Issue 2: December 2018
The Best Woman's Ezine to Read on the Loo
(In our only free time)
* women who actively work to reconstruct a better world. We support intersectional feminism, inclusiveness, sustainable living, black lives matter, alternative relationship styles, queer rights and a variety of sexualities.
Except don't talk to us right now because we're really tired and pissed off. And there's a bottle of white in the fridge that needs drinking.
MINORITY VOICE by Michon Neal:
ADVICE (More like Suggestion) Column:
All Hail She-Ra
Implementation of environmental ethics, to put it bluntly, is a lot of work. Too much work for my family (especially when I'm the only one who is interested in pushing it). I need it to be easier. I need producers to be more ethical, more trustworthy but I'm guessing it's really hard for them too when they operate in a capitalist system where money is God.
I've been investigating ethical clothing--whatever that is--cruelty free? using dead stock material? second-hand? Are we still okay to be wearing our inherited grandmother's fur hat? So many questions, and my investigations continue.
Then there's 'plastic-free' beauty. But the organic shampoo soap bars are really shit. The bottom line is that products have to work for people to adopt them. And who has time to test everything? On that note, I've interviewed a friend of mine who's starting an organic and ethical beauty shop here in Berlin, and the micro-decisions involved plus the cost, are just mindblowing.
Another issue that has crossed my path lately, and as a Mum that I'm particularly interested in, is media violence and how it affects us in the real world. And as much as one can have a good answer, I have one from my Media Psychology professor which I thought I'd share with you.
Finally a point of view I picked up--with permission--from Michon Neal, an esteemed collaborator of mine. If you want to read why violence used in self-defense versus violence to oppress cannot be equated, hers is the minority voice to read (and gives you a great call to authority to throw in at dinner parties when you're arguing with someone smug and entitled). Have a great holiday time, and I'll be back in January (if Christmas doesn't kill me).
Welcome to the MetaModern Woman E-zine Issue 2. Contact me if you want to discuss:
- Advertising & Sponsorship, or
- Writing a guest article, or
- How I can help you (or we can collaborate, yay!)
P.S. My thanks go to my friend Lina on Brännö because if she hadn't donated, I would have been too lazy to produce a second issue. Thanks for the dose of coercion Lina.
PPS. The cover image doesn't have an owner. I would like to pay for its usage, but as with so many things on the internet they get shared without accreditation. If you know who created it, please get in touch.
For U.S. readers, Thorntree Press has put together a holiday bundle for $9.99...
Click the image to follow the link.
Donate and let me research the stuff we want to know.
How First-Person Shooter games Affect Our Kids
My media psychology professor is an awkwardly charming, middle-aged white man with thick rimmed glasses who ocassionally disrupts our facebook browsing during his class by pointedly saying 'I can't tell you what's in the exam but this is Very Important. But I was already paying attention, not just because I'm a mature student with too much coffee in her blood, but because we were examining The Effects of Media Violence.
As a Mum of three, I confess. The iPad is Mummy's Little Helper. Quarter of an hour screen time may have been allowed to slip past the thirty minute mark on occasion. Or further. But with Minecraft and Magic being their main obsessions, I'm hopeful that the divide between reality and fantasy is an easily recognisable chasm. Yet too many bemused parents--maybe just like me--cry in the wake of horrific tragedy; he was just a regular kid who did regular kid things, like video games. In this they are correct. Playing video games of all sorts, is a regular kid activity, at least in my house.
First person shooter games are always brought up after every school shooting and mass murder (as long of course, as the shooter is white). I am not yet in the land where the violent, uncanny-valley first-person shooters reside. I'm navigating suitably feminist Pixar movies and I don't have to make these choices for a few years. But maybe I won't have to. Because as it turns out that the scientific proof so far concludes the effect of violent video games is very weak indeed.
Peter Langman has researched and sourced more research, to provide deeper insight into the question "Why Kids Kill"(2009 New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan). The absence of evidence for first person shooter games being a factor is difficult to ignore. As my lecturer summarized, first-person shooters are used by some perpetrators, however the diffusion for young men is close to full coverage, meaning that there is no scientific evidence. Most young men play first person shooter games but only a select few become shooters.
A Meta-Analysis is:A research method based on many individual studies in which the average effect or 'effect size' between virtual violence and actual aggression is measured.
In a fabulously named meta-analysis 'Do Angry Birds make Angry Children? 1A meta-analysis of Video game influences on Children's and Adolescents' Aggression, Mental Health, Prosocial behaviour, and Academic Performace Christopher Ferguson also presents his findings of an unremarkable correlation between video games and increased aggression or reduced prosocial [positive and helpful] behaviour. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say being a teenager had a fair amount with being more aggressive and more emo. I'm not dissing the teenage experience, but I may dispute any implied causality.
Langman concluded his work by citing three main factors as to "Why Kids Kill":
- Personality (including disorders and depression)
- Everyday Problems
- Weapons Ownership
We know this. But you can't eradicate every day problems or personality...
Langman's research was published in 2009. Ferguson's research--a good extrapolation I think--was published in 2016.
Where 'r'=correlation coefficient in the table below, the first line reads the more video games were sold in the United States, the slightly less the rate in youth violence. It could mean there's a causality, but more likely it means that the comparison of the two is irrelevant.
There were other positive correlations however--to name just the top five--between genetic influences, cruelty to animals and later people, self-control, opportunity and firearms ownership (oh look, there it is again).
Maybe it's because I'm a Brit--home to the policeman's truncheon. But I was shocked how simple the solution was and how surprisingly accurate my intuition had been. Why don't they ban guns?
I've never seen a gun. Never wanted a gun. But I also know I have the privilege to be born in a place and time which doesn't require this knowledge for my survival.
