Tag Archives: Women

Orange is the New Black Season 2: Episode 1. ‘Thirsty Bird’

Orange is the New Black is back. After binge watching Season Two as quickly as we could we thought we’d recap the episodes to hold on to it for a little bit longer.

Oh Orange.

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Muffragette

Mary Bourke: Muffragette

So I opened my festival experience with a show that sounded like fun! I imagined it being some sort of extra-special, all singing, all dancing lesbo-feminism which would right up my street. I had my heart set. After a lot of talking it up I convinced my girlfriend (renown to be a reluctant hero when it comes to politics / feminism / my ranting) to accompany me. Now this required an after work race down to the Stand, as the show is inconveniently (for Edinburgh residents) shown at 17.50, literally just after work with little room for travel time.

After all the persuading I then read the shows write-up in the Festival brochure (I know I got over-excited at the title) and began to worry that my gung-ho attitude had been a little extreme. It had one line that stood out,

‘feminism without all the boring preachy bits’

which made me worry that we were about to go and see the ‘I’m a feminist, but not really a feminist’ brand of comic.

However, I shouldn’t have worried. I left feeling like I had had a nice hot cup of tea in a cosy chair. Comfortable, cheerful, but my life definitely wasn’t changed. It’s a nice show that raises some contemporary feminist issues like the constant barrage of twitter trolls who attempt to rule the internet, and the number of magazines on our supermarket shelves that seamlessly objectify and degrade women. The latter was demonstrated impeccably by a young man who replicated a number of the delightful poses that we see in lads mags (if you can’t imagine it, some similar examples can be seen here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jpmoore/men-ups-manly-men-in-classic-pin-up-poses). My only slight concern was the number of ‘Your Mum’ jokes which the comic admits to planning on behalf of one part of a TV presenting couple! Blame the man, not the Mam, for his bad behaviour Mary!

I had no complaints. The show was nice and feel good. I would definitely recommend it to those of you who have friends who are yet to realise their feminism.  It’s accessible, non-aggressive and a good introduction to the challenges faced by women in 2013. However, to anyone well versed in their contemporary feminism looking for something to challenge, inform or broaden their feminism, this is definitely not your gig.

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Orange Is the New Black

We’ve all been there before. Reeled into a new TV show by the promise of in depth queer characters and heartfelt emotions. Then there is the inevitable disappointment felt when you tune in to find that the promised characters are in fact harmful stereotypes used by the media that reinforce the casual homophobia that frequents our screens or the honest story line promised to us is in fact a casual fling stuck in to boost ratings and that will never be mentioned again.

So you’ve been burned by the promise of real characters before and you’re reluctant to let it happen again. Maybe you’ve seen the advert for Orange is the New Black or you’ve heard someone talking about it and you are wondering why open yourself to another let down?

Please stop right there. I know your time is precious and you’ve been hurt before, and I’m not promising this show won’t hurt you (please someone give me the cure for a broken heart), but please watch this show right now.

Full cast 'Orange is the New Black'

Based on a true story, Orange Is the New Black (OItNB) follows Piper Chapman as she enters a federal prison for carrying drug money ten years ago. As if this wouldn’t put enough strain on her relationship with fiancé Larry, it turns out Piper will be locked up with ex-girlfriend Alex who got her to carry the money.

First let’s chat about the women in this show. This show passes the Bechdel test so hard that I’m having trouble to remember if it would past the reverse Bechdel (if such a thing existed and if you think such a thing should exist please go and slam your head in a door). The women in this show are complex and flawed characters with diverse backgrounds and moving stories. The women are at the heart of this show and they make you laugh, shock you and punch you straight in the heart.

I don’t know what you look for in a queer show but there are a few things I like and OItNB ticks a lot of those boxes. I look for complex lesbian characters whose sexuality isn’t used for ratings or as a joke. This one gets quite a few ticks. We have Alex, whose international drug ring antics kick start the whole thing for Piper. Alex’s sexuality is not questioned or laughed at, it is honestly presented and explored.

Character Alex

Alongside Alex we have multiple queer stories varying from the hotly debated straight girl who sleeps with a woman while incarcerated to try and stop the wash of loneliness to the jealousy of a love triangle. There are plots that we’ve seen a million times before but with fresh twists and a dash of sensitivity that is lacking in so many of its queer predecessors.

