Since we’ve launched the new Fe-line Book Club I’ve been thinking about what I’ve read lately (or, more like, the lack of books I’ve read!) and I realised that there is one book that has had a big impact on me and particularly my working life over the last year: The Chimp Paradox.
This is a sort of pop-psychology mind-management self-help book – written by the psychiatrist behind the Olympic GB cycling team. As much as I love a good bike ride, the book hasn’t really impacted on my bike and me, but is has transformed the way my colleagues and I communicate.
First read by the Chief Executive of the theatre company I work at, the book has since been passed around all the staff (there aren’t that many of us, to be fair) and revolutionised the way we communicate as a team. The book itself sets out a programme to help you along the route to happiness, and perhaps if we followed it unequivocally we might all be Olympians by now, but whether or not you are setting out to achieve some goals or not, it is as useful book to read as a way of illustrating the way your mind works and how to get the best out of yourself.
To sum it up: every person has a chimp (also known, more scientifically, as the limbic system), and it represents their innermost basic and primal instincts: hunger, fear, territory. The chimp can be irrational and impulsive, it is emotional, it thinks in black and white and it jumps to conclusions. We also have a human (also known, more scientifically, as the frontal lobe) the rational, logical and measured side of our brain. Our human is driven by purpose and the bigger picture, not just day-to-day survival, which is what motivates the chimp.
Although the human sounds a bit more like what we would like to aspire to and be like, the chimp is also a crucial part of who we are: you need both of these components to talk to each other to really function and get the most out of yourself – the aim though is to not let your chimp hijack your human, but for them to work alongside each other.
I now read books and watch TV shows and films whilst thinking about the characters in terms of their chimps and humans. Whether it’s Hannah Horvath in GIRLS or Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, they are both constantly struggling between their chimp and their human – as are our friends, family and colleagues. And once you know how your and other people’s chimps work, you can work better together.
To give you an example: say you get upset because you are not invited to something, even if you have other plans and wouldn’t even be able to make it to whatever you were left out of – that could be your chimp who is upset. If someone continually mispronouncing a word riles you, it is your chimp that cares. Essentially, if you don’t feel in control of your emotions or if you don’t want to feel a certain way, it’s probably your chimp reacting badly to whatever the situation is.
The Chimp Paradox has become so much a part of my day to day that my chimp has a name. He’s called Tim, and he’s pleased to meet you. My colleagues have names for their chimps too. The Chimp Paradox has provided a whole framework of communication for us to work as a team, each of us understand what makes the other tick and how to work to get the best out of each other.
It is quite basic psychology, and if you’ve read your fair share of this kind of stuff then maybe The Chimp Paradox isn’t going to affect you, but it is a good start if you want to have a think about your internal programming, your reactions and desires. The book itself didn’t change me much on a personal level, but having it passed around and shared between colleagues it did change my work place.
Love from Tim &
Most of my recent posts have been about becoming a Mum and what it’s like to be a new Mother. What some of you probably don’t know is that I am also a step Mum and I have a 7 year step son who comes and stays with us every other weekend.
We often hear people saying that they wish that their lives were like a fairy tale and that they want to be whisked off by Prince Charming. But what aren’t very pleasant about fairy tales are the evil step mother.
The step mothers in tales like Cinderella and Snow White are fuelled by jealousy and hatred towards their step child, and they go to extreme lengths to try and get rid of them and cause them harm.
I am very happy to say that my reality of being a step Mum is nothing like this. From the day I met my step son we have had a lovely relationship. One based on mutual respect, we both respect each others relationship with my partner, I don’t try to be his mother, and I am exactly what I want to be to him, a trusted other adult.
There have been difficult times, of course, periods of adjustment, especially during my pregnancy and the birth of his little brother. Having my own child was definitely something that I was worried about, I was worried my step son would be jealous and possibly play up but he has taken to his big brother role like a duck to water. This is mainly because my partner is brilliant, he doesn’t pander to any bad behaviour from my step son and tells him how it is and that honest straight forward attitude means that we all know where we stand.
People’s reactions to me telling them I am a step Mum can sometimes be a little negative, people expect there to be bad blood between me, my step son and my step sons Mother, but to be honest there isn’t. We are all on the same mission, to make my step sons life happy, make sure he is well cared for and make sure he’s loved. I’m not jealous of my partners previous life or that he had my step son with another woman, how can I be? I wasn’t there. Whilst they were having a baby I was off living in Canada, working my way around the world and doing my own thing. I wouldn’t swap that for anything.
So if you meet someone who has a child, don’t write them off, men/woman who already have children, know how to love someone unconditionally, they know how to put others before themselves and they know how to have fun. Also being a step parent is fun and rewarding, children are nice, they are also adaptable and they will accept you into their lives if you give them chocolate, sorry I mean, if you give them love, respect them and most importantly respect their relationship with their parents (both of them).