There are so many battles we have to fight on a daily basis. And we need to focus where we can be the most effective. I'm a mother writes stories about things others don't have time to research. On family dynamics, abuse structures and also plastic-free beauty. And right now at this very second, violent video games and guns (they're not coming in my house, like ever).
To be continued...
I'll be reading this book soon to review. But I warn you, despite my attempts to love myself, I'm not pre-disposed to like Mothers. (Yes, I need to work on that).
Is it Reasonable to go Cold Turkey on Plastic?
Most of us don't buy a beauty product because it's cruelty or plastic free we buy it because we desire youthful hydration or cellulite reduction. After decades of education about parabens and sulphates, some of the "eviller" ingredients which pollute our bodies and oceans might tip the balance of our purchasing power. But the ethics behind the packaging it comes in, tends to be at the very bottom of our considerations (if at all). Angela, like me, is a Mum of three. She's also fighting the ethical beauty battle through this: her new online project based in Berlin, More Natural Attitudes (MNA).
What is MNA? "Above all a community," she says "a following and a branding force which says you don’t necessarily have to be vegan, you don’t have to change your belief system, you can just take small steps to become more sustainable, take care of your rubbish, try to use less plastic, which by the way I’m failing miserably at!"
Aren't we all? The plastic cotton buds in my bathroom agree.
The ethical beauty industry struggles more than most with gaining consumer trust because well, it's personal. I want to trust in industry leaders and experts because I don't have the time or the emotional energy to examine the ethics behind all I buy. But I can't trust them; nameless, faceless corporations have proven so many times in the past to put profit over ethics in a capitalist society which rewards them for it.
I trust in Angela. For one, our kids go to school together. For another she's up front and honest about what she can and can't do regarding the ethics behind her products. But she tries. Sometimes we can't be ethical in one fell swoop because costs, laws and practices prevent it. But we can keep choosing better and keep being honest about what needs to change. Those products also have to fit into the household budget because very few people have the privilege of being able to pay a premium for going green.
"I believed Germany was great at recycling plastic," she says, "as a normal consumer and Mum of a big family, I just saw that all plastic goes in the plastic bin. But when I started to look closely there’s only certain types of plastic that are recyclable and you can tell that by the different types of recyclable logos that they have on the bottle. The rest ends up in landfill. So, for example, the bottles we’re using to start the company, they're PET which is a recyclable plastic."
The bottles she first bought are currently produced in the U.K. And yet after a visit to the PET bottle manufacturer Angela tells me that the fumes from them were so strong she left feeling giddy. Which is why even after she'd made the initial investment--but before the More Natural Attitudes project launched--she was researching biopolymers to replace PET. "There’s a couple of different forms of biopolymer. My favorite one is a byproduct of sugarcane, so when they are producing sugarcane into manufacturing sugar, it's actually a waste product. A lot of people in the industry are switching over to it. Some companies were trying to get organically certified the last I heard about 18 months ago, but at that point it wasn’t fully tested. Anytime you put a cosmetic product out, it has to be stability tested in the packaging to see how much is leaking into the product and whether that's harmful." Hmmm, not so sweet.
Biopolymer looks and feels like high quality glass, but has the weight of plastic. It produces less fumes in the production process and above all of course, it's not plastic. It's not going to stay around for many years to come because it's biodegradeable. But how much does it cost to do this? "The prices for biopolymer coming in okay," she says "the wholesale prices as well, so it’s not like they brought out another sustainable product and are going to charge you 10 times as much. It’s probably about seven times as much as a PET bottle, but still, that’s moving in the right direction. I’ve only looked at small quantities, for example up to 25,000 units. Obviously, if you buy 50,000, 100,000 units, it can be probably quite similar to the pricing of PET."
This sounds hopeful, especially if MNA develops the following she hopes. But even so, as we move on to discuss the ethical considerations of the sugar cane industry, it's obvious that there is more to examine. This particular sugar cane and its byproducts is cultivated in Brazil, which currently produces 41% of the world's total. If harvested by hand, the method involves setting the fields on fire to kill pests and venomous snakes. The working conditions are also suspect. On one hand it creates jobs and supports livelihoods. On the other, inadequate hydration for workers who toil long hours in the hot sun, means that many have suffered from kidney damage in the past. Angela is continuing her investigations, but intends to do so in total transparency and alongside the More Natural Attitudes community, whom she would want to participate in the direction of the project by giving feedback on future ethical decisions.
"I just set up the facebook page," says Angela giggling, "I have 16 followers already."
And I'm one of them. Obviously or I wouldnt be blogging about her and for her.
It's a bloody relief, to be honest, that someone like her is taking responsibility for some of my ethical decision-making. Because the creation of a more sustainable life and a more sustainable world, can only be achieved if many dedicated people work together. Except that when you have a job, a household and a family, you're more likely to want to relax in a hot bath at the end of the day, not wind yourself up in knots about enviromental issues or exploited workers in poorer areas of the world. But if you trust the community who's making the difficult decisions on your behalf and with your input, you don't have to.
The Deep Divide of Cultural Relevance between
Generation X and Y
"Generation Y's definition of ‘old’, will presumably be, wrinkly people like me nostalgically tripping on ecstasy to acid rave saying 'that’s what real music sounded like in my day.’"
My experience of grandparents is fuddy coats and fussy hats. Blue rinse perms and gifts smelling of lavender. But when I really examine the narrative underlying my thoughts it is above all, that these things are the definition of ‘old’.
