#OpenMinday – The harassment of women and the fear of men @DawnHFoster

What is Open Minday?

I’m sorry to every woman that I scoffed at for not walking home along a route that made them uncomfortable, but that I was happy with day or night. I’m sorry to every woman that I made to feel belittled through my disbelief of their stories of harassment. I’m sorry to every woman who felt as if I’d brushed their experiences aside because of my own.

Just the other week I was attempting to illustrate how white, middle-class western men already know what it feels like to be a woman, they just don’t realise it. The headline was nice, and I tried hard in the article to make my point. A point I thought I had grasped. But, as it turns out, I was distressingly far from the truth. I’m sorry for this, too.

My mistake was clear once I’d read @DawnHFoster, her blog post Background Noise, and the shockingly close-to-hand anecdotes of real women that she collated. I wanted to help men empathise with how women can feel intimidated. Dawn’s article is cold, unavoidable evidence of the active and actual harassment women suffer all the fucking time.

By the end I didn’t know whether to be more upset or furious, but I was also concerned that by expressing the keenness of my feelings I’d be stepping on the toes of the women who’d had these experiences. Does a man responding emotively to such awfulness end up overriding the perspective and justified feelings of the women involved?

Oh, what a tonne of bullshit.

Sadly the comment below below mine is a neat illustration of how a male response can be an obstacle. It’s by a man who has read the article and is taking time to comment, and who could be assumed to have given a level of consideration to the topic. But it’s a dispassionate voice, a defeated voice, a voice that does nobody any good.

“This isn’t a problem anyone can solve,” it begins, perfectly, though admittedly severed from the only natural sub-clause to such a statement: learn to put up with it. Instead it’s followed by a defence of inaction and a description of the perceived outcome, the feared outcome – that acting to protect might result in being labelled misogynistic.

Men, a question. Would you rather be called misogynistic by a traumatised woman who has been assaulted before your eyes while you did nothing, or by a terrified but now safe woman who has been protected from assault by your actions?

This is not about YOU. This is about HER.

As I wrote in my comment, I’ve never witnessed the level of inexcusable treatment that these women are talking about. But I did once step in to challenge a drunk, pathetic and unthreatening man who was subjecting a young Middle Eastern guy to a sustained racist verbal assault. This was an easy thing to do.

It was easy because I could talk the idiot into the ground. It was easy because his assault was entirely verbal and only barely coherent. It was easy because there was never any threat to me, either verbal or physical. It was an easy thing to do.

But I will admit that I am scared at the prospect of stepping in to protect a woman being surrounded by a group of men. I fear that a man who has found it so easy to violently or aggressively intimidate a woman would not hesitate to turn the same level of violent or aggressive intimidation against a man who is not strong, threatening or big.

I’m average size, I’m no alpha male and I simply don’t have the capacity to intimidate another man. Especially not the sort of masculine waste product that congeals in numbers and treats women as community property or sub-human objects. I’m scared. I’m afraid of being beaten up. I’m terrified of becoming a headline.

But at least I don’t suffer the fear that grips others. Manboys who fear being ostracised by other manboys, childmen who fear their ability to take a joke being questioned, as if casual assault were an established comic vehicle. Emotionally stunted and tribalistic males who value belonging above self-regard, above pride, above all else.

Because it’s fears like these, abstract and unexamined, that lead to male and female (but mostly male) commenters to turn discussions expressing rage at sexual assault into discussions about how difficult it would be to police a wolf-whistle. Or for debates about rape to twist into redundant arguments over whether all men are potential rapists.

(On a side note, before anyone talks about rape culture they should read Shakesville’s blog post on the subject. For me, the term is encapsulated in a single point: “Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention”. Our approach to rape prevention reduces rape to burglary, and by extension, women to objects.)

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” is overused but the more I read, the more I experience and the more I see the more accurate and spearing the statement becomes. Men, arguing that you are not a rapist and shouldn’t be treated like one is not helping. Standing up for a woman’s right to be protected from rape is.

At the heart of the problem as I see it is that many male voices, many So-Called-Men, can’t see the difference in their position (their privileged position) and the position of women. Women aren’t resisting change, So-Called-Men are. So-Called-Men aren’t standing for something, they’re standing against something.

