Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘sex’

The Curse: Womanhood and Horror

While I wasted my obligatory horror film post back in May, I realised that I hadn’t really gone into depth about the underlying theme that links most (if not all) of the films on that list together – the way the horror genre exoticises and demonises puberty, sex and womanhood. Slasher films are particularly guilty of this. In many slasher films, especially in early examples, the “final girl” survives to the end of the film and defeats the killer. Usually, she survives because she is a virgin and the other female characters – normally sexually active women – are punished by the narrative for their promiscuity.

It’s true that women are often the victims in horror films that treat puberty as a cause for alarm, as a step into a world of violence and fear. However, there’s certainly no shortage of women who commit violence within the genre and, equally often, such violence is presented as a coming-of-age ritual for the female protagonist. Either as a victim or as a perpetrator, her experiences with fear and with conflict are integral to her “growing up”.

GS laugh.gif

“It’s corn syrup, Daddy. Want some?”

Themes that crop up a lot are menarche and menstruation; it’s easy to see why. It’s cyclical, linking it to curses and prophecies within horror – you know the one, “Every 20 years, the great god Cthulhu demands a virgin sacrifice.” It also appears predominantly in films that explore lycanthropy (werewolfism!), which in most myths is dependent on the lunar cycle. Furthermore, menstruation is the only entirely natural process in which blood is excreted from the body. Despite being an absolutely normal and non-threatening experience, it lends itself to narratives that treat menstrual bleeding as equivalent to violent injury like stabbing or mutilation. The point of the horror genre is to unsettle and unnerve us. What better way to scare us than to convince us (at least for roughly 90 minutes) that our own body might turn against us?

A good example is the film Ginger Snaps (2000). In the film, Ginger Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old girl, starts her period. On the same day that she receives “the curse”, as she refers to it, she is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Her younger sister Brigitte must find a way to cure her before Ginger is completely transformed into a monstrous creature. There’s very much a conflict between the girls’ mother’s romanticised idea of menarche, the school nurse’s calm explanations and Ginger’s own experiences. Her transformation is marked by exaggerated indications of puberty – we see her struggling to shave off thick hair, her period seems to go on for weeks and her sexual awakening results in a near-death experience for her boyfriend, who contracts lycanthropy like an STD and has a period of his own. Of course, the film is hyperbolic, but when you go through menarche as a teenager, these new and often painful experiences can feel very much like a nightmare.

At its heart, Ginger Snaps is a film about sisterhood. It explores the complex bond between young women, related by blood or not, by candidly depicting internalised misogyny. The Fitzgerald sisters frequently denounce their arch-enemy Trina Sinclair as a “slut” and she responds in kind, but all the teenage girls in the film are a united front when it comes to boys and their tenuous, uncertain interactions with them. In fact, Trina’s death scene and her conversation with Brigitte prior to her death is particularly fascinating. In reference to seeing Brigitte hanging out with Trina’s ex-boyfriend, Sam (who helps Brigitte find the cure), Trina says to her: “If you’re so f*cking smart, you won’t give him the satisfaction. Somebody, just once, shouldn’t give that f*cker the satisfaction!” That doesn’t strike me as something a nemesis would say. To me, that sounds like Trina trying – if haphazardly – to protect Brigitte from earning a reputation like hers. The girls show awareness of the sexual double standard earlier in the film. Lamenting her bad experience with her boyfriend, Ginger remarks to Brigitte that “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door.”

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Along those same lines, menarche is undoubtedly linked with the onset of fertility and sex. It’s fairly archaic symbolism and bears less relevance in the modern era, as obviously not all women want to or are able to have children. In addition, not everyone who experiences the menstrual cycle identifies as a woman and trans women may not experience it either.

