Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Punching Jane

I have decided to write my first ever theatrical review! 

Punching Jane is currently playing at the Courtyard Theatre near Old Street, and it is bloody good.  It's about 3 whores in a whorehouse who supplement their living by fighting for 'coin.' Here is an utterly superfluous picture.

Being an actress, this might come as a surprise to a lot of people, but I don't often enjoy the theatre. This has little to do with what's going on onstage and more to do with the fact that I have to cough and twitch my head every ten seconds and people find that annoying in a theatre.

It is a sad omen for my future as a critic that only three sentences into my review I have ended up just talking about myself.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that usually I'll be sitting in a theatre, simply willing myself to keep still and be quiet, but Punching Jane was so absorbing that it worked much better than the Clonazapam I have been taking. Within a few minutes of it all starting I forgot I was even in a theatre.

Surprising statement number 2: I hate it when people act. Most of what I learnt at drama school was learning not to act. I hate seeing people gurning about on stage, looking as if they have no idea what to do with their limbs that previously in everyday life they'd had very few problems with. The best thing about this show was the heart-warming truthfulness of the relationships between the girls. It was a bit like a sleepover, but with paralytic amounts of gin and obscene discussion topics. (Come to think of it that sounds like the perfect sleepover.) The characters were not just multi-dimensional; standard stereotypes displaying varying degrees of appropriate emotion; they were actually just real people, which is kind of worrying considering that they lived in a whorehouse.

That was the other thing; (there were lots of things) perhaps because the girls were enjoying such a filthy, degrading lifestyle, any show of genuine love within that setting was more heart-warming than it would have been somewhere else. I sat riveted as they fell in love, fought, fell in love again then humped each other on the floor with sheer joy.  Until this day I had never been moved to tears by a man performing a kind of half-awkward, half-Irish jig-type movement, but today I can no longer hold such a claim.  To be fair, I cry quite a lot, but not often in public, and it happened a few times this evening. At the end I sat dumbfounded in my seat for a good 20 seconds, refusing to believe it could really be over. I won't give away the ending, but I haven't been that horrified in a while.

"Horrifying" isn't perhaps the most desired epitaph for the writers to receive, but I mean it as a compliment, I swear. Maybe "horrifyingly good" is better. I don't know. This is why I usually write about ducks.

Onto the cast! Emma Pilson as the titular (tee hee!) Jane, gave an energetic, exciting portrayal of a troubled but rather optimistic character. She takes to both fighting and whoring herself off to 'Johns' with apparent gusto, and I admire her business acumen. I often don't like these "strong women" type characters because I hate characters who have no weaknesses, but she managed to show, especially in the last scene, a beautiful vulnerability that in no way took away from her general awesomeness. Kayleigh Hawkins as Mary played her dominant, yet scattered character, Mary, with such a stunning openness that I was worried at points that I might tumble out of my seat and into her gloriously expressive eyes, but thankfully I restrained herself. Occasionally she seemed a little forced; laughter was often a tad too affected, for example, but all in all my uncomfortableness when watching her was very much a positive thing. There is one scene where she must perform despite having just experienced a horrid betrayal, and the pain in her eyes was very difficult to look at or turn away from. The eyes- oh GOD the eyes!!!! I love actors like this.

Hayley Thompson as "Mother" was delightfully hen-like and saucy; her love for her girls was moving, but also something fearsome and dark. I ended up hating this character, but she was by no means a villain. Love is a strong theme throughout this piece, and she displayed more of it than any of them in her actions. Thompson's passion was sometimes subtle, sometimes not, but always wonderfully appropriate for what was going on. Mr. Ed Young plays Thomas, a petulant young man who, rather comically ends up as the owner of a whorehouse.  (I smell a sitcom!) His character is important in showing us what it means to be strong, and it was fascinating watching his scenes with the girls, watching the baton of control being snatched back at forth, sometimes in very surprising ways. Thomas was the jester one minute and the aggressor the next- reminding us of the dangers of giving power to those who are not yet fit for it. It is difficult to like Young's portrayal of this character because most of the times he appeared on stage I felt sick to my stomach. That'll be one for Ed's website:

"He made me want to vomit whenever he came onstage"- Finding my Quack

Ultimately, Young was deeply disturbing yet oddly sympathetic at points in his naivety, and it takes great skill, and great sacrifice to pull such a thing off.

Jinny Lofthouse as Molly and Tom Ziebell as Harry were as cute as little tiny ducklings and in this one particular scene you find yourself wanting them to silently take their affection to the next level more than you want to take your next breath. Most of their interaction was made up of looks; of physicality; sometimes the aforementioned weird jigs, but it was all perfect. Molly was fabulous- seemingly an insipid, wilting flower, but blossoming into something very different when she gets some gin inside her. Also, she genuinely loves her job. Isn't that nice? And also dreadful? At first you find it difficult to imagine that a girl who would probably laugh at the word "boobies" could be a very desirable whore, but Lofthouse makes it easy for us. At times she is wet, but at times she proves to be the strongest of them all.  Harry is the most obviously likable character in my opinion, so Ziebell's job may not seem too difficult, but he displayed a humbleness and clarity throughout the piece which did not go unnoticed.  I do, however, agree with a couple of reviews that wished for more of a background for his character- only because I want to love him more.

