Girls

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Girls first caught my attention with its trailer for the first season. I remember watching it and duly noting I would watch the pilot, and give the show a chance. It was mainly because it was a cast full of fresh faces. I had never seen or heard of these actors before and, given the state of television nowadays – where every single new show seems to be attached to a famous face – I really like the feeling and the mood these shows give me. I like unknown faces, it makes the show more special and somewhat more easy to relate to. The other reason for my interest was Lena Dunham. Back then I had no idea she was also the creator and the writer, so to me she was only the “unconventional leading lady” (that’s another thing: I will watch every new show with an unconventional leading lady, I’m all for unconventional, it is very easy to seduce me into watching television just like that).

         It took me a while to get into the show because this is not an ordinary show. In fact, I remember my first reactions to it, and I don’t think I felt entirely okay with it until the last episode of the first season. I was annoyed because I had read a few articles on it, and it was a show described for people of my generation, it was meant to be a show that touched base with me, but I felt like an alien next to these women. This show was sold on the premise that it was like Sex on the City without the glamour and the slight surrealism of a world most women my age had never known. I guess I was disappointed because, while surely Girls has no glamour, it was not my reality either. It bothered me it was called Girls. It bothered me that I had been put into the same circle as these girls, because I felt it gave nothing to me and it told nothing about my experience as a woman (or rather, as a post-graduate girl that was meant to go into the world and “become a woman”).girls-21

         As I said, the end of the first season felt rather different. I have no idea if it was the narrative direction of the show, or if it was me finally seeing beyond my disappointment and my uncalled-for expectations. The fact is that I started seeing the show in a different light, and with the beginning of the second season, I started to realise just how important it was. I felt every new episode dared to go even further into places not many shows dare to go these days. We live in an age where our television is populated by medical and cop dramas, where violence and death are glorified, where you navigate between cheap entertainment and laugh tracks or products that seem to be handcrafted for the intellectual snobs of our time. Girls, in the midst of this panorama, feels like an unexpected and a perhaps unwelcomed breath of fresh air.

          There are many articles out there that will debate the show’s alleged racism, the fact that Lena Dunham is “constantly naked” or the fact that with each new episode, a new taboo subject is uncovered. As there are many of those already, I will skip all of that and jump to what I admire the most from the show, which is not its ability to strike controversy, not the acting that is contained within it, not even its ability (or perhaps its inability) to feel realistic. What I admire is the writing: not because I think it’s incredibly fascinating, or because I think the show is specially well constructed or because its characters are particularly very well drafted. I admire it because, in my opinion, what Girls does is create a grey area of discomfort.Girls-Season-2-Promotional-Images-girls-hbo-33209283-1200-800

            Girls is aware that the world is not a black and white scene, that human ethics are dubious, that there is no such thing as right or wrong. It is aware that we live in a day and age where it is difficult for human beings to establish what ethics to adhere to, that the human race is chaotic and neurotic, self-centered and selfish. It is also aware that things can change. That people change constantly, not necessarily always towards a good place. Girls dares to make the spectator uncomfortable, it dares to write about things no other show has dared to write, and it does not need to use blood, death and destruction to shake its audience up. Girls dares to have a character such as Adam, really, and I believe that should be enough. Adam has been developed as a weird and occasionally scary character. At some points you feel you finally understand him, at other points you want to scream in exasperation. What is interesting is that Adam is not black or white, the fact is, that no character in this show is one or the other, in fact, they are all grey.

            These characters, as all human beings, will screw it up one day, and the following they might make a better choice. They will not always apologise for their actions, even if they become aware of how wrong those were. Despite the show being  a drama (I refuse to call it a comedy, I just refuse) it does not stand within the narrative lines established by televised dramas. Not everything is dark, and neither is it very light. Girls doesn’t want you to root for Adam, and it doesn’t want you to understand him. Because we don’t understand everybody around us either. Sometimes, the choices we make make us uncomfortable as well. And that’s why episode nine in its second season (painfully titled “On all fours”) was my favourite. It was one of the most uncomfortable hours of television I have ever sat through, and I thoroughly enjoyed going on that ride, where I was being shown how these characters kept on making wrong decisions, and they were not excused by it, because in real life you do not always get immediate redemption for your mistakes… in real life, you are actually rather lucky if you get such redemption.a_4x-horizontal

                “On All Fours” had us witness how all of these characters not only screwed it all up but they also made fools of themselves at the same time. It had us cringe with rather domestic and ordinary actions. It had Hannah and her q-tip, it had Shoshanna and her unexpected doubt, it had Marnie making a fool of herself because she’s unable to find out what she truly wants. It, then, yes, had Adam finally having a relatively healthy relationship, but then it had him destroy it, unaware that what needs changing is not the person he is with, but himself. “On All Fours” had one of the most beautifully heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen (dancing to Fiona Apple in that club – yes, that might be a biased statement sponsored by my undying, everlasting love for Fiona Apple) as well as one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever sat through (Adam, Natalia and the… ”sex”).  I think that scene was a very important moment for Girls and for televised fiction in general. I believe it put forward how grey that area truly is. How grey it is for society to be able to identify what constitutes consensual sex and what doesn’t, how difficult it is to portray rape on television without glorifying the act, or without making it completely irrelevant. Girls dared to go where hardly any other television show has dared to go, and I really admire it for that.