Women are asking to be considered, to be given respect. SCMen are asking to be excused the responsibility of doing this. Women want equality, an equal share. SCMen don’t want to give up anything in order to balance the scales. Women speaking out are speaking out against society. SCMen are only speaking out against women.

I want to believe that I would stand up for the principles I believe in and defend a victim of harassment, but I cannot deny that I am afraid of the physical fallout of doing such a thing. But because I accept my fear it’s something I can consider, I can examine. SCMen bury their fears so deep that discussion or examination is impossible.

If you are really afraid that by stepping in to protect a woman who is being harassed you will be thought of as misogynist, then I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you’ve allowed your fear to suffocate your principles. But I suspect that at the heart of your fear is a conflict, because you have never been taught to examine or discover your own principles.

Do you know what you stand for? Have you ever asked yourself what your principles are?

Behind misogyny, as with every prejudice, is fear. I am afraid of being beaten to a pulp, but by examining what I believe, by understanding what I stand for, I can face that fear with the strength of my principles. But if you don’t know your principles or what you stand for, how can you challenge what makes you afraid? How can you challenge harassment?

So-Called-Men are afraid. But women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces – are being harassed. Men should never be afraid of wanting to stop this.

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#OpenMinday – Sport, commentary and banter @BarnayRonay @EvaWiseman @martinkelner

What is Open Minday?

The oily slipperiness of banterese makes attempting to pin down why it’s become the touchstone of maleness (or, at least, self-proclaimed ‘ladness’) a Sisyphean task. The banterers aren’t listening.

Anyway, @BarnayRonay has already expertly speared the way banter has weedled its way into mainstream sport (or football, as it’s known outside of the tabloid back pages) all  shit-eating grin and shrugged shoulders, hands raised in defence, “It’s only bants!”

And @EvaWiseman took a scalpel to the seams holding together the “Just bants, gramps!” excuses, in the awkward silence as UniLad shuffled its feet and squeaked out an apology for celebrating the low convinction rate of rapists.

Banter is now, essentially, an excuse to be inexcusable. It’s driven by fear – of silence, of being outflanked, of failing to be the dog that’s doing the eating. It’s tribal, it’s aggressive. It’s not sparring with words, it’s half-formed nonthoughts scrapping like boys in a playground, all headlocks and hamfisted thumps.

The “it’s just a joke!” defence means one thing – “I didn’t mean it!”. Banter is a loud and unpleasant fart, semi-self aware, guiltily enjoyed for the effect it has on bystanders but ultimately and unavoidably a waste product that could have been avoided. Or at the very least genuinely apologised for.

In 2012 banter isn’t Oscar Wilde or even Newman and Baddiel. Like Barnay Ronay says, banter is “anti-chemistry”. It’s shutting other people down, drowning other voices out, filling the verbal space with guff spuffed directly from the sludge of the unconscious, the hindbrain, bypassing thought.

I stopped watching football after binging on the World Cup in 2010. I’ve since lost all interest in the sport. One summer of listening to men paid to share their knowledge and experience of the game blurt out inane, uninformed lazy commentary was enough to kill football for me forever. My own knees, meanwhile, were enough to stop me playing.

“This player has the ball, oh and now that player has the ball, he’s taken the ball past another player and hit the ball with his foot and, oh, the striker nearly put the ball into the net to score a goal which as we all know would have made the game a different game to the game which we are watching now which is actually still the same game because what I said could have happened didn’t.”

I’ve thrown myself into cricket instead, a sport that can still boast a full-voiced beer-fuelled population while managing to talk about itself without smirking, joking, winking or nudging. Cricket commentary in every form covers the game, the tactics, life and everything inbetween. Football commentary seems trapped in inane nothingness. In banter.

Almost a year ago @MartinKelner wrote a fantastic article comparing the sparse, sure-footed commentary of Brian Moore in the 1981 FA Cup Final with the nonstop nothing-speak of latter-day TV sofa-saints like Clive Tyldesley: “It is almost like a form of Tourette’s”. Or banter.

There are some great analysts in football – I loved Gordon Strachan’s short stint on Match of the Day, and occasionally one of the old cloggers will shed light on an aspect of the game usually given nothing even approaching lipservice by the Andy Grays and Richard Keys of the world. But you simply can’t fill every second of a match with considered thought.

