Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Seriously though, what is Christmas coming to?

On Saturday night I went for Christmas dinner with my boyfriend and another couple. After some tasty turkey-related treats we headed into town for a few drinks. The other couple were still wearing their Christmas cracker hats at this point and were refused entry to a bar until they agreed to remove them. Bah, humbug!

In a similar vein, Jeremy Paxman has caused something of a furore for refusing to have a Christmas tree and decorations in the Newsnight studio. A tree is prominently displayed on the BBC Breakfast set, which Newsnight shares, but by the evening it is promptly removed. As a result, Paxman has reportedly been nicknamed ‘Scrooge’ by other BBC staff.

This reminds me of an office I worked in five years or so ago. Managed by a lay preacher, all Christmas decorations were banned from the reception area in case they offended clients of other faiths. We weren’t even allowed to put Christmas cards on our desks. Wise up!

These stories represent the absurdity of modern culture to me. We have become so “respectful” of other people’s traditions that we are having to lay down our own. Ok, so Christmas isn’t about trees or decorations, but they certainly make the festive season more fun.

I have lots of Muslim friends and all of them love Christmas. Many have a traditional Christmas dinner (minus the pigs in blankets) and embrace plenty of other Christmas traditions. Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain points out that Muslims “believe in the Bible” and “believe in the teachings of Jesus”. So who are we really showing “respect” to by banning the mention and celebration of Christmas?

Meanwhile, it seems decorations aren’t the only Christmas controversies making the news this year. Police were called to a hotel near Hartlepool last weekend after reports of a disturbance at a Christmas party held for plainclothes police officers! Although the complaints were never substantiated, three police cars and a dog unit were sent to the scene. Talk about the heavy hand of the law.

On a lighter note, a stolen snowman ornament in Victoria, Australia, has become something of a local hero, according to the Herald Sun. The family received emailed photographs of Frosty with a gun and a blowtorch pointed at him. A ransom note telling them to "Meet our demands or the snowman gets it”, was also sent. But the burglars seem to have fallen for the dainty decoration, taking him for a spin on a motorbike and even for a game of pool at the local pub.

I’m not advocating theft, but let’s keep the fun in Christmas. Let’s remember to give generously, to try not to throttle our families and to have plenty of laughs this year. And let’s not forget the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. We’re not celebrating “winterval”, it’s CHRISTmas!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at Sorted magazine xxx

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The children that could change our world

 Kimberley Hainey was convicted of murdering her son Declan this week.

That’s shocking in itself. But when you hear that this poor baby was regularly left in dirty nappies without food while Hainey was out enjoying herself and that his body was left rotting in his cot for months after his death, this tragic story takes on a whole new dimension. To add insult to murder, his mother then sold his clothes and toys to buy heroin.

Like Declan, Paul Apowida was left to die a long and painful death as a child. Born in Sirigu, Northern Ghana, Paul’s father died before he was born and his mother died shortly after the birth.

This was taken as a sign that he was possessed by evil spirits. A soothsayer decided Paul should be put to death to rid the community of this ‘kinkirgo’ (‘spirit child’), who would otherwise act as a jinx to those around him.

Baby Paul was fed poisonous herbs and would certainly have died if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Catholic nun Jane Naaglosegme. Sister Jane had set up a care home for ‘spirit children’ and patiently nursed him until the effects of the potentially fatal herbs wore off.

Then an amazing charity called AfriKids supported Paul through art college. Not only is he now a great painter, he is also a decorated soldier in The Rifles – the army’s largest infantry regiment.

But despite his military success, Paul hasn’t forgotten his shaky start in life. The first time he returned to his own village, Sirigu, five or six years ago, his townfolk were stunned to see that he was still alive. They never believed he would have survived childhood, let alone life on the frontline.

Reading stories like this makes my heart weep for the children like Declan and the hundreds of ‘spirit children’ who aren’t as fortunate as Paul. These children have been seriously let down; robbed of their futures, deprived of the love and care they deserve. I want to do something about it.

These stories also provoke in me a righteous indignation. How dare people take the lives of these children that God created? Psalm 127:3 says that children “are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward”.

There are many references in the Old Testament to God’s anger when it comes to child sacrifice and infanticide. “And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger (2 Kings17:17-18).

And we should be angry: every child is precious and should be loved, cherished and nurtured. We should be looking out for the children around us, making sure they are being cared for properly, offering help if we see parents struggling, and intervening if we suspect ill-treatment.

As an AfriKids ambassador, Paul is helping to re-educate his countrymen and women about the mistaken ‘spirit child’ belief. He has also raised £40,000 for the charity through the sale of his paintings.

“God is using me to talk to people, to educate my community about what they are doing and to help change their ways,” Paul told Sorted.”You never know what a child will grow up to be.”

Paul’s words are all the more poignant as we prepare to celebrate the birth of a very special baby this Christmas. This one baby changed the fate of the world forever, and we shouldn’t underestimate the influence our own children may have if they are given the chance. 
Read more the full story of Paul Apowida in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Boobs and banter, or dangerous drivel?

As a girl, I find it hard to avoid making eye-to-boob contact when I see lads’ mags in the local newsagent’s, so I can only imagine what it must be like for a hormonal male. You might think me prudish, but I don’t think the likes of Nuts, Loaded, Zoo and FHM should be placed within arm’s reach of our kids.

