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Posts tagged ‘representation’

Whitechapel: Murder, Masculinity and Mental Health

Whitechapel: Murder, Masculinity and Mental Health

Warning: this contains some spoilers for all four series of Whitechapel, although I’ve tried to avoid any major plot twists and I haven’t named any of the killers.

I watched Series 1 – 4 of Whitechapel quite recently. I’m four years late to the party, so all the fanfiction, forums and fan phenomena are long dead. Nonetheless, I’m glad I sat down and watched each series consecutively, because it enabled me to spot certain recurring themes and to watch character arcs develop.

For the uninitiated, Whitechapel is a British crime drama, which aired on ITV from 2009 to 2013 and consists of four series. The first two series focus on modern “copycat killers” replicating historical crimes. From Series 3 onwards, the focus shifts slightly – rather than the crimes being directly lifted from history, the team use historical accounts in order to help them solve each case. It was described in The Times thus: “It is all in the worst possible taste and bloody good fun.” It stars Rupert Penry-Jones as DI Joseph Chandler, Phil Davis as DS Ray Miles and Steve Pemberton as Edward Buchan, an author and “Ripperologist” (expert on Jack The Ripper).

I was initially put off by the lack of female characters in Whitechapel – the women in Series 1 with the most screentime are the ones who end up brutally murdered, aside from the pathologist Dr Caroline Llewellyn. The killer in the first series finds his inspiration in Jack The Ripper, and the modern murders are clearly sexually motivated. It can be difficult to pull off a narrative like that without vindicating the sexual element and objectifying the women involved, but Whitechapel handles it very well in my opinion. Having watched the later series, I found that this motif of women being mutilated was ditched by the narrative. Although representation did steadily improve with the introduction of DC Meg Riley, DI Mina Norroy and Morgan Lamb in Series 3, I don’t actually mind the lack of women so much, mostly because I think Whitechapel just happens to be better at handling themes of masculinity.

You could accuse me of reading too deeply into it and analysing something that’s not there, but Whitechapel showcases the broadening spectrum of masculinity in our modern society, as well as depicting toxic masculinity and its abusive, repressive nature. This is crucial, especially as we live in a society in which the biggest killer of men between the ages of 18 and 50 is suicide. The series neatly covers that spectrum, with each of the main male characters representing a facet of masculinity. All of its main characters inhabit their roles as men in varying ways, and it’s both interesting and poignant that the series never condemns any of them for it.

On one end of the spectrum, we have DC Emerson Kent, who is the baby of the team (all of the other officers play a parental role for him to some extent). I like to think of Kent as representing a kind of “new” masculinity – a masculinity characterised by openness, acceptance and emotion. In Series 1, DS Miles convinces Chandler – whose confidence is wavering – that he’s strong enough to remain with the team. He discusses how everyone on the team has a different way of coping, and he mentions to Chandler that Kent copes with emotionally challenging cases by having a good cry in the toilets or out on the car park. We see this onscreen in Series 2, Episode 2. It’s heartbreaking and a moment of character development for Kent in terms of how we as viewers react to him, but more interesting is how the other characters respond. Edward Buchan sees him and tells Chandler. They don’t laugh, they don’t mock him; it’s just accepted that that’s what he does.  Edward Buchan is another example of this. In S3, Ed is struggling to cope with the weight of expectation in his new role as police researcher. As Chandler relies on him to find historical precedents for the crimes, Ed often finds himself under pressure to hunt down the right case file in his newly-constructed archive. He has to learn to deal with the fact that he can’t save everyone – he feels enormously guilty for having unwittingly aided The Ripper in Series 1 and for discovering the truth too late in Series 3, resulting in the deaths of two young women. We see him seeking counselling with Morgan Lamb in Series 3 and he asks Chandler for advice too. Ed is a great example of a man who isn’t afraid to admit when he feels vulnerable.

