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Inked Identity

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I have a tattoo on the back of my neck.This little tattoo was acquired whilst in London on my gap year, after an insanely memorable holiday to Morocco with my sister…in celebration of her 21stBirthday! I would say I’m adventurous and open minded but never thought I’d ever actually get the tattoo that you always talk about so much…but I did.

Ok to get to the point since branding myself with ink I have had some experience of people putting me in a category,or should I say applying an identity to me (that I have no objection to) but had not quite thought of.

 

“As individuals we take up identities actively, these identities are the product of the society in which we live and our relationships with others.”

                                                                                   [KathWoodward, 2000: pg7]

 

Kath Woodward says that we take up identities actively, which I did in that I went out and had the word ‘God’ tattooed on my neck in Arabic, but what if others do not interpret the identity the way we want? My tattoo is in seen to others as somewhat controversial to my beliefs as I am a committed Christian but they do not see that I have written a word I respond to as My Saviour in a language purely for the beauty of the writing and the remembrance of the holiday in Morocco. My tattoo means exactly what I mean it to and not what others may interpret it to mean. I find it interesting that having a tattoo expresses an identity I know nothing about nor attain to yet find myself fully involved. 

I initially found personal and private reasons for having a tattoo but realised that they are in fact just the same as the general reason people get them. In Margo DeMello’s book Odies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community (2000; pg137), she lists some traditional US reasons (as in the more modern US) as marking an affiliation with a loved one or social group, commemoration of a life, event or journey, representing an aspect of identity, marking disaffiliation with mainstream society or simply aesthetic reasons. I have discovered that I in fact do relate – my reasons were that I was marking an unforgettable experience/journey and making and representing my affiliation with my beliefs in that God shall always be in my life. So perhaps my non-involvement is part of a disillusion and that I do adhere to conformities subconsciously.

 

I have also discovered that identities are fluid and ever changing. Nothing is permanent nor constant unless we try our utmost to hold onto some certainty and neverchanging aspect of our personhoods, by branding ourselves for life we chain ourselves to an identity or concept that we don’t want to loose, however it is not always like that in that people constantly regret their markings and try to cover them up with clothing, makeup, laser surgery and other procedures.

 

I now find myself with a permanent marking of a symbol I hope never to regret, although as I have come to realize that change is inevitable and that our identities and beliefs will shift slightly due to constant socialization. 

 

Common Thread

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I have been reading Jonny Steinberg’s book Three-LetterPlague which is all about the stigma around AIDSand ARV (antiretroviral treatment) in the rural district of Lusikisiki in theEastern Cape, and more so in the village of Lusikisiki, Ithanga. Whilst readingthis book I came across a chapter called Voting Day.

 

It explains how everyone in the villagegoes down to the nearest school to cast their ballots. Jonny who is there toobserve, sees that it is not a ‘done thing’ not to vote and one is shunned fornot partaking in this righteous task. He describes how everyone in the villagecongregates into snake and stands as a whole, how all identities are suppressedas they enter this line and only one stands out – ‘a black person inearly-twenty-first-century South Africa’. This being so everyone voted, andvoted ANC. Jonny describes how most people in the village who voted were wellaware of how the ANC had not delivered their promises of running water,electricity, clinics etc – they had not forgotten, yet still pledge theirallegiance.

 

This common identity amongst the villagesstands so strong that nothing can deter it – not even the undelivered promises.All differences are set aside on voting day and all come together to cast theirballots. It is like everyone has some common identity that one will fight tokeep, something so powerful that we will put our differences aside and standshoulder to shoulder. It is the same in religion, nationality, and even schoolpride. We override certain identities; suppress them in order to stand up forone of particular importance whether it is for a day, a week or a specificamount of time in order to make us seen as one. Even if your common identitylike the ANC let you down, loyalty is part of who you are.

 

This made me think what I am loyal to aboveall and of course my religion stands out the most important. It is the thingsthat you would stand up to and fight for no mater what the circumstances – forif you don’t you feel you are betraying your self and all that you are made upof. This is like the villages of Ithanga, if they don’t vote for the ANC, theirmain identity, which shapes their every day-to-day life, is shattered, theywould be shunned from the community and from their life.

