Review: Jamila Rizvi’s Not Just Lucky

9780143783534Jamila Rizvi’s recently released book Not Just Lucky is basically a very long riff on the old saying, “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man”. This is a very useful adage, which works as a reminder of the ways that women are socially conditioned. I find myself repeating this saying to women in my life frequently, and it’s useful to have a  book that spends time unpacking ways that women are brought up with negative self-beliefs.

Rizvi is intent to present “solutions” not just “problems”, and so the book also provides a lot of extended advice on how to speak, dress, think, and act in ways that might get you ahead as a working woman (even though the book claims it’s not a self-help book, but a “career book”). It’s funny and well-written. I also appreciated the very organised bullet-point lists of recommendations – I daresay Rizvi and I are a similar collection of letters on the esoteric Myer-Briggs test.

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Obligatory selfie of me reading Not Just Lucky

But while I found myself nodding along to many of the passages exploring the sexism that women experience in the workplace and beyond, Rizvi’s solutions fall short. What is offered is at best a band-aid to the problems described, and at worst, a cruel promise that working hard and undertaking individual self-betterment can lead to certain success.

To be fair, Rizvi acknowledges from the outset that her book doesn’t have the solutions for fixing structural problems like childcare and the wage gap, but simply offers ways women can change their thinking that has resulted from structural enculturation.

I’m on board with women undergoing some gender-CBT, heck my job is literally to talk about gender and double standards and how things we think are innate are in fact social.

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I am more than ready for the “lady boss” obsession to end. Please end.

But presenting the antidote to women’s ills as endeavoring to be “brilliant” and offering a blueprint for how to succeed as a “lady boss”, is not what we need right now. In this day and age, when humans are staring extinction in the face, capitalism is in a late and hideous form, and there are right-wing forces mobilising around the world, these kind of liberal feminist solutions feel a little like over-prescribing antibiotics. Sure, it might help you feel in control of getting better, but it will make all of us more unwell in the long run.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but the biggest blind spot is: you guessed it, class. While Rizvi acknowledges her own privileged upbringing as a limit to her ability to empathise, what is needed here is not an alternative individual view but rather a different analysis of how to fix a broken system. Of course proposing a workable solution requires identifying the underlying problem. If you ignore class, then you’re destined to merely tinker around with the symptoms.

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Rizvi’s book is similar to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In

The thing is, all our problems don’t just boil down to how we are socialised. Rizvi claims that “the challenge for each of us is to rise above our own conditioning”. But thinking about the pitch of my voice at work, or asking for a salary increase, isn’t really going to make a huge difference – except of course, for me as an individual. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question gender norms, but it does mean that we might have to go beyond ways of individually speaking, dressing, thinking, and acting, if we want to make substantive change.

I was a little surprised that Rizvi stayed so closely to discussing things individuals can do, given that she claims in the beginning of her book the work is “unashamedly feminist”, and also notes at the end that “it is only together that we can change the world”. These words remain, for the most part, vague gestures. I can well imagine my grandma reading this book and saying to me “we were talking about these issues in the 70s”. That’s the point isn’t it: gender inequality is a persistent problem. If you want to acknowledge the changes in our lives for the better that have occurred, you have to talk about the struggles and the tactics that have gone before.

ednext_20124_guthrie_openerWhat’s interesting here is that Rizvi and I are the same age, and we went to the same university, at the same time (and did student politics together – I was in the Labor students club that she was the leader of). Unlike Rizvi though, I came from a very poor single-parent family. Yet, we both were able to get stellar educations. Despite my low SES background, there were quite a few structural supports in place such as public housing and welfare support, as well as decent free primary and secondary schooling, that meant I could get a leg up. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that some of these structural supports were targeted by the very Gillard government Rizvi fondly remembers working for.

Rizvi does suggest that there are policies that need to change in order to best address gender inequality. Rizvi also makes one note about unions, and a worker’s strike in Brisbane in 1912. These pages provide a short breath of fresh air in the discussion about how to make change. But strangely Rizvi moves seamlessly from discussing the importance of joining your union, to how to treat the symptoms of an unfair system which includes how to be a great boss.

I think is somewhat of an indicator of what’s wrong with contemporary Labor politics. It’s not really about representing the working class, because the interests of bosses are seen as equally important. Rather than seeing how being in the position of boss under capitalism necessitates exploiting those below you, not attending to class at all means you can’t acknowledge nor resolve that power dynamic. Here’s the rub: CEOs and working class people do not share the same interests, even if they share the same gender identity.

