Sunday, 22 November 2015

A working mum

My Mother can often be heard telling people how I began my career at the RSC aged 8, as a munchkin. Which is about as relevant as when she tells them I have my gold medal in acting from LAMDA, still unaware that that is somewhat less impressive than actually having been to LAMDA, despite my advising her of this on numerous occasions. My Father, in his speech at our wedding, remarked that I earnt more as a Munchkin than I have ever earned since, in the performing arts.

Tomorrow that changes. Tomorrow I start rehearsals for the RSC for two shows for their Summer Season at The Swan. And it is brilliant but bittersweet. Not just because it's taken circa 12yrs to get that call. But because I am on maternity leave from my office job. Because we have a 15 week old little boy called Hector. And he is the best thing I've ever done in my life, other than meet and marry my husband.

So, having planned to continue sitting on my arse, watching Sky Box Sets and eating cookies whilst I breastfeed, I will be up and out of the house by 8.45am tomorrow, having got up at 6.45 to try and do two boob feeds and express some milk.

We've spent the weekend talking and thinking logistics. Our families don't live anywhere near, and friends will help out on the odd day, but they have jobs and partners and children of their own to look after. We've got childcare to help look after him and bring him to me each lunchtime for a feed and a cuddle and bring him back home (courtesy of the rather wonderful Bea & Co). My ever supportive husband (courtesy of his extremely understanding boss) is going to work from home. Then we have to work out our move to Stratford and whether we rent out our London flat. I know - a no brainer. But possibly not when you see how much stuff we have to sort out. It probably is time to throw away the blow up sex dolls bought for that Edinburgh show.

I've found myself holding Hector tighter in the last 48hrs than ever before. Staring at his face and repeating Mama over and over at him so he doesn't even contemplate anyone else holding that title, even if he doesn't get to see me for most of the day. We were planning to move him out of our bed, into the side cot but now I'm thinking I want him by me whenever we have the opportunity. I can't even imagine how hard tech weeks and understudy weeks with performances in the evening will be.

But I'm hoping it is worth it. In fact, I know it will be. Once the shows are up and running I'll get most days with my baby, and to do what I've always wanted to do in the evenings and the odd matinee. And that's a pretty good life, right?

And more importantly, the more parents that do it, the easier it will get. The RSC has a nursery. PIPA has just launched. My friend went off to Malaysia to film when her bubba was 6 weeks old, and was apparently expressing milk in the forest. So if she can do it, so can I. There are brilliant women and men pushing for this industry to accommodate working parents, not least my agent and the RSC casting team, and for them I am thankful.

And I might start crying on the bus tomorrow morning on my way to work. In fact, I'd bet money on it. And I might start crying again when he arrives at lunchtime for some boob. And I might not get to socialise with the cast at breaks cos I'll be in a room with a breast pump. And some cookies. So if you see me crying, or indeed with my tit out, or both (because believe me, those two things are in no way mutually exclusive), feel free to come and say hi, or give me a hug. Maybe not whilst I've got my tit out actually, but after. After would be fine.

And in the unlikely event that you're in the production and reading this, know that the stain on my jumper is not an early, and let's face it, odd, character choice, but probably just regurgitated milk. 

To be continued....  

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Women Beware Women

Today I’ve read two posts about breastfeeding – a blog from a woman who was contacted by FB messenger by the Manager (female) of a bar/cafĂ© she frequents (and got married in) to request that she ‘cover up’ when feeding her baby as people had complained, and a post from a friend moaning that a woman had been breastfeeding what looked to be a 4 year old, on the tube, with her tit out. And it strikes me, that whilst women fail to support other women, we have no hope. Not a chance.

It’s the small things – the little comments or events in life that go unchallenged, that set Feminism back. Like the argument I had with a female work colleague when she said if a women can’t accept a wolf-whistle graciously, then there is something wrong with her. She is a woman of an earlier generation, the generation that accepted sexism and the occasional pat of the bum as the norm. A woman who is now aghast that some of her generation woke up and decided to go after the men that had overstepped the line in years gone by. I explained to her that a woman should be able to walk down the street and not get wolf-whistled at, because if she isn’t able to do that, then women aren’t free to roam. That this is why we live in a rape culture. Because it’s somehow ok to comment upon women, in a way that doesn’t happen with men. We had to end the conversation because she fundamentally felt that women were taking things far too seriously.

But back to the breastfeeding – because for me, arguing for a woman’s right to breastfeed (if she so chooses) in whatever place and way she wants, is surely a core tenet of Feminism? Breastfeeding is often not just a case of the baby emerging from the womb, with an innate knowledge of how to feed, and how to find your nipple in the dark. They might need you to hold and squeeze your boob so that they can latch. So please bear that in mind next time you see a woman feeding. And know this – that any comment which is along the lines of ‘could you cover up a bit’ or ‘why are you still feeding them at this age’ or 'you shouldn't expect to be able to express if you're going back to the office' is unsupportive of breastfeeding and women in general. And commenting on someone using formula is equally unhelpful. Either way, you aren’t standing alongside your fellow woman, and it’s usually women making the comments.

Then there’s the issue of pay and work. Yesterday was the day when women effectively stopped earning for the year, compared to men. I mentioned this date last year in an office, and half the women seemed embarrassed I had brought it up. None of them seemed particularly aggrieved, which I found astonishing. I think some women are just scared, and I think they are more so because if they know they might go away and have a baby, they don’t want ‘to push it’. As if somehow the fact that they might take some time off to have a child means they aren’t entitled to be rewarded properly for the work they do. And then I genuinely think some women don’t want to think about it, because they don’t want to become ‘too feminist’, they don’t want to get ‘too angry’, because it’s ‘unladylike’. And it’s this lack of balls, for want of a better phrase, that threatens our progress just as much, if not more, than the attitudes of men.

The Government have announced that companies will have to publish details on bonuses as well as salary, by gender, and I can’t wait. As women, we have to support the other women we work for, and those who work for us. If women are in the minority in a workplace, then sadly, the tendency is to look after number one (because you have to!), and sometimes at the detriment of the other women. Because if you’ve already argued for a bonus for yourself, you probably aren’t going to stick your neck out for another female member of the team, lest you look biased or come across as too pushy. Despite the fact that the scales are already weighing in firmly on the side of the men in team, and they’ve probably been remunerated very nicely, thank you very much. And if you haven’t argued for a better pay rise or bonus for yourself, and then one of your female employees pipes up, where does that leave you? Embarrassed, I would hope. Eager to change the world, I would hope.

It’s the times in my life when I haven’t stood up for other women, or been as kind as I could have been, that I’m most embarrassed about. I've written about the lack of Sisterhood before. And I know I’m part of the problem - my husband often notes how frequently I comment on women that have ‘had some work done’ on TV. I don’t know really why I do, but I do, and I know I should stop. Because once my son is old enough to understand, I don’t want him growing up in an environment where he thinks it’s ok.

There’s a drive for men to get more  on board with Feminism, though most of the men I know are pretty feminist to be fair. But it’s the women that need to get on board. We need to stop accepting less that we are worth in the work environment and ask for more. We need to stop doing more of the household chores if both of us are working. We need to stop buying magazines that denigrate other women. We need to smile at that woman breastfeeding on the tube with her tit(s) out. But most of all, we need to support other women. To fight for them. To stop commenting on their choices unless we have something positive to say. Because I fear we are totally buggered if we don’t.