18 April 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Girl Superheroines II


What do Mindy Macready alias Hit-Girl and Buttercup, Bubbles and Blossom do when they grow up?

According to Pixar, they marry another superhero, move to suburbia and make babies, truing to fake it and be normal (what an awful idea, you have to admit!).
Obviously, the world happens to be in peril again, and again, and again... and the family of superheroes has to balance superheroism and family life. That's the outset of The Incredibles (2004, Brad Bird), the movie trying to merge family comedy and superhero movie.

As we concluded in the first installment about superheroines here, it's a tricky genre and feminist perfection does not abound. So this is no Brave (2012) either. But we can still get some out of this:

1. (After some lies and deceit) we finally have a super-couple doing stuff together.

2. Female agency, even if the whole movie is not dedicated to them (there's mum and daughter vs. dad and two sons balance, so 40% of the central cast).

3. Being a family movie, the superheroines are not oversexualized. Despite some gendered and soccer-mum stereotyping, this still could be much worse.

4. You get the Ah!mazing Edna Mode as the super-fashion designer, and she on her own is worth watching the movie. For real. She's creative, loves challenges, is not impressed by supermodels and fashion weeks (some fat-shaming, though!), and her fashion is super-wearable and practical. Plus, being an independent professional and having all the nonchalance in the world! Adorable.

(Now imagine a movie where Edna would work with the Powerpuff Girls! Uh! Oh!)

11 April 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Roman Holiday (1953)


Let's celebrate the spring with something light yet inspirational. Traditional yet empowering. Here you have the emancipated Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler)! 

While you could reduce the story to a romantic comedy of a girl raised among restrictions falling in love for Gregory Peck, we prefer to go farther and suggest you watch this as a story of a girl that:

- Has a social standing and responsibilities that do not depend upon a man. Although monarchical, that still counts as rather emancipatory feature.
- Decides to break free and have fun!
- Realizes she needs guidance and therefore asks (and purchases) assistance.
- Falls in love and enjoys it.
- (A spoiler, but you should know it by now!) Decides her before-mentioned responsibilities are more important than a love affair, and therefore chooses to resume doing them (and let go of Gregory Peck).

A synopsis: she chooses to have few days off from all the stress and stiffness, has great fun and a romantic adventure, then takes a decision to go back to her professional life (being a princess is a professional duty, albeit a very particular one) and acts upon that.
Here you go, Roman Holiday is an emancipatory piece of movie-making! You are welcome. 

04 April 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Tomboy (2011)


It may be very difficult for older people to admit, but the life of young - and very young - can be extremely complex. Classical literature is full of examples, but today's one is a recent French cinema gem.

Tomboy (2011, Céline Sciamma) offers a moving story about trying to fit in better in your own body while living in an extremely gendered world.

It will (well, it could, if you'll let it) get you thinking about:
- How little external appearance tells you about people. And how - at the same time - you should respect the signals people are sending. Even if that takes you into an uncharted territory (even beyond gender binary, uh oh).
- How much inner drama and struggle is brought up when you realize that you should make serious adjustments in order to fit in. Especially if you feel that you cannot share that with anybody. Especially if people assume that you are too young to have any coherent idea about what's going on.
- How beyond the "oh, children are so cruel" stands nothing more than the boxed thinking of the adults transmitting certain notions. You cannot expect little children - those people still just ordering basic ideas about human life - to question and bend the old toxic ideas right away. Adults should lead by example.

It's bittersweet, short, and very touching. What else do you need?

28 March 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Gay men in homophobic cultures


While these are not an obvious part of our repertoire, they still make sense to be watched from a feminist and I Being a Girl perspective. Even though cis-men are at the center of these movies, and women is only a backdrop for their drama and passion, it still emanates from no other place than patriarchy and the obsession with controlling the sexual and amorous lives of people.

So, today's offer is two movies that look into the lives of gay men in culturally very restrictive contexts: A Single Man (2009, Tom Ford) and Eyes Wide Open (2009, Haim Tabakman). Set in two very different but undoubtedly socially controlling places - 1960's USA and nowadays Israel among the Orthodox Jews - both of them tell the dramatic tale of how even male privilege won't save you if you transgress the code of sexual morality.

Of, course there are differences. The aesthetics, trying to be true to time and place depicted, are very different. Eyes Wide Open adds a religious restriction where A Single Man deals with a more secular type of institutionalized homophobia. It is loss of a loved one when you are not really allowed to mourn vs. the discovery of lust where it's strictly forbidden and harshly punished. Nevertheless, the main theme is the social pressure to negate ones real desires and feelings in order to keep up with what's esteemed to be proper and moral. And what that does to people.

