Up Front by Emma Hart

42

I Swear, It's True

There is a persistent myth among the kind of people I desperately try to avoid that swearing is a sign of low intelligence. Frequent swearing shows a lack of imagination and vocabulary.

Fuck that noise.

Research shows what people I would choose to hang out with have always known: swearing correlates with both vocabulary and intelligence. The more words you know, the more swears you know. Profanity plays on the edges of language, it colours outside the lines. The areas that allow for the most swearing allow for the most creative play with language. Being ‘allowed’ to swear is an indication of freedom: you’re not at work (mostly) or at school or in church. I understand that being around swearing makes some people feel genuinely uncomfortable. For others, it’s a sign of that very comfort, our ability to relax and be ourselves. We’re not swearing to be hard, or to try to impress people by how cool we are. No, honestly. This is us.

Yesterday, in the interests of science, I asked people to tell me their favourite swears. And boy was there creative language play all up the walls.

The words I got were all nouns or noun phrases. They weren’t things you might exclaim when accidentally clicking on an Internet Explorer icon or treading in a cat-present. They were things you’d call people, as insults.

To balance that, however, they weren’t all that transgressive or obscene. What many of them had in common was the combination of a sexual pejorative and something else completely unrelated. For instance:

Fuck-knuckle (this is my preferred spelling, but I will accept fuckknuckle and fucknuckle)

Douche-canoe

Fuck trumpet

Fuckspackle

Knobweasel

And my personal favourite, cockwomble.

The other thing these words share is that, like our old friend twatcock, they’re enormous fun to say. Go on, say cockwomble. Out loud. Now. Doesn’t it have absolutely delicious mouth-feel?

Cockwomble also has a lovely British feeling about it, which the best swearing does, a certain Tuckeresque appeal. British English just seems better at insulting people. Remember this?

 

(I had not realised that I actually stole “shit-gibbon”, though I think the addition of “feckless” improved it.)

And one, used for the same person but from a different source, which a couple of people mentioned:

Hoofwanking bunglecunt. Say it. Buy it. It’s amazing. Bungle didn’t even have hooves. The appeal is nothing to do with the semantics, it’s about the roll of those vowels, the chewiness of those consonants. The bite of the Naughty Words is softened by the silliness of their accompaniment, but also, their originality makes them much more insulting. Think about it for a moment. What would you rather be called, a cunt, or a cock-punching thunder cunt?

Okay, no, don’t, that doesn’t prove my point at all. Fuck.

And yeah, most of the time, we’re just going to come out with the old classics like ‘fuck’. I like to liven things up with a bit of tmesis, but even when I do that it’s normally “Jesus fucking Christ” possibly “on a bike” or “in a shit-hole”. But the glorious language that’s come out of my informal survey has brought home to me the main point in all this.

It’s not the swearing, it’s how we’re swearing. Front-bottoming arse-badger.

61

Dear Dudebros

I’ve written about consent a time or two (or eleven, as it turns out) here at Public Address. I’ve been thoughtful, constructive, and considered. I’ve done that. It’s done. Please bear that in mind, while I have a word with the dudebros.

Guys. Just how fucking stupid are you?

I don’t know how we got here, to this place where men can manage boardrooms and governments but not their own behaviour. You can run anything, you’re the natural leaders, except when it comes to ‘not harming the women around you’. Then, you’re a bunch of feckless shit-gibbons. If a woman doesn’t treat you like a natural hazard, if she doesn’t dress and behave like she lives in a fucking war zone, then somehow your behaviour is her responsibility.

There’s a word for males whose behaviour is a woman’s responsibility. That word is ‘boy’, and the woman is called ‘Mummy’.

A woman’s job is not consent to having sex with you. Clothes a woman put on before she ever met you are not consent to having sex with you. Being really keen to have sex with someone is not consent to having sex with you. A woman is not consenting if she isn’t constantly repeating the word ‘no’, despite what defence lawyers might tell you.

But here’s something you guys will apparently find a mind-buggering revelation. Women don’t have to give consent. No, stay with me here. They can initiate sex. Women can be the ones who ask for consent. If you find the prospect of pausing and saying “Yes?” and waiting for an answer too terrifying (and you’re too stupid to realise how hot that can be), maybe try waiting until she asks you. I hear being accused of rape can really blight your promising sporting career. I can’t imagine anything worse.

And what kind of a loser “has sex” with a woman whom they know “wasn’t that into it”? You couldn’t get a woman to want to have sex with you? How bad at the sexing do you have to be to not realise there’s something wrong if your partner isn’t moving, making any noise, or participating in any way? Is that what it’s normally like for you?

