Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Me, myself and Spunout.ie

Last night I was part of something good. I attended the tenth birthday party of SpunOut.ie, a wonderful organisation that i've been volunteering with since 2013. SpunOut are a website, a community and a wonderful platform from which you can learn - about yourself, other young people and the world around you. I often wonder who i'd be without SpunOut. The work they do to support and empower young people in Ireland is incredible. They offer advice, the opportunity to engage, information and support t young people (that's 16-25 officially, but i sspect that many people under - and over! - that age use the site) as well as offering deadly experiences to their volunteers. I'm just one of those hundreds of volunteers, and I'm hoping to keep doing that for as long as I can. But I'm getting ahead of myself... 

When I first visited SpunOut at their Women's Academy event, my mind was blown! People were talking about giving young women a voice, hoping getting us into Dail Eireann for crying out loud. We were given books on effective protest, books about lesbians* and, most importantly, a sense that we were being listened to - that our opinions mattered beyond the realm of LiveJournal and Tumblr. It was fairly mindblowing stuff, and there and then I decided that I was going to keep up as much contact with SpunOut as possible. That's where I belonged, I had decided: not in the high-powered world of student journalism or the dusty society rooms, but with a group of people making a difference on a national level.
Fast forward two years and  I'm still as enthused about SpunOut as I was in 2013. They've given me such brilliant experience and I've met some really cool people through it - a special shout-out to the time they put me in a book (!) they published, the SpunOut Srvival Guide to life, which you can have a look at here. I feel like Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. here, but "OH MY GOD....I'M IN A BOOK!". It's something that still gets me giddy over a year later. 

So back to the present day, and SpunOut had, somewhat madly, asked me to speak at their ten year anniversary. I talked about the internet, about my time with SpunOut, and felt more than a little emotional when I closed the ceremony. It was either "very emotive" or "very embarassing", depending on who you ask, the latter being me. 

But you know what? I did it. I stood up in front of 300 people, including a Minister, and I spoke. It was nerve wracking, but you know what? All the work that I've done with SpunOut gave me the confidence to do that. Like circa 2008 Barack Obama, SpunOut say "Yes YOU can" to young people  - I, and so many others, are testament to that. 

SpunOut have a shiny new website here, and a "get involevd!" section here. it's the best thing i''ve done with my time in college, and this is just a big massive THANK YOU to my supporters in their offices, who have motivated and encouraged hundreds of young people beyond comprehension. 

Thanks, guys. And happy birthday 
Aine xx 

*The book was the EXCELLENT"Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel I'd recommend to anyone and everyone. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Featuring X: interview

Hailing from Drogheda, Co. Louth, Featuring X have been making waves of late, gigging around the country and performing on national radio. All the more impressive is that the girls are eighteen and nineteen years of age, in their first year of university. I sat down with Featuring X ahead of a gig in DCU to find out about all things rock and roll in their world…
When I first meet Niamh, Dara and Sarah, three of the five members of Featuring X, I’m taken aback by how friendly they seem. Having watched their video for “Wild Love”, featuring the band clad in heavy eyeliner and scowls, I presumed that I was in for a clichéd sulky rock band interview. Afterwards, Sarah notes that “that was actually a really good interview!” and I’m inclined to agree. Affable, chatty and bubbling with energy, there’s an air of excitement around the trio. Excitement that is, of course, warranted. When the band met their manager two years ago, it wasn’t long before they were signed to a label. Fast forward two years, an EP release and a record deal, and the young women have the world to take on, as well as college degrees. “We were on the road all the time [just after their Leaving Certs]” recalls Niamh, fondly. Despite their obvious passion for music, none of the band study it at third level, though college is a place they can share and grow as musicians. They are playing DCU tonight – “just a Halloween thing” that Dara, the band’s guitarist, organised – but later this year will go on tour with The Strypes, another young and hotly tipped Irish rock band, increasing their already large fanbase.
It’s a lot to handle at once. How do they juggle college and being in a band? “it’s easier than it was in sixth year”, they think, as now they’re all based in Dublin with more free time on their hands. “If there’s something on, it’s easier to get to” notes Niamh, especially now that they live in Dublin. “There’s a lot more leeway with college than there was in school”. It’s admirable, all the same, that this group have managed to stay together through the trials and tribulations of the Leaving Cert. and beginning university. 
Aside from their age, the most striking thing about this rock band is that they are all-female. There’s many a rock group with a female vocalist, but only HAIM spring to mind when I consider all female groups. “Does it affect the band?” I ask, pondering if this question was in any way sexist. It seems that it hasn’t been thought about much – there’s a small pause when I ask the question. “In the beginning I think people underestimated the idea of girls playing their own instruments and that kind of thing…They had no expectation for us lasting” Niamh says, and Dara and Sarah agree. “Lads [at gigs] try and help us with our amps and stuff!” But, they think that the tides are turning; Sarah says that younger girls in Drogheda are forming bands now. It’s certainly encouraging: so are their responses when I ask them about breaking the mould. Are Featuring X (whisper it) feminists? “You can call us that if you want, we don’t burn our bras like” shrugs Dara. At this point, I’m beginning to feel deeply uncool…

