I really didn’t want to like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the 94%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes coming of age film du moment. I think part of it lay in the non-specificity of the title; as an intersectional feminist who grew up hoping to be reincarnated as either a) a Malibu Barbie or b) Slash, I’m wary of anything claiming to be the “one true female experience TM”. Take Girls, for example, a show which bears the world’s most universal title whilst chronicling the world of a very specific, chronically anxious type of New Yorker, inhabiting a world circumscribed by a very specific, chronically anxious New Yorker. Even the title of Lena Dunham’s autobiography – Not That Kind Of Girl – sets her up as an other to some prefigured definition of US-centric millennial promiscuity. If Lena Dunham – straight, white, able-bodied, liberal yet loaded – is the other in Western culture for talking about mental health and getting her tits out (important shit, I concede, but let me rant a little) then what hope is there for all those other voices out there?! I say this as somebody who raced through NTKOG and Caitlin Moran’s books nodding her head with as much vigour as I did when reading Roxane Gay’s. I don’t want other women to enter into check-your-privilege-themed Twitter beef. However, I also say this as someone who balks a little at the former two’s penchant for one-size-fits-all titles, when the content of such works is often deeply individual.
So, onto The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Presented sans Lolita-esque male gaze by a female director, Marielle Heller, it is a brilliant film about sex, getting your heart slowly unseamed and all of the terrible bits in between. It’s a piece about growing up that both recent arrivals into adulthood like myself and others still enduring that awkward, Impulse-scented phase can relate to in equal measure. In case I haven’t already made it clear, I loved it. Brit actress Bel Powley is wide-eyed and probing as Minnie, a 15-year-old struggling with millenia-old virgin/whore tropes as she embarks on a love affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Although it’s set in the 70s, the message is current, and completely believable for a young audience bombarded with contradictory messages and pressures. As such, the specificity of the title is – on reflection – of a market of solidarity rather than superiority. Minnie’s life as a white teenage girl at a “hippy” school in San Francisco isn’t held up as the only teenage life or the most important or even the most relevant. Rather, it figures as a knowing composite of some of the things – scary, exciting, revelatory, crushing – that can happen in any young woman’s life. There are many relatable aspects to Minnie’s tale, even if – on a superficial level – it might seem an unrepresentative portrait of girlhood.
Generic film/book/series titles will probably continue to annoy me. Maybe it’s just a personal thing, like preferring green apples over red, or my irrational hatred of beach sliders. Perhaps it’s an extension of my annoyance at having to reconcile all the (wildly different) parts of my identity under the “young woman” umbrella, as I once did with “teenage girl”. That said, I can probably make an exception for something as rare and beautifully retro as Heller’s film. That so many teenage girls won’t get to see it in the cinema due to the kthanksbye attitude of the BBFC, who rated it an 18, only emphasises how misconstrued so many of our experiences really are.
*Whilst I’ve had releases from Sleater-Kinney and Girlpool on repeat of late, I’ve been teetering between riot grrrl and girly girl for as long as I can remember. The top comment on a new SK track on Youtube (“welcome back ladies… save us from beyonce, j-lo, nicki minaj, taylor swift, and the rest of these pop ho-bags.”) got me thinking about whether it’s possible to embrace seemingly opposing cultural output. (Clue: it is) This is also the question at the centre of Roxane Gay’s half-memoir/essay collection ‘Bad Feminist’, which I highly recommend.
Am I a bad musical feminist? A little bit of context: at 11, I had convinced myself that I was a half-decent songwriter. Every echoey middle eight, however, betrayed a love of the bubblegum pop of Britney, Xtina et al. Even when I was ploughing through visceral chords – stripy rayon tie and twelve Claire’s Accessories crucifixes around my neck – my lyrics were all based on my maths class crush, the Aaron Samuels to my Cady Heron (minus the Lohan looks and plus a little caustic acne). I was effectively a one-woman Xenomania.
