History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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The Environment Science Now + Beyond

Climate change is a feminist issue, and here’s why

In the past year, we’ve seen wildfires devastate Australia and parts of the United States. We’re seeing cities and islands disappear under rising sea levels, torrential rains flood large parts of Europe, and entire regions drowning in smog. With temperatures soaring to new levels, increasing numbers of natural disasters ripping communities apart, and rising sea levels displacing populations, it is unthinkable to deny that climate change is threatening us all. Despite repeated warnings from scientists and experts, there are very few practical solutions being implemented to combat it and secure life on this planet for all. As governments continue to ignore or water down climate justice treaties and enact policies that cause environmental destruction, few stop to think about how climate change and gender interact with each other.

Climate change impacts those who are the most marginalized–and in most communities, they’re women. Women are more likely than men to be impoverished and they face high risk during climate change-related disasters. In fact, women constitute 80% of those displaced by climate change. Women and children are actually 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. With migration expected to increase due to climate change (increased sea levels, inhospitable temperatures, and a loss of arable land), women are be the most vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and other harm. This is already noticeable in current migration patterns, where 50% of migrants are women and girls, facing gender-based violence.

LGBTQIA+ individuals, who already face disproportionate violence and disenfranchisement, are also at risk due to climate change, particularly with shelter and health. Even without climate concerns, many are forced to leave their homes and communities from fear or insecurity about their safety. But in climate emergencies, when housing is destroyed or limited, the need for support increases manifold. LGBTQIA+ individuals who would be displaced in the process of extreme weather conditions would find their marginalization increasing, as might violence toward them and a lack of advisory services.

Climate change has also been a result of extractivist, colonial activities by many global North countries. The drive for increased profits has long been at the expense of communities who find themselves in an unequal power dynamic with corporations and governments. In those communities, where gender dynamics are already skewed and where resource exploitation drives down the quality of life, women face additional or exaggerated burdens. Women, commonly positioned as primary caretakers, find themselves struggling to support their communities and families when the water goes bad, the crops don’t grow, and people fall ill. For this reason, many women human rights defenders are actively agitating for solutions to climate change that involve the dismantling of economic structures that prioritize extractive industries over environmental protection.

Despite all of this, women and LGBTQIA+ communities rarely find themselves afforded a space at the negotiating table to be a part of climate justice solutions. In the European Union, for example, only one-fifth of ministers who handle issues relating to the environment, transport, climate change, and energy are women. This is in line with historical trends, where women have not been included in key decision-making bodies. Many climate justice agreements do not address gender equality, women’s rights, or minority rights. The enhancement of present policies and the building of future ones to effectively reflect gendered realities is vital if marginalized communities are to be served well by climate justice solutions.

A feminist approach to climate justice can lead the way for concrete change. Here are some steps we can take for that:

  • Gendered perspectives must be included at every step of the decision-making process, including disaster mapping and mitigation solutions.
  • Feminist activists, women human rights defenders, LGBTQ+ activists, and other key leaders representing marginalized communities must be included in the research, review, and policy crafting processes. Their inputs can be based on lived and directly observed experiences, which in turn would increase the efficacy of policy solutions.
  •  Ensure that climate justice solutions do not pit one marginalized community against another. Intersectionality–the consideration of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, and other factors–must be the foundation of any effective climate justice framework.

As we all struggle to survive in a world where the greed of corporations is hindering the quality of our lives and contributing to climate injustices, let us band together to turn back the clock!

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The Politics of Pink, and the sexism assigned to it

Pink is the hue of femininity. It’s the color of breast cancer campaigns, of “female” gender reveal parties, and a genuine ‘no no’ for boys. It also holds the unfair tag of vapid girlhood. But why is this the case? Let’s delve a little into the politics of pink:

Pink was actually a color for boys

Assigning color to gender is a twentieth century trait that began in Western Europe and America. At the start, pink was actually a color for boys because it was a watered down version of red; a strong, bold color signifying ferocity. What was the color for girls, you ask? Blue; navy blue in fact, since this was the color of – surprise surprise – the Virgin Mary. Blue was also considered more dainty and delicate (I shudder as I think back to my Convent School’s depressingly navy uniform).

