Monday, 31 October 2011

Has marriage gone out of fashion?

This is a question that needs to be asked in today’s society.  We live in a time of drastic change: technological development, social networking, media growth and political mayhem.  I aim to discuss the concept of marriage in relation to such a changing culture with reference to the following issues: rebellion from tradition, dysfunctional families, pluralist lifestyles, stereotypical definitions, radical feminism, financial instability and the law.  

When I met James (22) and Imogen (21), one of the first things they told me about themselves was that they are married.  This was instantly followed by an awkward silence, my head working overtime trying to understand something so ridiculous.  ‘Smile and nod’ is my favourite way to deal with such baffling moments.  Should I congratulate them?  Pity them?  So young and yet so bound by this contract called ‘marriage’.  But was it really so ridiculous?

In today’s world, particularly in the west, marriage is seen as something that happens when you’re old and boring, that you put on like an old pair of comfy slippers when you’re done with fun in your life.  Marrying young is seen as a thing of the past, something our grandparents did because ‘that’s just how things were in those days’.  Well that is exactly how I saw it.  As time went on, I quickly became close with both James and Imogen, and can safely say that they are two of the most fun, lively and attractive people I have ever met.  And they really do live life to the full!

So why is it so rare to see such a phenomena?  Why do we see marriage in such a negative light?  Personally I put it down to experience of dysfunctional families and breakup.  With a distinct lack of role models, and divorce rates through the roof (although surprisingly lower than they have ever been, simply because less people are getting married in the first place), today’s generation are growing up with the misconception that marriage is a burden (or at least that is how I perceived it coming from said situation).  There are few examples of how marriage should be, a happy, enjoyable, secure and loving communion between two people; the epitome of love and joy.  Marriage, as I have learnt through my friends, is beautiful.  We should not be put off by our negative experiences, but learn from them ‘how not to do marriage’.

Sadly this beauty is lost on the pluralist society we live in.  Life is all about ‘convenience’, ‘freedom’ and ‘individualism’.  We do not have time for commitment and investment in relationships, we want to pick and mix the aspects of our postmodern lives to make up our super slick identity.  We want hot cars, top jobs and bachelor pads.  No-strings-attached sex is ‘playful’, ‘fun’ and ‘attractive’, the new alternative for ‘boring’ and ‘out-dated’ pacts of marriage.  On the cover is the glossy idea that commitment has gone out of fashion, but deep down, everyone has that secret longing for love and security.  Even the most hectic celebrities and influential politicians have someone to cuddle up to at night.

But who’s to say that it’s all about security?  Being married to someone is not just about having a safety net when you need someone to turn to or simply having someone there ‘at the end of the day’.  Marriage has been so heavily labelled with such characteristics, that although they are largely important factors of marriage, they draw attention away from other aspects of such a union: the things that marriage once required have now been placed as attainable only outside of marriage, by a generation seeking to rebel against anything that might be called ‘traditional’.  But marriage is what you make it, just because the label carries such negative connotations in wider society, does not mean you have to adopt them on a personal level.  Sharing life with someone means sharing everything; the life lessons, the glamorous social life, the achievements, adventures and heart-warming side-stitching memories.  Two fun-loving people joined together make for a whole lot of fun!

Another reason that marriage has gone out of fashion is the rise in radical feminism.  Some feminists (a small minority) go to the extreme in thinking that being married somehow makes you weak and passive.  Some believe that liberation is only gained through independence and separation from men.  I believe that equality is achieved through unity rather than segregation (but this is another topic in itself so I’ll not go into detail on this point).  Women are afraid to fall into categories of ‘wife’ or ‘mother’, two words again that have the connotations of boring, traditional unchallenging roles.  Most of the women that I know who are either married or in relationships are incredibly strong and active in their position.  Some are even active feminists.  Being married does not take this away.  If anything, being married is an incredible example of equality and unity between men and women, two people loving and caring for one another unconditionally and giving all they have to one another on an equal measure.  It’s not really about cooking and cleaning while the husband is out working as the breadwinner (unless adhering to gender stereotypes is your thing… then err… whatever works for you).

In such desperate financial times, most people discard the idea of marriage as an unnecessary celebration that costs the earth.  Some people spend thousands and thousands of pounds on a wedding, buying designer dressed, hiring extravagant venues, paying attention to the smallest details from gold leaf place cards to ribbon dressed furniture.  It’s become a competition, who can have the most ‘fairy tale’ wedding.  Couples everywhere are going to drastic lengths to impress, taking out loans, sacrificing other financial commitments, even entering competitions and taking part in reality T.V. shows such as ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’; anything to get their hands on the cash for the big day.  But marriage is not about the wedding.  Of course the ceremony in itself is important, but the 24hours of the first day of marriage is nothing compared with the years that you will spend together afterwards.  To put so much pressure and expectation into one day is pointless.  Keep it small, keep it personal, and get the whole family involved in a DIY wedding!  Bring it back to the bonding ritual it is meant to be, put love into it, not money.  A wedding does not have to be expensive to signify that two people want to declare purely and simply, that they love one another.

Some people are against the idea of marriage because they simply don’t see the point.  When I told friends that I was working on a blog on the topic of marriage, one of them linked me to a video of Doug Stanhope on marriage.  Although ridiculous in the name of comedy, he makes one good point: when we have something as personal and beautiful as a loving relationship, why should we want to get the government in on it?  Why should we have to declare by law that we love one another?  Surely it doesn’t matter.  Well I agree.  To me, whether a marriage is legal or not is not what makes it a marriage at all.  Personally, I believe that marriage is a promise before God that the two of you will love and cherish one another for the rest of your lives, the promise of union, two people joining as one.  You may not agree with my personal perception, but you don’t have to believe in God to make such promises to one another, (although I do believe that a marriage without God at the centre is a fragile one).  If you love someone, the greatest thing that you can give to them is your life, and promising them that you will share all you have with them forms an unbreakable bond.  Marrying the one you love says ‘I will share with you the highs of life, and when the lows bring us down, I will fight for our love’. 

