Blog

THERE was total darkness

 

THERE was total darkness, and there was nothing to be seen. Nothing at all. There was only that faint sound of silence, the sound one hears when waves are conversing in the air – that moment which is reserved for only the dumbest of meetings. The darkness covered everything, stripping all of its form, the surroundings seemed to hover as a speck would do in an enormous, vacuous space. There seemed to be no openings left for protruding light. The surroundings seemed contained and lost within themselves as everything coiled as a meaningless down turning spiral. Empty and silent, there was no peace within the darkness. Only chaos. Only that sense of harsh loss which pierced through human skin and penetrated the deepest parts of flesh. The darkness was never – ending and the void, unimaginable.

AS the darkness grew blacker there was a strong density in the surroundings, a heaviness that inspired death, a feeling similar to that sense of longing for something that will never be. The darkness began to concentrate in the middle of the surroundings, now bearing decipherable black features and a spherical form. The rest of the space around the centre was shown grey in comparison. The sound of waves grew deeper, now heard as scrambling into one another as they tried to pass through the dense black matter that surrounded them.

THERE was something unusual in the way the waves were now conversing in the space. Something that had, until that moment, not occurred. As the dense black matter hovered heavily centre stage, the waves passing through it left behind them small ephemeral sparks coloured with deep oranges and yellows. Light was born. And it seemed obvious now that while one could have waited for it to be shown through cracks or holes, the light was born from the blackest region of the all-encompassing darkness. With each spark lasting four seconds at a time, more joined the committee. Where one strip of brightness had been shown, five – and then one hundred others were also born.

THE total darkness was no more, the small specks of light created a luminous carpet of possibility. So the sparks increased, but after that for a while the movement became static, most of the darkness had not been overcome, and it seemed as though the strips of light were just an insignificant anomaly. There had been no long momentum. Soon the sparks which continued were absorbed within the rules of the space – there was to be small hints of light, but the darkness would ensue. However, where the sparks had failed in illuminating the space they had achieved in dispersing the black matter. The light represented the first rules of the surroundings, they separated order from confusion and dispersed the leadership of the chaos that was before, the darkness.

The darkness thus eventually lost its dense quality, and resembled now a thin coating of black powder which hovered statically on the surface of a page. The sparks continued. Only this time, the light became more constant. Where the side of darkness had lost a quality, so goes that the light had gained one. The sparks were lost but replaced by a diaphanous veil which danced on the dark coating of the space. Like small grains of white sand against the remains of a burnt out fire, those were the two opposing features that now competed within the surroundings. The waves could still be heard, only with the partial passing of darkness so too did their intensity decrease. All for a moment, seemed balanced. Where there had been longing there was now harmony.

FOR a while, it seemed that peace was born. But soon another imbalance ensued. Inexplicably, almost as if done at will, the black grains of dark coating started thinning. There was a short moment of confusion, matched only by the certainty that the light was going to conquer. As the black grains disintegrated they fell and collected on a fixed point below them. Soon they covered a solid, rectangular enclosure. From the pavement form was born, and logic soon followed. The space had now gained fixed limits and dimensions. The darkness that had previously encompassed was collected on what may now be called a floor. The light continued to dance ethereally onwards. The light that was projected from this veil was opaque, still of a yellow and orange colour, now not as bright but more dispersed. There was still a strong sense of confusion, but now that confusion may have been directed on the lack of sight. There was a growing desire to see.

THE veil seemed to move in the direction of the waves as they remained through this, conversing in the air. The darkness that had collected on the ground had not altogether disappeared. The darkness was not entirely conquered. The pile of black grains on the pavement retained their mass of density. As the lower part of the light hovered just above the floor, it began to mix with the dark grains below. The former dragging them up, the latter dragging them down. Soon, the lower part of the veil returned as it had been when it was still competing with the darkness. This time there seemed to be a difference in the equilibrium. For every dark grain that the light brought up, more than double was dragged down by the black powder on the pavement. The veil began to wither, and the dark grains slowly consumed its previous oppressor. What had been a slow ingestion now marched quickly, when, within a second, the light heavily dropped. The weight at which it fell was unnatural to its weightless form. First, there was a white layer of dust that towered in the boxy space, which seemed as if it would stay there forever.

THE dust fell. The light and dark veils could not be seen. In the rectangular space there was a brown leather couch in the far back. The couch seemed worn and it had an open wound on its left arm through which white stuffing vulgarly protruded. On its right side, there was a fluorescent lamp with a steel stand and a green cloth lining on its top. In front of these two characters was a coffee table with the morning news and a cold cup of tea and cake. The floor needed to be dusted. There were two windows on either side of the room which were dressed with thin, linen curtains. On the right side of the space, there was glossy wooden china cabinet with a few silver trays and two candlesticks. A small, worn Persian rug in the middle framed the space. A room was born. There was nothing else in the room, and there seemed to exist nothing but the room. There was light in certain parts of the room, like coming from the lamp. There was also darkness in certain parts of the room, like from behind the couch or inside the tea cup. Shadows were born.

BALANCE ensued only to be disrupted once more. Behind the top of the lamp something could suddenly appear crowning, something with full locks of brown hair. Then came the sides of the face and cheekbones, followed by a slender neck, a chest, shoulders and two arms, long legs and an unfashionable pair of brown brogues. Then stepped out the figure with two pairs of blue eyes and a long nose, with a slight stubble and a navy shirt. Then stepped out man. A similar unusual thing occurred seconds later from the china cabinet. Slender toes began to wiggle out of the doors of the piece of furniture, toes with nails that had been painted blue and green. Pale white toes. The china cabinet opened. Then stepped out a figure with long brown hair and a slender neck, with a slender waist and large hips, with breasts and a linen shirt. Then stepped out woman. Mankind was born, in its most natural of habitats, the home.

