Not working & Social Worth

When (and where) I was growing up working was one of those things everyone did. Sure, there were unemployed people around me (largely out-of-work builders which are a special sub-category) but they were always between jobs or at least full-time single mothers looking forward to going back to work. People started working young, finished working late and people never failed to ask you what you did for a living or what you were going to do when you grew up. The rhetoric of benefit scroungers hadn’t begun – though everyone knew at least one person ‘doing the double’ – if you could afford to not work you were probably some rich layabout, toff slacker but in essence the idea was similar – if you weren’t working you weren’t contributing to your family or to society at large.
This attitude to working that categorised it as a) only being real if it was paid b) a defining part of your personality and c) a measure of your human and social worth snuck into my subconscious very young. Interestingly though, the amount one was paid was never considered an important factor and there was some kudos attached to working very hard for little pay to feed your family and see them or choosing vocational roles like nursing which traditionally are poorly paid. What it did was teach me that my value as a member of society and as a member of my family is based on the amount of time and energy I put into supporting them through paid employment.

By not working I have transformed myself from being slightly feckless to a burden on those around me. I immediately become a fundamentally lazy and thoughtless individual (doubly so because I have the physical capability to work); my opinion matters less; I forfeit my right to welfare; I am simply not trying hard enough.

The political landscape in this country has increasingly reinforced these ideas – idle benefit scroungers are a daily feature of the news, (Today: Freeze unemployment benefits – which only last a few months anyway – but not working tax credit…), there is an idea that people who don’t work only ever hang around in pubs and cause crime and that there is a right sort of work  [often ‘not pub work’]. This means that a graduate who refuses a job in a supermarket is a scrounging snob but ‘that kid over there with the brightly coloured tatts’ behind the counter at the supermarket twice a week is too lazy to get a full-time job… damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Oh and overlaying it more strongly now (and perhaps here – now I am in a town not the sticks) is an anxiety about spending enough to dress right, to have the appropriate gadgets but not to spend so much that you look profligate and reckless; about saving for a holiday but not necessarily a pension; about telling people you have no money so they won’t hate you but spending enough so you don’t seem stingy or like you really have none because you didn’t get paid very much/work hard enough to earn ‘enough’.  Work harder, spend less, prove you can support your family, work harder, don’t ‘look’ poor…

Its all reassuringly liberal-capitalist: work hard and you’ll go far; count your success with your pennies and your consumption; useful = worthwhile;  pay some taxes in (but not too much) don’t expect anything back; Earn it – Deserve it

As with many of these things I find myself stuck behind my own double standards – I fundamentally believe (intellectually) that one should be able to contribute to society and family in many ways, including voluntary work, political campaigning, house-keeping, etc. . I believe that I personally pay my taxes in order to provide schools and hospitals and nursing homes regardless of the work-status of families – I am proud to pay taxes to support people less fortunate than myself (though that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe that encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and work towards an appropriate degree of self-sufficiency isn’t a goal of that support; or that some people do take the piss and don’t try to support themselves financially).
I also (emotionally) believe that I personally do not work hard enough and that by not being paid to work and therefore bringing money into our household I am of less use and thus worth. No amount of housework or emotional support or admin support or financial planning on my part will ever be as much of a contribution as being able to pay the bills and the mortgage and buy the food. Sad but true.

Brief Comment on Democracy

The UK did some electing recently and I was able to participate thanks to the postal voting system.

It might sound like a trite thing to say but it is worth drawing attention to; I don’t have a postal vote because I am frequently out of the country or live at two addresses – I use one because it means that I can be part of the democratic process no matter how my health is on polling day.

If you suffer from any kind of depression or social anxiety walking into the polling station and making any sort of decision is mind-blowingly intimidating and overwhelming for the cognitive processes. Not to mention you have to get your shit together enough to know which day it is and where you are going.
I managed it only once; stood in a booth sweating, shaking and crying whilst I tried to remember something relevant about the names in front of me and knew I would probably never do it again.

With a postal vote, I receive my ballot papers in advance. It means I have a chance to look at the candidates, walk away, look again, let them sink in & even go away and read about them on the internet all over again; I have a chance to read the instructions 3 or 4 times so I don’t just spoil the ballot paper and to actually make a choice. A real informed democratic choice.
It also means I have about a week to remember to take it to the postbox whenever I feel confident without time-pressure.

So when we talk about all the people who don’t vote and wring our hands in wet liberal despair about disenfranchisement – just remember that a simple change of process meant that my mental health no longer gets in the way of my vote and it might help someone else too!

What’s in a name?

A friend of mine recently commented about her resistance to changing her name when she wed and shared a link to this article.

As a woman in the “Western World” it is still usually assumed that you will take on your husband’s surname and yet as civil partnerships become more common and people who have delayed marriage til later in life find that their professional life is dominated by the name they built up this must surely be becoming as much a practical issue as it is a gender politics one.

Personally I feel no more strongly about changing your name if you get married than I do about keeping the name assigned to you by your parents – neither is automatically your identity so much as they are about your family and your connections. Sharing your surname with your parents or your children marks out a sense of belonging (in both a negative & positive sense) and builds up history. A similar trend must surely be seen in the continuing desire for many people to give their children the same names as their parents or grandparents (even if it is often relegated to a middle name).For some this is a burden and for others a sense of joy.

