So this video started going around my facebook today, with about a dozen of my female friends sharing the link with comments like, and “Everyone needs to see this”, and “All girls should watch this,” and “This made me cry.” And I’m not trying to shame those girls! I definitely understand why they would do so. And I don’t want to be a killjoy. But as I clicked link and started watching the video, I started to feel a slight sense of discomfort. I couldn’t put my finger on why that was, exactly, but it continued throughout the whole thing. After watching the video several more times, I have some thoughts…
“Blow it to hell, kick its ass viciously in high heels, ravish it and rip it up, Ball and Bash both, this cavalcade of battering whatnot, fuck it and let it go. Do it different like they tell you you are.”—Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
“You can decide to be someone who brings people together, or you can fall prey to those who wish to divide us. You can be someone who educates yourself, or you can believe that being negative is clever and being cynical is fashionable. You have a choice.”—Hillary Clinton (via womenorgnow)
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Did you know 58% of British and 71% of American women choose not to call themselves feminist? Writing as a feminist this obviously upsets me, yet it doesn’t surprise me. I wrote a whole zine about how it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I realised, I too, was a feminist. The attack on what feminism is and the representation of feminists in the media, from news to films, has clearly, over the years, done its job well. Women and men alike are afraid to go near the word. They don’t want to be seen as hate-filled, outraged, men hating humans.
One of the things I love about the feminist movement is the variety of opinions and voices that can be heard within it. For every woman that thinks high heels are tortuous, male designed contraptions there are those that see no problem in taking over the world wearing a pair. For every woman that believes the hijab is a symbol of patriarchal oppression, there are those that believe in its empowering catalyst for choice.* For every woman who believes staying home and raising children is an integral part of being a mother, there are those that advocate it being a choice on the part of the woman whether or not she wants to work or stay home.
In part, that is the point of the feminist movement. That all women are worthy of being heard. That all opinions and voices should be respected and allowed. But I also think this is where the confusion lays. With the variety of voices and opinions being spoken at any one time, observers may find it very hard to understand the point of feminism. They can hear opposing opinions being given, both attaching themselves to the feminist movement, and can be left wondering which one actually is feminism.
But for me, that is the answer.
The fact that women can have opinions and voice them is feminism. That is what I fight for and believe in. The scandalous idea that women are human, that women have issues and subjects that are important and worthy of public attention and debate. That is feminism. That the personal issues that women face on the daily can be political and necessary to understand.
I have very little desire to argue over the differences in feminist opinion. But I have all the desire to draw attention to just how important it is that these issues are discussed in the first place. I doubt there are very few women who don’t care that women still do not earn equal amounts of money to their male counterparts. I doubt there are very few women who don’t have an opinion on abortion and the political control of female health. I doubt there are very few women who, did they realise, wouldn’t care that there are on average 230 cases of rape a day. And they are just the reported cases.
You see, it is my opinion that there are far more causes uniting the feminist movement, and women in general, than there are not. Even the causes that do not unite us, still exist to prove the necessity for feminism. The necessity for women to use their voices in empowering and equalising ways.
So I’m not too concerned whether or not women want or like to use the word ‘feminist’. I am quite sure they are feminists without actually understanding it. An issue that is far easier to combat than having a country full of women who don’t believe they have the right to be equal or heard.
*It is not a coincidence that a lot of ‘female issues’ seem to revolve around what women wear. This is something I’m sure I will blog about at a later date.
I have read many articles over the last week, decrying Fifty Shades of Grey as light entertainment, no more serious than porn films. As another example of how women will always judge other women for their choices, in this case reading and enjoying 50shades. As a publishing phenomenon that is really harming nobody, but opening up the way for more female erotica. I have read all this with a mounting frustration that I find hard to put into words. But I will do my best, dear Lee.
As a high school English teacher, a literature and gender studies graduate, as a lover of all books, I understand that no novel can be taken out of its context. It can not be removed from its societal history and background. I teach my pupils this in class.
So for the purposes of effective book reviewing, here is some social and cultural context that I think is vital to the reading of 50shades:
In any one year there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women by their partner or former partners in the UK alone. Thirteen million.
On average 2 women a week are killed by their partner or former partner. Two women a week.
1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence.
In 2007 stalking was the most commonly experienced type of ‘intimate violence’. Just under a quarter of all women have experienced stalking.
