Monday, 2 January 2017

What Men Need to Know About Women by Caitlin Moran

Published in The Times, September 26th 2015

It is the eternal cry of men: “I don’t understand women!” Women are mysterious to men: they do not understand why we take so long to dress; the number of shoes we need; the way we can suddenly lose all confidence. Our excitement about tiny things – tiny cups and saucers, tiny monkeys, tiny ribbons. A tiny ring.

But those really are the tiny things that you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if you never understand those things at all.
Here are the two big things that men truly don’t understand about women. The two things that, if you knew them – if you truly understood – would change the way you act, and raise your sons to act, overnight.

The first is: we’re scared of you.

Not all of you. Probably not most of you. We feel safe with our fathers – unless we have been unlucky; and our husbands – unless we have been unlucky; and our friends and brothers – unless, again, we have been unlucky.

But we are scared. Of what you can do.

Try to imagine, for a moment, what it’s like to live on a planet where half the people on it are just … bigger than you. We are smaller, and softer, and we cannot run as fast as men. We know you can grab us, and we would struggle to get away. We know if you hit us, we’ll go down. We know if you decide to kill us, there’s not much we can do.

Every time the murder of a woman is reported on the news, we hear the detail – “Traces of skin were found under her fingernails, denoting a struggle” – and we know … that’s all we can do. Scratch. We think about that more than we would ever admit to you. We don’t want to sound insecure, or morbid, around you. We just walk down any dark street with our keys between our fingers, going, “Please, not tonight. Let me get to my door tonight.”

Here’s comedian Louis CK’s routine on women and men: “Globally and historically, men are the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. By comparison, do you know what men’s number one threat is? Heart disease. Guys, if you want to know how brave a woman is every time she says yes to going on a date, try to imagine that you could only date a half-bear, half-lion. ‘Oh – I hope this one’s nice!’ That’s being a woman.”

Sometimes, when you think about the stats on sexual assault – 90 per cent of women know their attackers; 1 in 5 women are attacked – it feels like a fact too awful to be acknowledged. One in five, man. If those were your odds on the lottery, you’d already have pre-emptively bought the car. One in five means you often look round a room of your girlfriends and think, “Which one of us will it be?”

If your teenage daughters are in the room – with their big, smiling faces and their awkward, beautiful, perfect trust in the world – you feel so panicked, you go into the kitchen and hold on to the sink.
There you are. Scared again. But you don’t go on about it to the men you know – because that would be morbid. So men don’t know how scared we are. That’s the first big thing you don’t know about us. How scared we are.

The second big thing you don’t know about us is, we’re exhausted. So, so exhausted. We have less money than you – the pay gap, illegal since 1970 yet still, astonishingly, here, means we effectively work for free for 57 days of the year. That’s exhausting. We must have babies, quickly, before our eggs die, but while we also work – that’s exhausting.

And since we were teenage girls – since the moment we went, mortified, to buy that first bra, and left the safe, unisex world of childhood to become “a woman” – we’ve been judged and commented on. Catcalls in the streets; relatives saying we’re too fat or too thin. Comments in year books or on Facebook; hairdressers saying, “You have a mannish jaw.” “Uncles” at weddings, and bosses at parties, and friends of friends, rating you to your face – saying if they “would” or “wouldn’t”, scoring you out of ten, as if you’re a gadget for sale on Amazon, or livestock at a fayre.

People touching you, evaluating and owning you – until you find yourself saying, almost as a recurring mantra, in your head, “F*** off! Stop talking about me! F*** off, and stop being the voice in my head!

Stop telling me you have decided my worth.”

And, so, yes. Yes, I do understand why human rights lawyer Charlotte Proudman “perv-shamed” an older, senior lawyer – Alexander Carter-Silk – when he contacted her on LinkedIn and told her her picture was “stunning”.

In the furore that followed, he – and a million other commentators afterwards – seemed confused by Proudman’s reaction. It was just flirtation! It was just an appreciative comment! This is what men and women do!

But men do it without knowing we’re scared and we’re tired. So very, very tired.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

30 Day Minimialism Game - Day 01

I've gathered together a few items to purge, but I realised, as soon as I started thinking about what to get rid of, this game is going to be a huge challenge.

Not only will finding [30(30+1)/2] items be difficult, but also deciding how to get rid of them.

Today's item is a bag of used, plastic carrier bags.

