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Beauty On A Budget

By Morgana Ford-McAllister

Now, I know when it comes to make up and everything else, we are made to feel that if we’re not buying brand name things then we’re doing something wrong and that the quality of the product is suspect. However, that is simply not true. After all, you can get brand name products from Poundland so price and where you buy a thing from is clearly not an indicator of quality.

While I recognise that sometimes you do have to spend more than you really want to (I do say want to, we all know that if it’s a choice between make up and food you’re going to go with food unless perhaps you have a job interview coming up), I still feel it’s important to be able to see where that fits into your budget overall. Sometimes it annoys me when I see people talking about something being ‘cheap’ and I look at the price they list and think ‘hmm, I’m not sure I agree.’ In short, though I know we all have times where we may make an accidental impulse buy, for the most part I know that when you’re chronically low on money, being able to ‘justify’ where something fits in is important. No one should have to justify themselves, but when you’re poor you get used to it because everyone else is doing it to you or trying to make you do it anyway. A better way to explain it, might be to say that it’s important to be honest as to whether we need something. As such, what I want to do is to give you options for the basics you use every day, so you don’t need to feel bad if you spend that bit extra on a nice lipstick, nail polish or eye shadow.

For me personally, the basics are foundation or tinted moisturiser, some kind of primer and concealer. If your basics are more or less than that, by writing this I hope to give you tips on how to shop for what you need without breaking the bank.

Starting with primer then. When I first started with make up I would use foundation and that was about it, then I soon started using concealer as well. The fact there are articles out there at the moment about how useful primer is suggests that like me, many people simply think of primer as an ‘optional extra’. True, you don’t really need primer in the same way as you need a tinted moisturiser or similar, but it is useful. Basically, a primer acts as a blank canvas for your foundation. Makeup uses much the same principles as painting, if you want a colour to show through as what it is, you start with white wall and work from there. Similarly, primer neutralises your own skin tone to make it easier to blend a foundation with the rest of your skin tone that’s visible (bearing in mind that when you have on foundation, the skin tone of your face is altered or invisible but the skin tone of your neck shows, so you want to match to that). In short then, primers lay a blank canvas for your foundation.

You may be wondering why you should bother with that, why not just match your foundation to your neck and be done with it? While that’s a good point, this is why colour correcting primers are useful. Colour correction operates on the principle of opposite colours according to the colour wheel, so for example green is opposite red and thus neutralises it when mixed together and so on. Basically, colour correcting primers neutralise your skin tone more effectively than simple skin coloured primers and thus your make up lasts longer. When you’re on a budget, making things last can be one of the most important things you do. For example, because I have a lot of redness in my face and a degree of hyperpigmentation, I use the green primer from the Barry M brand cosmetics. This costs me about £6 but as I’m only using about a 5p size amount each time it lasts me for a good 2-3 months. Granted, I work from home so don’t always wear make up, but this is the kind of thing I mean. I didn’t necessarily want to have to spend £6 on one item of make up, but because it lasts me, that makes it a good purchase.

Moving on, my tinted moisturiser and concealer both come from the Natural Collection brand. These each cost £2. I obviously, haven’t gone into detail about these because I think we’re all clear on what these products do. The point is though, you can begin to see how you can shop for make up on a budget.

In terms of shops that do genuinely cheap make up, Poundland’s Makeup Gallery range is cheapest of all and they do fairly good foundation if your skin tone and undertones are fairly average. Regardless, I highly recommend them for things like eyeshadow as you can buy a number of different shades for only a few pounds and play with what you like best.

Likewise, Superdrug and Boots aren’t too bad for cheap makeup, especially as Boots stocks the Natural Collection brand, which short of Poundland’s is the cheapest make up you can get while still having good quality.

I hope this piece has helped you think about how you can shop for what you need on a budget and not feel poorer for it. The most important thing to remember is not to feel bad for shopping in places that other people think are ‘lesser’. For the most part where you shop bears no reflection on how good the product is that you buy. You can still get brand name things from ‘lesser’ shops, so be thrifty, save money and shop smart.

Morgana lives with very curly hair, a skin tone that refuses to be readily defined, and a burning desire to see the definition of “pretty woman” move away from blonde, straight-haired, slender-yet-curvy, has-hours-to-spend-in-front-of-the-mirror.

Until that happens, however, she proudly rocks her own style, which is somewhere between low-femme and geek chic.

Why I Vote, and Why Others Don’t

Today, the UK held a general election.

I, along with many other people across the country, went to my local polling station, and put a pencilled cross in the box next to the Party I felt was best placed to lead Britain, and serve her citizens fairly and compassionately, for the next five years.

I will be closer to forty than thirty by the time of the next election: no longer “young” by any stretch of the imagination.

I haven’t been idealistic for a long time, and, though some would sneer that it was idealism that led me to vote the way I did today, I’m not idealistic now. I know that, in all likelihood, more people with disagree with my thoughts on what’s best for Britain than will agree, or at the very least the complex voting mechanism we have in this country will render the result as more people disagreeing than agreeing, whether that was actually how it played out on the ground, and I will somehow have to live with a decision I deeply disagree with, and that I believe is actively harmful for the country as a whole.

I learned in primary school that an intelligent, compassionate minority will always be shouted down by the majority, even if that majority hasn’t got the first clue what they’re shouting for. I learned as a very young child that life is mostly about having to suffer because a large number of other people were listened to over you.

But I voted anyway. I always vote – because the small amount of effort required to cast a ballot in an election is what gives me my right to complain about the result of that election. It’s what gives me the right to criticise the winners of that election, and challenge those who voted for them.

But a lot of people, especially people in the 18-30 age bracket, simply don’t vote. And I understand why – because despite what cynical, older commentators claim, it’s not laziness. It’s not apathy – it certainly isn’t apathy, because I’ve seen so much passion and energy and engagement from young people, from Brexit onwards. It really, truly, isn’t apathy.

What it is, I think, is a sense of hopeless despair, an awareness that, whether it’s in an election, a workplace meeting, a classroom discussion, or a family conference, if you’re seen as “young”, and particularly if you’re young and poor, whether in relative or absolute terms, your voice doesn’t matter. Literally, no one hears you, because the refrain of our parents during our childhood years – “I’m the adult here, I’ve been around a lot longer than you have, you don’t know everything, whatever you think”, gets repeated, over and over and over again, by teachers, employers, media editors, and, yes, politicians.

