Saturday, December 14, 2013

Playing Elizabeth Bennet

The Gate Theatre are currently showing Pride and Prejudice so, as it's one of my favourite books, I went along with a couple of (female) friends.  The female part bears emphasis, because the entire theatre was filled with women - what few men there were spread out among the masses looked vaguely uncomfortable.  This surprised me...I had not thought much about the audience, and I hadn't particularly figured it would be so heavily weighted towards women, considering The Gate is a well-frequented theatre showing a variety of plays.  However the attractions of Jane Austen would seem to be a female pursuit, no matter how many years pass: she still can't attract the varied audience a male writer might, despite an academic renewal of interest in her novels.  Men, it would seem, still don't consider our Jane a 'proper' author.  And unfortunately, when her novel is reduced, as it was in this instance, to a pure romance, this problem is only exacerbated.

Pride and Prejudice is a very, very beloved novel that many women will have a personal relationship with - mainly due, it must be said, to its protagonists, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  So, the actors playing these two roles must invest a lot of time and energy into their portrayal - other characters in the novel are comparatively easy because of how quickly they lend themselves to comedy and hyperbole.  Mrs. Bennet's nervous fits, Mr. Bennet's sarcastic wit, Lady Catherine De Bourgh's snobbery and arrogance, Mr. Collins' grovelling idiocy - the list of 'easy' characters encompasses practically everyone but Eliza and Mr. Darcy.  And so it was with a certain wariness that I sat down to watch a new set of actors take on this iconic meeting of hearts and minds.  Very quickly I was dissatisfied with both the adaptation and my favourite characters' portrayal: Elizabeth was too silly, too romantic and much too dull; Darcy was vapid and uninteresting, looking constipated when he should look aloof; the adaptation had taken all of the comedy and none of the tragedy, making Pride and Prejudice a trite rom-com.  While that sounds like I didn't enjoy the play, I have to say now that I did in so many was just not good enough to match up to my own personal relationship with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

Because that is the issue here...Elizabeth was the first protagonist in a 'romantic' situation (because romance is, of course, a massive element of Austen's work) with whom I had ever identified.  She spoke when she should be silent, she argued when she should agree, she couldn't apply herself to learning new skills properly because she got distracted and moved on to other hobbies half-way through, she bore grudges and formed bad opinions on characters, she was strong, she had a checkered relationship with her sisters, she was caring and above all else, she was smart.  Elizabeth was a breath of fresh air in the tightly wound world Austen created - she showed that even when everything might seem against your being a strong and independent woman, a way could be found to give yourself a voice.  And Mr. Darcy was the only man who could possibly be good enough for Elizabeth, but only after he had proven himself to deserve her - his character needed help from her wit, her censure, her dislike and her love.  They were as equal a pairing as Austen could write, and nothing gave me greater hope than Darcy describing his perfect woman as one who sought to "improve her mind by extensive reading".  Elizabeth is, and always has been, far too much a personal companion for me to ever see her onstage with anything less than a perfect characterisation.

The changes to the novel in order to show it onstage were, I'm sure, necessary to accommodate the very different needs of the theatre over reading a novel.  However, there were certain things I didn't like - perhaps most particularly Elizabeth's pseudo-line to her father about Darcy; 'Indeed, he is not proud.  It is I who am proud of him'....something practical and honest Elizabeth would not have said.  Changing Darcy's discovering Eliza on her receiving news of Lydia's elopement to it being Bingley and Darcy both addressing Jane and Elizabeth was another great problem.  Jane and Bingley having the emotionally charged conversation about Lydia's fall from grace was totally unsuitable, as the undertones of the original conversation were always Eliza and Darcy's burgeoning love fighting the shame of being associated with Wickham.  An omission which I cannot understand was the entire scene at Pemberley...there was no Georgiana Darcy onstage, but still - such an important few days in the shift of Elizabeth and Darcy's feelings for each other, with him scrabbling to prove he has taken her criticisms onboard.  It felt very wrong not to include it, yet to focus so heavily on the comedy of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins...those scenes extended for the gratification of an imaginary audience who just want laughs when they go to see Jane Austen onstage.

The ending, too, focused heavily on the romance, with an added-on scene that lacked the power the novel had to show a relationship that was not merely a meeting of hearts, but a meeting of minds and of outlook.  The book finished with comments on their marriage, showing Elizabeth's spirits were not dampened by entering the institution...indeed, one of my favourite final sections mentions how Elizabeth taught Georgiana that she didn't need to be so cowed by her brother and, by Elizabeth's behaviour to Darcy, "she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself."  Beautiful!  Elizabeth remains the strong woman she always had been - not, as the play would have it, solely delighted with the idea that Darcy loves her.  To reduce Elizabeth's search for companionship to a rom-com was, I'll admit, a bit depressing.  Darcy was left in the background an underdeveloped character, just trotted out to fulfill Elizabeth's romantic conquest, and Elizabeth herself was a simpering giggler.

It's hard to mention Pride and Prejudice without talking about the BBC adaptation - because, let's face it, it was practically perfect in every way.  And again, I think the reason for this is the choice of actors who played Elizabeth and Darcy - though the entire thing was excellently cast.  Here we were given our two strong and implacable unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and we get to watch them both slowly give way to each other.  That was what was missing, essentially, in The Gate's production.  Without a strong, passionate and believable Elizabeth and Darcy, Pride and Prejudice will always be, ultimately, reduced to a banal romantic comedy.

A rare disappointment from The Gate, and one that is particularly galling to me because of Elizabeth and Darcy - two of the greatest and most beloved characters in fiction - and for the lack of social commentary that Austen's work overflowed with.  It also appears to me to be a particularly gendered disappointment - the audience of women were presumed to want funny characters and pure romance, instead of giving women the credit that they might actually wish to see Pride and Prejudice in all of its complicated glory.  To take the intelligence and cutting societal incisiveness from the novel takes away much of the heart, and most of the meaning.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Charlotte Church, 2013 John Peel Lecture

Presented (almost) without comment, the exceptional Charlotte Church’s 2013 John Peel lecture on women’s representation in the music industry…while I’m not sure I agree in terms of rating and censorship, I had read Annie Lennox’s input on her facebook page and did agree that it’s a vicious circle of performance versus expectation.  Basically, if the music industry continues to feed the public this type of performative femininity, the public will continue to demand it, and the artists will continue to be pushed by the music industry to deliver it.  The recent dominance of post-Feminism and ‘raunch culture’ continue to be relevant topics in this argument…and continue to allow the denigration of women to be dressed up in the suspenders and ‘tits-out’ of empowerment.

Transcript taken from Buzzfeed, so errors are quite possibly not Charlotte’s.
Thank you for coming to my lecture this evening.

