Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Can we remove the 'model' from 'role model', please?

And I think that I might have an inverted-comma abuse problem...

A discussion on facebook (as per usual) has led me back to an issue which is at major risk of giving me an aneurysm.
The observation that there seems to be a worryingly high proportion of the female population out there who believe that their worth comes down to one simple calculation - the net worth of their face, boobs, and arse.

It's been 17 years - SEVENTEEN YEARS! - since the episode of The Simpsons where plucky young Lisa took exception at the drivel spouted by the talking Malibu Stacey doll.  And nothing has changed.

We have a culture where 'reality tv' stars are the nation's role models.  I would once-upon-a-time have said that this applied purely to the ‘mainstream’.  But in recent years it’s been sneaking into so-called 'alt-culture' too.  The rise of figures such as Dita Von Teese, and the ubiquity of ‘alt-modelling’ has meant that a scene which used to be known as the bolt-hole for those who felt they didn’t fit in anywhere else (bear in mind the standard joke of the ‘fat goth’) now also has these ideals of beauty without substance thrown at the individuals on a daily basis.  Ultra Vixens, Suicide Girls, etc etc have brought into what was supposed to be a punky, ‘fuck you’ culture another element where the pursuit of a prescribed notion of beauty is key.  Do you look good in PVC/latex/leather?  Then you don’t need a personality, m’love.

And so whilst the masses are busying themselves calorie-counting, plucking, waxing, painting, measuring, nothing else matters, right?  NOTE:  This does actually apply to men as well as women – you lot are getting it as bad as us these days, and you have my sympathy.

But.  While this stuff irritates the hell out of me, I do believe in personal freedom for us alleged grown-ups.  And so the step by a University’s Students' Union to have ‘modesty covers’ is a bit much, and will likely cause the knee-jerk reaction of ‘bloody feminists’.  I would hope that by the time people are of University age, they should have their attitudes pretty well formed, and the sight of these publications is unlikely to make them want to pack in their particle physics course, get cosmetic surgery, and start applying for places on ‘reality’ tv. 

However.  Without wanting to get all 'won't somebody think of the children?!', I did find it depressing when I noticed in a high-street newsagents that the ‘lads mags’ such as Zoo, Nuts, etc (and also the equally questionable ‘women’s mags’ which thrive only through their ability to feed their readers’ paranoia with all the ‘helpful’ articles on losing baby weight, keeping your man, getting a bikini body through sitting on your arse and watching Jeremy Kyle) all prominently displayed at the approximate eye-level of a 7-year old. 

Meanwhile, on the very top shelf, right next to the porn, were Private Eye, The Economist, Times Higher.  Dangerous stuff, clearly.

Stay gorgeous, honey.  Don't worry about anything, or think too hard, it'll give you wrinkles and then you'll have to have some poison injected into your face to rectify it.

And always remember:

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Of disappointment and really predictable metaphors...

I was most saddened to read today about the (unconfirmed but exceedingly likely) demise of the Libertarian Party. For the first time in my life I thought I'd found somewhere I belonged.

However, this was how it turned out for me, through the use of a pretty basic analogy:

I felt as though I'd arrived really late to a house party, where you pick your way through the puddles of vomit and the bloodstains, realising that something unpleasant had gone down here quite recently, and starting to wonder if it is a place you want to be after all.

Shortly after arriving, you are informed that it's a shame you didn't get there earlier, as such-and-such and so-and-so were here, but they'd decided to do one after some trouble kicked off.

Looking around, you see that there are a few people left, but after the tales just told, decide to give them a wide berth and instead hover near the doorway.

There are some really nice people there, but they all seem to be reaching for their jackets.  They're heading off, either home to nurse the disappointment that events turned sour and resolving to be a loner from here onwards, or nipping up to one of the other houses on the street - where there are other dos going on which aren't *quite* what they were looking for, but they may be able to turn them around once they're through the door...

And so, before even taking off my coat, I spun on my heel and headed for one of those bigger houses.  I look forward to being part of the libertarian contingent there.  Who's with me?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Liberty for all. Even my womb...?

Had a fantastic time at the Rally Against Debt yesterday, though am hugely irritated (but not surprised) by the BBC's report of the event.  Of course we all want to confiscate wheelchairs and kick puppies, and it's not at all about being sick of seeing money we don't have being pissed away on EU bailouts...

