Friday, 23 November 2012

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I have always loved crime fiction. My cousin introduced my sister and me to Agatha Christie before any of us were 10 - we would listen to casettes of the BBC radio adaptions on long journeys - and I have never looked back. Over the years I have devoured enormous amounts of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, as well as scores of less prolific or well-known writers. It's not surprising to me that, despite the overwhelmingly high proportion of male to female published crime writers, particularly well-known library-stock kind of writers, my list of favourites skews heavily female. For me, crime fiction (and particularly detective fiction) is comfort reading, and I am most comfortable with women authors, which possibly has something to do with the fact that one is less likely to be constantly bombarded with low-level sexism in books written by women. At the very least, one can expect there to be more than the one or two female characters which populate a lot of crime fiction with dreary regularity: the good-hearted prostitute who witnessed the crime, the long-suffering wife of the detective, the female police officer who is young, beautiful and brilliant and might possibly end up with the protagonist. There's nothing wrong with stock characters, and female authors are hardly innocent of their use, but as a rule I feel far safer with female authors such as Val McDermid, whose lingerie-clad dead bodies are as likely to be male as they are to be female.

So although I will pick up pretty much anything and give it a go, I often feel a certain amount of trepidation when reading a male crime writer for the first time. On the other hand, I particularly love discovering a new crime writer, no matter what their gender, especially when there's a good number of volumes in their back catalogue.

That can't truly be said of Alan Bradley, author of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. To be fair, it was his first novel and it was published in 2009, so the fact that there are three more in the series is quite impressive. But it's hardly a glut which will keep me occupied for long, so I'm going to ration them out carefully and cross my fingers for more - and that should give you an idea of how much I enjoyed the book.

Bradley's detective is Flavia Sabina de Luce, an eleven-year-old girl who rattles around an enormous country house with her distant father, two superior older sisters and some charming domestic staff. She's a fantastic protagonist - quirky and precocious and rude and silly and clever. Being rather lonely at home she has an imaginative fantasy life and an unusual hobby: chemistry. She has inherited a laboratory and spends a lot of her time reading up on her subject and conducting experiments. This unusual knowledge and skill-set comes in useful in her detection. Flavia pits her wits against adults, buildings, machines and chemical compounds; she is fiercely protective of her family; when she is frustrated she addresses herself by name; she has a beloved bicycle called Gladys.

Although Flavia does have the ubiquitous older sister-who-likes-make-up-and-boys-and-is-basically-a-terrible-person, the novel is peopled with female characters who are diverse enough that this doesn't make me want to throw the book at the wall. There's the other sister, the cook, two librarians and a maid, off the top of my head. Although this makes them sound like minor domestic drudges, even those that are have a character of their own, and each has a meaningful, individual relationship with Flavia. The male characters are equally diverse and interesting. It's actually a pretty unusual book in that a huge number of characters are reasonably well-developed, male and female alike. And that's just one reason to love the novel.

It's rather old-fashioned in its plot and style, harking back to the Golden Age of detective fiction that I personally adore*. If you like Agatha Christie, there's a good chance you'll like this. If you like AA Milne's The Red House Mystery, you'll definitely like this. If you want to read about an effervescent, whip-smart girl detective, I couldn't recommend anything better. Although I normally don't worry about spoiling things, I'm not going to put any details of the plot here. I think you should read the book. The only thing I will say is that it is a crime mystery about philately. If that doesn't tempt you, you're probably irredeemable ...


*In detective fiction terms, Golden Age refers specifically to the period of crime fiction writing which hit its peak in the interwar years. The supposed "innocence" which characterises Golden Age fiction mysteriously vanishes around 1945.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Skyfall: Women

I am the typical recent Bond consumer: I have seen a few of the old ones and enjoyed them, but I didn't get into it properly until the Daniel Craig reboot. I loved Casino Royale; I wasn't blown away by Quantum of Solace; I was optimistic that Skyfall would redeem itself. I don't pretend to be a Bond expert, or a film expert. My enjoyment of a film is usually closely related to whether or not it's enormously sexist, and whether or not it has musical numbers. Many films, however, slip through the net and find a place in my heart despite being neither musicals nor nice about women. And that's ok. I can love something and understand that it's flawed; I am capable of holding more than one thought in my head at once. No media is perfect.

