Keyboard Fear – and Other Excuses

Hello my friends. I come to you from the rock I have apparently been hiding under for the past several months. My absence is inexcusable – unless you count binge-watching Gilmore Girls and overdosing on Margaritas (both cocktail and pizza form) in Crete valid excuses. Which I personally do. But nonetheless, it is far from the professional I attempt to present.

So what’s the deeper reason for my neglect? This blog hasn’t dropped out of my head. I actually started another blog for my university course called Space Oddity Mag (http://jmercer180.wix.com/spaceodditymag), so I was doing something useful with my time. But for some reason, over the summer, whenever this blog came into my mind and I thought “Flip, I should really get back on that”, I managed to find something to procrastinate with.

i think part of the reason for my reluctance to approach the keyboard again is something I’d call The Keyboard Fear. Because the only thing worse than procrastinating is attempting to write something of value and substance, only to churn out 3000 characters of crap. I felt uninspired and disillusioned with it all; what’s the point in writing an entire article on something people probably don’t care about? Isn’t it a slightly more sophisticated form of the Youtube comments section?

Then suddenly and unexpectedly, I was jolted back to life by a bolt of lightning in the form of a brilliant newsletter. Sunday Times Style columnist Dolly Alderton has written a regular blog that witters about the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of today’s popular culture and society. What’s more-it’s brilliant. Usually reading opinion pieces can be a veritable snoozefest, but Alderton’s style is such that it’s a proper delight to read in the morning or after work (okay, even during work). Her writing voice is infectious and hilarious, her tone self-effacing and down-to-earth.

I read her articles because I genuinely enjoy her style and want to hear her thoughts on the recent motions in culture. This is what compelled me to start writing again. Because having a talent for writing can mean that you actually connect with people through how you share your opinions and commentary on the world.

So begins an attempt to keep up a momentum of posts and flooding your brains with my inane, but hopefully, in some small part, enjoyable rants.

(Let’s see how that one goes.)

 

 

Why Lana Del Rey is the female narrative we’ve all been waiting for

 

When I was young, and even to this day, my favourite book was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. After nicking it off my older brother, I found myself devouring it over the course of a month. I would have finished it sooner, had I not been enjoying it so much and wanting to stretch it out for as long as possible. There was something about the bitter, self-contradictory narrative that resonated with me to a level no other novel had before. The desire for closeness to another human being without sexual activity, yet desire for sexual closeness without wanting to be sexual at all was my entire teenage existence. I had never come across anyone in real life who felt this way; but even though Holden Caulfield was fictional, I saw him as a real person who I could relate to when my peers didn’t measure up. To this day, every other novel has paled in comparison.

But as a girl growing up with these emotions, it often irked me that there were rarely any stories were girls were this complicated. There were few coming-of-age stories for girls that I could relate to. Most of them were concerned with teenage pregnancies and mean girls, and were written in a soapy, flimsy fashion. These girls usually had a crowd of friends they talked to endlessly about the boys they liked. I was unmoved; the boys I was surrounded by didn’t compel me-they were immature and sex-obsessed. There were no stories of disillusionment with adults and society, at least to my knowledge.

Of course, it was only in my twenties that I discovered The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which was almost the female equivalent of Catcher. But even then, it seems to me that the stories we are told about men are complex and ask existentialist questions that are difficult for most of us to answer-whereas stories we are told about women are usually answered in 30-minute intervals in some tawdry sitcom or unrealistic drama.

So it is that we start to look for a complex female narrative; someone who speaks to us in a way we can relate to. Where not everything is always sunshine and roses and cupcakes with vanilla frosting.

Enter Lana Del Rey. With an aesthetic that drums up images of 90s rap legends and 60s pinup girls simutaneously, she evokes a brazen sexuality with a glow of deep sadness. Her image may suggest sexuality and conformity, but look longer and you’ll see that she doesn’t intend her image for the male gaze; and if it does capture them, she’s not interested. Famous for her refusal to pander to the media, she eschews the peppy demeanour of your Perrys and Swifts in favour of a darkness that we rarely see in our female pop musicians. She sings that you’re her daddy, but she also hates your guts. She sings about feeling deeply depressed and not knowing why; rebelling without a cause and kissing men who’ll never truly know her. Hers is a story we rarely hear-she’s destructive and wild and drives down the highway with abandon. But while critics applauded Kerouac for his run-on sentences and nonsensical acid-fuelled narrative, they revile Del Rey’s own Beatnik beats, insisting her lyrics are foamy, substance-less fluff. Because while men have complex souls of which we may never know the true depth, apparently women exist as shallow pools to be carelessly walked through for the convenience of men.