Older people claim they want to engage the younger generation, but, when the younger generation tries to engage, they’re told to sit down, shut up, know their place and respect their “elders and betters.”

In Britain, we praise, pamper, and reward people – with high-profile jobs, with lucrative consultancies, with triple-locked pensions and a range of welfare provisions, from winter fuel payments to free TV licences – simply because they were born a significant length of time ago, and have managed to avoid dying in the intervening years between then and now.

And we treat people poorly just because they’re the same age as the adults we still think of as “our children” (don’t get me started on the concept of the possessive attitude around children – that’s a whole other post!) We dismiss people, refuse to hear their voices, just because we equate experience with length of existence.

And yet I know young people who have experienced things that many of their “elders and betters” can’t even begin to imagine:

  • Mental health crisis, including long term committal to psychiatric institutions
  • Physical disability, including regular hospitalisations
  • The death of one or both of their parents, the death of a close friend, the death of a sibling, the death of a spouse or committed partner
  • Homelessness
  • Having to seriously consider prostitution, because their financial situation was in collapse, and no one would help them
  • Having to provide intimate personal care for a disabled parent
  • Experiencing the death by suicide of someone close to them
  • Experiencing their family being evicted
  • Experiencing emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse

These experiences bring far more awareness of society’s flaws and failings, and what needs to be done to address them, and support the victims of them, than any number of birthdays celebrated. And young people who haven’t personally gone through these experiences will often know at least one person who has – that’s a perspective-granting experience, too.

But these people, with their scars and their stories, their knowledge and understanding forged in the chaotic fires of painful experience, often don’t vote – because those who claim they want them to “accept their adult responsibilities” still insist on treating them like naughty children.

Particularly if they don’t have a viable, steady income.

Particularly if they’re homeless, or involved in the sex industry.

Particularly if they had children in their teens.

Particularly if they can’t communicate eloquently, or can’t communicate verbally at all.

Particularly if they didn’t go to a “good” school.

Particularly if they didn’t go to university, or didn’t go to the “right” university, or don’t have a degree that older people approve of.

The person you gave birth to, or watched your partner give birth to, eighteen, twenty, twenty five, thirty years ago is no longer a child. And neither are those of a similar age.  They are adults, with an adult’s understanding and awareness of the world around them. They are adults like you, and, like you, they are adults of intelligence, adults with considered opinions.

Adults who deserve to be listened to.

And, all too often, they become adults who don’t vote because they’ve become so used to hearing that they’re “not old enough to be worth paying attention to”, that they’re “not old enough to be of any account”, that they believe it.

I spent many years – well into my early twenties – being told to shut up, be respectful, know my place. Being told that “no one wants to hear you going on about things you don’t understand.”

Last year, aged thirty, I was told to “stop going on about Brexit – you only voted from emotional feelings, not from any actual understanding.”

This was, and remains, my mother’s way of interacting with me. She insists on seeing and treating me as a child.

Fortunately for democracy, I react to abusive behaviour by defying its demands – whomever happens to be making them.

But not everyone is as strong, or as heedless for their own sanity, as I am, and the ones that aren’t, are the ones who don’t vote.

Stop shutting down democracy by claiming its decisions and processes are the preserve of people of a given age, and that anyone younger simply can’t understand their complexities. Stop treating young adults like children.

Start showing some respect for those who are disproportionately affected by the decisions you so casually make.

Because respect isn’t a demand we can make of others with a click of our fingers – respect is a two way street, an ongoing, enduring conversation.

Are Digital Technologies Making Politics Impossible?

This was an essay I wrote for the inaugural Nine Dots prize. It didn’t win – interestingly, the winning entry argued that, yes, digital technologies ARE making politics impossible, which I suspect was what the organisers wanted to hear, a suspicion I’d had from the beginning, thanks to the wording of the question – but I could be wrong.  Anyway, I didn’t get the very significant amount of money, that would have been incredibly helpful, so I’m posting the essay here, for free, because discussions are always worth having.

Digital technologies – from the smartphone to social media – have changed the social, cultural, and political landscape drastically, and in a very short span of time. For many people, digital technology, and particularly social media, is the “beginning of the end”; people no longer have genuine interactions with one another, they are more isolated, less aware of how “the real world” works.

And that’s where problems in correctly addressing the impact of digital technology, and properly equipping everyone, of any rank, age, or background, to deal appropriately with it, and the inevitable changes it has wrought on both culture and the individual person, begins: in the belief that digital technology and the “real world” are two separate and distinct things. From as long ago as the time of Plato’s Phaedrus (circa 370 BC), which recounts Socrates’ objections to the “new technology” of the day – writing – the real world, and the emergent technologies that are developed, almost all of which still rely on that first, despised technology of the written word, have been one and the same, or at the very least partners in enterprise. We cannot pretend that digital technology – technology of any kind – is an opt-in system. If we are part of the common, shared reality of daily existence in a developed country, then technology, and especially digital technology, is our “real world”, as much a part of our background and understanding as the pavements we walk on and the houses we live in. We expect internet access the way we expect running water – and we feel just as frustrated and panicky if we are denied it.

Digital technology has massive potential to completely change the landscape of democracy, and to genuinely improve it. The reason why, at present, it seems to be having the effect, instead, of rendering true democracy impossible is not because of an inherent fault of technology itself, but because of a fault in how different people are expected and encouraged to engage with it. Politicians, business people, the media, all fall into a category which, for the purposes of this essay, I will refer to as “professional users” of digital technology. Professional users approach technology the way they approach their jobs, their companies, their interests and responsibilities: that is, they acknowledge it as something in which they need to be competent and proficient, and they hire experts to help them achieve that competency and proficiency. Professional users are taught to engage with digital technologies the same way they are taught how to excel in business, how to develop a strong, charismatic leadership style that sees them succeed again and again, often at the very times when it seems almost certain that, because of some indiscretion or lack of attention, or simply their inherent personality, they will fail. And, just as they do with business, finance, national governance, professional users make maximising and manipulating the capabilities of digital technology look effortless. They don’t appear to be doing anything different to what the average, general-population digital technology user is doing. And yet their approach to, and interaction with, digital technology couldn’t be more different.

