Archive for the ‘ feminism ’ Category

Gravity, De Beauvoir and other moments.

 

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I finally got around to viewing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and I have to say I was suitably impressed. I know the scientific community were giving out about the mistakes but ultimately I felt the film was less about scientific accuracy and more about the isolation, loneliness and the interiority of grief. Sandra Bullock plays Ryan who, apart from being on a spacewalk which goes disastrously wrong, is dealing with her own personal tragedy. Out in space, self-contained in her spacesuit she comes to embody the manner in which grief both isolates and can, for a time, come to define us and the ways we cling to it to survive. It is a simple conceit but an effective one. However, it also reminds us that death is the ultimate existentialist idea, for it is in facing death, and therefore thinking about life, we ultimately give meaning to that life. Being in the realm of existentialism got me thinking that at the core of the film is femininity,or more properly the idea of femininity, just like that other great Sci-Fi epic Alien. Space becomes the locus were, to use the De Beauvoirian idea, immanence and transcendence can occur. Females throughout history have only existed in the interior space according to De Beauvoir and could not transcend beyond. In the beginning Ryan is trapped in her interiority, literally by her space suit and figuratively by her grief and her sense of motherhood. The image of the womb is implicitly made when Ryan enters the International Space Station but she transcends the womb (representing essentialist ideas of the female) to drive outwards from herself and in doing so begins to leave behind her grief and her fear. Finding the will to live she transcends the moment, writes her own script (and in doing so illustrates the triumph of existentialism over essentialism) and cuts the umbilical cord. In cutting that umbilical cord she shows that we can move beyond ideas of what we should be and also that the grief we carry when we experience loss does not need to define us or our future. Ryan also faces her own existentialist crisis, she momentarily loses hope and nearly surrenders to the vast nothingness. Yet it is her love that wins over despair. Kierkegaard states :’Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.’ Ryan, in choosing hope makes that decision and finds the hope in living. De Beauvoir once said ‘It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.’ In a way, Ryan illustrates that she can do both: she can give live, both to a child and herself, and she can kill the past which holds her back. At the end of the film she is reborn and free to create herself anew. In my mind Sci-Fi should deal with complex themes and make us view the normal at a different angle at that level Gravity worked for me. Go watch it!

Fiery the angels fell (and other moments)

I want to talk about a beautiful film that lives long in the memory. Don’t you love when a movie does that? I can never forget the soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner, you know the one…the one about the rain and life. Odd thing about Blade Runner is that it’s sometimes ignored by sections of the viewing public because it is Sci-Fi. Genre plays an important role in how we decide what to watch. Up to a point cartoon films were firmly in the genre marked: Children’s movies but somewhere around the late nineties Pixar began producing animation that had nods and winks to the parents in the audience and all of a sudden animated films became socially acceptable. Of course, Pixar are not short of money so their films are very slick and digital: high-end stuff that teaches simple enough morals about the values and mores of the western world. The film I want to talk about is the opposite in every way firstly it isn’t digital secondly it is black and white and thirdly it is set in the Islamic world. Persepolis is a 2007 film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name. Persepolis means city of Persians and the story is a Bildungsroman of a young girl called Marji as she comes to terms with the effects of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Again, we are in a different world from Pixar et al as this films deals with politics, religion, revolution and the way in which the individual deals with all three. It is also a film about love: familial and romantic love and the ways in which Marji has to deal with the beauty and pain that exists in both.

 

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Like all good history it allows us to make sense of seismic events through the eyes of the individual. It constantly reminds us that behind ideology there are human stories and behind every revolutionary dream there are groups willing to seize power and clamp down on dissent. We see the downfall of the Shah and the rise of fundamentalism in Iran as one torturous regime leads to yet another oppressive regime. It is the classic story of revolution: we have the revolutionary moment leading to rupture and then the return of the status quo. Marji is a rebellious girl and her ideas of the world clash with that of the new theocratic leadership for one she likes to listen to punk and heavy metal. This is itself is an act of revolt as it is perceived as western and decadent by the powers that be. We see the way in which girls and women lose their freedom in the new Iran we see Marji packed off to Europe (where she meets discrimination due to her nationality) and we see her spiral into depression due to everything she has experienced and witnessed. Revolutions, more often than not go wrong and it is the masses, the ones that had suffered previously, that suffer all over again. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it lives long in the memory and serves as a fitting coda to what has gone before. Yes, Persepolis may not be highly polished in the way that animation has become under the digital age, you may not be able to see every hair individually move or there may not be countless references to other franchises but for all that it is a movie that deals with, rather than nods at, adult themes whilst all the time wearing its heart on its sleeve, which is no bad thing. Go see it.

