#UseYourAnd What? by Aimee Bea

I know I sound like a broken record but I’m going to have to talk about body hair again. Unlike gainful employment, steady cash flow and a room of one’s own, body hair has remained a niggling constant in my life. This afternoon whilst trying to waste my life on a YouTube binge I was confronted with the most outrageous body hair themed interruption to date: NOT catching a reflection of the spring sun bouncing off my milky moustache, but the new Venus #UseYourAnd campaign.

The advert itself is so outstandingly patronizing, inherently sexist and above all ridiculous that it caused me to completely forget about being able to skip it five seconds in, and I watched the whole thing. I’ve included a link to the offending video – but in case you haven’t seen it yet I’m going to break it down for you, starting with the imagery.

The advert opens with a shot of a little girl’s legs. Whether or not you chose to shave, it is impossible to deny a lost-at-sea-worthy undercurrent of infantilisation embedded in the pressure on women to remove their pubescent body hair the second it starts to show. Women are expected to carry their childhood hairlessness into adulthood, which leads the more skeptical among us to question whether woman are allowed to progress fully into adulthood at all. Presumably Venus are showcasing the bare-legged little girl in all of her pure, hairless abandon as an aspirational figure for all of those many women who strive to regress back into childhood.

Not content with a healthy eyeful of pre-adolescent girl thigh, the advert then dissolves into a montage of close up leg shots, each one lingering slightly longer than its predecessor until the whole thing starts to feel a lot like watching someone spy on a high school changing room. This unnerving and unrelenting focus on the body is reminiscent of Foucault’s interpretation of the panopticon, in which the presence of an anonymous power is able to individualize a subject, in this case women, and place them in a state of perceived constant visibility, thus keeping them on edge and more willing to conform. What Venus is doing with their all too conspicuous leg ogling is reinforcing a culturally ingrained paranoia that the female body is under constant scrutiny. It is impossible to know who’s clocking your armpits as you wave down the bus in a moment of reckless abandon, or whom the next hand to graze your thigh will belong to, but Venus is here to remind you that they could strike at any time and you MUST be prepared.

The second disturbing aspect is Venus’ snappy new slogan #UseYourAnd. Oh wait – did I say snappy? I meant completely inane. It makes no fucking sense. The unconvincing slam poet that Venus have propped up to represent women nowhere spends a lot of time spouting about how ‘They told you you could be anything’. She goes on to accuse the presumably very same They of trying to put you in a box and whack a label on you. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m having a little trouble discerning who They actually are. When They said ‘here’s what you really are,’ did they then follow up with ‘so take this, lock the door and try not to make too much of a mess on the bathmat when you’re done’?

I might be mistaken, but wasn’t that You, Venus, the commercial faculty of unrealistic and barbarous beauty standards? Aren’t Venus and their contemporaries the very representatives of the box that they’ve just told you to step out of? Besides, it’s more than a little patronizing for the #UseYourAnd campaign to assume that women and girls need to be told that they are in fact multifaceted humanoids.

‘Someone says your smart,’ chimes the slam-ish poet. ‘Say yes, AND…’ And what, exactly? “I’m smart AND I shaved my legs earlier, would you like to have a feel?” I could go on about how utterly puerile this is but I think we’ve had more than enough stating the fucking obvious.

Something that is not made explicit however is what exactly Venus is trying to sell. This commercial vagueness is not uncommon in the marketing of supposedly intimate female products, and is a subject I have approached in a previous post. As female hairlessness has become standard within our beauty dictatorship and voyeurism so commonplace, advertisers no longer need to explicitly refer to the functionality or purpose of their products. We – and by we, I mean women – are expected to inherently understand and dutifully comply.

While to some it might seem admirable that Venus are taking a stab at re-branding themselves with a membrane-thin coat of pseudo-feminist gloss, it doesn’t take a lot of squinting to see the real roots of their makeover. The last few years have seen a rise in feminist activists and thinkers breaking into mainstream media, the most recent example being the No More Page Three campaign. As feminism is no longer confined to the academic realm, it has become something of a bandwagon to jump on and be exploited by corporations, who take a fundamental interest in the policing of women and their bodies. In their #UseYourAnd campaign, Venus are making a tragically desperate attempt to remain relevant by appropriating language and imagery associated with the new feminist movement, but driven only by a fear of dropping sales.

