Are We Choosing Marriage Consciously?

By Taniya Shandil

“So, have you been thinking about boys and relationships then?” said Kal, one of my inquisitive neighbours. She popped over to my house for a cuppa and a catch-up, which we did whenever we met up. I was venting to her about how my dad had been hinting that I should be ‘doing certain things in time’. He would occasionally joke about posting my biodata online for some suitable matches to come through, so that he can get rid of me (quite literally is own words!). He said it teasingly, as a joke to wind me up, but to me it was more than a joke. He never said it directly but to me, but I felt like he meant there was a time to do everything, namely: a time for studies, a time for career and a time for marriage.

So, I being totally unready to even have that conversation or think about marriage at 25 was something that Kal found a bit surprising too. As we were discussing our life experiences, she said, “Well, you know, I got married at 24. I didn’t know what it would be like. But I learnt to understand how my life would change, and how to understand Ravi better. And now, two kids later we know each other well … we share our own little banter and that’s what it’s all about!”

She then went on to say, “You know marrying early is good because you can have your children, play with them and see them grow up while you’re young. I have some friends of mine who were very career-minded – now they’ve turned 32, 36 years old and they can’t have all that now!” “All what? Marriage and children?” I asked.

“Yes, you know. When you turn a certain age, it becomes difficult to have children. Also, it’s harder to marry!” she said.

I listened to her intently, yet had this strange feeling that she wasn’t entirely confident in her marriage at such a young age. Surely, we need to learn a little more about marriage before we go ahead and do it – just like you learn about the job prospects of a career before entering into it. Marriage being one of the life-defining decisions that we make deserves to be thought about, and not just ventured into blindly because it is the correct age to do so.

Practically speaking, the thought of ‘marrying at a certain age’ might be somewhat true since the biological clock exists, and has its limits. However, do we need to marry to have our children? Are we consciously choosing marriage and then kids, or is the choice being made for us?

Is it easy for a person, especially a woman, to make her own decisions without being judged? What happens if a woman decides she wants to marry when she is 40 years old, when she is filled with life experiences, financially stable and comfortable with herself as a person? Not to mention, she can emotionally support her partner better! Yes, with the biological clock ticking perhaps it would be difficult to have children. But isn’t this mind-set the stability that lays the foundation of a successful, and emotionally communicative marriage?

Why does it seem easier for men over 35 to find a younger woman to marry but not so vice versa? Logically speaking, isn’t there a higher risk of the marriage not working out when the woman is young and coming to terms with the idea of living with someone, discovering herself and trying to begin her career? Or does marriage choose her because she is of a certain age and can bare children? Is it biology, or our own conscious decisions? Do we feel incomplete if we don’t marry or don’t ‘have it all’? Is it necessary to ‘have it all’?

I am not saying that we should ignore our biology or shun marriage as an institution, but I do think it is important to question whether we looking at women as autonomous individuals? Are we accepting the fact that people will choose their marriage decisions? What about same-sex couples, are they similarly restricted by the social constructs which seem intrinsic in heterosexual couples? Are we acknowledging the fact that people will grow into more evolved beings with age who can provide better emotional, mental and financial support to their partners? Or are we associating a woman’s age as old = loss of youth = not a child bearing age?

Is the idea of ‘not having it all’ and ‘being left behind’ scary?

As I sit here and wonder about what Kal said, all I can surely say for now is that I don’t know what path I will eventually end up taking. Whether I will be ready mentally or not, whether I will find a decent partner or not, whether I end up having children or not. But one thing is for sure: whatever happens, I want to make sure that I choose it and not the other way around.

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About the Author

Taniya Shandil is a recent Chemistry postgraduate student from Cardiff University who is interested in gender and feminism issues. She has recently completed her master’s in Chemistry, and has took to writing for the purpose of self expression, creativity and making a difference by challenging perceptions of gender.

She also enjoys music, dance and reading as hobbies. One day, she wants to make a difference in the chemical industry with her work, and at the same time become a writer who can make a difference.

Taniya Shandil

Redefining ‘Woman’

By Rachael Haylock

If you google the word ‘woman’, one of the definitions states:

“a peremptory form of address to a woman e.g ‘don’t be daft, woman!’”

(Peremptory means “insisting on immediate attention or obedience, especially in a brusquely imperious way.”)

Whereas if you google ‘man’, you get:

“used, irrespective of the sex of the person addressed, to express surprise, admiration, delight, etc., or for emphasis.”

The very word given to women at birth has become an order, an aggressive and autonomous way to speak to a female. On the flip side, the word ‘man’, is the opposite, and serves as a light, friendly way to greet both men and women. From the day we are born and named ‘woman’, the first word used to describe us entrenches our obedience and subservience to our male counterparts. As women’s futures seem to be changing and shifting around us, the discourse for redefining what it means to be a woman needs to be discussed.

At birth, the first thing that the nurse probably said about us was “It’s a girl”. ‘Female’ becomes our very name and our very definition. In that moment, much of our lives are defined for us. We will probably be dressed in pink, watch Disney princess movies and take ballet classes. We will learn that to be female means to be beautiful, fragile and dependent.

As we get older there is very little change, by the time we are teenagers, all the social norms that envelope the term ‘woman’ have permeated our identity. Maybe we will start learning how to use makeup and how to lust over shoes and clothes. Maybe we will read shiny magazines with beautiful woman, maybe we will start developing a fraught relationship with our bodies. Maybe we will begin to associate society’s definition of beautiful with our self-worth. In our culture there is only one ‘Ideal Woman’, and it becomes our life purpose to try and fit that mould.

