Friday, 26 July 2013

Memory Games

Inferno. I read it the other week, after my mother pestered me to do so. There were a lot of things that bothered me with the novel, mostly to do with the writing style itself and Brown's condescending attitude towards women through his male characters. The two main female characters are defined by appearance, sexual assault and childlessness.

I will admit that I have grieved the fact that I lost my daughter, and I will make no argument against rape or attempted rape being a terrifying and life-changing ordeal. And though it may feel like we are defined by those events as we go through the process of recovery, to reduce us to them fulfills all our fears, and to reduce characters to them reinforces the myths and sense of failure that many women feel.

Brown's writing isn't empathetic or even sympathetic. We don't feel anything for Sienna, it seems rather more than a "logical" piece of the puzzle. But human reactions are rarely "logical" or "measured", and everything about Sienna's experience feels contrived, and a male trivialisation of a very real issue.

However, I didn't intend to write a detailed analysis of gender inequality in the novels of Dan Brown. It really isn't worth my time or attention. What I wanted to write about was an idea that I found even more disturbing than what I've already described. The idea of memory manipulation.

Brown suggests in his novel that benzodiazepines are being used experimentally to induce short term memory loss as a treatment for patients of sexual assault. I sincerely hope that this is fictional. For a start, one of the most well-known benzodiazepines is rohypnol, more often used as a facilitator of sexual assault rather than treatment.

My first issue with this suggestion is the statement that sexual assault is "permanently debilitating", which yet again dis-empowers those women who have experienced rape or other serious sexual crimes. Yes, the trauma seriously affects daily life, but with the correct support, we have the power to carry on. Not even "carry on", which holds the same negative connotations as "struggle" and "survive", but to live our lives fully and with vigour. It isn't a quick-fix solution, and there will be bad days as well as the good, but although there are some things that are still a challenge for me and it's taken eight years to get to this point, there is nothing I can't do that I could do before. It has not taken any ability away from me, permanently or otherwise. And to suggest that it does yet again reinforces the message of power for the perpetrator and is extremely disrespectful and belittling to the hundreds of thousands of women who continue and the wonderful volunteers and support workers who assist them in their journey.

And breathe.

The next problem with the suggestion is the memory itself. In the first few days, in the first few years, in fact, my two biggest wishes were that I could either turn back time so that it had never happened, or that I could wipe the memories from my head forever. Because it's not just the memory that sits there in the back of your mind where you have to actively recall it, somewhat like thinking about your seventh birthday party, or what you did last weekend. No, it is on constant replay, triggered by textures, sights, sounds and smells. It's not just a memory but something you actively relive, feeling the pain like you did the first time. Even recalling it now is making the back of my head throb where it was smashed on the pavement, and my throat feel like I'm being strangled again. It's manageable, I've learnt to cope. But those mechanisms and defences take time to develop.

The truth is, though, that the things I can't recall are the most terrifying. I don't know exact times, but there must be at least half an hour that's unaccounted for. All I know is that in that time, he left me on the pavement after strangling me, presumably thinking I was dead. Did he rape me again? Did he do something else to me? I have no idea because I have no memories or recollections to go with that time period. Even silly things, like not remembering the name of the work colleague that introduced us, or not remembering where I had my dance class the day before, send shivers down my spine.

It comes back to trust. And control. Most of these things come back to trust and control at the end of the day. Because, in these situations, you realise that you can't trust anyone outside yourself... and suddenly, you can't even trust yourself or your own memories. And the one thing that you still had some control over - your own mind - is not your own either.

So, ethically speaking, how would you go about erasing someone's memories? Would you erase them straight off and not even tell them what had happened? Would you erase that from their minds completely? And what would you tell them? What sort of detrimental effect would that have on the patient and how would you deal with any resulting health issues without letting them know? And if you were to allow them to know the facts, then how would that impact them emotionally? Would they deny their feelings or dismiss them as ridiculous because their memory loss meant they felt undeserving of such reactions? Especially if the choice to have the memories removed was their own.

