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I started writing a comment on the highly thought-provoking guest post by Anna-Lena Dubé Fuller, ‘Women in the Media – Not’ and Motherhood v Careers, but it began to balloon, veer, swoop, and all sorts of other alarming things, so I decided to make it a post all of its own.

The discussion in the comments on Anna-Lena’s post is riveting and wide-ranging, as debates about parenthood and paid work tend to be. To tell the truth, I have a habit of shying away from such debates, because the emotions they evoke in me are fairly raw.

The Job of Being a Parent But what the hell, she said defiantly!

Here’s my experience:

I have a permanent, public-sector job, from which I’m currently on my second career break. I’ve done the work/parenting balance various ways since my two children arrived. At first, I went back to work full-time, then cut to four days, then took a one-year break. When I went back after that, it was half time, and when my second baby was born I took the career break I’m on now.

(Where is the father? I confess we fit a modern stereotype: he’s a committed feminist, an engaged parent, who earns considerably more than I do, in a career that doesn’t accommodate the kind of chopping and changing that I’ve undertaken – and even if it did, he wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about the idea. And at the same time, he is uncomfortable at being the sole earner in our household. Hooray.)

So, yes, obviously I’m enormously “lucky” to be in a position to do all this – the “family friendly” options available to me are a privilege denied thousands of other parents.

(The quotation marks around “lucky” and “family friendly”? We’ll come back to those.)

When I was working full-time in 2005, with my baby in a crèche, the economics of it angered me: the only reason why the crèche was “affordable” to us was that the women (yes, of course they were all women) who cared for our child were paid far less than my partner and I were. Their work, which was so utterly crucial to our family’s wellbeing, was apparently of considerably less “value” to society than ours.

To me, this is outrageously messed up. Yet in our current system, in the absence of free childcare from relatives, it’s usually the only way in which parents can sustainably work for pay – and as we know, a second or third set of childcare fees puts it out of reach for many.

(At my job, incidentally, I edit scholarly journals and monographs. I believe passionately in the effective dissemination of peer-reviewed research. But I don’t believe it’s intrinsically more valuable than providing a loving foundation for the development of a whole new person.)

Many children are happy in group care – and more are happy enough that it’s a good solution for the family.

Ours wasn’t.

I took my first career break largely for personal reasons: I had ignored my physical and mental needs to the extent that I was close to a breakdown, and in fact it was the HR manager at work who first suggested that I apply for time off. But within weeks, it became clear what a beneficial change it was for my child, too. I’ll never forget the transformation, in fact – from timid anxiety to … well, a much less heartbreaking native caution.

Lesson One: insofar as possible, parent the child you’ve got. One size does not fit all, and the size that seems a good fit for the parents may be overwhelming to the child.

Lesson Two: if the current setup isn’t functioning, it’s OK to try something else. (I wish I’d learned this one about six months earlier than I did.)

On career break, my anger became more raw. Suddenly, I was seen as “not working” – despite, from my perspective, working harder than I ever had in my life. The same caring tasks that the women in the crèche had done for low pay, I was doing for no pay and (it seemed) largely invisibly. The drop in status was as much of a shock to the system as the disappearance of my income.

We may note that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool-privileged-middle-class daughter of two (full-time) academics: nothing in my life had prepared me for the notion that my chosen contribution to society might be seen as anything less than completely worthy and valuable. Call me naive! It was an awakening.

Even my parents didn’t seem to get that I was doing “real” work by caring for my child. And actually, even I didn’t get it at first. My mother has worked full-time all my life, as did hers, and as I settled into the so-called “stay-at-home” routine I was shocked and ashamed to find myself revising my unarticulated opinion of my aunts, who had left their jobs when they had children. Oh my actual god, said I to myself, all these years, they were working, and I never knew!

Ah, but is it really work, Ted?

Some people – including feminist friends whose opinions I hold in high regard – disagree with me that caring for one’s own children is “work”. In my experience, though, that’s exactly what it is. I’m talking about things like changing nappies, preparing and serving food, managing hygiene, mediating conflicts, administering first aid, handling emotional squalls, providing a safe (and age-appropriate) environment to explore, introducing and enforcing behavioural conventions, maintaining a social circle, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, these activities are work. They might often be enjoyable, or feel vocational, but plenty of paid work fits those criteria.

I mean, if they’re not work, what are they?

LEISURE?

I don’t think so.

The fact remains, of course, that caring work, especially if done for no pay by parents or close relatives, is largely invisible. The reasons for this are complex, but chief among them is a widespread preoccupation in our culture with tangible, preferably measurable outputs. At the end of a day with my children – and I imagine the same is true of caring for a sick or elderly relative – all I really have to show for my work is their own inscrutable selves, one day older.

And yet Studies Show (no, seriously, they do) that the quality of care, particularly for younger children, matters enormously. Not to be sentimental about it, children thrive on love, and on the practical manifestations of love that a committed carer provides. Children who aren’t given a loving foundation are at risk of developing affects and behaviours that are harmful to themselves or others.

(NOTE, incidentally, that I am BY NO MEANS suggesting that this care need come exclusively from a parent – never mind a mother. Any loving adults with whom the child feels safe and happy can potentially provide it. Furthermore, children do best when their caring adults feel good about their choices. So you can put that straw man away, please.)

That’s all very cerebral. Where’s the anger?

Partly, it’s in the disconnect between society’s description of me as a “non-working mother”, on the one hand, and on the other hand, my experience of working enormously hard all day (and all of the night, too – neither of my children was “a sleeper” … though the elder one figured it out eventually, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the younger one does).

Paid carers generally get to do things like, oh, arriving at work and, concomitantly, going home again, after all. Many of them even get unaccompanied loo breaks – which in my recent life have been for considerable periods a halcyon dream.

So, to summarise, if you do a job that allows breaks every day, weekends, sick pay, holiday pay – and, in fact, pay in the first place – you’re “working”. BUT if you perform exactly the same tasks, without any of the breaks or the pay and with a 24/7 on-call clause, you’re “not working”. Run that one by me again?

Partly, it’s in the resonant unease I feel at the phrase “stay-at-home mother” – as though I’ve completely withdrawn from some notionally bounded space called “the world” into a mysterious sphere called “the home”, from which I rarely emerge. See also: feminist discourse of the last two centuries.

Partly, it’s in the fact that my paid work is totally incompatible with my unpaid work: I have to make an either/or choice, and even though my employer is “flexible”, relatively speaking, that choice feels very constrained. (Here, by the way, is why calling myself “lucky” to have such a “family-friendly” employer isn’t exactly straightforward for me.)

This is about the traditional workplace, which conceives of a “worker” as being free to devote uninterrupted chunks of daily time to the employer. You can’t do that while actively caring for a young child. The problem is often articulated as the assumption that a “worker” has a “wife” – in other words, is supported by somebody doing care and maintenance work in “the home”.

Partly, it’s in the idea that by choosing to care for my own children, rather than pay someone else a meagre sum to do so while I go and sell my labour to a third-party, I am in some sense no longer “contributing”. My work isn’t reflected in the gross national product at the moment, ergo it’s “less valuable” than when I was earning a salary. Bizarrely, this would be true no matter what I might have been doing to earn that salary.

Partly, it’s in the way our current structure for rewarding work completely precludes the possibility of anyone ever paying me for the (difficult, valuable) work I’m doing at the moment. The “product” of my caring work, if you like, will be my adult children. (This is of course a collaborative project between me, their father, and several other adults in their lives, but currently, I’m putting in the greatest number of hours.) If we do a “good” job, the children are more likely – though not guaranteed – to grow up to be happy, functional, thoughtful members of society. What’s that worth? Classically, nothing, because nobody is prepared to pay for it.

Hello, rage.

I think we need to do two things

First, we reframe the concept of “work”, so that it encompasses more than just labour sold for money.

Some of my starting points:

  • Anything I could reasonably pay someone else to do is work. (Yes, this unsettles some categories, such as “hobbies”; I’m OK with that.)
  • Work can be joyful or arduous, or anything in between, and this bears no relation to pay.
  • Everybody deserves opportunities to perform joyful work, and to be fairly compensated for some or all of the work that they do.
  • The cultural bias against unpaid work is strong: we need to pay attention to where we unintentionally fail to see such work and thereby denigrate those who do it.

Second, we restructure the traditional workplace to get rid of the notion that a worker needs a wife.

To do this, we might adapt my favourite approach to the “problem” of maternity leave – change the default so that every worker is treated as though they were pregnant – and treat every worker as though they had caring responsibilities.

(Actually, when I put it like that, wouldn’t it be fabulous to live in a society where that were true? Where the burden of caring for those who needed it was in fact shared by everybody who could contribute? Let’s do that, shall we.)

