female writers

Fleabag: Funny Feminist Television

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If you’re into TV shows about confused, messed-up, funny, thoughtful, complicated and endearing white women in their early 30s then the show Fleabag might be for you.

The site Jezebel.com had a review of the BBC series Fleabag up a few weeks ago, so I downloaded the 1st season. There’s only 6 episodes and I burned through them right away. Then I watched them all a second time over because of how comforting and entertaining I find the series to be.

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Writer and star of FLEABAG Sophie Waller-Bridge

The series protagonist is Fleabag played by the outstandingly talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge is 31 years old in real life and she is responsible for writing all 6 episodes of the first season. Fleabag, the televisions series, is the end result of a fringe play that Waller-Bridge originally performed in Edinburgh.

Anyways, while I now feel like my life is coming together (I’m 32) in terms of having a satisfying relationship with my boyfriend and a new job that I feel passionate about, most of my 20s (after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend in 2006) were spent binge-drinking alcohol and smoking tons of weed, and hooking up with random men who either weren’t interested in me, or if they were, then I immediately became repulsed by them. Once I quit drinking I continued to pursue womanizers who’d bounce from female to female and insult my physical appearance…and just generally contribute to why I felt like a piece of shit.

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Due to my own history, which was mostly spent as a single female looking for and rejecting any chance of finding love, I gravitate to stories about women who are going through similar experiences to what I went through for so long (editor’s note: That is not to say my relationship is perfect, and it started off in a highly dysfunctional manner, but I am much happier at this point then I was 2 years ago when I turned 30…I hate when people are in a relationship and present their lives as free of problems).

Anyways, Fleabag has an on-off boyfriend named Harry. During the 1st episode Harry and Fleabag are in bed. Harry wakes up to Fleabag masturbating to a video of President Obama she’s watching on her laptop, and he is offended and disgusted. The sensitive and giving Harry stuffs a few of his things into a bag and breaks up with Fleabag. Fleabag assures the viewer (she regularly speaks directly to the camera/viewer to give us the inside scoop…and while this approach is at first slightly disarming, it eventually made me feel like Fleabag and I were tight) that Harry will be back. Since Harry is fully into Fleabag, she tramples all over him and uses their short-term break-ups to fuck some real douchebags.

This show made me (and my friend and my boyfriend when I showed them some episodes) laugh a lot! I don’t want to spoil all the hilarious moments, but some of them centre around sending out mass vagina-shot texts to try to find a date, Fleabag discussing how heavy her period flow is when she randomly runs into a hook-up while shopping for tampons, and uncomfortable anal sex. I’m not expecting you to laugh here, since any of these situations could end up being written and portrayed in a way that is stupid and offensive, but in my opinion, these situations made me crack-up without brushing off the underlying emotional desperation Fleabag is experiencing to say and do the things she does.Image result for sophie waller bridgeFleabag operates her own tiny cafe, and she is heavily in debt. Once upon a time she ran it with her best friend Boo, but I can’t share anything more without giving away too many good plot details to ruin your viewing of the show (if you so choose to watch it). I think that Fleabag is a feminist show because Fleabag aims to be an independent, confident business woman who has a loving partner and a positive self-image, but the sad events that have occurred during the last few years of Fleabag’s life (some of which might be partially due to her own making) are causing her to harm herself, and lash out at everyone around her.

The show makes some very accurate feminist observations about how women are sexualized and treated as sexual objects, without ever pretending that women don’t often do the same thing to men. Fleabag favours the good looking guy over the man who will support her, and this is just one example of how Fleabag is a highly imperfect protagonist. Since all people are imperfect, I think this also makes her relatable. Feminism can take many forms, and while I don’t have much fun reading feminist theory, I do enjoy seeing a female try to figure out how to balance wanting to be desirable with respecting herself and chasing her ambitions.

Fleabag’s relationship with her older sister Claire (played by Sian Clifford) reminded me of my own relationship with my sister. It’s hard for us to open up about personal topics with one another, and sometimes it’s even awkward for us to hug, but Fleabag also captures the undeniable and unbreakable bond that exists between sisters since nobody knows you better than your own sister. Claire is married to a lecherous man named Martin (played perfectly by Brett Gelman), and Claire’s dedication to a man who treats her poorly, but who makes her laugh, is an issue between the sisters.Image result for sophie waller bridge fleabagFleabag and her sister Claire (played beautifully by Sian Clifford)

Fleabag and Claire’s father is in a relationship with a woman they despise, and the
“stepmom” character (though their father is not actually married to her) who is only referred to as “Godmother” (played by Olivia Colman) is the only character in the series who is presented as one-dimensional: she is threatened by Claire and Fleabag’s relationship with their father, and “Godmother” constantly makes passive aggressive jabs at Fleabag and Claire. The one-dimensional nature of “Godmother” allows the actress playing her to go wild and take her artsy-fartsy character all the way to the top.Image result for sophie waller bridge

Olivia Colman as “Godmother”

By the final episode of the series it all becomes apparent why Fleabag is so screwed-up and why she is struggling to like herself, let alone love herself. The show is dark, sick, twisted, and so very special. If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend that isn’t mindless entertainment, give Fleabag a try!

Sonja Larsen: Her Memoir Red Star Tattoo Is A Life-Changing Read

This summer my friend Nessa passed along a copy of her friend Sonja Larsen‘s impeccable memoir Red Star Tattoo: My Life As A Girl Revolutionary and I was hooked from page one. Larsen’s past is full of lots of different topics that are both fascinating and painful, such as being part of a cult and experiencing sexual abuse. Sonja’s talent lies in being able to appropriately delve into her shocking and painful past experiences without making them too heavy or going to the opposite end of the spectrum and presenting them in a salacious or tabloid-like manner. The book is educational without taking itself too seriously. It’s fun to read too! These are just a few of the reasons as to why I highly recommend that you take the time to read it.

