Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Battle of the Sexes

One of the arguably many things that's off about the 'net is the way it acts as an amplifier for the nastier parts of the human psyche. No matter what sites we visit it is almost a given that the content will in some way boost negative feelings, even if trends of looking at pictures of fluffy kittens being adorable are strong and stable. This seems to be strongest on sites where users can leave comments, principally news sites, where it seems as if almost anything can produce vigorous responses, and many of these are what might be termed 'unhelpful'. Arguments and flame wars grow up over the most innocuous comments; articles are torn apart. Truisms are repeated, often without pausing to check if they actually are true.

There are quite a few subjects that gather ire, Israel and Palestine, Atheism and Christianity, and anything to do with sexism, feminism or the rights of either sex. And the comments they produce will largely simply echo 'truisms'.

This seems to be particularly true of anything to do with gender. If an article about women comes up a sizable number of men will pile in to tear it apart, pick at any statistics and try to rubbish any points the author has made, frequently without seeming to have read the piece first. If something about, say, female on male domestic violence is published, you see the same effect, only from the other direction. Neither side seems to stop and ask what other factors might be endemic in say a pay gap, to consider how what they consider 'normal' behaviour affects the other sex. They retreat into cant and a party line, relying on stereotype and ridicule.

The problem with this is that it frequently seems to be the case that a lot of what these people, whichever side of the line they fall, are arguing for the same thing. In the case of domestic violence for instance, it's usually the case that the what is desired is some sort of recognition that there is a problem, that something has to be done. But only by the other side. Men dispel criticism in terms of ignorance of what's going on and not wishing to interfere (or at least they do at the woolly liberal Guardian). They also will merrily state that the statistic of 40% of domestic violence female on male D.V. as evidence that women are just as bad. Female posters do much the same, Both sides want the other'to take 'ownership' and to do something about it. Understandably neither side is willing to oblige.

Both are too busy pointing fingers at each other to realise that if they united they would stand more chance of achieving something than if they continue to rant and rave (and at least feminists campaigning against D.V. have organised and tried to do something, many of the men complaining don't even put their hands in their pockets).

This weird combat is repeated in pretty much every feminist thread, or indeed anything that relates to a clash between the sexes. Like mighty siege engines they strive, and gain no ground. I suppose winning isn't the point, only the effort; firing your trebuchet.

At the end of the day, it's all pointless. It achieves nothing and nobody is converted, and whilst I've used feminism examples, I imagine that applies to the vast number of these threads on the other subjects that attract such opprobrium.

It makes me wonder if we've moved forwards at all; if anything actually shifted at all. Many people are nostalgic for the 1970s, 80s and 90s when things seemed clearer, and patriarchy seemed to be crumbling. I wonder if it did or if it was just an illusion.We seem to be prisoners of two things, a narrative and stereotypes.*

The problem with the latter is that 'man' and 'woman' are loaded terms, they conjure images just as any word does, 'cat' for example. The stereotype smooths away everything distinctive, creating an amorphous blob upon which ideas and prejudices may be projected. By removing any individuality we can create a 'mass' and then make it faceless. Perfect for the requirements of fostering these generalisations. These are seldom helpful, they create straitjackets for both sexes and allow pointless arguments to continue. The galling thing is that we know that individuals aren't like that but once you use a generalised noun all the stereotypes seem to be fair game. To use a completely unconnected example, cats are meant to be aloof, suave animals, but any cat owner will have stories about how their animals fail to be like that at all.  And yet the image persists.

This is what I mean by being a prisoner of a narrative, a story that's so ingrained into society and culture that nothing can shift it. These myths, whether it's that boys don't cry or women are bad at science, spring directly from the stereotypes we cling to. Despite everything, they persist; memes of the worst sort. They're reinforced through culture and media. Why we can't break free I'm not sure, perhaps at the end of the day we're too lazy or the echo chamber is so all-encompassing that no matter how hard we try they'll always have some presence.

Sadly I don't know how we break free of them either, apart from education, communication and listening to each other without prejudice. Even then how do we do that without having the baggage we carry influence what we hear.

