Do not shy away from the F Word; it is not something that you need to be afraid of. Stick two fingers up at society and go against the grain, it’s about time the F word was embraced with open arms – make it known that you’re reclaiming the F word as yours, that you’re not afraid to use the word Fat. Fat is bad, fat is unattractive, fat is vile, fat is unhealthy, fat is limiting – these are some of the things that the media has fed us in recent years, proclaiming that if you are fat you are somehow lesser. Whilst being fat has some limitations, I can’t shop in certain retail outlets for example – but hey, it’s not my fault they don’t stock my size, it’s just another example of prejudice against plus-size women – it is up to us as bigger women to…
For reasons that should be obvious, Storm is one of my favorite X-Men and favorite Marvel characters besides. However, there is one reason that stands out above all the others: she is unapologetic. Going through Ororo Munroe’s publication history, all the way back to her 1973 origin story, one finds few examples where Storm caves to feeling sorry for any part of her identity. Storm is unapologetically Black, unapologetically African, unapologetically a woman and a leader, and unapologetically powerful.
While she lacks a well-developed rogues’ gallery as an individual, she stands out among the female X-Men as largely not having been portrayed as some kind of embarrassing stereotype. She is not Jean Grey, constantly out of control, shuttled back and forth between men who have no idea how to treat women, and dying every other week. She is not Psylocke, characterized by her crippling identity issues. Beyond other…
As a feminist I struggle with what i feel is objectifying and counter to my feminist philosophies daily, as I encounter various television shows, movies, books and hashtag activism online. I’ve even struggled with how i interact with pornography. As a staunch sex-positive person, I feel that embracing pleasure as a right and exploring one’s body in whatever way (consensually and legally speaking) pleases oneself is healthy and wonderfully fulfilling. Yet, one cannot deny the truth, some pornography (I will not generalize and say that all or even most) is demeaning and perpetuates the very sexist patriarchal institutions that we (as a people) must negotiate for our very safety and equity everyday. This brings me to what type of porn can I personally watch which is less offensive and gets me off still. There is in fact feminist pornography which uses many sex-positive tactics and consent-based platforms to show conversation…
“If you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar,” goes the famous Kate Winslet joke in Extras. The same can be said for an actor doing a film about disability. Unless you’re a disabled actor, that is. Then you’re lucky to even get the part.
This week, when Eddie Redmayne won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he became the latest in a long line of non-disabled actors to portray disabled characters. And to walk away – literally – with an award for doing so. From Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, the ability to play “disability” is a definite asset for an actor, a source of genuine acclaim.
But is this as harmless as mainstream audiences seem to see it? While “blacking up” is rightly now greeted with outrage, “cripping up” is still greeted with awards. Is there actually much difference between the two? In both cases, actors use prosthetics or props to alter their appearance in order to look like someone from a minority group. In both cases they often manipulate their voice or body to mimic them. They take a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic, and, in doing so, perpetuate that group’s under-representation in the industry. They do it for the entertainment of crowds who, by and large, are part of the majority group.
The explanations for “cripping up” are obvious. The entertainment industry is a business, after all, and stars sell. When Daniel Radcliffe played a disabled orphan in The Cripple of Inishmaan this won more headlines for the production than if a disabled, lesser-known actor had been cast. On a practical level too, perhaps hiring a non-disabled actor is easier. The ability to walk allows Redmayne to portray Hawking before being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. But I can’t get away from the fact that, if these arguments were made for white actors “playing black”, our outrage would be so great that the scenes would be left on the cutting room floor.
There’s a theory of why non-disabled actors playing disabled characters leads to success: audiences find it reassuring. Christopher Shinn, a playwright who had a below-the-knee amputation, describes the act of watching a disabled character being played by an actor who we know is really fit and well as allowing society’s “fear and loathing around disability” to be “magically transcended”.
When it comes down to it, Shinn says, “pop culture is more interested in disability as a metaphor than in disability as something that happens to real people”.
After all, disabled characters create powerful images and sentiments for audiences. They can symbolise the triumph of the human spirit over so-called “adversity”. They can represent what it is to be “different” in some way, an outsider or an underdog who ultimately becomes inspirational. These are universal feelings every audience member can identify with. And there is something a little comforting in knowing, as we watch the star jump around the red carpet, that none of it – the pain or negativity we still associate with disability – was real.
Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Perhaps as a society we see disability as a painful external extra rather than a proud, integral part of a person, and so it doesn’t seem quite as insulting to have non-disabled actors don prosthetics or get up from a wheelchair when the director yells “cut”. But for many disabled people in the audience, this is watching another person fake their identity. When it comes to race, we believe it is wrong for the story of someone from a minority to be depicted by a member of the dominant group for mass entertainment. But we don’t grant disabled people the same right to self-representation.
Perhaps it is time to think before we next applaud “cripping up”. Disabled people’s lives are more than something for non-disabled actors to play at.
JOHANNESBURG — A FEW weeks ago, as I was leaving my office, I stopped at a traffic light and watched a young woman cross the street in front of me. She wore a pair of jean shorts cut fashionably high, and I could see the crease of her left buttock extend each time she took a step. She wouldn’t have been out of place in London or New York or Tokyo. Except that this was Johannesburg, the biggest city in a country known for its high levels of violence against women. As I pulled away, I worried that she might be assaulted.
I’m not suggesting that she was inviting trouble. I was anxious because she was walking near the spot where a young woman in a miniskirt had been attacked by a crowd of men a few years earlier. I’d also just watched footageof a crowd attacking and stripping a miniskirt-clad woman in Nairobi just days after the release of the viral video of a woman in New York being catcalled. A few weeks later, another video surfaced in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. A girl in a short dress was dragged from a minibus onto the street, where an angry crowd of men stripped her naked.
