F*CK YOU, DELIVEROO.

I’ve voiced my dissatisfaction with Deliveroo before, but this is a rather more serious point than my light-hearted jibe at their crap adverts.

I was out on Christmas Eve, heading over to The Boy’s flat for takeaway, wine, and nerdery, and I was Absolutely Bloody Fuming to have witnessed a transgression of the Highway Code that I felt I Should Do Something.  If you’ve ever been in the car with me, you’ll know that my expectations of other drivers are exacting, and that my driving style is akin to that of Kenneth Noye.

I was using a pedestrian crossing, and waiting for the green man to appear as I had been instructed to do in my early years, and as We Should All Do (Rules 7 to 25 of the Highway Code).  The much-awaited green man revealed himself, traffic approaching the crossing stopped, and about 30 of us (I live in the city centre; there’s rarely a time when it is not busy) stepped out, to continue our business on the other side.

Out of nowhere, a Deliveroo driver on a scooter shot through the red light, which had been that way for a good five seconds.  He performed an emergency stop, but still hit someone, with whom he remonstrated for a minute or so before getting back on his round (so, fortunately, it wasn’t a serious collision).  I was incensed that a fellow road user could be so inconsiderate and downright dangerous, so I put my Good Citizen Hat on and recorded the vehicle’s registration number.  I was all ready to report it to the local fuzz and the Council’s licensing authority, but then I Calmed The F*ck Down, gained some perspective, and decided to conveniently erase what I had seen from my memory.

See, I know that a) it’s not easy working in the Gig Economy, and b) that gentlemen will be lucky to be earning the minimum wage, let alone a living one.  Did I really want to get him into trouble and plunge him into an even worse state of poverty?  Even worse, he probably needs to risk his life and license in order to complete all the drops he needs to, to put food on the table.

And a bigger question, to which I do not know the answer – is it ethical for me to use services like Deliveroo and Uber, where it has been well-documented that their workers are getting a substandard deal?  I mean, people do want to work for these companies, and without this questionable means of running a business, those people would be without jobs.  But in using their services, I’m helping to keep things the way they are.  We could have even had the same driver for our takeaway that night.  At least we left them a tip – seriously, everyone, look after your delivery and taxi drivers.  They do a difficult and poorly-paid job, and they are the grease that keeps society’s wheels turning.

It’s complicated, and I don’t know what the answer is.  While I can stay informed on consumer & human rights issues, there is only so much I can actually do to reduce harm.  Hell, living in the West, you’re still shitting on someone else even if you go off-grid and live in a sodding yurt.  How about we start a conversation in the comments?

FROM D.O.A. TO D.O.I.

I’ve been struggling with keeping on top of my research of late; my health’s not been brilliant, and I’ve had a lot of projects to get done in the run up to the end of the year.  I only officially handed in my end-of-year-one report the Monday before Christmas (it was a whole three years in the making), and I was worried that I might drop out, but also really sick of the whole damn thing.  While my ability to get the job done has been massively impacted by external factors, I found the literature review component of my studies to be a real drag.  I know how important it is to assess the present state of research and knowledge, so that I will have a firm foundation upon which to build.  But I really wanted to skip that bit and jump into the independent research stage!

Honestly, I don’t know if anyone else is quite as excited about transferring into the second year of a Ph.D as me, but I’m sure that with this level of new-found enthusiasm, nothing could possibly go wrong (extremities crossed!).  And now the fun stuff really starts.  And I’ve had a few very exciting things happen to keep my interest buoyed:

  • I submitted abstracts to two more conferences, and so far have had one accepted;
  • I’m assembling the structure of my first research paper;
  • And I published a referenceable work and created my first, proper, academic research profile!

If you’re a seasoned academic, you’ll see that these are just baby steps.  I am a curious toddler in a world full of adults.  But my childlike excitement for novelty is my gift – I’m in awe of what’s been achieved before me, and of what I can achieve in my research career.

You can find my ResearchGate profile here, and my first published work (originally created in June 2016) here.

SELF-WORTH

This isn’t a confidence-boosting, self-help load of waffle.  This is actually about something totally wrong-headed I heard from an acquaintance with, uh, clearly different aspirations to me.

More than a difference of opinion, this is about some seriously harmful and life-limiting stereotypes that are still with us even in the 21st Century.  Worryingly, this is just one occasion of many that I’ve heard a variation on this theme, and there seem to be social penalties for those who don’t comply.