Reintegration

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Crime. This is a subject all South Africansare very familiar with. It happens every second within our borders and beyond,and never seems to improve – but to worsen every day. What I struggle with isthe fact that it almost seems to become a vicious circle that is impenetrable;people become trapped…cemented into a life of crime. Is this so, is there nochance for hardened criminals that have spent their lives engrossed in murder,theft and rape. Is there any agency left in their ability to change their lives?

 

I read an article titled Good enough fora second chance on the different rehabilitationprogrammes that run in South African correctional facilities. It wasinteresting to hear that these programmes aim to restore their identities andreintegrated them into their communities, homes and into new jobs.

 

Each of these programmes like The ToughEnough Programme (TEP) and The Bird Hand-rearing Projects try to teach theprisoners the skills for development, skills for acquiring jobs, they give themvarious counselling and all in all help reintegrate them into theircommunities. But can you socialise oneself fully if all you have ever known isone way of life – a life of crime and disruptive behaviour. We learn languagefrom the day we are born – the structures of language are embedded into ourbeings and lives and can’t be lost unless severely brain damaged. Is this notthe same with being brought up being taught to steal etc. How can you changeand is there any choice in the matter, is there any sense left to change to alife of a law abiding citizen.

 

Looking at the different rehabilitationprogrammes that run it seems there may be hope of change although theseprogrammes have not been running long enough to be deemed completelysuccessful. It is also difficult because it is not only the individual who hasto reintegrate and to change; it is the community in which they were influencedby that must change as well.

 

So to what extent is a social constructunchangeable, may there be a point when there is no agency left, and purelystructure.

 

Stigma On AIDs

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Z3, amagama amathathu, thinning disease,hiv, slow puncture these are all words and phrases in reference to HIV/AIDS.Many people have a mark of disgrace associated with it or a person who has it.There are many versions of myths, tales and stories that’s surround AIDS butnot all are untrue, in fact many are very real in lives of the people who itsurrounds daily, who it lives in and who is affected emotionally by its aura.

 

I find it very difficult, having beenbrought up in the home I did, to emotionally understand this stigma that peoplestill have of AIDS. I feel that it has been explained time and time again to methat I find no threat in it (providing I take specific precautions) and find nodisgrace in it. It may be that the majority of HIV infected people I know andmeet are healthy well-educated people, who regularly take ARVs, so don’t seethe other side. The side of incredibly ill, poverty stricken and bed strickenpeople who aren’t on ARVs or who don’t have the same medical availability.

 

Reading Jonny Steinberg’s book he discoversa lot of the stigma is created through desperate poverty and the lack ofresources in poor communities. Hermann Reuter, a Medicines Sans Frontier (MSF) colleague who set up the Antiretroviral( (ARV) programme in Lusikisiki district through theadministration of using nurses and lay people in clinics, said the two maincauses of stigma are the financial burden and the disability of the disease.The frustrating thing is abut this stigma is that these two problems are easilyaddresses. The government provides a disability grant so helps the family withthe financial burden and the sickening illness is improved largely through ARVs. It’s just now up to the government to administer these resourcesefficiently, to improve the healthcare system dramatically so that people canaccess their drugs and grant money. The lack of medical staff leaves lines and bad heath assistance in theclinics and hospitals. This deters people from going to the clinics fortreatment and start to seek alternative methods through sangomas and naturalremedies as well as other support groups who don’t believe in ARVs.

 

Stigma must be eradicated in order for ourcountry to take hold of AIDS and to begin to control it, but in order for thatto happen people need to come together to make a stand and the government mustawaken to their priorities in their country.

 

References made: Hermann Reuter in JonnySteinberg’s Three Letter Plague PG 256

The Legalising Of Prostitution

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Here’s a big debate – should prostitutionbe legalised? With the 2010 Soccer World Cup coming up, Selebi issued astatement that prostitution may be temporarily legalised. This is in order tocontrol and reduce the petty arrests that should be made to foreigners whoindulge in it.