I do think the play itself needs further work, but that's the wonderful thing about art- it isn't stagnant; it can evolve, and when we look at perfection, it's actually pretty boring.  I would like to see Jane's character do more in the second half- apart from one particularly noticeable scene, I found myself losing interest in her.  Perhaps this was important as the focus shifts decidedly to other characters.  I would like to see more after the ending.  I don't like leaving a theatre feeling horrified, and I couldn't bear how it ended.  Sometimes, however, feeling uncomfortable is a good thing.  Life isn't all kittens and sunshine.  It's important for us to recognise that morality has evolved since the time of Victorian whorehouses, and right and wrong was justifiably ignored in the face of life, death and love, but I fear some audience members may leave the theatre with a lack of faith in feministic ideals that the show was otherwise promoting so excellently as a result of something that may have happened.  Sorry for being cryptic. (SPOILERS!) perhaps this is entirely selfish on my part. 

A lot of the credit for this astounding piece goes to the casting as well as the writing and direction.  Jess Farley has created a family out of what I can only assume were previously strangers, and that kind of dynamic is rare and beautiful.  The work she must have done to get them to such a level of togetherness in such a short time is admirable, especially the subtleties in the relationship between Mary and Molly, which was so intriguing I found myself distracted during an important conversation about Jane's past! Staging occasionally looked a little confusing; people facing upstage when speaking, for example, but I heard every word, which is crucial, so who cares?  The lighting did exactly what it was supposed to do, making up for the relatively minimalist set, which was ideal for the space and the piece.  I don't know much about lighting so cannot go into specifics!

All in all, I will give this production nine ducklings out of ten.  I would give it 4 an a half ducklings out of five, but that would involve cutting a duckling in half and WHY WOULD YOU ASK ME TO DO SUCH A THING. 

Go and see it! On every night (apart from Mondays I think) until 29th June.  

Monday, 16 June 2014

This is what a feminist quacks like

This post is going to be about feminism.  I’m also going to discuss Men’s Rights Activism.  It’s going to be a hoot!

I have only identified as a feminist for about 3 years, so I sympathise with people who feel uncomfortable associating themselves with the term when it’s connotations can be disturbing and confusing.  I am going to, somewhat gently, attempt to bring people around to my point of view, because a lot of debates regarding this issue that I see online seem to be spouting hate and accusing the other side of being stupid and ignorant, which solves nothing.

For those of you who are ‘ignorant’ about feminism, this is no bad thing, and does not make you stupid.  Here are a list of things I am ignorant about:

Quantum mechanics
The situation in Syria
The inner-workings of a clock
Oysters (in fact all molluscs in general, unless oysters are not molluscs, which proves my ignorance about oysters.)
All history between The Gunpower Plot and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary

And much, much more.  The trouble is, when people are accused of being ignorant on the internet, it is received (and often intended) as an insult.  I don't want, in writing this post, to behave as if I'm enlightening the poor, ignorant masses because I am just such an amazing person.  I just want to share my views on something I have spent an awful lot of time thinking about.  

I have received a lot of help writing this post from my friends, who put forward their reasons as to why they do not identify as ‘feminists.’ I didn't quote you all, but all of your opinions were very useful to me.  I'm also not going to address every feminist issue I can think of, otherwise we'd be here until Christmas.  I am going to attempt to change their minds, and hopefully the minds of some other people reading as well.  If I convert just one person, this article will have been a success! However my friends are still my friends and whether or not they choose to associate with feminism after this will make no difference to our friendship.  

Chapter 1. What exactly IS feminism, and do I really want to be a part of it???

Here are some definitions of feminism:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes (Oxford Dictionaries)

the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state: (Cambridge Dictionaries online)

1.the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3.feminine character.  (

A doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women (Collins Dictionary)

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
organized activity in support of women's rights and interests

A lot of the problems around accepting feminism come from the fact that there seem to be two definitions for it.  Accepting feminism as a desire for equal rights for women is easily done.  However, does declaring yourself as a feminist commit you to the beliefs of everyone else who has ever said they are a feminist?

If this were the case, I certainly wouldn’t be a feminist, nor, I think, would most feminists. A fellow philosophy graduate (and an extremely clever and funny man) summed up this problem very well:

I would not describe myself as a feminist, because by doing so I have no idea at all to what set of beliefs I would be committing myself. Unlike, for example, utilitarianism, it is not a word that has any universally or even generally accepted definition. I recently read a book called ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran, in which she seems to be attempting to explain what feminism really means, or reclaim the term 'feminism', thinking that it's been hijacked. Here I think there's a massive problem, because if the word 'feminism' was a car, it wouldn't be just a car that has been stolen; it's a car that's been stolen, stolen again, re-sprayed, had the number-plates changed, been chopped in half and made into a couple of those hybrid cars, been melted down and is currently incarnated as the cutlery section in the local Poundstretcher. Even if you went and confiscated the entire cutlery section, I don't think you'd be entitled to say that you had reclaimed the car. I think it would be better on consideration to claim on the insurance and get a new car.

Perhaps he is right, and we should scrap the term altogether and come up with something new.  However where the analogy weakens in my opinion is the fact that a car is something physical and contingent which can be altered and destroyed, but it is impossible to destroy a concept or movement, at least not in the same way.  Even if we were to scrap feminism because of the harm it has caused and the negative connotations that have become attached to the word, a lot of other movements (and pretty much all religion) would need to be scrapped too.  Christianity, for example, has done a lot of good, but it’s also led to great suffering due to misinterpretations of its core beliefs.  On the whole, I’d say religion has done far more damage than feminism ever has.  About the worst thing done by a feminist that I can locate on the internet is an incident where a woman called Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol.  He was badly injured, but recovered, and she wasn't attacking him in the name of feminism either. (Something to do with him losing a play she had written...) Compared to other political movements feminism has caused very, very little harm.  This, however, is a very weak argument.  I don’t want people to accept feminism just because it is not quite as bad as something else.  I want people to be proud to be feminists because of what the movement contains.  Even if it has done very little physical harm, emotional harm is arguably just as worthy of discussion.

