Hey Girls! The non-inclusive, yet completely ‘feminist’ sanitary product brand

After only recently coming across the ‘Hey Girl’ moon cups and sanitary pads in my local Co-op, I have been hit with many questions as what to this brand was trying to represent. Their biodegradable packing chips and ‘Buy One Give One’ policy connotes a ‘woke’ brand for the Gen Z market, yet their name ‘Hey girls’ suggests anything but. Any Gen Z sanitary supply consumer can you tell you one thing about menstruating… it’s not just women that do it.

We are living in a world of transexual and non-binary uprising, where it is important to accept people in any way that they want to. So, imagine a young non-binary person’s heart sink when they enter the supermarket, looking for an instrument to curb their heavy flow, to be faced with a cardboard wall deeming their needs as feminine and girly.

Of course, Hey Girls mission is commendable, having donated over 13 million products to young people in need of sanitary protection, they are doing something that many of us who menstruate appreciate. Yet, by including girls and young women in period poverty, they are actively excluding a portion of their market.

Their ‘About us’ page clearly articulates their message, claiming that they “know that you girls and young women are all powerful individuals” and that “all the profits from our Buy One Give One products go directly to help girls and young women in need”.

Their message here couldn’t be any more obvious to me. They are here for the girls and the girls only. Screw the transgender men who still menstruate and screw those who don’t feel comfortable labelling themselves as a “girl” or “young woman”.

Their blatant exclusivity begs a few questions their customer base should consider. Would they refuse to help a poverty-stricken transgender man? Would they turn him away due to their mantra of helping “girls and young women”? Honestly, after scrolling through their website and hitting a jackpot for every mention of “girl” and “woman” I wouldn’t put it past them.

When asked why they are doing what they do, they said that they believe access to menstrual products is a right, not a privilege. So, I’m here asking them, why are you acting like it is?  

Instagram is shadow banning sex positive content and it’s not okay

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Originally written for Quench magazine

Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning and ghost banning, has been around since the 1980’s and is used to block comments and posts by certain users. Recently on Instagram, many accounts that use the platform for sex work and education have found their accounts have been shadow banned, limiting their reach and customer base. Despite the fact that this shadow banned content isn’t violating community guidelines, it’s deemed as “inappropriate” enough to be given a limited viewing due to its “sexually suggestive” nature. Users aren’t usually informed when their content is being limited, causing feelings of confusion and hurt when their posts generate no engagement.

Instagram refuse to comment on their explicit reasoning behind the blocks, making it even more of a struggle for sex workers to adapt their work to prevent shadow banning and still cater to their audience and business needs. The rules appear so vague and blurred, making us question; how do they differentiate between women in lingerie, or women in bikinis and even fitness models? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Savage x Fenty and other lingerie adverts containing scantily clad women on my Instagram, so what’s the difference between that and an exotic dancer promoting their stripping businesses?

So many people from all walks of life and all different professions rely on Instagram to promote their business and make money. From selling art to books, t shirts to cakes, there’s a lot of money circulating the social media app, and they are all supporting small businesses in the same way. Who should get the vote on which businesses are more important and which entrepreneurs have more right to gain engagements and sales?

Annie Brown is a digital marketer and feminist activist who is working to transform ‘Lips’, her sex positive magazine, into a social media site where users can feely embrace their sexuality. However, she has faced a lot of challenges on Instagram due to posts being deleted and demoted within the algorithm. She says that “Bots can’t tell the difference between erotic art and pornography. So now with Instagram [demoting] ‘suggestive’ content, they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t care if it’s art, we don’t care if it’s activism, we don’t care if it’s self-expression.’”

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

This provides a really important insight from inside the industry as we can get to the bottom of the fundamental issues. The Instagram of ‘Lips’ is full of liberating posts from members of all communities, educating and empowering sexuality and it is important for young people to witness and learn from this empowerment in a positive way. The site also provides a form of education that gets missed in the general school curriculum, especially surrounding topics regarding LGBTQ+ sexuality. Due to the increasing number of dangerous and harmful sex information circulating various corners of the internet, it is even more important to provide good, trustworthy and educational sites, presenting young people with the full picture after a limited school education.

