Monday, August 31, 2009
Cheesecake In Disguise

I arrived in beautiful sunny London at six o' clock in the morning on August 30th. The temperature was a blistering ten degrees centigrade and my cheeks and nose were frozen, and little needles of cold were insinuating their way under my fingernails. Upon arrival at my aunt's house, I fell unconscious and did not wake up until almost twelve hours later.

But I'm sure that the few people who read this blog don't do it for updates on my life. So I shall get to the point, in my roundabout way. The room I am currently staying in belongs to a male step-cousin of mine, around my age. Taking a little maco, I discovered the July 2009 edition of British Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine, with Megan Fox on the cover. "Classy," I said.

Of course, we are all aware of Megan Fox. She has, at 23 years of age, apparently become one of the most fantasised-about female celebrities ev0r due to her role in 2007's Transformers, directed by Michael "'Splosion Man" Bay. I happened to see it just last month, and for a robot movie, it really needed moar robots. And fewer irritating and stereotyped human characters that were impossible to like or even sympathise with. Case in point: Mikaela Banes, midriff-baring arm-candy girlfriend of a complete asshole for the sole reason that she can't resist "tight abs and big arms". Always manages to look really good, even while running for dear life from gargantuan destruction-mad robots. She possesses extensive knowledge about automobile engines, which is supposed to "surprise" us and make women go, "How feminist!" and men go, "How sexy!" She also keeps this part of her secret because "guys don't like it when you know more about cars than they do", and acts like a vapid popular girl around others. Recipe for instant male-fantasy object.

The cover of this issue of GQ stated loudly, "America's most outspoken starlet, MEGAN FOX, will not be censored." Obvious double-entendre is obvious. NOW you've got my interest, GQ. So I cracked open the magazine and decided to see what she had to say. After reading this article (yes, all of it), I can now say that I have a lot more respect and a lot more sympathy for Megan Fox as an actress and human being. And I am willing to bet anything that this is not what GQ set out to achieve.

The preamble stated that Fox is "a bracing antidote to media-trained robo-celebs. And she looks pretty good in a bikini, too". This is coupled with a close-up low-angle photograph of Fox suggestively licking her lips with her hands in her hair. Immediately one begins to wonder, "What is this article trying to sell us on?" Well, it begins with a good few paragraphs about how awesomely intimidatingly hawt she is and how if you try to talk to her you'll be reduced to a gibbering schoolboy. However, the rest of the article reveals a lot (in more ways than one, actually) about her. We learn that she's quite an intelligent yet reclusive person who suffers from episodes of depression, once went through a rebellious bulldyke phase (during which I suspect she must have looked adorable), gets called a whore for speaking openly about her sex life, seems disillusioned with her life of fame and recognition, and guilelessly and honestly fields questions from her interviewer. She even called Transformers director Michael Bay "such a dick".

However, this article is interspersed with pin-up shots of her in a swimsuit or taking off a dress shirt, with bits of copy extracted from the article's context that make me think they chose those particular lines just for titillation value. "Actors are kind of prostitutes"? "I'd rather have a wild and promiscuous image than go out of my way to be proper all the time"? "My only job is to get up, take a shower, do my hair and look attractive"? Fucking patriarchal gold! Honestly, this magazine has 'gentlemen' as its target demographic. How many of these readers are going to scan this article because they're genuinely interested in what Megan Fox has to say? And how many are going to look because they want to see skin?

That's what I'm wondering. Is it that no other magazine would print her opinions? Is it a philosophy of "say whatever you want as long as you look sexy"? A somewhat more refined way of saying "tits or GTFO"?

Now the disclaimer. No, I'm not a sex-negative prude. No, I'm not hating on Megan Fox. No, I'm not a lesbian either. My problem is that this spread can only be described as 'belittling'. We're not really meant to care about her intelligence or her frankness. It's nominally supposed to be an article about how controversially opinionated she is, but it all boils down to a big slab of Megan-Fox-flavoured cheesecake.

Which might look extremely tasty, but is still insulting.

Posted at 02:29 am by Kaze-Heathen
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Sunday, August 30, 2009
Grave Injustice

Note: This entry has been in draft since April, so I'm leaving it exactly the way it is.

Okay, so last month we celebrated International Women's Day. How, I'm not sure. I think with lectures about domestic violence and probably a display or two at the national library. I did get a "happy international women's day :)" text from a guy I know, though. That made me smile.

Last month was also a month of a lot of bullshit that made my inner knight of justice rear up on her white horse and wave her flaming sword about. Really, for a while now, I've been wishing that I could be a superhero. Like Susan B. Anthony Man, or Doctor Mom, or the Pantsuit Avenger. Maybe my backstory would be that I'm the reincarnation of the goddess Inanna and my job would be to go around defending prostitutes and battered wives or something. But my problem is that my sense of justice tends to override my self-preservation instinct, so I'd likely get killed in the line of duty. ANYway, yes, the bullshit: one of these issues I'm taking up affect the nation at large, and the other is an instance of personal victimisation. Why? Because, of course, the personal is political. Dumbasses.