I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects. Picture Beyonce’s husband, Jay Z, stripped down to a t-back bikini thong, sex kitten-ing his way through a boulevard of suited and booted women for their pleasure. Or Britney Spears’s ex, Justin Timberlake, in buttock-clenching, denim hot pants, riding on the bonnet of a pink chevy, explaining to his audience how he’d like to be their teenage dream.

Before we all become a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course, these scenarios are not likely to become a reality. Unless for comedy’s sake. The reason for this is that these are roles that the music industry has carved out specifically for women. It is a male dominated industry with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.
From what I can see, there are three main roles women are allowed to fulfil in modern pop music, each of them restrictive for both artist and audience. They are mainly portrayed through the medium of the music video. You’ll find them very familiar. I call them: the “one-of-the-girls’-girls”; the “victim/torn singer”; and the “unattainable sexbot”.

The “one-of-the-girls’-girls” role is a painfully thin reduction of feminism that generally seems to point to a world where so long as you can hang out with girls, it’s possible to sort of waive the evils that men do. This denigrates men and women equally and yet is commonly lauded for being empowering.
The “victim/torn singer” can be divided into the sexy victim (i.e. Natalie Imbruglia in her Torn video) and the not-so-sexy victim.

One female artist who does not use her sexuality to sell records is Adele. However, lyrically her songs are, almost without exception, written from the perspective of the wronged woman, an archetype as old as time. Someone who has been let down by the men around her and is perpetually in a state of despair.

But to me, the “unattainable sexbot” is the most commonly employed and most damaging, a role that is also often claimed to be an empowering one. The irony behind this is that the women generally filling these roles are very young. They’re often previous child stars or Disney tweens who are simply interested in getting along in an industry glamourised to be the most desirable career for young women. They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish objects, using female sexuality as a prize you can win.
When I was 19 or 20, I found myself in this position, being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits. And the lines I had spun at me again and again, generally by middle aged men, were: “You look great”; “You have a great body, why not show it off?” Or, “Don’t worry, it’ll look classy. It’ll look artistic.”

I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, but I was often reminded by record company executives just whose money was being spent. Whilst I can’t defer all blame away from myself, I was barely out of my teenage years and the consequence of this portrayal of me is that I am frequently abused on social media, being called “slut”, “whore”, and a catalogue of other indignities that I’m sure you’re also sadly very familiar with. Now I find it difficult to promote my music in the places where it would be best suited, because of my history.
The culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to become routine. From the way we are dealt with by management and labels, to the way we are presented to the public. We can trace this back to Madonna, although it probably does go back further in time. She was a template setter. By changing her image regularly, putting her sexuality at the heart of her image, videos and live performances, the statement she was making was: “I’m in control of me and my sexuality.” This idea has had its corners rounded off over the years and has become: “Take your clothes off, show you’re an adult.”

Rihanna’s recent video for Pour it Up may have over 40 million hits on YouTube, but you only have to look at the online response to see that it is only a matter of time before the public turns on an artist for pushing it too far. But the single, like all of Rihanna’s other provocative hits, will make her male writers and producers and record label guys a ton of money. It is a multibillion dollar business that relies on short burst messaging to sell product. And there is no easier way to sell something than to get some chick to get her tits out, right?

When the male perspective is the dominant one, the end point is women being coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour in order to hold onto their careers. This idea repeated over generations can’t but have a negative effect on women, whether they are in the industry or not.
I need not point out that these roles are interchangeable for artists and they are not prescriptive to all female musicians. For every chart topping star who fits neatly into one of these archetypes, there are 20 other artists who may not have the same earning potential but have carved out their own roles as human beings, not objects. One has only to look at Julia Holter, Haim or Poliça to see strong women, unrestricted in their art by their gender or sexuality.

Throughout the industry, wherever you find women, they are doing brilliant things. Trina Shoemaker is a three time Grammy award winning engineer. Mandy Parnell is a mastering engineer who has worked on some of the best received albums of the last 20 years. And Marie Allsopp this summer became the first ever female conductor of the last night of the Proms. She recently said, “There is no logical reason to stop women conducting. The baton isn’t heavy. It weighs about an ounce. No super human strength is required. Good musicianship is all that counts.”

As a society, we have a lack of comfort in seeing women in these authority roles. Out of 295 acts and artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 259 are entirely male, meaning that Tina Weymouth’s part in Talking Heads makes them one of the 36 female acts. The Association of Independent Music’s 2012 membership survey revealed that only 15% of label members are majority owned by women. PRS claims that only 13% of writers registered are female. The Music Producers’ Guild? Less than 4%.
Last year, I toured with an exceptionally talented sound engineer. And last week I launched a publishing company that unintentionally has all female staff. Honest, unintentional! But I am constantly disappointed to find out how few women are working in certain parts of the industry.

So, is it simply all down to sexism? Myths about women perpetuated by men? Nicki Minaj seems to think so. In what has now become known as her “pickle juice rant”, she talks about how she is derided for demanding a certain level of professionalism from the people she works with. She says: “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss.” Minaj is one of the many top-flight female artists who use alter egos in their work. Her other personalities are often men who rap violently about women.
So, to what extent are these myths about women perpetuated by women themselves? In a very recent, very public, spat between the legendary Sinead O’Connor and the infamous Miley Cyrus, mother O’Connor wrote a concerned open letter directed at Miss Cyrus who herself responded by ridiculing O’Connor’s bipolar disorder on Twitter.

If women are going to become free agents of their gender’s destiny and music in a music world which is reliant upon shouting loudest over the clamour, it stands to reason that online pissing contests only serve to detract from the strong messages put forward by such artists as Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu. Their recent collaboration on Q.U.E.E.N. is an elegant and empassioned rally cry for what Monae identifies as, “everyone who has felt ostracised and marginalised”. And yet it is women that she addresses most specifically, ending with the line: “Electric ladies, will you sleep or will you preach?”
The recent flapping about Miley Cyrus’s blah blah blah has clearly struck a chord with people like O’Connor and opened up a worldwide debate on the use of female sexuality to sell product. Annie Lennox cut to the juggler when she talked about the age propriety of what she called “dark and pornographic” music videos. She has called for videos to be rated as films are, with extra ratings being applied to the most sexually explicit.

It is interesting to note that anyone of any age has been able to watch Christina Aguilera’s simulated masturbation in herDirrty video since the website began, yet you must sign into the site to prove your age if you wanted to watch Bjork’s stunning video for Pagan Poetry. Whilst I would argue that neither videos are acceptable viewing for young eyes, I know which one I would rather explain to my young child.

Whilst channels like YouTube and Vimeo have a responsibility for dealing with these issues, radios shouldn’t think they are beyond criticism. As Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director General, announces the new iPlayer channel for BBC1, the question must be asked: should programmers take into consideration the image of an artist when deciding whether to play and promote their music?
There are countless examples from the last few years of songs that have been in high rotation that have little to no artistic worth, but are just plain rude. I’ve been asked to give some examples, but I don’t want to give the Daily Mail an excuse to ignore the rest of this lecture.

