Archive for the 'I Bitch Therefore I Am' Category

It’s raining, it’s pouring

NS December 1st, 2009

Things are a bit unsettled here at Casa del Savage. The Noble Child caught impetigo (from some crusty urchin who planted an infested kiss on her face, I presume) and so missed all of last week at preschool, resulting in levels of cabin fever and exasperation not seen since the summer holidays. Because her condition was contagious, we couldn’t even venture into a playgroup, the library or a cafe. It rained much of the week and TNB was also sprouting teeth like he’d been reincarnated as a shark. My days were spent holding a howling 3-year-old down to apply antibiotic cream, alternately cuddling and saying “What do you want?!” to an inconsolable 1-year-old and dealing with a raging case of PMS that saw me sustain a chocolate-related injury (I bent my index fingernail backwards while trying to break apart a large bar of Dairy Milk which had been in the fridge — it’s still black and blue).

On top of that, it was the end of the month, hence being broke and eating cheap meals and not being able to splurge on lovely lattes or a new book or anything like that. Usual end-of-month story. It was also Thanksgiving, which always finds me pretty homesick and missing my family, especially since it was the first major holiday since my grandfather died a couple months ago. The Noble Husband left work early and we took the kids to a restaurant for a (non-Thanksgivingy) meal and then I went to Jen’s on Saturday for a proper turkey fest, which was lovely, but it’s still hard not to miss family on such a family-oriented day.

On top of THAT (I’m almost finished bitching, I swear!), my laptop’s hard drive failed and I had to send it off to be repaired. It’s still under warranty so won’t cost me anything but I lost some data, namely the outline for my book. Thankfully I found about half of it on my Google Docs but the rest has vanished into the ether. Must. Start. Backing. Up. No more assuming it won’t happen again. If that wasn’t enough, TNB pulled my precious baby, my Canon Rebel Xsi, down from the bookshelf, where I’d placed it after trying to get some snaps of them in their Christmas pyjamas. It’s not totally demolished but something has been shaken loose internally and will require repair. It’s still under warranty as well but I bought it in the US, from an eBay store, so I’m not sure how sending it back for repair will work or if I’ll be able to get it back before Christmas. I’m guessing not. So that’s a downer.

The icing on this shit cake is that I’m also having some personal issues that need dealing with and that is preoccupying my thoughts. Add to this the fact that we haven’t done a scrap of Christmas shopping yet, TNC’s primary school admission application is due this Friday and I haven’t done it yet, and that I am working on some freelance articles, my book and am launching a new website and it’s easy to see why I have been and may continue to be quiet on the blogging front for a little while yet.

Now that you’re all up to date on what’s going wrong in my life, let me fill you in on what’s going right. This is the only thing making me smile sometimes these days. Behold, TNB’s “kiss face.”

kiss face

This is what he does when you say “Give mama/dada/your sister a kiss!” The way he puckers up, long before a lip or cheek is in reach, just cracks us up.  If either TNH or I are in a less-than-stellar mood we just ask for a kiss and let it make us laugh and melt our heart at the same time. I may start calling it Kiss Therapy.

Thank you, my darling boy, for reminding me that all the other stresses and mundane details in life don’t matter. Time with my family and kisses from my children? That’s all I need to see me through this rough patch.

Leave them kids alone

NS November 18th, 2009

I know that I risk offending some of you lovely people when I say this (would it help if I said ‘sorry’ beforehand?) but I am really really sick of being beaten over the head with the large, ugly stick that is Teen Genre Entertainment. This includes but is not limited to: High School Musical, Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Harry Potter, Twilight and whatever the hell else the kids are crazy about these days. I don’t use MySpace or LiveJournal so I can’t be sure, but I’m certain there are others I don’t know about. Now, I’m not dissing these people or films or books per se, I’m sure they’re fantastic for young adults, but that’s just it — they’re for young adults.

