Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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#twittersilence: it’s not for everyone. Here’s what it is for me.

I – like many, many others – have spent the last week thinking a lot about feminism and online abuse. And as I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to participate in #trolliday, a few things have started to occur to me.

Of the women on twitter whom I have been following, the argument has been split between two main camps. The problem is, I kind of agree with both.

Someone like Caitlin Moran will be missed today. If I still had it in me to care about Doctor Who, I would be sad not to have her running commentary of the weird talk-show-slash-possible-fight-to-the-death that will reveal the twelfth Doctor tonight. The argument that twitter would be a much worse place without outspoken women will be felt by her simple 24-hour absence. More importantly, the act of leaving twitter for a day will fuel a wider conversation about abuse. Helen Lewis explains that position pretty well.

But many, many other women are continuing to tweet their anger about sexism, because silence concerning abuse has not, historically, gone well for the abused.

Each approach works for the people who chose it. So what should my response be?

The thing is, my silence on twitter wouldn’t necessarily be missed anyway. I don’t tweet an awful lot as it is, and I very rarely tweet about feminism. For one thing, I am usually talking about something else. For another, there are many people I know who talk about it far more eloquently than myself. But there is a part of me – and it’s not a part I’m particularly proud of – that sees the abuse other women get, and thinks “I don’t know if that’s something I want to open myself up to”.

So in a way, I’ve already been silenced for far too long. As someone who is perfectly happy to identify myself as a feminist, and talk about feminism in my life away from the internet, that doesn’t really make any sense.

So instead of being silent today, I’m going to speak out instead.

And the message is simple – it is completely ridiculous that women are so often met with death threats and rape threats just for saying that they want to be treated equally to men. How twitter should respond to a fault of society is a different argument completely. However, the way that people treat each other in public spaces is everybody’s business, and they should never treat each other like that. Ignoring the problem is not a helpful response for those on the receiving end of daily insults and threats. If it came from someone they knew personally, no one would be telling them that to respond would only make things worse, so that should just sit down and take it.

I am a feminist, and I object to a world that treats men and women differently. I am adding my voice to the critical mass of objections.

Sexism does still exist. Women and girls are killed and abused all around the world simply for being women and girls. It cannot be denied that they are held to a different standard than men – to see that, you only need to turn on your TV and compare the number of visible mature men to the number of visible mature women.

Of course, both women and men are also abused for their race, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, mental health, weight, disability, appearance, clothes … gender is just one of the many targets of discrimination, but that doesn’t make it – or them – any less important.

There are many kinds of sexism. Almost every woman I know has faced some form of street harassment. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for speaking out for a woman’s right to an education in Pakistan. Marte Deborah Dalelv was arrested for having sex outside of marriage after reporting a rape – the fact that she was pardoned after international outcry does not make it okay. Within the last couple of months, a medical student I know was told by a surgeon at her hospital that she wouldn’t get ahead in orthopaedics because one day she will want to have a baby; another told her that she will find it easy because she can simply use her boobs. Neither mentioned her medical ability.

Sexism still exists. Some people’s silence today will speak louder than their presence. Some people will continue to shout about it today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

I am protesting in my own way. I am saying, as thousands of other women are saying, that sexism has to stop. The world will be a far, far better place without it.

In a debate on Channel 4 news the other day, Jon Snow asked whether the issue was bigger than twitter, and was in fact a social problem.

“Yes it is, Jon,” writer and activist Laurie Penny replied.

“Then why aren’t we dealing with that?”

Exactly, Jon Snow. Exactly.


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LGBTQ and the media: why Hollyoaks is the best show on television

A couple of weeks ago, same-sex marriage became legal in the UK. You may have heard about it. Of course, the law is not without it’s faults – let’s not forget that trans people are being significantly discriminated against, that heterosexual couples still can’t enter into civil unions, and that there is a quadruple lock on opposed religious groups performing such marriages, so that LGBTQ members of the Church of England couldn’t be married in their faith, even if they wanted to.

