Sexism at Scottish Universities?

Anecdotal evidence led me to suspect gender bias in hiring practice at a Scottish university – and I wondered if that was:

  1. a suspicion supported by statistical evidence
  2. a finding generalisable to other Scottish universities

Let me immediately say that I wasn’t great at Maths in School and I’m honest with my doctoral and master’s students that stats isn’t my strong point – but I did do the required Ph.D. courses in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis and (to my surprise) I really enjoyed both.

METHODOLOGY

Remembering my lecturer’s admonition to “keep a moral distance from the data”, I determined to stick to what seemed to be a fair methodology first, before peeking at the results. In other words, I wanted to avoid the kind of cherry-picking that goes on with article after article bangs on about fewer women than men in (some) Science Technology Engineering Maths courses and totally ignores Education or Nursing (and just about everything else) where they dominate.

So I decided to use 1 website only: www.jobs.ac.uk and only to focus on Scotland’s 2 Russell Group universities: Edinburgh & Glasgow, simply as a convenient and fair way to work with a smaller number. Incidentally missing out my alma mater. Furthermore (a favourite word for international students) I would limit the results by only analysing data from academic jobs advertised as “Lecturer” (not “Tutor”, “Professor”, “Chair”, “Head”, “Associate”, “Reader”, “Technician”, etc.) and only those on the website on 8th August 2022. If I found over 30 of these, for each university, I would exclude all adverts dated before 1st August 2022.

So much for search criteria. What about evidence? What’s my definition of sexism in this situation? Simple: I would note all adverts in this selection which included a phrase identical or similar to “women/ men/ female candidates/ male candidates are especially encouraged to apply” and cross-reference that to the ratio of male/ female academic staff in the department – as shown by the official website of that university on 8th August 2022.

(If you suspect me of manically doing this every day until I got the desired result, try it for yourself!)

RESULTS

Edinburgh

First I put “Lecturer” in the Search field and “Edinburgh, UK” in Location and limited results to “within 10 miles”. 27 jobs were returned, 7 of them at institutions other than the University of Edinburgh. I entered the dates and job titles of the other 20:

Date postedUniversity of Edinburgh
2nd AugLecturer/Senior Lecturer in Accounting
2nd AugLecturer in Romanticism
27th JulyLecturer in Dyslexia
28th JulyLecturer in Epidemiology
27th JulyLecturer/Senior Lecturer in Sign Language Linguistics
25th JulyLecturer in Environmental History
25th JulyLecturer in Environmental History
13th JulyLecturer in Landscape and Wellbeing
26th JulyLecturer in Graphic Design
18th JulyLecturer in Clinical Psychology
19th JulyLecturer in Clinical Psychology
15th JulyLecturer/Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Dentistry and Maxillofacial Surgery
14th JulySenior Lecturer in Neurology/Neurosurgery
25th JulyLecturer in Financial Law and Regulation
20th JulyLecturer in South Asian Art History
27th JulyLecturer in Soft Robotics / Physical Computing
12th JulyLecturer in Interior, Architectural and Spatial Design
26th JulyLecturer in Small Animal Surgery (Orthopaedics and Soft Tissue, with Orthopaedic bias)
25th JulyTeaching Fellow in Iron Age and Theoretical Archaeology*
27th JulyLectureship/Readership in Technology Enhanced Mathematics Education
20 Lecturer job titles at University of Edinburgh & dates posted

*”Lecturer” in job description

Of these, only 3 had any mention that could be construed as encouraging a particular gender to apply:

Date postedUniversity of EdinburghGender encouraged to apply
25th JulyLecturer in Environmental HistoryAs an equal opportunities employer, we welcome applicants from all sections of the community, regardless of age, gender, race and ethnicity, disability, nationality and citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation or transgender status.  Our School is committed to Athena SWAN principles. All appointments will be made on merit.
25th JulyLecturer in Financial Law and RegulationThe School of Law strives to be a diverse and inclusive community.  We particularly welcome applications from candidates belonging to groups that have been traditionally under-represented in the subject.
12th JulyLecturer in Interior, Architectural and Spatial DesignThe University of Edinburgh holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education.
3 jobs advert dates & titles at University of Edinburgh with mention of encouragement to apply (emphasis mine)

“Athena SWAN” refers to the Scientific Women’s Academic Network.

Glasgow

The same search, but with “Glasgow, UK” in Location, yielded 29 results. Of these, 10 were excluded as relating to institutions other than the University of Glasgow. I entered the dates and job titles of the other 19 – all of which contained wording that could be construed as encouraging a particular sex to apply:

Date postedUniversity of GlasgowGender encouraged to apply
5th AugLecturer – School of Computing ScienceWe strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation in promoting gender equity.*
26th JulyLecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader in Statistics and Data AnalyticsWe offer an inclusive environment that particularly encourages applications from those within under-represented groups in our discipline […]   (ATHENA SWAN)
25th JulySenior Lecturer/Lecturer in Marketing (Research & Teaching Track)The Adam Smith Business School is triple accredited and is a research-informed and professionally-focused business school. The School has achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze award and actively encourages an inclusive culture promoting gender equality and welcomes applications from underrepresented groups.   (ATHENA SWAN)
13th JulyLecturer in Race and Education(ATHENA SWAN)
13th JulyLecturer in Curriculum and Assessment(ATHENA SWAN)
27th JulySenior Lecturer/Lecturer in Human Resource Management (Research & Teaching Track)The Adam Smith Business School is triple accredited and is a research-informed and professionally-focused business school. The School has achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze award and actively encourages an inclusive culture promoting gender equality and welcomes applications from underrepresented groups.   (ATHENA SWAN)
5th AugLecturer (LTS) in Medieval History(ATHENA SWAN)
5th AugLecturer (LTS) in Medieval History(ATHENA SWAN)
29th JulyLecturer (Research & Teaching Track)(ATHENA SWAN)
29th JulyLecturer in Early Medieval History(ATHENA SWAN)
22nd JulyLecturer in Music [LTS Track]We also strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation to promoting [inclusion, diversity and] gender equity. Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.
27th JulyLecturer (Learning, Teaching & Scholarship)(ATHENA SWAN)
2nd AugLecturer in International Relations (LTS Track)We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.   (ATHENA SWAN)
26th JulyLecturer (Small Animal Hospital Rotations)(ATHENA SWAN)
8th JulyLecturer in Contemporary Economic History (LTS)We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.   (ATHENA SWAN)
2nd AugMultiple Lecturer Positions in Statistics & Data AnalyticsWe offer an inclusive environment that particularly encourages applications from those within under-represented groups in our discipline […]   (ATHENA SWAN)** (ATHENA SWAN)
2nd AugLecturer (LTS Track) in Screen Production & PracticeWe also strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation to promoting [inclusion, diversity and] gender equity. Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.
13th JulyLecturer in Teacher Education (Primary with specialism focus in Technologies(ATHENA SWAN)
19 job advert dates & titles at University of Glasgow with mention of encouragement to apply (emphasis mine, link original)

