It turns out, I’m not a woman.

To my great surprise, I discovered today that I’m not actually a woman. I’d always thought I was one, but apparently I am mistaken.

It turns out that I am a girl.

That’s right. This exchange provides a Taxonomy of Females.

One night at a dinner table at a wedding, I got into an argument with a female guest about terminology I was using. She was asking about my dating escapades and I kept calling females “girls”. After a while, she took offense:

“We are not girls, we are women.”

I said: “No, I call most females girls. Women are different than girls.”

She asked me to explain my terminology for females. I responded:

“Girls are girls until they have a baby. Then they become women.”

She asked: “And what do they become after they are moms?”

I said: “Well eventually they become ladies.”

Before reproduction, then, women are children. It is reproduction, and only reproduction, that can help us grow up.

Forget anything else. We are defined by what comes out of our uteruses. As my uterus plays host only to eggs that I make damn sure are immature and unfertilised, I shall remain a child.

At least this means I don’t have to ever be a lady. I have always hated the word “lady”; it smacks of nobility and sitting uncomfortably primly. Ladies don’t go paddling with their dresses tucked in their knickers or smoke or eat a big fuckoff rare steak or shout “cunt” at an utter cunt.

All of the above, though, are better than the increasingly-popular use of the term “females”. I hate the group noun “females” to the depth of my soul. It makes women sound like cattle or livestock, defining us by our ovaries and uteruses, and by our genitals, thus excluding a sizeable chunk of intersex and transwomen.

Worst of all, “females” is grammatically incorrect. “Female” is an adjective, not a noun.

In the face of the infanitilising, the puritanical or the perjorative and syntactically wrong descriptors, I think I will stick with “women”.

In which I review a film that I watched

Last night I went to see Sucker Punch.

I can review it in three words: not entirely awful.

In more words (and some spoilers!):

First of all, I liked some of it. I have a huge weak spot for steampunk, and so provision of a steampunk-inspired First World War, complete with Zeppelins, undead Germans and a big fuckoff mecha made me dance in my seat. I have long thought to myself: who’d win in a fight? A dragon versus an aeroplane? I was gratified to see that this burning question addressed in cinema. I was glad to see that Vanessa Hudgens had managed to be in a film marginally less shit than High School Musical. I quite fancy Jon Hamm, and he was in it a bit.

Sucker Punch was also quite funny, though I’m not sure if it intended to be. Parts of it felt like a deliberate parody of 300, which is one of my favourite cinematic deconstructions of masculinity, a macho mince along the tightrope between hegemonic masculinity and homoeroticism.* Some of the dialogue was so awful that I laughed out loud in moments which I can only hope were supposed to be a touching homage to the Death Tropes in TV Tropes.

In all, then, there was probably about 10 minutes of content I liked, and perhaps 30 minutes of content I half-enjoyed while still viewing the content as problematic. In a two hour film, that translates as Not Entirely Awful.

My main problem with the film was that an unfortunately large chunk of it was spent on a ghastly non-plot in which a young woman is forced into an asylum and threatened with lobotomy, except she’s really trapped working as some kind of stripper-prostitute, and she and the other girls want to break out and the main character uses her powers of sexy dancing inspired by badass dreams to make this happen, except it all fails miserably, and it doesn’t matter because that was also a dream and she was really still in the asylum all along and got lobotomised. Oh, and the character who didn’t want to escape escaped. That, really, is the plot. It was sort of like if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Moulin Rouge had sex while Inception watched and Thelma & Louise wept quietly in a corner, except lacking any of the redeeming features of any of the above films.

The asylum scenes were passable, though riddled with cliché. It set up the story of a young woman named Baby Doll (this is the level of quality of character names in Sucker Punch), who has a tragic backstory involving a wicked stepfather who was one moustache short of playing a villain in a Victorian melodrama. It is he who places Baby Doll in the EVIL ASYLUM. You can tell it’s evil because there is thunder and lightning in the establishing shots.  Evil Victorian Stepfather strikes a deal with an orderly, who you can tell is evil as he bears a resemblance to Lurch from The Adams Family, to have Baby Doll lobotomised so she will not remember the melodramatically Victorian acts of evil that he perpetrated.

In the asylum, we meet the ensemble cast of characters. Inmates wear a uniform of a short dress which is cut to enhance the classic hourglass shape. For some reason, never explained, the inmates are encouraged to dance through their drama.

Unfortunately for Baby Doll, she does not get to enjoy much of this charmingly menacing atmosphere as she is whisked off for a lobotomy and the scene changes to the evil brothel (you can tell it’s evil because everyone in there, except the goodies, are cartoonish villains).

One might guess that the setting changed to an evil brothel so that the characters could wear fewer clothes and it could be more sexy. However, guesswork is not required, as with an alarming lack of subtlety, at the scene change, a character declares that lobotomies and asylums just aren’t very sexy. That really happens. The film actually addresses the fact that fetishising mental illness is highly problematic, immediately after just having done it.

