Surprise! Some Passover Self-Reflection

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This is not the blog post I thought I was going to write tonight. I sat down at my computer and had every intention of writing about Passover. I wanted to write about how easy it is to complain about things when we are stripped of our usual comforts, and how I was thinking that actually we should use this week to think about how lucky we are the other 51 weeks of the year, and not about how this week we’re slightly less satisfied.

But instead I sat down and wrote a post about how I’ve been feeling over the last few months. It must be the right time for me to have done this, because it just happened, without warning.

It was unplanned and is unedited and if self reflection isn’t your thing, then feel free to stop reading now and go and look at something about cats instead.

This may come as a surprise to some of you who may see me as a positive person, who see me as someone who laughs a lot and likes to make others laugh, who can be good natured and as someone who is full of energy. But the last few months have been very hard. I’ve found the winter we just had to be particularly challenging in a lot of ways. I found I wasn’t entirely able to get a grip on my emotions, and try as I might I simply could not pull myself up from where I felt I was – an incredibly low point.

I don’t exactly know what it was that I went through. I haven’t been diagnosed with depression and I don’t know if I’m feeling better now because I’ve come through a rough patch or because I’m in an up phase of mental well being and it’s just a cycle that works in peaks and troughs.  I don’t know if I’ll sink again in a few weeks or if I’ll be fine for the next few months or years.

Here is what I do know:

I felt exhausted and miserable and lonely. I felt like I couldn’t tell people that I was really struggling. I felt like I was lost and no one would find me. I felt like I wanted desperately to ask for help but genuinely didn’t know how. I didn’t know what to ask for. I didn’t want to go out – I couldn’t, I didn’t have the energy – but I didn’t want to be alone. Nothing made me feel better. I kept crying and couldn’t remember what happy felt like. I felt paralysed by anxiety and fear and sadness but with no rational clue about what was making me feel any of these things. The energy that went into faking being OK was utterly draining and left me exhausted. I haven’t written a blog post for ages. This is probably why. I couldn’t sit down and do it. I didn’t have the brain power. It was taking every ounce of everything I had simply to get through work every day. I was going to bed at 8pm some nights and if I’d made arrangements that I actually kept to, it was a relief if they were cancelled and it was mostly too hard for me to stay very long at anything.

I don’t feel like that any more.

As I said, I don’t exactly know what made me start to feel better. I hit a very low point a few weeks ago and considered asking the doctor for antidepressants. After consulting with a therapist that I currently see on a weekly basis, it actually didn’t seem like the right decision after all. But I did consider it very seriously and would consider it again if it turns out that I’m heading in that downward direction again. I don’t want to feel like that again. If medication is going to help me retain a grip on things then I will happily take it.

I’m writing about this because I think a lot of people feel scared to tell others that they’re not OK. It’s not a stigma thing for me. It’s the fact that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I almost wished I could tell someone I had something concrete, a label, a name of an illness to give. I didn’t know what to even call it. I just felt awful all the time. And the voice in my head that does me nothing but damage told me that no one wants me around when I’m no fun. No one wants to talk to me when I’m sad. No one wants to hear the negativity that’s raging in my head. Why would anyone want that?  “Your friends only want the positive, happy, energetic version of you that makes them smile,” it said. “No one wants you as you are.”

This is absolute bullshit. This is an unhealthy thing that gets into my head when I’m too scared to show vulnerability. This is an isolating thought process, built entirely on an image that I think other people have of me. It wasn’t for me, but it can be very dangerous to think like that.  I’m not writing about this to have a pity party (though I’m sure some will read this and say “Ugh, that Abi – she is so self indulgent and she is such a massive over sharer” and those people are entitled to their opinions but respectfully, those people can also fuck right off).

I’m writing about this because I know that if I felt this way and felt so entirely alone during that time, maybe there’s someone else who feels like that too. Maybe there’s someone who also feels like they can’t talk to anyone about how they’re really feeling, who can feel the weight on their chest growing and the panic in their stomach rising and the sheer overwhelming size of everything pushing them down. Maybe there’s someone who just wants to know that they are not the only person who ever felt like that. I’m writing this to let them know that it is OK to talk about how they feel and that it is not as scary as you think it’s going to be once you start.

I’m very hard on myself. I don’t think I realised how hard I am on myself until the last few months. If something goes wrong, whether it’s within my control or not, I feel like it’s my failure. Once that happens, that damn little voice in my head tells me that means I am a failure. I’m an intelligent person and academically, I know that’s not true. I know that even though I have a bunch of “you should have…” sentences in my head, even though society’s bizarre levels of acceptable life progression dictates that I should have achieved certain things by the age of 26, these are not necessary truths of life. But that’s not how it feels in that moment.

I read a really good article recently that advised we shouldn’t compare our inside lives to other people’s outside lives. In other words, what we show on social media or tell our friends is not always true to what is going on inside our heads. So why assume that’s what everyone else is doing?

I thought about it and realised that I frequently look at my friends and think how together they have it, how happy they must be, how happy I would be if I had something like what they have.

I’m 26, I’m single, I don’t have a set career going, I have 2 degrees that seem to be predominantly useless when it comes to getting a job, I’m always broke because I live from payday to payday and although I know I want to be a writer, I don’t know exactly how I want to be a writer and I don’t push myself to put my work out there. At times that feels pretty pathetic and for the last few months I’ve felt ashamed of my life choices, of who I think I am.

But.

I’m 26. That’s young.

I’m single – that means I’m free and unattached and only one step away from meeting someone that might be excellent. I’m always in a position to make new friends without complications and I can basically up sticks and travel whenever I want because I have no one else to think about in that regard. That’s not sad, that’s liberating.

I don’t have a set career going, but that’s because I’m pursuing my dream and that takes time. I want to be a writer and I haven’t sent loads of work out to people…yet. I still can. There’s nothing stopping me but me. I don’t push myself, but I can and will because I’ve realised that now. All I have to do is sit down and do it. It’s OK if I don’t immediately succeed. I highly respect those who have worked hard for their success and I would be honoured to one day be counted among their ranks.

I have 2 degrees because I love learning. I learned about books and theatre and those are things that make me happy and fulfilled my thirst for that knowledge. I then learned how to be a better writer and that might not immediately serve me well as a career move but it’s a step towards making me better at a craft that I not only love, but need. I would do another degree in something equally career-useless if it made me happy and if it was what I wanted to learn about.

I’m always broke…well let’s not run before we can walk. Maybe one day I’ll get better with money. But I might never be rich and that’s OK. Money isn’t what makes me happy. That’s not a bad thing. I fricking hate money! I don’t really want to be one of those people who is only motivated by money.

I still think a lot of my friends have an awful lot and are lucky. There is a part of me that envies my friends who are able to go to a stable, office job every day. My brain just doesn’t work like that and I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. But I don’t envy them their jobs.  And I try very hard not to envy the happiness they have with a partner. It’s hard, because I want that and might not have it for years and there’s nothing more lonely than being the only single one in your group of friends, surrounded by the romantic happiness or contentment of others. But that’s OK. I’m slowly making my peace with that. Don’t get me wrong, feeling lonely is really shit. And sometimes it will get the better of me. But that’s OK too. Because I hope that I’ll win the majority of those little voice in my head battles.

It’s OK that I am not yet where I think I want to be. It’s OK that I’m not sure what I want or how to go and get it. It’s OK that I’m not sure what or who I want to commit to. It’s OK that I’m still building up the confidence to take risks and allow myself to be vulnerable in different areas of my life. All of these things that might feel like negatives are actually fine. I don’t need to keep justifying myself to the expectations of others. And neither do you. Conventions aren’t necessarily good things.

There may well be entire months in the future, like the last 3 months, where I am unable to see anything positive, where I sink and feel like I’m drowning, not because I don’t want to swim but because I can’t remember how. But right now I know that I am very lucky because my friends and family were incredibly patient with me. No one shouted at me for cancelling on them even at the last minute. No one abandoned me because I was sad. Even in moments where I was terrible company, the people that I love and trust stuck around. I don’t know why I think they won’t. I would do the same for them.

And that’s something that’s really important to remember – these are people that you love and trust, that in some cases you’ve loved and trusted for years. These are people who turn to you when they’re in crisis. If you are able to tell them that you’re in crisis, you absolutely should. I can’t guarantee it, because I don’t know your people, but I would bet all the money I have and triple the amount that I’m in debt (that is so much money guys, you don’t even know)  that however you imagine them reacting, that’s not how it’s going to go down.

