About that twitter misogyny research (and bad science reporting)

CONTENT NOTE: research of rape “threats” and threatening language.

I first saw the story today claiming that “50% of misogynistic tweets are made by women” on the BBC News website. I noted other sources being cited on Twitter later, with various criticisms; but this is for the thoughts that immediately occurred to me without reference to anyone else.

(You’d be surprised how little social media networking I do while at the day job!)

My first thought was that maybe this is bad science reporting, rather than bad science. Lord knows, it happens often enough that maybe any intelligence and nuance has been scrubbed away by editors anxious for teh clicks.

A quick click through to the PDF file reveals there is indeed somewhat more nuance than the story suggests. The authors did not simply, “count the number of uses of two particular words as indicators of misogyny”, but rather:

We subjected each data set to a number of analyses, using both qualitative and quantitative methods:
1) Volume over time
2) Different types of use
3) Who is using these words?
4) Case study: what drives traffic?

To conduct the analysis we conducted both automated analyses using a technique called natural language processing; and qualitative analysis where a researcher carefully reviewed random samples of the data.

My second thought was that there are at least two ways in which women might be using the words “slut” or “whore” in ways that are not themselves misogynistic. The first I thought of was “claiming the name”, and self-referring (perhaps in a positive way) as either slut or whore – perhaps as sex workers, or “kinky” types, or just celebrating their own sexuality. For example, the “Slutwalk” marches that started a few years ago. The second I thought of was reporting on men’s misogyny towards them, for example, “I didn’t answer when the guy told I looked sexy, so he called me a…” with a hashtag about street harassment.

The way the research was reported made it seem as though these sorts of responses were lumped in with genuine “you tried to steal my boyfriend, I hate you, you slut!” (or whatever – some of my ideas of women’s insulting twitter exchanges may be based on half-remembered secondary school overheard conversations!).

The actual paper looks like just maybe both of these were screened out in some way!

Here are the findings that the paper reports:

  • Between 9 January and 4 February 2014 there were around 131,000 cases of ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ used in English from UK-based Twitter accounts. We estimate that approximately 18 per cent of them appears misogynistic.
  • There was a high proportion of ‘casual’ misogyny. Approximately 29 per cent of the ‘rape’ tweets appeared to use the term in a casual or metaphorical way; while approximately 35 per cent of the ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ tweets appeared to use the term in a casual or metaphorical way.

(You’ll notice that there was also analysis of the use of “rape”; the headline figure is that around 12% of 100 thousand uses seemed to be threatening)

The researchers then, “split the data into ‘comment’ (tweets which were about the use of word itself) and ‘conversation’ (tweets which included the word as part of a conversation).”

So my question regarding reporting versus using seems to have been answered. The researchers go on to record, “We found 7,993 tweets that were commenting on usage of these words, 108,409 that were actual conversational usage.” A quick bit of approximate doing the sums in my head, that’s only around 1 in 14 or 15 that was discussing usage versus conversation.

In their analysis of usage, they broke down use into “Serious/non-offensive”, “colloquial/casual”, “Generally misogynistic”, “Abusive”, and “Other (inc. subversive and porn)” and used a sample of 500 manually assessed tweets to estimate proportions (with the headline finding of 18% misogynistic; also 20% classed as “abusive”). [If you click through to the paper, be aware – the example of “abusive” usage the authors chose also includes threats of violence]

I do have one issue with the paper. In the “Key findings”, the authors write,

Women are as almost as likely as men to use the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter. Not only are women using these words, they are directing them at each other, both casually and offensively; women are increasingly more inclined to engage in discourses using the same language that has been, and continues to be, used as derogatory against them.

This does not seem to be supported by the analysis as presented. It may be true (certainly, given the graph of usage by gender shows roughly equal usage, which means a sizeable proportion of women’s tweets must have been “conversation” as opposed to “comment”) but it hasn’t been demonstrated. To demonstrate it, I would need to see a breakdown by gender of the types of usage table, which isn’t provided.

So, once again, bad science journalism trumps a fairly reasonably conducted piece of research. The research itself does have issues, not all of which occurred to me and not all of which I have mentioned here. The authors themselves admit: “To give a rough and ready illustration, we ran a series of short studies in order to better understand the volume, degree and type of misogynistic language used on Twitter.” (emphasis mine).