Somewhere between 13 and 14, I started listening to the kind of XFM-endorsed Noughties indie which makes me highly nostalgic nowadays. I had a nu rave phase along with half of the free world, followed by the obligatory Converse-and-Nirvana era, followed by a few months spent lurking around Camden Market chowing down lukewarm curry. Somewhere along the way I even got into Joan Jett. I had a guitar, an amp…and neighbours who probably wanted me dead.
(I looked like a bit of a wee rebel didn’t I?)
And YET, I couldn’t quite shake off my frivolous, whimsical, girly self, nor my acute awareness of my love/hate relationship with my gender. My MySpace page was a homage to Donnie Darko and Oscar Wilde (cool) but also featured copious paragraphs on my love for miniature Japanese toys (not so cool). And then it happened: I stumbled upon (via MTV2 maybe?) the duality of the riot grrrl sound, the not-so-latent anger that came with a side order of heartbreaking harmonies. Plus, ripping to iTunes was all the rage, so you could pick up a lot of quality cast offs at charity shops and the second hand section of HMV.
I wanted to be like the L7 girls, Veruca Salt, Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, even Courtney Love (my first blog was, of course, written anonymously by a Miss Love-Cobain), but even when I saw the subversive femininity of these artists at work, I struggled to reconcile this with the part of my being that unironically owned a dance mat.
In the end, I grew up, started writing this blog, listened to everything going and somehow avoided making a proper decision about it all. Oh, and the great postmodern vortex that is the internet continued to mess with the idea of “high” and “low” culture. Latter obsessions with Elliott Smith, Suede and Aztec Camera coincided with an interest in following every two-bit talent contest going, obvs.
I do sometimes still look at myself in the mirror, however – head-to-toe Topshop, a couple of unrebellious piercings – and feel as though I could have made a choice. I could’ve got better at the guitar instead of spending my late teenage years listening to Pitbull remixes in sweaty West End clubs. I could’ve embraced the “unnatural” hair.
But hey. “DO I REALLY GIVE A FLYING FUCK???”, I think, downloading the new Taylor Swift album, and giving female peace a chance. Being a full time Riot Grrrl would be too contrived and maybe a little exhausting. You’ll find the real me reading books with titles like ‘Bad Feminist’, teetering precariously between Joanna Gruesome and Little Mix, and having occasional existential crises on the internet. I wouldn’t – and probably won’t ever – have it any other way.
Unless you live in a cave and require one of these to wake you up (yes, that is a Pokeflute, deal with it) then you’ve probably heard all about the Sky Sports sexism row.
In short, two overpaid individuals – lets refer to them in shorthand as Gropey and Dopey – decided to degrade a number of individuals, all of whom were fully qualified to hold their positions in the football world, or in the case of Louise Glass (see below), were just innocents. In light of this ridiculous stain on female capability and capacity, I do feel personally victimised.
Overreaction? You may think so, but as a sort-of-half-feminist I do find it troubling that so many sports professionals and fans gave come out in support of Gray and Keys, providing anecdotes of their “good work” in order to vindicate them…all in spite of the nature of their conduct. Replace the objects of their attack for a homogynous racial/national group, and (rightly) it would be the same type of racism which has plagued the sport for years. So, why is the defamation of women any different? Attacking people for reasons of biological predisposition and social “order” and “power relationships” is as primitive and vulgar as racism, but it seems that sexism is usually discounted because its so commonplace and usually relatively benign.
The semantics of everyday life lend themselves to the 1000 BC power relations, despite the day and age we inhabit. It literally is a man’s world, but generally that’s fine, we can deal with the reminders of ‘the way it used to be’ because to do otherwise would be madness. We can’t revise the OED in its entirety, re-write history (herstory?) and Dickens and rename manholes, but we can look towards the less benign elements, i.e.: the gross physicality with which female sexuality is described. Women are still described as “blonde”, “buxom” or “single” in seemingly irrelavnt circumstances. You know the woman who Lord Strathclyde “romped” with? Yup, she was blonde, buxom and single. Oh, and she was a single mother. Bonus points for the prude patrol there. “Single” is inter alia just a way of implying all kinds of promiscuous, careless, non-virtous things. So, the media plays a game of quid pro quo…shame a government official and also shame his mistress to! Of course, being a poor single mother who lives above a chip shop, Birgit Cunningham was unlikely to turn down tabloid money to talk about her sex life with the peer in her flat above a chip shop. See how this humiliating strategy works? In fact, I might go and re-write that Dickens novel on second thoughts. Calling Ms Cunningham a homewrecker assumes that the Lord was truly the man of the house…
I digress. Then there’s the little things. Facebook pages have sprung up in recent years commanding women to get back to the kitchen and make sandwiches/do the washing up/perform sexual acts on men in between their endless gaming sessions.
