Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A New Chapter

I'm currently sitting on the train. This is a usual occurrence for me, but this time I'm on my way to a few days of induction at the University of Exeter, before I start my full-time PhD (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the SWWDTP). It's the beginning of a new and exciting chapter, but - as someone who finds endings difficult - this train journey is not only a chance to start feeling those churnings of nervous excitement, but also to reflect on the previous five years of freelance life since I finished my MA at Central.

I'll be keeping a couple of my jobs on to start with, as the practice feeds into my research (and I might need some pocket money!), before the Big Move to Devon with my wife next year, but certainly my working life of 11 to 13 jobs (on average) is now a thing of the past. This won't be a comprehensive list, but here's a few of the highlights and low-points of my self-employed adventures...


  • Anyone who knows me well or is linked with me on social media won't find it difficult to guess what I'll put first here. BLOODY TRAINS!!! It might seem like I go on about this a tad too much, but when you are as reliant on public transport as I am and trying to work jobs spread all over London and beyond, you are basically helpless to the gods of the trains and they don't seem to look too kindly on me. My life over the last five years has involved far too much time looking at the live departures and swearing as trains are cancelled, delayed, and generally screwing me over. For example, last week: I was meant to be running a two hour creative writing workshop in Folkestone for young people who are self-harming. I got to St Pancras station for my connection, just as they cancelled the trains for the next two hours. Leaving me to call work and say I couldn't get there, let the young people down, and lose a day's wages. Leaving me in tears, to be honest. I tweeted Southeastern trains, but it's hard to get across the significance of losing money I needed and letting vulnerable young people down in 140 characters. 
  • Not getting sick pay. Cue thought-process: "If I can't get out of bed, I will lose £100... Oh, I really can't get out of bed. Shit." 
  • Not getting holiday pay. 
  • Feeling guilty when you're not working. Something I've been working on. 
  • There aren't a lot of other low points, to be honest. Being paid poorly by some organisations. Last minute cancellations. Being offered a zero hours contract and then never receiving any work from them. Having a contract ended by email. Being made to wear a horrid, highly flammable uniform to go into schools (my wife told me I looked like a work experience student; I had flashbacks of trying to buy trousers for school when you're a 5'11'' teenager. No-one was winning). Setting up a project in a prison and going through security clearance and then never getting another reply so never running it. Worrying about the summer holidays, when all the schools work dries up. Worrying about money. Trying to balance it all. 
  • Doing a job where I was running one session a month at an addiction recovery service and, over five years, being gradually asked to come in more and more - once every three weeks, once a fortnight, once a week and finally twice a week - at the request of the service users. And when the service went up for tender, I was the only external contractor who was kept on, as the group wanted me to keep coming. One of my proudest professional achievements.
  • All the little moments. The other week, from a sixteen year old girl, grudgingly: "That was actually really helpful." From a participant a couple of years ago: "I thought I was going to hate that and I didn't". 
  • Laughter and tears. Chances for both. 
  • After working at The Living Room, funded by St Albans council, they didn't want my sessions to end, so they fund-raised and paid for me to come back. Parkinson's UK did the same: the funded sessions finished, so they wrote to their local counsellors and got enough for me to come back for another 6 months. Felt really privileged. 
  • When it's all going to shit and you have no idea what you're doing and then you have an idea and you pull it out the bag and it falls together like magic, like that's how you always planned it. And you sort of want to punch the air on your way out. 
  • Running the Theatre for Change module at St Mary's University and watching the students grow.
  • The people. The funny students. The boy who doesn't speak much English but his physical comedy has you rolling on the floor. The addict who quits. The one who always shows up.
OK, mustn't get emotional. The sun has just come back out and we are about to roll into Exeter, so must go. 

Singing David Bowie in my head and going to start the journey towards Dr Kate. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


I’m an identical twin and growing up we found clear ways to differentiate ourselves. I cut my hair short with the kitchen scissors, sitting behind the sofa when I was about four. I wore yellow and my sister wore green. I mostly wore trousers and shorts, and she wore skirts and dresses. I was a “tom boy” (although I think that’s a silly term: I was a girl who wore trousers and climbed trees; but it is a useful short-hand and you’ll all know what I mean by it). At my primary school, the girls wore grey skirts and gingham dresses. I didn’t want to, so I was the first girl at my school to break tradition and my parents had to buy my new, little grey trousers from the “boy’s” section of the shop. Yet, it felt comfortable and natural to me at that age and I didn’t care what the other children or the teachers said. 

Fast forward a few years and by the time I was at secondary school, I was too nervous to wear a skirt, although that wasn’t a feeling I think I would have been able to name, let alone say aloud. There was something about wearing one that made me feel self-conscious, made me feel I’d be looked at. I was extremely tall as a teenager (taller than all the girls, most of the boys and some of the teachers) and it was always a struggle to find a uniform that would fit me, within the strict parameter of my secondary school’s rules. I look back now rather longingly at my skinny long limbs, but at the time - although always proud of my height - I didn’t have the benefit of being popular or cool, so it wasn’t something I would ever have flaunted confidently.

