In which I think out loud about a film I watched: Under The Skin

Content note: This post contains spoilers for Under The Skin, and a discussion of rape and sexual violence. 

This week I finally got round to seeing Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film about sex and aliens and stuff. As I mull it over, I still can’t quite digest my feelings about it; I’m not sure if I necessarily liked it, but it certainly made me feel things. It was beautiful to look at, providing an arty and distinctly alien view of Glasgow, and the sound engineering was absolutely stunning. Scarlett Johansson delivered a spectacular performance as the alien protagonist. It was pleasingly oblique, with plenty of room for interpretation (or polite befuddlement).

What touched me hardest was that I’ve never seen a film which has summed up my own feelings about heterosexuality so perfectly. We see the world through the eyes of an alien wearing the body of a beautiful woman, and her confusion and disgust at the way men react to her. We see her making polite small talk with men who want to impress her, we see her horror as she enters a meat market night club, and we see her weary acquiescence to being cared for by a man in a time of need. All of it is presented as disorienting and weird, oddly repetitive, and thoroughly and completely unsexy. This is largely how I feel in my interactions with men who I can tell want to have sex with me, and I don’t blame her at all for spending a lot of the second half of the film running away.

For a predatory alien, it is also rather striking how conditional her power is. She is only capable of killing when she has successfully lured men back to her house and undertaken the procedure for suspending them in oil. At all other times, she is helpless, apart from one brief window of opportunity where she is presented with a weakened and near-unconscious man. Even under these ideal conditions, it is hinted at that the alien is not acting of completely her own volition: throughout, we see her shadowed by a male motorcyclist minder.

The climactic scene of the film cements these themes, as her conditional power and the strangeness of heterosexuality converge. A man attempts to rape the alien in an isolated forest. She is powerless in this situation, away from her safe space and up against a man physically stronger than her. It is only the rapist’s disgust that prevents the rape: in the violence, her skin is torn from her body, and her true form is revealed. This disgust does not save her: she is set on fire by the rapist and is ultimately killed.

I didn’t like the ending at all, because it was a story I have heard all too many times before, albeit with a metaphor of an alien tacked on. Sadly, it seemed inevitable from a narrative perspective.

This is, of course, my reading of the film as a queer woman. I almost can’t see how it’s not about what I think it’s about, but I know it can’t be. This was a film made by men, and as such, the likelihood of them setting out to make a film exploring these themes is phenomenally unlikely. So I sit and wonder exactly what they had in mind. Is it working through fear of female sexuality? Are they trying to equivocate the alien’s predation with that of the rapist at the end? Knowing this film was made by men makes me understand it less. And yet, if this film had been made by women, this exact same film, I don’t doubt that rather than being lauded, it would have been panned as these themes would have been more readily accessible and the mainstream is not ready for a film like that.

I recommend watching, if you haven’t already. Technically, it’s a brilliant film, and I’d love to know if others saw what I saw.

Things I read this week that I find interesting

Happy Sunday, chums! As always, I present a round up of things I read this week and found interesting. Maybe you’ll find it interesting, too.

Against feminist orthodoxy: why sex positivity is sex critical (Ari Silvera)- If you read one thing this week, make it this one. This is how sex positivity needs to work.

Problems with Names (Sara Ahmed)- An important piece on the importance of labelling sexism.

Lessons Learned From Menstruation Pop Quizzes While Being Intersex (Claudia)- Fun, tongue-in-cheek piece from an intersex woman about the ubiquitous assumption that all women must menstruate.

Getting to trans 101 (roseannastar)- On what “cis” means. Shit that shouldn’t need saying, said well.

Gender and sex (bangbangbeautiful)- Really good smackdown of biological sex, as it applies to humans and other animals.

5 Election Poster Campaigns the Parties Wish You’d Forget (Novara)- A reminder that Ukip aren’t the only ones preying on racism and homophobia.

On Poverty (Paul Dean)- Excellent personal piece on living in precarity.

Women. Comics. Some thoughts. (Marjorie Liu)- A call-out about sexual harassment in the comic book industry.

GitHub: sexism, bullying, harassment, and a curiously clean sweep. (Okwonga)- Analysis of the sexist climate at GitHub

Company’s response to outrage over its sexist T-shirt only makes things worse (Gavia Baker-Whitelaw)- Seriously, geeks, sort out the sexism problem, yeah?

Before Batgirl, weirder than Wonder Woman: lost superheroines of the pre-code era (Saladin Ahmed)- 60 years ago, and more, there were women in comics. This post celebrates them.

Mental illness: not a flavor, not an excuse (Shoshana Kessock)- A constructive call-out on the use of mental illness in gaming.

And finally, cats in places cats shouldn’t really be.

Guilty pleasures: feminism with compromises

The other day, I wrote a little bit about the need for nuance in feminism, and uncoupling the identity as a feminist with what we do, and what we like. I’ve been thinking more and more about how we all do things which conflict with our own politics, and the often complicated feelings that accompany this.