First off, I'd assume that many Trinidadians would have read the newspaper story about the wife of a politician being attacked in a mall by some bandit. This guy had the woman in a headlock and she was crying, but when passers-by tried to intervene, Bandit told them that the woman was his girlfriend and it was none of their business. And you know what? The people walked away. So what if she even was his girlfriend? You have the woman in a headlock in a public place and she's struggling to get away from you. I for one think that is grounds for intervention by able bystanders. But people still seem to have the attitude that what goes on between men and women behind closed doors (and by this I mean domestic violence) is none of their business and not their problem. Eventually somehow this unlucky lady managed to break away from Mr. Bandit, and bolted at top speed through the mall, with Bandit in hot pursuit shouting, "Stop my girlfriend! Stop my girlfriend!" Already I want to kill this guy. It was only through the action of a discerning security guard, who asked no questions when the woman cried and gesticulated to her "boyfriend", that she managed to be free of the guy. What exactly is it with us as a people that we can see this kind of thing happen and not do anything about it because we feel it's not our concern? Clearly we all need to realise that gender-based violence is all of our concern.

This second incident highlights not only sexual harassment and contempt towards women but also what seems to be an ever-increasing instance of pathological disrespect for schoolteachers in this country. Granted, many teachers are not doing their jobs, but you'd think that rolling out of your bed every single morning with very little monetary incentive to try and preserve some form of order in a classroom full of teenagers who would rather be anywhere else than where they are deserves some sort of credit. As I was returning to my place of work, a secondary school, with my lunch, I was confronted by a group of schoolboys. They began with the tired Vybez-Kartel-esque opening line of the Trinidadian adolescent Casanova: "Babyyyy…" I turned around and said, "Excuse me. It is Miss." Evidently unimpressed, Master Schoolboy replied, "Nah. Is bitch." So first of all, WHY did I not report this? As I was telling the story, horrified, in the staff room, I was repeatedly made aware of the fact that I don't "look like a teacher". What exactly does a teacher look like anyway? I'm not in my thirties, and don't wear spectacles, or pencil skirts, or high heels, or a bun. But do my age, ballet flats, A-line skirts and ponytail make me any less of a (substitute) teacher? And in any case, so what if I don't look like a teacher? I'm pretty damn sure I look like a human being! I've been through this point already, of course. So I didn't report it because I was made to believe that my claim would not have been treated seriously. I wonder how many schoolboys get berated sufficiently for pathetically attempting to woo young, attractive assistant teachers from different schools.

Though they're not all bad. I do very occasionally get the enthusiastic "Afternoon, Miss!" from students of the boys' college across the street. Or even "I like your bag, Miss. Can we switch?" Maybe it was the handbag with the skull on it. But why should it matter?

Posted at 10:14 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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Saturday, February 14, 2009
It's V-Day!

And when I say V-Day, I'm not talking about Valentine's. I'm talking about Victory. And Vaginas.

Some weeks ago I found a book version of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues at one of my favourite bookstores. So needless to say I paid my money and brought it home. While reading it, I wondered how exactly answers came to the minds of women for questions that seemed, to me, somewhat outlandish. "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" I'm starting to suspect that mine would wear a suit and top hat. Or a glass eye. But I'm not sure how that answer came to me. It really amazes me how easily the girls I asked came up with answers: a tutu, a plaid skirt and chains, a thong... Weird O_o

This is also how I learned a new word in Tagalog. Prior to reading The Vagina Monologues, I had known "kumusta". Now I can say "puki". And we can all guess what that means. Now it seems that "Puki" has become a nickname for me with a young Filipina girl, which is somewhat awkward, but at the same time adorable.

Anyway, thus began the miniature Vagina Revolution. I read "Hair" to some of my friends, and the rest is history. Soon we were walking down the street, and met a girl from the Convent. One of us told her, "Say 'vagina'!" She said it. "Say it louder!" She said it louder. "How do you feel?" She felt good! :D

Since then I've lent the book around a bit and we've been casually reading monologues to each other. I've been working on perfecting my Queens accent by repeatedly watching the Coffee Talk with Linda Richman sketches from SNL, so I can be the old lady in "The Flood". For some reason when I read that one, I always picture Barbra Streisand's character in Meet the Fockers. Then I did some more research into the V-Day movement, which is a movement about ending violence and injustice against women and girls all over the world. Each year the V-Day campaign has a spotlight issue, and I believe this year's is to do with women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So in order to raise funds for this cause, the V-Day participators stage benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues in communities and on college campuses all over the world. And there are hundreds of these events each year. So there had to be one in Trinidad, right?

Well here's the thing: there isn't. Jamaica has two V-Day events planned, so why don't we have any? We've got a perfectly good university campus that, from what I'm told, is being used for a lot of rum-drinking and unsavoury actions. We've got several perfectly good theatres. Why not take this opportunity to make a positive statement and exhibit some solidarity with our sisters who are being raped and mistreated, not just in the Congo, but throughout the world, and in our own nation? Someone should take the initiative. And it's simple. You can just go onto the V-Day website and sign up to host a V-Day event with a benefit production of The Vagina Monologues, or A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer.

