Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are more powerful than we can imagine.

Archive for August, 2012

Feminism: the significance of the bridge

I think it was a while ago, when I was at a convention, that a conversation striked up about the role that gender plays in society between a liberal feminist and male. Eventually the argument degenerated into the stigma attached to both gender; though it was plainly obvious to myself, and the crowd around me, that there was a greater emphasis on the female side. The female was arguing the role of abuse, women being the victims, globally and its impact within Western society and, of course, there is no arguing against this. Nevertheless the male put forth a very suitable argument, pointing out that, especially within the 1st world countries, the amount of female abuse has actually decreased and, statistically, domestic, social; physical abuse against males had increased dramatically, and also pointed out that the role of female victims is more confined to outside of 1st world countries, mainly Western Europe. What striked me the most was the level of arrogance with the feminist, especially her use of generalising terms and the way in which new statistics were to be denied, and this is no surprise. For the past 200 years (and I emphasise 200 years) women have faced gender conceptualisation, construction, oppression etc and it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as a result, the role of women in society is something that should be focused on, especially with the changing context of gender identity in society today. Though the question of arrogance needs to be addressed, mainly because it has began to influence the way in which women, academically and intellectually, begin to understand the world around them. In a seminar, within my university, concerning Medieval Islamic Empires, for example, we were talking about the role of aristocratic women within the royal houses of the sultans and one of the women argued that the roles could be seen as a means of female emancipation. It was at this point that I had to put forward the point that not only was the concept of female emancipation un-applicable to the time period, but also it could be seen as more of a way of maintaining dominance in a power struggle. It is generalisations like these which not only worries me but illustrates time and again the mis-conceptions of the way society is determining images, especially with gender which is, in turn, the role of people within society portrays. Anyway, let’s begin:

As always, it is a responsibility to give some context, so people can gain an understanding of what I’m talking about. The idea of gender obviously goes back a very long way, it’s first mentions of separation being both in Ancient Greece and Persia, as well as key texts such as the bible. Within Ancient Athens, women were viewed as the social inepts of society, as well as within full privacy, a good example being the back room of the house which was reserved for women in times of invasion. Women were segregated and made to work at home. However in Ancient Sparta, they were bred to be as tough, intuitive and intelligent as the males, as well as to uphold similar moral and social obligations (as well as to be physically fit in order to breed). However these are the exceptions of the time period. It has to be emphasised that, until 200 years ago, there was a lack of an identity within gender, and if there was one, it was completely different to the way we understand it today. Things were relative to different historical contexts and in each period things changed accordingly. A good example can be the fighting arenas which were set up between men and women, to solve domestic disputes, pre-renaissance, and the change, because of classical learning, to a very Athenian type scholarly approach. It is at this point where I should mention that most understanding does originate from both classical learning, and the way in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has moulded and formed the gender identities which we have today. In other religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, the role of genders was non-apparent; hardly any separation was made, only based on reproduction and each being emphasised as key part within the social system (a good example being the emphasis of pleasure in sex compared to Judeo-Christian though which stigmatised it). Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 19th century when gender constructions begin to become more apparent, though they became fully amerced in society at the beginning of the 20th century. It was here that, like recently, a ‘crises in gender’ was created by the media to stimulate a difference between men and women. This is also at the time when gender constructions are stabilised: men being seen as the protectors and providers in society and women as the child bearers and effeminate members of society. What this in turn shows is a reaction to the changing circumstances that caused a gender crises, mainly because of the growth of European Empires in the 19th century, and the way men were being portrayed. It is also important to note that this is a similar period of time when homosexuality is both labelled as such and is stigmatised. Beforehand, again, there was no category of homosexually that existed, only under sodomy. Even in religion like Islam, it stated that sodomy was only valid until 4 people witnessed it, thus showing how fluid the understanding of reality, and human sexuality, was back then. Back before anti-homosexual law was created, human sexuality was something that was seen to be fluid; men would hold shoulders, or hands, when walking in the park and it’s probably not surprising that homosexuals, and bi-sexuals, would have existed; especially in places such as the working class, or peasantry, where moral obligations weren’t emphasised as much. However, after events, such as the Wilde act (the first anti-homosexual law passed against Oscar Wilde) men stopped holding hands and women were seen to be housewives and to stay at home. It can also be seen as a reaction to a small minority of women gaining greater opportunities of employment as well. Most of this can be located to a time where scientific, functionalist, type categories were designed by scholars and impacted society: coinciding with the industrial age.

