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Is this the thought police?

After two weeks of heavy public pressure, including boycotts of Mozilla Firefox by OK Cupid and many LGBTQ activists, former CEO Brendan Eich has handed in his resignation. He resigned after public pressure and campaigns, for a point of view he held in private, which had not been proven to have affected his work. He had donated thousands of dollars to support Proposition 8, the legal ruling made in 2008 in California which rescinded same-sex marriage rights, and to support political candidates who supported the Proposition.

I am firmly against Mr Eich’s point of view. I am a feminist, an equalist, through to the bone and do not in any way agree with his expressed viewpoint. I personally would not want to work with or for anyone who held anti-equality views. However, I am disturbed by the fact Mr Eich was put into a position where he was forced to resign because of a personally-held point of view.

I was fired from a job once, because of my political views. It was my first job after leaving university and having completed a secretarial course, and ended almost a year of unemployment. My contract was not renewed after the probationary period. I worked for two bosses (a theme which seems to have carried on throughout my career) and the female underboss took me out to lunch on the day I was told. It was she who told me the overboss had made his decision because I was left-wing and outspoken as a woman. This I now find ironic as I was not particularly outspoken then. I couldn’t actually work out how the overboss had discerned my political leanings as I didn’t define myself as being of any particular leaning. He was right-wing, the owner of the actual business was a Conservative MP, but the job did not entail any political or opinion-giving tasks. But my job was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was fired because I did not politically align with my boss.

What is the difference between this and Mr Eich being forced to resign for a privately-held political viewpoint? If he had shown bias and discrimination in the workplace, in his job, in any way through Mozilla Firefox as a brand and product, then yes I could understand the position. He hadn’t done this though. It may have been possible that his view would change, and his statement certainly showed an interest in doing so.  Only time would have told, but this now is time we will not have to see whether he would have changed his opinions or whether he would have shown discriminatory behaviour.

I am concerned about this action. I was concerned with the proposed boycott and suggestion we switch from Firefox to Google Chrome, not least because Google pays an awful lot of money to Firefox to be the default server, so it seemed to me to be counterproductive.  Such a boycott would damage the many employees of the company.

Mostly, though, I am concerned at the idea that a person can be removed from their job because they hold a particular personal viewpoint. There is no evidence at all, that I can find, that Mr Eich’s views had ever affected his job. Mozilla has an excellent anti-discrimination policy, but Mr Eich had not actually shown any discrimination against anyone at the point of holding the job. There are only those donations in 2008. In fact, he had been working for Mozilla as Chief Technical Officer since 2005 and I cannot find any report of him having been discriminatory towards anyone at the company. If he had been, would it not have been publicised? I am bearing in mind that lack of evidence is not proof of lack of discrimination, but one can only act on what one knows.

I have been reading a lot about this issue, because it is one which concerns me. A rather excellent article supporting Mr Eich’s resignation was posted on Slate yesterday which agrees with the forced resignation of Mr Eich.  It seems those actually working for Mozilla were not happy with the choice of Mr Eich as CEO, and internal action was taken to remove him from the position with three Board members resigning over the majority vote appointment. He was a controversial choice from the start.

Ultimately though, if we allow a personal political view to force a person out of their job, rather than follow the legal channels and prove the person has behaved in a discriminatory manner, or allow a person to change, then aren’t we discriminating against them ourselves? I find Mr Eich’s view reprehensible, but that must be separate to my application of the principle of equality to all people. There is no evidence at all that Mr Eich had discriminated against anyone in the workplace. Shouldn’t we have given him a chance to fail, rather than just force him out? If he had discriminated in any way, then I would be all for a boycott, for forcing him out. But isn’t this a bit pre-emptive? I feel Mr Eich has been found guilty of the fact he may potentially have violated the laudable anti-discrimination policy of Firefox at some time in the future, rather than actually having done so.

Should it be proven Mr Eich discriminated against anyone, work colleague or employee, or had violated the Firefox anti-discrimination policy, then my view would change. Until then, I am very wary of any action which encourages punitive action against a personally-held political view. Mozilla prides itself on bringing together a diverse range of people. Where does the line get drawn? When does diversity stop?

No Make-Up Selfie = Narcissism?

I saw a link to this article in the Independent on Facebook today, and not for the first time the no make-up selfie meme which was intended to raise awareness of cancer research was defined as an act of narcissism by those who participated.  One comment stating this was enough to irk me, but more than one is getting me really mad.

The article states the campaign was sparked by a of an author who uploaded a photo of herself without make-up on in support of Kim Novak daring to bare at the Oscars.  This is a bit of a misunderstanding; actually the meme was initially a “Dare to Bare”  (http://www.escentual.com/dare-to-bare – if the link doesn’t work when clicked) campaign last October in which women were sponsored for going without make-up to work, or a social function, or similar such event, in order to raise money for breast cancer awareness.  The two separate events appear to have conflated on social media.

