Interview of Emily Love by Amanda Attanayake
Hi Emily, how are you doing?
I’m good thank you! I’ve just spent the day organising resources and session plans for a new programme of workshops for my job – so I’m a little bit overwhelmed but mostly excited about the fresh start!
You have mentioned that going to an all-girls high-school kicked your feminism into gear. What did your school do to foster such an environment?
I think that there are two parts to what my school did:
Firstly, being a girls school, all I saw was other girls doing stuff. At sports day, the girls were throwing the javelin and running the 100m sprint. When there were science and English awards at school, they were always given to girls. It sounds so obvious when I say it like that, but I was surrounded by girls doing incredible, smart, wild, exciting things. When I started the school, there was a female headteacher and although there were some male members of staff, it was mostly women (I remember once our male maths teacher said there were some jobs that women just couldn’t do – there was outrage and he didn’t stand a chance). Our school motto was “She has set heights in her heart”, and we were constantly encouraged to do whatever we wanted to do, to aim high and not take no for an answer. Our backgrounds didn’t matter, our school wanted us to be incredible women.
But, they weren’t perfect. We got told off for our short skirts because they would distract the male teachers or the sixth form boys who came over from the local boys school. We weren’t taught about our bodies in the way we needed to be, and there were still sexist comments and insults to each other, e.g. calling each other sluts and whores for having boyfriends. I think this is the second part of what my school did because they built us up so much on one side of being a feminist that the older we got the more we were like, ‘Why are we dealing with these double standards? We can do what we like, but only when it comes to our jobs and not our sexuality?’
They showed us the basics of being equal in society as a woman and set us up for the other stuff.
Using this experience and your experience as a teacher, do you think schools can do more to educate students on issues like feminism?
Definitely. 100%. I think feminism needs to be a lot more in the curriculum for kids – for example, in the UK when students are taught about the world wars, they’re taught about the battles and the fighting etc… There’s not much in there about what the women did while the men were away. I also think that it needs to be more included in health and wellbeing subjects, right from the beginning of education.
What was most important to instill in the children that you taught?
That their feelings, thoughts, wants and needs are important. That they are important. They have the right to be listened to and to listen to other people and each other. I wanted to give them a safe space where they knew they would always been listened to by me and their thoughts and opinions would always be taken on board. In my experience, that only makes them more caring and understanding to themselves, their peers and other people.
You’ve worked as a primary school teacher and are now working as a Sexual Violence Prevention Worker; proof that it’s possible to find meaningful jobs in more than one industry. What advice would you have for people who are anxious about choosing a career to pursue?
It’s okay to not know what you want to do. I always wanted to be a teacher and that’s what people expected of me – when I realised I didn’t want to do that, I worried that people would think I’d just given up or I’d never find anything I ever wanted to do. If it feels right, and you’re able to, try it! If you’re not sure about changing your career or you’re restricted by finances (I was lucky that I had my parents to fall back on), try volunteering first if you can. It’s so worth it once you find the right job. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure if this is what I want to do forever, but making that step of changing once has given me the confidence to do it again.
What do you love most about your current job?
I love talking to young people about things they very rarely get to talk openly and ask questions about. We talk about consent, gender, porn, all sorts of things in the workshops I do, and at first you can see the students looking at me like “oh my god does she really want us to talk about porn?!” But once they get into it, they have some really interesting questions and discussions and it’s amazing to see they think about things – and often in such a mature way!
It would no doubt have its difficult moments. How do you get through these?
Yea, sometimes we get discloses of sexual assault and rape etc, which is so horrible, especially when it comes from a young person because you just want to take them out of the situation and fix it all for them – but you can’t. As hard as that is though, I always think, if I wasn’t there, they might not have ever told anyone. With me being in their school, they know that they can get support for whatever has happened, and that’ll I’ll be on their side. Knowing that they know that, makes it worth it.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m hoping to start a Master of Gender Studies in September this year – I’m so excited about it! I love my job so, funding depending, I’m hoping to stay there whilst I’m doing the master’s and after that, who knows? I definitely want to keep helping people understand sex and relationships though.
Who is your heroine and why?
This sounds so cliche, but definitely my mum. She and I have been through an awful lot together. She’s such an incredibly strong woman (even though she thinks she’s not) and I’m so proud to call her my mum. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be who I am today.