Ruffling Feathers

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Looks like I’ve ruffled a feather or two. Apparently, my wife’s grandmother is still going on about my denim skirt from last Sunday.

She’s concerned for the children.

She need not be worried: if you want to shock and confuse children these days, all you have to do is disconnect the router and give them a whole hour without the Internet!

We went down into the town centre earlier this afternoon. With the weather looking rather changeable, I opted for jeans rather than a jean-skirt. I made the right choice. No matter how confident I felt, I’m still in the early stages, and with town as busy as it was, I’d have had to stick very closely to my family. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable breaking off from the group to drop shopping bags back at the car.

There will come a time, but for now, I need to choose my battles wisely.

I didn’t know what an “SJW” was either.

During my weekend YouTubing, I watched a couple of videos that appeared to be ragging on so-called “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs. Like the term “special snowflake”, it’s not one I’ve come across until recently – it might just be more prevalent in the US than over here. Rather than continue in blissful ignorance, I looked it up.

The opening paragraph on Wikipedia describes the term as “a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, and identity politics”. Okay, so basically anybody whose politics leans to the left. It continues: “The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.” So, by that definition, an SJW is someone who expresses left-leaning political views to serve their own reputation and not out of conviction. Is that right?

The way these videos were describing SJWs, you’d think they were trying to create a new world order by censoring and arguing with everybody who has less-progressive views than them. This actually sounds a bit extreme to me, and I doubt such actions are applicable to most progressives, whether they class themselves as an SJW or not. However, by such definition, it’s not all that different from a vocal Brexit voter shouting down anyone who wants anything but an immediate, hard Brexit. I’m also willing to bet that it’s these extreme fringes that get the press attention and, with simplified black-and-white thinking applied, we all get tarred with the same two brushes.

I hold rather progressive views – I make no apologies for that – but while I’ll express them here and on social media, I don’t insist everybody agrees with them. I’m all for civil debate, but I won’t get involved in a flame war.

I do also hold feminist views, but I’m somewhat more relaxed compared to how feminists are described in those YouTube videos. Again, I make no secret of my feminist views, but you’re more likely to find me acting upon them than preaching about them – it’s called “leading by example”.

In the whole debate about identity and gender politics, while I’m not all that keen on labels personally, I now understand how a lexicon of identities, labels and pronouns is important to those exploring and defining their identities – if a definition already exists, there’s at least one other person who identifies the same way. You’re not alone! I still maintain that all this exploration around gender identities adds vibrancy and colour to what is traditionally a strict monochrome. There does need to be some accommodation on both sides though, especially around the use of pronouns like “xe” and “hir” – it’s easy to add new nouns or verbs to your vocabulary, but as pronouns are woven into the fabric of the English language, new ones take a lot of getting used to, especially to a native speaker of almost 40 years. The singular “they/them/their” comes a lot more naturally.

The way I understand it, activism is a bit like driving a car. Those at the extreme ends have their cars in low gears with the needles on their tachometers constantly in the red: their engines are noisy and angrily revving away, but they’re not going anywhere fast and are likely to be doing more harm than good. The rest of us cruise along in higher gears at a more relaxed pace and make good progress.

I could sum all of that up in just two words…

Calm down!

“I’m holding a Bible… do as I say!”

With Theresa May blabbing on about how her Christian faith is guiding her Brexit strategy, I started getting a rather horrible image of Religion and Politics becoming as intertwined here as it is over in the US. The 2015 General Election was a bit of an eye-opener for me when I saw a handful of Christians, who had up to that point been very vocal about alleviating poverty, voting Conservative on the grounds that David Cameron was a Christian; completely ignoring (or ignorant of) the statistics showing that Foodbank usage had risen exponentially during his austerity-driven premiership. It highlighted a couple of things to me:

  1. Some Christians will take care of their own before anyone else, regardless of need
  2. Religion can so easily be hijacked

As of the 2011 Census, there were 37.5m Christians in the UK, or approximately 60% of the population. Assuming they’re all practising Christians, how many of them, on hearing Theresa May’s statement, will think either:

  1. “she’s being guided by God, so who am I to interfere?”
  2. “is she really, or is she just saying that?”