In the summer term of Year 10, when I was 15 years old, I wore a skirt to school for the first time since I was six. I remember feeling self-conscious, like I had a neon sign above my head. And when I got on the school bus at the end of the day, the bus driver pulled me onto his lap, in front of all of the small, shrieking Year 7s, and wouldn’t let me go. I remember I had lots of bags, and the gearstick was pressing into my leg; I couldn’t get off him and I didn’t know what to do. I remember feeling humiliated, but acting like it was funny. One of my male friends came and pulled me off him and made a big show of it, to ‘lighten the mood’, saying “Oi! She’s with me!” and then dragging me to the back of the bus. I remember another friend, a female one, telling me I had it coming, that I shouldn’t have been so friendly. In 2003, I wouldn’t have been familiar with the term “slut shaming”. 

That’s not the end of that story. That’s not the end of the messages I was given around it. Another few years later, at a house-party, that same teenage boy climbed on top of me when I was lying down upstairs, horribly drunk, and said “I really hope you don’t remember this tomorrow”. I remember rolling to face the wall, in the hope that it would form some protection. Fortunately, a couple of female friends came upstairs at that moment and shouted at him and got him off me. Although not before they’d taken pictures, which one girl posted online. That’s not the end of that story either. That’s not the end of the messages I was given around it. That’s also not the worst thing that happened to me as a teenager. 

So when I see the recent articles in the media about school skirts, it doesn’t bring back the best of memories. And what makes me livid, is that for a new generation those memories are being created right now. Right this second. And we haven’t stopped it yet. 

So, I’m trying to stop it. I know I can’t do it on my own. I’m standing as a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party (WE) because I want to end violence against women and girls. I want to end violence against everyone actually. I want young men to stop killing themselves, because we live in a world that sees courage as weakness. I want teenagers to be taught what consent is (which is why that’s one of my day jobs). I don’t want any part of the body to be used as a weapon to inflict pain, or be a source of shame. I want to see an end to the systemic gender inequality that underpins almost every single thing. I’m trying to end it. But I can’t do it on my own and WE can’t do it on our own. WE need your votes. WE need your confidence. WE need your bravery. 

Vote WE on May 5th. Because #WEcount.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Equality is better for everyone

On May 5th, London is being given a new choice: the chance to vote for a party that is committed to doing politics differently. I'm not a career politician, and although I've always thought of myself as political, the jeering-sneering performance of politics has never appealed. I just don't think the route to social justice is lined with posh men in suits shouting at each other. It's dialogue, communication, empathy - it's human connections that make my world go round. So I've thrown myself into a career (in the arts and education) which celebrates them and tries to carve creative paths to a slightly better world for a few people at a time. But I've unexpectedly, and so naturally I almost didn't know notice it happening, become a politician; I've found a possible home for that political passion in the Women's Equality Party. And on May 5th, registered voters in London have the chance to make the city a lot better for a lot of people. For everyone, actually. Because equality is.

The Women's Equality Party (#WE) is a new, non-partisan political party, formed last year and growing with astonishing speed, which is putting gender equality at the top of the political agenda for the benefit of us all. It has six core-objectives:

'WE are pushing for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life. WE are pressing for equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive. WE are campaigning for equal parenting and caregiving and shared responsibilities at home to give everyone equal opportunities both in family life and in the workplace. WE urge an education system that creates opportunities for all children and an understanding of why this matters. WE strive for equal treatment of women by and in the media. WE seek an end to violence against women.'

I'm standing as a candidate on the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly (the orange ballot paper), alongside 9 other inspirational women and Sophie Walker, our leader and mayoral candidate. #WE are also standing in Scotland and Wales.

#WE have a vision for London that would make the city safer and fairer for everyone. #WE have specific, costed policies which would create:
  • A transport system that is accessible for parents with buggies and wheel-chair users, where women and girls can travel safely, without the fear of sexual harassment
  • An end to the 23% pay gap between men and women, in a city where women can realise their full economic potential (and add £70 billion to the economy!)
  • A comprehensive solution to the housing crisis, by making housing more affordable and promoting inclusive design
  • Protection for women and children escaping domestic abuse, with ring-fenced funding for refuges and safe housing 
  • A system of child-care for all children from the end of paid parental leave at 9 months, and a pan-London approach to meet the demand for care for older and disabled people 
  • Compulsory, quality Sex and Relationship Education and PSHE, so that the next generation are taught to respect and protect one another
  • A thriving and brilliant work-force, which celebrates and awards the achievements of everyone, and gives them fair access to work - #WE will create work that works.
And LOADS more. Just read our manifesto.