In 2015 alone there were 279,143 breast augmentations; a 31% increase from 2000 (plasticsurgery.org, 2016). This is a direct result of the notion of the ‘Ideal Woman’. She has led many women to dress the same, do their hair the same, buy the same things and even adapt their bodies so that their bodies look the same. In turn, this creates competition between women. There can only be one ‘Ideal Woman’ and we are all subconsciously trying to play that role.

In order to break down the concept of the ‘Ideal Woman’, one must realise the differences between sex and gender. Our sex is female or male, the biological composition of our bodies, however, our gender is how we chose to express ourselves. Our gender is a construct that we have the power to create. The ‘Ideal Woman’ forces a certain type of gender expression on us. She limits us, and is often subconsciously attached to much of our unhappiness. Essentially, we have been denied the freedom to choose our own truth. Our truths have been clouded by the do’s and don’ts of how a ‘woman’ should behave, dress and conduct herself.

Women (and people in general!) everywhere seem to be undergoing a transition. They are realising that the world does not exist in binaries. The traditional concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are dissolving, to be replaced with an array of creative gender expressions. At some points we can almost feel like it is almost enough to just be yourself, without any kind of gender attachment. As we start to recognise that we have the ability to define our own standards of beauty, we realise that as part of human nature, the only constant in life is that we are all different ever-evolving. Everybody is different, and in our difference, everybody is beautiful. Our purpose as women emerges, unashamed in our expression of ourselves. We are unashamed of our self-expression and we can speak our own truths, inspiring others to do the same.

What if we don’t want to be a woman, biologically or otherwise? We are on a constant journey with our womanhood, always evolving and adapting. Most importantly, by redefining ‘woman’ we can also become more aware of the different struggles women everywhere face in their daily lives. We can be thankful to be in the position where we can redefine what is means to be a woman freely.

Every woman is different and every woman is beautiful and every woman should be treated as such. I believe that the future of womanhood is to encourage and support each other to express and love who they are, rather than participate in competition and rivalry. The future of womanhood is to teach our sons and daughters that all people, regardless of sex, have equal opportunities to explore and express their hopes and dreams; that beauty comes in all forms, shapes and sizes; and that your sex does not define you. Our journey as women is just beginning, and together we can redefine the cultural norms that surround our sex, and create a better future for all women.

References:

https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/new-statistics-reflect-the-changing-face-of-plastic-surgery

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About the Author

Rachael is a dance practitioner, yoga teacher and writer. She has a Bachelors in Dance studies, and was first introduced to gender studies at university, by looking at dance practices through gender as a cultural lens. She hopes to use her voice and movement practices to inspire and help break down habitual and cultural limitations. She is a passionate believer in expression, travel, freedom and an equal voice for people everywhere.

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Review of The Beguiled: Standing Up for Female Voices in Cinema

By Dean Pettipher

The Beguiled

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Written by Thomas Cullinan (based on the novel by), Albert Maltz (based on the screenplay by), Irene Kamp (based on the screenplay by) Sofia Coppola.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning & Colin Farrell

Barely two months have passed since the seventieth annual Cannes Film Festival and Sofia Coppola’s historic achievement as the second woman ever to win the award for Best Director. This was accorded for helming the enchanting motion picture masterpiece The Beguiled (2017). In the wake of recent discussions highlighting significant gender inequality within the film industry (see Jennifer Lawrence’s wage gap essay published in 2015) Coppola’s latest movie is crucial for maintaining the momentum towards a totally level cinematic stage. The Beguiled enchants, not just because it was directed by a woman, but principally due to a truly excellent collaboration that has brought about one of the most finely-crafted films so far this year. Thus, the various rewards earned for such efforts do not feel like tokenistic virtue-signalling by fake officials.

The primary sources for Coppola’s adaptation were composed by men. There was another movie, also entitled The Beguiled (1971), directed by Don Siegel. There was, of course, also the novel that started it all, written by Thomas Cullinan and first published in 1966, initially titled A Painted Devil. Not least because of the elegant exploration of the passions that men and women share as human beings, Coppola’s latest movie is a believable illustration that a film with a female gaze at its heart can be as good, if not better, than those that have been projected with a male lens.

The acting is superb. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in particular shine in their respective roles within the nineteenth century Virginian girls’ school. They each create their own uniquely compelling chemistry with Colin Farrell’s ostensibly charming character, a Union soldier, who desperately seeks sanctuary from the ravages of the American Civil War. Coppola’s script sizzles with tension in all its guises, courtesy of often cut-throat dialogue at the dinner table. The tension generally remains defiant when the dialogue gives way to action, thanks to some graceful and occasionally swift camerawork. While at times dulled a little by repetitiveness, the cinematography emerges triumphantly gorgeous in capturing the beauty of the white palaces situated upon the Southern plantations. The costumes thrive off of their intricate details; the women appear unquestionably fabulous in glossy dresses, and the guy that they aspire to impress looks pretty damn dashing as well. Consequently, the trill of the tale lies, to a great extent, in assessing which character is having the greater effect on their object of affection. All seem capable of rousing a state of limerence within those of the opposite sex, or at least prompting them to uncontrollably quiver in his or her presence.

The magic of the film fades not infrequently, but on each occasion quickly re-surfaces before the audience is lost. Kidman’s Southern accent slips from time to time, but fortunately not enough to tarnish her undeniably commanding presence and mellifluous voice. Perhaps the respective characters portrayed by Dunst and Fanning could have had their personal pursuits with Farrell’s character further developed through their dialogue, so that the stakes could have felt that much higher. On the other hand, a lot is communicated through both extremely subtle and very explicit displays of body language, which successfully maintain the central mysteries surrounding individual character motivations.