In Christian belief, God holds ultimate power and authority, but the word of God is inexplicit and open to interpretation. The two together are incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. Take Leviticus 18:20 (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”), combine it with Proverbs 11:19 (“And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death”) and Ezekiel 18:4 (“The soul who sins will die”), coat it in a whole heap of God’s highest authority, and you potentially have someone who believes it’s okay to murder gay people. The commandment of “You shall not murder” is equally inexplicit and will do little to quell such extreme actions – they could still be justified as a form of moral warfare or capital punishment, depending on your interpretation.

Freedom of religion, along with the freedom to hold no religion at all, is a fundamental human right; as religion is personal and religious texts open to interpretation, it is my view that the state should be entirely secular; Government officials are there to serve an entire population, not a selected subset of that population, and therefore should only pass legislation on actual, rather than perceived, immorality.

Take, for example, the oft-reported case of a Christian-run bakery refusing to provide a cake celebrating a gay wedding on the grounds of their religious beliefs. While I believe it is their right to refuse service on what they regard as a moral issue (I’m sure their less-objective competitors agree), the right to refuse service cannot be a one-sided affair. Say, for example, the same Christian couple who ran the bakery went to a catering firm to provide food for a baby’s baptism, only for the caterer to refuse based on their belief that it is immoral for baptism to be forced upon a child by their parents. The couple would have no right to complain or cry discrimination if they enforce their right to moral objection in their own business.

Beliefs are not necessarily facts but, because the Bible lays down God’s authority, such beliefs do become considered as facts. To me, it appears as if you can interpret a few Bible verses a certain way and, just by holding up a copy of the Bible, get others to subscribe to your belief as if it was fact – much like this woman in Target did:

You never see someone holding a Bible aloft and yelling “Jesus tells us in John 13:34 to love one another without condition. I don’t care whether you’re black, white, male, female, gay, straight, cis, trans, Christian, Muslim, animal, vegetable or mineral – I LOVE YOU ALL!!!”.

I have absolutely nothing against anybody using their respective Holy texts to inspire positivity.

So if those were Jesus’ words, and Jesus is God incarnate, and God has absolute authority… why are Christians putting words into God’s mouth and not doing as he commands?

If you absolutely NEED something to hate: hate violence, injustice and ignorance.

I’m going to Hell in a kilt… apparently!

Sauntering around the internet yesterday afternoon, I did a Google search for “utility kilt opinion” looking for more information about how kilts are commonly perceived. One page contained a plethora of links to kilt-related sites all over the web, including one link under the heading of “Stupidity”. The link took me to a page boldly stating that “Wearing Kilts is sinful” hosted on a site called “Divided by Truth”.

The site appears to be a source of ultra-conservative Christian sermons, and on this one in particular, they use cherry-picked bible verses to emphasise their point that Man + Kilt = Cross-dresser = Abomination = Sinful. I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry tears of laughter.

Allow me to pick several bits of it apart.

“Although 1st Corinthians 6:9 is clearly condemning homosexuality and cross-dressing, it is also equally clear that any form of femininity in a man is sinful.”

Right off the bat, they’re citing Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth. Last time I looked, we weren’t in Corinth, therefore we’re reading too much into a letter that wasn’t written to us. Paul was addressing a culture that, at the time, saw misogyny as virtuous and women as property with virtually no social status whatsoever. They were pretty, powerless, and their main duty was to bear children. That bears no resemblance at all to today’s culture. Moving on…

“This is why Deuteronomy 22:5 condemns men wearing women’s apparel. Clearly, it is not acceptable for men to wear women’s clothing.”

Except a Kilt isn’t women’s clothing… it’s been classed as Menswear since at least the 16th Century.

“Men are to be men! Men should talk like men, dress like men, walk like men, and act like men. Kilts on men are sissyish. Although a man wearing a kilt may be tough, the skirt makes him look silly and foolish.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re no longer dealing in facts, but opinions. We’ve now learned that the author doesn’t like them, and is now trawling the Bible to back up his opinion with authority. More on that later.

“Although most men who wear kilts aren’t gay, it makes one wonder why any man would ever want to wear clothing that is considered women’s apparel by 99% of the population. A quick look at any bathroom door will quickly reveal that men wear pants, and women wear dresses.”

