Posted in Culture

On Loneliness

I attended an APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) recently,  discussing inter-generational relationships and loneliness. The group was looking at the causes of loneliness in society, and why communities have grown so apart in recent years. Why we don’t seem to know our neighbours. And how we can see the same faces on the commute to work, 5 days a week, for years, with never so much as acknowledging their presence.

The APPG was influenced by the movement murdered MP Jo Cox started, to get people talking to each other. I’m wearing one of her “happy to chat” pins on my coat daily – though not getting much of a response. If I’m being honest, zero response. Maybe it’s London? People avoid making eye contact here with almost passionate determination. And even though I dislike small talk, some light socialisation can make a boring commute a bit brighter. I’ve had some of my most interesting conversations with strangers on buses (albeit whilst rather inebriated…).

It is bizarre behaviour. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but what exactly are we so scared of happening if we so much as share a smile with a familiar face? How can we go about moving away from this mindset, as it’s now so socially acceptable? Or, in other words, how can we start getting to know our neighbours, chatting to people on the train, without coming across like a weirdo?

I remember when I first moved to London. It was a shock, going from living with my friends at university, and then my family, to being surrounded by strangers in a flat in one of the busiest cities on the planet. Tourists say they find London to be an unfriendly city, which is easy to understand after spending approximately 3 hours here. Everyone here feels the need to keep (or at least appear) busy all the time – whether with it’s with exercise, dating or drinking. I read some advice (probably on Reddit) that if you want an active social life say “yes” to everything. That was my motto. Whenever I was by myself I felt uncomfortable, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

I’ve realised that we don’t really talk about feeling lonely, but you can feel lonely even when surrounded by (the wrong) people. There seems to be almost be a stigma surrounding loneliness, that it’s embarrassing to admit you feel deprived of social connection. This is only intensified with social media, where we can see in real time our online friends appearing to make the most of life. It’s difficult not to compare, and think that we aren’t quite matching up.

This is a time where we are more connected than before. We have social media and technology which brings friendship to our fingertips, but many people still feel incredibly lonely. We need to start using it in a more positive way, and not just to see what friends are doing with no need to have an actual interaction with them. Now I’m older, I found I can actually enjoy my own company. And volunteering regularly helps – it’s important to build connections with those who aren’t always in our peer group, and escape our own echo chambers.

It’s easy to feel like a little fish floundering in London, or any big city, but only if we decide to.

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Posted in Uncategorized

To End Modern Slavery, We’ll Need More than Good Intentions

My post on Foreign Policy Rising

Foreign Policy Rising

16586310366_c43d16635f_kGiuseppe Milo/Flickr

Today, there are 40 million slaves in the world—more than at any other point in history. And modern slavery is more insidious and covert than it was in the past, with victims working in sweatshops, nail salons and massage parlors, hiding in plain sight.

In the U.K. alone, there are at least 13,000 slaves and victims of human trafficking, a figure described as merely the “tip of the iceberg” by the National Crime Agency.

How can this be? We have more international anti-slavery legislation in place than ever before. We have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Slavery Convention. And in September 2017, 37 United Nations members states endorsed a “Call to Action” to end modern slavery and people trafficking by 2030.

Individual countries also outline their own policies towards slavery. The U.K.’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, for instance…

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Posted in Culture, Race

Stop calling Meghan Markle exotic

Meghan Markle

While it’s great that there’s more diversity entering the Royal Family, most of the news surrounding Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle has been irritating, to say the least. Not only because I am getting BBC Breaking News alerts on my phone for announcements as trivial as their wedding date. No, it’s more the media creeping awkwardly around the fact that Meghan is not white.

It seems that either the left-wing press are trying to show how much they support this groundbreaking marriage, or the right-wing media are using phrases such as “exotic” or “straight outta Compton” to describe Meghan.  A Daily Mail columnist went so far as saying “the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA“. Since when do we use the word exotic to describe people? A piece of fruit might be exotic, or a holiday destination. But this is used to describe the fact that Markle’s skin is a shade darker than Harry’s. It goes without saying that the U.S.A. is far from “exotic”. What’s more, the fact that this press response might make those of us who are not-white, but live in the UK, feel like they don’t belong here is utterly disregarded. I even saw a brief piece in the Daily Mail (print) on how it is now “trendy” to be mixed race. Really?

