Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Trying to make molehills out of mountains: please employ me

Do you consider yourself to have a disability?

I have no idea. I have a gammy heart. I've been dealing with depression to varying extents since I was fifteen. Standing up on public transport has, on a number of occasions, made me faint. I've been exhausted for the last two years. I have no clean-cut diagnosis to explain either of the last two; my GP likes to respond to pretty much any ailment (including supraventricular tachycardia, postural syncope and recurrent ear infections) by raising my anti-depressant dosage (but, lord alive, that is a story for another time).

The Equality Act 2010, defines a disability as:
“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” An effect is long-term if it has lasted, or is likely to last, more than 12 months.

Do you consider yourself to have a disability?

It's only very recently I've started to feel comfortable using the label 'depression': it's not that bad, I'm just tired, I'm just a bit sad, it's not like I'm hacking'n'slashing or wanting to die or anything, I'm just tired, tired, tired... And 'disability' is such a loaded term: we see it as an either/or distinction, where one is either Disabled or Not Disabled, the end. What if by claiming the 'disabled' label I'm muscling in on an identity I'm not entitled to? It's not like I'm in a wheelchair, for heaven's sake. Because the wheelchair, the white cane, are the borders beyond which they live, where we keep disability, in a box, separate from our lives.

Substantial ... normal... impairment...

I don't know. Is it substantial enough? Does the life I'm able to lead - able either to commit fully to my job, sacrificing my social life, or be there for my friends but start to slip at work, but never both - fall within the bounds of 'normal'?

Because however I end up organising this in my own mind, I don't trust potential employers not to think - whether consciously or not, Equality Act or no - "woah, no crazy ladies here please, can't trust them to administer our database!"

Monday, 25 October 2010

Prince of the big gay darkness

Last night my Manpanion took me to the movies with Jon Snow and Peter Mandelson. I was close enough to the latter to bite his knees. (We go on the best dates ever.)

A brief explanation of the Mandelson for you lovely non-UK folk (and hi, by the way! Your readership makes me giddy with happiness!): former Labour MP, kicked out of government twice for corruption, now a Baron, of all things; architect of New Labour, known as 'The Prince of Darkness' and, since his ennobling, the 'Dark Lord'; general underworld God King of the last administration and strangely hypnotic evil genius.

Oh, and he's gay.

How awesome is it that I always forget that bit? That it's so rarely mentioned? I don't mean "hooray for the erasure of gay identities"; I don't think of him as straight, I just don't think of his sexuality at all*. Like I never think of Cameron or Brown or Blair as Straight Politicians, Getting Their Rocks Off In An Officially Sanctioned Fashion - because straightness is 'normal' while the big gay is 'other', and also because thinking of David Cameron in flagrante is just frightening.

I have no idea why this is - he's a skilled media manipulator, the ultimate spinner, so maybe he's used his influence to have his actual actions and policies talked about, rather than his love of cock - or maybe he's just such a bizarrely fascinating character that his orientation is quite far down the list of interesting personality quirks. Either way, the fact that he gets to be A Politician rather than A Gay Politician is ace.

* I would be well interested to hear The Gays' views on this - if I'm way off the mark do let me know.

Edit: My extensive team of fact checkers have pointed out that this is actually kind of bollocks - see the "Mandy" nickname and the whole Gay Mafia screeching. I can only say I wasn't paying much attention in 1998, due to being 12. However, I think my argument holds for the later years of Mandelson's reign of doom - my complete lack of awareness could be put forward as evidence supporting that contention (or it could just be ignorance - whatever).

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women as sociological ducks

If freedom is reduced to the freedom to shop ... then is it any wonder that so many women suffer from depression and feelings of meaninglessness or worthlessness?
From Women as Weapons of War.

Well, yeah, but also: get your pontificating theory the fuck out of my brain.