          The second season finished last March, and this article is only seeing the light today. That is because, while I started writing this article right after “On All Fours” aired, I stopped writing it a week later, after seeing the last episode of the season. I decided to let it rest, and let time decide if (and how) I should continue writing it. The season finale was contradictory to me, because it was one of the most alienating episodes the show has had – precisely because it was incredibly complacent and because it made a big effort to be definitely comfortable. It made me question if what I had been experiencing with the show up until that moment had simply been an illusion. But the truth is, I have been thinking about this article for weeks,  and I have been discussing the show with new people as well, and every time I have revisited the show, one way or another, I have realised I was not able to let go of my need to write about it. I guess that, for all the damage that season finale could have done, the show has still managed to do something different in fiction in a very short period of time, and that is truly commendable.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope: The Case of Ruby Sparks

ImageThe term “manic pixie dream girl” is not a new one. Critic Nathan Rabin coined it in his review of the movie Elizabethtown back in 2007 where he explains that a “manic pixie dream girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

You know the MPDG, you have encountered her many times in movies. From Kirsten Dunst’s Claire in “Elizabethtown” to Natalie Portman’s Sam in “Garden State and to a more recent Sam, Emma Watson’s character in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”*. You will recognize her easily. She is free-spirited, quirky, mysterious, likes indie music and her sole purpose in these movies is to make the male protagonist’s life less monotonous and sad so they can figure themselves out. They are female-shaped epiphanies if you will. They are usually created with the idea of making the male protagonist rethink his life choices, this MPDG will teach our hero how to be more easy-going, how to enjoy the little things in life and take himself less seriously so at the end of the movie he will have become the MAN he was supposed to be.  Basically the MPDG is the woman as an idea.

ImageNow, the case I want to discuss today is something different. I watched Ruby Sparks some months ago and I haven’t been quite able to keep it out of my mind. Although I feel (and this is my opinion) that the movie ultimately fails at going all the way through with its message, I think it’s an important movie with a great idea at its core. Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a “one hit wonder” writer who wrote a great book at a very young age and has been trying to write another one and live to everyone’s expectations (and his own) ever since. While trying to come up with this book he starts dreaming about a girl- beautiful, quirky, free spirited…well, you get the gist, right? Calvin thus proceeds to write about her and make her the heroine of his new book. In the process he becomes so enamored of this dream girl that he believes he is falling in love with her. Until one morning he wakes up and his creation, Ruby Sparks (played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the movie) herself, is there on the flesh, living and breathing in his living room.

At the beginning everything is perfect. Ruby is everything Calvin dreamt of (because he actually wrote her that way). But little by little Ruby starts to want more. She wants to get a job, she wants her own friends, she wants to test herself…in sum she wants to live her life the way she pleases. But what she doesn’t realize is that she is trapped by Calvin’s idealized version of her so she cannot move forward. She cannot escape it and when she tries to do so things get really messy.

ImageSomewhere in the movie Calvin says about Ruby: “She is complicated. That’s what I like best about her.” He likes her being complicated as long as it’s the cute kind of complicated, you know? He likes the kind of messy that is endearing. Not the real fucked up one which all real people experience. He likes her being complicated so long as it doesn’t actually interfere with his perfect idea of her. She can build play forts, act child-like and jump into beautifully lighted swimming pools at night but she cannot be assertive and make decisions for herself that he does not agree with.

That’s Ruby Spark’s message, I think. Ruby, like everyone who begins a new relationship, starts off as an idea but little by little she becomes real. The first stage of a relationship is obviously going to be great but the natural progression of things dictates that little by little you will get to really know the person you are with. The greatest case against the MPDG is that they don’t grow, change or evolve. They are just a catalyst or a male fantasy in which the woman is forever stuck in that honey-moon phase of the relationship.

ImageNow, while I was halfway through writing this piece I stumbled upon an interview of Zoe Kazan in which when asked about the MPDG trope she said this; “That term is a term that was invented by a blogger, and I think it’s more of a term that applies in critical use than it does in creative use. It’s a way of describing female characters that’s reductive and diminutive, and I think basically misogynist. […] I think that to lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference. Like, I’ve read pieces that describe Annie Hall as a manic pixie dream girl. Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. To me, those are fully fledged characters that are being played by really smart actresses. I just think it’s misogynist. I don’t want that term to survive. I want it to die.”

While I do understand what she is saying and where she is coming from I don’t fully support it. I agree 100% on the fact that not all original and quirky women found in movies are MPDG and we should not try to group them all together. The cases she mentions (and the ones I have previously discussed) have been labelled so without really considering the many complexities of said women. You can be quirky, endearing and original AND be a complex and real woman. One does not exclude the other. But I also think that the trope exists because we’ve seen it in too many movies. It’s problematic and thus it should not be ignored. The problem doesn’t lie with the term, the term in not misogynistic.  What is misogynistic is that female characters are so predominantly featured as nothing else than plot devices.

SprklsAt one point in Ruby Sparks Calvin, struggling with his success as an author and the idea the public has of him, says, “Women aren’t interested in me, they’re interested in some idea of me.” Well that’s really what it’s all about for the MPDG.

Now, while I think that Ruby Sparks creates a great case against the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope, I don’t think it was written with that idea in mind (and the words of Zoe Kazan are a testament to that) and thus that’s why I think it ultimately fails at it. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone but for me, it kind of invalidated the whole premise of the movie and the message that it had so strongly made a case of. At the end the movie ends up being a tad too forgiving of its male protagonist and the viewer is supposed to just forget how poorly Calvin treated Ruby. This is Hollywood after all and romantic comedies do get their happy endings.

*I want to analyze the cases of Summer in “500 Days of Summer” and Clementine in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in a more in-depth article further down the road. While I agree that they would fit into MPDG trope at first glance but I think they are set up to subvert it somehow because we are not meant to fully trust the views of the male protagonists of said movies. After all, the first thing Clementine tells Joel in Eternal Sunshine is “I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a fucked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”

 

You can read María’s latest article here.

Jane Austen and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This year marks the 200 anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Because of that, I come with a confession.  This might be social suicide, but I will risk it:  I think Jane Austen is terribly underrated. I truly do. I think that even Jaenites underrate Jane Austen. This isn’t a typo.

