Rants

Pictures of feminists are being photoshopped it’s giving antis free excuses to whinge

With a constant, underlying fear that I might perhaps be social media’s puppet, I spend quite a bit of my time scrolling through various newsfeeds these days. Aside from the odd Buzzfeed quiz unearthing revelational nuances of my character, Facebook tends to offer various opportunities to segue into a whole load of worthwhile reading and debate.  Last week, I came across this disturbing image:

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I’m used to feeling downcast and detached from what I believe in after stupidly letting myself browse the contents of MRA pages or after reading the comments on Laci Green’s videos, but this was literally the first time I’d confronted bad feminism. Feminism masquerading as feminism that wasn’t even feminism. I knew these were the kind of exceptions people against the movement cling to and perceive as the norm – and this was the first time I had ever discovered one. I was left feeling deflated, and immediately jumped to the movement’s defence.

Then, I discovered this:

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Yeah. This is the actual original photo. If you look closely, whatever genius edited the pic has cleverly reversed the image so as to ensure it looks like a different person. Plus, the writing on the first pic is a tad fuzzy around the edges.

What we have here is someone who is clearly terribly afraid of the notion that women might just be equally capable/intelligent/valid as men and has chosen to target a movement promoting equality of the sexes in order to ensure the ladyfolk strictly DO NOT end up with the same pay/rights/social position/success as men. Unfortunately, this poor anxious person couldn’t find enough evidence to support his theory that feminists are evil man haters, so the cunning little devil utilised his photo editing skills to create his own! If only he hadn’t used quite a popular photo (it was on the first page of Google Images), then he really would have gotten away with it!

Of course, a number of non-believers retaliated, claiming they “couldn’t see the difference” between the photos anyway. Well, I can reveal they are different, and not just because the text is in a different colour!

The patriarchy is a system by which men hold most of the power and women are in the main excluded from that power. The patriarchy denies women to be justly represented, denies women a voice and denies her choices. It turns being a woman into an insult. It decrees that her place is in the home and her jobs are cooking and childcare – if she must work, she can be a receptionist or something. Better still, a cleaner, and bring skills from home to the workplace!

Patriarchal society offers rigid roles for women, but also for men. The patriarchy tells men the money on which their family lives is their responsibility. It tells them earning money is more important than being a father, with ordinary paternity leave at 1-2 weeks in the UK. It is why, in Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, a man reported people being “shocked [he] had custody”. It tells boys to suffer in silence rather than outwardly show their emotions. It tells them it’s perfectly okay for little girls to play with dolls and pushchairs, but questions a little boy playing daddy.

And yes, it is why men are supposedly expected to pay for our dinner. It is not feminism that asks that.

If you really want to attack feminism, at least put the effort into finding a real reason to attack it. If you can’t find one, ask yourself what it is you really have an issue with.

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Personal, Rants

Why do we need a women’s network?

When I told my friend I wanted to run for Women’s Network officer, he, naturally, had a few questions for me. Your standard why do you want to run? and what will your policies be? came up, which lead to our conversation segueing into questioning the Women’s Network itself.

Why do we even need a Women’s Network?” he asked me, “and why isn’t there a men’s one? Surely there should just be a Gender Equality Society or something?”

After arguing that, here at our university, we do indeed have a group concerned with gender equality in the form of UoN Feminists, I was left to reflect on his comments which clearly illuminate the exclusivity of the Women’s Network. It can’t be denied that certain events, initiatives and socials are solely for those who define themselves as women, which could be seen as potentially ostracising towards men, as well as hypocritical of women themselves. Weren’t some of us up in arms when men-only golf clubs such as Muirfield in Scotland found themselves in the headlines last summer?

The recent ‘Women in Leadership’ week, an inspiring and thought-provoking series of lectures organised by the Women’ Network for, surprise surprise, women, also came up in discussion. My friend was uneasy about the distinction. He said it was insulting to suggest women were less proficient than men in terms of the skills needed to lead, and the fact that they needed help was no less than patronising. But with just over one in five women in parliament1 and with only one female candidate running for president of our student’s union this year, there is definitely an issue here to be identified and reconciled. It’s clear that for a number of reasons, women have a tougher time getting to the top. So, if holding workshops for women in leadership is an active step to decreasing unequal candidate gender distribution, then I’m afraid I fail to see the negative.