Loser. Here’s a tip: women are active participants in sex they want to have. It’s pretty great. You should try it.

Freezing up in shock is the most common reaction to be raped. Not fighting back, not screaming. She’s lying there not moving because her body and her mind are trying to protect her from the trauma of you. How sexy is that?

Correct. It’s not sexy at all. Loser.

I reckon the dude who does this is the same kind of dude who, when surrounded by about twenty other dudes and with a couple of drinks in him, is just about brave enough to assault a stripper. What a man. What a shit-gibbon.

But look, here’s why I think you’re stupid. I think you’re other things too, but let’s concentrate on this for now. Women have more sex when they feel safe. This goes so far that there’s a positive correlation between the percentage of women in a government, and the number of sexual partners women in that country have. You want to have casual sex on the regular? Your odds increase if you stop making women feel threatened. (I mean, you know all your ways of tricking women into sex, like negging, and breaking the touch barrier, are on the internet, right? And women can read?)

If your fellow dudes are being all “Hey isn’t it cool throwing beer on women she said no but I’m going to keep pushing let’s see if we can make her cry” they are diminishing your chances of getting laid. What kind of a friend doesn’t want you to get laid?

Show us you’re not a little baby-man. Show us your masculinity is robust enough that you can stand up to the baby-men. Stop being so chicken-shit terrified of women that you have to demean them to make yourself feel better. It might just pay off for you.

33

The Best Possible Taste

The Broadcasting Standards Authority used to do this fantastic test of community standards when it came to language. They would knock on people’s doors, hold up cards with words like “Arsehole” on them, and say, “How offensive is this?” Disappointingly, this is now done over the internet, but the results page is still one of my favourite places on the internet. The survey is done every four years, and listening to people trying to report on it without breeching the very broadcasting standards it concerns is a thing of joy.

This is not about that. But it’s worth bringing up to note that what the BSA does is not set “community standards”, but reflect them. Its job is not to tell people what to find offensive, but to have people tell it, and then try to apply that standard consistently. I personally would have “faggot” much higher on that list, but that’s not the BSA’s fault. (Also, I’d hyphenate “mother fucker”, so what do I know?)

In this spirit, the BSA has just released the report on its Litmus Test of the Good Taste and Decency Standard. So many jokes. Shush.

The purpose of this testing is to help ascertain how well BSA decisions align with public opinion. This contributes to ensuring the BSA has a clear appreciation of the diversity of community views and public attitudes towards these decisions.

The BSA put five of its decisions before four focus groups. They were shown clips, asked if each piece was offensive, then told the BSA’s ruling and asked whether they agreed with it. It should be noted that there were only 28 participants across the four groups. For the first time, some of the focus groups were located outside of Auckland: in Hamilton, Wellington, and Ashburton.

The broader findings are consistent with those of the Sweary Bastards survey. Our community’s standards are slowly changing. We are becoming less offended by sex and swearing, and more offended by sexism and racism. There were also, taking into account small numbers, geographic variations.

In Wellington, for example, participants appeared more sensitive to issues relating to racism or sexism. The Wellington group also appeared to more readily grasp the role of context when considering good taste and decency. This was less the case in Ashburton, where participants in the group appeared less likely to take context into consideration when evaluating the clips. In Hamilton, the group was broad-thinking and very aware of tolerance of diversity issues, while the Auckland group was more conservative in its views in terms of what was acceptable and more likely to perceive that standards in broadcasting are being lowered.

Also, there were some issues with… er, no, I can’t think of a tactful way to describe this. One of the clips was one of Jeremy Wells’ Like Mike pieces.

It should be noted that in Ashburton and Auckland the voting for whether the complaint should be upheld was made when participants did not realise that the clip was a parody of Mike Hosking (even though this was explained upfront in Auckland, participants seemed not to register the fact and it had to be reiterated to them again once they had already made their judgements).

Wells is good. And, y’know, Poe’s Law. But people in Auckland were the hardest to convince that it wasn’t actually Mike Hosking? Are we sure, really really sure, that Hosking himself isn’t just playing a very long trolling game?

A common theme, given the complaints tested encompassed Paul Henry, Sean Plunkett, breakfast radio, and I guess Mike Hosking, was “Well you have to expect that from those people, don’t you?” Except often ‘people’ wasn’t the word used. I don’t know what the word used was. The BSA removed it.

I assume it’s on the list somewhere.

