‘Manifestly Inadequate’: austerity and cuts are punishing and devastating by @PhilippaWrites

‘Manifestly Inadequate’: austerity and cuts are punishing and devastating 

(originally published in the Feminist Times)

After being found ‘fit for work’, Miss DE committed suicide. Her benefits were cut, despite her long-term depression. Without consulting her doctors, ATOS decided she should lose her Incapacity Benefit and the drop in income made her fear she would lose her home.

On Hogmanay last year, she killed herself.

Normally it is unwise to speculate on the cause of somebody’s suicide but, in this case, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC) carried out a detailed investigation and found that, despite years of stress-related depression, she had never before displayed suicidal behaviours. She was doing voluntary work, getting married, and undergoing treatment. The MWC concluded that: “There wasn’t anything else which we could identify that would lead us to believe that there was any other factor in her life that resulted in her decision to end her life.”

….

The rest of the post is available in the Feminist Times here

Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people by @PhilippaWrites

Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people  

(originally published in the Feminist Times)

 

Debates about the sex industry are never far from any feminist’s consciousness, and one argument that always catches my attention is that prostitution should be legalised because, without sex workers, those poor, pitiful disabled people would never get any sex.

People who have never showed any interest in campaigning against disability benefit cuts or fighting for accessible premises are suddenly preoccupied by our ‘right’ to sex? It’s disingenuous, and it hides a not-so-subtle disablism behind the rhetoric.

….

You can find the rest of the post here at the Feminist Times

Feminism and the Social Model of Disability by Heather Downs

This piece was written for A Room of our Own:

Feminism’s rejection of unrealistic oppressive ideals of the female body fits well with the social model of disability, the idea that the social and physical environment rather than our impairments is what leaves us unable to do the things we want.  While our condition is the result of bad luck, our social and physical environment is subject to political choice and control.  Whether we have ramps or stairs, lifts or escalators are results of conscious choice and impacts on who are invited in or excluded.  Likewise, being female is not inherently a problem unless you live in a male dominated society in which case female biological sex necessarily entails policing of the adoption of feminine gender as a woman.

The performance of femininity is an oppressive ubiquitous reminder of the inferior status of women and girls – just look at examples like Julia Roberts’ unshaved armpits, remembered years after they were shockingly visible at a 1999 premiere; the ‘no make up’ selfie campaign in support of a cancer charity; every advert for menstruation products guaranteeing ‘discreet protection’.  All this and more comprise the everyday requirements for merely leaving the house in an acceptable condition.  What happens if it is actually physically impossible to perform the dozens of intricate rituals necessary to reach the required standard?   The fact that I had already rejected so much on political grounds has certainly eased the process of increasing physical inability.

Finding myself unable to get my arms above shoulder height for long enough to wash my hair myself or do anything more complicated than brush it; hold a bra long enough even to do it up the ‘wrong’ way before twisting the hooks to the back; solve the ‘embarrassment’ of cracked heels and rough skin with softening foot balm ‘for her’; put the butterfly backs on earrings and innumerable other examples of mundane trivia that go towards the construction and performance of femininity – all this was swept away in the inexorable progress of my disability.

So, in many ways, feminism jettisons by choice the same things physical impairment precludes whether you want them or not.  Feminism might be pro-choice, but multiple sclerosis isn’t.  So many of my associations with disability are connected with socially defined aspects of womanhood and while some are cheerfully discarded, others aren’t.  The numb hands from MS reduced my typing speed from 80wpm down to the slow peck of one finger, destroying a skill which has personal benefits despite its lamentable history of ghettoised low pay; that same numbness robbed me of the touch of my new-born daughter’s skin.  For a few years, a toddler in a pushchair was a useful walking aid though I could never manage the clips on the straps; when I needed wheels myself, my daughter was old enough to play on my electric scooter with her friends.

I enjoyed baking and decorating birthday cakes for my daughter when she was young; fortunately she had moved beyond that stage by the time I became unable to do it; but it is still frustrating to be excluded from so much trivia and handing over selection of wrapping paper and birthday cards to her father because the time and effort involved is so disproportionately high in relation to the importance of the thing itself.  And yet…the cumulative effect of all the unimportant trivia amounts to a significant proportion of my actual life.  It doesn’t matter which pair of knickers or socks my partner brings me.  Or t-shirt; it will be under a sweater.  Or black trousers or black leggings – not much difference, they’ve all got elasticated waistbands.  Each one of those little things is unimportant, but add them together and my partner has chosen everything I’m wearing – because it’s easier.

Just as I started writing this, I came across Sister Trinity on Veet – a standard feminist critique of the porn –influenced aesthetic of hairless women.  She contrasts bald, prepubescent Veet-treated shins with the legs of a mature woman and tells herself ‘they’re legs.  They’re for walking; they serve the purpose of transporting me from one place to the next’.  What if your legs don’t serve a purpose, don’t transport you, don’t support your own weight?  Are my hairy, crippled legs literally neither use nor ornament?   The contrast between the notion of the feminine body being for decorative purposes only and the masculine ideals of strength and action are both inappropriate for disabled women.  Disability isn’t solely concerned with accessible buildings – we must also recognise the lived reality of pain, fatigue, frustration.

And I haven’t even mentioned sexuality.  That’s another story.

Yes, You ARE a Bigot! at Life in the Patriarchal Mix

(Cross-posted from Life in the Patriarchal Mix)

Yes, You ARE a Bigot!

I have received word from an autism awareness group on Facebook that a mother of an autistic child wrote a blog post about how her 10 year autistic son learned to write for the first time and telling autism to “suck it.” I find attitudes like that to be extremely offensive and dangerous to autistic people such as myself. It brings up the image that autism is some sort of disease or monster that needs to be eliminated. Of course, the author of the post makes it obvious that she is neurologically typical by the way she talks about her son and his identity as an autistic person.

She also said some extremely offensive and ableist things such as:

 I watched the light go out from his eyes at 12 months of age and I have fought tooth and nail since then to turn it back on, even when others told me there was little hope, even when I spent the first few years drinking myself numb, even when he didn’t even know I was in the room with him.

I absolutely HATE phrases like “I watched the light go out from his eyes….” because it implies that autistic people are lifeless of which they are not! Autistic people have as much life as non-autistic people and it is incredibly offensive to autistic people.

Another disgusting phrase:

This is NOT THE SAME as saying that people with autism suck. My son has autism. My son most definitely does not suck. In fact, he’s amazing, funny, loving, beautiful, inspiring. But he’s also being held hostage by a disorder that comes in many shapes and sizes, a disorder that in our house, is not a welcome guest but rather a selfish and thoughtless intruder. The fact that I do not embrace autism as something to be romanticized or adored does not mean I do not love the bejezus out of my son. I also realize that autism is a part of who he is, has shaped a portion of the person he has become and continues to be. But if someone handed me a guaranteed cure tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate one nanosecond before shoving it down his throat. I would risk losing a portion of the little boy I love so fiercely and unequivocally if it meant that he would have a chance at navigating this life without the bondage of autism.

Oh noes, my son has autism! He is being held hostage by who he is! I am gonna pretend that my autistic son does not understand how words like that is extremely offensive and hurtful TO HIM and other AUTISTIC PEOPLE because of my ableist/sanist/mentalist privilege! Of course, she is not gonna give a shit about her son’s feelings! It’s all about how the awesome neurotypical mother battled against her son’s autism in order for him to be “normal.”

There is nothing wrong with being proud of your autistic child for his/her accomplishments but if you are going to imply that accomplishment somehow defeated autism then you are displaying ableism! You are saying that autism is curable if you force a certain type of normalcy on them! If an autistic person tells you that certain phrase if offensive, don’t shrug it off! Listen to them! Do not dismiss them! They know more about living with autism then you do.  If you go around dismissing them for bullshit reasons then expect people to react and be angry at you.

Another quote which dismisses the people who point out her ableism:

I invite those of you who consider me an ableist for telling autism to SUCK IT to come into my home and spend a day with me and Andrew. I invite you to see the reality that my child lives with as he struggles against the silence that blankets him, falls apart when those around him don’t understand his needs, and begs for mercy when the sights and sounds of life come bearing down upon his ears and nervous system. I want you to see the drooling, hear the teeth grinding and the desperate wails, watch as he wills his body to keep up with his younger brother even though he doesn’t stand a chance.

I just love how external experiences with autism are somehow the same as internal experiences with autism from this woman’s perspective. I would invite this woman to walk in MY SHOES for a while and see how it is like to LIVE as an autistic person! Of course, she is unable to do this since her bigotry clouds her empathy. Funny how NTs claim that autistic people lack empathy/emotions and yet they display lack of empathy towards autistic people! I would imply that these curebies display symptoms of a sociopath but I’m too nice for that.

Low functioning autistic people such as Amanda Baggs  can speak her thoughts through a talking keyboard, when the keyboard is speaking her words, the words are incredibly eloquent and intelligent. Is she being held hostage by her autism? Is she lifeless? Of course not! She is perfectly happy with her identity as an autistic person. She doesn’t want to be cured and neither do I, a high functioning autistic.

Ashline wrote a response which is even more offensive than the last post:

So if that makes me a curebie, or a bigot or a child abuser or an ableist or whatever other fucking word du jour you come up with, so be it. You guys are just a bunch of bullies. You bully parents like me who want more for their kids and you do it all from the comfort of a life we would give anything to be able to promise our own children.

You took my message out of context and used it to make yourselves look like the victims, when the real victims here are the very children parents like me are trying to save; children who are easily overlooked, children who are in physical and emotional pain,  children who will someday be adults that society will have no idea what to do with so it’s OUR JOB TO FUCKING FIGURE IT OUT.

So pointing out your ableist privilege and stating that what you are saying about your son’s autism is extremely dangerous AND offensive to autistic people is bullying? That’s a laugh riot! Autistic children do not need to be saved from their autism! They need to be taught how to cope with the world, to teach them problem solving skills. Not to hate themselves for being autistic. That is what you are doing to your son! You are teaching him that him being autistic is BAD! No one just made up words like “ableist” just to “bully” you. Words like that have existed for as long as ableism has existed and you are dismissing these words even though you are raising a disabled child?

Autistic people are NOT suffering from their autism, they are suffering from discrimination, abuse, neglect, ignorance and self-hatred because of people like Ashline who force their domination on their autistic children. They expect autistic people such as myself to feel sorry for them when they dismiss us for pointing out their bigotry? Sorry ma’am but that is not how it works. You have to LISTEN to the autistic people and LEARN from them! If you don’t take in what the autistic community is trying to tell you then we will not waste our time with you.