In a political system stacked against new-comers our voice cannot be heard as loudly as the old parties. #WE are fighting to be seen and heard and it can be heart-breakingly, back-breakingly hard. One of the biggest barriers, I think, to us winning as many votes as we could on May 5th is the completely forgivable lack of understanding by the electorate of the super complicated systems by which each of the different votes are counted and awarded. London Elects explains it nice and clearly here. 

So if you are reading this and thinking "I'm super down with the whole equality thing, but I don't want to 'waste my vote' on a new party and risk a big, old party I hate getting in" then FEAR NOT. And then tell all your friends. The orange ballot paper, the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly, is elected using a form of proportional representation (the Modified d'Hondt Formula, for those for whom that means something), and #WE have enough support that we can and will win seats on it. If enough Londoners know a) about us, and b) that we can win. A vote for equality will not be a wasted vote.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Kate for Mayor!

2016 has got off to a rather exciting start. For the last week I've been uttering a sentence which if you had told me I would be saying this time last year, I simply would not have believed you. "I've been shortlisted to the final five to run for Mayor of London for the Women's Equality Party". One of the reasons that sentence would have been so alien in January 2015 is that the Women's Equality Party (#WE) didn't exist; it was an idea yet to be formed. People responded to its emergence so swiftly and with such passion, it's hard to believe last year it wasn't A Thing. Like a song you hear on the radio and can start singing straight away, thinking I know this song, it speaks to me. #WE is that song. The Party is the party. 2015 didn't just bring us the spiralizer.

From its conception at WOW by Catherine Mayer, joining forces with Sandi Toksvig, in March 2015, it is now a proper party (which is a crazily hard thing to become in a political system stacked against new-comers) and a real contender in the next elections. #WE has more than 45,000 members and supporters and over 70 local branches (some of which I helped set up when I started volunteering for the party last spring). And now we are standing candidates for the London Assembly and London Mayoral elections. And I'm lucky enough to have been short-listed as a candidate! Bloody hell, January!

Hustings are tomorrow night and voting (internal, for party members in London) closes on Thursday. So if you want to vote for me to stand for either mayor or the London Assembly, crack on and join the party! If you want to know why I'm standing and why I believe I'd be a credible candidate, here are my reasons:

  • My professional life is hugely varied - if you've read my other blogs you'll know I work with people with Parkinsons, people who are HIV+, mental health service users, recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, young migrants; I run creative arts and education projects; I facilitate interfaith dialogue; I teach sex and relationship education; I go into schools as a Role Model to combat homophobic bullying. I keep myself busy! This has given me insight not only into the needs of these different groups - who come from a vast array of backgrounds - but also into the local provision for different communities. Most importantly it means I am experienced in working with people,  discussing their needs and concerns, and supporting them to take positive action. I get on with people and I care about their lives.
  • I’ve been involved with the party since the second meeting, firstly as a volunteer ‘Branch Maker’, supporting the set-up of the local branches across the UK, and also spoke at the first meeting of the Youth Branch. I planned and delivered a pilot workshop about #WE at Nonsuch High School, and have been invited to join the education group leading on school speaking materials.
  • I care passionately about the fight for equality and believe gender inequality is a crazy anachronism in today’s society. From every-day sexism, to the gendering of emotions, the pay gap, to the threat of violence to women and girls - I see the impact of gender inequality all around me and I cannot sit back and let it continue. Only last week, an article in the Sunday Times suggested female doctors are causing the NHS to fail. Gahhh!!!! The issues behind this are systemic. But that means they can be systematically tackled (see #WE's 6 core objectives).
  • I am a lively and confident person, who enjoys leading from the front, back and side, responding to the needs of the people I’m working with. I have strong values but am never evangelical; I always want to understand all the different sides of a debate and form a considered opinion, and I’m not too proud to change my mind.
  • I strive to be authentic and a positive role model. When I regularly taught at a school in Lewisham, I decided to be honest about my sexuality when asked questions by the students, as I think it is crucial that young people have a normalized and human view of difference (and this also led to considerably reduced homophobic language in my classroom). In the workplace, I’m not afraid to be honest about my feelings and communicate them appropriately.
  • The political arena could seriously do with some normal people, who aren't career politicians, who know the world outside Westminster. I am authentic. I'm nice. I'm not another man in a suit. 

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: stepping up and looking back

2015 is drawing to a close. The world continued to get warmer, the Conservatives won the General Election, the House of Commons authorised airstrikes over Syria, people the world over were killed at the hands of terrorists... It's been an internationally frightening time. Yet, important political campaigns also started, there were also lots of amazing books, films and songs written and made, sporting events I have no interest in happened and people won them, same-sex marriage became legal in the USA and the Republic of Ireland, and scientists made amazing discoveries, including the first new antibiotic in 30 years. And the 'future' also became the past with Back to the Future day. What a year!

