Monday, 24 September 2012

# 113 Slut Walk 2013 and why it bothers me

There are things about the feminist movement that really annoy the hell out of me. I am not a feminist. I never have been, likely I never will be. I am what I am, I have my own philosophy and I don't ram it down anyone else's throat. Recent events have reminded me of that and have not endeared me to the movement whatsoever.

'Slut Walk 2013' which apparently happened last weekend in London was a protest march for women who believe that they deserve the right to walk around dressed as provocatively as they like and not risk getting attacked, beaten or raped.

In the beautiful world of equal rights, modern living and with the help of our fabulous criminal system this would be okay. But you know what, it isn't, for a million reasons. Partly it is because humans are humans and violence, domination, old world values and sex are driving forces in our nature. If you don't believe me SWITCH ON THE TV AND WATCH THE NEWS.

Secondly, whilst you might think you deserve that right in a western society, western society is full of non western people. If you walked around like that in any Muslim country, more fool you. If you do it here in London the chances are you may walk into someone who does not operate under western values. It might be one of these because this is how evil the world can be.

I understand what the organisers and protesters of 'Slut Walk' are TRYING to say, but I am hugely concerned about the message that this sends to young girls and women who think they are invincible. I'm talking about 17 year old girls who look 14, who wander around town on their own at 3 in the morning in very small dresses and EXPECT not to get raped and are convinced it won't ever happen to them because as far as they are concerned it's their right. It may be in theory. But you try telling that to the next sexual pervert you happen to find wandering around looking for someone just like you. 

I am not under any circumstances saying they deserve it. Far from it. But we live in 2012 and never has it been a more dangerous time to live in.

I have never dressed provocatively because I have ALWAYS felt vulnerable out on my own or out at night. This is not because I have ever been attacked or raped because I haven't. But because I am fully aware of how dangerous mankind can be and how unpredictable it is. I know how easy it is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and how in the heat of the moment, no matter what your rights may be on paper or how determined you might be, you might become another statistic.

# 112 Roots

I have always been very enthusiastic about my genealogy. We're one of those families who hoarded everything - photos, letters, war memorabilia. Anything with a personal history to it. As a consequence, there's a lot of paraphernalia in my family going back 170 years or so.

Most of the family stories and rumours that hadn't been fully researched back in the day have now been verified and are true. And every so often an as yet undiscovered distant relative pops up on my email having seen some query I left on a Rootsweb message board 10 years ago.

Some of my family history is so interesting that I'm publishing a book about it, but that's another story for another time.  Recently and quite by accident (as is often the case), I've come across some new information. Someone in my family was at the inquest into the 1865 railway disaster at Staplehurst in Kent that Charles Dickens was involved in.

And now it turns out my family on all sides has been historically living under assumed names. My family name of Oliver was actually Gallagher and they came from Ireland in the 1810s having apparently fled due to some trouble there, settling in England and America under assumed names.

On the other side of my Dad's family (the interesting and famous bit) my family name should have been something completely different. And my mother's whole family has completely changed. But that's another story.

What I particularly love about family history is finding out that they weren't really so different to their modern day descendants. Children out of wedlock were very common. Marriages because of these unexpected children were also very common. Women not getting married was not unusual. Bigamy, criminals, war heroes and suicides are also all there. 

Whilst historically we expect these events to be scandalous, the rate at which they were happening suggests it wasn't so unusual across the general population. Most of my family came from the working classes although some of them did rub shoulders with the aristocracy. Life happened and although the technology was different, the moral standards don't seem to have altered that much.

I'm unsure how my great-great-aunt who had four children out of wedlock in the 1850s by the time she was 20 was received in the tiny village in Cumberland where she lived but certainly they seem to have stayed, her children grew up to have jobs and families of their own and she wasn't flogged half to death and forced to live in the gutter. In fact, she seems to have done fairly well for herself all things considered. 

My grandfather's family

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

# 111 Wardrobe space

And so it's that time of the year when temperatures plummet and we realise that autumn is well and truly upon us. It's also about this time that I begin the annual wardrobe swap around.

I have several wardrobes. I do. No really. And it's now I find all the clothes I hadn't bothered to wear, forgot I even had, or made a vow to wear next season and clearly didn't.

Because, if the truth be told, I have become a very lazy dresser. This is made even more shameful because I am a clothing designer. And this really should give me the edge. Gok would be ashamed. :( See - sad face.

