Friday, 25 July 2014

Why Heteronormativity is Sucky

So a lot of straight people don't understand why heteronormativity is a bad thing. And my head feels like a mess right now so bear with me if this isn't particularly well-structured.

First of all, what is heteronormativity? I use it to mean the idea that heterosexuality is, effectively, the "default setting" for humans, and that by extension MOGAI people are special and different. On the surface, you can see why this would be adopted: somewhere between 95-98% of the population are heterosexual, which is an overwhelming majority.

Secondly, why am I moaning about this in the first place? Well, because I think it's harmful. And why do I think it's harmful?

Let's start with the definition I just gave: in heteronormativity, heterosexuality is the default, the norm. Boring. You are presumed to be straight. Now, if heterosexuality is the norm, being anything else must be different and weird - and because you're presumed to be straight, you have to make a public declaration of your not-straightness. That is, you have to come out.

For those who've never had to come out, coming out is not a one-time event where you get really anxious, screw up all the courage you can muster, gather up all your friends and family and blurt it out to acceptance and relief. Because of the presumption of heterosexuality, coming out is a continuous thing and it sometimes feels almost like an obligation; I don't like people assuming I'm straight, because I'm not and I really don't like living a lie, but at the same time I know that a lot of people are still homophobic and biphobic and I'm never sure whether people will react favourably or beat me off with a stick. It's actually pretty exhausting to do.

The presumption of heterosexuality also hurts MOGAI people in other ways: we're expected to prove that we're "really" who we say we are, otherwise we're just straight people faking it for attention. Now, faking it makes sense if you take the viewpoint that being straight is boring (due to being the default), but if you take the viewpoint that MOGAI people are oppressed and discriminated against not only does the "straight people faking it for attention" idea start falling apart, you actually find a lot of MOGAI people pretending to be straight (staying in the closet) to avoid coming under fire for being the "wrong" orientation - which still happens around the world today. Not only is being told that we're faking it really stupid and hypocritical - I shouldn't have to present proof that I'm actually bisexual while people believe you without question if you say that you're straight - but it's upsetting, too, especially if it comes from people you trust. I once witnessed a discussion between two straight people I trusted about how bisexual girls who hadn't slept with girls were just straight girls who wanted attention. I felt utterly betrayed and also very helpless, because I knew that if I told them the truth they'd dismiss me as just another attention-seeker. My only crime was not fitting their model of what a bisexual should look like. Being very mentally fragile at the time, I had an anxiety attack, crawled into a corner and shook, and avoided the two of them for a couple of weeks after that.

So in brief, that's why heteronormativity sucks: it means MOGAI people have to constantly tell other people about our sexual orientations or live a lie, and it means that we have to "prove" it (particularly to straight people).

Who upholds heteronormativity? Most straight people and some MOGAI people too. It's an idea. You don't have to be one specific identity to hold it. However, because it's an idea it can also be rejected - and I find that the best way to reject heteronormativity is not to assume things. Recognise that being MOGAI is not an aberration or a deviation from the heterosexual norm, because if you're born with it, it's normal. Try to use gender-neutral language, particularly when referring to people's spouses and such; if they get offended, they get offended. Better than heteronormativity anyway. And for the love of whatever deity you believe in, don't assume that MOGAI people have to "prove" their sexuality. It's untrue, annoying and harmful.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Half the Earth Stolen

Words to do with suicide
...or what happens after that person you love killed themselves. (Obvious trigger warning for suicide is obvious.)

So on tumblr there used to be this post (I can't find it now) that went something like "If, when I committed suicide I could see how it would affect other people and choose whether or not to go through with it, I'd be dead already".

If you could see how your suicide affected other people, it would spook you out of trying for a long time. Tumblr isn't always great with mental health help.

I have attempted suicide more times than I care to share and witnessed the suicide attempts of people close to me, so I've been on both sides of the discussion and I think I have a fair idea of what I'm talking about.

Pills with insults written on them
A lot of suicidal people think that if we killed ourselves, our loved ones would be better off. It happens a lot when you're depressed: your self-negativity clouds everything and your low mood isolates you, so you don't feel loved and it can be hard to see and accept the love of others. And you feel like the inconvenience of having you around outweighs whatever affection people may feel for you. "Positivity" that consists of tired platitudes and people telling you to just pull yourself together because you're being annoying doesn't help either.

When you feel suicidal, the belief that everyone would be better off without you makes it that much easier to end everything. But what actually happens to those left behind?

