Did you know Anti-social means something entirely different here? I much prefer the UK definition.

Here, anti-social behaviour is something that actively goes against society. Something that disturbs the peace, and negatively affects the neighbourhood. Noise complaints, public drunkenness, vandalism – anything that blights the quality of individual and community life.

I’ve been trying hard to figure out a way to explain one of the key differences between life in the UK and life in North America, and the huge difference in the interpretation of the term ‘anti-social’ pretty much sums it up.

Because in North America, anti-social doesn’t mean ‘against society,’ it means opting out of it.

There isn’t really a great catch-all term in the US or Canada to describe what people here would call anti-social behaviour.

But there are, sadly, so very many ways to talk about opting-out of society.

I’ve just finished reading Emily Matchar’s “Homeward Bound: Why women are embracing the new domesticity,” which manages to put into words everything that was irritating me about parenting in Vancouver, that I couldn’t quite articulate:

  • My intense annoyance at the zealotry around homemade food. Homeschooling. ‘Natural’ products & methods.
  • When I railed about the stupidity in calling parenting ‘a job,’ bothered by the increased trend for women my age, and most importantly, social bracket, to opt out of the workforce.
  • The little pieces of my brain that are still left on the walls from the many times my head exploded after yet another person I assumed was a reasonable human being started seriously questioning vaccinations.
  • The self-important re-labeling of ‘egg-money‘ (which Matchar finally gave me the words for) to ‘side-hustle’ or the cringe-worthy ‘mom-preneurship’; conveniently overlooking the fact that it’s almost always made possible by a professional partner’s ability to support his (almost always ‘his’) family on a single income.

It’s all very academically obvious, when you look at charts like this one from the Pew Institute, that show how different Americans are to Europeans when it comes to how individualistic they are as a nation, and how much of a role they think the social safety net should play.

homeward_bound_rev3And of course, when America sneezes, Canada catches a cold. So many of the same attitudes prevail North of the 49th. Or at least, my experience was that they certainly did in ultra-crunchy Vancouver.  

But I can actually feel the difference between there and here. There is so much less group anxiety.

There are still loads of complaints to be made in the UK about the food security system (horsemeat anyone?), family-friendly workplaces and access to daycare (compared to the rest of Western Europe, that is – it’s still miles ahead of the US, and quite a lot better than Canada), the school system, and the current state of the NHS (which, again, is still nothing short of a miracle compared to the US, and much better than what I experienced in BC).

But that’s the thing. People here do complain. To their friends and neighbours, to their councillors, to their colleagues, to their MPs.

Something needs to be done. Change needs to happen. The English have certainly earned their reputation as a nation of moaners. But they seem to agree that if you’re compelled to spend effort because of a broken system, it would be unthinkable to spend it all on dropping out of the system. It should be fixed, not abandoned.

At least, I hope the attitude that I’ve experienced here so far is the one that prevails. Because the fact that, despite living in our little socialist paradise, the book is resonating here as well, is pretty fucking terrifying.

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8 thoughts on “Anti-Social

  1. Sue

    Synopsis of book please? I agree with you about all the things to kvetch about but I have soooo many books on my to-read list that I may never get around to this one.
    Sue´s last blog post ..Making a blouse dress

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    Basically the author looks into the rising DIY movement (crafting as job, attachment parenting, anti-vaxxers, extreme food growing/preserving, homeschooling), and why so many women are choosing (and glorifying) it. And what effects it’s having on the greater society. Basic conclusion: opting out is temporarily attractive to many individuals, but results in a downward spiral for society, since there’s then no impetus to fix the broken systems, and then no safety net when the DIY efforts go wrong or don’t pan out, or other ‘life’ happens (or, in the case of anti-vaxx, you cause a measels epidemic).

  2. Sue

    Also, the comments on the “is parenting a job” post are closed but I thought I’d add a little idea. It’s not that parenting is a “job” and should be given a monetary value – this assumes that everything worthwhile in the world can be given a monetary value. But consider the metaphor of a leaky bucket in terms of household finance. This is a metaphor often used to address community economic development needs.

    Everything you earn or acquire from outside your family unit is the input to your bucket. Whatever you have to buy or pay for to outside suppliers is what’s leaking out of your bucket. So the more self-reliant your family can be in terms of using its own resources to meet its needs, the less is going to leak out of your bucket. If you don’t have to pay someone else to look after your child, that’s one less area of leakage (balanced with the cost for a therapist if you’re going batty from staying home with a toddler). On the other hand, if both parents’ income is needed to bring enough into the bucket to serve all the other needs, then the child care expense will be a small leak which is compensated by the effects of two streams of income.

    So rather than call parenting a “job” in traditional terms, perhaps it would be better to consider that it is about distribution of resources. Ultimately this is what economics is supposed to be about, right? We just lack the convenient terminology to describe the non-monetary effects of using family resources in the home instead of outside the home so we call it a “job.”

    The whole “new domesticity” could be looked upon as an attempt by families to reduce their leakage. By reducing the amount paid to others to meet food, clothing and educational needs, the family as a whole enjoys a fuller “bucket”.

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    For the ‘parenting as a job’ I’m thinking more about the language we use, rather than the practicality of the bucket (which I agree with; it’s all about distribution of resources). It is important work, but assigning it as a ‘job’ makes it too easy to use that definition to hold women back. Because a ‘job’ is something that is given monetary value. And parenting is not. You can be a parent with a job, or a parent without a job; both are equally valuable. But if you call ‘parenting a job’ it becomes very easy to say “We don’t need to make the workplace friendly for that woman, because she already has a job – childrearing – she shouldn’t even be here.”

    As for the New Domesticity, the issue isn’t so much the leaky bucket. Because while a lot of the choices being made by the Extreme DIYers might be under the guise of self-sufficiency, the book reveals that they’re mostly ego and class-driven. Choices made by people who have the luxury of making that choice. Problem is, that means those people are the ones who used to fight for better social systems for everyone (rather than their own immediate family and network), so it’s a self-perpetuating downward spiral. Leaving the middle-class increasingly disenfranchised (so opting out keeps looking more attractive to wider groups), the poor end up as bad and worse off, the the rich carry on in their usual oblivion. It also has the handy side-effect of reinforcing gender stereotypes at the same time. All around lose-lose.

  3. dw

    “Because in North America, anti-social doesn’t mean ‘against society,’ it means opting out of it”.

    I’ve never come across this North American usage (do you have an example?).

    However, the UK definition is also current in the US. For example (clearly aimed at a North American market) includes in “antisocial behavior” harrassment, bullying, abuse, taunting, gossipping, threats, and intimidation.

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    Coloquially (and anecdotally) I have only ever experienced its use as a discussion of ‘opting out.’ The phrase “I’m feeling anti-social today” is quite common, but doesn’t mean “I’m going to go rip shit up,” it means “I feel like being withdrawn or away from everyone.”

  4. B Jaworski

    Have lived in Canada for 60+ years and am only familiar with the U K use. If I’ve heard “I’m feeling antisocial today” I would have taken it as a joking misuse of the word.

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    Interesting. Maybe a generational thing?

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