Category Archives: downtime

Got a brain? Forget daytime tv.

On a sick day at home and took a break from work (yes, even on a sick day) on the couch. Discovered daytime tv is just horrible. And insulting.

If it wasn’t for BBC World News‘ repetitive coverage of the life of Margaret Thatcher,* I probably would never have known… But French daytime tv is just awful. Perhaps people have warned me that this was the case, but I’ve never taken the time to pay attention before today.

Of course it’s not my fault that I was home sick the same day that Margaret Thatcher passed away, but it is a pity that BBC World News spent so long on that one story and less on the stories of the rest of the world (what with “World News” being part of its title). BBC’s usually interesting news stories were replaced with a loop of people describing their impressions of the life and influence of the late Iron Lady – resulting in too much repetition for my liking.

I ending up zapping/channel hopping. Oh dear.

And I landed on “Comment ça va bien” on France 2. Dear God.

Firstly, is all daytime tv outside of the 24-hour news channels so blatantly targeted at women assumed to be living in the 1950s? The show was horrific. The first segment was about fake hair accessories, with Max (complete with red dicky-bow) demonstrating with the youngest and slimmest member of the (seemingly all-female) audience how to wear a high-ponytail attachment (real hair, though). Then Max showed us the wonders of the synthetic hair bow clip (just like Lady Gaga!). And last, but not least, the full-blown wig that you simply clip over your ponytail and add a hairband for that retro Brigitte Bardot look! Cringe.

Secondly, there was a “craft” segment. Just what do you do with those boring old plates? Why not give them some new life with porcelain markers! Or a dash of paint! Yes, a whole segment on drawing designs on plates. Just like you did in playschool/kindergarten/crèche. But as a grown woman, of course you’ll be very excited by this.

To top it off, there was a special guest whose name I can’t remember (not being up-to-speed with the minor French celebrities), who plainly thought most of this was ridiculous. They made him take part in the hair and plate demonstrations. It seemed he was taking the piss, but everyone else was Deadly. Serious.

Then I couldn’t handle it anymore. I switched off, and in my indignation wrote a tweet in French about it, but that wasn’t enough venting, so here I am writing this.

I generally felt sad about the very existence of this show:

– because the clear target audience for this show (airing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon) is women. Women are more likely to be at home watching tv at 3pm than anyone else? Still?

– because this daytime tv show seems to be aimed at no women I know (i.e. is this target audience of the tv show the majority intelligent, independent women of the 21st century? It doesn’t seem so);

– because the question I can’t answer is whether tv shows exist like this because there is actually a demand for them or whether these tv shows exist because they’ve always existed… Where does this start/end?

– because I always thought that we were so close to the day on which women wouldn’t have their intelligence and brains insulted so blatantly in public. Call me naïve.


Needless to say, those two segments on the show were as much as I could handle and motivation enough to get back to work/twitter/blog venting. But sick day blues has been topped off with general fed-upness with the state of the world.


 *Very impressed with how speedily Wikipedia updated Margaret Thatcher’s date of death on their page about her…


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Filed under downtime, Equality, Health, women

When all the world is partying…

In those final months and weeks of writing-up, there’s a cloud of guilt every time I do something other than writing… The world can party on St. Patrick’s day, but I’ll be here tapping away at my laptop.

There are two breaks from my laptop and my various draft chapter versions I foresee over the next 8 weeks (besides when I’m sleeping): the Easter weekend when I visit family, and Earth Hour on 23 March when I’ll turn off the lights and the computer. Beyond that, I cannot manage to pull myself away from work: whether that is actually writing, re-reading chapter drafts, thinking about what needs to be written next, panicking when I discover there’s a vital piece of information that I’m missing, or feeling guilty for watching rugby games when I should be writing (thank goodness the Six Nations is over, and not only because both Ireland and France sucked this year and it’s something we’d rather forget…). 

I don’t mean to make the whole PhD process sound like hell, it’s just a bit testing at times. But the light at the end of the tunnel is there! And in some masochistic way, there is a real pleasure to be found in seeing the pages mount up, and the number of corrections reducing… Plus there is a massive community of people out there who are going through the same, or have gone through the same. If they can do it, so can you. I often take heart from seeing comments on twitter from fellow researchers on a weekend when they are also knuckling down to their own to-do list.

Working on Sundays is not forever, just for the moment.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s day

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Filed under downtime, Getting through the PhD, Health, Uncategorized, Work/life balance

Chapter drafts and dust balls

I just don’t know how people do it… Cleanliness as the first casualty of overwork

There are many examples of people who work on their PhDs, have a part-time job, and a family and social life, and I am just baffled about how they do it. I don’t have children and the work I do on the side of my PhD is usually part of a strategy to advance my post-PhD career (publications, teaching, event organisation, module development, research projects etc.). But even at that I struggle with overwork, lack of sleep and grumpiness around my husband (who, incidentally, also works super long hours)!

