Abuse against a backdrop of privilege

24 03 2013

A short while ago I wrote about entitlement. I did so in the context of the gang rape and murder of an Indian medical student, Jyoti Singh Pandey.

As I listened to a newscast from CNN relating to the conviction of two men for their part in the rape and humiliation of a 16 year old girl the subject of entitlement came again to mind.

What was prominent in the reporting of the case by the media, CNN being particularly culpable, was the detailed description of the rapists. Much was made of their position as stars of the local football team and of the place that gave them in the local society. These young men were local heroes. The point made by CNN et al was that their promising futures, which now includes a short period in youth custody, lay in tatters.

What was not considered was the possibility that it was the very fact of their celebrity that made them feel that it was their right to act in such a barbaric fashion. Maybe because of their elevated status, they felt able to act outside the law and in a way that demonstrated that they had power over their victim, repeatedly raping the urinating over the young girl, before posting their exploits on social media sites. Making their crime so public demonstrates that they did not feel that they had done anything to be ashamed of. Any sense of guilt would have stopped them from boasting about their acts.

That they seemed not to understand that what they had done constituted assault is staggering. They appeared to think that what they had done was just a bit of fun. Yes, it was at the expense of someone else, but a bit of a lark nonetheless. They were demonstrating, and then reveling in, the power that they were able to exert over their victim – a sense of power that they had been encouraged to believe that they were entitled to.

It wasn’t many years ago that there was a widespread acceptance that husbands were entitled to use physical violence against their wives, ‘to keep her in line’ or so ‘she would know her place’.

The recent case of Chris Rennard highlights this change in attitude. While being groped at work was an acceptable, occupational hazard for secretaries a couple of decades ago, women are now starting not only to object to this abuse but to talk openly about it in order to expose the perpetrators. The institutionalised sexism which was once tolerated is now open to question, which is, unquestionably, a good thing. But the mutterings of the chattering classes, which may well be silenced by the incarceration of one or two minor celebrities in the aftermath of the Jimmy Saville case, does not yet address the bigger issue.

Gender and power imbalance is played out against a backdrop of privilege and entitlement. While the use of a quick slap to keep the wife in line is no longer acceptable the incidents of domestic violence continue. Celebrities in the 70’s were able to abuse back then and schoolboy footballers in the US are able to abuse now in this setting. Sexual exploitation will not be truly eradicated until we are prepared to look at the reasons why some in our society feel entitled to behave in a way that degrades others.

I express the hope that we may address the issue of entitlement at a time when the ability to express dissent appears to be eroding. Look at the outrage directed towards Hilary Mantel when she aired views that questioned the role of the wife of a prince within our royal family. If ever there was a bastion of entitlement then the royal family is it.  If a respected academic like Hilary Mantel is unable to pose questions of this sort without suffering personal attack then I fear for our ability, and desire, to address the culture of entitlement which allows the abuse and exploitation of the powerless.

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In praise of making stuff

4 03 2013

I want to write in praise of making stuff.

When we were children we understood the simple joy of making things; houses, even whole towns made of lego, fuzzy felt pictures, plasticine figures and stickle brick towers, but as we got older we grew up and we grew out of these simple pleasures.

In early communities people made things out of necessity; clay bowls to eat and drink from, flint tools to cut straw for building, bows and arrows to fell large animals, but we now troop off to the shops to buy Kath Kitson tableware and our meat comes in shrink wrapped polystyrene trays.

As the industrial revolution took hold labour was massed in factories to make the goods the emerging economies needed; clothing, ships, cutlery, pottery and more. How many of are now employed in manufacturing industries?

What the world has become focussed on is the making of one thing – money
Money was designed as a transfer mechanism to allow stuff – real tangible stuff- to be exchanged. The recent financial crisis came about from using money to create money. Entirely virtually you understand. No actual paper notes were produced. More and larger complex financial instruments were created to package up debts and investments, so complex that no-one really understood what was debt and what was credit. All that mattered was that money was made. No real stuff was made along the way. No benefit, other than the enrichment of the money managers, accrued. Great art wasn’t made, great ships weren’t built.

There is a saying about money; that you can’t take it with you.

Our ancestors in Egypt, in Anglo Saxon Britain, in India and in South America knew this. They turned their money into stuff which they then did take with them. The treasure uncovered at the tomb of Tutankhamen and the grave goods found at Sutton Hoo attest to this. Today we benefit educationally from what these goods tell us about the civilisations that created them but we also benefit as the stuff itself is beautiful.

We know that the Pharoahs had great wealth through the stuff that they had made. We know the love that Shah Jahan had for Mumtaz because of the Taj Mahal. He used his wealth to build a temple to his wife. A far cry from Sir Philip Green using his wife as a way of hiding wealth from the tax man.

Wealth was used to create something tangible and physical rather than burying money in a box, the ancient equivalent of stashing the cash offshore. The money sitting in these accounts does nothing to enrich anyone. It simply appears as a series of zeros after a dollar sign and a number on a computer screen or a banking statement.

Now I know that my argument is simplistic; that the pyramids were largely built by slave labour rather than a paid workforce so that the building of them probably did little to stimulate the Egyptian construction industry, but artisans and craftsman did create the stuff that was buried inside. The wealth of the pope did create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

My grandfather was a foundryman, ignorant work as he himself called it, but he could sit at home at the end of his shift knowing that he had made, or helped to make, an object that existed and had a real use.

And it is not as if our adult selves do not still yearn to create things. Sit a grown up in front of a set of lego and see what happens!

So go on, you know you want to. Go ahead and make something. Something that you can touch, hold, caress. How fantastic to eat from a bowl you threw on a potters wheel or eat with a spoon you carved from green wood. It needn’t be perfect, it almost certainly wont be, but you will have made it. On an Armageddon note, when the hole-in-the-wall machine no longer spits out cash, and we were minutes away from that last crash, and goods no longer fill the Tesco shelves you might need to make stuff.

At the very least if you are sure that the only thing you can make is money then don’t leave it in the bank. Give it to an artist and let them create something beautiful for you.