Posts Tagged 'Sexism'

Like a Girl

59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show

I was on New-Brighton Beach with my family last week, on May Bank Holiday Monday.

I heard a Father say to his son; “That’s not a proper jump, you little girl.”

As angry as I still am by what the Father said, I’m more angry with myself for doing nothing. I was so dumb-founded, all I could do was burn silently with internalised rage. I wish I’d been brave enough to stand up, and say to this Father; Have you ever seen a little girl jump, or run, or punch, or climb a tree? They’re like Olympian frogs. Also, don’t use “Girl” as an insult in front of your son, he’ll grow up to be a misogynist.

I’m still angry with myself, over a week later. Angry that I didn’t stand up to be counted. Angry that I wasn’t braver. In the Society we live in; a lot of women (including me) are afraid to stand up and be counted, for fear of looking stupid, which is unladylike, and unattractive. Men can say what they like; the stupider the better.

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This is me around the age of seven.  My best friends were boys, and I spent all my time wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweatshirt; climbing trees, running, and riding my bike. My knees were always bloody, and my hands were always black.   I grew up with a Father who taught me how to fight, and only ever called me “Mate” until I was twenty-five, never anything else, and a Grandad who let me dress up as Ming the Merciless, and shoot plastic suckers at his head at point-blank range, when we were playing Defenders of the Earth.

Why has the term Girl been used as an insult for so long?  Why do men have this pre-conception that girls can’t jump? Even the very girly-girls in frilly dresses, playing with Barbies, are strong enough to out-arm-wrestle a boy any day of the week. Little girls are a force of nature; formidable, indefatigable, fearless. They are Amazonian warriors, and wolf-mothers to whatever doll, or teddy is their baby that week. They are fireworks, exploding all the time. They’re fighters.

Anyone who has ever watched a little girl for five minutes will know that there is nothing weak, or feeble about them, whatsoever, so where did this idea come from? I would imagine from the same place as; “The weaker sex”, “The little woman”, “Her indoors”, “The fairer sex”, and every other limitation placed on women since the dawn of time.   You can also bet it was a man who invented all those words like petite, and dainty, and made women want to be them.

Try telling Olympic Hurdler Denise Lewis that girls can’t jump! Try telling Serena Williams that she hits like a girl. They would knock your pretty little head off, son.

One of the biggest, and very first breakthroughs in the current feminist revolution was the Like a Girl campaign by Always. I remember vividly the first time I watched the video when it appeared online, at the very crest of the current movement, and I was bursting with so many emotions. The film starts with an interviewer asking a selection of men and boys of varying ages, and disappointingly some women, to demonstrate how a girl would run, jump, fight, throw, etc. They all give farcical performances of stereotypically flouncy, weak, ditsy girls, with pathetic, flailing arms, and no strength. Then they ask young girls the same thing. The girls are strong, fast, and brave. There is no flailing, and nothing pathetic about them. The first reaction of the young girls is to carry out the physical task to the maximum of their ability; to jump as high as they can, to run has fast as they are able to; to draw their fists back, and punch as hard as they can muster. They are fierce. They are impressive, and beautiful.

It is incredibly sad that the boys they interviewed, boys who spend every day of their lives surrounded by, and being cared for; fed, loved, and protected by mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, classmates, teachers, dinner ladies, lollypop ladies, and so many other strong, formidable female figures, rather than allowing that strength, and protection to form their opinion of what a woman is, instead allow the prejudices, and small-minded assumptions of their fathers, grandfathers, and male classmates, to colour their image of womanhood. The heritage passes to each new generation, creating wave after wave of men who think women are weak, because that’s just how things are.

I would wager that most of the men who hold these beliefs, and keep alight this mythical image of flapping femininity, have never seen a woman give birth, received treatment from a female paramedic, or been raised solely by a single mother. It would be very hard to witness the unimaginable strength of women in tough situations, and still hold the boorish view that women are the “weaker sex.”

Have these men ever seen a woman building a flatpack wardrobe? Have they ever watched the female athletes in the Olympics, and Paralympics? Have they ever seen Serena Williams playing Tennis… or Serena Williams doing anything? Or seen all the women running in marathons?