Unfortunately I have become very used to comfortable (jeans), easy wear (vest tops and cardigans) and WARM (layers). If there is one overriding factor about me, it's that I feel the cold. A lot. I am a Southerner by birth and Italian by descent. And the Midlands is damned cold as far as I'm concerned. And the summer is far too short.

I am going to make a concerted effort though. I like jersey knit, my feet not hurting from wearing silly heels all day (yay for Converse) and being warm so this will be a challenge. The wardrobe swap around has at least revealed some fun knitted dresses (including a jazzy vintage number I haven't worn for two winters)  and some interesting jumpers.

It's a dilemma because I don't see the connection between dressing up and dressing comfortably. Particularly when you're dressing modern. Skirts and dresses are way too short, the fabric is flimsy and the designs rarely lend themselves to being teamed with a chunky knit cardigan. BUT I am going to try. I've shifted all the interesting fun stuff and mix and match into my regular wardrobe and put a stack of warm knit and evening dresses into my overflow wardrobe as backup and evening wear solutions.  And I'm scouring ebay for interesting vintage pieces. Plus, I am designing a few because really I have no excuse not to these days.

If only (source)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

# 110 Why I Think Art Degrees Are a Waste of Time (But Don't Quote Me On It)

In November I am attending an event in Lincoln called 'Careers in the Creative Industry - What Are We Going to Do?' It asks several fundamental questions of creative education and its place in Lincolnshire where I am currently based, namely:

What are the real benefits of a creative education?
Is having a degree enough and can Universities do more?
What are the options and opportunities for careers in the creative industry in Lincolnshire?
How can the wider creative industry in Lincolnshire support students and graduates and also benefit themselves?

There was a time when only academics went to University. English, Maths, Science - all these things required years of study to enable students to go out into world with grades they could essentially use to get teaching jobs or careers in very specific industries such as the medical profession.

And there was a time when all you needed to be good at art was talent, a bit of ambition and essentially, to be in the right place at the right time.

These days you have to be moulded into producing the kind of creative art that your university, college or school would have you produce based on theirs and its tastes, ideals and ultimately its remit. Unless you think on your feet and work your butt off outside of the course, you might be in for a bit of a shock.

Being creative used to be the luck of the few who had talent and they did their art based on their interpretation of the world, drive and ambition. This went for writers, fine artists, illustrators and designers amongst many others.

But in our modern world, apparently you are only as creative as the grades in your final year and your work can be and may be open to interpretation by a previous generation of 'creatives' who may have very different ideas to your own. This is flawed and I'm not just saying this because I came out with disappointing final grades in my degree.

For any student going into these areas (in my particular case - fashion) having ideas and direction of ones own means having to follow one of two lines of learning - to potentially risk getting poor results in the pursuit of your own way of working or to conform to the requirements of the course and probably not produce the work you are truly meant to. Twice I was advised to throw out ideas of my own and do what they wanted to see. But I've been in the industry many years now, how can I bow down like that and still be happy with the outcome? Particularly as I was already running my own business. As anyone who is creative will know, you cannot be told how to be creative. It just is what it is and you are what you are.

Perhaps that means I'm not cut out to be a fashion designer. I'm not sure about that one yet, only time will tell. But the results of my final year did leave me wondering what on earth I was doing.

Essentially the grades are of no use to me - I am already an established business owner with a niche market and I am never short of work. The  thing is that we are already over saturated with students studying creative subjects and there is not enough work to go round in the job market, that's for sure. Towing the line, fitting in, is unlikely to get you noticed. Branching out, being different, could be the only thing that makes you stand out from the crowd whether you got a third or a first in your final degree.

And university life in no way prepares you for the reality of being one of many many people without enough work experience or direction in an over saturated market. You don't have to look very far to find articles which pretty much say the same thing such as this from the Guardian in January.

According to the Office of National Statistics in March 2012 recent graduates are more likely to work in low skill jobs than a decade ago. Of course a cynic might say that encouraging students to attend university has nothing to do with degrees but about keeping youngsters off the dole, thus making Government figures look better than they actually are. It's another remark I hear often. As of March 2012 there were 1.50 million recent graduates looking for work. So what makes you stand out from the crowd? 

The percentage of recent graduates, people who completed a degree or
higher education qualification within the last six years, employed in
lower skilled jobs has increased from around 26.7 per cent
in 2001, or just over one in every four recent graduates, to around
35.9 per cent, or more than one in three recent graduates in the
final quarter of 2011.

