What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

Juda's code014

This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.

 

Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)

Weinstein

Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:

PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE

And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…

 

 

 

A Blogging Award and me mumbling on

image2

The lovely and inspiring Lynne Fisher has nominated me for an award, thank you Lynne! Below, I’ve answered the 11 questions she set me;  and then below that I’ve set 11 of my own that I’d love you (yes YOU) to answer. I’m not going to nominate anyone specific, but it would be great if any of you you felt inspired add your four penneth in the comments.

1.What do you feel is your greatest personal accomplishment?

I guess the thing I’m proudest of, that makes me happiest right now, is just that I am living life in the way that I want: doing a job I care about, spending my free time on things that are important to me, and friends only with people I love and respect.

2. What makes you feel joyful?

Writing, painting, time with people I care about, joking or connecting with just about anyone, walking fast with music playing, driving when the road is clear, when my job goes well, sushi, ice cream, gooey cake.

3.What makes you angry?

Cruelty and bullying, when people use intimidation to win an argument or get their way. On the more trivial side: my laptop has the CD drawer open button on the side just where I hold it to pick it up, so the CD drawer keeps on opening needlessly.

4.What is one law you could change if you could?

I’d legalise all drugs, but control the most dangerous ones – which I believe to be crack, heroin, coke, cigarettes and alcohol. I appreciate this would cause some ructions.

5.Where is your favourite place in the world to be?

The rainforest! The constant chirruping and calling sounds, the bizarre bugs, fungi and plants, the rain, the stars; the urgent clash and competition of life – so much energy, determination and innovation. I lived in one for a while, miss it constantly and visit whenever I can, but I’m a wuss these days and find the heat a struggle and the isolation a bit disturbing. I work with tropical plants to calm the need to go back.

6.What is it about your ‘favourite’ coffee shop that makes it your favourite?

I’m from the past, I’m afraid, and coffee shops don’t interest me. I like coffee and I like cake, so if someone takes me to a coffee shop and gives me these things I am happy, but the actual building I forget as soon as I leave.

7.If your house was on fire (God, forbid) what five objects/items would you just have to save?

Assuming all people get out? My laptop (annoying CD drawer and all), the art/writing project I’m working on, I guess some shoes and a coat would be useful. I have a load of photos/old diaries I would be heartbroken to leave, but it would take a few trips to get them out of the flat, so probably best to leave them.

8.Who would you prefer to play you in a movie?

I think, nobody famous. A homely, unknown actress with a spark in her eye and a sarcastic tone to her voice.

9.What are your strengths?

No idea really. I always try to do the right thing, until I forget or get distracted by cake. I’m good at arguing, although I suspect some would see that as a flaw. I don’t flinch when a cockroach runs up my arm (useful in my job). I have no interest in shoes (some definitely see that as a flaw.)

10.What do you wish you were better at?

Not getting lost, swimming, singing, knowing when to stay quiet, martial arts, tying knots, baking, remembering names, parallel parking, not panicking, paying attention, remembering birthdays.

11.What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned about blogging?

That you don’t blog in a vacuum, it’s more fun to connect with people than to just splurge out your thoughts and hope someone’s reading. And people on here are just surprisingly lovely.

My 11 questions for anyone who fancies answering them:

  1. When was the last time you laughed? What at?
  2. What’s the weather like where you are? How does it affect you? (In the UK we’re having a heatwave, everyone is half dead)
  3. What thoughts keep you awake at night?
  4. What conversations do you avoid?
  5. If you were invisible for a week, what would you do?
  6. What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen? (Things on the internet don’t count)
  7. If you could live the life of any character in a novel, who would it be?
  8. When do you feel most alive?
  9. You can have a penfriend from any time in history, who would it be? What kind of letters would you write?
  10. Do you ever feel like you haven’t a clue what you’re doing and you’re about to be found out? What makes you feel like that?
  11. Would you like your home country to introduce basic income (everybody gets paid enough to live on whether they work or not)? How would it change your life?

 

I’ve nearly finished the first draft of rewriting my book, so hopefully I’ll start blogging properly again soon. I’ve missed being on here, and many of you out there, I hope you are all doing great and life is beautiful. Even if you don’t feel in the mood to answer my questions, I’d love to just hear how you’re doing. 🙂

 

 

Tell Me All About You…

 

img_9077

Hello fellow Blogsters,

Over the past year, I’ve rattled on quite enough about me, now I want to know about you. Sometimes blogging can feel like I’m throwing posts out to the world, with no real clue what I’m doing. It makes me wonder how other people go about blogging and what it means to them. It doesn’t matter if you are a regular reader or are just in the mood to chat, I want to know about YOU. Please answer in the comments below, or if you feel particularly inspired, you can write on your own blog and put a link in the comments.