So, what have I been up to?

I married the woman I love and we went on an amazing honeymoon to Canada. We got some really bad news. We got some really good news. I sat with someone whilst they slipped out of life. I 'MC-ed' a funeral. I discovered that the reason we keep not having hot water is that the boiler was plumbed in with the pipes the wrong way round. I've taken THOUSANDS of trains, buses and tubes. I've done lots of jobs (old and new). I've made new friends.

Here's what I've been doing in my working life (this can now act as a crib sheet for my wife when I test her on where I work!) - in no particular order:
  • Turning Point - delivering their bi-weekly 'Creative Space' for service users on an Abstinence Day Programme, who are all in recovery from substance addiction. I also recently ran professional training for the staff team on how they could make their sessions more creative, which I'm hoping will be rolled out to other teams in the new year. I got one of my favourite pieces of feedback of the year from a participant at this service the other week who, when 'checking out' at the end of the session, said: "Kate, you don't step back, you step up. And that makes us step up too." Gave me the feels. My other fav feedback that day was: "I thought I was going to fucking hate it and I didn't." 
  • Attic Theatre Company - running weekly Drama workshops for young migrants to help them learn English and make friends, as well as developing communication skills, team work, mutual respect and empathy. I also delivered a week's summer school (for the second year running) for children who are preparing for the move from primary to secondary school, where we designed Drama-based activities to support them with this transition (such as a giant, interactive game I made up loosely based on Snakes and Ladders).
  • Fearless Futures - a new job I started in the summer, as a 'Trailblazer', I first worked on their summer school and then worked with a small group of ten 16yr old girls to discuss gender inequality (locally, nationally and internationally), develop their leadership skills, discuss their aspirations and inspire them to be social activists. It was really moving to read their feedback at the end, as one young woman wrote that she had been being bullied since starting at the school and our work together had given her the confidence to tell her teachers about it. So definitely worth the early starts and three hour round trip to the school! 
  • Equilibrium - facilitating a weekly group at Clarendon Recovery College with mental health service users, supporting them to produce a quarterly online magazine about wellbeing, with the help of our amazing graphic designer, Anthony. Check out our latest issue.
  • 3FF - facilitating interfaith workshops in schools for their education team, including 'The Art of Asking', 'The Art of Empathy', and 'Encountering Faiths and Beliefs', where I facilitate the dialogue between our guest speakers and students; for example we might go into, say, a Catholic school and take a Muslim, an Atheist and a Buddhist speaker, and the students get to ask them questions about their beliefs (I love those sessions).
  • Family Lives - continuing to work on their TeenBoundaries project, delivering Sex and Relationship Education in secondary schools - particularly focusing on sexual bullying, self-esteem, consent, sexting, porn, and healthy relationships.
  • Future Creative - another new job, delivering Drama-based workshops, which has already taken me as far as Lincoln, to run a day of workshops on immigration, and Birmingham, for a Roald Dahl day.
  • Inner Drive - another new one (one can't have too many zero hours contracts), running education workshops drawing on neuroscience to teach young people life-skills.
  • St Albans Arts - continuing to deliver Creative Writing workshops in St Albans. The project I'd started in 2014, first working with Mind in Mid Herts and The Living Room, then Albany Lodge (an inpatient psychiatric hospital, which proved a logistically challenging context to work in), culminated in May 2015 with the publication of an anthology of their work, Tell Me on a Monday. Then for the next phase of the project, I delivered 'Write it Out': workshops for people with/supporting people with Parkinsons, in partnership with Parkinsons UK (who are funding me to come back and work with them again in the new year - yay). I also presented at Creative Hertfordshire's 'Art of Wellbeing' conference and did some group writing with the delegates. I'm now really looking forward to working on an Arts on Prescription project in partnership with Trestle Theatre Company in the new year.
  • The Living Room - after delivering Creative Writing workshops there funded by St Albans Arts, I was really pleased to be invited back for two sets of eight more sessions with the service users, all in recovery from various addictions. It's been really interesting working with people whose addictions aren't only substance-based, and has really made me reflect on my practice.
  • Coopers Hill - I've been doing some consultancy in the form of Creative Direction and Partnership Strategy for the lovely Peter Rabbett, supporting the evolution of a new centre for Creative, Digital and Performing Arts at Coopers Hill in Bracknell. It also meant I got to meet one of my educational heroes, Sir Ken Robinson, at the Festival of Education.
    Me and my "new best friend", Sir Ken
  • I've done a few more bits and pieces for the Southbank Centre, including running a two-day workshop for the Festival of Love, in the place of Jodi Ann Bickley (who was unwell), called 'one million lovely letters'. This is a project designed to send 'a hug in an envelope' for anyone who needs one, and so I spent a couple of days helping people write and decorate letters to strangers, old and young, near and far, who might need to know someone out there cares. 
    I also came back for a second year to do some early morning 'speed mentoring' in the London Eye for their International Day of the Girl celebrations, which was again a complete privilege. Watching the sunrise over London, whilst talking to young woman about their ambitions, worries and dreams, might be one of the very best ways to start the day. 
  • Another little, but very moving, work-thing I did earlier this year was for Jennifer Lunn at Culturcated Theatre Company, when I spent the day at Evelina Children's Hospital with three other actors, performing stories the children on the ward had written to them at their bedsides. I got to be a giant bubble floating through the sky, a robot warrior, a naughty cactus, an Elven King, and plenty of other bizarre and amazing characters. It was such a wonderful and inspiring day; I really hope I can go back sometime and do it again. 
  • In May, I made a brief appearance on CBBC's 'Vote for Me', a programme designed to engage children in democratic processes. I was doing a Shakespeare assembly in a primary school in Lewisham. I had a wooden sword. Next stop, fulfilling a life-long dream of being on Jackanory??
So, that was all the paid stuff (I think; I may have forgotten something). As a volunteer, I also did:

    Talking to Yr6s in Lewisham about my wife
  • Diversity Role Models - I've been volunteering as a 'Role Model' with DRM for four years now. They're such an inspirational charity, working tirelessly to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. I've only volunteered in secondary schools in the past, but a few weeks ago was invited into a primary school to talk to the young people about being bisexual and my recent marriage, which was super fun and the children asked such brilliant and interesting questions.
One Yr6 child's promise after the workshop
Feedback from another Yr6 child
  • Action Breaks Silence - this is such an amazing charity, working internationally to combat and prevent sexual and gender-based violence. I supported them in the development of their new programme for 7-11 year old boys, designed to build empathy and prevent abusive or violent behaviour in the future. Like them on Facebook if you want to watch the most AWESOME videos of small girls being empowered to kick the shit out of violent attackers!
  • I helped make a Fun Palace in Streatham (and you should all make one where you live too next year!)
  • Female Arts - continued as a reviewer for an online magazine focusing on female creatives
  • Women's Equality Party - I started off as a volunteer Branch Maker (helping set up local branches across the UK) for this new and exciting political party, whose ambition of bringing gender equality to the mainstream political agenda is, I believe, hugely important and well overdue.  I spoke at the Youth Branches' first meeting (you can listen to it on Soundcloud) and am now supporting their education outreach group. I'm also planning on putting myself forward as a candidate for the GLA elections. Watch this space!
I think that's everything!! In other work-related news, I'm currently applying for funding for a PhD, and I'm also co-editing a book with Annie McKean (to be published next year) on the work of Playing for Time Theatre Company in HMP Winchester. I think January is going to be pretty full on.

The new year can be a good time to look back and reflect, as well as look forward and plan (as long as we haven't eaten too much cheese, spent too much time with family, and slip into a 'what am I doing with my life' panic!). Parts of this year have been truly amazing and other parts have been genuinely devastating; we never know what life is about to throw at us (sorry if I'm starting to sound like a motivational fridge-magnet) - so I only hope 2016 brings us some luck, a bit more money (being a grown up can be shit), and I keep getting the chance to work with amazing people in inspirational places. I'm going to keep stepping up...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Foxes and Feminism

I was brought up by parents who were (and still are) feminists. They taught us that no-one should be limited by their gender (or class, or race, or disability status, or sexuality, or all those other tick boxes you see on forms) but that, world over, they are. We were dressed in gender-neutral colours, we cooked, we gardened, we climbed trees, played football, played with Sylvanians... We wore clothes that were handed down from my sister, our baby-sitters, the boy down the road, the girl across the field - they were just clothes (I mostly favoured a heady combination of orange leggings and a lime green t-shirt). 

When I cut my hair short with the kitchen scissors behind the sofa, my dad neatened it up and I chose never to grow it long again. When I was seven, I decided I didn't want to wear a skirt or dress to school, so they bought me some trousers and shorts. I was the first girl at my primary school ever to wear trousers; people teased me but I didn't care. A couple of years later, a few more girls were wearing trousers. I bet if I went back now any girl who wanted to would be wearing them without question. What can I say? I'm a trend-setter. 

I went into a primary school in London quite recently and asked the pupils to divide the list of jobs I gave them into 'Jobs for Boys' and 'Jobs for Girls'. I felt like I had been transported back to the 1950s when they wrote:



In a secondary school the other day, we discussed what words girls who are perceived to be sexually active get called. They said:

[700 more....]

I probably get new ones every month. Then I asked them what boys get called:

Man-whore, man-sket, man-slut...

One of the girls looked at me and suddenly her pupils went big and she just said: "But that's not FAIR!" I looked back at her: "Of course it's not". And then I taught them the term 'double-standard' and we talked about why it might be there and how we could try and get rid of it.