The ambiguity about the effect of Athena SWAN charter, articulated HERE by Dr Suzanne Madgwick, Research Fellow at Newcastle University, is felt even by those whom it benefits:

Yes, there is evidence to suggest that women are sometimes a little more risk averse, less likely to put themselves forward for promotion, but this is by no means exclusive. If we have a mechanism in place to champion and support the different needs of all people, each and every time they need it, is this not equality without the need to keep using the word “women”? I can’t help thinking that there is a good dose of hypocrisy in all the ‘positive actions’ and events which are seen to be just for women. In the short term it’s generating friction and in the long term it certainly doesn’t seem like the best strategy when preaching fair play.

Not Athena SWAN again! The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (2015)

Perhaps because of this perception, the Charter is now not supposed to have women as its only focus:

The Athena Swan Charter is a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education (HE) and research. Established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment, the Charter is now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

Athena Swan Charter (2020)

Given that supposed change, let’s ignore for now all the (slightly) ambiguous encouragement of women to apply for academic jobs in Russel Group universities in Scotland (3/20 or 15% in the University of Edinburgh selection of job adverts and 19/19 or 100% in those of the University of Glasgow) and focus only on the 4, all from the University of Glasgow, out of the 39 selections from both institutions (just over 10%) that explicitly do this:

Date postedUniversity of GlasgowGender encouraged to apply
22nd JulyLecturer in Music [LTS Track]Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.
2nd AugLecturer in International Relations (LTS Track)We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.
8th JulyLecturer in Contemporary Economic History (LTS)We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.
2nd AugLecturer (LTS Track) in Screen Production & PracticeApplications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.
4 job advert dates & titles at University of Glasgow with mention of encouragement to women to apply (emphasis in bold/italics mine)

Let’s look at the ratio of male/ female academic staff in the relevant department. The first has this information:

For further information on the College of Arts, School of Culture and Creative Arts please visit https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/cca/

With a link to “Music” and “Staff A-Z” where there are 14 names under Research and Teaching (the other category is Professional, Administrative and Support). Of the 4 Professors, 3 names are male and 1 female; of the 10 Doctors, 8 are male and 2 female. So with a M:F ratio of 11:3 (just over 21% are female) there is justification to describe women as under-represented in this department.

The second advert has this:

For further information on the College of Social Sciences, School of Social & Political Sciences, please visit https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/

With a link to “Politics and International Relations” and “Staff A-Z” where there are 60 names under Research and Teaching. Of the 11 Professors, 5 names I recognised as male and 4 female with 2 I couldn’t identify by name but with female photographs (on this website or another linking her to this position). So that’s 5 male and 6 female professors. Of the 45 Doctors, 30 I recognised as male, with 2 I couldn’t identify by name but with male photographs (on this website or another linking him to this position). So that’s 32 male and 13 female doctors. Of the other 4 staff in this category, 1 is Mr, 2 Ms and 1 Miss. So that’s 1 male and 3 female staff members without academic titles. Overall, that makes 38 male and 22 female staff so, as 22/60 (just under 37%) are female, there is justification to describe women as under-represented in this department.

The third advert has the same link as the second but the link to follow this time is Economic and Social History. There isn’t a link to staff so I had to go back and search for this subject and ended up on the departmental staff page:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/staff/?filter=economicsocialhistory

There are 23 staff names listed under Research and Teaching. Of the 6 Professors, all have male names. Out of the 14 Doctors, I recognised 6 as male and another 1 was identified as male on another website linking him to this position. So that’s 7 male and 7 female doctors out of 14. Other staff are 2 Misters and 1 Miss. Overall that’s 15 male and 8 female staff under this category, which makes 8/23 (just under 35%) female staff in this department – therefore it is justified to describe women as under-represented here.

The last advert has the same link as the first but the link to follow then, this time, isn’t clear as the job refers to the College rather than a specific Department. However the contact person is listed as Theatre, Film and Television Studies – which comprises two different links:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/subjects/theatre/

https://www.gla.ac.uk/subjects/filmtelevision/

Clicking on Our Staff in the first department, I see 5 Professors, out of which 2 have male names and 3 female. Out of the 7 Doctors, it’s 4 male and 3 female, and there’s no-one else so overall that’s 6/12 female staff which is 50%. Women are not under-represented here.

In the second department, out of the 6 Professors, 3 are male and 3 female; out of the 11 Doctors, 5 appear to be male (by names of photographs on the website) and 6 female. Overall that’s 9/17 (just under 53%) female staff in this category. So women are not under-represented here either.

Lumping these two creative departments together, as the job advert does, that’s 6+8=14 male; 6+9=15 female, so that’s 15/29 (just under 52%) female staff.

