Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Quitting my feminist Facebook group addiction

It's International Women's Day, and so it might seem contradictory that my resolution is (on the surface at least) to become less of a feminist.

My favourite feminist Facebook groups have been an amazing source of support and inspiration over the past few years. Just a few weeks ago I posted after a debate with a male friend of a friend during which I'd felt like the proverbial 'hysterical feminist' and received an outpouring of support and encouragement. Being able to be part of a community of women of all backgrounds who think just like me has been quite honestly an endless source of joy.

Until recently. Whilst the Emma Watson/Beyoncé debate rages on feminist groups throughout the country I realised that it's not healthy for me anymore. When the video of Emma Watson defending her Vanity Fair shoot went viral, it was posted several times by different people. Each time, someone would politely comment that they thought Emma Watson was being hypocritical due to comments she had made about Beyoncé three years ago. This is a very valid point, and Emma Watson - just like any other feminist - should be held to account if her feminist values are failing to be intersectional.

But the debate went on, and on with no real progress in the discussion, the same points were made over and over again with both sides getting increasingly agitated, 'Emma Watson should be given the benefit of the doubt' 'Emma Watson is a hypocrite' 'Emma Watson does not stand for all women' etc etc etc. The debate was thankfully not always divided along racial lines but it was completely circular, it was clear that as both Beyoncé and Emma Watson are inspirational figures to a lot of women that neither was going to stop defending their side.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A walk down Regent's canal

My brother and his friends outside the lock keeper's cottage (photo not mine)

I first discovered London’s canal network when I moved to east London in June 2016. I grew up in the south of the city, where the canal networks have largely been filled in but I was still surprised to discover this rather large stone left unturned. That summer, my brother was also living east, renting the lock-keeper’s cottage on Regent’s Canal next to Broadway Market, and I spent several sunny afternoons sitting on the lock — East London’s beach — greeting passing narrowboats and doing what English people do best in the sun: smoking roll-ups and drinking cheap beer.

The canals once spread over London and the rest of the UK like watery veins, extending the naturally existing river networks and linking supply and demand in the years before the industrial revolution. Narrowboats were pulled by horses walking on the towpaths adjacent to the canals. Now there are over 10,000 people living on narrowboats on London’s canals and many land-locked Londoners enjoy the scenic towpaths all year round.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Piers Morgan and the genderization of protest

Today on Good Morning Britain Owen Jones and Piers Morgan debated the recent petition to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK. The Huff Post transcribed the exchanged here.

The gist of the argument is that Piers Morgan, like Trump and the rest of the right wing press, thinks that protestors are being hysterical. Everywhere you look at the moment the word is being evoked, 'hysterical protestors', 'hysterical reaction to the Trump administration', 'hysterical rhetoric' etc. etc. etc.

The intention behind the use of this word is curiously gendered. After all, it’s manly not to care. Too much emotion is distasteful, and worse, it makes you ‘hysterical’ - a term which literally stems from the Greek for uterus. Hysteria has a long, dark history of being used against women - in the 16th, 17th and 18th century women were thrown into asylums en masse, 'hysteria' was the catch all term for women who exhibited pretty much any behaviour that was considered threatening to normal order. 

Today, branding a person or a movement as hysterical is a way to pathologize emotion. What's more, by applying ‘hysteria’ to Owen Jones and other male protestors, Piers is attempting an attack on their masculinity. He’s the bully in the playground who’s just called the other guy a pussy.

Of course, feminising someone or something you don’t like as an insult is not exactly new, but what’s interesting about this particular example is the insidiousness of it. My old French teacher once joked that when it came to gendering nouns “the bad things are usually feminine” and like gendered nouns, the sexism at play here is of the unembodied, 'read between the lines' variety. Accusing protestors of hysteria is a way of devaluing righteous anger along gendered lines.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is is possible to be a pro-life feminist?

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Abortion has been on my mind a lot recently, as I’m sure it has with the tens of thousands of other women who marched on Washington, London, Toronto, Delhi and all over the world last weekend, demanding for the rights of women, including the right to safe abortion, to be protected. The news that a ‘pro-life’ feminist group New Wave Feminists were removed from the list of official partners of the march raised an interesting question. Can you be a feminist and be against abortion?