What can I say? I think (I hope), I'm making my parents proud. Certainly my Dad's eyes went equally big when we had a conversation recently about to what extent gender was essential or socially constructed; he had a light-bulb flash the next morning and turned to me over breakfast and said: "I could wear a nice dress if I hadn't been socialised not to". Yes, Daddy, yes, you could.

A couple of weeks ago I got married. I heard afterwards that my mum had gone around telling the guests it was a 'feminist wedding'. Was it? I don't know - I'm not sure what the criteria would be. It was an excellent wedding. It was excellent because I got to marry the person I'm in love with. The WOMAN I'm in love with. And because it didn't cost too much, the food was great, we made it ourselves, people danced The Snake like children and sang 'She'll be coming round the mountain', getting sweaty and kicking off their shoes. We used, ignored, altered and borrowed traditions, based on if we liked them (no-one 'gave us away' *shudder* and our mums walked us down the aisle, but my father still gave a speech because he's ace at speeches). It was excellent because everyone there got to bear witness to our love and commitment to each other and to celebrate it with us. And because my beautiful wife made a speech about same sex marriage which made half the room cry (men and women), and we toasted Equal Love and sent our hopes and our love across the world to those who aren't as lucky as us and are punished for 'doing nothing more radical than loving each other' (as Gem said over the noise of tissues being madly scrabbled for). 


Laura Bates, of Everyday Sexism Project fame, wrote in her article 'How to have a feminist wedding' in the Guardian last year: 'Until I told my friends I was getting married, I didn't know marriage and feminism could be considered mutually exclusive'. Marriage has been branded an out-of-date, patriarchal institution (cue comments about property, chattel etc), and although when I was little I used to design wedding dresses with a particularly artistic babysitter, I'm not sure if I ever thought I'd wear one. A friend of mine recently said, "I don't know why anyone bothers getting married any more. Unless it's a right that's previously been denied to them." Could I use this as a handy Get Out of Feminist Jail Free card? Should I need to?

For me, equality is about opportunity and choice, having the right to choose. Cool if I don't want to get married, but if I want to then why should my genetically identical twin be allowed to marry her boyfriend if I'm not allowed to marry my girlfriend? And people might say we're 'aping' heterosexuals (I found Straight Expectations a really grating read), but a) there's nothing like a really animalistic term to degrade someone, and b) why should commitment be considered 'heterosexual' anyway? Equality is partly the right to legal recognition, and although that might not sound sexy, I like that my wife and I are now legally family.

Growing up, my mother always said, on the topic of changing your name: "It's one man's name or another". She'd changed her name when she married, no biggie, no desperate attachment. Yet over the years her views have changed and she has now begun expressing her disappointment at any of her daughters changing their names upon marrying. I think my view has secretly always been more based in vanity than politics and I'd always thought I'd just go with the better name. Massey-Chase isn't super hard to beat (although some people have, in recent years, bizarrely expressed their love of it, when I was younger it was a bit of a yoke/joke). My mum also hadn't anticipated our rather unique situation. It's not one man's name or another. My wife, Gem, doesn't have her dad's surname. Or her maternal grandfather's. Her dad is a massive shit, so she changed it a few years ago to a name of her own choosing. And who doesn't like Fox(es)? I don't know whether I would have changed it or not if this wasn't the case. I quite like Massey-Chase now. As a freelancer, generating and collecting my own work, it is also my currency, my reputation. So - solution: I'm using both. 

I am Kate Massey-Chase for work.

I am Kate Fox at home. For me, Gem and the extended skulk. And, hopefully, one day we will have fox cubs and we will all share our own, chosen, name as a family.

So, yes: I am a feminist fox. 

It's amazing what you can find in google images...

Monday, 2 March 2015

Arts for All

Jennie Lee
Wednesday 25th February marked 50 years since Jennie Lee's white paper: A Policy for the Arts - First Steps. Lee was the arts minister in the 1964 Labour government of Harold Wilson, and it was the first (and is so far the only!) white paper that had been written on the arts. In it, she argues that the arts must occupy a central place in British life and be part of everyday life for children and adults, be embedded in our education system, recognised as an important industry, widely accessible, properly funded, and valued by society.

So, 50 years have passed. How far have we come? Mid February saw the publication of Warwick Commission's report on The Future of Cultural Value, which - although demonstrating that the arts are a significant contributor to the economy - also shows that arts and culture are being 'systematically removed from the UK education system'. Under our current government, the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has said that 'Arts subjects limit career choices'; we've watched  Arts subjects being devalued, undermined and squeezed out of the curriculum, and at the same time provision outside of formal education reduced and dismantled due to funding cuts (from a regime of austerity which consistently harms the younger generation). As Paul Collard, Chief Executive at Creative Culture and Education, recently said:

'What is clear now is that young people, especially those in the less affluent areas, are not getting any opportunities at all, because arts... access for young people has been swept away. And it will only get worse.'

