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Archive for the ‘women journalists’ Category


Amelia Workman as Jane Anger


Talene Monahan as Anne Hathaway

Gentle friends and readers,

Talene Monahan’s Jane Anger is not a great play; after an initial superbly delivered monologue by Workman as Anger in front of a stage-size title page (Jane Anger), we (or I) was puzzled to be confronted by a farcical and static treatment of an apparently arrogant callow Shakespeare (Michael Urie) and his newly hired servant, Francis (Ryan Spahn) acting out a (to me) senseless comic routine worthy Jack Benny and his valet, Rochester (Eddie Anderson).  Remember him? Rochester was superb in his way and so too in this same raunchy sycophantic yet self-assertive way Spahn.  We learn that poor Will is experiencing writer’s block over an apparently plagiarized King Lear, that there is a previous version of this Celtic legend in a book Will is copying from. Perhaps we were to surmise Francis is gay.  This play makes great visual hay with Shakespeare’s sonnets which are addressed to a young man Will is in love with and a dark lady.

This took a lot of time, but somehow I felt this play wasn’t going anywhere and couldn’t figure out what we the audience were there for, even if (as we were reminded) below the room through a window we were made to feel a mob in the streets experiencing plague, and remember many doors were X’d.  Then suddenly climbs up and over the window sill, Jane. She is dressed wholly in black with a Venetian style bird mask.

The character, Jane Anger (her pseudonym) is modelled on a woman who lived and wrote one of the earliest feminist defenses of women. Monahan wrote the play during time of plague, our own, Covid-19, in 2020 (see Thomas Floyd’s story of the origins of the play).  The central life of the play is provided by the extraordinary performance of Amelia Workman who presents herself as a survivor in the “soft power” working class mode, laundress, prostitute, barmaid, whatever fell to hand (cook?), and has come to Will to ask him to sign her pamphlet, for without his signature she will never be able to persuade any printer to print her polemic. It quickly emerges she and Will have been sexual partners; she has a kind of rival in Francis (so my speculation about the sonnets has some evidence), and these three proceed to squabble until interrupted by drama’s fourth player, Anne Hathaway, also seemingly climbing up and over the window sill. Monahan plays the part in a stylized “bright comic” mode.

Colleen Kennedy has done justice to the tone and quality of the dialogue. Though it’s not quite as hilarious as Kennedy makes out, the characters discuss the plague (with obviously modern allusions thrown out), play-making, and become physically aggressive.  It is in the mode of other more brilliant crude riffs on masterpieces, history (as told seriously), and issues of the day. We witness how the men treat the women with contempt, and how they and Francis take out an almost embarrassing revenge on a thoroughly dislikable Will: he shows himself to be idle, lazy, a plagiarist who sneers at his long-suffering wife (left at home to cope with the children, one of whom died at age 11 or so). There was hearty spontaneous laughter at the slapstick, of which there is a good deal more; the use of sprayed blood all over a supposed painting of Shakespeare as backdrop especially.  Both Will’s arms are hacked off, as his penis (mockingly), which is thrown about. So the old banana routine really works. The language was as demotic as I have seen it in crude costume dramas on Starz (lots of reiterations of the word “fucking”) but this did not seem to bother the audience. Of course all the old rumors and printed words are rehearsed, including how Will left Anne the second best bed. Early on we had heard a lot about the dark lady; now the question is, was she Anne?  Anne claims this.  Spahn managed to dominate the stage and for that matter the whole theater when the actors turn to include the audience in their conscious antics. Spahn gave out photos of himself and told us that he was looking for an agent.

I admit to feeling disconcerted by this utterly irreverent emasculating of someone all of whose plays I have read, as well as the poetry (the sonnets form part of what is quoted from Shakespeare’s works) – and loved and respected very much.


The pair of men as morons

I like to remember John Heminge and Henry Condell, the friends who worked so magnificently to produce the astonishing first folio and professed themselves worried lest we not understand and appreciate their beloved noble-hearted colleague. So this was a low point in the proceedings for me.

But the play picked up when Will leaves the room in order to work for real on his coming play (I don’t remember what happened to Francis), and we were left with Hathaway and Anger. Why it took so long and was in comparison with the rest of the play so short I know not but the last twenty or so moments of this play had these two women telling each other of their lives. The death of Hamnet brought in earlier to point out how Shakespeare has not come home to see them die was now recounted. The friend whom I was with told me some of the lines were taken from Maggie O’Farrell’s sequel historical novel, Hamnet.  So now maybe I should buy that and read it.  And finally Anne reads aloud Jane’s pamphlet and (I was once, still am, an early modern literature scholar) it seemed to a real Elizabethan text was being read:

This was (I felt) the high point in the proceedings; the men did return, inexplicably chastened, and a quiet mood of respect for the previously silent and dismissed women ended the play.

