On green hair and women’s bodies

At the moment half my hair is dyed green. This is not a big deal to me, I’ve had unnatural coloured hair for over two years now, and for another year or so before that, my hair is part of my identity but at the same time it’s something that’s as unusual to me as my glasses. This is not true with a proportion of society, and for some reason the green really seems to attract much more attention than any other colour I’ve had.

Sometimes this attention is fine, overhearing a child on the tube ask her mum if I was wearing a wig, and when correcting announcing she wanted to dye her hair was adorable, and most of the comments I get are genuinely flattering. However, some of the time it is fairly obvious ‘I like your hair’ really doesn’t mean they like your hair at all, and it’s just like being a 15 year-old goth with men shouting at me out of their car windows all over again. The other one I get is ‘you’ve got green hair!’ Well, yes, I know. These I can ignore, my appearance has always got me more attention I’d rather not have.

Buying something in a shop and having the sales assistant reach over and touch my hair however, I can’t ignore. Ok, so she complimented my hair, but she also totally violated my personal space. At the time I was shocked, and a bit amused, now I’m really quite angry. Just earlier today I was sitting in a cafe at my uni, drinking tea, reading The Waves and listening to music, and some guy said ‘I like your barnet’, and it’s nothing, I just ignored him, but for me to have been able to hear it over my music he must have said it really loudly, because of course I want everyone to stare at me.

All these little events aren’t much on their own, but together they make me think how much my body is assumed to be common property, just because I stand out. It’s not always men of course, but it does often make me think of the theory of male gaze when it happens, and of the way women’s bodies are under so much scrutiny. I can sympathise with the way famous people have to deal with being told they look too fat, too thin, too old, but more I can sympathise with ordinary women who deal with this not because they choose to stand out in some way, after all I don’t always mind the attention my hair and clothes gets me, but because they happen to have large breasts or, worse, walk along a road. How dare they?

The second of those links I’ve only just seen, the timing of it is odd, and it makes me think maybe I’m getting off lightly. I think I’d rather be insulted than have suggestive comments made, maybe my punk-inspired clothes, glasses and perpetual pissed-off or terrified expression help me, they’ve always felt like a bit of a mask. Still, my immediate reaction on hearing a car beep shouldn’t be to swear at it, one day it will be someone I know.

Related to this is the case of Sophie Lancaster, kicked to death because she was a goth. I was lucky when I was a goth, I think the only physical thing that happened to me was having stones thrown at me on the beach, by kids from my school of course. Oh, and the very first time I remember going out in obviously gothic clothes, aged 13, I got ‘Pippi Longstocking’ shouted at me by significantly older boys because of my striped socks, I’d been told my dad had dies maybe ten minutes before. At least I had more important things on my mind than taking much notice of some idiots. The fact that nearly 9 years later I’m still taking abuse from people I don’t know because of my appearance is sad, as is the fact I don’t even really get angry very often now.

It seems that as a female who identifies as belonging to an alternative sub-culture I get to either be abused or leched at on the street. I refuse to change the way I dress, this is not my problem, this is the problem of people who think perving on under-age girls is acceptable, but I do wish I could think of some productive way to make them realise how unacceptable their behaviour is.

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Geek Style and the female gaze

Yesterdaystumbleupon gave me this link, from the blog Painfully Hip.It’s kind of old now, and these kind of articles aren’t that uncommon, but this one made me stop and think. I’m used to talking about the male gaze, after all, I read comics, I spend much of my time sighing at the stupid, revealing costumes, indistinguishable faces, hips that just won’t unsway and general, unrelenting sexiness of the women. But what about the female version?

The article, much as I do sort of agree with what the author has to say, geeky boys really are cute, and the bog glasses have developed into a worrying obsession with me, I want some as my next pair, I have a few issues with it. For a start, the title: ‘The Modern Nerd’s Guide to Getting Laid, No Sympathy Involved’, way to perpetuate the stereotype that all men think about is sex, or the one that geek’s are unattractive, which is ironic considering the topic of the article.

Then there’s the whole concept of the article – a woman telling a man how to dress, because of course men, especially geeks, are unable to dress themselves and there is nothing more important than appearance. Though I have done this myself, two of my female friends and I took one of my male friends shopping, I was pretty shocked by the facts that he didn’t know what size he was, bought clothes way too large and never tried anything on, and yes, we did pretty much tell him what looked good and to buy it. This to me seems to be the female gaze, the act of moulding the way a man looks, of infantilising them, especially enforcing the stereotype that geeks are unable to cope with ‘normal’ society, unable to looks after themselves.

