Saturday, 19 November 2016

From 6th October, in response to Rudd's controversial speech at the Conservative Party Conference

I've hidden from the news for a while, but today I read the full text of Amber Rudd's speech.

Dear Ms Rudd,

I'd have liked that XKCD 'citation needed' sign when you said even English Language students don't have to speak English. It's easy to pick on students with all their paperwork and their short period of entry to the UK. Then you can continue ignoring the issue of people who have LIVED in the UK for ages and speak very little English. You criticse Labour for not investing in English lessons for such people, but I've been told you actually cut this funding further. You certainly avoided saying you've done anything to help.

And yeah Britian will be so pleased with you when every time they want to go to the fucking bank they'll have to prove they're not an illegal immigrant. They won't crack down on any other money laundering; it's less important if it's good old British money laundering apparently.

When you said "we are supported by some of the most professional and competent public servants in the world," I laughed. Public servants generally hate you and your party. You should know that from all the doctors you're refusing to listen to.

I'm sorry you're being called a Nazi, Ms Rudd: you deserve more accurate and biting rebuttals.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Guest Blog from a UK jobseeker

I’m an unemployed under-25. Being jobless, skint and living away from my parents’ home, I’m currently on Jobseeker’s Allowance (one reason for writing this as a guest blog rather than on my own blog is that many of my family members would disapprove of my being on benefits). Under new regulations, every so often I have to attend ‘Helping you into Work’ sessions run by the jobcentre (I personally don’t find the ones I’ve attended helpful), or risk losing my benefits. Last week I went to one for under-25s run by the Prince’s Trust, telling us about a 12-week programme ending in a work experience placement. “We’ll put you with companies where you’re likely to get a job at the end,” the person giving the talk explained, “because we don’t want you going back to your Xboxes afterwards.” Well, that woke me up. I was stunned, then the hurt and anger kicked in. One of the reasons that I don’t like to admit that I’m on Jobseekers is because there’s still the image of the feckless youth, spending the dole money on cigarettes and booze, lazing about playing on their consoles instead of trying to get a job. Sure, some people do, and unfortunately they’re the ones we hear about. Most others like myself are taking up training courses and building up our CVs as best we can, applying for jobs, attending interviews and getting nowhere. Applying for jobs is time-consuming and stressful, it’s demotivating and I often feel that it’s for nothing. Reading up on interview skills, attending workshops, practising at the university careers’ centre, and still not getting past the interview stage is demoralising. It’s a tough economy, a lot of young people are struggling to get their foot on the career ladder at the moment. To then be reminded of the image of us as freeloaders sitting about all day and somehow able to afford games consoles is extremely hurtful when things are already tough. I consider myself one of the luckier ones in that I don’t have dependents and that bills, food and travel costs aren’t that high in my current situation; throwaway comments on jobless youth are more hurtful for people who’re struggling to make ends meet. Joblessness gets me down a lot – at one point my parents were so worried about my mental health that they considered sending me to volunteer near my mum’s family for a few months so that I’d at least feel useful – so comments like the above makes it sound like I’m doing nothing. And that’s not true of most under-25s. At the end of the session I told the person giving the talk that I’d found her comment hurtful, and could she please not say that in future talks. She said that she just meant it as a joke, at that point I was too angry to properly speak and left it as “I can’t afford an Xbox.” She may have apologised, I can’t remember, but I’d like to think that she realised how it came across and doesn’t make that throwaway comment to others.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Meaning of my Atheist Christmas



One of my Christmas presents this year was The Atheists Guide To Christmas. It features, amongst other things, how atheists think about Christmas and reflections of childhood Christmases. The book is possibly worth having just for Catie Wilkin‘s Christmas memories, such as being a child and trying to send a Christmas card to the Devil to cheer him up. While it won't make any books, I thought I'd share my thoughts and memories of atheist Christmases.

Christmas has never had much religious connotation to me. I'm part of the third generation of atheists on my mother’s side of the family. I was raised so secularly that when my nursery school attempted to teach me Christmas carols, I sang:
“Away in a manger
No peas for a bed
The little Malteasers
®
Lay down their sweet heads”

I can see that Malteasers would have made sense to me – after all, what’s a sweet head if not the head of a sweet? I have no idea where I got ‘peas’ from; I’m not aware that cribs are a religious thing.


Christmas was an exciting time of year where people gave me lots of toys. I knew you weren’t supposed to think The Meaning of Christmas was presents, but I had to try very hard to find another one. I knew that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, but none of us believed in that. I tried to say to my mum that The Meaning of Christmas is that “Everybody’s happy”. My mum’s reaction was the first time I understood how stressful Christmas was for grown-ups.