As a final computation of all 4 jobs that explicitly mention women being encouraged to apply, the academic staff ratios for these University for Glasgow Departments are:

Dept.MaleFemaleStaffFemale percentage
Music11314just over 21%
Politics & Int. Rels382260just under 37%
Econ. & Soc. Hist.15823just under 35%
Theatre, Film & TV141529just under 52%
4 University of Glasgow Departments with male/ female ratios

FINDINGS

One possible finding of this hasty survey is that out of 39 selections of academic job adverts only 1 of them could be said to show explicit sexism (under my stated criteria) by encouraging the numerically – and academically – dominant gender to apply for a position. That must be qualified by the fact that the dominance is only 2% and, if it’s a woman who’s creating the vacancy, then another woman would simply keep the status quo.

Another possible finding is that 4 out of the 39 adverts explicitly encourage women to apply, and 22/ 39 (just over 56%) if we include the implicit encouragement, remembering that most of those are from one institution.

As I only looked at the explicit adverts’ staff ratios, it’s not clear whether the overall figure of around 56% (or 100% for the University of Glasgow) female-specific encouragement is justified. Just as a random outlier, let’s look at a department that we may expect to be female dominated (but maybe not as much as English Lit. or Nursing) – Education:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/subjects/education/staff/

Applying the same criteria, we have 26 Professors, 12 are male and 14 female; of the 74 Doctors, 23 are male and 51 female; of the other academic staff there are 16 Misters, 13 Ms, 9 Mrs, 3 Miss, 1 Fr, so 17 male and 25 female. Overall that makes 52 male and 90 female academic staff members. That makes 90/142 = just over 63% female.

There are 3 jobs currently being advertised for the School of Education of the University of Glasgow. All of them have the same Athena SWAN script. Not one of them, in this clearly female-dominated Department, encourages men to apply.

Looking back at the two points I began with, I haven’t provided any statistical evidence for gender bias in hiring practice at Scottish universities – but I have done (to a limited extent) for such bias in advertising academic jobs. I haven’t checked if all 19 degree providers in Scotland have endorsed this formerly gender-specific Charter but I strongly suspect that they have.

As a man, I rejoice in the equality of my female colleagues but – if we are to truly move past institutionalised sexism – we have to realise that simply swapping the slogan “jobs for the boys” for “jobs for the girls” isn’t going to change the dynamic of dominance rather than co-operation. With masculinity conveniently demonised as toxic (forever forgetting the wisdom of feminists such as Dorothy Dinnerstein) and confused wee boys being explicitly told that they can avoid becoming a man, then it’s time to take stock of the current situation.

Despite media portrayals, we’re not all mad, bad or sad. If we really believe in ending “the war of the sexes” then we have to be honest about recruitment.

Cartoon image of White man with black hair, white top and black trousers sitting on a black chair with his head on a black laptop resting on a mauve table with a white cup on top; teal background.

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Exhausted Employee into the Public Domain.

Insubstantial Pageant—“The Tempest” by Bard in the Botanics: a review

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, Nicole Cooper’s adaptation and direction of Shakespeare’s last solo play has almost none of the sympathetic magic of Bard in the Botanics’ Medea. Alan Steele underwhelms as Prospero, muttering majestic lines almost inaudibly while fidgeting with his ratty cardigan then suddenly giving vent to crazed shouted rants. Jennifer Dick, unlikely Ariel (why the purple hair?) and Nurse has rare moments of celestial spell casting but mostly is a wry, compassionate and practical carer. Lynsey-Anne Moffat is every woman who ever loved a failing father, as admirable Miranda, and nicely evil as Antonio. Nicole Cooper, in time-honoured tradition of the director stepping in for an absent actor, brought a butch n’ femme energy to her romantic role as Ferdinand and at least some petulant power to Caliban.

Halfway through, when I really wanted to leave, I observed my emotional reaction and worked out why I hated it. I’m an unpaid carer, both my parents have had dementia. My employer is trying to sack me for standing up for disabled rights. I’m just back from a short holiday which was (mostly) lovely for my mother but no respite for me. I was looking forward to an evening of captivating escapism and instead I was confronted with all my domestic stress onstage.

The craft of theatre is such that last month I was ready to forgive a murderess of children and yet this I struggle to find sympathy with an old man losing his mind. The most poignant part for me (I didn’t cry) was Prospero failing to turn on the radio. I saw my father hopefully pushing the DVD of The Great Escape into the video recorder.

No, it didn’t make sense. The glasshouse/ care-home transition wasn’t clear and the cross-dressed actors playing doubled roles of characters mistaken by a mad old man, switching often without a change of costume, was confusing. Ariel’s prettiest lines were spoken to the lively golden carp in the pond as she exited towards the sound desk—and throwing away Miranda’s most famous line on a potted plant is frankly unforgivable.

But it’s the banality of death by dementia, gradually losing the loved one who once stood robed in might and could command the elements, that’s the drama of this performance which I was so desperate to avoid. Because I can’t and no-one who cares can.

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, dementia is a misunderstood tragicomedy happening all around us. Caring for someone losing their mind means bursting into tears at the sink, drying your eyes and making yet another bloody cup of tea.

I hated this performance because it took me inside a failing mind, once so wise, that I can’t fix. Go see it!

Suited portly older White man with beard holds a lit lantern in advert for The Tempest: adapted & directed by Nicole Cooper. 14th-30th July.

Advert from: https://www.bardinthebotanics.co.uk/productions/2022/the-tempest

Who’s Who and What’s What?

It’s fashionable in the freedom movement to criticise Critical Theory but various reports over the last few days have made me think about the importance of one of its commonplaces:

Identity is multiple, contested and transitory

Me, paraphrasing everyone else

For those sensible people who stay far, far away from pretentious artsy varsity courses, Critical Theory is basically what happens when you subversively say “it ain’t necessarily so!” but get really arsey about it – and publish expensive books and well-cited papers that repeat the same point from various angles, like very dull sermons, using a lingo that’s so complex it’s indecipherable even to the author (this is known as “dense”).

The various reports that have made me reconsider the value of this pretentious commonplace (one of the ways to get points in CT is to know the “archaeology” and “genealogy” of words and this one can have me expounding for hours about mnemonic systems and topoi – but it just means something that everyone always says) were on the Tory leadership contest and Unionist bonfires in Northern Ireland.

