The Misterious Case Of Apathy Amongst The Young

Here we go again…
To set the mood for the impending election, we are being reminded, once again, that the youth of today is apathetic when it comes to politics. It’s part and parcel of the old tradition of electoral politics. As timely as the cries about the infamous “War On Christmas” come November.
And it’s not the exclusive purview of Britain either. Most countries in the world where there’s even the pretence of democracy and elections seem to suffer from a case of “apathetic youth”. And of course, the best way to fight back this apathy is to blame its victims for it. How dare the young not care about politics! People have (changes to deep voice with echo effects) died (voice changes back) for their right to vote… They have actually (dramatic voice on) died (dramatic voice off)… What everyone seems to forget is that people fought for the right to vote when voting actually made a difference. Now it doesn’t. For reference, see the last two terms of the Labour government.

But let’s focus on this “apathy”. It’s difficult to make the youth apathetic since this is, traditionally, the time in people’s lives when they are most rebellious and hopeful that change is possible. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible, and since it has happened we might as well try to figure out how.

Case 1. I’m thirteen and entering high school for the very first time. The teacher for Civic Education asks us for ideas on how we could improve the working of our high school. Goody, you might think. I was already cynical by then and so, unlike everyone else, I suggested what I thought was the simplest and easiest change I could think of: the starting time of PE. Once a week we would finish morning classes at a quarter to one, but had to get to the PE gymnasium by two o’clock. We had to run to the bus stop and catch a bus to the next town (said bus being paid with our own money, of course) and then get a bollocking for being late. You know what my teacher said? That the timetable was already set for the year and there was nothing that could be done about it. Point taken.

Case 2. Second year of University. Shortly after the year starts classes are supposed to assign two delegates who will take complains and suggestions to members of staff in one big meeting. One of the issues raised that year was the blackboard in our maths lecture room, approximately the size of a stamp post, as one lecturer charmingly put it. Can you imagine solving big, bulky, long and tedious equations in a teeny, tiny blackboard? After the meeting I talk to my delegate, who tells me that the issue was discussed at length (though apparently it was more about the merits of the old technique of using a blackboard versus the modern approach of using projectors). In the end, nothing was done. We didn’t get a bigger blackboard, and we weren’t assigned a different lecture room.

Case 3. Last year of University. For some bizarre reason, the location of the lecture rooms seemed to have been assigned totally at random and, at the same time, purposefully designed to cover the whole campus. This time the fricking lecturer complained about it. In came the second term and things only got worse. Not only were our lectures taking place anywhere and everywhere, but the exact location of the coming lecture was a well guarded secret until the very last minute, sometimes guarded even afterwards. I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, I would say to myself, on my last year at university and I’m running around not knowing where my lecture room is like a fresh student on her first week.

What do we learn from this? That change doesn’t happen. Any change, no matter how small, is, by definition, too big to take place. What’s the excuse? Shortage of money? Was my high school short of time? Was my University short of blackboards or lecture rooms? No. But they both were short of power. Power has become so centralized that it’s impossible now, even for large swathes of society, to effect any change. Very few people control almost everything, while the rest of us control practically nothing.

But while power has been gathering into fewer and fewer hands, something very peculiar has been going on. We are being told left, right and centre that “our opinion matters”; “Your call is important to us”; “If you have any suggestions…”. Every self respecting business has a complaint form ready to be filled out or a suggestion box ready to be filled in. There are polls asking every opinion anyone has ever had about almost anything. We are constantly being invited to take part in some survey to improve some service or other. At the end of every University term, students are asked to rate their lecturers. In my own workplace, there’s a flyer with a telephone number and the invitation to call and give our opinions.
But does it work? Do our complaints ever get anywhere? Are our voices being heard? The answers can be found in a single Dilbert comic strip: a paper is introduced in the box labelled “suggestions” which contains a shredding machine.

The drip-drip effect of this constant bombardment with opportunities to voice our discontent coupled with the very real fact that there are less and less aspects of our lives under our control leads, inevitably, to feelings of apathy. If our opinions matter but nothing ever gets changed it must be because either it cannot be changed or nobody really wants it to change. Asking for bigger blackboard is just too much. And besides, I must be the only one who wants it. Well, me and the lecturer.