             What’s my deal? Do I live in a cave? Am I unresponsive to the events taking place in my surroundings? Look, no. I’m aware Jane Austen is probably the most talked about female classic author. There are so many adaptations of all of her novels that sometimes you wonder if they’re truly necessary (and the answer is YES, by the way: every adaptation is necessary, every reread is necessary, do not ever let the world tell you otherwise). I was about to affirm that Jane Austen is the most adapted author of all time, but a quick Google search told me it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, I think that had I told you Jane Austen was, you would have believed me, because it simply makes sense. It simply feels right.

              So why on earth would I say Austen is underrated? Well, nine times out of ten, I will get strange glares whenever I proclaim to the world I LUV JANE AUSTEN. Nine times out of ten, people will believe Jane Austen wrote “those romance novels” and will go away thinking their snarky remarks are… acceptable. Nine times out of ten, a news article or whatever we call it these days will describe Jane Austen as the writer that “knew all about romance, despite being a maiden herself!”

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And that is why it is with great sadness that I said goodbye to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last week. Because The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not merely an adaptation of Austen’s work, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries takes Austen’s work a step forward and that is, in my humble opinion, what adaptations should be all about. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not only adapted Pride and Prejudice to a modern setting successfully, creating a narrative that is both fluid, relevant and realistic, but it also has incorporated the 2.0 era into it, retro alimenting itself, in a very post-modern way (the show exists thanks to the wonderful mediatic world of Youtube, so the show is a big and long love letter to Youtube as a platform as well). It has also managed to adapt the novel culturally and socially into this day and age, and what is more, it has done it right.

pfi_b6ae6a73079d65ff9c582f4f582ea3e9               Pride and Prejudice is a protofeminist novel (protofeminist being understood as a text that contains feminist elements, literary wise, but that was produced in an age when feminism still had no name as such, and had no movement attached to it). As such, the revolutionary tones of Elizabeth as a protofeminist heroine have been translated into today’s settings in Lizzie as well. Elizabeth is a very revolutionary character for the times, this might come out as a shock but there are a few of her qualities as a character that make her so: consider the fact that she rejects Mr. Collins because she dislikes him, when Mr. Collins is actually the only way out of the incredibly poor economic situation of the Bennets. By marrying Mr. Collins, all of her sisters, as well as her mother, would not have had to worry about their future upon their father’s death. By rejecting him, she is refusing to sacrifice her future happiness for her family, as well as refusing to accept to play by society’s rules (those that denied women a right to inheritance, thus forcing them to attach themselves to a man as a piece of property). But that’s not the only thing making Elizabeth a revolutionary character: she is outspoken, critical and opinionated. The Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries’s Lizzie refuses a very juicy job offer from Ricky Collins in a time and age when not only her family but also herself need economic income desperately. But she does not want to “sell herself” to a kind of field she does not like, she prefers to stay true to herself and find her own way, rather than following her family’s wishes. She is also opinionated and outspoken, of course, and refuses to follow society’s rules (which is not seen as clearly as with novel-Lizzy, but can be found in the little details: she refuses to sell herself to a job, she refuses to maintain relationships, as well as forming acquaintances with people she dislikes, et cetera).

The show takes special care for making all of these characters, not just Lizzie, three
dimensional. Each character has their special purpose and even their personal subplots (as can be seen through the creation of additional secondary Youtube channels for certain characters that had a ‘back story’ in the novel but that could not be easily explored in the series). All of these characters have dreams and hopes, they have good qualities as well as flaws.

                   Lizzie wants a future, she wants a career. She moves for her family and friends but she’s thirsty (albeit slightly terrified) for change. She’s professionally driven, and extremely loyal. She’s valuable to herself and wishes to be independent, and she wishes to achieve such independence by herself. But she’s not the only character like that, this adaptation takes special care to make all characters refreshingly modern. Jane herself, who in the novel was described as a lovely creature but that was mostly exploited in regards of her love story with Bingley, is here given a very interesting career, one with which she fights for and one she puts before her love life on a number of occasions. She refuses to put up with the behaviour of those around her (as novel-Jane didn’t, in a way) and puts her own rules when it comes to forgiving and rekindling her relationship with Bing Lee. Lydia, somewhat underexplored and dismissed in the novel, considered the mindless, accelerated and promiscuous sister, is here given a different turn. The adaptation took special care to construct a back story that dealt with her romance with Wickham, giving it a frightening abusive twist (taking a look at the cheerful, lively Lydia of the first episodes, and the Lydia under Wickham’s influence as well as Lydia post-web-scandal was too heartbreaking).

VJIQw3BMyU             Not only our females have purposes, the way in which Collins, Bingley, Darcy and even Wickham are portrayed is admirable just as well. The most obvious instance is Bingley: Bingley’s proposal to Jane was revolutionary because he was marrying for love, to the woman his family somewhat disapproved of. In a modern setting, dating somebody your family disapproves of would not be enough, so what Bing Lee does it not only come back for Jane, he also refuses to confine himself to the family expectations by quitting his medical career, and decides to do things his own way, at his own pace. Only then, when both Jane and Bing have found themselves individually, then, and only then, do they decide to start something together.

               Still, and getting somewhat personal, I have to say my favourite of all is Charlotte. The way in which the adaptation has incorporated Charlotte into the narrative, allowing her to bloom as a character, creating an incredible bond between her and Lizzie and at the same time not condemning her choices, which so easily contrast with Lizzie’s, making her a very driven, loyal, independent, outspoken, successful, unique  and ultimately powerful woman, is simply brilliant.

          I’m afraid there is no short article that could make any justice to this adaptation, I would gladly write a dissertation on it, and even then I would still feel I am leaving details unexplored. But I tried to pick some representative examples to try and explain why I feel the way that I do. As I mentioned, I am a big Jane Austen fan, and as such I’ve seen many obscure adaptations of her work. But, as such a fan, not all of those have been particularly pleasing. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, however, has managed to do beautiful things with Austen’s work, and it has made me incredibly proud, week after week, to see that I am not alone in seeing her work as something other than a prolonged exploration of romance. Austen’s work was about women fighting their environment, and Lizzie Bennet is the proof of that.

