Newt In A Tea Cup

{November 20, 2007}   Vagina Dentata on Film!

I dislike Freud. The man’s theory’s were a mixture of the obvious the so ridiculously stupid and short-sighted it’s actually offensive. Please don’t even mention the absolute preposterousness of the penis-envy concept. Now there is some debate on whether he is or isn’t responsible for the vagina dentata fiasco but he’s a good place to start in examining free associations. Vagina Dentata is the ultimate in fear of symbolic castration (of the penis? of male privilege? male status?) and of female sexuality which must be literally broken before being of use as per one myth relayed by Erich Neumann. But then there’s something so bad it’s hilarious about it. And Queen of Wands hardly hurts the general image. Fact is, I think it’d be kind of cool to have one. So this really could swing wildly towards a hilarious montage or towards misogyny incarnate.

And just because I feel like it, here’s some more classic genital related humour.


{October 24, 2007}   Fascist Family Values

Edit: I have received a well-intentioned email from my older sister telling me that, quite frankly, I can do better. She is most probably right. In an attempt to displace her deep-seated feelings of inferiority that I did better at her at GCSE and A levels, she subtly inserts a comment regarding her uni learnings, my spelling and grammatical errors and lack of quoting sources. To which I reply; some of us actually have got jobs (you know, that work thing you haven’t touched since the end of college?) and the entire Ugly Betty Series to get through before it’s due back at blockbusters next week!

So here goes the post redux.

A few days ago I read an article in the Times where it says that a worrying number of Germans are starting to have nostalgia for the era of the Nazi’s. The leader of this radical rethink is Eva Herman. Herman used to hold down a job as newsreader however began trumpeting for the old values of femininity. Anyone who follows US politics will be familiar with the Schlafy’s of politics who make fortunes by insisting other women return to domesticity. Herman is keen to join them.

The Nazi kafuffle is to do with Eva deciding that the Nazi’s did great things with the roads and that their idea of family was quite spiffy really. The reason for this is that they had fabulous family values; you know, the three Ks (Kinder, Kuchen and Kirche).

This is exactly why anyone promoting family values is someone I instinctively avoid with a ten-foot barge pole. “Family” in this case stands for white, moneyed and “Values” means bigoted. In fact it’s pretty much a code word that can be used to signify the kind of Neanderthal political ponderings exactly the same way that “in my humble opinion” is usually followed by anything but.

I mean what kind of sick world are we in where the systematic killing of the disabled, militaristic jingoism, the active oppression and subjugation of women as breeding machines (who received medals for mass-producing) to supplement cannon fodder can be seen as family values?

How can the interests of our families be at such odds to the interests of the individual human being that forms the family?

Pah! Family Values as we know it is an illusion, I say!

Family Values are; love, compassion especially for those in trouble, understanding and respect especially for those who are not like us, a thirst for knowledge and understanding, a communal attempt to hoist each and everyone up instead of pressing people down.

Basically exactly what the feminist community is agitating for despite our reputation as wreckers of society.

The horrors of that era are simplified in a type of tunnel vision. The Aryan ideal is very narrow and anyone who didn’t fit it was out; homosexual, homeless, people with mental or physical disabilities, non-traditional women, pacifist, foreigners…Family values are the equivalent of propaganda posters- they look good and shiny but they are mass-produced dead, painted and eventually peel away under the rain of life to reveal a crumbling wall.

It seems to me that the important things in life are not things that can be measured or counted or dispatched with bureaucracy. When we start reducing relations to this in the name of morality we end in danger of forgetting the real faces behind the stories. No two people are the same and no two families are. This isn’t a defence of moral relativism but a rethink of what “moral” actually means.

No one can accuse the Nazis of being proponents of “moral values” by any stretch of the imagination. But “family values” are apparently not that irreconcilable with that type of fascism.

The fact that people can tie that together with “family values” shows that perhaps our idea of what a family should be is founded on misogynistic, exclusionary, bigoted ideas and traditions. Bringing this back may well be traditional, but it’s hardly beneficiary to anyone.

This article was very specifically focussing on the role of women and there is a certain backlash at the moment towards female upward mobility. Not a day passes that there isn’t some kind of article bemoaning how what women really want is traditional gender roles and abandoning advocating equal rights and opportunities to embrace passivity, baby bottles and unemployment is what we really need if we want to solve the problem of unequal pay/rape/discrimination; all variations on “don’t you women worry your pretty little heads. The men will take care of it and if we tell you it’s fair how dare you question it?”

Change is scary and uncomfortable so I can understand this nostalgia a bit. And yes, this is very familiar role and people like familiar because it may be brutal, terrifying and cost a thousand lives but at least you know where you stand; even if it’s barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

Don’t expect me to join you there.