DS Ray Miles is more emblematic of what we might consider “traditional” masculinity. He’s a father figure for the team, especially for DI Chandler, although as a character he even subverts that successfully. There’s no doubt that he’s the patriarch of the team, but he’s a very nurturing character; he just appears gruff when expressing it. He takes his anger about his father’s absence (partially resolved in Series 2, Episode 3 when he discovers what really happened to his dad) and converts it into caring for others. Despite being a more traditional male, he never ridicules the others for their personal coping mechanisms and is happy to share his own with Chandler (he likes to sit by his fish pond and think, FYI).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is where we find The Ripper (whose name I won’t reveal to avoid spoiling it for you!). He’s representative of toxic masculinity, or masculinity to the extreme. This is reflected in his absolute misogyny. Through him, women are objectified in the most extreme way possible. They become his tools, his paint palette, as he recreates the crimes of Jack The Ripper. They lose any autonomy – his mutilation of their bodies means (metaphorically speaking) that he owns them, he possesses them. It’s a pretty terrifying way to interpret it, but it’s not outlandish.

Aside from my own interpretations regarding masculinity in Whitechapel, it also deals openly with mental illness. DI Joseph Chandler, the protagonist, has OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). What I really love about Whitechapel is how it approaches his mental health. It’s never dismissed as a quirk or manipulated as a plot device. It is just part of his reality and, as the stakes grow ever higher with each passing series, Joe’s compulsive behaviours become increasingly difficult for him to manage. He starts with compulsive handwashing in Series 1, but by Series 3 he changes his shirt several times a day in order to feel clean enough. I think the writers deal with it in a very frank manner – it’s upsetting to watch him break down or struggle with his compulsive behaviours (i.e. Series 2, Episode 2, when he can’t leave his office because he keeps flicking the lights on and off), but (speaking as a neurotypical person) I’d rather be made uncomfortable than have mental illness sugarcoated.

I think it’s necessary – if not essential – that the series has a mentally ill character who isn’t a “baddie”. The series has several killers who are either implied to be or are described as mentally ill, and it would have been easy for a series like Whitechapel to reinforce stereotypes about mentally ill people. We see it all the time in the “haunted asylum”/“mad axe murderer” additions to the horror genre. In reality, mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.

In conclusion, Whitechapel is well worth a watch. It’s witty, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it doesn’t shy away from symbolism.

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“What does a Feminist Society even do?”

Short answer: a lot. 

I got this question loads when I first told people that I was going to run a feminist society. I still get asked and I’ve already presented a third of my planned sessions (we finish next March). You might be wondering too – or, potentially, you want to run your own feminist group and don’t know what to talk about!

A point in my previous article about running a feminist society was that you should start by deciding what type of group you want to be. This is true of all good collectives – you should have an ultimate goal. Our group’s goal is simply to broaden our horizons as much as possible and to discover, together, what feminism means in today’s global society. Sometimes, that means we have to look back at the work of our foremothers, examining how they shaped the feminist movement we know and love, as well as acknowledging their failings and faults. Other times, it means that we must consider what our personal activism has to look like in order to create the future we want and need. We are a group rooted in the past, the present and the future.

But that might not be what you want. The feminist society you envision might not have many debates or discussions (like mine does – we do talk a lot!). It might be an action group, in which you organise protests, demonstrations, fundraisers and awareness events. That’s important and valid too, and you might like to incorporate those things even if yours will be a discussion group. For example, in honour of International Women’s Day next year, we’re planning to raise money for a women’s shelter and organise a showing of a feminist film in our college’s lecture theatre.

Another concern I’ve seen in forums and message boards is this: how do I come up with ideas for my sessions? A challenge indeed! I got started early, as soon as I was given the go-ahead to run the club. Sessions started in September, but I had planned all my allotted sessions by the end of June. This is definitely advisable; it gives you ample time to research (and design any PowerPoint presentations you might want!).

For our debates, I tried to stick to a “theme” for each half-term. The first half-term has been all about the history of the women’s movement and its foundations, as well as exploring intersectionality and diversity. We discussed the “waves” system, separatist and cultural strains of feminism (i.e. womanism, chicanisma), TERFs and early radical feminism. That made sense to me – it meant that everyone was on the same level and had the same grounding in feminist history. Our second set of sessions will focus more on politics and human rights, and how feminism supports and intersects with these.

