Left- and Right-wing Music

I’ve been buying up more cassette tapes from eBay over the last week or so, mainly to satisfy an itch for stand-up comedy, but also to gamble on a few titles from the 70’s and 80’s without suffering the ear-splitting din that comes from “digital remasters” and without the risk/expense of getting vinyl through the postal network. In amongst those purchases was Billy Bragg‘s “difficult” third album, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. I’d heard odd songs of his, but never a full album – put it this way, I’ve listened to little else since Saturday.

Yesterday, I was looking for an analysis of one of its’ tracks: “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”. I found one on, of all places, The Spectator – not a publication I’d say would take a very favourable view of Bragg (an often-outspoken socialist) or his music. The comments at the botton (yeah, I know), rather than comment on or discuss the song itself, levelled numerous criticisms of Bragg’s personal life: accusations of being a “champagne socialist”, moving to the rural county of Dorset and various other slurs.

On the same site, I read another article that took pot-shots at liberal lefties for complaining when Kate Bush said she quite likes Theresa May. The article then went on to list a number of artists who, at least as far as the author was concerned, were right-wing or conservative; as an avid Rush listener, calling them “conservative” on the grounds of their Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics during the mid-70’s makes me think the author merely read the Wikipedia article for 2112 in lieu of actual research.

It’s clear that the author of the latter article, and the comments on the former, were written by conservatively-minded people. I came away with the impression that they believed those on the left could not separate an artist from their politics, and that political ideology is explicitly linked to wealth.

Firstly: Kate Bush’s views on Theresa May are her own, and hating on her for holding them is, at best, infantile. Equally infantile is suggesting that Kate’s politics would cause many ‘liberals’ to delete her music from their iPods; personally, even in the highly-unlikely event that her next album served as an overt musical shrine to Thatcherism, my admittedly-meagre Kate Bush collection would still remain – I just wouldn’t buy the new one until I’d heard it first. The widespread view of liberals as snowflakes is grossly over-exaggerated.

Secondly, I want to deal with the term “Champagne socialist”. If you’re unaware of the term, it is used to describe someone who holds left-leaning or socialist views despite living a privileged life or having personal wealth; in effect branding them as hypocrites.

Whatever Billy Bragg has in his bank account he has worked hard for, and I doubt anyone reasonable would begrudge him that: musicians don’t exactly get a pension when they hang up their guitars. There’s a sneering belief that any socialist with a bit of cash in the bank should practice what they preach and give it all to the poor, but he shouldn’t have to; he, like many of us, pays his taxes and has a right to speak his mind on how those taxes should be spent. Money, on the other hand, is not the one true commodity; it doesn’t take much digging to see how Bragg has used his creativity, talent and voice to educate the ignorant and speak up for those to whom nobody listens. Knowledge is power.

But where are the right-wing songs? Where are the folk ballads extolling the virtues of laissez-faire capitalism or the dangers of wealth redistribution? Why does Bruce Springsteen continue to outsell Ted Nugent?

I have a few theories.

  1. We’re still enamoured with music from the summer of love, particularly the peace-loving works of The Beatles.
  2. We relate to music on an emotional an empathetic level; when someone’s struggles and hardship are borne out in the lyrics, we react with sympathy – hence the success of charity songs like “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World”. A song describing the life of a Banker on a 7-figure salary is more likely to be perceived as bragging than aspirational.
  3. We also like to connect with the artists whose work speak to us, and like to feel as if they understand the people who buy their music.

Alternatively, it could be perceived that right-wing music exists, but doesn’t take the same form as the folk ballads and protests songs of the left. Right-wing music could simply be the musical equivalent of fast food: low quality, mass-produced and disposable music designed purely for short-term profit.

Music to give your brain a quick buzz rather than enlightenment.

Music born of capitalism, not creativity.

Music to stop you from thinking.

Music to stop you asking questions.

Weighing in on John Lewis “girls and boys” clothing range

One story that’s hit the news in the past few days is that John Lewis, a British retailer, has produced a line of gender-neutral clothes for children. I don’t shop at John Lewis myself, but full respect for the move: It’s a great reaction to the growing concerns that childrens’ fashions are still rooted in anachronistic stereotypes.

The reaction in both the press and on social media has been quite off-balance. With few exceptions, the reports I’ve read have a very noticeable lean towards the negative: The Mirror and the Huffington Post are the only reports I’ve seen with any kind of balance or neutrality.