It’s interesting that my friend mentions ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran, because it is possibly my second favourite book in the entire world (after The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, obvs.)  I think she responds to this problem pretty well by using the following argument (I can't directly quote her because I've leant my copy of the book to someone!):

Women, like other minority groups, have been horrifically treated in the past and were given no rights to speak of, so when they suddenly find that they have a voice and can actually make things happen, things are going to be a bit muddled for a while.  We are, relatively speaking, in the early stages of feminism, and we are still finding our feet.  I'm not saying that acts of feminist terrorism (if such things exist) should be forgiven and forgotten, but that we needed this time to figure out, as women, who is is we were and what it was that we needed to achieve.  Oppressed minorities react to freedom in different ways, and some may immediately and violently turn on their past oppressors, whether or not the people they target were in fact oppressing them.  The fact is, women were never going to wake up one morning and seamlessly fit into society with no issue whatsoever. 


(Just like this character HERE)

I may have lost the thread of my argument a bit there.


There’ll always be idiots declaring that “ALL MEN ARE PIGS!” and campaigning for their extermination due to women’s 'superiority', but these views are not held by the majority of feminists, and the more that feminists declare that they do not hold these views, the more positively feminists will be received.  In this media-obsessed world, however, where feminists are viewed as ugly, man-hating monsters, it might be sensible, as my friend has suggested, to start a new movement altogether, or simply use the term ‘women’s liberation’ instead of a word that has been horribly tainted over the years, but I feel this would be throwing away something people have been working very hard on for over a hundred years now.  It’s not necessarily about ‘reclaiming the word,’ it’s about respecting its core values, and understanding that such a hugely important movement will have some hiccups along the way.  I can understand that people may still not want to associate themselves with the word for this reason, but consider that I identify as being a ‘strident feminist;’  Does that give you a somewhat negative impression of me? I personally don’t care too much what other people think about what I believe, as my values are very dear to me, though my opinion on many matters are fluid and open to suggestion.  I have used the word feminism for myself because it reinforces to me what I am and what I stand for.  I also feel like I should be a role-model and want to encourage young people that, if they want to identify as a feminist but feel apprehensive, it can be a safe, positive thing to do.  

If you are still not convinced, let me give you another argument, as put forward by Foofy. Have you seen Les Miserables? If not, go and see it now.

Seen it? Good.  John Valjean, after breaking his parole, erases everything negative from his old life, and completely re-makes himself.  After a while, however, he learns that the only way he can truly be free is by owning his past and coming clean- I'M JOHN VALJEAN!!! He sings.  The fact that he reclaimed his real name was a big part of this step that he made. In fact, the only way we can make peace with who we are is accepting that we are flawed and that we may have acted wrongly in the past, but that everything that came before has made us who we are.  I see feminism as a person who has gone through puberty and is, hopefully soon, reaching the stage where everyone listens to her and treats her with respect. Abandoning feminism because the movement hasn't always been morally sound is disregarding what it was initially meant to be, and the only way we can undo the harm that feminism has caused over the years is to change it, not abandon it, for in abandoning it we run the risk of giving the impression that it was misguided in the first place.

For me, discovering that I was a feminist was a bit like waking up one morning and realising that I had superpowers.  I wish I could tell you why but sometimes the inner-workings of my brain are a mystery even to me.

Chapter 2. Do we still need feminism?

In the modern Western world, at least on the surface, women hold equal rights to men. We're not allowed to be raped in marriage, we are able to do the same jobs as men, and we are given the same educational opportunities.  

I always believed in equality of the sexes, however until recently, I believed that equality had been achieved and that feminism was seeking to push the supremacy of women, or at least prove their superiority. I felt that women had all the control in relationships and over sex and couldn't fathom why everyday sexism was a problem. To me, cat-calling, giving women the look-over, aggressive flirtation wasn't a problem, because none of these things would have bothered me had the situations been reversed

Many feminists argue that women are paid less than men overall for example, but this is not an argument I want to get into here.  I am less concerned with the political movement of feminism (my ignorance of the issues would be an embarrassment!) rather than feminism as a social movement.  It is in our everyday lives that we so desperately, DESPERATELY need to stand up for women's rights.

This wonderful site called everydaysexism exists where people can give examples of how sexism affects them in everyday life.  For those who don't want to read anything on that site, let me give examples of things that have happened to me in the last few months:

1. Had my bottom grabbed in a club.  
2. Had two separate men try to lift up my skirt at work
3. A man calling out- "Hello, fitness" as I walked past him in the street
4. A car of men goes by when I am coming homes from the gym.  One of them helpfully yells: "YOU'RE UGLY!" (At least now I know and I can move on with my life.)
5. A man nods leeringly as I walk past him.  "Very nice." He says softly.
6. A group of men pause in their conversation as I walk past them, and appraisingly look me up and down before turning back to each other and continuing.
7. "Nice legs," Said an old man on a bench.
8. "I bet she likes it doggy-style" said a hilarious man when I was walking a dog.
9. A man stops his car beside me at 10pm in a badly-lit area, offers me a secretarial job, and, when I said "no thanks," asked if I had any pretty friends like myself who were looking for work.
10.  When I was trying to hold my skirt down from blowing up in the wind, a group of men said to me- "let it blow up! Let it blow up!" and when I turned round to glare at them, they laughed and went- "ooooooo, someone's stuck-up!"

