An open letter: Marginalisation in academia

 

To whoever wants to understand,

I am so profoundly sad. As I write, I cry – the kind of tears that feel as though they will never end, the kind that are experienced in times of deep sadness – they are rare and I cry not just for me, but for everyone.

It is important that I tell my story.

It begins with the letter M:

Marginalised

I have always been marginalised.

I suppose in many ways this comes hand-in-hand with the territory. I am an out-spoken, quirky, mixed-race female with working class roots from a middle-class background. I come from a predominantly white area in Salford and have attended both private and state schools.

Due to my heritage I am connected with countries all over the world, from Jamaica to India, Britain to Canada to those native to Jamaica – the Arawak Indians. My roots spread from continent to continent; I am firmly grounded in an amalgam of complexity and it is safe to say that because of this my experiences vary immensely from my peers.

It is reasonable to say I am often the outsider or the other, in many ways, which stem from both a conscious and unconscious ignorance, I’ve been treated as such. We live in a society where difference is immediately associated with wrongness and because of this I have experienced marginalisation, prejudice and racism in its many-faced forms, all of which are cruel, vicious and ugly.

I have suffered at the hands of my peers and teachers alike. This was especially problematic the three years I attended private school and I was subjected to horrific torment and verbal abuse. It is these experiences that shaped some of my most important years and they will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is because of this I am aware of a deeply ingrained racism and elitism that is inherent within the world of education. I suppose that is what inspired me to write this article, a recent situation at university which – as unintentional as it may have been – left me feeling extremely uncomfortable.

One of the course texts Three Lives, written by Gertrude Stein, was abhorrently racist and I’m not talking about the kind of racism that is addressed constructively, or racism that establishes social and historical context, I’m talking down-right blatant racism with no reasonable justification.

The story told the lives of three women, two white and the other girl of mixed-race background, or “mulatto”. My mixed heritage made me immediately connect with this character – at what other point am I going to find a mixed-race woman represented on an English Literature course? 

Never.

I read the story only to be met with repugnant words that left me feeling bitter for days; the word “nigger” was used multiple times in both the dialogue and the narrative voice. When the time came for the lecture the novel was introduced as a “Negro” text, and it was at this moment that I felt there was something wrong. I felt that I was not a student studying in 2017 Britain but had in fact time-travelled back to the not-so-distant past, to a time when it was considered progressive to call black people Negroes, to a time when institutionalised racism was not considered racism at all.

The mixed-raced girl depicted, Melanthca, was ‘half white’ and had been ‘half made with real white blood’; this not only drew attention to the fact I was the only mixed-race woman in the room, but the only person of colour too.

When the tutor was questioned about the racism inherent within the novella he did indeed acknowledge the prejudice within the text, but argued that the use of innovative language overshadowed this, stating that it was acceptable because it was a highly original artistic endeavour.

I was shocked: artistic genius does not justify racism, not ever and certainly not now. It is the implementation of this age-old ideology that is so apparent in modern academia; it is both wrong and concerning. Academic institutions are a place where new ideas are supposed to flourish, yet in reality it is where outdated modes of thinking thrive.

Someone in the seminar asked the tutor if he thought it appropriate for a white, middle class woman to assume the experiences of a mixed-race working class female. The tutor replied that denying the re-writing of another’s experiences would be to deny the imagination; he wholeheartedly failed to recognise the implications behind this for someone like me.

It is clear he has spoken from a position of privilege and a position of ignorance, standing above all as a white middle class male and a university professor. It is this pedestal that blinkers not only his perception but many other academics.

It was an extremely alienating situation and for the first time in many years I became hyper-aware of my ethnicity. I was the elephant in the room, an imposter – why was I in a room full of white people, studying English literature at a highly-rated academic institution? It scares me that this is a question I felt necessary to ask.

My argument here is not that we do not study texts that include racist narratives and rhetoric; it is a part of history that we all need to embrace. Rather it is the way that these texts are embraced that needs to be considered. If we are to progress further and away from racist structures then they need to be dealt with sensitively; the racism should not be overlooked. If the texts are racist then it needs to be discussed sensitively, with an awareness of how it may makes “the other” feel. Whether people like it or not the nature of our ever-diversifying society means that more and more people like me will be accepted into academic institutions.

