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“Lesbian sperm banks”: When the media reports good news as bad news

There is a peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot. 

Christmas has come early for British lesbians. Well, for all three of them who read the front page of last weekend’s Mail on Sunday, for anything other than aggravation. Those who didn’t, did you know that the NHS is pouring funding into a sperm bank just for us? I’m already imagining a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which Claire Balding wields a giant pair of scissors and the whole of Twitter bursts into a chorus of, “Ha. Scissoring. #LesbianSpermBank”.

The last time I used the NHS was when I went in for a smear test earlier this year. Thanks to the Mail, I now know that it was a lesbian smear test. Ta for the heads-up, DM. Now I understand why the speculum was shaped like two of Cara Delevingne’s fingers.

But the Lesbian Sperm Bank, of course, is actually just one of those boring old non-lesbiasn sperm banks – albeit one that lesbians are welcome to patronise. So, unfortunately, there won’t be any cushiony rooms where broody dykes can sit listening to Enya and emotionally recovering from being in the proximity of semen. Well, that’s the NHS off my Christmas card list.

I can’t remember the last time lesbians made the front page of the Mail. The more trite of us humans often say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” So maybe we should simply be happy about the word “lesbian” sprawled, spreadeagled and fat, across the front page of a national newspaper. In fact, if I was the PR for lesbianism, I’d probably make quite a hoo-hah about it: “Lesbian story makes the front page of the Mail on Sunday. It was totally homophobic, but still, Negronis for everyone!”

Enough of that though, no one wants to read yet another attack on the nation’s most oafish newspaper. It’s far too easy a target, and that would be boring. What I will do though is look into the peculiar phenomenon of good news being reported as bad news. When you’re L, G, B or T, you notice this quite a lot.

You only have to skim right-wing publications to find out that, in the opinion of some orangutans who were taught to write, gay parents are a disaster, same-sex marriage is an abomination, taxpayers are (against their will) funding gender reassignment surgery and the infamous “gay agenda” is turning the government into a feckless quagmire of political correctness (I bet you anything that exact phrase has been used before).

When I saw the Mail on Sunday headline, “NHS to fund sperm banks for lesbians,” my immediate reaction was, “well, wouldn’t that be fantastic if it were true?” It’s isolating to realise that, for many people, that’s the kind of news that makes them choke on their cornflakes, then thrash out an incoherent and entirely grammar-free Facebook post. The only logical explanation for this is that, even in mainstream culture, many people are still determined for anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of “normal” to be unhappy. To see your good news (even if it does happen to be factually inaccurate) reported, in a national newspaper, as bad news is difficult to shrug off.

I’ve been very lucky in life so far, to have been on the receiving end of very little direct homophobia. In many ways, I live in a protective bubble. Safe in my friendship group of London queers and hetero buddies o’gays, and with a mum who insists on coming to Pride with me, I can’t even remember the last time I came face-to-face with someone who holds my sexuality against me. But every time I see how much the advancement of my rights and the progress of the LGBT movement upsets swathes of the population, I’m reminded that it isn’t all proud parents and sticky nights out in Bethnal Green’s gaytopia.

Meanwhile, femininity’s self-proclaimed instruction manual, Cosmopolitan, recently extended its famously shitty sex tips to lesbians. The lesser of two evils, I suppose. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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The UK is suffering from an extreme case of generational inequality

Millennials across the developed world are struggling. But the UK stands out. 

 

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics may refer to her first trip to Hawaii, but they could just as easily apply to UK trends in generational living standards that the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission has uncovered. That’s particularly so in light of new analysis comparing these trends internationally.

While there are huge living standards differences between high-income countries, there is also much shared ground, with the financial crisis and demographic patterns putting pressure on younger generations’ living standards everywhere. But the UK stands out. With the partial exception of Spain, no other country in living memory has experienced as large a “boom and bust” in generation-on-generation progress across both incomes and home ownership rates.

On incomes, the millennials (born 1980-2000) who have reached their early 30s are just 6 per cent better off than generation X (born 1966-80) when they were the same age. This is very small progress indeed when compared with the progress older generations are enjoying – baby boomers (born 1946-65) in their late 60s are 29 per cent better off than the silent generation (born 1926-1945).

These sorts of slowdowns have occurred in most countries, but not to the same extent. In the US, millennials in their early 30s are doing 5 per cent worse than their predecessors, but this compares to relatively modest 11 per cent gains for generation X relative to the baby boomers. In fact, in the US – despite higher levels of income – the absence of generational progress is what stands out. Typical incomes in the US for those aged 45-49 are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the early 1920s.

Back to the UK. The “had it then lost it” story is also clear when we look at housing. Our previous research has shown that young people in the UK face much higher housing costs (relative to incomes) than older generations did when they were making their way in the world. In a large part this is driven by the rise and fall of home ownership.UK home ownership rates surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-1926) and the baby boomers, but this generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials. Their home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is 27 percentage points lower than the rate for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent).

This fall between generations is much smaller in other countries in which housing is a key areas of concern such as Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). As with incomes, the UK shows the strongest boom and bust – large generation-on-generation gains for today’s older cohorts followed by stagnation or declines for younger ones.

Let’s be clear though, the UK is a relatively good place to grow up. Ours is one of the most advanced economies in the world, with high employment rates for all age groups. In other advanced economies, young people have suffered immensely as a result of the financial crisis. For example, in Greece millennials in their early 30s are a shocking 31 per cent worse off than generation X were at the same age. In Spain today the youth (15-30) unemployment rate is still above 30 per cent, over three times higher than it is in the UK.

But, if everything is relative – before the parking lot came the paradise – then the UK’s situation isn’t one to brush away. Small income gains are, obviously, better than big income falls. But what matters for a young person in the UK today probably isn’t how well they’re doing relative to a young person in Italy but how this compares with their expectations, which have been shaped by the outcomes of their parents and grandparents. It’s no surprise that the UK is one of the most pessimistic countries about the prospects for today’s young.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In other parts of the world and at other times, large generation-on-generation progress has happened. Building more homes, having strong collective bargaining and delivering active labour market policies that incentivise work are things we know make a difference. As politicians attempt to tackle the UK’s intergenerational challenges, they should remember to look overseas for lessons.