I received more love and compassion and kindness than I ever would have imagined and I am exceptionally grateful for that. The friends and family that allowed me to work through the last few months in my own time, with all the stumbling blocks and tears and difficulties…those are the people I want to keep around. Those are the people who make me feel very, very lucky.

So maybe this isn’t so far away from the post I wanted to write after all.  OK, for this week of Passover I have to think about every stupid morsel that goes into my mouth (insert rude joke here) and I may feel full but I will feel entirely dissatisfied after almost every meal. Breakfast has to be some kind of magic trick every day and the toothpaste is weird so my teeth never feel properly clean and my God if you ever need to combat diarrhoea eat a couple of matzahs and you’ll be sorted for at least 3 days. Seriously, it’s like swallowing a cork. This week, what I don’t have is the food I like and I’m used to or the freedom to eat said food, even though this whole stupid festival is about having freedom in the first place.

But I do have a huge amount of other things and for those I am extremely grateful.

I hope that this wasn’t too preachy and that it encourages people to talk about things to someone if they feel as unbearably low as I did until about 2-3 weeks ago. If you can’t talk to a friend or family member there are lots of wonderful organisations that have freephone numbers and take calls at any hour of the day or night.

Chag kasher v’sameach (happy Passover) and happy Easter to all. If you don’t celebrate either of these, enjoy the days off work.

Just A Normal, Mental Saturday

 

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London Underground. Soulless, isn’t it?

 

It’s not Mental Health Awareness week. It’s just January 24th 2015. It’s Saturday. Today is not significant.

I’m on the tube and it’s not very crowded. I move towards the middle bank of seats. As I get on, I hear a high pitched noise being emitted from the bank of seats to my left. I sit down. As I do, a man moves from that side to the seats on my right.

I look to my left to see who made the noise. I can’t tell. It could have been any of the 5 people there I can see. I get out my book. I hear the noise again.

I look. I can’t tell who it is.

We get to the next stop. Someone sits down near whoever is making the occasional strange noise.

Another person moves away from those seats.

Finally I see the guy making the noises. They vary from groaning and a sort of heaving sound to woops and shrieks. He’s youngish I think, curly brown hair, pale skin, kind of a big mouth, open face.

I get panic attacks on the tube. Almost every panic attack I’ve ever had has been on the underground. They feel completely random. Maybe they’re linked to stress levels but I can’t consciously tell. It’s horrific when it happens. I get sweaty and hot and I feel like I’m going to pass out or maybe die. My heart pumps faster, I shake, I can’t breathe. It’s like my whole body descends into mayhem for literally no discernible reason. And the fact that there’s no reason doesn’t make it better. It makes it worse. Because I want to rationalise it but I can’t. I can’t explain it to myself or anyone else.

And when I’ve had panic attacks, when I’m shaking and sweating and pale and clearly not ok, mostly no one says a word to me. Twice people have offered help. But one time I’d already fainted so I’m not sure it counts. And I’ve had significantly more than 2 panic attacks on the underground. But I’m not having one today.

So it’s Saturday and I’m on the tube and a third person has moved away from this guy and all I can think is that for every person who moves away from him, I want to move closer. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know how much he comprehends of the people moving. Does he know they’re moving away from him? He might have Tourette’s and have perfect comprehension of what’s going on around him but find himself unbearably trapped behind tics and noises and overwhelming compulsions. Or he might have something much more serious than that and not have any idea that the people on the train are made so uncomfortable by his presence.

Why is it so uncomfortable? Why have we cultivated this culture where we run away from someone who is different, feeling tense and scared until we walk away to sit two blocks of seats down the carriage where we can breathe a sigh of relief?

 

I think about it and I wonder if I feel uncomfortable. I don’t think I do.

 

I think about the people I know who struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction, mania, anorexia, low self esteem…I think about what they look like when you can see those things manifesting themselves and I think about when you can’t. Arguably, that’s more sinister. Because you never really know if someone is OK or not. We have no idea what’s going on behind the faces of all those people we see every day. The ones we talk to and the ones we don’t. But mental illnesses and struggles are not contagious. Why are we so scared when we see them? What instinct is it that tells us to be afraid?

I wonder if it’s because they’re too different to how people see themselves. We are, as a species, notoriously afraid of things that are “other”.  Or maybe it’s the opposite – maybe they’re too close and people are afraid that if they look they’ll recognise all too clearly what they see. Perhaps it’s too painful to admit that the guy we call crazy is only one bad day, one life step, one change away from where we are.

There are things that I really don’t like. I don’t like sick, for example. If you’re puking, I’m not going to hold your hair. A 3 year old kid I was looking after had his first ever puking experience from a stomach bug, and when I told my sister about it I said “I was really good and only leapt away from him twice.” She said she was proud, but only after she’d laughed at me. I know why I don’t like sick. It smells bad and it comes from inside you and I have a visceral reaction to it that makes me feel like I’m going to be sick too. Maybe fear of mental illness is the same as that? I don’t know.

 

It’s a bit more crowded now. I move a few seats closer. Just in case. But by the time I’ve moved through the people and sat down again I realise he’s gone.

 

I wish I’d had the conviction to move closer more quickly. I wish that I moved when the first person did, not after the third. I wish for him not to have anything too serious, but I also wish that he doesn’t know that he’s the reason people moved on the train.

I’m not afraid of other people’s problems when I’m OK. I’m afraid that there’ll be no one to help me when I’m struggling. I’m afraid of people turning away because I’m sad and can’t make myself be happy and they don’t want to see me when I’m feeling like that. I’m afraid of becoming disconnected from everyone because they’re scared of me. I’m scared of being the person people move away from and I’m terrified of not understanding why I’ve been left alone.

I hope that if I’m in a situation like this again that I can act with kindness, that I can look at the person, whatever his or her struggle, without staring but without seeing through them, like I’d look at any stranger. I hope that I can smile at them without it being forced or patronising. Like I’d smile at any stranger. I hope that I can manage not to define people by the struggles they face, internal or external. I wish, perhaps naïvely, for a society in which, when we see people struggling we move closer to them to help, motivated by compassion, not closing our eyes or running further away because we’re inexplicably afraid.

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What I’d Really Like To Reply To A Rape Joke

The ever-important context bit  – I’m allergic to alcohol. It comes up a lot as a conversation topic because we live in a culture where drinking is a huge part of socialising and people get weird when you tell them you really won’t be having even one drink. It comes up a lot on dates because we rely on alcohol to loosen us up and get through that initial god-help-me-this-is-so-fricking-awkward-why-won’t-it-end stage. I went on a first date with a guy and the not drinking thing came up.

The next day I got these messages, apropos of nothing. We weren’t chatting about my socially unacceptable allergy, just out of the blue this arrived:

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For those of you wondering what comes after what the size of my iPhone screen allows in one shot, that last message reads:

Now slow down with all this rape talk. Its putting me off a bit….It’s totally not rape if you agree to drink it.

Unsurprisingly we haven’t been on a second date.

(Side note: At this point I ask you to excuse my misspelling of rohypnol. It’s not a word the iPhone likes, whichever way you spell it and I wasn’t really focused on that element of the conversation. That being said, grammar and spelling are always important.)

So this was December 23rd and I’ve been thinking about it since then. Wondering whether what I said was enough, if I should further explain why I feel so strongly about the situation. I’ve gone over and over it, wondering if I’m making too much of a stupid comment, doubting my gut instincts and then wondering why I’m tarring myself with the “hysterical woman” brush I hate so much. So before I change my mind, I’d like to speak it.

If I were brave enough, if I thought it would do any good, if I thought it would change anything, this is what I’d like to say:

Hey,

I wanted to talk to you about the last time we chatted. I thought about doing it at the time, but I didn’t think I’d say the right things and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to say anything at all or if I would be wasting my time.

I don’t know why you thought it was OK to make a rape joke. We even had a conversation on our date about how a guy had made rape jokes on a previous first date I’d been on and how unacceptable I found it and how it was weird and a turn off for me. So that’s why I thought you just didn’t want to see me again and said “if you didn’t want to see me again you could have just said so.” Because I couldn’t think of a reason why you would decide that was a good line of conversation, why you would think that after making those jokes, I’d want to see you again.

Aside from that, there’s the much more important fact that you don’t really know me. Let’s be clear – I don’t have a blanket ban on joke topics. Adrienne Truscott had a whole hour of jokes about rape, naked, and did it so brilliantly, making such a blatantly necessary point that she won an award for it.