There’s the definitely basic survival stuff, like having to work in a supermarket despite supermarkets being literally manifestations of Satan’s gob, or calling the police after having experienced violence despite the police being literally the fucking worst, or accepting donated food from religious organisations who would literally happily force women into pregnancies. Sometimes doing these things which are politically fraught is necessary, and yet I have seen shit levelled from a position at privilege at people who have found they needed to do those things.

Then there’s the stuff that’s higher up Maslow’s hierarchy: the stuff which is often considered something that could be done without, even though I’m not so sure. Take, for example, sex. Politically, I feel like having sex with men is riddled with political problems, both in the abstract and as a direct threat to my own personal safety. I believe that the power difference between men and women complicates any intimate relationship for the worse. Sex is not always nice or good for you. I have a lot of sympathy for political lesbianism. And yet, I have sex with men sometimes. I’ve drawn lines where I feel comfortable for my own safety, but I have sex with men on my own terms despite this being largely at odds with my politics. I have sex with men, and I like it, and it makes me feel happy.

There’s lots of other things I do and enjoy which I find problematic. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film or TV show which completely passed my high standards, and I have a shelf full of eighties bonkbusters of the distinctly sex, shopping and shoulderpads genre. Every single thing I enjoy, I will have my moments where I sit and cringe, but I’m not going to stop, because if I did I’d find myself sitting under the bed (and probably feeling guilty because I have a large shoe collection, compatible with many stereotypes about women).

Nothing happens inside a vacuum. Literally everything we do–and enjoy doing–happens within this oppressive power structure. Kyriarchy permeates everything, and I am not convinced any of us can ever live up to our own ideals. I’ve personally ended up in more than one guilt-spiral and it’s never ended well.

The fact is, we all draw our lines for getting the fuck away from something somewhere. We all decide which little things we can let slide for not being compatible with our politics because it is impossible to opt out of absolutely everything. And many of us turn this negative into a positive: for example, we enjoy media critically and it shapes debate and discourse. We are conscious of our actions, and the everyday problematics that pervade our lives.

It’s a personal thing where the lines come in. For example, some survivors cannot watch anything with rape in it, while others find catharsis in watching a rape scene. Some find playing a submissive role in BDSM empowering, while others find it vastly disempowering. Some might drink Starbucks coffee and enjoy it, while others might reject it and bring their own tin of instant to work. Ultimately, all of these choices are equally valid and pretty harmless to other women. They’re dependent largely on a personal level of tolerance, which is always tied in to a unique personal history.

All of us are hypocrites, and that’s OK. It was never going to be possible to reach the standards we want to reach. In enjoying our guilty pleasures, it is vital that we are critical of what we consume, but it does not mean we need to duck out; nor does it mean that we ought to police the guilty pleasures of others. For the most part, personal enjoyment of something problematic is not the problem: it’s the thing itself that is. We’re fucked right now, but we may not be in the future. For the time being, enjoy–and enjoy critically.

Can you be a feminist and write “can you be a feminist and” articles?

Writing an article examining whether one can be a feminist and do whatever the article’s about seem to be all the rage at the moment. From working certain jobs, to having certain sex, to liking certain media, to standing with your hands on your hips, all is fair game to be examined through this lens. It makes for an easy article and you can go home with your ninety quid fee from Comment Is Free and enjoy a nice cup of whatever beverage is still feminist to enjoy.

This whole format is asking the wrong questions, from the wrong perspective. To ask if one can be a feminist and positions feminism as a question of individual choices and identity as a feminist rather than movement. It’s hardly a surprise that this format has erupted to popularity within comment journalism, which typically focuses on a watered-down liberal model of feminism, devoid of the radical kick we need to Get Shit Done. It elides asking why things are as they are, and proposing solutions, instead lumbering blame on the unfortunate women who commit unfeminist acts, or lauding those who act adequately feminist.

Positioning behaviour and feminist identity as sometimes opposing factors that need either reconciling or boycotting inevitably leads to bollocks. It leads to vehement declarations that something must be feminist, because the author as a feminist enjoys it, or, conversely, that something must be unfeminist because the author as a feminist does not like it. It neatly sidesteps asking the awkward questions, such as, where does this all fit in with a model of dominance and power? It is a study in egocentrism: the author’s views as a feminist suddenly become the definitive feminism by adopting this position as judge.

Issues are oversimplified. If something is unfeminist, then all we need to do is not do it to make the world a better place. The boycotting model works just fine and dandy for the most privileged of women, but for many of us, bargains are required for survival in this violent system. Such can one be a feminist and articles fail to examine why one would possibly do these things, in favour of a very basic proclamation that this is unfeminist. On the flip side, something deemed feminist is considered above criticism, no matter how problematic it may be.

Ultimately, one can be a feminist and full of conflicts and nuance. One can call oneself a feminist and do things which are horribly harmful for other women, such as becoming a CEO, being anti-choice or being a galloping bigot. Feminism is a broad church, and a lot of our sisters are wrong. The sort of feminist who writes opinion pieces as to whether one can be a feminist and, the one who lacks the vision to ask the right questions–and, indeed, lacks the vision to even examine the right problems–she, too is a feminist.

