Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Oh, sorry you're a racist.

I was speaking to a man, probably in his 60s, the other day and he was vaguely racist. He was nice enough to me because I'm white and educated and middle class. He would have been nice enough to someone from an ethnic minority, but I'm not sure he wouldn't have some reservations about it. 

Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe he wasn't as racist as I thought. But I met him the day after Charlottesville and I wasn't in the mood for any form of casual prejudice. It was very subtle of course. He was reading the Sunday Times and every time he thought something was ridiculous he'd mutter and tell me the headline. One of them was something about non-English speaking students, or students with very little English, being admitted into English universities. "How ridiculous!" He said. In my mind I knew immediately to distrust the headline and the article, it was obviously going to be misleading and dishonest. I tried to explain that sometimes in scientific degrees, for example, excellent English isn't entirely necessary. His muttering that followed had the same tone as the muttering about the evil foreigners you hear from Daily Mail readers. Later there was Indian music playing and this man looked up the title of the song on Shazam. He was genuinely interested. But then he read out the title and said "that's enough to get me into university". Not really racist, not overtly awful, but just enough for me to wince. 

I didn't say anything because I was at work and frankly it wasn't worth it. I hadn't managed to convince him that lowering the GCSE boundaries was probably a good idea considering the reform hadn't gone smoothly. I wasn't going to pick an argument with him about something maybe I had misconstrued. 

Was I being over-sensitive? 

It's not because I'm brainwashed by politically correct lefties, but because it is such an unfair sweeping judgement against an entire country of people. I wince because it doesn't sit well, it doesn't seem right. I feel guilty because I keep my mouth shut and smile meekly. 

I would have picked it up if I hadn't woken to news of a bunch of Nazis in America doing actual harm. I would have picked it up, but maybe I wouldn't have thought about it for so long. 

People always say that casual racism is for old people and old people will be dead soon anyway. I don't believe that this man would ever attend a Nazi rally, that he would ever cause that kind of violence and hatred. It would be completely unfair of me to equate his tiny comment to this incident of terrifying prejudice.  I don't know the whole of his views, I don't know what he would have said if I had picked him up on it. Maybe I could have changed his attitude, made him see how inappropriate comments like that are. 

But what about the casual racism that isn't actually casual? Why do we allow ourselves to brush bigger things off as casual, as unique, as some white guy with poor mental health? Casual racism becomes something much darker when you let it. A lot of the mainstream press call their casual racism news. Racism as news is dangerous. Who can tell you you're wrong when it's in the papers, right? 

The incident in Charlottesville was an incident of terrorism, obviously. But it didn't happen by accident, and it isn't an isolated event. 

When someone tells you that, say, not being allowed to tell a racist joke is political correctness gone mad, ask them why they want to tell it in the first place. Political correctness means not spreading that casual racism that turns into harmful racism. Casual racism is boring and outdated. Casual racism sometimes ends up with events like Charlottesville. 

Sorry if you're racist and you can't just spread your hate. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Woman Question

My whole life is centred around women. I am always talking about them, always reading about them, always looking to be inspired by them. I've noticed this a lot at uni. I tend to be drawn to female writers, to female characters. I have to actively not choose the 'Woman Question' every week for my essay just so I can include some variety. 

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for centring my studies around feminism, around women. Should I be doing something else? Doesn't everyone do the woman question? It's not very original, is it? - being yet another under-grad focusing her degree on feminism.

And then I remember that for a very long time absolutely no one did the woman question. Female writers got forgotten over time because no one bothered to study them. Feminist criticism is very, very new. It's about time that lots and lots of undergrads started to write about the women in literature, fictional and real, and from a new point of view. 

One of my favourite lecturers said that people shouldn't write about female writers just because they are female; some female writers are crap, just like some male writers. But that doesn't take away from the fact that more crap male writers are better known than some brilliant female ones. I reserve the same judgment of quality of the literature I'm reading whether it's written by man or woman, there are just a lot more forgotten women to get through. 

Of course I write and read about topics other than the 'Woman Question', of course *some of them* are just as interesting to me. Of course I value variety and difference, I wouldn't be doing a literature degree if I didn't. But I am so bored of finding it hard to research certain female writers because very few people have written about them. I am so bored of male chauvinism overpowering female thought in literature. I am so bored of every female writer being placed under the 'Woman Question' and that often I have to go to that question in order to access them. 

