Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Archive for March, 2015

“How to be the Perfect Person”

I’d like to draw your attention to this short anti-bullying video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKbuWOkvP8A (you can find a second link to this video, along with other clips, on my video links page).

The video is “How to be the Perfect Person” by Sky Full of Rainbow. It hasn’t got a specifically “feminist” angle – though what constitutes a feminist message, strictly speaking, is up for debate! – but I think it carries a strong message about equalityrespect and identity. Don’t be fooled by the title!

The statistics mentioned in the video are truly sad – “43% of kids have been bullied online and 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once.” However, only 1 in 10 will tell an adult about the problem.

There is huge pressure on people of all genders to look a certain way and be a certain way. That’s why feminism is so beneficial for men too – it can deconstruct social norms and break down restrictions in all directions. Discrimination and hatred often stem from the creation of an “us and them” complex, whether that’s due to different religions, political viewpoints, sexual/romantic orientations or even different genders. It’s easy for bullies to target people who are different to them, because it validates their own identity. It’s easy to target those who are already part of a minority or a disadvantaged group.

As Sky Full of Rainbow rightly said, there is no “perfect person”. The only way we can strive for any kind of perfection is through love, acceptance and equality.

I’d like to retirate the message of the video and urge everyone to report bullying/discrimination in all its forms, whether that’s online, at school, at work or anywhere else. Here is the link to the website from the video: https://www.kooth.com/about. It’s an NHS-funded service aimed at 11 – 25 year olds, offering support and advice.

Take care!

Mo O'Brien

Diversity in “Doctor Who”

I’ve talked about Claudia Boleyn before in my article “5 Awesome Women on the Internet” (x), but I found this critique of Moffat-era Who particularly fascinating: http://claudiaboleyn.tumblr.com/post/94351419256/the-emperors-new-clothes-the-myth-of-moffats. For those who haven’t encountered his work before, Steven Moffat is a screen-writer for both “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”. His capacity for creating interesting (and terrifying!) monsters/villains is immense, although I still take issue with the implications of his writing – particularly with how he writes female characters. His characters tend to be limited in terms of race, orientation and gender, which does not lend itself well to a programme primarily targeted at a younger age group like “Doctor Who”. Claudia explores this in her response to a newspaper article concerning Moffat’s writing.

Diversity in Who has been called into question frequently in recent times – noticeably after Russell T Davies handed the role of showrunner over to Moffat. Another article concerning this change can be found here: http://craterofneedles.com/2015/03/16/queer-as-space-folk-the-rise-and-fall-of-sexual-diversity-in-who/.

As a passionate (read: obsessive) Whovian, it bothers me that a programme which taught me – at least in Davies’ era – to look in awe at the world I inhabit, to accept and marvel at my fellow human beings, and to believe that anyone can achieve anything would encourage such unpleasant attitudes. The past few series have included the objectification of women (see: the Doctor’s nickname for Amy Pond, “The Legs”, in The Impossible Astronaut), unwanted sexual advances (from both men and women – the Eleventh Doctor kissed Jenny, a lesbian woman, in The Crimson Horror without her consent and Missy forcibly kisses the Doctor himself in Dark Water) and a general lack of respect for personal boundaries.

The way the companions are portrayed has changed massively. The Ninth and Tenth Doctors broadened the horizons of their companions. The companions were not simply plot devices or eye-candy; they served a real purpose and were their own women. Take Donna, for example – she’d been told all her life that she was stupid, that she would never be special. After her time with the Doctor, she was remembered on distant planets as “the most important woman in the whole wide universe”. Moffat’s companions are infantilised and referred to as “girl”, then reduced to their relationship with the Doctor; Amy is “The Girl Who Waited” and Clara is “The Impossible Girl”.

I’m not going to stop watching, though. I want to see Who continue to develop and grow. It still retains the essence of its original purpose. It just needs to showcase it.

Come on, Doctor – pull yourself together!

david tennant gif

My 5 Favourite Female Artists

For this list, I’ve chosen my top five female artists. I have tried to select artists who are relevant to the feminist cause, either through their portrayal of women in their work or through the themes they explore. They aren’t in any particular order; I’d find it really difficult to pick a favourite! I’ve included examples of their artwork too.