In the UK the police receive one call a minute relating to assistance for domestic violence. 89% of these calls are women being assaulted by men.
Less than 24% of domestic violence crime is reported to the police. Let me repeat that.Less than 24% is reported. Less than 24% yet they still receive 1 call a minute.
But here is the kicker. Here is the statistic that makes my job as a teacher to young people so difficult, and so important. Here is the statistic that demands ‘lighthearted’ best selling novels be held up against a burning light of deconstruction and analysis. Here is the statistic that suggests to me something is going very very wrong with our culture, with our expectations of equality and entertainment. This is the statistic that explains how a novel depicting an unhealthy and abusive relationship can become a best seller in the first place.
1 in 5 young men think abuse/violence against women is acceptable. 1 in 10 young women think abuse/violence against women is acceptable.*
Did you read that? Abuse/violence is acceptable? This is not okay with me.
So excuse me whilst I can’t just pass 50shades off as an amazing publishing phenomenon. Excuse me whilst it saddens me women would defend a novel that depicts such a unhealthy and abusive relationship. Excuse me for being sad and mad and angry beyond belief, that not only do people not seem to be able to spot an abusive relationship – but they are okay with an abusive relationship.
This is not okay. I am not okay with this. And I will write and talk and rage about this for as long as necessary. For as long as the police receive one call a minute. For as long as my pupils think it is acceptable for their fathers to hit their mothers. For as long as I live in a culture that tells me control is romantic and the norm for women.
As much as a dislike labels, and religious labels in particular, most people who know me would probably say I am a Christian. (Maybe not a very ‘good’ one, or maybe not a very ‘normal’ one. But one none-the-less.)
But in my world ‘Christian’ and pro-equality, pro-gay marriage, pro-quit using your interpretation of the Bible to justify your homophobia; are not mutually exclusive.
And this here blog entry is maybe the best take on the whole Chik-Fil-A weirdness I have read.
“When I was a child the unions were strong, my mother was a working-class woman and she related to feminism in a practical way. She didn’t need the right words, or to be well-versed. She saw it as female workers standing up to the male bosses who owned the factory. Now, unions are weaker and feminism has become increasingly academic, meaning you have to be educated to be taken seriously. Put that together and you’ll get a lot of working-class females out there who feel they have no voice.”—Feminism: Still excluding working class women?
I read this last night and it maybe the best thing I have read in a long while. I can’t recommend it, or her blog, enough.
"The War On Women" is a phrase thrown around a lot lately, and it makes us think of unsmiling, upright Christian men in suits bartering our personal freedoms for money to dig for oil. But the real enemy is our culture, and the attitudes that lead women to devour 50 Shades, to tweet that they’d let Chris Brown hit them. Even in my own attitudes and writing, I see problematic themes, and I rush to excuse them. We’re all making excuses, we’re all being victimized. Women are in an abusive relationship with the culture that surrounds us.”
Fifty Shades of Grey; Get your misogyny right here
Yes. I did it. I read the whole trilogy. My brain has turned to mush and I find myself apologizing to my inner goddess for the badness of this series.
And yes that is a little joke, because anybody who believes they have an inner goddess residing inside them needs a smack upside the head.
I could snark review this book. I could. I think I probably will snark review each individual novel. But right now I need to get this semi-serious rant off my chest. This review deals with ALL THREE BOOKS. If, for some reason I can’t even comprehend, you don’t want spoilers from this trilogy, then don’t read it.
I will also be referring to Christian as Chrisward and Anastacia as Anella. For obvious reasons.
Unlike the Twilight series, I’m going into the review all guns blazing. It took me until Breaking Dawn to finally lose my feminist shit in review, but this. THIS. This novel is Twilight on viagra. Get yours today! Double the length and double the misogyny!
It is important to note, there is barely a description of either character in here. When all we know about the main characters is she has pale skin, dark hair and blue eyes, and he is ‘OMG so FUCKING HOT’ with unruly copper hair and grey eyes, we actually don’t really know anything. These characters are 100% empty vessels for every reader to pour their own fantasy into. We are never told about the shape of a face, or the imperfect aspects of either of them. What we are told about their character traits are soon disproved through the rest of the narrative. They are just blank images. This is important. This right here partly explains why thousands of women are swooning after Mr Grey; an otherwise abusive, self hating, control freak, as though he were a god. They don’t need to know what he really looks like, or how his actions reinforce disturbing patriarchal constructs. They can just imagine him as their dream guy. Who’s really really good in bed. (Which, is a matter of opinion anyway. Let’s just say, I’m not particularly down with somebody RAMMING me repeatedly.)
