Tuesday, 17 December 2013

You're missing the point.

from Living With HipsterGirl & GamerGirl

The above strip from webcomic Living With HipsterGirl & GamerGirl came across my Facebook feed the other day with a number of comments along the lines of 'women judge men by their looks to.' and 'male superheroes are not good aspirational figures either.' First of all this piece is not about the writing or quality of LWHG&GG - I only know it in passing and don't feel inclined to critique. This article is about some of the arguments that this strip references and spurs.
The argument made was:
  • Women dislike how female characters in comics are presented as they can not 'aspire' to possibly look like that. 
  • Additionally that women do not like that these characters can be the object of male fantasy or desire.
  • That this is hypocritical because women like to look at attractive male characters.
  • And finally that men are equally distressed because male superheroes are impossible to aspire to.
My counter argument is that this is largely missing the point. These arguments and the comic strips that illustrate them (as shown above) are ignoring the real issue and, in extreme cases, wilfully subverting the argument in order to stop any progress on the issue.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

1940s Short Hairdo

I wanted to share this because I found there was a dearth of information about short hairstyles from the 1940s, especially about how one would achieve such a style.



The early and mid-1940s favoured slightly longer styles, with gentle waves, soft curls and rolls. Shorter hair was seen as a little more unusual or old fashioned (harking back to the early 1930 or 20s). That wasn't to say women didn't have short hair. Hair doesn't become long over night and for health or hygiene, to say nothing of personal taste some women may have favoured a shorter cut.

Costuming though is all about recreating that quintessential style; something iconic and easily recognisable. For the 1940s that means curls and rolls no matter what your hair length is.

After some research I came up with this wonderful video tutorial from Vintage Dorris. She has slightly longer hair than me but it gave me something to work with and a bit of hope that  could achieve something approaching a classic 40s 'do.


So I bought some rollers and a bottle of  setting lotion (all from Sueprdrug) and bravely set to. Want to see how it went in my super short hair?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

NIN, Belsonic, Belfast 21st August 2013

Last night I went to NIN's first Belfast performance as part of the Belsonic festival. The fact that it has taken 25 years for NIN to perform here despite their world wide acclaim tells you something about the Belfast music scene but that's a ramble for another post.
What it meant was that this gig was something a little bit special; this was a gig that people had waited for. That puts a lot of pressure on a bad to say nothing of the organisers and show producers. The crowds that gathered in Belfast's Custom House Square had expectations that were felt well beyond the apartment walled auditorium.

I love going to gigs. I love the waiting and the build up. Last night was no exception. Getting on the bus and eyeing up fellow passengers who looked like they might have the same destination. Walking from bus stop to venue and seeing that the prevailing direction of travel was with me, and that it had a certain look and image to it; it was thrilling, a rising swell of anticipation and excitement that this was something we were going to enjoy together.

Crowds make a gig, and this crowd was an indication of how good a night it was going to be. A band with a career stretching over 25 years draws a broad range of followers. People dressed in plain jeans and football shirts stood next to the more stereotypical NIN fan clad in black, with piercings and partially shaved heads. Parents who had fallen in love with Trent in the early 90's stood with their teenage kids with matching expressions of anticipation and excitement. Belfast was ready this.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

fada beo Béal Feirste

Google translate tells me that the title of today's post is the Irish translation of Long Live Belfast. I'm hoping it's accurate. It might not be.

I love this city. I really do. I have lived here for four years and seven days and I can honestly say that it has been one of the most enjoyable places I have lived. Most of the time. You may have seen recent reports about rioting, protests and contentious marches. These news reports and indeed the events that spur them come up several times a year, most of the time, clearly scheduled around 'historic' dates so that we all know when to expect it. Friends that I have spoken to in he past few days will know that as well as irritated with the disruption, these marches, the arguments, riots and protests leave me tremendously sad. 
I want to tell you why they make me sad; It is because that is not an accurate portrayal of Belfast, Northern Ireland or the vast majority of the people who live here. I fell in love with this city, and it was in spite of the horrible attitudes and violent nature of some of the people. It was because of the many glorious things that are at the heart and soul of the place.

