Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Healing, and playing the victim

Devote too much attention to your experience of being a victim, and someone will come by and knock you back. Wallowing in victimhood, you will be told, is bad, and wrong and just keeps you in that victim place and you should shut up about it and move on. We have a culture that does not give any of us much space for supposed negative emotions – grief, rage, pain, and so forth are to be tidied away and denied. It can also be uncomfortable for people who are fine, to hear from people who are not, because it may challenge assumptions and beliefs, expose vulnerability and/or complicity.

A person who has been a victim – be that of exploitation, abuse, assault, emotional, physical or psychological mistreatment has a process to go through. Abusers tend to be good at victim blaming. There will be reasons for what happened and the victim will have been faced with the reasons enough times to believe them. This happens because you are bad, you deserve it. You aren’t worth a proper wage, or respect, or kindness. You don’t properly qualify as a person so human rights don’t apply to you. Hearing those reasons keeps the victim in a situation. However, oppression can be bigger and systematic – as with racism and sexism. Your people deserve no better. Your gender has less value to this community.

In order to change anything, the victim needs to see their own victimhood. They need to recognise that what happened was not fair or deserved. Often this process means connecting with others who have had, or are having the same experiences. It is easier to see what’s wrong when you see it happening to someone else. In swapping notes, victims gain insight, courage and confidence. At this point, it is not unusual for non-victims to pile in and complain about the pity party, the reinforcing of the idea of victimhood. I’ve never experienced sexism so you other women are clearly the problem. I’ve never experienced racism so I don’t think it exists… and so forth. It doesn’t help.

When people recognise the abuse, and start picking apart the mechanics of the abuse, they become able to make changes. They get out of the relationship or the job, if it’s that easy. They start protesting and demanding equal rights – which evidently takes decades if not longer. There comes a point when the victims start demanding that the non-victims pay attention and make some changes.

If you don’t let people recognise their victimhood, you don’t give them the space to get angry and change things. If you don’t let people swap notes about their exploitation, you don’t let them organise to make change. If you don’t let victims speak about their mistreatment, you will never see what in the system facilitates it. You stay comfortably inside the system that is facilitating abuse. That’s no doubt why it is easier to complain about the pity party, tell people to shut up, and denigrate them for ‘playing the victim’. Otherwise we might have to deal with our own advantages and complicity, and that would be uncomfortable. It is easy to put personal comfort ahead of social justice.

Abuse and exploitation are not things that happen away, in private arrangements. These things happen in the context of cultures we are part of – systems, laws, balances of privilege that we are all upholding. If we make it the business only of the victim to work out how to turn that around and become a survivor, the underlying causes of abuse and exploitation remain, with our tacit support.

Keeping it real

We are social animals and we often do better when we can gather with other people. I’ve been noticing over the last few months some of the ways in which social media doesn’t answer social need.

In times of difficulty, many of us seek relief in saying what’s going on, but on social media at the moment this translates into a relentless wall of negativity. I find, and I’m no doubt not alone in this, that I can’t come up with something good, supportive, encouraging or just simply witnessing for every facebook friend who is struggling each day. I’d like to be able to, but with the way politics is grinding most of us down right now, it would be a full time job, and I don’t have the emotional resilience to do it.

By contrast, I found myself at a spoken word event at the weekend, where politics came up. Politics handled by clever, funny, good hearted people turned into the cathartic power of being able to laugh at it in a room full of likeminded souls. I came away feeling better about things.

I’m lucky in that I live somewhere there are more good and affordable events than I can get to in a week. I’m blessed with a fantastic network of friends as well. No matter how bad things look, they seem less grim when in the company of other people who care, and feel anxious, frustrated, angry… because what we do with those feelings over a pint or on a walk enables us to witness each other, and think about how to keep going, where the bright spots may be and so forth. Sharing with people in person has power.

Of course not everyone can get into spaces with other people, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been there – cut off by a lack of transport and money, living in a place where very little happened. It helps if those who have the means are willing to get themselves to the people who don’t once in a while. It helps when we think about each other and support each other.

It doesn’t take prohibitive amounts of time and effort to name a place and time. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and doing it as someone with unreliable energy levels and limited resources. Keeping it minimal helps. A drink and draw in the pub. A walk. A picnic. Making sure there’s easily accessible space every weekend for anyone who wants it. Posting on events and social activities other people are running. It’s important that we keep putting our bodies in the same space when we can, because humans respond well to being in the same space as other humans we like.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s easy to feel lost and alone. Ostensibly social media can often be a blessing, but it can equally serve to make things seem even worse. Being with other people gives us more scope to change things within ourselves. It’s a small resistance, a small revolution, but I think that right now, just refusing to be beaten by all the hate and mean-spiritedness out there is a significant act of resistance.