Many may criticize Del Rey’s lyrics as being mostly concerned with men as the basis for her existence. One can see why-it’s true that most of her lyrics plead for men to love her, to notice her, to be both kind and cruel-but it’s this tragic narrative that makes her all the more compelling. I’m all for female independence and girl-power anthems, but I’m also for exposure of the darker depths of women’s psyche. If that happens to be a longing for her man to love her, so be it. It’s delivered with a thoughtfulness and moroseness that is lacking in most female musicians’ discography. She writes rhythmic poetry in place of catchy hooks. Her self-aware sonnet “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” is a nod to press speculation about her. She refuses to censor.

There are more female singers out there are doing something different in music-Lorde, Ladyhawke and Robyn to name a few-but there is something cathartic about Del Rey’s mournful musings on love and life. She creates her own story of tragedy, all without being a big old phony.

The boys, the girls, they all like Carmen
She gives them butterflies, bats her cartoon eyes
She laughs like God, her mind’s like a diamond
Audio tune lies, she’s still shining
Like lightning, ohh, white lightning

-Lana Del Rey, Carmen

 

 

It’s not just the Academy, it’s the entire damn system

 

 

Racism in the media is nothing new. With the media acting as a mirror to mainstream society (and vice versa), we can always see the dirty marks in our reflection that remind us that while we like to pretend prejudices have died and we have become a far more developed society, it’s never quite as simple as that. In this age where the media is inescapable, our problems are always right behind us. These days, more marginalised groups now have as much a voice as the wider, mainstream media, and they’re using that platform to point out some stuff.

With the Oscars nominations being announced last week and the winners being announced fairly soon, the Academy was going to be in for some social media scrutiny. Last year the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was used frequently by social media users in order to highlight the lack of racial diversity in the awards nominations, and when the nominations were announced this year, there was an outcry as people were disappointed once again for the lack of minority film workers recognised in the nominations. Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith posted an emotional and strident video online to lament her dissatisfaction with the Academy and announce that she would not be attending in protest. many applauded the motion on Twitter, and she was not alone in her thoughts as Best Actress nominee Brie Larson and George Clooney echoed her sentiments.

But are we pointing our fingers in the right direction? Yes, it’s true that there was a severe lack of racial minorities in the nominations this year (and previous years haven’t been much better) but I can’t think of many films made by people of colour or any performances by people of colour that deserved those nominations. True, it’s not as if I’ve seen all the films that were released this year; but there wasn’t some great injustice to the nominations leaving out someone whose performance had been applauded greatly and not given its due recognition.

The reason for this is the racism within the film industry itself. It’s because people of colour are shown the door at the big-budget Oscar film auditions. It’s because directors are mostly white and mostly male, and there’s not much room in that club for anyone else. For so long, stories have been told by the white, the male and the privileged. This is the root of the problem- movies aren’t casting people of colour out of fear that it will alienate audiences, not considering how they are effectively alienating talented actors and actresses, alienating potential to change the scope of the movie world.

For so long, stories have been told by the white, the male and the privileged. This is the root of the problem

Thing’s are changing, yes, but slowly; for every Steve McQueen, there’s ten Clint Eastwoods, for every Lupita Nyong’o, there’s twenty Julia Roberts. Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts are very talented people, yes, but this doesn’t explain why there isn’t an equal ratio being represented. The only film this year I can think of that merited applause that included a great deal of people of colour was Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic which many thought deserved more recognition. But that’s just one film.

So it strikes me as missing the point when people bemoan the lack of minorities represented in the Oscars. They can only do the best with what they have. When there’s a lack of films representing talented people of colour, that’s going to have a domino effect on the amount of awards recognising them.