Today I went to St Georges Market in the city centre. St Georges Market perfectly condenses the things about this city that I enjoy, and I believe is a true reflection of the country and the city in particular. Let me walk you through some of the things that Belfast and Northern Ireland have to be proud of, the bits and pieces which really make up its identity.

This is me, right in the centre of Belfast, happy, content and not on fire.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Are Cat Calls and Wolf Whistles Offensive?

Short answer: In many, if not most, instances in our country cat calls, wolf whistles and unsolicited 'compliments' from strangers can cause offence or discomfort. Please not I do not say in all instances, just in many.

A few examples of the unsolicited 'compliments' and cat calling that I am referring to, which I have gathered from real people I am acquainted with.

[whilst groping] Nice tits.
Fat cow
Hey, red! Red, you gotta man?
Whore 
Well, if it wasn't for that belly of yours, you'd be pretty good looking! 
Alright sexy!
She's pretty, is she yours? 
I'd like a feel of that ass.
Hey gorgeous show me some sugar.
I'd fuck you!
Nice skirt.. Do those legs go all the way up.
Pussy
I don't know if you're a man or a woman but I'd still do you.
So what's the way to your heart? 
Faggot
An assortment of noises often vaguely animalistic in nature.

It's a pretty mixed bag isn't it? Some of those when written down in isolation don't sound to bad at all, maybe even nice. Some of them are clearly horrible or even downright threatening. But as we should all be aware, context is everything. These are not phrases snipped from the middle of a conversation, nor are they the product of friendly banter. They aren't even politely given in one-on-one conversations. These are the stark phrases that are delivered without prequel, often at top volume, from one individual to a complete stranger or somebody who is merely an acquaintance.

Firstly, I apologise I'm going to have to make a couple of generalisations here (though I promise to address the exceptions): cat calling and street harassment traditionally takes the shape of men harassing women. Secondly the person making the cat calls is often in a group of a similar demographic to themselves.

 I would also like to introduce at this point the common defence of cat calling: women like the cat calls and it's just a way of giving a compliment.

 Well I'm afraid that that statement is just a fallacy.
Cat calls and street harassment are not giving somebody a compliment. They are not. 
Outside of friendship circles with a well established banter, wolf whistles and cat calls are rarely about telling a woman you find her attractive - if you wanted to do that you would strike up a conversation with the woman and inform her in a polite manner. They are not about paying compliments. If they were about paying genuine compliments then the men who make catcalls would do it to everybody - ‘Oi! nice shoes mate!’ ‘Who’s been hitting the gym?!’ etc . The language would also be overwhelmingly positive without slurs or derogatory content.
Cat calls and wolf whistles are about asserting dominance - usually (though not always and I'll get to that) the dominance of a straight male over any and all females. They are about power and making sure that women know that men have the right to judge and assert their opinion over women whenever they want, regardless of the social situation and relationship (or lack of).
Many men feel that they are being flattering and kind however they have been brought up in a way that they do not recognise the power play at hand. But they still bow to the reasoning that it is their right to make a cat call and it is the women’s duty to take it and like it. And that’s of course before we get into more threatening and abusive cat calling.

To readdress one of my generalisations then, yes some men receive harassment from other men and from groups of women. This is less of a regular occurrence but it still an artifact of one group trying to assert dominance over another. Men asserting dominance over men they feel are 'less manly' or different to their demographic including people who are gender ambiguous or cross dressing, or men they perceive to be gay. Groups of younger people or 'youths' harassing older people because they aren't 'cool. Women harassing men in order to re-affirm their own power and assertiveness in a world that traditionally doesn't allow it. Women harassing men because they are so used to it happening to themselves, why should they care about the feelings of others.

Let's get this absolutely clear right now. Harassment of anybody from any quarter is not acceptable, that is why it is called harassment. Cat calls and wolf whistles are more often than not a type of harassment. Two wrongs do not make a right. I have heard many men and some women say 'well it's OK for us to do it because they do it to.'. No. Just No. Is this true in any other context? Is it OK to mug people because somebody once nicked your wallet? No. Is it OK to start a career of house breaking because you had your house burgled when you were 12? No. It is not OK to harass people because you have been harassed.