It has been played elsewhere and I gather there is hope for other stage productions. This one is directed by Jess Chaynes. Other people could choose to do it differently. So I’d say if you are living near this or another production, or there is a video made of the play and it is eventually streamed on the Internet, Monahan’s play is very much worth sitting through.

Ellen

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Elizabeth of York (nee Woodville), married Henry VII), also a poet (1466-1503)

The 2 blogs together also tell the story of how 1) I had failed in my first attempt at an RSA, of an abortive 2nd attempt, that I would not go when Jim wanted to go to Florence this way in 2002 or so; and how I regret I said no. And now 2) on this 4th attempt how I was finally able to participate, experienced joy, and have new books to read with innovative outlooks, and new perspectives to write more papers on Anne Finch’s poetry out of…

Friends and readers,

Nearly three weeks ago now I wrote a first report of two on some panels I listened to in the recent virtual RSA conference. I summarized and discussed papers from two panels: Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. I ended on the lyrical poetry of Anne Finch which had been made more understandable and interesting placing it in Renaissance women’s traditions. Keeping my theme of women’s lives and fashions, women’s writing, and looks, this evening I’ll cover Virgins, Vixens, and Victims: Sexuality and the Public Image of the Tudor Queens; Women’s Fashions, looks, and lives; Dance, Gender and Sexuality. Women on the Early Modern Stage; Women involved with Politics and Literature, and end on Creative Approaches to (telling the) Lives of Early Modern Women.

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Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game (left to right, Lucia, Europa, Minerva Anguissola, 1555)

On Friday, between 10:30 and 12:00 I attended the session called Women’s Fashions, Looks and Lives. The moderator was Annett Richter, a musicologist and art historian. Cristina Vallaro, who teaches at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, whose areas are Englsh literature, early modern history, Elizabeth I’s poetry (which she appears to have translated into Italian). Her paper summarized the typical moral and religious tracts of the era which inveighed against vanity, and immoral excess, and produced rhetoric on behalf of the sumptuary laws. Homilies against over-fabulous dress for aristocratic women; only inner beauty matters &c. The serious or real point of some of this was to enable the upper class to emerge as a distinct group from everyone else. There were punishments on the books but these were never followed. There were no means to enforce these social codes. Jenny Jihyn Jeong, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed how the Virgin Mary has been represented, and her talk turned out to be an examination of how whiteness was seen as central to ideal beauty in many parts of Europe. The Virgin Mark was also imagined as having pink cheeks; reading more widely and carefully you find that a “wheatish” color begins to be attributed to Mary in the 8th and 9th centuries; she is said to have golden eyes, blonde hair and be of “medium height.” The humoral theory influenced these descriptions, and patriarchal myths of how a male comes to be born as opposed to a female. When we look at mythology, at paintings that are famous (e.g., Botticelli’s La Primavera) we find the same physical characteristics.

What was interesting was the talk we had afterwards. I said struck me is how little we learn about women’s dress in any of these sermons. What they actually wore, their feelings, what they looked like hardly is written down. The women in attendance agreed and we had quite a session about actual 16th century clothing, cosmetics (some of these were poisonous). There appears to have been a back-and-forth use of costumes found in theaters and in courts: the actresses and aristocratic women borrowed one another’s things. We also talked of the Italian women painters of this era and what their self-portraits show (see above, Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game). The problem is how do you recover the real past from such a silence; even when women write, they are so careful to be guarded, and they hardly write anything at all which could hurt them. What is the middle height? Was thinness an ideal or a look of fecundity? The women don’t think to describe themselves, or how they got their clothes in ways that enable us to reach them — partly there is little opportunity to write letters secure your letter will reach its destination. One good book to turn to on clothing in the era is by Peter Stallybrass and Rosalind Jones, Renaissance Clothes and the Materials of Memory.

