Friday, 17 September 2010

A one track mind, but not blinkered

I really enjoyed The F Word Interview with Zoe Margolis, she's very frank and passionate about her views and it's refreshing to see someone in the mainstream talking so clearly about the fine line between empowerment and objectification. Often people misunderstand feminist objections to sexualised images, and, from what I've read, feminists themselves can sometimes seem confused about what they're actually fighting about! Abby Lee, Margolis' persona for the Girl With a One Track Mind blog/book, was destroyed by the media's desperate need to expose her real identity, so she is well placed to make statements like this - people have heard of her, and her notoriety makes her interesting to more than the usual feminist audience.

It's also exciting to see that she takes on the female magazine market:
My experience was a microcosm of what happens to women generally in society and women in the public eye especially: being outed, threatened and blackmailed. That type of shit goes on every single day in celebrity magazines and women’s magazines. Women should be questioning that when they buy into it - they’re buying into someone else’s misfortune and a very misogynistic view of women. I wanted to show that’s the reality. Women need to stop literally buying into it and supporting it. We need to question ‘why are we always talking about what women look like, what they wear and their sex lives?’

People say, “well, women buy these magazines so it’s what women want to read”.

But that’s what women are being given, there’s no fucking alternative. You’ll find the same stories in them all: they’re all dumbed down, patronising and very similar in style. Sometimes you’ll find something really radical and intelligent, but that’s not enough when 95% of the magazine is sexist conditioning. I do think women want more - the average woman who wouldn’t call herself a feminist, likes Heat and isn’t particularly political. But with no alternative provided, you have to take what there is: it’s that, or reading nothing at all.

There really aren't any alternatives on the high street, but if you're interested in a different women's magazine that doesn't sell the commodities of sex, objectification and beauty, you won't go far wrong with Filament magazine, but be warned, it's got an 18 certificate! (I think Zoe has even written a guest article in a previous issue)

Thank you, Zoe, for continuing to question our f*cked up society and trying to take the shame out of sex. You've proven they can't take you down, you will continue to say what needs to be said and hopefully, one day, women won't be shamed for having desires.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Toys that we like

Previous post had me thinking about what kinds of toys NP plays with, and why it is that she likes them. And you know what? The stuff she likes is the stuff we show interest in with her. Not just her mom and dad, but her grandparents too, the people she spends her time with. What a surprise?!

Her most favourite thing of all time? Trains. Usually Thomas, but not always. Every single member of her family has encouraged this interest by buying her trains, playing with them, taking her on train rides and talking about them. Her favourite thing to do during a day at home is to take out the top draw of her toy box and empty the whole lot of cars, trains and other vehicles onto the floor, then delight in organising them!

Second favourite, her gazillions of cuddly toys - she has 'a family' including Baby Little Spongebob, Big Mommy Spongebob and Daddy Patrick. Again, her whole family know how much she loves her toys and we all talk about them regularly. These toys are her bedtime entertainment mornings and evenings, she tells them stories, looks after them and projects her fears of badgers and squirrels onto them. Mommy normally eats the badgers these days though.

Another fave is probably musical instruments, tambourines, bells, keyboard, annoying noisy toys. Know why? Probably because there's a bunch of our real and toy instruments lying around, to-wit: 3 guitars (acoustic, electric and bass); my flute, recorder, rock band guitar, drums and mic; a box full of hand-held percussion items and an upright piano.

Otherwise, she likes anything she can make stories up with, little characters that she gives directions and a continuous monologue of their daily lives; or books. This kid devours books. It makes a librarian's daughter proud.

So I find it difficult to agree when people say that young kids decide on their tastes without influence from their family. The stuff she likes are the things we've encouraged, the stuff she gets excited over are the things we get excited over. She likes Star Wars because mommy is only too happy to oblige with the 10th re-watch of Return of the Jedi. She's not the picture of girly-girlness, that's for sure.

Nevertheless, she likes wearing jewellery, hair clips and painting her fingernails. Course she does, it's fun, it's like dressing up. Everyone likes dressing up. I never really bother with playing that kind of game with her, besides getting decked out in crazy outfits or making a hair cut a fun game. But she sees me get dressed up and spend ages in front of the mirror so I'm obviously modelling behaviour for her, even if I don't wear make-up. Thus, even the things I don't actively engage her with, if she sees me doing them, she wants to do them too. Thankfully, I have a little control over that and can modify my own behaviour by considering how it looks in her eyes.

It's going to change when peer pressure becomes part of her life, but all we can do is keep talking and challenging her. Until then, I know I'm going to get plenty of enjoyment from playing with the toys we both enjoy.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Child returns to nursery, mom returns to the world at large

It has probably not escaped your attention that I've been absent since July. Hey, what happened in July? Oh, just my lovely daughter 24/7!

I don't begrudge her, but it's been a tough time.

