by Ania Ostrowska // 4 March 2015, 14:53
March just keeps on giving and I would like to make an addition to my previous feminist films post.
It's been 30 years since Alison Bechdel came up with 'The Rule', a comic about women and the movies, starting what is today known as The Bechdel Test:
Corrina Antrobus, film critic and a freelance Movies editor for Virgin Movies, is the driving force of The Bechdel Test Fest, an all-year celebration of the Tests's 30th birthday and a great opportunity, she says, to showcase films that not just pass the test but do so "with flying colours". With a degree in Media Production and Performance, Corrina is interested in how onscreen representations of people shape our opinions. She contributes regularly to Virgin Movies blog, London Economic and The Huff Post and can be followed on Twitter @corrinacorrina.
I met Corrina for a lunchtime chat to find out more about her current project.
The Bechdel Test is 30 this year, why do you think it's still relevant?
The test is old but it's not making as many waves as it should be. If it wasn't the Bechdel Test, it would be something else, something that highlights and contextualizes the issue of how male-dominated mainstream cinema really is: just look at the Oscars. Of course, we should discuss what to do with the test as we're going forwards: it is ambiguous, perhaps flawed (it doesn't say if the film is good or not) but it starts the conversation. That's the ultimate reason for the festival, after each screening we will have a Q&A where we will talk about the film and why we need more films with interesting female leads.
Please tell us more about the strand coming in March, Little Women, Big Stories.
Our second strand will be different from the opening event Reclaim The Rom-Com in February. It will be almost a week of screenings, from 23 to 26 March, while the first one was a one-day affair. We have four films that I believe fit really well in the category of representing women as positive, interesting, inspiring leads. I wanted to make sure there were British films in there (Fish tank), American films (Tiny Furniture and Appropriate Behaviour), foreign language films (Wadjda). It is a happy coincidence that each film is also directed by a woman so we can show women who are making films that pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours. The Fest is in no way anti-men, of course, and there are plenty of male directors who hail women's stories: please, bring it on!
The coming-of-age programming reflects the target audience of my partners Cinemania and Picturehouse. It was a bit of a restriction but I am very happy with the outcome: all heroines, not only Wadjda who is the only real child here, are "little women", they're all going through 'young times' of their lives.
Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behaviour, courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures
What are your plans for the rest of year?
I've had four main things planned but there's plenty of room for other ideas, depending how much time I have and whether I secure funding. After Reclaim the Rom-Com and Little Women, Big Stories, next thing is to show in September the short films submissions we've been receiving. I'd love to collaborate with Underwire fest, I love what they do. I also want to hold Alison Bechdel's birthday party on 10 September. Finally, we've got The Horror Harem, around Halloween, on female representation in horror. The genre is notorious for being misogynistic and I feel it's a great excuse to highlight the positive, exciting female roles that are actually quite empowering, not just girls in white T-shirts running around in panic. We have a confirmed partnership with London Fields Free Film Festival who will take care of the logistics, which I'm really excited about.
Ellen Tejle, Swedish activist who introduced a film rating system based on the Bechdel Test, says: "The A-Rate is consumer information meant to raise awareness regarding gender bias on the screen by highlighting the ones with some female presence." Do you think it should be introduced in the UK too?
During the last UnderWire fest, I hosted a panel discussion with Ellen, who was lovely and came to London to join the discussion. I think the A-rate is another fascinating use of the Bechdel Test and the branding that takes the conversation further: should we classify films based on female representation? Bath Film Festival went even further and created the F-rate. While A-rate means only that the film passes the Bechdel Test, "F" of the "F-rate" stands for "feminist". I wouldn't want to be in that position, to decide whether the film is feminist or not; my idea of 'feminism' can be different from somebody else's.
by Josephine Tsui // 3 March 2015, 23:54
For the month of March we're going to host Sasha Garwood as our monthly blogger.
Here's Sasha's introduction.
Queer litgeek, writer, academic and critic Sashagoblin has a PhD in the cultural meanings attached to women, food and the body and a general obsession with pulling apart the more damaging bits of culture until people notice how fucked up we all are. She's been a writer since first producing an illustrated story about rabbits aged four, and an academic since discovering books were much more fun than real work about six months later. She loves London, sushi, social history, old houses with big windows, being a redhead and John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, and hates making assumptions and writing biographies of herself. Her first book is with the publishers at the moment, which makes her nervous.
