Thursday, 8 March 2012

OK, now I'm pissed.

Let me tell you a story about a boy, a girl and a sprawling mess of hapless, disgraceful incompetence.

The boy and the girl are unemployed people in their early 20s living just outside of London. The sprawling mess of hapless disgraceful incompetence is Job Centre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Anyone who has had experience dealing with the Job Centre Plus will know that things rarely run smoothly (and will be thoroughly sick of Vivaldi's "Spring"). That's to be expected, unfortunately. But no level of expectations was low enough to pre-empt the total fucking nightmare myself and my partner have suffered over the last 6 weeks.

My partner and I have been signing on at the JCP since last September, until January 25th when I found some short term - and I mean really short-term - temporary secretarial work. I'm talking 8 days. I was covering for someone who had gone on holiday. I was offered this work the day before they wanted me to start, so before I accepted it, keeping in mind that the work was only for a short period, I decided to call the Job Centre Plus, declare the work, and find out what it would mean for our claim.

As our claim had taken over a month to set up I didn't want to risk having to wait that long with no money coming in for the sake of a few days' pay. I was assured that we could do a "Rapid Reclaim" once the work had finished to ensure that the payment was set up again quickly "when I started looking for work again" (I've been offered 8 days temp work and you think I'm going to put my feet up? Really?). They told me to write a letter detailing the days I would be working, the hours, the pay and the name and address of the company I was doing the work for, sign and date it, and hand it into the Job Centre Plus as soon as possible. As I wanted things to run real smooth-like I made a mad dash to my mum's house as I don't own a printer, printed off the letter, and my partner handed it in the next day.

So I finished the work on 3rd February. The next time I went into the Job Centre I asked my advisor if there was anything I needed to do, as I had just finished work. She told me that there wasn't anything I needed to do and our payments should start again with adjustments made for the work. Stupidly, I believed her.

We gave them a bit of time, but once two JSA payments that were due failed to materialise with a third one due soon after, we decided to give them a call to find out what was going on. My partner confirmed the exact amounts I had been paid on the dates that I was paid it, and they told us they would look into it and somebody would call us back later. Then later on we received a call telling us they were still looking into it and somebody would call us back the next day.

No one did.

I then received a letter on 23rd February explaining that my claim had been closed on 14th February (Happy Valentine's Day!), almost two weeks after I had FINISHED the work. As I was confused by this we called them again, and they told us in slightly impatient tones that they had been waiting for a form which we had been asked to fill in on the 17th. This was categorically untrue. This call, on 23rd February, was the first time we had been told about any form, despite having visited the Job Centre THREE TIMES and spoken to them twice on the phone since I'd finished working. The end of the month was fast approaching and we had stretched my last payslip from here to the moon. Nothing had been done, no progress had been made and we had bills to pay. I can't remember the last time I lost so much sleep due to simple, pure worry.

The following Monday we visited the Job Centre and filled out the form. My new advisor noticed that something was up with my claim, and called me to tell me as we were filling the form out. We explained the situation to several members of staff and made some phonecalls, and no one could make any sense of why this had happened. An hour and a half later, we went home, leaving the form in the ever-capable hands of Job Centre Plus. We were told it would take four working days to process it.

Four working days later we called up again, and were told the form had not yet been processed, but "if all goes to plan" the form should have been processed by noon on Monday and we should receive the payment later that day, as it was a "Fast Track" payment. We tried again on Monday at noon. We were told that they had received our form the previous Tuesday but had yet to process it, and that someone would call us back. Again, no one did. We tried again on Tuesday, and were told that lo and behold, our form had been processed. The payment should be released the next day.

Wednesday came. The payment didn't. When I called again I was told that the form had been processed, the "Fast Track" payment had been cleared, and the money should be available to us on Thursday morning at 9:00. Then guess what. Still no payment, still no food in the fridge. If I didn't have family members to support my broke ass we would have incurred £60 in bank charges alone. That's not even counting the unpaid bills themselves. I'm one of the lucky ones.

Today we were finally told that there had been an error and our payment had been processed late. We were also informed that contrary to what literally everyone we had spoken to had said, this was not a Fast Track payment. In your own time, Job Centre Plus. No rush here. We could expect to receive it on Saturday, at the absolute earliest, but it would probably arrive on Monday.

Today I had to cancel a pre-screening job interview as I don't have the money to travel to it. I can't reschedule it as I don't want to risk cancelling again. It turns out that when JCP say the payment will go through has no bearing on when it will actually go through.

And I'm just so pissed about it. Yes, because of their incompetence. Yes, because of constantly being fobbed off with what now seem like total guesses, speculation and lies about when we would receive payment. But most of all because now I just wish I had never taken that work.

If you feel that this is in any way not cool then share, RT, do whatever you like. My aim is to shame the organisation that has thoroughly shafted someone who was just trying to go by the book and not cheat the system. To shame the staff who care so little about their customers that they decided telling me that I needed to fill in a form was too much effort. To shame the department who have the gall to say that they want people to be better off in work. To shame every single person that we spoke to at the JCP who didn't call us back, or who knew about our claim but did nothing, just left it to us to take action.


