Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Friday, November 25, 2016
Recently, I wrote a blog about the restoration of The Carrington Inn. My article about the inn also appears in the District Bulletin's December issue. The District Bulletin reports on country living in the Palerang region. I feel it would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the importance of Indigenous heritage as a side bar to the Carrington article.
Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community. This applies equally to the heritage represented by the traditional owners of the land. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous heritage when promoting awareness of colonial heritage as it shows respect for Indigenous culture.Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume's exploration of the region in 1820.
By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements.
During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion, denial, and were silenced. Many Indigenous people many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict). Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings and property and its laws.
To better appreciate the impact of the European arrival in Australia and related issues, click on The Dispossessed.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built between 1884-85. It was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW. When the governor retired, the inn became The Carrington Hotel.
In the 20th century, descendants of the Winters sold the property to Toni Dale who reverted the property to its original function from a domestic residence. It later changed hands until Richard bought it eight years ago.
As we walked through the half acre of man-made gardens' entrance to the Wintergarden complex, I was struck by their intrinsic naturalness and the patterns of dappled light. Richard said they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.
There are three distinct themed locations within the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my. The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport's culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.
Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.The interview and tour began in Myee’s tearoom. Its décor, like the rest of the complex, ‘pays deference to the 19th century colonial Victorian nature of the Carrington Inn.’ An airy and serene space, the tearoom’s authentic hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets suggest a Victorian garden conservatory.
When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him. Restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.
After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’ and witness a different lifestyle.
The aspirational mood of the period is clearly visible in the style of ceilings in the tavern and the Empire Hall and Salons. The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the salons is another popular architectural element from that period as are the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.
The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.
The attention to authentic detail is also seen in the use of deeply embossed wall covering (Lincrusta) in the Empire Hall. Lincrusta was invented in Britain in 1877 by the same man who invented linoleum floor covering some years before.
Having visited many famous historic sites, I found The Carrington Inn as striking as places like Chatsworth House and Hampton Court in UK. Of course, The Carrington's pristine interior décor and the inn are much smaller in scale than those other historic UK properties.As Richard told the stories behind each room’s décor, I realised that he is more than the owner and operator of an enterprise that happens to exist in a heritage property. He is keenly aware of his custodial role in restoring, documenting, and protecting heritage.
As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community and its diversity but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.
Left to right: Mark Summers, General Manager; Edwina Fitzgerald, Accommodation Manager; Me, Innkeeper; Merili Pihlamäe, Venues Manager; and Andrew Stansbie, Executive Chef.
Monday, August 17, 2015
While we may chalk up this double standard to human nature, the tragedy in this dynamic involves more than mere ignorance; it can include children too. In recent decades, feminists and others seeking to have children without traditional family structure have argued that, with sperm donors and surrogacy, men have become redundant. Similarly, there are lobby groups arguing that women are equally redundant and that all that is needed is a loving parent. Also other lobby groups are promoting the myth that having children is a right.
No one has a right to have a child, but people have a natural and understandable desire to have children. Historically, the only people who could have children were those couples who were able to procreate. I’m sure readers are aware that not all of those people capable of procreating should have had children. Since the advent of IVF and surrogacy, the number of people capable of having children has increased. People who have to go the extra hard yards involved in 'having' a child demonstrate a high level of commitment to forming a family. But is that enough?
Is this discussion – what’s sufficient to raise kids – more about the narcissism of adults/would-be parents?
No, it is not automatically about narcissism, but perhaps it is about an unchallenged view that has been handed down over the generations. Remember the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ – that saying encapsulates an adult perspective only - the desire to have a child. That perspective becomes narcissism when adults talk about children as if they are coloring books or mini versions of themselves with identical needs – clones. It ignores any consideration of what a child may want in terms of parents. In the current lobbying by special interest groups, children are lost in the mix.
What is needed to raise children?
Just to be clear, when we’re talking about raising a child we are referring to the conscious decisions involved in bringing a child up rather than a child growing up without adult direction and input.
Raising a child goes beyond the provision of the basics such as love, shelter, food, clothing and education. A focus on the welfare of the child and her/his needs has always been crucial and is even more so in the 21st century given we live in an increasingly challenging world.
You know that saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child? It’s so true. Whether that community is extended family, friends, supportive neighbours or single parent groups, it doesn’t matter as long as there is tag team approach to support parents as they wrestle with the issues of life and parenting. A tag team approach is important as it provides opportunities for parents to have respite from the daily, at times grinding, stresses of parenting. Respite enables all parents to retain perspective and to recharge emotional and psychological batteries. Respite is crucial to reducing depression in adults and in contributing to healthy emotional growth in children.
It also takes a community to raise a child because adults through their actions and interactions role model the various ways a person can be a woman or a man. They also model how people respond to the stressors in their lives - successfully and unsuccessfully. Children are discerning. They will often pick the behaviour that they see works. It is really important to talk about reactions to stress and what truly works and what only appears to work at the surface level.
Depending on your parental circumstance, you need to be aware of the stressors that your child may face due to your family structure, and you need to anticipate those stresses and have strategies in place to deal with them before they arise. Forewarned is forearmed. Ideally, you need to lay down the positive ground work that can defuse the impact of such situations before they arise.
