My Anaconda don’t want none unless you Read Books Hun!

First of all, thank you to Sophie Jordan for letting me use the genius lyric of her creation above, as a title for this one. Soph has come up with some right gems in the time I’ve known her and that one has to be one of the best! It inspired me..

So its no secret that I’m not a Nikki Minaj fan. For me, she’s one of those ‘artists’ that there are far too many of now, who have no concept of their responsibility to the public that makes them so incredibly rich. Minaj, Cyrus and co. are quick to defend their soft-porn music videos and even worse lyrics by saying that they’re free to express themselves however they want, but think about it this way – these days no business would dare neglect to have a ‘corporate social responsibility’ department, and their PR and customer service teams are forever answering to anyone and everyone in the press and over social media. And quite right, the people at the heads of these companies are becoming very, very rich on the money that consumers are paying them for their products and services. So they should be answerable to the public.

So why then, does this not apply to pop musicians? Personally, I can’t see why they don’t have a responsibility to make their products appropriate to the people that they are peddling them to? If you want to be able to be overtly sexual and swear heavily in your live shows, then make your tickets subject to an age limit that reflects that content. Of course this won’t happen because the ability to sell out arenas and stadiums for 50+ shows would definitely suffer.

Of course, there is also a lot to be said for the fact that it is up to children’s parents what they allow them to go and see. And if those parents want to, they can check in advance what the content will be like, from previous shows.

But what I really can’t get my head around, is that those performances are being allowed on TV, on family shows such as awards ceremonies, and that the songs are all over the radio. It is becoming almost impossible for parents not to let their kids see and hear it, and swearing aside, the messages behind a lot of these songs are questionable, to say the least.

For example – when did it become OK for very young kids to be singing along to songs on the radio, with lyrics like this – “I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the motherfucking club, fuck you if you skinny bitches. What? Yeah!”

Maybe the swear words are beeped out, but it still gets the point across. And the point is that the only power that young girls have comes from the way that they look. Yes its good for young girls to know that they don’t need to be skinny, but its not good to teach them to insult girls who are. And its definitely not good to tell them that the reason they don’t need to be skinny is because its alright, men do actually find curves attractive! How about telling them that they don’t have to be skinny (or curvy) because, wait for it… the percentage of men who want to have sex with a woman, is not the only way to measure that woman’s value!

To look at another majorly annoying example, Beyonce is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter, businesswoman and Mother. So why in the video for Drunk in Love, released not that long after she gave birth to their daughter, does she spend half of the video draping herself mostly naked over her husband like a groupie, while he raps away, making no eye contact or any recognition that he knows she’s there? That doesn’t say ‘strong woman’ to me. And I realise that if anyone wears the trousers in that relationship, its probably her (and that in terms of their private life, it actually has absolutely nothing to do with me). But when it comes to their public image (which they are making their millions from) they do need to think about the images they’re projecting about healthy/unhealthy relationships.

Anyway I’m done ranting, so to turn this entry into something a bit more productive, here’s my list of a few women in the public eye at the moment who I think are really worthy female role models (and not just because men want to see them naked)…

1. Maryam Mirzakhani

Image from telegraphindia.com
Image from telegraphindia.com

Maryam Mirzakhani this year became the first ever woman to receive the Fields Medal, a major mathematics award nicknamed the Nobel Prize of mathematics, after it has run for 50 years!

2. Emma Watson

Image from theguardian.com
Image from theguardian.com

Emma is a successful actress of course, and is well known for being absolutely smokin! I think she deserves a mention for using her celebrity status to become a UN goodwill ambassador and for her involvement in the HeForShe campaign, encouraging men and women alike to consider gender equality issues.

