Saturday, 27 March 2010

Yay for Iceland!

Iceland might just be the most feminist country in the world. With news this week that they have passed legislation that will ban all strip clubs in the country, they are leading the way in challenging the sex industry. You can read all about here -

Closer to home from the 1st of April it will be illegal to purchase sex in the United Kingdom. Still it remains to be seen what effect Iceland's decision to ban all strip clubs will have here where the debates rage on over lap dancing clubs. Even in feminist camps there are huge disagreements about the sex industry, whether it can ever be a woman's choice to be a sex worker and indeed whether it can ever be empowering.

Well, I know in which camp I firmly sit. The sexual exploitation and comodification of women's bodies does not make for a progressive and supposedly civilised society. The conditions under which the vast majority of sex workers conduct their work, many feeding drug and alcohol addictions, is a far cry from the glamorous tales recounted by the likes of Belle Du Jour and fictionalised series such as Billie Piper's 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'. Its time that as a society we woke up to the realities of the industry and refused to allow women's bodies to be used for commercial gain.

Arguments that prostitution is the oldest industry in the world are hardly excuses to allow this to go on. If it were that simple then there would be a case for continuing other forms of slavery. And I am sure all civilised people would agree that we should never return to a racist past. So why should sexism be any different?

Until the EU passes blanket legislation banning the purchase of sex and the use of strip and lap dancing clubs from all our societies then real progress can never be made. Having said this, Iceland's stance is a huge one up for feminism.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Now I'm Annoyed. 'The Delicious Miss Dahl'

Image from The Guardian

Watching 'The Delicious Miss Dahl' the other night my ideologically unsound barometer tipped off the scale. The irritating opening with its cutesy cartoons of Sophie Dahl in her evolution from voluptuous model, to skinny malinky, to annoying sometimes poet/writer and now TV chef, in which her various moods and states of mind are depicted, looked like a promotional video for some sort of mental health charity. One probably catered towards self-indulgence and addictions to Cath Kidston.

The whole thing was an overworked incredibly smug affair, from the trinket laden kitchen - a place surely engineered only for the production of cupcakes and middle class female angst - to the forced coquettishness of Dahl herself, all learned doe-eyedness and embarrassment. You can sense the probably male producer she's talking to just off camera gesticulating at poor Sophie to sex it up with naughty quotes from Dorothy 'four dirty martinis and I'm under the host' Parker. And lord only knows who cooked up the fabulous allusion of buffalo mozzarella to the 'wobbly bit on someone's arm'. I'm literally having to be restrained from grabbing the nearest bingo wing I can find, if only to understand what the hell she was going on about.

The two vital ingredients that surely go into a successful cookery show are the cooking and the eating. Its not rocket science, yet Sophie does hardly any of either. I counted a woeful looking omelet with haddock, peanut butter fudge, some sort of female-looking fish dish, and a chocolate cherry compote thingy, none of which seemed to require much skill. This wouldn't have mattered so much if Dahl had offered up anything I might have actually wanted to cook or if her screen presence had oozed charisma and genuine humour. Instead a trip with Sophie to a bespoke Cheese monger where she 'slinked' mozzarella between her delicately manicured hands, and a mosey around an antique shop (as you do) where she proceeded to talk about down-playing the signing of her first book deal, had me shouting at the TV 'humility MUCH Sophie?'

This is the kind of telly, clearly directed at young impressionable women and some older ones who should know better, that grown women should wholeheartedly oppose. There is a strange paradox at work in a country who's government is so concerned about an impending obesity epidemic and yet its media has an overblown fixation with food. Particularly food and women. This has filtered down so far that what women eat is so ingrained in the cultural psyche, that a few weeks ago I read a scathing critique of cupcakes and vaginoplasty in The Independent. True this is the kind of assessment only possible in a country where food is so plentiful that fairy cakes are considered a food group in their own right and female genital mutilation is thankfully not common practice. Still, cupcakes are the kind of food, along with programmes such as 'The Delicious Miss Dahl' that have bred a new performative lifestyle choice, the appropriation of a role once reserved for 50's housewives and synonymous with drudgery. This is the era of Cath Kidston, gin and cake parties and a phoney femininity doused in rose water and swaddled in ditzy print tea-dresses. And its totally at the expense of substance and an insult to the thinking woman who doesn't enjoy glorified baby food.

