Why I effing love to swear!

You might have noticed reading some of my posts, that I swear an awful lot. If you’re thinking “it’s not that bad”, just remember that I’ve probably edited quite a lot of it out of my posts where I’ve noticed it. While I don’t swear as much as some people, I still swear multiple times daily. I don’t recall a day since primary school (yep, really) in which I haven’t sworn at least once.

I’m not swearing from a rebellious place – the man isn’t very fuckable – and I don’t consider myself to have an addiction. I’m not swearing because I’m always angry or miserable either. I swear an awful lot when I’m excited or happy or relieved.

TSM made the LCS finals!
TSM made the LCS finals!

The truth is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. In fact, I enjoy swearing. Swearing is fun. Swearing is the ultimate expression of feelings and shit, you know? “I love you” pails into insignificance compared to “I fucking love you”, and there’s nothing as amusing as a middle finger between friends. It’s brutally honest, deeply shitting emotional. I just can’t help that think someone who swears when they talk about something is greatly invested in the thing they’re talking about. They aren’t just there because of a paycheck or some shit.

Non-swearers must be baaarmy.
Non-swearers must be baaarmy.

Swearing is also pretty liberating. People are always telling us not to do it. As a woman, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told it’s so ‘unattractive’ when a ‘lady’ swears. If anything, it’s more encouraging than discouraging! It’s honesty and expression are liberating, as things we also don’t get to do a great deal either. Swearing is a rejection of the “done thing”. I like that about it.

Plus, swearing might actually be good for you. New research seems to suggest that swearing consistently reduces self-reported pain and your heart-rate, and helps you endure it for longer when going through something considered painful. Although, I must confess, the effect is somewhat greater for infrequent swearers than for Brian Blessed soundalikes like myself. But the fact it exists is good enough for me.

Needless to say, swearing is fucking awesome. Do that shit… just in moderation.

Why I effing love to swear!

Lame anti-bullying “advice”, that we somehow still use

TW: This advice is inaccurate and horrible, and might bring back some nasty memories for anyone who has experienced the horrors of bullying. 

You might have heard the story of the school in Nebraska that sent it’s students home with the following advice on bullying:

"advice"

Wow, well done folks. Keep going and you might be shortlisted for the ‘Jerk of the Year’ awards along with US Airlines.

Obviously, this was a mistake. That’s certainly what they’ve told everyone, anyway, and they have since apologized and issued new advice. But let’s face it, anyone who’s been bullied will have heard this lame-ass advice anyway. Despite knowing full well that literally none of the “rules” on that list actually stops bullying, we just carry on with the general ‘sticks and stones’ mantra. WTF, universe?!

bullied-doge

 

This is something that seriously upsets me. Not only was I bullied, but repeatedly I was subjected to this pathetic pseudo-helpful “advice”. In fact once, when I was 13 and pre-self-harm, I went to tell my teacher – my personal tutor, in fact – about being bullied in school for my sexuality (everyone suspected I was gay, that’s a story for another day). He gave me similar advice about not letting them get to me, ignoring them and such. A couple of days later at my parents evening he even had the cheek to tell my father I was “unbulliable”, such was the fuck that man specifically put in charge of my care did not give.

The main problem with this advice is that it represents just that – it reeks of ‘put up and shut up kid, because it’s not our responsibility, and damn it you probably deserve it‘. It’s not dramatic of me to say so – it’s all summed up explicitly in the last three so-called “rules”:

Rule #7: Do not tell on bullies. The number one reason bullies hate their victims, is because the victims tell on them. Telling makes the bully want to retaliate. Tell an adult only when a real injury or crime (theft of something valuable) has occurred. Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?

Rule #8: Don’t be a sore loser.

Rule #9: Learn to laugh at yourself and not get “hooked” by put-downs. Make a joke out of it or agree with the put-down. For example: “If you think I’m ugly, you should see my sister!”

Loving number 9 – bully your sister, kids, on the off-chance that by ruining the reputation of your sibling and destroying your relationship, you might, just might, stop being bullied. Lovely.