In September of 2020, an Instagram account for ‘School of sexuality education’ claimed that they were deactivated with no explanation other than that they didn’t follow “Community Guidelines” and that “sexually suggestive content isn’t allowed on Instagram”. These actions and allegations are against an account that prides itself on its fun, educational tone and anatomically correct language. They carry out vital education on a wide range of nitty gritty sexual topics that schools shy away from. For example, their Instagram is littered with reminders about consent, offering free resources and pointers for help. They offer a diagram entitled ‘3 ways to make inserting a tampon easier’ along with pro discharge and masturbation paraphernalia. These are vital lessons and reminders for all generations, especially those who missed out on a well-rounded sex education at school. It’s important for Instagram to distinguish between these sites and the negative ones, as they risk doing more damage than good.

The algorithms are catering against sex work and sex education and its harm is widespread. Whilst sex workers are unable to increase their customer base or sell their products, vulnerable people are being blocked from accessing the information they need. By taking away and blocking these accounts, many will remain unaware of the pleasures of sex, whilst members of the LGBTQ+ community will find it harder to access safe, informative accounts. It’s such an important issue and there is no question that Instagram needs to step up and address this in order to avoid any negative repercussions that they are inadvertently responsible for.

The History of Gay bars and Their story of liberation

Gay bars have always served as a central pillar to the LGBTQ+ community and have always taken their place as one of the few spots where the community could truly express themselves. Unsurprisingly, evidence of gay bars dates all the way back to the 18th century, but the first ‘official’ gay bar is assumed to be ‘The Zanzibar’ in Cannes, France, opening in 1885 and running for 125 years until it recently closed. Europe was at the heart of gay culture in the 19th century with Paris being known as a ‘queer capital’ along with other European cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin and London.

“Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace”

We can get a feel for underground gay bars and clubs throughout the Victorian period as literature often gives us an idea of what the scene was like and how it has adapted. For example, London’s Soho was always synonymous with underground gay culture, acting as a basis for the dark deeds in gothic works such as ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’. Oscar Wilde himself was well known to frequent Soho and he was made liable for his actions when he was arrested for ‘sodomy’ and gross indecency’. However, less than a century later, there was a real shift when homosexuality was decriminalized, and Soho was able to become a firmly established gay capital allowing the community to party in peace.

All over the world, underground gay bars sprung up and despite being widespread, they all contained the same values and were carried in the hearts of the entire community. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 and the decriminalization in the US spanned from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s, resulting in underground gay bars acting as the only place to experience liberation and freedom. Visiting the bars were always a high-risk activity and those who attended faced the danger of public humiliation and loss of jobs, friends and family. This goes to show how important and liberating these bars were due to the risks that people were willing to take in order to express themselves.

“They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves”

One of the most notable events for the US’s LGBTQ+ community was during the sexual liberation of the late 1960’s and the pivotal point of the Stonewall riots. After the police raided Stonewall Inn, a series of aggressive and violent riots were sparked in order to combat and demolish police brutality. They felt like their only safe haven had been forcibly penetrated and that it was time to create places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could freely meet up and be themselves. The lack of justice they had experienced had forced them to grow a thick skin so many of them were ready to fight for their freedom with violence, and eventually, they reached success.

For the community, the bars were not only places to feel liberated, they also became places to mourn and grieve. The AIDS pandemic of the 80’s devastated the world, but specifically the LGBTQ+ community, and their communal spaces became unique in that they were able to talk to people who felt the same anxieties and pain. The clubs became places for songs to be sung, dances to be performed, interviews to be held and money raised, all in aid of the AIDS crisis.

“Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend”

Despite all the progress that was made over the decades, from the illegal clubs to the legalization of homosexuality, the community still faces devastating blows. The 2016 Orlando shooting in Florida was an event that rocked the entire gay community and it originated at the heart of their club scene. The clubs, despite being their safe space, had been invaded and friends had been lost. Friends and family of the victims compared the attack to the invasion of a church or sacred space, and that truly expresses what these institutions represent for those who attend.

