Hello folks!

I am delighted to announce that it is my pleasure to be the resident cinefeminist at the Yes Resource: http://www.theyesresource.com

This means there may be a fair bit of overlap between this wee blog of mine and my articles for that site but my pieces for TYR will have a focus on representations of consent, both on the silver screen, the idiot box and various iDevices.

Here’s to doing it better.

For, both a woman and a slave have their particular virtues even though the former of these is inferior to man and the latter completely ignoble… [sic] Character must be appropriate. For it is possible for a person to be manly in terms of character, but it is not appropriate for a woman to exhibit either this quality or the intellectual cleverness that is associated with men.

Aristotle, Poetics

It is the performance of a feminine masquerade that promises but never unveils itself to its unseen producers, its audience, the men screened by the veils to the point where they are no longer the masters of presence and absence, no longer the markers of difference, the choreographers of the masquerade but rather, those whose expectations are constantly defied by the force of the spectacle to which they are now being subjected. S[cheherazade]‘s genius was not only to make them want her by precisely never giving them what they wanted, but to do this in a way that made them only want more of the same.

Linda Singer, Erotic Welfare*

 

A while ago I was conversing with one of my best friends, fellow feminist and all-round marvellous human being Josie Martin (http://takeitonthechin.tumblr.com/). She has a multitude of her own merits but one of the reasons I love her so is that not only do I feel safe to say anything that comes to mind out loud, but she also actually listens and contributes without judgement. With the kind of confidence that arises only through feeling that security, I said-aloud-as-I-thought, “Do you feel like a woman all the time? Do you walk around thinking, ‘I am a woman’, and approach things as a woman, or even as female, or, like me, do you actually consider yourself, ‘I am me’ and approach things as a person, as a human? If the latter, do you become aware of your ‘womanness’ or ‘femininity’ when other people treat you in the way they think ‘women’ or ‘females’ should be treated?”

Pretty lucid for me considering the depth of the hangover I had given myself. A discourse lasting an entire city break to Zagreb followed. Josie felt much the same way. ‘I’ appeared to be gender neutral to both of us. Our inner voices are our own, odd individual sprigs separate from the different labels – including class and race – that we inevitably fall under but are not conscious of every second of every day. Thinking on it more, I began to theorise that we both somehow became women if other people – men and women – behaved towards us in a women-specific manner. There are certain ways that one should behave towards someone perceived to be a woman, a set of questions to ask or expectations that are reasonably held, and that that person should respond accordingly, i.e. as a woman. If that person does not respond accordingly, why is it that that is somehow their fault, with no room for manoeuvre or cause for correction on the part of the person who holds the expectations? Simone de Beauvoir is right in that one is not born a woman, one becomes one – but who is doing the becoming? The beholder?
This, to me, is the paradox of any liberation movement. Every person on the planet considers themselves, first and foremost, as a human being. However, some people consider some features of other people to a degree that causes them to behave towards them purely in virtue – and not always virtuously, I might add – of those features, rather than as a fellow human being. To me, this seems to lead to a very dangerous practice, aiming to cure oppression with a hair of the dog mentality. If an oppressed person simply assimilates the features from an oppressing person, they are thereby cured. In culture, for feminism, I have noticed this being manifested in the strong female character trope (hereto referred as SFC) being professed, not simply as progress, but a solution for representation of female characters.

Bandied about by plenty of writers – typically male from what I have seen but if anyone has any other sources of female writers doing the same, please get in touch – these days, which drew my attention to the trope, the phrase of SFC is in itself troublesome. I initially balked, seeing strong as a binary opposite to female but then can I really argue with strong being the binary opposite of female character? Given current representation? To me, the real difficulty with SFC is in strong. Far too often this is seen as stereotypically male strengths, based in physical strength, ability to fight and a grip on one’s emotions as to almost appear, well, emotionless. I will excuse you from bearing with my lazy Freudian girls-with-a-gun-to-substitue-penis rant. Below is a very important example considering the stratospheric rise in Joss Whedon’s profile, brought to my attention on the recommendation of Lashings of Ginger Beer (http://lashingsofgb.blogspot.uk):

The famous exchange between Whedon and a reporter – Why do you write these strong female characters? Because you’re still asking me that question – is bandied around the internet on a frequent basis. (Although this exchange was of his own imagining.) He’s praised for his interesting and multiform characters. Why, in these very pages, I’ve given him a share of credit myself. He’s earned the moniker of feminist seemingly through just the creation of strong female characters alone. But, as friend and scholar Jake says, “Having a girl beat up guys is not equivalent to a strong female character when they ALWAYS, CONSTANTLY depend on men.”