Ultimately, The Beguiled can seduce an audience. While Coppola’s Best Director prize is a well-deserved accolade, in the end, one must be more concerned about the opportunity than the awards. Women, like men, deserve to be given the chance to take the risk with their artistic visions in film and beyond. The Beguiled and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) are just two recent examples of that risk paying off both financially and in terms of positive social change.

Any drama set during the American Civil War will prompt audiences to consider the other tragic inequalities that plagued that period. During this film, they would then notice how those inequities appear to have been omitted almost entirely, as the film focuses on a particular set of female perspectives. Some have even ventured towards firm convictions that this is racism and whitewashing, elevating the image of the ‘Southern Belle’; of which many feel is a racist fiction. This is a useful criticism, which ties into the fact that feminist narratives must continue to reflect the intersectionality of modern feminism. However, it is still valuable to see the empowerment of female points of view. Therefore, this film does of course have flaws, but as Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenin, ‘if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.’

THE VERDICT: 9/10

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About the Author

Born in South Africa and raised in England, Dean studied for a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Chichester. For the second year of this endeavour, he took part in a one-year student exchange programme at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. Dean later obtained a PGCE in Primary Education. He is currently based in London and working for a children’s charity.
Beyond the workplace, Dean enjoys reading, going to the cinema and spending time with friends whenever possible. In addition to Canada and South Africa, countries that he has visited include the United States, Malaysia and much of Europe.

Merge/Flow/Flux

By Jordan Harrison-Twist

In the flow of electricity, code is used to describe required actions for computer systems, distinguishing them from the limited specialized capacities of lowly machines. Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer and contemporary of Charles Babbage, foresaw that code could hold symbolic value, so computers could behave outside of the boundaries of mathematics. Binary code, with its appearance of phallic 1s and vulvic 0s, begins as a morass of unordered possibilities, and in finding a moment of insemination in the flow, depicts a legible word or image. But the sexual metaphor in binary code remains bound to ideas criticized in cyberfeminist theory — criticisms which emerged in the late 1980s in relation to the advent of information technologies. The 1 represents a something — a phallus — and the 0 represents a lack — a not-phallus — illustrating the way our social lives were coded into the network: with the gender dualism intact, replete with immanent disparity. Thus, even in the domain of cyberspace, with its emancipatory and disruptive prospects, the woman remains servile to the militarized, commercialized technologies of patriarchal capitalism. Forever a nonentity, reliant on the 1 to determine her existence — he’s the one, I just know it — perpetually giving birth to legibility becomes her only function. Ada Lovelace in her programming wisdom had in the 1830s already criticised the limits of mathematical binary by inscribing it with nuance. Her first name ADA is now given to a programming language used by the US military.

Mamoru Oshii’s acclaimed anime film Ghost in the Shell (1995) investigates the flow of data in relation to consciousness and reproduction. In an information-oriented 2019, the world is connected by an electronic network that pervades all life. The network is accessed by implanting one’s consciousness, one’s ‘ghost’, into a cybernetic body, or a ‘shell’. Born from the sea of information, the Puppet Master is a military creation who becomes sentient, and as all life, seeks a body with which to reproduce, and ultimately, to die. In the film’s climax, the protagonist Motoko Kusanagi merges with the Puppet Master, combining their consciousnesses into a new body, to create something neither Motoko, nor the Puppet Master, but something else: a synthesis of motherless, fatherless mechanical replication. The line drawn between reproductive gender roles becomes permeable as the equal fluidity of merging displaces penetrative sexual intercourse — in a maelstrom of consciousnesses extra-utero.

Rupert Sanders’s less sophisticated live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell (2017) has been much criticized for its gratuitous appropriation of Asiatic motifs, and the ‘whitewashing’ decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead. Strangely though, I actually prefer the iconic scene in which Motoko goes deep-sea diving. More tersely construed than in the anime, Johansson’s Motoko states that she relishes the fear of being submerged, the ‘cold, dark. No voices. No-data-streaming. Nothing […] Feels real’. Far from the indulgent philosophizing of the anime (based on Shirow Masamune’s manga), the transformative power of the disinterested, treacherous water works better with this simplicity of terms — this is, of course, the point: this dive is the opposite of Motoko’s digital ‘deep dive’ into the agitated data memories of a cybernetic Geisha assassin, a mission in which Motoko is tracked and hacked, and the haptic power of her shell is diminished.

One issue with the remake is that twenty years on, the same questions and dichotomies of the original are posed in quite the same way, just with more green-screened bombast. Paradoxically, the accusations of whitewashing have added a unique point of contention to the film’s conclusion. In the remake, we are faced with an Asiatic consciousness concealed in the body of a white woman — a body whose synthetic white ‘naked’ skin is exposed in full when ‘Major’ Motoko is engaged in battle, but whose heritage (in the narrative, as well as the film’s origins) is distinctly Japanese. Sanders’s film is as much about, as it is in service of digital enhancement — not just about ghosts and shells, but also about surfaces and skins.

The seminal text for discussions on gender and technology is Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1984), which discusses the liberating potential of breaking down the biological and technological dualism, as set out in Ghost in the Shell. Criticizing this, as well as the animal/human, male/female, and nature/culture dualisms, she claims that the perceived dichotomy has become a border war, the stakes of which are the ‘territories of production, reproduction, and imagination’. She characterizes contemporary human life as already technologically mediated, and looking at the meeting point of microelectronics and sex — genetic engineering and reproductive technologies — that it is not clear ‘who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine’.

The power to make is one attributed to both the machine and the mother, and as ciphers for this distinction, both electricity and water hold fundamental associations with the creation and maintenance of life. But just as electricity and water share a vernacular — both ripple, channel, flow, surge; floods can flash and dams can burst — the perceived dichotomy between the synthetic and the natural, replication and reproduction, is one in embattled flux. The cyborg’s legacy is not just a half-and-half synthesis of the human being and machine, nor is it one of the conceptions of male and female; rather the cyborg might be liminal, but not median; a network or a whirlpool or a wind; a spectre crackling along the fault-lines of the limitations of binary code, and public debates about Hollywood’s ersatz whiteness of skin.