These bars are the bloodline of the community and have been for centuries. Even through times of need, they have been institutions where they can get together, laugh, cry and express themselves. The bars will continue to evolve and change with the times but their values and their meanings will remain the same. After all, everyone needs a room of one’s own.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 3

The literary blurred lines of an interracial relationship

Interracial relationships have frequently been depicted in forms of literature and film such as the ground-breaking Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by Stanley Kramer and, more recently, Jordan Peele’s Get Out. These relationships have always varied in their presentation, but, due to the societal basis of slavery, Butler and Ward’s fictional relationships depict the fine line of slavery within an interracial relationship.

Whilst Dana and Kevin’s relationship is a loving one, a certain power struggle exists. When Kevin proposes he says, ‘I’d let you type all my manuscripts’ and shows clear annoyance and anger when Dana is reluctant. This is an interesting detail for Butler to choose to include, as, due to lack of relevance to the plot, it is clearly significant for another reason. She is depicting an imbalance in the relationship and presents the assumption from the white male that the black female will do what he says and be happy to do so. Butler takes this further as she draws comparisons to Rufus as he asks Dana to write letters for him as well, blurring the lines between slave master and husband.

One of Dana’s initial time travelling escapades ends with her in a violent situation when a white guard nearly rapes her. Butler distorts Dana’s transition from 18th century to 19th century as she opens her eyes and sees ‘a blurred face above [her] – the face of a man – and [she] panicked’. It takes her a few seconds to realise the man above her is no longer the attacker, but her husband. This highlights the similarities between the two white faces and the possibility of Kevin as the threat, reminding us that this was the expected relationship between a white man and black woman.

Damien Duffy and John Jennings take this idea further in their graphic adaptation of Kindred with the comparison of the two men in their illustrations.

The two images are screenshots taken from Damien Duffy and John Jennings 2017 graphic novel adaptation of Kindred.

Looking at these images we can see distinct similarities. Both men are white with similar hairstyles and rolled up sleeves. The positions of their bodies on top of Dana’s with the angle looking in from the right side along with their comparable features allows us to see the men as the same. It questions our interpretation of their relationship and the grounds in which it is based. Equally it draws attention to their respective ancestors and the class divide in the 18th century society, blurring the lines of their interracial relationship.

The secondary interracial relationship in Kindred is between Alice and Rufus, which is based on slavery and force. Guy Mark Foster writes that ‘My point is that critical analyses of the novel that center the historical narrative of interracial rape, represented by Rufus and Alice’s forced relations, do so at the expense of marginalizing the narrative of consensual interracial desire, represented by Dana and Kevin’s marriage’. Yet, due to the constant similarities and parallels, I believe Butler’s intention was to marginalise interracial desire and draw attention to the fundamental societal issues.

Not only is Kevin compared to the white patriarchal figures, but Dana and Alice are constantly described as sisters with their similar appearance and personality. Equally, they are both favoured by Rufus and given leeway in their behaviour. Rufus even concludes their interchangeability when Alice dies and he attempts to bed Dana instead. The distorted lines between characters work together to blur the interracial relationships and shape the aesthetic in a more traditional way. It depicts slavery as deeply rooted within the societal norms and an inescapable thing that manifests itself in all aspects of modern American life.

In less explicit terms, Jesmyn Ward highlights a level of oppression and slavery in Leonie and Michael’s relationship. On one level, the African American Leonie is emotionally enslaved to her white partner, to an extent that is reminiscent of master – slave. When it’s her son’s birthday, the phone rings. Even though she is holding her son’s cake and he’s about to blow out the candles, she exclaims that it, ‘Might be Michael’ and runs off with the cake in hand. Ward has painted Leonie as a character who would drop anything for her partner, he is constantly on her mind, above anything else, including her duty as a mother. After her mother’s death, when her father is left caring for her two children, she leaves with Michael, with no regard for how her family are coping without her mother. She follows Michael round like he is her master as Ward depicts the hold a white man can still have over a black woman.

Equally, I found the incident with the policeman on their way back from Parchman to hold a similar level of significance with regard to white/black relationships. Nicole Dib writes that, ‘she, as the black woman, had to literally consume the risk that she, her white friend, and her white male partner all took’. In a situation in which a group of three were responsible, Leonie must physically consume the evidence as an act of duty towards her white counterparts. She ends up violently sick and severely affected by her actions whilst Michael and Misty remain unscathed. Not only does this incident represent a blurring of the boundaries in interracial relationships, but also illustrates the cultural lag. African Americans are behind white people in terms of societal rights and police treatment due to the inheritance they have gained from the time of slavery.