I understand men are now doing ‘socks on cocks’ selfies for testicular cancer.  This is great, if how to check oneself for lumps, bumps and testicular changes is posted with the photos.

Normally I intensely dislike memes which purport to raise awareness without actually giving any mention of the cause about which such awareness is to be raised.  It seems pointless and exclusionary to me, especially if one is supposed to specifically exclude a particular group of people as part of the meme.  This one, though, has sparked discussion, awareness-raising and fund-raising for myriad cancer charities and I myself did take part, linking to charities and two forms of checking for signs of cancer.  Here’s what I posted:

naked face - shocking!

me without make-up

“Here’s my profile picture without make-up for this cancer awareness meme thingy – did you know it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month this month, in the UK?: http://www.ocam.org.uk/
Have some more links:
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/
http://www.icr.ac.uk/
http://www.channel4embarrassingillnesses.com/video/how-to-check-yourself/how-to-check-your-testicles/
http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/about-breast-cancer/touch-look-check
Just a few to keep you going – Have a lovely day.”

But this is not what enraged me about the Independent article and the many other comments made with regard to the narcissistic nature of women posting selfies without make-up on.  What is narcissism?  The dictionary defines it as “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  From the comments I have read by women posting these selfies, whose genuine and heartfelt wish is to promote awareness and many of whom have donated to charities, an excessive interest or admiration of their own looks is the last accusation that could be thrown at their comments.

Women are judged by their appearance in our society, only someone brought up in a cave without any social interaction at all could fail to realise that.  The decision to bare their faces, publicly, on social media where photos are shared and seen by more than those who are in our immediate social circle and are permanent (unless deleted) so can be re-accessed days after the actual event, is one which flies against social norms for women and is in my opinion a brave move.  Yes, it is brave.  It is scary.  The myriad comments stating how hideous, horrible, monstrous, vile etc the women feel they look are not fishing for compliments.  This is how many, many women feel.  I have said and will probably say it again, often, about myself.   It is a socialisation that is ingrained within us.  We look at our faults, not our truth.  We see ourselves not as others see us, but as society thinks we should be and are failing to measure up to.  We wear make-up to give ourselves confidence to face the world, to conform to an ideal of attractiveness in as far as we can.  We want to be beautiful, to be accepted.  We are supposed to be beautiful to be accepted.  It’s not narcissism to do so, and it is most certainly not narcissism when we feel a cause is so important that we are willing to go against our fears to promote it.

So whilst I generally dislike such memes, this one was an effective one in the way people adapted it to their own use.  To disparage those women taking part as being narcissistic, self-loving, and to criticise the meme on that basis is ignorant.  It is a denial of the way in which women are viewed in this society.  It makes presumptions about the reasons for posting and the actions the poster is making alongside posting the photos.  Maybe a few women did post with narcissistic motivation, but by far the majority I saw and have read about did not.  They found posting terribly difficult but wanted to do something for those they have loved who have been affected by cancer.

That’s why I did it.  That’s why I shared the information.  Not for narcissism, but for awareness; the very point of the meme in the first place.

UPDATE: Cancer Research UK has reported receiving approximately £1.4million in donations through these selfies.

Male Abortion

I was having a conversation with two very good male feminist friends (very good both in terms of our friendship and in their activism with regard to intersectional equality) about the topic of abortion.  By virtue of the fact only women (and transgender men who retain their womb and functioning ovaries, who form a very small minority of such cases) get pregnant, abortion is an issue which is at the very heart of patriarchal social mores.  The idea was proposed by one of my friends that there should be a legal process by which the male sperm-donor who fertilised the ovum should be able to ‘abort’ the zygote/embryo/foetus (z/e/f).  This means they would have no contact, no rights and no responsibilities towards the child once born.

This would initially seem to equalise the situation with regard to abortion, because after all it physically only affects the woman’s body and it should be the woman’s choice as to whether to have one.  This has led to many arguments about how unfair this is towards the man who may end up being a father against his will.  I am going to write specifically on the proposed idea of the ‘male abortion’, so despite my strong temptation to pontificate at length on that extended topic, I shall resist … for now …

I completely understand the theory of the male abortion, and on paper it would seem to be an excellent solution to men who do not want children but are going to become fathers because their individual little tadpoley-sperm won the race to that enticing sexy little ovum.  The conversation we had was brief and we did not go into depth, but I have found myself thinking about the idea more and more.  Ultimately I do not see how, in our society, this could possibly work in reality.

Patriarchy is unfair, we all know this (at least we should do, if you don’t what rock of privilege have you been hiding under?).  Even amongst single parent families (sidebar – statistically most of whom are headed by women, who become single parents through divorce or separation from their partner), female-headed single parent households have seen a reduction in their disposable income in excess of the reduction experienced by men.  When male/female parents are separated, the single father who does not have primary residence and care of the child or children sees a rise of 23% in their disposable income whereas the single mother who does have primary residence and care sees a reduction of 15%.  Even when the father does have primary residence and care, he is more likely to have a higher level of income.  This statistic surprised me, I did not expect such a pronounced difference.

