Category Archives: The quiet revolution

The distorting power of drama

Drama is, by its very nature, self announcing. It can skew your sense of what’s really going on in life, and it skews other people’s perceptions of you as well. A week or so ago someone commented to me (and not for the first time) how often I fall out with people. I find that a curious perception. I deal with a great many people with my various hats on – easily more than a hundred people in any given week. I deal with bloggers and book reviewers and authors and publishers and people running events and at events, and people who follow me on social media, and through the social media platforms I work on. Many of my online people I consider friends. On top of that I have a lively local scene and a great many people I regularly see in person.

The percentage of people in my life I’ve fallen out with is pretty small. A handful of real drama episodes (two involving the police) and, I confess, rather a lot of my just not bothering. I can’t be everything to everyone and I don’t always stay around when I’m not enjoying things. I’ll do what I can, and what I want to do, and increasingly I make no apology for it. Sometimes, this annoys people.

Drama always takes centre stage. It’s what stands out, what we see and notice if we aren’t careful. Drama itself is inevitable to some degree, but how much it gets to hog the limelight is a real consideration. It is easy to let the big things, and especially the big and difficult things, become the story of who we are. My real life, my normal, everyday life is quiet and there isn’t much drama in it.

In any given week I will have exchanges with a lot of people, in person and online. Most weeks, all of those exchanges are peaceful and productive. Some are exciting or challenging and that’s fine too, but most are not especially dramatic. I spend my days with my husband, and a lot of time with my son and we are a peaceful and functional household. My interactions with friends are – most of the time – warm, quiet, mutually supportive experiences. My real life has very little drama in it, and I like it that way. I find drama exhausting.

But, if the drama is big – which it usually is – and disorientating or destabilising in some way, it becomes the dominating story of what’s going on right now. If I’m not careful, it can become the big story of who I am and how I interact with people. It becomes the story other people tell me about myself and each other – and that bothers me. It’s what’s easiest to see from the outside sometimes. But also, stories are about drama by their nature. We don’t make stories about the thousand gentle, productive conversations that happened in the week. We don’t write songs about the sensible decision we came to in the pub – although perhaps we should. Humans tell stories about drama, and so we foreground our own drama and lose sight of the bigger story. The big story is often full of small things.

My life is mostly about the small things. The gentle details. The smooth, easy exchanges that make perfect sense and get stuff done. I realise that I am a part of a culture that foregrounds drama. I am influenced by it, and I contribute to it. I need to keep doing that – around environmental issues and speaking up against abuse, but I want to develop a better stream alongside it that is all about the small, everyday things, the good things, and the things my life is mostly made of. I don’t think it will change the perceptions of people who want to see me as a difficult, temperamental drama queen, but I don’t have to take up the roles I am cast in. I do not have to let the inevitable bouts of drama define me to myself.

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Female violence against men

Whenever the subject of domestic violence comes up, there is always a man keen to get in there and make clear that domestic violence is also something women do to men. I find this difficult and problematic. First up, I know a number of men who have been victims of domestic violence. I know it exists. I suspect women generally know it exists, and if we didn’t – there are always men about ready to remind everyone.

All the evidence that is out there suggests that domestic abuse, and domestic violence have a massive gender imbalance in them. The victims are overwhelmingly female, and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Yes, female violence exists, yes, domestic abuse can and does happen in gay and lesbian relationships too. But mostly, this is male on female violence, according to all the statistics I have ever seen.

But here’s the thing. Men who wish to speak up about male victims of domestic abuse often say that the problem is under reporting. Men don’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed. Maybe no one has ever researched this, I don’t know – if you do know of research, I’d like to hear it.

Under-reporting is not an exclusively male issue. Here’s why women don’t report domestic abuse reliably. They are afraid that if they speak up, they will be killed, or their children will be killed, or their family members or pets. Or that they, their children, pets etc will be violently or emotionally punished in response to them speaking out. Or that social services will take their children away. The threat of violence is a reoccurring feature in domestic abuse, even when violence is not yet present. Not a fear of social embarrassment – which, sure, is uncomfortable, but fear of potentially fatal consequences. Fear of what happens if you speak up, and the perpetrator does not go to prison, and knows where you live. Or lives with you. If their name is on the property in some way, you can’t legally change the locks. Where are you going to go to be safe? Many women don’t talk about what they’ve been through until after they have safely escaped. Trying to get out increases your risk of being killed.