Whilst I hope to be a grandparent, I will never be 'old', because I will get a tattoo when I reach 50. I will pierce something when I reach 60. I will not be listening to Englelbert Humperdinck. I will be dancing rave when I am 70— because that’s what I danced to when I was young. It is my definition of what young means. But I’ve joined an editorial team of real young people, composed mainly of generation Y. Generation Y's definition of ‘old’, will presumably be, wrinkly people like me nostalgically tripping on ecstasy to acid rave saying 'that’s what real music sounded like in my day.’ I can see myself doing that.
My age was brought home to me the other day whilst I silently followed a magazine team chat about 'how the producers of the Powerpuff Girls--a cartoon which I had to look up on wikipedia--were out of touch with trends, memes and ideas.'
The producers are generation X, like me. To tell you the truth, I had to look up what period of time generation Y even come from. And as I lay back in bed the following morning with my boyfriend, I bemoaned my suddenly realised elderly status.
“Have you heard what a brony is?" I asked, not waiting for an answer. “A brony is an adult who likes My Little Pony. Usually a guy. You and I, we’re not down with the millennials.”
I like My Little Pony. I’ve watched it a lot. A LOT. It’s fairly diverse--not perfect, but better than many other kids' programmes--the plots are well structured, the whole ‘friendship is magic’ premise, not to mention magic itself, is very pleasing to my relationship anarchist’s eyes. I’m also pleasantly surprised at the continuity of my past into my children’s present. I played with My Little Ponies as a child, even though back then the thing that we did with them was to brush their manes because that's what it meant to be girls, we were not educated in nature of love, equality, or diversity.
But the reason I watch it, is because I have children. I do not kick back and pop a pill in my spare time to catch Twilight Sparkle and the gang wrestling with Discord or magical alternate realities. I am not a brony.
"I know what a brony is," said my boyfriend. "Don’t assume that I’m not down with the millennials just because you aren’t."
But my boyfriend is not the father of my children. And what he has had over the last seven years, that I have not, was more time. And he has spent that time, both professionally and personally, deeply invested in current culture. I have spent that time deeply invested in poo interspersed with glimpses of sleep. Loss of self. Work. I have been investing in relationships which will benefit my children’s social life with other generation X-ers. I have prioritized this and therefore semi-consciously chosen it. Part of me feels guilty. I've done that thing that my parents did, the thing I swore I would never do. I have lost touch.
As you get older, the likelihood is that your life once so in touch with current events becomes full of different events, no less current but arguably less present for the younger generation. My own life contains huge and time consuming focus on my children. That's time I spend parenting them, time that we spend discussing how they function, what we can do to support them in growing their self-esteem, what impacts changes in our lives bring to them, their interaction with one another and with the world. Another big conversation I have is about the house and finances that I share with the father of the children. It’s not interesting to me, but it's necessary. Breaking appliances, household management, even the draining of the bloody garden.
The other big time priority is my relationships. The one with my partner who is a co-parent. The one with my partner who is not a co-parent (aka. he-who-knows-about-bronies). After the children, the house, the shared finances and the adult relationships comes my work. In this teeny tiny sliver of my life, I get to educate myself in modern day millennial culture and feminism. That’s because it is my work and I am lucky. Like sex however, education is pleasurable, but it is also exhausting.
As the older generation become older and start to disappear, so generation X replaces them with the same concerns in a different context. As I become the older generation, I feel the ever increasing love and importance I have for my changing family--is my greater awareness of life's transience? Or simply that more members require more investment if our family is to stay closely.
The online chat about my own relevance I felt was summarised in one sentence:
"Like they [producers of the powerpuff girls] know phrases such as "yas" and "can't even" are a part of our memetic vernacular, but they don't know the origins of those phrases or a context in which those phrases would even be appropriate or humorous.”
In order to understand that one line, I had to look up ‘Yas’, watch a video of Lady Gaga, and follow a link through to Buzzfeed. To properly understand ‘can’t even’ I had to flick through tumblr (which I do not usually use), understanding now that it is more an expression of American culture (of which I am not a part). After some hours reading, I now have an intellectual understanding about these things, which might be committed to long term memory--if I ever get enough sleep--and if I have situations in which I use them myself, for example, if I had a sibling that called stuff ‘sick’. But the chat conversation was a lot longer than this one line and even I, with my line of work, choose to allocate most of my time differently than educating myself in cultural relevance.
The consequence is that I must accept the younger generation has implicit knowledge and awareness of current culture that I do not because they have easier access than I do, to their landscape. They grew up in it and they have insights that I do not.
I also have access to insights that they do not.
I identified with John Hughes films when they came out, I was part of the punk, electronica, new wave generation. I was a latchkey kid, the first generation in middle class England with a mother who worked. Money and access to it through education for my parents was the only important thing because they grew up in war and poverty. I find myself now psychologically struggling to do a job that I love for no money because I grew up with Thatcherism; employment and money were precious. You were worth more, if you had a job. Yet I want to be fulfilled in my job, something which my parents think is unimportant. And that job still included looking after the house, the children and aspiring to be one of Jilly Cooper's Superwomen.
I respect millennials and their knowledge. I have compassion for myself and my peers for the gaps in ours. Gaps that we often deny. I believe that these gaps do, must and will always exist because of how we evolve as human beings. I do not dismiss millennials as knowing less, because what they know is far beyond my own ability and/or time to cope with. Neither do I dismiss generation X even as I become conscious my own irrelevance, because I know that what is relevant to millennials, will also be irrelevant to generation Z and beyond. It is likely generation after generation will find themselves in a similar situation. What we, the older generation, have is an implicit knowledge of similar patterns, dynamics and issues, something which can only be gained over time. Relevance is transitory. Human dynamics are consistent. But they both contribute so much to our lives. We are all transitory and also consistent. And we are all important.
