Monday, 30 January 2012

Feminism - A Dirty Word?

Why do some people react with such disgust when they hear the word 'feminism'? Why do people who are so obviously feminists in every sense of the word - except the word itself - react in horror when described as a feminist, and vehemently deny any association to the label??

Feminism is defined as "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes' (according to the oh-so-wise Oxford Dictionary). So basically anyone who believes that men and women are equal, and that women have the same rights as men and should be recognised as such...well, newsflash - they're feminists!

It doesn't matter if you are male or female, black or white or purple (:P), the bottom line is that if you believe in equality of the sexes then you're a feminist. However, it's what you do about that belief that defines you as a feminist. Some are activists, others prefer to simply get on with their lives while happily acknowledging that they are feminists. Others combine other political beliefs and take on the task of changing the world - hats off to those people for doing that!

What REALLY gets my goat is perfectly intelligent, successful, strong women looking down at me in disdain when I proclaim (very proudly, may I add) that I am a feminist. One woman, who appears well established in her career and a picture-perfect image of a modern feminist, sniffed that she knew plenty of strong successful women and THEY weren't feminists. Oh no! When I argued that feminism is actually in the mainstream now, she stated that they didn't waste their time 'banging on' about feminism. They talked about REAL things - like childcare costs, the cuts, promotions and so on. Precisely the same things we shameless, disgusting feminists campaign for.

I rest my case.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Silent Feminists

Feminism is currently enjoying a surge in popularity and activism, with several groups being set up in the last two years. However, even with feminists shouting louder than ever before, there is a silent side to feminism, a side where the feminists don’t use their voice – not at all. Oh no…they use their HANDS.

Triangle is a feminist group, set up specifically for deaf women and those within the deaf community. The aim is to support those who use sign language as their primary form of communication and enable them to learn more about, and tackle, feminist issues.

It was set up because, although deaf people are by no means immune to the effects of gender inequality and often face disability discrimination too, information on feminist issues is by large inaccessible. Videos are not captioned. Sign language interpreters are not provided. Many people do not know sign language, and if they do, they know the very basics – which, let’s face it, hardly stands up in the middle of a heated political debate.

Because of this lack of access to information, the whirlwind of feminist activity has passed the deaf community by. If they cannot access information about oh-so-important issues, how can they even begin to fight for equality? Awareness is the first vital step towards empowerment. Knowledge is power, after all.

Triangle aims to generate just that – awareness of issues in an accessible format, so that we can prepare to fight the good fight, alongside our comrades. 

So what can you do to help? Enrol on sign language classes. Create a budget for sign language interpreters at conferences – and don’t skimp on this as interpreters don’t come cheap. Caption videos where possible. Provide written radio transcripts. Most importantly of all - learn basic deaf awareness – this is so much more important than people realise.

A deaf woman suffering abuse at the hands of her partner went to a women’s shelter for help. She was turned away for ‘health and safety reasons’. Why? Because she would not be able to hear the fire alarm if it went off. If the staff had basic deaf awareness training, they would have known that very simple adjustments could be made in order to accommodate her – a vibrating fire alarm, a pager, even a fire marshal being made aware of the presence of a deaf person in the building. But because they felt unequipped, that woman had no other choice but to go back to her abusive partner.

Nobody should ever have to do that. Nobody. No matter their age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, background or disability, everyone has a right to live without fear.

Triangle is very busy making sure that never has to happen to anyone ever again. We are laying the foundations for progress and equality. It will be a long journey, but we will get there. Especially with your support.

So while you shout out for gender equality, we will be waving our hands in the air. Together, we can make things happen. So let’s get busy. We have a world to change!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Princess Syndrome

How many of you remember the stories of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty?? They are lovely, aren't they? And did you dress up as a princess when you were little, dreaming of the day your handsome prince would come? Thought so. I did too.

And has your prince come after all, in his shining armour? If he has, then good for you. If he hasn't, and you're still waiting then alas you're a victim of the Princess Syndrome. Bet nobody told you how many frogs you would have to kiss before you find your prince. If he even exists.

Walt Disney raised us to believe that if we were beautiful, we would have our happily ever after (Sleeping Beauty). And if we tolerated abuse, we would find our prince (Cinderella). And if we gave up something precious to us like our voice, then we would have our man then, of course, everything would be perfect in the end (The Little Mermaid).