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Rizvi brings up Elsa quite a bit so this feels relevant

This book is explicitly inspired by the Sheryl Sandberg Lean In idea: the cruelly optimistic notion that you too can succeed, if you employ the correct tactics. But in a world that is becoming more and more unequal in terms of the distribution of wealth, where a handful of corporations own pretty much everything, and where capital and profit is valued over human and environmental well-being, success cannot be measured by how well you individually survive the fire.

Rizvi proposes that it’s not really luck but hard work that gets you ahead as a woman. We would do well to question whether the ceiling is really a class one that needs to be broken, in order to make lasting change for the lives of women at large.

Film Review: First Girl I Loved

When you are a teenager, having a crush can be truly agonising and all-consuming. It’s equal parts thrill and terror when your feelings are reciprocated, as you innocently try to work out how to turn those feelings into a relationship. But, if you happen to be a heterosexual couple while you’re navigating all this, there are endless guides on how you should act and your partnership is symbolically celebrated every day in songs, TV shows and movies. That’s why a First Girl I Loved is unusual, and so very welcome. Unlike 99.9% of films produced on the topic of love, it is unashamedly gay, even as it works through how shame feels if you are gay.

Written and directed by Kerem Sanga, First Girl I Loved is a smart, affirming film about teenage love. Dylan Gelula  plays Anne, who has fallen for senior cool-girl/softball star Sasha, played by Brianna Hildebrand. We follow Anne and Sasha as they try and figure out what the unspoken spark between them might mean, and what it could possibly lead to. Anne’s best friend Clifton, played by Mateo Arias, complicates the story with his own feelings for Anne spilling out in dangerous ways.

FirstGirlILoved_Promotional_Still_AN_CL_stairsWhile the closure of the film was a little clunky (and I wondered if they actually had a few different endings in mind), overall First Girl I Loved is utterly engrossing. The opening scenes are framed tightly and closely around the protagonists, and we remain at eye level, almost as if we are right there with them – behind the softball fence, lingering at the doorway to the bedroom, walking down the street sipping $4 wine. We’re next to them all the way, not as a voyeur, but as a friend along for the ride.

26-first-girl-i-loved.w1200.h630Gelula’s performance is very commendable. She strikes a delicate balance between unbearable apathetic teen, and captivating hero that we want to succeed. Through Anne we see just how brilliant and strong teens can be, even if they’re totally clueless. Teens are often denigrated by society writ-large for being naive, but First Girl I Loved shows the pain and beauty of fumbling through, the intelligence involved in not knowing but pushing on nonetheless. The awkward innocence of Anne and Sasha’s interactions is wonderfully executed, and there was something so familiar about their veiled giggling banter that I felt like I was watching my young self up on screen.

1As I sat watching the film unfold, I found myself desperately wanting things to work out for the characters. I wanted it to end happily not only because I was so engrossed in the story, but because happy endings for gay characters are so few and far between. It’s been great to see more films coming out that address romance between women, like Lovesong in 2016 or Carol in 2015, but many remain stories about tortured, impossible love, or a love that’s always on the horizon that we never get to see fully flourish. That’s why Imagine Me & You from 2005 is still one of the greatest lesbian romance films – not only does it relish in the genre of romcom rather than locating gayness in the seriousness of arthouse, but it moves through unspoken desire to love shouted from the rooftops.

First.Girl_.I.Loved-szn1While I can imagine some queer theorists arguing that the lack of traditionally happy endings for gay films is welcome, because who wants to live up to that heteronormative expectation anyway, it’s also pretty shit to constantly have popular culture either ignore your relationship or portray it is an inevitably difficult affair. While there is something to be said for representing the reality of homophobia and the difficulty of queer life, it is a pain that everyone else gets the option of fantasy (because let’s be real it’s not like heterosexual life really ends happily for everyone) except for gays who must remain proper realists.

The-First-Girl-I-LovedFirst Girl I Loved is no romcom, and it is serious. But it does manage to deal with difficult issues and give us a sense of both catharsis and hope, even as it leaves many things unresolved. It doesn’t make the empty promise that so many teens are barraged with that “it gets better”, but it does suggest that queer kin can be found and that inner strength is possible while traversing difficult and unknown terrain. First Girl I Loved gifts its audience a small beam of light for navigating this path, and for that it should be celebrated.

Review – Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto

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Jessa Crispin

Spoiler alert: Jessa Crispin is a feminist. So, if you’re one of those people who insist on holding signs up on the Internet to the effect of “I’m not a feminist because I like doing the dishes…” etc, you’re not going to get any love here. As the title suggests, Why I Am Not A Feminist is in fact A Feminist Manifesto. But it’s not the feminist manifesto we need, and I’m not even sure it’s the one we deserve.

