Breaking the Silence #MeToo

Sexual harassment has been in the news recently and it is about time that this issue is more widely discussed. I’ve written on here before about how as a straight bloke it is very easy not to notice that sexual harassment is taking place right under our noses. I’m more aware of that now so I knew that there was a high likelihood of friends of mine suffering from sexual harassment. Yet it is a subject that is rarely discussed, or seems not to be with straight blokes.

So I wasn’t surprised to see on my Facebook feed lots of #MeToo postings. This social media campaign was a really good thing because it really brought the issue home when you know the victims personally, it’s no longer a statistical probability, it’s more real. Some of my friends were even brave enough to share details about what had happened to them.

Sexual harassment is perhaps the thick end and everyday sexism is the other. The everyday comments and banter just wears you down as it happens day after day.It’s a shame these things are not discussed more widely so there is greater awareness.

We are all different and sensitive to different things. As an anxious person, I too have suffered from the negative effects of everyday banter, which seems worse because it was nothing to do with my gender, so seems more personally directed.

I get the wearing down of everyday banter because I’m Welsh. When the Six nations rugby tournament is on, the banter of jokes directed between nations is part of the thing. However, being Welsh we get the jokes a lot of the time all through the year and mainly from men: The endless sheep jokes and attacks on our language, maybe be justified as merely ‘banter’ or ‘taking the piss but not meaning anything by it’ are really just tedious, but when we do get fed up of them we can usually find solace with fellow Welsh folk.

Maybe that is partly why women, the vast majority of victims of sexual harassment are women, seek solace with other women, rather than discuss the issue with straight blokes they know. and maybe that is why it is tougher on the anxious as there is no ready made group to seek solace in.

This isn’t saying that banter is wrong, it can be a bit of fun, especially between friends where we know where the limits of taking something too far are and it is established that we really don’t mean it. However men are generally more cautious about such banter with women, when they are not cautious then it is harassment. It is harassment because harassment is defined by the victim, they state when it is harassment, not the behaviour itself. Knowing the limits comes from knowing the people, which is why friends can take the piss out of each other, however when someone ‘wolf whistles’ at a woman in the street, they do not know the woman, so that is just pure harassment.

The issue with sexual harassment is that men generally don’t suffer from it, so men don’t understand it, so men are unable to know where the limits of banter are for women they know a bit from the workplace. In the same way banter affects the anxious because the non-anxious don’t understand anxiety. Really , if there were to be daily comments about how big our penises are, most men would quickly collapse sobbing in states of insecurity.

While being a victim of abuse is horrible, that such harassment is commonplace also affects blokes. To not be an anxious person I decided to be a lot more open about my feelings, which includes being open with women. Often I prefer to talk about my feelings with women as generally they listen more. However sometimes that openness can be misinterpreted as seeking a deeper relationship, or trying to get into their knickers. This troubled me because surely it was obvious from my words and how I expressed them that that wasn’t my intention. However, it took me years to realise that you can accidentally harass someone, when you don’t understand what the daily lived experience of being a woman is like.  The thing is I have been a harasser of women, but the blame for those events lies with the whole widespread commonality of sexual harassment.not anything i did or said specifically.

I’ve always been reluctant to touch women to express empathy and support because it may be inappropriate. Now I know the reason for that , because the woman may not know that I am not trying to take advantage of the situation to cop a feel. Yet straight blokes always desire copping feels, because women’s bodies are ace, yet we learn to restrain ourselves, it’s not something worth doing. Because of this blokes miss out on so much of warmth of human physical contact, to the extent that some men seek ways to slyly cop feels or worse to make up for this missing out. The solution has to be talking more about these issues, for abuse to be recognised, so these men don’t end up raping or otherwise abusing women.

Even today, there still seems to be a reluctance to take on board that everyone is different and jokes about gender, race, sexuality, nationality, mental health, religion, anything and everything else cause a lot of harm and there is too much casual banter.

This doesn’t mean that straight blokes have to somehow try and not be fascinated by women’s bodies, or that we are not allowed to talk to women we are attracted to, even if we do want to get into their knickers. What it means is simply respecting other people and realising that we can easily hurt people without realising it because we don’t know who they are. and who has been harassing them in their personal history.

 

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Believing in Evolution

There is a substantial difference between knowing something and believing it. Belief is much more powerful as it goes beyond logic and connects with peoples sense of self.