Pro-tip: Google a ton of human rights awareness days and create your discussions based on these! There’s International Women’s Day (8th March), International Men’s Day (19th November), International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November), Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May), Human Rights Day (10th December) and many, many more! If there’s an existing day of recognition, you’ll usually find it easier to discover resources online. IWD has an official website with downloadable information and activities, as do many of the others in the previous list.

You might also want to shake it up and show documentaries in your sessions (if you have access to a computer, screen and projector). Documentaries can be a fantastic way to engage your group in challenging discussions, especially if they are a little bit quiet to start with! It gives them (and you!) something to respond to, rather than forcing you to come up with an amazing point under pressure! If you want to incorporate this, YouTube is your best friend. I already had a few documentaries that I desperately wanted to show, but it’s quick and easy to type “feminist documentary” into YouTube if you need ideas. I’d recommend watching them first though!!! (There will soon be a “resources” page in the top-right corner of my blog, where I’ll link to documentaries we’ve shown/will show in the group.) You could also play music from feminist artists – we’re going to have a session on the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Maybe you could try craft activities, like handmade zines or posters.

Really, the best thing you can do is ask. What issues are your members passionate about? What do they want to talk about? What do they want to learn?

That’s all my advice for today, folks! Best of luck if you’re researching for and planning a feminist group. If not, why not? 😉

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“Women Transform Into Their Idols” – BuzzFeed

I just watched this super cute video from Ladylike, a series by BuzzFeed. In this episode, the team get to dress up as their female role-models. It’s amazing. I loved all their reasons for choosing these women as their role-models, and their choices said a lot about what each Ladylike member finds important in their own identity.

 

Women and the Left

Alternative title: I’ve Got Tits And I’m In Your Trade Union.

I saw a comic earlier on Facebook, by an artist called Suzy X, which perfectly encapsulated something I’ve been pondering for a while.

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If you’re a fan of Vice or its sister site Broadly, you might have seen the article they published on the “brocialism” phenomenon (x). Essentially, a brocialist is a man with right-on leftist politics but a dodgy set of morals when it comes to women. It might sound silly and, to be fair, I laughed at the article while reading it.

I stopped laughing when I realised that it was all too familiar. It’s often difficult for people who are fighting a cause – such as resisting class-based oppression – to recognise oppressive actions in themselves and their activism. As they focus on one area of privilege, they may lose sight of others. We see this in “white feminism”, which erases the nuanced experiences of women of colour and fails to address intersectionality. If you bring up issues of intersectionality in certain circles, you may be accused of pandering to “identity politics”. In this same way, leftists who also happen to be feminists, like myself, get a lot of flack for “dividing” the movement.

Obviously class is an important indicator of social privilege – I’m not suggesting that we should abandon it altogether – but women and DFAB people have an important role to play within the left. In fact, I’m of the opinion that class should be incorporated more into feminism. Women’s experiences, particularly if they are wives and mothers with families to support, are intimately connected with working-class issues or disadvantages associated with a low income background. For example, as shown in a study by UNESCO in Ethiopia and others by UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, poverty is the main barrier to girls’ and women’s education. Girls are traditionally entrusted with domestic tasks such as fetching water. If the only source of water is far away and requires a time-consuming journey, this results in more girls being late to or absent from school. There is also a stark lack of “gender-sensitive” teaching; therefore, girls grow into women who don’t know how to protect themselves from STDs. UNICEF have stated: “Educated girls can better protect themselves against HIV, trafficking and abuse. Educating a girl also means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts and in political and economic decision-making. Women who went to school usually manage to increase the household income.” When women are educated and empowered, it holds benefits for their families and even for whole communities.

