Like so many women who experience domestic violence, Amber Heard’s voice will be continually silenced

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in January 2016
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Last week saw a major Hollywood split come to everyone’s attention when it was revealed that actress Amber Heard had filed for divorce from husband and actor Johnny Depp.

And just as everyone digested this news, pictures of a bruised Heard emerged amid claims that Depp had physically, verbally and emotionally abused her throughout their marriage. Since then, Heard has been granted a temporary restraining order against him due to her claims of experiencing domestic violence, but people have not been kind about it.

Before I begin this blog post, I feel it’s important to let readers know I am fully aware that domestic violence can be experienced by anyone. However, the statistics show that in most cases, it is women who are abused:

· One in four women is abused during her lifetime.
· One in nine is severely physically abused each year.
· Two are killed each week .

(Source: Refuge)

And in most cases, it is women who must bear the burden of their ‘accusations.’

Domestic violence is a subject that is very close to my heart, and one that I feel is increasingly swept under the carpet. Quick to denounce Heard’s revelations was Depp’s friend and comic Doug Stanhope, who said in his guest column for The Wrap: “Abusing women is bullshit. Johnny doesn’t abuse anyone. And he told me that day ahead of time that she’d pull some kind of shit like this.”

Depp’s ex-wife Vanessa Paradis also came forward in a letter, stating that “in all these years I have known Johnny he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man I lived with for 14 wonderful years.”

Elsewhere, various publications like E! Online and my personal favourite,  The Daily Mail, scraped the barrel for news and reported that Heard was “all smiles” as she left her legal meetings. If you aren’t following where I’m going with this, you probably never will, as pointing the finger at any woman who flags domestic violence has always been treated appallingly. Even this time, it is no different.

‘Blackmailer.’ ‘Liar.’ ‘Selfish.’ ‘Manipulative.’

These are just some of the words used by those who have made it clear they do not ‘believe’ Heard, and it echoes how women are often treated when they finally find it within themselves to talk about their experience of domestic violence. “Why did she not speak up earlier?” and “why did she just not leave?” are questions that people always fire in relation to it. Women aren’t even given a chance.

Everything which has been said about Heard in the media now implies that Depp could not possibly do this. That it must be fabricated, a ploy to defame Depp, ruin his career, or get millions out of the divorce settlement. People are very quick to put on their rose-tinted glasses when their idols are attacked, so much so that they  end up refusing to see them outside of their roles as big time Hollywood stars. Reel and real becomes so blurred that people begin to follow the lives of their favourite actors almost like a tragic plot-twist in a movie: ‘no, our hero could NEVER do this!’

And as always, women are sidelined and told to silence themselves because they are ‘crazy’ or ‘delirious.’ That a woman should say a man has hit her becomes illegal in our apparently modern world. Nobody wants to hear about it, and worse still, nobody wants to do anything about it. But what else can women expect from a society and culture that Googles images of Rihanna’s swollen face after she is beaten by Chris Brown, but allows the same Chris Brown to continue making music? And Brown’s continued success does not even cover half of the pats on the back men receive despite their abusive nature.

Reading about the reaction to Heard makes me increasingly worried and furious about the millions of women worldwide who are currently experiencing domestic violence. As I type this right now, somewhere in our world, a female is being subjected to all kinds of atrocities. The fact that Heard’s visual evidence of abuse still cause the media and people to react abhorrently frightens me, since it takes courage, strength and real heart for a woman to finally express that she is suffering. Even more so if she is in the media spotlight. I for one don’t understand why a woman would go to such lengths if she was lying.

A woman’s position in society has always been decided for us, and yet again I can see Heard – and others who experience domestic violence – will have to battle again to find their voice in a world that stifles it. An abuser does not come with a flashing sign above their head saying ‘I am an abuser.’ Nor does a woman come with a sign saying ‘I am here to be abused.’ Yet why do we only choose to create that accusatory sign for women?

This is exactly why women find it so hard to speak about their experience of abuse: because someone on the other side will shake their head ‘no’ and dismiss their story. This is a cycle that has been repeated for so many times and left only those in power – like Depp and other rich, Hollywood celebrities – completely untouched.

Nobody will remember that a man carried out abuse, because they’ll only remember the woman who ‘accused’ him.

 

 

 

 

Haters gonna hate: Kanye West’s lyrics on Taylor Swift are way off the mark

Kanye-West-and-Taylor-Swift

Best friends for life? Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards last year. [Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS]

“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b***h famous”.

