Saturday, 31 March 2012

Single mothers: 'A feckless actor in this dysfunctional drama'

When Hester, from The Scarlet Letter, gets pregnant by some randy priest in a forest, she has to wear a big ‘A’ around her neck for the rest of her life. This ‘A’ stands for adultery and is an outward sign of her inner shame and depravity; despite the fact that her husband had left her long before she shacked up with the horny cleric and became impregnated from his holy sperm. Undergraduate literature students will churn feminist essays out every year about the scarlet letter being a symbol of her degradation and the sign of a wider misogyny– about "how it’s…like… really wrong and stuff, cos she becomes…like… a Victorian index of cultural decline". Through Hester, English students all over the country realise that the ‘single mother’ used to be held up as a mirror for social ills, back then in the Puritan times and probably even still at the time the book was written in 1850. It was a form of branding – just like you brand a cow with a coloured letter to identify them from the other cows, you can brand a woman with a coloured letter so everyone will know what a hoebag they are, thereby giving her a chance to achieve true shame and contrition, whilst protecting all the innocent menfolk from her wicked, wily ways.

We no longer use Scarlet Letters. We don’t need to. On the subject of their own motherhood, we still have women expressing very Hester-like sentiments such as ‘I feel like society sees me as nothing - as a scrounger. I feel like everyone wants me to be ashamed.’

We still have women walking around feeling like they’re wearing a scarlet letter without the one redeeming factor of wearing one; namely, that it was a small hint at redemption. The ‘A’ should stand for ‘apologies’: “Apologies for this immaculate conception that I have taken the entire responsibility for. Apologies for showing the world that sex isn’t always one massive Ann Summers party – sometimes it results in creating children. Apologies for not having an abortion, which you would have hated me for anyway. Apologies for loving my child enough not to give it up for adoption. Apologies for not being able to afford childcare for my children and having no option but to rely on benefits so at least we have somewhere to live and something to eat. Apologies for not having some divine ability to make a man stay with me who wanted to leave, or to oblige some backwards ideal of a nuclear family and stay in a destructive relationship for the sake of keeping up appearances. Apologies for being visible within society – walking around, looking like I have no money. Apologies that, like most social groups, I mix with other people who are similar to me who might also be single mothers themselves. Apologies for having relationships with other men and not converting to a life of celibacy because it would make you more comfortable. Apologies for being alive, rather than just sitting in a room being ashamed of myself, to protect you from the inconvenience of seeing me.”

We act as an abusive partner to the single mother. We bully and patronize her in equal measure.  Society protects single mothers who have no money, by giving her enough benefits to live, eat and function. Yet it resents and pities her for having the audacity to exist outside of the middle-class norm. As usual, society kicks down. Family breakdown and the imagined consequences of it (crime, autism, terrorism, whatever) are to blamed wholly on “single mothers on benefits”. The absent father is forgotten, mainly because you can’t really spot a father who doesn’t help bring up his kids. Yet a woman (who, interestingly if the child is sitting beside them, DIDN’T desert the children) is held as wholly and completely responsible for this ‘complex and deep-rooted problem.’

Tanya Gold debunks some of the myths around single parenthood, particularly the idea that a lot of young woman get pregnant to get a council flat: only 3% of single mothers are teenagers – the average age is 37. The majority of mothers (55%) had their children within marriage. 46% live below the poverty line, compared to 24% of families with two parents. A majority (57%) of single parents work and, once their children get to 12, this rises to 71%.

So, what is this ‘deep-rooted and complex’ problem that Melanie Phillips and co. continue to bring up? Admiring a woman for bringing up a child by herself is, to Phillips, ‘unfair and perverse’ and a sign of feminism gone mad. Instead of treating them with a slither of humanity, we should end any benefits that support them. And why should they be punished? Because, Phillips says, ‘fatherless families cause pain and misery to everyone. They damage children. They hurt men. And they also hurt women.’

