Fifty Shades of Absolutely No Way

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Screw it, I’m going to write a whole post on 50 Shades and why I hate this book so damn much.

Content warning: rape, sexual assault, bdsm, misogyny.

The movie is about to come out, starring actress who hasn’t had enough of a career to ruin as Ana Steele and Jamie Dornan, only slightly watering down his misogynistic serial killer role from “The Fall” as Christian Grey. Beyonce is doing the soundtrack! Sexy, right?

WRONG.

My issue with this book is not the sex. Not essentially, anyway. I have no beef with a sexy sex book being popular. Even a sexy sex book featuring chains and whips and all that Rhianna stuff. As long as my Mum doesn’t start reading it, I’m fine with it. I have an issue with the way sex is presented in this book. Western society already has a less than healthy attitude to sex and consent (rape someone, get two years in prison before a return to football!) as well as virginity and female sexuality. The way sex is presented in this book is so warped and damaging it amazes me it even got published. Seriously, Catcher in the Rye got banned and 50 Shades shot to the top of the bestseller without a problem?

Christian Grey is a sexy dominant CEO who has very particular sexual tastes which include having total control over his partner. Ana is a young innocent virginal sort who seems to know fuck all about anything including how to use a computer despite having just graduated from college what the hell…

Anyway I’m losing track. BDSM is a thing some people do, and as long as it’s between two consenting adults who know exactly what they’re doing its fine and groovy with me. But Christian Grey is more than just a “Dominant”, he’s a dick. Ok, let me be more eloquent and insightful (that’s totes why you’re on my blog right?). Christian Grey is patronising and controlling, not in a sexy way in a flat out abusive way. At the start of the book Ana gets drunk (for the first time! another thing she’s hopelessly and unrealistically naive about!) and Christian TRACKS HER PHONE and turns up to stop her from being assaulted by her friend and takes her back to his lair. House, I mean house. He blames her for nearly getting assaulted, as she was drunk. So far, so awful. Later, he gets pissy when she tells him she is a virgin later rather than sooner. As it happens it’s none of his damn business if she’s slept with the president (Kirsty MacColl reference!) or of she’s never even spoken to a guy before. Then comes the sex contract. Ugh. He offers to ‘negotiate’ with her, then ignores her genuine concerns and belittles her for not being down to get down on his terms.

It gets worse! He buys her a laptop, in the typical “you are now indebted to me” abuser tactic, and they email each other on it. She jokingly fake breaks up with him and guess what he does? He turns up to her house despite never having been given her address, and he rapes her. She explicitly says no, she tries to kick him off, she even tries to work out the easiest way to escape her room. He makes her feel like it’s her fault because he’s an abuser and then he leaves her and she starts crying. The book continues in this pattern. He intimidates her, belittles her and abuses her. This not a romance. This book is an exploration of domestic abuse.

All the red flags are there. I wouldn’t mind if the book picked apart the mentality of someone abused by a parter. It would actually be quite subversive and cool to start it off like a typical romance and slowly reveal to the heroine and the reader that it is in fact an abusive relationship. If Ana was slowly having to come to terms with the fact that Christian is a terrible person and she should in fact stay away from him (as he so angstily insisted in the start of the book), this would be a really important and groundbreaking piece of work. Instead it’s a romanticised story about straight up rape and abuse. It’s also massively popular. Swathes of people are obsessing over it, you can buy “keep calm and obey Mr Grey posters” and the world is just generally going to shit.

Those are my objections as a woman, a feminist and a human being with a functioning heart and brain. I have yet more objections as a writer and reader. Ernest Hemingway says that all you have to do to write is “Sit at a typewriter and bleed”. E.L James writes like she sat at a typewriter and drooled. Twilight was bland and occasionally cheesy, 50 shades is laugh out loud terrible. Here are some actual quotes:

“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

“My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”

“I can tell from his accent that he’s British.”

“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”

“I thought it was chocolate hot fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on top. But hey, what do I know?”

A bestseller everyone. It pains me as someone paying nine grand a year to be a better writer that such half baked rubbish is doing so well. Not even for myself and my own snobbish bitter-writer angst, but for every struggling author who’s ever agonised over the perfect metaphor or had an existential crisis and thought of themselves as the worst writer of all time. It’s painful to see a book with such bizzarely bad prose as 50 shades do so well. However I will try to look at the positives. If 50 shades can get a published trilogy and a movie deal, so can any crap I write. I may not be Margaret Atwood, but at least I will never ever be E.L James.

In defence of Political Correctness

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It’s become a bit of a modern catchphrase that “political correctness has gone mad”. It’s a criticism thrown about with such gay (sorry, homosexual) abandon that we barely even notice it being said, let alone think about it. Every now and then, say about three times a week, one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch will spin a story about Christmas being banned so it doesn’t offend Muslims, or illegal immigrants being given free trips to Disneyland, or something else designed to put the blood of middle England on a gentle simmer. Columnists in the same newspapers will complain about the “PC Brigade” and paint themselves as a lone voice of reason in a sea of cowardly politically correct sheep who are too terrified of offending anyone to speak their mind.

The anti PC brigade is so vocal and obnoxious you forget any opposing force even exists. It doesn’t, at least not in the way they think it does. Most of the stories about political correctness “going mad” are either made up or highly exaggerated. Christmas hasn’t been replaced by “Winterval”, that was an idea proposed by a business for a celebration that had nothing to do with Christmas. Subway hasn’t stopped selling bacon to avoid offending Muslims, one subway franchise in a largely Muslim community realised they weren’t selling enough bacon so they stopped buying it themselves to reduce cost. It’s not PC, it’s just boring old business, as usual. I mean look around you, does it look like Christmas is going anywhere? People complain about it starting to early and then in the same breath they complain about it being banned by political correctness. I’m sure there are some instances where it can “go mad”, but I have yet to hear of a genuine example.