However, I still find it interesting. Take the film  The Company of Wolves (1984), for example, based on the short story of the same name from the anthology The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. All the stories in the anthology deal with womanhood in some way – whether it’s through menarche, marriage or sex. The film is no different. While it is admittedly not an easy film to understand, due to heavy use of surrealism, ambiguous symbolism and a blurred boundary between the real world and the “dream” world, it is essentially a coming-of-age story. It’s a beautiful film, but it does take a few repeat viewings to take in everything. There’s so much symbolism in every frame and it can be a bit perplexing initially. The Company of Wolves also features werewolves, although they are portrayed differently to the lycanthropes of Ginger Snaps. Here, although the film makes it clear that anyone can become a wolf, the werewolves serve primarily as an allegory for men. This stems from the morals of early fairy tales, which Carter extrapolates in The Bloody Chamber. The original tale Red Riding Hood, which inspired several stories in the anthology and also the film, can be interpreted as a treatise on virginity. The wolf is a predator, out to steal away Red Riding Hood’s innocence and “devour” her, but she must be vigilant and stick to the path. Carter’s retelling is far more feminist. At the culmination of the short story and the film, the Red Riding Hood character – named Rosaleen in the film – chooses to stay with the wolf who has tricked her and eaten her grandmother. Leaving behind her parents, the village and the expectations that they had for her life, she transforms into a wolf herself and they flee into the forest together.

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“They say the Prince of Darkness is gentleman… they’re right, a fine gentleman.”

Perhaps that’s the secret to making a horror film that treats women’s experiences sensitively while still being, well, horrifying. Strip the protagonist of her autonomy, stop her from being the focus of her own narrative, and you’re guaranteed to make a shitty, sexist film. Giving agency and a voice to women in horror doesn’t reduce the terror, but it does stop the film from contributing to real life attitudes and stigma.

Please like and share if you enjoyed this article! This is a subject about which I’m passionate, and I’d really appreciate it.

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Is Ross Poldark A Hero?

If you’ve read the novels or seen the original series (I have done neither), then you probably saw the events of last week’s episode of Poldark coming. In Series 2, Episode 8, we saw the tension between Ross and his former lover Elizabeth come to a head… and it was less than romantic. Let’s be real: it was a rape scene. There is no getting around that, there was nothing consensual about it. No matter how the BBC or the fans dress it up, Ross was firmly in the wrong. He was aggressive (he had the air of a fairly dastardly Bond villain when he entered the room). He ignored her wishes (she asked him to leave her bedroom and he refused). Finally, damningly, she plainly and repeatedly said “no”. It was rape. But the handling of the scene seems to suggest that those involved think otherwise. The BBC haven’t bothered to try and contextualise it, the author’s son has praised their faithful attitude to his father’s text – written in 1953, I might add – and even Aidan Turner, Cap’n Poldark himself, has weighed in on the issue. He said of the scene in a statement made to the Sun newspaper: “It seems consensual, and it just seems right. He goes to talk. He doesn’t go to commit a crime. They talk and it seems like there is still this spark between them, this unfinished business emotionally. Certainly, that’s how Ross feels. He doesn’t force himself upon her. He is emotionally quite inarticulate. I don’t think he quite understands himself.” He elaborated: “It would be boring to play a character who’s just a do-gooder”, which I think is in somewhat poor taste. This isn’t the excusable behaviour of a rogueish ne’er-do-well. It was a calculated attempt by a male protagonist to intimidate and control a leading female character. In a popular TV series, to cast that man as a hero is unacceptable.

The response from the cast, the crew and the fans begs the question: why are we so willing to excuse the flaws of our heroes? Furthermore, is Ross Poldark a hero at all?

The answer lies both in how the narrative unique to Poldark treats its protagonist and in how fiction at large treats rape and sexual violence.

First and foremost, Ross is not a nice character. He is a terrible person dressed up by the narrative and the cinematography to seem like a lovely ray of sunshine. Oh wow, look at his Adonis-like bod… whoops, you missed him being an abusive, unfaithful shitbag. At this point, he is as bad as the series’ villain George Warleggan. George is violent, emotionally manipulative and arrogant, and we as viewers are encouraged to hate him for it. All those qualities could be said of Ross too. We are not, however, expected to hate Ross, because he doesn’t know he’s doing wrong, poor boy. I think this ties in with the comments Aidan made – that Ross didn’t intend to commit a crime. The implication there is that, because he didn’t really mean to violate both her body and her autonomy, it isn’t actually that bad. 

