Sequinned Mannequin

Small thoughts that have become too big to keep inside my brain. Small things that asked my camera to make them big. Music that makes my insides feel big and my outsides feel small.

Essay: Masculinity, Authority, and the Illusion of Objectivity in Academic Discourse

Originally, before uploading my MA dissertation for the internet’s eyes, I was going to return to it and edit further to resolve some of its glaring issues. As is not uncommon, however, I have changed my mind about that. For one, it’s done now, it is what it is, it’s a year old, it’s been assessed, and although I don’t want to think of it as a dead piece of work that’s only function was to be graded, there doesn’t seem to be much point in further cosmetic tinkering at this stage. For another, I want this to be the springboard for my PhD proposal and further research, so its many imperfections will, I hope, be worked out through that, and provide inspiration for it.

At the moment I’m grappling with how to expand this into a bigger project, what direction to take it in, what discipline I should even focus on as although my MA was ostensibly in literary theory it spans many different areas, and how I can make whatever I decide to do as Research Council-friendly as possible. So. Any comments/feedback/constructive criticism/ideas are more than welcome!

Masculinity, Authority, and the Illusion of Objectivity in Academic Discourse

Dickishness, Doormattery, and the Difficulty of Distinguishing the Difference – aka DOUBT

Sometimes people are dicks. Sometimes they’re really obvious dicks, of the kind one internally mutters ‘oh look, a dick,’ about, and sometimes they are less obvious dicks disguising themselves as non-dicks. It is often unclear whether these people are simply not aware themselves of their dickishness, or if they are more fiendishly clever and manipulative than it seems worth the effort of being when you could just be an obvious dick instead and achieve the same result. Maybe they are In Denial. Perhaps that is why a lot of the time when people are dicks they do a very good job of convincing you that actually you are the dick, or at least you would be if you were thinking of taking issue with the dickish thing they just did, and they are just being normal, so how could you possibly have any kind of problem with them? At its most effective, this is so pre-emptive and passive-aggressive that you find yourself conditioned into thinking ‘I don’t want to be a dick about this’ when someone has just smuggled in being a total bellend under the guise of lalala just going around being a person doing normal stuff that of course you don’t have a problem with because you don’t want to create an issue, do you? Oh yes, I forgot, your raging cuntery is all my fault. If I didn’t have a problem, there would be no problem, so clearly the blame lies with me and is nothing to do with your dickery at all.

And this is the bit where I have difficulty sorting out what is really going on (as much as anything is ever ‘really’ going on). It’s can be difficult to tell whether a) someone is being a dick or b) you are perceiving dickishness where none is present, and allied to this it can be difficult to tell whether a) they are intentionally being a dick, b) they are accidentally being a dick, c) they are being an intentional dick and unintentionally making you feel like it is your fault, d) they are being an unintentional dick but intentionally making you feel like it is your fault because they have projected it all on to you, or e) they are being an intentional dick and intentionally making you feel like it is your fault. Therefore, it is difficult to have an appropriate response, what with it taking quite a long time to sort out who is being a dick and whether it is on purpose and to what degree the other person has a conscious or unconscious desire to trowel all their own shit onto you. Some cases are clear cuntery, but what of the others? The ones where maybe something doesn’t quite sit right, or there is a slow dawning of realisation that maybe you are not getting the respect and consideration you assumed. In these situations, generally speaking, I am alternately ashamed and proud to admit, for reasons to be explained, that I spend what is probably an unreasonable length of time being what is commonly known as a doormat.

At first, I thought this was just about being nice and accommodating and, you know, not a dick. So when my ex-landlord said he’d sort out the fact the windows didn’t open in my new flat but it might take a while because reasons I said oh ok fine. There are REASONS. And when he came one day to take the bathroom door handle off because you couldn’t shut it without risk of being permanently imprisoned in there, realised he couldn’t fix it, promised to come back the next day, and never materialised but said he’d been very busy, what with having a business and his own house and a spouse and a child and all that, I said oh ok fine. REASONS. Poor put-upon landlord is busy man, I can live without windows or bathroom doors that close, I do not need a garden I can actually venture out into without being eaten by it, it is no hardship that the items in my wardrobe are mouldy because the flat is so damp and there are actual mushrooms growing out of the window frames. BUSY. MAN. REASONS. And I am being nice, aren’t I? I understand that my landlord is not just a landlord but also a husband and a father and a person with life things to attend to, and he is a nice man with a nice dog and he owns a bookshop and I like books and we get on well and isn’t, ultimately, all of that more important than windows that open and not dying of complications from excessive fungus? I have integrity, I thought. I am not doing that thing that people do when they don’t get what they want in precisely the way they want it and they turn purple with rage and beat their fists on the table shouting ‘I’M PAYING FOR THIS! BRING ME MY PERFECT PERFECTION THAT I AM GIVING YOU GOOD SHILLINGS AND PENCE FOR BEFORE I SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST OR EXPLODE LIKE THE MAN IN MONTY PYTHON WITH THE WAFFER THIN MINT’. I could do that, but I will not do so, because I am far more VIRTUOUS and MORAL than that. I will not be a jobsworth who quotes lines of the contract like a parrot with Tourette’s, because everyone hates it when people do that and I am an eminently REASONABLE human being who is not going to have a toddler tantrum because everything isn’t hunky dory. Life isn’t hunky dory, you see – I learnt this as an actual toddler: it’s just not fair. I am being MATURE and REALISTIC and MANY OTHER POSITIVE ADJECTIVES.

