We hear a lot about rights. And rightly so, in most cases. Human rights, equal rights, the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to work, the right to a living wage, the right to a free education, the right to bear arms, the right to party, the right to take a dump in public and such like. Much is written about these rights (well, most of them), so I’m going to write about another right, one which you may not have heard of, because I’ve just it made it up: the right to create. Right, so moving on (with no more crappy plays on the word right I promise)…
I do some creative things. I’ve hosted a few art exhibitions and displayed my stuff in public and all that kind of arty crap, so I like to consider myself an artist. (No, please don’t stop reading. It makes me feel better to consider myself an artist when I’m at work stacking shelves in a supermarket at 3 in the morning). But because I need to earn a living I have to go to work full time, so I can only be a part time artist. And this pisses me off. And gets me thinking.
I’m faced with two choices. One, produce commercially viable art which makes me enough money as a full time artist that I don’t have to work but which compromises my art. Or two, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which compromises my ability to make money and therefore means I have to work as well. (Don’t anyone dare mention three, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which is also commercially viable, because rather like a relationship with Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes, this is The Impossible Dream).
I choose the second route, because I feel that my art is something I should do to make me happy, not to make me money. Though I have even been a full time artist in the past. An actual arty artist too, doing the art I wanted to do and not the art I had to do to make money. But then I ran out of money and had to go on Jobseekers Allowance. And this meant that I had to find a real job. It didn’t matter what job I wanted to do or what job I could do well because those jobs weren’t available. I was obliged to get a job as soon as possible. Any job. I got a job in a call centre. It was very,very, shit. I was working shit hours for a shit wage in a shit job. It was a shit life.
But that’s fine, because at least I’m working huh? At least I have a job. At least I am paying my taxes. I am paying my way. I am not a burden to the working man. I am not a turd-encrusted pube on the asshole of society. I am not some scruffy arty tosser sponging off the state (I am just a scruffy arty tosser). No, I work. I am a good and useful citizen. Well if that’s all true, why was I miserable as fuck?
Because I was just existing. I wasn’t creating. I was a walking National Insurance Number. And I’m not the only one. I know countless artists, musicians, actors and actresses, dancers, writers, photographers, film makers, designers, performers and poets who work not in artistic fields but in call centres, shops, garages, offices, care homes etc etc. I don’t mean to demean those jobs and the people who do them, but my point is on the issue of choice . Many people want to work in those jobs, but many need to because they don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t a person be free to try and pursue the career they want? How many thousands of creative and talented people across the country are stuck in their non-creative jobs, compelled to waste their creativity and talent and ultimately their life by the conventions of society and the pressure to earn money? How many people are compelled to go through their life miserable as fuck, just so they can work and contribute and pay their rent and pay their taxes and therefore be a good and useful citizen?
Too many, I say. There is however, a solution to this sad state of affairs. It is based upon the idea that a person’s value to society is not based upon their monetary value. It’s not about the amount of taxes they contribute weighed against the amount of benefits they receive. It’s about the non-monetary value they can provide to society. Imagine if a person had the right to do the kind of work they enjoy and are good at. Imagine if they had the right not have to work in any shit job just because they have to. Imagine if a person was allowed to use their skills, their personality, their talent and their passion to benefit others. Imagine being helped by that person. Imagine being that person. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Man, wouldn’t everyone be much happier?
And to help create that happiness? I propose that artistic and creative people are given the right to create.
I propose an Artists Allowance. This would allow an artist to pursue their artistic activities without the need to work and without the resulting financial worries. Instead of being forced to work in shit jobs they are allowed to do what they want to do and do what they are good at doing. They are given the right to create.
What is this idealistic tosh? How could this possibly work? Naive? Ridiculous? Do-gooder lefty hippy bollocks? In these times of austerity, a whole load of people are going to get paid by the state to sit around on their arses so long as they call themselves an artist? I have got to be kidding, right?
No, because it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, the allowance should only be the equivalent of what the artist would receive if they were not an artist – i.e on Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance or Housing Benefit – no more. A person would clearly be better off financially if they were working, thus ensuring that the Artists Allowance was not pursued just for the money. Who would give up a full time well paid job to receive a subsistence poverty income? Certainly not everyone. Those whose heart isn’t in it, wouldn’t. But I would, if I could do my art.
