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FULL ISSUE of JOURNAL: British Mensa's ANDROGYNY - Volume 3 - Issue 3 - October 2019

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This is the FULL ISSUE of British Mensa's ANDROGYNY - Volume 3 - Issue 3 - October 2019 with contributions from various authors. The issue is being archived by myself as the Editor of this journal. Please see guidance notes, disclaimer and copyright information within, for the subsequent distribution of material contained within this journal.
British Mensa’s:
ANDROGYNY
An International Peer Reviewed Publication.
Autumn Volume 3 (Issue 3) October 2019
Editor:
SERGIO A. SILVERIO
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Aims & Scope:
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY is an international, peer-reviewed publication which aims to
provide a vibrant and engaging collection of works in a publication dedicated to intellectual
debate, empirical research, and artistic expression centred on the topic of Androgyny. This
hybrid internationally peer-reviewed ‘journal x magazine’ offers a quarterly designated safe
space to discuss current affairs and topical issues first and foremost on Androgyny, but
reaches out to related contemporary areas such as gender differences, identity & society, and
discussions of equalities & equity. By collating pan-disciplinary works from contributors and
distributing to an international audience, both within and outside of the subscribed members
to this Special Interest Group, this ‘journal-zine’ brings together work from likeminded people
to propagate teaching & learning, generate discussion, and provide a supportive community
of contributors and readers who are passionate about this field. Authors should avoid using
discriminatory language (e.g. sexist; ageist; racist, heterosexist, or otherwise). References
should be in APA 6th Style (2009), and be used sparingly. All contributions will be reviewed
by the Editor and guidance will be offered if revisions are required. The aim is to publish
works, not turn contributions away, but if in doubt about a topic area or an article you wish
to submit, please contact the Editor on: S.A.Silverio@outlook.com
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY publishes three sections per issue:
Editorial & Letters (Joint or Guest Editorials will be considered upon enquiry;
Letters welcomed throughout year, but should be <500 words).
Articles (Empirical Research; Structured Literature Reviews; Theoretical
Debates & Position Papers all should be 1,500-2,500 words. Shorter Essays &
Technical Reports should be 1,000-1,200 words. Articles exceeding these limits
will be considered on an individual basis. Welcomed throughout year.)
The S.A.N.D.R.A. Section (“Special Androgyny News, Dates, Reviews, & Arts”
(not necessarily in that order!) this will be a round-up of recent news &
upcoming events, plus media reviews e.g. book/journal/event/theatre/film etc.,
and interviews & monographs (both usually with interviewee’s/author’s picture),
poetry, art, & creative writing; limited to 800 words).
Copyright:
Copyright of each contribution to this newsletter remains with the acknowledged owner.
Permission to reproduce content in part or as a whole must be obtained from the
acknowledged owner. Contact the SIGSec/Editor in the first instance.
Disclaimer:
This publication acts as the newsletter of the Androgyny Special Interest Group (SIG) of
British Mensa, for controlled circulation within this SIG. Additional circulation is not
authorised unless sanctioned by the SIGSec/Editor. Published, printed and dist ributed by
British Mensa Ltd., St. John's House, St. John's Square, Wolverhampton WV2 4AH. Mensa
as a whole has no opinions. Views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of
the SIGSec/Editor, the officers or the directors of Mensa. Unattributed articles are written by
the Editor, who may edit, defer, or omit contributions for space, legal, or other reasons.
Editorial Notices:
The cover artwork was personally commissioned by Sergio A. Silverio from the
cut paper artist: Vanessa Stone (http://www.vanessastoneartist.com/). In his
capacity as Editor, and for the duration of his Editorship, S.A. Silverio has
permitted the use of this artwork for the cover of British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY.
The image must not be reproduced, replicated, or circulated, in part or as a
whole, under any circumstance.
By submitting to British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY it is automatically assumed
contributors consent to their piece being published, disseminated, and archived
by the Editor (on-line as part of the whole issue of this publication, here:
https://www.researchgate.net/project/British-Mensas-ANDROGYNY).
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Editorial Advisory Board:
Editor:
Sergio A. SILVERIO Psychologist
Research Assistant in Qualitative Analysis of Womens Health, Kings College London
Honorary Research Fellow, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Womens Health, UCL
Honorary Fellow, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool
Women’s Mental Health, Female Psychology, Femininity, Lifecourse Analysis, Gender Identity.
Artist Emerita:
Vanessa STONE Paper Cutting Artist
United Kingdom
Commissioned Designer of the cover artwork for British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY
Peer Reviewers:
Emily ASHBROOK Empowerment Programmes Delivery Officer
Stonewall
Philosophy of Gender, Embodiment, Gender-based Violence, Sex & Sexuality, Queer Identity.
Abby BARRAS ∙ PhD Candidate in the School of Applied Social Science
University of Brighton
The Body & Embodiment, Trans Participation & Representation in Sport, Feminist Theory
Tanya BEETHAM ∙ Researcher at the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection
University of Stirling
Child Mental Health/Wellbeing, Counselling, Psychotherapy, Domestic Abuse, Participatory Methods
Francesca BERNARDI ∙ PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Education
Edge Hill University
Visual & Embodied Self-Representation & Agency, Autism, Identity & Art, Social Change.
Laura BRIDLE ∙ Perinatal Mental Health Midwife within the Maternity Services
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Perinatal Mental Health and Illness, BAME Groups, Asylum Seeking, Refugees.
Callum CAIRNS Assistant Psychologist at the Department of Clinical Psychology
Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust
Male Mental Health, Clinical Psychology, Autism, Learning Difficulties.
Ana CARRETERO-RESINO ∙ PhD Candidate at the Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender
University of Brighton
Trans Health, LGBTI+ Pathologization & Medicalisation, Gender & Sexuality Across Cultures.
Lauren CORELLI Undergraduate at the Department of Educational Studies
Goldsmiths University of London
Inclusive Spaces for Non-Binary Identities, Femaleness, LGBT+ Education, Gender & Sports.
Claire FEELEY Midwife, Researcher, & PhD Candidate at the School of Community and Midwifery
University of Central Lancashire
Women’s Health, Midwifery, Politicisation of the Body, Reproductive Power, Labour.
Rosa FONG Filmmaker and Senior Lecturer in Film & Television at the Department of Media
Edge Hill University
Race & Gender, Trans Identities, Gender Fluidity, The Body as Imagined Geography.
Bola GRACE Honorary Fellow at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health
University College London
Population and Reproductive Health, Epidemiology, Men and Women’s Health, Women in Power.
Anasztazia GUBIJEV ∙ Research Associate at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health
University College London
Sexuality & Reproductive Health, Body Image & Diets, Older Parenthood, Culturally Gendered Toys.
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Ronja JANSZ Documentary Filmmaker and Anthropology Graduate Student
University of Amsterdam
Anthropology of Gender, Gender Identity, Sex & Sexuality, LGBT+ Rights.
Anica KARLIĆ PhD Candidate at the Department of Austrian and European Private Law
Paris-Lodron-Universität Salzburg
Gender & Law Policy, Gender and The Law, Women in Law.
Thula U. KOOPS RA at the Institute for Sex Research, Sexual Medicine, & Forensic Psychiatry
University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf
Sexuality, Female Sexual Disorders, Embodiment, Sexuality & Digital Media, Inter-Cultural Contexts.
Alison MACKIEWICZ Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Department of Psychology
Aberystwyth University
Gender Spectrum, Constructions of Gender, Body Image, Alcohol & Drug Use, Health & Sex.
Gillian McKAY 1+3 PhD Candidate at the School of Politics and International Studies
University of Leeds
Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Migration, Global Justice, Refugees.
Grace PERRY Qualitative Research Analyst at the Division of Epidemiology
The University of Utah
(Trans)gender Equity, Queer Justice, Qualitative Methods, Participatory Action Research.
Hannah RAYMENT-JONES ∙ NIHR Doctoral Fellow, Department of Women & Childrens Health
King’s College London
Maternal Health Inequalities, Seldom-Heard Groups, Stigma, Discrimination & Power in Healthcare.
Shereen H. SHAW ∙ Lecturer in Further Education and Training at the Faculty of Education
Edge Hill University
Existential Philosophy, Narrative & Literature, Gender Identity, Feminism, Body Image, The Self.
Charlie I.S. SMITH ∙ English and American Literature Graduate from the School of English
University of Kent
Gender & Literature, Sex & Sexuality, Sexual Abuse, Body Image, Media, & Health.
Sonia SOANS Assistant Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies
India
Gender & Sexuality, Mental illness, Nationalism, Cinema & Popular Culture.
Shamini SRISKANDARAJAH ∙ Integrative Psychotherapist and Bereavement Counsellor
United Kingdom
Counselling & Psychotherapy, Intersectionality, Eating Disorders, Bereavement & Loss.
Jasmin H. STEVENSON Senior Research Officer and Participation Lead
CAMHS
Sexuality, Sexual Behaviour & Identity; Gender Identity, Harmful Sexual Behaviours, Stigma.
Emma TURLEY ∙ Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Manchester Metropolitan University
Gender Inequalities, Sexualities, LGBTQ+ Psychology, Feminism & Social Media.
Catherine WILKINSON Senior Lecturer in Education at the School of Education
Liverpool John Moores University
Social & Cultural Geography, Body Image, Identity, Fashion & Dress.
Samantha WILKINSON ∙ Senior Lecturer at the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies
Manchester Metropolitan University
Social & Cultural Geography, Children and Young People, Care, Identity, Education.
Rachael WRITER-DAVIES Artist & Poet
United Kingdom
The Body, Sex and Sexuality, Body Image Issues and the Creative Arts.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 1 -
Editorial:
Gendering the lens: How? Why? And is it
important?
Sergio A. Silverio
We live in an inherently gendered world. And whether
people like it or not, the binaries of male and female
man and woman masculine and feminine, have long
lost their utility, and quite frankly, also their
meaning. The issue, of course, is that the dominant
societal discourses take longer to dismantle than
scientific evidence comes to light, and much longer
than the reality of one’s lived experience is evident of
‘difference’ from the so-called societal norms.
THE editorial for this issue can be
seen as a play on words due to this
issue being on media, but it is also
a form of practice which those
working in the field of gender
studies (or related areas) will or
certainly should understand well.
To gender the lens, is to critically
evaluate your viewpoint with regard
to gender. It is to disentangle the
performance from the context and
to analyse how gender is being
performed and where it is being
used both organically and
fallaciously. When you analytically
challenge gender and its various
constructs, to unearth where power
lies and is (ab)used against certain
groups who differ by gender this is
gendering the lens. Where you
appreciate the distinction between
gender, sex, and sexuality, this is
also where the lens has been
gendered.
Gendering the lens is difficult
to explain qualitatively, and
impossible to quantify, but the act
of lensing one’s analysis with regard
to gender should become a familiar
to researchers in the field, and will
become innate to those who employ
a gendered lens regularly.
Though the majority of my
research revolves around women’s
mental health though lifecourse
transitions (and usually within
health care and health service
spaces), I occasionally have the
opportunity to collaborate with
more critical Psychology colleagues.
In these collaborations, a gendered
lens becomes more important, but I
am often asked: How do we do it?
My advice is to read (from) three
main texts (all in this issue’s
reading list): The Lenses of Gender
by Sandra Lipsitz Bem; Gender
Trouble by Judith Butler; and the
seminal paper introducing the ‘Male
Gaze’: Visual Pleasure and Narrative
Cinema by Laura Mulvey. From
Bem we begin to understand the
tacit uniformity of gendered
discourses and how the socio-
political contexts have long
oppressed natural expression of
gendered identity, and therefore
contextualises the lens through
which we are looking. Likewise,
Butler provides an explanation for
what we witness though the lens
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how gender is performative,
constructed, dis- and re-assembled
to suit and conform to, but also
sometimes to oppose the hegemonic
norms. And finally, Mulvey
provides the framework through
which we can conduct our analyses,
by urging us to take responsibility
for our own position in what we
witness and therefore reflect
critically on how we appraise the
object of our gaze.
Together, these three
scholars have enabled myself and
colleagues to provide robust and
thoughtful critique to our work,
where without, it would have been
much weaker. More importantly
perhaps, the reason for analysing in
this is to ensure there is a critical
perspective offered in opposition to
the hegemonic and phallogocentric
norms we see taken for granted in
most mainstream research. I
believe what we see in this issue is
a clear demonstration of criticality
in the field of gender, sport, and the
media and I hope, as they did for
me, these articles challenge your
assumptions on gender and its
influence on sport, and how that is
framed within a media-driven
world.
I took the decision very early
on as Editor that one issue should
be dedicated to media
representations of gender, and as
time passed, also thought it
important to look at the intersection
between media and sport where
possible. I am glad I themed this
issue accordingly, and as you will
see this is one of the healthiest
issues we have yet published, with
five full articles covering many more
pages than we have ever printed in
one issue before.
My one regret perhaps, is that
I did not split the issue into two,
with one focusing purely on sport
and gender, and the other on media
and gender. Hindsight is, of course,
a wonderful thing, but I am very
proud to release this issue which I
think highlights some rather
interesting and important topics
and certainly some areas of
research which I was previously
unaware.
To commence this issue, we
have new author Abby Barras with
a position paper deconstructing
‘mundane transphobia’ in the
recent BBC1 documentary which
followed former professional tennis
player Martina Navratilova and five
trans women she interviewed with
regard to trans women in sport. As
someone whose sporting interests
are confined to a few rounds of
tennis each Summer, I am happy to
admit this was completely new
information for me. What Barras
does, is both inform, and critique
sensitively addressing both sides of
the debate, but whilst guiding the
reader through a very important
debate. It is not only a fascinating
read, but it is a showcase of true
gendered criticality and one from
which many could learn about the
gendered lens. The reviewers of this
article were as I was so taken
with the article, we have invited
Abby to join us on our Editorial
Advisory Board, which further
bolsters our expertise in trans
research.
