Tag Archives: generalisations

Black & White

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Black and White make Grey

The writer of those tedious erotic novels was correct: there are lots of shades of grey. The number, however, I disagree with: there are not just fifty, but infinite shades of grey; a limitless pallet of sludge. There are shades that are a fraction darker than white, an imperceptible shadow on an otherwise pure hue. There are shades that seem as deep and bottomless as the blackest night, but when examined closely show the smallest glimmer of light. Scratch below the surface of any reactive philosophy and you realise that black and white, as simple and appealing as they may be, just don’t exist. There are only shades of grey.

Thinking is hard work. And I don’t mean visualising what you’re going to have for tea or imagining Lindsey Lohan’s tits and Kate Middleton’s arse at the same time; I mean real thinking. The sort of thinking that involves delving deep into your psyche, questioning your own beliefs, giving yourself a hard time about what you believe, why you believe it, why anyone else would be swayed by your argument, what makes your opinion valid. Philosophical musing can lead to considering the vastness of the universe and our own insignificance, the wonder that is nature from birth to cancer cells, our disinclination to consider the “soul” as a collection of electric impulses in the brain, despite the scientific evidence. It can lead you to places you would never have dreamed of going.

It’s emotionally draining to think so hard and acknowledge just how insignificant we and our ideals are; a lot of the time, people don’t bother to question their own life philosophies. Anyone that has, however, will know how rewarding it can be and, equally, how taxing: knowledge and understanding can be as disappointing as it can be enlightening, and once you realise something about the world or your inner consciousness you cannot unrealise it, as it were.

People generally seem happy to wade in the black and white paddling pool, rather than make their way into the murky deep end. Are they happier people? Probably – ignorance is bliss, after all. Why, then, should anyone attempt to leave the chequerboard mentality behind? Because ignorance can also lead to cruel and excessive behaviour towards others.

Baroness Thatcher, Twitter and I

Unfortunately, the people who are of the black and white persuasion also appear to apply the same logic to others. One of the things that really irritate me, when I find myself in debate, is people arguing on the “opposition” who take a point I’ve disagreed with and automatically assume that I mean the absolute reverse of what they’ve said. Recently, I was involved in a heated argument with a woman on twitter who really did not see that what she’d said in the first place was a) Inflammatory, and b) One dimensional. Of course, everyone is entitled to tweet pretty much whatever they want to; however, the woman’s original comment was excruciatingly black and white and exceptionally offensive.

“Some people begrudge the cost of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. Most likely the same people who smashed up London.”

Which is basically the same as saying: “None of the people who disagree with the amount of money spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral vote Tory, all non-Tories are in the lower classes and all of the lower classes are violent yobs. Ergo, the people who disagree with the funeral costs must be the same people who smashed up London.”

Flawed logic based on sweeping generalisations.

Now, if that tweet had said: “Most likely some of those people are the same people who smashed up London,” then I would have had to agree, although it seems like a bizarre correlation to me. You could also say that it is most likely that some of the people involved in the smashing up of London are also involved with UKip, or dislike Justine Bieber, or eat Subway sandwiches.

Even if I hadn’t been opposed to the sheer amount of money that is to be spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I would have taken offence to that statement. The implication being that everyone who doesn’t vote Tory and everyone who was negatively affected, directly or indirectly, by Margaret Thatcher’s policies is the sort of person who resorts to the harmful and violent behaviour displayed in the riots in 2010. If she’d really thought about it, the woman in question could have come full circle and realised that, if what she was saying were true, she would be insinuating that Margaret Thatcher was circuitously responsible for the London riots.

Anyway, the tweeting lady, however ill informed, was entitled to say what she thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way, or this country wouldn’t be so great or free. And I was entitled to disagree with her views, not least for being one of the people she was talking about. What I’ve come to realise is that this woman has probably now stuck me in the box with the people who have engendered the current musical status of the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, which is as inequitable as being put in the box with the disillusioned youths who were involved with the riots. I have been judged harshly merely for not agreeing with the funeral costs of a woman who ruined the livelihoods and communities of many members of the working classes. I was also referred to as “hard left*” by this woman, because my disagreeing with Margaret Thatcher’s luxury funeral clearly indicated that I wasn’t a conservative and that meant that I must be totally and utterly against anything conservative ever. Which is also not true. I will probably never vote conservative, and a lot of what the conservative party does and/or says p1sses me off, but I don’t consider myself to be “hard left,” and even if I were “hard left,” that still doesn’t make the conservatives “hard right.” But then again, the boundaries of left and right change with the context in which they’re referred to. Within the moderate margins of our largest parties, I guess I would be “hard left”; yet take into account all other parties and political stances, nationally and internationally, and suddenly, our three major players seem to be just stalking around the middle ground. Which is, incidentally, most definitely where they should be if we are ever to combat terrorism.