These were all in the last few months, and since I first wrote this list a little under a week ago, I have several more incidents to add to it. These are not just odd instances that happen once a year and cause me to roll my eyes; they happen to me almost everyday, no matter where I am, what I'm doing, or what I'm wearing.  It's not just irritating, it's threatening, and degrading, and sometimes, especially in number 9, I actually feared for my safety.  Whenever I'm walking home at night and I hear a car come up behind me, I mentally plan my escape.  Whenever I'm walking past a man, I brace myself and reach for my keys, because I know that in the 100 or so people I come across every week when walking home alone, there is a chance that one of them may be a rapist.  This is not some fantasy; it is a genuine concern.  Not all men rape women, but most men are stronger than most women and could rape them if they had the inclination.  I am an incredibly trusting person, but I'm not one for gambling my life or my dignity on the belief that everyone walking in my area at night has my best interests at heart.  

Even if these are only, in themselves, small instances of sexism, they are all part of a larger problem that needs to be addressed.

Is everyone ready to roll their eyes? Careful of your contact lenses if you wear them.  This is all to do with the fact that we still live in a patriarchal society.  This term has also become negative over the years, because the people who we imagine using the term are crazy, man-hating feminazis.  I wonder why this is? I imagine it's because a lot of men believe that by declaring we live in a patriarchal society, their lives are automatically much easier than ours, and it's offensive to be told that your life is easy by some white, middle-class blogger/actor who likes to think she's a duck in her spare time.

Chapter 3. Do women really have it worse than men? I mean, REALLY?!?

 Short answer, not necessarily.  Both men and women face problems solely because of their gender, as was the opinion of a lot of my friends:

Why is it considered acceptable to term yourself a feminist, but not a masculist? 
I think championing one side in the name of equality, as feminists (and their male counterparts) so often do, is a hypocritical contradiction.  Men and Women both face negative and unfair circumstances brought about solely because of their sex. It annoys me when anyone (male or female) implies otherwise.

I'm going to list some of the common problems faced by men according to male rights activism:

1. Men are more likely to die or be injured in the workplace
2. Men are just as likely to be domestically abused as women but are less likely to be taken seriously
3. Men are less likely to get custody of children
4. Men are less likely to get harsher prison sentences
5. Men who are falsely accused of rape get no support
6. Male genital mutilation is considered acceptable in many countries, but FGM has more support against it.
7. Men can be drafted into wars and die against their will.
8. Society helps women.  Men are told to 'man up.'
9. Women are the ones who decide when to have sex.  Women are in control.
10. If a woman hits a man, men aren't allowed to hit back

I am not here to mock anyone, and these are not concerns to be mocked.  For most men, these are real problems and I absolutely respect them.  However, I don't agree that the problem in these cases lies with women.  The problem lies with the patriarchy.  

The patriarchy isn't 'all men.'  It is not even 'most men', or 'some men.' It is the culture that we live in, and is the ultimate fault of no one person whatsoever.  When feminists talk about getting rid of the patriarchy, they are not talking about getting rid of men or hurting them in some way.  In fact, getting rid of the patriarchy would solve most, if not all of these problems:

1. I imagine this is because more men are hired to do jobs that people are more likely to die in.  The fact that more men are construction workers, for example, isn't because it's no place for women, but simply because it's worthwhile and cost-effective for construction companies to hire the strongest people, and these are most likely to be men. I don't tend to think of this as a feminist issue, because hiring more women into dangerous jobs for the sake of it would not be beneficial to the companies, or to feminism.  That is not to say, however, that women shouldn't aspire to do manual labour if that is what they would like to do.  

2. This is a problem, and is a problem that feminism can solve.  Feminists, at least every feminist that I know, wish for men and women to be seen as equals, but we are still very much separated into two camps when it comes to how we should be and how we should express ourselves.  Women are encouraged to let their emotions flow freely, however if they do they are called 'irrational' or 'psycho.'  Men, on the other hand are encouraged to keep everything inside and appear strong, which can have the negative effect of making them seem cold or dishonest.  Men are less likely to report domestic abuse because it may make them feel embarrassed, or less 'like men.'  Also when society witnesses domestic abuse targeted at males, they, perhaps, don't want to intervene or offer sympathy because they may be worried that their good intentions may cause further embarrassment and distress to the man.  The fact that male abuse is not widely talked about is not the fault of feminism.  On the contrary, feminists want to get rid of these destructive gender differences and encourage everyone, male or female, to discuss their problems freely without it being socially unacceptable.  Feminism is focused on women's rights, but as an indirect result, it can offer men a lot more freedoms that they had not previously been about to enjoy.  

3. Men are less likely to get custody of children because it is still the general rule in society that women stay at home and raise the children, and any mothers who do not, handing over 'their' role to stay-at-home dads are seen as neglectful and as attempting to emasculate the man.  It is usually best for the children to be with the parent who has spent the most time nurturing them, and nowadays this is generally still the mother.  Feminists would like to change this state of affairs as well, and encourage all people of all genders to perform the parenting role that is right for them.  As a result of this, divorce courts may start ruling more equally as well.

