The Untold Story of Rosemary Kennedy

By Jack Ford.

The sad but true story of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of former US president John F Kennedy, highlights a lot in terms of the treatment and portrayal of women with mental health issues in the 1950’s

The third oldest of Joe Kennedy Sr.’s children, Rosemary Kennedy had difficulties from a young age. She was regularly excluded from her siblings’ games, as she found it hard to take part, and she also had big problems with reading, which saw her fail twice to graduate from kindergarten.

At 15, her parents had her removed from public school, largely out of shame, and sent her to a boarding school in Rhode Island, where she was kept separately from all the other students. One letter she wrote home read: “Darling Daddy, I hate to disappoint you in any way. Come to see me very soon. I get very lonesome every day.”

Despite her educational struggles, she was seen as an even-tempered and happy young girl, who had a number of hobbies and interests, enjoyed social outings and showed a great interest in social welfare and education. Rosemary was briefly educated in England, where the family had moved to after her father was appointed US ambassador. It was during this time she was said to have made great strides in her character and school work.

A young adult when the family moved back to America, those around her would see sudden, evident changes in Rosemary. She had become boisterous, combative and was prone to mood swings. In an attempt to remedy her new behaviour she was placed in a convent, but she would regularly sneak out.

The family did not know how to control her, and with her two oldest siblings – John and Joe Jr. – about to enter the world of politics, there was a fear that Rosemary’s behaviour would threaten their chances of winning office.

It was then that a doctor friend of Joe Sr. told him about a procedure that could fix neurological problems like his daughter’s – a lobotomy. Without hesitation, and not hesitating to inform anyone else in the family, Joe whisked 23-year-old Rosemary away to Wingdale Psychological and Correctional Facility in New York to have one performed. He ignored all the warnings about the risks associated with the procedure, and any possible wishes of his daughter, and Rosemary was lobotomised.

She went silent on the operating table, and when the doctors tried to get her to respond, not only was she unable to speak, she was unable to move. The operation had gone wrong. The Kennedys’ fought to keep Rosemary out of a mental institution all their lives, but following the botched procedure, there was no other option but to commit her. It took months of physical therapy to get her to move again, but she never regained the ability to walk or speak.

Rosemary spent the rest of her life in Jefferson, Wisconsin, at a specialist support school. The family largely played down her disappearance, and when they did eventually acknowledge her, they cited mental deficiencies as the reason for her absence from the public eye. Aside from her mother, on one occasion, she never received a visit from any family member, and in 2003, at the age of 85, Rosemary Kennedy passed away.

Rosemary Kennedy’s actual condition is open to speculation, but in a new age of understanding of mental conditions, it’s easy to see signs of a variety of illnesses that today are easy to treat and manage.

She was not alone in her persecution either, history has seen innumerable people with easily treatable and manageable conditions either being given the wrong care or institutionalised. Women have fared particularly badly; with their own feelings not regarded. Often, any change in personality was jumped on and scrutinised, and until recently, emotional changes associated with the monthly cyclecould have been classified as ‘hysteria.’

Accounts from history like this go to show us is how far we’ve come in how we view and treat mental illnesses.  Rosemary’s sad story unfolded at a time when there was little known about the causes for mental instabilities and stigma surrounded them, not helped by the Kennedys trying to protect their now famous name.

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.

Faking Orgasms and Apple Pizza: Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love

By Polly Hember

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel Everything I Know About Love is the book everyone seems to be talking about – and with good reason, too. It’s a beautifully rich autobiographical wander down Alderton’s memory lane, astutely exploring notions about love. Strikingly honest and intimate, Alderton’s reflections on disordered eating, the way she acts in relationships, the jealousy of a best friend’s new boyfriend, her alcohol abuse, anxiety and personal experiences of therapy all feel like secret thoughts that she might be telling a best friend in confidence. These are postulations about intimacy that are astoundingly relatable; in their unbounded honesty, they leap off the page and act as comforting lifelines to the reader’s own experiences that they might be too embarrassed or afraid to confront themselves. This novel is a handbook, an inspiring tale, a hilarious read, a comforting friend, a mirror the reader can hold up to oneself, and more.

Starting from ‘Everything I Knew About Love as a Teenager’, Alderton presents little snapshots of how she interacted with love throughout her life. As a teen, she states “Romantic love is the most important and exciting thing in the entire world. If you don’t have it when you’re a proper grown-up then you’ve failed, just like so many of my art teachers who I have noted are ‘Miss’ instead of ‘Mrs’”. Exploring the psychological and emotional effects of MSN on modern day life; that faceless line of clumsy communication where song lyrics squeezed into your screen-name and logging yourself in and out again until your crush would strike up a conversation was a perfectly acceptable tactic – all of this taught us how to first interact with members of the opposite sex. Flashing forward to 21, “Orgasms are easy to fake and make both parties feel better”, and “When you’re thin enough, you’ll be happy with who you are and then you’ll be worthy of love”, recounting wild university days and a continuing abusive relationship with alcohol. At 25, “Always bring a man back to your house, then you can trick him into staying for breakfast and trick him into falling in love with you”. Then, sound and cathartic advice arrives at 28: “It is no person’s job to be the sole provider of your happiness”. The book is structured around these key phases and punctuated with recipes (‘Apple Pizza’ has been tried and tested and I can’t wait to sample the rest; especially the Hangover ‘Mac n’ Cheese’) and side-splitting made-up group emails arranging dinner parties and hen do’s.

It does what it says on the tin. It is a book about Alderton’s musings on love. However, the magical epiphany comes when Alderton realises self-love and platonic love are the key pillars to a happy and fulfilled life. It’s as if Alderton answers her teenage self that thinks the entire world revolves around men and sex, and tells her softly that happiness has to come from within and not from external validation or playing along to the heteronormative ideal of marriage and maternity that Western culture reinforces is the only direct way of achieving happiness.

The most touching moments in the entire novel are those that describe Alderton’s best friend, Farly. This book is an ode to female friendships, singing their praises, their healing powers as well as the immense fun and fulfilment they bring. I read this book after a particularly difficult breakup and I can’t emphasise the amount of joy and hope it provided in its first reading. Whether you’re in a relationship or single, this book will speak to you in ways a novel so rarely manages to do. It’s warm, it’s heart-breaking, it’s confrontational and asks us (in Alderton’s perfectly witty vernacular) to really examine and reflect on the way we act and the way we think about love and intimacy.

About the Author

20732865_10213552443383664_236371032_nPolly Hember

Polly is a Freelance Writer, Editor-in-Chief of On the Beat, Art Editor at the The Rational Online, a coffee-drinker and country-music listener. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Bristol where she focused on feminism and early twentieth-century women’s writing.

“Why Should I Care About the Hijra?”

By Madeline Linnell

 

“Di, di?”

Tap-tap-tap.

“Di, di?”

A glamorous figure, adorned in a vibrant sari and thick make-up, knocks on the passenger-seat window while the car sits in traffic, calling me the Hindi term for “Ms.” She wants money…Or is it ‘he’?

The traffic refuses to budge, and the beggar continues to knock on the window. I fix my gaze on my sweaty palms. Maybe “they’ll” leave soon. I wait. No more taps or di di’s. Did “they” go? I gamble a glance at the window, hoping the beggar had left. “They” hadn’t. Eye contact made, “they” grins. The beggar’s teeth are pearly, the smile flirtatious.

In that moment, however, the red traffic light flickers green; the car moves; the beggar slinks to the pavement, into the shadows. Regret and guilt flood my head and trickle down to my gut. I could have at least smiled in return, but “they” had disappeared. Then a disturbing question surfaces, “Why should I care about this person?”