Returning to the crux of my Margaret Thatcher tweets: I didn’t agree with all of the Baroness’ policies, and she did a lot of harm. Her funeral will cost a huge amount of money and, while I would never deny anyone a decent burial, I do not think that she was so worthy of so much of the tax payers’ cash when it is the tax payers who were affected by her leadership, and when there are people starving in the world, and when our economy is in such disarray. I’m not here solely to discuss my thoughts on Margaret Thatcher; but what I am trying to get at is that, just because I didn’t feel particularly enamoured with the woman, I don’t immediately head for the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think that she was an evil witch and I don’t think the stupid ditty, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” should be at number one in her dishonour (and not just because it is an infantile mindset that has prompted that to happen), because I understand that she was also a human being trying to do what she thought was best, as most of us are. She was a strong leader, I’ll give her that. Some of her policies were unjust, some weren’t. As a woman, she is someone to aspire to in a sense, although she was no feminist – she didn’t hire women, instead choosing to surround herself with men. She was a strong woman, but she didn’t do anything for the feminist cause. She was neither good nor evil. She was a person and, as such, far too complicated to place on a single black or white square.

Most things are too complex to label, although society does its level best to try in pretty much every regard. Case in point: it has come to light that there are not merely three classes of people in the UK anymore, but seven. I guess this shows some progress in terms of diversity, but it’s still utterly pointless; it’s still a way of marginalising the masses. All this study has shown is that our “classes” and their corresponding stereotypes are far more disparate than the government first anticipated; and instead of doing away with the class system entirely when the government made this shocking discovery, it was decided that we desperately had to add more categories.

One Word to Bind them All

At the arse end of last year, a judge, Peter Bowers, made a comment about burglars being brave for choosing their “professions.” He wasn’t saying that burglars were good people**, he wasn’t saying that burglary is something we should all partake in; he simply meant that to break into someone’s house, risking imprisonment and injury from animals or the residents of said properties, is a courageous thing to do. Some may replace the word “brave” with the word “desperate,” but nonetheless, David Cameron’s reaction was disproportionate. He immediately came out with the counterargument that burglars are cowards.

We associate courage with good things. King Arthur was brave, our lads on the front line are brave, firemen are brave, Batman is brave, Jesus was brave. All these people are connected with “good” things – they’re part of the universal belief that good will triumph over evil. So to call someone that our society considers to be bad “brave” really confused everyone. In those simplistic terms, if brave is good and burglars are bad, then for the judge to call burglars brave must mean that a) He believes burglars to be good people, and b) He is, in fact, bad himself. Boo hiss, let’s all go on a witch hunt. David Cameron either knee jerked to the antonym, or he understood the psyche of the general public enough to know that he had to react to it accordingly to avoid association with the “bad” man himself. I like to think it was the latter; much as I hope I’m never driven to vote for the conservatives, I would still like to think that the man who runs this country is intelligent enough to understand the greys and savvy enough to know how to calm the public response.

The Concept of “Good and Evil” is Fallacy

Recently, I’ve managed to get myself into some debates on religion, in particular the Muslim faith (you may have noticed). My argument, in a nutshell, is that everyone has as much right to be on this planet as everyone else, and has the right to believe what they believe. Since Pakistanis (or English, American, French &c. Muslims with Pakistani ties) are the ones under the cosh at the moment, that is who I find myself arguing on behalf of, which isn’t to say that they aren’t capable of doing it themselves, just that there never happens to be a Muslim around when you need one.

The problem here, is that, because of the black and the white misnomer, I am now to be seen as pro-Islam and, therefore, an enemy of anyone who isn’t Muslim. Except that I’m not pro-Islam at all. I’m no Islamophobe, but I don’t like any religion, really. Grappling with my feminist side to argue on behalf of a religion that oppresses its women so v.badly isn’t easy for me – far from it. My argument isn’t in favour of the religion, but in favour of the people – I have no faith, but I v.much believe in humanitarianism, and as human beings, we must accept that not everyone is the same and that this difference is perfectly sufficient so long as all are in favour of humanity; and with the application of a humanitarian philosophy, we are able to see our similarities with seemingly dissimilar people after all. Unfortunately, the Muslim faith seems to spawn some pretty extreme actions from the radical few, I get this and I get that it could put me in danger. But then again, I am equally as scared of the fascists as I am of the Islamic extremists; more so, in fact. Anyone in a disillusioned enough to position to take a concept and run with it to such an extent has to be, on some level, slightly unhinged.

A lady on twitter tweeted almost exactly the same words I have said time and again:

@Yasira Jaan: Muslims view “Islamic” terrorists the same way most Christians view the Westboro Baptist Church.

The problem we have is that some people will automatically associate Muslims with terrorism, whether that’s through general ignorance or a naïve and blind belief in the propaganda that they are exposed to. These people believe that I could not possibly stick up for a group of people without entirely believing in everything they believe, which is preposterous. I would argue wholeheartedly for Catholics, for example, should someone start mouthing off about how they should all go back to Ireland, but I am not Catholic and don’t support the actions of the terrorist group, the IRA. It also doesn’t mean that I agree with Catholicism as a lifestyle, with its inability to grasp the import of pro-abortion laws, or that no sex before marriage jive, or its confessional cleansing.

Funnily enough, one of the many things that I dislike about religion is the way it perpetuates this “good and evil” nonsense. That does not mean that I dislike everyone who has a religion, or anyone who believes in black and white – it just means that I am able to recognise the fact that the black and white doesn’t exist; however dark or light a shade may be. However obvious a solution or the crux of an issue is, I can always see where the lines blur, even if it takes me a while to think about it. And I take solace in knowing that I’m not the only one. The black and white mentality is way too crude a way to view the world, and knowledge and understanding stem from acknowledging the grey roots.

