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Criticism

As you may have noticed, I don’t take kindly to criticism.  In most cases I think it’s absolutely unnecessary and usually the only reason for criticizing someone is to make them feel bad, or to make them question their thoughts or feelings because they don’t match with our own.

My biological Dad started criticizing me when I was just a toddler.  Nothing I did was right, despite the fact I was beautiful, exceptionally clever and in most respects the model child.  At the age of 21 I decided that if your own Dad can’t see the wonderfulness that is you he doesn’t need to be in your life and my biological Dad is no longer in mine.

I was bullied mercilessly at school by girls 3-4 years older than me.  I still can’t get my head round bullying behaviour.  Do these people have so little going on in their own lives they have to focus intently, every waking second, on someone else’s?  I was called every name under the sun on a daily basis for years, Lesbian being a favourite despite the fact I dated the same boy all the way through high school.  You have to nurture your own self-belief that you are a good person, despite what other people say.  This has stood me in good stead for being a Blogger, where you open yourself to some truly vile, angry individuals and those who lack social skills and appear to have no idea how to interact respectfully with others.

Of course, many kids who have difficult childhoods repeat learned patterns of behaviour in adulthood and I married a clone of my Dad.  My husband was a manipulative, psychologically damaging bully who criticized me endlessly – how I dressed, how I spoke, my skills as a wife and homemaker.  Luckily for me, and I’m not entirely sure how I managed it, I hung on to the little self belief I had and realized I deserved a better life.  So I divorced him.

When I developed M.E. I faced a different kind of criticism.  Every medic I’ve ever seen, at some point or another, has implied (or outright told me) that my symptoms were psychological and I was simply afraid of life/exercise/being well.  At one point I even started to believe them, despite the fact I tried everything to get better and desperately wanted my life back.  I turned my back on the medical profession in about year six of being sick – I didn’t need their kind of “help”.

There are various types of criticism of course.  When I put my photographs online I expect some form of critique, but I expect it to be polite and constructive.  I don’t expect someone to say “what have you done?!  There is no soul in that picture!” which is a recent comment from someone on one of my portraits.  That kind of comment dents a person’s confidence and makes them question their abilities, which isn’t going to make them better at their craft.  My best mate is my toughest critic when it comes to my photos, but her comments say things like “not sure the lighting is right in the top right hand corner, can you maybe darken it down a bit?”, critique which does not damage my self-belief and is actually useful.

Criticizing someone’s appearance is never OK with me, which is why I was so offended by my neighbour recently saying I looked ancient and miserable in a self portrait I’d done.  When you reach your fiftieth year and are menopausal you don’t need to be told that you looked better 5 years ago because you already know this.  We can’t do anything about our genes, the aging process, our height, our skin colour, the shape of our ears or any of our other physical attributes, so criticism of our physical appearance is never justified and the intention can only ever be to hurt or belittle.

When someone leaves a comment on my blog which starts with “you are wrong……” I don’t even read it.  If I’ve written a factual piece (which is rare, my blog is about sharing my life experiences) then politely pointing out I’ve made a mistake is fine.  But telling me my views are wrong isn’t.  What they’re actually saying is “I have a different view point to you and my view is the right view dammit!” which I find intensely arrogant. It echos with my husband’s constant diatribe of “shut the fuck up, what do you know anyway?!”  When I can be bothered to question these people on their views they can never back them up with hard evidence.  I’ve had loads of people comment that my ‘low histamine’ diet is a joke, but when I ask them to point me to the research on which they base their low histamine diet there is always a deafening silence…….because I know that this information doesn’t exist and all the low histamine information online is based purely on guesswork.  The same goes for disagreeing with someone’s political views, or parenting skills just because they don’t match yours – after all, you are right goddammit and they are wrong!

There are times when criticism is both needed and justified.  It’s absolutely right to question President Trump’s views on women, ethnic minorities and immigration because they are harmful and I’m intensely proud of those Americans who are standing up for their beliefs.  I personally, however, have much less time for the Brits who whinged endlessly about Brexit purely because they had an opposing view to the majority in the referendum, and the MPs who are threatening not to sanction the triggering of Article 50 should be sacked – we live in a democracy not an autocracy (thank God).