It struck me, rather unkindly, that people of ethnic minorities tend to be British when it suits them. Then I reflected, more fairly, that that’s exactly what the British establishment has done to ethnic minorities. So tit for tat! In the bad old days when Britannia ruled the waves, the people overseas were told that the Empress Victoria, out of an over-abundance of condescending kindness, had decided to mother ’em all and that henceforth they were to consider England (shieldboss of the universe and shorthand for the UK) their one, true and only Home.

So kind of Queen Vic! That, of course, was all very well as long as all these grateful subjects stayed away. When they decided to come Home, the British establishment quickly decided that that’s not really what they’d meant at all. At least not for most of them. Robert Winder (in his annoyingly Anglo-centric but entertaining book) sums it up:

Immigration is one of the most important stories of modern British life, yet it has been happening since Caesar first landed in 53 BC. Ever since the first Roman, Saxon, Jute and Dane leaped off a boat we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are a tangled web. From Huguenot weavers fleeing French Catholic persecution in the 18th century to South African dentists to Indian shopkeepers; from Jews in York in the 12th century (who had to wear a yellow star to distinguish them and who were shamefully expelled by Edward I in 1272) to the Jamaican who came on board the Windrush in 1947. The first Indian MP was elected in 1892, Walter Tull, the first black football player played (for Spurs and Northampton) before WW1 (and died heroically fighting for the allies in the last months of the war); in 1768 there were 20,000 black people in London (out of a population of 600,000 – a similar percentage to today). The 19th century brought huge numbers of Italians, Irish, Jews (from Russia and Poland mainly), Germans and Poles.

This book draws all their stories together in a compelling narrative.

Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain

As a Roman Catholic, Scots-Irish, English, German (possibly Lutheran but probably Jewish), French, Pictish, Viking, I’m clearly connected to events over the water – which in Glasgow means the Irish Sea – especially around the 12th of July, anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne when the Pope played chess with most of Europe and his most powerful piece against the Catholic King James VII & II of the recently United Kingdom was the Protestant pretender William of Orange. Confusingly, although apparently a Te Deum (this glorious version from Tosca starts about 2:50) was sung in Rome to celebrate the victory, the commemorations since then have been markedly anti-Catholic. There are other incongruities with the popular version of this history, as James Connolly (who uses the more accurate term Episcopalian for Anglican) points out – among them the embarrassing fact that the oppressors of the Presbyterian “planters” (English and Scots immigrants to Ireland) were not the Roman Catholics.

Before I studied Critical Theory, I was a student of Church History. As Umberto Eco reminds us, all this supposedly modern stuff about who’s who and what’s what was already being debated (because they weren’t stupid enough to deny that there’s a debate, that it’s worth having and that it’s complex) in Mediaeval times. (If you’re interested, it really starts in section 2 HERE.)

If you’re already bamboozled and wondering if I’ll ever get to the point, I already have done. Identity is multiple, contested and transitory. We’re each not just one thing, we can’t force anyone to recognise us as anything (not without a struggle at least) and things change – and so do we.

I’d like to end this cleverly by showing that all the identities I favour are actually rock solid and all the ones I oppose are shaky but I’m afraid it works both ways. My only conclusion (and it’s not very clever at all) is that thinking of Us and Them just doesn’t work – because either there was, or there is, or there will be, so much of Them in Us and vice versa.

Identity politics, or standpoint epistemology if you want to get fancy, has a certain value. Much as my experience of being a paid carer for various client groups and an unpaid carer for both my parents at different times overlaps with some of the skills of motherhood, being male, I never have been and I never will be a mother. But I might be able to use my experience to understand theirs, to some extent, without presuming to know all about it. Or to be one of them. Or to make the mistake that this part of their identity, itself shifting in time and place, sums them up completely. Venturing now into the murky world of politics, from the comparative safety of academic (I mean they’re only trying to sack me for defending the law, what’s to be afraid of?) that’s something to keep in mind. People and demographics groups are not the same thing.

We’re so much more interesting than a single identity.

Fractal branching black and white circular image of a flower

Thanks to Piotr Siedlecki for releasing his image Kaleidoscope Flower into the Public Domain.

This Story Is True—“Medea” by Bard in the Botanics: a review

The classics scholar Martha Nussbaum titles a chapter in The Fragility of Goodness, her magisterial work on tragedy, “This story isn’t true”, a reference to the Palinode (recantation) of Stesichorus in Plato’s Phaedrus 243a.

Stunned this evening by the performance of the erstwhile lovers under Gordon Barr’s direction of Medea, this phrase came to mind but as affirmation not pious negation: this story is true.

Kathy McCain’s plain spoken version starts, as does Euripides’ lyrical original, with the Nurse as narrator—but rather than relating the back story of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, the devoted servant, played with forthright Scotch common sense by Isabelle Joss, states “this is not a love story”.

And yet, Nicole Cooper as Medea is (at first) so lovely. We feel this woman; those of us in the double rows of seats lining the link section of the Kibble Palace who know the story ken fine what she will be driven to do but, already, she has won our sympathy.

By the time the strapping Johnny Panchaud playing Jason strides into the scene (could this man look any more like the perfection of masculine beauty?) we are not immune to his considerable charm—and, clearly, neither is his ex-wife Medea—but our hearts are already taken and as charm fades into smarm the chilling modernity of the version hits us.

This is not a love story, it’s a story about ambition, manipulation, rejection, and gaslighting.

Alan Steele does well as Creon and the Tutor, the former adding menace and the latter plot points, but anyone who has experienced the persuasive power of a master manipulator—either in domestic or workplace abuse—can understand why the physical threats of the King matter little to Medea: Creon may hold her life in his hand but Jason has crushed her heart.

90 minutes is a very long time to maintain almost constant emotional intensity. The few workaday props give the female characters some business and the sparse music and subtle lighting adds tension but Cooper is emoting onstage most of the time—and we simply cannot take our eyes off her. Nor she us. An extraordinary ability to elicit complicity. We feel we are her friends.