‘Cause see, I’m 30. I was last a teenager more than a decade ago and when I realise that I was drawing red ink hearts on my ankle and popping gum at the mall before these kids were even a tequila-sodden glimmer in their parents’ eyes, it can seem more like a lightyear. But if there’s one thing I remember about being a teen, it is this: adults trying to muscle in on teen trends is not cool. If my mother had started reading all the Sweet Valley High or Babysitters’ Club books, or peppering her walls with posters of Patrick Swayze in his Dirty Dancing days, I would’ve been downright mortified. Mortified and also disgruntled because when you’re a kid it feels like the whole world is geared towards adults and for adults and that the ideas and entertainment that are truly aimed towards kids without being patronising or cheesy are few and far between. So for respectable, grown-up newspapers up and down the nation to be putting ‘Edward’ and ‘Bella’ (yes, I know their damn names just from glancing at the newsstands) on their front pages and explaining to us, in detail, why we should be lapping this shit up sends shivers down my spine and puke dribbling down my chin.

I suppose if you have a teenager and they ask you to read one of the books or see one of the films with you then fair game, go along to whatever extent you and they are comfortable with. But when I see legions of adult women with no acne-ridden children in sight fawning all over this pubescent bloodsucker and his oh-so-tragic, heartsick girlfriend and commanding others to ‘Just read it, you’ll love it! Don’t be such a snob, it’s FUN! Oh my god, I have wet dreams about Edward every night. (giggle),’ I have to wonder if they haven’t noticed the daggers coming out of the 15-year-old goth girls’ eyes. There is nothing more tragic (not even two vampire-people tortured and torn apart by true love, or whatever Twilight is about) to them than all of these self-styled Hip Mums trying to muscle in on their media and relive through lighthearted, whimsical nostalgia what they are actually living through (painfully, awkwardly, clumsily) at this moment.

The melodrama may be entertainment to us adults but for kids going through the process of growing up, becoming independent, falling in love, forming friendships, finding their feet and their voices, surviving at school and with the hormone-o-meter in the red zone, it’s not a trip down memory lane but crazy, tortuous, angst-filled reality; a reality that they need to keep private and separate from their parents’ and their parents’ peers. It’s a real shame we’re taking that away from them.

On child hate and feminism

NS November 3rd, 2009

hate cupcake

Before I became a mother I had opinions about a lot of things on which I’ve since done an about-face. For example:

  • I thought I’d always wear shoes with at least a little bit of a heel and would never, EVER wear flat slip-ons just because they’re more comfortable and convenient
  • I thought people who wore trousers anywhere above their hipbones were tragically uncool
  • I thought parents were selfish for taking their pushchairs on the bus or train at rush hour and should be relegated to only using public transport at times when the Busy, Important People weren’t around
  • I thought babies and children could easily be ‘controlled’ and that any kid who threw a tantrum, screamed or cried incessantly was a brat who needed to be immediately removed from the vicinity of my ears and my precious public space, of which I was utterly convinced I had dibs on over a snot-faced two-year-old

Some of these  naive thoughts were a result of merely being young and inexperienced, but others didn’t even register as being perhaps a tad selfish until I became a parent and gained a new perspective.

I now know that wearing heels while pushing a 35 lb. toddler in a pushchair up a steep hill, in the rain, with the week’s shopping hanging off the handles and a crying baby attached to your front in a sling calls not only for flat shoes, but sturdy, comfortable, weather-resistant, puke-wipable, hard-wearing, sensible stompers.

I now know that moms wear ‘mom jeans’ because the hip-slung look isn’t really compatible with post-baby bellies.

I now know that parents (and kids) have just as many places to be and just as much right to use public transport, dine at a restaurant, have coffee on a Sunday morning, go to the cinema, shop at the mall or have lunch at the pub as those rushing to and from work and those without children.

But if I’d never become a parent, would I have wised up about how unrealistic my expectations of children in public were? Would I have softened my hardened stance as I aged and interacted with my friends’ children? Most likely, yes. Because as much as our society loves to divide us into Us vs. Them (parents vs. non-parents), with neither side being able to fathom what it’s like for those on the opposite side of the fence, it’s much more complex than that.

First of all, there are different attitudes towards children from those who don’t have them. There are the ones who want them but can’t have them for whatever reason (illness, infertility, etc..); those who don’t ever want children of their own but who like children, have children in their lives or are at least kindly tolerant of them; those who will probably have children of their own someday but are perhaps naive about the realities of parenting so may be a bit simplistic or harsh in their views; those who are openly hostile towards children because of their own fears, insecurities and a wealth of negative messages about kids and being a parent that they have internalised over the years; and those who are openly hostile towards children because they truly think they are sub-human monsters not worthy of existence and who would be happy to return to the Victorian motto of “seen and not heard,” with “seen” being a concession to letting the little beasts out of their cages at all.

