Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The James Bond Legacy: Misogynist Pigs or Poor Boys?

Here is a criticism I hear quite often: Men are disgusting, misogynistic creatures who think women are only good for one thing - or, according to Jon Lajoie, three things (namely cooking, cleaning and vaginas). Many otherwise timid women unabashedly criticise men, most often alluding to the same problem - the fact, that men are so driven by their libido. I'm not here to tell you that men are not interested in sex - that'd be crazy talk. But I am here to offer a different perspective, hypothesise about the ways in which the media hurts young men & explain why I think women are being too harsh on their male counterparts. And who do I blame? Bond. James Bond. 

First of all, let me just point out that I am young enough not to have been thoroughly embittered by my encounters with men and possibly a little too naive about the opposite sex in general. Hence my credentials to write this article are a little bit like trying to become the UK's next Prime Minister through a recommendation letter from my nursery teacher (which, I'll have you know, would be celebratory). But perhaps this is the only way to offer the perspective which I believe to be much needed - and hence I have taken it upon myself to be the person to exclaim "men are really not that bad! and it's true because I said so!" with a dash of juvenile arrogance. 

As I already mentioned, I am not trying to convince anyone that men are not driven by their sexual desires. Far from it. But I find the widespread stigmatisation of men as mindless "vagina hunters" very harmful, because it re-enforces and further exacerbates the issue. Here are some words of the sexy Byronic hero, Pechorin, to illustrate what I mean by that:
"All have read upon my countenance the marks of bad qualities, which were not existent; but they were assumed to exist—and they were born. I was modest—I was accused of slyness: I grew secretive. I profoundly felt both good and evil—no one caressed me, all insulted me: I grew vindictive. I was gloomy—other children merry and talkative; I felt myself higher than they—I was rated lower: I grew envious. I was prepared to love the whole world—no one understood me: I learned to hate." 
A Hero of Our Time (Mikhail Lermontov), via Gutenberg
In other words, by telling men that they are crazy about sexual gratification, we are subconsciously persuading them to become the very thing which we don't want them to be. Because boys are told such things from their childhood on - "ah, that's just how boys are!" - it becomes embedded in their heads and before we know it, they are in the throes of puberty, making fun of Annie for not having any tits yet. Should Annie be angry? Damn right she should. But at whom? In my opinion, the media is far more deserving of her anger than the immature boys in question. 

Now, I am by no means trying to excuse anyone's disrespectful behaviour and to shift blame away from where it's due. Nonetheless, I think that our society - and the norms espoused on us by the media in particular - is far more deserving of blame than many of us let on. Whilst society's increasingly liberal view of human sexuality seems to be a step in the right direction, the proliferation of visual sexual stimuli in the media only aggravates the problem. Exposed to arousing images from an early age on, it is no wonder that men are finding it increasingly difficult to be turned on by real women. Magazines, newspapers, posters and TV ads which children and adults alike encounter on a daily basis are overflowing with suggestive, semi-nude images of attractive women. The James Bond legacy, as I call it, is not primarily about the wildly popular film franchise - it is about the 1950s ideal of a successful dominant alpha male and the beautiful submissive female home-maker. It is an ideal which feminism has not managed to curb despite its many successes and which appears to have adapted to the current societal climate, preserving its core values. 

One of the places where this traditional role division is still as intact as ever is porn. After watching a horny blonde bombshell with double D's get gang-raped by a throng of aliens from outer space, how are young men supposed to find their average, mousy girlfriends who blush upon hearing the word "dick" arousing? As Naomi Wolf says in her xojane interview:

 "[W]hat happens with porn is it desensitizes users over time so that men need more and more extreme images in order to get the same level of arousal. And what happens over time is that -– especially men -- bond with the porn chemically and lose the ability to get aroused. What would have aroused them 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t anymore because they’ve become habituated to this higher and higher level of extreme imagery. Which is why you get these very extreme images now that used to be quite fetishistic or quite marginal, they’re now very mainstream." 