An example closer to home (at least for me!) is the impact de-industrialisation has had on family life for working-class people, right here in the UK. Historically, men from predominantly working-class have participated in “skilled” work, i.e. they learned a trade or took on a job manufacturing a specific material/product. In my area, our main industry throughout the nineteenth century and much of the early twentieth century was chain-making. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, our industries and the communities that had grown around them suffered. There are lots of reasons for this, but the actions of Margaret Thatcher and the war her government waged on trade unions were primarily responsible. For people outside the UK, you probably won’t be aware of the major turmoil that occurred during Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister, when thousands of miners (mining being a job rooted in the working class) participated in strikes during the 70s and 80s. In an article for New Statesman, Owen Jones specifically linked de-industrialisation with the changing status of masculinity in our society: “…what it means to be a man is in a state of flux. Deindustrialisation, undoubtedly, is a fundamental reason. Britain’s economy has been increasingly emptied of skilled industrial jobs. Take manufacturing: while 5.6 million people worked in the sector in 1982, only 2.6 million did last year.” When men lost their jobs as a result of mass de-industrialisation under Thatcher and the legacy of privatisation that followed her, it placed greater pressure on women to provide for their families, and areas of England, Scotland and Wales remain poverty-stricken. You’ll find that the poorest areas are those that historically thrived due to industry.

Women are not just passive victims in class war. Our foremothers have fought to find a voice and a platform within the left, which is why it angers me so much that we should have to reaffirm our place in the movement. In 1930s Spain, the anarchist organisation Las Mujeres Libres fought to empower working-class women.  The women of the Spanish anarchist movement felt marginalised. They were laughed at when they tried to contribute during meetings and this made women hesitant to speak up. This angered Mujeres Libres because the movement was supposed to oppose and ultimately abolish all forms of oppression and social hierarchy. They put an emphasis on a “double struggle”, in which they could pursue both women’s liberation and social revolution. In order to give working-class women the best opportunities to participate, they organised childcare services and schools. They also developed literacy courses, social studies classes and medical training. I love the story of Mujeres Libres, purely because of how brilliant they were at meeting the specific needs of the working women they supported. The scenario was similar for Clara Zetkin, a German socialist activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She too held the opinion that women were not allowed to participate equally within the left. She presided over the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic party from 1907 onwards and she founded International Women’s Day in 1911, although she had been involved with the women’s movement in Germany since 1874. Becoming a cultural icon in the former German Democratic Republic, streets and parks bearing her name can still be found there.

And the women of the left are still fighting. Even within feminism, there are leftist movements: socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, labor/labour feminism. There is even a movement called transnational feminism, exploring how capitalism and the patriarchy intersect in order to exploit women.

I refer to The Left a lot in this article, although I don’t mean to suggest that everyone with a left-wing viewpoint is part of some homogeneous mass. What I generally mean when I use the term The Left is leftist activism and the platforms where this takes place. When I say “women struggle to find a platform in the left”, I mean that very few of today’s prominent socialist thinkers are women. That’s a problem. We’re not lacking in vocal socialist women because women don’t understand politics, nor is it because women are politically apathetic. In fact, we’re not lacking socialist women at all. Speaking as a feminist, I know what it’s like to get shouted down, on the internet and in real life. Therefore, I can confidently say that the issue is that so many men continue to exclude women from conversations about class or refuse to acknowledge sexist bias in their own actions.

This is not to suggest that we are somehow worse than the right (FYI: that’s not the case). But it is more hypocritical of us if we’re seeking equality of the classes whilst remaining blind to other struggles.

#LoveForLeslieJ

Leslie Jones has been forced off Twitter, and the reason for it has made me – and will probably make you – very angry indeed.

As you may be aware, Leslie Jones has recently come to prominence since starring in the new all-female installment of the Ghostbusters franchise. You might recall the backlash after the film was announced, with most people arguing that the film would “ruin” the original for them and that it was a blatant attempt to pander to a more PC audience.

I’ve always supported the “girl Ghostbusters”, because I think the film is undoubtedly a force for good. It showcases the talents of four immensely funny actresses and it has the potential to inspire so many little girls. I love the whole concept of it. My best friend (who has ambitions of becoming a film director) went to see it and utterly adored it, which is saying something because she is incredibly picky about the media she’s willing to watch.