I’m not saying that everyone should get married.  First of all, being single is not a negative thing, and life can be just as great if you have no-one to share it with, trust me, I’m not married!  Also we should not disregard the seriousness of marriage.  It is indeed a great level of commitment, a responsible decision that should be made for life.  Baring these two statements in mind, I am simply asking, that for those of us who have been blessed with a partner, or those of us that are single, do not see marriage in terms of the problems that I have explored in this post.  I ask that we rekindle the magnificence of such a beautiful part of life, that we see the fun and enjoyment that should be sought in marriage, and glorify it. 
Marriage brings not the death of life, but the everlasting life of love.

(I would like to thank James and Imogen Lowe for giving me permission to write about them in this post.  You are such an encouraging couple, and impact the lives of many, day after day. Evangelists for marriage!)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Renaissance: The New Feminism

How many times have you heard that there is no need for feminism in the modern world?  Women have the right to vote, financial independence, (almost) equal job opportunities and powerful positions in the government and other institutions.  The Suffragette’s have won all they fought for, and a line has been drawn through ‘feminism’ as a done and dealt-with cured ill of our society.  So is feminism dead?

I challenge this claim with the proposal that feminism is very much alive, and an essential tool for building a great society even today.  Yes, changes have been made.  Yes, goals have been met.  Yes, norms have been broken and women have been raised up to be more strong, powerful and influential than ever before in the history of gender politics.  But, when we look at the content and context of the most powerful women today, is this what those first feminists really wanted?

Sex: that three-letter word that has more power than the likes of words such as ‘peace’, ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’.  Sex: that weapon that women have used to manipulate the predatory male into a position of passivity and reliance.  Were women really onto something when they discovered the one thing that makes any man weak?  Or have they been lulled into a false sense of security, where once again, men have got women exactly where they want them; driving and fulfilling their sexual fantasies?

Let us take a quick look at a few powerful respected women.  Carla Bruni, Lady GaGa, Beyoncé, Lady Macbeth, Margaret Thatcher (wait, how did that one get in there…).  What do they all have in common?  Sexual provocation.  These wily women have all used their gorgeous bodies and alluring intimations to get them to the top.  But although they’re in the highest places, the men are still looking up their skirts.

Beyoncé is a fantastic example of feminism gone wrong.  Feel free to cringe as I quote some lyrics here: ‘if you like it then you should’a put a ring on it’, ‘my persuasion can build a nation, endless power, the love we can devour’ and the entire theme of the song ‘Independent Women’.  All of these signify all kinds of independence for women, emphasising the power and strength they supposedly manifest in todays society.  These lyrics alone represent the passion behind those very first feminists and the ideals they strived toward.  But the reality found in other lyrics such as ‘tonight I’ll be your naughty girl’, ‘I know you want my body’ and ‘ladies let him check up on it’ reveals that women are only powerful when using their sexuality as a manipulative tool. 

Feminist fought for freedom, and women having gained this freedom were so bewildered that they didn’t quite know what to do with it.  With this newfound freedom of expression, mixed together with male expectations, women easily fell into the bitter cocktail that we are still drowning in today.  We have a narrow choice: use sexual appeal to gain a cheated upper hand, or remain a weak, prudish, dehumanised existence.  Feminism needs to change this metanarrative, to reconstruct ideologies into realities.  Sexualising women is dehumanising.  Respecting women for their intellect, passion, and inner beauty, is the first step to bringing true equality.

The power of women needs to be reassessed. 
The reality of inequality needs to be reinterpreted. 
Feminism needs to be reborn. 
This is a call for Renaissance for today’s generation.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Bookhouse Boys

- photograph by Annie Davies -
            Crammed onto the stage like a child’s nativity play, the eight-piece London band hit Nottingham’s Bodega Social Club with a performance that was far from amateur.  This group of suave, sophisticated and talented performers, in attire fit for the ‘smoky jazz club’ scene, played a set chosen by the dedicated fans.  Vocalist Paul Van Oestren asks the audience, “do you want it mellow or do you want it loud?” both of which The Bookhouse Boys master with great ease.

The beautiful Catherine Turner hypnotizes fans with her strangely seductive jerky movements, and the smooth vocals of an introverted Kate Bush, complementing the gritty tones of Van Oestren.  The upbeat favourite ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ pulsated through the venue and kept the audience dancing from start to finish.  Bassist William Emms played the haunting tones in ‘Guns Like Drums’, complemented by ghostly vocals, thrashing percussion and regal outbursts from Natty Defriend and Charlie Beringer on trumpets.  As individual members each from radically varying musical and influential backgrounds, the eight compile into a strange cocktail of musical genius, deserving of a fresher consumer than they have so far received. Check out their album ‘Tales To Be Told’, out earlier this year.

(as published in The Mic - Issue 30, 2011)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Did Darwin Kill God?

As part of my theology degree I opted for a module on The Philosophy of Religion last year, in which I touched on the thinking of the famous Charles Darwin. I was so fascinated that I enrolled for a module this year based entirely on the theory known as 'Darwinism'.

So what is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word 'Darwinism'? Probably the same things that popped into mine: Science? Evolution? Proof against the existence of God?

Darwin was the guy that threw the first punch that began the battle between science and religion.
Wasn't he?
I thought that too... until I discovered that Darwin himself was actually a Christian...

I've been reading on some fascinating stuff, but rather than writing out a complicated account of scientific theories and theologies, I thought it would be easier to post a video of the BBC documentary, 'Did Darwin Kill God?', by my very own lecturer Conor Cunningham. He presents a coexistence of science and religion, discusses the place for God in the theory of evolution, and how both Creationists and Ultra-Darwinists get it wrong.