Warning for  nudity ahead (all in the interests of artistic expression, of course!). Also, I’d like to offer a trigger warning – Frida’s story contains a description of her traumatic car accident and Artemisia’s story discusses the trial of her rapist Agostino Tossi, so skip these sections if these incidents will upset you.

Frida Kahlo – Frida was born in 1907, in Mexico City. At the age of 18, she was in a serious car crash which left her in a full body cast for three months and caused severe complications for her until her death in 1954. An iron handrail pierced her abdomen during the crash, preventing her from carrying children to full-term and resulting in multiple miscarriages; her emotional response to this infertility is depicted in some of her artwork. Her stylistic attitudes to the female form and to her own experiences as a woman are uncompromising – what I love about Frida was her willingness to portray “ugly” themes in her work, often with deliberate emphasis. Her painting Henry Ford Hospital (below right) is painted onto a sheet of metal, symbolising the harsh clinical atmosphere of the hospital after a miscarriage. She was openly bisexual and had a tempestuous relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera; Frida lived just as unapologetically as she painted.

Frida self-portraitOil on metal - infertility (Frida)

Laura Callaghan – Laura is an Irish illustrator based in South London. Her artwork is composed of bold black outlines and bright colours, hand-drawn with watercolours, Indian ink and isograph pen. She generally draws women – bookish women in vintage print dresses, exploring record shops and eating pizza. What’s not to love? Each piece is full of tiny details, from the spines of books to the posters on the walls (generally proving that the ladies in her art have great taste in literature). My favourite piece by her is The Wall (below right), depicting a girl crouching on her bed beside a boy, the wall behind covered entirely in posters, stickers and medals. From these clues, we can piece together the girl’s identity. Her website is: http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/

Three's a crowd (Laura Callaghan)The Wall (Laura Callaghan)

Artemisia Gentileschi – Artemisia was an Italian Baroque painter. Female painters struggled to be accepted by patrons and artistic peers during this period, but today she is recognised as one of the finest and most progressive artists of her generation. Her father allowed her to use his workshop and she demonstrated much more skill than any of her brothers. When she was eighteen, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, who was hired by her father to tutor her. The trial was infamous due to Artemisia’s active involvement in Tassi’s prosecution. Horrifically, she was tortured using thumbscrews and was subjected to gynaecological examinations to verify her testimony. This traumatic experience influenced Artemisia’s later works – she often painted strong women who suffered in mythology and in the Bible. Her best-known work, Judith Slaying Holofernes (below left), depicts the character Judith from the Old Testament beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. Artemisia painted herself as Judith and Tassi as Holofernes, making the painting an outlet for her private anger.

Judith Slaying Holofernes - Artemisia GentileschiArtemisia Gentileschi

Tracey Emin – Tracey is a prominent British artist. Her work takes many different forms, ranging from sculpture to photography to larger installations. In 1995, her installation Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 – 1995 (below right)was exhibited at the South London Gallery. It is a blue tent with names appliqued on the interior, including those of lovers, relatives and two numbered fetuses which she had aborted. Another notoriously intimate piece is My Bed (below centre), which features Tracey’s unmade bed. The bed was presented in the state it was left in after Tracey spent several days lying in it, feeling depressed and suicidal due to relationship difficulties. Initially, it caused media outrage due to the inclusion of condoms, menstrual stains and a pair of Tracey’s knickers! I love how personal and emotional her art is; any work that features text often has spelling mistakes or has fragmented sentences, giving the impression that it is part of her inner monologue.

My Bed (Tracey Emin)Everyone I have ever slept with - Tracey Emin

Kimberly Frisch – Kimberly is a young American artist and animator. I love her children’s illustration and especially the way she draws women. The stills below come from my favourite piece of animation by her – her trailer “Pele and Hi’iaka”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lB-pJRT5n8. It explores the myth of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, who is said to live in the Kilauea volcano, and her relationship with her loyal younger sister Hi’iaka. It’s a beautiful short film, showcasing a key part of Hawaiian mythology and portraying Pele in both of her divine roles – as the creator and “mother” of Hawaii but also as a fierce fire goddess. You can find her other projects here: http://cargocollective.com/kimberlyfrisch/.

Hug (Pele and Hi'iaka)Volcano Spouts (Pele and Hi'iaka by Kim Frisch)

Who is your favourite female artist? Let me know in the comments! Please like this or share on Facebook/Twitter if you enjoyed the article. You can follow my blog using the blue button or the sign-up form on the right. Thank you for reading!