http://www.themarysue.com/reconsidering-the-feminism-of-joss-whedon/

 

And do we see men who constantly depend on women? Outside of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Do we see, are exposed to, hear about strong male character tropes where men assimilate stereotypically feminine strengths – such as emotional awareness, beauty, child rearing…? No. Simply, because men aren’t oppressed – not in the same sense that women are – or if these films do manage to slip through the cracks, that is the only way they will get out because they are not the norm, the concrete in which the cracks can form. If a male character were to exhibit these stereotypically female qualities, he would most likely be seen as weak. Men can’t cry and be strong – unless they have an excuse, like a friend dying in their arms. And then even that is often derogatorily termed homosexual.

Sometimes typically male and female character qualities are swapped to great effect. In Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995) Angela Basset’s Lornette is tough, head to toe in black leather, sensible, always available to rescue Ralph Fiennes’s Lenny, who gets himself into trouble whilst wearing an array of silk shirts in soft pastel colours. This doesn’t mean that neither of them are impervious to their attraction – that thing about opposites, I guess.

Any the characteristics I’ve mentioned are strengths in their own right, regardless of attachment to gender. Male characters are at a risk of becoming very dull very quickly if these valuable character possibilities are not unearthed and mined for all their worth. Besides, if SFC are simply female characters exhibiting stereotypically male strengths, then all characters regardless of gender will end up being exactly the same. Just from a business point of view, give us something different or you risk boring your audience to tears – or to some other form of entertainment, or distraction. If female characters can’t exhibit feminine traits and be seen as strong, if male characters can’t exhibit feminine traits and be seen as strong, there is a way to go before the actual solution. Not right here right now as Lornette says to Lenny…But stranger things have happened.

*Do yourself a favour, read this book.

Nora, I adore ya. Perhaps I prefer the lady herself to her cinematic output but I’m quibbling. She did a lot, she did good, and she said everything better than I could.

But I get the feeling she wants me and all of us to keep talking and keep listening. Without her around now, we have to keep trying.

Actually, come to think of it… Why didn’t I write about how great Nora Ephron is – was – when she was alive? Because I didn’t have time, then she ran out of time. Why don’t I write about people whose work and approach I admire when they’re still around to feel the love?

In no particular order.

Nicole Holofcener.
Sally Potter.
Jennifer Westfeldt.
Amy Heckerling.
Andrea Arnold.
Lynne Ramsay.
Kathy Bates.
Jill Solloway.
Nancy Oliver.
Lisa Cholodenko.
Jane Campion.
Sofia Coppola.
Julie Delpy.
Mia Hansen-Love.
Agnes Varda.
Lena Dunham.
Greta Gerwig.

Nadine Labiki.
Jessica Hausner.
Miranda July.
Beeban Kidron.

And I had to look some of them up. And that is just the very start. Please let it just be the start.

The actor Caroline John, who played possibly the best companion to Doctor Who ever, has died.

I am really sad.

Thank you for bringing us Liz Shaw.

An amusingly worded quote from the Doctor Who wiki site regarding Dr Shaw’s decision to leave:

‘She reportedly told the Brigadier that all the Doctor needed was “someone to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he was.” This feeling probably contributed to her decision to return to her own research.’

And as for the new companion… Young? Yep. Er… Don’t know that much about her but judging by her jumper, she’s quirky.

Here’s hoping there’s a fair bit more character development than solely relying on knitwear.

‘Who’s your niche audience? A director recently called me from Sweden who was doing a failing crowding campaign, so I asked her who her niche audience was. She didn’t know. She said women. “Women” is not a target audience; it’s half the population.’

Jennifer Fox, director of “My Reincarnation,” who raised $150,000 on Kickstarter.

Nicely put, Ms Fox. I just wish more people would remember this in discussions about “women’s cinema”… Plenty to think on.

I also really wish we wouldn’t think of the population as half men half women – is it really that distinctly binary, in terms of percentage and the elusive nature of gender itself – but maybe I am asking for too much too soon*.

Ruddy love festivals. Films can be reviewed well after their premieres and do have a certain contemporary cadence but an event, there and it’s gone, you had to be there… That is in danger of disappearing in our culture, heck, I am going to say it – our society. A chance to be with other people, face to face, gauging the temperature and texture of the industry, digging dialogue and being part of IT.

Long live Sheffield Doc/Fest – the truth is in there. Race you to find it.