A few months ago, a squash player said to me that some Muslim guys wanted to use the squash club to host a Muslim only squash team. The club refused and the Muslim guys took the matter elsewhere. On hearing this, I said, unthinkingly: “Well, you can’t do that, can you? You can’t expect people to treat you with respect and then refuse to play with people of a different faith.” The man I was talking to then said: “Well, when I asked them why they wanted a Muslim only squash team, they said that it was because squash is a social thing, a hobby that brings people together and they wouldn’t want to all go out to the pub afterwards – they’d want to go for coffee and shisha. It’s as much about the bit after the game as the game itself.” Didn’t I just feel a bit foolish?

Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White (but you can’t be a bit of both)

Another issue that arises, when only considering black and white pieces, is that people are typecast. A person does something “bad” and the bad thing immediately eradicates everything else they’ve ever been.

Harold Shipman will only ever be that bad man who killed old people; the moment he is found out, he is stripped of his lifelong achievements as a doctor; immediately, everyone forgets that his patients absolutely adored him. People start saying things like: “Oh, he seemed like such a nice man. And such a good doctor – we never knew” and they shake their heads as if all that time he was pretending to be a polite GP who was good at his job. Suddenly, he is the devil incarnate. Pure evil. But it’s not true, is it? People don’t like to think of one of the most prolific murderers as anything other than malevolent, but the fact remains that he was actually quite a nice chappy in life. Unfortunately, he also had a side to him that was disturbed enough to create in him relish at the thought of bumping off old ladies merely because he could. He was a murderer, but that’s not all he was.

A single act or belief does not define someone. And acts performed by someone of a particular faith or belief system do not define every member of that faith or belief system.

In 2001, Islamic extremists flew aeroplanes into the twin towers in New York, killing people of various faiths and ethnicities. A terrible act of inhumanity, a dreadful indifference to the sanctity of life – this I am not denying. When people discuss the 9/11 attacks, we refer to the terrorists as “bad” and the victims as “good.” We say things like: “Those poor people” when referring to the victims And, yes, I absolutely believe that nobody should ever die in such a way. But what we never consider is this: of the thousands of people who died that day, how many were paedophiles? How many had stolen something that wasn’t theirs? How many were having affairs? The people who died in the 9/11 attacks were killed unjustly, granted, but just for having been so aren’t necessarily guiltless; in fact you probably couldn’t say that about any of them. Their deaths have become all that they were to the people who didn’t know them.

The acts of the terrorists had wider implications: I’m sure that those people had interests other than blowing up “infidels,” but what they did that day created a butterfly effect. Several crazy Muslims have attacked the western world and in the minds of a lot of people in the western world, that meant that allllll Muslims would at some point want to attack. Fear sees all of us reverting to the basic instincts we try to quell because we know them to be irrational a lot of the time.

But then, it’s hard to not be swept away in the fear when the media uses emotive language (like “terrorism”) and justifies the actions of certain governing bodies. The media has a lot to answer for. Recently I came across a bestselling book on US Amazon – a non-fictional account of Pakistan. Apparently, the Americans loved it – there were five stars flying all round that review page. I checked out the same book on UK Amazon – oh dear. Bad reviews. Suspicious, I dug a little deeper and discovered that the writer of this scathing book had never actually set foot in Pakistan.

When we were at war with Germany, we considered all Germans to be the baddies and when there’s a wall of people advancing on you with heavy artillery and menace driven by a dictator, it’s probably sensible to protect yourself. But that doesn’t stop each individual, soldier of civilian, from also having other characteristics, qualities that we admire. Penelope Lively injected the German soldier in The Darkness Out There with enough individuality to invoke pity in the reader, but not in the character of the WWII survivor.

Nothing but Grey Skies

To say that I believe that a black and white mentality is bad is, in itself, black and white, is it not? Yes, it most certainly is, and if you think, having read the above, that I would ever consider something to be inherently good or bad***, then you have clearly misunderstood my key point. I believe in the greys and I find the greys enlightening. I would defend a black-and-whiter should one be subject to abuse because of their beliefs, but this does not mean that I agree with everything they’re saying. Do you see what I’m saying? I find the inability to find the middle ground, and the inability to gauge the facets of human nature restrictive and one dimensional; I also find it worrying that people could blithely attack others on the premise of good versus evil, which is why I take issue. To believe something is one thing; to act upon it, or allow yourself to be used as a pawn against others in its name is quite another. It’s easier to act on a belief than to question it, but we are, supposedly, an intelligent species. Don’t let the genus down with your inhumanity because you were too lazy to think deeply about your actions.

FOOTNOTES:

*bearing in mind that I absolutely hate extremism, I really don’t think I could ever be “hard” anything

** Although, I am a bit hazy on his reasoning for letting the burglar off.

*** Unless we’re talking wine. Wine = good. Lambrusco = bad. If you ask my tastebuds, that is.

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Love & Marriage in Modern Society ~ Part I

INTRODUCTION

I have been attempting to write this blog for three years and failing miserably. One of the difficulties is that it has been steadily growing at a rate faster than I can type. I write a paragraph, I save it, I read it back, I add some more. Sometimes I bring the subject up in conversation; it’s controversial, I get some more opinions, I add some more. People begin to question related subjects, such as gay marriage; I try not to explode in their faces, I add some more. I start a new relationship; I’m grilled about it, I add some more.