Have they ever met a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage, or has a bald head and flat chest from Breast Cancer, but still gets tea on the table for her children; still runs in their Sports Day race, because that’s what they need today?

Have they ever felt what a woman feels when she’s in a meeting with men, being totally ignored, or patronised? Ever felt what a woman feels when she’s dressed smartly in her best professional suit, and nice shoes, but still gets called sweetheart, or is presumed to be somebody’s secretary, rather than the person doing the job?

I wish I could have said all of this to the Father on the Beach. Actually, I wish I could have said it to his son. I wish I could have said; Have you ever seen a single mother doing the weekly shop, keeping three children under control, while trying to stretch every penny, because she doesn’t get any help, choosing which essentials to sacrifice because there isn’t enough money for everything they need, whilst simultaneously settling six arguments, and keeping three children alive, safe, and within eyesight, making sure they don’t miss the bus, so they’re not late for karate/school/a party, while making sure three school uniforms/football kits/party dresses are washed, ironed, and ready. All this before she goes to work for nine hours? Have you ever seen a woman doing that? She won’t break a sweat. She won’t swear at her children. She won’t cry. And they will all have a meal on the table at the necessary time, because that’s just what needs to be done. Or, what about the married woman, who gets abuse shouted at her in the carpark for being a stupid ‘woman driver’, whilst keeping three children under control in the back of the car, and doing the weekly shop, and getting home to clean the house, and cook a meal for her husband, who will walk through the door and lie down on the sofa until it’s ready, and then she’ll wash his clothes, and iron them, and then deal with the children, and then go to work for nine hours, all while keeping her hair neat, and lipstick on.

So, if you want to tell your son that he’s jumping like a little girl, you’d better bloody realise everything that that means, because little girls grow up to be warriors, and they’ll wipe the floor with you, and your chauvinistic bullshit. Please, tell your son that.

The second cultural lightning bolt which had a big impact on me personally, and fundamentally changed the way I think about the world, was a video by Mayim Bialik called Girl” vs. Woman: Why Language Matters.” It’s really interesting that we call women ‘girl’ well into adulthood, probably until late 40s, or when they start going grey, and yet we generally stop calling boys “’boy” sometime during teens/secondary school. There are lots of transitional terms, and other words, such as ‘lad’, ‘bloke’, and ‘guy’ that enable us to define a male person between boyhood and manhood, but we only have ‘girl’ or ‘woman/lady’ to define a female person. I’m as guilty as anyone of using phrases like; “a girl at work”, “the girl in the shop”, “she’s a lovely girl” to describe women who have degrees, and PhDs, and important jobs; who wear suits to work, have mortgages, drive cars, and have husbands, and children. They are most definitely women, but we still call them ‘girl’ so widely. On the other hand, we would never refer to a man anywhere above twenty, who had a job, and wore a suit, and had a family, and a car, as a ‘boy’. Actually, we wouldn’t call a man who had none of those things a boy, either. It just feels wrong. Our mindset as a Society so naturally protects manhood, and masculinity, it goes against the grain.

The effect is to keep women small, in a state of childlike dependency; reliant on men for money, guidance, and protection. In reality, women don’t rely on men at all. Any woman who has raised a son, or any woman who has married a man who was too dependent on his mother, will know how heavily men rely on women for basic everyday care. I have always believed that instead of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle when they get married, mothers should give their sons away, because many men are just handed from mother to wife, and remain completely dependent on a woman, often any woman, for cooking, cleaning, buying underpants, and basic survival.

Language is a big defining factor in how we perceive each other, but it is not the words themselves that matter, but the intent behind them. If my Grandad calls me Sweetheart, because it’s clearly done with love, and affection, demonstrable in the intonation of his voice, and my prior assurance that my grandad respects me as a person, I don’t find anything negative, or offensive in the word whatsoever. It’s lovey, and a term of endearment. Whereas, if a Builder shouts Oi, Sweetheart from some scaffolding, I know that the intention is to deliberately and specifically make me feel small, and objectified, and therefore bad about myself, and so it’s offensive, because it works.