4. If this is true, then I agree with the MRAs here.  Except, again, this is not the fault of feminism.  Feminists do not campaign for shorter prison sentences for women because they are women.  (Unless, I imagine, they'd just had a baby or something similar, but this is a separate issue.) I couldn't even tell you why this is- something to do with the fact that most violent crimes are committed by men, and perhaps, even unconsciously, judges view women as less-threatening than men? This is all part of the patriarchal culture that sees women as delicate flowers who shouldn't have to do the same jobs or face the same punishments as men.  You're never going to see feminists with placards declaring- "LONGER PRISON SENTENCES FOR WOMEN!" or anything, but the movement of the equality of the sexes will naturally bring this about.  At least I hope it will, because this disparity seems dreadfully unfair on men.

5. This is a terribly tricky issue.  I talked about rape in my last post, and I have some personal experience in this area.  My rape was unusual.  I even felt a little weird in calling it rape until much later, because I wasn't sure if it was 'valid.'  The guy who performed the deed may be reading this right now, and I'm not even sure if he realised what he was doing WAS rape.  It was his obliviousness to the fact that I was a free-thinking person that hurt the most, rather than the rape itself.  My point, here, is, that young men who end up raping women may not do so with malicious intent, and may just be so caught up in losing their virginity and 'being a man' that they don't even realise that it IS rape.  If they were then accused of being raped, they face a torrent of abuse as if they had literally ripped into a woman and torn out her soul, which naturally causes a lot of pain on every side.  More education in what rape is and the correct way to go about having sex safely will solve this problem, and that, indirectly, is another aim of feminism! I'm sure there are some women who accuse men of rape out of spite when the men have done literally nothing wrong, but this is (a) very rare (though obviously finding statistics will be hard) and (b) not something that is anything to do with feminism.  In fact, false rape accusations go directly against feminism, because it involves a woman using her body and her femininity as a weapon:  

Women’s sexual liberation led me to perceive a double standard: women are now allowed, even encouraged, to express their sexuality in mixed company (checking out boys, talking about the boys they find hot, aggressively flirting with boys). By contrast, I, as a Catholic, was constantly told not to objectify women, to maintain 'custody of the eyes,' and to avoid all sexual thoughts and actions outside of marriage. A lot of the time, my attempts to understand why women are bothered by sexual attention from men, would be misunderstood as misogyny or willful ignorance, leading me to blame women (especially vocal feminists) for being inconsistent and unreasonable.

From what I've read and discussed with many men, a lot of the hatred towards women comes from the implicit idea that women 'owe' men sex.  We see all the time in the media (and occasionally in acts of aggression like the recent Elliot Rogers shooting) that good, nice, men, somehow feel that they should be rewarded in the form of a woman.  When women express themselves freely, perhaps in wearing certain clothes, they are accused of teasing men, who have to work hard to keep their sexuality in check (apparently.) If a woman seems interested but, in fact, is not, I do not blame men for being angry, but it is NOT THE WOMAN'S FAULT.  When a man commits an act of aggression, be that rape or abuse, it was caused by him, NOT HER.  To say that women 'had it coming' when they wear skimpy clothes at night does nothing but shame the victims and other women.  Stopping rape, and, as a result, false rape accusations, can be done by re-conditioning society to understand that rape is wrong.  The fewer men that rape women, the less likely it will be that false rape accusations will be believed.  Simple logic!  

6. All genital mutilation is useless, and wrong.  Feminists are focused on women's rights and so male circumcision is probably not something that falls under their agenda, but it falls under mine, not as a feminist, but as a person who believes that shaming someone for having an extra bit of skin is barbaric.  If men voluntarily have the procedure, then that is their decision as free-thinking, rational agents, but to declare that the fact that the opposition of male circumcision has less support than the movement to ban FGM is pointless.  This is not a competition.  Supporting one does not mean not supporting the other, and we can all work together to stop all kinds of genital mutilation.  I think it more urgent to stop female circumcision because it is only performed for negative, cultural reasons, and involves far more harm in the long run.  (almost equivalent to the man's entire penis being removed in terms of pleasure and ability to orgasm.)  We don't necessarily have to support both at the same time, with equal fervour, to be considered moral and non-hypocritical citizens.  

7. Interestingly, if you look at countries which still use the draft and can send men to die against their will, you may notice that these tend to be the countries were women aren't treated very well.  There are some exceptions, of course, but on the whole it appears that the draft only exists in countries that do not recognise women as equals.  If the USA or Britain still had a draft, I'm sure if women had a choice they would beg to be put into the draft system if that meant that they could enjoy the privileges that come from being a man.  The reason only men were drafted is because of the Patriarchy.  Women shouldn't be fighting.  Women are weak.  Women should be locked up at home with the children.  Women can't be trusted to fight and die for their countries- we'd probably trip over, break a nail and cry to be sent home.  I'm exaggerating here, but this so called female privilege is actually mysoginism in disguise.

8.  I loathe the phrase 'man up.'  It is a horrible, misogynistic term that causes nothing but harm to both women and men.  Along with this phrase, I would throw items such as 'grow some balls' and 'stop being a pussy' into the mix.  The thing is, according to the patriarchy, women are generally just...fucked.  We're second class citizens.  We're 'the other.'  51% of the world is 'not the norm.'  Here is a riddle:

There are two doctors sitting alone together in a room.  One of the doctors is the other doctor's son, but the other doctor is not the first doctor's father.  How is this possible?!?