This data clearly does not back up the socially-constructed idea that single mothers are bleeding the fathers/welfare state dry, or that maintenance provided for the family unit by the father is in any way a superfluous boon to the mother who is therefore living it up on the father’s hard-earned dosh.

Have a pretty graph to help explain how this disparity is growing and for both male and female-headed households the position is worsening* (I had to photocopy and scan, thus the quality):

The situation is getting worse.

(insert comment about the government here – mine are all too rude)

So, if a male should have the power to abort their responsibilities, and the female continues with the pregnancy, patriarchy has already seen to it that the household will be in poverty or near to it.  Pregnancy takes sperm and ova, but only the female carries the z/e/f.  Ultimately it is and should be her choice whether to carry to term as it is her body.  The decision after that as to whether to keep or put up for adoption could be made by the biological parents, and I do agree that if the mother wants to put up for adoption and the father wants to care for the child, he should be able to have that option, with financial support from the mother in exactly the same way the mother would receive financial support from the father.

But that is when the child is already born.  For the gestation period, it is the female’s right to autonomy over her own body that takes precedence.  Yes, it may seem unfair to the male, but pregnancy is a risk every time you have sex even with all the best contraception in the world.  If you don’t understand that, then perhaps you should not have sex…  just saying… or you should be prepared to deal with all the potential consequences including impregnating the female.

The social safety net provided by the welfare state has been steadily eroding for years, and is now disappearing in leaps and bounds.  The only way that male abortion could work would be if the patriarchal system was already overthrown and childcare was accepted as the responsible, difficult job that it is.  If the male is aborting their rights and responsibilities, then there must be a welfare state capable of stepping in to ensure the child is not suffering in poverty and sufficient affordable childcare options available should the mother wish to work and not be a stay-at-home carer.  As this will be ensuring the child’s upbringing is not impoverished, it will aid all single parents, not just women, but because patriarchy is the way it is it will mostly aid women who are in the majority of single parent-headed households.  Until this system in existence and patriarchal oppression overcome, the male abortion is not only a perpetuation of patriarchy, it is a male abdication of the responsibilities that come with the risk of male/female penetrative sexual activity.

Furthermore, I’m really not sure how the male abortion would work in real terms.  An abortion means there is no child.  A male abortion would mean the father having no contact, rights or responsibilities and treating the child as if it never existed.  A male abortion would only occur if the female was not having an abortion herself.  So what happens given the fact the child does exist?  What if the child wants contact with the father, or if the father suddenly changes his mind?  What about the extended family – they would also have to have no contact with the child under these circumstances.  How would this be legally enforced?  What are the ramifications, in the long-term?

So, the fact that a male cannot have an abortion is unfair maybe on the father, but guess what?  So is patriarchy.  I cannot see a way in which this concept could practically work, legally, practically under patriarchy, and socially.  Maybe you have a different view.  Please do let me know.  I am open to the idea in theory.  Overthrow patriarchal oppression, and maybe it will change my opinion, as it is a practical solution which I cannot see ever working.

* http://wbg.org.uk/pdfs/WBG-briefing_Sept-2013_final.pdf

Hair Today…

So, I did this today:

check out my new t-shirt too!

Before the follicle massacre of 2014…

After

Post follicle massacre!

I was going to do an exact before and after, but the after one didn’t actually show my hair properly therefore negating the entire point of it.

I have never been so terrified in the run up to getting a haircut despite the fact I have been dissatisfied with my hair for a long time.  I am a staunch, openly-opinionated feminist (I know, you’d never have guessed).  It was not a snap decision – I have been fed-up with my longer hair for over a year, because I swim a lot and it was in bad condition and because I felt it was dragging my face down.

But hair is so much a part of the identity of a woman, and I was and am steeped in the patriarchal feminine definition.  I fight against it, but applying the fight outwards is very different to applying it to myself.  I have to walk around in this face, hair and body.  I can’t get away from how I have been taught and how I now see myself.

From my teenage years I have been larger than is considered acceptably attractive.  From being called thunder-thighs, to being teased and looked at as disgusting for having hairy legs (as a result of which I, of course, started shaving them by age about 14), to having insults thrown at me out of passing car windows, to being called butch and likened to Pat Butcher and Bella Emberg (strong, successful women in their own right who did not and do not fit society’s standards of beauty), to never ever feeling feminine and therefore attractive, I have never fitted into the model.  At least my heterosexual privilege meant it didn’t leave me terrified of my sexuality and fearful of homophobic abuse making my natural attractions to people… *sigh*

All this has left me terrified of short hair on me, yet I have always wanted it.  I did have short hair nearly 20 years ago, and it was the aforementioned insults which persuaded me to grow it again.  I bowed to social pressure and my own fears.

