The Word

This is the gate leading into St Mary’s College from South Street in St Andrews. I used to work here sometimes in Lower Parliament Hall. The room was quiet and usually very warm which is just what you want in the middle of a St Andrews winter. Each large desk could take four people easily but most days you could have one and its little table lamp to yourself. Settle in, spread your books out, organise your papers and notes and just as you get going someone comes in to take you off for tea in the Merchant’s House…

In the beginning was the Word. I said last time I would talk more about this. Julian will probably be very disappointed in my theology. He may even be relieved that I’m not going to touch on theology much at all. I find theology as incomprehensible as quantum physics In spite of spending a lot of time contemplating both over the years.

No, what I want to consider is the power of words. Again. And again I’m going to quote Terry Pratchett, this time from Wyrd Sisters.

Humans had built a world inside the world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflected the landscape. And yet … and yet …

Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from — hatred, fear, tyranny, and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in. He was fascinated.

It is completely possible to create reality with your words, or at least a version of reality which resonates with your audience’s prejudices and preconceptions.

Doesn’t she look tired. That’s all The Doctor had to say to start the fall of Harriet Jones. I really shouldn’t go into everyday sexism again. It feels like mansplaining. All the same, I don’t think a male character would have been so badly affected by that particular sentence. Six little words.

Words change worlds. We are constantly creating our reality for ourselves in our heads, consciously or unconsciously filtering the messages we receive from beyond our skulls. We fill our little realities with the messages which reinforce our world view and try – some of us at least – we try to communicate that world to others. The best of us create a shared experience using imagery with which our audience can identify.

The worlds we create vary wildly and that’s fine for writers deliberately creating fiction. My wife is busily engaged in what she calls “world building” for her latest book. It’s hard for her because she has to create a history, a mythology and a cultural back-story for a world which has never existed and she has to do it in such a way that she can tell a story to which her readers can relate. It’s so much harder for a science fiction or a fantasy writer than it is for a writer of crime or romantic fiction.

It’s relatively easy for a creator of political fiction. He or she just needs to evoke the images which resonate most strongly with their audience. Immigrants as terrorists or rapists. That’s always been an easy sale for anyone talking to a British audience. Tales of xenophobia are common enough down history. I’m not saying that we’re all racists and xenophobes because my experience is absolutely the opposite of that but it’s easy for those who wish to conjure those images given our common cultural backstory.

In the beginning is the Word and sometimes it isn’t a very pleasant Word. The worlds we create with our unpleasant words are equally unpleasant. Demagogues know this and exploit it. It suits them to demonise the strangers in our midst especially when we have more in common with the strangers than we do with the demagogues. We always have more in common with the people around us than the people who attempt to control our lives.

I’m not sure that it will make any difference at all but I shall make a positive attempt for kindness. I don’t have anything else to give. I’m not a powerful person. I have no money to speak of, certainly not enough to make a huge difference to anyone who needs more than a sandwich or a cup of coffee on a cold day. Money and power are so tightly entwined that access to one will almost certainly guarantee you access to the other. So, my acts of resistance, such as they are will be small kindnesses.

I will slip and fail because – as Julian knows – we all fail. My Twitter stream has not been the cleanest or kindest thing. The absolutely best thing about not being a Christian is that nobody expects you to to turn the other cheek. I have always been drawn to the New Testament story of Jesus clearing the money lenders from the Temple. That story is not one of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. I rather think that if we’ve got it wrong and there is a Second Coming, the Cleansing of the Temple is going to be but the start of our problems.

In the end though, the world we create for ourselves with our own words and deeds means that even if the fuckers are doing their fuckish things, then the people nearest, the ones with whom we have most in common, they won’t suffer as much for the Big Men and the Bad Words.

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It’s Not Acceptable. It’s Just Not Acceptable

I read Sam Lewsey’s recent blog post with a mixture of sadness and and anger. I’m sorry to bring my own blog back with what is going to be a long fucking rant about what is wrong with my fellow man. Maybe the next one will be about cake and kittens.