Still, I do like the lack of trying to change the type of person,”but you are a geek and that’s probably never going to change” is a relief from the usual total change of personality seen on makeover shows. The article is sympathetic to the whole idea of being a geek, as long is it is the sexy, hipster type, but, where is the mention of female geeks? Do we not need to be told what to wear? Do we not exist? Is there even a stereotype of what a female geek looks like? I doubt me with my punk/psychobilly style counts, but just get me talking about comics or Warhammer books or Dungeons and Dragons, or rather try to get me not to.

It seems that, while simultaneously trying to embrace and break the geek stereotype the author of the article actually reinforces some of the most depressing parts of it, which is a shame, especially as she is right, geek boys are hot, and so are geek girls.

Why I love Wet Moon

This is Cleo and Trilby from Ross Campbell’s series Wet Moon:

cleo1

I love this series, at first I’d look at the covers when I was at work and think “Wow, those are some hot girls”, then I read one. Istill thought “Wow, those are some hot girls”, but I also realised that Campbell’s girls sound, to me, like real girls. They bitch and squabble, and talk about nothing important at all for pages at a time, and they just hang out, they gossip. It feels like watching a reality show about a load of sort of goth girls, I’ve always had a hard time remembering that characters are just that, they are constructs, and Cleo, Trilby, Mara and the rest feel like real people to me. My face at the cliff-hanger at the end of volume two must have been amazing, I bought volume three just a few days later and volume 4 is on the way.

Much of the appeal is the art, the simple fact that Ross Campbell does draw hot girls, but not just that, they’re hot girls that have different body shapes, ethnicities, and most important – different faces! It’s sad that I’m used to telling who a girl is by her hair and costume, Campbell’s girls don’t need that, the only two I get momentarily confused by are sisters anyway.  However, this is not without controversy, as this thread shows Campbell raising the question of whetherone of his characters is racist or offensive.

Having read three of the volumes I have only just come to a realisation that Wet Moon, certainly fictional, is also really rather surreal, but in such a way that it is only after stepping back from the book I even considered it. But what town is about 25% goths? It seems a small university town, but it has a goth club, a coffee shop called ‘Burial Grounds’, and two cemetaries, and nobody seems to think a one-armed girl taking photos of herself on the floor covered in dirt and rubbish is unusual.  It’s a goths dream, which I think is rather the point. I know that at 15, when I actually looked a little bit like Cleo, I would have fallen in love with the town. As it is I think I want it to be real.

It feels bizarre being so obsessed with a book, it hasn’t happened in a while, Wet Moon really has filled my life for the last few weeks, and the way the girls, especially Cleo, are so obviously awkward about their bodies and themselves but then so amazing in their tiny shorts and little tops has made me think showing a bit of flesh now and then isn’t a big deal. Wet Moon is drawn by a man, it would be easy for me to talk about sexualisation, all Campbell’s girls are very sexy, and the male gaze, and so on, but it doesn’t feel that way to me, because the reader sees Cleo worrying about her hair or her weight and dressed up for a club, and just hanging out with her friends, so much of what is presented does not seem to be be through the male gaze at all, and I find myself wanting to the sometimes revealing outfits to be a sign of the character’s ownerships of their bodies. So, maybe I should prove I really am comfortable in my body, maybe wearing shorts in the summer instead of boiling in jeans won’t be such an issue this year. Maybe I’ll admit that, coveted by society as my body-type may be, I’ve not always been as confident about it as I should be.

I wish I had found Wet Moon earlier, I would have loved it, but I’ll settle for loving it now, and though this was really a bit too gushy it had a point, I love comics because they really do change the way I see the world, all books do, and this one helped me change the way I see myself a little, which is nice, and bizarely self-help-like.

We all have to burn something…

Recently I have been thinking about feminism and politeness, two things that I’ve been thinking about on and off for a long time. Politeness is obviously deeply encoded behaviour, and I do think it’s important, and one of the aspects of my English Language A level I found interesting was all the stuff on politeness theory. However, as I’ve become more aware of gender roles and feminist politics I’ve begun to have some issues with politeness.

