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Feminism 101

Here’s the situation, for anyone who is unclear: if you don’t believe a person should be discriminated against because of the way they were born, and later how they wish to align on the spectrum of gender, then you are a feminist. I’m very sorry, the doctors did the best they could. If you think it kind of sucks that women are frequently treated as incapable of certain skills or jobs because they are women, then you are a feminist. If you think it sucks that men aren’t ‘allowed’ to like pink and talk about their feelings and hate sport, then damn, you’re a feminist.

I appreciate this seems basic, and feminism can become incredibly complex, and has developed so much in quite a short space of time, but ultimately the idea behind feminism is that people should not be discriminated against because of their sex and that people should have equal social, political and economic rights. So that’s where it’s simple. If you agree, then that’s that. Don’t say you believe men and women should be equal but that you’re not a feminist. Stop it. Just stop, it’s pants. Feminism is not extreme. It’s really quite sensible.

I think a lot of the confusion and urge to not identify as a feminist might come from the fact that discussions around it are always so academic and inaccessible for the average person. It’s partly why I started Anthem and I think it’s such a shame that we’re not taking more time to help people when we are able to. So I’ve written up a bit of a glossary for you to refer to when the conversations you want to be a part of aren’t making sense.

Feminism: A movement aiming to achieve equality between the sexes

Misogyny: Hatred toward/prejudice against women 

Misandry: Hatred toward/prejudice against men

Misogynoir: Misogyny directed at black women in particular

Cisgender: If your gender matches the sex you were born at birth then you’re cisgender, or cis for short. I was born a female (sex) and identify as a female (gender). I’m cis.

Intersectional feminism: A movement that builds other issues such as racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia or ableism into it’s path to achieving the equality of the sexes. Intersectional feminism accepts that some struggle more than others on the way to equality, and are disadvantaged by our existing society for more reasons than just being a woman (i.e. it is harder to be a black, disabled woman or a trans woman than it is to be a cis white woman in our current society).

White feminism: This isn’t used to label all white feminists (confusingly), but to address a kind of feminism that only focuses on cis white feminist issues and tends to ignore issues faced by other races. In some cases, it has refused to accept that non-white women face greater struggles than white feminists. It’s sort of the opposite of intersectional feminism and has increasingly been used as a negative label in online discussions (for good reason).

#MeToo: Quite simply, a movement against sexual harassment and assault in all forms. Popularised by celebrities such as Rose McGowan and Natalie Portman, #MeToo began around this time last year and was started by Tarana Burke as a social media movement to show just how widespread the issues were in the world. In light of big Hollywood sexual harassment and assault cases, anybody could and can use #MeToo to express their own experiences and help others feel confident to share their stories. 

Time’s Up: Started on the back of #MeToo, the Time’s Up movement was founded at the beginning of 2018 to fight sexual harassment and assault. Time’s Up saw celebrities wearing all black to the Golden Globes and, as a movement, focuses largely on issues within studio and talent agencies as well as offering legal support to lower-income women who have faced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. 

Gendered: If something is gendered, it relates to one specific gender. For example, gendered marketing means products might be marketed specifically to women or men (for absolutely no reason; go look up some traditionally feminine or masculine fragrance adverts and you’ll see what we mean). You can also have gendered occupations, which tend to be more female than male, such as waitress, barmaid, tea lady, lunch lady etc etc. 

Glass ceiling: A metaphor relating to the unseen barrier preventing certain groups of people climbing career ladders. Although most frequently referred to in discussions about women, it is also a barrier for people of different ethnicities, sexualities or with disabilities. It’s pretty bad for everyone (unless you are a cis white male).

Gender pay gap: The average difference between the money or wage paid to men and women, with women generally earning less than men (for the reason that they are women, which is sex-based discrimination and thus a LOAD OF RUBBISH).