The Vampire – Horror’s Most Feminist Monster?

I read this article earlier. It’s a deconstruction of the vampire genre from a feminist perspective, from the 19th century novel “Carmilla” to the 2014 film “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Genevieve Valentine asks whether the vampire is horror’s most feminist monster. http://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/964-how-the-vampire-became-films-most-feminist-monster/ It’s a very interesting essay. I love seeing film and literature considered from a feminist viewpoint; I’m thinking of setting up an archive for it on this blog.

5 Fascinating Historical Women No-one Talks About

There are so many wonderful women scattered throughout history. I think it’s important that we recognise those who struggled for a voice and who gave a voice to others, so I’ve compiled a list of five fascinating women that are hardly ever talked about!

1. Fulvia – Fulvia was the first wife of Mark Antony (who was later defeated by Octavian alongside Cleopatra VII). After he left for Egypt, she was one of the most powerful women in Rome and became infamous for her political ambitions. She is also known for her involvement in the Perusine War, the civil war between herself and Antony’s brother against Octavian, the future emperor. She strongly felt that Antony should be the sole ruler of Rome and she led an army of 48,000 men. This sounds all well and good, but Octavian’s army was 125,000 strong. She was exiled after her defeat and died in 40BC. It is said that with her death came peace between Antony and Octavian (which gives you an idea of how much of a hell-raiser she was!). In the image below, she is seen with the severed head of Cicero, who offended her by writing that Antony had only married her for her money.

fulvia

2. La Malinche – A Nahuatl woman from the Gulf of Mexico, she acted as an advisor and intermediary for Hernan Cortes during the Spanish Conquest. She was one of twenty female slaves given to the Spaniards by the natives of Tabasco. Cortes valued her as an interpreter; she could speak both Mayan and Nahuatl, having been sold by her family at a young age. Depending on political attitudes through the centuries, she has been portrayed as a scheming temptress and traitor, as a victim in the face of overwhelming adversity, or alternatively as the mother of the nation we know today. She remains an iconic and controversial figure in Mexico, and this is why I find her so interesting – she has become more than a woman, she is a legend and a symbol. The image below is a painting by Diego Rivera.

la malinche

3. Alice Roosevelt Longworth – She was the eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt. Her life was unusual and controversial, and she considered herself a “hedonist”. She smoked, was seen placing bets and gambling, stayed out late partying and kept a pet snake called Emily Spinach. She was a writer and socialite; she was also vocal politically, especially during the period of sensitive race relations during the 1960s. Once, a politician complained to her father about Alice’s interruptions and behaviour. Roosevelt responded that he could either run the country or control Alice! President Jimmy Carter said of her: “She had style, she had grace, and she had a sense of humour that kept generations of political newcomers to Washington wondering which was worse—to be skewered by her wit or to be ignored by her.”

alice r-l

4. Truganini – Truganini is widely known as “The Last Tasmanian”. She is thought to have been the last speaker of a Tasmanian language. After the British colonisation of Bruny Island, where she lived, Truganini and her people suffered countless atrocities at the hands of the invaders. By 1829, her mother, uncle and fiancé had all been murdered and her sister had been abducted. Truganini herself was abused by the timber-gatherers who had killed her fiancé. The 100 surviving Tasmanians were moved to Flinders Island, but many died along the way. She later married a Tasmanian known as King Billy, who died in 1871. By 1873, she was the sole survivor and she died in 1876. It wasn’t until 1976, the centenary of her death, that her remains were cremated and scattered as she would have wanted. Her legacy lives on in music by indigenous Tasmanian bands such as “Coloured Stone” and Australian bands like “Midnight Oil”.

truganini

5. Clara Zetkin – Clara was a German women’s rights activist and a Marxist theorist. She launched the first International Women’s Day in 1911. She was president of “Rote Hilfe”, a left-wing organisation calling workers to unite against fascism. She interviewed Lenin in 1920, asking him to consider “The Women’s Question” (women’s suffrage). She was part of the Communist Party of Germany until 1933, when she was forced to go into exile in Russia due to rising tensions from the Nazi Party. She died that year in Moscow. During her lifetime, Clara was awarded the Order of the Red Banner in 1927 and the Order of Lenin in 1932. In 1954, the GDR (East Germany) developed the Clara Zetkin Medal, to honour women who were particularly prominent in the women’s rights movement. We still celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March! I owe a lot to Clara, for inspiring me to give presentations to my peers in the week leading up to IWD. She’ll always be my role-model and an example I want to follow – she was fiercely intelligent and unabashed in her political views.

clara zetkin

I hope this has opened your eyes to the sheer range of strong women who have held their own throughout history. Of course, there are far more than the five I’ve selected, so feel free to suggest your own little-known heroines in the comments!