And that’s where the problems start. Just as Socrates bemoaned the fact that, with the advent of writing, “…your disciples…will (have) the show of wisdom without the reality” (Phaedrus Plato, circa 370BC, via Out Of The Jungle (outofthejungle.blogspot.co.uk), so today we see general-population users of digital technologies believing that they understand how those technologies work, while professional users spend time, and money, learning the truth behind how they really work – and how those truths can be used to further the agendas of said professional users.

Digital technologies offer two particularly compelling methods of improving and fostering democracy: the ability to fact-check claims quickly and easily, and the opportunity for people with widely differing views and experiences to debate openly and transparently, including with people they may otherwise never have a chance of interacting with.

Unfortunately, owing to the enduring, erroneous belief in the separate identities of digital technology and the “real world”, general-population users are never taught how to identify, and verify, trustworthy sources in the digital sphere. The soaring grace and reeking gutter aspects of digital technology are one and the same: the ability of anyone, no matter what their qualification, to write something, post it in public view, and make it accessible to many millions of people in literally minutes, sometimes seconds. Much of the core belief underlying the development of digital technology is that “experts” don’t know as much as they claim, information shouldn’t be restricted to the few, and the wisdom of the crowd is the ultimate form of knowledge. As such, digital technology frequently dispenses with the academic rigours of peer-review, quality control, or even basic background checks. In the digital age, opinions are merely alternative facts, and can be made to seem more credible than the actual facts of a situation, if you know what you’re doing. And professional users have paid a lot of money, and spent a lot of time, to learn exactly what they need to be doing. General-population users, on the other hand, have pretty much been left to their own devices as far as engaging with digital technologies goes. The digital sphere has been viewed by those who should be shepherding its users – teachers, parents, elders – as simply a playground, a place where people pointlessly waste time. The first mistake of the general population was to not take digital technology seriously. To see Facebook as Millennials posting selfies, Twitter as self-involved nonsense with a ridiculous name, YouTube as a narcissists’ fantasy, where everyone, no matter how little talent they had, could snatch their fifteen minutes of fame for the price of internet access for the time it took to upload a video shot on their smartphone, or via a webcam.

Professional users learn quickly how to make a source look reliable on the surface. Most of the time, that’s all you need – the majority of general-population users never go beyond surface appearances. Many professional users, however, are careful to ensure a credible depth is also created for the sources they choose to publish, promote, and use. And they are lethal in knowing how to use each of the various platforms digital technology affords to identify and connect with those who will share their sources without question, and how to use those same platforms to discredit their detractors.

There’s an old saying, that “a rumour will be halfway round the world before the truth has even got its boots on.” In the digital sphere, the actual, verifiable, reliable facts and sources can be thoroughly discredited before those responsible for their promotion are even aware someone is saying something different. And general-population users, untrained and naïve in the ways of the digital sphere, will take the unreliable, biased, and outright false stories at the face value their professional user creators have carefully constructed for them.

The differences between how professionals and the general population approach debates – the hallmark and lynchpin of a functional democracy – are markedly obvious, even to the most casual of observers, and they become painfully obvious when played out in the digital arena, in plain view, open and transparent for anyone to observe.

General-population users of digital technologies very rarely know even the basics of how to debate. They know their opinion on a matter, and they know how to make a lot of noise about that opinion, and how to insult and bully those who dissent from that opinion. That’s not a debate: it’s an argument, and one that people will flounce out of the moment their feelings are hurt.

The professional users, on the other hand, never get emotional. They don’t start with “I feel…” or “I think…” – they present their opinion as undeniable fact, calmly, and completely rationally. They back up their assertions with what, at least on the surface, appear to be facts. They present photographic evidence – but never a continuous, contemporaneous sequence of photographs or video. When they insult their detractors, it is not with the childish language of the general population, but by the far more subtle, and more damaging, method of casting aspersions as to the motivations and sympathies of those detractors. These people who disagree with us, who are trying to convince you that we are wrong, the professional user says to their audience, hold such-and-such objectionable views. They support such-and-such appalling organisation or practice. They engage in such-and-such activities, that, naturally, right-thinking people consider reprehensible. You’re not like that, are you?, the professional user whispers to their audience. No, of course you’re not. I know that. You think they’re scum, traitors,utterly appalling excuses for human beings – just like I do. Professional users have often spent at least half a lifetime being well-schooled in the subtle arts of debate and character assassination. And, if digital technologies are ever going to fulfil their potential as inspiring instruments of genuine democracy, it is well past time we started schooling general-population users to the same standards.

For over a generation, politicians have ensured that the education systems of Western nations focus on the individual – individual achievement, individual effort, individual attention – ensuring a fostering of belief in the overall importance of the self, rather than the whole. Whether this was a deliberate and intentional manipulation we cannot know, but it is worth noting that it has resulted in general-population users who are “perfectly incompetent” in the arena of digital technologies, and thus ready to accept the pseudo-politics presented by professional users, which plays to the ingrained belief that the individual and their needs are important, and deserving of notice, attention, and accommodation. As digital technologies themselves naturally foster this belief in the importance of self over others – more and more app-style games are being developed which are single-player, selfies are everywhere, and digital technology, by its very nature, grants one individual a potential audience of millions, no matter what their content, intelligence, or qualifications – general-population users are entering the digital sphere ready to be played by professional politicians and professional digital technology users, who will focus attention on how a particular political agenda will benefit “You, as an important, vital, valued individual.” General-population users, used to a focus on, and promotion of, the individual which has, certainly for the “digital native” Millennials, been encouraged from their earliest infancy, right through into their independent adulthood, never stop to consider that politics should, in fact, focus on what is best for society as a whole – from the richest to the poorest, the least to the most able, sometimes to the necessary detriment of individual preference and success. Of course, this prioritising of the individual did not emerge as a result of digital technologies. In fact, the prioritisation of the individual can be traced back to ancient Greece ( “Greek Pride in the Individual.” 123HelpMe.com. 26 Jan 2017 ), and was perhaps most memorably encapsulated, for the Western world at least, by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “There is no such thing as ‘society’: there are individual men and women.” (Margaret Thatcher, 1987)

Digital technologies, when used by well-informed, educated, knowledgable individuals, operating at the level, and with the expertise, of the professional user, far from having made politics impossible, have opened up unlimited potential for politics to engage people who have historically felt disenfranchised, shut out of the system, people who believed their lives and passions and knowledge and experience would never be thought relevant to anything wider than their own immediate circle. Digital technologies, with informed, astute users, have paved the way for politics, and democracy, to be their very best selves, and achieve their most laudable and honourable aims. Digital technologies have taken politics out of the closed chamber, out of the boardroom, out of the land of the funny handshake and archaic language, and brought it, blinking, into the light of the high school, the community centre, the council estate. Digital technologies have put politics into the language of the refugee, the teenage single mother, the individual with a lifelong disability, the drug-addict dropout. And the more voices that are heard, the more experiences that are put on display, the more vibrant and functional democracy becomes. But only if those voices and experiences are being placed in the public sphere by people with the knowledge and nous of the professional user of digital technology, people who know how to check and verify facts, and how to calmly rebuff challenges to their credibility, and eloquently and successfully debate those aspects of their lives and identities which will only ever be opinions and feelings.