This idea helps make  clear why there is a stigma about mental illness. The anxious person or the depressed person can know that they are ill, that it is possible to not be ill, often the problem is that they don’t believe that they can be well. I suffered from anxiety, there were brief times when I wasn’t anxious, instead of knowing I was well, I believed it was merely a temporary respite. It was when I believed that there was nothing wrong with me, when I believed what I already knew rationally, did I become well. so the mental illness stigma is perhaps because healthy people don’t recognise the difference between knowing something to be true and believing it. Perhaps for the healthy, they believe they are well before they have developed an explanation for why they are well, belief comes before knowledge in this instance.

As a scientist I both know and believe in the theory of evolution. I know, because I have studied, read and observed the evidence and accept evolution as a rational, empirically produced explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I believe,  because I also accept the scientific process for discovering the laws of the physical universe, I accept the process as a valid way of generating truth.

Many scientists have difficulty understanding why those of religious faith lack a belief in evolution, indeed some of faith have difficulty believing in evolutionary theory. Religious faith is different to simple belief. Belief in God is different to beliefs about the physical universe, because belief perhaps comes before knowledge, rather than coming after knowledge. Religious belief connects to the self, before any empirical process of gathering knowledge. Faith concerns something beyond understanding of relationships in the physical observable universe. As a scientist I believe that it is possible for science to explain what God is, but that humanity may never establish a theory of everything. Sometimes, it is perhaps dangerous or less open to truth if belief comes before knowledge.

It is accepted that such theories as evolution or gravity are true. such truths can be established from raw data acquired from the physical universe. I believed these truths before I became a Christian and I know that there is no conflict between holding these beliefs in addition to religious beliefs, such as God having a role in the creation of the universe. The issue is perhaps that for some people the religious belief is more powerful to themselves than a mere rational piece of knowledge. To the atheist scientist, belief in scientific theory is more powerful than mere knowledge or understanding of religion, often atheists struggle looking beyond mere empirical understanding of the physical universe. To someone of faith, these powerful ideas can make the concept of evolution seem less important and hence less true. Yet people are not robots, they all harbour non-rational thoughts and ideas, the belief of humanists that there is perhaps, simply, that there is a physical explanation for these mental phenomena, but their belief may not be as strong as these less easy to break down logically ideas are not as fully explored, perhaps mentally acknowledged or as strongly believed. No individual person has a fully coherent explanation of themselves or the wider universe, yet every individual is on a journey to discovering truths.

I think I should point out, that I am in no way declaring any superiority for religious faith over atheism. What I am saying is that faith is worthwhile exploring. It is a question of balance, people choose what to invest our mental energies upon, there should be space for rational scientific inquiry as well as reflection on the question of faith.

Seeking Relationships or Not

Beginning heterosexual relationships is a weird, complicated, fraught, scary process. There is perhaps only one reason for this, that there is the possibility of a romantic or sexual attachment.

I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the ease with which my gay friends establish friendships with women. I think that the reason is purely and simply that the possibility of romantic attachment isn’t there. I have many female friends, with whom there is an ease with each other, this has occurred as at some point the possibility of a romantic attachment was settled and moved on from, this settling usually happens sub-consciously, it is perhaps a product of time and getting to know the person. some women who I meet sometimes start acting dismissively as if I am seeking a relationship with them. What has disturbed me is sometimes men, even heterosexual men, start acting strangely towards me as if I am seeking a romantic relationship with them.

The thing that has troubled me about this is that it seems that everyone deals with this issue differently, and sometimes distressing situations can occur whereby individual systems clash. In Western society this is a particular problem, the society is so socially liberal that etiquette has been largely rejected, anything goes. Etiquette is a essentially a set of social rules to make social interactions easier. So, why has Western society adopted a position of making social interactions harder?

This has been an issue for me as I suffered from anxiety for so long that it has perhaps warped my own interaction system. Basically in my system I don’t seek relationships. I enjoy communicating with people, sometimes things click and there is a kind of understanding of who the other person is, sometimes there is a liking of that person,there are then three possibilities: 1/ Nothing, 2/ a friendship begins to form, 3/ a romantic relationship begins to form. For me, these things just happen.

It seems as though everyone has, perhaps it’s another personality spectrum, a degree to which interactions are monitored for the seeking of relationships, perhaps people always invest some effort in interacting in seeking a relationship. If this is the case, then perhaps I am at an extreme end of this spectrum.

What I have struggled with is that I am sensitive to people thinking that I am seeking a relationship, because it annoys me, as conversation dries up, the question you are asking is is no longer about the question but responded to as if by asking you are seeking a relationship. I feel like crying out ‘I’m not seeking a relationship, I’m just talking to you”. It seems that people once they get the idea in their head that you are seeking a relationship, normal relations are no longer possible, that can be very awkward, particularly in environments where you spend time together, such as a working environment. I find it quite ridiculous as both parties then go out of their way to avoid each other.