The Greek speech is so well done. Language in this version is a gift, not a barrier. “To ksero, I know”, Medea tells us, “den thelo tipota, I don’t want anything”. It adds to her exotic appeal and, shrieked offstage, indicates her raving madness.

This is a woman driven mad by a man everyone else thinks is a hero. The moments when they embrace are precisely such a mindfuck because that’s exactly what gaslighting is: attempted mental rape. This story is true because a myth observed with attention highlights the painful realities of our human experience (ancient or modern our nature doesn’t change) that we would rather ignore.

The poet recanted after being struck blind, for the impiety of blaming Helen, daughter of a God, for the destruction of Troy. Perhaps we should judge Medea with similar caution: diabolical and divine, mother and murderess, this stunning performance by Bard in the Botanics bids us ask ourselves—under such circumstances, life torn asunder by men, a cruel king and a callous hero, backed by an army, can we really blame her?

Advert for Medea running 23rd June – 9th July on https://www.bardinthebotanics.co.uk/

Messing About in Votes

Recently I’ve had the joy of spending time afloat on boats in Scottish lochs with friends who are supporters, members, former and future candidates, and officers of my UK political party Freedom Alliance—and it strikes me that there are some political lessons to be learned from messing about in boats. So this post is a kind of extended metaphor: what can nautical know-how teach us about being good party politicians?

Assemble a reliable crew

In order to do this, at least informal vetting has to take place and even people who are friendly, efficient and well-intentioned may have different points of view. It’s important, before setting out on a joint endeavour (such as an election campaign) to check that everyone has the same vision of the desired outcome as well as the same expectations of what contribution (which might not necessarily be financial but certainly an expenditure of time and effort) will be expected of everyone.

A sailing trip for some might mean a weekend of being drenched by spray hanging off the windward side of a close-hauled boat with the leeward gunwale just above the water; others might look forward to a crewman rubbing on their coconut suntan lotion while they sip a cocktail. Meanwhile the skipper might assume that everyone wants a not-too-challenging bit of sailing with time for a long lunch but with lifejackets always on, except at anchor. It’s worth checking!

In political terms, it’s perfectly possible to work with someone who says they’re basically a ‘paper candidate’ because they just don’t have the time or energy at the moment to do more than (maybe) an hour or two of leafleting and one afternoon of canvassing on the high street. That works if what you’re trying to do is just raise awareness of the party and of its policies on various issues. What’s more challenging is when someone puts forward great ideas and promises to action them, taking party resources to do so, then doesn’t. Some people are drawn to politics for the ego trip. One indication that you may have a good candidate is when you ask them to stand and they initially say ‘no’ then later confess they felt guilty about expecting others to do it for them.

Know the tide

If a political party were a boat, then the tide would be the predictable rhythmic movement of the primary element that upholds it and sets it in motion: public opinion. Tide tables and charts, calculations of similarity and difference, an eye on the calendar and the chronometer (clock), all these help a skipper gauge the strength and direction of this force but there’s nothing like local knowledge. While lazy tides in the upper Clyde vary only a couple of meters, less than 2 degrees of latitude south in Morecambe Bay, tides five times as high race in and out at the rate of a galloping horse.

There are some deeply-felt emotional commitments of the general UK public and of regional populations and local communities which, though manifesting seasonal changes, are predictable. The wise politician takes these into account when planning and navigating a course.

Sense the wind

The wind, in contrast, is a fickle element. Although, with the varying temperature of land and sea some breezes may be predictable, the wind can change suddenly in speed and direction. Even the prevailing wind, popularly thought to be simply southwest in mainland Britain, can not only vary with location but also with the season (northeasterlies are at least as common in springtime). They say a week is a long time in politics, well you can say the same about an hour at sea. The wise sailor is prepared to haul in, let out or reef (decrease the area of) the sail, change course and to drop the sail altogether and use the engine or just heave to, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm!

Being buoyed up by the media is exhilarating, as long as it lasts, but can be exhausting and only a fool relies on the constancy of the mediated crowd. It’s simply not possible to sail directly against the wind and heading too close to the wind can risk severe tipping (if the sail’s in tight) and the sail flapping. Conversely, sailing “goose-winged” (head sail out on one side, main on the other) with the wind behind you certainly gives you speed but a sudden gust can result in an accidental gybe sending the boom (bottom bar of the mainsail) swinging across the cockpit, knocking unwary heads, and precariously positioned crew overboard!

The political lesson here is keep a weather eye out and don’t rely on whatever the public is feeling this week, especially whatever the media is reporting they’re feeling, to continue. A reckless career can very easily go overboard! Without public backing nothing can be done but if sails are the policies put up by the party, then they can be scaled up or down and set out differently in order to work wisely with the fickle force of mediated opinion.

Ready the ropes

Seamanship’s a lot like being a Boy Scout or a Girl Guide (which are not the same, by the way): you have to be prepared. Sailing is all about opposition of forces, and ropes help maintain and direct the resultant force, so you need to have them handy and to know how and when to tie, untie, pull and slacken them. But ropes can be a hazard if you trip over them or they wrap themselves round the propeller!

The ropes don’t act directly on the forces driving the boat but they link most of the parts of the boat that do (the exceptions being the rudder operated by the hand-held tiller and the propeller operated by the engine). So, in the party, these are the links between the structure of the party and its policies, links that are the means of raising, deploying and replacing those policies. These internal party functions must be handy, reliable under strain and must keep to their designated place.

So, for example, means of internal and external communication by email, telephone, mail and internal mail, newspaper, television, radio and social media. This is the running rigging of a political party. It’s important to be able to identify these connections, to have them available for use and to understand how to use them.

Be clear about decision-making

There are two situations I feel are unsuited to democracy: cooking and sailing. Someone has to be in charge because if every decision is taken as an opportunity for renegotiation then the broth will spoil with too many cooks and the entire crew will end up overboard. Sometimes people simply have to do what they’re told, and sometimes, in a crisis, they will have to be told curtly and without immediate explanation.

There are several caveats to the above paragraph.

