Why Still Us?

By Clara Doña

Spending a great deal of our time in social networking has consequences. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – they all allow us to conceal different topics, opinions and feelings with one move of the finger; simply scroll down to your own personalised kaleidoscopic view of the world. On the other hand, a melting pot of news, other people’s lives and opinions, shared/re-shared memes and clips, and general cacophony often taps in to our empathy and even our own anxieties. This article is a result of the author’s own kaleidoscope of the current affairs on women in an attempt to gather all under the same question: Why are we women still made responsible for what is done to us?

These past weeks have been intense in Hollywood. The Western media has been in revolt against the Harvey Weinstein case (and the multitude of related ones that have started to pile up), placing #consent in the centre of attention, raising a chorus of voices that had previously been silent. But whilst Rose McGowan’s speech calls for a feminist revolution, the dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale speaks to everyone’s preoccupations about the roles of women in society, and London’s TFL puts up posters with a help number to report harassment on the tube. Given this somewhat fragmented context, I need to go back to the feminist author Virginie Despentes in her recent interview for ID when she argues that “rape is always a women’s subject’’.

‘’I want to see men gathering and, please, try to understand what’s wrong with you, how can you be a rapist.”

Virginie Despentes, 2017

While the discourses on persistence, struggle and objectification circulate implicitly and explicitly (through almost every feminist utterance) around the female collective, I do ask myself if us women haven’t spoken enough about rape. Understandably, shouldn’t the discourses on feminism be directed more thoroughly to men? And most importantly, shouldn’t be rape mainly a masculine subject?

Recent weeks have also been tumultuous in Spain due to the trial that will take place to judge the five members of “La Manada” (which I could translate accurately as “the gang”, even more accurately as “the mob” or, relating them to animals, as “the pack”). They are being prosecuted for raping an 18 year old woman last July during the celebration of San Fermín, in the Spanish city of Pamplona. Strikingly, the defence of the accused hired a private detective to follow the victim and found her to have a teenage routine that is unremarkable, in which she hung out with friends, went to lessons and smiled. As insane as this may sound, that was proposed to be used against the victim’s credibility. Many voices in Spain are rising up against this, with the claim that “now to be believed as a victim, you need to act as a victim.” Meanwhile, the news keeps acting as a death knell, with almost a victim to women’s violence per news programme.

Coming back to Despentes’ interview, she proposes the question of how giving women the power to kill their rapists would change the power dynamics of the act itself: “I don’t hate them [men], but I like to treat men like we are treated most of the time,” she says. In her magnum opus, King Kong Theory, Despentes also delves into the masculine culture of violence as having been constructed in a way that legitimises the idea that “men’s desire is stronger than him, he is unable to dominate it.” She goes on to say that “We still understand too often that ‘thanks to prostitution there is less rape’, as if men couldn’t control themselves, as if they had to discharge elsewhere.” In saying that there is no real correlation between testosterone and rape, Despentes implies that the cultural construction of gender roles and their continuous reinforcement is to be blamed for the issue in our hands. This is an idea that needs to be talked about more thoroughly; that rape and violence against women are not some sort of biological inevitability, but that they are rooted and sustained in the social – binary gender constructions, heteronormativity, and cultures of masculinity (and indeed femininity).

The construction of ‘women’ is ubiquitous in Western culture and the same attitudes, expectations and normative values are placed upon women again and again. In the most recent campaign by a well-known shoe designer for example, the model Cara Delevigne walks around a city at night. As classically frivolous and entertaining as the ad may be (groovy music, colourful photography and the joyful walk of a young woman in the city), it also shows the gaze and reaction of men to her sparkly shoes (and a bit more as the camera shows a shot broad enough to contain much more than her shoes). The ad seems to disguise those harassing gazes as the model responds to them playfully, whereas in realty, most of us would be unbothered or angry or even scared – it is rare that unsolicited male gaze is exciting or intoxicating as the ad seems to imply. The problem with this representation is that it sends the message that in response to a random ‘compliment’ from a stranger, a woman needs to smile, feel sexy, and almost thankful that someone is noticing her. And a heterosexual man needs to pay attention to the way a women looks, compliment her and follow her with his eyes as she walks away. This is just one example of women’s bodies are framed as willing recipients of the male gaze, but other instances abound, as I’m sure readers will agree.

Against the backdrop of a masculine culture of violence that Despentes argues against and the women blamed for the crimes committed against them, the gender divisive culture stands strong as ever, and the voice can become our best weapon to tear it down. I started this article by saying that social networking has consequences; perhaps those networks could be the microphone to make our voices finally heard.

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About the author

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Clara Doña is a Spanish recent graduate of an MA in Comparative Literature at UCL. Her interests move from gender issues to philosophy, by way of Judith Butler and women’s poetry. She dearly appreciates reading in the early morning and writing late at night.​

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Artist unknown. Via feministartwork

But What Does ‘grl pwr’ Mean?