BBC radio is notorious for misreading sexual metaphor and innuendo as innocent, most famously with Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. But, more recently, there doesn’t seem to be decently barrier at all, unless you’re dealing with words like: “fuck”; or “shit”; or “hippopotamus cock”. If there is no sanction put upon music that is written so zealously about genitalia or uses soft porn in its promotion online, what will stop artists feeling that making their videos and live performances more sexy will undoubtedly drive up their online views and subsequently encourage more radio play?
And so, to Blurred Lines, which many in this room have no doubt added to their playlists. The Blurred Lines video, which had the biggest part in jettisoning a song by a mediocre artist into the biggest track of the year, was on YouTube for just over a week before it was taken down and remains on Vimeo without any age restrictions. The indefensible Robin Thicke stated in an interview with GQ that his intention was to do everything that is completely derogatory towards women because he respects them so much.

He continued saying, “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman.’”

It is highly disappointing to know that the director of this video is a woman, Diane Martel, who also directed Miley Cyrus’s twerking for the first time in the video, We Can’t Stop and is responsible for an objectionable little number by Leyla Label called, of all things, Lolita.

What is possibly more disappointing than this is the appearance of the exceptionally talented Pharrell Williams at 2013’s round table of chauvinism. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus quoted a message to her from Williams, who said of her VMAs blah blah blah, “The VMAs was nothing more than God and the universe showing how powerful anything you do is. It’s like uranium. It has the power to take over lives or power entire countries. Now that you have seen your power, master it. You are not a train wreck. You are the train pulling everyone else along.”

With this kind of encouragement it is no surprise whatsoever that young women feel it necessary to be more and more shocking in their bid to be the most forward looking.
Canadian electronic artist Grimes, whose third record Visions was met with universal acclaim says, “I don’t want to be infantalised because I refuse to be sexualised.”
To my mind, what this industry seems to want of its women increasingly is sex objects that appear childlike. Look at the teddy bears everywhere. The Britney Spears Rolling Stone cover with the Teletubby from 1999. I state again: Lolita.

The terrifying thing is, the target demographic for this type of music is getting younger and younger. Jennifer Lopez seemingly trying to engulf the camera with her vagina on Britain’s Got Talet earlier this year is a mild example of how frequently carnal images creep into the realm of what is deemed OK for kids.

But ultimately it does not need to be like this. Sex can be art. Look at Bjork’s The Patene, a highly sexual and sensual record by a woman entirely in charge of her career and sex. The same can be said about almost every Prince record, and should be. Both are artists, adults and human beings, intelligently addressing a human subject, not exclusively a male one.
I support Annie Lennox’s plea for ratings on videos.
If Rihanna had not grown up watching the videos of the ’90s, then it might not be quite so essential for her to portray her sexuality so luridly, so constantly and so influentially on the next generation. If the power was taken away from sex in pop by making it harder for younger viewers to access it, then maybe the focus would shift to making works of artistic beauty and conscience. And fundamentally that would actually be putting the power back in sex for a future world where women are able to portray their sexuality as it is for them.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Sinead O'Connor - Open Letter to Miley Cyrus UPDATED

Sinéad might be a little off the wall by times, but even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day...

This is the letter, as published on Sinéad O'Connor's website yesterday, in response to Miley Cyrus citing Sinéad as something of a role-model (or certainly that the video for 'Nothing Compares 2 U' was an influence on her own video for 'Wrecking Ball') in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine.  The website is currently down, but the good folk of the internet have preserved the letter for posterity - read it in full (and as typed) below.


"Dear Miley,

I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares… So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.

I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.

Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.

The music business doesn’t give a sh*t about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.

None of the men oggling you give a sh*t about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a f*ck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a f*ck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a f*ck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.

Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them pray for animals and less than animals (a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and the associated media).
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.

I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying f*ck about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.
As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.

Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted.. its so not cool Miley.. its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherf*cker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you."


I certainly agree with Sinéad's premise - that the music industry truly does not care about young women in its employ...or the women who consume their products.  I have written about this previously in a speech on feminism back in 2007, which hasn't aged particularly well but some parts bear some repeating: "...a feminist should be [...] an agent of social change. We must change the culture of acceptance around sexism and discrimination"; and my big closer, "Mary Wollstonecraft said that she did not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves."

Miley would certainly do well to remember Mary Wollstonecraft, and to listen to some of Sinéad's words.


UPDATE:  Miley has responded, and Sinéad has fought back...this could get ugly!

Miley did not take any of Sinéad's well-meant, though probably unnecessary, advice, and has instead attacked Sinéad's mental health issues.  Bad move, Miley!  The tweet avalanche that Miley unleashed on Sinéad - from comparing her to Amanda Bynes (mockingly) to re-tweeting old tweets of Sinéad's in which she had a breakdown online, asking for help - is shown below.

Before Amanda Bynes.... There was....

Sinéad has responded as below (in three separate letters) - which I have to say, I do (at least partially) agree with.  Miley has shown herself to be absolutely her age, with all of its foolishness, without the maturity that I had thought I had glimpsed in her candid Rolling Stone interview, where she discussed the double standard under which women in the music industry operate in terms of sexual expression.  In this world where online communication seems to be the mode of address, can we blame Sinéad for her initial open letter?  Miley had cited Sinéad as an influence, hence she had brought Sinéad into the conversation - Sinéad had every right to respond.  And was her letter really that bad?  I know that slut-shaming is an argument brought up in regards to Sinéad's words, and certainly I don't completely agree with everything she had said, but I think her bottom line is that the music industry does not care about you, and wants you to do as much as possible to get on the front page of every paper...without caring about your mental well-being.  Miley would do well to listen to someone who she has admired, and who has had her own struggles with mental health, and who has certainly had her fair share of dealings with the industry herself.

Sinéad's first response is understandably vitriolic, and I doubt very much whether this is the end of the conversation between Sinéad and Miley.  But in this instance, I think I'm planting myself in the 'Team Sinéad' corner.  Perhaps it's national pride, or perhaps it's just that I grew up listening to Sinéad's haunting tones, or even that Sinéad's head-shaving had a huge influence on my idea of femininity and how you can separate it from the presented ideal, or her openness in dealing with mental health issues...or perhaps it's just that, in this instance, I believe that Miley's response was absolutely wrong.


Miley… Really? Who the fuck is advising you? Because taking me on is even more fuckin’ stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism. You have posted today tweets of mine which are two years old, which were posted by me when I was unwell and seeking help so as to make them look like they are recent. In doing so you mock myself and Amanda Bynes for having suffered with mental health issues and for having sought help.

I mean really really… who advises you? have you any idea how stupid and dangerous it is to mock people for suffering illness? You will yourself one day suffer such illness, that is without doubt. The course you have set yourself upon can only end in that, trust me.