{October 20, 2007}   JK said what now?!

In the same week that one of my mates skips out the closet so does Dumbledore.

No really. The slashers were right. Please adjust your seatbelts as fandom explodes and we are showered with jokes concerning wands, broomsticks and broom closets.

{September 22, 2007}   May I present my new girlcrushes?

Or how stereotypes make you loose money and make everyone miss out.

Wendy Cooling of Bookstart sounds damn cool to me and she gets it. So does Amanda Craig who sums it up; “Publishers are quite lazy on this issue. They know that girls are more likely to enjoy reading, so it’s easier for them simply to target them. They don’t seem to realise that boys are capable of just as broad a range of reading as girls, once they get started,” she said.

Literature is important because not only is it fun but it also enriches your experiences and paints a new extension on the frame throughout we see the world. If it’s really good literature it helps you vocalise what you’ve known all along. Growing up I would gobble down Enyd Blyton, The Odyssey amid a plethora of mythologies and Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Even now the benefits of such an education arise and it mostly comes from the fact it truly was an education that I pursued of my own volition and it was not a curriculum. Not only that but the more you read the more you can read. Look, I hardly enjoyed studying T.S. Eliot and, no I don’t understand what he was on about either (apart from doom, death, snobbery and sex naturally) but at least I didn’t have to look up every other word or reference.

Now imagine missing out on all those good books because some ass of a publisher decided to stereotype them to hell in a way that would make any self-respecting girl ashamed and any boy bullied.


Second girlcrush of the day: Emma Thompson.

As if Jane Austen and Harry Potter weren’t fabulous enough Ms Thompson is throwing down the gauntlet against the sex industry and prostitution.

There may yet be change in the air. Let’s get this rolling.

{May 30, 2007}   Pirates 3

Ms Elizabeth Swan = Awsomest Pirate King Evah! Yes or Yes?

{May 24, 2007}   Invisible Women

A couple of days ago I watched The Magdalene Sisters on Youtube (if you do a search I’m sure it’s still there).

We are introduced to three young girls in the mid-half of the twentieth century- one is raped by her cousin, another deemed too flirtatious by the owners of the orphanage she resides at and the third is an unmarried mother. They are all carted off to one of Ireland’s various Magdalene Laundry’s (like Victorian poor houses) where they are abandoned by their families/guardians, made to do backbreaking work without respite and for no pay, and forbidden all contact with the external world under the pretext of working away their stain of sin. We witness beatings, humiliation where they are made to strip naked and the sisters ridicule them, one girl’s hair is violently shorn off to “cure her of her vanity”, another is raped by the priest, tries to commit suicide and is eventually locked up in an insane asylum; which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When this film was first released at an Italian film festival, the Vatican, of course, took umbrage. So there was an investigation and women who had been in these laundries were asked to come forth.

Out of fear, shame and most probably indoctrination the voices speaking out about this are few and far between. After all this was sponsored by both the Catholic Church and the Irish government- both of whom refuse to apologise and the compensation given has gone to “religious charity projects” and thus back to some of the actual abusers and not the women. There is little incentive for them to relive this. But a few women were found. Women who had no previous contact with the director. And their conclusion was unanimous.

The reality was much, much worse than shown in the film.

According to an article in The Guardian’s archives:

Mary-Jo McDonagh takes a different view, as do the other women who served time in the institutions run by orders like the Good Shepherd Sisters or the Sisters of Charity. “It was worse in the Magdalenes, much worse than what you see. I don’t like to say it, but the film is soft on the nuns,” says McDonagh, who spent five years in one in Galway after being molested by a neighbour. She was spirited away early one morning by a priest and told she had “brought shame on her family”. McDonagh eventually escaped to England after she was farmed out as a servant to a cousin of one of the “holy nuns”, an expression she still uses without a hint of irony. Every other “Magdalene” I’ve talked to says the same: the reality was more brutal….

Thirty thousand in all were locked away in these penal establishments, some for decades, to scrub away the sin of being poor, pregnant, unwanted or for simply being an embarrassment to their families and communities. A few, who had spent their childhoods in orphanages run by the nuns, were put away for being too beautiful, and therefore in the twisted logic of the sisters, too “in danger of sin”.

There were no trials, no inquiries, no nothing. The presumption that you were a sexual being was enough to condemn you. So the victims of abuse were guilty too, and, by bizarre extension, those in danger of corruption by their fathers, brothers, cousins, or just men in general also had to be saved from sin.

Once you were placed on the Register of Penitents your identity was taken away, your name was changed, and you were not allowed to talk to any of the other Magdalene women….