Initially you might get shock and disbelief: how could they be gone? How can someone be present and alive and just there one day and then the next day they're gone, never to come back, and then maybe a week later you're sitting there at the funeral service?

It's not something easy to understand. It feels like half the earth has been stolen from under your feet. Only half, because somehow you're still standing and you don't know why.

And then you get the realisation that they are dead. Forever. That nothing can bring them back, that even if you tried to join them in your grief they'd still stay stubbornly un-alive and unmoving beneath the ground. And it leaves a big hole in your life, as clich├ęd as that is to say, because that person you love will never come back. You will never be able to smile with them, or hug them, or comfort them through another hard time, ever again - and if you get to reach out and touch them, it's only to touch a cold, unresponsive corpse. Perhaps it is easier for people who believe in an afterlife if you think that you will one day be reunited with your loved ones. But I believe that after death there is absolutely nothing, just decomposing in the ground and waiting for the eventual heat death of the universe, which isn't particularly comforting.

Often you get very angry - and yes, you get angry at the person who has died, which is an unfair burden on someone who was in enough pain to take their own life, but grief is a shitty burden of its own and clogs up your mind so that thinking logically is nearly impossible. Some of you might be angry at the person for being so selfish, but it's more common to be angry with them for not letting you know - not a phone call, not an email, not a scrap of emotion let past their lips that might have helped prepare you, so you have to get that phone call from the hospital or a relative or a friend or even go hunting up the information yourself. Sometimes you get angry seeing another person's grief, seeing someone cry so hard they can hardly breathe. It's also very common to be angry at yourself: if only you'd spotted the warning signs, if only you'd been more proactive, if only you'd stayed another couple of days and not let them out of your sight the person you loved wouldn't be dead. And it's your fault.

Anger runs into guilt. Even professionals find it difficult to predict who's going to go through with a suicide and who isn't, but that won't stop your guilt. You obsessively run over each tiny little detail of the days leading up to the suicide, looking for the signs that you see as blazing and clear in hindsight but that just looked like so much white noise to you. You beat yourself up about it, that you should have been there to help and it was your fault and if you hadn't been so shit maybe they'd still be alive. And 6 months later the realisation hits you again, that they're gone forever, that they're never coming back, and you start shaking in a corner of the bed.

This is what happens after you kill yourself. Not happiness. Not relief. Just shock, grief, anger and guilt. So if your reason for suicide is that you think people will be better off without you, I hope talking about my experiences has changed your mind.

But I cannot stop you from committing suicide just by saying "look, people will be worse off if you die!" (although that can be a factor in why people choose to stay alive).

In fact, I cannot stop you at all. Only you can do that.

What I can say is that if you try and make the decision to end your life whilst actively suicidal, your decision will very likely be biased. You probably won't be taking account of all the things you should be taking account of. Sometimes it is better to wait and see where things lead, to wait until you have experienced things more before you decide that you're tired of life, to wait and see whether medication or talking treatments (which help you to identify thought patterns) do any good. Death will come anyway, so it's not like there's any big rush.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

But who would love someone with scars?

This post discusses self-harm. You have been warned.

I spend a disturbing amount of time in the company of people slightly younger than me (I'm 18). Not much younger, of course - 15, 16. Old enough to be articulate and form ideas about the world, but not old enough to see as much of it as I have.

I really need to get off Tumblr.

Anyway, if you remember being 15 or 16, you probably remember being very confused, insecure and angsty. (If you don't, you're either lying to yourself or you lived in a happier time and now I'm jealous of you because I spent my early- and mid-teens being suicidally depressed.) Some of you probably remember showing your angst to others in some pretty horrible ways.

I'll now make an obligatory digression so I can say something very important: if you are considering self-harm, I have been there. I have looked at my body and thought "how utterly disgusting, I'm such a poser, I need more scars". I have looked at my body and wanted to punish it. I have thought that carving scars into my skin would make me feel better.