It has been a tough post to keep a handle on and no doubt I will refer back to it in the future and, shaking my head in resolution, add some more. It’s a piecemeal affair and neither elegant nor eloquent. But, since I am often offended by what is socially acceptable, I feel that it is unfair that I should have to keep quiet for fear of causing offence.

(I am posting this blog post in sections, so if you want to ask me a question/answer one of my questions, it may be something that comes up in a later post, but feel free to do either anyway.)

DISCLAIMER

I love weddings. I do. I get caught up in the moment easily, I love getting dressed up, I love seeing Brides blushing with anticipation and guests flushed with champagne. But I don’t understand it – I don’t understand the need to bind yourself with another. What follows are my thoughts and questions on the matter. I am not attempting to belittle anybody’s marriage or relationship. I am not trying to tell anybody that they are in the wrong. I am opening the floor for discussion. I do not want to get married and I do not comprehend why anyone else does. If anyone can give me some answers, I would be v.glad to hear them. You never know, you just may change my mind… I doubt it, but stranger things happen at sea.

DEDICATION

To my wonderful married (and potentially to be married in the future) friends: I love you all, I love your partnerships and corresponding loin fruit, I loved and will love your weddings – they are (and will be) beautiful, graceful ceremonies full of gorgeous people. Go, prosper, grow, breed – ignore your friend Emily, for she is clearly a lunatic to question a thing like marriage when you are all such glowing examples. I envy your clarity of mind and your resolution and your lovely, clean houses (also a mystery to me – how do you achieve that?). But, nonetheless, questions I am having.

THE START OF IT ALL

I’m not sure when it dawned on me that I would never marry. Somewhere between my third consecutive serious relationship and the two that followed, I guess. It wasn’t an unwelcome revelation, by any means; the realisation didn’t come wistfully clouded in hopelessness. On the contrary, it was a relief. A blessed, refreshing relief. In one, unbidden thought, I had absolved myself of the massive weight I hadn’t even realised I was carrying; the society-driven pressure that most women place upon themselves to find a husband had been lifted. I was me and I always would be me… I was free. And I couldn’t stop telling people.

What I failed to realise, in those early days, before I’d seriously considered the impact of this understanding, was that simply voicing what I considered to be a wonderfully freeing fact such as this was not only going to invoke pity in any listener, it was going to make them angry. V.v.angry.

It begins with a look of deep sympathy. A frown, a wonky, patronising, sad smile. Then comes the sentiment: “Don’t worry – it’ll happen for you one day. You’ll find someone &c. &c.” The automatic assumption being that I want to get married but haven’t met someone who wants to marry me. Or perhaps that I have never met someone that I loved enough to want to marry. Which is utter hogwash on both counts. I have been loved. I have been in love. Crazily, stupidly, illogically, want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you, truly, madly, deeply, head-over-heels, can’t-live-without-you, painfully, torturously, in full on clichéd stylee love. And, in that state, the urge to lock a relationship down, to preserve it, to do anything to make the other person reciprocate your love to the same extent is incredibly strong, I get that. No, my reasons, of which there are many, for opposing marriage have nothing to do with an inability to find love. I do believe in love, I honestly do! Just not in the way that people expect.

THE FAIRY STORY

We thrive on stories. With our art, music, acting and writing we can cause anguish and pain, we can make people cry and laugh, we can cause depression and anger and contempt. We like a good fable, an old-fashioned fairytale, a thumping formulaic read with some hot gypsies thrown in. We understand the black and white of the thing – learning the black and white is the basis for understanding that there are only shades of grey in life. Swathes and swathes of suffocating grey. And so, when the grey gets a bit too much to bear, we fill some of it in with black and white again… in our minds at least.

Fairy stories have a lot to answer for. Tales have always been a way to control societies; these days we have stories in the media too that churn out similarly damaging propaganda, but we still have those more traditional fairytales to remind us of what we should strive for in life and to warn us of the dangers of not living how we should. It is brainwashing of the highest order and it is the thing, above all else, that causes niggling feelings of guilt and failure in our lives, no matter how we live them. The fairytale has crept into everything; it’s in adverts and films and books and songs.

The basis of a fairytale is to take a young, pretty, thin girl; weak and vulnerable and sweet-natured, of course; and put her into a difficult situation, which inevitably gets worse and, just when we as the audience despair, along comes a man (generally rich and dashing and noble) to save her. And then they get married. Happily ever after. The audience is so glad it’s a “happy” ending. Life will be swimmingly easy for them. Isn’t that what we want? Love, happiness, riches, an easy life…? Well, we may as well get married – that’s a start, ey? And it’s the “right” thing to do. Don’t ask why, it just is, ok?

