Thursday, 22 May 2014

Mothers Lost in Time: Women Shunned from Marriage Certificates in England and Wales

I was outraged to discover recently that only your father is included on your marriage certificate.  In 2014!!  Listening to the Woman's Hour podcast (not exactly Feminist but has some interesting stuff on it) they had a family historian and record specialist Audrey Collins explaining the law, and Caroline Criado-Perez explaining why it needs to change.  

Since 1836 when marriage certificates were developed women were the property of men; when you got married you went from being the property of your father to being the property of your husband.  This piece of paper represents the exchange of a woman from man to man as if she is an object.  Is that a symbol you want in your life anywhere?  If you feel like you are equal to your other half in every other way, why is it that in the symbol of your union it is fine to still have this archaic symbol?  What if you were brought up only by your mother(s)?  What if your father is dead, absent, or you don't have any kind of decent relationship with him?  

The statement from the Home Office is that it is too expensive to replace the bits of paper in the churches and registry offices; when I spoke to my other half about this he told me that if you work in the council and you have any kind of relationship (including a drunken snog) with one of your colleagues, you now have to fill in a form reporting this.  Now I wonder how much it cost to print out all of those ridiculous forms??


 

If you don't think that women should be wiped from history via marriage certificates, if you think that women are equal to men, or if you think that you will be pretty pissed off to be excluded from your child's marriage certificate in the future then go and sign the petition.  It's free and it takes 2 minutes at the most.

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/mothers-names-should-be-on-marriage-certificates

I know that I for one will not be getting married until this is changed; most people don't realise until the day of their own wedding, when it is too late, so I am glad to have found out in time.  Those of you who are friends and family reading this - you may be getting a little holiday in Scotland!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Film Friday: Feminist Foughts

Yesterday I watched 3 films whilst lounging on my sofa wearing my ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirt with one shiny swollen hand in some cold water and sweating like it was actually desert hot.  Pregnancy is aalllll glamour.  Anyway, maternity leave is some valuable time in which to watch films because, as far as I understand from others in the know, I won’t be able to do this again, ever.  I enjoyed all 3 in different ways and I thought I would share my feminist/gender issue type thoughts with you.




I had wanted to see this for a while, ever since I heard Mark Kermode of 5 live review it when it came out.  Kermode is my favourite film reviewer (as well as one of my favourite people, I even have his books) and the weekly podcast released on a Friday is something I very much look forward to absorbing.  Not that he loved the film mind you; but I liked the sound of it from what he did say.  It is about a woman called Frances who is trying to make it as a professional dancer in NYC and is set in the present day.  It was all shot in black and white which would usually put a philistine such as me off watching, but I didn’t even notice there was no colour; the plot and characters were so engaging it made no difference.  

From a feminist point of view this film gets a big thumbs up because the lead actor Greta Girwig wrote and assistant-produced, as well as starring the in the film.  Also, the film is all about her character (not a male lead) and she carries that lead role brilliantly; I found her struggles to be cringe-inducing, endearing, realistic and relatable as a woman of the same age trying to figure out myself and the world.  It also has a brilliant ending that is positive, but in no way reliant on her finding a man; this is a film more about female friendship than romantic relationships.  Definitely passes the Bechdel test (a film that has two women having a conversation that is not about a man) and has my seal of approval.




The other end of the spectrum when it comes to films with female lead roles; or so it would seem.  I’m sure far more of you have seen or are aware of this film as it is a lot older and very popular.  It is still about a female figuring out herself and the world, but in a very different world and at a different stage, because she is still in high school.  There are some obvious feminist issues with this film due to how shallow the characters are and that one of the main plot points is the need to make-over a fellow student in order for her to ‘fit in’ at school.  The good bit does come later though when Cher (Alicia Silverstone) realises that she has ‘created a monster’ by changing this girl’s appearance and attitude and by the end of the film Tai (the made-over girl) goes back to her original taste in fashion and men, and all is good, proving that being yourself is much better than changing in order to fit in.  