Of all my friends and acquaintances who are not parents, the vast majority fall into the first three categories. They may not have first-hand experience of parenting but they generally like children, may even have spent a lot of time around them and caring for them, and have absolutely no issues with their presence itself. They may, as I said, be a bit naive to some of the  realities of day-to-day life with small children, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect them to know all about it, or even want to. As long as they’re cool with me living my life and my children living theirs and us all mixing it up together and coexisting in public spaces, we’re golden. Any misconceptions or misunderstandings about parenting (or not parenting) between us can be cleared up 99% of the time with a quick conversation or by gently sharing a different viewpoint. Even if we can’t totally understand where the other person is coming from, we can certainly sympathise.

But the “seen and not heard” people, the ones (like many of the commenters on this article) who talk about children needing to be smacked, drugged or threatened into submission; the ones who talk about kids needing muzzles and leashes becasue they are like dogs; the ones who think that if there are not crayons and clowns in the restaurant, kids should not be allowed in; the ones who would slap a crying child in Wal-Mart or shout “Shut the hell up, you little brat!” to a 3-year-old crying in the grocery store checkout line (as I witnessed one day last summer)…these people are not just lacking perspective, they are bloody psychotic. Anyone who would advocate such violence and punitive measures against children just to make them behave the way THEY want them to is not only controlling, hateful, self-absorbed and deluded, but frightening to a degree that it makes me nervous to know they’re out there among us. Thankfully, people who are truly this hateful towards children aren’t great in number.

But the people I really want to talk about are the ones in the penultimate category — the ones who are offended by and sometimes hostile towards children as a result of their own fears, insecurities, defensiveness or having internalised all of the negative messages conveyed to us on a regular basis about children and parenting. Again, even those who fall into this category will be varied and have different reasons for their disdain.

Some may simply be assholes, the kind of people so filled with hate and anger that they enjoy taking it out on those smaller than them or more vulnerable. Let’s face it, kids are pretty easy targets because they’re relatively defenseless against adults with their adult world and their adult rules and their adult size. They’re at our mercy on the bottom rung and they know it, which must be a pretty horrible way to navigate the world. I think we all remember how frustrating and unfair it felt, even as teenagers, to be restricted, disallowed and banned from doing the things we wanted to do because of some arbitrary rule or simply becuase someone bigger and more powerful than us said “Because I said so.” If it’s that frustrating as a 15-year-old, imagine how much more frustrating it must be for a two or three-year-old who doesn’t have the verbal capacity to communicate her concerns in a legitimate way or even keep a handle on her emotions as she reacts to situations she doesn’t understand.

Flaunting one’s control over children as a means of establishing and exerting power for the sole purpose of letting them know their ‘place’ is a type of power-tripping narcissism that I just can’t understand, though it is obvious from the remarks of some child-haters that this is exactly what they expect parents (and any adult a child comes into contact with, for that matter) to do, so as to preserve their “right” to quiet cafes, pavements free of mobility devices for babies and eateries reserved for the exclusive use of those who understand that etiquette requires them to not slurp their soup, shout with joy when dessert comes, or take a walk around the restaurant to check out what others are doing when they become bored.

Many may be (like I was in my early 20s before I had kids), terrified of what children represent and how they might affect our lives, even before we have them or if we never have them at all. Women particularly are prone to fretting about how having children (or even being perceived as wanting to have or being capable of having them) will result in a loss of power and  standing in the professional or academic world, a loss of personal freedom and a loss of our selves. Because to a certain extent, it’s true. We do lose a lot of power when we become mothers. We gain it in other areas, sure, but becoming a mother automatically throws a kink in the patriarchal plan, the hierarchal system we were operating under, where men come first, then women who are able to act and live ‘like men’ and then, languishing somewhere at the bottom of the food chain with unpaid interns and temporary staff, the mothers.

The mothers and their shortened hours and maternity leaves and special requests and general pain-in-the-ass-ness…they’re really only kept on at some places because it’s against the law to fire them when they get pregnant. Even employers who truly value their workers and consider themselves progressive find sweat forming on their upper lips when they see someone of childbearing age and possessing a uterus walk through the doors for an interview. It doesn’t matter if she has children or doesn’t, she is a liability. And childless women know this just as well as those who have reproduced.

