The December 2014 issue of RIOT! – our first Christmas edition! Please let us know if you would like any part of this zine transcribed, described or modified for accessibility purposes.
We haven’t posted here much in 2015. We’ve been trying out something new – creating and publishing a monthly zine, named RIOT!
Past issues of RIOT! Can be viewed online here, and we’ll be uploading image versions to this blog too. Please let us know if you’d like any images transcribed, described or modified for accessibility purposes.
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It’s LGBT+ History Month and, as I often find myself doing during this month, I’ve been thinking about sexuality. More specifically, my sexuality and how being a feminist at UEA has informed it.
I’m gay. Well, I actually prefer the term queer because of spectrums and fluidity and all of that fantastic stuff, but I use the two terms pretty interchangeably. I didn’t immediately decide that queer was the word for me; being a feminist and surrounding myself with feminists who regularly talk about the fluidity of sexuality led me to a label that I’m comfortable with. I guess that might not sound like much but it means an awful lot to me considering that a year ago I was still resisting labelling myself as gay. Coming to terms with my own sexuality was a relatively peaceful experience for me but I still, as many people do, have trouble with certain aspects of it.
The main problem I seemed to have was how other people – my parents, friends, strangers – viewed my sexuality. I didn’t mind being queer, but I really cared about how other people felt about it. Feminism and being a feminist at UEA has taught me a brilliant lesson: who I am, how I act, and who I sleep with is nobody’s businessbut my own. I realised that my sexuality has nothing to do with anyone else; the issues other people might have with my sexuality are borne out of a patriarchal, homophobic society and don’t actually have anything to do with me at all. Feminism taught me that I don’t have to apologise for what I’m wearing if I look a bit ‘too gay’; it has taught me that who I sleep with is not grounds for any kind of judgement, and it’s taught me that what I do with my body is my business.
Before I thought about it with my feminist hat on, men staring at me while I kissed girls made me feel pretty awful, like I was doing something risqué or subversive. Now when men stare at me in clubs I start yelling about patriarchy and how my sexuality doesn’t exist for their enjoyment just because I’m a woman. The sexualisation (by, largely, men) of women who sleep with other women angers me on a daily basis and sometimes that can be exhausting, but I’d rather be angry at patriarchy than angry at myself for being queer. Feminism has enabled me to channel this anger, and to turn what once might have manifested as fear and self loathing, into something personally useful and politically powerful. I think a lot of what feminism taught me boils down to this: the problem isn’t me, the problem is them. In a world that tells women pretty much everything is their fault, realising that no, it isn’t, was revelatory for me. Learning about sexism and becoming more accepting of my sexuality have become so intertwined that I cannot separate my feminism from my sexuality. Being unapologetic about my feminism allows me to be unapologetic about my sexuality, so I feel like I owe feminism (and UEA Feminism) a lot for how comfortable I feel in my own identity.
Until very recently, the idea that men couldn’t be feminists had never particularly occurred to me. I first identified as a feminist whilst studying the Suffrage movement at school. We began with the role of John Stuart Mill and I suppose from that moment on I’d never thought to question the idea. Having encountered several blogs recently which express discomfort with men identifying as feminists, preferring titles which emphasise a more sympathy focused role such as ‘feminist allies’ however, I’ve had to reassess. While the arguments put forward interest me a great deal, especially in light of the male-centric start to my feminist education, for the large part I can’t help but disagree.
A number of those writers uncomfortable with the ‘male feminist’ point to those who abuse the title for less than equality minded agendas. Be it in an attempt to steer the debate, inject some ‘strong male leadership’, or simply get laid, I don’t deny these men are sadly out there somewhere, tainting the movement in their own horrible way. Of course there’s no denying the case here; these men aren’t feminists. But that doesn’t have to mean no men are. Or that they never can be.
Though this in no way speaks for the whole movement, I define myself as a feminist because I believe in an absolute equality between the sexes. For this reason a feminism that denies half the population access to the movement, takes on in my eyes the appearance of an exclusive club. A club that strives to attain equality of the sexes whilst simultaneously not letting one through the door. To deny men access to this ‘club’ of feminism is problematic for numerous reasons, not least because this exclusionary mentality makes feminism feel so cliquey. It seems fundamental, that in a fight against our society’s long history of gender discrimination, we reach out to all genders when it comes to involvement, education and voices within the community.
I agree that men will never have the same level of insight into the feminist struggle as they have simply not been the victims of that gendered oppression that sees women oppressed by men. Undoubtedly. However to refuse that men could identify as feminists seems to miss something crucial. For men to become leaders of the feminist movement undeniably would be wrong, for absolute male power and leadership is the exact history feminism looks to transgress. But surely men can and in fact must be of its number to ever achieve real change. To watch from the side lines isn’t enough. Men must fight alongside women in order for the reach of feminism to ever be total and to do so as ‘allies’ just doesn’t seem strong enough. Change must be accomplished by men and women together, as equals, as feminists, for real equality to be achieved.
It’s not a secret that feminism remains controversial. That such an overwhelming number of people can agree in principle with gender equality and with the same token reject the term ‘feminist’ speaks volumes for the isolating effect the movement can sometimes appear to have. Of course this resistance is largely down to its systematic discrediting by misogynistic medias, but at the best of times feminism can also seem to isolate all but a privileged few; those who have read the literature, studied the thinkers, know the history. To cut even more people from a group already so select can surely only be regressive. On even a semantic level, to re-brand men as ‘allies’ becomes an act of alienation, of placing men one step removed and forging a gender barrier between them and the cause which goes against the entire goal of unity. To segregate, to allow one group access to a discourse and deny another, does not seem conducive to an end goal of absolute equality.