Bit nervous at being told that certain other lovely inhabitants of this here blogosphere are on about publicising my ramblings a bit.  Probably ought to attempt to up my game, then...

One thing did get under my skin yesterday, however.  It's an issue which I've been battling for, it seems, my whole life...  The notion of: I'm a woman, therefore I must have a desperate desire to procreate.

I'm mostly stunned that this assumption was made yesterday (and also at the Blogger's Bash), as it seemed to be so in opposition with the central principles of libertarianism.  The response to my saying that turning thirty hasn't bothered me, due to no tick-tock biological clock led to responses of 'I don't believe you', from a variety of people.  Apparently by virtue of being born female, my life plan has to involve raising children.  Not for me.  I've had this response from people for the entirety of my twenties, and fully expect it to get worse between now and forty.  Each time I'm completely confident that it's not coming from a sexist place, and so I don't scream and shout, I simply attempt to get across that I am totally serious in my attitude, and that it is a valid life choice, and possibly even, dare I say a natural instinct for me.

The thing which appeals to me about libertarianism is the idea of personal freedom, obviously.  It would be nice if this could be extended to a woman's right to choose.

I wish that I did have a maternal gene, as I would like to think that I would raise children who wanted to contribute to society.  I fear that there are perhaps too many people like me who have decided against having babies.  But a resentful mother can never be a good one, and with this in mind I shall remain childfree (not 'childless', which I try to remind people implies that I wanted to be a mother but couldn't).

The other aspect is that I fear losing face.  If, for example, I ever accidentally fell pregnant in the future and discovered that, actually, I can't face a termination, would I then be faced with people smugly saying 'aaaah we told you so, we knew you'd change your mind', etc etc?  Quite probably.  I guess this is another reason for my continuing to be extremely careful.

Also, considering the law on abortion allows termination up to 24 weeks, but pro-life campaigners continually attempting to have this reduced (in some cases down to just 16 weeks), fills me with terror - the last two generations of women in my family didn't even know that they were expecting a baby until they were well into their fifth month of pregnancy.  So therefore my body would no longer be my own, my actions would be dictated to me by both the life growing inside my belly, and the law.  This to me is the very embodiment of loss of personal freedom, and anathema to everything I believe in.

Although I do reserve the right to change my mind about any of this, of course...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Yes it would be nice if everyone could have a well-paid job.
Yes it would be nice if the NHS was perfect.
Yes it would be nice if everyone had access to free higher education.

We do not live in a perfect world.
Sometimes things are unfair.
Everyone cannot win.  It would defeat the object of the notion of 'winning', non?

Suck it up and do the best you can.

And stop watching Disney films, they're spoiling your brain and forcing you to expect a happy ending with little more effort than the ability to sing a pretty song and flutter your oversized eyelashes.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Christ this thing's getting a bit North-centric...

This writing malarky isn't half an exercise in self-reflection.  For the first time I've started to really consider what my political beliefs are.  I've always been loathe to affiliate with any one party, as I find that I have a continual struggle between conflicting ideas / beliefs.

I guess that this can be attributed to my upbringing.

Growing up in an area strongly affected by the miner's strikes, it's been very difficult to branch out and form my own opinions. My family all seemed hugely conflicted, as they were able to step back and see the big picture, but at the same time were horrified to see the destruction of our local communities.

I was very young when the strikes occurred, but grew up in the aftermath.  'Thatcher' was a swear-word. People would speak of her with a sneer on their face.  Yet in private, older members of my family would concede that the old order was unsustainable, and that they actually admired her (just not her methods).  One day I'll be able to get them to elaborate on their opinions (both from back then, and now), but it's still tough 25+ years on as they have the traditional idea that one should never discuss politics or religion...  The conflict of public and private face of my family members was staggering, and confusing to a young child as I was  (no wonder I went on to have a deep interest in human communications).

Accepting this as forming my general confused outlook on UK politics, I still struggle to detach myself from the old emotions.  I feel that I *should* be a socialist, good working-class lass that I am.  But I clearly hold capitalist ideals, as I strongly believe that you get what you work for, money makes the world go round, and anyone who has ever wanted (not needed) a newer, shinier version of anything is buying into that ethos (whether they like it or not).  