I try, as much as possible to use reusable bags when I go shopping, but there are days when the groceries just don't all fit into the bags I have with me and I need to buy a plastic one. These accumulate in the cupboard under the sink. So now, I have this big bag of plastic carriers. What do I do with them? I can't, in good conscience, just throw them away, knowing that they'll go in some landfill and never biodegrade or go to the incinerator and add further to the toxic fumes. Is that really what I have to do? Apparently, yes. If I'm going to play this game properly, it seems I need to suspend my environmentalist conscience for 30 days.

There's also this hat, which I knitted for myself, but is too big.

Do I just throw that away? Do I just put it in the bin? I've decided that I'll make an oasis, in my bedroom. It's a large black bin liner, and it already has 34 items in it. I did count them, This will go to the local charity shop.

The next great challenge is that I'm already a minimalist. I purge regularly, which is why there's a bin liner of 34 things, already waiting to go to the charity shop. So my partner, Sigrid, will most definitely win, but, I have to say, I'm really looking forward to this challenge. I want to see just how minimalist I can be.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Accumulate to Speculate

I saw this in my Instagram feed this morning.

I don't know, either.

I read somewhere that it's perfectly natural to want. As a species we are evolving, and part of evolution is to strive to achieve something more than that which lies within our immediate grasp. From the beaks of finches to fiscal ambitions, it's all about becoming better, adapting to achieve success.

I understand that Joshua Becker and Ryan Nicodemus and the new minimalists are talking about mindless consumerism, the incessant desire to fill the God-shaped hole with something that bears no resemblance to God, material goods such as the latest iPhone, a new dining set or this season's handbag/haircut/shoes. I understand that The Minimalists, who I admire greatly, have been at the top of the corporate ladder, surrounded by all their material possessions and found the hole even more gaping.

Aside from manic over consumerism, to want isn't always a mindless exercise. There is something to be said for functionality and aesthetics. Having lived in shambolic homes, which I now know robbed me, daily, of a sense of peace and tranquility, I am all for improving one's immediate surroundings with whatever material aquisition is required to achieve a sense of equanimity.

Case in point being this, my beloved Gaggia Classic espresso machine.

It was a gift from my sister and her husband. I love this machine, because it produces a balanced, nicely rounded cup of coffee with this rich and delighful crema.

It also produces, as you can see in both of the above images, a light sprinkling of coffee grinds on the work surface, on the bottom of cups and around the sink and the bin.

This was never a real issue in my previous residence, but here, with the high gloss counter top, it is an issue. I would wipe it up daily, spend an inordinate amout of time wiping, and wiping and wiping some more, the tiny sand like coffee grinds clinging to the microfibres as I rinsed the cloth under running water, as though they had finally found their one, true love, only to abandon the relationship as soon as the cloth touched the shiny, white surface. So, I would need to wipe it up again, fail to rinse it off again, and so on, and so forth.

Time is precious. Cleanliness is important. These two truths are irrefutable,

So, I did want. I wanted a solution to this problem. I wanted something else, something better. And so I bought one of these Senseo coffee machines.

It takes little pouches, like teabags. No mess. The surface is no longer littered with coffee grinds with questionable loyalty.

It's just an inexpensive coffee machine, which produces an inferior cup of coffee compared to the Gaggia, but this particular purchase is contributing to my sense of happiness and wellbeing. I love a clean and tidy space. As with most of us, mess causes me stress. Unlike most of us, perhaps, I like cleaning, but the work needs to be rewarded with results. So, to say that this little purchase has changed my life, isn't an exaggeration. I know it's not exactly God-shaped. I'm not saying that enlightenment will be achieved throught the aquisition of the right appliances, but wanting to improve our immediate surroundings, isn't anything to be dismissed as a purely materialiastic pursuit.

There is a reason we want that dining set, or that handbag or the latest piece of technology. We hope it will simplify our lives. We hope it will free us of something mundane, something which drains us of the most sacred of all possessions, our energy. To honour and respect energy is so sacred that religions and practises, such as Hinduism, yoga and Feng Shui, are devoted, almost entirely to it. Energy is life itself. It is God-shaped.

To want isn't always a bad thing.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

What if it had been you?

I, like the person who posted this, saw this pop up in my news feed and felt the need to share it here.
Translated from the original Norwegian post.

What if it had been you?