It is not external, this pressure, although it begins that way.  After a while, it doesn’t matter what others say, the view is ingrained.  I am a feminist and do fight against it.  I neither see it nor apply it to other people.  I need to walk the walk for myself but it is a clear sign of how strongly the patriarchal box of image is imbued in us that someone as steeped in feminism as I am finds it so very difficult to accept I am not how I have been defined.

So for those who may see me as butch, unfeminine and bolshy, I say I am cute, feminine in my own way (whatever that actually means and I reject that label, I’ve never naturally been that typically feminine in my personality anyway), intelligent and feisty.

I like me.  I like my hair for many practical reasons, and I think it does suit me.  If you think I look butch, that says more about you than it ever will say about me.  It is my body, my hair, my choice.  If you want to define me by my hair, then do so, but be careful because that definition you are imposing affects ALL women, cisgender and transgender and other-identifying.  It says “this is what you should be and do” and restricts and oppresses.  It inhibits a woman reaching her potential and therefore damages society – who knows what gifts are being suppressed and what achievements are being pruned before they had a chance to bud?

I fought my terror, which in the big scheme of things is not going to change anything other than my own strength.  I am now buzzing that I have done this and am proud of myself for moving past the box I still feel I should fit in to become more of the woman I want to be.

I may have cut my hair but unlike Samson my strength has grown as a result!

What Benefits Culture?

Tonight there is a special Channel 5 (owned by Richard Desmond of Daily Express/Daily Star ‘fame’) programme called “The Big Benefits Row”, which has been advertised as an in-depth discussion of the increasing reliance on welfare and why we have become a ‘benefits culture’.  This is hot on the heels of Channel 4’s extremely polarising ‘Benefits Street’ which has met with much criticism for being exploitative and non-representative.

We are presented with the idea that we are:
(a)     Living in a benefits culture in which people are choosing to live on benefits.
(b)    Becoming poorer as a country because we are having to support these people who are not working (and again, the intimation is that people are choosing benefits as a lifestyle choice).
(c)    Somehow anyone who is reliant on benefits is ‘them’ and is not represented nor has any voice in the media, unless by campaigning people and groups rather than by any mainstream  news outlet.

The fact is that those who claim benefits are now far more likely to be in work than out of it, and the largest sector by far is those relying on state pensions.  Check out the government’s own statistics by clicking here.

In unemployment types of benefits, the numbers of claimants is reducing month by month.  Here, have a couple of pie charts:

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Breakdown of time spent on benefit, month by month.

Not the picture the media presents...

Who claims what?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what is this ‘benefits culture’?  Where is this idea that people are leaving school or work and choosing a life on benefits?  I don’t see a benefits culture, I see an ‘Anti-Benefits Culture’, one borne of the desire to ensure the need for welfare aid at any point in one’s life is a sign of failure, of being a ‘lesser’ person and of being a burden.

This is absolute rubbish.  The welfare state was created by Aneurin Bevan and his colleagues in response to the desperate poverty, disability, illness and need that society was suffering after World War 2.  It is a hard-fought for institution envied the world over for the way it shows care and concern for the less fortunate who through no fault of their own cannot support themselves within the boundaries set by the ever-increasing cost of living.  It is a measure of our society how well we care for the least able to do so, whatever the reason they are temporarily or permanently unable to.

No-one can predict the future, yet somehow those on benefits are supposed to have had foresight and chosen not to have children or larger houses or anything expensive in the foreknowledge that they would lose their income and no longer be able to independently support their lifestyles.

At each turn those on benefits are demonised, taxed out of their homes and sanctioned unfairly (with the Citizens Advice Bureau even being reported on Channel 4 news in the ultimate in Benefits Street irony). and forced to desperate measures including suicide in the despair they are forced to live in.

The wealth gap between rich and poor has never been wider, and yet whilst bankers are criticised for their bonuses and lack of responsibility the most vehement criticism is poured on those least able to have a balanced, nuanced response.  That wouldn’t make good TV, not in this era of mockumentary scripted reality shows.

Yes there are those who cheat the benefits system, much like bankers did with the international monetary system and hedge funds (or rich people gambling as I like to call it), or tax evaders do, or companies offshore circumventing corporation tax do, or MPs making expenses claims do,  but in far lower numbers and with far less national economic impact.  There are also others who will never be able to support themselves entirely independently, and will always need some assistance.  I have a disability but am lucky enough to be able to manage my chronic pain to work full-time.  My husband, on the other hand, is perfectly fit and healthy but because he is a certain age and has Shop Management experience and has to be available to care for me in order that I CAN work full-time, he cannot find a job.   He gets no benefit at all, despite having paid his stamp for 20-odd years.

