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To those who leave the house – in fact even those who don’t, thanks to the likes of Channel 4 – the following exchange won’t come as the shock that it really should.

The other day, on the bus, I overhead – impossible not to, they were shouting so proudly – a conversation a teenaged lad was having on the phone with his girlfriend, during which he repeated that well-worn loving phrase; “Do you want to get punched up? Six times, no less. Whilst he ejaculated such insults, his cronies – one of them female – cheered him on, giggling hysterically and gesticulating wildly with pleasure, like chimps.

Who’s worse? They boy? The girl who stays with him? Or the society that produced them both?

Such disrespect, such unhealthy relationships, are certainly not something new, but the increasingly aggressive ‘front’ that I see young boys and men displaying proudly today really is concerning to this girl. Unfortunately, I overhear such verbal abuse daily, working as I do in education, and the mindless, go-to phrases – of which ‘do you want to get punched’ up is comparatively friendly – often seem to me like a knee-jerk response to the angry culture that has sprung up in our entertainment industry. It’s like life has become one long rap video, in which we women really are ‘hos’. It’s madness – but, maddeningly, a reality.

Maybe I’m overreacting and this routine verbal assault is just another mode, in a long historical line, of exaggerated teenaged expression; for whom it is all or nothing. The thing is though, it’s not just words that are exuberantly exchanged in our classrooms and on our streets – what gets me are those slogan / graphic t shirts that seem to be a staple of every young man’s wardrobe now. You know the kind I mean. Half (or often, a lot more than half) naked women touching themselves, bending over etc etc. Basically, people are just going about in public with pornography on their chests. The majority of it is especially insulting, considering the woman tend to have their eyes blocked or are wearing sunglasses. It’s just breasts. Great message to send out – thanks. And it’s not even like we’re talking about discerning young men hunting this stuff out in specialist or joke shops either. The following images are taken from products on offer at River Island and Republic, for God’s sake. (Apologies for this onslaught – or you’re welcome, depending on what side of the sexism line you’re on.)

I think I’ve made my point. I mean really – would  you want your son to turn up to college displaying one of those dismissive, patronising messages? Would you want to be served in a shop by someone wearing an aggressive image of sexual objectification? It’s a really quite sinister form of sexism that is being unapologetically shoved in our faces under the apparently harmless guise of fashion.

Of course, at the end of the day this is no different a sexism to subtle inequality, still inherent, exhibited quietly by those more ‘civilised’ members of society dressed in suits and sitting at desks, rather than in their offensive t shirt on the bus.

I can’t decide what’s worse.

As feminism campaigns enjoy a media moment of sorts, and the battle for equality reaches more of us, it seems such a cruel and unnecessary affront that, at the same time, our high streets seem intent on pushing more and more of these angry and downright aggressive sexual messages onto our bodies. Our young men have become walking mouthpieces for outdated sexual stereotypes. Worse still, they are actually shelling out money to be ambassadors for this sexism. Are high street designers fuelling the desire for these messages by producing them ? Or are they sating a demand for them from our young people?

This problem was put into a new context last week when Dr Matt Taylor, of the Rosetta space project, caused a media furore by appearing on a video livestream of the European Space Agency’s mission to land on a comet sporting an inappropriate – and frankly, ugly – shirt. Covered in a bevy of half-naked buxom cartoon blondes, it looked like something from 1980s Blackpool. There was an immediate Twitter backlash, where the scientist was accused of being sexist. I mean, what was he thinking? Typically, Boris Johnson later waded in with an outdated opinion, claiming that ‘if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.’ Even more alarmingly, he went on to compare the attacks on Dr Taylor to ‘a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution’, where weeping individuals were forced to confess to their crimes against the people…

The thing is, Boris – and other fellow dinosaurs – you must have had your eyes closed, because there is a revolution happening. People are fed up. And if we are determined to tackle casual sexism, one shirt at a time. Women are always being judged on their looks, what they’re wearing. It’s hilarious to see the  defensive storm that rises after, God forbid, a man is brought to account for his appearance.