Questions, questions, questions…

If you are a blogger, how would you describe what you write about? Are there specific themes you stick to or a style you use? (feel free to add a link)

Do you write driven by inspiration or do you struggle to find things to say?

Which kinds of posts do you most like writing? Do other people like reading them?

What wouldn’t you ever write about? Why?

What’s your favourite post that you’ve written? (again, add a link if you like) What did you like about it? Did other people ‘get’ it?

What’s your favourite post that someone else has written? What about it caught your attention?

Do you keep a blog because you want it to lead somewhere? Or do you just like writing?

What sort of blogs do you most like to read? Personal? Stories? Factual? Pictures?

What kind of posts put you off reading? Is there anything else about a blog that puts you off (eg fonts, popups)?

When do you write and read blogs? From work? On the toilet? Inside a volcano?

If you  want to add any questions, that would also be great. 🙂

I’ll post with my answers on Friday…

 

Shut Up, Millennials are Great!

A Positive Monday Post

Ok, so I’ve been mulling this post over for some time, all the while reading the bitchy comments about  millennials across the Internet and hearing people complain about them in real life. The usual criticisms are millennials are lazy, self-absorbed, always on their phones, narcissistic, spoilt, irresponsible and whiny.

I (aged 43) work with quite a few of this generation (people now in their teens and twenties), and while there are a few who fit that description, most are delightful; a total contrast to my own ridiculous generation when we were in that age. So here’s my response to the criticisms based on my personal experience, but no scientific analysis whatsoever.

Lazy – IME millennials tend to be oddly focused. They have an actual career plan worked out, they even know what a career plan is. Sometimes that focus can get in the way – they are wary of wasting time on anything that won’t be of benefit in the future; but that is largely because they have so little guaranteed future. Unlike my generation, who took basic survival for granted so instead of planning, could just bum around getting wasted and dreaming of success.

Self-absorbed – wow, young people being self-absorbed? Who’d have thunk it? This just seems like a massive distortion of the past to me. My generation were self absorbed, we didn’t have Facebook and selfies to help us prove it, but the trait was still there. The evidence of this can be seen in the number of people in their forties and fifties who have leapt onto Facebook with glee, despite being old enough to have filled their lives with all the other stuff life has to offer.

Always on phones – as am I and everybody else who has a smart phone (which means everybody), we’re connected to the whole world, a constant stream of fascinating information. And young people have been desperately trying to find a way to  avoid eye-contact and conversation for decades, we just didn’t have the technology to do it before. I didn’t even have a walkman til I was fifteen, and even then I was stuck awkwardly trying to squirm out of the attention of others, it was awful.

Narcissistic – there are some alarming statistics about this, that narcissistic personality disorder is far higher – I do wonder if that’s something to do with increased diagnosis though, the same way that autism appears to be more prevalent. To be honest, even if millennials are more narcissistic, it’s only because my generation flooded the media with celebrity guff and consumer “you’re worth it!” delusions. It’s our fault, we started it. And we were just as hungry for fame as young people are now, we simply didn’t know how to go about getting it.

Spoilt – there’s a definite theme in my response to these. We were spoilt too. Every single generation has seemed spoilt when compared to the previous generation because every generation has had more than the previous generation. I remember how disgusted my nan was at all the toys I had, she thought I was ruined for life. Ironically that situation of increased wealth seems to be finally ending, so as this generation grows older they won’t have more than us. Most of them seem very aware of this and try to appreciate what they do have.

Irresponsible – nope. They don’t drink as much as the previous generation, do as many drugs, sleep around as much as my generation (and this is one backed up by statistics). They take education more seriously and think about pensions at an age when I barely knew what one was. Compared to how millennials look to me now, I was a wasted mess of thoughtless behaviour.

Whiny – I think this comes mostly from the PC movement, I certainly don’t see evidence of it elsewhere. And there is a lot of SJW style complaint about language and behaviour that seems extreme, but maybe it needs to be. I remember when PC culture first happened in the eighties, and even though I was very anti-racist, anti-homophobic and so on, I thought that the PC movement was dictatorial and uptight. I thought that it made the idea off treating people with respect a joke and so would never help, but the truth is, it did. I see how open minded and accepting young people are now and it’s beautiful, and it certainly didn’t come about as a result of reasonable discussion, that never gets anyone anywhere (I would really like it to, but when it comes to changing the thinking of a whole society, it’s useless). So if some nagging, whining and fuss leads to us eventually becoming a better more accepting society, then I’m all for it.