Aside from the many contradictions of the book (as hinted at in the title), Crispin’s work doesn’t really go into her arguments in any depth—she expects us to take her ideas largely at face value (e.g. everyone unfairly dismisses radical feminists!). Probably the most teeth-grinding part is that she also consistently—though perhaps inadvertently—suggests that “we” (her readers) are all white, middle class, straight women.

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Sceptical reading selfie

We have to read this work as a letter to the “mainstream” pink-pussy-hat wearing women that basically says, “god if even you are going to call yourself a feminist, then I don’t want to”.

The amazing thing is that Why I Am Not a Feminist pulls the oldest trick in the book to make a case for feminism: it claims that feminism has been lost. Similarly to Angela McRobbie’s (2008) Aftermath of Feminism, Crispin isn’t interested in looking at where feminism is currently articulating itself in new and dynamic ways that address some of the qualms she raises. Rather, she points to the failures of the present and the positives of the past, but in an a-historic way that doesn’t acknowledge why we are where we are.

In case you don’t have $19.99 to spare, here’s a really brief run down of her manifesto:

1. Feminism has become a lowest-common denominator identity

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Helpful: Crispin uses the term “universal feminism” to describe how feminism has been watered down to the point of becoming politically meaningless. Crispin points out that under this arrangement you could easily hypothetically wear your Dior “We should all be feminists” t-shirt and be a CEO who cuts the wages of all of her staff. I certainly agree that feminism should give up its class-collaborative obsession, and should stop seeing “feminist” as synonymous with “woman”, because it’s not actually helping to improve the lot of women’s lives.

Less helpful: Crispin insists that historically change for women has come about due to fringe groups of radical women (she cites Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer as examples) whose ideas are too “uncomfortable” for feminists today. In particular Crispin’s target of scorn are those women “still taking pole dancing classes” and similar. Here Crispin misses: a) that we need to stop making everyday women the problem through our arguments, and instead focus on everyday sexism; b) that the critiques of radical feminism that have been made should be taken seriously, because even though Greer and co make some passionate points, they also intensely dismiss transgender existence and TBH that’s not a feminism I want to sign up to. If you’re going to make the claim that we need to return to radical feminism, at least give us some reasons why, and explain how we can do this in a way that doesn’t help to justify violence against some groups of already marginalised women and gender diverse people.

2. Change doesn’t come from above 

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Helpful: Crispin points out that we should stop thinking we can change the system that keeps women oppressed, from working within, and that we should look to ways to smash the system. For too long women have attempted to make change by getting involved in the corridors of power, only to find themselves pretty comfy once on the inside. So, instead of changing the entire shebang and what is good for “the whole”, there has been a focus on the individual and what is good for “me”.

Less helpful: According to Crispin, feminists have simply lost their way along the path, and have become narcissistic and inward-looking. It couldn’t possibly be, say, the material conditions under neoliberal ideology and late capitalism that have encouraged certain modes of thinking. Women have simply bought into their own oppression. Without an analysis of “why”, Crispin’s argument falls flat, because “the system” she is describing as the problem remains an amorphous monster that we can’t fight because we don’t actually know what it looks like or why it’s there.

3. We need to be smart with how we use our activist energy

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Helpful: Crispin points out that sometimes when we find ourselves focusing on small instances of oppression, we can miss the bigger system of oppression that is at play. In particular, fighting people (she calls them “Twitter bros”) online can be exhausting and doesn’t achieve a whole lot. She also suggests that instead of assuming that oppression happens along a horizontal axis (where I oppress you sometimes, and other times you oppress me), we should see power as more hierarchically distributed (so, where I have for example a sexist idea, that is only because that idea has come from above).

Less helpful: Crispin adds further fuel to the fire of those who would dismiss feminists as merely being unhappy and causing unnecessary fuss. Crispin calls out “call out” culture for its misdirected outrage, but throws the baby out with the bathwater by lumping a lot of things into the “petty concerns” category. For example she briefly cites one case of calling-out a “second wave feminist who was unfamiliar with the relatively new phrase ‘intersectional'” as problematic. Since Kimberele Crenshaw came up with the idea in 1989 I’m not really buying the “relatively new” argument. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be skeptical of how intersectionality is sometimes deployed to further individualise rather than find common bonds, BUT Crispin’s dismissiveness here wreaks of disengagement with feminism outside of her immediate milieu. Where Crispin argues against “outrage culture”, she overlooks the amazing work of feminists such as Sara Ahmed who have been talking about the value of “feminist killjoy” for years.