I also think the value of the women’s-only space which the Network is able to offer is overlooked. We live in a society bombarded by lad culture, slut shaming, unrealistic expatiations of beauty amongst other discriminations such as the potent and prominent sexual objectification of women (just turn to page three – yes, it’s still a thing, we’re going to keep bringing it up until it’s gone). Our society offers self defining women little retreat from principles which harm, undermine and shatter body image, confidence and common humanity. I think it is therefore understandable that self defining women have a need to meet, socialise and express themselves in a space which exists outside these prevalent aspects of society. Here, the compulsion to impress visually, as well as the risk of being judged or discriminated against as a result of being blessed with a vagina, do not exist.

However, it is true that women themselves can be guilty of perpetuating lad culture, from women slut shaming women to demonising another woman because, horror of horrors, she has worn “too much” make up. In this way, a women’s-only space is important in addressing and eradicating the prejudices and destructive attitudes which self-defining women can find themselves heaping on each other, transforming the women’s-only space into a nurturing and liberal environment. How can we hope to address lad culture in the wider community if we find ourselves adhering, inadvertently or otherwise, to its principles?

womens_network

Although I have a lot of love for the women’s-only space and all the comfort and confidence it has brought me, I feel that it has made the Women’s Network quite an insular organisation. It’s great that we’re recognising lad culture exists, it’s great that we’ve abolished it in our small circle of self-defining women, it’s AWESOME that we have a @NottsSexism project, but we currently have no palpable dialogue concerning lad culture with the rest of the student body. I am calling for the establishment of relationships with other societies to try and engage the entirety of UoN in conversation about it. What about the harmful effect Lad Culture produces on people with disabilities, people who identify as racial minorities, LGBT, many of these at once, and even men themselves? I want to follow the example set by Durham University, where a college’s rugby society was overheard by members of the uni’s FemSoc playing a game called “It’s not rape if…”. I’m sure the boys thought of some jolly warped responses, yet the only real answer to that question is “when it’s between consent-giving indviduals”, isn’t it, really. After controversy was sparked and apologies written, the story has a very positive and inspiring ending: the head of St Cuthbert’s rugby soc actually expressed a wish to “initiate a relationship” between the fems and the ruggers, “not only”, commented the rugby soc’s president to the DUFemSoc, “to demonstrate our belief in the importance of the work you do but to help you do it, too.”2   

A pretty brief discussion of some of the reasons why I think we need a women’s network. I could go on, but I might still be sat here at my laptop next week, or perhaps next month, or someone might tap me on the shoulder and whisper to me that my degree is actually over now and I’ve been sat in the library for two and a half years and would I like a cup of tea and a calm down? I do feel like I’ve let my friend down a little since I couldn’t answer his question about UoN’s lack of a man’s network. But now that I’ve thought about it, I think there is no man’s network simply because men haven’t set one up. I can only assume that self-defining men at UoN feel as if they do not need one.

You can follow my and Emma’s campaign at @emmabeth2014, or like us on Facebook. Or both.

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Personal, Rants

All Made Up: Why we shouldn’t apologise for a love affair with cosmetics

Leaving home/not having to live my life under the strict, identity-crushing jurisdiction of a rural Lincolnshire grammar school has left a whole new appearance-enhancing door ajar for me. Waking up in the morning with a pre-lecture regime entirely at my own disposal has given me leave to step gingerly through this shining portal of cosmetic discovery and go fucking nuts with black eyeliner. An undertaking which has probably given me the need to have a quick sit down to readjust/palpitate more than anyone else.

