Friday, 28 November 2014

''The Beautiful Game' - guest post by Mark Tynan

Today I have a guest post from Mark Tynan. Inspired by an editorial in the guardian last week (Nov. 18th) Mark wrote a reply, a 202 word scathing assessment of professional football, the UK banking system and our favourite former PM.

The Guardian decided not to print. I felt (with Mark's permission) that it really should be read by more than three people.

The Guardian chooses to make professional football the subject of an editorial
My observation is that that status is ill-deserved. To adopt a phrase used by she-who-shall-not be-named, why give football, in its modern guise, the 'oxygen of publicity'? No longer a game nor a sport, football is now just a business.
The editorial makes no mention of 'the beautiful game', there is no mention of players, their ball-skills inspiring a new generation of would-be international stars. No, the stand-out words and phrases are 'lawyers', 'corruption','large debt' and 'global farce'.
How sorry is it that our 'national game' now has more in common with banking than actual sport, a situation, I feel, which was summed-up last year by a club waiting overnight to make the announcement of the sacking of its manager, a Mr Moyes I believe, until the opening of the New York Stock Exchange?!
'Global farce' is an understatement. Football, mired in greed and corruption, and burdened with a generation of professional players who are better actors than they are footballers, has become a laughing-stock. Cricket and Rugby Union take heed! Down that road, evil lies!

Mark Tynan

The observant of you will notice that the author of this an I share a surname. Mark is indeed father though I think any bias I have toward is writing is outweighed by the quality.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Thought Bubble Part 2: Accessibility

The previous post gave a summary of how thought bubble was supportive of different genders and age groups and gave a generally welcoming atmosphere. I thought that, in order to be complete, I should address a few of the other areas mentioned namely, accessibility for people with physical, developmental or neurological disabilities.

I have some physical disabilities and on tough days walk with as stick. I had my stick with me on the day and found accessibility for me was very good. Each of the main rooms had level access or gentle ramps to get in to them and had no steps once inside. The greeting room (where you paid, picked up your wristband, maps and program) had a number of steps at the front which surprised me a little but, I later realised (by seeing a woman zoom past me on her motorised chair) that there was also a gentle ramp up to the entrance so it was accessible to people in wheelchairs and those who can't navigate steps. This was excellent. I noted that there were actually a number of people using canes, crutches or in wheelchairs, both of the powered variety and self propelled. At no point did I see any of these people struggling to navigate the convention though I can not personally attest to how easy it was for people in chairs to reach the tables and exhibitors. The aisles were wide enough to pass down easily and without me feeling like I was an obstruction, though the sheer volume of people did mean I got jostled or my stick knocked a few times. I don't think that could really be fixed without having absolutely enormous spaces between things. I was happy to deal with the odd jostle though it might be a difficultly for other people. 

These little spaces between tables (carefully marked with an x) were great for standing out of the way.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Rediscovering Comics

and a review of Thought Bubble

Two weeks ago I went to Thought Bubble: Leeds' dedicated comic convention and part of a bigger festival of comic art and writing. I had been to comic conventions before: great jumbles of artists, stands, merchandise, games and anime. To be quite frank I hadn't enjoyed these experiences. The halls were too busy and without focus; I felt like a outsider, not knowledgeable enough about comics anime or games; I was older than the other clientèle, female, and not cosplaying. It was a world that was difficult for me to access.

Thought Bubble Annie Wu
Illustration by Annie Wu used with permission.

