Category Archives: Education

I am unpatriotic whore, apparently.

The first time my “whoring” became apparent to me was 15 years ago when my parents invited a couple of friends over. The discussion at the table, at which I was expected to stay, somehow ended up on my speaking English on the Internet: have status in English on MSN chat for instance, taking active part in English-speaking forums about footballers I fancied and more broadly on my listening to practically only English.

The husband had objections and I can’t recall exactly how it came to that but I said: “Using English is also easier to communicate and look for things you need.” To which he replies “So you are prostituting yourself.” He had the idea that my speaking English on the Internet instead of sticking to French, and especially using English when French could be used (i.e. on MSN with some of my French friends) was like a prostitute who can’t be bothered to get a proper job to make a living. She instead opens her legs because she is certain to get the money and akin to her, I was willingly selling out my culture, myself, my identity to get what I want instead of sticking to my language, no matter whom I was interacting with, because it is easier that way. I should be working hard to establish myself as I am but instead I was sleeping with the boss to get there.

As I was mentioning this very conversation to a friend, she bounced back on my use of English, something I never used with her, but when she fathomed the scale of my willingness to learn it, speak it and use it, she simply asked “Why do you want to lose your mother tongue?” For her, actively learning and enjoying the speaking of another language to which I had no family ties whatsoever was an act of forsaking my own language. In her mind, I couldn’t have both. One was going to take over. It wasn’t about whoring myself to get it easy anymore but willingly rejecting my whole self for unfathomable reasons.

The questioning of my patriotism came with another former friend. “Former” because there are certain things I only take from foes, not friends. Again, we were on the subject of my listening to almost exclusively English-speaking music. She was going through my CD collections – no MP3 players at the time – and ruing the absence of French but for a couple of artists out of a 100 or so. She asked why and my answer prompted her to tell me I was “unpatriotic”. I was buying music, giving money to some strangers that are the very reason why French musicians struggle. I was part of the problem regarding the suffocation of anything native in the face of the American music industry. More, I was betraying my culture when I could be expanding it. I was serving the enemy.

I have been wondering why these people reacted as they did for the past 15 years. Not that it’s the first or only time I have been getting that kind of remarks but they usually come from people who call themselves “proud, real French”. The either country-side-living or poorly-educated or highly nationalistic person who, for various reasons, reject anything foreign on various degrees of violence and easily buy into the American invasion. All the while never going to a single French movie because they are “boring”…

I get that at work at the moment. For the first time, I am not in teaching languages but took a job at a supermarket because the next country I want to move to is very expensive so I need massive savings, and I am surrounded by people who don’t speak English. When I do, even and mostly to myself, most of them have this knee-jerk rejection of it. Fear of someone who knows more? Feeling of exclusion? Both I think.

However, those three people aforementioned belong to a type of population I know very well, due to my travelling and living abroad: the bi-nationals. The man is Franco-German, the former friend was Franco-Vietnamese and the other is French but both her parents are Argentinians who moved to France as teenagers.

Most bi-nationals I know embrace both their cultures, languages and the question of identity is one that resolved itself easily: I am a citizen of the world. I am a human being. Borders are irrelevant, languages are relevant in that they open doors and help you in life. If nationalities are two boxes on paper, they are endless opportunities in real life. A former colleague whose mother is Jamaican and father French, because born in Guadeloupe, was once asked the usual question: “What do you prefer most? Being French or Jamaican?” She replied that this type of questions was akin to asking: “Who’s your favourite, your dad or your mum?” This is irrelevant and ignorant.

A bi-national will appreciate and critique their culture equally but for very different reasons and the questions of identity, culture and belonging is a open pick & mix buffet. You take what you like in whichever side you wish. For instance, when talking about homosexuality, she said she was more French because France embraces same-sex marriage but when it comes to race issues, she was more Jamaican because, unlike in France, she was not “black” in Jamaica, just a normal person.

Nevertheless, not all bi-nationals are like that, as shown by the people who called me a prostitute who was unpatriotically forsaking my whole heritage for something I had no reason to embrace. They belong to the bi-nationals for whom the question of identity has been a black or white issue and they were faced with choosing sides for a variety of reasons so it took me to know them to try and understand their apparent rejection of anything but France and French, although they should be the expression of multiculturalism.

The husband, for instance, was born from a German father and a French mother. First, as a child whose father is the foreigner, he spoke little German. It’s something I noticed amongst all my friends, either parents or children in multicultural families: if the mother is the foreigner, the child will more likely be bilingual and open to both his heritages. Fathers tend to speak their native language less for reasons I still need to explore. So he grew up speaking just a bit of both languages and when his father left his mother, the conflict of love became one of cultures. In the rejection of his father, it’s also Germany and everything that comes with it he forsook. Hence the name-calling: for him, my tending to another culture is abhorrent, a betrayal to France who “gave birth to and nurture me”. He chose France and French because, in his mind, they are family and one cannot belong to two families. I was indeed just a whore, trying to please some stranger culture by overly speaking its language because I had concluded that the English family was more profitable.

