(Cross-posted with permission from feimineach)

I’ve just finished watching True Detective. I started watching it, twice, but left it both times because of the ways in which violence against women, and women characters, were being portrayed.* In terms of the violence, I could see (I think) that they were trying to offer a disturbing portrayal of the often extreme misogyny-based violence that women suffer. I got that. I could also see that they were, perhaps, offering a critical commentary on a gendered world order which allows that violence to happen. That’s a possibility.

This critique becomes less convincing, though, when we examine the dismissive treatment of the main female characters on the show. Maggie, Marty’s long-suffering wife, whose only agentic act during eight episodes (to sleep with Rust) was, first, explained away as a play to destroy her marriage and, second, reduced to a conversation between Rust and Marty about their friendship. In other words, Maggie’s actions was all about them.

Lisa, Marty’s once affair, was naked for the most part (Marty, on the other hand, was fully clothed) and reduced to a way to explore Marty’s moral compass and, then, some of the stresses on his relationship with Rust. Her last scene in the series – where she literally caused a scene by being a hysterical, screaming woman – was difficult to watch. The agency that she had showed earlier in leaving Marty was removed when she was portrayed as an out-of-control haranguer. Indeed, the violence that Marty had perpetrated on both her and her date was forgotten as it became all about Marty again and his inner struggle.

Two other female characters stand out. First, there is Beth, the young woman with whom Marty has an affair later on. Beth and Marty first met when he and Rust visited a camp that was being used to sell under-age sex to men (a rape camp, in other words). Later on, Marty visits the shop in which Beth now works and they start an affair. Marty (or should I say, the writers) have such little care for the violence that this young woman had endured – testament I’m sure to their view of such violence in general – that she is nothing more but the next naked pawn in Marty’s story. Incidentally, when Marty is later violent towards Maggie when they fight about Beth (and her one infidelity, Rust, see above), it is never mentioned again. It is forgiveable in the story because he was scattered and confused and lost and messy back then and together and “better” now. So that’s OK then. Second, the unnamed half-sister of Errol Childress, who he is abusing, is last seen crouched down and crying when she hears the police sirens. She defended and adored her abuser to the last. Purpose served.

Finally, all of the young children – mostly girls, I gather – who were at the centre of the criminal case throughout the series were secondary in the finale when it became all about Rust and Marty’s futures and their renewed and strengthened friendship. Indeed, with the intensity of the finale, we barely had time to give them a second thought.

So, what does all of this mean? First, it means that women, and violence against women, are nothing more than plot points to drive a story about men forward. Second, the women who are subject to this portrayal are not given any of their own, meaningful agency because to do so would distract from the central story of male struggle and identity. Third, in using the women in the show as drivers for a story about the two men, they are reduced to insignificance (note that as Marty and Rust’s stories are developed, the women in their lives get less and less screen time) and the violence that they endured is nullified because it becomes a secondary, instrumental consideration for the viewer. There is simply too much else going on to give these women and that violence much thought.

The effects of these portrayals should not be underestimated – they make violence against women expected, unimportant, frequent, dramatic (even titillating) and inevitable. This piece IN THE NEW STATESMAN discusses the normalisation of violence against women on TV. The author – Doon Mackichan – remarks:

“I would argue that TV and film are exacerbating this issue with increasingly hardcore elements. Once seen, you can’t unsee it, and like abuse, it’s insidious, attacking women’s confidence and self-esteem. […] Mainstream TV drama centres on plots involving female bodies in varying degrees of manipulation, often like meat on a slab. It then proceeds to reveal how it happened in gruesome, titillating detail. Whether the woman gets retribution is not the argument – it is the main part, often, of the stories that focus on a woman’s torture, pain, fear and suffering and I am SICK, SICK SICK to the death of it.”

She also asks the question at the start of the piece:

“I wondered about starting this off with me entering with a face covered in made-up bruises. I wondered what your reaction might be. Would this be a more entertaining way of opening my talk. Would it grab your attention right from the beginning? Would you be intrigued? Or repulsed? Or would you be indifferent?”

We need to address the ubiquity of violence against women on our televisions and, at the very least, question the way it is being used to create a drama that then ignores its effects on women (or, indeed, reduces them to a driver for a larger, male-dominated story) and is irresponsible about the impact of dramatised violence on attitudes towards women.

Responsible television and story-telling would not use violence as a plot point and would centre any story that does have violence around women’s experience and that violence that they have suffered. Instead, we’re bombarded by portrayals that ask us to accept that this is a woman’s lot, that it allows men to be MEN, and that we, as women, should really be enjoying watching it.

Feimineach quick-hitting the hell out of everything. occasional thinky blogging. [@grainnemcmahon]


* I returned to it because of the very reasons that I left it – I was sickened by the violence but I had to see what such a popular programme would do with everything that it introduced. In the end, as you can see, I was very, very disappointed.

