Friday 27 November 2020

No longer taboo

In general I couldn't care less about the royal family, but I think it's great that one particular royal has revealed her distress over her miscarriage, and encouraged others to talk about what is still very much a taboo subject.

One big benefit of all the ongoing feminist campaigning is that so many once-forbidden topics are now openly discussed and women can share their experiences and get the support they need.

Things they once struggled with behind closed doors, things that were considered shameful and humiliating, are now out in the open and subjects of concerned public debate.

Miscarriages, still births, post-natal depression, domestic violence, sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, the obsession with women's appearance, women who're not listened to or taken seriously, and many other issues - now we hear about them all the time and it's not so easy to sweep them under the carpet.

This widespread trend for bringing taboo subjects into the daylight has prompted men to be more open as well. They're more likely to talk about erectile dysfunction, impotence, the straitjacket of "masculinity", their parental anxieties, or workplace bullying. They're more likely to share their emotions, be it sadness, grief, disappointment, inadequacy, despair or helplessness. They're less prone to hide everything behind a facade of tough, unflappable maleness.

To my mind, this is all very positive. The more you share, the more useful feedback you will get, and the more your experiences become normal rather than some disgusting secret. I don't think there's any such thing as "over-sharing", except perhaps when what you say might offend or hurt someone. Sharing something must surely be better than it festering away inside and becoming more and more distressing and painful.

The fewer taboo subjects we have, the better.

Monday 23 November 2020

The ticking clock

This is puzzling. Janet Sewell, a woman in her forties, writing in the Guardian, complains that people are always asking her if she has children, and if not, whether she's going to have any. "After all, the clock is ticking" they remind her.

People say "You'll be so happy if you have children". And she thinks, "I'm actually happy as I am but will I be happier if I have children?" She feels like she's being told she doesn't carry her weight in society.

Well, the reason I'm puzzled is that neither Jenny or I have had any such "child harassment". We've never had people badgering us about our child-free status or telling us we're missing out on a wonderful experience.

So why is that? Did we look like potential child molesters who mustn't have kids under any circumstances? Did we look so poor our kids would be seriously disadvantaged? Did we look like neglectful slobs who would let our children starve to death? Did we look like angry, belligerent individuals who would terrify our offspring?

Or did we just happen to associate with courteous, easy-going types who felt no need to ask if we were planning to reproduce?

And on the other hand, why are people always asking Janet Sewell if she's going to have children? What is there about her that encourages such a question? Or does she simply mix with a lot of nosey parkers who think the future of her womb is something they have a right to inquire about?

Why do people think it's okay to ask such questions? Especially as the explanation for being child-free might be an embarrassing one the couple would rather not reveal.

But bearing in mind the sort of people Jenny and I associate with, it seems quite normal that people were more interested in our political leanings than in whether we'd reproduced.

Pic: not Janet Sewell

Thursday 19 November 2020

Anti vax

Of all the odd causes people are passionate about, one that really baffles me is the campaign against vaccinations. I can't for the life of me understand why something that has transformed public health and prevented millions of deaths is seen as some sort of toxic conspiracy.

The anti-vax movement is now so big there are calls for social media to delete all anti-vax sites as they could be a serious obstacle to the take-up of coronavirus vaccine (an estimated 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook and 17 million on YouTube). The anti-vaxers insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that the forthcoming vaccines have been rushed along too fast, haven't been tested properly and will be dangerous to the recipients.

Although the scientists developing the vaccine insist they've been thoroughly trialled and have no serious side effects, the critics maintain that's a lot of whitewash and the dangers are being systematically hidden.

Well, personally I have every confidence in the new vaccines and their developers, and I'll be happy to get my virus jab at the earliest opportunity (and as a 73 year old, that'll be sooner than the general population).

After all, I've had loads of vaccinations in my life and none of them have had any adverse effects. I've had jabs for diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, chicken pox, tetanus, flu (several times), pneumonia and shingles, quite uneventfully. So why on earth are the critics getting so hot under the collar?

Do they really think the NHS is setting out to poison and kill people? Why this perverse distrust of health workers? And why do they not recognise the huge health benefits vaccinations have brought since their invention in the 18th century?

Sunday 15 November 2020

Me time

What a golden opportunity it is when your partner goes away for the day or the weekend or even the week (and takes the children if you have any). Suddenly you have a nice big chunk of me time and you can do absolutely anything you want, free of the usual chores and obligations. Unmitigated pleasure and self-indulgence awaits.

Except of course that it seldom works out that way. Instead of all the unmitigated pleasure - long country walks, starting the new box set, trying those exciting new recipes, tackling that online course on everyday life in the Middle Ages - you find yourself spending the time quite differently. Hours have unaccountably sped by as you:

  • Plucked your nasal hairs
  • Looked again for the missing screwdriver
  • Placed online orders for stuff you don't need
  • Watched yet another endearing cat video
  • Cleaned behind the taps
  • Pondered why letter boxes are red
  • Adjusted all the crooked pictures
  • Purged all the socks with holes in
Then when your partner returns, along with all the old distractions and expectations, you kick yourself for not having used your precious me time more intelligently. And you dream of the next chunk of me time when you really really will make good use of it and not arse around like a ten year old.