People talk about political correctness as though it is an unquestioned and widely enforced law. They like to paint themselves as a lone revolutionary, daring to speak against this cruel dictatorship. I even heard it talked about as “fascism dressed as politeness”. People are extremely angry that they are being told what they can and can’t say and see it as a violation of freedom of speech. That’s all you ever seem to hear about. If PC is so accepted, why is it we almost never hear anyone sticking up for it? There are a million Clarksons and Farages rolling their eyes and damming the PC brigade which is apparently everywhere, I can’t think of many times where someone actually says it’s a good thing. This politically correct force which rules us all can’t be all that powerful considering nearly everyone with access to comments sections on websites or a column in The Sun spends most of their time condemning it.

What is political correctness anyway? Is it fascism and denial of freedom of speech? Is it a cowardly attempt to avoid “offending” people? Stewart Lee, on of my favourite comedians and an incredibly smart man, has spoken a lot about it. He has a routine where he talks about life before political correctness and how black people were spoken about by major political parties. His opinion (which I agree with) is that we are a much kinder, better off society now and that at it’s worst political correctness is “institutionalised politeness”. He uses the example of evil journalist Richard Littlejohn writing about murdered women who were referred to in the papers as “women who worked as prostitutes”. In his opinion it’s that dastardly PC brigade and those dead women should be called prostitutes. Stewart Lee brilliantly brings him down, pointing out this was simply an attempt at kindness and sensitivity, and goes on to describe Littlejohn sneaking out to the grave of one of the murdered women and carving ‘prostitute’ (before signing it “Richard Littlejohn, c*nt. Not someone who worked as a c*nt, but a c*nt”). It saddens me people are so against attempts at sensitivity, because that’s all it is. Most of the time when people use the “pc! gone! mad!” accusation, it isn’t even political correctness at work. It might be many different things.

1. Just not everyone’s as much of a dick as you

I recently saw a thread on a facebook group that I follow about whether looks or personality were more of a factor in deciding someone’s attractiveness. A lot of people were saying they didn’t care too much about looks, or people were more attractive if they were nice and so on. One commenter said people’s physical attractiveness was not affected by how nice they are and everyone should “stop being so politically correct”. There’s an assumption that if you are being nice you aren’t saying what you really think. Cynical, nastier types like to claim that everyone is thinking what they’re thinking and they’re the only ones brave enough to speak the truth. Sometimes, however, people are just naturally sweet and good. Not everyone is a Katie Hopkins pretending to be Mother Theresa,  not everyone agrees with the nastiest opinion. That’s the main reason people don’t like PC, they think everyone’s just pretending to like oppressed groups and forcing themselves to be more liberal and sensitive. Perhaps it’s a way of justifying their own cold dead hearts, perhaps it’s just a lack of optimism in humanity. Either way, the simple truth is some people are just nice.

2. It’s not that you can’t say it, it’s just not everyone agrees with you.

So many times you hear people say “you can’t even say *that* anymore!”, usually just after they’ve said it, sometimes on national television without spotting the irony of it. Look, freedom of speech is important, but what it means is you can say whatever you want without being forced to stop or being arrested. It does NOT mean you can say what you like and face no social consequences. People can disagree with you, people can dislike you, people can get angry with you, people can even collectively agree to boycott your tv show and get you fired. That’s not a violation of YOUR freedom of speech, that’s THEIR freedom of speech. Too many people assume that their opinion being opposite to a widely held one means that their opinion is being denied and oppressed. The rise of the Ukips is a good example. Their radical un PC policies have them constantly in the headlines or on the news or in sincere televised debates, yet they still complain that their right wing policies are being silenced by the liberal biased media. The Green party at the other end of the political spectrum has almost no media presence, despite embodying the left wing policies the media is supposed to be in favour of. Someone protesting outside your headquarters means a lot of people hate what you are saying, and that’s allowed, it doesn’t mean you are being oppressed. Being hated is not the same as being silenced. You often hear someone complaining about being “branded” a racist or sexist or homophobe or whatever. Right wing papers gather round them in support. They would have you think that being accused of bigotry is a real problem, more so than actual oppression. Guess what? People have a right to call you a racist. Listen to them, they might have a point.

3. It’s not PC, the times are just changing

A recent shitstorm in a teacup happened when a radio debate about diversity lead by Lenny Henry featured no white members of the panel. Angry White People on twitter were angry and white about it, calling it reverse racism and asking why a discussion of racial diversity didn’t include their race. Look, I’m white. I’m very white. I’m irish and pale as hell and have lived my life mostly surrounded by other white people. I see no lack of representation of people like me in the media or in power. I’d like to see more women, yes, but I’m fine for white people. It’s like an all white woodstock over here, they’re everywhere. We’ve never had a PM who wasn’t white (and only one who wasn’t male) and we have majority representation in parliament. Simply put, we don’t need to be involved because diversity isn’t a problem for us. James Baldwin said “being white means never having to think about it” and it’s true. People didn’t like it because for the first time ever we were being excluded. This wasn’t a problem for us so we weren’t involved in the debate on it. A voice is being given to minorities and oppressed groups sometimes at the expense of more powerful people. That’s not a politically correct bias, that’s just inclusiveness.

There is a lot of good in it. I hear people say things like “You have to think about what you’re going to say all the time!” is that not just good life advice? Did you never get told to do that anyway? At it’s heart political correctness is just an attempt to be more sensitive, more kind, more inclusive. It’s not even forced on us, we are just being asked to be nice. Is that really so offensive? So difficult? People just keep ignoring it anyway so why get angry? We are, mostly, better with it. It may be an inconvenience to you that you can’t use quaint racial slurs or insult women, but for everyone who isn’t in a majority it’s a great help and helps increase respect and tolerance. The backlash comes from angry white men who are being told for the first time that they can’t do something. They can’t just bluster through life without consequences, the rest of us have a voice now. Actually read those fearmongering articles and you will see just how puffed up and ridiculous they are. No one is stopping you hanging an England flag out of your car window. No one celebrates St Georges day because no one gives a rat’s ass about it, not because it’s offensive. There’s a gay black woman on question time who is perfectly qualified to be there. Your freedom of speech s not being violated, you are just being asked to think about what you’re saying for a change.

