Sunday, 29 April 2012

So I actually watched HBO's Girls

You know, I can sympathise with murderers, with gangsters, motorcycle gangs, despots, even lawyers: a really good tv show will make me care about their struggles, their dilemmas, their hopes, their dreams. But ask me to give a shit about someone whose biggest psychic trauma is that her parents won't pay her rent any more? It seems that's a bridge too far.

GO AND GET A SHIT JOB LIKE THE REST OF US, YOU PRIVILIGED LITTLE FUCK. Is what I've spent most of the last two hours thinking.
So sad

And yeah, I know that's the point; I know shows about paragons of virtue and wisdom would be pretty dull. And it is well-written, witty, and insightful about the pitfalls of ridiculous relationships and early 20s life drama. But I've watched too many people get promoted past me because Daddy paid their rent through a prestigious internship, unsaddled with petty problems like overdrafts and student loans, to have the requisite distance here to care about her feelings.

I believe the technical term is "peril": any good drama needs the possibility of something pretty awful looming over its characters to make the audience care what happens. So you can watch The Tudors knowing full well that these are the most unimaginably privileged people that the world has ever seen, and still get involved in the story, because there's a very good chance that if they don't play every card in exactly the right way at exactly the right moment they will end up really, really dead. If Hannah Horvath doesn't make very good decisions, she might have to get a job that she doesn't find that fulfilling. Which is a predicament that I don't find particularly compelling.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

HBO's Girls: the real issue here

You know what the current debate about HBO's Girls has been lacking? With all the noise about whether it represents All Of Womankind, sets a bad example, invisiblises unwhite people, glorifies slackers or is just the new Sex & the City, no one has thought to ask Internet Pervs Inc.
FYI none of them get naked.
 In other news, my research on this topic produced this strangely endearing search suggestion:

I'm off to do some yoga in trackie bottoms now, safe in the knowledge that somewhere, some dude is getting a boner at the thought of it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

SIDS and social class: a hunch, about hunches

Does anyone know of studies comparing incidences of parents being accused of child abuse following the death of their child (by SIDS or other invisible causes), and the parents' (perceived or actual) social class?

It's just a hunch. I was snoozing gently to the sound of this story on Radio 4, and was prodded out of slumber by the incongruous effect of the sound of a broad London accent on the Today Programme. Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas - both young, both of colour, and Mr Wray has an accent socially coded "poor" - were accused of abusing their baby, Jayden, following his death aged 4 months. This was in 2009. They've finally been cleared and are planning to sue UCH and Great Ormond Street for failing to diagnose Jayden's severe case of rickets.

This area is really fucking complicated, and decisions - and convictions - are often based on appallingly bad logic. The choice of whether or not to investigate a sudden, unexplained death further could be made on little more than a gut instinct. And gut instincts are mostly made up of unexamined prejudice.

We love to project negative qualities onto working class people. "They" are uncouth, violent, racist, uncultured, uneducated and generally unseemly: and more likely to abuse their children. So all else being equal, I'm willing to bet that people in authority (doctors, police officers, social workers, etc) would be more likely to treat this kind of death as suspicious if they perceived the parents as being poor.

It gets even more complicated when you consider that there are possible reasons for SIDS occurring more often in working class households: poverty itself is a risk factor, for example; also, working class people are more likely to smoke, and smoking inside the house has been strongly linked with SIDS.

This hits pretty close to home: my parents' second child died of SIDS. Had they not been so acceptably middle class (and had this tragedy occurred in the 90s/00s - reactions to these deaths has changed massively, and frequently, since 1900), I could have spent my first few years in care while they battled desperately to clear their names.

It's a shitty horrible mess and for once I have literally no solution to suggest: one of the major problems is that we don't know what the problem is; whether the wider trend is "child abuse going unpunished", or "innocent parents being accused of crimes that were never committed", or both. (Obviously both occur - but we don't know whether either are an epidemic, occurring over whatever could be called an acceptable minimum.) We don't know enough about why children die in these circumstances, so we don't know what to look for; a thorough understanding of the phenomenon - and of statistical probabilities - could form the basis of guidelines for assessing the likelihood of foul play.

It's not my area. I'm in no position to draw up a comprehensive national policy on SIDS, child abuse, state intervention in family life and the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service. (Which sucks! Because Clause 1 would be "Every child must receive, at birth, a large trust fund and a small racing llama".) But it's worth looking into this stuff, because it's easy to forget that those nasty little prejudices lurking at the back of your mind aren't just about being a bit mean to people. They can get people locked up. They can get people dead.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Yay, you're gay! Comings out and diagnoses

You know how, when people ask "how are you?" they generally want to hear "fine thanks and you?" What they generally aren't looking for is "not too bad; searing pain in my right shoulder, excruciating stubble rash - should have changed that razor blade - killer period pain but very much enjoying not being on the pill, super-tired, knitting an awesome scarf out of silk and baby camel, just realised I'm on the downward swoop of An Episode Of Depression, have a massive craving for bananas, and yourself?" (But then I am the queen of overshare.) Or, for that matter, "pretty good, recently realised I'm gay", or "awesome, finally got diagnosed with Asperger's!"