Why don't I do this myself, you ask? I'm not a student of the university. And I will not be here in this country for very much longer, I'm afraid. Come August I will be off to Scotland to start a new phase in my life. And as cool as it would be, somehow I don't see a high school production of TVM happening at the Convent in the near future. Find me a nun who routinely and proudly uses the word "Vagina", though, and I'll change my mind.

So, in closing I will leave you with a quotation from MadTV's parody of the play, which is funny as all hell as well as somewhat heartwarming.

V! Validate it!
A! Adore it!
G! Grab it!
I! Ignite it!
N! Nurture it!
A! Air it out!


Thank you.

Posted at 10:08 am by Kaze-Heathen
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Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Passing of a Caribbean Shero

This is by no means what I thought my first post for 2009 would be like. I was intending to rant about pornography. But unfortunately, circumstances dictate that I instead talk about something else, possibly the last thing I would have wanted to talk about at all.

And that something else is this: I think that someone in this country needs to build a gigantic bloody statue of Jizelle Salandy. Trinidad and Tobago has lost its greatest claim to international fame and recognition with the untimely death of this young, undefeated boxing champion. I, in my ignorance of sporting issues and boredom with cricket, humbly opine that she was the greatest of sport personalities this soil has ever produced, an excellent role model, and a true shero.

One day perhaps I will find a good-sized photograph that truly attests to her talent as a fighter, and then paint it. I look for photos of her, and find that a lot of people seem to want to remember her as the beauty in the dark evening gown. Me? Give me Jizelle with sweat beaded all over her face and that expression that combines exhaustion with the exhilaration of another victory. And gloves on.

You will be missed. And brooded over extensively.

Posted at 09:49 am by Kaze-Heathen
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Monday, November 24, 2008
YUH HAVE AH PAD? A discourse on the taboo of menstruation.

I'd been working on this one for a while, but certain recent events at the Convent (where I now teach, by the way. Spooky, no?) have actually made this topic a bit more... topical.

I'm sure any Trinidadian schoolgirl (or anyone who was ever a Trinidadian schoolgirl) who reads the title of this article will be curious as to why it is typed in capital letters. Surely, that question is one that must be whispered with shame into the ears of a sympathetic classmate, not shouted with pride from the chapel roof! It is something that I'm sure many of us Trinidadian schoolgirls past and present have begun to realise: we're ashamed of our periods. We're mortified by the fact that every month or so blood, mucus and uterine lining are expelled forth from our vaginas. And sometimes it's smelly too! What a mess!

Even the word "period", itself a euphemism for menstruation, is merrily danced around in some circles. A friend of mine once related to me the story of a family outing at the beach: her cousins asked her, "Why aren't you swimming with us?" and she answered, "I can't. I have my period." Then her aunt comes and chimes in, "Oh. It's your time." Ever modest, my friend replies, "Yeah, my period."

Another little indicator of this shame: in this house where I (somewhat) recently came to live, there is a housekeeper. Sometimes she cleans my room. And when she does, I can never find my tampons. Usually I keep them in a conspicuous place where I can easily see and reach them (like on a chair, for example, or on my desk). But whenever my room has been cleaned, the tampons always seem to end up in black plastic bags stuffed into drawers and hidden away, like so much illicit material.

When I was still attending secondary school, I grew quite sick of other girls coming up within inches of someone else to whisper agitatedly to her, "You have a pad?" (Always pads, eh, never tampons.) It got so bad that there was this one time the girl whispered her question so softly that the other couldn't hear her. Fortunately I was standing nearby to help get the message across by announcing loudly, "She wants to know IF YUH HAVE AH PAD." Cue, of course, the embarrassed squeaking and shuffling from the questioner. I don't remember whether or not she got her pad, but my point has been made.

I think the whole rush to try and conceal the fact that our vaginas spew up stuff stems from the fact that maybe it doesn't smell too good. And this is why deodorant pads and tampons were invented: to assuage our fears about smelling stink. Same as the perfumes, the scented soaps, body washes, lotions, shampoos and conditioners, blah, blah, blah. Nothing says "you smell" like a gift of soap at Christmastime, in the same way that nothing says "you fucking reek" like an entire industry devoted to masking those natural feminine odours. A writer whose works I enjoy very much, Theresa Dintino, speaks in her article "A Hairy Woman: Part One of 'Pondering Lilith'" of the "actual living human female being who does indeed grow hair, bleed and heaven help us, now and then doth possess an odour less than floral in bouquet". I think these words capture my sentiments perfectly. Not only are scented tampons and pads offensive in that they imply that menstruation is something dirty that should be masked and deodorised, they are also dangerous. Think about it. Do you really want to put harsh chemical compounds used to make pretty scents into your vagina? I think that's pretty high on the list of things I don't want in my vagina, up there with sand, sugar and centipedes.

