Friday, March 31, 2017

A funny fluffy fabulous feminist

So I've just finished reading Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter by NZ's female comedian of the decade, Michele A'Court, a couple of years after it was published, but better late than never - much!

I was moved to tears of hilarity and recognition, as a mother and feminist (and wannabe comic), by this funny fluffy fabulous feminist - 'fluffy' from her daughter's first interpretation of the word 'lovely' that became their go-to word for all lovely things and days from then on, a word I might borrow from time to time for the same purpose, hoping that some of their fabulous fluffiness might rub off on me. Indeed a girl can never have enough effs.

Michele is a wit and a brain and a 'strident' feminist to boot - things that tend to go hand in hand, in my experience, but not so much in popular mythology. She is also NZ's answer to Caitlin Moran, who could be described in the same terms.

In fact these women both describe themselves as 'strident' feminists, a playful, even 'fluffy' take on the rather more hard-nosed 'radical' feminist of old. I am going to borrow this term too; I hope they don't mind.

I don't think Michele will. I wrote to her to tell her how much I enjoyed her fluffy fabulous book, and she wrote back within 24 hours! That was a very fluffy day, I must say.

And I am going to see her perform this Sunday (at the club where I am currently battling it out to be the fluffiest new comedian on the block) and where this Sunday, she and other local comedy legends will be giving their time and comic talents freely to raise money for Women's Refuge.

Stand-up has not had a long history of supporting causes like Women's Refuge, it's safe to say. Indeed many have been critical of the male-dominated industry's jokes about wife-beating in the past. And sadly I recently witnessed this kind of thing still being brought to the stand-up stage by new comics, with one guy opening his act with: 'Some things aren't funny (significant pause); domestic violence for instance (significant pause in which I thought I knew what was coming and was bracing myself, but it was even worse than I expected); you should never hit a woman (significant pause) with a baby.'

But he bombed, this young white guy, with an act that was so out of touch with mainstream feeling on these issues that people in the audience, other than me, groaned in dismay, or sat in stunned silence, and I ended up feeling somewhat reassured that I was not alone.

We obviously need more funny feminists, men as well as women, and fewer unfunny sexists. And there are more and more funny feminists to be found on our screens, stages and pages. Michele A'Court is a shining local example of this progressive trend that I think is the best and perhaps only way to bring about a lasting change in attitudes on women and men (and children) from which policy change happens.

If you can make people laugh while you're gently prompting them to think about things in a slightly, but significantly different way, then they are much more likely to listen and to be moved to change their ways, in my view.

Funny feminism, it seems to me, is the fourth wave of the movement. Let's make it a permanent wave, I say, like the hairdo we women don't get anymore but probably should. As long as we can talk on the phone while we're getting it, what's not to like? Indeed it should be easier with mobile technology; what was it invented for otherwise?



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Too far go, Fargo?

So I loved Fargo the film, not least because the female lead (Frances McDormand) was a heavily pregnant super sleuth - a pregnant Sherlock Holmes, if you will - who solved the bizarre crime riddle and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her troubles. The script, by her husband Joel Cohen and brother Ethan, was hilarious, and the surreal snow setting of a deep mid-winter Minnesota was the sweet, almost literal icing on the cake.

The TV series inspired by the film has the same setting and general story-line of a bumbling salesman who gets himself embroiled in a darkly absurd crime saga to be solved by a somewhat unlikely female detective who is married to a less than macho man.

However the first series, made in 2014, which for some reason we didn't get around to watching till now, makes one small but significant plot change. Instead of the salesman arranging for his insipid, but otherwise unoffensive wife to be kidnapped in order to pay off his debts - and it all goes horribly wrong from there and she winds up dead - he brutally murders his wife with a hammer - an obvious symbol of masculinity - a woman who is characterised as the ultimate 'nagging wife' who tells him constantly he's not a proper man and goads him to kill her by saying 'what are you going to do about it? Nothing'

The blood spatter on this poster is hers. He is right and she is wrong, presumably, men's justification for domestic violence and homicide throughout the ages.

I almost couldn't breath after this brutal scene played out, as our sympathies had very much been with this guy up until then and the way it was done was as if the writers were justifying the graphic, cold-blooded murder of a woman with a hammer repeatedly struck to her head because she was such an emasculating nag.

Fargo: Season One cast and writers - winner of Best TV Miniseries
I almost got M to turn it off at that point but, like I said, I could hardly breathe, and I think I needed to know where it went from there to see if they did anything to redeem the misogyny.