METAMODERN WOMAN CHALLENGES THE STATUS QUO.
5 Guilt Trips to Expect on Becoming a Mother*
*all comics are sourced from www.hurrahforgin.com a sentiment that I also support.
You might already feel guilty just for getting pregnant if you're not married and you've been brought up by that type of family. Or for ditching your work without an adequate handover when you bugger off for maternity leave (because who cares when your pelvis is falling apart and you can't pull your pants up properly). But there's more, far more. Obviously. Otherwise this post would be really short.
1. The Ever Present Urine
You will rejoice when you get two wee free nights from your toddler in a row.In fact, one night is a cause for celebration. But wee doesn't only happen in the privacy of their beds. After your sofa has been weed on enough (around 50 times or so), you will stop wiping it up and just let it air dry. You will not tell guests they are sitting on your children's dried urine (or worse). In three years, you tell yourself, you will just throw out the sofa. The mattress. All sheets and duvets.
You will think your child is abnormally slow in developing bladder control. But you will never be able to show anything but delight when they tell you they have wet their trousers because you have read that shaming or forcing children into bladder control, is abusive.
But when you--inevitably--do get annoyed, you will be haunted by the guilt of being an abusive parent and overcompensate by being even more ecstatic the next time your child wees themselves. Yay!
2. The porridge encrusted furniture
Dried baby porridge is the hardest substance known to man. It will create tiny little sculptures on your table and your furniture and you will not be able to get them off. Other foodstuffs like rice grains, pomegranate seeds and feta cheese will become encrusted in it like rotting jewels. Eventually you will not be sure that these sculptures were not part of the table in the first place. They look like they've always been there.
Sometimes you will go under your table to clean, and you will discover a whole new set of sculptures like a secret cave of stalagmites and stalagtites.
After about three years you will throw the table out and replace it with something far cheaper from Ikea. You will stop caring what your home looks like and start thinking in terms of how much damage the furniture can withstand. You will visit other child-free homes and feel guilty that you no longer have any good hygiene standards. Eventually you will proclaim to everyone that dirt is a healthy thing even if you don't actually believe what you are saying.
3. The clothes you have no recollection of buying
That's because you probably didn't. There could be several reasons for this.
They will come home from nursery in other people's clothes from lost property because they peed or shat themselves so many times that the three pairs of spares, weren't adequate to cope with the changes required. You will bring these clothes back the first few times, freshly laundered. But they will come home again with alarming regularity until they look so familiar, that you think you might actually have bought them in one of your sleep deprived moments.
Or it could be that these clothes come from the three carrier bags of inherited clothes from your sister's kids, your neighbours' kids or that random person in the street who was carrying round her children's clothes in desperation just in order to palm them off on someone, anyone, with a slightly smaller kid.
Or your kid has discovered that they have the power to dress and undress themselves. More or less at the same time as their friends. As you sit drinking your 7th cup of coffee of the day with a fellow sleep-deprived parent, your children will come out dressed in each others' clothes. And you don't care. All clothes are the same. You will add them to the growing collection which you will soon carry around looking to palm off on a complete stranger just because they have a slightly smaller kid than you.
If you cannot palm them off or give them to charity (because they are too stained with porridge, pee or poo) you will eventually throw them away and feel guilty about kids in Africa.
4. The gaping holes in your memory
Because of your tiredness, you will forget stuff. Normally conversations you have with other parents. You will have a vague inklng that you have told the same story to the same people, but you will never really be able to know for sure.
The other parents have forgotten that you told them the same story yesterday. You will lose friends who are not parents because you repeat the same stories over and over.
A lot of the time you will not actually finish these stories, because your child will shout 'Mummy' at the top of its lungs on repeat and after saying 'Not now darling mummy's talking' three times, you will give up trying to tell your story. If you are able to resume your story 5 minutes later, you will have forgotten what story it was you were telling and start another story (which you will also not be able to finish).
You will feel guilty for boring people and turning into the really really dull person you swore you wouldn't be before you had kids.
5. The evolution of your food morals
You will think nothing of eating something off your child's face - in public - if it is the only way your child can look presentable i.e. if you've run out of wet wipes, tissues and muslin cloths because you have had to wipe up so much pee, poo and vomit already that day.
You will stop ordering food for yourself because you know that your child won't finish any of what (s)he ordered and you will be able to eat it afterwards off their plate. Sometimes that includes chewed and spat out food (which kind of looks the same because you cut everything into miniscule bite size pieces and stirred it around to make it cooler). You will of course eat this cold.
At home, you will in the beginning serve a meal and be hardcore about this being the only thing for dinner. Later on, you will bring out the crackers, ham and cheese with the food, or anything that your child will actually eat instead of the meal you have cooked. In the end you will cook separate meals for every member of your family and keep a lot of leftovers in various tupperware.
Your child will therefore think that it can get away with refusing any and every dish it is served because (s)he can. They will eat with their hands because cutlery is too difficult to master. You will feel guilty about creating a spoilt monster child.
Those EXACT same dishes (s)he hates will be served at your mother in laws house and eaten voraciously. Especially if you have declared beforehand that your child doesn't like what is being served. So you will get the same recipe that your mother in law cooked and serve it at home where it will end up being refused for something else and eaten by you. You will feel guilty for having the manners of an animal. But if you throw it away you will feel guilty about the children in Africa.
And finally, after all this guilt (when the second child is about 2), you will be so fed up of feeling so guilty all the time, that you'll unapologetically not give a single fuck anymore.
3 Ultimate Web Resources To Browse & Unwind
- Something you want but don't know it yet. This amazing second-hand, online bookstore is where our old childhood memories go to die...and be reborn. Ever looking for a copy of something out of print that you remember fondly? This is the place to go. Like the old bookstores you spent hours in. You're welcome.