There’s extensive research now that shows the variables that impact on children increase as the parental circumstance varies away from the traditional mother and father household. Single parents are a good example of the added stresses and challenges that a child has to navigate as well as the added challenges and pressures that the parent has to face and resolve. Similarly there are lobby groups in 2015 populated by children from same sex partnerships that reveal the challenges that children (irrespective of the child's sexuality) face in such family structures. Those challenges have less to do with the child's relationships with lesbian/gay parents (often reported as harmonious, warm, and caring) and more to do with backlash that the children faced in the brutal world of the playground.
Be aware that the world in which our children live and mix - at school and socially – is not one governed by political correctness. In the playground, children reflect the unguarded voiced views that parents express in the privacy of their homes. Think back to your own childhood. So the more a family structure varies from the traditional structure, the more challenges the child faces and the greater need for thoughtful adult intervention and support. Parents need to be aware of this and not be deceived by the myth that all they need to do is provide a loving home environment. Of course that is important but in itself it’s not enough. Children are not colouring books in which you impose your own coloured values.
Whether you like it or not, children learn that it takes a woman and a man to create a child. That knowledge sets up an expectation in children that they will have a parent of each gender. There’s extensive research to show that children separated from biological parents for whatever reason often feel driven to connect to and seek them out in adult years. Readers will be aware that even adopted children with fantastic adopted parents want to know their biological parents and often seek to forge some sort of bond with them.
Children also want what they perceive others to have and that they believe they should have. They don't want to be different even when they are in a loving non traditional supportive family structure. I explore this through Dan Mills' and Zoey Blake's subplots in both LIFE SONG and SONG BIRD.
Historically and for generations, there have been plenty of non-traditional family structures for a variety of reasons. For example, children raised by loving aunts or uncles or grandparents. What’s needed to raise healthy children is AWARENESS of the child’s needs from the child’s perspective and a willingness to address them to the child’s satisfaction. Good parenting involves achieving your happiness without it being at the expense of your child's happiness and well-being.
I’ve researched this subject matter extensively before writing LIFE SONG (https://youtu.be/dEioHGbnWiA) and SONG BIRD (https://youtu.be/x-vNrsKCYUY). In a subplot in those novels, this subject is explored from the different children's perspectives and from different family structures. When you read those novels, think about Dan, Zoey, Kate, and Shaun's views on this topic. Irrespective of the family structure, diverse role models are important as children learn how to interact and function with both genders through observation and experience. Children need to know there isn’t one mold and that diversity is acceptable.
It is absurd to claim, as many lobby groups have, that either gender is redundant. Women and men play important roles in children's lives beyond the role of procreation. Children and teenagers learn about life through observing and modeling the behaviour of others. Children and teens learn how to interact in a variety of settings and how to form relationships by observing people and seeing the reaction to behaviour. They learn how to form relationships with people from both genders, preferably functional ones, from observing the adults in their world. Children identify what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity or makes them a target. Research shows that children learn a huge amount about adults in conflict but need to learn more about how to constructively function and form relationships with a diverse range of people as well as how to successfully resolve conflict.
It’s important that parents remember the perspective of a child when they are dealing with situations that stress the parents. Children absorb parental stress even if the adult thinks it is hidden. Children read you. It’s hard I know, but irrespective of whatever you’re going through, the child’s needs have to be addressed as well especially so when the stress stems from the family structure. The unknown frightens children. It destabilizes them. So too does isolation from parents. Providing comfort to a child who is in conflict with a parent is not taking sides in an argument when that comfort assists the child to reconnect to the parent and resolve conflict.
When those stresses arise from conflict with your child, it is important to remember how you felt when you were a child and in conflict with your parent. Why? It re-frames your perspective and generates compassion. You see the conflict from both perspectives. That compassion can defuse the heat in conflict and get you to healthy resolutions faster.
Parents have so many distractions and demands on them nowadays that it’s easy for them to define their children’s needs from the parent’s perspective and forget that the children’s perspective on what they need from parents and extended family may be very different.
I’m not saying children should be placed at the centre of the parental universe and that parents should be subordinate to it. Such behaviour fosters the growth of narcissism. What is important is the continual effort to find a balance between competing needs and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about choices that affect family members and the consequences. The act of considering consequences and dialoguing about them with your children is what matters when raising children. It develops understanding. It role models critical thinking processes. When things don’t work out, it is crucial to openly dialogue about why.
In IN AND OUT OF STEP, my debut novel which is confronting at times, I explore the way parent role models and childhood experiences shape life behaviours and goals. Both Cassie Sleight (the central character ) and Mavis Mill's lives and the choices they make are directly impacted by the role models with far reaching consequences. Consider the dance video and how this subject is embedded in the choreography https://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78
So irrespective of family structure, adults who come into contact with children need to be aware that through action and lifestyle we are teaching children about how to function in life. We need to demonstrate a range of positive roles – how to be assertive rather than aggressive, how to be flexible and resilient rather than defeatist or a victim and so on. Importantly, we need to consider, scrutinize, and discuss with them the values actively and passively modeled by the world at large.
Another thing for parents to consider when raising children is the inter-generational transmission of attachment styles. Within the context of this discussion, attachment refers to bonds between parents and children. Research shows that people who received sensitive and well-balanced care as children find it easier to form secure attachments in adulthood. By contrast, people who received insensitive and indifferent parenting in childhood have greater difficulty in forming positive and secure adult relationships.That is not to say the latter can't form positive and secure relationships. They can, but it requires thoughtful behaviour, introspection, and a desire to be a better version of 'self' in all arenas. It is important to avoid the mentality of it never harmed me. It is also important to avoid being a helicopter parent who denies the child opportunities to play, explore, risk take, and experience the world within safe parameters.
