Wimbledon Women: Levelling the Playing Field

In 1973, 100 million tennis fans sat down to watch Billie Jean King take on chauvinistic player, Bobby Riggs, in a match that would change the game for female players forevermore. A new documentary released this week is set to show the world how.

As a Wimbledon fanatic, I’m glued to the screen this summer. But something has changed; no longer is the focus on gender. But age. The female struggle appears to have been accepted, overcome, and forgotten. Yet, as an advocate for sexual equality, King isn’t let us forget the past struggles that easily. The documentary, ‘Battle of the Sexes’, premiered in the UK this Wednesday, and the international response has been incredible. Despite it’s actions taking place 40 years ago, it’s message has never proved so true.

In a world where feminists are continuously cajoled for having no causes left to fight, sport proves differently. Girls all over the world are being discriminated against, excluded because of their gender despite their talents. Most recently, the tale of 12-year-old Maddy Blythe has hit headlines. Kicked off her school’s football team after years of playing the game, Maddy has labelled the decision “archaic”. The reason for her exit? The sudden worry her female presence could cause an outburst of sexual harassment. The claim comes from no reality; it is a decision based on her Christian head teacher’s religious morals.

With tales such as Maddy’s still remaining very much in the present, it is not surprising figures such as King still provide us with (much needed) inspiration. Personal anecdotes including sport, girls, and lack of opportunity are far too common. The joke that “girls can’t throw” is still the norm. On enquiring as to why my high school had no female rugby outlet and with a list of girls prepared to form a team, I myself was found with a headmaster’s door in my face. The only excuse? That a girl’s team was too expensive to insure. But why? When it comes to finance, why is there not equal funding? Without it, we have no equal opportunities.

In terms of tennis, it may prove shocking that equality in tournament prize money only levelled out in the last decade. Wimbledon, itself, has taken 39 years to reach the prize equality, first introduced in 2007. That’s just 6 years ago people!

As the documentary takes route in modern culture, young women are sitting up everywhere, taking note. Billie Jean King brought us far into the ideal, and her message continues to resonate amongst sports women of today:

“We owe the tour to Billie Jean King and the original nine” says Venus Williams in a sneak preview, “Being the hero that she is, she stood up for women’s sports, not just tennis. Women.”

Thanks to Billie Jean and the original nine that dared question their sport, the girls have gone from playing for one dollar a match to receiving an equal sum to that of the mens singles. And with Wimbledon awarding £1,600,000 to both victors, that’s quite a difference!

The Win That Changed The World

The Win That Changed The World

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Music On The Go: “Something in the Water” by Brooke Fraser

Brooke Fraser might not be much of a household name over on this side of the world but this chick is BIG in New Zealand and Australia.

“Something in the Water” is the first track of her third studio album Flags and has gone platinum over in good ol’ NZ, hitting the number one spot. It’s a cute, fun ‘lil track about enjoying love and is perfect for the summer season. Enjoy!

Lord Sugar, “Eye Candy” and Pink Sparkly Cupcakes: Or, Whatever Happened to Ruth Badger?

Before this year, the last time I saw the Apprentice was back in 2006. Watching the series 2 final in the living room was almost blasphemous. When it came to reality television, my family were of the firm side of the ‘we are better than they’ mentality, whereby all other shows were inferior to documentaries, BBC costume dramas and cricket. I remember seeing the formidable business tank that was Ruth Badger, and being gobsmacked that the willowy Michelle Dewberry won instead. I was more gobsmacked, however, that every contestant on The Apprentice was a walking, talking arsehole in a suit. It is an inherent part of the programme, as much as The Voice is about being as bland as possible, The X Factor is about being as evil as possible, and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings is about tapping into the nation’s collective apprehension about a) council tax evaders, b) perceived outsiders with customs different to our own and c) pink meringue dresses.

Please come back, Ruth. I'll never make fun of your surname again.

Please come back, Ruth. I’ll never make fun of your surname again.

But perhaps to call the contestants on The Apprentice arseholes is a little unfair. I’m more inclined to call them pantomime arseholes. Having watched the current series religiously in the past few weeks, I feel in a good position to defend myself. Whenever Neil, desperate to replace Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, repeats his catchphrase “It’s time for Neil Clough to save the day”, I can’t help but shout “oh no he won’t” and then expect Lord Sugar to emerge into the boardroom dressed as the Wicked Witch of Capitalism. But then, pantomime arsehole-ry is just part of the package. It’s all I, as the viewer, get to see. Contestants might as well grow villain moustaches and cruella de-vil style haircuts. It would be far more subtle than comparing yourself to Napoleon or Machiavelli.