To rub it in, your best friend gleefully recounts all the brilliant things she did during her own recent me time while her girlfriend was at a conference in Budapest. It seems she barely had time to sleep.

After that it's back to business as usual, and you find the missing screwdriver down the side of the fridge. And all the pictures are crooked again. And there's a nasal hair you somehow overlooked.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Naked controversy

Fierce controversy over a new statue of Mary Wollstonecraft at Newington Green, North London. People are asking why she's so small and totally naked and saying this is hardly a suitable way of honouring her memory.

The artist, Maggi Hambling, has vigorously defended the statue. "The point is that she has to be naked because clothes define people. We all know that clothes are limiting and she is everywoman. As far as I know, she's more or less the shape we'd all like to be. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It's crucial that she is 'now'."

This seems to me a bizarre explanation. People aren't defined by their clothes but by their personality and achievements - in this case her passionate pursuit of feminism. Neither is she everywoman, it was specifically Mary Wollstonecraft that campaigners for the statue wanted to memorialise.

Caroline Criado-Perez, who helped campaign for a statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, said the decision-making process had been "catastrophically wrong. This representation is insulting to her." She argued that, as a piece of political art, it should have depicted a recognisable Wollstonecraft, as less than 3% of UK statues were of non-royal women.

The writer Caitlyn Moran said "Imagine if there was a statue of a hot young naked guy 'in tribute' to Churchill. It would look mad."

It would look totally bonkers. Personally, I think the Hambling statue should be replaced with a fully-clothed, clearly identifiable statue of Mary Wollstonecraft.

I suspect Maggi Hambling knew very well that her statue was bound to be controversial, and she's enjoying all the fuss and attention. Two other Hambling statues, Conversation with Oscar Wilde and Scallop, were equally contentious when first erected in 1998 and 2003.

Mary Wollstonecraft deserves better.

PS: The statue was commissioned by the Mary On The Green Campaign, which unanimously chose Hambling for the sculpture. Jude Kelly, Patron for the Campaign and Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, said "She is a wonderful choice to capture the spirit and strength of Wollstonecraft."

PPS: A crowdfunder has been launched for an alternative statue of Mary Wollstonecraft by Martin Jennings. This statue would be of Mary Wollstonecraft herself.

Pic: the statue

Saturday 7 November 2020

Lady appeal

It amuses me to read all those articles telling men "how to make yourself more attractive to women". Probably behaving like an intelligent and civilised human being is all that's needed, but self-appointed romance experts produce long lists of things you should do to have the ladies falling all over you.

Men are advised on what women find irresistible - what brand of perfume, what length of beard, how much muscle, what sort of music, what make of car, what style of clothing, what hairstyle, what conversational gambits.

Well, women are all the same, aren't they? They all respond to similar things, so you just have to get those things right and they'll be putty in your hands.

I must say, if I were a woman, I'd probably run a mile from a guy who's constantly tweaking his appearance and his possessions to make himself woman-friendly, rather than just being himself.

For that matter, long ago when I was still looking for a partner, I'd have run a mile from a woman who was clearly putting on an act for my benefit.

Men who're obviously "performing" for a female audience are very tiresome. Luckily most of my life I've worked with men who found such performing laughable and wouldn't be wondering if women might disapprove of their beard length. More likely they'd be wondering if women would find their political views feminist enough.

According to the romance pundits, I've probably done the wrong things all my life and alienated every woman in sight. Clapped-out cars, dodgy music, outmoded clothing, dumb hairstyle. None of which bothered my partner when I met her in 1981. She would certainly have high-tailed it from some smarmy Mr Pulling-Power.

But it seems plenty of guys still fervently believe in romance-by-numbers.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Smug gits

It seems to be taken as read nowadays that anyone visibly privileged or successful or advantaged or fortunate is therefore smug/ self-righteous/ condescending/ gloating and generally looks down on the less fortunate. I seem to have fallen into that category, which is weird to say the least.

This is a very simplistic view of other people. Yes, a lot of privileged people do indeed look down on the less fortunate and blame them for their own setbacks. They do indeed sneer and scoff from their ivory towers.

But there are plenty more who are well aware that their privilege is very much a matter of good luck and personal circumstances and that those who're struggling in life simply haven't been as lucky and are coping as best they can in distressing and daunting situations.

I think for example of those celebs who have called for better mental health services, an end to food poverty, an end to homelessness, an end to domestic violence and all sorts of other social advances - as well as donating large sums to charity.

Lots of famous figures have stressed that they grew up in abusive and impoverished households, and it was only through a lot of luck and unexpected opportunities that their adult life has been more favourable.

It's easy to get the wrong impression from all those self-satisfied individuals - MPs, business owners and the like - who regularly appear in the media flaunting their wealth and power and clearly quite ignorant of the hand-to-mouth existence that typifies so many ordinary lives in this brutal political era.

Yes, I'm more privileged than most, but that doesn't mean I'm indifferent to all the poverty, misery and dashed hopes hidden behind other people's front doors.

You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see it and be upset by it.

Pic: Multi-millionaire Old Etonian MP Jacob Rees-Mogg