So bemoan not the Oscars, but the people sitting in the red velvet seats, soaking up the glory of another box office and awards-season hit, the heads of film companies who seem disinterested in telling stories little-heard by the mainstream. There needs to be a conversation on why so many films are being white-washed by studios in order to…what? Make them more palatable to a racist audience? The shock casting of Rooney Mara in last year’s adaptation of Peter Pan as the Native American character Tiger Lily was just a drop in the ocean in comparison to the casting choices by Ridley Scott of Exodus: Gods and Kings, where characters of Egyptian ethnicity were played by mostly white actors. These are the problems that should have fallen out of fashion long ago.

It’s time for a conversation about racism in the film industry, yes, but make sure most of the vitriol is pointed in the right direction.

Stop Whinging about “Selfie Culture”, You Sound like a Prat

Another day, another stuffy left-wing columnist moaning about “the youth of today”. Every generation has one, but this generation’s joykiller seems to come in the form of an Australian social media star who has been announced as “revolutionary” for her comments on the downsides of visual social media and its impact on our society. Because obviously taking a couple of selfies is hindering social progress and is adding to the issue of global warming and child poverty in Central Africa and the Syrian conflict and basically the world will end when someone presses the fire emoji on their Blueberry or Raspberry or whatever.

In the 60s you had people moaning about hippies and children becoming satanists and reading too much J.D. Salinger (note: you can never read too much J.D. Salinger), in the 70s the hippies were still about, but now people were listening to FUNK MUSIC which would have obviously led to sexual intercourse outside marriage and other depravity. Then the 80s came about and suddenly there were kids wearing staples on their nipples and on their face and saying it was “punk” but was obviously a secret plot to take over the country and bring about an anarchist society. Then in the 90s everyone was smoking their granny’s life savings and making bongs out of 2-litre Coke bottles and wearing flannel and worshipping Che Guevara so basically becoming Stalinist rebels. The 2000s were silent because everyone was talking to their six lovers on their mobile flip-phone and wearing those trackies, daring to try to be comfortable. Now nobody talks on the phone anymore but instead tell their friend they hate their fringe over Whatsapp and then take pretty pictures of their city on the way to uni and when they think they look good they can get a mirror thing up on their phones and then take a picture of themselves looking into that mirror so THEY WILL KNOW WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE IN A PHOTO, so now you see, even though there were trends back then this trend thats happening right now is the worst of them all, because of the internet and such. Let’s ignore the fact that the internet has made expensive encyclopedias obsolete so now even poor people can go to a library and look up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for free. It’s now self-indulgent selfie culture is making our youth. Because it isn’t until now that young people have been so self-obsessed! Never before have young people been selfish and self-centered and superficial and obsessed with the aesthetic aspects of life. Let’s blame the downfall of civilisation on a phone app and call it all square. that seems like the right thing to do because Instagram is burning our children’s brains and-

Ach, feck off. Honestly. Don’t listen to any of these meaningless fusty-dusty diatribes on how taking a picture of yourself is destroying your brain cells. You know what destroys brain cells? Reading crap like that and believing it. Stupidity is a disease, and if you spend too much time around it, you’ll catch it too.
It’s your god-given right as a young person to be self-obsessed and like talking about makeup and trainers and forget to take the bins out and only floss your teeth when you have to Skype your parents and signing up for a blood donation and then sleeping in on the day because you had ten G&Ts and a curry chip last night so you’re knackered and you’re probably anaemic so your blood would be useless anyway. At this point in your life, if you can catch a lecture now and again, ring your mum on her birthday, know how to microwave baked beans and manage not to be too much of an arselick while doing it, then you’re doing a lot better than most people.

Belfast has a Business Problem

belfast

Being a bi-coastal student has many pros and cons – getting a break from parental guidance, homesickness, money issues, malnutrition – but one thing that remains a constant is comparison between the two places. Having a perspective of living in two places at different times of the year, I’ve noticed a lot of differences between Edinburgh and Belfast other than the obvious (weather and the accent). .Most significantly, their business approaches.

