Monday, 30 July 2007

it is hot in the sun

holding hands in sunlight with you is perfect as i watch the rays play patterns on your eyelashes. the grass is soft beneath my feet but i am bouyant anyway, and i think maybe the ground is maybe centimetres away from the soles of my trainers. it is blue and green and a tree that looks stressed and bowed, leaning heavy and tired on its side.
squinting because my sunglasses are at home and you smile at me and call me smiler and i laugh harder, then suddenly my face softens and solemnizes because i don't feel frivolous right now and i don't feel like giggling the beauty out of this moment. you look down at me and ask me if i'm ok, and i know with that question that i am, at last, ok.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

observer women's monthly makes us spit - i love you

im in a really blogging mood today. i think it is because i never get to write in my diary anymore. i spend so many mornings at my boyfriend's flat, and the morning was when i would always sit with my diary and fill "her" in with what had been happening. Bowl of porridge, cup of coffee, the Today show. i think i just need to find a different schedule.
all that was by the by. i just feel like writing all the thoughts in my head today.
so, i was musing over the blogosphere and returned to one of my favourites, the observer women's monthly makes me spit blog.
i love it because i really hate the owmm. once i thought maybe it would be a break from the run of the mill trash that women's magazines are, but so quickly it descended in to your usual awful, self congratulatory self loathing nightmare.
the last issue had some real classics in it. Polly Vernon interviewing Bjork was a good start. She talked about what she wore a lot. then said she was going to ask about her feminism, and then didn't. instead she asked her about current and ex boyfriends. Then Hilary Duff gave a great summary of what she knows about men. These are my favourite bits:
"I'm not, like, a crazy feminist. I think women definitely need men. Like, I couldn't imagine having a girlfriend!"
"im not really a flirt, but i am a girl.i'm not a tramp, or a whore, but i do manipulate men when i feel like it. Girls bat their eyelashes, and act like they don't know anything in front of guys they like"
"Women are definitely home-makers"
" I don't need someone who, like, has as much as me, but I don't want someone who has much less because then you never really feel taken care of. And it would always make a guy feel not like a man."
this kind of bullshit makes me so angry! young women have so little self worth it seems to me, and they are presented with role models who believe that for a guy to feel like a man, he should be rich. what is that? im all for women being home makers if that is what they want to do, but i don't think women have to be or naturally are.
the thing that is most odd is that miss duff will probably never be a home maker in the real sense of the real world.
and what a way to eliminate all lesbians from the planet in one foul swoop! man, i hilary can't imagine it, like queen victoria before her, then it can't possibly happen. alternatively, we are returning to the old maxim that she can't be a feminist because she isn't a lesbian.either way...
i always think, imagine yourself as a young and impressionable girl, and you heard someone who is in the public eye saying it is ok to act dumb to get a guy to like you. i'm sorry - what? don't they see how dangerous this is? if you act stupid to get guys to fancy you, then surely they're are going to value you lower than you're worth. why hide your intelligence or your spirit, that is what makes you interesting and attractive, and any boy who wants some hair twiddling 'don't ask me, im just a girl' pose obviously has zero respect for women. but this behaviour is encouraged by the jessica simpsons and paris hiltons of the world as acceptable. and once this happens, once you snare a man on the basis of having no personality beyond blank smiles, then your whole worth becomes valued by the person you are sleeping with, not on you as a woman.
Which brings me to another thing...WAGS. in my mind, they personify this new/old phenomena on how we value women. when did it become acceptable again for women to become defined by who they are sleeping with? what message is it sending out to girls that they have no merit if they don't have the right guy on their arm, that they by themsleves are worth very little. take chanelle on BB (which i haven't watched this year) saying she wanted to marry a footballer and then get a column in a paper or magazine. why not work to get that column and do so because you are a talented and worthwhile woman, not because you married someone. be your own fucking person and own it lady, don't depend on a man for your identity!
back to the blog tho. they had a lot of really interesting responses to a piece on women's bodies. it raised a discussion about the nature of yo yo dieting, plastic surgery and self harm. Since reading Germaine Greer's essay on mutilation (i think) in "The Whole Woman" i have really thought a lot about how plastic surgery is a form of self harm. not for all maybe, but definitely in many ways. but it is accepted, because the scars that give you big tits are fine, but the ones across your arms are ugly and wrong. i can't speak for all plastic surgery, but from the sound of liz jones, she had hers due to huge problems of self loathing:
" I starved myself, and so of course I didn't grow breasts"
having recovered from anorexia, liz jones grew breasts which she saw as "obscene" so she had them removed. Now:
"I can't feel anything in my breasts, and I will never be able to breast-feed (a bit of a moot point, given my two-decade-long sabbatical from men due to my breast phobia), and the scars mean I have never felt liberated by my flatchestedness; I have never been able to sunbathe topless, for example, or wear Versace gowns slashed to the waist, but how often do those situations arise? When I was finally, fleetingly married, my poor husband never got to see or touch my breasts;"
"Now that I am on my own again I can go back to not being a woman any more. I am alone, I no longer have to play netball or hockey. I no longer have to be seen naked. It's fine, really."
This woman to me is seriously sick. she chose to have her breasts removed because she saw her body as obscene. she sounds desperate by the end of the piece. but this kind of loathing of your body is something that women are almost expected to have. adverts everywhere are telling you that you're body is wrong and needs improving. take the beach gorgeous advert right now. apparently you shouldn't even think about taking that wrap off if you haven't waxed, painted, faked and exfoliated. every day women are told that they're bodies need improving, and if you don't want to change your appearance, then why the hell not? we even have to have cosmetic surgery ads on tv now, saying that to have real confidence, you have to be mutilated.
the thing that struck me most was the fact that liz jones had no feeling in her breasts and would never be able to beast feed. once i saw a picture of tara reid completely oblivous to the fact that her breast was exposed, because she had no feeling in it. now, i don't know about you, but having feeling in my breasts is kind of a big deal. they're sexual things, and they're meant to feel nice. equally, when i have a baby, i wouldn't want to be denied breast feeding. it's important. no offence to women who don't breast feed, but it is something that would matter to me and something i want to experience with my baby. it seems to me that to deny women feeling in their breasts is to desexualise them, castrate them almost, whilst conversely big breasts are a highly sexualised object in our society. so, simultaneously you are changing your body to make it more visually sexualised to men, whether this is your intention or not, whilst denying your own sexuality.
that is fucked up. and yet it goes beyong boob jobs. the whole enforcing of self loathing in women is a further method of denying their sexuality. if when you are in bed with someone, and you spend most the time worrying about how you look naked, or semi naked, it is much harder to enjoy yourself. but women are constantly made to feel ashamed of their bodies if they do not match up to an unnatural and faked standard. having spent years hating my body, i now treasure it and am grateful for all that it gives me, even if i do insist on abusing it with alcohol and party fuelled weekends...
i am sick of it. observer women's monthly makes us spit are sick of it. we need to teach young girls that they are worth better than what their so called role models are offering them.