So I was on my way to the water cooler, when I happened upon two colleagues discussing marriage (not to each other, but I have no problems with that – more in a future post).  These two individuals were a younger woman (late 20s-ish), and an older gentleman, with, ahem, traditional views.  The younger woman was engaged, but not looking to get married and have children just yet.  You might not agree with that attitude (it doesn’t entirely align with my thoughts), but that’s what she wants, and what she’s getting in her present relationship.  Good for her.

And literally everything that was said after this point was a cringe-inducing train wreck of a conversation.  So the older chap suggests that:

  1. She should hurry up and get married because all men are commitment-phobes (I will address the myriad contentions I have with this idea below, but for now let’s just celebrate that at least this guy is an equal-opportunities sexist);
  2. [I feel it necessary to point out here that these were his actual words, because this is just such a bizarre phrase to actually come out of someone’s mouth]  “A person hasn’t achieved anything in life until they’ve had children” (he literally said this, and again, detailed analysis of the blindingly obvious to follow below).

And then he starts to engage me in the conversation.  Now there are some people that I work with that I can be my passionate, political and skeptical self with.  This guy is not one of them.  But seriously, I’m not going to keep my mouth shut about this.

WEIRD BLOKE: “Don’t you agree, Science Lady, that our sole purpose is to pass on our genetic material?”

SCIENCE LADY: “Um, no, actually.  There are plenty of ways to live a meaningful life.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you’ve already achieved things with your offspring, haven’t you?”

[here I need to point out that for numerous reasons I do not talk about my children at work.  This guy knows it’s something I consider inappropriate, but decorum certainly isn’t his strong suit]

SCIENCE LADY: “It’s complicated.  I don’t like to talk about it.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you know, you’ve fulfilled your purpose in life.”

SCIENCE LADY: “I have lots of things to live for, and not everyone wants to be a parent.  Many people choose not to, or are unable to have kids.  And they provide a valuable role as caretakers.  If everyone is focused on nurturing children at the expense of everything else, how can we develop as a society?”

[older gentleman looks aghast]

WEIRD BLOKE: “I don’t know what you mean.”

SCIENCE LADY: “We need other people to perform tasks that benefit the community, so that the whole environment provides suitable conditions for children to flourish.  And for some people, that’s a role they’re better suited to than parenthood.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “Oh, well I think you’re wrong.”

[awkward silence]

So that was depressing.  It’s amazing what things you learn about the beliefs of others when they let their guard down.  Anyway, time for some Grade-A ranting:

  1. So men are all commitment-phobic? Well, that’s not true, although men may generally have different requirements for wishing to settle down that don’t match those of many women, thereby creating this impression.  I also think it’s a lot to do with maturity, and the notion that other things in a man’s life need to be sorted before he allows himself to be vulnerable.  And the unrealistic ideals society has about relationships (oooh, another post on this, too!).
  2. It doesn’t really say good things about him, given that he’s saying how fickle his own gender is. Doesn’t matter if he’s repeating society’s lie, it’s still bullshit.
  3. This young woman is clearly happy in her relationship choice, and she doesn’t need some weird bloke telling her that she should do it differently.
  4. If someone is living with a person, and they’re engaged to be married, there is a certain amount of commitment inherent in that situation.
  5. While I have “passed on my genetic material” (could we make it sound any more clinical?), I have many ambitions, dreams, and goals. I want to be successful, to be remembered as a contributor to society, to enhance the lives of others who aren’t necessarily blood relatives.
  6. Unfortunately, having children does pose some restrictions on one’s life, especially in a society that still leaves most of the child-rearing burden on one parent. And many people don’t like kids, don’t want the responsibility, and just want something else from life.  They don’t need anyone’s approval or opinions on whether their lifestyle is valid.
  7. Some people are unable to have children, for a huge variety of reasons. Some of them are OK with that; many of them aren’t.  Attaching moral value to a distressing situation that cannot be resolved is cruel and simplistic.
  8. The world has 7 billion inhabitants and rising at the time of writing this. Numerous studies have demonstrated that there are too many of us, consuming resources at too great a pace, for the planet to be able to support us.  Of course many people will want to have children of their own, but forcing people down this route is slowly killing us all (have a great day, but don’t forget the ever-looming reminder of your own mortality!).
  9. This statement shows that this individual views the child-free as less worthy. You may think, “oh, well that’s just one individual’s bigoted opinion”, but there is evidence that those who choose to stay single and/or childless are seen as less mature, stable, and with lower status (Career-wise, not having children penalises men, and having children disadvantages women. Talk about a zero-sum game.).
  10. Women in particular are the recipients of an inordinate amount of questioning regarding the status of their reproductive organs. Not only is this intrusive and downright inappropriate, the sexist expectation that all women are incubators-in-waiting needs to be sent back to the 1800s.