Then there is a smaller voice that says, of course, it’s all swell to justify this to yourself as an act of extreme benevolence and take the moral high ground whilst you glide towards that cloud of good karma over there and wait for it to engulf you – in a nice way, like a steam room – but aren’t you maybe being a little bit of a… well… you know. A coward? Shouldn’t you really be strapping on a pair of metaphorical testicles, or even literal ones should you so desire and have a willing donor, and going at least mildly pink and maybe just touching the table with your hand a bit and whispering ‘um, well, um, ok, well, um, you know, I sort of, well, um, sortof, I um, seethatyou’rebusyandeverythingbut, um, well, the thing is, I’m sort of, well, you know, payingsevenhundredpoundsamonthtolivehere so do you think maybe, you know, you could, sort of, um, well, FIX THE GODDAMN FUCKING WINDOWS?’

It just never seems as important, somehow, to have the windows, as it does to have the friendly. As it does to not be an inconvenience. I discussed this with my therapist and we came to the conclusion that I would rather live in a mouldy hole with no windows, for example, than make myself unpopular. Being liked, rather pathetically, and not being perceived as difficult, are apparently very high priorities in my world. I’m still undecided about what this means. On the one hand, I kind of wish everyone placed a higher value on having good relationships with people, but on the other, it’s not all that great for my esteem or self-respect to come to the realisation that I seem to go out of my way to lie down in the most wrinkle-free manner possible, so that people can walk all over me without any trip hazards, and I can see how this is something that happens in all my relationships, which is even less great in the non-business world. It also puts one at a disadvantage, because most people do not seem to operate on this basis and instead sniff out ‘weakness’ so they can easily take advantage. In our rather mercenary society, there is more of an emphasis on getting what you can for yourself than being considerate of other people, and traits like not being a ‘pushover’, treating business as business, and ‘standing up for yourself’ or getting the ‘respect’ you ‘deserve’ are valued more highly than being understanding, accommodating, and tolerant. (Although, it must be said, it would be much easier to convincingly polish my halo until it blinded all for miles around and rattle off some spiel about how I’m just too goddamn nice if I was in fact in any way nice, accommodating, understanding, or tolerant. I am none of these things. Which is what tells me that there is probably a lot less of the noble self-sacrificing going on than there is being afraid of what people will think.)

My therapist, who I suppose must be more useful than I am often inclined to think if he assisted me to the realisation of two whole things, also pointed out that I seem to think people are doing me a favour even when they get at least as much out of the deal as I do, thus leading me to feel so small and inconvenient, as if I am incumbent upon them, that I will do everything in my power to be as unobtrusive as possible. Hence my landlord becomes a poor poor man saddled with the awful awful task of having me as a tenant, with all my crazy outlandish requirements like windows and bathroom doors, as opposed to being a guy who found himself in the luxurious position of having a spare property and managing to secure a nice tidy tenant who will pay the rent in full and on time despite it being far more than a glorified shoe box is worth, and who will only briefly mention the fact it is lacking in several basic features.

I’m having a similar issue with my current landlord, whom we rented our flat from on the basis that the garden – a terrifyingly overgrown wilderness possibly laced with London’s most exotic and deadly creatures and, we found out after moving in, definitely laced with asbestos – would be cleared and prettified and made new in whatever manner we so desired no less than one month after we moved in. It got to the end of that month, and due to a persistently misbehaving sink, by this time we had seen rather a lot of our new landlord and discovered rather a lot about her traumatic experience of finding herself with three mortgages leaving her bank account, only one set of tenants (us), and her own house in complete chaos because it’s new and she’s refurbishing it. In episode two, she found some tenants for house number two! Yay! But she was so busy sorting all THAT out that she couldn’t, of course, sorry, come and do anything to our garden. Then in episode three it turns out her new neighbour is an abusive drunk, so she cannot stay in the place she has been renovating instead of sorting out our garden – which she can’t afford to pay someone to do on account of the three mortgages – and now everything is even more chaotic what with selling the house and finding somewhere else to stay so there is no chance, sorry, of her being able to do anything with our garden because it simply isn’t a priority for her right now.

