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2015: The Highlights

Author:
halsey

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…

MUSIC

halsey

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.

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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.

BOOKS

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.

whatweleftbehind

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.

What were your highlights of 2015? Let us know on our Facebook page, or send us a Tweet!

The Grey Area of 50 Shades of Grey

Author:

By Issy McConville

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So, the day before Valentine’s Day I did what a lot of people have done recently, I went to go and see ’50 Shades of Grey’. Due to some confusion with the Dutch cinema website I almost booked to go and watch it the day before my friends, which would have been a disaster because I needed emotional support to get through what I can only describe as a TERRIBLE film. (more…)

50 Shades of Abuse

Author:

By Jess Hayden

Trigger Warning

Before I start on why exactly it is that Fifty Shades of Grey is a sexualisation of an abusive relationship, I need to clarify something: I shouldn’t have to. The examples of abuse are abundantly clear, and I am continually dismayed by the sheer amount of people who see the trilogy, or the film, as sexy. I also find it offensive that the film was premiered on Valentine’s Day. This film has nothing to do with love, or healthy sex. It’s about a manipulative control freak who stalks a woman, then makes her sign a contract which gives him complete control over her life. I genuinely fear for the people who have missed all these signs, because it demonstrates how easy it is to miss obvious signs of an abusive relationship.

The story begins with Christian stalking Ana, travelling three hours from where he lives, to see her at work. He admits to having stalked her to find out where she works (sorry for the spoiler, it’s in the second book), then asks her out. When on their first date, Christian informs Ana that she can only call him “Mr. Grey” or “Sir” whereas he can call her “Ana”. Alarm bells should be ringing. Firstly, that’s an incredibly creepy thing to do on a first date, and secondly, he’s clearly trying to intimidate her and ensure he holds power over their relationship. He proceeds to tell her Ana that she “should find him intimidating”. This guy is not sexy, he’s creepy.

Sometime after this first date, Ana is out celebrating finishing college with her friends, something she is completely entitled to do. She pocket dials Christian by accident, and in classic Christian Grey style, he demands to know where she is and what she is doing. This is alarming, bearing in mind they had only been on one date at this point. Illegally, he traces her phone calls to find out where she is and goes to collect her. This is not romantic. She specifically told him not to, and hung up the phone because he was pestering her. Instead of taking her back to somewhere she would feel safe such as her house or a friend’s house, he takes her back to his hotel room, after she’s only met him twice. This relationship is not necessarily abusive yet, but the controlling behaviour of Christian forebodes the control he will force Ana later in the story.

The next morning, she awakes confused and asks if they slept together, having no recollection of how she got there. Christian tells her they didn’t sleep together, but also says “If you were mine, you wouldn’t have been able to sit down for weeks after the stunt you pulled last night”. By “stunt”Christian is referring to Ana going out with her friends and celebrating her success. I for one did not realise that drunken pocket dialling people was illegal or deserved punishment. What is illegal though is tracing someone’s calls and stalking them. It should also be clarified that at this point in the book, no mention of BDSM has been made, so this dialogue cannot be interpreted as anything but an open threat. By now, alarm bells should definitely be ringing.

Christian demands an unhealthy level of control over Ana. In chapter 10, Ana’s friend Jose calls, which Christian interprets as Ana cheating on him, telling her he “doesn’t like to share”. She’s not a possession, nor does she belong to anyone. Ana just so happened to be talking to a human who just so happened to have a penis. No person in a healthy relationship should demand that control. It’s all downhill from here.

Subsequently, Christian asks Ana to sign a contract to “stop all this”. When Ana asks what Christians means to stop by this contract, he replies “you defying me”. Forget his money or his looks for a moment and see what is actually happening here: A man is asking a woman to sign a contract which restricts all her freedom and makes her completely submissive to him. If you need any proof of this, in the contract, Ana is referred to as “the Submissive” and Christian, “the Dominant”. No loving, healthy relationship has one partner asking the other to sign a contract giving away complete control to the other. Nor is this BDSM. BDSM refers to control or dominant/submissive power roles exclusively in the bedroom and does not go further than their sex lives. This is not about BDSM, this is about control and abuse. One of the clauses in the contract which particularly infuriates me is Clause 9:

“…the Submissive is to serve and obey the Dominant in all things. Subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above she shall without query or hesitation offer the Dominant such pleasure as he may require and she shall accept without query or hesitation his training, guidance and discipline in whatever form it may take.”