This last bit is totally irrelevant, but so many of their staff type with two index fingers it actually makes me want to beat myself about the head with their ergonomic keyboards.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Few Thoughts on Slutwalks

Women should never ever be blamed for being raped or sexually assaulted. Ever. Neither should men – but as a culture, we seem to have that bit down already. You never hear of an attack on a man being based in any way on his clothing. You never hear a man who puts a lot of effort into making himself sexually attractive described as “asking for it”.

However, it would be na├»ve to think that all men and women choose their fashion in terms of what fits well, or feels comfortable. Fashion is not entirely, but largely about sending a message – whether that message is “I can afford this, everybody!” (see most designer labels) or “I am a member of this social group, everybody!” (be it punk, goth, or hipster). These messages extend beyond personal and social identity - they become messages about the responses you are willing to receive from other people. I accept that people are sending out a message with how they dress. Women need to accept this too, and take responsibility for the messages they send. Whether sluts like it or not, dressing in revealing clothes sends the message that they want people to look at or notice their body, or at least are happy with people looking at or paying attention to their body. Just as a man who wears a “muscle shirt” or tight pants is happy for people to pay attention to his body.

I am vaguely reminded – this is not the same thing, I must stress, I just see it as reminiscent – of someone wearing a shirt associated with a sports team, or even a band. That person will get attention for it from the followers of that team/fans of that band, people they can get along with and bond with. They might also get jeered at by people who like a rival team, or think the band are terrible in all sorts of ways, people they have also knowingly attracted the attention of (it is ridiculous to expect everyone in the world to like the same team/band). Likewise, people have different standards of what looks nice and what looks sexy. An easy example to draw here is make up. Some people find it attractive, others find it repellent, others simply don't notice, or care. For some people, heavy eye makeup and bright lipstick is sexy and sultry, while others may think the wearer looks like a clown. These standards are complex and subjective.

Does wearing 'sexy' clothes give people the right to make abusive or derogatory comments about a woman? Some women knowingly and deliberately invite attention from anyone who crosses their path – is it reasonable of them to only expect the kind of attention that makes them feel good? Herein lies the gap between looking/attention and assault/harassment. Therein, surely, lies the responsibility of the attacker/harasser. I would like to think that most males know the different between an innocent/appreciative and a derogatory/abusive comment?

Something else this reminds me of is how a lot of women are treated under Islamic regimes, or within strict Muslim families. It's not a man's responsibility not to harass and abuse women, it's a woman's responsibility to cover up her shameful, tempting body. Or even worse - a man's responsibility to cover up the bodies of the women he cares about – with not so much of a teaspoon of autonomy given to the owners of these bodies. The arabic word awrah – which means the intimate parts of someone's body that it is forbidden to expose – comes from the root awr- which means defectiveness, imperfection or weakness. For women, their awrah is their entire body and can sometimes extend even as far as the voice. While I fully support the idea that a woman's worth does not depend whatsoever on what she looks like, to teach someone that their body, their only means of communicating with the world, ought to be hidden away, ignored and rejected by the higher (male) members of their communities does rarely a healthy attitude make. 

Men rarely have to worry for their safety – you cannot compare this to a man being warned not to flash his gadgets/wear expensive jewellery to avoid getting mugged. There is a lot more at stake than expensive material possessions - it's a human being whose safety is at stake. Nor can you compare “Women have a right to wear what they want and not be assaulted – just as I have a right to leave my front door unlocked and not be burgled.” A woman's body is not an asset or a piece of property – it's a human being.

Arousing the sexual appetite of someone by wearing a short skirt/tight top/whatever does not give that person the right to assault you, or to abuse you verbally. It pains me to know that there are people in this world who disagree with that. I fear for the security of the women in their lives. And while I understand the point the sluts are trying to make with their (lack of) clothing, it creates sensationalist photo opportunities for the tabloids who will not necessarily focus on the issues the sluts themselves are trying to draw attention to. One of the news articles I saw in the London Evening Standard dsecribed the sluts as marching "to protest against threats to womanhood." No mention of sexual assault or the victim-blaming culture that the sluts want to rid us of.

It is a great discredit to men to assume that they have no control over their own sexual desires – when most men manage to have sexual desires and somehow not rape people, it's clearly not invoking sexual desire that's the problem.