Love and chocolate, I mean respect,
A few weeks ago, this article showed up on my facebook feed. It was during a month of particularly ‘difficult-to-take’ news (from a feminist standpoint). The leaked celebrity nude photos and the resulting absurd shaming and victim-blaming, the threats to Emma Watson after her speech on gender equality, and more recently, the severe terror threats to gaming industry critic Anita Sarkeesian that forced her to cancel a talk at Utah State University. In amongst such events, it may seem odd to focus on some silly comments by an even sillier chef. But in my mind Tom’s words reflect one of the most problematic issues contributing to sexism: the fundamental belief that women and men are born hard-wired with different interests, capabilities and purposes, and that the stereotypical ‘womanly’ traits are less valuable. Yet, despite these traits being considered less valuable, girls and women are still policed from the instant they are born, both subtly and overtly, to ensure they stay within these limiting confines. Women who openly challenge this, or step outside their bounds ‘too much’, are ridiculed, shamed, threatened and sometimes even harmed. On the flip side, this system also severely limits men; prescribing insanely narrow definitions of what it means to be ‘a man’.
So yeah, Tom Kerridge is sexist. I could go through each bumbling point he made and get all riled up about why it is offensive, and also factually wrong, but I have a feeling I would be preaching to the converted here on Fe-line. So instead I will discuss the underlying belief system that leads to offensive comments like these from Tom and others out there, and the real harm that they do.
Boys are better at handling high pressure situations! Girls are better at being nice! I have proof because, science!!!
There is a particularly hideous brand of pseudo-science ‘news’ (and books) out there which love to scream things like “Proof!! Science shows women and men’s brains are totally different!!” and the ‘proof’ is usually something like ‘in tests, men performed significantly better in spacial awareness and women performed significantly better in linguistics’, or similar. And this may be true – there may have been tests performed, using very robust scientific methodology, and the results published in a peer-reviewed journal, which show a significant difference between the male and female results. But I italicise the word significant for a reason: it means something very different when talking about statistics in scientific research than how we usually use it. Even tiny percentages will be described as “significant”, if you’re using large amounts of data. And what these news articles conveniently ignore – usually to the bane of the scientists who originally published the research – is the huge overlap in results between the test groups. I have created a handy little graph to illustrate what is going on with this sort of research and the resulting ‘news’ articles:
Why do they do it? Because “science proves once and for all that women and men are different” is much more interesting than “science shows that some women are good at some stuff, and some men are good at other stuff, but in the main we are all about the same amount of good at all the stuff.” Yeah, that’s not going to sell newspapers :-S
The ‘Stereotype Threat’
So why does it matter if a girl reads in the media that she *should* be better at some things and worse at others? If she starts out good at math, and she likes it, she’ll just ignore all that silly stuff and grow up to do something in math, right?
Except… there is this little niggling thing called the Stereotype Threat, which isn’t a very nice or helpful thing at all.
Basically, if you have two groups of women in a study, both doing a spatial awareness test, and one group is told something before the test like ‘Oh by the way, it has been proven that women tend to struggle with these sorts of activities.’ And the other group is told no such thing, guess what? Yes, the ‘threatened’ women perform worse than the control group on the test.
So if that is the result from just *one* occurrence of being told you probably aren’t very good at something, imagine the effect from years and years of being told it. Well, we don’t really have to imagine: in early tests girls and boys perform equally well on math and engineering tasks. But as adults, women make up only 6% of engineers in the workforce. They are given constant messages, through toys, media, casual remarks from peers and adults, that ‘girls don’t like / aren’t good at <fill in with stereotype of choice>.’ And the results speak for themselves.
Therefore, if Tom Kerridge and people like him are allowed to continue to say such limiting remarks unchecked, in public, for young and impressionable ears to hear, we will absolutely continue to have fewer women as top chefs. Real science, not pseudo-science, says so.
So in conclusion: SHUT UP TOM.
(and go make me a sandwich).
Margo is a passionate feminist living in London with her partner and two cats (okay, maybe some stereotypes are true… When not debating sexism and other nasty discrimination, she works as a product manager and strategist at tech companies creating interesting data-driven web products. And when not doing either of these things she can probably be found reading, or getting rowdy and dancing the night away.
Everywhere I look, there is a worrying amount of pressure on us all to be thin and lose weight if we don’t live up to a certain standard. This is true of both genders, but there’s no denying that it is especially true for women. Adverts featuring stick-thin girls permeate our everyday lives, along with fad diets being pushed onto us and magazines telling us how to be “bikini ready” all whilst chastising female celebrities who are either too thin or too fat – whatever they are, they’re just not “the right size.”