I mean, I am a history geek; sociology is my friend; I see a day in which I haven't analysed the wider social forces shaping our actions as a day wasted. But there's a difference between this, and reducing people to mere vessels for Social And Historical Factors. In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

I mean, The Pressures Of Modern Life don't exactly help. Having to get to work by eight and charm the heck out of customers all day and get spruced up to go out for dinner and organise Christmas presents for my boyfriend and stop by for a quick drink with friends and try to figure out whether sacrificing sleep to make tomorrow's lunch is better than spending three quid on a sandwich and getting up to do it all again tomorrow and look good the whole time and never let on for a second that I'm not feeling the strain is really fucking hard work, and really not conducive to cranial serenity. And yes, I'm aware that this is an incredibly privileged existence, even compared to other white western cis pass-for-straight relatively-financially-okay women: I don't have to care for children, or older or disabled family members; all I really have to do is try to look after myself while meeting the expectations of work and family and friends.

And a lot of that is informed by patriarchal demands: I have to spend a whole load more time getting pretty than gentlemen do, and get judged for any failures; maintaining a smiling, helpful disposition is deemed more crucial to my professionalism than it is for guys working in my department. And I think there's more of an onus on women to paper over the cracks, to deny the very existence of the cracks, to paddle madly under the surface to produce the illusion of effortless calm.

(I came up with that metaphor while feeding the ducks in Clissold Park.)

But I'm also me, and me happens to have a history of depression, for whatever chemical and psychological and personal reasons, and I resent being painted as nothing more than the inevitable outcome of Several Millennia's Oppression Of Women. My name is Hannah, I enjoy knitting and swimming and melted cheese, and I take medication to deal with an illness. I am more than just a symptom of social malaise.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Navigating intersectional privilege: you're doing it wrong

Today, Cherie Blair is saving the women of the world using only the power of Snake 2. Well, alright, not exactly; her Foundation For Women has launched an initiative aiming to halve the 'gender gap' in mobile phone ownership in developing countries. The women of the world aren't entirely convinced.

I really love that someone was so proud of this achievement that they put a picture of it on the internet.

Rule #1: anything which involves the word "empowerment" should be treated with grave suspicion. In my experience, it seems to be code for "we're not going to give you any rights, or access to resources, or even any, like, power, but here, have some sugar-coated sop!"

Rule #2: The most basic principle of Helping Other People With Whom You Share A Common Oppression Without Trampling All Over Them In A Privileged Haze Of 'Hurrah, I Shall Save The Foreigners, Am I Not Marvellous!' is, surely, listening: if you say "hey, want me to empower the heck out of you using mobile phones?" and they say "thanks, but actually we'd quite like some schools if you've got the money going spare!" MAYBE YOU SHOULD HELP THEM BUILD SOME MOTHERFUCKING SCHOOLS.

Or better yet, you could start off with the very simple phrase, "how can I help?"

Or, Snake 2.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

"I don't have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else."

"Teenage abortion not linked to low self esteem!" trumpets some random website that pops up in my Google news alert for "abortion" (because I am the coolest and also funnest). Said website prides itself on being an "internet news channel" because they "believe in the power of instant news". Shame they're way late on this one!

"For years", they claim, "medical officials and researchers have believed that pregnant teens that have an abortion are likely to be depressed and have low self esteem for a significant amount of time." Well, no, actually, for years it's been a heavily contested issue (ha, unlike everything else concerning abortion), with various studies showing wildly different results, each with their own wealth of problems - because it's an incredibly difficult subject to research. 

Think about it: your hypothesis is "women who terminate a pregnancy are more likely to experience mental health issues." More likely... than who? Women who've never been pregnant? Women who became pregnant unexpectedly, but decided to continue with the pregnancy? The closest thing to an ideal control group is to take a group of women who don't want to continue their pregnancies, and randomly assign them to 'get their abortion' or 'refused their abortion' groups. Which is - obviously, I would hope - ethically catasfucktrophic, and also wouldn't tell us much because being forced to carry and give birth to an unwanted child would be, for many, really quite unpleasant. Like, the kind of thing that may upset you, even trigger some kind of mental illness, maybe?