Importantly, parents and adults who come into contact with children and teens need to model resilience. Getting back up again after life experiences have knocked you down is as important as providing a loving home environment. Raising strong children is not about wrapping them in cotton wool and isolating them from the world. Rather it is about demonstrating resilience when hardships occur and showing children how we recover from hardship and learn from it. We need to show children that we don't have to be defined by the circumstance that we are born into or that our choices have created, but that we can rise above those circumstances and become who we were meant to be. This message is central to the plot of 'Life Song' and its sequel 'Song Bird', available through Book Depository, Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, and other major sellers.
How would you categorize the socio-political biases involved in this discussion?
It’s Life viewed through a lobby group’s lens, isn’t it? It’s a very narrow view driven by lobby groups’ desires rather than anyone’s rights. It is an approach of self-interest. Self-interest can become narcissism and ultimately results in injury to others.
I have concerns about any lobby group that reduces complex and important issues to a bumper sticker approach to it. That approach denies the perspectives of the multiple interests groups affected by an issue. That denial can result in injury to those groups denied a voice or an advocate. Some elements of those socio-political groups even resort to -ism statements and other derogatory terms to shut down objective discussion.
Does this criticism extend to “modern families,” which include parents from the LGBT community?
Good parenting is not shaped by or determined by anyone’s sexuality.
I’m not passing a negative judgment on anyone which is what is implied by the word criticism. Rather, I’m initiating a discussion on issues about raising children and good parenting. My message is the same regardless of your audience’s sexuality and family structure.
Good parenting is determined by the parents’ commitment and willingness to consider the needs of children and a willingness to weigh up parental and children's needs and seek balance. As I said before, the more your family structure differs from the traditional model, the more variables are introduced and the more strategies you need when raising your children. Don't make the mistake of parenting by remote control. By that I mean unthinkingly repeating parent and adult behaviours that you observed as a child. Be discerning. Select from the battery of positive strategies and avoid repeating negative parental behaviours that you learned from your parents. When you react unthinkingly in any situation with children, discuss your reaction and the consequences with the children concerned and discuss other ways the situation could have played out.
The key to raising a healthy child is to help your child feel competent and confident as she or he navigates life, its stresses and its challenges. Teach your children resilience by focusing them on the positive things in life when they are dealing with hardship. Provide them strategies to deal with hardship and strife. Be positive that life can get better. Encourage them to be mindful of the way they live life and of the values that underpin the way we live. Foster empathy. Teach them to forgive themselves when they make significant life mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to move onto better days. Be involved in your children's lives; you only have them for a short time and that time passes all too quickly.
© Christine M Knight
All of Christine M Knight's novels are available on order through major book stores and online sellers. Her paperback novels RRP: A$24.99 and her eBooks RRP: A$11.99.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
The bad role models that have the greatest impact on a child, tween, or teen are those people in our immediate world – not celebrities. I’m referring to the adults who act badly and who model questionable values and injurious ways of living. For instance, you might know someone who behaves badly – drinks too much, is aggressive rather than assertive, is defensive rather than open to constructive discussion, assumes the role of victim when faced with conflict and as a result escalates the conflict and so on.
There are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. If you don’t talk to your children about the consequences of bad behaviour, you are unintentionally condoning it. This is the same as saying the value you walk past is the value you accept and reinforce. When adults do not challenge assumptions underlying questionable behaviour, there is a genuine risk that children will adopt and mirror that behaviour.
The community that you live in and the values of the people in it have an even stronger influence on your child than any one person. Nowadays, that community includes images and values sold to young people through the entertainment industry.
The difficulty is having any discussion about bad behaviour is the risk of appearing wowserish (a puritanical or censorious person). To avoid being cast as such, ask your child, tween or teen what they thought of the bad behaviour. Get them to reflect and think through to the effect on them as well as others. Ask them if they thought another type of action/reaction was possible in that situation. Develop your young person's ability to be discerning.
A proven successful strategy when attempting a discussion is for you to put the bad behavior in an event in context. If that person is also a celebrity, it’s important to also discuss the way the event is covered in the media. Bad behavior is an opportunity to explain that, yes, people mess up, but it's how we deal with the aftermath that matters. Discuss the aftermath as well as what choices the person faced before the person messed up.
Of real concern to me is the Culture of the Looking Glass perpetuated by the mass media. For commercial reasons, the mass media sell women and girls on the importance of being a particular shape, size, age, and on the need to look sexy. We are bombarded by those images on a daily basis. They have become subliminal messages that encourage inadequacy and the lowering of self-esteem in order to make money and that detract from what really matters – a person’s inner qualities.
So we need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value in diversity as well as women’s traits, qualities, and achievements.
I recommend http://theresilienceproject.com.au/corporate
© Christine M Knight
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Reading introduces girls and young women to worlds and the possibilities of life outside the world they actually live in. It teaches them they do not have to be defined by their circumstance but can rise above it.
Quality fiction and non-fiction about strong women show readers what women are really capable of and also portray the diversity of womankind. By strong female characters, I don’t mean physically strong but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.
Strong female characters have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined. They have the ability to act independently, to make their own choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences.