 

 

“The paper.” She said

“What?”

“The paper, are you going to read it?”

“no.”

Man stepped out by the lamp and sat on the damaged part of the sofa. Woman grabbed the paper and sipped the tea, and sat down next to him.

“The tea’s cold” she said as she sipped, reading blankly

“Well,” man replied looking at his brogues “we must have been gone for a while”

No one looked outside. There was a long pause. The woman did not understand what she was reading.

“No, we’ve been here the entire time” She looked at him and said, “we’ve been sat here saying nothing the whole day.”

“Do you want some cake?” He offered her some cake.

“I’m bored.”

“Are you sure you’re not just hungry?”

“no.”

There was a long pause.

“OK, so what should we do? Do you want to take a walk about the room?” Man stood up and extended his hand out to the woman who was still sitting down, staring at her paper and drinking the cold tea.

“Come on, Evelyn” Evelyn was born. He continued stretching his arm out in an unnatural way, tension residing in every part of his limbs.

“Alright, John” John was born. She stood up after she engulfed the entire piece of cake in just one bite, “let’s go”.

The two roamed the room with vacant expressions on their faces which manifested themselves in different ways. Evelyn seemed tired and forlorn, jaded by an intense sense of boredom. She carried her weight on her back, walking with her pelvis outwards and dragging her feet as she walked. John was tense. John was tense everywhere. His eyes seemed pressed against his skull, whilst his dry, barren was mouth stressed and always danced on his face involuntarily. The two passed the couch, china cabinet, the coffee table, and stopped to stare at the Persian rug.

“Do you remember when we bought this rug at Whitechapel?” questioned Evelyn

There was a long pause, as if something had been said that should not have been. The equilibrium of the space which had been so arduously worked for had been broken when Evelyn mentioned a realm outside of the room.

There was a short pause as John looked at Evelyn’s weak, milky blue eyes. “Yes. I do, it was a Tuesday last year when spring came six weeks early, and you were wearing nothing but a burlap sac.”

“Wild” Evelyn whispered

Neither John nor Evelyn looked outside.

The air in the room seemed dry and static, the light trickled through the linen curtains. Mankind was riddled with a sense of longing and vacuous desire. Nothing had changed from before the darkness, everything had stayed the same but with different qualities. The air was dry and similar, the sound waves were more concentrated. There was more furniture and the space had form and dimension, but nothing really had changed. The space perhaps had always been there, it might have just been covered.

The two remained looking at the rug.

Neither of them went outside, both of them stayed indoors.

MEN

Prologue for the masculine prerogative and the little boy’s dilemma

. . .

I. FOR me, a discussion which involves men is always on which is best understood when it undergoes a schism of sorts. Not only does said schism allow for a less 2-dimensional approach of half of the human race, but it acknowledges – almost from the get-go – that at his core, the male has a bifurcated existence.

. . .

AND this is where, I believe, most of our problems (even those which do not directly appear to relate to this discussion) emerge. The split nature of the human-male is both the driver and the product of our value system in the western world. There is plenty of literature which supports this claim, mainly Freudian and post-Freudian (it is almost impossible not to think of Lacan, much to my own dissatisfaction). That is why I intend to be cautious when addressing this as it is so easy to fall in the trap of post-structuralist-psychoanalytical huba-baloo (i.e. just another form of male display). Nevertheless, where these scholars applied theories on the split or fragmented being to the entire nature of human existence, I intend to direct solely on the male subject. The latter, I admit, will not be a trying task as psychoanalysis envisions the ego as a definitively male one, or at least, one which is definitively conditioned by a male-centred world. In any case, it is important to draw the line right there. In my eyes, it is the male subject which is systematically bifurcated over the time, and the female is not. I stress this distinction perhaps because I envision it as an emancipation from the male ego, and a personal step towards crisping up the edges of a female subjectivity which had always seemed too blurry for me.

. . .

II. WE have come to exist in a quasi-exclusively visual culture. This has in part been accelerated by social-media outlets such as reddit, which functions as a super-printing-press for memes. I see the creation and distribution of images such as memes as a kind of paradox whereby no original copy of an image exists anymore, as the velocity and scale to which it is reproduced and distributed scrambles any kind of traceable route of regression. This visual culture, however, is not entirely dictated by even-newer and even more short-lived image-bytes which flicker on-and-off-on-and-off at us. The modern phenomenon of images as coded messages (messages as we know them in our terms, so hieroglyphs or illuminated manuscripts don’t count) is part of a much broader art historical tradition which goes a couple of centuries back. Without even going into any sort of depth, the effects that images and signs have on us as individuals impacts our collective consciousness. The effects of our visual culture are palpable in everyday life. We deal in terms of signs and signification, and it is extraordinary how, almost as a collective consciousness, we have created a universal language which does not necessitate a translator.What is more impressive to me is that the area we have placed the most effort on to signify and segregate is the realm of gender and sexuality.  Even a 21st century house cat would know better than to buy a Pollypocket for little Bobby, or a miniature truck for little Susie.

. . .

