Mothers Who Move

By Victoria Palazzo

Migration, Racism and Gender

Migration has become a central point of discussion in British politics and the recent election results suggest that the debate will continue for a long time yet.

The question is- why is migration a gender issue and why should it be included in a blog such as Gender And The City? There are many answers to this question however the issue I shall address here is reproduction.

Reproducing migrants

There has been much scaremongering from the right of British politics over the issue of immigration. It has been alleged that expectant mothers cross the planet in order to use NHS facilities and in order to gain British citizenship for their children. This environment of distrust has lead to the detention of pregnant women and children in asylum facilities whilst services are also being refused to pregnant women without proper documentation.

‘Migrant’ motherhood is a gender-issue and one that exposes racism at the heart of the British establishment. Non-UK women are punished for their sexuality and resultant pregnancy. Politicians seek to ‘protect’ the Nation from the ‘threat’ of increasing non-ethnically-British children. Media sources capitalise on this fear in order to push the agendas of their advertisers and political affiliations leading in turn to an increase in racism.

This image of ‘overly-fertile’ foreign women has a history. During colonial periods (usually non-white) foreign women were portrayed as hypersexual. This can be seen throughout the artwork and literature of the period: think “exotic” and ask yourself what comes to mind. This ‘exotic’ and ‘rampant’ sexuality was seen as something to be controlled and thus one justification for colonialism was born. As the effects of colonialism were felt and inequalities grew this hyper-sexuality was used to ‘explain’ the suffering of the colonised. These women were too fertile, they were having too many children- unlike proper protestant, white, English Ladies. Thus international inequality was blamed on the foreign poor.

Fast-forward to today and we can still hear echoes of this fear of foreign sexuality in our press, from our politicians and amongst ourselves. Politicians promise to protect us from these hypersexual women: Government minister Lord Bates recently stated that migration to Britain must be controlled for precisely this reason. Journalists argue: Britain is full! We only want useful migrants! The terms of utility seem to be defined by education, employment history and physical abilities: three criteria that pregnant women are less likely to fulfil.

Post 2015 Election

The incumbent Conservative government, fresh off their 2015 victory have pledged to reduce immigration to the UK through a series of measures, including though restricting child benefit and social housing to EU Migrants (non-EU nationals already do not have access to these services). Women, due to various barriers to entry, tend to rely more heavily on these welfare provisions than men. These restrictions therefore are an example of how gender and racial bias converge in the current British political climate.

As global inequality grows, climate change intensifies and wars continue to rage people will continue to leave their homes in search of a better life. The issue of migration will not go away. The British public therefore has two options: Do we build a wall against migrants, isolating ourselves from the poor non-British other? Or do we seek to improve the global conditions that lead to increased migration in the first place?

Why Should You Vote?

By Sarah Kendal

The election: an empowering process of democracy or a mixture of white men and the occasional white woman making promises you don’t believe they’ll keep? Refusing to answer anything uncomfortable and using a lot of hand gestures and tag lines on the way. Vote for us, we care about you, whoever you may be, and you can trust us, we promise. Essentially.

Last time around I was a student and I voted for the Liberal Democrats because I believed them when they said they would get rid of tuition fees. This time I am paying taxes and earning very little in the private sector. I also am living with my partner who works in the city. My perspective, like your own, is shaped by different things and perhaps most of all by the people we interact with on a daily basis.

And I generally feel confused on who to vote for as I read one article that tells me how austerity is a Conservative lie, or another which claims that all markets will go down if Labour come in with their soft-hearted inefficiency, or a third paper stating that everyone will vote UKIP and it’s best to vote tactically to keep these racists out.

Deciding which information to base one’s vote on is a challenge as we have many priorities and it’s hard to award the job of running the country to someone you have never met. I have actually met both Ed and Dave and neither of them were particularly inspiring. A quick dismissive nod as I spoke to them, barely acknowledging me, as I was just a young female photographer who takes photos of human-trafficked people, helping charities lobby for the anti-slavery bill. The most inspiring people I met in The Houses of Parliament was an ex-Conservative MP and the cross-party Baroness peers, who give out an aura of competency. They know how things work and how to get things done. They have fought to break the glass ceiling of the establishment and they use their status to quietly and steadily push through the anti FGM bill and the anti-slavery bill. If we could vote for them, that would be great.

I live in one of the most marginal constituency in the country. Last time there were 43 votes between Conservatives and Labour, so there is everything to vote for. I am faced with the choice of Simon Marcus, a bald white male conservative, Tulip Siddiq an attractive Asian labour woman or Rebecca Johnson, a white female Green lesbian. Two ‘minority/marginalised voices’ versus the man, in real time.