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About the Author

Jordan Harrison-Twist is a writer and designer living and working in London and Manchester. In 2017, he graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Critical Writing in Art & Design. He writes about humour, pop culture, literature, and art and design.
His RCA award-winning dissertation is named A Conversation with a Bicycle: A Cultural History of Collision Between Humans and Machines — and charts moments in literary texts, cinema, recent history, and art and design, in which humans and machines have met, collided, merged, spiralled together, repelled one another, imploded, or proved impossible to reconcile. The text touches on the Surrealist attachment to the mannequin, the ethics of artificial intelligence, sex robots, and commercial space travel.

Learning Curves: My Experience with Sexism in Further Education

By Jack Ford

Childhood is a critical time – our early experiences shape the way we look at the world and everything in it. From what food we enjoy, to our tastes in music and indeed, our attitudes towards other races and sexes. Our early interactions with people who are different to us can be hugely influential, and for some, bad environments can form negative opinions.

The divide between boys and girls becomes apparent from a young age, as children of different genders are often discouraged from mixing socially. Boys are encouraged to be active and adventurous in their play, whereas girls are kept passive and prescribed notions of femininity. However, this segregation is broken when young people desire romantic relationships – the invisible, cultural line is crossed when a boy asks a girl out, or vice versa. Perhaps this lack of early integration ingrains in us the idea that the opposite sex is only to be approached when there are amorous feelings involved, which just isn’t the case at all.

This idea came to me last year, when I made some observations on an Access course for young adults. The students, about three quarters male, were intelligent and very articulate, but unwilling to apply themselves and often boisterous and reluctant to do any of the work set for them.

During my time there I began to notice early on that some of the male students had unhealthy attitudes towards women. One in particular would never take instructions from female tutors. I can’t say for certain why, but it seemed like he refuted their being in a position of authority. Another would regularly tell sexist jokes either involving body parts or their usage, sometimes both.

These attitudes were best personified in one student who I’ll call Aaron. A young man in his late teens, Aaron was smart, funny and industrious, but fairly early on I became aware of his unsavoury views on women. He would brag about the number of girls he had been with and made weak jokes about how we shouldn’t look at his internet history. When there were excursions – the course had regular outings – you would often catch him using his phone to film passing women, strangers to him that he liked the look of. He was reprimanded for doing this, but that didn’t stop him.

This came to a head at the end of year presentation, where students and tutors along with families, friends and even representatives from the university that sponsored the course gathered to celebrate the year’s achievements. All students were asked to make a small speech. When Aaron took to the mic, he delivered a standard speech where he listed his achievements and started thanking all the course tutors, finishing with a young woman of whom all he said was, “She’s gorgeous.”

The room erupted in awkward laughter. A couple of his mates wolf-whistled. Perhaps this bolstered him, because he described her as either “beautiful” or “gorgeous” five more times. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe he had done that. I couldn’t believe he was continuing to do it. I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t stopped him. It was so uncomfortable to witness that I had to leave the room. It was baffling that he would think that this attitude, broadcasted to everyone, was acceptable. I couldn’t imagine how the teacher he was speaking about must have felt, objectified in front of a large group of people. I asked her about it afterwards and she said it was fine, but she did look a little shell-shocked.

To my relief, some of the others agreed with me that this wasn’t OK, but not everyone. I even complained, but by then Aaron had finished the course and there was nothing that could be done. So instead, I pushed for the teachers to include some education on gender equality and discrimination as part of their curriculum.

I argued that one of the aims of the course was to prepare students for being in the workplace, and if any of them said some of the things I heard them say about women at work, they would have found themselves either at a tribunal, or fired (although the unfortunate reality is that so many incidents of gender based harassment in the workplace go unchallenged by employers). The teachers heard me out, but declined my proposal. This was understandable, I wasn’t a tutor and it wasn’t my place to tell them how to run their course. Their continued reluctance to penalise sexist behaviour is one of the factors that contributed to my decision to leave the course. (And to be honest, it was a relief.)

This is my experience with witnessing sexism in further education, and of course this is not an isolated incident. Last year The Women and Equalities Commission were told that young people nowadays are experiencing a culture where sexual harassment has become the norm. In addition to this, while sexual harassment and sex crime is down a lot from what it used to be, in the last two years the rate has risen.

There is no one answer to resolve this, but there are definitely more actions that can be taken to combat this institutionalised problem. In March, a proposal was put forward to make the teaching of relationships and sex education compulsory in all schools. This is legislature we need to get behind. Teaching this to children who are at a pivotal age will lay the foundation for them to realise that sex, gender and difference are serious issues. Although young boys and girls are segregated, this type of education should include education which goes beyond binary concepts of gender – as well as discussing issues such as harassment, consent and equality.

The gender divide is a problem that exists in all cultures, and it’s about time we cross gender lines to come together and do more to see each other as equals. Until then, we will keep producing more Aarons, more people who think it’s still OK to publicly objectify women because the world they were brought up in, a world which said that they could.

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About the Author

Jack Ford is a charity worker, anti-rape activist and volunteer art gallery attendant from Somerset. Currently, he abides by the Hunter S Thompson quote: ‘I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.’ His work has appeared in Jupiter magazine, on the Bristol Sport website and he writes for The Redeem Team and Nondescript.

 

Doctor Who (Will Jodie Whittaker Be?)