WITHIN the area of gender and sexuality it is obvious that the most visibly revisited subject is the female body. With no exception, it is safe to say that, either by repetition or omission, western visual culture (which, for the most part has been completely dominated by men) has been wholly committed to the representation, regulation and appropriation of feminine physicality. What truly stands out as I write these words is a paper I was assigned in my first year of my BA Art History about fifth century BC Greek pots and vases. I read a paper by scholars T. Rasmussen and N.J. Spivey (great names BTW) which briefly examined the conflicting representation of women on said vases. In almost every vase featured you could feast your eyes on sumptuously carved bodily undulations, some w\hose nudity was used to amplify their promiscuity and others whose heavily draped bodies was a vehicle for their domestic role as chaste wives and daughters. It is remarkable how, in over a two-thousand year period, the same ideals lead us to two extreme points of female existence. There is no fathoming still, of any woman in between, because women are still being at large represented from the eyes of men who either desire or fear them (or probably both).  I am still shocked at the scale to which women over-populate men in visual culture. We are really everywhere, in magazines, in televised ads, and on everyone’s minds – exposed and scrutinised. Aside from the obvious worrisome conclusions we can derive, it is useful to stop and contemplate how incredibly bizarre it all is.  Yet, I don’t want to veer the argument away from my initial focus – men – so I’ll just carry on where I left off.

. . .

IT is easy to misunderstand our world as being ‘full of women’ merely because they appear in almost every-page of visual outlets (I discovered this when my friends and I hysterically flipped through women’s magazines looking for ‘hot men’ for our ‘hot-man wall’ which left us if anything, short of stimulation and short of provisions!) Perhaps when looking closer it becomes obvious that male power functions like Bentham’s panopticon – ever-present yet undetectable. Through this poignant yet invisible power men have been able to prescribe laws (many of which practice female erasure from social issues), build civilisations and direct systems and ideologies. That is not to say that male power is allbad. There is the century old argument, for instance that men are single-minded empire-builders – which I believe for the most part to be quite accurate. As Dr. Helena Cronin once controversially put it, ‘we are all the descendants of those competitive men, and those judicious women’. Dr. Cronin applied Darwinian theories almost as a direct response to Second-Wave Feminism, by which she illustrated that biologically men were more single-minded, competitive and ambitious than women. This was very hard for me to swallow, considering I have always strongly identified with the adjectives above… but who can argue with science?

. . .

III. AND, I suppose, this is where I lead into actually explaining what I mean by a bifurcated male subjectivity. What I illustrated before is something that is basically as undeniable as it is immutable – our basic genetic makeup, our biology and our distant past. Perhaps our differences are merely just fact and we should just get over it – in essentially every other animal the female and the male are identifiable in their disparity, often both in their physical appearance and the roles they hold.

. . .

HOWEVER, both this argument and Dr. Cronin’s alike,  is a gross over-simplification. As feminist author Germaine Greer comments in her first best-seller The Female Eunuch (1970), in no other animal are sexual differences exaggerated and amplified as in human-kind. So another explanation for the apparent gender disparity is most definitely a cultural issue. I believe the most obvious point in favour of this argument is that while scientific laws are a constant, masculinity never has been. While we may be able to find beads of male attitudes across disparate periods and cultures which paint a coherent picture, we may also find this to be a laborious and futile endeavour. In many Japanese households, for example, the women hold a monopoly over the family budget and their husband’s earnings – something unfathomable for a western paterfamilias’ sense of masculinity.

. . .

BETWEEN the late-19th century and today European society shifted from a state of masculinity to what may be called hyper-masculinity. This is a topic which is all too familiar for me, as I dedicated last year’s research to it. In my paper Setting and Disseminating Paradigms of Masculinity in the Late-19th Century Painting  I argued:

Following France’s humiliating defeat by the British at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and Napoleon’s additional failure during the 100 Days campaign (1815), the late nineteenth-century saw a series of subsequent defeats during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1).[2] Where once the French men were revered as the acme of military masculinity, they now returned ‘with their bodies mutilated and incomes slashed, veterans materially cut off, socially severed, and psychologically emasculated’.[3] Such an extreme disfigurement of the physical body relates back to Lacan’s theories of the fragmented self – just as the men’s anatomical integrity was compromised, so too did the military humiliation in the subsequent years perforate the very tissue of their constructed masculinity.[4] Lacan argued in favour of a theoretical dichotomy between the (organic) penis and the (inorganic) phallus.[5] While all male subjects possessed a penis, and lacked the symbolic presence of the phallus, they were wholly charged with the un-achievable task of representing it.[6] The symbolic phallus may be seen less as a focal point of male attributes and more as the ‘renunciation of the feminine’, a model which according to Kimmel is inevitably ‘unrealisable’ and one which provides an exaggeratedly gendered sense of identity which is both ‘tenuous and fragile’.[7]

In short, my text illustrated the  constructed state of masculinity in European mentality (with an obvious emphasis on the French) and how individual subjectivity was suppressed under a layer of cultural neurosis. Males, by their own collective doing, sacrifice their personal identity in favour of a universal status quo.

. . .

I like to romanticise the time when a boy finally becomes a man. Although in truth most of the process, I admit, but happen as a sub-conscious process. There is nothing more in-organic, more counter-intuitive, than our coming of age – both in men and women. When we are babies we are all the same. Many studies conducted in the west demonstrate that babies cry at the same rate and frequency regardless of biological sex, and the rupture which occurs between boys and girls is only exacerbated when a child realises their own gender at around five. I want to call that ‘the little boy’s dilemma’. In his earliest stages of development the infant-boy is fettered to his doting mother as she nurses him, an act which may be regarded as the most sacred of intimacies. As he grows, this intimacy is inevitably lost and he turns to his father (or father-figure). This hardening up of boys into men is not seen as damaging because the system tricks us into thinking about an organic schism between the sexes. Men are hard, women soft – boys blue, girls pink… and so on and so forth. The damage it does to men is also much harder to detect because this is a man’s world. Empire building, leadership and capitalism are all systems put in place by men, for men. The phenomenon of modern capitalism is essentially a rewards based-system where there is a lot to win for very few. When women were more-or-less allowed to participate in this numbers game none of us realised at what disadvantage they would enter the race. Of course, there is the big one – women, as opposed to men, are physiologically equipped to a domestic setting because they have a uterus and therefore must bear children. Some say this is the grand explanation, but I refuse to see it this way – if anything it is the grand excuse. The fact that women bear children would not have been a problem in a society that had been invested in providing equal opportunities from the get-go. The issue of inequality is not one of biological difference, it is about the fact that women have entered a man’s economy without so much as a single meaningful modification or adjustment. Women are expect to work like men, isn’t that naff? A woman, who at some point if she chooses with her partner, will one day bear children, nurse them, have to give them double the attention to compensate for her absent husband who is expected at work – must perform in exactly the same way as a man who has no such responsibilities or needs… and if she can’t keep up, produce steady capital, cross swords in the grand pissing contest that is the male-centred economy, she is exiled back into the kitchen – apron on, pie in hand, baby on tit.