In my career at the Convent I can conjure up in my mind two separate instances of menstruation treated as something vile and disgusting. One happened while I was a student, and the other during my present career as a substitute teacher. The first incident was the prank of a fourth form class, who decided it would be mad funny to take a pad, put ketchup on it, and leave it at the teacher's desk. From what I heard, when the teacher saw this spectacle, she actually started crying. Later, in the sixth formers' religion class, our teacher lamented this whole unfortunate affair. She said that these students had taken the natural process of menstruation and turned it into something to sneer at and laugh at. And I was so amazed by this explanation, as I hadn't thought about it that way until she said it.

The second situation received more attention from the administration, and even warranted something I like to call a "buff assembly" (where the principal gathers everyone together in the chapel to deliver a sound reprimand for something or other). It was found that some girl had written on the bathroom walls in blood. And not just any kind of blood. Nope. It was menstrual blood, they say. Maybe she was having a particularly heavy day, or how else could she have worked up enough to write a message? Somehow I picture the humorous sight of the culprit using a tampon as a marker or something. But I digress. Suddenly everyone all over the school was crinkling noses and making faces and saying, "Eeew, how disgusting". But I was making faces of a different kind: faces of confusion. My stepfather once told me that the walls of a certain boys' college (of which my stepbrothers are past attendees) were actually smeared with faeces. So why all this furore about menstrual blood? Surely that stuff can't be as bad as pure shit. I mean, it's just blood, and lumps of uterine lining, and mucus.

Sure periods can be funny. It is from periods that we get the Dracula's Teabag joke and the Lesbian Vampire joke. But I'm sure it'd do us good if we weren't so completely ashamed of our bleeding vaginas and tried to hush it up all the time and treat it like something taboo.

So the next time you're asking for that pad, girls... make sure she can hear you.

Posted at 07:17 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
A Second Look at TIPPING THE VELVET, by Sarah Waters

Okay, so here I am again, talking about Sarah Waters' three-part left-handed lesbian novel, Tipping the Velvet. In the first look, we saw the high-point of Nan's career as a decent human being. Part two details her descent into debauchery and filth. Because that's what this novel is, you know. Debauchery and filth. But I like it ^____^

So Miss Astley, with her bag of man-clothes and her twenty pounds, finds herself drifting soullessly about the streets of London, and comes upon a lodging run by a woman who insists that she will not have Nancy bringing gentlemen up to her room. While she's lodging here she gets wind of Kitty and Walter's marriage, and even sees the wedding photo on a scrap of newspaper.

After a very long period of sitting in her room and never venturing out, causing the landlady to think that she must indeed be mad, Nan decides to go for a walk. But the streets of London, especially in the vicinity of the Smithfield Dead Meat Market, are not exactly a hospitable place for a young lady to be walking alone (think of being a girl walking in Port-of-Spain on a hot and busy afternoon, especially in an area where construction is taking place). So she decides that the best thing to do would be to change into her soldier's uniform and walk the streets as a man, to avoid being harassed by men. This little plan unexpectedly backfires, however, when she's propositioned by a man in the street who is "hard as a broom handle and aching for a spend". So, off she sucks him, and receives a sovereign in return for her efforts. And thus begins her new career as a rent boy. She sucks off men in secluded areas for money. Soon she's thrown out of the room she's been renting because the landlady happened to see her in a gentleman's suit and thought it was someone Nan had brought home.

This time, Nan moves into a house which invites a "respectible fe-male" boarder. Here she meets the landlady, Mrs. Milne, and her somewhat mentally-challenged daughter, Gracie. She establishes a close relationship with them both, and they become the closest she has to family since having left her actual family behind in Whitstable. Of course, she still keeps up her job of handling gentlemen in the streets, but Mrs. Milne suspects nothing, and is completely unoffended by the sight of Nan going in and out of the house in men's clothing. One night, while sitting at her window, Nan happens to look outside at the house next door and notices a somewhat thickset girl with a halo of curly hair standing on a balcony. She hails out the girl in a very music-hall fashion, and the girl is startled, but she retreats back into the house when someone calls her name: "Florence", a name that Nan thinks to be romantic-sounding.

Next morning she greets Florence and the two walk together, striking up a conversation involving lectures and ice cream. Florence invites Nan to attend a lecture with her, which is to take place some days later, and Nan agrees. However, things don't go exactly according to plan, as Nan notices she is being followed about by a particularly fancy-looking carriage while she goes about her business prostituting herself. When she is invited into the carriage, she is shocked to see that it is a woman, richly clad, sitting there wanting to see her. The woman, a disgustingly wealthy widow by the name of Diana Lethaby, takes Nan to her own bigass house in Felicity Place in St. John's Wood, and, naturally, into the bedroom. There, she instructs a somewhat bewildered Nan to undress herself from the waist down, keeping her soldier's jacket on, and tells her to go into the parlour and open up the rosewood box, and put on what she finds inside.

