Ideology – it’s there you just need to recognise it… Look again at your national press and starting from a position touted as ‘common sensical’ look for images and texts that promote a view that could be misleading. An ideal starting point would be the series of national polls carried out by Ipsos Mori in 2013-14 and discussed here – www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/oct/29/todays-key-fact-you-are-probably- wrong-about-almost-everything
There are a few of things worth noting with this exercise:
- Before attempting to identify misleading reporting or belief systems which are different to one’s own (which is what this exercise seems to be asking us to do) it would be helpful to question WHY groups have certain beliefs and what drives ideology.
- Current thoughts about ideology: belief systems are not based on a consciously held set of decisions made in reason, rather people experience the world differently, and these differences are what encourages individuals or groups to adopt certain ideologies.
- One might then ask, what leads a person to perceive the world one way or another?
- Another concept to remind oneself of is that ideology, worldviews, Weltanschauung are held in the very language we use, embedded in our psyches from birth onwards. So, of course, ideology is everywhere. And yes, peeling oneself apart from the language we have been indoctrinated with since birth is challenging, which makes recognising it very difficult. However, once we are able to do so, it is helpful to ask ourselves why those beliefs came about in the first place?
- If we believe societies tend to construct a set of common-sense ‘rules’ based on the needs of that society, we might consider the costs and benefits, and question how one outweighs the other?
- It is probably helpful to consider the changing nature of society, manifested most visibly via the use of social media – who gets to speak and why (and about what)? (Krauss, 1997) and (Hawkins, 1997) If we are genuinely reaching a new paradigm where anyone is potentially able to speak, then we must accept this comes with some costs as well as benefits. These costs might simply be the fact that EVERYONE has somewhere to voice their opinions nowadays (awful reports allege people have been attacking victims of the Las Vegas shooting online). In addition, the old guard will inevitably feel the need to defend itself, and the louder the cause against it, the louder their own case might be. We may not always like the response. Social media allows people to ‘debate’ without structure, thought or many rules. If social media is society’s collective stream of consciousness, it looks pretty unpalatable.
- Finally, it can be quite easy to assume a sense of smug self-satisfaction and superiority, believing ourselves to be arbiters of some moral high ground, but as indicated in this amusing column by Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian, we may ALL be fundamentally awful, so it’s probably best to always retain hint of humility as we inspect and deconstruct views different to our own.
In terms of working through ideas about self and other, I have suggested it might be more useful to explore the WHY behind points of view that differ from the ideology I most identify with, rather than simply identifying the WHAT. Who we are, what we believe, and how we function within a set of beliefs is borne out of experience, genetic as well as lived family history, and wider social modelling; what’s more, these systems are not fixed, and just as our inner selves tend to be, in a constant state of flux. The self is seen in modern philosophical and scientific terms as a process (emerging since Hume’s work about reason vs emotion (1711-1766)), as opposed to a stable kernel that exists within each of us. So too is the ebb and flow of ideological trend. And as individuals we find ourselves being drawn in or swept along with what is termed ‘group-think’.
Alex Bertie’s images used in The Daily Mail
Earlier this week the Daily Mail, (which is an easy target, I know!) published an article with the emotive headline, “NHS pressured our kids to change sex“. The article purports to be telling us about parents who are worried about current trends in psychotherapy, which according to The Mail, favours believing young people when they express doubts about their gender. And allowing them to opt for immediate change, sometimes even overriding their parents’ views, or perhaps what the Mail suggest would be a more ‘common sense’ approach, i.e to wait and see. The writer of the article, Sanchez Manning, implies therapists are taking little notice of parents and allowing young people to start transitioning after an initial forty minute appointment. In fact, the words state children are being referred to identity clinics. A referral does not equal gender transition. (In my mind if a child contacts a doctor and asks for help with their identity, believing them and referring them as soon as possible seems sensible.) If it were true children were being pressured, the word used in the headline but no-where else, to transition, then that would, of course, be worrying. It may be that in rare cases therapists fail to do a significant amount of counselling before signing off such a momentous journey, but it seems a dubious claim. The issue is, no doubt, far more complex than the article suggests. Instead, it reads as an hysterical, fear mongering litany against gender change itself rather than a report about the process happening too quickly or without enough consideration, but seems (in reluctant fairness) to express a fear that represents the views of a significant section of society; a fear that says all we have always known is changing and changing too fast. Emotive words such as ‘railroaded’, ‘overzealous’, ‘alarming stories’, ‘brainwashed’, or phrases such as “parents are ‘terrified’ to speak out” or else terms such as ‘family therapist’ in speech marks indicating sarcasm are used to heighten the impact and render the story sensational and shocking.
What is also troubling, is the fact The Mail downloaded images of a well-known YouTube personality, Alex Bertie, who has received medication to increase his testosterone and is a positive role model for young people who may find his message comforting. He has used the images on his own social networking platforms to discuss how it felt trapped inside the wrong body and to show what happens when medication begins to take effect. The Mail used the images without permission to argue against his and many other’s people’s beliefs about who our children might be (which is itself another question worth exploring, see Alfie Kohn’s writing on allowing children to be their own person). The same images were in this instance used to argue for and against the same subject, albeit appropriated by one party.