But is it just me, or has anyone noticed a bit of, well, gender exaggeration going on in this current series? It’s even more insidious than the arsehole stereotyping. Whenever there seems to be a bitchy “animosity” between the girls, a little like schoolchildren who pull each other’s pigtails, it seems to be flared up as a serious and inevitable yet ridiculously patronising problem. Yet on the LADZ team, whenever Neil stirs up drama it’s fine and dandy, or when Zee and Alex call Jason – Who I will from now on refer to in the blogging universe as Jason ‘Sad Potato’ Leech – a “silly shit” when he screws the task up, it’s all okay and it’s never picked up by any of the Sugar crew because LOL Manz will have ManBantz.

This week, however, was the worst instance of ManBantz gone wrong, when Kurt pretty much became as contemptible as Rupert Murdoch and his parade of Page 3 models. There was an audible groan from progressive-thinkers everywhere when Kurt dropped the man-ball good and proper, by encouraging one of the women on his team to be “eye candy” for the customers while the dudes sold a caravan. That’s right, folks. Kurt called Leah referred to as “eye candy”. IN ORDER TO SELL CARAVANS. I’m sorry Kurt, but, hideously antiquated and godawful sexism aside, sexiness will not sell campervans. Even the most gorgeous model in a swimsuit would not turn the head of a seventy year old woman looking for a new pop-up tent. In fact, the sexism was so bad that even Nick Hewer himself felt the need to step in and boldly call it at the board meeting, total feminist badass that he is.

Not that the girls seem to do much better: Luisa is the poster girl for the “I’m pretty but can also do business yeah?” kind of attitude, while saying things like “I hate the corporate world” and mistaking the smell of manure for some kind of perfume. A low point for feminism occurred last week, when CUPCAKES were made into a staple of a corporate away day. Luisa may have saved the task financially, but she replaced chocolate making – a silly task – with cupcake decorating, a cheaper but dafter task. Men and women around the table looked physically wounded by the ineptitude of the pink sparkly cakes in front of them. It’s like I’m being encouraged to pigeon-hole these women into whiny, clueless girls.

ALL HAIL THE PINK SPARKLY CUPCAKE, SAVER OF BUSINESSES, SAVER OF SOULS

ALL HAIL THE PINK SPARKLY CUPCAKE, SAVER OF BUSINESSES, SAVER OF SOULS

Karren Brady herself is definitive proof that women can be cool, calm, intelligent and totally awesome when it comes to business. And don’t we all remember Ruth Badger? We didn’t see no cupcakes from that woman. She was a bit more energetic, a bit more happenin’. If the cameras had tried to edit Ruth to look like a simpering teenager, she’d have probably leapt out of the set and demanded to see the head producer of the BBC. And then proceeded to rip his head off and eat it raw. With wasabi sauce. Because she’s a badass.

Regardless, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the representation of women on this series of The Apprentice. There’s certainly no business going on here. Just bitchiness, gender-stereotyping and cupcakes. GODDAMN PINK SPARKLY CUPCAKES.

And, as usual, Mitchell and Webb sums things up better than I can:

Is Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” Video Sexy Or Sexist?

God really does love a trier, and Robin Thicke has been busting his musical hump all over Hollywood town for years. He’s had a couple of top tens, neigh,  twenties and his albums always seem to be treading water in the top half of the charts but now he’s finally onto a winner with a catchy new tune “Blurred Lines” and a video that is causing women everywhere, and YouTube, to wince with embarrassment.

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Robin Thicke and model Emily Ratajkowski in the video for single “Blurred Lines”

“Blurred Lines” is a hook up between one of the sexiest voices in the world, Mr. Thicke, and the leader of the musical pack, Pharrell Williams. There isn’t anything Mr. Williams can’t do in the charts these days. He’s already dominated with his Daft Punk collaboration “Get Lucky” and is currently working with the hottest people on the R&B circuit… and Miley Cyrus. Joining the boys on this summer smasher is T.I. whose prison sentence kept his out of the charts last year and is enjoying a comeback into the European market with this track. “But what about the video?” I hear you cry. Well, “Blurred Lines” is ultimately a song about sexy people doing sexy things in a manner that is quite sexy and as such the video should be equally as sexy, right? Of course! Sex sells! It’s an age old statement that could not be more true. It’s so true it hurts! With Rihanna and Gaga showing more skin these days than an episode of Embarrassing Bodies, it’s wise to say that naked women in provocative poses are hear to stay!