This review will come to you in 5 parts. I promise to try and make them as coherent as possible, but my rage knows no bounds.
1. Virgin vs. Whore: ‘I want to fuck your mouth!’ Of course Anella is a virgin. OF COURSE. She has to be for the crux of this story (if that is what we are calling this hot mess) to work. She had to be either a virgin or a whore, because that is all women ever are. She couldn’t ever have been a whore to win Chrisward’s love, there is only room for one person to have the sizeable baggage he brings with him, so she was always going to be a virgin. A virgin of her choosing. Because she hadn’t found anyone to meet her high expectations of romantic love. As displayed to her through her love of the glorious works of Mr (original-woman-hater) Rochester or Heath(i’m-psychotic)Cliff.
As we all know girls thrive on romance. And boys thrive on sex. This is a construct that is perpetuated throughout society. Which is why men having lots of sexual experience is acceptable. Whereas girls who are sexually experienced must have something wrong with their romance gene.
But that isn’t really the reason she is a virgin. She is a virgin because it would be unheard of to have an experienced female in control of her sexual desires. She has to be trained by her super experienced, super large hunk of man meat. It is acceptable for him to be experienced, whilst it would whorish for her to be so.
I am not taking issue with this being a story that portrays a virgin. More power to Anella. I am taking issue at this novel perpetrating the patriarchal expectation that female virgin = innocent, but female experience = whore. Anella is so innocent she can barely refer to her female organs as anything other than “there”. Hee hee, giggle giggle.
As Chrisward experiences new things such as actually sleeping with a woman, taking her home to his parents, somebody daring to speak back to him; they are noted by him as ‘another first’. They are all largely emotionally related. Yet the Anella overwhelming firsts are all sexual, something Chrisward revels in, glad that ‘some fucker’ hasn’t touched her before him, and that he owns her body and soul. She would have been dirty property if any man had got there before him, obviously.
It is a double standard that is just as much at play today as it was 10, 20, 30, 40, 500 years ago. What gets my goat is books like this encourage it. Books like this make it normal for the man to have the experience and for the woman to want ‘hearts and flowers’. Anella only enjoys the sexual acts performed on/with her, because she believes she has feelings for Chrisward. She knows he’s messed up, but she loves him anyway. Would she participate in sex if she didn’t have an emotional connection? Probably not. Because she is the innocent, virginal maiden; saving herself for The One.
2. Control: “I want your world to begin and end with me.” I can’t really explain how disturbing I found Chrisward and Anella’s codependent relationship. From the moment she meets him she can think of nothing but him. Already a girl who seems to have only one female friend in the whole world, she is soon wrapped up in his world. They only ever do things that he enjoys, they visit all the places he likes, they inhabit his environment.
Let me make this clear, this isn’t anything to do with the Dom/sub relationship he initially wants to start up with her. I deal with the BDSM implications in my final point. No this control is the incessant emotional manipulation of another person. He uses sex to distract her from any argument. He uses sex as a punishment. He buys out the company she works for so he can essentially be her boss. On honeymoon when he is utterly furious at her daring to disobey him and go topless on a beach, he gets his own back by covering her breasts in love bites, insuring she won’t ever be wearing a bikini top again!
At every step she is worried over his reactions. She apologises consistently over things that don’t even need to be apologised for. She wants to keep her maiden name at work, he goes ape shit and turns up at her office to argue with her, she gives in. She wants to go to her friends photography exhibition, he goes with her and forces her to leave early because he doesn’t like her friend. She goes willingly. She doesn’t want to be spanked, he spanks her, makes her sob uncontrollably, then explains how it is her fault for not being honest with him.
It is never ending, the hits just keep on coming. Chrisward’s reactions and control towards Anella are so unhealthy it is ultimately abusive. Which leads on to my next point.