Next up, I have once again
turned my hand to an article, were
I attempt to unpick the Larry
Nassar case presided over by Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina. My sentiment
is not such that it was a surprising
trial in the legal sense (the evidence
was very much stacked against
Nassar), but rather that Judge
Aquilina offered a deep-seated
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 3 -
psychological exchange to the
victim-survivors which was
unprecedented.
I am quickly followed by
Arshia Chatterjee and Sonia Soans
who discuss Mary Kom, the female
Indian Boxer, who has faced both
gendered and racialised
stigmatisation despite being a
multi-award-winning professional
Boxer. In their appraisal of the
biographic film about Kom,
Chatterjee and Soans discuss at
length the fractured identity
portrayed during the film, as well as
what the release of the film meant
for women, for Boxers, and for
Indians. Evident in their critique is
a need to further challenge the
hegemonic norms, though they are
not confined simply to sex and
gender in this context, but rather
race, class, and occupational role.
The Chatterjee and Soans
paper also very nicely knits together
the issue’s two themes of sport and
media by discussing a film about a
sportsperson. Following on from
this bridge is new contributor Zoha
Aamir who discusses the problem of
consent, objectification, and
regressive role models in Bollywood
songs. This is a mesmerising
analysis of a whole genre of music
attached to films, which certainly
in the Euro-Western context are
always viewed as positive and
celebratory. The uncovering of this
more sinister side to Bollywood
music is an important contribution
to the issue and I would implore you
to read the article and reflect on it
with the same criticality with which
it was written.
This issue closes with a
further article from Shamini
Sriskandarajah who presents a
beautifully written visual
ethnography of film criticism whilst
making a bid for greater diversity in
film and on screen. This article
challenges the content we view as
the norm in film and invites readers
to contest mainstream visual media
as often being whitewashed, sexist,
and at times even unnecessarily
graphic; which combined can offer
little by way of role models on which
viewers can base their own
behaviours. Those who love films,
should find this an enlightening
read.
Androgyny is not an easy
journal to curate. Its diversity and
rapid expansion from an embryonic
periodical to a formalised journal
has posed challenges, but
nonetheless there is now a
substantial body of work emerging
and advancing the vision of the
journal. I hope both contributors
and readers feel this issue was a
worthy addition to the publication
strategy, and I would like, above
anything else, that at the very least,
this set of articles sets you thinking
more critically about the content we
consume in sport, film, and the
news. With a better grasp on how
gender is being framed and how
individuals are subject to, at times,
cruel framing and presentation in
the media, we can collectively begin
to discuss the injustices we witness,
and campaign for better
representations of gender and
individuals on all platforms, in all
areas, and across the globe.
Sergio A. Silverio
S.A.Silverio@outlook.com
Twitter: @Silverio_SA_
Editor British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY
Please cite as: Silverio, S.A. (2019).
Gendering the lens: How? Why? And is it
important? [Editorial] British Mensa’s:
ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 1-3.
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Editorial Selected and Suggested Readings:
Below is a list of selected and suggested articles, books, films, and more from the
Editorial Advisory Board, which relate to this issues theme. They may be of interest
to readers and contributors alike, and should you engage with them, we would
encourage you to share your thoughts using one of the ways to contribute to the journal.
Bem, S.L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. Yale
University Press: New Haven, United States of America.
Brandt, M. & Carstens, A. (2005). The discourse of the male gaze: A critical analysis of the
feature section ‘The beauty of sport’ in SA Sports Illustrated. Southern African
Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 23(3), 233-243.
Brook, H. (2015). Bros before Ho(mo)s: Hollywood Bromance and the Limits of Heterodoxy.
Men and Masculinities. 18. (2). pp. 249.
Butler, D. (2013). Not a job for ‘girly-girls’: Horseracing, gender and work identities. Sport in
Society, 16(10), 13091325.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge: London.
Clegg, H., Owton, H., & Allen-Collinson. J. (2019) Attracting and retaining boys in ballet.
Journal of Dance Education.
Gamman, L. & Marshment, M. (1989). The female gaze: Women as viewers of popular culture.
The Real Comet Press: Seattle, United States of America.
Gira Grant, M. (2014). Playing the whore: The work of sex work. Verso: London, United
Kingdom.
Jacobsson, E.-M. (1999). “A female gaze?” Stockholm, Sweden: Centre for User Oriented IT
Design, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Numerical Analysis and Computing
Science.
King, R. (2015). A regiment of monstrous women: Female horror archetypes and life history
theory. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 9(3), 170185.
Locke, J. L. (2011). Duels and duets. Why do men and women talk so differently? Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Magrath, R. (2016). Inclusive masculinities in contemporary football: Men in the beautiful game.
London, UK: Routledge
Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18.
Nally, C. & Smith, A. (2015). Twenty-first century feminism: Forming and performing femininity.
Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, United Kingdom.
Pink, A. (1997). Women and bullfighting: Gender, sex and the consumption of tradition. Berg:
Oxford, United Kingdom.
Ringrose, J., & Harvey, L. (2015). Boobs, back-off, six packs and bits: Mediated body parts,
gendered reward, and sexual shame in teens’ sexting images. Continuum: Journal of
Media & Cultural Studies, 29(2), 205217.
Teekah, A., Scholz, E.J., Friedman, M., & OReilly, A. (2015). This is what a feminist slut looks
like: Perspectives on the SlutWalk movement. Demeter Press: Bradford, Canada.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 5 -
Articles Position Paper:
We just want to be listened to.”: Mundane
Transphobia in BBC1’s ‘The Trans Women Athlete
Dispute with Martina Navratilova’.
Abby Barras
This position paper explores the mundane transphobia evident in the
BBC1 documentary ‘The Trans Women Athlete Dispute with Martina
Navratilova’, which aired on the 26th June 2019. Using rhetorical
analysis, it closely examines the language utilised by Martina when she
interviews five individuals Naomi Reid, Alison Perkins, Joanna Harper,
Kristina Harrison, and Charlie Martin about their experiences of
participating in sport as trans women. This piece draws on a number of
examples to illustrate how mundane transphobia occurs interactionally
in conversations between trans and cisgender people. It argues that
whilst Martina at times renders herself as advocating for the inclusion
of trans women in elite sport, she instead engages with mundane
transphobia, that is, ‘the everyday ways in which non-trans people enact
marginalisation towards transgender people despite claims to
inclusivity’ (Riggs, 2016, p.4).
Introduction:
ON the 26th of June 2019,
BBC1 aired the programme The
Trans Women Athlete Dispute with
Martina Navratilova.’ Billed as a
one-off documentary special, the
programme followed Martina as
she, in her own words during the
opening minutes of the programme,
‘set out to open up the debate and
answer some of her own questions
by meeting a range of athletes, trans
women and scientists.’ The
programme was prompted by
events which had taken place on
social media and in the UK press
earlier in 2019, where Martina had
called for an open debate about
transgender women athletes
competing in elite women’s sports.
Martina expressed that her wish for
open debate consequently sparked,
in her own words in the
programme’s introduction, ‘a
heated and passionate argument,
creating global news headlines.’
Martina Navratilova is a
Czechoslovak-born, American,
former professional tennis player
and coach and is considered by
many to be one of the greatest
female tennis players of all time,
having won eighteen Gland Slam
titles and Wimbledon a record nine
times. She is one of sport’s first
openly gay figures, coming out in
1981 and is a vocal advocate for
LGBT equal rights and a supporter
of many charities benefiting the
LGBT community. Previously in
both the UK press and on her
personal Twitter account, Martina
has stated that she believes that
trans women have no place in elite
sport, saying that ‘it’s insane and
it’s cheating’ (The Sunday Times,
February 17th 2019). As a result of
Martina’s views, she was dropped
by New York-based Athlete Ally,
which supports LGBT sportspeople,
from their advisory board and as an
ambassador.
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Adverts for this documentary on
social media implied that Martina’s
thinking had evolved, and the
possibility of Martina changing her
mind divided the Twitter
community prior to the
documentary airing. Whilst a
number of prominent activists
including Owl Fisher hoped she
had, many more, including World
Champion cyclist Dr Rachel
McKinnon, advised caution,
arguing that the documentary was
irresponsible journalism and for
Martina to profit from her
transphobia was an insult to those
in the community she had offended.
But what about the people living
behind the rhetoric? The one-hour
documentary covers a lot of ground,
including interviews with Trans
Media Watch founder Helen
Belcher, sociologist Professor Ellis
Cashmore, sports inclusion legal
expert Dr. Seema Patel, and sports
scientists from Loughborough
University. It is impossible to
consider all of their views here, and
therefore this paper instead aims to
give close consideration to whom I
consider the documentary’s most
important contributors, the trans
women who participated: Naomi
Reid, Alison Perkins, Joanna
Harper, Kristina Harrison, and
Charlie Martin.
Despite positioning itself as a
vehicle for Martina’s self-
exploration in which she wants to
evolve her thinking about the
inclusion of trans women in sport, I
argue that this documentary is in
fact an example of what Riggs
(2017, p.159) calls ‘mundane
transphobia.’ That is, the ‘banal,
indeed routine ways in which
normative assumptions are made
that make heterosexism and
transphobia both speakable and
difficult to challenge.’ Mundane
transphobia can be used to
describe how gender normative
accounts of embodiment are still
forcibly written upon the bodies of
many groups of people, albeit often
in ordinary ways, and how this is
perhaps most evident in the lives of
trans people. In this way, mundane
transphobia is a simple and
effective way to reinforce gender
stereotypes and justifies
maintaining the status quo of
questioning trans women’s
participation in sport.
Mundane Transphobia:
The documentary begins with
Martina saying that she
acknowledges that there are people
on both sides of the debate, and she
is keen to see that women’s sports
remain fair and inclusive. Martina
positions herself as both an LGBT
ally, having come out as gay early in
her tennis career, and victim of her
own unintentional transphobia,
and highlights being dropped by
Athlete Ally for her transphobic
comments as evidence of this.
Discussions about trans athletes in
sport most frequently focus on
trans women and the question of
immutable competitive advantage,
and this documentary is no
different. The documentary does
not consider trans men, and its
failure to acknowledge their
presence in sport renders them
invisible and implies that they are
insignificant.
In addition, this lack of
consideration dismisses the reality
of their successes, of which there
are many examples, including
Chris Mosier, a US elite level
triathlete, and professional boxer
Patricio Manuel. Mosier made Team
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 7 -
USA in 2015 and was placed third
in his age group in sprint triathlon
at the Draft Legal Triathlon World
Championship Qualifier race in
2016. In the same year Mosier
earned All-American honours in
duathlon and in 2019 he made his
sixth Team USA appearance.
Manuel is the first transgender
boxer in the history of the United
States to have a professional fight,
and in December 2018 Manuel
defeated Mexican super-
featherweight Hugo Aguilarand in
California. It could be argued that
these successes undermine an
assumption that women are
inherently weaker than men, and
that trans men can never be as good
as cisgender men in sport, when the
achievements of professionals such
as Mosier and Manuel offer clear
examples of them performing
better. Martina’s first example of
mundane transphobia in the
documentary comes when she
explains how she will not be using
the term ‘cis’, saying:
‘I certainly do not want to offend
anybody, somebody’s not going to
be happy, but what I like for the
sake of simplicity, cis is just woman,
or man, and transgender are trans
men or women.’
Being cisgender means simply
identifying as the gender you were
assigned at birth. Using cisgender
as a term is not a slur, nor does it
imply a gender identity more valid
or natural than trans. Most
importantly, it does not mean that
the differences between trans
women and cis women are being
erased; rather, it clarifies that both
terms simply refer to women in
different ways. As Pearce, Steinberg
and Moon (2019, p.7) note, terms
such as cis and even non-binary
help us to account for relations of
relative power and (in)equality
between those who have a
particular range of ‘trans’
experiences and those who do not.
By deliberately not using the
term ‘cis,’ Martina exercises her
gender normative privilege, flexing
her desire to dominate and control
the language she perceives to be
appropriate in this discussion. As
Owl Fisher (The Guardian, 2019)
noted “her refusal to countenance
using cisgender to help distinguish
between trans and non-trans
athletes, only confused matters,
creating a dichotomy between
‘women and girls’ and trans
women.’” Martina is willing to listen
about the lived experiences of trans
people in order to open up the
debate, but only in the language
that is familiar and comfortable for
her, a tactic frequently employed by
those in positions of power, as
argued by many Black feminist
theorists (Hill-Collins, 1990; Hooks,
1987). Martina is engaging with
mundane transphobia when she
refuses to use the term ‘cisgender’,
marginalising and ignoring the
diversity of trans people’s lives,
which operates ‘not only to
perpetuate discrimination against
trans people…it renders trans
people unintelligible, or at best
intelligible in particular narrow
ways’ (Riggs, 2014, p.169). This
has the effect of reinforcing her own
linguistic gender hierarchy whilst at
the same time discriminating
against trans people’s lived
experience and denying them
agency.
The People Behind the Rhetoric:
Naomi Reid
In Riggs (2017) piece on
mundane transphobia, he explores
- 8 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
how Oprah Winfrey’s interview with
Thomas Beatie (who at the time
identified as a trans man and was
pregnant), marginalised Beatie’s
own account of his embodiment by
first framing his masculinity
through a narrative of his past.
Winfrey not only dead-named
Beatie but fixated on his ‘small
penis’ (Riggs, 2014, p. 18) in order
to perpetuate her belief that Beatie
may identify as male, but is lacking
masculinity. A similar
‘autobiography on demand’
narrative can be seen when Martina
meets the first three interviewees
Naomi Reid, Alison Perkins and
Joanna Harper who all identify
as trans women. Martina explains
that she wants to talk to individual
trans sports women to ask their
opinion of participating in sport.
