Tag Archives: manners

Manners, respect and political correctness

Every time I encounter someone expressing the idea that ‘this political correctness has gone too far now’ I immediately wonder who it is they’re prejudiced against. Who do they want to blame, shame, attack or abuse? This is in part because I’ve never found a problem in critiquing behaviour, especially individual behaviour.

It is basic good manners to use the words people prefer you to use – to not describe their race, religion, cultural heritage, body shape, disability, orientation or anything else in terms that are designed to put them down. If you want to use offensive language, the problem is not people being offended, the problem is that you have no manners. If you have a problem with something someone is doing, it is totally possible to talk about that without using offensive language. It’s actually more powerful to avoid language that people can latch onto. Your point may be derailed if you make it badly.

I think often the problem is that some of us are reluctant to listen to anyone else. It can be hard to hear that someone else has far bigger problems than you do. It can undermine your sense of entitlement and your feelings of importance. And of course this is often exactly the point. The feelings of entitlement and importance, and the need to be ‘above’ someone else is often a big part of what’s causing the real problems. If your white guilt is more important than the experiences of people suffering from racial abuse. If your hurt male ego is more important than women being raped and murdered. If feeling normal as a heterosexual is more important than queer people being imprisoned… these are huge imbalances, and need facing.

It’s the people who complain about political correctness, who, in my experience, are most likely to try and weaponise their own offence. And it works, because they’ve got enough power to do that. This is the scenario if you are offended by homeless people begging, or by images of starving child victims of war, or by paying your fair share of taxes. If you are offended by having to include people who are not like you, and offended by resources going to people who are not like you, your problem is probably you.

I also know that the people who want to be allowed to be un-pc are not likely to be moved by any of these points. So, I shall call them out where I can for being ill mannered, because it might be more effective. I’m also going to try laughing, because laughter is a powerful thing, and people don’t enjoy being told how funny and outdated their ideas are. My experience of anti-pc people is that they want to be taken seriously, and have their opinions respected, which may mean that giggling disrespect is the most effective means I have for getting them to stop with that shit.

Etiquette and bodies that don’t conform

Manners are nothing more than a set of rules for social situations. The function of a lot of these rules has nothing to do with making social situations flow smoothly, and everything to do with demonstrating that you know the rules.

If something that constitutes good manners could equally be expressed as kindness, and being nice to people, then there’s no issue. Once we get into which fork to use first, and how to eat a banana with said fork, the only point is to demonstrate that enough time and money has been thrown at you to turn you into the sort of person who can eat a banana with a fork, and that you are therefore not a commoner.

I’m a commoner, so, sod that stuff!

What troubles me, is that so often, ‘manners’ are full of assumptions about the kind of body you have. I was sat in the dining room at a school my son attended some years ago, and there was a poster about the proper and polite way to hold a cup. You have to do it daintily, by the handle. You must not grip it in your fist. I have an intermittent shake, and nothing sets it off like overloading a few fingers. If I hold a cup daintily, the odds of my daintily spraying everyone with coffee in a sudden hand judder, are pretty good. I consider it better manners to hold the cup in my hand, or in two hands on really bad days, and not oblige anyone else to wear my beverage.

It’s a small example, but it illustrates the point. The more assumptions there are around acceptable manners about what a body can be asked to do, the more people it excludes. The more demanding the manners are, the more people are pushed out, socially embarrassed, made to feel awkward over things they have no control over. For every daft rule about what we’re supposed to do at the dinner table, there will be people whose bodies really can’t work that way.

My personal standards are based on kindness and utility, not any desire to prove my ‘breeding’. On those terms, I can’t think of many things that are ruder and less polite than shaming people for not being able to jump through pointless etiquette hoops.

Favourite things – Steampunk Women

I’ve never heard a story about a woman being harassed, assaulted or otherwise abused at a Steampunk event. No doubt it happens from time to time, but compared to the treatment women can expect in many places, Steampunk is friendly. Women at events dress as they please – from the most outrageous of burlesque-style costumes, through to a full-on emulation of Victorian prudery, and all places in between. It’s all fine. With corsets worn on the outside of clothing, cut off crinolines, knickerbockers, and all kinds of padding, a person can emphasise and de-emphasise as the fancy takes them, and play with ideas of sexuality in clothing.