I don’t have a problem with women, or anyone for that matter, choosing to shave their legs, underarms, face, cunt, butt-crack or otherwise. Though I think that this decision should come with an AND. Say for example: ‘I choose to shave AND I don’t wish to be patronized by an international company with a vested interest in keeping women conforming to a rapidly ageing beauty standard by using bullshitty, empowering-sounding hashtags while I’m doing it.’ It might be a bit long for Twitter, but I urge you to #UseYourAnd.

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In the Company of Men, by Ben Kritikos

Ger and I loaded the van and started off. Another weekend, another job. It’s late afternoon and the prospect of a three-hour drive gets us giddy. He’s driving the van and we pass a woman — a girl, more like — probably on her way home from work or college. Ger honks the horn of the white van and whoops like a hillbilly in a pickup truck, and shouts something “complimentary” at the girl. I die inwardly of embarrassment, protesting feebly while he chortles like a boner in a waistcoat.

Ger is not normally a dickbag. He is a caring, funny and clever guy. A nice guy. He probably never thinks how rapey it seems for a guy, no matter how nice, to be honking and shouting from a white van at a woman he doesn’t know. He probably never suspects that I’m ashamed to be with him in what now looks like the Rape-mobile. He pats me on the knee, still chuckling. Thick as thieves. He wouldn’t do this in front of his girlfriend, of course. Just with the boys. Bit of a laugh. With the boys. The Boys’ Club. Every man is a member of the Boys’ Club. Membership is free and involuntary.

But what if I don’t want to be part of the Boy’s Club? In fact, what if I think it’s really shitty? “Just say something,” cries the peanut gallery. Obviously. But I’m too busy cringing myself to death. Calling your mate out for being sexist, and most likely alienating yourself from him and creating bad feeling in the room, maybe even at work — that’s not in my interests at all. Better to keep my mouth shut, later telling my partner what a shmuck he acted like, then getting into a debate on Twitter with a proper Neanderthal, and privately congratulating myself for not being a knuckle-dragging Men’s Rights fuckwit.

Dyed in the wool chauvinists will argue that sexist banter is harmless. They’ll even say it’s a compliment and should be taken as such — and anybody who disagrees is taking it, and themselves, too seriously. But this behavior is aggressive and abusive, and women telling us so should be all the proof we need. If women can’t get this notion through some men’s thick skulls, then it’s paramount for unwilling members of the Boys’ Club to get on board and start drilling.

So how do you go about telling your mates to shut their pie-holes when they spout this kind of cock-wielding imbecility? It’s worth considering what it accomplishes. Margaret Atwood comes to mind: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” My friend Ger had recently been through a nasty break-up. His girlfriend got together with another guy before the ink had a chance to dry. Ger felt like a total zero, he told me. She’d rejected him, then she expected them to be friends. Almost like she was laughing up her sleeve. “I’ve had it with birds,” he would say. It wasn’t just her, it was Women. As well as breaking his heart, she hurt his pride.

A perverted victim complex is profoundly obvious in expressions like “the friendzone,” which suggests that guys are punished by women for being “nice”, as if it lowers their sexual credit rating. (For the record, I’ve never gotten laid by being anything other than “nice”, i.e. not acting like a dick.) To this “nice” guy, women are a code to be cracked, a prize to be won, some tantalizing treat that you need to reach out and decidedly grab with both hands. When women respond to this like any sane person would respond to a maniac, it only proves his point. The soundtrack of low male self-esteem is not “Creep” but “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.

Some guys with low self-esteem turn to books like The Game, or to pick up artists like Julien Blanc to “build their confidence” or learn “the art of seduction” because it’s easier to think of their failure to form meaningful (or even sexual) relationships with women as a matter of technique. It’s even more appealing to join a group of like-minded guys — a literal Boys’ Club. Taking a really good look at yourself and deciding you want to confront your insecurities is so much more complicated than following a step-by-step initiation into the Order of the Slayers of the Pussy Dragon.