Awareness is necessary.

Change is necessary.

But change only occurs when we use our voices.

I want to reiterate: just because prejudice isn’t overt does not mean it doesn’t exist. It is subtle, it is hidden and it is discreet. But I cannot hide and nor will I. I do not want sympathy. I do not want pity. I want empathy. I want understanding. I want to be heard. I want change.

This article was originally posted on Aimie's blog; Digging With Duggan

Why are so few women directing blockbusters?

Hollywood Hills – Flickr/Shinya Suzuki

How many female directors can you name?

Don’t feel self conscious about the answer, when I asked myself the question I was lost after three. Google helped me to realise that I had seen films and television shows from a few more than that, but very few of them have ever been given the two-hundred million dollar budget of the modern blockbuster.

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism recently carried out a study to explore the lack of female directors of big budget cinema in Hollywood, and last month The Guardian compiled stories from nine women working across the film industry regarding their experiences with sexism.

A number of interesting things were revealed by these two pieces, first, women directors predominantly find success in low budget cinema, such as short fiction and documentaries. But very few are able to get bigger budget projects off the ground, the reason seeming to be that executives do not trust women with big budgets.

There are a number of possible reasons for this, but the most interesting is the fear by executives that if they vouch for a female director on a project and then they mess up, it will reflect badly on the executive.

This rationale is used to explain how women executives, who are invariably outnumbered by men in their job, can also cave to a peer pressure that breeds this institutional inequality.

One female Director and former karate master, Lexi Alexander, has a rather telling story about a driver who refused to believe that she was a director and so refused to drive her.

Sexism in the industry seems to show itself in subtle ways, though sometimes it’s outright obvious. One unnamed action movie star apparently threw out the possibility of a female director on an unnamed project because he “refuses to be directed by a woman.”

An Endemic Issue in the Industry

These problems are of course faced by more than just directors, The Guardian article speaks to women with experience in every area of production – from screenwriters and costume designers, to cinematographers and editors.

The one area it does not focus on however, is the actors, who by no means have it easier. There seem to be just as many accounts of sexual advances from movie bosses today, under the guises of an audition, as there ever have been. And as female actors get older their casting opportunities become less and less varied.

Liv Tyler, who you’ll know from Armageddon and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has said that at 38 she’s only being offered parts as either The Wife or The Girlfriend, which is understandably frustrating after playing a badass like Arwen.

An even bigger issue for female actors however is the disparity in their pay when compared to their male co-stars. Last years Sony hack revealed that Jennifer Lawrence’s pay for the film American Hustle was less than her male co-stars’, despite her arguably being the films biggest box office draw.

On the subject of disparities in her own pay compared to her co-stars in the Iron Man movies, Gwyneth Paltrow had this to say: “It can be painful. Your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth. If men are being paid a lot more for doing the same thing, it feels shitty.”

Again, the issue seems to be the same as with women directors; executives do not seem to be comfortable giving the women they employ large amounts of money, be it in budgets or pay.

Finding Success Elsewhere

To escape the problems of budgetary issues, many female writers and directors in recent years have been finding work and recognition in television.

Arguably the best example of this being Michelle Maclaren who has directed episodes for The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad – the latter of which she has won two Prime Time Emmy’s for as an executive producer.

In writing (and this may come as a surprise to some) Mad Men’s writing staff at one point was composed nearly entirely of women, seven of the nine writers, and throughout its run had a significant number of its departments composed of and run by women.

So we come to the question again, why is it so difficult for aspiring Directors like these to make it into cinema?

Ultimately, it comes down to just plain old boring prejudice, there is no real justification for it, it’s just a status quo that’s been perpetuated for too long that nobody is quite certain how to fix. Some suggest introducing diversity quotas, others believe that the solution will only come as more women reach positions of control in studios and the system becomes less dominated by men.

The landscape seems to be changing little by little, we are at least talking about it in mainstream publications and studying it openly. The upcoming movie adaptation of Wonder Woman is being directed by the aforementioned Michelle Maclaren, I wish I could believe that other female directors will land big budget projects as a consequence – but only time will tell.

