Girlhood Interrupted: Identity, Femininity and Anxiety in the ‘Alice’ Books.

The struggle for identity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"She generally gave herself very good advice though 
she seldom ever followed it".
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“I knew myself this morning but I’ve changed a few times since then”; Alice’s dilemma.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ([1865]1988) and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There ([1871]1988) focus on Alice’s identity crisis. Set against the backdrop of a nonsensical land where the inhabitants are “all mad”, the adventures Alice undergoes makes her question her role as a child, specifically a female child, in an adult world. Alice’s anxiety about her upcoming maturation is focalised through the theme of transformation. Alice’s anxiety surrounding her continuous transformation is indicated through the identity crisis she undergoes in defining her role as a child and a future woman. This post will analyse the latter in relation to three key moments from the ‘Alice’ books. These include her size, her femininity and her sense of autonomy.

Alice’s inability to remain one size is indicative of an anxiety associated with growing up. Throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice’s body size transforms as a result of a number of “magical” substances in Wonderland that have the ability to both help her grow taller, and shrink her in size. The continual transformation Alice undergoes results in an identity crisis. She can neither remain a child-like height or an adult height. Alice’s inability to remain constant and by extension control her own body enhances her sense of self-doubt. Alice’s struggle for identity is first established in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when she encounters the caterpillar. In avoiding all pleasantries, the caterpillar pressures Alice to recognize her identity as something other than her name. This is seen through the direct question of “who are you?” . Alice’s reaction indicates her struggle for identity when she hesitates. In responding “shyly” she contemplates; “I-I hardly know sir”. Signified by the use of a dash, Alice’s hesitation suggests she is struggling to make sense of who she is. In addition to this, it implies that she has never properly contemplated her true identity before and is this daunted by venturing into the unknown, and by proxy discovering who is actually is. Alice’s journey to self-discovery is further implied through the caterpillar’s own identity. The caterpillar symbolizes the act of transformation. This is because caterpillars undergo their own form of maturation in the form of a transformation into a butterfly. Transformation is indicated and anticipated by the chrysalis stage where the caterpillar with metamorphosises into its mature form- a butterfly.  This reflects the transformation that occurs during adolescence where the state of

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‘Advice from a caterpillar’.

childhood is left behind in order to become an adult. However, Alice appears to be stuck between her own two stages of transformation. When she is small and meek she fits into the category of ‘child’. As a child Alice is unable to sustain the authoritative and powerful position she held whilst she was tall. Therefore, Alice’s identity is in a state of flux. Alice is constantly moving between the state of potentiality in childhood, to the state of actuality. She then in turn moves from the adult-like authoritative position, back to being immature. Alice’s fluctuating identity is indicated further by the Caterpillar’s insistent question “who are you?”. This use of repetition suggests that the question of who we are is difficult to answer. Thus, the caterpillar possess a confrontational presence. He makes Alice question her own perception of herself; awakening her to her impending maturation.

Alice appears to reject her impending maturation. In particular Alice rejects her anticipated gender identity. Alice rejects her femininity. This is seen through the transformation of the baby into a pig. When Alice picks up the baby she becomes a surrogate mother in that she is assuming responsibility for its welfare amidst the chaos of the Duchess’ kitchen. However in the process of enacting motherhood Alice experiences a sense of repulsion. This is symbolized by the transformation of the infant into a pig. Associated with excrement, dirt and greed, the pig baby presents Alice with an insight into the depths of infant dependency and as such the hardships of motherhood. Alice’s distaste for such a role is indicated by her scorn for the animistic baby. For instance, she declares; “I’ll have nothing more to do with you”. This statement implies that Alice intends to refuse her possible role as a future mother. because she is disgusted by what it entails.