It was not until World War 1 that the color assignment switched. Men off to war were given blue uniforms, and almost immediately it became the color of masculinity. It was only fitting that pink was then handed down like an old sweater, and pushed to become the girl’s hue. “Think Pink” was the slogan used to motivate women to embrace their femininity, and to know their place was outside of the man’s new, blue world. A 50’s film starring the adored, feminine icon Audrey Hepburn showed her to wear only pink outfits, inspiring this generation of women even more. Ladies, our great grandmas were brainwashed to think pink was always for us. I suppose it’s not the worst thing they were told to believe about women, but it did provide a clear-cut color palette for throwing upon sexism for years to come. 

I grew up hating pink 

While I now think pink is possibly the greatest color yet, I actually grew up disliking it.  I think subconsciously my brain realized pink wasn’t all that cool because girls weren’t all that cool. And I wanted desperately to be one of the effortless, unrestrained boys; the ones who ran amok on the playground without fear of dirtying their cute, pink frocks. While I’m embarrassed to have ever thought like that, I’m also grateful because it’s helped me understand why men may fear pink so intrinsically. They have been made to think that women – and anything associated with us – are beneath them. Pink, the bold color it really is, has come to symbolize fragility and gentleness, in their eyes at least. And that is not what men want to be. Heck, who can blame them – that’s not what I want[ed] to be either!

I asked a couple of my male friends why they don’t like pink. One guy said he’d “wear the occasional pink golf tee, but never choose to decorate with it in [his] house”. Why not, I said? Good point, he replied. My own boyfriend expressed his disdain for our pink couch cover and the pink plush whale I keep on our bed (even though he oftentimes and happily uses it as a headrest). This is the same boy who admitted his favorite color as a kid was this electric, hot pink on his mother’s nail file. What changed in him, then? Well, boys are scolded, molded and teased for liking anything girly, of which pink is the pinnacle. Whilst young girls like me who favor blue and wear shorts and tees, are cool. At least, until we grow up…

Why do we assume those who love pink aren’t smart?

One of my best friends is a pink advocate; her room is all-pink from the duvet to the curtains, so when the sun shines through, you get this luminescent, all consuming pink aura. I remember thinking to myself, it’s so funny that Adriana loves pink so much and yet she’s so smart. But now I think, why do we assume only dumb, vapid girls like Regina George and Gretchen Weiners like pink? Why was Elle Woods such a never-been-seen-before lawyer clad in rosy hats and coats? I’ll tell you why: it’s our own internalized misogyny telling us that femininity ≠ smart. And I thank Adriana’s sheer intelligence and unashamed embracing of pink for helping me see that. 

I guess what I’m trying to point out is the ridiculousness of gendered colors. And perhaps the toxicity of them – how they help in setting clear, unwavering gender binaries. How they police boys into frigid masculinity and into othering women. How they play a part in gender revealing parties that set fire to whole forests. So PSA: you’re allowed to like pink, you’re allowed to hate pink. And it shouldn’t have to mean anything that it sadly still does today. 


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History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

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One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

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Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
World News LGBTQIA+ Coronavirus The World

Hungary is using the pandemic to end recognition of its transgender community

The government of Hungary has long held an anti-LGBTQIA+ ideology, and the COVID-19  pandemic has provided them the perfect opportunity to get away with erasing the trans community.

Last Tuesday (May 19th), the Hungarian parliament approved a law that ends the legal recognition of trans people. It stipulates that gender is defined at birth, based on a child’s chromosomes, therefore banning trans people from changing their name and gender in any official documentation.

The Hungarian government is using its power to take away people’s rights when it should be protecting its people from the pandemic. That is highly irregular and unethical. Nonetheless, it’s legal. And it’s happening.

On the 31st of March (Day of Trans Visibility), the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán obtained the power to rule by decree and suspend elections, in light of the COVID-19 crisis. That same day the PM’s party introduced a controversial set of measures presumably aimed at fighting coronavirus. Among them was a draft law that stipulated that official documents only register “sex at birth”.

 The pandemic has provided the perfect distraction for the government.

Orbán’s new power of ruling by decree, and the announcement of jail time for anyone who intentionally spread disinformation about the government’s response to the crisis eclipsed the policy change regarding trans rights. It buried it, under other political debates and a sanitary crisis.

European politicians and institutions (including the EU), human rights organizations, and international LGBTQIA+ associations all opposed the draft bill, with no success.

The news of this bill has shocked the Hungarian trans community. Ivett Ördög, a Hungarian trans activist, said that the passing of the law is “a tragedy” and has been very honest about its impact on the LGBTQIA+ community: “I struggled not to moan myself while trying to chat online with my peers who were just considering suicide”.