If you're interested in digging deeper in the subject, I would also recommend Cunningham's book, a huge chunk of text to sink your teeth into but a fantastic exploration into the development of Darwinism.

Conor Cunningham - 'Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists both get it wrong' - (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2011)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Media God


Take a look at this Diesel advertisement: ‘Sex sells* (but unfortunately we sell jeans)’.  This is just one example of how the media forces pornography into modern culture, in this case as a form of advertisement.  Last week, a friend informed me that as TV turns digital in August, extra channels will be added to the network, and this will include pornography channels.  An Internet craze that is also available on satellite television has now stuck its filthy mitts into the likes of national television.  This exposure is somewhat criminal, and the government should be utterly ashamed of allowing such exploitative material to saturate our culture.

Advertisement and pornography channels are not the only media genres with dangerous content.  In England, America, across Europe and even more dominantly so in Asian cultures such as China and Japan, material promoting the exploitation of women is everywhere.  Strip bars and ‘gentleman’s’ entertainment clubs, raunchy music videos, newspaper photographs, magazines with pornographic images slapped on the front for any passer-by to stumble upon, it's all backwards.  For a country that's so 'politically correct' in its conservatism, this is beyond a joke.

‘If you don’t want to get involved with porn then don’t, it’s up to the individual.’
Well actually, it’s not.  Pornography affects everyone.  It is no longer a material that can be chosen by the individual to ‘enjoy’ in private.  But pornography is extremely evident in the public sector of today’s world, and cannot be avoided even at the greatest efforts.  Such material has such a huge part in media representation that it creates an entire narrative of what women are and how they should be treated.  The very fact that this material is now allowed onto national television is a huge statement in itself, a statement that says 'look everyone, it's ok to treat women as objects now because it's on TV'.  Men everywhere are jumping on the [im]moral bandwagon and women everywhere are feeling the effects.

‘But it’s just porn, it’s not such a big deal.’
Well actually, it is.  Men like to erect (excuse the pun) a barrier between fantasy (fictional pornography) and reality.  Pornography is indeed a form of representation rather than ‘real-life sex’, but like most developed media adopts the concept of realism, and therefore naturalising such ideas so that this barrier is broken.  It might be argued that this realism proves that pornographic media simply holds a mirror to the world in its natural state, but someone is creating these representations and manipulating reality through repeated exposure to such ideals.  Such material is the propaganda of a male army, created to brainwash the world constructing a social acceptance of their perverse desires.  And it will work.  It has worked.  The media is the great dictator of social values, a very dangerous tool, and when used in this way causes severe dysfunction.  To make matters worse, due to realism creating a sense of naturalisation, this exploitation is becoming a blind ‘normality’.  People are failing to question such ideals and are worshipping ‘the media god’.

‘So how exactly does embracing pornographic media affect women on a whole?’
Marquis de Sade famously made the connection between sex and violence.  He said, there’s not a woman on earth who would ever have had cause to complain of my services if I’d been sure of being able to kill her afterwards’.  The women in pornographic images are dead, both virtually and functionally.  Victimised as a piece of meat for the pleasure of the predatory male, these women have no role in the outside world.  If Sade was able to kill his women afterward they would only ever be dead, existing only as lifeless objects in the sexual realm with no experience of the outside world.  Without the escape from the sex realm to the mortal realm, women would not be able to reflect upon the abusive nature of such victimisation.  However we DO have ‘cause to complain’, as some of us are able to reflect, some of us are able to see the true damage.  This fiction, the created (fiction from ‘fingere’ = to form) enables fact to be continued into reality.  Men objectify women, using them for sex, acting violently toward them, giving them unequal disadvantage in the workplace, as well as administering continued misrepresentation of women in politics and the media. 

‘I watch porn and I’ve never hit or raped a woman’
This statement is a great example of how [some] men are getting this whole issue completely wrong.  Most think this is a battle not worth fighting.  One comment I received in discussion of this topic is that ‘watching porn stops rape’.  So not only should we accept that men are sexual predators that need to be relieved, but we as women are the ones to provide an alternative method of pleasing them to save ourselves from being raped.  We are still being raped every single day, in many ways, ways that are taken for granted.  Objectification comes in many shapes and sizes and I am sure the majority of men are unconsciously guilty of it.  You may not have raped a woman or physically abused her, but have you ever made a comment such as ‘women are bad drivers’ or criticised their capability in the work place or within education?  Have you ever judged a girl for what she is dressed like, slapping on labels such as ‘slut’, ‘slag’ or ‘whore’ upon someone you don’t even know?  Have you ever made a suggestive comment to a woman or touched a woman’s body, or expected that a woman is ‘up for it’ because of the way she is dressed?  I don’t think I have ever been on a night out without one of my girl friends or myself being ogled at or groped.  Women can’t even walk down the street without a man leaning out of a car window and hurling some lecherous comment at her.  The problems are more widespread than you thought.

‘But pornographic media can be empowering to women’
Well, if the way a woman empowers herself is through sexual objectification then there is definitely something wrong with the world.  It is far more empowering for a woman to work 9 till 5 earnestly sweeping floors than for a woman to sell herself as an object to a man.  The women that aren’t being forced into such degrading submission usually only apply for these jobs because they are pressured into thinking that this makes them beautiful.  Particularly girls who have low self-esteem and little self-worth due to lack of appreciation of personal qualities and lack of motivation toward them reaching higher goals.  This is one way a woman can gain attention from men, and what is perceived to be ‘respect’, although is actually the complete lack of.  A common argument is that ‘women get paid for doing this so there’s no issue’.  Being paid is exactly what makes them objects.  Again due to discouragement in the workplace and throughout education, women are lacking the support and encouragement they need to succeed, and therefore take the easy option of selling their bodies in pornography, strip bars and prostitution.  At this point I will point out that not only men are to blame for this societal corruption, but women too are responsible for adhering to such ‘ideals’ and degrading positions, and therefore subjecting women on the whole to such victimisation.

