highlighted in the novel are realistic in certain communities at that time and made an impact on how young women grew up to view their bodies and their sexuality. However, although times have changed, I wonder how many other young women are still on the receiving end of negative images and concepts?

Have things improved? As regards female sexuality, in one sense women may feel empowered by the choices available to them nowadays but you only have to examine statistics on the conviction rate for rape to realise so much more needs to be done to address the stigma attached to certain crimes. I’d like to hope that Talk of the Toun might stimulate discussion on this issue and whether or not society is a better place for women in 2016 than it was in 1985.

But until I believe that there’s no need to still talk about it, I will always be an ardent supporter of International Women’s Day!

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Birthday in Belfast

photophoto.JPG  hhhI like to read magazines in the bath and I love to travel which meant I presented my hubby with a page torn out of Woman and Home suggesting that we go to Belfast for my birthday (a much safer option than leaving him to choose a gift!). I’d never been to Belfast and after doing a bit of research I created a wish list of places to visit. The much hyped Titanic Belfast visitor centre was a definite ‘hop off ‘on the sightseeing bus tour but two other attractions were higher on my list.

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The iconic memorial mural for hunger striker Bobby Sands.

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A tattered Union Jack flag on a resident’s shed and a lamppost painted in red, white and blue.

I wanted to go on a ‘black cab tour’ of west Belfast to view the mural art and learn more about life for the residents of Shankill and Falls Road before and after ‘The Troubles’.

 

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Barack Obama told a crowd in Belfast: “There are walls that still stand, there are still many miles to go”.

This was particularly relevant to me as only the week before I’d attended the Glasgow Women’s Library’s Mixing the Colours conference which celebrated the work to address the issue of sectarianism. This is a recurring theme in my own writing so I was interested to learn more about Belfast’s history of sectarianism and how the communities are working to stamp it out.

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A chance to make my mark in support of Mixing the Colours.

As Bobby our driver highlighted, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero” and it will take time and effort to battle against sectarianism. As part of the tour, we stopped at the Peace Line and Bobby suggested that we join others and write our own message on the wall.

 

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The tunnel that connects the gaol with the courthouse on the others side of the road.

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4 wings of the prison radiate from the ‘Circle’.

 

The other tour I wanted to squeeze into our short trip was to Crumlin Road Gaol. The building, known as ‘The Crum’, first opened its gates in 1846 and for 150 years it was a fully operational prison, only closing its doors in 1996. During its history, the gaol housed murderers, suffragettes, loyalist and republican prisoners.

 

I’ve just finished reading the excellent book, The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester and this features the struggle of the suffragettes, some of whom were force-fed when they went on hunger strike in jail. This happened in Crumlin Road Gaol as well and the tour really helped bring scenes in the The Hourglass Factory alive.

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Oops! My glass is overflowing again…

Touring a Victorian gaol and a deprived area of a city ravaged by religious and political hatred might not be everyone’s ideal birthday treat but I thoroughly enjoyed my chance to understand more about issues that are important to me (and there was plenty of time for good food and drink too!).

Have you been to Belfast?

International Women’s Day – Make it Happen!

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Anna Munro was a Scottish suffragette who was a founder of the Women’s Freedom League. In 1912 she walked from Edinburgh to London to protest because women were not allowed to vote for Members of Parliament.

As a feminist, I support International Women’s Day (IWD) as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. And as a writer, I support fellow writers, particularly Scottish women who are making their voice heard through fiction.

 

download (1)So when I saw that my pal, Clare Archibald, was involved in organising a book event on IWD called, ‘Cream Tea, Gin & Corsets it sounded like the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I don’t drink tea or gin and I’ve never worn a corset but the lure for me was three things:

 

  1. The book reading was by Lucy Ribchester
  2. The event was in Burntisland
  3. It was associated with the Women for Independence(WFI) Coastal Fife group (but was open to all women whether they’d voted Yes, No or who couldn’t care less about independence).

I’ll explain why these 3 factors were a winning combo for me…

  1. Lucy has recently been shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award in addition to huge praise for her debut novel, The Hourglass Factory which explores the suffragette history within a fictional setting. (You can read a review of the novel on one of my favourite blogs, The Writes of Woman).
  2. When I was wee, a day trip to the seaside had us heading to the Silver Sands at Aberdour (Lucy’s hometown) for a picnic on the beach then on to Burntisland for a shot on the shows so it was a great excuse to revisit a childhood haunt.
  3. I was proud to vote Yes in last year’s Scottish referendum and I live in hope that the work of groups such as WFI can make the dream become reality.

So you can understand why I was keen to spend IWD at an event that brought together women of all voting histories and futures in celebration of female achievement and possibility.

I don’t live as near to the Fife coast as I did when I was a child so it took me over an hour to get to Burntisland but it was well worth the time and effort. At my table, the plate of scones was shared between three lovely women – Clare’s mum, her neighbour and a woman who had many connections to my own hometown – we could’ve talked for hours! This year’s IWD theme is ‘Make it Happen’ and being there to hear about how women in Scotland helped change the course of politics and society made me feel very privileged indeed.

Did you Make it Happen and celebrate IWD this year?

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