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Testing, testing hair today, gone tomorrow?

A journey started nearly 2 years ago with the birth of a dream.

When Pandora Blake posted about having laser hair removal on her pubic hair, and I responded by dreaming about whole-body or at least, facial, hair removal in the same way (and she confirmed that this is a treatment many trans women undergo) – I had lots of time and no money because unemployed.

Now, nearly two years later, I have less time, but more money because I have a job and it isn’t affordable to move out of my parents’ home (round these parts, I’d need to earn another £10k to make having my own flat a realistic move) so my overheads of life are fewer than for many.

So, I have money for cosmetic treatments. For the past couple of months I have saved up towards laser facial hair removal and in the past week have dropped in to make an appointment, seen a nurse for an assessment, and today, I got my test patch done.

At the assessment, they asked me to fill out a form to collect evidence that these laser treatments are not purely elective but are a very real help and support to people trying to live in a body that is suited to them – trans women, nonbinary-identified folks such as me, and so on. I was glad to add my own input on that and I hope their case is made so that VAT can be reduced or kept low, and make this more affordable to others as well.

I wish I’d re-read Pandora’s piece before going along. Her description of the feel:

The machine blows a jet of cold air onto your skin at the same time as the laser, which doesn’t so much feel like burning as pricking like a needle as it encounters each follicle.

This certainly matched the first sample the nurse gave me, but I said the prickling was almost pleasant (in fact, as a masochist, it was yummy!) and she offered to try a higher setting – “tolerable discomfort” was the aim.

There was definitely a leap up in the pain level, and the sensation was more like receiving small electric shocks (sort of like when you rub along a carpet and then touch a metal handrail). It was also a bit like the sensation when someone did a demonstration with a low-setting violet wand, and perhaps what I imagine that would have been like on a slightly higher setting.

Bearable? I think so, even for a long session. Like Pandora, I have coping techniques to absorb and process pain – and I think that mental image of electric shocks was something like Pandora’s:

If I thought about lasers, zapping, burning, it hurt a lot – whereas if I imagined that someone was dragging a sharp felt tip along my skin, or scratching little dots with the nip of a fountain pen, it hurt much less.

I still want to mull it over, but basically as soon as I feel ready to go I can call and make my first appointment.

(The rest of my body hair, particularly my back and arse, I think may be waxed instead for the time being)

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Helping others to thank you

Crossing my social media radar this afternoon, is a cartoon with social interaction advice, “If you want to say thank you, don’t say sorry

It is strong self-support advice, in that it presents a series of situations in which “sorry” is framing oneself as a problem, whereas saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person.

For instance, “Sorry I’m late” versus “thank you for your patience” (or just, “thanks for waiting”, would be my most common expression of the sentiment).

As I read through the cartoon, though, I found myself questioning the premise of some of the comparisons. I found myself thinking about which of them I say, and in what situations. What makes a difference in whether I say “thank you” or “sorry”?

For instance:

If you want to say, “Thank you for understanding me,” don’t say, “Sorry, I’m not making a lot of sense.”

It seems to me that there is a huge difference between situations when one might say the first versus those where one might use the second. It’s not hard to see where the difference lies. One can only say, “Thank you for understanding me,” if one actually feels understood. If one feels that the other person doesn’t understand, and is perplexed or confused by one’s words, then one feels like an imposition, and as though an apology is necessary.

Of course, that feeling of being not understood can be generated by oneself, as well as or instead of by the other person. Depression, or a self-image as “not intelligent” or “not clever with words” can result in unfairly and negatively self-prejudging one’s attempts to express oneself. Then, regardless of how well the other person has understood, one can feel as though one’s message has been lost. I’ve been there!

Similarly, especially when depression or gloom is predominant (there being a huge difference between depression and just having a lot of sad feelings going on) it is possible to feel that one is “kind of a drag”, or that one is “just rambling”, and that the other person isn’t listening.

But a lot of the time, the difference comes from the other person.

If you want to say, “Thank you for appreciating me,” don’t say, “Sorry I take up so much space.”

