Cringe No. 3 - FRICTION - 2022
Creative Project, May
Dear Cringe Reader,
In our third round of interrogating cringe, like the discomfort that being perceived by others brings us, and the self-consciousness that comes with perceiving ourselves, we wanted to focus on the awkwardness of molding our ever-changing bodies to time and space (19-22 & 63-66).
But instead of looking at metaphysical spaces alone, long-time contributor Christopher reflects on the generational tension he encounters on the tennis court (55-60) and discovers the virtue of occupying spaces for a seemingly pointless round of sports, while Stella discusses the constant tension between body positivity and society’s submission to the trend cycle (11-14). We also reflect on the tense and tender space of human relationships (17-18 & 53-54), not to forget the relationship we have with ourselves (17).
Just like in previous issues, this edition is full of thoughtful poetry and art submissions exploring the (ab)used body (45-50), self-consciousness exhibited through the lens of an unknown photographer (9), and the curse of the perfectionist who wants to be seen by others while at the same time hiding from their judgement (15-16).
We hope you take time to sit with whatever feelings this issue brings up for you, and that it might even spark some conversations with others and yourself in the process.
As always, don’t forget to #StayCringeBeHumble,
Order a copy of Cringe
Essay for Cringe No. 3
Working on crip time
Reimagining a better pace of work
For those who migrated from offices into their kitchen nooks, living room corners, and - in my case - underneath their bedsheets to work, Covid-19 has not only changed what our usual shifts look like but also how we’d like them to remain in the future.
Distancing ourselves from commutes, office politics and rigid work schedules has been an eye-opening experience for people who weren’t already convinced that our expectations of infinite-growth capitalism and work sacrifices can be, if not unattainable, then physically or mentally harmful for us. Finally, running our bodies down for the sake of profit and pleasing a few stakeholders has become too obvious to ignore.
However, this is not news to the more than 4.4 million employed disabled people in the UK, let alone those who are unable to work because of debilitating illnesses or lack of adjustments in housing or workplaces.
“One of the great ironies of the austerity era,” writes Guardian columnist and author Frances Ryan in Crippled, “was that while it attempted to force disabled people too unwell to work into a job, the disabled people whose conditions mean they were actually able to work were routinely shut out of employment.”
According to 2017 research by disability charity Scope, disabled people have to apply for 60 per cent more jobs than non-disabled people if they want a chance to be hired - a dark irony in a cultural environment where working class or disabled people on benefits are constantly demonised through policies and the media, and often seen as less productive.
Attitudes didn’t change during Covid-19 either where more people than not were left vulnerable, whether through threats on their health, finances, or relationships. A poll published by the Trade Union Congress showed that one in three disabled employees reported they’ve been treated unfairly, with one in 13 saying they’ve been singled out for criticism or monitored excessively at work, and one in eight were worried that their disability had a negative impact on how their performances were assessed by managers. According to figures by the Office of National Statistics, it also seems that disabled employees were more likely to face redundancy than non-disabled employees.
Anyone who’s ever worked with a colleague living with a disability or experienced physical or mental ailments themselves will not be shocked by these statistics. I think about a neurodivergent colleague of mine whose boss refused to train him because it would ‘take too long’, or a partner who lost his job after failing to show up for a shift after a suicide attempt.
Even our contemporary work culture filled with deadlines, stringent time tables, and the attitude that you need to be ‘ill enough’ to take sick leave without guilt is counterintuitive to even non-disabled lives that aren’t linear either and need flexibility to be sustainable. As long as capitalism only attributes value to those who produce labour under the ticking clock of industrialised time, we will forever live in a world that isn’t built for everyone.
In her column Bodiesminds, writer, researcher, and trainer Srinidhi Raghavan explains her own experience with disability, time, and notions of productivity. Raghavan lives with chronic pain, and describes in her article The value of ‘crip time’: Discarding notions of productivity and guilt, to listen to the rhythms of our bodies, the daily dilemma in which disabled people have to choose between their health and avoiding the guilt which comes with failing to meet expectations of productivity. She confesses that over time, she decided to stop working full time, travel less, and adjust the number of rest days she needs between tasks to meet her own needs:
“I began to write notes to myself about how healing is slow. How work can be slow too. How time is non-linear. How effort can be in bursts too. But I have found that when the world slows down along with me — for some reason — my anxiety disappears. My body melts into the slowness and feels respite.”