In the words of the far more eloquent Helene Cixous; “Phallocentrism is the enemy. Of everyone. Men stand to lose by it, differently but as seriously as women. And it is time to transform. To invent the other history.” To negate the significance of male feminists is to miss the way that a patriarchal society can and does claim male victims along with its female. Patriarchy is the enemy of everyone and in this way I can see no alternative but for men to be welcomed together with women in the fight against it, not as leaders but as comrades. They must become a part of the movement not as allies, not as helpers, but as absolute and in their own way instrumental, equals.
Love Actually is generally considered a classic British Christmas film. As a nation, it seems to be a widely held belief that Richard Curtis can do no wrong, hence his festive offering to cinema is all over television every Christmas. Personally, it was never one of my favourite holiday films, although I could never pinpoint why. Recently I read a Jezebel article entitled ‘I rewatched Love Actually And Am Here To Ruin It for All of You’, in which Lindy West points out what, in her opinion, are the film’s many flaws. It’s not the best article I’ve ever read, but while I didn’t agree with all of West’s points, it did make me stop and realise that Love Actually is, actually, a horribly sexist film. Beyond the various plot inaccuracies and other minutiae that West focuses on, the women in the film are treated terribly and it is rife with misogynistic attitudes.
1. It’s a man’s world
This film is about straight, white, powerful men chasing and winning attractive women. Nearly every single male character holds an important, distinguished job: prime minister of the United Kingdom, managing director of a design agency, rock star, writer, videographer, the list goes on. While the female characters all assume stereotypically feminine roles: mother, housekeeper, secretary, member of the prime minister’s staff (What does Natalia even do? Her role is so unimportant, it doesn’t even seem to have a name, plus she loses the job for being too sexy and distracting soon anyway.) Immediately, we are shown that men are the powerful ones, assertive and in charge of things, while the women do their less important women things, like look after children and bring the tea and biscuits.
2. None of the women talk
All of the women who are considered conventionally attractive in the film barely speak. This is where West really got it right in her article, stating: ‘The less a woman talks, the more loveable she is.’ Colin Firth’s love interest? Doesn’t even speak the same language as him. He falls ‘in love’ with her only when she strips off (totally unnecessarily – he’s allowed to remain fully clothed when he jumps in after her) to dive into the pond in order to save his important manuscript. Again, this emphasises how important Firth’s character’s role as a writer is – women must disrobe and dive into scummy pondwater to save his serious, influential work. Then there is Thomas Sangster’s character, the sad child whose mum has just died. His love interest is only shown on screen once, at the end, and barely says a word. All she does is smile and sing. There is no communication between these men and the women they claim to love. We don’t learn about any of them as people, the only defining quality we are made aware of is their beauty.
3. Women, especially, do not talk to each other
Not only are these women not speaking to the men chasing after them, they’re not even talking to each other. Few of them even know one other. One of the film’s central devices is the way every character is connected to each other through some kind of elaborate show of the six degrees of separation. However, everyone knows a male character. No one is connected to another character through a female character, apart from Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson but we’ll get to her in a minute. It seems these women have no friends or lives to speak of beyond the men who fancy them. Women are shown speaking to each other maybe a handful of times, and it’s about men when they do. This film is miles away from passing the Bechdel test.
4. When the women do talk/act, they are punished
The only rounded woman character with a lot of lines is Emma Thompson. She is shown as the sad, nagging housewife and punished for her agency when her husband goes about buying jewellery for his young, attractive secretary. Then there’s Laura Linney’s character, who is caught up in a bizarre ‘no one likes someone with mentally ill relatives’ plot-line that is for another blog post entirely. Socially ostracised and busy ensuring her brother is okay, she will never be able to find happiness with Karl, her office love, whom she has never spoken to. When she does finally get the guts to pursue him, she ultimately fails and goes back to being sad. Once again, Richard Curtis shows us that women with agency do not end up happy.
5. Whereas men can do literally anything and still win a woman
Meanwhile, the men in the film are off doing creepy, inappropriate things that overstep socially accepted boundaries, like filming an entire wedding video of only close-ups of Keira Knightley’s face, and still being praised for it. This only furthers the concept of men doing strange things that are not okay and basically constitute stalking, (see also Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything, outside your window with that boombox), and this being misconstrued as ‘romantic’. Whatever men do, however bizarre, they still end up with their love interest in the end. Liam Neeson’s character only has to bump into supermodel Claudia Schiffer in a school corridor before it is implied they are now ‘in love’. A mere five weeks after the death of his darling wife. Real nice.
This is not to say you cannot ever watch Love Actually again. Personally, I attempted to rewatch it this Christmas and turned it off after ten minutes in disgust. But that’s just me. So many things are problematic. If we restricted the things we enjoyed to solely non-problematic things, we would all probably end up sitting around twiddling our thumbs a lot because there would be nothing to watch or read or do. You can watch problematic films and still enjoy them, you just have to acknowledge that they’re problematic and not make excuses for them. There’s no excuse for Richard Curtis creating a film where there are no well-rounded women characters with a comparable amount of lines to their male counterparts. Does this suck? Yes. Does it mean you can’t ever watch this film again? Probably not. That part’s totally up to you.