…Technically, every woman who entered one of the closed laundries did so voluntarily, following the example of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who became the “13th apostle” of Christ, after whom the convents were named. But there was nothing voluntary about the grinding work, the beatings, the breast-binding, the head-shaving, the forced fasting or the humiliating weekly mortification sessions, when the women were stripped and laughed at for their vanity. Now this technicality, the notion that they collaborated in their own imprisonment, is denying the bulk of the survivors proper compensation for the years they spent in servitude.

And what’s even more horrifying? The last one of these bastions of abuse was shut in 1996.

I keep trying to throw my mind backwards; I see myself, perhaps, fifty, seventy, perhaps more years ago. And I start trying to think how different I would be; what would I do all day? It seems to me that all the things I enjoy now would mark me as mentally and morally deficient. My love of fiction, messy room, education, provocative fashion, philosophy and theology, my intense late night parties, my desire to never marry, my resolve not to ever give birth, writing stories, my drive for independence, habit of flirting and so many more things… These were all considered inappropriate if not dangerous to the good of society if coming from a woman.

Would I alter myself to fit; repress everything that makes me who I am? And if I do that would I not go mad from depression, repression and boredom?

And the more I think about it the more there seems to be only one place a person like me could end up in that world…

I’ve done some research on women and mental health history, spurred by reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and my stomach feels like a big rock has been placed in it’s pit. Imagine this world where the author confides that in her research she was approached by…

a man [who] told me about being taken as a child to visit his mother in a psychiatric institution and how she would whisper to him, “I shouldn’t be here. Help me, help me.” As an adult, he found out the reason for her incarceration: her admission documents said that she “persistently and obsessively read books”….

…It is a book I have wanted to write for a long time. I tried to start it more than a decade ago but I ended up abandoning it to write what became my first novel, After You’d Gone. This was in the mid-90s, when the aftershocks of Thatcher’s care in the community scheme were still being felt. The large Victorian-built asylums had been closed down and as many as 20,000 people were sent out into the “community”.

Around this time there were stories circulating about some of these women – they tended to be female, more often than not – who had been put away in their youth for reasons of immorality. They had shown too much interest in boys, or not enough; they had had an affair or even got themselves pregnant.

Sometimes they had been put away for almost no reason at all. A friend told me about his grandmother’s cousin who had just died, a month away from being discharged from an institution in the Midlands. She had been committed in the 1920s, at the age of 19, for planning to elope with a legal clerk. I spoke to someone whose aunt had been incarcerated in Colney Hatch, north London, for “taking long walks”…

…[It was] A time when a man could commit a wife or daughter to an asylum with just a signature from a GP. A time when it was considered a sign of insanity to refuse to cut your hair. Or to be found trying on your mother’s clothes. Or to turn down offers of marriage. Or to show reluctance to sit on your relatives’ knees. Or to not wash your kitchen floor for a week. Or to feel sad and weary after having given birth. These were all written in asylum records in the early half of the last century…

…Once you were put inside, the “mad” label foisted on you would, in all likelihood, become true, not only from the shock and horror of your new surroundings, but also courtesy of the “treatments” you received. It must have been hard to retain mental stability in the face of comas induced by insulin injection, or a combination of straitjackets and cold baths, or the more severe, invasive procedures of cliterodectomies and frontal lobotomies. Society’s view of you as insane could, in such circumstances, become a self-fulfilling prophecy…

It’s grim, grim stuff and it’s our heritage which we have to face. It’s very difficult to find information about all of this; the women where erased from the family and community, and their voices ripped out of their throats.

This page has some very interesting information on the issue… Imagine being “frigid”, lesbian or a spinster meaning you would be incarcerated and then raped as a standard procedure to cure you. Imagine being hospitalised for “flirting”… Having any emotion meant you were “hysteric” and worthy of solitary confinement…

This is all so chilling to me; it’s another world and yet the vestiges are familiar. “Frigid”, “hysterical”, “all she needs is a good shag” etc… The enforcement is so different and yet a lot of the Lexis and basic theory is frighteningly similar. An invisible permeation or our understanding where any vocal disagreement is taken to reflect more on the defects of the plaintiff and their complaint rejected; where the most extreme horrific abuse can be spoken off only in the most polite and agreeable, mild terms unless we are to be marked as worse than the perpetrators and not worth speaking to.