I remember looking at this couple with their crying child in an art museum one time, when I was maybe 24, and wondering what the hell they were thinking by bringing him there and how they should’ve gone somewhere more family-friendly for his sake. Automatically, my brain registered the connection I had just made between having children and either being scorned for taking them to places not necessarily geared up specifically for kids, or having to stay home altogether. To me, the choice was pretty clear: have fun and have a life, or have a kid. It didn’t dawn on me that having to choose between those two things is unfair, purposely exclusionary and inherently sexist since women are affected by having and caring for children (in a social sense) much more than men.

My perception of the sacrifices and personal losses of parenthood was confirmed by other things I witnessed and observed. I saw how the only woman at work who had a child was demoted after taking her second maternity leave because she had to leave at 5 on the dot to pick her kids up from daycare. I saw how everyone rolled their eyes as she picked up her bags and logged off of her computer, even though she’d been at her desk since 7.30 compared to our 9am, and had worked through the lunch break that we’d all spent at the pizzeria next door.

I believed that any woman who stayed at home to take care of her children was wasting her education, subjugating herself to her husband and would inevitably become completely boring and obsessed with her children. I had absolutely no idea about anything to do with the physical, emotional, social and financial repurcussions of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, maternity leave, the costs and difficulties of finding quality childcare, or the bonding and primary caregiver role that is so vital to a new baby’s development.

I had no idea how hard it could be to take a child on a simple errand without incident, when it wasn’t nap time, meal time, or rush hour. I had no idea how much pressure parents are under to keep their children well-behaved, well-mannered, quiet, compliant and taking up as little space as possible, and what kind of mental strain that puts both the parents and the children under. I had no idea that one day I would be thinking back to the glares I have shot at chattering children or the way I would sometimes mutter under my breath “Jesus, these women and their pushchairs, they think they own the street,” as two women with prams came my way, and I would be ashamed of how I behaved, would like to find those cheerful but noisy children and those women just struggling to make it through the day with their newborn babies and unwieldy prams and apologise for my asshattery.

It’s clear to me now that I was the one acting petulant and selfish, not those women or those children just going about their lives. But why did I have so much antipathy towards them? Why did I feel a self-righteous sense of anger at the fact that I couldn’t understand or control what they were doing or experiencing?

The real answer, if I’m honest? Fear. Fear of the unknown, of being in that position someday and feeling scrutinized and picked apart and passed over and talked about. Insecure because I wasn’t sure if parethood was something I wanted and if it wasn’t, why was I ever-so-slightly disappointed when a pregnancy test the month before came out negative? And if it was something I wanted, why wasn’t I being struck down with the “biological urge” or “maternal instinct” I’d been told I should be feeling by now? More importantly, if I did decide to become a parent, how much of my ideals and my freedome and how many pieces of my true self would I have to wave goodbye to, as I’d come to believe was inevitable?

For self-proclaimed feminists in particular, this can be a real minefield of conflicting issues. On one hand we’ve been fed this message all our lives that we can do and be anything  and that women are worth more than the domestic drudgery and single-minded devotion to childrearing often associated with marriage and motherhood in times past. In order to reinforce this message, has it become necessary for some women to convince themselves that they are better than mere housewives, more than “just” mothers and that children and parents are the problem, not a society that demeans and undervalues both? Because admitting that motherhood went from overrated to undervalued in 40 years flat isn’t something many of us want to acknowledge. Not many of us want to admit that even though the mainstream women’s movement certainly isn’t to blame for the way mothers and children are treated, it hasn’t done much to help them either.

And there on the other hand are the messages we are constantly bomarded with that say we are the ‘natural’ caregivers, that we have these biological bombs in our wombs that will make us go baby-making-crazy eventually, that we will be bereft and barren and bitter if we don’t become mothers. Even if we actively reject this message, know that it is sexist drivel, some of it inevitably sinks in and makes us doubt our decisions, our bodies and our roles in society. Even if one knows intellectually that a decision to not have children is a perfectly legitimate one, is it any wonder that so many non-parent women feel they have to be on the defensive from those who think them selfish or weird; that perhaps they employ the ol’ “attack before you are attacked” method of self-defense to ward off potential hurts?