Jesmyn Ward and Octavia Butler have both seemingly worked with the established aesthetic tradition of slavery within literature to employ its relevance in society today. The use of modern-day slavery in both exaggerated and realistic terms has formed a stable sense of the injustice faced by African Americans in contemporary America. The references to the Middle Passage and works by Frederick Douglas both serve to highlight the lack of progress and the necessity to inform through the use of literature.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 2

The hand me down life

It is written in Michael Hanchard’s essay on Afro-modernity that ‘Legalized segregation, the maintenance of separate and largely unequal institutions, meant that blacks, as a consequence of prejudicial treatment, received health care, education, police protection, transportation, and a host of other services only after those same services were provided for whites’. This was a prominent issue that followed the emancipation of slavery as, the prejudices against African Americans were still extremely prevalent. In turn, the delayed access to education, health care etc, created a cultural lag which largely affected the black community and their progress in society.

Frederick Douglas wrote in his work on ‘The Color Line’ that, ‘He has ceased to be the slave of an individual, but has in some sense become the slave of society’. Despite this being written in 1881, this idea of being enslaved to society has persisted well into the words of Hanchard over a century later. The African American community was forced into the cultural lag through societal structure, with no choice to remain there, resulting in their lives continuing on an eerily similar path to their ancestors who were explicitly enslaved.

I can easily transfer this idea of the cultural lag to Sing, Unburied, Sing due to the lack of justice that Ward has depicted throughout her use of young, black male characters. The ghostly figure of Given is narrated to life to by his sister Leonie and the reader learns about his tragic fate. As a young aspiring athlete, he was deemed to have a bright future due to his talented football playing. Yet, due to the cultural lag and unequal opportunities of society, he was unable to excel and reach his full potential. His father said to him, ‘they look at you and see difference son. Don’t matter what you see. It’s about what they do’. There is a clear outline of a black and white dichotomy with an explicit reference to the imbalance of power and the effect that Given’s white counterparts could have on his livelihood. Given ends up being murdered by a white boy when they are out hunting together simply because of Given’s superior hunting technique. The murderer exclaims to his family that, ‘He was supposed to lose, Pa’. His uncle scolds him and says, ‘This aint the old days’ yet, his white skin and links to the Sheriff’s office results in a quick three-year sentence, barely enough time to affect his future. Despite his uncle’s claim that, ‘This aint the old days’, there is a clear cultural lag in the treatment that African American’s receive in the criminal justice system. Maybe society hasn’t moved on since the old days after all.

In 1881, Douglas wrote that ‘They are negroes – and that is enough, in the eye of this unreasoning prejudice, to justify indignity and violence. In nearly every department of American life they are confronted by this insidious influence’. This is clearly a tradition established early on when writing the African American experience and Ward has made no effort to work against this or argue that there has been any significant change. Ward’s character Given excelled, yet the cultural lag in society didn’t allow him to move forward with his talents and overtake his white counterparts. In the eyes of the law and his white friends, he was just a ‘[negro]’ which was enough to ‘justify indignity and violence’.

It can be argued that the events I have just outlined were based on the second-generation characters and therefore less relevant to the modern day yet, Jojo’s experiences with the police highlight the relentless significance of the cultural lag. When stopped by the police on their Middle Passage, the ghostly figure of Richie warns Jojo that ‘They going to chain you’. This character is two generations older and due to the perceived societal progression in the black/white dichotomy, it wouldn’t be far fetched to assume he is out of touch with the police force. However, Jojo goes on to being treated by the police in the way that was predicted. Nicole Dib wrote that ‘Richie’s disquieting statement and the distressing action his body takes in the car signals the carceral anxiety that haunts him, even as a ghost’. Yet, I believe that the distress is less about his past experiences, and more about the fact that this is still a concern for African Americans. Richie is the voice of the past that is shocked and uncomfortable that modern day children are forced to endure his previous experiences, which ultimately exacerbates Ward’s intentions.