I very much doubt my mate Ger would ever read The Game or think Julien Blanc was anything more than an asshat. But shouting from a moving van has a similar purpose. Ger’s sexist banter was symptomatic of the anxiety that some men have about women, and to shield himself from this anxiety, he made me complicit. What’s a Fat Girl joke among friends, hey? Answer: a Masonic handshake, but with more ball grabbing. The Boys’ Club is some men’s way of feeling less vulnerable to the Inscrutable Otherness of women by banding together, by creating an Us and Them. To these men, it’s easier to drag women down in the same hole as them, rather than trying to get themselves out of it. The ugly logical extension of this is the Sun’s recent Page 3 prank: juvenile sniggering at the expense of everyone not stupid enough to want a pair of tits in their newspaper. It’s insulting, awkward and ridiculous — like Eric Idle’s “wink wink, nudge nudge” character in And Now For Something Completely Different.

So what do you do when your otherwise perfectly reasonable friend goes all shit-for-brains? My answer is: take the fucking piss out of him. Let him know what a gobshite he’s being, and how embarrassed you are to be seen with him, through the socially acceptable veil of contemptuous laughter. After all, he would say that it’s all just a bit of fun. And so it is — but the joke is on him for being a daft twat.

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GIVE A HOOT, READ A BOOK: ARTS AND HUMANITIES, EMPATHY AND THINKING AGAINST VALUE by Rose Lock

Last summer, shortly after graduating with a degree in English, I was mocked for devoting three years to studying this subject. The person who smirked at my choice of study was an academic himself – a professor of genetics. He had scoffed:

“Pfft. Story-telling is all well and good, but, I mean… really?”

My reply at the time was a combined splutter of bemusement and bits of sandwich, topped off with a pained, high-pitched yelp (probably an expression of the growing, post-graduate job market related fear that was enveloping many of my friends and I).

I would like to respond a bit more coherently now.

It was not the first time I had felt the need to ‘defend’ my degree. Judging by the surprisingly not so unusual ‘What are you going to do with that then?’  type remarks, anyone would have thought I had carelessly got myself into debt for studying something as frivolous as tiddlywinks. And last week, education secretary Nicky Morgan actively discouraged teenagers from studying arts and humanities subjects, by suggesting that this choice could ‘hold them back’ forever.

Largely thanks to Morgan’s government tripling university tuition fees, it is no wonder that we have been forced into debating the ‘value’ of studying subjects such as literature, history and philosophy at degree level. The arts and humanities sit uncomfortably on a shelf in the higher education supermarket, awkwardly trying to distract attention away from their hefty price tag that is so at odds with what they represent. As Dead Beats Literary Blog put it:

The substance of a thing’s ‘value’ lies within the context in which the object of concern is assessed. The value of Arts and the Humanities has been assessed under economic and pragmatic terms which are distinct from, and incompatible with, the formative and experiential benefits that are inherent to the subject field.

It seems nonsensical to view the study of literature in terms of monetary value. Back in 2012, the University of Sheffield held an event entitled Against Value in the Arts and Humanities in which the following argument was made:

… the task of the arts and humanities, both in their creative and educative aspects, is to contest, to challenge, to question, to undermine, to satirise, to offend, to violate, to deconstruct, to degenerate, to critique, to undo, or to suspend dominant and dominating assumptions of value. The purpose of the arts and humanities, the purpose of the university, is to think against value.

It is no surprise then, that Morgan and the rest of the political elite want to discourage this kind of deconstructive thinking. One of my lecturers once described feminism (which incidentally, I would not have understood so well had I not taken an arts and humanities degree) as ‘never blindly accepting the prevailing terms for anything.’  Another defined literature as a deeply political subject – but one that is far more exciting that studying politics – because it allows one to engage with notions of authorship and ownership, and to critically question pillars of tradition and power. The existence of the literary canon, for example, is a reminder that ‘value’ is not innate but is instead constructed.