When a man is killed in a domestic violence incident, it tends to make national news. Typically, two women die every week at the hands of a partner in the UK, figures from other countries seem to be about the same, or worse. It has to be especially gruesome or also involve children to make the news. It’s not really news after all, it’s commonplace. This is not about victims reporting or not reporting, this is about corpses. This is about how many bodies can be attributed to spousal violence.

So please, can we stop suggesting that hypothetical men being too embarrassed to report domestic violence is somehow comparable, and overlooked, and in need of more care and attention, than the routine murder of female abuse victims.


Resisting despair

Every day when I get online there is some new awfulness. An email or two in my inbox I have to delete without looking at because I know from the subject matter that I can’t take it. Some appalling and cruel political decision revealed on Twitter. Something in the news to weep over. There are new ones every day, and it is exhausting and demoralising, and what are we to do?

It would be easy to give up all hope, to decide that humans are awful and we cannot be saved from that. It would be easy to decide that trying to care for the planet is too hard, too painful. It would be easy to decide to ignore every new source of heartbreak and stop trying to do anything. To accept that all is futile. To give up. To let feelings of despair and cynicism in.

Of course, nothing is won by people who give up. No good change is brought about by people not caring. Perhaps the single most important fight any one of us faces right now is the fight not to succumb to despair.

I think that’s an important point to recognise right now. Your heart is a battleground, a microcosm in which all the big fights of the world are going on right now. If you give in, then all that is worst about humanity gets to move into your heart as well, and even if you don’t actively support it, in your silence and inaction, you’ll tacitly support it. If you can win this one in your own heart, if you can stay caring and compassionate, and stay hopeful, you can be part of the solution.

If we can keep our own hearts open, we can help the people around us to do the same. For as long as there are people prepared to keep caring and trying, there is hope. That’s all hope is – someone who hasn’t given up yet. We can hold each other up, and remind each other of what we’re fighting for rather than focusing always on what we’re up against. We can share good things – love, friendship, kindness laughter, gentleness. We can be the good in each other’s lives in so many small and every day ways. We can keep each other going. We can do this.


What to want

If you’re regularly exposed to adverts or anything offering lifestyle advice, you’ll be used to being told what to want. We are encouraged to want consumables, objects, the latest, newest thing because it’s faster and shiner than the things we already have. As though emotional needs can be answered by spending money. As though identity and self can be best explored and expressed through the brands we chose.

Who are you, and what do you want? *

What do you want in your life from day to day? What do you want to do with your time? What matters to you? What do you need in order to express yourself? What do you want from life? How do you want to live? What inspires you? What makes you happy? What do you find meaningful and rewarding?

Given time and quiet to explore these questions, my guess is that most people would not make a list of products by way of answers.

Some years ago when I started exploring this in earnest, a person I knew told me that I was just kidding myself. My growing investment in local landscape and walking was, he said, just making a virtue out of necessity. If I could afford better I’d let myself want better. If I had the money, I’d want the same kind of exotic foreign holidays he went on. I could afford to do that now. I find it isn’t what I want at all. My desire is not for fleeting thrills in distant lands. My desire is for deep connection with the landscape I live in.

For anyone who is all about the money, my life must look rather small and shabby. But it is increasingly a life driven by my passions and desires. I know what I want, and what I need, and increasingly, I know how to find those things. I know what uplifts and enriches me. I know what sort of thing I find meaningful and fulfilling. I’ve also got a good deal better at going after the things I want. Having taken some months to think about my options, this week I went after two things I had worked out that I wanted. One of them was an instant ‘yes’, and the other was always going to take more time. I am making the life I want, piece by piece.