So that was my Tuesday.  Let’s see what pisses me off tomorrow!

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN PART 3: THE DIET COKE EFFECT

Who remembers the Diet Coke advert with a bunch of female office workers ogling a shirtless site worker? <pssst… it’s 11.30>  At the time, it was a pretty funny ad, subverting the idea that women’s bodies are visual currency for men.  It made its point, and was a wildly popular ad, but it was 20 years ago, and the world has moved on since then – or has it?

Some of the women I work with speak about men in the same way; like they are objects on display for our entertainment.  It’s worse when its about colleagues of ours – it makes me cringe.  I work around the corner from The Birdcage – which I would like to visit, but not for this – which regularly has male strip shows with “Full Monty Guaranteed!”.  Call me a prude (ha, ironically maybe), but I think it’s rather distasteful.  Not to mention that the hairless, chiselled male bodies that we’re supposed to find attractive, look like children to my sex brain.  Ew.

When men speak of women in this way, they are rightly criticised.  But in 2016, it’s apparently OK for women to treat the other half of the human race like pieces of meat.  Sure, it seemed empowering 20 years ago, but it’s just embarrassing now.  There’s hypocrisy in that the same people who salivate over male bodies would get angry at men doing the same to women.  But there’s a worse hypocrisy; that I’m scared to call people on it because this is a socially accepted behaviour – and I’d be the weirdo for complaining.  I don’t feel that it damages men as a whole, sexism still has a disproportionately worse impact on women, but it does affect the way individuals see the world, and how they behave in relationships.  It’s toxic for the ogler, and for the ogl-ee.

Here’s a cheerful article on the rise of eating disorders among men.  It’s far more common than we had allowed ourselves to think.  I’d love it for gender equality to not be a race to the bottom where everyone is marginalised to an equivalent degree – we can do so much better than this.

THIS IS PLANET EARTH

Tonight I just caught the end of Planet Earth II – the last one in the series, as it happens.  It was about how various species have adapted to life in the cities that humans have created.  I switched on at the bit with hyenas that coexist with humans in Harar, Ethiopia, and watched right through to the end with Hawksbill Turtles crossing the road in Barbados.

The trouble with the Hawksbill Turtles is that when they hatch (which is at night), they need to head towards the sea, like, right away.  And how do they find the sea?  They follow the big, bright light in the sky because that signifies the Moon’s reflection off of the sea.  Unfortunately for them, humans have developed technologies that really screw with the hatchlings’ sense of direction.  Towns on the shore are full of bright lights that outshine the Moon, and so the turtles head away from the sea and into the towns.  Of those that do make it to the sea, only 1 in 1000 will grow to adulthood.  The odds aren’t looking great for the Hawksbill Turtles.

But back to the ill-fated wanderers.  Off they go on their journey towards what they must think of as the bestest, brightest, mega-moon evaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr!  And there are many hazards on the way.  Some disorientated turtles fall prey to hungry shore crabs, some slip into storm drains and can’t get out, and others get run over on the busy roads.  I’m not sure what happens to any of them that survive this turtle-themed Tough Mudder, but given that they need to make it to the sea to survive, it doesn’t look great.

But it’s not all bad!  Conservationists on the beaches of Barbados go out at night to rescue lost turtles and plop them back in the sea, as illustrated in this video.

Yay!  The heart-warming responses to BBC Earth’s tweets about this are testament to the Awesome Feels this engenders in the viewing public.  This time I haven’t concealed names to protect the guilty, as everyone in this public Twitter exchange is remarkably well-behaved:

But I’m not sure if this is the correct thing to do.  Watching this, I was reminded of the results of a well-intentioned intervention by humans on the nesting behaviour of black robins.  My party-pooping-self dropped a Devil’s Advocacy bomb on the Twitter love-in:

not one to mince my words The article I linked to (link reproduced below also) described how researchers in New Zealand noticed that some black robin females would lay eggs around the rim of the nest, leaving them less likely to be properly incubated.  The contents of these eggs would die.  And so conservationists would push these eggs back towards the centre of the nest to give them a chance of survival.  It was a huge success; more black robins were born and survived as a result of their intervention.  However, there was a catch: the offspring arising from the intervention would be more likely to lay their eggs around the edge of the nest.  The conservationists had inadvertently retained a trait in the species that would have been bred out due to natural selection.