But I do recognise the sexism thing but it comes down literally that I wrote down that Paul Henry is a *** and that’s just kind of what you expect from him in some ways.

And what you’ve got is Sean Plunket sounding like an ***, really he’s demonstrating that he doesn’t understand a fundamental disability issue.

I think the guy is a *** so he doesn’t even understand what disability is about.

It’s sweet of them to protect me, but I just inserted “cunt” in every one of those gaps. Yes, even the second one.

There was one complaint that caused some division, where the majority of the focus groups did not agree with the BSA ruling:

During Sean Plunket’s talkback show, the CEO for the National Foundation for the Deaf called in to discuss captioning on television, especially the perceived problem of the lack of captioning on broadcasts of games in the Rugby World Cup 2015. In response Mr Plunket questioned whether this was really a problem, suggested that ‘You can actually watch the rugby with the sound off, you can see – they’ve got big numbers on their backs – you can see what’s happening’ and terminated the call by saying to the CEO, ‘You do have a hearing problem because you’re not actually engaging in a conversation.’

The BSA chose not to uphold the complaint, stating that;

talkback radio is an environment where excessive language and inappropriate comments are often heard from listeners calling in and sometimes from the radio host, in order to stimulate reactions and responses. Talkback radio is an example of  freedom of expression in action and it serves a valuable public purpose, giving some who may not otherwise have any opportunity to be heard, a forum where their views can be expressed.

Two problems with this. One is perfectly articulated by one of the Ashburton participants.

“They say that talkback radio is an example of freedom of expression and action and serves a valuable public purpose, well he didn’t allow her that as such. She didn’t get a chance, did she? He never actually gave her a chance to express her opinion.”

The other takes us back to the Swearing is Fun! Survey. One of the patterns that emerged from that survey was that

Use of ‘bad’ language by radio hosts, in both breakfast programmes and talkback scenarios, is less acceptable than in other scenarios

 Related to the above, there appears less tolerance for use of ‘bad’ language from real people (as opposed to actors), including interviewees and callers to radio talkback

Their own data says people hold talkback radio hosts to a higher standard of Good Taste and Decency. Well. Higher than Game of Thrones.

One thing we can deduce from these findings. It’s okay to ask a female scientist if she’s fucked Richard Branson. It’s not okay to say “fuck” while you do it. That’s our current community standard.

28

What Sorry Looks Like

I feel like I’ve been swimming in a sea of Domestic Violence the last couple of days, since that terrible Tony Veitch piece came out. I’ve seen so many people – lefties, women, feminists – saying, well, he’s sorry, and it was just that one time, and what more do you want really? Even someone who felt it appropriate to say we shouldn’t kick Veitch when he’s down.

Think about that for a moment. We shouldn’t kick people when they’re down. Someone you couldn’t pay me to link to thought it was okay to publicly say that, in this case.

So let me tell you what ‘sorry’ looks like, when it comes to domestic violence. I’ll be drawing heavily on the writing of Lundy Bancroft, an expert who specialises in male violence against female partners, specifically. In his book, Why Does He Do That?, he talks about what the men he counsels need to do to change.

-          He has to admit, and admit fully his responsibility

-          He has to admit he did it on purpose

-          He has to acknowledge that what he did was wrong

-          He has to truly acknowledge the effects of his actions

-          He has to accept consequences of his actions

-          He has to devote long-term and serious effort toward setting right what he has done

-          He has to lay aside demands for forgiveness

-          He has to treat his family and everyone else consistently well from that point forward

-          He has to relinquish his negative views

-          Admit fully his history of psychological, sexual and physical abusiveness toward any current or past partners whom he has abused.

-          Acknowledge that the abuse was wrong, unconditionally.

-          Acknowledge that his behaviour was a choice, not a loss of control.

-          Recognize the effects his abuse has had on his partner and children and show empathy for those.

-          Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviours and entitled attitudes.

-          Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he is stopping.

-          Make amends for the damage he has done.

-          Re-evaluate his distorted image, replacing it with a more positive and empathic view.

-          Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a lifelong process.

-          Be willing to accountable for his actions, both past and future.

What would I need to see? This. Some of this. Any of this.

Unreformed abusers, even when their abuse is witnessed, physical, undeniable, will try to minimise their behaviour, by omitting incidents, playing down the severity and the impact on victims, and shifting blame onto their partner. There were faults on both sides. The relationship was dysfunctional, in some kind of passive-voice nightmare in which they were just gosh-darned helpless.