Just to be clear - I am not anti-porn at all. Girls do it, boys do it, it's all jolly good. But there are many issues to be had with the porn industry itself. Here is how yet another amazing feminist of our generation defines it:

"The whole thing is as offensive, sclerotic, depressing, emotionally bankrupt and desultory as you would expect a widely unregulated industry worth, at an extremely conservative estimate, $30 billion to be. No industry ever made that amount of money without being superlatively crass and dumb." 
-Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman 

I just cannot help it but think, "too much of a good thing..." (look, it rhymes!). Unfortunately for them, men do not realise that the industry they have largely created themselves and for themselves is hurting them almost as much as it hurts us, women. Not only does it cause wildly unrealistic expectations, but also dissatisfaction with their real life sexual encounters.

What is worse, the socially constructed image of a "man", personified by 007, makes sex about much more than physical gratification - it transforms it into a quest to come as close to this ideal as possible. With its constant emphasis on sex, the media makes men believe that they are not masculine enough unless they bed as many girls as their charm and physique juxtaposed allow. This makes the already nerve-wrecking courting process even more stressful for the average man who - dare I say it - lacks both James Bond's imposing build and panty-dropping charisma.

On the whole, it seems like men are being harmed by the contemporary media and the societal norms established by it in much the same way women are. But instead of being pitied, they are being denigrated by the frustrated female population. Having to deal with staggering amounts of sexism and male-centric biases on a daily basis, it is easy for us to believe that men have it really easy. But if we do not address the issue and simply blame some silly, made up "primate instinct" for men's obsession with sex and shrug our shoulders, the best we can expect is men to become defensive and hide behind sexist comments and attitudes. Perhaps it's time to admit that - for the most part - those sex obsessed misogynistic pigs are not patriarchs attempting to subdue us through clever manipulation, but rather victims of the system their predecessors have implemented. We're all in it together and we should concentrate on directing our collective anger towards the real evil-doers, not the convenient targets.

Images via Vanity Fair

Monday, 10 September 2012

Forcing Greece to implement harsh austerity measures – a democide of the poor?

The French president, François Hollande, recently made it known that, oui, la Grèce simply must stay in l’Eurozone – a sentiment many high standing officials including the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, seem to share. Because of this, Greece has been offered a seemingly generous €130bn bailout from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But nothing in life is free – and doubly so when dealing with politicians. The lenders stubbornly insist that Greece put into practice harsh austerity measures, which will reduce its budget deficit and supposedly help revive the Greek economy. These have climbed up to €11.5bn for 2013 and 2014, an amount which is about as easily imaginable as a colour outside of the visible spectrum.

Due to the difficulties Greece is facing at the moment, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for a two-year extension, which would allow the country to extend the spending cuts until 2016 instead of the end of 2014, so that their impact would not be so harshly felt by the citizens. To this, however, both Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande chose not to respond. Why? Because the truth is, it seems, that the bit of European solidarity EU leaders seem to cherish is grounded in fear of the consequences a Greek default would have on their nations, rather than the population of Greece itself.

Politicians keep talking about Greece and its responsibilities – Volker Kauder, the chairman of CDU/CSU (a union of Germany’s two largest conservative parties), let it be known that they must “live up to [their] responsibilities [as] it makes no sense to continue to ask for a delay.” [1] Why it makes no sense to provide this delay he did not specify, likely feeling that the answer was blatantly obvious. Similarly, Mr Hollande proclaimed, that Greece “still has to demonstrate the credibility of its programme and the willingness of its leaders to go the whole way, while doing it in a way that is bearable for the population.” [2] But is that truly possible? How can €11.5bn cuts, which are expected to be based primarily on further pension and public sector pay reductions, be implemented in a way that is bearable for the general Greek populace? Sure, the Greek government has many responsibilities at the moment and deservedly so. But it also has the responsibility to provide bearable living standards to its citizens and it is wrong of the foreign lenders to effectively forbid that.