Gendered stereotypes: Thinking back to stuff being gendered, gendered stereotypes suggest that people should be a certain way because of their gender. It’s where we think of things as typically masculine or feminine. For example, assuming girls like pink and boys like blue are stereotypes based on gender. These stereotypes can become harmful when they limit what men and women are able to do.

Toxic masculinity: An example of harmful gender stereotypes relating specifically to men and male behaviours. Most often it refers to the idea that men have to be these very masculine, dominant, alpha male type beings that can’t show emotion. It’s very damaging and has had a serious impact on male mental health. 

Feminazi: A derogatory slur used to refer to radical feminists, popular among conservatives and idiots who can’t be bothered to learn about feminism.

Hopefully, this helps you. You do not need to be able to use these words to have or to join a discussion about feminism but it will help just to understand what they mean and what people are talking about.

Unfortunately, feminism remains a difficult-to-access movement for many and it often gets caught up in moving forward, and not stopping to help people up on the way. Feminism is for everybody, and understanding a couple of words from the above list is huge. You can be a great support if you can stop people and say ‘hang on, that’s not right and here’s why’ because the more people that join in, the less of a problem sexism and other forms of discrimination become. 

Feminism and the politics surrounding discrimination continue to be a hot topic that the news love to sensationalise, so it is incredibly useful to know what these things mean. It’s not just about being able to support one cause, but also about learning to think for yourself. It is absolutely vital to be able to formulate your own opinions and ideas so that you can stand up for yourself and others, particularly in today’s slightly odd world.

 

Words by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.

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Wellbeing and Winter

For a lot of us, it can be difficult to feel on top form during the colder months. Even if you are a winter fanatic, love all things Christmassy and get excited about what comes with the new year, it can still be difficult to manage wellness on cold and gloomy days. So, in anticipation of the winter blues/January blues/Monday blues/basically any unwanted blueness, I’ve worked up a checklist of things to help prioritise our wellbeing this winter.*

((*Note: This article isn’t medical advice. If you’re looking for more specific mental health material – check out the links at the end!))

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Diet and Nutrients

No, I’m not going to tell you to chuck out all the Christmas choccies! This isn’t about having an immaculate diet; what I suggest here is just keeping a mental note of when you last said ‘Hi’ to some fruit and veg. As we head into December and beyond, it can be tricky to keep on top of doing a healthy food shop – especially when there are so many tempting treats. Indulgence is fun, especially in the festive period, but do make sure to balance it out.

Our digestive system and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and long story short (and all science averted because I don’t really get it), what we eat contributes to how we think and feel. As good old Saint Nick gets ready to do the rounds, by all means, head to the Quality Street! The praline triangles aren’t going to steal themselves. But remember to get in those greens and some vitamin C too. Similarly, because we lack so much sunlight during this time of year, if you’re someone who gets particularly down in the darker months, it could be worth picking up some vitamin D as well!

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Exercise

NO GYM REQUIRED. Fear not- this isn’t a you-must-start-a-spinning-class-and-go-to-boxercise-every-day article. Just get out and about. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be the same thing each time. In fact – the more variety the better. If you’re someone who likes exercise or sport then fab! Doing what you enjoy is a great way to get out of the house. It can be gross to go into *nature* when it’s cold and wet and windy, but when the weather is relatively calm, jump at the chance to go out and explore. Anything from a quick stroll to a little micro adventure to a local park.

Remember the Vitamin D we talked about earlier – making the most of the daylight hours is key when it is of limited availability. If you have a hobby that you can adapt to doing outside then use it as an excuse for a change of scenery. For example, photography or other artistic pursuits are a great way to explore outside and get some exercise in at the same time.

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The Power of Plants

There’s a lot of research to show that plants can have a positive effect on us. Having some greenery or flowers around the place can be a mood booster. Equally, having to care for a plant reminds us to care for ourselves. When we’re watering or feeding the plants, and making sure they get enough sunlight, it’s a casual reminder to make sure we pay attention to our own needs. Caring for something else and having that small responsibility with plants can also make us feel good and remind us that we are accomplishing things even if they’re small. (Also, they look really cute!!) 

