Monday, June 26, 2017

On being both - and much more

It was Virginia Woolf who 100 years ago wrote that it was not enough to be man or woman, that we have to be both, but it is Ali Smith, no doubt with the added vision of someone who lives a non-heterosexual life, unlike Woolf, who has given that idea contemporary teeth in her extraordinary body of work, not least her 2014 Women's Prize for Fiction winner - How to be both - that tackles the issue directly,  if very creatively, and which I've just finished reading having only recently discovered Ali Smith - better late than never.

For Smith it is not just about being male and female at once but also the idea that those who die live on in us, as does their art and many of their traditions, while we all play many roles in our lifetimes, indeed more and more, and that that is how it should be and we need to embrace that idea of 'being both' much more than we do.

I won't say I understand all that Ali writes on this challenging idea, but I think I understand enough to say that she gets at the crux of what it takes to have effective experiences living in, behind and beneath all the moments of our lives, and especially in living in relationships that are not based on preconceived polarities but allow us to experiment more with open feelings and deeper connections with each other, between the generations and across cultures, as well as the sexes, which is surely the challenge of the modern age, if not of all ages.

I am heterosexual, as far as I know, but in my marriage I believe I am in a way both woman and man, as is my husband in return, and then we are neither too, or in being both we are neither as far as any kind of preconceived notions of what it is to be a man and a woman go. I mean not entirely, but in essence we are kind of both. He is a university librarian and blues guitarist (to name but two of his roles), I am a political theorist and dancer, to name but two of mine.

By contrast, reading recently about the Uber CEO and general company practice of being aggressively greedy and bullying and sexist, in other words classic macho male behaviour, it seems to me that the problem with that situation could be described as men being too male - a problem not unique to this 'man's world', indeed that which defines its essence and essential problem.

Equally, but with a little more complexity because in a man's world women's choices and options for getting ahead are generally more constrained than men's are, Kim Kardashian could be said to be too female in that she has built an industry around her appearance and the hyper-sexualised display of her womanly assets and nothing else, as if to be woman is just to be, and always to be, on show.

Thus I think the Uber men and the Kardashian women alike could learn a thing or three from Ali Smith's idea of being both, and also neither, in moving beyond the heterosexual gender extremes of learned behaviour that accentuate the innate tendencies and weaknesses of both sexes. Instead we should try to develop different tendencies to overcome those weaknesses and in doing so, it's possible that homosexual and transsexual insights can provide clues as to how we might better do this.

To being both and much more than the sum of those polarised parts.



Monday, June 19, 2017

24 years ago today

Face to face for the first time.
Photo taken by the midwife.
It was twenty-four years ago today
Following thirty-five hours of pain
That the doctors said at least you tried
But baby's had enough, baby's tired

And giving me a form to sign
To waive responsibility if I died
A needle took the pain away
As the midwife took out the razor blade

Which was guaranteed to raise a smile
When she shaved off a mole and cried:
'You didn't tell me you had a mole, child!'
And I said: 'I forgot, I've got a lot on my mind'

But what's a bit of blood between wives
In the best cause of furthering lives
And the mole was forgotten in a flash
When to the surgery we did together dash

For the show to end all shows to begin
Applying the weapons of mass reproduction
Under bright lights with a tug and a cry
He did emerge finally, he did arrive

And they said I'd like to introduce to you
Your firstborn babe, he's bloody but brand new
And it certainly was a big thrill
Though I was shivering all over with a sudden chill

Then a week later, it didn't take too long
They said: you can take him home, go on, go on
And so we did twenty-four years ago
And today he still lives at home

Which is fine
We're all good with that
When we go away he looks after the cat

Happy birthday, Conor James, there's no pleasure without labour pains.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Handmaid hope

So I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't make it through Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, though I had enjoyed several of her other books before that, not least the brilliantly named - and written - The Edible Woman.

But Handmaid's I found not only unnecessarily bleak but too heavy-handed in its depiction of the dominating female characters who perpetrate most of the day-to-day suffering inflicted upon the handmaids, at least in the first third of the book that I read. Even the institutionalised rape of the handmaids seemed to be blamed more on the wives who watch than on the their husbands who perform their role in a perfunctory, almost reluctant way.

So I was a little reluctant to invest time in the TV series based on the book and again nearly gave it up after the first couple of episodes that did nothing to relieve my original misgivings. But I persisted, and I'm more or less glad I did, for the story ends on a note of some hope, with the women collectively refusing to stone their fellow handmaid to death - 'They should never have given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army' and the wife, an almost entirely unsympathetic character to that point, standing up to her husband when he tells her 'You answer to me; now go to your room!' by raging at him that he is weak and because of his weakness - the usual infidelities with his handmaids, plus scrabble - God has made him infertile, the ultimate insult and impotency in Atwood's dystopian world (if not the ultimate real-world fantasy).

And although it doesn't really give us anything to hope for in terms of resolving the real-world gender oppression and conflict that undermines the pursuit of those values of love, equality and freedom on which the happiness and health of all depends, the message of female collective action is empowering and the creative exposition of the gender corruption and crap that lies at the heart of all patriarchal religions is effectively done if, at times, all too real: there but for the grace and graft of those who resist fundamentalist religions go each and every one of us.

But I am recommending the series and thinking about re-reading and finishing the book; I just might have to wait till Trump is impeached first; it's a little too close to the bone right now. Hopefully Melania watches it and realises she is little more than a handmaid herself then files for her freedom and the public humiliation is enough to bring on the ultimate Trump tantrum that finally reveals to the world what a sorry excuse for a man he is. Now that would make for a good fantasy novel.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Standing up for Her (Bridget Christie)

The world has done something right at last!

