Thursday, 29 January 2015

Is Michelle Obama a western heroine?

A lot of discussion and debate as a result of Michelle Obama's refusing to wear a head scarf in Saudi Arabia has made the judgement that it was in fact deeply disrespectful to not adhere to the country's customs and traditions. Frankly, I find it refreshing that Michelle was able to defy what is a profoundly disrespectful assumption that a woman does not mind the speculation nor lack of choice from all societies she receives in wearing said head scarf.

In fact, Michelle Obama is not the first non-Arab, female ambassador to not wear a scarf as it is not expected of them as the media has so crudely and falsely stated. Whilst the questionable treatment of women in Saudi Arabia becomes a little more poignant when a foreign visitor is allowed to walk around with the leading men, without a head scarf and with what seems more equal regard it is not such a display of courageous defiance of the western woman in question the media has made it out to be. Perhaps a more Islamophobic atmosphere, as stated in this fantastic article on Vox, has perpetuated such a response to a normal procedure

However, if Michelle was to have worn a head scarf to the funeral of the late King Abdullah, whose traditions and customs would she actually be adhering to? The sexist rules put in place by an archaic patriarchal society due to a narrow and conservative interpretation of the Qur'an is the only reason I can possibly think of. I'm assuming the amount of women actually wanting to adorn a head scarf, whether for cultural or religious reasons, is considerably lower amount than the authorities and conservatives would like to think.  It is not my western education and indoctrination that has lead me to believe so but the simple lack of voice women in Saudi have as to the debate of 'no head scarf, yes head scarf' that goes on around them without ever fully including them. It's rare to hear and possibly very hard to find the honest opinion of a woman whose head is concerned in the matter because even we as the self-proclaimed liberal advocates of the world are too afraid to ask. The non-Muslim western world makes the presumption that no woman could possibly want to interpret her religion in that way and the middle east seems to barely give a thought as to the preference of the woman at all.

For my interpretation of feminism I most highly regard the concept that choice is the most important aspect of emancipation and in this case I fear that choice is not considered at all, on either side of the argument. Least of all the complete lack of consideration for the women who are actually involved, whose heads, hair and scarf we so ignorantly dispute about without once stopping to ask all these Saudi women if they share one or the other's view.  I think most importantly that both sides of the debate forget that this purely concerns the women's interpretation of their religion, or absence of religion, and their culture and their choice in how to go about this. Not one of us who is not a woman living in Saudi, or in any other country with the same rules in place, has the right to decide whether wearing a head scarf in public is appropriate or respectful or not. Judgement is inevitable but, please, without the understanding of how these individual women actually feel about the matter one has no say in how they present themselves to the world around them.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Feminism in Hollywood.



Feminism being the current theme in a hugely powerful industry with enormously influential people is incredible. The Golden Globes this year was hosted by two amazing feminists, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who throughout the night made painfully awkward yet potent comedic comments on gender inequality crimes within the film and television industry such as the Bill Cosby rape accusations and the pay gaps even within the multi-million dollar business. The girls were powerful and witty and heroic in using such a well publicised event to scrutinise the obvious sexism they as female comedians experience and the racism highlighted at such award events. We use film and television as a microcosm to reflect on the real world anyway and so having the inequality of the industry highlighted is like looking in a mirror from the rest of society.

However, I have a bone to pick. There is of course a slight hypocrisy in the recent complaints made by a few female actors about the pay gap between them and the male stars in the movies they make. Jennifer Garner made some very valid observations about how when her husband Ben Affleck is interviewed, he is never asked about his family but when she herself is interviewed she is repeatedly asked how she balances work and family which is backward and ridiculous.
She then revealed how a female star is almost never paid more than a female star in a movie, which is wrong, but the figures of how much they get paid makes it hard to feel a little sorry for them. Sandra Bullock would probably be paid $51 million for a movie whereas Robert Downey Jr is paid a whopping $75 million. I think it's important to take into account here not only how there's a gender pay gap, but a pay gap between big actors and smaller actors who both do the exact same thing. It's not a question of talent because there are people out struggling in the acting industry with a world of brilliance they're unable to share. There is a ridiculous amount of money flying around in the Hollywood business where films are being made that aren't even guaranteed to be as good as an indie film on a tiny budget. I admire Jennifer Garner but I'm not honestly sure how she's going to win the support of us mere mortals who would be pleased to reach over £50,000 as an annual income in our lifetimes.

Equality needs to happen in all industries and societies and it's exciting how mainstream feminism is becoming, but complaining about a pay gap that has no effect on whether you can afford to pay your bills or not, just on how big your will might be, is possibly not going to gain a huge amount of sympathy.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Photoshop your personality.

