Lucy Drewery asks why mocking a person's appearance is still just seen as 'banter'.

Gemma Collins, star of ITV's The Only Way is Essex and, now (albeit briefly), I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! has been receiving some negative attention on Twitter this week.

Gemma is a larger woman. I'd say she's only a bit bigger than me, which may be why I feel so affected by this. Or perhaps I've just not been carried away with the anonymous hype that is trolling online.

Urban dictionary defines trolling as:

Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the internet and, hey, you can.

Which basically sums up what I've seen on twitter lately.

I logged on after Gemma's entry last Sunday and all I saw were people commenting on how she looks. All week, I've seen men and women alike retweeting these hateful comments, saying they're hilarious but they feel bad for laughing. If you feel bad for laughing, why share the content? Surely if you understand it's hurtful, you won't want to spread it?

If Gemma Collins were a man, would this still be happening?

I believe not. For some reason, everyone seems to expect women to come into the show looking gorgeous in a small white bikini underneath a waterfall. And kudos to the women who do. I have no problem with this happening, but there is more to those women than how good they look under a waterfall. Just like there is more to Gemma than her size.

Yes, she's big compared to the other girls on I'm a Celeb and TOWIE. I'm sure with all the media attention her fame has brought her, she's aware of this fact. This doesn't mean the tweets mocking her size are okay. They certainly aren't funny. As I scroll down my timeline, a girl I went to school with retweets a hateful comment. This girl used to confide in me about her own body issues. I was there when she called herself fat and vowed to lose weight because she thought boys wouldn't like her. Now here she is, five years later, fat shaming an innocent woman she doesn't even know.

So why is it that, even with our own insecurities, mocking a person's appearance is still just seen as 'banter'? Does this make us feel better about ourselves? If we call this woman who is bigger than me fat, will we seem skinnier? When these comments are read and laughed at, they become normal. It starts off with anonymous trolling. We hide behind our computer screens, safe in the knowledge that our anonymity will lessen the consequences of our actions. Then the comments become accepted and, before you know it, are being related to people you know; people who can hear them.

I've had my share of comments about my weight. It took a long time to come to terms with being bigger than others and, as much as I'd like to enforce the idea that body confidence comes completely from within, I have to admit a lot of mine was prompted by other people: guys I've been with who told me I looked good, my friends reassuring me and seeing women of my size or bigger standing up to society and saying "I look good!". In my opinion, that's what Gemma is doing.

One of the pictures being mocked shows Gemma in a swimming costume. I understand the sheer dread of buying such an item and this woman will be wearing it in front of millions on national TV! I look at that picture and all I can focus on is that it's a nice swimming costume that suits her figure and I can tell she just doesn't care what people think of her. Surely we should admire that? We should respect a person's ability to stand up to hateful comments and say "this is who I am, I look good and I don't care what you think." Unfortunately, regardless of whether Gemma can brush all this off, there will be probably be girls and women seeing them and subsequently finding new body insecurities.

I want to say I don't think everyone who has taken part in all this mocking is a bad person. It's so easy to get caught up in hype. However, this makes it even more important for us to stand up to it. Let's stop making women feel terrible about their bodies and implying their looks are the only thing about them worth commenting on. Think before you speak, before you tweet and before you hurt someone. Gemma Collins is a human being. She is funny and entertaining. Let's focus on those aspects about her! She doesn't need to see your petty comments and young girls who are dealing with bodily insecurities don't need them either.

Lucy Drewery is a 19 year old originally from Plymouth. She studies Primary Education with English at the University of Reading.

Image description:

The I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! logo. This shows green jungle-covered hills, with the show title in diamond lettering with a gold outline (similar in style to the classic Hollywood sign, albeit not in colour), against a blue sky. Shared under fair dealing.

This is a guest post from Chloe Darke, a freelance journalist and postgraduate student living in London. She likes books and watching crime dramas on rainy days, and hates hearing her twenty-something friends worry about wrinkles.