Yes, there’s been a lot of “outrage”, “backlash” and calls for a “boycott”, but it looks to me like a complete over-reaction:

  1. There was no indication of a “median” reaction so it’s unclear what proportion of people reacted positively or neutrally.
  2. With some comments, it was doubtful they’d even read (or understood) the whole story, given how many believed this was a plot to put dresses on boys. All John Lewis did was remove the gendered stereotypes and produce a range of clothes that could be worn by both boys and girls. If there was no demand from parents, there would be no supply.
  3. There were some comments stating that this would cause mental health problems in the future. These are only predictions, not facts, and they didn’t come from people with a background in mental health or child psychology. The demand for childrens’ clothing without stereotypes is relatively new, so without any case studies, the future effects cannot be predicted with any kind of accuracy.
  4. Some of the comments published came from middle-aged people who are less likely to be buying clothes for children, but more likely to hold conservative views on gender.

I’ve also noticed some of the logical fallacies at play – I’ve loved learning about these. The examples are not real quotes, but they are based on common comments and tweets:

  • Appeal to Tradition: “we’ve had gendered clothing for years and it’s never done us any harm”. While that may be true, it does not imply that non-gendered clothing must be harmful.
  • Red Herring: “But there are children starving and North Korea might be trying to nuke us”. A distraction away from the topic of discussion into something less relevant.
  • Appeal to Common Sense: “It’s common sense that boys and girls are different, therefore they need different clothes”. Yes, they are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re polar opposites.
  • Appeal to Popularity: “The majority of people won’t buy this, so why bother?”. The majority of people live on land, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit selling house-boats.
  • Appeal to Fear: “If you put your son in these clothes, they’ll get bullied and picked on”. It’s also possible that they won’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that all of this negative reaction is down to that last one: fear. More specifically, fear of change; I’ve seen this recurring in whatever social subject I research.

Change is inevitable: with every generation comes new technologies, new possibilities, new outlooks. Our children are both the workers and the customers of the future, so businesses look to them to keep pace with the competition and ensure their survival; that’s exactly what John Lewis has always done. The only way to stop change altogether is to stop everyone from having children!

This is not about giving into political correctness either because your freedom of choice remains unaffected. Billions of people worldwide have Facebook accounts, but nobody is forcing you to sign up for one; likewise, you still have a choice what you clothe your children in – nobody is saying you must buy only unisex clothing. If they retracted the line following the “outrage”, minimalising the offence caused to conservatives, that would be giving in to political correctness.

There are those who say you get more conservative and right-wing as you get older, but I can’t see that happening to me. I refuse to be one of those frightened old men, clinging on to nostalgia. Life experience gets you so far, but it doesn’t imply greater wisdom or superiority over younger people, nor does it provide an excuse to stop learning.

Children live in the now, and I think that should continue throughout your life. You can learn from the past, but you can’t live in it; you also can’t predict the future, but you can influence it.

Longing for the past or fearing the future only makes you miserable in the present.

What gender is a strawman?

Yesterday, I read a news article published in the Independent that the UK government are planning reforms allowing trans people to self-identify without the need for all of the red tape and medical examinations. They’re even allowing an “X” marker for those who feel they sit outside of the binary. It’s a step in the right direction, I’ll grant it that – but it still falls short of recognising that sex and gender aren’t so easily compartmentalised.

I loved reading the comments though. The strawmen were everywhere! Strawmen with rabidly-frothing mouths, throbbing veins in their foreheads and dangerously high blood pressure. Plus a lot of the usual “political correctness gone mad”/”the world’s going to hell in a handbasket” type ramblings.

If you’re not familiar with the strawman fallacy, it’s where one’s claim is substituted with a completely distorted and inaccurate view by another. In this specific case:

Government: “We’ll allow trans people to self-identify on their birth certificates without a doctor’s diagnosis”
Comments: “So you’re allowing sex offenders easy access to women’s toilets, and men to compete in women’s sports?”

The government makes no claims that this will change the legality of sex offences, nor will it make committing said offences any easier. Any sicko motivated enough to prey on women in the ladies’ toilet isn’t going to pause at the door, make a u-turn and go “Drat – I forgot to change my birth certificate first”. Regardless of what’s on your birth certificate, and regardless of which toilet you walk into, the moment you start engaging in lewd behaviour, you’re breaking the law.