do neon lights cancel out the sun?

I'm tired because i have been working all week and now it is saturday and i still have to come in to work. there are barely any windows in the building and it makes me angry because im already concerned that everyone is suffering from unseasonal S.A.D, and surely working somewhere like this just isn't going to help. Last night i went to the harbour to see toots and the maytails. it drove me a bit nuts. i hate the harbour festival, i really do. there were so many people crammed in to this small space and the sound was completely fuct because of it. the set went on for hours, and i felt so confused. i knew that they were really good, and that it was exciting to see such an important band. but after an hour and a half i felt like i was fuct at a really good techno night - that i knew i should stay and here the amazing beats, but if i hear one more boom of a bass i'll throw up and just want to go home.
myspace is flashing up this ad asking me if i'm the ultimate skins fan. well, no buddy, im not im afraid. i grew up in bristol and after seeing an advert for skins i thought to myself, as i remember it there was more dirt. i felt like, this is a programme that wants to be 'wow, look, we're telling the truth about young people's lives.' but i don't believe young people's lives are that much fun. most the time it is just a lot of awkwardness, and trying on new fashions and music tastes in an awkward way, and getting drunk when you're underage in an effort to dispell feelings of awkwardness, and then tricky and awkward sexual encounters that you wake up from wondering why you don't suddenly have this new found confidence and you look down at your body and think, is this it. sex seems like a gift given to you to make you think that actually your body isn't wrong and your mind is ok too, and then it happens and it doesn't make you feel any better. it just makes you feel, awkward. they all seem so shiny and sure of themselves. i growl at them and say they are too young to be so shiny and sure of themselves, they need another eighteen months! maybe some teenagers are like that.
i was going to my friend's house on the bus once and there was a group of teenage girls on the back seat. i had been up most the night and was feeling like there were too many things i really shouldn't have done at this party. Sometimes you come out of a party and you know that you shouldn't have done what you did, but you had fun doin it? well, this was a party where i wasn't even sure that it was right as it was happening. Anyway, back to the teenage girls. They were laughing really loudly about everything everyone said. My head being what it was, this was infuriating enough. But the horrible part was that the laughter was so empty. none of them were really finding anything amusing, but they wanted to prove to everyone around them that they were alright really, they were having fun and life was good. but it just seemed so desperately sad. i remember being that. laughing at what wasn't funny to try and prove to myself that it was all ok.
it is meant to be horrible, being a teenager, skins should learn that! it makes the your twenties so much more fun...