One of the lesbian versions of the same story would be Fire (1996, Deepa Mehta), already covered before here

27 March 2014

Thinking bit: Strip the (beauty) pressure

Our very good friend Smaranda (the one most responsible for the Inspirations e-book ) suggested that we share this here, and we salute the tip-off!

So, what this experienced and professional lady named Tracey Spicer is suggesting is... yes, taking it off! And not in pole-dancing-will-empower-you way, no. Instead it's about acknowledging how much time women (and men to some extent, yes, but that's a lesser order of magnitude) spend preparing their exteriors before they go and do things. And how many more things you can do if you decide to dedicate your time to things that actually bring pleasure, knowledge, fun, whatever...

The empowerment recipe here: rethink your time spent on grooming, ask why you do what you do and is it worth it, and then reclaim a bit of your utterly human freedom by shedding the unnecessary.

21 March 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: HIV/AIDS in the big cinema

#inspirational movies 

Putting this under "inspirational" may be somewhat questionable. Movies that have HIV/AIDS as their central theme are not even expected to be inspirational (or uplifting). But in the light of the recent incomer into the genre - Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée) - a little, very critical round-up seems adequate. And all of those movies touch the activism theme, so they are relevant anyways.

While our all-time favorite still is Rent (2005), these do have some attractive points to it (and downsides too, unfortunately). Curiously enough, there's a decade between the release dates for all three while there are set pretty much around the same time, mid-eighties up to early nineties:

Philadelphia (1993, Jonathan Demme), the ultimate HIV/AIDS classic on the legal battle against discrimination. Has quite some real life inspiration.

Lessons learned: (a) privilege does not protect you from HIV, and (b) homophobia can be cured dealt with if empathy kicks in and if close contact / familiarity is established.

Lacks in the department of: women. Only at the background, and the whole battle for rights is fought among privileged men.

Angels in America (2003, Mike Nichols), the we-are-all-connected esoteric epic on sexuality, coupledome, love, and HIV.

Lessons learned: (a) privilege does not protect you from HIV, and (b) HIV affects also those that are themselves sero-negative but with their lives inter-weaved in those of PLWHA, an obvious truth, but beautifully depicted. Also, (c) you cannot pray away homosexuality. Nor mental health issues.

Lacks in the department of: spirituality. All the angels, prophets, ghosts thing goes from whimsical to annoying to just crazy at times.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée), the quite shitty movie with a pseudo-alternative HIV/AIDS narrative that just got 3 Oscars. Also inspired by an actual person. Caused a major stirring not only because of the overall sexism of the movie but because of Jared Leto - a cis-male - being cast to play a trans person, and about how he does that. 

Lessons learned: (a) heterosexuality (and homophobia) will not protect you from HIV, (b) homophobia is not cured dealt with just by lose contact / familiarity if no empathy can be activated, (c) the big pharma says is not always in your best interest, (d) traditional masculinites are bad for your health.

Lacks in the department of: women. Only at the background, and the whole battle for rights is fought among men. Women are the angry but passive doctor, nurses, and random people that men have sex with.

Other movies that we have talked about before where HIV drives some part of the plot are Kids (1995) and The Hours (2002).

07 March 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: The Snapper (1993)


This one has lots of early 1990's written all over. Unless you are really allergic to that aesthetics, you're in for a curious one. The basic plot of The Snapper (1993, Stephen Frears) goes as follows: in a working-class Irish neighborhood, the 20-something Sharon has got herself pregnant (sic!) without being in a relationship, and she decides to give birth while refusing to disclose who the father is.

What follows is a pregnancy movie with a high dosage of slut shaming by the community, Guiness-drinking while pregnant and no conversation what-so-ever about the fact that all of this unplanned mess could've been prevented with some basic latex accessories...

Nevertheless, what makes The Snapper worthwhile is the portrayal of the neighborhood and family dynamics, how those who love you accept you and your life despite not being 100% in favor of your choices (and your accidents) while, how you should do the obvious by loving and protecting your loved ones, and how haters do not matter...
And stay alert for the stigma still pushed onto pregnancies with nobody male responsible for them, ignoring the idea that you can have children on your own. Be it a premeditated decision, or something that just happened, there are authentic and valid choices taking place.

This will do the cheering up if you are feeling somewhat depressed after having seen the other drinking-while-pregnant movie, 17 Filles (2011).

02 March 2014

LaToya ♥ Being a Girl (and Girl to Girl is an amazing initiative!)

LaToya Lane is an activist in IPPF member association in Barbados, and recently - with the help of internets and many people who though that her ideas are worthwhile - have got the support to launch an innovative and much needed initiative that brings together business, agriculture and empowerment for young girls and women.