I mourn a society I was too young to ever really know, but of which I have been told many tales. My parents pushed myself and my brother into further and then higher education and encouraged us into 'secure', white collar jobs.  I feel aggrieved that I can't really compare/contrast the way in which the country is run, as I am very much a person who cannot simply read about sociological matters in order to truly understand it - I have to live it.  Also, I was brought up to believe that it's not right have an opinion on things that you don't fully understand.  Ergo - politics being very muddy waters to me = I feel like a fraud for having any opinions whatsoever.

There's part of me which does feel like a traitor.  Not in the way that the ukuncut people generally bandy the term about, but in the sense that I got to a certain age, looked at where I was living treading water, and resolved to get the hell away from there, to a faster-paced, more directed way of life.  I live quite the lower middle-class existence now, and have pretty much turned my back on where I came from.

But there will always be a part of my soul in Yorkshire.  Watching Brassed Off reduces me to tears each time, as it really does sum up the loss of hope in that part of the country.  Anyone not from such an area can never truly understand how it feels to walk around and see person after person slumping along, shoulders sagging, the highlight of their day being the visit to the Wetherspoons (honestly, this chain opening a pub in my hometown was possibly the most exciting this to happen to the place for generations).  This sounds like hyperbole, I know (as I type even I am getting mental images of Skid Row from 'Little Shop of Horrors'), but it's true.  The loss of industry there has murdered the spirit. 
In a word, I can sum it up: Depressing.

Wild horses couldn't get me back there. But I do want it to get back on its feet. I just can't see a way in which it ever will.

The north needs to bloody rise up and find a marketable strength.  I just wish I could advise in what area.  Leeds and Manchester seem to be going after the luxury shoppers, with Harvey Nicks, Selfridges&Co, et al.  The coastal towns and villages on the moors will forever chase the tourist dollar.  But the ex-industrialised towns?  Christ knows.  Who will provide the start-up capital?  Erm, I'll have to get back to you on that...

And so the evolution of my outlook on life, death and the universe continues.  The issue seems to be accepting the fact that where I am from, and by whom I was raised, will forever affect the way I view the world.  And considering just how depressing the picture I painted earlier is, you can imagine just how pessimistic this makes me...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The professors in their colleges trying to feed me knowledge that I know I'll never use.

Raising my blood pressure today is the report in the Times Higher that the new fee structures will deter students from poorer backgrounds from going to university.  This is according to Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust.  As this is a charity which supports social mobility through education, it's no big shocker that this is their viewpoint.

However, it's an argument I am sick to death of hearing.

Higher education wasn't always free.  People forget this.  I am not an economist, but it doesn't seem to be a huge stretch to work out that more people in higher education (as espoused by Tony Bliar) = more strain on the government's coffers.  The money tree turned out to be mythological, and so someone has to stump up for it.  And so it would make sense to me that it would be the person who is most likely to benefit financially and socially.  This would be the student themselves.

Now as the money isn't paid up front (as is the case in other countries), I genuinely do not see the problem.  I see it that the only ones who would be put off are the ones (and c'mon, we all know people like this) who see their uni years as the time to doss about, get pissed, and do the bare minimum in order to scrape a pass.  But if they know they'll be paying off £30k approx, then perhaps, just perhaps, they might knuckle down and do some work.

The ones who are put off - fair enough.  Get a job.  Contribute to society that way.  In all honesty I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on EVERYONE going to university, and the result is a society even more divided.  You have your 'low-achievers' (academically speaking) who will thrive in the world of work.  But because they are told (from fairly early on) that they're not part of the 50% who are 'bright' enough for higher education, they feel stupid and maligned, and ultimately resentful.

We have now created a culture where vocational training is seen as the domain of the 'thickies'.  Not bloody so.  If I were to have children (not happening, so this is hypothetical), I would likely encourage them to train as plumbers / electricians, rather than doing media studies or some such (I myself was a cultural studies student, before anyone starts screaming at me).  At least that way I'd have someone around with useful life skills (I'm bitter that when anything breaks in my house I can only phone my white-collar worker parents or my writer brother.  None of whom know their way around a toolbox and merely offer a phone number of a man who can).

What's wrong with a meritocracy, really?  The brightest go to university?  Great.  The brightest kids from deprived backgrounds get financial help from scholarship funds / charitable associations?  Brilliant.