The encounter, albeit strange to many of us Westerners, is an all-too common occurrence in India. The beggar witnessed in my tepid account is a member of the hijra community, who are castrated eunuchs or transgender people. They typically live in colonies led by spiritual teachers, gurus, after being exiled from home villages, their families too ashamed to call them ‘sons.’

The hijra’s sexual identity and tragic status are heavily enmeshed. A recent New York Times article for instance, wrote about the colonies in Mumbai and how many hijras are being pimped out by gurus. [1] Historically, however, hijras were neither victims of exploitation nor social pariahs, but were key players to imperial rule. Let’s explore this story then, equipped with that knowledge, and return to the hijra’s current plight and the Westerner’s tempting indifference, which I felt strongly after my first introduction to the third gender group.

During the Mughal Dynasty, which spanned from 1526 to 1857, the third gender group were respected elites. They would guard and manage rulers’ harems, which connoted prestige—an increase in space and number of women corresponded with an increase in power. Known as eunuchs at that point, hijras were more readily trusted compared to a penis-in-tact man, who might get funny ideas about stealing property (this includes women). Branching from this role, the eunuchs gained opportunities to serve as “confidants and political advisors.”[2] The hijra’s subsequent downfall was due to India’s succeeding imperial ruler, the British.

Hijra were marginalized and often associated with words like homosexual, a form of criminality—things the prim Victorian moral code deemed “unnatural.” Washington Post reporter Max Bearak offers a concise and informative summary of the British influence on third gender people, from the 19th century to even today. He said,

“In 1891, the British colonial government passed a sweeping law that criminalized entire sections of society, including hijras, who they said were “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.” From then on, hijras and other “third-gender” communities could be arrested on the spot.”

The British exodus left the hijra, now occupying a Hindu-majority India, scrambling to define who they were. So, they adopted Hindu beliefs to validate their spiritual merit. Hijra aligned themselves with two significant Hindu gods, Shiva, an androgynous deity known as the destroyer of evil and transformer, and Bahuchara, the Mother Goddess. These two gods bear immense creative power. The phallus was viewed as the epitomic object of ‘earthly desire,’ and by way of castration, hijras would sacrifice such desire to these two gods and in return gain the gods’ own generativity and superiority. [3] Equipped with spiritual tort-de-force, hijras are then empowered to bestow blessings or curses.

Though British colonialism is long gone, reporter Bearak says, the “legacy of that law, and the discrimination it spawned” lingers in India today. Hijras resort to begging as many employers will not hire them, despite the 2014 Supreme Court ruling that recognizes hijra as third gender therefore protecting their rights to education and employment. Bearak continues, “A great many participate in the sex industry, and the rate of HIV among hijras is more than 100 times the national average. Recent studies document a wide range in prevalence, from 17.5 percent to 41 percent.”[4] Sexual activity counters the traditional hijra’s castrated abstinence, the ultimate source of empowerment, leading hijras into an existential crisis. [5]

Learning these different facets of the hijras’ history, I cannot help but ask, why should I care? I may currently reside in India, but, if I was sitting comfortably in the UK, my engagement would immediately falter. This leads me to ask, does distance and foreignness justify apathy? I find the answer “yes” unsatisfactory.

By shutting ourselves off from the hijra, we limit ourselves from asking deep, personal questions and shrugging off certain civic responsibilities—not to mention forgoing any kind of moral obligation to take interest in another human being. Thus, I propose two reasons why we, as Westerners, ought to seriously fathom the hijra’s tale. Stories of the marginalized, generally, should both be told and listened to for the sake of generating sympathy

A key component to the human condition, the ability to sympathize with another being, despite jarring differences, reminds oneself of the reality of liminal perspective and experience. One cannot assume others share an identical predisposition, thus forcing oneself to reflect upon the “birthing place” of ideological framework along with its validity and moral credibility. The exercise can, ideally, contribute to a strengthened and more dynamic ideology.

Sympathy can also create change on societal, cultural and political levels. It can engender collective rage—a righteous anger of sorts towards the injustice—and foster the will to stigmatize the wrongdoing and even demand policy reform. This is happening in the U.S. right now in the wake of the Florida school shootings. Incensed by the massacre of teens and teachers, Parkland High School students are demanding for improved gun control policies. Their collective voice has sparked a national movement. On 24th March, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the protest “March for Our Lives” across the nation. People identified with the pain. The idea of losing a child, friend or even one’s own life stirred willpower to do something about the problem of opaque gun control measures. Sympathy is at the heart of human connection and can dismantle discrimination or erect justice, on a personal, collective and systemic level.

Though we may not share the same space, culture or religion as hijras, we can digest their plight and wrestle with our own prejudices, no matter how hidden they may be.

Sympathy entails putting oneself in another’s shoes, to use the classic idiom, even if their shoes don’t look or feel like one’s own. In the case of the hijra, we can, however, find at least one similar feature (other than being human, that is). I am referring to our shared history: Victorianism. It may sound strange, but it is nevertheless true. Our British ancestors, their world and worldview entered the Indian context as the imperial ruler.

As many reporters and academics concur upon, the Brits are largely responsible for dismantling hijras’ ‘fab’ position in society and driving it into the deplorable status seen today. The Brits projected their own cultural perceptions of men who (a) do not have penises and thereby (b) fall short of the ideal masculine portrait onto the religious sect of castrated eunuchs.

That ideal masculine portrait, by the way, is well-summed by historian John Tosh, who writes, “To form a household, to exercise authority over dependents, and to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining and protecting them—these things set the seal on a man’s gender identity.”[6] It would seem that the Brits associated the hijra’s decided impotence and recusal from family life as a sign of the “unnatural order” and immorality, which encompasses homosexuality. However, it must be mentioned, that at this stage in history, hijras were not sexually active. Their abstinence was a defining trait, both in the Muslim and Hindu contexts—hence the symbolic castration. The overall marginalization of the hijra community, therefore, is a case of cross-cultural misunderstanding of massive proportions.

If anything, these caustic ramifications on hijras should force us to pause and contemplate our own inheritance of sexual ideology. For, I would argue, that like hijras, the narrative constructed during the Victorian period surrounding sex and gender feeds the attitudes towards those very personal subjects today. Food for thought.

Colonialism launched the globalization project unfolding today. The practices of London affect the practices of Kolkata, whether it be through the trade of goods, services, ideas, culture and news. The world is tightly knit creating a kind of amped synergy, yet Western countries like the U.S. and UK still bear a greater influence in the direction of that energy as they wield more competent, dynamic economies. Therefore, the physical and not-so-physical products prevalent in these countries are easily accessible and consumed in developing countries like India. As citizens of the UK, then, we should consider this influence. For, the beliefs and brands we publicize could very well interrupt the life of a hijra, for better or worse.

 

Works Cited

Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, ed. Jodi O’Brien (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2009), s.v. “Hijra.”Google Books. Web. 28 Mar. 2018.

Jeffrey Gettleman. “The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender,” New York Times, Feb. 17 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/style/india-third-gender-hijras-transgender.html

John Tosh, “Boys Into Men,” in A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian Englan. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007), 102-123.

Mark Bearak. “Why terms like ‘transgender’ don’t work for India’s ‘third gender’ communities,” Washington Post, Apr. 23 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/23/why-terms-like-transgender-dont-work-for-indias-third-gender-communities/?utm_term=.24d058757fc1

Swadha Taparia, “Emasculated Bodies of Hijras: Sites of Imposed, Resisted and Negotiated Identities,” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 18, no. (2011): 167-184, doi: 10.1177/097152151101800202.

 

[1] Jeffrey Gettleman. “The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender,” New York Times, Feb. 17 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/style/india-third-gender-hijras-transgender.html

[2] Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, ed. Jodi O’Brien (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2009), s.v. “Hijra.”Google Books. Web. 28 Mar. 2018.

