Friday, November 27, 2015

A dress of a thousand days

… Well, eleven-hundred-and-three to be precise, but then the title wouldn't be as interesting.

I want to tell a story of a dress. This isn’t a story about the woman wearing the dress. The dress is considered inanimate and therefore won’t get your sympathy or kind words: It is a passive observer. It’s not really inanimate of course. The dress came from idea’s and aspirations and hope — is there anyone who can say that idea’s and hope aren’t fluid or alive? Yet, most people don’t see this, but that’s okay, the dress doesn’t want sympathy or kind words. Just as it know’s the woman, also in this story, wouldn’t want them either. When it was merely ideas and paper, the dress patiently waited to see what would happen, with the same anticipation of its maker. From its humble beginnings when it was just cloth and thread it watched.

Mel and 'the woman, just hanging out 
Where did this dress start? It started in a gift; a present of the future. The dress had a human - a woman - who it wanted to follow. This woman had a friend.  These friends, grew-up from children, in a world that seemed certain to tell them that their idea’s where silly and they should conform. Despite, the world acting against them, they both grew up to be quirky and independent-minded women. These women didn’t… no wouldn’t, conform to societies rules and even when they were forced to conform, their acts of protest were still there, executed subversively. Their friendship survived the space of years and the move of continents, until eventually they were able to come back together and it was like nothing had changed. As summer ended, the woman - whose life was full of the daily chores of a grown up, but whose head was full of half-acted-on idea’s - was brought a gift by her oldest best friend: A ticket. A chance to meet a Doctor; the one that had taught them both it was okay to be different.

The woman had a family, the most important of whom was her son. The woman’s little boy was just as quirky as her — perhaps even more so. The woman was able to conform to societies whims when she needed to, but her son couldn’t, or perhaps subconsciously wouldn’t; society is after-all full of silliness. Society confused him, but only because he perhaps understood society a little too well and didn’t want to be a part of it. Noise and smells and colours were sometimes too much; he couldn’t understand how people could be so blinkered to everything around him. How could people be so deaf and blind? He wanted to meet the Doctor too, but his Mother only had one ticket and she knew that the crowds would be too much for him to cope — so much so, that not even a visit to  the Doctor who she was seeing could cure him. That was okay, he didn’t want to be cured, he did however want to be a part of the visit. He wanted his Mother to wear something special for him and the Doctor and he wanted to choose.

The original design drawing
Rosanna's dress, which the
Son wanted the woman to wear

He did… a giant medieval fish woman from space called Rosanna Calvierri. Umm…

The woman hadn’t realized, but her childish idea that, “I can do anything” had been tarnished by the adult life she had spent her time avoiding. The optimism and belief that nothing in the world could stop her, had somehow left her and she responded to her son, “I think you are over-estimating my craft skills”. Her Mother’s (perhaps magical, probably haunted) sewing-machine, that her Father had given her when her Mother had died, still sat in the corner. Occasionally, pulled out to sew a small bag for her son’s trinkets, or to hem the leg of her Husband’s trousers, but nothing more. The sewing machine looked sadly on, but the dress wouldn’t give up hope. It captured all of its might into the idea of itself. Over the next couple of days, thoughts, idea’s and plan’s sprouted in the woman’s mind and her response of, “I think you are over-estimating me” changed to, “why can’t I?” The dress had done it. No longer a wishful idea it was now becoming real.

nearly there...
With the help of her friends — starting with the lady (and some may say she is as kind as a GodMother), who lent the woman a dressmakers dummy, to those friends who said kind words when they saw how the dress was growing (through the magical plane called ‘FaceBook’), the dress became more real.

Patterns and guides from another magical world called ‘Google’ helped the woman turn the cloth  and wire she had found on ethereal realm of ‘Amazon’ into something special. For three weeks, the woman planned and drew and cut and sewed the cloth. The woman spent all the gold she had on buttons and pearls. Now, the dress knew that it wasn’t perhaps the best made dress in the world. Some of it’s seams were wonky and some of it’s pleats were not fully aligned but it didn’t matter. The dress knew it was loved and wished for; from the boy who couldn’t go to see the Doctor but wanted to be there anyway, to the Mother who had borrowed her son’s naivety, that anything was possible. The dress was alive and happy and nearly complete, until…

The woman received a call from her sister. Her Father was very ill. The woman rushed to him, and found her Father in a deep sleep. she waited for days by his bed in the hope that he would wake and she could tell him how much she loved him but, he never woke up from his sleep and he died. The woman was numb with devastation. The woman couldn’t think, her mind too full of grief to do anything but sit. The dress felt saddened when the woman cut a large piece of its material from its leftover pile and walked away from it. It had come so far to be abandoned.

