By Sophia Simon-Bashall
I have a tendency to see the negative in anything and everything. I could tell you so many things that have been bad about this year, on a personal and political level – the latter of which, I don’t need to list for people to know exactly what I mean, on the whole.
Viewing the world through grey-tinted glasses is draining. Always pre-empting that things will be bad, ignoring what has been good in the past – it impinges on everything. It makes you anxious and pessimistic and it stops you from trying to make anything better.
This isn’t a healthy way to be, nor is it productive. So I’m trying to reflect on the positives more. This isn’t me looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses; I’m still more than aware of the problems, of everything else going on. I’m not ignoring that. I’m just choosing not to focus all my energy on it, all the time. So yes, this year has been painful, but there’s been brilliance too, and it’s not fair to disregard that – let’s celebrate 2015…
The rise (and rise…and rise) of Halsey: Halsey exists and Badlands exists and the world is far better than before as a result. Halsey is everything that pop music has needed for a long time, everything that the world has been in need of. We can connect with her, we see ourselves reflected in her and her music – our pain, confusion, anger, our love. But Halsey is also about power, and in listening to her music, we can find our own power.
The emergence of PVRIS as rock’s (and radio’s!) next big thing: If you’ve been to any big rock music event this year, chances are that either Pvris were playing, or half the crowd were complaining that they weren’t and should’ve been. The Boston band, fronted by the magnificent Lynn Gunn, will soon be unavoidable everywhere – not that anyone would want to avoid them – because there is something about this frontwoman which is truly magnetic. The band call their fanbase the ‘cvlt’, a fitting name, as they certainly attract something cult-like – songs like My House call for a cathartic, collective scream from crowds; plus, the aesthetic and atmosphere created by the band provides a place for the kids with darker minds to have fun, to live. Bands like Pvris prove that rock is not meant to be a boy’s club – girls have noise to make too, and it’s your loss if you don’t listen.
Florence + The Machine. In general: First of all, there’s that phenomenal new album. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is stunning, a masterpiece with wonderful witchy vibes. It gives us all shivers.
Also…THAT Glastonbury headline set. A historical moment. When original headliners of the festival, Foo Fighters, were cancelled and replaced by Florence, there was outrage – mostly, white boys’ outrage. It was questioned whether THIS WOMAN and her band could fill the stage, could gather and maintain a crowd. THIS WOMAN couldn’t possibly match Foo Fighters, why is she the replacement? ANYONE other than THIS WOMAN could take the slot, PLEASE, not THIS WOMAN. Well. Florence + The Machine’s enchanting and glorious set blew all doubts out of the water, and most likely left all the mopey white boys gaping. Watching that set (via my laptop…sigh), I was alight. The magic was so intense and powerful that it transferred through to me. I’m pretty sure a little bit of it got into everyone that night, too.
The return of Tonight Alive: I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear from Tonight Alive for years. In reality, it’s been two years since the last album, and just over a year since the Live On The Other Side shows finished, but the year without their presence has felt odd. Thankfully, they finally returned, and it is a triumphant return. The lead song, Human Interaction (I am aware that Jenna’s hair in this video is an issue…she no longer has her hair this way), from their upcoming album Limitless feels like a personal message, sent directly to me. It came out at a time when I was isolating myself at university, at a time when everything was bad. Hearing this song was like having someone take me by the shoulders and try to shake me into clarity, except this song actually helped lift the fog somewhat – enough to reach out, begin making changes, to take control of what I could. It is the band’s specialty, to haunt yet to simultaneously uplift – a combination of Jenna McDougall’s unique vocals and the band’s positive ethos makes for life-affirming songs like this one. I know that it’s going to be incredible live, to be able to scream “I WILL BE BETTER” with the people that helped me to be better, and other people who feel what I feel.