Adverts teach us to be dissatisfied with the lives we have and to try and answer that need through spending money. It’s only by really exploring what we want that we can change this. Satisfaction and contentment have much more to do with how we live than what we own. Once our basic needs are met, happiness is not found in stuff. Where it is found, is part of the mystery of who we are, part of the adventure that is ours alone to undertake. Part of the possibility in our own lives that’s been hidden from us by a story that tells us to want things that can never satisfy us.

Do something radical. Ask yourself what you really want.

 

*yes, I have seen Babylon 5.


Women being nice

Being nice is seen as feminine, and there’s a lot of pressure on women to present themselves as nice, and to act nicely. Men can be celebrated for being ambitious, good leaders, and changemakers, but women who do the same are often called pushy, demanding, and unreasonable. I’m writing this post about the pressures I see put on people who present as female. If you identify with it for whatever reasons, I’m not going to argue with you! (not because I want to be nice, but because its not a good use of my energy.)

Being nice is a passive sort of state. A nice woman is not too sexually active or enthusiastic. She isn’t sweaty, or dirty. She doesn’t smell of alcohol or cigarettes. A nice woman is physically clean, and pleasing for others to look upon. She has no strong opinions or passions. Her voice is soft and quiet. She is a care giver and nurturer but doesn’t draw attention to that. Her home is nice. Her children are nice. She’s a fantasy figure for everyone obsessed with controlling female bodies and going back to an age when women knew their place.

There are things you can’t talk about while still being nice. Nice women don’t talk openly – and especially not in front of men – about sex, menstruation, menopause or pregnancy. These are dirty things that nice women know to hide, and thus don’t educate each other about. Nice women don’t talk about sexual assault, rape or child abuse. They don’t talk about abuse by men, they defend men, because it isn’t nice to suggest that men are abusive. Nice women are quick to say ‘not all men’ if they do have to deal with not-nice topics. If you are a nice woman, male comfort is more important than talking about things that aren’t nice.

The pressure to be nice is used most unpleasantly against black women, who often have the greatest need to speak up about abuse and oppression and are often characterised as aggressive and unpleasant for doing so. Being nice is proportionally harder in relation to how little privilege you have. It’s not so tough being nice when you’re comfortable and life is easy. It is a massive burden for people who are struggling. Making it the priority that disadvantaged women should be nice is an easy way to try and shut them up or ignore them.

Even in all female spaces and relationships between women, the pressure to be nice can cause a lot of problems. Nice women can’t easily talk about problems they have, and this can make them excellent facilitators for bullies and abusers – of all genders. Toxic women can be greatly enabled by nice women who won’t hear a bad word said about anyone. Nice women are likely to try and silence women who need to speak up about male abuse. Nice women minimalise abuse, encourage each other to see the best in people, to assume the motives were good, the intentions kind. ‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that’ is a staple of the nice woman.

Nice women don’t deal in problem solving. They deal in soothing noises and emotional support. This often functions to avoid changing anything. Nice women soothe each other over the behaviour of their men and children, their colleagues and families. Nice women are often made uncomfortable by people offering solutions. The point is not to challenge or change things, the point is to help each other cope with things as they are. Emotional support is nice. Radical change isn’t.

Being nice is a trap. It’s something we so often do to ourselves and each other. When we value it as a quality above all others, what we’re really valuing is people who don’t make a fuss, don’t change things, don’t speak up about what’s wrong. We don’t deal with social inequality by being nice and only saying nice things. We don’t deal with domestic violence, sexual assault and rape by only saying nice things to and about men. We don’t get to be complete human beings fully engaged with our own lives if all we can be is nice. In fact, nice can be pretty disgusting when you stop and look at it.


Creativity without gatekeepers

When I was young, I imagined that publishers and record labels and people picking content for TV, and taking on film scripts all had one basic agenda – that they wanted to put the best things out there. In reality, the bigger a company is, the less likely this is to be true. What creative industries want are sure fire hits that will sell a lot of copies. This means that they are all incredibly risk averse. Things that are easy to market because they look like things that were already successful always have a better shot.