[3] Swadha Taparia, “Emasculated Bodies of Hijras: Sites of Imposed, Resisted and Negotiated Identities,” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 18, no. (2011): 167-184, doi: 10.1177/097152151101800202.

[4] Mark Bearak. “Why terms like ‘transgender’ don’t work for India’s ‘third gender’ communities,” Washington Post, Apr. 23 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/23/why-terms-like-transgender-dont-work-for-indias-third-gender-communities/?utm_term=.24d058757fc1

[5] Taparia, p. 180.

[6] John Tosh, “Boys Into Men,” in A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian Englan. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007), 102-123.

About the Author

My name is Madeline Linnell, and I am a recent graduate currently working in India. I serve in a communications role within a human rights organisation. During university, I studied English Literature and Classics and, additionally, wrote for the student newspaper. A stereotypical expat in India, I relish a good mango chutney and chai.

The Female Contortionist

By Ruth Ankers

Women all over the world have experienced it. Heart break. The kind that takes you off the map. The kind that distorts your vision for years after. That takes the air out of your lungs and leaves you gasping for breath.

You take time to recover, you build yourself up again and you feel stronger. Like you “can” for the first time in what feels like forever. Like you “are” again.

So, what do you do when someone new comes along?

I’m suddenly in very dangerous territory.

I know I am, because I’m holding back, wary, which is unlike me. I’m checking myself constantly, measuring out the perfect amount of “me” to give to him. I think about what I say, twice, three times.

I have to make sure, this time, I don’t do anything wrong.

I hand pick the best bits of me and I carefully lay them out to him, like i would at a Saturday garden sale.

If he buys this, we should be fine.

And he does, he likes it. We’re onto date two and now I’m trying really hard not to mess it up.

If I let him see the real me and all the bits that aren’t perfect he will end it, and I will feel rejected, again.

I don’t know if I can take that.

Convincing somebody that you’re perfect is exhausting. Trying to be positive all the time is exhausting. Evading your narly spots requires you to bend and stretch yourself in ways you haven’t before, and I’m telling you now, you will end up tangled. You will find yourself a contortionist and him watching you from the side stage as you manifest yourself into someone you’re not. Ta-da!

Why can’t I just be myself?

Why, when he is opening up to me, telling me things about his family, do I withhold all my secrets. Why do I nod along, a paper cut out of myself. Why can’t I give him anything of myself?

Why is it so much easier to not let him in? I know I can’t sustain this forever. But if I break, I only have myself to blame.

It’s a month in and it’s not changing. If anything it’s getting worse.

The closer I get to him, the higher I build the wall. Although I think I’m doing a pretty good job of making it invisible to him. I’m constantly waiting for him to notice, to say those dreaded words “we need to talk”. And he does.

But here comes the crux.

Despite the fact we worked it out, he told me something which woke me up. He said he felt that “something was missing”.

And he was right, wasn’t he.

The bit that was missing was me.

The real me. The human, fallible me. With a whole lot of history which has made me who I am. The substance, the wholeness, the grit and the bits that have worn away. The backlog of life experience, the grazes and bumps and the skeletons in the wardrobe. The wholeness that comes with being completely human.

So, if your reading this, please take my advice.

BE YOURSELF.

All of you.

Know that it is okay to be vunrable. To be human, to come with bruises and bits that hurt.

It’s okay to open up and tell the truth, it’s okay to not be the version of yourself which came in the original packaging.

You have had a LIFE and that has shaped you. Something you should never apologise for.

Don’t hide yourself, contort yourself or withhold yourself from someone. They too are human, they too have a history and a whole lot of baggage that comes with that. They have been rebuffed as they have moved across the world.

If you can accept someone for who they are why don’t you feel you deserve to be accepted for being you?

In the words of Will Durant:

“We must steel ourselves against utopias and be content with a slightly better state”.

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be ourselves.

About The Author

IMG_20170907_103552_343

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!

Illustration by Anna Wanda

@annawandagogusey

http://www.wandalovesyou.com

My Vagina Monologue

By Amelia Brown

I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ three years ago today on a coach back to London, laughing and sobbing the entire way. I used to not even be able to say the word “vagina”. It terrified me. It stuck in my throat, liked folded cardboard, choking me. If I did manage I’d say it quietly, coming out more like a splutter than a word, said with hands folded and eyes averted. Eve Ensler (author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’) says that the word ‘vagina’ sounds like a disease, even a “medical instrument”. To me, it sounded stoney and cold and rooted in Latin. It took me a long time to get past that. I had to go back through all the letters in this short word, turning them into my own.

V – smooth on my tongue, buzzing at the back of my throat like a vibrator or a bee, open to an a, ah, a laugh, a song, g, oh that g, the softness of the g, like plunging your fingers into warm clay. ‘In’ came together, inside, centre, then a again, moaning. V.A.G.IN.A.

On Ensler’s advice, I bought a hand mirror, I set aside an afternoon, I closed all my curtains, and I looked. First thing: the hair. As a child I would spend hours, eyes tight shut, wishing the hair away, hoping that if I wished hard enough it would just disappear. I dreamt of waking up one day and seeing nothing and feeling so happy and not feeling ashamed. For years it was red, barren, and itchy. Now I do not shave. The hair is my comfort, my softness, my safety. I like to twirl it in my fingers at night. I like its darkness after I have showered. Monique Wittig refers to pubic hair as a “pubic fleece”.  I nearly cried when I read that. Yes, I thought, yes. It keeps me warm, holds me soft.

Beneath the hair was red lipped softness that I could fall into like love. I discovered vaginas at the same time as I discovered love. I fell faster and more hopelessly than I ever thought was possible. There were some bruises, but mainly I experienced an overwhelming sense of life and wonder.

My love affair with vaginas will be one for life.

My vagina terrifies me some days. I do not understand it, I cannot control it. But I trust it.  We are a team, my vagina and me, us against the world.

If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

Silver doc martens, my favourite crop top, dungarees, wings in case it ever needs to fly away.

If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?

Be kind.

What does a vagina smell like?

Home.

About the Author

Amelia has always lived in London and finally made the move from the dreaded suburbs to central London. I’m 22 and I a writer and theatre maker, who also pulls pints in an attempt to avoid the 9-5 grind. I love dancing all night long (I’m told enthusiasm is more important than skill), art that changes the world and pizza.

The Pill and Me ♥

A note from the Editor

Dear Friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gender + the City would like to send you a Valentine’s Day card this year…

It’s an amalgamation of our stories and perspectives, pains and pleasures, experiences and insights on the subject of the contraceptive pill. I’d like to thank all our lovely contributors for sharing so candidly.

To start off our hot V-day date with the pill, here’s my own contribution to our contraception collective:

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Katie Staal

I was on the pill for seven years; from the age I started having sex with my first boyfriend up until last year. I went on it because that’s what every girl did when they started having sex. For seven years I went to the doctors alone and picked up my prescription alone. I was weighed and questioned, the blood pressure armband squeezed tightly around my upper arm. My contraceptive world ticked along, invisible to eyes of my boyfriends who in total peace and serenity, came inside me.

I loved my little sugar-coated dose of Microgynon every day, it made me feel safe and protected. I trusted it. I never missed a day. Taking it became so much a part of my sense of self, that it seemed abnormal when I stopped consuming them (for one week of the month to have my period.)

It was only last year that confusion and concern began to invade my contraceptive bubble. In reality, I knew very little about the long term effects of my daily dose. What happens to your body when you stop taking it? What about if you want to come off, and then go back on again? Was I still too young to think about quitting? All of these questions simmered as I eyed my pill with suspicion. 