Even so, fair enough, if we can look after ourselves on my wage, I’d rather the money went to those who cannot sustain themselves.  But instead of social community and caring, we are persuaded to see those on benefits as leeches.  You know what?  I’d RATHER see a few benefit cheats slip through the system and get welfare aid they are not entitled to than see increased hardship, poverty, demonisation, suffering and death.

We do not live in a benefits culture, we live in an anti-benefits culture.  I think that is a great shame on our government, our media and our non-thinking people.  I want my taxes to help those in society who need it, for whatever reason.  I don’t see it as my money.  It is our money, for the benefit of all of us.  That is the benefits culture I want to see.

Modeling Consent

tinapj:

The concept of ‘rape culture’ is pretty well known now (if you don’t know what it is, explore my blog – I’ve detailed it). This is a superb post on how we can move forward to a consent culture. Check this blog out. You are welcome!

Originally posted on Disrupting Dinner Parties:

This guest post is written by Rebecca Flin

So we know what “rape-culture” is at this point, right? Thank god we finally have a word for it! Like the emergence of the term, “sexual harassment” in the 1970s, the recent addition of the term “rape culture” to our everyday lexicon has given us a way to describe what used to be called “just the way it is” or “life”. Therefore, we are now able to see and discuss it. And I don’t know about you guys, but I see it everywhere: movies, the news, music, child-raising, the subway, you name it. Rape culture is our culture. But now that we see it, we can start changing it right?

So tell me, what can I do to move away from rape culture? There’s certainly a lot of discussion out there about what NOT to do –aka what rape culture looks like…

View original 1,352 more words

Living With Chronic Pain

This is my experience – everyone who has a chronic pain condition will have different experiences and different, personal, ways of dealing with it.  There will be commonalities, but all I can depict is what I live.  My diagnosis is spinal osteoarthritis, or degenerative osteoarthritis depending upon which GP you speak to.  I was diagnosed aged 31.

Chronic pain is very different to acute pain.  Acute pain is the type we all have, like headaches, toothache, stomach ache, pretty much anything-ache, stubbing your toe, or the type of pain that comes with an injury like a broken bone.  It is temporary and will get better (although sometimes chronic pain conditions can be triggered or exacerbated by acute pain physical injuries).

Chronic pain will happen no matter what you do and is persistent.  It is indicative of an underlying condition.  My chronic pain is sporadic and I am lucky in that I am not in chronic pain ALL the time, and when I am it is at different levels on a 1-10 scale.  I feel some level of pain about 90% of my daily waking hours (sleep is consciously pain-free), and for about 80% of that it is somewhere between 2 and 4 on the pain scale.  About 15% of the time that skyrockets to between 6 and 8 and when I am VERY unlucky it is a 9.  I have yet to suffer a 10 due to chronic pain, although have had bouts of acute pain at that level, most notably when I had gastroenteritis and was hospitalised, and when a mistake was made with my prescription medication for epilepsy and I experienced such excruciating head pains that my then-fiance and I considered eloping as we were seriously not sure I would survive to our wedding day.   We thought I had a tumour or aneurism as the doctors weren’t listening to me about my sodium valproate side-effect suspicions.  That is a different story, and I digress…

As to what it feels like – at worst it is as if the vertebrae in my spine are covered in hard spikes and are grinding against each other, sticking into the muscles around them.  Normally it is a dull ache in the bones with corresponding muscular pain throughout my back.  It can be difficult to hold my head up when the pain is in my neck.  At best, it is merely muscular aches.  I am almost always in a low level of pain but it is incredible what the mind can get used to.  I don’t really notice it below a level 3.

So what are the effects of my chronic pain on me?  Any plans I make are subject to last-minute cancellation.  I have to carefully plan out my week; spontaneity is fun and I do try to keep some of the unexpected in my life, but that does mean I will be immobile and/or in pain thereafter.  In the last week I managed to go out three nights in a row after work to spend time with friends who I hadn’t spent quality time with in a while.  The whole weekend was therefore a write-off and I had to miss out on another friend’s birthday shenanigans.

I feel unreliable and I know almost everyone who has any form of chronic pain condition feels this as well.  At some point, you will stop getting invites as people think you won’t come anyway.  Not all people will do that, and many won’t even realise they are doing it.  There may also be a touch of paranoia in perception, but it is this perception of unreliability that is one of the hardest things to deal with when living with a chronic pain condition.  The reality is I am as reliable as I possibly can be within the parameters allowed by my chronic pain.

It affects my relationship with my SooterkinTM (parents – stop reading this paragraph if you don’t want to be embarrassed, skip to the next one).  I cannot always be physical when I want to be; the spirit is willing but the flesh is wracked with ouch-y.  I don’t mean merely sex; hugging can be a trigger, kissing can cause neck twinges, minutest of actions can have massive consequences.  It is not possible to predict what might trigger, so even being able to be intimate may mean pain afterwards.  That’s always worth risking though.  Have you met my SooterkinTM?  He’s the best…

Parents, come back in here.  Apologies to all for the untoward diversion into soppiness.  Moving on.