I was also really affected by a speech I saw recently made by Reese Witherspoon at the Woman of the Year Awards. She has started her own production company so that she can make films with strong, and varied female roles. She was tired that in so many films, where women are reduced to one-dimensional stock characters as the wife/girlfriend/assistant of the diverse and complex male character, there is so often a point in those films where the woman turns to the man, damsel in distress, and asks; “What are we going to do?”, and looks to the man for guidance, and protection, and a way out of the problem. Reese pointed out, quite correctly, that women in real life don’t go around asking for help from men, and not knowing what to do in situations. Women get shit done. She talked about how they teach children in schools that if they are ever lost, or in trouble, or in a disaster, or crisis, or dangerous situation, they should find a woman to ask for help. It’s the women who will look after them, and know what to do. Women in real life know what to do, so why don’t they in films?

The problem is not how women behave, it’s how the media portrays them, which constructs our pre-conceptions.

Take those stereotypical female secretaries in films from the 50s/60s/70s; the image of a perfectly turned out, airhead sex-kitten, who doesn’t know what day of the week it is, or where Japan is on a map, but has perfect nails. Women didn’t start acting like that, film producers invented that idea. Have you ever met a secretary in real life? They are terrifying. Granted, they will be well turned out, but they will know every person in the building, they will know their boss’s life better than his wife, and know what he needs before he does. They run his life, and the company, without being told what to do. If something needs to be done, they get it done. If something is impossible, they make it possible. Have you ever used their mug by mistake? Have you ever missed them off an email list? They will take you down. But somewhere along the line, Hollywood turned these intelligent, capable, ultra-efficient, hard-working titans, into plastic sex dolls without a thought in their head. They even made the word dirty.

At the time that Hollywood was creating these limiting stereotypes of single-faceted women, the real women in the outside world were dealing with World War II. They had no men, because they were all away fighting, and they had children to look after, and feed, but no food because everything was on ration. They kept their homes and families safe, they fed them inventively and healthily on very little food, they made their clothes themselves from patterns, and wore hand-me-down shoes. They built machines in the factories, so that we could carry on the war, they taught the children in schools, they looked after the injured soldiers in the hospitals, they cleaned up the Blitz, and kept an entire country running; women by themselves. They won the war just as much as the men fighting it. Without those capable women, what would the men have come home to? And yet, Hollywood reduced that generation of women, who had their sleeves rolled up, hair scraped back, covered in dirt and grease, carrying a child on each hip, boiling socks in a pan, to a generation of bimbos and airheads on film.

The wonderful thing that’s happening at the moment, thanks to #metoo #timesup #likeagirl, and all the women’s marches, and the fantastic feminist uprising over the last couple of years, spurred on by Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, et all, is that women are becoming less ashamed to be women. Women have lived in the dark for years; ordinary, working-class women, who carry too much shopping home on the bus, hiding a black eye with their fringe to protect their husband (because women are mothers, and mothers protect little boys), with no money in their purse, and holes in their tights, who curled up into themselves, trying to hide their womanhood from the world, because the world was men, and they were scared.

Slowly, timidly, those women are moving from a time, only a few decades ago, when my own grandmother wasn’t allowed to buy a washing machine on finance without her husband’s signature, which he wouldn’t give, into a time when Beyoncé posing as a majestic Madonna, in her heavily pregnant, heavenly photoshoot, is both completely normal/unremarkable, and also joyous, and momentous. When Beyoncé performed at The Grammy’s, the image of perfect, womanly motherhood, enormously pregnant with twins, but still working it, still owning the stage like the best performer the world has ever seen, being lowered electronically backwards on a specially made chair, just because it was daring, wearing massive heels, it was a big victory for all those women who had to spend their pregnancy in convalescence homes, being hidden away in asylums, or ‘laundries’, and all those women who were made to feel so ashamed of their womanhood, for all the women who had to hide away, under headscarves.

