21 February 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Philomena (2013)


Continuing with my special mini-cycle dedicated to Catholicism and women, today's movie is basically a (polished up) sequel of The Magdalene Sisters

Philomena (2013, Stephen Frears) is based on a true story that nevertheless feels somewhat unbelievable. Well, there's reality for you. If after The Magdalene Sisters you asked yourself about the possible futures of the girls who got away from the religious institutions controlling them, here you have the story of Philomena Lee.

There's difference and nuance, though. In the eyes of the religious establishment Philomena had comitted a sin. She had sex before marriage (oh!) with someone she (apparently) barely knew (gasp!) and she liked it! Mind you, this is a very important difference between the discourse that The Magdelene Sisters present and Philomena's story. As Rose in last week's movie (in contrast of other women in that film), Philomena did actually transgress the social norms and was very unlucky to become pregnant as a consequence. And her child was taken away from her.
This is the double sword of the story. On one hand, there's actual pleasure involved. She enjoyed being with that boy. On the other hand, this very fact makes her even more vulnerable to all the injustice done to her afterwards. If your religion (and people in position to punish you) maintain that you have to repent and suffer for your sins, and you know very well that you have transgressed, the likelihood of rebellion seems to be lower.

Yet this is only a part of the story. The second drama revels when Philomena - already older and after a marriage and other children - gets help of a journalist in trying to find her son. Apart from a pretty unbelievable turn of events... Ah, go, see it! ... you get the amazing dame Judi Dench playing someone torn apart by her trauma of loss of a child and faith that's represented by the same people who treated her so badly.

An additional feature that makes the movie a treat is the clash of worlds that her interactions with the world class journalist embarked upon a human interest story lead to. These ar class difference and not gender driven, and challenge the airbrushed image of drama-worthy and interesting people. Good for you, Philomena!

13 February 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: The Magdalene Sisters (2002)


There is no particular reason why I'm offering a mini-cycle on women and catholicism. That's how they've constellated in my to-publish list. No excuses.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002, Peter Mullan) unearths the horrifying tale of Irish Magdalene laundries well into XX century. This is one of those religion-tries-to-deal-with-human-sexuality tales that makes your hair stand up.

Want a recipe for complete disaster of human wellbeing? Organize a society where a group devoted to the belief that human sexuality is impure and sinful (and legitimized only by procreation inside the wedlock) has a lot of power. Then - making a reference to an old book of tribal myths from 2000 years ago - decide that only one half of each heterosexual couple is to bear the burden of stigma attached to "improper" sexual behaviour: the woman. Sum to that a parallel belief that sins can be paid of by hard work and being miserable. And then a sinister idea that there actually might be a profit to be made of the hard work of the sinners confined to closed spaces and completely controlled by (people pretending to be) religious fanatics.

That's the ugly story of the Magdalene laundries in a nutshell: "fallen" women disowned by their families and exploited by catholic orders... Watch the movie, do an advanced google search, read some books and/or articles on this very disgraceful page of catholic church! At least you'll know the dark side of the all-the-charity-work-the-religion-has-been-doing-for-women discourse.

The impact that the trauma had on the lives of those that managed to survive that living hell? I'll tell you next week which movie to watch for that bit of information... But you can start by reading this.

11 February 2015

Freedom at Midnight, an Indian Yearning

The peaceful, silent street on a day that I took a walk alone late at night in Indiranagar, Bangalore.

Girls are supposed to be seen, not heard” – I grew up listening my matron in the liberal boarding school I attended repeat this old adage over and over again back in 1994. Girls, she believed, were always to be seriously disciplined, discouraged from speaking up and punished often if they asked questions. One of the many rules the school enforced, I remember, was that we weren’t supposed to roam around campus at night on our own. Anywhere girl students went, an escort — either a staff member or a house warden — would be beside them so that they didn’t “misbehave”.

For several years, throughout high school and university, I found that this strange rule was observed in almost every private hostel for girls or young women. Our college hostel warden urged us to return to the premises by 6 pm. If we returned any later, we would have to pay a fine. At home, my parents would ask us to call if we were going out with friends in the evening. The night, as so many of us knew it, was out of reach. It was a time of day that was a mystery, filled with questions. Every now and then we would hear a story about women who had chains snatched, or were groped or molested on the road. Yet, to many of us, the night held promise of solitude, romance, parties, and long hours spent in reckless abandon.