Thanks to this shift in tone, the audience is now treated to the characters perpetually dressed in underwear or fetishised schoolgirl costumes. Baby Doll is rather perturbed by her sudden situation in an evil brothel, and her purity is threatened: she has a few days before a nasty baddie will come and STEAL HER VIRGINITY. Fortunately for Baby Doll, at the sound of music she becomes teleported into a dream world where a wrinkly bloke informs her of how to escape. In the dream world, Baby Doll wears a much smaller fetishised school girl costume. She embodies the line that women are supposed to walk between whore and madonna: while dressed in a highly-sexualised fashion, she is fighting for her chastity and virginity.

Baby Doll shares her escape plan with her colleagues, who have equally silly names like Sweet Pea and Blondie (although, in what I am sure the writers thought was a subversive work of genius, Blondie has brown hair!). Some two-dimensional female bonding and terrible dialogue ensues. It is rather difficult to differentiate between any of the main characters based on any facets of their characterisation. The two main characters, Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, are differentiated only by the fact that the former wants to leave, while the latter does not.

Nonetheless, Sweet Pea manages to appear in all of the dream sequences.

Most of the plot ranges from dire to boring, and it is only the dream sequence segments which occupy the space between tolerable and actually quite fucking awesome. I would have enjoyed them rather a lot more were it not for the brazen objectification of women. While I have never fought dragons or leapt out of a helicopter, so do not know the accurate mode of dress for such an occasion, I am fairly sure it is not a tiny little skirt that blows up to show a whisper of knickers as one flies through the air with four inch stiletto heels. Jack Bauer certainly never bothered with that gear. Even Buffy had a tendency to wear sensible shoes and jeans.

One might suspect that the costuming was entirely an exercise in titillation.

A further rather problematic aspect of the dream sequences is that much of the action was undertaken by the three blonde characters. Blondie, the hilariously ironically-named brunette and the token ethnic character who never really does much, are consigned to the task of piloting helicopters, aeroplanes and big fuckoff mechas. While this is an admirable and necessary task, the director did not seem to feel it worthy of as much screen time as three lithe young blonde women showing their white flesh.

This fantastic review at Bad Reputation (who also hated it) suggests:

Oh yeah, and like a really unironic sucker punch (geddit?) I’ve just realised that this film totally passes Bechdel. Yeah. Woo. Way to perfectly prove that just because there’s more than one female character and that they manage to talk to each other doesn’t mean it’s any bloody good. Or even particularly feminist. Which this film isn’t, by the way.

Fortunately, it is such utter drivel that it won’t register as meaningfully anti-feminist because nothing it contains is meaningful or worth registering.

However, I find it concerning. I honestly believe that Sucker Punch believed itself to be a film about female empowerment, All The Girls Together fighting against oppression. It was nothing of the sort. Amid the rampant objectification of women and fetishisation of innocence and mental illness, the message came across as this: women! Use your bodies!

It was a shame, really. The plot could have been salvageable, were it not so hackneyed. The dream action sequences could have been amazing were they not so heavily focused on being an excuse to look at conventionally-attractive women’s bodies. It could have actually managed to be a film about the exploitation of mentally ill women, about sisterhood fighting oppressors. Dare I say it? It could have been a feminist classic if it were written by competent writers and acted by more competent actors.

As it stood, there were ten minutes that I liked. And those bits mostly involved a dragon chasing an aeroplane and not even trying to be sexy.

*I absolutely refuse to believe that 300 isn’t that silly on purpose.

Because it’s your fucking right to govern your own body

This came to my attention today via @hautepop, today, with the laconic introduction:

Stupid offensive attempt to use socmedia & word “fuck” to get young women using morning-after pill

I QFT, because it’s FT.

WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC is a tumblr page which ostensibly provides reasons for women to use emergency contraception, through irreverent and amusing swearing.

It is actually a hive of slut-shaming and reinforcement of traditional roles within relationships. I present a few of the reasons presented as to why the fuck I should take the morning after pill that the internet provided for me.

Because if you don’t remember his last name, you probably didn’t remember to use a fucking condom.

You’ve spent 40 dollars on a lot stupider fucking shit before.

Of course he didn’t fucking pull out in time.

Your boyfriend won’t stop playing Wii long enough to help you with a fucking baby.

I find it difficult to see how any of these are going to persuade a woman who would not use the morning after pill to rethink following this orgy of digrace to change her behaviour.

The site links in the corner to Back Up Your Birth Control’s tumblr page. BUYBC is a US campaign aimed at raising awareness of emergency contraception and improving access. This is a worthy goal, and I wonder, therefore, if they were the voices behind WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC?

If they were, the campaign was poorly thought-out.

