How to Feel Better About not Getting a Job Interview

I’ve had eight job interviews now, I think, and not a single one of the interviewers has seen fit to give me the job. You parade yourself in front of these legions of people, prancing like a pony hoping to impress, and it all amounts to nought.

Somewhat depressing, you might think. And yes, it is upsetting; I’ve entertained all the usual clichés. I’m no good, everyone else is better than me, what was I thinking, blah di blah.

And yet, I am haunted by the old adage… that tough times show you what you’re made of. Nothing worth attaining is easy. The most striking realisation I’ve received recently is that there is no external arbiter striking off the number of times you’ve tried and failed on a chalk board; that no one seriously has to know how many job interviews you’ve had and not “passed”.

Maybe Gmail knows because it’s the receptacle for all those rejection emails. Gmail knows my dark secret; and so does anyone who cares to search it now I’ve immortalised the fact in a blog post. I suppose I wanted to make something productive out of my pain, and I am and always will be a writer, so this is the result.

You feel better because you have to. Because there are many kind people in your life, hopefully, that will repeat platitudes at you until you do. They are platitudes because they are true – “there’s always hope”, “just keep going”, “I know it’s hard sometimes” – but they are hard to remember. The emotional fraught-ness clouds your judgement until you are just howling in despair.

If you dig deep, you’ll find you’ve always got that tiny reserve of effort that was just lurking out of sight. It doesn’t make it any easier and maybe there’s still a very long way to go, but you will keep going and that’s the important thing.

What does make it easier is your flatmate sharing his dinner with you because you were too ill to trudge to the shop and buy something yourself. Or your boyfriend nattering with you for ages because that’s what girls like to do, and, well, he likes it because you like it. Or your long-suffering mother photocopying pages from self-help books and emailing them to you at work.

People make it easier. Getting a job is one of the hardest things to do in the world; or a job you actually want, anyway. I suppose all those insecurities will never go away: that I’ll never amount to anything, there’s a fundamental flaw in my character, or, worst of all, I’m just a girl.

But you don’t have to listen to them.

Out of Place? Media Workshop for Self-Help Groups

I went to a social media and press training course for self-help groups in Wandsworth today. I was a little out of place, to say the least, but in good company.

Many people were making jokes about leaving the social media to younger members of staff (namely Alice from Life Time, another attendee of the group), and not having a smart phone. Everyone was terribly earnest and we sat in a circle, just as if we were attending a real self-help group; though I’ve never personally been to one. It was like tapping into another world; the world of communities and vulnerability and age.

It was oddly movie-like, abounding with familiar stereotypes – the young liberal volunteer who confesses to checking the Guardian news on her smart phone every day. “News finds me,” says the tech-savvy social media lecturer, and for her, “getting lost in the news” is a frequent problem. Bombardment. This course is like a master class for keeping up with the modern world for many of the group, who are middle-aged or older.

It was like meeting the archetypes of society… The elderly man who quit his high-flying job because his wife has cancer. The fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked girl who a boy somewhere must be madly in love with, with scarf, boots and box fringe. The sweet, shy black lady who is reluctant to join the circle. The earnest, motherly group leader who has been running self-help groups for thirty years. The Vod-like (Fresh Meat) happy helper with a buzz cut, geeky glasses and Doc Martens. The sweet older lady with a degenerative neurological condition, who is highly intelligent and jokes about her walking sticks being sexy.

I am a hair’s breadth away from becoming Communications Officer (hopefully my next job) and yet it wasn’t until recently that I learned how to make a blog.

This group of self-helpers, out to improve the lives of others, occupy a strata of society often championed by the government, and yet at the same time is trampled by the Bullingdon Club boys, who possess little to no idea of the reality of grassroots community.

I don’t have much idea of it, really. Well, I didn’t until today.

All it makes me think, is, money gives you chances.

It is a slice of life; a useful workshop after all.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Nudge-cover

Published: 2008

Authors: Richard Sunstein & Cass Thaler

No feminist academic journey is complete without a sound understanding of economic theory.