The feminine appeal of Hannibal (spoilers)

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The tv adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novels ‘Hannibal’ , which I have written about before, has become known for it’s devout cult audience (hi!) known as ‘Fannibals’. Known for their supremely silly sense of humour, at odds with the show’s dark aesthetic, their intelligence and their close link with the show’s creators, they keep the show afloat and preach it’s message and merits to others. Something that has been written about before is the female domination of the Hannibal fandom. A crime show stuffed with gore with two male leads doesn’t scream “female audience” to promoters, but the show has appealed to smart young women and worked it’s way into their hearts and fanfictions. Showrunner Bryan Fuller described in an interview his joy at finding “well read bright young women” love the show. As a fannibal and, I hope,  A “well read bright young woman”, I thought I’d explain why the show appeals to women, at least from my perspective.

What makes the show unique in a sea of murder-solving boxsets is its emotion. The writers care more about keeping the psychological and emotional reality of the story than cold, hard details and intricate logic. Visual metaphor, dream sequences and borderline supernatural plot points create a dream like atmosphere where we see what people are feeling and the pursuit of beauty and insight trumps the “gritty” reality of crime. One scene involves a live bird flying out of a corpse mid autopsy. It was placed in her ribcage to emulate a heartbeat. To say this is near impossible is to miss the point. Hannibal isn’t out for realism. In a sea of macho gritty crime shows Like True Detective and cold, emotionless characters like Sherlock Holmes it is refreshing to see a show where logic isn’t king. Since civilisation began women have been held back by assumptions that they are over emotional, illogical and weak. Even of you are a woman who can’t be described as highly emotional or empathetic, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see such qualities celebrated and prioritised for once over ‘masculine’ qualities we are both chastised for not displaying and accused of abandoning our femininity if we do. In a genre were coldness is glamourised and having heart is seen as the ultimate weakness we finally have a crime show driven by ‘feminine’ qualities.

Take the lead protagonist Will Graham. On the surface, a typical guy. He wears check shirts, goes ice fishing with homemade fishing gear and repairs boats. He is called in to help the FBI because he suffers from an empathy disorder. He can feel what killers feel and unpick their motivation, a great cost to his mental stability. There are a million wonder detectives with oddly wired brains in pop culture, Will Graham sticks out because of his empathy. He doesn’t join the dots and work out the clues with his super logical wonder brain, he relates to killers on an emotional and psychological level. He’s not a “high functioning sociopath” He’s an empath. Emotion, imagination and empathy are presented as highly valuable qualities, superpowers even. As an emotional, empathetic and imaginative person myself (I cried at a dog food advert) I can relate to his character and love seeing my so called weaknesses shown as brilliant strengths. Compare him to Sherlock Holmes, the aforementioned high functioning sociopath. We are constantly reminded of how cold and hard and brilliant he is. His antisocial coldness is sometimes chastised but more often used to separate him from the sentimental idiots around him and mock anyone who tries to get close to him. The treatment of Irene Adler in series two was a classic example. A brilliant woman nearly brings Sherlock Holmes down with her flirting and sharpness but is defeated by her girly crush on him. Sherlock has a large female fanbase too, but showrunner Stephen Moffat sees them as silly little obsessives lost in Benedict Cumberbatch’s piercing eyes and deep voice who are too smitten to realise he will break their hearts. Bryan Fuller celebrates his female fans, rather than mocks them. He rejoices in homoerotic fanart and fanfiction rather than laughing at it. He understands the power of geeky women rather than scratching his head at the female appeal of his macho supermen characters;

” It’s been wonderful and unexpected. I was surprised at the demographic that the show was reaching. A significant portion was young, smart, well-read women; they really responded to this show and I typically relate to young, bright ladies [laughs]. It was nice to see how enthusiastic and passionate they were. And, also, happy in the face of the dark material. They found joy and hope in something that is arguably quite bleak. I found that really rewarding and as somebody who is a fan of many things myself, I appreciate and relate to being enthusiastic about a show you love. I think it’s wonderful”

http://www.etonline.com/tv/138735_Bryan_Fuller_Hannibal_Interview_Season_Two_Spoilers_Season_One_DVD/

One of the main draws of the series is its title character, Hannibal Lecter. Here he is a respected psychiatrist and secret murderous cannibal. Not exactly a Carrie or Miranda, but still has a lot of female fans. True he wears fabulous outfits, lives in a flawlessly designed mansion and drinks fine wines but it goes deeper than that. Tumblr use axmxz has eloquently explained a lot of his appeal here;

http://axmxz.tumblr.com/post/90094859327/the-reason-why-nbcs-hannibal-found-such-a-huge

He’s not a gangster or a pimp or a drug lord. He’s a brilliant man and a respectable professional who kills people when they offend him and arranges them into beautiful dishes which he serves with fine wine and classical music.He’s the bad guy you can’t help but respect, he’s intelligent and well presented and he always gets his way. He quotes philosophers and composes on the harpsichord. He’s restrained, cool headed and attractive, he’s not a violent masochist filled with masculine rage and a desire for the physical upper hand. He fights with his mind and he’s not afraid to make friends along the way, particularly with Will Graham and his collection of adorable stray dogs. Actor Mads Mikkelsen regularly describes him as a passionate man and a perfectionist who wants everything to be beautiful and interesting. His motivation is not power, it’s passion. His invitation he assist the FBI is an irresistible and fascinating offer. He loves Will and his imagination and he’s not afraid to admit it. He doesn’t look down on emotional characters or see everyone else as an idiot, he invites them to dinner and offers them friendship, even if his own needs come first.