By Jo Gough

The 13th Doctor will be a woman. This is not simply a case of the BBC being ‘PC’ for the sake of it; this proves that a female hero can be realised within the Doctor Who universe. I would have thought that the plethora of complaints have begun to arrive, as they did when the Master regenerated as a woman (a pretty big hint). I imagine that many haven’t even been watching Doctor Who, and just want an ‘i’m not sexist but…’ grumble.

This is a positive step and is not particularly surprising, as should be the reaction if we ever get a more diverse James Bond. If these characters can be reprised looking and acting differently, why can’t this include skin colour or a change of gender?

This will keep the show fresh, as long as the writing mirrors the progressiveness of the casting; we want to see a reinvented Doctor with a new personality and character, as well as a new gender.

I was an avid fan when Doctor Who returned to our screens. However, when Steven Moffat took over the writing of the show, I did struggle to watch as I found the language and tone problematic from a gender perspective. Actions to and from women in the script became highly sexualised, which I found unnecessary. What statement was this making to a young audience? Women can be strong and clever, but only if we are framed in a sexual light?

The recent Wonder Woman movie is another example of this. It was hailed as a feminist success; however, there was still at the centre a male hero. This character teaches her how to behave and dress, and makes constant (and exhausting) references to her appearance.

This makes it more important than ever that we see beyond the fact the Doctor is a woman, but instead examine who she will actually be. Will she be scripted like a male with her companion besotted? Will she be saving male companions from the tedium of life, whisking them away in the Tardis? Or will men remain as the heroes, saving her from danger? Will she need a love story to seem interesting, or will the scenes be scattered with references to her female form? Will female characters work with her or be jealous of her? Will she be fought over?

When Mackie was cast as Bill, the first openly gay character in Doctor Who, she said sexuality was not the defining role of her character. This gives me hope that the gender of our hero won’t be either.

Hopefully, she is constructed through the strength of what makes the Doctor a role model, with all the trademark traits that we love: wonderment, enthusiasm for teaching and learning, puzzling out the science of the universe, needing help, taking advice, being protective … and ultimately saving the day, with compassion in her heart(s). Children and adults alike will then learn that women can be heroes based on their ability and personality, not because they look good or try to mimic a male stereotype.

This is a fine time to encourage hero status as a result of character and personality, regardless of the sex you were born, or regenerated as.

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About the Author

Jo is an aspiring writer, deeply interested in gender, current affairs and popular culture. She has a degree in Education and Psychology, and it is what is not being said in news reports and how people react to the news and popular culture that gets her writing. To the left in politics, Jo has always tried to make the world that bit fairer. Twitter: @redphiend
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Emotional Ed, or My Experience of Sexual Education

By Lucy Caradog

My school waited until Year 9 to give us any form of sexual education, apparently in order to coincide with the year that the national biology syllabus taught us about reproduction, so as to give us fourteen-year-olds a comprehensive understanding of sex and relationships. I’m not saying that this wasn’t a good idea in theory, but it meant that some of us had to wait years until the rumours around sex that we heard about from some kid’s older brother in Year 3 were finally disspelled. That’s a whole six years of thinking that [insert funny sex myth here]. And even though most of us had cleared up the major misconceptions, we were still a bunch of teens who giggled at any innuendo and thought that sex was something to be ashamed of. We were in dire need of information, which we thought we would be receiving when two individuals, a man and a woman in their early- to mid-thirties (whose source were unknown to us) were brought into class.

Even though they made a number of what I would now call ‘mistakes’, bear in mind that this was a Catholic school, and a strict one at that, which may be why we didn’t notice that anything was amiss . We didn’t for a second wonder why there was no mention of birth contrl or STIs, or why any sexual act or feeling between two individuals who did not identify as a man and a woman was treated as impossible. We giggled madly when the man wrote the word MASTURBATION on the whiteboard in capital letters, and even more so when he attempted to rub it out only to find that he had accidently used indelible ink. I still to this day can not fathom why, when separating the boys and girls to tell us about “the changes our bodies would soon be going through” (FYI: I was at this point a C-cup and my cycle was so regular I could predict in advance when to get dispensed from swimming lessons), they decided that the man should be the one speaking to us girls, leaving the woman to teach the boys about erections and body hair.

The low point, however, came when they had reassembled us to discuss relationships. This was the longest section of our afternoon, and featured a hypothetical couple, both teens just like us, named Romeo and Juliet. That’s right. The Shakespearean tragedy was reappropriated to serve as an example of an average teenage relationship. Oh but wait, it gets worse.

Romeo and Juliet met at a party and started dating. It was going well until Juliet went on holiday for a week or so, a preplanned ski trip with some friends and family. There’s snow, there’s skiing, it’s basically the fun-filled holiday every middle-class fourteen-year-old dreams of, but all Juliet can think about is Romeo. She was lovesick, and therefore unable to enjoy herself in any capacity. She gave her boyfriend a call, thinking he was probably as hung up on her as she was on him. Little did Juliet know, Romeo was spending her holiday hanging out with his mates, watching the football, doing whatever ‘dudes’ do when their significant others are away. Juliet was the last thing on his mind, and when she phoned and told him that she missed him, she was surprised to find that he did not exactly reciprocate. This was when our instructors told us that Juliet was making a typical mistake: what she didn’t understand was that men’s brains “work differently” to women’s brains and that men operate on more of a “out of sight, out of mind” basis. It was thus unreasonable of Juliet to get upset. They explained that we girls would just have to accept that when it our time came to be in relationships, it was unlikely that our level of infatuation would be returned.