But banter can fill a thousand stadia, a hundred thousand silences. So commentators banter with each other, cast judgement on a player’s off-field life or make idiot abstract observations. And the language of football, the teased statistics, gives these babblers all the mouth-amunition they need to fill every second of a match with unconsidered nonthought.

In Saturday night pubs automaton voices parrot the same witless verbage, proving their commitment to the sport through their dedication to memorising the accepted phraseology. And on the Sunday morning sports fields the adult voices bellow remembered lines of commentary at confused kids attempting to learn an incredibly technical game. Attempting to enjoy learning an intricate and hugely tactical game.

What other sport promotes the voice of the fat-ankled radio presenter, the bellowing fan, to such a towering level they can spit out judgements of a player’s commitment or effort while picking donut out of their teeth? How can you take seriously a sport which insists on elevatating the recognisable voices, the cloned outrages, the echoed opinions?

The phone-ins complain about the skills of English players, players who have only ever been told to hoof it out of danger into the channels or the mixer, who never heard an extended and exploded discussion of the thought behind the action during their grassroots years, who grew up listening to commentators filling dead air with dead thoughts.

I honestly believe that commentary is a huge and compelling factor behind the English football team’s inability to win a major tournament. It’s a cycle of non-ambition that begins with watching the game on TV, through to the yelling of fans in the stalls, and the limp questioning of TV interviewers in post-match broadcasts.

And it’s this need to banter, to talk, to spout noise endlessly at all levels of a game that has the same base strength as cricket or rugby (another sport that manages to retain thought without being sapped of excitement) that makes football the obvious contender for mainstream tribalism, easy access sports tourism.

It’s precisely because of this ubiquitousness of football that the massive influence of TV and radio mouthpieces spouting sport talk about anything but sport can’t be underestimated. Football can’t go anywhere but down if it continues to elect its champions from the ranks of the banterers, the unreconstructed lads, the echo chambers in human form.

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I’m white, middle-class, male and live in the west. I know what it’s like to be a woman #OpenMinday

What is #OpenMinday?

There is no opposite to racism or sexism. When I see a woman I don’t see a sexless thing. I see a person who is female, a person who is not my sex, a person who is fundamentally different to me on an obvious level. But this doesn’t make me sexist.

Walking last week I passed between two very tall black students stood chatting calmly on the path ahead of me. The gap between them was more than big enough for me to walk through. They didn’t look at me. But I didn’t see colourless ‘persons’, I saw two people who were black. This doesn’t make me racist.

A person who is black is black. A person who is white is white. A person who is tall is tall. To be someone who resists, who rejects and who stands against racism or sexism or any prejudice isn’t to be someone who doesn’t see these truths. It’s to be someone who sees that all of these people are people first.

One of the things that struck me while my wife and I visited a naturist resort last year was how naturists are just people. Being a naturist doesn’t mean they have this view or that view. Being a naturist is an expression of the views that they have as a person.

But on that visit I couldn’t shake the pre-conceived idea I’d had of naturists. I viewed the whole visit with a cynical eye, looking for the dark cracks in the ordinary surface. Looking at something I didn’t understand and expecting the worst.

Honestly, when I approached these two black men I became self-consciously non-racist, like an idiot. I went over every thought I usually have in this situation: Is it racist to look? Is it racist not to look? Is it racist to walk slower or faster? Is it racist to smile or not to smile? And how do I make peace with the fact that I feel intimidated? Is that racist?

Put me in a dark night at 3am after all the pubs have kicked out and see me walking towards two young tall men of any description who are taking up my path onwards, forcing me to pass between them, and I would feel at least this same discomfort.

I don’t know who they are, I can’t judge their temperament and I feel vulnerable because to go on I have to submit to being surrounded. But this is in the depths of night. Why do I feel this way in the middle of the day? The only answer can be because they are black.

It hurts me that I feel indimidated by black men, because I loathe the swallowed-racism I’ve somehow internalised without evidence. But my bewilderment at these feelings surely can’t begin to match the confusion and frustration that would be felt by the two students if I told them how I felt. And why shouldn’t they be confused? Offended, even.

When the morons who created UniLad’s ‘banter’-inspired content found themselves hauled up as an example of how men normalise rape it struck me that even in the places that men are attempting to talk about how men normalise rape, there’s still a fervent defensive streak fuelled by men failing to understand that they know what it’s like to be a woman.