  • Firstly, a tyrannical skipper risks mutiny. This can be as mild as mates delaying their return from the pub cos they’re having more fun on land than at sea or as extreme as fisticuffs aboard. I’ve never witnessed the latter but I have been on a tall ship continuously at sea for weeks and it was clear that the extremely competent captain and first mate placed a very high value on crew morale.
  • Secondly, if an explanation (and apology for tone) can’t be given immediately it should not be delayed when the crisis is over.
  • Thirdly, sailing is supposed to be enjoyable and politics is supposed to make things better. So a skipper/ leader has to ask: is it? If the answer is “no” then things have to improve and (as Stan Lee said in 1962, when his government started 10 years of spraying Vietnamese forests with Agent Orange) “with great power there must also come–great responsibility”.
2 smiling bearded White men in cockpit of small yacht on loch. Younger man holds tiller & mainsheet.

Thanks to Di McMillan for permission to use photo. Copyright otherwise remains with her.

Pitchforks and Politicians

Reading about a certain case that’s all over the tabloids, I had a sense of déjà vu. Politician preys on hapless youth. Basically. Instantly our sympathies are for the latter. Of course! We’re not monsters. I mean, for someone to do that to someone like that in a situation such as that, I mean! As a keen gardener, I obviously know one end of a pitchfork from the other and, on reading such blood boiling accounts, Arya’s advice to her sister about swords, as the army of the dead approach, does tend to spring to mind.

I happened upon Lawburrows, the delightful and enlightening legal podcast series by the Glasgow Caledonian lecturer known on Twitter as @PeatWorrier, and was struck by a phrase dryly spoken in the intro music:

The law is reason free from passion. (Aristotle, Politics)

διόπερ ἄνευ ὀρέξεως νοῦς ὁ νόμος ἐστίν. (Αριστοτέλης, Πολιτικά)

1297α, 32-37

Politics, certainly as presented in the tabloid press, is often the opposite. All hot air and no cool logic—and never so much as when moral outrage is concerned. I suggest therefore, after a certain amount of justified gesticulating at the newspaper and perhaps uttering some well-chosen expletives in the interest of lowering one’s blood pressure (and reassuring whoever may happen to be present that We can’t let Them away with This Sort of Thing) that we put down our pitchforks and put on our thinking caps.

Break it down like a cryptic crossword clue:

  • Politician—what party? What’s going on there? Is this Councillor/ MSP/ MP considered an asset or a liability in the party’s present ideological economy? What’s happened to others of their ilk? Is there a pattern?
  • Preys—what words and actions are being considered reprehensible and by whom? In another context (such as being welcome or assumed to be so) would the same words or actions be necessarily even remarkable?
  • Hapless—what is the probable agency of this press designated victim? What institutional, instrumental or reputational power does this person possess? Has he or she played this role on another occasion? If so, has anyone (including the complainer) taken any steps to avoid reoccurrence of such a situation?
  • Youth—at this age, what does the law allow this person to do? Has he or she reached majority? What does the same party/ paper argue that people of the same age, or younger, should be trusted to decide to do?

I know I’m on thin ice here. It’s safer to clap and boo with the rest of the audience. But having written and directed a pantomime and acted in several (being a villager in the Chorus is still acting) I’m very familiar with scripts and stage-management.

Mens rea is the noun phrase that someone, sometime, will say in every single legal eagle drama that you watch. Google’s Oxford Languages dictionary gives this definition and example of use:

/ˌmɛnz ˈriːə

the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused.

“a mistaken belief in consent meant that the defendant lacked mens rea

It’s not a crime to be mistaken. It’s what happens after that mistaken interpretation is corrected that counts. That’s the legal, and moral, distinction that’s ignored by the tabloid press—and perhaps, under certain circumstances, by party politics.

Another quote I happened upon this week is more famous but people tend to quote the modern poetic inspirational version rather than the full Latin proverb:

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”

(Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism)

“Errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum.”

“To err is human; to persist (in error) is diabolical.”

(Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Younger)

And that goes as much for parties, the press and the general public as it does for politicians.

Cartoon image of bearded young White man pointing over his shoulder to a large out-of-focus newspaper.

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image News into the Public Domain.

7 Tips for Supporting Someone with Dementia

My last post on caring focused on the overwhelming burden and (lack of) social recognition for carers, especially men. This one’s about solutions. Because there are ways to make it easier. I’ve worked as a carer for many types of people (or “client groups” as the social work lingo is now) but in terms of family, apart from some mostly very happy time as a babysitter, my experience is of looking after someone with dementia. So these 7 tips are about that.

  1. Get organised. Getting up half an hour earlier than they do or preparing the night before means you can head them off at the pass—before things start going downhill.
  2. Establish a routine and stick to it. Change may be as good as a rest but habits are one of the last things to go when the mind shuts down and they provide a series of guiding snow poles in the mental blizzard and therefore security. Bed time especially is important as you need time to relax when your charge is in bed, and for you to get enough sleep too.
  3. Have someone sane you can moan to, at least briefly, on a regular basis, who won’t judge you (for caring or for moaning) and won’t try to fix you or the situation.
  4. Make lists and get things done. It’s tempting to use caring as a karma dump: “if only I was free to do that but I’m not” but reminding yourself that you chose this helps. You can still get on with your own life. Somehow and to some extent.
  5. Eat healthily and exercise. That goes for both of you, as keeping yourself and your charge as healthy and lithe as possible is best—as the alternative brings a whole load of problems!
  6. Be realistic about your time and energy. There’s only so much you can do in one day. Try to avoid what Robert M. Pirsig* calls “gumption traps”: the things that sap your will. I especially hate finding unwashed dishes stacked away (a common occurrence in a household with an elderly person with good intentions and bad eyesight) and hygiene in general is a basic necessity so keep up with the dishes, the laundry and the essential cleaning. The dusting can mostly wait—but not forever!
  7. Accept help. Grab anything the social services will give you for free and pay for whatever else is essential (taxis, day care, items for personal care or adapting their bedroom or the bathroom). Work patiently with state or private carers. A good working relationship with mutual trust and respect for boundaries is a tremendous support.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, caring for someone who lives in the moment can be a Zen-like experience as it forces you to slow down and appreciate simple joys like the bees busy among the flowers during the day or a wee sherry and an old film in the evening.