Ana is being asked to sign a contract to establish herself as subservient to Christian, having to endure all sorts of abuse from him. Yes, she signs the contract having read it, but I think this is coerced consent. She says herself “He’s dangerous to my health, because I know I’m going to say yes. And a part of me doesn’t want to”. Fair enough, at this point she hasn’t said no to him directly. But also remember the controlling, intimidating tactics he’s used on her so far and consider whether she really had a choice. Later in the story, when Ana threatens to leave and go to Alaska, Christian tells her “Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone – remember?”. I don’t believe that Ana has any freedom to say no, and this unfortunately leads to Christian taking ultimate control of her body and raping her.

Christian turns up at Ana’s house unannounced and aggressively tries to seduce Ana. Ana clearly tells him that she doesn’t want sex, “’No, I protest, kicking him off”. However, Christian, having no respect for Ana’s wishes, replies “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.” He then continues to have sex with her despite Ana clearly saying “no”. Despite the contractual agreement of consent, Ana says no, and Christian proceeding to have sex with her is indisputably rape. However, as Ana enjoys the sex, the reader and audience is supposed to ignore the fact that it is rape. E.L James seems to think that portraying a woman experience sexual gratification whilst playing a subservient role to a man is some kind of feminist empowering message.

All of this having been understood, I appreciate that this is a fictional story and I am not necessarily condemning the author or the production team for producing such a disgusting story line. However, I am appalled by the ridiculous response to it. Perhaps it’s a consequence of such a pornified and shallow culture, that we see a man abusing a woman, but are too distracted by his abdominal muscles to realise this is happening. Without the sex scenes which draw so many readers in, this is a story of an abusive man controlling and dominating a virginal, vulnerable woman.

50shades

How “Love Actually” Taught Me To Check My Privilege

Author:

By Christiana Paradis

In light of the recent outbreak of racial tensions in the United States—I say outbreak with a grain of salt because I firmly believe these tensions have always existed in the history of the US, but have just been pushed aside the last several years—I questioned how best to support the African American community in the United States. As a white American it outrages me that, “While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses” – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, and that, The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that “in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/fourteen-examples-of-raci_b_658947.html) or that, “Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35” (http://time.com/3313343/ray-rice-black-women-domestic-violence/). Yet I know that these facts can only anger and outrage me a quarter of the amount that they enrage people in the African American community, because despite being able to spit these statistics, I do not live this experience. I do not know what it means to be an African American woman living in the United States and I’m not going to pretend to, but I do believe that I need to do whatever I can to support them and anyone else that is living in a community that is not experiencing equal treatment in the US.

Growing up in a town that is 91.7% made up of Caucasian citizens (US Census Bureau, 2010), I was never Untitledsurrounded by a shortage of white people and though I was always taught to respect people of different cultures than my own. The opportunity to experience some of these cultures was minimum and the opportunities to check my privilege were even less. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise that one of the first situations I encountered that shattered my white lenses came while watching a Christmas movie, Love Actually, in 2004.

One of the main plotlines in the movie is that Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, has a stepson, Sam, who falls in love with a classmate, Joanna, and in an attempt to win her heart learns to play the drums for their school Christmas Show. The entire movie with intertwining plot lines leaves in you in suspense of meeting Joanna until the very end of the movie. Throughout the movie you must make conjectures about who Joanna is, what she looks like, and of course whether she actually likes Sam. In one of the last few scenes in the movie we are introduced to Joanna while she performs “All I Want for Christmas” at the Christmas Show, while Sam plays drums.

I remember watching the movie in anticipation for the first time to see Joanna and remembered being floored when Joanna was a different race than Sam. Though I didn’t have a problem with it, she was just different than I expected. Then I remember thinking, why is she different than I was expecting? Because she wasn’t white? Why did I think that? That is not okay! I’ve had a few moments like this throughout my life, where I’ve had an immediate judgment, had to backtrack and then question where that thought came from or what was encouraging this stereotype/bias/judgment. In the years since I’ve realized we all make judgments about others, it is what we do with those judgments that determines who we are as a person. Do we make these judgments, let them fester and then act upon them or do we question where they came from and challenge them? Our actions in these moments determine whether we check our privileges or enhance them.