She blogs about at Can Opener in a Worm Factory and Ballad of Dissatisfaction, lives in the real world here, and needs more sleep.
Please give Sasha a warm welcome.
The illustration above depicts a woman in front of the underground symbol. Thanks Giuseppe Milo for the photo.
by Shiha Kaur // 2 March 2015, 15:00
Welcome to this week's round-up and open thread. The following are links that we have found that might interest you. If you have found anything that you think other readers will enjoy, please add links in the comments section below. As usual, please note that a link here doesn't imply endorsement or agreement, and some links might be triggering.
11 Bisexual Girl Problems (SheWired)
The Disturbing Effect Our Beauty Standards Have on Women Across the World (Mic)
Black Trans History Is Inspirational (TransGriot)
Real Betis supporters' vile chants prove we can't continue to let sexism in football go unnoticed (The Offside Rule)
Trigger warning for violence against women, sexual assault
India's Daughter: 'I made a film on rape in India. Men's brutal attitudes truly shocked me' (Guardian)
The Black Renaissance is Here (Media Diversifued)
Women seeking asylum: closing the protection gap. Globally the British government is pushing for better protections for women, yet the same protections are unavailable to those seeking asylum. (Open Democracy)
Black British by V V Brown (Pride Magazine)
Someone Tell Me That I'll Live: On Murder, Media, and Being a Trans Woman in 2015 (xojane)
Image shows three daffodil flowers against a blue sky with white fluffy clouds. The daffodils have bright yellow trumpets and pale light yellow petals. Photo taken by Flickr user Anvica, used under a Creative Commons License.
by Ania Ostrowska // 28 February 2015, 01:11
"Love or hate Girls, Desiree Akhavan currently has what seems like the best job in the world," says Sophe Mayer introducing her interview with director and lead of Appropriate Behavior, opening in UK cinemas next week. "If you're a fan, envy her character Chandra hanging out with Hannah (Lena Dunham) at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Not a fan? Thrill as Chandra takes Hannah's writing to pieces."
Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior, courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures
As Desiree's debut feature opens in the UK, she joins the cast of Girls for its Season 4. That makes perfect sense: after Appropriate Behavior debuted at Sundance in 2014, it earned the epithet of "the bisexual Persian-American Girls". Asked how she felt about this comparison, Desiree told Sophie:
I feel greatly influenced by television, including Girls, including Broad City, they're really badass. I've been asked: "When do you think this phase of the Brooklyn girl who can't get her shit together will be over?" Sure, Brooklyn is a thing right now, but women being entitled and wanting to live by their own rules just as much as any other asshole is not something that should change. I find it absurd that we've been living in this world of movies about young man-boys who can't grow up and that was entertaining and fun and fresh, but the minute women start doing it, it's a phase we need to outgrow.
by Guest Blogger // 26 February 2015, 21:32
Elke Weissmann puts out a call for people to take part in her forthcoming piece of TV-related research.
I am a woman. I am a feminist. I like watching television. And I am an academic.
In the 1980s, these parts of my identity would have probably led to the following problems: I would have encountered a barrage of popular and academic publications which would have told me that television, particularly the kind typically categorised as 'television for women' (i.e. the soap opera) is bad for me. I would have probably been repeatedly told by my peers, family and friends about examples of susceptible women who, after watching Dallas or Dynasty, demanded a more lavish lifestyle or went out to buy shoulder-padded clothes like the ones Joan Collins wore. And I would have probably encountered quite a few people who prided themselves on not owning a television set.
All of this highlights two things: that women were largely perceived as 'vulnerable' audiences, easily duped and passively absorbing content, and that television was perceived as the bad object, particularly in its most 'feminine' forms.
In the 1980s, some emerging feminist academics were in this position. As a result, they conducted a number of studies into British and US soap operas, all of which stressed the complex ways in which women used soap operas in order to engage with and make sense of their everyday lives. Today, their publications are considered canonical in my field of study.