There are over one million pill takers. And yes, the pill can have a damaging effect on the long term health of women and girls[1] The pill is a Feminist issue, and men (the very men that fuck women on the pill all the time) are often ignorant of the emotional, mental and physical labour that we go through to avoid unplanned pregnancy. To be truly equal, shouldn’t both sexes share the load? What the hell happened to the infamous male pill?! We’ve been ‘five years’ away from male contraception for fifty years! 

Then I began to get really pissed off. Do all these questions fall on deaf ears because contraception is still deemed a ‘women’s issue’, and therefore irrelevant, unimportant and underrepresented in scientific and medical research?

The pill just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed to go cold turkey.

As it turns out, the most useful advice on how to quit the pill came from sharing stories with my girlfriends. In a bar in Soho one night, a friend looked me straight in the eye and said ‘come off it, trust me, The Pill fucks you up, and then you can’t go back’. She continued gravely: ‘The side effects makes it feel like we still don’t really have a choice, it’s a lose/lose situation.’

The Pill was introduced in 1961 and yet in 2017, my friend echoed the same sentiment expressed by the first wave of Feminism. Their fight has become ours, and it’s clearly not over yet. Even worse, there’s a superpower cheeto out there who at the flick of a pen, seeks to reinforce the oppression female bodily autonomy.

I’ll admit, I’ve been off the pill for over a year now and I’m still a little confused about what’s going on in my body. Many of my original suspicions have continued to simmer, taking on new shapes and forms. Alarmingly, I lost a lot of weight in a pretty short amount of time and experienced painful period cramps and other weird PMS symptoms that I’d never had before. The worst was something I affectionately named ‘fart brain’, where for the first couple of days of my period, I basically feel like I’m on another planet! I can’t think straight and struggle to concentrate.

Through all of my frustrations and anxieties, my friends provided a listening ear. Talking to them helped me check in with myself, and eventually, realise how I really felt about the changes I was going through. I hope the stories to follow in this article are equally valuable, and can help you to find comfort in solidarity with our pill taking sisters.

[1] Side effects of the pill include: heart disease and stroke, depression, DVT, blood clots, migraines and an increased risk of cervical cancer to name a few.

Please like GATC on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter. You can also follow Katie on InstagramSpotify and Goodreads.

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Anonymous 

The Contraceptive Saga: A Series of Limericks

There once was a young girl at school
with pills as her protective tool.
She didn’t know others,
but came to discover
an IUD was not as cruel.

Once she missed the pill and got stressed.
Plus side effects made her depressed.
A nurse gave advice:
“This copper device
will have all your problems addressed!”

Though she met the change with intrigue,
the coil gave her cramps and fatigue.
She squirted much blood,
proclaimed “It’s a dud!
A method for men is in need.”

But she hadn’t quite lost her will:
protection without getting ill.
She spoke to her doctor.
His answer did shock her:
“Not condoms nor coil? Try the pill!”

Tried condoms, an NFP app,
but these were refused by her chap.
Why should she feel sick
for the sake of his dick?!
She gave up and told him to fap.

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Angelique Jones

My experience with the pill is by no means unique: the doctor told me so.

When I was 15 I went to the GP with my mum, because I had a few pimples on my chin, and (something called) period pains; but, I didn’t really have a period: I had an extremely long one once for a week when I was 13, I had to sit on towels, couldn’t go to school. What I hadn’t mentioned was that I heard at school, that it makes your boobs bigger, too, but that so-and-so got fat. It was a risk; but I was 15, and so foresight – what’s that?

The doctor said Microgynon would clear up my skin and give me regular, painless, bleeds. Sweet, whatever that means. So, I took the tiny pill for 3 weeks, stopped and had a bleed. But, most of the time I chose when I would have a period, sometimes I took it every day; periods are annoying, especially when you have to wear shorts for P.E, and you have to buy tampons because it’s “ew, gross” to wear pads.

After two and a half years of playing around with the pill, I was getting pretty depressed, and a bit fat – but I was also binging on sugar, and skipping meals because I didn’t know how to express myself: girl, age 17-18 years. I would just cry, and then eat a loaf of bread and 5 KitKat Chunkies.

The doctor’s told me to take Citalopram 20 (anti-depressants) and keep taking the pill to regulate my hormones. I didn’t feel good.

I stopped taking the pill after 3 years, and the anti-depressants after 5 days. I bled for 10 days. I haven’t bled since. I’m now 26.

The doctors keep telling me to take the pill, so that I can have a “normal” period.

Angelique is Film Editor for both The Rational, and On the Beat. You can follow her on Instagram @Angeliquejones_

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Ariane Laurent-Smith

I am 22 years old, I’ve tried four different types of contraception, and fingers crossed, I think I found my perfect match. I was put on Loestrin 20 at the age of fifteen because my periods hurt so badly that I was near to fainting. When I became sexually active, it made sense for me to go on Loestrin 30, deemed a ‘proper’ contraceptive pill. I took it for two years, but never trusted it enough not to use condoms at the same time. Really, it was more of a back-up. It’s funny that I took something with awful side-effects as a ‘back-up’.

I didn’t connect the dots until much later, but every time I stopped taking my pill, whether it was to have my period or I forgot (we’ve all been there!) I would feel extremely emotionally fragile for following week or so. I felt like I could cry at the drop of a hat. After this, I tried the contraceptive injection. Also, a no! The emotional side-effects were even worse than the pill, and I refused to accept the idea that I should stick with it for another three months because the side-effects ‘should’ tail off. It’s just not worth the risk.

Enter my knight in shining armour. I’m not talking about a man. In fact, men don’t even have an option for hormonal contraception, since development of the male injection was cut short. No, my knight is the IUS. Otherwise known as intra-uterine system, the hormonal coil, the Mirena, heaven in a contraceptive. That is, unless you’re unlucky to be on the receiving end of one of the major side-effects. Although these are rare, in some cases it can pierce your womb (I love being a woman!) Even my dream contraception hurts to get inserted – the cramps and contractions I experienced, I can only compare to what I imagine the pain of labour is (oh the irony).

My boyfriend at the time rubbed circles on my back with one hand and called a taxi to go home with the other. The pain lasted a few hours but since then, I’ve felt like I’m floating, with a peace of mind I never knew was possible.

Hear more from Ariane on Oxide News Radio.

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Ellis Taylor

After 8 years, I made the decision. My life was good; I’d overcome some really tough experiences and gone through plenty of counselling. But I still didn’t feel right.

I was 18 when I went on the combined pill and 24 when I came off it. I was 18 when I started to feel anxious and low. When I was 21 I was prescribed antidepressants. Was this a coincidence? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it was.

Before making my decision, I spoke to friends and researched the effects of the combined pill on mental health. Finally, I decided that it was time to stop taking it. I thought it would fix my mood swings – hell, I thought it might even ‘cure’ my depression.

When I first came off the pill it was wonderful. I felt like I was meeting my body and my natural rhythm for the first time! My body was doing what it was meant to be doing – not what it had been instructed to do by a little pill. My antidepressants reduced, I was getting closer and closer to being totally medication free for the first time in years.

It’s now been a year. My natural monthly rhythm lasted a couple of months, but now that my body has had time to adjust, problems that I never knew existed have revealed themselves.

When I came off the pill it was because thought it would ‘fix’ my mental health issues. It has helped, but coming off has also revealed a new knowledge of my body, an awareness that uncovered potential problems, problems otherwise discovered.

Follow Ellis on Instagram.

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Freya Turner

Drug in Greek is Pharmakon. This word refuses to define whether it means to cure or to poison. ‘Kon’, as if to cheat us of meaning.

Granting me my last resort for acne treatment in a little windowless office, some doctor put me on Yasmin. It was a flippant decision for him, and a hesitant one for me. I was living in Amsterdam at the time; my first time living abroad. Just outside the clinic, one of the beautiful and unsure canal rings was winding away and away, coiling together a paper cut-out city. It made me lose my way home.

