Mending My Ways

My family call me ‘ThAJ’ – throw-away-Jenny – because I have a bad habit of throwing things away. I used to justify my behaviour as ‘decluttering,’ but lately, I’ve – somewhat belatedly – come to appreciate that my behaviour is a consequence of the disposable culture in which we live.

Anything we don’t need or want – plastic food wrapping, empty toilet rolls, broken cutlery, empty shampoo bottles, moth-eaten jumpers, etc. – we throw in the bin. Some things go in the recycling bin, which, we believe, makes our throw-away behaviour ok, but the reality is that only a tiny per cent of the all the rubbish that ends up in the recycling bin is ultimately recycled. The rest just adds to the growing mountain of waste that can’t or won’t be recycled or reused.shutterstock_1086742070

I can’t remember the last time I mended something rather than chuck it in the bin. When things are cheap, why bother fixing them when you can simply by new ones? The truth is, we need to bother because our disposable behaviour cannot be sustained without severe consequences for our planet.

The belief in economic growth as the paramount marker of progress is problematic for many reasons, not least because it fails to consider the fact that while the potential for economic growth may be limitless, our planet’s resources are not.

While I commend those that seek to live an ‘eco-friendly’ life, something I aspire to as well, we’re not going to save the earth, and ourselves, by eating less meat, recycling, reducing plastic, etc. While these actions are necessary, they are not sufficient. What is needed, is more than reform of the current economic system; we need to replace it with a system that supports the earth rather than exploits it. If we don’t, capitalism will destroy our planet.

No, I am not advocating socialism; instead, I believe we need to look beyond both socialism and capitalism to explore the possibility – and necessity – of creating a new, sustainable, system.

All of this may sound a bit rich coming from me, a bona fide shopaholic, whose comfortable lifestyle wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t for capitalism. I’m the first to admit that my eco credentials are negligible, but even so, I am fully committed to improving my cred, because nothing frightens me more than the prospect of humanity destroying the earth. I’ll happily give up needless shopping, meat, plastic, and whatever else is necessary, to ensure my future grandchildren inherit a healthy planet.

While behavioural change is a start, it won’t be enough. To have a fighting chance of saving our beautiful planet, we must think and act radically. Reform won’t suffice. We need a revolution.

Meanwhile, I’ll be mending that jumper I nearly threw in the bin last night.

In Praise of Bushy Eyebrows

I am in a rush to write today’s blog because I have an appointment at a beauty salon to have a manicure and underarm hair wax.

Did I really need to tell you that? Who wants to know about women’s hair removal?

If you’re a man reading this, chances are you’ve never thought about women’s grooming rituals, and why should you? After all, hairy underarms (and legs, face, etc.) is a perfectly normal thing if you’re a man. It ought to be just as normal for women, of course, because we’re all hairy to some extent, some us more so than others. Yet cultural expectations compel us to resort to painful, expensive and time-consuming procedures to remove as much hair from our bodies as possible.

As much as I resent this bias, I dutifully comply with it, because who wants to see my hairy armpits sticking out of a sleeveless dress at a black-tie dinner? Continue reading

Chasing Unicorns

I was fourteen years old when I fell in love with London. Strictly speaking, it was the 1980s pop band Culture Club I’d fallen for but to my infatuated teenage heart, the two were synonymous.

My father had moved to London the year before and in the years that followed my brother and I would make the occasional visit during school holidays. My father’s flat was only a few minutes’ walk from Kensington Market, the three-storey indoor nirvana for anyone looking for cool things. In an attempt to fit in, I’d wear a Billy Idol t-shirt, purple eyeshadow and big silver hoop earrings while weaving in and out of the many shop stalls, wishing I had the money and the courage to get myself a tattoo or an earful of piercings.

To a very uncool teenager from Sweden, London in the 1980s was exotic, hip, a treasure trove of adventures and possibilities. It was the era of neon colours, big hair and lots and lots of hairspray and my idea of fashion and style was heavily influenced not only by Culture Club frontman Boy George but also pop bands like Eurythmics, Bananarama and the Bangles.

All of those memories of a time gone by came flooding back to me last night when I once again sang and danced along to the tunes of Culture Club at Wembley Arena in North London. What made the evening especially poignant was that while Culture Club – a band known for embracing diversity of all kinds – was performing to a full house of overexcited 40-somethings, the British Prime Minister Theresa May had just finished presenting her Brexit deal to cabinet ministers. Far from embracing the diversity, tolerance and love that Boy George sings about, Brexit is a decisive move towards isolationism and intolerance.