I could attempt to begin listing the ways that studying literature aids personal development: encouraging moral and political agency, and improving transferable skills in ways of thinking rigorously and analytically. But perhaps the most essential and beneficial life skill that is enhanced by reading literary fiction is the ability to empathise. Science, thankfully, has confirmed this, and Morgan and the rest of the cabinet would do well to take note, preferably before they introduce rash policies such as the book ban on prisoners, or make sweeping statements claiming that only the STEM subjects are ‘useful’, and thus disregarding all other subjects as unimportant.

Granted, Morgan’s definition of ‘useful’ is probably quite different to mine. I would say that nurturing the empathic potential in young people through the study of arts and humanities, and through encouraging reading more generally, is more than ‘useful’  – it is vital. I would agree with Roman Krznaric – writer, cultural thinker and founder of the Empathy Library, who views empathy not as a ‘fluffy’ concept, but as a radical force for social change, creativity and innovation. The act of stepping inside someone else’s head and beginning to understand how their experiences and circumstances inform their perspective – this is made possible by art, film and literature in particular. This imaginative leap nurtures an interest in others, helps to break down assumptions and harmful stereotypes, and can even be a first step towards taking positive action. Turns out Krusty the Clown’s slogan for his literacy campaign, ‘Give a hoot, read a book!’ ain’t as silly as it sounds.

Aside from Morgan’s suggestion that arts and humanities subjects no longer have any ‘use’ based on her own limited, economic-driven terms being complete nonsense – the UK’s creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to our economy – by encouraging students to write off arts subjects at the age of 15 so as not to limit their career prospects, she reinforces an old inequality: that the arts are only available to the wealthy. If you’re concerned about getting a job, better not risk getting into all that debt for a degree that might not guarantee you a stable career or high income. Rather than breaking down barriers that prevent young people from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing careers in the arts, such as crippling student debt or unpaid internships, the education secretary would rather they just didn’t bother trying in the first place. It is for this reason that we desperately need charities like Arts Emergency, an organisation that recognises the importance of equal social access to the arts, and the crucial benefits that the arts and humanities bring to society.

Particularly now, it is essential that empathy, moral agency and experimental thought are encouraged through a good arts education, rather than schools and universities producing depoliticised students, and what the writer Henry A Giroux calls a “technically trained docility”. Giroux has spoken out about the relationship between the context of neoliberalism and a perceived breakdown in forms of social obligation. Within the neoliberal project, capital rules, and ‘compassion and concern for others are viewed as a weakness.’  Recent growing support for UKIP and the rise of extremist parties elsewhere in Europe amidst austerity can be interpreted as a form of collective empathic collapse. Our media continues to tar people with unfair labels, stirring up prejudice within communities.

The arts and humanities promote a just society. Nicky Morgan needs to realise this, and prove that she does give a hoot.

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Art Student Resorts to Carrying Around a Mattress to Draw Attention to her Ignored Rape

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Emma Sulkowicz is walking around Columbia University campus with a mattress on her back. She’s an art student there, and Carry That Weight is a performance piece. What looks, without context, kinda funny (I immediately thought of this guy), is a actually a highly charged protest piece. The mattress carries the extra weight of Sulkowicz’s injustice and suffering.

Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped in her own dorm room bed by a classmate. Since then, she’s spent a substantial amount of time at her University trying to convince staff and peers that it actually happened to her, and that her rapist therefore deserves to be punished for his crime. Instead of expelling the rapist and allowing Sulkowicz to move on her with life the best she can, Columbia University totally ignored Sulkowicz, along with two other students at Columbia University who have reported the same assault. Their claims were swept under the rug and the alleged rapist is still allowed to roam freely on the campus as though nothing ever happened. Columbia University dealt with the allegations so flippantly, that in April Sulkowicz and 22 other students filed a  federal Title IX complaint filed against the University for mishandling sexual-assault cases.

In short: Sulkowicz lives in constant fear of harassment, because the man that raped her could be queuing up behind her to buy a can of Coke between classes. He could also walk into her room and rape her again. What’s really problematic – obviously apart from the act of the rape itself, and the high chance that it could happen again – are the lengths that Sulkowicz is now going to, to try bring her rapist to justice. It’s similar to charities having to resort to celebrity-endorsed social media campaigns to raise some money for people of dying of a disease. People are only going to give a shit if it comes up in their news feeds.

Sulkowicz has committed to carrying around a twin-size dorm mattress everywhere she goes on campus, to classes and appointments, for as long as her rapist it allowed to attend Columbia University. “I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says in a video about the piece published by the Columbia Spectator. “And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”

Women are afraid of speaking out in case nobody believes them. We assure them that if they do, then justice will ensue. Emma Sulkowicz, as well as carrying the burden of being raped, is now carrying a fucking mattress around so that someone will listen to her. What kind of message does this performance deliver to women around the world? This performance should never have to had to happen. Rape victims will keep their mouths shut. They’ll carry the weight on their backs too. Columbia University: Listen to Emma Sulkowicz. Take her allegations seriously. Take that mattress off her back before she cripples under the weight.

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The danger of labels by Meri Wills

I recently watched the French short film reversing men’s and women’s roles in “everyday sexism”.  When I got to the end, I have to say it got me thinking about the everyday things that I experience and that I don’t even really notice anymore let alone complain about: The woman often in front of me in the line at the coffee shop who will try and flirt her way out of paying if a man is serving, but will be downright rude if it’s a woman. The bus driver who, if he’s stopping for a cigarette while parked and I walk past him on my way into the office, will always make a comment along the lines of “Hello again, beautiful.” The van which beeps as it drives past. The women shaking their heads and tutting at the woman with her stockings slightly showing through the slit of her pencil skirt as she walks to work.

 

We’re coded to judge people when we first meet them, it’s an evolutionary trait which helped us not get eaten. But making that first mental judgement doesn’t mean you need to act on it, much less comment to a friend. With International Women’s Day recently passed for this year, I started thinking about why certain groups deserve special mention for their achievements, while it’s assumed that for the majorities, every day is special. I recently had a heated debate at work with a colleague about whether a white, Caucasian, heterosexual male could be ‘harmed’ by something someone said to him. I pointed out that offence can be caused for any number of reasons, and being in the majority doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings, or that you are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic or anything else. I also pointed out that while he is constantly preaching ‘don’t judge someone on how they look’, isn’t that exactly what he was doing? I suddenly realised that the difficulty I was having wasn’t with the judgements themselves, it was with the labels being slapped all over them.

 

There comes a point when frantically putting labels all over your social interactions and acquaintances just starts hampering your vision of the world. It’s probably an incredibly naive and idealistic notion but wouldn’t it be better to just talk to someone? Maybe find out a thing or two about them before you start shaming them for being a “Slut – in that skirt”, or a “Toff” or a “Hipster”. We all know that when you say you’re a feminist, it’s a dirty word for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean you should judge them for being ignorant. Educate them, don’t preach, don’t talk down, just ask them if they think that people should be equal. If they answer yes, they’re on the same page as you.

 

Labels help us categorise the world around us and particularly the vast amount of information now available to us through the internet. It’s tempting and very easy to start labelling everything around us in a mental chart of our personal slice of the world. I know I do it, but the key is keeping those mental labels adaptable and ready to change. Discrimination happens for any number of reasons and in an intelligent species, there’s really no need for it.

 

NB: Just as an aside, while reading through the comments afterwards I couldn’t help but notice the number of people who jumped on the term everyday and were criticising the film because the really aggressive physical abuse doesn’t happen to most women on a daily basis. No, you’re right, it doesn’t. But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen every day in every city in every country, and that doesn’t make it any less horrific. It is everyday sexism in that these are acts committed in ‘civilised’ society to thousands of women each week, often at the hands of people close to them let alone from strangers. The message of the film was what was important not the title.

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Women of the World Festival- March 2014 by Olivia Atkins

Women Of the World (WOW) Festival took place over the International Women’s Day weekend (5-9th March).

It was a hub of creativity and inspiration, as everybody in attendance was committed and excited to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and girls around the world.