Edinburgh is a plethora of culture – widely known as one of the most diverse cities in the UK, it is home to the annual Fringe Festival, one of the biggest arts festivals in the world. Furthermore, with its long stretch of gardens and pathways along the main street, it takes full advantage of its onslaught of tourism during the holidays. A massive German Christmas market in November and December and the Meadows Festival in one of the most beautiful stretches of park in the city. Every time I go into a cafe, I am greeted with a pleasant demeanour and an enthusiastic disposition. In a way that mirrors a rather American attitude to customer service, Scottish waiting staff treat you with good humour and are always friendly and welcoming. They actually remain open until their actual closing time.

It’s unfortunate that I can’t say the same for Belfast. Speaking as a young person, I have immeasurable disdain for the young whippersnappers working in Subway who ask me in a reefer-induced haze whether I would like jalapenos on my sub. They can’t see me, the don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t care, but at least pretend.

Recently, I was having coffee with a friend in a new independent coffee shop in the city centre. We ordered and paid at the till, as per their system, and took our place at the window. A while later, my friend got her pot of tea. I was waiting rather a long time for my coffee, and when it came it looked like your standard instant joe – nothing like the creamy artisanal Americanos you would find in an independent Edinburgh coffee shop. We were wondering where the plate of mini biscuits that we ordered were, when I spotted them up at the till, not too far from a bored-looking barista standing reading a magazine. I rolled my eyes and went up to take the plate away, the barista mumbling “Oh, sorry” in the monotonal twentysomething drawl I’ve come to loathe.

It’s a trend that I notice in Belfast a lot more when I come home from Edinburgh during winter and summer. There just doesn’t seem to be the same ambition, drive and passion for industry here. No wonder there are so few independently-owned shops – there is generally very little business savvy and very few employees passionate about customer service. It becomes unpleasant to give these people money for mediocre service, and depressing to be served with such indifference. Sure, they might be having a bad day, but it’s hardly my fault. Also, aren’t they getting paid to be sort-of polite? You would think.

Anyway, I realise I might be coming off as an old man yelling at a cloud, but it makes me sad to see so much wasted potential in my beautiful city, which could be so much more if it just tried, It has so much to offer, and so much more could be done to better the economy and the infrastructure. It just needs a good kick up the arse..

23 Things To Do Instead of “Getting Beach Body-Ready” This Summer

summer

Summer is approaching, which means it’s time to be bombarded with an onslaught of body-negative media disguised as health and fitness commercials, They will tell you that your current body is not “beach-ready”, that your bowels are slow and you’ve been eating too much. They will show you what you should be looking like. They will try and convince you that anything other than what this nameless model looks like is unacceptable, and it’s time for you to spend your hard-earned money on their product which will make you acceptable to the public.

Do not listen. They are the embodiment of that crappy ex-friend who tells you that you can’t “pull off” those shorts.

So sit back, relax. Eat the feckin’ digestive biscuit. You look fine. Do not buy into the body-shaming commercials. here are some far more productive things to do instead:

  1. Take a hike up a hill and watch the sun set after a sunny day. Nature is more satisfying than a “chocolate flavoured protein meal shake”.
  2. Take up flossing (YOUR TEETH. God).
  3. Make a “Getting Sh*t Done” motivational playlist to motivate you into getting sh*t done. Song suggestions: “Someday” by The Strokes, “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys and “Strict Machine” by Goldfrapp.
  4. Plan a festival weekend – Alt-J and The Libertines are playing at Reading, Paolo Nutini and First Aid Kit are playing at Isle of Wight and Charli XCX is doing Bestival. Rent or borrow a tent, buy some barbecue food and get gritty for a couple of days.
  5. Make a list of reasons why you’re awesome and deserve better from yourself. Do it seriously-sure you’ve got great hips and great hair, but you’re also a loyal friend and have a thoughtful mind. You just need a reminder.
  6. Take the dog for a walk and accidentally bump into another cute dog walker. Set up a date. Get freaky.
  7. Stop putting off the things you always meant to do or try.
  8. Take up a new sport.
  9. Do you really know your own city? Investigate events going on near you and get involved in some culture.
  10. Learn a recipe and make dinner for your parents one night. They raised you, dude.
  11. Go into a second-hand bookshop and ask the owner for a recommendation. Buy that book.
  12. Ring your best friend.
  13. It sounds really trite and overtly twee, but start a dream journal, Every morning, write down what you can remember from your dream. Look back at it a month later. What you find can actually be really interesting.
  14. Think about a public figure you admire and read their autobiography or a book about them.
  15. Find a free night and clean the bathroom from top to toe. Then run yourself a bath with all the candles, bath bombs and smelly soaps you can find and clean yourself from top to toe. Hair masks, face masks, body scrubs and massage oils aplenty.
  16. Stop Facebook-stalking him. You know exactly what I’m talking about, girl.
  17. Same goes for guys.
  18. When a friend starts putting themselves down, lift them back up and tell them to be kinder to themselves. Giving someone a compliment doesn’t mean you become any more or less powerful or beautiful. It makes you kinder.
  19. Start a blog. If you’re looking for inspiration, click here.
  20. Next time you go to a birthday party, bring a small gift. It could be anything. Just don’t come empty-handed.
  21. Buy a world map poster, put it up in your room, stick red pins in the places where you’ve been and yellow in the places you want to go
  22. When you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, close your eyes,and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’ve been in stressful situations before and have survived them. Nothing will ever be as bad as you think it will be, but even if it is, you can handle it.
  23. Listen to “A Little Respect” by Erasure. Trust me.

