Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Equality. Uch.

 My first A Level exam of this season is in less than 3 weeks, so now seems the perfect time to procrastinate and write this piece.

A few months ago, I finally came to terms with something about myself. I guess it’s something I've always known about myself, and much as I've tried to deny it, I could no longer live a lie. And now I feel it’s time to share that part of me with the internet.
 I am a feminist.

 My journey into feminism and how I came to identify with it overall probably began when I started to really think about what it meant to be a feminist. I remember another guy in the changing rooms after PE saying to me that “feminism is sexism”, and that’s a misconception that I find understandable, but even before I identified as a feminist I knew that wasn't true.
 If you’d asked me a year ago if I was a feminist, my response would be something along the lines of “I believe in equal rights and general equality between men and women, but I don’t consider myself a feminist, no.” The first part of that sentence remains true; I still for some reason rather like the idea that a person’s rights should not be defined by what’s between their legs. But it was only this year that I realised that that makes me a feminist, whether I like it or not.

 I owe some of my self-discovery to the JFS FemSoc, which I found that I agreed with a lot more than I wanted to when I heard it was to be set up. A lot of what I heard in those meetings, such as about the continued problem that is sexual assault and domestic violence, rung very true with me.
 But with regards to actually being a feminist, I owe that entirely to my mother. I am a massive mummy’s boy, and proud, and when I was growing up my mum stayed at home with me and my older sister, something I am eternally grateful for because I owe any academic success I’ve ever had to the work she put into me when I was younger. Having a mum like mine was always going to intrinsically make me have more respect for women, but she also raised me to have respect for everyone around me, regardless of race, class, religion or gender. It sounds a bit left wing at times, but I still totally believe in those values; that you should always have respect for your fellow human beings.

 I suppose there are two events I can now look at which confirm my conversion to the feminist movement.
 The first came a couple of months ago on a bus, when I heard the most unpleasant conversation I've ever had the misfortune of hearing. A group of 14 or 15 year old guys were talking about their adventures with the opposite sex, and it was the most dehumanising way anyone could talk about other people. All guys have had conversations where they've talked largely about girls’ looks, and it’s not always politically correct, but this was beyond objectification of the girls they were talking about; they started talking about actual human beings as if they were animals. I can’t even remember any quotes that I can repeat without feeling ill at the way human beings were described.
 I have to admit, I never thought I’d interrupt the conversation of a group of people I didn't know to have a go at them, but these were students of the same school as me, and this conversation was shameful. When I informed them of how disgraceful I found their chauvinistic misogynistic conversation, they didn't seem to care, which I can’t say was surprising, but then something else concerned me. One of the guys asked, upon me telling them not to talk about girls like that, if I was gay. Now I accept, I'm a bit camp at times (start any song from Les Mis or Wicked or Chicago and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be able to finish it), but that wasn't why he asked; he asked if I was gay because he found it so unbelievable that a straight guy could feel so strongly about the need to respect women. That really concerned me, because it seems that these guys’ perception of what it is to ‘be a man’ or to even be heterosexual is to dehumanise girls and talk about them in the manner they were, and that’s the truly worrying thing.