The chess analogy used in Through the Looking Glass reflects the struggle Alice experiences in outgrowing her childhood and acquiring knowledge of an adult world. In describing herself as “pawn”, Carroll identifies childhood with a lack of power and autonomy over one’s fate. This is because in a game of chess the pawn holds least amount of power and is consequently is controlled by other players. The struggle of growing up is further illustrated by the juxtaposition created in Alice’s identification with the ‘pawn’ and the Queen’s literal identification as “Queen”, in a game of chess. In being named “Queen”, the Queen is suggested to obtain more power than Alice. In a game of chess the Queen has the most amount of control. This juxtaposition in power mirrors that of the adult vs child interaction between the Queen and Alice. The Queen exhibits a parental authority over Alice when she dictates to her. For instance, the Queen uses imperatives such as “remember who you are!”. In giving Alice instructions about how best to play the game, the Queen is also providing her with advice concerning her own identity. This interaction whereby the Queen acts a a gate-keeper reflects that of a parental figure advising and providing guidance to a child. In particular, in instructing Alice, the Queen controls and determines the flow of conversation.  Here, adulthood is inextricably linked to knowledge. Therefore, in identifying herself as a piece of a chess board, Alice recognizes the role she must undertake in maturing into her role in adulthood. This is due to the fact that the game of chess can be considered an adult game of logic. This, Alice has to participate in a game of skill in order to make sense and acquire mastery over the seemingly nonsensical world of adulthood.  

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‘Alice and the Red Queen’

Finally, Alice is seen to transform into an adult through her acquisition of power. For instance, in becoming Queen at the end of Through the Looking Glass, Alice develops and adopts an adult role. In acquiring a higher status on the chess board, is not the highest status, Carroll implies that Alice has finally learnt how to play the game of adulthood. The prize for this display of skill is the obtainment of authority. Alice’s transformation into adulthood occurs when she reprimands the Red Queen and then picks her up. In exerting her physical authority, as well as physical power, the Queen is described as having “dwindled down to the size of a little doll” once Alice forcibly handles her. This action highlights a clear role reversal as Alice how now become the parental authority figure. It is now Alice and not the Queen who is telling off the small meek child. However, the completion of maturity whereby Alice has now acquired her ultimate identity results in anxiety. As a child she is excite by the prospect of becoming an adult. For example, Alice experiences a sense of glee when she states “Queen! How grand it sounds!”. The use of repeated exclamation marks connote enthusiasm. When Alice goes on to exclaim “the eight square at last!”, she recognizes that a sense of identity will be found along with the completion of the game of chess. The games chess substitutes the process of maturation. Alice is moving towards her future. Despite her initial pleasure, Alice’s experience as an adult is overshadowed by the realization of the true nature of adulthood, The latter is shown to be that of responsibility. Moreover, this juxtaposition in ideas of adulthood is indicated through the use of asterisk at the end of the page, which demonstrates a transformation. As a result of this transformation into a position of authority, Alice feels “dismay”. The use of the noun ‘dismay’ suggests that she is concerned by the realist of what her role as Queen entails. Now she has gained her much desired mastery of adult knowledge, Alice becomes daunted by her new found sense of responsibilityFor instance, the “heav[iness]” pf the crown suggests that the burden of authority is metaphorically weighing her down. Further disappointment is brought about when asks herself “but how can it have got there without my knowing it”. This rhetorical question demonstrates the confusion Alice feels. Her confusion is a result of discovering the crown to be already on her head which suggests she is unnerved by such a sudden role acquisition. In turn this suggests that she feels anxiety towards the prospect of growing up. This due to the way that growing up although a gradual and difficult process can still be startling when one realizes that the former identity of a child is displaced by the identity of an adult. In particular, the spontaneous appear of the crown suggest that adulthood and growing old can quickly sneak up on one. Therefore, Alice’s maturation is a bitter sweet experience once she fully is able to contemplate the level of responsibility it entails. 

Bibliography: 

Carroll, L. (1998) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. London, Penguin.

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Jordan Baker, Gender and The Great Gatsby.

A critical analysis of the relationship between narration, characterisation and gender in The Great Gatsby. 

"She was incredibly dishonest".
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“The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something.”

In the The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 2001), Nick Carraway’s depiction of Jordan Baker contradicts essentialist beliefs about gender. Essentialism refers to the belief that gender is determined by biological sex. In this post I will argue that Jordan represents a trangressive form of femininity that subverts traditional gender roles.

