Tag Archives: rant

Feminism, landladies, and a general air of WTF

I’ve had a bad week or two: no running water, a flat on the first floor above what has now turned into a large, expensive cess-pit, a landlady who quite literally doesn’t give a shit about our plight (since she has the luxury of a working toilet in her home).

There’s a special kind of misery that comes when, after a two-hour roundtrip to a scummy leisure centre for a shower, you return to your flat and really notice the heady bouquet of a toilet that’s not been flushed, a washing machine full of damp washing and a sink full of dirty dishes and scummy water that have been sitting there for days. Not to mention queuing up for the one skanky toilet in MacDonalds that’s open at 11pm weeknights.

HOWEVER, I have (so far) received zero rape threats. Ditto for death threats. Or messages about bombs being left outside of my house. So it’s all relative, right?

Here are some people who HAVE received rape/death/bomb threats this week: female journalists; female authors; female MPs; female campaigners. Notice the thing they all have in common?

If you know me even a little bit, you’ll know that I’m partial to the odd feminist rant. I’ve even been told to “tone it down a bit” once or twice, which sort of just has the effect of dumping petrol on the banked coals of my righteous feminist anger. It’s not like I go on about it. It’s not “Hi, I’m Jemima, nice to meet you, doesn’t the patriarchy just make you want to scream? Let’s read feminist literature and talk about the US’s increasingly worrying stance on abortion and women’s reproductive rights!”. I try to keep it internal until I know you just a little bit better, don’t worry.

Like my experience this week, it can be utterly flabbergasting to be reminded that there are people in this world who operate on entirely different wavelengths to the majority of the population. When you come up against someone who doesn’t behave in the ways that we’ve been taught by both our parents and society in general, it can totally floor you. The overwhelming feeling is one of injustice – that it is completely and utterly unfair that these people should be allowed to behave in this way, and get away with it, when the rest of society plays by the rules. Basic rules, such as not shouting threats and abuse at women on the internet, or maybe, behaving with some empathy when you’ve forced the tenants you are responsible for to live in a flat that stinks of shit.

I have to state that in no way am I comparing my week without plumbing (as miserable as it was) with the horror of being told you need to, you are going to, you WILL be raped. But both situations this week have left me with the same feeling, which can be summed up as: WTF.

Seriously: what the fuck? What makes a man think it’s okay to say these things to a woman? Does the thought of Caroline Criado-Perez campaigning for something like putting a woman on a banknote offend you that much? Is it the thought of a determined and opinionated woman sharing those opinions that outrages you? Perhaps celebrating and respecting a female role model fills you with anger?

Or is that you hate women so very much that just the thought of glimpsing one -perhaps on a piece of paper in your wallet as you’re paying for some hula-hoops and a copy of Misogynist Monthly- sends you on a Hulk-esque rampage? If so, wow, you might want to join a monastery because there’s roughly 3 billion of us booby-humans walking around out here.

It’s a fucking bank note, for chrissake. It’s not that big of a deal. I know that the Queen’s on there, and that Darwin is about to be taken off, and I want to say maybe….Elizabeth Fry was on there, at some point, maybe? But other than that, I could not tell you who else is on there. It really doesn’t bother me, and if it’s the kind of thing that bothers you, then, well, I just don’t know what to say about that.

That’s not to say that I disagree with Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign in the slightest: famous female Brits should absolutely be represented on our currency and I’m grateful that there are people who are willing to work to make it happen. But, just like those opposing same-sex marriage, I cannot fathom how your life can be so utterly calm and sorted that you could whip yourself into such a spittle-flecked frenzy opposing something that – like Jane Austen on your fiver- really has no impact on your life whatsoever. Even if you disagree with it, well, that’s fine. You’re allowed to. I disagree with Big Brother and boob jobs and most everything Robert Downey Jr does but, call me self-centered, I’ve got a few more pressing things to do than send threats and abusive messages to Channel 4 and Katie Price and Robert Downey Jr’s agent.

Here are just  a few of the things I think about on a daily basis that worry me more than who’s on my banknotes or the thought of two people who have a sexual organ in common committing to share their lives (and sexual organs) with each other:

* Did I leave the oven on?

* Pyroclastic flows

* Mega-tsunamis

* Regular sized tsunamis

* Robert Downey Jr

* Teenagers

* My landlady

Again, this is not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly and quite vocally support gay marriage and the fight to make it available to anyone who might wish to partake of it. It’s just that I think it’s an issue that has nothing to do with anyone who is not gay and considering getting married. Along with pretty much every feminist issue ever, I would so, so rather not HAVE to support it. Because it shouldn’t be an issue.