Writing – Olympias

Here it is – the second of my two pieces concerning historical women. I learned about Olympias during my Ancient History GCSE; she was a fascinating woman who had a lot of influence over the way in which Alexander perceived himself and others. She was part of the Cult of Dionysus and associated herself strongly with magic and religion.

Olympias

Olympias sits alone tonight, with only the tame serpents entwined around her calves for company. The chariot of Apollo races beyond the horizon until she is bathed in the fading twilight. Torches flicker below, flaming brightly as Philip weds Cleopatra Eurydice.

She has not shared a bed with the king for weeks. It gives her a rebellious thrill to discover that she no longer wants to. Philip can rot in the Underworld, she thinks with vehemence, along with his new bride. Let them kiss and caress and copulate there. They do not matter, have never truly mattered. It is only Alexander who matters, the child conceived of a thunderbolt, born in the name of Zeus.

Oh, how she adores him! He is a beautiful boy – a man now, truly. Although he shares his father’s strong build and sandy hair, she sees enough of herself in his melting gaze and soft features that this is counterbalanced. He has the heart of a lion and the keen eyes of a hawk, but his temper is that of a man. He is like the oceans of Poseidon, deceptively calm on the surface, yet a violent churning vortex lies beneath. Perhaps this is how he draws so many men to him, soldiers and poets alike. He is magnetic, charismatic, and he makes her so proud. He is destined for greatness; barely a day goes by that she does not tell him so.

She remembers the expression on his face as it was after Chaeronea, the defeat of Thebes and Athens. She could see his triumph in his eyes and in the determined smile on his lips. His cocky confidence was marred only by a twinge of relief. His reputation had been validated. He was extraordinary.

Of course Philip ruined it, in his own special manner. She could have slayed him where he stood for belittling her precious, precious son. How dare he resent Alexander, how dare he presume himself to be her son’s equal. Philip loved glory in all its forms; Alexander earned only the highest, purest victories. Philip refused to accept that Alexander was learning, that he was adapting Philip’s strategies and tactics. He refused to accept it because he was afraid.

Nothing gives her more pleasure than making Philip frightened and uneasy. She surrounds herself with magic and partakes in the most powerful rites. He cannot touch her. At her command, serpents attack, women dominate beyond their status and, soon, a prince will become a king.

She settles back in her chair, eyes closed, finally at ease and deep in thought. She hears the echo of footsteps along the passage outside her room, like the rhythmic beat of war drums. If it is one of the drunken revellers from the wedding, she will set her snakes upon him. Disgruntled, she opens her eyes.

Alexander stands in the doorway. There is none of his usual bright demeanour. His fists are clenched, his jaw is set and a vein is throbbing at his temple.

“Alexander?”

“Your Majesty,” he says, head bowed and voice surprisingly even. She sits up straighter and offers her outstretched arms, and her son flees to her. Disregarding the serpents, he rests his head against her leg with a sigh of: “Mother.” She places her hand upon his head soothingly.

“What is it that troubles you?”

“He has… he has betrayed me, Mother.” She does not have to ask. She knows precisely who he means.

“He has betrayed us both, my child.”

“Attalus asked the gods that Philip and Cleopatra might bear a son to inherit the throne,” Alexander tells her bitterly, “He thinks me a b*****d and I accused him as such, and-”

“And?” To her chagrin, Alexander blushes.

“I threw a cup at him and called him a villain.”

“What did Philip say?”

“He took Attalus’ side over mine. The way he looked at me… Mother, he would have run me through.” Her hand, smoothing his ruffled locks, pauses. Her long, slender fingers curl, scratching over his scalp. Alexander continues with his tale, “He made to lunge for me, but he fell. I said it was a shame that the man who makes preparations to pass out of Europe into Asia is overturned in passing from one seat to another.” Her grip on his hair tightens with every word.