The Fidesz party, which has been in power in Hungary for the last 10 years, has long held an anti-LGTBQIA+ agenda. The Prime Minister himself made “traditional family values” the basis of his 2018 re-election campaign and promised to “build a new era” with major cultural changes.

Last year, the party’s Parliament speaker equated gay adoption with pedophilia. Moreover, in 2018 the Hungarian government faced severe criticism from the European Union after closing all gender studies courses that were offered by Hungarian universities.

In fact, trans people have had trouble changing their legal sex since 2017, and there are several court cases underway in relation to this situation. All of these cases and applications for name changes will now be rejected. Moreover, since the new documentation will show ‘sex at birth’ people fear that it will also affect trans people who have already had their gender and names officially changed.

Despite the country’s rigid LGTBQIA+ policies, during the past decade, the country was talking slow steps towards meeting the community’s demands. It is devastating news that a community that has fought so hard and has succeeded in obtaining the legal recognition of their own rights now has to see their identity questioned and even denied.

Homosexuality (above the age of 20) was decriminalized in 1961. Moreover, the Budapest Pride, first held in 1997, was the first Pride that took place in a country from the former Eastern Bloc.  However, it was only in 2003, that the Act on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities banned discrimination based on gender identity. Same-sex couples were allowed to register for civil partnerships in 2009, although they are still unable to marry or adopt. Moreover, the right of trans people to change their legal gender was only accepted three years ago.

It has not been a steady fight, and there have been ups and downs. During the 2014 Pride, the political party Jobbik displayed a banner that read “The Parliament Does Not Want Any Deviants” and verbally abused attendees. This weeks’ law is one of the biggest pushbacks to date.

Legal recognition is fundamental because it demonstrates the state’s acceptance of an individual. If a state won´t even recognize the existence of trans people, it will be unable to guarantee their safety, or treat them as citizens of the country.

Ivett has been honest about the problems that she has faced because her gender did not match that assigned to her in the registry. She has issues trying to pick up packets in the mail or even medicines “because the pharmacist didn’t believe me that my name was on the prescription”. Her roughest case was however when someone “challenged me to the police because they thought I wanted to misuse someone’s documents.”

The Hungarian government is taking advantage of the fear of the population and their concern for their health in order to pass a piece of legislation that, in order circumstances, might have faced much stronger opposition. They are using the distraction that the pandemic provides, and the powers that they have obtained by declaring the state of emergency, to push their own anti-LGTBQ+ agenda. In doing so, they are also creating a dangerous precedent.

The passing of this law makes Hungary the first EU country to take away transgender rights. Will other countries decide to follow?

Hungary might become a dangerous precedent.

LGBTQIA+ people have their lives already threatened by COVID-19. A United Nations report establishes that the LGBTQIA+ community is more likely to be HIV+ or homeless, two factors that greatly increased a person’s vulnerability to the virus. Moreover, members of this community already experience stigma and discrimination when accessing health services and are more likely to be de-prioritized in the case of an overloaded health system.

Moreover, the UN has established that there are “reports of police using COVID-19 directives to attack and target LGBTI organizations”. Moreover, the report states that “in at least one country, the State of Emergency has been used to propose a decree that would prevent transgender people from legally changing their gender in identity documents”, probably referring to Hungary.

South Korea, for example, has reported a marked increase in online threats and discrimination against LGBT people who are being unfairly accused of spreading Covid-19, despite the pandemic there being much more under control.

If a country opposes the existence of a community, how can we expect it to protect it from a virus? The Hungarian government’s decision does not only attack trans people’s rights but also their lives.

We are living through critical times. However, we mustn´t let the medical emergency distract us from defending the rights that have been so hard to obtain. Human rights and the lives of people like Ivette are at risk.

Movies Pop Culture

I’m a feminist and I think all-female reboots are completely missing the point

Okay, I have feelings about all-female reboots.

Equal representation is a loaded topic. In some cases it feels like we’re all at different points in the same conversation. When it comes to entertainment, however, what we as an audience deserve seems easy enough: entertaining content that truthfully depicts our communities, correctly represents us, and tells our stories in new, inventive ways. 

Entertainment needs to be more aware of its influence, not in terms of box office and value for money but as the makers of culture and a method through which we record our shared histories.  

