Friday, 18 July 2014

Recommended reading: The Vagenda


Recommended reading: The Vagenda

First of all, I'm going to come out and say that I do not buy mainstream 'women's lifestyle' magazines. Read: magazines pertaining to an approximation of all of women-kind's collective interests, which apparently does not stray from the confines of fashion, beauty, dieting, and dating (men only). I am very aware of the content and the problems with these kinds of magazines, which is one of the many reasons I choose not to buy them. Instead I find myself jostling for elbow room among many astonished men at the other sections of magazines at the newsagent's, such as computing and technology, music, leisure/interests, and sadly sometimes men's interests, which have in my experience been home to magazines catering to all the genres above. I'm not sure how or why we've let ourselves be caged into such a teeny, tiny, and very shallow little corner of the magazine world, but we have, and I'm kinda tired of the double-takes...

I bought The Vagenda gleefully anticipating that it may well be a longer, more media-focused, yet still witty version of The Noughtie Girl's Guide To Feminism by Ellie Levenson, which I'd read a few years previous. I was in luck! The Vagenda examines the content and issues with the media's current worrying vision of womanhood and femininity, including advice on fashion, health, beauty and relationships. The book also gives credit where it's due, praising the more promising, sexually liberated publications of the 60s and 70s, to the perplexing and frankly confusing attitude to sex undertaken by popular magazines today, who seem to make a profit from posing as a life-line for our problems, offering useless solutions, and then introducing some new things to worry about before the end of the issue – now you've taken the quiz to see if your boyfriend is cheating on you, you better figure out how to win him back: here are ten sex tips to please your man in the bedroom!' The Vagenda examines the trite subjects that appear and reappear in each issue of popular women's magazines, including body image woes, the ever-changing and sometimes baffling world of fashion (Vajazzling? Really?), relationship 'advice', diets, and the disturbing world of Lad Culture, and reminds you that you're not the only one feeling slightly weird about it all..

The great thing about this book is that it finds an easy balance between being informative, being hilarious, and reminding the reader that she really doesn't need to stand for this crap. The Vagenda does a great job of making the reader take a critical look at the way the media markets to and treats women, and what these magazines suggest our priorities should be. I know many people who, when asked about their opinion on the shameless woman-bashing and body-shaming that is packed into every tabloid or cheap gossip rag, would shrug passively and claim that it is no big deal – but why do we turn a blind eye to it? And more importantly, how is this shaping the generation of young girls who will be bombarded with this kind of trashy media wherever they turn? It's easy to claim that it's a form of cheap entertainment, but The Vagenda insists that we all sit up and take some responsibility for the media that we purchase as consumers and as women. Just because no real brain power went into the publishing of your magazine, doesn't mean that you shouldn't use your brain before you dig absentmindedly into the supposed latest sexual exploits of whichever b-list celebrity is the current flavour of the month.

When we examine the media, we examine our culture and our society as a whole. Because we are so surrounded by culture, we rarely step back and review the messages that we're receiving on a daily basis, and what it says about those who buy into it. It's easy to join a pack mentality and buy what is laid out in front of us, under a nice, bold sign that says 'women's lifestyle', and be satisfied that that is what we're meant to be consuming, but by never questioning our value of that media, we're essentially reading the magazines with our eyes closed. An interesting study cited in the book states that a 2012 study found that after just three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine, 70% of women reported that they felt 'guilty, depressed and shameful'. When this is how our media makes us feel about ourselves, isn't it time to do as The Vagenda suggests we do and 'call bullshit?'

I wholeheartedly recommend The Vagenda to any woman and especially anyone who feels baffled and angry about the questionable ethics and ideals of media we are spoon-fed. This book gives some real incite into the toxicity of women's magazines and will get you chuckling as you read- if we didn't laugh, we'd probably just spontaneously combust. 

I also have some intelligent, thought-provoking and self-image-positive media to suggest to readers who like their mags without all the vapid nonsense:

Lionheartmagazine “Lionheart Magazine is a magazine for those looking for something that reflects their personalities and preferences. Editorial that’s smart, funny, friendly and a little irreverent, together with beautiful design, illustrations and photography. You’ll find craft, fashion, art, interviews and features that are interesting, inspiring and hearty.”