 

This however raises the debate of whom itbenefits – the pleasure seeking male or the sex worker (predominantly female).Does this really improve the lives of sex workers? Sure, through the legalisationthey will have more rights and won’t be abused by police officials and clientsbut by legalising it, is it not the same as condoning it. And through condoningprostitution are there not a whole lot of ethical obligations to women andchildren who are forced into it through trafficking, poverty, bonded relationsetc.

 

Human Trafficking  is an abuse of humanrights and many prostitutes are forced into selling their bodies to make theirpimps/captors/owners wealthy. How could anyone in this day and age even beginto think they can own another human being? I must say I do hear the argumentthat not all prostitutes are forced into prostitution and that some due totheir circumstances choose to do it, even prefer to do it to any other job theymight get. Some women are more than happy to sell their sexual favours for abetter standard of living. Some even enjoy it. One can then say if they wereeducated properly and had an average income they would not choose to abusetheir bodies but one can’t say for sure and will people in those situationsever get the opportunity to be educated, own a home and job.

 

In legalising prostitution it will improveconditions for prostitutes, it will improve their status, healthcare and bringthem into the middle class sector. As individuals and women they can improvetheir lifestyles and gain respect. Prostitution is always said to be the oldestprofession, of course its not as there had to be something before it toeconomically sustain it but you get the gist that it was certainly one of thefirst. One can then argue that if it has been around for so long, why not just legalise it. 

 

So sure there are plenty reasons forpotentially legalising it, but in my opinion it won’t provide the respect andbenefits they say it will. I refuse to believe we as a humane race can give into just legalising it, surely we should settle for a higher standard oferadicating it or coming up with some other solution. I personally couldn’tjustify condoning it.

 

Sugar And Spice, And Everything Nice

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Sugar and spice and everything nice,

That's what little girls are made of.

Snips and snails and puppy-dog tails,

That's what little boys are made of.

 

 

‘What Folks Are Made Of’, the poem supposedly written by Robert Southey (1774-1843) – an English poet and historian, is a poem about stereotypes and social constructs of thegender roles and relationships of males and females. The two stanzas’, which the poem is most well known for and host the best context for which I will be discussing, describes what little boys and girls are made of.

 

The poem about what little girls and boys are made up of no longer only lies in old or new nursery rhyme books; it’s on the television shows, which young impressionable beings watch religiously. Such programs are like the Powerpuff Girls. This programme not only reinforces gender stereotypes of what girls are like it is based onthe ‘What Folks Are Made Of’ poem. The three girls Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are based on the poem’s line – ‘sugar and spice and everything thing nice’. The cartoon also brought in an episode where Rowdyruff Boys were created, Brick, Boomer and Butch – they were based on the line and created, by the evil Mojo Jojo in a prison toilet, out of ‘snips and snails, and puppy-dog tails’. They were modeled in complete opposites of the girls –applying stereotypical characteristics of boys like roughness , meanness,loudmouth, aggressive and bullies. This is in opposite to the loving, kind, sweet and pretty Powerpuff girls.

 

These unfair and biased stereotypes are instilled in little girls and boys when they are young growing up to believe that girls are meant to be nice, sweet and pretty while boys are meant to be rough and tough. These social constructs play into our adult lives in how girls always want the ‘bad boys’ and girls should be ever pleasing and take extra care in how they look. It just shows how influential and potentially harmful a, perceived to be innocent, cartoon can be. 

 

The social movement, Feminism, has been one of the biggest in the last 40 years. My understanding of ‘feminism’ is the effort to remove stereotypes and to lesson the effect of gender roles. In its modern and evolved state feminism has become genderless,it holds its purpose to remove the term ‘gender’ and is as much pro male as itis female. The challenge that remains is how to remove these social constructions that are bombarded on us all the time and from a ripe young age as well. I’m not saying I completely agree that we should be genderless but rather that the harmful gender stereotypes that force individuals to be someone they might not be, to be removed from our society in all ways possible – even if it mean killing the Powerpuff girls and the sweet and endearing poem of ‘What Folks Are Made Of’.