Jordan’s androgyny is first indicated by her name. The name Jordan does not clearly indicate which gender role she is expected to conform to. It is only when Jordan is described as being a “small breasted girl”, that the reader can identify her as female(Fitzgerald, 2001) . The noun ‘girl’ is used to enforce Nick’s own masculine identity. Nick patronizes Jordan here as he renders her as immature by suggesting that she possesses a childish physique. Here Nick establishes femininity as a tool by which to measure one’s own masculinity. Moreover, in patronizing Jordan, Nick is displaying male dominance whereby females are silenced and marginalized by male authority. Nick determines Jordan’s characterisation and by extension her identity.  Therefore Jordan’s underdeveloped physique not only establishes femininity as passive in comparison to masculinity, but also establishes her as boyish. In characterising femininity as identifiable by a woman’s developed physique, Nick implies that an immature female body problematises gender identity. The lack of a female form is synonymous with a sense of masculinity. Femininity is separate from masculinity. Femininity and masculinity are in binary opposition of one another. The fact that Jordan’s perceived masculinity is characterized as immature further demonstrates how male dominance distinguished males as superior to females. Jordan is depicted as an immature male and a female at the same time. Immature suggests a deficiency. Even though Jordan can be aligned with masculine traits, she lacks the full capacity to be considered completely male. Thus, Nick suggests that both femininity can only be aligned with masculinity in the most limited sense. Jordan can only be perceived as an immature male and never a fully ‘complete’ male because she is essentially female. Femininity here can only be aligned with masculinity when it refers to the most limited sense of a masculine identity- that of a childish, weak, and inferior male. The problematic nature of femininity is further illustrated by Nick’s depiction of Jordan’s androgynous behavior.

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“Not even the effeminate swank riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body […]”

Jordan exhibits masculine gestures. For example, Nick explains how Jordan is seen to throw “her body backwards at the shoulder like a young cadet”. This simile suggests Jordan displays masculine behaviour as it likens her to a solider. A cadet can be defined as a young trainee in the armed services During the early half twentieth century, the army would have consisted exclusively of men. Further evidence of Jordan’s lack of femininity is demonstrated through her masculine attributes. For instance, Jordan is known for her dishonesty in her golfing as she is seen to cheat in her tournament when “she […] moved her ball”. Here she actively rebels against traditional views of moral purity associated with females. In particular, her lie can be interpreted as the masculine trait of competitiveness. Within Nick’s narrative, competition is synonymous with male dominance. Male dominance is largely embodied by Tom Buchanan; the epitome of patriarchal power. For instance, Tom is well renowned for his dominance in the college league sporting world. As top of his field, Tom beat all of his potential competition.  Nick qualifies him as a “national figure” in the collegiate sporting world when he uses the superlative to explain how he was “the most powerful ends that every played football at New Haven”. Therefore, in aspiring to succeed, Jordan is actively rebelling against traditional views of femininity. Izenburg’s statement, “if women could be […] as economically productive […] as men, there [would be] no real difference between masculinity and femininity other than reproductive roles”, could provide an answer for why Nick views Jordan as possessing an androgynous form of femininity (Izenburg, 2000, p. 11). Masculinity is associated with autonomy, whereby a man is free from external powers of control and can self-govern his own life. This is made possible through a male’s role as financial provider whereby he can act independently. However, a woman in the early twentieth century would have to depend solely on a male for support. Whether relying on her father or husband, a woman would be unable to exert any financial independence. It is thus significant that Jordan participates in golfing as a career. Golf provides her with a financial income which means she can act in a self-sufficient way relying solely on her own economic productivity. Therefore, competitive aspirations, for Nick, are synonymous with masculine dominance and authority. Without the need to rely solely on a patriarchal figure, Jordan can embody both femininity and a form of masculine autonomy. In aspiring to succeed, Jordan is actively rebelling against traditional forms of femininity. 

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“All the bright precious things fade so fast, and they don’t come back”.