This gem is a line rapped by Kanye West in his new song ‘Famous’, taken from his brand new (and unexpectedly dropped) album The Life of Pablo. Since it reached our previously unperturbed ears, it has received widespread criticism from the likes of Ruby Rose, Gigi Hadid and more poignantly, in a video posted by Swift’s brother Austin.

Whether you like her or not, Swift is a superstar, and that is something no one can contest. She has amassed a horde of fans all over the world since transforming from a shy and meek country star to an animated force of pop stardom. Collectively, she has won 11 American Music Awards, 7 Grammy Awards, and 6 Country Music Association Awards, and was the first ever country singer to win Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.

This year, she has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Album of The Year as well as Best Pop Vocal Album for 1989. One of her singles ‘Blank Space’ is nominated for both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.

…and really, at this point, the list could go on.

So with that in mind, West’s lyrics seem unfounded, clumsy and exceptionally misogynistic. What they reflect is an otherwise talented musician and artist who has scraped the bottom of the barrel in order to find put-downs that will make him feel somewhat successful and well-received.

But I don’t think anybody’s received him well. I also don’t think that his lyrics are funny. If anything, it seems that West is helplessly clinging onto the one incident that defines his relationship with Swift – one in which he harangued and shamed her for winning the Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs, claiming that it should in fact have gone to Beyonce.

In these lyrics, talking about her as simply someone he could potentially have sex with diminishes any of her success and reduces her to the role that culture has assigned to women for centuries: a female who can sexually gratify. It suggests that West has some form of power over her – that he’s almost entitled to think that sex between the two and  publicly rapping about it is okay, whether Swift agrees or not. Some may brush this off as musical creativity, but I’d say it’s an odd lyric for a married man and father of two to rap about. And it’s exactly this kind of sexual intention which, once unleashed into the public domain, reinforces how men in the music industry seem almost thrown off and emasculated by their female counterparts.

Not only this, but West strips Swift of her accolades and the triumph that she has at times had over him in the music industry. Through saying that the incident between West and Swift at the VMAs may have propelled Swift’s fame, he is taking ownership of a success and triumph that simply does not belong to him. Let’s not forget that Swift has achieved a lot before her encounter with West. And by referring to her as a ‘bitch’ is degrading enough, but also reeks of a desire to kick Swift to the curb and almost ‘show her what her place really is.’ We can all guess what West really wants to say here.

West has certainly not made Swift famous, and his inability to make the lyrics clear to Swift before the single was released suggests he knew it would be met with disdain. It’s this undercover nature that frames him as both a talented yet incompetent artist, unable to appreciate the music, stardom and success of another, and drowning in easy, misplaced put-downs designed to cause a quick stir and get his audiences laughing.

The joke is on you, Kanye.

 

Billboard magazine’s tweet about North West just revealed how the media still sexualises famous children

image
This tweet from Billboard magazine earlier today sent shock waves across the internet, sparking anger about the sexualisation of North West. (Photo credit: Twitter)

The internet is furious today as Billboard magazine committed a social media blunder of epic proportions, likening a picture of 2-year-old North West licking a lollipop to her mother and reality TV persona Kim Kardashian West giving oral sex to Ray J, recalling the sex tape which initially threw her into the spotlight.

Earlier this week came news that Tatler had also branded David Beckham’s son Brooklyn “hot, ready and legal”, despite him just turning 16 years old. And this isn’t the first time that the media has speedily jumped onto the child-sexualisation bandwagon, with the likes of Britney Spears, Charlotte Church, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez having been sexualised very early on in their careers.

Brooklyn4_3397515b
David Beckham’s son Brooklyn Beckham was labelled ‘hot, ready and legal earlier this week by a Tatler journalist. (Photo credit: The Telegraph)

Viewing children in this sexual way is simply wrong – when journalists publish this type of article, everyone who gives it the green light very forcefully takes famous children’s innocence away from them and places a completely different, more damaging kind of pressure on them, and one which they may not necessarily understand or want. Making a teenager like Brookyln Beckham into a sex symbol, and worse, painting a 2 year old like North West in the same light, is damaging for them and other teenagers and children too, who may feel they also need to aspire to an image that is sexual and appealing in only physical terms.

It would horrify any parent if someone approached them and said that their child was looking ‘hot, ready and legal’, or that their child reminded them of the parent in an intimate and sexual act. So why does a renowned publication like Billboard think it is okay to unleash such a warped view into the public domain? What makes the media different from child groomers? If our media organisations are the one leading these kind of labels on the children that either find or fall into fame, then who the hell can we look to as a source of justice or righteousness? Publications like Billboard and Tatler are letting everyone else say what they are saying too, making it easier to create a culture of child sexualisation that simply shouldn’t exist.