And then along came Disney. Despite the grim nature of some of our original fairytales, Disney manages to turn each one into insipid nonsense. True, I will quite happily sit down and watch the Little Mermaid or Snow White &c. when I want to allow my brain to have a snooze, or when the grey bits in life really get me down. But I know that I’ll have to swim back into the sea of grey at the end. Children, however, think that the fairytale is gospel, as they do the… well, the gospel. We are all brought up with these tales and they stick with us because, unlike the story of Santa Claus, they are still taught to us in varying formats throughout our lives. And everyone gets married, don’t they? It’s like growing up, it just happens. So when it doesn’t happen the way we’re told it should, we feel like failures; whether we failed to marry, failed to meet a mate, failed to be happy in marriage, failed to stay married, failed to be straight – we feel responsible. Because the other thing that fairy tales teach us is that if you are a good person and do as you are told, all the good things will happen to you and you’ll get your happily ever after. And they teach us that if you don’t get married/can’t get married/stop being married/don’t fancy who you’re supposed to, you’re probably a bad person because you’re not even trying to follow the story that someone else wrote for you long before you were even born.

It’s something that is fundamentally flawed in society – the need to promote the married and fecund above the single and childless. David Cameron is just not helping society to progress, but I don’t have time to go into that diatribe right now. Society as a whole is constantly changing and, v.slowly, it’s trying to evolve into something more modern and, for want of a better word, tolerant. But perceptions of marriage stand stubbornly archaic against that evolution of acceptance and, unless the way in which we view marriage changes with the times, this out-dated institution will hold us back in part, and exclude more and more people from its clique.

Another thing we thrive on is drama. Let’s face it, the majority of us Westerners lead pretty mundane lives and a lot of the time it’s a strain and an effort and we don’t see much for it. So we spice it up a bit. Probably as a hang-up from more devout days, we attribute meaning to every token – we take things as a sign that we’re meant to be with this person or that person. We make booming declarations of eternal love that seem so v.real at the time, but in hindsight are embarrassing, undignified and rather absurd. But then, you will prostrate yourself at the feet of someone who has said they want to leave you and scream things like: “I can’t live without you! I want to die! Oh, can’t you see we’re meant to be together?!” because that’s what you do when you love someone, isn’t it? Um… in films maybe.

“ONE TRUE LOVE”

Let’s start by looking at the concept of “The One”. Even if there were such a thing as “The One,” in a world of approximately seven billion people, what are the chances of that person being in your hemisphere, let alone in your country/city/place of work/bed? But incredulity aside, let’s suppose you’ve met someone who you consider to be your “One and Only” and let’s suppose they feel the same way about You. They feel the same way about this You, the You you are now, not the You you were five years ago or the You you will be in five years. Different books are right for you at different points in your life: you can read a book at twenty and hate it, yet read it at twenty seven and adore it, and vice versa. I believe that the same theory works if you substitute the word “books” with the word “people”. Cue outrage

That’s not to say that people can’t change together, but life takes so many different turns; events and situations change you so v.much. Even if you were to live out of each other’s pockets (and this is v.unhealthy both for your relationship and your own personal sense of self, I might add), the two of you can never have the same reaction, emotional or otherwise, to any given thing, so the likelihood of you changing into two different people who love each other is slim. Opinions change. An incident could occur to your partner that turns them from a liberal, free-thinking hippy into a bigoted, racist homophobe. You might have so adored your partner’s smile and twinkling eyes, yet the death of a loved one causes a bout of depression so deep that their eyes become dulled and the mouth never again curls upwards in mirth. It’s easy in theory to say that you would love that person through thick and thin, no matter what the cost, when the going is rosy; but if everything a partner says to you becomes tinged with scorn, for example, would you patiently take the flak and continue to love them as vehemently as you always did, regardless? Of course, history in a relationship adds a certain something; but surely that is akin to loving the memory of how a person was, rather than who they are now. And presumably the urge to stick is tantamount to the age old excuse of doing exactly what you’ve always done because it’s harder to not do it.

But, again, let’s suppose that you’ve been with your partner for years and that you’re still emotionally compatible… what is there to say that you’re still physically attracted to each other? What is there to say that your sexual needs have morphed into the same craving? What is there to say that there isn’t someone else out there who would fulfil your “needs” more?

We are driven towards partnerships, but I think Tim Minchin, as he so often does, succinctly sums this up perfectly with his song: “If I Didn’t Have You, Someone Else Would Do.”

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Women! Know Your Limits: Part III ~ Body and Image

BODILY FUNCTIONS & HAIR REMOVAL

It’s been a v.long time since I had a period. For the majority of my adult life, my menstrual cycle has been put on hold with progestogen and progesterone. Initially, this was to alleviate the severe pains I used to suffer as a teenager* and later on became necessary to avoid the droppage of unwanted sproggers. Now that I find myself uncoupled, I’m reluctant to let the crimson wave invade my life once more. There have been occasions in the past where I’ve taken breaks from internal contraception to “sort my body out,” but all I‘ve discovered is that two weeks before a period, I turn into a snarling, snapping, whining, bitching, illogical, nasty, frustrated, irritated, worn out, emotional, violent, tearful, depressed, annoying twat; followed by dreadful bouts of teenage skin and bleeding that is not only painful, but leaves me drained of all energy, bloated, in pain, anaemic and often squicked out**. Add to this the inconvenience of being unable to wear light colours in case of leakage, the expense of buying tampons*** and the dilemma of to screw or not to screw (can I be bothered washing it out of the sheets? If we do it in the bath, will that just make the water look murky? Although they are wipe-clean, is it really hygienic to liberally spatter menstrual blood on the kitchen work tops?) Oh, I can’t be bothered any more. Implanon will be replaced when I finish my first three-year round in November.