My Name is LaToya Lane and I enjoy reading, taking new courses, and listening to podcasts on business.

How did you start your work?

Its funny that you say work, because many people do not see volunteer as real work. I began my work with my local family planning association at the age of 17. I must say that when I began I never thought that it would have assisted me with such personal and professional growth. I have been able to move from the President of that association's youth arm (Youth Advocacy Movement Barbados) to Third Vice President on the Barbados Family Planning’s board of directors. I love working in the area of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and I am at my best when I am delivering information that could enrich someone else's life.

What makes you continue? Why are you still doing it?

I have come to realize that my impact or my reach may not be as large as I want it to be, but having the ability to assist people in making moves to change their behaviors one person at a time still counts for something. It is that ability to impact at least one person that motivates me now, the small changes I can help people make, as these will hopefully snowball into bigger life changes.

What is this your endeavor of yours "Girl to Girl" and what impact will it have?

Girl to Girl is a personal development program for young girls and women using agri­business as a uniting component. Girl to Girl will take 14­20 young women from across the island of Barbados, training them in the area of business, personal development and agriculture. It will allow these women, most who have no experience in farming, to grow a percentage of crop for their families/communities and the remainder will be sold in local markets to obtain further capital to sustain the project.

The world would be a better place if everybody would: ­ 
See To Sir, With Love (1967). ­
Listen... ­ lol.. how about if people learned to listen? ­
Read  ­ I WIll Teach You to Be Rich by Remit Sethi.
­Try ­ mentoring.

Before I'm 80, I'd like to write a book and start a youth home. 

Click to read the feature that Barbados Today did for the Girl to Girl project.

28 February 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Gone with the Wind (1939)


"Why does a girl have to be so silly to catch a husband?"

OK, this one is a challenge, because you can interpret it both ways. You could argue that - as in the case of Dirty Dancing, for example - there's not much empowerment or feminism to be found in Gone with the Wind (1939). It's racist. It's androcentric. It's about a privileged girlie facing the world and looking for a man to shelter her from the reality.

But here comes the trick: she ends up having to do stuff for herself. On her own. And that is revolutionary. Well, especially for a Hollywood studio superproduction of 1939 and a novel (written by a woman, take note) describing realities of a Southern-belle suddenly thrown into a turmoil.

Our impulse for including Gone with the Wind among our suggestions come from this article in Spanish critical feminist magazine (google translate should be able to help you!). They ask the following question: how come that even people aware of all those shortcomings (when it comes to aspiring towards empowering feminist fiction) do find it inspirational and somehow - backwardly - groundbreaking?

Their answer goes along the lines of recognizing the qualities of the heroine. Because beyond the superficial persona that Scarlett puts up in order to - very strategically! - try to attract a good match for marriage there is strong person able to grow and overcome the loss of privilege and vanity. An additional credit has to be given for the courage to admit - although through pain and not by choice - that there is life beyond romance and coupledom. And to the conviction that "tomorrow is another day". Resilience, therefore.

By the way, reading the book is always a good idea, too.

21 February 2014

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: El laberinto del fauno (2006)


"A fairytale for grownups," some commentary said... well, fair enough! The plot El laberinto del fauno (2006, Guillermo del Toro) can be described as "a young girl is informed that she's a long lost elf princess, and that she has to complete three tasks in order to return to the kingdom of her origin". Sounds quite inoffensive, right? Sounds like a fun fairy-tale, suitable for all ages?

No. El laberinto del fauno is rated R for "graphic violence and some language", and is not suitable for small children. At all. Unless you really want to traumatize. The fantasy world del Toro depicts is dark, eerie and very visceral.
But the movie is good, it has a brave, self-emancipating girl protagonist, and we could stop here.

But El laberinto del fauno has a second layer of relevance. The movie is set in right after the Spanish Civil War, depicting guerrilla warfare and some of the choice women could make in this context: (a) trying to survive and not get involved in any political action; (b) enjoying the privilege (and avoiding hunger and danger) if their husbands happened to be part of the new regime; (c) assuming the imminent risk and take part into guerrilla movement, either in the woods or helping from outside; or (d) trying to protect themselves and their children by actively seeking protection of the fascists. While none of these are clear-cut or independent choices, you get to witness the whole spectrum of from adaptation to resistance. That's the special, feminist added value of this movie.

An additional reading on a (slightly) different war that was won by other people and women's destiny after the victory: An Ugly Carnival by Antony Beevor on the social and physical punishments that women accused of collaboration horizontale during the WWII were submitted to.