To say that I am angry at having experienced such appalling sex education is not quite right. Looking back on it as an adult who understands love and sex and everything inbetween, it is even slightly amusing. It was not amusing when I was sixteen and spent time pining after a boy I had already given up on because I had been told not to expect him to like me as much as I liked him. It was not amusing as I watch my friends play hard to get because, even though they were not subjected to the Story of Romeo and Juliet, they have some deeply ingrained idea as to how to capture a boy’s attention, and a subconscious idea that this is a difficult task, something they should work for. I remember being fourteen, fifteen, older maybe, and chatting with my girlfriends about our crushes on boys. We complained in a matter-of-fact way like 1950s housewives about the work we had to put in to keep our lads captivated.  That this was a woman’s work.  We did not expect to be on a level footing, we did not believe in an even give-and-take.

I have heard my fair share of sex ed horror stories. The ‘pouring-ink-into-a-water-glass, this-is-your-soiled-virginity’ story, for example. I don’t mean to discredit these stories; I appreciate that my experience is a different thing altogether. Maybe it is because I went to a particularly uptight Catholic school, or I had an uncommonly misogynistic instructor. All I know is that it took me a long time to get over this information and to trust men to love and respect me the way I deserve.

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About the Author

Lucy Caradog is a student in English and American Literature who’s interest in gender, sexuality and feminism stems from literature on the subject. She writes essays and short stories on these topics and others that can be found in various university publications and in a Writing folder on her laptop. She hopes to one day work in publishing whilst continuing to write on the side. Lucy also enjoys illustrating, and her artwork can be found on instagram @orangetoplucy

Sangeeta Bandhyopadhya’s Panty: Feminism and the Female Gaze

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By Manasa Shetty

Panty is a quick but intense read (a mere 121 pages!), originally written in Bengali by Sangeeta Bandhyopadhyay (SB). Told from the perspective of an unnamed female narrator through interconnected but not necessarily chronological chapters, the book is about a young woman exploring her independence in metropolitan Calcutta, India.

SB is described as “the woman who reintroduced hardcore sexuality into Bengali literature”, so I was both intrigued and a little apprehensive of what was awaiting me. Thankfully, I fell in love with Bandhyopadhyay’s no-nonsense book that simultaneously questions what it means to be a feminist and creates a valid space for female sexuality.

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Fifty Shades and Co. should take notes. I hated Fifty Shades because it was  apologetic about female sexuality and cast its protagonist entirely through the male gaze of an idealised ‘sexy sheepish librarian’ stereotype (although, of course women can also want to be sexy librarians). All this and more is why I disagree with endorsing Fifty Shades as a feminist text. On the other hand, there is none of this artifice with SB’s bold writing, which presents an unabashed female gaze. The book successfully blurs the lines between love, lust, the physical and emotional (see the below) in a way that will certainly take you out of your comfort zone.

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Something that stood out to me in this book was how real the protagonist’s character is. While Panty is about an independent woman, it is also about her involvement in an affair, where she cast as the outsider. I love that SB gives her protagonist this depth; it resonates with some of the pressure I feel about being a feminist but not always feeling like I’m living it fully. It highlights the complexity and need for modern day intersectional feminism, which takes a different form for each individual.

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About the Author

Hi all! I’m Manasa, born in India and bred in East London, like most of us I’m currently grinding it out in the corporate world. I turn to fiction for salvation and believe that diverse, international and feminist literature can change the world! The rest of my time I spend eating and rewatching Modern Family and Game of Thrones.

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A Compromise Approach to Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland

By Keeley Buckley

In a rapid turn of events, Labour MP Stella Creasy put forward an amendment in the UK Parliament, asking for Northern Irish women to be entitled to have abortions paid for by The National Health service in England.

Northern Ireland has strict laws surrounding abortion. In fact, it can only be legally performed if the pregnancy is deemed medically life-threatening to the mother. Many women travel to England in an attempt to seek a legal abortion. However, they have to pay for the procedure themselves – the cost is in the region of £900 (read more here).

Creasy’s amendment was actually pulled from Parliament before the vote could take place. She had received assurances from the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond and Secretary for Women, Justine Greening, that the matter was already in hand and that these women would now receive the care they need on the NHS.

The move was highly contentious, with strong feelings and debates playing out across social media, particularly in the Twittersphere.

While the scope of the abortion debate is wide and whilst we try to be an inclusive society that values everybody’s thoughts, abortions will always be primarily a women’s issue. Pregnancy is biologically, hormonally, emotionally, physically and socially a process that women have ownership of. The religious, social, moral and financial questions arising from the abortion debate are more often than not aimed primarily at women rather than men.

Is there a middle ground here that has been overlooked? Is it is time for all of us to look at abortion as a medical procedure and not a moral choice?

For instance, a foetus is viable from around 21 weeks. But, in England a legal abortion can be carried out up to 24 weeks. Some view this as inhumane, particularly pro-life activists. Though in contrast, the Northern Irish law-makers will not give a woman who has been the victim of incest and is now pregnant the option to terminate the pregnancy, despite the potential psychological damage. This is also inhumane and a situation that would for sure anger a pro-choice activist. Is the answer to negotiate with Northern Ireland by offering to lower the legal limit on abortion time in the rest of UK based on the viability of the foetus, asking Northern Ireland to match that law given that the abortion would not be terminating a viable life, thus rendering the religious and moral standpoints irrelevant?

It wouldn’t please everyone, and there would still be various arguments such as the potential father’s rights. But it at least offers one sensible solution. If medicine were to dictate if a procedure would be psychologically or biologically necessary for the mother or the foetus, then the termination could go ahead across the whole of the United Kingdom using NHS funds. Within the time constraints it would not end a viable life and would still give the woman the time to make her choice.  Crucially, it would avoid women having to make the journey from Northern Ireland to England.

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About the Author

Keeley a woman with an everyday job, mother, wife. Politically in the centre, hoping to influence a way of thinking that is equal for all.