Why do they hurt men? Literally, why? She doesn’t say, because it’s a piece of crap, based on some weird paranoid notion that women pray on men to get pregnant so that they can begin this life of increased difficulty and poverty. The focus here is on ‘fatherless families.’ Families without fathers are bad, primarily, because they are without a man. Children are brought up all over the country by a single woman who does not need the security and support of a husband - and this is threatening and perverse because it makes his role redundant. Fathers who bring up children on their own without a woman, in comparison, are greatly admired. My close friends who were brought up by a single father note the constant need to valorise and turn him into a hero ; he is given a biscuit and pat on the head every single day for not walking out on his kids. The same shouldn’t be done for women; it’s bad enough that men are patronised by people who seem surprised that they didn’t shove their kids straight into social care while they swanned off to Ibiza with a hot woman they met down the pub. However, single mothers should be shown a smidgen of the kindness and respect awarded to single fathers, rather than being held as a scapegoat for a small minority of women who sit around drinking/smoking and hurling abuse at their kids. You wouldn’t blame someone who was an ethnic minority because a small number commit crimes, you wouldn’t blame every Muslim because a few became terrorists and by that same measure, you shouldn’t blame a single mother because a few of them are shit.

Phillips softens at this point. In an attempt to not appear like the evil bitch-hag she is, she switches from the all out damnation of single mothers and, suddenly, in a last ditch attempt to prove the need for a conservative family, becomes sympathetic:

‘At the bottom of the social scale, lone mothers are often trapped in loneliness, depression and poverty, and – along with their children – are far more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse.’

We all knew she had a heart somewhere. So these women, who exist at the pond-weed level of society, despite the fact that most of them juggle work and raising children alone, actually need our protection to prevent them from being lonely, depressed and poor. You can replace friendship, family, prozac and money with a man that you don't love or who doesn't love you. Phillips now recognises that single mothers live in poverty, despite her earlier demand to remove their benefits despite the fact that they very rarely have the capacity to work full time. But, the reason for forcing families together is because you are actually stopping women being trapped in loneliness and depression. Right.

Because none of our grandmothers faced loneliness and depression? No-one living in a forced family unit for the sake of their children faced abuse and sadness in the 40s? Give me a break.

Yes, the statistics for domestic abuse have risen at the same time as more marriages break down. This is because people now have the right to report it – whilst violence within the household has become less acceptable and is listed as a crime in itself. It’s like saying ‘rape in relationships has risen since the 90s, at the same time as women’s rights were growing’. Rather than seeing that statistics for rape in relationships grew at the exact point that it became illegal in 1991, thereby allowing it to be listed as a reportable crime rather than ‘just one of those things’? The only difference is, women and men have the right to walk away from destructive relationships now, even if they don’t always do this.  And that is a brilliant thing.

 A loveless relationship does not benefit the adults involved in it or the children who have to see it. It is an infringement on your human rights to be forced to stay in a relationship to keep the likes of Melanie Phillips happy. This is what makes us a modern country. And children have the right to be raised by a parent who loves and appreciates them. They do not, however, have the rights to a picture perfect family and most of them would not want to exercise this right even if they could - because they are always the observers of what goes on behind closed doors. Some of my closest friends were raised by single mothers and became the most beautiful people I know. Yet some people in England were raised within a nuclear family and still turned out like Melanie Phillips.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Twenty ways to know you're alive

I was talking to a beautiful lady this weekend about women’s magazines and how shit they make you feel. People often criticise Cosmo and co for using models who give women un-realistic expectations about how they should look. Less people criticise journalists for plugging idealistic ideas stolen straight from Sex and the City movies which give people un-realistic expectations about their life. It makes you feel pretty shit when you read ‘Top 50 things to do before you die’ and you realise you haven’t done one of them because your life isn’t like Carrie Bradshaw’s and your friends are more like Tim from the Office than Stanford Blatch (Carrie’s own personal pop-up gay man) . You wonder whether the journalist is just creating this easy-sell crap to make women feel that by reading it, they are a little bit closer to being an ultra-independent, modern, fulfilled woman – or if they just pull it out their arse to meet a deadline. Either way, the articles are alienating and make life feel like one big party that you weren’t invited to.

So, rather than suggest that you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO have had sex and found your g-spot while you ride a horse at sunset whilst on holiday to South-America because you needed to take a break from your stressful but liberating job as an executive for an ethically-run beauty company based in Brick Lane, I started thinking about 20 things that, when you strip it down and take away all the posing, I think show that you have been alive. These are just mine, though, taken from my own cynical brain and they focus on what you’ve already done rather than stuff you have to do – so we can give ourselves a massive pat on the back for being on the Earth long enough to say that, by someone’s standards, we’ve 'lived’ And if you haven’t done them, it doesn’t matter because they’re just my stupid ideas anyway.