All things pass and this will too. Inasmuch as you’re able, try to cherish this time. It is building your character (patience, perseverance, long suffering, compassion) in a way few things could—and it won’t come again.

Photo by author of completed ActiveMinds jigsaw puzzle Monet’s Garden.

*(you can read about this American philosopher in my book on his work)

It’s a Fake

They get the music right, and there is some big hair, cardies and drainpipe trousers—though none of the boys have Wham! style haircuts. Russel T. Davies continues with his self-hatred: the positive portrayal of older White men is limited to those who support the pharmaceutical narrative and whose sexual desire is (presumably) domesticated by having a partner. Older Black men lose points if religious, as that is shown as at least comic if not sinister.

Women gain points for being secular, metropolitan and preferably ethnic as well as for dedicating their lives to the service of (young) gay men. Mothers are mostly monsters but redeemed if fat, disabled or married to ethnic males. Davies gives himself the opportunity to address female self-sacrifice but basically gets a monster mother to blame a young woman for being a fag hag—without the show narrative taking responsibility for that accusation or showing the least interest in her personal life—and leaves it at that.

Brian Mullin, writing for the Los Angeles Times, finds that It’s a Sin doesn’t even advance the portrayal of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. I used to believe in that pharmaceutical narrative (I don’t now) but I take his point. Davies is very good at only one thing: the portrayal of young gay male jouissance. In this series he simply makes the equation that joy = death.

Davis also airbrushes drag queens, and their internecine war with m-f transsexuals, out of the 80s gay scene in which they literally played a starring role. Instead he’s opted for vaguely sketched cardboard cutouts of “trans” characters, dotted about the set, never centred and never defined. Lesbians are limited to sitting around tables agreeing with gay men and the main character (effeminate and never shown in the least attracted to women) is shown as ridiculous in pondering bisexuality—the only mention of that sexuality at the time of its major struggle for recognition in the lesbian & gay community.

The most grave sins of the series are those committed against Africans portrayed as backwards (with zero recognition of indigenous efforts to resist or even debate the social and biological harms done by corporate pharmaceutical interests from the global north) and, ironically, against young gay men.

This series continues the profitable trend of pushing drugs. Like all the other AIDS stories, It’s a Sin dismisses the proven connection of poppers (ubiquitous in gay discos then and widely used in gay sex) with Kaposi’s sarcoma and ignores the fact that 47 gay men didn’t just turn up coincidentally at a New York hospital all with the same cancer, Michael Gottlieb was studying low T-cell counts in two cities and actively recruited patients. All of whom were long term massive drug users.

The HIV/AIDS hypothesis (at least the Gallo version, there are others) has been the blueprint for all subsequent viral drug and test advertising campaigns—most successfully with “Covid”—and will be used again if the public are stupid and uninformed enough to swallow “Monkeypox”. Predictably, this latest series, like all the others, is being used to push for more public money for the pharmaceutical industry. So it can kill even more people. That’s not an act of charity. It’s a sin.

Cartoon graphic of two dark-haired men staring at an image of a pill bottle on a wall

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Medical Insurance into the Public Domain.

Watt Goes Up Mast Come Down!

(If you’re pushed for time, you can just skip to the foot of the page and send the email to your MP or councillors.)

If a huge 5G mast has been set up very near your house, place of work, place of worship, leisure centre, kid’s school or playground, then you may have valid concerns about 5 things:

  • Cancer
  • Highway safety
  • Ecological impact
  • House prices plummeting
  • Children’s growth and fertility

Yes, you may be tempted to dismiss all of these as “conspiracy theory” and try to ignore your niggling worries but local councils (and parish councils) all over the UK have been forced, legally, to consider such risks and many have found them unacceptable – and have removed the 5G masts already up and halted future installations.

What can you do?

  • Understand your legal rights as:
  1. a local resident – Freedom from Public Nuisance (electromagnetic pollution, unsightly structures) etc.
  2. a UK citizen – Equal rights under the Equality Act (2010) etc.
  3. a human being – Freedom of Expression, etc.

Some of these rights are “provided for” (given back to you) in law and some are already yours because they cannot be taken away (“inalienable rights”).

  • Ask your MP (by email or letter or in person) to “invoke the precautionary principle”.

Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Labour, Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, explained in the House of Commons what this means for many people, in the long-term, HERE and described what some people with sensitivity to electromagnetic fields may suffer as soon as such masts go up:

Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, disturbed sleep, tingling, pains in limbs, head or face, stabbing pains, brain fog and impaired cognitive function, dizziness, tinnitus, nosebleeds and palpitations.

Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects, Backbench Business, 25th June 2019

Carol Monaghan MP, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), supported this principle:

It is true that we are talking about lower frequencies than the ionising radiation that would be beyond the visible spectrum. However, it is not true to say that all low frequencies are not harmful. Looking at microwave radiation, for example, if we get a high enough intensity of non-ionising radiation we can still cause harm. I would not want to be in a microwave oven and I am sure the Minister would not either. So it is not just about frequency; it is about the intensity of the radiation.

Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects, Backbench Business, 25th June 2019

David Drew (then Labour/ Co-operative MP for Stroud and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) spoke out for people suffering from EMS, mentioning scientific evidence:

I have met people who are incredibly affected by electromagnetic sensitivity—to the extent that, when they moved into their house, they had to have the smart meter taken out, and even asked their neighbour to take out theirs. Once that happened, their health dramatically improved. People say that electromagnetic sensitivity is all psychosomatic, but I have seen the evidence of people’s sensitivity to electromagnetic waves. If we ignore it, there will certainly be health and biological consequences, and there may be many more problems.

It is only fair to ask the Government to at least respond to the growing evidence from the International Electromagnetic Field Scientist Appeal, PHIRE— the Physicians’ Health Initiative for Radiation and Environment—and other reputed scientists in the field, as well as from communities. Brussels has now stopped the roll-out, and so have a number of cities in California. There is growing concern, and it needs to be recognised and answered.

Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects, Backbench Business, 25th June 2019

Geraint Davies MP, Labour (Swansea West) commented on commercial interests behind the rollout of 5G in the same debate.

  • Here is a draft email that you can adapt, to send to your MP. You can find who that is, and how to contact him or her, HERE. You can also send this to your local councillors. You can find who they are, and how to contact them, HERE. In the email below, I have bracketed all the words that you need to change (unless you’re in my area objecting to the same masts – in which case you can just remove the brackets and send it as it is).

Dear [Stuart C. McDonald, MP],

I am [one of your constituents] and I am concerned about the health risks and impact on property prices caused by the erection of a huge 5G mast [a few feet from the children’s swingpark facing Merkland School, shops and residential housing, in Harestains, Kirkintilloch].

In view of the concerns raised on EM radiation, human health and the environment by [your colleagues] in Westminister Hall (Electromagentic Fields: Health Effects, Backbench Business, 4.35pm, 25th June 2019) I ask you to invoke the Precautionary Principle on this and all such unsightly and dangerous masts planned or already erected in this [constituency] and to cause a Cease and Desist notice to be served to all contractors involved in setting them up.

As [your colleague] Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, explained in the same debate, her concerns finding cross-party support, a safer solution to connectivity is fibre broadband.

On a personal note, as [a carer for an elderly family member who has survived cancer] I find the failure of Duty of Care to the most vulnerable members of our community (children, expectant mothers and the elderly) in [East Dunbartonshire Council] not applying this Principle to be unacceptable.

I look forward to your reply and to swift action. The level of expressed concern in the local community, in person and online, is extremely high.

regards, [YOUR NAME, YOUR HOME OR WORK ADDRESS IN THE LOCAL AREA]

If you’re sending this to councillors, you can replace these brackets as follows:

  • [Stuart C. McDonald, MP] – [NAME(S) OF YOUR COUNCILLOR(S)]
  • [one of your constituents] – a local resident
  • [a few feet from the children’s swingpark facing Merkland School, shops and residential housing, in Harestains, Kirkintilloch] – [LOCATION OF MAIN MAST YOU’RE OBJECTING TO]
  • [your colleagues] – Members of Parliament
  • [constituency] – local council area
  • [your colleague] – the Hon. [or just leave blank]
  • [a carer for an elderly family member who has survived cancer] – a concerned citizen [or another caring or concerned identity, like “a mother of three small children”]
  • [East Dunbartonshire Council] – [NAME OF YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITY]
Busy highway in USA with telegraph wires and huge 5G tower beside restaurant and gas station

Thanks to Hana Chramostova who has released her image 5G Tower into the Public Domain.

Tone Police, Politics & Crochet Projects

Having survived interrogation by the Tone Police (one of my many crimes and misdemeanours being the use of italics) I’ve begun to scale a new mountain of marking. Once in the zone, I enjoy it—and it’s well-paid. The problem with relentless bureaucratic nonsense is that it drains energy from important tasks and produces low level stress that’s unimportant enough to feel guilty about mentioning but impacts on efficiency. Academics (supposedly) are paid to think and if we can’t—or won’t—then we’re not doing our job.

It wasn’t all nonsense. My communication can get rather irate when high-status professionals are eroding disabled rights. I admitted that and promised to be more meek in future. (Stop laughing!) However, on top of the stress of being a carer, standing for Freedom Alliance in the May Scottish local council elections and being doxxed by a colleague for my views on political theatre and crochet, and the continuing assault on civil liberties by Big Pharma and associated technocracy, it was all a bit too much.

So I remembered the wise words of a physio friend, “motion is lotion”, and decided to continue using the lovely set of crochet hooks that the party Nominating Officer had lent me—and to make her a shawl.

12 crochet hooks ranging in size & colour in a black silk pouch with a dragonfly motif.

It may seem odd that someone with RSI would enjoy this craft, after all it is repetitious, however it doesn’t involve finger tapping (unlike almost everything else in modern life) and the twisting motion is good for my circulation. Fundamentally the rhythm of the work and the pleasure of crafty creativity is a very good antidote for stress.

I’ve previously made some tea cosies, following a very simple free pattern: a combination of single crochet and slip stitch.

White wool chunky tea cosy on a white China teapot

I’d also had one attempt at this shawl, for a family member who was very pleased with this flimsy lime green version. But a friend said the pineapple stitch looked more like Christmas baubles so I resolved to try a more compact format in a different colour.

Long and narrow flimsy lime green shawl crocheted in pineapple stitch, spread out on couch cushions.

I found I needed a brightly coloured tray or blanket underneath the work to see the black thread clearly.

Pineapple stitch centred on top of orange tray

To be honest I’m still a bit confused between double and half double crochet (especially as the UK and USA use the same terms for different stitches) but in this version the pineapples were certainly clearer. I continued on.

Long and narrow compact black shawl crocheted in pineapple stitch, spread out on couch cushions.

I was pleased with the finished version but being compact it had lost some length—and the edges were a bit irregular.

Black shawl showing compact pineapples clearly hanging off arm of tan coloured sofa

So I decided to attach tassels and found this YouTube tutorial a great help. As instructed, I used a CD cover for the loops.

Fiddling about with even small kitchen scissors was a pain until I swapped them for tiny sharp embroidery scissors. The first tassel looked okay and I continued.

The tassels on the two sides aren’t symmetrical because the patterns is different so I went with a quirky rather than a regular look.

Shawl shown with tassels along both sides, large pink crochet hook and small kitchen scissors at bottom and tiny gold embroidery scissors at top.

My friend, who is an artist and always appreciative of creative projects—however irregular—was delighted with the result and tried it on immediately. She insisted on gifting me her lovely set of crochet hooks and, as I also bagged some of her lovely skeins of wool, my next project is a green and black beanie for her hubby.

[Photos (c) Alan McManus 2022 may be used with a link to this blogpost]