How can we be ashamed of something which is so inherently in ourselves, our very genetic and physical make-up, the body and bodily functions that we are born with, that we can’t choose, or control, but are forced to hide, and change, and fight against, and disguise, for the benefit of men? What’s more, why should we want to? Womanhood is the very thing that gives life. All those men who are so vehemently misogynistic, and fight fight fight against short skirts, and blood in Tampax adverts, and breastfeeding in Costa, who are incidentally the same men who enjoy Page 3 topless teenagers, and the extremely male fantasies portrayed by women in porn, and men’s magazines, wouldn’t have life itself without a mother; a woman who bled, and laboured, and birthed, and fed them at their breast, and nurtured them. That is, of-course, the eternal dichotomy. The little boxes that men have created, meaning that all women must be either wonton sex slaves, or perfect immaculate mothers; Mary Magdalene Whores, or Virgin Mary. Nothing in between.

In Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, she included words by poet Warsan Shire;

Baptize me … now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.”

Men, if you let women be women; flawed, often late, or early; leaking, covered in hastily applied make-up, with laddered tights, and bleeding, you will be much happier. We’re awesome, and we get shit done.

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Comedy: The Death of Heroes

 

Comedy: The Death of Heroes
Vikki Littlemore

In the infancy of the BBC and Television’s wholesome and repressed roots, comedians dared not offend the British public with profanities and sexually explicit vulgarities and were instead confined to traditional and trusted bigotry and Mother-in-Law jokes which form the culturally safe backbone of our nation. In the familiar paradigm best exhibited by thoroughly British comedian Jim Davidson, comedians voiced the thoughts and feelings of the nation when it came to recently introduced cultural phenomenon such as ‘black people’ and ‘the gays’. The average bloke on the street took the Rising Damp stance of ‘don’t bring your voodoo over here’ and ‘eh-up lads, backs to the wall!’ and this is precisely the voice heard through the mouthpiece of Britain’s comedians. Racism was safe, familiar and acceptable, it’s what the public trusted. It is unfortunate that Television’s puritanical attitude towards the mention of sex or anything deemed unsuitable for family, pre-watershed viewing did not extend to the policies on bigotry.

Since those days comedy has subverted, inverted and transcended all those well-established boundaries and has formed as many new identities and levels of acceptability as Madonna . Riding the new national atmosphere of cosmopolitan tolerance and understanding, comedians fought against the rules on swearing and sexual openness and simultaneously challenged the boundaries of racism and homophobia. As open displays of insularity were rebuked in favour of open-mindedness, the stuffy, tightly-buttoned shirt collar of the proletariat underbelly was loosened and swearing and sexuality became more acceptable. A more open-minded, liberated generation of comedy emerged which embraced all of society’s diverse components and allowed itself the freedom to behave on stage/television as one would in ‘real life’. The new-age attitude allowed comedians to speak to their audience as they would their mates in the pub, with swearing and honesty. Over time the old generation of comedians became fodder for satire and risible artefacts of a by-gone, intolerant age. The new, fresh comedians washed away the ‘gay’ jokes and the sub-sudo-sub-textual innuendoes which became sinister and dangerous in their forced repression, and brought in a new age of ‘f words’ and ‘knob gags’. A little further down the line and both the ‘gay jokes’ and the ‘knob jokes’ had both given way to a more enlightened comedy which was both free of prejudice and repression and also free of the adolescence of rebellion and its innate prosaic crudity and caustic spit. Now came a spiritual, new comedy, comedy which inspired its audience and talked people down off ledges. Then new comedy was able to reflect on the repression of the early television generation and its closeted, buttoned-up stuffiness, and also the teenage rebellion which followed, comedy had now evolved into an adult. It could swear but not aggressively, talk about sex maturely and be understanding of all sexes, races and sexualities. The comedy of the new millennium is intelligent, satirically sophisticated and understanding of every part of society, comedy which steps up to the challenge of our social diversity but resists the ‘PC’ madness which has replaced the old repression.