But it's not the 1980s and the status of television, particularly of US television drama, has changed significantly. If all US television was derided as trash by the cultural elite of the 1980s, despite such wonderful dramas as Hill Street Blues and (still one of my all-time favourites) Cagney and Lacey, US television is held up today as the pinnacle of 'quality', despite such dross as (yes, let me say it) Homeland (which, of course, is not US-based in its origins anyway). If those television-watching feminists in the 1980s were told that all television was bad and women should stay away from it, it is now the case that I find quite a few people telling me that I absolutely have to watch these programmes. And all too often, they ask me -- a feminist scholar of television -- if I don't think they are fantastic, particularly because they offer "strong women" in their stories. And this is when my enjoyment of North American Quality Television Drama comes to an abrupt end.
The reasons are simple. I am not sure these women are so strong or depicted in any way that I find interesting. Take Betty in Mad Men for example. In the first season, she clearly suffered from the "problem with no name" that Betty Friedan identified in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. But then, from season two onwards, she just turned into a horrible person and her problems were simply forgotten. Mad Men is actually one of the specific dramas that leave me conflicted. The other (and I have noticed I am not alone) is Game of Thrones. Both are quite explicit in their misogyny and place this within the context of the time period they portray: the pre-feminist 1960s in the case of Mad Men and a pseudo-medieval period in the case of Game of Thrones. Both dramas highlight the problem of the sexisms of their times, particularly for their female characters, and this is often understood as part of the feminist potential of these programmes. But there is something that still doesn't quite sit comfortably with me and much of this seems to be connected to the female characters in them. Yet, I am absolutely drawn to these dramas; I find them utterly compelling.
I am trying to make sense of all this through a study that I am currently conducting at Edge Hill University. This study will be presented at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal, Canada, in March, and I would like to write another piece for The F-Word blog as well as a journal article about it. If you watch these programmes (or one of them), would you be willing to write to me and tell me what you enjoy and what you don't enjoy about them? Any responses -- no matter how short or long -- are very welcome. I will of course anonymise your responses. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to your responses. Thanks for your help!
Elke Weissmann is Reader in Film and Television at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, north of Liverpool. She has published a book on British-American relations in TV drama production, Transnational Television Drama, and has co-edited Renewing Feminisms with Helen Thornham.
This is taken from Mad Men, episode 409 ('The Beautiful Girls'). It shows the characters Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) standing in front of a wood fixture. Both wear dresses that are characteristic of the 1960s and each woman has a just-visible leather bag hung over her arm. Joan's dress is a purple floral number, while Peggy's is light green cross-check. Peggy also wears white gloves and white hat. Image Courtesy: AMC TV/Mad Men, posted on Flickr by Steve Garfield and shared under a Creative Commons License.
by Holly Combe // 26 February 2015, 15:19
What role does gender inequality play in how we approach issues of privacy and autonomy? D H Kelly follows Gemma Varnom's Black Mirror review with an examination of the blocking theme in the show's most recent episode.
Mild spoiler alert for those who haven't seen this episode.
Charlie Brooker's most recent Black Mirror drama, 'White Christmas', aptly demonstrates a gender divide in the concerns we might have about technology; men are afraid of being ignored, while women want to be left alone.
The episode is set in the near future, where most people have volunteered to be implanted with Z-Eyes, an augmented reality device that works like a permanent smartphone in the user's head. One application of this is that you can 'block' someone from your field of vision; they are reduced to a hazy shape, with their voice muffled beyond recognition. Neither party can see or hear each other, even in photographs or recordings. As Matt (Jon Hamm), says, "It usually only lasts for, like, an hour, but when they leave it going... Price of progress, I suppose." Over the course of 'White Christmas', we learn that both protagonists, Matt and Joe (Rafe Spall), have been subject to this treatment by ex-partners.
This is a cruel idea and the ultimate use of the technology is especially nightmarish. And yet, compared to Black Mirror's other dystopian extensions of the way we live now, it struck me that this particular device could have a gloomy appeal to many women, who might be more concerned with peace and privacy than the need always to be seen and heard.
The ubiquity of social media has changed the way we withdraw from failed relationships. Old love affairs are no longer confined to a box in the attic; photographs, memories, announcements and even flirtations between a couple may now be archived and tagged on Facebook, where we might go every day. When once, only a handful of people might have had to navigate remaining friends with both parties after a split, a couple may now be connected by a vast network of close and casual friends online. And these connections are very close at hand, threatening to haunt us any time the phone vibrates in our pocket...