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I am grateful for Sonja’s decision to turn her life into a memoir, because it reminds me that I need to let go of my own shame and there is nothing in my past that should ever prevent me from moving towards a more enjoyable future.

Thank-you Sonja for sharing and for taking the time out of your day to let me interview you!

Sonja Larsen: “If I ever felt like a freak or an outsider…well if you’ve read my book you’ll know that I was definitely a freak and an outsider in lots of different ways, so often in my life. You know, my Dad was a pot dealer. My mother was a communist. You know, but I think part of my growing up was that I actually kind of was raised to believe, because my parents were a little bit hippies at first, that being an outsider was not such a bad thing, that if you were questioning the system that was good. But I think really what has got me through it is sometimes realizing that you’re not alone. That everyone is sort of making it up as they go along.”

MORVERN CALLAR (Film): Loneliness and Lies

I rarely elect to sit on my big comfy chair to watch a movie, and instead I tend to “multi-task” while watching a film at home. This usually means watching movies while I’m surfing celebrity gossip sites on my laptop as I sit at my kitchen table.

Yesterday, I put on MORVERN CALLAR starring SAMANTHA MORTON from 2002. I became so engrossed in the story that I needed to move away from my computer and focus entirely on my television.

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SAMANTHA MORTON as MORVERN CALLAR: source.

The film is directed and co-written by LYNNE RAMSAY, who is from Scotland. The two other screenwriters are LIANA DOGNINI and ALAN WARNER (who also wrote the book the film is based on).

I ended up coming across this film when I was looking up the actress DOLLY WELLS (who I’ve recently enjoyed watching on the HBO series DOLL AND EM) on IMDB.com. I saw the title MORVERN CALLAR and I clicked on the link to find out more.

The synopsis for the film explained that SAMANTHA MORTON’S character, named MORVERN CALLAR, comes home to find her boyfriend has killed himself in the apartment they share. He leaves behind a note and a copy of the novel he has written. He also asks her to send it off to the list of publishers he has provided. Morvern follows her deceased boyfriend’s directions, but she decides to put her own name on the book and to represent herself as the author of the novel.

SAMANTHA MORTON as MORVERN CALLAR: source.

I was feeling lonely yesterday. The strangest thing is that when I go searching for comfort (of the positive sort), I am usually able to find it. Watching this movie was just what I needed to be reminded that I am not alone.

This film reminds me of how important art is in my life. Seeing Morvern and her sad existence, as she feels totally isolated while trying to cope with her boyfriend’s suicide, immediately made me feel better about my sense of disconnect from others. The way Samantha Morton portrays Morvern is astounding, heartbreaking, and touching.

Morton’s portrayal of Morvern, and the depiction of this level of loneliness on film, reminds me that there are other people out there who think and feel in ways that are similar to how I do.

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I cannot say that I can particularly relate to the details of Morvern’s life. I have never known anyone who has committed suicide, and I have never appropriated someone else’s work as my own. Nevertheless, as a viewer I felt sympathetic for Morvern. I have experienced abuse during my childhood. I can relate to wanting to escape and block-out reality when something bad and traumatic happens. All you want to do is forget about it, but Morvern chooses to take this initial response way too far. In a very real sense she is a villain, but a pitiful one at that.

What I know is that the only way things get better is by directly dealing with trauma and pain head-on. This is not something Morvern is capable of or willing to do. The effects of her decision to completely cover-up her boyfriend’s suicide, and to take credit for his artistic work, make it clear that she is not an innocent person. In fact she is quite sick and twisted in ways that I hope never to be.

MORVERN CALLAR: source.

There is a definite humanity that Morton brings to the role. She refuses to make Morvern into a caricature as a way of justifying her disturbing choices. How can I really know how I’d react to someone I love taking their own life? I hope I never have to experience finding a loved one dead in the home we share. So as Morvern tries to continue on and pretend as if nothing has happened, the film shows that she cannot escape the tragedy no matter how hard she tries.

I do not want to give away more plot details, but the film is somber and made me cry at times. Life is hard, and there is so much pain. It really is up to me to appreciate the moments I do feel good, because hard times are unavoidable. I knew SAMANTHA MORTON was a talented actress. I enjoyed her work in CONTROL and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. Now I am a huge fan. How she can show so much genuine sadness emitting from her eyes indicates she is an artist, or one who lives to perform in an authentic and realistic manner for the sake of others as well as herself.

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I also watched another film called RATCATCHER written and directed by LYNNE RAMSAY. It is equally sad. A pre-teen boy named JAMES (played perfectly by WILLIAM EADIE) is rough-housing with his friend in the local pond when his friend accidentally drowns. James’ life is already hard enough, as he lives with his parents and two sisters in a housing project in Glasgow.

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WILLIAM EADIE in RATCATCHER: source.

Though he did not cause his friends death, as he was already walking away from the pond while his friend was drowning, he feels guilty about the death. Like all of us, James searches for moments of happiness, and he finds companionship with an older girl named MARGARET ANNE (played beautifully by LEANNE MULLEN). The notion that childhood is a mere social construct created by middle to upper class people is blatantly obvious in this film.

I strongly recommend MORVERN CALLAR and RATCATCHER.