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From 12:30 to 2 pm, a panel organized by Emily Winerock who is part of a Shakespeare and Dance Project. The moderator was Meira Goldberg, from the Fashion Institute of Technology, CUNY. Lyndsay McCullough of the Royal Shakespeare Company described the natures of the dances, the patterns, how these were seen and understood. She suggested we (contemporaries, 20th to 21st century) see dance as movement, expressive rhythmic movements, which include skipping, turning, stepping; the early modern view was to look at dance in stillness, to judge it in terms of self-control and discipline of the body. Lessons were valued as giving women and men poise that signified class and status. People wanted to show how good was their coordination, balance. People saw the dances as showing your good memory (from learning the patterns) and showing you civility and ethics. The people participating saw themselves as statuary; they wore headdresses to increase their height, corsets to narrow their figures. The richer the group the more exaggerated their uses of gold, silver, with attempts at imitating or giving an illusion of nudity. Again static imagery was what they had to look at. No videos. In the English masques we find iconography which links royal people to classical precedents, imperialistic and heroic imagery was preferred for men. For women the steps she could take were severely limited: no soaring allowed.


Strange Footing: Poetic Form and Dance in Late Middle Ages by Seeta Chaganti was described and recommended as a central place to begin a study of dance in this era

By contrast, Melinda Gough, a profession of English Cultural Studies at McMaster University (Ontario), emphasized the kinetic nature of these dances. She spoke of a carnival atmosphere. She talked of ballets where allegory could project domestic sexuality, or voice ugly military-based threats (they will kill all slaves if they don’t get their way on this or that). She found national imageries and archetypes jostling with one another; a strong eroticism, a cross-casting. We can see in one that Louis XIII was angered at his wife’s miscarriage; that the queen in turn offered up abject sexuality to him; honeyed flattery knows no limits. Another specifically pushed Henrietta Maria forward to Charles I’s attention. People have suggested some of these ballets question absolute monarchy; the masque upholds everyone’s dignity.

Emily Winerock discussed a specific playwright, Richard Broome, and his plays; one she detailed seems to have been called The Court Beggar and the late Lancashire Witches. She discussed how a specific character is shown as marginalized; this play assumes the female characters’ guilt. The witches (seen as projecting strangeness) are accused of wanting to destroy a well ordered community; the music had an upbeat tempo, dances were merry. Brome’s plays include satires on the court where dance is seen as a form of madness. The hero notices he is dancing all alone and all hitherto around him have “vanished.” He comments: “Never was I in such a wilderness.” The text is meant as jokery but also as a grave performance.


From the earlier part of the 18th century: Elizabeth Pope Young (1735-9 – 1797), Countess Hortensia in Jephson’s Countess of Narbonne

I very briefly attended the last 20 minutes of Women on the Early Modern Stage (on at the same time as the above). I had missed the papers and was hearing general talk. From my own studies on actresses (see a review I wrote of an important book by Felicity Nussbaum; see my blogs on individuals and the topic in general) was not at all surprised to be told that in the early modern period there were attempts made to control an actress’s movements; the furniture they could use was strictly controlled; they were labelled whores while given the parts of queens, duchess and noble women to play. The attempts made to raise their status, physical attacks made on wife-and-husband pairs; a woman who played Medea was mentioned and how she was regarded. Susannah Xaver talked of murderous women characters on the stage and how they were presented with sexual slurs so as to prejudice the audience against them (even if presented somewhat sympathetically)

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The Politics and Literature in England Panel at 2:30-:400 pm was moderated by Melissa Caldwell from Eastern Illinois University. Nikolina Hatton, of Ludwig-Macmillans University in Munich, discussed the fate of two women writers and their books: Hester Polter whose wrote poetry on the side of the Stuarts; she called Hester “a frantic loyalist; and writes violent poetry; Hutchinson (as is well known, and I’ve discussed in this blog) was on the side of Parliament and wrote a life of her husband, and much poetry. Old Testament typology is found in both women’s work. Hester made use of Biblical queens (Esther); Haman is a kind of Oliver Cromwell. Hutchinson takes philosophical themes from classical learning. But she takes no satisfaction for even the the time the Protectorate lasted; she and her husband saw this regime as tyrannical too. They disliked primogeniture; saw the world as unknowable, and face defeat: they cannot see how a true victory (of their values) could come about. The task is to remain faithful despite what you see about you.

Lanier Walker of the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill gave a paper where she subtly brought out how documentary history may be ferreted out of Marlowe’s Edward II, and how history is understood in the play. It’s expressive of reality as well as literally what happened. She showed a complicated relationship between what happened and what is recorded and who has what power. Patrick Durrell of the University of Lausanne discussed Elyot’s The Governor as a humanist document using the figures of Damion and Pythias to teach boys about noble characters inside relationships. Last, Valentina Seria of the University of Pisa discussed Giordano Bruno in a paper called “A Path to Knowledge,” about how among his heterodox ideas was a concern over censorship and defense of freedom of speech. As we know, the Catholic Inquisition imprisoned, tortured and killed him.

