A Mess of Stress

So, apparently this week Fandango is curious to know how I deal with stress? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… oh… well… um… maybe laughing maniacally at my on misfortune isn’t exactly the level of response required here.

Historically I’ve always dealt with stress by comfort eating. Currently though, due to recently diagnosed problems with my digestive health, I’m having to be VERY careful about what I eat – including eating minimal animal fats, salts and sugars, which I must admit pretty much make up the bulk of all my usual comfort foods… sigh 😦

So right now on top of the stress of everyday generic life stresses AND being menopausal I’m also trying to deal with the stress of NOT comfort eating by distracting myself wherever possible from my cravings for comfort food. Colouring in, listening to music, walking, crying and feeling sorry for myself… And when that doesn’t work I’m stressing myself out even more by beating myself up for not coping, creating an even bigger internal mess of stress.

But I’m determined I’m not giving up on it all, my ongoing internal health is important to me so I’ve decided to try to help reduce my external stress factors by giving up instead on all news of Donald Trump messing about playing chicken with China and Iran, Theresa May messing about playing chicken with both the European Union and her own parliament, oh, and America making itself even more not-great-yet-again by banning abortion…

My blood pressure just can’t handle it all any more, I feel like I need to ban all news coverage for a while. So I think I’ll take to sitting here with my fingers in my ears going la la la la la la la… a bit like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but at least hopefully my digestive system will be happier 🙂

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Fandango’s Provocative Question: Is America Ready for an Openly Gay President?

Sadly, my immediate answer to this week’s Fandango’s Provocative Question of ‘Is America ready for an openly gay President?’ is a resounding ‘no’.

In my humble opinion, however many people I piss off with my no-doubt provocative and very British perspective, to my mind America’s main problem in most things is its relative youth in the nation stakes – I mean, what’s a couple of hundred years or so of history in the grander scheme of things? Pfft… America appears sometimes (and now is definitely one of those times) to be an obvious youngster on the world’s aging stage, puffed up with the know-it-all arrogance of your average swaggering teen, preening and parading for show, loud and proud, more volume than validity in what is being vocalised.

It seems to me that historically in many ways the USA has fought so hard (and so successfully) over the last couple of centuries or so to merge together as one almost wholly immigrant population settled across the huge expanse of the country, coast to coast. It has emerged generation after generation as a stitched-together patchwork of culturally diverse and independently governed states all determined to be as one voice to the extent where, in an attempt to manufacture one great ‘American’ identity, an imagined false, forced homogeneity amongst its citizens is prized and protected above all else. In many ways, in that aim America has become a victim of its own success.

Where I’m sure there used to be a certain pride in maintaining cultural bonds with the multiple old homelands of its people, passing down generational family stories of past experiences in faraway lands, there is now an over-blown, over-laid insistence on this relatively new-forged all-American identity where all things are expected without exception to be ‘as American as apple pie’ – as if nothing important existed ancestrally before that first migratory step onto American soil, therefore nothing there is worth remembering or referring to. It’s as if the depths of the soul has been expunged from American society in search of surface similarity.

In search of this bland, blended homogeneous culture, America seems to have lost the plot somewhere along the line in that diversity in all forms – which after all not that many years ago was a valuable foundation stone in the creation of the USA – is now denied, deemed not to be trusted, effectively neutralised. Yet ironically the more America forces diversity out, the more fragile its national identity actually becomes – that’s not strength talking, but fear. America often comes across as a holier-than-thou ex-smoker projecting out its own disgust at such a filthy habit. To quote Will Shakespeare, ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’.

Personally, I would love for America with all its splendid diversity to embrace proudly its itinerant reality rather than insist on glossing over its myriad melting-pot past in a hurry to appear to be something historically stable and solid and singular that at source it is not – ‘The Stepford Wives’ comes to mind. There is undoubtedly a lot to be proud of in the creation of the USA over the last couple of hundred years as a major force to be reckoned with, but in my mind its hyped-up national mistrust of difference to its self-styled restrictive norms – particularly in light of its own humble hotch-potch beginnings – leaves a lot to be desired.