It was within the time of the 1970’s when feminism began, based on the analysis that women have been systematically oppressed and segregated in a patriarchal society and thus has grown in great numbers ever since; even branching out into different categories. However, as I have found, many women today, who feel it is not theirs to be defined, have began slipping away from feminism, mainly because they feel it is beginning to undermine their identity as a person but also feminism, in itself, generalises reality (and it is also an irony that the opinion lies within non-ideological, intellectualist females).

Now this entire context suggests many things. Most importantly, it suggests that gender is a construction first and foremost. A construction is something which is an artificial identity, than is created within the upbringing of the person, rather than pre-birth. A good example can be the perception that all women are innately caring and considerate. This is something which determines the identity of the person and distinguishes the similarities and differences between people, whether it is social, economic, cultural, ethnic or national etc. It also suggests that these constructions are fairly recent. What does this tell us? That socially and psychologically, human sexuality is very fluid, fragmented and cannot be properly defined, but it also tells us that the process is a generalisation in itself.

As I said before, the conversation about gender, in the convention, shocked me, mainly because here was a feminist, who is suppose to stand up for gender equality, disregarding her colleague’s information (her view being mainly ideologically based). Also the male’s illustrated to me the problems with gender concerning males statistically. Don’t get me wrong, I heavily dislike statistics and I think that showed in the argument because of it’s flaws.

Let me use the example of crime statistics to show my point. You have the role of the person committing the crime and those who report it: so you would have the decision whether the crime is to trivial to be reported (especially between friends and family) and aspects such as the dark figure of crime (the crimes which go largely un-reported due to a lack of gain by reporting it or a fear of reprisal). Then you have the role of the police, who will assess the crime based on significance, and other aspects such as discretion (10% of all criminals are caught due to the way they react to police investigation). Then you have the role of the courts who will statistically judge something based on guilt. As you can see, since in most court cases, 60%, people plead guilty, a plea bargain is given and the severity of the sentenced is reduced. This is then relayed to the role of the government who uses statistics like this to combat crime.

As you can see, this example can show not only how flawed statistics are, but also the way in which they are manipulated or adapted to show, what essentially a snapshot of information is. This can also be applied to the gender case, especially with the information the female used. Yes, globally women are disadvantaged but, if we analyse it in context, it is not succumbed to 1st world countries. Within these the opportunities for women, positions in corporations and businesses, wages etc, have actually been made equal (under examples such as the equal opportunities act) also coinciding with the fact women managers are bosses are statistically more likely to choose other women (especially with cases in courts) due to gender construction. A good example can be my brother who is a maritime solicitor (so a solicitor who specialises in naval and overseas trade). In his experience, he has found that many companies he had worked for, under female managers or entrepreneurs, were more likely to choose female employees. Other cases can be the fact company’s, such as primark, tescos and other retailers, employe an equal opportunity amount in terms of wages and positions of merit. Obviously saying my brother’s testimony doesn’t illustrate much but it also shows the problems concerning males as well. Problems with males can be the fact that the gender construction of males, one of toughness, solidarity and ‘bringing in the bacon’ means many cases of abuse fall within the ‘dark figure of statistics’. This is because many males fail to report cases such as rape and abuse by females, out of embarrassment to other males; the idea that men have to be resilient and tough and the fact their cases will be taken less seriously. Thus a de-validation takes place concerning the balance between male and female abuse. I mean, if you’re to be portrayed as tough and dominant, what easiness is there in reporting violation from a female? The answer is, of course, it’s a lot harder and probably won’t be reported. This is why we must not disregard the prospects of abuse against males and the fact it shows a certain arrogance within gender.

What also concerns me is the role of genders when concerning ’equality’. It seems, in today’s world, equality concern acting the same more than anything else. It seems that, for example in businesses or company’s women need to purposely display dominance as well as, at times, a greater show of force. This can illustrate either a re-admission of justice to be recognised by male peers, or it can show a similar acting to how males act, out of gender expectations. To me, equality doesn’t mean sameness, or the striding to act, or look, the same as the other. It merely implies a similar amount of equal treatment. This consists of the recognition that you are both conscious being and the treatment of respect, dignity, empathy and knowledge that the person shouldn’t be put in a position of harm. As you can see, there is not only a massive gap between the two perceptions, but also that equality entails both sides being on similar levels. So it does mean that both sides have opportunities based on merit, but also reconciliation and forgiveness should come into play because, if we keep a grudge against our peers, whether gender, ethnic etc, how are we ever going to be on a similar level as each other and thus pave the way for better opportunities? Even enemies can treat each other with respect and dignity, so why can we not stop generalising, forgive misgivings and look at the context? We need to accept that we have to move on rather than succumb to generalisations when negative events occur, and by doing that, we can proceed to gaining a better standard of quality for all people. Let me put forth an example, all women are different. For example, when a misogenous male slanders, it depends on context: some women will laugh at what has been said, out of the recognition that maybe it wasn’t serious, some will shrug it off and some will get offended. If so, then why should we succumb to saying all genders would react the same?