All of this I feel guilt about, although I recognise and understand that it is misplaced guilt.  I can’t help it but I have learned to forgive myself for these actions.  I also feel anger at my body and the pain that inhibits me.  Again, I have learned to let go of that rage as it will turn in on me, the tension will cause the pain to extend and it is not helpful to either my mental or physical condition.

However, as anyone who has ever felt pain of any kind knows, it can leave you short-tempered, impatient and easy to annoy and upset.   I will also often writhe around in an attempt get my spine to ‘click’ or to ease or try to find a more comfortable position.  I feel nauseous when it is a 6 or above (as it is right now as I type this – I have had two of my prescribed painkillers and know I will need more).  I cannot sit, stand, lie or remain in any one position for too long.  I hear myself snapping at people (usually beloved SooterkinTM who never deserves it) and tears are never far from the surface.  Guilt compounds upon guilt, but I know the pain will come, no matter what I do, nor is there anything I can do to cure it.  Sometimes it is difficult and like many who live with chronic pain, I have clinical depression.  The two do not necessarily go together, it must be said!

Painkillers help with the pain, but they also have side effects and I don’t want to build up a tolerance so I will only use them when the level is 6 or above.  I have to balance my life and work holistically.  I have a choice of walking sticks to help on the middle-worst days.  There are some things I simply cannot do.  I cannot vacuum or mop floors, I cannot do weekly shops by myself as I cannot carry heavy weights, I cannot dance the dance of the squat-party people as I used to, I cannot do weights at the gym (although I hadn’t done that for 15 years anyway), I cannot become a rower (although I never wanted to).  There are so many more things I can do though, and part of dealing with my chronic pain is to concentrate on what I can do and not what I can’t.

The best thing I have ever done for myself was to go on a Pain Management Clinic CALM course at Lewisham Hospital.  I had already set myself up in a regular exercise routine to strengthen my back (the advantage of having become a qualified Reflexologist meant I had a basic understanding of my anatomy and physiology and how to target particular areas to maintain optimum mobility; I was unable to practice because in a massively unfortunate turn of events, physically doing a session triggered pain).  However, I needed help dealing with the psychological and emotional impact chronic pain has.  I did not know how to balance at this point.  I would push myself on good days which would make the bad days worse.  This creates a massive peak-and-trough wavy line graph of pain/not-pain.  I needed to learn how to keep the peaks and troughs within manageable limits.  Its an ongoing process, I adapt each and every day, but I now have the tools to recognise what I am doing, and if I push occasionally, it is an informed choice to do so.

I have two mantras – “this too shall pass” and “motion is lotion”.  The latter is directly lifted from the CALM programme, and means that I need to keep myself moving in order to be able to keep myself moving.  Small, gentle physiotherapy exercises help immensely, as does the regular swimming programme I put myself on.  All this still has to be balanced with the demands of a full-time job I am still able to maintain, and having a modicum of a social life because I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up having fun!  The balance adjusts if, for example, I have to do some overtime.  Extra work means I will have to miss out one swimming session or an evening out.  If I go out twice in a week, it means nothing will happen in the weekend.  Even with these plans, I will still find myself cancelling arrangements.

I am extremely lucky to have a very supportive workplace; my bosses often tell me not to push myself and worry for me.  They knew about my condition before they employed me, and in fact I started off one day a week, building slowly to five.  I’ve been full-time for 7 years now, with no problems.  On average I only have to take 2  days off a year due to chronic pain.  I am an exception to the workplace rule, sadly, and that is something which makes me very angry.  Chronic pain can be managed with the support of a sympathetic workplace.  It needn’t inhibit an employer from employing a potentially very productive person.  Balance makes you very organised and great at prioritising, and there is nothing better for a company than a dedicated and loyal employee.

So, this is what it is like for me to live with chronic pain.  It does not define me but it is a part of me.  In many ways, I am actually grateful.  I am more focused, because I have to be.  I have a regular exercise routine and am physically healthier than I have ever been in my life.  I have the most supportive and caring people in my life, because you quickly find out who cannot deal with you.  I am now classified as disabled as I cannot walk distances on my worst days so have a Disabled Freedom Pass – yay, free travel in London!  There is a lot to be positive about, and that is absolutely the most important thing in dealing with the pain, to remain positive.  It takes work, don’t get me wrong, and is a constant work in progress, but what’s the alternative?!  I still have a life to live and I’m damn well going to enjoy it!

Loving Your Ladyparts

I posted an article and depiction of an art installation on Facebook, featuring the plaster-casts of 160 vaginas (the article is a miscount), taken from all types of women from young to old, cisgender- and transgender-identifying, adorned and unadorned etc, with the intention of sharing the myriad variety of vaginas that are in existence.  The article, and my reason for posting, was to confront the rising number of women who are seeking plastic surgery to remodel these most tender and intimate of body parts.