Source: Tumblr 'haunting--thoughts'

The photoshop epidemic of the western world depicts 'perfect' men and women with unrealistic bodies and faces that often look like Barbie just got really good at making life like dolls. You all know this, it's drilled from both sides of the argument into your head pretty much every day. You must simultaneously look like a plastic superhuman without even any pores in your skin whilst shunning the industry that indoctrinates you to look thus. It's exhausting and no matter how hard you try to believe that whatever you look like is beautiful because being a human is impressive in itself you inevitably feel down about something.

You can sometimes go through a whole day feeling as if a photographer should be following you around for a piece in Vogue and then go home and notice your hair looked messy, or you've actually had mascara giving you a black eye for the whole day. You then start thinking ridiculous things such as 'I bet you Jennifer Lawrence never, ever has a bad hair day'. Or, when you're lying elegantly in bed with your chin at your chest in your most disreputable clothing you wonder why Beyoncé wouldn't look quite as disgusting. I am aware that comparing myself to celebrities where the only photos I will see of them are professionally groomed, photographed in perfect light and then skilfully photoshopped is almost illogical but I'm ashamed to say it can bring me down. To a point.

When moaning and grumbling about the way I look some days in my head I always come to the abrupt realisation that looking like an actual human being is much more preferable to appearing surreal. Because that's what photoshop does, it dehumanises you. It takes away your unique physical appearance and morphs it into a clone of some sort. Like a sick, sadistic sausage factory for photographs. The more you ponder on it the weirder it gets. The whole idea is very bizarre. We want to achieve the most desirable image we can conceive with ideals that we initially created with photoshop and the only way we can achieve such physical beauty is on a computer.

Photoshop is also, essentially, void of personality. We have become so obsessed with the way we look in a photograph that we barely even consider how witty, kind, intelligent, or thoughtful the person is. For some reason I fail to remind myself that I am almost always only attracted to personality over looks. That isn't a pretentious, 'holier-than-thou' statement it's generally what I've experienced in my short life. Why then is it taking so long to get us out of this strange marketing ideal of what beauty is when the majority of us would never notice in real life if somebody had slightly imperfect eyebrows? We're all totally aware of how damaging a concept photoshop can be, and yet we continue to eat it up and perpetuate it across all media.

I'm not sure I can fully conclude this post as it's become less clear to me as to what the answer would be to my questions. It is almost like a new phenomenon for the majority of the population who are level-headed, clever individuals to somehow believe in photographs of men and women who are sometimes so perfect it would be anatomically impossible for them to survive. Perhaps, at least I do hope, that ridiculous levels of photoshopping is just a fashion that will begin to die out in a few years and that eventually we will start to accept images of real people with normal flaws in our magazines and on our screens.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The right kind of reaction.



Another terror attack, another country. Whether or not the culprits are linked we know who will essentially be blamed. But this incident has seen a change in how terrorism has been dealt with in the past.

Terrorism is deliberately named thus to describe acts designed to cause mass terror. It has been working, apparently, with the way the media across the world has responded each time. 'Be scared be scared be scared!!' newspapers have cried out, pandering to the exact aims of whatever terrorists were operating. By reacting in such a way we have fed the trolls, given them precisely what they yearned for. Fear.

This time, however, something seems a little different to me. I do not think that the French are scared, they are just awfully upset. And because the French are not scared, the rest of the world is not scared. The French are standing up, going straight to the scene of the incident and showing that they do not care for this pettiness. Freedom of speech and press is ours, that is absolutely one thing that cannot be damaged by terrorism. This is merely an insult to, not a powerful attack on, the invincibility of wit and satire.

Solidarity is key, but not being afraid is even more potent than that. The big bad wolf cannot stand if we are not scared, and so we will not be scared.

My heart goes out to the families of the lost ones and my heart also stands with France.

#jesuischarlie

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year's Resolution

It is something of a wonder that most humans feel unable to start again and refresh themselves, their style, their lives without the aid of a New Year. We may try to reboot half way through the year but nothing quite beats the feeling of worldwide celebration of starting afresh in our own self-constructed and construed perception of time moving forward. The New Year has begun, we must, by the nature of humanity, now go forth to purchase gym memberships and other items that may aid us in our desperate attempt to better ourselves. It is one of many strange phenomena that only we humans can enjoy... And then throw away as this newfound inspiration dies out after approximately one month.

We all suddenly become aware after the fortnight of improving that was taken on with such gusto that changing our ways is unfortunately incredibly hard. That feeling of invincibility that had risen through us with excitement and determination completely and utterly deteriorates when we come to the conclusion that sitting down with a cup of tea to watch the telly is actually much easier than whatever else it is one was planning on doing.