I am not forgetting those things. However, it has to be acknowledged that the change in law is still a huge step forward for human rights in this country, and emblematic of positively shifting attitudes.

However, just as in the law surrounding it, society’s attitude towards LGBTQ people still has its issues. They are still bullied, mocked and degraded for being themselves, and as long as this site still exists, you’re never a google search away from a nice little reminder of how far left society has to come.

Today, however, I am going to talk about one specific problem, because it’s one that’s been bugging me lately – and that is the way in which we understand LGBTQ characters on TV. It was a topic often discussed in my Queer Theory class at UEA last year, and one which continually comes up in the TV I watch now.

The thing is, the growing number of LGBTQ characters is something of a red herring. Of course more representation is a good thing, and the fact that openly gay characters are appearing is a step forward in itself. But why are they so often presented as minor side characters, there to throw out a good one liner, but never actually take on any strong storylines themselves? Why do they still play up to stereotypes which don’t actually help anyone? And why do the lesbiansalwaysALWAYSdie? [warning: violence, illness, spoilers]

It’s a commonly recurring theme that tvtropes.org refers to as “bury your gays link”.

Of course there are always exceptions. But no matter how great it is to have LGBTQ characters on TV, there are still only two messages being sent about queer relationships. Either they must fit perfectly into the roles society has dictated for them in order to be legitimate (one flamboyantly camp man and his long-suffering partner/two hot babes), or they must ultimately end up doomed and their partners left grieving forever.

 

A Case Study

Let’s compare Channel 4’s Dates. It was well-promoted, billed as an edgy contemporary drama/comedy, and the link with Skins creator Bryan Elsley was continually pushed.

Overall, the series was pretty good; the “straight” episodes portrayed interesting, layered characters who were struggling with various emotional issues as they attempted to navigate the awkward seas of dating in a complex contemporary world.

But then we got to the “lesbian” episode – and presumably even having lesbians was presumed to be edgy enough without actually bothering to push any more boundaries. Instead, when one admits to having previously been with men, we get the line “I’m so sick of women who go this way and that on a whim; it’s not complicated, it’s annoying and not honest … Maybe you’re just straight and bored?” In response: “you seem like an angry lesbian with a dick complex.”

Neither of these stereotypes is anything the viewers haven’t heard before, and repeating them isn’t edgy; it’s lazy. To top it all off, the two women later do sexy dancing and sleep together anyway, despite the fact that neither seems to particularly like the other, making it a lesbians-on-TV hattrick.

Gay stories can’t just rely on their own gayness to keep them interesting. They need as many twists, turns and surprises as straight stories. How else will they ever seem like legitimate stories to tell?

And that is just the gay, bisexual and lesbian characters who are, finally, beginning to exist on our screens; for those who are trans, genderqueer, pansexual, asexual, or one of the many other non-heteronormative identities, there is still the battle to get their stories represented on television at all.

The only reference I found to trans issues in Dates was this passing comment from a man in a later episode, on the number of dates he has had in his life: “two including this one, and the other ‘so-called’ girl turned out to be … never mind”. A face is pulled, the subject changed, and the subject never mentioned again. To make matters worse, this is from a man who claimed to have an academic interest in sexuality, and who even went so far as to explain a rough version of the Kinsey scale. Admittedly, the character is portrayed as racist and sexist throughout. But even in the one area in which their character appears to be somewhat enlightened, trans jokes are still too easy a shot for the writers to take.

So what can we do? What possible direction is left to take?

 

That’s where Hollyoaks comes in

Moving to a new town is hard. You don’t know where things are; you don’t have any friends yet; there are millions of roundabouts everywhere for no discernible reason (although maybe that’s just in Colchester).

Luckily, I am privileged enough to be housesharing with an extremely friendly and generous couple (and their puppy).

Unluckily, their favourite TV show is Hollyoaks.

Now, I’m not judging those who enjoy trashy soaps – not at all. But Hollyoaks though? That’s the worst one!