Failing that, I read Nudge, a pop economics book about the role of libertarian paternalism and choice architecture in government.

Written by Richard Sunstein and Cass Thaler, two American economists, Nudge refers to the fallibility of being human in a capitalist economy and democratic society. They challenge traditional economic theory by treating people not as completely rational “econs” but irrational, imperfect creatures often ruled by inertia, confusion or impulsiveness.

Libertarian paternalism is a somewhat bipolar political ideology, espoused by theorists that believe you can “nudge” people to choose what’s good for them, while still maintaining freedom of choice.

Choice Architecture is the art of designing these choices so that people are encouraged to choose what’s best for them, as determined by experts in the field. Scenarios in which choice architecture may be applicable include choosing a pension plan, becoming an organ donor or voting in political elections.

If an individual is given too much choice and is lacking in expertise, they are typically overwhelmed by information and end up making a choice that is as bad as making one at random. On the other hand, if an individual is given no choice whatsoever, then they would be living in a totalitarian state (depending on context, of course).

It would seem that guided choices, subject to regulations and transparency measures, may be the way forward. And indeed, David Cameron reportedly included the book on his shadow frontbench team’s list of required reading. Thaler has been advisor to the Conservative “Behavioural Insight Team” or “Nudge Unit”, while Sunstein has been advising American president Barack Obama.

Nudge is, for the laywoman, accessible and entertaining. The authors never assume that the reader understands even simple economic concepts, such as ‘stocks’ (which I didn’t). Even better; for the first time, I now understand what stocks are. The postscript added to the book even makes me hopeful that I may finally be coming close to vaguely comprehending what the term “2008 economic crisis” means (apart from boarded-up shops and really expensive food).

Reading this book is like sitting down and having one of your parents explain an aspect of the world to you, with lots of hopeful theories about improving society thrown in. For the first time in a long time, I felt like governments might be able to achieve something good.

Watching Prime Minister’s Questions is enough to exterminate anyone’s faith in the efficacy of modern democracy, entertaining as it is. Overgrown Oxbridge graduates jeering and catcalling each other, overseen by a judge-like Speaker who constantly berates the rabble, is enough to make a would-be voter walk past the ballot box without a second thought.

Public opinion is generally equally unfavourable towards both British main parties: the Conservatives are greedy, out-of-touch toffs who don’t care about anything but protecting their own inherited wealth and privilege. Labour are envy-ridden, hand-wringing Northerners who are incapable of planning policy for the long-haul. Belief in political change is undermined by the four-year terms in which a party, once elected, is awarded power; any effective policies will almost certainly be scrapped by the next government in a bid to create attractive mirages that will please voters (rail fare caps, free school meals) but solve nothing, eager to prove the incompetence of the previous party.

My interest in politics is only nascent but so far the picture has not proved any brighter than this. I didn’t think it really worth mentioning the liberal democrats.

Nudge takes a giant leap over the politician-hating public to point out that those in power are probably trying to do a good job. The authors seem to offer a path through the maze of inter-party squabbles: no wonder they are so popular with current government, who are under ever-increasing pressure from the social media mob to do something about rising unemployment, skyrocketing house-prices and threats from religious extremism. Libertarian paternalism may not be the answer to all social ills but it at least provides an optimistic stab at a solution.

The Female Eunuch | Germaine Greer

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Image via Herald Sun

Title: The Female Eunuch
Author: Germaine Greer
Year: 1970

When it was first published in 1970, The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller, bringing fame and controversy to its author, Germaine Greer. All this was much to her surprise but she claims in a recent interview that she still agrees with everything she said in it.

I have just finished reading the book and am not sure what to make of it. I certainly bring it up a lot in conversation, not least because you’re apt to spot sexism in every corner after first putting it down. The title refers to the book’s central theme: that women have been separated from their libido, and are unaware of just how much they are hated by men. Women, also, are not particularly keen on men.

These are weighty topics and I’m sure all my readers will have a staunch opinion on them.

The important question I want to answer is, what do I have to say about Germaine Greer?