Now of course that only addresses the men’s role. Some women do enjoy getting wolf whistles and cat calls. When they are delivered in a friendly and kind manner they can be pleasant and it can be nice to know that you look nice to other people. However, nobody should assume that all women, all the time like, enjoy and want cat calls. Even a woman who likes a compliment from a complete stranger about her ass may on that particular day be in a bad mood, or feeling sensitive or not want to be singled out. And even if a woman liked the first wolf whistle that morning, by the fourth fifth or sixth comment that day she might be feeling frustrated and angry and regretting her choice of attire. It is entirely possible that a woman left the house knowing full well that she was attractive but doesn't particualrly need to be told about it and would rather be complimented on her creative writing, astute wit or knowlege of the UK legal system (or whatever acomplishment she is particularly proud of that day).

Let's move on to the other generalisation I made and how this is relevant to cat calls. The person making the cat call is often part of a group made up of a similar demographic. That is to say you will often get a group of lads of a similar age; a group of women out together; the classic gaggle of builders on scaffolding being the purveyors of cat calls. Often it will be one voice speaking from the group and then looking to others for support and encouragement. The group might not always be physically present but may be a group of people with whom they can share their experiences with later in the pub or on line and receive congratulations and affirmation of their actions. 
This is about power as well but it is about personal power, confidence and self image. 
Wolf whistles etc are often a result of the individual doing it having low self esteem or confidence. It is easier for them to shout at somebody in the street than it is to calmly approach a person and actually talk to them. This isn't an attempt to excuse the behaviour but rather it paints a picture of the people doing the cat-calling as being insecure and having poorly developed social skills. This is further bolstered by the company they are in. The cat calling is an assertion of self an assertion of their own personal power in order for them to find a niche to fit into. By public asserting this power in front of their associates they establish themselves in a pecking order and re-affirm their worth in the eyes of (some) others. They have been able to appear confident and 'masculine', powerful and 'able to have a joke' in front of others in the easiest way possible. It is a short route to fitting in.
Ironically then, the cat caller is often perceived by the target and the wider public as being a little bit week and unable to interact socially with people in a normal and non confrontational way.
So even if the target enjoys unsolicited loud public compliments, finds them genuinely uplifting or complimentary, they may make judgements about the cat-callers social skills and personality which are not flattering and not particularly appealing, which in tern, makes the ‘compliment’ even less appealing.
There will also be times when the person making the cat calls is perfectly aware that what they are doing is abhorant behaviour, but still they choose to act in that way. What a delightful person they are.

Not all unsolicited attention, compliments and comments need be bad though. The reason for this is not the intent behind it; it is the respect, expectations and reactions that go with the comment. 
Shouting across a street 'Nice skirt love' is in many instances likely to cause discomfort, offence or even fear. Politely stopping somebody at an appropriate juncture (perhaps you are both standing waiting to cross a street), and saying 'Excuse me, but that skirt is nice.' or even 'May I say you look lovely in that outfit.' are probably going to be met with better responses. It's not guaranteed though. A stranger interrupting your personal space and thoughts to offer a compliment, particularly one pertaining to physical features may still illicit a negative response and that's OK. A compliment is not owed gracious or raptuous delight.
The expectation, reaction and respect is crucial now. Did you offer the comment in expectation of it escalating into a romantic or sexual proposition or did you give the comment as a genuine compliment? If the former you may be in trouble. How do you react to their negative or dismissive reaction? If you get angry, offer insults, try and convince the person that their feelings are wrong or invalid then you are in fact harassing them and your original comment was just an opening gambit. You wished to exert power by making your opinion of them important, when that failed, you have resorted to negative comments to make the person feel small, scared or bad, again in an attempt to exert power and dominance. By not reacting at all, apologising or at least showing a look of contrition you engage the third key element: respect. you have shown respect for another human being by acknowledging their feelings and accepting that your own actions, thoughts or feelings do not automatically trump theirs.

