Category Archives: Contemplations

Weltschmerz

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I received an email from a friend a while ago saying:

“Whoops. A student cried in my lecture today because the world is so unfair and we can’t change it. We were only doing the media representation of crime but we started talking about politics and the effects of everything on everything else. She’d NEVER realised that media is biased. She hadn’t questioned stuff. Her whole understanding of the world just shattered in my lecture. She got so totally overwhelmed by how difficult it is to know what’s right and also how dangerous irresponsible media is that she literally sobbed out loud.”

My friend wasn’t sure how to feel about the effect her lecture had had on this student, and nor am I. The part of me that still believes in education as a liberating force thought, ‘that was a powerful, eye-opening lesson. That’s what education is for – to make people more aware of the world around them and then to hopefully give them the wherewithal to make wise choices.’ This was the leftover idealist in me speaking – the tiny bit of me that still hasn’t been smashed to splinters on the shipwreck that is our current education system.

But the thought of this student sobbing for her lost certainty is actually a very sad one. It’s been rubbing like a pebble in my welly ever since I received the email because I had a sore spot there anyway. Part of what had been bugging me for a while was the question: what has knowledge ever done for me? When I was young I read a lot. I read about the slave trade, the (then) nuclear threat, the world wars, Hiroshima, Vietnam… and I took it seriously, that knowledge. I absorbed and pondered it. I let it affect me emotionally. And if you take this stuff seriously it does affect you. It probably should affect you.

So what then are you supposed to do with the emotional detritus this kind of knowledge creates? How do you cope with the monumental sense of powerlessness you’re left with when you finally understand that most things are a bit insane? It seems there are three ways to deal with it. The first way is to go into politics or education or whatever is your particular interest and try to change things from within. The second way is to ‘drop out’ and try to change things from without by attempting to build a life outside the mainstream and engaging with protest movements. The third way,  (the way my friend took when she boycotted all forms of news because it made her sob to the point of meltdown), is to hide from it all and try to spend your life in your happy place (or just live your life perpetually off your face on drugs/alcohol).

I tried the second method for many years until I finally realised there really is no way to build a life truly outside the mainstream in the UK if you have no resources. I also realised that protests have very little effect unless they are gigantic and relentless and, again, you have resources. Nobody listens to the truly powerless. So I decided I’d join the education system and try to help things from within. Ten years later I, along with many wonderful colleagues, am battered, broken, disillusioned and exhausted. I have never developed the capacity to turn my mind away from things I think are wrong and just get on with life. I’ve never developed the capacity to shut my gob, either. And you can’t just live in your happy place when you have to go out into the wrong every day and earn a living. So that’s where I am now: stymied. I can’t change things, I can’t run away from things, and I don’t have it in me to ignore things.

So I UNDERSTAND my friend’s student’s response to the horrible realisation that the world is not as manageable as she first thought, and I hope she finds somewhere in her brain to file this stuff so she can walk the tightrope between unhappy knowledge and ignorant bliss much more confidently than I do.

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Learning to listen

miner and moustacheI haven’t been writing lately. I’ve been reading the Internet too much again and I’m not sure why, but for the last few months my brain has not been processing the data I’ve been inputting effectively enough to produce any writeable trains of thought. I think I may be suffering from Toffler’s ‘infoxication’, or information overload. Someone may need to invent a new idiom to cover this state of affairs because I bet I’m not the only one experiencing it. How about: Too many opinions spoil your convictions…?

Ok, that’s embarrassingly lame, but it’s a start.

Anyway, while I have been unable to settle on any firm opinion about anything, and have also been wondering what the hell I want to do with my last 30 odd years on the planet, I have been working relentlessly on my other blog. This blog involves me walking around Cornwall with a camera permanently glued to my hand and a notebook and pen in my back pocket, accosting innocent passers-by and forcing them to talk to me.  As I’ve relaxed into the process of approaching a stranger, explaining what I’m doing and then asking their permission to photograph them, I have become more and more addicted to the whole thing. Only a few people say no, and these people usually have a very good reason to want to remain private, although the occasional older Cornish person still has a fear of the Internet based on not quite understanding how it works. One man today explained carefully to his wife, that if he had his photo on the blog, it would be seen by millions of people all over the world. If only that were so.

A serious and elegant lady I met in Falmouth this week

But what is so compelling about the whole thing is learning firsthand how almost everyone has something interesting to say if I can relax them enough to talk to me, and how moving even the most seemingly ordinary lives actually are. Although I tend to approach people who stand out to me in some way, often those who are more discreet in their appearance are just as interesting as the more noticeable ones, and on more than one occasion they have been much more interesting. I have always been someone who has faith in people, but doing this project confirms every single day that human beings are fascinating, funny and innovative. I met a man who is building a replica in his garden of one of the first planes to ever fly successfully, a homeless man who writes jokes on William Hill betting slips and keeps them in his rucksack, a woman whose husband accidentally asphyxiated himself on the back of a door and a man whose job it was to clean up drowned animals from Cornwall’s beaches. To name a few.

The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance
The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance

But I realised today that although I have been listening to the stories people have been telling me, I maybe haven’t been really listening. I mean listening in the sense of actually drawing things from these stories that could teach me, or remind me of, things of importance. I’m not the sort of person to start getting all I-Ching or anything, but it struck me today that I could draw things from what people are telling me. Last night, for example, I couldn’t sleep until very late because my brain was exploding with thoughts about what I want to do with my life. I have some business ideas that seem very difficult and out of reach, and I haven’t really focused my brain on making them into something real. So I (like everyone else probably) am feeling trapped and frustrated creatively which is making me lethargic. I woke this morning, tired and confused and went out to do some food shopping for the family. As usual, I had my blogging kit with me and ended up talking to two people. The first was a lady who told me about how her grandmother brought up four children all on her own while running her own small business and ended up owning three houses through sheer determination and hard work. The second was a man who talked about the ways he had come to terms with life in a Czech prison.

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Now, if I WAS a New Age type or spiritual person, I could start thinking some sort of higher power is trying to tell me to get off my arse and grab life by its testicles. Or at least its handlebars. I’m not one of those, though – but what I do think is that if we listen – really listen – to things people are saying to us, our brains can focus in on bits and pieces that we need to hear.

So I’m off out tomorrow with my camera and notebook. I wonder what the people of Cornwall have to teach me next.

Why I support the ‘No More Page 3′ Campaign

page+3When I was a young girl – several thousand years ago – I was heart-clenchingly embarrassed by the newsagent top shelves and their smear of pouting, arching, private female flesh. I’d been taught that sex was a special, intimate thing that was shared by people who loved each other, so the cold public displays of female-only secondary sexual characteristics were a cringing mystery to me.

As children, we are learning machines, and as pubescent children we are fascinated by sex and relationships, so what was I to learn from this first glimpse of the way the world outside home and school treated sex? That ‘sex’ was synonymous with female display, for one thing. The mainstream magazines that were available to the average buyer did not show male display, nor did they show male and female interaction, so I was learning that the consumer of sex was male, and that the female was a product to be consumed.

But I understood this only on an emotional/unconscious level, of course. How it manifested was in embarrassment and a feeling of vulnerability. My child-brain wondered about the images of female nudity in the newsagent and how they seemed to waft sexual responses to female meat into the air around them. When men were looking at those images, I wondered, were they more likely to think about what was under the clothes of the women in the shop? As an awkward young girl, still coming to terms with (and feeling a little horrified by) ‘developing’ as a woman, it made me feel as if I was as much on display as those women who had chosen to be photographed. It made me feel exposed. It also made me feel as though I didn’t have full ownership over my own body. This may be difficult to understand if you’ve never been a trainee human in this situation, but it’s how I felt, and since I’ve been an adult, I’ve met other women and girls who also felt the same way.

