March is both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Month, which includes the marking of International Women’s Day on March 8th. In particular, as a history graduate and a feminist the former appeals to me greatly, and I decided to dig out a blog post I wrote way back in May 2007 (on the subject of one of my historical heroines) in honour of the occasion. Almost three years on, it naturally needed a little dusting off, a little editing and a few slight re-writes in places (and it’s also a little long) – but I hope you are as fascinated by the story of Noor Inayat Khan as I am.
“Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage” – Madame de Gaulle-Anthonioz at the memorial service for Noor Inayat Khan.
The memory of Noor Inayat Khan is, in the main, ignored in this country; unlike in France, where she is justly considered a heroine – ‘Madeleine dans la Resistance‘. But who was this girl with the pretty, exotic name, who is so revered by the French? And why should we care about her today?
We should care because this woman did something amazing, something most modern women (and men) would probably find almost impossible – considering our pampered 21st century lives.
Today is International Women’s Day; “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”
First celebrated in 1911, IWD is as necessary now as it was then. In the early 20th century, women in many countries worldwide lacked the right to vote, the right to an equal education, equal employment rights, and often very basic reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – all of these are things we would now consider to be basic human and civic rights for anyone, although many of these rights are still under threat for women.
But despite the fact that many of these women the world over are still disadvantaged, discriminated against and experience gender-based/sexual violence, much has been achieved since the first IWD, and much is still being achieved by the women’s movement and by individual women alike. And that is indeed something to celebrate, as are the many remarkable and inspirational women who have left (or who are leaving) their mark on the world.
However, there is still much that can be and needs to be achieved by and for self-identified women everywhere. Commenting on a Facebook post of mine on the subject of IWD earlier, a sympathetic male friend wryly observed: “Yeah, but tomorrow it’s international men’s day again for the rest of the year!”
More insanity from the front line of the US health care debate….
Last week, the Senate subcommittee on finance met to discuss the controversial issue of whether the federal government should be allowed to define what sort of health care provision should be included in private insurance coverage – a subject which was always going to bring the Republican dingbats out of the woodwork.
And so it did…
Meet Jon Kyl, the Republican Senator for Arizona, a man who clearly hasn’t quite got his head around his own responsibilities as a father and grandfather. How else can you explain this comment?
“I don’t need maternity care, and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
Well, Senator Kyl, you may not personally need maternity care, but, as Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat Senator for Michigan pointedly interjected:
“I think your mother probably did.”
Yes, Senator Kyl, and your wife, and your daughter, and your daughter-in-law – and probably also eventually your two grand-daughters too. Of course, Senator Kyl doesn’t have to worry his pretty little head about these things himself; as a US Senator, he gets free health care. That’s right, free health care. The stuff that the vast majority of Americans will never, ever get if he and his Republican cronies have their way.
*WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGERS BELOW*
I was interested to note yesterday that film director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland. Most reports seem to concur that he has been detained over a thirty-one year old outstanding arrest warrant, connected to the 1978 scandal in which Polanski pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse (read: rape) with a 13 year old girl – after which he fled to Europe to escape justice, and eventually became a French citizen.
There has been an awful lot of distinctly male hand-wringing over Polanski’s arrest, with the French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand commenting that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. In a way, Mitterrand does have a point, but only sort of – Polanski’s life has not been a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination, but no amount of childhood ordeals excuse his later behaviour in any way, shape or form. There is NEVER any excuse for rape, not even this kind of hellish childhood…
Born in Paris of secular Jewish parents in 1933, the Polanski family moved back to their native Poland in 1936. They were living in the city of Krakow when the Nazis invaded three years later, and were forced into the Krakow Ghetto soon after. Polanski’s father survived the camps, but his mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Polanksi himself only just survived the war in hiding with Polish Catholic families (which may explain why he was so drawn to the idea of making a film of The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of life in hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto), before moving back to France and subsequently the US.
Just a quick post to let you all know that Another Kind Of Mind will be taking a brief break until next month while I finish up and submit my final (ever) extended essay for uni. Once that’s done and dusted, I’ll be free, FREE to… well, I dunno yet, but it’s gonna be fun!