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The last panel I can report on occurred on Saturday between 10:30 and 12:00; I could not attend and instead watched it last night between 11:30 pm and 1 am in the morning. James B. Fitzmaurice was the moderator of “Creative Approaches to the Lives of Early Modern Women.” It was moving and uplifting. Prof Fitzmaurice is Emeritus from N. Arizona University but has been living in Sheffield, England, for the last 16 years. He writes screenplays based on the lives of early modern woman. He talked about an Anne Boleyn serial on Netflix, saying they made an outrageous use of modern slang language. I found the same to be true of Starz’s The Serpent Queen about Catherine de Medici.

Naomi Miller, at Smith College, whose books and essays I’ve read so often and have been of immense help to me talked about how she turned to writing novels, fictionalized biography in order to present Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and her niece Mary, Lady Wroth with depth and truth. She has a novel out out about Herbert (Imperfect Alchemist) and will have one soon about Wroth (Stage Labyrinth). She talked of Emilia Lanier, a poet and supposed to be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady and the fierce later 17th century Anne Clifford. With Sara Jayne Steen (who was there) she has produced Authorizing Early Modern Women – through auto-fiction as well as other non-conventional ways. Erika Gaffrey, of Amsterdam University Press, talked of her blogging! Cordelia Beattie, from the University of Edinburgh, talked of her work on Alice Thornton, the early autobiographer. Emma Whipday of Newcastle University is at work on a play about a real servant, Cicely Lee, who was found pregnant and executed. She was accused of adultery with her master. Hers appears to have been a richly documented life. Alexandra G Bennett, of Northern Illinois University, is at work on a book on Catherine of Aragon, Emma Bergman, on the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. She is trying to address the woman’s religious feelings and her repression in ways that allow her poetry to open up more meaning about herself.


Norma West as Elizabeth of York meeting Henry VII (James Maxwell, Shadow of the Tower) — my creative approach to Renaissance women’s lives & art has always included historical romance and serial historically-based films and dramas

People who were not speakers and whose names I could not catch but who spoke of their work included Emily Whinroth, a dance historian, wanting to take (if I am not mistaken) Elizabeth of York (poet, wife of Henry VII Tudor) seriously. She was played by Norma West on a wonderful older serial on Henry VII, The Shadow of the Tower (aired on PBS in 1971) which I watched with fascination. A woman whose first name is Georgiana and whom I recognized from the Folger Shakespeare library talked about the Jane Anger by Talene Monahan about to be put before the public by the DC local Shakespeare Theater. Anger was a real woman who wrote an angry pamphlet.

The last paper I heard was one that had been presented on Thursday, on a panel on Women, Labor, and Plague, 12:30-2:00. Kathleen Miller of Queens University, Belfast, talked of how repressive constructions of reality and norms prevented printing presses from producing true statistics and stories about women’s behavior and actions and words during a time of plague.

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And so the RSA ended for me last night, alas I thought appropriately. Though the faces and tones of the women speaking today were often hopeful, and certainly many are learned and appear to be getting good jobs where they can do useful teaching and writing, such was not the typical case in the early modern period, and today in the world there are many groups of people prepared by violence and whatever else it takes to drive all or the majority of women back to imprisonment, early death, imposed wretched failed existences once again.


Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (an earlier Elizabeth who got entangled in this brutal ruthless Plantagenet family, presented as captivating Edward IV — this is another image that suggests the way I idealize early modern women (from the BBC series, The Hollow Crown, 2012)

When I went into the next room from this where I have my computer and got into bed to go to sleep with my two cats settling down around me I thought of all the years I spent in the Library of Congress and Folger reading and studying and gathering documents to do much more further work at home on women writers from Vittoria Colonna to Margaret Oliphant I felt I had seen some of my younger sisters who share my commitment today. I fell asleep feeling so glad that I had finally gotten to see, to listen to, and to talk with them.

