Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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International Women’s Day

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Why are films so sexist?

A 16 mm spring-wound Bolex "H16" Ref...

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Why are films so sexist? I do not have the answer, but they are. In spite of grumpy government ruminations that film studies is a ‘soft’ subject, the medium is a vital expression of our cultural values. Films are mesmerising propaganda tools too. The recent The King’s Speech (which I have not seen, and thus am not reviewing) makes use of the ‘personal triumph against adversity’ genre, which any filmgoer will know, and molds it around one of the richest and most powerful men of his time (he liked people to call him Emperor of India) overcoming a speech impediment. Thus, we have a film in which we hoi poloi and made to root for power and establishment, despite the fact that when applied to life it is against our best interests.

There are many who blithely will tell anyone who cares listen that feminism is no longer necessary as we have sexual equality. Such people will cite all sorts of anecdotes to say it is so, but refuse to listen to the evidence that every sphere of power and money in the UK is dominated by men, be it government, banking, board rooms, chief police officers. And film operates as an amplifying feed-back loop on our society: film reflects our values, intensifies them and dictates them back to us. That is why film studies are necessary, and how they gratuitously exacerbate inequality.

A few days ago, my friend Hannah introduced me to the Bechdel Test. It seems that everyone else knew about this but me. The Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For to demonstrate the overwhelming sexism of film medium. It is a very simple set of three criteria that any film should be able to pass easily, but almost all fail. The criteria are that a film must contain at least one scene in which

  1. There must be at least two women (usually interpreted to mean two named women characters)
  2. They must talk to each other
  3. They must talk about something other than men

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Hi, honey, I’m home!

The era of evening- and weekend-only daddies should have gone out with the flatcap and trilby, but, no, fathers on full-time jobs plus overtime are increasingly the norm. The thing is the majority of British dads actually want to be spending more time with their kids. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Fathers, Family and Work Report, published last Wednesday, says that 62% of dads surveyed want to spend more time caring for their children.

The aphorism goes ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’. So, if all these dads want to be caring for their kids more, there must be a way of doing it. But I’ve the sense that this view has been gaining ground for the last decade, or more, without getting very far. The revolution in fatherhood has only clocked up one major victory so far: two weeks’ paternity leave, at a minimum of £120 a week, secured for the brothers in 2003. Continue reading


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Book review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

This article was first published by cycads.

Left Hand of Darkness

Left Hand of Darkness

A few months ago, Alicia asked me why science fiction was such a boy thing and what is the point of the genre. I cobbled together an answer about science fiction being used to create a narrative space removed from the here and now into which pertinent questions and ideas can be tried out. Science fiction might not be science, but it does have an experimental edge. As for the boyish enchantment of the genre, I imagine that it has something to do with love of grand ideas and machines rather than human relationships and emotions. Then I remembered reading somewhere about women’s science fiction, and yet still feminist science fiction. A quick web search led us to Feminist SF, and I recommend a browse.

I have long been a fan of Ursula Le Guin, since reading her Wizard of Earthsea at primary school. I was enrapt by her bringing imagined cultures and worlds to life through her writing: a skill, I later learned, was informed by her understanding of anthropology. Quite apart from EarthseaThe Left Hand of Darkness is considered a cornerstone of feminist science fiction: not only does Le Guin conjure up a fascinating world in which to immerse the reader, she also asks us to think deeply about sex and gender. Continue reading


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Are we blinkered about the burqa‘?

Cycads has published a great article about the continual Western chatter regarding the way Muslim women dress 

Asking Muslim women why we choose to wear the hijab shifts the attention away from the asker’s insecurity of their own ideas of freedom and sexuality (if you’re comfortable with how everybody expresses their freedom and sexuality, how Muslim women dress should be the least of your worries). In Orientalist discourse, the stereotypes of Muslim women produced from assumptions about the hijab reveals a lot more about Western attitudes about sexuality and social mores than it does about the “mysterious” Muslim women. And so, through the prism of an Orientalist, Muslim women are pretty much everything a so-called liberated Western woman is not. If the definition of a Muslim woman were to be defined using a yardstick alien to her culture, it will not only explain very little about the person in question, but she will always be something inferior, lacking in enlightened qualities. And so despite evidence that many women are happy to cover up, questions about the hijab continue to have forgone conclusions.


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Men and feminism

I am a man, and I am a feminist. That’s a combo that has many men, and not a few women bewildered. After all, the majority of women in Britain feel uncomfortable calling themselves feminists, and men feel that such a stance is like sleeping with the enemy (which in no way should make them seem not to be heteronormative, Red-Blooded Males!).

Bill Bailey: feminist extrordinaire

Bill Bailey: feminist extrordinaire

At Christmas, I gave my girlfriend a couple of books on women and Islam as presents. Someone commented saying ‘Are you one of those Germaine-Greer types?’, to which she replied ‘If you mean to ask if I’m a feminist, then yes I am’. This was met with laughter — half nervous, half disbelief — as if she had declared herself a cyborg out to destroy humanity!

Our society has done a fairly good hatchet job on feminism, making many believe that feminists are dangerously subversive lesbian man-eaters, who, at the very least, are out to spoil our fun. The odd thing is that society is also broadly in agreement with many of feminism’s ideals, be it wage equality and equal opportunities or reproductive rights (unless you’re Roman Catholic) or criticism of casual misogyny. Continue reading