Friday, 23 March 2012

Why telling women to smile is sexist.

I'm not a happy smiley-smiley person, I'm just not. You're more likely to find me deep in thought and frowning because that seems to be the natural way my face decides to rest. So maybe I've been affected by this much more than other women but quite often I'll just be walking along, or standing along - in a public place and a complete stranger will whiz past and instruct me to "give us a smile" or simply "smile!". This happens only when I'm alone, the stranger is always male and he usually finishes off his demand with a "love". The most annoying part is that there's never enough time to roll out a satisfying comeback.

The obvious problem is that the shitty smile stranger knows nothing about you or what might have just happened to you. Secondly, being strangers their intentions can never be genuine worry about your unhappiness. Thirdly, since when has demanding an unhappy person to smile ever made them suddenly stop being unhappy? So I must question - why? and why do men, specifically, feel they have the right to tell women to smile. Why do they expect women to do what they want them to, just because they said so. The smile benefits them, they can see it not us. It's not for our benefit - so it must be for theirs.

I interviewed a young woman recently about female beauty standards. She seemed to me like quite a happy person, maybe even one of those 'smiley-smiley' people yet I learned that she too was fed up of people, predominantly men, demanding her to flash them a smile. It's not just me then, with my perma-frowned face. Maybe part of it is related to our age; the false perception that young people should be thoroughly enjoying and sucking the nourishment out of every second of their day because being young is so much fun and nothing can ever go wrong for us. I got fired from a job two years ago for not being "bubbly and out there enough", I was told I was "young and attractive and have everything going for you" as if my age and gender placed this expectation on me to act "bubbly" every second of the day.

So maybe it's the age thing. I think mostly though it's because we're women and we're expected to look pretty and happy and there for other people to look at to use for their own visual pleasure. Not just for men actually, some women expect it too and can be just as sexist as men with their expectations of gender stereotypes. At work I tried to conform to looking conventionally attractive and 'feminine' through make-up and clothing but the one thing I couldn't fake was the lack of carbonated bubble in my personality - I could not look good enough.

See article: Victoria Beckham doesn't smile, gets called shit names for it. Would the same judgement be directed at a man who didn't look particularly grumpy, but just didn't smile?

Are you 'male', is being told to smile a problem for you? let me know, I'm interested.

Oh and if you hadn't noticed, my smile is turned upside down to show that my lips naturally curve to create a 'downwards smile'.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Rape myths exposed in Trishna.

Note: Major 'spoiler' warning.

The most common perpetrators of rape in the UK are partners, so it's about bloody time British film started showing the realities of rape rather than the stranger-in-dark-alley-with-knife stereotype. Indeed it was the reinforcement of this stereotype for me which led me to believe that it was simply impossible for anyone other than a stranger to rape me. So when it happened, I wasn't sure what it even was, never mind how to react. That's why it's really important for acquaintance rapes, which make up 92% of all rapes, to be depicted in the media so both survivors and members of the ever judgemental public can understand that this is real, it's just as serious as stranger-in-the-alley-way and in fact it's much more common than stranger-in-the-alley-way rape.

That's why I 'liked' the depiction of rape in the British film Trishna (2012) which illustrates the abuse and rape of a young Indian woman Trishna (Freida Pinto) at the hands of her British-Indian boyfriend Jay (Riz Ahmed).

I 'liked' it because the relationship started off well - they seemed to love each other and make each other very happy. He seemed to be a good guy, early on in the film he even rescues her from a possible attack from strangers-in-the-alley-way. So good for her, she was saved from those strangers who she was rightly wary of but she didn't realise she should be wary of the person closest to her, her loving boyfriend Jay. This shit is real, guys who seem nice on the outside and start off being so loving do end up being abusive. Eddie in another British film Tyrannosaur (2011) is outwardly presented as the perfect husband. The photograph of Eddie and wife Olivia smiling happily hangs in their living room where Eddie gruesomely abuses his wife on a regular basis. Outwardly nice guys do rape their girlfriends and the last person their girlfriends expect this abuse to come from is from someone so close to them.