And they did - some. But was it enough? Could it ever be enough to counter the suggestion that if you think your wife is a nag and you can't get her to stop any other way, you are justified in killing her? No, of course not. There's a thing called divorce that decent people do if they don't get on with their wives/husbands.

Of course that wouldn't make for a black comedy, which this is, and one of the best, in every other respect. But is it worth it to cross that line and effectively promote domestic homicide in a world where so many men every year, in every country on earth, do beat and murder their wives and are more often than not excused murder convictions based on her so-called 'provocation'? Definitely not.

And looking at this cast and writer lineup for the series it is not that hard to see why this sort of entertainment at the expense of womankind continues to get made. However my feeling is that this line crossed dates the series and that since as recently as 2016, we are seeing a much greater reluctance to cross the misogyny line - as well as a greater willingness to have more gender-balanced casts for films and TV shows (see previous blog).

We haven't finished watching the first series yet but I am hopeful that if not the second series (2015) then the third series being made now will do better on this front than the first, even if the first won all sorts of awards. It is very good, clever and funny, but that really is no excuse, in my mind (this is my doctoral research area), for sending the message to the millions who watch these things that killing 'the nagging wife' is in any way justified, much less for purposes of entertainment.

Postscript: Having finished the first series now I'd still say the writers were wrong to replace an accidental wife killing in the original story-line with a more or less deliberate and brutal wife murder for 'nagging', a man-made concept and stereotype for which there is no hard evidence, even though it has many times been accepted in law as provocation for domestic homicide to reduce a charge of murder against a man with a history of violence against his wife to manslaughter.

However, the perpetrator does finally get his comeuppance, after he sets his second wife up to be killed, and she is beyond blame, a telling contrast to show how low the man has sunk, and it is very well done, with a satisfying sense of closure in the rest of the story-line too.

That said, he effectively got away with the first murder and was living the high life, winning salesman of the year having found his manly mojo. It was only his pride that tripped him up, not the law, which could still send the message that if you keep your cool, you can get away with murder and have it all.

The less than macho husband figure of the female detective (Colin Hanks: traffic cop then postman), who painted stamps in the first Fargo, finds his manly mojo too in the end by killing the hired assassin and getting a commendation for bravery for it. It is well done and satisfying that this nice guy, who was duped by the decidedly not-nice assassin, got to make good from bad - the little guy beating the big guy in the end. But still, it did smack a bit of the male writers wanting to amend what they saw as an uncomfortable gender imbalance in the original husband and wife story: the savvy and fearless detective wife and the mild-mannered stamp-painting husband.

I loved that relationship, one that was, moreover, based in reality, a reality we almost never see on our screens, no doubt because men don't want to believe that, in reality, women are strong, stronger than they are in many respects - though it's not a competition. That's where we've gone wrong in the past.

But at least the writers are thinking about gender constructs in somewhat critical ways rather than assuming the sexist stereotypes are true and timeless. There's a ways to go yet - women make great detectives and I'm pretty sure men can and do paint - even small things, like stamps - so let's embrace that kind of pairing and every other version of it.

Men don't have to kill to be men and we women are very good at taking care of ourselves, we just need men to support us more than they have done, and support each other too, in exposing, punishing, rehabilitating and ultimately eradicating truly violent men.

The first series of Fargo both helps and hinders this aim.  


Sunday, March 19, 2017

One giant leap for womankind (Hidden Figures)

Men are better at maths than women, white people have bigger brains than black people, women's place is in the home, the moon-landing was a giant leap for mankind.

These pervasive myths are so spectacularly shattered by the real-life-based box-office hit film Hidden Figures that one feels there is no going back to the bullshit now that that film has been seen by millions of people around the world. And the fact that it is such a box-office hit when no-one is murdered or even injured, there is no sex or nudity, and THE MAIN CHARACTERS ARE THREE BRILLIANT BLACK WOMEN, is one of the most revealing and uplifting events of our times in that it speaks to the truth, I think, that people don't want to be lied to anymore and prefer a true story of courage and cleverness and justice won against impossible odds, to violence, sex, contrived macho heroism and lies. We get enough of the latter in global politics, after all.

The film is also highly entertaining and brilliantly acted, and was nominated for three Oscars, though it didn't win any. Who decides the Oscars again? (6,000 members who are 'overwhelmingly white men' appointed by invitation only).