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

more thoughts on palestinian scarves

a few months ago i wrote about palestinian scarves, or the keffiyeh. this issue hasn't gone away for me. it really pisses me off seeing them worn everywhere. so i rewrote the article with more detail and debate:

Palestinian scarves
There has been a trend spreading across the city of Bristol that I hear has been spotted across the South West and the Midlands, up in to Leeds and beyond. Around the necks of fashionable men and women, we have seen a growing appearance of checked and fringed scarves, draped over shoulders and chests, like a political pashmina.
Yes, I’m talking about what our favourite fashion outlets like to call ‘the Palestinian scarf’. Or, if we want to dumb down ever further (I’m talking to you Top Shop…) the ‘table cloth’ scarf. This attractive and eye-catching design has somehow become the accessory du jour, giving the wearer that ever popular hippy bohemian look with a Middle Eastern twist.
However, something rather fundamental has been forgotten along the way. In the mires of fashion culture and the incessant desperation to look cutting edge and alternative, those kids on the high street seemed to miss the fact that this scarf isn’t meant to be worn as some sort of Mesopotamian boho equivalent. It isn’t a scarf to be worn with a studied air underneath a Hoxton mullet/fin/geek pie.
It isn’t even a fucking scarf. It is a Keffiyeh.
So, what is the Keffiyeh? As a quick background, the Keffiyeh became a symbol of the Palestinian Nationalist movement, because of its traditional costume affiliation with rural areas. It was perhaps made most famous by the late Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, who wore his Keffiyeh in a particular style to make his political point. The black and white spider web style of the design reflects the Fateh party, and the triangular pointed shape in which he wore the scarf suggested the shape of the Palestinian land itself. In contrast, members of the PLO party tend to wear a yellow and red patterned Keffiyeh, to represent their affiliation with workers and poorer sections of Palestinian society.
The Keffiyeh has not always been associated with Palestinian Liberation politics – this has mainly developed since the Intifada. In fact, when Yasser Arafat donned his keffiyeh, it was considered quite unusual. It seemed that for a long time the only people wearing Keffiyehs in Palestine were tourists. For many years it was simply the traditional dress of Arab men, designed with the purpose of protecting the wearer from the dry heat of the sun. Political and practical then.
So, when picking your table cloth scarf, did you intend to demonstrate your support for Fateh or the PLO? Perhaps Hamas was more your bag? They’re fond of green (traditionally associated with Islam), just in case you want to bear that in mind when you’re next browsing in the accessories section.
It seems that over the last few years there has been a worrying growth in the appropriation of political and cultural symbols by the fashion industry. The Keffiyeh is the most obvious and current case in point, but it has been seen before with the huge trend of wearing Che t-shirts. It always seemed to me that half those kids didn't know who Che was, and even when they did they were living in cloud cuckoo land, thinking he didn't kill anyone because he was a goodie socialist. I remember a friend’s response to my question as to why she was wearing a Che t-shirt: ‘who? Oh, I just liked the face…’ They certainly didn’t seem to buy the T-shirt having consciously considered Che’s politics, what he did as a doctor and then as an activist, whether it was right or wrong to support his actions and so on and so forth. Even if after taking in to account all the ins and outs of Guevara’s political motivations and you still wanted to buy the item of clothing in question, you would have been missing out on the big point that Che was a COMMUNIST and therefore not really in to the globalisation of his image. With the exception perhaps of spreading world wide socialism, which isn’t really the fashion industry’s aim here I suspect… Of course, we have to accept the fact that the iconoclasm of Che has been supported by the Cuban government, but for now that is by the by.
But none of that matters really does it, because what is important now is the image – the image of the wearer of the T-shirt and the faux political impression you want to give. The fashion industry is diluting the politically potent to make it marketable, kitsch and a “look”. We have the fashion and advertising industry appropriating an image and turning it in to a mass marketing tool, which people buy without giving a shit of what the object represents and stands for. Even if the buyer is aware of the conflicts that are represented by the Keffiyeh, they buy it irrespective of their own political thought or opinions, so long as they still look cool. It doesn’t make much difference, so long, as Kid Carpet would say, ‘you’re keeping it buff’.
The Keffiyeh is a symbol of a cause that has become so desperate that fighters and suicide bombers have been engaged in the Intifada through the nineties and now this decade in the hope of Palestinian liberation. They partake in a struggle where, every day, Israeli tanks parade about, shooting rockets and fire and building a wall to demarcate and reduce the occupied territories. This of course, triggered war in Lebanon and intensified terrorism throughout the world. Is this something that you take in to consideration when you put it in your shopping bag? Is it necessary to think about whether your next party outfit had the political power to embody one of the longest running and bloodiest conflicts of the twentieth, and now the twenty first, century?
It doesn’t matter whether you have no opinion on the Israeli or Palestinian conflict, or if you do, which side you feel most strongly about. Perhaps it is easier to just take the idea of the scarf as a symbol of political movement, and put those politics aside for a moment. The marketing of the Keffiyeh as a ‘tablecloth scarf’ is another example of the fashion industry taking what was politically active and important and inflammatory and turning it into a product, a commodity that could be sold. The advertising industry did it, as Egg credit cards desecrated Kruger’s ‘My Body is a battleground’ with credit card rates in their recent advert of guinea pigs looking at reworked famous pieces of art. The political isn’t the personal anymore, it is the marketable. What meaning is there in our historical and potent political and cultural images, if it can be drained of any sense of significance or argument to suit a consumer market? We have to start to ask ourselves, how can anything have any moral or immoral point to it when everything has a price tag and a cool kudos value? What about the values that matter? What about giving a damn?
If for every Kaffiyeh they sell in Top Shop or urban outfitters or wherever (it’ll be M&S next.) they donated ALL the proceeds to helping the orphans in occupied Palestine and the refugees in the Lebanese camps, or if for every purchase of a Kaffiyeh the buyer was forced to read about its cultural and political significance, the history of its use and the problems of Israel and Palestine conflict, and then maybe be forced to take action and sign a petition or do SOMETHING, fair enough.
If for every Che t-shirt the wearer was required to study even a pamphlet about the history of South American socialism and the sometimes good, sometimes violent role he played in it, then ok.
And even if you wear the Keffiyeh because you truly believe you are showing some kind of political affiliation with the Palestinian Liberation Front or the Palestinian Nationalism campaign through doing so, and you genuinely believe that this is the only way that you can demonstrate your ideals and beliefs, then maybe that is acceptable (although there are better ways of helping a movement than accessorising…).
But if, like I’m sure most of you are, you wear it because it is oh so pretty, then for fuck's sake, go get some principles. They’re on special offer in Selfridges you know.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