As a teenager, this stress started to hit me, too. I didn’t want people to spoil me with gifts. I’d like to say that I was concerned about others who had very little, or about environmentalism, or about focussing on material possessions above true happiness. I think these things played a part, but this was when my depression first emerged, and I simply felt that I didn’t deserve anything.  Adolescence was also when plastic snowmen from the school Christmas fete no longer passed as gifts for everyone. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which causes difficulty in understanding others and anxiety in busy environments. Christmas shopping can be very challenging. 

But nowadays, there is online shopping, and I’ve discovered small business and planning far ahead. I don’t need to go into crowded shopping centres blasting the same Christmas pop songs any more. I don’t live with my family nowadays, and Christmas is usually an opportunity to go and see them. There will be no one changing my familiar home with Christmas decorations unless I do. The Meaning of Christmas is what I make it.

And I love putting up Christmas decorations. Better still, I love making them. And this year, I have truly mastered stress-free gift buying. I hope my gifts show people how much I think of them, even if we don’t see each other often. The last few Christmases I’ve spent with my family. This year, my partner and I have spent Christmas together with his mum.  He described it as ‘a mini live-together’, as we should be moving into a flat together in 2015. It’s been lovely.

I’ve enjoyed Christmas music, as I’ve got more into folk and folk-rock, and decided that carols are quite lovely when you’re not being forced to sing them by your religious primary school. I’ve enjoyed the festive food, and the excuse to abandon my diet for a few days and eat mince pies and satsumas for lunch. Every year, I look forward to the Christmas episode of QI, and the Christmas & New Year edition of New Scientist. The latter briefly mentioned moa-nalo, giant flightless ducks that have been extinct for hundreds of years. I decided this was awesome and wrote several parodies of Christmas carols about them. Last night, I was pretty entertained by the bizarre things on TV late on a Boxing Day night when most people are tired out and in bed. Highlights include ‘Sex Sent Me to the ER’ and ‘Zombies vs Cockneys’.

To me, Christmas is about tradition: things that you do purely for fun and nostalgia that you don’t realise are totally weird until you try to explain them to someone from another culture. Most of these traditions, such as fairy lights; partying; kissing under the mistletoe; and eating Christmas pudding have nothing to do with religion. I am free to enjoy them without awkwardness. I have considered celebrating New Year in this way instead, as the day actually means something to me, but that’d put me out of line with the rest of the country. I need those few days off that Britain give us at Christmas to see my loved ones.  It’s just not going to work for me to start calling it ‘Midwinter’ or trying to move it. It’s highly unlikely that the day was chosen for Christ’s birth anyway, and I’m hardly the only one having a secular Christmas. I don’t want to celebrate  ‘Isaac Newton’s birthday’ on December 25th, as some atheists suggest. I want to celebrate Christmas , because it’s what Britons do, and we can do it happily.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

World Hijab Day

I nearly didn't write this blog. But I logged on to Twitter this morning and read the following:

The test of whether Hijab is a 'feminist statement' is not that some women choose to wear it but what happens to women who don't. #bbctbq

I didn't watch The Big Questions on the BBC (bbctbq), but yesterday I tried to take part in World Hijab Day. It invites non-hijabi (hijabi = one who wears hijab) Muslims and non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for a day. It was started by a woman who was badly bullied at school because she wore hijab. Others have written in saying that they were told they could not succeed in their career if they wore hijab.

I want to make something clear: I don't agree with the ideas of modesty or the idea of 'protection' that the hijab often stands for. As a feminist, I was recently entertained by this Facebook page which applies similar standards to men.
What I do strongly believe in is the freedom to practice one's religion and dress as one wishes, unless it intervenes on others' rights. Someone is not truly free to wear something if others will harass them for it or discriminate against them.

People are always talking about the hijab. Since the 'French Headscarf Ban', many people have discussed if the hijab should be permitted in schools. I am not a fan of uniforms, so my argument on that may be fairly invalid. As I see it, if the girls look smart, there is no problem. But I would say the same thing for earrings, or long hair on boys, which are also often banned. Many newspapers seemed to claim that part of the reason for the closure of the Al-Medina school was due to the uniform including a hijab for girls, or them asking female staff to wear it. The OFSTED report made no mention of this; the school was closed due to poor teaching ad management.