4. Feminists don’t need to focus on men 

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Helpful: In parts of her book, Crispin suggests that structural oppression affects both men and women, and argues that we all need to work together to dismantle “the system”.

Less helpful: Despite her overall goal of radical social transformation, Crispin is strangely dismissive of men. In one part of the book she addresses male readers directly: “You as a man are not my problem. It is not my job to make feminism easy or understandable to you”. While I totally get the frustration that Crispin expresses here, it undermines her point that we should work for change on the basis of core political values (i.e. needing revolution) rather than identity (i.e. identifying as a woman).

5. We can’t change the world with our haircuts

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Helpful: Crispin argues that lifestyle politics—seeing the way we style our hair, the things we eat, etc, as having political effect—isn’t going to challenge the wider system that oppresses us. This is a vital argument to be had in a world where, for example, gardening is more popular than ever but there is little action on climate change. I say this even though I am vegetarian and insist on having long hair as a queer woman, so, you know.

Less helpful: Crispin isn’t generous to feminism, or women in general for that matter.

tumblr_ngg27iYud21u54vw6o1_250Ultimately Crispin’s book is a let down because after the whole Hilary Clinton thing, it feels like we do need another articulation of feminism, one that more explicitly engages with questions around capitalism and neoliberalism. Why I Am Not A Feminist unfortunately doesn’t go there.

Crispin makes some good points but it could have been that much better if she spent less time berating contemporary women and instead looked at how we can build on what we already have. In arguing for a narrow return to (some vague form of) radical feminism, she not only misses engaging with activism happening right now but she also overlooks over a century of interventions in mainstream feminist debates, which have come from women of colour, lesbian and bisexual women, working class women, trans women, and disabled women, not to mention *cough* Marxist revolutionary women.

Overall Crispin provides some useful food for thought, not the least of which is that when we’re articulating our manifestos we really need to look beyond ourselves.

Review: Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl

pic1Last night I was lucky enough to see Clementine Ford launch her book Fight Like a Girl at Melbourne’s Athenaeum theatre. I was keen to hear Ford talk, to come down from my ivory tower in the academy and see what mainstream feminism in Australia had to say. I was struck by how much I looked like all the other women there, with my Gorman clothing and my “alternative” haircut, and my not being a man.

Ford was charismatic and had loads of interesting anecdotes about sexism. I was struck by her “giving no fucks” attitude, and deep concern for the lives of women. Interestingly, Ford called for a new version of “radical feminism” for the contemporary world. But when MC Julia Baird asked, “So, how do you fight like a girl?”, I was surprised that Ford had little to say other than along the lines of “‘girl’ has become synonymous with ‘shit’, so we have to own it instead of be ashamed”. The suggestion seemed to be that fighting like a girl, boiled down to just being a girl.

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Reading selfie

I decided to go home and swiftly read the book to see if I was missing something.

Throughout Fighting Like a Girl, Ford documents the sexism she has experienced in her life in meticulous autobiographical detail. She talks for example about the stigma around abortions, the difficulty of having mental health issues as a woman, the mixed emotions of pregnancy, and grappling with body image issues and eating disorders. Ford’s reflections are refreshingly blunt. I particularly liked her point toward the end that, “We should be angry. Because if we aren’t, we aren’t paying enough attention” (271). I have often advocated the value of anger and the way that women’s expression of anger is derided.

But while Ford outlines all of these issues and rallies us for anger, there is a little direction about what to do with it.

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Clementine Ford

Ford’s manifesto reads as a kind of re-vamped consciousness-raising strategy ala 1970’s feminism. Though, unlike the feminist groups of that time (that would meet to talk tactics and plans for actions) Ford’s consciousness-raising (at least in this book) is largely about self-work, undoing negative thoughts and female conditioning, enjoying the virtues of masturbation, and repeating insults thrown at oneself over and over until they loose meaning and force. Ford also advocates for ignoring sexist men, to laugh in their face or just “walk away” (278).

But while some of these options may assist in surviving a sexist world, I am dubious about how effective they are for dismantling sexism. I feel like masturbating in your bathtub just ain’t gonna cut it.