The way I read it, the whole “restroom” debate is often over-simplified, unidirectional and littered with similar strawmen. I’m also surprised at how often transmen get excluded from it; when you look at the bigger picture, they’re the game-changers. You can’t force them into the women’s toilet without the risk of someone screaming “Aaargh! A man’s walked into the ladies’ toilet!”, and you can’t allow them into the men’s toilet without admitting your solutions are inconsistent. Beyond the protections already enshrined in law, what can you do to keep the predators out without infringing on the rights of the innocent?

This could be one argument for the abolition of gendered bathrooms. When the debates focus solely on the vulnerability of women and children, they ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of men are perfectly harmless and have the same attitudes towards sex offenders as they do. It is possible that any sex offender would think twice if other men were using the same bathroom, or if one could walk in at any time. If you’re a husband or father, where are you best placed to protect them? Waiting outside, or in there with them?

There are also no claims that this will change competitive sports in any way, so where they get that nugget of information from is anybody’s guess, but let’s treat it as a valid concern for now. Competitive sports are divided along the men/women divide, so how do you make them trans-inclusive? One way would be to employ a classification system similar to how the Paralympics ensures fair competition. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

One thing I’m sure we all can agree on though: jumping instantly to extreme or reactionary conclusions, without any prior debate or discussion, doesn’t exactly help your credibility on the subject.

Election Anxiety

I’ve not been giving much attention to this blog of late – mostly down to being quite busy at home and at work, so I’ve not really done anything. I’m also going through some rather rapid emotional swings in regards to today’s General Election. There is so much riding on it and, while I’ve tried to avoid reading too much into the polls, the thought of the Tories increasing their majority fills me with dread and uncertainty for so many reasons.

On the flip side, when I follow the campaign of my local Labour candidate, and hearing testimonies from young and first-time voters excited by and engaged with the Labour manifesto, my mood swings completely the other way. A strong turnout, especially amongst people my age and younger, could change everything; my wife and I will be on the edge of our sofa as the exit poll is broadcast at 10pm.

Jeremy Corbyn, and my local candidate Andrew Hammond, have poured everything they can into this election and, policies aside, I applaud them both just for running very positive campaigns. No smears, no muck-slinging and no cheap point-scoring – that’s how political campaigning should be.

I so hope that when I wake up on Friday morning, there is cause for celebration.

My thoughts on the so-called “Dementia Tax”

There are a million and one reasons why, in the forthcoming General Election, I will NOT be voting Conservative, but the so-called “Dementia Tax” is one of them. It probably won’t affect me in the short- or long-term, but what it could mean for those who are affected fills me with disgust.

Picture this:

All your life, you’ve worked hard. You’ve earned a living, bought your own home and raised a family. Throughout your working life, you’ve never skimped on paying your Income Tax and National Insurance contributions, and you’ve never required any state support. You’re comfortable in the knowledge that everything you’ve worked for will be passed down to your children.

You visit the doctor one morning, and you’re shocked to hear that you have an age-related condition that, over the years, will significantly reduce your independence. At some point in the near future, you will need around-the-clock care. It would be nice to think that, for all your contributions to the state, the state will reciprocate by looking after you so as not to burden your children.

However, in the 2017 General Election, the Conservatives won; implementing their social care scheme that takes all of your assets into account in order to pay for the care you need. All the money you paid in to that so-called National INSURANCE scheme throughout your decades in work doesn’t count for anything. Your assets are going to be stripped down to the last £100k, so that nice nest egg you were going to bequeath to your children is now mostly going to the State.

Except it doesn’t really go to the State, does it?

Under Tory ideology, the people who are going to be charged with your care are not public servants at all – they work for a private company who now manage the social care provision in your area. As such, they’re motivated more by profit than by service. The quality of care you receive can only be described as “acceptable” – you get the essentials, but your quality of life is rather lacking… and you’re paying for it! Some retirement, eh?

Everything you worked for in the knowledge that your children would benefit from it has now ended up on the bottom line of a profit and loss report, divvied up between the shareholders and the Chief Executive’s fat annual bonus. Or, worse still, siphoned to an off-shore tax haven. You didn’t ask to get ill, and you certainly didn’t choose to – yet you and your family are being punished heavily because of it while complete strangers are rolling in the fruits of your labour.

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be quite the kick-in-the-teeth – a means of asset-stripping the elderly, and funnelling it into corporate profits. It’s disgusting behaviour.