 

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Women and the Royal University of Ireland Part One

Every few years Ireland engages in a seemingly never-ending debate on the whys and wherefores of abortion. In between these debates one might think that Ireland treats women equally, however when this topic arises the reality is revealed: we as a nation still marginalize women. Now, this post isn’t about abortion, there are many commentators and corners of the internet that will tell you more than I can,rather this post is on my thesis. My masters thesis is entitled ‘The first women graduates of the Royal University of Ireland 1886-1900’. There is a connection between my opening and the thesis namely, marginalised women. Even writing about women can get you marginalised as people often say to me ‘you are interested in that women’s stuff’. Well, no I am interested in history and the way in which people change and influence our society. The graduates of the RUI were women that certainly changed the landscape of Ireland, socially, politically, economically and educationally and this being Ireland, and allegedly obsessed with history, these women are celebrated and remembered with equal measure right? Wrong. A group of women, Protestant, Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist are now largely forgotten. The bombs and bullets of the Easter Rising brought about change, that much is true, but it was a change of sovereignty and many would argue that Ireland had a very conservative revolution and as a consequence it wasn’t very radical in a social sense. It is my contention that the women involved in educational reform were radical as it changed life on the ground-first for  middle class women and then for  working class women. If you don’t believe me look at the statistics for the number of women achieving high grades in state exams in Ireland and of course the number of women in third level education. Women outperforming men in school isn’t a new phenomenon either as girls often outperformed boys as far back as the nineteenth century. image

However, the changes that were needed for women to gain equal rights were hard won. Women involved in the campaign for equality in education in the 1800s saw a time were they weren’t allowed to vote or sit for a degree change to a time when they could do both. These women were feminists and pioneers so why has Ireland forgotten them? I would argue that they didn’t fit a dominant discourse and narrative of nation that was largely patriarchal in nature. The narrative is also largely Catholic and nationalist (and before any one chimes in that Ireland had two Protestant presidents it is worth remembering that members of the Dail weren’t ‘allowed’ to enter the Protestant church for the service of Douglas Hyde as the bishops weren’t happy with Catholics entering another denomination’s church and Erskine Childers father was described in the Dail as ‘that damned Englishman’).  In Ireland there is a perception that the history of education runs: Monks, Hedge-Schools, Nano Nagle, Christian Brothers the end.  I can hear certain readers cry ‘revisionist’ , I wear it as a badge of honour if revisionist means looking at the facts. Others will cry ‘secularist’ (the new Irish swear word). I ask them: why don’t we know about these women? If we, as a nation, value history and education then where are these woman in our historiography?  Go to England and you will find statues to the Pankhursts so, what about our own Pankhursts? They are there so why don’t we know them? Did you know that English women came to Ireland to receive their degrees as they couldn’t get theirs in their homeland? I don’t know about you but I find that interesting. Women like Alice Oldham and Margaret Byers to name but two helped shape and change my nation. There is a notion in academia that Ireland never experienced the first wave of Feminism but they are wrong.  When Seneca Falls occurred Irish women were changing my country and these were real women affecting change which, was just as important as Pearse and just as radical as Connolly isn’t it about time they were celebrated?

Hanging with Halo Jones

So, the blog that has been brewing for some time finally comes to life. Where do I begin? I think I shall start be discussing that much maligned genre: sci-fi. Now sci-fi never had the street cred of its cooler older brother Horror or the sullen insouciance of the Gothic, sci-fi truly belonged and still belongs in the realm of the nerd. Add in the term comic book and we are firmly in the world of loners and losers. People that read comic books are a by-word for virgins and funny weirdoes (see Comic Book Guy or The Big Bang Theory).  Now and then, academia and society at large bestows a comic book title with its blessing, indeed my own Alma Mater now studies Maus, the work deemed serious and weighty enough to rest on the shelf alongside such worthy titles such as Pamela and The Wild Irish Girl, what lofty company indeed. Of course, Maus is not a sci-fi title and as such presents little or no serious threat in the hallowed halls of universities. Watchmen, another heralded title, is a different matter, populated as it is by costumed vigilantes and a naked blue superhero by the name of Dr Manhattan, it deals with, among other things, meta-narrative, the epistolary form and the way we would react if real people started running about in superhero costumes. In other words it should be perfect fodder for academics but isn’t, I cannot say for certain why it is ignored but I do think it is because it is sci-fi. I could enter into a rant about this but I won’t and the reason why is two-fold: firstly, I think it is enough to say I enjoy sci-fi and comics and secondly, this piece is not about hate but my attempt at a love letter.