All I hope is I hope that people realise that genders are fluid, as are the sexualities of males and females, and also that I do not have to witness a shock as I did at the convention. For if gender’s a construction, why support it as such?

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The day the music died

I would not be one to be contained of mind,

the day the music died.

Malificent of conjuring aquitraces

It’s pigment of manifested derogatives, appetite only to that of it’s stride,

To demise in accordance, travelling exodus of flourishing; the day the music died.

It requeilms a classical entity, derivative of how it manifested itself in the eyes,

Of those who conjuncted that one may have not caused discipline to begin with, the day the music died.

It was only that the diamond was discovered to be diamond, but not to shine as bright so once thought, only perceived as one expected to formulate so.

Thus let us not litigate the surroundings of how it may conjunctially give way,

But give testimony to its mould and imprinted signature, in all kindness,

the day the music died.

So let us be kind; for not that of the king,

The jester’s demise

The day the music died.

The passing of time

My friend,

Do not miss me, do not yonder to the trees of green or plump purple.
If I am to go, do not concede me, do not ponder my existence or restrain me so.
My wings are inadvertently flourishing and flapping themselves so elegantly you would say such an action has always occurred, so subtly,
as the eagle soars to reach a shadow through stride of sun.

It inexplicably taints us on all forms of aestheticisms which therefore harmonises our feelings of contempt,
and thus gives gratitude, so we may liberate others so willingly.
Through this, I would not know what there isn’t to know through the light,
but only through the uncertainties of the darkness

And, by doing so, we show others the light which we avail from inside ourselves.

University: Where it was and is now, a review

As many who read this will learn, I get most of my stimulus to review (as well as rant) from facebook; the reason being because it’s an outlook where people think they can write almost anything without the fear of re-procussion from others. Don’t get me wrong, I use to do things like that on facebook and I was probably the epitome of that person: constantly ranting and bitching about various things, VERY long facebook status updates and very long discussions that went nowhere. The problem with these is: firstly they testify to how much time you have on your hands; secondly it tells you what the person could be doing while they’re doing this and finally it advertises yourself outwards with, what should be private information. Essentially, it shows your dedication to facebook and the domineering role it plays in your life. You’re probably asking ‘why does this matter?’; because not only does it illustrate the lifestyle people have chosen but it gives a greater context to the way people deal with situations and how that effects us in today’s society. This point is merely a stepping stone in showing this. I mean with the role of the mass media, instant information and people who are able to articulate their views in a short period of time, it’s no wonder people gain the idea that: not only can they feel they’re contributing to something much greater than themselves, but not need to think that elsewhere isn’t as valid e.g. anything outside the confines of the internet. Now, this perception doesn’t merely lie within the responsibility of the internet, or the mass media, but illustrate time and time again the way cultures, and especially the youth cultures, operate. I’m going to use the example of universities to show how this is made possible and the effect it has on the person, but I’m also going to show how it takes both parties, the students and the increasingly marketed universities, to actually make a difference (and I emphasise BOTH parties).

Now with universities, today’s period of time seems to be displayed as a turning point in the way universities operate and it’s no surprise. The massive un-necessary increases in fees for university; the difficult requirements for getting into university, and the ambiguous information of where the course can take you afterwards e.g. getting a job, have all contributed into turning universities into something they weren’t meant to be in the first place: a place for higher education. Today, it seems that it seems one of the only options to get employment which doesn’t consist of doing an NVQ or actually seeking employment after college or secondary school. No, it seems it’s become a place where in order to get higher positions, you need a degree and I think this is one of the worse beliefs that has ever been betrothed onto university expectations. People seem to gain this idea that in order to gets a high position working in a corporation, business or anywhere else; you need a degree in humanitarian studies or you need to look like you’re doing something with your life, so you can show you’re worth the hassle when you do apply. But (and this is a big but) people take this perception for granted, as if it’s true and, again, this testifies to the way people think society operates, which I’m having difficulty understanding this; mainly because it’s not and because it seems people attempt to take everything at face value.