Western Culture is Harbouring Female Hatred

Connie Basnett looks at the latest celebrity nude photos leak.

Emma Watson delivered an incredible speech at the UN yesterday launching the #HeForShe campaign, but a day later a 4Chan hacker has threatened to leak nude pictures of her next.

This comes just days after the latest scandal of nude celebrity photos, which was leaked onto the internet on Saturday. This time with photos of Vanessa Hudgens, Kim Kardashian and Olympic soccer star Hope Solo. The photos were uploaded to the website 4Chan, however they have been removed due to copyright infringement policies.

These photos are yet more examples of a much larger problem, the lack of respect for women in our culture. They are used to humiliate women with a complete disregard for the individual’s privacy.

These photos come only weeks after another collection of photos, which consisted of around 200 high-profile people including Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and Kate Upton, were posted on the 4Chan image sharing site on 31st August.

I am sure you will have seen the Twitter and Facebook posts regarding people trying desperately to take a cheeky look at Jennifer Lawrence in the nude and thinking it’s harmless now they are out there. Many have even criticised the celebrities, asking why they have nude photos of themselves anyway? No one knows why these individuals had these photos of themselves, but that is irrelevant. Lawrence and others could have had these photos shared between themselves and their partner in a committed relationship, nobody knows. But regardless, the images belonged to them, were stolen from their private files and were illegally distributed.

 

Here are just a few of the victim blaming tweets I came across:

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If these photos were of men (which they never are), would there really be such a debate and controversy?  These tactics are used to attack, embarrass and even ruin the woman’s career. In a piece for The Guardian Professor John Naughton explains how he believes this crime reveals an uneasy truth, that large numbers of males appear to harbour a deep hatred of women. Many examples of this deep hatred can be seen with many prominent women being abused over the internet. Take a look at this previous Despatch Box post to read more about how prominent female figures have received rape and death threats over social networking sites such as Twitter. Yet the sites have failed to intervene effectively.

This disrespect for women extends past leaked photographs of celebrities, but includes all women. These types of invasive photo leaks by men is not a new phenomenon. We all know it already as revenge porn. It differs to the latest events as these types of photos are often taken and given with consent between two people, usually in a relationship. The photos of the girlfriend are later leaked by the former boyfriend on the internet for revenge after she has “wronged him” in some form.

Revenge porn and the celebrity photos are both used for the same agenda, both leaked by men and both as equally invasive. These photos are both used to humiliate women in the most intimate and personal way. A recent example can be seen by UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s former assistant, who found herself a victim of revenge porn after her boyfriend linked graphic photos of her to The Sun, who thankfully refused to publish them.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told MPs in July that the uploading of sexually explicit material without the consent of the subject was becoming a bigger problem in the UK. But revenge porn still is not a criminal offence in the UK.

These photos have contributed to a debate revealing hostility and disrespect for women and the need to tackle this problem in the UK and the US. This problem is not only shown through revenge porn and the recent celebrity nude photos, but this lack of respect for women can be shown on a day to day basis with women in work, on social media sites, girls at school and even in relationships.

Has this become even more that just disrespect, are we dealing with a cultural problem of male hatred to women?

By Connie Basnett


 

[Image Credit: UN Women]

Feminism Needs to Rediscover Flexibility

Kay Robinson looks at the recent “Women Against Feminism” trend and discusses how feminism can be more effective.

For every person that identifies themselves as such, there seems to be another who has an interpretation of the label so radically different to that of the feminist, the term is almost completely ambiguous. You only need to look as far as the #WomenAgainstFeminism on social media to see that many people strongly associate the label with negativity and division.

Some attribute this simply to misunderstanding and miseducation surrounding the term, with those such as Caitlin Moran doing her best to promote the term ‘feminist’ as purely someone who believes men and women should have equal rights. However, defining the term to everyone’s satisfaction is not only impossible but an impossibly political task.

