GIRLS WITH PONYTAILS
Girls with ponytails
will take over the world
one strand at a time,
dancing back and forth,
from the left to the right,
sometimes all up in a bun at night.
Girls with ponytails
are never restless,
are wildly reckless,
yet know how to tame
Girls with ponytails
can be dangerous,
while looking all gracious,
know how to use their locks,
split ends or not,
don’t mess with their guns.
I wrote this poem a couple of years ago, driven by some kind of internal desire to write a piece on how women are undefinable, are limitless, are indefinitely human, and nothing else. Not the ideal or the transgression. Not obedient or bossy.
However, there is one thing I don’t want us to be: silent.
I wrote my Master thesis on female self-reliance in Victorian novels and how (in my case only female) 19th-century writers depict transgressive female characters. They were deemed transgressive because they did not succumb to the female Victorian ideal. They were defying expectations that were set for them in order to become their own person, the agent of their own lives.
It’s 2017 now. Over a hundred years have passed and we are still fighting for gender equality. It’s easy to forget that we still have to come a long way, especially in countries that are not part of the Western Hemisphere. Whereas most of us are privileged enough to call this life ours, this body ours, young women in India and other less progressive regions are subject to first their fathers, then their husbands. Still more brutal things happen, women are raped, by not one but several men at once, they are beaten, abused, punished with the most excruciating methods.
These are facts. We know about a plethora of accounts of sexual or domestic abuse in various countries, yet these stories get a limited span of attention in the news and, ultimately, in our minds before another one of Trump’s tweets seems more newsworthy.
This year something happened however. Women spoke out. Time Magazine announced “the Silent Breakers” as their “Person of the Year”. However not just any woman spoke out, but mostly white American, in short privileged, women. These were the women we’ve seen in movies, or they represented the stereotypical Western woman. Most of them were successful in their job, already defying old ideals of females relying on their husbands to survive in society. These women were self-reliant. There were women of ethnic minority too but most of the times the media decided to show pictures of those women that filled our screens and news feeds already such as Taylor Swift or Rose McGowan.
Maybe it’s that shocking because the entertainment industry was our safe haven, where we thought movies were made for the sake of telling stories, sometimes of horrible assaults. We did not want to fathom that the stories would become reality in some cases and that some actors and people involved in these projects took their roles too literal, abused their power to subdue others. Stereotypical patriarchal figures such as Harvey Weinstein and their atrocious behaviour now paint a different picture. Some movies need villains, the reality could do well without them. Yet, these dark sides of the picture-perfect industry seem to surface now.
And suddenly, we payed attention. Not just for an hour, a day, or a week, but ever since Harvey Weinstein got first accused of sexual assault, new revelations, new accusations perpetuated the discussion on the true state of gender equality.
Still, accounts of sexual abuse involving people of the entertainment industry were heard of prior to the so-coined “Weinstein allegations”, Woody Allen being just one name that comes to mind. People still watch his movies. His movies are still regarded as modern master pieces. Where does art begin or end, and when is the person involved in the movie no longer also a real person, with real baggage, with real crimes on their record?
Kevin Spacey got axed from his successful show “House of Cards” in light of the most recent accusations of sexual assault against male (co-)actors, sometimes when they were not even at the legal drinking age. He won two Oscars, one for “American Beauty” where he depicted a middle-aged man lusting for a young girl. He is one of Hollywood’s A-list actors. He has a star on the walk of fame in Los Angeles. The city of angels seems to be filled with demons in white robes.
And then there are those people who knew these things happened, who witnessed these atrocities but did not report them. Only snippets of the whole picture have surfaced as of yet.
The question of how far we’ve actually come in the fight for a more civilized, more humanized, society suddenly looked much more bleak than we pretended it to look like, how we wished it to look like. Once again, these stories demonstrated that my thesis, the question of agency, is not a thing of the past, but an ever present issue in today’s society.
I regard this point in history as a chance. A chance to make amends, a chance to re-evaluate the state of our society, but most importantly, a chance to make a change, not just here, on home turf, in the Western Hemisphere, but everywhere.
I believe that it would be a mistake to tell people to stop watching Kevin Spacey’s or Woody Allen’s movies. Pretending that these movies, these actors no longer exist is like pretending these terrible things never happened. Instead we should discuss them in the lights of recent events. We should raise awareness. We should talk about human rights, the concept of humanity, the expectations society puts on us and whether these are still valid.
We need to create a society where people are not only agents of their own lives and bodies but where they are also safer from this body being taken advantage of. We need to create more and better safety networks which help victims in case of sexual or domestic assault. We need to learn, train, and encourage people to overcome the fear of reporting these crimes, even if it hurts. It should never be embarrassing to tell the truth.
More so, however, this movement should think globally. It’s not enough to redefine the already privileged Western Hemisphere. We might advance but we truly only can say that we live in a more equal world when everybody can claim agency over their own body. Being treated with dignity is a human right.
We need to look elsewhere. We need to look at the places we occasionally risk a short glance at, because we know we will be appalled by the pictures. Whereas the movie industry recreates and imitates reality, we should start caring more about the places where these pictures are reality. Not edited. Not underlined with a soundtrack. Without make up. Without additional props. Without the sense of an ending. Without someone to shout “cut”.
Their stories continue to horrify us. But unlike a horror film, these pictures will haunt our consciousness in other ways. As the privileged ones it is our responsibility to shed light on these terrible circumstances, to help further equality for all people. It is our responsibility because we are humans, nothing more, nothing less. Undefinable, limitless, indefinitely.
Maria was listening to “In the Name of Love” by Kari Jobe while writing this article.