But for most women, menstruation is v.much a reality and, for most women, v.much as I’ve described above. You boys have no idea! As well as the physical discomfort and the hormonal turmoil, entertaining Auntie Flo can also be a cause of deep embarrassment. A worrying amount of men flinch when periods are mentioned. It is more surprising to find a man that will quite happily take the topic in his stride than one who immediately blanches at the first mention and says: “Too much information…” or a variable thereof. I happen to be v.lucky in this regard – the men in my life have all been v.understanding and, in the not so frequent occurrence of my being on the blob at the monumentally inconvenient moment of being in a position of intimacy, have all carried on regardless, without hesitation or squeamishness. However, I have had the following reaction from male colleagues, teachers and the like (not during sexual encounters, I might add):-

THEM: Are you ok?

ME [bent double in agony]: I’m fine

THEM: What’s wrong?

ME: Period pain

THEM: I really didn’t need to know that

The insinuation here is that I should have invented a reason for my bellyache. But what? Presumably nothing relating to arses or fannies. It’s just another layer to add the ethereal image women try to portray. Germaine Greer, to return to that particular sage, suggests that we taste our menstrual blood. Well, I’m pretty sure the stuff has ended up in my mouth at some point, but I’m happier when any fluid that comes out of my body doesn’t end up in my mouth. After all, it’s coming out of my body for a reason. I don’t think eating your own blob is a way to accept the natural occurrence of its monthly appearance; I’m toilet phobic, but I don’t think drinking my own pee (or worse) is a way to accept that I have to do it. Learning to hide so diligently this so fundamental of female bodily processes is perhaps the foundation on which we build the greater deception assumed by most females as part and parcel of being a woman.

We shave our body hair. Whilst I understand the attraction with a smooth pair of legs, I don’t understand why the attraction, or why it doesn’t extend to men. We deal with armpit hair and back hair and sack and crack hair and yet the thought of a woman with hair in similar places is rather objectionable. Even women wrinkle their noses at the thought, so deeply ingrained is the ideal of the smooth woman. In fact, the only hair I can actually understand the removal of is pubic hair: of course, hair removal is at your own prerogative, but if you choose to allow your pubes to be unruly, at some point, some poor sod is going to end up with a mouthful of curlies and that is not going to be pleasant for them. Still, despite my lack of understanding, I will continue to remove any hair that isn’t on my head because to not do so is just not on the agenda. Does it not smack of the worst kind of brainwashing that I do not understand the need to do this and yet go ahead and do it anyway? My only motivation is other people. I don’t want to wear a skirt or short-sleeved top and have people see that, on occasion, hair grows out of the places that are on show. And what a ludicrous reason to do anything!

PLASTIC SURGERY

It goes further than waxing and shaving the hair on our bodies. A friend of a friend of mine recently invested in removing something else. Something that required anaesthetic and permanent mutilation. Her flaps! It seems that I was much mistaken when I took women with no flange flaps to be the same as people with no earlobes. People actually want this! I’m not saying that if you only have little flaps there’s anything wrong with that – maybe you’re just naturally neater – but why would you change something that you only ever show to someone with whom you are comfortable being intimate? For a start, that’s going to desensitise a v.sensitive area to some extent and that’s the last thing women need. I’m really not savvy enough on the subject of bajingo surgery to understand the rationale behind it, but I wouldn’t cut part of my genitalia off if you paid me. Since hearing of this outrageous act against muffs, it’s all I’ve been able to think about****. Perhaps they could take the removed flesh and pad something else out with it, since apparently the most effective way to become more attractive is to hack parts of yourself off and shove foreign articles in.

And then there’s anal bleaching! Presumably this is to give an effect of cleanliness, but here’s the thing: a bleached anus is even less clean than a non-bleached one on account of this equally ludicrous procedure causing anal leakage! “Oh, yes, I smell like arse, but at least I paid a lot of money for the privilege.” Here’s a news flash: your anus is the colour it is because of its main purpose in life and no matter what you do to it, that will still be its purpose!

I find the thought of medical procedures in general to be a rather extreme way of enhancing looks. I’m all for make-up as a way of enhancing what’s already there, but even then there is the fact that men don’t do it. Again there is hair removal – plucking the eyebrows. For dark-haired ladies with hair on their top lips, I have been told that bleaching is the best practice for disguising. We cover blemishes and dark circles, change our skin tone†, augment our cheekbones and brow-bones with highlighters and shadows. We make our eyelashes darker and, in my fair case, the eyebrows we lovingly tweezed. If one is to go the whole hog with make-up, the face is wiped out by primers and foundations, only to be redrawn over the top in deeper shades. And men don’t have this hassle. In fact, unless you’re Eddie Izzard or Tim Minchin, male make-up is rarely seen outside the circles of rock and/or drag. Yet I am all for wearing make-up. Make-up that looks like you’re wearing make-up. My eyes have gone from doe to sixties wings to fifties flicks to rockabilly ticks. But never did it occur to me to not do it. In fact, I find it slovenly to not do it – it’s part of getting dressed for me. There always comes a point when I start a new relationship and the person I’m seeing goes: “You look different somehow…” and I have to explain that my face is actually underneath the paint and that the reason I look different is that I’ve taken the paint off. I realise that this isn’t the case for all women, but there’s no denying that there is a great deal of pressure for women to look a certain way and regardless of what anyone says, constantly being bombarded with images of women that have been airbrushed to “perfection”, pouting, dark-eyed, ruby-lipped and vacantly-expressioned really gives us ladies a run for our money.