I am staggered that any 20 yr old woman of the 21st century could behave in such a dangerous and irresponsible manner as to not only send the signal to young women that its ok to act like prostitutes but also to the signal that those who have suffered or do suffer mental health problems are to be mocked and have their opinions invalidated. Have you no sense of danger at all? or responsibility? Remove your tweets immediately or you will hear from my lawyers. I am certain you will be hearing from all manner of mental health advocacy groups also. It is not acceptable to mock any person for having suffered.
It is most unbecoming of you to respond in such a fashion to someone who expressed care for you. And worse that you are such an anti-female tool of the anti-female music industry. I hope that you will apologise to Amanda Bynes and to any person who has been wounded by your mockery of those who have suffered. And I hope that you will wake up and understand that you in fact are a danger to women.

Furthermore you posted a photo of me tearing the pope’s photo .. as if to imply insanity.. by doing so all you have achieved is to expose your staggering ignorance. I suggest you read The Philadelphia Report, The Boston Report, all the reports which will illuminate for you why that action of mine remains sane and valid. By mocking it you mock every child who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of priests and had it covered by the Vatican. You could really do with educating yourself, that is if you’re not too busy getting your tits out to read.


I have no interest whatsoever in meeting you. You had plenty of time yesterday to abuse Amanda Bynes .. an entirely innocent party.. and myself.. who also did nothing to deserve your abuse.. along with every other sufferer of mental health problems and every person who suffered abuse at the hands of priests.
You can take five minutes today between g- string fuckin' changes to publicly apologise and remove your abusive tweets. If you do not then you don't give a shit who you mock and what damage you do by being so ignorant.

When you publicly apologise to Amanda and myself and all mental health sufferers as well as all who were abused by priests that will end the matter as far as I am concerned.
What you did yesterday was designed to damage me and my career and has caused me enormous distress and harrassment and has potential to damage my career. If you do not apologise I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you.

I have no interest in or desire to cause you trouble but if you do not apologise for having deliberately tried to cause me hurt and trouble personally and professionally I will have to bring pressure upon you.
When you end up in the psych ward or rehab I'll be happy to visit you.. and would not lower myself to mock you.

Be a proper woman and make the public apologies I have listed above. Your hosting SNL is a bullshit reason for not taking five minutes to do the right thing and your behaviour yesterday will rebound upon you very badly.

You have no business abusing Amanda Bynes or anyone else. How do you think you made her feel yesterday? How do you feel when your friend Britney Spears is mocked and humiliated for having had mental health problems? I know I personally want to bash those who treat her that way. If she is your friend and more importantly if you are a true friend to her.. you ought apologise for joining those who mock and humiliate women who have been too nice frankly, to manage the music business without sensibly losing their minds.

Cease behaving in an anti-female capacity. You will become the victim of it shortly. Soon it will be you the media 'crazy' .. and you will not enjoy it.. and you will appreciate people (like myself) standing up for you. Which I will be happy to do.. if you earn my respect today by apologising publicly.

Ms Cyrus has today posted tweets of mine which are two years old and which were sent when I was ill and seeking medical help. She has done this in an attempt to deliberately cause me harm and hurt. I wish to confirm that I am quite well and kindly request people cease e mailing me in the mistaken belief these are recent tweets.

Ms Cyrus' lawyers will be contacted by mine regarding this matter.

I confirm also that I do not at all support or condone the abuse or mockery of those who have been brave enough to openly discuss mental health issues. Mockery causes deaths. Period. It is an unacceptable form of bullying, no matter who it is doing the bullying.


I think her 'tits' sign-off could do with work, as I don't believe attacking Miley's choices was the point of the initial missive, but I can certainly understand her anger.  This will play and play, and will be cited as still further proof that women don't support women.  I'm sorry that it has descended into name-calling and anger, but the initial thought did seem to be one of support and help - it's just that Miley didn't accept it as that.  Sinéad has every right to respond to Miley's anger, and I most definitely support the idea that mocking mental health issues damages everyone.  Your move, Miley.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Movie Review - White House Down

Hollywood movie ideas and buses: we wait for ages for a certain one to come along, and then we get a fleet.  Barely had Olympus Has Fallen faded from my burning retinas when once again the White House is under attack from…someone…who wants to get the codes for…something…for some reason that’s more personal than political.  In White House Down it’s taken one step further by adding in every possible cliché known to script-writing man.  In fact, so laden with hackney is the narrative that it becomes difficult at times to tell if the movie is really, really bad, or so bad that it might be good.

Much like that last White House disaster situation, this movie has attracted a calibre of actor that is completely at odds with the premise.  While James Woods and Channing Tatum raise few eyebrows (what else are either of them doing?), what Jamie Foxx, Jason Clarke and Maggie Gyllenhaal are doing here is not so clear.  Again we are faced with a situation where the life of the American president is in the hands of a man who ‘shouldn’t even be here today’, and where the entire air-force, marine and police contingent of Washington DC seem incapable of stopping a band of twenty men from taking over the most protected building in the country.  This is not the only plot hole in a very woolly invasion plan, and the constant swerving from its own internal reality means much of my time was spent shouting instructions at the screen.  Case in point, goofy reporters and youtube uploaders (how modern!) seem to have a clearer view of what’s going on inside the building than the intelligence centre of the CIA and Secret Service.

From start to finish this overly-long action slapstick draws on every possible cliché and trope of the genre – down to the white vest and the ‘get the hell off my lawn’ White House defence.  The passable chemistry between Foxx’s American president and Tatum’s John McClane – I mean, John Cale (totally different character, I don’t know how I mixed them up!) – can’t disguise the too-frequent lulls in action.  The CGI is fairly solid, and the sequences when it’s allowed to shine certainly thrill the senses, but they don’t quite make up for a lack of real direction in the story.  Sure, John Cale just wants to save his plucky back-talking daughter while protecting the president of the USA, but at 2 hours 11 minutes it really starts to drag out relationship issues while snipers are gunning down helicopters with land to air missiles.  Jason Clarke is absolutely wasted as the main mercenary – the man is lethal, and fills the screen with the sort of violence you want from your hired goon, but this movie doesn’t deserve his smouldering aggression. 

All in all, White House Down just can’t quite thrill the way it should – ticking all of the boxes on the to-do list of disaster flicks doesn’t mean you’ve created a real action movie, and this one will deservedly fade from cinema to late-night TV.  Failing in the attempted take-itself-seriously-but-not-really category, it’s neither funny nor adrenalin-packed enough to feature on a true action movie ranking.  Put simply, on a scale of Segal to McLane, this comes in at a very mediocre Van Damme.