I’m not sure what more to write… There has to be a moral beyond my initial response, poking through the denying fingers covering our societies eyes ; about labelling us as defective, diseased, wrong and needing treatment if we are people and not cut out of cardboard to an ideal ; a warning about the black ink of tick boxes and diagnoses seeping over the skin of our humanity ; that our own good cannot be found in our effacement ; that our complaints are not resolved because of this excuse out of societal responsibility ; it happened so, so easily, silently and completely in so many ways ; that if women have been or are fainting flowers it’s because we’ve been living in the shade of a giant foot trampling us down; that we are complete as we are; don’t listen to those words; don’t, don’t don’t…

…but all I can hear and echo is the resounding silence of bleached corridors and hard, clockwork trodden floors.

{March 2, 2007}   Friday Word Blogging

Beautiful, beautiful poetry that talks about how gendered discrimination hurts men too, how this hurts women and all of our capability’s to relate with each other; the hypocrisy of the war on terror when there is plenty of terror in our own homes.

Def Poetry – Mark Gonsalez – As With Most Men

Check it out.

{February 6, 2007}   Reality body check

Ever heard someone say that porn culture is a celebration of the female form? Newsflash! I don’t look like that! It’s only a celebration if you happen to complete the rigid check-list and if you like men’s capability to wank over your body and nothing else.

The way we see our bodies is so governed by external factors: what we are told to value through lighting, colouring and positioning. Life tries to imitate the art we see and the art we see the most is the art that least applies to us. All the bodies of women I see around me are completely unattainable. There is no way I can achieve that standard and I know that there is no way anyone else I know can either. For one thing it costs a heck of a lot of money. For another it takes up a lot of time. For a third there are natural physical barriers- I don’t tan at all, I’m ridiculous short and I’ve got chubby cheeks that will only go away if I’m near to anorexia.

Celebration of the female body (as marketed by Nuts, Zoo and FHM) is not the celebration of any female body I have ever faced. I do not recognize those bodies and to be honest, the stiff poses, harsh lighting and plastic feel of the affair leaves me thinking that it’s not very… well… skillful? Appealing? Or am I setting the bar too high? It just feels like titillation over a doll to be honest.

Now, I love nudes in art. I think that the human body is one of the most fascinating subjects to look at. I think that tasteful nude photographs are sometimes breathtaking.

It’s the difference between naked and nude.

One is a factor that others remark upon.

The other is a human state of being.

Maybe I’m thinking this through too much. Maybe I’m being too philosophical about everything. But I think that it’s okay to celebrate our bodies – our real, honest, un-retouched bodies with dignity and that being unclothed does not have to feature the degree of exploitation and shame that it does.

Don’t say women in those magazines aren’t ashamed. Maybe they aren’t. But their very function and selling point is based on shame; the shaming of the women who aren’t them. They work by creating a shame in women on how they look and a dissatisfaction in men with their perfectly normal partners.

We can’t live up or with that kind of naked. It’s depressing. Hardly a celebration of being womanish.

But I think that nude is what makes us women; average, normal, of all shapes and colours and sizes, feel happy and thankful for our bodies. It’s what tells us we are beautiful, that there is something gorgeous in us.

Here’s what I mean:

Scott Hutchinson Nude Art Gallery- not worksafe obviously

Maybe it’s just me but those paintings made my day. The lighting, the fat curves – truly beautiful.

I love the serenity of her expression

Another by the same artist as above- Boscoe Holder

Nude by Renoir

SHOCK! Men can be nude too!

I tried to find some more recent stuff but there’s no surprise that there was little supply of what I wanted. Obviously I’ve just exposed myself as a snobby art lover. That done, I’m signing off.

I believe in the power of stories to not only create worlds but reinforce our own. I believe that fiction has been a more constant force throughout peoplehood’s history than science has been. I also believe that a lot of the dissonance between religious myths and scientific fact has more to do with people wanting the story. I’m not saying they can’t go together- I’m saying that there are are two different brush strokes used to make those subjects and without a clever artist who understands both mediums the canvas breaks. Metaphysical world is not the physical.

I also believe that film is the medium through which our modern Odysseus and Achilles battle it out.

Nothing changes does it?

Of the current top ten films all of them are directed by men. There is only one woman who co-authored one film.

Here are some more facts:

# Nineteen percent (19%) of films released in 2005 employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors.
– Celluloid Ceiling 2006 Report

# Women accounted for only 7% of directors in 2005, representing a decline of 4 percentage points as compared with 11% in 2000.
– Celluloid Ceiling 2006 Report

# A comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2005 and 1998 shows that the percentages of women directors, writers, executive producers, and cinematographers have declined, while the percentage of women producers has increased.
– Celluloid Ceiling 2006 Report

# Women working behind the scenes influenced the number of on-screen women. When a program had no female creators, females accounted for 40% of all characters. However, when a program employed at least one woman creator, females comprised 45% of all characters.
– Boxed In: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in the 2003-04 Prime-time Season, by Martha Lauzen

# In Academy Award history, only three female filmmakers have been nominated for best director award (Lina Wertmuller in 1977, Jane Campion in 1994, and Sofia Coppola in 2004), but none have won.
– Women’s E-News

It’s important to choose your battles. I decided not to pursue script writing because I don’t have the energy to break through such a marble ceiling. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to write – I will. Hopefully I will be able to write successful books with crisp cover and themes that people care about. Maybe I will write a script one day.