I worry that the rise of female superhero in film is not necessarily a sign of women's independence and power: it seems film heroines of today haven't changed as much as we think.

In 1987, Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction was the highest grossing film worldwide, making over $320 million by the end of that year. It shows a seemingly independent, childless career woman Alex (played by Glenn Close) become a needy stalker, setting out to destroy Michael Douglas' character Dan's marriage and family life (and the pet rabbit) after their affair turns sour.Fatal_Attraction.jpg

As they left the cinema, men (should have) learnt not to have affairs, working childless women were told they needed a family, and everyone should have gotten the message that women's sexuality was really all about being wanted by men. That was then.

But how much has the portrayal of women in films changed now? The women on our screens are ever more aggressive, powerful and lacking in 'feminine weakness': look at the rise of the female superhero in films such as Lara Croft (from 2001 onwards), and the recent blockbuster Lucy. But behind women's new found bravado in these films, sexuality is still the key to their influence and power and, crucially, that power is always about seducing men.

Take Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike), from David Fincher's Gone Girl: on the surface she's the perfect modern wife, blonde, a BMI slightly below normal, and in no great rush to have children. When she goes missing on her and her husband's fifth wedding anniversary, he doesn't appear to know anything about her - from her blood type to who her friends are or what she does all day since giving up her New York writing job (to move close to his dying mother).

In fact, she's been plotting to frame him for her murder, and has made a run for it, bingeing on chocolate and popcorn in celebration of no longer being "the cool girl" sex object. She's a femme fatale who runs to her ex-lover when her money is stolen (he provides her with hair dye and gym equipment so she can "look like herself again"), fakes a rape and ruthlessly slits said ex-lover's throat during sex so that she can go back to her husband. Selfish, aggressive and lacking in traditional feminine altruism yes, but her 'unfeminine' actions are still all about using sex and sexual attractiveness to get attention from men, which hardly makes her independent.

While director David Fincher dubbed the film "a macabre on married life in the modern age", it is, much like Fatal Attraction, a tale of a selfish man who finds his love interest to be actually a 'psychopath', told through a man's eyes.

Though she has no empathy, the modern femme fatale nonetheless looks like the ideal woman. In Under the Skin, an alien arrives on earth disguised as the perfect seductress (Scarlett Johansson with a black wig and blood-red lipstick) ready to drive round Glasgow picking up men in a white van and lure them into an alien-like black death pool... You can tell it's directed by a man (Jonathan Glazer)!

Johansson's character starts to develop empathy as the film goes on, from walking past people drowning at the beginning to developing a curiosity about sex and her own naked body (which seems more like male voyeurism than anything else). But as she starts to understand human emotions she becomes vulnerable to exploitation by men. Having no clue how to look after herself on earth or understanding of what it is people do there (apart from wanting to have sex with beautiful women that is), she, like Amy Dunne, turns to an admiring man for protection, only to be gassed with petrol when the man who tries to rape her finds out she's an alien.

Both films had rave reviews. "A sexy space alien hunts men in Scotland in this extraordinary malarial dream," Xan Brooks from The Guardian said of Under the Skin, giving the film five stars, while reviews of Gone Girl praised its interplay of deception and different perspectives. Really, the film simply relayed the Fatal Attraction message: unfaithful men are forgiven by their wives and all women need the security of marriage.

It is possible to see how both these films are about how ridiculous 'ideal' women are, but I don't think that's how people see them. What worries me is how these women are presented as powerful, even feminist, because they are physically flawless and can manipulate men. Really, they're just 1970s or 1980s women, still gratuitously sexualised with a tad more aggression.

We've long moved on from '80s fashion, but little has changed when it comes to women on screen.