Ruth Ankers helps us understand the true meaning of #GRLPWR ♀

By Ruth Ankers

The spice girls sang about it, the suffragettes fought for it. So what does it really mean?

It is important to be aware of the difference between power and aggression because this can sometimes get confused. Power can be found and used in the wrong places, we need to understand that power does not belong to one person, it belong to those who know how to use it for good. Power should belong to those who use their power to EMPOWER.

Power my friends is not the loudest voice, the deepest knife, the cruellest word, the biggest pay check or the one who finishes first. It is the feeling in your gut which tells you, “You can” when you feel like you can’t.  I would estimate 60% of my female friends have low self-esteem. 20% of them are aggressive towards men, because they think that shows them as having high self-esteem (and more power) and 10% of them have Girl Power. We need to work on that percentage.

So, providing we don’t already possess it, how do we go about finding it and more importantly, using it? Disclaimer: You already have it! You maybe just left it in your Thirteen year old self’s bedroom, underneath the Destiny’s Child CD and glittery eye shadow. Of course, I’m joking, but bear with me. That’s the last time, I ever really remember seeing it in myself, or feeling like I had the power, all that time ago before the rest of the world came along and told me I didn’t. Why? Just because they said so. We, as women have become so obsessed with other people’s opinions of us that we allow them to shadow thee reality of who we are. We hand over our honour without the slightest fight. We take bullets from people we barely know and we leave them inside of us to rot. We go about our everyday life carrying someone else’s poisonous words inside of us and not only do we accept them as our own, we feed them so they multiply, and multiply and multiply.

Until we remember, we have the power.

The powers to not let anyone else define us, the power to feed ourselves with positive beliefs and confidence, the power to dust off those poisonous words before they have a chance to settle in. This is something I wish somebody had said to me years ago, “You define your own happiness and you should allow yourself that happiness. You can choose whether you allow somebody else to be driving your life or whether you think it should be you. When you decide to stop allowing people to define your happiness, you will realise what a huge power you possess.” It won’t happen overnight or suddenly on a rainy Sunday afternoon, in fact, it might be the hardest thing you ever have to do. But if you do it, you will change your life.

So, now what?

You use it to empower others. Always.

 See that girl at work who never talks? Talk to her; tell her how much you like her dress. See that man who thinks he will never get a girlfriend, talk to him, and tell him how intelligent he is.  See that student who everyone thinks is a nightmare? Tell him how beautiful his art work is, or how wonderfully he writes stories. The mother who has lost her sparkle? Tell her how much you respect her for raising such wonderful children.

And as for the rest of them? The manipulators, the chancers, the liars and the bullies, tell them where to go. That’s girl power.

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About the Author

Ruth Ankers is a Drama and Applied Theatre Practitioner and Teacher. She favours writing poetry and short plays. Ruth is a firm believer in equality of gender and is really exited to be writing for Gender + the City!

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Image Credit

Brittney Carmichael 

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About #Allies

By Giulia Boggio

Today I want to discuss a concept that is related to feminism and gender politics, as well the LGBQIA+ movement: Allyship.

What does it mean to be an ally? The dictionary definition is: “a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose”.

Pretty simple, innit?

In 2017, according to the recent neo-vocabulary of politics and gender movements, the meaning of this term has shifted to a more specific definition: an ally is a person (generally coming from a more privileged position) that supports and seeks to work in solidarity with a more marginalized group by fighting along their side. Crucially, an ally  listens, unlearns and re-evaluates their conditioned belief systems. Being an ally doesn’t necessarily imply being a part of the group that are supported, but being rather – showing empathy with their fights and using their voice and actions in support.

“We’re not asking you to be on the front line of all our protests, just to use your privilege to help us speak to who’s not listening to us, at least part-time.”

As a femme, I often feel like a lot of people around me are “getting what I mean” but not really doing anything to help it. Being it feminism or gender politics, I feel like a lot of people that “support it”, but are not really being allies. Personally, I would divide the path to allyship into three steps:

  • listening & re-evaluating,
  • (un)learning
  • speaking & doing

If a good amount of people are available to listen and open to learning and discussion, then why are there fewer individuals who translate this new knowledge and sensibility into words and actions? As one of the “y so serious, u should laugh sometimes” feminists, I find this frustrating and incomprehensible.

What is stopping people from taking the last tiny step into vocalising their allyship?

And yes, as ever, this is mainly addressed straight cis men (sorry guys, the spotlight is on you now, get used to it or do something about it).

On a sample of my Facebook friends (a good mix of people I know, friends, and people I’ve barely ever met), I see a shocking difference between women and queer people being vocal about social issues, feminism and gender politics, and the other half of the sky, apparently unaware of it but definitely ignoring it.

B o y  you always have opinions on everything where are your opinions now?

