Saturday 01 April 2023

Work and school should not come before public safety

This column first appeared in Malta Today

In countries where heavy snowfall makes roads dangerous to drive through, the Government pronounces it a “snow day” and schools are closed as are many workplaces. Those who provide an essential service obviously still have to go in to work, much like what happened during the pandemic, but apart from that, in extreme weather, everything basically shuts down.

We might not get snow, but when we are hit by a heavy storm and gale force winds, driving here can be equally risky due to the flooding, trees being uprooted, and flying debris. Yet, despite warnings which started on Wednesday that we will be hit by storm Helios, and despite the fact that several major events were being cancelled, there was no official early statement for parents not to send their children to school and for those who work in an office to switch to remote working. Instead the warning from the Civil Protection to stay indoors was issued on Thursday in the early afternoon when children were already in their classrooms and people were at work. How were people expected to not go out, if they needed to make their way back home and children had to be collected or brought home by school transport?

This inexplicable lack of foresight when all the weather forecasts had been telling us the same thing for over 24 hours happens every single time. We know Malta floods quickly, and we know that driving in these adverse conditions is only for those who are not faint-hearted…so would it have been so terrible to make a nation-wide statement on Wednesday so that people would not leave the house in the first place? The less people there are on the roads in a storm, the easier it is for rescue workers, ambulances and emergency services to reach those who need help.

Meanwhile it is about time that employers (which includes the Public Sector) banish this archaic resistance to working from home. In stormy weather it should have been an automatic decision to switch over, but even if the sun is shining what is the reason some companies and departments keep digging their heels in? In reality, most office jobs can be done remotely (and your output can still be monitored) …anyone who tells you any different is just being old-fashioned, narrow-minded and difficult.

Apart from reducing the stress of commuting due to the the one car/one driver daily traffic jam during rush hour, it will cut down on pollution and will contribute to better work/life balance while making the lives of families where both parents work, much easier. In cases where there is a single parent, it can be a lifesaver, especially when children are sick or have school holidays. Many employers who were forced to accept remote working during Covid have now forced their staff back into the office – what’s the point? Even if someone is blatantly skiving, why should everyone be lumped in the same basket? In most cases happier, less stressed employees are more productive – and if need be, once those who do abuse have been identified, their work from home privileges can be removed.

Then there is also the little matter of the humanity which should be shown by employers. Employees should not be treated like mere interchangeable faces or numbers who can be disposed of at will. The world will not stop if staff are allowed to leave early on a terrible day like we had on Thursday when we were hit by a severe storm. At least for once Bolt and Wolt had the decency not to allow their couriers to deliver food in that weather. Those in employment also need to shift their mindset and reconsider their priorities – I know I have. After being in the workforce for over 40 years, I finally realised that we should not live to work, but that work is a means to allow us to live and enjoy our life.

Unless you are saving lives in a hospital, maintaining law and order or pulling people out of wreckage after an accident (or a devastating earthquake), no work is really that indispensable. We are all allowed to say “No”, when unreasonable requests are being asked of us for which we are not being paid and for which we will not receive as much as a thank you. It took me many long years to realise that setting boundaries when it comes to work is not only important, but crucial for one’s mental health. At the end of the day, we give up our time to do a job according to our skills in exchange for which we are paid an amount which an employer thinks we are “worth” – but only we can really assess our own worth, and certainly, only we can really decide when what is being asked of us is completely unacceptable.

The price women are paying to try and recapture their youth

The photos doing the rounds of the barely recognisable pop icon Madonna has been a wake up call for many women. If someone with her millions could get it so very wrong, then what hope is there for an ordinary person?

She has claimed that the focus on her appearance is just another example of how the patriarchy does not allow women the right to age as they please. “Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her If she continues to be strong-willed, hard-working and adventurous.”

However, I cannot agree with her argument that she is being punished or that this is some kind of attack on female artists. The world had similarly discussed Mickey Rourke when he went under the knife with disastrous results. All her life Madonna has enjoyed attention for pushing the envelope, but I’m afraid once in the public eye, one cannot dictate the direction the narrative will take. She has always loved shocking people with her exploits, mostly involving sex and nudity. But now that she has shocked people for a different reason, she cannot exactly push it all back in the box and demand that we talk about something else.

The issue here is not ageism but, on the contrary, it is the growing refusal by many celebrities to accept that one’s looks always fade. We are not saying “OMG, she looks so old, but OMG what on earth has she done?” I realise that in the entertainment business youth is glorified and the realisation that one is aging is a bitter pill to swallow. Admittedly, the pressure on women is even greater because it seems that a man with wrinkles, drooping eyelids and saggy skin can be a leading man, a TV presenter or a rock ’n’ roll star forever. In contrast, women apparently have to to be frozen in some kind of artificial time capsule and are expected to remain looking “ageless”. This is where the ageism really lies; just look at how the media relishes in publishing before and after photos of how famous actresses looked at 20 versus how they look now.

It is this merciless insistence that the passage of time should not be reflected in women’s faces which is the real problem. Granted, none of us enjoy looking in the mirror and being startled at our own reflection, but while it is important to be well-groomed, we also need to accept that turning back time is unrealistic.

Those who have reacted with shock at the sight of Madonna’s disfigured face are not doing so to belittle her, but out of a sense of concern, mixed with horror. She has ruined her once beautiful appearance and transformed herself into a weird alien. It is so disappointing that instead of going against the grain, a person who prides herself in being a trailblazer simply fed into the hype that women should look forever 21 (or try to). How can anyone seriously think this plastic, bloated look is preferable to simply coming to terms with one’s age?

One answer to this was given by a young woman who was on the UK’s Love Island who has now reversed all her plastic surgery because she went too far, something went wrong and she put her health at serious risk. She has admitted that when she kept pumping more collagen into her lips and injecting her face with fillers, she thought she actually looked good. It is only now that she can see how ridiculous it looked. In fact, Love Island has been ‘blamed’ for the boom in plastic surgery among 20-somethings who want to achieve the same Barbie doll look as the contestants who have become (God help us) “influencers”. I cannot imagine how they will handle it when they turn 60.

As with any addiction, people going from one cosmetic surgery to another, especially to the face, are often in denial that they have a problem, and even convince themselves that they look better than before. It starts with a little nip and tuck here and there until it gets out of control and the compulsion to keep going is irresistible. Frankly, if there was ever a cautionary tale of where it can all lead, one only has to look at Madonna. Who’s that girl, indeed.

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