Facebook pages are hardly the next Communist manifesto, however with so much virtual support garnered for these ‘niche’, ‘ironic’ views it seems that laughing AT women has never been so popular. Oh, just make sure you call it banter.
Of course some women don’t help themselves…
…however, the Gray/Keys situation is thus much less innocuous than the media outlets which are going into ‘3 the Sky Sports 2’ mode would like us to believe. Blame it on a Madonna-Whore complex or whatever, but the fact that these men have the support of their wives doesn’t absolve them of their disgusting behaviour. That aforementioned banter is apparently of the “lads mag” sort. So thanks for helping to advance sexist views to the next generation as well, along with openly misogynist individuals like Danny Dyer who also claim to be “just kidding”.
Case in point 1: Gray and Keys ponder over why assistant referee (operant word there being referee) Sian Massey can understand the offside rule. Perhaps because she’s a q-u-a-l-i-f-i-e-d sporting professional, lads? The bitter twosome also made bitchy remarks about successful businesswoman and Apprentice judge Karren Brady.
Case in point 2: In footage which has only come to light as a result of the comments about Mss. Massey and Brady, perv Gray asks co-presenter Charlotte Jackson for some suggestive help. Classy content as always… Ms Jackson’s nervous giggle will act as a key part of Gray’s defence. Apparently an (obviously tense) smile at a lewd comment from a station heavyweight is a get out of jail card for dirty old men everywhere.
Case in point 3: Keys embarrasses himself with vulgar, dated sexist immaturity which isn’t even thinly-veiled enough to qualify as innuendo. Worse still, the woman at the centre of is a completely random muggle so can’t hide from the public humiliation. But hoorah, common sense prevailed, she’s suing BSkyB!
…so, my question is this. What can the FA do about sexism in football? Should we just accept that the culture of the sport facilitates such problems as this scandal? Ok, perhaps that’s more than one question but whatever. In addition to these questions, should we also be ignoring sexist comments in the media/social media spheres? I’m not talking about some crazy, Utopian equality which can suddenly erase the past and all those rude Facebook pages, but give us a break. Eve caused the fall yadee yah yah, but “keeping women in their place” seems to show a lot more about the type of males our society is producing. Moreover, moving back to Gray and Keys, mourning the loss of a seven-figure salary shouldn’t mean that these men’s wives are desensitised to the real problem here. It’s a game of two halves, and they should be wholeheartedly behind the girls. Family ties and patriarchy are so 50s.
Here come the girls: 5 Forgotten Favourites from the femmes*
*mostly artists sadly no longer recording
– Post-binary gender chores is the chant du jour.
– Question the relationship a bit Man and Machine a little bit with this as a cynical soundtrack.
– ignore the Omen-esque boy and the cake iced with “All Hail Me”. It’s purposely creepy but a powerful anthem.
– best Madonna song. Subjective, moi?
– had this on loop at the age of 14. J Pearl appearing on Gossip Girl didn’t devalue the Adventurous quality of this debut.
*you can get them all in a Spotify playlist here, apart from All Hail Me which for some crazy copyright reasons was probaly only available in the 90s as some import 45″ from Asia.
Love from your feminist-in-training!
VBS.tv is releasing a new part of Teenage Riot each day this week. The story starts here, with the “siege of Millbank” and escalates through the week. Quality documentary, as diverse perspectives focus the debate around insightful and saddening questions of education and politics.