If you’re going to make a statement that says “99% of the population think Kilts are women’s apparel”, at least conduct a survey to back it up. I mean a proper, independent survey with a wide and representative selectorate – not just 100 random people from your Church where just one can actually point to Scotland on a map.

A look at the bathroom door will reveal that men wear trousers and women wear skirts/dresses, that much is true… but the bathroom door does not imply that they do so exclusively. And let’s not get into the whole gender/bathroom thing – it’s a sensitive issue for some people, and I have my own views on the subject. Let’s just say I’m in favour of gender-neutral bathrooms under certain conditions.

Next…

“John the Baptist was rugged, as a man should be. The men who lived in the palace wore “soft” clothing, i.e., they didn’t look or act like REAL MEN. I’ve never seen a construction worker wearing a kilt. I’ve never seen a truck mechanic or a coal miner wearing a kilt. I only see men with clean jobs, or playing bagpipes, wearing kilts. Kilts are for men in the palace, not for John the Baptist type men … real men!”

Okay, Mr. Stewart: there’s your foot, here’s a gun – fire away! So, in order to be a “real man”, you must have some rugged, manual profession and come home covered in oil and dirt? What exactly do you wear to church? Do you go dressed modestly in your best, clean clothes… or do turn up covered in camel hair and body odour, just like John the Baptist? I know I’m making an assumption based on the ultra-conservative Churches I’m aware of (including Westboro), but everyone there – including the pastor – is very suited-and-booted. Besides, just because you’ve never seen a mechanic in a kilt doesn’t mean that none exist. If we’re really going down the road of “seeing is believing”, exactly how many times have you seen God? I’m not talking about “his creation” either – I mean Big G himself.

“Clearly, men in the Old Testament didn’t wear the type of skirts or kilts, which some uncouth (lacking refinement or cultivation or taste) men wear today. There’s just something uncouth about a man wearing a kilt!”

Men in the Old Testament didn’t publish content to the Internet either, yet here you are. Yet, rather than take offence at being called “uncouth”, I’m willing to accept that. All I ask in return is for you to preach this at half-time during an Old Firm derby. Rangers are back in the Premiership, so now’s as good a time as any! A tenner says you’ll either walk out in a Wallace tartan kilt, or be carried out on a stretcher; but you’ll at least have united the Rangers and Celtic fans (albeit temporarily).

“Women in the Old Testament also wore robes with skirts; but they were more feminine, cut differently, and made with more feminine materials. Clothing which was transparent, tight fitting, loosely worn, or exposed intimate parts of the body were considered the ATTIRE OF A HARLOT (Proverb 7:10).”

We conclude the page with the indication that Mr. Stewart is completely ignorant to how Kilts are made, or what they’re for. Real Kilts are made of thick, heavy wool – not exactly light and transparent material. In fact, my Utility Kilts are made from heavier material to several pairs of trousers that I own. One of them has metal studs, the other has leather straps. It’s hardly Stevie Nicks, is it? While they can be considered “loosely worn”, the whole point of a Kilt being pleated is that it hangs vertically whilst also permitting maximum freedom of movement. After all, they were meant to be worked in and even fought in. They’re designed to be practical and durable rather than pretty, and they doesn’t expose any “intimate parts of the body” either because, even if you do go full-Scotsman, the sheer weight of the fabric prevents the wind from blowing it any higher than your upper thigh. That’s only an issue for the seriously well-endowed!


Before you mention women’s ability to wear trousers, I must point out that the men got off very lightly. The website has a whole page crammed with information for women. Particularly, about their role in the home, how women preachers are ignorant of scripture, and why they shouldn’t wear trousers. The latter is several times longer, and filled with far more cherry-picked verses, than the Kilt article I dissected above. They even deride feminism and gender equality as the work of Satan – now, I’m not very easily offended, but the statement that “No man wants to be married to a Mack Truck” was pretty damn offensive to me. We may appear so in magazines or on TV, but most men are not shallow. simple-minded sacks of walking libido.

I know I’m approaching this with my rather liberal-minded head on, but I found it rather ironic that this website, hosted in the “land of the free” and advocates its first amendment right to free speech on the homepage, seeks to control said freedom using “Fear of God” tactics to hammer down the authority their “godliness” apparently gives them. Such patriarchal mind-control was one of the reasons I turned my back on Christianity a few years ago.