 Thought Bubble, I was told, was different. For starters, rather than the mishmash of everything from games to anime with comics thrown in there in the middle Thought Bubble was about comics and only about comics. OK it covered all aspects of this media from self published zines to big publishing houses and graphic novels but the core was still the telling of stories through printed art and words. There was only going to be the one subculture for me to deal with.
More than that, they said, Thought Bubble was, from day one, designed to be inclusive; accessible to anybody regardless of gender, age, ability or disability, whether they were life long fans of comics or turning the page for the first time. This was the real charm: a comic con that I could go to and feel safe and not excluded. I was impressed that a con would be organised in this manner, that the managers and staff that ran it went in to it with conscious aim of not discriminating against, in fact actively supporting, many groups of people.
I was told of policy regarding sexism and gender issues – those comic artists who were overtly discriminatory in their drawings or views simply weren't invited. Booth girls weren't a feature. People who used discriminatory language would be asked to leave. The organisers made sure to provide facilities for people with physical or neurological disabilities including quiet areas, gender neutral toilets and easy access to event halls. This sounded incredible but I was dubious about how it actually worked in practice.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Beauty Vs Chronic Illness

I was shown a video a few days ago called "Letting Beauty Speak'. It is produced by Cross Fit International and it wants to redefine beauty. The definition the video highlighted brought me to tears. It was an unexpected yet quite profound reaction and it is something I want to address.

Let me get this stated right now:

I like Cross Fit. I have no problem with CrossFit or with those people who do it (in general). I like the enthusiastic approach to being fit and healthy. I love seeing my friends so happy when then have achieved something new. I also think that 'organisations' and communities like Cross Fit are really good in supporting and encouraging people more than just a call to go to the gym. Many people thrive with that sort of communal approach to achieving a goal.
So, are with clear, I have no problem with Cross Fit.

Back to the core of this post: why a video redefining beauty that explicitly pushed against the usual media standards of beauty left me distressed. You may not care about my distress itself, but I would hope you care about questioning the media definition of beauty.
When I saw the title of the video I was keen to watch. I am very pro health and fitness, and even more supportive of things that de-construct media-pedalled 'traditional' concept of beauty and attractiveness; I wanted to see how a group of people I respect viewed beauty. I wanted to know their answer to the question ''what is beauty?''.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chronic Fatigue: the physical impact

Chronic fatigue is so much more than being tired all the time. Fatigue affects your muscles and the amount of energy you have to physically move. Imagine you have just done the hardest workout of your life – completed a marathon; beat all your PB's in the box; walked the length of Hadrian's Wall in a week. Your muscles feel like sandbags, you feel wobbly and shaky and have no inclination to move. That's fatigue.
Now imagine that that happens every day through simple activities like having a shower, or walking to the shop and recovery is always incomplete. The thing is chronic fatigue isn't just tired limbs it is far more insipid, affecting every part of the body. I'll start with the obvious and then get down to the effects that you might not expect.

The NHS Choices website uses this as their picture for fatigue. It's not completely inaccurate.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Freshers' Week Sexism: It is that bad.

The Guardian recently had an article about 10 types of sexism experienced by female students at university this year. Many of the 'types' actually have more than one example; fifteen specific examples are given.
The response to this from many however is ''it's not that bad.''.

Stop right there. 

Fifteen examples of, at times quite repulsive, sexism directed to female students. Any single one of these happening once would be ''that bad''. That at least fifteen clearly defined incidents have occurred to fifteen individual women is definitely ''that bad''. And, we know from some of these examples that these attacks (and they are attacks) are not happening to individual women, they are happening to groups. That groups of women are suffering this means it is ''that bad''. Further more these are just the examples being talked about.
These are just the examples which have come to light and been made public instead of grimaced at quickly or cried about in private.
Why do people dismiss these things as 'not that bad'. Just because you didn't experience them personally, why dismiss the upset and discomfort of so many others. Yes, when they are gathered into one short article it can seem more dramatic that when it is spread over an entire degree course, but does that make these instances any less real, despicable, misogynistic or distressing? No it doesn't. Sexism in British universities really is that bad.