Call for reviewers! We've now covered '15 Million Merits', 'White Bear' and 'White Christmas'. Would you be interested in writing about any of the other Black Mirror episodes? If so, get in touch through tv AT thefword DOT org DOT uk!
The characters Joe, Greta and Matt (left to right) sit cross-legged on a white sofa that blends with the stark white background behind them. They cast a slight shadow behind them. Greta and Joe look serious, while Matt is smiling. Joe wears a brown jacket, with a grey and brown striped polo shirt, navy trousers and brown boots. Greta wears a white shift dress. Matt is dressed all in navy (suit, polo shirt, visible socks and boots). Picture from Channel 4 website, used under fair dealing.
by Holly Combe // 24 February 2015, 22:05
Dawn Kofie finds a refreshing lack of game playing between the characters at the centre of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney's Catastrophe
Irish primary school teacher and aspiring writer Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan) has just fallen pregnant. The father is Rob Norris (Rob Delaney), an American ad executive who Sharon had an enjoyable six-night stand with when he was visiting London on business. And as if that's not bad enough, Ms Morris has recently been told that she has pre-cancer (cervical dysplasia). A total disaster? Well, maybe.
That's the unlovely-sounding premise of Channel 4's new comedy Catastrophe, written by its stars Horgan and Delaney. Horgan's an Irish actor, writer and comedian who is probably best known for Pulling, the BAFTA-nominated sitcom about the unseemly side of singledom, which she co-wrote and starred in. Delaney is from the US and shares Horgan's job titles. He made his name by cranking out a spate of often surreal and usually rude jokes on Twitter and now has over a million followers.
The duo's joint offering focuses on the main characters getting to know each other and trying to build a relationship before their baby son makes an appearance. In the early days of their courtship, Sharon complains that being thrown together in the way they have means their story lacks romance and decorum, making it like something you'd read in Chat magazine. But, considering that they've only known each other a few weeks, what Sharon and Rob have together is pretty good. It's heartening to see an on-screen relationship where both parties trust one another, are open about how they're feeling and are secure enough to relish being outrageously cheeky to one another.
The couple don't have hidden agendas or indulge in tedious game playing either. Sharon's pregnancy is an accident. There's no hint that it's the result of her rapid desire to reproduce or that it's all been part of a plan to ensnare an unsuspecting Rob into commitment and unplanned fatherhood...
Sharon (left) and Rob (right) sit forward on a beige sofa looking nervous. Sharon wears an orange, black, yellow and white cardigan, a black dress with silver (possible horse) figures and black tights, while Rob wears a light blue/grey shirt, navy trousers and a silver watch. Picture supplied by Channel 4 images and used under fair dealing, in connection with the current broadcast of the programme featured in the national and local press and listings. Publicist: Lis Clucas. Photographer: Ed Miller.
by Chella Quint // 24 February 2015, 08:08
Hello and welcome to the weekly round up. I have finally got into the swing of posting these, but so that I don't break with my personal tradition, my weekly round-ups will continue to come out on Tuesdays. I think it might be nice if the week started on Tuesday anyway, to give you a sort of run-up after the weekend.
In any case, below you'll find some recent news stories that caught the attention of The F-Word team this week. Linking does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by members of the collective or the author of this post.
Please note that these links range from "ooh yay!" to "oy vey" and some articles may be triggering. Want to discuss these topics or add your own? Please share this post, and comment below!
LGBT History Month Q&A: Manchester magazine editor on life beyond bi-naries (Mancunian Matters)
#OscarsSoWhite isn't just a hashtag. It's a real problem (Huffington Post - Facebook video link)
Photo description: The photo is by Chella Quint and has been used with permission: all rights reserved. It depicts the view east from The Meadows, a large park near the city centre in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a bright, brisk, late winter morning, and some blue sky is visible among the cumulus clouds. The view, while ostensibly of a grassy field with a few people walking along a tree-lined path in the middle distance, also takes in the impressive and unmistakable silhouette of Edinburgh's own extinct volcano, Arthur's Seat, which appears to loom up in the far distance, as though hiding behind the trees. It means no harm; perhaps it is simply playing a game of hide-and-seek.
by J Whitehead // 22 February 2015, 12:03
Happy LGBT month, readers! As you may know, February is LGBT month where we celebrate and reflect on the past, present and future of our diverse community. In its honour, I decided to compile a playlist of fantastic tunes by lesbian, bisexual and queer women. Attempting to reduce such a broad roster of artists into a single, 13-track playlist is an impossibility, with many brilliant artists not represented. For those of you wondering where the likes of Le Tigre are, keep your eyes peeled for next months' playlist...