I’m not, of course, saying that adolescent embarrassment is a reason why Page 3 should be finally and peacefully euthanized. But I do think it should be, and the reason for this is that it – along with other freely available mainstream ‘pornographic’ imagery – actually limits and restricts human sexuality. I know this seems counter-intuitive, and most pro-page 3 people argue that removing it from The Sun is a ‘feminist’ plot to repress straight men’s natural sexuality. They also argue that porn is an expression of sexual freedom, and in some ways I think they probably have a point. When porn is something that adult people seek out to suit the tastes they have developed individually, I can’t see it as a problem. But I think that mainstream, see-it-everywhere soft porn is quite the reverse of liberating because it squishes the vastness of human sexual expression into a tiny box of what is possible and causes insecurities that limit people’s sexual confidence. We unconsciously learn from it that to be a sexual being you must be of a certain age, size, skin colour and shape and present yourself in a certain way. Anybody who isn’t or doesn’t is some kind of asexual freak. Pubic hair, for example, now only features in niche pornography because it’s seen as a fetish.

Anyone who says porn doesn’t have any effect on our attitudes, feelings or behaviour must also believe that advertising is a complete waste of money. All media affects us. It must do, otherwise there’s no point in it. Huge industries spend millions on it and it can’t all be a mistake. Jehovah’s Witnesses have developed a printing empire based on the fact that if you keep people reading material with the same underlying messages, then they will keep believing it’s reality. If we keep absorbing repetitive underlying messages in our sexual material then we will keep believing that they represent real sexuality. In fact they’re even more powerful than religious indoctrination since they carry a sexual charge that seems to validate them as ‘truth’.

The essence of why I think Page 3 should go and that soft pornographic material shouldn’t be displayed where it can be seen unintentionally is to do with the way I think we learn our sexualities. Freud (who I often disagree with, of course, but I found this idea interesting) argued that humans are born what he called “polymorphously perverse.” What he means by this is that we are born capable of experiencing sexual responses and feelings, but that these are unfocused on any particular stimuli during childhood.

In order to explain fetishes, Freud argued that our experiences as we grow into fully developed sexual beings lead some people to attach sexual feelings to unexpected objects, like shoes or bannisters or the Eiffel Tower. But those of us who have more usual sexual experiences and input learn to attach our sexual feelings to more mundane things like other people. And we learn our preferences from the things that stir our sexual feelings in our early stages of development. That’s why some people find beards attractive and others hate them, some people like blondes and others don’t, some people like foot massages and others don’t, and so on. We’re learning from everything around us including the representations of sexuality we encounter in the media. In fact, in our much-vaunted media-saturated society, we probably now learn much more about notions of sexuality from the media than we do from anywhere else, especially when we are young.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, until we examine whether the messages about sex we are learning from our media are a real representation of free human sexuality, or whether they depict only one version of what sexuality is all about. Many claim that non-mainstream porn exists specifically to depict the entire cornucopia of human sexuality, and is thereby liberating, and that may well be true. For the sake of this discussion, however, I am looking only at mainstream, freely available soft porn such as Page 3 and lad’s mags, because it’s those that we are most frequently confronted with and therefore those that will have the biggest impact on our learning about sexuality. What these media seem to be teaching our young people is that no human is sexually desirable unless they are preened and pumped and smooth and flawless and firm and their sexual doings are as perfectly performed as the edited cavortings of the stars of an MTV music video. Media representations of sex seem to encourage people to see it as all about performance – how they look – rather than how they feel. I don’t see any real signs that the sexual expectations on young people are making them any more liberated than former generations who were, at least, free to have sex (or not) in their own actual skins. They were not led to believe they had to mould themselves into some sort of impossibly perfect (and expensive to maintain) ideal before they got their kit off.

So, the reason I would like Page 3 out of the papers along with the removal of soft porn from the newsagent shelves is because I feel it is part of a culture that is just as repressive about sex as it was in earlier times. Instead of hiding sex altogether as earlier generations perhaps tried to do, we now put it on display everywhere – but we put such a sanitised, tacky, shallow, prescriptive version of it on display that it confines and limits young people’s ideas of what sex is.

I don’t want to ban porn at all, I just want it to be something people have to seek out rather than something that appears in front of our eyes whether we want it to or not. I want our children to learn about sex mainly from talking openly about it and experiencing relationships with other young people with real, lovely, imperfect, varied bodies and minds. I want them to understand that sex is fantastic and intimate and all about sharing your actual real self with another person (or people if that’s your thing), not about putting on a performance of an ideal imposed from outside. I want them to grow up knowing that sex is about feelings and not about how you look when you’re doing it. I don’t want our daughters to grow up feeling that the ultimate accolade is to look good naked so that men they would never want anywhere near them will drool over them. If our young people want to look at porn, it’s fine, but the act of having to go and find it in and of itself would show them that it is something different from everyday human sexual experience. Not wrong, just different. Doing this would hopefully lessen the influence of mainstream soft pornification on people’s individual sexualities and create more not less freedom of sexual expression.

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In Defence of Masculinity

When I was studying for my degree I discovered that gender is a social construct made up by an oppressive society to keep women in the kitchen, men out of high heels and everyone spending all their money on hob covers, fake eyelashes and customised number plates in order to feed the ravenous maw of the Grand Demon Capitalism.

I explored gender politics and learned how Patriarchal it is to assume we can label anyone as masculine or feminine based on their genitalia, and that the sin of ascribing a person any characteristics according to their gender is akin to nailing him/her to a board and hitting him/her in the brain with a Barbie until he/she begs for a boob job / off road vehicle / [insert gender-based consumable].

restroomI’m being a bit facetious really, because I do believe that a lot of our gender ideas are at least partially socially constructed, and that a significant proportion of humanity doesn’t fit neatly into these constructions . I’m not the type of female human, for example, who faints at the sight of a flat tyre or is comfortable with devoting all my life to worrying about nail polish and/or breeding, and most of my male friends don’t demonstrate the visible testosterone overload that currently seems de rigeur for the male population either.

So I’m only too aware what cans of worms – nay, buckets of snakes – I’m opening in the hideous raging world of online gender politics when I say we need to bring back masculinity – or maleness.

I know. I understand what a stupid thing that is to say. I know that in intellectual circles there is no such thing. And in one piece of my brain I agree – it’s too loose and tautologous a term to mean anything real and fixed. But in another strongly embedded piece of my brain – the piece that was once a child with a good dad living around kids with other good (or good enough) dads – maleness is a very real thing. A good thing. A thing that we need to look at again because it’s not that idea of masculinity most often presented in the media – the one that gets itself into fights, is attracted to everything with an orifice for penetrating, or is, on the other hand, too stupid to clean a bathroom. It’s a gentler, quieter and stronger thing. A thing we could all do with learning, regardless of our biological proclivities.

Being a self-identified woman (ha), I hear a lot of the things that women say about men. When I was a traveller, for example, women often used to huddle together discussing their male partners. One had a man who perpetually went out all day with other women leaving her behind to look after their child on her own with no transport, electricity, toilet, running water or firewood to stoke up the range, and then demanded food when he got home. Another had a man who tipped up the bed and threw her on the floor when she didn’t want sex with him – another had one who punched her – another, one who was always drunk – another had a man who wouldn’t let her go on nights out without him. You get the picture. You can understand why women in a community like that could fervently believe that men are shit. They saw no evidence to the contrary.

But the thing is – the travelling world we inhabited was basically a re-enactment of medieval times but with trucks instead of horses. It valued qualities such as: wearing torn up clothes, never washing, drinking all day, taking drugs, burning things and playing with vehicles. That world inevitably attracts a certain type of male, and that type of male is not likely to be the intellectual, contemplative, constructive type.