Feminists (or feminst-minded women) in particular, I believe, are more prone to feel conflicted about children and motherhood and therefore are perhaps so emphatically resistant to the pigeon-holing as to risk entering into enemy territory, the very ideology that feminism deplores, where oppression and hatred reign supreme. Because — and let me be clear here — hatred of children, or expecting them to behave in a specific, prescripted, pre-approved way, or denigrating mothers by calling them “braindead housewives” or “breeders” is nothing short of oppression.

You won’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) gain any street cred or merit badges amongst the feminist in-crowd if you proudly declare yourself free from the yoke of mothering, or make jokes about muzzling children, or shoot dirty looks to families in cafes where you’re trying to do Important Things like read Salon’s Broadsheet, where even people who bother to read feminist sites say things like:

Fuck her and fuck her brat. I am goddamn sick and tired of screaming, misbehaving children making my time in public places a misery. Kudos to Southwest for having the intestinal fortitude to do the obvious thing: Boot their asses off the damned plane. If I’d been there, I would have given the flight crew a standing ovation.

Because you know what? Participating in child-bashing is participating in the oppression of a vulnerable group. By only “allowing” them into your space (be it political, social or public) through forcing them to adhere to a set of arbitrary standards is no better than the way whites told people of colour in the 50s and 60s that sure, they could be one of them… but only if they agreed to adopt white dress, speech, habits, customs and so on. So long as they were Trying To Fit In, the reigning race would reluctantly allow them to enter their space, but it had to be by their rules.

Even today, as soon as a comb gets tucked into an afro, or a pair of trousers on a black ass are found sagging, or the urban vernacular of a group of dark-skinned folks gets too complicated and labeled ‘threatening’, some white people get ucomfortable and that’s when things can get Ugly. It’s also like the people who claim to be okay with gay couples but then balk and gag when they see two men holding hands or kissing and say: “I respect your right to exist and all but you don’t need to shove it in my face! Keep that crap at home!”

Saying you support a group of people while at the same time defending your right not to have to interact with those people if they don’t fall in line with your expectations is just a superficial veneer of “acceptance” that means jack shit when it comes to real inclusion.

So no, you’re not really a progressive or a feminist or a liberal, all-encompassing sort if you also openly declare your disdain for children. Threatening to enact violence against them or their parents is not funny, it’s not cool and it’s not right. In fact, it’s really fucking hurtful. Not just on a personal level but on the whole, to women.

Instead of ripping on each other for our respective reproductive choices, let’s remember what’s really holding us back and work together to make it so having children or not having children are equally legitimate choices that don’t limit or ostracize us in any way.

Image credit: kayepants, via a Creative Commons license

Fuck Fashion

NS October 15th, 2009

fuck-the-rain

I don’t care about fashion. Never have, never will. To be honest, I’ve always found the idea of caring about labels and the latest styles a little alien. I just don’t see the attraction. Spending all that time researching what’s new, spending all of that money obtaining it, only for it to be replaced by some other trend mere months later…it just seems pointless and endless and strange.

The throwaway culture it creates and the part fashion plays in fueling rampant and thoughtless consumerism is only one of my concerns, though. I’m also concerned with not only how the fashion industry portrays models and sets up an impossible beauty standards for ‘regular’ women, but also with the entire idea behind clothing and how we look at it as being a way to express and define ourselves.

Fashion was created by (for the most part) rich, white men who had very specific, rigid ideas of what women should look and act like. Since the first pencil was put to sketch pad to create a drawing for the Autumn/Winter collection, we have been adhering to what a select group of people very preoccupied with aesthetics and symmetry think is beautiful and inspiring and, ergo, fashionable. The women who will wear the clothes are of little concern or consequence. Our needs or desires pale in comparison with these men’s artistic vision. We are but grease marks in shades of charcoal on the drafting board to them. What do we know?

Let’s think about the history of and impetus behind fashion a little more. What do these designers base their ideas on, where do they get their inspiration and what or who told them that they needed to use very thin, boyish bodies for these designs to ‘work’? If it’s mainly men doing the designing, how do they know what will fit and flatter women, and be practical for their varying shapes and stages of life? The short answer is that they don’t. The long answer involves a favourite word ’round these parts, one that begins with a big, fat capital P. Any guesses?