This is becoming only more difficult in the modern era, where the label  feminist has been unfortunately appropriated by a percentage of women with extreme, intolerant and unrepresentative views, or used to redefine womanhood in a way that is both inflexible and exclusive. I include in this group those women who believe that men cannot act as feminist voices or speak on women’s issues. Personally, I would choose to express my beliefs about gender equality by using more than one word, rather than risk having my views defined by another through misinterpretation. And I still think that #YesAllWomen was an incredibly problematic trend.

The idea, however, pushed by the “Women Against Feminism” Tumblr and Twitter accounts, that the world no longer needs feminism is both alarming and sad. Here, followers send in pictures of themselves holding a piece of paper with the words: “I don’t need feminism because” followed by their reasoning. The logic they attach to the prompt varies from the very daft (see: “without my husband I wouldn’t have the joy of raising my children”, as obviously feminists wish to destroy both the male race and in fact procreation itself) to the highly reasonable (see: ‘feminists don’t represent me’).

Each post is entirely personal, but a common theme seems to be that some women feel like their choices – to be a stay-at-home wife/mother, for example, or to wear clothing such as religious garments that cover a large proportion of their bodies – are criticised and attacked. This attack, they say, comes not from a patriarchy, but from feminists who seek to aggressively assert their interpretations of ‘rights’ onto other women. Some Women Against Feminism contributors also address matters of geography and race, asserting that feminism is no longer needed in the west; that it ‘is only necessary in third-world countries’ and that it wrongly promotes the idea that ‘only white men are capable of sexism’.

Yes, the use of the term ‘third world’ is politically awkward. Yes, these women requesting that feminists check their privilege are often, ironically, white, middle class, and basing their analysis of gender-relations solely on their experience as a privileged female. And yes, some of these women even think that feminism is spelt ‘femenism’.

But pointing and laughing is not helping the feminist cause. Cries of ‘uneducated’ and ‘use a dictionary’ or even politely explaining that these women have understood the term in a far different manner to the way in which you understand it yourself, is not helping the cause.

There is no way to undo the unfortunate interactions with intolerant, aggressive so-called feminism that many of these women appear to have had.  But perhaps a little revisionand diversification of the markers that feminism provides women with which to identify themselves would not go amiss.

Fungai Machirori, author of ‘Her Zimbabwe’, says that ‘feminism is about finding the right language.’ I love her interpretation. If feminism doesn’t appeal to you as a term, don’t use it as a personal label. If you can’t identify any of its causes as any of your own and find it unrepresentative, don’t let it represent you. But let it be an identifier for those who feel they would benefit from its support.

Feminism needs to re-discover its flexibility, its appeal and its openness to discussion, and retranslate into something that, with consent, can fight for every type of woman experiencing every type of challenge.  Ideas of intersectionality have a lot to contribute along these lines. As a movement, it still has incredible contributions to make to societies all over the world, so long as feminists remember one thing:‘you have to do more listening before you start talking.’

 

By Kay Robinson


[Image credit: Kayla Sawyer]

Respect for Women Should Have no #BLURREDLINES

Connie Basnett gives us a personal and saddening account of how sexism affects women from a young age.

Many of you will have seen recent articles and news reports on student rape culture, catcalling on the streets and the lack of female representatives in politics. These are just the latest topics in an on-going problem that discusses the current issue of modern sexism. If you are a woman I’m sure you will have experienced these problems yourself.

What is less commented on is the embedded sexist nature in people’s minds that results in language that is inappropriate and patronising, which many people just pass off. Having experienced these problems myself I considered them to be minor and simply forgot about them, but as I got older and read up more on different types of sexism I started to realise the problems I had were all related to one thing – I was a young woman.

I started working during college when I had just turned sixteen; of course I had been to high school where I had been at the mercy of teenage boys and their catcalling and ‘banter’. But I was not prepared to receive this from grown men or men older than me who should know better. I was subjected to colleagues continuously asking if  I was a virgin, how many people I had been with and even more horrifying, being told that I would be ripped in two.  There were many instances where I was shouted at and sworn at by other male members of staff and when I told a manager, I was suggested to simply stay away from them.