Audiences aren't quite recognising partner rape as 'real rape' though (you know because there's no bushes, alleyways or knives). The New Statesman says that "Does Jay rape Trishna... or does he merely take advantage of her gratitude and vulnerability? We can't be certain." The Telegraph says it "might even be considered rape". Film 4 seems to be confused too: "viewers are left to guess whether a consensual kiss led to sexual abuse".

Erm... guys? Trishna was shown to be treated like a slave and a whore by her boyfriend. She is forced by her boyfriend and keeps her mouth closed when he kisses her, rejecting any participation. She is reluctant to dance provocatively for him but he repeatedly and aggressively demands it of her. She repeatedly sobs and grimaces during sex, even making noises of pain and trying to pull her body away from him while they're having 'sex'. She 'lets him' rape her because she's scared of him. She stays with him because she's scared of him, does that mean it's not rape then? seriously?. I've often heard the public question rape victims "If it was that bad then why didn't she leave?". There are always many reasons why, fear, intimidation, lack of alternatives. These people are being abused, they're in no fit state to tell the abuser, "you know what, I'm not going to let you abuse me any more". Do they really expect the abuser's just going to say "Oh, alright then"?.

This is a problem with the UK law too. While rape is defined as sex without consent (Trishna definitely meets this definition) there was no physical force as such. Currently the UK law only recognises physical violence as force, which is common in stranger rape cases however ignores the fact that in acquaintance and particularly partner rape cases other types of force are extremely commonly and used as part of a complex series of ongoing domestic abuses. Rape doesn't have to occur at knife-point, it is common for other types of threats and abuse to be used to control and force, such as psychological and emotional coercion (outlined by Eastel and McOrmond-Plummer, 2006) Within acquaintance and partner rape, sexual intercourse can be forced on the victim in many complex, non-physical ways. This is generally not understood and sometimes not considered rape even though it is force and abuse all the same. This is because most people tend to think of rape through stranger scenarios where the victim is often physically forced with a weapon.

For Trishna, the possibility of telling someone about the abuse was non existent. She knew that she was being controlled by this man and that nobody could help her. The only way to stop the abuse was to stab her boyfriend to death then return to her family home where again she couldn't even tell her own mother or father. This again is strongly realistic because victims are often so ashamed and confused by their abuser that they suffer in silence. What I loved about this film is the unsaid understanding that Trishna was aggressively raped and abused, even though she never vocally describes how she feels or what happened to her. I certainly felt the audience understood her rape all the same. I heard a couple at the cinema declare that "he deserved it", but at the same time I knew that if these same people had heard a similar real-life story, they'd probably be doubting the victim by raising the usual questions like: was it 'real' rape? is she lying about it? But he looks like a nice guy? Maybe they accept that rape happens in other countries and cultures but are unaware of our own rape culture, that 1 in 20 women in their own country are raped. That's why films like this are really important; it's not possible to describe this sort of rape to a member of the public and expect them to understand. They either have to have been there, or you have to show them.

With nobody at all aware of the abuse she went through, for Trishna the only way out is to kill herself. She knows nobody will understand and she will only continue to suffer if she tells the authorities. Olivia in Tyrannosaur also stabs her rapist because apparently in film this is the thing to do but in reality 98% of rapists would just get away with it. Olivia however reports her crime and is jailed. Two very sad endings for these two women, who just so happened to be paired up with a rapist arsehole for a boyfriend. That doesn't make them weak characters, that makes them very strong and their stories very powerful.

[All statistics from the UK Home Office Report. Alan, J and Myhill, A.]

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The truth behind L’Oreal’s ‘glamorous’ exterior

L’Oreal have recently announced that they have donated $1.2 million to the Environmental Protection Agency towards research in alternatives to animal testing. Now while this seems to be good news for animals, are L’Oreal donating this money because they really care about animals or is it a media stunt to distract their customers away from their current cruel animal testing practices? Major national anti-testing charity, Uncaged, states that “In 2009, 3,619,450 million experiments took place in British labs, an decrease of 36,540 on 2008” illustrating that over time, animal testing in this country is on the increase rather than decrease.