So, to Skyfall (be warned: I spoil this film pretty thoroughly). Honestly, I loved it. No musical numbers, although Adele's theme is beautiful and haunting and the rest of the soundtrack is great. And it's not very kind to woman either. There are five: unnamed sex-partner#1, Moneypenny, practically-unnamed-plot-driver (and-of-course-sex-partner#2) Sévérine*, the MP who heads the enquiry into MI6, and M. Of these five, three are young and gorgeous and have sex with Bond. I would argue that none of them really get to be characters in their own right. Moneypenny, in addition to being a bad driver and a bad shot, becomes a secretary at the end, and unnamed sex-partner#1 is just that. Sévérine is a sexual possession who is passed between men until she dies. Her relationship with Bond is particularly upsetting: having learnt that she was a victim of sex trafficking when she was 12 or 13 and is now the miserable, terrified possession of the film's supervillain, Bond responds by creeping into her shower and feeling her up. Because this is a Bond film, she's actually pretty happy to see him.

Plenty of people have taken issue with Sévérine's death: when Silva shoots her, Bond quips "waste of good scotch", and a lot of commenters feel that this is rather callous and out of step with Bond's chivalrous character. Others think that Bond's quip is a ploy to cover up his true feelings, and allow him to regain the upper hand: Silva's MO so far has been to play with Bond's feelings, trying to throw him off his game, and his murder of Sévérine, coming as it does as part of a game which Silva sets up as a test of marksmanship in which the loser could accidentally kill Sévérine, could easily fit into this narrative. Either way, it's a nasty moment, and regardless of Bond's feelings about it, Sévérine's role in the plot is as possession, honey-trap, and motivation for Bond.

Honestly, though, I was bothered less by that unpleasantness than by the general treatment of women in this film. You don't have to make a joke about a woman's murder to be sexist. You have to only have five of them in a cast of hundreds, and make sexist commentary about all of them.

        1) exists purely to have sex with Bond (because that's what Bond does).

        2) is Bond's getaway driver in Istanbul, whose driving Bond criticises and even takes over by grabbing the wheel away from her. She also manages to shoot Bond when she's aiming for his opponent, knocking him into the river and (we think, but not really of course) killing him. Bond jokes about her incompetence for the rest of the film, telling her that "field work isn't for everyone". She ends up becoming a secretary, and she has sex with Bond.

        3) is a victim of forced prostitution, is the sexual possession and pawn of Raoul Silva, and her sole purpose is to bring the hero and the anti-hero together. Oh, and she has sex with Bond.

        4) is the snide, unnamed female MP who heads the enquiry into MI6, who talks so much that she is publicly upbraided by Mallory, allowing a glance of sympathy and understanding to pass between Mallory and M.

        5) is M. Despite being a fabulous character in her own right, there are significant problems with the portrayal of M in this film, not the least of which is that she, too, cannot shoot straight. That's two women who shoot guns in an entire film of men who shoot guns, and neither of them hit their target. It's a plot point that Bond's marksmanship is poor in this film, and yet apart from his test where he proves how bad he has become, this issue is never in evidence in the actual plot. Even if it were, I would require more to prove to me that this isn't about women not being good at shooting, because there are plenty of men in this film who shoot straight 100% of the time. And Bond still manages to shoot the lock off a door and a roomful of fire extinguishers, despite his supposedly poor skills.

So M has a different skillset from that of a secret agent. I can accept that. What I find more difficult to swallow is her role as a mother-figure in this film. The whole plot revolves around a kind of Oedipal nightmare in which Silva both loves and hates M, wants her regard and attention yet blames her for betraying him, wants to kill her and yet cannot stand to see her hurt. It's a good plot: gripping and powerful. But I can't help but be a little disappointed by it. I've not seen many Bond films, but were any of the male Ms before Dench's time treated in this way? Were they accused, as Dench's M is, of being "sentimental" about Bond? I have to doubt it.

I'm pretty much used to female characters being sex bombs in Bond films. That's what they're there for: even the ones who are spies / agents / double agents / otherwise professional are also sex bombs, because Bond having sex with everyone is kinda the point of the films. I've no beef with that. (Well, obviously I do, but it's so unremarkable that I'm over it.) What's upsetting about Skyfall is that M, the one female character who doesn't double as a sexual conquest for Bond, is in this film reduced to the only other available female stereotype, the mother figure. Dench is brilliant, as always, and pulls off the role beautifully, and the film is powerful and moving and lots of fun. I still love it. I just think that the Bond franchise's woman problem is not exactly solved by adding a maternal stereotype to the stable of sex symbols, especially at the expense of an already-existing great female character.