Washed down somewhere, into my blood, silently. It’s an intoxicating idea. It is tiny and slight and light, barely detected by the tongue. Is this dangerous slightness the feeling of a womanhood?

I took it for the time it takes to grow a baby. At least that’s what I remember. Having ‘moderate’ acne, it felt as if I had a clinical diagnosis warning me of my constant uncertainty and wavering.

Is this a numbness? // Maybe it is hyper awareness. // How am I to ever know when I am feeling drug mood or my mood? // Then what is mine? // Is medically constructed good skin a contract; all moods suddenly mine? // What is more possible: absence or unusual movement of emotion? // And who is to say which out of frequency or size of spot, is the most destructive?

I couldn’t answer the questions. This medical exchange became a project, I realised, in a woman’s capability of tolerating what she thought and her own and others’ politics of health and superficiality.

Like many projects, this one ended. I now let the acne thrive, and I use nothing for it.

Freya is a regular contributor to GATC, you can read more of her recent writing here and here

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Polly Hember

Discussions on birth control are deeply political, revolving around reproductive rights, female autonomy, body politics and so on. Second-wave feminists in the 1960’s and 70’s argued that control over a woman’s own fertility was, in no uncertain terms, power. This was a power that gave women access to more control over if and when they wanted to have children. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) stated in 1920 that a woman who relies on men for birth control, is a woman ‘exploited, driven and enslaved to his desires.’

However, a trend I have noticed with young women in their twenties now is a deep sense of resentment about their pill. Why should women have to risk blood clots, weight gain, mood swings, acne, loss of libido and more in order to enjoy sex and avoid pregnancy, when men get all the benefits without the side effects?

At 19, I experienced inconsolable mood swings due to the brand of my contraceptive pill. At 23, I was nearly hospitalised because of an infection caused by the copper coil. At these times I have to admit that I have felt it unfair that women shoulder the burden, the risk and the sole accountability of pregnancy-free sex.

Contraception is always going to be a multifaceted, emotive and complex discussion. President Trump is attempting to enable US employers to deny women insurance coverage that pays for their birth control. Whether you feel empowered or resentful, the issue is freedom of choice. The support, education and the availability of birth control one decides on more critical than ever before.

Polly Hember is Art Editor for The Rational and found of On the Beat.

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Izabella Karasinska-Stanley

When I got a boyfriend, I knew it was time for me to get the pill. Oddly, I never considered any other option. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was using the coil, or the implant. For me, it was this, or condoms, and condoms break, or we might run out. The pill was entirely up to me. That’s what I wanted.

I was slightly nervous when I waited in the Sexual Health clinic, but mostly I wasn’t. It seemed so easy. You just ask the doctor to prescribe you a contraceptive, as if ordering a pizza in a restaurant. You say what you want, they ask follow-up questions, like if you want added parmesan, or if you have multiple sexual partners, and then you wait a bit, and then they give it you. It’s very easy.

It’s been just as easy ever since. I know I’m lucky. I have plenty of friends who reacted badly to it, or who keep forgetting to take it. But for me, it works fine. I don’t forget it. And most importantly, it hasn’t completely fucked me up. I’m really lucky. I can have sex all the time, whenever I want. I’m never scared. I’m always protected.

And yet, I think I might stop taking it soon. Switch to something else.

That’s the thing about the contraceptive pill. It’s like social media stealing your data, or your GPS tracking your every move. Those sites are convenient, but something about them seems wrong. It’s the same feeling. You don’t get real periods. Your hormones aren’t working right. So many things about the running of your female body line up with your menstrual cycle. What about all of that?

It’s the same feeling Miss Clavel has in Madeline, you know?

“Something is not right”.

Follow Izabela’s film photography Tumblr and find her on Instagram @izabela_ks.


Illustrations by Anna Sudit
@annasudit
http://www.annasudit.com

A New Perspective on Bodies

By Ruth Ankers

‘You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection. Like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you’[1]

Stacy London’s got it right.

There have been countless articles, books and ideas created around discussions of body image and body shaming. They often conclude that we should love our bodies no matter what.

Don’t lose interest yet, this is not another one of those articles.

I’m not here to tell you to feel better by eating a bag of kale, nor am I going to assure you that “big is better”.

In fact, I think on the whole that both these types of expressions miss the point.

So what is the point?

If you ask me, addressing our bodies shouldn’t be limited to “celebrating” our different sizes and shapes. The conversation has the potential to extend in focus to consider our obsessions with the body.

I’m sure you’re ready and armed with your “healthy body healthy mind” shotgun, and yes, that would be a valid shot. But, I’m not suggesting that eating well doesn’t have a positive impact on your state of mind. However, an obsessive mind is not a healthy mind, and we need to be careful where we draw the lines.

This is a particularly pressing conversation, as millennial women are labelled by their seniors as the most ‘self-obsessed’ of any generations that have come before.

It would be pointless to open up a debate about the types of food which are right and wrong to eat. I’m not a nutritionist, although I am a good cook. I cook healthy food, I eat healthy food … and I eat cheese, bread and pasta and all the things which make my mouth water.

This article isn’t about food, exercise or diet plans. It’s about perspective.

Can we take the heat off ourselves, please? Can we eat and be healthy and well without having to plaster it all over the internet. Social media can be more dangerous than we often notice. When we jump on the public body bandwagon, we push our obsession with bodies to the forefront, keeping them in the spotlight. A spotlight which could be shifted and distributed to different issues.

I’m not suggesting you should abandon your relationship with your body. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t love and enjoy your partner’s body. After all, we are all beautiful, and deserve to be admired. But is it possible to have a time out?

Is all the chatter around bodies getting a bit much?

Stacy London thinks we should spend more time looking into the eyes of the people we love, instead of at our reflection. I agree. We need to make sure, going forward, that we save looking at our own bodies (or other bodies on the internet) and use this time to look more into the eyes of people we care about.

That’s how we find “body confidence”, no matter what shape or size you are. We can always find beauty by looking at someone we love, and recognising that they see you – your soul, your views, your experiences and your kindness. Not your jean size.

[1] http://www.thehumangathering.com/stacylondon/

About The Author

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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!

Illustration by Laura Callaghan
http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/
@lauracallaghanillustration

Mother May I?

By Kaisha Langton

“You are selfish.”

“You are going to regret this.”

“Who will care for you when you’re old?”

“You will live an unfulfilled life.”

“You are not a real woman.”

This is what you get when you tell someone you don’t want to be a mother. Aggressive and shaming language of this kind haunts childless women and attempts to bully them into conforming to the status quo.

Childlessness has two main subsets: childless by chance or childless by choice. With 18% of British women aged 45 in 2016 without children, compared to just 11% in 1971, childlessness is clearly increasing in the UK. There are a multitude of reasons why women cannot or do not have children. However, all women without children are positioned as ‘other’ in normative society.

In media and films, single women without children are usually cast as the villain or an evil jealous witch. This typecasting reoccurs in traditional fairy tales such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, as the innocent children escape being cooked for dinner by the vicious, old, childless crone. Another type of ‘predatory’ woman is found in Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, who’s sexually powerful, man-obsessed and career driven.

Furthermore, there’s the trope of the ‘crazy cat lady’, who sits around knitting misshapen hats for her many kittens, the furry creatures who have taken the place of the children that she was supposed to have, but never quite managed to.

And of course, our single days are not much better, we are Bridget Jones, desperately dreaming of our Mr Darcy so we can ‘properly’ settle down, get married and pop out little sweetums.

But what happens if you just aren’t built with the desire to have children?