However, I sort of like Simon, or at least his manifesto. He cares about education for the disadvantaged, protecting us from the evil HS2 and the Hampstead Heath dams. Even though his Conservative rhetoric of helping ‘hard-working people’ is jarring, he vaguely tries to connect to new immigrants, stating he is a second-generation immigrant himself. He even went to the same university as me, drew similar conclusions about the neo socialist crew there and we are from the same religion. I don’t disconnect from him as much as I thought I would. In fact he sounds alright.

And then it turns out I also relate to Rebecca Johnson, she loves the Hampstead Heath ponds and so do I! She thinks we should have affordable and sustainable housing, in a manifesto that looks almost identical to Simon’s, she also wants to protect us from HS2 and the dams.

Tulip Siddiq risks alienating the Hampstead Mansions, and doesn’t mention protecting Hampstead Heath or HS2 in her manifesto. Instead she focuses on the NHS and fair pay for young workers. But like the other two, she purports to care about affordable and sustainable housing! She really emphasises her passion for the environment and she has worked in a charity against Modern Slavery, so like the other two, I can relate.

So in one of London’s most economically-diverse boroughs, each MP wants equality, either through boxing academies or fair pay, environment is big, especially Hampstead Heath.

But what do I want? A better recycling system? Apparently the Greens screwed that up in Brighton. Lower rent? Well that’s not going to happen where I live whoever is in charge. Hampstead Heath protection is a nice touch but ultimately a job that pays properly would be nice as well as a better-run NHS.

Being low paid, my priorities are that of a left wing voter. Being a woman I want to vote for someone to represent me. Because although this Conservative MP sounds alright, this just isn’t good enough in a parliament with only 23% of female MPs. And even less BME MPs, 3.5%.

If we believe in democracy, we believe in representation, and we believe that our highly diverse society must be represented. So parliament isn’t full of white privileged males that make decisions rooted in an environment where people cannot see beyond their own gender or racial bias. Perhaps like Simon, they indulge in a bit of ‘charity’ to help the poor, but only the right kind of poor. So children, the disabled, cancer patients and the elderly is fine but not refugees, immigrants, heroin addicts, the mentally ill, the welfare community who rely on benefits. All deeply unpopular because they are complex challenges, they aren’t easily fixable problems and they aren’t middle class.

The real issue for me, when manifestos are easily inter-changeable from one party to another, is democracy in itself. There are too many men who haven’t had to break any ceilings to get to their seat, comfortably following political rules with a straight-forward smile and a steady hand shake. Similar to when I met Ed and Dave and they looked at me like a passing fly, compared to the beady eyed quizzical and intelligent gaze of a woman who has seen it all and fought to be there, I will vote for the woman and/or the BME candidate in this election. We need a variety of voices echoing down that gothic castle, to reflect us all, ones that don’t just bat the woman away and say ‘calm down dear’.

Remake of Cinderella: How Far have Expectations for Women Really Come in Films?

By Hana Shaltout

As a student of gender and cultural studies, I was quite curious to see how the remake of the film Cinderella would have changed in terms of gender attitudes and perceptions since the 1950 Disney Film. Apparently, it was the question on several people’s minds, as the cast has talked about the remake being ‘feminist’. In an interview, Kenneth Branagh told the host that there was a lot more substance to her character, that she was very well educated and that she meets the Prince in the forest, rather than going to the ball and being swept off her feet without ever seeing him before. In an article on Yahoo News, Richard Madden said: “You see a really strong woman by herself and a young man coming together and it’s about them coming together that makes the story, rather than a kind of more sexist view from the older animation.”

(Okay, before I unpack that statement and various other claims, I know what you’re all thinking. Why is Robb Stark in this film?! I was thinking the same thing; and the main reason I could come up with is that Kenneth Branagh needed to motivate an older crowd to go, so he hired two cast members from Game of Thrones (remember the ruler of Qarth, Nonso Anozie?) so they would have just as much reason to go see the film as their younger cinemagoers. It’s such a smart move considering (spoiler alert!) he’s not in GoT anymore).

Brief Overview

Now to get to the film analysis… The film generally doesn’t depart from the 1950s version much, but the audience is given an insight into Cinderella’s (then Ella) idyllic childhood and nuclear family. The costume and set design are absolutely brilliant but they are also somewhat Eurocentric (which I will get to). I’m not going to make the claim that the film is completely Eurocentric but neither is it a complete breakthrough in terms of diverse representation.

