Comment, Feminism

The Feminists are Reclaiming the Internet

For many years, the media was the enemy of feminism. The movement was mischaracterised, tainted, and exploited, condemned as weird and unfashionable. Undressed and muted like helpless Page Three models dead behind the eyes, feminism was demonised for the advantage of the ruling ‘first sex’. To this day women (and men) still hesitate to self-identify as a feminist, just in case the moment the phrase passes your lips you immediately become a hairy lesbian butch evil angry radical, breasts hanging all over the bloody place.

But 2013 is year of the comeback. It’s the year when feminism gets cool. I mean, it’s always been cool, but you had to be particularly cool to notice it, so like, don’t worry if you missed it. It’s the year of the Vagenda, the Spare Rib magazine, Ladybeard Magazine. It’s the year The New Statesman gets equal female and male columnists. If you weren’t brandishing your Butler Manifesto, now is the time.

If we’re getting technical, I think maybe this cool wave (official technical term) began last year. In 2012, came the wildly, almost painfully successful How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Although arguably more an autobiography with some bits about pubic hair thrown in, the book took feminism to the W H Smith top 10, sitting awkwardly between a trashy celebrity autobiography and a diet book. People heralded it as important, but not necessarily because of its content. In a hot rush of discarded shavers and cellulite cream, the book changed the public perception of feminism.

And thus ensued fourth wave feminism. A transition via the internet, to wide spread popularity. It inspired the Vagenda, an online ‘magazine’, created by Rhiannon Lucy Coslett and Holly Baxter, two graduates who thought ‘fuck this, I’m making feminism funny’. And boy did they succeed. Their website had 10,000 hits after the first few hours of it’s launch, and has continued to grow exponentially in popularity, landing the two a book deal. Its ironically pink layout, with the tag line ‘Like King Lear, but for Girls’ taken from Grazia Magazine’s review of ‘The Iron Lady’ is a honey pot of brilliant, hilarious, populist female (and occasional male) writing.

The Vagenda is a particularly effective as a tool to discuss feminism because it works so perfectly in our digital age. It’s humorous enough to post on your friend’s Facebook page (and you make sure not to message it to them, so all can see how gloriously intelligent and zeitgeisty you are to have found such a link). For anyone who thought feminism was unfunny and aggressive, the site undoes all the pernicious stereotyping. All whilst you lol.

A gap has now opened in the market for a new type of female magazine. One that doesn’t tell you to love yourself only if you’re skinny, having precisely enough sex, pretty, exercising, rich, powerful, great at blow jobs and able to make gruyere tartlets. Spare Rib, a magazine that was revolutionary in the 70s, tackling feminist issues at a time when rape was still legal in marriage, is coming back for a revival this year after it bowed out in 1993. Ladybeard, a reaction to shitty magazines like Cosmo and Grazia has recently raised enough money from its kickstarter to get off the ground. Both are testament to the changing attitudes of women, to women, and that this marks the end of the media being a platform used to subjugate.

There is a danger, however, to it all becoming too normalised. A few months ago, the vile that is ‘mumsnet’, a collection of middle class mothers with too much time between managing their pomegranate supply and buying the latest apple product for their 3 year old, published a survey condemning feminism as ‘irrelevant’. Apart from the fact that clearly a collection of women buying into gender constraints are probably not the ones to go asking about feminism, the survey highlighted the apathy that can be cultivated at the point where feminism becomes wide-spread. ‘Well we have the vote, so I mean, what more could we want?’ Well, imaginary-person-solely-created-for-the-purpose-of-derision, there are a few things. There is more female unemployment than male; abortion and contraception is still an issue in places as close as Ireland. Female representation in parliament, boardrooms, even comedy panel shows is abysmal. People still think Thatcher was a feminist – we definitely have a way to go.

Today is age of feminism. Even with the Daily Mail’s side bar of doom, women are reclaiming the media. The internet is a wonderful tool to give a voice to those previously unheard, and spread the hilarity that is emerging with a new wave a young feminist writers. The Vagenda has already been instrumental in this change, and whilst we may still have to combat things like ALL THE PORN EVER, I’m optimistic. Watch this space, feminism is getting trendy.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written May 2013 for the Leeds Student 

Comment, Feminism

Broadchurch and the Fallacy of the Stay-at-Home Dad

Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce the article here
In the small town of Broadchurch lies a deep, dark secret. And no, it’s not that everyone looks way too middle class to be plumbers. Don’t be distracted by the artsy silhouette shots fellow feminists! Whilst Broadchurch may present progressive female characters, they all, much like Colman’s West Country accent, eventually disappear.
Just in case you’ve missed the hype (where have you been bro?) Broadchurch is this new show (obv) about a kid who gets murdered and we don’t know why or by whom so we spend 40 minutes of each episode looking at pretty scenery of the town and 10 minutes thinking it’s the dog, or maybe the baby, or maybe both. It is in many ways a great piece of British drama. It overpowers my prejudice towards ITV and allows me to listen to Tennant say muhrrr duhrrrr at least 5 times an episode. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the characters, despite the fact the all seem to be either a pedophile, possibly a pedophile or related to a pedophile, are all well written and powerfully acted.One of the best parts of Broadchurch is the character Ellie Miller, and not just because she’s played by Olivia Colman. Miller is a unique portrayal of a working mum on contemporary television. Yet whilst the show gives a great female character, the entire plot seems to mock us, the audience, for even considering the possibility of a successful independent mother. ‘A stay at home dad? Pffff. Men aren’t fulfilled by feeding babies yogurt and going to skate parks. Put a man in that position and he’ll probably resort to grooming a child, secretly develop a relationship of rampant hug sessions and then kill him in a violent rage. Yeah, best stick to the old ways eh?’As with all television shows, my fem-senses perk up, and my brain can’t seem let me just mindlessly imbibe the various cliff panoramas *curses brain*. At every turn, the show endeavors to undermine Ellie Miller. In the first episode, she loses her promotion to DI Alec Hardy, played by a moody David ‘Don’t Trust Anyone’ Tennant. ‘A Man?!’ she says ‘this area needs a female DI – what happened to I’ve got your back?’. The acknowledgement of her struggle only really seems to reinforce how they were probably right not to put her as the DI as she does do a lot of crying (because she’s a woman, obviously). Luckily, Colman does a fantastic job of turning what seems to be a weepy, Carrie Mathison-esque role, into a touching and funny character.Unfortunately, this progressive female character only lasts for about 8 minutes. The show seems so intent on emphasising the fact that it is literally ONLY because Miller’s husband, Joe, had nothing to do that he turned to grooming Danny, the boy who is murdered in the first episode. Notably, his reasons for doing so are as follows: ‘I wanted something that was mine. Ellie has her job, Tom [their kid] does his own thing’. You can just imagine him running through the past time possibilities – ‘cycling?…nah. Embroidery? …too fiddly…grooming a boy? …cheaper than a gym membership…’

It’s not only Joe Miller who can’t maintain a non-conventional male character. Danny’s father is adulterous, whilst DI Hardy literally has a defective heart. Most of the men seem to be cold, unfaithful, or…er…a pedophile and the women, unsurprisingly, are almost all mothers. Although the show gives quite a good opportunity for female actors, the plot is just another example of a failed attempt at progressive depictions of female characters.

It’s just frustrating to see a successful television show make some attempt at inverting gender boundaries, only to undo it right at the end. From the beginning, I was deeply hoping that they’d just leave the stay-at-home dad character be. Don’t make him the killer. And certainly don’t make him the killer because he’s so fatally unfulfilled with his life. Sigh. Well I guess there’s always next series.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written April 2013