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An excellent slogan from the strike in 1970

It is fruitful here to compare Ford’s strategy to the radical tactics that were also going on in the 1970’s alongside consciousness raising. For example, women gathered at the Miss America protest in 1968 to throw their bras and Cosmopolitan magazines into a “Freedom Trashcan” (where the bra-burning myth comes from), in order to draw attention to the sexism of beauty pageants. There was also the socialist feminist Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), which staged a lot of theatrical protests such as gathering to march down Wall Street and cast hexes on corporations. Even the more conservative so-called “liberal feminists” of the time organised a general strike in New York City in 1970, where more than 20,000 women marched, brandishing signs like “don’t iron while the strike is hot!”. Revolution must have felt like it was around the corner.

tumblr_mkbyo55hdo1s9zzmvo1_1280However, the feminism of the 1970’s was not without its problems. Many women of colour raised important issues about what mainstream feminism was hoping to achieve – the question became: feminism is liberation for whom? Women of colour such as bell hooks highlighted how they faced a double burden of both sexism and racism. As The Combahee River Collective pointed out in 1974:

Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. 

The Collective was fundamentally concerned with building coalitions to fight racism and sexism, because of the shared interests that cut across gendered lines.

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Michaelia Cash and Pauline Hanson

While Ford is happy to pay lip service to difference (she states in the beginning that the book “is not intended to claim itself as a universal experience”), her strategy ignores the old critiques of separatism.

Fundamentally this approach is based in “identity politics”. Identity politics is problematic because it sees identity as a source of both oppression and resistance – politics is founded at the site of identity. This also leads to the problematic idea that all women have shared interests, so for example, at least on some level I am supposed to get on board with feeling my sisterhood with right-wing racist women like Julie Bishop, or Michaelia Cash or Pauline Hanson, i.e. celebrate women in power. Never mind if they’re involved in locking up and torturing refugee women, or advocating for the end of Muslim migration. Identity politics is how we get to the idea that “fighting like a girl” is simply about “being a girl”.

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LOL

Ford’s quasi-essentialist view – that really being a feminist is about being a woman without qualms – became more starkly problematic last night when Ford started suggesting that men were unnecessary in the fight against sexism. In her book Ford nominally invites men to “get on the boat…or drown” (187) but we’re left wondering – what is the boat?

Let me just pause here to say I’ve experienced my fair share of sexism. I’ve been in many a relationship with a man and bore the burden of domestic and emotional labour. I’ve sat through endless philosophy classes with arrogant boys and cried on my walks home over feeling silenced. I’ve experienced sharp sexism on the streets and in the academy, and had grown men scream at me for being a confident woman. My current partner is a woman, and I can see that the way we relate intimately and domestically is affected by the gender scripts we have grown up with.

Sexism is real.

whiteribbonaustralia_campaignribbon2I also definitely take Ford’s point that the whole “male champions of change” thing is a joke. Going to an International Women’s Day breakfast only to be talked at by endless male speakers “standing up for change” is pretty ordinary, as is being part of any space where men are in the minority but feel the need to dominate verbally. But I think what’s wrong with most of these “male champion” ventures (the White Ribbon campaign being one of the cases Ford discusses) is that they’re not actually doing anything.

Let’s imagine for a second that there was a mobilisation against sexism at universities across Australia to stop rapes on campus and let’s say it involved everyone striking – teachers, students, everyone. In this scenario, to be honest, if every guy wanted to be a “champion” by picking up all of the tedious activist organising tasks like arranging email lists, painting banners and setting up information desks at the strike, I would be 100% behind that. Maybe the people who had experienced assault could “carry the flag” as Ford suggests, but the other people could carry the stalls. Bear some burden. Do some boring tasks to educate, agitate, organise. Sounds amazing.

But the theory of “patriarchy” that Ford employs (which the radical feminists of the 1970s certainly also believed in), suggests that there is something fundamentally essentially wrong with masculinity. It locates the cause of sexism in masculinity, rather than seeing masculinity as a symptom of a larger structure that is not only promotes sexism but also racism, and every other “ism” you can think of.

bdb4eaf4df0f6e2e765392ed96032bc8e8a52a8f03d6ec29c51704e4e3ff8ce9In contrast to Ford’s identity politics and patriarchy theory, we could imagine a politics which attends to issues of identity, which recognises that sexism disproportionately affects people of different identities in different ways, but which doesn’t found the political moment in identity itself.

What this alternative to identity politics really boils down to then isn’t identity at all, but a material relation to the world. It’s class politics.

Class isn’t about identity per se but a relationship to production. If you work for a wage, you are a worker (the working class). If you extract profits from other workers, you are a boss (the ruling class). The system of capitalism needs to divide the working class to maintain control. When workers are united, they have a lot of power (hence why the Turnbull ABCC issue, trying to take away worker power, is such a big deal). Ford touches on capitalism in Fighting Like a Girl, but instead of seeing it as structural cause of division and control, she sees it in terms of merely a “market” which sells things to us. Capitalism certainly does sell things to us, but the main point of capitalism isn’t consumption so much as production. As long as we don’t try to seize the means of production, i.e. control over our own labour, capitalism keeps ticking (though it is in perpetual crisis – another story for another time). The more divided we are, the less able we are to seize power.