As the late Bill Hicks once put it: “You are free… to do as we tell you!”

Gamergate and Genderfluid

Returning briefly to the topic of gender norms, I’ve been reading up on, and watching videos related to, non-binary gender identities. To put it in greatly simplified terms, while we’re all aware of masculine and feminine gender identities, there are a minority of people whose identity doesn’t fit neatly into those categories, so they sit either outside or across the gender binary. There are a vast array of different identities which, as far as I understand, depends on where you identify on the masculine-feminine spectrum, and how that identity moves within that spectrum.

I couldn’t help but notice that the people I watched or read about were predominantly young Americans. Why were there so few Europeans? Why did I find just one gender-fluid person in their forties? The answer, if you believe the critics of such identities, is because of Tumblr. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Before I continue, I must say that while I don’t claim to be an expert on American culture, it is beamed into our homes on a daily basis so it does hold some influence over here; this is not just some random Brit sticking his oar in. Whatever happens within American culture has a habit of happening over here too. I believe that America is having a bit of an identity crisis – especially when there are some pockets of American culture that are so strongly ring-fenced along gender lines. Take the “Gamergate” controversy for example:

“Observers have generally described Gamergate as part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women. They cite Gamergate supporters’ frequent harassment of female figures in the gaming industry and its overt hostility toward people involved in social criticism and analysis of video games.” — from Wikipedia

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that where a particular culture (gaming culture in this instance) is so rigorously defined and defended as a “masculine” pursuit that any women who wish to be a part of that culture might begin to exhibit more masculine traits, and may end up believing that their love for gaming comes from some kind of gender dissonance. It’s not as simple as just turning up and saying “Hi – I like playing video games”, even though it really should be. I kind of get the impression that the whole Gamergate controversy was fuelled by some irrational, alpha-male fear of being “beaten by a girl”. Emasculation and losing face rear their ugly heads once more.

From a British/European perspective, something like Gamergate is just baffling – they’re only video games, so why go to war over something whose sole purpose is to entertain? There are millions of Americans who no doubt feel the same way. Likewise, the many different gender identities are seldom understood and rarely uttered over here – not out of ignorance or intolerance, but because it’s not really an issue given that our cultural gender norms are neither as strict nor as aggressively policed. We still have our share of conservatives, but they’re mostly harmless and they’re not given quite so much media attention.

I can see the point made by some critics of these non-binary gender identities in that they merely stick a label onto an expression of one’s own personality, and their definition can be as ambiguous as the binary itself; I can also understand the confusion and the need to define a new identity when society hands you one that just doesn’t work for you. I do believe that such labels are unnecessary – but that is just my opinion. To me, it matters not what you are but who you are, and therefore the only label you really need is your name. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how people define their gender, it just means that they don’t have to explain or justify it to me – you had me at “hello”!

But, when all is said and done, all these young people are doing is trying to make sense of their complex identities in an equally-complex world – if having an lexicon of names and definitions helps that process, then far be it from me to complain. The easiest thing to do is just let them carry on working it all out amongst themselves.

And let them play video games if they want to.

Black plastic, gender norms, yin and yang and culture wars: We didn’t start the fire

I’ve been trying to write another post to conclude the topic I’ve come to know as “Liberals, Conservatives and Blurring Gender Lines”, but after two somewhat different drafts, I couldn’t seem to find a suitable way of drawing it all to a close. Until now.

And, I’m sorry to say, beyond its title, the article has little to do with Billy Joel.

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The first and second drafts, in summary, opined that conservative attitudes are merely progressive attitudes offset a generation behind. Looking back through history, we’ve been constantly moving towards Cultural Liberalism with each generation; from the strict rules and norms of the Victorian era, the suffragette movement of the early 20th century through to the liberation of the 1960’s and beyond. Time moves forward and people continue to ask questions and learn from the answers, making such progress inevitable… so why worry and why fight it? If you believe modern attitudes and conveniences are having a negative impact on society, and that life was so much better thirty years ago, remember that the older generation were likely saying the same when you were young and rebellious.

