Fifty Shades of Grey? It's just a film.

Whenever anyone asks what I think of the book Fifty Shades of Grey, I reply that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Honestly it is. Perhaps this is because I didn’t read it a quest for great literature, searching a philosophical treatise or an ideological dissertation. I wanted to read clichéd, badly written, groin warming erotica and that’s exactly what the book delivered.

Despite enjoying it, I certainly didn’t expect it to be made into a film and if it were then I expected it would star niche celebrities with names such as Titty Hore and Don Doomee.

My female friends have descended in droves upon their nearest cinemas, afterwards treating themselves with sparkling wine and chocolate - they seem quite satisfied with what they’ve seen. I think I’ll wait for Netflix.

Nonetheless feminists and other activists have been fervent in their condemnation of the film. A quick hashtag search on Twitter will tell you that Fifty Shades of Grey depicts women as submissive, glorifies abuse and celebrates inequality in relationships.

I’m sure it does.

It's about a wealthy pervert who sexually dominates an innocent young woman.

Er yesss…

Still not worth flinching, an entire genre of women’s fiction is based upon the same scenario. So the film is about a young woman who is lured into the sordid world of DBSM with a frighteningly sexy older male.

Am I deliberately trivialising the film?

Of course I am.

Because it is trivial. Or rather, it should be trivial.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a book and a film. As with all books, it is as weak or powerful as we allow. All the fuss underscores the need to put the entertainment industry – especially the celebrity aspect – in its place. Films, music and television influence our daily lives, our personal tastes, our financial choices and even our politics. I suggest that the women who’ve enjoyed Fifty Shades are the ones who see the work for what it is – minor entertainment.

When rap music blared obscenities and violence in the 80s, we debated and discussed the consequences. When video games blared obscenities and violence in the 90s, we debated and discussed the consequences. When Miley Cyrus did something or other last year, we debated and discussed the consequences and the only outcome of our debates and discussions was that the entertainment industry made vile amounts of cash from the free publicity generated.

Currently, Fifty Shades is being talked about on Twitter, Facebook, TV - even Woman’s Hour on BBC 4. As a result, its makers are reeling in the profits. Moreover, the time and effort that is going to opposing it is perhaps the real profit. It’s opposition is making this film important, far more important than it actually is.

Fifty Shades is fantasy, judging from book and ticket sales - many women’s fantasies. We should limit its effects to the sphere of fiction and not try to look for deeper or more convoluted meaning.

We have granted the media – film and television especially, far more power than it should wield. Perhaps we accredit it with even more than it has in reality. When not enough black people are nominated for Oscars, pages upon pages are spent on berating an industry which most likely does not have any interest in black representation other than how much money it can make. When women land plum roles or are reported to make as much or more money than men we applaud and spend pages upon pages celebrating this so-called success. We insist on paying too much attention to a business that should not matter as much as it does. 


What Does a Feminist Look Like?

Last night I did feminist things.

I had the opportunity to see Gudrun Schyman, founder of a Sweden’s feminist party. It was an excellent event, out of the two hundred or so in the audience there were three men and two infants, women wore sensible uncombed hair, dark, baggy clothes and lace-up ankle boots with sensible winter treads.

Or is that how it seemed? Did we really look like a bra-burning mob about to raise clenched fists into the air and declare an end to patriarchy?

I suppose if one treks into the city centre to listen to a feminist party founder, whose main subject is feminism, at an event organised by a feminist group – then we can assume that she or he is a feminist – or is being paid to be there.

In that case feminists look a lot like ordinary people.

Looking back at our appearance, realistically, very few people in Finland wear bright colours in February. Finns, in general, dress casually, to the foreign eye, maybe too casually sometimes. Our boots were the boots that we wear for winter snow and ice and there were hints of lipstick, manicures and even bras. Many of us had made an effort about our appearance and some women could be described as trendy or hipster. If an uninformed stranger had walked into the auditorium, there would have been nothing about us (except perhaps the flags and banner) to tell her that this was a feminist meeting.

As much as I’d like it to be - feminism is not catching, indoctrination with feminist ideals does not lead to violence and some feminists do take baths and shave their underarm hair. So why then, when feminists are such seemingly ordinary people, are we still met with such disapproval and why must we repeatedly defend and justify what we are?


Gwyneth Speaks of Vaginas

Does Gwyneth Paltrow really believe that women should steam clean their vaginas or it’s a ploy for publicity?

Do we women still know so little about our bodies that we’ll follow such advice?

I ask, but perhaps I don't really want an answer.

For many of the world’s women accurate, unbiased and accessible information about the female body – especially the reproductive system – is hard to come by. It does not help when someone like Paltrow uses her celebrity status to send more distorted messages to the world.

At a time when we’re battling to end the myth of the female reproductive system as dirty or cursed, Ms Paltrow should ask what message she’d like to share - that the vagina accumulates such filth that it must be cleaned (and someone paid to do it) or that she, an educated, wealthy and famous woman, knows nothing about her own body?


#Jesuis silence

In the wake of the Paris attacks and the public and international displays of solidarity that followed, an extremely annoying trend began to dominate the web.

Yes, we are aware of the situation in Nigeria, we replied to the first accusations of ignorance - as far as we can be considering the dearth of information.