Seriously though, this advice assumes automatically that you have done something to offend the bully, so you totally deserve to be bullied. Maybe you “tattled”, or it’s your sense of humour. Maybe it’s the way you dress, or talk, or walk. Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s your gender, or your sexuality. Hey, whatever, kid. You must suffer the consequences of being different. Including, but not limited to, the intense and wide-ranging physical and psychological effects of being bullied.  It just isn’t our concern.

It’s so easy to pass the buck if you pin all the blame on the kids being bullied…

Except we all know the responsibility for bullying lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. Blaming the victims is only going to reinforce this as a viable option in response to whatever shit the bully is going through. Is this really the only plan we’ve got in dealing with bullying – messing up a whole bunch of kids lives because we can’t be bothered to get our hands fucking dirty? It seems so obvious to me that we should try to help the damn people involved, including the bullies.

Before you weep for humanity though, guys, there are two things you have to remember. The first is that there’s people like this guy in the world. The second, is that you can still change these things. Get involved campaigning against bullying, teach your kids or your friend’s kids or whoever about it. Call people up on the stupid advice they’re giving if you overhear this rubbish. Do things.

Don’t let bullying win.

 

 

Lame anti-bullying “advice”, that we somehow still use

In pursuit of ‘truth’: The question of objectivity

I was discussing this online the other day and someone said I must totally be ‘faking’ being a woman because women just ‘don’t talk like that’. I guess this blog post will be casual misogyny certified!


We’ve all probably heard the term ‘objectivity’, especially in relation to science. To be objective is to be impartial, to be open-minded and without bias. Scientific research is often considered the prime example of objectivity in practice – it is the study of a measurable reality without bias, with valid and reliable measures employed.

At least, on the surface. Not all scientists agree that scientific inquiry is actually objective, or that such a thing could ever be achieved. In fact, the question of whether objectivity is realistic concept at all is still the subject of much debate. My love of the complicated and confusing has me delving right into that debate with you, so sit back and relax, because we’re going on another journey kids. (There’s probably some really traumatizing child-catcher connotations there… I apologise!)

The process of research

Let’s use Psychological research as an example here. Let’s assume a psychologist has decided to investigate whether online gaming communities – like guilds and stuff in MMOs – affect psychological well-being in any way. They rush out into gaming communities with a string of surveys, maybe even conduct some interviews and observations to broaden their scope. They find an answer to their question; there is an effect on psychological well-being after all!

They come to writing up the research, which naturally means discussing some of the limitations they observed within their research. Maybe they’ll write about sample sizes, the questionnaires they used, demand characteristics and other such stuff. Rarely, however, would they write about the fact they were actually seeking an answer in the first place. That is arguably counter to objectivity – you aren’t being open-minded if you are assuming that there is an answer out there for you to uncover. You’re biased in favour of finding an answer, and maybe that means you find one even when there isn’t one to be found.

It’s an interesting dimension – are we actually uncovering the ‘truth’ in our research, or are we creating that ‘truth’ in our pursuit of it?

The story behind the research

An interesting question that is partially addressed in right ups of research is why you picked the topic you did. Let’s use the example above again – why did our researcher want to study psychological well-being and online communities? Is our researcher a gamer? What’s their experience of psychological well-being thus far? What assumption are they making, besides the assumption that there is an answer to be found for their research question? In short, who is our researcher?

If objectivity is a real concept, who our researcher is isn’t particularly relevant – more important is how they separate who they are, their thoughts, beliefs and experiences, and the research they are conducting. Putting your researcher hat on means forgetting these things, and being open-minded and impartial.

But the researcher hat… is just a hat. It has been argued that the experiences, beliefs, cultural values etc. that people hold will inevitably effect the way they carry out research and what research they choose to conduct. You remember how I mentioned I was doing my dissertation on representations of male and female sexuality in the media? Yeah, I’m interested in that title because of the hetero-normativity and male-centred sexualities observed in female magazines. Why is that interesting to me? Because as a bisexual woman, that doesn’t fit my sexuality. Does that make me biased? Yeah, probably – I mean, I fully expect to find representations of male and female sexuality, and I fully expect to find those represented along traditional (hetero-normative and male-centred) lines.

The same is true of a lot of research. The very nature of having a directional hypothesis (though not all scientific research does) reveals that not only do you expect to find something, but you expect to find it a particular way. That’s not just based on previous research – you picked that research because you believed it, or disbelieved it, and there’s going to be a reason for that. That reason will be inevitably grounded in who you are and your life experiences up until that point.