I’m still working on one more post which is almost finished, and that may well go up in the next few days – apart from that, the world of trickygirl will be a little on the quiet side until I’ve got done all the stuff I need to do. But fret ye not, my lovely readers, for there is lots and lots more to come, and here is but a taster of what you can expect when I return…
Find out why a bunch of stoner lads from Manchester made one of the greatest albums ever – and then fell apart. Learn more about third wave feminism (as promised), how men can be feminists too, and get the lowdown on some of the righteous and remarkable women who have inspired me over the years. Discover why astroturf is no longer just the stuff Luton Town FC used to controversially play on at Kenilworth Road. Delve into the world of heavy metal (the ultimate rebel music) and find out how, in parts of the world, it has become a dangerous and very political statement. Contemplate the rise of European fascism in the 1930s and see how it is again on the rise in the modern world today…. And even more stuff as and when I think of it!
If you have any suggestions of subjects you’d like to see me cover, please let me know.
Incidentally, if you have a blog or a website you think I might like and want to link to, please feel free to leave the address here as a comment – I’ll check it out and, if I do like it, link to you. If you want to link to me, just give me a shout!
While I’m away, please do have a look at the blogs I have linked to on my Blogroll. There are only a few at present, as this site is still very much under construction, but I hope to be expanding the list very soon.
I highly recommend all the links on my Blogroll, particularly as they (already!) reflect the diverse nature of my interests:
– MARSHALL LAW: This is an excellent pro-wrestling blog written by my good friend Martin Marshall, which deals with the major issues and debates within the sport in an intelligent and thought-provoking way. And for those who of you who are shocked and horrified by the mere thought of a feminist enjoying pro-wrestling, I’ve got one word for you: Chyna. She’s the whole reason I started watching it in the first place – and I am very much looking forward to Marshall Law’s upcoming take on women in wrestling.
– ME, AS OTHER THINGS: I love this quirky blog, created by the American writer, artist and cartoonist Jason Block. Its title is pretty self-explanatory really; Block takes a photo of himself as a starting point and then recreates it as something else. The most recent entry shows him as the cover of Radiohead’s The Bends, but other efforts show Jason as a Soviet-era propaganda image, Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, an H.R Giger Alien, Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker and a Calvin and Hobbes kid, amongst other things. Well worth a look!
– THE OTHER SIDE OF THE APPLE: Like Another Kind Of Mind, Jessica’s new British feminist blog is still under construction, but there is already some very interesting content on there, including a response to Gordon Brown’s apology to Alan Turing and an excellent piece on women’s magazines. Aiming to cover feminism from a British perspective, alongside ‘armchair activism’ (a brilliant idea!), popular culture and food, The Other Side of the Apple is already well worth a read, and I am looking forward to reading more.
Keep reading, stay tuned and wish me luck!
peace and love,
“Hips. Tits. Lips. Power” – Silverfish, early 1990’s
There have been some interesting goings-on in the world of modelling this week. Now, normally I would have absolutely no interest in this whatsoever, but when it concerns the desirability (or otherwise) of so-called ‘plus-sized’ women as models, I can’t help but take notice. As a ‘plus-sized’ woman myself (5ft 10ins and a UK size 16-18/US size 14-16), I was fascinated by the decision made by the US edition of Glamour magazine to feature a nude picture of a healthy-looking and non-skinny woman (with a bit of a tummy on her) in their latest edition. In some ways, the lovely picture of model Lizzie Miller printed in Glamour is a step forward for all of us girls who don’t look like the painfully thin stick insects normally seen in fashion magazines and on the world’s catwalks. Not all of us are size 0, and not all of us want to be. But, despite being described as ‘plus-sized’, a term with clear undertones of ‘you’re fat’, Miller is not actually that big – she’s a healthy, normal size. She actually looks like a woman, with curves and a soft body. She’s not ‘plus-sized’; she’s real, like so many women out there, models and non-models alike.