First picture is a still from Fatal Attraction, showing Michael Douglas as Dan and Glenn Close as Alex, talking in the kitchen, with kitchen utensils in the foreground. Taken from the film's official FB fanpage.
Second picture is taken from Gone Girl official FB fanpage. It is of Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne and Ben Affleck as Nick, with her drinking champagne.

crayons.jpgWelcome to these week's round up of links that we at The F-Word have found interesting, concerning, inspiring and/or compelling over the past seven days! It's actually over a slightly longer period than usual as we've had a break in posting these threads for a few months; however, they're back and you can expect to see them regularly once more.

While we try to indicate where there are links that might be triggering, especially if the article titles are not clear, please approach all links with caution. In addition, we aren't just posting things that we agree with so you might come across something that doesn't align with your feminism or is actually from an objectively un-feminist stance. We want to encourage debate and to recognise that variety of perspectives out there because while echo chambers can sound reassuring, they don't help us to progress. Given that, please take into account that The F-Word doesn't endorse any links - we just provide them for perusal.

We matched Dapper Laughs' 'comedy' with everyday sexism stories. Spot the difference (The Mirror) - warning for jokes and testimonials about rape and sexual assualt

Julien Blanc: petition urges UK to deny visa to controversial US 'pick-up artist (The Guardian)

But What Was She Wearing? Documenting what street harassment actually looks like (Stop the catcall)

People Have A Lot To Say About The Scientist Who Wore A Shirt Covered In Half-Naked Women During The Comet Landing (Buzzfeed)

This is not what feminism looks like (Tilly Grove at Huffington Post blog)

Feminist t-shirts, call-outs and commodification (We Mixed Our Drinks)

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like in Mauritius (The Nation)

A Cistern of Failure (Maki Yamazazi) (this ain't livin')

Some thoughts about thick skin (Feministing)

Children's channel CBBC to broadcast film about transgender boy (Pink News)

I'm Intersex and My Body Works Just Fine, Thank You (Vice)

American Horror Story's Mat Fraser Won't Star in Your "Inspiration Porn" (A.V. Club)

Botswana High Court Asserts Right of Lesbians and Gays to Register Their Own Organisation (The Maravi Post)

Karl Stefanovic's sexism experiment: Today presenter wears same suit for a year (The Age)

The image is by Sasha Nilov and is used under a creative commons licence. It depicts about 50 crayons tightly fitting into a pot. The shot is taken from directly above so all that can be seen of the crayons is the tips. They are in a wide array of colours and not arranged in any order. They are standing on an out-of-focus grey wood or fabric grained platform.

Time for feminism

by Megan Stodel // 14 November 2014, 23:28

Tags: arguments, feminism, feminist, the f-word, time

dictionaries.jpgTime Magazine has a problem with the word "feminist", so much so that it's made the shortlist of its words that should be banned in 2015. This website is aware that, for some people, feminism is a dirty word. We're called The F-Word, for crying out loud - and that's been since 2001 (catch up, Time).

There are a number of reasons why people are against the word feminism and its derivatives...

1) "Men and women are already equal."
These people aren't so much against the word; they're against everything that feminism stands for. In more extreme versions, they might even argue that women hold more power than men and actually action needs to be taken to re-tip the balance. In other instances, they are simply baffled at the need for a movement to fight for gender equality. There are laws in place, aren't there? If women are choosing to concentrate on their children at the expense of their careers or wax their pubic hair - well, that's their choice, isn't it?

This entire blog is about why this isn't true. Whether we're writing about the gendered effects of the government spending and austerity, the persistent gender pay gap, the invisibility of women in history, how STEM industries underrepresent women or any of the other hundreds of topics in our archives, it's clear that in a lot of instances, we simply don't have equality. While many of the movement's victories can be measured in legal advances, all too often the issues feminism is concerned with need more complex solutions.

2) "Feminist makes it sound like you only care about women's rights."
Some people are uncomfortable with the way that the label suggests that gender equality is really about women. Men share some of the issues that affect women and they can also suffer from discrimination and oppression when they fail to fully inhabit expected gender roles. Wouldn't it be more helpful to recognise this in the term?

It's certainly true that men are affected by gendered issues. In a lot of ways, the goals of feminist movements address these, because by challenging gendered conventions, masculinity is questioned as much as femininity. However, I also believe that it is right for feminism to acknowledge that women are the primary sufferers of gender inequality and oppression. The historic uneven power distribution between the sexes means that sexism vastly disproportionately affects women.

3) "I think feminism is important, but the name is holding us back."
When Time lists this word in their poll, they make it toxic. Some worry that by clinging to the label of feminism, the movement loses the opportunity to engage with people who have indelibly negative connotations with the word.

However, changing feminism so that is something that is palatable for everybody means making so many concessions that the movement becomes meaningless. The negative associations that some have with feminism don't exist because of the word - they exist because of attempts to discredit and destroy something that is threatening to the status quo. If we called ourselves something else, that wouldn't stop the hate. It would just mean that those connotations were transferred to the new label.

And while many might prefer not to have a label at all, I think that we need to be unified. Yes, the movement is varied and complex and my idea of feminism might not be an exact replica of your idea of feminism. Yes, it can be frustrating to tell somebody you are a feminist and be met with derision or puzzlement. Yes, it is a bloody headache to have as much of a debate over the term as the issues it concerns. But words are meaningful. The reason that Time wants to ban feminism is because it feels that it's overused. In 2014, an impressive array of public figures have felt the need to state their position on the topic. That means people are talking about it. That means there's an impact.

When I first identified as a feminist, it was to myself. When I arrived at university, there was no feminist society. I'd never had a conversation with somebody where we'd both explicitly said we were feminists. Yet over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of feminist societies, groups, blogs, petitions and campaigns - and it's been inspiring. Feminist issues are discussed at the highest levels, grassroots campaigns are meeting with success and people who might have once stayed silent on the topic are speaking out.

We're on the edge of something world-changing. In 2015, feminism is only going to get stronger - whether or not Time decides to banish it.

The photo is by John Keogh and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows reference books lined up on a shelf, including dictionaries, thesauruses and guides to usage, phrases and fables. In the background, more books are piled up.

Ailsa Bristow looks at the second season of Masters of Sex and finds an approach to sexual awareness that is unashamedly political and unafraid of challenging viewers.

This review contains spoilers for the first and second seasons of Masters of Sex.

As Philip Larkin famously had it, "Sexual intercourse began/ in 1963." However, throughout its acclaimed first season, Masters of Sex aims to challenge viewers' prim view of decades past. Set in 1950s Missouri, the show illustrates the breadth and depth of sexual practices and desires that existed long before the sexual revolution of the 1960s brought the topic of sex into a more public view. The show is based on the life and careers of William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), pioneering researchers in the field of human sexuality, with the first season culminating in the pair presenting their controversial research into the female orgasm to the medical establishment's consternation.

Masters of Sex, like its protagonists, does not shy away from difficult topics. In the recently screened season two, we witness the use of electric shock therapy for homosexuality, the birth of an intersex child who is rejected by their father and the refocusing of Masters and Johnson's work to treat sexual "dysfunctions". Still, the show's most consistent (and interesting) thread is its intriguing treatment of female sexual desire.

The second season attempts to depict a diverse range of women exploring their sexuality. Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) is a former prostitute whose same-sex desire eventually derails her marriage, while Barb (Betsy Brandt) is a timid medical secretary whose childhood sexual experiences have left her unable to have penetrative sex in adulthood. There is also Coral (Keke Palmer), a young African-American nanny who attempts to use stereotypes of black sexuality as a weapon and Flo (Artemis Pebdani), a business owner who takes on a sexually dominant role over her male employee...