This is where it becomes problematic to have a friendly thing going on with someone you are also in contracted business with. Instead of thinking of it as a business transaction, as money paid for services rendered and all that, I’m thinking of this in terms of real live life people, of friends, of favours. Our landlord is doing us an enormous favour, giving us somewhere to live! Our landlord is having a terribly hard time and we must do everything we can to make it easier! This is reinforced by the fact that right from the start she made her situation with all the empty houses clear – our flat was on the market for more than we could afford, but seeing that it had been advertised a while, I emailed her and asked if she would take an offer. She came down a bit, but still not enough. Then a few weeks later she contacted me again and said ok, the flat was still empty, she was getting a bit panicky, so she’d come down further even though it meant our rent was less than her mortgage. It was still £50 more than our top budget, but it is a very nice flat, and she seemed like a very nice lady, so we went for it, being grateful that we didn’t have to go through a letting agency. But this further compounded the idea that she was doing us a favour – she wasn’t even covering her mortgage! We didn’t have to deal with an agent! She’s losing money on us! We must not cause any problems because she has been so VERY VERY KIND making all these allowances for us.

But hang on. Hang on just a second. She isn’t ‘losing money’ – WE are paying HER mortgage. Sure, we get somewhere to live in return, but she’s not LOSING anything, is she? She’s just paying £50 per month towards her OWN MORTGAGE. And whilst it surely is stressful having three mortgages coming out of your account and a precarious tenant situation, you know what having three mortgages means? OWNING THREE PROPERTIES! All of the money paid into these mortgages, whether by us or by her, are paying off HER LOANS. Sure, she might not be making a profit out of us at this point in time, but overall she is. Overall she owns that much more of her flat each month, has that much less debt, and while we live in it, pay her mortgage, enabling her to keep it, it appreciates in value. We are safeguarding her future profit (not to mention that although people do tend to rent out their places on the assumption that they will make money off the rent, that is neither guaranteed nor right). And whilst having a friendly relationship is nice, whilst being able to communicate as human beings rather than business drones is how I’d probably say I wanted things to be, it obscures all of this. It means that we are not looking at the facts – all of the above plus that we chose to rent this property based on the fact it had a garden and would not have done so if it didn’t, or if we didn’t have the assurance that the garden would be useable within a month, and that the garden is part of what we are paying the rent for, we are not able to use it, and therefore the situation is unsatisfactory. From that point of view it is totally irrelevant what her personal life is like or whether she has the time/money/energy to do what is necessary. She is obliged to take responsibility for it and none of her other business is my concern.

But it is my concern, because I know about it now. And as much as I want to not care about those things, I can’t quite bring myself to. Yes, I might be within my rights to kick and scream all I like until I get exactly what I paid for and the terms of my contract are fulfilled to the letter, but is that really how I want to be? Do I really want to fight? I can’t just stack up the facts without also stacking up the human cost. Ok, yes, she has three properties and is in a far better financial position than me as a result, and she’s not upholding her responsibilities to me, but I know, and I can’t unknow, that the reason for that is that she’s got stuff going on in her life that is stressful, pressing, and making her ill. Even though it doesn’t seem fair or right, and even though it’s tempting to just think well fuck her and her three houses, what’s that got to do with me, I don’t want to be the person who adds to that stress. Even if that stress comes as a result of being in a more fortunate position than me, I can’t square it with my conscience to make a big issue out of it even though I’m really quite pissed off. (I think there may also be part of me that feels guilty for having the luxury of a garden and doesn’t feel like I really deserve it anyway.) But I don’t want my garden this way, is the thing. I don’t just want my garden by hook or by crook, at any cost. I want my garden given freely or I don’t want it at all, because then it is poisoned. (Funnily enough, it literally is poisoned, thanks to a broken down asbestos shed, which is one of the reasons we can’t sort it out ourselves – the others being that it is shared with the flat above, so we can’t just do whatever we want, it’s VERY overgrown and is therefore a pretty enormous job, and even if we did clear it we’d then have a large expanse of bare earth that I don’t personally want to spend the money cultivating as we’re hopefully not going to be confined to renting for all eternity. Plus, you know, I just don’t really want to, on the basis that I wouldn’t ever have signed a tenancy agreement on the place if a DIY job was the deal – not averse to a spot of gardening, but definitely averse to paying someone for the privilege of making their urban jungle into an inner-city oasis.) And, also, y’know, it isn’t just about the garden.