No wonder there aren’t enough women in science – it’s hardly surprising with such a culture of casual sexism – reading, as I did researching this post, about what Dr Taylor said when talking about the mission during his presentation, never mind the offensive shirt, is toe-curlingly cringey and blood-boilingly frustrating; “the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.

Ugh. Who’s at fault? Those who make these things, or those who choose to wear them? I can’t decide but, I implore you – give our young men a chance. Don’t buy them one of these t shirts as a festive gift. Their message could have an impact for life, not just for Christmas.

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What would be your Mastermind subject?

I was thinking about this in the shower the other day, as you do. And it occurred to me that I no longer have a subject that I can honestly say I specialise in.

The revelation made me genuinely sad. Have I let myself down?

mastermind_chairImage courtesy of bigissue.com

I don’t really specialise in anything any more – I just generalise, badly. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve managed to get through life so far. But over the last few days I’ve been asking myself the question – what exactly do I know?

It’s generally acknowledged that you’re supposed to know more things when you get older, right? But in reality while (some of us) become wiser, cold-hard-facts-knowledge is something we just end up forgetting. Life takes over and we stop practicing – getting on with daily life doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for knowledge pursuits. Not unless you’re doing it as part of your day job.

I’d say that my knowledge peaked at 22 and it’s all been drip dropping out like a leaky tap since.

Does part of us stop caring? I’d argue that most of us get to a point where we’re not trying to prove ourselves to the world anymore. You start to relax.

I was quite happy with this relaxing, until the other day in the shower. Now I’m worried – should I be learning more stuff?

You forget what it is like to learn. The confidence it brings. When I was at school, absorbing all that information was effortless. Natural. So much so that I took it for granted. But now as an adult, well – it’s a totally different, scary slog of a story.

Last week – before the shower – I was told that my punctuation is all over the place. At the age of 31 and owner of a Bachelor’s Degree in the English Language this bombshell was hugely shame inducing.

Handily, for some reason I’ve had the Penguin Guide to Punctuation in my bookcase for who knows how many years. So, I thought I’d spend ten minutes reading through that to refresh my ageing memory…

Eight days later, and I still have not grasped the functions on the comma. *At this point I will take the opportunity to apologise for the offensive and incorrect use of commas riddled throughout this blog post.

When the weekend arrived I was at my wits end. I thought I’d give my poor brain a break. Do some relaxing, something I am confident I am good at.

We walked into town. Loafed around the library. Got tired from all that hard work. Sat down in said library for a break. We looked up and realised the square outside was packed. Positively teeming with throngs of over-excited small children literally running, throwing themselves at whatever was going on.

I’ll tell you what was going on. Science.

The British Science Festival had come to town, and my word was it going down well.

Some children were blowing bubbles bigger than the London Eye.

Some children (and grown adults) were running barefoot through a bowl of custard – which held solid under the weight of those who ran quick enough.

But the biggest hitter – and most entertaining to watch – were the mini canisters which, when filled with two reactive elements, exploded.

The sheer glee on each child’s face as the canister propelled itself into the air as if by magic, and the rapt fascination as they were shown how this had happened was really was heart warming. And a little inspirational.

That thirst for knowledge is something I wish I had made more of an effort to hold on to.

But of course, it’s easy for kids. They have tons of time to dedicate to learning. They don’t have any worries about money, work or getting the washing done.

Perhaps the answer is to stop being so damn lazy. Just take up a hobby. REALLY take up a hobby. (Not just buying Kirstie Allsopp’s Craft book and leaving it there next to the TV.)

Because despite it being hard work – and I already have enough of that at actual work – learning new things really does make you feel better about yourself. Helps you feel as though you can go about the world with some confidence – even if you don’t want to take it over any more.

Being a specialist in something – no matter how trivial or obscure – is a small way of demonstrating to the world, and to yourself, that you’re still here. In a small, relaxed way.

So, I think after I’ve conquered commas I will release the inner child with me, and learn something. Perhaps I’ll start by taking out a science book from the library. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be the one showing small children how to walk over custard.

And if John Humphrys invites me over to the big leather chair, I’ll have the confidence to say yes.

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