Woman vs Woman

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A colleague of mine was due for her yearly student review, at the university where she works. In student reviews, students in your classes complete a questionnaire about your lecturing and teaching, with space for additional comments concerning performance, if required. My colleague was upset, however. Why? A young female student came to her after completing the review, to let her know that she was the one who criticised the lecturer’s dress in additional comments

Now, let me say one thing. Many male lecturers dress casually and no student ever comments on their clothing. Yet, when asked to review a woman lecturer’s lecturing and teaching performance, another woman feels she must comment on dress. And fashion.

Why do women do this to each other? Why are we our own worst enemies?

Recently, researchers in North Carolina in the U.S. ran online courses for students. The lecturers ran one course under their actual names and gender and, simultaneously, the same course under a different name, changing their gender. The results? When students were told the lecturer was male, they rated their lecturer higher in performance rankings. When students were told their lecturers were female, well, the lecturer performance ratings took a dive.

And female students rated female lecturers more harshly.

Now, some have posited that this animosity among women is a natural thing….boys will be boys and women will be haters…to other women. However, it seems to me that it is more learned behaviour than natural behaviour. And thus, if it can be learned, it can also be unlearned.

Unfortunately, as Juliette Frette writes, much of the tension between women, much of the general meanness, concerns looks, weight, beauty. You know, you attend a class and afterwards, over coffee, your female friends around the table start criticising another woman’s body, or fashion choices, or makeup, or…

As though looks define our femininity.

On the other hand, in some circles, it is not our looks that are considered suitable fodder for dissecting and discussing and just general dissing.

No, in other circles, it’s our qualifications, our intellect…we are seen as too smart for our own good, in completing our PhD, or not quite making the grade because our thesis is on women and family related issues.

In still other arenas, it is our mothering style. Having been labelled as unattractive, a poor housekeeper and a poor mother by a woman I admired, I know the hurt that such tensions creates. These are the so-called mommy wars – debates over breastfeeding, working, homeschooling, ways to homeschool (unschooling? School at home? Should her kid start university courses so early?), parenting styles, wifely duties (“Did you hear they split up? He left her. I bet it’s because she was too busy for him/spent too much time on the kids/works/homeschools/you name it”…ignoring the fact that this is private information and, just perhaps, it wasn’t that the husband left her…).

Seriously, this has to stop. Frette lists ways we can change the tensions among women. My stance is to become pro-woman, pro other women. To take the other’s side. To change the topic of conversation. To have a meta-discussion about discussing other women.

To remember, in the words of Harriet Vane, in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, that we are ‘cursed with both hearts and brains’, with the responsibility of using both wisely; especially in resolving the women vs women debates.

Promiscuous reading

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Author (Paradise Lost) John Milton argued for promiscuous reading.

Now, the word promiscuous has certain connotations in our culture. Yet, promiscuous, removed from sexual connotations, initially implied random, casual, indiscriminate behaviour.

It is the idea of random reading that I am exploring here, under the banner of promiscuous reading. That kind of reading that just happens, casually, because books are strewn around the house. Or on your bedside table. Or on the higgledy-piggledy bookshelves, so that when you go to search for one book, you become lost in a book-savouring haze, and come away with another six books that you want to read and re-read, in addition to the original book for which you were searching.

This is promiscuous reading at I'd like to see you have a little direction.its best. Reading from a variety of books, different genres, unrelated authors, prose, poetry, non-fiction, biography, classics, graphic novels,  apologetics. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, rather than working through a prescribed booklist.

In some ways, the prescribed booklist limits the experience of reading. It limits the reader’s exploration, and blocks mental conversation with a number of contradicting  ideas. When we read promiscuously, however, we explore a number of ideas, we stretch ourselves mentally, we enter into dialogue with authors, ideas, writing styles; and with others, our colleagues, friends, family. Is Dumbledore right, for example, in asking Snape to kill him, to protect Draco? Does the act of killing affect us, as explored in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment? We make connections with Nietzsche’s discussion of man as a ‘sick animal’ and contrast this with the hope of St John Paul II’s ‘theological anthropology’, viewing humanity as a complex whole, body, soul, heart and conscience, mind and will, with a vocation to love.

These kinds of links are made with promiscuous reading. Indeed, promiscuous reading often manifests itself in ‘having more than one book on the go”. It has been likened to being a ‘book-adulterer’ but I think it has more worth than that.

In my case right now, that means Woman by Edith Stein, The Brokers by John Grisham, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Trials of Theology by Brian Rosner and some Advent/Christmas reading – Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul II and The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read. An eclectic bunch, a promiscuous bunch, with books picked up to read at disparate times, according to mental agility and/or tiredness in the moment. It’s those reading rhythms of life.

Promiscuous reading was something I encouraged in our homeschooling. Strewing books on the table, in baskets, near the computer. Sharing books avidly. Reading picture books and contemporary fiction alongside classics and  books like Supertrucks and The Way Things Work. Coming to realise, as Donnalyn Miller describes in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child,  ‘that every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people.

Promiscuous strewing and sharing of books can lead to promiscuous readers, whose lives will be made richer through their contact with a range of topics, genres, authors. And I agree with Ms Miller (hers is a great book, by the way, on encouraging reading in children): ‘the purpose of school (I would say education) should not be to prepare students for more school (or only for possible future needs). We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.’

Getting past the ‘downs’

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That phrase ‘down in the dumps’ is apt. You feel  down, deep down, that life is paralysing. You feel the darkness of Frodo, carrying the weight of the one ring.

“No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.”  The Return of the King.

I have been there.

How is it that we move past this ‘down’?

In my case, it was the keeping on. Keeping on doing. Keeping on being. Keeping up with exercise. Keeping up with prayer. And the sacraments. And sacramentals. Especially sacramentals, those misunderstood things. Clutching a blessed rosary. Holding a medal. Remembering what and Who it is they signify.

The keeping on eventually lit a teeny tiny glow of light in the darkness of downs.

The glow gave warmth and light and a sliver of hope. Maybe the downs are not forever? Maybe all else does not fade.

Making little changes helped to pierce the veil of downs. Reading more fiction forced memories. Reading spiritual works and even self-help books removed some of the nakedness of the darkness.

The twinge of fear about enjoying any positive times was removed. You know that fear, that life has taught you well. That whenever things go well and are good, be aware. The good cannot last but will be punctured by the bad. Yet again.

That fear was lifted. By getting past the downs and a surprising notion that came after months of down-ness. The notion that maybe it is not that good times will be punctured by bad times, so don’t enjoy the good, just-in-case. The notion that instead, maybe it is the good times that illuminate the bad, and the bad , the downs, are the small interludes and not the main fare of life.

Ah. Getting past the downs to enjoy the good is not life. Enjoying the good, alongside some downs, is the stuff.

wollongong                No fear. The good is good. And the downs don’t have to last.

 

 

No rules

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No rules? 

No rules. 

There are no real parenting and unschooling rules.

Love your kids. Spend time with your kids. Go with the flow.

Each child, each family, is different, 

it’s a bit hit and miss but the no rules approach works because it’s real, it’s about human interaction, it’s about individualising and making parenting and unschooling your own.

You know that gut feeling, that mother’s intuition? Listen. Trust. Pray. Seek counsel .

But most of all listen and engage. 

 

Reading fiction.

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“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope

I’m here to proclaim that reading can be part of the greater good.

Seriously, Leonie, you might say.

Yes, seriously.

And wait. I’m not just proclaiming that reading is part of the greater good. I am also proclaiming that reading fiction is part of the greater good.

I knew this instinctively as a child, I knew that when I read literature, really good literature, I was beamed to another world. It was not merely an escape from an often chaotic childhood (though it could be argued that this was part of it). It, reading fiction, presented new ideas, new situations, allowed me to face good and evil, to formulate hypotheses about life, to decide on a code or rule of life, to be who it is that I am today.

My vocabulary changed after reading fiction. My style of speaking and writing changed after reading literature. I felt better, I acted better. I thought in different ways.

Then life stepped in. Suddenly, there was less time for “me” reading amongst reading for work and study.

I solved this problem , in part, by reading children’s literature. I love children’s literature, the pathos, the evocative turn of phrase, the sheer delight.

And reading aloud to my children brought extra joy, in shared delights.

But still, reading literature had become a sorry second or third or fourth or….. In my life.

And I think I paid the price , with less delights to share and ponder.

Reading a blog post, shared on Facebook, at the start of the year,has changed all that. The post reiterated eleven ways to be healthier and happier. And one was “Read fiction “. What?

Apparently , reading fiction improves connectivity and brain activity.

Yes! It hit me! This I already knew. I knew the effect of literature on me and on my life and in my family, I knew the delight.

So this is what I have been doing: reading more fiction. Without judgement. Without telling myself that I must. Without a pre-arranged booklist.

Just reading. When and where I can. What I want.

Plus, the other day, in discussing the current murder mystery novel of choice, I noticed my sons’ fiction lying around. Turns out that they, too, love fiction . And In noticing my reading of fiction, they have been reminded and encouraged to read more fiction themselves.

The power of story.

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