Sunday, 16 September 2007

Deep Sea

Sunday 9th September ‘07

Continuing on my little rant on feminism, I was walking down a busy street the other day when I approached a group of three boys coming the other way. They must have been about 17ish and were clearly trouble. They swerved towards me as they drew closer, so much so that I was forced to dart out of their way and the middle one said loudly to his mates as we passed only inches away from each other, “Will you look at the tits on that thing!” Wow, just when you thought things were improving.

This habit of men of referring to women as inanimate objects is not a new one, but it is something I am noticing more and more these days. It seems as though the more powerful women get in society the more some weak men feel the need to objectify us by referring to all woman as “it” and “that”, even to our faces. I don’t even know what that habit is called grammatically. ‘It’ is defined as a third-person neutral pronoun in the English language, but no-where can I find what it means to refer to a human as an object or animal. If I am to be insulted I would at least like to know how it is done.

Despite this year being the wettest summer on record I have yet again come up against my annual nemesis, sunglasses. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love sunglasses. If it didn’t make me look like a prat I’d wear them all year round. No, the trouble is finding the sunglasses in the first place. I seem to spend my life on an eternal mission to find the perfect pair, and my room is a graveyard of broken attempts.

I have often though it ironic actually when I look at Muslim women who are all covered up apart from their eyes, how they are actually displaying the most intimate and expressive part of their bodies. ‘The window to their souls.’ When I put on a pair of sunglasses I feel more anonymous and protected than if I’d shrouded my whole body in acres of billowing fabric. There is a definite reason celebrities wear them all the time. I love that no one can tell what I am thinking when I wear them, or even who I am really. I like way I can stare at people for hours with total impunity, and I love the instant aura or cool mystique they give you.

Despite the coolness, there is of course, a more practical reason as to why I love my sunglasses so much, namely that my eyes are extremely sensitive to light. My Mother is the same, so I can only conclude that it’s just one of those things. According to the optician, it’s apparently something to do with being blue-eyed. Even on a dull winter’s day I find myself squinting at the light. I worry about it actually; I’m probably going to end up with huge wrinkles through spending my life with my face unconsciously screwed up like I’m trying to see in a howling snowstorm all the time. Only I the dark can I ever truly relax my eyes. I can see well in the dark, really well if I do say so myself. I love the dark actually. When I was young I used to practice finding my way around my house with my eyes closed just so i could navigate better in the dark. And for the past two years I have had my bedroom on the ground floor. When I wake in the night (As I do frequently) I like the feeling of prowling around alone in the darkness, while all of my housemates are sleeping upstairs, mistress of my own private kingdom. I used to be afraid of the dark when I was little, but once you realise that fear of the dark is merely fear of the unknown, fear of the monsters that could be lurking in the dark, that soon goes. That’s one of the things I hate about this city, the lack of darkness. I can’t sleep in this damn half-daylight they’ve got going on here twenty-four hours a day. I do worry sometimes it might be turning me mad. My current bedroom is on the ground floor of the house and some inconsiderate bastard has planted a lamppost directly opposite. When I first arrived I had to sew blackout fabric on to the backs of the curtains because my room was lit up as clear as day all through the night. Because of the odd curve of the bay window though, and the miserly amount of material the landlord has used on the curtains, there are gaping holes in my impenetrable wall of darkness through which the light still pours. There is nothing I can do about the top and bottom of the window, but I have spent most of this week dreaming up ingenious methods of fastening the curtains to the walls on either side. The current method on trial is Velcro superglued to the wall and sewn to the tops of the curtains. It’s not working.

What would you be if you were an animal? What do you most resemble? I know what I would be. I would be one of those silent, amorphous creatures that lurk in the deepest, blackest corners of the ocean. And all alone down there, way down deep in the cold, inky darkness where no one could ever see, I would glow with a phosphorescent brilliance in all the colours of the rainbow.

Post Feminism

Thursday 19th July ‘07

Ok now, here’s the big one. Post-feminism. I have been putting off addressing this for a while now, not least because it is such a vast topic I don’t know where to begin. The nature of this project however, demands that I deal with it sometime, so here we go. I’m not gong to waste time going over the entire history of feminism, if you want to know that I suggest you read a book, but I can’t ignore my own stance on the matter any longer. Nowadays it seems to be a dirty word to declare you are a feminist. Many of the guys I knew at uni would make hundreds of dreadful misogynist and anti-feminist jokes, ostensibly just to wind girls up. I can take a joke as much as the next person, but in the end they did it to the degree that it ceased to become funny and you started to wonder whether they were doing it to conceal some sort of deep seated problem with women in general.