And time frames make this even more delicate as an issue. For the drugs to affect short term memory, they need to be administered in the first 48 hours, when the patient is likely still in shock. How do you assess whether something is "permanently debilitating" in that time scale? 

On a related (or rather, inverted) note, has anyone read this article in the Guardian? Apparently, a false memory has been implanted in a mouse's brain, and the researchers plan to use this to warn legal experts about the unreliability of human memory. The article actually cites sexual abuse claims as an example of false memories, which yet again undermines the reality of the situation and implies widespread prevalence of an issue that is comparatively rare in relation to false reports of other crime.

In both cases, understanding of how our brains work is essential for future treatment. So often, emotional and psychological wellbeing is dismissed due to lack of medical and scientific understanding, and the fact that it (and its results) can't be seen in the same way as physical health. But we need to consider carefully the impact that this research has and how it is used. In both cases, sexual assault has been cited as possible use (even if one case is in a novel!), yet the authors seem to completely misunderstand the basic truths of the experience.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


September 24th will see me running two workshops here in Nottingham. They will both be based upon a combination of Girlguiding and teaching experience, and will be suitable for anyone working with young people of the cited age range, whether youth leaders, teachers or other professionals.

I'm really grateful to the team at Nottingham Women's Centre and at the WEA in Nottingham, whose generousity has meant that I'm able to offer these important workshops free of charge!

Human Rights & Gender Equality (9.30am – 12.00pm) 
A practical workshop for those working with young people aged 7-13 about discussing rights, relationships and gender stereotypes. The session will involve games and activities, as well as evaluation techniques and practical information on how to involve parents and establish safe space.

 Breaking the Taboo (1.30pm – 4.00pm) 
A practical workshop for those working with young people aged 14+ about discussing violence, sexting, consent and healthy relationships. The session will involve activities and discussions, including how to engage boys in gender equality, as well as offer practical information on agencies, resources and how to measure outcomes.

Both of these workshops will take place at the WEA o Mapperley Road in Nottingham and have places for twelve participants.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

First Steps

Today has been one of the most amazing and inspirational days of my life, and simultaneously one of the toughest. It's been such a day of revelation for me and one where I've been proud of both myself and the young women I work with.
Radcliffe Rangers consider what makes a good partner

As you probably realise, I've been working to advocate for better support for women and girls who experience gender-based violence, as well as speaking out against the violence and inequality itself. Since the seminar I attended in Belgium in December, I've attended smaller events and begun networking, but not really achieved anything concrete. At times, this has made me feel like a bit of a failure, despite protestations to the contrary. But it's hard to see the difference you're making with the little things.

This summer is where things really pick up. In two weeks, I will be at Nine Worlds in London for their Geek Feminism event. It will be the first time I've ever attended a convention as a guest speaker - both terrifying and very exciting for a self-confessed geek like me. In September, I'm involved in several events supporting the Nottingham Women's Fringe (part of the Nottingham Women's Conference) and will be running another Stop The Violence type event in October.

But today was the start. The first. The day I got to see if I really could make a difference and, more importantly, if I could cope with what I wanted to achieve.

I suppose the question many people wonder is why on Earth wouldn't I be able to cope? The truth is that personal experience both motivates and hinders. It is what fills me with a passion for change, but my own reactions and emotions scare me. I am so afraid of how I'll react that I start to retreat, it takes more effort to take those risks.

Today was my Senior Section unit's opportunity to volunteer at Nottingham Women's Centre. They painted the kitchen and one of the counselling rooms in Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre, as well as doing activities from the Girls In Action: Change The Story badge.

But I added more to that, so that my unit could get the most from their experience. I invited them to ask questions of a woman who had experienced sexual assault, invited them to ask questions of a counsellor at the centre, gave them an agree / disagree exercise like the one we did in Belgium. These may not have been part of the Girls In Action programme but were, as all the Girls In Action activities, explained to and approved by the parents who were thoroughly supportive.