Now, far from being about whether or not the garden is sorted, it’s become about whether or not I’m being taken for a ride. It throws the whole relationship into question. Is she telling me these things because she wants the friendly relationship too, and she’s sorry, and she wants me to understand why she’s reneged on two pledges – the first to get the garden done by the end of June, then another to do it by the end of July? Or is she being clever and manipulative, pre-empting any protest or complaint I might have and silencing it with tales of woe? Now it’s about doubt, and trust, and betrayal. And it’s about anger – at being in a position where I have to decide how to respond to someone else not keeping their end of the bargain, whether to be the ‘bad guy’ who pulls them up on it or not. And I have a long history of finding myself in this sort of situation, contorting myself into knots so as not to be a hindrance, trying to predict others’ actions so I can solve any problems ahead of them arising, get out of the way, make everything nice before it ever gets not-nice. And then exploding with rage when the other person doesn’t do the same, or when I – eventually, after a much longer time than is reasonable – realise that I am being taken advantage of, or where I have to wonder whether that is what’s happening, and when that is eventually realised, and raised, and somehow I am framed as the demanding, unreasonable, difficult one. It’s after months or years of putting another person’s needs first, almost unconsciously, then being told I’m irrationally, inconceivably, over-the-top needy when the penny finally drops and I say hang on, what about me? What about what I need? (And, of course, what happens when I decide to meet more of my own needs, if the other won’t meet them, and put less into theirs? Oh my god! You bitch! You evil selfish bitch!)

But even taking into account all of the above, when it comes to things like this I just wonder, is it actually worth it, or do I just get the knowledge that no-one ‘got the better of’ me? And what does that mean? Because I can choose what I think is better and it doesn’t really matter what the other person thinks. They can think they’ve ‘won’ if they want – I don’t have to agree. A lot of the focus on this stuff seems to be about pride but if you decide it doesn’t matter then, well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Especially because what I might think of as a battle may barely even register on the other person’s agenda as being anything other than a small matter of business. They don’t think they’ve won. They don’t see me as someone they have trampled. I’m assuming, anyway, that most people aren’t that conniving. And also that most people who get to be this kind of dick get to be it because it’s an institutionalised kind of dickery. People in positions of power don’t see their power unless someone fights them for it. And then, of course, it’s the rebel who has ‘power issues’. Perhaps this is why it feels all the harder to try and take some power back in situations where there is an imbalance – the knowledge that it will be all the more noticeable and unwelcome, all the more a statement. It’s never just ‘fair enough, they’re fighting for what they’re owed’ – if it was seen that way, the fight wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. The only reason it needs to be contested is because either consciously or unconsciously, the person who isn’t giving us what they owe doesn’t think we’re entitled to it. Or at least, their entitlement to whatever they would have to compromise in order to give us what we’re due is more important. People who are very skilled at spinning and believing their own sense of entitlement also draw others in, so it seems natural. On a broader scale, that’s how hegemonic ideologies work. On a smaller scale, that’s how people fuck you over whilst enlisting you to help.

Now as much as I might think all this is wrong, and however strident I feel about challenging inequality and people being dicks on either a collective or individual level, I still have to choose how much energy I have for that challenge, how much resilience, and whether I can tolerate it permeating every aspect of my existence in the way that it does, for me at least, when there is disharmony with other individuals in my life. I’m just imagining what would happen if I said what I wanted to say- if I said what I say when I’m recounting a tale of some thorny encounter, where I put my thoughts into phrases beginning ‘and I was like…’, and my listener asks, agog, ‘did you REALLY say that?’ and I say, confusedly, ‘no, of course I didn’t SAY that, it’s what I was THINKING’ – if I said the thinking things instead of just thinking them. I do not think that would go well. I would definitely be a difficult customer. People would not like me. They already do not like me because I am accidentally rude when I am not even intending to be. But still, the times I am at least thinking a bad thing are probably better than the times when I do not. At least then there is a recognition of a process happening, and a choice being made about how to handle it. Which is quite different to becoming unwittingly complicit.

And the thing with becoming unwittingly complicit, is that at some point you become witting, and then you are just unwillingly complicit. That is when the resentment sets in and poisons everything. And that is when I start feeling that maybe I’m not entirely sure the nice approach works all that well, because at the pivotal moment when I realise that I am not being nice, but am in fact being a stupid, the fantasy of the nice relationship is shattered and becomes not just fraught but toxic. But you don’t know that until you find out that what you thought was two-way niceness is actually unidirectional, and that’s when you’ve already let it all go further than you can recover it from. You don’t know whether the being nice pays off until the other person’s niceness is tested, and if they turn out to be a dick it’s too late, and then it’s hard not to want to go after them with a pointy stick, or not to completely hate them, and yourself for trusting them, and decide never to be nice to anyone ever again in case the same thing happens. But that’s not the answer. Is it?

