Category: Points of Interest

Farage’s Facts

farageI admire Nigel Farage. I really do. He’s the best politician I’ve seen in years: a straight talker, absolutely unflappable no matter what’s flung at him, a good-to-honest all-round bloke who has “the guts to say what we’re all thinking”. That last quote is key. It’s everywhere, from comments on news sites to Twitter to Facebook. I’m sure it’s even made it off the internet but I can’t be bothered to go outside to check.

Lately, the gutsy Mr. Farage had this to say about HIV and health tourism in the UK:

“There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive, but 60 per cent of them are not for British nationals.”

“You can come to Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient. I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into this system for decades.”

Despite however the Guardian and Independent try to spin it, these are welcome words for many of us, yet another example of Farage telling us the cold, hard facts that the other party leaders are just too weak, too afraid or too left-wing to admit. Once again, I can’t help but admire Farage’s way with words. Everything he says sounds like simple common sense backed up by an unfortunate but hard reality.

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that he’s a racist, convince you that the best thing for public health is to keep offering retroviral drugs to foreigners free of charge, nor am I going to throw endless barrels of statistics at you to convince you he’s wrong. Instead, I want to examine his straight talk and give it a gentle poke. I won’t twist or turn his words against him. How could I? After all, the fact of the matter is clear: sixty percent of positive HIV diagnoses are not for British nationals. If this isn’t damning evidence of health tourism in the UK then what on earth is?

But isn’t there something odd about that phrase: ‘not for British Nationals’. Not ‘tourists’ or ‘visitors’, but ‘not British Nationals’. And this is where Nigel makes a small slip: non-British Nationals includes migrant workers, students and other residents as well. In fact, it includes anyone who isn’t a British citizen, regardless of whether their income taxes or tuition (often three times the price of that for a British student) go towards paying for services in the country they live in. With almost 12 million foreign residents in the UK, that’s a hell of a lot of people, paying or not, to ignore.

But I’m sure we can forgive ‘straight-talking’ Nigel for this mistake. Despite a slightly misleading statistic, he’s still right about health tourism isn’t he? What about all those tourists popping over for a quick check-up before checking out with drugs that could have treated grandma’s breast cancer instead? What about all those students on fake student study visas? Surely they are accessing services they have no right to use?

Perhaps, but only if they stay for more than six months, which is how long you need to be in the UK before you can access HIV treatment on the NHS. Regardless of how sincere Nigel sounds when he tells you otherwise, there are actually safeguards against the misuse of public services. So many, in fact, that even hardline Tories supported foreign access to HIV treatment when it was proposed back in 2012, bringing it into line with all other infectious disease treatment.

Isn’t it odd that Nigel only gave us a figure about foreigners’ diagnoses of HIV rather than the figures of those who were actually treated? Also as a footnote, short-term study visas expire after six months leaving only the twice-as-expensive extended study visas for those trying to cheat the system.

The final strangeness thing about gusty Nigel’s facts is that he decided to use HIV as an example at all. After all, he could have chosen any illness, and didn’t he himself say that there was no difference in principle between HIV and cancer treatment?

Once again, I’m not going to claim that his using HIV as an example was intended to conjure up old bogeymen of race and sexuality, designed to scare you with an implied army of gays and blacks descending to the UK to infect us all with their ill-gotten illnesses. That would be insulting to your intelligence and, in any case, I don’t think you’re either homophobic or racist.

But what is slightly odd is that he chose an illness which, due to factors beyond any individual’s control, so drastically affects people from countries other than our own. I mean, that would be sure to artificially inflate the number of foreign residents diagnosed with it compared to British-born citizens. In fact, the only way he could have inflated it more was by using sickle-cell anaemia instead.

This is all rather troubling. Perhaps we should ask Nigel to clarify some of these points. If health tourism is real and prevalent  we should absolutely stop it before it’s too late. I’m sure he’s got some facts that prove it beyond all doubt. All these misleading errors were surely just unfortunate mistakes.