The most obvious appeal is the dedication to diversity and the respectful treatment of female characters. Characters which appear as male in the book, Freddie Lounds and Alan bloom, are genderswapped and brought to the front of the story. Female characters which only get a brief mention are given complex personalities and story arcs. Characters traditionally played as white are racebent as well, Laurence Fishbourne is excellent as Jack Crawford. There is a deliberate effort to create diversity and include people. Bryan Fuller has also spoken about his effort to exclude sexual violence towards women. A common problem in gritty crime shows is the ubiquity of sexual violence, which is excused as a reflection of reality. For once women have a dark and horror driven show which does not remind them of everything they fear when they have to walk home alone at night. The violence is horrific but it is almost never gendered, female dead bodies are not sexualised and do not outnumber male victims. This shouldn’t be a standout feature of crime shows but unfortunately Hannibal is unique. Female characters are not violently punished for their flaws either. Jack Crawford’s wife Bella cheats on her husband while struggling with illness and is treated sensitively and understood rather than chastised. Alana Bloom is a romantic interest of Will Graham’s but turns him down, saying as a psychologist she would only examine him f they were in a relationship. Will accepts this. She even begins a relationship with Hannibal Lecter, the same man who framed him for murder and his respect for her does not wane, he even praises her professionalism. Female characters in Hannibal do not exist to look pretty and provide a love interest for the male heroes. They are complex, flawed and strong and essential to the plot. They are not throwaway sexy one dimensional lady shaped characters, or damsels in distress, or over the top flirty “strong” women who fall for the hero. They are people, which is what we’ve been asking for!

Quorn again

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So I thought I’d do a post on vegetarian living and the weird stuff we have to put up with.

I haven’t eaten meat in around five years. After a lifetime of being able to separate the living, breathing animal with the edible thing on my plate it just didn’t click any more. I have always loved animals and been opposed to hunting and cruelty, and it got to a point where I could no longer justify eating meat. I stopped seeing food and started seeing the lump of cooked flesh that had once belonged to a living being killed specifically for me to eat. I had alternatives and I knew what I was doing, so I gave it up. I phased it out for a while before stopping altogether. And yes, Mum, it was partly Morrissey’s fault.

These days I know I couldn’t stand to eat meat, no matter how tasty it is. It grosses me out. I worked in a cafe for a year and the smell of bacon did not tempt me to leap over the counter and snatch the full english breakfast from a customer’s hand and declare I could no longer stand a life without it, it made me feel sick. Seriously, why do people talk about bacon like it’s the second coming? It smells like burning pig flesh! Even when I did eat meat I never got the bacon hype. “How can you life without bacon!” relax, it’s a thin strip of pig meat, not wifi access. I particularly hated having to handle raw meat. I did a trial in a coffee shop that sold breakfast sandwiches and found myself in a situation where the bacon was burning in the oven and neither me nor my Muslim co-worker wanted to take it out. Meat freaks me out. Having to pick up something from the butchers for my boss was like walking into a nightmare sequence. And they took FOREVER to get whatever carcass lump I went in there for. If I accidentally eat something with gelatine or some other animal product in it (WHY THE HELL DOES YOGHURT NEED GELATINE?) I feel it sitting uncomfortably in my stomach for hours.

Being vegetarian isn’t easy. It’s a huge inconvenience. Vegetarians don’t open a menu and marvel at the many delicious sounding options and weigh up which one is the best, we scan though pages of inedible options to find the two half arsed veggie options and decide which sounds the least boring. You know what sucks? Being a vegetarian who doesn’t like mushrooms. Welcome to mushroom city. Also cheese city, but that’s pretty good. Many restaurants simply don’t put enough thought into vegetarian options. It’s usually something just thrown in there to keep us quiet and is usually much less substantial and appetising than the rest of the options. On a school trip to London we ended up in a place where the one vegetarian option was the only one that didn’t come with chips. I was starving for the rest of the night. There seems to be an idea that veggies have smaller appetites, we like “rabbit food”. The options are usually salad, vegetable lasagne, boring veggie ‘burger’ or… no that’s it I have genuinely run out of examples. For some reason huge fast food companies who would knock down old people’s homes or screw up the entire rainforest for profit seem fine with ignoring the veggie market and putting almost nothing on the menu for them. Not that I ever would set foot in a mcdonalds out of choice, but when I’m dragged in there by a friend I would like to get something besides their nasty cardboard fries and weird milkshakes (those probably aren’t suitable for vegetarians either). I am a British northerner and I like stodgy comfort food and big portions. It’s no fun to be poking at your individual vegetable lasagne with a who cares? salad while your family happily enjoy huge roast dinners. Of course you can’t complain, because you chose to be vegetarian, as everyone reminds you when you ask why the hell we are in kfc when there’s a lovely vegetarian place a ten minute walk from there.