What makes politics into the ludicrous shadow of its potential today is not the rise of digital technologies. Indeed, the accountability and transparency afforded by smartphones and social media is a key ingredient in establishing a true and functional democracy. Individual private citizens should be able to use their leaders’ words against them, where necessary. Tax payers should be as easily able to see what their money is being spent on by politicians as they can check their own spending on a personal bank statement. We, the people, should be able to freely and readily put our points of view, our challenges, our questions, our criticisms, to those best placed to answer them, in an arena that demands a prompt, relatively unfiltered reply. All of this is available at our finger tips, thanks entirely to digital technology, and the rise in its accessibility and affordability. But all of this potential is rendered null and void when the general population are competing against, and seeking to hold accountable, professional users. When those who only know how to argue at the level of hormonal teenagers are sent to spar with those whose very expensive education, and very expensive professional development, spent a lot of time discussing the practice of skilful debate, and explaining the importance of presentation and personality, whilst outlining how, exactly, one should manage – and manipulate – the media. As we are seeing from Donald Trump, the newly-established President of the United States of America, a professional user of digital technologies – for that is most certainly what Donald Trump is – can be as badly behaved, as childish, as downright offensive, as they like, and still maintain a loyal base of active supporters who will go to bat for them over and over and over again, without even being asked. They can do whatever they like, certainly in the digital arena, and in how they choose to engage with more traditional media outlets, because they are a consummate professional playing, for the most part, with rank amateurs.

Digital technologies are not making politics impossible. Rather, they are providing the means by which politics can once again become truly great, and a practice and institution deserving of respect, and welcoming of ambition, whatever its background. What is getting in the way of this progress, and making politics impossible, in the more traditional spheres as well as the digital arena, is the discrepancy between the abilities of professional users, both of digital technologies and the traditional media, and the general population who believe they are competing on an equal playing field. And those discrepancies can only be addressed by lifelong education, which, in turn, can only take place once we realise that digital technology is the “real world”, or at the very least a significant aspect of it. What is making politics impossible is our refusal to take a new form of a very old technology, the written word as presented on digital platforms, seriously. By this refusal, we view general-population users of digital technology as nothing more than immature children, messing about at a pointless game – and so condemn them to a form of perpetual adolescence, where they will always be just slightly short of the ability to effectively challenge the “adults.”

The ultimate and purest intention of politics should be to create a framework which both fosters a cohesive, compassionate, stable and economically successful society, free, for the most part, from internal strife and external aggression, and enables the advancement and achievement of potential of individuals within that society, whatever their personal backgrounds, qualities, and limitations. Digital technologies, by virtue of opening up opportunities for learning, entrepreneurship, social engagement, and political observation and engagement, and by facilitating the meeting of like minds, and enabling real-time debate and discussion, offer the best platform yet from which to achieve that aim – if we, as a society, respect both digital technologies, and those who use them, and invest in educating people on digital technologies with the same rigour and focus as we educate them in mathematics and literacy.

Digital technologies and politics should go hand in hand, because digital technologies are the future, and the job of politics is to lead a cohesive, compassionate, stable and successful society into the future, with a sense of positive anticipation, purpose, and confidence. We do both politics and digital technologies, as well as the potential of our society, a massive disservice when we try and separate politics and the digital sphere, when we promote the erroneous belief that the former is the “real world”, while the latter is merely a trivial, narcissistic indulgence and diversion. For many people belonging to socially marginalised groups – the disabled, the LGBTQ+ community, the unemployed – the spaces of digital technology, from social media sites to blogging platforms, are the only true experience of genuine society they know. Digital technology is the real world, and has the capacity to revolutionise politics and political engagement in a positive way: the rest of the world needs to wake up, and educate people in their engagement with and use of technology in ways that view the latter as an important part of the shared, societal reality.

Pitch a Fit

Here at Pitch a Fit, part of The Lowlight Review, we’re providing a free platform for writers looking to break into the magazine and newspaper markets – and those who are already there – to put their pitch out to tender, with the aim of getting the best  rate for their work.

Prior to our official launch, on June 21st, we’ll be letting editors at the leading UK newspapers and magazines, and quality emerging publications who pay their writers, know about who we are and what we do – and we’d quite like to  have some pitches for them to look at! So, email thelowlightreview@gmail.com with details of your pitch (word count, when you can have a finished article ready by, topic, writing experience, including publication history, if relevant, why you’re the  best person to write this particular article, and the minimum fee you’d be looking for.  This is aimed at professional writers – people who NEED to be paid, because they have bills and obligations to meet. Please respect that, and don’t try and undermine the professional ethos by offering your work for free – there are plenty of places you can submit if you just want to build a publication history.  To commissioning editors – the writers here are professionals: please do them the courtesy of treating them as such, and not expecting them to accept less than their minimum price, if you want their work. You wouldn’t go into a supermarket and ask them to give you your week’s groceries for free – don’t do it to those who are producing content.)

Editors, if you see a pitch you like, please feel free to contact directly. Writers, please provide an email address and phone number on which you can be contacted. When your pitch is accepted, let us know so we can change the pitch status – and please do link us to the published result – we’d love to share your good news!

OPEN PITCHES:

1. Word count: 2,000-5,000; Your brief.   Topic:  A Day In Hebden Bridge, by Bus. ( Keywords:UK Staycations, Holidaying at Home, Daytrips, Yorkshire, Hebden Bridge, Public Transport, Short Breaks, Affordable Adventures, Holiday, Travel, Tourist.) Writer’s Past Experience: MCXV, Blasting News, Affiliate Sites (persuasive content), Trade Sites (web content), Financial Services.  Turnaround: 1-3 days. (24-72hours)  Minimum Fee: £150  Contact this writer: fordmcallister.a@gmail.com (mobile phone number provided by emailed request.)