Click here to read the rest of Ailsa's review and comment

Image description:

Showtime promo for Masters of Sex (used for more than one season in various sources). The show title is in large red letters at the top, with the 'E' lying horizontally, against a light blue/white background. Just below, Virginia stands facing outwards on Bill's left, who is sitting in a chair turned sideways (viewer's right). Her left hip leans outwards, with the words 'Arousing America's Curiosity' following its line in thin black type, while her right hand leans around Bill and rests on the top of his chair. Bill holds a pen in his right hand and crosses his left leg over his right.

This is a guest post by Selina Robertson. Selina is a freelance film programmer and writer, curating queer film programmes in the UK and at international film festivals. Together with Sarah Wood, she runs Club Des Femmes, a queer feminist film club

When Club Des Femmes applied for funding from the BFI to organize Ada & After: Women Do Science [Fiction], a weekend of international film programming and events showcasing the continuing contribution of women to science and science fiction, we set out to redress the gender (im)balance that has for so long been assumed by mainstream audiences about the genre of science fiction. We are championing the work of contemporary female science fiction writers and filmmakers exploring issues such as gender, sexuality, fantasy, technology and science.

Pertinently, the weekend is named after Ada Lovelace, credited for inventing the primary algorithm, the first computer program. Following feminist film scholar and theorist Annette Kuhn, who in her book Alien Zone writes about "cultural instrumentality", we deepen our investigation of the genre of feminist science fictions, asking: what do these films do? How do they do it?

There is plenty of critical thought about the concept of "otherness" in science fiction and Afrofuturism has created an engaging examination of the relationship between Pan-African culture, music, science fiction and technology; it can in turn be used as a metaphor for the experience of cultural alienation and otherness. Over the weekend we explore the discourse around feminism and Afrofuturism with a screening of Frances Bodomo's 2014 film Afronauts, inspired by true events, about the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon on 16 July 1969.


Still from Afronauts (2014), dir. Frances Bodomo

Writer/ director Campbell X (Stud Life) will be conducting an interactive screenwriting workshop focused on bringing the untold stories of female, queer and POC science fiction protagonists to the screen. Campbell will be joined via Skype by the celebrated Caribbean-Canadian science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring) to discuss her body of work.

Queerness, colour, sexual difference and diversity is filtered through the lens of otherness, acting as a challenge to the mainstream conceptions of gender roles and sexuality, as well as power and authority and their relation to technology. Seeing Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames (1983) as the first radical feminist science fiction film, born out of second wave feminism, that acts as a utopian call to arms for future generations of politically engaged feminist filmmakers, our weekend sets out to further challenge, explode, bend some fault lines. We will cross borders into unchartered territories, jump onto the Mothership and discover the meaning of being human, a cyborg, a lesbian space alien, an astronaut, artist, scientist, inventor, writer, activist or even Maisie, a space dog assassin.

Ada & After is bookended with two past and present classic feminist science fiction films. We open with Tank Girl (on 35mm), directed by Rachel Talalay (now writing episodes for BBC's Dr Who), an eye-popping, punky riot grrrl-soundtracked adaptation of Jamie Hewlett's cult comic that is the first and only female-led superhero film. Almost 20 years old and ahead of its time for its exploration of a post-apolyptic world of water shortages and environmental devastation, starring an inspired Lori Petty as Tank Girl and Naomi Watts as her sidekick-cum-girlfriend Jet Girl. We finish with a recent classic: writer/director Madeleine Olnek's Ed Wood inspired comedy Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same from 2011. Taking inspiration from Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise (1984), Olnek's black and white New York set comedy delivers a sweet-hearted, campy, utterly original lesbian love story that gives a whole new meaning to "queer me up, Scotty".

The constant dialogue among queer/feminist science fiction film and literature fandom, alongside the academy's fairly recent delve into critical scholarship of the genre, points to an ever-deepening understanding of the continuing role of feminism in the development of science fiction cinema and its impact on audiences. Certainly any writing on current feminist science fiction filmmaking and literature should mention the exciting and continuing global impact of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games movie franchise (adapted from Suzanne Collins' books). Club Des Femmes is showing the original The Hunger Games (2012) film over our weekend with a feminist reading by writer and critic Bidisha.

