What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?
As I’ve grown older I realise how informative my upbringing was in instilling the idea that I could be anything and do anything. This changed regularly, especially as a child when I saw and experienced new things. As I moved through the ranks of wanting to be an actress, television presenter, air hostess, RAF pilot and then a doctor. My parents may have exchanged eye-rolls at my proclamations, assuming I’d grow out of them soon, but I’m loathe to let my mother forget how at the age of three I proclaimed I wanted to be a ballet dancer with long blonde hair, and even now its still the profession that calls to me most (sans the blonde hair).
What did you want to be when you left education?
Through a vast majority of my secondary school years I was going to study medicine: I took the right subjects and got the right grades, I was even let loose for a fabulous week’s work experience on the wards at the Royal Surrey Hospital – taking blood samples and examining x-rays. If anyone ever doubted me, I simply became all the more determined to prove them wrong. However, inspiration can strike at any time and in any form. I’ve always been a voracious reader and during the Summer between GCSEs and A-Levels picked up a copy of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination for my beach reading. Delighting in the lifestyle of a journalist turned spy and the excitement and adventure it entails I promptly decided the only course of action was to switch all my subjects from sciences to humanities – setting me on a path to read English and Politics at University (much to my Iranian father’s chagrin).
Did your mother work?
My mother is retired now, but she was a nurse and since the age of 11 that’s exactly what she had wanted to be. All the women in her family were nurses. She had to work hard to get there though, as exams didn’t come easily for her in the way they do for me. But she is far more practical and grounded than I, so routine suits her. I think it was her patience with the people she cared for that made her so good at it though.
Love & Relationships:
Do you think getting married is important?
I think there is something special about knowing there is someone you can depend on and who will be there to support you no matter what, but that this doesn’t necessarily come with marriage and that a monogamous relationship between two people isn’t the only way to live and be fulfilled. Rather, it is a product of what our society – and its capitalist drivers – want us to aspire to. Once I would have definitely wanted the white dress and fairytale wedding; now, the legal benefits and security of being visibly committed to someone you love are what appeals. I don’t think I’d have a wedding at all, or if I did it would have to be wholly unconventional.
What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?
I don’t think I could say. I don’t remember desiring any specifics beyond the conventional stereotypes.
Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?
I hope not. My parents are still married and they love each other but there’s a lot in their marriage that I wouldn’t want to replicate. I also think the way we perceive and what we expect from relationships has changed with my generation. In a lot of ways we demand more, and its natural for others to fall short of our expectations, leading to disappointment. But for me I want someone who is exceptional, who doesn’t blindly follow conventions but is willing to break them with me, and who will push and challenge me to do a be more. To not be comfortable, a passenger, but to live.
How like your mother are you?
As I get older I worry that I’m becoming disturbingly similar. There are traits that have been socialized into me over the course of 28 years that it’s impossible to loose – a disdain for carnations, an enjoyment of the countryside, a taste for fine things and a rationalising of expensive, unusual clothes. We have some similar mannerisms and I often catch myself sounding like her. I’m proud of the things she has done and how far she as travelled from a rural farm in the Highlands – hitchhiking her way across Australia when she was my age. I always thought my itchy feet took after her, but if I believed in genetic dispositions my father’s nomadic tribe would be the more likely cause. However, she is far more traditional than me and than I ever want to become.
What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?
I would want any young girls or boys to grow up in a world free from sexual or gender discrimination. That Hilary Clinton could lose the US Presidential election to someone like Donald Trump shook me deeply and I hope it will serve as a wake up call that we cannot become complacent. I echo her sentiments that ‘I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but I know that someday someone will […] And to all the little girls […] never doubt that you are valuable…and deserving of every chance…to pursue your own dreams’.
Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?
Gendered identities are constructed and can often be harmful or limiting. Children should be treated as children. We can’t raise them outside of society but we can raise them with an awareness of it and teach them to question it so that they can fulfill whatever dreams they may have. We need to let our little girls know that they don’t need to be perfect; they can be brave.
If you don’t have children, what have you been able to do that having children would have prevented you doing? What has your focus been?
I can put myself first, my wants and needs and desires. There’s not much I have done that couldn’t be done with a child in tow, but perhaps it may not have been what was best for them. I have the freedom to pursue these things without thinking or worrying about that.
Expectations and Dreams:
Who are your heroines and why?
There are so many woman who go unrecognised for small acts of defiance that contribute to a climate of change, the Rosa Parks we don’t know or hear about. Those who put right and justice before what is easy.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Most of the times I have been truly scared I have been in situations where I haven’t been in control or able to change anything. Sometimes I put myself in situations that scare me by choice – that is everyday life as an aid worker and in conflict zones, but ultimately I know if I needed and wanted to I could get on a plane and leave so it doesn’t seem very brave. I think the bravest thing I can do is to make myself emotionally vulnerable by loving someone else.
What drives you?
The fear of being ordinary.
What are your values?
My values have been informed by my upbringing in a Western, Christian society. But what is most important to me are equality and justice and that we treat everything and everyone as something precious with inherent worth.
How old are you?
What has been your favourite age to be and why?
From the age of 18 I really do think each year has gotten better. Although I do think 24 is a good age to be.
Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)
I think its harder to be young now, with all the additional pressures of social media.
What are the pros and cons of being a woman?
We are free to connect with and express our emotional selves in a way that boys and men are taught not to. People can also underestimate me because I’m a woman, this can be frustrating but it can also make them more disposed to assist me.
The everyday, unconscious sexism that is propagated by social structures and the media.
What have been the biggest challenges in your life?
I’ve been remarkably fortunate to live such a charmed life that any challenges seem negligible, I don’t know that I’ve really had to struggle outside of dealing with difficult bosses or maintaining a long-distance relationship.
Self-image – Body or Looks:
Why do you dress the way that you do?
I usually dress to express some aspect of my personality and as a creative outlet. I wear clothes that make me happy or mirror who I want to be that day.
What would be your musical soundtrack?
Joni Mitchell singing Leaving on a Jet Plane
Do you have a life’s motto?