But since the film’s release, the abuse directed at the cast and crew has only intensified, mostly targeted at Leslie. Milo Yiannopoulos – a man notorious for inciting his mob of fans to hurl abuse at those who displease him – kickstarted a seemingly endless wave of trolling and racist harassment. People have photoshopped tweets, ostensibly from Leslie, with anti-Semitic slurs in them, in order to make it appear that she is abusing Yiannopoulos. When she reacted to such misrepresentation, she was condemned as “too sensitive”. It all became too much for Leslie, who has sadly left Twitter – possibly for good. It genuinely upset me; she tweeted that the onslaught of online abuse was a “personal nightmare”. I can’t imagine what it must feel like.

The bigotry directed at her was vile, but it is nothing compared to the surge of love and support that has emerged in its wake. I myself have used the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ, and you’re welcome to do so as well if you want to show your support. A second hashtag, #BanNero, has also developed as an attempt to have Milo Yiannopoulos permanently banned from Twitter. He’s already had his blue tick, the mark of verification, taken from him, but it’s not enough. Yiannopoulos is a professional troll. That’s what he does, and we as Internet users shouldn’t put up with it.

Yiannopoulos often espouses his belief in a right to “free speech” – in his case, his right to spread bigotry and hatred. However, his actions and those of the people who take their inspiration from him have denied Leslie Jones her platform and her voice. It’s indicative of a growing online trend of attempts to silence women, especially women of colour.

The Guardian have already published an article about these events.

Much love to Leslie, a talented, funny, smart woman. And what’s more: she’s strong too. I have no doubt that she’ll beat the haters.

“Lefties: Angry Wimmin” – BBC

I just watched the documentary Lefties: Angry Wimmin (BBC, 2006), exploring the world of the revolutionary feminists of the 1970s and 1980s. This episode is from a three-part series about left-wing politics, and it’s a fascinating look at the “boom”, if you like, of radical feminism.

I think it’s important we look back at the work that these women did. Some of it might seem shocking – it certainly shocked me! I knew that some lesbian/separatist feminists advocated for “political lesbianism” and for the excision of men from women’s social circles, but I never realised how many women actually put it into practice. Please consider it in its social and historical context, though; these women were living in a dramatically different society to the one we live in now. Feminists of my generation don’t push for the abolition of heterosexuality because we don’t need to – these ladies paved the way for us and made the statement that desperately needed to be made at the time. At that point in time, we had only just begun describing the unequal social hierarchy as patriarchy, and its looming presence in their lives forced the revolutionary feminists into much more radical activism.

I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Linda Bellos, especially the frank discussion about how mainstream white feminism treated her. That highlighted what third-wave feminists and intersectional feminists have always asserted: that second-wave feminism wasn’t very inclusive. The dismissive attitudes of the white, cis, able-bodied feminists who were interviewed demonstrates just how reluctant they were to address issues of accessibility and discrimination within their own movement. The repercussions of that lack of insight into diversity is something with which we are still dealing today.

I also found it pretty startling that these women – some of whom, like Julie Bindel, are lesbians – seemed to believe that homosexuality is a choice. One could accuse them almost of appropriating and misrepresenting the gay rights movement. I understand why they opted for “political lesbianism”, but really, this kind of rhetoric just played into the hands of homophobes. For years, the LGBTQ+ community has fought to assert that sexualities are not arbitrarily “chosen”.

The Tide

I don’t know if we can talk about ‘waves’ of feminism anymore – by my reckoning, the next wave would be the fifth, and I suspect it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves, and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.

– Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman

With the establishment of my Instagram (@dollydastardly, if you’re interested!), I’ve connected with so many different activist accounts – some of them dedicated to feminism, some of them to womanism, some of them to equalism… and some of them to anti-feminism.

Or, more specifically, anti third wave feminism.

Often, in their Instagram bios, activist accounts will list the things they are “pro-” and “anti-“. “Anti third wave feminism” occurs frequently. Sometimes they will even specify that they “respect” first and second wave feminism, but they hate third wave feminism. This statement troubles me for several reasons. (Mostly, it’s because I am 99.9% certain that they don’t actually know what “third wave feminism” means.)