they're marching now

this is a response to the war memorial parade i attended recently. it was the same day i got gallstones or the polyp, whatever it was that made me ill.

They’re marching now.

All I can really feel is pain. I think it is because I am stressed, and have been stressed about this day for so long. Yesterday, reading the lines that represent to me my stressful past, I felt happy, and the pain was, to be kind to it, mild. Minimal. As I stood nervous behind the microphone, hand shaking and voice cracked, it was with a surge of triumph. What was once a symbol of hurt and anger and thwarted desire, now represented to me a purging of what had been before. As the words fell from my mouth, they marched triumphant in a bold assertion that I have feared, I have fought, and now I have conquered. The applause is shrieking, and I smile, relieved, and look down at the page and I look down on my body and I think, yes, this is mine now.

This is different though. I can’t remember if this is a new fear, or just an old one resurrected, and I wonder what I am afraid of, when those around me today have feared for their lives and looked death in the eye. And I have had that fear once, I think. But not to the same terrific extent.

I step out of the tube station and rush to buy a greeting’s card, hoping that I won’t be found out, and when I leave the shop I see them standing there, waiting ready. They are dressed smart. He is wearing the medal I saw once when I was a child in a box, never taken out again, and I suddenly feel small and silly in my blue summer dress and grubby flip flops, thinking, I’m wrong, I look wrong, I’ve gone wrong. Clutching my belly, I smile and twirl, but beneath waspish sunglasses I hold my eyes steady and unflinching and feel like I have to start turning hard as rock.