And just when you thought cupcakes were bad enough, what's the latest craze to be imported? French Macaroons. Never mind Dorothy Parker under her host. I'm on the floor ...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Perplexed by ...

(Image from From 'Women', three part documentary showing on BBC 4, by Vanessa Engle)

Okay so Kate 'sausages and mash' Winslet isn't everyone's cup of tea, but in a week that follows revelations about Chelsea footballer's infidelities and the news of kindly Mark Owen's pre-marital affairs, I find it incredible that certain sections of the British press are so quick to respond to the end of Winslet's marriage to Sam Mendes with the 'oh we never really liked her anyway' retort. For it seems where no tangible betrayal can be reported its easier to just blame the woman for a break-up. It must be her success, her beauty or her Oscar. Where the Jennifer Aniston's and the Cheryl Cole's have our unconditional sympathies, Winslet in all her pretence to 'ordinariness' must rather be scrutinised and critiqued. Perhaps that the difference between great hair and intelligence: one is intimidating, while the other is just, well, great hair.

Anyone who was (at least in my opinion) fortunate enough to see Revolutionary Road last year knows that while the hermetically sealed world of a marriage is a private, often inscrutable affair, at least in the very fact that no one really knows 'what goes on behind closed doors'; it was blatantly obvious from the movie that whether you are in one or not, there are hearts and lives at stake. Husbands,Wives, Children. Perhaps its time we all just butted out of celebrity marriages and got on with the business of keeping our own houses in order.

To that end and in a sort of coda, I also want to talk about the second part of BBC 4's Women series, charting the women's lib movement to present day activism. As a feminist it pains me that my generation are all to compliant and now often complicit in the sexism and de-humanisation of our gender from middle-England grade bitchiness displayed in rags such as The Daily Mail and of a calibre not dissimilar to what I have discussed above, to the more blatant practices of our hyper-sexualisation: glamour modelling and the mythology of sexual empowerment. Next week's final installment of Women will hopefully go some way to redress this imbalance by provided a much needed highlight into the fantastic work many 3rd wave feminists are doing to highlight issues still facing gender equality today.

For now though you can catch 'Mothers' (the second episode) on iplayer. I have to say I found this, as a follow up from the previous episode on 'Libbers' to be a rather less satisfactory exploration of what happened to the generation immediately after the 2nd wavers. Documentary maker Vanessa Engle focused her research of mothers from the working, to the stay at home solely in the middle class realm. The viewer's eye darts from one Sunday supplement home to the next, while women (some more tired looking than others) discussed the discrepancies between the domestic and economic roles, while their husbands squirm with embarrassment. There is a case for saying a basis in the white middle class home might be the most likely place to find 'stay at home mothers' as 21st century models of 1950's housewives, for economic privilege is one factor which affords women the right to choose to stay at home. But in light of teenage pregnancies, and the changes in British demographic it was a rather limited world in which to focus. Perhaps that was the point. The hermetically sealed world of the 2 point 4 nuclear family fitted the documentary's remit and to hell with all the 'social deviants' and politically and economically dis-emplowered the 2nd wave fought so hard for.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Woman of the day: Kathryn Bigelow.

Image courtesy of The Times.

Okay so I said I'd create a list in honour of International Women's Day of some of the women who've inspired me along this rocky-roaded journey that is Feminism. But life has got in the way, the clock has struck twelve and I'm in danger of turning into a pumpkin.