Pitch listed: 21st May 2017

2. Word Count: 2,000 words.  Topic: The Darkside of the Fae (Keywords: Faeries, Fae, Myths, Folklore, Legends, Sidhe, Gentry, Winter Court, Fantasy, Occult, Supernatural, Otherkin, Magical beings) Writer’s Past Experience: Active on a number of social media occult, paranormal, and otherkin sites. Contributes regularly to a vampire-focused ‘zine.  Turnaround: 3-5 days (72-120hours) Minimum Fee: £40  Contact this writer: morganalex501@gmail.com (mobile phone number by emailed request.)

 

 

Costa, Class, and Contention

“You can’t be working class and drink in Costa Coffee.”

This statement, courtesy of a Tory hopeful in Wakefield, Yorkshire, has sparked outrage across social media, with one Facebook user commenting: “Ffs, you can have a house you’ve got a mortgage on, a car on finance, and holidays paid for with credit cards, and be working class.” Every comment I came across in the immediate aftermath was expressing, often vehemently, the opinion that yes, actually, you can be working class and enjoy Costa Coffee.

But here’s the rub… to my mind, a working class person doesn’t have the privilege of credit. They don’t qualify for mortgages and credit cards, car finance or overdrafts.  I know – this is my life, day by day.  It’s hard, sometimes soul-destroyingly so.

And no: I don’t drink in Costa Coffee. I actually manage to go “out” for meals, drinks, etc maybe three times a year, on average.

“Working class people have to drink in Costa – we’re the ones who haven’t got time for coffee at home”, mewled another Facebook comment.

Strange: even when I had to be out of my flat at six a.m to catch the first bus out of the village I was living in at the time, to the city, thirty miles away, where I worked, I managed to have a cup of coffee at home. Sometimes, I managed two cups of coffee at home.  It’s a little trick called getting your backside in gear, rather than deciding that you can buy an extra ten minutes shut-eye for three quid on the run.

And I was contending with the demands of a serious mental illness – schizophrenia – and literally no support, at the time.

There was no way in hell, back then, that I would spend £3 on coffee on my way to work: £3 was almost a week’s electric on the meter (£5, all I could afford at the time, a fact which meant I became incredibly ill every winter.) £3 was (then) the price of a single bus fare back to the town five miles away, if I missed the last bus my weekly ticket was valid for (which was run by a different company than ran the buses that stopped five miles away, and left Norwich at 5.45pm. I finished work at 5.30pm. I ended up walking five miles, in evening light, half of it without pavements or street lights, on two occasions in the time I was in that job.)

£3, to me, was worth a hell of a lot more than a cup of coffee.

Financially, things are slightly better now – I own my own home, outright (thanks to compensation paid in respect of my father’s death, aged 61, from asbestos-related cancer), and I don’t have to spend £30 a week on bus fare, travelling a three hour round trip, to get to work.  Being married, I not only have emotional support, companionship, and help with the daily demands of schizophrenia – I can also afford to have a functional level of electricity credit on the meter. Hell, I can even afford broadband internet access, something that wasn’t the case seven years ago.

I still don’t drink in Costa Coffee.

I haven’t had a holiday for three years – the last holiday I had was a birthday present, so I didn’t pay for most of it. It was in Hunstanton. I travelled by bus.

I still don’t have the option of taking out credit cards. I still wouldn’t be approved for an overdraft or a mortgage.

Sometimes, it’s still a close call at the end of the month. Sometimes, my wife and I  still have to do without things. Sometimes, those things matter: last year, my wife was unable to attend a conference at which she’d been invited to present her experiences as a woman with Asperger’s: the conference organisers provided funding for academics to attend, not anyone else, a crowdfunding campaign was largely ignored, and we didn’t have any way of paying her travel to Edinburgh, and overnight accommodation.

So – no. You’re not working class if you drink in Costa Coffee regularly. You’re not working class if you have access to credit.

Yet, “being working class” seems to be something many people cling to, an identity they wave like a battle standard.

Why, though?

Being working class – actually working class, as my father was, working 12-14hr days in a slaughterhouse, as my grandfather was, working in a furniture factory, all for never quite enough money to have a lifestyle, rather than just a life, isn’t fun. Not having the money for school trips to Italy, or for the equipment for PE lessons on a dry-ski slope in the nearest city, and having to spend the time everyone else is off enjoying themselves helping the headmaster with his admin, is crap. Especially when everyone else gets back, and decides you deserve to be the target of jokes about how your parents don’t have any money for the next two weeks. Every. Single. Day.  Getting told you’re “not showing team spirit” when you explain you can’t afford to join your workmates on a night out because you wouldn’t be able to get a bus home (no, not even the one that stops five miles away), and, because your rent is due tomorrow, you can’t afford to book a hotel room, or take a taxi (30 miles, at out of hours rates – not likely, even if you could find a Norwich cabbie who was up for driving out to Shipdham in the early hours of the morning), and having your boss spend the rest of the following week making you do all the jobs no one else wants to do as a kind of punishment, is soul-destroying.

Being actually working class isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t get you a nice lifestyle.

But people who manifestly aren’t working class seem desperate to claim that they are, really, honest, guv.

I suspect this has something to do with the rather bizarre media insistence that “real, working men and women” are the only people who “really know what’s going on.” We don’t like “experts” any more, and experts are frequently middle class.  And, while those who genuinely do know what they’re talking about don’t really care whether anyone listens or not, those who have a little less than half a clue about the complexities of issues – any issues – can’t stand the idea that other people may not know what they think, what they’d do, if only they had power and influence. If the shift in political temperatures is towards listening to “the working man or woman on the street” – well, then, of course we all want to be working class, because being working class is what gets us attention, gets us listened to!

Only, when you’re actually working class, when you can’t afford cars and holidays and fashionable clothes and Costa Coffee… you don’t get listened to. You get ignored, or you get patronised. But you don’t, ever, get listened to.