          If you are so unfortunate as not having been able to follow this wonderful experiment live, you can change that right now by clicking right here, and starting from the very beginning. Be warned, though, it’s 100 episodes, and you will laugh but you will also cry (and squee, probably).

        You might also be interested in taking a look at Hank Green’s video where he explains the way the idea came to him and the reason why he chose Pride and Prejudice to develop as a web series:

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a concept that was coined by Alison Bechdel in her comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. What the test consists of is of analysing the female presence in a film following three simple steps: First, are there two (named) women in the film? Second, do these two female characters speak to each other? And finally, do they speak about something other than a man?

tumblr_miah09l6nw1qfhzgyo1_500You would think that is an extremely and ridiculously easy thing to accomplish but it is actually not. What I particularly love about the Bechdel Test is that it is a very useful tool to point out the present problem of feminism (and by feminism I mean “equality between men and women”) in nowadays’ society. It is something extremely simple, something that surely happens daily in ‘real-life’ yet something that is difficult to achieve in the so-called representation of society through fiction. Because of the little amount of films being made today (especially in Hollywood) that pass this test, it is impossible to deny that we still live in a society ruled by an industry that continues to tell stories that are told and lived by men.

tumblr_miah09l6nw1qfhzgyo2_500The Bechdel Test, however, is only an anecdote, an easy and fast way to point out a problem. It is true that at the end of the day such a simple test will not be able to deconstruct a film or to decipher what the film truly is about. A film may pass The Bechdel Test and still be incredibly problematic in its portrayal of its female characters, and a film may not pass such a test and still be able to portray a female character in an incredible and necessary way. But it is an interesting concept, because it points at Hollywood filmmakers, and it asks them about the kind of faked reality they are trying to build. It is a reality where women are barely in films as individuals, where there is little depth put into these characters. It is not a problem about the female presence in Hollywood, it is obvious that actresses get work, it is about the kind of characters that are being written, the kind of stories these characters are in.

              What fascinates me the most about The Bechdel Test is that I am a absolutely sure that I have never known a woman that does not pass this test in her real life, on a daily basis. It therefore is not only extremely preoccupying but it seems completely surrealist to me that it seems impossible for the great majority of films produced and released every week, to not even have a scene that contains two women talking to each other for less than two minutes, in the average hour and forty-five minutes of duration of such films.

               The stats at the official Bechdel Test website say that in their database they have 3479 films, out of which 1876 (53.9%) films pass the test completely (that is the three questions/steps). 386 (11.1%) of these films would pass two of the questions of the test, while 852 (24.5%) would pass one of the questions, and 365 (10.5%) films would not even have more than one woman in them. Taking into consideration that during 2012 and only in America 253 films were released, I’d say that doing the math, the problem is still present.

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So, while it may have its faults, I am a great fan of The Bechdel Test, because I firmly believe society can be reformed through fiction, I firmly believe that the first step to reforming society, is reforming such fiction, and if our current fiction cannot even be a representative of our reality, I do not think things are looking particularly well for our future.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Bechdel test, visit the official website, which has a lot of useful information, as well as more statistics. You can also take a look at the video Feminist Frequency did, right here.

Read Cristina’s last article here.

The Cycle of Violence: This is NOT Business

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. You can find the first reaction here, written by Cristina. And here is Jade’s piece.

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I loved Maria’s piece on Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. It raised so many questions and thoughts were just popping up in my mind. Before I start my reaction to it, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t read any of Ravenhill’s works – and will proceed to change that as soon as possible – so I’m not going to dissection his beliefs but rather try to find my own answers to Maria’s questions in her essay…and create new ones.

I mentioned this in my first article here on Faceless Ladies but I’ll say it again, I proudly don’t have a TV. As a consequence of this, sometimes I can avoid being exposed to things that would just make me sad and frustrated. And more than anything, I can avoid being exposed to HOW these things are shown or told to me, which is a big part of my unhappiness with modern information. I believe the news in general have become pointlessly violent and really not informative at all. The news have become entertainment…often times untasteful, tacky and absolutely disposable.  After a small piece about Syria and how 100 children died in a raid, let’s talk about the Golden Globes with a big smile. News have become entertainment, and yes, they’ve accustomed us to violence, cynicism, and to being completely insensitive, cold. Blood, boobs, and guns have become all the same thing and  NORMAL. There are no limitations and there seems to be no common sense as to what should be said, how and what should be shown. So the more they talk about a certain thing, the more people think it’s normal, an everyday thing. And the more people will actuaMarito investe la moglie e poi la cosparge di benzina dandole fuoco.lly DO that thing. This obviously applies to abuse on women. The other day on the internet edition of a very popular Italian newspaper, I opened an article about a woman, Giuseppina, who was first run over and then set on fire by her husband in front of people in the street. She died on Valentine’s day. Now, this is not normal. Is this normal? How can it be normal? Why has it become normal enough that we just skip through it? Why have we become so accustomed, and as a consequence, bored by it that we don’t really care anymore?  A few days later, an article was published about Giuseppina’s funeral and how many women there took it as a chance to voice their rage and frustration. That article was never on the front page of the website. Was it not worth it? I’m not sure.

In the past 3 or 4 months, for some strange reason, abuse on women has been ‘trendy’ – for lack of a better word, I apologise. Of course this is a double-ended sword. It certainly sheds some light on the issue in general, which is good. But on the other hand, it makes it disposable and it  may take just a couple of weeks before we’re talking about something else even though the problem is still there. Now, is this sudden ‘trend’ just a coincidence due to the increasing popularity of movements such as One Billion Rising? Or maybe due to the focus on gender equality? Are pDomesticViolenceeople finally realizing how retrograde our society really is? I’m not really sure. And as a consequence of all this exposure, is abuse on women becoming (un)fortunately a literary trend, too? Now, I’m sure Mark Ravenhill feels enraged by it but sometimes I find myself wondering whether everyone writing and filming about it feels the same in an honest way or if they’re just riding the wave.