I feel, personally, as if I had the notion of wearing make-up beaten out of me before I reached an age to really fall in love with wearing it. One of the principle institutions I’ve held accountable for my early-teen perception of make-up as a shitty, shitty thing is (surprise surprise) my secondary school. Although quite a few of us got away with the odd little squiggle of token eyeliner, there was pretty much a zero tolerance policy on all students wearing make-up, which lead to a fair number of grumbling, blazered adolescents being hauled from assembly and marched to the toilets to remove the products accumulated on their visages. The question of make up at school is a difficult one; of course I can see that one’s appearance should not take precedence over one’s principle purpose for plonking oneself down at a desk at nine of a morning – that is, to learn. However, much like the recent dispute over the banning of pole dancing societies at uni, placing restrictions, or totally banning, the casual use of cosmetics is synonymous with a decision being made for a person with the intention of protecting them/the image of the educational institution. However, the bans are also responsible for the increasing preconceived negativity towards the forbidden thing and unjustly demonising or undermining those who take innocent pleasure in it.

For me, it’s all about the fear surrounding the choice to emphasise of physical features an attributes of an individual within the everyday. If a woman, or man, elects to enhance his or her features with a dab of foundation, a common assumption made by the outsider looking in is that the person has done so to sexualise or objectify themselves – image becomes paramount, and attracting a partner a priority. I think the notion that a person may use make up as an extension, a suggestion or a celebration of their sexuality (although, quite often, this isn’t the only or principle case) is unsettling to a society which frequently subscribes to a conservative outlook with a tendency to chastise those who wish to appear desirable, particularly (as ever) in women. Perhaps, like the way removing pole dancing magically removed all sexist attitudes towards women, removing make-up will remove trivialisation, the risk of being targeted sexually as a desirable human being and eradicate potential deviations from study. Outrageously, as we all know, magazines, newspapers, even ourselves in our everyday lives, are just quick to slate someone for lacking make up; those who dare to age, to have blemished skin, to lose sleep also face the wrath of their peers and the media for failing adhere to unreachable standards of beauty. We’re meant to look flawless, yet to use make up to achieve the look we want in order to feel confident is a cheat and a fail.

Image

I also think the vocabulary we use when referring to make up is pretty damaging and reinforces negative attitudes. I’ve witnessed people frequently judge women by how much “slap” they have on their face, an informal term which carries with it connotations of pain, malice and punishment. In opposition to the “natural” look which I’ve found is praised and basically universally strived for, bronzing your cheeks or choosing a vibrant red lipstick is “fake”, less than human, undermines your identity. There’s even a brand of make up called “Fake Bake”, a name which I’m not quite sure I get; is it satire or inspiring a tut-tutting as people walk past the cosmetics in Debenhams, in a sense condoning the derogatory labels awarded to it? Regarding attitudes to men and make up I don’t have much experience at all; it’d be interesting to learn about the experiences of men who wear it and whether they face similar discriminations to women.

It pains me to think that a younger version of myself subscribed to the belief that the use of make up equated the projection of a “fake” image, and that those who took pride in their appearance lacked substance, even brains. Now, make up gives me confidence, a way to express myself (I wear B I G eyeliner flicks if I’m feeling particularly determined, for instance). When I’m down, it lifts me up; if I feel someone’s gaze drawn briefly to a splash of bright eyeshadow it feels bloomin’ cool – I’m all like “yeah, I do exist, I am worth noticing, my face has colours on it and it looks suave and YOU SAW THAT.” It’s also my most frequent form of procrastination – when my brain is being slowly fried by constant reading and I find all the words on the page are merging into utter gibberish, twenty minutes on my face is refreshing and motivating, particularly when catching sight of myself in the mirror doesn’t reveal a spotty, exasperated face. I see the kind of face I want to, one that’s interesting, fresh, young and intelligent – applying make up is something fantastically easy I can do to make peace with myself, as well as feel really great. It makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it makes millions of people happy, so I don’t really see how you could justify hating on people who use it to feel its uplifting effects and a renewed sense of self worth every day.

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Rants, Reviews

Women before the lens: Miss Representation and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Let’s not beat about the bush; as far as women in the media go, you’re heaps more likely to get an eyeful of boobs rather than brains. It seems that every single and facet of the media is fascinated by the female body and sexuality, deeming it acceptable to present it as a commodity to be bought and sold by the masses. Sadly, the Women’s Network’s screening of Miss Representation, a documentary which explores the representation of women in American media, only cemented these the ugly truths about modern media, and it’s safe to say I left the SU’s Hub feeling disturbed, angered and vicariously violated.