The tools of research

In my previous post on intelligence, I talked about how IQ tests have been criticized as a test of privilege. That criticism perfectly sums up the argument made by some people about the tools we employ for research, and how they might be problematic in our pursuit of ‘objective truth’ in themselves.

IQ tests were invented from the perspective of what two researchers in intelligence presumed intelligence to be – literary and mathematical problem-solving. It’s no coincidence that those are skills they use all the time as researchers, and most of the people they know probably used them frequently too. I mean, it’s a widely accepted fact within society that researchers are intelligent.

IQ tests are also of an era where not everyone was literate, or even educated (because kids that scored below average were thought to have special needs, and they did some other pretty horrific and shocking things to them instead); certainly the only ones who could be researchers were those of privilege. It seems almost inevitable that they would class their version of intelligence as general intelligence, and that their test would disadvantage the already disadvantaged. These people didn’t understand disadvantage, so they sure as hell didn’t know how to account for it in their measurement tools.

The same criticism can be applied elsewhere. Who the researcher is effects the tools they create, or the pre-existing tools they choose to use. If you believe in IQ tests and the definition of IQ they convey, you will probably use them in intelligence research. In the case of our researcher, what you consider psychological well-being, and how you define an online gaming community, is going to affect the measurement tools you adopt in answering your chosen question. Even if you try not to do it, it will happen to an extent, because you simply don’t walk around constantly aware of how your perception of reality is different to the perception of reality that others hold or how and why that is.

What do you think? Is objectivity a realistic concept? If not, how would you combat that in research?

In pursuit of ‘truth’: The question of objectivity

Intelligence vs. hard work: Which is better?

I have a pet peeve in Educational Studies. To tell the truth, I have a pet peeve in educational policies and practices. I’m not on my own in it either, because if you walked into one of my classes this week and declared your love for IQ tests you’d probably be slapped. First and foremost by the lecturer, then the rest of the class. Like that scene from ‘Airplane’ but without the laughs… or the 70s.

Why? Well, let me introduce you to the complicated world of IQ and education.

What is intelligence anyway?

Excellent question! A really basic definition in the OED states that intelligence is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. That’s actually pretty problematic when you’re studying intelligence, because it doesn’t specify what kinds of knowledge and skills it applies to. Do you count the ability to acquire knowledge and skills in football in that? What about cleaning? Or are we just talking about academic skills? Plus, how much knowledge and how many skills must we acquire before we are considered intelligent? What kinds of situations must we apply them in, and how frequently?

Testing dilemmas?

We’ve all heard of IQ – the intelligence quotient you receive at the end of an ‘intelligence test’, that presumably can tell you if you’re super smart, or have learning difficulties, or are just of average intelligence. The quotient subscribes to the idea that intelligence is a measurable, genetically inherited attribute that comprises of mathematical and literary problem-solving skills.

The most popular one is the Stanford-Binet test because that one tends to produce reliable results. By which I mean if you took that test every Thursday for 6 weeks, the scores each time wouldn’t vary that much, regardless of things like your mood. Psychologically speaking, that’s a big tick right there – we love reliability.

Yet while the scores it produces are consistent, what the test is actually er.. testing, is a bit more complicated. Not everyone agrees that an IQ test is actually testing your intelligence, which I guess links back to this confusing idea of what exactly constitutes ‘intelligent’ behaviour. If you happen to define intelligence in the limited way of the IQ test, then you probably think it’s testing exactly the right thing. Other people believe there are multiple intelligences in addition to those studied by the test – the popular theorist Gardner (1983) believes in eight primary intelligences, few of which are covered by standardized IQ tests.

More to the point, there have been a lot of problems identified with the current tests anyway, which is majorly problematic when they are used to inform policies. For example, let’s look at the Grammar school system in England, which arose toward the end of the Second World War in 1944. At 11 years old kids sat an intelligence test, the results of which would determine which kind of secondary school they got to go to. If you were of average intelligence, you went to a secondary modern school; if you were of lower intelligence, you went to a technical college; if you were of high intelligence, you went to a grammar school… at least in theory. The whole process was based around the research of people like Cyril Bert, who studied the hertiability of IQ, and found that IQ was totally passed on in your genes, so there was basically no need to waste time educating everyone as though they were all the same.