Naomi Reid is a club
footballer in the UK. On meeting
Naomi in the documentary, the very
first thing we learn from Martina’s
voice over is that she ‘has not had
reassignment surgery, nor started
any hormone treatment yet, but she
identifies as a woman.’ There is no
reason why this very personal
information about Naomi is
disclosed, and such a personal
disclosure generates in the viewer’s
mind an uncoupling of Naomi’s
body from her identity. The
pathologizing of trans people’s
bodies in the media and wider
discourses is a common trope
(Halberstam, 2018), often fixating
on physical appearance and
genitals for a sensationalist result,
as experienced by Thomas Beatie
on the Oprah Winfrey Show (Riggs,
2014). There is also the expectation
that Naomi will offer up her
autobiography to the audience on
demand, to prove her trans
existence. Naomi speaks openly
about her childhood experiences
and feelings about her gender, and
how she:
‘didn’t really want to play men’s
football still, because I see myself as
a woman…as a trans woman I want
to compete in women’s sports,
because I’m a woman. I mean, I
keep saying ‘as a trans woman’ but
that’s purely for this discussion.’
We are reminded of how
transphobia ‘works as a rebuttal
system, one that, in demanding
trans people provide evidence of
their existence, and is experienced
as a hammering, a constant
chipping away at trans existence’
(Ahmed, 2016, p. 22).
The language we hear in this
documentary is significant
because, like gender, it forms ‘a
foundation for social order and
shapes expectations for interaction’
(Pearce, Gupta and Moon, 2019, p.
105). Drawing on Derrida’s (1988)
theory of deconstruction and the
relationship between text and
meaning, Martina’s linguistic
intentions may sound trans-
inclusive to the viewer, but her
iteration implies the opposite.
Martina’s casual references to
Naomi’s stage of transition draws
the viewer immediately towards
imagining Naomi’s body in a
completely unnecessary way. Even
when Naomi explains that ‘if you
either created a separate gender
category or tried to say you have to
compete as a man, that’s quite
degrading and humiliating,’ Martina
is unable to unite her binary
thinking. ‘I see’, she says, ‘we’re all
coming from it from the same
position trans women want it to be
fair, women and girls want it to be
fair, but we are arriving at different
conclusions.’ This is an example of
how mundane transphobia occurs
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 9 -
in a commonplace interaction
between a cisgender and
transgender individual, whereby
the experiences and needs of the
transgender individual are
marginalised, and forcibly placed
into a normative and derisive
context.
Naomi has expressed how
playing on a separate trans-only
team would be ‘degrading’, but
Martina’s concluding concern is
that in the future trans women
athletes who have not had surgery
or hormone treatment could
compete against women based
simply on how they identify.
Martina assures us in the
documentary that she is not
suggesting for a moment that all
trans women are transitioning in
order to cheat, and that the vast
majority are looking for a fair
solution, but she uses ‘fair’ and
‘cheating’ interchangeably. The
subtle conflation of these words
traps trans women in a never-
ending loop, in which they are
‘unable to fit into accepted notions of
how sport should be organised’
(Semerjian, 2019, p.148). The
mundane transphobia evident here
is Martina’s inability to accept
Naomi as ‘a proper member of the
gender category to which someone
claims to belong’ (Riggs, 2016, p.5),
and who must therefore be
cheating.
The notion of ‘fair play’ is one
of the fundamental questions in
this discussion. The difficulty of
establishing fair and equitable
policies for all athletes who occupy
a minority position, and not just
trans athletes, has been widely
explored. According to Sheridan
(2003, p.163):
‘the notion of “fair play” is generally
understood to be important in sport
and in life yet it is not clear what
precisely it refers to, why it is
valued, what ethical principles, if
any, it is grounded upon and what
kinds of good it involves.’
What has been determined
overall is that there is no
universally agreed upon definition
that can place all humans into the
traditional binary. Even so, the
question of decency and fairness in
sport continues to be a divisive
topic when extended to include
trans women, whose agency and
control of their own bodies is
continuously denied (Elling-
Machartzki, 2015). Trans people
are continually drawn into what
Riggs (2017, p.157) has termed ‘a
logic of bodily evidence’, whereby
mundane transphobia operates to
place the onus on trans people ‘to
account for their location within a
particular category to which they are
claiming membership’ (Riggs, 2014,
p.8).
Alison Perkins
The next interview is with
Alison Perkins, who is the first ever
trans member of the Professional
Golf Association. Like Naomi we
learn early on that Alison has not
undergone any medical transition
yet and is ‘as conflicted’ as Martina
about how she can compete fairly.
As the interview unfolds, Alison
explains that she is ‘trying to
explore how to be me, how to be
accepted, how to do stuff that I
enjoy.’ Like Naomi, Alison discloses
her history and explains how her
prior attempts to fit societal norms
such as marriage left her feeling
depressed, which Martina appears
to genuinely sympathise with.
Alison asks, ‘if I am going to compete
again, where am I going to compete,
is it going to be fair?’ Like many
- 10 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
trans people in sport, Alison is both
conscious of and concerned about
the notion of fairness, reflecting the
reality that this is not something
exclusive to cisgender people.
The notion of fairness and
equality is a shared reality for all
women in sport, but rather than
attempt to unite over these shared
experiences of fairness and offer
solidarity, Martina remains on her
side of the argument, preferring to
rely on science and physiology to
defend her position. For Martina,
Alison can never escape her male
past, and she ascribes gender
normative stereotypes to body
parts. When Martina asks Alison
where the line of transition is for
her (i.e., where she should be able
to compete), she wants to know if it
‘includes chemicals, taking hormone
treatment, because if you don’t, your
muscles are still male.’ Martina
views bodies as only male or female
which can only act in masculine or
feminine gendered manners (Klein
et al., 2018). Only the ‘right’ kind of
body is permitted to participate
(Wellard, 2009) and the gender
discrimination Alison faces is
considered acceptable because she
is perceived by Martina to not
possess this ‘right’ kind of body.
Sport is at its most fundamental a
highly ritualised spectacle of the
body, where gender-conforming
individuals (feminine females and
masculine males) are privileged
while gender non-conforming
people face scrutiny and prejudice.
Alison is aware of these
discriminations, and she knows
that to compete on the men’s
circuit, which she is allowed to do,
would be difficult for her anxiety
because she would visually be ‘the
only female in that event.’ Like
Thomas Beatie on the Oprah
Winfrey Show, Alison is drawn in to
a ‘logic of bodily evidence’ (Riggs,
2014, p.157) by Martina, from
which she cannot escape.
The interview with Alison
highlights one of the most
important aspects regarding trans
inclusivity in sport and how the
diversity of trans people’s lives are
marginalized in multiple ways and
at multiple locations. Alison
explains how ‘a lot of trans people
will avoid sport because it’s hard. It
might be easy to go and have a
coffee as a transgender person, but
to enter a gym, to go for a swim...’
Despite the introduction of the
Equality Act (2010) and the Gender
Recognition Act (2004), transgender
people still face greater barriers to
participation in everyday sport and
physical exercise than cisgender
people (Caudwell, 2014; Hargie,
Mitchell & Somerville, 2015; Jones
et al., 2017; Tagg, 2012). These
barriers and the differing
participation rates which result
from them are significant,
especially as physical activity has
been found to alleviate mental
health problems and ‘could be
beneficial for at risk populations,
such as transgender people(Jones
et al., 2018, p.99). As Alison
concludes, ‘we just want to be
listened to’, but Martina’s focus on
Alison’s male muscles reinforce the
mundane transphobia which allows
cisgender people to challenge trans
people’s legitimacy to exist in
gendered spaces.
Joanna Harper
We next meet Joanna Harper,
who competed at a high amateur
level as a runner in Canada and is
also a scientist. Like Naomi and
Alison, Joanna always knew she
was ‘different’, sharing she ‘always
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 11 -
knew that I was a girl’. Also like
Naomi and Alison, Joanna has
never competed at an elite level as a
trans woman, but she discusses
her own research (which supports
the IOC’s policy on inclusion for
transgender athletes) and personal
experiences, with Joanna openly
describing the physical changes
medically transitioning for her
brought, such as breast growth and
fatty deposits developing around
her hips. Leaving aside a moment of
gender stereotyping when Joanna
talks about her increased
sensitivity and tendency to cry at
Disney films, Joanna’s
conversation with Martina is the
one most closely aligned with
Martina’s intentions narrated at the
beginning of the documentary, to
set out to open up the debate and
answer some of her own questions
by meeting a range of athletes,
trans women and scientists.
Joanna clearly explains the many
disadvantages trans women
possess in sport. The very physical
attributes Martina assigns as
having innate advantage in
competition large frame, (reduced)
aerobic capacity and muscle mass
become disadvantages for trans
women. To quote Joanna, ‘it’s like a
big car with a small engine
competing with a small car with a
small engine.’
The reality of the
disadvantages in sport many trans
women experience after
transitioning medically are rarely
told in the context of discussions
about their inclusivity in sport.
Martina may have interviewed
Joanna and listened to her research
and experiences - adding what
appeared to be balance to the
documentary - but she quickly
disregards them in the quest for
more research. Reflecting back to
the ‘logic of bodily evidence’ (Riggs,
2017, p.157) which mundane
transphobia employs to interrogate
trans people’s legitimacy in
gendered spaces, Martina is
dismissing Joanna’s expertise,
preferring to seek out further
research. We then meet Kristina
Harrison, who casts a very different
shadow.
Kristina Harrison
The inclusion of Kristina
Harrison in this documentary offers
a change in focus from the
individuals we have already met,
one whose inclusion represents the
strongest example of mundane
transphobia because it is so
carefully disguised. As Riggs notes
(2014, p.169), hidden mundane
transphobia is no less violent, and
can often ‘do more explicit and
intentional forms of harm.’ Kristina’s
own personal transgender history is
not shared in the way it was with
Naomi, Alison, and Joanna, but we
are told that she started playing for
a women’s football team in her 40’s.
The documentary does not disclose
Kristina’s medical history the way it
does Naomi’s and Alison’s, and as
such Kristina is not subjected to the
same mundane transphobia and
‘regulatory apparatus (i.e. Gender)
in order to be recognised’ (Riggs,
2014, p.164), as Naomi and Alison
are when Martina raises the subject
of gender reassignment surgery and
hormones.
What is also hidden from the
viewer, and which the documentary
does not reveal, is that Kristina is
an active supporter of Women’s
Place UK. Established in September
2017 to ensure women’s voices
would be heard in the consultation
on proposals to change the Gender
- 12 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
Recognition Act, WPUK advocates
for what they call in their manifesto,
‘sex-based rights’. Whilst much of
what WPUK advocates for could be
argued as feminist, it is trans-
exclusionary feminism, masked
behind the same justification as
Martina’s, the wish for a level
playing field and fairness in sport.
It is significant that Martina does
not interview Kristina personally,
which could perhaps be interpreted
as a deliberate distancing tactic.
Martina is thus able to mitigate any
accusations of transphobia against
her, which may be levelled at her if
she is seen to display any alliance
or sympathy with Kristina and by
extension, WPUK’s politics.
Whilst caution should always
be taken when assuming another’s
motivation or denying a person’s
agency, Kristina’s language and
position adopt that of the ‘good
trans.’ That is, the co-opting of a
trans voice by a trans-exclusive
movement (i.e., WPUK) to discredit
the transgender movement and
people, create division and reinforce
the position that trans women were
once, and will therefore always be,
men. This co-opting can be
understood as benevolent prejudice
(Werhun & Penner, 2010), the act of
associating positive things with
certain groups such as using a
trans woman to support a trans-
exclusive organisation when in
fact its intentions are to oppress
those groups. As further defined by
Stonewall (the UK LGBT rights
charity), benevolent prejudice
manifests itself as expressions of
positive views about minority
groups that are not intended to
demonstrate less positive attitudes
towards them, but which may still
produce negative consequences.
The result is a thinly disguised act
of gatekeeping whereby Kristina is
permitted to be ‘the good trans
woman’, complicit with the views of
trans-exclusive organisations and
undermining the rights of trans
women in sport.
This is evident in Kristina’s
use of language. Whilst Kristina
identifies as a trans woman, she
does not think ‘males have any
right, even when they have surgery
or have hormones, I don’t think we
have the right to tell women who
should access their sports.’ In this
sentence, by using ‘we’ she
indicates that she may be trans, but
she views herself as male still,
indicating internalised
transphobia, described by
Tannehill (2019, p.99) as being
when a transgender individual
‘applies negative messages about
transgender people in general to
themselves.’ Kristina draws the
audience’s attention to the reality
that women and girls are
underrepresented in sport, in terms
of media coverage, opportunities
and endorsements. The continued
side-lining of women’s sport in
favour of men’s is unquestionably
an issue, but trans women are not
to blame for this. By Kristina’s
definition, women’s sports should
exclude men; that is, they should
exclude trans women if women’s
sport is going to be protected. ‘Can
you imagine a world where young
girls have no icons’, she says, whilst
disregarding the need for trans girls
to have powerful role models too.
Kristina is employing her mundane
transphobia by positioning trans
women as less than cisgender
women, and less deserving of the
same rights and inclusivity.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 13 -
Charlie Martin
The documentary finishes
with Charlie Martin, a professional
British racing driver, the only
professional athlete featured, and
the only athlete who has competed
pre and post transition. This
interview is upbeat, and Martina
seems to genuinely connect with
Charlie and respect her, she smiles
frequently and openly, she touches
Charlie’s shoulder and confesses
her own desire to have been a
racing driver, were it not for growing
up in an Eastern European country
where such a prospect was
unlikely. Martina is intrigued that
Charlie’s performance has
improved since transitioning, an
improvement Charlie attributes to
being able to be herself and thus
having more confidence and energy.
Martina’s response that ‘nobody
ever says I wish I had stayed in the
closet longer’ resonates as an
authentic comment, perhaps based
on her own coming out experiences
in the 1980’s. Motor-racing is
unquestionably a physically
demanding sport and although
traditionally dominated by men, it
is not gender segregated. Both men
and women are permitted to race
together, though there are far fewer
women drivers than men. Perhaps
Martina does not believe that
motor-racing is a ‘physical’ sport in
the sense that tennis or football is,
and as such, she is more willing to
support Charlie and does not
perceive her as a threat to
‘women’s’ sport.