  1. To see a baby being born. If you haven’t, hopefully someone around you will have a baby so you won’t have to just wander into a maternity ward and risk getting arrested.
  2. To completely disappoint your parents. To have them look at you like you with disgust and disbelief that they created something so terrible. I think that this is part of the circle of life.
  3. To forgive your parents. To realise that maybe you’ll never agree on immigration laws but to love them anyway. You could never change for them either.
  4. To teach a child to do something that you used to do. This could be anything, like splat painting, paper doll making, building a bivouac or making a snow man. To get really competitive if their one is better than yours and, if worst comes to worst, colonise their snow man and claim it as your own.
  5. To have been lost in a place where no-one speaks a word of English. To have panicked and had to resort to the inevitable; speaking to someone, in English, using a foreign accent. For that foreign person to look at you like you are spawn of satan…just like your parents did.
  6. To have realised that, no matter what happens, you always make it home in the end.
  7. To realise that you will never be a pop star/rock star. This realisation tends to dawn on you when you’re in your teens. You’re singing along to something (and in you’re head, you’re Kurt Cobain/Christina Aguilera). Then suddenly you realise you’re actually really shit and will never be famous. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
  8. To plant something and watch it grow. I’ve only done it once but it felt fucking awesome.
  9. To spend an entire day with a close friend building on one single joke. This could be anything from a metaphor that got out of hand to singing everything as if you are Meatloaf. Everyone else around you will want to crucify you but it’s this or find your g-spot, so..
  10. To realise, deep down, that you do really like Phil Collins too.
  11. To fall in a lake. Or a river. And not with a sexy man, somewhere hot, where you can have steamy frolicking water time. In a river, in Surrey, in February, where you get covered in frogspawn and ruin everyone’s day.
  12. To get love advice from your grandma.
  13. To love someone and to realise that you’ll never be good enough for them.
  14. To write to/email/text an old friend who you miss in the middle of the night and tell them this. To realise that, falling out with friends over the roots of Marxism or whether Mary Shelley really did write Frankenstein is not good.
  15. To storm out of a job. To rip up your writing pad, to throw your chair across the room, to smash your telephone up in a rage or just run screaming from the building. Or, more likely, leave a letter on your boss’ desk and walk out with Gloria Gaynor playing in your head. Everyone will judge you and treat you like a mad person but you’ll laugh about it later. Probably.
  16. To go to the most beautiful place in the world and realise that you can’t create those perfect moments of clarity in life – you might be on an obscure Caribbean island but if you’re hungover or just started your period, who cares!
  17. To be romantically involved with someone who you have no respect for – and hate yourself for every second of it.
  18. To be romantically involved with someone who has no respect for you – and realise that, no matter how much you like them, you care about yourself more.
  19. To make something yourself – whether it’s knitting a hat, making a shoe rack or writing a poem. To look at something and think, I made that. It might be a bit shit and I might end up giving it to someone I don’t like that much. But I still made it.
  20. To lose someone you love. To think that life is so short and transient that you will make every day count. Then realising that this is an impossible task and going back to living exactly how you did before.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Disney isn't as evil as people think - apart from The Lion King

I don’t think Disney is as bad as people think. There, I said it. I’m not talking about Disney as a corporation – that can go burn. But the contemporary criticism and dialogue about Disney movies primarily focuses on their representations of women. For the sake of this blog, I’m only going to discuss a handful – partly because I don’t want to be here all night writing about Disney films, as a 24 year old woman in the prime of my life and all that. Also, because these are the only ones I have seen. Most of my observations are from memory so might not be perfect but feel free to criticise – but also, bear in mind, that my childhood memory is as sharp as a fucking knife so I will win in an argument of who said what, especially when on the subject of Aladdin.