As artists and authors, clothes creators, models and musicians, poets and peacocks (really, literally as a peacock), as organisers and facilitators and innovators, women are active participants at all levels. On one hand I feel bloody stupid writing this, because it should be obvious, and how the world is, and not worthy of comment, but there are still a great many places where this just isn’t true.

A community is what you make it – it is nothing more than the sum and total of the people involved. One of the few rules of the Steampunk community is good manners. It’s amazing how quickly the various forms of sexism generally manifest in the world can be wiped out by this one simple thing. It’s rude to make negative comments about other people’s clothes and appearance. It’s rude to treat another human being as an object for sexual entertainment. It’s rude to assume another person is obliged to pay you attention. Any assumption of entitlement, is basically rude.

Steampunk women tend to have rejected the narrow, mainstream version of what it means to be female. Often in mainstream spaces, women are the ones who will pull other women down for not fitting in. The female author who complained that the first female bishop wasn’t wearing lipstick, is a case in point. Amongst Steampunk women I have found a more supportive culture. We are, collectively, more interested in lifting each other up than putting each other down.

The paying of compliments is a normal part of a Steampunk gathering. Out there in the rest of the world, compliments can be used as a veil for harassment – highly suggestive and sexualised compliments, statements designed to reduce and disempower the target. And if the target objects, she’s no fun, has no sense of humour, can’t take a compliment. She will be told she should be pleased that she’s getting this attention. Many women have learned to fear compliments. A Steampunk compliment is more likely to go ‘nice squid, did you make it yourself?’ It’s more likely to be about the wit and genius of your costume – things you as a person had a choice over. It means there is no gender aspect to who pays compliments to whom, no aspect of body shape or size.

At Steampunk gatherings I see women of all ages and shapes, and women from groups often considered to be marginalised. I see other women getting to enjoy how they look, getting to play with appearance and identity, and enjoy other people doing the same. As a middle aged women uncomfortable in their own skin, not always very easy with the whole ‘woman’ thing either, I feel safe in this space. No one is going to tell me that I’m fat or funny looking, or too old for what I’m wearing, or not sexy enough, or too sexual, or any of the other things I can and have fallen foul of in other places. People are nice to me. Usually it’s my hat that gets all the attention, and this is fine.

If we start from the premise that we owe each other courtesy, so many other things are better. We live in a culture that makes entertainment out of sneering at people on the telly, and that goes in for celebrity appearance shaming in magazines, relentlessly sells us sexualised images of women while at the same time condemning women for being sexualised. It would be easy to fix, we just have to stop thinking assholes are funny, and that ridicule is funny, and start being polite.

A question of manners

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which sexism are justified and its lead me to some interesting places. There’s been a lot of it online in the last week, around treatment of Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli. Horrible comments about her appearance, strength and determination have been explained by the simple assertion ‘I am entitled to my opinion’. If we’d say the same sorts of things about a guy in the same context, apparently that makes it ok. It certainly makes it tricky to challenge.

When we debate online, the right to express an opinion is readily trolled out as an excuse for bashing and offending others. “If you can’t take a bit of grownup debate, go somewhere else where you can hang out with the other fluffy bunnies” is a frequent retort. Being able to dish it out and get it back is macho, strong, clever… Pagans are as guilty of upholding that as any other social grouping.

What happens when we’re rude, and cause offence? Does the other person capitulate? Apologise? Do they become wiser? Are they better people for having endured a put down from us? Or do they come back with bile, angry, hurting and resentful. Then we have to defend ourselves. It’s justified. And so we continue, escalate, and generally add to the total of misery in the world.
There is a history of manners that went alongside a fairly oppressive culture. We had something not unlike a caste system, manners were all about knowing who your betters were, and how to grovel appropriately before them. We created a whole system of etiquette, which expressed and enforced social divides. The manners of fairly recent history reinforced the idea of women as weak and useless (like we couldn’t open doors for ourselves). It gave status to money, and it also gave the adept a lot of ways of causing deep offence whilst remaining socially acceptable.