Demi Lovato is cool for the queer grrrls: This year, Demi Lovato brought out the album that I’ve wanted from her for years. This album, Confident, feels true to who Demi is, and it’s always nice to notice that in the music of an artist you care about, particularly when you are aware of how said artist has struggled with themselves. Demi is empowered, and to hear that feels empowering. The lead single, Cool For The Summer, is especially important as a queer grrrl (particularly one who is TOTALLY HEART EYES for Demi) – the Sapphic vibes are real. “I’m a little curious” is the classic ‘I think I like girls’ line, but if you need something more obvious…”Got a taste for the cherry / I just need to take a bite” is about as clear as you can get. It’s also one of very few pop songs around these days which does not use specific pronouns…it’s the openness to interpretation that’s really refreshing – in a world of compulsory heterosexuality, most artists are sure to make genders clear, afraid of the mere possibility of having their straightness questioned. Thank you Demi, for proving that you really, really don’t care.
FILM, TV & POPULAR CULTURE
Amandla Sternberg being Amandla Sternberg (by Anna): It has been the year of Amandla; her wisdom and her acting ability were already apparent, but now we know that she is a talented musician – check out her great band Honeywater. Most of all, her astuteness amazes us – her video, Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows, covers the important issue of cultural appropriation and how often black culture is loved by white people but black people aren’t.
Melissa McCarthy’s Spy breaking all the boundaries: Films of the spy/action genre are grossly misogynistic – women are objects, woman are stupid and incapable, women are not real human beings. In THIS film, McCarthy takes all the tropes and destroys them. She is a badass, she works everything out for herself, and she puts the male spies to shame. What I especially loved about the movie was that she did not simply adopt ‘masculine’ forms in order to break free of the sexist limitations she is surrounded by – she doesn’t become an indestructible, infallible, iron man on a mission. She remains funny, likeable and relatable – she is distracted and weakened at moments by love, she is indignant at disrespect, she makes it up as she goes along. She is not glamorous, she is not slick – but she still comes out on top. And she chooses her best girl friend over the guy she lusts over. McCarthy’s spy is the first spy character I have considered a true hero.
Kristen Stewart as our new queer grrrl hero (by Yas): Who would have thought a few years ago that Kristen Stewart would become a queer shero of the 21st century? She’s gone from star of the most un-feminist movie to be aimed at teenagers in recent years to gay girl icon on the front cover of DIVA magazine. In her DIVA interview, she says “I love acting more than ever now that I’m doing the kind of work I want to be doing” – well, we love her more than ever now…she’s totally got us swooning!
The Great British Bake-Off and representation: If you’re British, you love GBBO. Fact. This year was a particularly good year, I think. Specifically, two contestants made it, Tamal and Nadiya. A show that boasts Britishness – even if it is somewhat mocking – is not one on which you might expect diversity. Despite the fact that we are a diverse population, British still connotes white. In this series of GBBO, this was not the case, and blimey, was that refreshing.
Everyone’s favourite new superhero, Jessica Jones (by Anna): A female superhero? Yes please. A female superhero with ptsd and a drinking problem and a hell of a lot of strength? YES. PLEASE. Jessica Jones fights against the embodiment of gaslighting and violence against women. Jessica Jones is a badass superhero, even though she is broken – but she is also healing, fighting. The show is very violent and can be triggering for those with PTSD, and for victims of sexual violence – but as someone who is in both categories, it is also an incredibly satisfying show. It’s worth giving a watch, if it feels safe for you to do so.
Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places: When I was first asked about my thoughts on this book after I’d finished it, I genuinely couldn’t form words on it. I just looked at my friend, and my expression said it all. This is a truly heart-breaking novel, and potentially triggering (content warning for suicide). But it is also everything. It is uplifting and inspiring and beautiful and feels so real – the characters are so warm and alive, I truly feel that I know them. I read the book 9 months ago, but I still can’t stop thinking about it, I still can’t shake the intensity with which I connect with Violet and Finch, and with their story. It’s important because I honestly think it has the potential to change lives, even save them.
Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book: Anna and I were lucky enough to attend the launch for this book earlier this year, ft. rainbow cake! It was a celebration of being a queer girl/woman, a celebration of making it through the confusion and the fear of coming out, of living and surviving as a queer woman in a world where non-straight and non-male humans are still oppressed. But it was also a celebration of how much things have come along – Kessler tried to get this story published many years ago, but it was rejected…the subject of gay women was just too taboo, nobody wanted to know. When she told us this, I started to worry – I thought it would mean that the book would feel really dated. But it didn’t. It felt honest and familiar and whilst I am somewhat tired of coming out narratives, this didn’t feel like the typical storyline that I have heard over and over again. It’s a refreshing read, and has a firm place on my shelves.