I don’t have fingers enough to count the many men I know that are almost perfect ‘on paper’, but then don’t do anything to bring this out in their world, or to their friends and family. Why are so many men feminists, but go “I don’t want to label myself” when you tell them they are? Just think about it practically: if I tell one of your dickheads friends that they’re being a misogynist piece of trash, I will be automatically labelled an Angry Feminist™, while if you do, then maybe there would be a space for discussion ( and possibly understanding) of what’s wrong and why. We’re not asking you to be on the front line of all our protests, just to use your privilege to help us speak to who’s not listening to us, at least part-time.

It almost seems like men speak out only when they’re ‘against’. Is this a consequence of toxic masculinity pressuring you into conforming to a hyper-masculine idea? Here’s a recipe: if you bite into the feminist apple, you’re now ‘woke’, and you must speak out. It won’t make you soft or less-of-a-man, it’ll make you a decent human being and it could actually help someone.

Also, being purposely politically incorrect is so 2009, just get over it, it’s not funny anymore, it just makes you look stupid and anachronistic.

If you feel pressured to be funny and easy going and think being openly political would turn you into a boring person, that’s toxic masculinity kicking in, and I suggest trying to check yourself and try to understand where this pressure is coming from and how it affects your actions. If you hear a friend of yours making fun of queer people, making rape jokes or acting in a misogynistic or racist way, just tell them they’re not funny, tell them how they’re wrong, tell them to check themselves. Help. Them. Wake. Up.

And if you find it boring to have to be “politically correct”, maybe you should check your privilege and understand why you’re in the position to find it boring and someone else is not.

Overall what we’re asking of our “woke” friends is to help us be loud about our fights, educate people and make space for everyone. We’re asking you to channel your privilege and turn it into actions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big, start from your circle of friends.

It’s not inherently bad to be in a privileged position, if you use your voice and space to be a good ally.

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About the Author

Giulia Boggio is a graphic designer and photographer from Italy. Her interests move from art to gender politics. She worked as a freelance writer for different magazines and is passionate about poetry.

Social : @bojjoe

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Illustration by Javier Jaén

 

The Latina Woman

By Kitty

The British public was perhaps first introduced to the concept of the Latina woman in 2005 in the form of Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives. Tanned, dark eyed and stunningly beautiful alongside her white co-wives, the part played by Eva Longoria was a back story of a Texas-born, self-hating Mexican who went from rags to riches. Her storyline kicked off with a sizzling affair with her gardener before she was tormented by the return of her abusive step-father. The looks and narrative of named Latina characters in fiction has remained surprisingly consistent – from Gloria in Modern Family to Agent Zapata in Blindspot – a brunette beauty who has successfully assimilated into white American society, but whose tragic, dysfunctional or humble Latin origins come back to screw her over every now and again.

To many, being Latino or Latina refers to belonging to a culture which can be inclusive of all skin colours; from Dominican blacks, Argentinian whites, Indigenous Bolivians, Japanese Peruvians, or indeed any combination under the sun. But to those outside of the community (I’m talking about The Great British Public), Latino has been dramatically shaped by the face that Western media and popular culture chooses to show. The USA has many more Latina women than the UK and so we accept the picture they often paint of the sultry sex symbol or, increasingly, the vulnerable yet still attractive working-class immigrant. If this has passed you by, try watching Narcos on Netflix or listen to Foreign by the rapper Trey Songz.

When Justin Beiber featured on Despacito and it blew up in the UK charts, almost half a year after the song peaked in Latin America I didn’t anticipate this would be the start of a Latin music explosion. Little Mix quickly followed with their version of Reggaeton Lento; Enrique Iglesias recorded English verses of Súbeme La Radio and swapped out Latino rappers for the more recognisable Sean Paul; whilst Beyonce lent her voice to J Balvin’s catchy Mi Gente.

On the one hand, as a British woman with Latina heritage, I was delighted to hear the reggaeton genre every day on the radio on my drive to work. On the other, I felt like I was at least partly beginning to understand how some black people feel about white music artists adopting (and profiting) from historically black music genres. Music producers clearly feel the need to bring a Western artist into the song or record it in English in order to make it appealing to the majority.

This week saw the launch of Dímelo on the airwaves – Rak-Su’s debut song as winners of the X Factor 2017. The chorus includes the lyrics “You got the boom like your name’s J-Lo, you got them hips like Shakira, smile like Camila, got me feeling Latino”. Would everyone would be singing along if it was a white R&B artist singing “Got me feeling black”?

Whilst there are undoubtedly drawbacks to the Latina stereotype that permeates Western culture, it is at this point that I must acknowledge the white privilege that comes with it, provided you look the way you are “meant to”. Tanned and dark haired enough to be exotic and exciting but still Anglo-looking enough to fit conventional Western standards of beauty, it’s no wonder why we’re witnessing the rise of the Latina woman. What we must not forget is that this popularity does not come from a position of power and it will only satisfy the male gaze temporarily. Soon another ethnic minority will take the spotlight and be open to the same fetishisation; and it will be up to all of us to put aside our biases and stand together as feminists to face into it.

