Discrimination prevents universal freedom of expression

“I am gay.” May be easy for some people to say, hard for others. The looming threat of discrimination can make it difficult for people to be true to themselves. The anxiety caused by living in a society that directly opposes your own beliefs and being can make life horrific for millions of people.

This is not just exclusive to the LGBT community, but it is a worldwide crisis. Discrimination has prevented freedom of expression from being accessible to many. Not just across the world but within different social groups in countries and communities discrimination is present, preventing everyone to their universal right. Poverty, unequal/lack of political representation, basic education, religion, sexual orientation. The people who most need the power of free expression are the ones who are prevented from using it. They need to make their voices heard. Not just because by making their circumstances public they may receive support, but because everyone deserves the most basic of human rights. In a rich country or a poor country, Western or Eastern, black or white, gay or straight. Universality means exactly that. Universal. Everyone.

Furthermore, freedom of expression isn’t just about letting people know about any discrimination you have experienced, but it is about that person’s personal development. Knowledge is power. Access to information helps communities to grow and prosper, creates better economic prospects, equal representation in politics, ultimately to a decrease in discrimination. Without freedom there can only be limited development, and the goal for all communities, cities, countries, the world, is growth. But with discrimination there cannot be freedom.

In Arundhati Roy’s book The God of Small Things the character Velutha is discriminated because he classified by the caste system in India as an untouchable. Outside of the four Varna’s, he is at the very bottom of society. This is only because of the family he was born into. As a person, he is the God of small things. Working as a gardener, handy-man, babysitter. His relationship with a higher caste woman ends with his death and her abandonment. How is this fair?

Yes I have used a fictional example, but that is only because using a real life example is too upsetting, more so than Velutha’s story. The worst (and simultaneously the best) part of the book, is its realism. It is so heavily rooted within Hindu and Indian culture that despite the country’s growing economic status, there is still this discrimination at the very heart of it and this class of people are absent from those benefits. Tradition is hard to replace. In this example, the laws are based in religion, which is then hard to alter because religion is such an important factor for millions of people across the world. This is the problem. This needs resolving before anything can be done in the way of ensuring everyone has the right to free expression.

While people are still being discriminated in their homes it will be almost impossible for the laws on expression to be changed. But this should not be disheartening, because you can also do many great things from inside your home, maybe even write a post on your blog.

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On reading and rereading for revision

When I sit down to read, I want to do just that. Read. Enjoy the peace and quiet that I have earned after working on that essay all day long, because I honestly didn’t leave it to the last minute…again…honest. Find a comfy chair, make a cuppa and perhaps if I am feeling particularly indulgent, maybe even a chocolate digestive or two.

But reading a novel with the purpose of taking notes is a completely different experience. Your mind is full of questions the whole time, why has the author made character a say this to character b? Is it significant that the author is writing about a culture that they are not part of? Do they have the authority to write about it? Who decides where the authoritarian line is drawn? and before you know it, your mind has gone down a completely different path to the one that the book was hoping for it to go down, and chances are that all of those thoughts occurred to you in the space of a couple of seconds and are just fleeting ones. Never leaving you enough time to write them down on the side of the book, or if you disagree with marking books then the sheet of paper that you have next to you.

For english, you read the novel. You then read the academic criticisms (occasionally there are some praises thrown into the mix, just to spice things up a bit). You then should ideally, or if you have the attention or inclination, reread the original text so that the you can apply the critiques to the work and make more sense of it. But what happens in reality, you wait till you have an exam or an essay on that subject and then do the rereading, and miraculously everything (or perhaps I am being overly optimistic with my revision schedule and hopes for reading everything in time) makes sense.

a handy pocket-sized notebook could work...

a handy pocket-sized notebook could work…

The other problem that I find about reading and taking notes is that where does everything go? If I am making extended notes because I am reading an academic journal, I can put it on my kindle and curl up on the sofa, but where does the pad go? I can read it through Adobe on my laptop and have the notepad in front, but then I run the risk of finding more interesting activities available online. Then you have the really bad time when it is actually a book that you enjoy. You don’t want to spend two-to-three times longer reading the novel/play/poem/graphic narrative and making notes because you want to find out what will happen to the characters next. Moreover, you don’t physically have the time or motivation to read that slowly every week because the reading list is just so large that it isn’t possible.

