Fandango’s Provocative Question: Struggling

This week’s provocative question from Fandango asks ‘What are you struggling with the most right now?’ and my immediate flippant answer is ‘Getting my head around this new post editor in WordPress’…

But seriously, things I’m having difficulty with right now include:

Having sliced quite deeply across the tip my right pinkie finger at work last weekend, I’ve had steri-strips and a padded sterile dressing in place all week, which is due to be checked and replaced at my GP surgery tomorrow morning. I mean, quite apart from the pain of the cut itself – and it hurts like hell – I also have to try to keep my finger dry and out of the way of getting hit or squashed, but still try to live my life as normally as possible…

Cutting down on my anti-depressants – I had my daily dose upped a few months ago, but have made the decision to start to cut that down again, with the aim of coming off them completely at some time over the summer…

Dealing with so much negative and stupendously stupid political decisions being made both here in the UK and across the ocean in the US – if anyone tried to use either the current Brexshit shenannigans or the Border Wall/ Government shutdown fiasco as an imaginary subject for a fictional drama they would be laughed out of the building… we have a dark destructive duo of simultaneous black comedies screwing us over, over and over again like some disastrous Groundhog Day nightmare, with no sign of anyone waking up any time soon… 😦

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Fandango’s Provocative Question: Freedom of Speech

Another provocative question this week from Fandango:

“Do you believe that social media sites should be able to censor what people post on their sites and ban content creators from posting? Or do you consider such actions to be a violation of freedom of speech, which is guaranteed as a right in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?”

If you don’t live in the U.S., please weigh in with your thoughts about freedom of speech versus social media sites banning content contributors in your country.

So, where to start with this one… Hmmm… how about looking at what is NOT allowed on social media or anywhere else for that matter – for example, hate speech in all is forms…

Here in the UK, we certainly do believe in freedom of speech but also legislate variously against hate speech. For example, according to Wikipedia –

‘Expressions of hatred towards someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harrass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.’

I tend to agree with this approach, as in my mind it is OK for people to hold extreme opinions about others, but not necessarily to air them unsolicited and unregulated across social media platforms – opinions are opinions, but I believe they still need to be backed up with real facts in order to be legitimately broadcast to the world. Preventing hate speech to me is not a violation of freedom of speech, but a necessary safety-net to ensure equality across all groups, safe-guarding all minorities as well as the often self-styled majority within any given society.

Of course, here in the UK we don’t have a 250-year-old Constitution (plus Amendments) to hide behind to try to justify our outrageous bluff-and-bluster statements and actions which to much of the rest of the world may seem closed-minded and extremist, based on out-dated societal and cultural viewpoints and an ongoing arrogant elitist sense of entitlement. We certainly do have clear differences here in the political interpretation of statistics leading to huge arguements and debates, and we all tend to accept that to a certain degree all politicians are parochial and partisan, but obvious downright lies are generally called out and clarified, not covered up and condoned.

I’m not in any way saying things are in any way perfect here in the UK – not by a long shot – but here most extremists eventually tend to find themselves effectively shut down, backed into blind alleys and abandoned corners, hoist by their own petards. People in power who deliberately say inaccurate, inappropriate or unacceptable stuff on social media frequently find themselves unceremoniously catapulted out of office, or at least frozen out on the fringes, forgotten before long. And the people here who follow them soon follow suit.

Yet I’ve often listened to the propaganda-based political profanities spewed forth via all media channels, social and traditional, by the current incoherent incumbent of the US White House that seem to be such blatant bare-faced lies that UK laws would surely have the slanderous and libelous transgressor law-suited and booted out before he could scream ‘fake news’, and I’ve often wondered why it is simply allowed to happen across the board with such regularity and without any real legislative resistence?

It seems to me to be a real-life modern-day ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario where no-one with any serious level of clout dares to tell Trump just how much he’s exposing himself as butt-naked ignorant of solid facts and is instead dressing himself in little more than a transparent fiction of delusion, whether on Twitter or via his press-puppet Sarah Sanders…

So intrigued by Fandango’s question, and in order to better understand what lies behind Trump’s apparent ability to lie deliberately, incite violent outbursts in others, and then vacillate and eventually deny any involvement himself, I thought I’d better check out US law relating to freedom of speech and hate speech. And guess what I found? There ARE actually types of speech that are NOT protected by the First Amendement!  These nine categories include:

  • Obscenity
  • Fighting words
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Child pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to imminent lawless action
  • True threats
  • Solicitations to commit crimes

Well, well, well, look at that – looks like the First Amendement is NOT in fact the global panacea it is made out to be, not a free-for-all perpetual pardon for foul-mouthed fantasists, not even the President…

Even a first cursory glance leaves me questioning Trump’s fighting words about the media being the enemy of the people, and the Democrats being evil – and that’s just his view of his fellow Americans, never mind legal and illegal immigrants. And what about his constant defamation of Hillary Clinton? Incitement to imminent unlawful action pretty much covers his condoning (through complete lack of condemnation) of the far right white supremacist extremists who rioted in Charlottesville in 2017, causing the death of a young woman…

Seriously, no wonder ordinary opinionated American people think they can act with impunity online via social media platforms when they see their President spouting forth such blatantly vile vitriol and getting away with it, time after time. Constitutional Freedom of Speech is one thing, but in my opinion Hate Speech legislation should always trump that precious First Amendement right, come what may, whoever is trying to tip the balance from right to wrong…

Technological Advancement: Help or Hindrance?