Anyway, anyone interested in little girls and gender roles should go read this blog passed on to me via a lovely friend, who got it from the beautiful and talented Felicia Day who I didn't realise had done anything awesome since Buffy, but she did, and she is (awesome, that is).

A taste of what Jolie O'Dell has to say on the subject of Women in Tech (from the first link):
"So, to all the special interest groups and fine individuals with fine intentions, I ask you one favor: Please stop pushing for more women in tech, and find a young girl to mentor instead. When she is young, give her “boy toys” and video games. If she wants one, get her a laptop instead of jewelry for her birthday. Tell her not to worry about flirting or her hair. Send her to a computer science camp or space camp. Encourage her to take advanced maths and sciences in school and to enter a computer science degree program."
Awesome too, right?

I'll try and write more soon, but I have another project I'm working on, which I might end up linking here, or I might keep anonymous, not sure yet.

Leave a comment guys if you're still here, please help my overwrought-mommy-ego!!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

3 years old

My brain is exhausted, so, here's a question for you that has had a definitive 'yes!' answer in our house over the past 4 weeks.

Three year olds are more difficult than two year olds.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010

School days

Recent conversations have brought my time at school to mind a lot recently, coincided with thoughts about how my daughter relates to other children, and how that might affect her in the future.

And, ya know what? Like many, I had a crap time as a teenager due to various factors, but I don't harbour pain or anger at school, or the people I knew there.

A recent post at Feministe outlines how difficult it can be for people who are 'different' to get on in school. I guess things are a little different here, compared to in American schools where such a strict 'class' system is enforced (which I only really know about from TV and film, so, Americans, you can enlighten me if I'm wrong!)

I know I went through many phases of trying to 'fit in' with people, but, in the long run, I was, and always will be, somewhat of a solitary individual. For better or worse, I remember enjoying my own company and spending most of my time figuring out my own thoughts, rather than caring about what other people thought of 'my image' or my interests.

The comments over at Feministe made me think about what I'm teaching my daughter, and what I was taught as a child. I don't really recall any sit-down, pre-emptive talks about 'just be yourself.' Maybe they occurred, but they don't stand out. (Mum, dad, help me here?)

What I do recall, however, are my parents supporting me through every time I felt bad, or needed to let loose and scream, or just to talk about anything and everything.

So I guess my advice to other parents, and to myself, is to always talk to children. ALWAYS make them feel that they have valid opinions and you are interested in what they have to say. Never put them down or tell them they're being stupid. Sure, prepare them for the world, but the main thing is to deal with what's in front of you, how they feel, not stress over every single interaction they might possibly have in their lives.

I think about how I'm going to deal with the messages about gender NP will receive every day of her life, and realise that the only way to teach her is to challenge her: why does she think that's a good idea? Why does it matter what other people think? And listen to what she has to say. She's not even 3 yet, and I feel like I'm barely out of childhood myself, I just hope I've got enough wit and experience to help her through her own challenges.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

On child hating

Well, I kinda missed most of the crazy child-hating conversations going on around the blogsphere, but a good review with some excellent links can be found over at Blue Milk

Reading BM's post made me think about how we've raised NP, her own behaviour in public, and how we contribute to the over-arching problem.

We've always eaten out with our daughter, though there are definitely times I remember regretting it. She was about 2 months old and breastfeeding and my parents booked a big family meal in the evening. As I remember it, we spent the whole evening walking around outside, taking it in turns to wolf down our (relatively pricey) meals, then leave early because she just wasn't up to it. From that moment on we always insisted that family make plans that fit around her.

I guess we caved in to the rest of the world and made our child fit into society: we never took her on a plane, never took her out to eat late at night etc. However, we did take her out regularly during the day, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. These days, her behaviour is usually impeccable for a (nearly) 3 year old, so much so that people comment on it. At which point I feel proud, but also very embarrassed because it feels as though we're contributing to the attitudes that children should be 'seen and not heard.' Sometimes, I feel as though the one example of a kid behaving in an 'adult appropriate' manner makes it difficult for parents of more adventurous children to be accepted by society!

Mr Onions often refers to it being a case of our ability to 'control our child', (even though I really do hate that phrase and the implications of it) but I'm not so sure that is the case, I really do think it's her personality. However, I sometimes question whether we've done the right thing for our daughter. Has she be stunted or held back by our methods? Have we discouraged her from behaving in an age appropriate manner? She is definitely reserved when it comes to interacting with other people and children. She has very strict boundaries that make it difficult for affectionate people to be around her. However, I remember her being a baby and saying the same thing - she would never jump straight in to play with toys, she would always suss out the situation before choosing her course of action. She would never instantly smile at people, she had to figure them out first. It's not like she's unhappy - she is a lovely, excitable, intelligent girl. She's just different. (Like every other single kid in the world).

