Tag Archives: women

Insecure

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-8-10-52-am-www-imagesplitter-netI have long been a fan of Issa Rae and her particular brand of wry humour. I loved Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and I’ve just finished watching her new show, Insecure.

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s funny but painfully real. The secondary characters are well-developed and I love how complex the lead character is. It’s the sort of complexity that’s usually reserved for male characters, who are never under pressure to be likeable. Issa is flawed, human, hilarious. Real.

But for me personally, her best friend Molly really resonates. Her series of dating dramas just speak to me powerfully and I know I’m not alone. There are so many great characters in the show and her portrayal of that interconnected web of relationships, colleagues and friends is just pitch perfect.

At the moment, watching this, Atlanta and Crazyhead, I feel like I’ve been spoiled for good TV with Black leads. Susan Wokoma (Crazyhead) played my favourite character in Chewing Gum and in Crazyhead she tears up every scene she is in, giving it attitude, pathos, reserve and humour as appropriate and with ease, switching gears with a quiet self-assurance. I hope to see more of her and that we don’t lose her to the States when Crazyhead lands there this month*

 

*I wish her well of course. But if we want to keep talent like hers on this side of the pond, the roles need to be there. I hope the industry takes note!

 

 

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How Language Betrays Our Thoughts on Equality

I am having a nerdy week. So to kick it off, here’s a fascinating TED talk on how language betrays our thoughts on equality.

Language matters to me a great deal. I believe that one of the scariest things about this “post-truth, post-facts” age is that the language we use is slipping. It’s not the vintage racial slurs that are back in fashion; what’s sending my bat senses mad is the framing of issues around equality – be it racial, gender etc.

These are being framed as an “elite” concern and it’s not just the right, it’s liberals too, who are talking down “identity politics” like it’s a merry game we’ve all been playing in the last few years for our own amusement, and now it’s time to get back to the serious business of dealing with class and economics. (and Whiteness as the default. It’s not said, but the erasure of other groups is a whitewashing.)

It’s frightening though how that then informs what is “authentic” and worthy of political action. So, working class people of colour are erased in favour of dealing with white working class grievances. Which are just presented as neutral working class.  This authenticity dovetails into the discussion on nationalism which is only celebrated for its imperialism; any efforts to colour in the picture with the contributions of people of colour and indeed the effects of this imperialism on other people’s globally is seen as somehow inauthentic and invalid. Identity politics again.

Who we consider authentic has a bearing on citizenship. As we expand the hostile environment and move the endless border to encroach ever more on the lives of citizens – the rental market, at the doctor, where you are asked to perform citizenship again and again it throws into stark relief who is more likely to be considered “foreign” and therefore singled out. Every time you’re singled out it’s a reminder that you don’t belong, regardless of what your papers may say.

So, language matters. Framing matters too, because it shapes how we discuss the matters at hand. The right’s biggest victory has been in reframing the discussion on immigration, citizenship, belonging, Europe etc and liberalism’s failure is in trying to win on that turf.

We need to mind our words. They betray what we’re really thinking.

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Poor Imitation

I am an avid fan of the Eloquent Woman blog, which I’ve mentioned here before. And in a thoughtful post, the speech trainer Denise Graveline reflects on Melania Trump’s disastrous speech in which she plagiarised Michelle Obama:

“No matter how you vote, I think it’s a shame that this happened to a woman speaker on only her second speech of the campaign. The Republican National Convention had just 34% female speakers on the stage, with this speech the most prominent by a woman. I’m ending the week feeling as if Melania Trump was not, at a minimum, well supported for this now-famous speech, in both the speech preparation and the spokesmanship about the controversy. In the end, this major stumble at what might have been the start of a high-profile speaking career is going to dog her steps going forward. Should she become First Lady, she might well want to avoid speaking publicly, which would be a big step backward for that role. This will frame her media coverage and her credibility. Her unfavorable rating was high going into the convention, and it will only increase now. And it should. In the end, the responsibility for a speech begins and ends with the speaker, no matter how many speechwriters you throw under the bus.” – Denise Graveline

In a subsequent post, Denise looks at the Melania memes. I like this post because although I’m no fan of the Trumps and I think Melania pales in comparison to Michelle Obama, she makes some good points about women in public life and how some of the mocking of Melania tips into slut-shaming and misogyny. Even if we disagree with her, she should be heard (and vociferously disagreed with).

“Even if we don’t agree with what she might say, we shouldn’t be about silencing her… I still plan to hold her to account for her words or her delivery, if those become a problem at a policy level or provide a poor example.” – Denise Graveline.