* It's possible that someone said her name in the film and I missed it, but I've seen it twice now and I just had to look up her name in the credits. It's telling, I think, that of the four women, only M is consistently named: I'm fairly sure Sévérine isn't named at all, unnamed-sex-partner#1 certainly isn't, and Moneypenny doesn't get a name until the closing scene of the film, when it's revealed that she is the canon character Miss Moneypenny rather than another unnamed agent. Obviously that's a necessary trick, but there's something important going on with names and gender here. Consider Kincade's mishearing of 'M' as 'Emma'; the unnamed-ness of the other female characters; the fact that even though he's the secretest secret agent in the world, everyone knows 007 is Bond James Bond; and the psychological importance of M remembering Silva's real name, Tiago Rodrigues. Consider the fact that Mallory becomes M, whilst Judi Dench's M's real name is never known. To me, these little things add up to an interesting focus on names and naming, in which women are much less individual and much more interchangeable than men. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Girlcrush: It's the Little Things

I don't want to pick on Hugo Schwyzer - he gets picked on a lot already (although there are good reasons for that so I'm not going to get all het up about it). I'm highly suspicious of Schwyzer but I haven't written him off as the enemy, mostly because there's little point in doing so. Thus I do follow him on Twitter, in part to keep an eye on what he promotes of his own work, and in part because he often links to some really interesting things around the web. Sometimes, however, he just tweets about what he's up to - often which coffee shop he's in, for some reason - and what his family are doing. Here's this mornings:

I really dislike the phrase "girlcrush" (or, as I've also heard, "ladycrush"). If little Heloise had a crush on a male teacher's aide, would she have a boycrush? Almost certainly not. She'd just have a crush. Because that would be normal. The phrase "girlcrush" seems specifically engineered to minimise the gayness of having a crush on someone of one's own gender, particularly when the person doing the crushing is a child. It's a way of diminishing the importance of a crush; a way of announcing that it's different from a real crush, so there's no need to worry about it being all gay and stuff.

It's also sexist. Boys don't have boycrushes. I'm sure little boys of all sexualities have crushes on people of all genders when they're growing up, just as little girls* do. Yet I've not once heard the phrase "boycrush", and I think that's because boys of any age are not allowed even the hint of homosexuality anywhere near them, in case it stains. In girls it's cute, and it might even be part of that renowned "phase" that we've heard so much about. Boys, however, don't get phases. They don't get to be young and experimental and titillating. Boys are supposed to be ruggedly heterosexual from the get-go. That's why, when they pull girls' hair in the playground, it's a crush. You think they don't pull little boys' hair too? Who knows why, but as adults we are fixated to the point of obsession on coding this behaviour as evidence of an always-already present heterosexuality. Because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

As well, then, as being sexist and heterosexist, it's also just boringly minimising. A crush is brilliant! It is fun and flirty and energising, no matter who the recipient is. School or work or a party or a hobby shines like a jewel when you know there is a certain person there, someone who presses your buttons or floats your boat, whose voice makes you a little weak or whose eyes make you blush when they settle on you. That's the same whether you're 6 or 60. Why do we have to make some crushes crushier than others by splitting them down the gender line? A little girl has a crush on her teacher's aide. That's life. Let her enjoy it, and maybe don't get all panicky and make sure that everyone understands that it's just a girlcrush, not a real crush.

(Equally, how about we stop diminishing basic admiration in this way? Just as I don't want to minimise crushes, no matter what gender the participants are, I also don't want us to assume that all crush-like behaviour means we have crushes, especially children. Why teach kids that any level of interest and absorption is a crush at all? Why not let kids admire, emulate, love, respect, or simply desire the company of people of any gender without making it all about romantic interest? This is why people get confused about who fancies them and who they themselves fancy: because we devalue platonic feelings in order to shore up romantic feelings.)