Some might allude to the no bail-out clause, Article 25 of the Lisbon Treaty, and say that Greece is lucky enough to have gotten any financial help at all. In fact, eight judges in the Federal Court of Justice of Germany in Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany, are debating whether the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) violates this principle[3] right now and will rule on September 12. But almost everyone including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble believes this effort will fail. As such it is difficult to argue that the aid being given to Greece is in any way unwarranted. Hence the issue remains – is it acceptable for EU leaders to ignore that they are depriving innocent citizens of a chance at living with dignity through their insistence on overly harsh austerity measures? Why is it tolerable that those who never contributed to the financial hardships Greece is experiencing should bear the burden?

The world shuddered when reading about 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas, a retired Greek pharmacist who killed himself on April 4, 2012. With a single bullet to the head, he ended his life in the middle of Athens’ Syntagma Square – in the midst of intense austerity measures, but a long time before the new €11.5bn cuts for the next two years were even announced. This is what he wrote in his suicide note:

“The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.”[4]

The tree where Mr Christoulas had stood on that fateful day has now become what some refer to as “a national memorial to shattered dreams”[5]. Since his suicide, things have only been going down the hill. As Mark Lowen reports from Athens, 84-year-old pensioner Ermioni struggles in a much similar way. “My son asked to borrow two euros (£1.50) from me he was so desperate”, she says. “It was like a dagger through my heart. I can't afford to live any more. All I want is to close my eyes and never wake up.” Another woman, Maria, who is now 82 years old adds: “I can no longer afford to buy chocolate for my grandchild. If they cut my monthly pension even more, I'll be left with 100 euros (£80) with which to live. Am I not human?” [6] And surely – are pensioners and working class citizens of Greece not human? It seems that national leaders who are supposedly helping the crisis-stricken country believe them to be dispensable. Mr Samaras declared that this would be “the last such package of spending cuts.”[7] But can this promise be trusted after scores of similar words which left previous Greek officials’ mouths during the past two and a half years turned out to be lies? His vow will be hard to keep and even more so if the likes of Merkel and Hollande do not realise, that such intense austerity measures are harming innocent civilians and reducing their lives to endless struggles for basic survival rather than helping them.

Do not get me wrong – it is kind of the EU and the IMF to provide fiscal assistance to the weakened nation. But the way they are doing it is not right and is, in fact, harmful to those whom these measures are intended to rescue. We can only speculate how much Greece would struggle without such aid – but somehow it is difficult to imagine, that the old and the poor would be in a much worse position than they are already with malnourishment and homelessness persistently rising within the country, creating a social class of the so-called “new homeless”.[8] This approach needs to change, because punishing the poor and underprivileged for the sins of those much higher up the social ladder is not the kind of help Greece, or any country, needs.

By Sabina Trojanova, via Backbench
(don't be all starstruck, that's just me ;))


Photos: 1 / 23

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Ten-year-olds in Thongs

Remember when you were ten and your mother bought you your first thong? Yeah, me neither. But posing this question to a 10-year-old girl these days might yield a whole different answer. With brands like Abercrombie Kids carrying suggestive thongs, it seems that Vladimir Nabokov's 12-year-old Lolita would be a late-bloomer by today's standards. Shows like "Toddlers & Tiaras" demonstrate the extent to which child sexualisation has been ingrained in popular culture. Toddlers. Gee. The following video is Tom Hanks's parody of this ridiculous TV series:

At first I smiled when Hanks, with heavy sarcasm, proclaimed: "You know, all of this is for Sophie. It's for Sophie. This is about her." But there is not much cause for smiling - what seems like an exaggeration on his part is actually a mild version of some of the things real pageant parents say and do. Below is perhaps the most abominable of them all, June Shannon, talking about her daughter Alana Thompson's "diva beauty queen" routines.

Needless to say, this video is frightening on many levels. Right after the chubby 6-year-old loudly proclaims "a doller makes me holler, honey boo boo", she is seen spinning around on the floor after downing the contents of an unlabeled bottle of what she calls "Go-Go Juice". So, basically, after making herself sound like a worn-out gold digger, she goes on to showcase her love for a substance, which allegedly makes her "laugh-y and play-ey". Alana's Daisy Duke dance routine with steps straight out of a Britney Spears music video is no less alarming. It seems it's all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll for this little girl.