Secondly, the artist would have to prove they are an artist. They would have to attend the Jobcentre regularly to prove that they are pursuing artistic activities. Rather like filling in the oh-so-impervious-to fraudsters little Jobseekers Diary. Except the artist could prove they are pursuing artistic activities. A film maker would have to show their films. A painter would have to show their paintings. You couldn’t make it up.
Thirdly, and this for me is at the heart of the point I am driving at, the artist would have to contribute to society with their art. This is where we see the value of a person not just in monetary terms. Isn’t it right that a person is judged for what they can do for others rather than for how much money they earn? Yes, the state pays this person, but this person pays back society. There are many, many ways an artist can use their skills and create art to benefit their community. If the artist can’t think of a way, they won’t get the Artists Allowance and they can sell their shite and their soul to Ikea instead. This is a mutually beneficial allowance. Give and take. Not something for nothing.
And here we also have the state creating work. Not taking it away. We all know there are not enough jobs to go round at the moment. So let’s enable people to create their own. Let’s give people the work of their choice. Working for the state, for themselves, and for the community. Give an artist some money to spend on art materials and arts activities and arts events and their increased spending stimulates the economy. We would move away from the perception of art as a luxury for those who can afford it, but towards art as a more accessible, more local, more essential, part of the community. Furthermore, thousands of community or state artists who would now be working within the arts would mean that thousands of other people would be able to do the other jobs the artist would otherwise have been pushed into. Damn, we could even get the good old private sector involved too so they quit their tedious whinging about the bloated public sector and privileged public servants. Companies could sponsor an artist on the Artists Allowance. The artist could work for them on joint projects. The company could even get a tax break in return for their support (that should get them onside)…
So will there ever be a right to create? Will there shite. Our esteemed politicians go on about “progressive government” and “Big Society” but they’re about as progressive as a brown Ford Cortina with a flat tyre stuck in reverse gear and as for the Big Society, well something else with the initials BS springs to mind instead. Should we have this right though? Bring on the debate…
When I told my sister that I wanted to join a union, she laughed and said: “You can’t go on strike – what will you do, go to work?” She had a point.
I suffer from a severe mental illness, and so am unable to work. My husband works part time in a shop and we have two young children, so we don’t have much spare money. I am a member of the Labour party, and strongly feel that the only way to counter the imbalance of power is to work collectively. If we are to stand up for our rights, we need a bigger voice. Unions are a good way of getting that voice.
As soon as I heard that some unions accept unemployed members with a cheap subscription I decided to join. I might not be able to work, but I can do what I can by being counted. Hopefully I can help with campaigns and volunteering. Maybe my voice will make a difference, and I can prove that I’m worth listening to even if I don’t have paid employment. I have become a bit of an informal benefits adviser to friends and family – having had dealings with benefit forms I’ve started following changes with interest, and so I know how important it is to be able to get advice from others.
There are other aspects to being a member of a union that are particularly important to me as a mother, such as legal advice and cheap deals on insurance. Young children make you want a secure life – we need to know that if things go wrong, someone will help.
Until recently I felt secure that legal aid and the welfare state would be there if things went wrong – we are already very vulnerable, and so I will grab with both hands anything that might put a cushion between us and disaster. It isn’t our children’s fault that they have a mentally ill mother – the illness makes day-to-day life hard enough without extra worry.
I probably will never use a good proportion of a unions services, but plenty of people will, and by paying this very small amount we’re helping to spread the cost. Keeping unions viable makes employers act that bit more honestly. They have to do whatever makes the most profit, but if unions are still strong, that becomes a factor they have to consider when making their calculations, and hopefully that is a good thing overall for everyone. Even if I can’t strike.
Situation A: One night, a man and a woman meet at a party and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in hot-pants and a sparkly top. They’re at the party for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man accidentally wanders into the host’s bedroom and finds the woman lying on the bed. She is clearly unconscious with drink. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.
Situation B: One night, a man and a woman meet in a hotel bar and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in a smart suit and low heels. They’re in the bar for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man idly tries the handle of the connecting door between their rooms and discovers it has accidentally been left unlocked. In the next room, the woman is lying on the bed. She is clearly fast asleep. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.
Here’s another example. Somewhere in London, two women go to two parties. Woman A is dressed in a thigh-skimming mini-dress. Woman B is wearing a knee-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse. Woman A gets blind drunk and is escorted home by a male friend. Woman B suffers from narcolepsy and is escorted home by a male friend. On arriving home, both fall unconscious. Both are raped by the men who brought them home. Whose rape provokes the most outrage?
