Sunshine, seafood for dinner and the outdoor market in Granada. That was our last Christmas before Little P came along and our first Christmas away from home. We had talked about going away for Christmas many times but family reaction always put us off the idea. In 2014 we finally decided to spend the entire Christmas period exploring Portugal and Spain. Like anyone who goes away for Christmas I was a little anxious about the experience. Would I miss family, friends and all the traditions that happen without fail every year? The truth is I felt very much in need of a different Christmas. It was all becoming a bit too repetitive. The same parties, the same music, the same TV shows, the same shopping panic and the same food. So we headed off for our adventure at the start of December. Just when ‘Fairytale of New York’ was blasting through every shopping centre in Ireland we landed in the bright and sunny Portela airport in Lisbon.
I’ve only very recently dipped my toe in the vast ocean that is social media. Previously I was working in the media industry and spending my down time on Facebook or Twitter felt far too much like work. So I kept away. Then I left my job. moved away from friends and family and had a baby. I wanted to keep in touch, share photos and still feel part of the action so I started to dabble. First with Instagram and then when I got the notion of starting a blog I signed up to Twitter as well. Two social media accounts is more than enough for me to be getting on with at the moment thank you very much! Instagram was a big hit for me straightaway. I love the visual aspect and I find it more user friendly. I’m still a little intimidated by Twitter, I’m never quite sure what to tweet. But I’ll get the hang of it eventually and find my Twitter ‘voice’.
The one thing that has leapt out at me since I began my adventures in social media is that marvellous women are everywhere. Funny women, business women, smart women, streetwise women, young, old, mothers, celebrities, academics, farmers, writers…….they’re all there and they are shaping the social media landscape. Social media is a tool that women are working exceptionally well in a variety of ways. A few reasons strike me as to why women are so ‘good’ at social media.
There’s plenty of research to suggest that women are very proficient at multi-tasking and it’s a quality that social media certainly demands. There are high expectations when it comes to content so writing and photography are not the only skills required. Filming, presenting, editing, and using graphics are all necessary for the vlogging, instastories, podcasts and newsletters that today’s followers enjoy. Of course you have to blog, vlog, or tweet about something. So the women I follow produce rich and entertaining content online about their businesses, families, travels, books, farms and various combinations of all of the above!
Despite the propaganda that has been knocking about over the decades women are immensely supportive of each other. Previous generations of women with large families and few resources had to rely on each other for support. Then, while negotiating a male dominated workplace, often the only encouragement that women received was from each other. In order to survive and thrive on social media you need support. I see examples of this every day. Women promoting each other’s businesses, giving newbies (like me!) support and encouragement, showcasing each other’s skills and expertly building an online network that is self perpetuating.
Keeping it real
The voices that ring out above the din are those that speak with truth and with passion. Women on social media don’t hold back. For so many years certain issues were taboo subjects for public discussion on traditional media channels (that were mostly controlled by men). Now the social media channels are wide open and stories about miscarriage, abortion, sexual harassment, mental health, domestic violence, infertility and more are at last being told. And everyone now knows that they’re not just women’s issues, they never were!
A voice for change
Women are also using social media to call out injustices, mistreatment and abuse of power. Over the past number of months there have been various high profile cases involving historic cases of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse. Social media provided a collective voice for women in the entertainment business and beyond to reveal the extent and the seriousness of these accusations that then led to investigations. Ultimately women coming together on social media is bringing about a much needed change in our culture.
Social media is a relatively new media and women have been right in there from the start shaping the landscape. Many of the most successful bloggers and social media influencers are women. Unlike print journalism, TV and radio women have had an important role in creating and controlling social media. As a result it feels like a media that is more egalitarian and more reflective of real life. More representative of both genders.
In the words of the Nobel prize winning Malala Yousafzai, whose blog was only the beginning of her international campaign to ensure the rights of all females to education:
“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
Women are not just participating in the global conversation on social media, they’re setting the agendas. And about time too.
Little P loves books. She gets very excited at the prospect of a new book and she’ll read her old favourites over and over again. As a child I was the same, reading everything from Ladybird to End Blyton. But I can remember getting a Dr Seuss book from my cousins when I was about 5 or 6 and I took an instant dislike to ‘The Cat in the Hat’. I hated the rhyming, the nonsense language, the silly looking creature who didn’t even look like a cat to me. So I left it to one side and it was eventually given away to a charity shop.
Last week Little P went into the second hand book shop with her Dad and came home with ‘There’s a Wocket in my Pocket’ by Dr Seuss! She had picked it out herself and in the past week I think we’ve read it to her over 50 times. She adores it, and can almost recite the lines herself at this stage. But here’s the big shocker. I love it too! Finally after all these years I get Dr Seuss. I understand what he was trying to do with these books. The nonsense words really do grab childrens’ ears, the rhyming makes them want listen over again and if a child is learning to read I can imagine how it would make the process so much easier. But my childhood prejudice could have prevented Little P from enjoying all that Dr Seuss fun.
So it got me thinking about parenting and how I came to parenting with a whole backlog of prejudices. Irrational fears, anxieties, likes and dislikes. Some that have been passed on to me by my own parents. Others that have developed through my own personal experiences of life BC (before child!). How do I avoid inadvertently passing those on to Little P? I don’t want her to have an irrational obsession with germs, a morbid fear of raw chicken and public toilets. But yet I can’t constantly censor myself.
Could it be possible for me to change at this point in my life?