(Of course, it could be space, time, effort, or whatever)

Again, there’s a world of difference between the two. One cannot thank another for appreciating them, if one feels that the other doesn’t. The impression of how one is perceived by the other frames the situation and changes it, so that one phrase is appropriate and the other, not. It is very hard – even incongruous (and incongruent) – to say “thank you for appreciating me” if one is not appreciated, but instead receives signals that say, “You are taking up my VALUABLE time” (subtext, too valuable to be wasted on the likes of YOU!”) If the other person doesn’t seem to be listening, or particularly, to have stopped listening, then one can no longer say, “Thank you for listening” but might feel obliged to apologise, “Sorry, I’m just rambling.”

(A caveat: In terms of “Thank you for your patience” it could be assumed that the same is true in the difference between being welcomed with open arms, or with a tap on the wristwatch (or imaginary wristwatch) or pointed glance at the phone. In the latter case, there is surely a pressure to saying sorry rather than thank you. However, I feel that in that instance at least, there is strength in framing the situation. The person indicating their impatience is justified when one apologises; but thanking them regardless of their actual impatience asserts equality and civility.)

It is easy to say, “Avoid those people who make you feel you need to apologise”, but that is not always possible for everyone. Sometimes we have to live or work with people who do not seem to want thanks in this way.

But there is a lesson to be learned: if we find it hard to thank some people, because they are demanding apologies, then perhaps we should work harder to be the sort of person whom others find it easy to thank. I struggle with some things, like eye contact and looking like I’m listening, but I have found that by using other active listening skills (reflecting, paraphrasing, encouraging noises, and so on) that I have become the sort of person who is more often thanked for listening, and not apologised to for “rambling”. By overcoming my impatience, I have I hope become more likely to be thanked for waiting than apologised to for lateness. And so on.

To be thanked, I think, feels much more positive than to be apologised to. And it helps everyone if we can make it easy for others to thank us.

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Freedom of speech and discrimination: #JustPray and other issues

A propos of the news that a major cinema advertising company has refused to show an advert of people saying the Lord’s Prayer, I thought I’d delve into some of the questions again (after my rant last week against Germaine Greer and the transphobes’ bleating of “freeze peach!”, and my earlier foray on no-platforming) and try to hammer out a bit more of my views on this.

It seems to me that this is of a parcel with people insisting they should not be “forced” to allow gay couples to use their bed & breakfast service, as well as people insisting on their right to spout hate speech, or for that matter insisting on the right to smoke in public. Finding a simple rule, or even an algorithm, that neatly gives the answer you think it should for each and every example, is hard. But people who proclaim loudly a rule that must always hold true (such as “free speech always”), must therefore accept it when the rule gives a result opposed to their desires.

I am very much of the opinion that it is useful to hear offensive and insulting opinions. Sometimes, that’s how you know who to avoid because of what their actions are likely to be. Sometimes, the fact that it causes you offence, or that you feel insulted by an observation, should be a red flag that you ought to look at your own assumptions.

But sometimes hate speech, by which I shall mean, “speech that is designed to create an atmosphere in which attacking and harming members of a specific (minority) group is seen as acceptable, or to make members of that group feel excluded from society,” is designated as mere offence or insult.

When Ken Livingstone made remarks about Kevan Jones during the week, he was very close to meeting that definition. He said, “I think he [Jones] might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed … He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

The effect of that remark is to say that people with depression or other mental health issues should not be allowed to speak their opinions on important matters. I would argue that he probably did not intend to produce that effect, and thus say that it was not quite “hate speech” as I defined the term above, but at the same time it was not an okay thing to say.

Greer, on the other hand, explicitly states that trans people (and trans women especially) are lesser, should be excluded and, by implication and the tone of her remarks, paints them as legitimate targets for misogynistic violence. There can be little doubt in my mind that her language is hate speech.

(This brings up the question of whether or not the argument that porn is hate speech against women has any validity. But my response to that is no, partly for similar reasons why Livingstone wasn’t, and also because porn is a medium or style, and far from homogeneous in content and message – one might as well ask if, based on the content of The Sun, all newspapers should be banned)

Another key difference between “no-platforming” (as in Greer’s case) and the cinema advertising question (or the B&B question), is the flow of money.