Sarah Griffin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

‘Slane Girl’, ‘Slut-Shaming’, and the Perils of Social Media

By now everyone will have heard of, or seen, the terrible pictures emerging from last Saturday’s Eminem concert in Slane – of a young girl photographed engaging in oral sex with two men.  The term ‘Slane Girl’ was trending number one on Twitter over the weekend, as photos of this very young looking girl continued to circulate on the social media websites.  The initial postings were under the auspices of her being a ‘slut’, her being an idiot, and her deserving everything she (socially) got.  Yesterday it emerged that she was underage, and the tone of the circulation took on a different hue – up until that point it was seen as a joke at someone else’s expense, but suddenly these pictures could qualify as child pornography.  This is when reputable media stepped in and began reporting the circulation of the photos and the possible criminal implications for the boys photographed, as well as for those continuing to post the photos online.  The undercurrent of ‘slut-shaming’ remains, though, in the reprehensible idea that this girl behaved in a way that somehow deserves the response.

There is no doubt about how I felt when I heard of this, and when I saw the photos themselves – sick to my stomach and so very, very sorry for that girl.  The boys in the photos are acting like heroes, looking at the camera smiling while people mill around them, seemingly uncaring about what’s happening.  That is how they saw themselves, even as it was happening, and so they posed for photos and cheered their online publication.  The girl herself, nameless though not faceless, will be tarred with this moniker and this night.  Nobody will ever think she was cool or outrageous for giving blowjobs to two guys outdoors in full view of others at a concert.  No, this girl woke up Sunday morning with a probable hangover and a definite looming shame as she remembered what had happened.  We've all been there.  Where we haven’t been, or at least I haven’t been, is online for our drunken mistakes.  I’m not saying her behaviour was standard, because I don’t know anymore – certainly when I was that age there were things going on that none of our parents knew about, or suspected we’d be involved in at young ages.  However, things have moved on to a point where these lapses in your own judgement are now recorded for posterity.  This girl woke up Sunday thinking she only had to look at herself in the mirror and face her own reflection under the weight of a shameful feeling that things got out of control.  Instead, she has to face her parents and family, and in two weeks, she must return to school and walk corridors filled with peers who know it all.

I think any talk of criminal prosecution takes away from the bottom line here.  We’re not going to be able to stop our kids from doing stupid things from time to time – granted this is in the higher scale of stupid mistakes – but what we can do is talk to them and listen to them on issues of peer pressure and sexuality.  That girl should have truly known that she is worth more than a public blowjob in a muddy field, instead of somehow thinking it makes her sexually expressive and adult.  The boys involved should feel more worth in themselves than to allow that situation to arise, and certainly feel that she has more worth than that.  Those taking and sharing the photos should understand the consequences of their actions, that somebody’s whole life can be ruined for the sake of a ‘funny’ Facebook or Twitter upload.  This world is not the world that I grew up in.  Your every action can now follow you beyond the stupidity of your youth, and our children need to be taught – really taught – the sometimes terrible power of the internet.

I hope that she is strong enough to deal with what’s coming.  The change in pace of reporting has meant that she is no longer a general butt of jokes online, but is instead the subject of a criminal investigation.  This doesn't take away what happened, though, and what she has to deal with.  The onus is still on this girl and she must still bear responsibility, however inebriated she might have been, for her own actions.  She is the one who has to live with this, and she is the one who will have to find a way to realise that these actions do not define her or make her less than she is – that she is a complex being made up of equal parts folly and intelligence, just as we all are.  We all make mistakes, and we all act out of character from time to time.  I wanted to speak about this once and then never again so that I don’t add to a drawing out of the conversation, because that young girl has enough to deal with without an endless online dissection.  I hope she can move past this and realise that though the internet can make the world seem small and on your doorstep, this one mistake should not become her entire world. 

Switch off, plug out, and breathe: For this too shall pass.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Royal Baby? The Wrong Focus!

Unlike the many, many, many facebook and twitter friends who have updated their statuses with vehement denials of their caring for the royal baby's birth, I genuinely didn't care.  Having read through a million and one 'who cares about this?', 'why is this all over the news?', etc. - counterproductive, I might add, since they were all adding to the general conversation about the bloody thing - it still didn't strike me as anything, as an Irish person, to be particularly interested in.  I wasn't even uninterested, because that would imply being actively involved in ignoring the situation - it would tie me to the facebook disavowals of my vocal friends.  I was, to the highest degree anybody can be in such a limbo state, completely disinterested.  Ah, but then...

Sitting down to watch some stupid post-work TV on Sky, the terrible programme I was watching was interrupted by a 'breaking news' scroll across the bottom of the screen...the Duke and Duchess were about to leave the hospital!  Out of idle curiosity, I switched it over...and then out of journalistic interest kept watching, because the commentators were absolutely hilarious:  'There's some movement'; 'Sorry to interrupt you, but it looks like they're coming out'; 'What's the procedure here, Tom?', etc. etc. - a 24-hour news cycle in all of its awful glory as they scrambled for something new to say on this momentous occasion.  Of course, there was nothing new to say, and nothing to hope for except that they would bring that baby out as soon as possible!  And here's where it got interesting for me - when those doors finally opened, and a couple the same age as myself and my boyfriend strolled out the door with their babe in arms to cheering crowds.  They looked every inch the average couple - though better put-together than most after labour - with the beaming 'look what we have created' looks I've seen on every new parent's face.  But what interested me the most was not their commoner-ways and modern monarchy.  Not the ever-so-obliging chat with journalists, nor even the bundle of joy in their arms, could distract me from Kate's body.  Here, proudly on display for the entire world to see, was the ACTUAL aftermath of birth - a distended belly!

I absolutely applaud this woman, who is held up as the epitome of style and grace, for standing in front of a bank of photographers looking absolutely stunning (her hair, her dress, her shoes - everything about her spoke of poise and wealth), and cupping her arms around a body that has clearly just been through the rigours of childbirth.  Granted, we may have to see endless articles about how she'll get her 'beach body' back on the likes of Heat and Hello (in fact, OK was already running an article on this in the lead-up to the birth, if memory serves me correctly), but at the moment I can hold her up as a fine example of womanhood.  Somebody who accepts and displays the fact that a woman does not go from having a baby inside of her, swelling her breasts, belly and feet, to a flat-stomached bikini goddess in the blink of an eye.  For too long this side of life has been hidden, and women everywhere are made to feel that somehow you HAVE to return to the figure you had before birth in order to be a real woman, and a 'young' mother (no matter what your age).

Jade Beall did an amazing photographic diary of women, kids, and their post-baby bodies to show the beauty of the female form, in all its incarnations.  The photos are stunning and well worth checking out - on her website, here - and add to my amazement that anybody would buy the types of magazines that make you feel as though your body is less than it should be.  There might be a ton of other commentary on Kate's decisions - the polka-dot dress so reminiscent of Diana, the fact that she's so generally thin and model-esque, her coiffured hair 24 hours after giving birth, etc. etc. - but for now I want to bask in the glory of the future King of England being displayed by a mother who accepted her bodily changes as part of the baby she was holding, and told the world's women that it's a natural and beautiful thing.  And if that changes one woman's mind about her own bodily perception, and eases some of the emotional stress many women go through as they feel flabby and destroyed after birth, then it's worth every moment.