But what makes “Blurred Lines” such an excellent song is it’s class. Now, if you Google the lyrics you’ll see it’s hardly Fitzgerald in it’s depiction of women but the stripped back production, the perfect harmonies and the chic use of stark instruments make it a throw back to the soul era of the seventies, rehashing the likes of Keith Sweat and Earth, Wind & Fire. However, as the video kicks in with its flushes pink background and the uses of “#Robin Thicke” littering the screen we are greeted to the sight of bare-chested women in very short shorts holding various forms of animals whilst Mr. Thicke pulls them by their hair, walks them like dogs and sings into their feet about how he wishes to liberate them from their controlling boyfriends. Sexy? Maybe. Classy? No.

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Pharrell Williams and model Jessi M’Bengue in the music video for “Blurred Lines”

Considering YouTube banned the video after several hours due to the army of fourteen-year-old pre-pubers rushing to see it should indicate the world’s thoughts on Diane Martel’s directing style. At one point, an emaciated brunette is seen dancing in front of some silver balloons that read, Robin Thick Has A Big D, which makes everyone in the world more convinced that this statement is completely false. If you have to put in your video, Robbie, then we’re less inclined to believe you.

I can’t imagine women necessarily being offended by it, more depressed by it. The video has no story line that I can find: it’s just an advert for expensive vodka and exhibitionism for women who haven’t eaten a full meal since they were sixteen. There is so much that this video could have been; there could have been a heated love triangle a la Gatsby or possibly a chance for the boys to express everything they love about the woman in their lives as opposed to whatever this is. I’m all for female liberation both physically and socially, but this video is essentially a reminder that the age of trashy videos is far from over….

The New Look Zombies of ‘Les Revenants’: A Fashion Faux Pas?

Zombies have become all the ‘Rage’ lately. We wear them, watch them, read them. So don’t be lured into thinking that, whilst we break from ABC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, the airwaves will be emptied of the infectious fad.  Over in France, they’ve concocted their own unique strain. One that’s soon to take the rest of the world by storm.

Setting out on its transoceanic journey last Sunday, ‘Les Revenants’ has already had great success airing in three countries (it’s home-county of France, next-door neighbours, Belgium, and the not-so-next-door Sweden) and has now docked on familiar shores. Under a new, translated name, ‘The Returned’ broadcasts using original cast and footage. Without dubbing. Instead, it is be the first foreign television series to air at prime time on a major UK channel in two decades, with only the use of subtitles to break the language barrier.

So, apart from their ability to cross seas, what’s so special about these French corpses?

"What do you mean, I 'don't need the bat'?"

“What do you mean, I ‘don’t need the bat’?”

Based on the 2004 film ‘They Came Back’, now set for UK release itself, the series creates a unique slant on the (surprisingly undead) media-trend. Opening with the story of Camille, a teenage girl who dies suddenly in a school-coach crash set four years in the past, the series is to follow a variety of characters who (as suggested by the title) return, unharmed, with no recollections of dying, only the thoughts and memories of life before death.

Airing a subtitled series is, perchance, one of the biggest, most recent risks taken in British Television. It’s even a bit risky for high-roller, Channel 4. But for once, I am glad to say, they’re not shooting crap. Yes, it’s true. British television is exposing the nation to something other than a bunch of washed-up, bug-eating celebrities, mindless American Sitcoms, and Cockney rhyming slang drama! And, the more important thing? We seem to be liking it! With 1.5 million of us tuning into watch the first episode last Sunday (not including us students taking advantage of 4OD), I think it’s safe to discard those doubts of the UK not harbouring a captive audience.

For now.

Who knows?! Maybe somewhere along the line, people will find the subtitles tedious (us Brits do tend to have a short attention span when it comes to languages. Unfortunately.) Personally,  I believe the series is just too goddamn engaging to not look away. It’s eerily enticing with a form of human-friendly resurrection the whole family can enjoy…if you’re the kind of family into horrific murder. And, hey, I’m betting French teachers just LOVE it!

Catch the next episode on Channel 4 at 9pm this Sunday!

Remember now... "Humans are friends. Not food."

Remember now…
“Humans are friends. Not food.”