08/21/2015 - 9:34 p.m.

It's not often I call friends to ask if I can publish their Facebook status as a blog post, but when I saw this pop up in my newsfeed today, I realised immediately that this had to be shared with a wider audience.

It is my good friend Oliver who has written this great text, which is simply a beautiful symphony of emotions and gratitude, compassion and love, sadness and contemplation. Political or not - this is fantastically written.

"Look at this picture. The one just below the advertisement for cheap industrial meat and fish.


It looks like a dad holding a son. Such a dad who could just as easily have been me, if I had not won first prize in the lottery of life and ended up here in safe, marvellous Norway. A dad who is desperate.

With his child in his arms, held back by a powerful person. Excluded by other powerful people - those with batons and shields and carbon kneepads and teargas. Just in case a desperate dad would try to squeeze past. Or bite, or scratch or hit or kick or whatever the fuck – just to get his kid to safety. One who could have been any one of us. Could have been me.

This picture has affected on my Friday night. Soon, I'll get my boys from kindergarten and after-school-club. Then we’ll eat tacos with Mimmi and Bess. Read a little more of the adventure story at bedtime, a hug and a scruffing up of the hair, like we do - and I have a really good, cold beer in the fridge to enjoy when the rest of the house is asleep, safe in their bed, while dad watches over the house.

While another dad, just a few hours flight away, literally fights for his life. With his child in his arms. Tonight and tomorrow, and every day - until he breaks or succeeds. Just as I would have done.

If we can not, one of the world's safest, richest and most plentiful countries, offer help - then we are so rotten to the core and damned that I am ashamed to be Norwegian.

Look at that picture. And imagine if it had been you.

It’s election time soon, by the way. 


P.S. I think this is an incredibly nice text for reflection, on the way into yet another weekend here in one of the richest and best countries to live in, but I do not want to turn it into a political debate. Just think about it. What if it had been you?"

Sunday, 17 May 2015

You Have No Idea What Hell Is

I read this blog post, originally published in Norwegian, and I was compelled to translate it into English.

A Palaetinian child. Photo: The Guardian

“How are you?” An ordinary question. A phrase.
“I’m fine, thanks”, we most often reply.

Today, I got an eye-opener.

What does it mean to be fine? Maslow says that people must have certain needs met before they can develop. One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to understand that one needs food, water, sleep and other basic needs to survive.

When these needs are met, we seek security and protection. Then comes a sense of belonging and love. Only then can one begin to think of status, self-esteem and finally self-actualisation, both personally and spiritually. It strikes me that I have every need in Maslow's pyramid covered, and most likely, you have too. 

I can therefore answer honestly, "Yes, I'm doing just fine, thanks!"

Yet, I complain. Yet, you complain. Yet, we complain.

Today, my students were informed of an impending maths exam. Tears welled in the eyes of many. I understand them well. As a philologist, maths exams for me were always a nightmare. We often use that word, nightmare, about everyday problems, large and small. Things we struggle with when we no longer have several steps further up the pyramid to ascend. We are on top of it. The job is done. So, what now? Why this eternal yearning in the gut? Is it because we are afraid of falling down again, or is it because we humans are able to look beyond ourselves and show empathy for those who are further down the pyramid?

Everything is relative.

Relative poverty? Relative happiness? We measure ourselves against others in similar situations. It is much easier than measuring oneself against those who don't have anything. How can I defend myself buying a house in Spain, if I measure my needs against those who, at this moment, swim with those who drown in the Mediterranean? Just the thought of these people, who are well below the first step of the needs pyramid, cause me to abort my plans.

At this time of celebration, here in Norway, this poem comes to mind:

Do Not Sleep

You believe, it cannot be true,
So evil humans cannot be.

Do not sit safely in your home
and say: It is sad, poor them!

You must not endure so well
the unfairness that upon thyself!

I cry with the last breath of my voice:
You are not allowed to go there and forget!

 Arnulf Overland
-1937 (excerpt)

After my students learned of the maths exam, they received another piece of news.
One of our students, a refugee who has been with us for many years, has been absent since August 2014. This month, he fled across the Mediterranean. Maybe it happened at the very same moment I was teaching the class about people drowning after paying a fortune to human traffickers. Not to “actualise" themselves, but to struggle up on to the lowest step in the human needs pyramid - food, water, security and protection. Our student lived in Kabul, a city foreign to him, where he constantly feared for his life.

