…And a Bunch of Things You Can Do Instead

[The follow up to this article, Everything Wrong With Gender Reveal Parties…]

1. Throw a birth announcement party

Instead of revealing the baby’s supposed gender, just reveal the baby. Throw a big party announcing the due date, or the day your caesarean is scheduled, or when you hit the nine months mark and are still waiting for the baby to decide it wants to be born.

Have cake and balloons, and tell people what names you’re thinking of – hell, you can even announce the expected sex at the party as long as it’s not the main focus of the party. You can theme the party around birth instead of gender, with tiny food or stork related decorations.

2. Have a christening/naming ceremony/other cultural or religious ceremony

Christian tradition has the Christening or baptism soon after the baby is born, ensuring that the taint of ‘original sin’ is blessed off of the baby’s soul and that the Church family is committed to help raise the baby properly. Some cultures have baby naming ceremonies, where people witness the baby being officially named. If your religion or culture has a ceremony like this, consider looking into it.

If you aren’t that involved in your religion or culture, this would be a good way to get back involved in it, and to connect with community. Instead of starting your baby’s life off with some damaging gender role enforcement, you can start them off by introducing them to their heritage.

3. Throw a name reveal

You want to reveal something, so reveal the name! Have a shortlist of names and get your guests to guess what name you’ve chosen. Give each name a colour and you can even do the balloon or cake reveal with the colour of the chosen name! The bonus is, you can even use whichever colour balloons you like. If the name is along a theme like flowers; Rose, Lily, or Daisy; or the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John; you can base the party on that theme.

The name is the most important thing about your baby, after all, and the main thing you have control over. Making the hype about the baby’s name rather than its genitals also makes the hype about your choice, and about the person you want to mould your child into.

4. Have a baby shower

More common in the US than the UK is the baby shower – a pre-birth party getting the parents baby-related presents. It’s good to be prepared, so throwing a baby shower is a great alternative to a gender reveal party, and as it’s a present ‘shower’ the focus is on buying you grocery priced gifts like nappies and childproof locks rather than expensive gifts and rather on you throwing a big fancy party.

And, if your plan would have been to have a baby shower as well as a gender reveal party, turn the baby shower into the big party; hopefully as you host a more scaled up party your guests might scale up their helpful presents from a pack of nappies to a changing bag, a changing matt or even just a multipack of nappies.

5. Throw mum a party

Mum, or whoever is actually the pregnant one, is the one doing all the physical work. While all of these baby parties focus on the baby and whatever fact about it you’ve chosen to celebrate, it might be worth throwing her (or him/them/etc) a party instead.

Throwing a party for the one that’s pregnant is just as supportive as the baby shower parties, in that there are gifts and things. The difference is that, especially as pregnancy is hard work and is followed by having a baby which is hard work, the presents are not about childcare. Instead of asking for nappies and talking about birth weight, the gift list is bath bombs and things, and the theme is giving mum a relaxing time.

6. Have a zeroth birthday party

Throw a birthday party for baby! Just like birthday parties don’t have to be on the exact day of a child’s birthday, this can be on a Saturday before the due date, or a Sunday after the birth. Instead of having a reveal of balloons or a surprise colour cake or anything like that, have birthday events. The day your baby is born is their birthday after all!

Like any birthday party, it can be as big or as small as you like, and at its most basic just involves a cake and some party hats. At zero years old, your baby doesn’t even have any friends to invite, so just have your friends and family like any other party, except they bring their children.

7. Throw a fake gender reveal party

The activist’s choice! If you’re feeling pressured to throw a gender reveal party and you really don’t want to, use it as an opportunity to make a point or a joke. The big reveal can be purple or white, the big announcement can be “The sex is… not something we’ve chosen to find out yet!” or you could even have a surprise lesson on the problems with enforced gender.

This is a bit of a risk – if guests are too invested in your reveal, they could be offended or upset that you’re ‘attacking’ their gender role beliefs and the party could get awkward. On the other hand, if the people in your life are against gender reveals and the gendering of babies, you might upset people before you even get to reveal your joke. It’s something that would be fantastic to see had happened, though.