Katniss, "a young woman who has no choice but to fight for survival" (Roxane Gay), is indeed a very modern feminist action hero, possibly a mainstream cultural icon for contemporary Fourth Wave Feminism. Katniss is changing her world, and in turn Hollywood cinema, one arrow at a time. What does she do and how does she do it? Come and find out, perhaps for one weekend we can all be Ada Lovelace.

Full programme and info on how to get tickets on the Club des Femmes website.


For your chance to win a pair of tickets to either the opening night (Tank Girl, Thursday 20 November 8:45pm) or Björk: Biophilia Live (Saturday 22 November 8:40pm), please send me the email with the answer to the following question in subject line:

What is the name of the first Iranian woman in space?

I'm waiting for your answers until Sunday 16 November (please tell me which screening you want), ania.ostrowska[at]

Image is a still from Frances Bodomo's short Afronauts (2014), courtesy of Club des Femmes. It is a black and white portrait of a black astronaut.

The expat life: why we leave

by Guest Blogger // 12 November 2014, 11:52


November guest blogger Nat Newman continues her series on women expats. Her first post describes herself. Her second post discusses reasons why women leave to become expats.

What would it take for you to pack up all of your belongings, leave Britain and move to another country? Work, professional advancement, romance, weather, the lure of the ocean, unhappiness, itchy feet? How about an unsympathetic government?

These are some of the reasons why Farrah, Naomi and Lindsay have found themselves in foreign countries.

Farrah Gillani and her family have recently moved to Luxembourg after a 7 year stint in Sweden. Leaving the UK was one thing; leaving behind their established life in Sweden was another and it's been harder than she expected, especially for the kids. "But we always knew we wanted to live abroad," she says. Farrah's parents are Indians from East Africa who migrated to the UK. Her husband Vic is Spanish with Indian parents. The peripatetic life runs in their families.

"I think it has to do with being a 3rd culture kid," Farrah tells me. "I never felt part and parcel of the English life. I studied English literature at Cambridge, I love English history, I know a lot about it, but it's not my history. And I don't feel like Indian history is my history either. And when you don't have that same notion of home as people who have lived in that country for forever have, then it makes it much easier for you to cut the ties."

When her husband was offered a job in Sweden they jumped at the chance. As much as they loved living in Sweden, though, after a few years they were starting to get 'itchy feet'. Another opportunity came up, this time in Luxembourg, and they moved on again.

It's a very different story for Naomi Dalton, who moved to Bogotá just over a year ago. Her boyfriend Javier had been studying English in the UK for 4 years and went on to do his Masters in London. But it proved impossible to deal with the Home Office to keep the two together. In the end, Naomi decided that if she wanted to continue her relationship she would need to move to Bogota.

"My family weren't shocked by the idea," Naomi told me by Skype. "I've moved before, I've lived in Argentina and Mexico, although for shorter periods. And they knew the situation with Javier."

She has found work as an English teacher, and although she's enjoying it for the time being, she admits that teaching isn't a long-term career goal. When I ask Naomi about her future plans and if she'd consider moving back to the UK, she becomes passionate.

"With the UK policy, at the moment, it's very anti-immigration. And they really discriminate against Britons who happen to have a partner who's not from the EU," she says. "I kind of resent the fact that my country has effectively forced me into exile. It sounds very dramatic. But really that's the situation." Naomi is happy to be in Colombia now, but is obviously disappointed that it's a decision that was forced on her by her own government.

Meanwhile, Lindsay de Feliz found herself living the expat life after falling in love with the ocean. A trip to the Maldives with her then-husband sparked a lifelong addiction to scuba diving.

"While I was still working I would go five or six times a year to dive and then I thought well, if this is something I really enjoy so much, rather than working all the time to get money together to go and do it, why don't I just do it? And I wasn't particularly happy in my marriage, I wasn't particularly happy in England, so I thought if I don't do this now I never will."