However, Jordan does not strictly adhere to ideas of masculinity either. Nick implies this when she explains how “Jordan’s slender golden arm [was] resting in mine”(Fitzgerald, 2001) . The use of colour imagery establishes Jordan as exhibiting a form of female helplessness. Gold connotes a sense of preciousness. The act of being precious is with the character of Daisy Buchanan. Daisy embodies femininity when she is described as “the golden girl”. This association with a delightful helplessness manifests in Daisy’s decision to remain married to Tom and fulfill her role as a submissive female despite her apparent unhappiness. Daisy explicitly exhibits her dissatisfaction when she explains her desire to see her daughter grow up to become “a beautiful little fool” as it is “the best thing a girl in this world can be”. Daisy’s decision to perform the idea that a woman should be too ignorant to understand just how unhappy she is, and by proxy remain married, can be understood in terms of historical context. Williamson’s statement, “whether she was a queen or a fishwife, a woman was subservient to the man she married”, suggests that Daisy’s decision to stay married is due to her dependency on Tom (Williamson, 1986, p.38). Abandoning her marriage would lead to economic ruin. Marriage is primarily a patriarchal institution, and if she were to leave Tom she would lose not only her reputation, but her security as well.  It is significant that Daisy, whose “voice was full of money” remains married (Fitzgerald, 2001).  She can only sustain her wealth as long as she is subservient and loyal to her husband. Therefore, the delicate Jordan is established a feminine when she is physically dependent on a man. This iterates a form of patriarchal rhetoric as it suggests that a woman’s identity as female derives from her value as a future subservient. Thus, the notion of being feminine and being autonomous at are odds with one another. One cannot be autonomous and feminine simultaneously.  The two concepts cannot coexist with one another. In ‘this world’ femininity and autonomy contradict each other. The fact that Jordan is financially autonomous suggests she cannot fit exclusively into either gender category. Moreover, within The Great Gatsby traditional views of femininity are problematized by a transgressive form a femininity that is based on autonomy. In exerting autonomy, Jordan cannot be identified as strictly feminine because she rebels against a patriarchal institution that prescribe females financial dependency. For Nick, Jordan exists in a liminal space. He cannot comfortably categorize and fit her into either gender sphere. Jordan’s existence, for Nick, is a contradiction. Her androgyny disrupts preconceived notions of gender that traditional bolstered  male authority. 

THE GREAT GATSBY

Nick and Jordan

Nick’s depiction of Jordan as transgressive and androgynous suggests that gender is performative. In particular, Judith Butler (1990, p. 50) states that “there is no gender identity behind the expression of gender”. She claims that culture creates the gender roles prescribed as appropriate behaviour. Thus gender identity is a “performatively constituted” (p.54) expression of societal ideals. Consequently, Nick is undecided about his own gender. Once Jordan has demonstrates how femininity can no longer be used as a way to define masculinity as a separate entity, Nick suffers his own identity crisis. For instance he contemplates how during the course of his narration he feels both “within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”( Fitzgerald, 2001). Here Nick shows an awareness for the contradictory means of measurement used in life. Whether, it be the process of measuring one’s own position in the world or one’s gender identity against another, Nick is aware of the deterioration of such preconceived binary oppositions. This is due to the fact that Jordan destabilizes gender roles by rendering them as mere concepts. Therefore, Nick questions his own masculinity through his inadvertent critique of essentialist views of gender roles. 

Bibliography:

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: The Subversion of Identity. New York, Routledge.

Fitzgerald, F. (2001) The Great Gatsby. London, Wordsworth Classics.  

Izenberg, G. (2000) Modernism and Masculinity: Mann, Wedekind, Kardinsky Through World War I. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Williamson, M. (1986) The Patriarchy of Shakespeare’s Comedies. Detroit, Wayne State University Press.

 

 

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The Amazonian Princess Reborn

Wonder Woman

"I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place.
But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness
within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago."
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“I am Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta!”

This week celebrates the come back of my favourite Amazonian Princess; Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot stars as Diana Prince in Terrance Malik’s superhero origin film. The film tells the story of how Diana transforms from a naive warrior raised on a sheltered island paradise to an inspiring feminist hero.