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About the Author

Kitty is a marketing professional working in the corporate world. Despite being an open feminist, she prefers to keep her thoughts on gender anonymous. One of her life ambitions is to make women feel just as awesome as men.

Image Credit

Debi Hasky

Taking up Space: How a Year of Roller Derby Changed My Experience of being a Woman

By Carolyn Farnsworth

For my sixth birthday, my mom rented out the local roller rink in our hometown of Santa Cruz, California. I was an inline skater at the time, and I loved to skate because it made me feel like I was flying. I spent the day playing tag with my friends and racing my dad, who let me win because it was my birthday. At the time, I didn’t know that there were actual sports that involved roller skating, let alone a sport dominated by powerful women who wore quad skates and hit each other. (I suspect I would have been a huge fan.)

Fast forward about two decades to the summer of 2016, when I went with a group of friends to watch the Gotham Girls Roller Derby annual double header in Coney Island. I had never actually seen a derby bout before, and it was nothing like what I’d expected. In derby, you have two teams with five players each on the track at one time. Two of the players are called “jammers”—their job is to get past all the girls in the pack. When a jammer passes a player from the opposing team, she gets a point. The girls who are not jammers are called “blockers”—they try to “block” the jammers from getting past them and scoring points.

It is an incredibly physical sport; you have to learn to manipulate your body weight to slam an opponent out of the way, how to stand so firmly on your skates that you can stay upright when a jammer throws her entire body weight into you. From that first day in Coney Island, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to be repeatedly slammed to the ground on roller skates, right?

Less than a week after the Coney Island bout, I joined Basic Training Level 1 with Gotham Girls Roller Derby in Brooklyn. There I was—a tall, clutzy, newly minted New Yorker—skating (read: falling) with derby legends like Suzy Hotrod, Bonnie Thunders, Bonita Applebomb, Shortstop, and Miss Tea Maven. I cannot express in words the sheer volume of bad assery I have witnessed. Holy shit. Many of these women can spin in the air and land on a toe stop, all while avoiding being knocked off the track by their opponents.

At first I was mega-intimidated. My inner monologue at practice went something like, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I could barely skate around the track, and here were all these women skating sideways, backwards, backwards on one foot, backwards on no feet (OK, not really). But then I started getting better. I spent hours and hours on my own, practicing transitions, stops, crossovers—I would skate until my legs were shaking so much I physically couldn’t skate anymore. I went through three months of physical therapy after a bout of tendonitis in my right ankle, and I started lifting weights and doing conditioning on the side. Gradually, I moved up to the intermediate class, then (finally!) advanced.

As the months went by, my entire thought world began to transform. I used to have all these self-conscious thoughts at the gym: Do I look stupid doing this exercise? Why is my sports bra giving me armpit fat? How many mansplainers does it take to keep a woman out of the weight room? As I kept getting more skilled at derby, getting stronger became a matter of necessity. Gone were the days of working out to “look good.” I strengthened my core because I needed to get better at taking hits. I did plyometrics to amp up my cardio and agility. I didn’t have the time for self-conscious nincompoopery; I was on a mission to one day become a fully-fledged Gotham Girl.

The crazy thing is, it wasn’t just at the gym that I started feeling differently about myself; it was everywhere. I started to walk differently. I stood taller, I didn’t automatically move out of the way for people, I stopped saying “I’m sorry” every two minutes. I stood up for myself at work. I ended a toxic relationship. I started to see my body as an instrument of speed and power, a tool that was given to me to accomplish my goals. My newfound respect for my body translated into a newfound respect for myself as an individual. This relationship between physical fitness and self-confidence was nothing new to me, though, since I had a similar experience (with an opposite effect) years before.

In my second semester at college, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. At 5’11, I weighed only 120 pounds and had a BMI of around 16.7 (a normal BMI is from about 18.5 to 24.9). I was cold all the time. Little lines formed on either side of my mouth, my hair thinned, my eyes were dull in pictures, and I didn’t have my period for almost two years. I struggled with this demon all through college—counting calories down to every last piece of broccoli, exercising five or more hours a day, substituting meals with coffee and red apples.

As I got thinner and thinner, I noticed how differently people treated me. Men opened doors for me all the time, women I didn’t even know would come up to me and ask about my diet—my own mom openly made comments about “hating me” when I was a size four. People were in awe of me in this totally bizarre way—I say it was bizarre because I was essentially committing protracted suicide, and all these people were jealous of me.

I dug deep into myself, and I eventually regained a normal weight, but the whole experience left me disillusioned. I realized that, as women, we are encouraged to diminish ourselves, and we are fed this insidious lie that self-restraint is the key to earning respect. This notion had been hammered into me my whole life—from being told it was better to be called “pretty” than “adventurous,” to having to dress in a particular way so I didn’t overtax a man’s apparently negligible power over his own sexual behavior, to being told by a professor in grad school that someone who looked like me didn’t need an advanced degree.