Untitled1Being an aspiring ally to any community that is different than you takes work. It is an ongoing process. You can’t just take a webinar and – poof! – consider yourself an ally to that community. You must be constantly working to improve the lives of others around you. You must make advocacy a daily routine. You must challenge micro aggressions that you hear. It is a process and quite frankly sometimes an exhausting one, but one that needs to be done. Recognizing your privilege is important, using your privilege for good and to help the lives of others is even better. This video is a stunning example of the ways in which we can use our privilege to enhance the lives of others and act as an aspiring ally

I encourage everyone in a place of privilege to question it and the judgments we make every day. Use it to improve the lives of others and above all speak up! Please don’t just sit by while millions of people fight for their rights. #BlackLivesMatter #Everywhere.

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Pop Culture of 2014

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

A week into the new year, let’s look back on all of the things  that have happened in the worlds of music, film and fashion in 2014, and hope for a year of awesome things ahead.

Some of 2014 has been truly awful and problematic (Meghan Trainor’s skinny-shaming in All About That Bass, and her subsequent comments on eating disorders, for example!), but we have also had some wonderful things come out of 2014. Of course we must examine the bad in order to overcome it, but it’s always nice to reflect on the positive, so here’s a round-up of some of the highlights…

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  • The brilliant Ellen Page came out, with bravery and grace. A world of feminist queer girls cheered – partially in support and solidarity of this wonderful woman, partially in utter delight. In all seriousness, it was a very moving speech, leaving us all bursting with pride, and gave many a fresh wave of courage.
  • Beyoncé released a music video for Pretty Hurts, which is obviously everyone’s favourite song on her latest album. It sends out a powerful message against beauty standards and perfection, critiquing beauty pageants in particular for pitting women against each other in the name of homogenous beauty.
  • Many popular women’s magazines began to take on the ‘feminist’ label. They still have a long way to go, quite frankly – they’re still airbrushing photos, keeping adverts which perpetuate the hyper-sexualisation of women’s bodies etc. etc. However, they are including some pieces on important issues and featuring strong women (and allowing them to talk about more than their make-up routines!). I’ve seen spreads on the dangers of diet pills, sexual harassment, discussions on abortion laws, and heaps of coverage of incredible things done by incredible women! It’s a very big step forward.
  • The greatest independent British film ever happened. PRIDE! Based on the real action of a London-based LGBT group supporting striking miners from a village in Wales, Pride embraces stereotypes and simultaneously smashes them. It’s very feel-good, whilst also being incredibly moving and will bring you to tears in several instances. If you’re not cracking up five minutes after choking up and vice-versa, you’re watching the wrong film.
  • Amazing actress Emma Watson turned activist! In September, Emma gave a very emotive speech to introduce the brilliant He For She campaign. Having such a prominent figure openly denounce the feminism vs. man myth has done wonders for the movement, as can be seen in the influx of support worldwide – including more famous faces to spread the word…
  • Taylor Swift became queen of the whole world (she’s always been queen of my personal world, but hey, the wider world has woken up). The release of 1989 signifies a massive change of tone in Taylor’s music. The singles Shake It Off and Blank Space (although the music videos of each single have been controversial) are total anthems, sending the message that this girl does not care what people think of her anymore, and as a listener, empower you to feel the same. Alongside the songs, Taylor has been vocal about the inequality within the music industry, how she has experienced backlash for writing about relationships and heartache, whilst male musicians do the same thing, but are simply praised for the quality of their song writing. Every criticism this girl has had over the years, she’s just shakin’ it off, because haters gon’ hate, and Taylor’s gon’ slay.
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt. 1 was released, and with all the action and emotion came a total reversal of stereotypical gender roles in film! Whilst Katniss is, as ever, our badass heroine, Peeta is the damsel in distress, as the hostage of the Capitol. It makes a refreshing change.

A more personal highlight for me has been joining Powered By Girl – and I am honestly not just saying that! I feel so fortunate to be a part of this, and to know these wonderful girls, some of whom have swiftly become some of my best friends. You all continue to inspire me, make me smile, and make me proud, every single day. Here’s to more feminist adventures in 2015!

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