The same applies to women who hang around with men who aspire to be gangsta or various other macho cliche types. It’s not logical for them to extrapolate data about all men from the samples they are subjected to. Some men are idiots, yes, and they treat women horribly. But what we often fail to remember is that some women are idiots too. Actually, quite an embarrassing number of seemingly perfectly reasonable women hold unexamined idiot opinions about men, and they treat men horribly without even realising they’re doing it. I gave an example of the kind of everyday things women ‘think’ about men here, and I see this all the time. Women at work, for example, drink out of mugs that proclaim:

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And we are all familiar with the ‘men are stupid’ propaganda that’s being pumped out everywhere in a massive strawmanathon by advertisers trying to appeal to the egos of women by implying we’re all married to giant children.
men are stupidI do think this unreasonable shit is some kind of backlash by women who feel they’ve been represented as useless, brainless breeding machines for generations, and is perpetuated by men who feel some kind of ancestral guilt about this. And in that sense, I think it’s a passing phase that will right itself, but  it’s still negative. What kind of message is this sending to our impressionable trainee humans? My son attended an English A Level class where young girls who had experienced very little sexism compared to their mothers and grandmothers were being politicised through the literature of the past to see sexism under every present-day stone. Son had never had a sexist thought in his life until he hit theoretical Feminism head-on at college, and found it infuriatingly simplistic coming from its fresh-faced teenage proponents. They argued, for example, the 70s Feminism idea that pregnancy was a form of oppression. What was a young man to make of that? Now he is vigorously anti-Feminist, which on some level upsets me.

And these kinds of ideas are creating a generation of women who seem to think men owe them some sort of debt for the sins of Patriarchy. Women who believe they are so very precious for just owning a vagina that they can behave however they like and men have to put up with them. You will all have seen this monstrosity floating around Facebook on the pages of apparently perfectly lovely women who seem to think it’s cute and appealing, rather than what it actually is: slightly psychopathic.

marilynNo, women. NO. How can you complain about men being nothing more than big children and then proclaim crap like this? This is not the opinion of an adult human – it’s the tantrum of a two-year-old with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It isn’t the job of the man in your life to ‘handle’ you, or yours to ‘handle’ him. It’s the job of all adult humans to handle ourselves – to overcome the stroppy toddler within and nurture the latent rational grown-up. Grown ups want to be loved because they are interesting, entertaining and good company, not because they’ll shriek and throw a frying pan if you don’t bring them flowers.

And here’s the thing I think needs to be freshly recognised about maleness – maleness of the kind that isn’t caught up in ‘gangsta’ or macho or other kinds of bullshit – ordinary everyday maleness – it’s an astonishing thing. It unassumingly does put up with those kinds of feminine histrionics (even though it shouldn’t have to), and it quietly deals with all kinds of other things that would probably make me and other lesser mortals rail against the universe.

Maleness at its best can be the unacknowledged backbone of a family. The lucky among us have dads or grandads, brothers or uncles who model this type of maleness. Men who go to work every single day, sometimes in jobs they hate, never showing frustration because they so firmly want to support their families, and are still fully involved in life at home. Men who are radioactively proud of their children but can only show it in their deeds because they’ve been conditioned not to be openly emotional. Men who drop everything to mend the washing machine or laptop or to put up shelves or build furniture they have no personal interest in. Men such as my friend’s grandad who loved his wife so much that he overlooked her affairs and devoted himself to keeping their life stable for when she needed him emotionally. Men who are not always the life and soul of the party but stand back in contentment as their loved ones sparkle and achieve because they have been given the solid foundations they need. Men such as my friend who stayed with a violent alcoholic woman he didn’t love because he wanted to protect her (not his) children and give them a bit of stability they wouldn’t have if he left. When you step outside the world of macho idiots, you find this kind of man quietly and unassumingly getting on with life, and asking for little in return apart from a happy family and a partner who loves him.

Men like these are the ones who teach their daughters to value themselves for what they are and do, not for how they look, and show them what to look for in a life partner. Men like these produce sons like themselves, with the capacity for loyalty and strength, and show their daughters that they don’t have to settle for an idiot who will mistreat them.

‘Masculinity’ may be an outdated/mythological notion, but if I was going to define it anyway, this is how I would do it. As an academic I might mock my intellectual naivety, but as a human I think these men are bloody heroes and should be celebrated.

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The Shirk Ethic

playworkSon 2’s lovely 18 year old girlfriend just found herself a full-time job. This, of course, is great news when so many young people are genuinely struggling to get themselves onto the employment ladder. So I was evidently all-kinds-of-wrong when I had a bit of an ambivalent response. My first thought was the standard one: That’s great! She will earn an acceptable amount (so long as she doesn’t want to live anywhere) and is taking the first step to independence. But hot on the heels of that response was this: And now she’ll be spending  most of every day doing things that are nothing to do with her for people who are nothing to do with her wearing clothes that are nothing to do with her, and when will she have any time to spend working out what IS to do with her?

See, now I’m in my 40s, I think I’m de-maturing. I’m going back to my childhood values. When I was at school, for example, I would have vigorously coveted this t-shirt because I couldn’t accept that THIS. WAS. IT.
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I just could NOT come to terms with the idea that I had to get off my bike, put away my drawing stuff and abandon my Lego in order to go to this place where I was obliged to work and play with people selected purely on the basis of them having been born at roughly the same time and in the same place as me. ALMOST EVERY DAY.

welcome-to-kindergartenThat was the thing – the everydayness of it. I actually didn’t mind school in general, but what about when I had better things to do? What about on those days when the sun was shining and someone had built the beginnings of an amazing den down the bottom of the hill and we’d found the materials needed for building a table? What about when I had an excellent idea for an illustrated story that urgently needed attention? What about when my snails had eaten through the cardboard box home I’d made them and were escaping? I completely and totally hated not having control of my own destiny and decisions. And the idea that there would NEVER come a time when I could make my own life decisions because I’d move from doing things that schools wanted me to do, to doing things that employers wanted me to do, just blew me clean away. The work ethic left me cold.

This personality flaw led me into plenty of problems which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, I eventually realised that if I wanted to exist in the world of Having Enough Money to Keep Warm and Buy Shoes/Tampons/Peanut Butter, then I’d probably have to give in and work for someone. And I did, and I learned that there is some satisfaction in knowing that you are a contributor to the machine. Other people treat you differently because there’s some relatively visible evidence that you’re not just useless eater. When you do useful things for others it does make you feel good (I’m not sure how investment bankers get their feel-goods, but I think it’s probably not that way).

So that was fine for some years until my job began expanding out of all proportion. Or rather, I began to notice that my job was out of proportion – that I was working every evening at home and all of Sunday too. And I had stopped doing anything else. If friends or family dropped in, or if a son needed any help with something, I would feel a wave of stress like an acid inoculation because it meant I would probably have to stay up until 2am to do the work I would have been doing in those hours. You know the story. But even if you don’t have one of those jobs that demand all your time, here’s  breakdown of an average working week:

  • There are 168 hours in a week
  • We should spend at least 56 of them sleeping
  • That leaves 112 waking hours in a week
  • An average full-time job involves 40 hours at work a week
  • That leaves 72 hours in a week not at work
  • On average, we probably spend 1-2 hours a day getting ready for work and travelling. That leaves 62 hours a week not involved in work.
  • On average, if we have a full time job, we probably spend an hour a day preparing/cooking/eating food. That leaves 55 hours a week.
  • Perhaps an hour a day is needed to organise/clean/do the chores at home (conservative estimate for some). This leaves 48 hours a week.
  • Other modern-life-sustaining chores (food shopping, getting car mended, doctor/dentist appointments, paperwork, etc.) – perhaps half an hour a day? This leaves 44.5 hours a week.

