Flo la vita

Social commentary and think pieces


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a classic. As Maya Angelou's memoir it serves the purpose of capturing her childhood and teenage experiences living in both Arkansas and San Francisco during the 1930's and 1940's. She writes eloquently of her life enduring extreme racism, her family relationships, sexual violence and the importance of christianity in her life.

I found it an interesting read, though at times shocking. 
Her descriptions of how she feels after being raped and sexually assaulted by her Mother's boyfriend, Mr Freeman, at just eight years old were truly eye opening. She keeps what happened to her as secret, carrying her experience and her guilt as a burden, afraid that if she tells anyone her brother will be murdered, like Mr Freeman told her he would. 
Her feeling that her family would be ashamed of her for what happened - thinking she wants to appear "womanish" - rather than shame towards Mr Freeman was heartbreaking, and though the event occurred in 1930's southern America, I think that feeling still stands prominent today.

Maya Angelou captures her emotions surrounding her rape perfectly. She shows it not to be as black and white as some seemed to think - and still do think - it is.
At eight years old Maya Angelou was  clearly an unhappy child. She feels second best to her handsome and charismatic brother Bailey and after the sudden reappearance of her parents, whom she had so long thought of to be as good as dead to her, she begins to move away from her home in Arkansas and to San Francisco with her emotionally uninvolved parents. When her Mother's boyfriend Mr Freeman rapes her, she is too young to understand the extremity of it and though she doesn't enjoy it, she does enjoy feeling close to someone and having the attention of being "loved", which as an outcast, she has so long pined for.

Though this was all in 1930's Arkansas, I was shocked by the lack of understanding surrounding mental health.
After her rape, Maya is given a period of weeks to recover before she is expected to return to playing with the other children, as normal. Bearing in mind that she receives no form of therapy or help with her mental state and her experience is scarcely mentioned after the court case, I found it shockingly ignorant that someone would expect anyone, let alone an eight year old, to deal with such a horrible incident in such a black and white way, and in such a small amount of time, and to come out unscarred.

Maya is particularly bright for her age and has been moved up a year because of this. But, as a modern reader I was surprised as to where the gaps in her knowledge lay. 
At Sixteen Maya begins to question her sexuality, asking herself if she is a lesbian. Though these questions don't come out of an attraction to the same sex. Rather, she wonders if she is queer simply because she is broader shouldered than her female peers, and has much larger feet. When she becomes pregnant, though panicked at the prospect of becoming a parent at just sixteen, she finds relief in believing that the ability to carry children confirms her heterosexuality. Though times were different - at this point its the late 1940's, early 1950's - I was shocked at how such untrue and generalising stereotypes could be so prominent at that time as to be received as the truth to someone as old as sixteen.

Its a fiercely interesting read and one I would recommend. Maya Angelou draws on experiences that are so common, though scarcely experienced at all, or at least not to the same degree for those who are white skinned. 
Its so important to understand the history and experiences of others as well as yourself in order to understand the world around you. Broadening your thinking to the lives of others will only do you good. I urge you to read this book.



Last Wednesday I spent my evening perched at the edge of the sofa watching the news, when Boris Johnson announced that schools would be closing from Friday and that the exams for this year would be cancelled. I've spent the past year and a half preparing to take my GCSE's this year so, whilst I was expecting school to shut at some point, the news that I wouldn't be sitting the exams that I and so many others had anticipated for such a long time was shocking and the uncertainty at what would happen next didn't make it any better.
Now, I know that I will (hopefully) be getting the grades I deserve, based on previous exams and teacher predictions. Whilst this is not what I expected, I have now come to terms with it and am actually quite relieved. I don't believe that exams are the best way to asses students so I'm glad not to have to sit them and hope that the method of using teachers - who truly know their students - rather than exam board markers to grade students will be considered as an alternative method in years to come. 

However, though I have come to terms with how I will be assessed for my GCSE's, I can't say I've fully accepted that I will never go to school again. 
Its a strange feeling. I wasn't mentally prepared to leave yet, though I wouldn't expect to be as it was not yet the end. Each time someone had said "Only -- weeks left of school" as the weeks crawled by and we neared the end, it had bought with it a pang of sadness, for me personally. I couldn't say exactly why except for feeling I would miss certain people. 