To me, the darkness evokes mixed emotions. It brings back memories of the night of my first kiss with my childhood sweetheart, when we stood under the lamppost clinging on to each other, our hearts beating wildly against our chests. But it also brings back the intense fear I felt when I was first attacked on my way home in the evening; flashes of light as I was being dragged along the corners of the road by thieves on a motorcycle, thrown in front of a car while they wrenched my belongings away from me. I came home that night, my head bleeding, bruised all over my body. The policeman asked me two days later when I went to complain – “What were you doing out at night alone? Girls shouldn’t be walking alone at night.”

On December 2012, when a young physiotherapy student was brutally gang-raped on a moving bus, there were several voices in the Indian public arena openly asking whether she invited the assault by breaking the rule. Why did she step out at night?  Dr Asha Mirge, a member of the Maharashtra Women’s Commission, asked more than a year after the incident. Mirge famously commented on the Delhi gang rape and the Shakti Mills gang rapes, asking, “Why Nirbhaya, the victim in the infamous Delhi gang rape case in December 2012 should go to movie for a late night show (11 PM), and similarly the photo-journalist in Mumbai go to an isolated place of Shakti Mills at 6 PM?"

Now, after so many years, this sparked a revolution on the ground. It was a silent revolution, not one that was violent and filled with rage. Instead, women across the city were coming together to claim all of the day. They were stepping out to parks, going on picnics, enjoying exploring the city and travelling alone at night. Even better, they were challenging their own stereotypes about men and darkness. The campaign which gently ushered them to do this was called #WhyLoiter, a simple movement started by two young men asking women across India to post a photo of themselves loitering the streets, venturing out any time of the day and enjoying their public spaces. In just a few weeks, nearly two million women responded with photos of them taking on their freedoms; exploring dark alleyways, sleeping in the parks, eating chaat in the streets and climbing mountaintops. A rule had silently been broken.

Walking out alone at night in Bangalore
That night, I stepped out and decided I’d go for a walk alone. It was 11.45 pm and the streets were empty. Even the main road, which was usually lined with groups of twenty-somethings smoking or enjoying a laugh outside a pub, was quiet and dark. At first, I was cautious, ensuring that I stayed on the side of the street lamp all the time. Then, I didn’t care. It took me some time to breathe easy but I did it. It’s a feeling I cannot explain; that sense of lightness I felt when I didn’t turn around every second to look out for strangers, or speeding motorcyclists, or sounds. I just walked, strolling along at the usual pace that helped me relax. Fear, I realized, is often such a heavy and comforting feeling that it wraps women in a tight embrace they cannot break free from. Fear is comforting because it makes you take fewer chances; it feeds on your insecurities to keep you on the straight and narrow road. But freedom is silent, waiting for you to step outside the shadows of doubt.

08 February 2015

Sunday is for Horizons: How to do (pop) research on #gender differences properly?

There is one sure way to be able to argue with gender essentialists: knowing the science better than they do. Even if they turn out hard to convince, at least you'll know that the facts are on your side.

Depending on how deeply you want to explore the topic, I'm offering three options: two serious books (written by women scientists, yeah!) and a MythBusters video. Your choice.

Delusions of Gender (2010) by Cordelia Fine will take you through all the common gender difference research. And will show that most of that is rather questionable stuff, mostly reflecting the bias of the researchers instead of actual intrinsic differences among people. Very nice to begin to explore the topic!

Brain Storm (2011) by Rebecca Jordan-Young is a heavier and more serious (as in more scientifically worded and structured) read. And pretty much all of it is dedicated to the ongoing quests looking for female brain as opposed to the male brain. She beautifully traces all the usual tricks used - with special attention to studies of intersex individuals (go, read Middlesex!) - for those trying really hard to find biological/neuroscientific arguments against the idea of complete gender equality.

To give you a taste about what kind of distortions Jordan-Young is dealing with, read this blogpost: “Brain Study Confirms Gender Stereotypes”: How science communication can fuel modern sexism.

And just for a little insight in how you should think about gender differences, trying to disentangle the social and the biological, here you have MythBusters dealing with the throw like a girl thing. Yes, the same one that leads to stuff like the "empowering" Always advertising

06 February 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Temple Grandin (2010)


Before I go talking about this movie, it's heroine and what makes it inspiration, I have a confession to make. She is not my hero. For me, Temple Grandin is an example of great persistence, success and overcoming. A brilliant scientist that has dedicated all her life to the wrong cause, promoting better slaughter of farm animals instead of really caring for their wellbeing.  

Nevertheless, her story is amazing and that's why this story falls under the inspirational tag. Grandin's life is an example of how with love, understanding and stubborn persistence when everything else fails pretty much everyone has great potential to be developed.