The former friend has both Vietnamese parents, she spoke, ate, drank, sang, read, danced Vietnamese culture but this was the privacy of her home. Outside, casual racism based on her looking Asian, and therefore being “Chinese” – because, of course, all Asians are Chinese – led her to work extra hard to integrate to France and become she could never look “it”, she would forever act and sound it. She therefore ended up internalising extreme ideas as to what makes a good French person and a bad one. I was the bad one, she was the good one because I embraced English culture when I should have done what she has always been told to do and eventually did: solely embrace French culture and eventually leave the rest behind. I remember her saying she was fighting with her parents because she would not marry a man from Southeast Asia, and she refused to carry on with learning Vietnamese. She was the product of our idea of assimilation of immigrants centered on the concept of leaving your roots behind altogether in order to become someone else, someone new, someone fitting for the role, someone who would not think twice if the day of confrontation with your ancestry would come. You would defend France because you have become French through steps I was overlooking. Maybe because I had the privilege of being French by ancestry…

The second one was the same somehow, except she only took in the words, not the outrageous nationalism needed to compensate others’ racism based on her looks because her family is of Spanish descent. The parents spoke perfect French after 30 years in France. they had jobs, they owned a house, she was a high-achiever at school. If the name was Spanish, they were nothing but fully integrated into the French society. The perfect immigrants, some would say. “You would not know they are not French”

If the parents spoke Spanish to each other, they spoke French to their daughters. If she enjoyed her Argentinian heritage through music and dancing, she however had this idea of having to make a choice between two options. I think it comes again from the idea of opportunities in life. Being as French as possible had probably been carved into her head by her parents so to ensure she had the best chances but it also meant she couldn’t possibly understand that my love of English was not making me any less French than I am, I was just expanding my horizon as wide as her had always been on the international scale.

I have now become very wary of these types of bi-nationals who, for reasons usually not fully understood by them, are overly patriotic and judgmental when it comes to embracing more than one culture. French politics is a perfect example with people like Sarkozy (Hungary) and Manuel Valls (Spain) who were sometimes as damning of social, cultural diversity and foreigners as the far-right can be. For me, this is one of the far-right’s and racism’s greatest victory: to have made some immigrants and their children willingly reject their own culture, reject multiculturalism as fake and treason to the soil you live on, point out variety as source of a problem instead of a solution.

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A teacher’s words: Respecting students’ choices

As a teacher, you learn constantly from a lot of people about how to do your job but amongst the biggest inspirations regarding the Dos and Donts are your own teachers when you were younger. One thing I learnt from a PE teacher I had throughout my lycée years, so 16-18 years old, was to respect pupils/students’ choices when it comes to major decisions, even, and especially, when you would disagree with them.

I was 17 and that was the final year before university, the one that can only be cleared if you pass the Baccalauréat, which is terribly difficult and daunting in France. That was the first day of PE (or sports) for the senoir years – Terminales – and all of us were to be sorted in three groups so the on-going examination could start. You never sit a PE exam, what you do throughout the year will be your final grade.

So we were offered three options:
1. Swimming/Basketball/Athletics.
2. Gymnastics/Volley ball / Badminton.
3.Volley ball / Basketball / Swimming.

As I said, how you are going to fare during the three trimesters at each sport is going to determine your final mark and the extent to which the door to university is open. Having a terribly weak spot in Maths, I was not going to risk it so I put myself in Group 2 because I used to be a gymnast, I love volley ball and have a killing serve, and am unbeatable at badminton.

However, Group 2 found itself overflowing. The teachers needed an evenly spread number of students in each group, about 30, and we were 45 in Group 2. I guess the choices of sport were poor and, frankly, as teenagers, we pretty much all wanted to avoid the pool at all costs for it meant tiny speedos et al… So there we went for 20 minutes of three teachers standing in front of their seating groups, with Group 1 particularly empty, trying to convince almost a third of Group 2 to join the others.

Some are convinced, stand and go sit on the opposite corners. I don’t really pay attention that we are coming close to 30 in my group until my name echoes in the building and the PE teacher I had the past two years singles me out so I would switch. She knows I am obedient, quiet and would rather die than make a fuss but I refuse. She then proceeds to tell I am “too fat for gymnastics”…In front the whole year and I am “good at basketball”.

I am fuming. I have been struggling with my weight for over 7 years, secondary school was five years of endless bullying that drove close to suicide countless times and during my lycée years, I was stubbornly refusing to eat anything during the day and would only eat in the evening.

But I keep it down and refuse, again. She insists, piling up on the insults and spreading my whole performance sheet of the last two years for everyone to hear and which turns out to be highly erroneous. This goes for a couple of minutes until I stand up in front of the whole assembly, boiling, my hands shaking, clenched into fists so it doesn’t show and I tell her she is wrong.

I am 1m76 tall, I say, which doesn’t not bode well for basketball, a sport I absolutely loathe and being forced to play it every single year since primary school has not helped. I find the ball too big, too hard, the rules are inexplicably complicated and I have never managed to actually net a single ball in my life. As far athletics, I walk faster than I run. I need 20 minutes to walk my 3.2 km to school every day morning then evening but still require almost 50 minutes for the same distance when running.

