Archive by Author | jeanniegrant

Crossing the line online

Have you ever sent or posted a picture of someone (possibly yourself) and then wished you could jump in a time machine and go back and tell your past self ‘nooooooo don’t do it’. What about someone hacking your account and finding those ‘awkward’ pictures then threatening to post them? Maybe you haven’t personally experienced either of these but I talk with lots of young people who have found the digital world can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to personal stuff.

I don’t think I have any pictures of me at parties as a teen. I don’t think I could have focussed the camera all that well while dancing. My youth is secretly stashed away in a photo album at my parents house, lucky me. But a lot of young people have very personal, intimate and what many older people might consider ‘private’ pictures shared online. Up until recently the law said very little about what made for offensive harmful communication online. We have finally caught up and there is a new Harmful Digital Communications Act that has been passed. I’ve also been chatting to the police a bit about what they reckon are some of the important ways young people can keep safe in the digital world. Here is what I think are the key points.

• Once you send an image of yourself to anyone or post it anywhere online regardless of your expectation of being private you lose control of that image – it can go ANYWHERE
• Your facebook profile pictures are easy to ‘take’ and use elsewhere
• If you send any picture of someone under 16 and they are naked, partially clothed – ‘sexualised’ it might be considered sharing child pornography – regardless of ‘consent’
• Taking pictures of someone in public while technically not a crime – if those pictures are used without someone’s consent it might be considered a harmful communication
• There are places you can’t film or take pictures because people might reasonably expect privacy (bedroom, bathroom, changing rooms)
• There are 10 points that make a digital communication harmful – it must not:
a. disclose sensitive personal facts
b. be threatening, intimidating, or menacing
c. be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the same position
d. be indecent or obscene
e. be used to harass
f. make a false allegation
g. contain things published in breach of confidence
h. incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone to purposely cause harm
i. incite or encourage someone to commit suicide
j. put someone down (denigrate) for their colour, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability

I think it’s great that people’s right to dignity, respect and mana are being considered when it comes to our online lives. But having laws probably wont stop all harm, just like having drink drive or speed laws doesn’t make the road safe. If you do get stuck or are not sure what to do, talk to someone at school or contact netsafe. They can guide you as to what to do. If you know someone is feeling stressed or worried about any of the above support them to get help coz we can all make mistakes right? I really like this website ‘share this instead’ as it gives some great ways to respond if someone is putting the pressure on to send nudes. Check it out.

I like the grandparent test myself – if you wouldn’t want your grandma/kuia or grandpa/koro to see or read it then do not post it!

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What’s the buzz?

When you watch someone die knowing they were addicted to socially acceptable legal substances like alcohol and tobacco there is a hollow sense of irony. The questions I am left with are more about how substances are seen as harmful or helpful.

We like to feel good, we seek excitement, we like things that give us experiences, sensations and states that are enjoyable – we are drawn to them naturally. Funny thing is if you look into it, all species are into altered states. I’m not kidding. Young dolphins have been known to seek out poisonous puffer fish, hold them in their mouths then release them in order to experience the effects of the toxins. There are numerous examples in nature of this phenomenon of ‘getting out of it’.

It’s interesting to look at the history of some substances and how they have been seen by cultures and societies depending on their perceived usefulness. From shemanic rituals to religious experiences, traditional herbal medicines to pharmaceutical medical applications, there are histories and knowledges that have allowed some to come through seen as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’.

You can do your own research about substances from all sorts of perspectives and evidence but the question remains about choice and control. I still struggle with the idea that we can watch people smoking and drinking, advertise alcohol, have it in movies and t.v. while those desperate to seek treatment for seizures with cannabis oil are denied access under our current law. It’s like our eyes are wide shut when it comes to rethinking drugs and alcohol.

But ultimately I think about my uncle who represented Wales in Trampolining in the 1960’s and how he was a thrill seeker. How he replaced one buzz for another but because they were socially acceptable and normalised few people probably expressed concern. I will finish with a question written by Carl Sagan 24 years ago about the war on drugs in America;

“is there something intrinsically immoral about feeling good by taking a molecule”

That question really does blow my mind.

Divergent: Romeo and Juliet meets Dystopia

I read somewhere that ‘movies are like the modern version of the campfire’ and I think what that means is they have become a way of telling stories about ourselves. Books do this of course but the visual aural spectacle of watching something on the big screen (and in 3D if you don’t get motion sick like me) is probably how a lot of people come across powerful themes like dystopia.