 My second defining moment came earlier today. For around 7 years now, my mum has been running her own children’s arts and crafts events company, which I often help out with, and we do various events such as birthday parties and holiday workshops. Today was one of our workshops, and as usual we started with the art stuff. The first piece the kids did was colouring in a flower. A 6 year old boy looked at me as I gave him his flower, and told me he didn't want to do it because it was ‘girly’. Not because he didn't like flowers, or because he didn't like colouring in, but because at 6 years old he already had this idea that boys shouldn't like certain things simply because they’re boys, and that certain things were reserved exclusively for girls.
 It made me think about another key part of the format of any birthday party or holiday workshop; the pass the parcel. We have this box thing that plays music itself and can be controlled by a remote control usually in my pocket, and inside there are plastic eggs of various colours which hold the prizes, pretty much all of which are toys, within them. For the entire time I've worked with mum’s company, we've opened the pass the parcel session with a monologue explaining how the game works with our box, and more critically, what the colour of the eggs mean; “blue and green are boys’ toys, pink, purple and red are for girls, and orange and yellow are for both” I've told the children present tens if not hundreds of times. It was only today that I realised the damage this did; firstly, we perpetuated the idea that blue and green are ‘boyish’ colours whilst pink, purple and red are ‘girly’, and even worse, we effectively told the kids that the kind of toys they should like were determined by their sex. Of course, boys were allowed to pick pink eggs, just as girls could pick blue if they so wished, but in the few times I have seen a boy pick an egg we’d labelled as ‘for girls’, it was always met with a chorus of “no that’s a girl’s toy!” from the other kids, and to my recollection I only remember one boy picking a girl’s egg and sticking with it in the face of the outcry. Unintentionally, these kids were only furthering the ingrained idea of gender stereotypes, and making it harder for the boys who like bracelets or the girls who like Star Wars to get the toy they actually want.  (I do also think it’s worth mentioning that in my experience girls are more comfortable taking a ‘boyish’ toy than boys are taking a ‘girly’ one, and they face much less shock from the rest of the group if they do so).
 So I raised this issue with my mother, and as of today, we've revoked 7 years of precedent within the company, and from now on, egg colours reveal nothing about the gender that would be expected to enjoy their contents. We've always allowed the kids to change any toys they didn't like once everyone has got a toy (and yes we do always make sure that every child gets a toy) so this seemed the obvious solution if, say, a boy did end up with a ‘girly’ toy that he didn't want to keep. We tried this today, and both the kids who’d been before with the old system and the new kids who had their first workshop today had absolutely no problem with this. The overall result was, at least to me, somewhat interesting; I didn't see any girls with toys we’d previously subscribed to boys or vice versa, but there was a considerable increase in the number of kids who took home toys we’d normally have branded as being ‘for both’.
 Don’t get me wrong, I'm well aware we haven’t even come anywhere near to ending the gender expectations of the children’s toy preference, and I imagine it still might not be easy for a boy to keep a ring with a heart on it or a girl to take home a dragon toy, both because of the reactions of their peers and the reactions of their parents. I also do sincerely believe that girls are always going to be more likely to prefer the ring and boys are always going to be more likely to prefer the dragon, independent of any progression society makes, because there are some genetic links to gender stereotypes. But I feel pleased we at least aren’t furthering the expectations on these children for what colours and toys they like based purely on their genders.

 I had intended to also use this piece to talk about a lot of the problems I see with some modern feminists and the movement in general, and the manner in which I feel I went a long time without identifying with feminism because I've never really identified with many feminists, but I really should be working, so that’ll have to come another time.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

"Please, sir, can I have some more?"

 So a couple of days ago, the never-wrong-about-anything-even-if-facts-prove-otherwise shadow chancellor Ed Balls announced that, if a Labour government were to be elected at next year's general election (chas v'shalom), they would reintroduce the 50p top rate of tax. The one they brought in near the end shortly after they'd bitch-slapped the economy, prior to which it had been 40p, 5p lower than what the Tories have put it to now. Balls and Miliband love talking about the 'millionaire's tax cut' from Chancellor George Osborne, playing to the old stereotypes of the Tories being a party for the rich. This wouldn't bother me, were it not for the fact that the public is gladly consuming this bullshlachen. A recent YouGove Poll found that 61% of the public support the tax hike, with 40% supporting it regardless of whether or not it brings in more money.

Bringing in more money, however, is, in my opinion, the only respectable reason to support this nibble at the wealthy, even if I don’t agree. I could be boring and talk about Laffer, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll allow the (incorrect) assumption that tax avoidance never happens, and tax hikes don’t affect the efficiency and success with which people work, and therefore the total taxable income in a 50p world is the same as in a 45p world. Under these extremely basic and incorrect assumptions (although this doesn’t seem to stop lefties buying it), we’ll assume that in any one year, a 50p tax rate does indeed generate more than the 45p one. Now, let’s just remind ourselves who it is we’re taxing; it’s the employers and wealth creators. Yes, everyone’s favourite group, the 1%. Take more of their money, and two things are pretty much guaranteed; they’ll employ less people, and they’ll spend less money. Employment and spending, for those of you who’ve survived this long into this admittedly sluggish paragraph (the one later on is, sadly, even worse), are what grows an economy. Growth leads to more wealth, which leads to more taxable income. Higher taxes means slower growth meaning smaller rises in taxable income. So, within a year or two, the money left to tax in the 50p world is less than in the 45p world. And so, money raised from the highest rate of tax is higher in the latter, as you get a smaller slice of a bigger pie.
Even if it did generate higher revenues in the long term for the Labour government, would that be invested in materials for public services, like medicine or textbooks? Nope. What about infrastructure? Nah. Hey, maybe it’ll go towards helping the very poor? Doubt it. So where will it go? Maybe to the people who fund and control the Labour party; the ones who are solely responsible for appointing Ed Miliband Labour leader against the party’s wishes; the ones that are responsible for 75% of all Labour funding; the Nick Park of the political world; the people who’ve been responsible for me and thousands of other schoolchildren losing days of our education; the unions. Alright that was a bit theatrical, I know, but NYT audition this Sunday aside, the unions really do have more control over Ed and Eddy that most people realise. Increased revenue, in the hypothetical world where it did come for Labour, would not make anything better for the public.