But the good thing is, it hasn’t happened yet. It can be stopped, and I’m going to do my part in stopping it:

I’m voting Labour!

Rant in B-sharp: Interfering Wowsers

Last night, in the few minutes between getting into bed and falling asleep, one question wafted into my mind:

Why do some people believe it’s okay to interfere in, criticise or control the lives and choices of others?

In Australia and New Zealand, they have a brilliant word for such people: wowsers. People so prim, proper and moralistic, they suck the fun out of everything. People so easily-offended, freedom of choice and freedom of expression is a scary prospect to them.

Thinking about it further got me more than a little wound up. I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair share of criticism over the years from people who saw themselves on the moral or cultural high ground and saw it as their right to pass comment on others. Therefore, this post may get rather ranty, a bit sarcastic and perhaps a little satirical too. We all need to vent sometimes.

I’d been watching a video on the sexual double standard. If you’re not already familiar with the term, it’s where having many sexual partners is regarded negatively for women, but virtuous for men. From what I gathered, it’s an anachronistic and conservative throwback to the days before contraceptives, where promiscuous women were seen as potential harbingers of venereal diseases… so don’t go there! As such, a woman with no, or few, previous sexual partners was seen as appropriate; however, a man with a similar history must have something seriously wrong with him. How on earth is this still relevant today, and what right do we have to criticise others for what they get up to in the bedroom anyway? If you’re happy and healthy, who cares?!

The same goes for those who believe conversion therapy works, and either encourage, pressure or force their friends or family members to undergo such treatment. What’s the matter? Is the shame of having a gay person in the family so bad that you’ll gladly chip away at your loved ones’ mind through extreme, Clockwork Orange-style therapies; just so you can sleep a little easier? I’m sorry, but if you’re only willing to say “I love you” after you’ve had their nuts wired to a car battery, then you’re the one who needs to seek help.

And while we’re on the subject, stop lobbying your representatives in Government to legally remove the rights of others based on your personal religious views. The same goes for international religious lobby groups too. If you want the freedom to practice your religion without discrimination, then keep your nose out of civic affairsFreedom of religion is a universal human right, as is freedom of conscience, which applies to all and not just your little collective. Freedom from offence is not a human right… so put the placard down and move along.

And finally, here’s a list of a few more things people publicly criticise others for that really pisses me off:

  • Their physical appearance.
  • Their wardrobe choices. There’s a reason Trinny and Susannah aren’t on the air anymore.
  • Their gender identity. Is that stranger over there confusing you because they don’t look quite right? If I were you, I’d go home and take a couple of paracetamol if thinking is making your head hurt.
  • Their diet. Are you a doctor or a nutritionist? No? Then shut up!
  • Their political beliefs. There is no right and wrong on the political spectrum – contribute to the debate or go back to your right-wing safe space on the Daily Mail forums!
  • Their mental health. No, we can’t just “cheer up” or “snap out of it”.
  • Their possessions. Am I making you late for work by not driving a faster car? Sue me.
  • Their personal tastes. I quite liked Pink Floyd’s Endless River. Deal with it.
  • Their accent. I’m sick of hearing how disliked or “unattractive” the West Midlands accent is, or how it makes us sound unintelligent! Yow can bugger off, arroight!

Rant over.

Taking the Hiss Out of Ben Elton: Preparing for my first proper cassette deck

It’s no secret that I love listening to music on vinyl, and for my birthday last week, I had no less than 9 LPs to listen to (a tenth is winging its way here from sunny Florida). After watching the various retro audio tech videos on Techmoan’s YouTube channel, I wanted to have the ability to listen to cassettes properly. I’ve had several Walkmans of varying quality in the past, and we’ve got a portable radio/cassette/CD player in the kitchen, but it’s hardly high fidelity.

Pre-recorded cassettes are very inexpensive, and there are rich pickings for a couple of quid including postage. I quite like listening to spoken word and comedy albums, and there are many of which that haven’t been released digitally. Such albums are better suited to cassette than vinyl.

On eBay last week, I found a Technics RS-BX 501 cassette deck on sale for just £30 – not fully working but only needed a replacement capstan belt. It’s a 20-25 year-old deck so it’s fair to say the rubber belt has hardened and perished over time, but you can still get compatible replacements for just a few quid. I had a look at the service manual and, while it does appear to be a bit fiddly, the process does seem fairly straight-forward. I’ve never repaired or restored any electrical or mechanical items before, so that’ll be another tick in the box for me.