So as not to leave good intentions entirely half-arsed, here's to Kathryn Bigelow, finally the first woman ever (that's right EVER) to win an Oscar for best director, for her film 'The Hurt Locker'. An incredibly male dominated industry, with a disproportionate emphasis on youth -particularly with regards to its female actors - has finally acknowledged the work of a female in a directorial role. As far as I know only three women have previously been nominated for this accolade, so its no mean feat that Bigelow walked away with the wee golden man.

Still, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the film industry more generally. Was this a case of guilty tokenism - the Academy admitting they couldn't keep ignoring the work of female directors - quite easy to do, when according to Xan Brookes of The Guardian about 93% of the directorial work is done by men, or does this mark a turning point? Perhaps this will inspire more young women to work behind the screen, rather than in front of it. Perhaps more films directed by women will be deemed worthy of investment. Only time will tell.
For now though, all I can say is this news made me smile. For on International Women's Day, the Oscar for best director, for the first time ever went to a woman. About bloody time too!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Emancipated. Not Emaciated.

Last year while working as a Book Correspondent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, for ThreeWeeks (the festival reviewing publication) I had what I thought was at the time, the good fortune to attend Susie Orbach's discussion of her latest book 'Bodies'. Suspecting it was a now or never moment, at the end of the discussion I plucked the roving mic to ask her a question: what had happened to the feminist movement since the 2nd wave and could it possibly be resurrected to promote greater unity amongst women?

As her initial pleasure/surprise that someone under the age of 30 had asked her a question melted from her face, she rather stony replied, 'it can't be [resurrected] times have changed'. In short she advocated randomised acts of feminism, much like this blog I suppose (which would probably be more effective if more people read it ...) and posting YouTube videos. 'The days of pamphlets are gone' she proclaimed with a knowing air that rather took for granted the assumption that I thought the 3rd wave was going to march merrily along off the back of photocopied, handwritten leaflets. I'm ever so slightly technophobic, but I'm no Luddite.

'But what about demonstrations?!' the lefty inside me cried -for a lefty loves a good protest. 'I've been to many of these events' I said, 'and they are disproportionately made up of bespectacled middle aged people', well I didn't say that but I did say this 'people keep saying my generation doesn't give a toss about politics, that we're apolitical, that we don't care. I was 18 when our government invaded Iraq and I was out on the streets months before an impending invasion, alongside what looked like at least 60% of the population who sure as hell didn't agree with the war.' I drew for breath and wiped the sweat from my brow. Forgive me I was nervous, Susie was after all Princess Diana's psychotherapist.

'I know' Orbach said soothingly, 'but they didn't listen to us'. Sensing she had little time for waving placards I handed back the mic. All I had wanted was an answer to how we might unify the women. To be told that New Labour's foreign policy might have damaged this irrevocably came as a bit of a shock to me. In seriousness perhaps it is understandable. Orbach felt that at this point in her life she had done her bit for the feminist cause, it was up to her daughter's generation and the like to set the wheels in motion, to figure out the 3rd wave.

Perhaps I could have come away with a renewed sense of faith in the female, if not propensity, at least potential to subscribe to a feminism, if it hadn't been for something a girl of high school age, a couple of rows back, went on to say. What started off as a relatively sound recount of her experience of the pressure to look a certain way and her determination to subvert the so-called conventions of female beauty, finished up as a criticism of the girls in her year not so strong-willed enough as to say no to the pearlescent lip-gloss. 'I call them The Plastics!' she laughed with a knowing air Orbach clearly didn't pick up on, for she latched onto this term as though it were some kind of cyber-punk, post-apocalyptic anti-feminism were men have done away with real shitting, pissing and bleeding women and replaced them with robots - The Plastics.