‘It’s too late to change things’
The tragic truth is that pornographic imaging is something that has existed for thousands of years, dating back to the Romans and the Greeks.  This is far too often used as an excuse as to why it is acceptable to continue such degrading behaviour; ‘porn isn’t wrong, it’s always been around’.  So has the slave trade.  But surely if a diseased thinking has been spreading through the generations for so long, this age of revolution is the perfect time to step outside the box of conservative ideas and change things.  Think about it (and yes I AM going to play this card), is this really the kind of world we want to bring our children into?  It is disturbingly easy for an innocent child to flick over the television channels and find some form of pornographic imaging, or walk around newsagents and supermarkets with parents to glance upon the revealing covers of ‘ladmags’ such as ‘Nuts’ or ‘Zoo’, or even the pages of tabloid newspapers.  Not only does it affect children directly, but indirectly.  As men are naturalised to embrace certain concepts of women, this is passed not only between friends but also down to their children through primary socialisation in the home.  Pornography causing sexual deviance and unequal treatment and expectations of women, often results in damaged relationships, and in some cases can cause parents to break apart and therefore leave an inheritance of disrespect toward women.  Problems are then magnified through secondary socialisation from the education system, impact from peers and again the media.

‘So what can I do?’
Ok men, if you’ve come this far then perhaps you’ve realised that you feel a slight pang of revolutionary passion for the fight for equality.  After this stage, some men tend to hit a brick wall: ‘There would be a representation of us as impotent and as losers which we cannot risk’.  Well ‘man-up’ and risk it.  Women need you.  The revolution against racism could not have succeeded so well without the white man accepting equality and forming an alliance to end such discrimination and oppression.  Challenge the ‘man-made morality which covers up the immorality of women’s oppression, subordination and violation’.  Empower the weak and bring them to your level, respect them as equals and exhibit this attitude to the world.  Stop watching porn and find a real woman.  Love and care for her.  Tell a woman she’s smart, acknowledge her potential, be a supporting figure rather than tearing women down all the time.  And if you do respect women, do not be ashamed, but make it known throughout your day-to-day life.  Chivalry will never go out of fashion.
            United we stand! (Which is exactly why we’ve fallen so far…)
Women have died so that we, the women of the future, have the blessing of freedom.  And look what we’ve done with that freedom.  We’ve been given a voice and a choice, so why do we still choose to be objectified and fail to use our voices?  I ask you also to ‘man-up’, to take responsibility as a singular woman and set an example for the nation of women.  Do not try to be what other people want you to be.  Learn to love yourself, and do not ever feel as though you have to prove yourself to anyone.  You do not need to take your clothes off to be beautiful.  Look for respect where respect is due, and never underestimate your potential as a human being.

‘In Switzerland, women took the military to court for allowing officers to use photographs of a woman as targets for shooting practice.  The reply of the Swiss authorities was that only the particular woman, the model of the photographs, could sue.  And she would be unlikely to, added a spokesman, since she had posed in the first place.’
Do not fall into the trap of treating each case singularly.  This is a widespread problem and representation has lead to the naturalisation of generalisation.  A tiny drop can cause a huge ripple, and every snowflake pleads ‘not-guilty’ in an avalanche.  So be a good snowflake.  There are always going to be worshippers of ‘the media god’, and there are always going to be people that pull the rope the other way.  But the more people that play on the right side of this tug-of-war, the more chance we have of changing things.  It’s not impossible.  Black and white people share contented lives; racism is dying a well-deserved death.  Our next world mission: gender equality.  Get on board.

(quotes from ‘The Pornography of Representation’ by Susanne Kappeler)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Great Divide

I am currently in Wolverhampton staying with my Grandma, what is supposed to be my home when I’m not at university.  I don’t have a Church here.  I don’t have Christian friends.  And I don’t have the Christian Union.  Here is my secular place.  Nottingham is my sacred place.  For two years now, my mind, heart and soul have been set in an unhealthy bipolar fashion, as I like many, have fallen under ‘The Great Divide’.

            This summer between my second and third year of university (the last time I have to return here to live) was my last chance to get it right and make an effort.  I urged my sister in Christ (to whom I am accountable to) to push me over text and email, something that to both of our surprises was not much needed (thanks Jess!).  I arrived on Saturday evening and by Sunday evening, after walking for almost an hour, I found myself in a Church, joyfully singing worship amidst a large family bearing happy hearts and welcoming faces.

            Personal progress aside, this ‘Great Divide’ is something that continually effects the majority of us, it being a way of life that is too easy to fall into and exceedingly difficult to climb out of.  Whether you’re at university and return to a home town during holidays, you have work life and personal life or separate your different groups of friends, think of the ways in which you banish God from parts of your life.

            At this new Church I’d visited, a woman asked, ‘what kind of fruit are you?’.  At this I was rather confused and so patiently waited for the coming analogy.  ‘Are you an orange or a peach? Is your life broken into segments, or is your life integrated with God as your strong centre?’.  Well I happened to be an orange.  I was always satisfied with merely being a fruit of God, bearing the good news in my heart, but I never took much notice as to exactly what kind of fruit I was.  And it turns out I was the wrong kind.

            In Paul’s biblical letter to the Colossians, he writes ‘whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Colossians 3:17).  To me this means three things:
1-    Whatever: absolutely everything you do, from preaching the gospel to doing the shopping, playing sport with friends or doing the housework, in prayer or in day-to-day conversation.  Whatever you do, do it with God on your heart and mind.
2-    Whoever: absolutely everyone you meet, not just your Christian friends but your non-Christian friends, the people on your course, at your workplace, on the bus, at the gym.  Whoever you meet, show them that you have God in your heart and mind.
3-    Whenever: absolutely every minute of every day.  Not just on Sundays, not just at times of organised mission outreach, but all the time.  Whenever you live a waking breath, live it with God on your heart and mind.

