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Archive for July 22nd, 2010

In his review of the upcoming Fox film, Ramona and Beezus, based on a children’s novel by Beverly Cleary, Roger Ebert laments the fact that Cleary’s Ramona books never inspired a television series. I found this surprising because, between 1988 and 1990, Ramona, the Canadian series starring Sarah Polley, was my favourite television programme.

I was the same age as the eight-year-old Ramona Quimby when I first discovered the series and loved spending weekend mornings watching a bright, inquisitive Canadian girl explore a world that was not unlike my own. Like me, Ramona sometimes had to cope with embarrassing haircuts, inedible dinners (“Liver!? Eww!!”) and arguments with classmates. She, too, worried about her parents separating and felt uncomfortable about being introduced to the new boyfriend of a much-beloved aunt. I was jealous of the fact that she had an older sister, Beatrice or “Beezus”, (even if Beezus did sometimes call Ramona “a pest”) and could empathise when she had mixed feelings about the impending arrival of a new baby in her family.

Ramona Quimby was as significant a figure in my childhood as My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase became during my adolescence. Both girls were complex characters, with well-developed personalities comprising elements of light and shade, and both demonstrated that even the most seemingly-mundane, middle-class life is likely to be more confusing than carefree. In a recent interview, Sarah Polley described Ramona as “a little bit of an oddball” and said that she felt that the character “spoke to [her] and made [her] feel less isolated”. I think it’s important for young girls, many of whom often feel like misunderstood oddballs themselves, to be able to watch and read about characters like Ramona, whose adventures and woes are centred around school, family and friendships; and not just boys, clothes and popularity.

Do small-screen heroines like Ramona (and Angela) exist anymore?

Aoife Kelleher

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Arlene Hunt. There you go, that’s it. That’s the name I’ve had for nearly 38 years. It’s on my passport, my driving license, my books, my mortgage paper work, oh, and my birth cert. Suffice to say it is as much a part of my identity as my grey eyes and my height.

So much a part of my identity is it that when I got married I kept my name. It wasn’t a big decision, there was no major discussion, I never thought to take Andrew’s name, he never expected me to do so. I’m me, he is he, together we are we, but individual wees * .

It comes then as something of a surprise to me that in 2010 the keeping of one’s own name might cause an eyebrow raise. I have caused some confusion. Why did I not take his name when we became man and wife? Was he ‘okay’ with this? ( no, really) What if we have children? What will they be called** And my personal favourite, ‘why get married at all if you’re going to keep your own name?’ ***

I might point out that my husband’s family never subjected me to this kind of questioning, nor my own family for that matter, rather it seems the unease exists in people who are in no way connected to me on a personal level, and thus it makes me ponder all the more why my surname should trouble them so unduly.

I like my surname. It is the same surname my daughter has, I use it professionally. But all of those reasons pale in comparison to the real reason I am still Arlene Hunt, and that is because I find the notion of trading in my name for another to be old-fashioned and frankly not something I would care to do.

I get that for some people marriage is the start of a new life and new family, but Andrew and I lived together for many years before marriage, keeping happily our names while sharing a life. Once the rings were exchanged neither of us gave any real thought to the politics of a name change. He was still him, I was still me, our we had a more legal basis, but still much the same.

A friend recently told me that her husband would have been grievously hurt had she not changed her name after marriage. It might even have been a deal breaker.  I said ‘I see.’ And I did see, but part of me also thought, well why did it have to be you who capitulated. Why not him? What if you had been hurt about the loss of your name?  Oh that’s right, it was expected that she would change, after all there is the small matter of that great sleeping dog, tradition. Let it lay slumbering.

Anyway, far be it for me to disparage any woman’s decision. If she was happy to change her name for the sake of peace and quiet so be it. Also many women actively want to change their names to create a new family/identity. I did not. There ought to be room for all of us, without the raised eyebrows and the quick reach for the fainting couch upon learning that the sleeping dog just had its tail trod on.

If I may  borrow Shakespeare for a neat little ending,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

* yes I know how that sounds.

** Dear lord if I discovered I was pregnant names would be the very least of my concerns.

***er tax? Love? Tax?

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Lucinda Creighton.

Discuss.

No not her politics (for the moment) but the reaction to her from the media, from Fine Gael head office, from her party leader?

On Tuesday afternoon when she made her speech at the MacGill Summer School (not a lot of women speakers and very few in the audience) I read  snippets reported through twitter and found myself fairly shocked to agree with her. On the matter of donations to political parties she questioned if those indebted to the state and supported by NAMA should be tapped up for donations from political parties.

Specifically she was referring to the Fine Gael party fundraiser at the K Club last week and the subsequent coverage. She mentioned Fine Gael being perceived as FF lite.  And she made a number of other points on political reform and standards which is the theme of the summer school.  I believe that links between political parties and builders over the past twenty years has a huge part to play in the state we are in so I heard those bits and thought it was good to hear someone say it!.

Of course the media (who have been feeding well from the middleclass and fairly male MacGill trough all week) were only delighted to stir up the post heave trauma for another run out and reported with glee the challenges made to Fine Gael (and therefore Enda Kenny) in Lucinda’s remarks.

I’m no fan of Deputy Creighton’s politics as a quick trawl elsewhere will show but I find myself wondering if some of the media’s reaction to her would be different if she was male.  It’s not just male journalists that seem to have a problem with her either. There’s lots of use of terms like ‘feisty’, ‘blonde ambition’, ‘stilettos flying’, ‘ambitious young lady‘ in reports and columns on Lucinda’s speeches.  If you read the speech you’ll see there is discussion of the whip system and her views on it’s effects on democracy – there’s little comment anywhere else on this.  She also reflects on press officer control, trust in politicians and the issue of political dissent.