The Road To Extinction Is Paved With Good Intentions

I wonder if that could be happening here – are we killing the species with kindness?  I’m not a biologist, so my expertise in this area is rather limited.  But it sounds like a similar scenario. Can anyone advise? Leave me a comment below!

 

LOSING MY RELIGION

Maybe the title of this post is a little inaccurate.  I never really had religion inside my heart or my mind, but it was very much a part of my life as a youngster.  I grew up in an isolated community in which the church played a big role, and even though I attended non-faith schools, religion was still ubiquitous.  In my first two schools, the legal requirement for an act of daily worship was strictly adhered to; we regularly had visits from church groups to teach us dubious moral lessons, and religious dogma permeated the syllabus.  And this was in an ordinary, non-faith school system.  I’ve heard of the experiences of those who did attend religious schools, and their stories range from the casually harmful to the downright monstrous.  In addition to the formal aspects of education, the ethos of the schools was very much focused on discipline and shame.  We were not educated about drugs, alternative lifestyles or sexuality, or even about our bodies and sex in anything but the most clinical and limited terms.  I think the idea was that if we were shielded from it, we wouldn’t do it (this presents a kind of magical thinking about the teenage brain).

My family were incredibly religious, attending church at least twice a week.  My childhood was overseen by good old-fashioned Christian discipline, with certain topics off-limits for discussion (anything about the human body, sex, or social injustices), and certain viewpoints the unquestionable truth (homosexuality = bad, nuclear family = good).  The way this was instilled within us was by fear.  Disobedience or blasphemy (yes, as a child I was instructed to limit my speech, and by extension, my thinking) were punished by a beating, or at the very least by being yelled at.  No opportunity for reflection was given, so that I could figure out what I’d done wrong – I just learnt to know what I could get away with around whom.

Throughout my school career, there was a noticeable divide between those who had religion, and those who didn’t.  Although our community was cut off, plenty of families were more outward-looking and didn’t get caught in the trap.  At the time, I thought that the children from those families were mean and spiteful and bad.  So it was a difficult dance to perform at school – I wanted to have friends, but I also knew that the kids I wanted to hang around with were prone to taking the piss out of the religious, and it made me feel really small.  Even though I didn’t believe in it, there was a feeling of “wrongness”, like these words were a personal attack on me.  In these situations I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they would stop, and (please, please, please!) not turn their attention on me.  Not having anywhere to turn while trying to leave religion behind was so awkward for me.  I wish that I’d discovered atheist groups before my thirties, my formative years could have been so much more enjoyable.

In my late teens, a family friend encouraged me to get confirmed.  By this point in my life I was unsure how I felt about religion, but it was something that we just “did”, so I went along with it.  Unfortunately this then imposed all kinds of expectations on me, that I would attend church more regularly, that I would take communion (I felt so uncomfortable about this – like I had been coerced into a ceremony I felt no connection to), that I would live my life in a certain way, and most insidiously that I would “find some new friends”.  I toed the line up until the first opportunity arose that gave me a chance to leave, which was going to university shortly after I had turned 18.  My parents were dead against it (it’s a dangerous world, there are all sorts of bad influences out there, etc, etc), but I already had a reputation for being headstrong (I wasn’t really, I was just normal, but my parents didn’t want to have to deal with “normal”).

So by the time I arrived at uni almost 20 years ago (I know!), I was simultaneously glad to be free, and quite fearful of the myriad opportunities for transgression that were available pretty much as soon as I was left alone in a strange city for 5 minutes.  I wasn’t good at making safe choices, or controlling my impulses, because I’d never been allowed to make mistakes as a child.  Religion may well keep its adherents on the straight and narrow, but only because it prevents them from figuring things out for themselves.  Take someone out of that environment, and they have a LOT of catching up to do.  I was all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and very little study.  I learnt so much about myself that first year away, but I did it the hard way.  I made all my social mistakes at once, and got myself into some rather sticky situations that I found it difficult to extricate myself from.  I discovered that left alone to develop my own morals and beliefs, I was becoming quite a different person to what my parents had told me I was.  My year 1 flatmates didn’t really like me, and one of the reasons we didn’t get on was that I just wasn’t at the same stage of development as them.  I went it alone a lot of the time, and didn’t always reach the healthiest conclusions.  I would never have wanted to admit at the time that I was vulnerable, but I was.  I wasn’t self-aware or resilient enough – if I had been, I’d have dropped religion a lot sooner.