So, if we have a job that only takes up 8 hours a day and no more, we are left with 26% of our lives to do the things that are – in the grand scheme of things – the only really important ones:  playing with our children, painting, exercising, going to the theatre, thinking, reading, exploring the world, travelling, photographing, volunteering, writing, walking, bird watching, inventing, building things, relaxing, keeping up with loved ones, learning things, etc. The things that we look back from our death beds and wished we had done more of.

just-got-home-from-workI am probably a bad human, but for me that’s not enough. And I’m in a job (now) where I probably can make the occasional small difference to people and therefore achieve some job satisfaction. What about those who spend the majority of their precious lives in some of the mind-grinding jobs that are out there? Bertrand Russell argued that “without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things”, and I agree with him. Since I escaped my skull-crushing previous job, I am painting, making things, exploring my native county, photographing with a vengeance and writing. Ideas have started to appear in my head again, and I feel more sentient than I have in years.

Russell also felt that everyone should have a 4-hour working day, and again, I agree. But our ethic isn’t really a Shirk Ethic – I don’t hate work – I actually love it. I will stay up all night and work if I have an exciting batch of photos to edit or some sort of project that’s sparking my inspiration nodes. Because, as George Halas said, “Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

So, if anyone has a spare shack in the woods (with broadband) that they wouldn’t mind filling with a regressing, workshy artist, do let me know.


Democratic Despair

Frustration - Tancredi TrugenbergerI’ve been reading the Internet again.

If I’ve told myself once, I’ve told myself a thousand times that it isn’t good for me, but I still do it. I forget. I drift into this fantasy world in which the Internet/Earth is inhabited by intelligent, articulate people who enjoy developing their own ideas through discourse, consideration of each other’s carefully delineated viewpoints and a walk about in the shoes of people with different experiences.

So every time I follow a seemingly innocuous link on a topic of interest to me, I am devastated anew when apparently sentient beings unquestioningly espouse opinions that are evidently a product of the emotional parts of their brain, entirely unmediated by the logic lobe. I’m even more devastated when those opinions are expressed in heinous generalisations, massive logical fallacies and almost entirely emotive language.

ad hominem

I am frustrated by this to the point of weeping/ranting/hyperventilating/overeating. I’m currently really, really interested in, among other things, the question of where Feminism stands in the 21st Century, and in the seeming rise of anti-male sentiment in the Media, so I often follow Twitter links to articles on this kind of topic in the hope that I will find a thought-provoking well-expressed piece of writing (I sometimes do), which leads to an inspiring and enlightening discussion to which I might like to contribute (it rarely does). You’d think I would’ve learned by now.

Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism) and out the other side while exploring anti-Feminist opinions. I am, as I hope I have made clear, suspicious of all ‘-ism’s, and am therefore loosely a ‘Feminist’ who is very open to criticism of Feminism. All standpoints need questioning, and all beliefs need challenging. So I clicked on an Exposing Feminism article about the shaming of men to see if it made any interesting points. I’ve discussed shaming before with spouse who has argued that it may be time to move on from shaming British people for colonial actions carried out by their ancestors, and modern men for the actions of men in the past. This is a point I think worthy of consideration, so I was prepared to consider the points in this article.

I was initially put off by the emotive language in the writer’s description of the: “… histrionic behavior of female detractors who refuse to argue their points with logic”, but overlooked it and read on into the article, which is a bullet pointed catalogue of responses that Men’s Rights Activists apparently receive from women in response to their logical points in debate.

I had three responses to his list. The first response was a gut reaction. We all – whether we deny it to ourselves or not – initially respond to things with an in-built gut response that comes from our own personal subject position or belief system. Mine was, ‘no woman EVER said that!‘ But it took all of 45 seconds to remember that, a) women can be just as stupid as men can and b) it is usually necessary in debate to take a speaker’s experiences at face value as it’s impossible to confirm or deny them.

My second response was the realisation that I had, in fact, encountered some of these responses in online gender debates, for example, “You’re afraid of a strong woman”, “You’re just afraid of losing your male privileges,” and what the writer calls “Code Brown” – the accusation that the person you’re arguing with is being some kind of ‘Fascist’ – a logical fallacy I’ve seen regularly used in all kinds of debates not just the gender one. It’s so frequently used that a name has been invented for it: Reductio ad Hitlerum.
fascistFair enough then, I thought. If Feminists are throwing this sort of rubbish around, then Men’s Rights Activists have a right to object. That is no way to hold a proper debate. And some of the other comments the writer reports are just embarrassingly shit. Apparently, a common response from women to points in debate is: ““You are going to make me cry.” Ok, I am taking the writer’s word for it here. If women are using that as a contribution to a discussion, then they deserve to get destroyed by superior intellects. Other shit things women apparently say when men explain their viewpoint are: “Suck it up like a man!” and “I’m not interested in boys. I’m interested in real men.” And, “Men are shirking their God-given responsibility to marry and bear children.” And, “I need a real man, not a sissy.”

Now, let’s pause a moment here. This article is written in the context of a debate in which some Men’s Right’s Activists (do we have these in the UK, or is it exclusively an American thing?) are saying that Feminists are more man-haters than equality-advocates. The strapline of this site is: “Feminism purports to concern itself only with equality – but in reality propagates mistrust, tension and hatred between the sexes.” Although this particular article refers to ‘women’ rather than ‘Feminists’, the implication that it is ‘Feminists’ who are saying this stupid stuff is clearly there, and that it is, therefore, ‘Feminism’ that is responsible for the perceived threat to the rights of men that has resulted in the Men’s Rights Movement.

But let’s look at some of these comments. Would a Feminist – a person who is interested in the debates about which aspects of maleness and femaleness are biological and which are culturally constructed, and – being a ‘Feminist’ is highly likely to believe cultural construction is a major player, and that the cultural construction of gender traits can sometimes restrict people’s freedoms to live in ways that don’t fit a culture’s gender stereotypes – would this be the sort of person who would call a man “a cissy” or a “real man”, with all that connotes? Would a ‘Feminist’ – an inheritor of the fight for women to be able to live independently from men and so come together with men on equal terms – use the phrase “I need a man who…”?

You get my point. It’s not ‘Feminists’ that are the problem here. It’s stupid people. And there is no respite from idiocy in the Great Chain of Stupid that follows the article, and unfortunately for the writer, the stupid comes from both sides of the debate. He must surely be delighted that contributors are supporting his viewpoint with well-considered arguments such as, “Women NEVER SHUT UP, they are never happy, and they are like locusts…”, and “I am surprised that “Femi-Nazi’s … have not taken the major mafia clans to court under the guise of “discrimination” to have “wimmin” inducted into the Mafia……What a joke!….LOL! Helpful of this contributor to provide an example of someone on the writer’s ‘side’ using the precise same reasoning fallacy he is accusing ‘Feminists’ of. Pure idiocy.

And if you think this piece is a bit one sided in identifying poor argument, then permit me to show you something tweeted by the Everyday Sexism project.

women

At first glance, this is pretty compelling evidence of the ubiquity of some very archaic attitudes to women. So I decided to look at the top sites that are thrown up by some of these searches. Here’s one of the search examples:

women shouldn'tOne article about women’s right to sex, two that are pro-women’s rights, an article expressing outrage at an American saying women shouldn’t have been given the vote and someone asking for help with their Suffragettes History homework. Nothing (apart from a backward reverend in America that nobody agrees with) here to pose the slightest threat to women’s rights. But very much the type of thing that goes round the Internet, is posted all over Facebook, and used as ‘evidence’ of whatever point of view its posters are espousing. This kind of flimsy evidence doesn’t do the credibility of a cause any good at all. And in this case, The Everyday Sexism project can be damaged by it. When some (plenty) of the evidence given to prove there are still problems for women in society is  weak or spurious, it gives credence to the opposition’s claim that women are being pathetic complainers instead of raising valid concerns.

