Behind the Netra Book Review - Laura Bates' 'Girl up!'

BEHIND THE NETRA BOOK REVIEW - I met Laura Bates last year when we were both performing at the EMPOWER HOUSE show at the Theatre Royal. I already thought she was phenomenal after reading ‘Everyday Sexism’ and seeing her talk at the show. And now that I have finally had a chance to finish reading ‘Girl Up,’ I have nothing but more praise for this woman. I could only wish that I had a book like this as a teenager and I could give it to all my students. She has highlighted all the important life lessons that young people should be taught (and are so often not), about consent, self-pleasure, unrealistic beauty standards and the importance and empowerment behind feminism. The text was inclusive of nearly all on the gender and sexuality spectrums and she was refreshingly honest and witty in her approach. She has entertainingly weaved opinions, statistics and real life examples throughout the book. I would love to see more intersectionality within her writing but perhaps this wasn’t quite the audience for it. It is definitely aimed at more of a teenage audience but it is still a must read for anyone who is raising / teaching / being a girl or for anyone that needs to be better informed on gender issues here in the UK. If you haven’t read ‘Everyday Sexism’ – go read that first - then get on this one! It’s an unapologetic feminist voice that needs to be heard. Laura will be talking about ‘Girl Up’ as a part of the British Academy's season on Inequalities later this year. Check it out!

Behind the Netra Book Review - Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina - A New Biography.'

Behind the Netra Book Review - I finally got around to finishing Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina - A New Biography.' Firstly, don't let the title scare you into hiding. Wolf shares her personal journey in an attempt to analyse the intersectionality between sexuality and creativity. Much of her findings are backed with a range of interesting scientific evidence that suggests that the vagina is not merely flesh, but an intrinsic component of the female brain—and thus has a fundamental connection to female consciousness itself. As much as I loved Wolf's infamous 'Beauty Myth' back when I was a teenager, this text was sadly a bit of a let down. The book claims to be tackling a social taboo that is the Vagina but I feel that Eve Ensler dealt with it much better in the Vagina Monologues two decades ago. The book hardly liberates women, I feel it gives public intellectuals a legitimate reason to have a good laugh at female genitalia and makes a parody of mainstream feminist debate. I'd put it under the collection of celebrity faux-feminism that aims to titillate and make sales but does nothing for feminist debate. I'd still recommend to read it if you're up for some interesting analogies and wordplay but if you're really interested in important issues of sex, power and suffering then have a look at Butler, Banerji or Valenti. 

Addiction and male sexuality

How much do films reinforce gender norms of sexuality?

I think we have started to consider how movies and pop culture reinforce gender norms for women but how much do we talk about men’s sexuality? Last year I wrote an interesting piece on Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ and how the movie has used addiction as a form of reinforcement of gender norms. Have a read if you’re interested. 

Look forward to your thoughts.

The Witch to The Bitch

Break down the Bossy-Intimidating-Tempered-Cunning-Hysterical.

Sometimes I think to myself, are we going backwards in time? In sixteenth-century England and seventeenth-century colonial America, there were a number of interesting reasons why a woman might have been accused of being a witch. The most popular characteristics included:

a. Being female

b. Being middle aged

c. Being married but with few or no children

d. Being a widow

e. Being contentious and stubborn with a turbulent reputation

f. If a woman led, and I quote, a ‘naughty’ kind of life…

g. If a woman spoke out of turn (outspoken)

Overall, if you were a woman that was considered ‘different’ or who deviated from the norm, it is likely you would be considered a witch. 

I know we might not be running around calling masses of women witches, but it now seems to be commonplace to refer to such women as bitches. Today, if a woman is stepping outside of the norm—her stereotypical role as a quiet, submissive female—then she is considered a bitch. If a woman in today’s society is freethinking and assertive, she is sometimes deemed a bitch. If she is ‘demanding’ or ‘bossy’ she’s considered a bitch. This might be in the workplace, in the home or in general social settings. We have transformed from The Witch to The Bitch

It might be a bit much to ask sixteenth-century society to accept these women as independent and freethinking, but why today, in 2014, are we not considering these women as powerful or assertive? It could be suggested that this view of powerful women being ‘bossy’ starts at a young age. Many young girls are conditioned and socialised to believe that the way to get others to like you is to be ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’. One should avoid being confrontational. One should most certainly avoid hurting other people’s feelings. In addition to these traits, we’re taught that it would be wrong or even worrying for a young girl to express too much anger; this is in fear that the young girl might be deemed wild or, god forbid, even ‘crazy’. But what do we teach our sons? To stick up for themselves? To stand their ground? To stifle emotions and not to cry because these are things that girls do? Yes, this is what we teach them. These are damaging thoughts that are absorbed into the brains of our young. Of course, this is not representational of all contexts and cultures, but we can still see these traits seeping into the modern day.

Since I was young, I told myself I wanted to change the world. I wanted to change lives, be it through my teaching career, through my business ventures, or through my charity work. I knew that during these endeavours I would have to be authoritative and formidable. If I was not, I knew without a doubt that I could not succeed. But if I am considered a ‘bitch’ for upholding such characteristics solely because of my gender, then I wonder what on earth I am fighting for. 

I was watching an episode of Scandal the other week, and Kerry Washington’s character, Olivia, hit the nail on the head. One of the male protagonists enters the room and exclaims “So, Abby’s kind of a bitch,” as soon as he walks into her apartment. “Don’t say that!” Olivia immediately hits back. “The words used to describe women! If she was a man you’d say she was ‘formidable’ or ‘bold’ or ‘right’.” Olivia’s reaction couldn’t have been more accurate. The continuing double standards that we allow to be upheld in society and in our language need to change. We need to change the way we speak about men and women. We need to stop such gendered language tropes that have been living with us for centuries. 

I am definitely not a witch, and my valiance should not make me a ‘bitch’.