8. Have a meet-the-baby day

Like an open house, take a relaxed weekend day to let people come and go, meeting the new baby. This casual all-day way of having a party means less stress and more party. You can just have some light snacks and drinks, people won’t all be there at once, and the atmosphere will be laid back.

It takes the focus of revealing anything about the baby and feels very mature and calm. There’s no need for a big cake, but you can have cake. It’s low key – there’s no pressure to do any particular thing. You sit around and people come to you, all nice and slowly, lasting all day.

9. Throw a “Wetting the Baby’s Head” party

A British tradition, this one doesn’t even really involve the baby. Typically an activity for the dad, it involves going out for a drink to celebrate a successful birth. In this day and age, however, it can be for both parents. After all, everything is going to be about the baby for a good few months, so one night out is probably a welcome break.

Leave the baby at home with a relative and have a nice drink at the pub; it doesn’t have to be alcoholic for those breast feeding or just wanting to avoid a hangover when they have a crying baby. For many people having kids, the social pressure to do certain things isn’t just damaging the child, it’s damaging them. Take a break and have a night out, you’re having a baby and you deserve it.

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Everything Wrong With Gender Reveal Parties…

1. You don’t know if your baby is a boy or a girl

Yes, yes, yes, you’re sick of trans people and ‘woke’ cis people pointing out that gender isn’t the same as birth-assigned sex. But it isn’t! What you’re revealing isn’t whether your baby is a boy or a girl, but what genitals your baby has and the category they will be put in because of it. As adults, male and female look different, but before puberty, the only difference between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ is the shape of their genitals. And that’s a creepy reason to throw a party.

Your child could grow up to be transgender, and the more importance you place on determining gender from genitals the more trouble you’re going to have with that.

2. Assumed gender is not the main fact about your baby

People always ask if your baby is a boy or a girl as if that’s the only thing that matters about a baby. The health of the baby, the health of the mum, weight, appearance, what you’re going to name them, whether they have any birthmarks etc; these are also facts about a baby you could be asking or announcing.

To be quite honest? You had a baby, and a new person now exists. That’s the main fact here, not what supposed gender they are. There is the amazing feat of birth, the fact that everyone has yet to meet this baby and while be excited they were born, and the sheer fact that they’re a human being not a one in two option. But yet, the gender is the big reveal.

3. It revolves around silly gender stereotypes

These parties are never just the announcement and then unrelated partying; the reveal is visual and the party that follows is connected to the gender announced. It’s a baby, and people are very complicated, so how do people and products reveal gender in these parties? Stereotypes. Using the dull pink or blue, or having some stereotypical interests the child might or might not have based on their gender.

None of the adults in your life has personalities based on one or two interests that are shared by everyone that’s the same gender as them. None of the women in your life only wear pink and none of the men only blue. Why is the baby being shoved into one or two gendered traits or revealed as pink-themed or blue-themed?

4. Enforcing gender roles is damaging to all children

It isn’t just transgender people who are damaged by enforcing gender on them; gender roles limit all children and cause them to limit themselves. It isn’t just saying that girls do A and boys do B, which pressures girls into A and boys into B, it pressures boys away from A and girls away from B. There is a serious lack of women in STEM careers, and it stems from gender stereotyping. If sports are for boys, girls feel like they can’t do it before they even try, and the idea that it’s for boys is ‘proven’ by the lack of girls who like sport. Likewise, if boys who don’t like sport are made to feel less than and pushed into taking part, and the idea that it’s for boys is ‘proven’ by all the boys who play sports.

It might not seem like a big deal, but putting one gender role on a child is just shutting off the other options from them. These gender reveal parties tend to have really narrow roles for boys and girls, and separating children into two groups and assigning things to one or the other is damaging for any child.

5. The gender roles for baby girls are misogynistic

All the pink… but it’s not just pink, it’s the activities and interests that people use to represent ‘girl’ in gender reveals. It’s always almost an aesthetic thing; a feminine item of clothing that is decorative, an accessory, something to make you look more attractive. To the gender reveal, a girl is a pretty thing, and a pretty thing only.

This narrow view is basically the dictionary definition of misogyny – women are capable, skilled and valuable as more than aesthetically pleasing objects. Women should be allowed to be unattractive.