New Wave Feminists argue that women wouldn’t need to turn to abortion if we had a culture that was more supportive of motherhood generally. In some ways, their vision of the world is far more ambitious because what they are striving for is essentially a matriarchal society where motherhood receives the respect it deserves and fertility is treated as a “superpower”. They don’t want to deny women abortions, they want to create a world where women don’t feel like they need to have them. It’s almost a Herland level of utopia, and I admire them for it.

But in this world, the real world, access to safe and legal abortion is central to women’s equal rights - there’s just no getting around it. And here’s why.

A few days after the march the world was informed that as his first act as President, Donald Trump was reinstating a gagging order on NGOs, preventing them for discussing abortion with women without losing their right to US foreign aid. The effects of this could be devastating, especially to teenage girls in developing countries, and it’s predicted that thousands of women across the world could die as a result.

I believe that the fact that a man like Trump was charged with making a decision like this highlights just how integral pro-choice is to the feminist agenda. Because regardless of whether you as a woman feel personally comfortable with it or not, restricting abortion has been, and will continue to be a means to exert control over women’s behaviour and lives.

I tweeted New Wave Feminists to ask what they think about the gagging order and here’s the reply I received:

Life lessons to myself

Always remember that other people are just as real as you are

Your angle on things is just one angle.

Run up the stairs

Do it, every day if you can. It keeps your heart healthy and you’ll get places quicker.

Make your own success

Don't wait for other people to hand it to you on a plate. Send emails, shake hands, try to brush off anxiety.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Spirit of Place

I first visited Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead in November of last year. Although it's a small and unassuming place, tucked above a pub near the station, as soon as I entered I was fascinated by it's unique and eccentric character. The theatre itself is a personification of its founder, Léonie Scott-Matthews, an actress, poet and playwright who established Pentameters in 1968 and has run it ever since. In its 49 years the theatre has seen performances and poetry readings from renowned authors such as Dannie Absie, Edna O'Brien and Ted Hughes.

Through this video I wanted to capture a philosophy of Léonie's which she calls spirit of place. As a philosophy, this seems to perfectly encapsulate Hampstead generally - which has a rich literary history - but also the theatre itself, which is now a protected asset of community value.

This video is a homage to Léonie's own eccentricity and creativity.

Embracing scruffy

Aka. the joy of not giving a shit

By all accounts, I was quite a typical girl child who loved princesses and pink, but when I was eight I decided that I was going to wear my brother’s clothes all the time. In actuality it only lasted for a day or two, but I remember bouncing down the road feeling like I now had permission to be boisterous and loud, even if it was only from myself.

Grunge, tomboy, sloppy… what ever you call it, wearing comfortable clothes in generic shapes (aka. jeans and t-shirt) and no make-up is not always seen as the most feminine of aesthetics.

As a teen, I spent a lot of time feeling anxious about the way I looked on a day to day basis. High waisted skinny jeans, crop tops and American Apparel leotards all brought along with them worries about VPL (that’s visible panty line), logistically difficult trips to the bathroom and the need to slyly undo the top button of my jeans to make it comfortable to sit down. I imagine most girls are familiar with the feeling of dread when you’re on your period and there is literally no air space between your crotch and the outside of your light wash Topshop Jaime jeans. And don’t even get me started on the chaffing.

My granddad calls it scruffy, I call it being fucking comfortable. For years women have squeezed, slipped and zipped themselves into uncomfortably tight clothing with little thought about it. Sure, feminine clothing has the capacity to make you feel sassy af but sometimes you just want to be able to chill without worrying that your skirt is going to blow up.

Throwing on comfortable jeans and a baggy t-shirt these days feels the same way as it did when I was eight years old. Call me what you will, but it’s liberating to know that I can go about my day and my clothing isn’t going to stop me from riding my bike, eating a big meal, or just sitting down comfortably. Because life is short so why not make the small space you occupy a comfortable one.

Reposted from my Medium