The majority of men who would even have such a conversation would be white, western and middle-class (to be judgemental, but see GoodMenProject for examples of this neverending circular discussion). And I believe that a good deal of them would have experienced what I’ve experienced, and would feel exactly the same self-conflict.

The fact is that this discomfort, this self-conflict and self-conscious attempt to be both invisible and visibly not making yourself invisible, is experienced by women all the time whether they’re walking alone or not. Men intimidate women. The attempt to justify the normalisation of rape as ‘banter’ or a joke does nothing to solve this.

Plenty of men I have read online are aghast, offended, upset or even furious that a woman would class them as a potential rapist. I’ve been among this number. Because it feels idiotic, doesn’t it? It feels unjust. Exactly how those two tall black students would have felt if they’d known what I was thinking. Probably, they did know what I was thinking.

White, western, middle-class men have a lot of priviledges, but being able to have our cake and eat it is one that in the modern world has to mark us out as all sorts of -ists. Racists, sexists… they all have two things in common. They’re people who see the detail before the person and who will defend their right to do so.

I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable, to hate myself for prejudging someone, but to also know that I’m doing so because I want to protect myself and avoid finding myself in a situation I’m not prepared for. Is that wrong? Only if I ignore everything else but the detail, only if I don’t see the person first.

I don’t think it’s right for women to see every man as a potential rapist, but then I don’t think it’s right for any man to be a rapist and there’s plenty of debate about that too. Rape is bad. Women want to protect themselves, rightly, from it happening to them. Who am I to blame them if their methods make me sad?

It’s men who believe that their rights are under attack who we should be arguing with, not the women who just want to avoid being brutalised. Because we all know what it feels like to be vulnerable, to be uncomfortable. Would you appreciate being made to feel guilty for feeling that way, too?

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On Tuition Fee Mistakes and #OpenBook, @mariellaf1, @BBCRadio4 @MartinSLewis #OpenMindaySpecial

A message I wanted to submit to Radio 4’s Open Book programme but was unable to do so due to the limits of the contact form.

Dear Mariella and Open Book,

I admire you very much and enjoy your podcast immensely. But I nearly chewed through my steering wheel this morning in frustration as Ben Masters and Prof John Bowen aired  ridiculously uninformed comments on the impact of tuition fees on modern students.

To suggest a sort of Brideshead reimagined, where a “two-tier” system exists not only between the privileged ‘finishing-school’ students of monied families and earnestly grateful young people from underprivileged households, but also between universities themselves (without clarifying what exactly this might implicate or mean) points to a void of understanding of the lives of students today and the HE system itself. This is a surprise to hear from two writers with such a strong connection to student life.

But to allow the misjudged, if popular, assertion that tuition fees means fewer students from low-income families will be able to finance their studies to stand unchallenged by the facts is irresponsible. Mariella, I would have anticipated you at least to question this unformed, knee-jerk opinion with your trademark spearing intellect.

In actual fact, by comparison to my own entry into HE, it is now far more immediately affordable for anyone to go to University than it was a decade ago when £3,000 worth of fees was payable up front.

And as the tireless Martin Lewis will explain to you, in careful and slow detail if required, even a drop to fees of £6k would benefit only those who leave uni into a job with a starting salary of £30k+. I can tell you categorically that this is hardly a broad swathe of graduates.

The moral panic that has gripped discussions about tuition fees wilfully ignores the reality: At a salary of £21k a graduate pays back less a month than an iPhone contract; Mortgage brokers and credit agencies have stated that student ‘debt’ will not affect calculations; The entire debt will be written off completely after 30 years regardless of payments.

I only wish I had gone to university 10 years later and ‘suffered’ the new fees. I entered in 2000. At the moment I pay back over £120 a month to my student loan. I began paying it back when I earned over £15k a year. This was more than two years after I had graduated (having been a journalist) which meant that I am only now, after working full-time for 8 years, beginning to see the total drop noticeably beyond the £9k I left with in 2003. And this does not even touch the £3k a year in fees which was paid by my parents.

Under the new system I’d pay £80 a month (£40 can be very useful). This would see the interest drive the total higher and higher but at this point in my career I would be just as close (if not closer) to being free of the debt as 2012 loans will be written off 30 years after graduation whereas my actual loan will exist until I every penny is paid. Or I die.