The girls began the day unsure of some issues surrounding VAWG in the UK. They assumed that FGM wasn't an issue due to the lack of convictions and the fact that it's illegal. They thought that a woman couldn't be raped by her husband or partner because the woman had consented in being with them. We soon discussed and challenged that! They said that women were to blame / were putting themselves at risk if they got drunk and were subsequently attacked. They were unsure if equality in a relationship benefited both parties. 

By the end of the day, their views had changed and they were more confident in their attitudes towards violence. The whole aim of the day!

They heard the story of a woman who had been raped. It was a written "testimony" appropriate to their age group. They then wrote questions which they hung on a tree. These questions were taken away and answered by the woman. What the girls didn't realise was that this woman was me. The story was mine, the answers were mine. It is, to me, the most powerful, truthful and impacting thing that I can share with them. It breaks the taboo, gets them thinking, shows the reality of sexual assault, not just what's in the media. I wish I had the confidence to speak to them face to fact, not behind a mask of anonymity, but I'm not sure that it would have helped. I think such a shock may have been emotionally destructive to them. And to me.

After sharing and reading the replies they had received, I gave the Senior Section members a bin to get rid of their pieces of paper. Every single one of them held onto them, slipped them into their bags. One told me that it was personal, that she wanted to keep it, that it was so detailed and honest. It was special.

I had to turn my back so they didn't see the "paint" in my eyes. For them to behave in that way, to treat my story and my honesty as special to them was important. It made me feel valued, and made me feel like I really am making a difference with this.

Leader Nicole adds her question to the tree
The time they spent with the counsellor was also enlightening. They asked a range of questions when exploring the service, from the sorts of backgrounds and ages of the clients, to how they deal with the grey area of client confidentiality and legal issues. The way that Sam dealt with the questions was brilliant, and helped me understand a lot more about the service, even though I've been a user for the last year and a half! 

It was difficult, though. And when the girls left the room to go back to their painting, I stayed behind for a moment and confessed the difficulties that I was having. She was surprised at it - apparently I hide it well - but it did make me aware of the importance of looking after myself. Even my fellow leader, who has no personal experience that I'm aware of, found the experience draining, so is it any wonder that I felt fragile?

Yes, I came out feeling delicate and full of emotion. It was mixed; pride, relief, sadness that I had personal experience to draw on... but for the first time, it wasn't overwhelming, it was manageable. I know that in future scenarios, even if I don't have my wonderful counsellor there, I can still access the helpline and I there are still ways of getting support and caring for myself.

But I've seen the sort of event that I can facilitate with help (fellow leader - and Senior Section member - Nicole was fantastic!), how much the girls can learn and get out of it whilst giving back. I've seen the power that my story has, and the real impact this work can do.

And so, whilst I'm exhausted, both physically and emotionally, I am incredibly excited and inspired for a wonderful future.

Friday, 12 July 2013


“People invest a lot of trust in the relationships they form. If this is abused, it can leave that person doubting ALL relationships.” NRCC (@NottsRapeCrisis), Twitter.

This morning, I read NRCC’s Twitter feed and came across this gem. They post a whole host of facts and comments that speak out against sexual violence, but also offer something akin to solidarity, a sense that we are not alone in how we feel. I only discovered them on Twitter two days ago, but thoroughly recommend following them.

I felt moved to comment and reply to this, but found 140 characters sadly lacking in terms of writing an honest and truthful response. So I came here, because this is exactly the reason I first set up this blog. It’s my way of responding in a little more detail.

In my “Speak Out” piece (Change Listen Educate), I spoke about how rape is not about sex, it’s about power. I was quite adamant about that, and it’s true. At least, it is for the rapist. The truth is that for women who have experienced sexual violence – for ME – it is so much more than that. Yes, most things fundamentally come back to power and control, but the effects splinter off in ways that you wouldn’t even imagine possible.

There are the “obvious” effects, if you will. For years, I was unable to sit in a room alone with a man, I couldn’t walk anywhere alone (at first in the daylight as well as at night). These things are much better now, though I still have bad days and times when it feels a little... uncomfortable. It’s not so much that it causes me distress as the fact that I am aware of my situation. Like now. I’m in an office at the end of the corridor with my male colleague. Instead of just continuing, I have a split-second internal dialogue about where the exit is, where he is, where the phone is... and I’m aware of his movements. In fact, I’m aware of everyone’s movements, all the time.

