Sunday, January 29, 2006

Abortion laws ...
The Observer today featured a contentious article, based on MORI statistics, suggesting that women are demanding tougher adoption laws - see the link above for the article, and more interestingly for a view on the reality of the situation from someone who has had access to the statistical information the article is based on.

Jack, I swear ...
Despite the hype I'm not sure I was expecting much from this film, perhaps because as a love story it probably isn't the kind of film I would usually go and see. However, my prejudices were proved wrong, and I was mesmerised within the first few minutes. The first scene sets the tone for the rest of the film - it is subtle and silent. Dialogue is sparse throughout, which is more effective in evoking atmosphere than any conversation would be. Silence has many different purposes. It is a feature of Ennis's character, and of the relationship between Jack and Ennis, who communicate at irregular intervals by post rather than telephone. There is Ennis's obvious need to keep silent about this relationship, resulting from the brutal murder of a gay man that he witnessed as a child, and there is the danger that is evoked by Jack's own unwillingness to remain silent about his feelings. The lack of dialogue between Ennis and Jack heightens the intensity of their relationship, and also the pain that is evoked at the end of the film. Alongside silence, this film also focusses on what goes unsaid. There are four primary female characters - Ennis's wife and eldest daughter, and Jack's wife and mother. As the film focusses on Ennis and Jack's relationship with each other, these characters are necessarily sidelined, and remain quiet throughout. Nevertheless they are wise and perceptive characters, each of the women appearing to understand more about Jack and Ennis than even the two cowboys will admit to. Furthermore there is a certain parallel between the situations. Every character's life has been shaped by the unsatisfactory relationships hoisted upon it by societal expectations, and there is an ingrained pessimism as the film ends with Ennis's daughter's own prospective marriage. Brokeback mountain without a doubt portrays a beautiful relationship between Jack and Ennis, but it also suggests that there is no place for such a pure love in the modern world.

I found the film really fascinating, and am keen to read the short story it was based on. It evoked the same type of bleakness coupled with humour that I found in 'That Old Ace in the Hole' and 'The Shipping News', also by Annie Proulx, and it was much more entertaining as a film than the badly cast 'The Shipping News'. Glad I went to see it and would recommend it to anyone as the four golden globes it recently received were well deserved.

Monday, January 23, 2006

In the High Court today Sue Axon lost her legal battle to ensure that girls under 16 would not be able to have an abortion without their parents first being informed. She pursued the case from a very personal position, as she has daughters of her own, and regrets undergoing an abortion in her youth. Other arguments for this include the point that parental consent is required for other surgical procedures. However abortion is not just another medical procedure. Requirement of consent would involve the consideration of so many other issues, including potential increases in illegal abortions, and unwanted pregnancies as a result. The right to reproductive choice is fundamental, and young girls in should be allowed to make this choice themselves without undue parental pressure. Obviously they should be able to involve parents if they so wish, but this was not the point at issue. Rather this case sought to place parental rights over and above any consideration of the individual contemplating an abortion, and it is fortunate that Axon will not be appealing.

The subject of abortion and the issues surrounding it are incredibly contentious, but I feel confident that we live in a society where women's rights in relation to abortion are protected both by statute and the courts. In recent months it appears there has not been such security in the US. Yesterday was the anniversary of the fundamental Supreme Court case that found most laws criminalising abortion to conflict with constitutional rights (Roe v Wade). This landmark decision is fragile and as the make up of the Supreme Court becomes increasingly right wing, the future of legal abortions in the US appears to be at risk. In particular the nomination of Samuel Alito has caused concern as throughout his career he has oppossed abortion, and is likely to continue to challenge the decision in Roe v Wade. Check out for more info on Alito, although there is such an abundance of information about this issue online that it is almost pointless giving one link.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mind the Gap!