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Another thing about FOOD

If you’re someone (like me) who finds it a drag to prepare food when your wellbeing isn’t amazing, here are some ideas. Find foods that minimise prep time and are good for you. For instance, yoghurts require zero effort and can be eaten whenever. Also, consider fresh veg and fruit that is in season and doesn’t need a lot of intervention. (And when you do feel like making stuff, stews are great, because they use all the in-season veg, you just leave the pot to do its thing, and you can freeze portions for ages.) Lastly, meal replacement powders (not weight-loss ones – just complete nutrient ones) could also be a solution for some people – I find them handy when my work schedule is a bit crazy or if I don’t have the energy for a big food shop.

In the new year, when everyone’s insisting they’ll start going to the gym, hating going back to work, and remembering how cold February is, this can all be handy to remember. Having quick fix food around that is not just junk food makes it much easier to look after yourself.

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Reach out!

We shouldn’t leave it until we’re actually feeling unwell or not taking care of ourselves to reach out to others. Make sure you check in with your loved ones over the winter period. This can be especially important if you live away from the rest of your family or are a university student away for the holidays. Reach out to close friends and make an effort to get together, or at least call for a catch-up.

Socialising can be difficult to organise over the Christmas period when people can be quite busy and public transport ceases to function, but come the new year when everyone’s aligning themselves with the ‘normal,’ it’s really important to make sure you’re maintaining those connections with people.

Depending on individual needs, doing what you love either solo or sharing it with friends can give you some well-needed space to relax – which does wonders for wellbeing.

Remember not to put your wellbeing on hold just because normality gets a bit suspended during Christmas and New Year, and opportunities to get out and about can seem to dwindle during winter as a whole. When considering your self-care regime, factor both your physical and mental wellness into it!

 

I hope this gets the ball rolling with some ideas you can utilise for maintaining wellbeing this winter. Below are some further sources of wellbeing advice, and also more distinct mental health resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/#.W_24Yq2cbPA
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-to-do-this-weekend-to-boost-your-mental-wellbeing_uk_5bd2d714e4b0a8f17ef6413f?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Be Brain Fit, Mental Health Zen, Garden Collage, The Best Brain Possible and Practice Business.

Winter is Coming – Finally!

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The time has come, the nights are getting longer, the days colder and the spiced lattes are out in force…and I’m loving it!

I have always loved autumn and winter, it’s the time of year I’m always excited for; the crisp frosty mornings, seeing your breath as it hits the air and not sweating from blinking are particular highlights. However, not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about freezing their butt off for months on end, so here are a few ways in which you can try and make the autumn and winter months that bit more joyful and enjoyable and I’m hoping that I can convert at least one person.

1. COSY JUMPERS AND GIANT COATS

This is potentially my favourite part, as people who know me will know I have a minor obsession with both of these. The more jumpers and coats I get to wear the better in my opinion. So instead of being a classic Brit and whining about the cold, seize the chance to be a real-life Yeti and embrace the jumpers…and hats…and gloves…and scarves, basically anything warm and fluffy.

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2. NIGHTS IN

Lots of people say that they find it more difficult to socialise in winter/autumn because people don’t want to go out. So you could switch it up and have a night in instead. Organise a movie night with lots of snacks, or have a games evening – as long as you’re prepared to lose friends over Monopoly or a finger over Irish snap!

3. FOOD!

There are some great foods that come out at this time of year. Lots of amazing veggies come into season, the roast dinners are in full force and it’s the perfect time to bake some sweet treats and eat all the cheese and all the pies (you see why we need such big jumpers).

4. TEAS

Obviously, you can drink tea at any time of year, this is Britain after all. However, I feel like, at least for me, teas really come into their own at this time of year. Aside from the traditional builder’s tea, I love a mint tea or anything with ginger in – it really helps to add to that cosy feeling and is super warming inside.