Welcome to the world, royal belly!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Why I Am Firmly Pro-Choice in the Abortion Debate

It’s getting increasingly difficult to remain balanced on the abortion debate in the face of the ‘pro-life’ onslaught.  ‘Pro-life’…how I despise that term – as though the rest of us are somehow ‘pro-death’, or ‘pro-abortion’.  And believe me, in online and protest debates, I’ve been called this and worse.  Pro-choice is where I firmly stand, and for me, pro-choice means accepting the side of the world that we’d all like to pretend doesn’t exist – the side that breeds rapists, incest, foetal abnormalities that mean the baby will not exist outside of the womb, young teenage pregnancies, etc. etc..  Or that most terrifying and incomprehensible of possibilities – that when she gets pregnant, a woman might not want to have that baby brought into her life…whether from emotional or financial instability, or from the myriad of other reasons that might cause her to feel unequal to the task.  For me, this is life in all of its greys and shades, far from the black and white dichotomy spouted by ‘pro-lifers’: oh, how I hate that term – and at the risk of sounding petty, from here on in I’m going to label them ‘anti-choicers’, in the spirit of their own antagonistic rhetoric.  The bottom line of all of these arguments is that abortions do happen, are happening, and will continue to happen.  By burying our heads in the sand, or trying to decide on the ‘worthy’ causes of abortion, we lose our grasp of the big picture – which is that not one of us has the right to force a woman to carry a child into this world that will not survive, or that she does not want.

We can argue back and forth about the morality, but really, what is the point at this stage?  I won’t convince you of my argument, you won’t convince me of yours.  It’s the atheist arguing with the religious person – no amount of facts and figures will sway those with belief from their faith.  How many times have these types of discussions ended with a conciliatory, ‘well, I hadn’t thought about it SCIENTIFICALLY before!’: people come to, or from, their own beliefs in their own time, and generally spouting an onslaught of arguments against their tenets will just entrench them further.  So, too, continues the abortion debate – we argue on both sides as though we’ll convince the other, when what we all need to do is step back and admit that our beliefs are not important in this issue.  If you are pro-choice, then be pro-choice.  If you are anti-choice, then by all means don’t ever seek an abortion in your life, and consider it to be the morally repugnant act you truly believe it is…feel free in those beliefs, and sermon them round the dinner table as much as you like.  But don’t for a second believe that your faith in the morality or otherwise of abortion should effect legislation.
Of course, because of our parochial country and the financial support of religious groups, it seems that it is, and will continue to, effect political movement – but my God, the fact is that in a strong and working democracy it should have no bearing.  Women travel every day to England, outsourcing our problem to another shore so that we can pretend it doesn’t happen at all – and protecting the deeply held belief of anti-choicers that by resisting it in Ireland they are somehow preventing abortion from taking place.  This is patently not true, and results in an entire nation burying their heads in the sand rather than have this difficult conversation out in the open.  It is so reminiscent of our great and wondrous community spirit, where neighbour loves neighbour until a halting site is proposed for the area.  Everyone in the surrounds can recognise the value of it, and the absolute necessity of its being built somewhere…but nobody wants it on their doorstep.  Much better for it to be elsewhere (maybe England?), and be someone else’s problem.  This juxtaposition of recognising a need in society and community but being unwilling to enact the change that is required is symptomatic of the anti-choice brigade.  Spouting their vicious rhetoric and plastering pictures of unborn foetuses all over the city as though the rest of us were marching with necklaces of aborted babies adorning our necks in gleeful joy.  We do not march on the bodies of babies: we march for the bodies of women.

Forget the arguments I could make for abortion – the multitude of reasons that cause a woman to make this difficult choice have been well documented – because these points are ignored as inconsequential by the other side of the debate.  For anti-choicers, the bottom line is that abortion equals death and it should never be allowed in Ireland.  What they are actually saying, then, is that we should continue to use England as our get-out-of-jail card…if you’re desperate enough, you’ll find a way to get on that boat/plane/coffin-ship, as though personal and financial circumstances play no part at all.  A phrase much in use in the papers and in online arguments is that we will ‘open the floodgates’ for abortion on demand…as though women will be lining up round the block, giggling delightedly as they queue for a chance to have that longed-for abortion, equating it to the latest trend.  As though abortion were a luxury item, instead of a terrible necessity.  As though women will use it instead of contraception – why, after all, should they use a condom when they can just have an oh-so-simple and oh-so-quick procedure in a lovely doctor’s surgery the following morning?  The ignorance is staggering.

Abortionpalooza – that’s what the anti-choicers envisage, and in that bottom-line argument I cannot be reconciled.  Yes, there are always exceptions – those who don’t understand the terrible sacrifice abortion requires – but the majority of women approach abortion as a last-ditch solution to a heavy problem.  Who are we, any of us, to make that decision for each individual woman who finds herself in that situation?  I am pro-choice because I believe that my personal beliefs have no place in deciding the fate of women all over Ireland.  I am pro-choice because I believe that the choice should be hers, and hers alone.  Anti-choicers are entitled to their opinion – they are free to have it, and to believe it, and to strongly feel it in their bones.  But they are not entitled to make their beliefs the decision of every woman in the nation.  Are they stepping up to care for the countless children neglected and abused?  Let women choose for themselves, and let them live with their own choices – as each of us do in every way throughout the world.  Keep those beliefs, but keep them out of my face and out of my government.  Give women the choices they deserve, instead of shipping out our problem to another land and pretending it doesn’t exist.  Don’t criminalise someone for feeling so backed into a corner that their only option is to ‘hide their shame’ on an Aer Lingus flight.  Giving women more freedoms has never yet resulted in the worsening of society, and giving women more reproductive choices can only increase the level of care given to those children born.

My basic message to anti-choicers is to continue in your beliefs, stay as strong as you like in your opposition to abortion – don’t you ever, at any stage, have an abortion yourself.  But allow me the freedom, the respect, and the confidence to make my own decisions in life and to live with the consequences of my own choice.  Don’t keep putting me on that flight to England, pretending that I don’t exist, and acting as though your restrictive notions are the standard by which government should rule.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fifty Shades of Feminism - Dublin Writers Festival

Dublin Writers Festival opened 20th of May and one of the first events was an exploration of the varying guises of feminism, as well as a plug for a new collaborative book, Fifty Shades of Feminism, in the Smock Alley Theatre.  One of the book’s editors, Rachel Holmes, was on hand to discuss issues that led to its speedy publication – and I mean speedy: it was thought up ‘over a glass of wine’ in September 2012, contributions sought immediately, and published by March 2013!  Each contribution, then, is more of a vignette – column length essays from more than fifty writers/activists/feminists.  Along with Rachel the panel consisted of book contributor Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties advocacy organisation, Liberty, in England; Louise Lowe, theatre director, playwright and Artistic Director of Anu Productions; Una Mullally of Irish Times fame (and a personal favourite of mine); and as chairperson, journalist Margaret Ward.