But the same goes for all debates over issues that matter. And the problem is not people’s individual viewpoints – it’s their individual inability to comprehend each other and hold a legitimate debate. I am firmly of the belief that we should be able to discuss anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Tom Matlack at The Good Men project was right to publish an article by a rapist. Feminists should open their ears and consider the points of view of the white males they blame for patriarchal oppression. The most taboo subjects – such as holocaust denial – are the most important topics of all to be tackled. In an open society that believes in freedom of speech, all points of view should be heard. Nothing silenced.

But if we as a society and as individuals do not have the ability to recognise when we are using emotion over logic, to stand back and inspect our own reactions, to consider their validity and where they are coming from, to listen to a point of view we find abhorrent and argue against it using reasoning rather than anger, to recognise that groups of people are made up of differing individuals and not homogenous lumps of identical beliefs, to take time to check our sources and evidence before we use them to confirm our biases and to consider openly whether someone else’s experience or evidence should make us adapt our own belief system, then I can’t see how we can progress as a society at all. If I were to put my catastrophising head on, I’d say democracy is pretty much a failed ideal. It was dreamed up as a collaboration of thinkers, not a toddler fight in a playgroup.

The problem isn’t people’s points-of-view, it’s people’s stupidity.

debate

Young Millenials and The Happiness Deficit

serotonin and dopamineI don’t know why a two-year-old article on happiness is floating around my Facebook today, but it struck something in me because I’ve been meeting some horrendously unhappy people over the last few weeks. The article is about the big rush of interest in the ‘science’ of happiness that happened a year or two ago, perhaps triggered – or at least popularised by – Bhutan’s policy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ hitting the Western media.

Dr. Seldon, the writer of the article, is one of the founders of a movement called ‘Action for Happiness’, whose goal it is to work on ways to decrease human misery. He acknowledges that happiness could be seen as a trivial topic, but argues that the fact that “prescriptions of antidepressants have risen by 43 per cent since 2006″ clearly suggests something is seriously wrong and it needs dealing with. “The tragedy”, he says, “is especially acute for young people. They are suffering grievously, with adolescent suicide again on the increase, and the proportion with a whole variety of distressing emotional problems rising from 10 per cent in 1974 to 17 per cent in 2006.”

I’m rubbish at statistics, and I don’t know why he used a statistic from 2006 in an article written in 2011, but I’d confidently bet that the percentage of young people with distressing emotional problems has continued to rise, particularly since the credit crunch and ensuing troubles.

My new job involves working in an educational setting with young people who are struggling. It’s very likely that this is colouring my view of UK happiness levels, so I willingly acknowledge the subjectivity of this article; but even in my previous role working with young people following the more conventional route, I often encountered emotional distress in different forms. In the last week and a bit, though, I have spoken to young people who are dealing with various combinations of the following:

  • Early childhood sexual abuse
  • Parental heroin addiction
  • Caring for very sick parents
  • Serious poverty
  • Rape
  • Underage pregnancy
  • Abortion
  • Violent bullying
  • Parental suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder & night terrors
  • Violent/abusive relationships
  • Homelessness

Obviously, all these young people are being looked after by child protection teams, social services and an impressive array of incredibly hard working people from different agencies who are busting their guts to help. But to me, as a relative newcomer to this level of suffering (at least a newcomer to being someone in ‘authority’ who wants to help), it all just seems like an insurmountable mess.

A fellow teacher advised me this afternoon to just get on with fighting the fires as they flare up and not to question what’s causing them – because that way madness lies. I’m sure he’s right, and I will work on doing that, but it’s not in my nature to do so.  Today I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of these young people’s problems, and I’m wondering what sort of society we have made that has caused this. Why do we have so very many profoundly unhappy, lost and struggling young people? Am I being idealistic to imagine that this would not happen in a society based on smaller, closer knit communities?

We seem to have created a world where our most lost young people don’t aspire to be like their closest adults as I (undoubtedly naïvely) imagine they did in the past. This is probably partly because many of the adults they see around them are desperately trying not to grow up themselves, and partly because there are far more compelling role models in the media. Because of this, many of our young don’t learn how to take responsibility for and cope with their own emotions, or to understand or care about the consequences of their behaviour. And to be fair, they have no reason to, because they don’t have goals in common with any particular community other than other disaffected young people. Our education system has killed their interest in the world around them, so they have nothing they particularly want to strive for, and there’s no motivation to do anything apart from seek hedonistic pleasures/drown their negative feelings.

But all this is not the fault of the young. They didn’t make this culture – we did. When I offloaded some of this to long-suffering spouse, he said “I suppose it’s the fault of our generation. The Punk generation. We’re their parents.” And he may be right. I know many of our generation – Generation X – were brilliant, responsible, creative and generally excellent – but I also know from experience that many others of us screwed ourselves up on drugs, refused to take responsibility for anything because we believed everything was the fault of ‘the system’ and tried wholeheartedly to resist ‘selling out’ (i.e. growing up and developing a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the world). We rejected everything, and therefore what did we have left to offer our children?

I don’t know if that analysis has anything to do with any of these problems – there’s also rampant consumerism, celebrity culture, mass loss of faith in politics, results-driven education and all the rest to be taken into consideration – but I’m not claiming to have any answers. Really, I’m just offloading my distress at our culture that on the one hand has given people a standard of living that hasn’t really been seen ever before in history, but on the other hand is making so many people so utterly and inconsolably miserable.

happiness

Bureaucrisis

Ever since I was at primary school I’ve always felt a little bit like this:

odd one outOr this:

Meerkats & kittenIt wasn’t anything dramatic or horrible. Nobody bullied me, I had friends and I don’t think anyone noticed. It’s just I didn’t feel the same as other people – not that I felt better or worse than them – just sort of separate. They seemed to understand what life was all about, while I found it all a massive unsolvable mystery. I spent a significant proportion of my time in a state of gentle disbelief; my tiny unformed brain muttering amazedness to itself: “What, so you mean I have to go to this school place EVERY DAY of the week until I’m 16?”, “So those girls actually WANT to all look exactly the same as each other?”, “Sex is WHAT?! That’s got to be a wind up.” “We have to run around a field in giant pants and nobody’s going to PROTEST?”, “Why do people go to work every day when it makes them look so unhappy?”, etc.

wise
This is me now. You can see the wisdom in my wizened cheeks and fathomless eyes.

Of course now I’m all ancient and withered I know that everyone else was probably thinking the exact same bewildered thoughts and feeling the exact same odd-one-outness as I was. But I didn’t know that then, and instead thought that either I or the rest of humanity was a bit off-kilter. Which one I thought it was depended on the mood I was in at the time. But gradually, I got used to the incongruities of the world and came to some sort of ‘agree to disagree’ deal with it.

But that semi-comfortable crust I allowed to form over my childhood incongruousness is beginning to crack. I may now be all grown up and whatever, but secretly, rumbling under the surface there’s a resurgence of that sense of not-quite-belonging-in-this-world. Those things that I used to ponder over – questions about why people have arranged the world like they have – haven’t actually been resolved at all. I’ve learned LOADS of detail about how it’s arranged and read loads of theories about why, but the frustration of it, the sheer brain thumping aggravating reality of it, is no less powerful than it was when I was 8.

It comes in waves, this feeling, and today I had a big one. A tsunami. You see, I have this lovely new job which I’m very excited about. One of the things this job involves is finding young people who need some support in life – ones who have disengaged with the education system and other things – working with them to find out what they want to do and then supporting them to actually do it. This feels to me like a job that’s WELL worth doing. I love working with young people and I think I’m good at it. The fairy godmother who scooped me out of my previous horrible job and gave me this one certainly believes I am, and I want to prove her right. And so far, so good. I have been meeting up with troubled young people, chatting for an hour or so, working out what we can do to help them, filling out a form to apply for the support they need and then getting on and working with them. The form is  bit long, so I apologise profusely for it and make sure we have a laugh as we do it.