5. SPORT

I love a winter sport (I play hockey), as it’s a great way to get out of the house, make friends and keep warm – you may get soaked through by the rain occasionally but you’ll have fun doing it, so it’s worth the hypothermia right?! Also if you’re lucky and pick the right sport you may well get free food at the end of it. If an outdoor sport in the middle of winter doesn’t float your boat then there are plenty of indoor sports you can try out either with friends or a club, such as badminton, table tennis, squash, basketball or an exercise class. What’s more is that sport is perfect for battling the winter blues, not only can it be social but also the endorphins released can help boost your mood.

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6. ENJOY THE OUTDOORS

Autumn (in my humble opinion) is one of the most beautiful times of the year. The colours are changing, there’s that crisp fresh smell in the air (unless you live where I do – surrounded by fields – then it’s mostly just manure), and if you’re into photography then autumn and winter offer up some great shots – even grey skies can have their charm.

7. CULTURE

If you’re looking to do something at a weekend, other than lay around wrapped in a blanket, then it’s always worth being a tourist in your hometown and visit some museums and galleries. Yes, you can do this at any time of year but the advantage at this time is that the summer crowds will be long gone – making for a more relaxed visit. Alternatively, if you’re not still full from all the pies and cakes you’ve already eaten you could check out that restaurant or cafe you’ve been meaning to for ages. Not only does this make you get out of the house and experience something new, or learn something new but you also get to be warm and toasty whilst you explore.

8. TREAT YO’SELF

When it’s really grim outside (or you’re just feeling extra cosy), bundle yourself onto the sofa with a mountain of blankets, pillows and the odd duvet. Stock up on snacks and tea galore and relax into your marshmallowy pit with a stack of DVDs or a Netflix binge and maybe a face pack if you’re feeling lavish. This is made all the better when you think about all the poor sods who are outside braving the rain.

9. BOOKS

Now, I couldn’t write this whole post without mentioning books in some way. This time of year is great for reading books, the long cosy nights in front of the fire, or the long trips you might be taking to visit friends or family (please don’t read and drive). If you’ve had a long list of books to read or you had ‘read more’ as one of your resolutions but you haven’t made too much of a dent yet then why not set yourself a challenge; write a list of books that you want to read by Christmas, or New Year (realistically) and take advantage of the opportunities to snuggle down. Or, whilst you’re cocooned in your duvet on the sofa – or in your bed- take out an old favourite and travel back to Hogwarts or Hobbiton.

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10. ENJOY THE FESTIVITIES

Autumn and Winter are full of some of the most festive times of year (Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas). Even if you’re not a big fan of some (or all) of these, you can still embrace the spirit in some way or another. I love Christmas (possibly to excess), and I love a good bonfire, but I’ve never really got Halloween. In the past, I have tried to actively avoid it and I’ve also tried to force myself into it – neither of which I have truly felt comfortable with, so now I’ve found my happy medium. I get a good pumpkin to carve (which is a great work out if you’re struggling to think of a sport you might like to do), I get a good selection of sweets and instead of dressing up in costume I dress up in my pyjamas and watch a Halloween-y film with pizza – always with pizza.

A FEW FILM SUGGESTIONS:

  • Beetlejuice
  • Nightmare Before Christmas (this is a perfect transitional film between Halloween and Christmas)
  • Hocus Pocus
  • Labyrinth (Bowie, not Pan’s)
  • Coraline

 

Words and images by Eleanor Manley for Anthem Online.

Welcome To The Sex Bus

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have a positive experience of sex education in school. Either from it lacking any real information or because it ignores key issues such as consent, and LGBT+ issues. This is largely due to sex education not being part of the national curriculum and schools being left to decide how much they want to teach, if anything at all. Sex is still a taboo subject and our desire to keep young ears and minds protected is harming young people as they enter into adult life unprepared.

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However, not all sex education has to be like this. It can be a positive and inclusive experience, as we have seen this week, which actually does what it says it’s going to do – I was very fortunate that this was my experience.