Let me pose to you an analogy:
You are searching for a hotel online. You find somewhere which may be suitable for your needs and decide to look at the customer reviews and notice that since September (since the beginning of the academic year) there have been a dozen negative reviews citing bed bugs, mould in bathrooms, food poisoning from the breakfast, stained sheets, rude and obnoxious staff – every bad experience you could imagine in a hotel. But there is a positive review in there that says 'It's not that bad.'.
Personally, unless that was absolutely the only option, I would look for a room elsewhere. I'd presume, that at some point health and hotel inspectors would be swooping down on the place to do something about it, because surely it shouldn't stay in operation with so many hazards.
When it comes to misogyny in universities I want the same response. Just because not every student there has experienced these issues (and that is some small relief) doesn't mean there isn't a major problem that needs to be addressed.
Just as I would expect our fictional hotel manager to look at the complaints and invest in new linen and deep cleaning, I would expect university deans, presidents and SU leaders to take a very close look at what they permit in their institutions and what steps they are going to take to stop these things happening. The problems are there, the complaints are being made and it is long past time that corrective action was taken. No female student should be made to feel unwelcome in a class. No student should think that her classmates think rape is a joke. No student should be given the message that submitting to unwanted sexual contact is the safest and expected option.

Other comments on the Guardian piece state that they don't worry about sexist university society initiations and dubious T-shirts when there are bigger issues of women entering a male dominated workforce, continued job inequality and major gender divides in academic subjects. If I am honest, I am somewhat baffled by this argument. Perhaps I am naive, but I am simply unable to see the examples in the Guardian as a separate issue from employment inequality and pervasive gender stereotyping. As I see it, the two are intrinsically linked. As long as female students are being treated as nothing but sex toys, there for the amusement and domination of male students then they are being seen as less. As long as female students are being devalued and treated as jokes or out of place on campus then their education, ability and worth in the wider world is also being devalued.

It perpetuates the culture were women are not as valuable and equal in business or academic arenas. It teaches the male students that when they are in the working world they can look at their female colleagues as lesser. Women are treated as sex objects, jokes and targets in fresher's week because society teaches that women are of less value than men and need to be firmly put in their place as subservient. Women continue to be undervalued in academia and professional circles because group after group of graduates have just spent three years accepting that male dominant behaviour is acceptable and normal. It is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken at every opportunity.

Saying 'It is that bad' when we hear examples of overt sexual harassment and discrimination in university is a step toward breaking that cycle.
Saying 'It is that bad' to tutors, presidents, deans, leaders and above all students is a step toward breaking that cycle and demanding a change.
Just because it could be worse is no reason to maintain the status quo.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

13 Things a Pie Can Do to be More Attractive

You are probably all to aware of the many, many articles on the net and in print that instruct a woman how to be better, usually for reasons of pleasing a man. A lot of these are written and phrased in fun friendly ways; they just want to help you! Who doesn't want to be a better person after all?!
Some of them however, are written by angry middle aged white guys with some very definite ideas about women. They are aggressive, condescending and of course, deeply misogynistic. I could link to the specific 'article' that inspired this post, but I shan't. If you want to give that page views and read it for yourself, Google it. I'll give you a hint, just replace the word pie with woman. You won't be short of search results.

1) Stay 'healthy'
A good pie will be neither too fatty nor lacking in the things that taste good. Nobody wants a pie that is one of those 'super lean, fat free, health' pies, but we don't want to be dating lumpy starch and fat pie either. Be careful when choosing ingredients though, no body should now you were considering this careful balance. Just make it work.

2) Lay of the pie decoration
Pie eaters gravitate toward a natural pie crust, tasteful and coverable patterns (if any at all) and latticework that isn't out of control and all over the place.

3) Provide your own flavour
When it comes to flavour, pie eaters couldn't care less if you have a whole lot, but you need to have enough that they don't use up all their syrup. If you are more flavourful than their syrup, great, just refrain from rubbing yourself in their face. Nobody wants to be called pieface.

4) Be PIE
Pie eaters like PIE, not cake with a crust.

5) Be easy to eat
This overlaps with being PIE. Some people think of being easy to eat as a negative, like you will just be eaten up quickly with no thought or consideration. Heaven forbid you make yourself easy to eat so as to please the pie eater. Personally I think some peoples views on PIE have made eating pie a battle. Make yourself into bite size morsels, give him a surprise flavour, don't have a filling that gets everywhere. A Good pie eater will let you know they are pleased with your efforts.