The most criticised movie, in my experience, is Beauty and the Beast. Poor beautiful Belle, locked in a castle to save her father, develops a kind of Stockholm syndrome where she learns to love the man that locked her up. The problem I have with criticisms about most Disney movies is that they fail to recognise that their representations of gender relations and expectations are often complicated…and contradictory. It is easy to see Belle as a victim and as someone who was forced into loving the Beast. Yet the biggest representation of misogyny in the movie is Gaston – he barges into her house, tries to force her into marriage, talks about all the children that she will bear for him and how she will raise them while he goes off and kills animals with guns and eats eggs and other manly man things. Gaston is a hilarious and an amazing character – but the most notable thing that feminists seem to forget is that Belle, and the film itself, completely despises Gaston and everything he represents and promotes – primarily servitude and domesticity. Belle wants to experience the world and she spends her life reading, which makes her an outsider. As Robert Southey once said to Bronte ‘literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.’ Literature was the business of Belle’s life. She was happiest when she was in the bookshop, or when the Beast magicked her up a library. She didn’t fall in love with the Beast because he roared at her. When she moves in, all the women (like the cupboard and the talking tea pot) try to force her to go down and eat with him – because he invited her and she wouldn’t want to upset or anger him. But she doesn’t. Why? Because he’s horrible to her. And she’s stubborn. She actually only falls in love with him when he becomes far more effeminate and becomes more like her. Everyone remembers the scene when he holds the seeds out to the birds, dressed in a cape, and they all come and sit on him and he smiles coyly. And suddenly, she starts thinking that he’s not a complete bastard and might be someone she could love, despite the fact that he’s 8 foot tall, has bad teeth and is covered in hair. This is because he stops caring about himself and falls in love with Belle – showing exactly the kind of love that Belle showed for her father, which was the reason she got into the whole lot of trouble in the first place.

The next is Aladdin. Now I know Jasmine is seen as bad, bad, bad, because she has an unrealistically tiny waist, big eyes and is a princess who wanders around in a bikini top. But, actually, look at her as a character. She defies her father, the king, and the other patriarchal figure of Jafar. She falls for Aladdin because he is funny and kind. She is the strongest character in the film who says things like ‘I am not a prize to be won.’ And, of course she is a prize to be won, because it’s Disney and people will only be happy when they get to marry their perfectly Americanised child-man or child-woman and live in a big palace somewhere. But, just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, she wasn’t happy with her lot. Ariel wanted to see above the surface. She is interested in learning things and gathers human collectables that drop from above. She also defies her father (who is far scarier than Jasmine’s sultan because Ariel’s father booms orders and carries a big yellow trident). Of course, she didn’t have an average size 12 figure and didn’t aim to climb to the surface to get job in publishing and learn to speak German in evening classes whilst having a modern love affair with a feminist poet. But, my argument is, she’s not that bad. She’s interested in learning – she wants more than her limited life, which is exactly what Bronte wanted and Virginia Woolf wanted and Charlotte Smith wanted.

Of course, things have got better for women in Disney and things are incomparable now to how they were. Cinderella had horrible representations of women – she was a doormat who needed rescuing and her ugly sisters were jealous slagbags who just squabbled with each other because, Disney seems to suggest, their big ugly feet mean that they are greedy, selfish and inherently corrupt – and they will do anything to get what they want. Then, one of my favourites, The Jungle Book, which I don’t actually think has a woman in it so things could only realistically get better from there! I think there’s a girl at the end wandering around with something on her head but she’s not a proper person. But it was written by Rudyard Kipling so no surprises there.

And if you really, really hate Disney still, watch Mulan. Mulan is a genuinely brilliant film and is the only movie I still like when I watch back as an adult. If you want a feminist Disney movie, Mulan is your best bet. She goes to war and saves the day, whilst maintaining the qualities which make her instinctively a woman. And there are other modern films like Tangled which is a re-make of Rapunzel – if Rapunzel was an indecisive, na├»ve girl who is terribly rescued by a bumbling guy who fancies himself a bit too much but is alright really.

Those are some of the reasons I think Disney is not that bad. But. This does not take into the consideration The Lion King. Which is just bad, terrible, corrupt, should be destroyed and shown only to children if the only other option is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Mufasa has some serious entitlement issues. He believes he owns everything he sees and it will be passed down the patriarchal line straight to Simba (apart from the dark, shit bit of land which, un-coincidentally, is reserved for the hyenas who have African-American accents rather than White American accents, hmmm). He preaches crap about the circle of life ‘we eat the zebra and then the zebra eat us when we die and turn into grass.’ Yeah, sure, because the zebra really chase that bit of grass until its exhausted and then rip it to shreds while it’s still alive. I’m not, of course, moralising about animals eating – but he seems to be turning it into the beautiful cycle, when, really, it’s a bit of a crap-shoot for everyone except for him. Then Simba goes off on an extended lad’s holiday with a meercat and a warthog and then comes back to ‘reclaim the land’ when directed by the throaty daughter of that other female lion. We don’t really care who they are because they all just sit together, being boring and knitting or something. So he comes back and drives all the evil Whoopi Goldberg crew of hyenas from the land. It’s colonialism in action.