I think her post is a good reminder that as we go into the next eight years (I guess) of Trump, we should not shy away from challenging him and his policies, but we should be mindful of not letting that tip over into something more nasty. And while Melania married a dangerous bigot and is unelected, she will still be part of the Trump infrastructure in the White House so we should not discourage her from speaking. As the proverb goes, we should let them hang themselves by their own petard.

As the unparalleled current FLOTUS said, “When they go low, we go high”.

 

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Grey Ambition

anthea.pngThis is going to seem really shallow, but I’m going grey and it has really unsettled me.

Getting older is a funny process. It’s only when you mention something in passing to your friends that you think is only happening to you that you realise everyone is figuring out what to do with wrinkles, the odd errant chin hair and skin that might go from oily to dry or even from flawless to teenage-style oily.

But the real issues are below the surface. For women especially, the ageing process is reveals so much about your conceptions of femininity and what expectations you have for yourself in terms of family and career.

It’s rare to see women with grey hair in the workplace, particularly in more corporate environments. It’s not perceived as distinguished and dashing as it is on men. Dyeing your hair to mask grey is not dissimilar to wearing makeup – For some, it’s an imperative to subscribe to the cult of youth, to others it’s just fun or they like how it looks. I don’t judge. But I was struck that whereas some of my friends may or may not wear makeup, or shave their legs, or pluck their eyebrows, the friends who have told me they are going grey all dye their hair or have weaves, wigs or braids that cover it, even my friends who wear their hair natural.

There’s something about hair. Perhaps because woman’s hair is almost emblematic and traditionally there has always been pressure for women to have long hair that conforms to the “feminine ideal”. Less so now; but still: everyone remembers the apex of Britney Spear’s troubled year in 2007 as the point when she shaved off her hair. The natural hair/weave/relaxed hair debate continues to roil in black communities. Shaving your head or growing a huge afro is seen a bold political statement.

Hair is tied up in our notions of femininity in a way that wrinkles are not. I have found myself unsettled, I’ve realised, not because I’m upset about ageing but because I expected to be in a different place in my life when this process became most visible.

This is stupid – I’ve had friends who went grey at 15 – but having interrogated my emotions, I feel like I did turning 30. It’s not the date that bothered me, just the disappointment of unmet expectations – expectations that I didn’t know I had. (to be clear: that I would be married, further along in my career, that I would have a career, children).

And that’s why the grey hair has thrown me for a loop this year. I didn’t really know that I had any thoughts about it until it happened and I feel strangely vulnerable still being “on the market” dating-wise as a visibly older woman. (I know, even as I type this I’m thinking, REALLY? But yes, this is an honest post).

I don’t want to dye it because I actually like my hair and all its colours (black and brown in different lights, now silver too) and I am loathe to change it. So I won’t. But it took me a little while to summon the courage to decide this, even though when it comes to other matters of hair removal or makeup or body image I am totally comfortable drawing my own line and walking it.

I’m disappointed in myself; I’ve clearly still got some way to go in terms of growing into my confidence as a 34 year-old. I’ve put a picture of the academic Anthea Butler here because I’ve always loved her look and thought that I’d try it perhaps when I got older.

Well, the first silvery threads are here and they brought friends, gathering into what appear to be two streaks at the front. They catch the light and keep surprising me. But I’m not going to dye them. I am learning to lean in and show up as that creature that society is alternately fascinated and repelled by – the (visibly) older woman.

 

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Trump, His Critics and Women

I wrote my first article (in my personal capacity) for Christian Today about Trump, his critics and how their condemnations of his comments on women are revealing. It’s a different audience than I’m used to, and I’m still learning how to bring all of me more explicitly to the proverbial table – my faith,  my feminism and of course my preoccupation with politics.

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Not Leftovers

I was incredibly moved to see this advert about China’s “Leftover Women”, the phrase for women over 30 (maybe even slightly younger than this!) who are not married.

It’s meant to be an empowering ad for a cosmetic company, so yes, consumerism and all that, but in a few minutes it goes to the heart of an issue that’s close to so many hearts – including mine.

I don’t feel like a “Leftover Woman” but being over 30 and unmarried has its frustrations and anxieties, particularly if you harbour hopes of having children one day.

It’s usually more about others than you, though. A single woman is sometimes perceived as a threat by attached women – no one quite knows what to do with you when it’s mostly couples socialising together.

And there are the assumptions – that you must be very picky or impossible or that you have a lot of free time and money as a result.

A while ago I would have probably written quite bitterly about the assumptions that some people make that your life is somehow less meaningful, particularly if you’re not a mother. Or about how you can be perceived as a failure.