Did I need a degree to do the job I'm doing now? Of course not. I went for the experience, because I had skipped Uni in my late teens, self taught myself and got a decent job in the real world to subsidise what were obviously going to be meagre pickings in the media sector. Do I regret it? Perhaps bits of it, such as my expectation that being older, wiser and more experienced would be an advantage. Certain aspects of it have been invaluable but the rest of it left me jaded. Picking up the pieces post Uni was hard at a time when I was finally going out on my own full time. 

Higher skill jobs generally require competence through post-compulsory
education whereas lower skill jobs tend to require competence only
through compulsory education.

Post uni, students find out the hard way just how important getting those first work experience placements are. By then of course, it's too late. No experience, no work - no work, no experience. It's a no win situation. Placements are encouraged, but not enforced on many courses and students easily slip through the placement net and come out with nothing but their education to show to potential employers and it just isn't enough. Even if those grades were high there's a good chance it won't make any difference. Degrees have apparently become easier and easier to obtain firsts in. And the recession hasn't helped. Graduate employment continues to fall year by year despite the grades going up and up.

Creatives should be learning on the job, not learning in a classroom. It was a sad day when YTS and Polytechnics ceased to exist. You cannot round people sufficiently in academic environments if you are a hands on creative. But with employers taking advantage of students desperation for experience and treating them like virtual slaves with long unpaid internships that don't even guarantee work at the end, it is going to take more than a change of attitude to sort this problem out.

Monday, 3 September 2012

# 109 Living Light

Some weeks ago I was watching 'Up In The Air'. In a nutshell it's about a guy named Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who lives for his work, moving between projects right across America, never settling, living out of a suitcase, keeping things short and sweet. As a result not only was his material life light, so was his list of friends.

Moving around has pretty much done the same thing to me. I pick up with new people when I move into a place and invariably leave them behind when I go purely because of geographical practicalities. I often move long distances.

There is one person in my life apart from family who has always been there. My best friend of 23 years. We've both floated around, moved cities, jobs, friend groups but we've always hooked up again somewhere along the line. And since I moved to Lincoln in 2008 we've lived only an hour apart. We still only manage to see each other a handful of times a year due in part to money, in part to her role as mother of two small children - my godsons. We've always said we were the sisters neither of us had so I guess we are family.

As for the physical stuff, well that's gone through a sudden and unexpected change I wouldn't have dreamed of a few weeks ago. For the last couple of months I've been trying to reduce the amount of physical clutter in my 'Ryan Bingham' back pack. But because I work from home, clutter is the one thing that over rides everything about my existence. But last week I was given an amazing opportunity and in less than 24 hours I move my clothing design business into an artists studio space in the centre of town.

I started to pack yesterday. And I've been quite horrified at how much is leaving the house for pastures new.  The place where I live is, for the first time since I left home, about to become a place to live rather than a place to work. Frankly, I'm sick of the disarray in my home. I yearn for clean surfaces, easy to hoover floors and not having to pick my way through hanging rails and boxes - watching dust gather in the corners at an alarming rate.

And as I've begun sorting through everything, I've realised I do travel light. Most of the furniture in my house belongs to the house. I have possibly enough furniture for two rooms, not enough for a one bedroom apartment (I am proud of this).  I've discovered I don't really own very much of anything. Yay!
George Clooney and his metaphorical back pack (source)
Once everything has gone from the house, I am looking forward to turning the space back into somewhere I go when work finishes for the day. My studio will be my office and my full time job and I know it will make me more productive. Being at home will feel like being at home. This is an exciting prospect.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

# 108 Standing by your principals

I'm writing this naming no names because it isn't necessary and because it can apply to so many things. But I need to say this because I have been in a particularly frustrating situation over the last few days and it needs getting out of my system.

If you're going to follow a set of principals, a belief or a way of life you can't choose the bits you want from it and then contradict it when it suits you. Especially when you are so dismissive or other people when they don't agree with you. Even worse that you still hold to those principals after contradicting them.

I appreciate that our ideals change as we go through life. Our experiences shape us all. Changing how you see the world and react to it IS expected and actively encouraged. I have changed over the years. I hardly remember feeling as passionate about some things now as I did when I was younger.

But sticking to your beliefs so vehemently and then doing something that totally contradicts them whilst still supporting those beliefs makes me question the validity of a friendship where someone can turn on a sixpence with such ease. Especially when you are doubling back on yourself hoping no one will find out what you've done because you know it's wrong.

I am pleased that I am the type of person who can walk away from this silliness and that I don't feel the need to endure it. Sadly it does mean ditching people every so often but I have reached that point in my life when I'd rather have a few good friends than a bunch of hypocrites. So my friends are now one lighter and I don't feel bad for that.

End of rant.