What truly scares me is the society I see forming.  The one composed of 50% graduates, and 50% working class people who resent the students and don't see that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in society.  It's a pride in being an 'underclass', a lack of aspiration to be the best that you can be.

Also worrying me is this report which reinforces the idea of the north/south divide.  I would say that something really needs to be done to tackle the 'can't-be-arsed' attitude which pervades the northernlands.  There's a real air of, well, *sigh* (that's the only way I've found to sum up the part of the country I'm from).  There's no passion or drive.  People just can't be bothered to try.  It's becoming ingrained in each subsequent generation, and now the 'ave a babby n'gerra council 'ouse mentality is becoming the dominant one.  Before anyone shouts that this is my privilege talking, let me assure you that it isn't an economic one (although I won't argue that my family did perhaps provide more encouragement to have aspirations than some of my classmates' families did), permit me to take you back just one generation removed from where I now sit in 2011 affluent England, to the early 20th century, The North:

My grandfather was born into extremely low working-class conditions in the 1920s.  If, by an accident of birth, he had been born into the middle classes, he would have become a lawyer or a doctor.  As such, he did what he could with the cards life dealt him, working 'darn t'pit', taking exams to become foreman, then a medic.  After a spell as a councillor, he became a magistrate.  The pride he had in his achievements was a wonderful thing.  He wasn't bitter, he worked as hard as he could, grasped the opportunities which came his way, with a positive attitude and a quiet dignity which humbles me.  He encouraged the subsequent generations of his family to aspire to do the very best they could, and was extremely proud when my brother, and later myself, managed to go to university.  However, I do not see my achievements as superior to my grandad's because I have a university degree and he did not.  He achieved upwards social mobility through hard graft, and that is what people now seem to lack the inclination to do.  In his lifetime he shifted from lower working-class to a middle-class (outright) homeowner.  He was an inspiration to me, and having a role model like him is the reason that society in general fucks me off so royally today (sorry for the bad language, grandad).

So in essence, I think that what I'm saying is that social mobility is possible and that it doesn't necessarily require a university education.  If you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.  Just don't expect it for free.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

I can sing a rainbow, too... (I have to, I've a diversity quota to meet)

This blogging malarky seems to be good for me.  I used to carry around my rage, only letting it out in small vents on facebook.  Now I am the crazy person on the train, scribbling furiously in a notebook (luddite, me) as I attempt to capture every drop of bile.  As such I have pages and pages of annoyances, all waiting to be padded out and unleashed on the internet.  And so the stomach ulcer might well be postponed for a few years.

One of the first such irritations scrawled in the book of fury has been pushed to the top of the list after learning of this example of complete and utter bloody ridiculousness.  I am not going to attempt to critique this complete bonkersness, as it's been done already (and in a far more eloquent manner than I could manage).

But rant?  Oh, rant I shall...  I am once again horrified about the things people will fixate on.  Political correctness and diversity quotas are, and always have been, my biggest bugbears.  I was sent on diversity training at work a while ago, and find the whole thing utterly laughable.

I was brought up to not judge people.  I was brought up to know that it is bad to judge people on the colour of their skin / religion / gender / age / sexuality / disability / whatever.  I went to school in a very white, Christian area.  But somehow I managed to grow up not prejudiced and/or terrified of 'minority ethnic groups'.

However.  It has now reached the point where I walk on eggshells.  Terrified of inadvertently offending someone by using the non-PC term for something, it's now a situation where all I can focus on is someone's race / religion / gender / age / sexuality / disability etc etc.  Rather than seeing them as an individual, I'm now seeing them as the person in front of whom I cannot use the term 'disability' (it's 'differently abled') / 'woman' or 'man' (it's 'person') / 'deluded cloud-cuckoo land resident' (it's 'socialist').

So well done.  By trying to batter everyone into 'not noticing' difference (what a load of utter nonsense.  I HAVE EYES, DON'T I?  Oops, apologies to any partially sighted people out there. But then you'd better not be noticing what accent people speak with, as that would be bad too...), it has now become the focal point.  But I'm of course not allowed to complain, as it would be my 'privilege talking'.

I would say that it drives me crazy, but that would be offensive to the mentally ill (sorry, I mean 'Daily Mail readers').