Literally everyone who I have told this to, feminists, women, men, even doctors, don't seem to catch on that the doctor in question is the boy's mother.  This is because we are strongly conditioned to see men and women as performing different roles.  Women, as a gender, (in my experience) are generally more accepting of differences in their own sex, and tend to see each other as women regardless of what they look like or what they have done, but 'being a man' seems to be a ridiculously complicated issue.  It all seems relatively simple to me:

(On a side note, I am discussing gender purely in binary terms in this post, but I don't mean to offend those who do not associate with either gender, neither am I trying to offend those select few who are chickens trapped in human bodies.)

But in real life men have to jump through all kinds of hoops to be recognised as 'men.' Whether it be killing a bison with your bare hands or beating your father in a game of basketball, men seem to have to go through rights of passage to prove themselves to be worthy of their genitals.  And do you know why? It's because 'being a REAL MAN' is seen, by everyone, as a privileged position, that few are able to fully attain, and if you fail to attain it, you are seen as a worthless human being, or, in other words, only as good as a woman.  This is not a male disadvantage, this proves the point that nothing is more shameful for a man than being compared to a woman.  The reason society jumps in to help women more in times of distress is because women are seen as unable to look after themselves. And for all the men who find themselves unable to live up to the expectations of 'being a man' in the modern world? Do you know what will help you? I'll give you three guesses.  ;) As previously said, feminism is focused on women's issues, but by driving forward the importance of equality and trashing the idea that the correct, best, or even neutral position in society is that of a six-foot tall, white male with a six-pack and inability to cry, doesn't just help women.  In the long run, it will help everyone.  Even those powerful men who are on the very top of the manly ladder, it must occasionally worry them how far that fall is, and what an unreasonable effort it took him to get up there in the first place. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just be the best version of ourselves? Then everyone gets their own ladder and we won't be fighting over who doesn't have to spend eternity staring directly into the anus of the person above them. 

9.  Control is a funny thing.  When it comes to the bedroom, men are almost always the ones with the physical control, but women are seen as having the actual control, whatever that is.  I don't personally believe this is true, but society would have us believe that heterosexual men are entirely driven by their penile appendages and at any given moment would definitely want to have sex with any girl that they are in the room with. (who conforms to his standards of beauty, that is.)  Women have the perfect right to say no to sex.  Even if a girl was lying naked on the bed with her legs spread apart making 'come to bed eyes', if she says no, you don't have sex with her, even though any girl doing this would be a bit mean in my opinion.  Women don't want to have sex all the time.  I can think of at least three instances today when I didn't want to have sex, but sometimes, surprisingly, I actually do want to have sex, because I find it enjoyable.  I have been in relationships where I have actually initiated sex more often than the man, and sometimes he wasn't up for it, and that's fine, because everyone deserves the right to have ownership of their bodies.  Women who 'with-hold sex' are seen as nasty and manipulative, but men; would you rather go to bed without having sex, or have sex with a girl who is not enjoying herself? I would hope you'd rather respect her wishes.  Of course, doing things to bring her round to your point of view can often be appropriate if done in a certain way, but no means no.  And the absence of a yes means no.  I was dating a man once (he knows who he is...) who didn't want to have sex with me while wearing a condom.  I wasn't on board with this, and insisted that he wear one.  I accused him of not respecting my wishes, and he accused me of not respecting his wishes, but this, I disagreed with.  He was under no obligation to have sex with me at all.  I was not literally forcing a condom onto his man part and shoving it in my lady hole.  Saying no to sex is not an action directed AT anyone- it is a declaration of autonomy, and relates to the speaker's feelings, not to some short-coming of the listener. Women must be in control, but this control isn't directed at the man, it is directed inwards.  Women who 'with-hold sex' are not doing so as an active attack (unless they are, but I don't imagine this genuinely happens terribly often, and if it did, I and most feminists would have something to say about it...), but as a desire to have control of what goes into her body.  At no point is the man being forced to relinquish his control in the bedroom.  In a situation where one party wishes to have sex and the other does not, the couple should not have sex, and this works both ways.  Sex should be something treasured and enjoyed, not used as a way of gaining control or putting someone in their place.  Remember this ARTICLE I wrote a while ago? Somehow it's slightly relevant to all of this...

10. People shouldn't hit people.  END OF.  Feminists are not in favour of domestic violence against men.  The reason violence is more of a taboo against women is because women are more likely to get seriously injured or killed in a domestic abuse situation than a man is.  In most situations, if a man is beating a woman, she is perfectly entitled to defend herself by any means possible, and this may mean hitting back to make him stop because she will most likely be unable to restrain him.  However if a woman is beating a man, it is unlikely he will have to do anything more than restrain her to make her stop.  As a rule, it is wrong to harm anyone, but somehow worse to harm something weaker than yourself.  It is generally worse for a man to hit a woman than to hit another man.  It is generally worse for a person to hit a puppy than it is to hit another person.  Generally, people should be judged on how they treat their lessers, not their equals, and this can be taken into account when looking at abuse. (Though I'm not saying that this makes women 'less' than men; only in terms of phsyical strength, and this is only in most cases, not all.)  Interestingly, I have known more men that have suffered domestic violence than women, and the worst thing about it for them was the feeling of emasculation and hopelessness; that they were unable to come forward because in doing so they would be admitting weakness.  These good, kind, wonderful men that I have known that have gone through this pain suffer mental scars more than physical ones.  They have been harmed by domestic violence, which is something far more complicated than people hitting each other.  It involves psychological trickery and manipulation as well as physical attacks.  ALL OF IT MUST STOP.  

Chapter 4. Isn't 'egalitarianism' a better word?

