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Archive for May, 2016

Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

Before I start: I’m aware that not everyone who menstruates is a woman, and not every woman menstruates. If I have referred to women menstruating in this article, it is because the statistic or scenario I have mentioned specifies that. I’m sorry if that’s uncomfortable or even triggering to anyone, but I wanted to report this accurately and fairly.

Since 2013, people around the world have begun to celebrate MH Day! Last year, 33 countries ran national campaigns, and the movement is growing. The aim of the event is to promote good menstrual hygiene and to reduce stigma surrounding periods. It focuses on menstrual hygiene management (MHM), which is defined by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF as: “the articulation, awareness, information and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using safe hygienic materials, together with adequate water and spaces for washing, bathing and disposal with privacy.” UNESCO later added further factors, including “informed and comfortable professionals”, “referral and access to health services”, “positive social norms” and “advocacy and policy”.

It’s a sad fact that globally there’s a severe deficit in terms of access to menstrual products. In a lot of less economically developed countries, girls often have to miss school during their periods because they simply don’t have the materials to manage it. A study by the international development organisation SNV in 2014 found that girls in rural Uganda missed up to 8 days of school every term, amounting to 11% of their school attendance. This, and similar situations in other places, account for the drastic number of girls who drop out of school. I think it’s awful that anyone should have to forfeit their education for something that could be so easily managed. Even in countries like my own (UK), women from low income backgrounds and especially homeless women face the same struggle. There’s no standard practice of distributing menstrual products in food banks and it’s easy to forget just how expensive these products are until you consider the quantity we buy over our lifetime.

Furthermore, in many places menstruation is surrounded by social stigma. We see some evidence of it here: we whisper about it, we invent new and creative ways to describe it without actually saying the word “period”. Goddess forbid a cis man should ever be made to touch even an unused menstrual product! We really shouldn’t fear or dread periods. I’m not saying we should jump for joy when it arrives, but it’s downright silly to demonise a natural process.

I’d like to share the story of one man – yes, a man! – who set out on a journey to improve menstrual hygiene for the women in his local and national community.

Meet India’s Menstruation Man, Muruga:

^ He’s literally my fave. He sacrificed such a lot and worked so hard in order to make life that little bit easier and less painful every month for the women around him, and that’s truly admirable. Thank you, Muruga.

It’s my firm belief that, frankly, menstrual products ought to be as easily available as condoms. You can get condoms for free at any family planning clinic in the UK, as far as I’m aware, and they’re available discreetly and – again! – for free at my college. Condoms are, of course, wonderful things, but everybody who menstruates is guaranteed to require sanitary products throughout their lifetime. They should be free or at least not have an extra tax attached (which is their current status – it’s called the pink tax). Get on it, MPs.

Thank you for reading! Please like and share this to raise awareness! If you write your own post, make a vlog or otherwise celebrate the day, feel free to link it in a comment – I’d love to see it! To find out more, go to this link (for the official website!). I also adore Period Positive on Tumblr – check them out here.

“Marriage can never be feminist” – Julie Bindel

This is a response to a Guardian-produced video I saw on Facebook earlier. I thought it was an interesting (if somewhat flawed) perspective. My analysis and thoughts on this video and on this perception of marriage as a whole are below.

Firstly, some context: Julie Bindel is a notable feminist activist with a very particular brand of activism. While she’s a vocal opponent of violence against women and the co-founder of the law-reform organisation Justice for Women, it’s worth noting that her approach to feminism makes it, on a hypothetical level, very easy for her to uphold this “non-marriage” standard. She is a lesbian who opposes same-sex marriage and has previously made it clear that she advocates for the abolition of heterosexuality. I’d like to strongly emphasise that I totally respect her right to feel that way – goddess knows, lesbians have never been treated very well by heterosexual men and there is a persistent idea that “the right man” could “turn” a lesbian at any opportune moment.

Secondly, a confession – I used to think this too. When I first started considering myself a feminist, I was determined that marriage was oppressive. I’ve since changed my mind, although I’m still not convinced I will ever get married. Not because I believe it subjugates women, but because I believe it’s pointless and it invalidates unmarried but committed couples who won’t see the same legal privileges afforded to those in wedlock. My own parents are divorced and I know so many divorced couples that I can’t really see the benefit of it.