There is a great difference between having cosmetic surgery in order to conform to a socialised ideal of beauty and seeking corrective surgery for either transitioning or ridding oneself of discomfort or pain or lack of sexual feeling caused by an extended labia or clitoris/clitoral hood, for example.  I am talking solely about surgery which is intended to alter the look of one’s vaginal area and not to address a medical issue.

My post sparked a discussion partly based on a fundamental misunderstanding of my position as detailed above.  One participant linked to a documentary on the topic, for which I thank them and which can be viewed here, which contains the earlier-mentioned art installation explained by the artist (NSFW – graphic imagery including surgery).

Vaginas change throughout one’s life, that is normal.  It is not discussed and most women have no idea what their own vagina looks like, let alone that of their friends.  As the video states, a vagina varies in labia length from 2 to 10 centimetres, and that variation can occur for just one woman as they grow older.  There is no ‘normal’ look.  It is not a discussion for sex education, but perhaps body image and issues should be discussed in schools and within families, to address this fear of ‘abnormality’ which bears no relation to reality.

The salient point, for me, is the reason why women and girls as young as 16 are having cosmetic surgery on their genitals and consequentially how much of a free choice the decision to beautify oneself is.  We live in a culture where women are valued for their looks and are objectified at every turn.  Females in the public eye will find their clothing, hair, make-up, choice of whether to retain body hair (remember the Julia Roberts has unshaved armpits ‘news’ story?) up for intimate discussion.  Their body of work is eclipsed by discussion about their body.  Studies into the pornification of culture and the correlation between this and increasing pressure to conform to an idealised image of intimate body parts is being conducted.  Such pornification results in there being no part of a woman’s body that is not up for analysis, comparison and rating within a westernised, heteronormative, white-privileged ideal.

Transgender women, who already have to conform to a patriarchal concept of ‘female’ gender in order to seek medical assistance in transitioning, risk transphobic ridicule by prejudiced members of society if they do not conform, but the conformation is to a stereotype.  Thankfully the medical profession is slowly changing in this but society is slower to catch up.  Vaginas vary as much as individuals do, whether cisgender- or transgender-identifying.

Lads mags and glossies promote a particular ideal, and nudity within raunch culture means all parts of women are critiqued.  Pressure is increasing to conform.  Women are pressurised within relationships to ‘beautify’ and I know of more than one woman who has told of being dumped because of an ugly vagina.  Excuse or not for ending a relationship, this is very psychologically damaging.  Vaginas change shape and elasticity as women age, especially if they have had children.  Growing another human (or more than one) and then pushing it out through a tunnel that in my head it really shouldn‘t fit through (I am and shall always remain child-free) is incredible and should be celebrated.  No mother should ever feel ugly or deformed as a result of birthing a child.

Cosmetic surgery will not address the psychological issues which exist.  I spent years wanting rhinoplasty because I felt witch-like and ugly; I still do sometimes but now recognise the peer and social pressure I am under and have reached a point where I can understand we all find different things attractive (a different concept to ‘beauty’) and that I am loved and lovable.  I am seen as beautiful by those that matter to me.  That beauty is subjective, unique to me, and is far more than skin deep.  I don’t always feel that acceptance of myself, I am just as subject to society’s pressures as anyone else, and I know that not everyone will be able to reach that level of acceptance.

To put yourself through such intimate surgery with all the risks that any surgical operation will entail makes me question how much of a free choice it is for a woman to make, given the society we live in.  I will support the choice as I do believe it is a woman’s right to do what she chooses with her body.  But that does not mean I will not question why such a choice is being made, within the context of our patriarchal society.  Sharing the image of the 160 vaginas in the artwork with all the people you know would, I believe, be a good start in addressing this.

THE BIBLIOPHAGE

A story for Robin Stevenson

“a person who loves books; a bookworm; a parasite that consumes books’ physical contents”

I am sated; full, brimming with the language of love, lust, anger, fear, murder and mayhem.

Each tasty morsel has consumed me as I have consumed it.  Hours, days pass and I see and feel nothing but that of the printed page.  Hunger for the word has hidden the world from me, and me from the world.  I can now leave my place, my secret place, my place of wonder and wishing, for a while.

Words surround me, filling my consciousness with the sweet honey nectar of learning, understanding, perceiving.  I experience so many lives, so many journeys, through the pulped trees which give their lives for my joy.  Not just in the pages of other worlds, but in the everyday mundanity of the street sign, the advertising hoarding, the menu and the email.

Joy when social media erupted across my face, direct intravenous bloating of my brain with words immediately accessible and constantly updated.  I no longer fear the moment my feeble body is unable to carry the weight of a new tome; I can carry a library in my pocket on a lightweight e-reader.