As I’ve stated this is just my view, seen from my singular perspective, if you see things differently, or even if you agree, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

TV Review: Stranger Things

Stranger things
Stranger Things

I’ve just finished watching the surprise hit series of Stranger Things and it was great. There’s been a lot of talk about why it’s good (Oh look it’s set in the 80s! Wow, it’s like a science fiction Stand by Me!) but I have a feeling people are getting it wrong. I think the story is exciting, but not particularly unusual (girl with magic powers, monsters from a strange world, MK Ultra scientists) and there are plenty of less successful series with similar elements, so I believe it has something else that people relate to, and I will try to explain what I think that is, here…

What’s great about it

  1. The characters aren’t just copies of other TV characters. There are plenty of tropes in there – the dumb jock, the nerdy boys, the weirdo loner, the good girl who falls for the dumb jock – but each character gets to defy the rules and this makes them seem more like real people. Some of the defiance is dramatic and delightful, such as good girl Nancy being kick arse with monsters. Some of it is quite small, such as little comments or expressions, but these small differences help give us a sense of the characters as proper humans. This also makes the series scarier because we genuinely empathise with the characters’ fear and want them to survive.
  2. It has real energy. I think this comes from the three boys, Dustin especially, but all of them to some extent. They charge around on their bikes, they get angry and shout, they come up with many plans, and they do all of it with such genuine enthusiasm that I find myself getting caught up in their excitement. By the time they reach the big monster showdown, I’m giddy with the drama and rooting for them.
  3. It has heart. Or rather, the characters do. I’m not talking the romantic plotlines, which follow predictable patterns, but the friendships between the four boys and eventually with Eleven. Also missing boy’s mum, Joyce (Winona Ryder) not only slings aside all pretence at sanity in order to find her child, but also the heartfelt scene where she reassures Eleven that she will be there for her. None of these moments feel insincere.

These three elements don’t read as particularly significant, but because they tend to be missing from most television, they make the series stand out.

What TV usually does

  1. All characters are unsurprising. TV characters have been copying other characters for decades now, in a process of ever diminishing returns. The result is a gradual simplification through repetition, until we have just a few possible characters with a very narrow range of behaviour. This doesn’t only involve the repetition of personality types that don’t exist much in real life (eg. The pretty but tough female cop who’s vulnerable underneath it all, the unnecessarily macho and wisecracking male) but goes right down to details like facial expressions (people on TV have very few), actions (also fewer than in real life, mostly just running, fighting, kissing and realising stuff) and normal conversations (there are none). Stranger Things only broke a few of these rules, but that was unusual enough to make it stand out.
  2. A lot of TV has a blankness to it. People run about, try to kill each other, cry and so on, but they’re missing energy, the feeling of genuine intent. I think a big part of this is the lack of facial expressions named above. The Killing (Danish version) totally flabbergasted me when I watched it, because of the range and depth of emotions that the characters showed; sometimes several emotions at once, just like real people. It was like listening to a symphony after only ever hearing a kazoo. Stranger Things doesn’t have quite that range, but characters like Dustin and Eleven both shone out. Eleven for the subtlety of what she was feeling, and Dustin for the sheer gleeful abandon that he showed. TV characters never show gleeful abandon, they’re too busy trying to look moody and detached.
  3. Characters have compassion for the other main characters only. I’m not saying that every character should be bursting into tears every time any stranger suffers, but they don’t even say thank you when someone has helped them or show polite sympathy when someone is unhappy. Most of the time they barely interract, it’s as if all subsidiary characters are only there to serve the plot and humanity is irrelevant. Which is fine, it’s TV, but it means that when characters do show genuine heart, it is incredibly effective, it makes us love them.

What is frustrating is that when a series, such as this one, breaks the format and is popular as a result, producers try and reproduce its success by copying exactly the wrong things. They look at Stranger Things and think ‘People want monsters! And 80s pastiches!’ They look at The Killing and think ‘People want a moody female detective and dead people!’

However I think what people want is to see characters that surprise them, that they are able to form a genuine affection for because they actually seem human instead of blank replicas with only the emotional range of smileys.