The conversation on equality and representation has hit its peak in Hollywood with the recent guilty verdict of Harvey Weinstein, the aftermath of the MeToo movement, the continuous backlash to awards nominations, as well as more positive changes such as Parasite’s sweeping win at the Oscars and a slew of films that have given us a glimpse into what more inclusive cinema could look like.  

The most confusing recent trend that the dialogue of equality has brought upon us is all-female reboots. This is not a comment on the movies themselves but a comment on the logic behind their existence.

Here’s what I think: gender-flipping well-known movies that had a predominantly male cast in the interest of telling female stories, or to preach equal representation, are missing the entire point. 

All-female reboots seem more like a lazy rewriting of history, for an audience that has already seen the same story, by a studio that hopes the remake will bring in the same box office success as the original. But equality of the genders isn’t about replacing one with the other the way that all-female reboots seem to imply.

I remember watching Ocean’s 8 in cinemas and wondering who this movie was for. I was already a fan of Ocean’s 11 and this wasn’t so much inspired by the original story as it was ripping off the exact same storyline – it was also simultaneously a continuation of the series because, for whatever reason, the central protagonist had to be Danny Ocean’s sister?

The only real difference between Ocean’s 8 and Ocean’s 11 was that Ocean’s 11 had all the perks of being an original film with a well thought out plot. The big twist ending for Ocean’s 8 on the other hand, brought back one of the original (male) cast members, Qin Shaobo, for a sequence where he steals their actual target for them. This one scene where he singlehandedly steals all of their loot just serves to discredit the female characters’ efforts over the course of the movie and makes the whole point of the all-female reboot murkier still. To add insult to injury the movie assembled an all-star cast that could’ve made a brilliant film. All they needed was great content.

Hollywood needs to pour its effort and money into telling stories from a perspective that has been largely ignored, not rehashing the same story and taping a different gender on the front cover.

There have been plenty of sensational films that took the box-office by storm over the years that have been loved by all audiences, regardless of gender – Hustlers, Bridesmaids, Bombshell, Hidden Figures, Booksmart, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Mystic Pizza are just a few. Each of these movies, even remakes of classics like Little Women, took the opportunity to tell a side of a story that wasn’t always visible on the big screen. They told stories from the female perspective about females where femininity was a given, not a plot-point. 

Organic representation takes more than just casting diverse people for the sake of diversity. True representation will come when there is equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender, race, and sexuality to own their stories and take part in every step of the process of sharing them, from scripts to the screen.   

Until then, Hollywood needs to put new experiences and perspectives forward and not just churn out afterthought reassessments of movies from the past. The lasting effects of a film, at the end of the day, will be based on its own merit and not on the political statement it tries to make

All-female reboots of existing movies are a cop-out from actually delving into female stories. The conversation about the representation of all genders, races, sexualities, abilities and everything else that makes the human experience distinct and unique is now more open than ever. Studios funding projects that swap male characters for females only miss the point of actually telling stories about women.

They need to stop putting females in male shoes and just give them the opportunity to wear their own.

Health Care Reproductive Rights Coronavirus Love Policy Inequality

Menstruation in the times of a global pandemic

The global healthcare crisis has brought the world to a near standstill. The pandemic has taken over our life. Nowadays our routine consists of waking up, eating, working from home, going off to sleep, and repeating the cycle. But do you know what the pandemic has no control over? Menstruation. That’s right, menstruation will never hit the pause button, come what may. But menstruation is still associated with stigma, even though it affects a fourth of the global population. This would make it as much a reality for cisgender women as for transgender men, non binary and gender queer people. But even though it is the reality, it is different for everyone since no two people or periods are the same.

To give credit where credit’s due, in the recent few years, there has been noteworthy progress in creating awareness for issues surrounding menstruation across the world. The 2018 Bollywood film Pad Man which told the real-life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, created a much needed social conversation that aimed to shatter the illusion that menstruation is a taboo topic. Arunachalam inspired the social media trend #PadManchallenge which he started by tagging the movie’s star Akshay Kumar. He had to hold a pad, click a picture and in turn, tag others to take up the challenge. In a country like India, where pads are still seen as an embarrassing product, this was monumental. The following year, in 2019, the documentary short film directed by Rayka Zehtabchi, Period. End of Sentence, about a group of women in rural India fighting against the stigma surrounding menstruation with such tender hope and optimism, won the Oscar for the best documentary film.