Sooo, let’s make sure we’re all starting on an equal playing field and begin with a crash course in the three(ish) waves of feminism:

First-wave feminism usually refers both to activity that occurred prior to any organised feminist activism and to the fight for voting and legal rights (i.e. ownership of property, financial independence). By some definitions (including by that of Simone de Beauvoir), it can stretch back to Christine de Pizan, writing in the 15th century. Much of her work focused on practical advice for women and on the role women ought to play in society. The works of Mary Wollstonecraft also belong to this era of feminism; she penned treatises on the social and moral equality of the sexes. First-wave feminism is generally accepted to have culminated in women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, at least by Western standards – see, we’re already having trouble with this wave system, right?

Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s and “ended” (yes, those quotation marks are deliberate – another problem with these bloody waves!) in the 1980s. It differed from the first wave in terms of purpose. It still retained the basic tenets of gender equality, but the second wave was characterised by activism based upon reproductive rights, relationships and sexuality. It drew attention to domestic violence and sexual assault. In 1961, the contraceptive pill became commercially available in the USA, leading to greater autonomy for women. Feminists in this period began to critique the social expectations of women and their role in the family. Authors like Betty Friedan, in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, argued that the idealised familial structure was in fact degrading to women.

But there were problems with this second wave of feminism, and who better to solve them than…

Third-wave feminism is generally accepted to have originated in the 1990s. This is an entirely different kind of feminism. There is no cohesive goal, instead replaced by a strong sense of individuality and identity. Amid the riot grrrl scene (think Bikini Kill) and the rebirth of radical feminism, third-wave feminists have sought to build upon second-wave feminism. They have acknowledged that their foremothers cultivated a movement that was exclusively white, straight and cisgender, leading to the inception of intersectional feminism and more celebration of the beauty in diversity. This has led to conflict between the ideals of second-wave feminism – which still exists, living and breathing in the realm of academia – and those of the newer movement.

Class dismissed.

Some people argue that the third wave has ended and we’re now in the fourth or possibly even fifth wave of feminism. Personally, I like Caitlin Moran’s analogy more – a truly feminist society sometimes feels like an oncoming inevitability for me, as though one day the straw will break the camel’s back (i.e. we’ll break the patriarchy) and we’ll be free. I know that’s idealistic and downright silly, so, on other occasions, I feel as though we’ll never achieve that.

This is why I object to condemnation of so-called third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism is improving the movement. Imagine that the first wave of feminists have planted a seed, the second wave have cultivated and felled the tree for their daughters and granddaughters to make use of, and the third wave are whittling the wood into something beautiful – a chair or a table or a massive wooden vulva.

H&M - sculpture

Spot the vulva, babes.

To be honest, with all the overlap and uncertainty in the waves system, I think a more accurate way of dividing up feminism is to look at the different strains that have emerged. From womanism to chicanisma, from lesbian feminism  to ecofeminism, there’s a branch on the feminist tree for everyone to sit on (yes, I’m sticking with this metaphor, shut up). If you – assuming you are an anti-feminist – have beef with a particular aspect of feminism, why not take it up with the group within the wider feminist community who actually uphold that belief? We’re not a hive mind; we don’t all think the same way.

I don’t describe myself as a third-wave feminist, by the way, although I probably technically am. At some point, I want to write another article talking about the labels I apply to myself and why, as well as a bit of musing about which feminist variant fits most closely with my own activism.

If you’re curious about how we analyse the waves of feminism, this article from Pacific University, Oregon, was really interesting. The PSA (Political Studies Association) also have a great article exploring whether we have entered a fourth wave, due to the influence of the internet on feminist activism. The quote from Caitlin Moran came from her fabulous book How To Be A Woman, which you can peruse on Amazon here, should you wish to! It’s naughty, but it’s utterly hilarious and I adored it. My copy is thoroughly thumbed to pieces.

So there you go, that’s all my thoughts on this particular issue – hope you enjoyed! Please like and share on Facebook/Twitter/Google+, and help me to spread the word about feminism!