3. Shonda Rhimes

Image from tvguide.com
Image from tvguide.com

This one isn’t just because she’s the writer behind the cinematic genius that was the Britney Spears/Zoe Saldana/Taryn Manning/Dan Aykroyd/Kim Cattrall/Justin Long 2002 movie Crossroads (maybe that’s a bit of a niche one, but it basically made my early teenage years). No, she’s also responsible for Grey’s Anatomy – which she first created after watching lots of daytime TV when she first adopted a newborn baby in 2002 – and is basically taking the world by storm as a writer and producer.

4. Gemma Mortensen

Image from linked in.com
Image from linked in.com

Still only in her mid-thirties, Gemma is Executive Director of Crisis Action, an international non-profit who bring together organizations across the world to help ensure that governments uphold their obligations to civilians during conflicts. She has won numerous awards in recent years for herself and for Crisis Action, and is seen as a real leader of change in what started out to be her own small way, but is now hugely effective across the globe.

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Social Media Cold Turkey – photographic evidence (day 21 – 09/11/2014)

I was out with my family the other night and I got to thinking about something (dangerous, I know).

We were walking around the Sunderland Illuminations at Roker Park and I was taking photos on my phone, mostly of the kids who were all excited and happily posing in front of the displays. Well, 7-year-old Nicole was happily posing, 3-year-old Ethan took a little more convincing and Kenzie, who’s almost 2 – well you just have to catch him on the odd occasion that he stops and stands still.

Anyway, we were wandering around and I was snapping away on my phone, until I realised that I hadn’t really seen any of the displays for myself (as in, not through my camera). I hadn’t really been taking in and enjoying the displays, but instead was more focussed on taking photos so that I could remember (and show others) how much we had enjoyed them! This got me thinking about how much of our time we spend taking photographs when we’re doing something that we enjoy, whether it’s having days out with family or going on nights out with friends.

If something interesting or funny happens and nobody managed to get a picture of it, we’re genuinely disappointed. Or if we’ve taken a load of photos on a day/night out or on holiday and we somehow lose them (lost camera/corrupted memory card/swimming pool incident – I have previous of all of these) it feels like a big part of the experience is lost. It’s as if we don’t trust our memories to keep the information for us to enjoy in the future, we need photos to jog our memories and help us to reminisce.

Which is fine and we’ve always done this to an extent, with lots of embarrassing photos taken on birthdays, at Christmas, at school plays and sports days, and our first day at each school. And nothing was better than getting a disposable camera for your birthday and taking (28?) pointless but awesome photos of you and your friends which would later be blu-tacked to the back of your wardrobe door.

I guess it just feels like now, with good quality cameras on our phones and the ability to immediately share an unlimited amount of photos on social media, taking photos (and especially sharing them, to as many people as possible) has sort of become the focus of our social lives, rather than just a way to remember them. Instead of taking photos that we can look back at on our own or with the small group of people who are in them, we’re using them as a way to prove to others that we have active social lives and lots of friends; that we’re interesting and spend our time doing interesting things.

When we really think about it though, with photos becoming a bigger and bigger element of everything we do, we can’t be surprised that people are becoming more and more (and more) pre-occupied with how they look, at all times. Countless times I’ve heard friends (as well as myself) say that they need to make sure they’re looking their best tonight because such-and-such is coming out – and they always take loads of pictures. But photos aren’t confined to special occasions anymore and it can feel like they’re being taken (and shared) all of the time. Worryingly, a quite natural reaction to this is for us as a society to become more conscious in our day-to-day lives, of how we look.

What I find more worrying though, is that we’re starting to concentrate on this stuff at a much younger age. When I was 10 years old, I’d wake up in the morning and get washed, brush my teeth, pull a brush through my hair and get dressed. Then it was either out to school or off to knock on my friends, in which case we’d spend the day playing on our bikes or climbing trees (they would climb trees, I would usually sit on the bottom branch a few feet up, scared to go any higher); or playing computer games at someone’s house. I realise this sounds like a bit of a “things aren’t like they used to be” lecture, but the point is that 99% of the time, taking photos of us doing whatever we were doing, was the last thing on our minds.

Now, many young girls of the same age are getting up in the morning and whether they’re off to school or to knock on their friends, they have to consider how they look. They feel they have to apply make up to hide what they think is their horrible skin which doesn’t look good on the countless pictures that they and their friends take of each other every day. They have to put proper thought into what they are going to wear and how they’ll do their hair.

I can’t imagine having felt that way at 10 years old and I find it pretty scary – and such a shame – that kids have to now. There are so many other things they could be thinking about – and enjoying – but instead they’re spending most of their time convincing each other that they are in fact, beautiful. Or worse, battling their insecurities about their own looks by insulting each other. What scares me is that, at 9/10/11 years old, children aren’t emotionally developed enough to be dealing with such complex issues and feelings!

“Don’t Tell me what to do!!”

For a long time now I have found myself getting very frustrated by some people’s massive overuse of the term ‘political correctness’.

Now this is not because I feel that a situation in which my kids could grow up not being allowed to keep long-lived British traditions such as having Christmas parties and plays at school, is fair and just. It isn’t because I don’t recognise that there are still many taboos in our society which need to be broken down, and that getting around entrenched stiff-upper-lip-syndrome is an essential part of making cultural progress with issues around, for example drug use, mental illness, abortion, homelessness, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy… the list goes on and on. It isn’t because I am a wily politician who is terrified of voters thinking about and discussing real issues which may lead them to question my carefully cratfed election strategy, and consider voting for a ‘revolutionary’, ‘new,’ party such as Ukip. (The fact that a vote for Ukip is in my view the exact opposite of a vote for change or a protest against the establishment, is a topic for another day).

The point is, I don’t like being told how it is ‘correct’ for me to think, feel or behave, any more than the next person.

But what I also hate is to see people rolling out the old cliche that something is “just political correctness gone mad”, along with a big sneer, as a barrier to conversation and debate. What I hate is when that cliche is thrown into the mix as an excuse to refuse to discuss the way in which we do things, our attitudes, or really anything that means anything.

Today I was reading a post on Facebook where a guy was asking parents to consider signing their childrens’ more extravagant Christmas presents from Mum and Dad, and signing a more modest collection of them as being from Santa Clause. The idea behind this was that the children of parents who are less wealthy (or less willing to amass huge amounts of debt) can be left wondering why Santa thinks they’ve been naughtier than Jack down the street who got 2 new consoles, 26 games, an iPad and a whole new wardrobe for Christmas.

The idea is that splitting the credit between Santa and the parents shows children that their Christmas presents are determined by the wealth of the family rather than by who Santa likes the most or by how well each child has behaved (which, lets face it, tends to have very little effect these days, on how much stuff they get).

Now of course, there are many arguments before and against this. I can totally see the point that many parents work very hard to provide chair-fulls of gifts for their kids at Christmas, and don’t see why they should have to spoil the magic by admitting they’re not all from Santa. I can also see the argument that the only important thing is to teach your children to appreciate whatever it is that they get, and not compare it to what other’s have received. I know that’s how my brothers and sisters and I were brought up and we continue to be very none-materialistic people and appreciate anything that is given to us or done for us.

Another comment that had me nodding as I read, was from a parent who wholeheartedly agreed with the post and elaborated that she thought it was extremely important that children grow up from day one knowing the value of money and that nice things don’t just appear out of nowhere because they are owed to you, because its Christmas.

I could see the points of people who pointed out that we all have a responsibility to society and its other families, and the happiness and welfare of their children as well as just our own.

The post and its comments made a really interesting read and there were so many varied opinions that I can’t honestly pretend I know how I will approach this when the time comes that I have my own family. But I really enjoyed reading the discussion and thinking about the points that were made.

I also saw a blog about much the same subject but discussing the impact of posting photos of mountains of gifts on social media, if you have time give it a read and check out the comments, people obviousy feel very strongly about this issue.

The only comment that angered me to read was on the first post and it basically ranted about how this is just another example of ridiculous political correctness, and “them” trying to tell us what to do.

No. No it isn’t. It is simply a heartfelt post written (from my perception) with the intention of encouraging parents to think about something a little differently. It was intended to start a discussion and it did just that.

So why is it that some people are so terrified of that? Why are they so quick to become intensely defensive of themselves and the way they live their lives? Why are some people so closed to debate?

As I said above, I don’t like being told by our government how to think, feel and behave, just like everyone else. But I also hate being told just that, by people on the internet. I hate reading memes and posts on Facebook which agressively proclaim to rally against ‘political correctness’ and encourage individual opinion, yet include words along the lines of “re-post this if you have the guts”.

Is this not also trying to tell me how I should think, and shaming me for having an opinion which does not comply?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is nothing wrong with questioning the way that we do things as individuals and as a society, and that crying “political correctness” every time someone tries to do that, probably says more about you, than the person you’re yelling it at.

Being Animally-Awkward

I’m not an animal person.

In fact anyone who knows me will probably tell you that’s a gross understatement of the facts!

I don’t hate animals – I’m not some heartless hater of all ‘lesser’ creatures, who can be found stonefacedly scrolling right on past all the videos of high-on-catnip cats, ‘talking’ dogs, and cats who think they’re dogs. I can appreciate all animals from the cute and cuddly to the powerful and ferocious. My oldest friends will even recall a long-lived obsession with a certain type of sea-faring mammal.

So actually, let me rephrase that – I’m not a pet person. I realise that many, many people get great joy out of their pets, they enjoy looking after them and love the loyalty and affection that they get as a reward. In theory I completely understand this, but personally, I’ve just never seen the appeal.

Its not because I don’t want to look after anyone or anything – I am a complete mother at heart and adore looking after my nieces and nephews. I grew up in a family of 6 kids and am not afraid of snot or slaver or poo. The truth is, animals just freak me out!

We never had pets when we were growing up (my Mam had her hands full enough with 6 of those human-animal hybrids that we affectionately know as young children). So I never really got comfortable with the reality of animals in the house. My Dad had 2 black cats and we stayed there every weekend but this didn’t really help much. I was never a massive fan and as I got older and started to be left in on my own on occasion, I would shoo them out of the living room on account of the fact that they made me really uncomfortable. Slinking around with their slightly-too-intelligent eyes and what I still swear would qualify as smug expressions! And as for walking up the stairs while they were poised on the banister at the top, trying to psych me out by looking like they could pounce at any second… no chance!

Okay, so I probably sound pretty insane to all but a very niche group of animally-awkward people like myself. But there is a point to why I’m telling you all of this.

Due to recent circumstances, I have for the first time in my life, at 24.5 years of age, become solely responsible for another creature.

His name is Sherlock and he’s a goldfish.

Now somewhat predictably, very soon after this happened I had a small panic about my ability to keep this goldfish alive. To understand why, you need to know a little of Sherlock’s back story…

It was Easter-time back in 2013 and I was living in London whilst doing an internship, like so many other evenings we paid a visit to the local Polish supermarket, which was basically like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, containing all sorts of sweet and savoury treats that you would never find in the likes of Asda. Including sugar-coated peanuts and every flavour of ‘Milka’ chocolate you can imagine! What it didn’t usually sell… was fish.

But, fatefully, as a kind of random birth/life/Easter celebration, on this day they were selling just that. Now I’ve explained that I’m not exactly a pet person so I wouldn’t usually have bothered too much about this. But even I couldn’t bare how those poor little fish were being kept. In a tank that looked like it was designed for one or two, there were no less than 50 fish, cramped together and looking thoroughly miserable. So we found the most sickly looking specimen and bought him for £1.

