November 2007


Take: a loaf of bread (or equivalent quantity of whatever bready/caky stuff you have lying around that needs using up*, total weight about 1lb); half a pint of cream; a pint of milk; 6 eggs; some vanilla essence, cinammon and nutmeg (about 2tsp each); raisins.

[*We used a stale chocolate muffin plus a brioche loaf from the reduced section at the supermarket.]

1. Put the oven on, to about 180C (or 200C if your oven is as wonky as mine).
2. Chop or break the bread / cake / whatever into small pieces – doesn’t really matter but no smaller than, say, 1cm cubes. Maybe a bit bigger than that is better.
3. Put the bread into a large ovenproof dish e.g. a lasagne dish. Sprinkle raisins in amongst the bread cubes. Squash it all down tight. Squash, squash, squash.
4. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them up, then add all the other ingredients and mix them up.
5. Pour the custardy stuff over the bread. Admire the little bubbles that appear as the liquid percolates down to fill in any remaining airspaces.
6. Stick it in the oven for about an hour, until a skewer comes out cleanly.

Makes enough for – 9 good sized pieces. (We have a square dish, so 9 is a good number….)

CREATIVE TIPS:

Add cocoa powder or grated chocolate to the custardy stuff, or dollop chocolate chunks into the custard (see picture), or mix choc chips in with the bread cubes, or use actual chocolate cake (stale, otherwise you’d just eat it, right?) or some combination of any or all of these – hey presto, chocolate bread pudding!

Add booze to the custardy stuff, and/or use raisins that have been soaked in booze – boozy bread pudding! Or add orange zest to the custardy stuff, use cherries as well as raisins, try different kinds of bread and cake – our minipud shown below was made with old gingercake and was looooovely… The world is your oyster :-)

Another variation is to make small bread puddings in ramekins or (as in the picture below) a homemade clay pot that your dad gave you in a fit of pottery-related enthusiasm. These will only need to cook for about 30-40 minutes or so.

(While cooking dinner)
HER: Are we putting mushrooms in?
ME: Yes we are. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to.
HER: I want to mummy.
ME: You want to eat the mushrooms?
HER: Yes, I like mushrooms.
ME: You like mushrooms? But you always say you don’t like mushrooms…
HER: No, mummy, you always say I don’t like mushrooms. But I do.
ME: Oh. Good.

The worse thing is, she’s right! I do (did) say lots of times that she doesn’t like mushrooms. And, often, I even said it completely unnecessarily, as in:

“Oh, yes, she is a very good eater. The only thing she doesn’t like at all is mushrooms.”

or “She will try anything, well anything except mushrooms anyway.”

or “You don’t have to eat the mushrooms if you don’t want to. I know you don’t like them.”

I’ve been doing exactly the thing that my mother always used to do which I found really, really annoying – assuming that a preference once expressed is set in stone, that just because Ariel really, really dislikes something this week means that she will continue to dislike it indefinitely. Which is especially stupid when the person you are talking about isn’t yet three and changes her preferences more often than she changes her vests.

And I’ve been doing exactly the other thing that I try so hard never ever to do – negative reinforcement.

I make a real effort not to say “you can’t do that” or “you don’t / won’t like that”. Instead I try to either keep quiet or, if it actually is necessary to say something, to make positive, specific, reasoned comments. Such as: “you’re a bit too little to climb up there right now – when you are bigger and stronger you can have a try” or “just have a little bit of that one to start with, it’s a very strong flavour so you don’t need much”.

The theory is that f I tell her often enough that she can’t do or doesn’t like something, then eventually she is likely to believe me!

And I fall down on mushrooms of all things. Mushrooms!

And Ariel makes me proud – because even though I have been accidentally programming her to dislike mushrooms, she has rejected my suggestions and decided to eat mushrooms anyway. Possibly to spite me.

What a strong, independent-minded, wonderful little girl she is. Hooray!

… reading the 8th Carnival of Radical Femnists, in which I have been featured (yay!)

… finishing my crocheted toilet roll dog (not for me, honest)

… mucking about with Ariel

Since I blogged a couple of weeks ago about “Extended” breastfeeding, I think I have worked something out.

Most of the people who criticise or condemn longer-term breastfeeding do, on the surface at least, accept that breastfeeding a child is in principle a good thing. Most of them understand, up to a point, that it is healthy for the child to have breastmilk. Up to a point.

Yet so many, many people think that once you cross some sort of line it becomes unnatural / selfish / harmful / wrong.

Why? It’s not plain ignorance, because even when information is offered it is ignored. There must be something deeper in action than mere reasoning from false premises, because even when you point out the flaws in the premises not one person is moved to change their view.

