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.

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

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

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

A Letter to the Narcissist Who Broke My Heart

By Ruth Ankers

When I met you, you were in a relationship which had been going on for nine years. How I let myself trust you after you so casually blew that off and perused me, I will never understand. Maybe, it’s because you made me feel like this was the first time you had ever felt this way, that I was some sort of revelation in your life, that you needed me.

You didn’t need me. You needed a comfortable way out of your last relationship, I was your buoyancy aid, to cushion the blow. What I didn’t realise was that eventually you would wear me down in such an epic way, that you would learn to float and I would sink back down.

A person like you prefers it when they are being idolised – so imagine the audacity one evening when I plucked up the courage to ask you, “will you ever tell your ex girlfriend you cheated on her, how can you be such good friends with her now when she doesn’t know that it happened, and that it happened more than once?”

The Narcissist is quick to respond and armed with the perfect defence: “you’ve never had a nine year relationship, so you wouldn’t understand, I went above and beyond for her”.
The way you undermined me and my experience shut me up. For a while.

Dating you (or not dating you) was like exit-ing my own world and temporarily setting up camp in yours (although, I was only allowed to pitch my tent on the outskirts and commute in when required).

You made me feel both that you needed me in your life, and that I was not and would never be quite good enough for you. It was terrifyingly confusing.

My brain was at war with itself.

I lost two stone, cue the “I didn’t tell you to do that”.

No, you didn’t in a matter of words (and this is the hardest bit to explain and how a narcissist will never get blamed).

You made me FEEL like I needed to. Through the way to spoke about women, the way you approached other women, the comments you made on the women you had photographed.

You would give and yield in perfect harmony, and I rode those waves for nearly two years. It was impossible to keep up and every time I caught my breath and let out a “wait this is wrong I need to stop doing this”, you would ask me where it had come from and tell me I was crazy.

I showered you with cards and gifts and poems desperately seeking your affection and you casually asked me: “what’s your address again, I was meant to send that thing to you”. I waited and it never came.

But of course, you would say, I’m the fool for waiting around or hoping your card would turn up.

Throughout the time we were a relationship, a friendship, a war. You made me feel like I was insignificant, and then you blamed me for allowing myself to feel that way.

When we eventually called it a day, it was because I finally found some strength somewhere to fight back and tell you how you were making me feel. After months of you convincing me I was just being crazy, that I was over reacting, that I needed to calm down… it came out like word vomit and I couldn’t stop.

All the bullets that I had saved up came firing out, and you did a fantastic job of looking like the victim. You did a fantastic job of making me look and feel like I had suddenly with no rhyme or reason, lost the plot, and then to add insult to injury – you seamlessly managed to convince me I had always been this way, even before I met you.

You should win an academy award for your performance because it was so perfectly executed that I believed you, and I even think you convinced yourself!

Science tells you if you wind up motor and give it enough energy it will take off. The only other option is that it internally combusts, you would have preferred that of me, wouldn’t you?

It must be about a year since the last time we spoke and I am still dealing with the bomb site you left me in. I am trying so hard. More so because you made me feel like I created this myself, and some days I don’t have the strength to believe the people around me who tell me otherwise.

I have met multiple great men who I cannot be with because at every sniff of them loving me, I assume the worst and kick them to the curb to protect myself.

It doesn’t surprise me that you have found someone else, an article I recently read put it perfectly:

“The narcissist will continue as if nothing ever happened and they are innocent. They won’t choose to remember that powerful bond they had with someone and instead choose to find it somewhere else. However a time will come when they know they can neither sufficiently connect with themselves or other people”.

People always say take a positive from a negative. Unfortunately this time around, you have left me with such a huge backlog of insecurities and trust issues (just like you have with your ex) that I am still wading through this a year later. Finding the strength from somewhere everyday to fight off your voice in my head.

“In this situation she/he must realise they too are in a bad situation, something of which the narcissist in their life always spoke of. But it their case it will be different. They will make positive efforts to address this and heal themselves slowly. The narcissist will not”

Just remember that. I’m getting there.

***

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!

Consent: A Relationship Minefield

By Giulia Boggio

Jump back into the past: I’m nineteen, I am with a guy and I really like him. Sex is decent, a solid B-, but I am still in the learning process of how my body works and I think something must be wrong if I don’t come very often, especially when penetration is involved. In general, I feel like I want it less than he does. Sometimes I fake it. Now he will expect me to come every time, and he won’t stop until I do. Guys are stubborn and take our pleasure  r e a l l y  personally. Oh no, it’s not because they want to make us happy, god forbid, it’s because of their ego.

The worst comes when I say I’m not really into it, or I don’t want to. He pushes for it and insist, until I give up and say OK. After years of talking to men, and dating them, I still struggle to understand how come they could possibly enjoy intercourse after having to beg &/or force you into it.

Apparently, it’s impossible for him to believe that I don’t want to have sex, he says that I am just playing and that “I will like it eventually”. I discover how some men can’t really take a no for an answer, no matter how much they say they care about you, there’s something that they can’t let you hurt, and that’s their ego. So big, so fragile.