Cheerful reading. So, what shall we do? Make some noise! Make some art! DO SOMETHING! That was the call of Devoted and Disgruntled, spear-headed by Stella Duffy. With a twitter handle #ArtsPolicy50 ready to go viral (which, YAY, on 25/02/15 it DID!), the mission was clear: mark the anniversary; let people know why you think it's important; make a fuss.

I think it's important, so I celebrated, discussed and responded with two groups I was working with that week: a group of adults in recovery from various forms of addiction, who I do Creative Writing with at The Living Room, and a group of young migrant/refugee teenagers in South London, who I do Drama with for Attic Theatre Company

With my group at The Living Room, I decided to challenge both them and myself, and worked with them to write a group villanelle. A villanelle is a poetic form that is supposed to be one of the very hardest to write, and I thought this would not only give my group a lift, knowing how capable and talented they are, once we had written one, but would also be a nice way of demonstrating that a community group, gathered together for the purpose of recovery (rather than because they had chosen to attend an arts-based class) could be damn creative, that the arts could be of value to ANY community. And they did bloody well, so I'm going to let their work provide all the evidence I need....

Arts for All

We feel as if we're up against the wall,
This generation is under duress.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all.

So we shall answer our heart's secret call
With a tight grip or with a sweet caress.
We feel as if we're up against the wall.

We know we're got the gumption and the gall
The talent, deep inside us, to impress.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all.

It's not as if the order's very tall,
We're tired of giving more and getting less.
We feel as if we're up against the wall

From Cornish coast up to remote Rockall
We will push for proper, fair access.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all.

Inside our schools and every village hall.
Fifty year's since Jennie Lee's address,
We feel as if we're up against the wall.
Art is for everyone. Art is for us all.

Before they left, many of them said they had felt 'lifted' by the experience, that they were 'proud' of what they'd achieved, that they felt 'lighter', 'invigorated', that they'd had 'fun'. Arts for all. It does matter.

Then on the day itself, I ran our Drama group with my colleague, Rob Lehmann, at SCOLA, with the young migrants. Many of the students have very little English, and come from all across the globe. Some have come from war-torn countries, some have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most are in foster care. All agreed the arts are a fundamental part of their lives. We we had some fun, took some photos, and celebrated the importance of the arts in all of their lives. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Men: Sit down for your rights

One of the many hats I wear (figuratively in this instance, though I am lucky enough to rock a good hat) is as a reviewer for the wonderful Female Arts, a website 'promoting women in the arts and business'.

I wrote this article back in March about Grayson Perry's lecture for the wonderful Women of the World Festival. Thought I would share it on here too, as it had such an impact on me. 