I can't say she's never tantrum-ed in public, or that I haven't been embarrassed by her behaviour, but I also can't say I've ever really had the 'evil eye' from anyone. Maybe it's where I live, maybe it's me, maybe it's her. Maybe we shouldn't try to pigeon-hole all kids into 'good' and 'bad' behaviour - just make it 'being an individual, still figuring it all out'. The way we guide our kids is always going to differ, but that doesn't mean one way is wrong and another way is right - that's just another way of forcing mothers into competition with each other: another form of control in a sexist society. After all, infighting is the best way to keep people oppressed.

I guess this is really me just working out my own insecurities about my parenting. I always felt I'd done the right thing, but more and more you wonder whether your approach really was the best thing for your child. We're so het up these days about 'doing it right' that we'll probably end up creating a generation of neurotics.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Sexualisation of children

Fertile Feminism hits it right on the head with this post about what is particularly wrong about 'sexualising' children: it's the standard that is set in the first place that is the problem.

The hypocrite in the room

Friday, 23 April 2010

Mini Book Review: Skullduggery Pleasant

In my quest for books to study I've been consuming a large amount of kids lit lately. Finally, I repeat, FINALLY, I found a book worth talking about.

Skullduggery Pleasant is about the eponymous dead detective and his (young, female) side-kick. And, whilst the female character is only supposed to be 12, the writing is mature and witty, something that I've found lacking in a number of other novels I've read lately. It's almost as if some writers think that language and comedy have to be dumbed down if a book is aimed at pre-teens. Not so for Derek Landy - his characters are truly brought to life through their thoroughly entertaining banter.

Stephanie, the young girl, has a boring life until Mr S.P. turns up, plunging her into a world full of magic and danger that she never knew existed, (you know this story, right?). Stephanie has few skills in the magic world, yet is determined to learn and develop her own abilities. She is served through most of the book by her stubbornness and ability to learn fast, but that's not to say that she doesn't need saving by her mentor on numerous occasions.

(Which is perfectly valid really, seeing as she's only 12 and has never fought freaky monsters before.)

S.P. as a character is witty, fun and mysterious, always allowing Stephanie to come along and do her part, but protecting her in the most dangerous situations. This might all seem a bit patriarchal, but surely a completely patriarchal S.P. would make Stephanie stay at home, out of harms way, not expose her to the risks of his unorthodox methods of detective work. Which would make a thoroughly boring story really, wouldn't it? There needs to be a balance between letting the female character have her own agency and giving a young, inexperienced character the chance to develop (and just being instantly awesome isn't very plausible or interesting, is it?)

Furthermore, Stephanie also has a corresponding female character to look up to, in the form of a mercenary assassin called Tanith. Strong, skilled and respected, Tanith bonds with Stephanie and also fights to protect her.

It's interesting to note that the jacket of the book has only a picture of Skullduggary Pleasant, no other characters. The blurb doesn't really emphasise the female protagonist. This is a book aimed at the widest audience it can possibly get. It is also blatantly the start of a series, where Stephanie is going to grow and develop (hopefully) into a powerful mage.

I see this as a fantastic start, the characters of Tanith and Stephanie are begging to be filled out and developed into kick-ass, awesome women and S.P. is fabulous comic relief and an all around bad-ass. The dialogue is mature and fun and the story line is gripping. I need more.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

TNA Knockout Women become Divas afterall

OK, so, we all have guilty pleasures, don't we?

This one has been one of mine for a while now. Though since the recent changes I'm starting to feel cheated.

When I started watching, there were female wrestlers such as Awesome Kong and ODB, who seemed talented, physical and SUBVERSIVE. There was an ironic group called 'The Beautiful People' who seemed to be taking a swipe at those 'other' female wrestlers, and I loved the joke.

Now though, the joke has turned reality. The 'joke' group now have mud wrestling sessions, strip poker games and (seemingly) the most airtime of any of the female wrestlers. One of them challeged a former member to a 'leather and lace' match. You can imagine what that involves, I'm sure.

The worst part, for me, however, was the 'locked box' match between 8 wrestlers a few weeks ago. The concept was 8 women wrestling for 4 mystery keys to boxes containing: an open contract for any match, a pet spider, the women's title belt, and.... a striptease.

Yes, the person getting the unlucky key would have to strip in the middle of the ring.

Surprise, surprise, the 'winner' of the striptease was the crazy gothic Daffney who didn't seem best pleased, but went on to start an ironic striptease in the ring, only to be interrupted by one of 'The Beautiful People' running on and stripping off herself. Obviously, the Beautiful Person was tall, blonde and busty.

Question: what would have been wrong with Daffney challenging the box results, beating the s**t out of everyone there, then going to smack Hulk Hogan in the head for letting such blatant sexist bulls**t invade something that was actually becoming good and progressive? No, they had to bring on a blonde bimbo character to further their sh***y quest for the penis vote.