Born in Australia in 1949, she is considered a major feminist voice of the twentieth century – and beyond. Both loved and reviled, Greer is known for her academic works, journalistic output and her never-ceasing spray of colourful opinions.

Not one to shy away from making outlandish claims, even with fairly minimal evidence, I can see why some people particularly dislike her. Often confusing, always radical, Greer’s character leered up from the pages and never let you forget her. For this reason, I will say The Female Eunuch is not a bad book.

It was stuffed with insights, lurking among a kaleidoscope of radical feminist opinions continually hurled at the reader. Often devolving into a series of rants, the stylistic structure paled in comparison to that of The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf, meaning that it almost tailed off at the end without coming to any particular conclusion. It is, I have found, impossible to separate the book from the woman.

In part caused by my recent reading list, but also inspiring the choices, I am drawn towards the goal of identifying what I think are the most important feminist voices for my generation of women.

There was Mary Wollstonecraft writing in the late eighteenth century, igniting the whole modern movement towards female liberation through the publication of her book The Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Every woman with her own bank account, her own vote and her own job is indebted to Wollstonecraft. Since then, there have been many notable advocates of the feminist cause, but there are a few who spring immediately to mind.

Charlotte Bronte was the English female author of an outstanding literary output from roughly 1830-60, including Jane Eyre (1847), when women still found it almost impossible to become published. Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the English suffragette movement in the early twentieth century and played a key role in obtaining the right to vote for women – only a hundred years ago.  Simone De Beauvoir is the famous French feminist author of books like The Second Sex (1949) and The Mandarins (1954), also the lover of Jean-Paul Sartre.

The breadth of Greer’s argument covers many bases, ranging from Victorian tracts regarding appropriate and morally-approved behaviour of women, to syrupy Romantic poetry from the eighteenth century, to horrendously trashy romance novels from the 1950’s. Many anecdotal examples supporting her rousing declaration of the patriarchy’s oppression and abuse of women parade through the pages.

I think if I’d read The Female Eunuch at university we’d have studied her as part of the course ‘Images of Women’, perhaps attempting to psychoanalyse her frequently seething anger towards men.

Greer maintains that she is not promoting any particular concrete solution to the problem of female oppression, merely creating discussion of the issues through her provocative and often foul-tongued pages. There were times when I almost wished someone would look over my shoulder on the underground to see me reading a book that recommends all women should taste their own period blood.

At times, Greer claims things like, ‘Joy does not mean riotous glee, but it does mean the purposive employment of energy in a self-chosen enterprise. It does mean pride and confidence. It does mean communication and cooperation with others based on delight in their company and your own…’ In these passages, she truly shines.

Yes, Germaine Greer is indeed a powerful feminist voice of our time – if only for her sheer audacity and lack of respect for any tradition or established norm. Her writing is original, fiercely intelligent and unapologetic. We definitely need more women like her to join the ranks of the literary canon.

It’s interesting to compare her to other feminist authors. As with most feminist texts, I found that she did not satisfactorily explain just why men actually want to oppress women in it for them; what exactly is in it for them, besides money and not having to wash the dishes? Mainly economic gain, Naomi Wolf argues, or pure vanity and egotism the other (Virginia) Woolf asserts.

I liked The Female Eunuch because it never pretended to be anything that it wasn’t. It’s easy to feel disconnected from bra-burning, banner-waving strident feminists if you don’t think about how far we’ve come. And yet, not that far; considering the debates raging around the issues of Page 3 girls, Miley Cyrus’s twerking, and the legal definition of rape.

It’s important to remain connected to this era of bold women and appreciate just how much they achieved. When I compare my life to portrayals of women in film and books of the 1970s era, I count myself extremely lucky that I was only born twenty four years ago.

Sexism is still rife but it’s a lot easier to speak out against, now – on this blog, for example. I don’t agree that feminism is a ‘first world problem,’ and over-debated, because you could say that about most things people concern themselves with. There’s a reason that a topic is on the agenda, and if something has affected you, it’s important. Germaine Greer is never going to be one of my favourite authors, but she said her point – and she said it well.

Greer
Image via ABC