As a woman at a restaurant, you must reject dessert or risk being considered a pig. “I’m watching my weight!” say women who have probably never known life at more than eight stone. “Better make sure I’m good tomorrow!” tiny girls exclaim after a slice of cake. I scoff, feeling judged when I (almost every time) go for the non-salad option and also order dessert – and even though for the most part I don’t care, it’s not always easy. I would be shocked if I saw a man doing this, but as a woman it’s almost expected.
I know healthy, gorgeous women of all sizes that hate their bodies, and it’s depressing to see – especially when they won’t listen to anyone but their own inner demons, awful magazines berating women’s bodies and companies trying to sell their products, rather than the people that really love and care about them.
I’m the first to admit that this is coming from someone who has always been relatively lucky in this department – fairly slim and with a high metabolism – so I realise it’s easy for me to say “just eat what you want,” because I’ve enjoyed that luxury most of my life. However, recently, as I’ve been getting older (late-twenties, eek!) I’ve noticed that’s changing and I’m putting weight on more easily. This depresses me, and it’s hard to fight this feeling despite my better judgement. So yes – I get it, believe me. And as a feminist, and someone that believes you are beautiful no matter your size, it frustrates me that I care. But of course I do. Because society tells us we must be thin if we are to be beautiful, successful, loved. This is wrong, but it’s been internalised in us from such a young age that it’s difficult to get out of our systems, even if we know it’s wrong.
However, believe it or not, I’m actually quite fond of my body. Sure, in an ideal world, I’d have a bigger chest and a flatter stomach – but I’m not going to get a boob job, liposuction, or deprive myself of the food I love in order to achieve unrealistic beauty standards. Hell, I’d rather be a little chubbier and eat what I want than obsess over weight and have a tiny figure. Also, food is the best – a life without chocolate and pizza (in moderation, of course) is not worth living, in my opinion, no matter how skinny you are. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? Pah, I say!
Don’t get me wrong, health is important – but crash dieting and obsessive calorie counting isn’t the way forward; healthy eating and exercise is. And everyone deserves a treat every now and then without any guilt. Why live your life only eating things you don’t enjoy all that much for the sake of fulfilling society’s unrealistic expectations of how you should look and how much you should weigh? And anyone that judges you on how you look or the food that you eat isn’t worth the time of day, quite frankly.
What I want everyone to know is that weight is not the be all and end all of your existence – your happiness, is. I realise the two can go hand in hand because of what the media wants us to believe, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Realise that society’s expectations of us are a load of crap – I know it’s hard, but try your best to do so.
So I guess what I’m saying is: be healthy, eat sensibly, exercise – but don’t let losing weight, counting calories and only eating “the right things” take over, because that’s no way to live your life. Yes, I realise it’s easier said than done, but no matter how difficult, do try – and most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Photo Credit: charlottedownie on Flicker
If, like me, you’re a bit of a culture vulture and always on the hunt for new things to inspire and admire, you’ll no doubt already be a pro at scouring the web for all things new and exciting.
I wanted to share a few things with you that have ticked the A-W-E-S-O-M-E box for me this month, hopefully they’ll float your boat, too. Enjoy!
First things first, a new season = new hair. As a former hairdresser (did I forget to mention that?!) this website excites me very much. If you find it difficult explaining exactly what you want to your stylist then fear not – HAIRCVT is your new friend. You can search by hair type, service or style and find which hairdressers do the kind of cuts or colours you dig. Or, you can use it on your phone once in the salon chair. Simples!
This cute little names website is a bit of a silly one, but pretty entertaining nevertheless. It gives you a graph of your name’s popularity since 1996, as well as showing the most current popular baby names (Isla, apparently!). Tres fun…and tres dangerous if you want to accidentally loose four hours…
If you’re into Humans of New York, you should definitely check out up and coming Aussie blog the Why You Collective. Started by Bondi boy Adam, who I recently met in Sydney, the blog aims to explore ‘the reasons humans in each community do what they do’ and to share, inspire and spread peoples unique and individual stories with others. Adam and I chatted over our love of blogging and he shared his plans for the Why You Collective with me – turns out he’s off to run through Europe in January, starting in Amsterdam, and intends to use the blog as a platform to share the stories of the people he meets along the way. It’s one to follow!
Finally, Mac Ruby Woo red lipstick is my ‘treat yo’ self’ recommendation of the month. As a red lippie devotee, this is by far the best that I have ever used. Wine proof (essential), bold and long lasting, this bad boy has been my ultimate sidekick this month. Although a little pricier that your average High St lipstick, it’s well worth the investment.
Love and lippy,