We should stop teaching girls to aspire to marriage and not telling boys that same fairy story; I can agree with that much. However, I don’t think abolishing marriage altogether as a concept is the answer. Her reducing of marriage to “this is a tool of patriarchy, stop pretending it’s anything but” is a little bit simplistic. I get what she’s saying, but the whole point of feminism is giving women freedom of choice in all aspects of life. It’s enough for us to say “don’t get married if it isn’t right for you”. Taking the argument further than that is counterintuitive and means that we’d remove that crucial element of choice – in exactly the same way the patriarchy does!

I think marriage has evolved enough that for her to link the age-old symbolism with our modern traditions is reaching, frankly. Marriage traditions – or, more accurately, wedding traditions – have changed so much: brides can wear black, they can keep their maiden name, it doesn’t have to be conducted in a church, there doesn’t have to be a bride/groom there at all, etc., etc. Our modern marriages are so far from their origin that it’s silly to suggest it’s inherently problematic. Even as far back as the Middle Ages, weddings weren’t all alike. The custom of “jumping the broom” is thought to relate back to non-church marriages, conducted by travelling “priests” (men of a somewhat-questionable cloth) in which the couple jumped over a besom holding hands. Boom, married. No giving away, no businesslike transaction.

We could delve even deeper into this argument over what constitutes a feminist or empowering act, a common dilemma among us feminists. It depends on what you think the root of inequality is. For me, stating “the patriarchy”, this faceless Eldritch horror, just isn’t enough. As far as I’m concerned, it is a feminist act to enter into marriage and then subvert expectations. For example, you can marry without becoming financially or socially codependent, which avoids the messy business of gender-based economic inequality and ensures neither party is being stripped of autonomy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree! Please consider liking and sharing . xxx

 

 

5 Best Female Police Officers from UK TV

The UK has a proud history of cop dramas. We love ’em. It feels like there’s a new one being released every fortnight; we can’t get enough. However, with all those car chases and shoot-ups, the genre has a tendency to be a bit of a testosterone disaster zone (yes, that rhyme was intentional).

So, just to prove a point, here are my top 5 female police officers who just kick ass constantly.

DC Kate Fleming, Line of Duty (Vicky McClure)

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Line of Duty is probably one of the best dramas I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. It’s so good, and I’m praying a fourth series will be produced. It would be criminal (ha, get it?) not to include Kate on this list, because she’s such a brilliant character. She’s dedicated; she’ll put her life on the line (of duty) to serve the cause of justice. Also, she starred in the most tense car chase in the history of British television. She chased armed criminals down on foot  having hitched a ride on the side of a lorry – and then managed to shoot out the car tyres from the top of a bridgeKudos.

DC Janet Scott and DS Rachel Bailey, Scott and Bailey (Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones)

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I got your sisterhood of the travelling bulletproof vest right here. Scott and Bailey has some truly inspiring and awesome ladies, who are all exceptional and the forerunners in their respective fields, but these two are the protagonists and deserve a mention. They’re courageous, they’re tough, they’re bloody brilliant, and they’re taking exactly 0% of your bullshit. They’re very different – Janet is a no-nonsense mum to two teenage children, whereas Rachel’s a bit more of a party-girl – but their friendship is what really makes the series. I love ’em. Suranne Jones 5eva, tbh.

DI Alex Drake, Ashes to Ashes (Keeley Hawes)

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Alex deals with being sent back in time pretty well, all told. She’s super sassy – she can give true drama queen Gene Hunt a run for his money – and I think her fashion sense is awesome too! She brings her 21st century knowledge with her when she finds herself stuck in the 1980s, and she takes it all in her stride. She’s one lady you definitely don’t want to mess with. Keeley also played another police officer in Line of Duty, DI Lindsay Denton, who is implicated in the work of corrupt officers. She’s somewhat less friendly there, although Lindsay is still a complete and utter badass.