*I am totally not, all this sexism malarkey has been going on for far too long, now. Come on peeps. Honestly.

La Barbe braving the rain

Well, what a saucisson fest the competition for the Cannes Palme d’Or is turning out to be. Again. A group of feminists under the name La Barbe expressed their extreme displeasure in an open letter. How I wish they had not. Their rhetoric is deeply unhelpful, served with a sneer that immediately puts me against them. The assumptions are overwhelming. My main gripe is that they are harking back to a venomous feminism, one that is misplacing anger at men rather than non-feminists. Accusing the male board of the Cannes Film Festival of only being interested in women as far as the depth of their cleavage and of using certain women as their figureheads in publicity, most recently Marilyn Monroe. Male chauvinism at its worst. Why assume that just because a woman is directing a film, this is somehow a worthier entry than that made by a man? I would much rather watch a powerhouse performance from Vicky McClure in a Shane Meadows piece than Meryl Streep rack up awards in a questionable Phyllida Lloyd yarn. To repeat, having a female director does not make your film feminist. Being a woman does not make you a feminist. This is the saddest fact and one that I would rather overlook as well but La Barbe are not doing anyone any favours by pointing to an obvious problem and providing an old, unworkable solution. The greatest fact, our only hope, is this – anyone can be a feminist, regardless of their gender.

I do not want to deny the hideous situation that is the current film industry, where female directors may be overlooked purely on the basis of their sex and gender. Strangely, film seems to be one of the few industries where men, directors especially, are actually commended and celebrated for exhibiting typically feminine traits – emotional awareness, creativity, empathy. However, they may have to have a blistering, perhaps bossy, ego – typically male traits – to draw things together, be taken seriously and be successful. If a woman shows this then well, she must be too big for her boots.

But I hesitate to apply this to the Cannes Film Festival as a whole. The jury is nearly half women – getting there, what a joy for it to be a majority or just women one day – and many of the films featured in the festival and in the competition portray complex, inspiring female characters and feminist story lines. Wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways received a standing ovation. A film about a transgender protagonist welcomed and lauded. Are the components of the film world – the press, the punters, the perceivers – really as anti-feminist as La Barbe want to point out?

Please permit me to hazard at a shadowier problem, one particularly specific to the film industry, that runs parallel to contemporary sexism, that La Barbe are totalement coupableof – auterism. Audiences will generally first and foremost relate to the characters and context on screen. The success of a film – initially intrigue, leading to emotional engagement and then eventually critical and financial success – often hinges on this connection. This connection can be made irresistible given that it is steered by a particular director. For some reason it remains that directors are the most visible workers from behind the camera. For example, despite producers and other crew members being just as worthy winners of BAFTAs, the BBC cuts down all BAFTA Acceptance speeches to make the event ‘TV friendly’. For this read fast because of course no one these days has the attention span for a film, let alone a whole acceptance speech… Various other categories, such as Best Short Film also have their coverage severely cut. Why? Because people just do not want to know, apparently. There are only a few awards that the public is interested in, only a few awards that will garner further revenue for the winning films. But who has asked the public? Why should those interested be left to seek out the ‘lesser awards’? When is a BAFTA not a BAFTA? Acynical cycle is created, where surrounding media assume that the public will only care about certain figures so only give exposure to them, aiming for a certain result rather than to expand awareness.

From the small spot of the film industry I work in, it is clear to see that everyone works as hard as each other. Much of the beauty of film to me is that it is a collaboration between a variety of people with a multitude of skills to create a single piece. It is a miracle that any film gets made with that many different personalities and motivations pushing and pulling. That any skill or trait is somehow more inherently valuable is a fallacy. The best performances go to waste if the gaffer is off and no one will appreciate the intention behind your mise-en-scene if that mise-en-scene is collapsing. If film were to be structured in a more collective sense, particularly financially and especially in terms of public awareness, perhaps there would be a shift in consciousness as to the worth of each artist – because each person working on that film is creating a piece of art, not simply the director. This inward focus on directors as ventured by La Barbe is harming not only the chances of future female directors but also the women working in all areas of film right now.

As someone once said in one of Ms Monroe’s finest pictures, nobody’s perfect – but that does not mean that we cannot try our best for liberty, equality and humanhood. And how to do that? Delve deeper into your desire for film. If we are fans, why not be fanatical? Seek out not only the directors and actors you admire but producers, cinematographers, writers, collectives, costume designers, sound designers, stunt co-ordinators, script editors, all editors… The list goes on. There is a whole world out there, filled with outstanding people. Yep, women and men – and everyone else.