This perspective is critiqued for being too simple, too crude for describing the world. It’s pretty uncool to use Marxist theory these days. But I wonder why: perhaps precisely because it cuts to the quick of what’s really going on? Unlike feminism and other identity movements, Marxism appears to be the one thing capitalism struggles to reabsorb and sell back to us.

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Hilary Clinton

Men who make this point are often called “brocialists”, which irks me to no end because it suggests that only men care about class, and that the ones who do are inherently sexist. For example, the UK’s progressive Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is constantly being called a brocialist, despite explicitly trying to introduce radical gender equity policies and indeed policies which benefit working class men and women (I’m not saying he’s a full blown revolutionary, but he’s not bad). Commentators like Ford would rather get behind right wing leaders like Hilary Clinton than social progressives ones like Corbyn, because of the “sisterhood”.

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Fact.

Of course, just as feminists grappled with issues of racism, historically there have been issues with the left grappling with sexism. Sexism should always be challenged in activist spaces, and that is not always an easy task.

But all of this really makes me think that fighting like a girl has to mean more than just being a girl (or a cisgender woman, or a gay woman…etc). If we’re really going to put up a fight, we better put our collective heads together real quick, before the ocean rises and the earth melts away, before every black man is shot in America and every Australian indigenous person dies in police custody, before everyone is a refugee, before everyone is squeezed until there is nothing more to give.

Sure, unashamedly orgasming in the bathtub isn’t the worst idea in the world. But I really hope that we don’t wait until death is knocking on our door to get out of the tub and join the collective struggle.

No Girls Allowed: The Gender Problem in Film

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The considered greats of directing are almost always all male

I’ve always been interested in the world of film, but lately (now that there is a light at the end of my PhD thesis tunnel) I’ve been dedicating more time to watching “the classics“. However doing some research into the essentials of cinema has brought home a sad fact: very few of the “great” directors are women. On top of this, look at any list of must-watch films and you’ll notice that there is a lot of gendered genre-bias too. Basically: if you’re looking to become a film buff, you’re going to run into a gender problem.

KStew <3

KStew ❤

The lack of women directors in cinema has not gone unnoticed. Just last week it was reported that since the 1970s only 15% of Australian films have been made by women, a trend that continues today despite female film graduates making up 50% of the cohort. The Tumblr site “Sh*t People Say to Women Directors” also went viral this year, shining a light on the rampant sexism experienced by women in the industry. Actress Kristen Stewart recently commented, “Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It’s crazy. It’s so offensive it’s crazy”.

But let’s imagine we put aside the sexism involved in producing many of the cultural products we consume, for a second. What we find is that what counts as film cannon is overtly biased toward stereotypically “male” genre films. Searching for “films every film buff must see” reveals lists like this:

Not saying the Godfather isn't good though

Not saying The Godfather isn’t good though

1. The Godfather: Part 1
2. The Godfather: Part 2
3. The Godfather: Part 3 (srly?)
4. Citizen Kane
5. Vertigo
6. Casablanca
7. Psycho
8. Raging Bull
9. Notorious
10. Taxi Driver

These lists are overwhelmingly dominated by films about male gangsters, men in power, male killers, men beating each other up, and so on. Admittedly there is one romantic drama in this particular list, but in many, romantic comedy and fantasy adventure is basically left out. Such films daren’t been seen tainting such lists (even though we can all admit that The Princess Bride is an *absolute* classic, but never features in any top 100 lists).

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Bechdel test explained

And, even if we decide that the Godfather: Part 3 is actually deserving of a top spot, applying the Bechdel test to these films reveals very few lead female characters, let alone ones that talk to each other about topics other than men (The Godfather: Part 2 passes).

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

However, abstaining from watching films created by men, or that fit into a “male” genre, or that predominately feature men isn’t going to do much. Certainly boycotting male directors in favour of female ones would achieve little more than just missing out on some actually awesome films. I’ve long been a fan-girl of several auteurs (directors who are visionaries imagining a distinctive world) who are men, such as Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, David Lynch and Pedro Almodóvar. If we ran with a top films list from these guys, it would look something like this:
Dancer in the Dark
The Life Aquatic
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Mullholland Drive
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Pretty great. I don’t recommend missing them.

