Harriet Lowes

The Malcontent on: Everything

What is the point in complaining about stuff, shopping, and Steven Fry when everything’s shit?

Other people are probably one of the worst things about everything. They’re everywhere – even when you slope off to seek solace in your own miserable company, they’re staring nonchalantly out at you from grainy, over-exposed profile pictures with all their edgy, sexy friends. They’re on the news, being all clever and wrong about stuff. Or worse still, they’re near you, being all ugly and boring.

What’s the deal with places as well? Take the place where you live. It’s too warm occasionally, and sometimes filthy or poorly decorated. And if it’s not doing that it’s too far away from somewhere you want to be, or too close to that guy outside who’s making an annoying noise with a banjo. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the concept of ‘things being in the way’ – for instance chairs, or other objects. You can look at pictures of nicer places, sure, but it’s hard to get to them and if you do sometimes you’ll discover that they have a strange smell. Farms are a good example. And to look at the pictures you might have to touch a magazine. These are made of an unpleasant shiny material and contain advertisements for horrible things which you don’t want like Yakult, and if you’re particularly unlucky there might be a picture of a big insect or Jeremy Clarkson.

On some days, the things which happen can be surprising, downright astonishing, as well as perhaps bland and predictable. It is hard to decide which of these is least desirable, and this task in itself is quite tedious. Things which happen also inflict a variety of effects on you, which can be emotional like rage, or physical like queasiness. Needless to say, these can be quite unpleasant.

I’m going to talk about food, but rest assured that in your immediate surroundings there is an abundance of sources of distaste, which you are welcome to reflect on when you have exhausted all other less-useful occupations. Food sometimes tastes nice but this pleasure is directly negated by the resulting displeasure of becoming unappealingly large and insecure. People also might say you’re greedy if you eat too much, which is insulting. Insults are useful for directing aggression towards people whom you would secretly prefer to be, but the downside is that they can also be directed towards yourself by others. Examples include adjectives like “butters”, directed towards your physical appearance, and nouns like “twat”, which indicate your disagreeable character. Both types can be quite damaging to self-esteem, if you have some to begin with.

If your life’s going well, you are probably strong-jawed and wealthy, and therefore hollow and embittering. You can’t win.

-Harriet Lowes

-PHOTO/Robert Doucette


Personal opinion in the lecture theatre: Indoctrinating or Informing?

Harriet Lowes argues that lecturers should leave their personal views out of the lecture theatre.

In a lecture today, I heard something you might not have heard in any of your lectures this week. It was this:

“Let me propose something controversial. No sex before marriage.”

It was a theology lecture, on sex, and said lecturer was talking about the relationship between the idea and the real. Although you may think he was probably just being provocative in order to make us think about the issues he was raising, it was very apparent on which side of ‘ideal’ he had placed divorce, teenage sex and children born outside of marriage. It was typical of the way in which some lecturers use their hour in the spotlight to peddle their own beliefs, when on the rare occasion I actually drag myself out of bed to go, all I want to know is the how, when and why.

This isn’t about being anti-Christian. OK, so it’s annoying when a mathematician tries to tell me that the Gospels were written while Jesus was alive, but put it this way, I haven’t got a draw full of badges emblazoned with Richard Dawkins’ smug face. I just don’t personally believe in it. I came to Oxford to study theology with philosophy because I think it’s strange and interesting. We all probably read enough books and, on the whole, participate in life enough to know that people have different perspectives on issues like theology, or literature, or history, so it’s not like lecturers are needed for that purpose. I just don’t need to hear the lecturer’s favourite Bible quote which he thinks perfectly sums up the relationship between him and his wife. Being bombarded with implicit life-lessons makes me feel alienated from the subject I chose to study. I can only speak for my course, but there’s almost the suggestion that I won’t be able to ‘get it’ because I don’t have those particular views. Lecturers should be objective so that all students feel like they’re on a level playing field.

It isn’t just a case of disagreeing with them either – I wouldn’t value a politics lecture which was an hour long destruction of any political ideology I don’t personally hold. Nor would this sex lecture have been any less interesting had I not been made to feel like it was a sermon. Getting a degree is about being taught, not indoctrinated, which is maybe a lesson some lecturers need to learn.

Bethany McCrave thinks we should value any strong opinions our lecturers may have.