The weekend covered a vast range of topics and hosted an array of amazing guest speakers, with international voices travelling specially to participate.

Currently in their fourth year, WOW has increased in size and impact since every year that it has run. 

This year, key speakers included designer Vivienne Westwood, Australian feminist Anne Summers and influential young campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

Tickets to guest speakers sold out prior to the event, so it was worth booking in advance to guarantee a seat at these inspiring talks.

However, all was not lost for those who did not get tickets, the Marketplace was home to various stalls that raised awareness of other important gender issues and showcased new female talent.

Stall holders ranged in content from feminist magazines, female plumbing and various artworks. There were also political stallholders, with some campaigning for change, such as the Stop The Traffik campaign, and others that hoped to raise awareness and create a sense of community through promotion such as the One Billion Rising campaign.

Furthermore, the Marketplace was home to roamers – people were encouraged to interact with one another through various activities. There were stalls to make badges with inspirational messages on them (mine said ‘LOVE YOURSELF’); get your nails painted with iconic feminist prints; have your hair tied into an African wrap and many more.

Other events included various showings of gender-related films, such as Miss Representation, and my favourite was a Beyoncé Dance Class to empower women and encourage them to enjoy the act of dancing for themselves – with the class appropriately inspired by her new song ‘Run The World (Girls)’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U

The event offered a great source of inspiration to many and acted as a common ground for many to communicate about the issues that they were impassioned by and share their ideas.

2013 saw many changes for women around the world, however, the festival was a reminder that there is still a long way to go to obtain complete gender equality.

The important thing is that people are gathering in a designated space and talking about change for women, and so long as this happens, there will always be an alternative to the gender stereotype that is frequently seen in mainstream media.   

For more info, visit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world

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Happy International Women’s Day!

How was your March the 8th? What did you do to celebrate the inspirational women in your life? How many people asked you:

1) Why is there not an International Men’s Day? (There is, 19th November by the by.) Isn’t it a bit sexist to have a women’s day?
2) Why do we even need one anyway?

Regardless, we spent the day watching this video on spoken word poetry by Sarah Kay. She’s incredible.

Let’s keep fighting until one day, every day is ours.

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Review of Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel Gallery By Lily Magenis

 

Hannah Höch was the only female member of the Berlin Dada movement, and a pioneer in photomontage, a medium and method she used to satirize Weimar politics and subversively comment on society, gender, and race. Her first major exhibition in the UK is currently on display at the Whitechapel Gallery from January 15 – March 23, 2014.

The Hannah Höch exhibition brings together a collection over 120 pieces of work, and spans the length of her career, from the 1910s -1970s. Höch’s varying series of photomontage are presented in a chronological time line, beginning with her early work, which was heavily influenced by her career in fashion magazines. Höch critiques the way in which women are represented in the media, by ripping their images out and pulling them away from the objectified environment of a magazine page. She re-applies an image of the ‘new woman’ into a formation and structure that addresses how we perceive beauty.

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Höch’s Ethnographic Museum series questions the construction of gender and the notion of beauty, for she pairs Ethnographic masks with images of the female body. Höch’s collage “Aus der Sammlung: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum (From the Collection: from an Ethnographic Museum)” (1929), combines the body of a baby with a traditional mask and gives the figure an eye of a modern woman. Höch wants us to relate to the body in a different way, as this figure does not adhere to the idealized vision of beauty, but questions different standards of beauty. The new woman she creates here does not correlate to that of the typical woman of ‘typical’ beauty, she is a woman with a modern eye.

Höch’s art is personal, and we are greeted with a playful exploration of re-imaging. She cuts and pastes, taking familiar images and reconstructing them. Women in Höch’s collages are beautiful, feminine, and playful, but not as sexualized objects. Instead, women are depicted in a way that challenge preconceived notions of femininity. This is the new woman.

The upstairs gallery showcases a collection of Höch’s scrapbooks while the rest of the exhibition is dedicated to her experiments in abstraction and ‘Fantastic Art’ where we see her transition into color and an adjustment to her portrayal of the new woman.