For example, waiting at the bus stop, and the bus arrives, an old man signals for me to get onto the bus before him – what do I do? If I get on, and smile, and say thank you I’m doing the polite thing, but I also feel like he’s only doing it because of enforced gender roles, because I’m female, and it’s not like I need to get on the bus first, I’m a healthy 21 year old, and I end up being resentful. If I don’t get on I look rude, and what with the great reputation many young people have that is that last thing I want to present, it was bad enough working in a charity shop and having old people express their surprise at how nice and polite I was. If only I could give every person who offered something like that a little talk about how just because I’m female I don’t need to be coddled, to have the door held open for me, to go first, to be helped with stuff when I’m not really struggling.Of course they are probably just doing it to be polite, not because they think I’m some helpless little woman.

Normally I opt for doing the easiest thing, accepting their help if it would be rude not to, smiling and saying thank you, and I hold the door open for anyone, no matter of gender, age, etc. It does still annoy me, I can’t help projecting my awareness of stereotypical roles onto other people, I probably should give them the benefit of the doubt really.

That’s one part of politeness that annoys me, but I feel a bit trapped by, on one hand it feels irrelevant, on the other hand for me the personal really is political. The other part is something I noticed today, and it made me more annoyed at myself than at the other person.

So I know this guy at uni, he’s friendly and stuff, and I was kind of amused talking to him last week, it was a mix of the ‘I’m a nice guy’ sexism and plain sex-obsessed stereotypical lad conversation, two fairly extended conversations with him over two weeks have taken it from kind of amusing as I wasn’t taking him very seriously to a bit creepy as the more he talks the more I think he’s serious. God, blatant misogyny is worse in real life than it is online, even is the actual words are nowhere as offensive. Crude jokes rarely bother me, two of my best friends are male and we make some terrible jokes, but I know they’re joking, today I was really not so sure, worrying when a proportion of the misogyny was directed at/about me. (Note to self: don’t let slip that you’re queer, polyamorous and in an open relationship around someone like that.)

The thing that’s made me annoyed is my reaction, I was polite, I ignored it more or less, and talked to other people and changed the topic of conversation, and was pleased that when the subject of my relationship came up another guy basically agreed with me that it’s not really a big deal. But – I was polite. If I was online I’d have been a hell of a lot less polite, I’d have made it obvious I was beginning to be a bit offended actually, and maybe I’d have got in a stupid argument, but I’d have done something. I’ve never thought of myself as a coward, or hypocritical, and now I kind of feel like I’ve let myself down.

So, next week, I’ll see what happens, and if it’s the same again, well, it won’t be. If he says the same sort of things he has been I’ll just make it very clear, in firm, polite language, how I feel. Hopefully this won’t end up in a silly, big argument, but if I have to sacrifice politeness to get my point across, and to do what I think is right, well, whatever.

This all comes back to my initial, and recurrent feelings, that somehow politeness holds me back, and holds feminism back, in the obvious ways such as enforcing gender stereotypes, but in less obvious ways such as the way we automatically, perhaps unconsciously censor what we say. Maybe this is just me, but I certainly think it’s something that I want to look into more.

“If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman”

This week in my Vision and Sexuality in Victorian Poetry course we were discussing Tennyson’s early poems about women, especially Mariana, Mariana in the South and The Lady of Shalott, and Alfred Austin’s view that Tennyson was a feminine poet, with a “feminine muse”, something Austin was not very flattering about. Actually, my notes to the essay got the point where I was just underlining and writing ‘more misogyny’, as not much else needed to be said.

This was of course because, yes, many of Tennyson’s poems deal with female subjects, or have female narrators, my teacher suggested that these women are stand-ins for Tennyson, because he is writing in the voice of a woman or about a woman they give him freedom to express emotions he would be less able to express as a man. For example, in Mariana, the eponymous character does to some extent seem to luxuriate in her misery, abandoned by her lover she waits for him in her house, which is decaying around her, and it is an incredibly beautiful poem and her misery is awful, but though the refrain “‘She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,/ I would that I were dead!'” ends each stanza she does not take action, and this cannot be from impropriety, the spurned lover killing him or herself is a staple of literature, beginning with the myths surrounding Sappho.