And that’s why it shouldn’t be shown to children.  

Monday, 12 March 2012

Eating disorder not otherwise specified

Since I started blogging, I have considered writing about a subject that I should really know a lot about.  I should have streams of knowledge on the issue and the ability to put first-hand experience into some kind of perspective to allow people to understand what it feels like to suffer from an eating disorder or what to do if someone you know shows the symptoms of developing one. In truth, I still feel like I haven’t got a bloody idea. Like most things in life, it seemed to happen in a whirlwind that was out of my control – which seems a bit ironic, when re-considering the issue. But I will tell you what I do know.

With anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, everyone else tends to know before you do. It’s like dramatic irony, but in a really shit play. Often parents don’t really know either and they can get wound up in the stories, lies and conceptions – not that I created but that I actually felt were really true – such as the fact that I had some obscure stomach disorder which prevented me from absorbing nutrients (specifically fat) from my food. It could absolutely, under no circumstances, be that I wasn’t eating because that would be really bad and probably couldn’t be fixed by having an operation - like the kids who caught appendicitis - or by attending an appointment with a normal doctor. People knew I was thin as a child, they thought I was thin at 11… by 12 I was seeing dieticians, the memory of which seems to be a lot of advice about eggs and bread. By 13, it appeared that there was actually quite a serious problem (what with that increasingly serious, un-diagnosed ‘stomach disorder’). By 14 I weighed under 3 and a half stone and was sitting in an office in The Priory being told that, if I wasn’t admitted into hospital, my organs would shut down by about Spring of the following year and I would probably die. 
More than anything, I just felt really confused because I felt that I had explained, in necessary detail to the terrifying Professor, what I ate in an average day – cereal, toast, pasta etc. He just looked at me, from his terrifyingly big Prof chair, and said ‘you are not a scientific anomaly Miss Corcoran, you are anorexic.’ This was actually incredibly liberating – apart from the obvious assault on my liberty which was keeping me banged up in the Priory for weeks and weeks and forcing me to eat more food than seemed humanly possible.

It is at this point when a lot of stories about eating disorders tend to all become some unrealistic, empowering story full of enlightenment and hope – about connecting with other women and engaging with whatever group sessions they force you to go to, when it doesn’t often work like that. Most women in The Priory were relapse patients, who would just be forcibly fattened up and released and would continue the cycle over and over until their bodies would not play ball anymore. A lot of anorexics are high functioning, intelligent women – two women on my ward had gone to Harvard, but the disease is ridiculously hard to kick once it sets in and no amount of intellectualising can get you out of it. And the worse thing about being there, for me, is that it actually pushed me to the brink (and, contrary to what people thought might happen, failed to pick me up again). I became absolutely terrified of food, far more than I had been previously, because of the intense pressure to ‘get better.’ I threw up nearly everything I ate. I felt invaded, seeing as you couldn’t even go for a wee or have a bath for a long time after you’d eaten without superintendence. Art therapy made me feel like I was about five and no amount of depicting my emotions through the medium of brightly coloured pipecleaners did me any fucking use. And because weight gain often takes a while to spread out (it can you leave you puffy faced for a long while at first), I became scared of gaining weight but terrified to stay how I was for fear of becoming institutionalised (one girl had been there for two years – TWO YEARS!). Everything you do, from the ten minute walk you’re allowed a day to the inspection of your plate after ‘biscuit time’ to make sure not a crumb has escaped, is micro-managed to such a degree that you feel completely colonised by the whole experience. And they were right – when you show that you can’t cope like an adult, then sometimes it helps having that responsibility taken away so they can build you up again.