The little boy’s dilemma is also about sex and friendships. Men, perhaps more than ever today when women edge themselves out of the margins of social spheres, like to stick together. The late Dr. Kosofsky-Sedgwick discussed at length the issue of male homosociality in English literature and beyond. A pre-requisite of male-bonding is that it practice total female exclusion but also obligatory heterosexuality. Men are each-other’s brothers, comrades – but in-between the lines, also their biggest competitor’s for female attention in the sexual arena.

Commodity feminism – a 21st century problem

Almost anyone studying the field of feminist + queer theory will come across the words ‘constructed’ ‘socially’ and ‘femininity’ in a sentence – like, at least 400 times. And, every time, the message seems very clear: ‘femininity’ is not biological, it is not scientific, and it is not tied to women at all. In these terms, ‘femininity’ is a direct product of patriarchal social constructs which dictate distinct regulations on both sexes in an attempt to mask them as purely scientific. As shocking as this could have sounded in the ’70s, nowadays these ideas have become very palatable – if not a bit cliche’ (but those things are almost always mutually exclusive).

During these tremendous cultural transgressions in (but not limited to) queer theory, ideas such as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ were irrevocably scrutinised. Such terms went from a state of static, forced being to a state of fluid mobility. ‘Femininity’ no longer merely a woman’s designation, ‘masculinity’ not only exercised by those who had created it in the first place. Of course, as in anything, queer theory did face some major backlash but in our visual culture it has never been more alive and relevant than at the time of its nascence. Just last summer, the Tate Britain had a tremendous ‘Queer British Art Show’ exhibition, while the National Portrait Gallery featured works by the too-often forgotten Claude Cahun.

002-claude-cahun-theredlist
Claude Cahun, self-portrait, 1929

Some argue that purely on a visibility aspect, Western culture has unequivocally embraced queer-culture…with news outlets such as Buzzfeed News, MTV and Yahoo faithfully reporting on issues relating to women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. I would argue on the other hand, that popular culture has demonstrated probably the exact opposite – that what we are facing instead is a commodification of feminist + queer issues because time and time again we have seen that it is like, so hot right now. A few months ago I was scrolling through my news feed when I came across a slogan that read something like ‘now sex no longer sells, but activism does’, and that really stuck with me. We see how mega clothing stores such as Topshop brandish tee-shirts with the likes of ‘FEMINIST’ and ‘Everyone Should be a Feminist’, I don’t even want to fathom the image of Sir Phillip Green wearing one of those oversized monstrosities as jammies…but it’s hard not to.

feminist
Very avant-garde topshop tee

We should find items like these at best patronising, and at worst a callous exploitation of women’s livelihood for the sake of capital inflow. Somehow, somewhere… while we were all out for a mini-snack break or a quick bathroom trip… we came back to a feminism that has been reduced to an accessory no more poignant than an Urban Decay Naked palette. Like the palette, feminism is now easy to store in our handbags, ready to be used and brought around for when we need a ‘touch-up’, but never really given much more thought than that. To me, popular feminism seems to be more of a status-symbol for a very-bored girl, who, running out of things to do, takes a look at an insta-celebrity’s profile and finally realises that ‘feminism’ is perhaps something that she ought to be interested in.

Of course, it would be overly cynical and equally as stupid to assume that there are no real feminists left, that the movement has become hollow and impotent. Aside from the really really big names (if you can’t name any don’t worry they will probably end up on a posthumous crop-top tribute) I am lucky enough to interact with truly remarkable young women who have enough tact and sensibility to separate the meaningful from the superficial, the real from all the bullshit. But that also seems too little, too late. Feminism failed to see that it’s biggest adversary was never going to be grumpy men in shiny suits, nor rape-culture, nor even gender-genocide – it’s largest, most unbeatable opponent was the very thing that produced and fetishized all of those listed above – consumer capitalism (oOoOoOoOo). It’s kind of funny to think about the fact that we have literally let consumer capitalism fuck us (again!) when we are not even really sure what consumer capitalism is. Sure, there are the numbers, and the people and the items themselves…. but how could we have let it drive us to this very moment, how could we have let it make such a fool of us? It’s kind of like imagining that for all these years feminism has been running towards the edge of a very promising cliff, and that at the other side of the cliff there is our objective, and that with each step we take on more momentum, and more, and more… until we get to the edge and we realise that actually the other side of the cliff is just a big pile of shit, so we try to bring it all back, retrace our steps… but we can’t – and now we are swimming in a big pile of shit...shit.

In all seriousness, I have been trying to argue that commodity feminism really does more harm than good. It inspires us towards superficiality, by giving us a ready-made and hollow version of perhaps the biggest movement in charge of materially ameliorating women’s lives. It enables critics to scrutinise feminism, and indeed women’s credibility by allowing ourselves to be reduced to none-other than noise. It perpetuates the idea that, exactly like chokers or dip-dyed hair, feminism is something to be monetised – at least, for a brief period of time.