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This is the second of two blog reports. the first I wrote from a personal perspective telling how difficult I had found it to go to this scholar’s conference when I was a young graduate student and then (much harder yet) to return to go to a second when I had become an independent scholar, and thus did not know anyone. And how I refused to go to a third which took place in Florence about 10 years after that. I omitted in the description of the work and achievements I had had my translation of the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, a short Life of Gambara (Under the sign of Dido, a Widow), and reviews of writings on and by early modern Italian women because I finished these and put them here on the Net shortly after that third abortive attempt. Not to omit work on the political and personal life of Anne Murray, Lady Halkett, a spy and rescuer.

So now I’ve finally gone to Renaissance Society AGM even if “just” digitally, and want to add that I was personally so moved by the content of the papers I heard last time about women’s poetry, the representations of this poetry and their bodies, and last, ditto on their political behavior. This second set will be much shorter accounts of panels and papers where the explicit content of the research is not what gladdened me in this lonely “holiday” season so. It was the at times joyous attitude of mind of the speakers towards their work and one another; the prevailing attitude was one of relief, aspiration and inspiration. In the last session on Saturday particularly I was told about writing and projects that basically have little change of getting conventionally published but the people working on them derived such satisfaction from their work and had begun to write in other genres (screenplays, bio-fiction) and were reaching other people who care about this area of research and the women we find living like many of us under constraints in this previous Eurocentric world.


Lindsay Duncan as the aging Duchess of York realizing her beloved son is at risk of execution (also The Hollow Crown)

Ellen

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Ghazaleh Hedayat (2008)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m honored today to have as a guest blogger M. Mansur Hashemi’s essay, “‘Do you hear their hair?’: About a piece of conceptual art” as translated by Fatemeh Minaei

Three months ago, a protest movement began in Iran. It was instigated by the tragic death of a young girl (Mahsa-Zhina Amini) while detained by the “morality police” who arrested her for not dressing according to the rules of compulsory hijab. The media echoed the event that moved the nation in the name of “woman, life, freedom”.

The following is a translation of a Persian writing that reflects some debates over hijab. It was written about nine years ago highlighting the problem through an interpretation of a work created by an Iranian female artist. The author has written other detailed articles criticizing the mandatory hijab, in which he has predicted the present situation in Iran. But this short poetic writing on an artwork (created by Ghazaleh Hedayat) extracts the essence of the matter. Naturally, the discussed conceptual art can be interpreted in various ways. The author has put it in the context of two bans in Iran, trying to emphasize the complexities of a social conflict. A conflict manifested now in the violent confrontations between the government and persevering teens and youth who fight for their freedom.­ Fatemeh Minaei, 2022 December.

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Imagine the broad plane of a wall. From a distance, you might miss it. But if you look closely, you will see nails. Eight nails, to be exact. Getting closer, you will see the eight iron nails connected by four strands of hair. You feel a tension between the stiffness of the nails against the tender strands of hair. It looks as if the strands are chained to the wall. You hear the daunting sound of a hammer that heightens that feeling. But, with all their fragility, the strands of hair are there. They are not destroyed, despite the collusion between the hammer and nails. They are stretched on the hard surface and this tautness on the broad area, this being tied to the iron nails, enhances their presence.

The strings on a musical instrument are stretched on it and tied to its body, just as those hair strands are tied to the wall. Nevertheless, the very tied-up strings make the unrestricted sound of the music. Those four strands of hair are like strings on the wall. We do not even need to hear any sound those imaginary strings would make. We’ll hear them as soon as we take a look. Apparently, the strands of hair are not supposed to be visible. But they are. Just as for a while, under the new Islamic regime in Iran, musical instruments were not supposed to be seen. Showcases got cleared from any musical instrument. Yet the sound kept on coming out from behind the veils the government ordered. Music survived. It survived until one day the musical instruments came back to the windows and now the only place the musical instruments are not seen is on the Islamic regime’s TV. However, musical instruments are not for watching; they are to be heard. And their sound, the music they create, is now filling up even the official broadcastings of the regime. So seems to be the state for the sound of the locks that were supposed to not be heard. Now the sound that sneaks out from under the slipping scarves can no longer be ignored. The sound of the objecting strands of hair that display themselves despite the morality police, despite the violent surroundings. The veil is no longer working.

A piece of conceptual art sometimes represents a situation not easy to express otherwise. “The Sound of My Hair” by Ghazaleh Hedayat (pictured below) can be interpreted as a representation of a situation. A metaphorical visual translation of a conflict.

I grew up in a pious family and spent my childhood mostly in mosques and Islamic schools. So, I understand how much symbolic that ‘sound’ can become. I feel the taboos and their dreadful power. The imposed patriarchal mentality puts unbearable pressure on a religious man. His mind gets overwhelmed by obsessions that are extremely hard to overcome.