But the truth that people of all walks of life are flocking to see, a truth hidden from any news, entertainment or media source for more than fifty years, is that three brilliant, black women, who all had children and were otherwise 'regular' women in the ultra conservative 1950s and early 60s, were instrumental in getting white men to successfully orbit the earth, then to the moon, leading the way at NASA in their pioneering computer programming, rocket engineering and, most critically of all, rocket science, the advanced mathematical calculations required to determine the trajectories for getting rockets and men up into space and back safely.

John Glenn even refused to embark on his mission to orbit the earth without the numbers being checked by the only woman and black person on the team of forty-odd mathematicians doing the sums to ensure he got up and back safely. Who knew? NO ONE - except for those involved, of course.

Behind every great man? Let's rewrite that: 'Behind every successful man there is a great woman'. Only in this film, the women are out in front, in the spotlight, claiming, at long last, the credit and glory they deserve, though only one of the three women is still alive to see it.

And let's not forget that their stories might never have been told but for another black woman - Margot Lee Shetterly - researching and writing the book Hidden Figures (2016) to finally bring them to light.

It's such an amazing and cinematic story but no storyteller, until now, felt it was worth the telling in book or film - the fact that the story was so well hidden, clearly would not have helped. And so often this seems to be the case with women's achievements throughout history. Most written history is the story of men, as if women weren't even there.

But something seems to be finally changing. Women have always been considered, at most, the second sex, at worst, barely human, with males given preferential treatment and access to privileges and power ahead of females from birth, in every country around the world. But as the message of this film is that when we come together simply as human beings we can reach the stars, literally, it might just be that we have finally been shown the error and harm of our ways so that we can go on from here with hope that we could actually make a world in which there is a whole lot more justice, happiness and peace. Awomen to that.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

'Sex is wonderful'

The title is a quote from a local author, Bernard Beckett, in his father-to-son letter written in response to the recent debate about rape culture in New Zealand. I encourage you to read it and thank author Sarah Laing for the link, and for her own response to the debate.

The debate was sparked last week by some boys from a local boys' high school posting on Facebook the comment that if you don't take advantage of ('fuck') drunk girls you are, effectively, not a man.

The comment received several 'likes' from other boys at the school before it was reported to officials and reached the media. There was an outcry from various quarters, including a protest organised by the local girls' school.

We have a very high rate of sexual assault in NZ and this issue has been debated and dismissed many times before. Those who have seen it all before and seen the limp legal response to a variety of rape cases, argue that the problem is that women continue to be held responsible for changing our behaviour 'This issue isn’t women’s responsibility to fix' while boys are repeatedly sympathised with and excused.

So Bernard Beckett taking public responsibility as a man for changing the attitude and behaviour of his sons, away from that of male entitlement and domination and towards respect for women as human beings, is a big step forward. Few men have taken this step in the past, rather, most leap to the defence of the boys and men accused of rape.

I fundamentally believe that if women had the social power nature intended us to have - and that we must have had some time in the distant past - we would be able to repel would-be rapists and ensure that men with the capacity and inclination to rape would not reproduce. By devaluing the feminine through misogynistic religions, war and pornography, etc (I think single-sex schools are a problem too), we transfer this natural power away from girls and women to those boys and men who think they have a right to do with us what they want, to own, to dominate, and to hurt us if we resist, because we are, to them, not fully human. Aristotle thought we were 'deformed men'. This is not about thugs. There are strenuous intellectual defences of the basic idea that women are a lesser species of being than men.

Sex is wonderful, rape is wrong. There is a world of difference between wonderful and wrong. It is up to men to return the power to repel would-be rapists to girls and women by teaching their sons the difference between wonderful and wrong and vigorously prosecuting those that fail to learn.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Master bed

Sorry about the uneven light, best I could do between downpours.

Her room really (the cat's).
Not for sale (room). Cat, possibly.
I have a theory that the mattress protector was developed by a man to avoid having to take the mattress outside for an airing once in a while. Lifting and carrying a double mattress is definitely 'men's work'.

But washing the mattress protector is mostly going to be women's work, as most washing is done by women, whether paid or unpaid. In our house, Moose does the Saturday wash and I do the rest, which is about even, to be fair.

But this 'master bed' load nearly killed the washing machine (and me). Three queen-sized sheets and protectors, plus pillowcases, all wrapped around a centre piece, spinning and churning madly, was nearly more than our machine could cope with. Handling them onto the line took a fair amount of spinning and churning too; really a longer-limbed machine and chief washer are required.

And that house there beyond the sheets - our neighbours of twenty-two years - has just sold for a second time this year. Estate agents bought and flicked it, adding a shiny vase of giant fresh flowers like a great fake smile. And bingo! It sold again.