Fortis Abores. Atumnus Lacrimas.
The dress looked on from the corner of the room as the woman sat, for the next four weeks, in a chair. A needle and coloured thread by her side. The dress saw the woman, sew a leaf onto the fabric every time the woman shed a tear for her father; a leaf to remind her that on the day she went to see him, the tree’s where in late summer green, but on the day she left him for the last time, the leaves of the tree’s had turned golden and the leaves were falling as if the tree’s were also crying. The dress watched, untouched, as the woman continued to sew more leaves onto the fabric. She stopped being numb and the number of leaves increased as the tears fell.

The day the woman was to visit her friend and the Doctor was quickly approaching. The dress still untouched began to panic. Had the woman become so overcome with sadness that her promise to her son would be forgotten? On the day before the woman left to go to the big city, she turned to her dress and carefully sewed the panel of falling leaves onto the front of the skirt. The dress saw that not only had the woman sewed hundreds of leaves but also a phrase, ‘Fortis abores. Autumnus lacrimas’: ‘Strong trees. Autumn tears’. The dress understood. The woman wasn’t lost in grief, she was turning her tears into strength. She was reminding herself that when we go through the darkest days, we come out stronger. The dress knew it was now complete.

Toby Whithouse and the dress
... oh and the woman
The woman travelled to the city and eventually she put on the dress as she travelled to the place where the Doctor would be. The dress gained many strange stares, but it didn’t mind. When the woman laughed as the small children hid, or when people stopped to take pictures, the dress laughed too.

At one point, the woman’s friend left her alone for a while whilst she went to see an evil mistress - although the woman and her friend actually thought she wasn’t evil just quirky like them. As the woman waited she saw some men walk past, but the woman was older than she used to be and wasn’t wearing her glasses, (medieval fish people don’t you know) and couldn’t see who they were. One of the men, stopped and stared then asked her for a photo. He then announced that he had written the story from which the idea of dress had been taken. The story-smith - or writer as he would like to be called but that's not very fairy tale -  (Toby Whithouse) stood before her. The woman was astonished that someone as important as this would notice the dress. The dress wasn’t astonished. It knew the journey to its creation, and could see why it was important. The woman began to realize that her childish idea’s that she could do anything, weren’t that childish after-all.

The visit with the Doctor who was kind
The woman, visited the Doctor who was so kind to her, he even held her parasol and then she went to visit the market. The dress saw, how after meeting the story-smith, her confidence had increased. The calls for photo’s and cries of appreciation were now something she could delight in, not be nervous about. The dress knew it had done it’s work well.

The day was drawing
Ray Holman and the dress...
with the woman (again)
to an end and the woman was tired and happy; the happiest she had been for a long time. Just as she was about to leave the marketplace, another man came up to her, asking about the dress. He announced that he had initially created the dress of the evil-space-fish and he admired how well the woman had made it. The woman tried to hide the tatty hems and the bad hand-sewing, but the costumer (Ray Holman) didn't mind. The dress could see that the woman was now full of confidence and that it was a confidence that would last a long time. The dress knew it was special; it knew that it could unite old friends, make people believe in themselves, prove to children that people keep promises, make people smile and that it could mend shattered hearts.

When the woman finally managed to get home to her Son and family, the dress hid in its covering, content for what it had achieved. The woman, spent the day in the arms of her Son who was proud of her, and they sat together examining the treats she had brought from the market. The next day, when her Son had gone to school, the woman pulled out the dress from the covering. She looked at it and smiled. She carefully removed the embroidered panel that reminded her of her Father. After re-hemming the seams and hems, she washed it carefully. After she had hung it out to dry and would smile every time she saw the dress, remembering the events of the time in the city. The dress glowed with pride in itself and what it could achieve. Eventually the woman placed the dress back in its cover and placed it into the wardrobe. The dress sighed knowing what it had seen in it’s thousand days. It knew that soon - because of what it had managed in those months - that it soon would be joined by a friend.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bias: should be accept our biology?

I have been participating in debates on Jason Robillards' Facebook pages with people discussing gender-bias. It has been a... well... interesting discussion, that has lead to many internal dilemma's and questioning how I perceive bias and my own way of addressing it. I discussed my personal dilemmas here.