And there are many other examples of similar tendencies, pretty much just as disturbing as "Toddlers & Tiaras". One of them is the modelling portfolio of Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau, a gorgeous 10-year-old girl. There are countless photos of her posing in what I would deem a clearly suggestive manner to be found on the internet - the capture of her lying on a bed in a golden low-cut dress and high heels below is just an example. The second item with a high creep factor is Garry Gross's '75 photograph of 10-year-old Brooke Shields, posing in a bath tub with intense make-up on her face and oil covering her juvenile prepubescent body. You can view the photo here, I refuse to put it up for fear of looking like a pervy middle-aged uncle John.


In my opinion, such photos are much more than bad taste. They are dangerous, because they portray little girls as sexual objects - not only making it more permissible for older men (like the aforementioned creepy uncle John) to view them as such, but also showing impressionable parents that dressing their children in provocative outfits is endearing rather than seriously twisted. Now, I am no psychologist, but it seems obvious why little Thylane is posing in front of the camera and why Alana is sent to all these beauty pageants - their mothers (or fathers?) seem to be projecting their unfulfilled desires onto the little girls. That this is true is clear from June's sheer rhetoric: "the last pageant we did, we got runner-up". No, June... Sorry, but you are not a beauty queen - you're a dinosaur. 

Little girls who grew up listening to fairy tales about princesses are, no doubt, delighted to be at the centre of attention in beauty pageants or photoshoots for a day. Or two days. Or a year. And before they know it, they will have spent their precious childhoods trying to live up to the expectations of nameless, faceless judges, striving to appeal to others and gain their approval. Having learnt this, it would not be surprising if they carried on in much the same way - this time, however, it will be society as a whole whom they will perceive as the jury panel. And just think how difficult it is to please six billion people and try to tick all the boxes, which society readily prepared for us. So before an ambitious parent decides to use their children to fulfill their past desires, they should always remember, that their children are not merchandise - unless they teach them to be.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Modern Feminist Icons: Gala Darling

Gala Darling is probably the absolute opposite of a stereotypical feminist - the word so many people love to hate. She wears high heels and pink sparkly dresses, she has long flowy hair and her everyday accessory is her friendly smile. But she is also one of the most powerful female bloggers on the internet and an inspiration to countless girls and women worldwide.

I discovered Gala's blog when I was about 15 and have been following it ever since. I was initially captivated by the more superficial aspects of the website, like posts about fashion and pink sparkly objects, but as I matured as a person (eh...), I began paying more attention to her articles about having faith in one's abilities and not changing who you are just to try to fit in. And thank god I did - not only is Gala a very skilled writer, she also has lots of creative advice on how to live one's life, which has been extremely helpful to me at certain points in the past. I find it very difficult to describe what fascinates me the most about Gala, so I will just let some of her articles speak for themselves. Covering topics ranging the art of performing a striptease and ridiculously fun date ideas to more serious things like 100 ways to start loving yourself right now, jealousy, maintaining your individuality in a relationship, being happy in this unforgiving world and the compatibility of feminism with a passion for fashion, Gala certainly has something to offer to everyone.

In February 2010, Gala started a project entitled "Radical Self Love". As is evident from its title, this movement's aim is to bring people - predominantly women, who make up the majority of Gala's readership - to love themselves and embrace who they are. What a positive message! In the following video, you can listen to Gala speak about her life journey and why she decided to launch this project:

I find her message incredibly positive and her approach to life extremely liberating. Reading Gala's blog makes me want to colour my hair pink and wear diamond-studded Louboutins to bed, while at the same time preaching equality of the sexes and talking about politics over a glass of Mai Tai. I think Gala is a fabulous role model for any and every woman trying to live her life to the fullest in this confusing, fast-paced world of the 21st century. In conclusion, here is the Radical Self Love Manifesto in all its glory. Start loving yourself today!