There is no need to use slut-shaming to raise awareness of reproductive options available. There is no need to reinforce those binary gender roles.

There is one reason, and one alone to answer the question WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC?

Because it’s your fucking right to govern your own body.

Fierce roast.

The following post is about an episode of America’s Next Top Model that has yet to air in the UK, so if you’re a die-hard ANTM fan, this will contain spoilers. If you loathe and despise ANTM, I apologise for mentioning it. I enjoy really naff American reality TV. Be grateful I’m not blogging about Jersey Shore (which is fascinating from an anthropological and sociological perspective and you should TOTALLY watch it)

The video linked above is a segment of the most recent episode of America’s Next Top Model. The Next Top Model franchise involves young women competing for the chance to win a modelling contract by leaping through a series of humiliating hoops in the hope of achieving their lifelong dream of being photographed wearing clothes. There is already a lot of good writing on problems with the franchise, and so I am reserving my ire for one specific incident.

The women are briefed to shoot an advert in which they are to be “flirty, fun and seductive” in a way that is “retro yet current”. This translates to writhing like the face of a late night premium-rate phone line while dressed as Betty Draper. The women are informed they are even expected to utter lines, as though this is the thirteenth labour of Heracles.

The concept of the advert is promoted as one would expect: a little bit of charming retro fun in which women use a very narrow definition of sexuality in order to challenge oppression. As they put on their costumes, filling out their fashion-industry approved bodies with socks to create breasts, the women discuss this notion. The general consensus is that it is empowering. It is how to get ahead: by using boobs and bums and the nebulous hint of sex (never given, for that would make you a whore!).

One woman differs from the rest. Earlier in the episode, Sara mentions that she is a feminist. while dressing, she looks uncomfortable with the false breasts stuffing her bra. At 3.10 in the video above, she says:

My whole life I’ve just been trying to get away from the stereotypical, subservient, docile woman, and I’m really embarrassed to have my fem-core friends back home see this.

Sara is the only one of the women who points out the problematic concepts within the advert, and she words her reservations articulately. The fact that she mentions the F-word twice in one episode of America’s Next Top Model makes me love her a little bit, and I do hope that her fem-core friends forgive her for her participation due to her excellently succinct critique of the task. Never before have I heard the F-word uttered on a Next Top Model franchise.

The women perform the image of the stereotypical, subservient, docile woman to camera, many relishing in the empowering nature of being “flirty, fun and seductive”.

Sara, meanwhile, struggles. The other women smugly smile, believing her unable to deliver the dull, narrow “sexy”. The director is disappointed and declares that she “did not believe in it”. Too right. As Sara says,

I’m finding it really hard to fake any sort of sexual energy and emotion. I mean, I’ve never had to fake anything like that in my life. Doing it for a commercial was just really difficult.

Of course it was. Sexual energy is not something that should be faked. It is not something that needs to be faked, and it is certainly not something which should be performed in the coquettish, cutesy, teasing manner which is commercially acceptable.

Yet this is what sells. Coffee, we learn from America’s Next Top Model, is sold by a hint of cleavage flashed at a man. Coffee is sold by a whisper in a man’s ear. Coffee is sold by competition between women for the attention of a man. Coffee is sold by playing subservient, vaguely suggesting sweet submissive sex with a man.

The whole concept of the advert was problematic as hell, and Sara was not comfortable with playing ball.

There is no room for an understanding of the problems with this sort of advertising message in America’s Next Top Model. Sara’s reward for her beliefs and reservations was a sympathetic cocked-head from Tyra Banks, a message to “believe in herself” and a bus ride home.

There is no room in this modelling competition for feminists. There is only space for those who will perform dull clichéd cartoons of what a sexy woman should be.

Curves

image

While waiting for the bus today, I spotted this advert for a ‘new way’ of sizing jeans. In Levi’s utopia, women are classified into three body shapes, the mysteriously-titled ‘bold curve’, ‘demi curve’ and ‘slight curve’.

Each body shape appears identical to the others, so I cannot discern the criteria upon which this classification system is based.

The women’s hips appear to be the same size. The women’s thighs appear to be the same size. Perhaps, therefore, the classification is conducted upon arse size.

If this is true, then why is only the ‘slightly curved’ bottom visible?

Is it that anything above ‘slightly curved’ is inherently repulsive and must be shielded from the general public lest we see a FAT DISGUSTING FEMALE ARSE? Oh, the humanity.

Is it because Levi are protesting the recent paradigm shift that ‘real women have curves’, and subverting this by presenting us with only what is presumably the smallest amount of ‘curve’?

Is it because Levi are commenting on the fashion industry’s insistence on a body with no fat, no hips, unattainable to most people? Perhaps they are cleverly playing with that idea by presenting us with three identical women?

Or is it because they are playing that last question completely straight? I have a sneaking suspicion that they are.