I know that these may sound like petty things. But for anyone in a similar situation to me I really could do with some suggestions. So far sticking with saving the note taking to the reread and only academic works is pretty good. But I still feel that there would be a better way of doing it.

I guess I still have another two years to try to perfect it!

‘Terrorism’ and the Woolwich Attack

Yesterday (22/05/13) a British soldier was hit by a car and then brutally and aggressively murdered by the people who had run him over with what looks like a meat cleaver in Woolwich, London. The men who killed him asked people to film the incident and did not make any attempt to run, but simply bided their time before the police and back-up could arrive. On the film, the man is heard to say “Allahu Akbar” which instantly led the case to be considered and publicised as a terrorist attack.

Woolwich attack, suspect on street

Now, I am not going to pretend that I am an expert on politics or religion, or foreign policy or that I even have a detailed understanding of the relationship that Islamic countries have with the West. But I was horrified that people jumped to the conclusion that this death was a terrorist attack. The man on the video said that God is Great. The video also shows him saying:

“We swear by Almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We apologize that woman had to see this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.”

But how can you define terrorism?  The brutal decapitation of a civilian in Woolwich by a couple of men or the brutal killing of civilians in an Islamic country by the West? It just seems to me that “Terrorist Attack” is thrown around a lot, and almost acts as a propaganda weapon. The means to which the West think that all Muslims are plotting to destroy the West and what it stands for.

Bollocks.

Granted there have been horrific and devastating events around the world caused by terrorism, the UK, the IRA nationalists, the US, in the name of democracy, communism, fascism. They are all the same. Terrorism seems to be an umbrella term for most kinds of violence, which has in more recent years transformed to represent just the ones caused by Muslims. An article published on the Guardian asked the same question about defining terrorism and suggested that one answer could be “any act of violence designed to achieve political change.” If people are still insistent on using the term terrorism then it should be broadened out to include the West, because what the EDL did to the Mosques in Woolwich in response to the attack is surely terrorism too? Surely the government should also think about increasing security around Mosques and not just the Barracks if disgusting reactionary events like this continue? The Islamic community have said that they have nothing to do with this incident and that they hope it won’t detriment their livelihood in Britain.

EDL

What I found even worse was the reaction that it provoked across the country. Nick Griffin would have been proud with some of the responses the death caused. Facebook statuses claiming that it was all because the country has let too many immigrants in and that they should be sent ‘back to where they came from’ if they can’t learn how to ‘belong’ in our country. Honestly, if you go around posting statuses like that then you clearly don’t belong in this country because last time I checked it was pretty cosmopolitan. The recent census data shows how the demographics of London have changed recently and is only one example of many.

Sadly I can’t think of a way to make this end well. I think the future seems to look relatively bleak in terms of race, religion and terror. Although, it was reassuring that the majority of the facebook statuses and tweets that I read yesterday were of a similar opinion to me. That people who jump to conclusions about people because of their race are simply nothing more than racists. It is clear that the two men were sick. Why does terrorism even have to be thrown into the bag?

Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.