It’s difficult to get anything radical into the mix on these terms. A groundbreaking, original piece of work, is by definition an unknown quantity and no large company will be easily persuaded to gamble vast sums getting it out there. This is part of why films with female leads, or multiple female characters are rarer – it’s not what happens so there’s been little belief it could work. That it does work and is then ignored is because of the sexism inherent in the system. There’s also an assumption that white western folk, for example, are the main audience for film and need to see other white western folk on the screen in order to engage. That this is not true and is ignored is because there’s inherent racism in the system.

For many of us, the over-arching company acts as quality control. We believe that the publishers, movie studio etc will weed out the rubbish and give us the best stuff. (like Twilight… umm… ) Many people still mistrust self-publishing because there are no gatekeepers keeping out the ‘rubbish’. As a habitual reader of self published work, I can honestly say that it is easy to find good, innovative stuff.

There have always been many ways of doing things. Self publishing isn’t new. Jane Austen self published. John Aubrey’s ground breaking work on Avebury was published by subscription. Getting a wealthy patron to fund your project was also an option.

I like subscription publishing as a model because it reduces the risk all round. If a small publisher takes on a wild book, and it doesn’t work out, it can finish them. That’s not good for the author, either. A subscription model allows you to raise the idea of a book and see if people like it enough to get in there and buy on in advance. If enough people do, you publish the book. A publishing company working this way has to ask ‘is this a good book, is it exciting in some way?’ and does not have to ask ‘how do we sell it?’.

Subscription publishing can make publishing poetry and short stories viable – these are generally considered the hardest sells and many houses won’t touch them unless you’re already Neil Gaiman.

 


Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074


Who are we trying to help?

Here in the UK, it seems to me that we design our social structures, systems and paperwork in exactly the wrong way. To give an example – I’ve been married twice. Ahead of marriage you are asked questions to establish that you are allowed to marry – not related, too young, here illegally and suchlike. There is nothing in this about your legal consequences. There is nothing for people who are entitled to marry, really. Pre-marriage bureaucracy is about stopping people who aren’t allowed to marry.

Moving to the UK to marry has similar issues – the paperwork and process takes a long time and is incredibly stressful. The whole system revolves around keeping out those deemed not entitled, or marrying under false pretences. The system has not been designed to serve people who are apart and want to be together.

Welfare systems are designed in the same way – the emphasis is on keeping out those who aren’t entitled, not helping those who are. These are systems that leave people hungry for weeks – and that apparently is less of a problem than the idea that a few people get a pittance they weren’t supposed to have.

We build our systems to try and keep people out. We build our systems with more eye to fraud than to need. As a consequence, we have systems that are unkind and that do not help the people they are ostensibly there to help. It is a case of priority. Our leaders, and certainly some percentage of our population is more interested in punishing than helping. We pile stress and misery onto people who are in trouble and we treat them like we assume they are faking it. This is neither good nor kind, and I do not believe it is in any way necessary.

Imagine how different the world would look if we all organised differently. Imagine systems whose priority is to get help to people who need it, with as much speed and inherent dignity as possible.

Imagine a world in which we did not obsess over the small scale frauds that might be possible for the poor and instead cared more about massive scale tax avoidance and the crimes and abuses of power carried out by the rich. In terms of cost to the economy, benefit fraud and things of that ilk are tiny considerations. Tax avoidance is massive. However, poor people with no power are much easier to go after for crimes of any sort, and they are seldom the people responsible for creating the systems and priorities in the first place.


Inefficient efficiency

‘Efficiency’ is one of those words politicians like to use. They talk about cutting back on wasteful, needless spending, trimming the fat out of the system, making everything streamlined and cost effective.

Efficient hospitals have no spare beds to deal with entirely predictable winter flu crises.

Efficient councils have no resources or workforce ready to deal with unexpected problems, be that flooding, heavy snow, trees brought down in gales, power cuts, lack of drinking water and so forth.

Efficient schools can’t cope in the years when there are more children than expected needing school places.

Efficient work places can’t cope with employee illness. They have far less scope for resilience when faced with unexpected challenges or setbacks.