My sex education lessons started aged 9 and continued throughout my time in school until the age of 16, getting more in-depth as we got older. We covered a wide range of topics; from the usual how to put condoms on, to the signs of an unhealthy (and healthy) relationship. Whilst these lessons did largely take place in the classroom, I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking into physics to instead be greeted by a room full of penises – we also had some more unorthodox locations…welcome to the Sex Bus.

The Sex Bus is a bright purple double-decker bus adorned with condoms, various leaflets on STIs, pregnancy, birth control, and relationships. Alongside this are sat the professionals; school nurses, family planning experts, health visitors and district nurses. Together this was the Sex Bus, and it travelled around schools across Somerset. The aim of the Sex Bus was to engage pupils with sex education and as a result increase their knowledge of sexual health issues, raise the profile of health services in the local area so that young people would know where to turn should they ever need to, to enable young people to make more positive choices concerning their sexual health and to explore gender roles, myths and expectations in relationships. All of which I think are imperative to learn at a young age, and also why I think I found it so informative and engaging.

The Sex Bus was about teaching everyone good habits and behaviour, not about shaming people who do have sex at a young age, or at any other time in their life. As mentioned, there was also information available on, and people to discuss gender roles and myths with, such as whether women can orgasm/will orgasm like you see in the movies. I think education such as this is important because it helps to demystify sex and relationships for both men and women and also demonstrates that women can enjoy sex, and not just be a participant.

However, I’m not saying my sex education was perfect, I think it still had further to go. There should have and could have been more information on LGBT+ relationships – yes there were leaflets available and it was discussed, but it was more a passing comment rather than a real discussion. Additionally, the issue of consent; again whilst talked about and discussed it was never in-depth and the real bare bones facts were never laid out clearly (although we do now have the tea video). Overall though, it was largely a comprehensive and informative education and one I believe sets an example to other schools/counties with what they can do. It shows that it is possible, and all without scarring children for life.

Words: Eleanor Manley
Image/Videos: 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons, BBC Two/Miranda, Paramount Pictures/Mean Girls.

UT-WHY?

Thanks to people like Caitlin Moran, I knew about cystitis long before it turned up to put a dampener (as it were) on my day. She talked about it in public, in columns in The Times. There’s a lengthy passage in How To Build a Girl where the character Johanna locks herself in the bathroom, sits in a hot bath for two days and demands cranberry juice. If it wasn’t for old Caitlin, a whole generation of girls wouldn’t know why, sometimes, it appeared that their urethra was on fire.

For those who might still be unaware, A urinary tract infection (or UTI) is basically an infection in any part of your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra and kidneys.

They began to plague me and my life about a year ago. I once moved the entire set for a play whilst feeling like I needed to piss every other minute and I consider it my greatest achievement.

“Well are you weeing after sex?” a friend asked me when I went to meet her on the way to uni, moaning about my urinary tract once more.

“In a way, every wee is a wee after sex now.” I answered.

“You get UTI’s if you don’t wee after sex.”

You… you what? You get them if you don’t… but then…

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS! WHY HAVE I BEEN DOWNING GALLONS OF WATER AND CRYING ON THE TOILET WHEN THE CURE WAS THIS SIMPLE?!

I looked on the NHS website. It’s true. Pee as soon as possible after sex (and also wear loose cotton underwear but that’s for another article about how women’s clothes aren’t really built for women). I’m not a complete idiot. I went to the doctors. I did a urine sample, but then wasn’t really sure of the protocol so had to sit in the waiting room holding a warm cup of my own piss for an uncomfortable amount of time. She gave me antibiotics, I took them, few weeks later, I was UTI-ed up once more. I assumed this would be my life now.

I was never taught about this at school; like I said I gleaned what I could from Caitlin Moran, but not every 15 year old is reading The Times on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t want to exaggerate here but learning that I should wee after sex if I don’t want to piss fire for the next three days was one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt so WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO LEARN IT? My sex education focused so much on me not getting pregnant, and the intricacies of every STI under the sun that keeping my vagina healthy and unhappy went rather neglected. You’d think the sex ed teacher, faced with 27 teenage girls, on the cusp of their sexual adventures and ready to face the world vagina first, might have thought to mention it.