Only today I discovered that I’ve been doing it wrong.

There is in fact more paperwork that needs to be done at this initial meeting stage. A lot more.

Bear in mind that these are young people that have been more or less failed by a clumsy, bureaucratic education system despite the best efforts of their teachers. They’re disengaged, they tend to distrust anything that represents authority and the only thing they really respond to is a friendly human that treats them as equals, seems to genuinely give a shit and has a laugh with them.

So imagine you are one of these young people. You have been offered a chance to meet up with someone who wants to help you find your way. You decide to drag yourself to a meeting despite all the crap that’s going on in your life, and the person you are hoping will be able to connect with you says that before they can even be sure they can offer you help, you’ll have to fill out some forms. These forms will then be sent off for approval, and if you don’t fit the criteria, you won’t get any help. Imagine how you feel when you find out that the paperwork you must do before you even know if it’ll come to anything is as follows:

1. A Referral form – 5 pages, including:

  •  Support worker’s details and the college’s details
  • Young person’s details
  • Reasons for referral and which programme they’re being referred to
  • What the student thinks of the proposed service
  • Which alternative solutions have been proposed
  • Additional support needed
  • What advice and guidance has been provided, how it’s been provided and how long we’ve been providing it for
  • Details about other agencies involved. If no other agencies are involved, have any been offered? If not, why not?
  • Summary of education & employment
  • Summary of social & behavioural development
  • Summary of family & environmental factors
  • Summary of personal health issues
  • A ‘soft outcomes assessment’ where the young person has to rate themselves on a scale for confidence, self-esteem, writing, reading, aspirations, and several others, and comment on each one.

 2. Programme agreement & initial assessment form – 9 pages, including:

  •  Young persons’s details (again)
  • Key worker details
  • Personal advisor details
  • Qualifications
  • Disabilities
  • General background
  • Ethnicity,
  • Achievements, qualifications, experience and action support that is required
  • Language, literacy numeracy, ESOL & key skills evidence and action support that’s required
  • Career preferences & suitability + action support needed
  • Interests & hobbies + action support needed
  • Learning difficulties or other support needs + action support required
  • A section for 3 things the young person is good at and 3 they are bad at + action support required to overcome these
  • Learning style assessment & action support required
  • An individual learning plan, including details of why this chosen programme is right for this learner, details of where the young person wishes to progress from this programme, details of the young person’s other key objectives, details of activities and support needed to enable them to meet their goals, details of the expected length of time required to complete these activities and achieve their goals, details of hours of attendance each week, which days they will be attending,
  • Two pages of all the levels, start dates, end dates and course codes of the qualifications they’ll be taking.
  • Details (AGAIN) of support being provided to ADD VALUE to the programme
  • Details of support activities to be provided by other organisations

 3. Initial assessment tests to be completed in literacy, numeracy & IT and results to be attached to above form along with the results of a learning styles test (also to be completed)

 4. A two-page Information, advice and guidance sheet, including:

  •  Young person’s details (AGAIN)
  • A section called: Where am I now? – young person’s experiences, qualifications, personal circumstances (AGAIN)
  • A section called “What do I want to do now and in the future?”
  • A goal setting section with activities. Students have to identify an overall goal, then make short term and long term targets and identify what activities are needed to achieve those targets. Who must do the activities and when each one is going to be done by.

 5. A time sheet of all the activities that are going to be done with the student and when, and all the activities that have been done so far.

 6. If the young person is under 16 there’s a whole “extended learning pack” to complete (I haven’t seen what delights that holds yet)

 7. Finally, an enrolment form that is double sided A3 in tiny print and requires all their personal info AGAIN. Including previous education, all their grades for everything, what course they’re applying for, benefits details, ethnicity, etc…. 

bureaucracy cartoonIf I was a disengaged young person – and I know this because I WAS one once – I would get up and walk out. It would fill me with fury. I would rant and fucking rave and go out and get pissed and decide that the ‘proper’ world was definitely NOT for me because it’s clearly mental. And of course THEY’D BE RIGHT. They’d be BLOODY RIGHT. It is INSANE.

And everyone in the meeting I attended about this KNEW it was insane, but none of us have any choice in the matter. If we want to be able to draw down the funding we need to help these young people, then this is what we have to do. The agency with the money require this paperwork before they will even consider funding a student. And there are two MORE batches of paperwork that have to be done in the TEN weeks that we may be working with a student who is accepted on the scheme.

It takes me two hours with a student to go through the first form. I DREAD to think how long it will take to do the rest. All of this is time that I should be spending working on what that young person (and the other young people on our scheme) need/s. I was employed in this role because I am an innovative teacher and hopefully an inspiring one. Students tend to like me and I really do like them and we work bloody well together. I am shit at paperwork and I hate it. It’s waste of my time and the time of our already disenfranchised young people.

No bloody wonder I felt at odds with the world when I was a kid.

I was bloody right.

ORIG-bureaucracy

 

 

Feminism: Wrestling with my Ambivalence

SWEARING ALERT: If you are sensitive to any particular arrangements of letters, don’t read the conversation bit at the end.

If  push came to shove I would identify as “feminist”, but I am very wary of some of the ways that term gets used by both other feminists and by anti-feminists. The only reason I would use it is because to say you’re not a feminist is tantamount to saying you don’t agree that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. And that would just be plain stupid.

feminism quote

So, I am a feminist, and ‘feminism’ to me is the idea that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Nothing more complicated than that. So that’s the standpoint from which I am writing this blog entry. It began when I happened to click on this link.

The article is about a Twitter project where women can record the instances of every day ‘sexism’ they encounter in their daily lives. When this was published, the group had just received its 20,000th entry.

everyday-sexism-get-your-examples-out-for-the-L-Xx0gRQ

At the word ‘sexism’, my Radar of Dubiousness starts whirring. I’ve started to feel an unbidden bubbling discomfort with words that end in ‘ism’. A lot of what I read around these isms nowadays seems divisive and combative and I frequently wonder if what were once useful terms are now so loaded with dogma that they are almost completely counter-productive in terms of successful debate. It seems that whenever someone is identified as a something-ist (Feminist, Humanist, Nationalist, Marxist, etc.) then everyone starts making assumptions about what the speaker/writer is saying based on what they think they know about the ism in question and not listening to exactly what is being said. This results in profoundly frustrating debates where pretty much every contributor is punching a straw man the whole time and nothing is achieved except frustrated rage and a deeper embedding of dogma on all sides.

straw manThe unlikeable term ‘sexism’ is usually used to denote male-on-female prejudice, but as a mother of two splendid sons and the spouse of an excellent man, I also cringe at least once a day at female-on-male sexism. Indeed, it’s perfectly acceptable in the media to imply that men are basically dribbling halfwits without the wherewithall to clean baths properly or know when to buy their sardonically critical wife flowers (that stupid rabbit thing advertising air freshener in between sections of Emmerdale). Perfectly lovely and intelligent women I know crack jokes about man-flu, men always being wrong, a bit stupid, useless and generally in need of the guidance of women. Even those who have great spouses do this because it’s just become part of everyday banter. These women are not being evil, they’re just not thinking how this might make men feel because there’s an assumption that men are so confident in their patriarchal power that you can’t really hurt them. Even if that were true of fully grown men (it’s not), is it also true of our small sons? Are they all born with the power to feel ok about themselves in a culture where it’s acceptable to constantly say men are a bit shit just because they are male? Is it only girls who are damaged by the repetition of negative gender stereotypes?

I was working with a group of young mums a couple of weeks ago and this conversation happened.