This is the same thing survivors of rape are told in real life. Rapists are constantly leaving court without a conviction. They didn’t mean to, you see, they didn’t know. They thought they had the victim’s consent, because “no” really means “yes” in the throes of passion, doesn’t it? That’s my real issue with this scene. I get why it happened. Ross Poldark, a desperate, angry man with a big, control-freak ego, feels betrayed and confused. Elizabeth is torn, caught between the man she really loves and the man she must marry to secure her son’s future. Something catastrophic and ugly needed to occur at this point in the plot – as a writer, I know that. I’m also aware that the BBC are adapting a book series from over 50 years ago which is set in the 1790s; of course there will be iffy ethics and dodgy morals. However, there are ways to present this scene without condoning what happens. They needed to pick a point on the spectrum, frankly – either she consented enthusiastically or Ross forced himself on her. Yes, there might have been a grey area; perhaps Elizabeth was simply overcome with her long held passion. But, unfortunately, there is a long history in cinema of what amounts to a rape fantasy, in which the victim will eventually enjoy an unwanted encounter if the perpetrator is pushy enough. Poldark, unwittingly or not, has signed its name on that list.

We’re at a point in the evolution of pop culture that, by now, we should have grasped that you can enjoy something and still be deeply critical of it. Poldark is not a bad TV series, nor am I crediting it with being some kind of moral touchstone for the masses. The cast are fantastic; the plot is (generally) well-crafted and engaging. The Cornish coast is the real star of the show, obviously.

However, my enjoyment of it doesn’t diminish the discomfort I feel. We excuse the faults of fictional men – and often those of real ones too – all the time. In a way, that “Oh, but he didn’t know” (which we’re all so fond of) is rather infantilising to men and it’s deeply violent towards women. Our media and our visual culture is saturated with this idea that all can be forgiven because he’s the hero. Ross, in my opinion, is very much a Homeric hero – an Achilles or an Odysseus. In ancient Greek culture, a “hero” achieved incredible feats, but always for personal gain. Our modern heroic qualities are normally more along the lines of selflessness and compassion. There’s a real clash of ethics there. We’ve blurred that line, I think, and now we don’t really know what we want or deserve from our fictional protagonists. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t portray bad people on screen. I’m also not saying that the main character of a film or book should always be a saint. Real people are flawed and they do terrible things.

We just need to be honest about that.

Still thought Demelza was justified, tho

Please like and share if you enjoyed! 

Agathon and the Women: Effeminacy and Femininity

There is a definite prejudice towards men who use femininity as part of their palate; their emotional palate, their physical palate. Is that changing? I’m not talking frilly-laced pink things or Hello Kitty stuff. I’m talking about goddess energy, intuition and feelings. That is still under attack, and it has gotten worse.

– RuPaul

I want to talk to you about Agathon.

Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet and playwright, who lived from (roughly) 448BCE to 400BCE. None of his own works have survived in their entirety – we know of six titles and we have 31 textual fragments – although he appears as a character in Plato’s Symposium and in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria). Neither of these depictions are very flattering. He appears in the first act of Thesmophoriazusae. In the play, the tragedian Euripides is accused of misogyny, and the women of Athens have had it up to here with him. At the Thesmophoria, a women-only festival, they plot their revenge. Euripides plans to have Agathon – a man notorious for dressing as a woman and for his submissive sexual exploits – infiltrate the festival for him (although this doesn’t work out and Euripides’ relative Mnesilochus goes instead).

Agathon is mocked pretty ruthlessly throughout his appearance in the play, although you could argue that he gives as good as he gets; honestly, I wish he was in the play more. He’s heavily coded by the narrative as gay, he dresses as a woman (for writing purposes) and it’s implied that he works as a prostitute, but it’s the latter two of these qualities that seem to qualify him for mockery. Nobody would have had a problem with him being gay; the Greeks didn’t really have a concept of homosexual or heterosexual. You were either dominant (penetrator) or you were submissive (penetrated). Agathon falls into that second category – the category reserved for pubescent boys and women.

The reason I bring up Agathon (aside from his general brilliance) is because he exemplifies how masculinity and femininity intersected in ancient times, and there’s a lot we can learn from his portrayal about how the ancients – and how we – approach femininity and also what we might call effeminacy. Homophobia and sexism are both social justice issues. We don’t necessarily lump them in together or deal with them in the same way, but I often find that people who are passionate about fighting one of those causes feel some affinity for the other too. I also think many homophobic stereotypes and cliches which accompany depictions of gay men in media have their roots in misogyny and anti-femininity. That’s not to say the LGBT+ rights movement owes anything at all to feminists or to straight, cis women, but I do think there are some similarities to be acknowledged.

