Archive for October, 2010

Scum

Posted: October 21, 2010 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , , ,

I just read this story about a twelve-year-old girl who, while a guardian of the state of Tasmania, was pimped out to over a hundred men by her mother and her mother’s partner.

To say that I’m sicked by this is an understatement.

Legal action is being taken against the state. Which is good. Given my druthers, both pimps would be locked up somewhere so distantly removed from civilisation as to constitute a separate entity. The article doesn’t say as much, but I’ll assume something is being done along those lines, too.

But what I want to know is this:

Who were the hundreds of men to pay for a girl who, apart from being clearly underage, was just as evidently being sold by her caretakers? Going to a brothel is one thing; going to what I imagine was a private house to rape a frightened child and paying for the privilege is another. It is vile, and criminal, and it makes me want to pour bleach on the whole human race. And then set fire to it.

Look: I have issues with the whole high school thing.

These issues are wide-ranging. They involve mundane, unintelligent and generally backward curricula, antiquated teaching methodologies, the negligent pay scales for teachers, the lack of reward and prestige for education as a profession, the bastardisation of learning into something that is neither relevant to grades nor recommended that teachers embrace in their own lives, the structure of a system that creates year levels on the basis of age rather than ability, the general social malaise of throwing a whole bunch of teenagers in the same deep pool and yelling SWIM!, the generational incomprehension of techonological and social media as an advanced medium of bullying –

OK. I could go on.

You get that.

But here’s the thing:

High school fucking sucks, man.

We all know it.

Every teenager knows it.

Most adults with actual memories of their high school years, no matter how rosy-lensed, can acknowledge it.

And yet our ability to change that system? Even in the smallest ways?

Is seemingly non-existent.

I have cared about the shitness of high school since I was thirteen. That was eleven damn years ago, and I am still howling into a void. In abstract, it should help my case that so many things are so obviously wrong with the system. In the Land of Government and Educational Bureaucracy, however, that’s actually a massive hindrance, because in a society where ripping a major institution down, salting the earth and building afresh is less an option than it is political suicide, there’s no obvious starting point for reform.

And so people do next to nothing.

Because it’s easy.

Because there’s no viable mechanism in place for doing more.

Because optimism with regard to educational reform is seen as naivety.

Because making things better is too fucking hard.

Well, you know what? I’m sick of that excuse.

I am sick of people whose jobs it supposedly is to support and create a culture of knowledge saying that teenagers and their problems are just too hard; that poverty, cruetly, violence and bullying are just too hard; that creating curricula that are relevant, engaging and intelligent is just too hard; that basically doing anything with anyone between the ages of twelve and nineteen that might be of any use to their future selves or lives beyond the most basic social interactions, arithmetic and language skills – and sometimes not even that – is too hard; that spending money on schools and technology is too hard; that talking to actual teenagers about the circumstances of their education is not only too hard, but impossible, because they can’t be trusted to tell the truth, and everyone knows they just hate high school anyway.

Well, here’s a goddam radical thought: maybe high school is worth hating.

I am sick of homophobia and bullying.

I am sick of a system that seems to be based entirely on Lord of the Flies being a valid basis for social hierarchy.

Years of insomnia. Years of random cruetly, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, violence and ignorance. Years of hearing that at some point, every bright, funny, clever or caring person of my acquaintence had been found in the garage with a noose around their neck, standing on a chair and trying to knock themselves out by sniffing petrol fumes so they wouldn’t feel their hyoid break, or cutting themselves with scissors because it was the only sort of pain they could control, or drinking themselves insensible and weeping on school nights because they couldn’t function otherwise, or taking pills and curling up in the dark like Sylvia Plath, or walking along the edge of cliffs and daring themselves to jump off, or burrowing down inside themselves because it hurt like fury, like glass in the heart, and even the other downtrodden would mock them as protection against further mockery themselves. Years of waking up with less right to sick days than an underpaid temp worker, struggling through depression, illness, fear and uncertainty because you’d get a black mark if you dared show up without a doctor’s certificate, and nobody there to point out that colleges don’t give a flying fuck for your attendance record; that at the end of the day, it’s just a piece of laminated cardboard your parents keep in the attic, and not the be-all, end-all of your academic existence.

No. Fuck that noise, and fuck it sideways.

High school students of the world: you are not prisoners. You are not stupid. You have rights. You have opinions. You know what you feel. The rest of us have either forgotten or are in the process of forgetting, because where you are now? It’s about survival. Once you’re out of the jungle, you don’t go wading back in to fight the tigers and tame the lantana. But that’s why those things persist. You get out, and you’re safe, so you forget. You see the little tweaks and changes on the news, and you forget how bad it really was. You grow up. You start to doubt your teenage intelligence. You wonder if it was just because you were seventeen and an idiot that you hated your creepy geography teacher, the one who knocked the girls’ pens off their desks so he could peek down their shirts when they bent over to pick them up, or that you couldn’t find any practical or intellectual application for what you were asked to do, or that nobody would listen to you or had the power to do anything when you told them you were depressed or being bullied.

Fuck that.

Speak up.