But it doesn't work. When you take that blade to your skin and you try to draw blood, you don't feel better. You feel dead inside. But your body releases endorphins as a response to the pain, so you learn to associate cutting yourself with the weak rush you get. And the next time you feel that bad, your body tells you that cutting will fix that feeling (even though it won't). So you cut again and you get that weak rush and you reinforce the conditioning that cutting is a good thing. But you'll build up a tolerance to that endorphin rush, so you'll have to cut deeper and do more damage. And the cycle will continue to get ever more destructive. People will start asking awkward questions and sooner or later they'll stop believing that it was the cat or that you fell down the stairs. You will get embarrassed. You will hate yourself more. You will cut yourself even more. And should you try to quit, you will find it difficult. You will relapse. A lot. You will have to resist the urge to cut a lot in the beginning, and while the urge fades it doesn't totally go away. You will have to break old thought patterns and create new ones, which isn't exactly easy. And you will always have those scars to remind you of what you did.

So don't start. It will only cause you more pain in the end.

If you are thinking about starting to self-harm, or you already self-harm, there are plenty of alternatives to doing so. Some will work for you, some won't, and you might even decide not to try some if you think that they'll exacerbate previously existing issues. It can help to have a list of things to do close by to help increase the psychological availability of the distractions and alternatives.

Self-harm distractions and alternatives
Even more distractions and alternatives to self-harm
Self-harm prevention
146 things to do besides self-harm
66 things to do that aren't self-harm
A couple of self-harm alternatives
Some coping and distraction techniques
Myths, facts and coping techniques
Coping with self-harming urges
Big list of self-harm alternatives

(hell, even reading all those lists might distract you for a bit)

Back to the point. Let's say that you cut, or you have cut, and either way you've ended up with scars on your body that you absolutely hate. It is possible to make scars less visible using a variety of methods, but results vary and they tend to work better on newer scars than old ones.

wikiHow article on multiple ways to reduce scar visibility
Yahoo answers on making a scar fade
NHS Choices article about scarring
/r/SkincareAddiction: I need help fading self harm scars

When you have lots of scars, people tend to ask awkward questions. Sometimes they skip the awkward questions and go straight to insulting you, because apparently that's the best thing to do to someone who's struggled with self-harm in the past. I tend to insult back, but not everyone is as disgustingly misanthropic as I am. And when you are mentally ill, people tend to treat you as lesser. You are considered weak for a million and one reasons. Sometimes you are told you have brought it upon yourself, or that you deserved it. You are told to pull yourself together, which has never been good advice to give to a mentally ill person and never will be. You are told that nobody wants to be friends with someone too negative; when dark thoughts are eating you alive, this can be interpreted as "if I don't lie and pretend to be happy, my friends will leave me". Other people think that you're going to become violent. Often parents aren't particularly supportive, perhaps because they feel that having a mentally ill child is failure on their part. And because you might fear the reaction, it's easy to hold back and not tell school or uni that anything's wrong (not that they're always good at helping). Because of this culture of demonising mental illness, and because self-harm scars are a very obvious marker of mental illness, it can be difficult to imagine that anyone would love or even extend kindness to someone with scars.

I am not here to tell you that one day, when you grow up, everything will be okay. Sadly, that is a bare-faced lie; most of the examples of ableism I have given are from adults. What I will say is as you get older, more bad stuff happens to you and the people you love, and it forces you to stop being so ignorant. The people who say that they "don't believe in that depression crap" and that mental illness is an excuse for people to be weak find themselves crying in counselling and self-harming or using drugs. People learn their lessons in the harshest ways possible, and it makes it difficult to judge others too harshly.

As you grow older, you also tend to move about a lot more - from your little bubble of home and school to university and work, maybe to a different city, maybe to a different country. At least I find that's what happens to me, but moving around a lot is in my family and so I consider staying in the same area all your life to be very unusual. Another thing that happens is that you get at least one device with access to the internet. This is absolutely brilliant, because social networks like twitter and tumblr allow you to "meet" people from all over the world, as long as you can understand each other. On the internet, people tend to meet based on interests rather than on geographical location - which helps you find other people with common interests, rather than having to nod politely as you realise with a sinking feeling that you and that other person you were just introduced to have absolutely nothing in common. These weak ties can be quite beneficial, as they'll give you some measure of support; some of them even develop into stronger ties like friendships and relationships. If you're careful about boundaries and making sure people are who they say they are, you can develop some very close friendships and relationships. (It's how I met my partner.) So either way, the older you get, the more you tend to move away from the same little circles and the more you tend to meet new people. For people like me, who often find that they don't have that much in common with the people they grew up with (I don't have that much in common with that many people because I'm introverted, academically-minded and abrasive), this can be a godsend. If you have a knack for it, learning another language will also help you to communicate with others (and I think it's fun).