American football teams hold practices in pre-season training that are open to the public. They do not charge an entry fee, and some fans ask why not, since obviously it could be a revenue stream. The reason is that, as a free access event, the team is allowed to pick and choose whom they want in attendance. If they charged access, then opposing teams’ scouts could pay for a ticket and watch, and it would be illegal to exclude them.

Targets of no-platforming campaigns often want to be paid for their speech. The Church wanted to pay to reach an audience. In a very real sense, Greer’s speech was not “free” – she put a price on her words. In a different sense, the Church’s speech was not free either: they were willing to pay the price to be allowed to speak. The advertising company, by charging for its services, places itself in a position where everyone’s money is equal. When someone asks to be paid for speaking, then they tacitly give permission that the buyer should determine the value and desirability of hearing that speech.

(I can think of several counter examples to that principle, but the principle holds for the B&B question)

I’ll be honest: even as a Christian, I think I’d be a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable if such an advert came on when I was at the cinema to watch a Star Wars movie or whatever: it’s just not a setting in which I want to be thinking about that sort of serious matter, I want to relax for a couple of hours with a fantasy world (or version of the real world, for some movies). But at the same time, it’s no different than if it was an advert for a charity whose causes or practices I vehemently disagreed with: I might not like it, I might be annoyed, but it’s not advocating hatred of others, it’s not seeking to exclude anyone from social discourse or experience. And in a few minutes the movie starts and I can forget all that shite for 120-odd minutes. I can say boldly, “For the price of free speech, yes, I will accept some things that bother me will be said.”

So, as Jemima of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar argues, “you should never decide what another group may or may not be offended by.” (Well worth a read, that post, by the way.)

I’m sorry, but I still can’t offer you a nice, easy, rule or algorithm to say whether or not a particular thing is free speech and must be defended, or if it’s something that should be “no-platformed” or even banned outright. These are complicated matters and I do not know enough or have sufficient depth of thought to say “Haha! I have the answer!” as so many philosophers, or comment-makers who fancy themselves as such, do. All I can say is that examining the causes for your differing feelings on matters may help you pick your way through – but beware of decisions based on disgust (because others will use that rule to find you disgusting).

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Young children can feel the pain too (Content Note: Suicide, Bullying)

Content note: suicide, bullying.

The front page headline in the Cambridge News on Friday concerned a situation in which primary school children being taught about bullying were accidentally shown an online video aimed at an older audience, in which a victim of bullying took his own life.

I am, perhaps, less concerned about this than the parents, and more concerned about how the reactions reveal the disconnect between children’s reality and adults’ perceptions or wishes. One parent, quoted at length in the Cambridge News article, spoke from professional experience as, “a GP trained in psychiatry”. Her remarks demonstrate this problem clearly:

“My son came out of school looking distracted. I asked him what was the matter and he said they had watched an anti-bullying video and one of the girls was crying.

“I have worked with suicidal patients and I know that self-harm is rife among teenagers. There have been occurrences of copycat suicides among groups of teens in America.

“This video introduced the idea of suicide to a class of 9-year-olds most of whom had probably not even thought of it as a concept as something that you could or maybe should do in response to bullying. In my other son’s class their anti-bullying video showed a boy telling his teacher. This seemed a more sensible response.”

I think this is a dangerously idealised conception. Perhaps it is true that “most” kids that age haven’t thought about suicide, but the ones who actually are suffering from bullying – there’s quite a strong chance that they have. I don’t talk about my youth much here, but I will reveal a little to make my point: at age 9 I was a victim of bullying, and I seriously thought about suicide. I lay awake at night wondering how to end the suffering, and deciding that logically, I should end my own life.

Obviously, I didn’t follow through on that plan, but I was alone, isolated, and had no one to talk to me seriously about those thoughts – no one saying that it’s a serious and real thing and that the bullies are responsible for the torment. Because adults assume that children are too young to hear about suicide, to talk about suffering or desperation to that extent.

This failure to engage, supposedly intended to protect our poor innocent darlings, merely leaves them exposed and imperilled by the storms of their emotions and the viciousness of their peers (who are committing emotional, and sometimes physical, abuse – it’s just because they’re children we call it bullying and diminish the harms they can do).