I would go so far as to suggest that in the last 10 years, perhaps almost 15 years, there has been no better time for a student of the arts or humanities to go to university. Careers in the arts and humanities traditionally not only start below 21k but often will rarely step significantly over this line, making the lifetime repayment a fair fee for a higher education.

I am fortunate in earning far more than I ever dreamed was possible, given my English degree and my distaste for management or upper office roles, but my ambitions to become a full-time writer do not combine as well with the 2000 fees as they would do with the 2012 fee. I have to face the fact that I may never pay off my debt.

The obfuscation around this issue makes me furious. Especially so when a highly respected and intellectual arts and humanities service such as Open Book gives credence to such idiotic, ill-considered conclusions that do nothing but pile higher the blind fear and confusion which feeds newspapers and commenters with low ambitions.

The question of whether increased fees would impact on campus novels was cack-handled in similar fashion by the two guests. The lives and loves of a generation of students who might carry alarming and undeniable debt but who are also empowered by the ownership of their education (not gifted it as I was by my parents) and the prospect of the future emotional and financial payback of making good on both that ownership and the debt owed, promise truly gripping and moving pieces of work.

Work that a 2015 graduate, with no repayments to make until they had reached 21k (a mark of fair success and comfort by any measure) and who had paid less upfront than myself to enter university, would be perfectly well positioned to create.

If I weren’t already deep in another project I would write it myself. Perhaps, in a few years, I will. At which point I look forward to the privilege of being invited to talk with you on Open Book, Mariella, about how the unreconstructed opinions of two men inspired me to write this message and begin the entire process.

Thank you for your time,

Ben Catley-Richardson

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#OpenMinday – A mature individualism @diane1859 @shepleygreen

What is Open Minday?

“To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people.”
Promo for The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis

Even if this belief is challenged by Curtis’ documentary, which illustrates how Freudian psychology has been employed by business and politics to control the masses through the illusion of individual power, the power of the individual is still formidable.

In the West we live in a culture which cultivates and rewards individualism. Though only a specific kind – survivalists are a joke and people outside of conventional society are suspicious, but we all act as consumers in order to get through the day.

That’s not to say we are all driven by consumerism, but if we want to eat, sleep under a roof, create something or enjoy something we have to accept our role as consumers or seek out an alternative – confining us to the crowd outside of conventional acceptance.

A great many people are very good at making our individualist society pay for them, but this is more a testament to the ingenuity of human beings than proof that individualism is a natural human instinct. The rage expressed against the 1% who are particularly good at manipulating the system only highlights how non-human individualism actually is.

Individualism, especially consumerism, is focused on ‘want’ and not gratitude or the urge to contribute towards something external, something ‘not you’. It’s a one-way path, where the world passes into the individual and remains there. Individualism hoards energy.

But for me this is only the first stage of a cycle, the childhood of individualism. The possibility of a return path from individual to the world is occasionally hinted at – those people whose ‘want’ actually drives them to positively contribute, even if they remain essentially selfish regardless of achievement.

If the first stage focuses on the things which travel along that path – the gain which being an individual brings – then the second stage begins when the end point of the path, your own self, finally becomes the focus. In this adolescence of individualism, the questions “Who am I?”, “Why do I want these things?” or “What do I really want?” are unavoidable.

They are huge and alarming questions. I have never felt that anyone taught me to answer them, and my developing self-awareness was so hamstrung by guilt and shame that I was trapped in this stage for almost my entire conscious life. Until I at last discovered that I’d had the capacity to provide the answers myself all along.

By accepting my self I could begin completing the cycle and discover how to return the energy which passed from the world into me back out into the world, and in a way I feel contributes something – the maturity of individualism. My method is this blog, my future writing career. My method is in my contributing to discussion, ideas, thought.

But I’m only a writer, that’s only my method. What’s your method of returning to the world? Look around you and you’ll see a hundred other people, each with their own innate method. But how many of us have discovered what that is?

At a weekend away last year I met a group of people I’ve become hugely interested in, particularly one guy who told me about his business in making furniture and how he was building his own house with his girlfriend, at the same time as a full-time tutor post.

He got up early to use his workshop, taught a full day, then returned home after working into the evening. The more we talked the more obvious it was that he had passed all the way along the cycle far earlier than I had. He had found his method.

Neither of us are exactly changing the world but we are both contributing to it. And, although both of our aims would be to make enough of a living out of our methods that we didn’t have to do anything else, there’s a difference between us and business.