How to heal

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that there are a lot of underlying factors when it comes to healing. These apply to both mental and bodily health – which henceforth I shall just describe as ‘health’.

Most importantly, if you are going to heal, you have to not be living with the thing(s) making you ill in the first place. Otherwise all you can do is tackle symptoms. This is often really hard to achieve, because work life balance, family responsibility and where you live are most likely implicated if your health issues aren’t caused by accident, cancer, virus or bacteria.

Healing requires a good diet. Illness may be caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition. It is important to note that for people in significant poverty, this is often hard to fix because protein is expensive. You need it to heal brain chemistry as much as you do to heal skin or muscle.

Healing requires rest. Rest requires time, peaceful spaces to be in, and being free from the demands of others.

Healing has to be a priority. You need to be able to put it ahead of most if not all other considerations in order to achieve the points I’ve raised above. If you can put your healing first, it is much easier to heal. If you have to prioritise other things – work, family, someone else’s needs… your own healing may take longer, or may be set back.

If these kinds of resources are available to you, then it is easy to get on with the work of making yourself well again – or as well as you can be in the context of what’s made you unwell. At this point, deploy your positive thinking and do what needs doing, and you can get results. However, if your life does not allow you to prioritise healing, if you can’t afford to eat well enough, if you have no way of getting out of the toxic workplace or the mould-filled flat, or the demands on you won’t ease off… healing is difficult and slow if it’s possible at all. All the positive thinking in the world cannot replace what rest, space, good food and the such will achieve.

On the alternative side, we’re too quick to look at the power of positive thinking and we aren’t talking enough about the privileges involved in being able to stop and sort things out. Given the way in which disability increases a person’s risk of financial poverty, there is potential for some truly vicious circles here. Poverty makes you more vulnerable, which increases the odds of not getting over a health setback, which will make you poorer, and more vulnerable to poor health. Illness, accident and health-destroying experiences will, if you don’t have a safety net of some sort, throw you into poverty which reduces your chance of being able to recover. There’s no reason it has to be like this, the choice is purely a consequence of political decisions and priorities.

Against tyrannical clothing

Let me start by saying that I have no problem with gear needed for health and safety reasons, because health, and also safety. I have no problem with anything a person chooses to wear, or with people not wearing clothes – your body, your business. I am willing to accept that uniforms are helpful in some circumstances, both for practical reasons and for ease of being able to see at a glance who is doing the things. These are not tyrannical clothing issues.

Tyrannical clothing is about imposing unreasonable clothing on people so as to emphasise the power difference. There’s no practical aspect to it – in fact it is often profoundly impractical and designed to make the wearer uncomfortable so as to keep them constantly aware that they have no power. Using the power imbalance to force clothes onto people that are unsuitable, uncomfortable, humiliating, is all about disempowering the victim, and it has to stop.

I’m thinking primarily of two items here in conventional western use – the neck tie and the high heeled shoe. I was obliged to wear a neck tie as part of a school uniform, and many people – especially men – are required to wear them at work. In hot weather, they are a source of misery and discomfort. They serve no purpose. We perceive them as smart because we’re told that’s what they are, but they are just a dangly bit of fabric. Woolly neck scarves, and tying lace around your neck is not considered smart, because there is no inherent ‘smartness’ in the bit of fabric. It’s just a tool of social conditioning.

The high heel is far worse because they can and do cause harm to the feet, the hip joints and in women who are still growing, you can get bone deformity. In old age you can have bunions. Most of us can’t walk any distance in a high heel, we certainly can’t run apart from some very talented exceptions. High heels make you feel precarious and vulnerable if they aren’t your thing, and yet some ‘uniforms’ require them of female workers.

We could also afford to look at double standards – work and educational spaces that allow women to wear cool, lightweight clothes in the summer while the men have to sweat it out in shirt, trousers and tie. Workspaces and educational places that let men be warm in the winter but require women to freeze in short skirts, tights and impractical shoes. There is no practical gain here, only those in power ignoring the needs of the people who have less power.

If a uniform item serves no practical purpose, and instead causes discomfort, it should not be legal to enforce the wearing of it.

Politics for the common good

Imagine for a moment how different things would be if the whole point of politics was to serve the common good. Clearly there are, around the world, parties, leaders and individuals who very much care about the common good, but far too many care about their own power, and the preferences of rich lobbyists.

What would politics for the common good look like if we imagine that on a world scale? An end to war. A fairer planet, free from slavery, exploitation, poverty and hunger. An end to oppressive regimes. Taking care of the Earth and making sure we don’t pollute the air, or the water, or over exploit resources, or mistreat other living things.

