Why I’m scared to voice my opinion

Someone from my old school did something incredibly brave a couple of days ago, and it’s been covered by most media outlets – they came out as non-binary to President Obama. This post isn’t about what they did directly, but has been inspired by it – if you’re interested in their story, however, they here’s a link to one of the many articles they’ve been featured in: read here on The Guardian.

Of course my whole timeline on Facebook became filled with this story with people sharing their support, various videos of what happened, and the mentioned articles. I was unable to watch it live, so I went to look at one of the videos posted but ended up in the comments section. As expected, there were the usual disgusting comments of people being unkind, insensitive, and all the rest. However, there was one that stood to me for all the wrong reasons. It was a perfectly polite comment, saying something along the lines of ‘I understand being transgender, but not non-binary as I’m not exactly sure what it means’. This is me paraphrasing of course as I can’t remember the original comment, so forgive me.

It wasn’t this comment that got to me, but the responses to it. All of a sudden, just because someone commented that they didn’t understand, they were called racist, homophobic, sexist, and a whole bunch of ugly names. They hadn’t been rude in their comment, in actual fact they’d been polite and weren’t unkind towards the subject matter at all. They expressed not understanding, and it seems that in a lot of cases these days that is just unacceptable – and, as usual, I’m just talking from my experience.

I’m afraid of talking about, discussing, or even stating what I think on subjects such as feminism, racism, discrimination, gender, oppression, sexuality, and more, mainly because I’m afraid of the backlash. Of course there are the usual arguments, such as how because of the colour of my skin/gender/class, I’m not allowed to have opinions on certain patters. That, however, isn’t what I want to talk about today. What really puts me off is that I’m scared of getting something wrong, of causing offence, of being unintentionally rude. It’s not that I’m planning on going out and saying something controversial in a take-no-prisoners manner; it’s being afraid of being targeted for simply not knowing something.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it difficult not just to discuss these matters but even asking about them, all because of the standard attack I’ve grown to anticipate. Let me try to say this in a clearer way – for me, it’s like saying that I’m scared of maths. You’d probably laugh and say that we’re all scared of maths. What I’m actually trying to say is that I’m scared of learning maths, and that seems far more ridiculous. Why should you be scared of learning about something? Why is learning scary? Why is educating yourself something to be afraid of? Well, from where I stand, it seems that if you say something wrong you don’t simply just get corrected, but you get flayed and strung up for all to see, ostracised for simply not knowing something. Again, and I reiterate this because I want to make sure you understand, I’m not talking about people being intentionally offensive. I’m not excusing people who are so hurtful and rude that they seriously plan to hurt someone’s feelings or put them down. I’m thinking more along the lines of being openly honest and curious yet still polite in trying to say what you think and what you don’t understand in order to then learn.

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With arguments and conversations, it should be a clear discussion with formulated opinions and justifications, not just attacking the other person. I kind of think of it like a discussion on books. Person A says ‘I prefer fantasy to history because I love the imaginations and creations of different worlds’, only for Person B to respond ‘my god you’re stupid and ugly and fat, go back from where you came from’. It doesn’t work. Reading comments on these posts about this person from my old school just made me upset and depressed that this is how some people think. Instead of stating that they just don’t understand, they attacked a person and mocked their opinions without even providing a justified opinion of their own. One person said ‘I don’t understand this generation’ and all I could think was ‘I don’t understand yours’. We should all want to join in on the train of progression and go along with it, not dig in our heels and try to hold it back. We should jump on board and want to learn and stay on that track to a better, and hopefully more understanding and open place.

I think for now that’s all I want to say until more comes to me, and no it’s not just because I don’t think I can continue this train metaphor for much longer. I hope I’ve articulated myself somewhat clearly and I’d love to hear what you think – this may just be the rambles from some white female student, but it’s what I feel and, whether or not you think what I believe matters, my thoughts are here for you to read and respond to.