People raised outside the religious stratum of Islamic societies would never comprehend the Hijab issue. Just like the issue of music being impermissible (Haram), sounds being sinful, or musical instruments being devices of ‘libidinous pleasure’, makes no sense to them. The hair of Iranian girls and women not raised in religious families is covered by the force of the regime rules. Just as decades ago, a patriarchal government (ruled by Reza Shah) unveiled the hair of religious Iranian women by force because of a shallow understanding of modernity. The value of individual freedom is missed in both cases. And since the logic of force is not convincing, it was and is doomed to fail.

Now the times are changing. Besides women forced to have hijab or those who chose hijab for a while under the influence of the Zeitgeist, nowadays, even many Iranian girls from religious families prefer not to cover their hair. In an ironic turn of events that can be called, in the words of Hegel, “die List der Vernunft” (the cunning of reason), those girls participated in civic life because the Islamic regime prepared the circumstances their families required, and now they do not see the need for veils.

When you wander in the streets of Iranian cities now, it will be strange if you don’t hear the sound of the strands of hair that want to get free. To get their voice heard despite the repressive surroundings. That reminds me of the interpretable work of Ghazaleh Hedayat. She has visualized a situation that I am sure will continue to cause a stir in our society for a long time. The issue is as complicated and intricate as that work of art: The Sound of My Hair.

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Women’s Rights Activist on Protests Sweeping Iran, the Intensifying Gov’t Crackdown & Executions:

https://www.democracynow.org/2022/12/15/iran_protests_sussan_tahmasebi

Sussan Tahmahsebi:

Over nearly 500 people have been killed — 480, I think, is the last figure that the Human Rights Activists Network reported. Sixty-eight of them are children who have been killed. And the majority of those who have been killed — I mean, at least 50% of those who have been killed are from ethnic minority regions, Kurdish areas and Balochi areas. In Balochistan, just in one day, on Black Friday, which was September 30th, 103 people were shot dead. These were peaceful protesters leaving Friday prayers. And most of them were shot in the back, running away from bullets that the police were shooting at them.

Now, as you mentioned, the violence has reached a new level, where protesters are being sentenced to death. They’re being charged with enmity with God or waging war against God, and they’re being sentenced to death in these sham trials that, you know, don’t take very long, where people are not afforded — allowed to have access to their lawyers. And it’s extremely concerning …

On the women’s reproductive rights front: “How quickly anti-abortion activists abandon plans never to be punitive: demand jail time for “pill trafficking:”

https://tinyurl.com/2fzsvd6a

But it is true that the democrats’ solid wins in many states and for many offices, and putting into state constitutions women’s rights to autonomy, care, and choices over their bodies show who in the US are also in the majority

Posted by Ellen

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Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said (directed Maria Schrader, script Rebecca Lenkiewicz), telling of what happened 20+ years later


Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in She Said (immediately afterwards)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m writing this in a spirit of mild indignation. It’s not that no reviews have acknowledged the excellence and power of She Said: Ryan Painter in a Salt Lake City news report not too long after beginning gets round to the power and importance of this film (and accompanies the review with stills that demonstrate what is meant by “stride”), Alexis Soliski of the New York Times gives strong praise (albeit warning the reader that the film is “discreet” and “stealthy” — nothing to trigger you here, potential viewer is part of the idea), but often they are curiously truncated (Ebert’s column). Nothing like damning something with faint praise, e.g, Molly Fischer of The New Yorker. I fail to see why it is a limitation of this film that our two intrepid reporters talk with compassion and understanding neither Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) found necessary when dealing with Deep Throat. We are made to fear for them as Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor receive death threats on the phone, are followed ominously by cars, find themselves confronted by an aggressively hostile husband who finds his honor about to be besmirched.

And then there is the vehemently insulting, to me a review all the more appalling because the New Statesman is a left-of-center publication, and the review by a woman, Ann Manov who labeled it “myopic, timid and trivial”. I almost didn’t go; I felt so angry at the review when I came home I almost cancelled my subscription

Like many perhaps most women I have a #MeToo story too. In my case it’s one I’ve yet to be able to put into coherent words. The experiences occurred over a period of time, between the ages of 13 and 15 when through hysteria and retreat I managed to put a stop to it. I know this time connects it o a suicide attempt I made at age 15, years of anorexia (ages 16 to 21), and my attempt to shape my existence into a safe retreat. I tried once on my original political Sylvia I blog.  But I can no longer reach it by googling for it as I wrote it so long ago. I am cheered to see the outstanding performances of Samantha Morton (whom I have so long admired and now finally subscribed to Starz just to see her in The Serpent Queen — alas she is the only element in the serial worth watching) and Jennifer Ehle (as Laura Madden) singled out. I cannot find a still online (available to public of her telling of her experience) only this one of her as first seen with her children living in a small village in Cornwall.