It is quite understandable how this situation arises. I do speak to women just because I am attracted to them. Fairly quickly one realises that they are not interested in a romantic liaison, I immediately take that on board and move on (Well I might find a corner to cry in at some juncture). However, some men, continue to seek relationships after this point, this continuing strategy does work, sometimes, as it is possible to change your mind after getting to know someone better. Such a strategy is generally acceptable, however if it continues it becomes harassment, how much to employ such a strategy varies as people are different, it is a grey area. Once members of a population use a strategy, there then arises a counter-strategy, the women develop strategies for dealing with unwanted attention, to monitor people for seeking relationships to trigger the defensive response. Really, the whole ‘game’ of finding a sexual partner is complicated and some people actively play this game.

This is perhaps why it becomes problematic for people such as myself, who are very low level relationship seekers. This group don’t seek relationships, so such people don’t really know what is going on when people are analysing a situation for relationship seeking. It is possible to think that this group are victims of being in a game they don’t know the rules of. It is tempting to join in and simply ‘play the game’, however fighting against your own personality is dangerous.

Of course, this non-relationship seeking is a strategy in itself, it is simply not purposefully used as a strategy. I have many male and female friends whom I’ve formed relationships with precisely because I wasn’t seeking a relationship. I like having relationships, I just hate all the faff involved in getting to a point of mutual trust and respect. The thing that perhaps bothers me is that social groups form due to social type, one only socialises with people like yourself. There are positives to only socialising with like minded souls, but it is also limiting, the perception is missing out on understanding other types of people.

Non-relationship seeking does tend to be the preserve of introverts. Because introverts are really happy to be alone, there is no need for social interaction to be fulfilled. Introverts simply like social interaction, but are equally happy doing things by ourselves. Then there is this low self-monitoring issue, whereby low self-monitors don’t change their behaviour to suit others.

 

Depressing misunderstood music

People have often criticised sections of the music I like, because it’s ‘depressing’. There is no such thing as “depressing’ music, only music that you don’t get or don’t understand, perhaps people don’t want to say: “Turn this off because I don’t understand it”, which would be more accurate.

Generally the music referred to, lyrically, deals with sad topics, the plight of the alienated from society, with the expression of quite specific negative feelings. Such music concerns the feelings of a minority in society. This music has very positive functions. Most importantly it allows the listener to recognise and relate to an expressed emotion, from this comes a sense of validation, that those thoughts are not unique and are those of a wider community of people. This association with the negative actually helps allow the listener to escape from negative feelings as a focal point for the negativity is provided, so the feelings can be appropriately compartmentalised. it is no surprise that the purveyors of such music, never achieve super stardom, but often have large, loyal very dedicated groups of fans. for example Leonard Cohen sang “We are ugly, but we have the music”, to me this means that whilst outsiders may feel outside society, at least they/we have understanding of a great collection of music.

I stressed in a recent post, how human feelings consists of happiness, sadness and a neutrality. Art should concern all possible states of human conciousness. I don’t understand the call for more happy music. It is harder to express happiness artistically I feel. However you can’t force happiness on people (though it would be wonderful if this was actually possible!). I am a massive fan of ‘The Cure‘, In the late 1980s they suddenly started producing a string of poppy, happy songs, that gained more widespread success, ‘Lovecats’ reached the giddy heights of number 7 in the singles chart in the UK. These worked wonderfully as very rare expression and explorations of happiness. More recently with ‘Happy’ by Marina and the Diamonds

It would be wrong to suggest that this music is better or worse than other music, by which I mean music that concerns more general widely felt thoughts and feelings about the human condition. Whilst this kind of music can be amazing it will always fail to provide the keenness of resonance of a more rare or specific emotion. However, good music of this variety is harder to distinguish. Often an artist will write lyrics that are so general and lacking any real insight, that they are dull and boring.

What has always flummoxed me, is that pop music that becomes hugely successful, seems to bare little relation to it’s quality, whether lyrically or musically. I’m aware that music lovers and lovers of insightful lyrics are the minority and don’t determine popularity. I wonder whether there is something special that people who don’t feel like outsiders or a developed sense of music pick up on?

However it may be something less profound. sometimes an artist will emerge for popularising a new style of music. Usually the new style will already have developed in the underground by experimental artists. To fans of the experimental sound, the popularisation will sound dull and boring, but to the uninitiated it may present the expression of that musical idea for the masses.