As always, thanks for reading, and I think the next post I write is going to be on a topic that’s a little less heavy. I’ll need something lighter to help carry me through essay and exam season.

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Female Beauty

I have a notebook obsession – seriously, it’s a bit of an issue that I try to handle every single day. I even tried to get rid of a few old ones the other day, and as I was flicking through  the pages of one of my numerous ‘ideas’ notebooks, I came across a small passage that I wrote. It was a first-person rant by a female character who was fed up of being called arrogant for thinking she was beautiful. When writing it, I think I must have been maybe fourteen and most definitely insecure about my appearance, so of course I wrote about characters who were confident, strong, and took absolutely no shit from anyone.

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Anyway, it got me to thinking – a rare activity for me – about why I, along with so many other girls, are so insecure. Yes, the easy answer is media and body-shaming and blah blah blah, but I think it’s more than just telling girls that they need to be skinny or it’s beautiful to have flawless skin and long flowing locks like some sort of Disney princess. I think you could go far enough to say that we’re not telling girls just about what beauty is, but that they can’t be beautiful. Or at least, they themselves can’t think that.

I’m not making much sense? Right, let me take you to a classic example of a pop song by a boy band beloved by most young girls. Heard of that horridly catchy and irritating What Makes you Beautiful by One Direction? Now, not to hurt too many feelings, I’m sure the boys of 1D did not intend to fit into the stereotype of putting down girls nationwide, but they certainly do with that number. Yes it might sound cheerful and seem sweet about a boy telling a girl she’s beautiful, but let me remind you of the killer line ‘You don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s what makes you beautiful’.

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I know, I know, they seem very cute, but STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. Are you seriously kidding me with this line? Let me elaborate what they’re saying here several times:

  • You don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s what makes you beautiful
  • What makes you beautiful, is that you don’t know it
  • I like the fact you think you’re ugly, it makes you more attractive
  • You have no self-confidence, which I like
  • I like to be superior and for you to feel inferior

Ok, maybe the last one is going a bit too far, but I’m standing by my point. We are telling girls that it’s better for them to have no self-confidence. It’s not good to think that you’re pretty or beautiful because that’s too close to arrogance which isn’t at all attractive. Far better for a boy/man to find a girl who thinks she’s worthless so he can be the one to reassure her, or not. We go back to the ageless stereotype of thinking girls should be meek and quiet who need to be saved by strong men. Stop that right this instant.

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And so we’re back to the classic slut vs stud dichotomy; women who sleep with lots of men are sluts, men who sleep with lots of women are studs – simple! You would think we’d be past this by now but, alas, we are not. And boy bands are partly to blame. Sort of.

Why are girls encouraged, still, that having confidence isn’t great? In an age when we’re trying to get girls thinking that they can be just as good as boys, and telling both boys and girls that they don’t have to fit the stereotype of being strong all the time/quiet and meek all the time, there are still a million and one issues. Beauty is one that we usually think we’ve covered, like there’s some long list and after the numerous attacks on body-shamers and huge long articles about plus-size models and what not, we’ve ticked that box. Hate to be the party-pooper, but we’re a long way from done. Girls are told to be confident in themselves and their abilities, but that doesn’t yet truly extend to being confident about their beauty.

So, let’s please change something. Even if it’s just a song that now says ‘You don’t know you’re beautiful-oh wait, you do know? That’s great news; I find your confidence attractive and I like that we’re on equal footing’, although that’s a little less catchy.

Guide to University: stress

Let’s talk stress.

The education system these days is built to be stressful, and my particularly secondary school excelled at creating the most stressful environment – and that was just for the end of year exams when we were 12, let along the actual GCSEs or A levels when we were 16-18. You could say that I’ve experienced a lot of stress, just as most people have, but when it comes to university it’s very different – at least, that’s what I’ve found.