According to Stephanie Watson (2009) some companies today claim that their products are not tested on animals yet the ingredients they use or the companies they buy from still test on animals on their behalf. In L’Oreal’s sustainability report (2010) they claim that they “support the aim to eliminate animal testing” making it clear for those who can read between the lines that they only aim to eliminate animal testing in the future. However they also state that they have not “used laboratory animals for the testing of its finished cosmetic products for 20 years”. This cleverly worded and confusing statement that their “finished products” are not animal tested is often repeated through their Facebook page when curious customers ask them about their testing practices. More often than not, the customer will be quite happy with this response and not ask for further clarity, I however decided to ask them myself whether they test their ingredients, rather than finished products, on animals. Bemused by their reluctance to answer my question and stating only that their “finished products” are not tested, I decided to email them at Immediately I received a reply, again asserting that their “finished products” are not tested on animals but without directly answering my question. When I asked for a clear answer on whether they test their ingredients on animals, rather than the finished products, strangely their email system must not have been working that day as well as their Facebook page, because two months later despite a reminder, they still haven’t replied to me.

Joel Bonner, 18, who is boycotting L’Oreal asked them this question himself on their Facebook page. He found that the replies he received were the same cleverly worded statements which he feels are intended to deceive customers into thinking L’Oreal is completely cruelty free. He said "The way L’Oreal names charities in their Facebook comments every time someone asks about animal testing is just so they can try and cover themselves from any opposing argument, also so they can avoid answering the question that was given to them." Philip Flight, 27, who is also boycotting the company said "I find it unbelievable how an enormous organisation such as L'Oreal can possibly be stuck in the dark ages when it comes to animal testing, and on top of that feel they have the right to con people into thinking they are buying from a morally responsible company. I sincerely hope that more people become aware of their atrocious treatment of innocent animals for the sake of satisfying other peoples' vanity and making billions from it."

This is not the first time L’Oreal have been accused of deceiving it’s customers, with heavily airbrushed adverts for anti-ageing products being banned last year for presenting strongly unrealistic results. Perhaps as an effort to reverse these connotations of false advertising, this year L’Oreal have released a mascara declaring proudly that false lashes have not been used in the advertisement. Despite this, heavy airbrushing and possibly CGI has still been used instead, which for some people renders their ethics questionable.

A Wordpress website ( which is committed to investigating L’Oreal’s animal testing practices as well as their deceiving labelling and advertisements describes L’Oreal as “the single biggest obstacle to ending cosmetic testing on animals within the United States and the European Union.” Indeed L’Oreal are the worlds biggest cosmetics company, reportedly taking in over €19 billion every year. Some people may argue that animal testing is a necessary evil to ensure products are safe for human consumption. However, many less profitable companies such as Superdrug and The Cooperative Group have completely stopped testing on animals. These companies who have been BUAV approved as cruelty-free demonstrate that animal testing is not necessary for testing the safety of their products; there are alternatives such as human and computer testing as well as clinical trials. Nor are these alternative methods too expensive for less profitable companies to employ. So why are many multi-billion dollar companies such as L’Oreal (Maybelline, The Body Shop) and Procter and Gamble (Max Factor, Pantene, Gillette) still listed as cruel companies by national anti-testing charities, such as Uncaged and PETA? Greed for fatter profit is surely the most viable explanation. In regards to L’Oreal’s donation to the Environmental Protection Agency, what is $1 million when they earn billions every single year? The way I see it, any praise they may receive for the donation would be the equivalent of me donating a few pence to a vegetarian society while continuing to eat meat then expecting to be applauded for my vegetarianism.

Have you received any successful replies from L’Oreal? Let me know at

For a list of cruelty-free companies, log on to or check out my cruelty-free cosmetics reviews at