But most of all I want to write women.

Because most of the women I read about or nothing like women I live and hear or want to hear about.

I want to write women that are ambitious and ruthless without wearing a power, leather type suit and being evil.

I want to write women who don’t need to be saved by a guy to cement the love interest (because he always needs that hint of superiority doesn’t he?). I want to write women that don’t even have to pine for a guy to be considered rounded.

I want women who get PMS and cramps, women who have greasy hair and pimples and hangnails and don’t get a makeover but are still cool.

I want women that fight crime in a comfortable jogging suit and trainers, with a realistic muscular build and hair cut short so it won’t get in the way.

I want women to be involved in social issues and to be the heroes of my own film noire, detective novel, without being as perky as Nancy Drew.

I want a woman who is empowered through her intelligence and compassion and love not her body and who isn’t considered a pushover.

I want women who aren’t thought of as bodies and types first.

Because people tend to write best about what they know, in an overwhelmingly male domain women tend to be badly presented. Some men do write fantastic female characters and perspectives and that is where the gift of empathy comes in. But a lot of the time those female characters are moulded as the supporting role.

There is a degree of wish-fulfilment in fiction. Men write about the type of men they want to be and the type of women they want to be with. Titular characters are often male because men have the prerogative of getting on and saving the world without the expectations of looking like a shop-window mannequin whilst doing it. Men’s life’s are limited by stereotypes but they are active stereotypes with a wide range of interests.

Which goes a way towards explaining why girls will read about boy’s lives but boy’s won’t read about girl’s.

Because here’s a little truth – the stereotype of what interests and consists of femininity can be really, really boring.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t deserve exposition- in fact there are many great novels that explore that issue and lives restrained by that- but that women are more than a pink apron or high heels and lipstick.

But, hey! It’d be nice if a woman-like-me could save the world for once.

May I just say how much I love Ever After? Drew Barrymore is such a fantastic model for young girls in that film and doesn’t get saved by anyone once (except maybe, the bit where Da Vinci opens a door for her but let’s not quibble over something so small). I love that she stands up for herself and those she loves from beginning to end and doesn’t compromise her beliefs. Yeah, it’s really cheesy and somewhat over acted but it hits the spot. And both my parents were enjoying it at the end.

I need a pick me up. I figured out the other day that sexism is a key theme of all my classes and rape is discussed in near all classes. It seems to be one of the most common of all themes in literary or film (and least understood or misrepresented). Watching the rape scene from A Clockwork Orange in our course on Shocking Cinema made me feel so very ill. Having people claim that some elements were humorous scared me even more. I found it completely terrifying and nauseating. But then what does that matter? I’m sick of all our classes dealing with rape cases and yet refusing to call them for what they are – Measure for Measure by Shakespeare, Phantom of Liberty by Bunuel both feature a scene where a woman is coerced for sex against her desire. That’s called rape.

Thank God for the progressive stuff out there. Thank God I’m not blind to all that.

So here’s for the Friday Word- I’ve decided to put a poem I like:

Against Coupling by Fleur Adcock

I write in praise of the solitary act:
of not feeling a trespassing tongue
forced into one’s mouth, one’s breath
smothered, nipples crushed against the
rib-cage, and that metallic tingling
in the chin set off by a certain odd nerve:

unpleasure. Just to avoid those eyes would help-
such eyes as a young girl draws life from,
listening to the vegetal
rustle within her, as his gaze
stirs polypal fronds in the obscure
sea-bed of her body, and her own eyes blur

. There is much to be said for abandoning
this no longer novel exercise-
for now ‘participating in
a total experience’-when
one feels like the lady in Leeds who
had seen The Sound Of Music eighty-six times;

or more, perhaps, like the school drama mistress
producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream
for the seventh year running, with
yet another cast from 5B.
Pyramus and Thisbe are dead, but
the hole in the wall can still be troublesome.

I advise you, then, to embrace it without
encumberance. No need to set the scene,
dress up (or undress), make speeches.
Five minutes of solitude are
enough-in the bath, or to fill
that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch.

et cetera