This, in a nutshell, is my problem with Schwyzer. He talks the talk - and what fine talk it is - but I'm not sure his heart is always in it. It's the tiny phrases that give him away. In an article written for Scarleteen in 2009, entitled 'Boys Do Cry: How To Deal With a Breakup Like a Man', Schwyzer makes lots of reasonable points about how much breakups hurt, and how to deal with them, and how not to be horrible while you're doing it. And then he gives himself away with one little phrase, buried deep in paragraph 8:
Most of us have seen something like this unfold in opposite-sex relationships: guy and girl break up. Girl initially seems far more devastated. She talks to her friends, mourns publicly, seems genuinely distraught. Guy seems, by comparison, to hardly be in pain at all. Weeks go by, then months. Because she’s dealt with the hurt immediately, girlfriend is getting over things, moving on, ready for what comes next. Boyfriend, meanwhile, has fallen into a delayed depression. He may suddenly start calling, frantic to get her back, having suddenly realized breaking up was a “huge mistake.” He may even progress to what seems like stalking, begging and pleading for “another try.” And while that might have worked on girlfriend six days after the break up, it comes far too late when it comes, as it not infrequently does, six months down the line! This delayed reaction is an obvious consequence of the fact that so many young men lack strong emotional support networks (other, perhaps, than that provided by the women whom they are involved with romantically or sexually) and are far more likely to adopt distraction or denial as initial coping strategies.
I'm not arguing with the overarching theme of this at all, but that little phrase "what seems like stalking" really throws up red flags for me. Seems like stalking? That is stalking! You don't get to say it's not stalking because the poor guy is just distraught that his ex-girlfriend isn't his girlfriend anymore. Intent is not magic, my friend. I'm also suspicious of his claim that it "might have worked on girlfriend six days after the break up". I'm not doubting its veracity, but it seems a little like Schwyzer is condoning that behaviour if it happens at the right time. After all, he's arguing that boys have a delayed reaction to break-ups due to a lack of strong emotional support networks, and that it would be better if they dealt with it right away rather than "adopt[ing] distraction or denial as initial coping strategies".

I'm getting away from my point, which is this: Schwyzer, I'm sure, would profess to be unconcerned if one of his children was gay or bisexual, as would a lot of adults. But words mean things, and it's the little things that give us away. Your girl child has a crush. It's not somehow magically unreal because it's on a woman rather than a man. And labelling it a girlcrush rather than just a crush is belittling, sexist, heterosexist and wrong.


*and little queers and non-binaries and agenders ...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Comfortable Bodies

Since I have been an adult, my relationship with my  body has probably changed much more than my actual body has. I may have gained or lost a few kilos here or there, but not noticeably. What's far more noticeable - to me at least - is how vastly fluctuating my feelings about my body have been over the years, and how tied up with fatness those feelings always are. Rationally, I don't think being fat is a bad thing, but like most people I have internalised a lot of fat-hatred, especially self-directed fat-hatred, and much as I fight against it, I tend to equate fatness with badness and thinness with goodness, at least in myself.*

Recently, however - as in the last few years rather than few days or weeks - I think I've had a much healthier relationship with my body. I've been more comfortable with form-fitting clothes; I've been happier to expose my body to others (swimming costumes, sex, 'public' changing rooms etc); I've been less willing to denigrate my body either publicly or privately. I don't engage in fat-talk, about myself or anyone else. Happily, this is a self-perpetuating practice. I think these deliberate behaviours contribute to a general feeling of comfort and self-worth when it comes to body image. I don't feel better about myself because I'm thinner: I feel better about myself because I've realised that it's ok to not be thinner.

Importantly, for me at least, this 'feeling' is all that I have to tell me about my weight. Although I occasionally get into using scales, mostly I only know my numbers when I have to find them out in order to fill in medical forms. This means that I only have a vague feeling of being more substantial than usual, or less, rather than hard little numbers telling me that I'm heavier or lighter than I was the day before. I also get comments from other people, of course, but honestly I've realised that this tells me more about the commenters than it does about me. Someone who perpetually says to me "hey, have you lost weight?" is obviously much more preoccupied with weight than I am myself. I don't like it, but at least it gives me a chance to practice my response to these kinds of comments without engaging in or perpetuating fat-hate.

One of the things that has made me aware of this change in myself is a friend at work whose hugging style might at one time have made me quite uncomfortable. He tends to grip very tightly, sometimes approaching from behind and grabbing me around the middle to lift me up and crush my ribs, sometimes just gripping my middle tightly with his hands to scare me when I'm not expecting it.** This form of physical interaction is one that makes me very aware of my body. S can definitely feel every contour of whatever bit of me he's grasping, and other people who are around will be able to see any bits that spill out of his hands and squeeze outwards around his tightly clasped arms. And this actually doesn't bother me at all. I'm not embarrassed for anyone to know what my body looks like, because I'm not embarrassed about my body. It's a rare and delightful feeling, and makes me beautifully aware of how my relationship with my body has changed for the better over time. I can remember not liking to be hugged, because it would reveal my carefully-concealed fatness to the hugger. I don't feel like that anymore - hugging is my favourite thing! - and it's not because I'm carrying any less weight. It's because I'm carrying so much less care. Trans issues aside (and how I wish they were so easily put aside), my body is comfortable. I'm comfortable with it. And that's a comforting feeling.