1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)
1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)

Tatler and Billboard shouldn’t get away with it. If our media organisations are the ones leading the perception of famous children in this uncomfortable and overtly sexual way, then who can we look to as a source of morality or righteousness? Publications like these allow everyone else to follow suit, making it easier to create a worrying culture of media-induced child grooming.

Today’s tweet about North West was especially disturbing as it suggested that a 2-year-old had the sexual potential to imitate the actions of her mother in a moment of childish innocence. North West’s portrayal in this way is disgraceful, giving the impression that a child can only be the bearer of her mother’s lucratively sexual past, and that North West can and will be included into Kim Kardashian West’s slut-shaming by Billboard magazine.

After all of this, who can blame Britney Spears for shaving off all her hair and breaking down back in 2007? No one at all.

Amy Jackson is cashing in on ‘Singh is Bling’, but can India really accept her?

1280x720-1jF
Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar star in Prabhudeva’s latest Bollywood offering, ‘Singh is Bling’. (Photo credit: Daily Motion)

She’s the newest face in Bollywood, flown over from Liverpool to kick-start a career in the illustrious Hindi film industry. Arriving from England to permanently make India home while accepting its culture and language, its undeniable romance and its mysterious, whimsical magic is no mean feat, and Amy Jackson has certainly risen to the challenge.

Making her mark in Tamil movies initially with I and period-drama film Madrasapattinam, Jackson embraced Hindi cinema with movie Ek Deewana Tha, but has now found wider fame through starring opposite one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars, Akshay Kumar.

Through performing commendable stunts and including another eyebrow-raising bikini scene in the newly-released Singh is Bling, fame has quickly landed on Jackson’s doorstep. Yet this has also encouraged hushed whispers questioning Jackson’s place in Bollywood – the obvious issue being how a nation embraces a white, British actress trying to make it big in B-town. And while it isn’t totally unheard of for an international actress to find a place in Bollywood, it is interesting to see how quickly Jackson in particular has carved a career in it, now hinting at upcoming movies with the likes of Salman Khan.

Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar in Singh is Bling. (Photo credit: India Today)
Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar in ‘Singh is Bling’. (Photo credit: India Today)

Jackson’s sudden rise to fame is certainly unprecedented, so is it right for Indians to express anger as she fashions a career in Bollywood? Undeniably, it is difficult to process that a white, British-born female is playing the lead opposite Akshay Kumar, but how can we ignore the time when a fresh-faced, barely known Katrina Kaif, also born in Britain, entered the film industry speaking little to no Hindi and was quickly cast in numerous films, with the help of a dubbed Hindi voice-over?

Was it her Kashmiri origins or her familiar sounding name that simply ticked the box and rose her to ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ fame, or the fact that she looked somewhat Asian, and so got the job done? Why is it that Indians easily accepted Katrina Kaif, for whom it took years to speak and understand the Hindi language, but brush off Amy Jackson, who has fully tried to embrace a new language and culture?

Katrina Kaif (Photo credit: The Guardian)
Katrina Kaif dances in smash-hit single ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ (Photo credit: The Guardian/Sterling Media PR)

On the flip-side, it’s impossible to also dismiss Bollywood’s casual acceptance of international actresses who cannot speak fluent Hindi, but the odd way in which Kangana Ranaut – winner of the best actress accolade at the National Awards for her groundbreaking role in Queen – was mocked for her ‘inability’ to speak English because of her Haryana accent. Or the way in which Priyanka Chopra, now leading ABC’s Quantico in America, was recently scrutinized for her unconvincing ‘American drawl’ and her failure to stick to more Indian roots.

And that’s not all. It’s also problematic that in Singh is Bling, the make-up team have attempted to make Amy Jackson appear more ‘Indian’ through darkening her skin tone. It is this decision that shines a more negative spotlight on an industry which firstly, has always expressed a clear preference for fair skin and now, has cast a white actress in one of the blockbuster movies of the year, while simultaneously bringing her to a level of ‘acceptable brownness’. Where is the logic in this, and if Hollywood would not get away with making darker a white female actress in order to portray her as Asian or African, how does Bollywood?

With this in mind, wouldn’t Bollywood be better off saving the environment or the like through using less foundation and bronzer – or whatever is slapped onto Amy’s face – by bringing in new talent that is… well, Indian. It is frustrating that Hindi cinema has introduced a white British actress to a nation of Indians, but then made it a ‘requirement’ to be brown, which feels false and controversial when issues surrounding race are concerned.