While the context and analysis was undoubtedly lacking, and certainly not pitched at a level for 9 year olds to learn from the video, the idea that we shouldn’t touch these topics at all is dangerous and potentially deadly.

The doctor whom the Cambridge News quotes at such length cites evidence of copycat suicides from the US, and claims to have worked with suicidal patients. But surely the best thing is to head off the problem, and put those emotions and traumas in the open, in the field of things we can talk about, and which it is safe for victims of bullying to say honestly to those who can help?

Yes, it’s a problem that this video was shown in an unplanned and unprepared context and classroom. But nuance is everything: that this was a problem should not be used to say that children don’t have suicidal thoughts, because they do. And it should not be used to say “don’t talk about this at all”, because that just leaves those suicidal kids abandoned and without support.

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“A ghastly parody” – of an academic (my take on Greer’s transphobia)

So, a few quick thoughts on Germaine Greer’s latest attempts to defend her transphobic hate speech and hold herself unaccountable for her despicable views. (I’ve used the Guardian article for this)

She claimed a month ago, “It strikes me as a bit of a put-up job really because I am not even going to talk about the issue that they are on about.” If that’s the case, then how come the article says, “During the lecture at Cardiff University, Greer insisted in the bluntest of terms that she did not accept that post-operative men were women.”? (The article explains it was in the Q&A afterwards, but even so, it seems she was very happy to spout more of her hate speech.)

When it comes to “free speech” (my views on free speech versus no-platforming are summarised here), apparently for Greer this only goes one way:

She paused when she spotted a microphone in the audience and demanded to know if the woman holding it was recording the lecture. The woman told her she was a helper and the microphone was to ensure that people could be heard during the question-and-answer session.

Greer explained that she had asked because she said she was being “pursued” by the Guardian over the revelation that in the 1970s she wrote a 30,000-word love letter to the writer Martin Amis.

If you don’t want to be recorded at a free lecture, then don’t give a free lecture. If you claim “free speech”, people are pretty much free to judge you by what you do with it. That’s the whole issue of why there is no-platforming campaigning going on – people have heard what you have to say, and hold you accountable for it.

The bit I really wanted to think about was this soundbite:

If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know.

So… does the same logic apply to men?

“If you didn’t suffer from facial hair growth aged 13 [and cut yourself shaving every morning]…”

“If you didn’t have wet dreams when you were 13, or involuntary erections on the bus…”

“If you never had your voice break [and have to completely relearn your singing voice]…”

You might say that none of those are as bad as going through menstruation, but that’s not the point I’m making. The point is, does Greer believe gender is defined by one’s experience of puberty? (I’ve read several accounts of trans men and women that either explicitly compare, or else just make transition sound like perpetual puberty…)

It is quite a reductive (and curiously essentialist) definition of womanhood, and perhaps hints that for a certain brand of feminist womanhood is not simply socially defined, but it is also a club with rules for membership. Sort of like how traditional masculinity is enforced by men against other men.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The flip side of it is that trans women are somehow, “people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody” (quoted from previous articles written by Greer) – to which this comic offers the best rebuttal (and a trans friend told me exactly the same thing, and you can find similar stories of being forced to perform stereotypical femininity in order to be accepted by medical and legal gatekeepers).

My final point is made with a heavy heart, because violence against trans women has today been in the news again. Greer claims that, when trans women are murdered, “We have two women a week being murdered in England by their partners. They are not my fault and the transexuals in America aren’t my fault either” – but her hate speech gives succour to the murderers of trans women, and I haven’t heard her giving hate speech against women in England.

She also claimed:

Greer said five women had approached her as she travelled to Cardiff to back her stance on trans women. “They said: ‘I’m so glad that someone is saying what we think. We don’t think that post-operative male transexuals are women but we are not allowed to say so’. I will say so because I don’t believe they are women. That’s not tantamount to calling them names. I also happen to believe that the surgery is unethical.”

No, it’s not “calling them names”. It’s providing the emotive and intellectual groundwork of permissiveness towards violence against them. Those women are the thin end of the wedge that ends with murders.

