In 1970 Germaine Greer said in her book The female eunuch – Freedom is fragile and must be protected. To sacrifice it, even as a temporary measure, is to betray it.

This stuck in my mind and since 2006 I have been working on some creative work which explores this theme in a personal sense.

My work, of course, is framed within the position of huge privilege that I have as a ‘free woman’ when millions of women around the world are not free and who are beaten, raped, killed, living in poverty and oppressed by a range of economic, religious, cultural and political regimes and institutions. As a privileged woman, I have also experienced restricted freedoms related to external factors such as my social class, how I define my sexuality and disability. We all exist in our own contextual framework of freedom.

When I first started thinking about the concept ‘Freedom is fragile’ it was related to the way we, as women, can restrict our personal freedom through making certain choices – so less about those external factors and more about those areas we can exert some control.


In retrospect, I now realise that I was going through a very tumultuous time when I started doing this work. In fact, as a family (my partner and son aged 9) our whole way of life was being challenged and transformed.

My partner and I both worked full time in higher education and our son attended a primary school in Glasgow when we started to experience major problems as our son was being diagnosed with autism. The full and detailed story of those times is recorded in my other blog.

I suddenly became much more creative and started doing digital and film photography and began experimenting with layers. My self-portraits during this time reveal the dissolving of my old self and relate to the notion of freedom – freedom to reject accepted ways of being, to reject the person I had become. At that time the person I had been started to disappear – she has not come back – but it doesn’t matter because she wasn’t real anyway – I made her up.

In response to the stress, as a family we decided to drop out of our existing lifestyle, gave up our jobs and moved to an isolated part of Scotland. In many ways we were hiding and self-protecting- avoiding having to deal with clueless professionals with no understanding of living with autism.

We were very lucky to be able to change our lives – switching to home education for our son was vital for all our mental health and I was lucky to be able to work as an educational consultant using online technologies. We were a lot poorer but began to realise just how limited we had been in our former lives. Free to work too much, freedom to buy more stuff for our pretty cage. Free to conform to societal norms and maintain and support the status quo.

Our freedom had been very fragile and we realised that anyone could have their lives transformed in an instant. For us the change was good. We got to spend time together as a family and learnt the true meaning of support, playing and learning. As educators, our view of learning and teaching was transformed. As parents, we learned to really listen to our child.

That child is now an adult and we have all stayed strong through our self-imposed exile. We have moved back into a more mainstream life, but with changed perspectives. We know that we are strong. I am still working on my ‘Freedom is fragile’ project…

When I look at some of my more recent images (made several years later) they still have a melancholic air. The three shown here are made with mannekins – which de-personalises them – makes them less real. They still have a feeling of disintegration about them.

just another voice

singing her songs of freedom

from her pretty cage

My most recent work is focusing on the more positive aspects of freedom. They still address the fragility of it all in that they are very small embroidery pieces that aim to capture those snatched brief moments of freedom when external constraints are forgotten, and self-imposed limitations are dropped.

Each embroidery depicts a woman in a state of freedom. Maybe freedom from sensory overload, freedom from dressing as an old lady, freedom to run in some grass, or feel the rain. I am excited by this new aspect to such an old project, and over 10 years later it has been interesting to reflect on the work and see how it relates to my own freedoms and limitations.

I will produce some more posts about the new embroidery project. I am putting some of the small pieces into jewellery settings, to give them a form and a place. I also think it would be good to collate them in some other ways, maybe sewn together or framed as a collection. Not sure yet.

Of course, I am free to choose; )