But none of that really matters because what’s done is done. We can’t go back and change how men have viewed and controlled women, felt entitled to their bodies, since the beginning of time. Hell, if we can’t even convince many women that they’re not living in a post-feminist world where they are fully respected and on equal footing with men in the areas that matter, then what hope do we have of changing what the rich, white dudes think?

They have a vested interest in keeping us tightly bound up, corseted to our eyebrows and tottering on the highest of heels, even if it causes us discomfort and ill health. They have a vested interest in keeping us smooth, hairless, perfectly made-up and shiny, even if it wastes much of our time and money. They have a vested interest in keeping us slim and pretty and willing to do anything to make or keep ourselves that way. They have a vested interest in our self-hatred and our self-consciousness because it keeps us busy and our minds off of our 1 in 6 chance of being sexually assaulted, or our 1 in 3 chance of being cut open in childbirth in the U.S. (1 in 4 chance in the UK), or our 83 pence to every man’s pound earned.

Vered at MomGrind wrote a post yesterday in which she expressed disbelief and disgust at Karl Lagerfeld’s comment that women who complain about thin models are “fat mummies” who “sit in front of the television eating crisps.” She encouraged us to not put any stock in what he says and shrug it off as the ridiculous and pitiful statement it is. And she’s right, of course, we shouldn’t give two shits what a wealthy, septuagenarian man thinks of us, or what we wear or say or do. Because who cares, right? I certainly don’t.

But a lot of women do. A lot of women follow fashion like a sport and think shopping is next to godliness and that these designers are the fucking Messiah. So they will indeed care what he says.

Vered also linked to a post I wrote on the Roman Polanski rape debacle and apty tied that into how our society seems so prepared to forgive or dismiss  rich, white men’s eccentricities and even their crimes because we consider their ‘genius’ more valuable than the people they damage. I left this comment on her post:

The fashion world and Hollywood need to be tied together with heavy stones and thrown into the ocean, as far as I’m concerned. I really don’t understand why so many women make themselves slaves to what these industries say we should do. A dress or a magazine or a movie aren’t motivation enough for me to destroy my self-worth.

Fashion is a large part of what I find so vacuous and intellectually bankrupt about our consumerist culture. Who the shit cares if a handbag was made by orphans in Bangladesh, right? So long as it’s got some rich white dude’s name stitched on the front in 24 karat gold, everyone can see that you’ve got money and need someone you’ve never met to tell you what to wear. Apparently this is a sign of status and progress. Ha-hardy-har! The patriarchy has successfully deflected our attention away from all of the violence and discrimination against women with shiny objects and busied us with eating disorders and clawing one another’s eyes out in our quest to epitomize their fantasies. Well done, rich white dudes, I’ve got to hand it to you, you’ve done a stellar job.

I think I’ll go be sick now, but not because I want to fit into that little black dress. Most likely I’ve just eaten too many crisps.

Because you know what, Karl Lagerfeld? I am what you would almost certainly call a ‘fat mummy’ and I eat crisps, happily, whenever the hell I want. I don’t stick my fingers down my throat afterwards so I can fit into whatever the hell bizarro-world clothes creation you’ve come up with lately, and you know that real women with a healthy dose of self-confidence don’t either. We can shrug off what you say with a laugh and a slap of our blubberous thighs and go back to our meaningful lives, ones with relationships to nourish and children to raise and jobs to perform and memories to create. You can’t get to us and it infuriates you, no doubt. We are a segment of the market you haven’t been able to crack, though lord knows you’ve tried. We aren’t many in number, granted. You’ve already gotten to most of our sisters, filled their heads with your ideas of beauty and perfection and cost them the ability to enjoy life and their bodies and the clothes on their backs on their own terms, for their own purposes and for their own bodies.

So it’s not for me, but for them, when I say Fuck you, fashion industry. Fuck you and the clothes horse you rode in on. Fuck your size zero models and use of Photoshop to make women’s hips appear slimmer than their heads. Fuck you for firing models for gaining five pounds and no longer fitting the skeletal mold you have created. But most of all, fuck you for getting inside the heads and hearts of millions of women the world over, infecting them with your “vision.”

I don’t need clothes or hats or shoes to express myself, or give me confidence or define who I am. If someone wants to pigeonhole me based on my attire that is their problem, not mine. All I need to be me, to be a woman, are the courage of my convictions and the words to tell you where to go when you try to stuff me into your pretty little boxes in the name of a deluded form of masochism called Fashion.