The cultural lag is highlighted not only by these similarities, but by Jojo being singled out by the police officer. The young boy is surrounded by adults, including a much older white man, yet the black child is the person whom the police officer sees as a threat worthy of arming himself. This pays homage to the endless number of black drivers who have been shot and killed on the road such as Sandra Bland. It’s important to note that Octavia Butler expressed a similar cultural lag in her comparisons of 19th century and 20th century North America. Whilst the Antebellum South depicts unimaginable extremities, Butler makes sure she presents her modern-day world as unjust. A co-worker refers to the couple as ‘chocolate and vanilla porn’, whilst Kevin’s sister said she ‘wouldn’t have [Dana] in her house – or [Kevin] either if [he] married [her]’. These examples span across different levels of extreme whilst one expresses a lower-level prejudice, one depicts a more violent level of racism and cultural lag. The colour of Dana’s skin prevents her from marrying freely and being accepted by her partner’s family. This is not dissimilar to the way the couple are treated in the 1800s as she is assumed his slave. As stated by Douglas, ‘They are negroes – and that is enough’.

How deep are the roots of slavery in Kindred and Sing, Unburied, Sing? Part 1

The African American inheritance

Kindred, a novel ‘which strikingly reimagined the neo-slave narrative genre’ managed to accurately depict the modern-day entanglement with slavery that African American’s are forced to endure daily. Gabrielle Bellot wrote that, ‘Time heals, but also hurts; the past is indeed a different country, but less so than we may think’ and I believe that this not only accurately summarises Butler’s intentions throughout her 1979 novel Kindred, but Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. The roots of slavery are deeply anchored within these modern-day depictions of Northern America providing apt argument for the past as less of a different country than we may think.

The narrative of Kindred follows the modern African American character, Dana, on her journey as she is forced back in time to the Antebellum South to protect her bloodline. In the initial stages of the novel, we witness her experiencing the enslaved and oppressed life of a black woman during the 1800s. When attacked, Butler channels the thought process of Dana writing that, ‘Now I would be sold into slavery because I didn’t have the stomach to defend myself in the most effective way. Slavery! And there was a more immediate threat’. Despite being a free, working, married woman from the 1970s, she is suddenly facing the serious reality of enslavement. Dana puts the threat of slavery to the background, naming it as the least immediate threat. I believe this nonchalance is extremely telling of the established aesthetic of slavery in the modern-day society. James Baldwin wrote that, ‘the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon’ and Butler has materialised this through her novel, as she makes it clear that not only is slavery a reality that Dana must accept, it’s also a reality that she is less fazed by. Butler’s impression of insouciance from Dana illustrates the strong hold that slavery has on her character and its ability to casually resurface.

The prologue and epilogue depict the incident in which Dana, returning from her last trip, finds her arm caught in the wall. Despite assuming she would be safe from the tribulations of 19th century Maryland, she finds herself ‘caught somehow’ as she is stuck, between 19th century and 20th century. For many African Americans, it is confusing how, over a century later, they are still affected and ‘caught’ in the time of slavery despite the progress that has been preached in society. The loss of Dana’s arm depicts the physical and mental scarring that is left and has remained. Butler chooses to insert a scene where Kevin and Dana are at home and the radio station begins to report on rioting and battles between white supremacist police and black residents in South Africa. Both these examples emphasis the lack of progress and illustrate the scarring left behind. We are starkly exposed to the explicit realisation of the parallels of 19th century and the 1970s as we understand Butler’s intentions to depict the modern day’s entanglement with the past.

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing depicts the substantial roots of slavery in a less explicit and more metaphorical way. The narrative is littered with inequality and injustice, yet the entire middle section of the novel, narrated by the characters as the journey to and from Parchman Farm, is representative of the infamous Middle Passage. Nicole Dib writes that, ‘Ward’s road trip is decidedly haunted, hunted, and policed for black subjects who inhabit the road’. The policed aspect of the road is signified on their way back from Parchman when they encounter a ‘young […] skinny’ police officer who smells of ‘sweat and spice’. Despite their freedom to travel, they are not only stopped but forced to exit the vehicle and explain themselves to a stoned white man at gunpoint. The hypocrisy and policed aspect that is experienced by both the black narrators of Sing, Unburied, Sing begins to paint comparisons to the black travellers along the policed Middle Passage.