But you met me once. You don’t know me. You don’t know what might have happened to me and yes that’s true of everything before you know someone and you could put your foot in it with anything…but rape? Really? I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t finding it funny but you kept going with it anyway. And maybe I’m reading too much into things, but why choose to ask me if I’m allergic to rohypnol – a drug pretty much entirely known for its use for rape? Why not any of the other hundreds of drugs you could have chosen that don’t have rape connotations?

I don’t think anything is off limits to joke about on a stage providing it is done to make a point, with at least some semblance of an original take and in the right way. I also think this no limits thing applies to long-standing couples or old friends who know each other well enough to understand what issues really mean to each other. Context is everything right? But you continuing to make light of the idea of raping me after I’d clearly expressed discomfort…? Somewhat aptly, forcing the joke on me anyway? To me that is horrible and insensitive at best.

That’s really not a great best.

You seemed kind of OK when we met and maybe it was just a bad judgment call on your part. But even when you apologised you just said you were “sorry for making me feel uncomfortable”…but you didn’t say you were sorry for making jokes about raping me. Like the problem is me being upset, not you making the joke. Just another woman overreacting to a harmless joke about rape right?

No. Not right. I’m not overreacting and it isn’t harmless. Because it’s indicative of a wider attitude, that these things are totally fine to casually joke about in any context. And to me at least, it’s indicative of what might be at your core. Do you also make racist jokes? How about the occasional homophobic pop? I’m speculating of course, but suddenly these things that I loathe, these ideas that stand against equality, that silence people or belittle them or their experiences, their very real, hateful and violating experiences…they’re brought into the light and mocked and I have to tell you, they’re not funny. Rape is not funny. And your apology isn’t good enough.

What you should be apologising for is the fact that you persisted with a line of conversation that went beyond disrespectful and became creepy, bordering on threatening. What you should be apologising for is your attitude to something that is a horrible ordeal, that more women (and occasionally men) face than should ever have to. Oh, what’s that? It was “obviously a joke”?

Of course! Because the way to make me laugh is to talk about a horrific violation that you could commit if only I’d agree to take rohypnol. You’re right. That is just *hilarious*.

Someone pointed out to me that you clearly have no actual intention to rape me. I know that. I’m not an idiot. It was a bad joke in poor taste. But we let casual racism slide and incrementally, without us noticing, it becomes racism. We let casual sexism slide and slowly, without us noticing, it is sexism. We let jokes about rape slide and I dread to think what they actually become.

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There were 22,116 recorded rapes in England and Wales from June 2013 – June 2014. This is 29% higher than the year before, despite a general fall in crime by approximately 16%. This could well be down to people feeling more able to come forward and report that they’ve been a victim of rape, but that’s still a shocking statistic. And those are just the ones that are reported. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29642455)

In 2005 the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study called the National Crime Victimization Study. The results showed that approximately 2/3 of victims / survivors (however you want to think of it) of rape knew the rapist.

My worry is that maybe you’re the kind of person who one day won’t take no for an answer, who’ll think that some women are asking for it, who victim blames and who thinks casually misogynistic thoughts and secretly (or not so secretly) believes those thoughts to be true. My concern is that if we were together you’d expect me to put out when you want it even if I don’t, you’d ignore it when I’m uncomfortable because it suits you. You’d apologise for how I feel, not what you’ve said or done. You won’t open your mind and reevaluate your opinions or why you have them. You won’t question the effect society and ingrained attitudes to women have on you. You won’t ever fully respect me or how I might feel about something.

You said something on our date that made that ringing alarm bell thing happen for me. You said that women are physically built less funny than men. I don’t think that’s true because boobs are clearly hilarious and also because it’s a ridiculous thing to say as a generalisation. Ultimately there are lots of reasons why you might try to veil your “women aren’t as funny as men” opinions when faced with a feminist woman who does comedy. But I guess that conversation should have tipped me off. In at least one societally reinforced area, you think women are less able than men. In your eyes that must make us less than men. And that means you won’t respect us as much as you should. You’ll be surprised when we succeed but not pleasantly. You’ll enjoy it less – not more – because it proves you wrong.

I’ve done that thing that I do where I’ve over analysed something someone has done. I know that. But my gut instincts are pretty good about people and they’re telling me I’m onto something here. I can’t ignore that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could comfortably see you again. Because you made a rape joke at my expense. Because you showed something true about yourself when you thought it was safe. Because you made it not safe for me.

So for future reference: rape jokes? Not OK. Apologies? Need sincerity. And women? Women are your equals and deserve your respect. It shouldn’t have to be said. It shouldn’t be allowed to slip under the radar and it hasn’t slipped under mine. You’re 35. You have no excuse. Grow up and start treating us better.

Abi

Why The #HeForShe Campaign Is Positive

 

 

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Background:

Initial reactions to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe launch speech at the UN Conference last week were fairly positive. Then a bunch of 4chan lowlives threatened to leak naked photos of her and made a countdown to her death (whether that was meant as a metaphorical death like the death of her reputation or as a real thing is unclear. Either way it was shamefully horrible, creepy and nasty) and support for Watson and the campaign soared.

 

Caveat:

For the record, I support the campaign and think it is a positive step in the right direction for achieving gender equality.

 

Main Point / Argument:

A friend of mine told me she was disappointed because she watched the speech after seeing it hyped up and shared a lot on Facebook but expected more from it. I agree with her assessment – the speech was good but not the most rousing, amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But here’s why I think that’s ok: it didn’t need to be. It wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t meant for my friend either. It wasn’t a speech for the interested and engaged feminist. It wasn’t really a speech meant for women at all. It was relatively mild and it was measured and it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It wasn’t that inspiring to us female-women-lady-folk because it wasn’t aimed at us in the first place. It was a speech for men. It was an introduction to feminism for men, particularly men who are afraid or ignorant of it. It was a baby step for those who cannot yet confidently walk in feminism’s equality based corridors. And it was exactly right to be so.

A lot of people seem to think the campaign sends the wrong message, but we’re painfully naïve if we think everything will change in a day or with one campaign. The message the #HeForShe campaign sends is not that it’s a boys’ club at all, rather that it’s a boy’s way in to a girls’ club – very much a reversal of the stereotypes we’re used to (also check out my navigation of that complex, correct apostrophe usage. All hail good grammar! God I hope I got it right.) Historically, the boy version of a club comes first and the girls are allowed in later via a sometimes patronising, watered down version, e.g. scouts and brownies. This campaign is a magnificent idea. It’s providing an entry point (snigger) for men into feminism.

This is not about giving feminism legitimacy by asking the men to be in it. This is about demystifying feminism so they stop being afraid of it. It’s not a perfect version of the message nor a perfect message, but hey, guys? News just in: it’s not a perfect world. The same aforementioned intelligent, feminist, woman friend of mine who was disappointed by the speech said:

“It shouldn’t be about their mothers and daughters and wives and sisters. They should just understand that we’re equal humans and that should be enough to make them feminists.”

And she’s right.  It should be enough that we’re people, and to treat us with anything but equality is mistreatment. But it’s not like that. It has been demonstrated time and again throughout history across the world that it is not enough. And all the “but it should be” in the world doesn’t seem to change that.

So we have to take our strategy back a few steps and think practically.

Perceived gripes / problems / some true things:

*Yes. The campaign is a fair bit behind where a lot of thinking women are today.

*Yes. The campaign is being marketed for men – something that seems counterintuitive for a movement that is about equality for women.

*Yes. It absolutely sucks that we apparently cannot effect the change we want on our own, that for there to be progression we must have male support.

Or we could look at it this way:

*If you’re one of those thinking women then, yay and congratulations, not everyone is as smart as you. You’re a progressive thinker, ahead of the curve, you’re correct and the bloody UN says so! Hooray for you!! You believe we should all be equal because we’re human regardless of gender, race, religion or culture – and so with this knowledge and human understanding and international support, you have the power to educate and do good things. So be active, make a difference and use it wisely.

*The campaign is being marketed for men because they’re behind. They’re the ones who need to catch up. The male marketing isn’t a negative, it’s a positive. We’re making it accessible. It’s being marketed to the feminist minority. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Plus I remember reading about a psychological study years ago (apology for lack of reference – it was in a psychology magazine from maybe 2009, so literally years ago) that posited that if a woman tells her friend that she thinks a man is good looking, the friend won’t necessarily also think this man is attractive. But if a man tells his friend that a woman is good looking, his friend is likely to agree with him and they all go “yeah mate she’s well fit” together. The upshot of this was a conclusion about group mentality and how men are more likely to agree with each other about good ideas and attractive people. So if men are more likely to do that, doesn’t it make sense to get a big group of them into feminism so more of them see it as a good idea and follow suit?