In fact the world of women has been doing a lot right lately, even more so than usual, and better still, they've been doing it MUCH more publicly than ever before, giving sisterly support to women of all stripes and strides across the globe, so that we might all stand up for Her in numbers never seen before to improve the world for women and with women that means children, and oh look; some of those children will grow up to be men, so that means men too.

Hurrah! The world's problems fixed by handing women the mics! (pronounced mix). Indeed the answers aren't blowing in the wind anymore, they're blowing in the women... Okay, that joke still needs some work. I'm not quite ready for my own Netflix special.

But BRIDGET CHRISTIE most definitely is, and last night she proved this to me, my husband (who is a man) and many thousands, perhaps millions of other women and men around the world in her new Netflix special Stand Up For Her the first global-release Netflix stand-up special by a British woman and possibly the first ever global-release Netflix special by a mother of any nationality, for she is a mother, unlike the majority of female stand-ups, though of course fathers abound. But times are a changing.

I had not heard of Bridget before, I confess, slightly to my shame, but living 10,000 miles away I hope I might be forgiven, this being her first internationally-released show. But it most definitely won't be her last, as it is one of the best stand-up specials I have ever seen -- and I've seen a fair few now -- and pretty much the only one that tackles sexism head on, a major challenge for a comedian.

But it's a mark of Bridget's talent, as well as our times, that feminism can be brought to the international stand-up stage and be wildly relevant and funny. For example she takes on Stirling Moss, the racing car driver, who said publicly he thought women had the physical capacity to be racing car drivers but not the mental acumen, even though his own sister is a world champion racing car driver and he once stepped into an empty lift shaft, fell three flights and broke both his ankles, something Bridget suggests, to brilliant comic effect, shows a slight lack of mental acumen on his part.

We are all special, of course, but some of us are more special than others, and Bridget Christie's Netflix special is as special as they come. I look forward to her world tour; suggested title: Mothers On the Move.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder women

If I'm honest this image gives me mixed feelings as a feminist, as I continue to worry that the hijab that encumbers women and symbolises female deference to a patriarchal god and men as his earthly representatives, perpetuates the very value, upheld by all religions in some degree, that underpins so much of the brutal violence and humiliations that are inflicted upon women the world over.

But, on the other hand, I have to admire these women, especially those wearing this most recognised and decried symbol of the Muslim faith, for standing together in public, with women of other faiths, to show, not their female deference to men, but women's united opposition to the latest brutal and public example of the violent male approach to solving disputes, just as we stood together to oppose the election in the US of a man who openly shames and degrades women and is busy as we speak (if not playing golf) 'working' to remove our hard-won rights and freedoms upon which a kinder, safer and less unequal world absolutely and ultimately depends.

I have not yet seen the female written, directed and starring film Wonder Woman, but I have read many interesting reviews of it and will see it soon. This review by the NZ comedian couple, Michele A'Court and Jeremy Elwood, I like in large part because of its insight into what a gender-evolved partnership looks like, with Jeremy writing that he finds the male opposition to women-only screenings of the film an 'embarrassment' to men, and an irony when it comes from the very men who 'invented exclusion', which is really all men, or men of all cultures, though rich white men have certainly contributed more than their unfair share.

To all those who stand up against male arrogance everywhere, women and men alike, I thank and commend you. The future of humanity is in your/our hands.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Funny mummy

I'm not sure this is the best picture of me performing my hilarious Hawaiian hand dance at the Revel Cafe on K-Road in Auckland on Wednesday night, but it is definitely the blurriest (my husband took it).

Also, there seems to be suspicious stains all over my trousers that I can't explain, and I'd only had one vodka, most of which, I'm pretty sure, went into my mouth.

One of my hands, meanwhile, seems to have been swallowed by a painting, and the other lost its fingers. Miraculously, the missing appendages turned up later, so that was alright.

Still, I do look happy and, as we all know, that's the main thing, especially in these challenging times, even if it could be argued I look a little too happy.

It was a comedy gig organised by one of this year's Raw Quest finalists, with a line-up of ten other Raw comedians, most of whom were more successful than I was in this and last year's quests - they could hardly have been less successful - as well as being half my age or less.

Still, my main man, manager and photographer in chief said I was the funniest on the night and as I am largely doing this crazy thing that my friends, if I had any, would call 'brave at my age', for him, that goes a long way to making it worthwhile, with bonus benefits in the bedroom to follow -- even if I was asleep on tranquillisers for those.

I was also the only mother in the place, something I know because part of my set was on the joys of motherhood and at one point I asked 'are there any other mothers in the house?' The silence that ensued was followed by a hearty laugh, which was something at least, even though it stuffed up the joke I was planning to make when the other mothers called out yea! (I'll save that for later).

But as most comedians, young and old, are guys who either ignore or have something slightly condescending if not critical to say about their mothers, I feel that the comedy industry could do with more mothers in its midst, perhaps particularly mothers of boys. Certainly I know that my boys are ecstatic about the prospect of their mother being a stand-up comedian.

And so I will press on with my Hawaiian hands and joys of motherhood jokes in the hope that some day, fairly soon, my skills will be recognised and the national, if not global comedy industry will get the most valuable of all gifts that can be given: perspective. That and life, of course; but I've been there, done that and got the scars to prove it, too.