The alternative lent - 40 days of chat

The concept of lent seems a little outdated. In absence of religion, giving up anything for forty days requires far more willpower than I have spare. This year lent appears a trendy thing to do - to deny one of life's remaining pleasures in the name of masochism. Whilst everyone else is busy giving up their remaining vices, I've decided to take up a hobby.

When quitting is overrated 

It takes a cultural trend to kick me into gear; proving the fact that I'm just as masochistic (read: hypocritical) as everyone else. In the name of culture I will write something everyday for forty days.

It's not that I'm bored - I'm not. Or that I am looking for a creative outlet - I have a few of those. More that I should take time to do something that isn't focused on work, Instagram, whisky or Netflix. Some time in May or June or July last year, I decided to make a conscious effort on writing a blog. The idea didn't stick around too long as 'something else came up'. Unfortunately, I need a reason to write and the string of projects that have come before have all died some form of un-heroic, sad death.

A Red Hair Affair - a trip down memory lane

My first effort 'A Red Hair Affair' was a fashion blog; however, being in the photos made my insides squirm. It also turned out that if you aren't willing to identify the blog as your own, marketing the thing is near-on impossible. And with that, I bade farewell to my career as a fashion blogger. Following my retirement from fashion, I dabbled with writing for other people's blogs to soothe the fear that 'people might find out it's me'.

A Red Hair affair - One man and a boat

A Red Hair affair - One man and a boat

I'm not sure what I want to write about over the next forty days or where I want to go with this but it's a challe nge (and that means I'll stick with it).

Why 'The Minor Anxiety'?

Everyone has an anxiety, the world is an anxious place and we wouldn't be human if we didn't. From a personal perspective, I'm a huge champion for the vocalisation of mental health issues. We have a mind and sometimes it has doesn't work the way we would like. It's the largest prejudice we have left, and no one is exempt. 

A minor anxiety: Feminism

A dirty word?

“Feminism isn’t a dirty word. It’s not like we’re a deranged group who think women should take over the planet, raise our young on our own and eliminate men from the picture.” Lena Dunham

A confused controversy?

The word women everywhere have grown to hate. ‘Feminism’ has become one of the world’s most controversial topics as people everywhere struggle to understand what a ‘feminist’ actually is. The Collins English dictionary presents a succinct definition, describing a feminist as a ‘person who advocates equal rights for women’. Note the definition says ‘person’ and not ‘woman’, confirming the notion that male feminists are very much a thing. So whilst we’re in cahoots with the Collins Dictionary, the other definitions seem somewhat inferior. Feminism has caused a unique sense of social anxiety, an anxiety that we should be ashamed to identify as a feminist. A frequent reaction to the dreaded ‘are you a feminist?’ question is one of defence, a declaration of love for men and equality. I’m not sure when ‘equal rights’ began to mean anything other than equality but there has been a conflation of messaging somewhere along the line. This misunderstanding is in part due to a prevalent confusion between the term ‘feminist’ and ‘female chauvinist’. We seem to have two camps active in the discussion. In the blue corner we have the female chauvinists, these are the kind that genuinely dislike men and believe women to be superior. This corner believe a rejection of all things ‘feminine’ is the way to get ahead in life, crushing as many men as possible throughout the journey -  these people are stupid. Conversely, in the red corner we have those who reject the notion in fear of being associated with the chauvinists. In this fight, no one wins.

The social anxiety around the label ‘feminist’ is somewhat regressive. Women are afraid to identify as a ‘feminist’ in fear of ostracisation from men, or worse, other women. These women are ultimately rejecting those fighting for equality - what chance do we have if society’s women are against their own gender? We’ve come a long way from chaining ourselves to Parliament in plight of the vote, but we are still trailing behind the guys. The issue has developed from one of great political, economic or legal significance, and now largely manifests in social discrimination. The most unsettling aspect of the feminist debate is its rejection by women.  Male figures often speak out about the topic more freely. US President Barack Obama frequently addresses the issue of inequality, another man chairing the campaign against inequality that so many women are fighting against.

“Too often women can’t access the information they need to fight the pay discrimination... Women can’t wait for equal pay. And I won’t stop fighting to address this inequality.” Barack Obama

Breeding hypocrisy? 

Ironically, the majority of female chauvinists hating on men, reject any form of feminine aesthetic. In 2016 we have female leaders across companies of differing scale and industries, yet the majority of women in power feel the need to act like a man in order to be successful. Not content with just acting like their male role models, these women often reject a feminine appearance in order to assert dominance in the workplace. We then have the women who continue to ruin any form of progress on the sexualisation with attempt to flirt their way up the career ladder. It’s as if women in business feel the need to sexualise their appearance to attract attention or androgynise to eliminate sexuality and be considered ‘one of the guys.’ Playing either game is a rejection of equal rights, suggesting that women must place their desire for career progression over presenting a feminine aesthetic - since when was that a reasonable choice?