* Incidentally, just last night I had a minor revelation when I realised why I was looking at an unknown fat person with something very like hatred: I think when I'm feeling bad about myself I judge most harshly in other people the things that I dislike about myself. It's not just a physical thing: when I'm feeling low I judge behaviours harshly when I can see that they are similar to behaviours that I myself embody. It's not a kind thing to do, and when I catch myself doing it I feel even worse, so that's something I'm going to have to work on.

** I realise this might sound invasive and frankly terrifying, but S is an old friend and his behaviour is consensual and enjoyable - it's a long-standing interaction between us and this would definitely not be ok from someone I didn't know or have that history with. Having said that, I now realise that S has been doing this for a long time and I haven't always been comfortable with it, but when he started I didn't have the confidence to assert my boundaries. And now that I do, that particular boundary isn't there any more. I wonder if that's significant?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Oliver's Link Market

So I have been seeing such amazing things around the internet recently that I thought I'd do a little roundup. And here it is!

Firstly, the piece that inspired my roundup: meta: Give Sexy Actors Sexy Wheelchairs! is just fascinating. As an able-bodied person, I'm sorry to say that it has never occurred to me to look closely at the wheelchairs used by disabled characters on screen, so this was a real eye-opener. Possibly this will be a red pill moment: I doubt I'll be able to ignore wheelchairs in the future! (You should absolutely watch the video of 14-year-old Aaron Fotheringham performing what is apparently the world's first wheelchair backflip - just incredible!)

Next, something that I keep returning to recently: Removing the stigma of suicide discusses the potential for 'normalising' suicidal feelings - not trivialising them, as such, but making them more accessible, less "EMERGENCY!" and more, as Unquiet puts it, "just a thing I'm dealing with". The piece is really resonating with me recently, and it's something I want to put more thought into. (Trigger Warning for discussion of suicidal feelings)

Hipster Sexism is Not a New Concept comes from the always-interesting s.e.smith at xojane. It's an essential read if you're involved in blogging, as it lays out the importance of properly citing your references and giving credit to the originator of the idea you're discussing, not just the most recent link in the chain. It's something I'm always concerned about in my own writing (coming from an academic background, referencing is critically important) and would like to see more of in the blogosphere at large.

How an Invitation to Tea Curbed a Slew of Suicide Attempts is a slightly misleading title, but the story is amazing nonetheless: a man who lives near a notorious suicide spot asks people he sees "lingering a little too long" in for a cup of tea, often giving them a welcome distraction and sometimes causing them to reconsider their actions.

I'm fascinated by The Atlantic's Sorting the Real Sandy Photos From the Fakes. It's a useful resource, and made me reflect on why someone might fake photos of the disaster in the first place, as well as how amazing it is that social media makes this kind of thing possible and probable.

I stumbled across Buttercup's Frocks recently and just had to promote it to my enormous readership, purely for the joy of seeing such colour in autumn/winter-wear. I'm not one to talk, since my 'winter wardrobe', such as it is, is made up of blue, black and charcoal grey, but I would dearly love to incorporate some brighter colours, and I think this fat frockaholic sets a great example.

Finally, I made these Brazilian Coffee Cookies, which turned out pretty nicely, but didn't last much longer than a day before getting a bit chewy.

Are there more things I should be reading? Feel free to let me know.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Fixable You

I keep hearing this song when I'm out in the world, innocently going about my day, and my teeth grind automatically every time I hear it.