But I’ve been on a journey. I discovered that I was becoming a bit bitter because felt like a failure. Looking at other people’s joy (sigh, social media) began to grate. The endless Facebook posts and photos of engagements, weddings and children chafed, irritated me.

At the time I was reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, now one of my favourite books of all time. In it, she writes (about covetise or envy):

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offence at the beauty of it”

That really resonated with me. I prayed. I reflected. I sat for a time with my (frustrated) hopes and expectations and tried to practise more gratitude for the place I was, rather than hankering after the place I wanted to be. (Perspective: it’s not like I am singularly obsessed or anything; let’s just say that every so often -more so if I went on Facebook – this feeling of ‘failure’ rankled.)

Now, I watch that video and it resonates with me, though I am lucky not to feel pressured by my family to settle down. And I am able to share my friends’ joy.

But most of all, things feel unbelievably sweet. Perhaps because I’m happy with where I’m at* instead of focusing on the alternative.

*Incidentally, where I’m at is a busy place because I’ve barely had time to blog for myself. But I’m back!

 

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Ring the Changes

A friend of mine from Kenya told me about how there is a concept of one generation intentionally handing over to the next, an ancient ceremony in which the leaders become the elders and let those coming through to take their place.

Looking at events in the US and the UK – not just Corbyn and Sanders but also the reaction to “no platforming” in universities and the #RhodesMustFall and other decolonising movements (not so much in SA but definitely the UK arm) I can’t help thinking that we’re in the midst of an upheaval.

The overriding response, in particular from the media, is derision – a bit like Madeleine Albright’s admonition of younger women who vote for Sanders (echoed by Gloria Steinem, who said these young women just wanted to be near “boys”). Over here, the ridicule of movements like #RhodesMustFall and the (often ham-fisted) efforts of student bodies to explore issues around censorship and safe spaces has been deafening. I don’t agree with all the incidents or stances taken by the students in all the different cases but the scorn has a hysterical edge to it. There’s no discussion, no exploration. It’s almost as if they are stupid for questioning, even if sometimes some students get it wrong. They are supposed to shut up and do what they’re told.

Millenials are sick of being told. As the Guardian discovered when they asked Sanders voters (not all of whom are millenials) why they support him, there’s a lot of rage and a lot of yearning for change.* There’s a bleak realisation that the status quo isn’t working. Well, it isn’t.

I keep saying this but post-2008, we’re looking another financial crisis in the eye but this morning it was reported that Osborne is trying to sweep away even those meagre post-2008 reforms to the banking industry. Oh, and HSBC has decided to stay in the UK. Again. They really need to space these ultimatums out. I’m sure they’ll be speculating again as we approach the Europe vote. The fact is, they don’t need to do this public tantrum. They clearly have more of a hold over Treasury than any citizen in this country so it’s rather amusing that they bother with the political theatre.

If no one has been held to account for the crash, the group that has had their future mortgaged to pay for it are the young. Education, employment, housing – basically every rite of passage is blocked or marred. The guarantees are broken. You can get your degree but we can’t guarantee the job, the house, or even – if you don’t get a degree – a decent wage with human-friendly hours. The safety net is shredded and the NHS is threadbare. In the face of all this, when young people reach for change they are ridiculed. I would argue that the system has worked fine for those doing the ridiculing – they have their houses, jobs and pensions – pensions that the rest of us will be paying for. So would it not be a little charitable to give young people space to have discussions, to think about changing the world, to try to craft something new out of the mess you’ve left them? (even if it’s a work in progress?)

*I have to give credit to the Guardian – though they have been among the sneering when reporting on Corbyn voters, they did, as with Sanders voters, actually stop to actually ask people why they vote for them. Quite why they report the results with such deep surprise and wonder, given the state of the world, is beyond me.

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Agenda Setting and Mondays

I’m still a social sciences nerd so I was intrigued to read a short post on Conservative Home about how the Prime Minister is dominating the news cycle.

If there is one thing this government likes to do it’s make policy announcements. Set speeches. Signal this or point towards that.

The year started with a blaze of such announcements, from immigration to economics (pro tip: we are totally heading for some sort of second crash and Osborne is putting clear water between him and any falling masonry) and social affairs. The latter has mostly been the PM looking prime ministerial, usually framing these issues through the lens of security. Most recently, saving his fire for Muslim women who can’t speak English.

The tactics are interesting. He takes something that’s not necessarily unreasonable and puts crazy rocket boosters on it. Case in point, the English issue.