She retaliates with javelin and discus in which I am indeed quite good but she can’t commit to them being as important as all the running we will have to do. As for swimming, I tell her she should know I can’t do it after teaching me for the past two years. Indeed, the chemical in the pool and the endless diving we have to do trigger debilitating ear infections and cause all the tiny blood vessels in eyes to burst. There is no discomfort in terms of vision but I do look like I am coming from the Village of the Damned. My eyes are entirely red with blood except for the iris and it takes weeks to recede. On other hand, she does know I was a gymnast and I have always been top of the class in volley ball and badminton.

She doesn’t give up so I go on the attack and tell her this is my exams, my future, my decision to take, not hers. She actually made those two first points very clear before presenting the groups. I know why I am being singled out, because she assumed I would bow and do as said but this is the most important exam of my life. Would she to overrule me, I will go the school authorities, if not enough the Rectorat de Versailles, which rules over every academic questions in the west of Paris, to get my way. It’s about me, not about the school’s poor decisions in setting up the options and limiting the numbers.

It’s been 16 years, half of my life ago, and I remember every word I said, the stunt silence in the room in the face of someone who has never caused any trouble and is now standing up to a his teacher. The silence felt endless.

We stare at each other. Like with my dogs, I will not let go until she lets go. She eventually does, looks at her two colleagues and signals for me to sit down in a resigned manner. Group 2 remained with 34. Come to think of it, there seemed to be a general feeling that I was talking sense and some would follow my lead so the case needed to be closed asap.

As a teacher today, I am still using that day to know how to behave when my students are facing my life-altering choices: GCSEs, A-Levels, university pick…even adults when deciding whether to sit an exam or not. Why? Because I am the one who makes the final call for I sign the papers or am the link between the hierarchy / exam boards and the student so I try to be everything that PE teacher wasn’t that day.

What I wanted from this teacher was for her to realise that my choice was not whimsical. I didn’t sit on the part of room assigned to Group 2 because I followed my friend or I wanted to avoid something. I chose because I listened to the options and I went for what I knew would benefit me the most. I chose excellence before anything else but she disputed that in the worst possible way. I would have accepted her trying to understand my motives behind my decision but she didn’t. Maybe because of my age or because she didn’t care about me, which is worst as a teacher, she just flatly countered me, called me fat in front of a room full of teenagers and relentlessly picked on me until I had to threaten her.

I also wanted her to realise there was a much bigger question behind getting an even number of students in each group: our future. At the end of the year, every single of the 14 or 15 subjects I had to sit for my Baccalauréat mattered towards the end grade and, as we were told constantly, this was our responsibility to ensure we succeeded. We were not children anymore, school was not compulsory anymore at our age so teachers were there simply to teach us and we were there to ensure to get and make the best out of it. All of that was irrelevant to her: she needed numbers to match her administrative expectations.  At the time, I felt she could have made the case for a bigger group because of badly chosen options and learn from it. Today, I am sure of it because I experienced it.

Nowadays, if there is a numerus closus or an obligation for me to ensure the best results and therefore the best candidates for any kind of selection process, and if I am in disagreement or have my doubts regarding the choice of X or Y: I ask questions about choices but never question them as such. I interview the ones I think would struggle considering the present data so I can give them the information I have, the conclusions I drew from them so I can assess their motivation for I know someone motivated and willing can achieve greater than someone who might be better to begin with but takes their talent for granted. And I do that privately, one to one or with parents and selected teachers because they lead in the subjects in questions, not name and shame in public.

At the end, I was vindicated with a reasonable 10/20 in gymnastics, a 16/20 in volley ball and a 18/20 in badminton. That’s a overall of 14.5/20 in PE.

Men and women: The stripper discrepancy.

Let’s address a fundamental question here:

Why is it okay for the media to show a male model stripping to cheering women when it’s morally unacceptable to show a women stripping to cheering men?

Why is it okay for women to objectify men but not okay for men to objectify women?

In a nutshell, that’s because very few women actually objectify men whereas very few men manage to see beyond what sexually arouses them.

As a gay man in my 30s, I got to experience both sides when living in England and I have to say there is a massive difference in how the model/stripper is treated. Maybe I have been living in Care Bears world but unlike men, I have never witnessed women calling the stripping man names such as “fucker”, “cunt”, “slag”, “whore”, “piggy”, “bastard”, “dirty little slut” et al.

I have never heard women say to the stripping man: “You want it, don’t you? I know you do, you dirty pig! To suck my pussy! Yeah, that’s right! All you really want is me to sit on your face so I can shove your nose in it. Come on, baby, open your mouth and taste my juice. We both know that’s why you’re here!”

I have never seen a women crossing the lines that were clearly marked. Never have we had to even restrain a female friend because she simply decided it was better to disregard what we talked about, what the agency told us beforehand and just shoved her hand in there to grab the guy’s penis or force him to perform a sexual act right here, right now just because she pays the price. That’s rape, by the way.

With women, the ambiance is of fun. Genuine fun. Little alcohol and a lot of laughter in a mostly bright environment. Once, the room was dark but all the other couple of times, it was fully lit and we could all see each other very clearly. I never felt disgusted or disgusting. On the opposite, the point was to, indeed, enjoy the amazing body of a man who worked hard to get it, but mostly to have a fun and to make fun of the most prudish girls by making the guy dance on them as they were cringing whilst also laughing.

My female friends would talk with the guy afterwards like a normal person after he put his clothes back on. We would share drinks and would talk to him, he would become part of the guests until he had to go to his next job.