 

 

Not Proud – London Pride 2017

By Fran Springfield

As an out gay woman I have always loved going to Pride. From small events to the big London parade, I have always felt part of a wonderful celebratory community. But not this year.

The posters and Equinox alphabet video, as part of their ‘Commit to Something’ campaign, do not resonate with me at all. The furore of complaints in the gay press has assured me I’m not alone in my unhappiness.

Let me dissect the video, a short film entitled “LGBTQ Alphabet: Six Letters Will Never Be Enough.” The music was good, great dancers too. I like the idea of of using the LGBTQI alphabet soup as way of being inclusive. But they just got it so wrong. This is the list they used:

Here is the full list of the alphabet definitions described in the video:

A – Ally

B – Bisexual

C – Coming out

D – Drag

E – Exhibitionist

F – Femme

G – Gay

H – Heteroflexibile

I – Intersex

J – Justified

K – Kink

L – Lesbian

M – Masc

N – Non-binary

O – Out

P – Pansexual

Q – Queer

R – Real

S – S & M

T – Trans

U – Undecided

V – Vogue

W – Womxn

X – Xtravagant

Y – You

Z – Ze | Zir

A for Ally – because?  Is the implication that we still need allies?  This is a Pride video – the hint is in the title – why do we need to be proud that we have allies? Pride is about celebrating our community. Having “straight” allies is fine, but Pride is about us.

Why not have A for androgyny? What about asexuality or agender?

B and C are fine, but D for drag should mention Drag Kings too and what about D for Dyke?

E I can cope with, but F for Femme? Acceptable but hardly used these days.

Surely F for Fluid as in Gender Fluid is much more relevant? Especially as it is an identity which more younger people are comfortable with.

H, works, even though it includes “hetro”.

I’m particularly pleased that I for intersex was included is being more visible. For people who are born with any of the complexities involved in that diagnosis, more visibility, awareness and understanding can only be a good thing. Though again, it could have been used to show that being intersex is a diverse identity, with some people presenting as male, others as female and a number of identities in between.

J to M are self-explanatory – though Masc is a new descriptor to me – and is very male-centric.

I’m delighted that N for non-binary is there – again this is giving greater visibility for an identity that is often poorly understood.

O and P make sense too.

But Q just being for queer? There’s also Gender Queer – a term that is being heard much more often and is often regarded as the twin of Gender Fluid.

What about Q for questioning? Something nearly all of us have gone thorough at some stage of our lives. Because there are multiple gender and sexual identities visible these day, it can take time for many children and teenagers to find where they are on the gender and sexuality spectrums.

We need to send the message that questioning is fine, if done of ourselves. But by others? That’s a whole other conversation. No-one has the right to question how we see ourselves and who we love. That message should be part of Pride and who we are. Anything less demeans us.

Real and S&M speak for themselves.

However T for trans does not. The word is transgender or transsexual. Trans if often regarded as a term of abuse and is disliked by many who are proud to be transsexual or transgender. Which of those identifiers to use is an argument all of its own, which I’m not going to to even attempt to begin here. There are strong views on both sides. So use both, but not just trans. Remember too that not all transpeople identify female, at least 25% identify as male.

Whilst not often encountered in the UK, Two Spirit people, often from Native American heritage, are equally valid to be part of the T within our community.

The remainder of the letters from U to Y work fairly well. Though Vogue strikes me as something fleeting and transitory.

It’s great to see Ze/Zir included as gender neutral pronouns. I look forward to their increased use over the years to come. For me they are friendly and easy to use and work well in everyday speech. Whilst I respect people who wish to use “they, them and theirs”, I personally feel uncomfortable using these pronouns. I guess that’s because of my years working within the transgender community, where for transsexual people “they” is seem as term of derision. Its use by family, friends and work colleagues who don’t want to deal with the realities of somebody’s transition is hurtful and shaming.

Sorry Equinox, you’ve really missed people out. Definitely could do better. More inclusion needed for next year please!

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About the Author

Fran Springfield RGN MSc, is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Gender Identity. 25 years ago she became the first Specialist Nurse in the UK to gain that designation. She has written and lectured on gender identity issues both in the UK and internationally. Throughout her career she has been an advocate for transgender rights and equality.

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DUP-ed in the City

By A. C. Phipps

My favourite signs on marches are always the ones which read “I CAN’T BELIEVE I STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”.

This sentiment seemed particularly apt on 24th June 2017, when I marched with hundreds of women to Downing Street, dressed in red, to protest the impending deal between the Tories and the DUP, which has now been secured to the tune of £1bn.

Needless to say, I wasn’t best pleased to have my body used as a bartering chip for political gain.

While we indulged in zeitgeisty witticisms (“MY OVARIES ARE NOT A FIELD OF WHEAT”) and stopped traffic in its tracks along Whitehall (one policeman told me “YOU’RE CAUSING ABSOLUTE CHAOS”, and I told him “THAT’S THE POINT!”), it was underscored with a palpable fear that the most powerful woman in the country was giving her approval to a party which are openly anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ rights.

I speak from a position of safety and privilege when I note from afar that austerity disproportionately affects women (it really does: see here), and when I recoil in horror at the fact that the government have found £1bn for political gain, while unashamedly slashing funds to domestic abuse services (outlined here).

But I speak from a position of personal and genuine vulnerability as a woman who wants to own her body, have control over her reproductive rights, and see free, safe and legal abortion become a universal human right. Pregnancy when wanted is a beautiful thing. But I also know that many women have felt the moment of fear as they watch the blue lines on a pregnancy test map out their future. The feeling that your body may go from personal to public ownership. For me, I always know that in the background there is the safety net of free and safe abortions in England. For other women around the world, they have no such reassurance. And as Margaret Atwood has recently said, forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy is a form of slavery (in this interview).