“Pee after sex so you don’t get a UTI.” It takes 2.5 seconds to say. I just checked.

Ways to not get a UTI:

  • WEE AFTER SEX
  • It’s bad to use perfumed bubble bath or soap on your lovely lady garden (your vag has a delicate pH balance)
  • Nylon pants aren’t good
  • If you need to wee, don’t hold it in, FREE THE WEE

 

Words: Sian Brett
For September Sex Education Week 2018 on Anthem

How Can We Be Better Allies To The LGBTQ+ Community?

As a straight, white feminist, it can be really easy to just focus on your own problems and disadvantages, but it’s common knowledge that we can’t all move forward when half of us are being held back. Equality can’t ever be achieved if we don’t work together to boost everyone up so we ought to start closing that gap. 

As it’s Pride month in the UK, I wanted to focus on some of the injustices faced by women within the LGBTQ+ community. Someone I know pointed out just how frustrating gay clubs can be, especially when taken over by straight women trying to escape the sometimes literal clutches of straight men in straight clubs. When it’s pointed out, you realise how unhelpful you’re being in what should be a safe place for a community you’re not a part of. It was also pointed out to me that even gay clubs weren’t particularly welcoming to lesbians or bi women. It was pretty disconcerting to hear that they can’t even enjoy clubs intended for their use and it got me thinking. I decided I would try to learn a little more.

I reached out to friends and to colleagues,one of whom actually teased me, knowingly asking why I had chosen to question her instead of others I worked with. I wanted to know how a straight person could make a good – or just a better – ally. We need to band together properly, so I asked for the community’s opinions and tips, and here’s what I got back…

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LILY ANN PROCELLA 

“A  couple of simple things are calling out homophobia/transphobia if you see it. Often it is left up to the victims to call this behaviour out which is not a position everyone can accept for a whole host of reasons. Solidarity feels good because (from my experience) when you are lgbt/closeted etc it is incredibly isolating and there aren’t too many examples of people standing up to this discrimination in popular culture, straight or otherwise so it feels like you against the world. If your workplace or colleagues don’t respect other people’s identities or insufficient training is provided try suggesting training is provided. If someone tells you their pronoun, refer to them with that pronoun and treat them with respect. It can feel uncomfortable at first but it is way better to suffer slight discomfort than to invalidate someone else’s whole identity.

Others are; donating to or volunteering at local homeless shelters as not everyone is accepted by their family and there are a lot of homeless lgbtq+ people in the UK at the moment and not too many specialised services. Donating time or money to organisations or even just sharing news articles and petitions that are related to the community would be awesome. Try to respect that there may be lgbtq+ spaces where it is purely for the community not allies. These spaces can be vital in giving people who suffer discrimination and misunderstanding on a daily basis some much needed breathing room, in a similar way to how we have women/nb only spaces it comes down to celebrating yourself and connecting with others in a safe space. It’s not personal, and getting offended thinking you are being excluded can be very invalidating to people within the community. Also taking some time to research art, film, books by lgbtq artists and supporting them is a rewarding way to be an ally. I think a lot of lgbtq+ people feel like straight allies get involved for the big events like pride and that’s great but we need support in the small scale everyday stuff too so try to be a year-round ally not just a seasonal one. Pick just one thing you’re going to try to do for the next year/month etc that will help the community and try to do it”


LARA SCOTT

“My only note in terms of being an ally would be not to ask about labels straight away. Especially if your friend is having a new experience. I sometimes think the worst question to ask a queer person is: so what are you? It put a lot of pressure on that person. I think the best way to be an ally is just to listen to your friends story & their experience.”