What does she find inside? A dildo. Of course. What were you expecting? The thing is made of leather, and has straps. It also has a name. This particular dildo is known as "the device", or "the instrument"... and sometimes, affectionately, Monsieur. Nan hooks herself up with Monsieur and admires it in all its glorious rudeness in the mirror. Then she goes back into the bedroom and screws Diana's brains out with it (at her command, of course). In the morning, Diana basically declares to Nancy that she is now Diana's personal sex slave, and she will stay in Felicity Place in order to pleasure the "queen of pain".

So Nan has to go back to Mrs. Milne's and tell her and Gracie the sad news. This is where I started losing sympathy for Nan, but more on that later. She packs up all her gentlemen's clothing and takes it all with her in her bag, then sets off again for Felicity Place. Of course, we the readers at this point will remember, if we hadn't known it all along, that Nancy has totally stood Florence up at her lecture. But it's the farthest thought from Nancy's mind as she goes back to her mistress Diana for more sin and lechery.

This sin and lechery goes on for a year and a half, with Diana having expensive new suits tailored for Nan, complete with monogrammed handkerchiefs with "N.A." on them, dressing Nan up in fanciful costumes and hiding her behind a curtain to show her off to all her rich Sapphist friends as live art, and of course, little liaisons with Monsieur Dildo. On the occasion of Nan's 23rd birthday, she is given an expensive wristwatch by Diana, who decides that they need to go to the opera to celebrate. Nan is less than thrilled, as she isn't really interested in going to the opera at all. But she goes anyway (who wouldn't, with a mistress like Diana Lethaby?) and happens to meet someone she used to know back in her music-hall days: Billy-Boy, the token black guy, who is taking people's coats. They talk a bit, and he mentions Kitty. Nan's reacts to the mention of her former lover, and Billy tells her that she and Walter are doing an act at a nearby music-hall.

So at some point during the opera, Nan steals away and witnesses the horrible sight of Kitty's male impersonator act with Walter, as "Little Jacky". After she is unable to bear it anymore, she returns to the operal house to find that she has provoked Diana's ire. Once back at Felicity Place, the pair begin to argue and engage in some rather violent and furious sex. But from this point on, Nan begins to get miserable. She then establishes cordial relations with the young maid at Felicity Place, Zena Blake, whom Diana had rescued from a "reformat'ry" where she'd been sent for allegedly having kissed another girl.

Time passes by, and Diana is reaching the ancient age of forty. So of course, being filthy rich and lesbian, this calls for a filthy rich lesbian party! So the floors are strewn with roses, a dog is placed at the door and given two extra papier-mâché heads to look like Cerberus who guards the entrance to hell, and everyone does up their costumes. Nan has decided to do something extravagantly wonderful for Diana to mark the momentous occasion, and is dressing up as Antinous, complete with wig and toga and garland of lotus flowers to hang on Diana's neck.

The party is in full swing, and all the rich Sapphists are conducting lewd conversations about "frotting", and insisting, drawing upon dubious medical evidence, that girls from the slums and "Hindoos" from "Hindoostan" frig themselves so much that their clitorises turn into penises. Then someone gets the bright idea that Diana should read from a new book, which is a doctor's account of the life of Dickie, one of Diana's Sapphist friends who fancies herself the "boy" of the group and is poorly dressed as Dorian Grey, as a lover of women. After the reading of an excerpt comes another bright idea. The Sapphists should find a girl from the slums and pull her drawers down to see whether or not she'd "frigged herself a cock". So naturally, they send for Zena. Diana then begins to intimidate the poor girl, but Nan decides that she must stand up for Zena, and yells at the lecherous ladies to leave her alone, then insults Dickie's costume and Diana's age. Diana then uses the leather-bound book to inflict quite a shiner of a black eye on Nan, then sends her upstairs with a promise of punishment to come.

Zena then comes up to tend to Nan's wound, and Nan decides they must have their own private party, and encourages Zena to steal a bottle of champagne from the kitchens. This they consume, and as alcohol will generally lead to these things, they end up kissing and touching each other until Nan (in the third of the bright ideas for this part of the novel) decides that she simply must see Zena wearing Diana's monsieur. So Zena puts the contraption on, and she and Nan decide to make use of it. And of course, it's all fun and games until you get caught. And just at that second, Diana and all her friends come through the door only to witness the confused tangle of legs and quims (>_<) that is Zena and Nan. The two are then promptly and forcibly ejected from Felicity Place.

Now on their own and back in the streets from whence they had been plucked, Zena and Nan try to make their own way. Nan sells all her gentlemen's suits for a modest price, and the two lodge at a charity house. In the morning, however, Nan awakes to find that Zena has gone, and with her all the money. So Nan desperately seeks out the address of Florence (remember her? Nan stood her up the night Diana stole her from the streets), and appears on her doorstep with a bloodied, bruised and swollen face, blistered feet and not another ounce of energy. Just as Florence opens the door, Nan collapses on the doorstep in a dead faint.

