Tag Archives: Gender

If I were a cat I would be in profound meditation

The fact that I’m married surprises no-one more than me. I was never the kind of woman who has had her wedding day planned out since primary school. Who wasted time thinking about getting married when there were imaginary monsters to be battled? I was never interested in playing house or being the princess waiting to bestow her favour on whoever showed up to rescue her. These were things that would interfere with my valuable adventuring time.

 

I should have realised that there are narrative rules governing the fates of girls like me. In strict accordance with the rules set down by Rogers & Hammerstein (amongst others), I fell hard and fast. I’d known my husband for a few years before I fell/realised I was in love with him, but things moved swiftly once we’d figured it out and within a few months of getting together we were planning our wedding.

 

So why get married? A couple of reasons. First and most important was the prospect of celebrating our relationship in the company of the people we care about. There is something really beautiful about looking at my husband and knowing that we feel strongly enough about each other to have said our vows in front of friends and family. I am surprised by how important that was to me, since it was something I had never felt the need of before Mark. I would always have thought that living together, having a cat together, building a life together was enough, but it turned out that I wanted to make that commitment in public.

 

There were also the practical, unromantic reasons. I still think marriage in its current form is a bit of an outdated institution, but society as a whole doesn’t really care about my views and continues to work on the assumption that marriage is the way to validate a relationship and make it official. I’ve always felt uneasy about not having a legal next of kin, or at least not one that I trust. My closest blood relative is someone I steer clear of for a number of compelling reasons, and I would hate to think of her tracking me down if I were in some way incapacitated and being permitted to make decisions about my wellbeing just because we share some genes. If those decisions ever need to be made, I want Mark to be the one making them and there’s only one way to make absolutely certain of that. Likewise, in the event of my death (because when you have a couple of near misses in early adulthood you think about these things) I want him to inherit whatever I have without paying any bullshit inheritance tax, assuming there was enough to incur any.

 

And there was a reason that’s technically practical but in many ways quite whimsical… I never have to wonder how to refer to him. I hate the term “boyfriend”. Lord knows I’m not a schoolgirl in the frenzy of her first affair, to quote a clever man – but “boyfriend” sounds so teenaged. “Partner” makes it sound like a business relationship. (I know some people also object to this one on the grounds that it connotes a same-sex partner. Not really something that bothers me – if people want to waste time speculating about my sexuality they can. You know I’m married to a man. The rest is supposition.) Being able to call him my husband removes the implication that he’s someone with whom I do business or someone whose name I scribble obsessively in the back of my maths jotter. That matters to me, probably because I’m quite nitpicky.

 

Which leads me on to the question of what I now call myself. I’m still surprised by the number of people I meet who can’t quite get their heads round the idea that I haven’t changed my name. Am I making some kind of feminist statement? Refusing to be my husband’s property? Well… not really. I think we are both quite clear about the fact that we’re not each other’s property. I just like my name. It’s mine. I’ve had it all my life. It’s a connection to my dead parents. It’s also on my business cards, my Equity card, my website, my Gmail and all my programme credits.

 

We considered various options. Mark could have taken my name, but with the exception of the dead parents, my reasons for keeping my name apply equally to him keeping his. We could have hyphenated, but both McGregor and Bolsover are long enough already, thanks. I don’t have the attention span for telling people my name is Jennifer McGregor-Bolsover (I can hardly even be doing with signing myself J McGregor). Some of my friends have taken to referring to us as the McGrovers, which I find very sweet but have no desire to adopt as an official moniker. So the simplest thing to do was for me to keep my name and Mark to keep his, since we are, after all, still the same people we were before we got married.

 

However, I still had to decide what to do about my title. I’ve always worn my Miss with pride, happy to display my status as an unmarried woman. Now, having married but kept my name, I find being Mrs an uncomfortable prospect. Mrs McGregor – specifically Mrs J McGregor – was my mum. Mrs Bolsover is Mark’s mum. So where does that leave me? Both of those options feel like a second-hand identity.

 

So on all those annoying forms that consider it their business, I am Ms McGregor. It’s not ideal. For a start, I don’t like the sound of the word. Mzzzz. But perhaps I’ll get used to it in time. I also find it a bit annoying that using Ms still marks you out as a lefty feminist type. Yes, I am a lefty feminist type but no more so than I was this time last year when I was still styling myself Miss. I think this is me kicking against people’s assumptions that they know everything about me based on the fact that I use Ms, kept my name and am happily childfree. Well, there’s an incentive to do a PhD someday… Mark can be Dr Bolsover and I’ll be Dr McGregor and we’ll both have identities that didn’t belong to anyone else in our families first. (Of course this would mean a return to academia for me, which is full of its own terrors. Oh, the agonies of being a first world woman with food, shelter, birth control and the time to worry about which version of my name I use and whether I’m already qualified to the point of being unemployable.) In the meantime I’ll continue to be Ms McGregor, still looking for the right configuration of my name and regularly mocking myself for being concerned about something so trivial when the important thing is that I’ve married a good man with whom I am very, very happy. And when people choose to make assumptions based on that name, perhaps I’ll simply hand them print-outs of this post.