This of course applies to the other brilliantly ignored sections of literature until very recently. For example the part of the British Empire that wasn't a white male is often conveniently under-appreciated, you have to search a lot harder to get to them.

So, yes, I refuse to apologise for writing about women. I refuse to accept that by studying and enjoying Woolf, Plath, Spark, the Brontes, Austen etc I am a stereotype. Men writing about Hemingway is a stereotype, or Kerouac, or Jerome K Jerome. But that's okay, because all these books are fascinating, all these books have new and different angles, and all these books are human. Women are human too, so I will continue to write about them - thank you very much!

Monday, 31 July 2017

There comes a day.

Yes of course there comes a day when you physically loath yourself. You wake up one day and racing through your mind is everything bad, everything stupid, everything unloveable that you have ever done. You can't decide which is worse: the person inside, or the body enclosing it. How hideous you are. You want to shrink and shrink and shrink until there is nothing left of you but dust. There is not necessarily the ideation of suicide, something is tying you to the surface of the earth still, but there is the desire to not exist. You wake up and here you are; awful, ridden with mistakes, hurting and alone.

Except you don't just wake up on this day and feel like this: you build it up. You spend days before noticing little bits that you don't like about yourself. You indulge in unhappy moments, not because you enjoy them but somehow you think that maybe you deserve it. You keep thinking thoughts that are just a little bit painful. Blows to the chest. You remember being heartbroken, you remember not finding love, you begin to be unsure of yourself.

Some days, thank God, you forget the way you feel. You keep yourself busy, working hard, distracting yourself. Although, despite doing the things you know that really you should love, it all feels a little bit different. Everything feels a little bit sad. You're not doing it the best you can. You're not really joining in with conversation. You have to leave the room to call your mum in tears.

And this is when you wake up on that one day and you hate yourself. It's a horrible, sharp pain and it comes from being heartbroken and feeling empty and eventually it just turns in, clinching your heart.

I'm not going to write any more about it because the memory of that pain is bad enough. But that's the thing, it's turning into a memory. I am recalling the feeling. I'm bored of doing that now. I'm enjoying the feeling of liking myself much more, you see. I'm working on that instead.

There comes a day when you physically loath yourself. There comes several days, over years, over months, after decades of being okay. And then it goes again. You try really hard, because really the whole time you've loved yourself enough to work at it. And then it goes, and you can breathe, and you feel okay. I'm working on that bit, I think I'm nearly there.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Dunkirk: afterthoughts.

I watched Dunkirk last night. My dad walked out half way through because the direction of the film upset him, he found it was overtly stylised for a serious and real topic. I almost walked out towards the end because it was too much. Obviously the film was going to be bleak. Obviously there were going to be lots of deaths and tragedies that actually happened. It's just that, having seen it, did I really need to go to understand the hideous things that humans do to each other?

Okay so the film was powerful. The sound was done so brilliantly that, not having ever felt a bomb go off, I could imagine the extreme terror that noise brings about. I could imagine the utter hopelessness of standing on a beach open as a target to Nazi aircraft. I could see the desperation. I could picture my male friends in the same position. Boys my age just wanting to survive, just wanting to go home, just not wanting to die.

But would I have known and understood all of this without seeing the film? Was it necessary to put myself through 2 hours of crying and stress in order to feel closer to the men who lived through?

Film is a medium that is like no other. You cannot feel the sound, or hear the cries, or see the bleakness of it all from reading a book, unfortunately. A history book could give me the death toll, could describe the conditions. A work of fiction could potentially describe the terror, the bitterness, the humanity. But I'm not sure either of those things could fully immerse me in something which feels a fraction of what it was actually like.

And so perhaps feeling like that, crying for actors on a screen representing real men, is a simple reminder. A reminder of history, of our awful, tragic history. Of what can happen to humans, of what we can do to ourselves.

I'm not really going to comment on the style of the film, the quality of it because obviously it did its job. It made me feel. There were faults and choices made that I don't agree with. But if I'm being honest I think that had I not seen the film, or any film like it, I wouldn't really understand just a little bit of the horror of war. The horror of wars that have happened, and wars that are yet to come (because, sadly, history can and will repeat itself). I think there is a job for films like Dunkirk to do, and I think it's an important job. Just make sure that you're ready for how the film is going to make you feel.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Lazy Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays...