Pretty Hurts: Is Makeup Highlighting Our Power , or Just Concealing the Ugly Truth

Me and make-up haven’t always got along. When I was around 11 years old and in my faux-punk black everything phase, I rejected it as an activity only a “girly-girl” (the horror) would partake in. Fast-forward two years, and I had discovered the witchy, beautifully raccoon-like visage that too-light foundation and black kohl on my lower eye rim could offer. Fast forward three more years, and I was wearing tinted moisturiser and mascara sporadically, when I could be bothered in those slovenly school mornings. There was ventures into green eyeshadow, shaky liquid liner, and most regrettably, foundation as “natural-look” lipstick (thank the MAC gods I have since discovered Creme D’Nude). In my final years at school I had found my best eyeshadow colours, my favourite way to shape my eyes with liquid liner, and how to apply mascara without contracting self-induced conjunctivitis. But I balanced those days of wearing makeup with many days of a bare face. This is because I always seemed to have two different feminists on either of my shoulders – one who said that makeup was empowering, and one who said I was betraying myself and compromising my feminist ideals by pandering to the instructions of the patriarchy, to cover up supposed imperfections which they had deemed unacceptable. I have always been torn between what it really means to wear makeup.

There seems to be much conflict in the feminist community about this topic. Makeup falls under the category of external beauty, which, as we all know, is a topic feminism has covered very well. Photoshop used in fashion magazines has been widely criticised as creating an unreachable beauty standard for women. Diversity within the fashion world is better than ever, but that’s not saying much, as it still largely consists of UK size 4 white women under 25. So logically, the topic of makeup has also been critiqued and questioned. However, it was mostly the second wave feminists who began this critique and who were its loudest critics. They believed that makeup sent the message that a woman’s appearance was insufficient without cosmetic assistance, that their natural features weren’t good enough on their own. Meanwhile, men were free to be as old, ugly and spotty as they liked, because their superficial appearance was not what they were valued for. But then, the early 1990’s saw a shift in this opinion. Third wave feminism birthed “Lipstick Feminism”, introducing a brand of feminism which saw makeup as an empowering tool to be celebrated, largely using it to make themselves look even less like the ideal object of the male gaze, with loud red lipstick and garish black eyeliner, eschewing the powdery-pink, sugary-sweet makeup trends of the ’90s with a counterculture of “Riot Grrrls.” They were deliberately misusing makeup to counter the dictation of the patriarchy.

But was it a true victory?

Many feminists have covered the subject of female beauty ideals extensively-most prominently has been Naomi Wolf, whose fantastic feminist tome “The Beauty Myth” dealt with the impossible standards set by men via advertising and the media. She writes, “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Her argument is that dictation of the female appearance is used to hinder women’s advancement in the world. “Bang on, Wolfy!” I thought as I read. Then, after a beat and a Victory Bite of a panini, I thought to myself, “Oh…” as I glanced down at my bulging makeup bag.

But I’m not necessarily conforming to any beauty ideal by painting on navy-blue eyeliner and dabbing on a dark berry lipstick just to look a little rad, am I? After all, David Bowie did it and though he had male privilege in truly choosing to do it, he looked pretty damn cool. He used makeup as self-expression, so why can’t we? It can’t be anti-feminist just to want to look a bit like David Bowie.