Part Two of Tipping the Velvet was where I began to lose sympathy for Nan. I suspect, though, that this was the author's intention, as Nan does seem to have become rather a soulless creature after the fiasco of Kitty. And I'm starting to wonder if Nan intentionally ruins every good situation she finds herself in. You will find yourself mentally shaking your fists at her, silently screaming, "No! Stay there! Don't go there!!" but to no avail.

Anyway, the last part of all this glorious lesbianism is forthcoming. And in it, we'll find the introduction of another, totally unrelated -ism to marvel at.

Ism it wonderful?

Posted at 04:22 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Think of the Children!

This entry will be a brief one... a prelude of sorts to entries where I'll discuss weightier topics. Yeah, I've been planning those for a while now. But I've been in England for the past month, making several astute observations, reading great books, and acquiring that there Yorkie bar that I'm stamping on in my profile photo.

While in England, I happened to notice that my extremely young English first cousins (a girl, age 6, and a boy, age 3) are by no means safe from the barrage of gender-coded and/or totally wrong messages in the media and the world around them. "What child is?" I hear you asking. And you're so right. It's just that this really isn't the way it should have to be. It's like when people tell you, "Don't wear expensive jewellery: it'll get stolen." It's reality, yes, but it's just unfair.

In the car, their mum told me that sometimes the little girl enjoys singing along to Katy Perry's fake-lesbian anthem, "I Kissed a Girl", whenever it plays on the radio. And it plays a lot. I must have heard it once every other time I got in the car. And it may have played more often than that-- I frequently elected to listen to my iPod in the car instead. I can't fathom why the Brits seem to love the song so much. But the fact remains that there's a six-year-old girl happily singing along to it because she really likes it. Of course, my jaw dropped open at this. This child has no clue what she's truly singing about. I had to voice my concern. Her mum's using the strategy of ignoring it, waiting for it to go away. Somehow that makes me feel a bit antsy... Surely the issue should be addressed. Or at least someone should ask the kid what she thinks the song is about.

Another time, I witnessed the horror for myself. As we sat in the car, waiting for her mother to finish at the bank, what should come on the radio but the Pussycat Dolls' "Don'tcha". To my mortification, it seemed that my young cousin knew every single word to this song, and the horrific scene unfolded before my eyes: she was singing along to it, with no idea of its implications, and I was left to squirm uncomfortably in my seat and request feebly that she stop, to no avail. Later on that journey, she switched into "I Kissed a Girl"-- and it wasn't even playing! She was just singing the filth on her own! I am really curious as to what kind of message she gets out of this music at her tender age. And this is why I think it's wrong to just ignore it, pretending the problem will disappear.

While shopping at some little corner shop-- the kind that sells candy, crisps, and cheap toys-- my eyes alighted on a barrel of plastic swords, complete with sheaths and decorated with very interesting filigree patterns. I thought to myself that if I were six, or three, and I got one of those, it'd be bitchin'. Suddenly my aunt, who was with me at the time, remembered, "Oh, I had to get Jane* a sword." She then began the story of why she needed to get her daughter a sword. At a fair one day, little Jane won one of the games, and was invited to choose a prize from among the toys hanging up around the stall. Immediately she pointed to a toy sword and said, "Mummy, I want that one." Her mother looked at it in disbelief, and tried to get her daughter to choose something more girly. She said, "What do you want a sword for? Look, there's a nice flower." So Jane got the flower. Which she eventually lost.

Do you see this? Some people say that girls are born wanting to play with dolls and pretty flowers, while boys innately love trucks and weaponry. But this was just heartbreaking. A little girl made an independent decision, and it was overridden in favour of enforcing societal norms and constructed gender roles. My aunt couldn't understand the shock and sorrow on my face after she had shared her story.

One would think that the little boy, being only three, would be somewhat more safe from this kind of thing. But one would be wrong. This is a three-year-old who is very much in keeping with his times. He knows the words to Tokio Hotel songs. I don't even know the words to Tokio Hotel songs. But he knows it because McDonald's has been handing out iPod-shaped toys with their Happy Meals. And each toy plays a different song. You get Tokio Hotel, Bob Sinclair, McFly, the Sugababes and Girls Aloud. I'm not sure if McDonald's is thinking "a child is a child" here, but... I don't know. Some of these things don't sit too well with me. Maybe I just get nervous where children are concerned.

Children like to roleplay. They'll watch a TV show, and then pretend to be the characters they see. I was like that once too. As a matter of fact I remember being three years old, and wanting to play Captain Planet with the boys (don't ask. It was the nineties, a very embarrassing yet oh-so-cool time). But they told me, in accents of derision, "Nope. You can't play. Go play Barbie." This disdain by boys for all things supposedly girly is something that stays with them throughout their lives and is passed on to their sons. I see it in Philip*. He's a naturally sensitive individual, very polite, always has a little pixie-smile and pixie-voice, always offers you some of his candy, and only seems to cry when his little heart is wrought with grief (which seems to be becoming more and more frequent as he grows older... or maybe it's just those turbulent toddler years). But I don't think this sweet temperament could possibly survive the veritable tsunami of messages he's getting about what it means to be a boy in the 21st century.