But at least these images are false: the face has been drawn on, the hair has been backcombed, sprayed, dyed, blow-dried and that’s before the final projection is tampered with. These are realistic goals to strive for, if that’s what you really want. It is possible to go someway to achieving the look of the moment, if the word “achievement” can legitimately be applied here. Of course, some stars go a step further and have plastic surgery – we accept this since they are something of a mythical “other” anyway. The rich and famous, for those of us that aren’t, are fabulous untouchables. They almost cease to be people. They are the beautiful husks, designed for our entertainment and amusement, to which we attribute whatever personality we feel like, since we don’t know them and never will. Somehow, for them to present themselves to us as perfect packages is wholly acceptable, since we effectively pay their wages and if a proportion of the billions we spend on music, films, magazines &c. goes towards a bit of rhinoplasty, then so be it. It does, after all, make the Beautiful Untouchables better at their jobs. But plastic surgery is slowly creeping into the high street. These days it is perfectly normal to see busses rolling by advertising cosmetic “enhancement.” It is no longer beyond our means to afford this sort of luxury.

What I can’t get my head around is that people would actually pay to have someone cut into their flesh for no other reason than that their nose was a bit wonky or their breasts smaller than they would like. The v.thought actually knocks me sick. Having had surgery, and I mean minor surgery††, I can’t entertain the thought of paying thousands of pounds for someone to do that to me if there is nothing wrong with me in the first place. Going under the scalpel is scary, for a start: a person injects you with something that renders you unconscious, which can cause health complications (and in some extreme cases, death), once under you have to trust another person to wield incredibly sharp implements over your naked body and then to actually slice into you. Now, let’s just suppose that everything goes to plan and you awake unharmed – firstly, you’ll probably vomit violently. And you will be in pain. Severe pain. You can’t expect to have your tissue hacked into and wake up feeling fine and dandy, of course you can’t. You’ll feel dizzy and confused, parts of you will hurt that didn’t even have the surgery, because bodies are funny that way, and you’ll probably be full of tubes. I don’t know what the recovery time is for plastic surgery, but after I had my appendix removed and my laparoscopy, it was a good two or three months before I felt ok again and the scars still ache from time to time to this day. And, the pain aside, what happens if you don’t like the finished result? Do you go back for more to correct it or quit while you’re ahead? What happens if, say, you have a wonky nose, have it straightened and then discover that it makes the rest of your face look wonky? What happens if your new nose suits your younger face, but as you get older starts to look out of place? There’s a limit to what surgery can do. And reversing age is another limit it cannot transcend.

So, it’s painful, it’s expensive, there are health risks… but what about just plain unhealthy. Liposuction, for example, is the procedure of sucking the fat out of a person’s body. Just as it is unhealthy to be underweight, so is it to be overweight, yet we have developed a way of reducing the fat in a person’s body without exercise or dietary revision. Bit of a no-brainer, that one. And we all know this and yet about a third of the people I asked said they definitely would have plastic surgery if they could afford it (mainly women), a third said they would consider it (a few more men crept into this category) and the remaining third said they wouldn’t (mainly men).What is this need to be uniformly beautiful? And why do the majority allow the media to dictate what being beautiful entails? True, we’re visual creatures… those of us who are lucky enough to be sighted, at least. I’m not denying the fact of attraction, but surely we are able to decide what constitutes beauty for ourselves. And surely there is an appeal in the irregular features that make one person different from the next. Maybe there are similar pressures for men when it comes to image, but I don’t see that men spend an inordinate amount of time preening, plucking, dyeing, curling, straightening, buffing, filing, painting, waxing and cutting off parts of their genitalia simply for the aesthetics, dressing up like damned male peacocks or tottering around on their tippy-toes.

FOOTNOTES:

* I mean pains that spread up into my chest and down both legs. Pains that made me faint and vomit. Pains mainly caused by Endometriosis, it later transpired.

**  I am squeamish of all blood – my problem is not the location of the bleeding, only the fact of it.

*** Although, should I choose to return to my natural state of affairs, I shall be purchasing a mooncup. Sounds cleaner than plugging my muff with cotton wool, in which nasty germs can grow, and would work out cheaper on account of being a one off payment.

**** A colleague asked me recently why I was staring into space and all I could say was: “I’m thinking about flaps.”

† Historically women would put arsenic on their faces to bleach the skin. Unfortunately for pasties like me, in this day and age, the trend is to apply unnatural shades of orange to create a healthy glow

†† Appendectomy, laparoscopy, lapascopic womb scraping, contraceptive implant &c.