Aux armes, cinephiles.

 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jan/10/sherlock-nude-dominatrix

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/03/sherlock-sexist-steven-moffat?intcmp=239

http://incoherent.net/2012/01/shocked-by-sherlock-the-problems-with-diversity-on-tv/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jan/11/sherlock-bbc-nude-scenes

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/jan/20/steven-moffat-sherlock-doctor-who

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2012/jan/22/louise-brealey-molly-sherlock-interview

Nearly a month’s worth of articles about one show and one issue in that show in particular. I have been wanting to write something since the first episode but I held back as the views kept coming thick and fast. I am all too aware of how instantaneous our culture has become. Reaction-based if not always reactionary, we are more able than ever to spew off our initial thoughts into the ether for others to comment and share – if we are lucky enough to be followed by the right people on Twitter, that is. A breakneck response is not necessarily hysterical. I find it rather intriguing to be able to map out our thoughts on what is presented to us, from the first twangs of neural activity to the more reasoned arguments and opinions that form later. But the odd storm in a TV-cup that has been swirling about Sherlock has had my assumptions and premises flinging about so hard and fast that my mind has become a pinball machine.

Confession time. I have not read any of the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which left several of the in(tellectual) jokes lost on me. Never have I felt more of a failure than for not giggling at alterations to titles. I hang my literary cap on the hook in shame. Luckily I watch it with enough people who have been sufficiently Doyled up to let me enjoy the joke, even if it is a minute or so later and we have to pause and rewind because explaining to me meant missing a particularly good arch eyebrow courtesy of Benedict Cumberbatch. This is why I feel slightly out of my depth to comment on the character of Irene Adler and her seemingly being ‘sexed-up’ in her televisual incarnation as opposed to her equivalent in the books. What a shame, she is using her boobs rather than her brain.

But what exactly is it about a woman’s sexuality that terrifies the people who complained? Maybe they are prudish enough to be disgusted by the naked human form but there was undoubtedly a sexual element to Irene’s nudity. Was it that she was not just displaying herself but throwing down a sort of gauntlet to Sherlock that is so threatening and possibly disgusting? Like a peacock strutting its tale feathers, Irene was using her physicality in a – I hesitate to say aggressive but certainly powerful manner. Though I did utter a groan at Lara Pulver’s claim to finding that strutting around kitless was ‘empowering’, why shouldn’t she, in herself? I don’t know her background and personal relationship with her body.

But, Lara – there is a distinctive difference between being looked at and being listened to in terms of the power you sway. Plus, you aren’t exactly, from what I could see, miles away from the conventional body beautiful. Do you think that the severely overweight or underweight people on diet shows feel as empowered as you do showing us their bodies?

But, me – why can we not appreciate each other for our physical appearance? Not JUST our physical appearance, mind, but why not? It was reading this quote from this article (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-24031300-misogyny-in-the-media-is-worth-shouting-about.do) that I felt myself completely sink into the complicated mire of this whole sorry mess of a media we have:

‘This objectification of women fuels stereotypes – reducing them to nothing more than their body parts. The Sun’s “News in Briefs” offers a double helping of misogyny: after ogling her, we are invited to laugh at her – she couldn’t possibly know any Seneca because she’s a bimbo with her baps out.’

There it is, ladies. You can’t be beautiful and brainy. You have to choose. Being seen to be one limits your chances of being appreciated in the other. Take Molly, played by the superb Louise Brealey. She is beautiful but also incredibly bright and a bit socially awkward, which renders her unnoticed, mousy – when she does dress up to try and impress Sherlock he brutally cuts her down. But she stands up to him. I had an enlightening conversation with my best friend where she rightly said that Molly is not only intellectually brilliant, she is emotionally intelligent. Her self-respect is quietly seeping through the narrative and enriching her character. Just because she is not the centre of attention does not mean she does not deserve attention. The interview with Louise Brealey made me laugh. I really want to go for a pint with her.

But it’s not all promising. There is an awful lot more I can blather on about Sherlock  - in particular the tired trope of close male friends continually being mistaken for as being gay, as if this is hilarious and not insulting to both homosexual couples and heterosexual male friends – but it is this precipice of how Irene and Molly are presented in the show and dissected in society that make me feel exasperated. I am not sure if this is progress but discussion is good. Unless you are discussing with Nadine “Kids Learn Best About Sex By Not Having It Or Talking About It” Dorries.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jan/25/bbc-sexism-allegations-ed-vaizey

I just hope they appreciate that very little in this life is ever elementary.

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