Why is it that despite the sensation of accomplishing a task being even greater than whatever emotion inspired it, the bit in between the beginning and the end can be so detrimental that we often never feel like reaching the finish line? A small goal is easy to achieve, the time for the inspiration to dissolve is smaller, but a big goal that needs a lot of time also needs a lot more determination than what New Year's hype provides.

And thus I hope that this new year's determination lasts longer than that of a measly two weeks and that as well as achieving whatever goals I have in mind I can sit down with a cup of tea in front of the telly too.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Growing Up is not my friend.


For most, and in many circumstances, Growing Up is not one's best friend. Growing Up is in fact the enemy of practically anybody with a poor, fragile heart. It always comes in the least expected moments, in quiet bubbles of ignorant bliss it blasts your peaceful mind with Grown Upness which usually means realisation of some horrid thing or another.

It grows in frequency and weakens the amount of pain it causes for eventually Growing Up is fully done and the inevitability has had time to sink in. It happens when you realise that Father Christmas isn't real and for the next few years that once very special day dips in magic and excitement until you can come to settle with the other festive joys. It happens when your body starts to change itself despite your desperate cries for it to stop and stay the same for ever and ever in clean and new perfection. It happens when instead of games running off pure imagination your attention turns less intensely to other distractions that need more material than just the wonders inside of your head. Suddenly boredom is so much more prominent and hours go by with not one ounce of inspiration for a game or even for a cushion fort to make. Younger children seem silly now and with your sudden superiority you try to ride this wave of hormones and understanding with as much dignity as any young person is capable of. Unfortunately however you just keep falling down and yearn for your mum to hold you in her arms so that distant memory of being held as a baby can sooth you from the imminent Growing Up you will have to do.

As you reach the end of the official stage of Growing Up it's possibly the most painful. The absolute realisation of a childhood utterly lost to broken memory and a box of toys and DVDs that now collects dust in the loft hits hard at random points in the day. It is like you are stuck between struggling through this last treacle like stage to get out of it, or desperately clinging to whatever you can hold onto so as not to leave any of it behind. It is like you are both being rushed along by a strong current, and suspended in a stillness that you cannot wilfully remove yourself from.

Growing Up is, as we all sorely remember and experience, really, really, really hard. So far I'm not sure if I'm near to the good bit yet. I can still feel pangs of sad nostalgia that open new, sore wounds of memory. I'm fully aware of a slight feeling of loss, and yet anticipation all at the same time. It really is a wonder anyone gets out of this part alive.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Death to uniform.

I have been wearing uniform all my life. From the age of 4 I've gone to school in red, then blue and then finally black. As a primary school child I paid little attention to my uniform. Clothes didn't exactly bother me, I was pretty preoccupied with other important stuff such as who will play mum in today's mums and dads game. Or if you were a child with a slightly overactive imagination like me, who will play the pregnant teenage daughter of the negligent mother in our more modern, more dysfunctional mums and dads game. But more of that later.

The point is, when one's individuality is only just beginning to form it's just simply more practical for the parents to have the same outfit ready everyday. The same goes for the lower years of secondary school, younger minds needn't be bothered with social conformity so conforming in minor ways such as wearing school uniform isn't at all a problem. The problem arises when the scepticism starts to kick in. When the individuality has finally arrived and it suddenly matters a great deal to the hormonal, bad tempered teenager. Suddenly you're being told to do something you most likely despise. To wear an ill fitting, uncomfortable skirt or blazer at the age of fifteen, an age riddled with crippling insecurity, is a little bit like death. One comes to the realisation soon after this age that, perhaps unintentionally or even wholly deliberately, you and all your peers have been trained into a uniform way of living and looking that is apparently the foundations on which the entire business world stands upon. Because then, of course, sixth form comes around and uniforms are abolished. Almost.

This is, for most schools, the pinnacle moment of uniformity. The boys will wear suits and the girls will look smart also. You will all look like lawyers and bankers or you will go home. The rules perhaps are more malleable for the girls, but totally unavoidable for the boys. This is the proper way to look. People will take you seriously like this, even if you have no say in the matter. Even if you'd actually prefer to look like an artist, or a punk, or a goth or any other fashion you can identify with. This is the adult world now, and we must all go forth together banded with ties and cufflinks galore.

Don't dye your hair, don't pierce your body, please wear a tie, do up your top button, wear a black suit, wear a matching skirt and blazer, don't show your shoulders, don't wear ankle boots, make sure your skirt isn't too short or too tight, and please, for the love of god, look the same as everybody else.

Looking your best is important, for most people it is even pleasurable. But everyone's 'best' is not the same, so please stop trying to tell me your made up rules.