Film is a way of framing the world

Making films involves framing and reflecting on the world

But, film is an incredibly important tool for philosophising about the state of the world, humanity and existence. One can assume that the greater the diversity of people from different life experiences musing on this, the better. So I wonder what we are missing when we leave women out, both as characters within films and as the creatives behind the scenes.

Seeking out female directors, films of different genres, and films that feature strong women might be a good idea. If nothing else, this can act to provoke mindfulness about the gendered aspects of film-loving. So, just incase you’re googling “films every film buff must see”, here are some alternative lists to consider (according to me).

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3...)

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3…)

Awesomest films (by female directors):

The Virgin Suicides (Sophia Coppola)
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair)
An Education (Lone Sherfig)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July)
Clueless (Amy Heckerling)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

Best ever films (that happen to be romantic):

– Four Weddings and a Funeral
West Side Story
Calamity Jane
– Annie Hall
Amélie

Favourite films (that feature amazing female leads):

Million Dollar Baby
All About Eve
Black Swan
Ghost World
The Wizard of Oz

No, our watching practices aren’t going to defeat sexism in film. But being mindful of our viewing habits can’t hurt…especially when it comes to determining what “counts” in the land of the film buff.

Fifty Shades of Feelings

A few people have asked me what my thoughts on the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey saga are. After wading through endless articles arguing for and against the recently released film, I didn’t feel very comfortable with how either side was addressing the debate, with fans often being demeaned amongst the critiques. You can read my response, The ‘mommy porn’ myth: who are the Fifty Shades of Grey fans? published on The Conversation.

Like many people who have engaged with Fifty Shades, I had a complex (and at times contradictory) set of responses while watching the film. Here’s a rundown of how I felt, represented via the aid of Buffy gifs…

1. When the lights went down

one

2. When the dialogue started

two

3. When we were introduced to Christian

seven

4. When Christian tries to seduce Ana by biting her toast

three5. When Christian was creepy as f*** and tracked Ana’s mobile phone

eleven6. When the characters finally got naked 

five

7. When the sex started

four8. When Ana orgasmed about a million times losing her virginity

nine

9. When I checked in with my girlfriend to see how she liked the “red room of pain”

six10. When Christian sold Ana’s car

eight11. But then my mixed emotions because it was a strangely alluring danger fantasy

buffy_because_its_wrong_who_are_you_spike

12. But I still wanted Ana to just tell Christian to f*** off

ten13. When Christian was all “I like BDSM because my mother was a crack whore”

tumblr_mdwullwUCF1rp4xpeo1_50014. When shit got a bit real at the end

tumblr_lx1vm3PPdC1qh01r8o1_40015. Now, every time I see an article saying Fifty Shades is extremely dangerous

Beep-me-buffy

Date Night Films for Any Occasion

Watching-Scary-MoviesIt’s that time of the year again – the dreaded V-Day. If you’re not shacked up and hoping your partner will finally buy you flowers, you’re probably single and trying to avoid restaurants filled with loved-up couples. Either way, you may be looking for a movie to watch with your boyfriend/s/girlfriend/s/genderfriend/s this weekend (that is, unless you’ve decided to go see Fifty Shades or protest at the cinema). So just in time, here are my recommendations for snuggling up with your handsome self or your kissing buddies:

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

What If – When you need an offbeat but surprisingly good romantic comedy 
This quirky Canadian film came out in 2013, but with little fanfare upon its release, you may have missed it. Starring Harry “Daniel Radcliffe” Potter and MPDG Zoe Kazan as the strangely named characters Wallace and Chantry, the dialogue is delightfully relaxed and the side plots are just as entertaining as the central story. Offering a nuanced approach to the complications of love and commitment, this rom-com is well worth a watch.

Your fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead are answered

Fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead made real

Imagine Me and You – When you feel like a gay chick flick
Same-sex rom coms are few and far between, but this one is a real winner. It has a pretty crappy rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this assessment is just factually and scientifically incorrect. This film stars Hot Cersei (Lena Headey) alongside Piper Perabo, and it’s a match made in lesbian imagination heaven. The best thing about the film is its adherence to all of the elements of your usual trashy romcom, but with a gay storyline. What more could you want?