Then there are statements like the one I've quoted above. The idea that something is no longer a statement if it is enforced upon other women (esp. in other parts of the world) seems silly to me. It would be like saying that it means nothing for me to chose to be teetotal, because others are pressured to not drink and in some parts of the world, alcohol is banned. I am irritated when people who seem to argue against anyone wearing hijab because some women are forced to. People are forced to do all manner of things. Should no one study medicine, because many people are pressured into doing it by their families? While we're on to the subject of modesty, should we ban long skirts, because some women are taught that's the only option? No, because it's the force that's the issue.

I wanted to wear hijab for a day because I wanted to show that a piece of cloth over a woman's head should not cause so much fuss.

I put it on before I left the house in the morning. It was a very windy day, and it was difficult to keep the scarf neat and covering all of my hair. I suppose those who do it everyday learn how. My first thing to do that day was to collect something from a friends' house. My friend didn't even mention my hijab; perhaps because I often wear other forms of headscarf, perhaps because we didn't have much time and it wasn't important.

Things then got a bit more difficult. What I planned to do next was go for lunch in the pub with my boyfriend. Was it okay to do that, something that seemed very un-Islamic, while my headgear announced “I AM A MUSLIM”? Neither of us drink alcohol; we were only going there for food. And who's to we're not married? I decided to keep the scarf on, but I felt very uneasy. I think this took it's toll on me. Those who know me will know I'm not in good health at the moment. After lunch, I returned home and collapsed onto the sofa and fell asleep. I was woken by the doorbell as the Sainsbury's delivery arrived (being able to order shopping online is marvellous when you're unwell!). The man delivering the shopping asked if I was a Muslim. He looked as though he may be Muslim himself. I explained I was not, but I was taking part in World Hijab Day to stand up for the hijab as something that should not be mocked or banned. He didn't seem very interested in my reasons; he just seemed to want to know whether or not I was Muslim because he 'was confused'.

After putting away some of the shopping, I fell asleep again for several hours. I didn't put on my hijab again when I went to a friend's house in the evening; largely because I wasn't sure where I'd put it before falling asleep!

After taking part in World Hijab Day, I decided I would not do it again. It feels as though I cannot be my non-Muslim self while wearing a symbol of Islam. I will continue to wear other styles of headscarf* though, as this seems controversial in itself. It never used to be; headscarves were popular with British women before the 70s. But now covering the head is linked with hijab, and that's enough to make me feel self-conscious. That self-consciousness highlights why I should keep wearing them. Women should be able to cover their head/hair if they chose, and it is rarely anyone else’s business.

*When wearing a headscarf, I make a point of it not covering my neck as well as my head to distinguish it from the hijab. However, I would like to sometimes cover my neck too in cold weather!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Rape Culture - Part 1

I realise that outside of feminist circles, the idea of 'rape culture' is quite controversial. It's the idea that there are parts of our culture that can be seen to promote or accept rape. Some people say anything that 'objectifies' women can be seen as rape culture, but I'm not so sure on that one. What I'm going to talk about mainly is culture that dismisses or trivialises rape.

Some people deny rape culture exists. To me, this seems like a part of rape culture itself. We acknowledge that some places have a higher incidence of rape than others. South Africa has darkly been called 'the rape capital of the world'. Assuming more rape actually does happen there than other places, there must be cultural reasons for that. If part of their culture is responsible for rape, can we not say the same of ours?

I feel my life has always contained rape culture. It was in films I watched as a child. Grease was voted the number 1 greatest musical on some rubbish programme I watched recently. You all know Grease: that musical we all watched when we were too young to understand that it's all about sex. Where the girls are all chatting about love and the guys are chatting about sex, singing:
"Tell me more, tell me more! Did she put up a fight?"

When I got older, I watched a lot of other musicals, including Cabaret. On the whole I liked it, but there's a scene where Natalia tells Sally how Fritz 'pounced' on her. How at first she is shouting harsh words at him, but then she gives in and likes it. Sally then responds with 'He made love to you.' I couldn't believe I was watching something which suddenly seemed to imply that someone who is raped will eventually enjoy it. I know someone who watched Cabaret on a date. The guy then asked if this is when he should 'pounce'.

I realise Grease and Cabaret are pretty old, and Cabaret isn't even that popular. A little while back, I decided to read 50 Shades of Grey. That's pretty damn popular. It's the fastest selling paperback of all time. I stopped at the point where the main character wakes up in just her underwear in Mr Grey's home after a night of heavy drinking. She asks if they had sex, and he tells her no. She then thinks to herself

Does he want me? He wouldn’t kiss me last week. ... You’ve slept in his bed all night, and he’s not touched you Ana.'