A friend has recently come out. Which made me notice that although at least half the people in my Social Circle are not straight, this is the first official Coming Out I've ever been party to. Back in my foolish youth, it was always pretty much assumed that everyone was flexible in their gender-related kissing decisions - which is fucked up in itself; still normative, just to a different norm - so no one made any grand declarations, they just got on with prodding whichever combination of genitals seemed like a good idea at the time, with or without the lubricating influence of Asda value vodka. (Oh, the memories.)

When my sister introduced her then-girlfriend to the troops, the only familial blowback she got was from my Granny, who was mostly just annoyed that no one had told her. Her response was, "Well, I didn't exactly send out Change of Sexuality cards."

Which was not only a great line, but also potentially a great idea: "Congratulations on your newfound sexual identity! Wishing you the best in exploring your sexuality - I've enclosed a fiver towards buying that hottie down the Rose & Crown a drink. Love, Mum." Fuck it, we've commodified every other major life experience, why not add 'deciding which gender/s you'd like to sleep/romance with'?

In similar news, a colleague has shared her recent diagnosis of Asperger's with the office. Rather than being framed as an occasion for pity, for 'get well soon!' or 'there there', it's been presented as a positive thing. Several people have offered congratulations on getting a diagnosis - which is invaluable in identifying and negotiating accommodations and whatever medications or therapies might improve one's quality of life - and said how keen they are to read up on the condition and learn how they can adjust working practices to accommodate her specific needs.

Diagnoses are almost universally framed as negative (as if you didn't have the condition before it was made official); comings out as either neutral or negative. But in no small part they are both experiences to celebrate: finding out exactly what it is that makes you feel rubbish, and gaining access to the tools to make it better? Awesome! Figuring out what it is you're looking for in a relationship, and what/who it is you want sexually? Brilliant! If that's not something to throw a party for, I'm buggered if I know what is.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

give the feminist a cigarette goes international!

Oh, New York, how I love your half-and-half. How I love your air-conditioned subway and your iced coffee and your delightfully un-get-lost-able grid system. How I love your second-hand bookstores and your unlimited refills.

The whole town was basically my own personal musical, every street bringing another song to mind: we weren't actually staying on Positively Fourth Street, but we were staying in that crummy hotel over Washington Square. Crossing a road to get to the Hudson I discovered I can still recite the entirety of Tiptoe, the piers off the West Side Highway sunset behind the skyline of Jersey walking towards the water with a foetus holding court in my gut from memory.

After two days we said darling let's get out of the city, we need to breathe some cleaner air, and took a train to where they brought death to Bruce Springsteen's hometown, boys, death to my hometown, and discovered he really wasn't kidding: a bizarre, empty place, like someone who has lost a lot of weight too quickly and has all that extra skin flopping around. Every Springsteen landmark was dead, gutted; literally in the case of the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open. We ran down to the Atlantic, dipped our fingers in the freezing water, singing always wanted something more than fifteen hours in a week and a paid vacation on the Jersey Shore to no one, to the wind. A photo-op by Madam Marie's and a meal in an incongruously fancy restaurant - Italian, luckily, so we got to do Sopranos impressions, quietly, so as not to piss off the locals. (They'd already asked if we were Australian.)

We went to see Frank Turner at a bar which was tragically not the Stone Pony, but served us ironic hipster beers and alcohol-free slushies regardless. Although the genius of Turner's lyrics is to make the very specific into something universal, it was still jarring, strange, to hear a packed out Jersey crowd screaming along to songs about the English Channel and Nambucca, cheap Southampton bistros and the Railway Inn, the South Downs and north east London reservoirs. I'm a Wessex Boy, Holloway and Hampshire is where I belong, and I'm a long way from home.

Back in New York, we did the sights, doing the proper tourist traipse around the Empire State Building and MoMA and Rockefeller Plaza and, oh yeah, the Natural History Museum. Now far be it for me to tell you how to organise your museums, but can I just say that dinosaurs, animals, rocks, and people who aren't white is a pretty fucked up combination of exhibits. Observe how the pterodactyls hunted for prey! Wonder at the unimaginable vastness of the blue whale! Marvel at the beauty of crystalline amethyst caves! Goggle at how African people manage to get along without the benefit of our great white and wonderful civilisation! How quaint.

