Oh, before I get started, just a heads-up that International Men’s Day is on 19 November, as always. You’re so very welcome.
The theme of this year’s IWD is balance. A tricky concept, when considered in conjunction with even trickier concepts like equality, or justice. The BBC gets entirely justified flak for its apparent conviction that if a scientist speaks about climate change, reflecting the views of 98% or so of the scientific community, that must be balanced by a non-scientist telling us at equal length that it’s all made up. When Woman’s Hour recently did a piece about the decline in vaccinations for potentially fatal infectious diseases, and the extent to which that was attributable to the anti-vaxxer movement’s spurious and deadly linkage of MMR vaccines with autism, a caller took them to task for their ‘lack of balance’.
And when women work to get closer to balance in terms of representation in industries, in positions of political power, on the screen or behind it, the response from certain quarters is as if we’re proposing the silencing, even the annihilation of men.
So silly, and so dangerous.
Brie Larson, one of today’s brightest stars in the movie world, is using her clout there to influence for change, using the fact that she’s an immensely bankable star to insist that her press days aren’t entirely populated by white men, and – along with others – to use the ‘inclusion rider’ to influence the balance of women both on screen and behind the screen in the movies she works on.
About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male. … Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive.’(Marie Claire, 7 February 2019)
So, she made sure she was giving opportunities to female/black/disabled journalists when she did press interviews. That makes her a man-hater, right? Because all white male journalists are forever silenced, thanks to her, right?
Of course, she’s attracting particular attention just now because her new movie is the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel. She makes the connection herself to Wonder Woman.
Keah Brown: What do you think it means for young girls and people who identify as female to see this woman not need to be saved, but to do the saving and be the strong person in the face of so much adversity?Marie Claire, 7 February 2019
Larson: ‘It’s so interesting, as it’s not something I thought about until I was in the cinema watching Wonder Woman. About two minutes in, I was sobbing and thought, “Why am I crying so much over this?” But it was seeing all of these warrior women who were so self-sufficient. That wasn’t something I identified with growing up – my hero was Indiana Jones. To have the chance to be one example of this is powerful and exciting.’
Of course most heroes are still men, in the MCU and more widely. And neither Brie Larson nor anyone else I have come across is suggesting that all heroes should now be women. Just that half the human race could see more often on our movie and TV screens heroes who are (more) like us.
Obviously, this is, nonetheless, deeply threatening to (sure, not all, indeed one hopes a small minority of) men. The notion that Captain Marvel might be stronger than Thor (funnily enough, I suspect that Thor would be entirely cool with that), as suggested by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige (‘Her powers are off the charts, and when she’s introduced, she will be by far the strongest character we’ve ever had’), when it hasn’t merely induced apoplexy, has been interpreted (by a contributor on Quora, just as an example) as being ‘because of female empowerment. Because of SJW. Because it would show how cool a female could be, how a woman doesn’t need a man’s help or something like that. Basically something along the lines of feminism or feminazis.’
That’s quite a stretch. From merely showing how cool a woman can be, to feminazism in a couple of sentences. Tired, and tiresome, and so very familiar, after Wonder Woman and Doctor Who, and the most recent additions to the Star Wars franchise prompted similar hysterics.
I’ll be seeing the movie on Monday. I’m excited and nervous – just the same kind of nerves I felt going to see Wonder Woman, and awaiting Jodie Whitaker’s debut in Who. I so want it to be good.
I know that there are more vital battles to be fought. But International Women’s Day isn’t just about battles, it’s about inspiration. It’s about what makes us keep on keeping on – and part of that is seeing ourselves on screen.
Balance doesn’t solve everything, but it helps. We’re nowhere near it, and every step we take towards having more women in positions of authority and influence, more women’s voices being heard, matters. Every step will be contested, but we will persist, because we must.
This is what I wrote last year on this date, inspired by Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to shut up.
Men keep on warning us. They keep on explaining why we need to leave things to them, to stop being so pushy, so strident. And nevertheless we persist.
We always have. Any woman who’s ever achieved anything – pretty much any woman – has had to deal with men telling them that they couldn’t do things simply because they were women, because their brains weren’t sharp enough, they weren’t rational enough, they were too emotional, too fluffy, because trying to be otherwise would make them poorly, shrivel their ovaries or something, stop them getting a man, or being able to bear children. We’ve been told we’re too pushy or not ambitious enough to succeed, too plain or too pretty to be taken seriously, that our choices are all wrong (have babies/not have babies, go back to work/stay at home).
And nevertheless we persist.
Women throughout the centuries, across the continents, at times and in cultures far more restrictive than our own, have nevertheless become warriors, monarchs, visionaries, writers, leaders, artists, scientists, inventors. And we go on, pushing at the barriers, cracking the glass ceilings. We carry on speaking out when they interrupt or talk over us. We carry on campaigning in the face of internet abuse and threats, or worse.
We’re half the human race. We’re all races and religions, all shapes and sizes, all political persuasions. We have disabilities and we have none, we are healthy and we suffer pain and indignity, we are independent and we need help to get by. We have money to burn and we have nothing at all. We are mothers and we are daughters and sisters, we are friends and wives and lovers. We are beautiful and we are ordinary. We are gay, straight, bi, cis, trans, and every variant or combination of the above. We are feminists, and we are ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ and we are most decidedly not feminists. We believe in our right to choose, and we believe that women’s fertility should be controlled by the state, by the church, by men. We are unapologetic Remainers and we are hardcore Leavers. We wear pussy hats, and ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.
We don’t agree with each other, we don’t always understand each other. There’s no unifying glorious, supportive and empowering sisterhood – how could there be, when we’re half the human race? But we can choose to support each other, to celebrate achievements that otherwise might be dismissed or forgotten, to amplify voices that might not otherwise be heard, to bring into the light wrongs that otherwise might be hidden.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but not yet far enough, no way. We still lack anything resembling proportionate power, resources, influence. We still face horrific violence, on the streets and in our homes. We still carry disproportionate burdens when it comes to feeding and raising our families.
But we will persist.
PS, International Men’s Day is on 19 November. Do support @Herring1967 in his annual fundraising for Refuge, as he painstakingly passes on this information to every single bloke who tweets asking if there is an International Men’s Day…