Rebel Girls – The book all young girls should read

I stumbled across the book ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ when a good friend of mine sent me a link on Facebook. We had met for a coffee earlier that day and had discussed my blog and potential topics I could write about.  That evening I clicked on the link which took me to an engaging YouTube video: ‘If Cinderella were a guy’ (https://youtu.be/p4OyCNctKXg), which was promoting the book.  The video led me to research the book  further and, finally, write this post.

The concept of the book is genius: 100 true stories about extraordinary and inspiring women, both past and present, who have changed the world. The women range from Elizabeth I to  Venus and Serena Williams and from Malala Yousafzai to Amelia Earhart. The ‘If Cinderella were a guy’ promotional video changes Cinderella to Cinderfella, ending the story with the caption ‘You wouldn’t read this to our boys, so why read it to our girls?’. As I watched the video I found myself nodding with agreement and thought back to the fairytales I was read as a child; princesses being saved from towers or being controlled by wicked stepmothers: women were all too often submissive. I can think of very few examples of strong, independent, successful women who could be seen as true role models.

At first I questioned the title of the book; ‘Rebel Girls’ didn’t seem right. What was rebellious about becoming a tennis player or being an American rock singer? If the concept of the book was to promote these achievements as attainable and the norm for women then surely labelling them as rebellious defeated the object? And then I got it. They were rebellious as they defied their gender stereotype. These women stood out in patriachal societies and did things that no one expected them to be able to do. They proved, beyond doubt, that women should not be confined to the private sphere of the home and should be in the public sphere taking on roles, responsibilities and challenges once dominated by men. 

‘Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls’ promotes female independence, ingenuity and integrity. It shows young girls that their gender is not a barrier to success and, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation, they are able to be whoever they want to be.  The authors of the book, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, say that this is the book they wish they read when they were younger: I couldn’t agree more. There have been numerous news stories recently about young girls having less confidence than boys. Boys are surrounded by stories of superheroes whilst girls are often read books about princesses. ‘Rebel Girls’ is a step in the right direction in its quest to boost confidence and self esteem whilst highlighting to young girls the outstanding achievements of strong women. 

If I am lucky enough the have a little girl she will definitely be reading this book at bedtime.

The elephant in the room

Still, in 2017, there is an elephant in the room when it comes to health. That elephant is mental health. Many still don’t understand it, most feel uncomfortable talking about it and mental health services are under more pressure than ever. Why?

Over the past two Thursday evenings I watched the BBC’s gripping two part documentary, Mind Over Marathon. For those of you who haven’t seen this, or are living outside of the UK, the programme followed 10 people suffering from a variety of mental health disorders in their quest to complete the 2017 London Marathon: it was emotional and compelling viewing. Over a five month period the runners were supported by professional running coaches, dietitians, psychologists and, most importantly, each other. The physical and emotional journey that they went on showed viewers how running can act as an aid to improve mental health. In fact the official charity of this year’s London Marathon was a mental health charity ‘Heads Together’.

On Sunday 30th April I attended the ‘March for Mental Health’ in Norwich. The aim of the march was the raise awareness of the impact that government cuts continue to have on people in Norfolk and Suffolk who suffer from mental health problems. I was inspired by the way that mental health nurses spoke about their frustrations at not being able to give patients the care and support they need due to funding cuts. I was humbled to hear the stories of families who have tragically lost loved ones who were failed by the system. Both the television programme and the march have inspired me to speak out about my brief encounter with anxiety.

This may sounds like a cliche but I have always seen myself as a strong person, able to cope with difficult situations. A cliche, but true. This is how I perceived myself and, to an extent, still do. About this time last year all that changed. I had an internal interview at work for a promoted position. I had been teaching at my school for six years and was well-qualified to take on this new challenge. One other member of staff, who I worked closely with and respected, was also going for the job. Now job interviews are nerve-wracking but when you are applying for an internal position you know the people interviewing you and your colleagues know you are going for the job: it seems like there is a lot to lose. I had the interview and, later that day, was told by my headteacher that I didn’t get the job. I would be be the second in the department rather than leading it. I crumbled, I sobbed in front of him. That night, at home, I cried so much that it took all my strength to go into work the next day. 

I limped my way to the Summer holidays; in my mind the break would heal the wounds and allow me to go back to work in September feeling positive. As the end of the break approached my mind turned to work. I was worried and anxious. I was concerned about how I would cope not being fully in control of my subject area, which I had been previously. I didn’t know how I would be able to talk to the members of staff who had made the decision to not give me the job. 

Up until Christmas my overwhelming feeling about work was that I did not want to be there. I had times when I woke up in the night crying. On more than one occasion I cried on my way to work. When I thought about certain situations at work my chest tightened. I felt anxious and I hated it. The way I was feeling was out of my control and this scared me. I had previously played football every Sunday for a local team; playing competitive sport had always been a way of me letting off steam. Not even this was helping me control the way I was feeling; actually, it was having the adverse effect. For a couple of weeks I hadn’t been selected to start which made me feel dejected and upset. Not getting the promotion at work made me fearful of rejection, not being selected at football was cementing that feeling.

Things had to change. I was caught in a spiral of feeling demoralised and anxious. In January of this year I made two decisions that have helped me cope with my feelings about work. Firstly, I stopped playing football and started going to the gym. Football was bringing me down and I did not need to do something at the weekend that wasn’t making me feel good. I have always been a sporadic gym user but keeping to a routine and going regularly has been a revelation. It makes me feel good about my body and the endorphins have done wonders for my mental health. The second thing I did was start writing this blog. Writing about topics I am passionate about has been cathartic. The gym and the blog are for me, nobody else. Having these two things to focus on has made it far easier to get up, get in the car and go to work.

Mental health should not be the elephant in the room; it should be something we talk about. I still have days where I find going into work difficult but I am in a much better place now that I was four months ago. If you are feeling low then seek help. Speak to your friends or family, work out what you can do to change your life for the better. Those people who ran the London Marathon were an inspiration, they had gone through so much but were tackling their issues head on. Mental health should not be in the shadows and we should not be ashamed if we are struggling to cope. If you have ever struggled speak out, your story could inspire others to do the same.