The image is a black and white shot of Romy Madley Croft from the band The XX performing onstage in Brussels. She has a guitar round her neck, a number of necklaces around her neck and appears to be gazing up and out towards the audience. Picture by Kmeron, shared under a Creative Commons licence.
by Megan Stodel // 22 February 2015, 09:46
The treatment of asylum cases relating to sexual identity has been, historically, abysmal. Up until 2010, it was legitimate for people fleeing their country for fear of persecution for sexual identity reasons to be told to go back and be more discreet. That was changed after a landmark case decided in the Supreme Court, but LGB women and men (and people perceived to be LGB) have continued to face barriers that betray prejudice and gross misunderstanding of sexual identity and orientation. Like being asked to
Women and men have different additional barriers. For women, these include the sheer invisibility and erasure of their sexuality. In many countries, the legality of lesbian sex is a grey area, whereas sex between two men is clearly outlawed. To me, it's obvious that this is unlikely to be because regimes and societies are completely relaxed about women being with other women - possibly, just possibly, the state they are in does not even consider them as independent sexual individuals. In addition, women in particular can be under significant pressure to marry, which often happens younger and sometimes with reduced agency. While it's clear that many LGB women marry men (to sustain a heterosexual narrative? To appease family? Because they didn't realise they were attracted to women? Because they are also attracted to men?), this is frequently used to assert that claims are not credible.
Meanwhile, stereotypes abound, and women claiming asylum for sexual identity reasons are assessed on whether they look like lesbians (because all lesbians look the same, right? Not only across the UK, but across the entire world?). And it's people with phenomenal power who think this is relevant. For example, in ND v SSHD in 2012, an Upper Tribunal Judge appears to have asked the appellant to comment on her way of dressing: "She agreed she did not dress mannishly: she was a pretty girl...who dressed like a girl".
So, that's a very small part of the background. However, guideline document Sexual Identity Issues in the Asylum Claim was published this week. Interestingly, it might actually offer some hope.
Early in the document, some key considerations are laid out:
- Caseworkers must not stereotype the behaviour or characteristics of lesbian, gay or bisexual persons.
- It is important to recognise that some individuals may hold a completely different perception of their own sexual identity from those implied by the term LGB, or may be unaware of labels used in Western cultures. They may be unwilling to use the labels used in their language.
- It will be necessary to establish how the claimant perceives him or herself and how his or her behaviour or characteristics are perceived by the society which he or she is from.
After a long period of missing even the basics, this document is bringing some valid points to the table. It seems to be moving away from blunt generalisations and calling for an understanding of the complexity of sexual identity, even advocating an intersectional approach. Many of the issues I raised earlier in this post are partially or wholly addressed in a way that suggests significant progress.
However, this document will only be useful if it is put into practice. There are reasons to suspect this might not happen. It instructs, for example, that people should not be found to be lacking credibility just because they did not raise their sexual identity immediately. To give some context, the initial contact is often a short exchange, with details given in the same room as lots of other people in essentially quite a public environment. Too many people have thought that they could explain their sexual identity later, in a more private place, when more details were being asked - only to find they are immediately judged implausible. So this instruction is great - except it is status quo. Failure to immediately disclose is technically not supposed to reduce a claimant's credibility, yet in the majority of cases relating to LGB women that reached the Higher Tribunal in 2012, the point at which they disclosed their sexual identity was examined as a relevant factor.
It will take time to find out whether these new instructions are effective. Even if they are, it will take time for them to be communicated to all relevant decision-makers and for them to become practice rather than theory. The document's existence is not enough to suggest that the troubles of LGB women seeking asylum are over - but it is a step in the right direction.
The photo is by Katie and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. It shows a green hedge maze from above, scanning across the top of the hedges, showing a pattern of increasing circles. I chose it to suggest frustration, but also to indicate that with more information (like having a birds-eye view), navigation becomes more doable.