Ashley Judd plays herself. We hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice on the phone. Patricia Clarkson is the female supervisor, with Andre Braugher as the tough male “the buck stops here” impressive deep voice on the phone and presence in group discussions

Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Here is Angela Yeoh (as Rowena Chiu) many years later: it is this woman’s husband who stands as a threatening wall between her and Jodi Kantor

It’s not discreet — I agree we don’t have the scene where Harvey Weinstein actually bullied Laura Madden into agreeing to squalid sordid sexual activity with him, but as in Greek tragedy, a brilliant messenger conjures up the scene for us. I’d like to see the film again because I found myself remembering and reliving fragments of what happened to me so not taking everything in — as in most recent films, this one moves very quickly, with epitomizing dialogues (the lawyers for Weinstein, two of them importantly ex-lawyers, played by Zach Grenier and Peter Friedman) for many of the scenes. Not all. Not the descriptions of what these women endured. It was for me at times painful, especially when Ehle as Laura Madden confessed she had allowed Weinstein to rape her — she did not say no exactly; the anguish ever after was that she felt she had consented. She blamed herself. Much is brought forward to show why women are unwilling to go on record and what is won at the end is this team of women, and these stories eventually brought in over 80 women. There is now a law before Congress which would make illegal some of these silencing contracts employees sign before they are allowed on jobs.

As The New Yorker and New York Times reviewers state early on, the model for this film is All the King’s Men: with Twohey (who has a baby during the early phase) and Kantor (who has a family of children she must care for) we are seeking verifiable documents, women willing to be named on the record, with the difference that this time many of them have signed “settlement” agreements whereby they agreed never to tell anything and hand over all evidence upon being given a huge sum of money (the amount also kept secret). Deep Throat never was paid off, never was silenced by a court decision. There is also a bestselling book by Kantor and Towhey (She Said, available in several ways).


Megan Twohey


Jodi Kantor

So the emphasis is on the chase, and the turns are those of “thriller-mystery” formula: as in spy fiction, this kind of subgenre has come to be used for socially conscious TV serials (Sherwood) and films (Suffragette). Andrew Marr has talked in one show about how the spy thriller is a key political text for our time. The worst that can be said of it is what can be said of too many American-produced films: it’s suffused by a sentimentality at moments (particularly family scenes for our two heroines), is at moments unsubtle (again the family scenes seemingly exonerating our heroines from militant feminism), broad, with an insistence on upbeat feeling at the end.


Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (“Keeper of Souls” — a sardonically ironic title)

One might compare the ending of many of the 1990s Prime Suspect episodes (Helen Mirren achieved broader fame here); I thought of episode 3 about a pedophile ring as I watched Samantha Morton and remembered a young Jonny Lee Miller in an unforgettable 10 minutes electrifying that season with his rendition of a young man remembering his years of being raped in prisons and “centers for boys”: at its end we are still not sure the key figure (played by Ciarhan Hinds) will actually be nailed down by evidence and sent to jail; all we know of the publication is that it will bring the horrible stories to the public eyes, and that is how She Said ends.

In Prime Suspect because another lower-level murderer-bully is also going to be put away for many years, we feel at least this ring of cruel ruthless males is going to be destroyed; granted Harvey Weinstein did get a sentence of 23 years. But there is nothing truly feel good about the ending, only relief that the intensely dangerous work done may be rewarded by justice (as people are exposed) and our heroine (Jane Tennison) getting promoted.

An interesting aspect about the art and plot-design of this movie is this movement back and forth between the time an assault/rape occurred and the time this investigation is taking place. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen no less than 4 serials where the film moves from past time at least 20 years ago to near now: Sherwood, Karen Pirie, Magpie Murders, and now She Said. In all of these two sets of actors do the roles, in some cases more successfully because the actors playing the younger parts really look like the older actors (the first film I saw of this type was Last Orders, with J. J. Feilds playing the Michael Caine role and Kelly Reilly the Helen Mirren role). Magpie Murders, as befits am Anthony Horowitz product adds a level of complexity and dwells also on using the same actors as characters in a novel occurring 40 years ago and characters in present time (but only some of them so our credulity is not asked too much of).