There is no doubt that Bollywood must branch out and bring in new talent in a positive way, but when that talent draws in harsh, racist criticism, it becomes clouded by issues rooted deeply in India’s contradictory attitudes towards those who are selected to represent them on the big screen. And judging by previous results, if you’re British-Indian and can’t speak Hindi, it’s okay, but if you’re white and British, it’s not.

And if you’re Indian, well, you’re probably more worse off than anyone.

Why is body positivity met with so much negativity?

image
A hair-raising decision: Jemima Kurke on the CFDA red carpet . (Photo credit: stuff.co.nz)

Last week, Girls star Jemima Kirke stepped out on the CFDA Fashion Awards red carpet and sent everyone in a frenzy by wearing a dress that revealed her armpit hair. What happened next was inevitable and somewhat predictable: a lot of publications talked about it, with some left completely shocked by this horrendous ‘fashion faux pas’.

E! Online was particularly disapproving and drew comparisons to Miley Cyrus’s similar decision, commenting that “while she’s [Kurke] yet to dye her underarm hair pink a la the “Wrecking Ball” singer, our immediate reaction was still the same: cringe!”. And that’s exactly the message that so many of us received, that ‘cringing’ is the right way to feel about the completely natural process of hair growth. The negativity surrounding Kurke’s decision to grow and then display her armpit hair suggests to female readers that the millions of hairs that cover our bodies are unnatural and undesirable, and that whenever you see even the faintest sprout of hair you must get out the wax strips and razors and remove the monstrosity you’ve been plagued with.

While on one side we have body positivity on the rise, seen very recently in the banning of a Yves Saint Laurent campaign depicting an ‘unhealthily underweight’ model, on the other remains the burden placed on women to conform to often unattainable standards of (hairless) perfection. And as summer approaches, the first thought on the minds of so many women is of course, to remove their hair.  In our personal spaces at home we’ll take care of these very hairs, moisturize and give them nutrients to thrive and grow, in the public space this aspect of our body is detested and made unacceptable. We look in the mirror and accept ourselves, accept our body, but we stare into a mirror framed by the intrusive eyes of society and allow this to shape how we feel about ourselves. The necessity of hair removal is so deeply engrained in our lives that we never  question who told us that we need to get rid of it in the first place.

Photo credit: The Tribune
Yves Saint Laurent ad banned earlier this week. (Photo credit: The Tribune).

And it’s that need I don’t understand. Women are constantly placed under pressure to be immaculate, to leave their house with perfectly groomed eyebrows, with no hair lingering on their upper lip, with legs waxed to Venus-style perfection, and with arms silky smooth and visually appetising. The TV adverts begin rolling in during the summer as the images of fresh, ‘feminine’, hairless bodies swallow us up and make us feel inadequate if we don’t ‘scrub up’ well. A few days ago I found myself very angrily expressing that I did indeed need to begin thinking about a grooming regime for the summer – and the priority was that the hair on my legs, arms and under my armpits needed to be removed before I made my debut in public; as if I, blessed with no hair follicles, otherwise roamed the earth like a divine, hair-free, sensual goddess.

So when I saw what Kurke had done, it reiterated my questioning of the relationship between hair and women – it will never be accepted. If I walked into work tomorrow with legs full of hair, it would raise eyebrows (which also require hair to be raised, but hey, eyebrows are acceptable) and I’d be office gossip. If a man walked in with exceptionally hairy legs, it would be ignored. When men have beards, it’s cool and trendy. But if women might want a beard, or suffer from health issues (like polycystic ovaries) which mean they end up with hair in more unconventional places, it’s something to stare or laugh at. Hair just seems to upset people a lot.

Kurke’s move to display her hair is inspiring. It’s a rejection of everything women are taught to do from a very young age, and it signals a new wave of infectious feminism that is very slowly spreading its body positive message.  I’m all for the display of male and female body hair, and I hope you are too.  It’s time to stop expecting and start accepting.

The death of Robin Williams

Photo credit: imagozone.com

When I woke up this morning and saw a notification from my Guardian app, I didn’t want to finish reading the headline:

‘Robin Williams found dead in California home’.

Before I even read the article, I had an inkling that his death was the result of suicide, perhaps caused by the mental health problems he’d very openly talked about in the past. I was right.

Williams’ death was an instant reminder of the death my musical hero Kurt Cobain suffered too. A suicide, caused by drug addiction and depression. A pang of pain shot through me.