Rather, Martina is thrilled for
Charlie, and she’s optimistic ‘that
her being part of the team might
even improve the inclusion for all
women in motor sports.’ It’s an
uplifting interview, and out of all of
the five interviews, it is the only one
which feels like a positive message
is being reinforced throughout. Yet
this feels like and intentional tactic,
designed to leave the viewer
believing that Martina’s thinking
has evolved, her mundane
transphobia forgotten.
Conclusion:
The media continue to
significantly shape the narratives
that inform the public’s view of
trans women’s presence in sport,
often ignoring the people behind the
rhetoric. The fleshy physicality
(Johnson, 2008) of the transgender
body and the fight to be accepted
within sport is still limited to
normative and binary depictions,
and frequently it is trans women’s
bodies who are rendered as
suspicious and possessing an
innate competitive advantage.
One key limitation of this
documentary is its failure to engage
with any elite level trans women
athlete other than Charlie Martin,
one who could bust the myths that
trans women are competing only to
win. Likewise, the inclusion of
successful trans men athletes could
provide the audience with a better
understanding of gender diversity
and the fact that all athletes ‘simply
need places to express their
physical abilities, to strive and
struggle and achieve’ (Semerjian,
2019, p.159).
At times, Martina seemed
genuinely upset that her comments
had caused upset to those in the
trans community, but I argue that
the content of this documentary
was carefully constructed to help
Martina recover some credibility
whilst maintaining her position on
excluding trans women from sport.
After all, Martina tweeted shortly
- 14 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
after the documentary aired that
she had not changed her mind. For
Martina, trans rights and elite
sports ‘are two different things,
though of course they are
connected.’ Trans women are not
viewed as equal to cisgender
women, and the discursive
language used by Martina reflects
this. Martina’s ‘need to adapt’ is
reliant only on the rules ‘evolving’,
and that there is an ‘urgency to find
a solution’ to something which is
not actually a problem.
Regardless of the intent of
Martina and the BBC1
documentary, be it to admonish
Martina of her transphobic
comments in the media, or to
support the exclusion of trans
women in sport, the rhetorical
analysis interrogated here has gone
some way to shine a light on how
precisely mundane transphobia
perpetuates the marginalisation
that trans women face when
wishing to participate in sport. At a
time when hostility toward
transgender people in the media
continues to have a negative and
material impact on their lived
realities and safety, it is essential to
listen to all trans people, both on
and off the field, and to ensure that
they are welcomed in sport.
Abby Barras
a.barras2@brighton.ac.uk
PhD Candidate, School of Applied Social
Science, University of Brighton
Please cite as:
Barras, A. (2019). We just want to be
listened to.”: Mundane Transphobia in
BBC1’s ‘The Trans Women Athlete
Dispute with Martina Navratilova’.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 5-
15.
References:
Ahmed, S. (2016). An affinity of
hammers. Transgender
Studies Quarterly, 3(1-2), 22-
34.
Caudwell, J. (2014). (Transgender)
young men: Gendered
subjectivities and the
physically active body. Sport,
Education and Society, 19(4),
398414.
Cavanagh, S. & Sykes, H. (2006).
Transsexual bodies at the
Olympics: The International
Olympic Committee's policy
on transsexual athletes at the
2004 Athens Summer
Games. Body Society, 12(3),
75-102.
Derrida, J. (1988). Limited Inc.
Northwestern University
Press, USA.
Elling-Machartki, A. (2014).
Extraordinary body-self
narratives: Sport and
physical activity in the lives of
transgender people. Journal
of Leisure Studies, 36(2),
256268.
Halberstam, J. (2018). Trans: A
quick and quirky account of
gender variability. University
of California Press, USA.
Hargie, O, Mitchell, D.H., &
Somerville, I. (2015). People
have a knack of making you
feel excluded if they catch on
to your difference:
Transgender experiences of
exclusion in sport.
International Review for the
Sociology of Sport, 52(2), 1-
17.
Hill Collins, P. (1990). Black
Feminist Thought. Routledge,
UK
Hooks, B. (1987). Ain’t I a woman?
Black women and feminism.
Pluto Press, USA.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 15 -
Johnson, K. (2008). Fragmented
identities, frustrated politics:
Transsexuals, lesbians and
‘queer’. Journal of Lesbian
Studies, 11(1-2), 107125.
Jones, B.A., Haycraft, E.,
Boumann, W.P. & Arcelus, J.
(2018). The levels and
predictors of physical activity
engagement within the
treatment-seeking
transgender population: A
matched control study’.
Journal of Physical Activity
and Health, 15, 99107.
Jones, B.A., Arcelus, J., Boumann,
W.P. and Haycraft, E. (2017).
Barriers and facilitators of
physical activity and sport
participation among young
transgender adults who are
medically transitioning.
International Journal of
Transgenderism, 18(2), 227
238.
Klein, A., Krane, V. & Paule-Koba,
A.L. (2018) Bodily changes
and performance effects in a
transitioning transgender
college athlete. Qualitative
Research in Sport, Exercise
and Health, 10(5), 555569.
Pearce, R., Steinberg, D.L., & Moon,
I. (2019). Introduction: The
emergence of ‘trans’.
Sexualities, 22(1-2), 312.
Riggs, D.W. (2014). What makes a
man? Thomas Beatie,
embodiment and mundane
transphobia. Feminism &
Psychology, 24(2), 157171.
Riggs, D. W., Colton, C., Due, C., &
Bartholomaeus, C. (2016).
Mundane transphobia in
Celebrity Big Brother UK.
Gender Forum, (56), 420.
Semerjiian, T. (2019). Making
space: Transgender athletes.
In: V. Krane (Ed.) Sex, gender
and sexuality in sport: Queer
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Sheridan, H. (2003).
Conceptualizing “fair play”: A
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European Physical Education
Review, 9, 163184.
Tagg, B. (2012). Transgender
netballers: Ethical issue and
lived realities. Sociology of
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Tannehill, B. (2019). Everything You
Ever Wanted to Know About
Trans* (but were too afraid to
ask). Jessica Kingsley
Publishers, UK.
Wellard, I. (2016). Gendered
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embodied approach’,
Palgrave Communications:
UK.
Werhun, C, D. & Penner, A. J.
(2010). The effects of
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prejudice toward aboriginal
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- 16 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
Articles Short Essay:
Why Judge Rosemarie Aquilina's psychological
support to ‘sister-survivors’ was just as
important (if not more so) than her legal
support during the Larry Nassar Case.
Sergio A. Silverio
The start of 2018 saw the disgraced former United States medical doctor
and convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar sentenced to between 40 and
175 years of state imprisonment by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina. Nassar trained in kinesiology, before working as an
athletic trainer for the national gymnastics team of the United States of
America. He then graduated as in osteopathic medicine and completed
his medical training in the late 1990s in both family practice and sports
medicine. Nassar continued working with, and abusing, national and
Olympic athletes throughout his career before USA Gymnastics began
investigating allegations brought forward against him by athletes in
2015. Soon after he was facing investigation and charges of an
incalculable number of accounts of sexual misconduct, molestation,
sexual abuse, paedophilia, and child pornography.
“Inaction is an action, silence is indifference. Justice requires action
and a voice…”
~ Judge Rosemarie Aquilina (2018)
The Trial:
AMONG Nassar’s charges
heard during the Aquilina trial
alone, were accusations of sexual
misconduct from almost three-
hundred separate young women
known to the investigation, and
countless cases of childhood
molestation spanning some fifteen
years or more; as well as practising
medicine without a relevant state
license. This sentence was to start
after his federal sentence for
possession of child pornography
ended, which itself totalled sixty
years. It was then followed by a
further sentencing of 40 to 125
years by Eaton County Circuit
Court Judge Janice Cunningham,
thus sentencing Nassar three times
in an eight week stretch. The
verdict of the second trial, over
which Judge Aqulina presided, was
derived from over two-hundred and
fifty separate accusations of sexual
misconduct, and after over one-
hundred and sixty extended victim
impact statements were read out by
the survivors of Nassar’s abuse
(mainly gymnasts and athletes,
many of whom hold Olympic
medals). The sentence was issued
with the purpose of ensuring
Nassar would never again be
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 17 -
released, or to use Judge Aquilina’s
own words: I just signed your death
warrant.”
It was this comment, as well as her
reading of Nassar’s letter, which
drew attention to exactly how Judge
Aquilina approached the role of
presiding over this trial. In his
letter to the Judge, Nassar had
stated (among other things) that he
felt he did not have the strength to
listen to all the extended victim
impact statements; and also, that
Judge Aquilina had turned the trial
into a media circus for her own
gain. These, of course, were
documented as cowardly and futile
rantings of a desperate, yet still
remarkably arrogant, condemned
man. The commentary, which
focused on the way in which Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina presided over
the Larry Nassar case, ultimately
has shown that no-one regardless
of their profession or prestige is
above the law, and especially not
when it comes to sexual abuse. As
Aquilina herself warned during her
sentencing of Nassar: You played
on everyone's vulnerability. I'm not
vulnerable to you or to criminals. I
swore to hold the Constitution and
law and I am well-trained. I know
exactly what to do. This time, I am
going to cure it.” However, one
curiously striking factor of the case
was the compassion shown by
Judge Aquilina, in what some may
call a breach of usual Court
protocol.
Sister-Survivors:
After providing them each
with the time they required during
the trial to read their accounts of
the abuse they suffered at the
hands of Nassar whilst they were
supposedly meant to be under his
care, Aqulinia told the newly bound
sisterhood “you are no longer
victims, you are survivors. This
sentiment was taken, not only at
face-value, that they had, indeed,
survived the brutality of repeated
sexual abuse, but was instructive.
Judge Aquilina made it clear
throughout the case that, those
who survived are collectively strong
and though bound through the
atrocity of abuse they each faced,
they were now able to care for,
protect, and support one another
long after the trial, and long after
Aquilina herself could provide them
with the safe platform from which to
speak. Together the abused
became those who survived, and
together they must continue to
survive, and thrive. Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina not only gained
the respect and admiration of those
watching the case around the globe,
but fostered a sense of trust and
hope for each survivor, which
undoubtedly must be the feelings
they are finding most difficult to
repair in their recoveries. Not only
did Judge Aquilina offer this ‘sister-
protector’ stance to the survivors in
this trial, but she did so whilst
displaying genuine hurt for the
victims, and an unequivocal
contempt for Nassar. In doing so,
she alone has permitted the World
to witness exactly how justice
should be served. This was,
January 2018.
- 18 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
indisputably, a bold and brave
stance adopted by Judge Aquilina,
but if we are to look at the
psychological trauma which victims
of sexual abuse experience, it is the
only stance she could have taken.
Discussion:
Long after the physical scars
of sexual abuse may have healed,
the psychological scarring remains
deep in the psyche. Survivors of
sexual abuse are often left with
unresolved psychological distress
and many victims and survivors
simply do not seek, or cannot
access help from counselling,
psychological, or psychiatric
support services. This is coupled
with the fact that many victims and
survivors of sexual abuse are
stigmatised by the institutions they
have turned to for help and
support, and even by the Judges
and people of the jury who preside
over rape and sexual abuse cases.
In recent years there has been a
noticeable shift in the media’s
presentation of these trials,
particularly with the volume of
high-profile cases which have
ricocheted through the Courts all
over the world. However, Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina went above and
beyond her judicial peers to support
these survivors giving them the
time to speak and offering them
some semblance of control against
their abuser who, for so long, had
left them powerless. In doing what
she did, Judge Aquilina showed the
perpetrators of sexual abuse how, if
caught, they could, and perhaps
more importantly, should be trialled
and sentenced, whilst offering
herself as a role model amongst her
colleagues in courtrooms from far
and wide. In case future Judges are
unsure of the correct stance to take
in circumstances such as these
she offers them an unambiguous
protocol. When addressing her own
role in this trial, Judge Aquilina
herself suggests: “I am not special, I
am doing my job……… I give the
victims a voice.”, but perhaps even
she failed to realise that in doing
what she deems just to be her job,
she has brought about an end
marker for the pain, anguish, and
suffering that, in this case alone,
was being experienced by in excess
of two-hundred people.
Concluding Comment:
That is why it is fair to say,
that one woman just doing her job
contributed far more than a legal
hand of authority in ensuring
Nassar never again sees the light of
freedom, but a healing hand of
compassion toward each and every
survivor who might just now, see it
possible to find that light again.
Sergio A. Silverio
Sergio.Silverio@kcl.ac.uk
Research Assistant in Qualitative Analysis
of Women’s Health
Department of Women & Children’s Health,
King’s College London
Please cite as:
Silverio, S.A. (2019). Why Judge Rosemarie
Aquilina's psychological support to ‘sister-
survivors’ was just as important (if not
more so) than her legal support during the
Larry Nassar Case. British Mensa’s:
ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 16-19.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 19 -
Wider Reading:
Bass, E. & Davis, L. (2002). The
courage to heal: A guide for
women survivors of child
sexual abuse. (3rd ed.).
London: Vermilion.
BBC Staff. (2018). Larry Nassar:
Disgraced US Olympics doctor
jailed for 175 years. BBC
News: US & Canada.
Retrieved from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news
/world-us-canada-42811304
CNN Staff. (2018). Read Judge
Rosemarie Aquilina's powerful
statement to Larry Nassar.
CNN. Retrieved from
https://edition.cnn.com/201
8/01/24/us/judge-
rosemarie-aquilina-full-
statement/index.html
Dillon, J. (2011) The personal is the
political. In: M. Rapley, J.
Moncrieff, & J. Dillon (Eds.),
De-medicalizing misery:
Psychiatry, psychology and
the human condition. (pp. 141-
157). London: Palgrave
Macmillan.
Dillon, J., Johnstone L., & Longden
E. (2014). Trauma,
dissociation, attachment and
neuroscience: A new
paradigm for understanding
severe mental distress. In: E.
Speed, J. Moncrieff, & M.
Rapley (Eds.), De-medicalizing
misery II: Society, politics and
the mental health industry.
(pp. 226-234). London:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Follette, V. M., Polusny, M. M., &
Milbeck, K. (1994). Mental
health and law enforcement
professionals: Trauma
history, psychological
symptoms, and impact of
providing services to child
sexual abuse survivors.