I think the answer is actually quite simple: pleasure.

As long as we are making our breasts available to our infant children for selfless reasons, child-centred reasons – as long as we are doing it out of necessity and/or because it is clearly more healthy or nutritious for the child than any available alternative – that is fine. It is laudable, and moral, and praiseworthy.

But as soon as it becomes apparent that we do it “unnecessarily”, breastfeeding is no longer fine. As soon as breastfeeding is more than a selfless sacrifice of our own body for the benefit of the child, it becomes self-indulgence. At best, it is lazy (and ultimately harmful) indulgence of the child. It breeds an unhealthy dependence, something like an addiction. It satisfies the mother’s selfish and pathological need to be needed.

All the anti-extended-breastfeeding comments seemed to point this way, imagining bad motives and harmful effects. And I think that these imagined motives, projected onto breastfeeding mothers and used to condemn us, all serve to deflect attention away from the unpalatable truth: that we do it because we like it, because our children like it, because it makes both nursing partners happy.

So why is it, then, that so many people find it so difficult to stomach the idea that for some nursing partnerships, breastfeeding is pleasurable?

The more I think about it, the more I think I nailed it in my Sensual Art post:

“If we think of sex [as something special, magical, unique, essential, vital, irreplaceable, crucial, needful… the Ultimate], we elevate and isolate sexual feeling to a point where the possibility of anything which is like sex but which is not sex becomes impermissible, an aberration, wrong.”

If we equate sensual pleasure with sex, then it becomes impermissible to allow that breastfeeding could ever involve sensual pleasure. And if we cannot compute the idea of breastfeeding being a sensual (and “therefore” a sexual) pleasure, we end up casting about for other explanations when mothers breastfeed “unnecessarily”.

We imagine all these unhealthy, pathological and downright sinister reasons because the most obvious reason (because we like it, dammit) is so inconceivable that even the most absurd alternatives are considered plausible.

What a great week – it has flown by! It has filled me with new enthusiasm for blogging too. Hooray! Not wanting it all to be over quite yet, I leave you with this, from Womanwords:

By the end of the C16th, snatch was used allusively to refer to hasty or illicit or mercenary sexual intercourse (with a woman) e.g. “I could not abide marriage, but as a rambler I took a snatch when I could get it.” (1621) Hence since the end of the C19th, snatch came to be used as slang for the vagina…

“The association of the vagina with a snapping jaw* – the vagina dentata – is a symbol of male castration fear which has appeared in primitive legend the world over. In psychoanalytic terms this is explained by H R Hays as follows: “The sucking infant, which had a cannibalistic desire to consume the mother, projects an instinctive memory of its own sadism into the female vagina and transforms it into a biting mouth.**” (The Dangerous Sex, 1966) This memory is one which can be revived in the male by heterosexual intercourse after which the once erect penis goes limp and thus seems to “die”, or is perhaps “killed” by the snatching vagina of a woman, viewed as a sorceress.”

* Sic. The vagina is (literally, if you go by etymology) a “sheath”, so cannot actually snap, jawlike or otherwise. The labia though? Yeah, jaws R us :-)

** As the mother of a sucking infant old enough to articulate her feelings about nursing, I can confirm that she does not wish to eat me, sadistically or otherwise. She just wants to eat the mo out of the “ends” (her latest self-created terminology***) of my boobs. From which I conclude – even apart from the improbability of a child projecting its “own sadism” into women’s vaginas without any prompting from weirdos like H R Hays and his ilk – that this theory is complete and unmitigated poppycock.

*** Which is an improvement on her previous decision to christen my left side “Mo” and my right side “Booby”. This led to a scene in which – after she had finished “Mo” and was annoyed that it was taking too long to change sides – she stood up and shouted “I WANT BOOBY! I WANT TO EAT BOOBY NOW!” Which, for the avoidance of doubt, was not intended by her to suggest that she actually had a cannibalistic desire to consume me.

I have written a few times on this blog about the practice of FGM as a horrific violation of women’s bodies that, apart from stripping them of bodily integrity, also has many long and short term health risks. Today I want to think not about why it must stop now (duh) but about how it can stop, what we can do to actually make it stop. Fine words and awareness-raising are just so much hand-wringing unless we actually get out there and make something happen.

The most obvious step is to change the laws. There are still many countries where FGM is lawful or where only the most extreme forms are prohibited. And we need to ensure that no country will refuse asylum or refugee status to a girl or woman fleeing from FGM. It is only very recently that even in the UK the risk of being subject to FGM has been recognised as giving a girl or woman the right to be granted refugee status here.