Therein lies the other issue with Clueless; it is all about the pursuit of a man and the big happy moment at the end is Cher realising who she really is in love with.  But again there is a flip-side to this tired old plot point; previous to this Cher is not really interested in getting a boyfriend and is happy to be a virgin and wants to wait for the right person to do the horizontal dance with.  This is a pretty positive message to be portraying for teenage girls who might feel pressurised into having sex before they are ready.  Also, the man she realises she likes is not in any way who she thought she would fall for and she likes him for who he is, rather than his appearance or money.  For a girl from Beverley Hills in this exaggerated version of real life, that is an achievement.  Obviously there is a lot of emphasis on how the girls in the film look and they are all of one body type and conventionally attractive; but we forgive the film for being so much fun and a reminder of how hormonal and dramatic I’m sure a lot of us were as teenage girls.


This is an entirely different film as females barely make an appearance; Liam Neeson plays a wolf-hunter who gets stranded with a group of men in a snowy wasteland, fighting for survival against a pack of wolves.  The only time we see women are in flashbacks and in the shape of a flight-attendant (a well-worn trope used in many films time and again).  In the flashbacks the women are idealised characters used as motivation to survive, which is quite nice, but they are not real or rounded characters with actual personalities, they’re just symbols.  Would it have been appropriate to include women in the gang of men stranded in the woods?  The flight-attendant could have survived and proved to be way tougher and braver than any of the men, but would that have felt too shoe-horned in?  Maybe.  Anyway, that didn’t happen and this definitely comes no-where near passing the Bechdel test, but I enjoyed the wolf-punching action none-the-less (Bechdel is not a test of good films after all).  There are a couple of things that the film had to say about masculinity though.  

Firstly, there is a point when the characters are talking about whether they are scared or not and one character, who is a particularly stereotypical tough-guy, says he is not scared and Liam quite rightly calls him out on that bullshit.  Good start; fear is a natural physical response to a vicious pack of wolves chasing you in the wilderness and anyone who says they are not scared is lying to maintain some sort of gender-based societal demand.  The next point on the pressures of being a man is made near the end of the film is when the same tough-guy character has softened from the trauma.  In a touching moment he finally introduces himself to the other characters using his first name.   Now we are all familiar with the mainly male tradition of bonding via humour and using surnames or nick-names rather than first names; this moment highlights that rather than creating a bond this tradition mainly serves to distance men from each other.  It is only when this man realises he might not be long for this world that he shows affection and gratitude to the men he has shared the difficult journey with and he does this by telling them his first name.  This creates a bond and some affection between them as they shake hands and share the names their families would use.  A nice moment and proof that male camaraderie can be alienating bollocks.

Have you seen these films?  What were your thoughts on the points I have made? 

Did you enjoy this feminist take on films?  Is it something you’d want to see regularly?  This was supposed to be brief as it was about 3 films in one post but more in-depth analysis of single movies would be the aim in future.

The main reason I wrote this is because feminist criticism on films is something I would like to see but if no-one else is interested then I’ll keep it to myself! 
Twitter: @MyFeministLife              

Sunday, 11 May 2014

That Name Business: Part 2

Equal in every way...


So you know when I wrote all about taking your man’s name and it seemed like I had that sorted...not so much. 

Since then I have been contemplating the whole thing some more and come up with a final plan.  Buster (our unborn child – don’t worry, nickname only!) will have both of our names in a double-barrelled fashion, and, for now at least, me and my partner will keep our own names.  I like the idea of us all having that double-barralled family name but won’t be faffing around changing mine until he agrees to change his too.  I am not being difficult or having a tantrum, or even trying to make a point ‘for the sake of it’; I just want us to be totally equal, and the name of our child to reflect that.  I came to that conclusion because of how strongly I feel about equality in society at large; I just couldn’t choose a surname for our little boy that didn’t reflect my values and beliefs about equality.  It just didn’t sit right with me.  And my partner is fine with that.

In some ways it was my his determination not to change his own name that inspired me.  He just doesn’t feel right about changing his name, so he won’t.  Too often I feel that women are pressurised, mostly subconsciously, subtly and unintentionally, into things purely because that is how everyone else does it and they don’t want to stand out or be seen as 'difficult'.  Historically, attractive qualities in women are not those of assertiveness or being opinionated; and unfortunately this still affects how we behave today.  We are too often persuaded to bend to other people’s convictions instead of having, and sticking to, our own.  This is not to say that if you change(d) your name I think any less of you because I do believe firmly in freedom of choice.  Although, in saying that I also can’t deny that I wish that a wider variety of choices were made regarding this issue...

Anywho, thought I’d update you as this seems to be my most popular post to date.  At least a handful of people were vaguely interested/bored enough to click and possibly read!