Professional Psychology:
Research and Practice, 25(3),
275-282.
Maltz, W. (2012). The sexual healing
journey: A guide for survivors
of sexual abuse. (3rd ed.) New
York, NY: Harper Collins.
Moghe, S. (2018). How Nassar's
abuse victims became a
sisterhood of survivors. CNN.
Retrieved from
https://edition.cnn.com/201
8/01/24/us/nassar-abuse-
victims-
sisterhood/index.html
Owton, H. (2016). Sexual abuse in
sport: A qualitative case study.
London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Read, J., Hammersley, P., &
Rudegeair, T. (2007). Why,
when and how to ask about
childhood abuse. Advances in
Psychiatric Treatment, 13(2),
101-110.
- 20 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
Articles Short Essay:
A critique of the fragmented representation
of Indian pugilist in her biographical film
titled: ‘Mary Kom’.
Arshia Chatterjee & Sonia Soans
Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom is a renowned Indian pugilist, and
recipient of several prestigious awards including winning Asian Women
Championship five times, Padma Shri (2006), Padma Bhushan (2013).
She has also been honoured by titles such as the Magnificent Mary and
Meethoileima (exceptional lady), and is an elected member of the Indian
Parliament (2016).
MARY KOM was born to farmer
parents in Manipur (North- east
India) in 1983, the eldest among
three children. She grew up in
humble surroundings, helping her
parents with the daily chores. From
early childhood she was very keen
to learn boxing and was determined
to follow her dream despite
receiving strict disapproval from
her father.
The Inspiration Behind the Film:
Kom’s fame in the 2012
Olympics raised an interest in her
life. Director Omung Kumar created
a biographical film based on her
life. The Bollywood film ‘Mary Kom’
(2014) starring Priyanka Chopra (a
renowned Bollywood actress) as the
protagonist, and it is based on
Mary’s struggle in boxing; with a
script written by Saiwyn Quadras.
The film attempts to narrate the
story of a woman trying to break the
stereotypical image of womanhood
as dictated by a patriarchal society.
It portrays Kom’s determination
and persistent hard work in
defining herself and sticking to her
goal of being a world class boxer
going against her father’s
understanding of a women’s role
and her coach Narjit Singh’s ideas
of obstacles in a woman’s career
after their marriage. Keeping the
issues of gender roles, and the
position of woman in a sports arena
like boxing in the forefront, the film
narrates Kom’s story, her
relationship with her parents,
family, coach, friends, and her
husband Onler, who was a major
support. The film depicts the
relationship between Mary and
Onler, his persistent support for his
wife is made evident in reversal of
the gender roles, by taking care of
their children and household
chores; thereby contradicting the
notion of motherhood mandate.
Representing Kom on Screen:
However, it is important to
note that the film was not only
sketching the struggle of a woman
who was trying to establish a firm
ground in the boxing arena, but
also of an individual who belongs to
an obscure part of India. Mary
Kom’s struggle is not confined to
her gender alone; it also takes into
account her ethnicity and the
geographic location of the country
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 21 -
to which she belongs. Manipur is
one of the seven states of North-east
India, which is connected to the rest
of the country by the narrow
Siliguri Corridor. Northeast India is
replete with unique ethnic,
cultural, religious and linguistic
diversity including both tribal and
non-tribal people. The region has
encountered several political
atrocities, segregations, identity
issues, where many tribal
communities have been labeled as
‘backward’. This exclusion and
ignorance has been persevered
post-independence, as this region
continues to remain alienated from
the social, political, and economic
development-taking place on other
parts of the nation (Baruah, 2005).
This seclusion has led to the
formation of rebel groups, pleading
for autonomy and an end to
draconian measures. Getting no
genuine response from the
government, the region is filled with
insurgencies, terrorism, and
counter-insurgency operations.
This further exacerbated the
fractured relation of North-east
India’s with the mainland and
increased the lacuna in cultural,
economic, psychological ,and
emotional aspects between these
regions.
The film did not represent
Mary’s struggle due to this difficult
position of her identity arising out
of the intersectionality of gender
and race. People of the Northeast
are often openly racially abused
when they live in mainland India.
Derogatory terms such as ‘Chapta’
(flat-nose) or ‘Chinki’ are used
publicly in order to humiliate and
differentiate between Indians living
in mainland India, who assume
they are true citizens of the country.
Racialized terms such as these
weaponize biological differences
amongst an entire group of people.
Contemporary Indian
sportswomen such as Sania Mirza
and Saina Nehwal (who both hail
from mainland India), are
successful in their respective sports
arenas tennis and badminton
and are treated as role models. They
have high commercial value and
often cast in various popular
advertisements, whereas Mary
Kom, despite receiving accolades
and garnering several titles and
prestigious awards, remains
underrepresented in Indian popular
media.
Representation in the
fictional world often signifies social
existence. Absence implies
symbolic annihilation. This explicit
lack of representation in media
promotes existing stereotypes and
strengthens the alienation of
northeastern from the rest of the
nation. This lack of representation
was quite implicit in choosing the
actor playing the lead role. The
selection of Priyanka Chopra as the
protagonist instead of a Manipuri
actress indicates the commercial
value of the actor, who can pull the
movie and make the budget bigger.
This choice of ethnically
misrepresenting Mary Kom
commercial reasons is indicative of
the invisibility of the people of the
Northeast.
This shows that the maker of
the film crafted the cast in
accordance with the perception of
the target audience, what the
audience want to consume, who
they desire to watch as playing the
lead role on the big screen; subtly
hinting at their ideas about being
an idealised Indian. Bollywood films
have not been screened in the movie
theatres in North-east India since
- 22 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
September 2000, by order of
insurgents of Manipur's
Revolutionary People's Front. The
Revolutionary People’s Front is the
political wing of the People's
Liberation Army [PLA] whose
objective is to restore the
suspended freedom of Manipur and
to resist the occupation force of
India (Laishram, n.d.). The
insurgents justify this act as an
attempt to restrict the use of the
Hindi language in the region, as it
is believed that Bollywood movies
are a part of the Indianisation and
Hinduising project (Kshetrimayum,
2011). Bollywood films are made
exclusively in Hindi and are the
most well-known branch of Indian
cinema. While the film Mary Kom
was made on a boxer from Manipur,
the film was not shown in Mary
Kom’s home state. This further
indicates the cultural isolation the
northeast region faces. However,
decades of cultural hegemony from
mainland India and a lack of
representation either socially or
cinematically has led to growing
anger and violence against the
State in the region.
It is interesting to ponder
about the underlying intention of
the makers of this film. The film
delineates the visual regime
highlighting the gender role
struggle encountered by Kom,
shadowing the aspects of racial
discrimination persistent in her life.
This is evident in the
discourse of the film poster, as it
pictured Kom with her children tied
to her body portraying her struggle
as a woman and a mother, thereby
undermining her consistent fight
against racial discrimination. The
filmmakers choose to glorify her
journey as a woman and mother.
Conclusion:
The story of Kom’s struggle is
narrated from the perspective of the
film makers, the director and
producer of the film who emphasise
upon the tussle pertaining to the
gender roles, counteracting
prejudiced notion concerning
women’s biological inferiority to
produce a female-centric movie
enacted by a renowned commercial
actress, Priyanka Chopra.
While the film might have a
positive impact in redefining and
creating different kinds of images of
females in contrast to the existing
conventional idea about femininity.
However, it was not a genuine
narration of Mary Kom’s life, as it
did not depict the multi-faceted
aspect of her identity which
encompasses the her struggles due
to both her gender and ethnicity in
India.
Arshia Chatterjee
arshia.chatterjee@iipr.in
MSc Student in Psychology
Indian Institute of Psychology and Research
Sonia Soans
Assistant Professor in Psychology
Indian Institute of Psychology and Research
Please cite as:
Chatterjee, A. & Soans, S.D. (2019). A
critique of the fragmented representation
of Indian pugilist in her biographical film
titled: ‘Mary Kom’. British Mensa’s:
ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 20-23.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 23 -
References:
Baruah, S. (2005). A new politics of
race: India and its North-
East. In G. Sen (Ed.) India
International
Centre Quarterly: Where the
sun rises when shadows fall:
The North-East. New Delhi:
India International Centre.
Kshetrimayum, J.S. (2011). The
politics of fixity: A report on the
ban of Hindi films in Manipur,
Northeast India. Master’s
dissertation, The University of
Texas, Austin.
Kumar, O. (Producer) & Bhansali,
S.L.(Director). (2014). Mary
Kom (film).
Laishram, S. (n.d.). Understanding
the ban of Bollywood in
Manipur: Objectives,
ramifications and public
consensus.
Prakash, P. (1990). Women and
sports: Extending limits to
physical expression.
Economic and Political
Weekly, 25(17), WS19-WS29.
Vadlamannati, K.C. (2011). Why
Indian men rebel? Explaining
armed rebellion in North-
Eastern states of India, 1970
2007. Journal of Peace
Research, 48(5), 605-619.
- 24 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
Articles Theoretical Debate:
The problem of consent, objectification,
and regressive role models in Bollywood
songs: A view from Pakistan.
Zoha Aamir
Media plays a significant role in our lives today, to the extent that even
if one makes a conscious effort, it is not possible to escape the ideas and
messages being channelled our way. The Bollywood industry is a classic
example of this as it penetrates the lives of almost all the people in
Pakistan. Bollywood movies are received with great enthusiasm across
the country as thousands of people rush to cinemas to watch them.
Bollywood songs reach an even wider audience through radio, television
and mobile phones. Therefore, the imagery created by them impacts the
minds of those listening to these songs on a regular basis.
Introduction:
“Aja teri choot maroon. Teray sar
say chudnay ka bhoot utaaroun.
Chodnay kay baad tujhay jootya
marroun. Teray moun mein apna
lora day kay moot maroon.”
[“Come, let me love you. After I have
loved you, I will hit you with shoes
and urinate in your mouth.]
(Honey Singh, 2009)
As this song played in my friend’s
car, I looked around and saw
everyone singing along with great
enthusiasm. After listening to the
entire song, I was in a state of awe
because Honey Singh had managed
to use the most vulgar, humiliating,
and derogatory terms to address a
woman. His hard work to reduce
women to nothing more than sex
objects within the span of three
minutes was appreciated by
Bollywood to the extent that he was
hired to create more of these gems
for upcoming films.
The following paper will
discuss how the lyrics of Bollywood
songs have helped in creating,
promoting and cementing an
inferior, passive, and sexualized
image of women over the years.
They have consistently fetishized
the role of women as passive objects
receptive to all manner of behaviour
displayed by aggressive lovers,
possessive husbands, controlling
brothers, or absolute strangers who
pursue them through inappropriate
means. The songs have lyrics which
take away some of the basic rights
from women and that too in the
most glorified manner. The lyrics
normalize abuse, rape, stalking,
and other similar issues which
women in south Asia face in their
daily lives. Most ‘item songs’ are
seen to be problematic because
they sexualize and objectify a
woman’s body, but a closer look at
the songs which Bollywood has
produced would show that item
songs are only half of the problem.
The Bollywood legacy has created
songs, which revere the traditional
roles of women as wives, daughters,
sisters instead of human beings
with a personality just like their
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 25 -
male counter parts. It will attempt
to show how an entire discourse
has been created that has led to the
attitude of: Kyuon apnay baap ka
na samjhoun maal. [“Why
shouldn’t I think of you as my dad’s
property?”] when it comes to dealing
with women (Zila Ghaziabad, 2013).
This essay draws on lyrics
from movies produced over the
years. Moreover, it particularly
highlights some of the basic
problems with lack of consent,
stalking, objectification and
regressive role models present in
the lyrics of Bollywood songs, and
how these lyrics contribute to the
existing marginalization of women
in Pakistan. While the Bollywood
industry operates from India,
Indian made art is consumed
across the border as well. Hence
Indian actors, movies and songs
have a huge fan following and
audience in Pakistan. People pay
attention and are influenced by the
movies and they do not just listen
to the music, but also pay attention
to the lyrics. This is evident through
the fact that certain movies or
songs which may have lyrics which
go against particular religious
values may get banned in the
country. Films such as Agent Vinod
(2012), Baby (2015), Neerja (2016)
have been banned in Pakistan by
the censor board since they
portray Pakistan in a negative light
and Muslims as terrorists while
movies like The Dirty Picture
(2011), and Padman (2018) have
been banned since they were found
to be too ‘bold’ for Pakistani
audiences (Jena, 2018). However,
not much research has been done
on Pakistan regarding this topic
even though violence in the country
is an issue which needs urgent
attention.
Although the government
aims to provide services to help
women to harness their potential as
well as to reduce all instances of
abuse, discrimination and violence
against them, the pace at which
this is done is very slow (Abid et al,
2018). For example, in 2017, 222
cases of so-called ‘honour’ killings,
3,031 cases of assault and 11,017
cases of kidnapping were reported
in Punjab. Rape was the second
highest reported offence in 2017,
with a total of 3,378 cases reported,
including 251 cases of gang rape
and 44 of custodial rape. In
addition to this, harassment on the
streets, workplace and other public
areas is another widespread
problem. Furthermore, domestic
violence is another highly prevalent
problem. In 2017, 904 cases of
domestic violence were registered,
out of which 361 cases were of
beating, 141 cases of attempted
murder, and 402 cases of murder
(Abid et al, 2018). Despite an
increase in the cases filed, women
still face discrimination in
accessing the criminal justice
system. Survivors of violence are
discouraged from reporting their
cases because of the patriarchal
mindset of officials. Discrimination
and prejudice against women starts
as early as the First Information
Report is registered and continues
till the time the final decision is
made by the judge (Ali & Gavino,
2008). Survivors of rape are
particularly vulnerable to biased
attitudes of officials and medical
staff who blame survivors for the
violence perpetrated upon them.
Since violence manifests itself in a
myriad of ways there are many
ways to understand and tackle it.
Researching on and connecting
popular media with violence is one
- 26 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
way in which this can be done
which is why this paper has chosen
Pakistan as its prime focus.
