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Archive for April, 2013

A Hero For Our Time (Out)?

Those of you who read Time Out may be aware of its columnist, Michael Hodges. I’m not a fan, finding about one in ten of his columns worth reading although he did inspire one of my rare incursions into satire when I wrote pastiche of his writing ‘style’.

Hodges’ columns are currently themed under the banner of ‘1001 things not to do in London’ and this week he tackles the issue of ‘touching too much’ on crowded tube carriages. His is a two pronged attack, firstly on the general unpleasantness of being jammed up next to strangers, and then more specifically on an assault he recently witnessed in a crowded tube carriage.

A woman near to Hodges exclaims “Your hand is on my bottom. Whoever you are, please take it off my bottom now.”. Despite the sweaty press of humanity around him, our hero knows who the culprit is. “Below my face another is uplifted to mine, I am looking directly into a pair of eyeballs that stare boldly straight back at me… these are not the eyeballs of someone who is innocently engaged in travelling from Leicester Square to Tufnell Park. Small, furtive and clearly enjoying himself, the man’s gaze may be on me but his hands are on someone else.”. Hodges then goes on to bemoan the fact that the assailant is not a lone aberration but part of “… a large population of men who see their Oyster cards as a licence for travelling hands…” before the incident concludes with the guilty party skulking off the train at the next stop.

So this column is a good thing, right? It calls out the scum who use the relative anonymity of a crowded train carriage in order to assault women and will maybe, perhaps make some of them think twice about what they’re doing, right?

Well, yes, it’s a good thing that this all too common violation is being highlighted in a high profile magazine, and that the author is so clearly against it. Beyond that, however, I find the piece problematic.

Hodges clearly states that he knows exactly who the assailant is but at no point makes any attempt to challenge the behaviour he finds so repellent. Instead of just looking into the eyes of the groper why not say “I think it’s you she’s talking to mate, do you want to stop doing that?”. Ok, it might be easy for me, a big ugly lump, to assume that someone else would have the courage to step up, but in this case Hodges has pointed out the relative disparity in size and how it is in his favour.

There are problems with the way Hodges describes the groper who is ‘small’ and ‘furtive’, and a ‘small man’. Why not add a dirty mac and crooked leer to the picture? If Hodges had looked into a pair of non-furtive eyes level with his and belonging to a handsome young man in a Hugo Boss suit would he have been able to recognise the assailant so readily? Sexual predators are all of a kind: shifty, furtive, abnormal. Extrapolate this to a scene in a courtroom where a defence counsel asks the court if his handsome client with a respectable, well paying job is the type of person to commit rape? Of course there is no type, but rather than simply describing the assailant as a man, Hodges gives comfort to the rest of us. Yeah, we’re normal, we’re not like that and any woman who thinks we are must be deluded.

Then there’s this doozy: “This is an upsetting and dispiriting state of affairs but happily, female Londoners are increasingly refusing to put up with it anymore”. Oh, right, just the female Londoners then? Is that why you failed to challenge the groper, because you didn’t want to deprive a woman of her moment of liberation? I wonder if she sees it that way, if women across the capital are reading your column thinking that you’re describing what happened to them – because this will have been a far from isolated incident – and instead of being grateful for the empowerment you bestowed are shouting “Why the fuck didn’t you help me?”. But no, the implicit message here is that women should be responsible for stopping themselves being assaulted, just like women need to make sure they don’t get raped; we men are just slaves to our impulses and can’t be expected do anything about it.

Perhaps I’m being harsh here, I’m sure Hodges’ intent was honourable. Oh, wait, here’s the pay off to the column: as the assailant and others leave the carriage some space is cleared and the woman can turn to see who her attacker was whereupon she stares angrily at poor old Michael. How awkward for him, poor lamb.

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Well, at least I’m out of bed…

The black dog is back. It never really goes away but sometimes it just sits there with a baleful glare in its eyes; other times it bites. I have the tooth marks to prove it.

Try and explain how an illness that isn’t physical can keep you plastered to your bed for days at a time. I can’t, it sounds stupid to me so how will others hear it? Unable to sleep, unable to read, unable to even listen to the radio.

Try and explain how a 6’2″ lump of humanity can barely cope with sitting in a GP’s waiting room. How each movement and noise brings a internal response screaming “GET OUT! GET AWAY! GET SAFE!”.

Try and explain how self imposed imprisonment in a room for weeks is preferable to fresh air and the company of friends.

Safety is key, and the room is safe. The duvet is wrapped around you like the depression itself but nothing can touch you there.

Good times with friends are missed and the regret is there but it’s outweighed by being safe.

As I type this I’m out of bed. Admittedly *on* it, or sprawled across it, hanging off one end bashing away at this keyboard. But it’s progress, right? For today.

This is a bad time, the worst of times. Again. It will pass, I know that. The frustration at knowing things but not being able to act is huge. But still, hang on to the knowledge. You have not been subsumed by the black dog.

Inspired a bit to put thoughts to cyberspace by an excellent piece which I heartily recommend you click through to:

21 tips to keep your shit together when you’re depressed

Categories: depression, mental health

Standing in the Way of Control

One of the stated aims of neoliberalism is to ‘shrink the state, to reduce government interference in citizens’ lives and give them the ‘freedom’ to make use of the ‘choices’ available to them. A happy by-product of this is the abdication of government responsibility, financial and moral, for its people, but that’s not why they’re doing it, oh no!, they’re doing it to make us free and happy. Oh yes.

This assumes that we are controlled by government and the services it provides and that we need to be freed from the yoke of dependency. While this is true, all that is happening with the benefit and public sector cuts and pay freezes, workfare, and introduction of ‘competition’ into healthcare is that the control is being passed into private hands. Wages, benefits, employment, unemployment are all meant to control us. Our need to use essential services by its very essence controls us.

Our current government now wants to freeze minimum wage levels, if not do away with them altogether. This ‘deregulation’, it is argued, will make the job market ‘freer’ and increase ‘choice’. Of course, it doesn’t. It’s just another transfer of power and control from the state to private concerns. Instead of legislation controlling what we can earn, private enterprise will be able to claw back a massive bargaining chip and use it to club workers with. This, combined with changes to industrial tribunals, cuts to legal aid, and reduction in services such as CABs, concentrates power, and by extension control, in the hands of business. Any slight measure of accountability is lost, and so are we.