What this might look like, I’m not sure. On-site care facilities in all companies? Across-the-board reduction and flexibility in working hours? A move away from the traditional obsession with working at a specific time and place? Massively increased carers’ allowances? Mandatory burden-sharing agreements between the employers of co-parents? Bring Your Child to Work Day, every day? Certified Work-Life-Balance Counsellors helping to design an individual solution for each family?

I don’t know. It’s a huge question. Perhaps, in our lifetime, we won’t get there from here. But I’d like to think that we could try.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the revolution, ahahaha, and in parallel with my caring work, I’m pursuing various creative and entrepreneurial projects (fiction writing, textile art, blogging), which may or may not bear fruit before I return to my job next spring. I have all kinds of complex feelings about work, pay, value, and so forth, and I don’t imagine they’ll get much simpler as time goes on.

Note on language: You may have noticed that I didn’t state either my children’s assigned genders or my marital status in this piece. This was deliberate. They’re not relevant to what I’m saying here.

Right then. Off we go.

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We decide, over Christmas, that we will get married. We both want to. But there’s a big difference between getting married and having a wedding. We agree instantly on the ceremony aspect of things, and agree, after arguing (because being engaged is not all about necking fizz) that we want to have some sort of celebration, to mark the day and have our families and friends celebrating with us. A small party, we both say. Tiny, in fact. Restrained. No ice sculptures. No owls bearing rings. But we are still unsure. Neither of us feels it is natural to celebrate ourselves.Disney bride

We set a date, the minimum three months from the date of our licence. People seem chuffed for us, and express themselves with such sincerity we know we’ve been right to include them. “You must be so excited,” they grin, uncorking with abandon (because being engaged is partly about necking fizz).

In the face of their chuffedness and sincerity, I am graceless and awkward, and perhaps inappropriately honest: “Actually I think I’m dreading it.” The grins drop. I don’t think any of my mates have been expecting to have the Are You Sure About This chat with me. “Not the being married bit, the getting married bit. Getting trussed up in a frock. People staring at me. Listening to us doing something private. Seeing how much weight I’ve lost, or whether I’ve managed to make my hair look tidy.”

It takes my sister to be appropriately brisk. “What do you mean, people looking at you like that? Who the hell are you asking to this wedding?” She is right. I realise we have not actually invited anyone who works for  the Daily Mail. “Just do what you want,” she says, and friends echo her.

We are both Dubliners, and want a city wedding.

The One Bad Thing About Father

We keep numbers small, but when it is announced that the Obamas will be in Dublin (and Moneygall) in late May, I send them an invitation, along with a gift for their daughters, a secondhand book I think may amuse them. They do not reply. How am I to know whether to include them in the vegetarian option? Perhaps they have been offended by the mention of Teddy Roosevelt.

There will be no big white dress. I have been married before, and am pushing forty, or brushing lightly against it, anyway. I decide against bridesmaids. I will not be given away. Can I be given away a second time anyway? We decide against a first dance, a cake, speeches. We change our minds. And back. We are like willows in the wind.

Despite the simplicity we intend, I have to go shopping. I realise there will have to be some sort of dress, or at least that I will have to be clothed. I listen to other people and pay for a dress that doesn’t suit me; my patient sister mops my tears over the wasted money, the foolishness, and takes time off work for a mercy shopping dash. I enter younger sister mode, plodding behind muttering sulkily how pointless it is, but she ignores me and marches around Brown Thomas collecting armfuls of dresses for me to try on.

“Just try it for shape. Just try it for colour. Just try it for length. Just try it for the beading.” We find two dresses, and when I buy one for the wedding, she buys me the other “because you always need a party dress”.

I try a spray tan. I cannot stand the look of fake tan. I know this as I make the appointment. I do not want to be brown but I want to see if my skin tone will be evened out. I stand like a starfish in front of a beauty therapist who mists a chemical all over me. “This one has no smell,” she says, gesturing for me to turn my thighs out like a ballerina. It reeks. It makes me bright brown and does not give an even skin tone.

“Are you wearing fake tan?” asks the man I am about to marry, partly amused and partly horrified.

“Yes – it’s a trial run.”

“Please don’t wear it for the wedding,” he says kindly. He rarely sees anything negative in the way I look; when it comes to me, these words from his lips are as harsh as they come. My shins are patchy, my wrists and heels grubby. My brown hands on the steering wheel look old and stained. Pippa Middleton and I would struggle to find common ground. I will have to spend a week exfoliating. Down the plughole with thirty euros in the shape of scrubbed-off bits of dyed epidermis. At least I will be married in my own skin, though.

I cannot find a cream leather shoe or sandal. Friends text me pictures covertly snapped in shoe shops around Ireland. One suggests I go barefoot. “Romantic,” she points out, and it would be, were I eighteen, with daisies woven into my waist-length hair.

My sister phones. “I was thinking about that dress last night. You need a wrap. I can make you one if you like. I have to go now, I’m at work.”

A friend organises a makeup lesson and invites my sister and mother as well as other friends. She provides supper and wine and refuses to let the visiting makeup artist do her face or eyes. “Nope. This is for you,” she says. “Bridie.” I have known her since we were about five. She offers to make me a necklace for the wedding day. We neck fizz.

I have a hen night. We neck fizz. A friend has come over from London. My future sisters-in-law have made me a collage of photographs of my future husband as a child. A friend gives me a bag of luxury beauty treats. Someone who has returned from India brings bindis, and we decorate one another. We have dinner. More people come. Someone fastens a necklace around my throat. Everyone is good company and looks beautiful and I am delighted that they are my friends. I neck more fizz and start to witter softly and tearfully about how much I love them all. I am that sort of drunk. My shoes are killing me and I cannot walk to the nightclub. A friend produces a pair of pumps from a bag and I spring about Dawson Street. I dance in the pumps until three in the morning, when my bindi slides away on a film of sweat. The following day I have barely swallowed a coffee before a friend has emailed around Bracelet of Friends, a commemorative hen night poem she has composed.

After the hen night I know I am looking forward to the wedding, though I still feel traces of awkwardness about being the centre of attention. I have not been a bridezilla, but my reluctance and awkwardness have been another form of self-obsession. When I raise my eyes from my own irregularly tanned navel I am overwhelmed by the generosity, good will and sense of celebration that surround us.

The 30-Day Shred has improved my arms (slightly), but even in the dimmest candlelight they could not be confused with Michelle Obama’s. Perhaps it is for the best that she is not coming. Anyway, a stranger’s face would be out of place among those of everyone we love.

Yes, I am definitely looking forward to it now: our exchange of vows, our bracelet of friends.

Next Saturday, when Leinster wins the Heineken Cup, we will be married.

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There’s a delightful video doing the rounds this last couple of weeks – a cover version of Chris Brown’s Look At Me Now by a band called Karmin, notable because Karmin singer Amy Heidemann does an amazing interpretation of bullet-rapping Busta Rhyme’s verses. I watched it, loved it, shared it with my friends. And as I was doing so, I thought, “Chris Brown, eh? He still has a career?”

Yes, as it happens. You might remember Chris Brown as the young man who battered (now ex) girlfriend Rihanna a couple of years ago. Due to the celebrity status of both the victim and the strutting arsehole who beat her up, it was an unfortunately public assault. Some argued that this was a good thing in that it raised awareness (amongst young people who up to then had thought that it was ok to beat up their partners? Dunno). The rest of us flinched at the leaked photographs of Rihanna’s injuries, wished that the press would leave her alone to come to terms with what had happened, and hoped that Mr. Brown soon entered the market for a large boulder he could wedge his bulk under.

And yet this hasn’t happened. Rihanna’s career has gone from strength to strength, and oddly enough, so has Brown’s. Not that I generally keep up to speed with hip-pop artists, but I don’t even recall there being much of a sabbatical. He’s as popular as ever with fans, and has no problem attracting other artists to work with on musical projects.

One might say that Brown is entitled to forgiveness and entitled to move on with his life and career. And indeed he is. But how could a fan bring themselves to support someone who severely assaulted his girlfriend and was never quite convincing in subsequent public apologies? Indeed, at the end of March he threw a dramatic hissy fit backstage at Good Morning America when quizzed about the assault, reportedly breaking a window, leaving the building in a shirtless huff(!) and tweeting afterwards, “I’m so over people bring this past s**t up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for there[sic] bulls**t.”

This may be the thing, though. Are the public “allowing” Brown a career because he’s such an entertaining little Veruca Salt?