It seems that feminism really does come in waves – although it truly ought not to be. For every suffragette there was also a Betty Draper, for every Gloria Steinem there was also a Barbara Bush and for every Malala Yousafzai there is the inevitable commodity feminist. But at least the likes of Betty Draper and Barbara Bush were polite enough to wait their bloody turn, they waited at least twenty-years before coming in to tear down the bunting. The big problem now is that commodity feminists are our contemporaries, they need no benefit of hindsight, no pearl-necklaces, no revisionist-revisionist approaches because they have managed to infiltrate the very system that had once vowed to break them down. In short, commodity feminism has orchestrated the ultimate coup-d’état. 

It seems hardly believable that even in the guise of strength and solidarity we women still allow the most brutal offences to be made in our name. Perhaps we do not realise just how oppressed we really are until we actually stop and take a closer look at the fine print written at the very bottom of any concession granted to us in our favour. Most of us are very happy to decorate our bodies with silly pseudo-feminist tee shirts in the same way that the women before us submitted themselves to the corset. We allow ourselves to be satisfied by a mere pat on the head by a man who perhaps stands only a few inches taller than us, because even the most liberated have been taught that we are deserving of half our worth. Now more than ever we seem more content to relax our fists and stop struggling, we lower our eyes to the ground when men tell us that women have ‘never had it better’. From this I can only derive two possible conclusions: either that 1. most women truly inhabit the illusion that both sexes live in a state of immutable and constant equality or (the one which I subscribe to) 2. most women believe that they want better for themselves, but don’t believe in it enough to actually want to inhabit a state of material change – something which obviously requires a lot of heated discussions during (but not limited to) dinner parties.

The question of women’s now almost deliberate submission to their male peers leads me on my next argument about the desperate generosity of women, which I will discuss at length in part II, ‘Commodity Womanhood: An even bigger 21st century problem’

Is ‘self-love’ enough?

For me, a conversation about self-love must always include a conversation about the ideal of grace. The ideal of being a creature with grace. Self-love is not about vanity, nor appearance, but about dignity. In other words, it’s about being able to be poised and have a raging bush at the same time (incredible, right?). We are in the midst of a self-love wave, perhaps moving so fast that we are not able to grasp it’s full potential just yet… but we will, with time.

I am a very young girl. And like other many very young girls I am exploring my body and the limits it bears with it… just now I can truly appreciate the longevity of a scar, the imprint of a wrinkle, just now as I edge away from the flossy gates of childhood. Only now can I see that through all those years of bending moving my wrists to clutch my pen, small lines pave my hands like barks on a tree. It is those lines that perhaps have always been there, like craters on a moon, and yet I only notice them now.

The exploration of one’s own body inevitably comes with a tedious process of self-evaluation… from the more banal questions we ask others ‘Hi Siri, are red spots on my ass signs of genital herpes or pregnancy? Can I get pregnant with genital herpes? Does wearing leggings give me cellulite? Are stretch marks real?’ to the more serious ones we may ask ourselves like ‘How much am I worth?’ (to which Siri never has an answer to BTW).

siri
As you can see, Siri is a cold bitch and has no time for your existential insecurities

Now, self-love appears to be everywhere. From the sixteen year old insta-model who refuses to shave her pussy, to the overweight ‘butch’ who will not be silenced by the glares at her mom’s tea-party. It is almost my impression that self-love acts as a pseudo-consumer good. Packed neatly ready to be taken home (like those baby-dolls they had at F.A.O. Schwartz with the ‘nurses’ and the ‘maternity ward’ on the second floor). The idea of self-love is inspirational, and many individuals have pioneered this practice and made it far more accessible to others like me who are perhaps more late to the game. But at the same time, it is also vague and confusing. Where do we draw the line between self-love and delusion?

im 2

More important still, can we say with an entirely clear conscience, that self-love is enough? Enough to shield us from the politics of a fundamentally misogynistic world. Enough to raise us from the ashes when we read, almost incredulous, the growing numbers on the tallies of violence against women and girls. Is ‘loving’ ourselves even making an impact in the face of so much adversity?

To all those questions above, I would answer no. But I would also say that those questions should not matter. The ‘self-love movement’ does not only ask of us to embrace our own bodies and selves, but better yet it leads us to question ‘to whom does my body really belong to?’. Engaging in the practice of self-love, though seemingly individualistic, unites women on emotional and intellectual levels. The subjectivity of the singular body transforms itself into a tissue of communication and mutual support. An acknowledgement that self-love does not stop at a resistance of societal pressures, is an acknowledgement that it is possible to turn said pressures upside down altogether.

Self-love works on two basic levels; the first level belongs to the singular person alone. I practice the first level of self-love simply by looking at myself in the mirror, and ‘accepting’ portions of my person which do not seem fit for our collective standards i.e. a saggy ass. The second level is based on public spheres of influence. In order for this to work, I voice my ‘love’ or ‘acceptance’ of my (for example, saggy ass) publicly. I may post a picture of it on a social media outlet, or I may use it to transmit onto others the principles of such a practice. Based on those two examples, it seems clear that in order for self-love to have a real impact it must be present within the intimacy of a subject, but it must also manifest itself loudly and publicly.

Self-love awakens that aspect of women’s bodies that had been, in previous years, subject to a deep, dark slumber. The exploration of one’s erogenous zones, even if they are disgusting orifices. The ability to be a desirable lover even when looking down on our slumped, clenched, straight-out-of-national-geographic stomachs.