In truth we expected him to die pretty much instantly, but after a few days he was looking far more chirpy (if indeed a fish can look such a thing) and once he was set up in his own proper tank, complete with decorative gravel and ornaments, he thrived! He even survived the journey up North to Sunderland on the train in a (very large, the largest you can buy, and thoroughly cleaned out) coffe jar.

Since then he’s survived another house move and a week-long bout of barely moving or eating whilst a bizarre white thing hung from his side (very glad that went away).

He’s almost 2 years old now and as far as I know that’s a long time in goldfish years, so you can see why I don’t want to be responsible for killing the little guy now.

But unfortunately, if you’d been witness to my first attempt at cleaning him out last week, which involved me backing away into the corner while my younger sister fished him out of the tank with the little net, all the time saying “I feel like I’m doing a bushtucker trial,” you would understand that its a very real possibility!

As for now, Sherlock is all set up in a new, bigger tank donated by the aforementioned little sister, with some nice clean new gravel and a lovely spongebob ornament. After having a pretty mental 5 minutes where we were genuinely scared he would jump out of the top and had to scramble to put the lid on, he seems to have settled in.

So it doesn’t look like I’ve done him any harm so far – touch wood!

Oh by the way, that childhood obsession? It was dolphins, I always did love those guys!

Social Media Cold Turkey – Feeling Left Out (Day 14 – 02/11/2014)

There have been a couple of things recently that have made me realise how much of our lives we live on Facebook.

Two of my good friends from Uni have recently gotten engaged (YAY Emily and Nathen!), and last night was their engagement party. Most of my housemates from my second year at Uni travelled to Sheffield to celebrate with them and it was amazing to all get together again. 5 of us drove down from Sunderland and the time flew by as we caught up about everyone’s goings on post-Uni. Everyone has exciting things going on – starting careers, buying cars and what-not. Basically doing a lot of scary grown-up things! Let’s just say the car journey down to Sheffield, free of any hangovers, was a lot more lively than the return journey today.

Anyway, the point is that we had a fantastic night with plenty of catching up, ill-advised shots, food, and general idiocy! The only sticking point is that a huge part of all of our nights out throughout Uni was the photos – looking at them the next day and mercilessly reminding each other, despite how much they begged, about the stupid things (and ridiculous dancing) that had happened the night before.

So I’m feeling a little left out as I know we took LOADS of photos (including who knows what when we took over Becca’s camera for 10 minutes while she was at the bar) and I’m betting they will all go up on Facebook over the next couple of days. Seeing as we don’t live in the same house (or even the same city) any more, I won’t get to see anyone else’s photos until I’m back on social media. I think this is the first time I’ve REALLY wanted to log on! I’m not going to, of course, but I do really want to!

The other thing that’s getting to me a bit is that I caught up with one of my best friends recently and we caught up on loads of stuff, one being the impending Motherhood of one of our mutual friends. Before I came off Facebook we had a group message where we talked about all sorts, which is still ongoing, and I think the topic has recently turned very much to the late stages of Danielle’s pregnancy. Not everyone’s idea of a great conversation topic but to me it definitely is! So I’m finding myself feeling a little left out (not intentionally of course) from the group conversation. I feel a bit guilty as well for choosing now to come off, as I’m not allowed back on until a while after she’s due to be born. Of course that’s silly because Danielle can still reach me on the phone or by text but our Facebook message has become pretty central to us keeping in touch so it’s definitely a miss, especially with such big and exciting things going on!

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve missed social media or thought about wanting to log on until now, but I do feel like I’m missing out on some things. I can do without scrolling down my newsfeed when I’m sat on the bus or sitting hitting refresh because I can’t be bothered to do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing on my laptop at the time – but the last few days have definitely highlighted how much easier and convenient social media can make it to keep in touch with people (especially in groups); as well as how much we rely on it to do so.

Social Media Cold Turkey – are we all ‘keyboard warriors’ these days?