So what do you do? Do you watch bad TV with wooden acting, farcical storylines, and awkward sets? Or do you hide in your bedroom, carry on learning to knit, and not bond with the people you’re sharing your living spaces with for the foreseeable future?

Honestly, it was a tough call to make. But I’m pretty bad at being on my own, so in the end, against all the odds, Hollyoaks won.

At first, I was just vaguely fascinated by how terrible the plots were, and how hilariously bad the acting was.

Then, I started to notice something odd.

First, two men in a relationship kissed without any particular fuss – the same everyday peck that we see between straight couples on TV all the time. Oh, I thought. How nice! I didn’t even realise they were together until the end of the scene, because they were talking about something completely different!

Then, I began to realise that there was also a love triangle between a third man. Brilliant! These two aren’t just together because they’re the only gay men on the show – the drama of the relationship doesn’t come from their sexuality alone, it comes from jealousy and affairs – just like all the other couples! Best of all, from my limited viewpoint, it didn’t seem like any of the LGBTQ characters were being portrayed with the usual stereotypes.

Later in the week, the same thing happened again – but this time with two teenage girls! As we have established by now: usually if female LGBTQ characters exist at all, they are almost always presented through the lens of a wider male fantasy, and are highly unrealistic as a result. But here they were, at 6.30pm on weeknight, right in front of my eyes! And once again, their storyline included mental health issues, fears for a relationship that is moving too fast, and parents catching them in compromising positions. All slightly hammy versions of the sort of issues teenagers face every day; but the girls’ sexuality itself wasn’t commented upon once!

It may seems like a relatively small complaint in a world where LGBTQ people people face physical threats and violence on a daily basis. But it’s all part of the same problem. The way certain identities are presented in the media is always going to significantly affect how we think about those identities. If we are only ever shown two or three varieties of gay relationships and characters, they will never be truly accepted by everyone. And the same goes for all oppressed minorities – the more variety we are able to see, the less they will be considered minorities at all.

For years I have been complaining that we need LGBTQ characters on our TVs whose sexuality is not their primary characteristic; and for years I’ve been continually disappointed. We are often drawn to anything that is new in the hope that, this time, it will have all the answers. But perhaps we are looking in all the wrong places – and something like Hollyoaks, which is so often dismissed for its low-budget, quotidian nature, has been giving us those answers for years.


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Quick post: weekend in Wales

Well I wasn’t kidding about keeping up the blog, and I had a fantastic response to the last post, so thank you! Thank you especially To Adam Tinworth, who actually wrote a post about me writing a post about him. Blogception.

However, the next one I’m working on is proving slightly more time-consuming and complicated than I expected – and I am also graduating this week, so there my be an unexpected delay.

So here, instead, are some pretty pictures of Southerndown in South Wales, where I spent my weekend. It was pretty beautiful.

Southerndown

Southerndown

 

Sea

Sea

 

Barbecuing at sunset

Barbecuing at sunset

As a Midlands girl, I still get extremely excited about being on a beach, or near the sea at all. There’s something pretty breathtaking about reaching the very edge.

And, best of all, this particular beach is also the set of this heartbreaking scene (and, I am reliably informed, many others):

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and cry for the days when Doctor Who was still good. Cry like a sad, sad baby.


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A summer which I intend to spend blogging: round two

I am going to start blogging again.

These words are, of course, words that the internet – the poor, content-saturated internet, which must find the idea of sharing and reblogging utterly exhausting – has heard before.

But as I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, a conversation between journalists Mary Hamilton and Adam Tinworth about the importance of blogging started to make me feel guilty. The argument, in summary, was that it is undeniably important to keep writing on the web. It is important creatively, for people who work with words for a living; intellectually, for people who have a lot of ideas and opinions, and for whom writing is a way of refining these; and logically, in a digital world where declaring yourself a writer of any kind without easy-to-find evidence is a pretty avoidable mistake to make.

Also, for reasons I will get to in a minute, I am desperate to write about something that isn’t yarn.

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Find my Friends: magic Marauders Map, or sinister sci-fi?