Since I was fifteen, I’ve known that I will not have children. Now aged 26, I’ve visited the doctor to ask to help my body reflect this decision medically. I was turned away. Doctors refused to give help, with a pitying look in their eyes, and assurances that it is the right thing to do because. Obviously, I am too young (and perhaps, too female) to know my own mind.

But I am not too young. I am old enough to drink. To drive. To smoke. To have sex. To gamble. To receive the highest rate for minimum wage. To watch all films with any certification. To fight and die for my country in the army.

And yet I, and the many others that come to this decision at a young age, are told that we are too young to know what we want. We are ‘too young’ to have authority over our own bodies.

The doctor’s comment was just one of the many marks against my decision. My friends and family express the same, but with a softer approach. Sometimes, it feels as if they’re acting out a scene or reading a script. Trust me, I have eleven years of experience in hearing this script over and over – which is usually:

  1. A pitying look
  2. A tilted head
  3. A sympathetic smile
  4. The words: ‘You’ll change your mind one day.’

My close friends also challenge my choice. They ask ‘what if you fall in love with someone that wants children?’ ‘What if your partner threatens to leave you if you don’t have a child?’

Needless to say in this case, they would not be the person for me.

The decision to remain childless is personal, and that does not mean it is any less valid. It is as simple as deciding to get a piercing or a tattoo: a choice concerning my own body and prerogative. This is my life to live as I see fit.

I am resolute in my decisions once I put my mind to them. The fact that even my closest of family and friends believe I will “grow up” and change my mind is irksome. But I can understand why they feel the need to react like this.

After all, biologically, humans are built with a complex set of mechanics. We are intricate machines with complicated methodologies. To ensure the human race survives, we are born with biological impulses. To perpetuate our existence and thrive, we logically possess these imperatives for survival, territorialism, competition, reproduction and group-forming.

Simply put: we are born with a biological clock which counts down to the (supposedly happy) moment when we can produce our very own mini-me. These biological impulses are so deeply instilled in our social systems that we grow up playing pretend families, cuddling dolls, and thinking about baby names.

Like many others, I was raised in a heteronormative family structure and assumed that my future would mimic this. But for me, this picture seems stifling, and at odds with the future I see for myself. I have different drives – to attain all of my career goals and travel to places in every corner of the world. And I believe that children that are not wanted or cherished are a waste.

And yet, I’m still met with a stream of distrust, denial and disagreement.

It is time for those who judge women like me to check their attitude at the door. I have known that this will be my path for over a decade. That does not mean that you should avoid asking questions, or shy away your curiosity. But my departure from the norm it does not give you permission to preach, or the platform to define the parameters for which my life will be deemed fulfilled and accomplished.

You have made your choice, I respect that.

Is it really too much to ask for you to do the same?


About the Author

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Kaisha is a recently qualified journalist with a BA and MA in English Literature. She enjoys working her way through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List, writing about important issues plaguing our society and drinking prosecco in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Emma Plunket

A Response to Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man”

By Ruth Ankers

Perry says:

“Somewhere in every man’s head there is a governor, an unconscious inner voice sending instructions through the intercom. The department of masculinity is there to maintain standards. He takes ideas and images and assembles them into the model of a perfect man. The governor sits there constantly checking that his man is living up to this ideal, If the man fails, he is made to feel unworthy, he may hate himself, he may take it out on others”

Greyson Perry believes we need to “sack” this governor that it is time men should be their own governors, and I agree.

Feminism has been in the limelight for a long time now, we have been re-evaluating and challenging society’s approach to women for what seems like decades and that’s great. But after reading Perrys book I began to think; Is it only men’s attitude towards women we need to change or in fact do we need to be working on men’s attitudes towards THEMSELVES too?

There is undoubtedly an invisible pressure on men to perform, to be successful within society, in work, in family life, in social circles. Success is rewarded with respect. But “success” is simply a construction of what the “department of masculinity” sees being success. We need to work on that. Greyson Perry suggests we should be “rewarding men for not succeeding in their drive for dominance” I know; wow; that’s a statement and a half. But in essence, I think I agree. In order to be respected and valued men should not have to be deemed as “successful why not just “prosperous”; to be living a fulfilling life, to be kind, to be open, and to be honest? We need to rewire the way we think to see that these things are also successes, not just making lots of money or being head of the office.

Perry thinks masculinity is not biological rather it is something which we have developed culturally. It’s difficult to say for sure and I’m reticent to speak on behalf of “mankind”, so instead I will speak for myself and say that I can recognise that there is a different between my biological tendencies and my gender. There are certain things about my body which I am aware make me a woman, other than that, I really don’t see that there is much of a difference, certainly not a difference which is big enough to cause a divide between people or worse a divide within MYSELF.

I have a huge amount of respect for men who are intelligent enough to see that. Perhaps then it is as much my responsibility as it is any mans to begin this “revolution” which Perry talks about. The revolution starts with men “negotiating a new deal on masculinity”. So other than joining Grayson on his protest to get men on board what else can I do to encourage this movement starts to gain motion?

I need YOUR help. To take the pressure off, to commend those men who choose to say “no” instead of “yes” and to praise men who can see that they too have the freedom and support to be who they are, rather than who society says they HAVE to be.

Equality is freedom for all, we may be closer to that, but we’re not there yet. We need to keep our minds open and fight for what we know is right and fair.

I salute the men of the future.

In fact, many of them are already my friends.

Continue reading “A Response to Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man””

Does Blade Runner 2049 succeed as a Reproductive Dystopia?