The worst part about being vegetarian is having to deal with carnivores. I don’t hate meat eaters, don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit opposite people and scoff while they eat ribs. I silently wonder WHAT THE HELL HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT IT STILL HAS BONES IN IT but I don’t say anything. I ate meat for years, defiantly. I was one of those “I could never be vegetarian!” people, it seems hypocritical to act like I’m St Francis now I swapped chicken for Linda McCartney . It’s just that people can be very antagonistic when you sheepishly tell them that no you can’t have a fry up to cure your hangover, you don’t actually eat meat. The same questions come up over and over again. “Do you eat fish?” is something I have heard hundreds of times. No I don’t eat fish. I miss it way more than anything else and I stare longingly at chip shop fish, but no. I have an iron will. If it’s dead I won’t eat it. “Is this just because you don’t like meat or is it like a….moral thing?” people want you to say that it isn’t a moral thing, because that makes them feel like I’m judging them. It is in my case, but like I said I don’t hate meat eaters. “Ok if you were on a desert island with only a chicken and it was a choice between eating a chicken or dying…” Please just stop. People can also get annoying and jokey. “Hahaha meat is murder! Tasty tasty murder!” or “haha plants have feelings too you monster haha!”. Hilarious. People seemed threatened by it, as if you plan to shove it down their throats. That’s another thing, people say “I’m fine with vegetarians, just not the ones who try and convert you or have a go at you for eating meat”. Where are these vegetarians? I have never met these people. More often than not I have to put up with obnoxious carnivores trying to convince me to go back to bacon. “Uhm, actually humans are evolved to eat meat” I don’t care. “Look at it! Look at the chicken! don’t you want some mmmm!” get it away from me. “You know farmers rely on meat for their income” what about tofu manufacturers? “It’s just the circle of life” Yawn. “Animals are bread for meat, if we didn’t eat them it would mess up the whole system” So? I haven’t eaten meat in five years, the smell of bacon makes me want to gag. My mind is made up and you aren’t going to convert me. I don’t try and convert you so leave me to my goat’s cheese salad and Smiths albums. It’s the same kind of people that have to argue for atheism every time someone says they’re religious, it’s just to try and prove how clever they are and get the upper hand. The most annoying thing is when carnivores find out they quite like the vegetarian thing at a buffet or barbecue or any food sharing thing and hog it for themselves. Every time I am home Mum buys these southern fried quorn burgers which are amazing and every time my carnivorous siblings eat them. When I complain I get told it was my choice to go veggie and it doesn’t give me a right to hog food everyone else likes. The problem they aren’t seeing is they have other options. They don’t HAVE to eat the quorn burger, they can have the cold chicken in the fridge. Or the beef burgers, or the fish fingers, or the bolognese. I JUST have the quorn burgers. Tasty as they are, they’re my only option and it’s hugely frustrating when the same people who irritatingly waft sausages in my face are happy to ride the veggie bandwagon when it turns out we have some pretty nice food. If you go out for tapas with a veggie for God’s sake don’t take all the patatas bravas. They may be tasty but that’s all we have. It’s also disheartening when family or flatmates decide to cook a big meal and leave you out. I ask what’s for dinner, I get the reply “WE’RE having chilli. You can eat…eggs or something I don’t know.”

There are some perks to vegetarianism. I used to be a picky eater but I’ve discovered some incredible food I would have otherwise avoided for a good reliable burger. Goat’s cheese is my favourite thing ever, and I have recipes in my arsenal and cooking skills I would have otherwise not bothered with. Vegetarian food comes with a lower risk of food poisoning and apparently plenty of other health problems, like heart disease and high cholesterol. Didn’t cook your veggie burger properly? it won’t taste as good but it won’t kill you! You get a smug sense of superiority when a story about contaminated meat or a new disease contracted from eating a certain animal makes the news. The horse meat scandal was hilarious. Just fantastic. And the best part is you can interact with animals knowing you aren’t part of a system that hurts them. I mean just look at their little faces, how can you eat that?!

Why do you come hair? And why do you hang around?

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I just read a pretty spot on article about the ‘beauty’ obsessed nature of body positivity movements.

http://bitchmagazine.org/article/pretty-unnecessary-beauty-body-positivity

In summary the article basically says that ‘beautiful’ shouldn’t have to be a requirement of having value as a person. Body positivity shouldn’t be “everyone is beautiful” it should be “who cares if you’re beautiful? You’re still very important!”.

Firstly I’d like to acknowledge that I don’t have a great need for body positivity myself. I have a pretty decent amount of self confidence and aside from the usual adolescent insecurities I’ve never suffered too much. Sure, I don’t think I’m the most stunning creature ever. I’m alright. I’m definitely not the most photogenic (hence the lack of photo in this post), my nose is a bit bigger than I’d like and I could do without my broad shoulders. Given the choice I’d wake up tomorrow looking like Charlize Theron. However I’m young, white and slim enough that I am not too much opposed to narrow beauty ideals.

The one insecurity that gets on my nerves nearly every day is my hair. If you’re my facebook friend or my friend in any capacity you’re probably already bored sick of my hair-based angst or at least had a giggle at one of my self deprecating jokes.

I have Irish Hair. For those of you without Celtic genes and a weirdly spelled name, you probably don’t know what that is. I have Irish blood on both sides of the family, mostly from my Granny who emigrated from Roscommon. Mostly, I like being vaguely Irish. I wish I was more Irish. I have an interesting name, I got a slightly different perspective on the world growing up Catholic in a Church of England country (we’re more dramatic and interesting, and our churches are ostentatious and fabulous) and I can credit it for my distinctive colouring (pale skin, dark hair, blue eyes). The hair, however, I could do without.

Irish hair is never neat. It is dry and wild no matter how expensive your conditioner is. It is neither curly nor straight, it simply twists and turns of it’s own accord.  It is so fine and light it feels like it’s not there. It is extremely breakable particularly when stressed. In my case, it also happens to be thinner than a potato-free stew. It also gets greasy quickly, whilst still remaining dry and brittle. The slightest presence of wind or rain makes me look like a crazed fortune teller. You know when you tie your hair back and endearing little strands of it fall down around your face? Irish hair springs out in wild curls that stick out horizontaly. In short, everything that can possibly be wrong with hair is present in my hair. It almost never looks good and I also happen to be cursed with a total lack of ability to style hair. My immediate family suffer the same thing, but aside from them no one seems to have much understanding of what wild Irish Hair is like.

