While speaking to the women featured in my documentary, The Herring Quines, I was struck by the sense of history, legacy, and tradition they conveyed. In fact, these themes seemed to emerge in every discussion I had, both on and off-camera. They emerge again in this chat with my wonderful friend Lucy about how these women made ends meet, the role of mental health, and the wonderful world of fisher fashion.
It’s spring, and graduation looms for many – myself included. To celebrate this/ help process this reality, I gathered wisdom from 17 writers’ commencement speeches to see what they had to say about life after university. Of everything I read, this from Toni Morrison resonated most:
“I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, target of your labors here, your choices of companions, of the profession that you will enter. You deserve it and I want you to gain it, everybody should. But if that’s all you have on your mind, then you do have my sympathy, and if these are indeed the best years of your life, you do have my condolences because there is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood. The adulthood that is the span of life before you. The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.”
Despite all the changes on the horizon, it’s a process I look forward to.
Photo: Lincoln Memorial University
Today will be known to many as Easter Monday. But the date, April 6th, is home to another celebration: Tartan Day, which marks the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. It’s commemorated in Arbroath here in Scotland with loads of themed events, and has also sparked a huge parade in New York City that brings together Scots Americans in celebration of their heritage.
I’m immensely proud of my own Scottish identity, but like I say in this piece, there is no one standard experience of a country, or one way to live a nationality. Even a small country like Scotland has space for more than 5 million different life stories to play out in the hills, by the sea, in the country and the city. These 11 Scottish books exemplify that.
My latest episode of Spectrum, part of our series on Sex and Love:
Take a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlaCOdLD2Q
‘Sex Ed and The Screen’ – partly a generous pun on ‘Sex and the City’ (which is mentioned here), but mostly, these are the two things I had in mind when thinking about this episode.
That’s because I think these are the two things that – for better or worse – have a profound influence on how we come to learn about love, sex, and relationships. With that in mind, this episode is split into two parts:
1. ‘We were explicitly told that we were not allowed to touch the condoms.’
The National Union of Students recently found that just 32% of young people rated the sex education they received in school as ‘good’. I asked a group of fellow students about their experiences and what they thought could be done differently.
2. ‘There was nothing macho about him…’
How have the representations of…
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Heading into my final semester of university, I wasn’t really sure what to expect except ‘a lot of work’. Two weeks later, I’m actually starting to realise what this means. It is by no means a struggle (and once it’s all over I’ll wonder what I was complaining about), but I am working on a project that means I need to be more organised and hardworking than ever.
To get through the next couple of months, a steady stream of motivation is going to be key. So I’ve shared some literary quotes that are in my own mental scrapbook of helpful phrases – because when the going gets tough, the tough get their motivational quotes out.
Photo: Duke University Archives
In fact, I wrote about Kate Nash and the power of words (sounds a bit like a 60s girl group…) which doesn’t, in a strict sense, have anything to do with Scottish politics.
I’m chuffed to have joined their fantastic lineup of contributors and look forward to sharing my posts with you all in future.
If you’re not familiar with the site already, I particularly recommend Talat Yaqoob’s writing on women’s issues, Gavin Marshall’s music-centric articles, and Andy Davis’s coverage of politics at Hollyrood and further afield.
This article appears on The Huffington Post.
Let’s talk about lads. Specifically, lad culture.
Call it what you like, say what you want about it, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s just plain misogyny and sexism, with stereotypical, age-old notions of masculinity at the core.
A damning critique of a sub-culture, you might think, but consider this: lad culture is not a sub-category. It is the whole. It reaches out to all males, and tries to tell them how to act.
Lad culture is patriarchy, taking its values and making its sons Frankenstein’s monsters of cobbled-together cultural expectations.
In seeking to define themselves so strongly, men oppress women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. The female sex is the most ‘obvious’ abode of feminine traits, all that masculinity does not stand for, therefore women must be suppressed. Similarly, men cannot be anything but masculine, because that would be feminine, weak, ‘gay’.
But ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not concrete, separable categories. We do not exist independently of one another. What affects one inevitably affects the other, and as such lad culture and the sexism which drives it is degrading to us all.
In many ways, it’s identical to the female stereotype of pink-kitchened housewifery. It is the existence of check-box standards for what it takes to be a man: being a property owner, the breadwinner, a sports fan, enjoying a good pint, owning a suit… from the legal to completely arbitrary, all through history exists a cut-and-dried definition of masculinity and manliness.
It is the other half of the double standard: girls are meant to be alluring, but chaste. Boys are meant to get out there and sleep with every girl they can, as perfectly illustrated by that classic programme, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.
In one episode, two of the young men featured were attempting to have sex for the first time. The programme portrayed them as ‘failed lads on tour’ as they didn’t achieve the coveted one night stand. The stepfather interviewed at the end of the holiday said that he was ‘proud’ of his stepson, for being ‘capable of taking part in laddish behaviour’.
This is a prime example of lad culture in action. Individually, the members of the group were nice people, but they seemed consumed by pressure to define themselves by the notches on their bedposts. This is little wonder: the programme and the stepfather’s spiel together exemplify the kinds of attitudes handed down in and by society.
But men aren’t without agency. At any age, they can learn to resist, no longer feel they need to look or act a certain way, and stop displaying the external behaviours. But that doesn’t render lad culture harmless. If left unchallenged, what’s more difficult to change are those internalised notions of how society is structured, the idea that the sexes have different parts to play, and men are on top. It runs much deeper than pet names, groping or sandwiches.
I don’t agree with men’s rights activists, but they are right to a degree in saying that lad culture, masculinity, is oppressive to men. But it’s not just lad culture, and not just men.
The norms of masculinity, dictated by patriarchy, are oppressive to everyone: male, female, gay, straight, cisgender, transgender, young or old. It’s an issue in a world which has no norms but still peddles them to its people and forces them to fit moulds that ultimately don’t exist.