The truth is that since Little P was born I can feel myself changing almost daily. As a lifelong worrier I can remember as a child even worrying about going to birthday parties. But I can feel anxiety loosening its grip. It’s almost like there are so many possibilities for worry with a child that I can’t keep up so I just give up! And more importantly there are so many moments of pure joy that they just cancel out the worry. I can also feel myself becoming braver and more optimistic than I ever was before. She is such an outgoing, fearless bundle of fun that her spirit is infectious.
Becoming a Mum can be the biggest catalyst for change. I expected that, after all it is a momentous life event. What I didn’t expect was that I could be changed by this new little person herself. But, naturally enough, as in all good relationships, both parties can often change each other for the better. I forgot to consider the fact that Little P is a person in her own right. Not just somebody to be moulded by me.
When I’m with her she is like a mirror reflecting back, all my prejudices and my flaws. Through her I can see what I need to change about myself, and she provides the inspiration every day for how to make those changes. She’s an individual and at the moment she is developing a character that is distinctly different from my own. So, I will continue to be buoyed and inspired by my relationship with this exciting, developing, interesting person who happens to be my daughter.
I hope she feels the same because in her I also see reflected my positive qualities and I realise that as a Mum I’m not too bad at all. Most importantly I’ll remember as the great doctor himself said:
“A person’s a person, no matter how small”.
I am an Atheist, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. If you observed you may notice that although I live in a small rural village I don’t attend mass in the local church, or events in the parish hall. I don’t wear ashes on my forehead or give up chocolate for Lent. I’m not married and Little P is not baptised.
It’s tricky to recognise fellow non believers. It seems a bit of a personal a question to ask outright and, contrary to popular belief, we don’t have horns (even though that would make it a lot easier for me!). If I were Catholic I could go to mass or to toddler groups in the parish hall. If I were Protestant I’d go to service, Muslim the mosque etc. But where does one meet other Atheists?
I often meet other Mums, get to know them and then they start talking about holy communion plans or asking if Little P is enrolled in the local Catholic school. I can’t help it but my heart does sink a bit. I’m not saying that I can’t be friends with religious people – that would be madness – loads of my existing family and friends are practising Catholics and it doesn’t affect our relationship. It’s just that when you feel completely outnumbered it can get a little lonely.
As an Atheist I have always felt isolated in my (non) belief but I definitely feel more alone since we moved to Kerry. The sense of community, neighbourliness and family values in rural Ireland is wonderful and much stronger than in the Dublin suburbs. But, the only difficulty for a family like us is that those values are almost always still connected to the church.
Religion has had the benefit of centuries of tradition in building strong and faithful communities. Christianity and then catholicism have become the majority religion of choice in Ireland. I can understand why people are reluctant to move away from these religious communities even if they don’t fully believe in what they represent. They are ready made, strong, warm and welcoming communities. Sometimes I miss the comfort of them. Although I was baptised and raised in a typical Irish Catholic household I now consider myself both an Atheist and a Humanist. An Atheist because I don’t believe in any god(s) and a Humanist because I place all things human above all things spiritual. It was while I was at university studying philosophy that I began to question religion and by the time I left I was an Atheist.
But I didn’t find many like minded individuals. My family and friends range from the committed mass goers to those who believe in god but ignore the religious trappings of Catholicism. While working I was often surprised when apparently agnostic colleagues would announce the baptism of their baby or send out invitations to their church wedding. On many occasions they would confess that it was to secure a school place or placate their religious families. It seems that religion is so closely woven into Irish life that it’s almost impossible to unpick the threads.
Even now in the 21st century the government is taking such tiny steps at separating Church and State that it feels like it will never happen. It’s an ominous thought for me that Little P could yet become an adult in a country where schools, hospitals and even government are still so closely bound to the Church.
It does appear that the next generation are moving away from organised religion (in the 2016 Irish census 45% of those with no religion fell into the 20-39 age group). What will hold communities together in the absence of the religious ‘glue’? Atheists and Humanists like me will have to make a lot more effort to build secular communities. So, it’s time to stop complaining and start doing. As a natural introvert I’m not great at joining groups but for my sake and Little P’s sake I have to get over that.
I’ve recently discovered that there is an Atheist Ireland (www.atheistireland.ie) group in Kerry so my mission is to go along to their next meeting and connect with some other non believers. Humanist Ireland are also making great strides in growing regional groups and hosting secular events and celebrations (www.humanistireland.ie).
Communities built around human values like family, friendship, environmental care, nature and culture have the potential to be diverse, rich and inclusive. They have the potential to be even more enduring than religious ones because they are based around human values. Values that we will always have in common. They can become places where people of all religions and none can feel welcome and, most importantly, where no one will feel isolated. Atheists and Humanists have to be more active in creating these communities. We don’t have the benefit of generations of religious worship behind us. But the extra effort could make secular communities all the more worthwhile.
So, if you feel the same, and you recognise someone like me in your community make a connection. The more connections we make the more we can strive to build these secular communities and create more genuine diversity. For as Jeanette Winterson once wrote ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’.
I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to clear outs. So ruthless in fact that after Little P was born I gave away almost my entire wardrobe leaving me with just a few tops and trousers. Most of my clothes were stylish workwear that no longer suited my lifestyle, so they went to the charity shop. Following a year of breastfeeding I dropped two dress sizes so even the trousers and t-shirts had to go too. Now I own three summer dresses, one pair of jeans, one pair of black trousers, four tops and two jackets. Along with underwear and nighties that is the sum total of my current clothing supply. As someone who previously had two overstuffed wardrobes I feel a zen like peace since I downsized!