I remember at school having to wear a ponytail (my hair was down to my waist, scouse Mums don’t do bobs) and always despairing the little wiry curls that would escape the bobble and surround my face the second I got to school. So began my life long fight with my hair. In secondary school when I started to notice everything wrong with me I tried to take control. I cut my hair short. After a lifetime of freakishly long hair I was bored. I dyed it every possible colour to distract from the fact it was terrible and I couldn’t style it. I washed it every day and during my punkier phases I straightened it almost every day. Naturally my hair viscously bit back like a lion when I tried to tame it. It thinned out more than Donald Trump’s. So I layed off the dye and the heat application. Now it was just boring and brown and wilder than ever. Last year I panicked when I saw actual bald spots and thin, witchy patches. I started taking iron tablets and consciously upping my protein (being vegetarian and a student probably doesn’t help). I reduced the amount I washed it by half and, sure enough, it has got better. For a while, though, it was bad. I would cringe and feel close to tears of I caught sight of my pathetic amount of whispy hair in a mirror.

I would burn with envy when other girls would swish around their thick, healthy hair and style it constantly without the ugly results I had to put up with. I still bubble with anger when thick haired people complain about the cards they’ve been dealt. It weighs down on your head? It’s hard to style? It takes a long time to dry? Cry me a river. Why don’t you complain that you’re wallet is too heavy, or you have nowhere to store all the flowers Tom Hiddleston sends you? I may sound bitter and it’s because I am. Thick haired people seem genuinely surprised that I have zero sympathy for their “problems” or that I simply can’t, or rather refuse to, understand how “difficult” it can be to have stunning, healthy, thick hair. And no, you would not prefer mine. After washing it’s so flimsey and unimpressive a professional hairdresser probably wouldn’t notice it. A day after washing it’s so wiry it looks like the insides of a scarecrow. Catching sight of it in the shadow of a projector is the worst, I look like a Quentin Blake illustration.

Speaking of hairdressers, I feel like they are an alien species. They ask me if I want layers, a side fringe, feathering when all I want to say is “help me. Just look at this and do the best you can”. I remember getting it curled professionally for my sixth form prom and picking out an airbrushed model in a magazine sporting the hair I would sell semi vital organs for. “Ha! I’ll do the best I can!” said the stylist. If I was Joan Rivers I would probably say something like “Hairdressers call most people that come into their salons their ‘clients’, they call me their ‘patient’!” In my dreams I either have flowing, shiny mermaid locks, or the hair of Princess Merida, or even an adorable pixie bob. Even a cute cropped hairdo wouldn’t work, although it would get rid of a lot of my problems it would only exacerbate my less-than-delicate features and big face and most likely make me look like Dylan Moran or a less hot version of Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. Mostly I just get a shoulder length boring cut that is as uninspiring as a cup a soup. Any longer and I look like a witch, any shorter and my face looks weird. Of course such haircuts never last. Another fun thing my hair does is growing faster than bamboo.

So we’ve had the other stages of hair grief, when comes the acceptance? I’m working on that. No, I’m not working on the part of this blog post where I wrap it up and tell you I am in fact a goddess and my hair is perf, I am working on accepting my hair. Is there anything good about it? It does style easily. If I actually knew how to style it this would be a huge bonus, but recently I attempted a quiff which looked somewhat impressive and stayed in place with only a shot of hairspray. I like the colour. It’s dark brown and it suits me. Sometimes it falls nicely and can form  natural curls when left to dry on it’s own. It always feels soft, too soft, like “brown smoke” as my friend says, but I suppose that’s something. I have other decent features I suppose. I like my hands and my eyebrows, I’ve been told nice things about my eyes. My face is sometimes like “daaaayym!” to me and sometimes it’s “damm!”. I am beginning to finally accept my hair. I know it won’t change and when I try it turns into a battle in which my hair always wins. My hair is not a benevolent helpful force that enhances any beauty I might have, it is a political enemy I grudgingly make peace treaties with. So I just leave it as it is. I distract from it. I keep it the least interesting thing about me. I push it back from my face, where it stays, I work with what I have rather than trying to force something I don’t. I try to take this position with all my insecurities, including my big nose and broad shoulders and weird little hump thing I have at the top of my back. You can’t have it all, although some people seem genetically blessed. My hair isn’t good and it probably never will be, unless I find a hairdresser who is also an actual wizard. Don’t tell me my hair is pretty, it’s not and that is ok. Pretty hair isn’t everything. Compliment something else about me, laugh at one of my terrific puns. And for the sake of all that is holy, begorrah and bejaysis, do not complain about your thick hair in front of me.Ir

Bad Romance

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Cartoon – Kate Beaton http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php

I am a terrible writer in that I have definitely not read enough books. I was really bookish as a kid but when my true passion for movies took over I became far more picky and read far less. However my last two New Year’s Resolutions have been to read more and I have been catching up.I have actual opinions about books now rather than just superhero movies.

One genre of both movies and books that I’ve always held at arms length is romance. I’ve never actually been in love, unless you count unrequited affection for actors and singers (Morrissey for life), so for one I felt they were not for me. I’ve always seen them as cheesy and mass produced. Mills and Boon and formulaic romantic comedies have ruined my perception of the genre. A fun game my Mum told me about is to read the ridiculously floral and exotic names of the characters in the summaries of Mills and Boon books (ten points for a ‘Cassandra’). The romantic subplot has always been a tacked on feature of most movies, mainly to prove the inevitably male hero is straight and to provide him with extra motivation and a reward at the end (write to me for more film based gender studies rants). The entertainment environment I am so engrossed in has enough to make me cynical and unaffected when it comes to fictional romance.