This was the most popular response of non-feminists, and I've come across this kind of thing many times in different forms:

I prefer the word 'egalitarian' simply because it takes any mention of gender/race/sexuality/anything else out of the equation - there shouldn't have to be an equation in the first place. To me, feminism in its purest form is egalitarianism.

I very much appreciate the sentiment behind comments like these, but I don't agree with them.  Saying we shouldn't use the word feminism because there is a term that covers more than just women would be like saying that we shouldn't support breast cancer charities because there are more types of cancer than just breast cancer.   

Again, this is not a competition.  Women are not fighting against other people who also want to have and maintain rights.  We are not trying to take away any rights from anyone else.  That's the wonderful thing about human rights, because giving one group more rights does not take rights away from any other group.  Giving a pound to a woman's charity is not a pound stolen from an LGBT charity.  Some may argue that we are fighting for the same thing and should combine forces to make ourselves stronger, but remaining as 'feminists' keeps the focus on particular issues, and thus we have more chance of solving them. 

Chapter 5. But I'm a man...can I become a feminist?

This is apparently an issue:

I don't always identify as a feminist, because I know women who don't think a man can or should identify as a feminist and I respect that. However, I do support the movement and its principals. I think that makes me a pro-feminist.

Short answer: Yes.  Yes you can.  Please do.  I don't know who told you you couldn't be a feminist, but they are no friend or ally of mine.  Excluding men from feminism is like excluding Marmite from a cheese sandwich.  Only when men join us in full force will we be complete.  I like men, and, let's face it; we need each other to carry on the human race.

Chapter 6. So being a ACTUALLY OKAY?!?  

Declaring yourself a feminist can be a frightening thing to do.  If you are a woman, you may be worrying that it'll turn you into a victim, and if you are a man, you may face a negative backlash from your fellow man.  (Which is silly because feminist men are very, VERY sexy.) Victim status is sometimes viewed as a positive thing by those who are not victims, and for some reason MRAs desperately want to be the victims, which is downright insane. Everyone hates the person that only wins arguments because they burst into tears and by doing so makes themselves appear the more wronged party.    

Feminists are not feminists because we enjoy being victims.  We wish we didn't have to be feminists at all.  Perhaps one day in the distant future, a girl will turn to her mother after having found a very old book, and ask- "what is feminism?" and the mother won't know the answer, because feminism, having achieved its goals, will long since have been abandoned as moot.  That will be a good day. Unless Rhinos are viciously laying waste to the earth, because you never know what the future brings. 

Are you a feminist yet? Or just left with a hankering for a KFC? Either way please let me know!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Charlize, I've got your back

I’ve always been one for having strong opinions, but today is one of the few times when I have felt strangely unsupported in an opinion by the vast majority.  As a left-wing feminist I come across a lot of debate, but I generally find a huge number of people on my side.  Today, however, I seem to be entirely alone!

Apparently, Charlize Theron said something a little…misguided today.  Something about comparing press intrusion in her life to being raped.  HERE is the story in everyone's favourite newspaper.

Understandably, the use of the word ‘rape’ provoked a very strong response from the world of the internet, however I completely respect the comparison Theron is making.

Bear with me here.

1.      Being a celebrity is HARD.  I’m, thankfully, not a celebrity, but I perform for a living and literally singing for one’s supper every day is not the luxurious, carefree life most people believe it to be.
2.      I don’t believe it is acceptable for anyone to compare any bad experience to any other bad experience if they have no knowledge or experience of that experience.  (If that makes sense…)
3.      Rape, actually, happens to as many as 1 in 3 girls in their lifetime.  (It's difficult to ascertain the exact figures because so many people keep the information hidden.  Those who haven’t been raped will, at least, have been sexually harassed and extrapolating from the feelings they had during that harassment gives them, albeit some, knowledge about what being raped would be like physically and emotionally.  Charlize Theron has apparently campaigned for rape charities in the past, and it seems to me like she would not have used the term lightly.
4.      I very much doubt that everyone who has commented on Charlize Theron being ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’ has experienced being a celebrity or a performer.
5.      How, then, do these commenters know that her comparison is not a valid one?

Remember, not all rape involves being kidnapped and taken to a dank dungeon and held hostage, and not all rape even involves violence, as bizarre as that might sound.  Having this narrow view of rape only makes it more difficult for young girls to identify when it is happening to them.  “Is this rape?” They might ask themselves while it is still going on, worrying that their rape is somehow not as ‘valid’ as someone else’s rape because they were not worried for her life.  This point is very well-expressed HERE.  I will reiterate that it is my understanding of rape as something horrendous and life-altering that causes me to believe that it should be less of a taboo subject to talk about freely, with no fear of judgement or misunderstanding.

I’ll say it now; I’ve been raped.  I’ve also had a very unpleasant experience while performing.  One of these caused me to feel an underlying fear and anger towards our mysonginistic society.  The other gave me weight gain, extreme anxiety and insecurity, severe depression, borderline alcoholism, and flashbacks involving panic attacks and vomiting in the middle of the night, replaying over and over certain incidents and how I could have prevented them.  I tell you now with complete honesty that I would rather repeat my rape experience than the other one.  Bandying the word rape around with no authority is foolish, but a person declaring that rape, by its very definition, must be far, far worse than something they have not experienced, is speaking with sheer ignorance.  All this, I think, plays into a broader issue regarding how people in so-called ‘real jobs’ view those in the arts; some comments internet-users are making imply that they don’t consider acting to be a difficult career.