I don’t really know what the answer is. As you may have guessed. You see, I was nice about the windows and the mould with my ex-landlord, and I thought that the niceness would go both ways, but when I moved out he deducted £150 from my deposit for a mark I made on the (already completely dilapidated) floor. And I contested it, on the grounds of having lived without windows for a year, and the bathroom door going unfixed, and having sorted the garden out myself even though it was communal and he said he’d do it, and having lived with the piles of rotting furniture in the garden that he said he’d dispose of, and the mould. None of which, I understand, are directly related to the floor, but my point was that we both failed a bit in our responsibilities and as I was very accommodating of his failures, perhaps he could treat mine in the same spirit. But nope. He still took his £150. At which point I was seized with an earnest desire to knock his head off. (Even more so after I said I would consent to the deduction if he would provide me with a quote for the repairs so I could claim it on insurance and it took him over two months to provide me with said documentation. Two months! I decided not to go ahead with it in the end – the insurance company then wanted a second quote and the chances of getting it this century seem slim.) Anyway. Now I find myself doing the same kind of thing with my current landlord and it scares me a bit, because I don’t want to do that awful thing of cutting off from the possibility of trusting anyone else not to be a dick just because people in the past have been, but I find myself wondering how nice and understanding she would be if I needed her to be – if I had to be late with rent one week, perhaps – and wondering whether it sets a dangerous precedent to be such a walkover. But I don’t want to be a pre-emptive arsehole just to prove a point. I shouldn’t have to, surely? Shouldn’t people just not walk all over people in the first place, regardless of how easy that other person makes it for them? And doesn’t it then make it hard to know who you can trust because they’re actually trustworthy rather than because they know they just can’t get away with that shit with you, but that won’t stop them doing it to someone else? Perhaps that’s a question more relevant to personal than business arrangements though – maybe in business you just have to take no prisoners and be very clear, from the outset, that you are not to be fucked with.

Landlords are in kind of a unique position of power though. Even though they clearly have many responsibilities in excess of collecting rent each month and deciding how much of your deposit they can attempt to justify withholding at the end of the tenancy, they rarely seem to take them very seriously. They seem to see it as a favour to maintain the property or fix a problem, to think that tenants will live with the same excuses they make to themselves for not doing whatever needs to be done to their own houses. Except, you can live in whatever condition you like, you can choose to buy dog food instead of door locks if you wish, you can make do because you don’t have the money or want to put it elsewhere, but you don’t get to make that decision when someone else is paying you for their home. Your spare property isn’t just a cash cow that you can stick people in, collect rent on, and ignore. You do have to maintain it. To a better standard than you’d probably like, and likely than you do your own house. Things you wouldn’t personally prioritise aren’t optional in this situation. Your tenant might not mind either, may be understanding, but they shouldn’t have to be, and if they are, you should be exceptionally grateful for them saving you from having to live up to one of your many responsibilities.

The problem is that landlords are by and large pretty shit at their jobs, but no-one can afford to get into an argument with the person who owns their home. Because – well, read that again – they. own. your. home. Most people can’t afford to make waves and either jeopardise the security of the fact of having a home or at least infect its sanctity with acrimony. Landlords can be shit because tenants can’t take their business elsewhere – at least not for a minimum of six months, not without significant stress and expense, and in the knowledge that the alternatives could easily be worse. If you’re a landlord in a city like London, you can basically do whatever the hell you want, advertise a dump knowing that someone will still pay over the odds to live in it, and rely on the competitive market to do all the work for you. People do not enjoy moving house, and moving house costs a lot of money what with putting down new deposits before getting old ones back, and paying months of rent upfront, and agency fees, duplicated bills, men with ven or removal people, factoring in the time to actually move and then be in upheaval – unless you’re sharing your flat with several types of vermin, a simply unsatisfactory property probably isn’t enough to make you move. Especially if you can already only just about afford what you have, being as rent will have gone up about ten quid in the time it took to have a shower.

As far as I can tell, tenants have two responsibilities: pay the rent, and don’t trash the place. Ideally, look after it very well. I won’t say ‘treat it like their own home’ because the way some people treat their homes is enough to shock even my eyes, although it is a curious thing that landlords often seem to expect to receive their property back in the same condition they rented it in, utterly ignoring the ‘fair wear and tear’ thing. It’s a home, not a hotel. A maid doesn’t clean it every day. It isn’t just somewhere to sleep and shower. How does your home look now, compared to one, two, three, four years ago? How are your carpets and curtains holding up? How many marks are there on your paintwork?