Our attention need not focus on individual behaviours and our own personal identity as a feminist. Instead, we need to think bigger, think broader. This is the sort of thing that will not get published in the mainstream, for it poses a genuine threat to patriarchy.

pretty-jelly-fish It’s that time of the week again. I’ve added a picture of a jellyfish today, because well done to jellyfishes.

Exclusive: Inmates to strike in Alabama, declare prison is “running a slave empire” (Josh Eidelson)- Read all about why Alabama prisoners are going on strike.

Words Don’t Burn, but Bodies Do (aiofeschatology)- Beautiful essay on slurs.

The complex issue of looking like a fake when I get up and walk (latent existence)- Really important piece on everyday disablism.

50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics? A Quiz (Homeschoolers Anonymous)- A surprisingly challenging quiz. I got 4.

Reviewing through the Time Machine: Remembering Margaret Cavendish (Rhube)- Margaret Cavendish invented science fiction. Let’s remember her.

The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (Tony Horwitz)- An interesting bit of mostly forgotten sport history.

White Britain, Now Will You Listen? (Sam Ambreen)- Sam ponders racism in the UK.

How Does the Sunday Sport Get Away with Its Bullshit? (Gavin Haynes)- Enlightening interview with a lawyer explaining how perfectly legal the patently made-up tosh in the Sunday Sport is. Note: skip the beginning, it’s full of Vice hipster classism, and just get down to the interview.

And finally, some behind the scenes footage from the Bohemian Rhapsody video.

Let’s question why men want anonymity for rape defendants

Content note: This post discusses rape, sexual assault and rape apologism

Fresh off the back of his own trial for a series of sexual offences, Nigel Evans has called for anonymity for defendants. Evans got off as his own defence put his behaviour down to “drunken overfamiliarity”, and throughout the trial he came off as at the very least a massive creep and young people are more likely to be on guard around him in the future.

Evans’s plea is one much repeated among those who seek to protect perpetrators of sexual violence. The call comes up again and again, a repeated screech. The thing is, the evidence shows that anonymity for defendants in sexual offences only protects rapists and abusers.

Between 1976 and 1988, the UK had anonymity for rape defendants. It led to a number of practical problems, including a very major and horrific one: if a rapist escaped custody, there was no way of warning the public that a dangerous rapist was on the loose. There’s also the very important fact that when a perpetrator is named, more survivors tend to come forward. Take for example, the case of John Worboys, the “Black Cab Rapist”. Once Worboys was named, a large quantity of survivors came forward, which helped to convict him. Before this, the police had dismissed allegations against Worboys from survivors who came forward individually.

The evidence shows clearly that anonymity for defendants only helps rapists and abusers, so why are men so keen to defend it? Even as I tweeted about Evans, I was besieged by men–the sort of men who thought themselves good, rational types–saying they believed in anonymity for defendants. Two equally irrational lines of argument cropped up: first, the tired old one about false allegations, and second something about equality.

The thing about false allegations is dull and takes seconds to puncture. The rate for false allegations is low, possibly lower than most other crimes. This persistent myth calls open season on rape survivors, and makes it harder for them to come forward. Clinging to this myth harms only survivors, and it is a completely irrational belief to hold. Men should be more worried about dying from alcohol poisoning than being falsely accused of rape.

As for equality, fuck that shit. The anonymity protection for survivors is a tiny nod to the fact that the system is entirely stacked against them. Anyone who thinks adding on anonymity for defendants is equality doesn’t understand what the word fucking means. They’re calling to stack the system further against survivors.

So with these two irrational arguments punctured, we need to wonder why men are so keen to protect rapists and abusers. My own personal theory is that they know in their hearts they, too, have something to hide. They remember that night where she was too drunk, they remember that boy who was far too young, they remember that time they had to wheedle and fight for it. They remember these things and they feel afraid, afraid that one day someone might be empowered to speak out. They can pretend away that any allegations would be false, but the truth is that these things were lines crossed, and deep down they know it.

It’s the only way I can explain why men are so persistent in pursuing something with no founding in evidence. Why else would they support something which only protects perpetrators?

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Hi everyone. I didn’t read much this week. But here are some things I read this week that I found interesting.

“Not all men!” (Feminism from a swivel chair)- Demolition of that male tears refrain.

Monica Jones Guilty Of Walking While Black Trans In Arizona (TransGriot)- Read about Monica’s case. Talk about it. Be loud about it, because this is fucked up.

Results from r/MensRights demographics survey– If you’ve been paying attention, there’ll be no surprises here.

Why Sansa Stark Is the Strongest Character on ‘Game of Thrones’ (Julianne Ross)- Sansa gets a lot of crap, but here’s why she’s actually pretty awesome.

Every review of Black Widow in ‘Captain America’ is wrong (Gavia Baker-Whitelaw)- God damn, yes. This hits the nail on the head.

‘Just a Theory’: 7 Misused Science Words (Tia Ghose)- In my experience, internet skeptics are the fucking worst for doing all of these.

And finally, ever wondered what a Buffy-style intro for Game of Thrones would look like? Wonder no more.