I’ve often argued that plenty of men’s issues are a direct result of our society’s demonisation of femininity. Men don’t have the opportunity to access domestic violence services and, even when they do, they don’t feel as though they can and still retain their masculinity. There’s a high suicide rate among young males, another result of constant social pressure to conform. This is when masculinity becomes toxic, something men have to labour under all their lives rather than something they settle into comfortably.

Perhaps this contributes to homophobia, particularly to femmephobia (discrimination towards feminine-presenting individuals, something that is perpetrated by gay men too, not just heterosexuals). Perhaps this insecurity manifests as resentment towards men who confidently, comfortably inhabit the space (a gap which is rapidly closing) between masculinity and femininity.

You might have seen an image that did the rounds on the internet recently, of a man wearing a “No fats, no fems” shirt.

no fats no fems

Yeah, okay, it’s a hella cute shirt. Yeah, it was meant to be ironic. But it highlights a massive problem in the gay community, this idea that “twinks” – feminine gay men – are letting the side down and giving in to stereotyping. In a way, it contributes to both homophobia and misogyny in one fell swoop. You can read a gay man’s perspective on “anti-campness” here, from Guardian columnist Owen Jones. In the article, Owen states: “This anti-camp hostility partly comes from a desire to conform to traditional gender roles, which gay men have already subverted whether they want to or not.” It’s all part of “internalised homophobia”, in which gay men (and gay women!) perpetuate harmful stereotypes out of fear and insecurity. However, this is steadily improving. I quoted RuPaul earlier. He’s a prime example; his series RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a smash hit with eight seasons (and two seasons of its spin-off All Stars) under its belt. As drag has entered the mainstream consciousness – via the accessible “talent show” format that RPDR employs – so has the idea that mixing masculine and feminine gender expression is totally acceptable.

On a broader level – beyond just the gay community – I think we’d solve a lot of men’s issues far more quickly if we stopped enforcing this idea that feelings = femininity = weakness. Even now, being called “a girl” is a grave insult for many boys and men.

Feminists have always had a complicated relationship with both masculinity and femininity. When feminists critique masculinity, generally what they mean is more along the lines of machismo – a word of Spanish origin that denotes hypersexual manhood, denigration of women and adherence to a strict set of “masculine” traits. Men also put up with some pretty hellish expectations regarding their bodies and their lives. I – and most other feminists I know – give a whoop and a cheer when a plus size man is hailed as a modelling icon or when the internet’s latest sweetheart is “unconventionally attractive” (whatever that even means).

Owen Jones – I know, him again! – also wrote a piece for New Statesman about masculinity. I used a quote from that particular post in my Quotes series. He wrote in that article: “…the point is this. Being a man is not static: it can change and be redefined.” I think that’s the crucial thing. The more we encourage people, especially young people, to see masculinity and femininity as fluid, the better our society as a whole will be. The pressure to conform to a rigid gender role can be so damaging and dehumanising, and it causes a massive disconnect between a young person’s inner identity and their outward expression. Imagine a world without that self-sabotage.

Really, we should see gender as a painter’s palette. Blend. Experiment. Why use just one colour for the masterpiece that is your life?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Thesmophoriazusae, spoken by Agathon. He has a lot of good dialogue in the play, but, after studying the play for my AS Level, this line stuck with me. I think it’s apt for what I do.

What you write depends so much on what you are.

People I mentioned/cited:

Owen Jones, How To Be A Man, New Statesman (x)

Owen Jones, What Alan Carr Taught Me About Gay Men’s HomophobiaThe Guardian (x)

RuPaul, RuPaul speaks about society and the state of drag as performance artWikiNews (x)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, Section 2 (x)

A little more about Agathon:

Agathon is credited with being an innovator in the world of Greek tragedy. Athenian plays were almost always based upon mythology, although they occasionally had their origins in history. Agathon is thought to have been the first playwright to have written an entirely original play, Anthos (“Flower”). The reason we know about him – aside from his roles in Symposium and Thesmophoriazusae – is because he won at the Lenaean Festival in 417BC. Greek playwrights competed at these festivals, showcasing their latest works, and it was a great honour to be awarded first place. I was especially surprised to learn that, as, in Thesmophoriazusae, Aristophanes depicts him as being an incompetent writer.