Ashline needs to realize that autistic people like myself-and quite possibly her son-will fight against such bigotry and hatred against them because they deserve to be treated better! Ashline is not considering things from her son’s perspective, she is only looking at things through HER perspective which is not only ableist but dangerous for her son who in his current state of affairs is dependent on her mother’s approval and guidance! I would hate to see how he turns out if he adopts her way of thinking about neurologically diverse people.

Post I am responding to

 

Life in the Patriarchal Matrix:  I mainly blog about feminism, misogyny, disability and activism.

Truthdig Digs Itself a Very Deep Hole at Life in the Patriarchal Mix

(Cross-post from Life in the Patriarchal Mix)

Truthdig Digs Itself a Very Deep Hole.

I have never thought that such a “progressive” website like Truthdig would lower itself. I have never thought that Truthdig would post such an ableist article like what they have posted about Autism Spectrum Disorder (AKA Autism). The article makes all sorts of claims and also misses a lot of important information about Autism and its symptoms. Let’s take a look at it.

The article starts of by claiming that a minority of children that are diagnosed with Autism only carry the diagnosis “temporarily.” Didn’t know that Autism was similar to the common cold. I must have missed the memo on that one. Anyway the author states that

A minority of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)—conditions that are generally considered lifelong—may carry the diagnosis only temporarily, researchers say.

MedPage Today reports:

“Among 34 children who were no longer classified as having an ASD by ratings scales and clinical assessment, most had similar scores on socialization, communication, and language as their typically-developing peers, Deborah Fein, PhD, of the University of Connecticut, and colleagues reported in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.”

Call me biased but I can’t take an author seriously if his sentence ends with the word “psychiatry.” Sorry These are the same people who take their teachings from a guy who sawed off his patients limbs in order to “cure their madness” and is considered the “godfather of psychiatry.” I am not joking. This article also never makes the distinction between high-functioning and low-functioning autistic people when the article says “may carry the diagnosis temporarily.” The article might possibly be talking about high-functioning autistic/Asperger’s syndrome. But in the eyes of psychiatrists all autistic people are the same! The author continues by stating the obvious and also missing the point that therapy often does help autistic children when trying to control some of their more harmful behaviors, like biting or bashing your head into the wall.

“The results clearly demonstrate the existence of a group of individuals with an early history of ASD, who no longer meet criteria for any ASD, and whose communication and socialization skills … are on par with that of typically-developing individuals,” researchers wrote.

“How often this happens—and whether it truly does—is still controversial. Some studies have put that figure between 3% and 25%,” the site reported.

Researchers conducted tests in language, face recognition, socialization, communication and other areas in youth ages 8 to 21 who appeared to be free of symptoms.

JUST BECAUSE THEY MIGHT NOT BE DISPLAYING SOME OF THE STEREOTYPICAL SYMPTOMS THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE CURED OF IT! Like I have previously mentioned, therapy does help with some of the symptoms of Autism. It doesn’t cure the person of it nor is that autistic child a neurotypical adult when he/she grows up. Also, autistic adults are very self aware of ableism and in the case of autistic women, misogyny. So, it would be fucking stupid to claim that if they are not displaying some of the more noticeable symptoms then they are cured. If that was true then I would not be easily distracted by background noises every time I am trying to have a conversation with someone. I would not be having difficulty writing exams with the other class and needing extra time to prepare.  Of course, that is not the definition of Autism to the neurotypicals, isn’t it? Autism is not an internal illness that has an effect on how the individual will interact with people and how they will react to stressful situations. Hell naw! Autism is just some phase according to these eggheads here!

Needless to say, I am shocked that they would post something so ableist and ridiculous. Well, they are gonna lose one reader today.

OP here

Truthdig Article here

 

Life in the Patriarchal Matrix:  I mainly blog about feminism, misogyny, disability and activism.

The Scandal of DWP Silence by @JayneLinney

(Cross-posted with permission from Jayne Linney)

We know from  the official DWP report that between January & November 2011 10,600 disabled people either in receipt of or awaiting benefits died.

Since then the DWP have, despite numerous requests refused to release further updates; we can only speculate their reason why, as we can only surmise just how many more disabled people have since lost their lives?

It is well documented how the ‘Scrounger‘ rhetoric have adversely affected disabled people  and those who are chronically ill, and even Esther McVey – Minister of State for DWP stated she “would not disagree” when it was put to her in October 2013 that “ hundreds or even thousands of people who had died sooner than they should have done, or had a much lower quality of life over their last few weeks or months because of their experience of the WCA.”.

From this we believe it is safe to presume there has been an increase in the number of annual deaths of disabled people in 2012 & 2013; given the loss of life in 2011 was 10,600, even a 2% increase per annum would result in  12,720 in 2012 and a startling 15,264 in 2013. That would give a overall figure of 38,564 deaths over the 3 years the Coalition has been in Government.

Is this shocking statistic what the DWP don’t want us to know?

 

Jayne Linney: I’m a disabled woman, a life long feminist and Social Activist- I write from a personal perspective, usually about the current Political climate and its affects on disabled people. On Twitter @JayneLinney

Director DEAEP – Social Enterprise ran by & for disabled people

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jayne.linney

 

 

Real issues with Welfare Reform by @JayneLinney

(Cross-posted with permission from Jayne Linney)

Wearing my DEAEP Company hat, last week I met with a lovely man, I’ll call him Adam; Adam is in his 60s and worked all his life until last year, when his health deteriorated to such a point he could no longer physically manage. At this time he completed his claim for ESA, he heard nothing and then, out of the blue last month, Adam was called for an appointment with ATOS. He initially asked about home visit as he loves 12 miles outside the City centre but was told he needed a letter from his Dr to support his request; as this was not possible, Adam informed them he was happy to attend but he wanted the assessment recorded, ATOS assured him this was fine and he arranged a date.

He contacted me wanting support for the assessment and, after Adam struggling to make his way into town for 10.30 we met prior to the assessment to discuss his requirements. We sat at a coffee shop 3 doors away from the assessment centre, and in the time it took us to finish our drinks Adam received 2 phone calls, both from the same Nottingham number and each time he answered his phone the line went dead. We both recognised the area code and knowing the regional ATOS office is based here, Adam returned the second call, only to find the call could not be completed at the receiving end.

Experience called us both to speculate if ATOS actually had organised for the recording equipment to be there, and chatting about this we entered the building ATOS use to carry out the ESA assessments for Leicestershire. ATOS are based on the first floor of a sixties office building which has no access/egress for wheelchair users in an emergency; knowing this we were both on sticks. Using the lift we emerged on the first floor to be met by a door with no automatic functions, causing us to engage into some form of strange dance to pull open the door when neither of us have full use of our arms/hands; achieving access we were then met with a second, this time fire retardant door, again with no automatic function. Having recreating our dance anew we proceeded through into a small space with a third non automatic door, thus we repeated our caper finally emanating in the reception area for ATOS.

Noting how extremely quiet the waiting area was, with only one other person in the room, we made our way to the desk, where we were met by a very friendly woman who after taking Adam’s details said he was “more than welcome to have the assessment but…”; yes, the recording equipment wasn’t there! She apologised and said they had tried to call him to which we both explained what had happened at our end. She went on to say as Adam didn’t want the assessment without it being recorded, he would receive another phone call in the next 2/3 weeks to rearrange it.

By this time we were both exhausted and in pain, so much that before we left Adam was forced to resort to his default position for managing extreme pain on his hands and knees; when Adam’s pain had returned to its regular level, we made our way our of the building, this time going backwards through the three doors, our backsides providing the impetus required to push them open.

The real irony of all of this is Adam retires in July, that’s correct, he has to go through all this again just to receive ESA for three months!

I met with a second DEAEP customer today, who I’ll call Alex; Alex is going to Tribunal next week, the reason being having fought for two years to be placed in the support group due to the progression of Parkinsons, the DWP decreed the were wrong and have done precisely that; but they insist he must continue with his appeal and attend the hearing. It seems the purpose of the Tribunal, which is being held at a local hotel instead of at the Tribunal centre, is for 17 months worth of Back pay, the difference between basic rate and the enhanced rate Alex is now receiving in the support group! I’ll report back on this next week.

What the DWP and the Politicians who have devised the immoral and unjust Polices ignore is the anxiety and stress both of these men are going through, as they are forced to fight their way through the broken Welfare Reform process; and what really sickens me is the total amount of money involved in these two cases is far less than the pathetic amount Ms Maria Miller has been instructed to return following her fraudulent expense claims!!

 

Jayne Linney: I’m a disabled woman, a life long feminist and Social Activist- I write from a personal perspective, usually about the current Political climate and its affects on disabled people. On Twitter @JayneLinney

Director DEAEP – Social Enterprise ran by & for disabled people

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jayne.linney

 

I apologise for my disability by @MurderOfGoths

(Cross-posted with permission from Murder of the Goths)

I am writing this to apologise, to apologise sincerely, for all inconvenience/confusion caused by my disability. It is obviously very selfish of me to have not taken other people’s feelings into consideration when deciding to become disabled. I should have chosen a different disability – something more straightforward, something more convenient. I apologise wholeheartedly.

This sounds ludicrous right? Who on earth would think of disability in these terms? You’d be surprised.

I’ve written before about some of the difficulties I face with my disability. This post is about the reactions I get to it, while I covered the disbelief as little in the last post, I wanted to say more on it.

What prompted this is my dealings with the local council, at the moment I’m living in a first floor council flat, there’s no lift, just stairs. Obviously this is difficult for me, and so we got a medical note from my doctor and were awarded points towards moving and it was noted that I needed ground floor access. As it is I can’t get my two children in and out of the flat without assistance, and if I had to get them both into the flat on my own I’d have to take a break after getting one up the stairs before attempting to go back down and get the other. They are both under 3 years old, I really cannot leave one at the entrance alone. I’d then have to rest again before making another trip for any bags. I struggle to bring shopping in, or take rubbish out. I’m lucky that I have a husband to do a lot of those things, but it’s not fair on him, nor is it practical for him to always be there to do these things. On top of that, I would quite like to have someindependence instead of being totally reliant on someone else. Here’s where the problems come in, while I have these issues with the flat, I can use stairs. According to the council it’s not possible to be able to use stairs but still have problems in a first floor flat. And so they’ve decided on my behalf that I cannot move into a house with internal stairs, despite the fact that internal stairs are not as much as a problem as entrance stairs for me. They cannot differentiate.

It seems my disability is far too confusing for them, it doesn’t fit into a nice neat box, I can’t just tick a box saying yes or no when asked about abilities.