So, an interesting panel discussion seemed inevitable with such an interesting group of women, and the setting added to the feeling of collaborative thought – the main room of the Smock Alley Theatre is beautifully laid out, and the variety of age-groups taking up the pews was indicative of the head of steam feminism is building up throughout the country again.  It must be said, however, that there were moments when conversation flagged and the panel became little more than a self-congratulatory session, where battle wounds were compared.  Shami, in particular, came across as somewhat mocking at times – particularly when disagreeing with audience members, one of whom had the audacity to interrupt the panel before question time.  While the audience collectively sighed at the loud voice from the back of the room that interrupted what was becoming a fascinating back-and-forth on stage, it was unnecessary for Shami to take the role of the chair in poking fun at the woman.  This interruption was sparked by the attendee’s own interest in the discussion, and while I was one of the many who wished for her to shut up so that the panel could continue, surely Margaret Ward, as chair, was more than capable of bringing it back to centre.  I admire much of what Shami had to say, but it seemed at times that she wished to hear her own voice much more than others – something accentuated by her drinking beer on stage, slouching in her chair like a teenager, interrupting others as they spoke, and calling everyone ‘darling’ in a slightly sarcastic tone.  Obviously cultural differences do step in here – I’m really not a fan of that endearment, and it seemed particularly out of place when compared with Una Mullally’s intelligent and erudite contributions.
The youngest member of the panel, Una absolutely held her own with the best of them.  Obviously I was heavily invested in her being good, as she is a year younger than me and writing for a paper I would give my left ear to be working for, but she stepped up to the plate admirably.  Drawing the discussion back regularly from the brink of irrelevancy, her comments marked her as an interesting and interested feminist who thinks outside of the box.  Gaining confidence as the evening wore on, she became much better at responding and jumping in on questions – it was a pleasure to hear her belt out almost-statistics (who can ever remember exact numbers?!) and various studies.  Lacking this confidence, or perhaps shouted down at an early stage by Shami, was Louise Lowe.  I would have been very interested to hear more about what her theatre group does in relation to highlighting gender issues, but unfortunately she was loathe to step in on many conversations, and Margaret did not direct enough questions her way.  Rachel Holmes was very well spoken, and dealt with the discussion humorously and vigorously – clearly a woman of convictions, she knew her path and had worked hard to get there.  To alleviate some of my comments about Shami, it must be said that her contributions were often extremely interesting, and it is very clear that she works hard at her very laudable job – being an activist and advocate can often leave you disdainful of mere discussion, so it is perhaps inevitable that she might not always have taken the discussion as seriously as she might have.

Overall, the panel did not quite live up to what I would have hoped from a group of intelligent women coming together to discuss feminism today.  Irish issues were often not addressed, as statistics and reports were English based – a moment that stands out in my mind was instigated by Una Mullally, who pointed out that the Attorney General for Ireland (Máire Whelan) was female, which prompted muttering between myself and my friend about how the Director of Public Prosecutions (Claire Loftus), State Pathologist (Marie Cassidy), Ombudsman for Children (Emily Logan), the first Taxi Regulator (Kathleen Doyle), first Chief State Solicitor (Claire Loftus) and our last two presidents (Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese) were also women.  Ireland is slowly making changes, and it would be nice to have some acknowledgement of that – I’m not saying that the utopian meritocracy is upon us, but as a cloistered nation we have broken some of the bonds of patriarchy in recent years.  Indeed, the ‘Irish Mammy’ trope has had something to do with this – Irish women have always been strong, their strength just requires some direction.  We still suffer the general patriarchal impositions that most developed nations do – less pay in work, less advancement opportunity, childcare requirements not met, discrimination in the street, low rate of prosecution for rape and sexual assault cases, etc. etc. – and there is plenty of work to be done.  It took an audience member at question time to say ‘get out and march’, that this is the time to make sure our voices are heard, since the panel were not making that point – though ‘throwing bricks through windows’ should probably be taken more metaphorically than not.  There was far too much congratulation for writing the book as though that is all it takes to generate a discussion – the attendees were overwhelmingly female, and already in agreement with feminist as a tenet.  I would have welcomed a discussion on the damage post-feminism, societal pornification and raunch culture has done to our solidarity as a movement, rather than a cheap for-claps emphasising that ‘I’m not post anything, darling’.  I also felt that there was a contradiction in their allegation that women don’t generally help other women, yet each of them mentioned a strong woman who had helped them throughout their lives – again, it was Una who pointed out this crossing of lines, and I would have loved to have heard that developed.  This is especially relevant in terms of media portrayal of feminism – the ‘dirty word’ as it has become known, and that same audience member who wanted us throwing bricks through windows was again the one to confirm that is has never been a ‘clean’ word.

Having attended university as an 18 year old and again as a mature student, I can tell you that some general opinions on feminism have changed and some have become even more entrenched.  Perhaps that was why Una’s contributions appealed to me the most – she would have come through the ranks as post-feminism was gaining its foothold, suffered as I did through the ‘Mad Men’ resurgence of ‘gentle sexism’, watched as the internet became a medium both of freedom and of increased oppression of opinion, and seen first hand the effects the pornification of society has had on a young population.  It had moments of lucidity, and there were times when I would have jumped in on the conversation myself, but the length of discussion was too short and the book-plugging too necessary for it to rise above the normal in panel discussion terms.  In the end, a lot of it was preaching to the converted, and I doubt very many people left the auditorium with deeply renewed fervour in their feminist goals.  I did learn a new term for my type of feminism – socialist feminist – which I will carry with pride, but I can’t say that I will be hugely inspired otherwise by what occurred beneath the Smock Alley roof.  Enjoyable, then, but since I left the discussion feeling mainly passive, I can’t call it anything other than a cap-tipping exercise in mutually congratulatory feminism.

EDIT:  Another thought that arose through questions, but we didn’t have time to explore, is the fact that feminism as we discuss it, and revolt against patriarchy as we see it, all exists under the umbrella of capitalism – which leads to an interesting debate about where we go from here.  Does the entire system need to be torn apart before changes can be made?  Are we constantly just putting patches on an essentially unworkable system by propping up capitalist tenets even while making gains in our feminist agendas?  Something to think about, certainly, so very glad to have these questions arise on Monday night.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Angelina Jolie - Saint or Sinner?

An interesting debate has surfaced over Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a preventive double mastectomy to offset her increased chances of developing breast cancer later in life.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the debate has mutated into vitriol, raging over her Op-Ed in the New York Times in which she has 'the gall' to speak about her experiences as though she was a normal woman with normal issues.  After finding myself in an online comments battle with very angry users on Jezebel and The Guardian it became clear that Jolie’s revelations have raised a whole new raft of issues for women – not least the issue of bodily control and celebrity illness.  Most of the anger seems directed at the fact that Jolie could afford the quite expensive testing that allowed her to identify the faulty gene that exponentially raises her chances of contracting both breast and ovarian cancer, and at her decision to speak publicly about her experiences.