Ok, so all that was a bit wearisome, but I wanted to get it out the way so I could ramble about the moral side. After all, what really angered me about the YouGove poll wasn’t actually the 61% support for the hike; it was the 40% support regardless of the money it brings in. A minority, yes, but one still far too big to go unnoticed and ignored.

 This support for the hike must, presumably, mean that these people feel it is the morally right thing to do. As the leader of the ‘burn the rich’ movement, arrogant lefty drone Owen Jones, tweeted, “If you're a millionaire moaning about a tax rise that will leave you a millionaire while the poorest suffer, you are a terrible human being.”They will all be left millionaires, of course, won’t they? Well, of course, no, they won’t.  The tax affects anyone earning £150,000 or over above the allowance, currently around £10,000 following the Tories’ decision to raise it to allow the poorest too keep more of their money (something Labour funnily enough aren’t so keen to remember) . The vast majority of these people are, unfortunately for Owen Jones and his fellow success haters, not millionaires. Indeed, given that the very rich millionaires are more likely to be able to avoid tax (something I’m not advocating), the main people this will hit are those earning between £160,000 and £500,000 a year. A lot of money, yes, but who, I hear you ask, are these people? The doctor who’s saving that old man’s life. The lawyer who’s just brought that murderer to justice.  These, of course, aren’t the only people the tax affects. They aren’t even the majority of people it affects (although the majority of doctors and lawyers do earn somewhere in this bracket, with more being above than below). I just like to remember, in a country where those who earn more are consistently demonised, that not everyone who pays the top rate of tax is evil. In fact, more than this, the overwhelming majority are honest, hard-working, tax-paying people. But Owen Jones and Labour would never tell you that.
 Beyond this, though, I have a much deeper problem with any tax hike, particularly to half of a person’s income. To me, that’s the government saying “Hey, so you know that money you just worked to get? Yeah, we’re basically responsible for half of it.” Sorry, (well, actually, I’m not) but that just doesn’t seem right. Lefties can drone on about fulfilment from your work and all that nonsense, and to an extent that isn’t completely wrong. But I believe, as basic animals, we work for rewards. Take away half those rewards, and we don’t work as well. I get the need for taxes and public services, but seriously, a hardworking person should, at the very least, hold a majority stake in their income.

 All of this being said, I highly doubt most the people who said they’d support the hike regardless of the outcome on revenue have thought about it as much as I have. To my mind, this whole discussion highlights an even bigger problem with our society (is that as douchey as I think it is?) that envelops us; an obsession with other people’s money. We all want to know how much our neighbour is earning, or how much or teachers are, or how much Philip Green is. I remember a couple of years ago the main headlines as I turned on BBC News was “Bank Boss earns £6 million a year”. My immediate reaction? ‘Good for him’. Nothing angers me more than the fact that there are people that deem someone else’s wages newsworthy. If the story had been avoidance being exposed, I’d understand it being reported. But it wasn’t. It was just a story telling the jealous world how much this man had earned. You can argue that it’s about him seeing wage increases while others grit their teeth and bear the austerity that is saving our economy, but that’s total and utter garbage. It made the news because we as a society have decided we care, far too much in my opinion, about everyone else’s money. The support for Labour’s tax hike is merely another symptom of this sickness, but for me, it’s time we stopped spending so much time peering over each other’s shoulders at the cash machine.

 I’ve been a Tory since I got interested in politics, and I plan to be one til I die (I’m not sure if political views carry on in the afterlife). This latest bit of economic illiteracy from Labour only reaffirms this.