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It was profoundly affecting to have the powerful brain-washing effects of today’s media unveiled before us, which normalise the implication that a woman’s worth is decided by whether or not she is wanking material – a worth defined by unattainable, inhuman standards thanks to gals’ best pal: airbrush. It was shocking to discover the extent to which I, as a female viewer, had been exposed to the objectification of my own sex yet had somehow missed a trick; so customary is the ubiquitous focus on the female body that it actually took *watching* the documentary for me to fully appreciate what I’d been unconsciously condoning for years and years. The insight was remarkable, but shaming. I couldn’t believe how naïve I’d been; I couldn’t work out of I was at fault for being too ignorant to recognise some of the more minute details, or if the white, male, degree-boasting over 35s who run this TV shit were by showing me my fellow women as commodities since my birth.

Because that’s all we get as youngsters, isn’t it? Even our beloved animated Disney films subject their female characters to being perceived as helpless, beautiful dependants – hell, in my favourite childhood film, The Little Mermaid, the female protagonist doesn’t even have a voice for half the time. It’s also pretty unsettling that Ariel is silenced by a fellow woman, which reinforces a scary notion that women can be oppressors of their own female peers, or even themselves. Miss Representation touched on the idea that women are guilty of criticising other women on the grounds of their appearance, be it in conversation, journalism, news or comment broadcasts which reflects patriarchal conventions; it seems that we too are preoccupied by how old our peers look, how much weight they’ve put on, the amount of make up their wearing. Miss Representation calls for women to be more supportive of one another’s accomplishments, in the hope that it catches on.

What’s more, the handful of supposedly emancipatory protagonists – I’m thinking Lara Croft, Catwoman, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada – in the end are just extending this inexorable pursuit of female beauty; Miss Representation introduced me to the term ‘fighting fuck toy’ for characters such as Croft in her outrageously impractical, undermining outfits. Ambitious, successful women are also treated particularly harshly; Andy’s success in her career costs her her partner, relationships and her sense of self worth.

Miss Representation also pointed out that the stories of the minuscule proportion of protagonists who actually *manage* to be female are almost always directed and written by men. Hence, the portrayal of the female experience is shifted into the bias of a male perspective which begs the question: how can the story of a woman which is written, developed and conditioned by men ever truly be authentic, or reach the *whole* population? A great example of this is the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, which, coincidentally, I went to see the day after the screening of Miss Representation. Screenplay: written by men. Directed: by a man. Protagonist: female. And yes, Katniss is supposed to be troubled, socially inept and distant by nature, but in Catching Fire she’s just… cold. Cold, at times vapid and a little cruel. As an audience member I was presented with a strong, brave, independent, intelligent woman which should have been thrilling for me, yet I COULD NOT empathise with her. She’s the best example of a female dominating a film in a long time… and I was rooting for her male co-star throughout.

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Something that the documentary touched on that we would perhaps like to have seen developed further alongside the misrepresentation of women is the analysis of role models for young men in the media. Interestingly, hours after watching Miss Representation a friend this clip of a discussion concerning male and female protagonists and the kinds of plots children are presented with in films targeting their age group:

Just as young women absorb messages about their appearance equating their value, so do men see their worth presented in physical prowess, in the car they own, in whether or not they’re a ‘stud’ or a sporting legend. Young people are impressionable; if we’re prepared to admit that young women are conditioned by the media into believing that their appearance is of greater worth than their accomplishments, should we disregard the fact that young men’s attitudes could be warped by their being exposed to multitudinous narratives portraying male protagonists who treat women as commodities? I think there’s scope for taking a step back and wondering if whether the resulting psychological infringement of women which is just accepted as a norm also seeps into the lives of men.