I’ve mainly been discussing lyrical content in this discussion, as i hinted almost the exact same argument apples to musicality. However musicality is different. Being an outsider is something that happens to an individual. Musicality can be developed by anyone, through active listening to music. For example, the popular works of a classical composer, most people will like, you then play another less popular work by that artist, and the listener won’t get it. However if they have developed musicality, they will be able to appreciate the less popular work  just as much as the popular one. Composers, don’t know what is going to be popular. Perhaps popularity occurs when a musical idea is very simple, it is the simplicity that resonates, to the composer the simplicity may not be apparent at the time of writing.

Generally Separate

When people get into a fight, there is often a cry to separate, to step back, provide both parties to stop and reflect upon their actions. Many arguments and conflicts are caused by misunderstandings. Many misunderstandings arise from a tendency to generalise. People generalise to make help make sense of the world, to simplify.

In my recent conversations with people about the murder of journalists in Paris this week, I have often found myself as the standard barer of the idea of separating and not generalising. It is wrong to cast aspersions on an entire group of people, or people who identify with a particular belief. It is also wrong to suggest that all ‘members’ of a group are responsible for the actions of individuals with whom they share some label. For example if a murder occurs in Wales, as a Welshman I am not to blame for the murder, nor should I apologise to the world on behalf of Welsh people. Whilst all Welsh people are Welsh, as individuals we all define that sense of identity in a different way.

People often get upset or angry by events. When  we become upset, there is a tendency to blame others, there is often no immediately apparent cause of the problem so people look for generalisations, and the labels generated from generalisations come to the for. One might, for example blame all women for a relationship floundering. However, it is perhaps neglected that when there is a misunderstanding it is due to the failure of the generalisation, than some more rare personality trait is not understood.

There is a sense of the tyranny of the perceived majority, which is often heightened by the media. For example that men are only after sex and not committed relationships. Sometimes, people take comfort from the logic of using generalisations to form conclusions for a communication breakdown, it gives a sense of a matter being settled. i would argue that often misunderstandings arise from people making generalisations and a disregard for the separateness of individuals, for ‘exceptions to the rule’. Really because as humans we generalise, we often fail to be aware that we are dealing with an individual who is different and not all generalisations apply to any individual.As a society we are not less homogenised, we live in a multi-cultural society, yet still retain the trappings of class, the traditional form of difference in a society.

This loss of social rules and social conformity is a triumph. It has freed individuals from feeling that they should act or think in a particular way. It also places a burden on the individual to assess the morality of their thoughts and actions individually and often there isn’t the time and space to do this thoroughly. Often a solution is to adopt or buy into a particular philosophy as a general way to simply exist and get on with things, whilst recognising that every system has it’s flaws and weaknesses as well. However following the dictates of any particular creed or rule system, will inevitable cause the followers of another system harm, inadvertently at some point.

For example, wearing of the burka. To me, as a western feminist, women should be free to wear what they want and not have their choice of clothes  dictated by any particular greed or gender group. Men should respect women by not harassing them for any choice of clothing they may make. So, if I were to completely adopt this creed I would be disapproving of women wearing the burka, advocating that the burka has no place in society. This is wrong, as I would be applying my creed to someone else. Women have the right to wear the burka if they wish to. in any case, the feminist creed has not fully succeeded in removing the harassment of women in the street in society, no creed can claim any superiority over the other.

I was once involved in a rather farcical clash of cultures once on a London bus. I got onto the bus, there was only one spare seat, next to a woman, which I sat in. The woman got up from her seat, presumably as her creed was that she shouldn’t sit next to strange men. My creed dictated that I should give up my seat for a woman, so I got up and indicated that the lady should resume her seat, which she did. On my last visit to London, on the tube (underground railway), the lady opposite who was nursing a young child, gave up her seat to an elderly lady who had just got on the train. I then gave up my seat to the lady with the child!

I am British, the British are often criticised for apologising whenever things go awry. Actually this is healthy thing to do, it is a correct admission that no-one is perfect, that this lack of perfection has caused some trouble to someone else. That the reasons or a difficulty is that we are all different and working out the exact thing we are apologising for is most of the time not worth trying to work out, or at least should be remembered for when the person has to time to stop and reflect.

My own problem was that I would overly worry and assess my own failings, rather than admit to never being perfect and get on with living, to accept that people are always going to misunderstand me and I others, with no intended malice. I didn’t do this partly as I allowed the differences and misunderstanding to effect me, when it is something that just happens. Learning to tolerate the differences in others is something i could always do, what i lacked was freeing myself of the fear of my own status as someone separate of inadvertently offending others.

People should be less hasty to judge both other individuals and labelable groups, not try and dictate how others from different backgrounds should behave (all our backgrounds are different), but rather accept the separateness of us all as individuals and do our best to get along with one another.