Finally, I wish I could ask Ravenhill about the fact that “he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap.” Alright. So abuse on women in literature and theater is ‘interesting’…but how, in what way? ‘Interesting’ because they have to go through some sort of struggle? Or just ‘interesting’ because it’s a multi faceted issue? And yes, if it is interesting, why does he think that that’s the only thing he can write about so a woman’s role is honored? Is it really possible that abuse is the only interesting thing that can happen in a woman’s life? Does abuse deal with a woman’s struggle to find herself? Again, I’m not sure and I truly hope Ravenhill isn’t being so reductive when referring to a woman’s experience. Let’s look at it this way: when a man needs to find himself, he will do a number of things, for instance he will alienate himself from society and live in the woods (like in Into the Wild) but a woman seems to need some kind of abuse to have the same kind of epiphany.  (I had never thought of struggle as a gender-specific issue…) As a consequence, it also seems that a woman requires a man to find herself. Now I’m really not sure about this either. Actually, I really don’t think so. There are a billion things going on every day in any woman’s life and the majority are very interesting, the majority deal with some sort of struggle, and some sort of path to self-awareness.

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Keira Knightley in CUT, Women’s Aid Campaign

I agree with Cristina’s article in a lot of ways, and I also think violence on stage and on the page can be amazingly helpful to raise questions in the viewer’s and reader’s mind but – as she says so perfectly – “I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction.” My problem with this is that we will never really know where the author’s honesty is and as Maria and Cristina pointed out in their wonderful pieces, we’re running around in circles. I’m fine with that, life is an ellipsis of experiences and feelings that repeat themselves but, call me naive, I hope we never lose touch with our inner critic and honesty in place of mere entertainment.

The Cycle of Violence: Can Violence Fight Violence?

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. Here is Cristina’s piece.

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 Maria and I have been friends for quite a long time now, and as such, we have been theatre (as well as cinema) companions. We have read many books recommended by the other, and we have watched quite a dozen hundred television shows as well. We consume fiction together, and we tend to discuss it at length. The thoughts and ideas she poured into her article are thoughts I have discussed with her on a number of occasions, and something that I always find endearing is that sometimes we take turns: as one talks about her thoughts, and is unable to find the answer, the other nods, knowingly, perhaps muttering several “I knows”. That’s the point, actually: whenever we talk about this topic, we find ourselves unable to find the answers.

Do I think violence is needed to fight violence? No. I am actually an eerie pacifist. However, when it comes to art, I am a true believer of the in-your-face approach. I believe that in order for art to be something more than a “simple” piece of entertainment, that is to say, in order for art to be socially active as well as stirring, it must be direct, raw and most importantly, unforgiving. It must be brutally honest, and truly horrifying.

la-clh1.ca.0f.0903.scarface.0.1-02 (3)In my opinion, that is the only way for art to be completely effective. With such an approach, it will not leave the spectator undisturbed. It will create a need to question, to discuss, to debate… and most importantly, a need to reform. Sarah Kane once said she would “rather risk overdose in the theatre than in life”. That was one of her arguments in her use of violence on stage. She also wrote “I write the truth, and it kills me”. I believe all writers should write the truth, and I believe it should kill them (hopefully, not as literally as it did with her, though).

This belief of mine in the necessity for the horrifying means that I approve of violence on stage. I also approve of violence on the screen and on the page. I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction. Without an extreme, unexpected event, the audience can placidly continue with their entertainment without questioning the content they are consuming or the society they are in. The problem, of course, comes with the eternal question: What makes a portrayal of violence denouncing and what makes it senseless? Who is the one to distinguish between both? And most importantly, if we encourage this cycle of violence, can it ever have an end? If the only way to fight violence is with a performance of violence, are we really putting an end to it or are we in fact reinforcing it?

Lisbeth And so this brings me back to Maria’s article. Has our society become so immunised to violence, and specifically violence against women that the portrayal of abuse has in fact become a new kind of entertainment, a new kind of performance? The fact that the portrayal of abuse has increased and has become alarmingly explicit in recent years would perhaps indicate to that. Have creators started to cross the line between entertainment and criticism? Are we, therefore, denouncing and deconstructing the problem at hand or are we in fact reinforcing it? Is the explicit representation of violence truly raising awareness, or is it actually numbing society in the face of such a problem? Are we writing strong women that face their fears and the acts performed against them, or are we writing victims and dramatising their suffering? The fact is that the sides of the matter are not clearly marked, they are in fact composed of very complex elements, and I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer for the questions that I am posing. In my opinion, it is a never ending cycle of violence, one that I am afraid cannot entirely be unraveled. One that seems to have become more complex with time.

In fact, I have the feeling that the use of fiction in order to fight reality is slowly morphing into something else that we cannot yet identify. Martin Crimp put it best in Attemps on her Life:

Seen it- perhaps. But not seen it afresh, not seen it now, not seen it in the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on a new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e one more product – in this case an artwork – to/be consumed.”

You can read Cristina’s previous article here.

The Cycle of Violence: The Case of Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat

ImageLet me preface this by saying that I don’t think I’m equipped to properly discuss Mark Ravenhill. And yet, in a way, I want to try. I was introduced to his work some years ago when I had to read Shopping and Fucking for a class I was taking at university. To this day I think I still haven’t properly gotten over it. The experience was hard and distressing. In that class we were expected to read the plays and then take it in turns to re-enact some of its scenes. Shopping and Fucking was not one of the plays I got to act on but I remember the experience of watching some of my classmates do it. We were not professional actors, just a bunch of English Literature students trying to understand a text that was way beyond our scope. You could hardly look for what was going on and I remember feeling a mixture of pity and awe for the students who were “on stage”.