Principally it’s in that simple word, ‘enough’. Consumerism, that one-way strain of individualism, has no understanding or place for the word enough because it suggests that there could possibly be an end to ‘want’, which is only possible if consumerism ends.

As I drew out the other week, the modern structure of business is also unfamiliar with the word enough. The desire to make a living out of your individual method only breaks the flow back into the world if you allow it to forget about ‘enough’ and focus on ‘more’.

I see a future where a vast gulf opens up – between child-like or adolescent individualists (businesses) driving for ‘more’ and mature individualists driven by getting ‘enough’. The businesses will only ever get bigger, because mid-size or smaller companies will be either consumed by corporations or will fail to support the drive for ‘more’, and die away.

The further the corporations get from individuals, the more the mature individualist  groups will be free to express their methods and strive for quality that businesses focused only on wanting more are unable to match. And yet this new mature, mirror-like individualism will still be contributing to the world through the pursuit of individual goals.

If your method creates a product – writing, building, crafting – then it can be easy. But where I see the need for Government is in enabling a change to the shape of our culture so that individuals whose method isn’t so straightforward a match to retail-style society (ie, caring, teaching, healing) can fulfil their individual goals of having ‘enough’ too.

But my point right now is a request for everybody to ask what method exists within themselves, to strive for a mature individualism where that method is expressed in return for ‘enough’. Finding my method taught me that ‘enough’ is less than I thought I needed.

I’ve tried to open your mind this Open Minday, but if you’re interested in expanding your thoughts about society, economy or capitalism then @diane1859 @shepleygreen are the perfect place to start.

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#OpenMinday – Spanking, and parenting @RealDoctorStu @KateKatharina @lizfraser1 @cherrymum1972 @NigelNelson

What is Open Minday?

I loathe TV soaps. But despite this, I can’t ignore the fact that one scene in Coronation Street, of a man smacking a child, is enough to trigger debate about a worthwhile topic in an admirable variety of places.

But whether it’s right to smack your child or not isn’t worth taking much time to think about. Not least because there’s already a huge amount of informed and intelligent writing about it, and my feeling is that any further debate is repetitive, and basically redundant.

What’s more constructive is asking what ‘right’ actually means. The problem is that both sides are so polarised, as @RealDoctorStu neatly illustrates by putting the two arguments side by side, and both truly believe they are right and have evidence to back this up.

I was smacked as a child. For me there is a serious difference between smacking and child abuse. I was smacked, I wasn’t abused. Does that sound depressingly like the repeated, eerily similar phrases every smackee seems to use? The ‘it never did me any harm’, or ‘I deserved it’ or ‘I knew I had done something wrong’? Then let me clear this up.

I was smacked because my parents had finally lost their temper, or their patience, or I had pushed them so far in the arms race of parent-child relations that they had (to them) nowhere else to go but the nuclear option. I wasn’t smacked because they were drunk, bored, or motivated simply to cause me pain and suffering. That’s where I draw the line.

We know that the abuse of children isn’t right. But even in attempting to agree on abuse, not everyone is ready to come along quietly. I don’t know how anyone can see @KateKatharina‘s shocking example of a US judge subjecting his daughter to an experience of inexcusable, pre-meditated abuse of trust and parental responsibility and not recognise it as abuse, as being wrong. But, still, some maintain he was justified.

The line of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ has to be decided personally. Writer @Lizfraser1 shares her discomfort with the idea of parents hitting their kids, but contrasts smacking with hitting. In the Corrie clip she points out the character’s rage as a crucial marker that his actions are more worrisome than the light physical, irregular, discipline she gives her own children.

Parents will, with a slight raising of the hands, confess to smacking. But they’re keen to qualify this as ‘occasional taps’, used ‘once in a while’. Like Liz Fraser, they acknowledge there is a fine line, stressing that smacking has to be ‘used effectively’.

That’s totally at odds with my feelings. I see smacking as the momentary lapses, the times when the parent felt they were left with no other choice, and abuse as the controlled, conscious violence. But parents who do smack see the line into abuse crossed by those who lack the ability to control their level of violence, who lose control and then abuse.

I’m more worried about the parents who consciously smack their children without being angry, impatient or at the end of their tether. Smacking, for me, is the last resort. For these parents it seems to be a vital tool in their disciplinary armoury.