We would pay him for his stripping as a entertainer and we would always acknowledge his humanity. Some have thought otherwise, I am sure, but we never acted like we owned him for the time he worked for us. Of course we had his body in our head and we talked about it with him too, trying to hide the fact that we did crave for him to pound each of us until we turned blue. Nevertheless, he was never meant to feel like just a piece of worthless meat designed solely for our most unbalanced sexual fantasies, or as an morally reprehensible accessory we would share in secret as mean to bound us further.

Whereas all the abhorrent talk and insults I mentioned before is what I have always witnessed with men. With men, it’s squalid, insulting, disgusting. You always find yourself in some weird places in the badly-lit backstreets of towns, in a room where you cannot see anyone else but the girl doing what is essentially a job to pay the rent, the food for her kids or her studies. Do any of the men present ever think of that as they shout insults? Does it ever cross their mind that the moving body in front of them is living beyond these walls, has a life and has a story to tell? No. And not because they are inherent low-lives but because they drink to behave as such.

Indeed, unlike with women, there is this constant need for alcohol with men because of course behaving like beasts doesn’t come naturally to humans anymore. Education means inhibitions that will only go away with drugs.

With men, I witnessed what we have normalised as “locker room talk”: this competition in being the one who will degrade the stripping woman the most, this bounding in the secrecy of doing together something they know to be wrong or reprehensible. This “Bros before hoes” mentality where the “hoe” will pay the price of the men becoming “bros” – sports being the cesspit of this type of masculinity.

Personally, I have seen married men having to be pushed back by bouncers because they always want to put their hands where they know they mustn’t. I have seen friends of mine in long-term relationships becoming nothing but sex on legs, rubbing their crouch, if not just plainly masturbating within less than a minute after the girl started.

There are many reasons to explain the difference in behaviours and why women very rarely objectify men like that men objectify women. One of them is how men and women behave towards finding a mate to begin with, as women are told very early that finding the “right one” is an essential goal in their life. Therefore every “alpha male” is not yet another fuck on the way to menopause but a potential father. It is deeply carved in the psyche of society and women so competition between women will be to be the most attractive to that man, the most wife-material and that’s not by drinking, swearing and assaulting them that it will occur. Men don’t have this kind of expectations regarding women and themselves.

Actually, speaking of gender education, what I am saying is not entirely true for men are changing. In November, the Guardian published an article showing that men do not enjoy the debauchery of stag-dos anymore, a study that comes after travel agencies have noticed a change in stag-dos pattern and what men do before they get married: no stripper, it’s all about arts and wine.

What these studies show is a trend towards the end of objectification altogether as brotherhood is being redefined. We thought men enjoyed objectifying and found it acceptable, we thought and still think it is the norm within between men, as shows the question I am addressing. In fact, no matter what Mr Trump and over-60s ilks might think, do, say and pretend, it turns out, overall men actually don’t enjoy it. As men are ever more educated towards gender equality and being in touch with their feelings and the ones of others, they find objectification more and more degrading for the woman and also for themselves. They don’t enjoy being reduced to senseless beasts anymore.

Now, we are a long way from a group of men platonically inviting the female stripper to join them as a guest to their party but we are getting there in terms of mutual respect. And aside the sexual roasting of footballers and other sportsmen, I can’t help but also seeing American series like Friends which, more than a decade ago, were already showing the decline of a brotherhood and male friendship built solely around the sexual objectification of women. And as far as sisterhood is concerned, it is defined within the realm of femininity, not towards or at the direct expense of men.

In the meantime, this difference between men and women,  the difference in how they see and treat the other gender stripping, how much of their humanity they actually acknowledge, the difference is what part the other gender plays in the definition of brotherhood and sisterhood is what makes women enjoying a man stripping morally more acceptable.

A teacher’s words – First rule of teaching: Enjoy yourself.

I am surrounded by people in my profession who are constantly asking why I spend so much time making “cute” PowerPoint presentations for my lessons. Why the cats, kittens, puppies and  other funny animals memes? Why the omnipresence of colours? All in every shades of blue, white and red with instructions in purple for French lessons. Red, yellow and orange for Spanish. Red, yellow and black for German. Yellow, blue and green for Swedish…

“It takes times, it must be a drag. No wonder you work so much!”

It is true that I can spend 50 hours every week planning for my 25 to 29 hours of teaching. That’s a lot, yes so why not just put some words and occasional fancy font on a couple of slides and go home?! Why am I doing this to myself?

Because I am not. I like it. I need visual stimulation to enjoy something and if I myself don’t enjoy my lesson, who will? That’s whence the very precisely aligned Comic Sans is coming, so are the little pictures on every slide. it’s not just perfectionism and hatred of emptiness, it’s something that brings me joy and a feeling of accomplishment in little things.

The colours came because, for years, I was teaching the same kids but in various languages, sometimes one lesson after another. French then Spanish. Same kids, same age so I decided that beyond the language itself I would make it more obvious for them. We were also changing moods. I took inspiration for respective flags and stuck with it every since.