“I brought you a present,” says my friend Ben, striding confidently into the office of UEA’s student newspaper, Concrete, and presenting me a bar of chocolate. In the middle of one of our fortnightly Sunday evening takeaways – a somewhat tragic, somewhat heartwarming tradition that emerged around halfway through last term – I was surprised and happy to see him. Then again, by 8pm on a Sunday of production weekends, I am surprised and happy to see anyone who has nothing to do with newspapers.

But how did he know I would be there? Not, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so, because that’s the only place I would ever be the day before an issue goes to print. No, he knew where I was because he had tracked me there with an app on his phone.

“Aren’t you glad that you got it?” he asked me a few days later. “I would have had to wait until I next saw you otherwise!”

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The internet is stupid: my existential ParaNorman crisis

So yesterday I did my first film review of the year for Concrete, the student newspaper that someone (for some reason) put me in charge of. I was super excited about it. A lot of what I’ve been doing since becoming editor involves answering emails and passing on the more interesting work to other people so that I can free up time to answer more emails. So when the film editors desperately needed a ParaNorman review at short notice, I jumped at the chance to go back to basics (and get a free trip to the cinema).

It was a pretty good film. There were better animations this summer (bravebravebrave) but overall it was funny and smart and cute.

Now for the angry ranting.

Before I went into the film, my housemate told me it was the first kids’ animation with an openly gay character. Awesome, I thought. I can totally write about that in my review!

In the end, I didn’t think it was really worth mentioning. The two “older sibling” characters are set up as a potential romance throughout the film (by which I mean the seemingly-shallow sister outrageously tries to get the attention of the oblivious older brother whose shoulders are four times as wide as his waist). After all the zombie shenanigans are over, she finally gets the courage to ask him to see a movie with her. He responds positively, and tells her that she’ll really like his boyfriend, who loves chick-flicks.

Awks.

I thought this was pretty cool, but ultimately not really something I wanted to write about when there was so much else going on – the storytelling, the humour, the cute stop animation effect. With only 200 words to play with, Mitch’s sexuality was not really relevant to my enjoyment of the film.

And then I started reading all of the other reviews people had written. My aforementioned housemate found this terrifying collection of responses from parents who were outraged at that one line which had very little to do with the rest of the plot. Let’s illustrate this point with a randomly selected sentence: “had to try explaining it to a nine year old that we hate the sin, love the sinner, and that some boys are just confused by their gender.” Followed by more exclamation marks than could fit in a single line of text.

God dammit, mothers on the internet.

My immediate response was to completely rewrite my own review in defence of a children’s film’s choice to not only include a gay character, but to include a gay character whose sexuality is of absolutely no consequence. Sort of like, you know, everyone in real life who is defined by more than one aspect of their identity, which is in itself a fluid and ever-changing process.

But then, after the second half of my review became a thinly-veiled backlash to the film’s politicised responses, I realised exactly what I had done. Part of what annoys me most about those other reviews is that they let something which shouldn’t even be important colour their whole opinion of the film. So by giving such a disproportionate amount of space to defending the action, I was really doing the same thing.

The fact that Mitch is gay is not a big deal. He admits it freely, and clearly no one else in the film has an issue with it. His line takes up maybe four seconds of screentime, in a film which is 92 minutes long (roughly 5,520 seconds). That means that Mitch’s sexuality makes up 0.072% of the movie.

I’m so mad about this issue that I did maths, you guys.

In the end, for me, or anyone else, to spend most of my supposedly objective review talking about 0.072% of a movie actually does it a disservice. And it politicises something which shouldn’t be political in the first place.

Chris Butler, who wrote and co-directed the film, had this to say on the matter when speaking to Indiewire: “I wanted it from the start, absolutely. It seemed like the best bookend to that whole tolerance thing and to do it as a joke, a kind of throwaway thing, but something that has NEVER been done before. I think we’re telling a story about intolerance, so you have to be brave about it.”