This is how I learnt that consent, for most girls in their teens and twenties: it’s a blurry concept, and not entirely in our hands. The sense of entitlement from guys is so pressuring, that they seem to think consent is a universal agreement – desire is mandatory. Therefore, if I don’t want to have sex with you, I am wrong, you are gonna play the victim and blame me, until you’ll put me in the position of never expressing my feelings again and letting you do. And mostly, if I enjoy sex once, I have to always want to have sex. Consent, for most girls, is something you agree to once, and then it’s valid forever.

We know that if we say no, we have at least to justify why, bring solid evidence, have reasonable excuses. It’s a weird feeling, having to excuse yourself for something so natural as desire, it feels wrong. Our desire is scrutinised, we have to prove that what we’re saying is genuine, that it has nothing to do with how much we love/like them, that there’s nothing wrong. I found myself explaining basic concepts to so many men it’s exhausting. I realised there’s something broken in the concept of relationships we’re given: the concepts of possession, entitlement, the normalisation of abuse and emotional blackmailing, the sense of duty. Love is not a key for all the locks, but it’s often used as a pass to force partners into things they’re not completely into. I see a lot of women broken by this idea of relationship and it’s heartbreaking.

What can we do to help this? Firstly, it’s important to fight for sex-ed in schools, to have programs and to have working ones. We don’t have to stop at the basic How To Not Getting Pregnant or How To Slip A Banana Into A Condom. We need to teach boys and girls consent, respect, boundaries within and outside relationships. There has been a program in Nairobi teaching “consent classes” to kids: the program led, in just few years, to “an average 51% decrease of rape, and the percentage of boys who intervened in a situation of harassment increased from 26% to 74%.” The numbers speak, and underline another important point: speaking out. We need intervene when we see something bad happening, we have to use out voice and our actions to stop it when we can. And I’m not even thinking about a superhero-me in a cape spanking abusive boyfriends (even though…), but just telling douche bags that they’re being douche bags would be a good start. After the #metoo campaign it’s pretty clear that we all know someone who have been harassed, therefore we must know someone who, at different levels, harassed. It’s vital to state clearly that we don’t want to be their accomplices anymore.

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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.

 

Saying ‘No’ & Other Metaphors

Nota long ago I read a thoughtful article on the concept of ‘the unbearable lightness of being the ‘chill girl’. This concept bounces inside women’s heads constantly, rendering the surface of their social appearance under a heavy burden of the ‘ultimate chillness’.

By Clara Dona

Nota long ago I read a thoughtful article on the concept of ‘the unbearable lightness of being the ‘chill girl’. This concept bounces inside women’s heads constantly, rendering the surface of their social appearance under a heavy burden of the ‘ultimate chillness’. The chill girl is not emotionally bound to anyone, able to configure huge amounts of patience and, ultimately, living life without any mood change, which I, personally, find extremely abrasive (and complicated considering my hormones jump once a month). The article highlighted the importance of showing oneself as you feel, as discussing how you shouldn’t have to explain what your negative response to certain stimuli (or men) means. This idea, that concept, that monosyllabic word, is still what I consider to be a ‘leap of faith’, and the ultimate reason why this article is being written. Because whereas writing our faults might be easy, it is not easy to act accordingly. Being conscious of a mistake does not mean being proactive about it. My personal experience has taken me to consider and analyse why ‘no’ is such a difficult word to say, even in the face of a pestering presence, or the reason why the guilt overcomes my senses once I  have or haven’t said it.

I have lied, twisted my words, played with my discourse in order not to pronounce those two letters, compassionately, for the other person. I have faked, put on a mask, smiled and even kissed not to declare my rejection about someone or something. As if rejection didn’t exist. As if  I hadn’t suffered it before. And then, the guilt. The most overcoming guilt arising from the trick and the self-deception: ‘Have I done something wrong? How horrible of a person shall I be to trick someone into believe something that is not? Is not more frightening the possibility of rejecting someone than the lie? How valuable is the truth?’ and so on.

I have wondered, after these episodes, if I’ve been made into a wax figure of disposition. While being more or less of strong character, I still fall into the charade of being a pleasing presence, a character of compliance on certain issues. And most certainly, that has led me to feel like a one-sided sword, that could cut but does not choose to. And I say to myself ‘change to the other side’. And it is in vain. And it is not in vain to argue that, as society or culture or history wants us to be the ‘chill girl’, but these institutions also want us to be in gloves, soft to the touch, motherly and caring. So much that the pure possibility of rejecting something or someone feels like I am armed.

But the problem comes when a negative answer does not hurt anyone but ourselves. Because saying ‘no’, in some cases, also hurts ourselves: it falls like water on fire. This happens mostly when in the presence of the rejected. Maybe it was unexpected because it is not expected of women to be assertive (please add infinite quotation marks), but you will always be reminded of your wrong choice not to comply. And sometimes it makes us feel scared, and believe the rejected, and feel weak. Sheathe the sword.