- Yes, it's not in time for Xmas but no stress (and also new year's resolutions, cos y'know who doesn't want to start shopping for next xmas straight away...). If you're raising a girl then this is a great buying guide you might be interested in. Hopefully I'll find one for boys I can recommend soon (one without misogyny, racism, stereotypes, bla bla bla). Tons of resources for raising courageous and smart girls.
- If laughing at people who don't believe in science is your thing (which of course I don't condone, even when I'm doing it) then you should think about adding 'Insufferably Intolerant Science Nerd' to your Facebook feed. Recent posts include, why it's dangerous to smell your stinky socks at the end of the day (as if you needed a reason) and some more stuff that I got too engrossed in whilst writing this list.
- Bonus resource: Neuroscientists discover a song which relaxes you buy 65%. Well they discovered it a while ago, but it's still worth a bookmark in my opinion.
Why using Violence to Oppress vs. Violence as Self-defense is differentBy Michon Neal
There's a false equivalence between the violence of oppression and self-defense. Oppression cuts off one's options for recourse, reparations, and establishing basic rights. Oppression forces people into survival mode, in which actively fighting for one's life — sometimes violently — is the only way to live to see another day. People who are oppressed also experience unusual and cruel brutality and violence at significantly higher rates than the general population. This affects the psyche and one's health and usually results in a pitiful life expectancy and next to little actual quality of life.
Oppression also creates this bifurcated [divided] reality, in which oppressed people are made out to be delusional about their experiences, in which their oppression is minimized, in which their needs and access is denied.
At first, the oppressed usually try asking nicely. They spend years, decades, generations trying to educate people about their desperate condition. These cries are often ignored to the point that even political action is not enough to make things right. They've been gaslit about their oppression and must become firmer in their affirmations of themselves and in their search for justice (in simply receiving what they need in non-patronizing and nonabusive ways).
Eventually, if they're not wiped out completely, they take action in other ways to get their basic needs met and their humanity recognized. By the time oppressed people react violently in self-defense, it means that no other option is left. It means they've been backed so far into a corner, that they've become so isolated and weary of defending themselves in other ways, that there has been insufficient response to ensuring their safety that physical self-defense becomes necessary.
Self-defense is markedly different from the senseless abuse they've been subjected to for so long. It is a key aspect of oppression to then be viewed as the “crazy" ones, as the needlessly violent ones, as the oppressors for “forcing" their existence on others, as the impatient ones. Their self-defense is viewed as extreme and yet another reason to deny them their needs. It's a vicious circle, because they often don't have the power necessary to permanently alter the larger systems that oppress them.
Help METAMODERN WOMAN CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO.
Help! How Can I Help My Abusive Partner?
I've recently realized that I don't have to put all my energy and effort into another person, that I am allowed to care for myself and my own needs.
But taking responsibility for myself made me realize that I had been taking way too much responsibility for my partner, but when I tried to stop taking that responsibility, even to ease it slowly back to him, it didn't go well. Now we're stuck in a destructive relationship pattern that has abusive tendencies. Most times when I try to take responsibility only for myself and not for him, when I suggest things to make our life and relationship better it ends up with me feeling shame or defending myself for my feelings or thoughts.
The man I knew wouldn't want to be abusive. The man I knew often said he wanted to treat everyone right, that he wanted to be shown his errors and how to do things better. But the man I knew is often not there any more. What can I do? Everywhere I read the only advice in abusive relationships is to leave as soon and quickly as possible, and I'm trying to do that. But a part of me wants to reach that man I knew, wants to help him see the abusiveness and help him choose another pattern of communication. I know he would appreciate it deep down, if I could only reach through the brick walls of defence reactions.
I'm going to address your question in three parts. Firstly I'm going to explain the difference between responsibility and fault--it's important that you understand how I see it, if you are to follow the rest of my answer. Secondly I'm going to clarify who is responsible for what in your relationship. Thirdly, I'm going to suggest what you might choose to do about it. [This is long, grab a cup of coffee].
1. Responsibility and Fault
As children, we unconsciously choose the survival mechanisms which will serve us best. Our choices are not our fault, nor are we capable of taking responsibility for them. But as conscious adults, we can choose to take responsibility for our actions and emotions--both past and present.
For example, as a child I might have been bullied into hitting someone else. I did this because my survival mechanism determined it was the best way to protect myself and it was not my fault. As a conscious adult I can take responsibility for my past actions, and change my present behaviour accordingly. Hitting someone else may have been the way I survived then; it is less likely to be the most appropriate choice now.
By assuming responsibility, you can change how you experience the past and how you respond in the present--yes, you can reframe the past as a lesson, learn from it and give yourself access to healthier choices now.
Consciousness is the extraordinary gift which allows us to assume responsibility for our actions/emotions and frees us from the unconscious blame-fault model. But language defines how we see the world, and english does not help us delineate between fault and responsibility. We tend to use them interchangeably but they are not the same.
Fault implies that you are the cause of a situation, that you have control over other peoples' feelings and behaviour... it is therefore at odds with the concept of responsibility, which is about owning your--and only your--choice of actions and feelings in response to a situation.
I want to make absolutely clear then, that when I talk about responsibility I am not blaming you, shaming you nor am I saying that it is your fault.
2. What's going on...?
Your relationship pivots of the interplay between agency and responsibility. Agency is the power to choose your actions and/or emotions. Responsibility is (as the name suggests) taking responsibility for your actions and/or emotions.
- Relinquish either or both of them to someone else and you're both in trouble.