I suppose it's too much to ask for a feminist wrestler?

But, the ratings speak for themselves: the locked box results was the most viewed part of the show. So it looks like we're in for more sell-out sexist bulls**t from TNA, all in the quest of ratings over skill.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fictional role models for young girls?

So, I have been looking for potential books for my next dissertation for about 2 weeks, and today I spent a good 30 minutes in a high street books retailer looking for children's/young adult novels with female protagonists.

(Yes, I know it's cheaper to buy from Amazon, but I need to LOOK at the books, read inside, get a feel for the writing style, not just browse through a bunch of crap about what other people think of them. And it's 3 for 2 in High Street Books Retailer).

Anyway, wow. The display was bestselling and new books. I searched up and down, looking for stories about strong girls. Failing that, I then searched for stories that weren't about vampires. Then for the remaining stories that had female protagonists...

It was a disheartening sight. Sure, Sabriel was in there. But I needed a book that was published more recently. Books that looked promising turned out to have starring roles for boys. Books that had female main characters were, invariably, pink. With pictures of make up.

Sometimes it really seems the mainstream is so obsessed with getting boys to read that the ONLY adventure books worth publishing NEED to have male protagonists.

I have a meeting with my proposed supervisor at University for my masters this week, and I have little-to-nothing to take to her in the way of recently published empowered female characters. Who would have thought it could be so difficult to find?

So I'm throwing it out to the internetz: anyone, please, throw me the names of some books for age 11+, published between 2008 and 2010 that have one or more of the following conditions:

  • female protagonist
  • going on a quest/journey of discovery
  • preferably fantasy

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Against Our Will

"[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear" - Susan Brownmiller

This quote was one of the problems that came up the other night in a discussion with my partner about the BBC4 program, Women.

(I say it came up, when in actuality I started ranting on about it and Mr Onions listened and nodded at the appropriate points. He found the program pretty boring)

My argument was that the quote was poorly expressed but had a certain validity to it.

In essence, I believe Brownmiller was saying two things:

Firstly, that by not standing up and speaking out against rape (and, by extension in today's world, rape jokes) men who do not rape are as good as rape apologists and enablers.

Secondly, that the fear of rape makes all women fearful of all men, to the advantage of men who would seek power by such means, and to the detriment of men who wouldn't. Obviously, women lose on both counts.

Now, the original quote is a great soundbyte, but is pretty inflammatory towards men, and it could be said, is exclusionary and difficult for people to relate to, without a strong knowledge of rape discourses. But I do believe it's an important point to consider, with reflection upon what it actually means.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

UK Feminista

It's great that there's a new campaigning organisation in the UK, however, two (personal) things:

  1. Basing the launch in London is great if you live down there, but, ya know, it isn't actually the centre of the universe.
  2. Having it plugged on a feminist website 4 days before the launch makes it highly difficult to arrange getting there if you DON'T live in London.

That's all.

Monday, 22 March 2010

BBC 4 Women: Activists

NOTE: For my other writing about the BBC4 Women series see:
Libbers 1
Libbers 2

I admit, the reason I'm so disenchanted by this series is because I'm not represented.

In my quiet little corner of the internet I found blogs such as Fertile Feminism, Blue Milk, and Mothers for Women's Lib, to name a few. Oh yes, I read the big feminist websites too, but those few women who were both feminists and mothers were the ones who were really saying things that meant something to me. Alongside those blogs, I would say that my developing feminist identity has been shaped by: my university work, my interest in gender, rather than Feminism, and my role as a parent.

I give you this information because I believe it heavily contributes to my analysis. Whether it is because of these factors or not, I've found it difficult to find anything I can relate to in the 2nd and 3rd episodes of this series.

The "Libbers" episode was actually great, it spoke to me and I could relate to the women involved (I know that sounds different to my original views but upon reflection I realised it was a great contextualisation, if a little dry and limited for novice viewers). I found the "Mothers" episode weak because there ARE women out there who are not constantly reinforcing the gender binary, but the documentary didn't represent them.

Now, the Activists episode? How about a few words from the notes I made during my viewing tonight:

limited causes, narrow definition, alienation.

I'm not intending to personally attack anyone, I simply felt that the representation made by this episode painted a very specific picture of Feminism today, that isn't entirely accurate or inspiring. I felt that the women who were interviewed were poorly prepared for the questions they were given (example - the question to the woman with the nail varnish? I imagine she's kicking herself now for not having prepared a solid reply).

Aside from Reclaim the Night, the causes that were being demonstrated against also seemed poorly prepared - I agree with Germaine Greer from the Libbers Episode: march (or, in this case, demonstrate) if there are lots of you, but if there aren't, don't! It seems pointless to me to try to fight the status quo when there are only a few people protesting - it makes the protest seem powerless and irrelevant. Why not wait until the opportune moment, with a large amount of radicalised people? Then the protest may be taken seriously and a powerful statement might prompt the average passer-by to question their own thoughts.