I could write more, but it is enough to link the article posted today at UnCommon Sense.

I will close with one final retort to Greer’s hate speech.

When Greer says things like, “I don’t accept post-operative males as females,” or that remark about “a ghastly parody” – well, maybe we don’t accept Greer as an academic. Instead, she seems to have become a ghastly parody with her lectures, books, and newspaper articles.

Posted in Gender, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Work, teams, lunch and introversion

My job so far has been pretty good for an introverted probable-ASD having person: I basically sit at a computer and figure out which bits of information I need to gather to show that things are being done properly. If there’s a bit I don’t understand how to do, I can call for help, and I can socialise with a couple of the other new workers doing the same stuff if I feel up to it. It’s good stuff!

But today the department head sent a round-robin email announcing a meeting and inviting everyone to have lunch afterwards (on the company’s tab) – dropping in casually that it was 40-plus people.


FORTY people TOGETHER having conversation over lunch?

Since the lunch is optional (the meeting doesn’t sound optional!) I replied to the person who seemed in charge of organising this, and explained that as an introvert with suspected ASD, forty people at a lunch sounds horrendous and while it undoubtedly is intended as a team-building and ice-breaking event, I would be exhausted and forced to retreat into my shell.

This echoed pretty closely the sort of thing that came up when I took their online “Equality and Diversity” training module in the first week (before they had anything useful for us newbies to do, they said “find some training” – I chose the equality, LGBT awareness and so on. A propos of nothing in particular…). When they talked about indirect discrimination and exclusion these kinds of problems were among the examples.

I feel bold enough to say these things, as bluntly as feels necessary to signify that what works for others is not necessarily what works for me and, if the aim is inclusion, then for me to feel included maybe a variety of tactics would help. I don’t want to take away from extraverted/neurotypical/”normal” types their big social events. It’s just that for me they are no-win: if I go then I am not a part of the event anyway because I’m too busy trying to survive/shut out the overload, and unable to hear what anyone says.

I feel like I ought to round off with some deep insight to be drawn form the anecdote. I don’t know that there is one, unless it’s just that I wish I didn’t have to be bold about it.

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Grown-up things like taxes

I’ve now been in full-time paid employment for four weeks, which is the first time in nearly a decade since this has been true. While I am not suited to normal office hours, and therefore struggle with things like getting enough sleep, overall I seem to be coping okay and there are few things that feel really good. Things that make me feel like a proper grown up.

It’s not the work. It’s not the wages. It’s the things that go with that in a modern society. Things that too many people see as penalties or impositions, but I see as a badge of maturity and pride.

Basically, I’m talking about: paying taxes; paying National Insurance contributions; paying for my NHS prescription at the pharmacy.

Although I am paid the National Living Wage, it’s not actually enough to live independently for a person at my stage in life, in the area where I live. I could just about afford a single room in a shared house, but I am well past living as a student: I can live in a room in a shared house already, with my parents!

Be that as it may, I am proud to see on my payslip that I am now helping to pay for society, and not taking (I haven’t even got around to claiming tax credits!)

When you pay tax, you say, “I am able to support others. I am an adult, a grown-up, a responsible person.” This is how it feels to me, anyway. Paying tax is a big thing. It’s a sign of success, of playing my part. I guess I feel that way because for a long time I have not been able to. I haven’t been asked to. I’ve been unemployed. A friend through my sister spent a long time on one of the benefits for being too ill to work (I forget which) and she shared her joy when her doctor finally found medication that worked for her and she could start work, in exactly those terms: “I get to pay tax! It’s great!” We share that emotion. Taxation as a plus, a thing that lifts us up.

So when people run to the politicians who promise to cut taxes, and don’t look at the flipside of cutting services or selling them off to private companies, of leaving the worst off stranded and unsupported because they are deemed “undeserving” – well, you can imagine the side-eye looks I’m giving.

They seem no different than the child who wants nothing but dessert for every meal, or who sulks at being asked to help clearing the table afterwards. Or worse, the attitude from the very wealthy is like the child who reasons that they’ve helped with the chores so they don’t have to be the one to help out with anything else.