And he’s exactly right. It’s important that gay people are included across the media, and it may be even more important that their sexuality is portrayed as only a small part of their identity. Not every gay character on TV or in movies needs to struggle with coming out and defy ignorant bullies by spreading glitter and rainbows wherever they go. A lot of people just happen to also be gay, and that should be reflected too.

In the end, I took the response to the film’s responses out of my official 200 words. For me to rise to the unfairly negative reviews and focus on that one issue would just invalidate my own argument, and ignore everything else about the film which I enjoyed.

Cue angry blog post instead.


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The Tube and the Tate: 5 things I learned in London

So after my initial coming-to-London post which, reading back, is laced with just a whiff of an oncoming breakdown, I realise I did not publish anything for two weeks. Probably looks a bit worrying, but I can confirm that I was not swallowed up by the hungry jaws of the city. I even got used to my breeze blocks and empty flat, although I never met the owner of the muller corners in the fridge. I can only assume that there actually was a yoghurt-loving ghost in the room next door.

In truth, I just got so caught up in the day-to-day process of going to work, meeting friends who lived or worked nearby, then going home and going to sleep, that blogging was put on a back burner.

Unlike the Olympics, empty seats are a blessing which you taunt you only by their absence.

However, I am back now, and there’s only a week before I’m back at uni in Norwich and things really do get busy. So here’s some things I learnt in London while I was there:

1. I can read pretty much anywhere.

At peak time in the centre of London, the tube is pretty full, and no one around you is happy about it. Sure, there are some tricks to ease the growing sense of claustrophobia (such as going to the end of the platform and getting on the oft-neglected final carriage). However, sometimes even they don’t prevent you from being squashed in with a bunch of strangers. But even in the smallest of spaces, I could still find room to turn the pages of the first book of my pre-reading for third year: Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801). It’s not too bad – it has lots of disease and unhappy marriages, and even some controversial mixed-race unions. (Racy stuff.) Plus, I can now confirm that the questionable decisions of our heroines Belinda and Lady Delacour were just as baffling and socially uncomfortable pressed up against a stranger’s back on a packed Piccadilly train than they were in my room on my own.

2. The Tate gallery is infinitely more fun whist playing spot-the-dick-symbolism.

Now, I’m not one of those people who regularly dismisses and mocks modern art for being “worse than my two-year-old’s”. For one thing, I don’t have a two-year-old. For another, that’s clearly balls, and I actually think a lot of it has the potential to be more emotional and interesting than more traditional stuff.

“Gothic Landscape” by Lee Krasner, painted after her husband Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, was probably my favourite.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not even more fun to point out every phallic symbol you can find amongst all the other pretentious art critics.

3. Camden Market is as good as everybody says.

Slightly overwhelming when I first stepped into the market, I was soon swept up in the atmosphere and tempted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Maybe it was the magic of the first time, but I would still rather find something there than Primark. My only complaint was that, for some reason, the legendary Goths who apparently spend all of their time there must have got tired of tourist season and found somewhere more hip to hang out. Sad face.

4. Even the booze is better.

Chando’s may sound like a cross between the two most unappetising words in the contemporary English language (“chunder” and “Nando’s”), but it is actually a pub just off Leicester Square, and it was a beauty. I always feel a little awkward at these fancy hipster pubs which sell a hundred different types of independent beers. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of these things, and the pressure of wanting to order something cool is only added to by the fact that, without my glasses, I can’t read the labels of most of the stuff they sell anyway. Am I supposed to ask the bar staff for recommendations? Make something up which so that they think I know about even more obscure and independent beverages than even they stock? Point at the nearest thing and yell “PINT OF THAT” in a sheer panic? I don’t even like beer anyway! In the end, I usually cave and order vodka and coke because I know that everybody in the world is going to stock it. Then I shuffle back to my table in the shame of my unoriginality. But at Chando’s, their independent hipster vodka and independent hipster coke made it completely worth it. No cheap Asda knockoff and 2-for-1 diet cola will be the same again.

5. If I could find a flatmate, a flat and a job to fund myself after graduation, I’d probably be happy.

Any takers?