Grayson Perry Lecture: Southbank Centre - WoW Festival - Review

Grayson Perry
Men: Sit down for your rights
It’s a Sunday evening in March at the Southbank Centre and the last event of their Women of the World (WOW) festival, celebrating International Women’s Day. Over two thousand men and women have gathered in the Royal Festival Hall to listen to the musings on masculinity of a Northern transvestite potter: the one and only Grayson Perry. A great pull to the festival, a quick show of hands confirmed that many people had joined the celebrations just to see the ‘national treasure’ himself, alongside many who had bought day passes or been celebrating the festival all week.
Introduced by Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, although for most of the audience he needed little introduction, we were listed the many accolades afforded to Perry over the years, from winning the Turner Prize in 2003, giving last year’s Reiths Lectures, to his recent visit to the palace to be award a CBE in the Queen’s new year’s honours. Kelly gave her usual poise, confidence and excellent timing to her introduction, and explained Perry’s lecture in the context of the WOW festival, asserting: ‘There’s no such thing as a world made equal by just one side’. Perry had previously given this lecture earlier in the year for the Southbank’s first ‘Being a Man’ festival (this is the fourth time WOW which has hit London’s Thames-side cultural hub), but, as the lecture would go on to explicate: the rights of men and women are inextricably entwined.
Perry’s lecture was titled ‘Men: Sit down for your rights’, with a subtitle in parenthesis: ‘but please don’t whine’. There was no whining, but plenty of whopping on Perry’s entrance, as he did not disappoint in a little girl dress with, what he later described as ‘crack cocaine frills’. Although his attire speaks panto-dame-meets-Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-dolly-meets-Meadham-Kirchoff, Perry’s manner is never grating, flouncy or camp. Indeed I think he might be the most insightful, witty and honest person I’ve ever heard speak.
Regarding his title, he explained that there are losers as well as winners in any power imbalance, and – for example – gaining equal gender representation in parliament necessitates some male MPs stepping aside. Men need to ‘Stop getting up on one’, and his talk called for a softer form of masculinity, not just for the benefit of women, but for men as well. The current conception of masculinity and the standard of the Modern Man is not succeeding in its current form. Three times as many men commit suicide as women; in US fertility clinic where you can choose the gender of your child, 75% of parents choose a girl. Sometimes ‘it’s unhealthy being a man’. Of course this comes from Grayson Perry, who has ‘in some deep psychological way...difficulty with the symbols of being a man’. Hence the frilly dresses and bows. But the facts and stats remain the same, and increasing attention to crises of hypermasculinity and the role anxiety/ambiguity many men face today highlights the need for discussions such as this.
From birth, we are gendered and this role is rigidly policed. With brilliantly drawn and wittily annotated illustrations projected behind, Perry took us on a multi-layered journey through the history of this process, the complexity of the male brain, and the socio-historic context of changing conceptions of gender roles. A recurring theme was the problem of the ‘Tower of Power’ from which everything else is Other: the White Middle-Class Heterosexual Male Gaze. Hidden in plain sight, this is the ‘voice of society that’s ringing in our heads, whether we like it or not’. And as the least challenged group, they are also the least self-aware. Other issues and conflicts Perry explored were men’s sexual drives (they are ‘shackled to this incredible, powerful imperative to fuck everything’), adrenaline as the ‘great unspoken addiction of our age’, and MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). He also expounded his excellent theories on the rise of the beard, how we are probably already past ‘peak beard’, and his diagram of ‘Bike knowledge to beard ratio’ (essentially the longer the beard, the greater the knowledge, until you reach Gandalf-style where he’d noted ‘probably a wizard, no need for bikes’). This incisive break-down of modern trends – with illustrative cartoons – is emblematic of Perry’s greatest gift, bring together the amusing, the current and the context in a way that is accessible, enlightening and entertaining all at the same time (did you know that there was a rise in beards in the nineteenth century, as the male role became threatened by mechanisation? I do now). Indeed he said so many excellent and erudite things, that it’s hard not to relay the whole lecture. He also taught us the term ‘skeuomorph’, which is an excellent word. The crux of his message was that men need to learn to be more vulnerable, flexible and move away from the symbolic, cosmetisized and ultimately redundant version of masculinity that has become pervasive in the West. His brilliant, male-friendly analogy to explain the purpose and importance of a softer masculinity was through the image of the contact patch of a tyre against the road: softer tyres are stickier and safer; you get better traction.
Perry is really just after a ‘Cheesy Happy Everyone’ and a rainbow-coloured, diverse Tower of Power. To get there, here is his Bill of Rights for Men:
We men ask ourselves and others for the following:
1. The right to be vulnerable
2. The right to be weak
3. The right to be wrong
4. The right to be intuitive
5. The right not to know
6. The right to be uncertain
7. The right to be flexible
8. The right not to be ashamed of any of these things.

Perry noted: ‘I’m not a spokesman for all men here, as we can see’ (note love of frilly dresses), but it is this lack of generalising, the open hypothesizing, and the integrity with which he exerts his ‘right’ to be wrong’, that makes Grayson Perry such an important voice for our time.
(C) Kate Massey-Chase 2014.
Author's Review: 5 stars
Grayson Perry's Lecture
Men: Sit Down For Your Rights
Southbank Centre
WoW Festival
9th March 2014

Twitter: @southbankcentre @WOWtweetUK #WOWLDN

Tell Me on a Monday

I've just started running a project, organised by St Albans Arts, at The Living Room (addiction recovery) and at Mind, and just had some super lovely feedback. Thought I'd be very un-British (talking about things we're proud of rather than the weather, urgh!) and share it with you:

'I wanted to say thank you for the impact you’ve had on the group at TLR, Kate. D-- (counsellor) is full of the great work you are doing with the group when I come in on Wednesdays, S-- tells me that it is a joy listening to the animated stuff going on and how you are engaging zest and enthusiasm (there has been little in many of their lives) but most of all I heard from the group themselves this morning. I asked a simple question – how did it go with Kate yesterday? The people who were at the workshop yesterday spoke about the work they had done for 15 mins – I heard about love and candles with flickering flames and grandfathers carrying children on their shoulders and ….. it was also said in a respectful and appreciative way that is even more significant than the actual words.  You really have made a big impact and I’m only sorry I cannot sit in on Tuesdays myself...'

Welling up.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Say it in song

In case they've not crossed your cyber-path, here are two songs you should listen to. They make the points themselves, so I won't say too much, just take a look/listen - why write an essay when you can say it in a song?! Socio-poitical comment with sexy beats.

The only context you need for the first is the original song by Robin Thicke. Watch that, feel your soul swiftly destroyed, then watch this version and feel your heart lift again with its fucking brilliance.

Next up Amanda Palmer sings a letter to the Daily Mail, after their article about her 'wardrobe malfunction' at Glastonbury. What a legend.

(skip to 2.28 if you're time-limited and want to jump straight to the song)