Of course, it goes without saying that none of this makes Nigel any less gutsy. After all, it takes some real balls to claim you’re straight-talking while lying through your teeth.

Perfection in Gender

A response to this.

Dear Inez,

Before I begin I should make the following very clear. I understand that you did not intend any offense and that your blog post was not a political statement or an assertion of concrete gender differences. You were very clear that everything you wrote was based on your own personal observations and musings and not informed by some agenda or scientific study. As such, you might regard my rather argumentative reply, driven by both my politics and my academic background, as misplaced.

However, no matter how tentatively and hypothetically your points were made, they undeniably boil down to the following:

  • Women tend to search for perfection in a romantic partner.
  • This is indicative of a lack of love for oneself.
  • A solution is for women to be more man-like in their attitudes towards love and perfection.

You were quite right in one respect, this most certainly would not go down well in feminism class. Despite your benign intentions you’ve expressed an attitude that, despite our best efforts as a society, is still endemic to many. Furthermore, it directly harms the eventual goal of gender equality. It is for this reason I feel compelled to respond, and hope to convince you of the above. After all, all hypotheses deserve a thorough investigation.

Let’s look at the first two points. It might surprise you to know that although I doubt their robustness I am not going to argue against them. In regards to these statements, my problem is with what you’ve left unsaid. Despite the fact that you’ve seen enough women searching desperately and futilely for perfection, presumably out of a deep dissatisfaction with themselves, at no point do you ask the question ‘why?’.

I hope to show you that this is a question of great importance and that not addressing it, especially when generalising about gender, is simply not enough. So, why is there such a marked disparity between the genders in the way they search for love? And why do many women lack self-love?

I take it that you don’t believe that these are traits inherent to the sexes. It would be a great disservice to all women to suggest that they are simply naturally predisposed to dislike themselves and seek out external validation, while men are happy to bob along merrily, choosing jobs, degrees and lovers for their own merits, secure in the knowledge that they themselves are perfect just the way they are.

But if nature isn’t to blame then there’s only one culprit left: nurture.

It should be obvious that there is a great divide in how the genders are portrayed in culture in general and the media in particular. From films to magazines to advertising, men are portrayed as confident and self-assured while women are offered a wide selection of methods to hide their imperfections. I could argue this point further but I think the following sketch from Mitchell and Webb says it best:

In any case, what’s more important than the mere existence of these stereotypes is knowing how they affect us. Many studies have shown time and time again that stereotypes affect our behaviour automatically unless we exercise careful and conscious control over them (Devine, 1989). This effect cares little for whether you’re a member of a marginalised group or not, or even whether you’re explicitly prejudiced. Whether you’re with them or against them or even if you are them: negative stereotypes affect your behaviour towards members of that group (Correll, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2002).

What’s worse and more pertinent is that they affect our attitudes towards ourselves. Simply being aware of a stereotype can affect your performance on tasks you are perfectly capable of (Schmader & Johns 2003). In regards to gender, even if they’re skilled at something, merely being told that women are generally worse is sometimes enough to make them defer to a man (Foschi, 2009).

Although admittedly, it might appear that nothing I’ve said has anything to do with love and perfection, consider the following: what are the prevalent stereotypes of gender when it comes to relationships? What about beauty and self-confidence? Below are two adverts from the same parent company, one for him, one for her. I’ll let them speak to this point.

Given these stereotypes, would it be terribly surprising if there were a trend among women to seek out perfection in their partners, or that men would be so laid back in their search? Further to this would it be terribly surprising that women lack confidence in a world that constantly tells them that they should?

Now, given this context, let’s look at your proposed solution. For every woman who is too picky and insecure when looking for a partner there is an option: try and act more like a man. On the surface this seems like a good solution. If your own stereotype is getting you down, why not just adopt someone else’s?