Anyway, something that did seem powerful was the interview with the woman talking about a rape case. This involved an 18 year old girl who was gang raped, but was cautioned by the police for 'lying' about it because a few seconds of mobile phone footage showed some kind of acquiescence on her part.

That is something that most women can identify with - the fear, the weakness in face of strength and, when it comes down to it, the complete lack of choice to say 'no' that the girl in question must have felt. That is something people can get behind and get angry about, surely that is the kind of injustice that will bring people to the movement?

However, the power of that section was buried underneath the mundane preparations for putting on a conference, please, tell me, what relevance is there in making salads?

I'm also really frustrated about the interviews with the parents of these young activists, I found this to be completely undermining of the young women's politics and passions. By not commenting on it personally, Engle seems to be mocking the activists. Filming the women worrying about salad, asking their parents 'how did she get like this'? and then refraining from challenging the parents narrow views, it feels like the women are represented as little girls playing at Feminism, when this is obviously not the case - they have worked hard to do what they do, but all this is completely undermined by a number of parents in the film, and Engle's lack of comment.

For example, one lot of parents paint their daughter as an 'angry teenager' because their discussions end with 'banging doors'. This young woman is in her twenties and is passionate about helping other women, but because 'her life' is charmed, her parents think she shouldn't be worried about those causes? To me this feels individualistic and narrow.

Obviously, there are cultural/generational differences between these women and their parents, the growth of online communities makes it easy for young people to feel connected to other people in the world, and encourages individuals to care about the needs of whole groups, rather than simply caring about themselves. This is blatantly a difference between women in their 20s and their parents. But it scares me. I get so scared seeing these parents so detached from their children's feelings and politics. I never want to be like that with my daughter. It's not like that with my parents, for which I am eternally grateful.

So, overall? I felt the program lacked depth, compared to the "Libbers", these women are just starting on their feminist lives, the same as me, so, obviously, their politics is unrefined and emotional. The interviews and footage, in my mind, only serves to reinforce the weaknesses of the young movement today. I am not an activist. It is difficult to be so when you have a young child and don't live in London. Perhaps if I were in a different situation I may feel some affinity to these women, but their causes are not particularly my causes, and their way of expressing their causes is different to mine.

This is not just a personal thing, there are even two women in the documentary who say they probably wouldn't join that particular group because their personal feelings about issues are different. It is telling to hear a women say 'they wouldn't like that of me' in reference to certain views. Should Sisterhood be that selective?

Unfortunately, I couldn't identify with the women included in the documentary. Whether this is because of how I have approached feminism, because of my academic interests or simply because I'm not from London, who knows? I felt Engle let people dig themselves into holes, and didn't get them a ladder, and I would have liked to see daughters and parents engaging each other in debate, rather than interviewed separately, which mostly served to infantalise the activists (particularly the ones who were interviewed in their bedrooms, rather than the lounge, like their parents!).

I'll leave the final word to Charlotte Cooper and Jess McCabe (of the F word) who are obviously not speaking about me, but their analysis can apply to anyone who would be turned off from feminism by these programs:

" for every woman who has turned away from feminism because they feel they are not welcome, these films will simply act as another erasure of their lives, their existence and their autonomy."

Friday, 19 March 2010

Breastfeeding and Onions

Please welcome the OFFICIAL "Breastfeeding and Onions Post":

Your Breastfeeding Tips

To interrupt the flow of feminism for one moment, I'd like to address something I've been thinking about for a while, but only just got around to finishing.

Lots of people are coming across my blog through searching for 'breastfeeding and onions'. BEFORE NOW, this blog never had any posts that contain both of those words, yet search engines keep bringing up this site for that search term.

I started feeling really bad that I was misleading Google et al by having 'Onions' in my blog name, and 'breastfeeding' in my blog content, but never bringing the two together. The pure strength of this guilt led me to research onions and breastfeeding, bypassing my own blog (9 entries down), and finding a good few sources to bring together in one amazing post.

The post is over at my other blog, which makes more sense really, seeing as that one is actually about breastfeeding.

Go take a look. Alleviate my guilt.

Monday, 15 March 2010

BBC4 Women: Mothers

NOTE: My other reviews of 'Libbers' and 'Activists' can be found here:
first thoughts
2nd watching

Yes, I watched it, and I have lots to say.

Mostly I resented the demographic represented, but again, how else would it be pitched on this channel? I do believe that only one family lived north of London, and the parents in that family were both academics. I suppose it's appealing to the lowest common denominator, to just interview (stereo)typical nuclear families. However, there are SO many feminist families who are anything but typical!