You sort of expect that, though. That someone who has experienced sexual assault would find it difficult being around men, that they wouldn’t want to be in a vulnerable position outdoors or indoors. That sort of makes sense. And it does get better with time. Such a clichĂ©, but true. The awareness is there, but it’s not terrifying like it was.

You also sort of expect people to find news reports or events on TV about related incidents difficult. Because seeing a rape storyline handled in a soap, whether well or badly, just reminds you of everything you’ve been through. And when reactions are different to yours, or the outcome or events are different, you don’t put it down to individuality or even the fact that it’s fiction, but you put it down to your own inadequacies. It compounds your feelings of shame and helplessness.

But what people don’t realise is how sexual assault and this abuse of power affect people’s lives every single day.

You stop trusting your own decisions because you blame your own instincts for getting yourself into that mess, so you second guess every tiny thing that you do. The last few weeks, I have been asked whether I want a couple of extra counselling sessions in September. I have a gut reaction and I’m doubting it. I don’t trust myself.

You stop trusting other people, because last time you did, you got hurt. And that lack of trust extends in so many ways. It’s not just physical intimacy that becomes a problem (and by physical intimacy, I’m also including hugs and other displays of affection), but even being able to share experiences verbally with people. You doubt what they are going to do with that knowledge, because once it’s out there, it’s out of your control. You have to trust them, and that’s incredibly difficult.

Friendships decay because you put up walls and barriers to protect yourself. And even if friends have an idea of what’s happening, they don’t know how to support, or where to turn to for support themselves. Often, they feel guilty for wanting this, when they feel they aren’t the ones in need.

You can’t risk a romantic relationship because of fear it will happen again, or even fear of reliving the past. Flashbacks and panic attacks are a very real possibility, and somehow sacrificing a love life seems quite a reasonable trade to avoid that horror.

Speaking to strangers becomes an ordeal, even on a professional level. You get to a point where you do it so often that you can get on with it, but it’s never going to be comfortable, not like it was. Because you know nothing about that person or what they’re capable of. You don’t know what situation you’re putting yourself into.

It’s very easy to become isolated, not least because people aren’t able to speak out. We are socially conditioned not to talk about “taboo” subjects, which include issues of violence against women. We feel like we’re alone, both in our feelings and our experiences, but we’re not. Trusting others is difficult regardless of your past, and this compounds the matter.

It’s easy to hand someone a phone number and send them in the direction of a service like NRCC. It’s easy to advise someone to seek counselling. But in reality, counselling means yet another relationship that necessitates trust. It means another environment in which you have to trust yourself and it means another relationship that is going to eventually end. It’s a huge step and not as easy as one might think.

In rereading this, I realised the importance of showing the positive. Because it can get better. No-one should be put in a position where they need it, but there are so many services out there that can be accessed. With help, you can learn to trust again, you can open up to the people around you and you can even (if you want to!) accept the odd hug without jumping out of your skin. It’s hard to rebuild once trust has been broken, but it’s possible.

The truth is that sexual assault affects all your relationships, just as it affects all aspects of life. I can’t say whether it will always be this way, because I am still learning to trust again (even if it is a slow and lengthy process!), but it does have a lasting effect. Like a broken pot, you can build it back together, but there will always be the faintest of cracks.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Power of Fear

The fear is definitely starting to kick in.

Back in December, when I was lucky enough to participate in the WAGGGS Europe Stop The Violence seminar, I was full of enthusiasm and excitement for advocacy, determined to single-handedly change the world. We left Belgium full of ideas, feeling empowered, having seen the real different that we could make.

I returned from the seminar and jumped straight back into teaching, which was fine and normal. I wanted to educate others, pass on the knowledge, but “the powers that be” weren’t quite as keen as I was. I settled into a pattern, the various ideas I had not able to take form due to lack of support or resources.