This interest in the tragic woman, and identification with her, struck me totally by accident, as I was listening to Against Me! I wonder if they could be described as having a “feminine muse”, certainly on the album New Wave two of the songs that most stand out to me, Thrash Unreal and The Ocean are about women. Thrash Unreal takes the figure of the junkie party girl, sexual impropriety and addiction, and highlights the desperateness of her situation, “She keeps on working for that minimum,/ as if a high school education gave you any other options”, she is trapped in a cycle of sex and drugs, seemingly because she does not fit in with the accepted female role, it is easy to imagine it as her voice saying “Some people just aren’t the type for marriage and family”. As well as highlighting the lack of freedom given by a poor education, this song draws awareness to the self-knowledge of the woman, in some ways she can be seen to belong to the trope of the unrepentant woman, such as Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders.

The idea of a male author presenting themselves as female, or writing in the voice of a woman, is one that can be seen to be important in The Ocean, which celebrates the beauty and peace of the ocean, but also, in the second half of the song, explores the transmutation of the male narrator’s experience into that of a female’s. The line “if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman”, suggests a male’s idealistic view of women’s lives, or perhaps his pessimistic view of his own life, combined with his admiration of his mother, “I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her”. This positive view of the mother and son relationship fits with the idealistic view of the narrator. His fantasy female self fulfills traditional female roles, “I’d find an honest man to make my husband,/ We would have to children”, again the life described is idealistic but it also seems to tie in with the idea of the male author using a female persona to express emotions or wishes that can not be expressed in another way, in this case the narrator admits openly this is a fantasy,something he wishes for but does not have. By attributing the wish for a simple, domestic life to the female self Tom Gable continues the tradition of presenting women as the more emotional, irrational sex, but interestingly seems to imply that men are unable to hope for domestic bliss, though they in fact do so, and so must resort to the female voice, just as in Tennyson’s poetry he resorts to the female voice to express deep emotion in a melancholy way rather than an angry one.

This of course perpetuates gender stereotypes, though an exploration of the idea of the female self or voice can be seen to question the very idea of gender stereotypes as oppresive to men as well as to women, not a new idea in feminist theory when Tom Gable was writing for Against Me!, but certainly a more unusual one when Tennyson was writing, though Mary Wollstonecraft raised to some extent similar ideas in A Vindication of the Right’s of Woman. As such all the texts examined have a feminist element to them, though it might be more accurate to say that they have an interest in masculinity and the male, and so are masculinist, despite the unfortunate connotations of the word.

Links:

Against Me! The Ocean: http://www.againstme.net/am.php/disco/track_detail/track_10_the_ocean/

Against Me! Thrash Unreal: http://www.againstme.net/am.php/disco/track_detail/track_03_thrash_unreal/

Tennyson, Alfred, Mariana: http://www.englishverse.com/poems/mariana

Tennyson, Alfred, The Lady of Shalott: http://www.englishverse.com/poems/the_lady_of_shalott

‘The mirror crack’d from side to side’

I do love Tennyson. especially The Lady of Shalott, but god, reading it this morning did depress me a little bit, it has such a miserable underlying message.

So, the lady sees Lancelot, and falls in love, and looks out of the window, so putting into action the curse which leads to her death. In other words – she, who is totally innocent, she knows there is a curse but doesn’t know what effect it has, dies because she breaks an arbitrary rule, no mention of who sets in place that rule, or why.

This seems to have two results, the first being that of experience, while she is almost totally unaware of the outside world, seeing it only indirectly, in a mirror, she is safe, but as soon as she has desires other than that sanctioned by whoever placed the curse on her, and experiences the world directly, it comes into action. The other is of sexual experience, as soon as she desires Lancelot the curse takes effect.

There is a blurring of sexual desire and desire to see the world, both become equated to the same thing, so the only condition allowed for the lady is enforced innocence, with the outside world representing sexual awareness, not a new idea, though not often as total as this, apart from in fairy tales such as Rapunzel.

Of course The Lady of Shalott is supposed to be a tragedy, but I think the reason it especially saddens me is not so much her death, as her life, and her enforced innocence, proved by her desire to see Lancelot properly even though she knows it will inflict the curse upon her. Possibly unknowingly, Tennyson suggests that sexual and worldly knowledge, though dangerous, is worth the risks, however short a time it is achieved for.