Again, the question of whether it’s right or not to smack your child is defunct, dead in the water. The interesting question to ask is why would you smack your child?

Smacking is seen as discipline, and both arguments question the efficiency of this. For my own part, I will say that I didn’t benefit from smacking, it certainly never taught me anything, it definitely didn’t bring me closer to my parents and I hope that I will never lose my cool enough to do it to my children.

Will my children suffer because of this? Am I buying into a ‘myth’ that smacking isn’t effective? Nothing from my own life fits with the idea that smacking is essential to enforce reason, or to set up a deterrant that otherwise can’t be explained. I am not the self-aware, self-critical and intellectual person I am because I was smacked.

Take the children out of the question for a moment and everything is much clearer. Those campaigning for a ban on smacking seek to define all physical discipline as abuse, while those against… are they seeking anything other than a protection of the parent, a protection of parents struggling to make the best decisions they can?

We all struggle when called to justify decisions we’ve made that skirt the line between acceptable and unacceptable – because in making these decisions we’ve had to define that line ourselves. And often enough we’ve had to make these decisions sooner than we might have liked, without really thinking, without really considering.

My instinct is that I will never smack my children, but my experience tells me that it’s only in knife-edge moments where the decision to smack is made – if it’s even a decision, more a kneejerk reaction to powerlessness. I know that if I have the time to think about smacking I’ll not do it, and I trust that I will always make the effort to make the time to think.

Because it’s not only the child who is smacked that can be affected. In @cherrymum1972‘s example, the act of smacking (a cuff around the ear) is enough to undermine the safety of a child’s classroom. If the argument for smacking is that children can’t understand reason, isn’t that a reason to protect them from violence that they, in turn, can’t understand?

Again – why smack your child? And again, if the answer is thoughtful, considered discipline, then what lies behind the reaction from so many ‘normal’ people (as normal as commenters writing such things can be assumed to be) who seem to be only a few steps away from yelling “stick the boot in!”, or the classic “I was offended – that he didn’t hit her harder!”.

I wish I was exaggerating, but it’s chilling that there are commenters that stand by smacking with theories like “The worst thing that ever happened to…the world in general is the single mother” or MPs who celebrate the “short sharp shock” and crow that “growing up undisciplined is much worse than being smacked as a child”.

I don’t believe that any of these unfortunate people honestly trust anyone else, least of all their own children or the children of others. There is a sense that children are born as untamed chaos that needs to be forcefully pressed into routine, that they are irrational beings without reason who need to ‘learn the rules’ or be moulded into a routine.

How can you trust something you believe to be so chaotic to develop sensibly, to grow up into a ‘normal’ person? Sadly the eventual rebellion against repression, the pushing back of the child which finally comes when they’re strong enough, when they’ve had enough, only proves to these people that they were right. Not that they might have been wrong.

Children are trustworthy, and I look forward to proving this belief. We will trust our children, trust them to be human. We won’t need to smack them because we won’t force a routine onto them that they will chaotically refuse, and so we won’t create a situation for ourselves where going nuclear is the only option. We will shape our world around them.

And what harm will it do? Can’t we teach them right from wrong without hammering it home? Can’t we allow them, in the years when we have no right to expect them to understand ‘rational’ routines, to have what they need, when they ask for it? Can’t we trust them not to be tarnished, damaged by this beyond further teaching?

It’s easy to be scared as a parent. It was one of my first reactions – scared that my child wouldn’t love me, that the fact I would be unable to do anything but love them without question would give them a power over me that they could abuse.

But that’s my shit to deal with, not my child’s. It’s up to me to overcome this, not to attempt to avoid the outcome that I fear by forcing my child into a shape I can deal with, a shape that my otherwise rational life can handle without too much stress.

I like to think of children as comets, not moons. Moons are locked into orbits around the gravity of larger bodies. Comets are influenced by gravity but preserve their own wider, unpredictable orbits. I trust my children to be comets, to streak away into amazing places but to eventually come back. I trust my children to love me.

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The etiquette of eating shit

In life, sooner or later, you’re going to have to eat shit. And it really ought to be your own.

This is one of the first lessons we should teach our children. Okay. Maybe one of the second lessons, after the differences between literal and figurative expression.