Last year, the UK government announced that sanitary products would be made available free of cost at all secondary schools. England’s Department of Education added menstrual health education for girls and boys in primary schools in the guidelines for sex and health education. India and Canada abolished the tax on menstrual products, while the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that would make tampons and pads free for all.

But with the focus shifting to the pandemic, the silence and ignorance surrounding the topic of menstruation has seemed to resurface. On the one hand, social distancing means maintaining a distance between people and on the other, it has managed to further the distance between people and the topic of menstruation.

Tampons and Pads: Necessity or Luxury

During trying times like these, it is easy for people to give precedence to medicines, food, and other essentials. But the question is – when exactly will sanitary products become one of the essentials? When can people buy them without feeling a sense of shame and discomfort?

To be honest, even I had forgotten to buy sanitary pads, but I still had a packet left. I was one of the lucky ones, but what about the others who forgot to buy them or did not have proper access to safe and affordable options before countries went into lockdown? They would have no option but to resort to using materials like rags and cotton which do more harm than good. Being cooped up at home already affects people mentally, we shouldn’t really be letting it affect us physically too.

So, what can we do?

With the entire world shining the spotlight on the pandemic, maybe we can use this time to bring some focus to the topic of menstruation. Globally, the steps that have been taken to contain the situation is commendable. Essential services are being made readily available – from produce to commodities. However, while there are people helping around in community kitchens and donating money, there should be more initiatives to distribute menstrual products to the homeless and the poor. It’s bad enough that most third world countries like Kenya, India, and Bangladesh still have limited access to sanitary napkins, the current pandemic has made access even more sparse.

According to a study published in the Lancet Journal of Public Health, only around 30% of people who used sanitary products knew about menstrual cups. And in countries where products are available, access to products is still a struggle for people who identify as male or non-gender binary. Even now, most menstrual products are targeted at females where transpeople are ignored. and by doing this, we are excluding an entire section of menstruators.

Moreover, there are people who rely on getting free tampons at work or in schools, and with countries announcing lockdowns and curfews, they are taking the brunt of the global pandemic. Even the struggles of the homeless have doubled, having to look for shelter as well as clean toilets. During this time, most shelters are focused on providing meals and clothing whereas menstrual hygiene has yet again taken a back seat.

Maybe if we had conversations about menstruating the way we do about eating, people would consider pads just as important as food. This is why it has become necessary to stop beating around the bush and addressing the situation at hand.

Gender The World Inequality

Pakistani men have weaponized #MeToo against the same women it should be helping

Pakistan is a country that is built upon the identity of its people, so it seems fitting for our culture and traditions to be dearly held and celebrated. As magnificent and unique as they are, our traditions also help preserve conservative mindsets that may be seen as regressive. Because of this deep intertwine, often movements that call for a change are seen as a direct attack on the country’s identity. The dichotomy of tradition and progress has been highlighted multiple times recently, as the #MeToo movement trickles into Pakistan.

While this movement is desperately needed in a patriarchal and heavily gendered society like ours, it is met with just as much resistance because of the threat it poses. The existing system of patriarchy allows men to manipulate the movement over and over again to maintain their favorable position.

The movement extended to Pakistan in April 2018 when Meesha Shafi, a Pakistani singer, came out with allegations against another singer, Ali Zafar. She exposed him on social media and explained that he had been inappropriate with her while they worked together. Shafi was met with a lot of support too, but mostly she dealt with a mob of defensive men and women who perceived this step towards change as an attack on their own values. Shafi was seen as a woman heavily influenced by Western concepts and was condemned for speaking on taboo topics such as inappropriate sexual behavior. As a conservative society, there is a lot of importance given to modesty which was the first thing Shafi challenged as she spoke out frankly about her experience. Shafi’s strength was seen as an attack on patriarchal values, which favored her harasser automatically.

Zafar played upon this discomfort of the population and manipulated Shafi’s message to favor himself. He used tropes like his celebrity status, reputation as a “family man”, and his philanthropic work, as his defense against Shafi, and instead sued her back for defamation. What started as allegations on social media in April 2018 has now been dragged out to become a messy social spectacle in which Shafi is painted as a scorned entity while Zafar continues to boost his image as a respected, beloved, and above all, traditional man who is familiar for the masses.

Although Shafi is credited with extending the conversation around #MeToo to Pakistan, she is not the first woman to speak out about working with a powerful man who behaved inappropriately. In 2017, a female politician Ayesha Gulalai accused the chief of her political party, Imran Khan, of sending her inappropriate text messages. Gulalai was met with far less support than Shafi, as she was immediately denounced by her own political party, and social media trolls rose to the occasion with aggressive threats.