Unfortunately, it’s harder than you might think. As damaging as gender stereotypes may be to both men and women, stepping out of them can be even more so. Women who adopt stereotypically masculine traits (read ‘confident and decisive’) are actively discriminated against (Rudman, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Nauts, 2012). The very same traits that render a man more attractive in the eyes of others simply serve to make a woman less. Just for the sake of completion, it should be noted that the same applies men for feminine traits (Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Rudman, 2010), but honestly, the fact we have a monopoly on leadership qualities seems pretty indicative of who’s got it worse.

So, where does that leave us? Even if the women you see selfishly chasing after some unattainable notion of perfection in order to feel better about themselves were to rail against the societal conditioning that helped them down that path, if they were to stand up and act more ‘man-like’ for the sake of their own self-respect, it would actually be to their detriment in the eyes of their peers.

Does that mean they shouldn’t try? Of course not! They should rail away, stereotypes and society be damned! But the central point is this: blaming negative traits of your gender (or any group for that matter) on the individuals that make it is missing the point by a long margin. These maligned traits and behaviours are part of a wider problem that is up to all of us, women and men and everyone between, to fight against with every effort that we have. As long as confidence and decisiveness are seen as manly traits, and pickiness, perfection and self-hatred are seen as feminine traits, there is a serious infection at the heart of our culture.

It is that illness which should be at the centre of our focus, and not some passing observation that women should “man up”.

Thank you for your time.

References

Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2002). The police officer’s dilemma: using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1314–1329.

Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Foschi, M. (2009). Gender, performance level, and competence standards in task groups. Social Science Research, 38(2), 447–457.

Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Rudman, L. A. (2010). When men break the gender rules: Status incongruity and backlash against modest men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

Rudman, L. A., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 165–179.

Schmader, T., & Johns, M. (2003). Converging evidence that stereotype threat reduces working memory capacity. Journal of Personality and Social …, 85(3), 440–452.

A Plea To Scotland

To all YES voters. Thank you. You’ve reinvigorated political debate and got us talking and caring about issues about which we’ve long been complacent. You’ve pushed Westminster to breaking point and extracted promises of change and devolution.

Now, please, listen to a plea from the rest of the UK and vote NO, not for your sake, but ours. Your grievances with Westminster are legitimate but they are not yours alone, they are shared by anyone and everyone hungry for change in the UK and there are many of us (even in London). If you leave now, you’ll cripple our chances at the change you seek.

If you stay, you’ll be granted all the powers Westminster promised and set the precedent for a new model of British government that takes the power from the elite few and gives it to those who know how best to use it. With your help we can push it further, acquiring similar powers for regions across the UK.

Fearful that Westminster will go back on their word? Don’t be. You’ll have allies everywhere, across the voting booths in the No campaign and across the border in England and Wales. We will fight with you and we will hold them to their word.

So please, vote NO and harness the spark you’ve awoken to fan a great flame that will start change across the whole of the UK and not just Scotland.

Also, I’ll miss you.

Sexism and Salsa

Women are infiltrating the workplace at an alarming rate. Who can doubt that gender equality has been well and truly achieved when women make up 47% of the UK workforce? And it’s not just grunt work either, they’re actually leading. More women than ever are taking the top positions in the world’s most successful companies. In fact the proportion of female directors in the FTSE 100 is at an all-time high at…17.3%. Really? Well what of the Fortune 500? There, women make up…16.9% of board seats and 14.6% of CEOs. Hmm.

Perhaps they’re faring better in politics. Sure enough, the number of women MPs has never been so high. There are 147 in total which translates to just over…22% of the total. Well, at least we had a lady PM once!

Admittedly it’s an improvement on previous years and decades but still, celebration seems a bit premature. Before I gripe too much I should give credit where credit’s due and acknowledge that the UK has come a long way in a relatively short time. After all, it’s been less than a century since women were even afforded equal voting rights. The fact that any have made it into top leadership positions is surely one up for the good guys, right?