I look for realistic trans* characters and oh did I ever find one here. Sophia is a trans woman played by Laverne Cox, what makes this character even more wonderful than the very few that we’ve seen before is that Laverne is a trans* actress. Sophia’s story is the one that stays with me more than any others, it definitely made my tear ducts betray me more times than I want to admit. Not only is the character’s story delicately handled by the show but in flashback’s of Sophia pre-transition, they have Laverne’s twin brother playing that character. The entire show is worth watching for her story alone.

Character Sophia

Sophia

I look for non-stereotypical black characters. This is where the show drops the ball a little. There are quite a few truly brilliant black characters (I forgot to mention that Sophia is a black trans woman). The ones to truly watch out for are Miss Claudette, Taystee and Dayanara. They are all stories that will punch you in the heart and make you examine the way you look at the reasons people may be locked up. I will just stop here for a second to give Taystee a massive shout out for referencing Harry Potter – one of the ways to my heart.

… it isn’t without it’s issues…

The show isn’t all equality positive though, it is problematic in so many areas. It is however, difficult to say if it is due to insensitivity and discrimination or whether the show is being problematic on purpose to force viewers into examining the prison system and how inherently discriminatory it is.

The Racism:

There are numerous examples of this throughout the show – at one point we have a white guard calling a black inmate ‘monkey’. Another one is the factions within the prison, the inmates are all separated by race, this has the potential to be an interesting insight into prison discrimination, and at some points it is, but the factions are inconsistent and it never addresses the consequences of attempting to exist and socialise outside of your faction.

The Sexism:

There are many moments where the guards use their power of position to harass the prisoners, one example of this is when they use the excuse of searching for a lost screwdriver to molest the women. Using media to highlight sexual harassment in female prisons or just sexist? Fingers crossed it is the first.

Bi-erasure:

The show ignores Piper’s sexuality throughout the show. It refers to her as an ex-lesbian and does nothing to address her fluid sexuality or how she could have feelings for both a man and a woman.

Watch it still…

For every one thing the show does wrong it does two things right. It is by no means perfect but with all of the truly awful queer shows and films around on Netflix this one stands out a mile. I beg you, give it an episode, if you aren’t in love with it by the end of the first one then I won’t mention it again. I can’t promise that I’ll ever stop reblogging gifsets of it on Tumblr though…

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Straight Hate

A few weeks back I spotted the fun, new Twitter account ‘Straight Pride’   (they’ve even got a blog  now). At first I thought it was genuinely some sort of misguided heterosexual just feeling jealous of the floats and glitter. But it did not take very long to realise that these folks were not-so-loosely veiled homophobes. The kind that deserve literally none of my thought processes.

Come out and tell everyone you are straight and proud

So, that’s that. But I think that it does raise some important questions. I had never really questioned pride. Never wondered by there was a queer pride and not a straight pride. But then a friend’s mum asked me. She’s always been 100% supportive and lovely and so I knew it was a genuine question.

Why is there a gay pride?

I think the problem is that people do see a ton of glitter, fabulous clothes and beautiful floats, and not a whole lot more. And sometimes it can be a bit unclear what Pride means to us. That as a queer community we are not simply ‘proud’. We are proud in the face of discrimination. We are proud in the face of adversity. And we are proud in the face of hate. And all for being who we are, and loving who we love. Something our heterosexual friends and family do not have to face. So, I want to talk a little bit about why I’m proud.  Because I am proud. I’m super proud.

London pride 2012

I’m proud because despite fear and nervousness I come out monthly, weekly, sometimes even daily to new people in new environments. Because I shouldn’t have to be afraid and nervous to be who I am. And if I make it easier for one other person to come out, then I’ve made a difference.

I’m proud to challenge the casual homophobia that we experience on a day-to-day basis. Because it’s that very low-level discrimination that allows for bullying, and harassment and eventually hate crimes.

And I’m proud because despite the headlines, the homophobic arguments made by ‘legitimate’ politicians in our ‘democratic’ parliament, the name-calling in the street, everyday I walk down the street holding the hand of the woman I love. Because I will not bow down to bigotry.

So tell me, why are you proud?

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Let’s talk about sex… wait, what are we talking about?

Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me…

Sex and sexuality are an important part of many people’s lives, and sexual politics often play an even more prominent role in queer encounters . So of course we are going to write about it! Bring on the sexy times!

… But what exactly are we talking about?

The majority of people when asked about sex will tell you something along the lines of putting a penis into a vagina in order to have fun and potentially make babies. Some particularly enlightened folk might even mention foreplay. Hooray! In my experience that largely reflects the general (rather heteronormative) public’s opinion. The Oxford Dictionary has an only slightly broader definition of sex:

“sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse”

Well if that doesn’t sound… fun. But as we all know,  dictionary definitions are often a bit too short for complex concepts.

Many of you will have realised at this point that the traditional penis-in-vagina definition is a bit lacking, not very inclusive, and often not applicable to queer relationships. Though to be fair, many people seem to have at least some understanding when it comes to men getting it on. If you are not one of these people, please be inspired by this iconic video. (Skip to 0:42 if you’re impatient.)

But when it comes to queer women? Dear lady-loving ladies, raise your hand if you have ever heard the question “But, so… how do you guys, you know… do it?” Sex involving penises seems practically self-explanatory (“insert dick here”), to the point where people are totally lost when it comes to understanding how we could possibly do it without one!

(I realise this bit is rather cisnormative. Gender politics is a topic for a later post.)

So for the intents and purposes of this blog:

How could we possibly define sex as something more than “put the p in the v”?

For starters, you have things like cunnilingus, fellatio/blowjobs, etc, or to summarise: Oral *sex*. It seems to be a popular way of getting off, both among queers and non-queers. But of course you can stimulate someone using not just your mouth, but also your fingers, or vibrators, or strap ons… So is sex “stimulating genitals to achieve orgasm?

Potentially, but then again, is orgasm a necessary criterion for an act to count as sex? Personally I have had sex (even “traditional” p.i.v. sex) several times where I did not orgasm, but still really enjoyed myself. Different people require different techniques/stimulation/time frames to orgasm, it’s personal. Some people can only orgasm by themselves, some absolutely need a partner, some only cum from being fisted a certain way… So is it “stimulating someone’s genitals to potentially achieve orgasm”? (Did I say “orgasm” often enough yet?)

Working with this definition, whose genitals are we talking about anyway? Sex is usually seen as involving two people (or more if it’s group sex) where you do stuff to each other. But what about sex with just one person involved? What about just having sex with yourself? Or are masturbation and sex two distinct categories?

When you remove all the question about who, how many, and which specific techniques are involved, sex and sexual acts always seem to come down to one thing: Genitals. Apparently their involvement is of paramount importance when it comes to achieving orgasm or simply considering an act to be “sexual”.

But of course it can be more complicated than that. Let us throw BDSM into the mix. BDSM is the abbreviation for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism, and is sometimes also simply referred to as “kink”. The kink spectrum includes a whole other variety of acts, like tying someone up or spanking them or verbal humiliation (after enthusiastic consent has been given, of course!). And guess what? For some people, this is  all they need to get off.. Without any genital stimulation they can still orgasm if the right stimulation or circumstances for them are provided. So if an orgasm was had, does that mean you had sex?

My conclusion?  Sex is not just this one specific thing, it’s not universal, it’s not general, and it’s not necessarily something that translates between sexual partners. Techniques and toys and levels of nudity and number of orgasms and level of intimacy and types of stimulation involved… Everyone has their own sexy criteria, and that’s just great! So we are not even going to attempt to nail it down. Instead, we’re going to talk what we tried, what was fun and what was not-so-fun. The main message is if you did something with someone or yourself consensually and you feel that you have had sex… Then you had sex! Congratulations! Whether it’s with yourself, a total stranger or your long-term partner, in whichever combination of people, body parts and implements imaginable, it’s up to you.

So, dear readers, what are your thoughts on sex? What is sex to you? What definitions have you heard and do they clash with your own?

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Hello Gays!

Having heard so much about the Gay Agenda in recent press, we thought if there’s going to be a Gay Agenda we want to have written it! So we are! The Gay Agenda is written by queer women in the UK, for queer women. So however you define take a look and get in touch at thegayagendauk@gmail.com or on twitter @thegayagendauk.

Logo

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