At a country level, it would mean putting quality of life for all ahead of profits for the few. It would mean everyone with a roof over their head and no one going hungry. Free healthcare and education for all, access to leisure, sports, culture and community for all. It would mean freeing ourselves from the politics of hate and fear to focus on the good we can do for each other. It would mean resources going where they are most needed, rather than to the highest bidder.

All sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it?

Except for the small issue that politics is something humans invented, and what’s running it and doing it is nothing but other humans. Why can’t we change it so that it works for everyone? Is it just the fantasy that we too could magically become one of the minority who benefit rather than being part of the exploited majority that stops us trying to turn things around? Is it lack of imagination? Or lack of belief? What’s stopping us? Are we all so obsessed with competing for survival and our own personal greed that we can’t see the massive advantages in fairness and co-operation?

Imagine if politics existed solely to provide and facilitate good things and to manage resources fairly and responsibly. What would it take to make that happen?

Challenging Apathy

“They’re all as bad as each other, there’s no point…”

Whether we’re talking about religions, politics, corporations, the media, or anything else with power, this kind of apathetic thinking is really problematic. If we won’t call to account the ones who are actually awful on the grounds that nothing better exists, then what we do is give our support to the worst that’s out there.

Alternatives always exist. They may seem like long shots. There may only be small improvements you can push for. Sometimes you may have to choose between a mouldy pear and a rotten apple, but a few good bits have to be better than entirely gone off.

There are those who will tell you that wanting anything better is just naive daydreaming and you don’t live in the ‘real’ world. This of course is just another way of keeping things as they are. If the majority of us rejected this thinking, the real world would rapidly have no place for lazy cynicism.

It is easy to say ‘they’re all the same, there’s no point’. It saves a person from feeling like they have to bother. If nothing can be done, why make any effort? Why bother trying to find a reliable news source, or a party that has some values you could respect, or a religious group that isn’t a money making operation? If nothing can be made better, you free yourself from any possible reason to make any effort at all. This is how what’s worst in the world is allowed to thrive.

As long as we give ourselves excuses not to act, terrible things are given room to flourish. We have a human world made entirely of people. It’s just people doing stuff. Anything and everything can be changed if there’s the will. We don’t have to let apathy make us complicit.

Fake News and Poetic License

Poetry and fiction are creative with the truth – it is part of what these forms of expression are for. At the same time, both have a significant capacity for reflecting on the world as it is, and changing how we think about what’s going on. We can and do re-imagine history to suit modern needs. We tweak stories to give them a shape that suits our purposes. We make stuff up. Further muddying the water is the fine art of satire, which will often present itself as the truth and as actual news in order to undermine, poke fun, make political comments and so forth. So, what is the difference between a bit of poetic license, and fake news?

For me, the answer is about intent and effect. The aim, and usually the outcome of anything requiring a poetic license, is that it adds to the sum of human experience. It helps us go deeper, further, to see from other perspectives, take a long view, see the absurd, or the human where before perhaps we couldn’t. A poetic license might lead to a story that is not factually true, but which nonetheless contains valuable truth.

The intention and often the effect of fake news is to diminish and confuse. It exists to shut down conversations, reduce diversity, limit perspective and close minds. When it works, we become less than we were because of it. We know and understand less. We have fewer productive ideas. We are smaller, and less able.

Utopian Dreaming

I don’t believe in the idea of a single coherent utopian solution. This is in no small part because I do believe in plurality and diversity, and feel that ‘one true way’ generally leads to oppressive and tyrannical thinking. Often the problem with utopian ideas is that they are too narrow. Systems that require everyone to be good and kind unravel when one greedy manipulator gets in there to take over and you end up with pigs who are more equal than other pigs…

So for me, the key move towards a more utopian way of being isn’t a structural shift of some sort, but a change in thinking. If we all found holding power over others distasteful and considered excessive owning, hoarding and consuming to be rather vulgar and unattractive, those behaviours would dwindle away. If the best sign of wealth was ostentatious generosity, if it was more appealing to flaunt your fabulously sustainable lifestyle than your possessions, all manner of things would change.

I think it’s important to pause now and then and ask what an ideal world would look like. If you could live in exactly the way that would best please you, what would you be doing? For me, it’s a line of thought that suggests better work/life balances. Thinking this way has caused me to invest more care in my physical health and fitness, and pour more time into my social life. Utopian dreaming is all well and good, but it should direct us towards changes we can make, or its just so much cloud castle construction.

It is easy to build the most enormous and intricate cloud castles by imagining what someone else – governments, corporations and other bastions of power – should do to sort things out. Unless you’re prepared to follow through by joining a party and pushing that vision forward, such castles are just brain toys. Putting the world to rights in your head can give a feeling of power and cleverness, but it doesn’t change much otherwise. Better to focus on what can be changed.