Like everyone else, I could never have foreseen this happening. I expected to sit my exams and leave school feeling not only a sense of achievement at its completion, but also an excitement for all the plans I had for this summer. Gigs I was going to go to, family holidays, a trip to Paris with my best friend. 
Instead, what I've been working towards for the past year and a half has finished without completion. As a friend of mine described it, its like we've been full of building adrenaline for such a long time, but it hasn't peaked its just disappeared. 
The uncertainty has left me feeling a lack of purpose, I suppose. The exams which I was likely subconsciously always thinking about aren't happening. The summer plans which had kept me going through the year aren't happening. We can't hope to know what will happen next and that uncertainty brings great discomfort. 

My mental state has taken a hit, which could only be expected at this time of uncertainty. But I feel that what also plays a role in that is the fact that, in a way, I am mourning my school days. Its a form of grief and like grief, it comes in waves. I've gone from feeling perfectly happy to being on the verge of tears in just seconds. Something will trigger it - the song Wild Horses, most recently - and then I'm crying and that strange feeling of loss and uncertainty returns. 

In saying all this I am very aware of sounding too self pitying. This is a difficult time for everyone and I recognise how privileged I am even to have a home to self isolate in. But, I can only speak from my own experiences and hopefully by sharing those experiences we will all feel less alone. 

On the topic of privilege, I hope that these tough times will lead to a greater good in the long run.
In a way, this situation is almost reminiscent of something biblical - the humans were misbehaving so God sent a plague in the hope that they would learn a lesson from it. I'm not religious, but I do see that a lesson can be learnt from this, though one at the expense of the lives if so many. 

Already the environment is benefitting because people aren't flying from country to country for meetings and are instead doing so over Skype, which we have had the facilities for for so many years.
There seems to be more of a community spirit - something we far too often lack in London - people are helping each other, and buying their vulnerable neighbours shopping. 
People are learning to cook for themselves and growing their own foods because the supermarkets don't have enough. Maybe if we take away the luxuries, things that we been fooled into believing are essentials, we can learn to value the little things more. 

I'll be the first to admit that I've been selfish and ignorant about this. Even just a month ago I thought that Corona Virus was nothing more than a meme, which could be ignored because it wouldn't ever have an impact on my life. When I realised it in all its seriousness, I'm ashamed to say that my first thought was; so will I not be able to go on holiday? 

Despite this, I don't think I'm an especially selfish person. I think my response to this is due to the conditioning that comes with living in the western world, where I have never lived in a war zone and nothing like this has ever happened in my life time to directly impact me or my family. This is all new, which is why its so scary. 

I hope all of you are safe and well. At this time I think its important to embrace what we do have and to share our experiences so that we can all feel less alone. If anyone wants to share, please do in the comments. We have a nice little community here and I hope that this can be something we will embrace at this time. 

It doesn't take a genius to see that Prince Andrew hasn't been entirely honest with the press. Claims of a medical condition leaving him unable to sweat were quickly proven false when, in the days following the release of Emily Maitlis' notorious News Night Interview, the internet was abuzz with photos of a sweaty Prince Andrew. Not only that, but he claims to remember specifically that he was at Pizza Express, Woking on the specific date that Virginia Roberts claimed to be have been with him at Tramp nightclub, all the way back in 2001. But, as pointed out by many, how would one remember exactly where they were and what the were doing on a specific date eighteen years ago?

But, possibly what stood out most to those who saw the News Night interview was not only the blatant lies, but his lack of empathy for Epstein's victims, and those who claim to be victim to his own actions. The lack of remorse and the fact that Prince Andrew displayed no empathy whatsoever, nor did he even apologise, despite Emily Maitlis prompting him to numerous times, was what shocked and disgusted the public the most. However, whilst I too was disgusted by his response, I can't say I was particularly surprised. It doesn't surprise me that men with great power may abuse it. We've seen it happen before; with Weinstein; with Savile and now with a member of the Royal Family, which has so long seemed a stable force among various other societal issue in British Society.