As always I welcome your thoughts on this topic and the ideas I have expressed.

Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com 


Friday, 9 May 2014

Blurred Lines: Is Misogyny Real?



Finally, a documentary that directly discusses issues of sexism and misogyny being aired on mainstream television.   Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes was on BBC 2 last night (Thursday 8th April at 21:30; I watched it at half 5 this morning (my body is getting me ready for those sleepless nights with baby!), thanks to a friend who alerted me to its existence.  The good thing about this documentary, compared to others I have written about lately, is that it seemed to follow a much more logical line to the actual relevant issues than anything else I have seen thus far (a part from a series on BBC1 a few years ago that I never remember the name of so cannot find – at least part of it was about how women function in the home and that they still do all the childcare and housework as well as having stressful full time jobs, something like ‘Can Women Really Have it All?’; if anyone knows of it, let me know!). 

Obviously, in the one hour slot provided by BBC 2, the presenter Kirsty Wark did not cover everything relevant to the topic, but she got in a lot of the relevant  issues and recent events that highlight these issues.  This means that even though they have been well publicised events such as Steubenville and the controversy surrounding the song the name of the documentary is named after, most people would only be aware of these things as separate isolated elements, rather than all part of the same insidious societal problem

And that’s the main thing I wanted to say about this documentary.  I have known, followed on twitter, and been aware of the work of some of the activists interviewed in the programme for over a year now and when I went to see how they felt about the programme on twitter, I was not surprised.  The girls interviewed in the programme were pleased with their involvement, as they should be, they are doing amazing work and this publicity is much needed.  However, there did also seem to be a sense of dissatisfaction with the programme from other people in the community, as I suspected there would be. 

I believe their issues come from the fact that what the programme was pointing out to its viewers was obvious; as Kirsty Wark said in the programme there is a wealth of feminist activism to be found on the internet.  But they are only obvious to us.  By us I mean those that are aware of, have researched and been involved in the feminist movement already in recent times.  To us who live and breath these issues, they were pointing out nothing new.  To most other people in the general public this was a very good introduction to those issues.  Compared to Jameela Jamil’s offering about the dangers of porn for young people on BBC 3 a couple of weeks ago, this was new information for a lot of the public.

We, as active feminists, need to accept, as I wrote in my last blog, that many people are ignorant to these issues, or at least don’t see them as a major problem in their own lives; until it is pointed out to them in a certain way.  I’m sure that seems very patronising; it isn’t meant to be.  There are many awful issues with the world that don’t catch my interest and therefore I am completely ignorant about them; race relations, drug trafficking, the environment being destroyed.  The difference with sexism and misogyny is that it definitely affects us all.  Women are half the population of the world so these problems are relevant everywhere and for everyone.   As *** says at the end of the documentary “If we think about sexism and misogyny as air pollution; we're all breathing it in...regardless of much we're contributing to that air pollution, we all have a responsibility to fix it”.  Even if it is not something that naturally catches your interest, as it does for me, and even if it's not something that you would spend lots of time campaigning, reading and writing about, you are still involved in it, every day.  We need to change the way that we behave, speak, and bring up our children in order to improve life for everyone, not just women.


Did you watch this programme?  Are you intending to?  What did you think of it?  Did you learn anything you didn’t already know?


Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Porn: What’s the Harm?


 First aired – 10th April 2014

Ooo - another documentary for me to dissect, but this time it is on the BBC and it is about children and the affect that pornography has on their minds at a crucial time in their development.  I’m afraid being a bit lax with the blog the programme is no longer available to watch on BBC iplayer, but it looks like you can find it in full on youtube. 

Jameela's serious face.

 It has been widely reported that children now have much easier access to pornography with the rise of the internet in our homes and of mobile phones as an essential accessory.  This programme brings nothing new to light.  Usually it is Channel  4 who approach the subject of sex quite openly from many different angles: The Sex Researchers; Porn on the Brain; Date my Porn Star.  None of these, including this recent BBC offering, have ever really covered the main issue for me, and that issue is how this extensive consumption of explicit material in our society, in general, affects the fight for equality and how it contributes to rape culture.





















Jameela's mildly shocked face.