Those shouting out against feminists seem to think that these women (who’ve “stuck their head above the parapet” and “need to be put in their place”) are man-hating she-Nazis who are gleefully enjoying this whole thing.

So, misogynistic anti-feminists, here’s something I’d like to say to you: this is not FUN. This is not a HOBBY. There are quite literally a billion other things that we would rather be thinking about and devoting our energy to. This is not our problem, it is yours, and the way to make it go away is to make it not an issue.

Just as there would be no need for police without crime, firefighters without fire, and complaints to my rubbish landlady without the bodge job she did on the flat in the first place, feminism is a response to sexism – a reaction to the problem, and not the problem itself. If you want to stop this whole thing, if we’re annoying you, well, you know what to do.

Ball’s in your court, dickwads.

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“I did not AX for this!”

It’s hot. It’s so damned hot. It feels like it’s been hot forever. Next week when it’s freezing I know I’ll conveniently forget how hot and hellish it is right now, so for the benefit of Future Me: it is so hot that I can’t be a hundred percent sure the sun is not hurtling towards me as I write this, thus negating the possibility of the existence of any kind of Future Me.

It’s so hot nothing I write makes sense any more. They’re just scrawls. They don’t mean anything. They can’t express this heat. There are no words. The streets of Central London have become an airless ungodly frying pan of reflected heat and utter, utter misery.

It is so hot that I have cried at least 3 times this week, for reasons directly related to the heat. It is so hot that, for the first time in my experience, the Piccadilly Line is cooler than street level. Positively refreshing. I’m not shitting you.

It’s too hot to eat. I have no clothes that cater for this weather, but that’s okay because this weather is only really doable if you wear little or no clothing. It is not the weather of smart casual. It is not the weather for anything but sweaty flushed indecency. And NOT IN A GOOD WAY.

That distant roar you can hear right now is all the people who live in hot countries laughing themselves stupid. It’s the Aussies, guffawing at the stupid sunburnt Poms, it’s all the people in former British Empire colonies, wetting themselves as we wilt and droop and drop like flies. We are mad dogs and we are Englishmen but please don’t go out in the midday sun because you will surely be obliterated, like little bugs under the magnifying glass of a vengeful God.

If you’re lucky enough to be a teacher or a school-kid on summer break, if you’re on holiday or you’re unemployed (you lucky bastards) you won’t know what I’m talking about. You’ll be lounging around semi-naked drinking cool cocktails and looking all sun-drenched and lazy and sexy. But know this: I hate you so much right now.

I am in an office with no air conditioning. I tried to buy a fan earlier in the week, but the only ones left for sale in central London were £400+ Dyson Airblades, or small desk ones. I bought the small desk one. The box -a good 12 or 15 inches across – looked promising, but alas, the thing itself was a tiny usb plug-in desk fan. I am alone in the studio, so in theory there’s nothing stopping me from stripping naked and trying to get into our needlessly large studio fridge, but I feel a modicum of decorum must be maintained, not to mention professionalism. Still, it’s always an option.

Meanwhile, I pray for rain, the sweet relief of a two degree temperature drop, or the cool embrace of unconsciousness.

(This lady knows what I’m talking about. This lady too hot. Shit.)

I’m going to regret this, aren’t I? Pride & Prejudice, 200 years on.

pp2w2

I am about to reveal something that will surely have me kicked right out of the Sisterhood and shunned in polite society: I don’t really like Mr Darcy.

I don’t much care for Elizabeth Bennet either, to be honest, but I just don’t think their story is the one we should all be swooning over. Across the world theirs is the romance to end all romances, the one that lonely bookish teenage girls clutch to. Somewhere out there they hope to find a rich arrogant man who looks good in a wet shirt and who will insult and judge them and their family before finally growing to love them, inexplicably, out of nowhere, and after being really mean – ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

Poor Mr Darcy is on a pedestal so high that Elizabeth Bennet is just a speck, far below him. No wonder he’s so bloody cold and distant all the time.

And anyway, Elizabeth only realises she “loves” him when she sees how flipping HUGE his house is. If there was some sort of Regency Cribs on tv Darcy could have shown off his various carriages and horses, and what he keeps in his fridge (enough to feed the entire Bennet tribe for a year) and Elizabeth would have found out she “loved” him a lot quicker and saved everyone a lot of bother, A-level English Lit students in particular.