On the one hand, I will admit that it used to be a drag somehow, at the beginning, but now it’s a reflex and one that allows me to be creative. Language-teaching is not always the most exciting of lessons. It’s hard and painful for all, as teachers, you are facing with kids who get impatient or demotivated very quickly, even in lessons where their native language is spoken, so imagine when everything is in another language. And when it’s Friday afternoon. So you have to constantly resist going the easy way and explain everything in your learners’ native language so you can save time and finish the unit in time for the test.

For the learners, especially teenagers, it can be a killer. Especially considering that a lot of school rationalise timetabling and put language lessons at once. It’s fine if only one is compulsory, better if optional (for the kids, not for the MFL teachers of course) but it’s torture for all when you have to teach Spanish to 30 kids for an hour and twenty minutes, get them out then get the same lot in again, just a couple of minutes later during which you switch to your German lesson. And there we go for another eighty minutes of hard work…

Beyond the mood, the need for a break and for clear, attractive visuals to keep their attention, it’s important to mention that I always have the highest expectations on everyone, regardless. I believe in the brain’s abilities to do and learn and that’s why I also like to somehow soften the blow with visually pleasing slides.

Not just games where they are learning a lot without realising it but also cute pictures of animals and funny cat memes. I love them, they love them, it makes them laugh between two exercises when I keep asking for even more of them. Put a cute kittens and you win over a classroom full of sullen girls.

However, before the kids, it’s for me. It is selfish before selfless for it allows me to be constantly creative which soothes my anxieties and when too tired to think of yet another totally new activity, I know I will always have the envy to google “cat dictionary” and add a little picture on the top right corner on an activity we did a couple of weeks ago.

Indeed, I will grant anyone that it is time-consuming to look through my hundreds of thousands of pictures on the Internet or my files to find exactly what I want and I know I have it somewhere or I know it can be found somewhere but this is something I enjoy doing very much.

“Ten minutes on a picture?!” I hear. No, ten minutes taking some time to let my perfectionist self relax and be inventive, be different. Only I, in the whole of England, would spend twenty minutes on Tumblr less than an hour before my lesson because I have decided I need a caption of Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls or Richard Hammond talking about the trout to simply illustrate the opening title of my Year 9 lesson on how to express sickness.

I could be calling parents, marking books or exams, I am told. Yes, I could but I hate it. That’s a part of the job I loathe beyond anything. Exams are fine but the books…I see them everyday when I go around checking on their work. The parents? Holy Mother of God, have mercy! Not them!

The ones you have to call are the self-righteous ones who hated school when they were little, think their child should be mentioned in the Bible as God or Satan, and believe you’re either a torturer or should do their job of teaching them manners. It says “MFL teacher” on my contract, thank you very much, not “nanny”.

I came into teaching to teach (duh!) because I like what I am teaching (duh!²): languages I want to convey it. It is hard to do so when restricted behind books mainly written by people who have close to no experience with children in a classroom setting such as university-teaching linguists or simply pedagogues. It is hard when you have a very restrictive timeline with yet another boring exam at the end where, in all languages, the writing text always starts with “You write to your penfriend about” something.

They don’t have penfriends and I want to have fun! I want my lesson to be pretty, attractive, colourful, animated. If I am not excited about showing someone what I did, I will not be able to open the door with a smile…Okay, I never smile unless actually amused but I do make jokes and love banter in the classroom and without the witty, always-on-point and creative visuals on the board, I would not be able to do so and set the evermore necessary positivity as, year in year out, teaching becomes harder by the week. The few classes where I have not been able to do it, I hate and I feel the work is far for the standards I expect of myself.

Whatever it is, the first golden rule of teaching is to enjoy yourself and it means whatever you want it to mean. I find pleasure in top-notched visuals, inventive games and the regular listening of songs and little activities around videos. Find yours. It’s doesn’t have to be massive, just a little something that’s for you every single time you teach. You have to take something out of it or you will grow to resent it beyond limits.

I have found that, even when it brings nothing for the kids as such, like a puppy with a mini basket ball to illustrate one sentence about playing sport, if it pleases you, it will please them. Because it is personal, that things will become your signature and if they always take everything for granted and don’t always acknowledge it at the time, they will come to miss it when moving on to the next teacher.

“Sir, I miss your cat memes! And the colours too. That was so nice and fun!” That sentence matters to me much more than “I think you should spend less time planning your lessons.”

NIMBY? I am not interested…

I read that people are baffled when they talk to Trump’s supporters just to realise that the latters are not aware of the various controversies he’s embroiled in. The cheap insinuation towards the mother of that late American soldier for instance. How can his supporters not know? Especially in a world where anyone has access to everything on the tip of their finger for the media are everywhere.

But that’s where his popularity comes from – as well as the increasing one of all populists: his supporters are anything but well-informed. I am not saying they are stupid, they just don’t care about the news as such for various reasons: they have grown to find it boring, tainted or impossible to trust, and irrelevant to their own problems.

In Europe, we were baffled that George W. Bush did not where Athens or Wales were. How can a president of the United-States not know this? Because you needn’t know that to be a president of the United-States. That’s as simple as that. In America, people have been taught to think in matter of relevance towards oneself, the rest is culture, some fancy fantasy only the rich and lefties can indulge in. The view is that learning something we don’t need to make a living is a luxury and “the hard-working” have no time for this so they catch some words here and there. They are the ones who are happy when someone can reduce a speech, a piece of news, whatever that is, to 140 characters.