Should everyone speak English? Yes. Because it matters in terms of access to opportunities and playing a full part in society, being part of the community around you. There was an opportunity to talk invite people who can’t speak English being part of “us”; or, rather, to be even more a part of us. They already are, of course.

Instead, while having cynically cut funding English language services that were designed to help people in this exact situation, Cameron singles out Muslim women, frames the whole issue in terms of radicalisation as if they are the reason some young people are joining Daesh when countless mother’s hearts have been broken by this, and then throws some (but nowhere near enough to replace what he cut) money at it.

Cue discussion and think pieces for days.

He gets to look tough to the ring wing and leaves the rest of us wading through the nonsense, fighting to tease out the nuances with a deliberately naive right wing press insisting, “Is it unreasonable to want everyone to speak English?” No, but…

Turns out this is a well-deployed media agenda-setting tactic:

“These Monday initiatives have three main purposes.  First, to get the media to report and comment on Government plans that are not about the EU referendum, thereby reminding voters that it has other reasons to be here.  Second, to show people that the Prime Minister is still in office and still in charge.  And, third, to tackle issues that are important to him.” – Paul Goodman

And for those nerds interested in process:

Sunday provides an opportunity to brief bits of the speech or article or initiative to the Sunday papers.  Monday brings the address or piece itself, together with a photo-opportunity for the cameras.  By the afternoon, the blogs and oped-pages are filling up, and the mix of outraged commentary, analysis and counter-intuitive support can be guaranteed to drag on into Tuesday.  Tiger mothers – back in the jungle?  Strengthening cohesion or stigmatising Muslims – what do you think?  That’s three days worth of coverage.  Voters won’t remember much of the detail, if any, but the thrust of Cameron’s case might just linger a bit in their minds for a while.  And as long as it’s one that’s not offensive to them then it’s mission accomplished for Downing Street. – Paul Goodman

Oh, and that fight we’re all having? Well, that’s part of it too. Unfortunately, these games have real-world consequences. Muslim women are statistically most likely to suffer from Islamophobic attacks. Being singled out negatively on the biggest political stage, linked with people’s fears of Daesh and radicalisation, only serves to further alienate them.

But,  it depends whether you’re really trying to help or just cynically posture, using Muslim women as a foil:

Number Ten itself admits that it’s hard to make an impact if you don’t provoke a row: “there has to be some grit in the oyster,” as one Downing Street source put it to me. – Paul Goodman

 

 

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It’s going to bite

I really love this winding down before the end of the year. On the one hand, no different to any other day except for the significance we’ve accorded it in our calendar. On the other, an enforced period of reflection that does a world of good.

So, what of next year? Many good things to come, no doubt but also: it’s going to hurt as cuts start to really bite.

A few things to bear in mind as we traverse 2016 and people (including Tory voters, the odd minister and a lot of the media) act at turns surprised and occasionally angry.

  1. Local government cuts are savage and will start (continue) to hit basic services. Apparently we all agree we shouldn’t really pay taxes, and government shouldn’t really do anything, but we also really like bin collections and councils ensuring that we have enough services when we need them. Well, grab your popcorn.
  2. Women’s support services are hard-presssed and BAME women’s support services have issued an emergency call – a report by Imkaan reveals that a number will be forced to close unless something is done. And while we’re all pleased (read: confused and conflicted) to use our periods to pay for women’s services with the tampon tax (because women’s problems are women’s problems), the fact remains that it’s not enough. If we take the welfare of women seriously then the government needs to put money behind these vital lifesaving services. Or…men need to get periods too.
  3. Inequality is a problem. And it’s only getting worse. Even John Major said so – and look at the nifty charts that back up his assertion)
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Strong woman

Still partaking in the seemingly endless process of sorting through my bookmarks and came across this:

What the Hell is a Strong Woman Anyway? , a video reflection for the Guardian on the representation of women in film by director Chanya Button. It was timely, produced to coincide with this year’s BFI film festival.

The theme of this year’s festival  was Strong Woman – prompting Button to probe what we mean by that. It’s an oft over-used term which can sometimes imply that strong women are the exception rather than the norm.

I like her video. I also feel a bit of ambivalence towards the term. I love films and TV shows with a strong female lead. I could write ode’s to Saga from the Bridge or Patti in Damages or Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.

I gravitate towards media with interesting images of women, in particular those who are allowed to be three dimensional. Perhaps that’s it – what so many of us are yearning for is complicated female characters, because we are all complex in real life. We use the phrase “strong” because so often women are the foil for male characters, caricatures and stereotypes; so often they were just objects to be desired or rescued. What’s great is that in TV especially, we are seeing a range of characters – the sort of roles that men have taken for granted for decades.

Just – women.

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