Social media has made it possible for a celebrity to have virtual one-on-one relationships with his or her fans – Twitter, tumblr, whatever. A celeb now has the power to make connections with the wider world without the deft swipe of a publicist’s whitewash brush. Before, celebrities flourished in stone fortresses, pampered and bubble-wrapped and told marvellous tales about how their personas were received in the outside world. Nowadays it’s like the poor, narcissistic things are kept in Wicker Men in a madhouse garden. Should they wish to say something out-of-character (as in, not becoming of a public figure), it will be seized upon and flung halfway around the world well before their publicist’s spidey-sense gets going. And they may well wish to say something out-of-character, because the fans will lap it up and egg them on, rubbernecking on a delightfully careening ego.

Recently, we’ve seen Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and Lindsay Lohan making headlines for pretty horrific behaviour; Charlie’s hired an entourage of porn stars to live with him, Mel admitted to domestic violence, and Lindsay practically lives in court these days.  Yet the public hasn’t denied them their celebrity status, or let them know that such behaviour is not socially acceptable. The public would rather Charlie and Mel and Lindsay kept making asses of themselves. Who wants to see Charlie get well? Who wants to see the erstwhile holier-than-thou Mel get his act together? Who wants to see Lindsay reinvent herself as an indie darling? No one. They’re far more valuable as clowns. No matter if Charlie keels over from an overdose or Mel breaks his girlfriend’s teeth or Lindsay dies in the gutter. Collateral damage.

Do we condone bad behaviour from celebrities simply because they’re celebrities? I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, but the answer isn’t on par with rocket science, either. Celebrities who behave badly cannot presume that the public will remain empathic, forgiving – even interested. Celebrities who behave badly in a ridiculously over-the-top fashion can, though. We can be entertained as well as feel superior. Is this why Chris Brown still has a glittering pop career?

Or do we really think that battering women isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that proud patronage of the sex trade isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that a young woman drowning her talent in alcohol isn’t that big a deal?

[Of course, the other condition under which the general public will forgive a misbehaving celebrity is if that celebrity has a talent that is not interchangeable with a hundred other pretenders (as in Brown’s identipop career). I suppose Roman Polanski would be the prime example here. If he was not a brilliant storyteller and visionary, would we have forgiven him for raping a child?]

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Here’s a bizarre dichotomy to consider: corrective rape. Yes, raping a person to make them see the error of their ways. I wish I could tell you I’d made it up, but it seems it’s all the rage at home, in South Africa. Now take a moment to consider and remember the following women, all victims of corrective rape, all black, all young, all lesbians, all dead:

* Noxolo Nogwaza — raped, stabbed and stoned to death in an alleyway in Kwa-Thema, near

Eudy Simelane - murdered.

Johannesburg, in April, simply for being a lesbian. She was also a mother. Her eyes were pushed out of her skull, used condoms littered the scene, a paving stone lay near her crushed head, and there was a beer bottle against her vagina. She was 24. Her name means peace.

* Luleka Makiwane — contracted HIV when she was raped by a cousin hellbent on trying to “prove” she was a woman, not a man. Cock does that, you know, it sorts the women from the men. Luleka ultimately succumbed to Aids.

* Nosizwe Nomsa Bizana — gang-raped by five men, and now dead from crypto meningitis, believed to have been contracted during the attack, or possibly as a complication of the trauma she suffered.

* Nokuthula Radebe — strangled with her own shoelaces and found in an abandoned building with her pants pulled down and plastic covering her face, at the age of 20.

* Eudy Simelane — gang-raped, brutally beaten and stabbed to death at the age of 31 because she was a lesbian. Eudy was a talented footballer who had played for the acclaimed South African national women’s team. She worked with the handicapped and was an HIV/ Aids counsellor. Her naked body was found dumped in a ditch.

These are some of the 30-odd women known to have been murdered in my homeland in the last decade merely because of their sexual orientation. Countless more have been raped for being lesbians, a crime now dubbed “corrective rape” because the perpetrators seem to believe that a violent, demeaning shot from the old meat injection is all it will take to make lesbians see sense and realise that a penis is what they needed all along. This is precisely what happened to Millicent Gaika (pictured), a lesbian who was raped and beaten for five hours by a man she knew who said he was going to turn her into a woman.

Millicent Gaika after being repeatedly raped and beaten for five hours.

Yes, I know: it’s about as logical as suggesting a gang of gay thugs raping a straight bloke will change his sexual allegiance, but some people really are pig-ignorant, illogical and deluded, while bloated with dangerous machismo and immense hubris.

Stupidity and ego are a toxic combination. Some men think their love is all you need.

Let me get one thing straight though: on paper, South Africa is one of the most progressive places on the planet when it comes to gay rights. The country’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to stipulate that nobody may be discriminated against due to sexual orientation, or gender or race for that matter. South Africa was the first country in notoriously homophobic Africa (where 37 countries outlaw homosexuality completely) and the fifth country in the whole world to legalise same-sex marriage. There’s none of that civil union lark. Lest the First World feel smug, please note that 42 Commonwealth countries still have homophobic legislation on their statute books.

Equally, South Africa was the first republic to provide non-heterosexual people with the same rights regarding adoption and military service as heterosexual folk. We’re very proud of our constitution. Well, some of us are.

In the thriving cities and metropolises, being gay is pretty much accepted, while there are Gay Pride parades, and there is a thriving gay scene.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t always filter down to the boneheads on the street, to the cretins who see lesbianism as a direct affront to their manliness, an insult, a rejection of the lads, and something they must self-righteously fix with a brutal beating from their own beloved love truncheon. It’s a growing problem as the poison of homophobia seeps through the dust and the shantytowns.

Yes, rape as therapy.

Gay rights' protesters remember Eudy Simelane.

Countless women are raped each day because of their sexual orientation. One estimate based on calls to a Cape Town-based action group alone puts the figure at ten a week in that city’s informal sprawl. Last Thursday (5 May), a mere 13-year-old girl was raped in Pretoria’s Atteridgeville because she was open about fancying girls.

Yet, very obviously, rape is not a cure for anything at all, and being raped has never changed a person’s mind — except, perhaps, to confirm a woman’s suspicions that some men are barbaric and, in the case of gang-raped lesbians, to confirm that they were right all along.

Finally,  possibly ten years too late, the South African police are setting up a task-force to tackle the issue.

What is needed, however, is a complete change of mindset, a realisation that in every civilization since the beginning of time between three and ten percent of the population were gay. It’s seen in frescoes from Pompeii, in ancient Greek mythology, from Michelangelo to Marlene Dietrich, from Ottoman sultans to Oscar Wilde, from King Shaka to Billie Jean King… It’s frequently seen in the animal kingdom too. It was rife and widely accepted in Africa before the missionaries came.

And why should anyone care what another adult does with their own genitalia anyway? What goes on between consenting adults is nobody else’s business at all. Not that any of this is consolation to the families, friends and lovers of all the victims of corrective rape, or any salve to the jagged memory of Luleka, Nosizwe, Nokuthula, Eudy and Noxolo, whose name means peace…

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The Guys Next Door

Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.  ~Wayne W. Dyer

I’ve always thought of myself as open-minded, especially when it comes to matters of race. As someone who is of mixed race (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian), I am the product of two people who come from very different countries and backgrounds yet managed to create a life together.

The high school I attended in California was predominately Latino and African-American; in fact, Asians and Caucasians were the minority there. I went to college in San Francisco, a city that prides itself on its political correctness and my classmates represented all races and cultures. The point is I grew up in a diverse community. So it was a surprise when I recently had to face my own racist views.

My boyfriend lives in an apartment block in Dublin and his neighbors are from Pakistan. There are four guys, all in their mid-20s, all living in a one-bedroom apartment. My partner’s bedroom wall is on the other side of their sitting room, and about 3-4 times a week we are awoken by loud shouting emanating from their side of the wall. It usually starts around 2 a.m. and goes for an hour or two or three. We can’t understand what they are saying as they speak in their native language and it’s hard to tell if they are angry or jubilant. We both sleep with ear plugs but it still keeps us from getting a decent night’s sleep.

When I first asked my partner about the guys next door, he just said they were four Pakistani guys and that he’d never spoken to them but that he was quite suspicious of them. They go in and out all hours of the night and they have a constant stream of guests who seem to crash there for long periods of time. This is incredibly difficult to admit – especially publicly – but in my mind I created several scenarios of what they were up to and why. Were they part of some underground extreme Muslim sect infiltrating Dublin? Did their late-night arguments stem from disagreements over who was the leader of the group? Maybe one of the guys was getting too “westernized” and there was dissension among the ranks.