*Political campaigns know full well they need the female vote as well as the male vote to win. This is like that. Feminism is the presidential candidate and so we have to get the male vote as well as the female vote, because men are also people and we need and want them on our side because we’re the good guys and why would we not welcome more good guys? We want to win. So let’s get more good guys on board.

Feminism is not about isolating ourselves or elevating ourselves to so far above men that they feel they cannot reach us. Feminism is about equality. For women. And, by definition of equality, also for men. It’s about equality between the genders / sexes. And we need both of those binary bastards to be on board if it’s going to work.

 

Conclusion:

This is a campaign to raise awareness. It’s not for you – the one who is already aware. It’s not for you because you’re already there. You’re already involved by the virtue of being female and thinking and feminist and we’re not just preaching to the choir now. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be the minority asking for equality but then complain when we’re treated like the majority. We started this club. And now we’re opening the doors to new members. If you’re already a member there’s no need to reapply.

I’m terrible at maths and I’m slightly scared of it. I couldn’t attend a degree level maths class and I wouldn’t want to. Furthermore, if someone invited me into a beginners maths class and I saw on the sign up sheet that loads of experts were going to be there I’d be terrified and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and would probably be put off signing up. We learn gradually. We don’t jump in at the deep end of knowledge. We can’t expect to effect change and teach people about feminism if we’re not willing to give them the time to learn. It’s not patronising, it’s understanding. And yes, we may be impatient for them to catch up but we have only just properly, publicly asked them to join. We’re trying to overturn an ingrained mentality that has been present for most of humanity’s existence. Old habits die hard and this – prejudice – is one of the oldest habits around. Give the newbies a chance. Because sadly, it’s not enough that we’re all human and deserve equality.

 

Final Thought

So here’s what I suggest to my fellow wonderful, intelligent, feminist women: be happy that we’re on an internationally, publicly supported road to achieving gender equality. Realign your expectations of this campaign. Stop thinking about it in terms of what belongs to you. Feminism / equality is for everyone. And in lieu of being able to sign up on the website for yourself, ask a man you know to sign up (link provided below) and educate him. Open the door, welcome a new member to the club, share the knowledge and help the world change to be better.

Gentlemen! Sign up here:

http://www.heforshe.org

 

How I lost My Virginity

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There was once a girl…let’s call her Abi.

Abi was 17 years old and thought she was pretty cool. You see she had this boyfriend and he was a bit older than her. Not *loads* older. Just a few years. She was 17 and he was 21. That’s not that much is it? OK, he was nearly 22. So the best part of 5 years between them. That’s still not that much is it?

Spoiler alert: It is.

But we’ll talk about that more later.

Abi was a little bit (a lot) infatuated with this guy. He was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious and wrote poetry and played the guitar (of course he played the guitar. At 17 if he doesn’t play the guitar, he’s basically not human).  She was also kind of afraid of him because he was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious. The poetry and the guitar weren’t scary.  The mix was heady and intoxicating. He was wild and she could tame him. Heathcliff and Cathy but in real life and without knowing each other as children or living together.  It’s like the vampire fantasy. The whole thing hinges on there being this creature, like human but not human, of immense power, physical and mental strength. The vampire is dangerous and could easily kill you. Why is that sexy? Because it chooses not to kill you. It’s sexy because however strong it is, the vampire is weak for you. And that’s just gorgeous isn’t it? We all want to be someone’s weakness. The exception to their rules.

So Abi’s there, aged 17 dating this guy who’s 21 and he’s obviously way more experienced than her because she’s a naïve girl from North London who has led a fairly sheltered life mostly consisting of school, summer camp and home. She’s going to go inter-railing through Europe that summer with her best friend and that’s going to make her grow up a bit but that hasn’t happened yet and it’s that pre-summer summer we get in England where it’s sticky and hot and the days smell sweet and it’s that hazy heat, the kind that lingers, heavy in the air and the light makes the green of the grass and the blue of the sky technicolor but conversely when you remember it, it’s like the sun is always just about to set and everything is surrounded by a golden hue.

They’ve been dating since February / March or so. It’s vague because it has been clandestine which has only made it more exciting. She knows her parents would not approve. It’s not been a long time, 3-4 months, but it has been very intense. He’s going away and they’re fooling around, as they do, and he wants her to tell him she loves him. It gets him off. She does, she says “I love you” and then says his name and a small voice in the back of her mind (one that is possibly projected with the benefit of hindsight? Memory is fallible of course) tells her that she feels a little used when he does this, that she’d like it to be more organic and less demanded and an even smaller voice is not 100% sure she means it.  For all the excitement and intensity, she’s not totally sure she trusts him.  She has not had sex with him yet. She has not had sex with anyone yet and she’s not sure she’s ready for it so she’s held off. He’s asked, repeatedly, and each time she has refused.

And so it is June. This is the last time she will see him before he goes away for three weeks but it’s actually not such a bad thing because she has exams and he’s the biggest distraction for her. So they’re fooling around, as they do, and they’ve done the things that lead up to sex, hands and mouths, eyes looking up and breath catching and it’s all been fine. So they’re naked and rubbing and it’s not quite sex but then she feels something that is not his finger just start to slip into her and she jumps back and says “NO.”

And everything is still for a moment as he watches her. He’s impassive and still hard and she’s wary. And he tells her that it’s done. He says

“You know, you basically just had sex.”

Basically?

“Erm…what?”

“We might as well do it now. Because technically you’re not a virgin any more.”

What is he talking about?

“But…you didn’t even…it didn’t hurt or anything, it was a second and I stopped you so…”

“It still counts.”

“How? It was barely…”

Can’t find the words. Still too young to articulate things properly.  He sighs. Exasperated?

“Sex is when a cock goes into a vagina and that’s what happened. I went inside you. So if it’s even for a second, it’s still sex, it counts.”

He’s so matter of fact.

“But how? It didn’t even feel like anything? How is that…that can’t be right?”

Is it right? Is that it? Did I lose my virginity without even noticing? Is that how that just happened? That cannot be right. I’ve had sex education, I know it must be more than that.

“No, it is right. Legally we just had sex.”

Legally? He does seem sure.  And he has had sex and I haven’t and…what if he’s right? He is older than me. He must know what he’s talking about.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not.”

“Look, you’ve already done it. What’s not to be sure about now? We might as well carry on and do it properly.”

He must be right. He’s very convincing. I don’t know how to say no to this. He’s made such a strong case, and if I’m already not…

“OK.”

He moves immediately to action, doesn’t ask me if I’m certain or if I’m ok. He positions me, telling me he knows what he’s doing and that it shouldn’t hurt this way as long as I do what he tells me. I don’t say much because there’s a lump in my throat and I’m afraid and I don’t know what I’m doing and it feels wrong but it’s happening now and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m sad because I lost my virginity without even realising it and I wanted it to be special and feel right and this doesn’t but it’s too late now because he’s put on a condom and he’s pushed into me and onto me and he’s right, it doesn’t hurt but I don’t like it either. It’s an alien sensation. Or at least I remember thinking it is. It must have been. I don’t really remember what it felt like, just that I was surprised it didn’t hurt and I thought it felt strange. I can see the picture of us so clearly, imagining the bird’s eye view. I’m on my back on his floor, legs spread wide and he’s on top of me pushing into me over and over.  He tells me to tell him that I love him. I say it. But I know this time that I don’t mean it.

And as he finishes I start to cry. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried after sex.

We didn’t sleep together again after that. I didn’t tell anyone it had happened. I didn’t talk about it. I think I was ashamed but I couldn’t identify it. He went away a couple of days later and we broke up the week after he returned. The next person I had sex with was 6 months later and despite my previous experience, neither of us really knew what we were doing. I was his first and as far as he knew, he was mine. I told myself that this was my real first time, because it hurt and that made it real.  It was a discovery together and a bit fumbly and awkward and it hurt and I didn’t cry after and that’s how it was supposed to be so that would be my first time.

But it wasn’t.

I didn’t talk about it for 6 years. Ironically when I did finally tell someone it was a boyfriend who treated me very badly and spent an entire year making me feel like shit. Weird isn’t it? I wonder if my subconscious was trying to draw a link between the terrible romantic decisions I was making. Even he was shocked. It made me shocked. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t thought about the implications of it. He used the word rape. I’ve not told many people about it since I told him.

I don’t think I was raped. I don’t think of myself as a victim. This isn’t a sob story. I don’t have issues with sex now. I was heavily pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do, something I very much wasn’t ready for. You may have gathered by now that “Abi” is me. I mean, I didn’t do a lot to hide it, I GAVE THE GIRL IN THE STORY MY NAME FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, HOW MANY MORE CLUES DO YOU NEED? Also the title of this post is How I Lost My Virginity so really, what did you expect? Come on. Keep up guys.