What an interesting form of prejudice.  It reminds me of every time a stranger (always white) tells me that they love my curly hair, and touch it (usually without asking). While there is nothing explicitly racial about the comment, it “others” me, as it’s not what they are used to seeing and so they feel the need to comment, regardless of whether positively or negatively. I never get stranger compliments on any other aspect of my appearance. One of my old friends noticed this the last time it happened, making fun of the girl who did it, because she has seen this happen to me countless times. Growing up in a predominately white environment, you get used to the subtle comments or questions designed to figure out “where I’m really from”. And they always make me feel uncomfortable.

This awkwardness surrounding race has just been amplified with Meghan Markle. While in theory, I’m glad that someone’s who’s biracial, like me, is “allowed” to marry into the Royal Family, I do wonder why on earth she would want to.  The press coverage has demonstrated the reactionary elitist attitude of the Royal Family – that although BAME people are allowed to be in the media, entertainment, businesses etc, for one to marry into the Royal Family is controversial. Notably, no members of the public that Meghan and Harry have been meeting that have displayed prejudice/racism towards her (online will be a different story, of course). It’s the media itself, so much so that in 2016 Prince Harry chastised it for “racial and sexist comments“.

I thought, as a modern, diverse nation, we were beyond focusing on race? We live in a multicultural society, but we’re still trying to put people in boxes. Racism in the U.K. seems to be more insidious than in the U.S.A., as while we don’t have the same brutal history of segregation, the elitism you find in politics and academia, for example, alludes to a very different attitude toward where BAME people belong in society. This marriage is progress, of some sort, but it is hardly our “Obama moment“. I can’t quite see the U.K. having a black prime minister anytime soon.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Posted in Culture

The disappointing public response to the Aziz Ansari story

Many of responses to the Aziz Ansari story have been, frankly, disappointing. But they do give us some insight into the way men (mostly) dismiss women when they share their experiences.

Aziz_Ansari_2012_Shankbone

This is the news that Aziz Ansari allegedly sexually assaulted a woman he went on a date with, and the public response has been mixed to say the least. Many are dismissing the story, stressing that what Ansari was said to have done was not rape. Yes, I think we all agree that Ansari is not a rapist. ‘Grace’, the woman who came forward with her account of their experience together, didn’t call him a rapist. No one is calling him a rapist. Situations like the one described are not a binary case of either a) nothing bad happened at all, or b) he raped her.

Maybe Grace should have spoken out louder that she was uncomfortable with Ansari’s behaviour, but I think focusing on that misses the point. It’s not always easy to “just leave”, as some have commented she should have done. And often it is only when looking back you realise that that situation you were in was inappropriate and that the emotion you were feeling was fear. It’s not fun to think about, but I’m sure many women reading this will understand what I mean.

Who, in pressured circumstances, ever behaves as they would rationally like to? I’m sure in hindsight ‘Grace’ would have acted differently. There have been too many instances to count when I look back and wished I had handled things better.

Don’t get me wrong, I like[d] Aziz. A lot. Master of None was one of my favourite Netflix shows, and Parks and Rec was fantastic. I’m sure his likeability is influencing many to dismiss these accussations as unfounded and unfair. But we have to remain objective.

The fact of the matter is that Ansari is a public figure that has, on many occasion, spoken out against men’s treatment of women, and is a self-proclaimed feminist. I was shocked and saddened when hearing about his behaviour, not because I think what he did was akin to Harvey Weinstein’s actions or Kevin Spacey’s. Instead, I was saddened because he seemed like one of the good guys. Many are remarking that women now expect men to be mind readers. That this is the downfall of the #MeToo movement. This is not the case. Really, is some consideration and empathy really too much to ask for? Sticking your fingers into someone’s mouth, without first checking that the recipient doesn’t mind this, does not demonstrate your respect for another person. Why wasn’t he concerned with whether his partner was enjoying what he was doing? And perhaps more disturbingly, why is it not more universally agreed that Ansari’s behaviour was unacceptable and predatory?

You could argue that the real reason men are up in arms about this accusation is because if what Aziz Ansari did is seen as socially unacceptable, then the implication is that their past behaviour too would be criticised. Perhaps this is a level of introspection that they are not yet comfortable with.