I myself cannot wait to see it! Take a look at the trailer below, and release your inner Wonder Woman.

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A Most Modern Woman.

The Scandalous Lady W.

"I belong to no man. And although it may be my misfortune to live
in an age of men, I will never belong to a man."
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The very scandalous Lady Seymour Worlsey.

In 1781, a man’s wife is considered to be his property, much like his home, his land or his cattle.

Last night’s BBC drama, The scandalous Lady W, documented the amazing true story of the wealthy heiress, Lady Seymour Worsley, who caused outrage when she cuckold her husband which consequently sparked one of the greatest scandals of eighteenth-century England.

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Lady Worsley with her lover George Bissett (left) and her husband Lord Worsley (right).

Not only was this drama highly compelling and fascinating due to the fact that it actually happened, it was perhaps the biggest advertisement for radical, militarized feminism and premarital sex too. However, among eighteenth-century England, Lady Worlsely was considered to be the ultimate Scarlett woman. It was said that her sex life was so shocking that she was the inspiration for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play School for Scoundrel. 

She was also the inspiration behind David Eldbridge’s play, The Scandalous Lady W (quite literally). This play recounts the nasty business between Lady Seymour Worsley, her lover George Bissett and her husband Sir Richard Worsley. Lady Seymour ‘goes into her union with Sir Richard Worsley fully expecting it to be a meeting of equals. But she starts to become wary when he warns her: “You will recall, Seymour, you made a vow to love, cherish… and obey.” She is soon being tyrannised by Richard, who takes a perverted pleasure in watching her have sex with other men.

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A modern family; Lady Worsley and her lover George Bissett, with their daughter.

Unable to stand Richard’s cruelty any more, Seymour flees her oppressive marriage and elopes with his best friend, George. Richard sues the couple, hoping to ruin them both. But Seymour decides to contest the case, refusing to accept the archaic law that defines a wife as the property of her husband, “much like his home, his land and his cattle.” She skilfully manipulates the nascent press to support her and turn the nation against her reprehensible husband’ (The Independant). Most notably, this is seen when Lady Worsley reveals the scandoulos revelations of her marriage by presenting her 27 lovers in court. Thus, she was able to turn the case in her favour as it questioned the legal status of her husband, who was only awarded one shilling in compensation for damages caused.

When Richard died Seymour reclaimed what remained of her dowry and her maiden name, Fleming.

She married again, a musician twenty one years her junior, but she didn’t take his name.

He took hers.

Her portrait hangs to this day in Harewood House, Yorkshire.

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Portrait of a Lady; the real Lady Worsley.

When questioned about her most recent role, lead actress Natalie Dormer stated; “I found the historical fact so intoxicating that I didn’t want anybody else to play this woman. A woman couldn’t legally own or inherit until 1870-which is only 145 years ago. Most girls walking around the street tweeting or ordering on their Net-a-Porter app have no idea how minute the time is that we’ve had equality.” She says; “without sounding too earnest there are a lot of women in the world who don’t have a political voice, don’t have suffrage. We are talking about it as history, but there are plenty of places in the world where women are second class citizens and still enslaved to their male counterparts. It’s not as distant politically as we like to think it is.”

Being a fan of Natalie Dormer’s for many years, I was so excited when I saw the advertisement for The Scandalous Lady W. She has got to be one of my favourite actress, especially after I watched her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. As well as this, she is best known for her role as  Margaery Tyrell in Games of  Thrones and as Cressida in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1.

Born in Berkshire, Natalie Dormer studied at the Reading Blue Coat School. At school, Dormer was head girl, a first class student, vice-captain of the school netball team, and she also got to travel the world with her school’s public speaking team. She describes herself as the “academic hopeful” of the family and was provisionally offered a place to study history at Cambridge; but, in her A-Level History exam, she did not achieve the A grade she needed to attend. Dormer decided she would audition for drama school and decided to train in London.

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Natalie Dormer as the devious Anne Boleyn in The Tudors.