Now that the weather is warmer and we’re seeing a little more skin than we’ve been used to of late, it seems that some of my fellow men have forgotten how to behave. They really need to join the Don’t Be A Cunt Club. It’s easy. There are only two rules. Rule 1: don’t be a cunt. Rule 2a: learn to read. Rule 2b: pay very close attention to Rule 1. If you wouldn’t say something to your mother or sister, you don’t say it to random women on the street.

I’ve been reminded of the existence of The Everyday Sexism Project which exists to catalogue and chronicle the experiences of women every living day. Reading the entries ought to make any thinking human being reconsider their behaviour. Women should feel empowered not to put up with this sort of shit all the time and men, well they really need to stop and think for a moment before they pass that comment or whistle or do whatever their penis is telling them to do.

It’s about power, of course. It’s always been about power and you need to feel that you have some power in order to challenge whatever source of oppression is around. When you do, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to be told that you’re humourless, that you need to lighten up. Worse, if you’re a woman you could be told that you’re frigid. Yes, of course she must hate sex because she doesn’t like being propositioned in Tesco’s when she’s looking for some fish fingers and a bag of frozen peas. She’s in the freezer section because that’s where women go when they don’t want to have sex. Fuckwitted men who behave like this towards women have such a high opinion of themselves that they must believe that all women must want them all the time. Unbefuckinglieveable.

(Alternatively, the men must have the sneaking suspicion that their wives, girlfriends or – who knows, maybe sheep and dogs? – furiously finish themselves off manually after the men have cum three strokes in again, the women all the time cursing themselves for getting involved in the first place. The men must look down at that sad little piece of gristle lying in their hand as they take a piss in the middle of the night and wonder why it all goes wrong every time they open their sorry, sorry mouths. And nothing will ever make sense to them, ever, ever, ever.)

I must find the article again where I read that a lot of homophobia comes about because the sort of arsehole men I’m talking about here believe that gay men treat all men in the same way that those arsehole men treat women.

Some people, women as well as men, will blame the woman for acting or dressing provocatively. This is of course patent bullshit. Men have for hundreds of thousands of years looked for signs of sexual availability in women and acted when they think they’ve seen them. However, you’d think that in 2016 a woman would be able to go for a run on a sunny day and not get chased around like a mallard duck on a pondful of drakes. She might look a bit hot and sweaty but she didn’t get that way because she wants a booty call. Being human in the Twenty-first Century surely means being more than a collection of evolved behaviours. We must have learned to be more than just that.

Further, if a woman were to out with no knickers on and one tit hanging out of her top, she still wouldn’t be asking for it. You could question her tailoring but no more than that. There is a problem with the male gaze. We still haven’t evolved behaviourally much beyond the savannah times I mentioned above.

It comes down to this: she doesn’t want to have sex with you. You might think she looks hot but she just wants to do what she’s doing and not get the hassle. She’s not going to suddenly want to have sex with you because you say something to her. She really won’t want to have sex with you now because she’s already heard four other blokes say more or less the same thing to her in the last thirty minutes. She didn’t want to have sex with any of them either.

Dude, go off somewhere private and have sex with yourself. You obviously need to wank and nobody else wants to see you wank, no matter what that video you were watching on the internet last night might have suggested.

There is a rather excellent book called Take It as a Compliment. One of my clients publishes it so if you buy it from a bookshop, I might get a few pennies. Each time a man makes a woman feel less than she is, it’s not a compliment. Each time a woman has to brace herself to pass a building site (sorry for the cliche, but it’s one of the most male places I can think of) or psych herself up for a night out because of the comments and gropes and all the other shit  that go down every time she goes out the door, then we’re all diminished. We all lose out.

Life should be about exploration, sharing and joy. Experiences like Sam’s sucked a little joy out of the world and not just for her. That joy can never be recovered. Her friends can rally round her and we all have but we’ve all lost something because some arsehole saw a bit of leg and thought he’d like a piece of it.

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