You can’t create or destroy other people’s shit, only your own. But that doesn’t stop people trying to make you eat their shit. Because they refuse to eat it themselves, and because once we’re presented with our own shit, the first thing we want to do is get rid of it.

So shit passes from person to person, each of us trying to offload it as quickly as possible before we have to suffer the indignity of handling shit. You shit on me, simultaneously highlighting how much of my own shit I’m carrying around. And I shovel it off to someone else when I just can’t cope being buried in shit any more.

We watch in fascination as others are made to eat their own shit, or even better the shit that someone else has left for them to deal with. We anticipate shit coming our way and instinctively palm off as much of the shit we’re currently handling to try to make room.

Some of us create more shit than others, some of us can sit in shit longer than others, some of us manage to avoid even coming into contact with our own shit, let alone anyone else’s shit. But shit always sticks somewhere. Someone, eventually, has to eat shit.

Shit is ugly. Shovelling shit on others is just passing on ugliness, like the spouse who beats their partner or the worker who feels powerless in their dead-end job but powerful when firing both barrels of their aggression into other people’s lives.

Parents spoonfeed their own shit to their children. Children spend their lives humbly trying to eat shit they feel responsible for, but which they can never properly stomach because it’s shit that rightfully belongs to their parents.

People actively eat shit that isn’t their own to protect others from having to eat their own shit, feeling that they’re making a positive difference but ignoring the fact that until you accept you have to eat your own shit you’re always going to keep on creating shit.

Some people actively shovel their shit onto others because they can’t accept they must eat it. Others then shovel shit elsewhere because everyone is shovelling shit onto them. And some refuse to eat their own shit because, well, no one else is eating shit are they?

Because shit makes us unhappy. And having to eat our own shit means we have to be unhappy and self-aware, which has the capacity to make you incredibly unhappy. Especially when those who can’t accept eating their own shit will only ever sneer and point disgustedly at the shit-eating, without any ability to see the shit-free existance beyond.

But until you come to terms with eating your own shit you’ll be forever shovelling or dodging or sitting in shit. Until you start eating your own shit you won’t ever know which shit is yours, and which shit is someone else’s. But once you start, when you can identify your own shit and accept that it’s up to you to consume it, you start creating less shit.

Eventually, once you’ve started eating your own shit and stopped creating so much more shit, you’ll be left with no shit at all. And you’ll be able to recognise your shit before you’ve even created it, controlling your shit so you never have to eat shit ever again.

As parents we should have already eaten our own shit so that we’re in a position to eat our children’s shit, until they become capable of recognising their shit and eating it themselves. Your shit can massively and negatively affect other people. It’s your responsibility to eat all of it so it doesn’t hurt the people you love, or anyone else for that matter.

Shit throwing is most obvious on the roads. I’ve been forced to change lanes because of a mistake and the person behind has beeped me because I’ve slowed down, at the same time as the driver zooming up my left has scowled and refused to let me in.

Then I’ve got frustrated at feeling like I’ve backed down or been humiliated or whatever and I’ve lost my temper and found myself swearing at both of them. All of us just passing shit around, all of us covered in it, all of us trying to get someone else to eat our own shit.

Yet the power to stop it is in all of us. If I eat my own shit in this situation – I’ve made a mistake – then I’m empowered and immune to the other shit. The beeper attempts to shovel their shit on me. The scowler follows suit. But if I get frustrated with all this aggression I eat that shit too, and none of the rest of the shit will stick anymore.

Except now the other drivers both find the shit they tried to shovel onto me being returned straight back to them. Now they’ve got to eat their own shit – that they’re impatient and aggressive – or attempt to instantly shovel this shit in another direction.

But imagine if all of us had already taken on the responsibility of eating our own shit a long time ago. I’d recognise my mistake and accept it. The beeper wouldn’t touch their horn because they’d be calmer. The scowler would just let me in and we’d all be happier.

It’s true that when you start accepting your own shit and face the fact that you’ve got to eat it, you begin realising how much shit you’ve got and how long you’ve been ignoring it, hiding it from yourself or attempting to offload it elsewhere.

But stick with it. Don’t give up on eating your own shit. Do it properly and it takes you out of the whole shit parade itself.

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to eat shit. Do you want to keep on living in a world of shit? Or do you want to stop having to dodge all that other shit by accepting that if you really have to eat shit, it has to be your own.

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