Xbox One: Go Home, You’re Drunk

As E3 rears its shiny head, there is a quiet sense of dread among the gaming community. Or rather, a loud and wailing sense of dread, if Twitter, Youtube and blog comments are anything to go by. In the wake of the colossal failure that was the Xbox One reveal event back in May, with the announcement of pre-owned fees, always-on Kinect and mandatory internet connection, people are angry and rightly so. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some form of riot at E3 in the next few days:  the French Revolution of console gaming. Microsoft are probably going to have to give away gold plated consoles dipped in chocolate in order to convince people to like their newest product.

It’s little wonder then that Microsoft felt the need to make an official news release on Xbox Wire, written in mangled PR jargon, which did the internet equivalent of mumbling to itself. Though the release featured a lot of tech speak about the apparent marvels of The Cloud and ‘family’ gaming, the biggest elephants crowding up the room were of course the policies regarding used gaming – where each game seemed to only allow a single download, with no possibility of selling on games once you used them. The days of the used-game market, and even innocently passing on games to your friends to try, are apparently limited.

It's not covered in chocolate, gold or Skittles - ergo, I'm not going to buy it.

It’s not covered in chocolate, gold or Skittles – ergo, I’m not going to buy it.

So it’s woefully hilarious to see the response which Microsoft has desperately cobbled together: it turns out that yes, you can give away your games to a friend to try, but only if they have been one of your Xbox Live friends for more than thirty days, and even then, only once. ‘It’s okay!’ says Microsoft. ‘We know you guys were worried about used games and lending games and having to pay ridiculous fees in order to do what you’ve been rightfully doing for years. But it’s okay now! You can hand this out to a grand total of one friend. In the singular. Only one. Aren’t we nice people?’ I’m now going to have to choose which friend to lend a game to. Perhaps I’ll have to use a lottery system, or opt for a more Hunger Games style initiative, where my fellow nerds battle to the death in order to borrow a measly copy of Call Of Duty: Ghosts, just to see that goddamn dog (which I urge you to follow on Twitter now).

In its current form, I will never, ever go near an Xbox One. That is a promise. I speak as a former loyalist of the Xbox fleet. What mostly sold me over to the 360, aside from a stonking amount of peer pressure, was the feel of the console. PS3 players seemed to me – at the time – to be a kind of samey bunch, mostly playing a range of FIFA and sporting games. Xbox 360 felt cinematic and interactive, championing challenging and interactive games such as the Halo series, Portal 2 and Left For Dead, with a heavy focus on game play and Gamerscore.  Now Xbox One feels more like a cash-cow mixed into a 1984 novel. It’s all very Orwellian, to the point where I feel there should be a mandatory ‘Xbox Kinect Is Watching You’ slogan stamped over every ominous-looking black-box console. But rather than take the fool’s route – and buy the damn thing – we can do better. I am rallying the battle cry on behalf of all nerds. DO NOT BUY THE XBOX ONE. Get up, stand up: stand up for your consumer rights.

In the midst of all this, the great challenger to Microsoft, Sony, have kept their cards close to their chest. Aside from some side-splittingly hilarious teaser trailer shots – the titillating equivalent of not so much a flash of thigh, but maybe a blurry elbow or an out-of-focus knee – PS4 have been surprisingly quiet on the actual look and feel of the console, as well as their used game and lending policies.  Until E3, then, we can only desperately pray to the gaming Gods that they will have the sense to not screw up like Microsoft have. I never thought I would say this, but help us, Sony – you’re our only hope.

Potter’s Cool But Rowling Is Better!

JK-Rowling-SUM_2348620b

Always one for being behind the times, it has taken me nine months to pick up J.K. Rowling’s latest novel, The Casual Vacancy. This book may have divided the opinions of the overlord of culture that is The Guardian, but this reader has only admiration for this truly remarkable novel by a truly remarkable writer. Needless to say I love J.K. Rowling! By this I’m not saying I love Harry Potter, I’m saying I love J.K. Rowling. As fascinating as her tales of witchcraft and wizardry are, it is the woman behind the books that has kept me fascinated for all these years.

Born Joanne Rowling on July 31st 1965 to a middle-class family in Bristol, Jo Rowling began writing at a very early age, penning stories about rabbits for her sister at the age of six. Her desire to write carried her all the way through to her twenties never finding the right subject to keep her inspired. However, on a train from Manchester after a disastrous attempt at flat hunting, she suddenly got an idea that would make her a household name all over the world.