For you or I young enough to remember when Lindsay Lohan had a successful acting career, we know otherwise. The Plastics are a group of bitchy, image-conscious girls who terrorise their high school peers in the teen movie 'Mean Girls'. This possibly 'mean' girl had simply appropriated the term to denote the more vain amongst her peers. Its old fashioned, but I grew up with the principle that 'two wrongs, don't make a right'. How all this fits in with Orbach's campaign to promote healthy body image beats me, but she seemed to enjoy this girl's rant and even invited her to contribute to her website Any-Body. You can read my review of the discussion here

Coincidentally, today I read in The Independent that Susie Orbach has been listed amongst the top 100 most influential British women of the last one hundred years. Its International Women's Day tomorrow and later I might be tempted to draw up my own list of women of substance and achievement and post it here as my own randomised feminist nod to the ladies who put pen to paper, who said or sang things that have renewed my faith in the cause.

For now I want to show you a few pictures of a female activism demonstration I attended on October the 10th 2009 in Edinburgh, organised by the Gude Cause. The Gude Cause Procession staged a reenactment of the historic Suffragettes march which went along famous Princes Street one hundred years ago. In a bid to not just celebrate one hundred years of female activism, they invited young women to construct placards and banners highlighting the issues and causes still effecting women today, as well as highlighting the work still needed to be done to make society a more equal and fair place for all women.

With this in mind, in a not so subtle nod to my meeting with Susie Orbach, I decided, partly on her behalf, to highlight the issue of body image, under the slogan 'EMANCIPATED. NOT EMACIATED.' For we are women who can vote, so we are women who can eat!

Here's a picture of my friend Sarah who took to banner wielding like a dolphin to water. I love the candid nature of this shot, the black and white is almost reminiscent of Suffragette imagery, whereas the timeless nature of her stance could have come straight from a 2nd wave Miss World protest. Although you can't appreciate it in this picture, Sarah dyed a section of her hair Suffragette purple for the occasion. Now that's dedication.

Below we're taking the banner along North Bridge. To the left we were overlooked by nature's compelling gift, the dormant volcanic rock of Arthur's Seat. To our right we were flanked by the majestic Balmoral Hotel. Once again Sarah's taking up banner holding duties. Picking it up from the right we have Dora (my flatmate and best friend). I was rather pleased that we'd surpassed the banner behind us for the Scottish Socialist Party. Marxism has its place. But this day was about Feminism!

And here's our banner in the glorious sunshine. I'm on the right rocking super cool Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Who says feminists wear dungarees?

Friday, 5 March 2010


Its Friday and the end of a long and perplexing week in which rather confusingly I watched Carol Vorderman on Question Time (a mind exploding number of thoughts came to mind during this hour long debate that is fast becoming torture for the soul - why did she read from a piece of paper the whole time? Were those glasses real? How can someone who is so good at solving algebra equations and Pythagoras Theorem be so stupid in every other aspect?)But all this is for another blog.

Tonight I'm going to keep it simple, perhaps even, in homage, I might write the rest of this in soundbites. SHOUTY SOUNDBITES. Because ... 'IT'S MASTERCHEF'. How awesome is this show? Words fly from the mouths of Antipodean John Torode and boiled egg-head Greg Wallace, the like of which haven't been seen on our television screens for as long as I can remember. The way Wallace sinks a silver spoon into rhubarb crumble, reshapes his lips into a wrinkled ass-hole and says the words 'that is majestic!' is surely pure televisual gold. And thank goodness we have John Torode keeping it real by reeling off the list of ingredients the poor hapless contestant has thrown into his or her hastily made - 50 mins - one dish - invention round. Let's imagine for a moment someone served up Angel Delight under their robotic gaze. It would surely go something like this -

Torode (rams a spoonful into his mouth, letting his teeth scrape the spoon as he pulls it out): 'Well, we've got foam, we've got sugar and at the end, just a hint of .... air ... I ... quite like it.'

Wallace: 'Wow, that's sugary - the flavour rams you around the back of your head ... but ... does it show enough skill?'

All the while an incredibly intense soundtrack of music discarded from Stanley Kubrick's' The Shining plays in the background.

