Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Who is Mona Eltahawy?

If you haven’t heard of Mona Eltahawy then you’re in for a treat, because you’re about to read about a fearless, liberal Muslim Egyptian-American feminist and be all the better for it.

From Mona’s website (link: http://www.monaeltahawy.com/):
“During the 18-day revolution that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, she appeared on most major media outlets, leading the feminist website Jezebel to describe her as "The Woman Explaining Egypt to the West".
In November 2011, Egyptian riot police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her and she was detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence.
Newsweek magazine named Ms Eltahawy one of its "150 Fearless Women of 2012", Time magazine featured her along with other activists from around the world as its People of the Year and Arabian Business magazine named her one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women.”
Many people are scared of brave feminists. Of angry women. Of women who won’t be silenced.
I love them.
I seek them out. Feminism is at its strongest when it rises up and voices opinion without fearing the backlash. Watching Mona manage the critics who seek to silence her and the islamophobes who seek to twist her words out of context displays to me a feminism that is equal parts intelligence, humour and bravery.

Mona’s book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution is a devastating account of what some women endure in the Middle East. In the book, Mona talks about Middle Eastern feminists, about her own struggles with her sense of self, about sexuality, and how the patriarchy works at ‘state and street’ levels, shaming and abusing women to keep them in check.
But there is hope in the book too. Because Mona gives example after example of how exactly women will not be kept in check.
Mona’s twitter feed is an amazing resource. She links to her own articles such as
What the world would look like if we taught girls to rage (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/what-world-would-look-if-we-taught-girls-rage-ncna843511), an amazing piece about how we teach girls they are weak and vulnerable, that we as a society sap power from girls, and #MosqueMeToo: What happened when I was sexually assaulted during the hajj https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/02/15/mosquemetoo-what-happened-when-i-was-sexually-assaulted-during-the-hajj/?utm_term=.20ad4ac8a937 where she talks about sexual assault during the Muslim pilgrimage (the hajj).
Mona’s twitter has recently produced the glorious #ibeatmyassaulter (https://stepfeed.com/this-egyptian-feminist-beat-up-her-assaulter-and-it-was-glorious-1581) - the hashtag is a collection of women who retaliated against their sexual assaulters, led by Mona’s victorious and furious recount of punching a man who groped her (and then icing her fingers!).
She also signal boosts activities of feminists of colour and tweets great book and poetry recs!

To me, Mona’s feminism is defiant, lyrical (yes the word fuck is lyrical to me when it’s used to signal your disregard to those wishing to shame you into silence) and inspiring. You don’t have to be Mona, you don’t have to punch men who assault you, and you don’t have to be angry to listen to her point of view. She seeks to shine a light on the darkest, most hidden corners of male patriarchy and force it to be accountable for what it does, wherever it is.

Plus it’s just plain amusing to watch her drag the people who flock to her twitter with many opinions on how exactly she should act and what exactly she should say.

By: Tee Linden

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Hattie McDaniel and Gone with the Wind

1939 is regarded as one of the greatest years in Hollywood’s history. Some classic films released include The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind. Based on the novel by Margret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind follows the relationship of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) during the American Civil War. The film would go on to break many box office records and win countless awards, including the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Hattie McDaniel. This is special because it was the first Oscar won by a black American.

Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1895. She was the thirteenth child born to Henry McDaniel and Susan Holbert. Her father fought in the Civil War and had major psychological issues later in life, while McDaniel’s mother was a domestic worker. McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas, before moving with her family to Denver, Colorado, when she was five. In school she was naturally drawn to music and performance. Even in a school of only two black students, McDaniel’s natural talent gained her classmates’ admiration. Close to the end of her studies, she dropped out of school in favour of pursuing a performance career.

McDaniel travelled with vaudeville acts on the road for a number of years. She gained a reputation for her singing and dancing and was nicknamed “Hi-Hat-Hattie.” She wrote and performed her own Blues songs. In 1930, McDaniel’s siblings, Sam and Etta, invited her to come to Hollywood. They had had minor success getting small parts in films. McDaniel packed her bags and followed suit. By the late 1920s, McDaniel also had a string of successful radio work, most notably The Optimistic Donuts.