Recently, however, I have dipped my toe into the world of classic romance in the form of our future ten pound note gracer, Jane Austen. I watched both major adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and read the book. I have now moved on to Emma. I found myself reacting to Pride and Prejudice exactly as women have been reacting to it for centuries. I laughed, I swooned, I fell slightly in love with Mr Darcy. Ok, a lot in love. He’s a major babe. And I feel a connection to Lizzie. The bolshy (scouse word meaning sarcastic and rebellious) second daughter of a female dominated family, the marriage resistant cynic, the girl who prides herself on being a good judge of character yet is sometimes blinded by her prejudgement, I can relate. She is flawed and three dimensional, as is Fitzwilliam Darcy.The “they hated each other at first” trope has never been better or less trope-y. I wanted them to get together, I booed Mr Whickham, I felt Darcy’s anguish when Lizzie rejects him. The question is, why did I have this reaction to THIS romance?

To explore this I am going to compare the book to my two least favourite in existence, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. Beginning with Twilight: I picked up the book as a teenager with every intention of enjoying it as much as my peers. I have since been accused of “hating it because it’s popular”, but that has never really been my way. I tried to read it BECAUSE it was popular! I was in the target market, the premise was gripping, every girl my age loved it, why wouldn’t I? Some things are popular for a reason. I found that I couldn’t find a reason to read it after around 10 chapters and returned it to the library, much to the shock and disbelief of the girls who recommended it to me.  I have since been told things like “ooh how can you know it’s bad if you didn’t read the whole thing?” and “it gets good in the second/third book, you just have to give it a chance. To the first I say if a book doesn’t grip me within 10 chapters it is clearly not worth my time and online extracts and those terrible movies have since proved my original Lizzie Bennet style dismissal. To the second I reiterate: if a whole book isn’t enough to grip a reader then it is badly written. The first thing you learn about creative writing is to hook the reader in the first sentence. My problems with this book could take up a whole dissertation but I’ll attempt to cover them in one paragraph.

Firstly I found both the main characters utterly un engrossing. Bella Swan is a dullard. She moved to a town of her own volition and complains about it constantly. Her Dad is perfectly nice to her and she is dismissive and cruel to him. Similarly the kids at her new school are friendly and kind to her and she mocks them, ignores them and treats their attempts at friendship like harassment while playing the “ugh I’m such a lonely outsider” card. She is also two dimensional, she doesn’t really have a character beyond complaining about everything, allegedly reading a lot and being clumsy. Ah, the ‘clumsy’ trope. Take an infeasibly perfect yet character free character and make them clumsy. Hey presto! You have a relateable! Flawed! Female! Character! As an actual clumsy person it irritates me when this pain-in-the-arse trait is played off as endearing. No one ever made eyes at me after I smashed a plate or bumped into a chair. Also what irks me is her total dependence on her vampire boyfriend Edward. The romanticising of codependency has never been worse. She goes into a deep depression when he kind-of breaks up with her. Similarly he attempts to kill himself when he hears sketchy reports of her death. This is not a healthy romance, it is two unstable people using each other as crutches. And as for Edward, I think he is not just a bad character but a dangerous one. Darcy’s unfortunate legacy is the “brooding serious guy”.  Edward is controlling, abusive, humourless and possessive. He watches her sleep. HE WATCHES HER SLEEP and it is played off as a romantic sign of his utter devotion to her. That is my main problem with this series. Teenage girls are being taught that such behaviour is romantic and not emotional abuse. He basically loves her because he wants to drink her blood the most, which is the strongest metaphor for an abusive relationship I have ever come across. The two never banter, or have fun, or enjoy each others company much. They stare at each other and brood. This isn’t a story about love, it is a story about dangerous obsession.

I thought it wasn’t possible for me to hate a book more than Twilight. Then came 50 Shades of Grey. The demon spawn of Twilight. The hastily written and seemingly unedited and unrefined fanfiction of Twilight. I could write a book on how abysmally it is written and the cardinal sins of writing it commits but for now I’ll focus on it’s dreadful story and characters, which make Twilight look like a seminal exploration of love.  Ana is so dull and one dimensional I hated her within the first page. She stands at a mirror and complains about being skinny and having big eyes, as though they are bad things to have. She complains about her friend being ill and leaving it to her to take this once in a lifetime journalistic opportunity to interview a billionaire. She is unrealistically out of touch with the world and bafflingly naive. I refuse to believe a modern college student does not own a computer and has never gotten drunk. It is simply not possible. And as for Christian, whom the authour Evil. L James described as a better romantic hero than Mr Darcy, I have never hated a fictional character more. He is abusive, manipulative and takes advantage of Ana’s worrying and unrealistic innocence. He treats her like crap and all his awfulness is dismissed and excused  with a “bad childhood” backstory. He’s just so tortured, you see, he may treat her badly and have the maturity of a stapler but it’s only because he’s so deep and dark and tortured! And again their romance is one of unhealthy obsession and emotional instability. And once again an abusive relationship is being highly romanticised and sold to the masses in undoubtedly the worst written anything I have ever come across.

Compare these books and those like them to Pride and Prejudice. When Lizzie brutally rejects Darcy he neither begs for her acceptance nor spirals into melodramatic sadness. He explains his actions politely and says he will never bother her again if that’s what she wants. The line “Forgive me, madam, for taking up so much of your time” would never be spoken by a Christian or an Edward. Even after admitting his deep love for Lizzie and being told he doesn’t have a hope in hell and she hates him, he takes it graciously. He doesn’t harass her or cry “but I’m a nice guy!”, he doesn’t resent her. Even after saving her family from ruin and more than redeeming himself, he tells her that if she still doesn’t want to accept him he will leave her alone. THAT is maturity. That is a healthy romance. That is where the swoons are. Not “I must have you and I can’t live without you”, a respect for the other person’s wishes despite a deep attachment. Similarly, when she sees who he really is and falls for him she believes it to be too late and attempts to move on. The tension comes from their unwillingness to bother the other against their wishes. Neither of them see each other through rose coloured glasses. On their first meeting Darcy disputes her status as a beauty and refuses to dance with her. She knows his flaws and publicly calls him out for them. In fact, that is one of the reasons he falls for her. Their relationship is not a constant boring cycle of telling each other how great they are, and that’s why it’s healthy. Lizzie is a woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to him and can clearly think for herself. She is not a submissive waif who will bow to his every whim. She’s a bit of an idiot herself, jumping to conclusions and having every confidence in her assumptions about people. She has an over zealousness I and many others can relate to. The romantic element doesn’t come from seeing each other as perfect and ignoring the flaws, it comes from seeing the flaws and loving them anyway. Similarly in “Emma” the hero Mr Knightley is described early on as the only person who ever criticises Emma. She is bossy, proud and interfering, her romance with Mr Knightley is based on the fact he can get her head out of the clouds better than anyone, not on his constant praise and obsession.