“Mother, you are hurting me,” he mutters reproachfully. She releases him sharply, his head rocking forwards with the force of the action.

“We cannot stay here,” she murmurs, as though in a trance.

“What do you mean? Where would we go?”

“Alexander, it matters not. I long to see you become king. I long to see you rule over a mighty empire. None of this will happen if Cleopatra bears a son.” She sees how his eyes smoulder with ambition and desire. Her son has always preferred the conquering of lands over that of maidens.

“Mother-”

“Hush, my child. I will see to it. Do not concern yourself. Now return to the festivities. Are your companions there?”

“Yes.”

“Then behave as you naturally would. Drink with your future generals.” He smiles. He has the most prepossessing smile, she marvels. No wonder he is accompanied by so many of these companions.

“Thank you, Mother.” He gets to his feet, adjusting his robes, as immaculate as ever. Then he bends down to kiss her cheek.

“I love you, my child.”

Writing – Cleopatra

This has won a couple of contests over on Writers’ Cafe. I’m 6thhekatombaion over there, if you want to take a look! This is one of two pieces that I’ve written about a woman from history; the other concerns Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. Regardless of your views on Cleopatra, even the ancient Roman sources (and they really disliked her!) admit that she was clever, witty and persuasive. She’s a fine example of a powerful woman in politics. As you will probably see, I have zero sympathy for her brother Ptolemy. Nothing like his ancestor, Alexander’s general Ptolemy Lagides.

Cleopatra

When her spies and messengers come to her, they tell Cleopatra of the effect her actions have on Ptolemy XIII and his court. It gives her great pleasure that they are beginning to fear. She has made certain that her pitiful brother-husband and his advisers, who are not fit to kiss her feet, know very well what she is capable of.

They might flatter him with preening titles, but soon the Mighty Lion will be squealing in her grasp like a little mouse. She is the glory of her father. She can speak in many tongues and the one that comes especially easily is the tongue of the Great Lady Isis. Ptolemy knows this. He knows that the goddess smiles upon her and speaks through her. He knows that her dark eyes hold dangerous secrets and her slender fingers channel magic.

Not only can she commune with the powers of the universe, she has correspondences with the powers of the mortal world. Ptolemy perhaps fears this more. Pergamum will raise ten legions in her name. Her heritage will secure her place in Greece – the blood of Ptolemy Lagides, he who was made king of Egypt by Alexander himself, runs through her veins as hot as a flame. The people of Alexandria, in the north of her beautiful home, are loyal to her, although the shadow of her mewling brother looms over them like a portentous black storm-cloud.

She might have armies ready to march on her orders. However, she still requires support from one man and his empire. Julius Caesar is in Alexandria. She has had reports from the city that her brother-husband has displeased him greatly. Ptolemy sought to worm his way into the consul’s affections. He slayed Pompey – Caesar’s companion in consulship and embittered rival – on the shores of Pelusium in the east of her lands (for they are, and have always been, hers). He had the head of Pompey severed and presented to Caesar, a grisly peace offering. Caesar has sworn to kill the man who committed the deed.

When the story was told to her, Cleopatra laughed aloud, tears of mirth in her eyes. Her brother is a fool. He is no lion of Aker; he is a lowly serpent like Apep, trying to slither his way into Caesar’s favour. He knows little of diplomacy; she would not have made so grave a mistake. No matter how fiercely Caesar and Pompey might have struggled for power, Pompey was still a consul of Rome and Ptolemy had dared to calculate his demise.

A miscalculation indeed.

Caesar will not forgive the insult easily. The gods dictate that her time is now. Ptolemy is playing into her hands. She must strike, an asp at the collective throat of the usurpers, and meet with Caesar. She will inform him of her sadness at Pompey’s murder, her disgust at Ptolemy’s actions. My brother is a fickle child, lord, and a puppet of wiser men. His advisers seek power. She must tell him of how she has been exiled from her own lands, of how Ptolemy seized her power. Then why have you not returned with an army and claimed the throne? I would not wish civil war upon my people, my lord. I want only peace and prosperity between Egypt and Rome. Perhaps he will nod in approval. Perhaps, if she lets a few carefully-placed tears fall, he might take her hand.

Julius Caesar is the most powerful man in the empire, possibly in the world, yet he is still merely a man. It will not hurt him to believe that she is merely a woman too.