So what am I trying to say? That things may seem shit now, and your brain may keep telling you that they will stay shit - but that this doesn't have to be the case. People grow up and shit happens and you move away, and perhaps one day there will be someone who understands.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Accessibility in social justice spaces

This article is going to be boring, for which I apologise in advance; not everything I write can be interesting and engaging. Indeed, nothing I've written so far actually is. However, as my mother drilled into my head from a very young age and continues to drill into my head today, not everything important is going to grab your attention.

So, you're into social justice. You're radical and progressive and all about breaking down systems of oppression. You see the injustice in everything and rail against it with all the righteous fury you can muster. So far, so good, right? I'm not going to pretend that changing the world is simple or easy or produces instant results. I guess a good analogy is water running over a rock: you might think that the rock's just going to stay there, immutable and unmoveable, whether you pour the water over it for one month or one year or even ten years. But perhaps in eleven years' time you can start to see the rock wearing down, and in twelve years' time a tiny crack in the rock forms, and by the time that it hits fifty years since the water first started pouring over the rock the crack's got so big that the rock just shatters.

Anyway, digression over. Can anyone actually get to see what you're doing and what you're discussing? In other words, is your work accessible to others?

Accessibility is one of those things that doesn't get thought about as much as it should do (and I include myself in the group of people who don't think about accessibility enough), because it's one of those truly invisible things: for example, most sighted people don't use screen readers. So we're used to being able to read text on images like infographics and memes. However, a screen reader cannot "read" an image - it can only read the alt text or an image description. And if you happen to be using a screen reader and someone hasn't put any descriptions...well, that's a bit shit.

"But why do I need to bother making my stuff accessible?" you might ask. "That's just derailing! I mean, I can understand my point well enough!"

Look, with regards to accessibility a lot of people fuck up. I know I have. Multiple times. And I'm guessing other people have too, because it's invisible. When you can access something, you tend to take it for granted and so thinking about not being able to access that something, and how you would work around that, is easily forgotten. But that doesn't make it right.

Particularly in academic spheres, the kinds of people who tend to be having these discussions are relatively privileged: wealthy, well-educated, and probably white, cis and straight and with no disabilities or conditions. The kinds of people who need accessibility are usually much less privileged - maybe they're poorer or didn't have access to as much education for whatever reason, or they're disabled, or don't speak the language you communicate in as a first language. So claiming to have a discussion about how to be socially just and then excluding more marginalised people isn't the greatest idea in the world. Outside of academia it happens less often, but there's still quite a lot of inaccessibility going on.

I have many privileges. I am sighted and in most cases I can process sound and text very well. I have no learning difficulties. I am reasonably wealthy and overly educated. I have decent access to education. I am able-bodied. So I am probably the worst person in the world to be talking about accessibility - or perhaps just one of the worst people, after the dreaded white cishet male who oppresses everyone within a 1,000-mile radius. And so I ask politely for people to leave their own suggestions for accessibility in the comments. Till then, here are a couple of things I can think of:
  • Educate yourself! I find that a good resource is fuckyeahaccessibility.tumblr.com. Although the last update was 2 years ago, the archives are very useful.
  • Recognise that the social justice sphere uses a lot of highly specific terminology that newcomers may be unfamiliar with and that may present a barrier to communication. Define unfamiliar words in an easily accessible glossary.
  • Recognise that social justice mindsets themselves require some getting used to for a lot of people, so don't yell and snap at a newcomer for not knowing everything immediately. Point them in the direction of a link or two.
  • No autoplay. Please, no autoplay. It's fine to have a music player, but it shouldn't be turned on by default; some people get triggered by sudden noises. Even for perfectly abled people it's more a matter of courtesy than anything else - sorry, but if I want to hear your music I'll turn it on myself.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Bitchy Queers

Well, I stuck a slur in the title. Don't read on. There's no hope. Flee from this evil blog. More slurs are incoming. This article is also not particularly friendly to straight people. If you're straight and reading this, chances are that I don't hate you. This is because you're likely to be a complete stranger to me and thus me hating you based on my assumptions is pointless and logically faulty. However, there are straight people out there who do shitty things and I will rant about that without necessarily stopping every 5 minutes to say that not every straight person is like that.

When I was growing up, I grew up in an environment where most people were straight. I didn't meet an openly MOGAI person till I was 12. And so I was only vaguely aware of stereotypes: the catty, effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian, the slutty and almost invisible bisexual. They're something I only really came across when I was older.