For many people money is the great divider – and certainly in the American health system it can make all the difference in the world – but the argument falls apart when you take into account that Jolie lost her own mother to ovarian cancer, and at the end of the day, has removed both of her breasts in order to do everything in her power to avoid leaving her own children motherless.  Money might have allowed her to find this gene and recognise its influence over her future health, but money doesn’t stop it from mutating and developing into a cancer that might take her life.  Cancer is, in a way, the great leveller – of course advanced healthcare can extend your life, better access to facilities and good doctors can aid recovery, and constant screening can catch the cancer before it spreads to other parts of your body, but very often none of these things make any difference.  Steve Jobs is a high-profile recent example of this, as is Roger Ebert, and Jolie can be added to this list.  She has not removed her chances of developing breast cancer, she has simply reduced it from the terrifyingly high probability it was.  She has also intimated that she may remove her ovaries, as she also stands a very high chance of developing ovarian cancer due to the gene she carries – no doubt this will raise yet another backlash of ill-feeling. 

I, of course, find all of this to be a very personal argument – hence my getting involved in comment battles that are unwinnable (as all internet wars are).  Having lost my own young mother to ovarian cancer in recent times, Jolie’s experiences are issues that arise with myself and my sisters on a constant basis; worries about what our body is secretly doing – is it silently developing faulty cells, are they mutating and spreading, will we leave our children motherless, will I have children before the cancer develops, etc. etc. ad nauseum.  Ovarian cancer has definite hereditary implications, and as it is a type of cancer that usually gives no signal of its advancement until it has already gone beyond recovery, it has a low survival rate.  For myself and my sisters, then, our bodies are possible time-bombs – something you keep out of your head in your day to day life and try not to think of, but the fact remains that one of us may develop ovarian cancer later in life.  For me, then, Jolie is doing what we have already thought of doing – taking control of our bodies before they take control of us.  I haven’t had children, and still hope to do so (in the not-so-near future), so removing my ovaries is not something I can think of now.  For others who have already had their children, having a hysterectomy so young will throw them into early menopause, which is not something any woman relishes.  There is also the psychological factor – removing your breasts, removing your ovaries, it’s almost as if you’re removing everything that makes you a woman…what are you without these symbols of femininity?  In answer I refer back to Jolie, who has long been defined by her sexuality, in her decision to make her surgery public and to speak honestly about her experiences.  She is standing up, as a woman in the very critical public eye, and taking control of her body in a way few would have the courage to do – and I applaud her decision.  I have a not-so-sneaking suspicion that a large majority of those who do not support her are responding out of a personal/celebrity dislike of the woman rather than on a health basis.

The Irish Cancer Society has already reported an upsurge in their helpline calls, and breast checks will no doubt rise too.  Perhaps women will become more aware of their bodies, and listen to them – maybe if something feels wrong they won’t do the ‘Irish Mammy’ thing and push those feelings down for fear of complaining.  Maybe, just maybe, it will get a few more people out from under the umbrella of ignoring the problem and into the ring to face it.  I know if my mother had the choice of losing her ovaries or losing her life I would not be without her today.  If it keeps one more woman from succumbing to cancer, then what Jolie has done is nothing short of amazing, and no amount of fame or riches makes that bravery any the less.

EDIT:  An excellent article on the subject from The Feminist Wire, by Bill Patrick.

Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

A review from last week that took returning to the IMAX for a second viewing last night to remind me to post it...

JJ Abrams’ name is swiftly becoming synonymous with a different sort of Star franchise, but for the moment it’s the Trek that occupies his, and our, time. Finally reaching our screens after what seems a never-ending onslaught of hype, Star Trek: Into Darkness follows on from where his wildly successful 2009 entry left off. The crew of the Enterprise are present and correct, from Kirk to Spock and all the token nods in between – and a fairly standard Star Fleet storyline means this Trek won’t be breaking a huge amount of new ground. BUT (and it’s a pretty large ‘but’), if you enjoyed the first one, then by Vulcan will you love its sequel!

From the second it hits the ground (running), Into Darkness reaches for the stars in terms of narrative, acting, exposition and flow. Largely hitting the mark on all counts, its pace is perhaps the most impressive thing about the movie. Considering the lengthy running time – it comes in at 132 minutes – the story moves from set-piece to set-piece with a seamless energy that means the final credits leave you wanting more. While the narrative itself may be slightly prosaic…wild despot wants to destroy everything Star Fleet holds dear, but is it all as black and white as it appears?…the villain who drives it is anything but. Hype aside, Benedict Cumberbatch was always the one to watch in this instalment, and he does not disappoint. He brings thespian finesse to an otherwise hammy acting ensemble – and I say that with full love for the essential, and irreplaceable, hamminess of Star Trek. There have been fan-led suspicions about his iconic possibilities, at least one of which is confirmed in classic theatrical fashion – a moment to really set the hairs on the back of your Trekkie neck on end!

Chris Pine’s Jim Kirk is as vacuous as ever, though he adds a layer of emotion to his performance this time that makes you almost forgive his doe-eyed interpretation of the schmaltzy captain. Zachary Quinto moves from impression of Leonard Nimoy to interpreting Spock in his own right – largely helped by the subtle love-story with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Simon Pegg manages the impossible as Scotty, becoming less annoying as the series continues rather than – as the first movie suggested – lazily making Scotty into an overblown caricature of himself. He’s still remarkably irritating in full Scottish brogue, though Karl Urban has taken up the theatrical mantle with Bones, delivering catchphrases rather than lines and allowing his eyebrows to do the majority of his acting.

An added character to the entire movie is the 3D and IMAX experience itself. Though the 3D has been added post production, it has little of the rough edges you might expect from this patchwork approach. Expensive and exclusive, the IMAX does also offer an extra layer to the visuals by enclosing the audience in a full ‘cave of dreams’ experience – there are no edges to your vision, as the movie fills every available visual space. Adding to his sparkly-space tricks from the first outing, Abrams has also gleaned some cues from Joss Whedon’s Avengers escapade – some tell-tale zooms and pans liken his direction to Whedon’s favourite way of seamlessly suturing CGI into the landscape.

What we have, in the end, is as good an addition to the Star Trek franchise as might be hoped. Amid accusations of mechanical storytelling, it nonetheless stands as an able expansion – there might be formula, there might be rote, but under it all is a devotion to the beloved characters of the Federation and a motion picture event that manages to retain the Star Trek audience, whilst adding new devotees all the time. An entertaining and visually splendid Star Trek experience rooted in one of the finest Trek-villian performances of all time…boldly going where many have gone before, but taking us willingly along for the voyage.

See the full review here, at Film Ireland.