But I was never built up again. I left the priory weighing four and a half stone. The only thing that corrected me was a shit load of medication and the over-use of pouring cream. So I guess everyone is different. I saw girls in there who were being fed through a tube and were missing most of their hair – girls who I know have probably died since. And the thing that I learned most from them (we did spend an awful lot of time together!) is that most people’s conceptions of eating disorders is just plain wrong. People simplify, like most things, and think that it’s just a bunch of vain little western girls reading too much Vogue magazine. Yet the women I met in The Priory were probably the least vain people I’ve ever met. There’s only so vain you can be when you’re showing bald patches of scalp and they force you to pee into a toilet-chair during observation period. When the big question of ‘why’ was thrown around, everyone had their story and I don’t remember one person actually mentioning women’s magazines. A few women had been sexually abused. A lot of girls came from difficult families, with a lot of hostility and violence. Most had a fear of growing up and a desire to be looked after – because something inside is missing. And I think that is the key to understanding someone with an eating disorder. Something went wrong, something is missing and the gap can’t just be filled with force-feeding them some bacon. They often had critically low self-esteem, a worryingly fearless approach to the possibility of death and an un-natural drive towards being thin, or, for most of them, a drive towards complete control. That was what connected every single woman in there and is the underlying thrill of an eating disorder: it gives you complete and utter control over just one thing, usually when everything else is chaotic. But when people asked me then, and if they ask me now, why I suffered from an eating disorder, I’d just tell them the truth – that I was sad. Far too sad to eat.

So, basically, I feel like I have a lot to say about eating disorders but nothing that is very useful to anyone. Lots of people don’t respond well to programmes, lots of people do, everyone is different. I recovered from an eating disorder when I was about 22 years old – which is years after everyone saw me looking better and ‘normal’. Throughout my teenage years, I maintained a normal weight through un-natural means – I won’t discuss them. Most of my relationships were problematic and I dreaded anyone saying they’d cook for me which should have been such a lovely thing but was the source of massive anxiety because it would be something that I hadn’t cooked or seen cooked and it would mean I’d have to eat in front of someone like a normal, functioning human being -  and  ‘normal/functioning’ were never really adjectives I had easily aligned myself with. But now, I guess I’m doing pretty great and hopefully will for a long time. I love eating out (food and women). I eat adult, human food. I’m neurotic as hell about saturated fat but I’m not going to turn into some chilled out, carpe diem woman over night…or probably ever. But, sadly for this article, I have absolutely no advice to give someone going through an eating disorder because everyone experiences it differently. I do have advice to people who know someone going through an eating disorder though. That is this. When they are recovering, never say ‘you are looking well.’ It literally feels like a smack in the face. ‘Looking well’ is code for fat. You think that you’re being kind and thoughtful. They are having images of rosy faced milk maids and fat faced midwives.
That’s not a lot to have learned from years of therapy but no-one’s perfect. I learned that in therapy though.

A new blog about housing (comes without feminism or swearing but is actually still written by me)

Imagine you are David Cameron. Or George Osborne. Or even Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister. Actually, imagine you are an amalgamation of Cameron, Osborne and Shapps, wandering around like a three-headed mutant intent on fixing ‘Broken Britain’ by instilling policies which are so detrimental and illogical that, when you first explain them to people, they think that you’re having a laugh. Got that? Good.
So you have the housing crisis.  In an average borough in outer London, you have around 3,000 people on the housing register. The local council for that area will offer approximately 150 houses a year. Now that’s a pretty long wait. So, as an intelligent member of parliament, when you see the recession starting to really take hold and the effects of mass unemployment become apparent, with an increasing number of people facing repossession, falling into arrears, relying on benefits and being driven towards local authority housing, you consider introducing something called ‘affordable housing.’ Because that sounds really good. Who doesn’t want affordable housing? The only thing is, when you’re Cameron and Shapps, what you actually mean by ‘affordable housing’ is instilling rents which, on average, are two to three times higher than they were before. No joke. So if your rent was £126 a week to your social landlord or housing association, under new ‘affordable housing’, it will be £390 a week. This new ‘affordable rent’ is really great because, with all that extra money that people can’t afford to pay anyway, local authorities can fund new housing developments that people won’t be able to afford to live in.
So, obviously, Shapps is asked how this is going to work. How can you demand more money from people who have nothing? Surely the whole point in social housing is to provide something of a cushion to those who can’t fully support themselves? His answer is ‘housing benefit.’ Housing benefit will cover the cost; people won’t suffer. This decision, considering the conservatives are a government that is meant to be very focused on encouraging people back to work, seems a bit iffy. Someone working in the city wouldn’t be able to pay £390 a week for a 3-4 bedroom house so how could a low earner expect to fit the bill? It means that people have no other choice but to be on benefits.
But at least people have a home, albeit, one paid for solely by benefits, creating a system which actively discourages work. So that’s all fine - there’re very few jobs for people anyway. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, this is before the 2013 introduction of Universal Credit Check, which is going to put a cap on the amount of benefits a family can earn. So at the same time as ‘affordable rents’ are introduced, benefits are being taken away. Many critics have described this move as a ‘social cleansing’ of London (a city which will see the biggest rise in ‘affordable rents’) meaning that people will be driven out of their homes and into the suburbs, putting increasing pressure on the small housing stock in these boroughs, whilst separating people from their work, schools and support networks. London will become unaffordable to anyone who can’t pay ‘affordable rent’, creating a further divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. And, if people’s rents increase and their benefits decrease, whilst they fail to gain employment, the threat of homelessness is massive.
You might think that homelessness is something easily dealt with by the council. You might imagine that the tramp, sitting beside Old Street tube station, probably just didn’t fill in his forms properly. When, actually, unless homelessness would affect you more than the average person (because you are vulnerable through old age, have dependent children or have physical/mental health problems), you will not be seen as a ‘priority need’ and councils will have little obligation to help you. The temporary accommodation owned by councils, such as hostels and B&Bs, are full to the brim, meaning the definition of ‘vulnerable’ is going to become ever smaller. And if you don’t have enough emergency accommodation for homeless people, there will be a huge rise in rough sleepers, including people with mental health disorders. Because, whatever you think of people relying on benefits, now is not really the time to strip people of their necessities in order to encourage them back to work, when there is little work to encourage people back to. Larger cultural problems, like welfare dependency, are obviously an issue but increasing levels of homelessness will not tackle this problem. If there’s one factor that will generally always result in being unemployed it’s not having a home. If the government want to put a cap on benefits, they might be justified in doing that, but don’t do it at the same time as whacking people’s rents up and taking away their only means of paying it.
My main problem (probably because I’m not at direct threat of homelessness), is wording. Calling social housing ‘affordable’ before doubling or trebling the rent is like offering someone a present and then punching them in the face. If you’re going to punch someone in the face, which you probably will, at least do it straightaway. At least, then, you’re just a thug. Not a hypocritical creep bag who punches the little kid next to them when no-one’s looking.