How can a 30-something, well-traveled, educated woman come to such narrow conclusions about people she’s never even spoken to? I’m struggling with an answer to that question. I remember how hurt and angry I felt when a kid at school once called me a “chink” and asked me if I knew how to use a fork and knife, because he knew I was part Japanese. But at least that kid put his racism right in my face – it was out there for all to see. It would seem subtle forms of racism are what pose a real threat to the forward movement and progress of humanity as a whole.

With the Pakistani neighbours I’m basing my views on what I’ve picked up from the media; most of what I see in the news about Pakistan or any Middle Eastern country is negative. If the media reports are to be believed, young Arab males are all busy plotting uprisings of some form or another and are all Islamic extremists who want to take over the world. Even the recent spate of “Arab Spring” related stories and images are tinged with pessimism.

If the point is to breed hysteria, it’s worked. And if racism is based on ignorance and fear, I’ve got both covered. When I see a group of Middle Eastern men on a flight, the first emotion I feel is fear. The second is guilt. I feel both when I think of confronting those guys next door.

I actually had an encounter with one of the guys in the elevator a few of weeks back. He spoke first.

“Hi, I’ve seen you around. I’m Aziz,” he said, warmly. He had a kind and gentle smile. We talked for a few minutes. I mentioned the noise – albeit in a somewhat joking manner so that my true annoyance would not become obvious – and he was very apologetic and said he’d mention it to his mates. He said they all worked odd hours and therefore stayed up very late. He mentioned that sometimes they just get carried away in conversation but that he was very sorry it disturbed us.

I left the discussion feeling relieved and stupid. I felt ashamed for letting myself get carried away with all that nonsense before, and surprised at becoming the kind of person I always stood up to in the past – an ignorant, narrow-minded twit. But that relief and change of heart was short-lived; when I heard them shouting loudly the day after our talk, the fear came back. A couple of weeks and several more sleepless nights later, it’s still here. I so want to go next door and have a neighbourly chat with them, but both my boyfriend and I wonder if it’s such a good idea. He tells me to just leave it as he has to live next door to them and doesn’t want any drama. I still wonder if there’s something sinister going on over there and my imagination is running wild with possibilities.

This is not something I’m proud of. If they were white or Asian, would I hesitate to go speak with them? I guess it would depend on how intimidating they looked or behaved. These neighbour guys are not at all physically intimidating, they are average height and weight and dress in nondescript clothing and they don’t really stand out at all. It’s not unusual for a group of 20-somethings to enjoy their freedom and take advantage of being away from their parents for possibly the first time in their lives – they’re probably just having fun and being lads. Maybe they’re just inconsiderate, noisy neighbours and nothing else. Why is it so hard for me to see past their ethnicity and believe this?

Ironically enough, that question is the other thing keeping me up at night.

Clare Kleinedler is an American freelance journalist living in Ireland. She writes the blogs An American in Ireland and The Hollywood Craic.

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Dragons’ Den, The Apprentice, Take Me Out, Come Dine With Me … we nicked ‘em all, and now we’ve nicked Masterchef too. As of yesterday, RTE/Screentime Shinawil are taking applications for the first Irish series (come on, you Saturday Dishers), in which Nick Munier (Pichet, Hell’s Kitchen) and Dylan McGrath (The Commons, Peacock Alley, Mint) will take the places of John “that’s a beautiful plate of food” Torode, and Greg “give us a cuppa tea and I’d polish off the lot” Wallace.

Antonia Hart enjoying some television

Antonia Hart enjoying some television

Wouldn’t it be a great way to restore national pride, generate income and create jobs if some Irish production company were to come up with a really cracking show that every television station in the world was just tripping over its shoelaces to buy? I’ve been racking my brains but I’m not coming up with anything, and I keep stumbling against cod Irish themes (usually to do with wakes and talking shite – have I been reading too many short stories of the fifties?) but it definitely needs to be culturally neutral if it’s to fulfil its international sales potential. Also, every time I think I have a good idea, it turns out to be a vague but actual memory of a programme I’ve seen before. Surely tv companies never have this problem.

 

Could we train ordinary people to become circus performers and culminate with a national tour?

Bring up three children for ten years, each according to a different parenting manual, and allow a public vote on the most successful child/parent unit?

Encourage ordinary citizens to perform minor surgery, with a cash prize if the patient doesn’t notice?

Or what about over twelve weeks building a mini-dream-state, with a government, legal system, health and education services, and a little cultural context? If it seemed to work well, we could sell citizenship.

I know, they’re all just variations on a theme. Well, if you’ve any ideas pass ‘em on. In the meantime, we all get on with generating and consuming food every day, so in many ways are just rehearsing for Masterchef. The beauty of that idea is that we are all potential contestants. Get your application in by 27th April. Do you love or loathe Masterchef, by the way?

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Rosita Sweetman

Rosita Sweetman is a writer and journalist. She has published three books, On Our Knees, a look at Ireland in the 1970s, Fathers Come First, a novel, and On Our Backs, a look at sexual attitudes in 1980s Ireland.

Chupi Sweetman-Pell

Rosita’s daughter, Chupi Sweetman-Pell, is a food writer and fashion designer, author of What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything: The Complete Allergy Cookbook. She sells her main fashion line, Chupi, through Topshop and at the The Loft Market.

What’s the first record you ever bought?
Rosita: The Beatles, ‘Love, Love me Do’
Chupi: The Streets of Philadelphia, the single, on cassette – for my Mum

What’s your favourite smell?
R: Coffee
C: Fresh Basil leaves and tomato plants.

Have you ever had a nickname?
R: My dear bro, Roger, nick-named me Zebo, which turned into Zibb :)
C: No. No need!

What is your favourite room in your house?
R: The kitchen – with family, friends, food.
C: The kitchen! Where else can you eat?

What are your guilty pleasures?
R: Sorry, can’t divulge, too guilty.
C: Cheese, chocolate, all food related things.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
R: That I’m a closet exhibitionist?
C: I’m not actually a nice person :)

Who is your closest female friend?
R: Ooooooo that’s a hard one. If I choose one the others will be horribly hurt. Love all my female friends dearly.
C: Lydia.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
R: Ears. Done millennia ago in boarding school, with safety-pin, (the Child of Mary medal pin was too blunt).
C: Got navel pierced at 16 but took it out at 21 (it had reached its sell by date).

Where would you most like to live?
R: In a yellow submarine.
C: Don’t think the where is very important, it’s more the who with.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?
R: With MG, in the orchard. Hot and salty – we’d been swimming.
C: A guy called Ciaran. In Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. (He’s since emigrated :))

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
R: Does that hurt?
C: The last one!

What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
R: My children, Chupi and Luke. Nothing Compares to Them x
C: Yardi, my corgi, when I was ten.

What is your favourite word?
R: It was really Luke Kelly’s favourite word: Un-be-fucking-lievable. Kind of suits the times that are in it…
C: F**k!

Who was your first love?
R: Michael G. We were 10 and knew everything (little horrors that we were).
C: Brian :)

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
R: A ballerina. No, that’s a joke. How about a member of the Arts Council so I could torture penniless writers?
C: Someone who does cooking and eating and writing – full time.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
R: Edna O Brien’s barely known but absolutely wonderful biography of James Joyce. Everyone I’ve bought it for, including artist Barrie Cooke, adores it.
C: I’ve mostly given cookbooks; lots of my own, What To Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything, and Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook, Plenty.

What happens after we die?
R: It’s the Big Secret, isn’t it?
C: The people who love us remember us.

What female historical figure do you admire most?
R: Grainne Uaile was pretty cool. I love the story of her marching, bare breasted, into Queen Elizabeth 1st’s court. Attitude is everything.
C: None that I can think of.

Sum yourself up in three words:
R: Female. Mum. Hungry!
C: Impatient. Demanding. Enthusiastic. (and Hungry!)

And finally…What are you anti? What are you pro?
R: Pro the young, the old and the in-betweeners. Anti bullshite in all its myriad forms; particularly my own.
C: Oh God, how much time have you got? Anti ignorance – where education has been an option, and laziness, and religion. Am pro eating, love and friends :)

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THE four-letter word I most dislike begins with a ‘C’. We’ve already had that debate on this blog.

But the most abused and misused four-letter word I can think of is ‘rape’. There was a time, not too long ago, where it wasn’t considered polite to mention rape in conversation. Too raw, too politically-charged, too obscene, ‘dirty’.

The first time I realised that rape was not to be addressed with the ‘r’ word was while watching – forgive me – Home and Away. Carly, stumbling home to the caravan park, clothes torn and in tears, having been raped while out hitch-hiking. Not once in the weeks of soap drama that followed, not once during the ministrations of Tom and Pippa, the discussion among her friends, the investigation by the police, was the word rape used.

Carly was “attacked”. It wasn’t that the effects of rape were not tackled – so why was the word itself considered too profane for the largely teenage audience watching the show?