Again, another big name leaves the world, and again, all we can do is remember. Today, Robin Williams’ death has made me remember my childhood, one where I watched Flubber on TV and laughed at a blob of green goo which had a life of its own. I suddenly remembered giggling when Williams played the older version of Jack in Jack, farting in a can with his little friends in a tree-house. Although a grown man, Williams appealed to all – I’m sure even straight-faced adults watching his stand-up material or movies found themselves managing a smile, if not outright laughter. For who can ever forget the genius of Mrs Doubtfire?

Williams was funny, and so infectious. He didn’t even have to try – his face had a loveable expression, and he filled each of his characters with his own life and soul – you knew you were watching Robin Williams, not just an actor playing a character. Very few Hollywood actors can do what he did. Very few can capture such a range of genres. Very few can impact fans the way he has done.

His death has raised into mainstream media and social media more questions about perceptions of mental health sufferers. Are they being helped enough? Are people recognising the seriousness of illnesses like depression? Why do we let the issues surface and then sink just as quickly? The internet is bursting with questions, tweets and statuses encouraging people to THINK.

Depression is a serious mental illness, and one that should not be taken lightly. The next time you speak to a friend who is feeling low, make sure you take the time to find out if he/she is okay… and I mean really okay. Do not let your own judgements osbcure what could be happening behind the scenes. Sometimes, all it takes is a ‘how are you?’ to realise someone is suffering.

What we can take from Williams’ death is a message that depression is prevalent and still very, very real, and that we cannot ignore and brush it under the carpet. If you are a friend to someone, be a friend in the best way you can – take the time to ask them how they are, and offer them support they may be afraid to get elsewhere. One of the common feelings associated with depression is feeling alone – give somebody close to you hope that you care and that they may feel alone, but in reality, aren’t. Also, don’t be the kind of person who cannot sympathise. A person feeling at their lowest needs affection and care. Think about how you’d feel if you experienced what they felt.

It has been very hard to discuss anything but Robin Williams today. The death of such a megastar and influential persona sure leaves you thinking about what truly matters in life. Granted, many sufferers commit suicide due to mental health problems and their death doesn’t get similar coverage, but this isn’t to say it means any less. This is a real problem, and if we just take the time to make time, we could help someone in need.

If I have learned anything from the death of Williams, it has been that we must take better care of each other. I’d hate to know someone I called a friend was having the most horrific time of their life, and that I wasn’t around to help them through it. Could you live with yourself?

Rest in peace Robin Williams, one of the funniest and most influential people in comedy and cinema. I’ll be showing my children your movies, and I know even then you’ll make them laugh as much as I did!

Rihanna and her sheer dress.

image
Rihanna at the 2014 CFDA fashion awards. (Photo credit: justjared.com)

The clothes we wear tend to be a reflection of the kind of personalities we harbour. It’s a shot at expressing ourselves – at leaving an impression.

Rihanna stepped out at the recent CFDA Fashion awards wearing a sheer, completely see-through floor length-dress. I’m attempting to be reserved in my view of this, but when a woman’s breasts are so vividly displayed for all to gawp at, it becomes quite difficult for someone like me to refrain from commenting…

Why on earth Rihanna felt the need to expose herself in this way, I simply do not know. I understand everyone is entitled to wearing what they want and similarly, exposing what they want, and when we think of Rihanna, we can safely say it’s not first time we’ve seen her reveal some flesh. However, this particular flesh-showing incident highlights to me someone who must seek attention by literally, revealing all. It just seems problematic that as a woman already so famous and popular, Rihanna essentially feeds the media and whole world by dressing in what I feel is simply an attention-seeking outfit. We get it, you’re famous, Rihanna, and in the eyes of many, a very sexy woman. Congratulations.

For me, this is no longer a case of modesty. It’s a case of people being unable to leave anything to the imagination and women specifically not permitting themselves to be seen as something beyond sexual beings. While Rihanna may be expressing her sexuality in a way she deems is okay, I feel that stepping out and wearing such a daring and frankly provocative dress is slightly commendable – as it sure takes guts to step out and reveal your intimate bits as she has -but ultimately, quite futile and frustrating too.

Yet again, this is something an artist like Rihanna could have decided against doing, but while the debates and protests continue for women who wish for female sexuality to be viewed in new and less damaging ways, I’m confused as to whether I should view Rihanna’s dress in a positive or negative way – it could be showing that she’s in control of her sexuality but equally, may be proving that female sexuality is doomed to be controlled and set out for women. Confusing stuff.