I think to make this point more detailed, it’s appropriate to underline some context about universities or society. From the 17th century, until the 1980’s, universities were embodied as the epitome of higher education: as something, in order to achieve greater academic experience, you applied to and that would increase your chances of greater positions within learning and the academia; positions such as: philosophy, quantum mechanics, very advanced sciences and mathematics, theology, history, sociology, acting and the performing arts etc. Don’t get me wrong, until the 1960’s, university was mainly reserved for people from comfortable and wealthy backgrounds since they were the people who tended to seek a higher education to better their understanding, or to pursue a much favourable career, nevertheless these people only excelled in academics. People like Charles Darwin and Clive Anderson (people from two different spectrums in terms of career) aimed to do so because they knew it would be something that as worth it in the long term.

However, the latter point, about class, can be disagreed with because universities were something which was seen as a state institution and thus was paid for, and free, by the government. Any accommodation you did have was purely seen as something which needed to be paid for necessarily, as not to provide a financial distraction to the student, whose purpose was to learn advanced subjects. Now, of course, this differs from university to university, however the theme was generally very similar. It has only been since the 1980’s, and the introduction of Thatcherism, that Universities began to change. Thatcherism attempted to privatise what were state institutions in order to market them for a greater amount of income. Now, you can clearly see that being done today, with the fact, currently, a conservative government is in power and now we’ve seen a further marketing and privatisation of universities: coinciding with substantially higher fees (up to ten thousand pounds a year) and increasing competition, between universities, to gain more income. This has further led to a lack of co-operation between universities (in which some have been upheld thanks to things like the Russell group) and stricter tests and expectations for students wishing to get into universities. This has been a major problem because not only are fewer students getting into a university, which means less money, but also universities were never meant to have the purpose of employment in the first place. Back when universities were aimed at for higher education, people use to simply enter their family’s profession or just apply for work (and yes before you say anything, it was much easier). This coincides with the fact we were the remnants of our industrial age and thus we still had a manual labour force who were still being employed for business’ that still operated on British soil.

Now, with all this change over a short period of time, coinciding with a greater commercialisation in society, you might say ‘no wonder we’re so disadvantaged, things are very poor at the moment, especially for the youth of today’. Well, it’s partially right. A key point, which people fail to realise, is the fees are loaned but don’t need to be paid back until students find a job. Thus, it is implausible to state that the student is burdened with debt: especially with the fact the debt is paid off by an extremely small amount per year that is unequivocal compared to other debts e.g. debt with a.p.r, rates , that have to pay on a daily basis. Okay, the fact we have debt for university students in the first place is un-necessary and the fact the student loan company is a private one doesn’t make any sense, but it hardly states that the person is financially doomed. By the time the person is paying student debt off, they would have a job and, most importantly, be paying other debt off, because the debt only works when you’re working. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having to pay my student debt off as soon as I work and, like European countries, I wish my university was free  but I know for a fact I won’t have to pay it back for a long period of time, giving my leeway.

Nevertheless, what does this all tell about universities? It tells me that, due to privatisation, the number of students applying for university have increased rapidly, which has never happened before. What does this mean? That increasingly, universities are being seen as the one of the only windows to opportunity in society for middle class, and upper working class students. Now, given that the middle class are stereotyped as the ‘intellectual, educated class’ in society, it’s only reasonable most would seek a higher education. However, it seems to me, based on experience that many go and aren’t sure what they want to do, especially with the fact university courses have become somewhat ambiguous and give no indication of where the courses will take you in the future. Also courses tend to be very tangible. Studies like ‘cultural and social studies’, ‘humanitarian studies’ and ‘media studies’ seem very trivial and often aren’t properly recognised academic courses because they don’t have a deep academic embedding such as with mathematics, anthropology, history, sociology, theology, philosophy, economics, performing arts, the sciences etc. This implies that many of these courses are simply diversified versions of the main academic courses.