My manager, in France, who’s half-Canadian, is a product of such vision of the world. We were having lunch and talking about the 49:3 and she arrived telling us proudly that she had not idea what “all the doo-dah” was about. Left-wingers, Right-wingers, French and foreigners in the room, we all looked at her with disbelief as the whole country was talking about nothing but this. Or so we think. Maybe we are becoming a minority to still be paying attention as most of us are turning it off and relying on quick Trump-like statements.

Last month, she arrived telling us that she heard something happened in Nice, she read a “couple of lines here and there” but did not know what happened exactly. “Are people dead?”, she asked and I realised that what I was told is wrong: knowledge is not the key to success or power. Birth is.

How do we compare, us the employees and her, our superior? We read, watch and listen to the news and she chose not to because it’s too depressing to her taste. We go to museums, exhibitions, to the pictures, we read books for pleasure when she chose not to. She has “no time for that” and believes reading is solely to kill boredom when in a waiting room. For her, our having time to do these things unrelated to work shows she is working more than we do.

She also looks down on us for she lives in France’s most expensive neighbourhood in Paris and we don’t. But it’s a give and take for most of us have learnt how uneducated, quick to judge and willingly ignorant she is. She knows her job because she needs the money but as far as her learning goes, its stops here.

For me, I am fascinated as I witness her marrying into money and living her life as if the world was not there. She has not problem admitting her ignorance, on the contrary, it’s a virtue, she doesn’t waste her time. She does’t know anything about the two parties conventions that just happened in the US because “she doesn’t need to: she is Canadian and doesn’t vote in the US.”

As long as it doesn’t land in her back yard, she has no care to give and I am convinced she is part of a majority these days. A majority easier for demagogues to manipulate, regardless of age, gender and race.

How to reach the Millennials?

Last week, I was at the regional assembly for Amnesty International and a decision was made to target the 18-35 year-olds, especially on the campaign regarding the treatment of the most vulnerable refuges. Cue the debate on how to reach us with all the usual clichés about us, the so-called Millennials. It is true to say that I was the only 30-something in a room full of late Baby-boomers and people in their early 50s.

First and foremost, no. We are not apathetic, uncaring and careless, heartless and utterly materialistic. We are a generation that has been told to shut up about our problems because “no one had ever had it so good”: the big bedroom with a queen’s bed just for us when our parents had to share, the game consoles, the mobile phones, the clothes, the shoes, the things, the more things, the even more things. We have choice and education.  We can make anything and achieving everything. We do not have a path to follow like our elders rather a path we can make for ourselves. We are just too lazy and accustomed to comfort to do it.

But rather than fight and work hard, we find excuses in ridiculous “diseases” like anxiety, depression…Fake ills that we pretend to be paralysed with when we should just strap-on a pair and get on with it. We are told we’re just good at shouting loud enough to get what we want. A generation raised to be more attuned with its emotions, our deepest turmoil have yet been deemed childish and irrelevant. “What are you complaining about again? We gave you the last Playstation, haven’t we? We bought you a car, haven’t you? Isn’t it what you wanted?”

Is it? Yes, it is but not because we truly believe it would make us happy but because we grew up and was raised by a generation that was in fact the one who genuinely had it good. Millennials are not the ones who think ownership is the key to happiness and true freedom because we don’t owe anything and yet manage to be happy in a way. Nothing I have is mine except for my two cheap laptops, my phone and a couple of plants.

I live at my mother’s, I drive one of her cars, I eat the cheese she buys, I tend to the house and garden she owns, have Sunday naps on her couch. I only managed to buy my very first bed last year. I was 31, what an achievement! And yet, the mattress was the one my mother bought years ago.

I am 32 and like many of peers, I haven’t got anything. Nor have my cousins. Our parents do. My grand-parents do. Hence the double standard of constantly showering your children and grand-children with things they do really want or actually need, to jump on your wallet at their every whim and then label them spoilt and ungrateful. Maybe because we have discovered that there was more to life than counting your blessings. The older generations raised us in their world of endless plenty, we abode by their model of endless consumption until the day we became “too old for this” and suddenly the world fell on our shoulder.

There is a sense of betrayal. Not because I don’t have as many gifts as I used to but because I did everything I was told and yet, I still don’t fit in and I am not the only. I studied, got two Masters, went abroad for ten years, worked terrible jobs, made myself completely exploitable to managers and shop-owners because I was told it was the way it has to be to gain experience. Now, I am 32, stuck in an endless roller-coaster of temporary contracts, never knowing what I will earn the next three months or if I will actually still have a job that helps me scrap a little of money to put aside to leave doomed France again.

We work like dogs for jobs that don’t pay, for managers in their 50s who use and abuse their power to get the best out of us for the least money, all the while telling us that they would be forced to let us go if we went all the way with our claim for better working conditions.

No, we are not unreachable, lazy and expecting everything to be given to us. We just don’t belong to the world as the Baby Boomers and the 1960s-born people have built and are fighting tooth and nail to keep the way they want. We don’t recognise ourselves in the box they have put us in, in the path they have still managed to back might for us. We are rebelling as we refuse to abide by their definition of what we are and what we should be. This is not tantrum, this is just doing what they did in the late 1960s and the 1970s: becoming our own self as a generation.