                                                                                                                      Thankfully, the group hinge just on the right side of scary rock star cool. The typical “influences on the band” question brings giggles. Arctic Monkeys and Alt-J are favourites – but so is Dolly Parton. They listen to her after gigs, Sarah tells me, as a tradition. It’s quirks like this that make Featuring X so likeable, and also reminds us of their youth. After the interview, Sarah says that “it was actually really good” to talk to someone who knows about the band. Local radio stations often think they’re someone else; they’ve been mistaken for soap stars in the past. Hopefully for the vibrant, bubbly students, this won’t be the case for too much longer – if Featuring X keep the trajectory they’re on, world domination can’t be too far off. Check out their Facebook page here and keep an eye out for their Christmas tour with The Strypes, starting in early December. 

What the hell is a trigger warning?: article

There’s a lot of uncomfortable content on the internet, let’s be honest, and it’s often hard to get away from it. Lately, I’ve seen the words “trigger warning” and “content warning” cropping up over and over on articles concerning controversial or “touchy” topics. Given the talk surrounding mental health in Ireland of late, this is something that should be taken notice off – anxiety amongst our nation is on the rise, something trigger warnings aim to alleviate. It’s not just the internet -- in the U.S., there has been a call for college courses to indicate when material in a certain textbook has been deemed triggering for those suffering from trauma. Despite all this, many people still don’t understand what exactly trigger warnings are, or what they are used for. Trigger warnings are nothing new for tumblr bloggers ; “#TW” has been around on feminist and LGBTQ blogs for years. But lately the trigger warning has found its way onto Facebook, Twitter and even bigger news websites like TIME.  So are trigger warnings the easily offended of the internet run amok, or are they genuinely helpful?
First, a definition: a “trigger warning” or “content warning” is a label that flags content in an article or video that may be distressing to certain viewers. Essentially, it’s the internet equivalent of a rollercoaster sign that says “do not ride if you are of a nervous disposition”. As someone who always, always listens to those signs, I will openly admit that I appreciate the idea of trigger warnings. I cannot imagine anything worse than clicking open a link that reminds me of a traumatic event – be it abuse, mental illness or self-harm – and spiralling into a panic attack. Surely anything that makes the internet a safer place is by no means a bad thing? As a friend said to me ““[they’re] easy to do and so beneficial” to those who suffer from mental health issues. Tagging a post takes less than a minute to do.
So far, so justified. However, it’s not just my opinion that counts, so I took to Twitter to get some opinion on the ground. The results were interesting. One user made the eloquent and relevant point that they are complicated, because it’s difficult to draw a line as to when a warning is “reasonable.”  Another strongly praised the practice, saying that “they let people make an informed decision and curate an online safe space for themselves”, something that is often badly needed for those suffering with anxiety or PTSD. However, others had different opinions: only certain things warrant the warnings, and to tag everything and anything belittles the importance of the tag to those who really need it. Interestingly, responses came out at around 50-50 pro and anti-trigger warnings. I also spoke to TCD’s Gender Equality society, who informed me that “it was a controversial topic…that [they] were in favour of if necessary”.
To complicate things further: in May, Santa Barbara’s student union called for trigger warnings to be placed on books on the college’s syllabi. So, for example, a book like “Mrs Dalloway” by renowned author Virginia Woolf became a time bomb for those sensitive to suicide or depression. The request was met with some controversy, with many academics considering it a denial of their freedom; why shouldn’t they place a classic novel that deals with a difficult theme on their course? I spoke to a student working with LGBTQ groups in New York and he said that “nobody's calling for professors not to be allowed teach certain material, just that students have a right to have advance warning when particularly heavy topics come up in class.” Both are compelling arguments, so do we have a duty to make the lives of people easier, or is it better to expose a student to the issue, in the manner of a vaccination? The latter was advocated by Prof Metin Basoglu, a trauma specialist who recently spoke out on this very issue. He makes the compelling argument that one simply cannot avoid “triggering” material in day to day life; in fact, it’s simply impossible. Given the wealth of content at our disposal in 2014, I’m inclined to agree with him. But looking around me and seeing a generation growing up either de- or overly-sensitised to violence and horror, I wonder if something has to be done somewhere. Maybe pandering won’t help our anxiety-ridden society, but neither will ignoring the problem and allowing it to fester.