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

He’s Just Not That Into You – When you feel like a chick flick that is truly terrible
I love this movie. With basically no redeeming features, this film is utter garbage, reinforcing every terrible norm of gender you could imagine (women are desperate to marry, men are either liars and cheaters or weaklings, women have no agency in the dating game, women are controlling, etc). I tried to do a feminist analysis of this film once, but after the opening scene had 8 pages of notes and had to stop. Because it is so devastatingly awful, this is one film where you can truly take a break from thinking. My favourite quote from the film is “It’s hard to focus on nutmeg when the guy who might be the guy of my dreams refuses to call me”

the-future-paw-paw

You can’t go wrong with a cat narrator

The Future – When you need a film that reflects the difficulties of relationships
Written, directed and starring the effervescent Miranda July, this film explores human connection, loneliness and making mistakes. Narrated by a cat, Paw Paw, this magically-real film is one to watch when you feel like something that reflects the messiness of making yourself vulnerable in love. This one’s a keeper.

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

Paris, Texas – When you feel like epic cinematography with poignant themes
Directed by the visionary Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is a quiet and compelling film. Exploring the complexities and old scars of family relationships, this film slowly sinks into your skin, as you bask in its desert landscapes. Hopeful but dark, this is one to watch when you feel like some existential reflection on date night.

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that's pretty cool

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that’s pretty cool

Dancer in the Dark – When you’re feeling like a gut-wrenching drama that will leave you audibly sobbing
So you feel like a big depressing cry – this is the film to go for. Directed by the sadistic Lars von Trier, this movie is a masterpiece of film making that uses Dogme-like techniques to make the film seem exceptionally real, even as characters consistently launch into song (did I mention it’s a musical?). I once re-watched it in a philosophy class, and when the lights went on at the end even the teacher’s face was dripping with tears. I was basically having a fit with how upset it made me.

The_Shining_4

Plus Shelley Duvall is weird looking and rad

The Shining – When you don’t feel like sleeping properly again
I felt like I should include a horror movie on this list, but since I haven’t seen many, this is one of the only ones I can recommend. Because apparently watching scary movies is fun for some people. It’s a classic, so if you haven’t seen it already, get on it and make snuggling up to your crush/es on the couch all the more necessary. To calm down afterwards, be sure to watch The Simpsons parody.

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Cabaret – When you need a musical that’s edgy and political
I cannot get enough of Cabaret. The choreography, the songs, the historical political themes, the Liza Minnelli. This film literally has everything you could want in a film, let alone a musical. It’s the film to watch as a compromise when your partner/s can’t stand musicals but you desperately need some camp realness on date night. You’ll probably want to download the soundtrack afterwards too – and will be strutting down the stairs belting out the lyrics in no time, no doubt to your lover’s delight.

A film all about women

A film all about women

All About My Mother – When you feel like intertextual stimulation
The film to watch when you feel like having a discussion about the way it re-imagines the archetype of the Southern belle, and how it re-works the themes of A Streetcar Named Desire and All About Eve. Or, if you’re less of a wanker than I am, this film is enjoyable on the themes of motherhood and female relationships. Director Pedro Almodovar is a true auteur, and the film has sublime casting and beautiful character development. You don’t really have to be an English major to enjoy this one.

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

Paris is Burning – When you feel like a documentary
My favourite documentary of all time, Paris is Burning explores the drag-ball scene of late 1980s New York. Directed by Jennie Livingston, the documentary is told by the people living as superstars in this underground world. As much about race and class as it is about gender and sexuality, Paris is Burning is ultimately a story about being erased by “normal” society but finding family in the effort to achieve belonging.

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Adaptation – When you feel like great screenwriting and an unpredictable plot
Written by Charlie Kaufman, and starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, this film just couldn’t have more going for it. It’s funny, dramatic and a little bit off at times, which makes it very enjoyable. Plus did I mention Nicolas Cage? Playing twins? Double the Nicolas Cage can never be a bad thing. While you’re at it, please also watch Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Fantastic Mr Fox – When you realise Wes Anderson made a stop motion animation of a Roald Dahl book and you haven’t seen it
Admittedly I’m just listing films I like now. I love director Wes Anderson, even though he’s clearly a privileged motherf***er, he is damn good at making films. If you’ve got a whole weekend with your loves or yourself, I’d recommend just marathoning his entire oeuvre. Meanwhile, Fantastic Mr Fox is romantic and cute, full of adventure and beautiful to look at. A totally rompy delight. Do it.

Goldblum good times await you

Goldblum good times await you

Jurassic Park – When you feel like some Jeff Goldblum
If you’re one of those crazy crackers that hasn’t seen Jurassic Park since it came out at the movies (or indeed, if you were born post-1993), you need to watch this classic STAT. Not only is the fourth one coming out in July (i.e. this is planning in advance for a future date night), it is just literally one of the best movies ever. Also there is probably never a time when you don’t feel like some Jeff Goldblum, and this is peak Goldblum material. Yes. Oh yes.

Happy film watching!