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REBECCA [surname removed for anonymity]

“Education of what LGBTQA+ is and all the differences etc. It’s still not massively talked about in secondary school, and why is labelling so important. Respect each other as fellow humans and not see differences. Most of the shit I have is from people from a different generation that don’t see it’s okay to be gay.”

AMBER BERRY

“One huge thing I want to emphasise is for people to be inclusive of bi* and pan* people. Despite us being a huge part of why pride even came about in the first place, and despite us being a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ population, so often we are missed out of conversations. This includes things like not assuming that two people who are together and masc presenting or femme presenting are always gay.

Another thing I’d say is that straight and cis folks should do their reading. Educating yourself is a great way to become a better ally. Sometimes I’m more than willing to help folks understand the bi/queer experience but other times I don’t want to because it’s exhausting and because I struggle with mental illness. Straight people can’t always rely on LGBT folks to educate them. A really good way of integrating LGBTQ+ content into your life could be watching YouTube creators, podcasters and by following/supporting people on Instagram. Not necessarily just reading books or articles!

Lastly to be aware that there are people who are LGBTQ+ and also POC or disabled or other far more marginalised identities than the average white gay man, and their voices should be amplified and supported.”

I am hugely grateful to all of the women who were kind enough to explain things to me and to share their own experiences and advice. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have to. To everyone in the UK enjoying pride, don’t forget to take note of the above advice, and to support the community all year round, through times of struggles as well as in celebration. Happy Pride everyone.

Words by Briony Brake with interviews from Lily Ann Procella, Lara Scott, Rebecca and Amber Berry for Anthem Online.
Images from Briony Brake and Lara Scott.

 

Likeability: An experiment into being more “popular”

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I have always been interested in Psychology, investigating why we do what we do and what influences our behaviour and thoughts. One of the most recent books I read because of this was Popular by Mitch Prinstein. It was an eye-opening analysis of popularity and how our early childhood and adolescent experiences with ‘popularity’ can have power over how we act today.

I use ‘popularity’ with inverted commas because the first thing I was surprised to learn was that there are actually two types of popularity that can be discerned from research. One is status based, and one is based on likability. A very brief overview is that whilst the popular crowd at school who we all longed to be in with had very high status, they were usually not very likeable. And whilst many of us become obsessed with striving for status, especially in the age of social media, it can be more rewarding to improve how likeable we are. This will not only affect how others perceive us but also how we feel about ourselves.

As a kid at school, I always felt as though I was on the sidelines, and from reading Popular it’s clear from my point of view that I would have fitted into the ‘Neglected’ social category. This means that I’m a textbook introvert, and as a teenager and for most of my adult life, I’ve dealt with social anxiety, so reading this book was extremely interesting when it came to describing ways we can change how we’re perceived by others and also how we think about ourselves.

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One of the book’s anecdotes I particularly appreciated involved the author having telephone conversations with various members of call centre staff to try and fix his internet. He informally conducted an experiment, deliberately making an effort to be polite and warm and interested to some call operators, whilst being curter with others. He then tested out being more positive in his day-to-day life. I was impressed by how different the author said he felt after making such changes and wanted to try it out for myself.

For the first few days, I did not make any deliberate changes to the way I behaved or acted. I did, however, jot down notes on who I had conversations with, and how often. After a few days, I started to change how I acted. Here are the small changes I made an effort to consciously adapt over the next week:

  • Be polite/positive in interactions with people. Whether it be family and friends, or someone over the phone, or a complete stranger who moves to let you past on the pavement.
  • Be interested in what the other person is saying.
  • Smile more.

To start, these simple things were the only 3 items I included. They sound basic and obvious (because they are) but they are things that sometimes slip or I don’t always pay attention to. Practising these three ways of approaching interactions with others, and life in general, had some interesting results…and a few situations stood out.