The BBC 3 documentary was a thing for good due to the fact that it reached a slightly different audience because of the channel it has been aired on, and the person that has been chosen to present it (Jameela Jamil – female and a person of colour that young people can relate to).  This, amongst the channel 4 documentaries mentioned, is the only one to have the female perspective covered, so there’s one plus, but apart from shock and mild disgust she does not really have any hard-hitting opinions on the matter.  The programme did not really explore anything particularly new or ground-breaking and the issues for women and young girls were barely addressed.  They interviewed young men and women and involved a few different organisations, including Rape Crisis, but did not delve into the hard facts of the extreme affect that pornography has on how women and men co-exist in modern society.

Now let’s get one thing straight; there is nothing inherently wrong with watching images of sexual intercourse.  Sexuality should not be dictated, controlled or impeded and if you enjoy watching pornographic images that is fine and dandy.  The problem comes when we consider the nature of the pornography being consumed and the age at which our young people are now exposed to these images.  The BBC documentary had many statistics (all of which conformed to the idea that males enjoy porn and females do not) without dissecting them and looking at the factors which may affect the responses given in the survey undertaken.  In The Sex Researchers (from Channel 4 June 2011) an experiment was recreated that proved that women are aroused by a wider variety of images than men are.  This means that in no way could women be described as being less sexual than men and in fact could be described as being more highly sexed than men.   



Jameela interviews the kids.

So, why is it that when young people are anonymously answering a survey about pornography more boys than girls will say that they enjoy watching sexually explicit images?  This is something that has to be down to cultural factors, not physical factors.  Young men are free to explore their sexuality from a young age and, even now after various feminist movements and other leaps in equality, women are judged and harassed for showing that they enjoy sex with anyone but a long-term partner, and sometimes even this can be frowned upon.  Certainly during the teenage years girls are publically disgraced for participating in sexual acts and even expressing enjoyment for any form of sexual activity.  I find in my role as a teacher to teenagers I often have to inform boys and girls that sex(and masturbation) is natural and acceptable for everyone so long as consent and enjoyment is involved.  I find that words like ‘slut’ and ‘hoar’ are almost exclusively used for girls and only jokingly used for boys.  Still, in 2014.  That is why girls would not admit to watching or enjoying porn; they have always been told that is not acceptable openly enjoy sex if you were born with a vagina.












Jameela caring about an ex-porn actress.

Another thing that is not in any way explored by Porn: What’s the harm? is the fact that the worst way in which porn affects females is not just that they feel pressure to look and act a certain way, but that males are being encouraged to see women as sexual objects, which in turn makes them far more likely to commit sexual harassment and rape.  It is scary the amount of women that I speak to that are reluctant to associate themselves with the word feminism (my definition of which involves believing men and women should be equal as we clearly still are not); if they realised how serious inequality is in society, and what this inequality leads to on a daily basis, then I think, nay hope, that they would be more outraged, and possibly more comfortable with the idea of being a feminist.  If you think that the plethora of images of naked women all around us, and the fact that women are still more valued for their appearance than anything else, does not contribute to rape, then you are deluded.  I understand that not everyone sees the whole world in the way that I do, but I have noticed a disturbing lack of anger about how women are treated in society.  Pornography is just one of the elements in our culture that contributes to men seeing women as sexual objects alone(as well as women expecting to be treated like one) and therefore men finding it much easier to treat women as if they are not human beings with feelings, but things to use for their own sexual gratification.  This is how rapists think.

Back to the documentary.  There are many elements that are lacking in all of these programmes when it comes to the fight for equality and the improvement of women’s lives, but there is a message right at the end of the programme that is correct and very important.  Jameela Jamil said that we should “...protect children by discussing it and educating them about what they are seeing”.  Communication is the key with all of these things when it comes to our own children; your child needs to feel that they can come and ask you about anything they come across; you will not be able to control everything that they consume, but you can help them to understand it. 

In Channel 4’s Porn on the Brain a local authority representative trying to improve sex education said “we all have a body, we all form relationships throughout our lives, we’re all sexual beings, from birth, and therefore we all need to be talking about these things.  So that when it comes to the stage when children may be accessing porn, it comes up as every day conversation” which I firmly believe; when bringing up my children I want them to always feel that they have all the information they need and they can discuss anything they want to with me and my partner.  I don’t want to have ‘The Talk’ I just want open and frank discussion with my family whenever it feels relevant.  

What do you think of pornography?  Do you watch it?  What about Feminist porn?
Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com