Unfortunately, in this movie some of the actors playing the younger selves do not look enough like the older actors but I can quite see that Jennifer Ehle does look much older and am glad no computer tricks were played upon her present face. And sometimes the younger actress, Lola Petticrew, is so immediately vivid in her terror, shock, and shame:


Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said

What more can I say? read the book, see the movie. I will be identified as an over-the-top feminist if I say I think some of these lukewarm and uncomfortable reviews derive from the reality that the patriarchy is still firmly in place (capitalism reinforced by male hegemony and male-derived values), that a female aesthetic such as is found in this thriller (the stories are cyclical with the woman repeating roles as mothers and wives they anticipated as girlfriends), with female imagery and females playing subordinate roles when it comes to some final decision as to what to print does not yield visceral consent from male critics and women primed to want male structures. Helen Mirren managed to become a central dominant presence in her series because the series had 5 years plus a 2 year reprise (1991-96, 2003, 2006) for us to see her rise to become boss, and she did play the role as (apart from her private life where we see her cry, have an abortion [very daring], lose partners stoically) as hard, unemotional, and as one of the “guys” who uses alliances with women (prostitutes to reporters) rather than becoming one of them which Mulligan and Kazan do.

But in this film our heroines are not aging mature women (like Patricia Clarkson is — about whose private life we know nothing) but presented as young women reporters themselves with a career to make — and courageously chancing it and their private lives. It is telling that this film’s norms are such that we believe they have good lives because they have supportive husbands.


Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said — chasing down people as far away as Cornwall


Carey Mulligan — filmed in Bryant Park, her career is studded (as gems) with important feminist films

Ellen

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She announced this briefly last night as a last news item:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/judy-woodruff-stepping-aside-from-pbs-newshour-anchor-desk-at-end-of-2022

I shall miss her badly. Tears come to my eyes as I write this. I know I watch the show many even most nights to feel a little of her presence (as presented by herself) in my life. She projects kindness, genuine concern for the vulnerable, seeks stories that can comfort intelligent people, and in general is part of the shaping force of the choices of what to run, where to place it, as well as what is said in the segments. Over the course of the pandemic at the end of many of her hours I felt better.

I’m not going to over-praise. To categorize PBS as left of center is too generous because in many of the central interview and some secondary political segments our “correspondents” consistently avoid asking tough questions to reactionary and also (occasionally) fascist (if when on the show seeming courteous) types, do not truly challenge important lies; their even-handedness is the old mainstream liberal-social but conservative=economic (1950s style) republicanism. Some of the people there are harsher than that, bringing in blaming culture: Amna Navaz and Amiche Alcindor to me would be a fatal choices for anchor. Once I watched Judy sit before Mark Shields and David Brooks spout disguised misogyny. Not a peep out of her. The show omits stories, gives slack to where they should not. I concede many of the “human interest” and cultural segments are probing, humanitarian, egalitarian, and useful. The best of these are done regularly by Fred de Sam Lazaro, Jane Ferguson (what a courageous woman), Malcolm Brabant, Miles O’Brien (Paul Solomon is too far a compromiser). Recently Stephanie Sy has been improving: she actually said to one election denier candidate he was not answering her question! Indeed probably I might stop watching it; it does depend on who is the leading shaping force. William Branagh who would be my choice for anchor but I worry he has a slight nervousness in delivery and of course that won’t do.

Here is her rightly proud resume:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judy_Woodruff

I remember her when she was very young, one of the people on the McNeil-Lehrer hour, telling Washington DC news. There was a brief foray into commercial news broadcasts, about which my father said “she won’t last.” He meant the cut-throat politics and subrisively mean tone of some of the networks would cut her out; she was also no Leslie Stahl, a genuine left-liberal newscaster, daring too — so that made Stahl viable on the ABC of those days. Judy was ever a lady.

Who but her could have done all those end-of-shows obituaries during the height of the pandemic. I know nowadays she has a badly crippled son who cannot get about without a super-engineered walker and also about how unscrupulously and callously such people and their wheelchairs are treated at that most abominable of places, airports, where human rights are thrown away.

I remember her crying when Gwen Ifill died. How relieved Fauci was to talk to her. I shall miss her and her show.


A 1981 photograph of her working for NBC

Ellen

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