Landlords have just the one thing to do, when it comes down to it: make sure all the stuff the tenant is paying for works, and fix anything that breaks quickly. Not having to sort this shit out, and pay for it, is the ONLY advantage to renting over owning. Except that it isn’t, most of the time, because most of the time broken things stay broken, promises to rectify issues similarly so, and you find yourself paying full whack for a place that isn’t up up standard and that you wouldn’t have moved into in the first place had you known all these magical solutions you based your decision on were never going to materialise. But once you’re living there it’s difficult to get anything done because tenants have no bargaining power. Withholding rent is still breaking the contract, even if the landlord broke it first by failing to maintain the property. It’s not worth the risk, given that to rent a place – in London at least – you need a clean credit check and decent references (not to mention an income of 30 times the monthly rent, which is ludicrous given the percentage of income that actually goes on rent).

So. The available choices are limited. But I can’t honestly say that it’s just this, or even mostly this, that stops me kicking up a fuss. It’s just a matter of low confidence. A matter of seeing myself as somehow indebted to everyone for deigning to give me any of their precious time. Ironically, I think that this is why people think I’m rude and unfriendly. But it’s not unfriendliness, it’s fear, and discomfort, and self-consciousness. It’s trying to remain as small and unobtrusive and uninconvenient as possible. I feel pretty much like my mere existence is an inconvenience that I should at all times be compensating and apologising for, but I also feel like apologising and compensating are inherently quite attention-grabbing, so in an effort to not make a spectacle of myself I do things that come across as, I think, selfish and rude. Le sigh.

I discovered this weekend that if you can’t fit in with what everyone else is doing, every possible alternative is problematic in that they all seem to demand attention when that’s the very opposite of the objective. I was away for the weekend with a group of people, some of whom I knew better than others. Groups are not my forte, which I doubt comes as a surprise, and particularly at the moment I’m experiencing such a crippling level of social awkwardness that I feel of a completely difference species. I’m not at ease speaking in large groups, I get anxious about what to say, I can’t think of anything to contribute to conversations that don’t interest me or chitchat – and in a group most conversation seems to float on the surface, because you can’t have a meaningful eight-way discussion – and nothing I can think of ever seems worth the energy of finding a space in which to say it and putting the words out there. The chattier the rest of the people, the harder it is to take the floor, and I certainly don’t feel that what I have to add is any more important than what any of the other seven people might want to say at the same time (not to mention the mortifying experience of starting to talk at the same time as someone else and having to negotiate who gives way to who, which is guaranteed to make me never want to speak again and definitely not say whatever it was I was planning, which now feels like it has to be the most scintillating statement ever made). Also I’m quite slow with verbal communication so I tend to find that by the time I’ve formulated a response the conversation has moved on. I have to rehearse going into a shop to buy something, or ordering food in a restaurant, so off-the-cuff fast-paced multi-person conversations are really not something that I find it easy or enjoyable to contribute to. I like to talk to people one-on-one, where turn-taking is a much more straightforward, or to write, where no-one can interrupt me, pressure me for a response, talk over me, and which I just find about a million times easier and faster than using my mouth.

So anyway. The weekend. In a group, I don’t really mind not talking. I’m happy to listen and observe most of the time. But not participating is generally considered to be quite rude, so I’m always aware that whilst I feel like I’m just an invisible observer, the people I’m with probably feel like I’m a sulky, possibly judgemental, cow. Ditto when all the social gets too much and I need to go away and be in quietness, I assume no-one will notice that I have gone, but of course at some point they do and then I worry that they think I’m massively rude for going away and being on my own instead of joining in, or that I’m being attention-seeky and wanting them to come and find me. Whatever I do that isn’t laughing and joking and chatting, which at times feels as impossible as reciting the Bible backwards, ends up seeming like a statement. I thought about maybe announcing that I needed a bit of space and saying hey guys it’s nothing personal but I’m going to sit in the garden on my own of a bit, but that draws attention to it too, and more than not wanting to draw attention to myself I don’t want people to think that I am trying to do so. I don’t want to be that person who refuses to join in and makes everything about them. I don’t want to not be invited to things because I make other people feel awkward, or because they fear I’m going to be weirdly passive-aggressive and demand attention whilst proclaiming that I’m not. I’m just. Not. That’s so not what it’s about. It’s not a game. I don’t run away so that people will follow me. I don’t go quiet because I’m sulking about not being the centre of attention. I’m just doing what I need to do to survive. I guess maybe it is selfish not to participate and join in with the fun, but I quite often can’t. And for me, it isn’t fun. I wish I wasn’t like this, I wish I could put on a brave face and make social chitchat and it didn’t render me so intensely anxious as to either be on the verge of panic or in dissociative shutdown, but I am, and it does, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

All in all, everything is a bit problematic. I spend so much energy trying to be likeable and easy for other people that I forget to ask myself whether I even like them, whether I respect them, whether I really care whether they like me or not. I’m so focused on not making life difficult for others that I fail to see, for much longer than is healthy, that they are often making life difficult for me. Or letting me make life difficult for myself. The fact that I can’t bear for people to have what I think is the ‘wrong impression’ of me prevents me from forming an impression of them. I’m so busy trying to guess and anticipate other people’s needs that I don’t consider my own – and don’t really know what to do or how to handle it if someone else does it for me. And yet, I fail in all these measures because I’m not very good at any of these things. I’m not good at being nice or charming or putting people at their ease, I’m not good at making myself likeable, I’m not good at putting shiny sparkle on everything and making others feel good about themselves. I’m not good at meeting others’ needs, only at fretting and guessing what they might be and probably doing the opposite of what they want/need because I’ve interpreted it all wrong. In the end, it’s a massive waste of energy that has me running in circles, typing myself in knots, and benefiting precisely nobody.