Between “drawing the line” with regard to trigger warnings and the wider implications of them for mental health, it is clear that there’s no straight answer with regard to this new approach to content. Furthermore, there are no guidelines: if I suffer panic attacks when faced with a small space, then, is that less reasonable to tag than a warning against something more typically serious? There’s the rub, it seems; no-one is sure just when to “draw the line” of securing a space, with many who step “over the line” labelled as whiny and overly-sensitive. Dismiss it if you may, but many feminist and LGBT rights groups of our generation are lobbying for “safer spaces” for those who suffer from anxiety and PTSD. It seems that regardless of your opinion on the matter, this article won’t be the last you see of the polemical #tw. 

Why I'm Done With Dunham: article

If you’re in and around my age, you’ll remember when “Girls” first burst onto our screens in 2012. You’ll remember the quirky edginess of the show on the whole, and relating to the tribulations of the twenty somethings of it all. You’ll remember chats with your friends debating if you were a Hannah or a Marnie, and getting angry when they said the former. You’ll remember coming to terms with being a Hannah. Embracing it. Finding Lena Dunham’s Twitter and thinking “YES, this girl is chubby, and funny, and cool -- she’s who I want to be!”
You’ll remember becoming increasingly critical until you, like me, are done with Dunham. The creator of “Girls” has become increasingly more controversial in the past year or so and less relevant for it. Far from the mousy-haired, dry-humoured 23 year old I knew and loved, Dunham is now a figure of…well, pity, to be honest.

When did my love for Dunham go sour? Well, it started with a blogpost that detailed some criticisms of “Girls” – its lack of diversity, it’s “poor little rich girl” philosophy and it’s heavy-handed dealings with mental, sexual and physical health issues. Now, I’m no social justice warrior but elements of the show had started to make me uncomfortable – if Dunham was the so-called “voice of a generation”, then why did she cling to so many stereotypes in her work? With “Girls”, Dunham has expressed a desire to normalise the female experience; but massively expensive apartments and poorly-sketched “issues” weren’t doing it for me, So I stopped watching “Girls”, but continued to follow Dunham’s musings on Twitter. After all, it’s not fair to judge the artist on the art.

I stuck by Dunham through silly comments on feminism and LGBT issues: while Dunham is a staunch supporter of marriage equality, tweets like “I’m gonna be the first straight women to French kiss the first openly gay NBA player” leave a bad taste in my mouth. Her feminism is the same brand peddled by many a celebrity: it’s light-hearted, it advocates empowerment through sexuality, and more often than not, it misses the point. Dunham says in a recent interview “I just think feminism is my work. Everything I do, I do because I was told that as a woman, my voice deserves to heard, my rights are to be respected, and my job was to make that possible for others”. The issue is that we can hear her voice and it’s drowning out the marginalised voices; the voices that don’t have a TV show, a book and a mega-famous name to help them along.