The Birth and Death of the ‘real’ woman

I accidently stumbled upon the Daily Mail website today. I try to avoid it because it forces me to address my fate as a scary bra-burning zealot that the paper’s female journalists are always warning me about –  where every man will eventually find me intolerable and repulsive, I’ll grow up sad and alone, sitting in my own piss, reading an ancient copy of The Female Eunuch to ease the emptiness left by the desertion of my man, who assumedly will have run off with a straight-talking, curvy woman who ‘lives in the real world’ – someone like Coleen Mcloughlin perhaps. But, anyway, I ended up there. Apart from the general Mail crud, which I successfully avoided, an article about ‘What men REALLY want’ caught my eye. Mainly because I’m fine-tuned to this kind of bullshit and it genuinely offends my intelligence and my gender. It was the usual crap – about men REALLY wanting a dark haired, big bosomed, size 14 woman. A woman like that person I can’t be bothered to learn the name of, from ‘The only way is Essex’. The word ‘REALLY’ is emphasised to show that the Daily Mail, in all its glory, is de-bunking the myth that men’s sexuality is individual to them and they actually find all different women attractive. NO! Men like ‘real’ women with ‘real’ bodies. And if you’re not that type, you’re ugly and unfeminine and you should sit in the corner and cry into your under-sized bra cups.

Firstly, before I start, I don’t have a problem with men fancying dark haired, big bosomed, size 14 women. Sexuality is completely individual and people are attracted to all kinds of different body shapes and appearances. What I do have a problem with is this media conveyor belt which preaches this destructive bile on a daily basis, with the defence that it is sticking up for ‘real’ women. Just because they’re not pressuring women to be stick thin and bleached blonde, doesn’t mean it’s not the same old, crappy way of controlling women’s self images and damaging any smidgen of self-esteem that they might have formed in the face of all this shit. The fact is, no amount of pressure about what men REALLY want is going to make you look like Kelly Brook, no matter how hard you try. If you are thin, you might just be naturally thin. If you’re curvy, you might have curves in all the wrong places. If you have no boobs, fuck it, you probably never will. And there’s no point in letting some self-righteous journalist make you feel that you are less of a woman because of it. I saw an article afterwards, assumedly from the same defenders of real femininity, on Kate Moss, modelling topless. Funnily enough, some of the highest rated comments criticise her ‘flat tyre’ boobs and how she’s just an ugly skank and certainly not a real woman with tits like that. Well, she’s doomed either way because if she gets breast surgery, then she’ll just be disgusting to you for a different reason. If you don’t fancy her, that’s fine, but don’t justify your backward, misogynist attitude by pretending that you’re sticking up for the way that women ‘should be’. Women come in all shapes and sizes and that’s the way it ‘should be’. It also suggests that, if women were the ‘correct’ weight, that their body ratios would be perfect. Trust me from my experience, if you never had big boobs, even a three-month forced feed at the Priory will not change that. You’ll have the correct BMI but that’ll be about it. And these attitudes are just as offensive to men, who seem to come across as some ignorant, hegemonic mass who have no individual sexualities. It is incredibly de-humanizing and makes out that we’re just big lumps of meat, walking around and accessing each other as other lumps of meat that we might want to bang at some point, but only if that person wears exactly the right size clothes. Not intricate, intelligent, amazing creatures with feelings, emotions and passion. So if you’re unsure if a woman is ‘real’, ask to see her vagina. Not straight away or she might call the police. But maybe after a few dates.