Funnily enough, I heard that very same thing in a lecture this week, probably because it was the same one, and evidently you weren’t listening. For starters the lecture was not ‘on sex’ – if it were I think we’d have all come away thinking it was an hour and a half well spent and feeling rather satisfied. Alas not; the class was part of a course on ‘sexual ethics’, which changes things. The whole point of a degree is that the teaching we engage in is provocative, and to be honest the one place I want to hear the opinion of a scholar is without doubt an ethics lecture. I’d be pretty pissed if I turned up to hear “welcome to ethics class, I’ll be your teacher for today and you will all be glad to know I have no opinions”.

Most of us spend a lot of time asking what the point of lectures is, and admittedly they are a rather poorly named ritual, because the point is surely not to be lectured at. The point is that if we all sit on the fence for three years then learning just becomes a futile waste of time and money. Of course we all have different views on theology, literature and history, but how can we ever challenge each other if no one ever presents their view!

You can’t tell me that there isn’t at least something you wouldn’t argue to the death for, so how can you blame a lecturer who has spent their whole life refining their version of the argument for defending their cause? If my lecturer isn’t passionate about the subject, it’s certain that I won’t be. I like having a lecturer who has enough trust in my academic ability to give me one side of the story and then let me go and figure out the rest for myself. When you read an argument in a book it’s obviously not going to be the only one there is, and just like authors, no lecturer is expecting you to leave and just go and sit in a dark room because they’ve solved the topic and that’s all there is to it.

The differences and variety of all our judgements is what makes being a human interesting, and it’s what allows us to change and develop and progress into a species we’re proud to be a part of. Lecturers teach, but they also challenge, and force us to consider what we think and who we are. Now if we knew that, there would be no more questions.

Harriet Lowes would like to make it clear that her side of the debate was intended to be polemical and mainly fictional.


Young Men: Mind the (pay) Gap

For the first time, women in their 20s are earning 3.6% more than men in the same age group. Despite the bizarre sense of panic resonating from some of these recent articles on the subject, there is no danger, as it were, of men falling behind. They still earn 10% more than women on average throughout their lifetime, or, in the case of male bosses, £10,000 more a year than women in equivalent jobs. So much for it being “the beginning perhaps, of a social and sexual sea change.” Predictably however, anyone seen to be welcoming this rather meagre social shift has predictably become victim to a flurry of uninspiring comments along the lines of “so sexism is fine, as long as it favours women.”

No one should see economic gender issues like the wage gap as a competition. It isn’t one. Jobs and education should be as gender neutral as possible. It is certainly true that some women journalists, seeing an opportunity to taunt men, undermine the serious nature of the issue by making it about scoring points. However, it is not “sexist” to celebrate the fact that, in one demographic, women are not in second place.

Without meaning to suggest that men have not been, and are not still, victims of sex discrimination and stereotyping (one might cite issues such as paternity leave, child custody, domestic abuse and so on), it is just a statement of fact to say that in our society, women have always been the underdogs. Any pleasure in the recent pay gap changes is interpreted as revenge, when really, it is relief that women aren’t being intentionally paid less than men for doing the same job. It’s as simple as that.

When comments about the poor treatment of women in the past are brought up in arguments concerning the issues of today, this is constantly wrongly interpreted as a bid to blame or punish the current generation for the wrongs of the past. This isn’t the case. While in many ways we do live in a society of equal opportunities for men and women, sexism is not yet dead and buried. Rather than facts and figures, what is often much more telling (and much more frustrating) is a sense of the general attitudes of the population towards the subject matter. The internet acts as as a handy social barometer. The level of sexism in the comments under gender articles on the websites of ‘reputable’ newspapers is disturbing.

I’m also dismayed by the lack of recognition about the difference between sex discrimination against women, and sex discrimination against men. Female directed sexism has a whole history of the degradation and oppression of one sex, so it is very worrying that there are residual elements of it left in our society. It suggests that we haven’t quite moved on and left it behind us. It’s as though there’s a big crack in the foundations, which has gradually been filled in, but is still not quite fixed. Male directed sexism is worrying because it is not in keeping with equal opportunities. It’s a new crack, a little one – and probably far easier to correct. A helpful thought experiment might be to consider the same scenario in terms of race.

Hopefully, the new pay gap findings show that the younger generation are getting something right in terms of equality. After all, a 3.6% gap is better than a 10% gap regardless of which way the scales are tipped. In the end, equality is a race which can only be drawn, not won.

-Harriet Lowes

-PHOTO/London Student Feminists