And maybe the metaphor of the sword is more interesting to me than the wax, because it gives me the possibility to say ‘no’. I can cut with my words and I will, if I need to reject what doesn’t interest me. I need to arm myself with options, the two sides, the oppositions that sustain the equilibrium of all and my own. And please note that feminism is an arming of ourselves, in a non-violent manner, nevertheless never again passive.

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About the Author

Clara Doña is a Spanish recently graduate MA in Comparative Literature at UCL. Her interests move from gender issues to philosophy, by the 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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Mind the Gap: Children and Gender Stereotypes

BBC’s No More Boys or Girls: Can our Kids Go Gender Free? confirmed many of my suspicions. Today, gender differences for young children are still significant and our supposed accepting values regarding individual creative gender expression have regressed.  

By Giuliana Friselli

BBC’s No More Boys or Girls: Can our Kids Go Gender Free? confirmed many of my suspicions. Today, gender differences for young children are still significant and our supposed accepting values regarding individual creative gender expression have regressed.  In this observational experiment girls articulated a total lack of self-confidence and boys were unable to articulate emotion at all, displaying extreme over-confidence.  But when taught under a new atmosphere of gender neutrality, within weeks vast improvements were made.  They displayed more mixed play, with boys able to show more emotion and girls showing more confidence, performing better at spatial awareness tasks.

We’re in the middle of a progressively liberal ‘gender revolution’ where young adults are thinking outside the gender box, so why on Earth are we contradicting this by polarising gender for children when it should be the last thing on their minds?

Growing up in the late eighties I was never denied playtime with my favourite He-man toy or told to stop wearing boys’ clothes.  Outdoor adventure was always readily available, with little-to-no restriction under a watchful parental radar.  Even at primary school, my gender expression came with no barriers, allowing me to enjoy a natural freedom to explore my identity, equipping the tools of tolerance for my later years.  Like many androgynous girls of the nineties – and now a seemingly endangered species – we were commonly known as ‘tomboys’.   A sleep deprived parent on the wrong side of 30, my identity is an infinitesimally small part of my life now, but had children like me been around today we’d probably be destined for the gender identity clinic.   Similar sentiments have been echoed by actor Rupert Everett: “I really wanted to be a girl. Thank God the world of now wasn’t then, because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15 I never wanted to be a woman again.”      Consequently, it has jogged recent memories of seeing parents reduce the opportunities for gender creativity to occur, from boys being reprimanded for wearing Mum’s lipstick to energy-fuelled young girls coaxed into wearing highly impractical party dresses.  Yet, the happiest I’ve ever seen kids behave at a party was when they yanked their clothes off at the end of a sunny day and proceeded to run around the garden naked, in sheer delight.

It’s baffling that modern society is exhibiting a visible downward spiral of old fashioned gender stereotypes which live at the Darwinian North and South Pole of the gender spectrum, in which females are choosy, submissive and coy and males are strong, unemotional and systematic.  Bizarrely, in our walking-on-eggshells politically correct era, we avoid using such stereotypes among adults in the fear we will be deemed ‘sexist’, but are quite happy to unleash them on children who do not have the maturity or experience to distinguish satire from reality.

Children are not simply children like we could be – they are now either strictly boys or strictly girls with no movement for anything in between.  Despite being among those parents who endeavour to avoid excessive stereotyping we recognise the neon pinkness of our daughters is a stark contrast to the muddy boots we grew up in.  My daughter is yet to attend a birthday party without all the girls garbed in en vogue sparkly dresses, where everything is centred on looking like a ‘pretty princess’ – all the time.  Whether they’ve just been glued to watching Frozen and others alike, there’s a persistent breeze of superficial gender-specific commodification whirling around.  In much greater quantity.

It may be harmless fun to the parents, but this superficial world of gender socialisation is the foundation upon which children start to build their gender identity and it’s sleuthed its way into our lifestyles, reaching the acute senses of our children and encroaching the pure spaces of their natural world.  Greater traffic on roads means children spend less than half their time outside than they did just 10-15 years ago.  An increase in smaller families and older parents together with an internet culture of shock stories has made helicopter parenting more common.  Nurturing children in such attentive measure is being done under a binary spotlight and with more screens around there’s greater opportunity for a narrow notion of gender behaviour to shine before their very eyes on a perpetual basis.  Experts suggest this cultural shift of screen-watching is a huge paradox, building an enclosure which stifles natural creativity and thwarts healthy imaginative play that they would otherwise get from engaging with nature.  The need for an expert to tell us this is worrying on its own.