Cultures are no more than the sum of people in them. If enough people all start moving in roughly the same direction, there is a culture shift. If people with shared intentions reach out to each other, bigger changes can be made.

What if we lived in cultures where health care, education, decent housing, sufficient food and enough money to live on were a given? We have the resources to achieve this, what we currently lack is the political will. Imagine living in a culture that put happiness and sustainability for all ahead of profit for the few. It is possible, and achievable. And I know, because I’ve run into them, that there are always shrill voices who will shriek that this isn’t how the real world works. But it could be. Once upon a time, feudalism was how ‘the real world’ worked. Anything can change if there’s enough will to change it.

Get dreaming. Look around to see who else shares those dreams. Look for the small, viable things that can be done to move you more towards the life you want. Talk about it. Make it real.

Not doing Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day makes me profoundly uneasy, so I don’t do it. All the usual things can be said about how it makes life harder for those whose mothers are gone, those whose children did not survive, or never were… and it is a modern festival based on promoting consumerism. But those are not my major issues.

The modern tradition of mother’s day involves kids and/or dads making breakfast in bed for mum, who may be bought flowers, taken out for lunch, cooked for, or otherwise allowed some time off. My concern is that this functions in the same way as the Lord of Misrule and twelfth night carnivals did for feudalism. That basically this is a break from the norm that serves to reinforce the norm. And the norm does not include mum getting breakfast in bed, or someone else doing the cooking. It may serve to enforce the least good things about modern motherhood.

It’s worth noting that Father’s Day involves cards and gifts, but not the same emphasis on the pampering and certainly no flowers. I’ve yet to see a cafe or restaurant advocating that you take your Dad out for a Father’s Day lunch.

There are plenty of stats out there to suggest that while most women now work outside of the home, the majority of housework and childcare still falls largely to the women as well. I don’t want Mothering Sunday as a special day of my family being nice to me. I also don’t need it, because we’re a mutually supportive unit, and I am not the house elf. One day a year of being looked after isn’t enough for anyone, and even if you add the birthday and valentine’s day to the list, it’s still peculiar if you take a hard look at it.

Every day we all get opportunities to be nice to each other, to extend small kindnesses and gift each other in all kinds of ways. Much better that than an occasional blowout for the benefit of supermarket chocolate sales.

I have seen Pagans reinterpreting this day as celebrating femininity, or Mother Earth – I have no argument with any of that. I’m a big fan of people doing what makes sense to them, but I think we should always pause and question anything that becomes normal.

The Politics of Pants

Go into a regular supermarket and eye up underwear for women, and you will find that pants tend to start at a size small enough to not cover your pubes, and get smaller from there down to buttock-floss with triangle. Cotton pants can be bought, but a great many knickers are made to be lacy, and thus are made from a high percentage of synthetics. This kind of fabric will keep you cold in the winter (inviting piles) and make you sweat in the summer, (encouraging thrush). Women’s pants are designed to be looked at, comfort is secondary.

Now shuffle yourself round to the man pants isle, where you’ll not find anything synthetic or lacy. You’ll find sizes that start at a close fit and expand through to shorts. Pants to keep you warm in winter and pants to keep you cool in summer. Pants to either let your tackle swing free, or to hold it neatly in place depending on your needs. Pants you can pee from without having to take half your clothes off. Man pants are made for use, not for decoration.

Of course women’s pants have to be small otherwise the edges might be visible under our closely fitting clothes, and that would never do!

For a whole array of reasons, I’ve been wearing man pants for a couple of weeks now and it’s been a revelation. They don’t chafe my inner thighs. They’re so much better for temperature management. I have discovered that I feel more confident, more sexy and more powerful wearing them. I can saunter about in just my pants, and not feel self conscious, because these pants cover my genitals rather than drawing attention to them. If I was the sort of person with shaving inclinations, I might be affected by the way that all of my pubic zone is entirely covered up.

Small female pants leave you exposed, and make your genitals accessible. I’ve never felt sexy wearing lingerie, only self conscious and vulnerable. Not least because lingerie is something I’ve only ever worn for someone else. I wouldn’t wear it for me, because what I want for me is to be comfortable.

I know there are people of all genders who enjoy lingerie and who feel sexy in it. All power to them. What bothers me is that if you’re one of the women who doesn’t get on with that, it’s not easy to find underwear designed for women that isn’t designed to be small and ‘sexy’ in line with the idea that revealing is sexy. If women’s underwear was designed primarily to be comfortable, it would be all soft fabric and a variety of leg lengths, and we’d go from thongs to shorts as well. In an ideal world I think there would also be more availability of sexy pants for men. You won’t find posing pouches in the supermarket. Male undergarments designed for the female viewer are few and far between. It would be good to have a more level playing field.