Women and Regressive Role
Models:
The standard sex and gender
model developed by scholars such
as Fausto-Sterling (2000) along
with others, defines gender as a
social construct that outlines what
behavior, action, and appearance is
suitable for men and women within
a culture (Francis, 2000). An entire
section of feminist theory is
dedicated to showing how gender
roles set for women are hierarchical
in nature because they give men the
advantage to dominate women
(Wood, 2000). Judith Butler (1990)
in her work Gender Trouble, posits
that being female is not ‘natural’
and that it becomes natural only
through repetitive gender practices.
These practices then reproduce and
characterize the conventional
categories of gender. Even though,
gender roles can be a source
through which people express their
identity, they can be used as a
means of imposing control.
Individuals who violate these roles
may face serious consequences
(Hackman, 1992).
‘Slut’ and ‘Whore’ are some of
the common words used to refer to
women who are not committed to
one man. The idea that a woman
belongs to only one man is one,
which is centuries old. Different
cultures have repeatedly
emphasized on the chastity and
devotion of a wife towards her
husband. The role that Bollywood
plays in all this is that it normalizes
and glorifies women who conform to
these roles. The songs which my
parents and their parents, and now
I have grown up listening to, in
some way always highlight the
devotion of a woman towards a man
who is her sole destination. As one
of the most famous songs
‘Akhiyoun ke Jharokon Se’ puts it:
“Jeeti houn tumhe dekh kay. Marti
houn tum hi pay. Tum ho jahan
saajan meri dunya hai wahin.”
[“I live by looking at you, I will die by
looking at you. Wherever you are,
my world is there.”]
Another song from the film: Maine
Piyar Kiya shows that even in her
prayers all a woman asks for is her
husband’s wellbeing:
“Dunya mangay apni muradein
mein tou mangoun saajan. Rahay
salamat mera sajna aur sajna ka
aangan. Iskay siwa dil rab say kuch
mangay na.”
[“People ask for their own prayers,
but I only pray for my husband and
his wellbeing”]
As discussed earlier, women
in Pakistan suffer from domestic
abuse (Gosselin, 2009). Many
women are killed per year from
domestic violence, with thousands
of others disabled (Hansar, 2007).
Women have reported attacks
ranging from physical to
psychological and sexual abuse
from intimate partners (Ajmal,
2012). However, despite this the
number of women that opt to get
divorced is low even though the law
gives them the right to do so. The
connection that Bollywood has with
this is that it promotes the idea that
women should be weak,
submissive, forgiving and loving
even when they are not treated
right. On the other hand, male
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 27 -
actors in the film are lifted to the
status of gods through not only
songs, but also the overall
patriarchal messages sent out
through the movie. Thus,
patriarchal gender roles are
reinforced through films as the
characters assigned to male and
female actors conform to
stereotypical gender norms. A
perfect example of this kind of
framework is the following song
from the movie Kabhi Kushi Kabhi
Gham which promoted patriarchal
family values throughout the film
(2001):
“Meri saansoun mein tou hai
samaaya. Mera jewan tou hai tera
saaya. Teri pooja karoun mein tou
har dum”
[“You are a part of my soul and my
life is nothing but a shadow of your
being. I worship you all the time.’’]
Susan Bordo, has highlighted the
dualistic nature of the mind and
body connection by examining the
early philosophies of Aristotle,
Hegel and Descartes, revealing how
distinguishing binaries such as
male activity and female passivity
have worked to solidify gender
characteristics and categorization.
She argues that traditionally
women have been associated with
the body, which is a subordinated
and negatively viewed term of the
mind and body division (Bordo,
2004). This can be seen in the
Bollywood industry as well because
it uses passive and regressive
gender roles to depict women and
concretizes them through songs
thereby maintaining a male female
binary in terms of what each gender
should do.
Women as Victims of Stalking:
“Khali peeli khali peeli rokne ka nai,
Tera peecha karoon toh tokne ka
nai.
[“Do not dare to stop me if I follow
you.”]
The people who directed this song
in Phata Poster Nikla Hero, (2013)
clearly did not give a thought to how
they were encouraging and
romanticizing stalking, while
asking a girl to not respond back.
The song further goes on to say:
“Hai tujh pe right mera, tu hai
delight mera. Tera rasta jo roku,
chaukne ka nahin.” (Phata Poster
Nikla Hero, 2013).
[“I have a right on you as you delight
me girl.”]
This promotes the idea that men
should persistently follow women
until they give in and agree to talk
to them. However, in real life
women may not be impressed by
such behavior and may at times
retaliate. When this happens, some
men who have been told by their
favorite Bollywood songs that
stalking is permissible get
devastated and can sometimes end
up causing physical harm to the
woman. In Pakistan there have
been many cases where women
have rejected men who have ended
up abusing them. The example of
Khadija Siddiqui, a law student
who was stabbed multiple times by
her colleague sheds light on this.
The motivation behind the convict
attacking the victim was retaliation
to her rejection of his advances
(Chughtai, 2019).
In addition to this,
harassment and cat calling is
- 28 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
common across the country and
men consider it normal to tease
women who are out in the public.
Bollywood has glorified stalkers and
shown them as passionate lovers
who are so enamoured by the
woman that they cannot help, but
follow her everywhere. Due to their
consistency and commitment the
girl falls in love at the end thereby
making stalking the perfect way to
start a relationship. As Shahid
Kapoor has sung in one of his songs
in the film: R Rajkumar (2013):
“Beedi peeke nukkar pay wait tera
kiya ray . . . Thandi aahein bhar li
bohot. Achi baatein kar li bohot Ab
karunga tere saath gandibaat,
gandi gandi gandi baat.”
[“I smoked cigarettes while waiting
for you. I have been nice throughout,
but now I will talk to you in a bad
way and do bad things to you.”]
This trend of promoting stalking is
not a recent one, but has been
present within Bollywood songs
long before. One such example if
from the movie ‘Junglee’ in which
Shammi Kapoor is shown following
a girl and singing:
“Dewana mujh sa nahi is amber kay
neechay. Aagay hai katil mera aur
mein peechay peechay.”
[“There is no lover like me. I will
follow you no matter where you go.”]
The most horrifying example of a
song which is nothing, but
reminiscent of pure stalking is ‘Pyar
Ke Iss Khel Mein’ where the entire
song is about a man following a
woman everywhere she goes in the
film: Jugnu (1973). It goes as
follows:
“Darata main nahin, chahe ho
zamin, chahe aasamaan .Jahan bhi
tu jaayegi main vahan chala
aaunga. Tera pichha na main
choroun ga soniye. Bhej de chahe
jail mein.”
[“I am not afraid of anyone. No
matter where you hide, I will find
you. Even if you send me to jail, I will
still not leave you alone.”]
The list of songs promoting
stalking is endless. However, what
needs to be realized is that such
lyrics underestimate the problem
associated with the stalking of
women. The impact of stalking can
be detrimental and can have
serious impacts on mental health.
Victims may feel afraid, be
terrorized of being alone, and they
may even feel isolated and helpless.
They may also suffer from
depression, anxiety, panic attacks
and nightmares and may even
contemplate suicide. At times the
stalker may even cause physical
harm to the victim (James, 2011).
Thus, downplaying the impact of
stalking, and using it as a way to
pursue girls in Bollywood songs, is
a serious problem.
Women and the Right to Consent:
“Tou haan kar ya na kar, tou hai
meri Kiran.”
[“Whether you say yes or no, you are
mine Kiran.”]
(Darr, 1993).
“Yeh uska style huinga, hountoun
pe na dil mein ha huinga.”
[“This is her style, even though she
is saying no to your face, she means
yes in her heart.”]
(Josh, 1980).
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 29 -
An entire feminist discourse
is based upon the idea of consent
and such songs push consent into
the margins. They give a clear
impression to the listener that ‘No’
means ‘Yes’. The problems that
arise with this kind of framework
are numerous. It leads to men
thinking that if a woman initially
says no, it will convert into a yes if
he remains consistent at asking her
over and over again, or at stalking
or using other such means
(Archard, 1998). It is also the
reason behind harassment and
rape. If a woman’s refusal were not
taken seriously, then a man would
not think raping her is a problem.
At the back of his mind he would
think that the ‘no’ actually meant
‘keep trying’ because the woman
secretly means yes or she will
eventually give in (Brownmiller,
1975).
“Tu ha kar ya na kar teri marzi
soniye, hum tujhko uthakar le
jayege, doli mein bithakar lejayege.”
[“Whether you say yes or no, I will
pick you up and marry you.”]
What lyrics like these in Jab Pyaar
Kisise Hota Hai (1998) do is they
romanticise the behaviour of men
who equate persistence with
romance, leaving no room for
consent. Such lyrics make men who
assert their opinions without
asking the woman more ‘manly’ and
‘macho’. They are depicted as
heroes who end up getting the girl
through their dominating
character.
Moreover, there are certain
Bollywood songs, such as those in
Dil Walay Dulhania Lay Jeingay,
(1995), which promote behaviours
which involve physically touching
women without their consent:
“Larki hai ya hai jaado, Kushboo hai
ya nasha. Paas joh aaye toh, chooke
main dekhu zara.”
[“When she comes near, I will touch
her to understand her true identity.”]
Apart from just harassing women,
Bollywood also has songs which
make asking for sexual favours
from women acceptable. An
example of this is:
“Jumma chumma de de chumma.
Jumma chumma de de chumma”
[“Jummah give me a kiss. Jummah
give me a kiss because you
promised last time.”]
(Hum, 1991).
The major problem with such songs
is that they show the woman as
eventually getting convinced by the
man into doing things, which she
didn’t agree to earlier. She is happy,
excited, cheerful and thrilled when
the man gives her no option, but to
do what he says. When translated
into real life, these songs create an
ugly situation for women and take
away some of their basic rights and
freedom.
Women as Sexualised Objects:
The issues mentioned earlier
with Bollywood songs can be said to
be a more subtle kind of sexism,
which would often go unnoticed by
many. However, the explicit
objectification and sexualisation of
women in ‘item songs’, has been a
source of concern for many. As the
name suggests, ‘item songs’ show
women as items or objects meant
- 30 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
for ogling. They do not have any
relevance to the plot and are often
sexually provocative dance
sequences in the film. The classic
meaning of item song refers to
highly sexualized songs with lewd
imagery and suggestive lyrics. It
features an item girl who appears in
the film as a dancer, usually in a
nightclub, and is only in the film for
the length of that song (Towheed,
2014). The trend to put item songs
is an old one in Bollywood, but now
has been made more common than
before. Up to the 1970s, Bollywood
relied on the image of the ‘vamp’ to
provide sexually explicit or
demeaning musical entertainment.
The woman wore revealing clothes,
smoked, drank and sang in bold
terms of sex (Tickell & Morey,
2005). On the other hand, neither
have male actors ever performed in
an item song, nor have they been
objectified or sexualised on screen
in the way female actors are.
According to the
objectification theory women are
acculturated to internalize an
observer's outlook as a primary
view of their physical selves (Wolf,
1991). This can lead to consistent
body monitoring, which, in turn,
can cause women to feel shame and
anxiety. Such experiences may
result in a range of mental health
risks that affect many women
(Young, 2005). This theory can be
applied to Bollywood songs as well.
Laura Mulvey introduced the
concept of ‘male gaze’ as an
important tool used in films. She
states that women are objectified in
film since men control the film
making process. They projected
their own desires onto the screen
thereby sexualizing women
according to what was desirable for
the male gaze.
“Choli kay peechay kya hai, choli
kay peechay? Chunri kay neechay
kya hai, churi kay neechay?”
[“What is behind your blouse?”]
This is one of the most famous
older item songs of Bollywood in
the film Khal Nayak (1993), which
showed a woman being asked what
is under her blouse. These lyrics
are self- explanatory and do not
require a lot of details about why
they can be offensive. This trend
has continued till today and the
lyrics of such songs have become
more derogatory and offensive
towards women, such as those in
Ready (2011).
“Kuriyon ka nasha pyare nasha sab
se nasheela hai. Kamar patli ho jitni
bhi, mazaa utna nasheela hai.”
[“Getting high on women is the best.
The thinner her waist, the better she
looks.”]
Sexual objectification of
females has led to a woman being
viewed primarily as an object of
male sexual desire, rather than as a
whole person (LeMoncheck, 1997).
A woman gets divided into the sum
of her body parts. In the eyes of
some breasts will gain importance
while others will focus on her waist
and some may focus on her hips.
Bollywood songs emphasize on the
body parts of women and cement
this kind of thinking within society.
The lyrics make certain body parts
more desirable and sexualize them
to grab the attention of men. Some
songs such as those in Dabang 2,
(2012) directly equate women to
different objects:
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 31 -
“Main to tanduri main to tanduri
murgi hoon yaar. Gatkale saiyan
alcohol se.”
[“I am roasted chicken. Eat me with
alcohol.”]
No aspect of a female’s body has
been spared by Bollywood. Whether
it is the height, weight, size, colour,
everything has been discussed in
great detail:
“Thoda milky ho gaya rang great
kudi da. Lak 28 kudi da, forty
seven weight kudi da”
[“Her skin colour is white like milk,
her waist is 28 and her weight is
27.”]
(Honey Singh, 2011).
Such lyrics encourage men to
think of women as objects to be
played around with also supports
Mulvey’s theory of the ‘male gaze’
and how it operates. Moreover,
they adversely affect women’s self-
esteem and health whereby young
girls and women turn to harmful
behaviours in order to fit a certain
type of body image.
Is Change Possible?
Women have been
maltreated for decades. They have
been victims of abuse,
humiliation, sexualisation and
objectification in Bollywood songs
since the start. However, there are
certain movies which break away
from this dominant trend and
show women in a more positive
light. They show women who have
a stronger character, are
independent, have goals and
ambitions and the centre of their
life is not a man. For example,
Chak De! India (2007), English
Vinglish (2012), Kahaani (2012),
Queen (2014), Mardaani (2014),
Nil Battey Sannata (2015), Pink
(2016), Lust Stories (2018),
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi
(2019) along with other movies
have feminist characters which
break away from the dominant
trend. Such movies have songs
which are also progressive and
don’t follow the prevailing trend of
using derogatory language to
address women.