Source: Gala Darling

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Crushed by Crushes


I didn't get into the whole “liking boys” business until I was about fourteen. While that might seem fairly early on to you, I felt like a total idiot prior to hitting that stage, as most of my female friends have already experienced the whole “gee, I like him so much!” drama and I wanted a piece of it. I found it utterly unfair that they got to sit in their beds surrounded by boxes of chocolate and tissues, weeping about the difficulty of their lives. But after finally developing romantic feelings for a fellow human being, I realised that it was a thing I could have easily done without and that all those boxes of chocolate and tissues were not signs of being mature, but merely depressed.

I've upgraded from chocolate to champagne (it makes a social occasion out of my pain, making it more acceptable to invite my friends over with the intent of ruining their evening by making them go through painstakingly detailed re-enactments of my incoherent thought processes), but I continue being crushed by my crushes. I thought that, having reached adulthood, I was somehow too old for it, but I could not be have been more wrong. I suppose you can never be too mature to be immature.

Having a crush on someone can go one of three ways. You either make your feelings known and get rejected or – in the presumably better case – not… Or - if you are at all like me - you sit in your lair, stalk them on Facebook and wait. Here is my manual to handling all three cases!*

Requited feelings

In case you found that the person you were secretly enamoured with likes you too, congratulations! You are about to commence a journey of unknown duration, during which you will become an unbearable mess of a human being, unable to speak about anything but your new amazing boy/girlfriend, kissing, plush toys and baby animals. Good luck to you and all your friends!

Unrequited love

If you get rejected, then all the fictitious scenarios of the two of you watching the sunset together (which you've no doubt spent countless hours perfecting in your head) disappear. You are reduced to a shadow of your former thirteen-year-old self, clutching a box of Kleenex in one hand and a KitKat in the other (using brand names, how annoyingly consumerist of me!), thinking that the whole world is against you. Well, here is my advice: revel in those moments! It might sound stupid, but please, enjoy it! How long have you been waiting for a good enough reason to perform a questionable voodoo ritual, not shave your legs for a week, throw dog poo at happy couples and stay up all night listening to James Carrington’s “Ache” on a loop with tears flowing down your cheeks? There’s a little Bridget Jones inside most of us, so go ahead and indulge in these precious moments of pathetic self-pity.

abcjndkHaven’t said a word

In case you’re still waiting for the “right moment” to tell them, let me just tell you that there is no such a thing and that you should take a leap of faith and just do it before somebody else does. Having said that, I am one of those people who have "as much charm as a dead slug" ("Hunger Games" reference #1) in the presence of their crush and who fully agree with the following Chandler Bing statement:

I am generally unable to control my - already underdeveloped - motor skills in the presence of the boys I like, which makes it extremely difficult for me to use the invaluable advice advertised by reliable sources like Cosmopolitan. Swinging my hips and flipping my hair back just do not seem like plausible options when I am at a constant risk of tripping over my own foot. And talking does not help the situation either, as I either stutter or continuously insult them. So I tend to avoid confrontation and usually just end up leading them to believe that I am blissfully unaware of their existence. Every once in a while I do initiate conversation, but as such bright moments usually occur as a byproduct of liquor-induced courage, I rarely manage to make a good impression. And then I whine about it to my friends and complain that my crush doesn't seem to notice me. So please just let what I just described act as a deterrent and go get 'em.

The thing with crushes is this though – they are just crushes. The odds are, you will survive. In fact, the odds are you will look back in a few months or even weeks, and realise how ridiculous your entire obsession was... Speaking of odds, "may the odds be ever in your favour!" - I have acquired an unhealthy obsession with "Hunger Games" and I magically seem to find a way to incorporate quotes from the book into my everyday vocabulary. This is it for my useless rant and I wish you a fabulous Sunday!

*Disclaimer: Do not expect my advice to actually help you solve anything. Please, I can’t even solve my own problems!

Images: unknown; "Longa é a noite" by Eric Guillemain, via noirfacade; "Brivido Caldo" by Adam Whitehead, via noirfacade