Last month, Lena Dunham released the aforementioned book “Not That Kind of Girl”. It’s entered book charts across Ireland, Britain and America in the top ten. It’s garnered it’s fair share of criticism – from oversharing (not so bad) to slander against a man she claimed sexually assaulted her. Most oddly, she has recently been accused by a right-wing website of child abuse as detailed in her book. She took to Twitter to defend herself and as of November second, has cancelled her European leg of her book tour, presumably to work out what to do next. Whether the abuse allegations will stick or not, only time will tell. What I do know, however, is that this is the final straw. I haven’t watched “Girls” in a long time, but regardless, Dunham peppers my Twitter and Facebook timelines like nobody’s business. There’s no escaping her, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of her faux-feminism, silly comments and incessant fame mongering. If there’s an add-on that allows me to blacklist her name, do let me know. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show: article

It’s spooky movie season but for some of us, though, scary movies are just too much. I, for one, am still not over a particularly harrowing screening of a made-for-TV horror called Beneath back in 2009. So, for the faint-hearted out there, know that you are not alone, and there are plenty of films suitable for viewing if you choose to do a Hallowe’en movie night. For me, however, there is only one film worth viewing next Friday evening, surrounded by popcorn, toffee apples and overly sugared Hallowe’en sweets. The Rocky Horror  Picture Show.
My love for “Rocky Horror” started several years ago, when I learned “The Time Warp” dance at summer camp. On a whim that summer, I bought a DVD copy of the 1970’s cult classic, and a mild obsession was born. It has all the elements of what I love in a film: it’s comedic in a sarcastic sort of way, it holds just enough tension in its plot to keep you hooked, it’s got songs, and it’s stark raving mad. My sixteen year old self was utterly captivated by the sordid household of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Having grown up on a diet of Disney films and rom-coms, this was an eye-opener for me. When the stage version came to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in 2010, I missed my opportunity to go, and I’ve been kicking myself since. Last year I attended a group screening of the film in college, complete with props to throw at the screen and sing-alongs. This year, I may well organise my own late screening and slices of toast to throw around.

            What makes Rocky Horror so unique? Made in the late 1970’s, the film stars Tim Curry in women’s clothing, for a start. It’s a loving, ridiculous ode to the B-movie classics of the decades before it, revelling in silly plot twists, over-theatrical dialogue and casual corruption of its innocent protagonists. It’s a melting pot of every clichéd horror film you’ve ever seen: mad scientists, aliens and monsters abound. It makes no apologies for this; the opening theme literally references a dozen schlocky horrors from the 1950’s “at the late night/double feature/picture show”.  Take all this and add to it a singing British transvestite, Meatloaf, more than a little sexual tension and some of the finest songs ever written for a musical, and you’ve got what should be a mess. What makes “the strangest film phenomenon in history” work is its sense of inclusion – it’s no coincidence that the film is revered among the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a film about social exclusion; a seemingly normal couple are dropped into the crazy world of the Transylvanians, where, it seems, anything goes. It’s a film, ultimately, about liberation from a repressive society. It’s a film that encourages you to “don’t dream it, be it”. An awesome message and a deadly soundtrack? Sure what else would you be watching this Hallowe’en night? 

A students' guide to Paris: article

Generally, life as a student means a fair bit of free time, and we’re (usually) at the perfect age for some adventure. J1-ing and interrailing are commonly taken up by students in their second, third and final years of college, but for some of us, they are just slightly out of our price range. I am one such student – though I do still manage to travel quite a bit. I’m recently back from a  week in Paris, which is generally considered to be one of the world’s most expensive cities, but IS easy enough to do on a budget…provided you accept that you won’t be eating in too many famous French restaurants!
Accommodation – For students, hotels in Paris are out of the question. From extensive Googling, I discovered that it’s impossible to find anything less for about one hundred euro a night…so what alternatives are there? Paris has a thriving hostel culture, with many situated right in the heart of the city. These offer dorms for next to nothing per head, and private rooms (for those on romantic breaks!) for about thirty five. Not feeling the idea of a hostel? I love Airbnb, a service which allows homeowners to rent out their spare rooms or apartments to holidaymakers. The upside of Airbnb is the option to self-cater, and it’s often much cheaper (and nicer!) than a hostel. Keep an eye on reviews on TripAdvisor, Airbnb itself and places like hostelbookers.com -- it’s well worth it!
Food – eating will be the dearest part of the Parisian experience. Go to a supermarket and stock up, and stick to set menus and early birds if you’re eating out. Many restaurants in the city are expensive – but lunch is generally reasonable. So if you want to get a meal out, make it lunch and stick a pot of spaghetti on if you can at home! If not, go for pizza and pasta places, as many restaurants expect you to order a three course meal. Coffee, much as it is part of the French experience, is deathly expensive, especially if you want milk, as I discovered to my horror…
Sightseeing – for members of the EU under 26, many of the most interesting Parisian experiences are free, or heavily discounted. The Louvre, Invalides museum and Versailles are all free, as well as many other museums around the city. Places like the catacombs and the Monteparnasse and Eiffel towers are heavily discounted. So keep your Garda ID or passport on you at all times! In terms of other discounts, bus tours around the city are very expensive, around 30 euro for a one day ticket. However, it’s about 35 for a two day one, so if you’re keen on bus tours, it’s much better value to buy a two day one! For those of you less enamoured with them but still desirous to see the city, boat tours are about ten euro for those under 25. You won’t get the same views, but who’s going to turn down a guided river cruise on the Seine for a tenner?!
Getting around – Paris relies pretty heavily on the metro, an underground transport system. It’s pretty good value for money – a single trip will set you back the princely sum of €1.70. However, for a 3 day pass, it’s about twenty five euro – perfect if you want to explore the city quickly and easily. The tickets are consecutive but they’re valid for the first three Parisian “zones”, where the vast majority of the tourist attractions are. Definitely worth it, the metro is fast, reliable and goes literally everywhere. And it’s so much more exotic than the bus!