But legal changes can only ever be a small part of the solution. There is no point in changing the law unless people will comply with the law. This means either rigorous law enforcement or more realistically (especially but not only in countries where police forces are overstretched, underfunded, uninterested or plain corrupt) voluntary abandonment of the practice by the communities where it is currently entrenched.

How can communities be persuaded to abandon FGM? The obvious answer is to tell them that FGM is dangerous, and a violation of women’s human rights and human dignity, that it can kill. But many adherents to the practice know that already, and they still do it. So telling them again and highlighting the dangers as best we can might help, slowly, in some cases: but it won’t eradicate FGM any more than telling people that smoking is bad for them will eradicate smoking.

So telling them not to do it doesn’t work. Telling them how bad it is doesn’t work. Why not? Clearly there are reasons people want to carry out FGM on their girl children which go deeper than “because we’ve always done it”. These communities experience benefits from FGM which outweigh the health risk to the child, which outweigh any right to wholeness that she may have, which outweigh any risk of legal repercussions.

The Population Council has an FGM (FGC) page with lots of resources about anti-FGM actions that have been tried, and evaluation research that has been carried out to identify the best approaches to FGM eradication. I’m not even going to try and summarise the various reports and assessments on there, but having read through a number of them I can suggest that a few common strands do emerge.

One is that the most successful approaches were participatory, involving the whole community in discussing FGM and thinking about their own behaviour, with a view to making and sustaining a voluntary commitment to changing the behaviour.

Another is the importance of projects being focussed on specific, whole communities. The admirable organisation Rainbo has developed a framework (which it calls “Women’s Empowerment and Community Consensus”, or WECC) which recognises that communities cling onto FGM because they get something out of it and that we must therefore do more than threaten or preach: we must also understand the community needs that FGM satisfies, so that we can help the women and men who “benefit” from FGM to find alternative ways of satisfying those needs.

This approach can be seen in the following two reports, which aimed at designing an approach to FGM eradication focussed on specific communities by looking at the reasons why FGM is practised within those communities:

  • A 2004 Frontiers report found that the reasons for cutting in the Islamic Somali community in Kenya included “religious obligation, family honor, preserving virginity as a prerequisite for marriage, prevention of extramarital as well as premarital sex, and aesthetics” (but not as an initiation rite). The approach recommended was then a religious-based approach, combined with medical information, to show that this is a traditional practice that is contrary to Islamic dictates because of the harm it does.
  • A similar report focussed on the Christian Abagusii community in Kenya where the reasons cited were “tradition, cultural identity, symbolic maturity, control of women’s sexuality and fidelity, and marriageability” and where it was found that despite being illegal, most cutting is performed (albeit unofficially) in clinics by nurses and midwives. Here the approach recommended was to mobilise health workers by educating them about legal and medical issues, addressing the financial incentives they have for performing FGM (they are well paid), and encouraging them to advise their clients against the practice. The involvement of health workers and education about health risks was already having some benefits in reducing the severity of the cutting, and in some cases limiting cutting to a symbolic prick of the clitoris.

Finally, sadly, it is clear that FGM abandonment is a lengthy process, that does not happen overnight.

One model for this process is the progressive diffusion of anti-FGM attitudes. For example, this might involve “converting” community members and encouraging them to go out and “convert” their own family and friends so that eventually the tiny minority who are prepared to stand up against FGM within that community grows and grows, with the expectation that eventually not cutting will be the norm. There is evidence of some success at this approach, although no evidence of any community where this approach has made a dramatic impact even over the long term.

A different model is to involve a whole community, a whole village, so that the community arrives together at a decision to stop FGM – each member of that community lending support (and peer pressure) to the change. This again cannot be done overnight. First, you have to get the whole village involved in actually thinking about and questioning FGM – using medical and human rights information distributed through health and literacy programs; encouraging religious leaders and other influential individuals including health workers to openly condemn the practice; and empowering grassroots anti-FGM advocates. The next step is to support people through the transition from thinking about change to actually making the change, with an element being to address fears of social exclusion for uncut women: alternative rites is one strategy; another is to bring whole villages to make an “FGM-free” declaration that will help to reduce fears of ostracism. There is evidence that this whole-community approach can work in the longer term.

So what can we do? It is frustrating that the process is slow, it is frustrating that there is no easy answer, no quick fix. No petition to sign, no angry letter to write, no big corporation to boycott. What can we do? As outsiders, it seems to me that all we can do is to support the grass-roots movements and projects, to support people who are actually out there doing it. Donating what we can, and hand-wringing otherwise.

It seems so little, and meanwhile the cutting goes on.

This is the sort of thing that only a woman who has done footprinting with toddlers could contemplate: it takes a really surprising amount of organisation.


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