So I think somewhere at the back of my mind I was aware of the "bitchy queer" stereotype (it ties in with the "bitchy gay" stereotype that I'd already been exposed to), but being that I try not to see groups of people as monoliths and that I try to go by the evidence of my senses rather than gossip and hearsay, "bitchy" isn't one of my first associations with the word "queer". In fact I get quite annoyed by the bitchy queer stereotype.

"But it's just a joke!" you might say. "Nobody means any harm by it!"

Well, not meaning any harm by something doesn't magically stop it from doing harm - and if it's a joke it's not one that I find particularly funny. This is coming from someone with a dark and absurd sense of humour, so it's not like I'm utterly humourless.

The thing about the bitchy queer stereotype is that it gets used to silence MOGAI people: if we complain about something, we're just bitchy queers. It doesn't matter how legitimate the complaint is, getting away from the stereotype is difficult because we're still just considered to be bitching. Occasionally you come across a straight person who makes an exception for you, but I find that it's still a bit frustrating. I don't want to be a straight person's exception, I want straight people to consider MOGAI people in terms of their humanity rather than just as stereotypes. And I get fed up and annoyed when that doesn't happen.

I am going to go on a little digression now because I think it might help any confused straight people to understand - and I want straight people to understand. I desperately want straight people to understand because when people understand, they tend to change their ways for the better. And I don't have some kind of victim complex: I'm genuinely fed up of straight people not getting it, because even in the Western world, straight people not getting it can harm MOGAI people (for example, straight people who believe that bisexuals are just faking it for attention probably don't want to do anyone any harm, but they still make it hard for bisexuals to come out and feel loved and accepted by the people around them).

There is a microblogging site called Tumblr. According to the Pew Research Center, 46% of the 34 million users who contribute to Tumblr more than once a month are aged between 16-24. The top traffic source is the USA (so it can be pretty US-centric). 54% are female and 46% are male, which makes me think that they didn't take account of the users who don't fall into the gender binary (they are vocal, to be sure, but I'm not sure how much of Tumblr they make up). 48% are students and 65% have incomes under $50,000. Out of the USA, California - known for being progressive - provides the most traffic out of any state. It's become a space where marginalised people cling together and have a much louder voice than they do on most other sites, let alone offline - and so it provides a unique opportunity to study stereotypes about groups that don't usually get stereotyped. Like straight people. (Seriously, I can't remember the last time I heard a stereotype about a straight person that didn't come from Tumblr.)

So let's pop in the keywords "straight people" and hit search. Straight people, if you're not used to Tumblr or social justice spaces this might confuse you and possibly hurt you. This is what comes up.

As you can see, there's a lot of stereotyping of straight people on Tumblr. This is because many MOGAI people have had bad experiences with straight people - not just straight people who openly identified as homophobic and transphobic, but also straight people who claim to be allies and still treat MOGAI people as inferior. So understandably, we want a place to vent. Also understandably, some MOGAI people have a burning hatred of straight people. (To help you understand this, if you ever get the chance to talk to someone who survived a genocide, some aren't exactly forgiving of the people who tried to kill them or those who remained complicit. Obviously different people react differently, but it's not an event that restores your faith in humanity.)

Straight people, how do you feel about this stereotyping? Annoyed? Confused? Upset that a complete stranger could hate you and claim you're a murderer? Upset that people brush your hurt aside and try to erase your existence? Ashamed of your sexuality? Scared to speak up because somebody might use it to hurt you?

Because that's how a lot of MOGAI people feel when you stereotype us, and why I'm opposed to stereotyping as a whole. Fortunately for straight people, Tumblr hatred hasn't spilled over into actual, ideologically motivated violence against you (as far as I'm aware). Unfortunately for MOGAI people, there's still a hell of a lot of violence against us worldwide.

In several countries, there are still laws on the books criminalising homosexuality. In several countries, same-sex marriage is still forbidden. In several countries, there are still laws against the promotion of homosexuality (and indeed some straight people still think that talking about being MOGAI and telling young people that it's perfectly okay and normal, and that MOGAI youth should be proud of who they are, and tailoring sex and relationships education to MOGAI people counts as promoting homosexuality, which makes me want to smack my head against the nearest hard surface). There are places where people can refuse you service or refuse to hire you based on sexual orientation, which is not only homophobic and transphobic but simply makes no sense (how is me buying a cake or working as an engineer going to corrupt your pure, precious straightness?). Right now in the UK we have an Equality Minister who voted against same-sex marriage, which also makes no sense. There are places where it is just fine to assault a MOGAI person and you can get away with it. And even beyond the law, a lot of straight people still consider MOGAI people weird, inferior or abnormal - which makes it hard to live as who you really are instead of just pretending to be straight all the time. I could go on.