The only problem was, people have suggested that Cyril made up a few of his figures in order to get the results he wanted. They claim he actually didn’t test as many people as he said, and that he sort of ‘imagined’ people in the tests. Subsequent research has not managed to replicate his findings – where they find an element of heritability in IQ, it’s never at the levels Burt suggested. The ethics of having used the mans research to determine the futures of a whole handful of kids is majorly questionable if he actually did make it all up.

But that aside, IQ testing is still flawed. Some people suggest it’s more a test of the advantage you’ve experienced in your life – a ‘middle-class’ test, if you will. Which is supported to an extent by the high levels of middle-to-upper-class children that do amazingly well on it. Not to mention it’s apparent bias against ethnic minorities and women; in fact in some states in America they use different versions of the test for ethnic minority children, to try and combat the apparent bias in the test. Plus, some research also seems to suggest that there are an awful lot of extra factors that influence test scores, such as level and quality of education received, home life, access to resources and such (stuff that more privileged kids are more likely to have access to). In Kent, where they still use the 11 plus and grammar school system, they’ve recently had to redesign the exam to stop parents hiring tutors to teach kids how to pass it. Surely you shouldn’t be able to successfully get away with that in a test of your intellectual capabilities?

So, what is IQ actually a test of? Privilege, or inherited intelligence?

What about hard work?

There’s been some interesting research in the past few years looking at the language we use to praise children and how that affects their subsequent learning. The emerging research seems to suggest that if you praise children based on their intelligence, they will only engage in basic tasks so they can maintain their ‘intelligent’ image, whereas if you praise children based on their hard work (e.g. saying “you must have worked really hard on that”), they are more willing to engage in challenging tasks and go on to perform better on them. In short, the very concept of intelligence may damage children’s learning, encouraging them not to try.

Maybe it’s time we ditched the rhetoric of intelligence from education, then?

Intelligence vs. hard work: Which is better?

We need to talk to kids about self-harm

Recently self-harm made national news once again, only this time it was the results of an online survey that was of concern. The poll had found that bullying was the primary cause of self-harm for most of the under-25s surveyed, closely followed by family relationships, pressure to do well at school, emotional abuse and friendships.

This is nothing new to those who have had contact with self-harmers, perhaps, but it was refreshing nonetheless to see the national media focusing on the experiences of those who self-harm and promoting awareness of a growing issue.  Yet it made me reflect on my own experiences of school and self-harm, and raised an important question – why do we not educate young people about self-harm?

I never really understood self-harm and knew so little about it, until I started doing it myself when I was 13 in response to years and years of bullying. I’d never meant to, but it kinda made me feel normal; I felt better able to cope through the day-to-day bullying, and it made me feel like a nicer person because I was calmer. Swiftly I found self-harm become almost an addiction – I had to do it every day, just to face the world – and my friends, teachers, and eventually my family, found out.

What surprised me was that at no point did we have a class talk about mental health and self-harm in school. Not even when students were being taken to A&E for self-harming, or placed in therapy, and frequently came in with scars and marks. The first and only time it was even acknowledged was in a GCSE history lesson, in a causal reference to the sense of euphoria that comes with blood loss. When the teachers discovered someone had been self-harming, their only response was a look of pity or disgust; it’s highly questionable if they had a clue what they were supposed to do.

Alright, I went to a very bad school, so my experiences might not be that representative. Except research by mental health charities such as Rethink Mental Illness seem to agree that not enough is being done to spot emerging mental health problems in young people, or educate young people about issues of mental health in schools. This is pretty striking considering that self-harm appears to be on the rise, and that the earlier problems are spotted and dealt with the greater the chances of recovery for individuals.

In my opinion a greater coordinated effort should be made by media outlets, the Department of Education, and health services to educate the general public about self-harm and wider mental health issues, in a positive, non-judgemental way. Young people shouldn’t have to suffer for so long in silence.

We need to talk to kids about self-harm

Tougher prison systems = more crime?

Before I begin on this, I’d like to make it clear where I’m approaching this from, because it seems relevant to the debate.