So why, 9 years on have I decided to write about it? Let’s talk about that age gap.

4-5 years between two people is loads when one of you is under 20. At 17 you’re still at school. I met a 17 year old this year who I became quite fond of in a “let’s adopt a little sister” kind of way. She was up at the Edinburgh fringe for a while and I felt somewhat responsible for her well-being. This wasn’t something she asked of me or expected of me, but something I felt nonetheless. Being the oldest of 3 siblings by quite a few years, it is sometimes difficult to escape that nagging feeling that I am responsible for those around me, especially if they’re younger than I am.

This lovely 17 year old girl told me about an experience she had with a much older man the year before. I was shocked by it. Because she’s 17 now which meant she was 16 then and that is really young. When you’re 17 you don’t think it is, but there is such a huge difference between someone who is 22 and someone who is 17.  And I was looking at her and I was shocked and sad and suddenly I was 17 again and I understood. I understood it all as I had not understood it then and it made me so very sad for me and for her and for all the young girls who are taken advantage of by significantly older men who should not even be talking to them, let alone trying to sleep with them.

I don’t think the girl knew at the time that it was actually a bit strange for a man in his late twenties to be paying attention to her in this way. Maybe she did and it didn’t bother her, but the inference was that now she realises it was a bit weird and then she didn’t. Because it’s slightly overwhelming in a star-struck kind of way, being young and impressionable and having someone who wants to make an impression. Being the recipient of that attention feels good. And you forget about what the intentions behind it might be.

So I suppose the reason I’m writing about this now is that I would never let anything like that happen to me now. I’m outspoken and strong and confident and I know my own mind these days. I was about to have sex with someone recently (oh calm down, I’m 26 years old) and he asked if we needed to use a condom. I told him that although I do use a form of contraceptive (contraception? What’s the difference between the two? Anyone?) that yes, we do need to use a condom for all the STD’s I don’t want to get. And yet, he tried without a condom. But I’m not 17 anymore and I know how to respond in situations like this.

“GET OUT OF MY VAGINA!” I yelled in his face. I shoved his chest, hard. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? I SAID WE ARE USING A CONDOM!”

And that was that. But at 17 I had no idea how to say no to the older, suave man on top of me. I had no idea how to articulate what I wanted to say. I didn’t know that it was fine to be that blunt as long as I got the message across. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I’m not even sure I was self-aware enough to entirely know what I even wanted to say. But I do know it wasn’t “yes”.

So if you’re in your 20s or older and you’re male and you’re reading this – please don’t hit on girls whose ages end in “teen”. They’re too young. And you might not like who you become if you end up sleeping with them. Don’t kid yourself. However mature they seem, they’re still a teenager and you’re taking advantage of that.

And if you’re a girl of an age that ends in “teen” and you’re reading this, then please don’t be afraid to say no to a man because he’s older and seems wiser. Listen to what your head is telling you. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Don’t let someone convince you into something you’re not ready for. Your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as his and you know yourself better than he does. It’s okay to not be ready, and it’s okay to say so.

Why I Am A Serial Monogamist

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I’m a serial monogamist.

I’m a one at a time kind of girl and I always have been. Sometimes I go through them quite quickly and you’ll think I’m fickle because my current favourite changes like seasonal ice cream flavours, but then I suppose that’s the nature of flitting from one to the next so frequently. But there are constants. The ones I always come back to, like the tide returning to the shore. Those are the real favourites. Comfort flavours.

I rarely, if ever, cheat.

I won’t say I’ve never cheated. That’s not true and I don’t like to lie.

But I haven’t done it often. I tried it though, like so many people do.

The truth is, I really do just prefer having one at a time. There’s such pleasure in losing yourself entirely in just one – the experience is sweet and to be savoured, only this, right now, entirely, fleeting, soon to be over.  But while you’re here nothing is better and there is nothing I want more than this one. Just this one. Nothing else.

I’m talking about books.

I’m talking about the particular, delicious, sensual and sometimes erotic pleasure in losing yourself in one single world. And when it’s a world you so want to explore, that’s where true magic lies.  If you’re lucky it will be a trilogy or a series and you’ll have more time. But it will end. It always does. You can’t go on with it forever. They always end, as they must.

I become envious of people who are making their discoveries for the first time. There isn’t anything like it. The element of surprise, the sheer joy of reading a book for the first time, one you’re really enjoying, is almost too much to bear. I think that’s part of the conflict while I read them. There’s one voice in my head telling me to slow down, while another (far more frequently victorious) is already planning how I’m going to irresponsibly stay up all night to get to the end.

I become giddy with the joy of it. It bubbles up inside me at this beautiful, fictional place and the fact that I’ve got permission to be there. Me? Yes, me! I’m invited to indulge in the delights in these pages and I want them all now please but I don’t want it to end. I must know what happened. But I really don’t want it to end. I can’t not know. But then it will be over and I’ll have no more left but I’ll wish so hard that I did.  And I always feel bereft when I do, inevitably, reach the final page.

There’s a kind of superiority borne from this virgin-envy. I find myself becoming snooty. Consoling myself with placatory platitudes: “she won’t love it as much as I do”, “don’t worry, he won’t understand the full implications of the ending”, “it’s ok, it won’t speak to any of them as much as it did to me.”

I hate book groups. I can’t stand them. Reading, for me, is so intensely personal. I don’t want you to tell me what to read this week or next week or any other week. I’m selfish with my reading. It’s for me.  We can recommend books to each other, but I’ll never expect you to read something because I don’t read when expected to. I read because I want to. I don’t want you to take away what I’ve seen here in this book that I love, in this world that I’ve found, by discussing it to death with pre-prepared questions that are so annoyingly inane, a child would be insulted by them. I find it unbearable to plan to dissect something that is so beautiful.

It’s my reading. Don’t force me share it. Don’t make me cheat on it with you or with another book that you’ve said I must read because the group voted and democracy rules, or because it’s Sally’s turn to choose but Sally has terrible taste and we all know it but everyone gets a turn. Let me instead open up a bit of myself and choose to give it to you as a gift. It will be a shy offering, and as I open that door and let myself back into that world, this time with you holding my hand, you’ll see my eyes look somewhere past you and my face light up and it’s like the sun is shining or like I’m visiting an old friend…because that’s what is happening. I’m visiting a friend. More than a friend. A lover – one I think of and remember fondly.

I love to read. It’s one of my life’s greatest pleasures. To sit and take in a world of words from somebody else’s beautiful mind.

I love to read books one at a time. To know that I’m giving myself totally to them for the time that I’m discovering them. To give them the respect that they deserve. To be only in that world, entirely immersed and surrounded by new sights, new voices, a small universe captured in words on pages…that is something that I feel is a privilege and it fills me with joy, excitement and a visceral pleasure.

I’m a serial monogamist. But only with books.

Silencing Voices – Why Cancelling Incubator’s ‘The City’ Is Wrong.

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http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/culturehousedaily/2014/07/if-the-edinburgh-fringe-cant-defend-its-artists-from-bigots-whats-the-point-of-it/#comments

This Spectator article says some of what I wanted to say about the cancellation of the Incubator (an Israeli theatre company) show The City at the Edinburgh Fringe. I disagree with some of it – the fact that the article dismisses the show as being automatically rubbish because it’s a hip-hop opera is potentially a flippant joke, but is actually a fairly idiotic comment. The genre of the show is irrelevant and so is the writer’s taste in theatre. The content of the show is relevant though.  The show does not appear to be incendiary in any way. It’s not about the conflict. At least, I don’t think it is.

One of the many sad things here is that the company didn’t get the chance to perform their show once. They should have been judged, like all art, on the basis of merit and quality. Not on the fact that they come from a country that happens to be in the middle of a cyclical and on-going conflict.  Further to that, it sets an unnerving precedent for other groups who enjoy a good protest. Oh, the EDL don’t like a show with mixed races in? Quick, stage a big enough protest and venues like the Underbelly will cancel the show. That’s not what the arts are about.

There are people on both sides suffering. But what’s reported is how many are dying. A friend of mine asked me recently in a heated and interesting conversation we were having if I wanted the Palestinian people to succeed in killing more Israelis and by proxy more Jews. She asked if that’s what I would prefer to the Israelis killing Palestinians. Perhaps I should be horrified but having thought about that, part of me wants to say yes. Because then the world would take note. If the planned Rosh Hashana attack had gone ahead, if the tunnels were successful and the death toll on the Israeli side rose, the world might not see Israel as terrorists. I don’t agree with the scale of the attack or with all of the decisions of the Israeli government, but the terrorism does not come from the side of Israel. That is the wrong word to use.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski said about China:

“Broadly targeting an entire religious or ethnic community in response to the actions of a few only increases the potential for violent extremism.”