Reading about the diverse experiences portrayed in quality fiction and nonfiction also counterbalances the questionable values and images being promoted in many of today’s television shows, movies, and music videos that target teens and young adults. Those questionable values and images represent a narrow and false image of the people, cultures, and the world that we live in. Literature and quality nonfiction make it clear that it’s who you are on inside and not your shape, size or skin colour that counts.
Reading also develops skills that assist girls and women to succeed. Reading and studying both require persistence and an ability to sustain focus and read for long times.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
The right to privacy refers to a person’s right to have a private space, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property or having private matters in the person's life staying private. The right to privacy also refers to the right a person has to control the degree of access by others to a person’s private domain.
For most celebrities (not those associated with reality shows), celebrity status was a by-product of the person’s success. It was not the person’s primary goal. Instead the person was focused on achieving goals and longevity in a career and gaining recognition for a talent or achievement. Celebrity status is something that famous people are confronted with and have to learn to manage.
This topic is complex and there are three aspects to it: freedom from scrutiny versus a right to privacy, the media myth, the impact on the audience and in turn on society.
Many people confuse freedom from scrutiny with a right to privacy. We are all subject to passing scrutiny when we’re out in public whether we are conscious of it or not. We observe others and are observed ourselves in turn. Sometimes as part of that scrutiny, we make judgements about who or what we see around us. It’s part of being situationally aware which is increasingly important nowadays. Similarly, we are subject to scrutiny by speed cameras when we travel on public roads and by CTV cameras in shopping malls and other public places. That scrutiny doesn’t mean a person’s privacy has been invaded though.
If you are a celebrity, there is a high probability that a greater percentage of people will be interested in you than they are in a passer-by. It is unrealistic for any celebrity to expect not to be observed and scrutinised when the celebrity is out in public but in a private capacity.
Given the high tech features of mobile phones (I believe Americans call them cell phones) and the ease with which people upload into social media nowadays, everyone has the potential to be a roving reporter. It is natural for fans to want to snap a discrete photo of a celebrity from a distance to record the experience and to share it with friends. In such circumstances, there isn’t any invasion of the celebrity’s privacy.
The second aspect of this topic centres on the myth and argument that celebrities forfeit their privacy once they develop public persona. Whether we realise it or not, we all have a public persona – the face and identity we choose to show to people outside of our homes. Our job – be it a trash collector or an entertainment industry star – is not a valid reason for others to deny our right to privacy.
Of course, in the entertainment industry and politics, celebrities and the media need one another. Like all healthy associations, it should be a symbiotic relationship where there is a mutual benefit, not a parasitic relationship where one exploits and benefits at the expense of the other.
There isn't any valid reason for a celebrity to be treated as an expendable commodity, someone to be exploited and then discarded when exploitation is no longer possible. Certainly there isn’t valid justification for the exploitation of the dark or embarrassing moments of that person or that person’s family life.
The third aspect of this topic is the threat posed to civilised society when we accept the right of others to invade a person’s privacy. When people discuss the right to privacy, they mostly do so from the celebrity or media’s perspective. Few people stop to think about the impact on the audience. That impact is negative and supports the growth of a destructive culture.
The culture supports making money from ‘stolen’ moments in a celebrity’s private life and the writing of take-down articles. It appeals to baser human instincts within the composers as well as the audience. It is a culture that is unable to celebrate success and that lacks generosity of spirit. That culture threatens society because it shifts our reference points for what is acceptable and unacceptable. That culture endorses predatory behaviour that causes tragedy such as the death of Princess Diana.
You may say in response to this article that there are celebrities who behave badly and do so knowing they have a public audience. Surely, they have lost the right to privacy.
That does of course happen. A certain celebrity who shared compromising pictures of himself through Twitter and Instagram comes to mind. In that instant, the celebrity has surrendered the right to privacy for that act in that situation, however, the celebrity has not renounced the right to privacy for the rest of that person’s life.
The actions of the rude, crude, and uncivilised in social media are not reasons to publicise such behaviour. When the press pick up on that type of behaviour and promote it widely, they are contributing to a shift in societal values and the development of a spectator sport. That spectator sport is very similar to rubber necking and to the blood sport fascination associated with gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome. It is strongly reminiscent of the society in the capitol of Panem as portrayed in Hunger Games. If mainstream media does not pick up on social media sharing, a tweet is lost in the blink of an eye because a tsunami of information is now shared through social media.
If we want to sustain a civilised society, we have to consider the people who are impacted by widely publicised poor behaviour – the audience. Public exposure to questionable behaviour inadvertently sets a new code of behaviour because it implies it is acceptable and so establishes it as the norm.
Think for a moment about the way obscenity such as f***! has infiltrated the language in everyday situations in a diverse cross section of society. Through constant exposure to it via film, music, and television, people have unconsciously absorbed the values implied by the use of that obscenity. The impact of that exposure on an audience is similar to the impact of subliminal messages. The impact is huge. Teenagers now use the word liberally and often without realising the word is offensive to many.
Even the most unlikely people, when in similar conflict situations to those shown in the mass media, find themselves uttering the expletive. A thinking person stops, aghast that she or he has reacted in that way, and questions the response and makes a conscious decision to reject the use of such expletives in the future. The unthinking person doesn’t even blink and in doing so endorses the behaviour, establishing it as a normal response and modelling it to the immediate audience as a normal reaction in stress.
As Lieutenant General David Morrison, former Chief of the Australian Army, said in June 2013, 'The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.' I will go one step further. The behaviours we mirror and model in everyday life are the behaviours we condone in society.