But I never felt useless or disappointed, because these things take time. How much time, I didn’t quite realise. My original thought was that I’d be up and running in March. Not so much!

Over the following months, I started to make contacts and forge relationships that would help with my vision. I was able to set up “Writes For Women”, a sponsored writing event that will raise money for charities with visions of gender equality. In addition to this, I’ve been working with Nottingham Women’s Centre and Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre to get the Fosse Division Senior Section members in to volunteer. This will come to fruition very soon, when Radcliffe Rangers go in to paint the refurbished Rape Crisis Centre, and in October when we hold a Guides and Senior Section Girls In Action / Voices Against Violence event. That doesn’t even start to cover the work I’ve been doing with Nine Worlds and their “geek feminism” track. Or the teacher training. Oh my WORD!

So everything kicks off in two weeks. Two weeks today, most probably. And the fear has kicked in.
What do I know about advocacy? What do I know about training teachers or about using online fandom communities to support change? What can I realistically offer? Have I completely and utterly messed up this time? Bitten off more than I can chew?

I feel like a fraud.

Realistically, I know that I can do each and every one of these things. I am a science-fiction fan who regularly uses social media, who follows advocating actors such as Lexa Doig and can demonstrate relevant genre specific examples of feminist action. Even non-feminist examples of fandom communities working together, such as Can’t Stop The Serenity are brilliant for this. And it’s important for Girlguiding to be represented at events discussing feminism and advocacy.

In terms of training, I am a teacher. One of my colleagues told me that many of her trainings are led by non-specialists who can’t relate their topics to a practical classroom environment. That is one advantage that I have. And I’ve had the input from WAGGGS. I know what I’m talking about, I know how to create safe spaces and the WAGGGS and Girlguiding programmes include fast-paced, interactive activities that promote learner autonomy, leadership and progression in understanding.

Nevertheless, when I saw my name listed on the Nine Worlds website this morning, I suddenly felt like the planet’s biggest fraud. I felt thoroughly incompetent (especially listed alongside “real” convention guests like Rhianna Pratchett, James Moran and Chris Barrie. I suddenly became terrified – what are they expecting of me? Will I be laughed at? What right do I have to advocate for change? What knowledge have I got?

Actually, I have everything I need. I have more than that, if truth be told. We need to stop seeing the world in black and white, and assuming that change has to be a big thing. Amanda Tapping’s charitable organisation, “Sanctuary For Kids” has a great philosophy: Little ripples make big waves. We are not all equipped to stand on the world stage or single-handedly fight the government. But we can stand up for what we believe in, whether it be through writing a blog, signing a petition, or challenging sexism we see on the street.

We all have the tools for the job. We have the desire for change and that is all we really need. What you do with that desire is dictated by your other skills, but every voice is useful, every voice is necessary.

Whilst at the Stop The Violence seminar, the co-ordinator told me that I had made a difference just by being there, regardless of my work afterwards. I never understood that until today. The truth is that we impact those around us, nudge them into action. We inspire others, motivate them and every tiny interaction and word has a knock on effect. One of my big passions is to use my own emotions to unite us. We all doubt ourselves, worry about what other people think of us, shrink away from the possibility of failure. It’s completely natural. But because we don’t talk about it, because we hide, we don’t know about this common trait. In being honest and sharing my fears, I hope that people will recognise it in themselves and see that they can make a difference, that they are already making differences in their communities.

Let the fear kick in, let it motivate you. Emotions are powerful tools. There’s no point battling them down or trying to subdue them, but little productivity in letting them rule you. We need to work with our emotions, because out of passion, anger, fear, sadness and joy come inspiration.

Let the fear come.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

My Body, My Rules

So I was quite happily shopping in Poundworld in Nottingham, as I do far too regularly (it's cheap and easy material for Ranger meetings) and looking at puzzles at the end of the aisle. I needed some jigsaws for some activities we're doing and 45 pieces for £1 seemed perfect. I just needed to check the size and quality of the pieces.