But that wasn’t enough, then came the accusations of callousness, of not caring. Why was this? Because we’re not on the street with the world leaders that were not marching, our every twitter post is not tagged to #jesuisnigeria and we were not vociferously joining particular we-like-to-think-we-are-well-informed celebrities in their condemnation of Boko Haram.

Déjà vu – Ebola.

It seems what is required of us is not that we care, but that we must make a public display that we care. It is not enough that we care, but everyone must know it.

Many people across the world are deeply aggrieved by what is going on in Nigeria. Though the internet mind-police draw and share cartoons of apathetic viewers watching the news and ignoring it, placing the blame on racism and the prominence of certain countries over others – of course those are factors – the reasons for our behaviour are assumed and inferred and we’re beaten about the head with these assumptions.

Since the Paris events, we’ve had a relentless onslaught of opinions, discussions and declarations of being #jesuis or not, pro or against satire, blasphemy and so on. Though these are important it seems those who stay silent are thought of as being uninformed or uninterested.

In some cultures, public displays are an essential part of mourning and anyone who doesn’t attend a funeral is accused of witchcraft or indifference – it seems something similar is happening here.

Photograph: Michael Fleshman


All hail the great leader!

While Facebook has many detractors, I, unlike several Facebook friends, have never felt the need to unsubscribe from it and leap into a virtual wilderness.

Facebook, while acknowledging that it has many flaws, allows me to stay anchored in Zambia – to remain in touch with friends, acquaintances and to follow its events and also its politics.

And the gloves are off and groins thoroughly pummelled.

After the death of a president, we are now in the midst of campaigning for presidential by-elections. My Facebook contacts give me a constant narrative of the events surrounding the elections. Facebook is far more detailed than the traditional Zambian media - the candidates and their attributes have been described and debated, from the clothes they wear to their ex-wives and wayward children.

When looking at the list of aspirants, it’s repeatedly asked, why are there so few women willing to stand, why are so few young people participating and why such apathy towards politics?

Even before the election dates were confirmed the shenanigans began. In the process of trying to woo voters in an election no one foresaw (seemingly) there are no depths that haven’t been sunk to, no ploys that have not been played or bottoms that have not been scraped in the pursuit of power.

A Zambian politician must have an unshakable desire to be in office if he is to get through the process of trading insults, concocting stories and making promises that he has not the slightest intention of fulfilling, in order to get into power.

Here lies the problem. An issue that when one reads Facebook or other social or formal media you find repeated over and over “in power” or “ascend into power.”

In Zambian politics the prize is too great. We elect candidates into power – we actually leave our homes one morning to stand in a queue to cast a vote in order to give someone power. Our use of the word is not a exaggeration.

Power – not office, or responsibility. In Zambia a president becomes almost omnipotent - giving orders, disregarding laws and constitutions, ignoring not only election promises but also the electorate themselves. Our presidents still rule by decree, harking back to the days of Kaunda’s banning mini-skirts, once spoken his words may as well be law. Our presidents are protected by impunity; the concepts of accountability and responsibility have yet to be demanded by the people.

As for the financial benefits, they are unlimited it seems (taking three generations of a family on holiday at the taxpayers expense) but those pale in comparison to having an entire airport on hold each time you wish to fly on holiday. You experience the motorcades, the dancing women and the constant bowing and scraping of those wanting to be in your favour.

This is what causes the unfettered battle to become president. Unfortunately the Zambian electorate have yet to understand the true concept of democracy – simply voting is not enough to call a system a democracy, just like not having been at war doesn’t mean we are a peaceful nation.


The reality of it is

Reality TV - I watch less than my fair share. Some of it is fairly entertaining, some of it is good, but some is, quite frankly, built on premises so ridiculous that I find myself staring at the television, jaw slack and eyes watering.

“Two years is nothing! You’ll find someone!” I’ve just been shouting at the television (yes, television does make you shout at it). Sinkkulaiva (Love Boat) has just ended and we have continued to Ensitreffit Alttarilla (First date at the altar), both of which are about desperate singles looking for love. Ensitreffit involves strangers being paired up on five-week trials to see if they are suited, there’s even a priest involved and a very serious host.

Among many questions I have is, how certain do you have to be that you’re not going to find love in order to join such a show? (Another is does this trial period involve sex?)

Are we to understand that these, mostly, young people are so sure that they cannot find partners through conventional means that they’ll resort to a very public process complete with the potential for humiliation?

Once the show is aired and watched and the contracts signed to permit your face to be repeatedly shown, day after day, year after year, will it still seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity to find a partner or will it become something you’re constantly hoping that your new workmates or girlfriend don’t find out about?

Our individual histories now form a distinct retrievable part of our collective memory. For example, six or seven years ago, I posted some fairly embarrassing pictures of myself on Facebook – nothing extremely so – and forgot about them. Last year Facebook thoughtfully dredged them up for me. Likewise, only this afternoon I noticed Star Trek Generations had been dug up for another seemingly endless rerun on primetime television. Moreover, we have Matlock and McGyver as constant daily companions.

While having had a bit part on MacGyver as mullet guy #2 may seem a little awkward twenty years later, it was a role probably undertaken in the best of faith – that it might lead to a legitimate career in acting – will the motives for being on such reality shows stand up as one gets older and wiser?