Personally, it would have felt a much more rounded documentary if the lives of feminist families were included, e.g. non-working feminists mums, queer parents, mothers who stay at home but fill their lives with things other than children.

(Not to say that the stay-at-home parents featured in the program DON'T do other things, but the documentary didn't seem to show them doing anything other than 'typical' parenting - baking, play-groups, washing, yawn).

What about the parents staying at home and providing home-education? What about mothers who give up their time for voluntary groups (coughcough breastfeedingpeersupport)? What about working class mums who don't have a bloody choice in the matter?

Isn't it wonderful to pontificate about 'choice' when the people without a choice have no voice?

Furthermore on the subject of what a parent does, how about the question put to the Oxford graduate:

'what is the point of your education, do you need a degree from Oxford in order to stay home and look after your children?'

Well, those who know me can imagine my reaction.

(something along the lines of 'fiery wrath'?)

The fact that education for its own sake is not even considered astounds me. Once an educational level has been achieved it is always there to fall back on, use, or add to. I absolutely agree with the mother: she can pass her knowledge on to her children. I feel so passionate about my academic achievements and goals, but I also feel passionate about bringing up my daughter in the way I have chosen.

Why should motherhood negate education and the urge to be educated? Is education only compatible with working and earning? That sounds quite capitalist to me.

However, on to the thing I enjoyed: watching the squirming when Engle asked what activities they each do around the home. It was good to reinforce the idea that washing, organising and cleaning are not a realm of natural knowledge - it is learnt through trial and error, paying attention, reading, PLANNING and thinking, before doing. It's too easy to get drawn into always doing something because your other half 'doesn't do it well enough'. How the hell did that partner learn to do it in the first place?

Anyway, that aside, it's perfectly understandable that Vanessa Engle may have wanted to highlight the inherent sexism in the standard nuclear family. Today, that kind of sexism often goes unchallenged and is held up as a shining example of what family life should be about. However, my question is, can't we have some positive examples? Can't we see what other people are doing and be inspired, rather than depressed?

Mr Onions regularly challenges me, asking me if I am ever going to read something positive about feminism. Well, I put that challenge to this doc: make me feel positive next week, I want to see something good about feminist activism, some passion, some success, some positive ideas. Lets leave this sadness behind, please?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

BBC4 Women: upon a second watching...

NOTE: Please read my other posts about BBC4 Women:
First Thoughts on 'Libbers'
Review of 'Mothers'
Review of 'Activists'

OK, after watching BBC4 Women - Libbers again, I have a few more opinions.

Firstly, I actually enjoyed the program, I felt an affinity for many of the Libbers and seeing their passion and pain was a good contextualisation of the Women's Movement. Whilst I agree with The F Word that the view given is very white and middle class, I think the program was limited in this way by its target audience.

Which brings me back to my original thoughts, my criticism was mostly that the program was not accessible or inclusive, but obviously we're talking about a program made for BBC4, whose viewer-ship is probably similar to that of BBC Radio 4 - middle class, middle-aged and white. If we were talking about popularising feminism it would have to be placed on a channel that was for more popular viewing! BBC 1 would obviously have a different impact, and a program made for BBC 3 (which seems to be the 'youth' and 'comedy' channel) would probably be approached in a completely different manner.

So, moving on to the program that was actually made; here's my main criticisms:

Upon questioning Marilyn French about being a housewife, the interviewer (I assume Vanessa Engle) asks:
"Did you enjoy all that drudgery?"

[insert my rage face here]

I feel Engle demonstrated in just 6 words one of the problems about the whole "feminists vs housewives" debate. Those words suggest that life as a housewife is all 'drudgery' and assumes that French agrees with that analysis. Luckily French wasn't easily led, I was most impressed by her reply:

"I didn't mind it, what I minded was being limited to it"

Which is the core of the argument really, isn't it? It's not a case of it not being fulfilling or it always being boring, it's a case of being capable of other things, if you so wish to engage in them.

French further prevents a misinterpretation of her work when discussing the reaction to her book, "The Women's Room" which unleashed a "tidal wave of female anguish."
Upon being asked "did you feel proud of that?" French replied:

"no I felt anguished"

powerful stuff, not pride in her achievements, only sadness that so many women could feel the same way.

I like that the questions from the interviewer are challenged by quite a few of the women, highlighting their strong will (or perhaps a naivety of younger women interested in the movement?)

For example, I felt that quite a lot of pushing (on the part of the interviewer) was involved in the matter of sex, orgasms and lesbianism. A number of the women didn't want to speak about it and I think it may have been disrespectful to try to make (what seemed like) a big deal about this section of the program.

Another thing that struck a strong chord with me was the section about the sit-in against the male editor of Ladies Home Journal. Some of the arguments in the film footage from the time were just as relevant today as they were then, e.g. images of women being used to encourage other women to live vicariously instead of living their own lives to the fullest. I found this a really telling and sad section, those same arguments can still be made 40 years on, but there's such a quiet minority of people making them.