Non Pratt’s Remix: Remix is such a pleasure to read. It is an affirmation of the power and beauty and importance of girl/girl friendship. It is a celebration of being a teenage girl and all that encompasses – it does not trivialise nor dismiss teenage girls and it does not depict them as petty or hysterical. It is not a deep, ‘serious’ book, but it is nevertheless important, and it will fill your heart with joy and make you feel light and free and invincible.
Kate Scelsa’s Fans of the Impossible Life: If you liked Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’ll love this book. In my opinion, it’s better. The protagonist is a girl called Mira, and she feels close to me in a way that few characters do. I identify strongly with her, as well as admire her in the ways she differs from me. I also adore her friends – each character brings so much to the story, and they are all well developed, multidimensional characters. There is so much to love about Fans of the Impossible Life – honest, unglamorous but non-shaming presentation of depression, a person of colour as the protagonist (casually – her story is not centered around her race…representation matters!), a comfortably out lesbian, bisexual representation…it’s wonderful. It’s a hopeful book, while still realistic, and I like that, because I can take something from the hopefulness, rather than view it as naïve and idealistic.
Robin Talley’s What We Left Behind: I was so excited for this book for so long and it did not disappoint. It follows a queer couple’s struggle with distance, and with the uncertainty of one’s gender identity. It is a touching and helpful depiction of gender dysphoria, and of the confusion that can come with shifting gender identity in relation to sexuality. It is also a sweet queer love story, a funny and painful and beautiful and relatable account of being a teenage grrrl in love, and of trying to establish your own sense of self. It’s a lovable book, certainly, and educational without being preachy – a balance which can often be hard to find with the subjects that Robin Talley touches on here. Bravo.
By Issy McConville
Trigger warning: sexual assault/rape
“This is not what a rapist looks like” . So claims the writer of a controversial Tab article, proudly displaying this sign at his chest; proudly claiming that consent classes are a waste of time, a muscle-flexing exercise of the feminist PC brigade, who cannot understand that not all men have rapist tendencies lurking beneath the surface. So then, what does a rapist look like? Is the image that of a shadowy figure lurking down an alleyway, an image that makes so many women walk home at night with keys between their fingers? Is the image that of the sleazy older man grooming younger girls on the internet? Or is it something even worse?
In the UK, almost 90% of rape victims know the perpetrator prior to the offence (statistics from Rape Crisis). Martial rape was only criminalised in the UK in 1991, and in many countries it retains legal immunity. More often that not, sexual abuse comes from someone the victim loves, someone they trust. And this is why consent classes are so important. We need to challenge the myths surrounding abuse that paint it as a violent aberration from a twisted stranger, and recognise that it often occurs much closer to home.
It is easy to understand the basic premise of consent – ‘Yes means yes and no means no’, but this question needs to be asked every single time we have sex – whether that be for the first time or the hundredth time. “Guaranteed sex” is an often trotted out reason for relationships, especially among teenagers, but there is no such thing as entitlement to sex. Establishing consent, and ensuring that it is enthusiastic consent, is just an important inside a relationship as outside one. And if you are saying yes to sex just because you don’t want to cause an argument, because you feel like you ‘should’, then something is wrong. If someone you love is fixated on your sexual behaviour, telling you that should not go to that party; that you cannot wear that skirt in front of other men; that you are a slut, and yet asking you for sex, then there is so much more behind a simple ‘yes’.
And no wonder the notion of consent within a relationship gets so blurry – women are constantly bombarded with different opinions about their sexual behaviour – you are a slut if you’re having sex outside of a relationship, and frigid if you aren’t. Glossy women’s magazines help pedal the idea that a woman should be a complete freak between the sheets, but then we are told that you should only be sexy for your boyfriend. Any hint of previous sexual partners is something to be ashamed of, something that makes a woman somehow less ‘girlfriend material’. How is it possible to fulfil the expectation to be both innocently virginal and full of wild sexual abandon at the same time?