In Black Imagination and the Middle Passage, the introductory remarks state that, ‘The injustice and brutality of tight – packing is unquestionable, the suffering and horror experienced by the slaves unimaginable. Add to that image the lack of proper diet, the unhygienic conditions […]’. Whilst reading this depiction of life travelling along the Middle Passage in a slave ship, I can’t help but think of Ward’s portrayal of Jojo’s journey. Like North America, they are on their way to the land of imprisonment. Already extremely squashed into the car, Ward’s introduction of Richie and his choice to ‘fold [himself] and sit on the floor of the car.’ is reminiscent of the ‘tight – packing’ experienced by the slaves. Jojo also experiences the ‘lack of proper diet’ as he quenches his thirst with rainwater when denied a drink from the unforgiving and forceful figures around him. He experiences the life of a convict as he ‘[slides] a pack of saltiness and two bottles of juice [he] stole out of that house into [his] own plastic bag’.

The entire central passage as written by Jesmyn Ward, resonates the time of slavery and implicitly gives the same message as Octavia Butler. They work together to explore the modern-day ties to slavery in African American culture, depicting the similarities and its deep roots. Neither Dana or Jojo has been able to escape the clutches of the past and it has left permanent marks on their lives, either physical or mental. Guy Mark Foster writes that ‘slavery itself is overdetermined within the tradition, since Kindred is not so much about slavery as it is about how black Americans learn to renegotiate the history of slavery within their present-day circumstances’. Although I agree that both novels centre on learning to renegotiate, I believe the most important aspect is the idea of black Americans are being forced to renegotiate due to the prevalence of oppression in modern day society. Dana was literally pulled back in time to the Antebellum South without her being able to express any opposition. Comparatively, Jojo is forced along the journey of the Middle Passage whilst being made to endure hardship despite his young, schoolboy innocence. The lesson of renegotiation is not of choice, it is a lesson that should not have been necessary in the first place.

The Year of the Flood; Dystopia or reality?

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Due to both University reading and personal interest, I’ve found myself delving into the world of dystopian literature more than ever. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has become anew favourite of mine as I found myself flying through its 500 odd pages. Set during a period of biological catastrophe, The Year of the Flood is the second novel in a trilogy based on different angles of this make belief world. However, having not previously read Oryx and Crake, I could only interpret the novel as a standalone piece of fiction.

Reminiscent of Atwood’s own The Handmaid’s Tale and other dystopian novels such as A Clockwork Orange, the plot is packed with sexual violence and oppressive figures. With a page count of over 500 pages long, the two central characters have ample room to breathe, grow and let their personalities seep onto the pages. The reader watches Ren grow from child to adult as the plot forms a feeling of Bildungsroman. Her life is tumultuous and unforgiving as she experiences upper class life, an existence in the Pleeblands, and of course, the agricultural cult, ‘The gardeners’. She is emotional and it’s difficult to remove yourself from her pain as she is abandoned by her parents, loses her friends and suffers through a painstakingly long heartbreak.

Toby is arguably a character residing on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Feared by the children of ‘The Gardeners’, she is an extremely head strong and resourceful character. Orphaned as a teenager, she picks her way through low life jobs whilst forcing herself to make money in less than desirable ways. Her entire narrative is a sad and lonely one, filled with isolation and a lack of love. The moment she finds Ren in the Year 25 (which we were all anticipating) was the first time I felt like she was no longer on her own. Ren and Toby, however oppositional, are the perfect companions. Their mix of experience and their complimentary balance of emotions creates a partnership and level of camaraderie that I believe will continue long into their fictional future. Atwood’s mastery of these characters was sensational. I laughed, I cried, and I felt my heart break along with them. This is one of the few novels that I was mightily disappointed to see the back of.

When it comes to the dystopia genre, one of the most important things to consider is that it is not so much science fiction, but a potential reality. Atwood has always famously said that she does not want her writing to be referred to as science fiction due to her contextual influence’s roots in real life. The Handmaid’s tale famously echoes the Salem Witch trials, Biblical stories, ancient monachal practices and it’s not hard to see similar influences in her other novels. When reading The Year of the Flood I could sense the contextual influences of both feminist and eco critical movements from the worlds past and present. Equally, the corrupt patriarchal forces strongly echoed those we have seen around the world and we are no strangers to religious cults and barbarians.