6. The gender roles for baby boys are toxic

The pastel blue is the last soft thing in the gender stereotypes for boys that aren’t scarily violent. While girls are represented by aesthetic things, boys are represented by weapons or war. Guns, camo, army clothing… boys are trained to be aggressive from birth, and this is a huge part of a problem called “toxic masculinity” where men feel unable to express any emotion other than anger.

This not only makes them push joy, sadness, and worry inside them to eat them up, it causes them to define their interactions with other people via violence. Men should be able to have and express feelings, and this starts by not categorising boys as bullets.

7. It’s just one more pointless thing you feel pressured to spend money on

It’s a well-known fact that having a baby is an expensive decision. Eighteen years plus of expenses, with some very pricey necessities right when they’re born. Preparing your home, cots, clothes, nappies, pushchairs, food, medical bills, pregnancy clothing, the list goes on and on. Not to miss an opportunity, however, society has decreed you must have multiple parties and events where people have to buy you presents and you have to pay to host a good party. Pregnancy announcements with professional photoshoots, baby showers with pre-birth gifts, and gender reveals with huge reveal displays… and all before the baby is born.

The announcement needs to be in the form of a visual display, with a professionally made cake that’s pink or blue inside, a fancy box filled with helium balloons or a jack-in-the-box style confetti popper. These things are priced to match the supposed ‘need’ and replace a simple spoken announcement – the party itself replaces a card or even text to family and friends.

8. It only works if you pretend intersex isn’t a thing

Of course, these sex reveals rely on the belief that your newborn baby will one hundred percent have easily identifiable genitals and their hormones will develop in the expected way, with expected reproductive organs etc. It’s estimated that one in a hundred children are born intersex, and many of those will have “ambiguous genitals”. Even if the ultrasound technician can see genitals that they can categorise, this doesn’t rule out intersex conditions.

Intersex children may have ‘normal’ genitals of one sex category but the full appearance otherwise of the other sex category. One in a hundred may seem like a small chance, but when nearly 700,000 babies born each year in the UK, that’s nearly 7,000 intersex babies every year, or an average of 19 a day. Intersex people are real and cannot be ignored for your comfort.

9. It adds to the culture of ‘corrective’ genital surgery

Not only do intersex babies get born despite the insistence that all babies are either 100% male or 100% female, they are a much-mistreated group. For the babies that are born with ambiguous genitals, a sad truth is the idea that it’s abnormal means unnecessary surgery is done to ‘fix’ them. These babies often grow up with no idea they are intersex until puberty because they have been made to appear non-intersex and obviously this aesthetic surgery doesn’t magically make them non-intersex and their hormones and reproductive systems are still those of an intersex person.

In an era where religious people are criticised for circumcising their babies, and there is much debate on whether non-life-threatening medical issues should be dealt with via surgery when surgery on babies is so risky… The idea that performing such severe surgery on children to pretend they aren’t intersex is horrifying, and it all stems from this need to announce children as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ before they’re even born.

[Follow up article: …And a Bunch of Things You Can Do Instead]

The Anatomy of a Cat

For vet trips and other medical situations, obviously the medical terminology for your cat’s body parts are the best words to use. But this is the internet and we’re all cat ladies, our actual genders irrelevant. Cats are ridiculously adorable floofs and we have a need for these far more appropriate terms for their body parts.

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Scritch Place: the space behind a cat’s ears, which is the best place to scritch your cat.

Ear Floof: all of the lovely long hairs inside your cats ears, presumably to make them extra cute.

Mane: the longer fur around your cats cheeks, just like a lion’s mane.

Boop: the soft, skin-coloured part of your cat’s nose, which is a perfect little button to press and say “boop”.

Blep: any part of your cat’s tongue that is currently sticking out of their mouth, especially if their mouth is closed.

Toofs: the super-cute little fangs that your cat shows you when they yawn.

Toe Beans: your cat’s toe pads, looking like little cattwojelly beans.

Peets: the cute little feet of your cat, made of soft pads for their sole and toe beans.

Sassy Pants: the extra fluffy floof that is your cat’s thighs, and looks like a pair of pantaloons.

Belly: the whole underside of your cat, all soft fluffiness and highly tempting to rub vigorously.

Nope: any part of your cat’s underside that they attack you for petting, named for your cat’s attitude to you touching it.