There we go. If a man doesn't touch you when you're unconscious, he clearly doesn't fancy you. It's totally okay though for him to take your clothes off when you're passed out though. Even if you barely know each other. That's an implicit message in a supposedly erotic novel that has been said to empower women with their sexuality.

Part of what disturbs me so much with all of these examples is that no one says the word 'rape'. The same with the 'Don't pick up the soap' jokes about prison rape, that aren't even considered the realm of 'dark' or 'edgy' humour. No one even points out that it's disturbing. It just masquerades as normal.

And I believe this doesn't end with fiction and distasteful jokes. Rape is common, and only a small minority of these rapes are reported*. A common thing in people who have been raped is that they believe it's their own fault. Those who are raped after they have been drinking are often blamed for what happened to them. I don't belive that messages in popular fiction that imply it's sometimes okay to rape people helps that any of that.

'The Steubenville case' has been frequently called an example of rape culture in reality. It's truly chilling. A group of teenage boys undressed and repeatedly sexually assaulted a girl of the same age, while she was too drunk to do anything. They then happily shared photos and videos of the incident online, joking about the rape. They believed their behaviour was not only acceptable, but hilarious. More disturbingly still, in both this and the Ched Evans case, many people's responses were in favour of the rapists. People seemed to believe it's acceptable to have sex with someone who's so drunk they're hardly conscious. I can only hope the sentencing in these proved otherwise.

The only thing I feel I can do about rape culture is to speak up like this. To not let it just pass by unnoticed or blending into the normal.  I wrote this blog post to say, and to encourage others to say, "I've noticed this, and it's not alright."

*I'm finding the exact statistics a little tricky here. The UK Home Office says that 15% of rape is reported to the police. When I'm less tired I will probably post some varying statistics in this footnote.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Unwanted 10kg buoyancy aid



So, I’m fat now. Before we start the post on this, I’d like to say that none of this gives you the right to boost your ego by telling me off for not looking like the perfect woman and not being in the ‘virtuous’ 50% of the UK population who are of a healthy weight. Shit happens, okay. Particularly when you’re stressed and the structure of modern life and the massive food industry are completely against us on this one. And most importantly, it’s totally unhelpful to tell me I shouldn’t be fat. Here’s a rant about why I don’t want to be fat, and why I aim to not be fat in the future:

There are a lot of unexpected discoveries when you gain 10kg over a few months, when that 10kg firmly pushes you into ‘overweight’ territory. Or as I prefer to say, ‘fat’. Because, much as we obsess over it, it’s not weight that’s the issue. Body builders have ‘obese’ BMIs. The issue is that there’s no muscle and a lot of adipose tissue (or to non-biologists, flab).

So, how did I get fat? I've never had a healthy diet. And this year has involved a lot of ice and snow and pain that has prevented me from exercising. In addition, I've been taking Paroxetine, which seems to co-incide with the weight gain. It's a medicine for turning panic attacks into flab.

This doesn’t feel like it happened to me over the last few months. That only occurs to me when I think about it. I feel like I woke up fat one day. I just got up and suddenly that zip didn’t close and I wondered when my belly started to stick out so much. Oddly, the only thing others seem to have noticed is the belly. I worry they’ll think I’m pregnant, particularly as I like to go into toy shops. I know my legs and arse are fatter, though, because I’ve tried to squeeze them into my old jeans in order to put some clothing on to exercise. Being fat makes it harder to exercise, partly because I can’t fit in those jeans any more. Oh, the irony.

I never thought about the cost of buying new, larger clothes as a problem with getting fat.  I mean, I’ve already spent too much money on too much food that made me fat, and then when you reach a notable stage of fatness it costs you even more.  No one warned me about this! They just blabbed on about heart disease.

I’m joking. I do worry about my health. Actually, I’ve got Generalised Anxiety Disorder so I worry about pretty much everything. The fat has, however, prevented some worry. While holding a bread knife this morning, I realized that if I were to collapse and fall on it, the blade now would have to go in further before reaching any internal organs. Hooray!

That is actually one of the reasons we have fat; to protect our insides. Other reasons include warmth, protection from starvation (not that useful living 10 mins from a Nisa), and buoyancy (although I don’t know how well I can swim in this state of unfitness).
 
I’m not sure these benefits really add up when the fat's in excess. I greatly dislike the stretch marks and the way my thighs now squish together and chafe against each other. Other disadvantages are finding I can’t squeeze through tight spaces or past occupied seats in theatres. On the whole, I’d give being fat a 1/10: to be avoided where possible.