Good role models, these characters? I think not. It's time we were realistic. Happiness does not depend on how beautiful we are outside. It's the inside that counts. And the perfect man (or woman) for us will accept us for who we are, as we are, without expecting us to give up anything. And there is no such thing as happily ever after. Even if we are lucky enough to find someone we can tolerate for more than five minutes, relationships require time and effort.

So let's be our own role models. Let's accept ourselves and others for who we are. Stop waiting for that prince, and go out and LIVE. Enjoy life! Be happy!! And don't measure your relationships up to unrealistic expectations.

Empowered Women, Emasculated Men?

How has Feminism Changed Bedroom Dynamics?

Breish Rowe ventured alone to a Psychologies debate, armed with two lovely female intepreters - Liz Graham and Naomi Bottril. The panel consisted of not one, but two influential feminist writers - Natasha Walter and Rebecca Asher. So she was very excited!


As I gulped back my wine excitedly, trying not to squeal at being within spitting distance of the two writers, the debate soon got underway. The main point being reinforced in the discussion seemed to be that although women have come a long way in their fight for equality, they have a long way to go still. There was also lengthy discussion about relationships and parenting roles.

I found that rather disappointing as I was expecting a juicy dissection about what goes on in the bedroom i.e. who goes on top!  Or even how sexual fantasies have changed over time as feminism has made its presence felt in society. But alas, no mention of Nancy Friday's theories about the Madonna/Whore complex, and our need to escape our 'good girl' roles through fantasy.

Nevertheless, it was a very interesting discussion and ended on an interesting note by Rebecca Asher, who argued that women have fought AGAINST men this far to achieve their equality. However, feminism has reached a point where we are now not working against men per se, but rather needs to work WITH them. That's how far we've come. Men are no longer the issue - society is.

I noticed something that kept cropping up during the debate, and that was how power was constantly referred to as somehow masculine. For example, phallic symbols elicit a sense of power together with undeniable masculinity. However, if women want to gain power and achieve equality, how can they do so when the very essence of power is male? We must somehow make power a gender-neutral concept, and change society's mindset.

Natasha Walter suggested that equality is about being who you are from birth without being unduly influenced in any way by outside factors, peer pressure or expectations to conform. Only in being who you are as you should be from birth, then you can be truly equal as equal should be. This suggests that society's model of equality possess an innate equality inbalance. So basically, we're screwed?!

Robert Rowland Smith, another panel member, very nicely quoted Plato's theory of how men and women were divided into half by the Gods as a punishment for being too powerful together. So mankind is destined to always search for our other half to become whole again. It is only through making love that we become as one. So now I see the inspiration for Spice Girl's "Two Become One" and Atomic Kitten's "Whole Again"!!

It is a nice theory, especially as it ties in with Rebecca's point - it is only through working with, not against, men that women can achieve so much more in the name of equality. Perhaps it is time to change feminism's image as a women's movement to a social movement.

I am sure that the panel said a lot more about other things, such as the issue of porn in sex, the role of mothers in defining sons' relationships with women, sex differences and so on. But this is all I could remember afterwards. Blame the wine! *glares reproachfully at my wine glass*

Hopefully you found this interesting reading, and that it gave some food for thought :) 

P.S Natasha signed my book "For Breish, with sisterhood" - thumbs up!

Feminist Artists - A BSL Tour...?

We were excited. An actual art exhibition dedicated to none other than FEMINIST artists! And there was a tour of the exhibition in BSL. Oh, we were so there.

We arrived slightly confused. Was this it? A small, cramped room? The presenter then began...."This is a banana. It is yellow". Wow, really? No shit, Sherlock. It got worse.

We looked at each other in dismay. Where was the scintillating feminist context? What compelled this artist to take on a double identity for three years? What made that artist create a grotesque image of a step-by-step beauty routine? And WHY was that banana even there? Irony? A satirical portrait of society's standards of so-called beauty, and the unrealistic demands to attain those standards, perhaps? The symbolicism of phallic items, infused with power? No. It's a banana and it is yellow. No more. No less.

The worse was yet to come. "These are posters by woman artists in America. They wear monkey masks". That's all can be said about the Guerilla Girls?! Not a single comment on the painful irony in the fact that they worked so hard for equal representation, not wishing their work to be hidden away in a room somewhere. And yet there they were, in a small room again, surrounded by huge rooms filled with the work of male artists.