Initially when I read this I felt so disappointed for Natalie as being an A-Level student just one year ago I empathised majorly for her. However, I came to think that it would have been a great shame if Natalie had gone to Cambridge because then England and America would never had had seen Natalie grace our screen and experience the splendour that is her acting ability.

A tremendous and enigmatic performance.

An excellent adaptation, as well as an inspirational story about a woman who has  to undergo a publicly embarrassing scandal to discover her own worth.

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Always an Unusual Girl.

Lana Del Rey

"It takes getting everything you ever wanted and losing it to 
know what true freedom is".
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Lana Del Rey’s single ‘Ride’ from the album Paradise.

In celebration of her new album; High By The Beach, I have decided to dedicate this post to my favourite piece of poetry created by Lana Del Rey. Taken from the song Ride, this monologue thematically ‘involves parental problems, alcohol consumption, and loneliness. Del Rey’s role in the video was compared to Lolita and A Streetcar Named Desire.’  Known for exploring the darker side of life Lana Del Rey truly is a great role model for anyone who has experienced disappointment and struggles in her life. Moreover, what I love most about her music, is her ability to romanticize certain undesirable and difficult situations, showing that even when the road gets tough, there is always hope. For instance, Lana herself has openly spoken about having a drinking problem in her teens which led her to give up alcohol completely. So, when people criticize her melancholic yet hypnotic music, it makes me upset. This is due to the fact that if you really listen to the lyrics, you can understand how she manages to find the beauty in almost every situation, regardless of how socially acceptable it is to discuss, advertise or promote it.

Personally, I find both the prologue and epilogue of this song moving and extremely beautiful. Enjoy.

Ride Monologue

I was in the winter of my life, and the men I met along the road were my only summer.
At night I fell asleep with visions of myself, dancing and laughing and crying with them.
Three years down the line of being on an endless world tour, and my memories of them were the only things that sustained me, and my only real happy times.
I was a singer – not a very popular one,
I once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet, but upon an unfortunate series of events saw those dreams dashed and divided like a million stars in the night sky that I wished on over and over again, sparkling and broken.
But I didn’t really mind because I knew that it takes getting everything you ever wanted, and then losing it to know what true freedom is.
When the people I used to know found out what I had been doing, how I’d been living, they asked me why – but there’s no use in talking to people who have home.
They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people – for home to be wherever you lay your head.
I was always an unusual girl.
My mother told me I had a chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing due north, no fixed personality; just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and as wavering as the ocean…
And if I said I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way I’d be lying…
Because I was born to be the other woman.
Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone.
Who had nothing, who wanted everything, with a fire for every experience and an obsession for freedom that terrified me to the point that I couldn’t even talk about it, and pushed me to a nomadic point of madness that both dazzled and dizzied me.

Every night I used to pray that I’d find my people, and finally I did on the open road.
We had nothing to lose, nothing to gain, nothing we desired anymore, except to make our lives into a work of art.
Live fast. Die young. Be wild. And have fun.
I believe in the country America used to be.
I believe in the person I want to become.
I believe in the freedom of the open road.
And my motto is the same as ever:
“I believe in the kindness of strangers. And when I’m at war with myself I ride, I just ride.”
Who are you?
Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.

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Lana Del Rey photographed in the Daily Mail.

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The Foremothers of Feminism.

"We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they
can help free the other half".
- Emmeline Pankhurst. 

With the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Suffragette film, these fantastic feminist film poster have been published. Can it be possible to get any more excited about a film? I think so!

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A ‘Lolita Lost in the Hood’

Lana Del Rey

"She is made to live in the world she creates. She is one who
has been so disappointed by life, she had to create her own 
world."
-James Franco.
The Lolita lost in the hood; Lana Del Rey.

The Lolita lost in the hood; Lana Del Rey.

Wise words from the delightful Lana Del Rey.

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download (1)Also be sure to check out my new Pinterest board; The Saddest Baddest Diva in Rock- Lana Del Rey.

(https://www.pinterest.com/tiabyer/the-saddest-baddest-diva-in-rock/)0261b33adcd37cbbac7acdab040efe4d

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