Needless to say, Gulalai did not get the justice she set out for, but her harasser did become the prime minister of the country. Again, Khan appeals to the traditional mindset of the masses whereas Gulalai was threatening the power men are given over women in countless dynamics. Not only did Khan and his political party ensure the silencing of future victims with their reaction, he has since then also made attacks on feminism saying “I completely disagree with this Western concept, this feminist movement… it has degraded the role of the mother.” Feminism and #MeToo threaten powerful men as they prove that even oppressed voices cannot be muffled forever, which is why these men must resort to manipulating the message so it becomes distasteful for everyone else as well. As Khan’s statement reflects, men in power would much rather manipulate any kind of progress that threatens their superiority, by implying that asking for a change is offensive to our current values and consequently, to our identity.

Women who seek justice and choose to speak out are seen as controversial for not conforming to the ideal “traditional” Pakistani woman who is expected to silently accept the patriarchal system she lives in. If a woman dares to challenge the existing equilibrium, she is instantly demonized by a society that maintains its outdated mindset by hiding behind the excuse of traditions. Unfortunately, powerful men like Imran Khan and Ali Zafar have proved how this intrinsic connection between our identity and traditions makes it so difficult for our society to move towards change. Both of them turned their allegations back around on the victim and criticized the attempt towards change by encouraging the regressive mentality our society holds onto. Unfortunately, as men they have the louder voice, and yet they use their power to foster a toxic environment that allows them to remain in power. However, while their efforts at manipulation have slowed down our progress, social media is helping women reclaim their voices as they remain motivated in their fight against patriarchy.

Via The News
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My doctor blamed me for not getting help for my period – but I didn’t know I was sick

“Oh, but it’s just period pain, it can’t be that bad.”

If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard that sentence, I would be a rich woman. Unfortunately, that is not the case, I currently have $3 dollars to my name, and yes, it is that bad. 

Why is there this strange universal assumption that because so many people experience terrible period pain, it must somehow not be “that bad”?

The conversation in regards to menstruation isn’t just surrounding women – it involves those that are nonbinary, intersex, genderqueer and trans*. And the idea that, because so many go through it, it is normal and therefore doesn’t warrant concern is just ridiculous. 

Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible.

Period pain is something I am far too familiar with. It has punctuated my life since I was 16 years old. And mind you, these were not easy-going commas, they were hard, painful full stops (that sometimes lasted up to 12 miserable days).

Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible. My hair is a mess, I’m extra pale, with some decent rings under my eyes – there’s no doubt that I am unwell.

Naturally, I am asked by colleagues, “What’s wrong Erin, you look terrible?” 

When I respond, “Oh, I just have really bad cramps today,” I’ve gotten used to just getting a shrug and an “oh shame, man” (and a look of horror, if that friend happens to be a man).

That’s it. No one tells me to see a doctor, to go home or asked If I should be at work today, and I carry on, business as usual. 

There are two things very wrong with this picture:

The first being the blatant disregard of my discomfort; even though I can look sick, my pain suddenly becomes irrelevant the moment it becomes “period pain.” As if I am no longer sick but, rather, weak.

The second problem is the fact that I had already internalized all of this by saying “I just have cramps,” as if to say, “it’s not that bad, don’t worry about me.” 

This picture is most definitely not unique to me. This is the reality of the millions of people who had the good fortune to be born with a uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

And let’s face it, if I had told my coworkers that I had the flu, the response would have been very different.

I’ve been living with endometriosis for the last eight years but I was only diagnosed in the last six months. And that’s only because I am privileged enough to be able to afford exorbitant gynecologist fees.

When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal.

Not to mention the fact that all four of my previous gynos told me that I was fine. It took all of a few seconds to confirm that the pain I have been living with was, in fact, real and not ‘normal’ at all.

“Why didn’t you see a gyno sooner?” I was asked.  

When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal. “Pain is to be expected,” how often have you heard that?

When was I supposed to make the jump from “this is normal” to “is this normal?”

How was I supposed to know what the symptoms of endometriosis are when all I was taught in sex-ed was how to put a condom on a banana and what an STD looks like?

A man can walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for Viagra on a single self-report.

On the other hand, it takes a woman approximately 9.28 years of suffering to be diagnosed with endometriosis.