She’s also won over by the fact that he treats his servants well. Isn’t that nice, eh? Surely all the times he’s been awful to Elizabeth and her family must have been a fluke, because look, he’s nice to his servants! You know what? Adolf Hitler was nice to his dog. That little dog loved him, even though Hitler sometimes had to get Goebbels or Goering or someone else to take him out for walkies because genocide really eats up a lot of time.

Not that I’m comparing Hitler to Darcy (I am), or being a bit mean to someone at a country dance to the slaughter of millions of people (I am) but horrible people can be lovely to some and generally rubbish to the rest of mankind. Darcy was rude, proud, careless and ridiculous. And yes, people can make mistakes and people can learn and people can be forgiven – but Darcy didn’t grow to love Elizabeth after getting to know her – they didn’t know each other at all. To me the fact that the sweet, polite Bingley is such good friends with Darcy is the only reason to give him a second chance. He sorts out the whole Wickham/Lydia mess because he wants to marry Elizabeth. Do you think he would actually care for Lydia, or the fortunes of the Bennets if it weren’t for that? There’s no kindness for or generosity towards others here.

Do you know why there’s no sequel to Pride and Prejudice? This is what I think happened next:

At a pre-wedding soiree Darcy ends up talking to Ugly Sister Mary, who, being Ugly, had no option but to be “bookish”, and as such is quite knowledgable about foreign policy and troop movements and the geology of Kent, and all the things that interest Regency gentlemen. And after a while it becomes clear that they’re both nihilists and don’t like dances and have quite a few things in common, such as a general disdain for the rest of mankind. And Ugly Sister Mary is not really ugly at all, just a bit ordinary, and wears glasses and never gets the nice dresses since the Bennets have decided to put all of their eggs in the lovely blonde angelic basket that is Pretty Sister Jane.

So Darcy realises he’s become engaged to the wrong Bennet sister, and runs off to marry Mary in a no-nonsense ceremony at Gretna Green, before returning to Pemberley to live a quite happy life (for nihilists, anyway). They spend their lives together talking about foreign policy and troop movements and the geology of Kent, and ignoring their children who, inconveniently, keep arriving, like guests at a party they didn’t want to throw who refuse to leave, so are simply tolerated until they grow old enough to contribute to the talk of foreign policy and troop movements and the geology of Kent.

Because in Regency times, the time of “great romance”, love meant something very different indeed. Love, for a woman, meant this:

* He’s older than me but younger than my grandfather.

* He’s rich so I won’t have to go into the poorhouse, whore-house or nunnery (which all amount to same thing in the end, for a woman, which is losing possession of your body and/or soul).

* He’s not covered in hideous boils.

* I don’t think he will be abusive or violent towards me, or oppress me any more than society dictates.

* (And very importantly) He wants to marry me.

Hardly fodder for a rom-com, but the ingredients for a long and companionable marriage, which was what most woman would hope for. They would get married at seventeen, live entirely comfortably with their husbands, pop out a few children as birth control was obviously out of the question, and by the age of thirty give up on themselves and concentrate entirely to the not inconsiderable challenge of raising children and attempting to marry off the girl ones. Any boy ones were a bonus and not really your responsibility. Then, as their husbands were generally quite a bit older, would probably be widowed by forty and, if they were left enough money by their husbands, live out the rest of their lives in the background. Here they’d actually get to do all those things they wanted to do, like write books, or do charitable works, or just get on with making pretty little designs for a table, because widows were largely ignored and left to get on with stuff as long as they didn’t draw too much attention to themselves.

This is why I feel so sorry for Mrs Bennet, as comedic a character as she is. She is trapped in a marriage to a man who mocks her ruthlessly, and whether she is aware of it or not is hardly the point since everyone else is, including her children. Mr Bennet squats in his library like a fort made of books where he can snidely cast insults down at his wife for Elizabeth’s benefit, while poor Mrs Bennet is left to obsess over what will become of her daughters. After all, someone’s got to, and her husband seems to have done nothing to provide for them. She may be a gibbering ridiculous puddle of a woman, but her entire life has become about ensuring the survival of herself and her daughters when the older Mr Bennet passes away. And there’re loads of them. And some of them (*cough*Lydia*cough*) are really annoying – so annoying that it eventually becomes clear that no one would agree to take them without a hefty bribe.