'Your hair looks lovely, miss.' Said the very nice man apropos of nothing as he passed by the young woman fixing her fringe. She smiled in surprise and said thank you. And thus the mythical respectful unsolicited genuine compliment did occur.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Negative Spoons part 2

Yesterday's post gave the history and background of my illness and explained what the issues and symptoms were. Today I want to look at what all that really means in day to day life and what sort of impact it has. I will be referencing spoon theory, an analogy used to describe living with chronic illness. If you are not familiar with spoon theory I suggest you go and read the original piece by Christine Miserandino.

I left off saying how I have been left with a group of nagging symptoms that don't really have definite name but that leave me unable to work and in, to put it mildly, a lot of discomfort. I also mentioned that I leave myself open to judgement from all quarters and that this can be an incredible drain. So let's talk about some of the judgement. People generally judge because they are dealing with a set of incomplete information, because they lack all the necessary data to understand the situation before them completely. More than that, they choose to form inaccurate conclusions from their incomplete data rather than acknowledging that they do not have all the information. A non-judgemental person looks at a situation, understands that they do not have all the facts  and think 'Well it looks like X but there could be other things I don't know about so I will not give my opinion on X.' . A judgemental person thinks 'It looks like X and I will not consider that there may be other facts so I will consider X only.'.

OK that was a little bit vague so let's look at it in real terms. I am unable to work; my illness makes me feel a lot of pain and extreme fatigue so work is not a viable option right now. I did however, go to a LARP event at the weekend and had a tremendous amount of fun. Judgemental person sees this and assumes that because I am able to go to the LARP event, I must be able to work and that my excuse for not working is a sham. But they don't have all the facts.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Negative Spoons

Part 1 in which we set the scene.

[NB: I was originally going to write a singal post about how things like LARP events can have a lasting effect on my health but I found it difficult to do so without first explaining why I was ill in the first place. Actually, I found this post to be particualrly cathartic and decided to keep it in its entirity. The real point of all this will come in a second post tomorrow.]

I have a long term illness which is quite hard to define. I began getting sick in November 2011, it was post LARP event so i assumed it was a bit of good old lurgy. I felt week, tired and achey; i was getting bouts of vertigo and my glands felt swollen. Must be flu I thought and took a few days off work to try and recover. Only I didn't recover, it lingered pushed through my body in waves, reeling from feeling 'under the weather' to 'downright dreadful'.
I suffered through November and December like this and it was, to be perfectly honest, miserable. The pain and fatigue were growing worse by the day and the vertigo had me terrified. In early January 2012 I finally visited a doctor, whatever this was it wasn't going away and I needed help.

The doctor diagnosed post viral fatigue following some sort of flu and said it would pass. I struggled on for a few weeks having to take more time off work due to pain, fatigue and vertigo not particularly lending themselves to a lab environment. Eventually the doctor agreed that post viral fatigue might not be correct since things appeared to be getting worse not better, and we also couldn't identify the triggering virus. So the tests began. tube after tube of blood was given and sent away only to come back negative. Working in a veterinary lab, we also made the decision to test for some more peculiar illnesses including brucellosis, leptospirosis, HIV and Lyme Disease. and nothing came back positive. By the end of March we were tentatively calling it Fibromyalgia and considering management options. The outlook was grim and I was finding it harder than ever to keep up with full time work. I hurt all the time, I was so exhausted i was dropping hobbies left right and centre, and i still barely had the energy to do a full day's work. I was taking time off sick, using my hard won flexi-hours and sneaking in annual leave where I could.

Then came a revelationary phone call from the doctor. A final blood test had come back from testing in a specialist laboratory and this time it was positive. I had the antigens associates the bacteria Lyme borreliosis. I had Lyme disease. furthermore my symptoms were consistent with somebody suffering with a long term case of Lyme disease; by this point I had added joint swelling, sporadic numbness, cognitive issues and digestive problems to the list. Lyme Disease being unusual in this country, left my doctor a little baffled and we tried the standardised treatment - a mid length course of oral antibiotics.
There was no improvement.