Lindsay spent a few years as a diving instructor in Singapore, Thailand, Borneo and Minorca. She decided that, in order to differentiate herself from the 'pretty sexy 20 year old guys with long blonde hair' who mostly made up the diving scene, she would add Spanish to her list of languages. She got a job in the Dominican Republic, initially for just a few months to learn the language. But she never left. "I got stuck," she says, with a smile. That was 14 years ago. Love had struck again, this time with a local Dominican man.

I feel like these amazing women have been worked on by a number of push-pull forces. In a way they are pushed out of the UK for various reasons. But much stronger is the force which pulls them away to new places - love, adventure and knowledge. And aren't we all looking for love, adventure and knowledge?

For more adventures, tune in next post, where I'll be asking the question "what do expat women do?"

The photo illustrates an artistic photo with a woman carrying her suitcase. Thank you Matthew G for the photo! Editor's note: When you search in creative commons for a photo "Women travelling", most photos seem to illustrate women in foreign countries. It was as if the photographer was travelling and labeling the subject as the common woman in their travelling adventures. In order for me to find a picture of a woman who was travelling herself, I had to search for "women with suitcase".

New review: Gone Girl

by Ania Ostrowska // 11 November 2014, 14:09

Tags: film, film reviews, representation of women

Amy_Nick.jpgIt is virtually impossible to review either Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl or its film adaptation by David Fincher (also based on Flynn's screenplay) without major spoilers.

That's why we're publishing a review of the film by Lily Kendall only now: I hope most of you have seen the film and most of those who haven't are not planning to, for whatever reason.

The film did really well at the global box office but its critical reception, especially in the circles claiming some feminist credentials, was mixed. In her review, Lily weighs most popular arguments in the debate around the story of Amy and Nick and offers her take on the film's message.

Read Lily's review and share your thoughts on the film.

Picture is taken from the GG official FB fanpage. It is of Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne and Ben Affleck as Nick, with her drinking champagne.

lisa_bufano.jpgThis week, disability campaign group DPAC offered an impassioned blog post, about the use of the word vulnerable to describe disabled people:

"We can see how tempting it is to talk up the viciousness of the Tories by playing on images of those bearing the brunt of their rotten policies as helpless victims.

But disabled people are not just a stick with which to beat the Tories and the language used to describe disability has a powerful role to play in the continuing fight against disabled people's oppression.

That oppression is driven by ideas rooted in capitalism that see disabled people as of lesser worth than other people: weaker, needy, helpless, vulnerable...reliant on others to survive, indeed a burden..."

I completely understand DPAC's position. Since the beginning of austerity measures that have harmed disabled people more than any other group, the rhetoric used about disabled people has deteriorated sharply. Often those campaigning against the cuts have emphasised tragic personal circumstances and played into the hierarchies of both disability and poverty. We've heard many stories of good normal non-disabled people who worked very hard, paid a lot of tax, only to be struck down with some unpleasant, always very physical condition. The word I have particularly wished to eliminate from this discussion is genuinely, as in genuinely disabled, that somehow crept into the way disabled people talk about ourselves. So I understand DPAC's fear that anti-cuts rhetoric might support the very models of disability that are being used to justify the cuts.

The language of vulnerability is a gift to those in power, because it suggests a group of people needs looking after, protecting, guiding through their lives; a group who don't necessarily know what's good for them. It also suggests that there's something natural about the discrimination, social exclusion, violence and poverty that a marginalised group faces. Women's vulnerability is often used in attempts to control us; anti-abortion campaigners often cite the vulnerability of unhappily pregnant women, arguments around sex-work often caricature all sex-workers as trafficked or drug-addicted. Historically, women have been prevented from doing all kinds of things, from boxing to learning ancient Greek, all in the name of protecting our more vulnerable brains and bodies. Women's vulnerability is used as an excuse for male violence and society's failure to address it; our bodies compared to expensive cars that need to be kept double-locked and never stray to the rough parts of town.