So back to the original question – sadly, I honestly think America would completely freak out at an openly gay president right now, however competent he may prove to be in office, because someone living a life so blatantly obviously different to or outside of the standard acceptable societal norms would sadly be seen as a humungous threat to those who cling on so proudly to their imagined one-size-fits-all American identity above pretty much all else, even at times their moral compass of basic humanity and respect for all others.

If it were up to me to choose your next President for you, I’d take the reality of a happily married, down-to-earth, sensible young man who understands from experience what it is like to live on the margins of ‘acceptable’ society over an overbearing, arrogant, ignorant narcissistic orange baboon any day… 🙂

PS Please note my intention is not to offend anyone with this post (well, maybe apart from the aforementioned orange baboon), I’m just sharing my own opinion – and after all it is supposed to be a provocative question I’m answering, the clue is in the title! Also the perfect post for today’s Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Compass 🙂

Fandango’s Provocative Question: 13 March 2019

This week’s provocative question asks: “When you learn about highly regarded artists being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, especially with minors, can you separate the artists from their art, or would you refuse to listen to, watch, or read the artists’ works?”

Hmmm… Well, to be honest I’m not a huge Michael Jackson fan and there are many other artists with music similar enough to R Kelly, so I’m not likely to listen to their music any more or less than I have done so far.

But back in the day in the glam-rock seventies I absolutely loved Gary Glitter with his showy sparkly arrogance on stage, asking if I wanted to be in his gang… and I sang along at the top of my voice with all my young teenage peers, starry eyed and caught up in the moment. But now it just feels creepy, considering his predeliction for young vietnamese kids, and so it seems in hindsight I can’t separate the artist from the art and no, I don’t listen to him any more, not even for the sake of nostalgia.

And as well as musicians, another famous publicly-shamed sexually-abusive celebrity of my innocent youth was Jimmy Saville of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ TV fame, where for years the ‘lucky’ kids for whom he fixed their particular dream come true were privileged to sit on his lap live on air… Again, just too creepy to think about these days…

But of course it’s not only money-laden celebrities who take advantage of the trusting dollar/pound-sign blinkers placed over the eyes of both parents and children, but also certain members of the Catholic Church. The sheer arrogance of power, whether financial or religious, creates a trust imbalance that seems to allow certain predatory types to behave atrociously and apparently expect to get away with it, whether through physical or sexual abuse of children in their charge.

So to take the question a step further from considering only musical artists or celebrities, does the dubious historical action of the Catholic Church relating to allegations of child abuse affect the way I consider the Catholic religion? Absolutely – my grandmother and her younger siblings were brought up between the two wars in several orphanages run by the Catholic Church, and were treated cruelly enough by the nuns that as adults they all refused to attend church, and this experiential distrust has been passed down the generations.

Additionally, my husband was also brought up in the Catholic faith, and during the 1980s attended a prestigious private fee-paying boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland run by Benedictine monks in an actual abbey setting. Yet only a few years ago we had two policemen at our door asking my husband for a statement about his time at that school, as his second-year house-master has been accused of the sexual abuse of one of my husband’s class-mates. Sadly this is not a unique allegation, and an entire TV documentary was made at that time relating to the school (and monks) in question.

So can I separate the church from the child abuse? Nope, not then, not now, and not ever. Had the church dealt with any and all accurations of abuse openly and justly, then fair enough. But instead offenders were simply protected in order to protect the good name of the church and quietly moved on elsewhere, ostensibly free to offend again, leaving their vulnerable victims disbelieved and traumatised for the rest of their lives.

But in the longterm it does seem that the abuse of power negates whatever artistic achievements have been made by the offender. Off the top of my head just look at Jimmy Saville here in the UK for example, where there were discussions about him being posthumously stripped of his knighthood (not possible, as the honour dies with him) or the spectacular falling-off-a-cliff careers of Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey in the US… what goes around, comes around, I guess…

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… 😦

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! 🙂