Anyway. I have strayed far from my topic. In short, as always, there is a problem with balance and boundaries. That old chestnut. Gauging what is ok, what is not, what is unavoidable, what is not, what is just the way things are, what can and should be different, what is my shit, what is someone else’s, what I should take responsibility for, what I should disown, what I am being honest with myself about, what I am projecting, what is healthy, what is not, when to fight, when to let go, when to give, how much to give, what is giving and what only looks like it, how to tell what is right and what only feels right because it’s easy, how to tell what is right and what only seems like it must be right because it’s hard, what is an unhealthy pattern, what is sensible, what is a pattern that is also sensible. Everything at the moment is doubt. Everything is unclear.

And I’ve written nearly 7000 words on this now, and I’ve added bits over the course of three weeks, and I’m still not really any clearer, so probably that means I should stop now. I can’t even remember what the point was any more.

Song: Ben Frost – Sola Fide

I would not advise you to listen to Ben Frost’s latest, remarkable, album on a song by song basis. Despite this, I am hypocritically butchering this track from its surroundings on the near-impeccable A U R O R A in an attempt to whet your appetite and convince you that taking the whole record in its entirety, start to finish, like gorging on fried chicken with your bare hands, is the only way to be truly satisfied by it.

Well. Seeing it live is the only way to be really, really, truly satisfied by it – not least because you get to look at the man himself, who is, shall we say, not entirely hideous for the eyes to behold (although this creates a conflict because music sounds better without the distraction of looking at things, and I confess to finding Frost’s arms and shoulders something of a distraction) – but you should at the very least give the album a decent run through if your neighbourhood isn’t to be impendingly graced with this man’s magnificent beard.

Ben Frost – Sola Fide (Oh. YouTube does not have the album version on its own. So you will have to make do with a live capture of the final three tracks. Poor you. Poor poor you.)

I was actually going to give you the last track – A Single Point of Blinding Light – as a bonus anyway, mostly because it is probably my favourite ending to an album ever, so that works out well, doesn’t it? It’s so climactic that it’s anti-climactic. It builds, it builds, it gets ever more frenetic, it peaks, it reaches orgasmic proportions, and then it… stops. And that’s the end. It’s sort of like if the finale of the fireworks stopped suddenly just as it was achieving truly epic madness, bringing you up short. It also makes an excellent track to run to (I have rebranded going to the gym, having discovered that if I call it ‘listening to Ben Frost whilst moving bits of my body’ instead of ‘going to the gym’ it is instantly a far more enjoyable pursuit), having just the right amount of chaotic panic that it makes you run as fast as you can simply because there is no particular beat to keep in time with.

If you do not enjoy this, I think you should be relieved of your ears, because they clearly are wasted on you.

Essay: Unconscious Coupling: The implications of Freud’s assertion that ‘the sexual instinct and the sexual object are merely soldered together’

There isn’t really a reason as to why this is the next essay I’ve chosen to upload, I just thought I should keep the ball rolling as it’s been a while since I put the last one up. I don’t dare read it back as it wasn’t one of my better pieces, the worst of my MA in fact, at least in terms of the grade it received, but it does stand as a rare example of an assignment that doesn’t focus on feminism or gender issues.* Perhaps this is why I didn’t do so well with it. Ponder. I have a feeling that without a theoretical framework to constrain my wafflings there is a tendency to philosophise expansively and without backup. Much like I do in this blog. But that is the luxury of a blog. It is answerable to nobody, least of all the University of London.

However, the slamming that this essay, and the other weakling piece I wrote in year one of the MA, received for being, essentially, too much like a blog and not enough like an academic paper, was the inspiration for my final dissertation and – hopefully – future doctoral thesis. So. At least something came of it other than shredded self-esteem, disproportionate rage, and profound doubt in my academic abilities. Plus I still managed to get a distinction in the end, overall, so shove that in your pipe (cigar?) and smoke it, Mr Freud.

* It also claims the accolade of being the paper in which I managed to insert most incidences of the word ‘fuck’ – an achievement which always gives me a thrill entirely inappropriate for someone who is almost 30.

