A list of things said around me, and probably most other girls growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s Scotland:
- Stop showing off
- Little girls who ask, don’t get
- Don’t talk back
- Adults are talking
- No one likes a show-off
- Who does she think she is?
- They’re full of themselves
- If they were a bar of chocolate, they’d eat themselves
- (Sarcastically) I love me, who do you love?
- Good girls are quiet
- Oh she loves herself (that was NOT a compliment)
Lately I have had the pleasure of joining a group of intelligent, capable, hard-working, beautiful, thoughtful women on a confidence course. They work around the world and in all kinds of organisations. I don’t know, but I can imagine, they earn vastly different salaries and I know they are of different ages, stages, backgrounds and nationalities. And listening to this group of women has made me angry. So angry. The kind of angry that sparks hot tears and sets your stomach spinning. Not because they were saying anything awful, they were speaking truthfully. But because they were reflecting the deepest, darkest thoughts I have had, and my female friends and relatives probably have too. They were sharing how a lack of confidence was holding them back in aspects of their life. It is debilitating. It is destructive. It is devastating.
And here’s the thing that really drives me crazy – this lack of power is completely embedded across institutions in society to keep women feeling like this. How dare our childhoods do this to us? How dare society malign us? How dare we allow our gifts to be hidden away while mediocracy reigns? We are missing out on talented leadership, original thought and creative innovation that can solve the types of challenges that are really puzzling us in the world and we are owed the voices of these women, as much as women are due to be heard.
So, I am angry, but I am taking action. I am halfway through Lauren Currie’s Upfront course and it has my rapt attention. Lauren talks about finding a positive and joyful view of issues as anger disengages audiences. It makes a lot of sense. Especially when I think of the speakers I enjoy the most – they are charismatic and they give me hope. Thankfully, finding positives in a situation, focusing on things I can control and practicing gratitude for life’s gifts are things I have been working on for most of my adult life. I can find hope in many places, but I have been needing the final piece to take action and speak up – the audacity.
Spending some time in the city centre last year, I was jolted back twenty years as I overheard a conversation.
“You want that? For school? Hmm. You know what. Fine…”
As a teenager gleefully carried the zip up tunic dress to the cash desk I had a sneaky smile at the mother and daughter doing battle over school uniform. There were similar discussions going on all over Dundee city centre last week as debates were had over sweatshirt or cardigan, shirts or polo-shirts and of course trainers or shoes!
I remember a love-hate feeling about the Back to School shop. I hated that it was advertised from the minute the school bell rang on the last day of term when all I wanted to think about was sunshine, watching ‘Saved by the Bell’ and eating Pop Tarts for breakfast. I did not like the queue in Clarks Shoes when I was at primary school, or the over-heated schoolwear department of Marks and Spencer. As I got older I took more of an interest because it became much more important to get it just right – grey or black skirt (never trousers!), fitted shirts (my mum hated those) and of course backpack or tote bag?! I think I usually got it right – but for the year before and everyone else had moved on. Never mind, it wasn’t a fashion show as I was always reminded. The real place I could show flair was in Woolworths.
Twenty years since the summer the Spice Girls landed. That’s a number that festers! I still remember that summer so well.
I loved the Spice Girls. When Wannabe came out, my sisters and I watched the music TV channel, The Box, non-stop. We even knew the three-digit code that showed someone has just called to hear Wannabe and got excited. I was twelve. The girls had a better excuse – they were six and five.
In the 17(!) years I have been working I have had many, many jobs. For the purposes of this post, I will list them.
- Avon lady
- Weavers Café Saturday girl
- Debenhams Sales Advisor
- Debenhams Supervisor
- WH Smith Sales Assistant
- Libra/ Jenners Sales Assistant
- Waitrose shelf stacker
- University of Dundee jobs
- IT Receptionist
- IT Clerical Assistant
- IT Communication and Information Assistant
- Innovation Portal Marketing Assistant
- Dundee Clinical Academic Track Administrative Co-ordinator
- IT Communication & Information Officer
- Time Lifestyle Boutique Founder & Director
- Discovery Credit Union Marketing & Communication Officer
- The Circle Facilities & Services Development Manager
Alongside the first half of this list, I accumulated qualifications: Standard Grades, Highers, Advanced Highers and an Honours Degree in Biological Sciences.
Let me start with the conclusion, that each of those experiences has shaped who I am today. I have experience, skills and knowledge that I use every day that I started accumulating a very long time ago.
In my last post, I shared how profound the impact reading has on my life. I truly believe a book is the greatest gift a girl can have on her journey to being a woman, a grown-up, a functioning adult in society. Whatever that is?
I have decided to share with you, some of the books that have truly helped me, informed me, educated me, made me think about what I want from life, how I can serve and most of all, entertained me.
It’s not an exhaustive list. I’ll probably press publish and kick myself because I have forgotten one. I have also read an awful lot of crap. Some enjoyable crap and some, just a waste of time, crap. I know I’m not going to win the respect of literary minds saying this, but I have enjoyed Catherine Cookson sagas, teenage romantic fiction, mid-twenties romantic fiction and a mixed bag of titles we have attempted at book club.
Judging people by what they read is a pointless act anyway. It’s so personal to them. What I take from a book is quite different from what they lady opposite me on the train might take from the very same book. We would disagree on what we imagine the characters look like and what they sound like. We will make our own judgements on how we enjoyed the writing – straight to the point or lingering prose. We will feel different emotions for the characters. I might think someone had their misfortune coming, where the train conductor reading on his break might feel more sympathy. Our own experiences colour our interpretation of the words on the pages and bring them to life in a unique way. My life is reflected in some of what I have read and sometimes what I read shapes my life.
So much of what is good in my life I owe to books. Girl with personal blog reads books. Not a huge revelation really. I don’t have a cat, though! Got you there! My husband owns more books that I do. My best friend works in publishing. My book club girls are my gin-drinking buddies. Books lead me to what I truly love.
I remember when I learned to read ‘on the inside’, as my mum put it. Not having to be read to and not having to read aloud changed everything. I could read anytime, anywhere. Even when Coronation Street is on! Around that time, I would have been into Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. The Worst Witch and Charlotte’s Web. When I was little and it was a ‘mum’ Saturday I would get something new to read in town. As a treat, I would go to James Thins but usually, I went to the library.
The first in a series, Girlhood.
If there is an age in life that most of us would not want to repeat, it is likely to be 14. Awkward, slouching, uncomfortable 14.
At lunchtimes, I would go to my Gran and Grandad’s house. It was convenient having them at the other side of the school gates. There was just the small matter of getting through the gates first. School gates were the domain of other girls. Smoking girls. Girls with lads. Girls wearing foundation. It was like walking through the lionesses’ den.