What’s the solution to all of this? Going back to the right to vote and the people who (dramatic voices on) died (dramatic voices off) for it, I gather we have been looking at it upside down. The right to vote wasn’t so important that people died for it, but rather it was important because people died for it. Nowadays nobody has to die for the privilege of casting their vote; it’s a right that’s granted to us free of charge. Which translates into “it’s practically useless”. If we want to effect real change we would be better off looking at the things people would have to die for.

In the meantime, how about we stop blaming young people for turning out precisely the way the world wants them to?

As for me, what can I say? I can’t vote in this country, I’m not British 😀

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Just Another (International Women’s) Day

Can you celebrate a special occasion by merely going about on your daily routine?
Since I am poor and live far too far away from even the closest feminist, not to mention feminist organization, I was left with no choice but to do “nothing” for International Women’s Day. Or at least that’s what I thought, until the day was over and I paused to consider what I’d done. In the morning I went to the bank and opened a savings account. There was a time when a woman couldn’t have her own account in this country, and it’s still the case in many parts of the world. I then went to work, the daily drudgery I put up with in order to support myself. Again, there was a time when such a thing would have been unthinkable for a single young woman. But the best part of the day came at night. I went out with some friends and we ended up, somehow, in the supermarket. I asked my (girl)friend if I could drive her car around the parking lot. To my surprise, she handed me over the keys. And guess what! I drove a car! That’s right! I started it and I moved it around! It might not seem much to most people, who have probably been driving for as long as they can remember, but it certainly was a big deal for me. The last time I was behind a wheel was 2005. And I am known for not being able to start a car successfully, much less on the first go. So YAY for me! Once more, this is a luxury that we take for granted, but in many parts of the world women are not allowed to drive.

Happy (Belated) International Women’s Day to all!
(Especially to those of you isolated from fellow feminists)

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Research Spin

If you’ve been anywhere near The Guardian for the past three days you will have come across this “intent” to curb the hypersexualisation of our beloved media.
There’s absolutely nothing in this new report or in the proposed “action plans” that we feminists haven’t seen at least a billion times since the ‘70s. This is a well known tactic used by governments when they can’t possibly avoid an “issue” any longer: they commission research. “You say there’s a problem? Don’t worry, we’ll look into it, leave it to us.” Ten years pass by and nothing gets done, on accounts that the research is not “conclusive” enough. So then more research is commissioned, another ten years pass by and the whole thing repeats itself again. This system of permanent “spin” is applied to anything that the public might show interest in, from acid rain to advertising aimed at children. The excuse for inaction is “we don’t know for sure yet”. In the meantime, the concerned public is appeased, the outrage conveniently dispersed. It’s a “safety valve” designed to stop pressure from effecting change. Or causing explosions. Both of which are dangerous to the status quo.

The problem is not lack of research, you see. We have known the harmful effects of pornography since the very invention of pornography. Not only we do not need further research, but we have never needed research in the first place. Accepting that we ever did acts to sow doubt in our minds. “Maybe we don’t know it all. Maybe the blatant truth in front of us is not quite what it seems”. So we better go to the big institutions, the big authority figures, the State, the Universities, all of which are designed to keep the status quo intact, to provide us with irrevocable proof that yes, the truth is indeed true.
We don’t need research to tell us that poisoning a river is “bad” any more than we need research to tell us that denigrating images of women are “bad”. And for good measure, we don’t need research to tell us that torture in Guantanamo is “bad” either.
The way to fight back against this “spin” nonsense is to do away with research altogether. You want proof that hypersexualisation is harmful? Our rage is proof enough. We want this to stop and we demand this to be stopped. End of story.
The way to rationalize this approach is to understand that the current state of affairs wasn’t put in place because the research proved it to be the best possible alternative. No one carried out extensive research comparing the benefits of a hypersexualised culture versus a non hypersexualised one and concluded that, yes, hypersexualisation was the way to go. If “they” didn’t need research to put it there we shouldn’t need research to take it down.
Or you can think about it this way: did the government commission studies to prove that bailing out banks was the most favourable social outcome? Thought so. Furthermore, did they go back and said “the evidence is non conclusive, come back in a year or two with better data”? Exactly.
Those in power get to call the shots, independently of whether they make sense or not. The rest of us don’t have that privilege. If we want to change something, we better justify it a thousand times over.