The first instance I recall was at a job interview. I’m not someone who naturally smiles a lot, and I have a severe case of ‘Resting Bitch Face’: not a great thing for a prospective employer to see. “Right,” I thought, as I went to introduce myself, “start smiling.” As the saying goes, smiles are contagious, and I definitely felt more at ease as the receptionist returned my smile. I paid attention to each interaction, even tiny stuff like being offered a drink. And not in the way of being obsessive or over analytical, just paying attention to how I conducted myself. It was very surprising how being attentive made me feel more present and actually took away some of my nerves, because I wasn’t allowing myself to overthink about where I was, and was instead focusing on who I was with.

I was surprised overall at the effect that these changes had in making me feel more grounded and present, and building up little likeable acts created a bigger picture that boosted my self-esteem.

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Before starting this, I was initiating 1 or 2 conversations a day, i.e. with a shop assistant, or other mandatory transactions when out and about (this is excluding conversations with people at home). Including these, the conversations themselves tended to be short. By the time I’d finished the next week, I made deliberate changes to the way I interacted – I was averaging about 6 conversations a day, including one I struck up with a randomer who sat on the same bench as me (which I would never have done in a million years).

As the number of conversations I participated in increased, I found that consciously being more aware of the way I interact lead to a number of discoveries:

  • Very quickly I was beginning to see interactions with others as opportunities rather than as chores. To start with I initiated conversations to observe what happened, but in the end, I just enjoyed having a chat and was more willing to learn about people I chatted to. Like the guy who runs our local convenience store or people I see walking their dogs in the morning. (The perks of living in a little town where it is customary to say ‘morning’ every five seconds came in handy here.)

  • I was less analytical of myself. If a social interaction got ‘fluffed up’ i.e. I got flustered and said something that didn’t come out right (which I do a lot), I made an effort to not be as hard on myself and laugh it off.
  • I found the more I try to maintain these ideals the more they become second nature. Instead of setting time aside to be conscious of these likeable factors, they started crossing over into work too. I found it less of a challenge to speak in meetings and was less nervous to ask questions and make suggestions. I was less hung up on being right and more concerned with attending to what was happening and being involved.
  • Making an effort to be more interested in what another person was telling me ended up in me being more interested in others generally. Asking questions, being present and discussing details with other people; whether it be chatting about family, work or some other topic like the latest Avengers movie ended up in providing the chance to strengthen my interpersonal relationships both professional & personal.

The more I strived to put effort into my day-to-day interactions, the more positive I felt. The littlest instances of finding out details of someone’s day or taking the time to thank someone where perhaps I usually wouldn’t have felt good and made me less socially anxious when initiating conversations.

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I am not saying that we could all do this, all of the time; or even that we should do. Obviously, there are still days when I’m not in a great mood or don’t feel like talking to anyone when I’ve gone out to run errands. However, being more mindful of how I present myself and how I listen to other people has surprisingly made it less daunting to be sociable. Which is interesting as this isn’t what I was intending to use it for, and was rather approaching it as a way of learning how to come across well. What I enjoyed the most about doing this is that it taught me how to listen more effectively. Now I make a better effort to really listen to what someone is saying to me and be present when I talk to them.

I’m also not saying for a minute that I’ve turned into a completely different person. There were still a couple of days throughout this week where I was exhausted from socialising. There are still times where I get pissed off by something or someone and the last thing I want to do is be interested and present so instead shut myself in my room and watch Netflix. What it has done however is make me more open to interactions with others. I still get anxious chatting to people, but I’ve seen some positive changes.

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Who knows if my efforts during this time have really made me more likeable? I definitely feel better about myself as a result, and I’ve noted changes in my own behaviours. Of course, I could just be coming off as a complete stalker who has an unhealthy interest in other people(!) but I hope that’s not the case.

After this experience I hope to continue my effort not to improve how ‘likeable’ I am but rather, to improve how confident and content I feel within myself.

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If anyone wants to read more here is a bad quality pic of the book ft. my thumb.

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Nathaniel Russel/Mitch Prinstein/NY Times, Explorying Your Mind, Robert Rolih, Salt 10.65 and Lauren Barnard.