Mind the Gap!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Heather is a remarkable woman" says the narrator of channel four's 'Ten Years Younger'. Reality life improvement shows often have a sinister element to them, a sense that in the first fifteen minutes of the programme the subject is being beaten down, ritually humiliated, in order that they will unquestioningly accept the advice of the minor television deity who claims to hold the key to their happiness. However, tonight's show was one of the most disturbing of this genre that I have seen. The forty-two year old subject was stripped to her bikini, revealing the extent to which years of excess weight and chain smoking have damaged her body. As she was paraded on the beach comments were invited from other holiday makers. These were relayed back to the subject, with the effect, one suspects, of creating a more pliable model for the programme maker's plans. Eventually this woman had six hours of cosmetic surgery including a stomach tuck, breast implants and lift, fat injected into her face, surgical removal of the bags under her eyes, and some 'work' on her thighs. There is no doubt that she was grateful to the programme, and to the presenter. However this does not diminish the frightening impact of the show, and introduces many puzzling questions. What exactly makes this person a 'remarkable woman'? At one point in the programme we are shown two photographs of the subject receiving degree certificates. This is certainly not the reason behind the epithet granted to her. Rather it seems she is remarkable because of her dedication to achieving the ideal image that society requires of women.

This show failed to mention any possible cons to cosmetic surgery. The pain and suffering the subject must have endured were not discussed, and instead we were granted an hour long polimic about the benefits that conforming to a physical ideal will bring to our lives. The same approach, to a less extreme degree, is adopted by the infamous Trinny and Susannah. They present the women appearing on their show with a ready made wardrobe of conformist clothing, aimed at emphasising their female attributes, and preventing them from embarrassing themselves by wearing apparently 'unsuitable' clothing for a woman of their age and shape. This programme stunts personal creativity, and reinforces the idea that women cannot be happy or successful if they do not conform to the image that society expects from them. These programmes are far from light entertainment - the participants may have agreed to be a part of them, and may be happy with the results, but nevertheless the shows perpetuate damaging images of woman as object and more generally emphasise the 'need' to conform to society's expectations in order to be happy. For a more expert article on these programmes see, and for an alternative approach to appearance check out .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Being the new year everywhere seems full of sensible and not so sensible advice on improving life, health, fitness and more. Although almost inevitably doomed to failure the media is permeated with this optimism. An interesting consideration of alternative therapies and treatments is presented in 'The Various Haunts of Men', Susan Hill's debut crime fiction novel. It is typical of the modern British crime novel, although compelling nevertheless, and set in the small village of Lafferton. Following in the Ruth Rendell/PD James tradition a small police force contend with an anonymous and frightening serial killer. Throughout the novel characters are searching for solutions to the problems in their own lives, and a myriad of cameo appearances choose between a conventional, traditional medical approach to their problems, and a non traditional course of treatment. The narrative does not force a view either way, and instead demonstrates benefits and detriment to both approaches. The sense is that there is something lacking in both approaches, and perhaps the best way forward would be to combine traditional and non traditional methods of treatment. One particular character, a cancer sufferer, benefits from the holistic approach provided by healers, and alternative practitioners, but it is clear nevertheless that only conventional medicine can save her from a frightening and painful fate.

Obviously, as a crime novel, this theme simply provides the setting for a compelling study of a psychopath. Although the identity of the murderer remains hidden for much of the novel (and I won't spoil it by revealing it now) his thoughts and motivation are revealed through his own first person narrative addressed to his mother. The overwhelming impression the book leaves is one of loneliness - many of the characters, and indeed the killer's victims, remain separate and aloof from other people, forming friendships and relationships only on professional ground, and returning home alone and dreaming of different life.

An article from Jerome Burne in yesterday's times discusses a new theory which suggests that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an evolutionary tool developed in order to prepare women for pregnancy. He notes the striking difference that women are four times more likely to suffer SAD than men. Various differences between the effects and pattern of SAD and clinical depression have led researchers to speculate that the slow down in winter occurs because this season is the best time for women to become pregnant with spring/summer the best time to give birth. It has now become noticeable because of our modern loss of touch with the seasons. SAD is a condition about which conventional medicine remains sceptical, and perhaps if it is a condition predominantly suffered by women, which responds more effectively to non-medical treatment it is no wonder. It is reassuring to hear that research is focussing on alternative treatments and explanations.

Less reassuring is the news that, thirty years on from the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, if the situation continues at the same rate of change, it will be 200 years before there is equality between men and women in Parliament. This is an unbelievable statistic, and with the current apathy about sex discrimination there appears to be no reason why this rate of change should increase. Equality in Parliament and the judiciary is fundamental to ensure that women's voices are heard, yet only 9 percent of the senior judiciary is female, and there is famously only one 'law lady' - Dame Brenda Hale. Social diversity is a fundamental goal in these areas but is not being achieved. The situation is even worse for women belonging to ethnic minorities, and although the government claims to be aiming for much greater diversity these aims are not being met fast enough. Have a look at and for more information.