I myself have always been torn between two different attitudes to feminism. (Although I practically have two personalities anyway, so perhaps that’s not too surprising) There is, and always will be a part of me that is a militant feminist. I think the way women are still treated in this day and age is absolutely shocking. And while attitudes are not perfect in the West, they are nothing to the way women are treated in other parts of the world. It’s barbaric, and we often forget that in our assessment of how far we have progressed in our culture. This part of me is the part that wants a shining career. This is the part that lives in her jeans, cannot walk in heels and has a large panther tattooed across her back. She is modern, educated and can wield a power drill with aplomb. She shouts at the television, swears she will never have children and views men with a deep critical mistrust and something bordering between contempt and pity most of the time.

But poking her beribboned head up from the depths of my personality there is another version of me. This me is still waiting for her handsome prince to come riding in on his noble steed and whisk her off to his castle where she could live out her days baking, sewing and tastefully decorating the battlements. This me secretly thinks she would be quite happy as a housewife so long as she could be wealthy. This me probably suffered from far too much Disney at a young age. This person likes pink. She likes to buy pretty, pointless things for the home and expresses all of her emotions through food. This is the part of me that squirms with pleasure whenever men wolf whistle at me on the street or pinch my bottom in a crowded nightclub, shouting down the outraged protests of my saner self with the argument of ‘well, at least they noticed me.’ This person, given the chance would live in Pleasantville forever and ever with four children, a dog, and some nice man to take care of her. I don’t know which part of me I am more ashamed of. I am deeply ashamed of my fifties self, it goes without saying, but that persona is more socially acceptable to admit to in public. Wrong, I know but there we are.

Then of course we have post-feminism; an ideology that should, by rights appeal to my mixed up little brain. I have always taken the view that the problem with traditional feminism is that women end up denying their own femininity and turning themselves into men, and thus sending out the message that it is wrong to be comfortable being a woman. It is sad but true that men and women tend, as a generalisation, to be good at different tasks and so there should be no shame in portioning out the domestic roles accordingly, so long as each does an equal share. If I stayed at home to look after the children while my husband worked it would be only fair that many of the domestic chores also fell to me, as long as I received equal recognition for what I did. And therein of course, lies the problem. Staying at home and ‘keeping house’ is dull and exhausting work that never receives the same statues and praise that going out to work does. What is also not fair is the way women are made to feel guilty for choosing either a career or family and are now expected not only to take care of the children and the house, but to have successful high-powered careers as well. We are burning ourselves out and I still don’t see any reasonable solution to the problem unless society’s attitudes change.

Last week the men of my acquaintance went to the pub to partake of few beers and the pub quiz. As it was clearly a lad’s night out, that left one of my female housemates and I at a loose end for the evening. The boys joked that we should stay in the kitchen and bake for them. We toyed with the idea of going out too, but eventually settled on that old favourite of staying in and watching the telly. About half way through the evening we got peckish and having nothing in the house, we decided to make some biscuits. Realising what we were in fact doing, we laughed and said it was ok because we were making the biscuits for ourselves and anyway, we were post-feminists and therefore comfortable with it. But what does that mean exactly? And does it even matter? When the boys returned from the pub we presented them with a pile of heart shaped cookies in a pink tin.