S: … yeah, well all men are twats aren’t they?
[general agreement from all present]
[pause]
Me: Didn’t you say earlier that your boyfriend gets up with your son to do the night feeds so you can sleep?
S: Oh yeah. Well, yeah he does…
Me: So, not all men are twats then?
S: Well, no, but you know what I mean…
A: Mine does night feeds too, and he makes me breakfast before he goes to work…

These young women were perpetuating the stereotype of men as useless, when evidence in their own lives points to the very opposite. It’s sort of like phatic talk about  the weather – nobody really thinks about what they’re saying, and nobody picks up on how damaging this could be because it’s socially acceptable to mock men.

boys are stupid
So it was with a certain amount of dubiousness that I went to explore the everyday sexism project http://www.everydaysexism.com/    Apart from being bugged by the question, ‘if we are going to tackle sexism shouldn’t we tackle it from all sides rather than just one?’, there was the nagging feeling that many of the annoying things people say are down to basic stupidity rather than sinister sexism. There are a hell of a lot of stupid people out there, and to be honest, some of the things posted on the everyday sexism site could be shrugged off as just the spoutings of the intellectually deficient. I’ve never been certain that explaining identity politics to dribbling morons is a productive way to pass the time.

http://www.gapingvoid.com/old_images//stupid002.jpg
http://www.gapingvoid.com/old_images//stupid002.jpg

What really struck me as I read through the contributions, though, was that the majority of them were about inappropriate touching and sexually intrusive language. Comments to do with getting back in the kitchen, etc, while irritating and puerile, can often be fairly easily shrugged off, but when someone feels they have the right to touch or comment on parts of your body it feels incredibly invasive. And it seems from the site that this stuff goes on ALL the time.  I’m a bit too middle aged and confident to be a victim of this kind of thing nowadays but I have some stories from my less confident past, so I showed some friends the site and asked what their experiences were. The following (edited) discussion ensued and includes anecdotes from three friends and myself. I’ve used false initials for privacy.

P: Ok, I’m reading the everyday sexism site. I hate it when boys say their shit comments are “banter”. Using a friendly word to justify being an absolute COCK.

I had one today. I might add.

J: What happened?

P: Nylon wearing man on the Underground asked me where I was getting off and if I was “the lucky girl who would be dealing with his erection tonight”. He touched my leg and I thought my gut was going to explode. Things like that scare the SHIT out of me.

S: I hope you were HORRIBLE to the disgustoman.

P: I was too scared to. Just walked away, and left the train at the next stop before boarding another. Shouldn’t have to.

S: Understandable. It makes my skin vibrate with angry. The casual sexism makes me angry. Yesterday we saw a bloke that was at a training event we went to. He was horrible to me there (and ignored us yesterday) because when he made a sex comment to me I reacted with some overt disgust. He got a bit nasty after that because I showed him up.

P: What thing did he actually say?

S: I can’t remember exactly, something about my arse, I think. But his aggression in response was visible.

P: Did he do that “you can’t take a joke”, “calm down” response? Fucking HATE that. It’s NOT a joke, I don’t know you, you’re a COCK.

S: I can’t exactly remember, but that sounds likely. He is one of those men whose pupils go too big too quickly. It makes me so very angry.

P: I get really scared when people are suggestive. I REALLY don’t like it.

S: It can be horribly intimidating. It makes me turn into the incredible hulk a bit.

P: I’m not brave enough to do Hulk. I don’t feel like I do anything to be victim of men being horribly explicit and suggestive. It’s horrible. Especially when they’re inebriateds.

S: It’s just_too_horrible.

P: Don’t really know what the answer is.

S: Eugenics. It means staying away from places. Which is EXACTLY the problem.

P: I don’t know if it’s getting worse. I think there are just more mediums to be sexist on, and information is more accessible.

J: What do you think of this?

S: It’s a pointless thing to say.

P: Dislike the possessive pronoun more than the actual implication.

J: I couldn’t decide whether it was funny or not. Part of me agrees with her, and then I think ‘am I just being humorless’. But the comments under the article are horrible.
Yeah, the possessive pronoun. But is it funny? Someone wrote, “imagine if it said, give this to your black maid…”

P: Fucking Hell. Never read the comments to anything on the internet, ever. Misanthropy.

S: Yes. Fucking stupid people. Someone take their keyboards away. It’s not massively offensive exactly, but it’s not funny. It’s old hat. It took EFFORT to make that label. Effort for a shit joke. Pointless.

P: Some years ago I did a presentation on Neurophysics in front of my class (which I was graded highly for). And at the end of it some boy from the back of the room shouted
“Yeah, that’s great and all, but get back in the kitchen” and all of the boys laughed.
Sort of, an attempt to devalue everything I had said.

J:    That IS the same sort of thing. Everyone knows it’s a joke, but. I suppose it’s like all irony, it’s only irony if you know it’s ironic. If you don’t, then it’s true.    I used to think that about that comedy programme where they played up all the Asian stereotypes. Funny if you know they’re being ironic. But if you don’t then it just backs up stereotypes.

S: I know what you mean. It’s quite complicated when you start thinking. People should be nice to each other. But sometimes it’s hard to tell when they aren’t.

J: Yeah! And sometimes they’re not even sure they’re not either.

S: It’s just thickness that jeans thing. Really. Even just in terms of humour. Unoriginal. If you can make me laugh and the offensive is for that actual purpose then ok, but when the offensive is real and joke is shit then fuck off and die.

[topic moves back to everyday sexism site]

S: Thinking about it, I’ve never particularly experienced the ‘get back in the kitchen’ stuff. I’ve experienced people thinking I’m stupid because of being a young/girl. But mainly it’s sexual. Actual touching and/or repulsive words.

J: Yeah. You’re right. I haven’t experienced the kitchen type stuff either, I think. Only sex stuff.   There was the rapey man on the beach when I was 16. Who didn’t even speak to me when he was doing it. Or after. And once a bloke tried to put his hand in my knickers and when I protested he said “fuck you then” and walked off leaving me alone in the dark somewhere scary.

P: That made my nose tingle.

S: Christ. That idea of being disposable if you aren’t willing to shag is hideous.

P: ACTUAL touching is worst. Hate.

S: I have grabbed their hands and actually screamed at them more than once when they did uninvited touching. One time I grabbed a bloke’s hand and explained to his girlfriend what he’d been doing. He did it when she was stood NEXT TO HIM. AND another time when that happened and I grabbed the bloke’s hand and did anger, he apologised to my boyfriend not me!

P: I mostly just cry and then hide under my duvet for a day with a swiss roll.

J: That apologising to the boyfriend not you makes me want to kill. My friend’s boyfriend wrote ‘slag’ all over my walls because I started going out with someone and wouldn’t shag him. And a bloke told my boyfriend he was lucky because I had good tits. I was embarrassed enough to hide under my duvet with a swiss roll.

S: Thinking it’s acceptable to say that to say that is so weird.

J: Yeah, it’s all about ownership.

P: A few weeks ago when I found myself in that horrible night club a boy came up behind me outside and picked me up from underneath with one hand. And I was wearing a dress. Then when I did some struggling he started making shushing noises so I went home.

J: Fucking hell. He was a total stranger? Was he young

P: Yes. Completely. He practically lifted me via genitals. Puke. He was about 27/28.

S: my friend’s boss, the big MD of the company tried to kiss her at the Christmas party. She refused and he did that typical ‘if you tell anyone then I’ll ruin your career…’. He got married a month later.

Someone I know was sexually assaulted by a bar tender when she was drunk and when she reported it to a policeman they said it was her fault for being drunk.

Oh, and the fact I get paid less than every man in my department despite the fact I am a manager and they are not.

J: I was sitting with a group of ‘friends’ once and a perfectly harmless bloke came in and said, “you’ve got to listen to this!” and it was (I think) a NWA song about a policewoman being raped. It had her screaming and crying for ages. Everyone thought it was really good because it was a policewoman and the police were bastards.