If you’re not familiar with the term, dystopia is the opposite of utopia or living in a ‘perfect world’. Typical features of dystopia are totalitarian governments with severe or extreme forms of control that are often dehumanising or degrading in some way, and sometimes include a version of environmental disaster (natural or unnatural). Dystopian themed literature exploded in the 1930’s and 40’s perhaps in response to world events at the time with some real classics emerging such as Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley and my all time favourite 1984 by George Orwell (written in 1949..clearly didn’t predict the true horror of 80’s fashion).

With The Hunger Games, Delirium and Divergent arriving to push dystopic themes into the ‘hearts’ (fluttering?) and minds of young people, it is probably important to look beyond the visuals of these productions to some of the important messages they potentially have.
I saw Divergent recently and putting aside the romantic under/overtones the messages around how societies might re-organise themselves after an apocalypse of some kind follows a familiar pattern. The first is the idea of social structures changing especially government and law. In Divergent society is organised into faction based on roles performed by people. Once you reach a certain age you are tested to see what faction your personal qualities best suit. You then get the choice to go with that or stay with your faction of birth. The risk is if you choose another faction you say goodbye to your family. The second idea is of revolution and where that comes from is resistance. In Divergent, if you are someone who’s skills, qualities and abilities fit multiple factions you get an ‘inconclusive’ result meaning you are divergent and this is a threat to the governing social structure. Divergents hide and do what they can to stay hidden as they are hunted down.

I liked the idea of some following their hearts rather than the test result, breaking free of family tradition. The idea of ‘fitting in’ versus belonging runs strongly through Divergent. It reminded me of schools in many ways and how quickly they test you to see where you fit. The factions in this case could be generalised stereotypes of ‘sporty’ ‘sciency, mathsy (geeky)’ ‘languagy’ ‘arty’ you get the idea. Gradually the lines between the factions appear to strengthen as the expectation to choose your future pathway draws nearer. Psychological tests are beginning to appear in schools as a tool to help young people ‘choose’ where they fit. Teachers and parents sit eagerly awaiting your decision, they know you, your potential but here you are secretly ‘divergent’ screaming on the inside ‘yes I’m good at sport but I love literature and chemistry, why do I have to choose?’ It isn’t an extreme leap to notice as well that families have certain hopes and expectations for where their children should belong. Walking away from that to follow what deep down you know is important to you can feel like being exiled or disowned.

We not only label people by looks we have drawn imaginary lines around knowledge and skills and forced young people to ‘fit’ and for me this resembles a socially acceptable form of dystopia. I like divergent ways of being and want to reassure any others hiding out there that you are not alone and your place is everywhere and anywhere.

Really the only difference between the topias is ‘dys-u’ how strange language is at times.

To PE or not to PE that is the question

I’m sure there are only two types of people in the world those who like PE and those who don’t. I think PE is the only class you can bring a note to be excused, so unfair. I mean what if you hate Maths or English or Science and tried rocking up with a ‘please excuse…from algebra today as the last quadratic equation caused a brain strain’. I find it interesting possibly because I used to teach Physical Education but these days I’m a curious about those who are assumed not to want to do PE or ‘can’t do it’ who really want to participate and be involved.

If your body functions in a unique way and your mode of transport is not via your legs, then we seem to think ‘can’t do normal PE’ or participate in sport. Of course ‘running’ might not be an option but there maybe ‘wheeling’ or some other form of motion could be possible.

I ride a bike every day, love skate boarding, unicycle and have always wanted a BMX (come on Santa!). If you’re doing something on wheels, I’m interested. Recently I stumbled upon Aaron ‘wheelz’ Fotheringham. Born with spina bifida Aaron wasn’t about to let being in a wheel chair slow him down. In fact to quote him ‘they’re just wheels stuck to my butt, how can that not be fun’. In fact to call it a chair isn’t quite right because I don’t consider what he does as any form of ‘sitting’.

It got me thinking about schools having more types of wheel based activities available because everything is more fun on wheels. So I am calling for wheelchairs to be renamed and claimed in the name of all those who are still avoiding PE – ‘sure you can sit down, but we are going to strap some wheels to your butt’.

Testing Times For Exams

There are some things you can avoid and some you can’t. If you are in year 11 or above in a New Zealand school it’s likely you’ve experienced exams of some form. In fact parents and older generations will happily give you a version of ‘in my day…’ followed by some seriously exaggerated tale of torture about tests or exams. As a ritual and right of passage they tend to mark the end of innocence with learning. It doesn’t really matter what system you are familiar with exams mean something else. Learning becomes serious business, connected to the future – a life beyond school apparently called ‘the real world’ once the big E makes it’s presence known. In my experience both personally and working both as a teacher and counsellor I’ve noticed a growing trend to define and attach large amounts of personal identity to success (or lack of success) with exam results.