Can I walk? Yes, but only for short distances/with painkillers/with assistance/on good days/if I’m not carrying anything.

Can I stand? Yes, but only for a short time/with painkillers/with assistance/on good days/if I’m not carrying anything.

Can I dress myself? Yes, but I need assistance with certain items/on good days/with painkillers.

Can I prepare food? Yes, but only if it doesn’t take long/if I can sit/with assistance/on good days/with painkillers.

Can I …..? Yes, but….. .

And so on.

Unfortunately this ability to sometimes do things causes endless confusion and seems to irritate some people. Whether it’s because they cannot put me into a box, or because it inconveniences them.

I know some people will see me do something one day, then be annoyed when I can’t do it on another day. Rather than accepting that my disability is erratic and unpredictable they choose to see it as me being untrustworthy.

Some people also seem to get upset when faced with me still being able to do positive things, for example, having children. As I am disabled I am expected to forego these wonderful experiences, just because some people will not accept that I can be (at the same time) capable of looking after children but unable to do other things. I seem to be expected to sit around being sad and not do anything at all, anything short of that and I am a fake, a fraud, a cheat. I’ve even been accused of lying about my disability because I can type!

You’d think the worst thing about being disabled would be the actual disability, but it’s not for me, the worst is other people. I am always either so disabled that I mess up their plans, not disabled enough that I defy their image of disability, or too much of a mix of both that I make them doubt me. So I apologise. I’m sorry that my totally uncontrollable disability which causes me pain day in and day out is such a nuisance to your life.

 

Murder of the GothsA personal blog covering all sorts of topics that affect my life. Whether it’s parenting, disability, geeky stuff, feminism, paganism or (of course) goth subjects. Twitter: @MurderOfGoths

I haven’t always been like this by @MurderOfGoths

(Cross-posted with permission from Murder of Goths)

I haven’t always been like this

by MurderOfGoths

There seems to be this idea in the media – and suggested by this government – that those with disabilities have never been “hard working tax payers”, that we’ve always been disabled. I guess I get why they do this, for one it means we look like a massive drain on the system, for another it keeps people safe from the thought that they might end up like us. It could happen to anyone, at any time. You can try and insure against it, but you cannot guarantee that you will never be disabled and reliant on others.

I know, it happened to me.

One day I woke up, at the grand old age of 24, and I couldn’t move. My upper back was one big mass of pain. And that’s it, suddenly my life was turned upside down. There was no sign it was going to happen, before that I was a normal 24 year old, doing normal things, from that day on I was trapped in my own body.

Since then I’ve been sent for x-rays, an MRI, to physios, to blood tests.. you name it. Everyone agrees that my back isn’t right, there are visible and tactile signs of problems, but no one knows why. And because they don’t know why they cannot fix it, just treat the symptoms. Six years on I am coming to the realisation that it may never get better.

The following is something I wrote after a year of back pain.

Let’s try an experiment.

First of all pick up a 2 litre bottle of drink. Done it? Good, you’re doing better than me.

Now fold your arms across your chest so your hands are on opposite shoulders. Now lift your arms up. Can you hold them at a 90′ angle to your body? I can’t, I’m lucky if I manage 45′

Same position again. Turn your upper body to the left and then to the right, keeping your hips still. Did you manage to turn more than 30′ either way? Well done, you beat me there too. On a good day I can manage 30′, more often than not I mange 10′ maximum.

Still staying with the same position now I want you to lean left then right. If you manage any movement this way then well done, you’ve beaten me again.

Sensing a theme?

Let’s try some more. Lean down as if you were picking something up, any shooting pains? Nope? Guess what?

Now try reaching up to put something on a shelf. Make it a shelf above shoulder height. Well done, looks like you are winning this doesn’t it?

Now for some really fun stuff. Put a t-shirt on. Do you feel agonising pain as you pull it over your head? No? Just me then?

How about walking up stairs? Does that make your spine feel like it’s stuck in a vice? What a surprise.

How’s your chair? Comfy? Does sitting upright hurt you? No?
How about standing? Does it feel like you are balancing a 10 ton weight on your shoulders?
Does your spine feel like it’s solid rock?

Get a friend to help you here, ask them to put (gentle) pressure on your spine between your shoulder blades, does it move slightly under pressure? More than mine does!

Now a final fun quiz for you. List for me all the activities you can think of that don’t include;
– sitting
– standing
– walking
– bending
– lifting
– twisting
– leaning
– carrying

Oh and a final one, lying down not on your back!

Then imagine that being your everyday life.

Some days you’ll get so sick of it that you’ll go against your (and your partner’s) better judgement and do those things. Maybe you are out with family or friends, and you are aware that all you ever seem to talk about is your back, so you don’t want to say how it feels. Anyway, you figure it’s a good day, you’ve actually got out of bed without assistance that morning!

The next day you’ll regret it, and the next, and most likely the next few as well. But you wont say because then it sounds like you are blaming people for making you do things, when you know you should have said no. Instead you take note of this and when you know you have plans you spend days beforehand doing as little as possible, so that there is less chance of it being a bad day. Mostly it works. Mostly you get away with it for that one day. And no one is there to see the fallout after.

Problem is, this backfires, because then no one sees your bad days. They see you able to stand and walk and all the rest, though no one watches how little you can twist or bend and you hide the grimaces when your back twitches, sending fresh pain down your spine. Because that would make you less fun to spend time with.

So when you tell them you are having a bad day they honestly expect you to push through the pain. Or they suggest you might be exaggerating it. And you have no way to prove otherwise. It’s an invisible and crippling, and what’s more it’s undiagnosed so you don’t know if it will heal or how long it’ll take.

I haven’t run anywhere in over 9 months. I have done no exercise in over 9 months. I have no freedom any more. At the grand old age of 25 I’m a prisoner in my own body, but it’s ok, so many people have told me I can do more than I think. They must be right, they’ve obviously done all the experiments above and decided that everyday life will be so damn easy.

As you can tell, over the years I’ve faced a lot of disbelief over the amount I can do, and the amount of pain I’m in. It’s the curse of having an invisible and inconsistent disability, it does make me angry, and it aggravates my depression. I’ve been told that it’s all in my head, that losing weight will help, or that exercise will help. While the latter two make some sense, I can see how that conclusion has been reached, they actually don’t help and are actually putting the cart before the horse. When my back problems started I was a slim size 10 who exercised frequently. I am now much bigger than a size 10 and never exercise because of my back.

My back pain now dictates every part of my life, whether I like it or not. I cannot get a break from it, and every decision I make has to take in to account my limitations. Sometimes I forget and overdo it. Sometimes I get fed up of living like this and ignore the pain – push through it – I always regret it.

There are two very good posts that are relevant if you know someone with a chronic pain condition, very useful to keep in mind. One is this list of Tips for Dealing with People in Pain, and the other is this wonderful explanation ofSpoon Theory, while the latter is written by someone with CFS/ME it is still very relevant to chronic pain.

I would give anything to not feel like this. My son is a toddler now and I’d love to be able to lift him, run after him, etc. But I can’t and it breaks my heart. Being disabled is not easy, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

 

Murder of the GothsA personal blog covering all sorts of topics that affect my life. Whether it’s parenting, disability, geeky stuff, feminism, paganism or (of course) goth subjects. Twitter: @MurderOfGoths

The Cobblestone Path – raising a child with a disability

 

What does it mean to raise a child with special needs?

 

The short answer is that it is a lot of hard work. But you knew that already anyway. For me, it has involved a lot of soul searching, career plans that have had to change, aspirations forgotten. Let’s not beat about the bush. We all know that in the vast majority of cases the onus is on the mother to change her life and take on responsibilities of caring for children, and in the case of special needs, doubly so.

You may think that I am fortunate in that the nature of my work means that I can work from home. However, in reality, it is next to impossible to work while caring for my son. I spent the first three years of his life taking him to appointments, to physiotherapy, to occupational therapy, to see the paediatric psychiatrist, to see the neurologist, to the mental health centre, and so on. I took advice from the physiotherapist and performed the exercises with my son myself every day. It was a lot of hard work, and it affected me physically as well as mentally. I started to lose a lot of weight, and people would congratulate me and ask me if I had been on a diet and what my secret was – something which I found quite ridiculous, as I was already thin to begin with, and losing weight was starting to make me look ill. What does this say about our society, I wondered at times, that here I am showing the signs of the strain taking its toll and affecting my health, and all people can do is comment on how nice it is for me to get even thinner! It isn’t nice, and it made me worry about my own health too, on top of all the worry about my son!

Perhaps you are wondering where my son’s father is in all of this. Well, he was there. But he went out to work every day, and caring for my son, doing his physiotherapy, was not something that could just wait until the evenings. Of necessity, I did the lion’s share. I thought deeply about this. Was this unfeminist of me? Should I have tried to arrange our lives differently to give my husband a greater share of the care work, and myself more chance at employment? No, I concluded, it was simply the best arrangement for us. Simple biology decided matters in the beginning: my husband could not breastfeed the children. Far better for me to take the time I needed with them, and for him to enable that by continuing to work as normal.

So what about now? My youngest son – I have two other children who do not have any special needs – has now started school. You might think that this is an opportunity for me to breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit. You would be wrong. The first few months presented a constant string of problems – dealing with special needs in a school environment is not a simple matter, even when the child is enrolled in a special integration unit. I went back and forth from the school, I took in things from home to help my son settle in, I donated books and toys to the integration unit, I made suggestions to the teacher, who clearly didn’t know what to do with my son. I took him to educational assessment committees, to specialists, and at every turn I had to hear that I was making a mistake, that I did not have my son’s best interests at heart, that I was doing it all wrong. I researched matters myself and went against the advice of the professionals to do what I thought best for my son, both in his daily life at home and with regards to his education.

Not once has anyone suggested to my husband that he is doing it wrong. Not once has he been told that he is making a mistake. In fact, on one occasion, when we went to the educational assessment committee, the chairperson turned to my husband, after I had explained our position, and said, right in front of me: “Do you really agree with her on this? Perhaps you see it differently?” I had already made it clear when I was speaking that we had agreed on those points together. Conversely, when my husband did the talking, no one questioned what he had to say.

So, I have told you about the hard work and the appointments, the insults from professionals who are supposed to be helping you. But that is not all life is when bringing up a child with special needs. It is also about laughing and having fun with my son, about playing with him, teaching him nursery rhymes, singing songs to him, all the normal things you do with your children. He may have special needs, but he is still just a little boy who wants to play! I may never see him write his own name, or even hear him say it, but he has a beautiful smile that melts my heart, his infectious giggle makes me laugh too, and seeing him wave his arms in time to music, especially after all the physiotherapy that has got him to this stage, brings tears to my eyes. He plays pretend games and likes to throw a ball or play on a swing, laughing away as he swings to and fro.