These attitudes towards female sexuality are encouraging cycles of abuse. We need to change how we understand consent, because it means so more than we think. It is not just about one night stands, it is about love and about relationships – and we could all benefit from taking a class.
By Christiana Paradis
In middle school, we called them fruit roll ups. We’d draw a friend in close and whisper as though we were about to share the most sacred thing ever, “Do you have a fruit roll up? I didn’t know I was getting it today!” In middle school we couldn’t even utter the word tampon, the fact that we needed to start using them for that thing that happened once a month was so new and awkward and because of the fear of not knowing who else had theirs yet, we had to be very careful with our word choice. At the time, I was so afraid, fearful and ashamed. I do what down there every month? But there was hope. I’d grow up and since all women bleed once month it would have to get normal at some point, right?
WRONG. I’m twenty-six and even though I couldn’t care less about shouting it from the rooftops when I have my period, unfortunately I’m living in a world where women are still ashamed and feel like they need to whisper when they need a tampon, pad, menstrual cup or whatever else they use. Still living in a world where, “It seems like common sense — like, why wouldn’t you hold a tampon on the way to the bathroom instead of shoving it up your sleeve, sliding it in your back pocket, or bringing your whole purse with you, wallet, cell phone, keys and all?” (Wahl, 2015) Yes, we still feel we have to hide our feminine hygiene products instead of carry them to the bathroom.
We all bleed. And we do so because our bodies give LIFE, so why the secrecy? Why the shame? Well what does society tell us? A couple of years ago in TX we were told by lawmakers that tampons were contraband, but guns — they were a-ok. And how could we forget Rupi Kaur whose photo was taken down by Instagram twice because of featuring menstrual blood?
I mean c’mon who HASN’T this happened to? So who sets those community guidelines anyway, because 50% of your users can totally relate! Furthermore, tampon companies continue to profit off producing the same products they’ve always had, but now in NEW! DISCREET! PACAKAGING!
It infuriates me that we can’t talk about menstrual health, not only in the United States, but across the world, and that this shame takes on such epic proportions that it disrupts women’s access to menstrual hygiene products. As the Guardian reported, “Girls in rural Uganda miss up to eight days of study each school term because they are on their periods…this is due to lack of washrooms, lack of sanitary pads and bullying by peers. This eight days translates into 11% of total learning days a year”.
On May 28th, Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid launched a YouTube campaign entitled “If Men Had Periods,” which included two videos that not only aimed to raise awareness of the issue, but also to critique a society that shames a woman’s menstrual cycle but would celebrate a man’s, if they were capable.
In 2015, ALL women should have access to free menstrual hygiene products. ALL women should feel like they can talk about menstrual hygiene in public spaces without being ashamed. ALL women should be free to walk, run, dance, or tango to the bathroom, tampon in hand without fear. ALL women should know that our bodies do amazing things and yeah it gets messy from time to time, but it does so for the sake of creating life. Well, I’m off because it’s time for me to change MY tampon and no that rant wasn’t “just because I’m PMSing.”
By Sophia Simon-Bashall
I might have mentioned it before, but rock music has a really big problem. Sexism is the problem. Let’s be honest, most aspects of our culture are sexist. The film industry disproportionately favours male directors, and generally caters to the hetero-male gaze. Yawn. And in all corners of music, misogyny is rife – rappers are still on about how they’re ‘fucking bitches three ways’ and are going to ‘knock that pussy out’, and pop singers still think it’s cute to be obsessive and controlling in a way that is frighteningly comparable to an abusive mind-set.
News flash: we have this problem in rock music too. It tends to get ignored; a community that prides itself on being for the outcasts, rock is not keen on examining its faults, preferring to believe in its acceptance of all, despite the clear evidence to the contrary. Rock chooses to ignore the problematic way in which it treats women, and as a young woman who gave pretty much her whole heart to this music, I am tired of it.