And yet, women, disabled people and members of all marginalised groups are vulnerable. We are likely to have fewer resources and opportunities, many of the institutions and authorities we have to deal with are dominated by people who don't look like us. Meanwhile, social attitudes makes people vulnerable; unhappily pregnant women, for example, are vulnerable because they are highly stigmatised, often in several ways at once. Disabled people are vulnerable because we have been primed to see ourselves as burdensome and reliant on the kindness of others. Women are vulnerable because we are taught not to fully trust ourselves, to understand ourselves and our value only in relation to other people.

Feminism and other social justice movements are sometimes dismissed as assuming "the politics of victimhood", blaming society for all our misfortune. Yet I often see a great struggle around vulnerability within feminism, as within the disability rights movement; we want to assert that women are strong, capable and independent, but we also need to acknowledge that a disproportionate number of very bad things happen to women and girls. Sometimes, just like movie script-writers, feminists risk creating a false dichotomy between strong women who have speaking roles and vulnerable victimised women who are only ever talked about; most often women of colour, women in the developing world, sex-workers, trans women, older or very young women and disabled women.

For me, acknowledging vulnerability, in this cultural sense, has been part of my empowerment as a disabled woman. I think most people struggle to acknowledge their own vulnerability - we aren't everso good at taking responsibility for the things we do or fail to do, but we don't like to see ourselves as at risk. This is why guilt is so often a first instinctive response to victimisation; I shouldn't have been there, I shouldn't have said that, I should have realised what was going to happen etc. - the psyche is so appalled by helplessness that it prefers a story where there were plenty of solid opportunities to predict and change the course of events. And society largely supports this self-blame; bad things don't happen to good people behaving sensibly. Bad things only happen to bad or very foolish people.

Yet some of us are put in situations where it's tremendously difficult to make the best decisions. For example, as a disabled teenager with physical impairments and mental health problems, socially isolated and with little money, bisexual and beset with angst about what that meant, it was easy for me to slip into a abusive relationship with a much older man. A combination of inexperience, self-loathing and very low expectations for what my life should be like made violence somewhat unsurprising - certainly not shocking enough to get out right away.

Realising this may not be empowering for my past self, who took all kinds of wrong turns, but it is tremendously empowering in the present. Every way in which I was vulnerable is something I can do something about for other young people in similar situations. We need to talk to young people about healthy relationships, we need to create a world in which disabled teenagers feel entitled to respect and good treatment, we need to make things much better for queer kids coming up. Acknowledging the ways that society and its systems makes people more vulnerable is to acknowledge that this is something we can change for the better and try to resist moves, like welfare and social care cuts, which makes this worse.

[Image is a photograph of a Lisa Bufano, a disabled performing artist. A white woman with dark hair, her arms and legs appear to extend into extremely long, sculpted poles, described as Queen Anne table legs. The image is by Julia Wolf and is shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.]

Underwire_logo.jpgIt's that time of the year again!

Underwire film festival, celebrating shorts by women since 2010, is back in The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick, London form Tuesday to Saturday.

As a prelude to the festival, Underwire has hosted today a series of panel discussions, Girls on Film, tackling the history of the lesbian on screen; the Bechdel Test on the eve of its 30th birthday; the trouble with so-called 'Strong Female Characters'; women in comic book films.

Alongside established festival strands, this year's edition sees the Underwire Alumnae Reunion on Saturday 15 November, celebrating the Underwire filmmaking community with a host of alumnae from previous years returning to share their stories and successes.

For comedy writers, there is a training day on Friday 14 November, Writing Comedy: Finding Confidence in the Collective, focussing on networking and collaboration in the industry.


For full programme and to book tickets, please visit the festival website.

First picture is Underwire logo. Second picture is a still from Barbara Hammer's Dyketactics (1974). Both courtesy of Underwire.

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