That is why I call it a cobblestone path – it is a bumpy ride, but the road goes on, we are not standing still.

I don’t deny that it is hard work. I will not claim that it is all plain sailing. But it has its rewards, and I do not begrudge a moment of it.

 

The Cobblestone Path

The fiddler takes a bow before performing,

She dances onto the cobbles,

Drawing the bow lightly over the strings.

She flits from pebble to pebble, playing gently.

A soft melody hums in our ears and we lean towards it.

With quick strokes, the fiddler plays a discordant sound,

But we are strangely drawn in,

Onto the unsure footing of the cobbles.

The music beckons us with its unevenness,

We follow it over the rough stones.

The fiddler plays faster now, a wildness to her tune,

And dances over the stones before us,

Leading us ever forward,

To tantalising promises of more,

Sounds of sweet music ringing in our ears,

While we stumble on the cobbles in her wake.

The Invisibility of Disability by @LUBottom

(Cross-posted from Bottomface)

The metric expansion of space dictates that two distant parts of the universe move away from each other. Out in the ether the universe has been growing since the big bang. I often think about this- how in this huge scale of things the entire scale of space is increasing, yet my mind often juxtaposes this with the contraction of my life so that I feel I’m moving in the opposite direction. At first my world shrank when friends stopped calling after I had to repeatedly cancel plans to go somewhere as I felt too unwell. Then came the next contraction when I found myself contained within my small home. Then another shift and my world became my 10’ by 12’ bedroom, and after that the bed. I still have the occasional good days when I can potter in the garden or spend half an hour in the kitchen, but for the most part my world is my bed- I even do light gardening: potting, seeding etc. from the confines of my mattress. I live vicariously through mind numbing TV show after mind numbing TV show and my brain, like my body, feels as if it’s slowing down, contracting.

But I’m lucky. I have a family. Every day I have someone to talk to. I even have a couple of good friends who still make the effort to see me and an online community to talk to whenever I have the energy. There are thousands of people with disabilities in this country who would do anything to have the little that I do. They are invisible. Society can’t see them so they are easy to ignore. Their days are spent in aching loneliness. When you are that alone life can feel like it is simply a long wait for death.

Austerity is another example of contraction within this expanding universe. Social services budgets are contracting, the parameters of those they can offer support to move inwards all of the time. Many third sector organisations and community outreach programmes are also feeling the strain so that many of them can no longer afford to even train volunteers. David Cameron’s big society is a failure. So what becomes of these forgotten people?

When the contraction of the welfare budget is also taken into consideration the picture becomes ever bleaker. With PIP (the replacement for Disability Living Allowance) comes a contraction in the number of people who will receive help with mobility- either in the form of cars or money to help with travel. Add in the number of people who are losing money for help with care, who will lose their one bit of interaction. If we then include the ESA debacle where people are having their personal budgets shrunk to £69 per week when they have wrongly been found fit to work, the potential for people with disabilities to reach into the world becomes scandalously small.

People with disabilities need more support with access to the community but they are receiving less support with every aspect of their lives. The way this government has aimed their sights at people with disabilities is a scandal. It wasn’t good enough before the coalition, now the situation is desperate.

I’d like to say I have solutions to this situation but I’m feeling rather hopeless. We need the government to reverse the changes which disproportionately hurt people with disabilities but even when the WOW petition received enough signatories to secure a debate in parliament very few MPs showed their faces.WOW debate

We are bound to see more from the brilliant disability campaign groups out there who are desperately trying to highlight these issues but until this government is out of office I doubt we will reach a satisfactory position. If you are a non-disabled person and you have a friend who is struggling with their physical or mental health, persevere. Go out of your way to visit or talk to your friend; invite them to things even if you know they’re probably not well enough to go. When the invitations stop it is a stark moment in many people’s lives. If you can volunteer for community outreach projects I implore you to do so. If you can donate, then please do. Whatever you do, please, don’t forget us; we need an expansion in the people who care.

bottomfacedotcom: proud owner of lady parts: Writes, makes vulvas, swears. Past caring. Home ed. Parent of child w/ ASD ADHD. Has ME & FMS. Lucy tweets at @LUBBottom. She also has an etsy page: Little Shop of Vulvas

Robocop & the Politics of Emancipation by @elizabethethird

Robocop & the Politics of Emancipation

Posted on 

The 2014 Robocop remake has arrived! Revamping, updating and down-camping the 1987 original for the viewing pleasure of the global mass market! Boo corporations, post-90s technology, human emotion and/or error… Yay Robocop!

While the new story has been adapted accordingly for our newer, shinier and digital-er time, the influence of the original Verhoeven film is evident throughout, with direct references to OCP (now “the parent company of Omnicorp”) and lines such as “I wouldn’tbuy that for a dollar…” Eyyy! See what they did?! They WOULDN’T buy it for a dollar, AND there were zero gratuitous boobs. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Robocop 2.0 (Robocop 2 already happened) marks the point at which Hollywood has officially surpassed adolescence. Robocop 2.0 is subverting 1987’s surprisingly Reaganite narrative, which, according to Steven Best “neatly coalesces with rightwing fantasies of social subversion” and becomes “a front for increased surveillance and the rollback of constitutional rights”. Ha! Reagan.

I can accept that Paul Verhoeven was an unwitting accomplice to the cultural landscape that produced an acceptance of Ronald Reagan, and later Arnold Schwartzenegger, as the actual political leaders of genuine geographical places, but it is slightly harder to accept of director José Padilha. It interests me to understand the dynamics and effects of, and between, these two films that both appear to satirize and criticize corporate corruption, right-wing media bias and the military industrial complex. Robocop 2.0 certainly tries to break with the pantomimic sci-fi camp of the original, to situate itself within a contemporary political landscape where melding man with machine is not only possible, but something you can pay to have done for a laugh. So what are the issues and limits remaining in 2.0?

Robo2.0 is destined to be filed, as with the majority of films I see at multiplexes, under ‘Films I Sort of Enjoyed at a Surface Level and Made Me Well Up at Times, Containing the Obvious, Ubiquitous Tropes I’m Tired Of’, cross referenced with ‘Completely Lacking Subtlety and Self-Awareness’. The problem with Robocop 2.0 is painfully obvious. It’s a film produced by MGM & Columbia, distributed by Columbia, Sony, Universal, Disney and 20th Century Fox, that attempts to critique corporate culture. What more can it do than have a slapdash chew on the hand that feeds it? The original touched on Evil Corporatism only to the extent that it needed to to drive the plot (it is unable “to locate the real sources of alienation and reification. At no moment does Robocop suggest that the numerous serious social issues it raises — from nuclear disaster to monopoly control — are inherent in or fundamentally related to the corporate system it critiques.” – Best)

2.0 critiques the use of unmanned drone warfare and the corporate media industry, while avoiding any critique of the nature of human-perpetrated, emotionally-assessed violence i.e. ‘normal’ warfare, or its own lacking of diverse female characters or people of colour who weren’t always in possession of a gun, for example.

José Padilha is a filmmaker who genuinely wants to discuss the ethical issues raised in 2.0. Also a documentary filmmaker, he made the fantastic Bus 174, a documentary about Sandro do Nascimento, a young homeless man who took a bus full of commuters hostage in Rio. Bus 174 has genuine layers of complexity and consideration, examining not only the incompetence of the police officers who caused far more harm than Sandro, but also the conditions of poverty which led Sandro to crime, the media’s involvement, and the context behind the police’s inability to function optimally. While Padilha clearly, far too clearly, wants to discuss the sensationalism and breakdown of journalistic practices, the disingenuousness of the PR and marketing industries, and the ethical questions and contemporary dynamics of nature and technology in a runaway corporate environment, all of these are necessarily packaged and glossed to inhabit the well-worn structure designed to shut down the need for any questioning and action above that which RoBroCop can give us with his slick, gunny badassery and unavoidable murder of All The Bad People.

I still appreciated 2.0 for its employment and update of the original premise. I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennet Norton, the film’s protagonist, who contains the ethical storyline within the film. I have my suspicions that the part of Norton was actually written not so well, but that Gary Oldman Gary Oldman’d it to the extent where it’s impossible to focus on anything except his pure, sweet unraveling of Gary Oldmanity. The Omnicorp team were very well played, but undeveloped past the point of multi-antagonist, evil-Richard-Bransons. The tension between humanity, emotion and the industrial rejection of them was the theme most successfully communicated, and was given at least thirty seconds of subtlety (before the guitar player informs us “…without emotion, I can’t play”, after being unable to play because of his emotions.)

The reflection on what creates extreme emotion in humans, and the subsequent effects of the refusal and suppression of those emotions by ourselves and numerous branches of society, was the only topic that wasn’t distractingly and messily spoon-fed. Murphy’s manipulation and co-option by corporations for profit, his alienation from his humanity, personality, purpose and family, and his seemingly doomed resistance to all these things can be read as a legitimate reflection of contemporary capitalist power dynamics at work, and certainly reminded me of the near-fatal series of events which led to my own transformation into a dead-eyed, soul-crushed automaton.

Ultimately, the film takes itself just a bit too seriously whilst treading just a bit too lightly to function as a decisive political comment. To go back to Best’s examination of Robocop1.0: “While Robocop is an action spectacle, a romance, a comedy, and a revenge fantasy” and “a complex, subversive, and even utopian text which addresses the problem of human alienation within a techno-capitalist society […] it teaches the lesson that good always wins. It tells us that social order is possible only through the imposition and acceptance of external authority and that, most importantly, a moribund capitalism is more desirable than any alternative world which might emerge from its destruction.” He continues that some “will be mesmerized by the sheer spectacle of the film and come away only with a remembrance of its surface pleasures. For still others, the film will sharpen — or awaken — their skepticism toward media, capitalism, and technology.” But due to the industry-standard structure of narrative film (which works, and I have followed myself when writing), and the form(ula) by which films will be accepted into the mainstream market, “we see the usual contradiction between progressive textual encodings and traditional narrative form. […] It climactically completes the metaphysics of closure, resolution, and redemption that structures the film.” For all the improvements 2.0 makes on Verhoeven’s Robocop, it still fails in making the radical challenges it purports to be. The character of Murphy/Robocop himself is an ambiguous, and dangerous, figure of justice.