It’s hard to have a normal relationship with food when you grow up with a mom who drinks Diet Coke and a dad who eats Oreos, and your family worships a god who condemned all women to suffer in childbirth because the first woman alive ate something she wasn’t supposed to. It’s hard to love your body when you commute on a train plastered with advertisements for breast augmentation and slimming underwear. It’s hard to feel powerful when you can’t even go on a simple lunchtime run in New York City without being catcalled.

So it was a sickening moment for me when, a few months into my roller derby training, I realized how many of these messages I had internalized. I realized I was living my life in the same self-conscious way I had been going to the gym. It was like I was standing two feet outside myself, watching, imagining how I appeared to others, and adjusting my actions accordingly.

On the derby track, every play requires absolute focus. The game moves so fast that the only way to be successful is to be completely present. You are your body, and your body is an instrument of power. You are encouraged to move, to get in the way—to take up space. On the track, you hear messages like: “Don’t apologize!” “Get in front of her!” “Hips together, be strong!” Every second of the game, you are a thing of action. When you get off the track, you’re covered in sweat, your teammates are patting you on the back, you all show off your bruises and say stuff like: “Man! That was a fall! Is your ass OK?” or “Way to fight!”

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Riikka Hyvönen

When you hear something enough times, it becomes real. When you feel something over and over, that feeling gets ingrained inside you. When you hang out with people who are supportive and empowering, you take on those same qualities. Before I started playing roller derby last year, I had never been around so many mentally and physically strong women in my whole life. And I had never been praised for aggressively taking up space.

It seems like such a subtle thing but, as a woman, demanding space often feels like a foreign concept. I used to feel like, if I put myself out there, then I deserved any pushback or criticism I got—if I chose to make myself vulnerable, then it was my fault if I was disliked or belittled. And I think this is really pronounced in eating disorders.

As women and girls, we often feel like we don’t have control, and so we internalize all the messages designed to control our bodies—the photoshopped magazines, the sexualization of female athletes and superheroes, all the skin-tight pants without any fucking pockets, the appalling state of birth control, the unending barrage of catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment. It seems obvious to me that a woman who wanted to feel a shred of control over her life might wind up with an eating disorder, because she is constantly told that being thin will solve all her problems.

But if that woman can move past it, if she can turn all the diminutive rhetoric around, then she will see those messages for what they really are: fear. People hurt people who threaten them. The reason that there are a seemingly endless number of messages that put women down is because women do not go down easy. We are smart, we are strong, and we make bad ass skaters.

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About the author

Carolyn Farnsworth is a copy editor, writer, and amateur roller derby player based in New York City. Her previous work has appeared on the Tin House Open Bar and Nature Microbiology Community blog. Her current plans involve dipping her toe stops into the world of skate dancing, and continuing to engage in feminist dialogue through her writing.

Editor

Lucy Wheeler

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Riikka Hyvönen

Work culture, coercion, compliance: Thoughts in the wake of Harvey Weinstein

By Tara Diaz

In light of the recent allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest questions people are asking is, why did it go on for so long?

The truth is there is no single answer, but something came to me last night as I tried to force myself to sleep: What if our work dynamic is playing a small but relevant part in all this, a work dynamic that is not only anti-women, but in fact anti-people? How does work affect our well-being and why are employers getting away with such destructive behaviour? Have we created a work culture and mindset that discourages people – but women in particular – from speaking up, a mindset that purposefully belittles those who haven’t been dealt the best hand?

For over thirty years, Harvey Weinstein has coerced women who have been victims of his abhorrent behaviour while working for/with him into remaining quiet, and it all supposedly happened right under the noses of those closest to him (celebrity or otherwise). But, was there an element of denial going on? Did a toxic organisational culture based on fear, power imbalance and a false value system enable this to happen? I will come back to Weinstein later on.

We see the phrase ‘go above and beyond’ frequently in employment discourse. It’s mentioned on job descriptions, during interviews, and at meetings. But where do we draw the line with a phrase like that, a phrase that has become an emblem for good work ethic? ‘Above’ is meaningless unless in comparison to something defined and ‘beyond’ could be anything. This attitude to work is problematic because work should not be an aspect of life that always demands more, to the point of exhaustion – particularly not in comparison to family, friends and life.

People are already under a lot of pressure to succeed, especially young people at the start of their careers. This contagious ‘above and beyond’ mentality seems to be becoming a damaging epidemic that both feeds into and feeds off a shared unease over our progression in life. It’s a vicious feedback loop that legitimises people doing things outside of their job description, a loop that ends up hitting those at the bottom the hardest. And if staying within the confines of your job description seems lazy to you, consider why you feel that way. Is it fair for your employers to increase your workload without rewarding you? It is justified that they pay you less than your colleagues for doing the same work, or that they manipulate you into skipping your already unpaid lunch breaks? Is it fair or are they taking the absolute piss? I’m glad you got it. Yes, they are taking the piss.