The women shunning feminism

Believe it or not (and trust me, i'd rather not), there is a new group of anarchists on the scene. Devoid of safety pins and Dr Martens, this group are rioting against the idea of feminism. The site encourages women to write their reasons for shunning the movement and publicises their photos online. There are event t-shirts (a la girl on the right). Really not sure what the point in that is but each to their own...

Yes, this is a thing.... [womenagainstfeminism]

Yes, this is a thing.... [womenagainstfeminism]

The anti-feminists hot off the press from womenagainstfeminism.com

On the topic of women in the workplace, there will always be some clinging on to patriarchy. Few families can afford to have a parent at home, however, those women who chose to remain in the home are just as entitled to identify as a feminist as the female CEO.

‘Men ruled the roost and women played a subservient role [in the 1960s]. Working wives were a rarity, because their place was in the home, bringing up the kids. The women who did work were treated as second class citizens, because it was a male-dominated society. That was a fact of life then. But it wouldn’t be tolerated today, and that’s quite right in my book’. Jon Hamm

I consider myself a privileged women, I have the same access to healthcare, a right to vote and to the same education system as my male colleagues. People think that the feminist debate extends as far as voting and equal pay, they’re wrong. I am one of the lucky ones. Born in a first world country I was able to go to school, get a job and have the same opportunities as my younger brother. Elsewhere it is a very different story. The issue isn’t about me, it’s not necessarily about you, it is about the global treatment of women. We need feminism because we are still focusing on the importance of rape prevention, not teaching that women should not be viewed as sexualised objects. Because women are told that they should not be dressing provocatively or that walking alone at night requires more vigilance for a woman than it would a man. We need to look at the treatment of women globally because Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the prevention of pleasurable sex for women by cutting off and restitching genitalia, is still practiced in at least 29 countries worldwide. Similarly, women are still objectified within marriage, with 120 countries not accepting rape within a marriage as a criminal offence. This is not just about women ‘being greedy’ and looking for a resolution to the glass ceiling debate, the issue extends to health, happiness and torture.

Women in the spotlight are doing both a brilliant and awful job of publicising the debate. Jennifer Lawrence’s passion for equal pay highlighted that people in the public eye are continuing to talk about ‘taboo topics’. Emma Watson’s work with the UN was also greatly beneficial for the publicity of feminism; however, there are always some looking to ruin it. This ‘some’ takes form of the women publically rejecting ‘feminism’. Whenever I see these ‘disastrous attempts at ‘normalisation’ if makes my insides cry. These women have an audience and there they are on their soapbox, rejecting the hard work that the normal folk on the ground are doing.

On the topic of men, there are very few who actively speak out against feminism and you’d have your own special label of ‘misogynist’ to be one of those.

“I’m a believer that if everyone has a fair chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, it’s better for everyone. It benefits society as a whole.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Despite this, the entertainment has certainly come a long way. Female authors are now celebrated in the same way as male, and they’re even free to use their own first name without threat of dismal sales. Only a small percentage of women in the spotlight use the word ‘feminist’ freely, with the rest looking down on us as we burn our bras in cat-filled spinster pads. Female comedians have had a huge role in the acceptance of feminism. Amy Schumer’s ability to discuss female issues and some form of humour from them, is a huge step in the conversation. The activities we’re talking about would have been concealed from the public eye a decade ago; and here we are today, making a joke of sex, periods and body hair. The fact that we are now not only able to speak about former ‘taboos’ but speak of them in jest, awards some serious points to feminism.

So how about we reclaim the term and bring it back to it’s roots as a ‘person who advocates equal rights for women’? Let’s get rid of the association with female chauvinists and haters of men. The term ‘feminist’ should not cause a social anxiety and a desperation for women to reject a term that was engineered to promote their rights. The idea that people are declaring that we don’t need feminism is worrying, but it is the rejection by women that is the most concerning of all. Maybe one day ‘feminism’ will be archived and we will all be living as sexless people; however, I feel we’re a few period jokes away from that.

What is success and why are we obsessed with it?

The word ‘success’ is a dominant force and one we can’t seem to reckon with. We often make decisions based on success - the success we have or the success we want. Voting is a prime example of this; people tend to vote alongside those with similar ‘success levels’ or scale up to vote like those who they aspire to be. An example of our numerical obsession would be the protests over primary school SAT exams. Kids barely able to tie their shoelaces are graded - embodying the mentality that we’re comfortable teaching children as young as six that success is measured in numbers.

The campaign videos around UK’s ‘Brexit’ debate emphasises the importance of success retention. The referendum about whether we stay within the EU has become a forum for people to talk about what they stand to gain (or lose). Every decision we make seems to be around the effect of our success, retention and acquisition of achievement. But, what are we aiming for? Success is largely a vanity metric and quantifiable to each individual based on opinion. One person’s success is another’s average and do we really know when to stop and appreciate the ‘successes’ we have achieved? The outcome is fairly bleak in terms of appreciation, we fleetingly celebrate success (or worse, analyse it against others) and then move onto the next challenge. People are consumed with generating success that we have lost track of where the successes are helping us to get to. Success has become a pseudo-buzzword and we're not even sure what it means anymore.