Whether you feel more strongly connected to the past in your own parents, desire a connection to the family who you marry into or wish to forge a new family bond and new name must surely be a personal choice in this day and age…

More importantly I feel that we should not question an individuals relationship with their name – for some it is a torture (be that through bullying at school or the gender assumptions it carries) for others it is an intensely personal point of pride. What is interesting, socially speaking, is the expectations we put on people:

  • That women will change their name at least once in their lives [and those who don’t are spinsters, lesbians or uber-feminists (which may because they are both of the first two of course)]
  • That men won’t change their’s [and those that do are milksops to their wives or hiding something]
  • Hypenation is an ugly postmodern cop-out that suggests you are a bit too right-on
  • If one half of a homosexual couple changes their surname to match their partner’s they are the more feminine party
  • That wanting to change your name substantially marks you out as odd
  • That children having a different surname to the main adults in their life is undesirable

I think that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how tied we are to a traditional family structure despite the number of possible variations currently experienced…
Food for thought.


On a completely personal level – I have no desire to change the name my parents gave me (indeed with the exception of my online persona and the pet name my wife uses for me I have never settled into any nicknames); I never expected to change my name even as a child despite the attitudes of most of my schoolfriends; my name is my brand academically speaking and is even more so for my wife; we are all (all 3 of us?) slightly attached to the connection to the history and continuation of our families as represented in our names; we have not been able to settle on what surname we would give any children but agreed that something new is the best choice/compromise for our blended family….

Why Church and State should be separate in the issue of marriage.

According to a number of religious groups calling the union of a same-sex couple marriage under law fundamentally undermines the institution of marriage..

….So in light of the recurrent hissy-fits thrown by various religious leaders, politicians and feminists alike (albeit for radically different reasons -usually), I propose the government of the UK abolishes the term marriage entirely and institutes new terminology:-

  • a word meaning relationship sanctioned and solemnised by a religious organisation,
  • a word meaning relationship recognised and protected by the state; and
  • a word for all other fucking arrangements

Christians may have matrimonia, Jews nissuin, Muslims Nikah etc. or choose some other word that denotes the change in status (as befits their traditions and language – which lets be honest I’m not an expert on). Civil ceremonies can have partnership. Then anyone who confused marriage and parenthood or got antsy about the role of a person in their domestic partnership because it was called marriage could be fined for whining about a word that has been outlawed and told to mind his own bloody business.

What I mean is that the key issue that I see within the debate is a complete failure of separate parties to comprehend the values attached to a word by the opposing side. Realistically I understand that if your idea of relationships involves following the strictures of your religious leaders seeing others do it differently is threatening to your situation because it suggests that either you are wrong or that they completely fail to respect you or simply that they are risking their immortal soul (insert equivalent here) by not following your guidelines. Similarly if you are a hard-line liberal suggesting that there is a right way to do relationships fundamentally threatens someone’s freedom and putting a label pre-owned by religious institutions on it might suggest ownership or restrictions and degredation of women – ideas that might seem horrific to people whose religious ideals are being judged.

It therefore seems clear that there should be provision for separate commitments. All religions can therefore be treated equally – each of them can be recognised as offering a form of union with its own rules and privileges within the community but none of them automatically conferring state rights. Then a civil union can be sought with or without religious involvement with exactly the same rights and responsibilities invoked no matter who is concerned.
Would it really destroy the Christian church if instead of sanctifying and legalising a marriage in one go the state’s involvement was done before or after as the individuals saw fit? They could go about their affairs, choosing who entered the sacrament and keeping that sacrament ‘holy’, and the choice of the state to protect and equalise (for example) next-of-kin rights or tax benefits between gay or straight couples would not be tantamount to forcing the Church to change their position.

I realise that the key issue is emotive – some gay couples want the ability to call their union marriage, just as some couples (gay and straight) hate the word and want recognition regardless. Similarly certain religious groups feel the word belongs to them.
Hence my proposal is that if you can’t play nicely and share then none of you can have it.

Marriage is outlawed.

Edited to add: I am by no means anti-marriage and am in many respects deeply happy with my civil-partnership. See Here. I am however deeply frustrated by a debate that appears to focus on an attachment on the idea that one word will change the way people form relationships – well sod it!

Obligatory Commentary on Rioting

So in case you missed it some yoofs in London and a couple of other cities in the UK have been setting fire to things and looting shops over the last couple of nights.

There have been a lot of comments from politicians about how deplorable it is, and you know they are right that destroying peoples homes and livelihoods can never be applauded and yet it amazes me how quickly we can move away from thoughts about why people might decide to riot.

I would stress that I wholeheartedly deplore the kind of violence that puts innocent people’s safety at risk and I am saddened to see people frightened or put out of business but it is a shame that there is not more realisation that this was an inevitable step of expression amongst the urban ‘poor’ in the middle of a recession.
Bored Broke kids who feel cut off from the political system and like they have no future are easily encouraged to join into anti-social behaviour. Worse crowd mentality cuts in and the sense of right and wrong is reduced to them and us, where them is everyone outside of your mob – can we truly say we are suprised?

I am sad that this is where we are and even more sad that the solution is simply to send in riot police rather than engage..