The right to privacy is an important right of citizens in a democratic and free world. We have a right to have a private space where we feel safe, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property and to expect the private matters of our lives to remain private. We have a right to control the degree of access by others to anything in our private domain. The right to such privacy is very different from freedom from surveillance. Since 9/11 and the rise of terrorism, there has been a genuine need for surveillance to ensure public safety and societal security - a totally different blog and discussion.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
International readers please note that Christine uses the British spelling system.Male role models are critical in shaping what girls and women value and what they reject. Girls and young women learn how to interact in a variety of situations from the male role models in their lives just as they do their female role models. What men appear to value influences how a young woman shapes herself, her behaviour, and her aspirations. So men have an extraordinarily strong influence over what girls and young women value just as the entertainment industry does. That is why the Robin Thicke / Miley Cyrus 2013 performance brought such criticism.
A diverse range of male and female role models is important in the life of a child and teenager. Why? Male and female role models demonstrate the codes of interaction and the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is a major contributing factor in learning how to form positive relationships: personal, emotional, workplace and career. It is crucial to long term well-being for a young person to learn how to belong to the world in which that person lives.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Recently, Taylor Swift said she looks to no one – at least in her own industry – as a role model. During a Time magazine interview, she wondered with open embarrassment what her grandchildren would think if she behaved public more like her peers, such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, exposing herself and selling her image through her body.
Taylor Swift has a point. Girls and women mirror what they admire and adopt the values of their role models. I always keep this in mind as a storyteller as I explore the many roles women play throughout their lives, their choices, and assumptions that shape how they behave.
To provide better role models for tweenies and teens, we need to think about who their role models are. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities or with high public profiles such as music or movie stars, sportsmen, and the like, but we all function as role models. In particular, parents and family members are powerful role models during childhood. Indeed, girls form their understanding and expectations of male and female roles and how to interact with the other gender from what they observe and learn within the family unit. In my debut novel, 'In and Out of Step', I explore the far reaching ramifications of childhood role models on Cassie Sleight and Mavis Mills.
Children, teenagers, and even adults learn through observing and modelling others. We first see this with small children at play. From their earliest years, children learn how to interact in a variety of settings and situations by observing the people around them and seeing the reaction to a variety of behaviours. It is from this observation that children identify and then learn about what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity, makes them a target and so on.
The influence of parents and family leaders as role models appears to lessen as a child nears and goes through adolescence. This change is a reflection of an adolescent’s journey to adulthood, the move toward independence, and driving need to develop her/his own identity. At this stage, tweens and teens not only have a wider situational awareness than they did as children, but they also mix with many more people of different age groups in an ever increasing range of situations and settings.
Adult readers, I’m sure, will have memories of their own journeys through adolescence, the widening circle of influences on them, the swirling emotions and the conflicts that arose as they sought to establish their own respective identities. They'll also be aware that, as part of the journey to independence, the lens through which teens and young adults view their parents and family leaders changes.In order to provide better role models, we need to realize that there are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. So it is important that we demonstrate through action and lifestyle the values that we hold dear and want our children to consider modelling. Importantly, we need to consider and scrutinize the values actively and passively modelled by the world at large. We need to initiate discussion with our children about that world to better help them understand it and develop discernment. If that dialogue is established early enough, it will continue in the difficult years of adolescence. That doesn’t mean adolescents will accept or adopt their parents’ perspective, but a childhood of conditioned response means that perspective is taken under consideration by teens even though the immediate response could appear to reject it.
Related to the journey to independence is the strong genetic drive to belong. In order to belong, tweens and teens need to be in step with the day's culture and so they look to leaders in that culture. That culture is driven by the entertainment industry, including magazines.
As adolescents grow up, they often try on different role models just as they try on different styles of clothing and experiment with fashion styles. They’ll walk a mile or two wearing that role and make decisions about its suitability for them. They look for what roles fit comfortably into their lives, what helps them fit in and be liked. All the time, adolescents observe and gauge the reactions it brings. If it brings unwanted reactions or doesn’t achieve what they seek, they change because being liked and accepted is part of belonging. Importantly, girls change role models and adapt their behaviour as they grow into womanhood and evolve. If you are a teen music, film or television star, your evolution is reported as a series of mistakes rather than role play experimentation. Those mistakes may result in notoriety and an unhealthy cycle of behaviour that interferes with real growth.
Tweens and teens are highly impressionable. They are vulnerable to the culture of the day. Those years are a time when they experience everything on a much higher emotional level – ask any mother if this is not so. As adults, we need to be situationally aware of that culture and its embedded messages.
We appear to live in an era that is intolerant of diversity among women, an era where being sexy and being a particular size and shape and having a youthful appearance is more important than anything else. An era where real women are airbrushed, photo shopped, and manufactured to represent a commercial image that denies the reality and diversity of womankind. An era where material culture is promoted and sold directly and indirectly. In the entertainment and other image preoccupied industries, it doesn’t seem to matter that cosmetic chemical and surgical intervention to halt the aging process makes people a parody of youth rather than youthful. The embedded messages to tweens and teens is one that devalues aging and reduces a person’s value to how well the person fulfills the stereotype – a narrow external image that is driven by commercial motivation and that reduces women to objects. Objectification supports a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace and in public. Given the denial of female diversity and the rising trend to objectification, it isn't surprising depression for tweens and teens is on the rise.