Just to finish this off, take a closer look at this line in the editorial article about this very topic:

“Today a Home Office report proposes action to try to reduce access to the kind of magazines and advertising that appear to objectify young girls, and more education to arm all young people against it.”

Did it occur to anyone that maybe there shouldn’t be stuff in our society for which young people should be armed against? What is this? A war?

Maybe it is. A war over who gets to decide what goes on in our minds. And we are losing.

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Uneventful Valentine’s Day

What can I say about Valentine’s Day that hasn’t been said already?
I know what I won’t be saying: how “love should be expressed every day, not on one single occasion” and how “Valentine’s Day is complete commercial exploitation”. Because I believe that renouncing complete commercial exploitation should be expressed every day, not on one single occasion. Ha!

As for what today has meant for me: dull work, lots of misery, unwilling witnessing of several public displays of affection and take-away. It couldn’t have been any less special or meaningless. Though I suppose there was take-away. Oh, and by the way. You know how the British are supposedly so reserved when it comes to PDA? Today, it seems this reservation went AWOL. One couple after another kissing and making out in front of my very nose. Do I go to where they work and make out with my (non existent) boyfriend and make them feel miserable? Exactly.

One year ago today, I wrote that I was hopeful. It meant something for me, I guess. But now… I’m not so sure I have any hope left. After a rather pathetic attempt at a relationship, I am, for the very first time, beginning to contemplate what my life would be like without love. And I don’t like it. I’m not sure I can actually make it. That’s another thing I’m not sure about, to add to the list. That’s something strong independent women, particularly strong independent feminists, are not supposed to think, let alone say out loud.

So, to any strong independent feminist out there who’s feeling lonely and unloved on this day of Love and Romance, let me say this: you are not the only one feeling this way, and it’s ok to say it.

That’s all.

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Jobs Not Fit For Adults

It’s just about late enough to comment on this article from last Sunday’s “The Observer Magazine”, titled “Lost Generation”. It’s quite long and rather mediocre. And the only thing that saves it is the fact that the issues the author raises are big and important. The whole article can be summarized thus:

“Our parents had free education, fat pensions, and second homes. We’ve got student debt and a property ladder with rotten rungs. Thanks very much, says Andrew Hankinson, BSc”.

Hankinson is pissed off because he’s 29, he’s unemployed, has no career and a soaring student debt. There are probably millions like him in this country.

I could probably write a book on the subject. In fact, I am considering doing just that. In the meantime, let’s look at what other people say. The comments online split equally between those who understand he’s onto something and sympathize with him and those who are basically telling him to “grow up”.

But those who are telling Hankinson to grow up are onto something as well. Yes, he could probably grow up a little. But if Hankinson is representative or a whole generation, as we have good reason to believe he is, it becomes rather pointless to ask everyone to “grow up”. The problem is precisely that this “Lost Generation” hasn’t been allowed to grow up.

But what do I know, right? Being a (kindof) Marxist, I always look at the economy for answers. Naomi Klein, in her book “No Logo”, has a section titled “Branded Word: Hobbies, Not Jobs”. She says:

“Most of the large employers in the service sector manage their workforce as if their clerks didn’t depend on their paychecks for anything essential, such as rent of child support. Instead, retail and service employers tend to view their employees as children: students looking for summer jobs, spending money or a quick stopover on the road to a more fulfilling and better-paying career.”

“(…) This internalized state of perpetual transience has been convenient for service-sector employers who have been free to let wages stagnate and to provide little room for upward mobility, since there is no urgent need to improve the conditions of jobs that everyone agrees are temporary.(…)”

“In general, the corporations in question have ensured that they do not have to confront the possibility that adults with families are depending on the wages that they pay (…). Just as factory jobs that once supported families have been reconfigured in the Third World as jobs for teenagers, so have the brand-name clothing companies and restaurant chains given legitimacy to the idea that fast-food and retail-sector jobs are disposable, and unfit for adults.”