Which brings me to my conclusion: the program was good, but so sad. I was interested to hear the words of UK feminists, as most of the material I've had available before has been limited to the American Movement. The way the hope and power of the movements is expressed seems so wonderful, but this is contrasted harshly with the tinge of disappointment and sadness that seems to permeate through the interviews. French in particular seemed so sad: "we thought we were changing the world...but it ended."

Yet, besides the sadness, the program was good for the audience it was trying to reach, but, in my eyes, the audience feminism NEEDS is younger women, and those who have little-to-no connection with feminism. Surely this is the main way that the movement can be re-invigorated on a grand scale?

I'm sure there's much more I could add to this review, and I do have another post lined up about Susan Brownmiller and rape, but I'll save that for another time.

And to end, here's my favourite quote (no, it's not the cat one):

"I don't know what I am"
"Do you call yourself a lesbian?"
"No, I call myself a poet"
Robin Morgan

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

BBC4 Women

NEW 23-3-2010
I notice this one has been read a lot, but my follow-up post hasn't, so for a more in-depth analysis see:

my follow up post: here
2nd episode review: Mothers
3rd episode review: Activists

Original Post:
I watched the first episode of the new BBC 4 series 'Women' last night, a 3-part documentary about feminism and its impact on women. When I've watched it again I'll write a little more, but first, here's just a few comments:

Was this really the best way to start a series about feminism? Fine, the ideas and people of the second wave are important for contextualising the image and concerns of feminism today, but personally, my household found it to be pretty much Vanessa Engle fawning over "feminists of old", asking them questions that either made them slightly uncomfortable, or put them on the verge of tears.

I don't have a problem with second wave feminists, and I found the program interesting, for ME. But I'm also very concerned with inclusivity, demystification and opening feminism up to women who aren't so interested in it. What's the use of a program about feminism that doesn't inspire new women to get involved? Perhaps Engle will cover this in the following episodes about mothers and activists. I think, though, that the first part of a series needs a hook, and the only people who will have been hooked by this first part will be those who would have watched it any way, who do not need convincing about feminism.

There's also a review over at The F-Word, for anyone interested.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Warning: I'm angry

Right, this is going to sound like an over-privileged whinge and I'm sorry for that, but as you may have previously noticed I get pretty irritated when people make assumptions.
So, this is dedicated to the person who said the following to me today:

"Present company excepted, I don't understand how these young girls can get themselves pregnant, It's just so stupid." (paraphrased)

Firstly, saying a line like 'present company excepted' (or 'Oh I don't mean you' or 'I know plenty of young mums, but...') does not detract attention from the hideous, prejudiced thing you have just said. Nor does it remove the fact that I will now always label you as a hideous prejudiced idiot.

Whilst you think that your limited knowledge of my life gives you clearance to state that I'm not 'one of those girls' you fail to see that what you have said will STILL OFFEND ME.

Not merely because you have suggested I might be thought of in such a way, and you needed to re-iterate that you didn't mean me, but because you DO MEAN IT about other women.

Yes, young women get pregnant. Sometimes they plan it, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they want it, sometimes they feel obliged to have it, sometimes they have an abortion. Sometimes, shock horror, they actually have the means to bring up a child, isn't that amazing?

What do you plan to do? Stand over them as they have sex and demand they use triple contraception? Demonise sex so they are scared of having it before marriage? Make them give up their children for adoption? Sterilise them?

Plenty of young men and women are more than capable of bringing up a child. Some are less capable. What gives you the right to decide who is able to be a 'good parent'? Have you proved yourself as a shining example? Are you qualified to dictate who should breed?

You have been unbelievably lucky in the life you have led. You have had the means to do whatever you want, and work for pleasure, rather than necessity. You need to step off the Daily Mail pedestal you live on and look around you. There are plenty of mums of all ages who make fantastic/terrible parents, why attack those who are younger purely for their age?

Finally, I'd like you to ponder over the issue of young fathers. Do they have any say in this? Do they take any blame at all? Just a thought.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Abortion 2nd try...

Another scary article from a feminist website, this time The F Word, addressing the state of abortion 'services' (if you can even call it that!) in Ireland. Once again, apologies for being so lax about this previously.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Buffy part 2

For the second part of my Buffy-thon postage I'd like to address an issue that might be triggering, so beware.

In season 6 of Buffy, our eponymous heroine survives a rape attempt in the episode 'Seeing Red'.

I think it was very important for BTVS to address the issue of rape purely because of the premise of the show: Buffy is strong. She is independent, powerful and beautiful. It demonstrates that it doesn't matter how strong or self-aware you are, you can still be a target. Additionally, the episode deals with rape by someone with whom Buffy has already had a sexual relationship: the vampire, Spike. With stories like this in the news I find a story-line such as this quite pertinent.

