My turn as guest editor of the Independent last week resulted in a flood of wonderfully thoughtful letters. I thought I'd share the best with you. Seems Britain needed a splash of something new, even if just for a day!
Dear Anita -
As a 70yr old who eschewed the girlie mags telling me how to be beautiful/attract men/behave/from the age of 15 and who discovered my dad's old shaving brush and a slap of cheap moisture cream gave me the complexion still admired- and which attracted men (and still does) without any difficulty- I thoroughly enjoyed your article and editorship of the Indie this morning. I have rolled it up and sent it to the son of a certain Ambassador in the USA this morning who craves our balanced reporting.
It is true. Society attempts to mould us into the clones it wants and is aided and abetted by men in a way that destroys our self esteem- and then drives us into dissatisfaction with ourselves which we then attempt to reconstruct from the media image of what we are expected to be! And so many women fall for it, remaining dissatisfied for the whole of their lives.
Sustained and encouraged by my mother's remark "…that it is a pity that Jean is not pretty like her sisters" I decided (at 12) to a) be my own person b) develop a personality c) sod the lot of them, and it has worked beautifully all my life - except when I succumbed to the hormones and made a disastrous marriage to a German-Transylvanian baron whose ideas of male/woman relationships was 'CONTROL' – (thus illustrating the equal/opposites balance of nature). He told doctors in 1959 that I had too much spirit for a woman and, like a wild horse, had to be tamed! They (amazingly for the era) told me to leave him before he crushed me totally.
Anyway, since my personal World War 3, growing older has been fun. One can be totally outrageous/outspoken and be viewed as 'eccentric', while retaining one's own views and privacy. I am not, nor have ever been a 'feminist' – just ME. However, it is interesting how many people view that 'me'. My son once called me 'strong' in a way that was meant as a condemnation – until I quietly remarked that if I had not been 'strong' we would not have survived. He had to agree.
I see my daughter-in-law despondent at her failing looks/sexual appeal/lack of purpose and achievement in life/chasing after lost youth and can only feel pity. It is how she was raised as a measure of achievement to attract a man, get married, have children, and she has done it but lost herself on the way. Now she is chasing an illusion that if she is free, can travel, meet other men, she can fulfill her needs but the answer is within herself and has been since the beginning.
Having survived a subarachnoid haemorrhage (like Jane Lapotiere) against all the odds - even though five surgeons were convinced it was brain cancer, it amused me to read "A woman in advancing age is unstoppable by any earthly force." You are dead right. I am starting another Degree (Humanities) through the Open University and if I don't finish it it will be due to unearthly forces.
Life is for living and being oneself - whatever the obstacles.
Come the Revolution! Funny, that was always my phrase!
When I saw that Anita Roddick was going to be guest editor for the day my heart sank. However, what a surprise. I would say a nice one but the trade, aid and asylum issues were not pretty subjects. I say its time to generate another "Jubliee 2000" campaign, this time for fair trade. Well done "the Independent" for kicking it off.
I really liked the general focus of the Independent on Thursday. Thank God there were no headlines about Beckham, Geoffrey Archer or John Leslie and other such parochial and narrow British male nonsenses. The much more political focus on the haemorrhage of refugees to Europe daily is rarely emphasized - it is always seen to be a problem for Italy and Spain and not a more general malaise that needs to be tackled by all consenting European States. In fact wider European issues are rarely given front page coverage, so thanks to Anita Roddick for her more gendered priorities.
However, in spite of enjoying Roddick's article about her mother and the importance of self-esteem she leaves self-respect out of the argument. Self-esteem is evident in today's 'personality cult', the dumbing down of everything and everyone in the media focus - please don't reveal a brain whatever you do some-one might think you are 'serious'. Yet who can sway the 'rightness' of the empty headed victims extolling (often incoherently) on any topic whatever? Self-esteem emanating from self-respect is a much more important aspect of human understanding and development. It is something that many media and pop stars do not recognize. Gilda gave Anita self-respect which laid the foundation for self-esteem. Self-esteem built upon nothing but self awareness and narcissism is like schooling without education. Respect must be earned and it builds the esteem - we need to know the difference. The notion of selflessness is not a negative human feature but is in itself a virtue that needs a voice or a means of assertion. Our best politicians and female role models speak NOT for themselves but on behalf of others –they are not selfish or purely selfless.
Selflessness is not silence it is not selfishness. If Roddick's article were to substitute self-respect for self-esteem it would be eminently more challenging because we would have to ask ourselves 'How does one gain self-respect?' Gaining self-esteem is much easier.
Christine O'Hanlon Norwich
To Anita Roddick Editor for the Day (19 June 2003) The Independent
Yesterday, as if by coincidence, a teacher sent me a quote of yours about the lack of children's questions in our schools. It simply said:
"Let's teach them to enquire…to ask questions…" Anita Roddick
Did you, by any chance, listen to BBC Radio 4's 'The Learning Curve' last week when Libby Purves interview Roger Sutcliffe, chair of the Philosophy for Children (P4C) movement in the UK? Roger stated that in the last 10 years, following on from the BBC 2 documentary 'Socrates for 6 year olds', over 2,000 teachers have now been trained in the P4C programme which was started by Matthew Lipman in the US twenty years ago. The main aim of doing philosophy with children is, of course, to encourage them to enquire, to ask questions.
We are slowly making headway in this direction, not that it gets much attention in the media. And not before time either. Researchers in US classrooms have repeatedly found a dearth of student questions and a deluge of teacher questions. Jim Dillon, for example, has found that on average, over the school year, only one questions per month is asked per pupil. I suspect that, since the advent of the national curriculum and all the spoonfeeding towards exams that this implies, researchers would now find similar results in this country.
Anita, you're so right. If we really want to raise standards in our schools, surely we must start to give at least as much attention to teaching children how to ask questions as we now give to teaching them how to answer them.
Good luck for the day ahead.
Well done with your excellent editing of the Independent today (19 June 2003).
Issues of trade are so important yet they get little coverage in the mainstream media. The West connives in setting up conditions to make most of the world dependent on us and then the Daily Mail attacks these people for being lazy and wanting an easy life in "soft touch Britain".
I have been campaigning for ages on these issues and on the treatment of people and nations around the world by the West, often in under-reported support of nasty regimes, unfair trade practices and backroom "coercive diplomacy". I have tried to put all the information in one place to make it easy for reference.
My current project is to help people boycott USA goods as a means of political protest.
Again, well done with your day in the editor's chair.
(London, England, United Kingdom)
Hello Anita Roddick,
Congratulations on yours days editing. A very good edition.
I found your article challenging, thought provoking, well written and a very good analysis of the issues. I have been involved in the Gay movement for 30 years and remember clearly that at the start in the UK, in the early 70s, it was Women who energized the movement and got we mens heads sorted about what we should aim to do.
My only defence is that it is very hard to get rid of male conditioning even now.
I do not know why we cannot just value all people for who they are but this seems very difficult for many. Your particular experience and profile is helping many of us to challenge the worst features of our culture.