I had just picked up my packs of puzzle pieces when I felt two hands around my waist, and I was pulled to one side. A staff member had decided to grab me and physically move me out of his way instead of asking politely. I yelped first, and then he put his hand on my arm, compounding the issue. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think, didn't know what to do.

I started having a panic attack. If you've never experienced them, they are horrible, foul things that stop you thinking, as if a dense fog has descended over your brain. You feel a pain in your chest, everything's so tense it aches and it feels like you're going to die. I was scratching at my waist where he had grabbed me and I was aware but couldn't stop. I drew blood.

He stood there sneering at me, and when I managed to gasp "manager, please" (I wanted to point out to the supervisor that touching a customer in any way is unacceptable), he loudly announced, "Are you kidding me?  What's wrong with you? You fucking dickhead!"

His manager was standing within earshot of this, came over and also tried to put her hands on me, causing me to back up into the shelves. Thankfully, it was just uncomfortable rather than an embarrassing fall into the merchandise, and I recovered from the panic attack fairly quickly by my standards (and stopped the manager calling for an ambulance, which she was convinced needed doing).

I explained to the manager what had happened. The employee, Kevin (yes, for once I shall name and shame!) stormed off with a sigh and the manager told me that I must have misheard because he "is a nice man and has never said anything nasty to anyone." Furthermore, on the subject of physical contact, she told me that I had misunderstood his intentions, because he obviously meant no harm.

That is not the point.

My body, my rules. I have a right to personal space. I have a right to feel safe when I'm out shopping. I don't often let friends touch me, why should I let strangers? Last night, M was literally slapped away when she tried to put her hand on my back, and that's someone that I've known several years now. It's my body, it's my choice how it is used and who by. He took that choice away from me.

The manager's attitude was accusatory. She told me that physical contact happens all the time in retail, that she brushes by customers or moves them out of the way. But, I explained, brushing accidentally is different. I don't like that either, but someone has not made the conscious decision to invade my personal space for a prolonged action. And the fact that she also grabs her customers does not condone it in any way.

Respect people's space, respect their wishes, respect their emotional wellbeing and, most of all, respect their bodies. Because it's theirs.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Harry Potter and the Prime Minister in Kazakhstan

A student in Kazakhstan asked David Cameron what character from Harry Potter he would most like to be. His response was rather idiosyncratic and ended on the words, “that must be the correct answer”, as if everything in life must be separated into right and wrong, and everything that passes his lips must be the most crowd-pleasing option.

David Cameron would want to be Harry Potter, apparently. He accepts that many citizens would see him as the villain of the piece, Lord Voldemort, but sees Potter as the only sensible answer, as every person must want to be him.

I have news for you, Cameron - I don’t!

Although Harry Potter is far from the attention-seeking, spoilt little boy that characters like Draco and Snape make him out to be in the books, he has a tendency towards fits of rage, tantrums and laziness (how many times does he copy Hermione’s homework, or only get mediocre grades for not putting the effort in?).

I’m not saying that academic success is the key to happiness, nor am I suggesting that Harry’s anger at his situation is unjustified (for those that haven’t read the books, he loses his parents as a baby, and ends up finding that his only future lies in being killed or becoming a killer). But he is, after all, a teenage boy, with all the attitudes, emotions and problems that being a teenage boy entails.

Harry Potter was never my favourite character in the series, and I certainly wouldn’t aspire to be like him, no matter how courageous he was in the final battles.

But I have always disagreed somewhat with Rowling’s take on things. She seems to prioritise bravery and courage (Gryffindor house’s attributes) above all else, with intelligence and wit (Ravenclaw) coming a close second. Down at the bottom of the heap are ambition and talent (Slytherin), along with Hufflepuff’s house attributes.

Hufflepuff is about being loyal, hard-working, fair, a good friend and working for justice. It’s about facing the challenges, being a good citizen and trying your best, regardless of where your aptitude lies. Although all the house qualities are needed in some measure, I find that Hufflepuff attributes are the foundation for others; knowledge comes through hard work, courage through the dedication to justice. And yet, in the books, they are dismissed as a “load of old duffers”. Hufflepuff is deemed the house where the odd-balls and the rejects go, anyone who isn’t worthy of the other houses. Equality, loyalty and justice are not qualities to sneer at!