In order to counter this, we need to see and hear about strong, confident and inspirational real women from all walks of life regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype. We need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value of diversity as well as a person’s talents, traits, qualities, and achievements. Longevity is a gift not a curse and should be celebrated. As part of that celebration, we should talk about and celebrate the diverse roles that women have played in history including how they have contributed to shaping the world.
Images of women sold in magazines and shown on television have a huge impact on the target audience, tween and teens especially so, moreso than a pop diva or pop dio (the male equivalent of diva). While the audience and written content of magazines may differ, there is an alarming similarity in the images selected to represent women. Those images box women into a narrow category (beauty and desirability being ranked as important) with little attention to any woman's intelligence, talents, inner qualities, admirable traits, achievements, or how she positively contributes to society. The focus is on material culture instead, and women are repeatedly told that their personal fit is a simple matter of purchase.
Our bodies are merely the vehicle in which we travel though life. The body does not represent the sum total of any woman's value. It is important that women of all ages have this reinforced to them especially by magazines and shows that purport to be for women and run by women. As a society, we need to see and hear about more women who are content to be their age at every stage and valued because they are so.
Increasingly, images of women in magazines and on television represent myths and propaganda that shape our culture, influence attitudes toward women, and alter what we as a society accept and value.Television shows do the same thing. For instance, there are lots of action TV series and movies that have tiny women in high heels with martial arts skills giving as much violence as they get. Such shows mislead and potentially put young women in danger because they are misled into thinking they could defend themselves or even overpower a stronger man. The men’s world boxing championships have weight divisions for a very good reason. A champion lightweight boxer cannot overpower a heavyweight. By showing women in such violent situations, the shows are shifting our view on what is acceptable. It could be seen as a covert way of condoning violence against women. It covertly undermines the white ribbon campaign whose slogan is Say No! to violence against women.
As a society we need to challenge misrepresentations of what is heroic in women and encourage girls to look outside the box for heroines. Heroic women are strong women. I don’t mean physically strong (although some women are) but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.Strong women have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Love and romance in the real world is very different from the romance genre. Strong women enjoy love on their own terms and actively avoid being treated as objects and discarded due to an expiry of a use-by-date. Truly strong women have the ability to act independently, to make their own wise, well-considered choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences and make decisions with their own good and the welfare of others in mind. Such women draw affection, love, and importantly respect.
As a society we need to encourage story tellers, journalists, the media, and workplaces to value diversity, and portray and represent the beauty, strength and diversity of womankind in all of its forms. My novels do this.
Consider also reading http://www.christinemknight.com.au/poetry-2/a-model-for-the-modern-woman
The lyrics 'Take It Off' also deal with this issue. http://www.christinemknight.com.au/author-christine-m-knights-blog/take-it-off-a-song-from-song-bird
'Take It Off' features in 'Song Bird' and is sung by two fictional characters - singing sensation Nikki Mills and international rock star, Rick Brody. 'Song Bird' is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online sellers, and many bookstores in the USA.
If you wish to comment, please send me your comment through the contact page. I've had to close my blog for direct comments because of spam.Note to international readers. An Australian, I use the British spelling system.
Friday, March 20, 2015
This blog entry is an excerpt from BELONGING: A RELATED TEXT COMPANION to 'IN AND OUT OF STEP', on sale through Amazon.
Focus: the protagonist - Cassie SleightTechniques: third person narration, characterization, context (place and situation), metaphor, dialogue, flashback scenes, plot action, choice of language
From the first page of the novel, the author signals, through third person narration, that the protagonist is in the role of observer (page 3) and distanced from the world and people around her. The reader sees what Cassie observes and shares her perspective of the worlds that she is entering: the high school setting, the Madison House community, and the wider township. This discussion will focus on Cassie's quest to belong in the school setting.
From the outset of the school plot, it is clear that the protagonist, Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, does not see herself as a high school teacher and feels that she does not belong to the teaching profession.
As a coping strategy (a strategic process) to help her overcome her feeling of being an outsider, she chose to reframe her view of the world she was entering by likening her finding a place in that world to the dance floor and a 'form of dance' - metaphoric thinking. That coping strategy gave her confidence in dealing with a new environment because it focused on similarities rather than differences in her old and new world. In addition, she also saw the means to inclusion as a matter of wearing the right costume and knowing the steps of the dance. The author uses the extended metaphor of dance to represent Cassie's coping strategies.
After locking the car door, she looked down at her clothing: a simple white shirt, a flowing denim skirt, and her favourite black shoes. She looked the part. All she had to do was be it.Teaching is another form of dance, she thought, a simple matter of learning the steps and getting in time to the rhythm of school life. I can do this. (page 4)
Cassie's sense of being an outsider is exacerbated by the attitudes and values of the community that she seeks to join. On the first day of the school year, male students reinforce that she does not belong in the male world of the English faculty to which she is headed.
The stairs leading into the English block were congested with students.
‘Excuse me, would you mind moving so I can get through?’
‘You in the right place, Miss? This is the English block entrance. The Home Economics stairs are over there and the Music and Art are near the main office.’
‘I know. Now, would you mind moving?’
Legs moved and an aisle appeared amidst the sea of bodies.
Halfway up the stairs, she heard snatches of adolescent conversation.
‘Geez! Tail bait in English, again!’
‘Fun and games ahead, boys.’
‘How long do you reckon this one will last?’
A sinister note is established through dialogue when the boys make reference to 'fun and games ahead' and 'How long will this one last?' The question emphasizes the outsider status of women teachers in the English faculty.