We walked away, bitterly disappointed. This only served to reinforce the reasons why Triangle was set up. There is a real lack of awareness about the feminist movement in the Deaf community. If we are unable to find a decent presentation in BSL (given by a hearing person nonetheless!!), then how can others even begin to learn about feminist issues? If we can't even find this simple provision, then how can we move forward and tackle those issues?

We looked at each other and sighed. If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed. Now, drink up girls. We have a lot of work to do!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Love is What You Want

The very first meeting of the Triangle took place at Southbank, where we gathered to admire Tracy Emin's artwork at her long-awaited exhibition 'Love is What You Want'.

The reason for her association with feminism was immediately obvious from when we entered the first room. We were greeted by the sight of several blankets hanging on the walls, with phrases painstakingly sewn on such as "Why should I protect myself from you when it is you who should protect me?" and “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone”.

Walking through the rooms, you are struck by the contradictions within the work she displays. In the neon room, one light installation tenderly spelt out 'I can feel your smile' while another bluntly said 'F*** off, you slag'. One certainly would not expect to see those words alongside each other. But they do. It certainly does somewhat reflect the double standards that women constantly deal with in their everyday lives, and appears to be something that Tracy Emin embraces.

She challenges us to confront uncomfortable truths, laying bare her experiences with rape, abortion, sex, and growing up. Through her illustrations of sex and masturbation, she challenges you to look away but at the same time she seems to draw you in, saying "Look, this is who and what we are, and this is what happens”.

A sculpture created especially for this exhibition consisted of a distinctly phallic-looking wooden structure towering over a platform upon which two tiny children’s chairs rested. A clay-cast woman lay curled up in a foetal position on top of a plinth, seemingly cowering in fear in the shadow of the wooden structure. The message is clear and disturbing, with the power of masculinity portrayed as dominating and threatening.

The children’s chairs give a strong sense of vulnerability as does the tiny teddy bear and the misplaced child’s shoe seemingly ‘left’ on the floor in two different parts of the exhibition. Tracy Emin seems to be sending a message about how easily innocence is lost, how little it can be valued, and how precious it really is.

Despite the horror and sense of foreboding, another feeling that permeates the artwork is that of defiance. She uses art to show the hardship and horrors in her life but she also uses it as a shield, to defy others to challenge her on the truths she illustrates. There is definitely humour in her work – one such example lies in her drawing of an obviously inept man on top of a naked woman with the caption “Is this a joke”. She also scrawls out in neon lighting that “People like you need to f*** people like me”.

Tracy Emin has successfully thumbed her nose at the men that conspired to make her life harder in so many ways;

“…I’m leaving this place,
I’m out of here.
I’m better than all of them.
I’m free.
So I left Margate,
I left all those boys
This one’s for you” (an extract from 'Why I Never Became a Dancer')

This exhibition, it would seem, is for all of us!  It is a powerful exhibition about the female condition, and what it is to be a woman amongst men. We certainly found it thought-provoking, with its themes of sexism, violence, love, feminity, abortion and family.

If you would like to visit the exhibition yourself, there will be a BSL tour on 25th August at 6.30pm. Alternatively, you can visit anytime until 29th August, which is when the exhibition closes. see the link below for information.

Let us know what you think!

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Triangle is formed!

So here we are - a newly formed group of like-minded women who want to change the world over a glass (or two) of wine. We are all closet feminists, who have stood by quietly in outrage at the blatant hypocrisy, inequality and general rubbishness of the treatment of women. Concerned about being labelled butch, man-hating lesbians if we dare declare our status as feminists, it took one woman to stand up and say "Oi! Haven't we had enough of this rubbish? Aren't we gorgeous women who happen to be intelligent, successful and politically informed? We have STUFF to say! Let's be heard!"

And it was thus that the Triangle was born. All hail the Triangle *bows*

So what's the plan? Erm...right now it would seem that a group of women will descend upon the bars of London and get royally drunk while putting the world to rights, throwing in some intellectualism by attending art galleries, seminars and whatnot before the drinking session. There's got to be a balance, right? Right??

The Triangle is a safe, warm and fuzzy place for us women to meet. What happens in the Triangle stays in the Triangle. It is there that we will celebrate our femaleness without shame, apology nor embarrassment. Heck, we'll even flash our granny pants and nod solemnly in mutual understanding at the horrors and pitfalls of skimpy knickers.

Here's to the future of the great and mighty Triangle *clinks glass and hics*