So when we went to see the production of Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona I was excited but scared. This selection of seven out of the seventeen short plays written by Ravenhill for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival deals with the personal and political effect of war on modern life and the West’s necessity to sell the whole world into the ideal panacea of “Freedom and Democracy”.

ImageAs I dreaded, expected and hoped, the plays are violent, powerful, incendiary and necessary. They are intense and they rise questions that will nag at you for days to come. They question choices and they discuss themes such as terror, fear, love and death. And most of the main characters are women. So it should come as no surprise, then, that there were a lot of women being killed, tortured, and raped on stage. Right?

After the play ended there was a Q&A with Mark Ravenhill himself. At some point he mentioned that he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap. I think that’s commendable and very very true. And yet… I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold. I wanted to ask him why. Why all this violence against women? Was it necessary? Had he really chosen so many women to showcase how strong they can be (which really, they are!) or has it just been established that they will always be the ones being raped, beaten and abused? Five out of the seven plays performed showed some kind of abuse on women. Six if I want to be overtly precise, all of them showing situations in which women are overpowered by men and made to suffer in varying degrees of physical and mental abuse.

ImageNow, I don’t know what to make out of this. These are just questions that I ask myself because I want to understand. Have we reached a moment in time in which violence against women has become the cultural norm? Are we immunized against it? Has the representation of rape and violence against women become so permanent on the media that it just has ceased to surprise us? Or is this a necessary way to denounce a problem? Violence against women exists, and things don’t seem to be getting better so exposing it through art and in the media seems to be the logical way to shed some light into it.

The only way I have of trying to make sense of things is through my reaction to the play and while I thought it was brilliant it also left me emotionally tired and preoccupied. Why are women always on the receiving end? Why can’t we subvert the roles? While it is true that movies, television and even advertising are full of degrading imagery towards women, I had never felt it as deeply as this time. Theatre, in my opinion, always obtains the most visceral reactions.

I don’t think there is a campaign to abuse women on the media or the arts, and I feel like Mark Ravenhill in particular would be the first one to criticise such a thing, but that’s exactly what scares me. It seems that in order to bring attention to it we need to show more violence, and thus the endless cycle of violence can never broken.

You can read María’s previous article here.

Lady Nobody: on Being a Song

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Illustration by Catalina Estrada.

This is a little awkward for me because I swore to God – and myself – I would never write about my own music. But this time it’s for a good cause – maybe even a couple good ones. So I’m going to be talking about my song Lady Nobody. This is without a doubt the most special song I’ve ever written, both for the way in which it happened and for its meaning, obviously. So that’s what I’m going to try to do in this essay: I’ll talk about the magical way in which it wrote itself and about what it means to me. If you’d like, you can listen to it here, before reading and here are the lyrics:

Lady nobody
hiding in your room
Lady nobody
living inside your doom

Lady nobody
guilty of your pain
Lady nobody
always the one to blame

Oh oh oh…

You are free, finally
You can breathe, can’t you see, you are free

Lady nobody
crying out your tears
Lady nobody
life is led by fear

Lady nobody
a story for every bruise
Lady nobody
there is no excuse

Oh oh oh…

You are free, finally
You can breathe, can’t you see, you are free

So, what came first? The title. I remember writing the two words – lady, nobody – on my Blackberry notepad. Just that. I left it at that and then went on to write something else, some other attempt at ‘title-writing’. It didn’t mean much back then.

After a few months, I found myself being out of school for a quarter, during which I had time to just let ideas marinate and sink in. And then it happened. It was exactly as magical and mystical as I remembered it. I sat down and words literally flowed in the right manner, at a steady pace and with a plan. My mind immediately went back to those two words on my phone and I wrote them on top of a blank page on my notebook. The rest was easy, I finally knew who she was, what her place and mission were. Lady Nobody was every abused woman I had read and heard about. The ease with which the song happened balanced the amazing weight it had meaning-wise.

Lady Nobody was born inside of me a long time ago. When I lived in Barcelona I watched the news every single day – a bad habit I have since then lost fortunately – and I remember the disappointment and frustration I would feel watching how every day one woman – or more – would die because her current or ex partner thought she was seeing somebody else, or wearing a skirt that was too short, or because she had talked back to him…or simply because she had uttered a word. That to me was, and is, unacceptable, disgusting, enraging. Every woman who was beaten or died in the attempt of making her voice heard became an amazingly powerful symbol which grew and grew inside of me. I couldn’t stand the thought of hearing about another dead or barely-alive woman. It was something that really hit me, more than I’ve seen it hit other people, for some reason.

Either way, years passed, more women got beaten, stabbed, shot but I couldn’t find the right words to express all my rage and all my empathy for them. That is probably one of the most frustrating artistic processes; you can try and write pages and pages, but sometimes, you’re just not ready for your own words yet. However, Lady Nobody had already been born. I just needed to see her better in my mind. As elegant and graceful as you can imagine but equally denied in terms of her own identity, she was obliterated, made invisible, torn, stripped of her individuality and personality. All women and none at the same time.

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Finally, the day that Lady Nobody flowed out of me, I finally became her in a matter of instants. I was her, something had clicked. I could see her sad eyes and frail appearance; I could feel the fear she felt for her own life, her sense of desperation and entrapment, her physical and emotional pain, her exhaustion, the polluted air she was breathing. The corner of her room where she’d take refuge, the light she’d leave on at night, the concealer she’d use to cover her bruises. And I could see a huge broken heart. I could also feel how brave she was, trying to fight for her right to have a voice. Such a heroine against such a monster. But the key is, I could feel her relief after all, her sense of freedom and how all the pain had proven to be useful to liberate herself, to wake others up, to provide awareness. Lady Nobody had finally attained her freedom; she had been able to speak up with her chin held high. And she had done it through me.

Lady Nobody still doesn’t have a face in my mind but I can hear her firm voice in spite of the abuse she’s had to endure – she is a faceless lady but she is not voiceless. Despite her apparent powerlessness, she is amazingly powerful.