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Rants

“Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”: Thoughts on Lily Allen’s comeback single

Speaking as a strident Kate Nash fan, I properly advocate the riot grrrl punk pop movement. I love that Kate has grown up and found her true identity within her art form. It is true that her Girl Talk is worlds apart from her charty, ‘cutesy London girl’ debut album Made of Bricks and this has tended to put people off her; one grows accustomed to hearing various lamentations such as “why has she like, gone punk?” and “I don’t like her new shouting”. But I’ve simply adored following her over the years, charting her development and sort of feeling like I have grown with her as a feminist. I’ve always looked to her music for motivation in times of low confidence and dwindling self esteem – Kate’s music always seems to have the answer to typical, everyday psychological issues that are fairly universal and prevalent but aren’t necessarily recognised as feelings that shouldn’t ignored or stifled.
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The emergence of Lily Allen’s shiny-new-comeback-feminist-anthem sent me seriously giddy because THIS felt like British feminist music’s first real chance, as far as I’m aware, to finally seep into the charts and align itself with popular ditties, such as that misogynist atrocity ‘Blurred Lines’, in order to challenge and supersede them. It could perhaps even be graced with the massive and diverse audience that Radio One is capable of giving and hopefully start encouraging people to REALLY think about what their favourite tunes are actually saying to them, and whether or not they are messages we want to consider/be exposed to.

The song, Hard Out Here, certainly lives up to expectations. It is a very satisfying listen in that it is both catchy as they come since it conforms to the conventional structure of pop songs (which should get it shitloads of that all important reception). Though not so gnarly as Kate Nash’s brilliant, relevant and downright attitudinal Rap for Rejection and All Talk, Hard Out Here can boast some pretty straight talking as well as exploration of modern social taboo; I especially love the quasi-polite opening lyric “Well I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking.” In fact, the term “bitch” is purposefully over-used throughout the song which kind of makes its use as a weapon redundant and transforms it into a word that is derogatorily defunct. I love the fact that Lily suggests that ANY woman boasting ANY kind of sex life can be labelled a slut in not disclosing her own – she simply sings “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut”, before asserting that when men boast about their multiple partners, or “bitches”, “no one’s making a fuss.”

There’s also a whole load in there about superficiality and pressurising women into having stereotypically desirable bodies: Lily adopts the voice of the patriarchy, suggesting that women who “aren’t a size six… should probably lose some weight”. This is particularly important since women can’t actually function unless they’re in a relationship or married, so all this face and body fixing must be completed pronto “or you’ll end up on your own”. She does offer a glimmer of hope for women who aren’t “good looking”, promising success is guaranteed if you’re “rich” or “real good at cooking” – essentially Mrs Bennet’s dream daughter. Sarcasm aside, though, Lily also challenges the school of thought that deems feminism futile in this day and age with the resounding middle eight phrase “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay, / Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away”. And she’s got an awful lot of evidence to back it up.

The video, however, isn’t quite the patriarchy-smashing wonder the song portends. Some bits are undeniably fabulous in my opinion; having just had two babies, Lily lies on an operating table in the opening seconds with half a dozen plastic surgeons sculpting her body into something resembling a ‘desirable’ woman again – it’s sickening to think that when a woman choses to become a mother she can no longer transgress that role without having to be surgically reconstructed to some kind of perverted former glory. I also love the direct pisstake of Robin Thicke’s alleged “big dick”; Lily doesn’t need someone of the opposite sex to dance around her proclamations of a “baggy pussy” to promote/glorify it necessarily, she just galumphs around it in a sensible amount of clothing of her own accord as if to say “This is me and actually don’t give a shit.”

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However, I don’t think I’m alone in the qualms I have about the number of extremely scantily clad black woman who surround Lily throughout the video whilst performing highly sexualised dance routines. For one thing these women have obviously be valued by and selected for the video because they have desirable figures which are being exploited by the pointlessly skimpy outfits they’ve been told to wear. This seems to totally undermine what Lily was getting at in the song about the industry being unable to cope with the way motherhood has affected her body and basically writing her off because of it, a contempt which is alluded to at the operating table when her old, tubby, white, male manager asks, disgusted: “How can somebody let themselves get like this?”. If there were allusions to these women going beyond the success they enjoy from being slim and beautiful then there’d be grounds for Lily’s argument that she “don’t need to shake [her] arse for you / ’cause [she’s] got a brain”, ie a woman’s beauty and intelligence can co-exist. However there is none of this, the video portrays the stereotypical pop music spectacles of semi-naked women, alcohol, indefinite money and a gold plated kitchen. The inclusion of a token, white, larger women also holds absolutely no significance or moral/social stance since she’s only on the screen for about half a second, illustrating that even in a feminist video only physically perfect women are deemed worthy of representation. Popular, patriarchal culture still prevails, unfortunately.