At radical or political film screenings, the question ‘so what next?’ is almost always raised, and a frequent criticism of political films is that they highlight problems but pose no solutions. This is the wrong approach to political films – films are a communication, a discussion. They are a point from which to discuss, act and reflect; a call to several different types of arms rather than a hermetically sealed doctrine. Films that tell you exactly what is, rather than helping us to understand processes, should be handled carefully and with even more discussion and reflection than those which leave the audience with questions and ambiguous endings. Films are very good at transmitting feelings and ideas. In that way, they function best as non-dogmatic, temporary guidebooks. Every film, and every type of cultural act, is a political one. Romantic comedies and animated children’s films are political films; they all tell us something about how to govern ourselves and our lives, and what they choose not to include are often the most politically charged areas. Best to consistently examine what you consume and how you consume it, because the corporate media industry, like any other, is pretty warped; full of contradictory information and power hungry assholes. Robocop told me so, twice. Seems legit.

 

Elizabeth The Third Articles by elizabeththethird about the politics of the media. Often feminist readings of culture and communication, but also general reflections and critiques on the workings of our cultural landscape. Follow @elizabethethird

Unilever’s Project Sunlight: PR & Cognitive Dissonance by @Elizabethethird

(Cross-posted with permission from Elizabeth the Third)

 

As most narratives do, it starts with a question. Luckily, we only have to wait about four minutes to find out the answer. But if we are astute and attuned enough, whether consciously or not, we already know the answer.

 

I cannot watch this advert without crying; mainly because the song they’ve used, a piano cover of The Pixies’ Where is My Mind (that I suspect they used science to engineer for emotional assassination) holds particular significance for me. Were this an advert for Cillit Bang Brought to You by Barry Scott, I would still have to bite back tears each time the opening was forced upon me via the YouTube videos I intend to watch. Quite apart from this historical broker between that music and my tearducts, this advert works. Very well, and on several levels.

The programmed sadness felt at seeing the opening images of global conflict reflecting the slogan “Why bring a child into this world?” is matched only by the cognitive dissonance that this produces; sadness meeting the typhoon of anger, frustration and desperation created by “Project Sunlight.”

Why bring a child into this world?  Because, Unilever.

Here is Project Sunlight’s ‘message’, delivered with gravitas by its earnest narrator:

Maybe there’s something you should know about the world in which your child will live.

Something real.

Something that’s already happening.

Every day, more and more food is being grown with a revolutionary new method: care.

And new technologies will make clean drinking water available to hundreds of millions.

So this will probably be the famous water wall they speak so much about.

And illnesses that today affect millions of children a year will be prevented with simple, everyday products.

Your child could have more possibilities of having a healthier heart than any living person today.

And the same chance of a broken heart. No one can escape that.

But we have no doubt about one this: they’ll always have a tree in which to hide and cry.

And by the time they find the right person, our children will have better chances of meeting their great-grandchildren than we ever did.

Breathe calmly. Bring your child into this world.

There has never been a better time to create a bright future for everyone on the planet.

For those yet to come.

 In text it looks bland and unconvincing, but to music, and over images of pregnant women and crying fathers, thirsty children and war, the mind and soul are wrung out to exhaustion. It’s enough to make you want to forget it all with a cup of PG Tips or some Hellman’s mayonnaise, safe in the knowledge that “something’s already happening” (and your money contributed to it. You’re part of the solution, the wise-choice-making legion.)

My immediate response before the Skip Ad button was cynicism, and so I didn’t watch the advert until after about a week of them trying to shove it down my senses. But once I’d seen it through (thinking perhaps it might spur a good article,) a sense of guilt formed. The best of humanity; curiosity, hope, need, striving; has been so skillfully employed that the philosophical quandary (that I’m going to call the Bernays Mind Fondle) becomes almost unrecognizable. How can we criticize a company that gives us hope, that wants a better future for our children, that is optimistic, that engages with everything that WE want?

The message Unilever has co-opted – that we all play a part in changing the present and thus the future for our fellow beings – is undeniable. It is something that I often shove into others’ senses during heated discussion; what, for example, is the good of revolutionising our society or overthrowing our governments if we can’t acknowledge and understand our own basic dynamics, our abusive and corrupt relationships with each other? Each one of us needs to make better choices at an individual level. (Where, exactly, is the most complex and worthwhile part.)

The point remains. And those tricksy bastards have utilized the daylights out of it. I’m certain that they believe themselves, that they honestly buy their own message. Maybe that is really all they see, maybe there isn’t a fat, rich Unilever CEO cackling within an editing suite that looks like the Crystal Maze’s Crystal Dome, full of red, glinting fifties dancing around him. Maybe.

What information does Unilever give us to back up their claim of “no doubt that we’ll always have trees to hide and cry in?” That technology will be able to manufacture an abundance of the clean water we are running out of? What do Unilever have to say about increasing economic inequality and environmental destruction and intrinsical global corporate crime? What exactly is their five-year-plan for tackling these threats to our present and future?

Unilever isn’t inspiring hope and change, it’s selling us Unilever products, all of which can be found on the Project Sunlight page with blurb on how each Walls’ ice cream is stemming the tide of poverty and each spread of Flora decreasing the use of rape as a weapon of war. Every corporation is obliged to make a profit for its shareholders. Before anyone else’s well being, including that of its shareholders and its shareholders’ potentially thirsty, poverty-stricken grandchildren, it is required to make some people some money this quarter.

The site displays a counter of over 50 million ‘Acts of Sunlight’ performed to date. What are these wonderful acts that will bolster life for our children’s children’s children’s children? It’s the tweets what people’ve twotten, tagging #brightfuture and #projectsunlight…including one from Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. While promoting the Project she wears @LoreeRodkin jewellery and #captoepodium pumps.

For how long can well chosen music and PR strategy fool us into believing that ‘everything will be alright’ as long as we understand that Unilever and its counterparts know best? That we just need to get it into our stressed-out minds that we can trust them and we should leave it up to the well-intending, green-washed corporations to take the lead on all global decisions and power play? It’s a diversion that has worked pretty well so far. We, of course, need to take action, be more responsible for what we do, and make significant, radical changes to protect and prevent and build something new. But we each need to engage in this in our own relevant but personal way, always remembering that the personal is political. Real change can’t be achieved by the likes of Project Sunlight, so the sooner we galvanise our alternative projects, the better.

Elizabeth The Third Articles  about the politics of the media. Often feminist readings of culture and communication, but also general reflections and critiques on the workings of our cultural landscape. Follow @elizabethethird

I HOPE YOU GET RAINED ON at The Sphinx Thinks

I HOPE YOU GET RAINED ON

 

Why I was on strike

I don’t usually speak. It’s not a straightforward lack of confidence: I usually feel pretty confident, and I have no problem talking to a group, or asserting myself with strangers. But, when it comes to speaking out about something I actually believe in or care about, I just don’t speak up in public. It’s probably as a result of being shamed for being clever throughout my formative years, which trained me to be quiet, hide my opinion, and feign stupidity (all strategies for avoiding unwanted attention). In these ways, I am not always a good academic, although I’m always benefitting in hundreds of ways, large and small, from being an academic: Teaching, reading, thinking, writing, presenting and explaining my research.

I mention all of this only as a prelude to the following essay, which has been prompted by today’s strike action for fair pay in Higher Education, in which I took part. I stood on the picket line from 8:00am-11:30am outside my university, SOAS. When I’m not teaching or writing my PhD there, I work in a newsagent’s. In my capacity as the person who stands behind the till, I have quite a lot of experience in opening conversations with people I don’t know. My usual approach to anyone who appears to be over the age of forty is to keep it quite formal, and I employed the same approach whilst on strike, since I presume that getting people to stop and listen to you is easier if they think you’re an alright person. So that’s what I did today. “Good morning,” I said to a grey-business man as he advanced towards me. He looked me right in the eyes, inexplicably angry, and without breaking his stride he spat at me: “I HOPE YOU GET RAINED ON!!” crossed the line, and hurried inside.

To that man, on the extremely slim chance you read this: Don’t be an abusive bumhat to people who are spending part of their otherwise productive working day outside in the freezing cold, just to get their employer to acknowledge that it might be a good idea to pay a fair wage. You may disagree with the politics of a strike, you may disagree with the concept of fair wages, but either way, you don’t get to behave as though you are a superior species. I didn’t get chance to say that at the time so it feels good to get that off my chest. I don’t usually speak: I am not the sort of person who writes a blog post about every single thing that happens to me. Today is different, and this essay is about something that has become the defining feature of my life: financing my PhD.

The story actually starts before I was born. Neither of my parents went to university, and I was the first in my mum’s side of the family to do so. This meant that I had no concrete expectations about what university life would or should be- in particular, I did not know about getting funding. Obviously, I got a loan from the Student Loans Company, but it wasn’t until I was well into my (part-time self-funded) MSc that I found out I could have applied for grants and/or scholarships. Neither the former polytechnic where I took my undergraduate degree (first class honours), nor the Russell Group institution where I did my masters, had the slightest interest in how I was funding my current or future studies.
Of course, had I the faintest idea that it was something I was able or expected to do, I could easily have researched sources of funding. My point is that a combination of my life experiences and lack of guidance meant that I literally didn’t know it was possible for me to apply for a scholarship or a grant. Working class and lower-middle class kids and their families can be completely clueless about the inner workings of the behemoth that is the higher education-bureaucracy. Our class is no longer a formal barrier to higher education, but our cluelessness still disadvantages us, compared to parents who can draw on their personal experience, or pupils at schools that invest time in preparing them for university.

Since graduating in 2007, I have worked to fund my studies; but since about 2010 my part-time wages haven’t even covered the cost of living. So I’ve taken loans, more-or-less cancelled my social life, sponged off the overwhelming generosity of my family, got a credit card, extended my overdraft… I have scraped the bottom of the barrel so many times that it has almost worn away. And I am so, so lucky to have had access to any kind of barrel for scraping. (My parents have remortgaged their house several times to support their children. But what happens to the children of those who don’t own their home?) After living this way for three years, I am now making a last-ditch effort: taking a year out from my studies to try to earn the money that will allow me to complete my PhD. The risk of this strategy is that if I’m not able to afford my fees in September 2014, the university won’t let me go back to finish my doctorate. Ever.