I don’t think that’s the case now, and well it shouldn’t be. This country is coming down with men, women and children who have been raped and sexually abused. (The Rape Crisis Centre went so far as to use the word “endemic” last year about rape and child sexual abuse in particular here. While their figures can’t be definitive – they can obviously only record the experiences of those people who actually contact their services – they are no less a national disgrace for that.) The very least they should be afforded is the right to use the correct, criminal term, loudly and publicly, for what has happened to them.

Today though we’re looking at transcripts of gardai “joking” about how two women arrested on public order offences in relation to the Corrib pipeline protests should be told to give their names and addresses or be raped.

I read a comment online this morning that people are taking the “banter” between a couple of unidentified yahoos from Templemore a bit too seriously.

Let’s just leave that stand and ferment there, shall we?

Is ‘to rape’ now an acceptable verb through which to express one’s annoyance? Are you having a laugh?

We know the word still carries a powerful impact. The seriousness with which the courts treat cases of, thankfully rare, false allegations of rape indicates that this is not a word to be bandied about. And rightly so. But if the courts recognise that it’s a criminal offence to falsely accuse someone of rape, how is it not clear to everyone that the effect of the word in the converse situation is similarly an act of aggression and an outrage?

What’s in a word? Ask the women of Toronto who took part in a “Slut Walk” on Sunday to protest against a police officer’s comment that women are putting themselves at risk of rape by dressing like “sluts”. Ah, that old sane, rational, women-are-the-problem argument again.

So the women who took offence put on their fishnet stockings, stilettos and the most revealing clothes to march and chant:

Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no.

They wouldn’t “let it go”. I don’t think we should let this one go either.

NOTE FROM THE EDITORS

As last week’s rape post showed, people have understandably strong feelings on this issue. This comment thread is purely to discuss the the casual use of the word rape in the context of the Corrib gardaí case and the implications of this case, such as whether we can trust gardaí who talk about rape in that way to take actual rape cases seriously, or whether an investigation into garda conduct can be properly carried out by fellow gardaí. Any reference to last week’s discussion of rape will not be approved. Nor will personal attacks, assumptions about other posters, or attempts to hijack the thread and devote it to other vaguely-rape-related issues. This is NOT a thread about false accusations of rape or their implications. And if you want to talk about how the Corrib gardaí were just having a laugh, there are plenty of other online spaces where you can do so. We reserve the right to not approve any or all comments.

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To celebrate our 500th post, we Anti-Roomers share how the internet has changed our lives for the better – and the worse. We’d love to hear your early internet stories, life-changing online experiences and whether you love or loathe the interweb…

Anna Carey

The first time I went online was in 1994. I had read in the NME that Courtney Love had been rambling wildly but entertainingly on something called a newsgroup, which as far as my innocent little arts student brain could gather was a way of writing stuff on a computer that could be read by lots of people on different computers all over the world. I knew about e-mail, though I didn’t have an account – at the time, only computer science and maths students at Trinity, where I was in first year, automatically had college e-mail accounts, and I was doing German and History of Art. But this public discussion thing was new to me. So I nagged one of my best friends, who happened to be studying computer science, to show me how to read Courtney’s ravings on a Sun computer in the Hamilton science building. I was unimpressed by Courtney, but mildly intrigued by the whole internet thing – not that I could do much about my interest down in my Arts Block home.

When I started my third year of college in October 1995, arts students finally got Eudora e-mail accounts (though there wasn’t enough server space to accommodate us, so we had to save our mails onto individual floppy discs), and I haven’t looked back since. By 1996, I had discovered the possibilities of hugely entertaining webzines (I miss you, Blair); by 1998, I was engaging in discussions on Hissyfit.com with people who, as I discovered when I met up with some of them while visiting the US a year later, were just as they seemed online: smart, funny and good company. Soon after that I became involved in the forums at a women-centric literature site called Chicklit.com (named before the term took off as a description of popular fiction). Through the Chicklit forums, I was introduced to dozens of authors who have since become my firm favourites and, more importantly, many people who have since become dear and close real-life friends. When I joined Livejournal back in 2002, many of my friends there were from Chicklit, and these days loads of us are on Twitter. We’ve all been talking on the internet, and sometimes meeting in real life, for more than a decade, and my life is definitely better for it.

Since I first read Courtney’s ravings in the Hamilton, the internet has changed my life in many ways. It’s allowed me to keep in touch easily with friends who have moved away. It’s allowed me to make genuine, real friendships with people from Canada to Edinburgh to Dublin, people who were once just words on a screen. In Twitter and indeed the Anti-Room, it’s given me the equivalent of an office full of smart, funny, thought-provoking people, some of whom have also become real-life friends, while I work alone at home. It’s made my job so much easier  – when I started my first job at the Sunday Tribune back in 1998, there was only one computer in the entire building with internet access, and the amount of information available online was much, much smaller. It’s educated and entertained me. It’s given me countless books and music that I would never have had access to before – I got my first credit card purely to buy American stuff from Amazon, back in 1999. It’s enraged me and upset me – there ain’t no drama like internet drama, and over the years I’ve typed a few comments and posts with hands that were almost shaking with rage. It’s made me temporarily lose my faith in humanity – just a few minutes looking at the comments over at Comment is Free robs me of the will to live. It’s distracted me not just from work – entire evenings at home, evenings I should have spent hanging out with my husband or reading a book or playing the piano or working on some art, have been sucked into the maw of Twitter and Google Reader. It’s tapped into my worst qualities – my innate desire for distraction and novelty, my procrastination, my need to have the last word. And it’s put pointless pressure on me – while I do love my iPhone, sometimes I genuinely hate the expectation that we should all be constantly contactable and online at all times.

But it’s also entertained me, made me laugh, given me good friends, and shown me how incredibly nice and kind people can be. And for that, I can only be grateful.

Sinéad Gleeson
Sometime in early 1996, I remember getting up very early one morning to queue in UCD for an email account. Not an internet one – the two were distinctly separate – but one solely for email, with no other web access. The idea now seems positively antediluvian. The only reason I wanted said account, was because my brother had just moved to Australia. Email was a far more affordable way of talking about records and gigs than 3am phonecalls when I’d wandered home from a club. The clunky, minutes-to-load account was life-changing, and a bazillion gigabytes away from today’s smart phones with their Sci-fi apps. My consumption of online life has intrinsically increased. It’s invaluable for my job, for music, for contact with distant friends, for rewatching TV shows, laughing at viral nonsense… But it’s also the biggest time sponge I know, and the reason why I have umpteen unfinished short stories sitting on my laptop. It’s a leveller and a curse; indispensable and completely disposable. You learn to live with the duality of something that is both an enormous help and a hindrance. I’ve killed my Facebook account four times, but Twitter is the most instantaneous news ticker I know. I’ve made lots of friends, from my early days as Editor of an online magazine (Sigla) to Arts & Culture blogging and now among the wonderful women of the Anti Room. The key is balance. To embrace it, but to also plug out more and remember that when you’re not online – like those Saturday nights in your early 20s when you were broke and had to stay in – that you’re not missing very much anyway.

Sarah Franklin
I thought this topic was an utter no-brainer for me. Gorgeous Twitter, which some days feels like my own personal version of Sliding Doors. Where else can I chat to people I probably sat next to in college French lectures, people I unknowingly drank alongside in Soho dive bars, people like, well, the ladies of the Anti Room, who I should have known years ago? All at once? Without even leaving my desk? (although, as Keith Ridgeway put it so mesmerically, beware the false sense of company).  Yep; Twitter’s changed my life more than any other section of the internet, I thought.

But then I thought back a bit, to the prehistoric times of 2005. Twitter was but a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye and both Skype and my elder son had both entered their infancy. We were living in Seattle, a good place for knowing about emergent technologies and a TERRIBLE place to be if you want to show your newborn child to your extended family, and they’re all 5,000 miles away. Skype honestly changed my life at that point. Post-natal blues were so much easier to handle with the baby and the laptop both wedged on my lap, my son’s head given a ReadyBrek glow from the screen as he slept and my grandmother gazed at him, rapt.

It’s a funny old thing, the internet. Sure, it means we can shop without leaving our sofa, that we’re never more than a mouse click away from knowing who wrote the song lyrics you can’t stop trilling, but that’s not really the power of it. Seeing people, real people, people you love, from thousands of miles away; watching that family bond come down the interpipes; that’s amazing.