So MOGAI people still face a hell of a lot of oppression and discrimination worldwide. Although I admit that in certain parts of the world we've made a lot of progress, we still have a very long way to go. And so if I complain or seem bitchy, it's because I desperately want to see a world in which people are loved and accepted no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, and I desperately want to help work towards that. I'm sorry if I seem like a bitch or a social justice wanker, but I'd rather be abrasive and work for a better world for everyone than keep my mouth shut, be lauded for "not being like those other bitchy queers" by straight people, and sit by and do nothing. And if you care that much about my bitching, I'll stop bitching when I get a world that treats everyone with compassion and acceptance. So rather than whining about how I'm a bitchy queer, come over here and give a helping hand. I can promise you that I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

I hate gender roles

As has probably been made abundantly clear over the years, I'm a woman. So I can't speak as anyone other than a woman - and a pretty privileged woman at that. I'm aware that there's a lot I don't see, maybe because I'm not looking hard enough, maybe because there are some things that my perspective on life simply doesn't allow me to see. I am writing this from a very limited and narrow viewpoint and I would be more than happy for others to add to what I've written or to correct what I will inevitably get wrong.

I remember facing a lot of pressure to conform to conventional gender roles and gender expressions when I was younger. I had to like shoes and make-up and boys and shopping, and not show my intelligence because none of the boys would like me. I had to be quiet and conventionally feminine instead of being loud, in-your-face, and more than slightly androgynous - allegedly. I stayed being loud, in-your-face, androgynous me and got threatened with assault, rape and murder. Even if I was annoying (and I was 15, so I was almost certainly an annoying little shit), that's pretty disproportionate just for being gender nonconforming. I ended up hanging out with equal numbers of boys and girls and trying to ignore the pressure to be feminine as much as possible, though I felt pushed into being as feminine as possible just so I wouldn't be treated like such a freak. Maybe it's because I connected with books better than people and didn't feel as great a need to please others as some would have liked, but somehow I skipped out on the worst of the pressure to fit in a little box of femininity and just stayed me. It paid off: I still have a roughly equal number of male and female friends and a loving, long-term partner who tells me if I'm being stupid and doesn't get scared of my mind. And I'm happy, I guess, because I'm not trying to pretend to be someone I'm not for the sake of social approval.

Now I'm a legal adult, I'm grouchy and uncool and finally beginning to escape the little box of femininity you get shoved into as a teenage girl. And looking back at the box, it looks absolutely horrible. There are reports of girls being told by magazines, by their parents, by other girls that they can't be smart or go into high-paying jobs because it'll scare off men (apparently, male approval is the only reason a girl should ever do things). Hell, there are even reports of a 3-year-old girl saying "I can't be a pilot. I'm a pilot's wife.", which absolutely break my heart; children that young do have some understanding of gender roles. Not as much as an adult, but enough to apparently internalise the idea that there are some things girls just can't do.

But why should this bother me? After all, there are plenty of adults out there who believe that certain tasks should be gendered. What's the harm?

The harm comes when young girls get insecure, when they think that they need to hide their talents because otherwise they're too unfeminine. The harm comes when young girls get told that making more than a man in a job is a no-no, so they think they need to hold back. The harm comes when young girls think that they need to do things for male approval, so that "if you act like that you won't get a husband" is a serious threat and not just a puzzling statement. We shouldn't be putting limits on what young girls can do just so they fit into our little boxes of femininity.

At this point somebody is probably going to get very offended that I haven't mentioned young boys. I do apologise, but I never grew up as a young boy, so everything I've heard about this has been from men. I've never experienced this. At this point somebody else is probably going to get very offended that I talked about this, because men are the ones who primarily benefit from and enforce patriarchy. That's as may be - but redefining the tiny little gender box of masculinity to be kinder and more inclusive, rather than pushing young boys into doing stupid and harmful things to be considered a real man, will be a small step towards having a kinder world. Which I get that not everyone wants, but I'd certainly rather stop the violence and bigotry and try and have a world in which everyone is free and equal.