I don’t wear pencil skirts, I hold pens. I don’t need the pictures in Vogue, I have words; words sharper than the hipbones jutting out of the girls parading down the catwalk wearing the latest article of clothing from your  self-hatred-breeding machine.

I don’t need fashion, I have a voice. And I’m not afraid to use it.

Image found at nuacco.com

Hidden army, forgotten youth

NS September 25th, 2009

The front page of the Guardian caught my attention today: “Revealed: the hidden army in UK prisons.” In reading the article, a few passages stood out.

The number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan, according to a new survey. An estimated 20,000 veterans are in the criminal justice system, with 8,500 behind bars, almost one in 10 of the prison population.

I hadn’t heard those figures before and was somewhat taken aback by how high they were. I can’t say I was all that shocked, though. People who volunteer for jobs that rely heavily on violence, weapons and control are pretty obviously going to be more likely to have issues with violence, weapons and control, not to mention alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness and depression. The study confirms this.

The snapshot survey of 90 probation case histories of convicted veterans shows a majority with chronic alcohol or drug problems, and nearly half suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as a result of their wartime experiences on active service.

…The study provides the strongest evidence yet of a direct link between the mental health of those returning from combat zones, chronic alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

Now, I could be cynical and surmise that the armed forces simply attract people more prone to violence and mental illness, but even though I think that’s true in a very small percentage of cases, I know that most people entering the service in Britain do so out of a sense of duty to their country or at least because it may offer them a good career path, one they might not have access to otherwise. Essentially (the theory goes), they generally start off innocently, without malicious intent, and are only corrupted by the violence and mayhem they witness over a period of time.

According to military experts, psychologists specialising in post-traumatic stress syndrome and others, if, as a result of their environment and training, soldiers suffer such ills and traumas as to make them criminals and addicts, they should receive help and counseling from the State.

Taking all of this into consideration, I can’t help but draw parallels between this “hidden army,” these deeply wounded soldiers, and the entire, forgotten class of young people, mainly men, being locked away for very similar reasons and offenses. If veterans make up 10% of the prison population, who is making up the other 90%? It isn’t the unscrupulous City traders and high-flying fraudsters, that is certain.

The vast majority of the prison population is made up of poor men and boys who have also suffered under this truism: violence begets violence. An entire ‘underclass’ of people in this country live with, grow up around, see, experience, live and breathe unimaginable violence every single day. From the moment they are born until the steel door slams behind them, be it institution gate or coffin lid, the scourges of society befall them — drink, drugs, poverty, mental illness, separation from family, violence, rape, and being witness to death and destruction.

Make no mistake, they are no less foot soldiers in a war than those lying in a desert bunkhole in Afghanistan right now, military-issued rifles clutched to their chests as they wait out the attack. The only difference between them is that British soldiers are given weapons with which to defend themselves and have the support and concern of the public. Men and boys who grow up experiencing horrific abuse, who are drafted into gangs before they can even read, who are forced to do whatever it takes to survive in their hostile worlds…they were in combat situations, too.

Poverty is a battle for which its unwilling participants are given no armour, and no choice. Those who joined the armed forces at least have an idea of what they might be getting into. That doesn’t mean I have less sympathy for them, but as a pacifist who isn’t easily swayed by patriotism and duty as reasons to fight and who knows that we couldn’t have wars without willing soldiers, no matter how ‘noble’ the cause, it does give me pause for thought.

Poor children at the fringes of society had no such say in the matter. And yet, we look down on them in disgust, cheer when one of them is locked away in a prison cell and shout “Throw away the key!” We’d grind our middle-class heels on their crime-riddled hearts if given half a chance. The baying crowds have always needed witches to round up and burn, after all.

We’ll continue as we are, ignoring the problem and sticking our heads in the sand until The Problem starts breaking into our homes and beating strangers in parks and leaving empty beer cans on our lawn. We’ll beat our chests about it and call Those People every name in the book, wishing they’d just go away or learn to be more like us. And then we’ll slap yellow ribbons on our windows and cars — “Support the troops!” they demand — oblivious to the ex-Marine down the street getting drunk and beating his wife in a terror-induced rage.

All of this just highlights the ridiculousness of using violence and war to end… violence and war. Neither are viable ways to achieve peaceful ends. A culture that encourages both will eventually destroy itself.

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