By Polly Hember

The reproductive dystopia has become an increasingly popular thematic trend within the sci-fi genre. Global human infertility causes societal collapse in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, Margaret Atwood’s blazing novel The Handmaid’s Tale sits at the centre of this anxious exploration into what the future might look like for women, with the recent Hulu dramatization planning to take Offred past the last pages of Atwood’s masterpiece into a second season. So, a film about the creation of bioengineered androids (replicas) and the creator’s morbid obsession with making them able to reproduce, in a world filled with sexbots (sorry, “pleasure models”) and larger-than-life holograms dancing naked in the billboard streets of the sprawling, nightmarish L.A. of the future, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 fits right into the trend. Except… it kind of doesn’t. There are intensely anxious themes surrounding reproductive rights and gender politics that resonate profoundly with contemporary polemics, yet they are never pursed or unravelled in Blade Runner 2049. The portrayal of the female form is central in this film and almost wholly problematic, begging the burning question: is this an inherently sexist film or a clever exploration of the reproductive dystopia?
The villainous Wallace, played by a brilliant Jared Leto, is fascinated with finding a way to make female replicas fertile. A particularly nasty scene sees him slice open the womb of a helpless, newly-birthed replicant, as if to show her utter lack of value as infertile in his (very creepy) eyes. The main plot sees K (Ryan Gosling), a beaten-down replicant “blade runner” who chases down old models to “retire” (read: kill), search for the missing miracle child of Rachel and Rick Deckard, as seen in Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner.
There is an ominous underbelly to Wallace’s Frankenstein-esque desires; is he attempting to create an android race that has no need for “human” women at all? What does this mean, then, for the women of 2049? Is he attempting to outdate or perhaps “retire” an entire gender with the invention of synthetic wombs? Why, then, is there no mention of this plot that precipitates the possible extinction of an entire gender?
Well, because, as many other critics have pointed out, this is a man’s film. It is a film aware of and solely driven by specifically male desires. This is critically apparent in K’s relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram that he can switch on and off at his will as he walks into his cell-like apartment. Programmed to please, she learns and stores K’s likes and dislikes, playing the doting housewife, switching instantly to sexy, then simply switched off when no longer needed – or else paused as a telephone call comes in, interrupting her Siri-like control system, flickering comically, waiting for a kiss that never comes.
The critical questions that swirl around in the swampy L.A. nightmare of Blade Runner 2049 are the same ones as the book the original film was based on. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? asks what it means to be human. K seems to place value on being physically born, on having a soul. Replicants, we are told, cannot lie or disobey orders, but we see K do both of these things. Does this mean he’s human? In Joi’s case, I feel it becomes a crucial issue of autonomy.
She is a sexy simulacrum, she is “a sci-fi fan’s wet dream” who is programmed into servitude and therefore has no free will of her own. Their love story is touching, yes, and it attempts to ask the viewer whether this can be genuine emotion the android and the hologram feel. However, this question seems concerned with K’s hurt feelings rather than gender politics. A distraught Gosling looks up at a rainy, urban swamp of advertisements; swirling Sony projections and Coca Cola signs blare in the background as a giant, nude version of Armas looks down at him, designed to advertise the very ‘Joi-ous’ personal hologram product K purchased. He looks beaten, as he seems to question the validity of such a (critically male) consumer-driven society and whether Joi is unique and her feelings for him are valid. However, even when it asks these questions, the film remains problematic. When their entire relationship is built around a one-sided fulfilment of male desire, it becomes exploitative.
Joi’s complete opposite, the cut-throat and cold Luv (Wallace’s personal replicant companion) is fierce and fantastic, but the power politics are still inherently problematic. She is governed by Wallace’s whims and follows orders imperiously, which results in her nightmarish and dramatic death. Lt. Joshi, played phenomenally by Robin Wright, is fantastic as K’s strong but worn-down director, however she is severely underused and her character unexplored, killed off before the film gets going. The politics of the sex worker and underground rebel Mariette are muddy and never fully explored; she seems trapped in the same cycle of exploitation as that Joi operates in. In fact, Mariette is hired by Joi to act as a sentient, soulful sex-puppet so K and Joi can consummate their perturbing relationship, then bitterly ordered away by a jealous Joi, who tells her: “I’ve been inside you, and there’s not as much there as you like to think.”
Blade Runner 2049 is a cinematically spectacular film. It is visually stunning with a fast-paced plot, engaging characters and clever nods to the original, it’s highly enjoyable and attempts to ask interesting ontological polemics concerning the human condition. It presents a fragmented, polluted world that explores the horrors of what might be. However, the evocative female characters are all tied into reductive narratives where they simply serve and comply to the male drive behind the story. By neglecting to unravel Wallace’s sinister intentions with his reproductive replicas, the film avoids stating the true horror of this reproductive dystopia. It’s a film wreaked with a perturbing and persistent male gaze, which, seen through this lens, makes the nightmarish landscape of L.A. look even more frightening. Whilst K continues to seek out the answers to questions like “what does it mean to be human”, the women of this film are killed, silenced, retired or simply switched off at the flick of the button on their remote control.

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About the Author

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Polly Hember

Polly is a Freelance Writer, Editor-in-Chief of On the Beat, Art Editor at the The Rational Online, a coffee-drinker and country-music listener. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Bristol where she focused on feminism and early twentieth-century women’s writing. 

 

 

 

Editor

Daf Jenkins

Image:

Photosource: Ana de Armas with Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. Allstar/WARNER BROS.

Body Hair Politics is Beyond ‘Self-Love’

By Freya Turner

What do we think about when we think of women and their hair? Do we think about scalp hair only? A lot of us probably would. It makes sense. We’ve been socialised into thinking that hair anywhere other than women’s heads is avoidable, dirty, and ultimately ‘other’. For as much as women are, still to a certain extent, heralded in the 21st century as fulfilling their ‘natural’ duty of being child-bearers, we are berating those same women for their inevitably natural strands of keratin on their legs, underarms, faces, and so forth. As a lot of us are aware already, the work of the feminist movement is about challenging the ironies and meaningless structures that are so engrained in us. So it is worth talking about hair; every tiny strand is political, because the ‘natural’ is a construct.

Shaving only became mainstream for women around the period of World War One. At this time, razor companies were losing profits for obvious reasons; their target consumers (at that time, men) were rapidly diminishing due to war. The industry had to react quickly, so considered approaching a large demographic they had previously ignored; women. With some manipulative advertising that quickly invented a ‘problem’ for women (unsightly hair), women were pressured to shave for the sake of femininity. The rest is history. Fast forward to one-hundred years later, and most of us have internalised the argument in this advertising as some sort of natural law. We’re so removed from the origin of mass female shaving that not one person in my university’s feminism seminar could pinpoint it.

My own story with my hair is that from puberty to the age of 21, I shaved everything because if I didn’t, I felt disgusting, lazy, and a failure. When I found out that the cause of our anxiety towards hair essentially resulted from war, I was appalled. Feeling like a very naïve version of an anarchic rebel, I tested out what it would be like to not shave altogether. It was weird, because it felt like such a small act but it also felt pretty ground breaking to me. This in itself was, ironically, annoying because I felt like I was spending even more time dwelling on something completely and utterly frivolous; a sort of bodily contesting that is stereotypically a woman’s experience.

When the hair started growing it was weird seeing it, particularly the hair in my armpits. And I think it’s important to stop here. It was w-e-i-r-d seeing my own hair grow. Utterly weird. How bizarre is that? I felt like I was becoming ‘un-woman’ when I looked at my underarm and leg hair. And when I realised this thought, the hair growth felt like some sort of emotional bootcamp. It was as if the longer I let my hair grow, the more I’d feel comfortable with myself. I really didn’t want to be the person who didn’t shave because of political reasons but then is disgusted at the sight of hair. In reality, it is really hard to undo the thought that if you identify as a woman and don’t have the similar look of a baby, you’re not OK.

Growing my body hair was a weird process, and still is. I don’t want this to be a self-indulgent dessert of an article but sometimes we need to go the personal to talk political. This started roughly in May, and since then, I’ve shaved because of a job interview from hearing of the boss’ viewpoint on the respectable presentation of women, I’ve had that same boss stare at my legs when I got the job and grew my leg hair, and I’ve had friends not know how to react to it. On a positive note, the cherry on top of not-giving-a-shit-about-hair happened when I crossed the stage at my graduation with long and lustrous leg hair. Ta-ra, repressed youth-hood! I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that a year before.

And yet, underneath that, part of me wants to trawl the internet to find information about other women with body hair to feel less alone and weird for having it. What I have found from doing so is that a lot of women don’t shave because they feel most beautiful in their rawest, most natural form. Some may like the actual aesthetic of the hair, and some may just feel most beautiful knowing that the hair is their authentic self. I don’t think my body hair is the nicest, which is the point. I don’t look at my leg hair and think phwoar. What has instead developed from what I guess is politically oriented behaviour has been a drive to be fully in ‘myself’, which applies not only to my hair. The best way to describe having the hair is essentially like having a neutral ownership of my hair. It’s not ugly but it certainly ain’t pretty. It’s just there. I’m sure a lot of those who identify as men hold this same perspective.

That neutral realisation that my hair is ‘just there’ made it quite frighteningly obvious to me the extent to which women are denied a neutral perspective of themselves. There is nothing really in society that says that women can be comfortable. When I was first growing my hair, a little voice in me felt like I had to love it, or had to hate it. No middle ground. This stems from men being the baseline of normal or neutral and women being the ‘other’, which renders right down to the body where both sexes have the hair but only one can, stereotypically speaking, be ‘alright’ with it. The other is made to feel like some sort of wild activist or entirely disgusting for having it.

All women are hairy. Not just because we have the capacity to grow hair, but because unless you’ve had electrolysis, the root of the hair is physically there underneath the skin even if you’re freshly shaved. I don’t want to love this hair, I just want to feel like a grown person. And I hope that in the future we won’t have to write blog posts about female body hair. So let’s just get on the sofa of self comfortability (a new self-love?) and embrace the keratin.