Our bodies should be sites of pleasure, tenderness, empowerment, lust, love and joy – all of the above, some of the above, or whatever else a woman wants hers to be. What they should not be is regulated, debated on by men, or used as sites of oppressive political discourse.

With the DUP refusing to shift their views on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite this deal, we will continue taking to the streets until our Prime Minister realises that her powers go beyond wearing a “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirt. She must speak out in favour of both protecting and extending abortion rights, not just within the context of our new political dealings in the UK, but also with Trump and other world leaders. In doing so, she will acknowledge that all genders prosper in a society which is open to giving women choice over how they live their lives.

Stella Creasy’s victory in securing women from Northern Ireland access to abortions on the NHS in England is a stunning victory – but it is only one step in the right direction. The thing about rights is they can always be taken away, and where they are present, they are lacking elsewhere. That’s why, as frustrating as it is to “STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”, I will continue with the mantra “MY BODY MY CHOICE”. Because my body is every woman’s body.

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A Whole Lot of Pride

By Carly Piper

I have been going to Brighton Pride since I was 4 years old. That’s right, 4. My Mum used to take me down to Preston Park for a walk as my Nan lived just around the corner. I have vague memories of smiling faces, loud music and lots of laughter. My most recent memories are similarly vague, but for slightly different reasons of course (perhaps due to the levels of alcohol in my blood stream). Still though, the smiling faces, loud music and laughter remain.

For many people, Pride is a reason to cover yourself in glitter, throw on something transparent and start drinking neat vodka at 9am. Which is fine, great even. But for many people, Pride means an awful lot more, and I am one of those people. Now, I am going to share with you what Pride means to me.

My first memory of realising that girls could like girls and boys could like boys was when I was 8 years old. I was walking up Rose Hill with my Dad and we were discussing the future, as you do when you are young. ‘When will I get married?’, ‘When will I have babies?’. You know the conversations, the ones that are hilarious to adults and truly confusing for young girls. Some girls are determined to have 13 children and get married to Mr. Right ASAP, and in other cases, they want to become zoologists and run away to Canada. Most children just don’t know what they want, and neither did I, as I was about to prove to my future self.

“What will I do when I’m older?” I asked my Dad, holding his hand, looking up at him with a scrunched up nose.

“Well, you will probably get a job and have a boyfriend … or girlfriend”, he answered breezily. My Dad is one of those people who to the naked eye looks like a burly scaffolder who drinks Fosters and smokes roll-ups (which he is). but beneath the exterior, he can be the kindest and most supportive person on the planet. This conversation stuck with me throughout my whole life and it is one I will take to the grave, so cheers Dad!

“YUCK!” I detested. “A BOYfriend, Dad, I will have a BOYfriend” and I rolled my eyes and walked a bit faster.

My next memory was of being at my Nan’s house watching music videos on TV. Christina Aguilera’s song, ‘Beautiful’ came on. If you’ve seen it, it features two men kissing. Well, my Nan wasn’t the biggest fan of this video. I won’t embarrass her by repeating exactly what she said, but you may be able to make it up in your head, and the video was turned over. Needless to say, she was disgusted.

At school, being Gay or Bi was considered a ‘phase’ by most. Lots of my friends went through the ‘phase’ and we all had weird, short, meaningless relationships with each other, while trying to figure out whether we actually liked the other person or not. I was unlucky enough to fall for two different people at school, neither of which reciprocated the feeling, but the experience revealed to me that maybe my Dad was on to something.

A few years later and I have been married (yes, married! ) to a woman. We got married in the first year that it was actually legal in the UK. We are now separated. It has always baffled me how gay marriage was illegal at one point, even up until a few years ago. That’s like saying ‘you can’t love this person’. No one has the right to say that! Least of all the government. I just don’t understand it. Although, I get told a lot that I think this way because I have been fortunate enough to live in Brighton since I was born. This may or may not be true. Brightonians on the whole tend to be a lot more open minded about most things, we’re known for it! I now live in Polegate with my beautiful partner who has two children from a previous marriage and I couldn’t be happier.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t feel the same as me on this subject. Now, I understand that people have different opinions and beliefs. That is an amazing, wonderful thing, as it means that we aren’t all walking around eating the same thing, wearing the same thing and all fancying the same people. That would be boring. But when it comes to individuals causing physical harm and even murdering those who are fortunate enough to have found someone they love, but happen to be the same sex, that’s just not human in my eyes. But this happens, and when I found this out, I was much more disgusted than that day on Rose Hill with my Dad.

So when I go to Pride on the first weekend of August, yes, I drink vodka at 9am, but I also remember that not everyone is as lucky as I am. Throughout the years, there have been a lot of people who have been judged and ridiculed because of their sexuality. I remember that a ridiculous amount of people, even now, maybe even someone reading this, hide who they really are because they are scared. So I go to Pride to show that I am proud. Proud to be who I am, and that I know so many amazing people who are proud of who they are, and even prouder to shout it from the rooftops, dressed in chiffon, covered in glitter on the first weekend of August every year.

Oh, and if you were wondering, my Nan was in the front row at my wedding and asks after my girlfriend on a daily basis. People surprise you. Be proud.

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Note

This post was originally published on Carly’s website: http://www.carlypiperwriter.co.uk/a-whole-lot-of-pride – please follow the link to read more from this writer.

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About the Author

My name is Carly. I am a born and bred Brighton girl heading towards the ‘big 3-0’. I now live in Polegate with my girlfriend and her two children where I write, create and learn. I write directly from the heart so that my views are heard correctly by my audience. What you read is what I think. Big believer in jam before cream on scones.

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