By this time religion was just something that one did, I certainly didn’t feel an attachment, or find meaning in any of it.  There had been times in my teens when I had enjoyed the collective euphoria of a religious service, or the community aspect, but I never really believed it.  I assumed that other people at church must have felt the same way, but I’ve since met many people of whom it is clear that they really do believe (I try to understand their views, but it’s almost like the “religion” part of my mind doesn’t really work.  The “philosophy” part, however….).  I wonder if the first red flag occurred with Santa Claus.  See, I hear of many stories when someone first realised that Santa wasn’t real.  Well, I don’t have that memory.  Santa was spoken of in our house, I was told the stories about him delivering all the presents on 24th December and sneaking in down the chimney to drop them off, and many of my Christmas presents were “From Santa”.  But even my 4- or 5-year-old self knew it was a crock of shit.  I clearly remember knowing while that age that Santa was just a story.  As was the tooth fairy.  But the thing to do was to play along because it was kind of fun, and involved getting presents.  This could well have laid the foundations for my shallow acceptance of religion growing up.  I knew that with non-religious peers and adults, I could do and say one thing, and with my family or at church I must do another.  It was complicated by the overtly religious nature of my schooling, because the lines between religious instruction and the real world were blurred.  I had to discern which role to play in which circumstance, so while I lacked some social skills, I became very good at reading people’s intentions.  I also knew how to give people what they wanted, which became dangerous as I also learnt that I should always please others.  That’s a hard one to shake, and I’ve still not really got there.

One thing that I really struggled with was that adults who knew the family, even if they weren’t religious themselves, had expectations of me being religious.  I had to act out scenes which I really didn’t believe in.  It felt hypocritical.  I felt uncomfortable going through the motions, because I knew it wasn’t me, but I also couldn’t tell my parents how I felt – they totally lost it if I repeated a religious joke, so telling them I thought it was bullshit was probably not going to go down well.

So I was away from home, feeling gratitude that I could live my life the way I wanted, but also still holding on to some “god-fearing” beliefs.  To this day, I have anxiety about taking the Lord’s name in vain, even though I know it’s entirely inconsequential.  It’s like I retained all the bad bits and lost any good bits from religion (fortunately there aren’t that many).  Over the years my confidence grew, and I’m a lot more outspoken about my beliefs.  I also don’t put up with other people’s false assumptions about me.  I only wish I’d managed this quicker than I did.

I used to hold some really objectionable opinions that were completely baseless when I actually thought about them logically (for example, I inherited – and subsequently disinherited – homophobia from my parents, while also knowing that it was a stupid and harmful belief.  That’s cognitive dissonance for you!).  And that was one thing that changed in my mindset – I had no problem logically seeing that the religion itself was a fantasy, but the baggage that came with it went unquestioned until I was out of the bubble.  Deconstructing these beliefs and opinions also took time, but it was a necessary process.  My politics and views on oppressed minorities are so changed that my personality is unrecognisable now, and I cringe at some of the views I held up to be true.

Actually leaving religion – that was the hard bit.  I had no resources to safely get away, or to prevent well-meaning family from trying to rein me back in.  Leaving home was the only way that I could do it, and it had to be far away.  Living just down the road would not have been enough distance.  It’s one thing that makes me wary when people mock the religious: like at school, when kids from the more enlightened families would poke fun at religion.  I shared their views, but I could also tell that they saw me as one of the religious types.  The joke kept me in my place.  Having met many people who’ve desperately searched for a way out, I exercise caution in this respect.  Sure, it’s one thing to ridicule from afar, but how many closet atheists are we preventing from finding freedom?  We have to be welcoming to those who retain their faith, to those who question it, and to those who we have no idea of their intentions.  Leaving religion is a journey, and there’s no set course.  Assumptions harm, and as skeptics we should be especially wary.