The Beauty Myth and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism Blog Post by Lily Money

Both Naomi Wolf and Natasha Walter, in The Beauty Myth and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, argue there is corruption within the media, fashion and beauty industry. They do this by having a negative influence over women’s opinions on their own bodies and how they treat other women.

In a 2009 interview, Wolf argued that women are not being judged on their own achievements, that they “should look however they want, the way men do, and be judged on their own merit.” Unfortunately, industries portray a fake image of a woman who has skinny thighs, a stomach so thin that her rib cage is becoming noticeable and wrinkle free skin. This is most common on the covers of glossy magazines, like Cosmopolitan, whose businesses thrive on the advertisement of a specific image of a woman. With other “laddish” magazines, like FHM, they are teaching young girls that in order to make it to the top in life, they must bare skin, instead of encouraging girls to thrive in a subject of interest.

 

“…the beauty backlash is spread and reinforced by the cycles of self hatred provoked in women by the advertisements, photo features, and beauty copies in the glossies.” The industry has created a vicious cycle for women, they are constantly mirroring themselves up against these fake versions of the female body. When opening up a magazine or reading an article online, all we see is the women’s weight gain/or loss, aging fast, or cellulite issues. With usually a sub line saying that the women must be going through a bad break up or a break down. However, the men, we see their political or career accomplishments and nothing about their weight, deepened wrinkles or greying hair/hair loss. How can women reach their goals, if all the media is doing is focusing on unimportant aspect of the female body.

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The element of truth in confessional poetry – Blog Post by Hannah Mitchell

The likes of Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sylvia Plath broke the traditional mould of poetry and started to write poetry which represented realistic events in their lives.

However, with their confessions in their poetry came the backlash of people delving into the truth behind their stories. Critics started to argue to what extent their poetry was representative of their lives and also the brutality of some of their stories, therefore questioning their morals and ethics. Sylvia Plaths work has been criticised as being ‘over-indulgent’ and a form of ‘revenge fantasy’ against certain events that happened in her life, involving attempted suicide. Confessional poetry is from the perspective of the poet and rarely involves the emotional and physical aspects from the other side.

However, it has been argued that confessional poetry does have an element of truth that has been broadened and exaggerated to an extent through imagery and creativity. As confessional poetry has been described as being true/realistic facts of the poet’s lives, it undermines the ‘creative ability’ of the poets as readers assume it to simply be facts. However, to write about ‘hidden/repressed/falsified’ topics is extremely brave and influential to literature and to portray the truth around controversial topics such as racism/incest/abuse in a creative form is very talented.

Iris Murdoch Under the Net: Blog Post by Carmen Luis

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Iris Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net, is deemed to be one of her least successful literary works due to its male-centric narrative, amorphous plot and dialogue which is at times somewhat imprecise. Despite these critical responses to her novel, Murdoch raises quite a few key issues concerning writing, philosophy and politics throughout the novel. Murdoch’s novel shares various philosophical ideas brought forth by one of the most infamous philosophers of the twentieth century’s, Ludwig Wittgenstein. He suggested the notion language is a social construct in which people do not distance themselves from the norm. Regularity of the use of such concepts and agreement in their application is part of language, not a logically necessary precondition of it, consequently one cannot separate themselves from the language they have been accustomed to.

 

Under the Net suggests that we are “trapped in a net of language” in which one’s emotions and experiences are unable to be fully expressed due to the limitations of language, however individuals still aim to express themselves through speech and writing in an attempt to free themselves from this structured system. This notion is underlined through the statement “The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods,” as a result may not fully convey the reality as it has been corrupted by their own perspective, thus making this ‘truth’ subjective rather than objective. Murdoch highlights this struggle through Jake and Hugo’s relationship. Jake ends up leaving Hugo once he realises that he could have possibly jeopardised their friendship as he taints Hugo’s experiences by writing about them and ultimately publishing a novel based on these personal experiences. Murdoch concludes her novel by proposing the idea that “One must just blunder on. Truth lies on blundering on.” This attitude towards life is necessary in order to avoid falsifying emotions and ideas in writing.