He said it about China, but it applies here and it applies both ways. It applies to Israel’s treatment of Gaza and it applies to the way the world is treating Israelis and starting to treat Jews.

I don’t believe every Palestinian person is a terrorist bomber or rocket builder or launcher. I don’t believe every single one of them is evil. I do believe they live in a state of fear between the rock of Israel and the hard place of Hamas. I do believe that your average run of the mill Palestinian person is terrified because they face being dead if they do and dead if they don’t.

In their shoes, I’d probably decide that Israel was the less terrifying enemy too, and choose to fight them and here’s why:

Israel, eventually, will stop. There’s the possibility that if you stand there holding your child they won’t kill you. That’s why they keep using the children as human shields.

Hamas does not seem to show that kind of mercy so it makes a weird kind of sense to ally with them because although they are less powerful, if you fight them they probably won’t turn around and let you live. They may be less powerful but they’re more dangerous. What a horrible and terrifying choice to have to make. To allow your children to be brought up in a culture of hate and violence but to have no real way out aside from death.

But this has no bearing on a hip-hop opera from an Israeli, government funded theatre company.  Incidentally, if the theatre group were from Gaza and funded by Hamas, an actual terrorist organisation posing as a political party governing Gaza, they wouldn’t have cancelled the show because there wouldn’t have even been a protest.

To the venue and protestors: You should be ashamed. Because you’ve taken a rare opportunity to allow something positive to come out of a country that has been at war and rather than embrace it, you’ve destroyed it. You’ve prevented something good coming out of that Israeli government money you hate so much and at the next budget meeting, perhaps that money won’t go into art, because they’ll see it as wasted. Perhaps next time, that money will go into weapons. How short sighted you are.  Rather than protecting the art, standing by your choices as a venue, you caved instantly.  Giving in to hate is never the answer. There appears to be no hate in this show. The art itself is not controversial. But you’ve shied away from the controversy that is political and that cannot be what art is. Surely that is where art should have the strength and support to stand up, to be seen and heard?  Israel is not entirely defined by this conflict and it shouldn’t have to be. By destroying this art, you’re forcing a country and all its people into a box that is defined only by war.

Plus who are you all kidding? When a government gives grants to shows in the arts we don’t then give that money back to the government. It goes into developing more art. It’s not as if the ticket sales money is going straight into building another tank. And anyway, it’s the EDINBURGH FRINGE – you’ve basically created another dimension if you come out with any money at all, let alone a profit.

Qatar is a country that still has slavery and we’re holding the World Cup there. I don’t see any borderline violent protests about that causing them to change that decision or cancel the World Cup. And I think an entire culture of slavery where hundreds of people die from being over worked is worth protesting about. Where’s the big scene outside World Cup HQ? Anyone? Anything? No. Of course not.

The fifty arts figures who signed the petition to stop the show should also be ashamed and check to see if they’ve done that for the countries mentioned in the Spectator article I’ve posted at the beginning of this. I strongly suspect they haven’t. Never mind that this theatre group advocates peace and dialogue; they’re Israeli so they must be silenced and stopped. A better protest would be to not buy a ticket or to see it first and then decide whether it’s offensive to have it on. A better way for the Underbelly to respond would be to offer free tickets to the protestors and give them the opportunity to decide whether the show was offensive or not, again, based on the show itself not on where the people are from.

For some reason people don’t approach this conflict with moderation in their opinions. The extreme supporters on both sides, littering my Facebook wall and twitter feed, don’t allow there to be people from Israel who are just people or people from Gaza who are just people. The extreme supporters on both sides refer to the other as animals. None of them are animals. Don’t ever forget that.

In my first fringe, some years ago, I sat through a play at the fringe with genuine antisemitism in it. I felt uncomfortable sitting in the room and I would have left had I not managed to get my leg stuck and had it not been pouring outside. That play ran all the way through the fringe. I complained to the venue that it made me feel unsafe because of the violence of the antisemitism, the feeling in the audience that seemed to be supportive, and the way it was expressed. A wise representative said it’s part of the play and that art should explore things that make us uncomfortable. The theatre is a safe environment within which we can and should look at the parts of the world, at parts of ourselves and humanity that we don’t want to admit to or face.

By cancelling this show the message is that Israeli artists are not welcome here. The theatre is not a safe place for them because of where they are from, regardless of their message. I highly doubt the show will find another venue. No one will want to touch them. That show won’t be seen in Edinburgh.

The overspill and blurring of lines between attacking Israel and attacking Jews is starting to crop up and is being reported: The signs going up around Europe that Jews aren’t allowed in shops and cafes. The Belgian doctor refusing to treat a Jewish patient. You know, in Israel the Israeli doctors do not discriminate about who they treat? And you know that many of those doctors are Jewish? They treat Palestinian and Israeli and Arab and Jewish and Muslim and French and Belgian and English and Scottish and Chinese patients alike.

Is the hip-hop opera being cancelled in Edinburgh the same as what’s growing in Europe? I’m not sure. I’m very reluctant to cry antisemitism, but the interchanging of “Jewish” and “Israeli” is starting to look very much like that and, as a Jew who is not Israeli, I find that terrifying. Do not punish me for the actions of people on another continent. My actions are not the same as theirs and yes, I am Jewish and some of them are Jewish, but if you gave me a gun I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I would be afraid of pulling the trigger, assuming I knew how to take off the safety lock. If you put me in a tank, I’d sit there, useless and probably cry. I thought, naïvely perhaps, that we had moved past this system of judgment.

It is one of the saddest starts to the Edinburgh Fringe I have ever experienced. And I would be sad wherever the company were from. I might actually be sadder if the theatre group had been Palestinian and cancelled because it would probably mean that Jews who support Israel had been protesting and I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of expression. I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of anyone.

 

The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

 

 

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As the madness of the World Cup draws to a close I’ve been thinking a lot about football (shocker). Why is it so popular? Why do people become violent over it? What is it about this game that makes people cry?  Why do so many people around the world have such a visceral and emotional reaction to it?  There aren’t answers to all of my questions, but the things I did find out are not pretty, and certainly not beautiful. 

Until very recently I never hated football. I didn’t love it.  But I didn’t hate it. I was mostly indifferent to it, but occasionally got excited about international games. I have never understood club football – all that swapping teams, buying and selling of players…of people. Like a high class, well payed slave trade.  I know they do very well from it financially, but morally I find it dubious.  I am not comfortable with the notion that these men are owned by the clubs and they come out to play for our entertainment, disgustingly large sums of money notwithstanding.  I vaguely understood enjoying international football because of patriotism or something like that. But now I find that I can’t bring myself to forget what I know about the industry and enjoy the surface of the game. 

I posted this on Facebook on the 18th May, regarding the FA cup final between Arsenal and Hull City on 17th May.

“Can someone please explain to me why people become animals regardless of whether they win or lose at sports? I understand people getting into it and caring and getting excited or disappointed. The following things I saw yesterday on my way home from a very long day working in Wales, are examples of things I do not understand: 

* why we must feel or be violent or threaten violence towards supporters of another football team. I heard a hull city fan threaten to ram the stick of his flag through the eyes of approaching arsenal fans. I love some theatre companies or films. I really hate others. But I’m not going to consider hurting you if you like the ones I don’t. Even if they beat my favourites to awards.
* why we must take over the entire station. I came back from a Beyoncé concert with thousands of people. We didn’t piss anyone in the stations off by banging on the escalators and singing all her songs (though I do at least see the fun in that). We certainly didn’t chant incoherent noise and bang sticks and hands on anything we could find. Half the time it wasn’t even words. We also did not call ourselves “Bey Army” or scream it at passing strangers. I find it disconcerting that people refer to themselves as an army of fans.
* why we must get so drunk that we lose all control, sit comatose on the tube until we wake up and vomit twice onto the floor. this one was specifically one disgusting human specimen but I don’t know why it is socially acceptable to drink so much that you cannot control the inside of your stomach coming out your mouth and I don’t know why football is apparently an excuse to do this.