Maybe, or maybe there’s some basic groundwork that we’ve missed out on somewhere down the line. The idea of women leading may not seem so strange anymore but it’s still certainly very far from the norm. I have spent some time wondering why this is and recently, one possible answer struck me from an odd direction.

Some of you may know that I’ve developed a love for salsa. Despite being told by a number of people that it’s solely the purview of fifty-year old housewives, I enjoy nothing more than heading down to my local salsa club on a Sunday night and spinning about the floor in my shiny, shiny dance shoes.

However, recently, I was troubled by a rather uncomfortable thought. Despite having danced for a while now (and developed sufficient skills to avoid giving most of my partners black eyes) I have no idea how to follow.

In salsa, and indeed all partner dancing, it is simply the case that the male leads and the female follows. The man has near complete control over every move performed and it is his will, his whims that the woman bends and spins to.

Now, lest I be accused of only telling half the story, I should note that, among the group I dance with, there are a good number of women who know how to lead and frequently do so with great skill. However, it’s notable when such an event occurs it’s often not preceded with the phrase ‘I’ll lead’ but rather ‘I’ll be the man’. More worryingly, outside of a teaching environment, I have never seen a man follow. And yet this is accepted as perfectly fine and normal and few people, if any, bat an eyelid.

I began to wonder why this was and took to the internet for answers. Yahoo and Wikipedia provided little enlightenment, attributing it to ‘etiquette’. Unfortunately, ‘etiquette’ is merely a  fancy word for ‘tradition’ stating merely that ‘this is how things are done’ without giving any reason as to why.

Then, I came across this article which purported to give some answers. Have a brief skim before continuing.

My first reaction was one of puzzlement as many of the arguments seemed not only confused but blatantly false.

The first argument, that ‘someone has to lead’, is just silly. Of course someone has to lead and someone has to follow, I doubt anyone would argue otherwise. The relevant question is why should the role be necessarily attached to the partner’s gender and fixed for every single dance?

The author attempts to provide some answers to this. He follows up with the facts that women are generally weaker and shorter than men, and that them leading could result in damage and injury to both parties. In my admittedly limited experience, this still seems rather dubious.

Now, I’m not the most beefy guy, in fact I’m positively weedy, but I have still managed to drop women of my height and taller while causing very little injury (which I blame on my technique rather than my strength). In fact, I actually find it less convenient to dance with a much shorter partner than someone of equal or greater height as our differing reaches tend to result in awkward contortions.

Still, it may be true that there are a few moves which short and weak women would be unable to pull off. However, the very same would be true of short and weak men. A few extreme cases seem an odd foundation on which to build a convention.

I could go further and examine arguments six through ten but rather than doing that I’d like you to do me a favour. Read through the article’s headings again and imagine that instead of talking about partner dancing, the author’s talking about men and women’s roles in the workplace. I’ll wait.

I’ll admit that it might take some jiggling of verbs and adjectives for the point to become salient but in case you missed it here’s where I stand:

Even if masculine and feminine styles of dance (or management) are markedly distinct and worth preserving as such, there seems little to no reason to attach all but complete control to one gender exclusively. In fact, I would argue that doing so is purposefully harmful.

Even if it is aesthetic for men to present as strong and firm, for women to be pretty and wiggly, what does absolute control of one gender over the other really convey? For all the talk of ‘collaboration’ it is still excruciatingly clear who chooses the direction, the rhythm, whether to come together and break apart. Why should we accept this inequality in our social lives if we wouldn’t at work or at home?

Finally, let’s finally take look at point five from the article. This, I think, is the most abhorrent line of reasoning in the whole piece, more so because it represents a destructive notion present in the back of many modern minds, both male and female. Good old Lloyd says quite openly that men and women learning each other’s parts would result in twice the work and half the attainment. In short, that a lack of distinction between our roles would result in all of us being worse off overall.