Lisa McInerney

I can’t really say the internet has changed my life. It’s made my life; there wasn’t a time, from my teens on, when there wasn’t an internet to teach, and entertain, and distress, and provoke me. I embraced an online life from the beginning – chat rooms, message boards, amateur web design … blogging. Most obviously blogging. The fact that we’re living in The Information Age is something I find endlessly fascinating, and I think it’s shaping the world we live so radically it’s practically … biblical. No, honestly. I waffle on about this a lot. The Book of Genesis, in which ignorance was equated with beauty and innocence, to the Information Age, in which there are absolutely no limits to personal pursuit of knowledge; we’ve come 360 and that’s thrilling and kind of disconcerting, if you’re a superstitious type. Who knows what effect all this info will have on us? But that’s a subject for another day, possibly one spent in a cafe in Amsterdam. Personally, the internet has been good to me. It allowed me a platform to write, an instant audience to make me improve, the knowledge that shaped me as an adult. And gosh, have I met some really amazing people. Some of my closest friends were originally “internet people”. I can’t imagine my life without them. And as for those who moan about the “evils” of Facebook – learn to streamline your experience, read up on the privacy options, and make the bloody thing work for you. I have whole legions of far-away relatives whose faces I’d have forgotten if we didn’t have Facebook to weld us together. Play me off, keyboard cat!

Rosita Boland
The A-Z of my internet life…

@ the new 27th letter of the alphabet. Antiroom blog – a must-read, everyone!
Bewildered to know how I would live without the internet now.
Couldn’t live without the internet now – did I mention that?
Dial up – took forever and sounded like a freight train.
E-mail - it changed everything about the way I communicated with people.
Floppy disk – never really understood them. Facebook – never did that.
Galway – where I went to my first ever internet café, in Cornmarket Lane, about 15 years ago.
Help! – Sound I emitted many a time when I thought I’d broken the internet.
Information superhighway – remember that?
Journalism – I hope it never dies, no matter what the future of digital media holds.
Kansas – what I would rename the internet.
Letters – sadly, I no longer write them, although I used to write six a week for years.
Macs – been through two laptops so far.
Netbook – my latest on-the-hoof bit of gear.
Online. Online. Online – are we ever offline these days?
Paywall – we put them up at the Irish Times, we took them down; as busy as the construction industry in Ireland this last decade.
Questions – are there any the internet considers it cannot answer?
Real Player – more new language I now take for granted.
Skype – talking and waving to my faraway friends for free.
Tibet – the very first word I ever keyed into a search engine. Twitter - where I’ve found so many new friends.
Unknown – there are always so many new places the internet takes me.
Virtual – a dazzling experience the internet allows; it has let me see video clips from literally all over the world, and almost feel like I’m there.
Web – a word I’ve already discarded.
X – internet, I heart you!
YouTube – my favourite clip ever is the mad music video, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.
Z – often difficult to get any when engrossed with The Twitter or any of the many joys of the internet.

Jude Leavy
Picture the scene; the romantic incomer – beguiling, charming and undeniably fascinating, with a metaphorical sweep of opera cape, a suggestive bit of eyebrow play and a mutter of sweet sentiments it snares me into its loving embrace where I swoon…

I am a fan of the internet.

Years ago it successfully courted and seduced me implanting itself into almost every aspect of my life. Work, leisure time, friendships, I saw the world with the tickets I’d booked online, attended plays and enjoyed concerts through it, reconnected with old acquaintances and kept in touch with new ones.

I made friends through the internet, true friendships sometimes with people from other ends of the globe; some I went on to meet up face to face, others I know I never will. It even played a role in introducing me to my fiancé (which I wrote about here) thereby changing my life in the biggest way possible.

I also have to it to thank for being here, writing with this amazing group of extraordinary women; the people I wished I’d known when I was becoming the adult I am.

Of late I’ve found my beloved internet to be a demanding lover, I’ve allowed it to muscle in other potential love interests in its quest to dominate. So have been forced to be strong and cut back on the hours we spend together, to recover more of my off-line life. I had expected it to cause me many a pang on leaving it, but strangely this hasn’t really been the case. Perhaps my red hot love is not the real passion of my life, but just a passing fancy?

I do hope not.

Eleanor Fitzsimons
Despite living a good portion of my life in the real rather than the virtual world I simply can’t imagine life offline at this stage. I remember the day we first connected, way back in 1996. Sneering in the face of a potentially skyrocketing phone bill the husband & I hooked up a laptop to our phone socket via a labyrinthine tangle of trailing wires that snaked across the living room and caused us to temporarily lose telephone contact with the outside world. I looked on sceptically as he typed in the long numerical string that he assured me was our IP address, no user-friendly front-end back in the day. I can’t remember what we looked up, something utterly innocuous I’d imagine, but I was hooked.

Several years later, while living in London, I was booking tickets to must-see shows and iconic sporting events, not to mention flights and train journeys all over a world that had become my oyster. I had serious RPS and my credit card was on fire. Before I knew it (and yes I am cringing as I type) I had signed up for daily internet updates on my first pregnancy.

Nowadays I simply can’t imagine life without the internet. You might as well ask me to live in a cave and forage for bush tucker. I use it for work and for connecting with friends, old and new. I tweet and blog and file copy and mess about and still book holidays and shows and sporting events. I’ve shaken off the shackles of the desktop and shed the weight of the laptop by getting an iPhone. Next step is undoubtedly an implant in my brain. There must be a website offering that…

Jennie Ridyard

Hail, hail the new religion, for is that not what the Holy Trinity of Internet, Facebook and Twitter are? Lo, on Sunday mornings we gather in the light of a screen, or sit alone in silent contemplation, picking out like a mantra our online prayer, “OMG”. We bow before the Gospel according to Google and Wikipedia, and confess everything to the all-knowing, all-embracing Status Update. Then we mutter endless Hail Mary Byrnes – is she really singing the next Bond theme tune? Some merely dip a toe in, checking church times online and googling their own names. Others are found in the pews morning, noon and night, tweeting each passing thought, blogging their sermons, and singing the praises of lolcats and failblog, while damning 13-year-old Rebecca Black to hell.

Like a religion, the plugged-in world offers an answer to everything and a friend to everyone. You can be reborn on Avatar, you can embrace kibbutzim on Farmville. Equally, you can cure diseases on WebMD, make your offerings via Paypal, and wage war on the sinners, the Muslims, the Bible-thumpers, the atheists, the smokers, the non-smokers, the obese, the anorexic, the ugly, the beautiful, and Justin Bieber. Oh, and you can wage actual war in Libya too, wielding the sword of eternal truth that is Twitter. Indeed, through the miracle of YouTube the scales fall from our eyes as we bear witness to modern miracles like Monkey Rapes Frog and Fire Fart Goes Wrong.

Yea, I tell thee, this is the way, the truth, and the light. It’s also how to lose your way, spread untruths and spend days alone in the dark.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Internet -The good: new friends (real & virtual); reconnecting with old friends; access to a world of information; being able to send things (manuscripts, photos) without the palaver of Post Office visits with kids in tow; online banking; online shopping (very important when you live in the sticks); literary blogs; freely available music; new audience for my books; cheap PR for cash-poor writers; speed of access to Important People in publishing etc.

Internet -The bad: e-mail pile-up; obsessing about being able to be online and/or feeling bereft if the internet connection is down; stalkers; reconnecting with old friends; people picking fights with you over innocuous/innocent statements; people being nasty in general; going online when drunk and being over-chatty; people knowing far too much about your life; time-wasting; isolation; Facebook competitiveness and boasting.

Antonia Hart

In about 1988, in the school computer room, in order to draw a green box on the black screen we had to type the following commands in LOGO:

TO DRAW
CLEARSCREEN
SHOW TURTLE
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
HIDE TURTLE
It was more fun than double R.E. but not much. I’m not a techno-refusenik. My credentials: at college I rescued a ditched black and white screened Apple Mac Classic (the nicest computer in the world, ever) from a skip outside the Physics Building and fooled around with HyperCard, running off a floppy disk. I met the World Wide Web proper in about 1996, and it seemed, as a series of pages linked to and fro by embedded directions, to be based on Hypercard. I discovered Telnet and FTP and wrote stories for the Sunday Business Post using Borland Sprint, an MS DOS based word processor. I did an MSc in Multimedia Systems at Trinity in 1997, the first year it ran, and it felt then as if we were part of the breaking news of the internet. I worked in web design, and online advertising. Got that? I practically invented the internet.
Of course it’s changed my life. Without it I wouldn’t be able to work from home, so would either have no children or no job. I wouldn’t be contemplating a summer house exchange. I wouldn’t be writing this post. My music would have ground to a halt at about fifty CDs. It’s changed my life for the better, but I want less of it, not more. I’ve read about six emails since I started typing this post. Getting to a point of concentration is like climbing down steps into a well, deeper and deeper until you can sense the water. You finally get a toe in. You’re aiming for submersion. With the internet, and the ways of working it makes possible, I find myself constantly climbing up again, down, up, down, up, and never reaching the water. Have I exhausted my metaphor yet? I don’t like the way it fractures my thinking, the shortness of its texts, the virtue it makes of hopping about. I don’t tweet, because I am guarding my time and I cannot afford to donate any more chunks of it to online conversations, no matter how relevant or witty they are. I think Facebook – despite its usefulness as a place to promote events and small businesses – is just vacuous, endless pages of self-promotion and self-portraits and all that information being sold to the highest advertising bidder.
I need time to do things for longer, to do them more slowly, to think about them in greater depth. I want more reflection time, more reaction time, more satisfying contemplation. I want to read slowly and with care, I want to take days to think about what I’ve read and what I think about it. I want to be in the world, not experiencing it through an online prism.
I also want an iPad 2.