I went to the Paralympics with my family. The atmosphere was unreal – supportive and friendly and joyful. We were all better humans watching David Weir and Jonny Peacock and cheering for them as one united stadium. We did not mock or threaten the other people competing. We simply watched, supported and yelled when we weren’t being told to shut up so the race could start. I would like the aftermath and support of more sporting events to be like this and less like the regressing, invasive and disgusting version of humans I experienced yesterday.”

 

Now obviously, I was angry and upset.  I’ve calmed down now…sort of.  I didn’t mention that a group of Arsenal fans jumped in front of me in the street and yelled “ARSENAL” so close to me I could feel their breath on my face. Aside from it making me jump from the sheer shock of it, it was an invasion of personal space, it was intimidating and it was unnecessary.  Many fans of other teams have said to me “Oh that’s Arsenal fans for you” but it isn’t. It is true of the behaviour of fans of many football teams. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s not always the case that this is the team your parents and grandparents supported. That’s a family connection – I could understand that a bit more. It’s not always true that you support the team that corresponds to the area you’re from. That’s your home, those are your roots. I could understand that a bit more too. It’s not a hard and fast rule that you have a season ticket to games and are therefore financially invested in the sport.  It just…is.  Why? Just because. That’s the way it is. That’s how it has always been. But that’s not good enough for me. So I’ve done some research.

Did you know that domestic violence increases during big football games?

“The National Centre for Domestic Violence is trying to raise awareness about domestic violence during the World Cup, after it emerged that instances increased by 25% after England Games at the 2010 tournament.”

– The Independent, 19.06.2014

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/domestic-violence-increases-25-during-england-world-cup-games-9548658.html

That means that either people who don’t normally beat up their partners decide that when their team loses a game they’ll suddenly batter them, or that the people who have been beating up their partners until this point decide to up the ante and it gets significantly worse. So much worse that the victims actually bother to report it. Then there’s the people who beat up their partners whether they win or lose.

That’s a chilling thought isn’t it? That domestic violence increases significantly with big football games. Why is no one investigating this?  Why aren’t there huge “DON’T BEAT UP YOUR PARTNERS WHEN YOU GO HOME!” signs at football games? Probably because they can’t afford to pay thousands or even millions for advertising at pitches. Oh well. That’s a shame then.

 

I have learned that the reason football is such a popular sport is because it is the game of the everyman. All you need is a ball and a space. Anything can mark out a goal, any flat-ish space can be a pitch of any size. And anyone can play providing you can run or kick or catch or if you’re lucky, all three.  I admire and like the fact that it is an easily accessible game. You can be rich or poor, from any country in the world, and understand the basics of football and how it works.  I do admit that the complexities are beyond me but I at least understand why it is loved worldwide, why it has more fans than any other sport, why people of all ages, colours, social standings can unite over it.  Half the club teams have “united” in the title!  But that doesn’t actually happen, does it? People don’t unite over it. People are divided. To me, it seems that there is more hate bred than unity created.  Oh I’ve seen the footage of people jumping arm in arm and celebrating, but after that point more alcohol is consumed and the fights break out and it’s not so happy after all.  I know that football hooliganism in the stadiums has pretty much been controlled. But I’m not talking about that really. I’m talking about an endemic attitude surrounding the sport.  I’m told it’s particular to this country and is heavily linked to the drinking culture and the resulting mob mentality that rears its ugly head in the UK.  Sadly, I can believe that. It’s something I feel ashamed to be connected to.  I wish it weren’t true. It’s why I want to disconnect myself entirely from the regular excuse we make for it – football.

 

People memorise the intricacies of matches, scores, player stats and transfers the way that I might memorise the ins and outs of a particularly fantastic piece of theatre or poetry or music.  People cry over a game being lost or won, but there are no real consequences to a country’s world standing in football.  The thing I love about theatre or poetry or music is that they can all make you reflect on life in new  ways. Through fictional portrayals they can change your opinions on reality.  I don’t think that’s true of football. It seems fairly meaningless in that respect. I accept that it’s a tactical game so the more you watch it the more you can appreciate it. But I know when I cry at something that moves me it’s because of its meaning.  The fans who cry over their teams, who protect the name of their team by fighting…I’m not sure they know why they feel that way.  I wouldn’t threaten violence to anyone except if they threatened the people I love. The football players, the managers, the teams…they don’t even know who their fans are.  So why are supporters so violently protective?

 

I have questioned a number of football fans over the last few weeks and not one of them has been able to really answer the question about why they care so much.  The closest I got to any kind of answer was from a friend who said it’s the idea that you’re part of something worldwide. That when everyone is watching the world cup final together, you’re united with the world. You’re all watching the same thing at the same time and it’s elation or agony but it’s together.  I replied that it sounds like the feeling Jews talk about at Passover. The safety and comfort and joy in the knowledge that Jews all around the world are sitting down to tell the same story and continue the traditions for another year.  He told me that being part of the football culture is a lot like religion.  And I suppose he’s right. In a world where atheism is fashionable but the human drive to be included has not disappeared, we find our communities where we can. We support our team or our country in football because it’s such an easy thing to belong to.  We do this without questioning what goes on underneath. We are happy to defend our teams or our countries. For nationalists it’s on the battle field and for others, the football field. And who am I to criticise that? For is there any religion or country truly without corruption?

 

Speaking of corruption, let’s look at the business side of the industry. Because for all the manifestations of religious belief it engenders, football is indeed an industry.  The scandal of Qatar hosting the world cup in 2022 and the paying off and corruption that has come to light is sickening. A country that has working conditions so terrible it amounts to slavery (actual slavery, not the kind of footballer buying and selling owning humans slavery I mused about earlier), that has no previously documented interest in football, that makes no sense as a host for the world cup is doing it anyway. And despite complaints about votes being bought, despite the hundreds of immigrants dying while the country builds itself up (quite literally) for 2022, despite the dire conditions that people are living and working in, FIFA refuse to change the decision. FIFA say it’s not their problem.  FIFA give no shits because they have their money.  Have a look at the quote from this article from The Guardian to see an estimate of how many people are dying in preparation for the Qatar world cup:

“Thanks to investigative work by the media and human rights organisations, and disclosures from the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (an NGO in Nepal) and the Indian embassy, we know now that more than 500 Indian migrant workers have died since January 2012 and more than 380 Nepalese workers died in 2012 and 2013.
There are an estimated 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar. Those from India make up 22% of the total, with a similar proportion from Pakistan. About 16% are from Nepal, 13% from Iran, 11% from the Philippines, 8% from Egypt and 8% from Sri Lanka.

Not only do we not know how many migrant workers have died from those other countries, too little is known about how those from Nepal and India were killed.”

– The Guardian, 14.05.2014
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/migrant-workers-dying-qatar-world-cup

 

Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I’m too optimistic about people. But that’s not good enough for me.  I think FIFA has a responsibility as a Western organisation to not condone the actions of a country that treats people so appallingly and shows little to no remorse for it.  FIFA, it is your problem.  Give the money back, vote again, give it to the second place contenders.  I think FIFA has a duty to crack down on everything that is bad about the culture surrounding football, whether it’s the corruption or thuggish, loutish behaviour that has come with football for too long.  I think footballers themselves need to start acknowledging the people that elevate them in this country and they need to be the ones to say that beating each other up is not good enough. I think a game that claims to unite people is not enough of a pay off for the greed-fuelled underbelly of the industry.

I mentioned earlier that many of my complaints to do with the attitude of fans is particular to the UK.  That it’s not so much about football but more about Friday night down at the pub. But why do we make such a cultural allowance for this through football? Why don’t we put some of that FIFA money or a percentage of the astronomical footballer’s salaries into educating people about not hating and not beating the shit out of each other? Why do we think it’s more OK because there’s a match on?

I don’t have answers to my big questions yet. I don’t think I’ll get them either.  But I know that I can’t watch a game knowing that there is such corruption underneath. I can’t enjoy the surface of football, knowing how much greed and hate there is surrounding it.  I can’t pretend that it’s OK, that it means enough to make it worth it. I don’t want to be part of what I see as a very ugly game.

‘X’ Marks My Face

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The universally recognised symbol of Coco Chanel

 

” *gasp* What’s wrong with your face?”

“Did you just go for a run? Your face is really red.”

“What’s that on your face?”

“What happened!? Your face…it’s so red!”

 

I have a mark on my face. It’s red and kind of blotchy and it’s been there for as long as I can remember. It might be a birth mark. It might not. I don’t know. I haven’t studied pictures of me as a baby that carefully. But I know it’s there. And that’s partly because when I don’t wear makeup to cover it, people don’t let me forget it.