Arriving in California, McDaniel took up residence in a middle-class black American area of Los Angeles affectionately known as “Sugar Hill”. She appeared in popular movies, such as Judge Priest (1934) and Show Boat (1936), but still had to keep a second job in order to support herself and her family. Auditioning alongside fellow black American actresses Louise Beavers, Etta McDaniel, Ruby Dandridge and Hattie Noel, McDaniel was cast in the biggest role of her career as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.

Vivien Leigh and McDaniel in Gone with the Wind

McDaniel was so determined to get the part that she dressed in full costume when meeting with producer David O. Selznick for the first time. McDaniel made an impression. Mammy was the O’Hara family’s maid and helped raise and look after Scarlett from a child. Mammy was originally bought as a slave by Scarlett’s grandmother, but the character was a cherished member of the family.

Clark Gable played a joke on the set. In the scene where they toast to the safe arrival of baby Bonnie, Gable put real brandy in McDaniel’s glass without her knowing. The two were good friends. Learning that the black American cast members were banned from the film’s Atlanta premier, Gable wanted to boycott the entire event. Atlanta was still a racially segregated state in 1939. McDaniel convinced Gable to attend. She was absent.

McDaniel and Gable in Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind was nominated for thirteen categories at the 12th Academy Awards. The film won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director for Victor Fleming. That same year Fleming also directed The Wizard of Oz. McDaniel’s award was presented to her by actress Fay Bainter and she gave a short acceptance speech. She was the first black American to attend the ceremony as a guest and not a servant. As of 2018, McDaniel is one of only six black American women to win an Oscar. In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the second black American to win an Academy Award.

YouTube: Hattie McDaniel winning Best Supporting Actress

Opinion of Gone with the Wind was divided among the black community. Some felt Mammy was yet another stereotyped, black maid, while others saw her as a ground breaking, witty and resourceful character. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) criticized McDaniel publicly for her continued portrayal of maid characters. In response, she said “I’d rather play a maid than be one.” McDaniel was proud of her work and felt she was a role model for future generations of black Americans. If any black actors were struggling in Hollywood, and needed a place to stay, she would happily open her doors to them every time.

After Gone with the Wind, McDaniel enjoyed a brief stint of successful work. She had parts in The Great Lie (1941) and Disney’s controversial Song of the South (1946). McDaniel also entertained soldiers during World War II and promoted war bonds. By the mid-1940s, her career was slowing down and she focused more on radio work. She sadly passed away from Breast Cancer on October 26, 1952. McDaniel continued to work until her final days.

McDaniel accepting her Oscar from Fay Bainter

McDaniel loaned her Oscar to Howard University but it went missing during the Race Riots of the 1960s. It hasn’t been seen in the years since. She has two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame in 1975. As part of the Black Heritage series, McDaniel’s likeness was featured on a stamp in 2006. Producers Aaron Magnani and Alysia Allen purchased the rights to Jill Watt’s book, Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood. They plan to make a McDaniel biopic film in the near future.

By: Matthew J. Healy


Get Ready For A Biopic About Hattie McDaniel, The First Black Oscar Winner (http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/hattie-mcdaniel-biopic_us_5a57a204e4b068abc338babd)
Gone With the Wind - iMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031381/?ref_=nv_sr_1)
Hattie McDaniel - Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/hattie-mcdaniel-38433)
Hattie McDaniel - iMDB (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0567408/?ref_=tt_cl_t8)

Hattie McDaniel winning Best Supporting Actress (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7t4pTNZshA)

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Why Consent Needs to Be More Than Just "No Means No"

Note: For this article, I’ll be centering on women who experience sexual harassment/assault in hetero sexual encounters.

We can all agree sexual assault is a crime, and that no one should be subject to it. However, when we start having conversations about consent, what it is and what it looks like, those discussions seem to take place in murkier waters.

In the NSW Crimes Act (
https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40), the meaning of consent, as it pertains to a person in a sexual encounter, is “A person consents to sexual intercourse if the person freely and voluntarily agrees to the sexual intercourse.”

Now let’s apply that definition to a story that’s been in the public space recently: yes, I’m referring to the babe.net story (https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355) about “Grace” a 22 year old woman, who went on a date with Aziz Ansari, a 33 year old celebrity.

