One Size Does Not Fit All

IMG_9076For one of my pictures I teamed up Natalie Davies and Jenny Wilson, both brilliant performers from Bradford, who frequently get their height commented on. And when I say commented, I mean told: “Ooh, aren’t you short!” “Ooh, you’re tall!” Jenny and I talked about gender as performance and the colour pink.

Jenny: I get my gender identity called into question quite a lot, and I have throughout my life. And that’s really about size. I can really identify with trans people, their journey and their experience of having their gender identity questioned. I play with gender and gender stereotypes in my performing, and Mysti Valentine (Jenny’s Drag character) is very much taking control of that. If you’re going to question my gender identity I’m going to give you all of the question marks in one go! Gender is performance, it’s social construct, it’s not innate.

We’ve all been brought up in a patriarchy, and our language is formed in that context, the words we have, the frames of reference we have, the very thoughts in our heads – those words are patriarchal words. Everything is so very gendered.

(For this shoot) we both turned up in pink, and I hate that ‘pinkification’ of everything. It’s capitalism and patriarchy. For example, Lego recognised that by making pink Lego theycould make twice as much. I just had a big bag of it because I had two big brothers, and the same’s true for Stella (Jenny’s daughter), she gets to play with Ivan’s (her son’s) old cars, guns and swords and stuff. She likes to play with those, and likes to play ‘big boy’ games, but she’s a very ‘girly girl’ in loads of ways. She likes to sing and dance and dress up in princess clothes and all of that. And it’s difficult, as there’s a bit of me that’s like ‘don’t be girly!’ but I try to make sure she has a choice and isn’t limited by what she’s ‘supposed’ to be. She can be a warrior and a princess, and princesses can be powerful. It doesn’t mean you have to be rescued – you can rescue yourself.

We talked about dressing up. I totally understand children wanting to play dress up, because I want to do it! That’s one of the reasons I adore drag queens. But when little boys put on princess (or whatever) frocks it’s immediately problematic for many people.

Jenny: It’s about control, it’s about where the power lies. Who’s in control of it and who’s entitled to do it, and the values we ascribe to it. And that’s where the patriarchy will keep reinventing itself, you know every little gain that women and girls make, the patriarchy just redefines it as a bit shit. Because once it’s got feminine qualities attached to it, it’s lesser somehow than the masculine thing. It’s much easier for Stella to dress up as a pirate, or to be a ‘tomboy’ than it is for a little boy to be a ‘sissy’. For a boy to dress as a fairy or princess is much more problematic, and that’s because of the power. It’s insidious. What I try to do with my work as a performer, through Irregular Arts, it’s to try and create little glimmers of what the world might be like if it wasn’t like that.

I want to live in one of Jenny’s glimmers. Like the little boy who dressed up as Daphne for Halloween. And the boys who wore skirts to protest school uniform policy. I’d like to live in a world where pink isn’t for girls, it’s for anyone and everyone, if you happen to like pink.

Real Women Inspire Me

Blog 3The women I’m working with on this project inspire in different ways. As well as being a dear friend, Saireen is something of a heroine to me. She has educated herself and accrued  a wealth of experience in different fields including Finance, Funding, Training, and Community and Organisational Development, all  whilst battling many personal challenges.

She feels passionately that BME women should be represented in local services, and worked as a Volunteer Coordinator for Rape Crisis, as well as volunteering herself with The Minorities Police Liaison Committee.

In the late1990’s she educated the Home Office, Media and local MPs on the distinction between arranged marriage, marriage of convenience and forced marriage. She observed that criticism of arranged marriages came across as tarnishing BME communities in a broader sense, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and set about addressing this. She established the first project of its kind supporting people experiencing forced marriage, and successfully inspired other organisations on a local, national and international basis to create support services and education programmes to deal with the issues. Her awareness raising was also key in leading the home office to set up one of the first iterations of the Forced Marriage Unit.

These are just some of the things that make her awesome.

She reminded me that sometimes real life Princesses are more than clothes horses:

 “It’s very rewarding kind of work when you want to help people, like Princess Diana did. She must have felt she achieved what she had set out to do if she saw somebody else feel better as a result of her work. I felt like I could relate to Princess Diana, not in a physical way, but the experiences she had and her loving nature. She cared for others and I often get told I have that in me, I could relate to her in that way. She was a real woman. She was well known for being a people’s person, the people’s princess, because she cared about people and so do I.”

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