Mainstream entertainment and video games project unrealistic androcentric narratives spawning degrees of misogyny.  Young women are frequently sexualised with airbrushed femininity because of instant, often uncensored, internet content and we are yet to know how the explosion of this social-media-obsessed ‘selfie’ culture will impact our children, but it’s not looking promising.  Phrases like ‘man up’, ‘you kick like a girl’ and ‘grow a pair’ to describe boys who aren’t ‘macho’ enough, still litter our language and girls as young as seven –  yes, seven – are now having spa-pampering parties for birthdays.  It’s an insipid, sickly hyperbole of masculinity and femininity, for the worse.  The latter of which has been exacerbated by the vacuous decade-long Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Although helpful for busy parents-especially when you need your toddler on silent for half hour to catch up on endless chores-even Peppa Pig resorts to old fashioned gender stereotypes of the ‘nuclear’ family with Pepper always in pink and George, unsurprisingly, in blue.  I’m not inferring that a family of cartoon pigs is unsuitable, but reasonably, a ubiquitous reiteration of gender difference in a child’s environment will mould their brains to override a harmless nature of gender creativity.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, the full flow of consumer capitalism and sexing scans since the ’90s has caused a hackneyed trajectory of the boys-are-blue-and-girls-are-pink rhetoric to be much more pronounced today, especially within marketing and advertising.  The colour concept was brought in to brand the genders to maximise profits for baby wear companies which is why so many kids’ companies still heavily categorise the sexes, especially in toys and clothing.  Even Clarks made archaic steps on gender by thinking it was appropriate to bring out a range of shoes called ‘Dolly Babe’ and ‘Leader’ this summer.  What next, for heaven’s sake?  For our daughters to slip back into the tight corset of a repressed coquettish Austenian character to impress their Mr Darcy?  (Well, it won’t work for John Lewis.)

It’s painfully clear that society is entrenched in a technological age where our consumer market is projecting everything but a healthy view on gender in children and is perhaps the cause for well-meaning parents inadvertently reinforcing these stereotypes, whilst naively underestimating its consequences.  It’s easy to forget we grew up with far less technology and with a better balance of outside and indoor time in our crucial early years.  With a primeval past of dial up and delayed gratification the outdoors was sometimes a revered distraction for many.

Unlike Jaden Smith and Shilou Pitt, unless children are born into the privileged and artistic realm of the super-rich elites where gender expression is unbounded then they’re set for this gendered world -a rigid binary construction which doesn’t reflect the rich tapestry and intricacy of our gender spectrum.  At all.  And in conjunction with gender identity cases soaring to unprecedented numbers where three-year olds are being admitted, it raises suspicion that this should happen in a supposedly gender-equal country.  If science shows that most boys and girls are biologically the same until puberty, then is it our environment which is partly the cause for this emergence?

Children are the most impressionable members of society and if we continue to widen the gap between boys and girls then those who creatively or innately digress from society’s expectation of their assigned gender may feel lost between two extreme worlds, possibly falling on a breeding ground of confusion and doubt.

It’s time to lessen the disparity between how boys and girls are treated.  This doesn’t mean responding with another extreme by making boys wear pink dresses or arming girls with toy guns.  Simply soften the emphasis of gender altogether by creating opportunities to encourage the freedom of individual creative expression.  It will allow for better adaptability and encourage natural talent whilst preparing children for a potentially difficult job market in the future.  Interacting more with the natural world will productively keep the inhibitive forces of stereotypes at bay whilst extending the mental wellbeing of our children in a positive and natural way.  We need to be aware of gender as a social construct and resist the temptation to pressurise children into being the extreme version of their assigned gender whilst being consciously aware of the external cues that dangerously reinforce it.

Let’s fill the gap for all children to walk freely.

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About the Author

Giuliana is studying for an MA in Politics at the University of Essex.  Her areas of interest include current affairs, gender, sexuality, the environment and political philosophy.

Read more of Giuliana’s work here: http://through-our-senses.org/

 

Another Brick in the Wall: Schools are Still Letting Girls Down

Graduating from University recently has got me thinking about my school experience. How did I make it to University? How did my education, leading up to my degree, better me as a person? How did it help me to understand the gendered world?

By Freya Turner

Graduating from University recently has got me thinking about my school experience. How did I make it to University? How did my education, leading up to my degree, better me as a person? How did it help me to understand the gendered world?

Well, quite frankly, it prepared me to live in a country where gender is rigid and sexism is not only practiced but celebrated too. There are so many things that I could say about my five year secondary (state) school experience. I could talk about the lack of class time scheduled for arts subjects, or the absence of healthy food in the cafeteria, or the neglect of a student’s autonomy and independence (as demonstrated through the archaic rules, such as having to ask a teacher to remove your blazer). But in light of recent, scary statistics that a quarter of young girls have depression by the time they reach the age of 14, I think it’s necessary for me to discuss the experience that girls at my school had.

In the UK, we begin secondary school aged eleven and are prompt thrown into a new school uniform. Cumbersome, and sweat-festering, our school’s uniform consisted of black trousers or a skirt, a white blouse, a horribly synthetic blazer complete with shoulder pads to bulk you up and appear more ‘fit for work’ – i.e. masculine, which was completed with a tie. Nothing like preparing the young for the long years of professional, misogynistic work ahead, am I right… am I right? Or perhaps it would be more suitable to ask how many of us will actually end up donning this sort of pompous attire in our careers? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that from the first day at school, girls from my school, in fact, all schoolgirls have long struggled to identify themselves within an education that boxes them in a blazer and tie-d institution. Their education literally doesn’t fit them.