And it doesn’t stop there, because this ‘you must do everything in your power to succeed’ approach to work also succeeds in fuelling more unjust behaviour from the people who employ you.

In many countries such as the US and the UK, putting work before your physical and mental health has become the norm. If you don’t, you are not willing to do ‘what it takes’ to go up the ladder. Let’s look at some of the things employers are getting away with today, most of which are legal.

Employers are gifted the right – pretty red bow and all – to treat employees like production machines.  In the US, employers don’t legally have to give their employees any paid leave and if they do, it’s not mandatory they take it. The UK’s zero-hour contract option means the employer does not need to guarantee their employees a set amount of hours, often challenging what should be a worker’s right to a fixed number of minimum hours and pay vital to achieving a stable livelihood. This is great for companies who experience fluctuations in trade throughout the day, such as fast food companies, because they can send their employees home or on disproportionately long breaks whenever it’s quiet and they want to save cash. The same goes for supermarket chains that, despite paying their employees a good starting salary, have been reported to call them in during out-of-work hours instead of hiring an adequate number of employees to carry the heavy workload. Again, this helps the company save money; the employees are pretty much on stand-by and work three times as hard due to the lack of staff.

I have personally been a victim of the zero-hour contract, a structure that is presented as in the best interests of employees and a way to offer flexible working patterns. The reality is very different. While working in various bars and restaurants, I often had to abide by a schedule that was packed with evening shifts. The schedules were not always dished out fairly, which meant that only certain people got to enjoy evenings off, while others were stuck doing the same dirty work, week after week. Not only were these unsociable hours, but the workload was greater because of how busy it would get in the evenings.

One time in particular, I was employed by a chain pizza restaurant in Covent Garden. Here, our manager would demand we come in 15 minutes before our shift started for a quick ‘briefing’ (if we were doing a double shift this would amount to 30 minutes for both shifts). This time was unpaid but he made it clear this was what was expected of us and even scolded us if we were late to the meeting. He had no right to force us to be there yet we were led to believe it was our obligation to attend. It might not seem like a long time but if you get a calculator out and start multiplying all those 15 minutes by the number of shifts you’ve completed, they will turn into hours, hours of unpaid work.

Similarly, the first boss I ever had as a bartender would send me on unpaid 3-hour breaks in the middle of a double shift because he wanted to ‘stick to budget’. Additionally, he would sometimes send me home early if he felt like it. This would often mean I’d end up getting to work for 10am, would go on a break at 12pm because the pub was quiet (I wasn’t even tired at this point), and I’d start work again at 3pm only to be sent home early at 5:30pm. I’d do what felt like a full day’s work for a mere 4.5 paid hours.

This degrading behaviour was not limited to treating us like robots. It extended to uncomfortable physical encounters as well. Rather than simply asking us to move if we were standing where he needed to be, the manager would put his hands low on the waists of the female staff to move us out the way and I often caught him peering at my workmate’s breasts. We complained about this in private but never felt able to directly say anything to him as we were scared; he was the kind of man who would punish you with an extra crappy rota or simply fire you. Fortunately, that particular manager was dismissed for entirely different reasons, but not one of us felt supported enough to complain about him before he lost his job. It’s ludicrous to think that the unpredictable hours he was making us do were, and still are, technically legal and that his inappropriate behaviour is widely considered the norm.

Unfortunately, this experience as a bartender was not a unique one and over time I have learned that if you’re a barmaid for over a month, it’s common to be disrespected in some way by both customers and male superiors alike. I remember another bar I worked in for instance, where a group of greasy regulars would come in all the time and lurk around the bar, gawking at the female workers or making lurid jokes and we, scared to be seen as disrespectful, would always laugh nervously before pretending the glasses needed to be polished. Again, we were scared of the consequences of speaking out.

Often when we are confronted with these types of situations, we don’t react in the way you’d expect. If your boss suddenly puts his hand on your leg, a million thoughts will run through your head and by the time they’ve removed it, you begin to question how you might be affected if you do raise the issue. You’d like to feel as though there were a safety net in place to catch you but this is not a feeling many companies want to provide or in some cases, don’t know how to.

Aside from having to accept unpredictable hours and inappropriate and uncomfortable behaviour as a female employee, ‘above and beyond’ workplace culture also normalises overtime. In Britain, it’s normal to work up to a whole day’s work more each week with only approximately 35% of workers getting paid for that overtime. Reducing the time reserved for lunch, or even skipping it altogether is not uncommon either, but in doing so, we are handing over free labour to the companies we work for because we feel it’s what’s expected of us. Often this behaviour derives from employees mimicking their colleagues in the hope of not being labelled an underachiever. Even managers and supervisors do the same thing, so the general consensus is that this is what you need to do to achieve a similar status.