It all seems ridiculously difficult, almost impossible.  But the beauty of it is that we WILL mess up, and we WILL drift away at times and almost slip into the ‘Great Divide’, but God in his outstanding grace knows this already and forgives us.  He won’t leave us, nor will he forsake us, and no matter how far from Him we drift He will always seek us out to carry us back in loving arms.  So why banish God from certain segments of our lives when He so desperately wants to saturate every inch of it with His love and grace?  Give it all to Him, don’t hold back, and He will do things with your life so incredible that you could never imagine.  Get rid of that ‘Great Divide’ and let the sacred bless the secular.  Be a peach!

Alternative helpful Bible passages:

Romans 12:1-2
            ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’

Matthew 5:16
            ‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Final Solution

"Arbeit macht frei" - Work makes you free.
            Recently I spent an evening reading ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, by Irish novelist John Boyne.  I can honestly admit that I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life.  You may have read it yourself, or perhaps it might be more likely that you have seen the film adaptation.  Maybe you cried too.  It’s a short read, I would recommend it to anyone who falls under the category of ‘reader’ as it goes above and beyond any literary genre that I have come across (don’t let my crying put you off!).  Even if you have seen the film, go out and find the book! 

The remaining barracks.
Boyne writes in such a simplistic way, yet he grasps your attention on every single page.  His language captures the tragedy that was the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a nine-year-old boy, replacing the expected horrendous descriptions with subtle images from an unknowing perspective, making more powerful the sheer horror of the cruel situation.  There are moments of laughter, of confrontation, of hopes and disappointments, as Boyne beckons readers to chase the development of an unbreakable friendship before hitting us with an ending that would penetrate even the hardest of hearts.

The guards walkway between two parts of the camp.
The barbed wire fences had an electric current running
through to keep the prison from attempting escape.
As well as being such a fantastic read, this fable addresses one of the most important events in history; a moment in history that people still deny today.  As far as I know this is a topic rarely discussed, and one that is not often taught in schools in great detail.  However, during the year before I came to university, I became involved in an incredible organisation called the Holocaust Education Trust.  Travelling to Aston University, I attended lectures and seminars on various topics and ethical issues, where I met a Jewish woman called Kitty Hart-Moxon who spoke on how she survived the concentration camp.  This was followed by a day trip to Auschwitz in Poland (the concentration camp mentioned in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ and where Kitty and her mother were imprisoned).

Family photographs found in the suitcases of those who
were killed. A memorial room contained walls covered
from top to bottom with the only memories left of
these families.
Throughout my day in Auschwitz I did not cry, not once, not like I did at the writings of John Boyne.  My pre-visit expectations were that I would feel an overwhelming sense of anger and despair; but I felt neither.  I wanted to feel such things; but I just felt numb.  It was incredibly difficult to take it all in; how could I comprehend the fact that almost 3 million people had been brutally massacred in such a small, eerie and now desolate space?  As dusk fell, I remember walking through the black dead trees, as a kind of half-light hovered still in the air and the rain fell lightly on a world in greyscale.  The birds sang melodically, almost as a mockery of the place, impounding a strange sense of guilt upon my heart.  Birdsong and footsteps of the free were not welcome within the confines of this death camp.

The entrance gate and the train track which was built
for the special purpose of bringing people from the cities
straight into the camp, either to the famous crossroads for a
selection process or right up to the gas chambers for
immediate execution.
As the hovering dusk dropped into a thick darkness, the group gathered together alongside the remains of a gas chamber, and a remembrance service was held by the Rabbi that accompanied us on our daytrip.  From underneath the canopy of umbrellas we sang hymns and the Rabbi recited Jewish prayers.  We each lit a candle and as we made our leave, we laid them along the train track on which cattle-carts full of people were shipped in to be killed.  At the end of the day, I walked through the gates from which 3 million people came in and never went out again.  To this day I remain fascinated, my heart lacerated, completely devastated, at the brutality that was conducted as Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’.  Such human capability perhaps shall never be understood.

- All photographs by Annie Davies -

Friday, 13 May 2011

Sound Check

- As published in the Spring 2011 issue of Artemis, the Women's Network magazine. -


Doesn’t it just sound awful when you’re at a gig and the bass is ridiculously loud and the lyrics are incomprehensible?  Or when the guitar riff is so distorted that the melody is completely lost?  Or maybe I’ve just been to too many bad gigs…  The same problem rings true in our day-to-day lives and the music we make.  How loud are we projecting our voices as women?  And in comparison, how do we fit this together with the other instruments in our lives?  It’s time we had our own sound check.

Myself, and others I have spoken to, have found that slapping the ‘feminist’ sticker onto yourself isn’t an easy task to undertake.  It comes with baggage.  Our lives, and identities for that matter, are made up of various different things, and it can often be difficult to fit our feminism into this overall picture.  Our race, our class, our sexuality, our politics, our faith and even our minute personal interests, can conflict with our gender issues.  So which do we prioritise?

When we use our voices for change, we tend to concentrate too much or too little on the fact that we are women.  It is a distinguishing factor of life that needs to be addressed, but our gender isn’t our ‘everything’.  Take this into account: there is more than one type of woman.  As postmodern feminist Bell Hooks puts it; ‘since men are not equal in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?’  What about black women, working class women, lesbian women, liberal women, women of faith?  We all face different kinds of discrimination and we need to accommodate for each aspect of our identities. 