Whilst his lack of empathy is shocking - and I do not aim to justify his response in the slightest - I do wonder if his lack of empathy breeds from his arguably incredibly privileged upbringing?I would not expect someone who has lived such a privileged life to understand that, despite being handed life on a silver platter, you can't always get what you want. I think what led to his involvement in Epstein's trafficking of underage girls is his sense of entitlement. He hasn't lived in the "real" world as such, he has arguably had a very sheltered existence, and though this doesn't justify his frankly appalling behaviour, I think it explains to an extent why those who saw the interview - most of whom are well adjusted to modern society and its expectations - are so shocked by his response to such horrifying accusations. I doubt he has ever had to think much about anyone other than himself, and unlike the vast majority of people who haven't grown up surrounded by such immense privilege and wealth, he doesn't understand that he is not entitled to everything, including women's bodies.

Though my perspective may seem presumptuous - of course, we can't know for sure how such immense privilege has impacted him, or if he would have done the same having lived an ordinary life - I do wonder if privilege breeds contempt and a lack of respect?

Throughout the interview it is increasingly evident that he is unbelievably self absorbed; his only evident concern being protecting his own representation. When asked of Virginia Roberts, he replies "I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady" and not once in the entire fifty minute interview does he refer to Virginia Roberts by name.By distancing himself from the problem in this way, he shows blatant disregard of the feelings and experiences of Epstein's victims and, quite possibly, his own victims. This does nothing but further emphasise the extent of the privilege that he has lived in, not having to care about the impact his actions have on others because he has always been able to do exactly as he pleases.Now, he seems to be learning a lesson. Its just a shame it come at the expense of so many innocent young women. 

Instagram is currently testing the removal of the 'like' feature in countries including Ireland, Japan and Australia. In removing the feature, the number of likes a photo receives will be visible to whoever posted the photo, however, it would be invisible to their followers and those viewing their account.
In response to the changes, Instagram's Tara Hopkins said "We want Instagram to be a place where people can feel comfortable expressing themselves." But, what does the removal of the like really mean for social media users? And, what does it mean for the future of social media as we know it?

Personally, I don't believe that removing the like will totally eradicate all issues associated with social media. Part of our attraction to Instagram is the validation we receive when a photo gains a certain number of likes, and as the number of likes a photo receives is still visible to us - only our followers can't see it - we still receive that dopamine rush that we so desperately chase through our addiction to digital validation. Admittedly, without the like the pressure to receive such approval is lessened, as the amount of likes you have is reserved for your eyes and your eyes only.
However, you would undoubtedly continue to seek validation with or without the like being public, and it is arguable that if the like is removed, our focus will shift to other factors such as the number of followers we have.

However, there's no denying that the like is particularly toxic in the sense that its a clear signifier of how 'validated' we are. Our addiction to receiving that validation is only aggravated by the feature, encouraging damaging habits - constant obsessing over likes - and damaging thought processes - beating yourself up when you don't receive the amount of likes you had envisioned.
The number of likes a photo receives can seem astronomically important, and as a generation we often obsess over likes to such an extent that we fool ourselves into believing that the number of times someone double taps our photo is  definitive of our worth as a human being. In the midst of such thought processes, its crucial to remind ourselves that a like is, in fact, astronomically unimportant. Its a flimsy piece of digital approval which benefits the world in no way. It means nothing.

This is an issue particularly prominent in teenagers. Its clear to see that the rate of adolescent mental health issues has soared since the early noughties, and I truly believe that the introduction of social media is largely to blame for that. Though this isn't an issue affecting teenagers exclusively - we all seek validation to a certain extent, despite our age - I do think that for teenagers, who have been surrounded by social media for almost the entirety of their adolescence, the removal of the like will be hugely impactful on their mental wellbeing.

One of the largest issues regarding the removal of the like is the prospect of a possible end - or significant change - to influencer culture.
Without the like feature, brands would struggle to see how much attention - or engagement - an influencers photo has gotten. This makes it far more difficult for influencers to take part in campaigns, their most prominent source of income.
Surely, this does nothing but go to show how unsustainable influencing is as a career. Particularly as the vast majority of influencer's content is owned by platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and so I think its quite naive to depend on social media, which you have very little to no control over, as your largest source of income.
However, I do wonder if, with the removal of the like, brands may focus more strongly on the quality of content an influencer is creating, rather than the statistical aspect of it? And if so, will the removal of the like restore a greater collaborative nature to social media, rather than a competitive one?