Genuine working class people tried to explain that we weren’t racist, but we were concerned that, as technology resulted in the automation of more and more jobs, and globalisation allowed companies to pick and choose the cheapest and easiest to exploit workers from across the globe, native, working class populations, in working class jobs, weren’t receiving the upskilling and re-skilling needed to benefit from jobs in emerging sectors – we couldn’t afford to pay for the training needed, or take time out of our current, hourly-pay jobs to attend courses, etc, but no one was offering to help us out. We were being left behind as the world moved on around us, and, what’s worse, we were being driven out of the industries we were skilled in by managers focused on profit, who saw people as simply “resources”, and were eagerly awaiting affordable, viable automation, so they didn’t have to deal with pesky things like “breaks”, “holidays”, “maternity leave”, “health and safety” and “wages.” We tried to explain that we valued certain rights and freedoms, as well as certain subsidies for traditional industries, that resulted from Britain’s membership of the EU, but were concerned that the wider EU community didn’t fully appreciate the complexities of Britain’s geography and infrastructure issues – issues which Westminster has never been particularly interested in addressing.

But we didn’t get heard. The people who got heard were the working class posers, often with hands on strings of media outlets, who brayed about “immigration”, “sovereignty”, “loss of the British identity and way of life” (an identity cobbled together from just about every country we’ve ever owned, invaded, or occupied), and, memorably, “money that could be better spent on our NHS” (which is rapidly being sold off to the manifestly-not-working-class likes of Richard Branson’s Virgin group…)

The posers, then as now, stepped in front of, and in some cases stepped on, the actual, genuine working class people, ensuring our voices never made it above a strangled whisper.

But then, playing pretend has always been a popular British leisure pursuit, from schoolyard games of cops ‘n’ robbers to fancy dress balls and drag queens. We really shouldn’t be surprised to find that vocal, privileged individuals with a very comfortable lifestyle want to pretend to be the hardworking salt of the earth.

And their game of pretend wouldn’t be a problem, if it could be played from the other side: while someone financing a very nice lifestyle on credit, whilst working a 9-5 office job, can pretend to be “genuinely working class”, a factory shift worker on minimum wage, with no access to credit beyond loansharks and disreputable payday lenders, struggling to adequately heat their housing association flat, and unable to afford to “go sick”, because they’re paid by the hour, and if they don’t show up, they don’t get paid, can never even have a moment’s glimpse at what it’s like to not have to live that kind of life.

Fragile Masculinity, and the Mistakes We Make With It

I’ve just started reading a book I borrowed from my local library, Playing Big, by Tara Mohr.  Ostensibly, it’s a book for women, but a) I’ve never really bought in to the whole gendered items scene, and b) I think it’s important for men to read books that are “women talking to women”, and for women to read books that are “men talking to men” – it’s the only way we’ll understand each other.  Socialised distrust of the “opposite” gender means men will never truly be honest about ourselves with women, and vice versa. There’s too much risk, too much at stake.  We’ll keep our secrets, thanks – and blame you for your failure to read a mind we were too afraid to share.

So, I’m reading Playing Big, and I start to get the feeling of uneasiness I often get when I encounter feminism, even good feminism, rather than the shouty, angry, “God, why can’t we just make babies in labs without men, already?” kind.  So, I do what I always do when I start to feel uneasy about something I’ve heard, or seen, or read: I stop reading, and start thinking about why I’m feeling uneasy.

And I realise it’s because I’ve experienced a lot of the same things Tara Mohr is talking about as being women’s experiences. I know my father had those experiences, too. Other men I’ve known, and know now, have had, and do have, those experiences. Men whom I don’t know, but see in action, hear about, read about, act very much from a base of experiencing those same things.

The internal voice that tells you you’re not good enough, that you’ll never be good enough.

The need for vocal, visible praise, and the feeling that, if you don’t receive it, you’ve “failed.”

The belief that said praise is the only valid reason for doing something – that doing something because you enjoy it and it brings you pleasure and satisfaction is pointless and self-indulgent. For men, “praise” is often replaced with “money”, “status”, “prestige” – but it’s the same thing women want to experience: the smile, and the “Haven’t you done well?” of someone whose opinion we value, and whose respect and admiration we crave.

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the anticipatory fear that comes when things are starting to change – including change for the better.

Feminists talk a lot about “fragile masculinity” – usually mockingly. This has always confused me, because something doesn’t become fragile through some deliberate choice: it simply is inherently fragile, even if its constituent parts are not.

Sand is not fragile – but glass is.

Bone is not fragile – but an infant, a puppy, a bird, is.

Wood is not fragile – but a sapling tree is.

When something in nature is fragile, we don’t mock it. We don’t kick it about, smack it, throw stones at it. We don’t punch a bird, or hurl a puppy against a wall, laughing all the while at its fragility.

We are careful with it, and we commit to its protection. We value it, because its worth is partly in the tenuous hold it has on being whole. A glass ornament, for example, is beautiful precisely because it is fragile, and because there are any number of stages of its process of becoming that it could have broken – but didn’t.

So why do we think it’s okay to behave violently and abusively towards fragile masculinity? Why do we feel that we have to destroy it, like some cruel child tearing the wings off of a butterfly, or tormenting a kitten?

We know that breaking something made of glass may well result in us cutting ourselves on the shards – so, surely, doing violence to fragile masculinity could just as easily lead to harm? Especially given the concept of fragile masculinity often being linked to toxic masculinity – we do damage to a fragile outer container, and are splashed with the corrosive, dangerous contents.

If we want men to stop being violent and abusive – if we want to do away with toxic masculinity – we need to show respect and admiration for their fragility.

I, and many men of my acquaintance, have a deep respect for intelligent, independent, successful, focused women – but we don’t experience the same respect for being compassionate, gentle, intelligent and supportive men.

Men and women are complements. We are “opposites”, but opposites which, when combined, create a pleasing and pleasant whole.

I don’t just mean “combined” in a romantic or sexual sense – of course, men can have successful romantic and sexual partnerships with other men, and women can have successful romantic and sexual partnerships with other women. Sex and love are really the least important elements of the combination not just of men and women, but of masculine and feminine.

The world is always better when men and women work together, and people – whatever their personal experience of gender identity – are always better when they allow full expression of both their masculine and feminine attributes and energies.

When women feel they have to be “wholly masculine” in order to succeed, they often fail – think of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, both women who achieved a position of power by deliberately not putting their feminine energies – the energies of respectful communication, the energies of nurturing people and ideas, the energies of creative expression, the energies of serving others before the self – into their roles.  And they are both women who have caused very visceral, violent reactions against their policies, their attitudes, and, in some cases, them as people.