Temple Grandin (2010, Mick Jackson) is based on Grandin's memoirs tracing her path from being a child that the doctors did not expect anything from to becoming an accomplished scientist and autism activist working to ease the experiences of people suffering from autism. So there are several take-away lessons for this blog in particular: (1) there are valuable life lessons hidden even in lives of the people whose accomplishments you don't like, accept it and learn from them, (2) parenting and teaching does wonders, therefore pay attention to how world can be improved by people who live and work with children; those are crucial people that can destroy or elevate the spirits, (3) you can achieve a lot - even if the odds are against you - if you show up and insist on doing, (4) even if you do not fit in any of the stereotypes ascribed to you (Temple is really out there in all her un-social, un-feminine, un-easy rawness), you can succeed and do what you are passionate about.

Here you can see Grandin in action giving a TED talk on the value of diversity of thinking:

30 January 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Female directors that did not get their Oscars

This selection is not about the content, but about the authors. While our inspirational movie list is growing longer and longer, there are only few among them who have been directed or written by women (or transpersons for that matter). Yes, not all women-directed movies are good or feminist. Yes, there are feministing movies made by men. Yes, directorship is not the only position from which women can influence the movies. You have screenwriters, writers whose work is adapted to movies, women whose lives are adapted to movies, but...

This article came out after the 2014 Oscars nominations were announced, offering a list of women who - while movies they had directed were nominated to Best Picture - were not nominated for the Best Director award.
The chonological order for those cases is the following: 
1986 - Children of a Lesser God by Randa Haines
1991 - The Prince of Tides by Barbra Streisand
2007 -  Little Miss Sunshine by Valerie Faris (co-director with Jonathan Dayton)
2008 - Slumdog Millionaire for which the award was given to Danny Boyle but not to his co-director in India Loveleen Tandan
2009 - An Education by Lone Scherfig
2010 - The Kids are All Right by Lisa Cholodenko
2010 - Winter's Bone by Debra Granik
2013 - Zero Dark Thirty by Kathryn Bigelow
2014 - Selma by Ava DuVernay
Only four women have actually earned nominations for Best Director in the history of the ceremony:
1976 - Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties
1993 - Jane Campion for The Piano
2003 - Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation
2009 - Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Bigelow is the only woman to win the award. They have been giving these things out since 1929.

Lesson learnt? Keep your eyes peeled for movies directed by women, because the big award machines won't give that to you. Here are few additional suggestions from the movies that we have covered. And here's a longer list on imdb.com to keep you entertained.

+ An elegant rant on the particular uglyness of the 2014 nominations.

23 January 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Designing Woman (1957)

Guess, when did Hollywood decided that it was OK for a woman to have a life beyond romantic aspirations! Well, around 1957.

Designing Women (1957, Vincente Minnelli), while following much of the style of other misunderstanding-based romantic comedies (see Bringing Up Baby (1938)), introduces some elements that make it much more advanced than you would expect.

The heroine (the most amazing Lauren Bacall, mind you) is a very successful fashion designer. So, contrary to the female employment patterns in US at that time (work until marriage, then full-time caretaker), she has no intentions of quitting even if stumbling upon a person she'd like to marry.

While vacationing, she enjoys the party and actually does find somebody she likes. She proceeds to take time off from work to enjoy the romance.

She eats! A lot! Claiming that she eats ridiculous amounts when in love, Marilla proceeds to devour stuff. Implication? Women - even the very beautiful and successful - are humans. They require calory intake. Good news fro women everywhere, taking account how complex the dominant culture makes our relationship with food.

When starting to build an everyday life together, turns out that she earns more than her partner. He suffers about it a bit, then gets over and life goes on. The tension does not go back to that. Ha! Even more, they have very different lifestyles and social circles. And that is deemed to be OK. They can live with it.

It's not all feminist dream (and, obviously, a very privileged, high class scenario), as the plot spinner is jealousy of Marilla fuelled by the nondisclosure of information by Mike in the name of protecting Marilla. But the amazing part (for 1957!) is that once overcome the misunderstandings, there's no insinuation that Marilla should quit her job, change her friends or somehow differently adjust to her partner. Nice, eh?

17 January 2015

We don't want to take it any more!

Youtube entertainment group BuzzFeed have created various videos on topic of women empowerment which perfectly displays the situations with what women have to deal on daily basis but shouldn't be like that.

We are living in a society where female bodies and choices are criticized constantly. It comes from media and sometimes even very close people. We are tired of all that - listening that our bodies are not OK the way they are, catcalling, online harassment and being called in the worst names when we decide to take a stand for our decisions.

Nowadays we are having many stereotypes on what is feminism. It has become a negative concept despite the actual fact that feminism is a movement towards equality between genders. My guess is that it came out as a negative concept because women are getting angry and becoming more aggressive because of the way we are treated.