It might be stretching a point somewhat to quote St Paul’s famous passage about maturity in the spirit (1 Corinthians 13:11): “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (Quoted from the NIV) But all the same, the principle stands. When you are mature enough, successful enough, and part of society enough, to be asked to pay tax – you are no longer a child, and you should abandon the selfish, childish ways. Accept and revel in your tax bill as a sign that you are a grown-up. And if your tax bill is big, then that just makes you even bigger. Trying to duck out of it just makes you a child, unfit to have the position and wealth you crave so much.

Tax was not always thus: and for the poorest, it can indeed be a problem when governments impose, with regressive taxation such as VAT, or by taking so much that it’s impossible to make ends meet on the lowest incomes. But in a progressive tax system, to be able to pay tax and to be asked to pay tax should be a point of pride.

I wasn’t a freeloader when I was claiming benefits: I wanted to be able to pay my way. I wanted to work. Now I am working, I am proud to pay back for what I received. But those who avoid tax, or vote for lower taxes, they are freeloaders, childish, shameful.

Pay Your Taxes With Pride should be a slogan, if it isn’t already.

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Of Davros, parenting and trade-offs

RuralRover @ Counselling in Northumberland has a fascinating piece in response to an “open letter” that a mother wrote to her 10-yr-old son, publoished in the Guardian today. I haven’t read the letter and don’t really wish to address it directly, but rather, turn my thoughts to the concepts raised by RuralRover’s thoughts. And to keep it on-topic, I’ll try to frame it as a writer’s perspective.

The theme that comes through most strongly is that old teenagers’ retort, “I didn’t ask to be born!”

And I got to thinking about what the assumptions and backstory have to be to make that a retort worth making. These ideas aren’t particularly new, and philosophers have discussed them for centuries. On the other hand, it is worth looking (as RR does) at what the ideas mean emotionally and in terms of our relationships with one another.

As a writer, the snippets of letter that RR quotes are fuel for a great relationship drama about youth vs parenthood. How the fictional family would reach its crisis point and resolve it is wide open, of course, and the author could make it dark or heartwrenching or heartwarming quite easily.

RR notes:

The writer is lonely, struggling, feeling underappreciated, looking for support from their children instead of the adults around them. This is partly, again, a lack of boundaries, but is also a cry for help, a desperate need that will try to cling to anything for support, no matter how inappropriate.

Such rich material for a gripping narrative. But a writer always needs to be able to appreciate the antagonist’s point of view as well as their protagonist: in las month’s Doctor Who Magazine, Steven Moffat actually made some sense when he wrote about why Davros is such a powerful villain: it’s because he isn’t just “evil”, he has a motivation, a vision of the world towards which he works, a determination to see his “offspring” survive in a hostile world. He literally shapes them into an image of himself, and thus are born the Daleks, and he works, again and again, to see them prosper. Even when they do not appreciate him for it. In his firts story, they turn on him and exterminate him. Later, they rebel and he builds a new species of dalek. And when they come back to him for help, regardless of previous betrayal, he welcomes them (though always seeking their obedience to his vision of their future).

This detour leads us to the idea that, in terms of a family narrative like the one presented by RR’s analysis, anyone writing the story would have to understand the child’s perspective on the world just as much as the mother’s pain and desires. When the child is seen as antagonist, the writer would seek to understand what a 10-yr-old is looking for in life, what values and needs motivate them? That’s the theme that RR develops, looking at the letter from a counsellor’s perspective.

But the question that got me thinking was, as I said, “why do teens say ‘I didn’t ask to be born?'” Philosophers have acknowledged that we don’t choose to come into existence. We find ourselves in a world not of our choosing, and with no say in the matter. But “I didn’t ask to be born” isn’t simply a statement of fact. It’s intended to imply some ethical or emotional truth as well, and it is always a response to a situation or statement, not merely a statement in itself.

As RR points out, the statement to which it is a response is along the lines of, “I did all this for you, now you owe me [your time/obedience/effort/love/respect].”

As someone who still remembers being a tormented, emotional and frankly screwed up teen, who said “I didn’t ask to be born” sometimes out of a wish to no longer exist as much as out of a response to others (yes, my depression goes that far back, though it took ten or fifteen years before I acknowledged it as what it was), I feel like I know this to be true.