How many times, I wonder, will I lie in bed on a day with nothing to do until 12 pm? How many more times will I be able to do this midweek? I feel as though I should be shaking these days off by now. I should be getting myself up, going to do something, even if it is just to see friends or  to go for a long walk. But then, there is a limit on how many more times I can lie in my bed thinking of nothing, snoozing and dreaming, just existing.

I am finding excuses for myself. Sometimes I stay in bed that long because I don't want to face anything I have to do. If I'm asleep, surely that's a good enough reason for putting something off? I'm getting scared because I'm getting older and real responsibility looms. Responsibility for my life, I mean. I can't say for very much longer that I'll write that book or that play when I'm older. I can't say I'll do all those things in the future.

You can't do everything you want to do when you lie in your bed until 12 pm, as delicious as it is. You also can't lie in your bed until 12 pm on a Wednesday when you're a fully functioning adult. So, where am I supposed to be drawing the line?

Admittedly I am writing this out of guilt, making myself feel better for the fact my day really only started an hour ago. Lying in bed for hours doesn't feel that good when you know there's something else you should be doing. I'm not sure what that something else is, I just know that it's there. I wonder, will I be doing that something as a fully functioning adult?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

How I got to be at the end of a year.

I am almost at the end of my first year of uni. Time has never gone so fast. Or so slow. Or felt so different.

Today as I took down the pictures I'd stuck on my wardrobe nine months ago an overwhelming rush of all the feelings I had felt came through me. All the things I had feared, all the adjustments made, all the settling in. I walk through corridors that now seem so familiar to me, that at first were so long and cold and strange. My room for the first few days was a box I felt very alone in, and now I feel tearful thinking of our goodbye.

I know that I am a different person from the girl who arrived here in October, but I can't put my finger on why. Am I wiser? Happier? Sadder? Heartbroken in new ways from the time before?

During my three terms here I felt like nothing and everything was happening. Time would drag along and speed up to twice the pace each week. Half way through I felt I'd achieved nothing. Now I realise I did everything under the sun, and still there is more to do.

I can't process everything that has happened to me this year, or how I have grown, or how it makes me feel because it is so huge. This whole year has been massive, like a big bang expanding over time, and now I have three months to look back, think, and then quickly move on.

I have done things and not done things. I have regretted and deeply enjoyed. I have been frightened, and loved, and angry, and new, and just happy to be alive. I have been low and unable to get out of bed. I have been so excited I could barely go to bed.

I'm not quite sure how I got to be at the end of a year, it's all a bit of a blur. I stumbled through, working my way, creating a new version of myself. I don't suppose that next year will be any different.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Other women.

I've been meaning for a while now to write something about the women in my life but I keep feeling unsure as to how to proceed. I'm finding it hard to put into words what it feels like to be built up and supported by so many important, clever, brilliant women because they are the absolute essence of my being. I want to say something tacky like "the sisterhood is real" because I genuinely feel like I am part of something bigger, that my womanhood is a part of a world wide society.

But I know that not every woman feels they are a part of this sisterhood. I know that some women want to exclude other women, women born in the wrong bodies, women who are 'different'. I find this so sad, so frustrating that the existence I have connected to and being empowered by other women does not materialise for some. I have this feeling sometimes that I want to take all the women that I will ever meet by the hand and have us stride to our brilliance together. I have this feeling that without other women I would feel nothing at all like myself, but very small and low and unimportant.

The women in my life include my mother, my sister, my aunts, my cousins, my grandmothers. Every female friend I've ever had has built me and supported me in some way. The voices of my favourite female music artists have always comforted me when my heart has been aching. The words of female writers help instruct me. The lives and ambitions of women in roles I desire to be in keep me going, keep me working, tell me not to give up.

In fact, when I am at my lowest, or most afraid, I tend to go to women to let them help me. Perhaps that is the result of being brought up in a primarily female family who openly discuss things and cry together and laugh together and heal together. Perhaps that is why I seek out women to help myself to heal.

This is a very personal outlook. Like I said, some women can be excluded by other women, from other women. And this is not to say that the men in my life have not helped me out of low moments, have not comforted me when I've cried, have not laughed and danced with me.

But I just have this amazing feeling when I'm with the women I love, and I can say literally anything, and I can show them my ugliest side, and I can be my absolute self. I just can't explain this feeling, but it feels a part of something. I feel a part of something bigger than myself.

Maybe that is just what it's like to feel human, to feel a part of something bigger than yourself.