Fandango has asked an excellent Provocative Question this week –  Is technological advancement a net positive or a net negative?’

As with most major technological advancements throughout history leading to a paradigm shift in the way we experience the world we live in, there are always good things and bad things to be considered when deciding on whether or not the long-term good outweighs the short-term bad in our relatively nascent electronic/ digital age.

The problem with the concept of progress of any kind is that there are always winners or losers at the end of the day. Look back to the Industrial Revolution here in the UK when factory machinery on one hand ruined the livelihoods of individual cottage-industry cloth-making family enterprises but on the other hand, brought about a huge economic boom for the country as a whole. The Luddites physically attacked the new machinery, and this lead to the introduction of the Riot Act.

Then there was the introducion of the railways, of electricity, of the motor car, of airplanes, of television and the telephone, of space travel – all considered dangerous scary threatening stuff to begin with, yet all taken for granted and easily accommodated in everyday life today.

Part of the difficulty with living in the electronic age (in my opinion, anyway) is that it’s the creative young people who have seized on the possibilities of all this new technology and have run away with it, faster than any previous generation has been able to envisage, towards frontiers and futures never before considered. And there’s where we hit the biggest problem – kids can do stuff with technology parents can’t even imagine.

There is therefore a huge dissonance between this younger generation of fast-paced digital visonaries and the slower-moving mechanically-minded older generations – particularly the Government – who are generally the people responsible for ruling (or not) on suitable legislation to control the use of these new technologies they hardly begin to understand the complexities of themselves.

So inevitably we end up with the serious grown-up issues of digital security and identity fraud, with drones delivering contraband to prisons or disrupting flights at a major airport – for example today at Gatwick Airport, as we speak. Or Russian Hackers infiltrating FaceBook under the radar, and US Senators questioning Mark Zuckerberg without having one iota of an idea of how FaceBook even works…

But as ever this period of confusion and consternation will pass soon enough – the non-digital dinosaurs will become extinct and everyone will soon forget what life was like before computers… Well, that’s me added my tuppence-worth to the ongoing debate, anyway… 🙂

Fandango’s Provocative Question: No 1

Hmmm… Since Fandango posted his new ‘Provocative Question’ post the other day I’ve been thinking about how best to answer it. His question is:

‘If you could be the opposite sex for one day, what would you do?’

To be honest I’m really confused about how I want to answer – I mean, I could make it all jokey and flippant and fun, or I could actually give the question some serious consideration – it is supposed to be a provocative question, after all? And as my academic degree is in a cross-discipline blend of psychology and sociology, inevitably gender was a topic I studied at length and in-depth, therefore I do actually have some serious thoughts on the subject, whether right or wrong.

And then today I read Melanie’s post on Sparks From a Combustible Mind and thought about the following questions she has posed about gender:

Do we as a society have a tendency to HAVE to categorize people into genders?

Are mastectomies de-feminizing for the women who get them?  Does one lose part of one’s identity because one has had one or both breasts removed or altered?

The men who lose their gonads (balls to those in the cheap seats) because of tumors or cancer…is it the same kind of reaction the woman has to losing her breast(s)?

Does our self image get so wrapped up in outward appearances, that we lose sight of the fact that we’re all PEOPLE, regardless of outward ‘markers’?

So I decided I’d think about Fandango’s question and Melanie’s questions together in the same post, and see where that took me…

Hmmm… well as thankfully this is not an academic paper, all I’m going to speak to is my own lived experience – which may come across as a bit controversial to some, but it is nevertheless how I see it. For a consideration of patriarchy in general, it’s usually taken as read that classification via gender is paramount in any familial, social and cultural hierarchy based on presumed male superiority. (And yes, classifications of race most definitely also come into this in most Western societies, but this is not the question here.)