Recently my husband and I were looking forward to friends coming to visit and stay with us from Switzerland. But we were both so busy with work and so tired in the evenings that we simply didn’t get around to cleaning the apartment. That was until the very evening before these friends were due to arrive. Then with a last-minute deadline gusto we set about doing laundry, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, and cleaning on the one and only evening that we could take off. The whole experience was horrible! It took four hours to get through the work, and we had lots of stupid arguments about vacuuming and dusting and scrubbing the shower!

That sort of angst is not worth it.

As a follow up, we have decided that it is perhaps best for our relationship and for our work-life balance that something gives. And in the end, it is the cleaning that is the first to go. We can’t reduce our workloads at present, we can’t ignore our sleep requirements, so we’re going to ignore the dust balls that go floating through our living room. Or at least, pass the responsibility onto someone else. Practical decision: let’s find a cleaning service.

It kind of grains against my sensibilities that we have proven too busy to take proper care of our home. But, sometimes pragmatism must win out over pride. Drafting chapters, and not sweeping dust balls, is number one on my to do list!

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Filed under downtime, Getting through the PhD, Work/life balance

Extra reading: Vagina and the End of Men

What to read in that rare “downtime”…

As a PhD researcher, I spend a lot of time reading. Whether it is news reports, policy documents, journal articles, academic books, it all adds up to a lot of time following words along a page or screen. While this probably is a main reason for the frighteningly rapid deterioration in my eyesight over the last few years, it can’t be helped. It’s one of the major parts of the job!

But reading is also a leisure activity. Over the years of this PhD journey I have gone through ups and downs with leisure-time reading. Sometimes I pick up a novel and hide away for three days just to finish it (which means three days without head space to think about the PhD). Sometimes I go for months and months without reading anything unrelated to my PhD, but then I begin to feel somewhat out of touch with the social conversations going on around me.

So I’ve found a new middle-ground. I now read nonfiction that is unrelated to my PhD! That way I don’t get so engrossed in the book that I have to physically take holidays to get it finished (30 minutes before bed is sufficient to get through it!), and I also don’t get the feeling that I’m totally disconnected from the world around me.

My latest nonfiction reading was Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina”. You may have noticed from some earlier posts of mine (e.g. on Street Harassment or on Women at the Top?) that I have strong feelings about equality of all sorts, but especially between men and women. It’s a tricky topic.

I had originally thought that Wolf’s book would be a bit of feminist manifesto, but I was wrong! It is in fact an easy-to-read history of the role of the vagina (or the “feminine”) in history, and how this has developed from an attitude of reverence towards it to one of shame or debasement over the centuries. It’s an interesting discussion of Western/modern attitudes to women and to sex in general and how it has become distorted over the years. (As an aside, pornography is probably one of the major examples of disrespecting women and/or the feminine. An article in the BBC magazine even asks the question: should we educate our children about pornography? More young people today are confused about the difference between pornography and reality…)

Wolf draws on plenty of emerging scientific evidence about the nerval connections between the vagina and brain to argue her point that a happy vagina = a happy, creative woman. But, it’s not a feminist call to ditch men. In fact, Wolf  does state that a healthy relationship between a man and a woman is an excellent way to achieve a healthy vagina. Conclusion? (Heterosexual) Women need men.

But don’t stop there.

I’ve now moved onto reading a book by Hanna Rosin called The End of Men and the Rise of Women, and I’ve gotten through about half of this book already. This is a fascinating book to move onto immediately after finishing Wolf’s book. Rosin’s argument focuses on the US and how the economic recession there has affected the balance of women and men in employment. As the traditional manufacturing economy has collapsed in the US, more men than women lost their jobs, and the balance is that more women are now working than men. However, this doesn’t mean that men are competing with women for jobs – no, they are rather sitting around being depressed! Her stories tell of women who have higher education, higher drive to find work, more transferable skills, but men who are still not interested in retraining in what have been seen as traditionally women’s professions. Teaching training and nursing schools still struggle to recruit male students, while these health, education and service industries are where jobs are to be found in the recession!

But that’s not all. Not only are women making more money than men, and more women are employed than men, but the women are also STILL doing the lion’s share of the housework and childcare. What are the men doing? It’s a good question. Several of the cases in Rosin’s book point out that women have decided they are better off taking care of the house and children by themselves. A man is seen by several of these women as “just another mouth to feed”.

So – do women need men, do men need women, should we just stop these sorts of conversations?

I am looking forward to Rosin following up with a new book in about fifteen years that I hope will describe how the women currently in the lower levels of the economy (albeit in greater numbers than men), rise to the top. Will our working lives look different with women in command? That still remains to be seen.

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Filed under downtime, women, Work/life balance