Jason, on his latest blog post, has put forth a couple of idea's on how we should begin to address gender-bias. His take is very much concentrating on the biology of the genders and looking at ways to eliminate this bias, especially after many decades of actively trying to address the issue, it still prevails. His idea's focus on creating physically stronger women (but in such a way as not to be one-sided; a.k.a introducing MMA in schools), and to mitigate the perceptions that the world is a scary place, where we need to protect women for the survival of the species.

I can see where he is coming, and given the discussions we have had on Facebook, it is no surprise that just as he thinks women don't understand men, I don't think he understands everyday gender-bias. However, there is the case that he is a college-graduate psychologist; I am not. I have experienced gender-bias; he may not, (but as he is a Stay at home parent, that might not be entirely true). Still these are our personal observations, and our personal idea's on how to solve them. One of us maybe right,  and the other wrong, or more likely we are both right and wrong. This is why solving gender-bias is so hard, there is probably no 'one-size fits all' approach.

His idea's on introducing MMA into schools to create physically and mentally stronger women and make the idea of stronger women more acceptable, is perhaps using the idea that biology is the key and that the binary system of gender is the only way to see gender. His idea's are trying to make women more masculine so that society feels less need to protect them; and women less likely to want protecting. 

I accept that the perception the world is a scary place when in fact it isn't, is valid. The media is very good at creating scare stories for ratings, and when you are surrounded by all the bad things that can happen to you, it's hard to imagine that you are safe. 

Both of these solutions require us to accept that we are animalistic above everything else. That our biology is so hard wired that we need to create solutions that allow us to accept this binary gender system. As -I suspect he feels- encouraging men to become feminine, thereby making everyone act female, has not worked, then a system where women becomes more masculine is perhaps the way to go. It feels to me, that you are still inflicting one set of gender-behaviours onto both sexes, regardless if that is how the person sees themselves.

As for the perception that the world is a dangerous place, I wholly concur. Not for the fact that it will stop the need for society to protect women, but just for the fact that it's a stupid way to spend our time. If the one lesson my life as a parent has told me, it's that you should pick your battles. Worrying over the chemicals in apples and if your child is being taught the common-core, is not what makes the world a dangerous place. (Speaking as a Brit, everyone having guns and being able to shoot people when they feel like it, does make the world a more dangerous place; hence why we turned down the opportunity to work in the U.S and decided to live in a country with gun laws).

Anyway, digressing... As I was rambling in my thoughts, I realised that my take on this has been and should always be education; teaching our kids that bias of any kind (gender, sex and race) is pretty stupid. After doing very basic, inexpert, google-searches -which as we know from WebMD, is the font of all knowledge- it became apparent that when it comes to behaviour society overcomes biology.

I tried to think of a way to explain this in a non-gender based situation, and I came up with this: My son.

My Son (we will call him 'D'),has autism. He is also 'Statemented', which in U.K. jargon means in the school population he is in about the top 3% of extreme educational needs. Although his autism is high-functioning, his sensory and emotional difficulties means that he will probably not be able to attend a mainstream school. His autism is a biological and neurological condition; he cannot prevent his autism and he most definitely didn't ask to be born autistic. He also didn't ask to be born male and he cannot prevent being physically male. (As a side-note, it is actually thought autism is a form of extreme-gender; the hormonal and psychological reactions are seen as a form of extreme-maleness).

Due to his neurological condition, D exhibits extreme behaviour in response to certain stimuli. His hormone levels react (usually into a flight or fight mode), when certain things happen; for example, when a hand-dryer goes off unexpectedly, or if he doesn't understand a social situation. He cannot help his chemical responses, but through education he has been able to control his responses to it. Every day he practises strategies that allow him to deal with the life he will have to lead in the outside world. Behaviour that harms or restricts (physically or emotionally) another human being is not tolerated. Ever. Despite his chemical impulses to want to beat the shit out of someone due to his autism, he has been conditioned to find another solution. His autism, despite being a neurological and biological condition, is not a reason to be an arse.

Also, we do not expect the rest of society to become autistic so that they can understand him and allow him to more effectively deal with the world. We are not asking that when a hand-dryer goes off, half the class should get up, scream and run around waving their hands in the air. We do ask that they are excepting when his quirky behaviour causes confusion, but we still expect D to uphold basic rights and obligations as the rest of the population.

I can accept that men may have a need to want to protect the one they love, (in fact that is human nature, not male nature), but it is not right for society to expect that we endorse it, or the fact we should ask part of the population to change to make it easier on the men who have difficulty dealing with this concept. It is not right to ask society to accept a woman needs protection outside of the non-gender based expectations, or that men should change how they feel to do this.