It appears to be quite a decent deck, compatible with Ferro, Chrome and Metal cassettes, and supports Dolby B, C and HX-Pro. Looks in good condition too – a few scuffs and marks at the back, but the front looks pristine.

My cassette collection at present numbers just 8 – most of them I bought despite my inability to play them – so have been on eBay to add a few more titles to my collection. One of those I’m looking forward to hearing is Motormouth by Ben Elton, his first stand-up album collating some of his best routines from the early 80’s. I’ve already got his second album, Motorvation, on cassette so I had to made sure the collection was complete – and a couple of quid for an hour’s worth of comedy wasn’t to be sniffed at.

I know he gets a lot of criticism today due to his politics and principles, but I hardly think that’s fair at all: how he manages his life and his career is his own business. When you listen to his routines, there’s as much observational humour as there is political – if not more – and it’s not all stuck in the Thatcher-era. If you hunt around on YouTube, you might be able to find some old episodes of The Man from Auntie – his early-90’s stand-up show broadcast on the BBC – and you’d be surprised at how much of it is still relevant. You still can’t get a cup of coffee on a train that’s worth drinking, we’re still haunted by our own personal “Captain Paranoia”, nobody takes the blindest bit of notice of The Clothes Show, and the government is still made up of anachronistic toffs who think Downton Abbey is utopian drama.

Ooh err, bit of politics. Right on.

UPDATE: Disappointingly, the cassette deck I received was a dud. The capstan belt was perfectly fine and was driving the capstans as expected, but the poor playback was due to the pinch rollers being so old and covered in oxide that they wouldn’t rotate smoothly and freely, not even after cleaning and lubricating. In fact, the whole area around the tape heads looked rather dirty/rusty, and I couldn’t find any spares online. It’s being returned to the seller so should get a refund soon. It’s a bit of a hassle, but we live and learn. I’ve since ordered another deck – not the same one, but this one is at least fully tested and working – so I’ll just have to wait a bit longer to listen to Ben Elton!

The Normality of Niqabs and Drag Queens

One of my friends shared a video on Facebook concerning reactions to an image that went viral. The image showed two people sitting on the Subway in New York: one of them a Muslim woman in a niqab, the other a drag queen. The video interviewed a small handful of New Yorkers to gain their reaction to the photo, and they all seemed rather blasé about it. They’d lived in New York long enough to know how diverse its citizens are, and this was nothing out of the ordinary.

what_liberals_wantThe video also showed the conservative reaction via a tweet that showed the picture with a heading of “This is the future that liberals want”. Can’t argue with that – two people sitting peacefully side-by-side on the Subway… who doesn’t want that?

Okay, I get the idea that they were stating that niqabs and drag queens would not be welcome in a conservative future. I can also understand why, to a certain degree, but am still confused as to how they can harp on about their freedoms whilst simultaneously protesting others. Why are they free to wear a crucifix around their neck if they want to, but the niqab should be banned even for those women who choose to wear it? I can see how a drag queen can confuse those who see the world in monochrome, but if they’re out having fun and harming nobody in the process, what’s the big issue?

Before anybody says “it’s not normal”, I’d argue that there is no such thing as “normal” when it comes to people – our collective diversity is both “normal” and “natural”. There are statistical likelihoods, but that is all. For example, I am one of less than 0.004% of Brits that bought Steven Wilson’s latest single – does that mean my behaviour is abnormal, or am I just expressing my taste in music? 90% of the UK population live outside of London – does that mean all Londoners are “weird”, or is it just a meaningless statistic?

Being part of a minority does not imply you’re some freak of nature – the fact that you can think independently shows just how natural you are

Besides, aren’t we all part of at least one statistical minority, and if so, why are some so intolerant of those minorities that they have to abuse or lobby against them?

UPDATE: I’ve just found out that the drag queen in the image goes by the name of Gilda Wabbit. When everything is so Disney or Dreamworks, it’s good to see some love for the old Looney Tunes classics!

Dresscode Discrimination: Weighing in on the “High Heels” debate

This week, there’s been some coverage in the media calling on the British government to add further protection for women in the workplace. It was highlighted that some firms required their customer-facing female members of staff to wear high heels as part of the company dress code, with reports of some women being sent home without pay if they didn’t. Following a successful petition, the issue will be discussed in parliament and responded to.