Most people when you talk about the justice system cry “but what about the victims?!” constantly. Totally justifiable; after all, they are the ones whose lives have changed, often drastically, as a result of the crime. Victims should get a say. I too have been a victim of crime in my lifetime; interestingly not once have I been asked what I’d like to see in the justice system in light of that fact, though I have been berated for my opinions as a general hater of all victims of crime. So let me make this clear – as a victim of crime, the thing I would most like to see in our justice system is rehabilitation and a reduction in offending. I don’t want to go through those things again, or see others go through them. This is the standpoint from which I am writing this piece.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s address the prison system in the UK right now.

Currently, there are 85,338 in offender institutions in England and Wales (Howard League, 2014). Most of those are male – 81,426 compared to 3,912 – which is pretty striking in itself. This isn’t the highest prison population in the world, granted, but it’s still pretty large, especially when you consider that in 2013 had a population of approximately 4,500 (The Guardian, 2013).

For years, the rhetoric around prisons has been that they simply aren’t tough enough – that they’re like holiday institutions, and all these fun and games make people want to re-offend to go back to prison. Prison, they argue, is just not a strong enough deterrent from crime. That much, I agree with, but we’ll get back to that later. More pressing is how utterly ridiculous the idea that prisons can be a “soft” option actually is. Going to prison doesn’t simply involve a loss of freedom, as people think; there’s the loss of autonomy, human connection, safety, privacy, even the very essence of who you are. Think about it – they strip you of all your personal belongs, issue you a standard bland room, a standard uniform, and to them you are just another statistic. You cease to be you. It’s a well documented phenomenon called deindividuation, and has been linked to not only increases in your own aggressive tendencies, but increases the chances of people being violent to you (I’d recommend a casual Google search on it!).

Can you say ‘prison riot’?

So, you’re living in fear, you’ve lost your identity and your freedom. Well, maybe you kind of deserved it? If you don’t want to do the crime, maybe you shouldn’t do the crime?! Oh, how terribly cute this idea is. It entirely overlooks the frankly incredibly complicated causes of crime. For example, did you know that an amazingly high number of offenders suffer from personality disorders and other mental health problems? People think the mentally ill are housed separately from other offenders, but this only happens in extreme causes – prisons are required to have mental health professionals on staff to take care of these lower-risk offenders while they’re in the mainstream population. It’s questionable, therefore, if they can even be held responsible for their actions. They go to prison nonetheless. Then there are those homeless offenders that have a choice between starving and going to prison, where they at least get meals. These are trapped in the cycle of hunger, poverty and crime.

These are just a few reasons why crime might happen, I’d absolutely encourage you to seek out the literature and see what you make of it.

Let’s say, however, you just committed a crime and you end up in prison. Why is it that the punishment – going to prison and losing all of this important stuff – doesn’t reduce crime? After all, the re-offending rate for short-stay prison sentences is 56%, reducing to 26% for longer sentences, which is pretty high (The Independent, 2013). Well, the idea of punishing people for bad behaviour is linked to the popular (and widely misunderstood) theory of conditioning. This is where punishment (not to be confused with negative reinforcement) is thought to reduce socially unacceptable behaviours like crime, and reinforcement increases socially acceptable behaviours like obeying the law. A lot of research into the effects of conditioning has been done by B. F Skinner – who was also largely against the use of punishment as a singular method of changing socially unacceptable behaviours. Yup. Skinner argued that punishment was not sufficient to create a lasting change in behaviour, merely creating a temporary change that was limited to the context in which punishment occurs – so in this case the effects of prison would be limited to… er… prison. When the threat of punishment is removed, Skinner said that people would return to their previous behaviours, because at no point during punishment did anyone teach them alternative, positive behaviours. In fact, he went as far as to say that punishment is only maintained as a mainstream method of dealing with poor behaviour because it reinforces the behaviours of those doing the punishing – but that’s where this all gets a bit complicated.

Therein lies one of the many secret of the success in Sweden’s prisons; far from being ‘holiday camps’, they attempt to integrate prisoners into a community and teach them how to go about daily life without falling into the trap of crime. They focus on what our prisons have long since forgotten – rehabilitation.

This is a complex debate, so for now I am going to leave it there but I will return to it later!

Tougher prison systems = more crime?