These romances are human, realistic, healthy and take place between flawed and relateable people. The obstacles to their romances come from their own faults and miscommunications, not from ridiculous outside sources infringing on their perfect, argument-free relationship. Their physical beauty and personalities are not exaggerated or unrealistic, and the circumstances of their getting together reflect real life. The reason I and other people love them so much and why they endure is because we can see why they are suited and we can imagine it happening in our own lives. Darcy is such a dreamboat because he is such a gentlemen even in his lowest moments. Lizzie is such a babe because she is every bit as smart, witty and interesting as Darcy thinks she is. Not because he regularly declares it despite a total lack of proof for the reader. They aren’t self insert fantasies, they’re real people.

Damnit, Gym!

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I don’t have a gym membership and I refuse to get one. I know myself well enough that I wouldn’t use one and it would be a waste of money rather than an encouragement. Being this self aware of my own laziness is maybe a sign of maturity.

I always thought of going to the gym as a thing only particularly athletic people did. Or something people say they’re gonna do as a new year’s resolution. It’s only as I hit young adulthood that it seems the vast majority of my peers actually go to the gym on a regular basis. It went from being something only a select group of people actually do to something only the laziest of unhealthy slobs didn’t do. It has become a weird social requirement.

I’d like to know when this came about. My Mum says no one went to the gym when she was my age. People played sports, but no one felt the need to add to this with a few hours on a treadmill. Gym going has become a part of lifestyle fashion like so much sushi.

My main problem is it’s part in the creation of health bores. Posting selfies of their abs, lecturing you about additives, being unnecessarily cruel to fat people and then claiming they only care about their well being… People who somehow thing doing a jog at seven in the morning somehow boosts the health benefits even though a few hours sleep would probably do them better. In my mind they are the flagellants of our time. Pious types used to walk from village to village in Game of Thrones times, whipping themselves as punishment for their sins. Nowadays people half brag half boast about their three hour swimming session and the minuscule kale salad they had for lunch for the same reason. They want recognition and awe for their self imposed suffering.  It’s a need for superiority over the rest of us. Of course this doesn’t apply to all gym goers, just people obsessed with health culture. It becomes a real problem when this culture looks down on those who won’t participate in it and then claim they only care about their health when challenged. Making fun of fat people doesn’t help them lose weight. If you live a healthy lifestyle good for you, for the rest of us who like wine and pillows it can come across as preachy and lecturing when you try and convert us to kale (I still don’t know what kale is).

So much of what goes on in gyms seems completely tedious to me. Treadmills are basically human hamster wheels but less fun. Lifting heavy weights is something no one actually wants to do. Spin classes are allegedly really painful. There are plenty of ways to move about without boring or torturing yourself. I recently joined a performing arts society and our tap routine to “the old bamboo” breaks a sweat every time. The reason zumba is so popular is that it actually makes an effort to be enjoyable. Dancing in general is fun, expressive and no less beneficial than running on the spot for an extended period of time. Why would anyone pay to do a boring repetitive exercise when there are so many fun ones available? Most people go out to a club regularly, is that not enough? Ok, clubbing isn’t healthy, but it is fun. Gyms can be aggressive in their salesmanship. I remember freshers fair last year where a guy representing some local gym or other basically started shouting at my friend because she wouldn’t give him her card details then and there. We remarked on the name of the classes available too. “Fat blast”, “body attack”, why does it have to be framed in such negative terms? Fitness language all seems to be negative. No pain no gain, endure, attack your body, blast your fat, hate yourself enough to force yourself through a physically unpleasant task to conform to ideals of fitness. Why must we suffer to be healthy? Is that not a contradiction?

There’s an idea that going to the gym or being healthy in general makes you a better person. In an age obsessed with appearance and totally opposed to positivity towards fat bodies being ‘unhealthy’ is a cardinal sin. ‘Unhealthy’ meaning ‘possessing outward attributes that magazines have told us means you’re unhealthy’. You can be thin and have arteries like pigs in blankets. You can be fat and have a clean bill of health. Even if you are a lazy person with a bad diet, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Being a gym goer doesn’t make you any nicer, in fact it can make you a bit of a pain. I’ve always had a poor relationship with sport. Asthmatic, uncoordinated, clumsy and always picked last in PE (that’s when I didn’t get my friend to forge a note getting me out of it). I have been spectacularly awful at pretty much every sport I’ve ever tried. I can’t even ride a bike. My family aren’t particularly sporty either, I don’t have it in me. For me exercise either has to be fun or a natural by product of my life. Right now I live in a house around a 20 minute walk from my Uni. I have no problem walking their and back. Or to the supermarket. The same with dancing, or my participation in the performing arts society. For me true laziness is where you inconvenience yourself or others, or when you avoid going to the effort of doing something easy. Last year I lived in halls about a ten minute walk from the town centre. I was about the only one of my flatmates who didn’t get buses in regularly. My Mum lived in the same halls in her day and was shocked when I told her my friends had taken a bus into the town to get pizza rather than walking. So perhaps we haven’t become more health conscious, we have simply shuffled our priorities. You can take a taxi to avoid a short walk but you can’t refuse a gym membership.