I myself am a Christian.  I often face criticisms from both sides.  Some feminists accuse that ‘surely religion is a patriarchal tool of oppression’, and some Christians accuse that ‘feminism is a radical turn away from biblical teaching’.  Both are wrong.  As difficult as it may be to create a balance, it is certainly possible to integrate my faith and my feminism, fighting for gender equality whilst sharing my faith with others.

So how loud do I sing of my faith? How loud do I sing as a woman looking for change? And how exactly do we balance these voices without breaking the sound barrier?  Sing too loudly about one and the other easily fades into the background.  Break this sound barrier and your identity is broken, consumed entirely by this single aspect.  For me my faith is central to my life, the very essence of my truth and being, but born from this faith comes the search for liberation, and that includes the liberation of women.  I have a biblical base upon which I can build my case for equality.  But from this base I also build my politics, my philosophy, my identity, my relationships, and my lifestyle.  The echoing voice of feminism may be an important aspect to life, but we need the rest of the band to bring body to the music that is our being.  A perfect balance is impossible, but it’s time we stepped back and evaluated the value we slap on with our ‘feminist stickers’.  So keep one hand on the sound desk, but let the show go on…

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The liberation of loneliness

I am selfish, I am stubborn and subsequently single.  I am so set in my own ways and obsessed with my independence that I tend to push people away.  Unsurprisingly I am not the only person I know for whom this is the case.  At least three close friends of mine seem to be poetically painted within this same frame of mind, but why?  Is it simply that we’ve grown thick skins after wounds of the past?  Or is there something else, a deeper satisfaction in being alone?

There is something liberating about loneliness.  I myself seem to feel accomplished for experiencing something alone, deeply content that I am able to contain things within the privacy of myself; thoughts and feelings that are mine and mine alone, things that no-one will ever know.  I am in love with the ability to reflect, to take in the external and squeeze it between the hands of contemplation so that every last drop of opportunity has been used up.

I like to look at my body.  Not in a creepy bout of vanity but as a point of observation.  I like to feel that I am a being, to recognise that I am myself.  As much as interaction and emotions can overlap between one person and another, it is comforting to me to know that the body is a set form, a frame that distinguishes the self from the external.  However, this shape is almost like a sieve.  We may have a little control over what we do and do not let in from the external, but inevitably there are holes and the external will get in.  We are not free from the influence of emotion.  I often wish I could block these holes, as what seeps through them is what makes or breaks us.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Made in His image...

Recently I found a huge scratch running along the top face of my Macbook, just next to the nice shiny white apple.  I was absolutely devastated.  I even cried in a rage that my once perfect piece of top-notch equipment was now defaced and in my eyes ruined, caused by a fault that wasn’t my own.  In my life I’ve had my fair share of injuries.  I’ve never broken a bone (touch wood), but I’ve dislocated my little finger, got a pool tile stuck in the heel of my foot, and had various other cuts and bruises on my arms and legs.  I attended a dance school (as well as a normal academic school) for 14 years of my life, where I tortured my body day after day.  If you’ve seen Natalie Portman’s feet bleed in ‘The Black Swan’ you’ll know what I mean.  If I combined all of my injuries together, the emotional trauma would not compare with that I felt when I scratched my beloved laptop.

If you’re thinking ‘what a shallow materialistic fool!’ then you are exactly right.  I wasn’t spoilt as a child, my grandparents always taught me that you have to work if you want to get anything in this world and it’s not just given to you.  So, as a poor student, I scrimped and saved for two years to buy my Mac, it being barely two months old when it was damaged earlier this week.  I felt I’d worked so hard for it, that I placed upon it more value than my own body.  I am completely foolish.  For far too long I’ve taken for granted this body I walk around in.  I’ve never really taken a second to step back, take a look at myself, and recognise that a God so lovingly, so mercifully, put more effort than I’ll ever know into carefully crafting my existence. 

The disrespect we have for our bodies is the root of many negative issues in modern life, varying hugely across the spectrum.  Starting at the extreme end of the scale, close friends of mine, and even I myself, have been both villain and victim in the act of self-harm due to depression.  Then consider that there are increasingly more and more women each day that are selling their bodies on the streets as a source of income.  Following this are the acts of substance abuse; drug addicts, alcoholics, and then there are those who fail to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.  At the end of the day we are all guilty of disrespecting, or even abusing our bodies in some way or another, even the most trying of us.  We can never achieve perfect health (that’s what makes us human!).  But how many things can you count that you take pride in over your own body?  I’d bet more things than you have phalanges!

In my opinion, living healthily out of respect for your body isn’t preached enough in Church.  It is an issue seen as of little importance or even perhaps thought of as a prying issue to address to a congregation of over-polite English culture.  Why should we be afraid to nudge a friend and tell them they should stop eating so much cake and get the ‘5-a-day’ on their menus?  Why shouldn’t we drag one another outside for a run round the park or off for an hour at the swimming pool?  I know that I would appreciate it.  We need to be blunt in love, pushing one another, be that mirror that our best friends cannot run away from.  If it’s smoking, taking drugs, self harm, eating rubbish food, don’t let our over-politeness get in the way of glorifying what God so beautifully created.  Consequent of the development of technology and consumerism, as a culture we place far too much value upon the things in life that have no real value at all.  Slowly but surely, Americanisation is infecting us with the pleasure factor and we are offending more than ever.  But it’s not too late to change our outlooks; it’s no too late to be reminded that the body is sacred.

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’
                                                - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Friday, 8 April 2011

¿A qué te dedicas?

This week I am staying with the Grandparents at their house on the south coast of Spain.  They’ve lived here for almost seven years now, they love it but they miss the grandchildren, so I try to visit them at least once a year.  My Grandfather is a smart man, a retired businessman with a strong mind.  We usually engage in debates about something or other as we sit under the stars on the porch, his traditional conservatism contrasting with my postmodern liberalism.  It’s a great bonding tool.  A topic that seems to have dominated our conversation this week is the topic of careers.  ‘What do you want to do with your life when you leave university?