In countries like Norway, there is a strict clock-out time, an example which is set by those above. In Norway, the boss-employee relationship tends to focus on the notion that both are benefited by the other. Meanwhile, in the US, if an employee is awarded holiday, they don’t always take it or only use a small portion of it. Often this is down to the companies deterring them by making them feel like nonperformers for using their entitlement. A workaholic mindset pervades many American work places, with many people feeling like they would lag behind if they went on vacation despite the earnest attempts of their employers to encourage them to do so. Others feel they would not be able to get their assignments done in time, something they are unwilling to admit to their bosses for fear of seeming irresponsible or ill-equipped to do the job. And let’s not go into all the out-of-office e-mailing, a habit that derives from having too much on one’s to-do list.

Employers need to do more to change the work value-system and instil some solid measures to reduce the amount of energy and hours we are over-dedicating to work. It’s clear that most employers don’t see the benefits of having entitled employees who refuse to work for free, but there are huge rewards from having a less divisive partnership between employer and employee. It leads to happy energetic workers who more importantly feel like they are being rewarded for their work as well as playing a vital role towards the success of the company without sacrificing their personal lives. Whether it’s 15 minutes of lunch every day or 3 hours of unpaid labour, sacrificing your personal time all adds up.

The current work code has instilled a ‘we owe them’ mentality in all of us. From employers to team leaders, from team leaders to managers, from managers to CEOs; we are all being sucked into this divisive psychology that trickles into other areas of life, including gender equality.

Circling back to Harvey Weinstein, I should say that I am not entirely laying the blame for his consistent modes of abuse remaining hidden for so long on mainstream work culture and patterns of behaviour as employees, but we must look at how this overbearing mentality might help dissuade someone from reporting inappropriate behaviour at work, sexual or not.

I cannot speak for the Weinstein victims but I can imagine that by the time they left the hotel rooms, offices, restaurants and parties where the incidents took place and exited the buildings, they were looking back on his sexual advances like a nightmare that would quickly lead to unrelenting emotions of vulnerability and anguish. Even if they’d reported the incident, which may have undeniably helped dissipate their loneliness in a situation such as this, there was no certainty they’d be devoid of any repercussions, personal or career wise.

If a woman is sexually assaulted in a working environment and then doesn’t say anything, she has unintentionally put this so-called work ethic above her happiness, but this attitude is something most of us help instigate. Even if a woman does want to speak out, support from others can play a huge part in her doing so. If I chose to talk back to those greasy customers of ours, would I have had the right support from my male and female colleagues or my manager? It’s possible some of them would have supported me, but I was already subconsciously being suffocated by this whole notion that if I ‘went against’ my role in this way, I’d seem paranoid or over the top and might even be punished for it. Time went on and it was just easier to not say anything.

We must ask ourselves why female workers are choosing to stay quiet as opposed to revealing any wrong-doing to themselves by those with more authority and what amount of blame can be placed on a divisive environment within the work place.

You don’t have to be a keen observer to notice that the women on Weinstein’s harassment list were mostly young at the time they fell victim and in the initial stages of their careers within the movie industry. Evidently, Weinstein played a status game, taking advantage of his established power and position of authority. If you put this idea into a less sinister context, isn’t that what many employers do every day? Employers don’t have to be bullies or predators to get you to do things that are not in your contract. The game of the ever-striving employee, reaching for the top, going above and beyond, seems to take over the way we think so much so that when one day our boss or a very important client decides to do something wildly improper and threatening, as women we don’t say anything for fear of stepping out of line or being viewed as disruptive, difficult or of questionable work ethic. As my own experience taught me, sometimes we can even doubt what we’ve experienced, convincing ourselves that ‘it wasn’t bad enough to report’ or ‘it wasn’t like that’ even though we know deep down it was. All too often it is just easier to accept inappropriate behaviour because to make ourselves visible in that way could damage the professional mould that has been created for us, a mould we’re often too terrified to alter because we can’t be 100% sure there won’t be a fall if we do or anyone to catch us.

Admittedly, there is a huge difference between an employer prompting you to work over-time and asking you to give them a ‘massage’, but these small injustices act as a rock on a scale that dictates the balance or imbalance in the work place. It enables those on top to take advantage of those at the bottom. But we are also to blame. We have become excellent game players willing to ‘go above and beyond’ in the name of work. We are such good players in fact, that the bar we’ve set is needlessly high, so high that we are terrified of falling beneath it.

This, in turn, has created a toxic work culture that tends to waver rather than reinforce the support placed behind a woman. When it comes to personal wellbeing, hierarchy should equal zero. A fearless work place is the starting point.

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About the author

Tara Diaz is a twenty-something film blogger who lives in London. Like many of us, she has a case of retromania and loves dissecting the 80s and 90s classics. She is also a self-professed horror junkie. She’ll watch them all: the good, the bad and everything in between. If you’d like to see more from her, feel free to read or follow her blog at www.filmfrolic.wordpress.com.