Bingo Wings: just like the sassy pants, the fluffy thigh/upper arm part of your cat’s front legs, like the loose skin older people often get but much cuter.

Bib: most easily identified on tuxedo cats, who have white fur there, the part of your cats chest that’s still visible when they sit up tall.

 

 

Your New Year’s Resolution Doesn’t Need To Be a Revolution!

Soon it will be January, and you know what that means. The gyms will be packed with slightly chubby people overexerting themselves, the health food shops will be stocking up for people who don’t even like green vegetables, and your workplace will be unbearable as most of your colleagues go through withdrawal for the caffeine, alcohol or tobacco they’ve gone cold turkey on with no preparation. Yes, it’s the time of year people desperately try to better themselves with New Year’s Resolutions.

Before you make your resolution, think about the one you made last year. Did you keep it up all year? Do you even remember what it was? That’s the thing, isn’t it? Everyone makes these grand declarations and puts their full effort in for a month or two, before dropping it like a lukewarm potato, and ultimately forgetting the whole thing until the next New Year.

The simple fact of the matter is, the reason most people don’t keep to their New Year’s Resolution is because they going too big and having a revolution instead, without any real plans to help them continue that major change. Without anything solid to support this big revolution, they revert back to their life as it was before. Take it from someone who’s getting ready for 2017 having kept their resolution all year; this is how to achieve your New Year goals.

The first thing is to think of something achievable. Yes, you want to be a better version of you, but if you never exercise is going to the gym twice a week for an hour anywhere near likely to be something you can keep up forever? Or, maybe, you could go at least once a month or join a fun sports class. Likewise, instead of quitting cigarettes cold turkey for the year, aim to cut down and end the year cigarette-free.

Similarly, if you don’t really want to do something you aren’t going to be motivated to do it. You don’t like ‘healthy’ food, you don’t really want to start that dramatic diet, and you aren’t really that worried about your weight. So don’t make that revolution, make a resolution related to a more enjoyable self-improvement: Read a book every month; Learn a new language; Take up a hobby.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just having an achievable goal; if only it were! Plenty of people make New Year’s Resolutions, keep to them perfectly for a month or two, and then just… stop. There are a few simple things you need to do to keep your resolution all year. The biggest barrier would seemingly be forgetting, so setting yourself reminders is a sure fire way to prevent that reason for resolution drop-off.

Depending on what your resolution is, there are a few good ways to keep it to mind. Put a picture of the activity in places you’ll see it often, such as on your fridge or as your phone background. Write yourself a note on your calendar, inside the cover of your notebook, or on a sticky note by your workspace. Subscribe to a YouTube channel related to your resolution so it’s uploads remind you, or rename your alarm to get daily reminders. As long as you can’t forget all about it, you’re doing well.

It’s not enough to just remember, you have to get into the habit. Once something is part of your routine, it’s easier to keep doing it than it is to stop. If it’s something you want to do daily, do it the same time each day and maybe add it to your morning routine – do your exercises as part of your getting up and ready for work or school, read a novel during your commute, or swap your breakfast for a healthier choice.

For other things, set aside a set time each week; go tidy the attic every Thursday after work, go for a jog on a Saturday morning, or watch YouTube tutorials for the skill you want to learn on a Monday night. Soon enough you’ll be into the swing of it and won’t even need to think about it. Joining a class or club can help too, giving you motivation while you’re still getting yourself in the habit.

The point of New Year’s Resolutions isn’t just to do them, of course, but to achieve something. Keeping track of milestones can help you stay motivated, whether you’re tracking how long you’ve kept it up or tracking how much you’ve changed or learned. Make a note in your calendar every month, marking how well you’ve kept your resolution that month and how far through the year you are. For a “Do X every week” type resolution, keeping a list of what book, film, etc you read, watched, etc not only helps you know what you’ve done but also show you have many weeks and months you’ve done it for.

If your resolution is weight or health related, it’s obvious to weigh or otherwise health check yourself regularly to keep track. For other body goals and skills, however, you can check in other ways to see how far you’ve come. Take an online test each month to see how much you’ve learned, make an item with your new skill every month and compare it to the previous months ones, or keep note of your exercise times and distances.