However much we don’t want to, we see the difference. We hate and despise this difference, and when Ken Clark refers to “degrees of rape”, we’re rightly outraged. Nonetheless, the difference is there. But it’s not about degrees of consent, or degrees of rape, or even degrees of confusion. The terrible truth is that, when a woman is drunk and in a mini-skirt, the man knows he has society’s permission to rape her.
Very early on, we learn the rules of nakedness, display and sexual contact. Context matters. If it didn’t, acts of attempted rape would happen most often on beaches and in swimming-pools, and Beauty Pageants would need to take place behind closed doors. In this sense, rapists are just like anyone else. And, just like consensual sex, society tells us when and how rape can take place. Like most social rules, the rules of rape are irrational, but – just as we generally don’t wear our underwear to the beach – we abide by them, and we expect rapists to abide by them too. As a bald statement, this fact is appalling; but on a basic level, we know it’s true.
This is why we tell our daughters (but not our sons) that they “can’t go out like that”. This is why reporters speak of drunk women (but not sleeping women) as “vulnerable”. Through these phrases, we reinforce the rules of rape.
“You can’t go out like that.” “Don’t make yourself vulnerable.” When we teach our daughters how they can evade rape, we also teach our sons that raping a drunk woman in a mini-skirt is socially sanctioned.
This is not to say that all men are rapists. I hope and believe that almost no men are. But all men learn the rules; and among them are those who enjoy forcing sex on an unwilling partner.
Here’s a statistic that shows how good rapists are at keeping the rules. I have a friend who is a police officer. She’s damn good at her job; she’s clever and diligent and careful, and her success rates are excellent. She’s worked on the force for seventeen years. In that time, she’s put away one rapist. This isn’t the only case she’s seen. It’s just the only case where the perpetrator was sent down.
Successful police officer. Seventeen years. One rapist. Am I still going to teach my daughter the rules? You’re damn right I am.
Is it possible to change the rules in our favour? I have an idea for this. It has its flaws, but I think it could work. In every alternate year, rape will become the default position for all sexual acts, between all men and woman, anywhere. In every alternate year, for a woman to prove rape, all she’ll have to prove will be sexual contact. If she says it’s rape and sex took place, then it’s rape. Job done.
The only permissible defence will be if the man can produce a standardised form, signed and dated by the woman, confirming consent for the sexual acts defined on the form, on that date, at that time and in that place.
This form won’t be infallible. If she says she was drunk when she signed, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says she was coerced or threatened into signing, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says her signature was forged, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If sex took place on a different date, at a different time (each form will allow a maximum of, say, one hour for the agreed acts to be completed) or in a different place to the ones specified on the form, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says he committed an act not agreed in advance, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape.
Please note: this form isn’t compulsory. It’s simply an optional tool to protect men against wilful rape accusations. You can still have sex without the form. Most couples in established relationships may not bother ever. Probably even most couples having sex for the first time won’t use it. But if men want to be safe – they’ll get that form signed, and get it signed properly.
And men themselves can do a lot to avoid the risks. For example: don’t have sex with women you’ve only just met – you can’t spot a false-accuser by looking. Don’t have sex when you’re drunk – you’re more likely to lose the form, or forget which acts she consented to. If possible, get your form signed in public, and in front of a good friend. That way you’ll have a witness. You might want to carry a tape-recorder to collect proof that she didn’t tell you “no” at any point during the act.
This system will lead to some miscarriages of justice, and I’m very sad about that. Some innocent men with no bad intentions will have their lives destroyed by women who, for some sick reason of their own, abuse the power they’ve been given by society. That will be terrible, and I mean that sincerely. I’ll pray it never happens to my son. If you organise a march to protest about it, I might even go on it.
But you know what? I’ll also know, in my secret shameful heart, that l have the power. I’m a good person, so I won’t abuse it. But I’ll have it.
Okay, even I can see this completely fucking ridiculous. But you know what? At least it’s equally fucking ridiculous. At least this way, everyone gets to experience both sides of the equation. At least this way, everyone gets an equal amount of time in power, and time in fear. And maybe when we’ve all experienced the other side of the equation, we’ll find some way of living together that lets us all get disgustingly drunk in clothes that don’t suit us, without the Rape spectre hanging over us.