 But there is a severe lack of strong Hufflepuff characters in the series. In fact, Hufflepuff tends to be the Harry Potter equivalent of the infamous Star Trek redshirts – characters that can be killed and disposed of at will! Cedric Diggory was probably the best known, but more for his good looks (and ensuing career as a sparkly vampire) than for being a positive role model.

My favourite characters in the series were probably Molly Weasley and Peeves. Peeves is fantastic comic relief and a law unto himself, but not someone I would aspire to be. Molly is fiercely loyal, protective of her family, courageous and humorous. But I’m not sure her almost dictatorial style would be something I’d want to emulate, given my passion for youth voice.

I’ve thought about it and I’m fairly convinced I would rather aspire to be one of the adults than one of the child characters, for many reasons. But which one?

Not James or Sirius, both of whom are far too reckless and childish. Not Hagrid who, though loyal and loved, is a rather inept teacher and shuns his professional duties. Not Professor Sprout, Madame Pomfrey, Professor Flitwick, Professor Slughorn (a coward who plays favourites) or Professor Lockheart. Not Barty Crouch, Ludo Bagman or any of the ministry employees. Not Tonks, not Fleur, none of the Weasleys, neither of the Dursleys. Not a Death Eater.

Perhaps Dumbledore would be the obvious answer for me. He’s the head teacher and takes considerable personal interest in his pupils, caring for them as individuals rather than as names on a roll. He is certainly Voldemort’s greatest match in many ways, and we share a fondness for sherbet lemons. But I do sometimes agree with his governors on the way he runs his school, and sometimes feels that his care for the individual borders on overstepping professional boundaries. If he lived in the muggle world, I have a feeling Dumbledore would be the one that had pupils on Facebook and Twitter, that would see them in the local cafĂ© and blur all lines. Not necessarily the best role model.

In the end, I settled for Professor McGonagall. She is hard-working, takes no nonsense, plans her lessons with her pupils in mind and to push and challenge them. She cares for her students whilst maintaining her professional standards, values courage and loyalty and stands up for her beliefs. She has a great sense of humour and aspires to do her best at all times.

To assume that everyone aspires to be the hero of the series greatly oversimplifies human nature. Not everyone wants to be the hero or the villain. And not every character in literature is split into black and white, but rather shades of grey. I think these questions can tell a lot about someone’s world view, how they see themselves and how they see others around them. And the truth isn’t always pleasant.

Speak Out: Additional Thoughts

This post is really accompanying notes to my "Speak Out" entry. I did have some notes on the page, but figured that since the entry was linked not hosted, it wasn't fair to have it on the same page (as any notes should not be judged as part of my entry).

Firstly, why did I decide to enter an audio piece rather than text like everyone else? Well, I originally wrote it as text, which I prefer as it is more accessible, generally speaking. People will spend more time reading than they will listening. But the piece was so personal that I didn't feel text did it justice and I didn't feel it pushed me enough. I wanted to try something new and challenging.

Listening back to the piece, I was strangely surprised by it. The woman speaking is poweful, passionate and knowledgable... none of these really fit with my self-image. Maybe it is a little too scripted and the ending too cheesy, but I sound so strong and in control.

So how do I feel about it? In a word, proud. In fact, so proud that I told the counsellor I work with all about the entry. I think she was as surprised as me about how direct it was. My next decision is whether I share it with her or not. When I thought it was to be hosted on the soroco blog, that was an easier decision. Now it's just linked to here, that's a little more vulnerable..!

In fact, that vulnerability has played a large part in my feelings today. Whereas before it was quite a disembodied piece, by promoting the competition to friends and colleagues on Facebook, it has made it very personal and really opened up my past to people I may not have chosen to share it with otherwise. But this is important to me, so I'm willing to do it. And I'm prepared to take the questions and comments that may come with it.

Or, at least, in theory!