These days, in the era of “Fourth Wave Feminism” (or “Tumblr Feminism” as I like to call it), there is a strong argument for makeup as being synonymous with empowerment. Blog articles, think pieces and popular Tumblr posts alike have all supported the idea that wearing makeup doesn’t mean surrendering to the patriarchal agenda, “because we’re not wearing it for men. We’re wearing it for ourselves.”

Here lies my quibble. Are we really wearing it for ourselves? And if we are, does that mean it’s not conforming to the beauty ideal? Most beauty companies are still largely owned by men, and in those big advertising agencies, it is men who are deciding how to sell you products you don’t actually need. Does buying into it all not still mean that we’re deeming ourselves insufficient in our natural state?

This type of feminism is also the kind that irks me with how liberal and tolerant it is in terms of what women do. They argue the idea that feminism dictating what it is right for women to do with their bodies is counter-productive and sexist in itself.  However, I would counter that if we don’t challenge the rhyme and reason of our actions, then aren’t we letting ourselves off with an awful lot? Part of being a feminist is self-examination. As products of a patriarchal society, we often do sexist things every day without thinking. We often stab ourselves in our own proverbial backs without thinking, because we have been conditioned not to think about these things. Cutting ourselves a bit of slack when we do these things is good, because we, as feminists, are bound to mess up at some point. But completely absolving ourselves of responsibility for our actions just because we are products of the machine is self-victimising and proffers a very light, easy, fat-free kind of feminism I’m not interested in consuming.

I suppose my point is what I probably always knew deep down: that by concealing “flaws” that all humans have and that men do not feel the need to cover up, we are falling privy to the pressures of the beauty ideal. I should hold myself accountable for these missteps. Yet I also believe there’s no harm in painting on a dramatic eye or lip because it is really quite a lot of fun to do, and who am I to be the feminist killjoy?*

Confession: I quite like being the feminist killjoy.

Moving Away to Uni – What You Need To Know

brace

Hashtag uni life is a lot harder when you’re hashtagging away from home. Suddenly you have to cook for yourself, clean for yourself, take care of yourself and register at a medical centre yourself (this one I found particularly daunting). You also have to make sure you don’t accidentally die of malnourishment. Pot noodles every day suddenly don’t seem like such a good idea when you feel like a dried up old lemon in the fruit bowl of life. Not to mention the added stresses of a social life (or lack thereof). Moving somewhere you don’t know and having to tell people what course you’re doing approximately 4.2 million times a day can be exhausting. It’s even worse when you feel like a fish out of water, don’t fit in and just want to go home already.

My first term at university was definitely not a smooth transition. Some areas I excelled in – I had already cooked for myself in the past, and had been educated in delicious recipes by my dear mother since I was but wee. I was pretty healthy, actually, and smart about what I got at the supermarket. Sure, there was a month when I’m pretty sure I ate nothing but pasta, but even then I was cooking from scratch.

But while I triumphed in one area, it was only inevitable that I was to tumble in another – social life. For my first couple of months at university, I struggled to find my “people”. Freshers week seemed to consist of tolerating conversation I found desperately boring but nodded along enthusiastically to appease people. I encountered the charming breed of Fresher Boys, eager to dry-hump anything and everyone in their field of vision. My first night out was somewhat traumatic – I ended up getting pretty drunk at the preswall (pre-drinks for non-Irish) and getting in a taxi and then forgetting the address of my accomodation (drunken tears ensued). My flatmates were nice people, but we didn’t “click” like a lot of people do. This is pretty common, as I’ll discover later on, but at the time I felt pretty crappy, and wondered why I wasn’t having the time of my life, like everyone said I was supposed to.

Well, here’s the little secret of #unilife: everybody is having a tough time. Swap friend problems for boy issues, money trouble for homesickness. Everyone has their own struggles, and you’re not alone in having a hard time. Pictures on Facebook can be deceiving – I’ve been to the most boring, depressing parties with the most boring people, but the pictures on Facebook the day afterwards tell a whole different story – fake smiles, fake friends, fake fun. The Facebook Farce.