When we gave all of that up in search of a more egalitarian society, what we replaced it with was the simple idea that it’s fine to be rude. Our politicians are rude, publically. Our media is full of ill-mannered people talking disrespectfully to each other. We get online and pedal it ourselves and if you threaten our right to be mean, offensive, inconsiderate and tactless, you’re an interfering nazi oppressing free speech, or a man-hating feminist, or a spoil sport with no sense of humour. The last line of defence for gits is invariably comedy. That no one actually laughs doesn’t seem to come into it. Call your cruelty a joke, and anyone who doesn’t ‘get it’ is a kill joy, an idiot, or both. Two rounds of rudeness for the price of one.

It is possible to call someone out without being rude to them. It is possible to argue and debate without attacking people. It is also possible to have good manners without reverting to some kind of Victorianesque bowing and scraping model. A little bit of respect goes a long way. Self respect in fact, as much as anything else. The person who doesn’t want to make an ass of themselves in public thinks about the words they type or voice. The person who respects themselves does not want to put forth words that are nothing more than irritating noise.

We do not currently cite good manners as a Pagan virtue, but that is what respect means, when you enact it. If we treated each other respectfully we’d get a lot more done. If we tried to engage meaningfully where we disagree, rather than bullying into submission, things would be much better for us. Sure, if our media and politicians gave up the screaming toddler model of human behaviour and acquired some dignity, that would speed things along, but the short comings of others are not an excuse to sit idly by.

A little light evil

One of the themes we play with quite a lot in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel project (www.hopelessmaine.com) is the issue of small evil. Not the big, dramatic, self-announcing, end of the world variety, but the small scale, puppy kicking stuff.

Every day affords us small opportunities to do it well, or do it badly. Help a stranger or hassle them. Get angry, or try to listen. Part of the trick is paying attention in the first place, noticing what is happening and thinking about our own responses. Part of it is thinking about what we want to put into the world.

Yesterday’s long train haul brought an interesting mix of people. Some were grumpy and rude, having a bad day and intending to share the misery as widely as possible. Many were patient, kind, helpful and co-operative. Some turned out to be fun and really interesting. Some had just experienced a pasting themselves and needed a bit of care and being listened to. No doubt there were bits that we handled better than others. An overcrowded train full of tired people with too much luggage is a perfect opportunity to really have a go at some random person you’ll never see again. It can be something else, it depends so much on what we do.

Those small acts of unkindness, disharmony, rudeness, that turn up as much in social media and in the street as on a train, have impact. That’s one more stressed, hurt, angry person who can ripple their frustrations out to affect the next victim. We grow evil out of these small events. We breed and nurture it, pushing towards more conflict. Verbal aggression so often turns into physical violence. The next thing you know, lines are drawn, it’s us and them and there will be bloody noses.

Small acts of making things just a little bit better make worlds of difference. The words of gratitude, of understanding, the working out a viable way for everyone, the not shouting and blaming… that too ripples out into better things, a happier space.

I’ve spent the weekend with Steampunks. It’s a community that takes manners seriously. Those small acts of kindness and courtesy make Steampunk a happy, comfortable sort of place to be. Co-operation is so much nicer than blame and harassment. When things aren’t working perfectly, people who pull together solve and overcome problems. People who lash out at each other just make things worse.

We do not have the same ethos of kindness and courtesy in the Druid community. We may talk about personal honour, and honourable relationship, but we’re far too quick to get cross with each other online.

Some of it is about losing track of what matters. So it went a bit wrong. You didn’t get what you wanted. It was too hot, too crowded, too expensive… yeah, these are things a person can choose to get mad about. But there is that other choice, of shrugging, saying ‘ah well, that sucked,’ and either making it better in some way or moving on to the next thing. We argue over irrelevant trivia and forget there’s a whole world out there full of genuinely wrong things that could use our attention. So what if we don’t agree on some esoteric point, or the best way to do ritual? It doesn’t matter. Let’s disagree considerately, let’s ripple out those little moments of good, not put yet more strife into the world.