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.

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

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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 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.

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

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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Image 

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

Image

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

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