When John McGuinness was sacked as a junior minister and has subsequently spoken out regarding the troubles in Fianna Fail there has been much about his business background and experience, large local vote, political dynasty etc.  Not a lot about his dress, hair colour or gender.

The last straw for me was whilst watching Tonight with Vincent Browne’s review of newspapers on Tuesday night. There was a cackle fest amongst presenter and panel on Lucinda’s speech but no analysis of what she actually said, loads of personal commentary and most of it disparaging.  Nothing on the farce of developers being bailed out and supporting political parties and a golf club on dodgy financial knees being the the place for the support.

Lucinda is not the only woman to have faced challenging treatment from the media recently. Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has also received a lot of  attention in the past eighteen months. I’m not so sure she’s getting the rough time entirely due to her gender though. Competence surely has much to do with the matter?

On her blog yesterday Lucinda was not surprised at the coverage and has had enough of the blonde ambition and stilettos too.  I doubt this means that she will be coming out all radical feminist on us anytime soon. Is her media treatment related to her gender or possibly a symptom of the poor quality of discourse and political thinking in her party that whenever  she says something she’s going to be noticed ?

I hope to return to the issues of gender and dissent in future posts as it’s not restricted to party politics or blueshirts but would be interested in hearing and engaging with the views of others.

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Dressed for Success

Like many people, I have a work uniform. But in my case, it’s sort of accidental. You see, I work from home, and like a lot of people who technically don’t have to leave their house every day, I can wear whatever the hell I like.

Nancy Mitford and her desk, living the elegant working-from-home dream

And on summer days when I’m not going into town to meet anyone, that tends to be the following: a fitted t-shirt, usually from Threadless, American Apparel or Buyolympia, elderly jeans or needle cords, and an American Apparel hoodie. Oh, and Birkenstocks. Glamorous, no?

That’s the thing about working from home. You imagine you’re going to be some sort of elegant figure in a neat frock sitting at a lovely, perfectly neat desk adorned, perhaps, by an art nouveau vase with a single flower in it. You possibly look a bit like Nancy Mitford. Instead, you end up sitting a desk covered in iPhone cords, hand cream, digital voice recorders, notebooks and a wobbling pile of book proofs that match the several wobbling piles of book proofs on the floor next to the desk. And you’re probably wearing pyjama bottoms.

I should make it clear that I don’t wear actual rags when I’m working at home in the suburbs – I do actually leave the house to go for a walk and go to the shops every day. And I wear clothes I genuinely like. It’s just that they tend to be very, very casual and not especially flattering – the worn old Threadless t-shirt rather than the fancy top, the battered, sagging, ancient Wrangler or Topshop jeans as opposed to the nice new Acne ones.

This Sarah Utter shirt from Buyolympia.com is one of my working-at-home staples. It is not really very sexy.

So I’m well aware that there’s a definite difference between how much attention I pay to my clothes on an at-home day and on a day when I’m actually venturing into the outside world. Which is why I can really identify with this excellent post on Jezebel by Anna North, an even scruffier fellow at-home worker, who says

And since I’m a feminist who’s occasionally claimed that I get dressed up “for myself,” it’s a little troubling that I only try to put together a decent outfit when I’m going to see other people.

Yes, I’d like to convince myself that I only dress up for myself, but if this were really true I would wear my contact lenses every day, and not just when I meet up with people. I would never wear the ridiculously faded Topshop jeans I was sporting yesterday. And I wouldn’t be writing this at my kitchen table with my hair unbrushed and my feet sporting a pair of woolly hand-knitted socks under a pair of Birkenstocks.

So, what about you? If you work from home, could you leave the house right now and go and meet friends without changing your clothes, or would you have to change into something a bit less manky? Do you dress completely presentably every day, whether you’re stuck at your desk all day or not? And if you don’t work from home, do you let yourself go at the weekend?

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So I went to see the A-Team tonight. Renaissance woman, that’s me.  The female lead, well, only female character, is Jessica Biel, who plays kick-ass Captain Charisa Sosa and love interest for ‘Face’.

Biel is beautiful and ambitious, ‘there’s no ladder she can’t climb’. At least her ambition is mostly represented as a good thing by the men in the film, although there are moments when she’s not entirely taken seriously. Quelle surprise.

Anyway, I’m watching the spectacular, at times ridiculous, action scenes, filling my face with popcorn and waiting for my favourite bit – the car chase (it never arrived!) – and suddenly, amidst all the suspend-your-disbelief action scenes something felt a little too implausible. Here’s Jessica, hot on the heels of the bad guys, tracking them down, making calls, following leads, I’m talking guns, squad cars and shoot-outs. She’s here to do a job but…when leaps out of the car the illusion crumbles as she hobbles across the street like some kind of velociraptor in stilettos. She’s wearing ridonculous heels…to the shoot-out. Pah! #realityfail

I, like most women with a job and over the age of 21, dress for the day ahead. I like wearing heels but if I’ve to walk across town, well, forget about it, I wear the flats – or at least pack the flats and change into the heels when I arrive at my destination. And on the days I know I’m going to be involved in a shoot-out, I pack my rollasoles.

Even by silly normal-rules-don’t-apply Hollywood standards, this was a bit much and I honestly can’t remember seeing something this implausible in a film since Melanie Griffith’s hair in Working Girl.

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