I can appreciate that the video does attempt a satirical representation the treatment and perception of women in popular culture, but perhaps Lily is aware that details of her video are questionable, particularly as one of her lyrics is “If you can’t detect the sarcasm / you’ve misunderstood” – sounds to me like she’s trying to cover her own back…

You can watch the video for Hard Out Here by following this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0CazRHB0so

Kate Nash’s Rap for Rejection:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw0Nvav6VRY

Kate Nash’s All Talk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj1sN9YxGew

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Personal, Rants, Reviews

Lame Fresher Diaries: Pole Dancing

It’s been a weird month for pole dancing: A week or so ago it emerged that Swansea University banned its Pole Dance Society from running any longer, claiming that it validated a career in sex work; furthermore, I have decided to master the art.

To expand upon the former: in a bid to eradicate sexist attitudes towards it, the University of Swansea’s decision to ban the Pole Dance Society, to me, seems utterly ridiculous. In banning the society, surely, the University have applied a negative connotation to pole dancing which will, now, inevitably filter through and damage people’s perspectives of the art form. Hence, the University could arguably create a sexist attitude which, perhaps, didn’t even exist initially. Furthermore, a more common name for the activity is “pole fitness”; is not the notion of banning something design to improve your core strength and physical well-being by using your body to make weird, wonderful, often muscle-pulling shapes totally ridiculous? It’s like banning gymnastics.

And the latter: as a bit of a feministy, wannabe eccentric with an enthusiastic Fresher Complex, it seemed apt to try it after the Swansea controversy. And at £2.50 for a taster which included a sure fire way to transform my body into a graceful, mysterious piece of empowering artwork (which is so far removed from the amateurish swinging on a greasy pole in a club with your knickers on show), I was well up for it.

So there we were, a merry band of woman adventurers dressed to impress in slobby gym wear and our sights set on throwing some epic pole shapes and bent on oozing some kind of sexy, freedom-fighting, self-owning, strong woman warrior kind of vibe thing – especially since some of my peers had attempted to chastise me for wanting to try it. They deemed it “unclassy”, “slutty” and intrinsically linked to sex work, to which I retorted “It’s pole FITNESS, and my body is UNATTAINABLE and BENDY” and promptly flounced off.

The studio, Twisted Pole, turned out to be very well hidden about four floors up in a sort of apartment block, which, admittedly, did kind of add to the sense that it was a slightly illicit and transgressive undertaking. Upshot: it was bloody exciting!

We arrived at the studio already quite red faced, sweating and heaving from clambering up about 500 or so spiralling stairs in heavy winter boots and found a fairly busy hive of activity in the studio itself. For someone like me – a total stranger to dance, lacking grace and the ability to move in time to music – being in a studio in the initial quarter of an hour was a fairly alien experience, particularly when confronted with a wall of mirrors depicting mercilessly the extent to which my bits of skin were bursting out of my skimpy pole shorts, but after growing accustomed to the unshakable presence of my flab it was a pretty relaxed environment. The instructor and experienced members of the society began to demonstrate some moves and we were all absolutely ASTOUNDED by how strong they all were being able to support themselves and sustain such complex, beautiful and awe inspiring routines, all on something so insubstantial as a rod of metal. On watching them, I found you quite forgot the pole and all the connotations imposed on it by the patriarchy, and just took in the art unfolding before your eyes – not to mention the burning desire to replicate the shapes yourself.

As it turns out, after an hour of launching myself at a rod of metal – and discovering I have no upper body strength and turning my inner thighs bright pink through vain attempts to grip – pole dancing is hard, man. Really hard. In fact, far from the sexy, empowered, you-don’t-own-me-bro image I was going for, I have never felt less sexy. The number of bruises I acquired is phenomenal, as were the aching I felt in various muscles the next morning. However, this did prove that pole dancing is an excellent and social way to tone. Plus, when I finally mastered the ‘fireman’ and the ‘sundial’, the sense of satisfaction and achievement was basically unparalleled.