Of course, feeling ‘attractive’ is important – but self-love is not about suddenly falling into a spiral of physical degradation and laisez-faire but rather giving aspects of ourselves, such as a flabby belly or drooping breasts, importance only when we choose to do so. Self-love is about getting over the mortification faced at the hands of strangers, teachers and sometimes even parents concerning our own bodies. About being mistress of one’s own bodily gratification, without thinking about which way our thighs fall better on the bed for the sake of our fellow lover’s eye-sore.

Once again, is self-love enough? I’m not quite sure. There are many women and girls who have adopted this practice whole-hardheartedly, while others still pace back and forth. Like everything, policies are only efficient when they are implemented on a large-scale, and even then, the amount of contradiction and adversity faced is endless. Though not completely widespread, there definitely appears to be an undercurrent of women who are ready to take back their bodies, and keep them theirs for good. And that makes me very positive.

Sex, Rape and ‘hot potatoes’

Last summer, as I sat spread-eagled  on my couch late at night, I came across a program on TCL titled Sex Sent Me to the ER (why didn’t I think of that…?) and through it I almost forgot about all the other night-time activities I could have been taking part in as a twenty-something in the middle of summer.

The show is divided into various segments, each telling of a sexual indiscretion so vehement that it sent the perpetrators to seek immediate medical assistance (on this particular episode that I saw, 2/3 of the cases were centred on the erotic accountability of women). There was one incident in particular where the show-makers obviously wanted to drag out until the smallest fruit of televised drama would be reaped; the girl was suffering from what appeared to be toxic shock syndrome – fever, lack of feeling in her legs, excruciating stomach cramps. It did not, however, end there – the girl was also a gypsy witch, something which the producers could obviously exploit to combine sex, the female body, and the erotically charged dangers of black magic, creating a fabulously morbid spell of T.V. story-telling . Finally, the source of her ailment was revealed…. the girl had inserted a small spud in her vagina which had stayed inside her for at least two weeks, as a form of (obviously faulty) contraception. The marvellous scan of her womb showed lovely vines which had sprouted from the potato as a result of the bacteria present in her vagina, as well as the dark and damp space which favoured the nourishment of flora.

That little piece of trash T.V. became immortalised in me as I noticed how neatly it summarised two very important parts of my own identity: my own sexuality, and the warm memories of my childhood. Let’s talk about the latter. The lovely little spud that had been cradled in that woman’s vagina only to sprout vines and leaves, reminded me of a game which was almost always a prime feature of children’s birthday parties. The game of patata bollente, or as English-speakers call it the game of hot potato, asks of participants to sit in a tight circle as they pass around a chosen object (usually a bag of rice, or in less resourceful households a crumpled up newspaper) while music plays… the last person to hold the object once the music stops is eliminated, and so on and so forth. It’s incredible that even after all those parties, and all those rounds… memories like this seem to drift off in a darker side of your mind, eclipsed by other things such as sex and schoolwork.

I find it very sad that what forced me to reminisce about this was the onset of rapes happening right now in Italy. There have been about 2,438 reported cases of rape in just the first seven months of 2017 (Huffington Post Italia). We may call this a rape crisis, with other countries such as the U.K. following suit. The way rape is used by the media in Italy in particular is interesting. Popular shows such as Porta a Porta (literally, Door to Door) feed on the misfortune of female victims for months of end, bringing in ‘specialist’ psychologists, criminologists and ‘feminists’ to assess the situation. Usually, an uniformed and extensive talk on the dangers of immigration comes into play, whether or not the assailant was a foreigner.

porta-a-porta-bruno-vespaufficiostamparai_1024x512_
Bruno Vespa, an Italian journalist, featured in the studio of his show Porta a Porta

Everyday I read or hear about rape cases in Rome, a country where I lived not too long ago… just yesterday, a woman was found naked and tied to a lamppost in the capital’s park of Villa Borghese. This woman was allegedly walking alone at night while in another case, a young Finnish woman accepted a lift home from a stranger. There are times, I admit, where I too succumb to the age-old question of ‘What was this woman doing alone at night near the park, a place where criminals hide in the bushes?’ or ‘Why was this girl so silly, to accept a ride from a complete stranger?’. But then I think about my childhood game, and how us too, like the kids in my memory, are damned to sit in a circle and hysterically pass a hot potato around in the hope that we won’t be the ones holding it as the music stops playing. It’s a frantic image, one which isolates every woman to an individual player, and also one which expresses an implicit message that as the circle wears thin, so do the chances of finishing off empty handed. And I also know why we do it, because in the fear and chaos of such realities, we try desperately to rationalise things, ‘it won’t happen to me, because I am never alone’, ‘it won’t happen to me, because I don’t wear provocative clothes’. Most of all, we must not allow the monetising of rape cases which is happening right now in Italy under its unscrupulous media.

In this we are also even more unlucky, due to the fact that this crisis is also happening at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, where hundreds of thousands of refugees disembark on the shores of the peninsula. Due to this, it becomes very difficult for many Italians to rationally subtract immigration from the increase of rape at this time. The main issue with Italy and their views on immigration is based on two key factors. First, is the lack of regulation involved. Some Italians find immigration from geographic locations such as Syria and Northern Africa disconcerting because they don’t trust their government to properly distribute these people and weed out the ‘good’ ones from the ‘bad’ ones (although the issue of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigration is a lot more complicated than this). This leads into the second part which is an issue of integration –  where in countries such as the U.K. it is common to see a British family of colour with a great sense of national identity, the same cannot be said about Italy, where even second or third generation immigrants are not given the same quality of life as their White compatriots. Due to this, immigrants flock to areas which are largely populated by members of their same country of origin, not only hindering the integration process further but also angering Italians which find that they are suddenly outnumbered in a neighbourhood they had lived in their entire lives. So all in all immigration here is a great example of how incompetent the government is to protect those who are most vulnerable.