When I was younger I was a people pleaser.  I wanted everyone to like me and I took everyone’s views of me on board, as many young women do.  It was intensely damaging and decimated my confidence and self esteem.  I no longer entertain criticism unless I’ve a) asked for it and b) it is constructive.  If the price I pay for self belief is that not as many people like me I can live with that.

Is it a girl thing?

Jen Brea’s TED talk (which received over 300,000 views in it’s first 3 days!) about the way women are treated within the healthcare system has made me think a lot about the way women are treated in general.  We face discrimination every day of our lives and it’s so entrenched that it’s normal.

On TV yesterday was a woman who had been sacked from her Receptionist’s job because she refused to wear high heels.  She was professionally dressed in a suit but had on flat shoes because she found heels uncomfortable (they’re fucking crippling and I have no idea why we put ourselves through the torture!).  The male TV presenter said that all the men wore ties which they didn’t like, so why was she whinging about having to wear heels which made her look “glamorous”.  What has “looking glamorous” got to do with looking “professional”?!  God forbid she should turn up to work not wearing make-up, because apparently that also wasn’t allowed.  Her brilliant reply was that if they wanted her to wear a tie she’d happily oblige, then she and the men would be dressed the same.

A man left a comment on my blog this week telling me what to do.  He didn’t ask politely “have you tried this product?” to which my answer would have been “yes”.  He assumed I didn’t have a brain cell in my head and wouldn’t have already tried his solution, because obviously I’m female and fucking stupid.   My brother treats me like I’m stupid all the time, even though he doesn’t possess a single qualification and I am educated to post-graduate level.  We’ll be discussing a situation and he’ll pipe up “what you need to do is………….”.  He doesn’t say “have you already tried…….?” to which my answer is always “yes” because I’m not thick and have way above average problem solving skills, he just assumes he knows better than me because I have a vagina and not a penis.

Last summer I was at the petrol station filling my car up.  I went to pay and asked for a ticket for the drive through car wash.  Sadly it was out of order.  As I was walking back to my car a complete stranger (male) tapped me on the shoulder and said “you don’t want to put your car through the drive through anyway.  It only needs a bit of grit on the bodywork and the rollers will drag it along and scratch the paintwork.  What you need to do is use the pressure washer.”  My reply to which was “thanks so much for your unwanted advice.  How on earth have I managed to successfully live alone for 30 years without your guidance?” (I wasn’t about to tell him I am disabled and can’t physically use the pressure washer, because my health is none of his goddamn business).  To which he replied “I was only trying to help you rude bitch!” like I was the one who had been inappropriate.

But it’s not just men who tell me what to do.  I have women comment on my blog all the time, who think they know more about my life than I do.  The most popular is “you know you have <insert 50 different medical complaints here>” when they don’t have a single medical qualification or have access to my test results or medical records.  They assume that, despite being sick for over 2 decades, I’m so bloody dense I wouldn’t have already looked in to any of this stuff.

I ask myself if they’d tell a male blogger what to do like he’s five years old?  Would a man walk up to another grown man at the filling station and tell him how to wash his car?  Of course not. I do know people are only trying to be helpful, but I ask myself if they would “help” a man in the same way?

The constant assumption that women are stupid and need to be parented like a child drives me insane.  I have lived alone since I was 22 years old and I will be 50 this year.  Despite being as sick as a dog I have single-handedly renovated two houses, the first of which sold within 7 hours of going on the market (even though I didn’t use an Agent) and 12 years later still holds the title of most money paid for a house in that street.  I own power tools and I can use them better than any man I’ve ever dated.  I’ve managed to keep my car on the road since I was 17 years old without help from a man (apart from my mechanic).  Through my own research and determination, and without medical help or care, I have gone from being bedridden for nearly a decade to no longer being bedridden.  In the last 5 years I have successfully sued three companies without help from anyone (I couldn’t afford a solicitor).  In last year’s north of England photographic competition I received the highest score of anyone in my Camera Club despite it being mostly full of men and the fact I am disabled.  I’d like to think, despite my lack of a y chromosome and the humongous limitations imposed on me by my health, I’m fairly successful in my life.

If and when I need help or advice I am more than capable of asking for it.  If I don’t ask you can assume I don’t need, or want, it.