The truth is I have absolutely no idea what I want to do…  Here in Spain the recession has hit harder than most places, surprisingly even worse than in the UK.  People are running around looking for any kind of work they can lay their hands on, men even walking the main roads clutching hand written signs, offering to clean your car inside and out for a mere €3.  The desperation is shocking.  A person’s job is often central to their life.  In most cases people would argue that their job is their life, financial income being their source of food, housing and health care.  As well as bringing such security, our jobs seem to play a huge part in our identity and our social life.  When we introduce ourselves to people we often say our name, age, and what we do for a living.  When we make friends, we are more inclined toward those who have interesting careers, keeping useful contacts to boost our social framework.  It is so easy to judge a persons entire personality based on what they do for a living.

So those of us who are holding that pin, where do we want to place ourselves upon the map of socioeconomic institutes that make up the working world?  At the moment I don’t want to do anything.  But simultaneously I don’t want to do nothing.  So where do I go?  I’ve been discussing various careers with my Grandfather and he has been suggesting areas of work that pay well, careers that haven’t been threatened by the recession.  I feel I suit none of his suggestions.  I find myself considering these jobs merely out of necessity rather than real interest.  But then I think: why should I do something that has no real worth?  After all, what is money gained when precious time is spent?  I’m with Morrissey on this one: I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now… in my life, why do I give valuable time, to people who don’t care if I live or I die?

So does having a job mean sacrificing your spirit?  Too many people today are doing jobs because they ‘have’ to, the stress and competitiveness of the work place driving people insane.  People have forgotten about the things they really love.  How many people have you heard uttering phrases such as ‘I always wanted to do this but…’ and ‘I wish I’d have tried this when I was younger’?  The pressure of finding a career smothers any real flame of passion that might have burned within us, many of us going for life roles that bring us the greatest financial gain or the strongest sense of security.  Following this comes the death of spontaneity.

I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone.  I’m sure that there are many people that love their job and are quite happy to work hard in a career for the majority of their lives.  I’m simply saying that perhaps we should question the system: how do we know it’s right?  I’m no economist, but it seems to work economically (most of the time), but how does it work for the soul of the individual?  We are not inclined to ask such questions because we are all born into this system, and we are taught from a young age to live and work for our future.  We go to school to learn the basics to then move up to secondary school, then we work hard to attain enough GCSE’s to get into a good college or sixth form, work even more to get sufficient A Levels to get into a good university, and then get lost somewhere between 1st class degrees, masters degrees and PhD’s.  Then you compete to get into a career, work your ass off, retire and die.  The idea is that you can’t have fun until you retire, but then only during the time between hip replacement operations and queuing for your pension to pay for your TV license before (heaven forbid) you can no longer watch Corrie and Strictly Come Dancing!

It’s depressing to even think about let alone to live it out!  To me it seems clear that the system is all wrong.  Working nine till five in one job doing one thing, day after day after day, is the most torturous idea I can imagine.  Where is the freedom, the passion, the spontaneity.  Where is the living in ‘making a living’?  I know what you’re thinking, ‘what a ridiculous sensationalist idea!’ but why does it have to be so? 
‘…and if you must go to work tomorrow, well if I were you I really wouldn’t bother, for there are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them…’
                                                                                   - Steven Patrick Morrissey

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A night at the zoo?

After a recent visit to Hanley in Stoke, I feel compelled to write on what I found there…

On a Saturday night I tagged along to a nightclub with an old friend from school, it was called ‘Manhattan’.  After an entry fee of £2, kindly paid for by my friend, I walked in to find a dark room, poorly decorated, with a small dance floor and a long bar.  Not really worth the £2 at all, but I remained hopeful all the same.  My friend and I always used to go to this place in Wolverhampton that looked ten times worse, walls covered in black peeling paint, sticky floor, and absolutely vile toilets! ‘The Planet’ was definitely far from ‘home’.  But we enjoyed it nevertheless.  We loved the music, the people, the bar staff, the tacky freebies, we even learned to love the sticky floor! 

So let me explain what I saw in Stoke and how this made me feel…  The music was pretty awful.  I don’t think it even deserved to be called music.  It wasn’t like that stuff in the charts that is tolerable in a sense that you can at least sing along to it and forget how lame it really is.  But it was just awkward sounds that repeated again and again, each track jumping into the next so that they became indistinguishable.  The room was filled to a high capacity, a much higher ratio of males to females.  The males mostly wore jeans and a shirt or t-shirt.  The females wore hardly anything.  They danced on a platform that ran along one of the walls, while the guys in the club stood below on the floor ogling at them.  From below, I saw some disgusting sights, as the girls put their legs up on the railings and their short skirts raised to reveal an item of ‘clothing’ that I never thought I’d see: crotchless underwear. 

The whole scenario reminded me of one of those fancy restaurants, with a tank of lobsters from which you can choose which creature you want to kill and eat.  But this was at the complete opposite end of the class spectrum.  The guys in the club had the whole night to decide which half naked girl on the podium they wanted to take home and kill her soul.  And unlike the lobsters, the girls were eager to be chosen.  It made me feel physically sick.  I don’t think I’m naïve, I’ve always known that this kind of thing happens, after all I grew up in Wolverhampton! But this was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Literally every other person in the room was in it for the prize sex at the end.  It seemed to be pointless to even go to the nightclub in the first place, they didn’t want to dance or enjoy themselves with friends, they only had one thing on their agenda, but I suppose they needed somewhere to congregate to find like-minded people…

I felt like I was experiencing a part of hell.  Everywhere I looked I was deeply disturbed.  I wanted to close my eyes and disappear, but I wanted the whole room to disappear with me.  I didn’t want it to be real.  I didn’t want to accept that such things were so ‘normal’ to these people.  I didn’t want to accept that this was happening not only here and now, but recurring over and over in many places… 

            After an hour or so of straining to enjoy myself, I soon lost the strength and it became apparent to my friend that I was miserable.  She asked what was wrong, accusing Nottingham of turning me into a boring stuck up twit.  It made me question myself…  If I could enjoy The Planet, why couldn’t I enjoy this?  Had I really become a snob or was this really the epitome of hell that I’d stepped into? 