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Given the extent to which the female body is included in her work, it is evident that Höch is conscious of sex and her bisexuality. However, sexuality is a factor that presents itself in her work scarcely. I was struck by the collage of a peachy pink bottom resting on a beach in “Der Schöne Po (The Beautiful Bottom)” (1959). For this was the only overtly sexual image in the exhibition. It’s bright turquoise hues and sparkling semblance stand out in comparison to her earlier collages – it has an exaggerated, girly character which I regard as a shift in the image of the new woman.

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By pulling apart and reshaping figures, most commonly female, Höch seems to be challenging the treatment of gender in 20th Century Germany. Traditionally the female figure in the artistic canon exemplifies an object of beauty. Höch contests this notion with, “Um einen roten Mund (Around a Red Mouth)” (1967). Here, a set of red lips rest on a mountain of pink petticoats. The inclusion of petticoats, which were worn by women for centuries, draws reference to a traditional and often required uniform for women. However, Höch tears at the petticoats and layers the pink horizontal frays one on top of the other, creating an abstract image of a vagina. The violence implicit in the medium Höch used here literally reshapes an image of the very core of a woman’s femininity.

Höch’s work is ambiguous, but this allows for a sort of fluid and ‘fantastic’ reading. The medium she uses is surrealistic – the multifaceted layers of cut and pasted images relax the boundaries of interpretation, and therefore we can read them in myriad ways. Her work is both political and poetic. The way she chops and splices images is political, and often comments on gender, but the finished product is beautiful and dream like.

My first impression was that Höch’s work is confused, that she struggled between different images of the new woman, as she too identified with struggles alike, (e.g. confusion with her bisexuality and being the only woman in Dada) “Two Faced” (1928), illustrates such confusion; a collage of a woman with two faces, drawn in different directions. However, this exhibition takes us on a journey of the new woman from the stiff magazine women in pearls to the effervescent pert behind. And this is exactly the point. Höch works with the notion of the fragmented self. The new woman is duplicitous and you can read her in multiple ways. Höch wants us to have our own personal and objective understanding of the ‘new woman’, as there isn’t one way to perceive her.

Höch’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery is a humorous critique of gender and beauty. Her work is crude, but not offensive. It is light hearted, but makes a point. It’s sexual but not sexualized. Hannah Höch cuts the perfect balance and creates a new image of the new woman.

 

 

Hannah Höch is on view through March 23, 2014.

For more information visit Whitechapel Gallery, London.

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Do you Love Yourself Enough? By Olivia Atkins

Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of love. What better way to celebrate this national holiday than to attend an event that stresses the importance of loving yourself?

London’s One Billion Rising did just that. On Friday afternoon at London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, a stage was set up ready to host an array of inspirational speakers and powerful musicians.

Lynne Franks, coordinator of the London event, introduced herself and unveiled the day’s programme, adding that the event was “owned by no one and directed by everyone”. A crowd quickly gathered around the stage, keen to participate and listen to the empowering words being spoken.

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Following on from the introduction, Leyla Hussein took to the microphone. Ms Hussein is a psychotherapist and a self-professed survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). She used her personal and professional experiences to talk with the crowd. She claims that 66,000 British women have undergone FGM and that over 20,000 girls are currently at risk of being sent abroad for circumcision. Ms Hussein was born into a family where FGM was important and considered culturally significant. She too underwent the surgery but instead refuses to be acknowledged as a victim. She speaks on behalf of those who cannot or will not speak out, and for those who are ashamed of what has happened to their bodies. Ms Hussein now recognises the importance of education and works on campaigns to protect the female body. Although she did not originally think of the operation as violent, as it was accepted and encouraged within the family, now she realises it was child abuse. Responding to Ms Franks’ opening question asking participants why they were here, Ms Hussein says:

“I’m rising today for my grandmother who was married off at twelve; I’m rising for my mother, for myself, for my children and for my future grandchildren.”