And it seems I’m not the only one. In February, a number of supermarket chains and petrol stations agreed to place lads’ mags on the top shelf and some even introduced modesty covers.

But it seems children aren’t the only people at risk from their content. What impact are these ‘soft-porn’ magazines having on their target audience (teenage boys and men)? And how do they affect men’s attitudes towards women, sexual abuse and domestic violence?

This may sound a little far-fetched, but a new study from psychologists at Middlesex University and the University of Surrey suggest lads’ mags could be legitimising and propagating hostile, sexist attitudes.

Psychologists presented men aged 18-46 with a range of statements, some taken from magazines and some from convicted rapists. The sources were only disclosed in certain cases.

When presented with descriptions of women taken from lads’ mags, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most who took part in the study could not distinguish the source of the quotes.

Most men who took part identified themselves more with the language expressed by the convicted rapists. When told which quotes were from lads’ mag, they identified more with these, despite the fact some were actually taken from rapists. 

In a separate study, the researchers found that both men and women rated the quotes from lads’ mags as more derogatory than those from the rapists.

Dr Miranda Horvath, lead researcher at Middlesex University, said: “We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.”

Dr Peter Hegarty, from the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department, added: “We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

Experts are calling for magazine editors to moderate the content of their magazines more effectively. Anna van Heeswijk, campaigns manager for human rights campaign group OBJECT, said: "This crucial and chilling piece of research lays bare the hateful messages which seep out of lads' mags and indoctrinate young men's attitudes towards women and girls.

“When the content of magazines aimed at teenage boys mirrors the attitudes of convicted rapists, alarm bells must ring.

“If we are serious about wanting an end to discrimination and violence against women and girls, we must tackle the associated attitudes and behaviours. This means tackling the publications which peddle them.”

What do you think? Are lads’ mags just a bit of cheeky fun? Or could they be doing real harm? Do you or someone close to you buy them?

You’ll have to excuse the shameless plug, but if you’re looking for a wholesome men’s magazine that is packed full of interesting interviews, reviews, sports news and practical lifestyle tips, why not give Sorted a try?

(Lads’ mag quotes were taken from FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo. Rapist quotes were taken from verbatim interview transcripts in The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists (Sussman & Bordwell).)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Why Gary Speed is not alone

Photo credit: Jon Candy/Wikipedia

You may wonder why it took me so long to write about Gary Speed when his tragic death was announced more than a week ago.

It’s because I found the news extremely difficult to believe and digest. Having watched him on Football Focus the day before, I couldn’t accept that this man – with a young family and at the height of his career – could be dead. The realisation that it was suicide blew my mind. This was a man who was loved by family and friends, former teammates, colleagues and football fans across the world.

But whatever was going on behind the scenes, Gary was far from alone in the struggles he faced. According to the latest suicide figures from The Samaritans, men are much more likely to take their own lives than women.

Its research shows that in 2009, 4,309 men in the UK committed suicide compared with 1,371 women. In men under 35, suicide is the second most common cause of death in England and Wales.

So why are so many promising young men choosing to end their lives?
  • Men are reluctant to talk about feelings. Some of the men in my life would literally rather die than bare their souls
  • Men often find it difficult to ask for help. They feel as though they should be able to cope with life and that asking for help would compromise their manliness
  • Because men tend to relate to each other through teasing and banter, some are afraid they will be mocked or not taken seriously
  • Young boys are often told off for crying because it isn’t manly, and men are told to ‘man up’ if they show any signs of weakness
  • Men who, like Gary, seem to be really thriving can put a lot of pressure on themselves. If something goes wrong they panic that their whole lives are about to collapse
The inability to discuss feelings and problems can lead to a distorted perspective of the situation. Rather than talk to a spouse, friend or doctor, many men bottle up their fears and constantly dwell on them. When the pressure becomes too great, ideas of suicide can creep in.

Some of the men choose to drink their problems away or escape into a world of sport or computer games – anything that helps them to suspend their fears. Others operate on a rewards system that they think will make them feel better, but actually have a very temporary effect (often followed by a deep sense of guilt).

So what can we do about this?

Avoid unhelpful and condemnatory statements. Some believe suicide is murder and a selfish act but if this is you, it’s probably best to keep these thoughts to yourself. Rather than treating the issue with disapproval or criticism we should be looking for ways to reach out, support and offer practical help.

Take good care of your friends. If you know someone who is going through a tough time, or a friend’s behaviour seems to be changing, don’t turn a blind eye. You don’t have to launch into in-depth discussions about feelings, just make yourself available, listen carefully and encourage your friend to seek professional help.

Offer hope. Whether your friend is a Christian or not, God is the answer. He wants us to live a full and fulfilling life, not one of fear and death. He is our father and friend; someone we can talk to and confide in. The Bible encourages each of us to give all of cares to God, because he cares about us (1 Peter 5:7).

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

However great someone’s life seems, we all have problems and we all need to know that there is hope. It’s our responsibility to love and pray for the people in our lives and to point them in the right direction(s).

You can call CALM (0800 58 58 58) or The Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) if you or someone you know needs help.