I’m not a complete Marxist but I am all for liberation of the oppressed, so this is not an attack of class.  I gave up drinking alcohol just before I came to University in September 2009, but I have more fun when I go out now than I ever used to.  I spend less money, I no longer hit that point of tiredness at 2am, I never get hangovers, I hardly embarrass myself, and the day after I can remember everything that everyone else forgets! It brings a whole new light to going out!  So it’s not that I’m boring at all, or so I believe, but it really was that grotesque a place in reality.  There was absolutely nothing there that I could enjoy, no matter how hard I tried.

So what should I do?  Should I even do anything?  Society is becoming more and more accepting of this kind of behaviour as time goes by.  Even my friend, who was always so like myself, now engaged in this activity and saw it as completely normal.  Is there any stopping it?  I could say the whole ‘I don’t want my children to have to grow up in this world’, but haven’t things gone too far out of control for anyone to change it now?  It made me thankful that I have been saved from that.  I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘good person’, but I am comforted in that I’ve found meaning in my life.  I suppose all I can do now is to pray that others will find meaning too, and do my best to question everyone I can about it.  Too many people choose ignorance over thought.  Human beings were made to question, so that is what we must do, yet so many fail to do so when wrapped up in a world absent of reason.  People have become animals, and thought and reflection have been discarded into the trash of unnecessary life tools.

“Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? … God is dead … And we have killed him.”
- Nietzsche

 Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that place anytime soon…

(This piece is not a personal attack on Stoke, and is based purely on a single experience in one nightclub)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

little something/big nothing

A little something I wrote in September 2009:

Well-being seems to crumble when a lost cause begins to rumble in the thunder of your nightmares of the bitter taste and petty cares that hold the heart in a thorny cradle you just don't seem to be able to eat or drink or sleep or breathe you realise that underneath the poison never settles in one place but spreads amongst a web of lace that catches words that look like gold but break the net so this unfolds...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

ἀπορία (Aporia)

‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk’
 – Hegel

Consider this: we exist on the horizon of reality.  The sun sets on history, and we live always at the tail of it.  We are unable to re-live that ever-increasing day which constructs our current being, we are restrained to merely tracing over the line and considering how we got here and where we went wrong.  Can we ever detach ourselves from that line and start a new one? Or does the human memory bind us to what has been and gone for as long as memory lives?

I am only 20.  I feel I should omit the word ‘only’ as it would seem that I have been on a greater journey than most people my age.  However I know that the mathematical proportion of my past compared to my future proves that there is much more to come.  I’m sure I will read this in another 20 years and agree…

I don’t remember much of my childhood, my teens were rough, my parents divorced and I was kicked out at the age of 16 to find my own way.  During a period of severe depression and insomnia, I experienced what most would call a ‘religious experience’ at the age of 15, which literally saved my life.  I gave my life to Jesus two years later.  I would say I’ve been in two serious relationships in my life; the first wrecked me, the second made me aware of how wrecked I really was.  All these things make me who I am.  But each new dawn, and each new struggle that comes with it, is made heavier by the things that I carry from my experiences.  Not only does it effect times of struggle, but it dominates my thinking, my philosophical contemplations and my search for truth. 

As human beings, it is in our nature to ask questions.  To live is to search for truth.  Even the seemingly naive search for it, focusing on the truth of the self, testing their identity with the activities they partake in and the people they relate to, in an attempt to know oneself.  One truth that seems to dominate over all others is that of love and all its subheadings.  What is friendship, compassion, communication, trust?  What do they mean to us?  This is certainly something that has been central to my life; my years spent searching for security, acceptance, affection.  My two major relationships provided a drastic dualism upon which I have tried to base my philosophy of love, as well as the masses of second hand experience that back it up.  A search that I have ached with all along that line of history, can I finally spread my wings with ‘the falling of dusk’?

“…take the case of a lover who has been unhappy in love, and suppose that the way he yields to his passions is really unreasonable, impious, and unchristian.  In case you cannot begin with him in such a way that he finds genuine relief in talking to you about his suffering and is able to enrich his mind with poetical interpretations you suggest for it, notwithstanding you have no share in this passion and want to free him from it - if you cannot do that, then you cannot help him at all; he shuts himself away from you, he retires within himself…”

- Kierkegaard

I believe that God is love.  Therefore God is the definition of love, the one knowing love in its entirety.  I also believe that God is unreachable in terms of us gaining understanding of Him.  This notion, in concurrence with my aporia, brings me to the conclusion that I will never know love.  I have come into wisdom, in the sense that I admit that I do not know anything.  As Kierkegaard puts it: “Truth is subjectivity”.  There remains hypocrisy in that I cannot but help longing for the search to go on, despite my accepting that the search would be an eternal process leading to no possible conclusion.  I am only human after all, and as I said before, that is what we do, we live to search for truth.  Perhaps some day I will find a new love that will spark a revision of this philosophy, perhaps one day I’ll be put into the situation whereupon I should have ‘the marriage talk’.  How do we really know we’re in love, when we cannot know what love is in its entirety?  That question can be asked day after day for months, even years, and it can never be answered.  Unlike a relationship with God (for which we have reassurance or ‘proof’ from the Holy Spirit), we must take a blind leap of faith based on what we think we know about love.  The search brings no gain, so now I retire within myself.  And that, for now, is my horizon.

“If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it… Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it; weep over them you will also regret that… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both… This gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy”.

- Kierkegaard