The problem is the idea held by many men and some women, that disregards the status of women as complex, autonomous human beings and relegates them to a sub-status, on this planet for the enjoyment or service of others. This is something that has been ingrained in various cultures, including our own, for centuries, and it'll take a whole lot more than taking to the streets in your panties to undo that.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

In Defence Of Guys

Recently, I read this extract:

This left me feeling a bit strange, for several reasons.
I am familiar with her concept of "guys" - males (mostly in their twenties) who fall between boys and men. They play videogames, smoke pot and hang with their buddies. They may or may not have a job. They may or may not be in a band. But the pressures of husbandhood and parenting are far, far away. But Kay S. Hymowitz seems to want to drag them back home by the ear and wag her finger at them, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Marriage and children are not mandatory any more. We learned from the generation before us that getting married and having kids isn't necessarily what makes all people happy, and the grip of social pressure - particularly on women - has loosened somewhat. Plus, around half of us saw what happened when our parents - who got married in their twenties - split up.
Something else that isn't mandatory any more are gender stereotypes. Hymowitz seems to think in them.
However, the society we inhabit is more equal than it used to be. We have plenty of brave, stoic, strong people who are faithful to their duties. Some of them are male. Some of them are female. Women are no longer expected to be quiet, unquestioning and submissive. We don't have to fit our personalities to match a dated idea people have about what our bodies mean as social instruments. So why should men?

This in particular was a favourite quote:
 "In his disregard for domestic life, the playboy was prologue for today's pre-adult male. Unlike the playboy with his jazz and art-filled pad, however, our boy rebel is a creature of the animal house. In the 1990s, Maxim, the rude, lewd and hugely popular "lad" magazine arrived from England. Its philosophy and tone were so juvenile, so entirely undomesticated, that it made Playboy look like Camus."

Haha. In the 2000s some bright spark invented Nuts and Zoo, which make Maxim look like Playboy.

Earlier this year I watched an episode of Channel 4's Tool Academy. I say watched, but it was more of a test of endurance. I decided to see whether I'd be able to turn it off when I got bored or fed up or if pure blind rage would drive me to clawing out my own eyes (I'd actually assumed that this was one of the main points of the show). I lasted six minutes. To me, these people were the opposite of everything a man should be. I must stress - it wasn't because they were men - they were the opposite of everything I think a human being should be. Disrespectful. Dishonest. Ignorant. Arrogant. Obnoxious. Bigoted. Attention-seeking. And it was this that made the viewer never want to spend so much as one second in their company. Not who their friends were. Not what they did in their spare time. But their attitudes about themselves and towards other people, which I'm pleased to tell you can be found in many different lifestyles, whether lazy or hard-working, ambitious or apathetic, married with kids or single. But it's far easier to have a go at the bland, uninspired media that's marketed at them, so...

Hymowitz cites films starring "overgrown boy" actors such as Adam Sandler, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey (she also mentioned Owen Wilson but I'm choosing to ignore that just like I'm choosing to ignore all the terrible films he's made while I re-watch The Darjeeling Ltd.).  But are the movies with juvenile, irritating, sex-obsessed male characters any worse than movies with shallow, irritating, superficial female characters? Yes, young males watch these characters and may well chuckle heartily at their antics, but that does not mean they will necessarily aspire to be just like them. Personally I enjoy an NBC comedy starring Amy Poehler being magnificent, but her character is pretty much the opposite of me. I still like her character. I still think her character is funny. But I don't want to be like her, at all. I think here Hymowitz is exercising a lack of faith that all too often stems from a few bad experiences. The overall tone of the extract seems to suggest that males are Other, an entirely different species that we can't possibly fathom (like a sort of reverse Beauvoir if such a thing were possible) and if left to their own devices the human race would simply die from sitting on their arse drinking beer for too long.

My boyfriend and friends are intelligent, respectful individuals with their own minds and interests. They joke around with each other constantly, they play games and watch movies, and spend their leisure time (of which some have more than others) doing things that they enjoy. But this does not mean that they are babies, distracted by colours and noises and the potential possibility of getting some titty.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Post-graduate Study

I have:
A BA in Philosophy.
An MA in Cold Hard Truth
A BTEC in Disillusionment
An NVQ in Sitting On The Sofa (which took several months to complete)
And now
I'm working on my PhD in Getting Absolutely Nowhere.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Operation W.A.I.T.

At the moment I have more in common with Harry Potter fans than they may think.

Harry Potter fans are probably pretty excited about the new Harry Potter film. (As are the Hollywood fatcats who are cashing in big time, I'm sure.)
I'm pretty excited about the season finale of Venture Bros. Season Four has not been a disappointment - I would even go so far as to say that, after The Lepidopterists, (Season Three*, Episode Ten) Everybody Comes To Hank's (Season Four, Episode Twelve) is my favourite episode yet.

But we both know that after this it's going to be a long and painful wait for the next installment. So now I'm filled with this conflicting desire to watch it, or to hold on to the excitement of having it available for me to watch.

You see, sometimes when you look forward to something, a lot, for a few weeks, you begin to enjoy just looking forward to it. And like all normal well-adjusted humans I hate change, so I don't want the excitement of having something to look forward to to go away, because although I know what replaces it (the post-Potter/Venture euphoria) feels like ten shades of enlightenment, it just doesn't last as long. Unless I set up a LiveJournal.

See, Muggles? We're not so different.
The Hogwarts lot know what's going to happen in the next part though... and even people who haven't read the last book know it's lame, so I guess the joke's on them.

* Yes, I liked Season Three. No, I don't care that nobody else did.