Public strippings represent the front lines of a cultural war against women’s advancements in traditionally conservative but rapidly urbanizing societies. They aren’t really about what women are wearing. They are much more about where women are going.
And many African women are going places quickly. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first female finance minister in Nigeria; Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is one of a handful of elected female heads of state in the world. Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s literary successes have brought attention to the artistic triumphs of a younger generation of women.
Nowhere has progress been more remarkable than in Africa’s legislatures. Africans have significantly outpaced their female peers in America and Europe. In the United States, women hold less than 20 percent of the seats in Congress; similarly, in Britain, women make up just over one-fifth of the members of the House of Commons. Compare this to South Africa, where more than 40 percent of representatives in the National Assembly are women, or Rwanda, where 64 percent of all members of Parliament are women — making it the only country in the world where women outnumber men in the legislature.
Beginning in the 1980s, many African countries started to invest in girls’ education and in small enterprise projects. A generation later, an equal number of girls and boys are enrolled in primary schools across the continent. Many women are successful entrepreneurs and, of course, politicians. Precisely because of these rapid changes in women’s status, the backlash from churches, political parties, traditional leaders and rural officials has been forceful. Outrage at bold women is both spontaneous and organized. The mob mentality that leads to public strippings arises in urban milieus where male aggression against women is seen as acceptable. Meanwhile, many churches systematically preach female subservience, while traditional tribal leaders often blame women for dislodging men from their rightful places in modern societies.
It has taken some time for this conservative backlash to develop into a coherent and organized force, but today these churches, traditional leaders and politicians are forming powerful coalitions that are seeking to challenge decades of progress.
First, this loose men’s movement developed a set of “decency bills” urging women not to undermine their African culture by dressing “inappropriately.” In Uganda, an anti-pornography bill initially sought to criminalize the display of “sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or genitalia” and to ban behavior that might cause sexual excitement. Overzealous police officers began to arrest women wearing short skirts even before Parliament voted on the measure. Fierce opposition from women’s groups forced changes to the final bill signed last year by President Yoweri Museveni, but it remains a vague and problematic law that gives broad discretion to state officials to define pornography and arrest those suspected of an ill-defined crime.
Second, and more pernicious, the movement against women’s rights has resorted to bullying and baiting successful women in public spaces. In South Africa, one of the most popular and trusted figures in the country is Thuli Madonsela, who holds the office of public protector. Political cartoonists often depict her as a caped superhero on a mission to bust corrupt politicians. She is widely respected for her refusal to back down in the face of political pressure related to her investigation of the government’s spending on a palatial personal residence for President Jacob G. Zuma.
Despite her popularity, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Ms. Madonsela and other women who occupy prominent public positions. They have often been subjected to sexist verbal abuse and taunts and jeers about how they look and dress. Members of the ruling party have had to be called to order after insulting Ms. Madonsela’s appearance. Last year, a pregnant member of Parliament was mocked so viciously about the outfit she was wearing that she had to be hospitalized for stress.
THESE verbal assaults in the halls of power are mirrored by the experiences of women on the streets, who don’t have easy access to the constitutional or party protections that public figures enjoy. Ordinary African women, it seems, are bearing the brunt of their sisters’ progress. Street harassment is often a sign of deep-seated resentment of women’s changing status in society. For men who were raised to believe that they are entitled to be breadwinners and receive sexual gratification and domestic subservience from women, the shift hasn’t been easy. For younger men, modern values have jostled sharply against the lessons about manhood they learned at home. With high levels of unemployment and gaping inequalities, old conceptions of masculinity die hard.
South Africa has what is considered the most progressive constitution in the world, including a bill of rights that promotes and protects women’s rights. Despite this, in 2012, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa sponsored a bill in Parliament that would have effectively made all women in rural areas legal minors, subject to the whims of traditional chiefs. Had it become law, the bill would have created a separate legal system for millions of people living in rural areas. Chiefs would have been able to force their subjects to adhere to customary laws and practices that are outmoded and unconstitutional, and it would have been a crime for those living in areas covered by traditional courts to opt out and seek justice in the formal legal system.
This attempt to disenfranchise millions of women in one of Africa’s most vibrant constitutional democracies demonstrates the extent to which advances in gender equality are often met with hostility.
Fortunately, the continent is home to loud and organized women’s movements that have thus far been able to repel many attempts to undermine women’s progress through protests and parliamentary campaigns and the creative use of media and technology.
Their protests have been daring and their collective message has been clear: The walk from the streets to the halls of power may be long, but the goal is well within reach.
This past Friday November 21 was the annual Take Back the Night march hosted by Concordia Center for Gender Advocacy as part of their ‘A Safer Concordia’ campaign. The march from Guy Concordia to McGill campus opposes gendered and sexual violence and promotes safe public spaces.
Produced for the CKUT news collective by Celia Robinovitch
By now, we have all seen the Catcalling video that went viral a few months back as a woman walked around New York for 10 hrs with a hidden camera. She received over one hundred instances of unwanted male attention. Yes, I am calling it unwanted male attention and not catcalling because one of the largest criticisms of the video is the idea that most of the men in it, were simply being “nice”. Some were most definitely instances of catcalling as I would define it: pointing out a woman’s features in a sexual or derogatory way “God Bless you mami… Damn!”. Catcalling can also mean an obvious attempt at objectifying: “I just saw a thousand dollars” (as she walks by). Others were simply a form of intimidation and possible minor stalking as one man followed her for more than 5 minutes.
Unwanted male attention is something which many women…