DS Sally Donovan, Sherlock (Vinette Robinson)

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I love Sally, but my love for her is nothing compared to my abject hatred for the way 99% of the Sherlock fandom chooses to treat her. Sherlock’s an arsehole. She calls him out for being an arsehole. I don’t know why they struggle to grasp that (well, I do – it’s the fact that she’s a WOC calling out a white dude with millions of fangirls benefiting from the rose-tinted “quirky white guy” glasses), because I think she’s super cool and really inspiring. Honestly, I think she’s probably the most well-balanced (emotionally speaking) character on the show. Obviously, calling Sherlock a “freak” wasn’t very nice, but it’s not really in the same ballpark as Sherlock outing her affair with Anderson and doing his level best to humiliate her. Nice double standard you got there, Sherlock fans.

(Also, Vinette is my major woman-crush. *heart eyes*)

WPC Rachel Coles, Inspector George Gently (Lisa McGrillis)

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I’ve chosen Rachel mainly for the episode Gently With The Women, which deals with the treatment of sex workers by the police force during the 1960s, when the series takes place. How were they treated? Not very well, but Rachel (along with feminist ally Inspector Gently, goddess bless him) sets out to challenge perceptions. She faces opposition from her male colleagues – all of whom see rape allegations by prostitutes as inherently laughable – but she perseveres, and it’s a really powerful episode. By the end of it, her colleague John Bacchus, initially sceptical, realises that she’s right and that the police force is flawed as long as it allows such injustice to continue.

Thank you for reading! I hope you liked this article – if so, please consider liking and sharing it!

Chibok – 2 years on

Although there has been some confusion as to the identity of the second girl, it has been reported that two of the 219 abducted schoolgirls of Chibok, Nigeria have been found by the Nigerian army. The first girl, Amina Ali Nkeki, has been reunited – along with her child – with her parents and recently met the Nigerian president. I say “confusion” because, whilst the second schoolgirl, Serah Luka, was a student at the school, she was actually kidnapped from her home. There’s some dispute among Chibok campaigners regarding the exact number of hostages who have been rescued by the army.

You can read more about it at BBC News. An important point was raised by their Africa security correspondent Tomi Oladipo: “… army records show (the Nigerian army) freed 11,595 people between February and April this year. That has barely been publicised… unlike the schoolgirls whose disappearance raised concern around the world. As important as the Chibok girls are, it appears their fate is being used as a measure of success in the fight against Boko Haram.”

The campaign for the return of Chibok’s girls has garnered the support of human rights activist Malala Yousafzai and even the First Lady of the US Michelle Obama.

I’m so pleased that they’re finally home, safe and well. I can only hope that more hostages are found and freed. It has been two years since the abduction of the girls and, still, 218 girls remain missing in the hands of terrorist group Boko Haram. Love and light and solidarity, sisters, always.

More information: (x) (x) (x)

“Darn Feminists” – Standard Issue

“Purple not in fashion? F*ck it. Buy purple fabric, make an 80s-inspired jumpsuit and run through Zara hollering, “Shove this up your arse!” If I want a dress… I’ll make one.”

– Cath Janes, Standard Issue

I stumbled across a great article from Standard Issue magazine about the Great British Sewing Bee and its secret feminist agenda. No, really. You can read the article here. I hadn’t ever thought about it like that, but I suppose it’s true that programmes like GBSB and the Great British Bake Off have brought traditionally feminine fields to the forefront of entertainment, and that’s super cool.

The first episode of GBSB starts tonight (Monday 16th April) at 9pm, on BBC 2. Not sure if/when it’ll air on BBC America, but hopefully relatively soon!

5 Feminist Horror Films

The horror genre isn’t exactly renowned for its strong female characters. Generally, there’s a lot of running, screaming and dying involved – not exactly empowering.

However, the horror genre is renowned for being subversive, and that lends itself to feminist adaptations of literature, folklore and mythology. I know it’s not horror-movie season just yet, but I watched one earlier (Treehouse, and it was a bit disappointing) and I decided I should write this list now rather than wait for Halloween to roll around!

So here it is – five feminist horror films! (Plus some honourable mentions that only just missed the cut!) I’ve added links to their respective theatrical trailers, if you fancied having a look. Please be aware that the trailers may contain violence or scary scenes.

5. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is a unique psychological horror film. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it tells the story of Amelia and her six-year-old son Sam, who are tormented by an entity that enters their home through a children’s book. As the story progresses and Sam’s behaviour grows more erratic, Amelia finds it a struggle to love her son. I like it as a horror film because it relies on suspense and emotional tension, not on cheap jumpscares, but I also think it’s a beautiful piece of cinema overall. The real “monster” in the film is grief and insecurity. As Kent explained in an interview: “I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

I luuuuurve this film. It follows two teenage sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, who are obsessed with death. In their town, neighbourhood dogs have been killed in a spate of brutal attacks. The girls decide to kidnap the school bully’s dog to scare her, but Ginger starts her period on the way, resulting in her being attacked and bitten by the creature responsible for the dogs’ deaths. As the plot thickens, Brigitte grows more and more concerned for her sister, as Ginger transforms into something otherworldly. Honestly, I adore literature and films that turn normal things – like the menstrual cycle – into something epic and mythical, and Ginger Snaps does it perfectly. It’s also a great teen drama as well, exploring the complex social microcosm in high school.

3. The Witch (2015)

I’ve written A LOT about this film – mostly because I was so excited to see it at the cinema! – and you can find those pieces here and here. However, it still deserves to be on this list, because I just can’t praise it enough. In the film, a Puritan family are excommunicated from the church and forced to leave the community, settling at the edge of a forest. As more and more unsettling phenomena takes place on their farm, often at the hands (hooves?) of their goat Black Phillip, it becomes clear that they are being plagued by a witch. At the centre of the supernatural goings-on is Thomasin, the eldest child, and the film acts as a beautiful (if eerie) allegory for her burgeoning womanhood and her fight for autonomy. The Witch has taught us all that thou canst live deliciously if thou wouldst like to.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski is perhaps not the name that springs to mind when you think “feminism” (and for good reason), but Rosemary’s Baby becomes a surprisingly powerful film if you think about it in context. The first birth control pills became available in the US during the 60s, so women’s reproductive health was a hot topic at the time of the film’s release. The film still feels fresh and relevant, perhaps as a result of the prevalence of pro/anti abortion dialogue in the media recently. In the film, a young couple move into a new apartment, although they’re warned of their home’s unsavoury history. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, the peculiar behaviour of her husband and interfering neighbours makes her increasingly paranoid. Although Rosemary initially felt ready to have a child, she is unable to have the baby on her own terms, and this is a strikingly painful reality even in today’s society.

Honourable mentions:

The Wicker Man (1973) – not the most obvious choice, but hear me out. This film totally subverts the “A Man Is Not A Virgin” and “Virgin Power” tropes, which is brilliant. In the majority of horror films, it’s a pure maiden (sighhh) who is sacrificed; in this, it’s an adult man.

Red Riding Hood (2011) – not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty cool with a great female protagonist. She kills werewolves, man. She’s a badass.

Teeth (2007) – this is more of a black comedy, but it’s still excellent. I won’t reveal too much about it; it sort of needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a weird one, yet it works.

  1. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Based on the works of the undisputed queen of feminist folktales, Angela Carter, this is an intriguing film that perhaps doesn’t necessarily belong to the horror genre. Although it’s far closer to magical realism or a gothic drama, I’ve put it here nonetheless – it’s unsettling enough to qualify as at least fantasy-horror. It (loosely) follows the plot of her short story of the same name; however, it is also partially based on other stories from her anthology The Bloody Chamber. The protagonist, Rosaleen, learns about werewolves from her grandmother, who knits her a bright red shawl as a gift (no prizes for guessing the fairy tale the film is based on!). The red cloak becomes an important symbol towards the end of the film. When she accepts her desire for the huntsman she meets in the forest, she burns the cloak in her grandmother’s fireplace. The whole film serves as an allegory for Rosaleen’s first foray into her own sexuality. While she’s obviously confused and scared, the film clearly prioritises her experiences and there’s never a time when Rosaleen is denied autonomy or control.

Trigger warning for nudity and mild violence:

Here’s a clip of one of my favourite scenes in the film, in which Rosaleen tells the story of the Wolfgirl (copyright: Neil Jordan; Palace Productions. Distributed by ITC and Cannon).


So there you have it! There are plenty more I could mention, and feel free to comment with your own suggestions!

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