Still, annoying as Lydia is, when you stop to think about it don’t you feel sorry for her, too? Her marriage to Wickham will eventually be as grim and heartless as that of Mr Collins to Charlotte Lucas – perhaps even more so, since Wickham would hardly care enough to start acting anything other than a bastard just because he’s now a husband. Lydia’s barely more than a child – and annoying and silly as she is (what fifteen year old isn’t?) she hardly deserves the slow grinding misery of a life with a husband who will never love her and has probably never even liked her. Hands up who’s been in a relationship with someone you knew loved you less than you loved them? It makes you feel about two inches tall and is generally pretty damn shitty.

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here – I really do love Austen and Pride & Prejudice too – I’m just more interested in the other characters, rather than Darcy and Elizabeth. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I’ve never dreamt of a lovely Regency gentleman sweeping me off my feet, but the man in question normally bears more resemblance to Mr Knightley from Emma (don’t even get me started on their unlikely “love” either).

You see it was always going to work out for Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley – they’re life’s natural main characters. But what about those that weren’t blessed with that sort of life – with beauty, or the kind or presence that means they were always going to be the heroes and heroines? What about Mary, and Charlotte Lucas, and Kitty, or Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne, the kind of girls who were destined to be bit-part characters in their own lives? What’s their story – and why couldn’t they be the ones to find true love and happiness?

Today is Pride and Prejudice’s 200th birthday, and there can be no denying its well-deserved place in the pantheon of great literature, nor Austen’s skill. But for me – who was an awkward bookish teenager and who will probably never be one of life’s natural heroines, Pride and Prejudice is ultimately a very sad book. There are two happy endings in a story littered with unfortunate marriages of desperation or necessity. I think Jane and Elizabeth were always destined for, if not a fairytale ending, at least comfortable, companionable marriages of some sort, with or without Darcy and Bingley: they had intelligence, wit, beauty, manners and charm on their side. But the other female characters in the story were always going to be in the shade, and it’s perhaps they that could have benefited more from a happy ending.

Now, if you don’t mind I’ll just brace myself for inevitable pelting of rotten fruit.

(Edit – This is interesting: different takes on the characters of P&P 200 years on – http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/26/pride-prejudice-200th-anniversary)

Feisty female characters – In which I go off on one.

* Warning: here be opinions. You may not agree. That’s fine though, right?

I have a bee in my bonnet – and you know who’s fault it is? Lucy Liu. Yeah, you missy, with your kicky legs and your cute freckles and your goddamn feistyness.

Of course, it’s not really Lucy Liu’s fault – I’m sure she’s lovely. If a bit kicky. Really I should be aiming my ire at the execs behind the decision to cast her in the new new US Sherlock Holmes series Elementary – as John Watson.

Or Joanna Watson, to be more accurate. Yep. Alarm bells should have been a-ringing when the title of the show was announced, since, as is pointed out in this post over at Miss Transmission’s consistently awesome blog, the phrase “Elementary my dear Watson” was never used in the Arthur Conan Doyle books in the first place. Alright, so the generally well-received BBC’s Sherlock didn’t stick absolutely to the original, but at least it felt consistent and respectful of the characters and plots that were clearly so loved by the pair responsible for bringing it to our screens, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. This most elementary of mistakes by the makers of Sherlock’s American counterpart makes me wonder if those behind the show have afforded the original stories the barest of glances, realised that they’d actually have to put in some time to read the damn things, before heading over to wikipedia for a more “skip to the end” approach to the whole thing.

I’m being massively unfair here I know, as I’ve yet to see anything so should really reserve judgement. But it’s not the fact that it’s in direct competition to a show I love. It’s not even that this most British of heroes -who’s adventures involve him racing around London looking for missing boats on the Thames, employing street urchins as his Baker Street Division, and using hackney cabs to tail suspects – has been uprooted and plonked down in New York. I don’t even mind the fact that a male character has been made female (it can work – look at Battlestar Galactica‘s Starbuck) – it’s that I’m pretty sure that the female John Watson will be…feisty.

She’ll be feisty or strong or kick-ass because she’s Watson, companion, foil, to the genius Sherlock Holmes. So huge is the consulting detective’s shadow that Sherlock‘s Watson only manages to get out from it by strength of Martin Freeman’s brilliance as an actor and some clever work by the show’s writers. Reading the books it’s apparent that Watson is nothing but a ventriloquist dummy that Sherlock can use to tell himself how brilliant he is, and how no one else could possibly have deduced it. Constantly.