The scene is very difficult to watch, Buffy is injured and tells Spike to go away. He tries to 'prove' to her that she wants him by making advances, pushing her to the floor and trying to initiate sex, culminating in her kicking him off and questioning:

"Ask me again why I could never love you"

Buffy is never shown to be 'inviting it'; she is injured, trying to run a bath and he has entered her house. She constantly tells him to 'go away', and 'get off'. She says 'no', demonstrating that 'just say no' isn't always a viable option.

The episode doesn't even overtly make out that Spike is 'evil' as he tries to rape Buffy - he is not in his vampire face, he looks like a man. Thus the power of this scene emphasises that it's not a supernatural evil that causes Spike to rape Buffy, but a human evil, echoing the theme mentioned in my previous post that 'life is the big bad'

The incident inspires Spike to go on a quest to regain his soul as he cannot stand the purgatory of being 'not quite a man and not quite a monster' (my paraphrase). It is used as a development point for Spike's character, but manages to make a commentary on ideas of rape at the same time.

I have to admit, sex as a theme in Buffy isn't quite as empowering as it should be, Buffy uses it almost as a punishment during season 6, her first experience in season 2 causes Angel to become evil and she is portrayed negatively by the fraternity attitudes and reactions of Riley's friends in season 4. Nevertheless, the episode 'Seeing Red' is an important point in the series and demonstrates a strong counter-discourse to commonly held attitudes about rape.

Next up: 'Nice-guy' Warren

Friday, 22 January 2010


My complete, utter love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was validated this month upon a re-watching of series 6. This is the first in a series of posts about 'stuff I liked in Buffy'. I'll be doing a bit of an introduction to the series and discussing the representation of a same-sex relationship.

For those not in-the-know, this is the series where Buffy has been brought back from the dead by her best friend, Willow. Buffy, contrary to her friends' beliefs, was pulled out of a 'heaven' dimension and suffers from depression throughout the series. She becomes self-destructive, starting a disastrous relationship with Spike, a violent vampire.

Alongside this, a trio of nerds from Buffy's high school band together to try to take over Sunnydale. The nerds' quest starts off quite naive and quirky but gradually gets more and more disturbing, to the point where Warren, the leader of the trio, shoots both Buffy, (who survives) and Willow's girlfriend Tara (who doesn't).

Willow's rage from the death of her partner sends her into vengeance mode, she goes on to abuse dark magic and ultimately tries to destroy the world, only being saved by her childhood friend, Xander.

In the DVD special features, creator Joss Whedon explains that the 'big bad' of the series is 'life'. In this series, instead of an evil super-strong baddie; it is growing up, life itself and all the associated baggage that has to be overcome.

So, with this in mind, lets talk about lesbians.

Willow and Tara

I love the representation of these two in Buffy. At my first viewing I was surprised that the show would do such a thing, I though it would be simply for shock value and didn't see how it would be relevant to the show. How wrong was I?

Creating a relationship between two women that doesn't sexualise the situation is a fantastic choice for a TV series: Buffy creates a positive image of lesbians and represents same-sex relationships in a natural way. Perhaps other women would disagree with me, but, personally, I find Willow and Tara very engaging as a lesbian couple.

Their relationship is represented in such a way that I feel comfortable using Buffy to introduce the concept of same-sex love to my young daughter.* I concede that the song 'Under your Spell' in the musical episode 'Once More With Feeling' is filthy in imagery and subtle meanings, but I also think that those meanings need an adult brain to decipher them.

Willow and Tara are rarely used for sexual effect, the only instance I can think of is a dream sequence in series 4 that focuses on Xander's view point. Thinking about series 6, the two women show affection, but nothing overly sexual. They are shown in bed a number of times and are shown kissing, but I cannot think of an instance where their relationship is represented for a specifically 'male gaze' purpose.

In conclusion, I love Willow and Tara, I love being able to explain to my daughter that Willow and Tara love each other like Mommy and Daddy do. Admittedly, she just gets excited that they make stars with magic, but hey, it's a start.

*I know some episode of Buffy are completely NOT child friendly, however, I believe three things:
  • 'Once More With Feeling' isn't too gruesome
  • euphemism isn't in her lexicon, and
  • she loves the songs

Thursday, 7 January 2010


I think people in the UK really need to see what it can be like to try to get an abortion in areas of the USA.

Scary article from Feministing

Plus, remember - you have to pay for this privilege in the US. Many people can't afford to pay, so charitable organisations raise money for women to get abortions.

And then, of course, there is the doctor who performed MEDICALLY NEEDED late-term abortions. He was shot whilst in church by an anti-abortion activist.

Once again, praise the NHS for all you're worth, in the name of whatever deity/secular icon you prefer.