Achieving your goals might be reward enough, and between the life changes and watching your milestones pass by might be the best end result for you. It’s not always enough, though, and giving yourself other rewards can give you a bigger sense of achievement and celebration. Treat yourself whenever you reach a milestone!

You could relate it to your resolution; going out for dinner if its food related or buying a nice new novel if it’s something to do with reading or fiction. It doesn’t have to be related, of course, and you can treat yourself with a video game purchase or allow yourself as much TV time as you spend on learning your new skill, for example.

If you manage to keep your New Year’s Resolution until the end of the year, you’ll have that happy feeling of achievement, be improved as a person in whatever way you chose, and ready to carry on, upgrade or choose something else entirely for the next year.

The Mysterious Tiny Pocket in Your Jeans

Every single pair of jeans in the world has this tiny pocket inside the front right pocket. It’s just a fact of fashion, like jogging bottoms don’t have flies or that socks have heels and toes. We all know that it’s there, and while we mostly just ignore its entire existence, we’ve all had that moment of confusion. Why is it there? What is it for? Why is it so small?

Most people have never used it, but some have tried to come up with uses. Some are attempted answers to the origin with various success, and some are simply trying to find any good use. There is a clear reason for it to be there, one revealed in the pockets name, but first let’s look at the guesses and ideas.

Some people call it a condom pocket, and there a numerous reasons that this cannot be the origin and it a terrible idea. For one thing, jeans were invented in the 1800s and while condoms as we know them were beginning to be invented, latex condoms weren’t invented until the 1920s and condom use wasn’t socially acceptable or well known until the 1980s. As well as the likelihood of the pocket being for condoms being practically zero, keeping a condom in a trouser pocket is going to damage it and make it unsafe to use. Just like in a wallet as you open and close it, a condom in your jeans pocket is being subjected to repeated friction as you move your legs, wearing the thin latex even thinner and making it far more likely to tear when used.

A lot of people call it a coin pocket, and say it’s for keeping small change. One problem with this is that coin purses have existed for much longer than trousers, let alone jeans, so it’s a bizarre reason to design a tiny pocket. The other problem is the size and placement of the pocket makes it really hard to get said money out. People who claim this as the truth don’t tend to use it, as it’s just impractical. It is, however, also known as a coin pocket, and it has developed a coin usage.

There is, in the USA, a tradition of challenge coins; coins issued by mostly military organisations to prove membership. The challenge is presented at a bar, when one person with a challenge coin gets it from their pocket and taps it on the bar. All others present must produce their own coins, if they have them, and tap them too. If one person doesn’t have a coin, they buy everyone else a drink, but if everyone has a coin the challenger buys everyone else a drink. The usefulness of this small pocket to hold challenge coins has been officially recognised, but this still isn’t its original name and function.

Of course, for people who don’t care what its purpose is, it can still be a useful pocket. While keeping condoms in there is a bad idea, there are plenty of other small things people like to have on hand that fit nicely in this tiny pocket. Some small pocket knives and flashlights are specifically designed for it, and it’s a good size to keep other tools and trinkets like bottle openers or a ring you’ve had to take off for a while. It’s also perfect for keeping your keys, maybe with the keychain or fob hanging out for easy access if you have the same problem as you would with money. Things like chapsticks also sit nicely and easy to access in them too.

But what is it actually called, and what is it actually for? It’s simply called a watch pocket. Before we had wristwatches and long before we carried the time around on our phones, people wore pocket watches and had loose watches to tell the time. Jeans were invented for cowboys and frontiersmen, and keep their watches safe and close to hand they were designed with a small pocket to keep their pocket watch in. Searching for “tiny jeans pockets” brings up countless articles that point this out, all referencing back to the Levi Strauss blog entry explaining the name. Doing an image search for the same even brings up pictures of pocket watches in watch pockets. It’s all so simple, and the fact we don’t use pocket watches in day to day life is probably also why it’s not a well known fact.

The Reality of Fundraising

I started a fundraising job on a Monday, and handed in my uniform on the Thursday. The reason isn’t particularly a fault on my part, nor any fault on my team or supervisor, but a fundamental issue with the role; people are really horrible. I applied for the job because I wanted to do something that made me feel happy and like I’d made a positive difference. Instead, only four days in, I felt awful in myself and disgusted at humanity.