Britain is a naturally obsequious nation. We don’t like controversy and this is no bad thing, except when it prohibits freedom of speech. We are a nation which stands back while people push in front of us at the supermarket checkout, we don’t like a fuss. By nature Britain is an unconfrontational sycophant and when it comes to anybody but hard-working British people our current burden is not upsetting anybody who isn’t white, middle/working class and employed. Television has gone beyond PC to a ridiculous extent but comedians have resisted, somehow maintaining the balance between understanding and freedom. It appears to be because comedians are able to handle subjects with more intelligence, charm and understanding than any television producer is able to. Rather than worrying whether something will offend or upset, comedians face a subject head-on, challenging pre-conceptions and delicately balancing the subject so that neither side of the fence are offended. This does not mean ‘sitting on the fence’ but means that they are able to discuss a subject with understanding and compassion which satisfies both the party which is subject and also the party which is audience. Where Television steps back from controversy, comedians smash it up and piss on it. They don’t offend people because they have the intelligence to show empathy and actually understand the subject, rather than being frightened of it. Comedians get their hands dirty and are rewarded for it.

Sadly the new generation of comedy is under threat. The older generation are still attached to the old days of no swearing and ‘black’ jokes. Yes older people are equally entitled to enjoyable entertainment, but sadly they feel the need to eradicate anything they don’t understand and so instead of changing the channel or making an effort to comprehend a new way of thinking, they complain, meaning that the new comedians are soon going to be forced down the repression route of old.

A recent (and frankly exhausted) example is Sachsgate. We’re all aware of the who’s, where’s and what’s but are we aware of the cost of the incident to our cultural freedom? A rapacious listener of The Russell Brand Show, I willingly surrendered my Saturday nights to my radio and was educated, enlightened, entertained and simultaneously had my eyes opened to new experiences and knowledge and also brought to tears with laughter. The programme was intelligent, hilarious and in my opinion extremely valuable. The programme offered listeners a unique experience which combined internationally top-draw comedy (improvised live, unscripted), truly intelligent and remarkable discussions on diverse subjects from Darwinism and David Icke to the dispute between China and Tibet. Listeners were also integral to the show and contributed by phone, text, e-mail and also largely featured in the conception of the regular items. It was a fantastically unique experience enjoyed by a vast and loyal following. While no defence for what was said to Andrew Sachs is offered because it was categorically wrong, the point should be made that much of this event was orchestrated by the media. One key fact often missed is that Andrew Sachs was booked to appear on the radio show that night to be interviewed. It was not a random prank call, it was arranged. I am not suggesting that Brand and Ross were right to say what they did, they weren’t, but it should be clearly understood that on the night of the radio show (broadcast between 9.00 pm and 11.00 pm, well after the watershed) only four people phoned to complain (out of a listening audience of two million). It was two weeks later, following a feature by the Daily Mail, that the thousands of complaints were received, most of them by people who hadn’t even heard it. In fact there was one final broadcast of the show the following week, before the event even hit the news, when the Daily Mail were present, compiling their case.

What happened to Andrea Sachs was wrong and reprehensible but my point is that a radio show which was enjoyed by many people ceased to enlighten their lives because the BBC was frightened of controversy. A metaphorical slap on the wrists would have sufficed, purely for the offence caused to an individual grandfather. In fact an apology was made and fully accepted. I understand why it would cause offence to people listening but is it really fair to curtail a cultural cornerstone and immensely enjoyed weekly event simply because some people object to the use of a certain word?

If comedy and free speech are restricted, confined and suppressed then so too is the freedom of thought and speech which enable us to function as intelligent human beings. I understand why my own grandmother dislikes hearing swear words on television (despite using them herself in private), but my argument is that if television does not reflect a true representation of real life then our thoughts and opinions are being forcibly squeezed out of us. If comedians are prohibited from speaking to us in the same way they would if they met us in the street then they are not being themselves and are suppressing their own thoughts and views, which are precisely what I enjoy about comedians. They are human beings and should be allowed to behave as such. I do not advocate anything which intentionally hurts or offends people, by which I mean something aimed directly at another human being with the intention of causing offence (for example gay or black jokes), but I do feel passionately that freedom of speech is what makes human beings better. It educates and improves us and through it we grow. If all of that is repressed and we go back to bigotry and the ridicule of people who have no control over the colour of their skin or their own sexuality or physical disability (the stand-up material of Ricky Jervais for example), then how are we better people?


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

Share book reviews and ratings with Vikki, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

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