Phil and I seem hardly to have seen each other this week, which is odd for a couple who live together in the same house. Of course, we've both been around in the daytime, doing our individual routine stuff in various parts of the house. But in the evenings, with meetings of various groups we belong to all happening in the same week, we seem to have simply met up at the end of the evening to swop notes.
Last night it was Phil's turn to be out and about. When he returned in the late evening, the television news had just moved on to the increased number of young women suffering from mental illness. Why, we wondered, should young women now be so particularly vulnerable? One explanation is the pressure from social media. One television journalist talked about today's 16 to 24 year olds as being the first cohort to grow up totally immersed in the social media morass.
Women have always been judged on how they look. Doris Lessing wrote about it forty or fifty years ago. It still goes on in all sorts of spheres, maybe more so than ever. There are more roles for older, fatter, uglier male actors than for female ones. The kit of female athletes is more frequently assessed from a fashion point of view than that their male counterparts. Male politicians can be old and scruffy and still have ideas but an old and scruffy female politician is frumpy and her ideas consequently have less value. (Having said that, poor old Jeremy Corbyn came in for a lot of stick for his style of dress!) The difference now is that the criticism (no, judgement!) is immediate, constant, unrelenting, and above all huge, via social media. A negative value judgement can spread and grow exponentially on Twitter in what seems like a matter of minutes.
And girls have always been bitchy towards each other; let's not deny it ladies. But before social media it was a lot less easy for a school year group to run a poll on who is the ugliest girl in their year and put the results put for everyone to see. This was a case I read about recently!
More than ever before the pressure is there to conform to size, looks, style, makeup, hair and even sexual behaviour. And that last is perhaps a new and disturbing one. Apparently young men watch pornography on their phones or iPads or whatever and expect their girlfriends to do the things that they have seen in the downloads. It makes me glad to be no longer young!
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the Guardian described today's young women in this way: "We are the generation at risk of being “left behind”, with both genders battling to find some kind of stability amid a housing crisis, unstable working conditions, mounting student debt, and, on top of all that, for women, that infernal biological clock and, if you have children, attendant childcare responsibilities and the unfair division of domestic labour."
She went on to write about how she and her women friends talk about all sorts of problems, in a way that young men seemingly do not, and how useful that is. The sceptical bit of me wonders to what extent some young women can talk themselves into an emotionally fragile state. I say this partly from my own experience; I long ago found that I could persuade myself out of feeling depressed and even out of feeling ill. The power of persuasion is a wonderful thing. But that's probably/possibly just me and there is no denying that the world is more openly rough and even brutal than it used to be. The streets are more dangerous. Young women, and men, are attacked and, like Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett after being attacked by a stranger, suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Her article continued at one point: "Eight months ago, when my PTSD came back after the Paris terrorist attacks, I couldn’t get onto a train without Valium and beta blockers. I would stand in the vestibule hyperventilating, convinced I was going to die. Looking back now, I realise I was completely and properly mad. I was seriously ill. And now I’m not, thanks to medication and 16 sessions of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy."
Recognising a condition is a first step on the road to recovery. Maybe putting the statistics out there will provoke a response from our government. Or am I mad to think so?