Girls don’t have to be at school long before other problems arise. The insults ‘slag’ and ‘slut’ begin to fly around on a daily basis, boys are continually lifting up girls’ skirts, twanging their bra straps, making unwanted advances on them, and girls will simultaneously feel the need to make their skirts shorter and shorter to appear attractive. Teachers will, consciously or not, tolerate boys’ bad behaviour because it’s just ‘boys being boys’, listen to boys more often, and involve them more than girls in classroom discussions. We can deny all this as much as we’d like, but in my five years at secondary school, I noticed this being very real and the effects of this were very noticeable.

If girls are going to undertake years of education, whether this is up to the age of eighteen or twenty-one, then they must be listened to and encouraged on an equal basis as their male equivalents. If they’re not, their confidence in their abilities are obviously going to be lower, and therefore, the likeliness of them pushing themselves and taking academic risks is going to be much lower. It would be an injustice to deny that this is linked to males generally outperforming females at University. After years of being encouraged to think outside of the box and think boldly, it’s no wonder that when faced with independent assignments at university, boys are psychologically better equipped at executing them than girls.

There’s the added fuel to the fire of sexism flouted at my school with teachers telling us that it was forbidden to wear coloured underwear beneath our white blouses. There was the girl who received the prom queen award because final year students voted for her on the basis of being sixteen and pregnant. You constantly had an ear out for both subtle and all out brash comments from boys about the way girls looked. There was the culture of girls not eating during the school day, or being on a diet because they wanted to lose weight. For me, there was the issue of wanting to wear a skirt, but wearing trousers instead, because I was worried that I’d wear my skirt too long (and not appear attractive), or too short and (and get criticised for the same reasons).

I went with trousers instead because I couldn’t be bothered with being scrutinised by other students, whilst getting into trouble with the teachers for looking too sexualised, on top of the already frustrating experience of being a girl at school. I knew that I couldn’t win. And this sentence really sums up the experience you have as a teenage girl.

We also experienced the painfully significant lack of professional sex education, which in my experience, was based on a shrewd, Victorian discourse of negative reinforcement, where it was all about ‘do not’s’. We had the school shows which often shared sexist, inappropriate themes and costumes. Even the teachers themselves were targets of differing treatment based on their gender. I noticed that female teachers were generally more likely to be interrupted, teased, and taken less seriously than the male teachers. It’s just the way it worked, and this happened whether people were behaving consciously or not. We are so wired to a gender hierarchy that we’re not even conscious of it a lot of the time.

We can disregard these issues as insignificant, trivial realities of British education, but to do so would be to exacerbate the problem of gender rigidity and disparity in the UK. Our younger years are so, so crucial to our development. They have a lasting impact, and to undo the discourses we have been taught in our younger years would be a challenging, if not nearly impossible feat. If schools are taking responsibility for addressing (whilst often fixating) on the ways in which students are behaving outside of the national curriculum, regarding matters such as attendance, punctuality, and ‘professional’ appearance constructed through a uniform, then why isn’t gender finally being treated as a subject worth taking some responsibility over? Why on earth are we teaching young people about criminal punishment, ancient scriptures, and STIs without even touching upon sexism- in classrooms, assembly halls or tutorial time?

Our education system needs to grow up, otherwise the same patterns of oppression and limitation will get played out again and again. But how likely will this be in a culture of academy schools with ever narrowing curriculum options, funding cuts, and 1% pay caps debilitating our teachers? Pretty unlikely. The urgency with which we need to change our education system is therefore pretty much a state of emergency.

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About the Author

Freya is a recent English literature graduate from UEA, where she specialised in reading minority cultures, political writing, urbanisation, alongside being generally cynical about modern life. She has been curious about gender representations since a young teenager, and over the past year has experimented with writing to set out her thoughts on feminism and gender through monologue, poetry, short story, and a creative-critical style. She has recently enjoyed working in the arts, through a radio station and a national archive, publicising literary organisations and material. She is an advocate of Europe and urges students in higher education to study abroad.

Is Feminism ‘En Vogue’?

The link between fashion and Feminism is one that has appeared throughout history – from the liberation of women in the 1920’s, represented by flapper dresses and short hairstyles, to the mini-skirt revolution of the 1960’s, coinciding with second wave Feminism.

By Shannon Carey

The link between fashion and Feminism is one that has appeared throughout history – from the liberation of women in the 1920’s, represented by flapper dresses and short hairstyles, to the mini-skirt revolution of the 1960’s, coinciding with second wave Feminism. While fashion has often reflected the development of Feminist politics, 2017 has seen fashion embrace female power in an entirely new way. Earlier this year at arguably one of the most prestigious events in the fashion industry, New York Fashion Week, the catwalks displayed models sporting not their typical elegant dresses and avant-garde creations, but simple t-shirts bearing Feminist slogans from the likes of Dior. High-street stores have begun to replicate this trend, with companies such as Topshop showcasing T-shirts adorned with the female gender symbol, as well as the aforementioned slogans such as “Females of the Future” and “Babes Unite”. To some, these may just be T-shirts, however, this new trend highlights a change in the relationship between Feminism and fashion. Fashion is no longer just a reflection of Feminist movements, but instead Feminism has morphed into fashion.