Crip time is a term borrowed from disability culture which could show us the way towards a more humane way of working. The term refers to the relationship disabled people have with the time and pace of contemporary, industrialised work culture, and the flexibility that working on crip time offers to adapt to our bodies’ needs rather than the other way around.
In her book Feminist, Queer, Crip, feminist lecturer and author Dr Alison Kafer talks about how disability influences one’s orientation of time, which might “result from a slower gait, a dependency on attendants (from wheelchairs to hearing aids), a bus driver who refuses to stop for a disabled passenger, or an ableist encounter with a stranger that throws one off schedule.”
Crip time is therefore also about our expected relationships with public time and social relations in regards to the time we need to tend to personal needs and that of others. She writes:
“Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing what expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies. We can then understand the flexibility of crip time as being not only an accommodation to those who need ‘more’ time but also, and perhaps especially, a challenge to normative and normalising expectations of pace and scheduling.”
For Vincent, who has worked in the pharmacy industry for about 10 years and grew up permanently blind in his left eye after an accident as a child, making sure his working hours and conditions meet his needs means knowing when to take time off desk-work to put less strain on his functioning eye. On top of this, he’s also type two diabetic, which used to interfere with his late-night duties at the hospital.
“When I was working late duties, I didn’t want to have hypo (hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar), so it’s about eating at regular times. And obviously, when I was on a late duty, it’s just me and one other member of staff, so that wasn’t always possible. So to be adapted you have to have an occupational health referral. And then they will lead on the changes to be implemented.”
After jumping through the hoops of occupational health, they decided to let him off late duties for at least three months while his body was adjusting to using insulin.
“Sometimes your managers don’t understand that. And it has to come from higher up; it has to come from our occupation, hopefully your doctors, because obviously there are work pressures. Sometimes they are reluctant to look after your wellbeing and it’s more about figures.”
Being a dispensary manager himself today, he tries to let his personal experiences shape the way he leads his teams. Whether it’s supporting staff with mental health issues or making sure people who’ve undergone recent surgery on their abdomen don’t do any heavy lifting, as he recalls, Vincent adjusts his team’s work schedules by rotating tasks and looking after everyone’s well-being individually.
“You still have work pressures, but at the same time, you have to look after your wellbeing. But again, it gets tricky. With multilevel management, you still need occupational health referrals, there are still processes to go through to make sure things are done properly. But it doesn’t happen everywhere.”
The notion that one has to be disabled enough to be eligible for support not only harms those who hesitate to seek professional help as a result, but also those whose disability is already recognised but don’t want to be seen as ‘difficult’ when asking for help or even sick leave. These are some of the reasons why one in five disabled people don’t disclose their disability to their employers, according to research done by Scope in 2017. Not only that, but Ryan writes in her book that out-of-work tests now falsely find disabled people ‘fit for work’, with no opportunity to turn for an appeal as local council cuts have taken away access to welfare advice workers.
“I think sometimes it’s about embracing your disability and then supporting other people,” Vince tells me.
“When you’ve got issues like this, and you’ve had to grow up with it, you kind of just gotta make sure that you’re looking after everyone else’s wellbeing. Other people take it for granted.”
“So really, it’s about learning about it, teaching other people about it. They can try to reduce the barriers, reduce the stigma, and help build people up rather than knocking them down.”
When thinking about disabilities, we often find ourselves imagining someone who uses a wheelchair or other forms of technical assistance, or maybe we think of someone elderly in a care home. But we don’t often consider the fact that any of us might be hit by an injury or illness that radically changes our body’s relationship to work.
In What can a body do?, Sara Hendren writes:
“How long does it take, or should it take, for a body to move through the world, the forty-plus-hour-workweek, the demands of caregiving for children or ailing parents, the daily commute of the body with its changing needs over the life span - a pregnant body, an ageing one, a body in recovery after a bad injury?”
Hendren asks: “Is the clock of industrial time built for bodies at all?”
It’s difficult to determine whether the experiences of the last year which exposed the inadequate and often punitive aspects of our social welfare system will change the way we approach the working world for good. But with a move towards a four-day work week and remote work, we might be heading towards the right direction to meet the ever-changing needs of our bodies and minds while working, and most importantly, measuring the value of a life when we’re unable to do so.