I am a word slut (positive word, I reclaim it), a collector of definition and syllable.  I have favourites, many favourites, always changing and constantly updating, but am loyal to the most dedicated of those whose sounds and meanings are seared into my mind.

Serendipity – starting gently, rising up with hope and happiness and ending with a hop, skip and a jump; joyous and inviting.

Susurrus – smooth, snakelike, sliding around the tongue as a lover invited to give and take, whispering and curving around my mouth and into my brain.

Onomatopoeia – says what it means and means what it says and says what it does and does what it says and circles around and around in a glorious whirl of definition; it makes me giddy.

More words, sentences, structures, intricate and telling, simple and complicated, hanging like overripe fruit ready to fall into my gaping maw.

I leave my home.  I walk the streets, going where I need to go and devouring the gifts my world shows me.  “One Way Street” – words are the only way; “Menu” – food for the eyes and stomach, “Entrance” and “Exit” – promises of places unexplored and new doors to walk, run, throw myself through.  The signs in supermarkets engage my eyes and lead me to unseasoned pleasures.  I am tempted, and temptation leads me on.  An onanistic orgy of exploration within soft and hard covers awaits me and I am impatient.

I return to my womb, my home, my library.  Walls lined and decorated with the pornography of my desire.  Pages softly turned, caressed and stroked by my lovers hand.  I curl up.  I am surrounded by all I need and I will take it slowly and quickly, as my desire is formed.  The lines of fonts and handwritten script, letters and books and all that exists, created for me and by me as I take it all in.  I will feast, I will gorge, I will devour.  I will be made fat by the written word and I will be sated again and again.  I am the Bibliophage.

TIMEBANK: PART II – The Will to Write

(pause to groan at the frankly awful punning title)

I have written about the Timebank scheme before, when I first took part.  You can see that blog here.

This month, I am doing two events:
23rd November 2013 – 1 pm -  5pm, Lee Green Community Group, 3 Leegate SE12 8SS
30th November 2013 – 12.30 pm – 4.30 pm, Sydenham Community Library, 210 Sydenham Road SE26 5SE

This is such a wonderful scheme to be involved in.  At first, I thought my skills were not what would have been needed or wanted at such events.  I write Wills, as my profession (in part, I also freelance content write and legal secretary for filthy lucre, and write poems and prose for fun) and did not see how anyone could possibly want such skills utilised in what is usually deemed leisure hours.  Being a Will writer, I naturally see such documents as incredibly important.  Also, I have real personal pleasure and a feeling of achievement from helping to ensure people are secure and feel happy that they have made provision for their loved ones at what will be a time of intense personal grief.  I could not see how that skill would be useful at a Timebank.

I was so wrong, and gladly so.  Not everyone can afford to have professional Wills drawn up, and although you can obtain basic forms from stationers across the nation, they do not provide you with the rules you must follow and language that will ensure your bequests and desires are met exactly as you would wish them to be.

It’s so easy to make a fundamental error, from not having the signing of your Will validly witnessed or leaving out wording which takes your bequest from cast-iron to possibly intestate (usually if a person has died before you, or if you have left a bequest to a ‘class’ of people such as grandchildren without specifying a deadline as to when grandchildren have to be born or have passed away by).  This can tie up estates for many years.

Sometimes things can affect your estate without you realising.  Say you aren’t married to or in a civil partnership with your partner, but have children.  If you do not leave a life interest in the home you share with your partner to your partner, they have no right to live there (unless you jointly own the property).  Further, if you are not married or civilly partnered, then your partner has no right to any of your estate at all (unless jointly owned).  I have dealt with Probate of such estates and the pain this can cause is tremendous.

The best thing about the Timebank for me is not the skills I share, though.  It is being a part of a community in which time is given freely, to help those around you.  I too benefit; I cannot sew and there are always people there with their sewing machines ready to sew, mend, fix and teach others how to do so.  Bike repairs are taught and made, music is shared, computer skills and basic IT help is given – in fact anything that is not a skilled profession (Timebank is strict not to impinge on paid employment) is possible.

It is not simply an event held once a month either.  People earn ‘hour’ tokens, which I usually donate.  People can register with the Timebank, and thus elderly and mobility-impaired people can donate their skills from their home in exchange for help with household tasks they might not otherwise be able to manage (again, not taken the place of trained Carers) such as a simple lightbulb change, or simply spending time with someone.

People sometimes need permission in some way to help others out, for fear of infringing on their personal space or making assumptions about needs, or simple embarrassment.  I know I have felt this way.  Timebank allows you to do that.

Whilst people do donate skills they would also charge for, Timebank is very careful not to impinge on the waged sphere.  If waged skills are donated, they can be exchanged for similar waged skills and this can help new businesses and community groups get off the ground.

I am grateful to have the opportunity Timebank gives me.  I didn’t think I had skills, but now I know everyone has something they can do.  If you are interested, the Rushey Green-based website is here and the national UK site can be found here.

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