Unconscious Coupling: The implications of Freud’s assertion that ‘the sexual instinct and the sexual object are merely soldered together’

Street Harassment: Addendum

As an addendum to my recent post in which I ramble incoherently about street harassment, some more incoherent ramblings from a Facebook comment that once again ran away with me and got out of control:

Also just to add that street harassment occurs in a variety of ways that range from being threatening through to merely irritating. Even if we strip away the gender issue and remove the focus on appearance and sex, having people intrude upon your personal space is annoying. Being forced to interact, or make a choice between interacting and not interacting, which often feels like a choice between being polite and being rude even though it’s pretty rude to invasively demand someone’s attention, is wearing. I mean, no-one likes being accosted by charity workers in the street trying to get you to subscribe to Greenpeace or whatever, no-one likes being stopped for directions when in a hurry, no-one likes being the one the inebriated person on public transport chooses to sit next to and jabber away at. For example. Generally speaking, whether or not this is considered a sad state of affairs, people don’t like being interrupted whilst going about their daily business (although of course it doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t talk to each other, just that a bit of consideration of whether the person you want to talk to seems like they are open to conversation should be had – it’s not usually very difficult to tell).

If you then add in the fact that the kinds of harassment directed at women are overwhelmingly sexual in nature, that the interaction or refusal to interact can quickly escalate into an abusive situation, that it is particularly frequent for a group of guys to pass comment on a single female, and that there is a pre-existing culture of misogyny, sexism, violence, etc., that already troubles male/female relations, it’s easy to see how something that is at best an irritation holds at least the potential for something far more sinister. And one of the most important things, I think, is not about what each individual occurrence turns out to be like, but about the fact that as a woman you know that you are going to have to face some interactions of this sort on a daily basis, you know that leaving the house is running the gauntlet of dealing with some kind of harassment, and that’s what produces the anxiety as much as what happens in each situation. And then there IS each situation, and having to work out what the right response is, what behaviour is least likely to exacerbate the situation, what to say to get rid of someone following you up the street, whether an appeasing reply or smile is a safer or quicker way of ending the interaction than ignoring it and hoping that the unwelcome comment is where it stops, that you won’t be hounded for a response as if you owe it.

When the weight of all those considerations is on your mind before you’ve even left the house, before you’ve encountered another person, and is still there in the background even if you get through a whole day without any such occurrence, surely it’s obvious that it’s a problem? If nothing else it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting thinking about it, worrying about it, being anxious about it, having demands on your attention, and on days when you aren’t feeling strong, or when even speaking to someone you know very well about kittens feels like too much, it can be overwhelmingly distressing. And that’s when you start wondering if you’re feeling robust enough to wear a certain outfit that day, knowing that it will attract more attention, or whether you can leave the house at all, because sure the comments you get that day might all be ‘nice’, but equally they might not be, and before they’ve happened all you know is that, wherever on the spectrum of annoying to threatening they fall, they will happen.

(NB: Obviously it’s not only women who experience street harassment, not all people receive the same kind of harassment, not all people feel the same about it, not all people are made anxious by it, and not all people have a problem with it BUT it is far more prevalent in women’s lives and I still believe it’s born out of a culture that sees women and their bodies as public property to be ogled, judged, and commented upon, and the fact that some people are ok with that, or that they are ok with the particular brand of attention they get, doesn’t mean that it’s ok as a status quo, and doesn’t mean that the attentions given to different individuals are equal in terms of amount, tone, or any other manner in which they could be measured. Although in individual interactions I’d say the guiding principle should be the response of the particular person involved, when confronting this as a societal issue I think it’s misleading to think in terms of whether people on an individual level like or dislike their experience of it. Rather we should maybe consider the questions it raises about whether we want this kind of behaviour to be normal in our culture, whether as a widespread phenomenon we think it’s ok, whether we’re happy for a large section of society to feel uncomfortable, anxious, etc., as a result of it, and whether, regardless of our personal feelings, when we examine the underlying ideologies, power structures, etc., that give rise to this kind of behaviour, we want to maintain those.)

Iceland Photos Part One

I’ve just been to Iceland. It was amazing. The country. Not the supermarket.

We went for ATP festival and then stayed on in Reykjavik for four days, taking a couple of day trips out. The first batch of photos are from our journey to Thorsmörk national park, via Seljalandsfoss and a glacier with a name far too Icelandic for me to even remember let alone spell. I will write a proper entry about the whole experience, but for now here are some pictures from my shiny new Flickr account, which I have set up to replace my Tumblr, which now mainly pulls through Instagram stuff (annoying format) and instead of putting them in blog entries (not enough storage and quite a lot of faff). In time everything will appear there so if you’re here for the photos, follow over there…

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