‘Feminism’ historically has been treated as a dirty word by the majority of people (particularly those who are not politically engaged) and internet spaces in particular often seem to reflect an antiquated perception of Feminism. Anyone who has ever deigned to even mention the ‘f’-word on social media will be able to describe to you the backlash they’ve received from so-called ‘Menists’, online trolls and other commentators. ‘Feminist’ has become synonymous with terms such as ‘Feminazi’ and ‘man-hater’, showing that for many, the Feminist ideal isn’t a welcome one. With such a backlash, it’s hardly surprising that some women shun the label ‘Feminist’. Only a few years ago, there was a trend of female celebrities distancing themselves from Feminist ideology, with big names such as Kaley Cuoco, Shailene Woodley and Lana Del Rey all publicly refusing to call themselves Feminists. While their reasons for this were varied, and while they all still advocated the need for equality, the refusal to associate themselves with Feminism spoke volumes: for these women, Feminism was a negative label, and something to play down quickly. For a long time, this was the common trend, with the ‘Feminism’ label being associated with hard-line activists, rather than the ordinary girl on the street wanting to be equal with her male acquaintances. That is, until the fashion houses stepped in and reclaimed Feminism for their own.

This new trend of Feminist fashion is welcome for many reasons. Rather than being hidden away, the confidence with which female consumers go out and purchase ‘Feminist’ clothing items suggests identifying a Feminist is no longer a source of shame. Now that women are consumers with spending power in their own right, they can chose to invest in products which speak to them. Therefore, as fashion reflects the world around us, brands create products to cater to the world their female customers live in. Judging by the popularity of ‘Feminist fashion’, this can be a method of empowerment for women and girls alike.

Of course, as with most things, there is a controversial side to the Feminist trend. Whether it’s Tamagotchis, Pokemon Go or butterfly clips from the 1990s, we all know that trends rarely last. While it’s great to see Feminism featured in fashion now, will we see a dip in the number of Feminists out there once the trend is no longer relevant? And what about those of us who have been fighting the Feminist cause long before Topshop decided to stock T-shirts with slogans on them? The reality is that Feminism isn’t and can never be just a trend. Decades of struggle and strife cannot be represented in fabric. An item of clothing cannot tell you that the gender pay gap in the UK still stands at 18%, or that one in 5 women in the US will experience rape during their lifetime. While it might be fashionable for a young girl to wear a T-shirt boasting a Feminist statement, it’s much more important that she knows the reasons why we still have to fight for female equality.

Additionally, there is a lingering hypocrisy surrounding the image of the ‘female empowerment’ as a fashion trend, in contrast to the conditions and pay of the (outsourced) female workers who produce our high-street fast fashion. There has been vocal criticism of Beyonce’s fashion label Ivy Park for this very reason, and soon after this of fashion giant H&M (this backlash in particular was catalysed after the release of a diverse advertisement, which although perceived as a move in the right direction, highlighted the need for more work in other areas to improve the ethics of the brand). Some have raised the issue of ‘Empowertising’ – that female consumers are merely manipulated by fashion advertising into exchanging their cash for a superficial sense of empowerment[1].

This illustrates how Feminism itself is a complex issue, and Feminist fashion trends trigger the discussion of different issues such as capitalism, fair pay, working conditions for women and whether girls are really engaging with Feminist thought. Of course, it does not matter if Feminism is fashionable or not, a trend should never take focus from the roots of the fight for gender equality. However, if a few garments can convince a new generation that Feminists is something we should all be, and if it can help shift the perspective of Feminists from feminazis to trendsetters, then it is clearly positive. Regardless of how many T-shirts Dior or Topshop sell or how long the trend lasts, the fact that fashion is embracing Feminism represents its growing acceptance into society – and that is something to celebrate.

[1] For more on this, the podcast ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ discussed this in depth. [http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/empowertising.htm]

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About the Author

Shannon is an English Language graduate, with a passion for writing. She has been interested in gender studies since her school days, and believes equality should be achieved for everyone, everywhere. In her spare time, she enjoys exercise, blogging and drinking a cocktail or two.

The Handmaiden: Exploring Gender Roles, Relationships and Changing Attitudes

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film.

By Jack Ford

Guest Edited by Dafydd Jenkins.

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film. On a base level, it’s an expertly crafted multi-layered story that becomes far more interesting and intriguing as it goes on. Furthermore, it deals with complex, difficult and even repellent issues in a thoughtful and highly sensible manner; presenting them in a way that’s easy for audiences to engage with. Thematically, The Handmaiden is largely concerned with the roles of women and their fight to control their own destinies in a male-dominated world.

Based on Fingersmith, (Sarah Waters, 2002) The Handmaiden’s main deviation from the source material is the change in setting: from Victorian England to wartime Japan. Despite this, remaining true to the book’s intentions caused Waters to respond positively about the treatment of her work. “Though ironically the film is a story told by a man,” she says, “it’s still very faithful to the idea that the women are appropriating a very male tradition to find their own way of exploring their desires.”