The rise of immigration and rape has given neo-fascist political groups such as the Forza Nuova (literally New Force, or New Strength) fertile ground. They use scare tactics to disenfranchise the great majority of honest immigrants who come to Europe in search of a better future for themselves and their families. They spread fake-news to create horrifying manifestos such as the one featured below, and use the increasing violence on women as a springboard for nefarious propaganda.

forza-nuova-manifesto-anti-immigrati-223x300
Manifesto for the anti-immigration views of the Forza Nuova. Featured above the image is the slogan ‘Defend Her from New Invaders’. Below the image the manifesto reads ‘She could be your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter’

But images like these, though frustrating, are hardly shocking. The female body has long been used in visual culture and politics to transmit messages. The idea that the woman could be ‘your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter’ reveals the obvious inability to feel empathy for a woman’s livelihood unless it has some bearing on a man’s own identity or status. The biggest problem with rape is that we are obsessed with it. We use it to sensationalise politics, to police women, and to titillate our darkest erotic desires.

What’s ironic is that people such as Roberto Fiore (founding member of Forza Nuova, recently deceased in Feb. 2017) casually gloss over the fact that 6/10 rapists in Italy are Italian. A few weeks ago, two Carabinieri (members of the Italian paramilitary force) were accused of raping two American students in Florence whilst on duty. Interestingly enough, after those allegations were made, shows such as Porta A Porta engaged in a speculation on whether the rape did actually take place, while the mayor of Florence Dario Nardella began his statement with ‘Se fosse vero…’ or ‘If this were true…’ (reppublica.it).

We must also remember that most rape cases go unreported, or in any case do not get the same media coverage as the more ‘exciting’ ones. Around 90% of rape cases occur when the victim knows the assailant personally, and in situations where the victim is the spouse of her rapist the chances of conviction begin to wear thin (facts based on statistics by the US Department of Justice and rapecrisis.org). Speaking to La Reppublica, Lella Palladino, a member of the association Donne In Rete Contro La Violenza (Women Online Against Violence) comments: ‘In 80% of domestic violence cases we are also dealing with sexual violence cases, and here we are talking about victims and assailants which are by far an Italian majority’ (own translation, see below for original).

Rape is like a hot potato. But the reality is it ought not to be. Our weakness is that we want to create order where there is suffering and chaos, we want to point the finger at the irresponsible woman, or the dark-skinned immigrant with an insatiable thirst for European flesh. But these are but myths, not dissimilar to stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. We must, first and foremost, take a strong look at our own men, those still responsible for more than half of reported rapes. We must take a look at our law enforcement, and examine how those two Carabinieri slipped through the cracks unnoticed. We must take a look at our institutions and examine why they have been unable to offer women protection, perhaps even in the face of a female mayor in Rome.

*Lella Palladino, in Italiano: ‘…Tra le donne che si rivolgono ai nostri centri, gli episodi di violenza domestica si rivelano infatti nell’80% dei casi anche episodi di violenza sessuale. E qui parliamo di situazioni in cui vittime e stupratori sono in stragrande maggioranza italiani’

 

The busty barmaid

A girl walks into a bar

Feet first – Steve Madden heels first.

She wears her favourite LBD

All eyes on her tits

She laments this.

They say…

If you don’t make ’em seen, we won’t demean

She’s in another world… she gasps

To herself

Shit! I forgot to put my perky set of tits out to dry

A visual aid:

boobies perky
Perky Tits
IMG_2022
Asymmetrical tits
IMG_2024
Ying-Yang tits
IMG_2029
Avant-garde tits
IMG_2023
Surrealist tits
IMG_2028
Tits et nature morte; grapes and an apple

Stewardship and Dominion: The Bible and Feminism

The notion of man’s stewardship and/or dominion over the Earth has perhaps been the religious concept which has resisted even the most drastic kinds of animosity towards it. This idea, which serves to give man legitimacy over the Earth’s resources, and its other inhabitants, comes out of the Book of Genesis – the creation fable. Although the terms stewardship and dominion have slightly different meanings (the former is basically just a more benign way of expressing the latter – which is understood as ultimate control and ownership), they are essentially one and the same, and trying to define them in their differences would only serve to legitimise their claim. It is important not to be fooled into thinking that the creationist definition of stewardship is paradigmatic of a revised, female-friendly ideology; stewardship, by the very function it performs, not only entails, but requires complete ownership, entitlement and use of power over others. So, from now on, in order to not commit a tautology, I am going to refer to this concept exclusively in the less deceitful guise of Dominion.

God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  Genesis 1:26

A most basic understanding of the term serves to reassure even the most depraved class of men, and we have witnessed how these primal ideas have developed into a series of brutal losses for womankind. There has never been, perhaps, such a calculated ambush on the livelihood of girls and women. The main problem with Dominion is that it is so hard to eradicate – and more often than not individuals in our culture are shocked to learn how much viable impact Biblical teachings have had on state of affairs today. The words of the Old Testament create a false credibility by confusing constructed social values (again, made by men for men) with a natural (or Super-natural) order. The fact that women were left subordinate to the men in the Bible is not collateral damage but a very nefarious business move, done this way not only to suite their current audience but also to create a safe and predictable situation for their fellow men. The fact that man was made in image of god, and that god himself has an explicitly defined sex, is one such demonstration of this. The now over-polemicised example of god then creating Eve out of Adam’s rib, is basically just a perfumed way of saying that god likes to be in the presence of tits, too.

the-only-time-in-history-a-bitch-knew-what-she-21867073

And it is right there, squeezed between god’s obligatory manhood and his appreciation of Biblical bosom, that Dominion comes into play – where the grounds for ownership and use of male power have been disguised as one with nature. Dominion over the Earth that he inherits – with the implied advantages of plucking the most beautiful flowers, consuming the sweetest honey, and enjoying the fruits of god’s creation – one giant metaphor, really, for overseeing privileges of the female body and all that it comports. Biblical concepts of Dominion created social values based on the constant interference of men in female spaces – the right to female sexuality independent of the phallic fantasies which the men impose, menstruation, maternity and eventual infertility. Dominion allowed men to comment on the female body indefinitely. More often than not the statements made on behalf of men in the Bible (which is, all of the statements made in the Bible ever) regarding women are almost exclusively reserved for their physical state, and at that laced with disgust and desire.