Lipstick and Self-esteem

A previous version of this article was originally published on March 2012, at  The World Occurred.

I don’t use a lot of makeup and the little I use I don’t use very often. It’s because of that that I didn’t own any lipstick until about two years and a half ago.  I was with my friend M and we were browsing through a beauty store. She pointed at a lipstick in a burgundy colour and said “you’d look good on that”. I had only put on lipstick twice in my life, both times for Halloween costumes. So, when M pointed at the lipstick I thought she was mad. When I tried it on and liked it, I thought I was mad. When I was paying for it, I thought I was throwing 10€ to the trash bin. Because, obviously, I was invaded by questions such as “When would I wear that?” “Why would I wear it?” “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you think you can pull that off?”… et cetera, et cetera.

            The fact that I started using lipstick is more significant than the simple fact that I started using lipstick. It represents the loss of a self loathing and self-imposed fear lived with for 25 years. Now, wearing lipstick comes as something strangely natural to me, but if I stop to think about it I see such an action as a clear symbol of the beginning of the loss of my low self esteem. I had been living with it for so long it had become a strange monster that had attached itself to my chest, and was living a very comfortable life off me. Getting rid of that monster was very hard, but a very natural process and at the same time it was very revealing of who I was and who I wanted to be. The fact that not only I bought that lipstick but that I started to wear it out, and that I was no longer afraid of being a girl who wears dark lipstick meant that I was not afraid of being whoever I wanted to be anymore. I was no longer afraid of being someone that other people would judge or dislike, or someone that other people might like and admire. Lipstick was only an insignificant representative of that change. I am not a fan of cosmetics, because they tend to force women to attempt to be a perfected version of someone they are not. I dislike the idea that we have to be perfect (a “perfect” designed by “society”, not by ourselves) by “changing” ourselves every morning. So, what I’m talking about here is not the mere act of wearing lipstick because I believe that makes me prettier or more feminine. I’m talking about the fact of allowing myself to wear something that I enjoy, and doing it for me, without being afraid of what people would say or think. This article is actually about any item of clothing you have ever thought you loved, but that you thought was not for you.

            I think it’s time we start considering these lipsticks and these pieces of clothing not as love affairs with cosmetics and fashion but as love affairs with ourselves.

            Now about a year ago I stumbled across this article which very rightly points out that : “Almost Half Of Women Don’t Like Their Faces Unless They’re Spackled With Makeup”. The immediate and evident first question that comes to mind is: Are ALL of these women BORN with the hatred of their faces? Or are they nurtured to believe they are ugly, and that therefore they have something to apologise for, something to feel guilty about, something to fix, and the only remedy is makeup? Personally, I believe there are many ways to deal with makeup and some of these ways are very problematic, just as others are not. As Adrienne Ressler points out (she’s quoted on that same article) “There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem.”

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I’ve read, or heard many times now, how “men” “hate” “makeup”. Yet I see fashion blogs and beauty videos in which women create the perfect “no-makeup-makeup look” in which it’s all about using makeup to pretend you’re not wearing any makeup. Which is humorous, really. These videos are perhaps shot by women who have developed a passion for makeup, and love it, but “cannot use it” because “men don’t like it”, therefore they develop the perfect way to use makeup so that it looks like they’re not using any. I think it’s very humorous, this whole social legend that “men” “hate” “makeup”. I find it humorous because what “men” allegedly “hate” is the obvious traces of makeup on a woman’s face, therefore what they allegedly hate is to recognise the effort in attempting to beautify oneself. They don’t “hate” “makeup” on women, because I’d venture to say at least 50 per cent of women wear one product of sorts daily. Therefore, I must assume what they really hate is “obvious makeup”. Therefore, the act of recognising that such beauty – to some extent – is not “natural”, is not “real”. Recognising that what they are seeing is “an illusion”, and at some point, it will go. The funny part is that everything is an illusion. Whether you’re wearing any makeup or not, every single thing about you is an illusion to other people. We worry so much about our physical appearance being an illusion, when in reality our performance is rooted somewhere much deeper within us.

               My thoughts on this are that I simply hate to think of a girl who is putting on makeup to impress anybody other than herself. I understand the concept of wanting to look nice, because looking nice helps you feel nice. But you should not want to look nice only for somebody else. I do not care what “men” think of my lipstick. I do not exist for men. I exist for myself. That’s my problem with makeup, because it feels like females are forced to perform themselves for the benefit of their wishful significant others. I hate that idea, I abhor it. And the irony to see all of these women being marketed into thinking they must use makeup in order to be beautiful for men, when in reality, men seem to dislike such an action. I love red lipstick because one day I put it on, looked at myself in the mirror, and loved what I saw. Wearing red lipstick should not be a weapon of seduction. Not of the ‘other’ at least.

            I worry about the fact that some women have such a dependency on makeup that they don’t feel they are valid enough without it, that they feel they’re not beautiful enough, that they must hide their “flaws” behind a “mask”, and most importantly I worry about the fact that women that love something genuinely cannot use it because of what they think other people will think, because they think their chances of being “attractive” are diminished, et cetera. It’s scary, that you cannot wear something you like because “men” won’t like it. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it. I’m not blaming women in here, obviously. I’d raise my fist into the air and blame patriarchy, but the truth is that this is a vicious circle and its beginning is impossible to spot. Because of that, the solution is almost unreachable to me. We are nurtured from such a young age to have the same set of ideas about beauty, that even when you are able to recognise what part of your social thought comes from you, and what part comes from society, re-shaping the patterns is an incredibly complex thing to do.