One of the great joys of the film is to watch its plot unfurl, so the less detail given about it here, the better for the uninformed. At its core, it’s the story of a relationship between reclusive Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), the Korean thief hired as her new handmaiden.

Lying somewhere in the subtext of The Handmaiden is a harrowing and haunting historical event – the ‘Comfort Women’ of the Second World War, where many young women and girls were kidnapped, held hostage and repeatedly raped by the invading Japanese army during their wartime occupation of Asia. This event continues to cause tension in particular between Japan and South Korea to this day. While there is not a single mention of these Comfort Women anywhere in The Handmaiden, the film can’t help but echo this horrific piece of history.

It might be, subconsciously, investigating whether the values and attitudes at the time could have caused the event to happen. Without doubt, the characterisation of the film’s male contingents make it easier for the audience to understand the mind-set of someone who would have committed and allowed such an act.

As well as Hideko and Sook-hee, there is a con man who calls himself Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), who hires Sook-hee as part of a plot to make off with Hideko’s fortune, and the heiress’s Uncle Kouzki (Cho Jin-woong). Neither are respectful to the women of the film – approaching them with an air of superiority – and they both allude to their views on how sex is for men to enjoy and women to endure, along with a belief that women enjoy the act more when it is ‘forced.’ An alarming mind-set, yet one that will no doubt sound familiar to many of the audience.

These flippant sexual attitudes branch into much darker territory. For as long as Hideko has known, her uncle Kouzuki has threatened female family members to read graphically sexual stories from his vast library of erotica to a crowd of high-paying aristocrats. When Hideko comes of age, she is no exception. In some cases, she is even made to perform the acts she describes with a mannequin.

Both Sook-hee and Hideko eventually go on to destroy Kouzuki’s book collection, in a lengthy and gleeful montage. The sheer screen time dedicated to this sequence serves two purposes: the destruction of the wide array of antique books which emphasises how long women have been depicted as sexual objects, whilst also acting as a symbol for the two, liberating themselves from sexual subservience. When Kouzuki finds his collection destroyed, he barely seems moved – he claims they can be repaired, and those that can’t can be re-created. This is the film making the point that chauvinistic attitudes continue to exist, and at the same time asking how long will it be before they change.

As the film moves on, the female leads’ defiance of their male oppressors’ will extends to the passion they start to feel for one another. Yes, they both go nude and, yes, there are sex scenes, but these moments are not in the film for sensational reasons. They are there to show the growth of the intimacy between the characters, and the awakening of emotions that have long been dormant within them.

For Hideko in particular, her only experiences of this supposedly wonderful thing have left her feeling jaded and unsatisfied, even sad. It’s only after falling in love with Sook-hee that she starts to feel any sort of excitement. She realises that the act of sex itself is meaningless, it’s the emotions that go with it and whether you feel a deep connection with your sexual partner that makes it valuable.

The central themes sexual liberation and the gender hierarchy are some of the key elements that make The Handmaiden such an absorbing experience; these ideas linger with you long after the film has ended. The Handmaiden is generous, not only with its inventive storytelling and lavish production, but how much thinking space it gives to the audience. It allows everyone who sees it to take away as much or as little from it as they want to or feel they can, and for that it is a highly commendable achievement.

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About the Author

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

Wide Sargasso Sea: A prequel, for our times

I was first introduced to Wide Sargasso Sea in my second year at University. I didn’t spend much time reading it before I became aware that something different was happening within this book, and something was demanding my attention.

By Freya Turner, guest edited by Dafydd Jenkins

I was first introduced to Wide Sargasso Sea in my second year at University. I didn’t spend much time reading it before I became aware that something different was happening within this book, and something was demanding my attention. What also struck me was that if there was any time in the year to read this book, it would be summer. What is summer but a period of stretched-out days set in a shimmering daze from the heat, where we feel increased pressure to do more, where work and study breaks often feel intimidating and difficult to navigate? For me, these qualities of summer align with the ideas in this cult feminist prequel that re-thinks Jane Eyre.

The novel is set in 1830s Jamaica, and narrates the back-story of Jane Eyre that was never told; the story of Antoinette Cosway (Jane Eyre’s Bertha), Mr Rochester’s first wife. It threads together the oppressive and scarring structures of imperialism, in regards to masculinity, femininity, race, mental illness, and storytelling itself, through the eyes of Antoinette and Rochester. Written by Jean Rhys in 1966, the novel is a noted work of post-colonial fiction, and experimental in its writing style and creation of character. The novel has a breadth and depth that very few much longer novels are able to master, through writing which does not blame people, but structures in society, with a style that is at once lucid yet dream-like. Rhys makes the political a dream-space, where the narratives of lives are lost, interrelated, snowballed, and positioned in relation to ‘truth’ – whatever that may mean. Even feminism itself inhabits a new space where its purpose and discourse is called into question. For a short novel, it’s a mighty one, consistently cut through with the oppressive heat of the sun.

