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Archive for August, 2011

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog.

Unless you have been living under rock in the Arctic Circle,
you will have, if not followed, then at least heard the story of the recent
London Riots, which spread quickly across the city and even strayed over into
areas of Manchester and Medway.

Not so long ago, David Cameron launched his ‘hug a hoodie’
campaign, the idea being to target underprivileged kids, or ‘youths’ as MPs and
media like to term them, and show them that government policies had their ‘best
interests’ at heart, and were committed to providing them with a brighter
future post-recession.

Today, Mr Cameron along with many others in government and
let’s be honest, across the media too, have begun to wonder whether the ‘hoodie’
itself has a large part to play in taking the blame for facilitating the recent
unrest. It should be noted that not all of the violence, looting and general
thuggery committed during the Riots should be cast solely at the door of ‘youths,’
and children, as there were many adult offenders, from disenchanted
school-teachers to kids of bankers. However, the majority of offenders were
wearing the ubiquitous garment in question.

I’ve just been watching tonight’s One Show (watch it now on
BBC i-player if you fancy seeing what I’m referring to), where they asked
whether the hoodie (the garment that is) should be banned. A surprising number
of the random members of the public they questioned seemed to think it might be
a good idea – though I am wary of editing here – and a quick role playing test
where one of their middle-aged crew members tried to see whether passers-by
would talk to him with or without one on. No one wanted to talk to him hooded
up.

The hooded sweatshirt has to be seen as separate from the Hoodie.
The Hoodie is what has become a personification of a thug who commits so-called
‘mindless’ violence, possibly in a gang, and has no time for authority, maybe
because they think that the system they are being told to support has let them
down. And they wear a hooded sweatshirt to help obscure their identity while
carrying out these acts. The hooded sweatshirt itself can’t do all these
things. It’s just a garment, albeit one that has picked up as a symbol for
societal threat.

However, that’s not to say that we don’t understand the power
that the wearing of a hooded sweatshirt affords us in certain situations. If
you see someone walking down the street in sunshine with their hood up, let’s
be honest it looks a bit odd. But after dark, the impact of wearing a
face-obscuring garment like this brings on a whole other issue. Body studies
have continually stressed the importance of human interactions, if not through
the whole face then certainly the eyes and mouth. In the UK where we are
predominantly not wearing veils and other covering clothes for the majority of
areas in the country, being confronted with a person whose identity is obscured
is an unsettling experience.

I own a hooded sweatshirt, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
Even my mother who is 54 has one.
Usually I don’t wear the hood up, but I am well aware of its power. I
used to walk to my university in the middle of the night to do my printing
(excellent when you’ve just finished and want to skip the morning queues). I
had a massive, baggy hooded sweater I would wear walking down there alone at
night. It was big enough to comfortably mask my laptop, often concealed
underneath, and my face. Taking a glance at me as I walked past, you would be
hard-pressed to identify whether I was male or female, whether I was a threat –
actually, anything at all. There was a conscious aim to be anonymous, yet with
a lingering threat of potential violence. Of course, I did not intend to attack
anyone, but I sought to deter anyone who might have attacked me if I had
sauntered down there as an obvious young girl on my own.

I think the conclusion we might draw from that experience is
that unfortunate as it is, we still expect violent behaviour to stem from men
rather than women, particularly if acting alone and not protected by a gang.

I am at a loss really as to how to end this post of
Hoodie-musings, but I think it’s fair to say that it is prohibitive to give
this item of popular clothing undue ‘power’ to make us uncomfortable.

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