Lily Allen – Feminist Pop Artist? at Petals fall from my afro like autumn



Feminist. Pop. Artist. Three words I’m still struggling to put together. Yesterday, after nicking my godmother’s Sunday Observer, I was drawn into a Twitter debate all about Lily Allen’s new video: “Its Hard Out Here” (for a bitch). I’ve never had much of an opinion on Lily Allen, I don’t think she’s the worst of the worst or the best of the best, she just sort of is, rather like icing sugar, and soft-ball. Yet seemingly she is now being trended all over the internet as the latest controversy in the feminist pop-star debate. If you haven’t been filled in, basically, Allen’s music video depicts her first on a plastic surgery table, being poked and prodded, singing:

“There’s a glass ceiling to break”


“Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
Have you thought about your butt? Who’s gonna tear it in two?”

It all looks good on paper, we’re thinking wow – some young impressionable women might actually google ‘glass ceiling’ and learn a thing or two about the world. The video later depicts her dancing in front of a sign reading ‘Lily Allen Has a Baggy Pussy’ an obvious critique on Robin Thick’s appalling ’Blurred Lines‘ (directed rather painfully by a woman: Diane Martel – I’m not giving men any more right than women to be objectifying, but one might hope that having ‘all the same bits’ would entitle you to SOME moral questioning of a video discussing the ‘blurred lines’ between saying yes and saying no to sex – or underneath the bullshit: was she raped or not, oh I don’t know, it wasn’t my fault, she was giving me mixed messages…really?)  The criticisms of the video declare that the film is racist, as the majority of dancers in Allen’s music video are black women who ‘twerk’, have their asses slapped, and are obviously not in control of  anything going on. The critique has been headed by Guardian writer Suzanne Moore, who I have to say makes a very good case:

“We are not post-racism any more than we are post-feminism. This is the context into which this video falls: a white middle-class woman playing ringleader to anonymous black women. Maybe there is a knowing wink here I missed. But I haven’t missed years of black women writing about how their bodies are used for white people to write their own scripts all over them”

However I’m inclined to stand somewhere between Moore and feminist performance artist and rock/punk icon Amanda Palmer who told the Independent:

“Say what you like about it or the provocation it caused, but it’s generated enthusiasm [about feminism] that hasn’t existed in my lifetime. A window has opened and if we don’t stick a fucking log through it, it will close.”

To be honest, I agree with both articles, but my biggest problem with the whole thing is the disadvantaged position all of these female artists put themselves in (Amanda Palmer not included) by seeming to have no idea of the semiotic readings of their work. If you put a woman on all fours behind a white woman, yes that racial connotation, if you put a naked woman (who incidentally looks underage) on a giant ball, it reads that she’s riding a testicle, licking the shaft of a “hammer”. You can read into anything – it doesn’t necessarily matter on its own, but you have to know what your selling, otherwise your just a tool for perpetuating sexism, and basically just down right objectification across the board – after all – men are not just their genitalia…but that’s another debate. Beyonce can call herself a feminist all she likes, but as far as I’ve found, there is no song she sings that is not about, for, or because of men in content, and she’s certainly not shaking her ass all over the TV for the benefit of women out there. But I do think Allen could have saved herself on this one, she could have taken a stand, she could have proved to the masses that she not only does she “have a brain” but that she is actually willing to USE it, even if she loses some sales over it. If she had stood by her lyric ”if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood” and come back to the criticism with a loud and clear, “Of course its about race, racism and sexism are the same argument, especially in this industry. Can you not tell, that I’m making a point of how black bodies are objectified? How both white and black bodies are made to look ridiculous by trying to imitate the dancing styles of black cultures, and the hair and make-up of white cultures? How its all such a big farce, a big, ridiculous joke, of which women, white women, black women, curvy women, slim women, women are all the butt? I am subverting these things, making them even more obvious and in your face, because no-one seems to realise that Miley Cyrus is putting sex and teddy bears on a stage and saying it’s okay, and Robin Thicke is basically making pornographic music videos that justify rape, and you know what, I just thought something kind of had to be said.” Ah – if only. Instead what we got was:

“[This video] has nothing to do with race, at all,” Allen responded yesterday in a post titled Privilege, Superiority and Misconceptions. “[It] is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture … The message is clear.”

I really hope that I am not underestimating their ignorance, and that they are, all just a bit consumed with the industry and the media and the un-reality of it all, because if they are completely aware of the sexist, not to mention racial connotations of these images:





and are still happy to tell me it’s not about race – then I’m sorry, but we have a very serious problem. I look at these images and I think, yes Lily, the message is clear, it’s just such a shame, that its not the one your thinking of.


Ama Budge: A performance artist turned freelance writer commenting on gender inequalities, reflecting on my own challenges and experiences as a mixed-race Londoner and most importantly taking note, in awe, of the extraordinary resilience of human kinds striving for be better, and to love.