For more about him, go here, here and here. You can find PDFs of Thesmophoriazusae online, although a published translation is generally a better bet (we used this edition at college).

On Feminist Art

Sorry I’ve been so inactive! I’ve been focusing on college work, mostly. However, during the summer holidays, I’ve tried to branch out in terms of the feminist material I’m reading and creating. I’ve followed lots of great feminist artists on Instagram (like Paloma Smith/@octoplum), as well as some zine-makers and writers. I really like the DIY vibe I get from most feminist art, the idea that these are women making incredible things with the most ordinary of tools.

Art has been an integral part of feminism for a long time, starting with the original feminist art movement in the 1960s. For me, it marks how feminism has expanded from the realm of academia. It’s not something contained in statistics and studies and essays; it’s real, tangible and present in the lives and imaginations of women. There’s something inherently radical about the act of expression through creation, the very making of art that has come from your own heart and your own brain.

I’d definitely like to try my hand at producing a zine (there’s a “how-to” from Rookie magazine here), but for now I thought I’d stick to something simple and familiar. I was in a creative writing club at school and since then I haven’t had much chance to do any writing. I thought I’d have a go at something similar to the “found poetry” or the “cut up” techniques. I’m not sure my version strictly fits into either genre, but I enjoyed making them and I’m pleased with the results. It’s very therapeutic and cheap – all you need are scissors, glue and a few unwanted magazines and newspapers – but it can be quite time-consuming, especially as I’m pretty picky and I kept rearranging the lines!

FYI: these are my intellectual property, so please don’t nick them or share them without crediting me!

It’s up to you to interpret these, but the two short ones on the top right were specifically about feminism and how it’s perceived. The top left was inspired by all the writers I love right now who are fighting for social justice with the pen, not the sword. The bottom left was meant to be more evocative of the disconnect between the polished exterior of British society and the colonialism and corruption we like to gloss over. The bottom right is about the area I’m from, the Black Country, which you can learn more about here if you’re not local!

You can read more about feminist zines and self-publishing here.

“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”.

Writing – Artemisia

The third (very belated) part of my historical women series. You can read Cleopatra and Olympias first, if you like, but they’re not interconnected. This is not 100% historically accurate, but I wasn’t really aiming for that. Artemisia’s life has become part of mine, and I simply enjoyed taking the time to explore how I feel about her work. Trigger warning for non-explicit references to rape and sexual assault, as well as some moderate violence.

For Artemisia, and for the sister she never had.

Rome, 1612

Artemisia approaches the canvas. She hesitates briefly, as though asking permission from a lover, before placing a hand upon its textured surface. She touches every bump, every ridge, every pore, until she knows each one intimately. She feels a strange sort of camaraderie with it, like an old friend.

Her wounded hands are glaringly obvious against the white and her thumbs throb with remembered pain, caught in a tightening vice that has not touched her flesh for months. She remembers how she shrieked until her throat was dry and burning and she could shout no longer – even now, she swallows slowly, at a thankful, reverent pace – and she remembers the metal inside her. How cold, how clinical. They never drew blood, not there, but still she felt dissected, split asunder. For months, she could not quite believe that anything below her waist belonged to her. It had become public property. It had become evidence.

She had become evidence. She had been victim, witness, judge and jury.

Her body may have healed from that indignity, but her soul had not.

 

She wants her next work to be powerful. She wants to give her weeping heart manifest form. Looking up at the canvas, she knows the space would allow for it. Empty as it is, it already physically dominates, but she wants it to be emotionally overwhelming too.

She wants something epic, something towering and forceful.

“Something of Biblical proportions,” her father had said when she told him; she had agreed.

She wants rage and she wants revenge and she wants blood, yet she craves companionship and sisterhood and triumph.

Judith, she thinks, it can only be Judith. I must paint Judith, here and now, for when she slays her Holofernes, I will have slain mine too.

She gathers her materials. Slowly but firmly, she starts to sketch. For now, it is bare bones. One day, it will have a heartbeat of its very own.

 

Over the months following the trial, she gets to know Judith very well. She could have told the tale with ease prior to this, but she could not have attested to the slick darkness of Judith’s hair, like the Tiber on a stormy day. She could not have described the flex of the tendons in Judith’s forearm, nor the grip of her fist in Holofernes’ hair, nor the thrust and the drive of the blade in her hand. Judith is fluidity and Judith is motion, so Artemisia lets herself be taken with the ebb and flow of her tide.