Martin Freeman’s Watson is intelligent and brave in his own right, and is more frequently astonished by Sherlock’s arrogance and coldness than his brilliant mind. If he were female it would bring a whole other angle to the thing: is Watson unable to keep up with Holmes because her inferior female mind couldn’t hope to compete? Their love/hate relationship must be due to sexual tension, because, how could two people of the oppositve sex have such a close relationship otherwise? Desperately hoping to avoid accusations of sexism the writers will make her strong, and kick-ass, and feisty.

Feisty is the pigeon-hole tv writers put a character into when they’ve been told they have to include a woman in there somewhere, anywhere. She can’t be just Ditzy, because that would be sexist, so she has to be Feisty. That’s modern, right? It’s progressive and feminist and right-on, because this woman, right, she kicks-ass, you know, and she can keep up with the men, no problem. And Joanna Watson is a doctor so she’s like a role-model for girls too, right? Because, see, women can be like doctors or detectives too, and not just nurses and teachers and shit, yeah?

The word feisty is poisonous – you don’t even have to say it out loud or write it down, once you’ve thought it it’s there, and it will never leave. And it’s so big, this little word, that it expands and suffocates any other character traits. Who needs more? She’s feisty, okay?

Feisty is as patronising as ‘ditzy’ because it’s a bone woman-kind has been thrown to stop it moaning on about feminism and strong female characters that actually have a purpose in a plot rather than ticking the demographic box.

Is it too much to ask that there be interesting realistic female characters in tv dramas? They don’t even have to be ‘strong’ for godsake, just real. I want normal women who are mutli-dimensional and emotionally deep. I don’t want to see a woman kicking arse and shooting guns and feeling absolutely no shame about getting her massive breasts out because she doesn’t give a shit out being objectified and would probably shoot you in the face if you tried to anyway.

I want women who are quiet and funny and normal, who end up in dramatic situations that they don’t deal with like emotionally-devoid robots. Maybe they’re brave, maybe they do the right thing. Maybe they don’t, but crucially it won’t be because of their gender, but who they are as characters. Alright, so I’ll allow a bit of arse-kickage and shooting, but only if they have a little cry afterwards because, really, I know I would. No, NOT because I’m a girl – but because guns are bloody scary for most people. Especially, I imagine, if you’re having to shoot someone who’s trying quite hard to shoot you first. One of the most brilliant scenes in the remake of the Bond film Casino Royale was when Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd sat crying in the shower after helping Bond kill an assassin. Because violence, escaping death and killing, for most people, isn’t something that’s forgotten or dealt with easily.

Aside from death-defying and fight-scenes though, for a character, male or female, to feel real I want to be able to imagine their daily life. You know, the boring shit that doesn’t get films made about it because it would be incredibly dull – like paying bills and dealing with landlords and buying milk because it’s gone off again. Characters that cease to exist the minute the credits roll might as well not have existed at all.

A perfect example of this is, to bring it back to Sherlock, the rather fabulous Molly Hooper – the slightly pitiful, giggly pathologist who’s affections Sherlock cruelly manipulates to gain access to a constant supply of fresh cadavers from her morgue. She wears lipstick to impress him but wipes it off the moment he tells her it makes her mouth look thin. She asks him out for coffee but doesn’t say anything when he takes her offer of a date as an offer for a cup of coffee, yes please black two sugars. She’s real, she’s not strong or outrageously sexy or strident – but she’s always there. Just…plodding along, seeing things just a little bit clearer than everyone else because she’s patient and reliable and clever, in a not-having-to-shout-about-it kind of way. She may not be hard enough to happily run around shooting bad guys in the face, but you know she’s brave enough to bloody well give it a go if she really had to.

And I want to know more about her. I’d even watch her paying bills, dealing with landlords and replacing gone-off milk. There is no character like her in the Arthur Conan Doyle books, but even if there were I doubt she’d make the jump to the US’s take on Sherlock Holmes.

So, yeah, I have a bonnet with a bee in it. And this bonnet is feminist and nervous and often gets tearfully angry. But you know what it’s not though?

It’s not bloody feisty.

P.S – Please go and read Miss Transmission’s brilliantly eloquent post about the awesomness of Molly Hooper and real female characters here.