However, as I have mentioned before, it takes two sides of the party to operate and this mainly falls within the responsibility of students. This is where my introduction comes into play because it shows not only the lack of effort of the majority of students, and how university isn’t suited for most of them (that there only there because it’s seen as a window of opportunity) but also how most deal with university on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, university teachers have been stereotyped to be non-caring and I think there is truth in this. However, this doesn’t take validity away from the way students deal with things on a daily basis. Doing my course in history, when I went to seminars, ready to debate about the issues put forth, I came to find no one really wanted to debate anything and many people chose to stay quiet: either out of sensitivity or simply not being bothered and I think this testifies to a wider context; especially with the student mind frame or lifestyle. Obviously, a minority of people want to go to university and learn as well as seek a better understanding of the subject they’re passionate about and most of them aren’t sure what they want to do in the future (like most of us) however they are constantly undermined by people who simply aren’t bothered to learn. As I have found, many students simply can’t be bothered to read the material given or do advanced reading about the subject, which they can display in seminars. Also, it seems many students have this vague belief that there is a shortcut to success, that once they finish university they will be given a job. I think it rings out within all academic subjects.

Students constantly whine and complain about how there life is rubbish; they’re the most undermined people in society and they’ll have no opportunities once they come out of university, but, as I have seen, it’s as if people don’t want to try to be successful in what they do. It’s as if the youth have this belief that there is a shortcut to success and that, if things don’t go the way they want it to, they should give up on the first try. In order to succeed, you have to keep trying (which I know sounds cliché) but also to deal with things and move on. It just shows how pessimistic and how much of whiners we are. Now people reading this may argue “we’re simply following in the footsteps of those before, that we are showing how downgraded and barren society has become” and my answer to that is no you’re not. People before you, in the history that spans universities faced a lack of liberty; more poverty, a less regulated welfare state and, when they did go on strike, they striked about something which was worth striking about e.g. unemployment, the destruction of industry, massive wage cuts, infringements on human rights, (such as in the student protests about the vietnam war or the poll tax riots). All these examples have something in common because they threatened the well being of the people who were striking, because it actually affected their lives in terms of comfortability and the standard, as well as quality, of living. People today live comfortable lives, with parents who often work earn a reasonable amount of income and have many choices of leisures at their disposal. I’ve witnessed people in debt, but proceed to buy something that was completely un-necessary (e.g. a 50 inch wide screen t.v.), which is the basis of a consumerist society: one which thrives of leisure and uses money, which isn’t owned, for things that can’t be afforded. Most people who do live in the most desolate conditions in Britain, most likely don’t go to university; only a small minority of people do. Most either pick up a profession or start work due to their economic state, and before anyone says anything, yes I know the situation has a lot more factors and complications but that, statistically, tends to be the general theme of things. This can also be seen by the fact, since the 19th century the middle class was a lot smaller yet tended to be the class to go to university or enter merchant trading. The same applies to today, it’s only that now the middle class is the dominant class of society compared to 100 years ago.
All these points tell us so much about students, that many who come to university hardly study or put effort into their work; they choose tangible subjects which gives them little prospect for employment in the future, because they aren’t recognised as core subjects, and many of today’s youth often complain and whine about conditions which actually doesn’t affect them as much as they exaggerate. This also coincides with the fact that many people, coinciding with all the complaining, have a higher drop-out and lack of effort rate than ever before. What does this tell you? Yes it tells you that universities are being increasingly commercialised and, as a result, it is making it harder for students to get into university, but it also tells you that once the majority of students get into university they take courses that have no prestige (which is important in the job market) and they fail to put in the effort that they did when they wanted to get into university in the first place.

The same massively applies to employment: instead of making an effort to find work and picking up themselves when they’ve failed, many simply whine about how they’ve failed the first time, coinciding with the fact that many aren’t prepared to do the lowest paid jobs, that no one else wants to do, hence we’re in the situation we’re in now and hence why this country thrives on immigration. Of course those who work, study and put in the effort, defy all I’ve said, by a long shot. In fact, they prove me wrong completely. It’s the people who do otherwise which annoy me and also bring down the learning of the universities as well as the subjects.

My conclusion is this. Yes, hardships have happened because of the government and because of their policies: concerning universities (why cut services when the large private sector goes un-regulated?) but also it concerns the students themselves who tend to complain more about things disproportionate to their experiences and tend to have a lack of will to carry on when hardships do hit; as well as a lack of bother to learn: which can either be limited to disfranchisement with university or will power. There are times to play and then there’s times to work, I only hope people know the difference and that they’ll actually know what to complain about when true hardships really hit; instead of complaining about trivial ones, based on a lack of effort. Don’t take subjects which aren’t academically approved, stick the academic ones which embody all those proxy ones (such as the deep cored ones: History, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, performing arts, music, I.T, mathematics, the sciences, law, art) and most importantly, when things don’t go your way, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and try again. I’m sick and tired of seeing complaints about things that can easily be dealt with: I’m starting to believe its more people not wanting a solution than finding the ones which actually will help.