In short: I’ve had to fund my studies without support from the institutions that, in theory, exist to support high-achieving students- even though I have always been a high-achieving student (I was a boffin at school- see my prelude, above). As a more-or-less direct result of that lack of funding, I’m now experiencing some relatively serious cash-flow problems, like 99% of the country. What do I want? Sympathy? I do realise how whiny this may sound: ‘Woe is me, with my university education and my first world problems. My diamond shoes are too tight.’ Well, I’m not asking for your sympathy. My contention is that my problems are not my own, that my situation is just one illustration of some of the problems within Higher Education in the UK.*  These are not problems that can be considered or solved an individual basis. Rather, my personal academic-financial crisis should be considered as a result of the recession, the subsequent cuts to the higher education budget, and the consequences this is having for the employment prospects of PhD students and so-called ‘early career researchers,’ many of whom might as well be called ‘potential-career researchers’ (or ‘unemployed’).

This is the current situation and the immediate future at which many current and recent PhD students are balking, and/or crying. The PhD is basically the gateway to working as an academic: it’s a vocational qualification as much as anything else. What getting a PhD involves, essentially, is two years of expensive and masochistic training, possibly including field research, then wading through the aptly-named valley of shit, trying but probably failing to publish in a respected journal, finally finishing your thesis, passing your viva, and spending 3 to 12 months on corrections. All this, whilst surviving hand-to-mouth on a combination of freeganism, Poundland-sourced caffeine, and eating the envelopes in which the utilities companies send their notices of final warning. Your family will not hear from you except when you need an emergency cash injection, you can say goodbye to your previous level of health and fitness for it will go into a fast and steep decline, and you will no longer have any friends outside the university.

If you are not a PhD student, just take notice of the mental fatigue you have suffered from just reading my highly detailed and accurate account of academic life, and you will come close to understanding how hard it is to do a PhD. Imagine now, that after all that work, that you actually become Dr Whomever: PhD students arebeing told that in the current climate we probably won’t find a job in higher education for at least six months – it’s probably more like a matter of years. When we do get an academic job, it will probably be teaching on a ‘zero-hours’ and/or temporary contract, and we may only be paid for the hours we spend in the classroom (not for preparation, marking etc)… a bit like the jobs we already have in fact. We will remain junior staff members well into our forties and have little job security before then. To add to our already-high stress levels, we will probably have at least £10,000 of personal debt (I will have about £22,000). The knock-on effects may mean not being able to afford a mortgage, or not having enough money to have children or get married in the way we want to (NB. that one is not a problem for me), and almost certainly nothing left at the end of the month for savings or a private pension. And just to be absolutely clear: I’m talking about the jobs we will be getting for the 10 years after we fucking graduate. Morale among the PhD students with whom I am acquainted is quite low, as if there are beatings scheduled on a regular basis for the next decade.

With things the way they are now, our already precarious positions are not likely to become significantly more stable unless we are (individually) very, very lucky. This is the situation into which today’s strike attempts to intervene. The strike is part of an ongoing pay dispute between the unions and UCEA, over the former’s rejection of the latter’s offer of a paltry 1% pay increase, and the former’s justified rejection of that offer. The unions’ demand is for an increase of 3.1%, which seems modest when the current rates of pay are effectively 13% lower than four years ago, UK universities have over £1 billion in the bank, and the cost of living is up by 15%. If the unions succeed and are able to negotiate a greater pay increase, not only will current academic staff benefit. Such a victory might make it easier for the unions to negotiate for similar pay increases in further and higher education in the future.

Whether or not this industrial action is successful, it is ethically, politically, and ideologically necessary as a demand that the labour of academics should be recognised for the benefits it actually brings to society. That education is a good in its own right has become something of a truism thanks to its prominence in the rhetoric of recent student protests. Nevertheless, certainly it is true for me- and accepting its truth requires the acknowledgement that learning doesn’t stop at or after the PhD stage. Actually, the more highly-qualified members of a university community are also still learning- and without them (teaching fellows, lecturers, professors), there wouldn’t be any education because there wouldn’t be anyone to do the teaching.

What I would like to see is a higher education system based on the principle of education as a good to which anyone and everyone has access, certainly not privatised or managed for-profit. A fair wage for academics should obviously be a living wage, but it should also reward the long years of hard work that are spent achieving the necessary expertise and qualifications. It would be enough to allow for the repayment of any debts incurred en route- as with surgeons, lawyers, engineers, musicians, etc. After all, regardless of whether a surgeon is “really” more valuable to society than an academic, for surgeons to exist there need to be universities full of academics who can teach them (not only medicine itself but the history of medicine, bioethics, medical anthropology…). Unfortunately, I think that our dedication to education might be one of the reasons why the university system is able to take academics for granted. We would do the teaching out of love for our students and we do our research for love of our topics and disciplines. We are still there in universities and colleges, making our contribution, even though we are not very well paid. That is why I joined the union, and that is why I was on strike. I refuse to allow myself, or my brilliant and passionate colleagues, to be exploited.
* Other problems in UK HE sector include: 1. That it’s a “sector” now. 2. Ancient campuses and buildings that “cannot” be adapted to make them accessible to disabled students. 2. Institutional racism. Only 8% of UK professors are black or from an ethnic minority background. Even scholars of Africa are unlikely to be from Africa (for example: me). 3. Privatisation of various functions of universities (halls of residence, catering & cleaning, even student debt) when their status is as public institutions. Feel free to add to this list.

Eleanor Higgs: I am a feminist and an aspiring academic in London, UK. This is my (infrequently updated) blog, featuring posts related to my Ph.D. research. Topics I am interested in include: the women’s movement in Kenya, especially the YWCA; histories of colonisation and missionary movements in East Africa; African Christianities and theologies; and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in relation to Christian ethics.

Stupidity is a Talent for Misconception at CreateEducateDeviate

(Cross-posted from Create Educate Deviate)

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1.    Vending Machines

If you asked me what I knew about Japan before I arrived unfortunately I might have said, .”..don’t they have vending machines selling schoolgirls’ used knickers?”  Within in this one misconception lie many layers of ignorance and assumption about Japan, technology and sexuality. It‘s a complex county and I have been here only for a short time but I’m already undoing many of my misconceptions.

There are many vending machines in Japan. They’re everywhere, but the majority of them sell drinks, plastic toys or ice cream. Some of them sell beer. A friend was telling me she questioned why the Japanese teenagers didn’t buy beer from the vending machines, they have no locks or ID checks, on them, “because they are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are 20” was the simple answer. They are not allowed to, so they don’t. This may have been a Japanese adult misconception too. I would imagine Japanese teens are sneaking beers out of the vending machines but I’m not sure.

But I am sure that if you put a beer vending machine in the middle of Lancing (where I used to work) the beer and quite possibly the entire machine would be gone within minutes, and the teens of Lancing would be partying hard.

2.   Neon

I blame Bladrunner. Not once since I arrived have I been in a flying car zooming past huge neon billboards with beautiful women advertising exotic products. Instead if you can, imagine my shock at arriving and being given an apartment here:

I expected Gotham City and I got Jane Austen.

My need for neon led me to traipse around Tokyo seeking out ‘Japan’ and missing out the fact that I was right in the middle of the capital city. I was in Japan it just didn’t look like the 1980s  vision of the future I had expected.

I have moved away from the countryside now and have a city view with a couple of neon signs visible in the distance. Please remember I had been living for two years in Sao Paulo where billboard advertising was mainly banned in the city.

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/07/sao-paulo-city-with-no-outdoor.html

Now I was in Japan I wanted NEON.

3.   Efficiency

Not only does Sao Paulo have no outdoor advertising, Brazil also has a love of confusing and protracted bureaucracy, from the simplest task to complex visa requirements. My Brazilian Visa took 6 months to obtain, my Japanese one less than 6 weeks.

One night in SP I went out to see a band. To get a drink you had to queue 3 times, first to look at the drinks menu, then a new queue to order a drink, then the 3rd queue to pick up your drink order. Although Japan is thought of as  super efficient sometimes Japan and Brazil are not so different. In the Japanese supermarket you put your shopping in your basket and take it to the till. They get a new basket and put your shopping very neatly and carefully in to a new basket as they ring each item through. You then pay and take this new basket to the special bagging area (supplied with additional packing materials) and unpack the shopping again to repack it in to your shopping bags.

In contrast to Brazil however, Japanese efficiency tends to work (Brazilian bureaucracy seems to drift round making you dance but is always presented with a smile). In Japan my train has arrived on time, every day, to the minute, without fail. No leaves on the line or excessive heat on the tracks causing cancellations like good old British Rail (RIP). When I arrived in the country they took my photo at customs (thanks, I looked great after almost 24 hours travelling) and created my resident card on the spot. My Brazilian card arrived just in time, at the end of my two-year visa. Japan is efficient? Yes. Over efficient? Possibly.

4.   Technology

Ok, so my first Japanese apartment had a talking bath. It would fill the tub with exactly the right amount of water to the perfect temperature. I miss her voice reminding me to put the plug in. My new apartment has an ordinary tap and the only voices I hear are the ones in my head (you are dirty, you will never be clean…).

I  had one Bladerunner moment. I was in an huge electronics shop in Kyoto over excited and overwhelmed by the displays of gadgetry, fingers itching to spend spend send spend. I had that too hot shop feeling when you have six layers on and your coat is too heavy. I couldn’t see the exit and I was starting to get panicked that I was going to spend two months salary on a pair of headphones. There was a female voice with a slow computerised British accent explaining the deals of the day. If the Terminator had blasted the Bose display in search of Replicants I wouldn’t have been shocked.

But I digress; the technology on sale here is fantastic. I’m sure my Epsom printer is capable of world domination once I work out what the hell the instructions are saying. Or maybe the kanji are just another reminder to put the plug in the bath.

But it’s just not quite as high tech as I expected. I noticed a pay phone on the train platform. Low-tech yes, but practical. It was the paper copy of the phone book underneath that disappointed me. Paper? This was not the technology I was expecting. Where were the robot butlers?

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Japan has a love for paper. Not just beautiful handmade pages but cold hard cash.  I have rarely seen people pay by card. This is a society that generally pays in cash. It’s so safe you can carry your wealth in paper form.  Every note is pristine. This is could due to the Japanese government printing extra money to boost the economy or anther example of Japanese efficiency. Either way I have always had two purses. In Brazil it was one real purse, one purse to give to the robbers. Here it is one coin purse and one hermetically sealed note storage device. No more crumpled fivers shoved in a pocket, and Sellotaped and snot stained.

5.   Kawaii

Those who know me well, know among the myriad of ways there are to annoy me, a good one is to call me cute. I am not cute I am a large loud mouthed woman who stomps around arguing unnecessarily. I’m still not entirely sure why I came to the land of cute characters. They are everywhere. I saw a Police van, presumably designed for rounding up rioters or drunks? Cute little police mascot stuck on the side.