And it takes time. It took time for women to realise they were not alone in their misery, to organise, to talk about it and finally to claim.  It will take time for us all to realise what we are all experiencing: living under the rules of States that were built to only cater for the needs of our elders and policed to protect their privileges.

In this black picture, there is positivity in that we are all looking for alternatives we can call our own, for something to do in this world so despite the ignorant jibes, we are actually way more accessible than the previous generation. It just takes a bit of finding out how to communicate with a generation that highly flexible, skilled and adaptable.

First, stop with the labelling of ‘right’ and ‘left’ or any extremes when it comes to politics. It’s not that we are not interested in politics as such. Look the French youths besieging the squares of Paris, fighting for their future. We are interested in politics, we do talk about it but there is nothing out there that offers the flexibility we need. How can you interest young, educated, informed people with an  ever-increasing Manichean message from people who are constantly condescending towards us?

I mean, just consider the people we have to choose from: our parliaments plagued with a majority of men wearing black suits, even in blistering summer, using big words to hide the tree in the forest, and bluntly telling us we are “fools for believing their promises” and we should have known better – Thank you, Nick Clegg! Why can it never be straightforward? Why I am “childish” for asking? That’s the problem: not only have we been deceived too many times but mostly these people don’t speak to us and when they do it’s from their ivory tower.

When the President or the Premier blabber endless speeches on the age of retirement and the security in old age, they don’t speak to us who can’t even find a job to begin with. Politicians have become like the adverts we have grown with: it’s noise in the background for things we are given by our parents but do not actually need. They are akin to commercials selling us insurance when we have no house, no car, no job, no children…

Secondly, stop trying to use traditional media. TV is for little kids who have no control over what they watch, and our parents and grand-parents. I don’t watch TV and actually don’t understand the point of it. It is anything but flexible and open for a generation that multi-tasks easily and like the pick-and-mix of everything, from food to sources of information. TV and radio are nothing but tight-scheduling of things one can never double-check, having to sit there doing nothing, not having any control over what we are fed. You have to be at one place at one time or you’ll miss it. What on Earth is that in a world with Internet on the tip of your fingers and its everyday pick and mix? You read, watch, play, listen to any time, any place.

Instead of labelling us as scattered, undecided, disorganised and not knowing what we want, use our flexibility, our desire to see more, our craving for change for the great and good because it makes us open-minded, more tolerant and willing to find our place in the world. A place that has not been pre-determined by anything: place of birth, money, skin complexion, gender…We have been raised to believe it is possible and the way forward, and we still believe it. We want to believe it.

The move from Amnesty International is the right one because they are not right or left, Christian or Muslims, high or low, men or women. They are all of it and much more. They are everything and anything we, the Millennials, want them to be: a place to find and fight our way. As political parties rot under their own contradictions and need to please the ones with money and power (anyone but us), Amnesty International is the opportunity for us to be someone, beyond our name and our job.

All they have to understand is that we are not children, but adults. Adults who need be addressed like adults, not irresponsible tantrum-throwing brats.  Adults who want to build the future they were promised but that has never materialised because it turns out we have become a threat to the privileges of older generations. Adults who are looking for new ways to exist, have a voice and express it. Adults willing to be something and do something for the world. Adults who are just one click or one finger-tap away from them.

Women are not more resilient to pain, they’ve just been taught to shut about it.

I was watching QI and they had a question on pain threshold men and women could stand. The panel went for women, as the most resilient to pain, when in fact researchers have found that men are supposed to be.

The research is, of course, as uninteresting as those that keep pretending women’s and men’s brains are different which is why women are emotional and men can do maths. We know it has nothing to do with physical predispositions or Nature seriously screwed up when she made Marie Curie’s genitals.

I have discovered, talking to countless women, that the reason why they don’t always cry a river everytime they are hurt and/or demand the world stop going round until they feel better, it’s mainly because they are constantly told that the most excruciating of the pains they feel are always “normal” so what talk about it? Why complain? Why even try to find a remedy?

“It hurts, deal with it!” This from a very young age.

I remember an amazing moment at school when I was 14. We were studying the reproductive system and how babies are made – so no Bible, sorry to disappoint the Americans – when our biology teacher broke her leg. She was off for two weeks so we had a young guy who came to cover for her. At some point, he explained the mechanism of periods to boys who suddenly realised what were the little things in shiny packaging that girls were passing stealthily to one another at break time.

He had this very line about periods.

“Women then experience pain, which is normal because there is bleeding involved.”

As a man, he has never experienced periods so he was just repeating what another man had taught him at med school or wherever.

The medicine seen by men is “when there is blood, there is pain”. Therefore the mantra is for women to get used to it because it’s not going away anytime soon. They’re wasting one’s time. Now, let’s talk about their husband’s pain, because – yes, they scream to death when there’s an eyelash in their eye…Ha. Ha. Ha. Still! There’s no bleeding so that must be cancer, which is a true disease – unlike your…foul p-word!

I recall a murmur of dissent from some girls but no more until our teacher came back. A girl stopped her short from starting the lesson and repeated what the cover teacher said. She was then worried that she never experienced any pain. She was not the only one and it turned out they all thought they were ‘not finished’, that their body still had to mature and it meant, eventually, pain for the rest of their life!