The same kind of reactions that many feminists have to “the way men carry on” – because men, also, take something away from their visible, physical-plane successes by keeping feminine energies out of their businesses. Out of their workday endeavours. Out of their engagement with friends and family.

Fragile things are often beautiful, and they often become things that bring us immense joy, and are a central part of our lives.  Just as we wouldn’t deliberately knock a glass ornament about, or deliberately tread on and kick a puppy or kitten, so we shouldn’t do so with the concept of “masculinity.”

Masculine energies, to my mind, are the energies of protection, the energies of decisive action, the energies of bending situations and people to one’s own will.

Feminine energies, as I’ve already mentioned, are communication, creative expression, the nurturing of people and ideas, and a focus on others rather than the self.

These energies are not specific to male or female bodied individuals, nor to female or male identified people – rather, they should be combined within each person, the way male and female attributes combine to create our unique DNA, with some expressions being more dominant, but all being present.

Someone does not stop being a man because their dominant trait is nurturing people and ideas – I have been privileged to encounter several men who happened to be very good at that, and who had forged it into their purpose and career. One was a teacher, another a member of the clergy, a third a youthworker.

Likewise, someone does not stop being a woman because their dominant trait is taking decisive action – I have been privileged to know decisive women. Some of whom were better people, and made better decisions, than others, naturally – but those whom I didn’t find to be pleasant people weren’t unpleasant to me because they were decisive women – I would have disliked them had they been men. Their decisions would, to my mind, have been poor decisions had a man made them.

We will not build a strong society and an enduring world by deciding that one group can only be “advanced” if the other is beaten back.  Nor, however, can we achieve those ambitions by never challenging a given group, or its behaviours and attitudes.  We develop as people when we are exposed to constructive criticism, and when we are forced to acknowledge and alter unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour.

Human beings are like a bronze sculpture that includes a carefully balanced glass ball – we all, men, women, non-binary and a-gender, combine invulnerability and fragility – and the contradictions, when combined, are what create the whole, and make the beauty that has us admire the sculpture.

Brexit – Why Those Most Likely to be Harmed Were Most Likely to Say “Yes” to Leaving the EU.

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The British government is beginning to realise Brexit was a mistake, it seems.

A lot of individuals have thought that from the day after the referendum. A few bright souls thought that when all of the “information” made readily-accessible by the popular media was about immigration, sovereignty, and “taking our country back” from the Leave camp, and all the feels and fluffyness about “solidarity” and “needing migrant workers” from the Remain lobby.

Not to mention that slightly awkward, elephant-on-the-side-of-a-bus “promise” about the NHS being funded with the money Britain would no longer be paying in membership fees…which everyone has now rather shame-facedly admitted, err…isn’t going to happen after all.  Terribly sorry, chaps, but what’s done is done. No use crying over spilled milk, eh?

Brexit will be one of the biggest mistakes Britain has ever made – not because leaving the EU is a terrible, awful, soul-destroying thing  that we should never, ever do, and not solely because of the rise in intolerance, bigotry, and far-right ideology that seems to have been stirred up by the referendum, but because of the impact it will have on those people who most believed in its potential, who were most likely to vote for it, who had the highest hopes for life without the EU.

The poor.

Liberals tend to get rather tetchy when you mention the disenfranchisement of the working class and those in poverty, whether relative or absolute. “They’re not disenfranchised – they’re allowed to vote, so they can’t be!”  It comes across very much like a child stamping their feet in rebellion at an adult truth.

But being “enfranchised” is about far more than simply “being legally allowed to vote.”

Being enfranchised is about being listened to, and having your concerns taken seriously.

Being enfranchised is about believing that the government of your country, even if they are not the government you voted for, will at least try and act in your best interests.

Being enfranchised is about believing that the government of your country, whether you voted for them or not, has the ability and the desire to lead the country as a whole – including you – to a better, brighter, richer tomorrow, where there is more money in your pocket, and more opportunities open to you.

When you’re poor, whether working poor or reliant on welfare because of unemployment, chronic illness or disability, or long-term care responsibilities, the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has made it manifestly obvious, over the past seven years, that they are not governing for you. They don’t care whether things get better for you, and they’re certainly not going to put the effort into making them better.

In seven years, the consistent, deafening message from the Tories to the working class, the low waged, the unwaged, the disabled, the carers, has been: “You don’t matter.”

Meanwhile, others – political Parties, businesspeople, media corporations – have come along and whispered “But you would matter if we weren’t having to keep all these foreigners and looney lefties happy, with their halal food and their gender identities. It was good before they came along, wasn’t it?”

And, because education has been chronically underfunded for years, and because history has always been dismissed as “Boooorrrriiiiinnnnggggg”, unless it involved a field trip somewhere you could run around for a bit and then buy five quid’s worth of sweets, all the while getting the whole day off school, because people believe the internet – which is dominated by 18-35year olds – can tell them everything, people believed the lie that “everything was better before, wasn’t it? Before women started getting uppity and demanding jobs and rights. Before all these foreigners turned up, not speaking English. Before people started having sex changes, and wanting to be treated like human beings.”

Before devices like washing machines, tumble dryers, and vacuum cleaners meant that cleaning a house only took a couple of hours, during which you could get on with other things, rather than an entire day.

Before having a car of your own was taken to be an inalienable right.

Before foreign holidays were easily accessible even to those on a low income.

Before employers were required to ensure the basic welfare and well-being of their workers.

Before owning your own home was even the glimmer of possibility for many working people. (What? You thought council houses used to be built just because the government thought they looked nice?  No: it was rare for working class people to ever own a house. Most working class families would live in council housing. Single working class people usually took “lodgings” – a rented room that included basic meals and cleaning.)

Before credit – and the opportunities and possibilities it brought with it – became readily accessible.

Before it was even considered that a young person from a working class family might go to University.

Before people diagnosed with cancer believed they had a chance of surviving.

Before the richest 1% paid less than half their income in tax.

It wasn’t better or worse “before” – it simply was. You lived, you worked, you did your best, you died. Some people were happier than others, some people had it harder than others.

It was no different “before” to the way it is now, even though people were denied basic agency because of their sex, mental capacity, or disability.  Even though “awkward minorities” didn’t exist. Even though we weren’t part of the European Union.