June Caldwell

I can’t remember my first email in the same way I can’t remember my first roast potato, but I do recall getting addicted to random chatrooms very early on. Rubbish chatyack where you simply logged on and saw streams of absurd irrational messages dropping in real-time like plunging neon, before wasting eight hours of my working life, missing deadlines. Immediacy and anonymity were overwhelming features of my unspecified shadowy self on de web. Of course this would get me into trouble very early on. In the mid 1990s I mistakenly sent an email to my boss instead of the man I was having a fling with in the office, to disastrous consequences (especially as I was, er, mentioning what a prick the boss was at the time).

It was also the year I sat through a rather trite PgDip in Journalism, where I realised how easy it was to sift through cyber offscourings for feature ideas to sell. A tiny ancillary fact about an increase in unmarried fathers phoning Parentline about child access problems, turned into my first published article: ‘Clowning Around With Fatherhood’, published in the Big Issues in 1997. An article I wrote on narcolepsy a month later was picked up by a health supplement in the New York Times. I could barely fathom how any of this ‘global village’ stuff could happen! The ‘world wide web’ very quickly became a de rigueur necessity of both my working day and my off-duty life.

Flurry and melodrama surrounding this newfound instant access to info still manages to fool me, and I often fail to see the danger in mouthing off without reserve. A few weeks ago a 14-year-old girl hacked into my partner’s Facebook account, printing off all our private messages [some of which were unsuitably sexual, others which were raw and noxious drunken arguments dating back to a horrendous few years in Belfast) and is now claiming to be Pandora’s box disturbed by what she read. Her mother had ‘encouraged’ her to excavate this material, without any care in the world for how it might damage her. This is the kind of horrific payoff that seems tout de suite worth it in the midst of relationship breakup. The experience has made me feel sad and sick to the core. Likewise, the existence of trolls (even on this blog) upsets me immensely when they dig in claws for little or no reason. Or the flagrant paedo who keeps looking me up on Linkedin and any other website I’m registered to/with due to his lack of life, or the knowledge that I wrote things online very early on that I had no idea would linger everlastingly (rubbish poems, half-finished stories, crap ideas).

However, it’s not all bedlam and mobocracy, I have met some incredible new friends (antiroom peeps more recently), sourced much-needed work, shared opinions through Facebook updates, splashed about different demeanours and ‘frames of mind’ [especially on Twitter] I’d never get a chance to in the humdrum of ordinary daily life. A piece I wrote on depression won ‘Best Blog Post’ at the recent Irish Blog Awards – only a few short months into my newfound blogging life – and a poem I wrote was picked up and published by a UK magazine. As a writer, it’s becoming increasingly clear how vital an online presence is, not just for freedom of expression or the ability to rant, but to stay in touch with people who might want to hear what you have to say.

Digital stratosphere is also great for following other writers in the same genre I’m interested in. As a shy gobshite all my life, this type of connectedness is nothing short of love. Then there was the time I was being bullied by a paramilitary landlord in Carrickfergus and having got so totally bored with his daily intrusions, I lost my mind and contacted a local sex addict who took me to an abandoned salt mine where he did some ‘stuff’ that took my mind right off my ills for more than a day. But who wants to hear a glut of unsavoury details of how my cyber life led me astray when there’s so much goodwill and kindheartedness to mull over instead?

Claire Hennessy
I grew up with the internet, so I’ve never known what it’s like to be a grown-up without it. But a lot of the complaints I hear people make – the obligations to present a public persona, to update their various social media outlets, the busyness of it all – just sound to me like the sort of things adulthood seemed to be about. Being capable of making one’s own choices, but still having obligations and commitments, whether it was attending some work event or chatting to someone at the supermarket. Many of these things often sounded suspiciously close to fun, and if they were really that dreadful then why didn’t grown-ups just, well, not do them?

That little child-voice in my head that wonders why grown-ups talk about the things they ‘have’ to do when they don’t really have to speaks up a lot when I think about the internet and how time-consuming it can be, how we can feel under pressure to respond immediately to emails or represent ourselves in an interesting way on Twitter or whatever it might be. It’s the same voice that reminds me that despite all the complaining we can do, the truth is that for most of us, the internet, like growing-up, is infinitely better than the alternative.

Catherine Crichton

My contribution is all about Twitter. So, what have I got out of it?

  • A bottle of wine from @grapesofsloth, just for posting him a useful link
  • Two free theatre tickets from @darraghdoyle for entering a competition
  • A copy of Mary Poppins from @patomahony1, which I passed on in turn to @snastablasta

But those are just the added extras. Twitter is a source of news, information, fun, great conversations and recommendations for films, books, restaurants and music. It’s all out there if you follow the right people. TV becomes communal; many programmes just aren’t the same without a simultaneous Twitter stream of comments and observations.

I often work from home, and while Twitter can be a terrible distraction, it also helps to make tedious work bearable and lessens the feelings of isolation. During a recent hospital stay I was really touched by all the good wishes I received from my Twitter friends. And, sad though this may sound, I do regard some of my Twitter contacts as friends. I have met a few of them in the real world, and hope to meet more.

As @nickmcgivney wrote in this recent blog post, Twitter can help people to virtually meet their heroes. I have had a tragic middle-aged crush on actor David Morrissey (@davemorrissey64) since once briefly meeting him. Lo and behold, he joined Twitter and posts interesting tweets and an excellent daily music track of the day. Not only that, but he also engages with his followers including, occasionally and thrillingly, me. I have also had a few exchanges with the highly amusing @hughbon. Oh yes Downton Abbey fans, only Lord Grantham himself!

But the best thing about Twitter is that it inspired me to move beyond 140 characters and to start writing, on a (recently neglected) blog of my own, and here at the Anti Room. Nothing beats the feeling of someone commenting that they enjoyed something I have written. So I want to raise a glass to Sinead, Anna and all the other Anti Room women. Here’s to the next 500 posts.

Amanda Brown

Answering people’s social media problems in the Irish Times for the past year has taught me a thing or two.

Stuff I knew already: Irish people are intensely private, mostly because if it gets out their grandmother will know within five seconds, problems on the Internet feel as all-encompassing as problems off the Internet – they are real problems – and everyone’s compartmentalised social spheres are becoming  melded together.

Things that have impressed on me include; just how intensely personal problems on the Internet are, how little most people who use it know about how to protect themselves on it, how unwilling most people are to be rude on the Internet – except the copious amounts of people who become incredibly rude when they are on the Internet.

The ramifications of the move of large parts of our social lives online are profound and currently little known.

What we do know is society has always had technology and technology has always been a part of society. There are negative books  about the Internet being spat out as if the printed word were going out of fashion (snark), the most recent being a tome called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. These types of books claim the revolution of social media on the Internet is making us socially poorer by creating an illusion of being surrounded by friends when the essential elements of real friendship (regular real world meetings, face to face communication etc) are not there.

There are other, more positive books, notably The Cognitive Surplas by Clay Shirky, which recognises the enormous power of good that has occurred from millions of people democratically connecting in order to entertain, inform and even encourage each other to give charitably and improve the real world.

The arguments against the Internet continue to rumble on ploughing the exact same ground as all those spouted against television.

My bottom line, having dealt primarily for the last year with people’s problems online, is that the Internet and more specifically Social Media, widens our lives out in a mostly positive way by making connection and meaningful, as well as meaningless, communication possible at the touch of a fingertip

As Adam Gopnik wrote in his superb New Yorker article on the subject, “Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.”

Social media delivers far more people’s thoughts far more effectively than any previous media revolution.

That will take us where we decide to take ourselves.