There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain. The first male contraceptive was taken off the market within three months because it caused weight gain.

I wish we lived in a world that encouraged people to attend to their bodies’ pain signals instead of teaching us to be endurance champions.

I wish we lived in a world that considered a woman’s pain abnormal, instead of telling us that pain is “to be expected.”

There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain.

The reality is that these aren’t the lessons we learn growing up as people with periods. At the end of the day, period pain is considered so ‘ordinary’ that it is overlooked and ignored.  The writing’s on the wall: we are taught constantly to ignore the signals – signals that we are later blamed for not recognizing in the first place.

There’s something really, really wrong with that.

Health Care Love Advice Wellness

I’m a feminist but I really hate my menstrual cup

After a hefty amount of good ‘ol peer pressure from my wonderful feminist friends, I decided to bite the bullet and make the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. I was so excited. It was bright pink and came in a shiny little draw-string bag, with a nifty little instruction book – all very cute. This was going to revolutionize my period; gone were the days of dreaded tampon strings and crunchy nappy-like pads…or so I thought.

Let me be the first to tell you, there’s absolutely nothing ‘cute’ about a menstrual – or, as I call it, a period cup.    

For those who don’t know, a period cup is a small cone made of soft silicon (about 1.5’ in diameter) that sits inside the vaginal canal and catches menstrual blood as it leaves the uterus through the cervix. If that little sentence made you skeeve out, then this article is not for you. The cup has two tiny holes on the rim that creates a little suction to stop it from moving and a little tab at the bottom to pull it out. 

Although they seem super new and fancy, the period cup has actually been around since the 1930s. However, in the last two years, I’ve noticed that the period cup has taken center stage on social media – particularly in ecofeminist spaces. An important aspect of feminist activism is menstrual hygiene and creating access to menstrual products.

For years, that activism was focused around pads and tampons, but recently, that has shifted to the infamous period cup. 

I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of image I’m talking about: a smiling pink period cup with some illustrated flowers around it.

Theoretically, these cups are fantastic. If cared for properly, a period cup can last you up to 10 years. Assuming the average menstrual cycle uses 12 tampons and four to five pads, that’s roughly $50 per year. Switching to a $25 menstrual cup effectively saves you over $1000 over the next 25 years. And in doing this you’re also diverting almost 3000 tampons and pads from landfills (each one taking over a century to breakdown).

And that’s not all! (insert a telemarketer voice).

Unlike tampons, there is no risk of toxic shock as the cup catches your blood, as opposed to absorbing it through fibers which get left behind and can become infected later. On top of that, tampons and pads are bleached with chemicals that build up in our bodies in the form of harmful estrogens. 

So, yes the pink smiley period cup makes sense here because this all sounds wonderful.

So, what’s the problem, Erin? Well, my fellow menstruator, we haven’t actually discussed how the heck you actually insert this wonderful creation. 

The cute little leaflet I received with my period cup read something like this: boil the cup for five minutes in water. Once the cup is cool, fold it in half to make a C and insert (make sure the cup ‘pops’ open) and voila! Easier said than done…

A period cup is at least three times the size of a tampon when folded, one does not just insert. This process requires about three fingers just to keep the damn thing folded and another two to help you navigate. We’re still not done, now we need to get it up to the cervix. This means a lot of direct contact with your genital parts. Now, if that wasn’t enough to freak you out, the cup most probably won’t ‘pop’ open the first few attempts and if it doesn’t open, there’s no suction and you will leak. No ‘pop’, no protection – soz. 

Okay, if you’ve managed to power through phase one, you’re a champ and I’m proud of you.

Now we need to talk about phase two, which is pretty great, to be honest. You can leave it in for 12 hours no fuss, but you need to be prepared for leaks (because chances are, you inserted it next to your cervix and not below it) so a pantyliner is a must-have.

You will also experience what feels like tiny air bubbles. You will panic and think your cup is overflowing – it’s not, its just air escaping as the cup fills up. It’s actually good – it means that the suction is working. Moving onto phase three: removal. You can’t just pull the tab and expect it to come out like a tampon. You need to break the suction (squeeze the cup) to get it out.

If you haven’t broken the seal, you will know. Because it will quite literally feel like you’re pulling your uterus out with it. Not ideal.