She even acquaints herself with Holofernes. She had no desire to know him before she began. It was Judith who mattered most, and that remains gospel in her heart. That doesn’t stop her from feeling a surge of ragehatepity at the sight of his frightened eyes, his grasping hands, his gaping mouth. Perhaps this is because she is familiar with this expression. It is the same look she has seen in the eyes of dying fish, asphyxiating in fishermen’s nets, and it is the same look she saw on the face of Agostino Tassi that day in court.

She paints Holofernes differently, violently. Judith is born of tender recognition, but Holofernes is born of painful otherness. Holofernes is dissonance, he is an untuned string in the symphony of Artemisia’s… Judith’s life. Sometimes, she has to stop herself for fear that she will stab him, right through the heart and right through the canvas. She has to pause occasionally, for she is breathless, she is spent. She leaves a trail of blood in her wake. It spatters, adorning his throat and chest, a garland of roses, a chain of rubies. She is caught in their crossfire as Judith plunges downwards with her dagger and Holofernes fights upwards and, often, she wonders: when did she stop being an onlooker and become a participant? When did she join the brawl?

Artemisia is not the only one dragged in from the sidelines. Behind them both is Judith’s maidservant, pinning the general down while Judith beheads him. Despite Holofernes’ punishing grasp on the front of her gown, the maid stands firm, determined. She is more a sister than a servant. Artemisia wishes desperately that she had a sister, so she is gentle, coaxing the maid out from the shadows as she paints. Perhaps there is a secret part of her that is jealous, that craves what Judith has.

She remembers how she had screamed for Tuzia all those months ago. It was hard with his hand over her mouth, dragging stale stinging air into her lungs as she inhaled, but still she had screamed and screamed. She had begged. Tuzia never came.

In court, Tuzia had denied all knowledge. I heard nothing, she said, I saw nothing.  I’ve never followed Artemisia into her workshop. I heard nothing.

She kept saying it, over and over, I heard nothing. Artemisia is sure she burst into tears at one point and had to be consoled, for she would have made herself ill with the sobbing. You heard everything, she had wanted to bellow, I yelled and I begged and you heard but you never came, you traitor. But she hadn’t screamed. She only had to look Tuzia in the eye for a second and the woman knew it all. Remember me, she demanded with those precious moments of eye-contact, Don’t you ever forget me, don’t you dare.

Artemisia used to hope – and she hated herself for hoping – that whenever Tuzia broke bread, she’d think of her former friend’s broken body and whenever she sipped wine, she’d think of the dried blood on the bedsheets. She doesn’t wish for that now. She might not have forgiven Tuzia, but she wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. It is not in her nature.

 

Rome, 1613

When she steps away from the canvas, for what she knows is the very last time, Artemisia is not shocked by what she sees.

Not Judith, Holofernes and the maid.

Rather, Artemisia, Agostino, and Tuzia.

Her instinct is to rush to change it, to scrub away its significance. With a darker shadow here, a more pronounced cheekbone there, there would be no sign, no suspicion, that the three of them ever shared a canvas.

But she can’t do it. She won’t do it.

 

For weeks, people come to see the painting.  News travels fast on the streets of Rome, and they soon flock to her father’s exhibitions to see the works of both father and daughter. Some of them marvel. Some of them are aghast. One lady faints at the thought that a woman could paint such a thing as this. How improper to depict a Biblical widow engaging in wilful decapitation.

This is her testament. This is her monument.

It makes her laugh to think that – on a wall, rather than the gallows – Agostino Tassi will hang.

 

Florence, 1614

When Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, asks her to recreate the work, she paints with such vigour that it scares her. It takes her six years to complete. The finished work, far more refined and yet far more animal than the original, certainly scares the Dowager Grand Duchess Cristina, but, unsurprisingly, Cosimo loves it. So she paints another, and another, and another.

The scandal dies down, the gossip withers, but she is still an oddity in the Florentine court. An artist’s daughter from Rome, a victim of rape, a sociological phenomenon.

This is fine by her. She is content to be an oddity, on her own terms.

Everything is on her own terms now.

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!