They bump in to someone not seen for twenty five years, and the wife asks his wife what she’s been doing for the last quarter of a century. They don’t recognise that it is not the same woman, and I wonder how much of existence is to be airbrushed out today. One. I count to myself. I smile in what I hope is a warm and expansive manner, my responses are frozen. I learnt to perform this dance many years ago. It was vain to hope the steps wouldn’t be needed again. Clutching my belly, I walk next to my stepmother and this wife, and my brother walks next to my father and the not-seen-for-twenty-five-years-acquaintance. I notice this because I find it strange how we turn to this gender divide that was never present at home. Why do I automatically fall in step with another woman, why do I automatically join the wives by virtue of wearing this blue summer dress.

I hate central London, I think. I want to go back to the boys’ house.

He’s made me cry behind my huge waspish sunglasses (‘why do you want to hide your pretty face?’) and I clutch my belly. I have committed the crime of mentioning the part of the past not on display today. But, I think, I’m on display today, and I am a visible manifestation of that past. Dressed wrong, thinking wrong, but on display all the same. I wonder at how easily it is done. Quick denial, pretend this doesn’t exist, didn’t exist, never existed; and suddenly my past is erased. And I think. Is this how I am thought of? Do you not want to recognise from where this moment came from, what has been to lead up to us standing on the Strand in the thin sun, talking right now, saying these words to one another, as I cry behind my sunglasses and text my boyfriend to ask him to come and see me when I get back home because right now all I want is for someone to hold me and let me know that my existence is all right. Two.

I fall back in to step with the women. It is safer there. They aren’t part of all of the shared past. I clutch my belly. It is getting worse now.

If this is a day to remember the past, I think, if this is a day to remember those involved in the past that were forgotten, I think, then I was right to speak up. But who knows what memories are wanted, and maybe this is a day to remember only what each mind desires.

It is getting steadily cooler and the pain is getting steadily worse, as we stand up begrudgingly to welcome the Royals and they start to march in. The camera focuses on Blair talking to Thatcher, and I joke that they are discussing how it is fine to stage an illegal and unpopular war because, look at them, they’re marching now.

We are here to remember the dead.
We are here to remember the dead.

We are here to remember the dead who died, so we are told, to keep this last bastion of imperialism safe, to keep this land British. In tears, the lady on the screen tells the widow on the screen that he in the photograph did not die in vain. That he saved her and her daughter and the land they loved. And I think perhaps now is the time to fuck politics, to ignore the nagging voice in my brain that warns me that almost without exception all the problems and wars in the world today can be traced back to Western imperialism, and the question that rings to why Britain should own the land anyway. Because we are here to remember the dead.

And how can I judge the living. For they believe that it was the right thing. And I was born too late to question that. I am young, I am foolish, I cannot ask this of them.

I did it because I believe it was the right thing to do.

Isn’t that what he says?

And for some moments I feel proud of my father today. And I feel proud of my mother today, watching on the television, in her airbrushed out of this moment here now today world. I shush my feminist pacifist, and I shush the angry little girl who is still reeling in fury and pain from him making her cry; and tell them both to let them have their moment, for what they suffered and what they saw.

I’m watching them march and I think about those who came home to get their medals and I think about the things they must have seen and I think about whether they wonder at their marching now, what they are marching for and what they marched for then. I think about how these times and these men have shaped so much of my past and my present although they never knew me, they never knew of my existence, and whether they thought they were doing it for babies like me soon to be born, or whether they didn’t think that far ahead. I try and decipher all the words and the point of singing fucking Rod Stewart because I want to know, I demand to know, if this is a celebration, because I don’t want to be celebrating. I don’t want to be celebrating. I want them to remember. I want to be remembered.

I want to be remembered as existing in this moment, because to have existed in this moment then something must have lived and thrived those years ago that need not have been so crassly brushed aside as I cried behind my sunglasses.

The pain has reached the point where I can barely stand through the National Anthem and no amount of clutching my belly makes it any less. Everyone is emotional but I am white as a sheet and all I can think of is how much pain I am in. I want to scream and scream and scream because I don’t know how I can travel the one hundred and twenty five miles to my nice soft bed when I can barely place one foot ahead of the other.

As the song comes to an end, we watch them march.