Don't know how much more they got for it the second time but it didn't take long to sell. They'd only need another $50,000 to be doing very well out of the two-month deal, and that's precisely how house prices are pushed higher and higher. Sometimes I think the entire right-wing is a property developer and effective real-estate agent.

Parasites one and all.

Meanwhile, we live on next door, exposing our underbelly to the prospective neighbours - spin on that!

Nice garden.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Amy

What better way to celebrate International Women's Day than with the comic genius of Amy Schumer whose latest stand-up show - the Leather Special - we watched on Netflix last night.

'Be bold for change' is the message of this year's International Women's Day and Amy is nothing if not BOLD.

She not only challenges Hollywood and wider ideals of petite, pouting and passive femininity, but in this latest special she boldly uses her international platform to make a stand on gun violence and violence against women after two women were shot dead while watching her film Trainwreck by a man with a history of domestic violence.

She kind of stops her show to discuss this issue; namely that people (men) with a history of violence can buy a gun in the US, though she somehow still manages to make humour of it without taking anything away from the seriousness of the issue and her strong views on it. That takes real guts, and talent, and epitomises the 'be bold for change' message of this year's IWD.

Women have long been at the forefront of organised campaigns to end war and all forms of violence, while men have been at the forefront of blocking their efforts and fighting for their right to bear arms and kill people, effectively. The future of humanity rests on women being given more power to speak and be heard on the subject of ending all forms of violence, and Amy sets a fine example on this front, especially as she is entertaining and popular with men too and not as easily written off as a man-hating bitch, as feminists campaigning against guns, war and gender violence invariably are.

So here's to Amy Schumer, a true international woman living the challenge to be bold in fighting for change in how women are represented and treated by men, and for a world that does not condone and perpetuate violence in the name of some deeply misguided and sexist right. If a funny woman can be serious about stopping violence, we all can - and must. Be BOLD!



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

John gone, Jacinda in

Jacinda and Grant would have been great
So a bit of good local political news as the US sinks deeper into the political darklands of state-sanctioned patriarchal bullshit and bigotry.

Here in NZ the young, savvy and hugely popular female MP Jacinda Ardern has just been elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, giving the left-wing a chance of election after three terms of the right-wing under that previously popular political person with a name starting with J (John Key). Hurrah!

I wager Jacinda will ultimately replace John (who stepped down recently when he smelt the whiff of defeat) in the political popularity stakes, as she has that same all-round appeal - even if a female version, which for now at least seems likely not to equal the male equivalent for mainstream voters - but she actually cares about the people she represents, especially those who need - and deserve - political help. And ultimately I think Jacinda and her ilk will surpass the popularity of the 'old' white male on either side of the political spectrum.

A while back I voted for Jacinda to deputy lead with Grant Robertson as leader of the Labour Party, but the team of Andrew Little and his then deputy Annette King were elected to lead instead. Grant is gay and that seemed to be why the party voted for his blander, safer (not gay) colleague Andrew, which was disappointing and quite possibly politically disastrous. Grant is an awesome debater with a lively wit, much more so than Andrew, who is comparatively dull and ordinary. Grant and Jacinda would have been a dynamic, progressive and winning team, I think, with the exception of those voters, on both sides of the political spectrum, who remain sexist and homophobic.

But those old patriarchal prejudices are dying out and politics can only be improved when they do finally leave the world to be run by the broader of mind and more diverse of experience. A lot of men have a very narrow, black and white way of looking at problems, and politics has been limited and undermined by that narrow view for far too long.

We're not out of the woods yet, certainly not in the US, but here in NZ the election of Jacinda Ardern is a substantial step in the right direction so that is something to celebrate.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Broken Batman and Busted Robin

Broken Batman and Busted Robin
Sorry to sully the blog with this image, but the reason for it is that Trump looks SO tired in it it makes me feel good, and that's the main thing.

The man (loosely defined) has no idea what he is doing or how to do it and that would be tiring when it is your job to know everything and do everything.

His eye bags are puffy pouches of guilt for taking on a job that he is completely unequipped for and for hiring such a bunch of shit-bag old men to help, men who, if possible, are even less equipped than he is, because being yes-men, they are literally the very last sort of men Trump needs.

Old yes-men out, new 'no-women' (women who say no to Trump) of all ages in, that's the message for politics in the US and in all countries today I say - Cat Woman for President! - and that's what Trump's election and shady appointments are making clearer than any feminist campaign ever could have done.

So thank you, Broken Batman. You and your little Busted Robin side-kick up to your necks in Russian shit, have done us a favour. The bat-mobile can't save you now!