To be clear, the job was as far from ‘chugging’ as charity fundraising can be. I was paid an hourly wage, rather than on commission. We were indoors, at a train station, with a clear area in front of a large sign and two tables. We followed the PFRA code of conduct; not stepping in front of or obstructing people, not taking advantage of vulnerable people and never trying to guilt people into signing up. The company’s own code of conduct and system for rating fundraisers focuses on long term donors, so it was in our own interest to ensure people were genuinely happy to sign up and so wouldn’t cancel it as soon as they got away.

I started with enthusiasm and a good outlook. It was more hours and better hourly rate than my last job, my team was friendly and had a positive attitude and my boss seemed absolutely lovely. It was for a well-known charity that works in a field no one can not care about and is making a real difference. I know I have a genuine smile and friendly demeanour, and I know I don’t care about looking like a fool or talking to strangers.

I was prepared for rejection. It can take a hundred “hi, how are you?”s to get someone to stop, and it can take ten conversations with someone who stops to get a sign up. The more people you try and talk to, the higher your chances of getting sign ups. I had no problem with people ignoring me or replying with “no” or “I’m busy”. In fact, people who had clearly seen me suddenly pretending they hadn’t was pretty funny.

It was the sheer amount of people looking at me like I was something they stepped in, or like I was personally insulting them. As factually as you can understand that it’s not personal, that it’s not about the charity let alone you, that it’s probably about the state of their day so far, it wears you down. I had a woman happily talk to me for ages, then look horrified and angered when I mentioned that we were looking for donations; the sheer audacity Cancer Research must have, in her opinion, to not simply pay people to stand in the train station and tell her personally about cancer and how we’re improving the treatment, but to ask her to help!?

There were a few people who reacted in anger, not just to me mentioning money, but from my apparent rudeness in daring to say “good morning” or even be standing still and not talking to them. One person told me to “fuck off” and one person nearly walked into me then looked at me in disgust. It really is surprising how close people will walk to what is obviously a charity stand when they can’t stand being greeted by charity fundraisers. Walking between us and the tables, walking through the one-person-wide gap between the tables and the banner, even resting their stuff on the table and looking at our leaflets. All just to glare and stomp away when talked to.

So it wasn’t the job I thought it would be, and it was harder from a keeping happy and positive side than leafleting on the street was. People are happier for some kid in scruffy clothes to push leaflets trying to sell them things into their hands right outside the small entrance to the train station that they are for a smartly dressed person working for a good cause to greet them when they walk past the easily avoidable stand. So much, so tiring.

At least I could go home knowing that by doing a good job I was saving lives, right? Well, I could have, had I been doing a good job. I got one sign up on my first day, a great start, and another on my second. Two thirds of the way into my three in three days starter target. Okay, so they were both people that clearly walked by us wanting to donate; it took barely any explanation and just the mention of the sign up form. And then, nothing. I came in on my third day ready to get my third sign up in the first hour. I was following all my coworkers advice and greeting every person I could. Nope. I wasn’t making the difference that I was hoping. It was definitely a downer, due to my high hopes and the expectations day one gave me.

I was still determined, then one person just… broke me.

He stopped to tell me why he refuses to donate to or support Cancer Research. He lectured me about the animal testing he says they do. I haven’t looked it up yet; it’s not important. I would agree that unnecessary animal testing, that is, testing on animals for non-life-saving reasons such as cosmetics or for testing things that are already proven, is unnecessary and I would not support it as I would prefer it did not happen. I feel the creation of life saving cancer treatments is at the very least in a grey area, as we can hardly go from theoretical to human testing.

He told me that animal testing is ‘bad science’ because animals and people are not the same. Ignore the fact that humans have had pigs’ hearts as transplants, and the success of medicine tested on animals, apparently. He skipped over my attempt to change the subject. No, all animal testing is useless and by definition animal abuse; it’s not just the medicine testing, he insisted that all animal testing is in battery-style cages and they use beagles and cut their vocal cords so they can’t cry. He painted a Nazi-esque sociopathic doctor doing it for the hell of it, and told me repeatedly that I am promoting animal abuse for fundraising for Cancer Research.