 

The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s novel and Luhrmann’s film

Seeing as the film is set to come out in cinema’s tomorrow, and I am in love with the soundtrack, it only seemed appropriate that Gatsby should feature on my blog. It even features on the about me section, so it definitely deserves to be here. In fact I love it that much that I refuse to listen to the criticism that the academics have written about it, the words that I need to know for my exam in a couple of weeks. I know that studying a text can ruin its beauty, simplicity, take away certain qualities that make it perfect for the reader; but it also allows you to understand it at a deeper level. Different elements come to life that may not have at first been apparent from your own independent reading. So I guess I will just have to grin and bare it…

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The first time that I read Gatsby was for my IB English exam so I have been unable to read it from a purely pleasurable reason. The second time was for the exam coming up so I am still struggling along. Other people who haven’t had the pressure of exams have told me that they found the story to be less exciting and almost bland in comparison to the praise it has received. They agree that it is beautifully written and Fitzgerald creates a perfect and yet simultaneously a distorted version of a perfect life throughout the pages.

The Great Gatsby in my opinion is fantastic. It has elements of good and bad, on the surface it presents a romanticized view on life, and it isn’t until you scrape away at the perfectly constructed language that the realities of that lifestyle present themselves. Daisy is nothing more than a rich woman who enjoys being at the centre of everybody’s attention, in love with money and the life that it buys. “Her voice was full of money” summarises it pretty nicely I think. Tom is nothing more than a bored rich American, who enjoys to dip into the women that the proletariat has to offer, because Daisy is nothing more than a trophy wife. She is not a working woman who aspires to be a woman of leisure. Nick, a biased author is probably the reason for the romantic construction of 1922 New York. He is unable to see the political and sexual agenda’s that are prevalent throughout the story. He doesn’t question where Gatsby’s fortune comes from – he is completely oblivious of any wrong doing.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Although set in 1922, which was an important era for modernism, Fitzgerald wrote it 3 years later in 1925. Ezra Pound a contemporary  poet and critic even argued that 1922 marked the beginning of a new modern era. The invention of the car, end of the war, economic boom and rise of America, development of cinema and television and thus the creation of the BBC, publication of Ulysses and The Waste Land all had a huge impact on the direction that culture chose. It could have merged, or stayed separate, or ultimately and what was most likely to happen, there would be a collision. An inevitable explosion of opinion and division.

Gatsby, although written over 90 years ago is an extremely modern novel still. The creation of money. Inherited or stolen or made honestly. The need for one to fit in, into social circles that are higher than your status, that inherent desire to succeed and improve. They are all very human qualities and I think this is one of the main reasons why the novel is considered one of the all-time best pieces of literature to come from America.

I could go on forever, in fact upon looking over what I have mentioned I have barely touched the surface of how passionately I love this novel. In fact, I didn’t even realise I loved it this much until I wrote this post. For those of you who haven’t read the book and are planning to see the film, I cannot recommend it more than I hope this post has done. It will be completely different from the film, because no Baz Luhrmann film is ever similar to anything else except other films he has directed. Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge both completely different in tone, musicality, pace, culture and yet they have been united by the modern music. They have been brought forward into the present, and in some ways, that is exactly what Fitzgerald and other modernists were trying to achieve. Unite the past and present, whilst refining and progressing down the literary canon.

And to end, of course there has to be a link to the soundtrack. I love all of the songs so much that I am just linking the entire thing. Click here to listen! 

 

Morality in All Change Please by Danielle West

Yes, it is time, I have finished All Change Please, and honestly it was such a good book I found it hard to stop reading it once I reached the final 100 page stretch. Only being able to read it on my laptop was sometimes a pain, but I struggled through – although I say it was a pain, I was going to read the novel regardless of what form it came in, so I guess it doesn’t matter particularly.

The book focusses around the lives of three women who are all grieving after their friend Laura suddenly passes away, and it follows them through their lives after the funeral and shows how they cope with her death. It was great to read a book that was set in London and so I found it entirely relatable, the crowded tubes, the disgustingly and yet beautifully unreliable weather, millions of tourists and the good old iconic red bus.

Tube disruptions. Again.

Tube disruptions. Again.