Ok sure I understand that there are things like University Entrance, competition to get into courses and a desire to do well. But I see young people mapping their entire lives out in front of them based on one result. Doing your best doesn’t seem good enough anymore and that is a bit of a worry. I don’t think anyone is to blame but I do wonder at times about a culture of success that is born out of an idea that effort = result and that anyone can be the best creates some fairly unrealistic expectations at times. Exams don’t even really test intelligence in all it’s multiple elements and dimensions. It’s a task, a game that some learn to play really well and some get through while others find the rules just don’t work for them. Ironically if you do your homework you can find plenty of examples of people who have gone onto interesting careers and paths who didn’t do all that well at school.

Getting anxious before an exam is normal and stress does strange things to your ability to remember stuff. You are not your ability to recall. That is a fact that needs to be remembered at all times. Exams do not define you or make you a worthy person. Sure some doors might seem more available if you do well but your life has meaning beyond the criteria of rank scores. You are always Excellence simply by being a unique individual.

Finally I wonder whether exams will exist in 50 years or if they will look different and reflect a new understanding of knowledge, wisdom, individuality and collectiveness. One thing I am sure of, if they are still around once the final one is done it’s time to celebrate hard out.

To Vote or Not To Vote? – that is not the only question.

It’s an interesting thing ‘legal ages’. Society world wide is a bit inconsistent when it comes to young people and the ages of readiness to do things, but in general (at least from a New Zealand perspective) the idea is the law tries to offer protection and a lot of the time it works. We have some legal ages in NZ that are ‘loosely’ enforced such as the drinking age and age of consent for sex. By loose I mean it’s possible that some young people will enter into either of these activities before they reach the legal age or after – or even never at all. Voting is quite different. There is no sneaking around that one, its 18 through and through.

It got me wondering how those High School students of voting age this year make sense of the world of politics. It’s curious how bullying, back stabbing, name calling etc are frowned upon in schools yet seem to be almost essential qualities for politics, at least that’s how it appears to me. Figuring out which political party you might vote for is in many ways like dating. Political parties parade their policies to attract voters and if you are a first time voter they will be courting you ‘hard out’. But what about your parents? Do they have a preference of who you should be ‘with’? It’s a conundrum for many to the point where it might seem like an arranged marriage as though your party vote represents a form of faith, passed down generation to generation. It is a form of relationship and it can be hard to ‘come out’ as something other than what family or friends expect you to be. Dinner time conversations every three years could get incredibly tense at times I imagine in some households.

But it’s ok, because at the end of the day it’s just you behind the card board box wall and a pen. You and you alone cast that vote or not vote. Whatever you tell others will be a matter of politics, and we all know that what people say and do might not always be the same thing.

Labels – past their used by date?

When you go to the supermarket to buy stuff, you expect to read labels. I mean if you want shampoo it makes good sense to have shampoo bottles labelled so you don’t accidentally put toilet cleaner or dish washing liquid in your lovely locks.
There has been both a move toward creating more labels for people and resisting labels and trying to ‘unstick’ some that have become old, worn and perhaps not so helpful in understanding what is behind the packaging. In particular the language around sexual diversity has exploded, (I’ve already done something on ice-cream but this is slightly different). The supermarket equivalent could be breakfast cereal or chips. Back in the day there were only 3 flavours of chip – plain, chicken and salt n vinegar…don’t ask me how chicken got in there, still a mystery. Gender and sexuality for years were pretty simple packets. Two flavours of gender and two of sexuality – three if you were in a sophisticated supermarket, I mean environment. Someone who might best represent a label free upbringing is iO Tillett Wright. Functional diversity has followed a bit of the same journey with disabled and ‘normal’ being the limits of language in the past. I like more options to define ourselves but I’m not convinced that infinite labels are the way to go.
People are not consumer products, although maybe some might want to stick warning labels on at times. But whether we like it or not labels for people exist. Pretending we don’t notice people based on certain characteristics is sort of like saying all cats are the same…try bringing home a full grown tiger and pretend you got it from the SPCA! Anyway, my point is noticing difference is fine, it’s absolutely normal and natural to observe things that ‘stand out’. Our eyes or other senses are drawn to this so if we are in an environment where everything is the same then the slightest difference will stand out.
For example, if you are at a ‘single sex’ school, with all girls wearing skirts or boys wearing shorts then people might naturally start to notice alternative forms of diversity. Probably the most common thing we notice is ethnicity but what then? Well I suggest our ideas about what that could mean might start filtering assumptions, beliefs or ideas about whether this person is someone ‘like me’. Sometimes it might be hard to know but at some level we’ve probably already put some knowledge into motion to assess if this other human being could be someone I can relate to, communicate with, have a laugh with, feel safe with?
What I wonder about is the role of communication in all of this. If someone looks ‘foreign’ either because of their ethnicity OR because they function differently (e.g. in a wheelchair with a different kind of communication device) our first instinct is probably related to ‘how will we communicate?’ So I think enough of the labelling, or trying to label more things about people – I’m already confused but talk to me about bikes, lego, sport and science fiction and I don’t care what planet you are from you are one of my kind!