Reading this novel in today’s climate whilst residing alongside the infamous COVID19 global pandemic, the idea of the ‘waterless flood’ can easily cause a few grimaces and raised eyebrows. Written over a decade ago, the parallels of nose masks and keeping distances from each other in order to protect yourself from germs and unsanitary living, sits uncomfortably on the chest. How many pandemics will we go through before we face an event comparable to the ‘waterless flood’? When will be unable to prevent the population dropping like flies? Atwood’s decision to leave out the key details and explanation into the nature of the disease until halfway through the narrative adds immensely to the unnerving build up of tension and feeling of unknown. The story behind the pandemic begins to slowly unravel as we are drip fed an insight into the nature of the waterless flood, and this does little to put us at ease as we sympathise with the character’s hardships and feel their pain.

One of the more ‘dystopian’ features of The Year of the Flood is the unique blend of original vocabulary that Atwood has created. The literary technique creates a barrier between the reader and the fictional world, removing any feeling of reality. I was quite interested in the inspiration behind the made-up words such as garboil, bimplants, but when breaking the syllables down, its not too difficult to work it out. I still can’t believe it took me nearly half the novel to work out that violet biolets meant toilets! The single changed letter clearly makes all the difference…

Despite Atwood’s rejection of the sci-fi label, the freaky words and animal hybrids (rakunk and bobkitten) does little to veer away from this label. It paints the society as apart from the one we are so familiar with today and slightly removes the possibility of our society facing a similar future. There is a lot we can take away from the novel and its warnings against unnatural experimentation and corrupt government. Atwood almost implements the features of a fable into the narrative with the moral possibly being based on leaving nature and wry science experiments alone. Well, it’s convinced me, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the other two novels in the trilogy.

Time to throw your own 70s dinner party

Photo by Jacob Thomas on Unsplash

The 1970’s, described as a pivot of change in world history, saw post war economic booms, fights for equality and strong movements towards environmental activism. The food was garish and often consisted of layers and show stopping looks. Dinner parties were all the rage, and it was all about who could throw the best get together. Want to have your own 70’s dinner party? Here’s how…

What you’re wearing

If you’re not wearing a pair of bell-bottomed pants, you might find yourself feeling out of place. Combine them with a turtleneck or flower print shirt and you have a completed 70’s look. Alternatively, you might feel more comfortable in a slick Travolta-esque three piece. Picture Saturday night fever, the famous white three piece, an oversized black collar and black boots and you’ve got the look. If you want to accessorise a bit further, you could add some sideburns or a platform shoe.

What you’re listening to

Depending on the crowd, you may be relishing the new rise of punk rock, enjoying bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Ramones. ABBA’s success in the Eurovision song contest in 1974 sparked their long-lasting popularity so maybe this will act as the background of your evening? Or perhaps you’re more of a country fan? Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson for you!

What you’re drinking

If you are going all out with cocktails, you might decide to present your guests with a Tom Collins or a White Russian. A Tom Collins is a simple classic filled with gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and chilled soda, perfect for a classier drink. A White Russian is a lot more exciting and interesting with its popular mixture of vodka, Kahlua and heavy cream. As for the wine, I think many would agree that Mateus Rose, imported from Portugal, was a popular choice. The bulbous, irregular, squat shaped bottle made a perfect centre piece and subsequent vase. A white zinfandel was an equally popular choice for the adults of the 70’s. Packing a similarly sweet and sickly punch to the Mateus Rose, there’s clearly a running theme here.

To snack

Everyone knows that the appetisers and pre-dinner snacks are the most important part of a dinner party as they set the tone of the party and let all of the guests know what they’re in for. The classic bought nibble like foods were undoubtedly twiglets, cheese footballs and salted peanuts. You might try some fancier canapes such as devilled eggs, mushroom vol-au-vents, devils on horseback or some mini baked potato skins. If the nibbles are the name of the game at your dinner party, you might step it up a level with a cheese fondue set. Cheese fondue was all the rage and if you owned a fondue set, you would have been popular. Dipping cubes of food into a pot of melted cheese… what could be better?