Young boys are harmed because they, too, are told that certain things make them "un-masculine" and should be avoided at all costs. Young MOGAI boys are told that their sexuality is wrong, because only straight men are truly masculine. Young boys are encouraged to hide their emotions, because showing them isn't masculine - and that leads to so many problems down the line. Young boys are told that they should be insecure if a woman's better than them at something, rather than being happy for her achievements and working hard to match them, because a "real man" should always best a woman outside of the home. Young boys are told that they'll grow up to be breadwinners, and that if they're not breadwinners they've somehow failed. Young boys also have limits put on them to fit into a tiny box of masculinity.

And it's not doing young girls or young boys any good to be told that stupid standards of masculinity and femininity are more important than their health and happiness. It certainly doesn't help them grow up into well-adjusted men and women.

"But some people are always going to fit gender stereotypes!" you cry. "Maybe some of them want to be like this!"

That's certainly true. A woman wanting to stay at home and look after the children or a man wanting to go out and be happy as the sole breadwinner aren't in themselves inherently bad. The problem is, we live in a society where certain gender roles are shown to be more desirable (and in fact represented more) than others. And socialisation plays a huge part in the development of a child's mind. So because we preferentially show certain gender roles and gender expressions and tell our children that these are desirable, we can't say how many of the children who grow up to adopt those roles and expressions would have done so if they hadn't had the socialisation to be that way.

But some people don't fit those gender stereotypes anyway, no matter how hard you socialise them. Does that mean that I'm just talking bullshit when I talk of how young children are socialised to think that certain things are masculine or feminine?

I don't think so. And I don't think so, because I've been an idiot and forgotten to explicitly state that there is individual variation between humans. You'd think more people would find this obvious, but apparently individual variation is the devil's own work. Anyway, some people are more resistant to socialisation or end up socialised in different ways due to being exposed to slightly different sets of influences. That doesn't mean that socialisation doesn't exist - for that you have to look at media portrayals of different gender roles.

I suppose what I really want to say is that we need to abolish those little boxes of femininity and masculinity and separate gender identity (the feeling that you are a certain gender) from gender roles (the idea that people of certain genders have to do certain things). The idea that you've got to do certain things in order to be "properly" feminine or masculine is a damaging and dangerous one. We'd be better off without it.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Don't Be That Person!

I know this is only a little thing compared with such issues as global inequality and people not having access to clean water, but it annoys me.

So, this is the 21st century. In the West, things might have a long way to go, but they could be worse. Theoretically, we have a better understanding of the fact that different people think differently, like different things and have different lifestyles. In practice, people still throw hissy fits over the tiniest things, not understanding that in a free and diverse society at least one person is going to do something you disagree with and that there's not very much you can do about it, short of keeling over into authoritarianism.

Now, I'm used to people disagreeing with ideas and wishing everyone thought the same. Most people and their mothers do that to some extent - or maybe it's just me holding opinions that cause everyone around me to disagree with me. I can cope with that, because I've grown up with it. And it's not nice, but the kinds of people who disagree with ideas don't necessarily act like the world revolves around them.

What I'm not used to is people expecting me to conform to their exact ideas of what I should be like - how I should behave, dress and even style my hair. I was brought up not to tell people what they should be like, because it was rude; my mother was very, very big on teaching me manners and it still shows. I'm not even sure if it's more of an American thing (I've seen it more from Americans than from any other country). I'm not a talking doll - I'm a real person, with real hopes and dreams and fears, who doesn't take kindly to being told that I have to behave according to the whims of a stranger.

The same people who do that kind of thing are also very selfish: they seem to want everyone to behave according to their whims because they can't comprehend others existing for a purpose other than serving them. And when for whatever reason you don't do these things (possibly because rushing around trying to please strangers isn't something that most people care about or have time for), they start to insult you and imply that if you don't cater to them, nobody will ever want to be around you.

So why am I talking about such childish people? After all, it's not like I want to drag myself down to their level - and to be honest, they're quite laughable really. The thing is, there are an awful lot of people like them out there who can treat others like shit in this generation and teach younger people that this sort of behaviour is normal and desirable - which generally makes the world a more unpleasant place to live in. From a purely selfish perspective, it doesn't reflect too well on them either: people don't like to hang out with someone who constantly criticises everything they do and makes them feel shit and worthless if they don't do exactly as they say. Except for other people like that. In which case you've got shit friends and I feel quite sorry for you.

Just...don't be that asshole who throws a temper tantrum if people don't exactly conform to your whims, okay? You hurt other people and nobody likes you.