Image credit

CARRYING THE SUN UP THE HILL, ROLLING THE MOON BACK DOWN by Laura Berger (https://www.lauraberger.com/)

Editor

Lucy Wheeler

What Makes #MASSEDUCTION A Gender-Fluid Masterpiece

By Zana Wilberforce

St. Vincent, known offstage as Annie Clark, released her new single New York back in summer 2k17 and then tickets went on sale, and then her sixth album was finally released in October. Moments before the show, I listened to her album in full whilst I was jogging away on the treadmill, and I listened very intently to her lyrics. I wanted to understand everything about New York, a ballad that laments her relationship with Cara Delevingne according to various internet sources swirling around. I wanted to understand Los Ageless too when it was released shortly after New York. I wanted to give the album a theme and unravel its intricacies, a familiar practice following Ms. Clark’s latest releases.

The show itself was less theatrical than I had expected. A static image in bright pink latex could be seen flung far across the room, statuesque and sturdy in form. She travelled across the stage almost robotically through each song, from left to right, as the curtain revealed more and more of the stage. St. Vincent moved from one microphone to the next, journeying on to her next song, and then finally taking centre stage. Once she made it to the middle, she pulled out her classics: Digital Witness, Birth in Reverse. I was moving my bum and shaking my hips and loving every minute of it. Then she disappeared and reappeared in a silver dress that resembled something I imagined to be worn by the Future Female; a Martian dress with blue sleeves made out of a reflective material and a reminder of David Bowie’s gender-bending and multifaceted costume changes.

Instead of a theatrical performance, the show was verging on a spectacle. The screen revealed video clips of bums and robust breasts marked with tape across nipples. Long legs appeared from TV screens as Ms. Clark vibrated casually and oh so calmly on what might have been one of those electric massage chairs you find in a motorway stop-off. So much was occurring on a screen behind St. Vincent as she stood like a sturdy Martian. Small clips repeated in the background and the backdrop rushed from hot pink to a mesmerising galaxy backdrop.

Similar to Bowie, who would hybridise elaborate bodily movements and routines played out in theatre, music and cinema, St. Vincent often incorporates dance and theatre into her live performances (think Rattlesnake), so I was looking forward to seeing how she does this in the flesh. This time, dance and theatre were swapped for art and cinema, an experimental gesture used to subvert essentialist notions of bodies and challenge normalised gendered behaviour.

On the tube home I thought more and more about gender in MASSEDUCTION, and how St. Vincent’s live performance brought this theme to the forefront of my mind. Throughout the album, there’s a flirtatious gender-fluid voice switching roles and oscillating from one to the next, and then back again – most prominently in Sugarboy: I am a lot like you, BOYS, I am alone like you, GIRLS. Ms. Clark’s repetition in this song becomes a ritualistic back and forth movement, making her mutating personas ceaselessly ambiguous.

I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)
I am a lot like you (boys)
I am alone like you (girls)

This oscillating fluidity was also delivered vividly in her performance. The ambiguously-gendered pre-Martian (i.e. St. Vincent before she changed into the Martian dress) standing before an audience of onlookers, appeared erect in stature and very pink. Quite naturally, you’re thinking of a penis right now, right? Except St. Vincent’s erect and pinkish form was far more abstract and alien, especially matched with lyrics that scream something along the lines of “guess what world? I’m a lot like a boy and I’m a lot like girl too.” Such fluidity challenges everything we were ever taught about those classic “phallocentric symbols” of swords and sausages in Wuthering Heights. And good riddance!

Notably, the subject’s gender is unspecified in the entire album, instead referred to as a ‘young lover’, ‘hero’, ‘motherfucker’, but never ‘he’ or ‘she.’

Young lover, begging you please to wake up
Young lover, I wish that I was your drug

By omitting gender-normative pronouns and playing around with gender roles, Ms. Clark escapes definitive labels and captures the essence of fluidity both lyrically and visually. In this sense, MASSEDUCTION is more of a celebratory masterpiece about gender fluidity rather than a lament about a past relationship – although, I too, hear a deep and dark sadness in Slow Disco as the lovers slip away from each other:

Slip my hand, from your hand,

Leave you dancing with a ghost

Slip my hand, from your hand,

Leave you dancing with a ghost

On an early morning commute the next day, I re-listened to MASSEDUCTION for the umpteenth time – excluding gender from it all; imagining a pink and sturdy Martian picking me up and carrying me home to safety. Our hands in a firm grasp.

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About the Author

Zana is a writer based in South London. Since graduating with an English Literature and French degree from UCL, she has been writing about fashion, music, travel and tech for various publications. She cites Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Michel Houellebecq as some of her favourite writers, and particularly enjoys reading about gender and queer theory (preferably with a warm cup of coffee).

Editor

Daffyth Jenkins