Whitney Iles, aged only 26, was applauded onto the stage where she introduced herself and her job with Project 507. The project aims to dispel violence amongst youngsters aged between 8-18 by creating workshops and challenging the way they relate to one another through education. From her experience, she had encountered women as second class citizens. For, even if women are not subjected to physical violence, they can fall victim to self-judgement, psychological violence and social stereotypes, which contribute to damaging self-esteem. Ms Iles admitted: “we don’t see ourselves how we deserve to be seen” and urged the audience to improve their personal outlook. She demanded the audience to chant that they would not accept mistreatment of women any longer, and shout: “I will not be anything less than Brilliant!” Ms Iles asked the audience to look past their imperfections and to love themselves…arguing: “After all it is Valentine’s Day”.

She said, “I will rise for love because when we love ourselves we love each other” and “we become an unstoppable force.”

Wannabe Girl-band SHE17 consisted of TV personality June Sarpong, Baroness Patricia Scotland and local MP Stella Creasy. As a trio, they spoke about the importance of ending violence against women in society. They claimed that cooperative responsibility can eliminate violence, particularly in domestic violence cases where victims often seek an ally to support their decision. The audience was encouraged to do the thing they were most scared of, despite the difficulties that come with questioning patriarchy. She rallied that only through determination can gender-equality become a possibility. Ms Creasy said:  “Speak out and dance, regardless of the possibility that you might sink.”

Next up, Jude Kelly walked onto the stage and introduced herself as the artistic director of Southbank’s Women Of the World Festival (WOW). Since starting 4 years ago, she has acted as a pioneer for advocating feminism, believing that the only way to succeed is through re-educating the younger generation. WOW festival is a collection of workshops and talks spanning the International Women’s Day weekend in March, where people come together and exchange ideas about what feminism means. Ms Kelly claims that no society has achieved complete equality as of yet, but this should remain a goal to strive towards. She encourages men to become feminists too, reminding the audience that this is true equality and the reason for her rising: “Lets rise as women and men, and come together as humans.”

Human Rights Journalist and BBC Special Correspondent Sue Lloyd Roberts stressed the importance of bringing media attention to gender-related issues. She believes this would increase public awareness and improve female mistreatment through education. She claims often “we women are” treated as “another minority, when actually we make up 51% of the world population.” Ms Lloyd Roberts encouraged a greater demand for female coverage in the media, saying that if there is an interest, it would be possible to “get violence against women on the top of the news agenda” and talked about more openly.

Rahela Siddiqi, a human rights activist in Afghanistan spoke about her time working with incarcerated female asylum seekers. She claims that despite their sentencing, offenders are often not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Instead, women that have faced trauma in their home countries and sought asylum abroad are met with further problems. Ms Sidiqi said that they can be offered indefinite detention, half of all victims are subjected to rape and two thirds face prosecution. Furthermore, they can be detained during any stage of their prosecution process, and are often exploited as they lack legal assistance. Female asylum seekers are rarely given time or sensitivity towards their cases. Ms Sidiqi urged the audience to rise up for female solidarity in Afghanistan.

The last speaker of the day was Marrissa, who spontaneously spoke out about domestic workers. Although she was not scheduled in the programme, she spoke about exploitative employers, who submit their workers to atrocious conditions. Her friend Lanee read out a poem which challenged the rights of undocumented workers. She attended the event to rise against ongoing slavery in the UK workforce.

Ms Franks returned to the microphone and introduced the bands Skin and Black Voices who collaborated and provided a soulful backdrop for the audience to dance to. Despite the rainy weather, there was a lot of people smiling and beginning to love themselves!

One Billion Rising Official Website

Leyla Husein advocating an end to FGM

Whitney Iles & Project 507

Jude Kelly’s Women Of the World Festival

 

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“Loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves”

In this eloquent speech, the actress Ellen Page comes out as a gay woman at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference. Furthermore, she discusses the notion of ‘standards’ in Hollywood that are narrow and crushing. Her comments about the ‘pervasive stereotypes of masculinity and femininity’ are also acute and insightful.

“Maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time… I also do it selfishly because I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered. My mental health suffered. My relationships suffered. I’m standing here today with all of you on the other side of that pain.”

I could quote the whole thing. Beautiful.

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