3. Abusive relationships: “Argue with me, and I am going to take it out on your body somehow.”
We all remember that delightful scene where Chrisward has taken his new toy home to meet the parents, at some point she does something that annoys him, he responds by dragging her out the the boathouse to teach her a lesson. Whispering, ‘Please don’t hit me’ with genuine fear and trepidation is not the hallmarks of a consensual BDSM relationship, it is one of a victim to their abuser. Chrisward punish fucks Anella often, consistently attempting to bend her to his will. If she steps out of line, she will be in trouble. She soon understands these rules. Whilst she may come off as annoyed about his reactions initially, she always always ends up sacrificing to his wants/needs. Perhaps the only thing we don’t see her back down on throughout the whole series is her insisting on having a job. If this is supposed to represent a strong, independent woman, well… it doesn’t. As already established, Chrisward has already bought out that company, so she ultimately works for him anyway.
Anella is isolated throughout the series, often trapped up in his apartment under guard. His non-disclosure contract handed to her at the very beginning ensures she is not allowed to discuss anything with anyone. Chrisward uses this time to ‘train’ her as a sub.(The NDA is later abandoned when he realises he ‘loves’ her.) Abusers rely on their victims not sharing with anyone, it is easier to instil fear.
As the series goes on Anella is informed by people that she ‘handles’ Chrisward well, or that she needs to be patient with him. More often than not domestic abuse victims stay in their situations for a long time, they do their best to control their abusers mood swings so as to not be punished. Or they blame themselves for doing something that they knew their partner wouldn’t like. Anella’s ‘handling’ of Chrisward is no more than a wife making sure she doesn’t do things that would upset her husband.
Saying I love you and apologising after the incident doesn’t mean that person loves you. Domestic abuse is a very real and very serious issue, so to read a relationship in a trashy novel that has the ingredients for one is disturbing on many levels. If she can just be patient enough with him, if she can just be more careful around him, he’ll be okay. That is NOT okay. Victims of domestic abuse are often left with low self worth, emotional problems, they find it difficult to make simple decisions or don’t judge their instincts.
Anella at one point during another example of emotional abuse says, ‘Holy fuck, I can’t even remember my own name.’ This sums it all up. She loses herself consistently, is put under untold pressure, puts up with situations that nobody should have to, until eventually - she can’t remember herself at all.
4. Saviour Complex: “And I know in this moment that my heart is big enough for both of us.”
Amongst all this we have the dangerous trope of female as saviour running through the novels. Not female as strong character. Female as independent. Female as capable. But female as the person who is able to ‘save’ ie, CHANGE the man.
Chrisward has a terrible history of child abuse, this is the reason given to us to explain why he is like he is. He is also the victim of prolonged rape by an older woman who introduced him to the BDSM lifestyle. (This is an issue that is never fully dealt with. But that is a WHOLE OTHER RANT.) His background is used as reason, excuse and explanation for his violent, controlling, manipulative tendencies. And who is the only one who can change him? Anella of course.
THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. Domestic violence is domestic violence. No matter how much you think you can change the person, you can’t. A whole narrative that deals with the magical ability of a little lady to change the crazy man is nauseating and least. Dangerous at worst.
5. BDSM lifestyle.
Finally, I must make it clear I know very little about BDSM. What little I do know is based on feminist articles and thoughts of it. Often from people holding differing ideas about BDSM as a feminist friendly practice. Personally I have no opinion. If you’re in a consensual sexual relationship, each to their own!
My issue in this novel is BDSM is portrayed at this thing that crazy issue driven men delve into! Chrisward does it because he likes to beat women that look like his biological mother! Call me naive, but surely anybody out there participating in S&M is offended by this!? The idea that he is pervy and fuelled by issues just doesn’t sit well with me. Who is to say what is pervy in the first place? What isn’t pervy for some, is for others and vice versa! Personally anything to do with food in the bedroom creeps me the fuck out. CRUMBS. MESS. THE SHEETS. UGH. But food works for others! The idea that these practices are a little bit of naughtyness was just weird for me. And that is speaking as somebody who has no experience of BDSM! His REASON for doing it was disturbing, sure. But I felt like the actual situations were trying to be portrayed as kinky, and they really, well… weren’t.
Not only that, I would think a lot of Dom/sub relationships would be offended at the portrayal. E.L.James did her best to try and explain (through Chrisward) that the sub actually is the one who has the power in the relationship. But she tried to explain that THROUGH CHRISWARD. The crazy, abusive control freak who clearly DID have the power. It was just all a bit messed up.