But, when a country is told by silver-tongued politicians that “it’s the future that matters!”, it will inevitably lose touch with its past.  As memory begins to be lost to increasing age, as our bodies and brains cull everything back, what stands out are the brightest times, the times we were happiest.  You don’t even have to be getting on in years to experience this misleading focus on the good times. Geoff Dyer, in The Colour of Memory, had it right:

“And the sky was that impossible blue that can never really exist except in our flawed recollections of events: the colour of memory.”

The people who will be most harmed by the decision to leave the European Union, and the rights and protections it affords, were most likely to vote for that decision because a long history of the working classes being raised to “respect their betters” means that accepting that an elected government could be acting against the interests of a section of its society would cause such massive cognitive dissonance – the mental distress that occurs when observable and verified facts contradict deeply held personal beliefs or opinions – that it is literally unthinkable – the human brain is remarkable for its ability to shield itself from discomfort and distress: it’s why we struggle to understand mental illness: it is fundamentally wrong for a brain to allow itself to feel torment, pain, confusion, and conflict. It is why we often prefer to believe that individuals experiencing mental illness are just “lazy”, “oversensitive”, “navel-gazing”, or ” simply need to get out and spend some time in nature” – that’s the brain neatly dodging the cognitive dissonance that would arise from acknowledging that we can’t rely on the soundness of our own minds. That our status as functional, stable human beings can never be taken fully for granted.  It would be horrendous for our brains to have to deal with that reality, so, flexible little hellions that they are, they create a reality in which mental illness is a deliberate, individual fault, a failure to make the right choices as regards actions and lifestyle.

It’s the same with Brexit: our brains can’t handle the fact that our government could decide, of its own volition, to act contrary to the interests of an entire demographic – to deny those people affordable, accessible health care through the systemic dismantling of the NHS. To deny them viable, stable employment, which would support a modest standard of living, by closing down traditional industries, and refusing to invest in up-skilling and re-skilling to the demands of emerging sectors. To deny them a stable, safe home life, by not acting to limit the greed of private sector landlords, and refusing to pass legislation that would ensure rental properties were fit for human habitation, and by refusing to control the unsustainable, destabilising growth patterns of the private-ownership housing market. To deny their children the opportunity to progress above and beyond the limitations of their families’ socioeconomic situation, by removing the financial support that was available to their generation in order to facilitate University attendance. Therefore, our brains tell us that none of this is, in fact, the case: our government wants to help us, but “all these others” are getting in the way, and saying that they need things first, that they’re more important than us.

A lot was made of the fact that the majority of those over 60 voted Leave, with accusations of callousness, unthinking selfishness, etc that sullied everyone – especially those levelling those accusations.

My father, who sadly passed away in 2013, would have been 65 at the time of the Brexit referendum. Although I know, from conversations we had when I was growing up, and as I was figuring out how the whole “being an adult” thing worked (or didn’t!), he would have voted Remain, he had lived through the same thing many Leave voters of his generation did: the rationing that continued long after the end of the Second World War. The memory of parents and grandparents of the austerity of the War years. The reliance on what you could provide for yourself.  Such an experience, especially in childhood, will often create an adult with a “scarcity mentality” – the belief that there simply isn’t enough to go round – enough food, enough fuel, enough money – that, if people keep taking, or being given, it will run out, and people will be left with nothing.

My father was fortunate – he was a deeply curious, deeply intelligent man, whose job involved a lot of “down time”, during which he could pursue his intellectual ambitions. He was an only child, and both his parents had died while he was still in his teens. He therefore had only his wife and one child to provide for and pay attention to. He lived within cycling distance of any place of work, and thus was arriving home tired from a physically demanding job, but not exhausted from a long commute on top of that.  He had also had to leave Ireland and come to the UK when he was just 19 years old – at a time when shops still displayed signs reading:

No Blacks, No Gypsies, No Dogs, No Irish.

He knew, therefore, that things could always be a lot harder than they were. He overcame his upbringing, mostly – his “scarcity mindset” revealed itself in a refusal to get rid of books or tools. Even if he hadn’t read a book or used a tool for decades, he would hang on to it, with the words “I don’t want to find myself needing it, one day, and not be able to get hold of it again.”

Whether people are able to overcome unhelpful beliefs is largely dependent on the other demands placed upon them, and what counter evidence to those beliefs they encounter.

It is not a personal failure if unhelpful beliefs aren’t overcome.

Was the Brexit referendum a mistake? Yes, because the groundwork to prepare for it wasn’t even acknowledged, let alone done.

That groundwork would have been investing in re-skilling and up-skilling so that the British workforce was equipped and qualified to pursue jobs in emerging sectors, with a reasonable chance of success, and therefore didn’t feel that employment opportunities were being “taken away” as long-established sectors began to decline in prominence.

It would have involved teaching schoolchildren languages such as Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, and Farsi, to prepare them for a future where trade was predominantly with emerging economies.

It would have involved honest discourse about how many of our traditional industries – farming and fishing, for example – and how many of cultural and infrastructure projects, were financed in full or in part by EU money, and how the British government would fund those things were that money to be withdrawn.

It would have involved full and frank discussions about the national debt, whom Britain owed money to, and what the plans were for paying off those debts, as well as how and why they were incurred in the first place.

It would have involved discussions around what work migrants generally do, how much revenue that generates for the wider economy, and genuine dialogues between the government and British workers about why those jobs did not seem to be being filled by the latter category of individuals.

It would have involved discussions about what Britain’s responsibilities as a member of the EU were, and what rights Britain and its subjects enjoyed as a result of the fulfilment of those responsibilities.

Was the Brexit referendum a mistake? Yes – because it should only ever have been advisory.

The result that was returned in June 2016 showed one thing clearly: that a significant number of British citizens felt threatened, and believed no one would listen to them unless the status quo was drastically altered.

Under an advisory-only referendum, that result could have been addressed – the feelings of certain groups that they weren’t respected, that they lacked opportunity and influence, that they weren’t being listened to – could have been addressed.

That won’t happen now.

The government will devote its collective energy to the details of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and all the ramification chickens that seem to be coming home to roost as a result of that, and it won’t even enter their heads to talk to the people who feel ignored.

When you voted for “Brexit at any cost”, you voted for your government continuing to ignore you, to not listen to you, to not respect your voice, your agency, your concerns, your identity.

And you gave them a reason for ignoring you, which they didn’t have before.

You gave their dismissal of you a legitimacy it absolutely does not deserve.

 

Ashley Ford-McAllister