I was sitting talking to my Stepdad in front of the telly (the Blyth Spartans v Hartlepool football match) tonight and we got onto the topic of social media.

Gary (my Stepdad) has a Facebook profile but he very rarely uses it and he doesn’t entertain the idea of other social media. But he does livein a house with 4 other adults who do use social media regularly, including my Mam. I think this gives him an interesting persepective on the whole phenomenon and some of the things he had to say got me thinking.

Of course living in a house with his wife, son and two daughters who all use social media, Gary’s heard his fair share of “eeeh look at that, I wonder who she/he’s talking about?” In response to the classic “some people” ranting statuses that crop up all too often, particularly on Facebook. This in particular is something that he can’t understand about the whole culture and I have to say I really can’t either. What satisfaction do we get from describing what we dislike or what has annoyed us about someone to all of our Facebook friends, with no intention of telling anyone what has actually happened or who is involved? Is it simply enjoyment from knowing how the person concerned will feel when they read it and know that it is about them? After all, it can’t help to resolve the problem or get to the bottom of why the person has acted the way that they appear to have, because it doesn’t initiate a conversation, only more tension.

When I hear people saying that Facebook causes more problems than it’s worth or that it makes friendships and relationships more difficult, I find it hard to agree. Mainly because there are real people behind everything that goes on there – and we can treat each other with respect online, if we really want to. What I think it does do though, is allow us to broadcast very widely our frustrations and bad feeling towards people instantly and (importantly) before we have had time to think things through, to calm down or to try to see things from someone else’s perspective. After unpleasant events happen it can keep people in a weird, distant contact who, without social media, would probably have just gotten on with their lives and not thought about what each other were doing. It also gives us the confidence to say things that we sometimes wouldn’t dream of saying in a face-to-face situation.

In a similar veign but on the other side of the coin, social media means that we can see tiny snippets of people’s lives, events and conversations, often taken out of context. And we react to these (as people naturally do). What’s missing is face-to-face, two-sided conversation in which two or more people are able to discuss and try to understand each other’s perspectives.

So whilst I don’t believe that Facebook can cause problems between people, it has definitely changed dramatically the way we interact and it throws up lots of new considerations in the ways that we treat each other.

Social Media Cold Turkey – being a bad aunty! (Day 10 – 10/10/2014)

If we think our generation is used to being constantly connected, the next generation is definitely worse! I’m having a hard time explaining to my 7 year old niece why I can’t see or reply to her SnapChats at the minute.

She keeps asking if I’ve seen photos or messages that she’s sent and each time I feel awful that I haven’t. She seems quite disappointed and I hope she hasn’t been wondering why I haven’t replied! It’s silly because with living at my Mam’s at the minute I see her a lot, and she can still ring or text me. But she doesn’t seem to understand why I would stop using social media! I suppose it’s existed for longer than she has and it’s so widely used that she doesn’t really see it as a product that you can choose to subscribe to or not – but as something that everyone just has.

My niece won’t be allowed Facebook for a long time but she feels so left out that she’s been allowed to have an Instagram account and Snapchat, on the strict condition that my sister controls who she can follow and who can see her posts. She has lots of family and a few friends on there and the result is seriously cute. I’m certainly missing her posts! I think she feels ‘on the same level’ as her aunties and uncles when she’s using social media and she really enjoys sharing things with us.

All of this has kind of got me thinking about how social media companies, particularly the ultra-massive ones like Facebook and Twitter, have managed to make their services so indispensable. In most demographics now its seen as a deliberate life-choice to avoid using social media. It’s seen as a statement against modern society, rather than just a case of someone not feeling the need to have it.

Of course social media isn’t the first example of this (think about TV, mobile phones, cars, the internet in general) – all of these things define our modern lives and there are good and bad points of all of them.

But I do think it highlights that we may need to think more about how we use social media, considering that it’s becoming such a massive part of our culture, we’re so exposed to it, and its capable of getting us to expose so much of ourselves?