When stories like this emerge, social media gets worked up into a frenzy, and this was no exception. Fortunately, for every tweet complaining about whining Feminazis, there were dozens more in support.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out where I stand on the issue. While Companies are well within their rights to a specific dress code policy, and their employees are bound by those policies as a condition of employment, they still have a duty to provide a conductive working environment for their employees. That also works in the company’s best interest: comfortable staff = productive staff. I can’t say I’ve spent days on end, constantly on my feet wearing high-heeled shoes, but I do at least have a point of reference: whenever my wife has worn heels at a wedding, she always carries a pair of flat shoes in reserve when all the standing-around gets too much (why do wedding photographers always have to be so perfectionist?!). Forcing a woman to wear painful or uncomfortable shoes as a condition of employment, based on nothing more than an anachronistic view of heels as both “sexy” and “powerful”, is demeaning at best and oppressive at worst.

I’m no legal expert, but if an employee becomes physically unable to wear high-heeled shoes, and the company is unwilling to make a reasonable adjustment, they are in breach of the Disabilities Discrimination Act of 1995. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

In fact, company dress codes can be bad on both sexes for archaic and impractical reasons. Although I wasn’t in any physical pain (so this pales in comparison), there have been occasions when I’ve had to wear a full suit in the middle of summer, on a day close to being the hottest of the year, on the grounds that it looks “successful” and “professional”. I certainly didn’t feel very professional with beads of sweat dripping off my forehead, and I probably didn’t smell all that professional either – even antiperspirants boasting “24-hour protection” have their limits. Likewise, a woman wearing a pair of heels that are killing her feet is not going to feel all that professional or empowered either. If I was a potential customer being given a tour of a company, and my guide was grimacing with every laboured step, I’d find her a chair and go speak to whoever’s in charge. What use is privilege if you’re blind to injustice?

I was having a discussion with another Twitter user who had weighed in on this subject. Their initial tweet had diminished the oppressive aspect on the grounds that there are far greater oppressions abroad. True, but it’s pure sleight-of-hand: draw your attention to one big oppression so that you’re blind to the hundreds of little oppressions that carry on while you’re not looking. One greater oppression does not excuse the hundreds of smaller ones – they all need to be dealt with, so it’s better to pick a battle where you can influence and make a difference, however small that battle may be. These little wins all add up.

The discussion quickly turned to appearances vs. qualifications. My friend (as Jeremy Corbyn would put it) argued that you need to ‘look the part’ when you’re at work; after all, you wouldn’t entrust your savings to a bloke in a track suit, would you? Well, if you were that superficial, no you wouldn’t. I asked them if they would trust me with their savings if I was wearing an expensive, tailored Italian suit, to which they replied “more than if you were wearing anything else”. Well, you know what they say about fools and their money, don’t you?! Whether I’m wearing an Armani suit or my birthday suit, you should never trust me with your savings: my degree is in computer science, not investment banking. Looks can so easily be deceiving, but it’s hard to fake a qualification.

I’d have loved to have kept the discussion going, but when I brought up the legal implications should a woman become medically unable to wear heels during her employment, they dismissed these as infrequent and was not worth changing policies for “a couple hundred deformed”. At that point, I knew the conversation had crossed the line and wasn’t going to go anywhere constructive, so I politely took my leave.

I do agree that clothes say a lot about you, but like any other art-form it’s open to interpretation. It should always be our attitudes, our aptitudes and our behaviours that speak louder. I personally believe that a relaxed dress code at work, particularly for non-customer-facing staff, encourages freedom of expression and creativity. Dress-down Fridays where I work feel more relaxed, conductive and informal, so I don’t understand why we can’t have that every day. I also think it’s time this superficial view of professionalism was done away with – are first impressions really all that important?

These days, if someone approaches me wearing a suit, I’m initially quite wary of them – particularly salespeople. Any trickster can throw on a suit and look far more trustworthy than they actually are – when you look formal but act informal, my brain tells me something’s amiss. Put on a pair of jeans and a company-branded polo shirt, and you might find me a bit less defensive.

What are your thoughts on the whole debate? Do you think employees are right to protest when company dress codes cause severe discomfort, or do you believe that should be their cue to find work elsewhere? Do you think company dress codes are too traditional and formal? Do they even contribute anything? Let me know in the comments section below.

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!