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Labels

It’s an ostensibly pretentious sentiment when people say they don’t believe in labels. Those commonly referred to as moshers* used to bang on about it during my school days. Regardless of whether it was correct to label them thus, you know the type of people I mean: those who think they’re being original, but are actually just adhering to a slightly smaller set of fashion rules like a sheep that’s rolled in mud and announced: “I’m better than you. I’m so unique because I’m depressed and muddy and don’t like the same things as other sheep… well, apart from all these muddy guys who hang around the cattle grid with me and shout abuse at all the non-muddies for being conformist, to the point where all the cool independent shops have to shut down… in the Corn Exchange…” Hm… this analogy was tenuous to begin with, but now it appears to have morphed into my bugbear about the kids in uniform-black who hang around Leeds city centre making people so uncomfortable that local businesses suffer.

Anyway anyway anyway, I understand the primary need for labels. Labels are just names when you think about it and you wouldn’t want to find yourself pointing at something and going: “Could you pass me that thing, please? No, that thing. THAT thing!” But there comes a point where a name becomes subjective and transforms into a label rather than a definition and, being undefined, labels, like generalisations, are incredibly hit-and-miss; especially when you reach the realm of categories. Genres, for instance. It would be difficult to find a book you’d want to read without genres, but under which genre would you put The Well of Loneliness, or Maurice? Gay and Lesbian Fiction? Modern Classics? And why is there a section just for gay and lesbian fiction anyway? Why is it separate from everything else? You don’t get Middle-Aged Fiction, or Brunette Fancier Fiction. True, it’s annoying and unrealistic to read about heterosexuals all the time and perhaps you’re actively looking for fiction wherein the main characters are gay. But why segregate just this group of people? You don’t traditionally get Black Fiction or Jewish Fiction and if you’re sick of reading about Caucasians and Christians, you’d have to dig the old fashioned way*** to find books with a black/Jewish protagonist. And if everything is segregated like this, how will straight people ever learn enough about gay culture to wholly accept it? If we’re striving for equality, surely putting Gay and Lesbian fiction on a different shelf is kind of like pointing a finger and going: “These books can’t possibly mix with the normal books.”

My real issue, though, before I head off on another tangent, is people who try to label other people. And by “other people,” I mean me. I was recently much narked after having a row with a self-proclaimed feminist on Twitter who announced that I was no feminist after all and proceeded to tell me that I was middle class****.

Now I would never have called myself a feminist, mainly because I don’t really know what being a feminist entails and, since no two feminists have ever completely agreed with each other, I don’t think the feminists know either. I have my ideas and beliefs, however malleable, and they seem to tie in with a lot of feminist ideals, but I don’t see why that makes me a feminist.

Even more annoying than being labelled is being unlabelled. I never said I was a feminist and yet here was a girl I’d never met confidently announcing that I was definitely NOT something I had never claimed to be. Personally, I don’t see how she could make such a judgement after five 140 character exchanges with a stranger who looks nothing like her Twitter profile picture†. Outrage! I mean, yes, I believe that society has brought us up with some pretty topsy-turvy ideas about love, marriage, sex, relationships and family, and I believe that women have been horribly oppressed in the past (and maybe still are in some ways) and that it’s led to a lot of avoidable unhappiness from all corners, but why the hell does that make me a feminist? Surely that just makes me me!

And take people who say they don’t believe in bisexuality. Or that bisexuality is just greedy. How fucking ludicrous and downright childish! It is simply a case of desiring who you desire and you can’t help being attracted to people even if you’re deeply in love with someone else. It’s just human nature. Why does who you’re attracted to mean so much to everyone who isn’t you? Fine, say bisexuality doesn’t exist, if you want to; it still doesn’t change the fact that some people sleep with both men and women. Why does that actuality necessitate a label? And as far as being greedy: a person can be attracted to both women and men and carry on a perfectly monogamous relationship. Some women and some men, remember, NOT absolutely everyone. And not all at once!

Categories in politics are also tricky. I tend to vote for the big party†† that has the most agreeable points, as far as I’m concerned, which is all anyone can do, really. But it’s so hard to know where to stick your little cross when you don’t whole-heartedly agree with absolutely everything any of the parties promise… not that the promises of politicians mean anything at the end of the day. And even harder when some of the things that concern you the most aren’t even touched upon by any.

I believe the distribution of wealth is completely unjustified – does that make me a socialist? I’m not sure joining the EU is a good idea – does that make me a Tory? I tend to lean towards the left, but not always. I’m a greeny-libdemy-laboury-monster-raving-loony. But not completely.

I am me. Why do I need other labels?

 

FOOTNOTES:

* I believe they don’t make moshers** any more. I have been informed that they’ve been replaced with Emos. Or twats, as I like to call them.

** I used to get accused of being one of these. Easy mistake to make – I’m pasty and my natural expression is one of despair. I’m not despairing, it’s just my face.

*** Google, naturally

**** I’m glad someone told me. Didn’t realise with my history that’s what you’d call me. Tell me, do you get many middle-class people living in one room flats, sleeping in the cupboard because there’s no bedroom and living on soup?

† I really should change that, but it goes with the background

†† To stop the BNP getting in. I live in absolute fear that Nick Griffin will have some sway in the world, the arrogant, shallow, bigoted wanker.

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