The end novel tries to show that Anella does finally have the control, she makes the decisions, she gets off on it as much as Chrisward. He even says to her, ‘You know, you’re topping from the bottom.’ (Something she had no clue about because apparently the stupid girl still didn’t have the basic grasp of the lingo. GOOGLE.) But it just doesn’t work. All the points above mess up the end point James seemed to try to make of BDSM.
It was a mess. I am more than a little terrified that women out there are holding this up as some erotic romance. This wasn’t romance. This was spousal abuse. This sets female equality back into the middle ages, where women are trophies to be owned and controlled. Shame on society for perpetuating this shit. Shame on E.L.James for writing it. Shame on me for reading it.
I have a lot of questions about this and I would really like to hear some answers. I’m trying not to be ignorant by genuinely seeking answers from people rather than to make assumptions or to just go along with the general consensus. I want to find out for myself. Call me naive if you wish but I really wish to better understand the issue so that’s why I’m asking. Also please don’t answer with any Mulan lyrics. You know the ones I mean, these are genuine questions.
Feel free to answer whichever of the following questions you feel you have a reasonable level on knowledge on. Submit is on for those longer posts.
I’m going to briefly take this bit, and it is very briefly: "If I now identified as a woman, would it be fair to say that I can take an authoritative stance on women’s issues? Or do I have to go through the process of becoming a woman to fully understand what it means to become a woman and deal with the issues women face? What about the coming of age for a girl, when she becomes a woman? I would have no understanding of that."
This is a contentious thing. I definitely do not claim to speak for trans or cisgender people, but I can explain my opinion. I find the term cisgender tricky in general, the idea that there are specific traits for each gender doesn’t sit well with me. Gender is such (in my opinion) a social construct, that I am concerned if people identify as ’cis-male’ or ‘cis-female’ they are simply reinforcing the gender stereotypes already in existence. This is something I don’t find helpful. But that is my opinion.
Transgender is a different thing. Something I don’t feel in the slightest bit qualified to have a detailed discussion about, but if any of my transgender followers care to chip in/provide to helpful links for je-vais-mourir to look at, please do. Needless to say, in brief, I think identifying as trans has very little to do with identifying as the stereotypical traits laid out for men/women. It is an innate and indisputable state of being either assigned, or being born into, the wrong sex.
This is where the contention lays with your ‘authoritative stance’ question. First and foremost I do not think women’s issues is about ‘authoritative stance’. In my experience, I have known men who have a better grasp and handle of these ambiguous ‘women’s issues’ you refer to than some women. Therefore I do not think you have to be anatomically female to have an understanding of ‘female issues’.
In regards to transgender people, I don’t think their issues are separate from ‘female issues’. I think if a man who identifies as a woman is ostracised or excluded from female only circles, that IS a female issue. I do not like the concept of only ‘real women’ understanding women’s problems. It’s offensive to transgender men who identify as women, and it’s offensive to me.
The issue of ‘authority’ within women’s issues will usually stem from the fact that the other person within the discussion wouldn’t be listening. It just so happens that this usually (again, not always) happens to be a man. And then you get into a ‘well you have no right to say anything, you aren’t a woman’ discourse.
Perhaps what I am saying then; is my issue is with the choice of word, ‘authority’. I don’t particularly think there is an authority as such on these things. There is a level of experience, of course a person born as a man will never understand what it is like to get a period for the first time as a teenager. But I will never understand what it is like to be born as a man and identify as a woman. That doesn’t give me any less right to try and understand and get to the root of a situation.
I guess it always comes back to listening. There are a multitude of experiences and situations out there that I have never had as a women, that would be classed as a ‘woman’s issue’. In that case I need to sit back and listen and listen and listen. Then support the issues where I can.
I know I said this was going to be brief. I lied. And I could go on for a long time still. Mostly, what I understand ‘women’s issues’ to be, are related to equality. Simple as that. So that definitely includes transgender people being shown as much respect and equality as the next person. There is no one experience of femaleness, there are a multitude. Maybe that is what I found difficult about the paragraph I highlighted. Don’t think of a woman’s experience so much as The Women’s Experience. It is very vast, and very different for all of us.
(Do I need to mention your ‘facetious question’ on identifying as a wizard was inappropriate and completely at odds with the complexities and seriousness of a transgender experience? ;))