What I really liked was the three-way narration. The skipping between Ophelia, Kat and Elise while they all lived their different lives that were all linked through their friendship and their grief. The lives of the women all developed differently at and different speeds and intensities which made the book even harder to stop reading. Once you would reach the end of a section about Ophelia, there would be an indent and you would want to read how Elise had got on at her job interview. Furthermore, the repetition of Laura and her presence in the three lives was very interesting. She appeared at times when they needed a shoulder to cry on most. Someone to tell them to get a grip and man-up. At times when there was the most tension and conflict she appeared.

This leads me on to the morality question that is developed throughout. Each of the friends dealt with Laura’s death differently. Life re-evaluation occurred. Travel. New jobs. Reuniting and reconciling with old friends and family. There were times in the novel when I was really taken back by the issues that face everyone. Death is a guarantee and is unavoidable, but it is taken for granted that it won’t happen to most people until old age finally gives in during a peaceful night.

What is your greatest regret?

Does everything happen for a reason?

Have you settled for mediocrity?

How do you define happiness?

I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. This book has a few pessimistic moments, moments that make you evaluate your life and the path you are travelling down while the characters are doing that too. But there are moments of hilarity, cringiness and the quotidian lives that we all know so well. It is a novel about three women who are coping with the loss of a friend who was such an important part of their lives, that even after she has died, she is still impacting the decisions that they make for the better.

Losing my graphic novel virginity: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

Another one of the texts that will be making an appearance in my exam in a few weeks alongside The God of Small Things, Lunch Poems and various others is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic novel. Surprisingly, I loved this book. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoyed reading it contrary to my expectations. Having never read a graphic novel before I didn’t know what to expect from it. I was unsure if the combination of images and writing would work effectively enough to portray the important issues that Bechdel was writing about.

But I could not have been more wrong. Not only did the form make the text simple and elegant to read but the images helped exaggerate what Alison was talking about in the text. My favourite example of this was at the end of the first chapter when Alison commented that the obelisk her father wanted instead of a headstone was ironic as it was a similar shape to a shape he enjoyed in real life…then just to make sure that all the readers picked up on the joke, the next page was dedicated to a single of image of a large obelisk, looking particularly phallic. Bechdel writes about pretty heavy-handed material. Death (or potential suicide), homosexuality, coming-out, growing up, a dysfunctional family. None of the subject matter is easy on the emotion. Yet expressing them through the medium of a graphic novel makes them more accessible and reader friendly.

The non-linear narrative means that we know her father is dead and that there were questionable circumstances around it, but we don’t know the full picture until the very end of the novel. Alison herself doesn’t seem to understand her father’s life until she has mapped it out for the reader, almost as if the text is her stream of consciousness. After his death she looks back and seems to evaluate her and her father’s lives, to try and notice if there were signs. Indications of what would follow. At the time she didn’t notice that her father would stare at the choir boys while they were in church. She didn’t notice that he had an overly friendly relationship with their gardener and babysitter. She also didn’t notice that her father wanted her to look pretty and dress up while all she wanted to do was wear boys clothes. I like this type of narrative. The kind that doesn’t make sense at the beginning, but it is interesting enough to draw you in and make you read on. Similar to The God of Small Things, it doesn’t make sense until you turn over the final page.

The eyes give everything away.

The eyes give everything away.

 

Perhaps I enjoyed this book more because it was my first graphic novel. In fact, although a thick book you could easily read it within a couple of hours because there is barely any text. After re-reading it I also discovered many other pieces of information, symbols and motifs that appear throughout which are not necessarily apparent the first time round. You may not even pay attention to the images whilst reading, or just look at the pictures and ignore the text. In fact, by  doing either you would still understand the plot of the text. Which is what just makes the book so fantastically clever. This could just be the medium acting here, and I being a graphic novel virgin I am unable to compare.

However after enjoying this so much I went ahead and ordered Bechdel’s follow up graphic novel Are you my mother? which I will be reading as soon as the exam season is over. Then perhaps I will be able to offer a less subjective opinion.