Once you’ve mastered that maneuver you’re almost in the clear, but we must be mindful that you’re handling a cup of liquid so handle with care (so do this in the shower) and not over your partner’s new bath mat (yeah, that happened). Rinse and repeat. 

I know, that was graphic. But don’t be off-put by this. I still use my menstrual cup every month. It’s taught me so much about my body and I love that.

The reality is that period cups aren’t as easy peasy as everyone says and that’s okay. It’s important that we speak about them realistically. It’s important that we speak about our bodies realistically. I love the happy pink period cup pictures because they encourage people with periods to make the switch. 

But let’s be careful: we shouldn’t try and glamorize it as the effortless golden solution to the world’s period problems.

How many of you have bought a cup tried it out and never bothered again? Maybe this kind of period positivity is more harmful than helpful?

If this grossed you out, ask yourself: why? Our periods are part of our bodies, we need to stop pretending like they’re not. So try it out, work the steps – but bring out your badass panties, cause that pretty pink period cup is tougher than she looks. 

Gender Inequality

The orgasm gap is real, and boycotting Durex won’t bridge it

The year is 2019; all movies are franchises, the planet is a dumpster fire, and brands that are the flag-bearers of capitalism are profiting off being woke. Durex is the latest in a long list of brands to attempt this. It recently released a statement on how nearly 70% of women in India never get to finish.

Now, we’re not as naive as to believe brands actually have the greater good in mind. However, Durex does bring up an important point surrounding the orgasm gap between men and women. Yet some men have felt that this tweet is enough of a reason to boycott Durex. It seems as though the patriarchy has once again lost its collective mind.

On the face of it, the anger at Durex seems to stem from their mostly male audience feeling personally attacked. Most ads tend to stroke the male ego. Instead, Durex is neither catering to the male ego nor to the male gaze. The company has a documented history of not going with ads that objectify women to sell condoms. Further, a brand that primarily centers on the pleasure experienced by men is now also talking about that of women. Focusing on female pleasure? Calling men out on their bullshit? Some men feel this is cause for a boycott.

In the midst of this ironic display of toxic masculinity, what is missing is the truth that the orgasm gap is real – and it’s not just in India. That is the point Durex is trying to make.

A study conducted across the US revealed that only 65% of straight women orgasm during sex. This is far behind straight men, who stand tall at 95%. It is also far behind the LGBTQ community. Gay men are 89% likely and lesbian women are 86% likely to orgasm.

Similar statistics have been reported in Australia. It’s important to note that these are countries where sex is not a taboo and women feel more comfortable talking about it. Safe to say, women are worse off in some of the more conservative parts of the world. Places where even the mention of sex education would cause riots and talk about female pleasure could earn you a trip to the house of worship of your family’s choice.

While we have enough research to determine that the orgasm gap exists, it is not nearly enough to determine the extent of its prevalence worldwide. We also do not yet have enough information regarding what causes this gap and how we may overcome it.

Research into the female body – including female pleasure – has consistently been sidelined, unlike what we see for the male body and its pleasure. Dr. Cindy Meston from the University of Texas at Austin believes it is also hard to get funding because the female orgasm is not considered a “significant enough social problem”. After all, cishet sex begins and ends with male pleasure. It is visible throughout the activity and is also visible in its culmination. Women do not have this luxury. Their pleasure seems complicated for various reasons, and many of them have not yet been identified. This is mainly because the vagina is an organ we still understand poorly at best.

Instead of men acknowledging this gap staring us in the face, Durex is facing a boycott for bringing it up.

The patriarchy is strong, and it still rules over us. Heterosexuality rules over us. Masculinity rules over us. And those that rule over us seem uncomfortable with any overt signs of dismantling the status quo. Durex is asking men in India to unlearn decades of believing that women do not enjoy or want sex. It’s these same lessons that judge a woman who enjoys sex as being promiscuous.

If we want to change how we understand female pleasure, then we need sex education (for both men and women,) and research. The more we talk about female pleasure, the less taboo it becomes and the more funding it receives. None of this is possible in a world where toxic displays of masculinity attempt to squelch any attempts at starting important conversations about women.

We need safe spaces where women actually feel comfortable discussing their bodies without shame. For this to be a reality one day, this toxicity and vitriol have to be channeled out for good. #BoycottDurex is a misdirection in anger; we should be angry at those who attempt to derail these important conversations before they truly begin. For all we know, opening up a conversation about female pleasure might be what it takes to bridge the orgasm gap. Boycotting Durex certainly won’t.