This ‘separate but equal’ rhetoric has been applied to many causes over the years, most far worse than this one. But even leaving the grotesque undertones aside, the argument is obviously false. I can’t imagine any universe where walking a mile in another’s shoes (be they high heels or flats) would result in anything less than understanding and improvement. I wholeheartedly believe that if I were to spend some time following I would gain whole new perspective on how I should lead. And no, I’m not just talking about dancing.

In short, when we talk about equality we often limit our discussion to public spheres: education, employment, politics. All too rarely do we examine what we’re doing privately, and we really should. It’s not our legal and human rights that define who we are but our hobbies, our interests, our innermost thoughts and it is these that determine how we behave towards others. And it’s because of this fact, we should take extra care with anything that might lead us to believe that an imbalanced state of  affairs is in any way acceptable.

I, for one, know that despite everything I’ve said here, if a woman were to try to lead me when I next go dancing, I would be completely embarrassed, even emasculated and all because I’d temporarily surrender the control that has always been my privilege. But I wonder, what would I think of the matter if I had learned to follow as well as lead from day one? That niggling challenge to my manhood might not exist, I might understand my partners better, and, who knows, my dancing might be even more phenomenal.

Harking back to the start of this post, I’ll restate my initial puzzle: Why, in our modern and progressive society, don’t more women lead? Surely the answer is another question: Why should there be, if men don’t know how to follow?

Misogyny and Mass Murderers

I shall try to make this post as brief as possible and do my best not to be a hypocrite, though the latter will be quite difficult.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week a young man went out and shot a number of women. Since then he hasn’t left our screens. After the first round of coverage, we’d learned everything about the incident itself, courtesy of excessive news coverage by 24 hour stations, and everything about his madness, courtesy of his manifesto being published all over the web and his last YouTube video being played by every channel and website.

Then came the second round, the dissection of his motives by bloggers and news sites alike. This particular killer’s actions have been attributed to everything from misogyny, to lax gun laws to Hollywood (Judd Apatow films by the Washington Post, The Hunger Games by Rush Limbaugh).

I am not here to add to this discussion. I am here to ask that it stop. Any mention of this man’s name only elevates his infamy, making his actions more successful and inspiring others to follow in his path.

After every mass shooting, after every serial killing we go through the same three-ring circus. The first is a frenzy of voyeurism, where no blurred Facebook photo, no shaky home video of the killer is too mundane or obscure to be broadcast.

The second is an orgy of opinion, where every cause tries to claim the tragedy as a demonstration of the evils they see in society. The killer is held up as a poster boy, as either the monster the evils created or the victim of their influence.

The third is a quiet chorus that desperately asks that we not award the killer the fame he desired. It carefully goes through the undeniable evidence that our voices raised in horror and pity only serve to feed the cycle of infamy that will inevitably create the next monster.

What’s most tragic about this particular cycle is that this incident has been co-opted by causes I believe in. The #YesAllWomen campaign and feminist perspectives in general, advocates for stricter gun control and tireless advocates for the better understanding of mental illness have all weighed in and held up this man’s actions as a cause to rally behind.

I don’t doubt that for every blogger who’s only trying to promote themselves through controversy there are another five who are doing it out of genuine belief but the point remains that on many of these blogs, this man’s name is said, mostly shouted. His picture is in the header. His last video is embedded in the article.

It is these people I address when I say please, let him fade into obscurity. The causes you promote are important and worthwhile and don’t need this incident to draw attention to them. Don’t let your fervour lead to inspire the next killer and to contribute to the death of his victims.

There are better ways to promote better mental health than holding up a case like this. Feminism doesn’t need a misogynist to commit mass murder to validate its points when rape and domestic violence statistics exist. Even gun control advocates can let him become another number to bolster their cause, without having to show his face.

Let his name die and you might prevent another from taking his place.

© 2017 Michael Scoins