Monday, 9 April 2012

Jenny Ringo Saved My Life: Is Jenny a Feminist?

This is the third blog in a series about two short films I have made in the past couple of years.  You can find out more about the films here.

Ages ago the Writer by Night wrote a blog about whether Jenny Ringo is a feminist, and how he would leave it to me to answer that question.  I suppose now I really ought to get around to doing as I am told like a good little wife.

My timing is spectacularly bad; I have missed Women in Horror Month and International Women's Day, which I mostly celebrated by getting very angry about Texan abortion law and women's healthcare funding.  If you are a woman in the States reading this, might I suggest that this is addressed as a matter of urgency?  Once you've got that sorted, feel free to come back and catch up on the blog.

I think for many people who will read this post, the biggest question is not 'is Jenny Ringo a feminist?', but 'does it matter?'  Yes, it does.  It matters tremendously to me, and I hope I can make it matter even a little bit to you too. 

When my grandmother was born, she was born without the right to vote when she reached adulthood.  In England, in the twentieth century.  Isn't that utterly extraordinary?  And here I am, 100 years later, voting, with a career and the ability to be financially independent from my husband, I have been to university and graduated.  I have chosen to change my name in marriage and I enjoyed every part of being able to make that decision.  I have a thousand freedoms my great-grandmother could only dream of, and were scarcely more real to her daughter.

Feminism isn't complicated, or controversial.  Caitlin Moran in How to be a Woman (read it!) sums it up beautifully: 'Put your hand in your pants. a) do you have a vagina? b) do you want to be in charge of it?'  However, feminism isn't the exclusive right of people with vaginas, people without can join in too.  Basically, if you think everyone has the right to be in charge of what is in their own pants, you are a feminist. Wikipedia has a slightly more sophistcated definition (it was closer than my dictionary):

'Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[1][2] In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is a "person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism'.

...but essentially it is saying the same thing.  

What you need to accept in order to understand that it matters whether Jenny Ringo is a feminist film, is that while massive progress has been made, WE AREN'T THERE YET.  You might not realise it, because in your day to day life you meet women who appear to have equal political, economic and social rights to men.  But statistically, there is still a massive gap (and I'm just talking about the UK now) between the salaries of men and women.  Many of the government welfare cuts will affect payments made to women rather than men.  Women are under represented in parliament and especially in government; but socially (and culturally) is where the gap is biggest, and most insidious.  Have you seen this advert?  Its a perfect illustration because its so... innocuous.  But in every kind of media, everyday, there are a thousand little moments like this, very gently putting women back in 'their place'.  I very rarely see a world where men and women have equally social rights portrayed in print, on film, tv, in video games, or anywhere.  Playing the excellent and weird Deadly Premonition on xbox at the moment, I told Chris I thought it suffered from Steig Larsson (writer of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo etc)'s problem of being rather unhealthily obsessed with highly sexualised violence against women.  He commented that it was referencing the American style of detective story, and he was right.  But if all we see is these works referencing each other, where are the women who aren't victims? Where are the men capable of treating women as equals rather than dishwashers?  Because they exist in the world I live in, but not the one that is presented to me as the world I live in.

This pisses me off.  It should piss you off too.  So it matters whether we have made a feminist film, because if we haven't, we are adding to the massive cultural heap of stuff that prevents women from achieving true equality.

Jenny Ringo is a feminist character although she never declares that her beliefs and behaviour are based on feminism, and sorry to disappoint but you never see her put her hand in her pants. If you asked her herself she would probably say she prefered not to align herself with any particular political ideology, or any organisation with an ideology come to think of it.  But you can tell from every action that she takes in both films that no one is going to be in charge of what is in her pants apart from her.

Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw and Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell are feminist films because they were films made by men and women working under equal conditions, and everyone was not-paid equally.  They were written by my favourite feminist and another feminist I know and love.  Because of this, in both films you get to see women doing and saying things they don't usually get to do and say in films.  They do and say them while wearing clothes.  In both films all the female characters exert a kind of power which isn't linked to their sexuality; in fact they are more powerful than any of the male characters, but they don't have to behave in masculine ways to achieve this. Compare this with, I don't know, Sucker Punch, and you see what female empowerment is actually about.

Although the feminist credentials of the films aren't perfect.  There's a bit in the second film where Jenny does some washing up.

If reading this has inspired you to watch the first film, you can go to, and find out how.  Once you are on the mailing list, we'll let you know when the second film is finished!