Antoinette is the daughter of ex-slave owners in Jamaica, and is a victim of the intolerance of both the freed black slaves and the white, imperialist aristocracy laying in tatters. She is undoubtedly liminal, much like Jane Eyre, but not in any positive sense. Early on in the novel she becomes an orphan, due to her father’s alcoholism, her mother’s mental illness, and her aunt moving to England for a year. An unnamed English man, who has connections with Antoinette’s mother’s recent and distant husband, Mr Mason, comes to Jamaica to marry Antoinette because he is bribed to by Mr Mason’s son. He is the victim of patrilineal inheritance as – being the younger son – his older brother inherits his father’s estate, meaning that he must quickly find his own financial security.

When the couple move into Antoinette’s inherited estate, the heat quickly feels more oppressive as things grow intolerable for the unnamed man (Rochester), Antoinette, and their servants. The couple are the victims of an imperialist system that prescribes roles and strips autonomy. Rochester and Antoinette’s misconnection goes far beyond communication difficulties, and their cultural victimisation is played out through anger towards one another, to the extent where the head servant, Christophine, rather ironically tries to be the mediator of this imperialist marriage. The system appears to be eating itself. It is in this part of the novel that Rhys’ writing is acutely sensitive and explosive, where it feels like each minute of their dizzying experiences hit you with a sense of loss so severe that you struggle to label what it is you are feeling or mourning.

All the novel’s perspectives create a static, with different stories harshly rubbing against each other, created not only through the first-person narrative from both Antoinette and Rochester, but through the disjointed and impassioned stories from the servants Christophine and Baptiste, and distant family members. We struggle to put our trust in anyone, and here’s where feminism is put on trial. I began asking myself whether different truths are inherent in the feminist discourse, and why this is necessary. I asked myself whether Christophine is the most plausible character, simply because she is the most threatening to the imperialist white male discourse. I also asked myself how much free choice men have in modern society, when their choice is constrained by archaic masculinity. These are interrelated thoughts that very few other novels open up so well.

It’s through the novel’s dream-like narrative that this becomes so effective, particularly in regards to Antoinette’s perspective. It is said that our dreams are a way for our brain to process the masses of tangled information that we are faced with every day, and Rhys proves that this is so. She even takes this further by touching on the uncanny of Freud, through Antoinette’s increasingly doll-like state. Rhys is continually exploring new structures, in form, character development, writing style, and even emotion, which further stresses her argument that it is the structures of imperialism and gender roles, rather than the individuals of patriarchy, that are the most important and powerful things to focus on and take action upon.

Why is the novel so relevant for our times? Jane’s ‘gilded cage’ is shown for what it really is; namely, a focus on one woman’s story, instead of other sides of the story, such as those of non-Westerners, non-whites, and poorer women. It draws comparison to the glass ceiling today, which, by focusing on it, demands us to ask whether it allows the exploitation of the majority of female labour and, if so, whether this mirrors the imperialism in the novel? We can go even further and mention other products of capitalism such as the #likeagirl campaign, and artists who use a movement to make a quick profit (I hate to say it, but Beyoncé’s Lemonade). You’ve got to give it to Jean Rhys for warning us about capitalism stunting the growth of feminism.

The other thing that rings so true to our moment now is the extent to which truth is fought over. Truth is fragmented, certain events are ignored, and jumping to conclusions and not listening are tools that are ironically used for self-protection from a societal structure that is reductive and exploitative. Our society is infiltrated with ‘fake news’, leaders and peoples who refuse to listen, believing what they want to believe, because their neo-liberal ideology tells them that’s what they’re entitled to. In this novel, you get a vision of what effect this has on gender and race, and it’s powerful.

Lastly, and most importantly, we are wrapped up in the devastating emotional effects of the imperialistic, gendered world which makes everyone suffer. Antoinette becomes increasingly hollowed out, lifeless, her mental health deteriorates, and Rochester is plagued with lifelessness, lack of empathy and passion, and dangerous anger. Both genders become bereft of the emotional range that they deserve, and this resonates strongly with the way that we are bringing up children today. Young girls very often have shockingly little self-confidence or ambition, and boys struggle to express any emotion other than anger – for just a few examples, read Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism or watch BBC’s recent documentary, No More Boys and Girls. Funnily enough, those children eventually grow up to not fulfil their potentials.

And despite all of this, the richness of Rhys’ language somehow points us towards a glimmer of hope. As if, through all of this, there is a contemporary discourse that is shouting out, encouraging us to do more and express ourselves in better ways which could eliminate the shackles of imperialism and gender roles for good.

If you’re worried about the state of the world right now, read this 124-page beauty; it’ll tell you a lot.

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About the Author

Freya is a recent English literature graduate from UEA, where she specialised in reading minority cultures, political writing, urbanisation, alongside being generally cynical about modern life. She has been curious about gender representations since a young teenager, and over the past year has experimented with writing to set out her thoughts on feminism and gender through monologue, poetry, short story, and a creative-critical style. She has recently enjoyed working in the arts, through a radio station and a national archive, publicising literary organisations and material. She is an advocate of Europe and urges students in higher education to study abroad.