These are just a few starter ideas for how to do Paris on a budget. Got any more tips? Give us a shout below! 

Brushing up on the politics of makeup: article

Like a lot of people my age, I wear makeup. And like a lot of people my age, I have a complicated relationship with my face. You know that Sylvia Plath poem, “Mirror”, where she examines her face in a lake, “searching the reaches for what she really is”? Yeah, same, but instead of a lake, I have a dusty Ikea thing that tends to fall off my dressing-table late at night. It may sound narcissistic, but I spend a lot of time looking into the mirror – are my eyebrows wonky? Is one eye bigger than another? IS THAT A HAIR ON MY UPPER LIP? The struggle to be pretty usually involves getting up much earlier than my flatmate and setting to work on my pale, blotchy, tired-looking visage.
But now, the caveat to the expected rant about how “pretty hurts”: I LOVE makeup. I love matt foundation, blacker-than-black eyeliner flicks, red lipstick, pink lipstick... ok, any lipstick really. I love applying makeup and turning myself into someone glamorous and high powered. When I do my makeup properly, I like to think I give out serious “This lipstick was eighteen euro, don’t mess with me!” vibes. So it’s a complicated relationship I have with something that is, of course, an instrument of patriarchy -- a billion-dollar industry that thrives on insecurity. The roots of the cosmetics industry are steeped in sexism; when we are told a new eyebrow pencil is a “must have”, the implication is that our own eyebrows are unseemly and somehow wrong. So we buy into this; of course we do. I buy into it too - but not comfortably.
I’m not sure how many people share my feelings – for many people, it is simply a part of their daily lives to varying degrees. I have friends whom I’ve never seen without makeup – and friends who look alien-like to me with even a hint of mascara. I’m somewhere in between – there are days where I simply am not bothered with the routine, and head to college bare-faced. But those days are numbered.

The trouble with makeup (aside from the whole capitalist patriarchy thing) is it’s addictive. In my first and second years of college, I regularly barrelled in to class, uncaring that I looked not unlike a zombie. This is, amazingly, de rigeur; recent campaigns for girls to “go natural” can be seen flying around Facebook every so often, from the #NoMakeupSelfie to Lydia Bright’s recently launched campaign. We are bombarded with article about how young women are ruining their skin/self-esteem/chance to find a man by wearing too much makeup. It’s confusing enough: makeup is bad…but not-makeup is also bad? After much consideration, I have decided that I don’t care.  And I believe we, as a society, shouldn’t care who “applies their makeup with a trowel” or who doesn’t know which end of an eyeliner pen is up. God forbid a woman should do something to make her feel good about herself… It’s not a key issue in feminist discourse, but all the same, it’s important to remember the positive impact make-up has on women’s self-worth. Yes, it stems from patriarchy and YES, it’s an evil global industry. But is your mascara-obsessed friend going to listen to this? Nope, because she likes looking awake at 9am. Am I harming my chances of the ride because I ignore the “lips or eyes” rule? Possibly: but I’d rather not be involved with someone that shallow anyway. While I’m uncomfortable with the background and reasoning behind the cosmetics industry, I nonetheless will continue to reach for my powder and eyeliner each morning: because it feels good, dammit.