It's not just the insipid poppy tune, or the irritating voice, or the fact that he really ought to drop this song a semi-tone or two so he can hit the top note without sounding like he's straining something. It's not the fact that this song is called a "dance ballad" as if those words mean something. All those things are pretty annoying, but the worst thing about this song is its lyrics. I submit for your consideration the first verse and chorus:
Much as you blame yourself, you can't be blamed for the way you feel
Had no example of a love that was even remotely real
How can you understand something that you never had
Ooh baby if you let me, I can help you out with all of that 
Girl let me love you
And I will love you
Until you learn to love yourself
Girl let me love you
And all your trouble
Don't be afraid, girl let me help
Girl let me love you
And I will love you
Until you learn to love yourself
Girl let me love you
A heart of numbness
Gets brought to life
I'll take you there.
I'm really not a fan of songs by men about women which take as their subject the idea that women need men to sort them out. I know they're incredibly popular, especially with young women (the comments on the Ne-Yo song are full of "marry me, Ne-Yo!") but I find them insulting, patronising, and not the least bit romantic. There's a real trend at the moment for boy bands and solo male artists to write 'love songs' in this style. The general gist of them is that the girl is awesome, but she doesn't know how awesome she is, so she needs the boy/s to show her. Consider last year's enormous hit by the ubiquitous One Direction, What Makes You Beautiful, which epitomises this trend. As if the chorus lyrics weren't bad enough ("You don't know you're beautiful; That's what makes you beautiful"), the introductory verse is infuriating:
You're insecure
Don't know what for
You're turning heads when you walk through the door
Don't need make up
To cover up
Because the way that you are is enough.
The only thing she could be insecure about is her looks? Check. Make-up is something women use to make themselves more attractive to men? Check. Make-up is something only used by unattractive women to 'cover up'? Check. I know better than you whether you're 'enough'? Check. "Don't worry honey, we can see the real you and you get the One Direction seal of approval!"Women and girls everywhere ate this rubbish up like they were starving. The fact that 1D are all about 12 years old makes this even more annoyingly condescending.

The Ne-Yo song, however, doesn't even have the decency to just stick to praising a woman's looks. What's wrong with Ne-Yo's woman is that she's broken psychologically: she's been deprived of "real" love, and so can't understand it when she sees it. Ne-Yo is offering her real love. He wants to help her. He wants to bring to life her heart of numbness, and love her until she learns to love herself. This song is in the mould of my all-time most-hated song, Coldplay's Fix You. Although the lyrics are slightly more abstract than those from the songs I've mentioned already, the idea is right there in the title: whoever Chris Martin is singing to is broken, and he will try to fix them. Like the other songs, there is the sense that he knows his addressee better than they know themselves: "when you get what you want but not what you need".*

I get that all these songs are intended to be flattering. I get that the writers/singers aren't intending to insult their (female) audience/addressee. And in some ways, I can understand their enormous popularity. A guy who will love you despite the fact that you're broken? Yes! A guy who says you're beautiful, even though you can't see it yourself? Yes! In a society that constantly tells women and girls that they're broken and ugly whilst they should be beautiful and whole, and that being beautiful (and also whole, but mainly beautiful) is the most important thing in the world, I can see how these songs are perceived to be valuable. But they're not the right kind of valuable. In fact, they perpetuate some damaging ideals which don't serve women and girls - or anyone - at all well. The 1D song is particularly troublesome in its claim that the addressee is beautiful precisely because she doesn't think she's beautiful. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful, but compare the sentiment with Christina Aguilera's lyric "I am beautiful, no matter what you say". Christina's acknowledgement of her own beauty is what would disqualify her from 1D's kind of beauty, wherein you are required to be beautiful but not know it. One of the most insulting things that can be said of a girl or woman is that they think they're beautiful/attractive/sexy, and yet self-confidence is surely a better goal to strive for than external validation. It would be nice if we could strive for things other than physical perfection in the first place, but since we can't, let's at least aim for self-worth rather than for a world in which men and boys will consider you beautiful only if you don't have the audacity to believe it of yourself.

These songs are just a tiny part of pop culture, and I get accused of taking things too seriously when I attempt to critique them. The truth is that, as small as they are, they are a depressingly accurate summation of attitudes to girls and women today. Accusing people who critique pop culture of "sweating the small stuff" or being "focussed on trivia" to the detriment of the 'important' things overlooks the fact that the important things are composed of the trivial; that a culture in which governments control women's bodies is a culture in which men police women's appearance, a culture in which men get to decide whether women are crazy or not, and which ones are beautiful or worthy. A bunch of adolescents reassuring a girl that she's ok in their book, or a man generously offering to help a woman understand true love, are small examples of this world in which women must be validated by men before they can even exist, whether that existence entails being beautiful, being sane, having a brain or a job or an abortion.

I don't know, maybe it is trivial. I'm just tired of hearing about all the things that are wrong with me (but that will be graciously overlooked) in pop songs.


*Caveat: I'm almost willing to give Coldplay the benefit of the doubt, since it seems like the lyrics are self-addressed: the video is Chris Martin, alone, all sad-seeming until he gets to the gig where there is a real sense of community and belonging, which makes it seem like the 'home' referenced in "lights will guide you home". However, having never seen the video before, this song always gave me an uncomfortable feeling, and without the video, which is how we most often hear pop music, I think it's reasonable to assume that "you" is addressed to a listener and not the singer.