The aforementioned Watchmen is the work of the famous Alan Moore. Moore is also known for V for Vendetta (a meditation on Anarchy), From Hell, which looks at the Whitechapel murders, Promethea, a truly magnificent piece on literature, magic and religion and the Victorian romp that is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Great works all but to a certain few among us his greatest work is his unfinished epic: The Ballad of Halo Jones which was created with the equally talented artist Ian Gibson. How do I begin to describe it? How do I begin to describe her?  Well first of all it is a bildungsroman built around the titular character of Halo Jones. Halo began life in that fantastic British title: 2000AD and the remit for Moore and Gibson was a simple one: create a female character. Why? Well 2000AD had very few female characters in its pages at the time. I am sure the editor expected a female superhero type character but Moore, not bound by expectation, created a character that was sympathetic, realistic and above all normal. Gibson’s artwork is sublime (as it always was) his rendering of the future and the characters that inhabit these worlds are fantastical but never totally unrealistic. There is a lived in feeling to the drawings and it is in black and white which is my personal favourite style of comic book art.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo, Brinna and Rodice.

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Halo (in the foreground) and Rodice

Book one deals with the theme of isolation, the effects of long-term unemployment and the desire to escape the confines of a claustrophobic world. Reading it in 1989-1990 (three to four years after it was first published)as a twelve year old growing up in Ireland I could relate to Halo, as Ireland still had a touch of the Joycean labyrinth so famously mentioned in that other Bildungsroman The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Halo, lives in a very literal labyrinth a giant structure built off the coast of America called The Hoop which is the home for masses of the unemployed, the ‘increased leisure citizens’ that exist in 50th century Earth. Moore, as ever, is unafraid to introduce big themes in his work, this is a feminist story, one about an everywoman and begins, in the best classical tradition in media res. Halo is surrounded by women, from her flatmate Brinna, her best friend Rodice and the tragic Ludy (she also has a talking robotic dog called Toby, who becomes a very important character). Halo herself has a dignity, a quiet anger and humour that I love, she was the first comic book character I read that I felt was three dimensional.

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Halo escapes the mundanity and horror of her life on The Hoop after being pushed to the edge by the murder of Brinna and the loss of Ludy to a cult called ‘ The Different Drummers’. Book Two sees Halo becoming a stewardess aboard the space liner the Clara Pandy but not before we find out, in a framing device at the beginning that Halo became a famous historical figure. Again, Moore gives us a believable story as our protagonist escapes, not in a heroic but rather in a very normal way. Book Two also introduces us to new characters none so sad as ‘The Glyph’ a character that has changed sex (on a number of occasions) and ultimately ends up invisible (a comment on how we view people that are different and don’t fit in to our perceived view of reality?).

Book Three expands on a war that has been mentioned in the previous book. It is the darkest of the three and we find out that Halo has become a soldier. She meets General Luiz Cannibal, a man that looks like he could be the ‘love interest’ but I won’t ruin the story for those who want to read it. It culminates with Halo leaving after the war ends, that was that and so we waited for book four. We wanted to see where she would go next? Who would she meet? Why did she become a historical figure? Alas, we are still waiting, as book four never came. In many ways I think it is fitting that Halo Jones ended as it did. There was no cosy resolution and no happy ending for our heroine. She was always normal and in that very normal way there was to be no epic ending. She just rode out into her future unsure of what was to happen next.

In my weaker moments I sometimes wish that Halo Jones would return (it is rumoured that there were meant to be nine parts to the story) but then I remember the Star Wars prologues and think: best left alone. Halo is like an old friend, I come back to her again and again. Like all good stories I find new things within the pages, it grows as I grow. It offered me hope all those years ago: hope that I could get out of the script that my community had written for me and hope that there was a wider world waiting just around the corner. What more can you ask from a great work of fiction?

Getting out

Little Earthquakes

The next album on my review hitlist is a departure from my previous musing and it is Little Earthquakes by the one and only Tori Amos. Twenty years after its release it still remains a remarkably fresh sounding album and one that has had a far reaching influence. Without Amos would we have had the pure rage of Alanis Morrisette? Or the confident sexuality of Alison Goldfrapp? Or the creative force of Bat for Lashes? Maybe we would have, but Amos has certainly helped to shape many diverse artistes.  The first time I became aware of her was through her cover of Smells like Teen Spirit. It was a brave move to cover such an iconic and era defining tune. I am sure many a grunger thought ‘what the hell is this?’ But in many ways Amos was in tune with that movement as they both had a confessional side and they both challenged the conformity that was a hallmark of the late 1980s: a conformity that began to dissipate as both Amos and grunge exploded into the 1990s.

Looking back at the early 90s one can see that a strange surrealism had started to creep into the popular consciousness. David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks had arrived and dreamscape and actuality danced a mind-bending waltz into our existence. The walls of communism had begun to collapse and in the western world hope was the watchword. Grunge, melding the two, tapped into that rich seem offering hope to the dispossessed but it did so in surreal terms. Cobain spoke of ‘the mulatto, the albino, the mosquito and, (of course), the libido’. Chris Cornell screamed of searching for a place with his good eye closed and Vedder, knowing he was alive, asked ‘Do I deserve to be? And if so, who answers?’ It was amongst this background that Earthquakes was released and Amos would take the surreal, the serious, the comedic, the theological, the masculine and the feminine and make a beautifully layered piece of art.