- Take either or both of them from someone and you're both in trouble.
They're two sides of the same coin, both stemming from an attempt to compensate for low self-esteem. And as should be evident, this game takes (at least) two people to play. How might these pan out in personal relationships?
- If you exercise agency, but absolve responsibility for that agency: you will most likely attribute the responsibility for your agency (actions and/or emotions) to others. In an example concerning actions, ‘I hit you, and it was your fault.’ In an example concerning emotions, ‘I am hurt, and it is your fault’
- If you relinquish agency, but keep responsibility for the agency you have relinquished: you will most likely take responsibility for others actions and/or emotions. In an example concerning actions ‘You hit me and it’s my fault.’ In an example concerning emotions, ‘You are hurt and it's my fault.’
- You might relinquish both agency AND responsibility in which case, you become a puppet, an object without power and responsibility. You will do things according to someone else's direction and attribute responsibility to them for ‘making’ you do it.
- But accept that you have the agency to choose your actions and/or emotions (only yours) and assume responsibility for your actions and/or emotions (only yours), and ta-da. You not only have the capacity to choose your actions and/or emotions, but you can change them because you own them. You empower yourself and do not disempower anyone else (they can still disempower themselves though).
He chose to relinquish responsibility for his needs/happiness; in most cases this is because someone has learned that this is the optimal way to survive. In all likelihood his parents/formative caregivers assumed responsibility for his happiness, tried to meet his every need and disempowered him by not teaching him to take responsibility for his own needs/happiness. He learned to relinquish responsibility for his happiness in order to please them. You simply were available to him to continue the pattern. It was familiar, he felt safe with you. But he continued to be disempowered.
You chose to assume responsibility for his happiness; you also probably learned that this was the optimal way to survive. You would be more acceptable to your parents'/formative caregivers if you made them happy. If you initiated actions to please them. Your partner was simply available to you to continue the pattern you had learned. It was familiar, you felt safe with him. But you continued to be disempowered. This is a position that many women find themselves in, because we are taught to sacrifice our needs for others.
I call it survival, because it is. Rejection by our caregivers at a young age risks our lives; we need to be accepted and acceptable. But they disempowered both of you and as children you both chose--unconsciously--to go along with it, as a matter of survival. His was by passive relinquishment of responsibility, yours was by active assumption of responsibility. This was neither of your faults but by continuing the patterns, you both unconsciously created your present relationship dynamic.
Now you have become conscious that you have a choice. You have chosen to stop assuming responsibility for his emotions and he is angry with you because his choice of actions and feelings are 'loose cannons', unrooted in responsibility. He has no idea how to take responsibility--how can he, he has never learned how! It is frightening for him because he only has the survival mechanisms he knows, and suddenly they are not serving him anymore. So he abuses you in an attempt to try to influence you to change your behaviour. But he still doesn't take responsibility for his actions and/or emotions. That he has no tools to cope healthily with your move into consciousness is not your responsibility.
I suspect it will be more difficult for him to get out of this cycle because he was in a comfort zone, whereas you became increasingly uncomfortable with the burden of taking responsibility for two people (you realised only when you felt relief from stopping). No wonder he's resisting so much. His choice appears to him to be between comfort and pain. Your choice is between some pain and some other pain.
3. What might you be able to do about it...?
Of course you want to help him. Your strongest survival mechanism is after all, to take responsibility for his emotions (and now apparently, his actions). By trying to help him, you are unconsciously trying to take control of/influence his behaviour. You are preventing him from taking responsibility for himself and if you continue you will only make the situation worse. Now you are conscious of it, you can choose to stop.
The only way for him and his self esteem to improve is for him to take responsibility for his actions and emotions. But that must be his choice. Can you reach him?
Only by continuing to assume your own agency and by taking responsibility for your agency--and only yours.
If he cannot get what he wants from you, if he cannot force you take responsibility for his actions and/or emotions, he has very few options available to him.
- Escalating the abuse to try and make you take responsibility for his actions.
- Finding someone else assume responsibility for his actions, or
- Assuming it himself.
Assuming his own responsibility is the hardest choice; it's the polar opposite of the survival mechanism he has learned. He's probably not even aware that such a choice exists and even if he is, it might be too frightening. Whilst those other two options are on the table, they seem to be the easier options. They are 'known'. This is the reason most abusers continue to abuse. He may continue to abuse if he feels there is a chance that you will change your behaviour. He thinks he needs you to change in order that he may survive. And as long as you stay, he will most likely believe that there is a chance. If you leave, this choice will no longer available to him and he will be only be able to choose one of the other two.
I cannot say whether you should or should not leave him. You and only you know what other factors are at stake. If I did 'tell' you what to do, I would only be undermining your own agency! You and only you should make this decision.
What I can say, is that by trying to help him, you are still taking trying to take responsibility for his agency. It is your choice, but now it is your conscious choice. If you choose to stay I strongly suggest therapy. Lots of it. I have known couples who can recover from this situation, but only when they are both consciously committed to change. I can count those couples on one hand, among hundreds. This commitment can only be seen by actions, not by empty promises.
Still, I believe that leaving is the quickest and most sure way for you both to start taking responsibility for yourselves. By leaving, you assert to yourself that you are worth more. It is the first step to building your self-esteem; whether he will also use it as his first step, only he can decide.
How do we create a consent culture with our children?
A Review of 'Ask' by Kitty Stryker
As many cis-het white women know right now, it is a time for us to learn everything we have been doing wrong and make amends. But whilst many claim to love learning, discussions of race are hampered because it means confronting our own blind spots and actively choosing to be vulnerable to the rage of those we have unwittingly oppressed or abused, even if our crime has ‘simply’ been to look the other way. Looking the other way means we are complicit under ‘the bystander effect’ which enables and encourages abuse. Yet even though consent should underpin every discussion of abuse, it is rarely mentioned in conversations of unpacking whiteness and that omission means ‘looking the other way’ becomes far more likely through pure ignorance. Education–or rather re-education–is desperately needed.