Bear in mind, of course, he is just some man with nothing to back up his statements, who has gone to the shorter, white and apparently female fundraiser, not the black man around his height. It’s me he wants to lecture and harass and tell to quit. Shaken, but not quite beaten yet, I asked him what the alternative is, hoping for him to stumble over the idea of testing on humans.

No. He instead tells me cancer is hereditary and that by “allowing people to carry on living” after being diagnosed with cancer we are just causing it to stay in the gene pool. Lifestyle factors aside, I was suddenly aware I had been confronted by a man who was genuinely arguing in favour of eugenics. You expect to meet the worst people that exist if you work in a prison or with dangerous people; a social worker, a police officer, an addiction counsellor. This man was just some man in a suit, going to work through Victoria station.

My team leader told me you get people like that sometimes. I’m not going to lie, I cried. I handed in my uniform that same day, and hope to never meet anyone that horrifying again.

The Bees by Laline Paull – a book review

A gripping novel about the life of a bee. It’s literally about a bee in a hive of bees, and yet I could not put it down. The snippets of reviews on the cover and inside covers include the legendary Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale), compares it to Animal Farm, and hint at the ways it discusses our own society. It is definitely as well written and exciting as they all say… but perhaps I missed something, as while I devoured the tale I saw no parallels with our own existence. The characters have incredibly human-like emotions, motivations and actions, but are strongly and undoubtedly apian.

Paull’s understanding of bees is seemingly unending, and I felt not only entertained but educated. The details about the caste-like kin structure of the hive, the ways they communicate, the movement and appearance of their bodies, are so precise and realistic that I almost felt to-scale myself. You might know that all but the drones are male, and that only the queen bee lays eggs, but by the end of this book there will definitely be some facts you’ll be surprised to learn. On the other side of that coin, some facts about bees that are basic knowledge to humans are shocking plot twists; despite knowing exactly what was happening or what secret was being hidden, the tension and the mystery were palpable and thrilling.

The true existence of bees in this novel is not only illuminating, but interesting in thoughts of humanity. It may not hold a mirror to our lives but the gender politics, religiousness and strict social roles have clear messages for us and dystopian tones.

Bees are a strong matriarchy, but the book still shows a reverence for maleness that we also find insidiously hard to avoid. While their ruler and god-head is the obviously female Queen, the drones are all revered, worshipped and waited on hand and foot (or rather, foot and foot, as they’re bees). This revelation about the gender roles in apian society saddened me, if I’m quite honest, but without spoiling the story it has a kind of satisfying twist ending that some might know about.

The structure of society, both the ‘kin’ hierarchy and the connection to the queen, are overtly religious and smack of horrifying, dystopian theocracy. The Queen is immortal, holy and without flaw. Her connection to them is that of a living Goddess, blessing them and being prayed to daily. The female society addressing each other as sister (though, as all were laid by the Queen, they literally are) feels very nun-like, and the highest ranking bees are called Priestesses. While I find the idea of religion being used to create a dystopia dull, as it can be heavy handed and (ironically) preachy, but this is one of the best examples. It doesn’t feel like a “religion is bad and dystopias are caused by religion” lecture, but just one aspect of the terrifying lives of bees and a coincidental truth.

Our protagonist, born to be the lowest class of humble cleaner but destined to ascend that role and achieve greatness, is a very strong dystopia stock character. It’s a well-used and stark mark of a totalitarian society, and strikes everyone with goals with horror. Every single bee has her life’s role, duties and social status decided before birth, pigeon holed into a physically distinguished caste. True to Paull’s gentle touch throughout the book, however, this isn’t portrayed as utterly evil and unbearable. The cleaners are shown to be incapable of the tasks higher roles require, and content to clean as their instinct commands them. Even our chosen one main character, who surprises everyone be being able to talk, make royal jelly, make wax, and forage, finds solace in tidying and camaraderie most in her own kin.

All of the issues presented are simply the way that bees are; this is less a cautionary tale of a twisted, worst-case-scenario than it is a story of a generic society with a corruption problem and a rebel who makes changes. I had that pure reading experience, emotionally invested in the characters, caught up in the narrative and my mind full of images of bees. Whether or not the morals or themes appeal, it’s a great story that happens to have a non-human setting. It’s more than worth the read; it’s worth the accolades and prizes it got and you’re missing out.