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About the author

Freya is a recent English literature graduate from UEA, where she specialised in reading minoritarian, feminist, and urban writing. She has worked in arts and charity organisations, and she is passionate about singing, comedy, writing in different genres, and body positivity. She is currently based in north Essex in the UK.

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Editor

Lucy Wheeler

Vegetarianism, Gender and Consumption: Are your politics what you eat?

By Ruby Martin

I recently read Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian by Han Kang after picking it up in a charity shop. I had picked it up largely because of the title alone, but as a self-identifying (somewhat) vegetarian since the age of eight, I was quickly intrigued by the blurb selling vegetarianism as “the ultimate act of subversion”.

My interest was piqued. How could choosing the falafel wrap at Tesco be a subversive act? With even the most mainstream chains such as Pret embracing veggie branches, my dietary lifestyle hardly seemed ‘fringe’, despite being a leftie creative type in a liberal bubble. It seems that vegetarianism and veganism is the trend du jour in the UK, with veganism rising by over 360% in the past decade and – among women in particular – general meat consumption across the UK having been reduced, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

But why?

There are various possibilities, but evidence from a recent Mintel survey suggests that health is the top reason for limiting meat consumption. Does this mean that women are more health conscious than men? And if so many people cite health as a reason for giving up meat, can we still interpret that as a subversive act? In the same Mintel survey, around half of respondents had also said they had tried to lose weight, with 57% of those respondents being women. Now whilst losing weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are various industries who profit from the population dieting, the most obvious being weight loss, but more general food companies such as Quorn and Linda McCartney will still profit off those who think that eating less meat will help lose weight.  This affects gender as advertising companies have been known to target different audiences and throughout the years, companies have sold very different ideals to what men and women should be.

Whilst no doubt men are encouraged to lose weight, they are also encouraged to get “ripped”; women are often simply encouraged to be thin and talk purely in terms of fat rather than muscle. This is shown in the examples below, in adverts for the same diet products, HCG. To men, HCG sell the idea of keeping muscle whilst to women, muscle is not mentioned at all; instead the focus is on losing pounds and reducing bodily size.

This is shown in the same way Instagram fads such as ‘clean eating’ and other diets are aggressively sold towards women. Now this may seem like obvious stuff, but combined with the notion that vegetarianism is a healthier way to live, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that more women may incorporate it as a weight loss strategy thanks to cultural pressure.

However, before all hope is lost, we can now address how vegetarianism can be a force for good.

Whilst we could assume that all these women are turning veggie for them sweet inch losses, I believe that fails to recognise the individual agency and personal reasons behind the decision. When asked, each person I know who identifies as vegetarian had a completely different combination of reasons for giving up meat, and while health (and weight) played a part for some, other factors such as the environment, personal taste, financial considerations and animal welfare were given equal importance.  When asked why they became a vegetarian, these were just a few examples given:

“Primarily upbringing”- T, London

“Environmental reasons. The final reason why was a book I read which, in the epilogue spoke of the downfall of the west due to our over-exploitation of resources, the effects of which could be mitigated by, for example, eating less meat.” -A, Switzerland

“For me it’s a mental health thing. If I eat meat, I feel that ‘this animal died for me’. I can’t live with that” – J, Oxford

This admittedly non-scientific straw poll reminded me that everyone lives within a different cultural context which needs to be considered, and indeed that those contexts can be weaponised and used in women’s everyday politics. This idea of using consumption – or indeed non-consumption – as a weapon is something that captivated me in Kang’s book since the main character, Yeong-hye, is seen to not only reject a staple element of the cuisine that surrounds her, but she also rejects and defies her husband’s and family’s wishes and expectations through her actions. She refuses to make the meals her husband wants and implicitly expects from his wife, simultaneously rejecting entrenched food traditions and normative husband/wife power dynamics of marriage. In fact, Yeong-hye’s decision to become vegetarian becomes a catalyst for other behaviour seen as rebellious and very much in opposition to expectations of her as a wife and daughter.  In this context, vegetarianism is a potent act of subversion.

Interestingly, all of the flexitarians (and some meat-eaters) I talked to, told me how they still eat meat as part of family traditions such as Christmas, to avoid what they believe to be inconveniencing their parents or family. This is in contrast to many of the full-time vegetarians I know (including myself) who have at least one other vegetarian family member and thus for whom the decision not to eat meat seems less controversial. Whilst in the ‘cushy London bubble’, to go veggie is a minor rebellion, for those elsewhere in stricter upbringings this gesture could perhaps have far more force.

More radical interpretations of Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism in The Vegetarian – and indeed vegetarianism more generally – might follow those feminist philosophies which endorse the all-out rejection of every practice and material goods deemed as forced upon women by the patriarchy, e.g. the wearing of bras or marriage. However, some voices in the newer feminist waves call for a more individualist take, where women’s agency and individual desires are acknowledged and there is a belief that each woman should  be able to do as she pleases, without shame, e.g. dressing up in a sexy manner for your own pleasure than someone else’s.  This individualist stance relies heavily on the notion that this woman does what she wants for herself and that no external and possible patriarchal force is at play.

Now this individual stance certainly makes day-to-day living easier as it does not focus on complex sociocultural factors, but it is worth remembering that many ideas have been engrained in popular culture that we unconsciously absorb and accept to the point we may no longer question its historic roots, having been sold other notions along the way to make it politically more acceptable.  This can range from hair removal to marriage, and this more accepting strand of feminism can sometimes be used to avoid critically engaging with our consumption choices. This is not to say this isn’t a usable feminism, but to think about why we do things can allow us to change the systems in place as to ignore history can allow for the same mistakes to be repeated.

A politicised view of consumption that sees the choices women make as potential acts of rebellion might seem a far cry from the simple act of choosing the vegetarian option at lunchtime. However, the decision to go meat-free can bring up questions and thoughts that either buy into or reject current ideals of not only how women ‘should’ look, but how the current capitalist system can manipulate our supposed free will. Whilst most companies in the past have targeted consumers (and particularly female consumers) by making them feel bad, some companies seem to be realising that young women are on to them and are not happy. This has led to some brands starting to sell themselves as allies through mainstream ‘feminist’ notions. For example, Dove’s Real Women campaigns aligned themselves with body positivity, while many clothing brands such as H&M often incorporate feminist phrases into clothing to tap into the shifting market. The importance of motive is definitely worth thinking about with food companies, a prime example being ‘clean eating’ and similar diets selling themselves as a healthy option to ‘empower’ women. However in reality the product or the message hasn’t changed, just the wrapping.

To be vegetarian for environmental reasons amongst others is to reject a level of consumerism which is damaging our world as we know it, since meat farming has been shown to be damaging to the rainforests amongst many. Also, to be morally against the murdering of animals can show a reaction /resistance to the idea that we must kill to survive, a notion that is still somewhat fetishized in the variety of ‘one man against nature’ shows such as Bear Grylls. The moral dilemma can be problematic however, as vegan dish favourites such as quinoa can be shown to be harvested in tumultuous conditions which damage human workers, so it’s often a case of deciding where your ethics lie.

To conclude, our politics can be what we eat, with vegetarianism being just a small example of how the choices we make can buy into or subvert consumerist or cultural narratives imposed upon us and our gender. Whilst we must work hard to challenge these ideals when it becomes unhealthy, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the pesto pasta meal deal either!

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About the author

Ruby is a writer and comedian based in London who, when not taking on too many projects at the same time, likes to spend her time watching videos of animals being friends and carefully curating her Twitter. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from UCL and spent a year living and studying in Venice, which has only fuelled her appreciation for pizza and ugly paintings of the baby Jesus.

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Image credit

Unnatural Selection by Maggie Chiang.

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Editor

Lucy Wheeler