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon Crystal- Mahou Shoujo at Its Finest

Even if you don’t follow anime all that much, it’s extremely hard to avoid the Sailor Moon phenomenon. Even the guys I live with know about it, and that’s not just because I haven’t stopped talking about it since I watched Sailor Moon Crystal at the weekend, but I’ll come to that later. Sailor Moon is one of the most popular mangas/animes in the world, and when you watch or read it, it’s easy to see why. Girl power! Relatable characters! Talking cats! Magic powers! Unnecessarily long outfit changes! The list goes on and on. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Sailor Moon, it’s hard to deny it lasting influence and creation, if not affirmation of some anime tropes.

Way back in the early 90s, a little show called Sailor Moon started in Japan. It followed the story of Usagi Tsukino, a 14-year old schoolgirl who discovers that she’s a member of the Sailor Senshi, and must defend the Earth against the evil Queen Beryl and her minions in the Negaverse. Luckily for Usagi, she has a (very patient) mentor in Luna, a talking cat, who also helps her find other members of the Sailor Senshi. A few years later, it got (poorly) dubbed into English, and aired in the UK, which is how I came across it, scrolling for shows to watch after school. Now, I’ll admit. I wasn’t that big on Sailor Moon when it started, and I preferred Cardcaptors (the dub of Cardcaptor Sakura) Pok√©mon and Yu-Gi-Oh. However, one of my childhood friends totally loved it, so I watched it, and then later we’d re-enact it on the playground at school. I never really thought about it that much as I got older until I got on procrastination-tool Tumblr, and a whole lot of the accounts I’d follow would reblog stills from the 90s show, gorgeous fan-art, and the odd still from the disastrous live-action film. I’ve found that as I’ve got older, I appreciate the show so much more. I’m rewatching the show from the start and absolutely loving it, as well as all the nostalgia! 

But why do I love it? As well as essentially perfecting the formula for mahou-shoujo (that’s magical girl anime, in case you were wondering) the content itself is really amazing. The characters aren’t just caricatures and archetypes, they full, expanded personalities. They have completely human traits, which make them extremely believable as characters. When Serena/Usagi finds out she’s a sailor scout what’s her first reaction? She wants out! I would most likely act in the same way, especially if my cat started talking to me. Above all that is the underlying message of girl power running throughout the show. Sure, Tuxedo Mask helps the girls out, but they’re never dependent on him to save the day, and they kick ass in their own regards and in their own way. Every single character fights, an no one slacks off. It's all about teamwork and co-operation, which is an excellent message to send. It (as well as Cardcaptors) had a pretty profound effect on me as a kid, and was one of the things that made me realise that ladies could totally kick ass and be super cute at the same time.

Sailor Moon Crystal is the reimagining/remake/adaptation of the manga that has been highly anticipated by a lot of fans. I’ve lazily followed its progression, rumours and news online, but when I sat down to watch the first episode, I totally loved it. I’m not usually one to follow anime (I’m VERY choosy when it comes to watching anime) but I’ll be following this! It follows the story of the manga almost perfectly, with the first episode being the first chapter, or act in the manga, following Usagi as she becomes a Sailor Senshi. The animation is updated, favouring a more ethereal colour palette and modernised style. The only niggle I have with the animation is that in Usagi’sepic transformation, it looks almost TOO digitised and almost video-gamey for my liking. This may well be me being a bit picky and too in love with the original, but it just didn’t sit right with me. The new series seems to be trying to be more serious than the old series, but I think it works quite well. The girl-power drive is still strongly in the show (just check out the theme tune for evidence of this!) and this warms my heart to see. The story is an almost perfect adaptation of the manga, and while there are less of Usagi’s OTT facial expressions and reactions, it’s still damn good, and I will continue to watch it weekly, and regale my housemates with tales of talking cats and magical girls.

If you want to know more about Sailor Moon, The Mary Sue are putting together an exhaustive guide to the show here.

You can watch Sailor Moon Crystal here.

Let me know what you think!