Veitch is still lying. It’s appalling that a national newspaper chose to give him a platform to do so. 

128

Cui bono?

I want to spend some time talking about the opposite of a Universal Basic Income. Well, not quite the opposite. We know what happens if a state makes no provision for its worst off. We don’t have to imagine what happens without social welfare: Engels wrote it all down for us. Then Dickens cleaned it up quite a lot and wrote it down so people would actually read it.

I want to talk about England, and the Disability Benefit. More specifically, the “Fit for Work” test. You see, one of the things we apparently have in common with England is an epidemic of people pretending to be ill, or pretending to be more incapacitated than they are. For some reason, their doctors conspire with them in this. The assessments of NHS professionals cannot be trusted, and must be verified by other NHS professionals. A government cannot, particularly in a time of austerity, allow its citizens to defraud it.

The job was outsourced to a company called ATOS. People with Parkinson’s were declared fit for work. So were people in hospital receiving cancer treatment. (Luckily, this would never happen in New Zealand.)  People were declared fit for work days before dying.

Late last year, a report was released linking Fit for Work assessments to nearly six hundred suicides.

One million recipients of disability benefit had their eligibility reassessed under the WCA tests in England between 2010 and 2013, according to researchers from the University of Liverpool.

The researchers calculated that these assessments were linked to an additional 590 suicides, 279,000 extra cases of self-reported mental health problems and the prescribing of an additional 725,000 antidepressants between 2010-13.

This is equivalent to a 5% rise in total suicides, 11% increase of self-referred mental health problems, and 0.5% more antidepressant prescriptions.

The human toll of these assessments, on people who are not job-seekers, but too physically or mentally ill to work, is appalling. On the other hand, it’s technically a success, because those 590 people are off the government’s books. If it’s morally unconscionable, at least it is actually saving money, right?

Yeah, nah. That’s when we get to here. The fit for work assessments cost more money than they save. Despite the British government having Sercoed ATOS and brought in completely different private contractors, the situation has if anything got worse.

The study by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that the Department for Work and Pensions is handing over £1.6bn over the next three years to private contractors who carry out the controversial health and disability assessments. 

But at the same time, the Government’s own financial watchdog has warned that savings in benefits payments are likely to be less than a billion pounds by 2020 as a result of the new tests.

Surely we can agree that this policy is purest ideology. It’s a failure in both human and financial terms. Its sole purpose is to punish people for not working. The experience of being on welfare is so appalling that people are killing themselves rather than endure it.

New Zealand is very little different. The underlying mentality is the same.

Yet a Universal Basic Income seems politically, and perhaps financially, Too Hard. Is there a middle ground, between hounding cancer patients and sending out trucks of free money? Well, I have some suggestions.

Remove the Stand-down

The stand-down is the period after you successfully apply for a benefit you’re entitled to, and before they start paying it to you. Why? Because. It’s usually two weeks, though it can be thirteen, and may be longer if you have unused holidays from a previous job.

Fuck that noise. Grabbed your kids and left your abusive partner? Good on you. Well fucking done. Have a benefit, right now. Saved money while you were working, before you got sick or lost your job? Yay you. Instead of punishing you for not pissing it all away, have a benefit, right now. Human being cannot actually live on just air, so have some money, so you don’t die.

Get Rid of Medical Assessments

I mean okay, also, bring back a separate Sickness/Invalid’s benefit. There’s a simple clear policy idea right there. Bring it back, put those people on it, and then leave them the fuck alone. (Yes, there is a Supported Living Payment, but in practical terms it’s very difficult to get, and doesn’t cover most people who would have been on a Sickness Benefit.)

Don’t work-test them. They have doctors, who know them, and specialist who, y’know, specialise. Don’t waste money paying other doctors to check up on them, and don’t make them sicker by putting them through the stress of a Designated Doctor assessment.

And don’t make people with permanent, chronic conditions and disabilities keep going to their doctor to get a certificate to say yeah, they haven’t magically regained their hearing or the use of their legs. It’s stupid. It’s just stupid.

Don’t Work-Test Care-givers

Don’t make parents of young children look for work. That thing they’re doing? It’s work, and what you pay them for it is total and utter shit.

Help

You know what Work and Income is really, really bad at? Helping people find work. Imagine if that was their prime function, for people on the Jobseeker Allowance. You don’t have a job, you want a job, you go in, and they help you find a job. Apart from anything else, this would make things far more pleasant for their staff, if their relationship to their clients was less adversarial.

Just help. It’s the right thing to do.