6) Your availability
A pie eater wants a pie that has clearly been taste tested and is known to be tasty, but they don't want a pie that is available in every corner shop. We get it, you want everybody to be able to taste your filling and think you have a right to be eaten anywhere. Remember though, there's a difference between being gourmet and 4 for a pound.

7) Be clever
No pie eater wants a pie that can't show of a clever technique or two.

8) Be fresh!
This is kind of the not-so-secret secret. Pie eaters don't want left over pie, nor do they want the ultimate pie shame of eating another pie's filling. This goes double if the leftovers are from more than one pie or are bi-flavoured. It doesn't matter why there were leftovers the bottom line is, you have leftovers and it doesn't belong to any of the 'elligable' pie eaters out there.

Fun Fact!: In many pie eateries, if you like the leftovers, and then try to leave, they will make you pay the bill anyway!

9) You should be home baked most of the time.
Apparently the domesticity of being able to feed somebody has deteriorated. Don't be a store bought or frozen pie.

10) Put down the gadgets
We don't need any of this new technology. Step away from the digital thermometers, electric blenders and food blogs. A good pie knows when to sit quietly and politely. You definitely don't need to show off another photograph of your delicious crust. When I got to a bakery with other pie eaters, We all place our gadgets in a neat pile on the counter and pretend for a moment we are in a Ye Olde Pie Shop.

11) Easy up on the glaze and food colour!
It's bad enough that the egg glaze and food dye industry is a billion dollar industry hell bent on telling pies they aren't good enough. To top it off most of you come out looking like a joke pie! Maybe you could go without glaze and just try and do an appealing shiny crust naturally.

12) Stop being rough
Coming from somebody who is a United States Baker, It is really not attractive to have a pie that looks like it just came off a boat. Smooth off those edges if you really want to be a pie.

13) Stop having pie eating friends.
9 out of 10 of your pie eating friends just want to eat you anyway. Pie eaters now how other pie eaters think. The first one to come and comfort you after I've questioned your flavour will also be the one to say 'he doesn't really like cherries.' in order to sabotage my chances of eating you. And then he'll be the first one to take a dessert fork to you. It's not about trust. It's about me getting the pie I want.

Well that got creepy. And now I'm hungry.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

It's all relevant

It may have come to your attention via some social media or indeed conventional media that River Island sold an offensive novelty item and then removed it from their stores when the public kicked up a stink.
The novelty item in question was a toy ball gag fashioned out of a plastic football and some elastic. It was sold with the name 'The Domestic Anti Nag Gag' which, to quote the BBC article ''urged men to 'gag' nagging women ... ''. Though clearly a novelty item, the gag wouldn't stand up to any real usage, the message behind it was clear: 'women talk to much, men should make them stop.'.
It additionally built on the stereotypes that women are over talkative harpies who only care about domestic issues ('It's your turn to do the dishes' and 'pick your clothes up off the floor' screeches the woman to be gagged on the packaging) and men are only interested in watching the footy and other such blokish activities. The notion that perhaps men and women might share domestic duties, or engage in a dialogue or even *gasp* watch sports together isn't even considered.

So that is the item that started it all. But this post isn't about the item directly; it is a response to a facebook post that claimed that people were wrong to be offended by this, that it was trivial and should be dismissed as a joke. Not because it wasn't sexist but because it was small fry in comparison to the current kidnappings in Nigeria, world starvation and, child abuse and that we shouldn't be offended by a novelty item whilst these other things going on.

I would offer a counter opinion: we should be offended by a novelty gag because these other terrible things are going on. I would also pose that a sexist novelty ball gag (and my offence) are not a separate issue from Nigerian kidnappings, starvation and child abuse (and my horror). They are linked, and fighting one is part of fighting the whole.