            I can only say that these are our faces, these are our bodies and these are our lives. So we should do whatever we enjoy with them, because denying yourself the simply, stupid, minimal pleasure of feeling beautiful is simply idiotic. And with this, I attempt to gather both groups: If you despise makeup, don’t wear any. If you like makeup, wear it however you like. It’s as simple as that. No need to overanalyse this any further. If you like a t-shirt, wear it. If you don’t, don’t. Don’t put on makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t stop wearing makeup because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t let your hair grow because you think other people will find you more attractive. Don’t cut your hair because you think other people will find you more attractive. Do things for yourself, because you enjoy them. Don’t alter your appearance based on social imposition. You only live once, and I am pretty sure when you’re a 90 year old lady on your rocking chair you will not appreciate all of the things you denied yourself of, just because you had the delusion that some boy or some girl would have liked you best that way.

            When I wrote this, I didn’t really have an idea of where I was going with it. Perhaps I simply wanted to justify my love for lipstick, making it clear that I do not wear it for others, but for myself. That I love it. That I don’t think nor care about the effect it will have on my power to attract others, because I know the effect it has on my attraction for myself, and that is enough. That is more than enough. Cheesy as it sounds, lipstick is now a symbol of a healthy relationship with myself.

            There are other articles and campaigns going on online but I my personal favourites are the Beauty Pressure Dove Campaign and Killing Us Softly Part 4.

Read Cristina’s first article on Laura Marling here.

Know more about Faceless Ladies here.

Review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

“I turned the pages so fast. And I suppose I was, in my mindless way, looking for a something, version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite shoes.”

13562049DISCLAIMER: I will discuss the novel at length and this will lead me to reveal big plot developments so beware of spoilers.

 I feel like I need to start by saying I love Ian McEwan. I love him in a way that is difficult to express without turning into a puddle of giggly thoughts. Atonement is one of my favorite novels of all time. Whenever I read one of his books I feel like this is a man who understands human nature. That is why when I read that Sweet Tooth was coming out I was over the moon with glee. But not only were we getting a new book, it was also the first one since Atonement with a female heroine at its center. I was sold.

The basic premise for the book is simple yet deceiving. At a rather young age Serena Frome becomes a low-level recruit for England’s intelligence agency, MI5. She is supposedly hired because she is a compulsive reader (also, because she sleeps with some man?) and thus the perfect under-cover agent to infiltrate the life of writer Tom Haley in whom the agency has invested interests. Once she gets to know him it becomes impossible for her to differentiate her mission from her real feelings as she falls in love with him.

So this is a spy novel with a bit of sexy romance in it, right? Somewhere in the blurb you can even find something along the lines of “espionage is the ultimate seduction”. But is it really? Obviously it is not. What the novel turns out to be is something completely different and so much more complex and important than that. It is about women. It’s about men. It’s about male writers and a woman’s consciousness. It’s about male writers inhabiting a woman’s consciousness and making it their own playground.

From the start something in the novel feels strange. If you are a usual reader of McEwan you can sense it right from the first lines. Serena is intelligent but lacks depth. She is one-dimensional and very simple at times. She likes to read novels. She has a family. Not much of her is known prior to the moment when the book starts. She likes men. Mostly she likes to discuss the men in her life. There are facts and there are actions but there is no true self. She does not seem to grow or change. The façade of the woman is there but nothing true or interesting comes out of her. Which would be just fine in any other novel but this is in no way a character Ian McEwan would create or feel any interest in writing about.

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But of course as the book comes to a close (and much before that if you, like me, know the author) you realize that this has never been Serena’s book. It’s been Tom Haley’s all along. The fact of the matter is that towards the end of the novel Haley discovers that Serena has been lying to him and leading a double life. In order to understand her decisions he has to get inside her head and the only way he knows how to do that is by writing her. So while all along we thought Serena was the one speaking to us it turns out that it was Haley from the start. The real woman exists, but is she at all like Haley invents? Why is this important? I have read reviews suggesting that the “final twist” doesn’t work, that it lacks emotion. But this is not a book about twists. This is not a book about spies. This is a novel about writing and about the male gaze and how male writers write about women, how they try to inhabit and understand them. If Serena seems to be bland and a bit one-dimensional at times it’s because we are just scratching at the base of her true being. And if we always feel like we don’t really know her it’s because we don’t. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Serena is just an ideal; she is not the real woman. We are supposed to be disconnected from her. Once the revelation occurs everything falls into place and most of Serena’s actions start making sense. The adoration she feels for Haley, her pliability, her intellectual inferiority, and the way she seems to enjoy his sexual domination. Once it becomes clear that Serena’s inner consciousness has been rewritten and that it was never her own but Haley’s idealized version of her it all makes sense.

“I was the basest of readers. All I wanted was my own world, and myself in it, given back to me in artful shapes and accessible form.”

I have no problem with men writing women. Men have written some of the greatest works of literature about women. I also don’t think Sweet Tooth is a critique of that. But McEwan is indeed writing about men and about this idea of what a perfect woman should be like. He is writing about how Serena is just a vessel for a man to channel his own demons. Serena is just another of the author’s creations, a vacant and compliant woman, a doll if you may. Incidentally this is a recurring theme in the book as throughout the novel we can read some of Haley’s stories, one of which is about a man who falls in love with a store mannequin. It is also in these stories that the reader can glimpse the true meaning of what is going on. The stories are powerful, have depth and are hauntingly beautiful and sad in equal parts. These stories show that the writer is not unable to transmit real feelings with his words, he has beauty in him, but in trying to imagine Serena he falls short. He doesn’t understand the woman behind the face. He over-simplifies her interests and misunderstands her actions. He makes her uninteresting and boring. He writes her as he’d wish her to be instead of how she really is; complex and flawed, a real living woman. But he does so because Serena was never the focus of the story, she was only an excuse to write about himself.

While Sweet Tooth does not have the epic scope that Atonement did and it lacks its lyricism and beauty of words (for a reason) I feel like this is a much more important book. It teaches us about the politics of gender. It shows us how deeply men can misunderstand women and how fraught with deceit and wish fulfillment relationships can be. This is a book that demands to be reread and understood.