Such re-education is not easy, but it is made easier when it is removed from our personal sphere–bearing in mind that we have that privilege–which is why books like Ask: Building a Consent Culture by Kitty Stryker–an antifascist activist and fat positive, queer sex educator who’s worked in the sex industry–are so damn important. Not only because this book can be read without overt confrontation and without our minds immediately going to defense and rejection mode, but also that this one is specifically designed to highlight the marginalized voices which are rarely included in current literature. Their voices have been easily overlooked in the past because white people, as the book points out, can more successfully amplify their voice. We have better access to professional opportunities, publishing contracts, fundraising venues and political platforms.
- What is consent culture?
America is leading the way in consent discussions right now; and although as a Brit I feel our common language has never been so divided, I’m so grateful that activists in the U.S. have coined and defined the terms ‘rape culture’ a term which as yet is resisted by many of my peers in Europe and ‘consent culture’ which is all but unknown. And still, even once these terms enter the lexicon, there is more to discuss.
There’s twenty-one morsels of consent perspective to nibble on in this book, many of them intersectional–twenty-four in total if you consider Kitty’s own introduction, Laurie Penny’s foreword and Carol Queen’s afterword. Too many to cover in one review, but each one of them worthy of extensive discussion and reframing of what consent really means.
Both rape culture and consent culture are themselves extensions of how humans are capable of acting in any given moment. One has been defined in opposition to the other and this leads to further deliberation, because these do not exist exclusive to one another; it depends very much on who is more powerful in a given situation. I have been both powerful and powerless. I have performed exactly the same act with different people. The same act which was consensual with one, has violated someone else’s boundaries because they had less power than I did. So I have been wronged and have done wrong. Discerning this subtlety means constantly asking question, ‘Am I the one who is more powerful right now?’
Answering that question, with all that power means–privilege, money, status, legality and more–is a lifelong work. But power is not only structural, it is also personal: from the book–power is also “the ability to get others to do what you want them to do through charm, guile, coercion, guilt, feigning ignorance, threats of violence, and/or actual violence.” Definitions like these are badly needed as a starting point. But still they are only a starting point.
This book highlights a smorgasbord of situations which make you question your current ideas about consent. Consent is not true consent where there is a power imbalance. You cannot make a free and retractable agreement about something, if that agreement is made in fear of losing your access to income, and resources–financial, emotional or otherwise. As a cis-het white woman only able to speak of my own experience, I’ve previously I’ve written extensively about consent and the issue of non-violent rape. But Ask demonstrates with concrete examples that consent is far, far broader, far, far more complex than this. It doesn’t have to involve sex, especially where there is a bigger difference of privilege. Whilst it should be obvious to me because I’m well aware of privilege, the essay Trouble Found Me written about two roommates, one of colour and the other white, really brought home that true consent in all and any areas of life is often only available to those with the most social capital.
- How do we teach our children consent?
Beyond discussions of race, the section “In the school” has also made me reflect a whole lot, as it relates to my children. I am always more powerful than them but they do not yet have the capacity to take responsibility for their own power and so on various instances I must cross their boundaries. I must violate their consent. I must brush my son’s teeth, even though he feels transgressed because he hates it so much. I tell my small daughter that her body is her own and that she has the power to say no… except that on many occasions she doesn’t. I have to force her to take vaccinations. To take her clothes off for the doctor. I have make her clean her vulva. I have to use many wiles to get her to eat her vegetables. There are rules and exceptions, rules and exceptions.
In the essay “Rehearsing Consent Culture: Revolutionary Playtime” consent is examined as a building block for children amid supposed peers. Tickling between my daughter and her friend can be consensual, they are both on an equal footing, they both feel okay with saying ‘no’ (unless my daughter so badly wants to be liked that she feels afraid of refusing an act that is obviously pleasurable to her friend–sticky waters indeed). But if I tickle her I must be constantly vigilant and notice whether her squirming is uncomfortable, and if she says ‘no’ even in play, I will immediately stop so that she knows her ‘no’ is heard and means something.
Right now she is the one who has the power over her little brother. He was born two years after her and took what she felt was previously her space–her toys, her room and my attention were divided, in many ways unequally because he needed me 24/7–so the power she can exercise over him can be intoxicating. Her powers of logic are stronger, her verbal skills better and right now she is taller and stronger. He can also be very annoying and has no sense of boundaries. Of course he doesn’t. So how can I teach her to resist something that feels so pleasurable and so ‘right’? Something that assuages her own insecurity? Something which also protects her boundaries? How can I also teach her that no doubt, this situation will change and he will grow more physically strong and more capable which means the power dynamics between them will change? How can I teach him that as he grows stronger he needs to demonstrate responsibility and restraint to someone who has previously but unconsciously lorded power over him? Thankfully this is not only my job. And the essay “The Power of Men teaching Men” makes it easier. It will be something I share and discuss over and over with their father. From the same essay, “It is all about power. And the highest form of power is the power you can deploy to keep others safe.”
Then there’s the essay “The Green Eggs and Ham Scam”–my daughter was reading that book only this morning and now I discover that it has more harm in it than I ever imagined.
“The phallic Sam I Am insisting on his ego and his pleasure and emotionally coercing the poor nameless character with a ceaseless barrage of questions: Would you like it with a house? Would you like it with a mouse? The other guy, identity erased and unimportant, is subjected to harassment until he gives in and “likes” it.”