The choice to bring a new life into the world brings the responsibility to take care of that life, even if the person they become falls somewhat short of the idealised version of them that motivated your choice. The idea that they owe you for a deal that they had no say in entering does seem rather autocratic. It is the tyrant’s “These people need my guiding hand, it’s only right that I should take what I want in return for my benevolence.”

But at the same time, we cannot say that young people cannot be called to account for their actions and how they exist in the world either. Respect, time, even to some extent obedience, are significant parts of people relating to each other. I include obedience because though I remember not fully recognising it when I was younger, adults compared to children do tend to have a bit more experience of the world and of how it (and people, and communities) work, and listening and following instructions can help navigate and inform.

It is the idea of a quid pro quo “I did this for you, now you must do this for me” that causes the problem. Instead of inviting children to engage as people, there is a sense of buying one’s own children, treating them and their emotions as tradable assets. When you make it about a trade, the person can rightly object, “I did not agree to enter such a trade”, and that’s how teenagers feel.

But to teach the value and respect for others in the moment, regardless of what they have or haven’t done for you or against you, that is a place of acceptance and of honesty. There’s a lot of functional things we have to teach to the next generation as well, to make sure they are prepared to function, and that sometimes we as children did not want to learn or did not understand the value of at the time. Yes, for the grown-up that’s a challenge, and seemingly unrewarding. But you shouldn’t do it for a reward.

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MAAB, disguised as a man

Waitinggirl @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar writes today about the different experiences of make-up that women have, and how there is no One True Narrative of what it means. The context is that apparently there’s been a recent flurry of “trans women seeking advice oppress cis women” (yawn, nope, learn a new tune!)

I’m somewhere on the cis-ish/not-quite-trans area of the gender spectrum, flitting mentally between a sense of myself as more male and more female with relative ease in my own mind and utter calamity when I think of expressing the more trans/feminine side of that.

I’ve been spat at, yelled at, and windscreen wiper fluid sprayed on me, from passing cars while expressing just the slightest gender nonconformity or “queer” behaviour or appearance. It hasn’t happened every time I’ve pushed at the boundaries but often enough that I tend to hide from public displays of gender difference behind a veneer of cis respectability. I can pretend to be like the comfortable binary “Others” I see around me. (“Others” here used to signify that they are other than me; in social terms, I am the Other but I’m hiding it).

And that hiding means I have experiences like this one, which is what I immediately remembered as I read Waitinggirl’s piece:

I was just beginning to explore my gender variability with more awareness of myself and that there was such a thing as nonbinary and trans identity. I had gone into the big town, and as usual that meant I had some kind of appointment. When I have an appointment, I dress smartly, by the norms of “male” dress. A suit and tie, therefore: perfectly respectable, if tubby. But today I wanted to do something else as well. I wanted to buy my first makeup. I had read some tips about trans women’s basics and wanted to have at the very least some lipstick, eye makeup (I love doing my eyes, still what I have most of!) and I had some vague ideas about “foundation” but not really what it’s for.

I still had long hair back then, and Lord knows, that’s been enough for some people to hate me as nonconforming, but it didn’t seem like enough.

So I’m dressed like that when I go into Body Shop (because I knew where that was, and recognised the name) and, looking very much like a Man, had to explain that I needed help choosing things that suited my complexion. I was very self-conscious, and I am grateful to every salesperson (all of them women) who have helped me then, and since, because all of them took it in their stride.

A similar story is described on this blog about <a href="https://valerynorth.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/boobs-and-bras-an-odyssey/going to buy bras for myself. Again, I had to go into that shop disguised as a man with my smart suit on and explain my situation, reveal that I am not in fact what I look like in order to have some assistance in maybe looking like what I wish to. I wore my boobs & bra in public once (under regular clothes!) and that was to a trans/nonbinary munch rather than a general social or professional event. I might try wearing my boobs & bra more regularly as a way into signalling that I’m not quite the same, but do I dare? What else might I dare use to signal or be accepted as the not-quite maleness?

So I wear a disguise every day and dream of being able to say with confidence what I really am because there’s some evidence for people to hang their ideas about me on, rather than just the man I’m disguised as, claiming to be other than a man.

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