*Legally and technologically things have changed, I'm not sure attitudes have.

Friday, 12 September 2014


It's been a while since I posted anything on here, owing to a few factors, ranging from the end of my MA, some turmoil in my life and the realisation that I have 'takes on too much' as a character flaw. So, aside from working there's been a bit of reassessment and working out where I go from here.

It felt great to hand in my Final Project, I'm just getting over the sense of having nothing I need to do (mostly because I'm aware how false that is; there's lots to be getting on with). It also feels strange to have finished the course, I can say hand on heart that the last two years have been the most interesting and gratifying of my adult life, bar things like getting married and adopting the cats. I've learnt a lot and feel that now, with work and luck, I can actually send things out to agents with confidence.

The Goth travel book, Dark Adapted Eye is out doing the rounds and I'm working on a collection of female focused sword and sorcery short stories in The Forest Brides, prior to returning to the vampire ruled future of Fatal Thirst. I'm making notes for new projects but they are all very much on the backburner until the books I'm already writing are done; ideas are too easy to get, and I can make a bonfire of the vanities with the concepts I already have without adding any more.  I'm setting personal deadlines for myself but, at the same time, I'm throwing anything that isn't these few projects onto the 'maybe' pile in an effort to get rid of the sense of having too many things to do. At the moment Forest Brides is slated for completion by the end of October or mid November and I think I can do it.

It does feel a bit like the mountain path has come to a halt and there's only cliff face above (to possibly overtax my mountain climbing metaphor). I just have to hope the ropes and crampons my studies have provided are adequate to the task of climbing up.

 As part of my cutting back on things I do, I've decided to leave roleplaying for the foreseeable future (yes, the never ending saga!). This is a decision that's come from a number of sources. First, the fact that I don't really enjoy the more wargame aspects of the hobby anymore (I was never that attached to them but over time it seems like they've taken centre stage and the stuff I do like; plot, character, and atmosphere, have fallen away). I've realised too that I've probably taken to overcompensating for things that come up in game, like players being bored or triggers being tripped through GM ignorance or arrogance. The third thing is that I just find it too stressful to try and get people into the same place at the same time these days and it feels as if I have to battle to get an idea of what players actually want. I left my old group at the start of January after a game I wanted to play was deemed too difficult and the player in question gave no idea of what alternative would suit her. Out of a collection that easily fills two of Ikea's Billy bookcases, I found myself with a grand total of five games I could run and quit the group because the situation just pushed me to breaking point.

Having flirted with an attempt to come back to gaming, I've decided the hobby is too much for me at the moment and I don't want to bother with it, which has upset my wife a fair amount (in the meantime I watch her getting stressed because of the things that wound me up and, at times, I just want to tell her to walk away). Hopefully in a few years time I'll feel less stressed and negative about the whole thing but in the meantime I'm selling up any game I'm don't love unless I bought it in the last year, and planning to focus on other avenues of human contact for the next few years. A friend of mine has already poked and chivvied me about keeping in contact with people and not just becoming a ghost; something I find hard as I so often feel that I'm an 'observer amongst apes' (no offence).

I'll still be building Sharoban, since that's at least partly a gaming setting and have plans for a second world building project once it is complete; set in a city that's fallen prey to deindustrialisation, where real life troubles are bracketed by the growth of supernatural ones. But other than that,  that's it for gaming for now, I'm afraid.

The other thing is that, after feeling frustrated and stressed about huge chunks of my life for the last few years, I've finally decided to seek some help and referred myself to a mental health unit. The diagonsis I've had is promising in someways, if only because the doctor's don't think I have depression only depressive tendencies, but their recommendation is a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. So I should be starting that soon (well soonish - this is the NHS after all). In the meantime, I'm doing relaxation exercises and trying to keep a mood diary, as well as trying to make silly lists of the things like what I like about myself and so on. As part of the stress etc is caused by my job, I'm also starting to martial myself for a quiet move towards getting something new and to making more money from my writing.

That's where things are now. One very good thing has ended, as long as I pass the final assessment and I've got the next part of the mountain to climb. In the meantime I have to learn to move on, to be focused and to change how I see the world and myself.