 

Globalisation

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Globalization the process where the worldhas become developed so as to make possible international influence oroperation. We all know the saying the world is shrinking. We are constantlyamazed, or at least I am, and made so aware how the world has become a globalvillage where it is considered as a single community linked by telecommunications. Friends and family living overseas is not such terriblething anymore, destinations not unreachable and mystic places not so exotic andmysterious. Our planet has become so accessible through travel and throughmassive corporations such as transnational, multinational and globalcorporations that through management and all consuming marketing bring theworld into a single market where one can get almost anything they desire fromtheir supermarket, or shopping mall – people don’t even need to leave theirhome, goods can be delivered right to your doorstep.

 

“Europeansfantasised about the wealth of these lands where the Greek geographers saidthat gold was dug up by gigantic ants and guarded by griffins, and whereprecious jewels were said to lie scattered on the ground like dust.”

-   William Dalrymple, Time 2007 

 

 

 

 

These words are no longer fantasies ordreams that may become real but rather are images laid down in storybooks andmyths, there is no more dreaming of unwilled lands and adventures of theunknown. The unknown almost does not exist on the planet earth in regards oflands unfound. We have inhabited almost the earth in its entire. Good or bad?There are many debates that surround the issue of globalisation. Globalcorporations invading underdeveloped countries to use their cheap and plentifullabour, to flood their countries with their products and to globally impose ontheir way of life destroying cultural practices and tradition. Its not all badas the common thought seems to go, it seems as international corporations bringing in their factories, theyare slowly improving poverty conditions. With their higher wages (compared tothe locally or government owned businesses) workers lives are drasticallyimproved.

 

But…with this goodness does the evil notdisprove the odds. Do these monstrous corporations not still have evilintentions to dominate globally and to stop at pretty much nothing to get whatthey want – to be bigger and better and richer! With these colossal companiesbringing there western influence and dominating the market, are people owncultural practices being lost to an easier, cheaper and efficient lifestyle.Are we not just giving up and buying into the marketing strategies. Anotherquestion to pose, what will happen in the future…who will run this world – willwe really become one nation, one country and one “culture”? Will the diverselifestyles, exotics and mysteries be lost forever into one ever consumingcultural mass?

Effortless Perfection - Shibumi

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Perfection - an idea that does not exist.

 

Human society with all our ideals andglorifications has managed to create a phenomenon that is quite unachievable –perfection. How can something be achieved when one’s perception of aquintessentially summed up ideal that requires no improvement of any kinddiffers from another? If there is no general equation in how to measureperfection there cannot be a method in order to achieve it, what it consistsof, in what areas perfection is most important or where it ends – they all varyand there is no one similar ideal. Sure there are the stereotypical ideals suchas a westerns idea of a perfect women is a thin, blonde, tanned, intellectual,articulate and well rounded in more ways than one female but for some one elsesome of these ideals may differ. Such as a brunette, artistic, and spiritualwomen or man may be more their description of preference.

 

Ideals and ideas of perfection are reallyjust what have been conditioned and created for the time – what may work for afew elite individuals who are able to manipulate the media and spread theirbiased and irrelevant opinions across the globe become many opinions on thematter. Knowingly I say this in how ideals and perfection are constructed andare not the true idealistic type, manner, theory or whatever but still fallprey to these mystic waves of persuasion. Knowingly in my head to beidealistically beautiful and talented is so ridiculous and pathetic but still Idesire these things. I can’t seem to escape and be perfect within – there isalways a pull to improve and be better, better in myself but also secretly andselfishly better than the rest! It should take so much strength and will toachieve a state of Shibumi, 'effortless perfection' – a perfection that only mattersto ones self and is not an accumulation of ‘others’ constructed ideals.

 

“Shibumi is understanding rather thanknowledge, so true it does not have to be real” - Trevanian 1979 

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