 

Her idea was simple: a boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard goes off to wizard school. Without a pen on her person she concocted stories about this strange person inside her head as she continued home where for six months solid she wrote about this boy. She named him Harry Potter but the world would not meet him for five more years. As she wrote her magical tale, the life of Jo would take dramatic and devastating turns, all of which would develop a story that captured the world’s heart.

In 1990, several months after the inspiration for Harry Potter magically appeared into the mind of Joanne, her mother passed away after a ten year battle with multiple sclerosis. She never had the chance to meet Harry. Rowling later admitted that, although the plot remained the same, everything “deepened and darkened” after the death of her mother and through her grief, she was able to connect more with her central character, having suffered the same pain as he had. He provided her with a hand through her grief, often saying things that she herself needed to hear. The Guardian sparked the events that twenty-years later would inspire her to write The Casual Vacancy, when she saw an advert for teaching English in Portugal. Once there she taught and wrote, found love with Jorge Arantes and had her first daughter, Jessica. However, just more than a year into  their destructive and abusive marriage, the couple separated and Jo moved to Scotland with her daughter to begin a new life.

After a failed marriage and becoming a single mother, Jo described herself as “the biggest failure I knew” and found herself living soley on benefits. Many times she has confessed to being as poor as one could be without being homeless and thus, she began suffering from depression. Through this dark haze, the idea of the Dementors began to surface, vile creatures that live on the happiness extracted from those they come across. However, it was from this low dark place, the idea that she was a failure and the realization that she was at rock bottom that made Jo reach for her pen once more and bring Harry’s world into the light. Her motto of, “The worst thing that could happen is that it gets rejected by every publishing house in Britain, so what?” gave her the courage to write what she wanted without any expectations or notions of failure.

Cut to fifteen years later, seven best-selling books, eight million-dollar-generating movies and four hundred and fifty million in sales figures, J.K. Rowling: the woman who had nothing was one of the richest and most celebrated women in the world. She inspired a generation of children, teens and adults to put down the TV remote and pick up a book and has used her vast wealth to create various successful charities that help those in impoverished conditions.

JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy

Rowling has never forgotten what it was like to be poor. Her financial status has branched from the soil to the sky and as such knows the perils of having and not having money. Whilst on a plane to the United States, inspiration struck her once more and she began her first novel away from the Harry Potter series under the working title, Responsible. It was a tale of a small idyllic town that harboured dark and potentially life-destroying secrets. Behind the white picket fences and expensive drapes was a town divided by the death of their local parish leader. The story would later be The Casual Vacancy, an adult tragic comedy about the town of Pagford and the local council election that would create devastation of several, if not all, of the locals.

However, across the way are “The Fields” an estate where the local “criminals” live in squalor where their days consist of shooting up, stealing and shagging one another. Or so the locals of Pagford believe anyway. In the heart of the estate in Bellchapel Addiction Centre where many of the Fields residents attend in order to combat their various addictions. However, the lease is almost up and the local Pagford Parish want it, and the people who attend it, out. The Casual Vacancy follows many different characters from many different walks of life but all united by their views on one character: Krystal Weedon. She is what one Daily Mail advocate might describe as, a typical chav what with her apprehensive nature, her addiction to swearing and the fact that there aren’t many bushes in the local village that hasn’t had sex in. However, her poverty is only a small shard of what builds this character up and as the local election rages on, the hardships of Krystal and her brother, Robbie, thunder on also.

Much like with Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy is a story of morality and tackles the hard questions that are asked in this time of British hardship. In a town littered with hypocrisy from those who have the money to have an opinion, Rowling asks her readers to search for the true “criminals” and low lives. Sure, many of the indiscretions and acts of immorality committed by the Fields locals are exposed, but does that mean that the Pagfordians don’t have addictions and secrets of there own. Just because they are buried under money, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Having known herself as poor, and therefore the “other”, a whisper in the corner of mouths, a thought one has in a nighttime, Rowling talks an almost Dickens approach to her writing in highlighting the tragic lives of those who could live a mere several feet from our own doorsteps, with only a road separating the rich from the poor. Rowling has known true hardship and this reflects in her works, it has affected every decision she has made in her life and although now she lives a fabulous life in Scotland with her husband and three children, she has never forgotten the feeling of being rock bottom.

Whether it be boy wizards fighting dark lords or middle class mothers fighting feeling for other men, at the base of her writing is honesty and that’s why I bloody love J.K. Rowling!