Unfortunately, these kinds of sexual remarks towards young women are the norm in the workplace. What was worse for me was the patronising manner in which I was spoken to by colleagues, apparently ‘I didn’t look like the type to do politics’  having informed them that I do a history and politics degree. I was only further mocked and laughed at after expressing that I wanted a career in the civil service. This was due to their perception of me on my general appearance as being ‘dizzy’ and I later found that this was a perception of many other younger female colleagues.

I frequently asked myself, “if I was an older male colleague would I be subject to such inappropriate questioning and patronising language?” Of course supervisors and managers either join in with the jokes or more commonly they think you are overreacting and cannot take a joke. This type of ridicule can stem from sexual jokes or comments on women’s clothing, which left me feeling embarrassed and humiliated.

This behaviour towards women and young girls doesn’t just start in the workplace. It can be traced back to school at a much younger age with young girls being intimidated by large groups of boys and constantly made fun of because of their general appearance. I dated a boy in college and it ended badly, I was then subjected to being called a ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ every time I walked past him on campus for the next year. I requested that the tutor did not put me in the same class with him again, two weeks later we were in the same class and my tutor took no notice.

This negative, hostile behaviour towards girls at work and in school is an everyday occurrence for many which is rarely acknowledged or publicised, but this is a much larger problem which we drastically need to address. These comments are often passed off as normal, acceptable and merely presented as humour, but we should all be aware of the true derogative meaning behind this behaviour and language.

 

By Connie Basnett


[Image Credit: Earls37a]

Are politics, music and motorcycles really just “Men’s Interests?”

According to Morrisons yes. A few weeks ago I visited my local Morrisons looking for the latest copy of Private Eye, but when I reached the magazine aisle I was left feeling more than a little disgruntled. I was greeted with a sign telling me that perhaps I shouldn’t be buying such magazines; apparently they are not in my interest – why? Because I am female. A giant header labelled “Men’s Interests” loomed over the magazine racks filled with motorsport, politics, history, science, technology and music. Meanwhile celeb gossip magazines, crafts and home décor were all on the other side of the aisle. Maybe Morrisons is trying to hint that I should be limited to purchasing from that side of the aisle instead.

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I took to twitter to tell Morrisons about my distaste for their segregationist attitude towards their labelling and this was their response.

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I continued…

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With assurances that they are “reviewing it as we speak” I was interested to see whether other major supermarkets and magazine retailers had similar gender explicit categorising systems. I visited the big four supermarkets as well as my local One Stop store in the hope that Morrisons was just an anomaly. Here is what I found. My local One Stop Store:

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Unfortunately, very similar to Morrisons, apparently cars, music and sport are “Men’s Lifestyle” magazines only. Asda:

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Hurray! Clearly and accurately labelled such as “motoring,” “sport” and leisure” no female exclusion here, thanks Asda. Tesco:

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Again, thumbs up for Tesco. History, Science and Technology magazines were labelled as “Leisure,” “News” and “Science.” This all seemed great until I looked on the other side of the aisle. photo (14)

“Women’s lifestyle,” featured magazines on knitting, cooking and babies, because apparently parenting isn’t also a male interest. Also note the conveniently placed chocolate bars, because we’re all aware of the universal fact that women look to buy knitting magazines and a chocolate bar in one hit. Sainsbury’s:

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Sainsbury’s was by far the best out of the big four. Not only did they have clear gender neutral labelling for the “motoring and motorcycling” section, but the rest of the aisle was also a happy sight. photo 2

Along the row the other sections were categorised as “craft” and “tea break” not just “women’s lifestyle.” Thanks Sainsbury’s! Overall, Morrisons and One Stop are still clearly lagging behind their counterparts, with Tesco still needing some improvements.

While efforts are continually being made to get young women interested in STEM subjects, especially encouraging them to pursue it as a degree choice, it seems that their local supermarket is telling them “sorry but this isn’t for you girls.” And despite Cameron’s latest cabinet reshuffle, the British parliament is still falling behind countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of female representation in Westminster; it seems politics isn’t in the female interest either.

I tweeted Morrisons again a few weeks after my original inquiry to find out if they have improved their signage. They’re yet to respond.

By Lizzie Roberts


[Image Credit: Jim Parkinson]