 

 

Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net in a Harvey Weinstein-world Blog Post by Amber Millar

Harvey Weinstein, a world-renowned film director and co-founder of the Weinstein Group, was accused of sexual assault, harassment and rape by more than 50 actresses during 2017. The disproportionate power dynamic of Weinstein’s relationships and interactions with these actresses allowed him to continue assaulting women for decades before public recognition of his crimes. Weinstein’s actions are representative of an insidious problem in the world of film-making and the abuses of power of those in charge of making and directing art.

Iris Murdoch addresses similar concerns in her novel Under the Net. Whilst, on the surface, the novel is concerned with a lazy but loveable picaro protagonist Jake and his adventures across London and Paris, Murdoch addresses the inappropriate behaviour of the male characters towards the women they engage with. Jake’s first encounter in the novel with Anna, an old girlfriend, starts with a non-consensual kiss and embrace. The language used to describe this experience describes Anna with ‘eyes wide with alarm’ and ‘laying stiffly in my arms like a great doll’. This encounter with Anna begins his obsession with her, eventually following her to Paris to try to win her over. This kind of relationship is often presented to a contemporary audience as ‘romantic’, instead of unhealthy and toxic but Murdoch insinuates the harsh reality of the situation through her language.

Hugo, the owner of a film studio, is also shown to demonstrate entitled sexual behaviour towards the women in the novel. Sadie, an actress and the sister of Anna, repeatedly receives phone calls and harassment from her ‘admirer’ Hugo. This presentation of unwanted sexual advances from a film director to his actress ring almost painfully relevant from a contemporary view. Whilst showing these inappropriate encounters between artists and their muses, Murdoch allows the reader to understand the deep-rooted tradition of abuse, not only in Hollywood, but by men throughout history, in ways and in situations that we are expected to believe are acceptable.

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Adichie: “Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man?” Blog Post by Ruzina Khatun

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“A feminist is a man or a woman who says, “yes there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it. We must do better””.

In 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made an appearance on Beyoncé’s album with the track ‘Flawless’. The track includes samples from Adichie’s TedxEuston talk, “We should all be feminists”. Adichie and Beyonce (‘Queen Bey’) joined forces to promote feminism to a widespread audience and eliminate gender inequality. So why was Adichie’s speech given global prominence?
This speech discusses the unhealthy stereotypes and expectations that women face in society. Adichie begins with a few personal accounts she has had growing up in Nigeria. She tells the story of her male friend calling her a “feminist” which was directed as an insult. As a feminist, she feels that she needs to explain her relationship with makeup. The word feminist is associated with “heavy baggage” and it means that “you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture.” Instead, Adichie wants to be identified as a “happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men”.

As a child, her dreams of being class monitor was crushed because she was a girl. All these personal accounts demonstrate her own experience with gender inequality. Adichie then focuses on the pay gap between men and women. For example, in Nigeria, people assume that a woman’s wealth is from a man. In the workplace, a woman’s work effort is just the same as man’s, yet their paycheck disregards this. They learn to not speak up for themselves as they are worried about coming across as too aggressive. These gender expectations are internalised which result in double standards for men and women. While men are praised for being tough and aggressive –women who act in the same way are criticised. Gender bias in a workplace is real and findings show that a woman’s perceived competency drops by 35% when they are judged as being “assertive” (Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2015/08/25/gender-bias-is-real-womens-perceived-competency-drops-significantly-when-judged-as-being-forceful/#785c71672d85).

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Adichie’s speech reinforces Simone de Beauvoir’s critical theory, The Second Sex, which argues that women are oppressed and made to be inferior to men–simply by the fact that they are women. In a world which is male-orientated, how can a woman expect to accomplish the same as a man? Adichie agrees with Beauvoir that, although women and men are different biologically,” socialization exaggerates the differences”. Thus, the origin of gender roles and inequality are products of society and social experiences.

Childhood is very important to socialization. Boys and girls are expected to conform to strict and confining gender roles from a young age. Adichie argues that, “We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way… We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves…” She asserts the idea that, it is not only women who suffer from socially constructed gender inequality, but men also suffer from these disadvantages.

Adichie says, “Culture does not make people. People make culture”. She proves that feminism is not strictly a female experience and culture will not change unless individuals acknowledge this. Adichie’s speech gives meaning to complex ideas of why we should all be feminists.