Speak up, because your voices are the ones that matter.

All the debate about schools, about curricula, about subjects and bullying and sex and homophobia and ignorance and bad teaching – all of it affects you. More than anyone else, it affects you. But you are being left out, because you are students, and cannot be trusted to have intelligent opinions. Like prisoners, it is assumed that your sole goal is escape. Let’s slide right by the point where that comparison means many adults subconsciously think of schools and jails as being fundamentally the same, necessary-but-evil types of correctional institution. Yes, lots of teenagers are wankers. I know it, and so do you! If that weren’t true, then bullying wouldn’t be a problem. We would live in a candy-cane world of pixies and chocolate, and ride unicorns to school. Being a teenager doesn’t make you automatically right, either. We’re all still learning about life, after all. Personally, I maintain that any person who thinks they’ve reached a point where learning has become optional is (a) deluded and (b) most probably (see above) a wanker.

But here’s the secret: a lot of adults are wankers and/or wrong, too, and many of them have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Perhaps more importantly, they have never had your teenage experience, and are therefore categorically unable to learn from it. There are also good adults in the world – adults who care, and try, and are nonetheless thwarted by a system that desires they do neither – and those adults deserve to be rewarded. But that cannot happen unless you stand up and make your opinions known.

So: right here, right now. Stand up.

This is what the internet is for.

Read. Learn. Protest. Rebel. Think. Question. Argue. Care.

The future is yours, and unless you do something about it? Continued suckage is a definite option.

Be clever. Be subervise. Be creative.

Fight back.

Not on their terms.

But on yours.

And win.

 

Internets, a Thing is bugging me.

Growing up as a tomboy, people were always surprised when, past the age of about ten, I expressed any interest in girly persuits. Aided by the fact that a large number of my friends were boys who had little or no interest in such things to begin with, this lead to mockery, confusion, jokes and/or raised eyebrows whenever I did something like wear a dress or talk about ponies. My reaction was to try and detatch myself from girliness altogether, with varying degrees of success. Even when talking to other girls, I felt I had to be careful. They knew me as a tomboy, and the comforting everydayness of our friendships involved their acknolwdgement of this fact, such that I was counted on, if not expected, to make sarcastic remarks about pretty dresses and my unwillingness to wear them if the others brought it up. In hindsight, I can recognise that this was often a case of the lady protesting too much. I didn’t know how to reconcile my tomboyishness with my femininity, and so attempted – unsuccessfully – to choose between them. It’s taken me years to figure out that I never had to; that there was never a contradiction to begin with. Some days I wear boots and leather and listen to Audioslave, and some days I wear skirts and necklaces and listen to Taylor Swift. It’s all equally me, and I’m cool with that.

The other side of being a tomboy was – is – having more male friends than female, and spending more time with them. This has never meant, however, that I’m always the only girl in a given group of guys, nor that I’m automatically sceptical/resentful of any other girls who might  join in, feminine, tomboy or otherwise, or even that I have no female friends. I do. Girls and guys come in all different flavours. That’s just life.

Which leads me to the Annoying Thing of Annoyance, viz: the sudden preponderence of tough-girl, tomboy urban fantasy heroines who whinge about feminine things like dresses and high heels even as the story forces them to wear both, and always – crucially – under duress. And the villains they face? Are female villains identified as such by their love of pretty clothes, who want to be the only women in their respective roomfuls of men but Who Are Not Real Tomboys Because They Wear Pink And Are Therefore Evil Jezebels,  juxtaposed against the Noble Heroine Who Just Happens To Always Be The Lone Woman Surrounded By Men But Who Wears Pants And Jackets And Is Therefore Trustworthy. What makes me angriest about this trope is the fact that I’ve unconsciously perpetuated it in my own writing – and all because it’s based on a viewpoint that, once upon a time, I shared, and which is still a part of me, despite my efforts towards mental reprogramming.

Listen: I don’t find high heels practical or comfortable, but I still wear them on special occasions out of a desire to dress up. Nobody, not even my mother and not even in childhood, has ever waved a wand, held a gun to my head or otherwise strongarmed me into wearing so much as a scrap of damn clothing that I didn’t want to wear, and I say this as someone who once owned a fluro orange t-shirt and hot magenta overalls that were only ever worn together. I might still feel self-conscious in heels and dresses from time to time, but I also think I look nice like that, and if I ever had guilt about getting dolled up as a teenager, it was because deep down, I was afraid I couldn’t admit to enjoying myself without being laughed at or accused of social apostasy.

So when I read about tough-girl heroines being forced by circumstance to dress up for a party or wear a dress or somesuch and whinging about it non-stop, I get angry. I love me some badass chicks in literature, but I do not want the template for badass chicks to be deeply invested in the Pretty Dresses Are Wrong mindset. And I sure as hell don’t want the most defining characteristic of any and all female villains fought by said badass chicks to be that They Unapologetically Wear Pretty Dresses And Lipstick And Are Basically Evil Hollywood Cheerleaders With Magic.

GAH.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change my own manuscript so as to appear less like a total hypocrite and more…something less hypocritical.

Damn social programming.