Although I am sure there may well be some instances of ‘overzealous’ (Manning) therapy – there are after all overworked, stressed, under trained or simply downright incompetent people everywhere, in clinics and on newspaper staff – perhaps it’s worth asking why some sections of society find the prospect of gender dysphoria so ‘alarming’. We might consider parental goals. In Our Babies, Ourselves Meredith F Small discusses how parents are unconsciously driven to bring up a ‘certain kind of adult citizen’ (1999, 52). She goes on to explain that different cultures bring up their children in various ways, and cites studies which recorded collective parental goals. Americans, for instance, wish to instill self-esteem in their children – something, she tells us, which is not easily translated into other languages because it is not “part of the cultural milieu – it is of import only in a competitive self-achieving society.” (53) She compares the Dutch who value regularity, rest and cleanliness over self-esteem, or the Kipsigis who “load their toddlers with chores” since being able to support the family’s economic activity is crucial for survival. (54) Parental goals, Small goes on to say, are “insidiously unconscious reinforcers that make us who we are ….and ultimately in parent’s minds make or break the child’s future success as adults” since they are driven at their very core by the economic needs of societies. (35) In which case, how does a parent cope when their own underlying belief systems and unconscious ambitions and aspirations for their children are challenged in this way? It is difficult to talk about collective parenting goals for English children without data and facts, but it might be safe under such circumstances to believe that standing out from the crowd by redefining how they fit into our culture is likely to be seen as a threat to their children’s emotional wellbeing and therefore their future prospects.
The Daily Mail could certainly have explored this interesting subject with more tact and less shock factor; about how parents today are dealing with witnessing their children grapple with their identities, and perhaps looked at the reasons it could seem like more and more young people are questioning gender. The writer might have explored the changing way families function, the historical trend away from fixed, rigid cultural structures, and why they existed in the first place, and why some structures from the past may no longer seem quite as necessary moving forward. He may have looked at the sort of citizen our society will benefit from in the future, where different challenges to the ones our grandparents and parents were faced with will exist. Instead, he framed the article so that is was accusatory and fear mongering. Rather than interview worried parents as well as children with empathy and sensitivity directly, he reported gossip and hearsay as if it were fact. Instead of talking to the person whose images he stole, or even read his book, he simply (or rather the sub-editor) used the images to raise the spectre of disappearing children into an internet of groomed others.
I should note I have not read Bertie’s book and this exercise is not a critical review of his writing. However, his book, Transmission, has the following blurb on Amazon:
I guess we should start at the beginning. I was born on 2 November 1995. The doctors in the hospital took one look at my genitals and slapped an F on my birth certificate. ‘F’ for female, not fail – though that would actually have been kind of appropriate given present circumstances.
When I was 15, I realised I was a transgender man. That makes it sound like I suddenly had some kind of lightbulb moment. In reality, coming to grips with my identity has taken a long time.
Over the last six years, I’ve come out to my family and friends, changed my name, battled the healthcare system, started taking male hormones and have had surgery on my chest. My quest to a beard is almost complete. This is my story.
An article on Pink, a very different news platform to the Mail’s, posted this article in response.
The Daily Mail is well-known for publishing articles which they must later retract, for framing them within fear-mongering rhetoric, for blatantly pursuing an agenda of intolerance and distrust of the other. The UK tabloids are known to operate within a culture of sensationalism since it invariably means higher sales numbers. (Actually, The Telegraph, a broadsheet, published a whopper of a stupid headline last week when it suggested students at Oxford were trying to ban all white authors, and they positioned a photograph of a black woman underneath the headline insinuating it was all her fault – they later had to retract, although did so with far less fanfare than the original front page spread communicated.) We might say the motivation driving this originates in the need to secure large profits. One could also argue that the tabloids are all, to a greater or lesser extent, guilty of victim blaming, for instance, when writing about women killed in domestic violence. A study which looked at The Sun, published last year stated, “The most commonly identified theme derived from our newspaper research was how The Sun appears to hold women responsible for their own abuse. Replete with descriptions of men who have killed their partners as “spurned lover”, “jilted lover” and “jealousy-crazed”, The Sun seems to be insinuating that the woman is culpable, partially at least, for her victimisation.” (Lloyd & Ramon, 2016) For the purpose of this exercise, it is useful to ask how this equates to ideology.
The way sexual manipulators and abusive men are discussed currently in the news
Living with the Dominator (2008) is a useful and well-crafted book which identifies a range of behaviour-patterns recognisable in men who are abusive towards their partners, as well as ending with some more positive archetypes. The book was written by Pat Craven who devised a programme to address domestic abuse while working in the prison system. At the end of each chapter, which outlines an abusive trait in detail in the form of an archetype, Craven points to how beliefs held by abusive men are formed and reinforced by the society in which he lives. For instance, the Bully might watch other men behave in a certain way in sport and receive attention for doing so, or that his beliefs may be reflected in language. Craven offers the example of ‘a rule of thumb’ which she tells us comes “from a time when it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife with a stick as long it was no thicker than his thumb”. (20) Or the Badfather whose beliefs are upheld by generations of “political and media propaganda, which stigmatises lone parents, who are usually women.” (30) Conversely, in other cultures, it may be accepted that women and children are better off away from bad fathers, unlike in the UK, where the political and structural message is that it is always best to stay together. Another example is the Headworker who believes women are less valuable than men and again this is reinforced in jokes about women, in everyday sexism which people don’t even notice. “The Headworker’s view is that we lack competence and ability”. (50) She adds terms such as “Blair’s Babes”, (one that irritates me is ‘the girls’ when referring to adult women), and mentions some which refer to women as meat, i.e. “mutton dressed as lamb”, “done up like a dog’s dinner” “meat markets” or even “beef curtains” (51) to further show how women are valued or not as the case may be, and how it is reflected in our language. Craven lists 9 archetypes and of course there will be some crossover so that several traits might be found in one abusive person. The book seems ahead of its time, addressing the subject in highly accessible prose, and exceedingly relevant when we consider today’s frequent news stories about powerful men who use their position to dominate and manipulate those around them. (I am well aware there are women in our society too who are badly behaved but here I am addressing ideology and asking what underlies and promotes the trend in society that engenders the following statistics?
In Britain 112 women a year are killed by a male partner or former partner. (Home Office 2007)
In Britain 22 men a year are killed by a female partner or former partner. (Home Office 2007)
Even now I would suggest that few people are really asking questions about what is it about our society that leads someone like Harvey Weinstein to behave in such an extraordinarily strange and bizarre way. One only needs to listen briefly to the recorded tape of him pleading with a female actor to accompany him to the bathroom to fully comprehend just how utterly pathological his behaviour is. He sounds like a grotesque, tyrannical toddler because I would hazard a semi-educated guess, that is where his horrifically inflated but also eviscerated ego has been arrested. And although he is a particularly powerful example, so all the more dangerous, there are far too many men who appear to be trapped in a kind of deeply stunted ego paradigm which allows them to have this desperately troubling relationship with women. To talk of ‘evil’ is lazy and unhelpful. Our culture engenders the behaviour, encourages women to collude or at best simply put up with it, and propagates it through media and structural realities. The symptoms are currently being discussed but the causes have barely been touched upon.
What is that makes women feel as much as a product as the array of cosmetics she must buy to make herself look female? What is that drives some men to see women as products, things to be owned or shaped according to their needs? As a student, I feel like there is much more to read and understand, but I am certain it relates to the way in which everything about our lives is monetized. Or how we exist in a reality where we are expected to ‘market’ ourselves to each other or even to ourselves. Or how we can only see ourselves in terms of something to be advertised, for instance how so many of us use social media to create a marketable concept – which is who we are, or who we want the buyers to think we are.
Nevertheless, at the moment the hegemonic worldview, the one which has governed our existence for some time, is being challenged across a variety of areas from women’s continued lack of status in society to the choices we make about self-identity. Langauge itself is changing, and people are finding platforms as well as their voice to speak about issues that were hitherto ignored by the mainstream. As this happens, a complex system of ideological weights and pulleys can be seen swinging into action. Once opinions sway too far from the perceived position of ‘common sense’ for a society to process, an opposite view seems to comes into play, perhaps in an attempt to bring it back to a more comfortable place for the majority. I do not underestimate the potential danger inherent in this, and although believe in doing ones’ utmost to try to see another’s position, am also in favour of being intolerant of intolerance. Even so, this may not automatically always mean one or the other is ‘right’ but rather we might view the process as related to collective social identity trying to grapple with itself and the evolutionary changes it must address in order to evolve.
Something we are becoming more certain of relying on, however, is our brain’s inability to see someone else’s point of view. Or rather its tendency to become entrenched with the view that supports its own outlook. As discussed in an article following the final presidential debates in 2016, we humans are not good at agreeing with others who hold opposing views. “The human brain is constantly filtering the world in a manner that reinforces the goals and values of our favorite group—whether that involves political affiliations, national identities or our hometown baseball team.” And that it’s really important for us to remember to question our own preconceptions. “When you identify with a group—whether that’s a political party, sports team, or nation—it changes how you interpret the world. We see what we want to see. But this can be a huge problem in a democracy, because people are walking around with different version of reality in their own heads….…Building [
these] checks into your thinking will help you remained tethered to reality while your political opponents luxuriate in fantasy—or retreat to conspiracy.” (Van Bavel, 2016)
References in order of appearance accessed 1 November 2017
Small, M. (1999). Our babies, ourselves. New York: Anchor Books.
Craven, P. (2008). Living with the dominator. Kinighton: Freedom Programme.