Although I knew it would ruin my still exuberant mood from last night’s concert, I turned on the TV this morning to watch Theresa May answer questions about the Brexit deal from disgruntled MPs in the Commons. More than two hours into the session, I was willing the ever so composed Prime Minister to lose her cool, calling out to the crowd:

“Sod it, I’ve had it with the lot of you! Wankers! You think you can manage a better Brexit, be my guest.” And with those words, she’d walk out, head back to No. 10 to fetch Phillip and her walking sticks and disappear in a puff of smoke, having swapped her kitten heels for her favourite pair of Swiss hiking boots.

I am no fan of Theresa May or Brexit, but it stands to reason that any Brexit deal would fall short of the fanciful utopia once promised by devoted Brexiteers like Johnson, Davis and Rees-Mogg. Their version of Brexit is simply undeliverable, and any Brexit deal was bound to leave Britain worse off than it currently is. It was either incredibly ignorant or plain delusional to think that EU would go along with Britain’s ambition to have the cake and eat it. And contrary to what those in favour of a hard Brexit claim, most of what troubles Britain today is of its own making and will not be solved by ‘taking back control’ from Brussels.

What is the way forward then? A people’s vote that allows for three options: a) accept the deal on the table; b) reject the deal and crash out of the EU with no safety guarantees or c) stop Brexit altogether?

It’s anyone’s guess how this Brexit farce will end, but one thing is certain: there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


Free Speech

shutterstock_1029280372I don’t recall the US midterm elections being first-page news in British and European newspapers before but, then again, the US has never had a president like Donald Trump. As a political science student some twenty years ago, I used to think my American government class was dull in comparison with the class in international politics, but if I were a student today, I would surely have to revise my perception. Continue reading

A Post-Halloween Nightmare

shutterstock_392337658Halloween has come and gone and what a relief. I’ve never quite got the point of dressing up and begging strangers for sweets, but my 8-year old daughter considers it one of the highlights of the year so last night I found myself reluctantly chaperoning a bunch of young witches, zombies and vampires in search of treats.

With Halloween thankfully out of the way, there will be no more scary nights until next October. Except, of course, there is plenty to be scared of in the real world.

Two days ago, the WWF released The Living Planet Report 2018, the reading of which ought to give you nightmares. For according to WWF, humans have managed to wipe out 60% of animal populations since 1970. That’s a staggering number, and unless we act now to stop further extinction, we are heading towards complete disaster, not just for wildlife, but for humanity. Nature isn’t just there to behold and enjoy; it’s out life-support system, without which, humanity too will be wiped out.

And who needs A Nightmare on Elm Street when the world is hostage to political leaders like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, the current incarnation of the British government – all soon to be joined by Jair Bolsonaro, president-elect of Brazil, a man who has defended dictatorship and torture, and has a history of denigrating women, gay people and minorities.

Are you still sleeping soundly at night?

Last Friday I attended synagogue with Jewish family members, a lovely evening of community, spirit and love. The following morning, a white American man barged into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and shot dead eleven people while reportedly shouting ‘all Jews must die.’ Antisemitism is on the rise again, Islamophobia too, and racism is still alive and well throughout the European continent. Earlier this year, an investigation by the UN special rapporteur on racism concluded that racism and religious intolerance had become more acceptable in Britain since the Brexit referendum.

And don’t get me started on the trouble with social media. Once lauded for its potential as a democracy-enhancing tool and as a vehicle for communication across national borders, social media outlets such as Twitter is now replete with self-righteous trolls and angry, resentful people unleashing their hatred onto others.

Misogyny, too, persists across the world, and though the #MeToo movement offered a brief momentum of hope, women are once again told to stop moaning and get on with life. Only the other day, a senior British police chief spoke against classifying misogyny as a hate crime, because police resources (stretched as they are thanks to government cuts) should focus on more traditional police work, such as catching thieves and violent criminals. Campaigners, however, argue that misogyny (defined as the hatred of, and prejudice against women) is itself a cause of some of the violence plaguing society. In a letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, members of the pressure group Citizens UK write:

“Categorising misogyny as a hate crime won’t end violence against women, but challenging the normalisation of these attitudes on our streets and in public life can help challenge violence against women and girls in wider society. Recording these incidents also provides a vital evidence base. When police forces treat these incidents seriously, women’s trust in the police increases.”

I could go on and on, and even so, someone reading this will surely blame me for failing to mention the plight of groups not included here. The point is, this ongoing nightmare of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and the destruction of the natural world is real. Closing our eyes to it, won’t make it go away.  Turning away from it all, minding our own private business, won’t do, because all that I have mentioned here, is also our business.