Just as autism is a spectrum condition -if you use the Bell curve of standard deviation, we are all autistic somewhere on the line, only a small percentage aren't, and frankly they're weird- so is gender and sexuality. Only a small percentage of women, are women who feel they should be protected, and there is a small percentage of men, are men who feel their obligation is to protect. It is therefore wrong to force a strong binary gender system on what is the majority of the population who aren't of a defined male or female gender. As Jason commented, most of his acquaintances are for gender-equality (although obviously many didn't partake in his discussions), thereby showing that gender and perceptions on gender-equality highlight we are a mix of both genders. 

Changing a societies view is not something that can be done quickly. Gender equality has only been a policy that has been actively fought for in the last century. Prior to that, gender equality was either not seen as necessary or in fact seen as a hinderance -for either social or biological reasons. One hundred years is only a handful of generations, and we can expect change to only occur frustratingly slowly: it is happening though.

Education on societal expectations happens in three ways: at home, at school and legally. We need to, as parent’s, teach a moral compass that we feel is respectful of the majority (if not all) of the world’s rights and obligations. We should ensure that our children modify their moral compass to be reflective of themselves, but it should not breach the basic rights and obligations of another individual. We have to teach our children how to follow their moral compass with bravery for when societies moral compass fails. Basically, we should be parent’s.

It is true, that not everyone has the same moral compass, or are taught how to respect another persons individuality. Usually, children develop and modify their ideologies at school. Let’s face it, despite what we may like to think as parent’s, peer pressure is a big part of developing our child’s ideology. Adults have to understand (wether you are a parent or not), that you have a duty to be a role model. Children (and let’s face it adults) look to their herd to see how they should act.

When this fails, we have to develop a legal framework that respects the rights of every individual to be themselves, but maintain the same societal obligations for everyone regardless of race, age, sex, or gender.

Essentially we need to teach our kids not to be dicks, by ensuring we don’t act like dicks.

A hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote. Sixty years ago the concept of women doing dangerous work was unheard of. Sixty years ago, the idea of women going into the emergency or armed forces was not even contemplated. Thirty years ago, the idea of a female elected head of government was almost unspeakable. These things have happened and it is happening.

Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, we started to abolish slavery. Sixty years ago, segregation was rife. Today we have a black president.

Homosexuality in the U.K (between men, lesbianism was never illegal) wasn’t abolished until 1967, yet we are starting to see some legal equality in the relationships between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

It’s a slow, and it’s an inefficient system. It’s prone to errors and conflicts, but it is happening. We just need to ensure it keeps happening. That a person is not judged by their skin, who they love, or their gender, but by their actions. Over the last two hundred years, our perceptions on race, gender and sexuality have changed. We are more accepting in society of peoples diversity. (Note, I said MORE, not completely… we still have a long way to go).

I know we live in the twenty-first century and we expect a quick fix to everything. Our life has morphed into 'Now.. now... now', but this is something we have to deal with one generation at a time. We have to accept hiccups and failures on the way, it doesn't mean we have to stop trying. Just because we know we won't see the society we want in our lifetime, doesn't mean we should stop fighting for it.

The way to make this happen is too whittle at it, one child at a time. We have to teach that society is not based on colour, race or sexual-orientation; it's not based on your biological disposition, it is based on your character. You can be whatever you want to be, and you should be allowed to. You should never force your ideologies onto someone else and you should treat other peoples thoughts and ideals with respect.

I know there will be commentators out there that read this and believe my hope and aspirations are lofty and unachievable. That it won’t work; it hasn’t worked. Yet, I would like to think that changing society one child at a time is perhaps easier to do than making every child do an MMA class in school.

As part of a quick, non-scientific and frankly subjective experiment I asked D some questions:
Me - "Are boys better than girls?"
D - "We are all the same"Me - "Should boys stop girls fighting?"
D - "No, girls can fight"
Me - "Should everyone be able to be whatever they want to be?"
D - "Of course"
Me - "Should boys be made to fight if they don't want to?"
D - "No"
Me - "Should everyone be able to love whoever they want to love?"
D - "Yes"
Me - "Does it matter what colour your skin is?"
D - "Don't be silly. No"

He's ten. As I commented on my above post. 
"Yeah, these squabbles we have; it's all about biology. As if rolls eyes. This is how we change the world; one child at a time".