I was expecting cute and crazy fashion everywhere. I was expecting kawaii girls. What I see in reality is endless streams of school children dressed in hideous nylon sailor dresses or navy synthetic round collared jackets. Japanese school uniforms look incredibly unconformable, impractical cheap itchy fabrics. But no pink haired crazy girls in cosplay. As I sit on the train in the morning most people look the same there is uniformity in everyday Japanese fashion that you don’t find in the UK. As I travel I realise my beloved Brighton is a place where anything goes and although this is sometimes carte blanche for middle class wankers to live out hippy fantasies it also makes for a more interesting train carriage.

As I attempt to assimilate in to another new culture I realise once again, that what I think I know I don’t know and what I didn’t know is probably a lot more useful.

Japan is fascinating and I am prepared to be surprised.

 

create educate deviate: Blog chronicles the experiences of moving to, first Brazil and now Japan. Reflections on language identity and education.The viewpoint of single 40 year old woman who left behind her familiar world for new adventures.

What Needs to be Done to End Corrective Rape by @not_alone_uk

Not Alone – Fighting ‘Corrective’ Rape

allAfrica.com: South Africa: Brave Women and Burnt-Out Cops

allAfrica: African news and information for a global audience

The general gist of this piece is that police are worked so hard and are so burnt out that they therefore fail to offer care to victims of ‘corrective’ rape.

While I can sympathise with the difficulties facing ordinary South African police officers, I don’t feel that this is any sort of justification or even a reasoned excuse.

This issue seems to boil down to a complete lack of education about gender and sexuality and deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of femininity and masculinity.

 

South Africa’s Law to Stop Hate Crimes Against Gays – Inter Press Service

“Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corre

We’ve seen bits of this piece used in other articles before but I’m adding it to the blog because it emphasises that the key to reducing ‘corrective’ rape is education.

It also seems to offer some hope.

 

What needs to be done?

In Action Aid’s 2009 report they finished with a list of actions that must be taken to tackle the practice of ‘corrective’ rape. This is the list; I’ll be looking into whether the recommendations have been acted on, and will report back.

The South African government must:

  • Uphold the South African constitution’s prohibition of discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, including by tackling the rising tide of violence against lesbian women.
  • Demonstrate its commitment to action in this area, by signing the UN’s declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity condemning violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Bring all perpetrators of violence against women to justice.
  • Make tackling sexual violence a national priority for the criminal justice system and allocate adequate resources for investigations, as well as appropriate training and incentives for the police and judiciary.
  • Recognise hate crimes against lesbian and transgender women as a specific crime category supported by the necessary resources to investigate and bring these crimes to court.
  • Include sexual orientation as grounds for protection against hate speech in the proposed Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill.
  • Allocate resources for adequate services for survivors of sexual violence, including post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV transmission and emergency contraception.
  • Ensure specific HIV services are available and accessible to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, including lesbian women.
  • Take action to tackle gender discrimination and violence against women, including economic empowerment measures and community education programmes.

The international community must:

  • Recognise violence against women as the most widespread human rights violation and a key security issue.
  • Prioritise and take steps to guarantee women’s security, by addressing violence against women in all its manifestations.

The UK government must:

  • Ensure the forthcoming UK government-wide strategy on tackling violence against women, announced in January 2009 by the Home Office, includes an action plan to address this issue at international level.
  • Ensure that DFID funding for its HIV programme in South Africa prioritises tackling gender discrimination and violence against women, as key drivers of the HIV pandemic.
  • Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as part of its recent ‘programme for promoting the human rights of LGBT people’, work with the South African government towards recognition, effective investigation and prosecution of hate crime against LGBT people.
  • Support civil society organisations in low and middle-income countries, including South Africa to challenge gender discrimination and empower women.

 

Abbi Davies: I blog about all sorts of things that interest me, including charity marketing, feminism, veganism, running, international politics and mental health. I’ve also recently started a Tumblr with the aim of curating information, and raising awareness, about the practice of ‘corrective’ rape:fightingcorrectiverape.tumblr.com @not_alone_uk

Corrective Rape by @not_alone_uk

Through @not_alone_uk and fightingcorrectiverape.tumblr.com, I’m curating information, news articles, and opinion pieces about the brutal practice of ‘corrective’ rape, with the hope of creating a useful information archive and raising awareness.

‘Corrective’ rape is where someone is raped because of their perceived sexuality. The idea being that they can be ‘cured’ or made ‘straight’. It is a particularly prevalent occurrence in South Africa where perpetrators are very seldom prosecuted in spite of the fact that South African LGBTI people have more legal rights than those in other African countries, but it occurs in many other parts of the world.

When I first heard about ‘corrective’ rape, I found it fairly difficult to find information about it online so I decided to build a place where all the information could be housed in one place, allowing us to educate ourselves easily.”

LGBT South Africans have more protected rights than in any other African nation…and yet ‘corrective’ rape is more common there than anywhere else.

In South Africa, where ‘corrective’ rape is most common, “same-sex marriage is legal and LGBT rights are included in the Constitution, which was ratified in 1996. Legally, LGBT South Africans have more protected rights than in any other African nation.”

To me, the article linked below accurately highlights the fact that in making something (previously legal) illegal, you need to invest time and money in educating people about why you’ve done that.

Those in power may know that ‘corrective rape’ is wrong, or may have been influenced by international pressure, but if they don’t set about explaining their reasoning to people, and reinforcing the new law with the requisite punishment, the inhumanity and ‘wrongness’ of ‘corrective’ rape will not establish itself as a cultural value.

http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2013/07/10/op-ed-other-ex-gay-therapy?page=0,0

 

 

 

Abbi Davies: I blog about all sorts of things that interest me, including charity marketing, feminism, veganism, running, international politics and mental health. I’ve also recently started a Tumblr with the aim of curating information, and raising awareness, about the practice of ‘corrective’ rape:fightingcorrectiverape.tumblr.com @not_alone_uk

Don’t risk Veet by @SisterTrinity

Don’t risk Veet

Veet’s latest advertising campaign “Don’t risk dudeness”, which shows a woman who has failed to keep her body hairless as turning into a man, is psychological warfare against women. This is one hairy-legged feminist’s response.

I was just a kid in 1999 when the movie Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, hit the screens. I wasn’t any more or less interested in that than your average girl in the western Anglophone world. But to this day, when I close my eyes, I can picture the dress Julia Roberts wore to the premiere and the way she wore her hair. Why? Because a photo of her flooded the media that year. It showed her raising an arm and waving to someone, with armpit hair clearly visible, and this image burned itself into my brain forever.

It wasn’t only the utterly unfamiliar sight of a woman with unshaved armpits that etched itself into my memory (I can still count on one hand the women with visible body hair that I have seen in the media). It was also the frenzied way in which the media seized upon it, ridiculed her, that left a strong impression on my young mind. I’m sure I am far from alone in this. Whether via Julia Roberts or perhaps that slightly eccentric teacher who didn’t shave and who everyone made fun of, at some point we all learned that it is unacceptable to be a woman with body hair.

Like most girls of my generation, I began removing my body hair as soon as it showed up. I went many years with shaved legs, never questioning why society required me to do this but didn’t demand the same of men. In fact, the thought of not doing it would have seemed absurd (and how could it not, when a few hairs on a famous actress were powerful enough to cause such a media circus?). But when I started to really question it and examine why women remove their body hair, I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. If society is telling me that there is something wrong with a natural part of my body, and so I must remove it, even comparing this part of me to dirt (it’s always implied that being unshaven also means being badly groomed/unhygienic for women while nobody would suggest a man with body hair is “dirty”), then surely it is society that should change and not I, and surely whatever society is making me do to myself is anything but an act of self-love.

One day as I looked at the changing appearance of my shins, an astounding thought struck me: this is what girls should be experiencing in puberty, but we don’t. As girls enter puberty, their body hair grows, just like boys’ does, and if we didn’t live in a misogynistic society, girls would grow accustomed to this during puberty, just like boys do. But we do live in a misogynistic society; a society that reduces us to bodies that must be sexually available to men; a society that imposes harmful, costly and time-consuming “beauty” practices to make us look as different from and appealing to men as possible. And here I was, as a grown woman, only just learning what my adult body actually looked like. Hadn’t society kept me physically prepubescent, childlike, in a way? It was a scary thought.

It’s not only scary, it’s also infuriating how we are all made to see women’s natural bodies as abominations of nature in need of fixing. This society turns ‘woman’ into a costume we must squeeze into every day before we leave the house. We don’t have to adorn, cut or fix ourselves to be women. We just are. But society will not just let us be. Only two days ago, I tweeted “Why do people say women with body hair look ‘masculine’? Because men are the only ones allowed to have any. Perfectly circular.”

And then Veet, a company selling hair removal products, entered the picture and provided me with a stronger confirmation of my statement than I would ever have wanted to see. Veet has gone a step further than all the other body-shaming, misogynistic hair removal ads I have seen so far: instead of just being ‘masculine’ or ‘unwomanly’ if we don’t remove what is a natural part of our adult female bodies, their new ad campaign tells us that this literally turns us into men. Let that sink in for a second: unless we spend time, money and effort on changing our natural female selves, we are non-women.

A series of 30-second commercials shows people such as the female protagonist’s male partner, a beautician and a taxi driver reacting in speechless revulsion and horror as they catch a glimpse of the woman’s body hair – and then we see that the skinny, pretty white model has been replaced with a pudgy, hirsute white man with unkempt-looking hair and a bushy beard. With his chest hair and stomach rolls spilling out of ill-fitting and highly feminine clothes, the intended message is driven home: we are grotesque, unlovable creatures that should not be, unless we buy their product and rid ourselves of this nauseating proof that we, too, are grown human beings.

Women haven’t been expected to shave their armpits and legs for all that long. Around 1915, advertisers in the US began pushing the notion that women had to remove “objectionable” underarm hair so they could wear the new sleeveless fashions in style. By the 1920s, they had largely succeeded in normalizing the practice. Most women in those days didn’t feel any need to shave their legs even though dresses and skirts were not all ankle-length. In the 1940s, the decade of sheer stockings and pin-up models, this changed and hair on women’s legs, too, was made fully “objectionable”.

It is 2014, almost exactly 100 years since the start of the campaign to make women’s underarm hair unacceptable, and the pressure to make ourselves hairless from chin to toe has only increased. Feminism has not succeeded in re-normalizing what should be normal. Instead we have a whole generation of boys and men who, thanks to the proliferation of pornography, also find every last trace of female pubic hair “objectionable”, and girls and women who see no other choice but to do what men expect and what we have been taught to see as attractive. It is 2014, and we are now being told that we are no longer even women if we don’t conform to this practice, this fashion. And the woman-hating consumerist propaganda will not stop there, unless women fight and effect massive global change.