In an interview in today’s Observer, the Icelandic model Inga Eiriksdottir makes this point very vividly, describing how she was told she was fat and was pressured into losing weight by her model agency, despite the fact that she was 5ft 11ins and a UK size 8. “It was awful,” she says, “I couldn’t make myself the shape they insisted on.” So she started eating properly, went up to a UK size 14 (a normal, healthy size), and became what she describes as a ‘real-sized’ model and hasn’t stopped working since. Her jobs have mainly been for well-known department stores, which, like most high street chains these days, tend to stock a relatively wide range of sizes anyway – but major designers still seem to focus on the uber-skinny, emaciated women. The likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donna Karen don’t design for bigger, real women – in fact, I recall Lagerfeld throwing a very undignified tantrum when he discovered that the range he designed for the high street chain H&M would also be available in a size 14 and above. This is something confirmed by the stunning British model Kate Smith, who is a size 16 and looks pretty damn good on it. “What does my head in,” she points out, “is that I’m a model and I can’t buy designer clothes that fit me.”
That says it all, really. The widespread attitude (amongst males and females) that to be a sexy woman you have to be unnaturally skinny is a dangerous and insulting one. When well-toned and definitely not ‘plus-sized’ women like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez are described as having ‘fat arses’, I start wanting to throw things. Not only does that have dubious and near-racist undertones, it’s also a huge insult to those of us who are naturally curvy. Some of you may remember when The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, no small lady herself, posed nude for the front cover of a British music magazine a couple of years ago. I cheered her to the rafters for doing that – it was a brave and liberating move on so many levels – but the response from a number of quarters was that a girl as big as she is should have kept her clothes firmly on in front of the camera. Why? Because Beth Ditto is not Kate Moss, and thus, by definition (whose?), curvy/fat/real women are not sexy.
I find this sort of dangerously discriminatory attitude distinctly disturbing, particularly as there is now a whole generation of young women who have grown up not knowing anything different; who have been force-fed (unpleasant pun intended) the ‘rightness’ of the dangerous equation that skinny = sexy and curvy = ugly. I recently read an article by a female journalist in one of the daily papers (I forget which one, possibly The Guardian), which nearly made me weep for this new generation of women. The journalist had sat down with two teenage girls to watch Billy Wilder’s truly wonderful classic comedy Some Like It Hot, which stars one of the greatest curvy film goddesses of them all, Marilyn Monroe (a UK size 14 – at least). Instead of marvelling over Monroe’s undoubted talents as a comedienne, the girls were appalled by her curves, repeatedly commenting on how ‘big’ and ‘fat’ she was. For me, that’s incredibly sad – one of my formative cinematic experiences was seeing this film for the first time; the scene where Monroe, shot from behind, wiggles her way down the train station platform, followed by Jack Lemmon’s stunned gasp of “Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs…” is forever seared into my memory as being synonymous with gorgeous, sassy, curvy, real female sexiness…
In my time, I have dated both men and women of all shapes and sizes. One woman, in particular, sticks in my memory. She was most definitely what the fashion world would call ‘plus-sized’, but she was also one of the sexiest women I have ever met. Why? Because she was intelligent, funny, and utterly comfortable and at home with her size and shape. Her confidence in the fact that she was a real, curvy woman made her very, very sexy, and it is such a shame that outside influences continue to characterise non-skinny women as ‘other’ and as not attractive.
I am well aware that some women are naturally skinny, and it is not them I am criticising here, of course – an individual’s height, build, genetics and metabolism play a major part in whether they (naturally) have non-stop curves or a more boyish figure. However, the fashion world and the media need to remember that skinny is not the natural, default state of womanhood per se, and that by declaring that it is they are setting dangerous precedents. Starving yourself to be skinny is dangerous to anyone’s mental and physical health, whoever you are. That old cliché of ‘childbearing hips’ is very true indeed; the genetic make-up of a woman is different from that of a man for a very good reason. Women give birth. We nurture a child inside us, and our bodies continue to feed the child once it has been born. That’s why we have curves, hips, breasts. In the dim and distant past, men would choose a woman as a mate at least partly on the strength of her curves, seeing them as an outward sign of her ability to carry and nurture healthy children, to continue his lineage (an example of Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’?). Despite the fact that in this modern era, women now have the choice whether or not to become pregnant and have children (and many of us have chosen not to), we should not forget that our curves are an integral part of who we are as women. They give us power.
“I’ve been trying to show you over and over
Look at these my child-bearing hips
Look at these my ruby red ruby lips
Look at these my work strong arms and
You’ve got to see my bottle full of charm” – PJ Harvey, ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’