The Model A-Gender

When it comes to the modelling industry I sometimes think the stereotypes and connections with extreme weight loss, dieting and eating disorders probably outweighs my general appreciation for some of the contributions it is making to identity.

I’m definitely not someone who follows fashion – my friends can vouch for that as I own one pair of jeans and they were purchased in the 90’s…say no more. What I am interested in is how models are finding ways to blur gender or what is commonly called androgyny. Male models modelling as Female and vice versa and even modelling themselves as both! Our sense of what makes someone fit a particular gender is challenged and there might be a few certainties about what guides our visual references but overall androgyny has kind of emerged from the shadows to help us question what we think we know.

Two models stand out for me, Andrej/Andreja Pejic and Erica Linder blend masculine and feminine with their bodies and body language perhaps indicating the subtle ways gender is communicated. When I looked through photos I noticed the role hair had in shifting my perception. Facial expressions and poses struck me as interesting ways of representing gender. So what did you notice about the picture at the start of this? It is the same person (Erica Linder)

I think women passing for men generally slips under the cultural radar –  we don’t even have a special name for women who like to dress in men’s clothing, we aren’t called ‘cross dressers’ or trannies. But for guys to be more feminine or try to embrace aspects of femininity into their identity it is seen as a threat and something to be concerned about. Guys have to be seen in guys clothes and any remote ‘feminine’ touches are rejected outright – for some guys (not all) it’s like some form of contagion that could see them forever mistaken as female…as though that is the worst thing that could happen to them. So this is where I think we need to ask questions about gender – why is ‘feminine’ still such a scary concept?

Androgyny is a unique intersection to explore ‘genderdness’. The body becomes kind of a neutral zone of gender but parts of femaleness and maleness have to be ‘dialled down’ to create the effect, particularly body hair. It is hard to pass as female with a good crop of facial hair, no matter how well manicured. Lumps and bumps in particular places also require ‘flattening out’. In some ways some athletes and dancers bodies also morph into androgyny and this is probably to do a bit with body fat and why maybe it can be a bit of a mixed message around body image and acceptance. What we find attractive in someone is sometimes a bit mysterious but our anxiety about gender identity might be more to do with finding someone of the same gender attractive because that what androgyny invites us to consider.

And as for shopping for jeans? Well…maybe it is about time I braved the shopping mall. But you won’t catch me in skinny jeans any time soon.

Lego Movie – lessons on following instructions

I love Lego and am an unashamed adult who still plays with it. The movie is ‘awesome’ and I especially enjoyed the underlying messages I picked up about life and what things we pay attention to when it comes to deciding how we build structures and meaning into it. I’d like to share some of the learning and meaning I took from watching The Lego Movie and hope it makes sense to those who haven’t seen it.

Watching the world of Bricksburg through the eyes of Emmet, it wasn’t hard to recognise the idea that we all follow rules and instructions whether we are aware of them or not. Some of these seem necessary for the sake of preventing chaos but others perhaps encourage limited explorations of creativity and even shut down free thought.

We might not have instruction manuals lying around for everything from breathing to how to make friends, but I’d suggest there could be some strong ideas out there about how you should proceed in life to make it work well. Emmet was happy following the instructions and that is also true — people like structure, routine, certainty — to know how it will look at the end is comforting. I suppose I also notice a down side to this when something doesn’t quite fit or a bit of life falls off — there is worry and anxiety that it doesn’t ‘look right’.  Read More…

Ice Cream – everyone one loves it…right?

Once upon a time there was an ice cream shop. Now, everyone loves ice-cream (at least in this story) it is part of life from early childhood through all stages of life. So there were many shops selling ice-cream (IC) for obvious reasons.

However – there was only one flavour IC. But people didn’t mind because they were not aware there was any other possibility for flavour. The one flavour on offer was vanilla. Vanilla was delicious and while a lot of people enjoyed it – others were not so fussed but went along with agreeing it was delicious and indeed the best thing in the world.  Read More…