My First Pixar Disappointment

At long last I got round to seeing Brave. I wanted to like it. I really did. It’s set in Scotland! There’s magic and mythology! The protagonist is a redhead! And yet… I feel dissatisfied.

I like Pixar and have high expectations of them. Their previous output, most of which I’ve seen, has shown them to be imaginative, emotionally intelligent and curious about how narrative conventions can be used and subverted. Yet if Brave had been the first Pixar film I’d seen, I doubt I’d rush back to see another – in fact, if Pixar didn’t have seventeen years of good will built up, my ambivalence towards this film might have tipped into antipathy.

The writing is weak. I’ve come to expect neatly crafted stories from Pixar. They used to understand emotional stakes, how to build up a protagonist’s hopes, expectations or fears and then dash the hopes and/or confront the fears. This time, I found I had no idea what Merida actually wants. There’s nothing massive at stake for her. She doesn’t want to get married because of the “loss of freedom”, but what does that mean? Three suitors are presented and she could run rings round any of them – even the least accommodating husband is less trouble than a mother, as I think I once heard somewhere. Without any driving desires, I’m not sure what Merida’s journey is. Yes, she gets the clan chiefs to agree that their children can choose their own spouses, but she’s still going to be expected to marry one of the unappealing heirs at some point.

There was plenty of promise in the mother/daughter dynamic between Elinor and Merida, but the resolution was far too easy. What, a wee bit of quality time with Mum plus a little bit of magic and everything’s peachy? If I’d turned my mother into a bear there would have been hell to pay when I got her changed back. Yes, there would have been an initial moment of being happy at being safely reunited, but then there would have been questions, screaming matches, all the usual mother/daughter stuff that happens after one of you does something really stupid. Perhaps that’s just me and my Mum, but it would have been more interesting than the slightly cloying ending that we got.

The thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth, though, was the depiction of the Scots. Yes, yes, this is where the Scot fulfils one of her national stereotypes and bangs on about how hard things are if you’re Scottish. Look, I know there are varying degrees and that other races have it worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that the way the Scots are portrayed in Brave is racist – or at best, it’s very crude racial stereotyping.

It’s difficult to say how Scottish women fare because there are only two female characters and they’re both busy playing cliche refined mother and cliche rebellious daughter. Certainly Merida is not helped by her voice actor, Kelly Macdonald, who has trouble sounding like a human being rather than an automated phone system that has been set to ‘Scottish’.

It’s the men who come off worst. They’re burly, hairy louts with no emotional depth (which weakens Merida’s climactic appeal – it’s directed at sensibilities they didn’t have prior to that scene). They drink, they gorge, they toss cabers, flash their kilt-clad arses at each other, feud constantly and are used for lazy comic relief. Their lines include references to tattybogles, puddens and galloots, never found anywhere else in the film. (Oh, not quite – one reference to Merida’s ‘gub’ from Elinor and one ‘jings, crivens an’ help ma boab’ from Merida.)

Would we accept this if the Scots weren’t white? We’re surely past the stage where it would be acceptable to populate a kids’ film with a group of Chinese men wearing pointy straw hats, waving chopsticks and mispronouncing the letter R? Or black witch doctors running around with bones through their noses? The fact that the Scots are white and speak English doesn’t make it any less problematic. Am I just being oversensitive here? Perhaps, and I plan to revisit this in another post to help me figure it out, but I don’t think so. I’m not a knee-jerk reactionary type. My objection is not the appearance of these stereotypes in the first place, it’s to them being accepted without question, exploration or purpose beyond filling some screen time with lazy writing. Pixar is better than that. Pixar is quite capable of creating interesting minor characters who are more than just a “hoots mon the noo” joke.

And seriously, a corset-lacing scene? To show Merida being oppressed by her mother’s expectations and traditional gender roles? Seriously, was this written by teenagers who haven’t realised how hackneyed that is yet? Not to mention that stays of that kind didn’t exist until the 19th century, and unless you laced them with dental floss you’d be unlikely to succeed in bursting out of them just by stretching and breathing in.

 

…Oh, come on,. You knew I was never going to let the corset thing pass.