It is incredibly hard to defy cultural norms, and this is especially true for women trying to defy beauty norms. In male-dominated society, our perceived value as people is made entirely dependent on our sexual availability to men and our appearance. Not only do we internalize this, we also internalize what society tells us about what is an attractive appearance and what isn’t. Did I find my legs less ‘pretty’ in their hairy state? Honestly, of course I did. The few women with body hair that I saw growing up were all ridiculed and called ugly. But I told myself: they’re legs. They’re for walking. Not for being pretty. I wanted to be free from the creeping shame I used to feel, like clockwork, as soon as stubble began to show (which is basically always when your skin is nearly translucent). And as the months passed, I became more and more accepting of myself, my body, and of the way adult women actually look.

Now I look fondly at my own legs, because not only do they serve their dual purpose of taking me from one place to the next and providing a space for cats to sit, the hair also keeps me warmer and serves as a small reminder that we can overcome the feelings of self-hate and insecurity patriarchal society instills in us if we try.

Feminists are often confronted with the cliché of the “hairy-legged manhater”. Many react by vocally denying this characterization. Instead, I’d like you to remember that “hairy-legged” is only an insult if you let it be. Even if you don’t want to rebel by chucking out your razor, please respect the courage of those women who do and big them up instead of distancing yourself (“hairy-legged manhater” is also a dog whistle against lesbians).

I’ll leave you with a comment posted under an article about the only celebrity woman I have seen proudly showing leg hair on a red carpet, Mo’Nique: “When the sight of a man with a beard evokes the kind of visceral hostility and disgust that a woman with unshaved legs does, I’ll believe that the command to shave my legs is a harmless social custom rather than an attack on my womanhood.”

The beauty norms imposed on us are indeed all but harmless, and women who refuse to comply with them are rightly seen as a danger to patriarchy. We are so determined to be ourselves and to be free that we will go against everything society teaches us, and that’s dangerous. To those who are in the business of controlling women, that is.

Hear that, Veet? Not only are my hairy legs natural and womanly, they are a political statement. They are defiance of patriarchy and consumerist brainwashing, and I refuse to let you poison me with self-hate. Take your shameful misogyny back to 1915 and leave women alone.

These legs were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do…you know the rest.

Signed, @SisterTrinity

On giving up not being a writer … the first day at Blues in a Tea Cup

(Cross-posted from Blues in a Tea Cup)

This has been the first day of my ‘Give it up for One25′ challenge. I’m trying to give up ‘not being a writer’. I’m asking people to sponsor me to write at least 500 words every day from now for the next 125 days, to raise money for One25‘s amazing work with street sex workers in Bristol. This blog is the record of my journey.

At least in theory, giving up not doing something turns the negative of ‘giving up’ into a positive, so I’d love to be able tell you that I leapt out of bed at the first note of the dawn chorus, seized a pen and completed 500 words of epic prose before my first cup of coffee. It wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it’s now 8.46 pm, I’m a little shy of 150 words, and I’m already wondering how long to make myself sit here before I can reasonably justify putting the kettle on again.

So how did the first day go? To be honest, I spent most of it frying eggs. No, really I did. Oh, and cutting the ends off burnt sausages. Doesn’t sound like fertile ground for creativity I’ll admit. But every healthy plant needs a little manure … The fact is, I’ve been working in a local community café for most of the week and it wasn’t manure at all. Not in the negative sense anyway. There hasn’t been a single day when I’ve come home without a fresh idea for a story. At this moment my head feels a bit like my hall cupboard. There’s a treasure trove in that cupboard that includes a twenty-five-year-old bicycle with two flat tyres, an LP by Keef Hartley (the first record I ever bought, I’ll have you know), the hard drive from my old PC, a collection of empty wine bottles and enough pictures to cover the walls of my flat twice over. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it all one day.

But on the whole, I think I’m more likely to find a use for my higgledy-piggledy heap of ideas. The snapshots and snippets I’ve slung into corners and not quite forgotten. Let me have a quick rummage through the last couple of days. Here’s the man at the bus stop. Flame-red trousers and 1970s moustache. Surely he’s not doing anything so mundane as going to Tesco’s? There’s a glint from that amazing sunrise. A flash of yellow from the daffodils in the corner garden. Here’s that woman. So thin a breath of wind might carry her away. She’s telling me her former husband hospitalised her so often she’s lost count. Why would you stay with a man like that? Small wonder she’s necking cheap rosé at 11.30 in the morning. Now here’s Barry. He proposes to the manager every time he comes to the café. He’s had to make do with me this week though. She’s been on holiday. I’ve just found that incident with the hat … and the three policemen … and the man in the yard of the mosque … So many stories, so little paper.

I thought at first I’d struggle to find anything to write about. Instead it seems the problem’s too much choice. Will it be a novel? A short story collection? A string of blog posts? I still don’t know. I do know it’s going to be a memorable journey, and I hope it’s also going to be a life-changing one. Now, I wonder if writing 600 words today means I only need to do 400 tomorrow …

 

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Blues in a tea cup: Currently blogging as part of a charity fundraiser for One25 Charity supporting street sex workers in Bristol. I’ve given up ‘not being a writer’ for 125 days as a sponsored challenge. I plan to continue writing and blogging well beyond the challenge. Themes variable. I’m a lifelong feminist, but I’ve never toed any particular line. I’m an older woman. My writing inevitably reflects this. Domestic abuse and dysfunctional relationships are recurrent themes because of my personal history.

Young Mothers, Child Care & Blame by @prymface

A response to the government’s new policy of sending 2 year olds to school and  Poorer parents shouldn’t feel guilty for spending time with their children by Lola Okolosie focusing on young parents.

As reported, many children lack basic language and counting skills when they start school, and so find it difficult to catch up, leading to the continuing gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged background and those from more affluent ones, even before the age of five. The current early-years system is said to be letting them down and giving children from poor families an ‘unsure start’. Hence the announcement this week from Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that two-year-olds should be sent to school-based nurseries. This policy is well intentioned; reduce inequality by supporting those who are more likely to get left behind – I totally get it. What I feel a little uncomfortable with is the assumption that school based nurseries at a younger age are the natural and only solution. This feeds into an assumption that ‘poor’ children can only catch up in a formal school environment, with the unspoken underlying premise that their parents are ultimately to blame, and any distance between child and parent (especially if the replacement is a ‘professional’) can only be positive.

Being an advocate for young mother’s means that I support young mothers’ rights to choose what is best for their family. The reasons for teenage pregnancy are hugely varied (and for another post!) but, for many, becoming a mother is an opportunity to take more control of their future. However, young mothers, due to sheer practically of being young, overwhelmingly tend to start off poor. Their own material resources at this point of child bearing are low, sometimes none existent. So when you talk about poor mothers, young mothers tend to get lumped in. Correspondingly, when people talk disparagingly about mothers ‘breeding irresponsibly’, ‘milking the system’, living off other people’s taxes and not looking after their children, they often have the image of an irresponsible teenage mother in their head. People therefore think they have right to judge, not only a young woman’s choice to have a baby, but also the choices she makes as a parent. Teenage mothers are considered fair game in a society obsessed with identifying personal failings of others, particularly in mothers!  And no politician with their own public popularity in mind would want to be seen to be sticking up for them!

While middle class parents may get berated for being lucky enough to afford the choice to be a stay at home parent, no one ever suggests that their presence is fundamentally bad for their children. For young parents, however, there is often an automatic assumption that someone older, more important, more middle class, or professional, knows best!

The extent of ‘well meaning’ professionals, with their policies and targets to save the poor, are presenting quite a confused and sometimes conflicted picture. Raising the participation age means that young mothers will be required to be in full time education until they are 18, but DWP also want single parents to be looking for work and getting off benefits, and children’s centres (what’s left of them) want involvement of all teenage parent families in their activities (toteach them good parenting I presume), and public health want all young mothers breastfeeding; I’m sure there are many more. What young parents really need is to be supported in their choices, to be trusted to make the right choice for their own family. Some young parents may feel that school based nursery is the right thing for their child. Others may prefer to spend the time with their children themselves, or use informal childcare that is more familiar to them. For myself, as a parent at 17, I only felt comfortable leaving my son with my mother while I studied part time. I felt extremely lucky to have this opportunity. I’d been put off nurseries for young children after spending 3 weeks in one for my work experience. Hey, I didn’t have a lot of life experience to go on but what I did have I used. It was only about 10 years previous I was ‘playing schools’ with dolls, and I applied the same enjoyment and enthusiasm to playing made up educational games with my son at home. It pleases me immensely that he still remembers these now, although how much this has contributed to him studying Theoretic Physics is admittedly open to question!

 

We all have different experiences and values but on the whole we want to be good parents, and we care about our children. Until we recognise that choices made on this basis should be supported, many families will continue to struggle, or accept paths which do not feel right. Rather than expecting early formal nursery to be the silver bullet for every family with limited resources, we need to look at how different choices can be supported better. Poor and young parents are no less capable of providing positive and enjoyable interaction with their children but they are likely to struggle more if they are stressed and worried about debt or how secure their current housing is. Children can excel in many childcare settings but if the parent they go home to believes that the only positive influence in their child’s lives is those of professionals, then any apparent benefits are surely counter-productive. Parents need to feel confident in their own ability and worth; They need to feel valued, and that their time and presence is recognised as important in their child’s life, whatever their current level of resources. It’s very difficult to fix a parent who doesn’t want to be a good parent, but it’s very easy to undermine and knock the confidence of a good parent who is used to being told she is simply too young or too poor.

 

Prymface is about Promoting Respect for Young Mothers and challenging the stereotypical view of ‘teenage parents’ that seems to encourage judgement and discrimination simply based on age.

‘Teenage’ is just an age group. It doesn’t mean single, uneducated or poor and it definitely does not mean ‘bad parent’. Making assumptions and demonising all young parents is just an ignorant and lazy way of looking down on other people and for some reason, this seems to be a social acceptable form of discrimination!

Prymface is for young mums who feel they don’t fit into the box that others try to put them in, or the mums who are told they are the ‘exception to the rule’ and you wonder what the rule is based on, or who decided the criteria for the box, or why there even needs to be a bloody box. Prymface is for young mums who are bored of all the negativity and shame and guilt they are ‘meant’ to feel just because they did things a different way round.