Thing is, it’s not quite as simple as that. I could have included the role religion has to play in such attitudes, but that’s quite a lengthy topic on its own, and one that’s more of an issue in the US than it is here in the UK. Here, it’s not actually a culture war between conservative and liberal attitudes, or traditional and modern, at all. It’s yin and yang.

pexels-photo-26662Take the “Vinyl Revival” of the past several years: a format in decline through the mid-1990s CD boom, and was good as buried once digital music became the standard. The technology is a century old, yet more and more younger people today are embracing it as a format they actually invest in and feel connected to. There is an aesthetic romanticism to it, and as a Vinyl addict myself, I know how that feels. Convenience is good – Spotify, Deezer and all the other services are great for discovering and expanding one’s own music tastes – but it’s far better to have the freedom to choose how you prefer experiencing the music you love, whether that be in the modern-day cloud or carved into a traditional, plastic disc.

In one context, the whole topic could be summed up in that one word: Freedom. Morality aside, liberalism will always be there to provide greater cultural freedoms, but conservatism will always be there to curb the excesses. Tradition will always be there to preserve history, but modernisation will always be there to provide variety and hindsight.

It can be summed up more effectively with another word: Feminism. Contrary to some of the more extreme understandings of the word, Feminism is not just about granting women the same rights and opportunities as men, it is also the other way around. As a prime example, men have always had the right to be hands-on parents, but social stigma has always relegated them to a supporting role (or, at worst, a disciplinarian). It just wasn’t acceptable for a family to consist of a working mother and a stay-at-home father. Today, we have Shared Parental Leave and stay-at-home fathers are not uncommon. Again, this is an example of emancipation, not emasculation.

2000px-Whitehead-link-alternative-sexuality-symbol.svgAnd now we come full-circle. At the end of the day, Masculinity and Femininity are only abstract words – they have no explicit or universal definition. Some may see the division between the two as a bold line drawn in permanent marker, but in reality, it’s just a dotted pencil line that, over time, has had bits erased or moved. The blurring of gender lines is just one step towards equality for all.

So be good, be free, be yourself and be happy… and certainly don’t be afraid to be creative.

Cultural Conservatism

One area I was reading into not long ago was about the difference between cultural liberals and cultural conservatives: the former advocating cultural growth through individual freedoms, the latter through traditions and standards. Because I lean more towards liberalism on the cultural spectrum, I’m already aware of why I lean that way, but what goes on in the mind of a cultural conservative? Why do they feel that culture should be bound by rules and standards, and why do they see liberal attitudes as a threat?

I’m no psychologist, but I do have theories.

Blue_flag_waving.svgPicture this: you’re down the pub with your friends. Everyone in your circle has a number of shared interests, opinions and attitudes so the conversation (and the booze) flows nicely. It’s all very comfortable and familiar. A week later, you’re invited to a barbecue hosted by one of your partner’s colleagues. Now you’re in amongst a circle of people you know nothing about. They will likely have different personalities and behaviours to your usual circle of friends, you begin to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and so up go your defences. It would be so much easier if your wife’s colleagues were a lot like you and your friends.

In my opinion, those who are culturally conservative depend on culture being stable, secure and predictable in order to feel comfortable, included and valued. Both conservatives and liberals alike seek “the easy life”, but merely have different methods: a liberal achieves this through adopting a relaxed attitude towards culture and is not easily stressed or threatened by anything they don’t understand; a conservative, on the other hand, achieves this by advocating a collective identity free of shocks and surprises.

So, to cross-reference my previous post, those who believed that men were progressively being emasculated show signs of having some dependency on a collective identity, a standard “masculine” identity they feel is slowly being eroded away, and will eventually leave them detached and alienated. You see similar opinions whenever the topic of immigration is raised, where conservatives believe that their national identity is being diluted by an influx of outside influences. This may sound a bit daft, but I do actually feel sorry for those who are so strongly cultural-conservative. It’s like they live each day of their lives in fear or suspicion of anything that’s different – they need that strong and stable communal identity to cover over the insecurities in their own, individual identity. Those who feel immigrants are a threat to British culture probably aren’t all that strong in their own cultural identity if it can be shaken so easily. Likewise, those that feel Mantyhose are a threat to masculinity can’t be all that secure in their own masculinity.

If you feel that somebody from a different culture to your own poses a threat to you, there is one word you can use to neutralise that threat.

“Hello!”