They had asked their mothers and had mixed responses. Some had always experienced painful periods, others had not. Why had the ones in pain never talked about it? They did but were told, like aforementioned, that it was normal.

The teacher answered that it was nonsense. Yes, their body and genitals would continue to develop but periods were not synonym of pain. Bleeding is not due to hurt but normal and peaceful removal of matter that was created to nestle the ovum. She said: “It’s not like someone is scrapping your insides. It’s like losing your milk teeth.” The girl insisted that it was just what the young guy had said and the teacher had this fantastic sentence.

“I don’t know about him, but personally, I am 45, I have been having my periods for 32 years and I have never been in pain. You can be more tired than usual because it is a big thing happening to your body, an important hormonal upheaval but the bleeding is not like when you cut your hand or have an open wound, it doesn’t hurt. And if it does, and everytime, you should see a specialist.”

Fast forward 15 years. Fifteen years of living with a mother who had always had painful and long periods. Until a couple of months ago, I actually was convinced periods always lasted up to three days and were painful until I talked about it openly with some friends who, like the mothers of my classmates, had very different experiences but mostly positive. As much positive as periods can be… It turns out periods last for one day, on average. Really?

That’s because I remember my mother complaining about stomach aches, headaches but mostly pain in the lower tummy for days. This every single month for more than a decade and just to be told by legions of male doctors that the pain is perfectly normal so there’s nothing to address.

Until the day my mother got fed up with these painful periods that had come to last for one, even two to three weeks sometimes and she demanded answers and change gynaecologist – for a young woman this time. A young female doctor who told her what my teacher said 15 years earlier: periods are not meant to be painful and their month-worth of bleeding is not “due to the menopause. There’s got to be something in there.”

It turns out she has been having a serious case of uterine myoma that had never been really detected because never taken and treated seriously, and this had been leading to basically constant haemorrhages. She was not having her periods, she was just, plainly bleeding.

The case is extreme, I thought, then I changed my mind after my cousin, my aunt, then a legion of female colleagues and friends told me about the struggle they have been facing trying to be taken seriously when it comes to the pain they are enduring. The world is changing as women enter the fields of science for good, wanting to answer questions that preoccupy them. Finally, we talk about endometriosis seriously as it turns out countless women are affected. Most of them previously and quickly dismissed since their early teens when complaining about days of pain before and after their periods.

Medicine has always ridiculed, minimalised women’s pain. Their pain has been reduced to the uterus, something men don’t have and only care for when it comes to sex and having descendants. All women’s pains and turmoil’s were put for millennia under the label of hysteria (derived from the word “uterus”). It also applies to pains like migraines, severe headaches, troubles keeping oneself warm, mood swings, psychological turmoil…The list goes on of pains that are “maladies de bonne femme” as the French spitefully say. A derogatory term coined to talk about a woman and the pains she and her kind experience.  Women are hysterical, end of.

As a man, you should be careful when hurting and complaining about it. One doesn’t want to step in the world of “hysterical diseases”. I have had migraines and headaches for years but of course that is not taken seriously. Ophthalmic migraines that make me throw up (such a drama queen!), bring me to tears (hysterical!), make me punch my neck and forehead in search of relief (crazy hysterical!). I even considered cutting myself once hoping the blood flow would decrease in the arteries of my head (Well, that proves my point! Just pop an Advil next time so the doctor can move on to someone stable with real men issues…)

For women, the consequences go far beyond the simple words and refusal to treat it. Traditionally trusting of the doctor and drawing their longer life-expectancy from their regular visits they pay to them, they are drifting away more and more, I feel, from conventional medicine. This old trends are back.

Since the dawn of time, we have been talking about grandma’s remedies in France.
*If it hurts, boil the stones of some cherries, filter the water, drink and the headache will go away.
*Take some mint leaves and rub them against your lower tummy.
*Drench yourself in olive oil and the birth won’t hurt.
*Do a week-cleanse with your own urine.
*Starve yourself and applies some leeches.
It’s like reading medieval, medicinal books on how to cure what we now know to be cancers and I thought they were a thing of the past until I saw friends of mine, highly educated women who do go regularly to the doctors and yet, choose to cleanse before and during their period because I was told it reduces the pain and blood flow. Does it? Maybe not. Surely not, if I listen to science but who am I to judge?

The other day, colleagues experiencing menopause and/or endometriosis were swapping “fantastic” books about plant-healing and other unconventional remedies that have made their life easier, less painful and stressful: from sleeping better to avoid hot flushes, stomach aches and digestive troubles.

The men in the room were mocking them, of course. When one said that going glutten-free has actually stopped all uterine pains, he completely dismissed her as superstitious and pathetic, ready to believe anything. For him, a connoisseur and expert in the field, as most men are (NOT!), it was nothing but a placebo effect which proved even more how imaginary and hysterical women’s pains are.

In a world where science teaches girls that periods should be painful because there is bleeding and bleeding is always painful, one can’t be surprised women are looking to someone else to find release. When professionals tell women “It’s normal so shut it!”, of course they look away for answers and are drawn to things that, for men, are deemed even more ridiculous to them that their physical suffering.