Rather than being some kind of really serious, controversial, topical activity, it was just a huge laugh for all of us, and ignited a wave of determination within me to work at it until I am an impressive, amazing, watchable pole dancer. Watch this space.

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Personal, Rants

It’s okay to have counselling.

I think mental health is often very stigmatised and trivialised. It’s the one ailment that nobody can visually discern (depending on how someone’s emotional turmoil manifests itself), hence, I think people are liable to be sceptical about its severity, let alone its existence.

It is casual human cynicism like this that makes people reluctant to recognise that their emotional state is at risk. I think it holds true to the age old facet of the British “stiff upper lip”, which is openly contemptuous of psychological discomfort, particularly in women.

Post natal depression? PAH. Good sir, this is what one calls a mere trifling case of “the weepies”; a jolly good slap to the cheek should sort her out in a jiffy. 

However, this attitude affects boys in that to let their emotions rule them is a sign of weakness; anti-bravado, boys don’t cry, etc.

To make sure this wasn’t just an excessive speculation on my part, I casually wove my next visit to my mental health worker into the thread of conversation with a couple of peers a few weeks back. An uncomfortable silence ensued.

“I don’t think you should talk about it”, one of my friends wisely, and decidedly, interjected.

No reason followed this, which somewhat befuddled me. I personally had no qualms about, so I asked her why.

“I just think it’s a bit… personal. I wouldn’t talk about it.”

“It seems a little indulgent to me”, another friend piped up. I asked her how so.

“Well, it’s not there for ‘just anyone’, is it?” she replied, with a frank yet fidgety expression which hid nothing.

I found, and still find, this conversation a little haunting. For one thing, it was clear to me that my friends saw no symptom for my mental imbalance; my home was not broken, I hadn’t lost a parent, I wasn’t in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend/relative. In their eyes I was just typical, which I am, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have access to the NHS. Furthermore, not wishing to discuss it is a symbol of their incredulousness: why should what I feel be more serious than what they do? Why did it warrant a counsellor? Surely I must only be talking about it for attention, to boast?

These mirrored the thoughts I had when I went to see my GP a little over a year ago. Because nothing particularly bad had happened to trigger the excessive anxiety and low self esteem I had, I worried that she wouldn’t believe me, or thought that I thought my case more important than it actually was. Although, I didn’t think my  case was important at all; my mother had coax me into the surgery with the promise of food. I remember being nervous – perspiring a little and clamping my arms down to conceal pitstains – and wondering “Do I have to cry? Is that protocol?”. But I just told the truth calmly and collectedly and, without hesitation, she recommended cognitive behavioural therapy  and referred me to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). So, although I am actually ‘just anyone’, haven’t had a traumatic childhood and yes, I suffer from “the weepies”, my GP thought it prudent that I was put on a waiting list for a counsellor. And since I warranted one, I think tonnes of people who would never even consider it would benefit from the service.

Anxiety, low self esteem and a lack of self worth or purpose are, in my opinion, pretty feckin’ common, but people don’t realise it’s not something you have to hide and deal with alone. Nor should we accept that it’s just our duty to feel that way. CAMHS is on the NHS – it’s free there for us as a nation. It’s not exclusive or indulgent; when you think about modern life, modern relationships, issues with families, increasing stress and pressure in schools then it’s no wonder that so many people under 18 get depressed. It’s quite shocking that these services are losing funding (there are only three mental health workers for the majority of Lincolnshire, each see 40-70 people fortnightly) since it is core to stimulating simple positivity and progress in people.

My final session with my counsellor is later this month – since I turn 18 next week and have finished school the service doesn’t cater for me anymore. But you know what? I’m going to start paying for monthly sessions with a private therapist. Because having someone on the outside to talk to, to offload my anxieties in a non-judgemental environment, to help me cope, gain perspective and become rational again has been the best thing for me and thousands of other unhappy ‘just anyones’ in the whole of the UK.

Yes, I do think counselling is okay. I think it’s something we should talk about; it’s okay to feel feels, it’s okay to seek help, it’s not okay to judge those who want to be open about their predicament. It shows a kind of strength; they’re dealing with it head on and they don’t care who knows it. Which is good.

HoldingHandsShadow

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