Cassie's outsider status is further reinforced by the behaviour of the men of the English faculty when they arrive that day.
The men, when they arrived, were noisy. They acknowledged Cassie’s shy greeting but then ignored her. Camped in clusters around the centre table, their conversations interlaced and centred on cars, women, and the coming year’s football team. Feeling overwhelmed, Cassie withdrew to the window again. She found being ignored comforting. It gave her time to learn about the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers. (page 25-26)
While the men's behaviour reinforced Cassie's outsider status, narration emphasized her role as observer of the action. This scene also shows that exclusion is not always a negative experience. Feeling overwhelmed by the new experience, Cassie found 'being ignored comforting'. It gave her the opportunity 'to observe the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers.'
Cassie's first term experience in the school shows that belonging is not a matter of having a desk within a staffroom (a physical place) or a class allocation (a role within the community).
A sense of belonging requires shared values, behaviours, and culture - behavioural notions (an insight). A number of behaviours within the adult workplace contributed to Cassie's feelings of exclusion. Disrespect for her personal space made her feel physically uncomfortable in the staffroom.
Focusing now on her workspace, Cassie saw the discard of crates and some of her things on the floor and under the table. Gesturing at her things on the floor Cassie said, ‘Didn’t anyone notice this or did you all just step over it? I don’t care what this table used to be, it’s my work station now!’ The denial of her ownership of her faculty working space by her male colleagues emphasized their view that she did not belong there. (pages 74-75)
Failure of the adult community in which she worked to share corporate knowledge and to provide collegiate support exacerbated the problems she experienced in the classroom and heightened her feeling that she did not belong (insights). A person's emotional response to the behaviours in the world in which she/he lives and or works is another factor that shapes whether of not a person feels alienated or belongs.
Added to this, it appeared that there was an underlying agenda within management to force Cassie and the other women to leave. Management's failure to provide adequate professional orientation put her at a distinct disadvantage within the faculty and the classroom. She did not understand how the discipline process, the marking process, or the established codes of interaction worked. She also didn't know the etiquette of dealing with management or the interaction necessary to get things done. This set her up for conflict and confrontation with management. The insight is that if the community doesn't accept you, then you cannot belong. If you don't understand the codes of interaction or 'the rules of operation' then you cannot be accepted.
Therefore, knowledge of a place as well as knowledge of the social and cultural forces operating within a place play an important part in a person’s struggle to belong especially when there are conflicting values and attitudes.Lack of knowledge and lack of understanding also shape how an outsider views the community and, at times, accepts isolation as a means (strategy) to deal with it.
‘You need to surface for air a lot more than you do. Bonds in the staff room are as important as control in your classes.’
‘I’m not comfortable in here.’
‘And you never will be unless you make the effort, Cassie.’ (page 55)
In the classroom, Cassie's outsider status is empathized by the non-compliant behaviour of her students. That behaviour denied her her role as teacher, the person in charge. She was made to feel an outsider.(page 41) This made her feel defeated and excluded. The author's:
• description of her reaction 'Slumped against the classroom wall' symbolizes her temporary defeat
• use of metaphor 'feeling like dust on a shelf' symbolizes her feeling of irrelevancy and being out of place
• inclusion of Cassie's subtext shows the coping strategy that she used to deal with her sense of alienation and emphasized Cassie's sense of alienation within the classroom.
Summing up, Cassie found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace. Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team and in the classroom. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom (setting), the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues (characterisation), the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice (aspects of characterisation), rioting students in her classes (setting), evidenced her alienation and exclusion.
The author shows that the barriers to Cassie's acceptance in the workplace and the related adversities that she faced were fundamental to her role change from observer of life to participant in it (insight).
So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers?
Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting, the lack of acceptance in the workplace, and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues. Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily.
During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her workplace predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life outside the workplace and the developing connections with the people in her personal and social worlds as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.
She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha (another teacher) shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement. (p45)
In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna Madison (her landlords) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses. (page 47)
Cassie made progress in her quest to belong only after she stopped being an observer of her workplace and when she sought to overcome the difficulties she faced there. As a result of dealing with the challenges confronting her, Cassie changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance (metaphor) or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. The author used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In the case of her classes, Cassie's mindset had been one of the barriers to her making satisfactory connections with her students.
Similarly, Cassie's mindset was a barrier to her 'fitting into' the faculty team. It was only when Cassie recast her male colleagues' persistent encroachment on her workspace as random acts of thoughtlessness that she found the strength to be assertive and stake her claim. By rejecting a paradigm where the men were cast as powerful aggressors in her world, she also stopped seeing herself as a victim and as powerless. Gaining inclusion within the faculty team did not solve the complications and challenges in Cassie's life: work, social and personal, but it did provide a sense of security and empowerment.Those changes in mindset caused a change in Cassie's super objective (the motivating force behind her actions). At the start of the novel, Cassie's super objective was the need to find 'a safe harbour' (page 162). That super objective had led to her emotional shutdown after a significant trauma in her mid teens and was revealed through flashback scenes. Her 'safe harbour' objective led to her becoming a shadow of her former self.