Unfortunately, almost all women can relate abusive, harassing and/or uncomfortable situations from men and we are the ones who are blamed for that.  The problem is that if we say "no" or express our aversion in a calm, polite way it's almost never taken seriously. And this is what makes us angry and more aggressive. We don't want to be puppets of the patriarchy, we want to be in charge of ourselves and that our choices are respected no matter which way of living we choose.

We want to be heard and we want to protect our sisters all over the world. We simply won't take it any more, it's time for development and changes.

06 January 2015

Hysteria FemCon 2015

2015 is already starting with loud events towards women empowerment and gender equality. "Hysteria" is coming soon and will take place in India, Kolkata from 10th to 12th of January. It is creation by Eye Art Collective; group of young artists, enthusiasts and activists who combine their interests and skills to create world a better place.
Before the event we contacted people who stand behind it and they were happy to answer our questions and share their good practices despite their busy schedules. In this article we will get to know what is Eye Art Collective and their creation "Hysteria", what are their main goals and difficulties to create such an event.

Manisha Ganguly (Co-Founder/Editor of Eye Art Collective) :
"We at Eye are an independent art collective that is anarcha-feminist, anti-racist and queer-positive. Our main tool is artivism, using art as a form of activism, to create awareness about socio-politico-cultural issues in the all-pervasive, bold way that only art can, transcending language barriers. Feminism as an ever-changing ideology-movement is one that is viewed with much trepidation, fear and suspicion by the layperson. Feminists are often typified as “ugly” and or “man-haters” (as feminists are mostly female, you follow-great sarcasm at play here,folks-), among other unflattering adjectives; the Feminist vision is often obscured by radicals within the Feminist fold who envision a matriarchy as their final goal and take away from the real problems on the ground – patriarchal oppression, gender violence and deep-rooted sexism that pervades every pore of the skin of society.
Hysteria, aims to address all of these issues and more with the use of varied mediums to understand the prevailing pre-conceived notions, right them and help all participating persons to be more gender-tolerant individuals. With the help of diverse mediums from good old fashioned discussions to air everyone’s views, to screening topical films to workshops on self defence to music, theatre and slam poetry, we wish to use all available means to reach our end of gender sensitivization and creating general awareness.
Obstacles will crop up, and always will, especially when an event of such a singularity is on the cards. From being misunderstood as to our objective (anarchism is not taken lightly by institutions or blindly collectivist individuals who are either a>not enlightened or b>refuse to be enlightened as to what it really entails) to having the usual event hiccups in terms of logistics, finance and manpower, we have persevered and how.
Hysteria is a-go from the 10th to the 12th of January at Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata. We hope our initiative, albeit a drop in the ocean, makes a difference in the way we view the world. For the better.

More info:
If you are around the area you are very welcome and we highly recommend you to join Hysteria FemCon 2015!

04 January 2015

New year, new ambitions and even bigger love for Being A Girl!

Last year have been very important for women empowerment! Many loud events and happenings took place all over the world which are developing the movement. New years resolutions are important but it's also important to remember what happened and inspired us in the last year! Here are five of the brightest moments that keep us going:

  A 17 years old girl from Pakistan took a stand for her and thousand of other young girl rights and received the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai made huge impact on women empowerment worldwide and proved that feminism changes the world.

He for She by Emma Watson in the UN. This woman is an Idol and/or appreciated by women and men all over the world. Her speech shook the world. It created bigger interest on gender equality and fact that feminism is not only a girl issue.

A group of feminist advocates, including Soraya Chemaly, won a fight in worlds biggest social media! Facebook changed its policies towards breastfeeding and currently the pictures of nursing women are no longer banned from the social media.

Many pop artists, top actors and musicians have declared themselves as feminists, such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Aziz Ansari and previously mentioned Emma Watson. It helps to lessen the stigma and stereotypes towards feminism and increases the involvement which, we believe, is a step forward towards gender equality.

This year Sweden took it in brand new level by creating new word in their vocabulary. Sweden created "hen" which stands for gender neutral pronoun which can be used when talking about someone whose gender in unknown. Gender-neutral feminism revolution.

New year, new ambitions! We hope that the world is inspired by 2014, so 2015 is going to be a very exciting year towards women empowerment! What do you want to achieve in this year? Here you can find some inspiration from leading feminists.

I Being a Girl team wants to thank every single person for being together with us in 2014! Thank you for reading and sharing! Special thanks to our amazing supporters for guest articles! Every single contribution is appreciated and we love you as much as we ♥ Being a Girl! We can do it!

I Being a Girl Team