Opening with Crucify she asks: why do we have to carry so much guilt and try to endlessly please those who are meant to love us? Her piano playing is a revelation but her vocals are astoundingly emotive. Her voice has the passion and rage needed to question and challenge the patriarchal system that, more often than not, places women in a secondary position. Girl expands on the theme where she states that she has ‘been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own’. Serious lyrics backed by sumptuous strings and a mesmerising melody. Silent all these years looks at relationships and the ways in which the feminine is subsumed and voiceless.  Precious things is a stand out track, a staccato piano kick starts it into life, the drums drive it on, the use of the guitar is atmospheric and the lyrics are searing. Amos is on top form writing ‘because you can make me cum, that doesn’t make you Jesus’. As the percussive beating of the piano climbs she delivers one of her best lines about the girls who have taunted her with their ‘nine inch nails and little fascist panties tucked inside the heart of every nice girl’. In a word: masterful. Winter is just a beautiful song about her relationship with her father. Her father asks ‘when you going to make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?’ Happy Phantom, China, Leather, Mother and Tear in your Hand are all equally as important to the overall concept and themes of Earthquakes. The album ends with the song Little Earthquakes which is about the way in which the small things in life can rip us apart. But before that there was a truly harrowing song and one of the bravest and honest songs I think I have ever heard. Me and a Gun is an acapella song which details Amos’ experience of being raped. To be honest it would be an injustice to try to find words to describe it but I will say that I think it took a strong, brave and courageous woman to put into song what she experienced. If you have never heard it I urge you to listen to it when you can.  Amos would later co-found RAINN an organisation dedicated to help those affected by sexual violence and abuse.

So, there you have it Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. It is twenty years old and still a vital record to have in your collection. If you don’t have it then get out there and get it. It is a rollercoaster of a ride. Thanks Tori.

The Second Sex

Punks not dead

Right: two things to spell out, firstly, everyone should read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex it is the urtext on Feminism and secondly, I am a punk rock aficionado (which is just a grown up way of saying nerd). What do these two ideologies have in common? I hear you ask. Well, besides both being blamed for the downfall of western civilisation both are proponents of the idea that women have a powerful voice, have something to say and have been treated like shite for some time. Look, there are too many air brushed vacuous manufactured images of women in the media so here’s to difference. The top ten women in Punk (in no particular order):

Patti Smith: living legend, poet and owner of a gravelly set of pipes. Stand out album has to be Horses and not just for the cover. She once fell off the stage and fucked herself up  and she gave out to Bono after he started fawning over her.

Debbie Harry: chanteuse, Sex-Bomb and seriously one of the best frontwomen that ever walked on stage just listen to Heart of Glass and Call Me. (Forget about French Kissing in the USA-actually I never mentioned it).

Tina Weymouth: I’m a bass player, so is she and she has the chops (and she was a founding member of Talking Heads). Listen to Psycho Killer and Once in a lifetime.

Siouxsie Sioux: A member of the infamous Bromley Contingent she was also the ‘reason’ that the Sex Pistols caused a four letter word storm on British TV.  However, it is all about the music. She mixed dark gothic imagery with some of the best music committed to vinyl to create a beautiful dark oeuvre. Listen to The Scream, Swimming Horses, Spellbound etc.

Ari- Up (Arianne Foster): Lead singer of the all female band The Slits a band that covered Heard it through the Grapevine and made it into some crazy dub fuelled groove. Typical Girls is a skanky little gem and their album Cut, bridges the gap from the Pistols to PIL. She died in 2010 more is the pity.

Poly Styrene: lead singer of X-Ray Spex she laid into the bondage clothing/idea of Oxford St. punk in the single ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’ one of the few punk tunes to feature a sax solo. Little girls should be seen and not heard? She didn’t think so. Alas, she passed on in 2011. (We really need to find a cure for cancer!!)

Jordan: No, not the one with the silicone enhanced boobs this Jordan worked in the boutique known as Sex. It was once said that McLaren thought that she was more of a Sex Pistol then any of the actual Pistols. You can see her dancing to Anarchy in the UK during the Pistols first TV performance and she would later manage Adam and the Ants.

Eve Libertine: Singer with Crass, vocals on Asylum and also on the seminal Penis Envy album. Archetypical Anarcha- Feminist.

Joy De Vivre:  as above writer of Women on Feeding of the 5000.

Kira Roessler: Bass player with hardcore legends Black Flag played on Slip It In, Loose Nut and In My Head. For anyone that has read Get in the Van you know she had to be as hard as nails to be in this band.