For further reading, may I recommend the Science & Technology Select Committee report on Scientific Developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967, which, again, is the kind of thing I read for kicks.

The upshot being that the lovely people at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists - who I would tentatively include in's "medical officials and researchers" - have concluded that "there is no causal association between an induced abortion for an unwanted pregnancy and future psychiatric illness or self-harm." Woohoo! So high fives,, for catching on. That's only been the stated position of the UK's highest relevant medical body since 2004.

But my favourite part (this is the fun cherry at the bottom of the Empirical Statistical Evidence sundae you've just munched your way through - congratulations for getting this far!) is the link at the bottom: an unassuming little line inviting you to improve your self esteem.


Hi.... my name is Dr. Robert Anfield and i am hear to SAVE YOU from the terrible pit of low self-esteem caused by abortion and paying too much attention to the rules of punctuation.....IMPOSABLE THOUGH IT MAY SEEM.

Your Level Of Personal Self Esteem Is The Very Foundation For Future Success And Fulfillment In Your Life. And happily not dapendant on Whether Or Not you have Terminated a Pregnancy.

And that, kids, is your inspirational thought for the day.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Jimmy McNulty: 21st century career woman

The first time I watched The Wire, I abandoned it not long into the final season - I got distracted; maybe that was when I started on Mad Men, or commenced by bi-annual all-seven-seasons-of-Buffy marathon (a key plank in my Maintaining Mental Health game-plan).

But the main thing was that McNulty was really hacking me off. I hated how he was disappeared in the fourth season - "we've married him off, he's happy now, and happy is boring" - and only became a major character again once he was All Fucked Up. I was furious with him in a way I never was in previous seasons. I spent every episode wanting to kick him in his stupid smug caped-crusader face, and after a while it just wasn't fun anymore.

But I'm back, and I've persevered with season five, and something's just occurred to me.

He's written as being basically incapable of stably combining a happy relationship and an important, demanding career. His work makes him a shit father, a shit husband, and makes him act pretty shittily to himself: he's spread too thin. To be a good detective he must be full of rage, brimming over with a righteous fury at injustice, and that doesn't make for a fun dinner companion. He stays out late, he misses his kids' plays, he fucks around.

Which basically sounds like a Daily Mail caricature of a Career Woman.

The idea of a hard-workin' man blowing off steam is nothing new - I just had a few beers after work, love, I needed to wind down. My job's hard. You don't understand. I'm sorry, okay? The meeting overran, I couldn't make it to your piano recital, I'll make it up to you. But it's usually presented with bravado: a justified way of coping with a world The Wife just doesn't know.

When women do it, obviously they are monsters. And everything is focused on the impact their career has on The Children.

I wish we saw a little more of how McNulty's workaholism affected his kids - there's one quietly heart-ripping scene where he ambles sheepishly into their room, asks about the play that he missed, tries to banter about music. "Death Meadow?" he grins. "What's wrong with the Ramones?"

The boys share a look, and while it contains the usual Daaad, stop trying to be cool teenage contempt, there's a lower, sadder undercurrent,and it's full of rage. How fucking dare you do this now? After everything, after all the ways you've let us down, now you want to be 'friends'? We don't need a friend. We need a father. And some bullshit chit-chat about kids-music-these-days is not going to make up for anything.

(It's possible I'm projecting a little here.)

It just seems that gentlemen who go off the rails, work too hard, and aren't around for their families are usually portrayed as daring rakes, whereas a lady who works late a couple of times is an unmaternal unfeeling man-eating DEATH MACHINE. (Not in The Wire, particularly; mainly in the Mail.) The implication is clear: if Mummy cares about her children, Mummy shouldn't work. It feels almost radical for The Wire to suggest that maybe if Jimmy wants to be any use to anyone, including himself, Jimmy shouldn't work - at least not at what he does best. And I've never seen such a horrible portrayal of a guy putting too much into his job and failing at every relationship in a grotesque, self-sabotaging cycle of fuckingupitude, and I hate it, because it feels far too real.