A key example of this weird autopilot approach is the education system. We train children to revise for exams, believing measurement of ability to hold great importance. The pressure of these assessments can often lead to undesirable side effects as children try to live up to expectations outlined by parents, teachers and concerningly, themselves. If all goes to plan and the child does well, they rise through the ranks in a bubble of measurement. The next three years at university is the same, albeit more alcoholic and then the graduates find themselves looking to apply their academic success to a career. This is where the issue multiplies.

A graduate enters the workforce after a minimum of 15 years in the education system. After a decade and a half of measurement, the student knows their ‘success rate’ and has become rather competent at improving that figure. However, when a graduate enters the workplace, they are not only on square one at the bottom of the hierarchy but they have to work out an entirely new system of success. Up until this point, all measurement has been directed towards entering the workforce. On entering a graduate job there’s an entirely new process in understanding what ‘success’ looks like within the workplace. There’s often a shock during the adjustment period as new recruits realise there’s more to measurement than figures. Most new employees, confused by the change, assume that their next ‘benchmark’ is to get a better job. The next few years are often spent coveting a job title, salary or company in a chase for the next ‘check in’ point. We chase what we think we should as we are told success should be measured.

What really happens is we spend the majority of our adult lives chasing the things we can measure. We lose track of the idea of experience and enjoyment, with the ‘softer’ metrics being the first to go as pressure intensifies. We spend so long chasing the next benchmark that we rarely consider if what we are taught is really success at all.

There’s threat in the race to become a success, an anxiety that we will miss the opportunities related to enjoyment and growth. That in our desperation to reach the next milestone, we miss everything that we should be learning on our way. The increase of digital has definitely helped some move away from the expectation that we have to follow a linear path, but we are still teaching people that there is a path: and it starts in primary school. Success should be relative to each person and their personal preferences. Some people measure their success in recreational activities, some in teaching their children to read.

It’s OK to have an alternate perception of what success is and for that to be unique to your own ambitions. Not everyone wants to be a high earner, and that is a positive as If everyone were to be in the top 1% we wouldn’t have an economy. The issue is that we assume everyone wants to be a top earner, to have a powerful job title within a blue chip company and earn a large salary; the problem is, it is just an assumption. With an alternative understanding of what makes a successful life, we have to refine measurement. It’s also ok if we don’t measure, it’s all relative and we should be able to track our own successes alongside our own expectation. Perhaps we will only really understand what ‘success’ looks like when we get rid of what we think it is.

Vera Wang, the successful failure

Most people associate the name 'Vera Wang' with a high profile fashion label creating expensive (albeit beautiful) wedding dresses for the rich and famous. Whilst I'm championing Vera in the fashion stakes for her creation of a black wedding dress line, it's her work on the periphery of the scene that is particularly interesting. 

Vera Wang in fashion

The image traditionally associated with Vera Wang, that of a couture fashion designer.

The image traditionally associated with Vera Wang, that of a couture fashion designer.

Everyone loves an underdog and Vera herself is no stranger to failure. Her initial dream for a a career as an Olympic figure skater never took off and a rejection from Vogue followed some years later. As assistant to former Vogue fashion director Polly Mellen, Vera used the position as a chance to learn the industry. An employee of Vogue for some 17 years, it was not until the mid-80's at the age of 40 that she set about creating what has become one of the most respected fashion labels in the world (via a stint at Ralph Lauren). 

Vera Wang on failure

In a world where we showcase our best on a stream of media forums, the idea of failure isn't exactly promoted as something to aspire to. Vera is a great example of someone who has shifted expectations to try something new and that's pretty great in itself. In an interview with The Cut Vera addressed the issue of failure head on, stating: “Don't be afraid of failing. I think not trying is worse than failing. Have the courage to try. Otherwise, what are we here for?” 

Vera Wang on modern anxiety

As a fashion designer, Vera has an accessibility rarely seen in an established professional. She's keen to express her opinion on life's anxieties, acknowledging the effects of “what’s going on culturally — the hookups, the Tinder thing.”

Vera's latest philanthropic opportunity came from Vogue Editor in Chief, Anna Wintour. After an introduction (from Wintour) to her ex-husband, psychiatrist David Shaffer, Vera began a conversation around the resources addressing anxiety among the young. The New York-Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Centre was established as a result of this partnership (in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia College of Physicians and
Surgeons) with a focus on the treatment, research and education of mental health issues. Focusing on anxiety disorders in people aged 16 to 28, the centre enables a tailored approach to anxiety developing throughout the transition to adulthood. 

Vera Wang on the future of anxiety

Vera's insight to the development and progression of anxiety-related disorders is that of someone who sees further afield than her immediate circle to 'find ways to help kids deal with it earlier on, to give them the tools to avoid what could become extreme behavior.”

If that's what a failure looks like, everyone should aspire to be one.