Suddenly, what consent is, and what it looks like, has gotten more complicated. When this story was released, people – who had been all for #metoo – formed camps. Some people say Ansari should have stopped. Some people say Grace should have said no, and left. Some still say both things have happened, and some say this should never have been published.

However you feel about the journalistic integrity of babe.net’s work here, the piece still opened a door to a conversation that it seems many of us aren’t ready to have.

I saw the phrase “guilty…of not being a mind reader” (link:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/15/opinion/aziz-ansari-babe-sexual-harassment.html) used in defence of Ansari. I saw, basically: “Just suck it up, you had bad sex”. I saw a lot of “why didn’t she say no?”.
While, as a society, we might loyally recite no means no – and it always has and always does mean no – are we really happy with retreating into an area where all male actions will be without reproach in a sexual encounter until we as women say the actual word no? That men will push and pester until we shout no at the top of our lungs into their faces? Is that really in keeping with the idea that a person consents to sexual intercourse if the person freely and voluntarily agrees to the sexual intercourse?

Will we accept other variances of the word ‘no’? Will we accept “don’t” or “stop”? What about less direct rebuttals, such as; “let’s get back to the others”, “I’m not feeling it right now”, “I’m feeling a bit sick”?

Because I’ve used those last three to end sexual encounters. What I meant was “no”, but I never felt like I had to say the word no, and I didn’t: each of those encounters ended favourably, with no hard feelings either side. My sexual partners heard me, they heard and respected what I was saying – even though I never said the words “no” or “stop”.

So what about “Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill” or “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you”? These are the sort of things Grace said that night.

Why is sex any different? As @elmyra points out: If men can read social cues out in public, why do we suddenly assume they lose the ability in the bedroom?

I think to take “no means no” quite literally (meaning everything was assumed as fine up until that word is uttered) lacks an understanding of the many ways humans interact and communicate.
What about non-verbal cues? Grace stated Ansari put her hand on his crotch repeatedly. Meaning her put her hand there and she removed it. Five times. Is this a non-verbal cue? I think it is.

What about shutting down and becoming unresponsive to the whole encounter? Is that a non-verbal cue? If you are in a sexual interaction and your partner starts crying, but has not said no, does that mean the consent is still active? You MIGHT say these cues could mean anything, but the thing is: do you continue without checking in with them? Is it too much to ask to check in with your partner, to ensure they’re ok and on board?

Instead of just no means no, we should say only an enthusiastic yes means yes. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-30/metoo-its-time-we-moved-to-a-different-model-of-sexual-consent/9371288) Our language around consent falls short, which is why we get divisive about what to label Grace’s experience, but the only way to build that language is to talk about encounters like Grace’s, and talk about sex in general.
We need to be open and positive about sex because women being outwardly enthusiastic about having sex, let alone wanting sex, is still something we’re not used to as a society. But we need to retire the old stereotypes. We need to talk about what affirmative consent looks like from a woman without the stigma and shame attached to a woman enjoying sex (e.g. slut shaming).

Sexual partners are people. When women walk away from sexual encounters like Grace’s, whether you believe it’s assault or not, it’s still demeaning to be ignored, and have your personhood reduced to something that needs to be worn down so someone can have sex with you, absent regard for how you feel.

Yes, rape culture is consumed by everyone – and that includes Ansari. But we need to prepare women especially for its effects in heterosexual sexual encounters. Why?
Because when a woman consumes and internalizes rape culture lessons in relation to sex, she does so at cost to herself. E.g. She blames herself for “bad sex” or assaults, she does not prioritise her own pleasure or feelings.
When a man consumes and internalises rape culture, he does so at cost to his sex partners. E.g. he blames the women for being sexually available and therefore deserving of assault, or more commonly, he believes sexual encounters are not focused on female pleasure.

Here’s the thing that so many people miss in this conversation: Women, including Grace, deserve to enjoy sex too. Sex is not just for men to enjoy. Women deserve sexual encounters where our partners care whether we are enjoying the experience. Sexual encounters should be positive and enjoyable experiences for everyone.

And all parties involved should care about that.

By: Tee Linden

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