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In secondary school, a lot of pressure was put on – and although I am talking from my own personal experience, from talking with people I’ve met it’s usually a guarantee that there is pressure. It was all about getting those GCSEs to get into a good sixth form, then getting good AS results to get university offers, then getting your actual A levels to get into university. There was a lot of pressure, talks about what you should be doing, and over-the-top comments about futures working at McDonalds if we didn’t revise trigonometry.

In university, I’ve found it to be very different. Instead of constant talks about exams and essays, they’re mentioned almost in passing. Oh yeah, you guys have an essay due soon, the essay titles are up online. Boom, that’s it, no more, move along, get to it. The stress isn’t put into you by others – no, instead, you are the one who will get stressed on your own. Personally, I worry about everything. Literally everything. I’m early, even when I’m late, and over-plan everything, double checking with friends about times and places and what’s happened and dress code and – god, it’s a stress just waking up sometimes (especially when I have 9ams). When it comes to exams and essays, I worry slightly in the run-up but the actual fear and anxiety doesn’t start to choke me until a month or so beforehand. It can be overwhelming, especially if you deal with anxiety on a daily basis. There isn’t any hand-holding at university, and dealing with everything on your own can be daunting. There’s no point lying and saying that really it’s all ok and you’ll be fine, because the truth is you need to work your arse off to even do average – at least, that’s how I am.

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The trick? Well, there isn’t one – and if there is a trick, then it’s different to everyone. Maybe you work better being in the library from dawn until dusk every day, or maybe you’re better at doing only half an hour every day for months upon end. I hate the library with a vengeance – even when I don’t have exams or essays coming up, just walking through the silent halls and creeping past people scribbling on paper or typing furiously at a computer freaks me out. I feel stressed whenever I try to work there, so normally I avoid it until I have to go to find books for said essays and exams.

My trick to combat stress? Take it one day at a time. I can’t work with timetables that map out my work for the next few weeks, it just makes me more stressed when I get behind schedule – and, trust me, I get behind schedule. I like to make a few lists of what I need to do for each subjects, and then each day I break them down. I pick one or two things to focus on each day. And if I don’t finish them? Not a problem, just finish it off the next day.

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Also use reward system – trust me, it’s a beautiful thing. You need restraint, yes, but if you set yourself achievable – let me just stress that again, achievable – goals that aren’t stupid like ‘write down the title’, then reward yourself at certain points. For example you could do so much as to say get halfway through an essay, or just write the introduction, yet for me I do it at the very end goal of finishing the essay. For exams it’s a more gradual process, so I of course celebrate when they’re over, but I also set mini goals throughout. Such as work through a set amount of lectures, or make all the notecards, or plan out as many practice questions as possible. Again, it’s taking one thing at a time.

I suppose university is only good for a certain mindset. If you need someone to tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, university probably isn’t for you. Hell, I’m at the end of my second year and I still haven’t been told how to write an essay. I’ve just been told not to write an ‘A level’ one, whatever that means.

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I’m not sure how helpful this guide can be, as really it’s just advice for a younger version of me as these are the tricks that work for me, but trust me when I say I can understand stress. I know how, well, stressful it is. It’s tiring just being stressed, and most days I just want to stay in bed and call in a sick day. But there’s no stopping time, no matter how hard you wish for the hands on the clock to just pause for a moment, so you just need to take it one step at a time. What’s that cliche phrase about how every marathon starts with a single step? You know the one. Think of that cliche whenever you’re stressed, and then laugh at yourself for being so cliche. Cheer yourself up with whatever cheers you up – whether that’s seeing your friends, eating copious amounts of chocolate, watching an episode of your favourite show, playing with your dog – and then tell yourself to just work a bit longer for that day. That’s all it takes. It’s a long haul, but in the end it’s worth it.

At least, I think it is. I’ll let you know next year.

Shit. Next year I finish university. Now I’m stressed. Again. Luckily I’ve just booked a trip home so I can play with my dog and take it one day at a time.