Now we go back to the issue of roleplaying. Philip and Jane really like the show "Super Why". And it's a pretty cool show (says K/H, putting her oversensitive stereotype-radar to sleep). Your four main characters are Super Why (a little olive-skinned boy in spandex), Wonder Red (a freckly girl with rollerskates), Alpha Pig (a cute pig wearing construction gear) and Princess Presto (a mixed-race princess in a gown with a magic wand). But one day, when Philip proudly proclaimed to everyone in the living room, "I'm Super Why!" his sister said in tones of exasperation, as though they'd been through this several times before, "No, Luke is Super Why."
"Then I'm Alpha Pig?"
"No, Nathan is Alpha Pig. And I'm Princess Presto. You can be Wonder Red."
"But I don't want to be a girl!" And as he said this, his face was contorting into that expression of abject unhappiness that usually precedes tears. Neither he nor his sister ever saw anything wrong when Jane decided that she wanted to pretend to be a boy. But for Philip to be a girl was a matter of tragedy. Even a cool girl like Wonder Red with her skates.

Perhaps I am, as usual, reading too deeply into these things I've been seeing. But it's making me rather sad to see how my young cousins (and there are a good few of them. Two in England, two in Trinidad, one in Washington) are becoming more and more exposed to messages that limit their human potential in subtle yet real ways.

*sigh* You know, I've always said that the greatest gift I could give my children in this world is not to have them. All this is making me think that I was right.



*Names have been changed to protect the innocent and extremely minor.

Posted at 03:07 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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Sunday, September 21, 2008
A first look at TIPPING THE VELVET, by Sarah Waters

As I wandered aimlessly on Friday afternoon about Oxford, the place which I hope will become my home for the next four years, I happened to stop in at Blackwell's bookstore, thanks to the kind directions of a man in the street selling magazines. In it, I came across Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet after meticulously scanning the alphabetised shelves and wondering whether or not I should purchase Fingersmith, by the same author, instead. I wavered a bit in deciding whether or not to buy it, and sat and flipped through it a little, and eventually bought it, and began reading it on the inordinately long journey from Oxford back to Sutton.

Now, when I say I'm taking a "first look" here, I mean that the book is divided into parts, and I've just finished Part One. So I thought I'd talk a little bit about the book here. Now, the phrase 'tipping the velvet' is Victorian-era slang for that little favour we all know and love: the act of cumulonimbus, according to Roger's Profanisaurus. And so far I haven't explicitly encountered any of that. But I have encountered other things of that nature. If you haven't guessed by now, Tipping the Velvet is an example of what my dear friend Rachel likes to call Lesbian Lit (if it were about men it'd be Faggot Fiction).

The story is set in 1890s England, specifically Kent and London, and is narrated in the first person, in the point-of-view of Nancy 'Nan' Astley, later King, a Whitstable oyster-girl-turned-West End music-hall star. At the beginning of this novel, she is eighteen and, apart from her oyster-shelling pursuits, is a fan of the music-hall and all its delights, specifically one Kitty Butler, male impersonator extraordinary. This particular act she goes to see over and over, spending all her money on train tickets to the Canterbury Palace to watch Kitty stride onstage in her gentleman's suit and charm the crowd with her rousing "Hallo!" Of course, dear Nan is absolutely smitten, and after she has sat in the box watching the act several times, she is finally invited backstage to Miss Butler's dressing room. Kitty cranks up the charm here, even giving Nan a kiss on her oyster-smelling hand, which earns Nan the nickname 'Miss Mermaid'.

The two become inseparable friends, and eventually decide to travel to London together, Kitty due to her rising success and Nan as Kitty's dresser, with Kitty's agent, Walter Bliss (attention: [vagina + vagina] + penis = recipe for lesbian tragedy). In a wonderfully romantic scene on a winter night, standing on a bridge over the Thames which is freezing solid, Kitty and Nan decide to make out in the cold. (I couldn't do this. I can't handle these autumn temperatures, and trying to make out with someone in the winter with no gloves on would be a complete and total mood-killer.) Then they get back home to their grubby little tenement which they are sharing with music-hall people, and a music-hall dog, and do what comes naturally. And I don't mean they were holding hands.

Nan has joined the act and is now besotted with Kitty, but Kitty wants it all kept quiet (she seems very much in the closet, rather like someone I know). Regardless, Nan outs herself in a letter to her sister, who writes back a cold reply and ceases all correspondence. Kitty's eventual breaking point comes when some drunken bastard fights his way to the front of the theatre, just under the stage, and shouts that the two dazzling male impersonators on the stage before him are "nothing but a couple of toms!" A "tom", as explained by Kitty, is a woman who makes a career of kissing other women, it seems, and Kitty is very keen to distance herself from 'that kind' of person. So naturally she runs off the stage in confusion, and has Nan running after her thinking 'WTF' in Victorian language. Kitty ends up going home sharing a carriage with Walter (hmm) while Nan goes in the carriage with the dresser.