“The fact is that the economy needs steady jobs that adults can live on.”

Now, people may say that wages have always been low, and that job security has never existed, and to some extent that may be right. Though I personally struggle with that last one. My grandfather spent 25 years in the same factory, and my mum and dad a good decade in their respective jobs, whereas we can be pretty certain no one from my generation will come anywhere near that record time.

But it’s pretty naive, not to mention entirely unproductive to claim that “things have always been the same”. The global economy has changed, and the labour market is different to what it was 50 years ago.

Hankinson may need to grow up. But so does this economic system, whose replacement is long long overdue.

PS: By the way, from now on, you can all start referring to me as “Mary Tracy, BSc”. HA!

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The Powerful Oppressed Paradox

I seem to have run into a paradox that I can’t solve for the life of me. It goes something like this.
It is by all acknowledged that in the past, in the industrialized nations, workers were far more oppressed than they are now. They had no rights, they were paid starvation wages, they had to work 10s of hours a day. So far, I get it. But here comes the question: if their oppression was so extreme, how could they gather the force to change their conditions so drastically? Particularly when we compare it with the world of work today. We see less oppression, but at the same time, not much is going on in trying to stop it. This will mean that, yes, in the long run, things will get worse.

This paradox takes a very similar form in the case of women’s liberation. It is by all acknowledged that in the past, in the industrialized nations, women were far more oppressed than they are now. And yet… they managed to organize and get laws passed. We all know that the women’s movement was more powerful when things were worse.

I am by no means the first person to point this out. I’ve seen it in the following form:

How is it possible that in the past women could fight for their rights and today women cannot even keep the rights they already have?

The case of abortion comes to mind. In the past, abortion was legalized. Today, we cannot even keep it legal.

Does anyone know what the solution to this paradox is? Were people in the past more oppressed at the same time as they were more empowered? Or is that a contradiction in terms?

Answers on a postcard.

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An Excuse To Discuss “Stepford Sluts”

I was listening to BBC Radio 4 today. Again. Because where else would you get some information about current affairs and your odd spot of comedy but in the most mainstream of media outlets in this country? It was The News Quiz. Presented by a woman, but this time only male guests participated in it. They were discussing Google’s decision to pull out of the Chinese market because of censorship… or something. One man wanted to illustrate some point about Google and he described how one can find (lots of) “D0nkey Pr0n” within some small time interval. The public, of course, laughed.
“D0nkey Pr0n”. In the bloody BBC.

What is a feminist to do upon finding out that, again, there is no place in this planet that hasn’t been polluted by pr0n? Well, go and look up what Gail Dines has been up to, of course!
Last time I blogged about her, she had mentioned the lecture she gave in the Anti Pr0nography Conference that she was about to publish a book titled “Stepford Sluts”. Unfortunately, she hasn’t. She is, however, about to publish another book titled “Pr0nland; How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality”.

So I’m left with no option but to transcript what little she revealed in that lecture about the book.

“Second wave feminism was about resistance at best and at worst negotiation with patriarchy. Third wave is about capitulation. I think much of the Third Wave feminism is the thinking woman’s cosmopolitan.
Let’s talk about what’s going on in the culture. Let’s talk about the move towards what I would call “slut culture”. Why do I say “slut culture”. To explain that I’m going to explain the title of my new book. It’s gonna be called “Stepford Sluts”. You can all guess why. Last year they re released “Stepford Wives”. The film was bombed, for a number of reasons, my main understanding is that it was a ridiculous movie to make in 2006. Why? Because the ideal woman is indeed on her hands and knees but she ain’t cleaning any kitchen floors on her hands and knees. The ideal woman constructed in patriarchy is no longer a Stepford Wife, it’s a Stepford Slut. Equally robotic, equally capitulated, equally mindless and brainless, and equally distressed internally.”

I think she’s onto something. It’s been going on in my head for some time. This “Slut Culture” is the equivalent of the 50s “Housewife Culture”. Its real objective, of course, is the oppression of women. However women see it as “empowering” and will defend it to the grave.

After “Stepford Wives” came the Second Wave. I can only hope that after “Slut Culture” we have a Wave that gets rid of it.

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