For one, the house in which she lives is actually an amalgamation of the (presumably) colonial exploits of the father. The primary cast are all white and the setting is a fictional kingdom in Europe, rather that it potentially being anywhere or just a fairy tale setting. Given the fact however that Kenneth Branagh stuck to the original 17th-century story, it makes no sense to criticise him for choosing a European setting or making indirect references to colonialism, since that was the prevailing ethos at the time. Furthermore, the film actually includes diverse racial representation – but only in fleeting scenes and without any real depth or focus, such as the marketplace. In the ball scene when the prince is meant to choose a princess, the audience sees princesses from different areas of the world.

On the other hand, these representations are quite stereotypical, for example, the princess who is presumably “from Africa” and the Princess Chelina of Zaragosa, the Latina princess. While Branagh should be commended for breaking through the notorious white-washing of Disney and the archaically sexist portrayals of women (although this is disputed), we should also note that the only non-white character who has an actual role is Nonso Anozie as the Captain.

Femininity, Beauty, and Appearance

Something else I would like to comment on is the appearance of Cinderella:

Cinder

Can I please draw your attention to her waist? Because it’s feels like we’ve seen this before…

Cinder4

Lily James’ waist in the film has caused an uproar over body image so I’m not going to comment on it extensively… but what does this mean for how far women have come in films?

Most critics have said that this film lags behind Disney’s Frozen and Brave, but we also have to remember that this is a very ‘traditional’ fairy tale. Scholars of literature and specifically fairy tales tell us that “Fairy tales written during the 18th and 19th centuries were intended to… teach boys and girls appropriate gendered values and attitudes.” (Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz, “The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales, 2003, p714). Baker-Sperry, Grauerholz and Jack Zipes – one of the renowned experts on folklore and fairy tales – all stress the important relation between society and fairy tales. Clearly it is not a one-way relationship with fairy tales teaching children how to behave, or society directly correlating to the fairy tale in question. Rather, the relationship is a complex one in which fairy tales can reflect societal attitudes and institutions while simultaneously teaching its audience important lessons (such as Aesop’s Fables, for example).

This is also why Cate Blanchette, as the wicked stepmother, appears extremely feminine, her ensemble being a fusion of 1940s glamour and 19th century dress. To be honest, I think she was my favourite character in that film; but rather than making her a simple, evil, character, Branagh allows her to emerge as a multi-layered character behind the jealousy and spite she has towards Cinderella. Going back to the question of how far expectations for women have come in film, I think examining Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia is significant.

The stepsisters are obviously foils for the development of Cinderella’s character and her honour. They are portrayed as greedy and ambitious yet simple-minded. Their haughty attitude and their obsession with getting the prince shows the audience that this is the old sexist kind of characterisation where the female character draws her value from being with a handsome and rich man. This is contrasted with Cinderella who thinks the prince is an apprentice the first time she sees him. In this sense, the stepsisters haven’t come very far.

As for the wicked stepmother however, she throws parties, she gambles, she drinks and she looks absolutely glamorous. This might be seen as a progression from the ageist interpretations of Disney: old=ugly and evil (The Queen in Snow White, Maleficent, Ursula, Mothel Gothel) or old=benign and wise (the Fairy Godmother). Helena Bonham Carter’s gender jokes aside (she says, “I’m your hairy godfather” before she corrects it to “fairy godmother”), her part as the fairy godmother is your usual “bibidi bobbidi boo”.

The other minor character, Princess Chelina – played by Jana Perez – completely accepts her ‘arranged’ marriage to the prince and doesn’t have much say; she eventually lets it go as she sees his infatuation with Cinderella.

Conclusion

On the whole, expectations for female characters in film haven’t come very far in the remake of Cinderella. While Lily James’ portrayal of Cinderella shows her to be strong, cultured (speaking fluent French) and able to ride well on horseback, this doesn’t actually challenge the patriarchal views of women as domestic and well read. Yes, she has an encounter and has a chance to speak to him and decide that it’s worth seeing him again, and is brave in the face of hardship, but other than that her normative feminine appearance (and the corseted waist a la 1950s Cinderella) and traditional attitudes are not that progressive. The other female characters are either waiting for the prince to sweep them off their feet or are very stylised (the fairy godmother, Princess Chelina). For me, the only female character that reveals progression is Cate Blanchette’s role as the wicked stepmother. Her vibrant appearance and character are a refreshing take on a traditionally non-descript role. There is some racial diversity in the film, but it still has Eurocentric undertones (monarchic rule and imperial expansion, colonialism and trade, deeply stereotyped “African” and “Latin” women). Overall, it is an enjoyable film for the young’uns who are still in the Disney Princess phase, and the older gals who really miss Robb Stark on Game of Thrones.