As I told the students about the thousands of women and children who drowned, and about our government sending a boat in August, their classmate was heading over the same Mediterranean Sea, not in ‘our’ boat that is. He didn’t have time to wait for that. He had to take the chance. Last time he travelled was by plane, in the opposite direction, at the Norwegian government's expense.

Today, the fear of a mathematics exam was put into perspective. We learned that our friend and classmate had undergone a far greater ordeal than any tenth grader should have to endure. Against all odds, he had managed to get across the ocean with his mother and his brother. He is now in Norway. He is in safety. He has food, water, security and protection. We know that he is safe, but does he? Does he have any reason to believe that he will stay this time? What about his father, left behind  in Kabul, who could not face the journey? Will he just die? ... Have you lost a mother, a father, or two or three siblings? Have you been taken at night and sent to Kabul without anywhere to stay on your arrival?

It's hard for youngsters to get a reality check such as our pupils have today. They can't sleep. They cannot tolerate the injustice that doesn't affect them themselves. They want to help, but they feel powerless.

We, in the class, put it all into perspective: Let’s say that people had to flee from England, across the Atlantic towards a safer life, pursued by brainwashed terrorists. Terrorism knows no borders. What would our government do? How many ships would be sent out of Norwegian ports to pick up Englishmen in dire need? One boat in August?

I have, as a writer, decided to comment on things we don’t like to talk about. The unpleasant aspects of life. Last time it was bulimia. God, who wants to talk about how many times a day one pukes and what it’s really like? How many cases of bulimia are there in Burundi?

My next novel is about rape in social relationship - being raped by a relaive or an aquaintence, by someone you trust. Many don't dare to report such an abuse. Those who do are often not believed. There are borderline cases and there are false accusations. Some will not be judged, while others, who ought to be judged, never will be.

Actually, maybe I should rather write a book about the protection of women, children, boys and men against rape carried out by criminal gangs who call themselves disciples. The prophet they claim to follow could have been one of those who had fled across the Mediterranean if he had lived today. Maybe he would have fled along side Jesus?

Where there is poverty, there is crime, hatred and violence. It’s that simple.

‘People who lack food are like animals’, sings Sigvart Dagsland.

Assault, rape, murder, ethnic cleansing and dismemberment. Something happens to us humans when stress becomes too great. The same thing happened during World War II, when many here in Norway were stabbed in the back by their own. We fled to Sweden. No standing at the border and being stopped. The Swedes opened their homes and helped people on the run from oppression. Authors who spoke out, teachers who refused to teach Nazi ideology, Jews, gays, gypsies, dark-skinned ...

No, absolutely no one thinks it strange that our grandparents and great-grandparents went across the border to Sweden or England. They were being persecuted! The shock would be if they had not been taken in. Here at home in Haugesund, the local, right leaning Fremskrittspartiet expressed exactly that, that they would not take in 35 new refugees.

How far are you willing to crawl down the pyramid before you expect any help? Can we bear to imagine the situation the people of Syria are experiencing, or in any other similarly torn country? I have a good imagination, authors often do, but dear God, to see it before you –  it's your fifteen year old, your mother, your girlfriend, or your brother who sits huddled with 600 hungry, wet, frightened and desperate people in an unsafe raft on the open ocean. You cannot do it, and perhaps it's just as well. For if we had been able to, the tears would  never stop flowing. The horror would chop our legs away from under us, and we'd see ourselves as we really are, people who have no room at the inn for anyone but ourselves. Because if we take on anything over our immediate responsibility, then maybe the foundations of that top floor of Maslow's pyramid will begin to shake. Must there then be limits to what we have to endure?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

My Fiscal Logic

I bid on this gold shopping bag on eBay. 100% leather, beautiful, fun.

But it was £30 + £13 postage, and I wasn't totally convinced it would work (no cross body option).
So, I was relieved when, at the last minute, literally, I was outbid. That's £43 I haven't spent.

Another thing, on the run up to Christmas, in the fog of online mass purchasing, I clicked on something to get free UK delivery and, earlier this week, I noticed £79 had been deducted from my bank account.

I had unwittingly subscribed to Amazon Prime. But, because I hadn't used any of the privileges, I got a full refund. That's £79 saved!

£43 +£79 = £122 not spent. £122 which I have somehow saved, and can therefore... spend! 😉