After some time Nan decides she must go and visit her family in Whitstable, whom she has not seen for about a year. She and Kitty declare just how miserable they shall be without each other, and Nan arrives at her old home/oyster parlour with presents, which don't seem to go over that well with the family. Indeed she passes the time there rather horribly, and has a row with her sister who insists that Kitty's gone and turned Nan bad. Little does Nan know what awaits her back in London, for when she decides to return a day early since she's having a dreary time at home, she happens to notice Walter without his jacket washing his face in Kitty's basin, and Kitty naked but for the sheet. This is where the cursing starts. I see this sudden outburst of cursing as a kind of foreshadowing of what the rest of the novel is going to be like. The cursing seemed to increase in frequency as the scene went on, and in the end Nancy ends up running away with only the clothes on her back and £20 in her pocket. And this is how Part One ends.

Now for what I think. I'm not sure if it's just because Nan is the same age as me, but I find that Miss Astley/Miss King is a character with whom I can sympathise quite easily. Not to mention that in my mind she's a real cutie. All tall and gangly and awkward and boyish-looking with her bohemian haircut. And her basourdie thoughts and behaviour where Kitty is concerned are also really believable. If you've ever been in love with someone, I'm sure you'll immediately recognise the overwhelming emotions that Nan so eloquently puts forward to the reader, but can't quite seem to make known to the object of her affections just yet. Also, the author's descriptions of the West End music-hall scene are lively, vivid and exciting. Though I'm not sure whether or not I'm only saying this because I've seen it for myself. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that this book will really, really draw you in. I mean, I bought the thing on Friday, and I've already finished Part One. And I am a slow reader.

So as it seems right now, Tipping the Velvet is a well-researched and excellent read (if you're into this kind of thing, of course), and I will return with another look at this novel once I have finished reading it in its entirety.

Posted at 10:02 am by Kaze-Heathen
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is a minor update but I just thought I had to explode in happiness. I've got a new book! And guess which one? It's from my feminazi want-list: Female Chauvinist Pigs. I cannot wait to read it! I cannot, I cannot! The moment I get a second of time to myself (meaning done talking to boyfriend, parents off my back, children not home, no dish-washing or garment-folding) I am going to plop onto my derrière onto some soft and comfortable surface and read until brain juice starts dribbling out of my ears. And then of course, when I'm done I will vomit it all up back here and tell you what I thought about the whole experience (assuming you care, and all. I've got very few readers). Oh well, wish me luck! I'll keep writing in between.

Posted at 12:54 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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Sunday, September 14, 2008
Fun (?) With Google

You know, sometimes I like playing games with Google Image Search just so that I can take note of trends and prove points. For example, have you ever noticed that if you type a Japanese female given name into GIS, you will almost invariably get porn, or soft porn? (this only works when you turn your safe search off, by the way)

Lily and I were testing this theory, when she had the bright idea of trying a non-Japanese female name in the search field. The same results happened. Basically any common female given name you type into Google Image Search will give you images of a lascivious nature, if not outright smut. Trying the same with male names didn't really have the same effect... although you might occasionally find some rather homoerotic screenshots if you look reeeeally hard.

Some time ago I decided to take the experiment to another level. I went to Google Image Search and typed in the word "man". You can get pictures of Iron "Man", Spider "Man", the tallest "man" in the world and photos of "men" in suits and ties. And this is only on the first page. Now type in the word "woman". I bet you know what's coming. You get stuff like a Japanese "woman" jumping on her bed in her underwear, another random "woman" posing in her skivvies, and a wonderfully tasteful photograph of a "woman" in a black mesh bodystocking. And this is what you get with safe search on. When you take it off... Let's just say I took it off long enough to have a quick glance at the results because there are two small children in my vicinity, and in that one-second glance I happened to see a stark nude "woman" in the birthing position... although she was clearly not giving birth. Just 'skinning up', as we like to say. Now isn't this Google fun just fascinating?

However... what really got to me was when I decided that it was now time for something completely different and chose to search for the term "superheroine". Try it yourself. The results are distressing, to say the least. It'll make your feminist hair stand on end. With safe search on, you get hypersexualised depictions of such favourites as Wonder Woman (gratuitously cleavaged), Starfire (wearing next to bloody nothing) and Supergirl (whose supertits are hanging out of her supershirt), looking more ready to fight public decency laws than crime. However... turn off the safe search... and you are accosted by disturbing images of super"heroines" (who are no longer heroines but victims in spangly spandex) being raped and taken advantage of at every turn... usually by bulging musclemen in tights. I'll let you figure out the socio-political implications of this on your own. But I feel depressed just thinking about it. It's as though once a woman acquires a position of power (super or otherwise), she needs to be taught a lesson. It's like asshole men who demand that I cut my fingernails.

So now you may all go and play with Google and note its relevance to our times and cultural milieu. And I shall go immediately to turn the safe search back on lest I get asked some awkward questions when six-year-old Georgia tries to use the computer... or her mom. >_o

Posted at 02:16 pm by Kaze-Heathen
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