Another thing I have a problem with is the way that because we are all supposed to be enlightened post-feminists nowadays; young girls and even older women who should know better are acting like common sluts in public. Sexual liberation is all very well and good, but at the risk of sounding like a prude, if you don’t treat yourself with respect, how do you expect men to? All right, so you are pole dancing in a self-conscious, semi-ironic, post-feminist, kitsch way, but do the men drooling at your feet know that? Whatever your opinions on this subject are, I think we all have to agree that Playboy merchandise for little girls cannot be a good idea. It astounds me, actually. Have people just forgotten what Playboy is and what it stands for? It’s not liberation it’s vile. It’s sending out the impression that being a brainless piece of arm candy for lecherous old men is something to be aspired to. And I don’t care if this view is not the correct or cool one to have these days. I don’t know why I hate Playboy, I just do. I hate it and everything it stands for. I especially hate the way it has become seen as harmless fun. I don’t care if the women involved are intelligently exploiting the system or merely playing to their strengths or whatever, hasn’t anyone ever heard of sleeping with the enemy? Just because you know the symbolic ramifications of what you are doing when you put on a playboy t-shirt doesn’t make it any better, if anything it makes it worse. The trouble is, I don’t think most women even think about it at all any more. They are not doing it to be ironic, or to make some sort of post-feminist statement. They are simply buying these things because they are fashion items and they want to have them. So does that mean that our culture has degenerated once more to such a level where female exploitation has become so normal and the symbols of that exploitation so drained of their meaning through overuse and repetition, that women have become willing accomplices in their own oppression? “But what about post-feminism and freedom?” you might say. “What if there exists a particularly daft woman whose ultimate ambition is to become a playboy bunny? Isn’t that her choice?” It’s a very valid point, but I can’t help but think that a woman who feels that she can only be happy and successful in life through being the object of teenage boys’ and dirty old men’s wank fantasies has been very badly let down by society. And besides, just because I accept that there are such moronic people in the world and acknowledge their right to exist and express themselves in whatever way they see fit doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The second weird thing I have noticed recently brings me on to the very sticky and unpleasant subject of unwanted hair. All those of a nervous disposition might well do to skip the following paragraph. Some things are better left undiscussed and believe me, it is as much as I can do to write this, but I’m confused and I want someone to help me with this. Over the past few months, I have had many varied and heated discussions with my girlfriends on this subject and I have noticed a worrying trend that seems to be going on. Now call me na├»ve if you want, but up until recently I had always been under the impression from, oh I don’t know; men, my mother, Jilly Cooper novels, that it was sufficient to keep oneself generally neat and tidy downstairs. I mean that’s why it’s called a bikini wax isn’t it? But on asking around it transpired that a lot of my girlfriends were horrified by this idea. For them it appears, everything must go. And I do mean everything. When I asked them why they feel like this, they all universally replied, “Well it’s what men want isn’t it?”

And it’s not just women who seem to think this. A friend of mine has a mother who works in a sexual health clinic and she has reported that all the young girls these days that she sees are feel the same way. They are barely old enough to have pubic hair and then they wax or even shave it all off because they think that this will make them more desirable. I mean, everyone has their own particular preferences on matters such as this, (Personally I think the idea of total hairlessness is a bit creepy and much too pre-pubescent looking for my liking, but whatever floats your boat) however feeling you must look a certain way because men demand it can’t be good, especially at such a young age. And you know what the worst thing is? When my friend’s mum asks these girls why they think they have to look like that, do you know what they say? They say that that’s what the girls in men’s magazines look like. Anyway, I would like people’s opinions on this. I don’t know where everyone seems to be getting the idea that men demand that you shave completely, but I would like to know if it is, in fact true. I have certainly never met a man who expressed this desire. Am I right, and is this trend just a lot of needless pain, faff and itchy stubble, or am I missing something important here? Tell me.

So far as myself goes, I am still undecided about the whole post-feminism thing. Is it ok for me to wear clothes that I think make me look good? Of course it is. Is it ok for me to wear clothes that make me look attractive to men? Of course. But is it right for me to consciously base my appearance on what men consider aesthetically pleasing? I don’t know. But it helps. That, my friends is the sad, sad truth underlying all of this; we all want someone to love us. Yes, it is better to have someone fall in love with you solely on the basis of your shining intellectual capabilities, but lets face it, when was the last time that actually happened? The only possible scenario in which that would work is if you had known the person for years first. And even then they have to find you at least slightly attractive. When was the last time you went into a club, scanned around the room and said to your mates “ooh, look at that person over there! They’re hideously ugly but I’m going to chat them up anyway because they might just have a lovely personality!”

A kilo of gold glitter

Sunday 24th June '07

So that’s it. I am officially a real person and no longer a student. What do I say now when people ask what I do? “Um, nothing…” I sold two paintings. Does that make me an artist yet? I’m scared. This was never supposed to happen.