As a British woman living in the UK but with an American husband (and so in-laws and extended family in the US) I’m always taken aback when I visit by what appears to me to be the absolute extremes in vocal gender markers in many Americans, in what sounds to me to be the deliberate affectation of unnaturally high-pitched sing-songy nasal-twang voices in many women and unnaturally low-pitched deep-down- in-their-boots voices in many men, regardless of physical body size and lung capacity. To my British ear it all seems somehow false, there’s just too much of a difference, with very little variation in-between…

Whereas here in the UK I tend to find we have much more variation in voices – many women may have naturally lower pitched voices and many men may have naturally higher pitched voices without it having any real significance to how we choose to speak (or how we are judged within society in general). But yet we also seem to understand subconsciously that historically, deeper voices always command more respect (for both male and female) so we can and do alter our pitch and tone accordingly as necessary – for example in job interviews or when speaking in public. So I suppose at heart we in the UK do still do the same vocal-gendered thing as America, but perhaps a little less obviously?

And when it comes to looks, although many people prefer presenting clearly masculine or feminine appearances, certainly lots of people I see on a daily basis here in London seem to be totally rocking the indeterminate androgynous look – straight men, straight women, gay men, gay women, transgender, non-binary – but unless there is a clear reason for requiring to know someone’s specific gender (for example, if you want to know immediately if you can make babies with them!) why should it matter? People are still people underneath it all, with thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, so what’s wrong with just taking someone as you find them?

I mean, if you already know someone, you already know their gender, and if you don’t know them, then frankly it’s none of your business! And if you feel that you need to know their gender in order to alter how you think of them, or to know how to treat them, then perhaps you have an inbuilt gender bias and you need to become aware of that. Most of us do to some extent or other, as it’s how we’ve all been socialised since birth – blue for boys, pink for girls, boys’ toys, girls’ toys all socialise us to move in demarcated gendered directions. But we do need to be aware of this inbuilt bias and consciously accommodate it in our ongoing judgements of others.

So it seems to me, on the surface being seen as clearly marked out as masculine or feminine is something that does seem to matter a lot to our easy acceptance and understanding of people in our particular patriarchal Western society, although perhaps it shouldn’t. And perhaps it matters even more in the US than here in the UK, because it does appear to be more blatantly obvious there – but then again I think we maybe just hide it better as a society, although underneath it all we’re just as gender-biased. Glass ceiling, anyone?

OK, so that’s Melanie’s questions  1 and 4 kind of answered – now on to questions 2 and 3… Hmmm… I think losing anything about us that we identify closely with inevitably affects the way we see ourselves in the world.

For example, I had my three children young – I gave birth at 18, 19, and 21 (look Fandango, I’ve used the Oxford comma there!) so inevitably much of my early adult identity was created around my budding fertility, on being a mum, and a young mum at that. Then in my mid-twenties I chose to have a tubal ligation to ensure no more babies would come along, and all went well with no issues, no regrets. Three decades on and my babies are all grown up now, two with babies of their own – the perfect scenario.

At least, all went well until I hit menopause recently, and now I find myself grieving my loss of fertility. How crazy is that? When I was choosing not to use it, when I was ‘in control’ of not conceiving any more, I felt fine about it. But now that nature has taken its course and effectively taken my fertility away from me once and for all, part of me feels devastated. The thing is, at my age with (not quite) six grandchildren, even on a practical level there’s just no way I want to actually be having any more babies now. But emotionally all I feel is a loss of identity, and that’s what hurts.

So if as women we identify with having breasts as an important marker of our femininity then yes, I guess losing them would create a similar emotional response to me with my fertility, however relieved we might be to still be alive. The thought of losing my womb, even though it is now entirely superfluous to requirements, would upset me too. And I imagine it’s pretty much the same for men feeling effectively emasculated by losing their main instantly recognisable emblem of man-hood.

Ok, so back to Fandango’s original question – I remember when I was a kid, sometimes I used to wish I was a boy. Oh, and I was a real tomboy. But I can see now that my wish was nothing to do with not feeling psychologically like a girl, but more to do with recognising the inherent unfairness in the society I grew up in long before the UK’s sex discrimination legislation came in, where women (and so by default, girls) were legally and socially treated as second class citizens and relegated to particular spheres and denied entry to others. I was unsurprisingly objecting to the societal unfairness of my female gender rather than professing a real a desire to be male.

So today I have no desire to be the opposite sex, even for a day, because I think it would make me feel somewhat unsettled to have to return to my female skin after having experienced the reality of living with male privilege. And for anyone who wants to deny its existence, I used to work with someone – a man at that time – who later became a woman. And much as she felt far more comfortable afterwards living as female, she was truly shocked at the resistance she encountered day to day in just going about her everyday life without any longer enjoying the (previously hidden to her) benefit of male privilege.

Well, that’s answered that provocative question with some potentially provocative answers! As a disclaimer to my post, please note I’m not expecting everyone to agree with my personal opinion and experience, so if anyone takes umbrage at anything I’ve written and wants to comment accordingly, please do be nice in your critique, as I’m quite happy to agree to disagree without us having to argue or fall out over it – thank you! 🙂