As Wallace would say 'Cooking doesn't get tougher than this!'

And just because its Friday Heeeeeeeeeeeeeereeeeeeeeeeesssssssssss's ...

John Torode and Greg Wallace. How playful ...

Image from The Guardian. Shine/BBC.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story.

Image from The Guardian: Everett Collection/Rex Features.

The general consensus around these parts at least, is that Michael Moore is a bit like Marmite, the Jedward of the documentary world - you either love him or you hate him. If I must be drawn into such hard and fast conclusions, then I would have to say I love him. Sure he's a polemicist but were you under any illusions that you were going to get a balanced assessment of capitalism? Indeed what the hell is balanced about a concept that systematically takes from the many to line the pockets of the few?

Capitalism: A Love Story is what Moore thinks capitalism has done to America. But he also pieces together some shocking, albeit anecdotal pieces of evidence about its insidious and cruel practices. In this documentary Moore films ordinary Americans being stripped of their homes for presumably not keeping up with their mortgage payments, factory workers turning up for work and being told that they had been sacked with out any redundancy packages and employers who had taken out life insurance policies on their poorly paid workers, so that in the event of their death their loved ones would be left with zilch. With Moore's camera lens zooming in on the anguish on these victims' faces the viewer is left with the uncomfortable paradox of manipulative film-making, yet whose very intrusiveness opens a window into a world banks and governments would rather we didn't set foot. So who the hell is really the bad guy?

I've read an awful lot over the weekend from the broadsheets criticising Moore for the wearing thin propaganda in which he supposedly peddles. In the Guardian no less one blog suggested Moore's challenge to capitalism was merely pie in the sky liberalism. You can't fight the hulking machine of capitalism. So much for the 'liberal voice'. And while this documentary sadly comes to theatres in an untimely fashion, the euphoria of Obama's election victory is all but past its infancy, and we are (including those of us in Britain) seemingly apathetic or perhaps more aptly put powerless to stop the stranglehold of the world's banks and our government's willingness to bail them out, there is still a level of relevance to Moore's crusade. After all whatever did happen to democracy as we were supposed to know it? If we take Britain for a second, what part of MP's expenses claims at the tax payer's expense had anything to do with the democratically elected serving their people? Indeed what's the point of democracy if the government works more effectively for the banks than it does for its citizens?

Yet under these circumstances it is difficult to understand what Moore means when he concludes in somewhat lukewarm terms that 'Democracy' is the challenge to capitalism, as it almost looks like we've entered a situation were one feeds directly into the other. Democracy from ancient Greek civilisation onwards appears to be at least in the hands of our elected representatives a malleable concept that can sit on a trajectory spanning the right and the left of politics. Indeed our government suggested that the banking bail out had been for the greater good, that it would benefit us all, so go figure.

While in general terms one might suggest that what Moore was trying to say was whatever happened to democracy?, it would perhaps be more pertinent to point out that his thesis sits more comfortably with his patriotism. For his documentaries are so saturated in his paradoxical love for his country and his despair at what the powers-that-be have done to it. This vein runs right through the heart of his work, from the grass roots level at which he deals with his state of Michigan and more particularly his home town of Flint, to the closure of General Motors, the company his father had worked for. Perhaps any form of patriotism simply doesn't sit well with the reluctant British. And who could blame us, there is very little to be proud of.

However it is far too simplistic to paint Moore as the bad guy and similarly it plays into the hands of the capitalists who'd rather we didn't question their immorality. Capitalism may have once been a concept founded on the supposed principles of freedom of choice but this very tenet is undermined when your choices are limited by poverty and circumstance. If in turn your democratically elected representatives work more effectively for capitalistic gain than societal growth - equality, the right to a decently paid job, the right to shelter and protection from the state - then we can safely say there is something far wrong with these governments. Moore is one of the few who is actually pointing this out. You don't have to like him but equally don't criticise him for promoting social justice.