Tag Archives: equality

Oscars 2015: Birdman soars, but Imitation Game moves

23 Feb
Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne at the 2015 Oscars, where he won best Actor

After months of jockeying for position, the Oscars had settled down to being a two-horse race between the two “B” movies, Boyhood and Birdman. The Globes gave no clue, since they split Best Picture into Comedy and Drama and honoured both films. Last night at the Academy Awards, Birdman emerged as the big winner with four of the big ones: best picture, director, original screenplay and cinematography.

Boyhood had to make do with best supporting actress, which was no mean feat given that Meryl Streep was nominated in that category. Meryl took defeat more than graciously. When Patricia Arquette gave a speech thumping the tub for gender equality and equal pay for women (the hacked Sony emails having showed how culpable Hollywood was in this regard), Meryl whooped, pointed at the stage, and shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!” like Meg Ryan in a restaurant.

Eddie Redmayne was named Best Actor, as had seemed certain. Though he is not the winner, really, according to Eddie himself, but “the custodian”. In an emotional speech where he seemed to teeter charmingly on the verge of complete meltdown, he said: “This belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family, Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children; and I will be its custodian.  And I promise you I will look after him, I will polish him, I will answer his beck and call and wait on him hand and foot.”

Redmayne was extraordinary in The Theory of Everything, and a worthy winner/custodian. But having seen Selma over the weekend, I am still scratching my head as to how David Oyelowo could not have been at least nominated, late screening tapes notwithstanding. With Redmayne you are admiring throughout of the exceptional craft in his acting. Oyelowo simply inhabits the role, to the extent that you forget entirely that you are watching an actor at all, rather than the Nobel peace prize-winning statesman who gave his life for the cause of equality. As host Neil Patrick Harris quipped when Oyelowo was cheered at the Oscars ceremony, “Oh, sure, now you like him.”

Julianne Moore finally won her long-deserved best Actress award, for Still Alice. In typical Oscar tradition, it took playing a character with a disability – Alzheimer’s – finally to nail it after four nominations. The other big winners of the night were The Grand Budapest Hotel, which came away with a raft of craft awards: production design, make-up, costume and score; and the little-indie-that-could, Whiplash, which took best editing, sound mixing and of course supporting actor for JK Simmons. The other big British movie, The Imitation Game, won best adapted screenplay, with a moving speech from writer Graham Moore that won a standing ovation from the audience:

“When I was 16 years old,” he said, “I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different.”

And that’s the thing about the Oscars. They can seem empty and silly and glitzy and bland, and the run-up lasts for far too many months. But films are still the most powerful global means of expression of our age. They are our flickering campfire stories, our propaganda, our myths. They change minds, hearts and lives. And for one glorious, silly, moving night, on the stage of the Dolby Theater, it all comes together.

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Feminism for men: Emma Watson launches the HeForShe campaign

22 Sep

Former Harry Potter star Emma Watson gave a passionate and well argued speech at the UN yesterday, where she has been UN Women Goodwill Ambassador since graduation. The speech was to launch HeForShe, a feminist campaign that is avowedly inclusive of men.

“Men,” she said as part of her 12-minute address, “I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”

Caitlin Moran, one of the most influential of the new feminists (I’m sure there should be a catchy term coined for this, but new feminist will do), said much the same in her funny and essential book, How To Be A Woman:

“And do not think you shouldn’t be standing on that chair, shouting ‘I AM A FEMINIST!’ if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution. A male feminist should ABSOLUTELY be on the chair – so we ladies may all toast you, in champagne, before coveting your body wildly.”

I would like to respond to Watson’s initiative, as a man.

When I was at uni, my partner was a feminist, while I had been educated at an all-male public school and viewed women not so much as inequals, as aliens from another planet. Through her I discovered Greer and Dworkin, and Mary Daly who argued for the wholesale rebranding of words: “history”, for instance, should become “herstory”. We poked gentle fun at this, coining words such as “peroffspring” instead of “person”, but there was a strong point there. As Orwell knew, words frame concepts. Where there is no word for “freedom”, it is hard to conceive the idea of freedom. Where there is only a “chairman” of the board, or a “fireman”, it is hard to conceive of women being appointed to those roles. The change has now run deep. With the exception of Fireman Sam – kids’ cartoons still lag woefully behind in sex equality – the profession has been widely rebranded as “firefighters”; “chairman” is now “chairperson”.

There was in this strain of feminism, at that period of time, an undercurrent of man-hatred. “All men are rapists,” was a popular slogan. Gee, thanks. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” was another. Mary Daly herself ran into legal difficulty at Boston University by refusing to teach male students. Perhaps it’s natural, when you have been oppressed, to hate your oppressors. But since then Nelson Mandela, for one, has shown that there is another way to react to oppression. By embracing your former oppressors, and making them part of the change.

The majority of young women do not identify themselves as “feminists”: only 29 per cent of American women do so; 42 per cent of Brits. Yet “feminist” simply means, “I believe in equal rights, respect and pay for women”. That’s it. That’s all. That so many still interpret it to mean “Hate men and refuse to shave armpits” is a legacy of those righteously angry gender-warriors of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

And because feminism simply means “I believe in equal rights, respect and pay for women”, a man can be a feminist too. The first club my eldest son joined at Cambridge was the Feminist Society. There was no sense, now, that he should be excluded for his gender.

Emma Watson is right to say that men can and should be part of the change. Right, too, to point out that men are also trapped by gender stereotypes; that suicide is the biggest single killer of men up to the age of 45; that being part of the change, for men, is not just philanthropic and ethically sound, but self-interested as well.

“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive,” says Watson. “Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.”

So what can men, practically, do?

The first change is from within. Are you inclusive or dominating in a conversation? If in a relationship, do you do an equal share of household chores? If you have children, do you share the nappy-changing and sleepless nights and, when they’re older, the tough conversations, as well as the play?

The second is something simple I have been thinking about for a while, something I know I need to work on myself. It’s a ripple effect. I’ve brought my boys up to respect girls and treat them as equals. Now they’re older, I feel I should move on to other men.

In the distant past, when men cracked sexist jokes, I would laugh along with them. Unsure of my own masculinity (I’ve never been much of a “bloke”) I wanted to feel part of the pack. I feel ashamed of that now. These days, I maintain a stony silence, a tacit disapproval.

That’s not enough. As Emma Watson quoted in her speech, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men and women [tellingly, Watson had to add “and women” to the original quote, which did not consider them worthy of inclusion] to do nothing.”

Recently, at the poker table – one of the last pretty much all-male preserves – someone looked leeringly at the masseuse giving a shoulder-rub to a player. (It’s a common thing, in poker, when people sit for up to 24 hours at a stretch.) Without even addressing her, only the other men at the table, he announced, “I love that the massage girls here are all so gorgeous. This one can rub me down any time.”

I piped up, looking him in the eye, “I love that the massage girls here are all consummate professionals who have trained for years to acquire diplomas in different branches of physiotherapy.” (Which is true. I’ve asked.)

That felt good. I’d like to do more of it.