Someone asked me recently how I justified being an actor. They wondered why it is that people look up to singers and actors as role models rather than celebrate the work of soldiers, doctors, or teachers, who are actively helping people who are vulnerable or suffering.  The idea that some jobs are more ‘worthy’ than others is interesting, and I used to believe that being an actor or a singer was somewhat of a ‘selfish’ career, but actually now, I couldn’t disagree more.  (Bear in mind, I’m not trying to argue that acting or singing are MORE worthy than other careers, just that they are not UNworthy.)

I respect real talent in all areas.  Real talent is rare.  I’m not being a snob here, just realistic, but I would bet money that relatively few people on this earth could say what exactly was so special about Stevie Wonder’s voice: his songs are catchy and memorable, and are perfect for any party, but his voice cuts right to my core; the purity of it, but also the emotional complexity behind it, and the perfect word painting he uses on every single note…most people can sing to an extent, and they all have potential to be singers, but I doubt many of them would ever sound like him.  It’s the same with acting; anyone can act, that’s what makes it so accessible as a hobby for amateurs, but finding a true artist is extremely rare, and the audience don’t often recognise true talent when they see it. It’s not just about making the audience laugh or cry, even though that’s important; it’s about knowing that the artist has given their whole self to everything they create.

We don’t directly help people in the same way that doctors do, but we (at least attempt to) provide emotional nourishment. 

A good friend showed me THIS video recently and in it you can see and hear a couple of greats: Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.  I don’t know if either could really be considered as ‘role models’ because they both lived fairly emotionally unhealthy and unhappy lives, but this is the very point… these amazing women, along with other people, such as Marilyn Monroe, effectively sacrificed themselves to provide inspiration and happiness to millions of people.  By giving us a part of their soul, they allow us to let out any sadness or anger we are keeping inside- who hasn't enjoyed self-indulgently listening to Radiohead while allowing a solitary tear to dramatically roll down their cheek?  This, in some ways, is what being an artist is, even on a small scale like mine; I have got crazily better at singing and acting over the years, not because of training, but because of life experience.  It’s not necessary for me to think of how every song I sing precisely applies to my own life, but just being alive for a while has given me the emotional basis I need to understand things I never would have done when I was very small.  I don’t write songs, but I do write stories, and these have also got much more interesting and eloquent as I’ve got older, at quite a great emotional and mental cost to me, but I would not trade any of it in for the world.  To truly perform, (and I’m not being wanky or pretentious here, just honest,) one must effectively cut open their guts and spill them all over the stage for everyone to see.  Recently I performed a piece for a crowd of about 100 or so people, and afterwards I had to go off and cry for half an hour, not because I was upset or embarrassed (because I actually sang pretty well,) but because sometimes when I perform I get the distinct feeling that everyone is staring directly into my soul and picking it apart.  Another audition experience I had recently felt as if I was naked on the stage and everyone was judging my body.  There are few careers more exposing than performing, and most performers I know would understand the comparison between having a particularly bad time on stage and somehow being sexually abused in some way.   Art is so incredibly exposing it can feel unpleasant at times, but also exhilarating, so I automatically respect anyone who has a career that involves this kind of performing, and once you get into it, it can be both overwhelming and addictive.  I’m no Ethel Merman, who voluntarily took to the stage the day after her daughter’s suicide to perform in ‘Gypsy’, a show where she played a pushy stage-mum, but I know enough to understand how sacrificial this career can be.  When artists draw attention to how sacrificial they are being this somewhat diminishes the effect of it, (I would never claim to have sacrificed more than most people for my acting career,) but it is still important to discuss.  It seems that, perhaps, a lot of the time the people who constantly and bitterly complain about negative media attention are the people who most deserve it, but this is not necessarily the case with Theron.  The vast majority of actors and singers take this kind of press attention with grace and good humour.  Theron was maybe a little misguided in using the words she did, but only because she should have predicted that people wouldn’t understand or sympathise, when high-profile acting is so often portrayed as something hugely desirable.

On the contrary, performing is bloody hard work, especially when you are just starting out.  I think that artists get the reputation of being rich, lazy and self-absorbed, but this couldn’t be further from the truth; acting in a show every night, for example, might seem like just pottering into work at 7, banging out a few tunes and leaving, but usually they will have rehearsals during the day, since people will be coming in and out of shows all the time, and they may work other jobs, like office work or teaching, for most acting and singing jobs are not particularly well-paid. 

Actors and Singers do not ask to be photographed or swamped by fans in the street.  Some of them, to be fair, do seem to thrive on it, but, for a lot of them, this is something they must deal with to be successful.  It’s dreadfully unfair when you think about it; Steve Jobs was very successful, and, though he got quite a bit of negative press over the years, I doubt he ever had areas of his fat circled and zoomed in on, or was helpfully informed by a magazine that he was looking a little old.  This is, almost certainly, more of a problem for women than it is for men, but you wouldn’t see Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton getting this kind of treatment, or if they did it would have a huge public backlash.  The difference for artists is that they are seen as fair game, especially the women, because public perception is that they 'chose' it.  Beyonce’s job description involves her performing for people; she should not be required to look flawless 100% of the time; be polite to every photographer she meets; or to have nothing but successful and fulfilling relationships with other people, but you’d never know this from what the media has said about people like her.  Some would say that it is the responsibility of someone in the spotlight to provide a good example for young people, and this is certainly the case.  But hounding her, calling her fat, ugly, or ignorant, or implying that she has no right to use a word which, as a female, she would almost certainly have had either direct or indirect contact with, is absurd.