It is evident that current
filmmakers are trying to produce
progressive content, nonetheless
Bollywood still has a long way to
go. It is also the responsibility of
the audience to critically evaluate
the messages shown to them. We
all are a part of that audience
which can help bring about
change. So, the next time a track
like Honey Singh’s song comes on,
we can always channel to avoid
the song.
Zoha Aamir
zoha.aamir@warwick.ac.uk
University of Warwick
Please cite as:
Aamir, Z. (2019). The problem of consent,
objectification, and regressive role models
in Bollywood songs: A view from Pakistan.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 24-32.
- 32 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
References:
Abid, A. et al (2018). Punjab Gender
Parity Report 2018. Pakistan:
Punjab Commission on the
Status of Women.
Ajmal, U. (2012). Domestic violence.
Pakistan: Dawn.
Ali, P., & Gavino, M. (2008).
Violence against women in
Pakistan: A framework for
Analysis. Journal-Pakistan
Medical Association, 58(4),
198-203.
Tickell A. (2005). Alternative Indias:
writing, nation and
communalism. The
Netherlands: Brill Academic.
Archard, D. (1998). Sexual consent.
Boulder: Westview Press.
Bordo, S. (2004). Feminism,
Western culture, and the body.
California: University of
California Press.
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our
will: Men, women and rape.
New York: Simon and
Schuster.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble:
Feminism and the subversion
of identity. New York:
Routledge.
Chughtai, A. (2019). Making sense
of the Khadija Siddiqui case.
Pakistan: Dawn.
Francis, B. (2000). Is gender a
social construct or a biological
imperative? Australia:
Seventh Australian Institute
of Family Studies Conference.
Gosselin, D. (2009). Hands: An
Introduction to the Crime of
Intimate and Family Violence.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Hackman, R. (1992). Group
influences on individuals in
organizations. In M. D.
Dunnette & L. M. Hough
(Eds.), Handbook of industrial
& organizational psychology
(pp. 199-267). Palo Alto, CA:
Consulting Psychologists
Press.
Hansar, R. (2007) Cross-cultural
examination of domestic
violence in China and
Pakistan. New York:
Routledge.
James, D. (2011). Impact of
stalking on victims. Stalking
Risk Profile. Melbourne:
Newpath Web.
Jena, S. (2019). ‘Padman’ & 22
Other Bollywood films that
were banned in pakistan.
Retrieved from:
https://www.scoopwhoop.co
m/bollywood-films-banned-
in-pakistan/
LeMoncheck, L. (1997). I only do it
for the money: Pornography,
prostitution, and the business
of sex. USA: Oxford University
Press.
Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual Pleasure
and Narrative Cinema. New
York: Oxford University
Press.
Towheed, F. (2014). Hypocrisy of
the reel and the real. India:
Dhaka Tribune.
Wolf, Naomi. (1991). The beauty
myth: How images of beauty
are used against women. New
York: Anchor Books.
Wood, W. (2002). A cross-cultural
analysis of the behavior of
women and men: Implications
for the origins of sex
differences. Washington, DC:
Psychological Bulletin.
Young, I. (2005). On female body
experience: Throwing like a
girl and other essays. USA:
Oxford University Press.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 33 -
Articles Position Paper:
“For the third time, I don’t hate white
dudes”: A visual ethnography of film criticism and
the call for diversity.
Shamini Sriskandarajah
During her acceptance speech for the Crystal Award for Excellence in
Film in 2018, Brie Larson used the platform to speak about an issue she
felt strongly about the lack of representation and opportunities
afforded to women and ethnic minority groups in film journalism. She
shared research by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that showed 67%
of top critics reviewing the highest-grossing films of 2017 were white
men, and only 2.5% were women critics of colour (USC Annenberg Staff,
2018).
Introduction:
It is not the first time an actor has
used their award speech to draw
attention to problems with
diversity. Back in 1973, Marlon
Brando boycotted the Oscars
ceremony and sent a Native
American actor and activist,
Sasheen Littlefeather, in his place
to physically reject his Best Actor
award. She gently held up her
hand to refuse the award that
Roger Moore held out to her, and
was initially booed as she spoke
about the stereotyping and lack of
representation of Native
Americans in the film industry.
The New York Times published
Brando’s speech in full. He said:
“When Indian children watch
television, and they watch films,
and when they see their race
depicted as they are in films, their
minds become injured in ways we
can never know. Recently there
have been a few faltering steps to
correct this situation, but too
faltering and too few.
(Brando, 1973).
Forty-five years later,
Frances McDormand won a Best
Actress Oscar and used the huge
platform afforded to her to ask all
female nominees in the room to
stand up, then asked everyone to
look around. “We all have stories
to tell and projects we need
financed,” she said and asked for
people to invite women to meetings
to talk about these projects. She
finished her speech with the words
“inclusion rider”, prompting a rush
of searches to find out what this
means: An A-list actor can
demand that their film’s cast and
crew reflects the diversity of the
population to a reasonable degree.
Now Larson drew attention
to a less-discussed area of the film
industry film critics. Deferring to
men throughout her speech, “for
the third time, I don't hate white
dudes,” Larson passionately but
diplomatically pleaded her case for
more female and minority ethnic
film critics.
“This issue has a solution that each
one of us in this room can
- 34 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
participate in… It really sucks that
reviews matter, but reviews matter.
Good reviews give films at festivals
a fighting chance of being shown
and seen. Good reviews can
slingshot films into awards
contenders. Good reviews can
change your life it changed mine”
(Diaz, 2018).
Although Larson has been
criticised for being self-hating by
some white people, and accused of
being a white saviour by some
minority ethnic people, I do not
consider her to be either. It is
important for women to speak up
for themselves and fight their own
battles, just as it is important for
minority ethnic people to find the
courage to say their piece. But
people with more power and more
credibility even if this is unfairly
attributed can also play a part in
speaking up, provided that they
are listening more to the people
they are speaking up for than just
imagining what their plight might
be. If they choose not to engage in
this way, people who are more
privileged are bystanders. The
psychotherapist Petrüska
Clarkson wrote about the problem
of being a bystander, that it is not
simply being neutral but rather it
is making an ethical choice not to
help someone who needs help, and
by being a bystander a person is
disempowering themselves as well
as other people (Clarkson, 2006).
Women and Film:
The Time’s Up movement in 2018
highlighted the sexual harassment
and unfair treatment of women in
the film industry and, by
extension, in other workplaces. It
has been somewhat surreal to see
white, male film journalists
commentating on this movement
without acknowledging their own
position of privilege and their own
willingness to help women, people
from ethnic minorities and
culturally less privileged
backgrounds into their profession.
This may seem like a personal and
unnecessary issue for a journalist
to talk about. But unlike war
correspondents, writing or
speaking in the most objective way
they can, even while feeling strong
emotions about what they witness,
film journalists do write
personally. They speak from the
“I” about their subjective
experience of seeing a film. As
Geoff Andrew says in his
introduction to a guide to great
films (with contributions from
another ten male film critics and
one female one), films “are
examined in a way that is
informed, illuminating and
unashamedly personal” (Andrew,
2001, p. 16). Many journalists
pepper their reviews with personal
anecdotes and their own film
references (e.g. one person is
reminded of ABC, while many
readers may not have seen A and
B but were instead reminded of D
or E so their references may be
different). It is; therefore, I believe,
appropriate to speak from the “I”
about their experience of being a
film critic of a particular gender,
ethnicity, socio-economic and
cultural background, sexuality,
with or without a disability.
The film Suffragette (2015)
screened at the London Film
Festival in 2015, and as the actors
appeared on the red carpet, a
group of demonstrators called
Sisters Uncut lay down on the
carpet to demonstrate against cuts
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 35 -
to services that support women
and children affected by domestic
violence in the UK. Writing about
the protest, Olivia Marks said:
“…lying at the feet of A-listers is
slightly different to being at the
hooves of a galloping horse...But
when there are few visible feminist
groups in this country taking direct
action, then leaping over barriers
and getting your cause in front of
the world’s press is still a coup”
(Marks, 2015).
To look at the Suffragette reviews
of “top critics” on film review
aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, you
might think people had seen
different films. Eleven of these
reviews were by women and
twenty-three were by men. One
male critic, Ryan Gilbey of the New
Stateman, believed the female
characters were tedious and the
best moments belonged to men
(Gilbey, 2015). Another male
critic, Richard Brody of The New
Yorker, complained of
whataboutery this may have
been a film about gender
inequality, but what about class
inequality and the men at the time
who were not allowed to vote
because they did not own property
(Brody, 2015). In contrast, a
female critic, Angie Errigo of
Empire magazine, praised the
film’s decision to focus on a
working-class woman and thought
Carey Mulligan, who plays the
main character, was moving and
“wonderfully involving” (Errigo,
2015). Kate Muir of The Times also
praises Mulligan’s performance
and the film’s focus on a woman
working in a laundry rather than
“the purple and green sashes of the
upper classes with time on their
hands” (Muir, 2015). However, UK
mainstream media reviews
included one in the Financial
Times where the journalist Danny
Leigh acknowledged his privilege
for a moment: “I sit writing this
aware that no one had to die before
a horse so that I could vote” (Leigh,
2015).
It is interesting to compare
reviews of Suffragette to those of
Hunger (2008), another film about
a political hunger strike, which
had more favourable reviews,
particularly from male critics. In
fact, one critic, David Jenkins of
the magazine Little White Lies,
wrote about Hunger in his review
of Suffragette, comparing it more
favourably, and nowhere
acknowledging that his experience
of each film as a man might be
different from a woman’s:
“It would seem futile to complain
that this film wasn’t more like Steve
McQueen’s 2008 debut feature,
Hunger, that is to say an
exemplary and nuanced depiction
of the point where protest mutates
into self-sacrifice. While their
thematic aims are similar, the
stylistic aims couldn’t be more
different…”
“The most effective sequences in
Suffragette are those in which
[director Sarah] Gavron chronicles
the process of horrors that befell
these women, such as being force-
fed in prison. But this can’t be that
film. It’s not built that way. That’s
not its intention”
(Jenkins, 2015).
For me, the force-feeding scene
was not merely a better moment in
- 36 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
a mediocre film (the argument
about the greatness or the
aesthetic beauty of the film is a
separate one), it was the moment I
remembered long after the film
ended. For years, I have heard the
refrain “Women died for you!” as a
guilt-tripping incentive to vote.
But it was this scene women
were tortured, held down and
force-fed that I think of now
when I feel too conflicted or
dejected to vote. David Jenkins
may not have felt the intent of the
film. But I, and other women, did.
In contrast, Ella Taylor’s
review of Hunger in the US
newspaper LA Weekly, described
something uglier:
“Those of us who see the martyr as
one of the more pernicious of
human fantasies in these times,
how could you not? are more
likely to go with the priest, who tells
[Bobby] Sands, You got no
appreciation of a life’…
“The farther I got from the queasy
beauty of McQueen’s movie, the
more I hated it”
(Taylor, 2008).
It is notable that where one
man saw noble self-sacrifice, one
woman saw irritating martyrdom.
And I wondered if the Suffragettes
in the film would have been seen
by male film critics as more noble
if they hadn’t been force-fed and
had been allowed to die on screen,
if the actors had undergone
extreme weight loss to play their
characters, just as Michael
Fassbender had for Hunger.
The force-feeding scene in
Suffragette, while particularly
harrowing for people who have
experienced an eating disorder
and face or faced the fear of being
force-fed themselves, is also
harrowing for women who fear
being overpowered by men.
Watching this film in the cinema
was an extremely visceral
experience even looking away
from the screen during the force-
feeding scene, I could hear the
noise of restraint and struggle and
a woman’s muffled, choking
screams. It was an assault on my
senses as much as the rape scenes
in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(2011) and A Clockwork Orange
(1971, rereleased in cinemas in
2000).
Sexual Violence in Film:
I struggle to understand why it is
not easier for men to make the
leap and try to understand what it
might be like for a woman seeing
herself on screen, overpowered by
men. It seems that as extreme as
some scenes of women being
overpowered felt for me and some
other women, they were not
extreme enough for some male
critics. They were not, for example,
the ten-minute rape scene in
Gaspar Noé’s Irrevérsible (2002),
which had viewers walking out of
the screening at the Cannes Film
Festival.
There is frequent debate
about the depiction of sexual
violence in films, and it seems
from the impasse that these
debates lead to, that female critics
might experience these scenes
differently from male critics. At the
British Film Institute’s Reuben
Library, there is a bundle of books
that are all about rape and sexual
violence on screen. Nearly all of
these books are by women. If men
feel it is their place to write and
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 37 -
direct scenes of sexual violence
against women, where they are
imagining the woman’s response
and how female viewers will
experience watching the scene, I
wonder why they are less inclined
to investigate and criticise sexual
violence on screen.
In her book on sexual
violence against girls and women
in films and the correlation with
campus rape in US colleges, Kelly
Oliver argues:
“…violence toward girls and
women is filmed in ways that make
it aesthetically pleasing. By doing
so, these films not only aestheticize
and eroticize violence toward girls
and women, and sexual assault,
but also normalise it and
anesthetize us to its effects”
(Oliver, 2016, p. 48).
She uses the example of David
Fincher’s remake of The Girl with
the Dragon Tattoo (2011), with one
scene of extreme sexual violence
against the titular woman, and a
second where this woman exacts
revenge upon the rapist. She
points out that as a viewer, the
second attack does not
counterbalance the first simply
because it is an act of revenge.
Oliver looks at reviews of the film
and notes that the male critic of
The New York Times, A. O. Scott,
is one of the few who found the
sexual violence sensationalist and
in fact thought “there is something
prurient and salacious about the
way the initial assault is filmed.
The vengeance, while graphic, is
visually more circumspect” (A. O.
Scott, 2011, in Oliver, 2016, p.