 “And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.” (Lev. 15:9-20)

What is striking about this idea of Dominion however, is also the complicated relationship men sometimes have with it. The vilest crime, it seems, an individual can commit is to be an ‘unclean’ woman – but it is also the most exciting of transgressions. In every organised ‘Western’* society, either pre- or post- Biblical culture, the rules of the game are very repetitive: obedience, sexual sub-ordinance, child-bearing. Yet, it is also true that in almost every historical period, the men have fantasised about individual women challenging these ideals, even if for a brief burst of time. For the Greeks, it was the heavily franchised story of the Amazon women, who cut off one breast in order to yield their arrows (the ultimate renunciation of the feminine), turned their war captives into sex slaves, and drowned their baby boys. They were, in all effects and purposes, a society which functioned without the Dominion of men – the ultimate contradiction for the male ego. So why recall, or even, why invent them? Who could forget also, the infamous Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. For the Biblical men, it was the apocryphal story of Lilith, Adam’s first woman, with flaming red hair, and perhaps most importantly – with a particular taste for riding on top, a taste which enabled her to  become mistress of her own gratification. In less fictitious terms, there is also the great account of Anne Boleyn, who managed to manipulate King Henry VIII’s sexuality against him to break from the Catholic Church and make her Tudor Queen.

These women however, have more than just transgressions in common – they enjoy, all of them, a short-lived victory over the infallible power of male authority. Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, is defeated and married to Theseus – domesticated castration. Helen also, after the war is won, is returned to Menelaus. Anne Boleyn, after a brief moment on the throne, is decapitated. The story of Lilith is harder to summarise due the diluted accounts of her existence, although in the Alphabet of Ben Sira Lilith allegedly found existence with Adam so insufferable that she vanquished herself from the Garden of Eden (lol), but it was not long until god could fashion his first-born a new wife. The pattern here is obvious – perpetual Dominion can be boring. But perhaps the more important point to grab from this is that these women excite men – sexually unpredictable, explosive and in many ways independent. The denouement of these women’s stories indicates men’s desire to escape the societal norms, and the eventual necessity to restore them. Women are allowed to walk between the extremities of obedience and misdemeanour  when the behaviour coincides with male fancy, but whichever the situation, Dominion seems to trump fantasy. Men like exciting female sexuality, but only for a short while.

The topic of Dominion is of course relevant to any feminist discourse at any given point in time, past or present. However, it seems especially pertinent in 2017 with the current administration in office in the USA. This is not to say that the Trump Presidency has decidedly changed the fate of women, or that indeed we have not seen such a disregard for our livelihood already. What is mainly shocking is the scale and urgency at which these damaging measures are publicly displayed. But it is not at all surprising. Often women wonder why their bodies are scrutinised, why their ovaries seem to be the only thing which are treated as if in a Socialist regime (that is to say, that they are spoken about and handled like a public good), or why their expression of intellect is in one way or another inexplicably tied to hormonal occurrences. The female body is as of today just as yesterday, treated like the Earth that the men inherit from the god of the Old Testament. Through it they express their rule, and onto it they project what they deem to be a value-system made to benefit everyone. We have seen modern-day Dominion in action on a huge scale over the last few months, with fervent cries to defund PP and enact bills which will offer men in power an entry way into abortion policies.

What is more morbid than these acts is indeed the animosity taken on behalf of the executioners. In the pictures alongside President Trump there is a sea of men in suits, huddled up together like a picture for the Little League.

trump eww
Trump & the ‘global gag rule’

This picture and indeed this argument is all together already a cliche’. Trump is one too, and any mention of him in any news story or article is likely to make anyone go intellectually flaccid so, I’m going to stop right here about him. Indeed, the point itself is not Trump, he is but one of many. The point is far rooted within us, displayed in men as the privilege to dictate the laws of the female body, and demonstrated in women by an adherence to, or acceptance of, these laws. This is perhaps why we have made such little progress in questions of abortion and contraception (watched closely in order to regulate female sexuality out of fear of a Pandora’s box scenario). Of course, in most developed countries abortion and contraception are widespread, and women lucky enough to find themselves in these places enjoy a less constraining life. The progress lacks insofar as these topics are still generally controversial – yes abortions are legal, but they are also largely kept a secret. Contraception too is available, but usually at the expense of women and girls who endure even unbearable side effects from the hormonal intake. The fact that these topics are controversial means that they are never truly accepted into normality, and this hinders the progress towards even safer and even more effective ways for women to enjoy sex.

This argument always seems to be going around in circles. Even with full recognition of all these facts, the reader still seems to be navigating opaque waters. There is no full-proof strategy through which women may be able to eradicate these circumstances all together… not at this moment, anyway. What is encouraging is to see so many women globally fighting for the owner’s rights of their bodies, and who recognise the power of agency. Women are each day becoming more aware of the choices which were never  any man’s to make for them, and with every passing moment take part in this shifting of social dynamics.

Women are truly very resilient – and this is not my bias speaking. In spite of it all, women achieved all the feminist milestones we have to thank for, completely by their own volition. In light of the circumstances, it is surprising to see that there were any Gentileschis, Curies or Austens, at all!