Oh… shit. Didn’t I use that tactic to persuade my daughter to eat her vegetables? Yes, yes I did.
Like you, I have good intentions. Like you, I know some things about consent. But I thought I knew a lot more. And if there’s one successful barometer of a book like this, it’s how many ‘a-ha’ moments it contains. If you’re anything like me you will find a lot of them in this book–some enlightening and pleasurable, many more uncomfortable and several downright horrific, especially as you realise your own crimes and also how many times your own consent has been violated. But you’ve got to start somewhere and that somewhere is here.
Full disclosure: Ask is published by Thorntree Press who also publishes my own books. This review is my own and has not been paid.
Mary Poppins & The Attention Seeking Child
I can stream films all year long on Netflix but when they are part of a Christmas line up they take on a more magical quality. Childhood memories of circling which films I would see in the TV Magazine back when we only had three television channels have instilled a love for the tinsel packed television schedule we have in Britain. Equip me with a bumper pack of mince pies and I'm good to go.
Which is why I found myself in front of Mary Poppins with my children yesterday afternoon (hey, I've only seen it around 19 times).
Mary Poppins by Disney, is not the P.L. Travers version. In the original books, the Banks children live in a dark, sugarless world which is brightened by Mary only inasmuch as she shows them a different side of life. A magical side of a world where infants can forget the rigours of our society. Mary Poppins herself is vain, harsh and sometimes downright horrible. She brings the children up with an iron rod whilst their parents are rarely present. But the books depict earlier times and were themselves a therapeutic outlet for a troubled author who was brought up when tough love was the only sort of love you gave (or got). Yet valuable remnants of the book remain in the movie. Predominantly that of child neglect. They're well-heeled. Well fed. But unhappy.
"Travers’ father was a bank manager who died when he was in his 40s of alcohol-related diseases. Travers, in turn, wished she could have saved her father from his own demons."28 Things you didn't know about Mary Poppins
The children make several attempts to get their parents' attention, each time more heartbreaking than the last. In the beginning, they rarely smile. Having swallowed the movie and its sugar coating numerous times I hardly expected a Disneyfied Mary Poppins to make my stomach churn with discomfort (no, it wasn't only the entire and inevitable packet of Xmas After Eights I ate after a full turkey dinner).
But this was the first time I had seen it as a parent.
We all have methods of coping with the world around us. As children we can choose among several. I chose compulsive compliance in order to try be cared for. I realised my parents were pleased by good grades, by good behaviour, by smiles, flirting, lauging at their jokes. I seemed happy whilst in reality, I was also masking a great deal of terror. The terror of abandonment. Later I came to realise that no matter how compliant I was, I would never be accepted. So I turned from compulsive compliance to compulsive opposition (and could use either one depending on the person or people around me). In compulsive opposition I became a smouldering volcano of emotion ready to blow at the slightest provocation. I rebelled during adolesence, drank, smoked and had sex in abundance... even whilst the semblance of compusive compliance remained. So much so that I lied about much of my opposition, just in case I could still pass muster as the good girl.
So in Mary Poppins, you have rebellious children with shaky self-esteem, treated as assets by their father and with an absentee mother. They alternately try to please, or run away from a succession of nannies unable to abide by the expectations and strict roles forced upon them, desperate for acceptance, attention and love which - at least in the Disney film - they get from Mary Poppins; but one who as in the books, will only stay until the wind changes. It's the threat of constant abandonment.
But Jane and Michael Banks could have pulled out a third strategy. Withdrawal. If I could not get the love I needed from being a good girl or a bad girl, I got it by being the quiet girl. Something which my parents saw as truly out of character and prompted the question 'Is anything wrong?' I got attention. Result! And now, I see it in my own daughter. Sometimes we have to coax answers out of her. When she gets into trouble, she often retreats into her own stubborn world. Just like I used to. And so the question of my nightmares beckons.
Does my daughter feel unloved?
I'm not sure if there is any child who doesn't invoke one or all three of these compulsions into their personality - compliance, opposition and withdrawal. Because these three behaviours accomplish what they are designed to do. To help a child get the attention they need to survive and I don't believe that there is any parent in the world who is able to give a child all the attention they crave. We don't have to be as bad as the Banks parents to have children who act out.
But if children get stuck in these modus operandi as adults, then their lives will be difficult and full of emotional manipulation. They can become part of your reality, and consume your identity. They get you the attention from others you think you need to survive, and absolve you of taking responsibilty for your own needs. To get the attention we have mistaken for love. I think I've worked enough on my self-esteem to eradicate these habits from my life, and yet I still must force myself to respond to texts, emails and sometimes even questions made to me in person. Sometimes I simply shut off. I need a lot of my own space. Because a habit can become ingrained even if the original cause is gone. It's what makes me think that maybe my own habit of withdrawal is prompting my daughter to try and get my attention.
I can't make my child into an adult before she is ready to become one. You cannot give the third eye of adulthood to your child, they must develop it themselves. I cannot explain to her yet that perhaps the reason she withdraws is because she thinks it is the best way to get our attention. And even if I could it wouldn't mean she could stop doing it. She's not even wrong for doing it. Her purpose of life right now is to survive. To be loved. She thinks by getting more of our attention she will. Love is not attention. But the difference is subtle. Love generates attention. Love is intangible. Attention is not. We can generate attention. We cannot generate love. So we try to get attention hoping that the outward act is a signal of the inner feeling.
Do we play with our iPhones too much? (Yes). Do we dedicate the appropriate amount of time to reading? Drawing? Playing? (Probably not). What is enough and is it ever enough? I have no idea. But I still have to try.