 

 

…When I look in the mirror/ I don’t see a foreign face… Blog post by Zoha Hussain

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“What Is In My Blood?” This quote encapsulates the essence of these poems. The Adoption Papers is a unique and honest volume of poems, that uses three different narrative voices, daughter, adoptive mother, and birth mother. Each part manifests into an internal monologue, highlighting the themes of race, gender, belonging and naturalness. This poetic sequence tells the story of a black girl’s adoption by a white Scottish couple; thus this becomes an amalgamation of fiction and reality as the story behind these poems reflects Kay’s own life. I think this adds a certain layer of poignancy and depth to each piece, becoming a sort of poetic revelation, the poet laying bear her/his soul to the reader; we, thus, become privy to the internal landscape of the poet’s mind. Kay said in an interview, “a poem is a physical thing you make” this quote is reflected in the structure of the poem; each part, each chapter is a representation of an experience that the three characters go through. I feel like it is a dialogue form, this is why i think it is written in free verse, there are some AABB rhythmical structure but it is seldom seen which seems to mimic or is emblematic of the real life conversation or experience one goes through.

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The quote mentioned in the opening brings to light the theme of belonging.As Kay tells in her interview and through her poem that “colour matters to the nutters” but the racism that the little girl experiences in the segment Black Bottom, which prompts her to question her sense of naturalness and to ponder over what makes her different. It is not her but the society which is at fault here. She has the poster of Angela Davis on her wall, a strong female who said “we have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” This is very important towards understanding the character of the daughter who feels that if “I could be as brave as her when I get older/ I’ll be OK.” The full stop after this sentence highlights the finality of this statement, she knows if she is strong she will able to fight against such overt racism and self-deprecating views that are created by the society around her. She forgets the colour of her skin and looks in the mirror and gives her self “a bit of a shock/ and say to myself Do you really look like this?” When reading this, I felt Kay is being a bit satirical here, she wants to show the society how ridiculous it is to be surprised if a white family has a coloured child. Kay recalls the incident when she went to the market and the saleswoman was shocked to see her the child belonging to the white-coloured mother with her. This looking in the mirror, while satirical, but also a potent motif used throughout Literature, and Kay says in her poem Longitude that
When I look in the mirror
I don’t see a foreign face,
no Heart of Darkness
These words highlight how colour should be a determining factor in a person’ life, gender, race, or another element is a part of one’s being and we should not let anyone tell us that it is not. And if we do well then we let them ‘other’ us and overpower us. As Kay says
People mistake you
you mistake yourself

 

 

 

Growing Up in Words: Blog Post by Becky Gawn

Gish 

When reading texts such as ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ and ‘Who’s Irish’ you realise you have forgotten what it is like to grow up. Everyone has their memories but being able to re-live these is easier when reading an accurate version of what truly happened. 

I had a relatively average upbringing and fitting in came easily. When thinking about what it could have been like if I was to have been placed in a different society with a different culture is overwhelming. Adichie however manages to show how it can be done and how quickly time can pass. Within five months you can both gain and loose relationships and very rarely are you unaware of the lost relationships. By showing a person taken out of her natural surroundings during a pinnacle age stresses how much can be forgotten. Contrasted with Jen who is constantly reminiscing of what a Chinese girl should be reminds us as the reader of how complex it is when trying to comply to societal norms which feel alien to those involved.  

What is achieved in Adichie’s work from providing us with a real, personal account is showing us what it is like to be a stranger. We see our protagonist leave home to her stay with an uncle (not blood related) but she wanted to remain true to herself, remember who she was and where she came from. Determined is a word I would use to describe her. The emotions felt are insinuated from her uneasiness to engage with others and create relationships. The same can be said for Jen who believe to remain true to her Chinese heritage from her references and eventually being able to live with a family she felt so conflicting to herself.   

Adichie

 Keeping an account of daily interactions and emotions enables a person to look back and recount what has been and how deeply it affected them. Much like Satrapi’s work you can imagine both Adichie and Jen writing at various points of their lives and it being true to each of them. Neither have lost themselves or fallen victim to written for the audience.

 Both of these women have allowed us into their lives at varying moments and reminded us how natural it is to make mistakes. The challenges each person may face will only help to build their character but it is crucial to always remain true to oneself and remember who you are in order to tell your story, your way.