48). As Oliver says of films such as
this and The Hunger Games
(2012), “Even as Hollywood gives
us new images of strong,
empowered girls, it continues to
beat them” (Oliver, 2016, p.21).
Although she discussed a
television show rather than a film,
Jessica Valenti wrote that one
reason women like the US show
The Walking Dead (2010 present)
is because although it has
screened near-rape scenes, it does
not screen rape scenes.
“There have been no rapes shown
on camera and no gratuitous
sexual assault despite on-camera
violence against women having
become such an accepted trope in
this, the golden age of television
drama… knowing I can watch The
Walking Dead a violent, action-
packed, drama… and not tense up
every time a woman is alone on
camera, well, that just makes the
show so much more enjoyable to
watch
(Valenti, 2014).
There have been rapes and sexual
violence depicted in the comic
books that the show is based on,
but the crew have so far five
years after Valenti wrote her
article kept sexual assaults off
screen.
Films with Role Models for
Young Girls:
Looking at a very different
genre, Samantha Colling
discusses the film Clueless (1995)
and how its unexpected box office
success resulted in more girl teen
films in the late 1990s. She
describes the pastiche of affluent
American teen culture and Jane
Austen’s novel Emma (1815) and
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how the film “makes fun with [but
not of the main character] Cher’s
idea of a ‘normal’ life”, and shows
how this double coding allows the
audience to enjoy the escapism of
the film and Cher’s lifestyle
(Colling, 2017).
I recall watching this film at
the cinema with a schoolfriend. It
was a jubilant experience hordes
of teenagers walked out of the
cinema into the shopping mall
afterwards, quoting lines from the
film, wanting their friends to
watch the film so they would enjoy
the banter of quoting lines at each
other. There was also a diversity in
the film which seemed effortless
and natural. Colling describes the
pleasure of cognitive engagement
with teen girl friends and their
“use of language that engages with
(or creates) contemporaneous
adolescent vernacular” (p. 20).
However, as Brie Larson said, if
most critics are white men, we
need to question what their values
are and how are these affect a
film’s reviews, its success or
failure at the box office, and
likelihood of being awards-
contenders. “Teen film, and more
importantly Hollywood girl teen
film, is generally dismissed as silly
and trivial, the implication being
that girl culture is silly and trivial,
and in turn that girls are silly and
trivial” (Colling, 2017, pp. 1-2).
Amy M. Davis studies the
women in Disney’s animated
feature films, and considers the
princess Jasmine in Aladdin
(1992) to be “a strong, intelligent,
well-balanced individual who can
instantly and accurately judge
character” (Davis, 2006, p. 182),
and her one flaw is her naïveté
about life outside the palace,
which the audience understands
is a result of her sheltered life.
Davis praises the film as “Jasmine,
who as a princess has been placed
on a pedestal all her life, shows the
dangers and difficulties inherent in
this idealisation of women, since it
robs them of their freedom and
keeps them from where they can do
the most good the public sphere”
(p. 183).
The live-action remake of
Aladdin (2019) was released last
summer, to mixed reviews from
critics and audiences. The average
critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is
57%, while the average audience
score is 94%. Of the thirty-two “top
critics” whose reviews are listed for
Aladdin, two are women and one
man is Asian-American all three
of these critics gave positive
reviews.
My cousin and I watched it
in a cinema screening room that
was packed even though the film
had been out for a month. Our
experience of it, as second-
generation Sri Lankan women
twenty years apart in age, was
mild irritation at the elements that
didn’t work for us but an
overriding feeling of joy at the
unusual sight of an Asian woman
on screen as a main character in a
Hollywood film, singing and
dancing with considerable talent,
fleshed out and strengthened from
the character she was based on.
Given that East Asian films are
usually held in greater esteem by
US and UK critics, while
Bollywood and other South Asian
films are ignored or derided as
song-and-dance films with less
artistic merit, it was a surprise
and a pleasure to see Bollywood-
style dancing and costumes in
something as mainstream as a
Disney musical.
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The Los Angeles Times reported on
a recent poll of the twenty best
films from the last two decades by
Asian-American directors with
predominantly Asian-American
actors. This list was chosen by
twenty-three Asian-American film
critics and curators, and the top
twenty films included just one
from a South East Asian director
and two by South Asian directors,
which Brian Hu acknowledges in
his report (Hu, 2019).
Shortly before this report,
the UK’s Guardian published its
list of the hundred best films in the
same time period, decided by four
of its critics, two men and two
women, all white. It included two
films from Japan, two from Korea,
one from China, one from Taiwan,
one from Hong Kong, one from
Thailand, and one from India. In
the précis of the Indian film, the
article described Gangs of
Wasseypur (2012) as a “two-part
Indian crime film that’s a long, long
way from Bollywood… Stylish,
visceral film-making, violent and
hard-hitting, it’s got a valid claim to
be India’s answer to The
Godfather” (Bradshaw, Clarke,
Pulver & Shoard, 2019). For me,
this illustrated a degree of
condescension placed by UK and
US film critics on South Asian and
Bollywood films. As if to say: Here
is an Indian film, but do not worry,
it is not typical Bollywood!
Yet the same newspaper has
featured a column on Bollywood
cinema by different writers,
including Nirpal Dhaliwal, a
British-Indian journalist, and the
New Statesman’s film critic, Ryan
Gilbey. Dhaliwal tried to unpick
why Indian films may not appeal
to non-Indian people in the UK
and US, arguing that the nature of
Indian films is to appeal to all
ages, which is why a film tends to
cross several genres. Gilbey has
explained that even though
Bollywood films have high
audience numbers in the
multiplexes where they screen in
the UK, they rarely get a press
screening, so he chooses to see the
films along with the general
audience. There is evidence that
the number and size of reviews
influences a film’s box office
success, so I find it admirable that
a journalist would make an effort
to see films that are otherwise
underrepresented in mainstream
media reviews (Gemser, Van
Oostrum & Leenders, 2007).
Returning to Amy M. Davis’s
study of Disney women, she points
out that Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs (1937), Disney’s first
feature-length animation, was
aimed at women rather than men
or children. Walt Disney’s “lack of
definition for his own target
audience, other than its being
eighty percent women, does not
specify what he saw as the
‘typical’ woman” (Davis, 2006, p.
129). Disney films were originally
catering for the “child in the adult”
rather than just the child,
something that Disney has
returned to in recent films such as
Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) and
Toy Story 4 (2019), and Inside Out
(2015).
However, despite women’s
growing presence in public in
between the two world wars,
contributing more and more to the
workforce (Stead, 2016), film
reviews in the late 1930s were
written predominantly by men
even when Walt Disney was clear
they were not his intended
- 40 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
audience. Here are excerpts from
two reviews of Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs at the time.
“At least a third of the film is
boring, needlessly and pathetically
and uncondonably boring… That
the character Snow White is a
failure in every way is
undisputable. As a moving figure
she is unreal, as a face and body
she is absurd, and in terms of what
she does she is ludicrous.” (V. F.
Calverton, Current History, June
1938)
“As it moved on toward the fifth
reel, one began to yawn in mild
amusement at this Cecil B. DeMille-
ish conception of a fairy tale”.
(David Wolff, New Masses,
January 25, 1938)
(Sillick & McCormick, 1996, p.46)
It is possible that had more
women reviewed this film, aimed
at them, they may have picked up
on the problem of the fairy-tale
idea of a man kissing or having sex
with an unconscious girl. Kelly
Oliver traces it back to a
fourteenth-century Catalan tale,
Frayre de Joy e Sor de Plaser
(“Brother of Joy and Sister of
Pleasure”), and looks at the early
versions of this fantasy in Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939)
and Sleeping Beauty (1959) where
the rape that featured in the
written fairytales was sanitised
into the Disney trope “true love’s
kiss” (Oliver, 2016, p.33). She
praises Maleficent (2014) for
showing Maleficent’s symbolic
rape (the character has her wings
cut off) while she was unconscious
after being drugged by her love,
Stephan, and the anguish of her
subsequent trauma.
Reviewing Films:
In addition to the issue of
writing for certain genders or
ethnicities, I also question
whether some of the most read
reviews, in national newspapers,
magazines, television and radio,
are written for the general public.
George Orwell, a journalist who
tried to confront his own white,
middle-class prejudice during his
life, wrote about writing, arguing it
needs to be accessible rather than
stuffy. One of his most famous
pieces of advice was do not use a
long word if a short one will do,
and film reviews written for people
deciding whether to pay a
significant amount of money to see
a film at the cinema or wait for it
to come to television or a
streaming service are sometimes
filled with long words and
references which will be obscure to
many readers.
In my opinion, one reviewer
who does understand what
reading film reviews means for
most people is Anne Billson, a film
critic whose collected reviews can
be found in her books. She
introduces one book with the note:
“The reviews are not written for
film buffs, but for the literate albeit
non-specialist readership of a
national newspaper read by all
ages, hence the occasional gentle
caution about language, sex or
gore” (Billson, 2018). In revisiting
her reviews in the 2018 edition of
one book, she reflects on the
Time's Up movement and notices
phrases she once found funny but
now finds “crass” and both thanks
and apologises to the woman who
taught her not to use the phrase
getting naked” about female actors
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 41 -
in films (Billson, 2018). Her
humility and her willingness to
learn from her readers, as well as
her obvious sense of fun in
reviewing films, makes her
criticism more satisfying and
relevant to me than those of the
male critics who complained that
Suffragette was too boring or not
as harrowing as Hunger.
Brian McNair reflects on the
absence of women in journalism
generally, arguing that women
have been excluded from fully
participating in the production of
art and culture, and journalism’s
“accessibility to women living in
patriarchy has been limited by the
fact that it often requires access to
the corridors of political, corporate
and cultural power, and the power
elites who make key decisions.
Political journalists must be able to
mix and mingle with (largely male)
politicians whenever and wherever
they do their networking” (McNair,
2010, p. 95).
Underrepresented people in
film criticism, whether women,
ethnic minorities, people with
disabilities, people whose film
education and reference points
differ from white, male film
reviewers may feel disheartened
from trying to join the hallowed
space of these people who decide
which films are worth watching.
The internet has democratised this
to some extent, inasmuch as
anyone can create a film blog or
submit reviews to websites such
as Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb,
and websites such as Den of Geek
and Vulture can cast a wide net in
choosing what films to review.
However, the internet has also
given a forum for people to share
prejudices and derail a film’s
success or its average rating.
Writing about Paul Feig’s female
reboot of Ghostbusters (2016),
Sam Adams describes many of the
detractors as “Ghostbros”,
arguing:
“It’s tempting to dismiss the
objections to the “Ghostbusters”
reboot as manbaby hissyfits. Take
the video in which James Rolfe,
who bills himself as the Angry
Video Game Nerd, announced that
he wouldn’t review the movie, or
even see it, because ‘If you already
know you’re going to hate it, why
give them your money?’ Or the
movie’s IMDb page, which users
have deluged with 1-out-of-10
ratings, despite the fact that few if
any of them have seen it…
Nearly eight times as many male
[IMDb] voters as female, with
women ranking the movie twice as
high as men. (There’s a disparity
among professional reviews as
well, though not nearly so
pronounced.) Even if it’s not the
only factor, it takes some seriously
tortured logic to argue that gender
has nothing to do with the anti-
‘Ghostbusters’ backlash.”
(Adams, 2016).
Conclusion:
Larson’s call for more
diversity in film journalism was
only last year, but it is an issue
female and minority ethnic
cineastes have been aware of for
years. In the UK, two prominent
film critics, both white men, left
their long-time positions as the
main film critic for a national
broadcaster and a national
newspaper respectively. There was
a feeling of resignation when they
were replaced by another two
- 42 - British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Autumn Edition October 2019
white men Jonathan Ross at the
BBC and Mark Kermode at The
Observer. A job had become
available and here was a chance
for the broadcaster and the
publication to broaden their voice,
to reach out to other groups of
their audience who enjoy seeing,
thinking about, talking about
films just as much. In the end,
Jonathan Ross was almost
replaced by a woman after he left
the broadcaster “almost”
replaced, because Claudia
Winkleman was not given
complete autonomy to review films
as he had, but rather she hosted a
discussion with a male co-
presenter, film critic Danny Leigh.
The news stories on the website of
the BBC, the organisation where
she and Ross had worked, differ in
their reporting of the film critics
leaving. Winkleman is described at
one point as “the mother-of-three”
(BBC, 2016); Ross’s parental
status is not mentioned, although
he also had three children at the
time when he left the BBC. This
seems to confirm Simone de
Beauvoir’s sentiment in The
Second Sex (1949), when she said
women are considered wombs.
I feel a sense of unease
writing about this, knowing that
the issue of gender and ethnic
representation is one that causes
defensiveness and irritation. In
his study of race on film, Matthew
W. Hughey acknowledges this
difficulty:
“In a time in which many white
populations in Western nations feel
that their attitudes have positively
changed and that as a result racial
inequality should have declined
along with it, many now express
exasperation with overt talk of
race”
(Hughey, 2014, pp168-169).
Professor Stacy L. Smith,
the director of the Annenberg
Inclusion Initiative who conducted
the research quoted by Larson,
said of the findings: “The very
individuals who are attuned to the
under- and misrepresentation of
females on screen and behind the
camera are often left out of the
conversation and critiques” (USC
Annenberg Staff, 2018). The
British Film Institute started a
mentoring scheme last year, giving
underrepresented people who
have not successfully broken into
film journalism the chance to be
mentored during the London Film
Festival. Hopefully schemes like
this, along with increased calls to
action from people like Larson and
McDormand, will help the slowly
changing world of film criticism to
greater reflect upon and represent
film audiences.
Shamini Sriskandarajah
therapyshamini@gmail.com
Member of the British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Please cite as:
Sriskandarajah, S. (2019). “For the third
time, I don’t hate white dudes”: A visual
ethnography of film criticism and the call
for diversity. British Mensa’s:
ANDROGYNY, 3(3), 33-44.
British Mensa’s: ANDROGYNY, Volume 3 (Issue 3) - 43 -
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