Helen McCombie is a lifestyle and art history blogger who discusses “culture, lifestyle and travel with a side of social awareness.” Read Ms. McCombie’s interview below!
1. How long have you been blogging about art history and culture and what is your educational background?
My blogging began in 2011, when I began writing longer pieces about my encounters with art. I had studied art history at school, and was volunteering in an art museum, and wanted to find a way to express my thoughts and ideas about art with greater freedom than simple school essays had allowed. Writing about art is a fascinating process – it makes you really stop and look at the work. Often I find myself feeling quite differently about a piece when I have finished writing about it!
The Feminist Gadabout started just about a year ago. As I’m growing older and more politically engaged I wanted to explore a wider range of topics, but also see how our political lives can seep through into our understanding of the broader culture. And that seeing things through a feminist lens doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! A lot of my pieces don’t have an explicitly political bent or point to them, it’s more an acknowledgement that my appreciations might be moulded by my feminism. I’ve enjoyed creating a space in which I can express my ideas and opinions, but also just write fun content that evaluates the world around us. One of my recent pieces compares Jane Austen characters to avocados, so I’m never quite sure where my mind will lead me!
I have a slightly unusual educational background in that I was home-educated until Sixth Form (the last two years of school). I think this really helped me develop a sense of independence, ad of knowing my own mind, which I’m still reaping the benefits of even as my thirtieth birthday looms ever closer. After school I studied art history at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This was such an enormous pleasure; it’s so rewarding to push yourself intellectually, especially on a subject you’re passionate about. Having to produce so many essays definitely helped hone my writing skills too!
2. Your blog’s subtitle is Culture, lifestyle and travel with a side of social awareness. How do you define social awareness in this current CoVid19 era?
I think I chose to use the term ‘social awareness’ because it’s quite an open one – it acknowledges the all-encompassing nature of the fight for equality. When you’re hoping to achieve justice for all genders and people, it’s not something you can turn off and on at the switch of a button, it will impact your whole world view. I think this is more true than ever in the COVID-19 era. It’s tempting to think that ‘all bets are off’ now we’re facing this enormous crisis, but all the old issues remain, and intersect and interact with our experience of the coronavirus crisis. From housing healthcare and housing inequality to gendered professions, mental health and childcare, the current crisis is greatly impacted by issues we’ve been working on in the pre-COVID-19 era.
I think of ‘social awareness’ as being the lens of social justice. It’s not necessarily the act of fighting for social justice, but the way in which we look at and interpret the world around us. In times of crisis like this, it’s more important than ever that we critically engage with the message we are receiving, and look out for one another. The crisis presents an opportunity for empathy and unity – we really are all in this together. If we can do even small things to help each other now and in the future, that will be an enormous comfort.
3. When you are not blogging, how do you spend your free time?
Right now I’m mostly staying in the house! But normally I like tog et to as many museums
and galleries as possible, travel and explore whichever local food scene I find myself in. I
don’t consider myself particularly ‘well-travelled’, which is something I’m trying to work on.
Reconciling this with my attempts to reduce my carbon footprint isn’t always easy! I
wouldn’t call myself a ‘fitness freak’ but I do enjoy running and working out too, so try to get
a couple of runs and a few sessions in each week. Physical exercise can provide much
needed balance to more intellectual pursuits. I still write all my drafts (including this one!)
by hand before typing them, and know I can get very hunched up over my desk. A long run
or a steady workout is a good way to stretch out and loosen up again!
4. What can we expect to see on your blog in future months?
There’s going to be a lot of fresh material to see on The Feminist Gadabout in the coming year. I’ve very recently moved to Melbourne, Australia, so I’m hoping that once the lockdown restrictions are relaxed a bit I’ll be able to get to know the city. Melbourne is said to be the culture capital of Australia, and is world-famous for its food, so I can’t wait to explore! I’d also like to get out on some road trips and long-weekends to familiarise myself with my new country, so expect some exciting travel posts.
At the moment thought my content is quite focused on getting us through the greatly increased amount of time we’re spending at home. From film and book reviews to indoor workouts, I’ve got a lot of material under the new tag ‘indoor life’, with lots of ideas and recommendations for how to stay healthy and happy over the coming months. This is balanced with pieces about more strictly social justice issues – for instance I’ve got a piece coming up looking at how our experience of the lockdown is impacted by housing inequality.
I’d really like to welcome some other writers to the The Feminist Gadabout as it gets into its second year. So if you’re looking at the world through an intersectional lens and have a piece you’d like to share, please do get in touch!