Aoife Barry

My first forays onto the internet took place when I was in secondary school. I’d go online with a friend, using her creaky dial-up connection. We’d sit chomping on Pringles while patiently waiting for the beep-beep-brriing-buzz noises to signal that we were on our way to the super cyber highway. Though the internet seemed a huge and somewhat unfathomable beast, with an infinite amount of information at my fingertips, I always ended up doing exact the same thing – going to Alta Vista and searching for very basic items like song lyrics, or information on TV shows. Wild days, to be sure.

That said, at one stage, unsure of what else to do online, I’d just search for ‘chatrooms’. Not my finest moment, it has to be said – up there with when I used to think LOL meant ‘lots of love’. That naivety makes me laugh now, but back then the internet really was unchartered territory. Today, I’m wholeheartedly pro-internet. Just last night, I caught the end of a documentary on Robert Moog, the creator of the Moog synthesiser, on TV. That led me online, searching for Youtube videos about early electronic music; watching old Delia Derbyshire videos and marvelling, as always, at her perfect ear for beat-matching; and then discovering legendary Theremin players.

I believe the net has enhanced women’s lives immeasurably. Online, we can join communities, connect with people with similar ideals to us; find out more about feminism; and read about women’s rights in other countries. We can blog about our experiences, in private, using a pseudonym. We can talk about sex, contraception, relationships, in the ‘open’, perhaps for the first time in our individual lives.

Have a problem? Google it. It’s perhaps no surprise that type in the words ‘Am I…’ into Google and the first suggestion is ‘Am I pregnant?’

But just as the internet offers freedom, it offers constraints too. It’s not free of the prejudices which can plague life off-line – sexism, racism, homophobia. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people online, and women are exposed to the same abuse on the net as they may be in real life situations, albeit in a non-physical manner. Though the internet offers anonymity, and that includes the ability to hide your sex, if you ‘out’ yourself as female, or male, or transgender, you leave yourself open to being judged on that.

I find the internet can also impinge on my real life – sucking up precious minutes and hours when I should be working, playing on my innate ability to procrastinate and sitting like the proverbial shoulder-devil, tempting me with just ‘one more’ look at a new site or Twitter feed.

But despite all of its pitfalls, I will forever be grateful for the internet – and do not take the fact I live in a country where I have uncensored access to it for granted. It gives me knowledge, it gives me space to vent, and has even been beneficial to my career.  And now that I’ve learned not to spend time arguing with people on forums (that’s a top tip there if you want to stay sane on the internet!), ‘surfing the net’ is a rather pleasant experience indeed, even if it does have its ups and downs.


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Feminism and the art of burlesque have traditionally had a complex relationship. It is empowering? Degrading? Subversive? Creative? Clichéd? Pandering to the male gaze? Subverting that gaze? Here feminist and burlesque fan and performer Ciara O’Connor gives her view.

The word “burlesque” has cropped up in polite conversation quite a lot recently. Christina and Cher’s affront to the word notwithstanding, every so often someone brings it up when out for drinks if I say I’ve just been to a show… and often there is a reductive remark about strippers. Take for example Maeve Higgins’ recent comment on the Tweeter : “Burlesque is so shit. Stupid middle class women stripping.” I’m not sure if Maeve has ever been to a show, but I know her comment was a reflection (if a slightly more abrasive reflection) of some peoples ideas and conceptions of what Burlesque is and is not. There are always people who are indifferent towards any medium, the decriers declaring Burlesque is dead, those who say it is anti-women, and those who couldn’t care less.

Feminist burlesque performer Blackbird, aka Emily

Because I’m a fan of the art form, and I occasionally perform at cabaret shows and see a lot of different types of burlesque, I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring.

Burlesque’s etymology denotes a send up, it is a derisive imitation, grotesque parody. Burlesque is close in meaning with caricature, pastiche, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque). From the Wikipedia entry on Burlesque we see that it isn’t just all 1950s pin-up wither, its been around a long time: “”Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics.“

Later forms of burlesque came in the popular variety show format. These were common from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and striptease as part of the show. Burlesque has historically been seen as a cheeky, low-brow and very bold form of adult-only theatre.  Performers draw from theatre, mime, improvisation, movement to music, as well as all forms of dance. They are also usually loaded with cultural reference and spoof.

There has been a resurgence of interest in classical Burlesque in the 1990s which quickly became popular in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe. This resurgence also birthed what is referred to as Neo-burlesque (see Hot Press this month for a very interesting round-up of Neo-Burlesque in Ireland). Neo-burlesque often removes the nostalgic aspect of burlesque and uses contemporary music and themes, so you may find yourself watching Jessica Fletcher do a striptease to Gothrock. The beauty of burlesque is that it can be anything and everything, as creative as your imagination and the boundaries you put on yourself as a performer.

A friend writing a blog on fashion and feminism recently described me as “someone who I imagine came into the world screaming ‘I am a feminist!’.” As a feminist-from-the-womb – or at least a young age, I was needless to say not immune to the impressions the media give out about burlesque, and my inner feminist was in twitch-overdrive when I went to my first ever burlesque show. My twitching quickly subsided – and not only was I completely hooked: I was fascinated, enthralled and excited, brimming over with ideas after it – I was convinced that in my eyes, burlesque was decidedly feminist.

As I wrote recently in a guest blog for Dr Sketchy’s,  decontextualised women’s bodies are everywhere in society.  Disembodied perfectly round arses in Reebok trainers, floating breasts selling car insurance…. our world is saturated with nudity, implied nudity and women’s body parts, exposed, scrutinised, made grotesque and vilified… or portrayed as perfection and symmetry and the ideal we should all strive for/compare ourselves to. Burlesque shows are one place where you get to see real women’s bodies… not on display for the sexualised gaze, nor for “auntie Gok” to truss up like some Christmas ham and stuff into magic knickers to try to fit into normative beauty standards, but just – celebrated.  Cheered.  Whooped at and hollered for.  Breasts, bellies, smiles of all ages and types, none of them detached from the woman they belong to.  In fact, firmly in context as the performer is not only showing off her body but her creativity… her body can be tattooed, pierced, decorated with body paint, breasts all different shapes and sizes adorned with nipple tassels; they have meaning, they have context.  These are real bodies, (ab)normal, individual, all appendix scars and jiggly bits.  In a society where nudity has become so… meaningless… here it is loaded with meaning.

Also, the burlesque scene in Ireland is decidedly radical. The performers are smart, creative and quite amazing men and women who do fantastical things with the medium. A great example is my friend and fellow fabulous feminist Emily. She is a stunning performer – she creates acts that are thought provoking, political, visually stunning, sometimes hyperfeminine, sometimes very masculine, always impeccably costumed and gripping from beginning to end. She tells a story and makes a statement in a way that is firmly tongue in cheek and yet quick off the mark and very intelligent.

Lilly DeValle's barbershop act gradually turns from cute to creepy

Another burlesque performer, Lilly DeValle, cuts a striking figure on stage, playing a cheesecake cutesy character who has a dark and evil side – for example her cute barber shop act which quickly transforms into a bloodbath as she hacks up the poor unsuspecting customer in her barbershop chair. She is a true storyteller and has impeccable comedic timing. One of Dublin’s queen’s of the burlesque scene Miss Bella A Go Go is one of the most creative people I know, sewing and handmaking all her costumes, her  incredible mind is full of fantasy which she expertly brings to life on stage with incredibly intricate themed shows, such as her recent Steampunk Cabaret.

So for those who may reduce burlesque to “stupid, middle class women stripping” – I’d like to extend an invitation to come and see a show. The scene here is vibrant and bristling with life and energy. The performers (male and female) are dedicated to making you smile, cringe, cower and giggle like a kid. I asked my friends when writing this why they attend these shows, and the consensus was strong – the striptease element is the last thing on the list. They come to find something different, something entertaining, to find like minded people and to have fun. The nudity in the shows is a great leveller. It’s an opportunity to dress up, to drink cocktails and smoke cigars, to travel to another world for one night only. And who among us doesn’t enjoy some escapism now and then?

If you think you’d like to give a show a go, then I would highly recommend any of the following nights:

The League of Decadent Bastards

This will be the show of the summer – an all male cast and an amazing line up including some of my favourite cabaret artists, a proper treat for the senses!

Burlesque and Cabaret Social Club

The mainstay of the Dublin scene, mostly classical and vintage burlesque and music, monthly, at the Sugar Club

The Love Cats Burlesque

Fabulous troupe of burlesque artists, comedians and musicians in Dublin

Dr Sketchy’s anti-art school – for the artists among us – where life drawing meets cabaret

AND watch out for shows from: Sedition Industries, AWOL tattoo studio Galway, The Pony Girls, Midnight Burlectro, Sideshow Cabaret and many more over 2011.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She has been working in women’s health and education for many years. In her spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and is a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi.
Her twitter is ciara_oc

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