As the plot action progresses and as she dealt with the issues and people in her new world, Cassie's understanding of herself developed. She realised that she had previously withdrawn from life and had assumed the role of observer and become a wallflower.In rejecting the roles of observer and wallflower, Cassie re-engaged with life. The re-engagement is reflected by:
• her search for ways in which to gain control of her rioting classes,
• her standing up to Coachman (her boss),
• her standing up the men of the faculty who denied her claim to a staff room workspace,
• her direct rejection the sexually harassing behaviours of some of the men in the faculty and demand that she be treated appropriately,
• her lobbying of Coachman and demand that he deal with student accusations of sexual harassment by Talbut,
• her insistence that Van der Huffen cease being an outsider during his friend's crisis and provide the support that Selton needed during the latter's personal crisis and loss (Chapter 25, pages 253-260),
• her return to the dance floor and later to dance competition, and
• her attempts to provide support Samantha Smith after the rape and re-engage her in life (Chapter 41).
The author used the wallflower metaphor to represent Cassie's growth in self-knowledge. Cassie realised she would only find her 'safe harbour' if she put aside her fears and participated in life and the varied forms of relationship to which she could belong rather than withdrawing from life and accepting isolation or alienation - a significant insight into herself and life. It was through re-engaging with life as demonstrated by assertiveness that she ultimately found a place where she belonged. (insight)
At the same time, the other women teachers' predicament, which mirrored Cassie's experiences in the workplace, triggered a change in the behaviour of the men. It became evident to some of the men that the covert strategy to deny acceptance of the women was unfair and could not continue. A grudging respect for the women evolved and some collegiate support followed culminating in some of the men saying 'this is not on'. (Chapter 19 starting page 187) Familiarity and respect that comes from perseverance are factors in gaining acceptance and inclusion.
Insight: It was only when Cassie rejected the role of outsider, stopped being a passive observer, and actively participated in the world around her that she found her place and achieved her sense of belonging.
Note: The author used parallel and contrasting subplots that dealt with Cassie's and other characters' experiences at Madison House and the school to explore further aspects of belonging and to extend on insights into her themes, including the concept of belonging.
You can buy a paperback or eBook copy of BELONGING RELATED TEXT COMPANION through
You can buy a paperback or eBook copy 'In and out of Step' from any bookseller online. The Book Depository has free shipping.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Growing up, were you an avid reader? If so, what did you read?
Yes, I've always loved reading. Books have functioned as portals into other worlds for me. I've always been drawn to novels that explored the times, culture, and values in which a story was set.
The 'Heidi' stories made a significant impression on me in my pre-teen years. In particular, the comfort that Heidi drew from the soft chorus of the alpine trees in her most vulnerable moments when she moved into her grandfather's house. That impression was so strong that many years later, I looked for a rural property bordered by confirs. It was the deciding factor for me when my husband and I purchased land north of Canberra,
As a teenager, I loved Jane Austen's novels, not because I saw them as romances, but because her stories looked at the world from the female perspective. Her novels explored the challenges that women faced in her society then as well as the changing attitudes to relationships. I think Austen would be upset to know many people nowadays had reduced her novels to simple romances. They represent so much more than that.
I also enjoyed writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and the three Bronte sisters. Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was another favourite. In each case, it was the world the stories were anchored in that interested me. I also read all of Agatha Christie's novels.
In my late teens, I was enlightened and inspired by authors such as Mark Twain, Leon Urus, John Steinbeck, and Hemingway. Their stories were firmly grounded in the historical, social, religious, and economic circumstances of the times they wrote about.
Reading helped me comprehend the world.
What did you read as an adult?
I loved quality fantasy fiction by authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, and Raymond E Feist. I was fascinated by science fiction stories as told by Issac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, and Frank Herbert.
I loved James Clavell's novels - he wrote superb stories. 'Shogun' is a favourite. I loved the way Clavell positioned his readers to view Japan from the changing perspective of his central character, John Blackthorne. Half-way through that novel, if I'd been able to speak Japanese, I would have stopped speaking English. The female heroine in 'Shogun' is truly memorable.
Clavell had a huge influence on me as a writer. In my stories, I also position readers to see the world through one or more character's eyes. By doing so, I make it possible for the reader to feel life from that character's perspective. That makes the impact of conflicts powerful.
I was attracted to all of those stories because the authors wrote about ideas, values, and the world their characters inhabited. Stories like that can be read more than once.
I am also a huge fan of the TV series 'Castle' and have all the novels that were spin-offs from that series. Although those books were fun to read, they lacked the substance that I normally look for and enjoy in novels.
Have you ever had a favourite bookshop?
As a child and teenager, I did. My father used to take my brother, sister and me to David Jones at Parramatta once a fortnight (2 weeks) on Saturday mornings. My mother worked in retail - Rockmans at Cabramatta - and it was Dad's job to entertain us and keep us out of mischief.
We used to sit on the floor in the book department section of the store, browsing the first chapters of books, deliberating on which ones we'd ask Dad to buy. Although money was in short supply in those years and we didn't have much, we did have access to books.
Dad let us buy two - three books each on the proviso that we had to read them over the two week period and then talk to him about the stories, ideas, and values in them before the next trip to David Jones. In many ways, my father had difficulty relating to his children but he did share many precious moments with us through a shared love of reading and storytelling.
Those days are wonderful memories. I'd sit cross-legged on the floor in the book section, a book open on my lap, and disappear into new worlds. The shop assistants didn't fuss about us reading their books beyond talking to us about how to hold a book and turn pages. They actively encouraged a love of reading. When business was slow, they would chat to us about the stories they loved and thought we'd enjoy.