27 February 2015

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Doubt (2008)


To close the little conversation on catholicism and women we've been having, here's a look from the other side. Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008) is a forceful piece on the soft power of women in patriarchal structures and of the power of a personality, of someone convinced that she knows the truth and has to do anything possible to right the wrongdoing.

It is not a coincidence that Meryl Streep is in the center of this movie, offering a story of a school principal trying to make sure that her institution is living according to highest morals. The extraordinary force of the film comes exactly from the clash between her convictions of what's right and wrong and her willingness to ruthlessly purge the ranks of her organization (the catholic church) in case of doubt about someone's adequacy to form part of it.

It's beautifully filmed, Meryl is sublime, and her torment (not for nothing the movie is named Doubt) offers a tale familiar for most doing any activism: you have to deal with unclarity,  doubt, tensions between separating your own bias from the bigger picture.

22 February 2015

Sunday is for Horizons: body-fashion changes, but all bodies = good bodies

Just a reminder of how changing the fashion in women's bodies (!) has been so far. Like with the trends in clothing and pretty much everything else, the bodies that are now in were so out some time ago and vice versa.

So the only alternative to stay sane is to spit on trends from the third floor and go do your business!

See larger here

20 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: