Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Portrait of a Lady

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Portrait of a Lady

Article excerpt

"Look, Miss." Jay, one of my 15-year-old students, is showing me his phone. "You're in the background of this picture I took and you look like you hate life!" I glimpse a woman I hardly recognise. Her lips are pursed and her jaw is clenched. Her chin juts forwards and the tendons on her neck stand out. Her eyes are squeezed shut as if she wishes she were far away.

A kid mucking about in class now possesses an utterly unposed and unsanctioned image. But what has he actually captured? A teacher exasperated by pupils? Just an intake of breath? Or has he inadvertently revealed some horrible inner truth?

I am taken aback by the concern in Jay's voice. Fifteen-year-old boys are at a crossroads; while they still annoy girls and respond sarcastically to just about everything, they show glimpses of sensitivity. He appears worried that I really do hate my life.

My life has, in fact, changed significantly this year. I've returned to school full-time after four years of part-time work and maternity leave. I am now a proper "working mother", with two children. I always knew I would have a career and be a parent, and I was sure I would be successful in both. As a feminist, I felt somehow that if I didn't fully exercise all my choices as a modern woman I would be betraying those who have battled and continue to battle for female equality.

So of course my image of myself is as a strong, capable, "bring it on" kind of woman. Yet there have been times this year when I've seemed barely afloat, and the demands of my job and my family have threatened to submerge me completely. …

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