It’s a shame that people are rushing to defend behaviour that has clearly made someone feel very upset and uncomfortable. The defences of the comedian’s behaviour on twitter range from the generic “he did nothing wrong”, to the alarming “Aziz is little, how could he be considered a threat”. Since when was somebody’s size relevant in judging their capacity for wrongdoing? The technical lines of sexual assault may be blurry in this specific case, but it speaks to a wider issue in how sexual relationships are viewed. I personally know of many examples where behaviour like this has happened, without a shadow of a doubt. We clearly need a cultural shift in the way men view women and sex, if so many see nothing wrong with what happened. For a sexually fulfilling experience, both parties need to be actively and positively engaged. This case shows us that for many, one-sided, aggressive behaviour as allegedly exhibited by Ansari is seen as the norm. There does not need to be violence, or even a crime to have been committed, for us to criticise his downright creepy behaviour.

Ansari’s good-guy persona may have been tarnished, although he has apologised for any wrongdoing instead of denying it. Ansari no longer can ride his wave of popularity off the back of announcing that he believes women should be equal, and that he treats them as such. Maybe what’s more concerning, though, is that a man publicly announcing women are equal to men gets them this feminist badge of honour in the first place. In 2018, isn’t this the starting point we all should be at?

Photo credit: By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19241544

Posted in Christmas, Culture

My first Christmas (at 24)

So I just had my first ever Christmas experience, at 24 years of age.

Our childhood affects us in ways we can’t always understand, and I’m still unsure how growing up, bullied for being the only non-white girl in my class (I’m biracial), and as the only Jehovah’s Witness in the class has impacted my personality and my experience.

But I definitely know not celebrating Christmas as a child has changed, of several things, my experience of Christmas time.

I remember my parents telling me as a child not to tell my classmates that Santa Claus wasn’t real, to not shatter their illusion. There was never a moment where I believed he existed. I used to feel incredibly jealous of my childhood friends at Christmas time growing up, and dread the inevitable conversations come January about “what we got for Christmas”. For my friends that didn’t know (it was my big secret), I managed to get away with mumbling something very non-committal and changing the subject.

As an adult, I don’t mind it so much. It means I don’t have to buy presents for my family, and so can escape the stress on the bank balance that it brings. I still get to enjoy the Christmas cheer and parties. My childhood was good, and I have “forgiven” my parents for this quirk. But now I’m in a long-term relationship, for the first time ever, and my boyfriend’s family very much do celebrate Christmas. And so I celebrated my first Christmas in 2017.

In terms of gifts, I think what surprised me the most was that considering the stress involved in preparing for this day, buying and wrapping present after present for months, that it’s all over in a matter of hours. Will the forests forgive us for the huge amount of wrapping paper that we get through? And the bf’s mum informed me that this is not recyclable paper, either (because of the gloss). It seemed curious to me that with all the build-up for the day  (and bear in mind that for me this wasn’t just a year waiting since the last Xmas, but 24 years of waiting for this moment),  it was just over after a few hours. I wonder what adults really get from Xmas (it’s obvious why children love it).

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I do wonder if Christmas was a new initiative brought out today, would we still buy each other so many presents? It’s shocking the amount of money we spend on things that we don’t truly need when there are, for instance, record numbers of people sleeping rough in the coldest months of the year. The socialist part of me feels like I’m being ripped off by the corporations that just see Xmas as a “stunt” to make lots of money, and I think the materialistic nature of the day can be problematic and stressful for a lot of people. I’ve discovered that Xmas can be difficult family-wise, and that just because a family aren’t JWs doesn’t mean they’re not weird.

I also found that the pressure to get my bf things that he would really like made me go slightly overboard with the gifts, and then there was also the expectation I had for him to get me something good. And then comparing in my head how much we must have both spent, and if it was the same. Is this normal? I enjoyed choosing presents for my boyfriend and his family, but at the same time, I discovered a rather greedy streak in myself that I have since been trying to tackle. And not knowing the etiquette for Xmas – if I should get his sister something, how much to spend, why is it now acceptable to drink prosecco at 11am – meant that was definitely a learning curve.

Ultimately, Christmas is a fun time of year, and I’m glad to celebrate it now. Christmas Day was slightly anti-climatic, but it still beats doing nothing. I think that if I had the nostalgia that many adults have with Christmas, remembering the excitement from their childhood, I would feel more emotional about it. Lacking that leaves me with the bizarre outlook of a day that consists of eating lots of food and then spending lots money. I will never be one of those people counting down the number of “sleeps” until Christmas, nor sending out Christmas cards, but I’m happy to have experienced it finally. I think the 10-year-old me would be thrilled.

Let me know what you think!

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome

Hi readers! I’ve created this blog as a place for my thoughts and reflections on our culture and feminism – without taking it too seriously.

I hope anyone reading will find some food for thought (platitude #1), but at the same time find themselves entertained. Stay curious (platitude #2).