Here’s another secret: it gets better. As cheesy and trite as it sounds, you will find a place you belong. My best tip is to join societies and clubs. I found my place in the drama society and it was the best thing that could have happened. Suddenly I was meeting like-minded people who I “clicked” with, was having fun and keeping busy. Now that I’m in my second year, living with brilliant people, having found my place, I couldn’t be happier.

So after aquiring much wisdom over the past year and a half, here’s what you need to know about uni:

1. A hot water bottle is your best friend.
2. But also try and meet people so you can get a human best friend.
3. You will find out the downsides of eating nothing but pasta very, very soon.
4. Keep a note of your address in your phone or on a piece of paper and keep it in your going-out bag
5. Don’t feel pressured to do anything, with anyone, at any time. Your body belongs to you.
6. Soups are a great cure for Fresher’s Flu. Here are some great recipes
7. When making friends, the generic questions can seem boring, but if they’re cool people, the conversation will take a turn for the better.
8. Join as many clubs and societies as you can, take advantage of any uni opportunities that come up..
9. Get a diary to keep on top of your workload (it will pile up on you so fast it’ll scare you senseless).
10. When in real trouble, call your ma and da. You’re not too old for that yet.

But most importantly, make the most of your time at university. You’ll only experience it once.

(Unless you decide to do it again. Then it’s not just the one experience. It’s the two. It’ll be twice.)

MALIA 2014: PARTY ISLAND CULTURE, AND HOW EVEN THE MOST DETERMINED FEMINISTS CAN GET SUCKED IN

malia

Malia, Magaluf, Ayia Napa. Different names, same deal: complete and utter carnage. They are renowned hotspots for the young crazy kids to go and forget their troubles (and their names). Nobody goes there to take in the culture, visit a museum or sample the local cuisine. They go to get accosted by PR staff, get bad food and get four drinks, four shots and a fishbowl for five euro.

This year me and a couple of friends went to Malia with a common goal: get tanned and get trashed. Two of us had been to Magaluf the year before, so one would think we’d be pros by now. That we’d know all the pitfalls and be the “brains of the group”. Sadly, not so. The truth was that the second time around was much more ferocious, speaking for my own liver.

While the club scene in Belfast typically kicks off at around ten, it really only gets going in Malia at one o’clock in the morning. Streets transform from the fairly clean paths for quad bikes and hungover twentysomethings to the filthiest yellow brick road Dorothy never ventured on. Nearly everywhere you look, prepare to feel very uncomfortable as airbrushed billboards of women in bikinis vaguely resembling those on covers of video games will be advertising quad bikes and alcohol. There are televisions in the clubs playing either football or pornographic videos of women. Almost all your favourite childhood cartoons have been sexualised and put on a t-shirt (see: “Hello Titty”). After every horrible night, during your afternoon hangover, someone will come up and ask you, quite loudly, usually selling something, if you’re “READY TO PARTAY”. Plenty of groups of boys wearing LADS HOLIDAY shirts will look at you inappropriately and make you feel even more uncomfortable. Old men will grab you from the street, their cigarette burning your neck, and try to pull you into their club. Let loose on the vast expanse of drinking and debauchery, things were bound to get out of hand. And get out of hand they did, at least every night. But the alcohol wasn’t the biggest issue.

Malia, Magaluf and Ayia Napa alike are all well-known for their massive events, and this year didn’t disappoint; a pre-drinking party complete with games, competitions and (of course) cheap drinks was on the cards, and we complied to the debauchery with minimal fuss. But nothing really prepared me for what happened.

A competition arose where three girls and three guys had to get up on a platform and the girls had to slap the guys as hard as they could, right across the face. Encouraged partly by my friends but mostly by my own sense of fun and curiosity for the thrill of slapping a UniLad across his sunburnt bake, I ventured forth to the platform, where I barely got any sufficient slaps in before an English girl won the competition, possibly for nearly knocking someone unconscious with a fantastic slap.

I didn’t think anyone would bother me after it ended, but as I was passing by the bar a guy pulled me by the arm and told me his friend was desperate for a kiss. Looking at his (hardly lucid) friend, my intuition told me to ignore them. But for some reason, I kissed him lightly on the mouth. Then his friend told me to kiss him again, and I did, pulling away once I felt the dreaded Sambuca Tongue try and worm its way in. I ran away from the lads, and from whoever it was that allowed herself to obey a man’s orders despite her own intuition.