Possibly the things that frustrates me most is how little credit our girls get. North America’s Warped Tour features around 120 bands, and in recent years, only about 20 of those have included women. Over in the UK, the Reading & Leeds Festival showcased the talent of just 6 bands containing women; alternative music festival line-ups are overwhelmingly dominated by men. Which is not to say that there are no girls at the front right now – there are, a whole lot of them. The problem is that so few of them are getting noticed.
I’m bored of how little credit these rocking women are given, of how little attention they get. It’s time to change that, starting right here, right now. No more “there just aren’t any girls in good bands” rubbish, no more excuses, because here’s proof that the girls can rock.
For fans of Fall Out Boy, Set It Off, and Panic! At The Disco…PVRIS are your band! Actually, PVRIS are your band, whatever you like – they completely transcend the boundaries of genre! Frontwoman Lynn Gunn is many things; an equally poignant and punchy lyricist, a simultaneously vulnerable and powerful vocalist, an endearing personality, the love of my life, and a captivating performer. Lynn Gunn is a star, through and through, and this band’s brilliance is something that cannot be denied.
For fans of Simple Plan, All Time Low, We The Kings, and everything slick, shiny, and upbeat about pop-punk…We Are The In Crowd, Against The Current, Jule Vera, and Echosmith encompass it all. Having seen both WATIC and Echosmith live, not expecting a lot from either, I can promise that they deliver energetic, and dynamic performances, as well as catchy tunes that will have you smiling so much your face hurts. ATC and JV are similarly striking in their sound, every melodic, anthemic song just oozing energy.
For fans of the slightly punchier pop-punkers such as Neck Deep…Tonight Alive are for you. These Australian pop-punkers are fronted by Jenna McDougall, who is pretty much the coolest human you will ever come across. Jen is the ultimate hero, inspiring all with her positive but straight-up attitude to life – Tonight Alive aren’t about being overwhelmingly and unnaturally upbeat, but they don’t go in for negativity. I have been known to cry for approximately half their set at gigs and festivals, whilst jumping and dancing wildly, because that’s what they spark in me, in everyone – an abundance of feeling, and the drive to live.
For fans of bands like A Day To Remember…Love, Robot and Behind The Façade are killer. Behind The Façade are a particularly exciting band to me, because *gasp* MORE THAN ONE MEMBER OF THE BAND IS A GIRL. Shocking, isn’t it? They have a fantastic sound too, as do Love, Robot, fronted by the ever-charming, ever-brutal Alexa San Roman. Alexa is Jeremy McKinnon, but (dare I say it?) better.
For fans of straight up punk, bands like Anti Flag and The Menzingers…Against Me! are the most progressive, political punk band going. The band are vocal about everything; racism, sexism, homophobia, and most strongly, transphobia. Since singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012, the band have put out an album of incredibly raw emotion and raucous sounds. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the best album to have come out of the past five years, and that is not something that is up for discussion; it is fact.
For fans of Enter Shikari…Marmozets are a brilliant bunch. I love them to pieces. Looking at them on stage, you’d think they were going to be an average indie band. Well, average is one thing they certainly are not, and things get far too heavy to call this indie. Frontwoman Becca Macintyre is a complete powerhouse, belting and screaming and never stopping for breath, but it never seems like she needs to. She was born to make noise, and bloody good noise at that.
For fans of bands like Mallory Knox, We Are The Ocean, and other stadium-worthy rock…Halestorm and The Pretty Reckless kick-ass. The Pretty Reckless get a bad rep, mostly because the world is full of slut-shamers. It sucks, a) because slut-shaming sucks and b) because TPR are actually pretty good. Taylor Momsen’s voice is dark, snarling, and absolutely captivating. Halestorm, meanwhile, would probably be one of the biggest bands on the planet right now if it weren’t for the simple fact that Lzzy Hale is a woman. A fearless, bad-ass, refuses-to-be-silenced woman. They are a Foo Fighters kind of good. They deserve a Foo Fighters kind of recognition.
For fans of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax…give Babymetal a go. Yes, really. I’ll be honest, when I first heard of Babymetal, I thought it was a gimmick. I went to see them at Reading, expecting it all to be a big joke. But it was phenomenal. This was real, heavy metal music, heavier than anything else I heard across the weekend. And it was fun. Really fun. I loved it. Kudos to Babymetal.