S: Someone put his hands down my pants on a dancefloor. Another bloke was doing repulsive finger/tongue movements right in my face, but my boyfriend headbutted him. Another man put his hand up my skirt once, I turned around and punched him in the head and he pushed me. My friends went for him and he got kicked out.

J: Our friend’s daughter was raped by a bouncer at a night club, and all the other bouncers enabled him to do it.

S: And he got away with it.

P: This all makes me feel HORRIBLE.

J: Sorry, P. Remember it depends where you hang out and there have always been shit people, but there are plenty of lovely.

S: There are LOADS of fucking brilliant people. There are. I have been in situations where people could’ve taken advantage and my lovely friends who are boys have looked after me and kept me safe.

P: Yes. There definitely are. I know that. But even ones who are potentially brilliant think with their penises when they’re my age. Learnt that shit people congregate in certain places and it’s best to just avoid them.

S: That’s true. It’s a fucking infuriating shame. But it’s true.

P: I’m under my duvet. Confused as to why it’s so difficult to accept that I’d rather strangers didn’t attempt to touch my vagina/anything without consent. I might wear a sandwich board saying so.

S: You have to put that stuff in a box and put it away. The only way it can be thought about is objectively, in a different context, in a trying to work out why people are broken way. There isn’t a simple explanation.

And eating makes the universe better. Brian Cox said so. Or something.

J: It would be funny as fuck if you did wear a sandwich board. But people would call you a crazy uptight feminist.

P: “Don’t touch my vagina please”. (I’d put “please” so they wouldn’t think I was uptight).

J: They’d think you were a lesbian.

S: I think there’s a ‘don’t touch my vagina face’ that can be developed a bit.

J: We could make Don’t touch my vagina face masks.

P: It should just be a regular face. I’ve eaten a six pack of Mars Bars since we started this.

                                                                            ***
J: My friend L just shared these joyous anecdotes:

” A bloke suggested he should carry me like god had intended – like a 6 pack of beer. That’s why women have 2 holes. When I told him to fuck off he said I had a fit body but a bad attitude. I should sort myself out.. Told him to go fuck himself. It made him even more outraged. Other girls actually said I should be pleased he fancied me because he was good looking…

….Oh, and Mr Day who stuck his fingers down my top every time I got a Maths question wrong and gave me an irrational hatred of Maths. Cheers for that!”
S: Fuck SAKE! I hope someone shot Mr Day in the fucking face.

__________________________________

So. Yes. Just four random perfectly usual well(ish) balanced women, and they’ve experienced all this stuff between them. It’s quite disturbing.

There really is a serious problem here, and I don’t know how it should be addressed. But this conversation made me realise that the everyday sexism project IS doing a useful thing. I may wriggle a bit at the terminology and wish it could be a bit more inclusive of male experience as well, but this stuff needs to  be talked about. I don’t want our daughters and their daughters to continue going through this shit. In fact, I can feel the latent angry feminist rise in me as I type. Time to log off.

 Bill-Bailey-007

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

Being my mother’s daughter, aesthetics has always been a big thing for me in terms of home. My mum never feels completely at home in her dwelling place unless she has made it look and feel the way she wants it to. She lives in a lovely Cornish cottage with wobbly cob walls and beams, but her aesthetic is essentially Scandinavian (which makes sense because she is Swedish), and she had been unhappy with her small, dark kitchen for decades – unhappy to the point of wanting to leave the house. But last year, she and dad had an extension built with a new kitchen that fits her need for light and clean lines and now she is incredibly happy in her home. Here’s a picture of it when it was just finished:

parent kitchenAlthough my aesthetic is a more cluttered one than my mum’s, it has always affected how contented I have felt in my dwellings to the point that, even when I have lived in squats, caravans and benders with almost no money at all, I have tried to find ways to make them please my eye, or at least feel like they belong to me in some way.

In the squatting and travelling world most people had next to no money, and all our furniture and possessions were found in skips or given to us or bought from jumble sales, resulting in what could politely be called an ‘eclectic’ style of home decor. Looking at some of these pictures now it seems funny to think that I loved these rooms in one way or another. Today, I would pay a lot of money not to live in them.

The first is a shot of my first home away from home. It is the top room in a three storey squat in Falmouth in the early eighties.

my room 10 quay hillThe carpet, chair, chair cover and bobbly lamp shade were skip finds, and the pictures were either lifted from gigs or torn out of magazines. I can’t remember where the painting came from. It looks like squalor to me now, but I really liked it then.

The next one is also from the eighties. It’s a squat bedroom I had in Hackney, London. I had a thing about purple in those days, and I spent about a week’s food money on paint. There was no B&Q with shelves and shelves of coloured emulsion then, instead you had to go to a specialist paint shop and pay what seemed a LOT of money to have a pot mixed for you if you wanted a colour other than magnolia or white. The effect in this very old and tatty photograph is – as you can see – pretty garish. I think the red wall hanging was made by my grandmother and is now sadly lost.

london squat roomMy second purple room was in a squatted flat on Stamford Hill Estate.

stamford hill estate roomThe next picture is of the inside of a caravan we lived in on some wasteland when son 1 was small. We had no running water, no electricity (hence the tilly lamp), very little money and no toilet, and we used to visit the local tip regularly because in those days you could buy things for a few pence. We glued some hessian wallpaper up and made curtains from some material we found there. The table came from my parents’ house (I think) and I covered the kitchen cupboards with cut out pictures from magazines and books. Again, I wouldn’t want to live in it now, but it felt very much like home in 1992.

caravan united downs

But this post wasn’t supposed to turn into a bemused peer into my domestically cacophonous past – it’s supposed to be about home and personal aesthetics. It was triggered by a visit to the home of a much loved friend yesterday. This friend, T, has fallen in love with a man, R, whose home is now hers too. Their home is one of the most wondrous places I have ever been, partly because it is incredibly rooted in family and regional history, but also because R has such a strong aesthetic that it saturates every corner of the place. His aesthetic is kind of timeless but in parts surprisingly modern; it’s very traditional but also includes elements of eccentricity that prevents it looking like every other envy-inspiring home in Country Living magazine. Here are some photos.

R and T’s home knocks me for six every time. I find it almost impossibly beautiful, and my friend H and I regard it as a very special treat to visit. Yesterday, however, this wondrous place struck me as even more of a home than ever before. The air had shifted in some way, and it took me a while to realise that of course this was because there has been a new addition to the place – one that brings with it mess and chaos and the need for an occasional plastic object. Here it is:

Seeing how this unutterably lovely little bundle of disruption has affected this place, I realised that although I’ve yearned most of my life for a home I find aesthetically pleasing (and have now finally got one that’s almost there), it’s not the aesthetics after all that actually make the home.

In fact, the times when home feels most homely are when our aesthetics are being disrupted: when we have Christmas in mum’s perfect kitchen and there are people and dogs and mess everywhere; when an otherwise tastefully decorated Christmas tree is hung with odd lumps of paper and glue made by a child’s hands; when there’s a curled up cat and all his cat hairs rumpling up the sofa cushions; when spouse puts a Darth Vader head he found in a skip on the bookshelf next to my tasteful antique map of Cornwall. A home that is TOO visually beautiful can feel a bit intimidating, and I have visited people’s houses in the past that have given me hideous inferiority complexes. Aesthetics will always be important to me because I’m a visual person, but I’m not looking for perfection any more. Perhaps I can put up with the flimsy fake brass door handles I inherited with this house after all.

carlisle_brass_fg27_georgian_shapped_lock_handle

P.s. If you would like to experience the joy of visiting R&T’s house, they offer various types of accomodation at various times of year. Please see their website for further details.