The Fear of a Split Society: The Threat of Decentralization for Council Housing

When H.G. Wells wrote the notorious 1895 novel ‘The Time Machine’, he envisioned a society much like the future being offered to us by new Coalition policies. A world strictly segregated by class, the privileged but helpless Eloi live in a self-constructed paradise, maintained but over-shadowed by a dark under-belly of Morlock creatures, whose position on the social periphery threatens to overthrow the comfortable existence of those above ground. With the current spread of middle-class identity, where 70% of us associate ourselves with typically bourgeois values, it can be hard to see how this socialist metaphor for the Victorian, industrial divide has any relevance to modern society. Yet, with current drives by the Coalition to ‘remove red tape’ and de-centralise decision-making powers, allowing local councils to make vital choices about the amount of new housing developments to fund (which have the potential to help some of the 48,000 households in London currently living in temporary accommodation), this striking metaphor begins to take shape. Whereas previous government legislation would allocate how many new housing developments each local council should strive for, local areas will now be able to make their own decisions about how much, or (more worryingly) how little, social housing they will create.
            Most of us, generally speaking, have some level of care and consideration towards the poor. Unless we take the form of Dickens’ Mr Bounderby, whose self-proclaimed success in climbing the social ladder causes him to tread callously on the fingers of those beneath him, we would generally like those suffering from the effects of poverty to be alleviated of their hardship. That is, ideologically speaking. We like the idea of them being helped…we’d just rather they were helped a little further away from us. A bail hostel? Wonderful! Next door? God, no. The principal is the same for council housing, we want it to exist, we want it to be habitable but we want it very definitely elsewhere. The average person living in a three bedroom house will often have perfectly good reasons for not wanting housing developments emerging down their road. There’s the environment to think of (even though their family owns two or three cars), there’s the roads which are busy enough (even though they contribute to that busyness by driving their two or three cars) and there’s the possible effect on their own house price (a concern serious enough not to casually ironise). The virtue of the previous, centralised policy (Stalinist though it may appear to Richard Littlejohn whom, you suspect, would see a government memo as evidence of bureaucratic, Trotskyite Eng-Soc) was that it took the nasty strain of disingenuous self-interest out of the equation. The threat of that housing development being established down your road is nothing compared to the threat of not building new housing. If local councils in privileged areas make their domain inaccessible to anyone with a combined income below £60,000, you begin to see the effects of ghettoisation. Poorer families, living in areas with less housing options and harsher rules of eligibility, will be driven towards ‘softer’ areas, meaning that you create pockets of poverty. Much of London could become unaffordable (which, of course, is where most employment can be found), forcing families to relocate into areas which offer little chance of finding work or poses the added cost of a long commute into the city. Local elections will be campaigned differently with candidates able to legitimately promise to wealthy constituents that they will not sully the precious streets of Kensington/Chelsea with council tenants. The new policy establishes a trend towards polarisation; it condenses crime and other social problems into these pockets, thereby making it harder to tackle. By opposing integration you are, essentially, writing-off whole sections of society.
We regress into a backwards hierarchy, where opportunity and lifestyle are awarded only to those who already possess it; social mobility becomes a faded dream. Of course, according to Wells, in two thousand years, those banished to Southall will have speciated and evolved into a race of mutant monsters who feed off the pathetic, degenerate softies that used to be in charge. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. Although, if it does, I personally volunteer Richard Littlejohn for their first meal.