At the private view for our degree show I reached what was I feel was my finest moment yet in terms of vintage fashion and this project. I wore a black lace bra and fifties style black pants, with the black lace underbust girdle, sheer black stockings and suspenders. Over that I wore a dark grey beaded twenties-style dress, black round toed heels and a vintage fifties glass bead shawl. Topping it all off were some ridiculous but very lovely head feathers.

Now pay attention all you fresh budding young artists out there. When planning work for an exhibition, make sure it all adds to your own comfort and happiness. A friend of mine had to take a freezing cold bath naked in some liquid clay for several hours whilst being filmed. My work was an installation containing some paintings and a ‘performance’ which basically consisted of me sitting in a chair, dolled up to the nines, listening to David Bowie and drinking Moet. It was all about mythology and decadence and so forth, even I don’t really know any more, but the important thing is I got an excuse for an entire new outfit, some very expensive chocolates, five bottles of champagne, two haircuts and a kilo of gold glitter.

In order to complete the look, I had my hair curled at the hairdresser as all my kind friend’s attempts with Carmen rollers and buckets of hairspray had only lasted an hour or so. It clearly needed scorching into shape if it was going to last a whole evening. While I was at it I had my usual four or five inches lopped off. This was my first real visit to a proper hairdresser. Before it had just been the little village salon or the lady down the road. It was quite scary looking actually: a shiny, monochrome palace of wonder, staffed by shiny, monochrome attendants. It all just struck me as a massive waste of time. The hairdressers flapped around, swapping places and disappearing into back rooms for hours assuring you that they would be ‘back in just a sec.’ My hair took about five minutes to actually cut, but they spent about an hour blow drying it, strand by tiny strand. I wanted to grab the hairdryer from the dopey girl and do it for her in the end. (My hair normally takes just a couple of minutes to dry) Although not exactly the style I had envisaged, by the time the hairdresser had finished though, I was enraptured. I wanted to keep it like that forever and ever. I looked like a Victorian doll, with perfect glossy blond ringlets.

Getting off topic a little bit, but it is still vaguely relevant I think, is number 3622 on my list of general complaints and grievances against humankind. (Shortly to be published in a ten-volume format) It is the fact that no one ever believes a word I say. Now don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t mean to sound vain or churlish, but I have always felt vaguely resentful that things such as hair dye, straighteners and sunbeds were ever invented. Had I been born a hundred years ago my colouring would have been considered rather unusual and interesting. Nowadays people, if they think at all, just take one look and think ‘bimbo.’ A year or so ago I went on a trip to New York with uni. On the second morning, after observing me wash and dry my hair, the friends I was sharing a room with said to me “wow, your hair really is straight. All this time we just thought you were lying.” I think that says it all. It’s the same with my skin. I have naturally very fair skin and cannot so much as look at the sun without burning. I never sunbathe because I just burn and apart from anything else, it bores me to tears. But I like to be outside and busy during the holidays (Rain or shine) so I am left with no option when it is hot but to smother myself in factor 40, hat up and go chasing patches of shade all around the countryside. As a result of this, I often end up with a very nice unintentional tan and then have to put up with lectures from everyone I meet on the dangers of sunbathing. No one ever believes me. Even when I got my tattoo one of my housemates maintained for months that it must be a transfer. Just for the record, so we can have this absolutely straight once and for all, I would like to say that I have never dyed my hair. I have never straightened my hair. I have never used fake tan nor been on a sunbed, and yes, they are real.

Remember what I said about being a jungle woman, about not wanting to sit indoors all day long? Well that brings me to yet another of my guilty little secrets. Trailer Trash: I love it. Not all trailer trash, admittedly. More the kind that probably only exists on catwalks, and not the English kind either. That’s far to chavvy. No, it’s a very specific look that appeals to me. I don’t know why exactly, I guess it’s because it seems a little exotic, and there is an element of freedom involved that really appeals to someone who grew up in middle class, conservative Sussex. I just love the idea of some feral fourteen-year-old hellcat, with a southern drawl, bleached hair and long, skinny legs, running wild around the countryside in tanned bare feet and denim hotpants. She would be a carefree, happy little slut and would wear pink lip-gloss and a contemptuous smile. She would cuss, smoke, cheat at cards and just generally do all the things I wish I had the guts to do. I know this is a fantasy born of far too much Hollywood and pulp fiction but I hope she does exist somewhere, I really do.