 

It’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s certainly not a disfigurement, à la that character from Mike Leigh’s film Secrets and Lies.  But it is something that really affects me and that, for some reason unknown to me, elicits repeated comments from a wide variety of people.  I don’t think it’s that weird – it looks sort of like the x you see in maths – the one that’s curved. You know, the one you always need to find. Handy hint: it’s on my face.

One kind soul (who had just uttered the words “what’s that on your face?” and was desperately trying to back-pedal) told me it’s like the Chanel symbol (pictured above).  Well if I’m going to be branded, at least it’s by an iconic power house female of fashion, right? If you’re going to do it, do it in style.

Coco and her style aside, I would say one in every three times I don’t wear makeup someone comments negatively on my face.

For the record, this is my makeup-free face, at the end of today, June 12th 2014:

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

The first two were about 5 minutes after the girl at the checkout decided it was her place to comment on the face of a complete stranger.

In that last one where I appear to be holding myself for moral support (and to stop the camera wiggling) I’ve done a fade filter thing for emphasis. I actually don’t think it made any difference to the red, it just made the rest of my face paler.

 

I regularly and totally unthinkingly don’t wear makeup and I don’t think it’s a big deal. I have good skin and only ever feel the need to cover it because of the way people thoughtlessly react to the mark on my face.  A couple of close friends have suggested it is the wearing of makeup that makes the mark more noticeable when I am face-paint-free.  But given that on 1/3 of the days I choose not to cover the mark, people from my grandma, to friends, to the girls at the checkouts in any number of shops or tills at cafés (so, total strangers) apparently think it’s ok to stare at and question my visage, I think it doesn’t make that much difference either way. All I know is that when I wear makeup, no one says anything about my face.  It has also been suggested that I look into laser treatments if it bothers me that much (I’ve tried all the moisturisers under the sun and they make precisely zero difference) but that’s pretty expensive and I don’t think the NHS covers that sort of thing. It’s cosmetic and truth be told, I don’t really believe in it. To be honest, I’m kind of angry that I even wear makeup to cover it in the first place.  I wish it didn’t upset me when people say things. I wish I had grown tougher and more immune to it. I wish I was braver and didn’t care as much. I wish I didn’t mind the questions. But I do mind, I do care and it hurts. It makes me smaller every time.

 

I don’t know when it became OK to say to someone “what happened to your face?” but I really do get it a lot.

 

Please stop it. Please think before you open your mouth. Because I don’t stare at you and ask about your big nose, or wonky teeth, or bad BO problems, or birth marks, or dandruff, or weird gait, or terrible fashion sense (that’s something you can help by the way, you should look into changing that. If I can manage Chanel embedded into my actual skin, you can do better than those horrendous trousers. Seriously.) I don’t pick on your big glaring insecurity and shine a spotlight onto it.

I shouldn’t have to tell you – stranger, friend, relative – that a comment about my face is extremely personal. I shouldn’t have to launch into a short and much-repeated lecture about how I could have been smacked really hard by someone abusive and, you don’t know, and it’s none of your business and wouldn’t you feel bad if that’s what I told you it was, and what would you do then?  I shouldn’t be silently mortified by the 13 year old dickhead on the tube shouting about my red face or reduced to tears by the girl behind the counter because I was buying salad and she assumed I was sunburnt. I’m not sunburnt.  Nothing has happened. I haven’t been hit. I haven’t been running, I’m not too cold or hot. It’s my face, as it has been for as long as I can remember and it’s the only one I have.

 

So please, just shut up and leave it alone.

Lost In Communication

 

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 “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” – Charles Dickens

 

I’m on my phone a lot. I’m on my computer a lot. I’m a writer – I use a lot of screens. I would say I’m fairly close to being a master of electronically communicated comedy. I’ve got the text shouting thing down pat. A well placed capitalised sentence can induce “Actually laughing on my own, in public” from my recipient.  Yeah that’s right. I’m good with the written word. And I can type super fast so I never miss a beat or a joke.

But what is this doing to us as human beings?  Is it healthy?

Well, all the evidence would suggest no. It isn’t. I say “all the evidence”…I really mean “my reactions to things”.

If, as many people do, you have an iPhone, I know I can contact you in the following ways:

Phone call

Face time – also FaceTime voice call

iMessage

Text message

Email

Whatsapp (probably)

Skype instant message or call

Facebook – wall post, tagging in a status or private message

Twitter – public post and DM

Viber message or call (though I don’t have it so that one might be difficult. But in a pinch, I could download it, check to see if you have it and then if the other 9742 ways didn’t work I COULD GET HOLD OF YOU THIS WAY. At the very least I could invite you to use it. That’s what a sane and reasonable human would do, right?)

Off the top of my head I have just listed 16 different ways to contact you. SIXTEEN. WHY DO WE NEED TO BE CONTACTABLE IN SIXTEEN DIFFERENT WAYS?!

I cannot convey strongly enough how much this freaks me out. And how much of a contributing factor I believe this technology and communications phenomenon is to the ever increasingly psychotic behaviour of people in the Western world.

 

I am not a patient human being. I’m just not. I do try to be, but naturally I’m impatient with anything from replies to messages and emails to adults understanding basic concepts. I don’t do well with slow people. I operate at a high speed and I expect others to keep up. I suspect I have been made much worse by the high speed and higher speed and higher higher speed internet that makes everything so easily available.

 

Inevitably this brings me to online dating. We get to know people through screens, via websites and messaging services. We want them to text after a date, not call. It used to be that we waited for a phone call. Now we don’t talk, we text. That is a severe communication reduction. I was once in a relationship where we texted all the time but never really said anything. It’s so easy to do that. It’s not easy to phone someone and then not say anything without quickly realising that something is wrong. As a generation, we have become inept at making phone calls when we should.  We have lost out on getting to know each other vocally when we aren’t face to face. Of course there are some people who have never been the type to talk on the phone, but more and more we don’t have conversation, we just chat.

 

It can be argued that people used to communicate through writing, so actually what we have is a throw-back situation to the days of writing letters.  Here’s why that is not true – letters take time, thought and care. Occasionally we may choose to write an email over which we spend a lot of time, but I believe that is quite rare.  When someone hand-writes a letter to me and I open it, that is all I see. That letter has been written without distraction. I know the letter has not been interspersed with Facebook and twitter and emails and other things. It has been crafted by hand for me to read. Similarly, I give it my full attention.  When an email is written it is probably one of many tabs open. There are 9 million other things you can do on that computer screen. It’s not the same and does not elicit the same response as a letter.

 

Now let’s talk about mental health. There’s a lot of debate about if mental illness is on the rise, or if we’re just less taboo about it than in previous years, so we’re more aware of it. I think it’s perhaps a bit of both. I also think that part of the reason for the increase in young people suffering from depression, is that we don’t have time to process anything anymore. Living in the age of technology is overwhelming.  We’re expected to act quickly on everything.  Things have to be done immediately, if not sooner. The brain is wonderful – fast moving, adaptable, fascinating. But conversely, we need time to process information and news and ideas.  We don’t have the ability to know things immediately.  Ironically, we are given the most time to learn and understand new things as children, when our brains are actually at their speediest.

 

We are fairly immune to emails now. I have been given the advice to make a phone call when applying for a job so my emailed application doesn’t just fade into the blur of so many others. If you want something done by someone, you should call the person or go and see them – emails are much easier to ignore because we don’t see them as important. We are desensitised to them.

I still like to receive phone calls and talk to people. There are already people who are more comfortable with screens than humans, and seek refuge behind their computers.  Our real life, person to person communication is suffering because of our dependency on technology.  Look around you the next time you’re on a bus or tube or train. How many people are on phones or electronic devices? Are we even more uncomfortable with making eye contact with strangers than we used to be?  Our basic receptors to people are not the same as they used to be.

 

There are positives of course – the wealth of information we can access, the widespread capability of the news and being able to skype or facetime with a relative or friend across the world. Like magic. Technology in itself is neither good nor bad – it is neutral, but we don’t only use it for good. We replace the validation and understanding we crave from the people closest to us with selfies, Facebook likes, retweets. We mistake these things for popularity. We mistake these things for people caring about us and we mistake the tiny gesture of a click for giving attention. We are simultaneously much more callous and more fragile now – we forget that behind each screen is an actual person just like us, and our relationships are suffering.

I do believe that our heavy reliance on technology and the fast pace at which we insist on moving is psychologically damaging. Nervous breakdowns, stress, depression and anxiety are all apparently far more common now than they were, say, fifty years ago.  Although public perception and understanding of these conditions is part of it, there is no smoke without fire. The fire here, in my view, is technology. So goodbye conversation. It was nice knowing you.