Despite the benefits of the removal of the like, I refuse to believe that the decision has been made by Instagram out of a genuine concern or care for the apps users.
Rather, I think its a business decision made purely to benefit Instagram and generate a larger income for Facebook, who own the app.
Without the like, Influencer culture is altered massively and if brands and Influencers struggle to work together, brands are far more likely to advertise through the Instagram app, rather than the individual profile's of Influencers, generating more money for Facebook.
Not only that, but by removing the like Instagram are avoiding any scrutiny in regards to the apps affect on the mental health of its users, particularly teenagers.

Possibly the most pressing question is; could this be the end to social media as we know it?
I wouldn't know the answer. But, as much of a change it does make, I really don't believe that the change will be at all groundbreaking or monumental in any way to the majority of Instagram's users who are normal people, rather than influencers.
Much of the younger generation - Gen Z - aren't particularly enthralled by the social media world anyway. I for one am certainly not.

When Instagram was introduced in 2010, I saw the app as a hub for me and my friends in which we communicated with each other and people at school who, without being connected via social media, we may not have come into contact with otherwise.
However, that's no longer the case. I almost never communicate with people I don't offline through Instagram and over the past couple of years fewer and fewer of my friends are using Instagram at all, myself included.
In fact, I almost despise social media and how its changed the way we interact with one and another. Quite frankly, I think its made us quite lazy, in the sense that we so often depend on the fact that we can hide behind a screen in order to avoid talking to each other face to face.
The amount of 'perfection' social media presents us with, Instagram in particular, is something else I find antagonising. No matter how many times we are reminded that Instagram is nothing but a catalogue of our best moments and certainly not a sum of our whole selves, we are only human and being constantly surrounded by other people's curated 'perfection' is bound to feed into self deprecating thought processes.

There's no doubt that removing the like will change the nature of social media. But, it will change it for the better.

In the April of this year, Spain's PSOE party (Spanish Socialist Workers party) announced that they were considering outlawing prostitution in an effort to appeal to female voters ahead of their general election. The part said "Prostitution, which we aim to abolish, is one of the cruelest aspects of the feminisation of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women."
Later that month, The Netherlands, with possibly the most prominent red light district of any country, admitted that they too were considering outlawing prostitution after a petition against sex work in the country gained over 40,000 signatures.
Whilst its clear to see that the intentions of both Spain and The Netherlands are only good - to protect the women operating in the industry - what would the outlaw of sex work mean for prostitutes in these countries?

The fact that prostitution is an issue in Spain isn't surprising. Over the last couple of years the country has faced economic hardships, which has caused many problems in the country, including the loss of jobs. When you consider this, its not at all shocking that women are turning to prostitution to make themselves some money, which just goes to show that more often than not a woman's choice to do sex work is purely circumstantial. Its something they go into out of desperation and something they only intend to be temporary. Its a means of survival.

In countries where prostitution is illegal, the women working in the trade are only a symbol of their own desperation. Working illegally on the fringes of society and mixing with people on the wrong side of the law is unlikely something they'd do out of choice, had it not been one of few feasible ways to support themselves or their family.
If prostitution is outlawed, then these women - who only do what they do out of desperation - automatically become jobless or, if they continue working, criminals.

I think its also entirely crucial to remember that outlawing something doesn't stop it happening. Murder and theft are illegal, yet people are still killed and robbed. The same applies to prostitution because even if you outlaw it, no matter how greatly you enforce that law, you still aren't able to abolish a woman's desperation or need to support herself or her family, which is likely the reason she is working in prostitution.

I want to point out that when I refer to women working in prostitution, I am not referring to those who have been forced into the trade; sex slaves. That is an entirely different issue and something that is rightly illegal. Rather, I am referring to the women who have gone into the trade by their own decision, though likely due to their circumstances.

When it comes to prostitution, rather than outlawing it we need to think more deeply about how we can improve the societal factors - poverty, the housing crisis, prejudice - that very often lead women to turn to prostitution as a last resort.
The safety of these women is clearly at the heart of the intentions of both Spain and The Netherlands, and rightly so. Theres no denying that prostitution can be astronomically dangerous for the women involved and I would certainly agree that providing them with safety and support is crucial.
But, unless the societal factors that lead women into that role are improved, banning prostitution can, and will likely, leave many women far more vulnerable than they were to begin with.
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