Life seldom goes entirely as predicted. People get ill and a system that assumes it needs no slack in it to offset against sick days and people not being able to deliver, is a system bound to fail. Systems that don’t have anything to spare for the unexpected have no choice but to squeeze people harder in order to get the same results. Squeezed, pressured people get sick and ill – and the efficient system isn’t equipped to deal with that and can only respond by squeezing harder and making everything worse. Stress related sickness costs economies a fortune.

Paring everything back to the bare minimum to cut costs and avoid ‘waste’ is often a really inefficient choice. Any system working this way is incredibly vulnerable to the slightest problem.

In a crisis, efficiency kills people. Cuts to the NHS in the UK led to an estimated 10,000 deaths this winter. That’s a very high price to pay for saving money. Why on earth would be let ourselves be persuaded that saving money is more important than saving lives?

When a pared to the bone system hits an inevitable crisis, it costs a lot of money. One way or another. It may not be an immediately obvious cost. It may be a long term cost in health, skills, social engagement. It may be a long term cost that will increase crime, or violence, or abuse. Efficiency is incredibly costly when it falls apart.

To cope with life’s variables and uncertainties, we don’t need to be efficient. We need to be flexible. We need to have options. Take a long term look at the cost/benefit analysis, and slashing everything back turns out not to be even slightly cost effective. Flexibility and adaptability are key survival skills for all things in all contexts. Efficiency can deprive us of scope to adapt, and room for innovation.


How women talk to other women about men

In this blog what I specifically want to look at is the kinds of unhelpful stories women tell other women about men. I suspect this won’t be an exhaustive list. Some of these stories I suspect women tell to male children as well as female children, but I’m not well placed to comment on how that might play out.

He hits you because he likes you. He hits me because he loves me. We turn experiences of actual violence into stories about how this is an expression of affection. It keeps us accepting abuse, letting abusers off the hook, and setting each other up to be victims.

We tell each other that bad boys are sexy. We do this especially through the medium of romance and erotica fiction. We treat rude, demanding, unreasonable, controlling and violent men as desirable. We perpetrate the fantasy that magically, for us, they will become better people because they just need to be loved. We do not tell each other to run away and never look back, to find someone kinder and more cooperative. We imagine saving them when what we need to do is save ourselves.

We excuse male acting out, we tell other mums that this is just what normal boys do. We say ‘boys will be boys’ and then we teach each other how to stay safe and what to wear. We tell each other stories that the men who perpetrate violence just can’t help their bad behaviour. We say ‘he’s a good man really’, and we disbelieve the stories other women tell us to the contrary.

We bring up our daughters to feel responsible – the buck stops with us domestically. Women who find themselves living with overgrown man-babies who can’t or won’t take responsibility for home or children may tell each other how tough it is, but don’t reliably tell each other how to call said man-baby out and get him to do his fair share. Instead we tell each other that of course they don’t notice, remember, keep track, feel it’s their job and thus it continues not to be their job and stays wholly as ours. We make excuses based on how busy they are, or their upbringing. We accept that they can learn how to do a paid job, but not how to wash a nappy or cook a meal. We accept the role of mother and let them carry on being indulged boys when they’re at home.

We participate in the stories that work men do, or work done by men is more valuable than traditional female work, or work done by women. We accept that work done on the home front isn’t as valued as work done in public places. We accept that domestic arts aren’t as important as ‘fine’ arts. Women’s work is craft, not as valued as art. It’s cooking, and not valued like being a chef. It’s only interior decorating when you pay someone else to do it.

We use magazines to tell each other how we should look, in order to appeal to the male gaze. We share those magazine stories with each other.

In my family there were stories about boys being better treated than girls and stories about men who really didn’t make an effort. There were no stories about how to fix this. There were stories about how a mother can except to be judged over how clean and tidy her child is, but no sense that a father would be judged the same way. The kinds of stories women tell women about men go back to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and beyond. Expectations and beliefs are passed from one generation to the next. Changing the stories that are part of your fabric of reality is not easy, but change them we must.

Whatever stories you have, it pays to start by identifying them and trying to remember who told you these tales in the first place. Some stories aren’t spoken, they just underlie the way a family treats its men and the differences between that and how it treats its women. The stories are there in expectations and criticisms, in what we were allowed and what we were told was not for us.