After that experience, I was all ready to get thoroughly pissed off at the Ellis Island immigration museum, expecting an avalanche of hoo-ray propaganda about how wonderful it was that all these people came from terribly backwards places, completely of their own free will, to the wonderful shores of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave (but not the braves) and all grew up to be John D. Rockefeller. Happily, it was actually the best historical museum I've ever been to: thoughtful and intelligent, detailed, balanced, and not afraid to point out that the immigrant experience wasn't a barrel of laughs for anyone, including the Native Americans who "entered into this country as surely as anyone who came through Ellis Island". Of a wealth of written primary sources, the most moving paired anti-Asian rantings with the calm, measured pleading of a Chinese man that his community were "good people. We honour our ancestors and take care of our children. We pay our debts, both large and small." We are, almost literally, in the same boat. Let us become American as you did.

Mine are the ones not written by dead white guys. Surprise!
We went to Harlem and discovered that Chuck E Cheese is a real thing. We went to the world's first entirely organic restaurant. We did a whole lot of Bob Dylan impressions and bought a whole lot of books. I kicked myself for finding the one place in the world where cigarettes are more expensive than in the UK.

We went to see the Knicks and went Linsane. (We also discovered that American nacho cheese is the most frightening non-cheese concoction ever invented, and discovered that we were incapable of stopping ourselves from eating it.) It took me until the end of the second quarter to put my finger on exactly what was so peculiar to me about the experience: everyone was having fun. They were acting like they'd spent a significant amount of money to be entertained by men playing sports. Which sounds perfectly logical, but if you've ever been to a football match in the UK, you soon notice that no one there is having fun. They're biting their nails and shouting at the ref and abusing the players and clenching every muscle in their body in the desperate hope that please, god, just please let them win. It's far too important to be anything as frivolous as fun.

Damn, I'd better get some sexism in quick to honour the title of this blog, hadn't I? Okay: firstly, in Asbury, a statue of a Patriarch was too good an opportunity to miss.

Secondly, watching Liverpool v Stoke in a comically Irish bar the day after St Patrick's Day (I was very tempted to make myself a t-shirt reading "Don't kiss me, I have no Irish ancestry whatsoever."), I was gazing anxiously at the screen, biting my nails, generally not having fun as outlined above. My gentleman companion was looking down at his phone catching up on work emails. A bleary-eyed English guy, clearly still having too much fun from the night before, stopped by our table and asked the boy who had scored the last Liverpool goal. Because girls! They don't like football! We know this to be true.

And that, dear readers, is what I've been doing instead of entertaining you with my thoughts. I hear that some pasty-related crisis has been kicking off in my absence? Oh Britain, lovely, peculiar little Britain, I missed you.

No hatred or bitterness for anyone

The best way to enjoy your first long haul flight: combine lack of sleep with the first day of your period. The best way to return to work after your second long haul flight: a six day work week culminating in seven hellish hours on Saturday minuting two Board meetings, including one which you only found out you were required to attend ten minutes after it started ("Do I have time to get a bit of toast? I haven't had breakfast yet." "NO! NOW!"), and one which featured the following incident:

"He's a bit wary of working closely with the Board, probably because in his last job for a mental health charity, where every member of the Board was bipolar."


"Well, no wonder!"
"Was the boardroom padded?"
"Can you imagine!"
"Bipolar board!"

This went on for, and I am not exaggerating, about five minutes. At one point the Chair turned to me and said, "You're looking very thoughtful, we are being rather irreverant!" I said, "Well, I have depression, so..." but I'm not sure if she heard me over the CACOPHONY OF HILARITY.

If you've never heard the sound of twelve people in genuine hysterics at the idea of people with disabilities in positions of power, you haven't lived.

Wanna know the best bit? This is the board of a disability charity. Almost all of them either have the condition in question or care for family members who do. They had just spent ten minutes discussing what adjustments would be necessary to allow the new Chair to lead meetings given that she is also deaf. If anyone had made a similar crack about haha, the very idea of a Board of people in wheelchairs!, there would have been outrage, and quite rightly. Haha, the very idea of people who actually have experience of a disability running a charity dedicated to that exact disability! It's political correctness gone mad! Mad! Hahaha, mad!

I think this is the difference between people who come to charity work out of a desire to Do Good (which has its own problems, of course), and those who have one specific issue which they want to address in isolation. I mean, don't get me wrong, we all come to social justice because we're pissed off about something that affects us personally, but - hopefully - we then start to see the bigger picture. It's a never-ending process, learning that the world isn't actually perfect apart from the sexism, or the racism, or the one particular neurological condition that is getting in the way of our ideal life.

I know that beating yourself up for not being The Perfect Activist is a pointless endeavour, but as an aspiration, you've gotta love Edith Cavell. Patriotism is not enough: I must have no hatred or bitterness - or, hey, derision - for anyone in my heart.