Later on, in typical sophisticated Malia fashion, there was a pole-dancing game in which two girls (but of course) had to out-dance each other. I watched in horror as one girl from Stoke proceeded to take off all her clothes until she was literally completely naked, swinging around the pole to the cheers of the (mostly male) crowd. I nearly cried as I saw a sexist cliche come to life; girls pressured to perform for the benefit of the male gaze, while perpetuating the sexist party island culture, with the clubs laughing all the way to the bank. It didn’t look like sexual liberation; it looked like the literal definition of female submission to the patriarchy. Of couse she won the competition by a landslide – that didn’t surprise me. Afterwards everyone got up on the poles and had a good time, including myself. I then expressed to my friend my disgust at what the girl had done, but moreso the competition provoking and encouraging it. The girl was seeking validation in the cheers of the male spectators; it was the ultimate example of the brainwashing powers of the patriarchy. But my friend retorted that I was doing the same thing by getting up on the pole myself. I shook away the reply indignantly – I was doing that for myself and for my own fun. But it rang in my mind.

…Was I?

I’m the kind of feminist who believes sexual liberation should not be shut down or restrained. That dancing “provocatively” is not anti-feminist or performing for the patriarchy, as long as you’re doing it to please yourself. The idea that feminists should have to wear straight sharp suits and a poker face to be taken seriously seems sexist in itself, as if a naked woman deserves less respect than a fully-clothed, reserved woman.

It brings to mind the feminist perspectives on the profession of pole dancing and stripping. On one hand, women taking their clothes off for men for money seems to be the epitome of sexism in society – but in arguing this, are we not victimising these women and in speaking for them, are we taking away their voice and thus being anti-feminist ourselves? Many argue that strippers enjoy stripping – but why? Is it because they feel genuinely free, being sexually liberated on a pole, exposing their body unashamedly, going against the oft-conservative restrains society seems to place almost exclusively on women? Or are they feeling that way because the patriarchy tells them that the approving male gaze is the only one that matters; and their minds are not nearly as important as their bodies? On a wider scale, what message does it send? That women should not be ashamed of their naked form or being sexually confident, or that the only time a woman is important and centre-stage is when she is naked and sexual?

Burlesque and stripping are different for many reasons – one of them being that strippers seem to have a sadness and a desperation about them that burlesque dancers don’t. This is because strippers rarely have the privilege to choose to take their clothes off for money – without attempting to speak for this group, it would appear that it is a last resort. Burlesque dancers do it for fun, for theatre.

So who am I, exactly, to emulate this profession when I am by no means in a desperate economic condition? I’m lucky enough to live in a nice house, with a nice family and go to a nice university where I get a nice education. I don’t need to be dancing on a pole, nor should I be. Whether I intend to or not, I perpetuate the degradation of women in society with all the privilege of a woman who doesn’t need to. My mother works, nose to the grindstone, every day, in order to be taken seriously by a world of male misogynists who frequently treat her differently because of her sex. Stripping on a pole with my friends is hardly completely to blame for this, but it doesn’t help. You can say I’m taking it too seriously and that it’s only a bit of banter, but that’s just an excuse that men use to make women feel bad about not participating in these things.

We do it all under the guise and the false assurance that it it’s just a bit of banter.

The entire culture in Malia pressures girls to do the most, to kiss the boys they don’t want to kiss and take off the clothes they may not want to take off so they can win the competition; cleverly disguising it as “craic” or “fun”. Even as my instincts told me not to, I surrendered to it, to the false form of validation that it brought me, and it all left me thinking what kind of feminist is this?

Needless to say, it’ll be my last party holiday.

If there’s one thing I learnt from my holiday, should you not get run over by a scrawny teen boy on a quad bike, it’s to trust your own instincts, and not to measure yourself by anyone’s yardstick but your own. You need to take care of yourself before anyone else, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, a veritable black hole of depravity that will suck you in, chew you up and spit you back out. You want to kiss the boy? Great! You want to kiss the girl? Do it! But make sure you’re not doing it for anyone other than yourself.