To start

It wouldn’t be a 70’s party if you didn’t start with a prawn cocktail. Hopefully you can get your hands on a set of martini glasses to serve them in, if not, wine glasses could be a suitable replacement. Divide the lettuce amongst the glasses and sprinkle over a few pink juicy prawns and season with black pepper. Mix (or buy) a pink sauce and spoon sparingly over the prawns. Dust with a little paprika, sprinkle with a few chives, top with a few extra prawns and serve. Don’t even consider trying to present your guests with a different starter… this is the only way forward.

For the main

There are a few options for the main dish, depending on what you fancy. Casserole type dishes were quite popular at the time, and to spice it up a bit, coq-au-vin or boef bourguignon frequently featured as the centre piece for a 70’s dinner party. Equally, something a little fancier like a salmon en croute or a Duck a l’orange is a suitable choice. You may notice a common theme of foreign names running through all of these dishes and it’s clear that French cooking was the name of the game. The 70’s hosts wanted to impress their guests with their exotic cooking skills, and, if you are throwing your own party, you have to do the same. It was also quite trendy to create a true show stopping centre piece to put in the middle of your dinner table using jelly moulds and elaborate and cohesive lay outs. You can always google 70’s dinner parry showstoppers if you want some garish inspiration.

To finish

There are a few options here but the most notable is the classic, German born, Black Forest gateau. Three layers of rich spongey chocolate cake separated by layers of whipped cream and morello cherries and topped with a chocolate cream and fresh cherries… this is a real crowd pleaser. Equally, you could try a few different examples of traditional 70’s fare such as a Baked Alaska or layered trifle. The main thing is that it has to look impressive to gain you the crown of top party thrower!

An Immersive History Lesson: Touring the Globe

Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

Travelling should not just be about a tan or memories, it should also be integral to your educational journey as you learn about the world’s history and culture. Everyone loves a beach holiday, lazing about in the sun, grabbing a beer or cocktail from the bar, but it’s important to register where you’re holidaying and recognise its rich, diverse heritage and lifestyle, whilst you reap its benefits. It’s easy to fall into the bias of educational travel as something you did on a school trip as you reminisce back on that wet and soggy trip to Ypres or the Berlin war memorial. Although, the vital thing to remember is that educational travel isn’t just about those traditional locations, but also about the culturally diverse corners of South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. There is more to learn from the societal developments across the world than anyone could comprehend or realise, whether it’s learning about an ancient tribe or a large array of incomprehensible animals. These lessons are vital to allow ourselves to grow and widen our knowledge of the world. However, it is of course still very important to take a trip to more educational sites such as Auschwitz or Chernobyl as they have the power to stir up an emotional response and realisation that is impossible when learning about the events in a classroom or detached environment.

The Menin Gate in Ypres Photo by Zieben VH on Unsplash

Visiting Ypres was one of my most memorable high school trips that we undertook when learning about the First World War. Referred to as “Wipers” by British troops, it was home to several battles between British, Canadian, French and German soldiers, including the well-known Battle of Passchendaele. Walking amongst the trenches and bomb craters provided a much more rich and full education of the First World War as it allowed me and my fellow classmates to truly appreciate the gravity of the situation as we came to terms with its reality. The Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing offered an insight into the numerical value of lives lost. I believe that the sea of uniform white graves provided the best and most pertinent history lesson of the magnitude of the World War.

Pripyat, a city associated with the worst nuclear disaster in history, is rapidly becoming a top tourist destination. Located in northern Ukraine, it was home to the Chernobyl disaster, caused by a nuclear accident in 1986 and resulting in an exclusion zone of around 2,600 km2. There are many reasons why you should visit Chernobyl and its educational benefits range from learning about the risks of nuclear power to experiencing a culture that no longer exists. You can walk through a town frozen in time from the Soviet era, witnessing the architecture and getting a sense of the lifestyle that was led in these forgotten times. It is deemed safe to visit despite the historical radiation and you can pay $100 – $500 for guided tours which give you a historical and informative insight. If you’re into dark and educational tourism, this is definitely one for you.

Machu Picchu Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

On a more cultural context, the Inca trail to Machu Picchu can teach a traveller a lot about the 15th century Inca civilisation. The citadel is located in Southern Peru and remained unknown to modern society until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. The Inca trail normally takes about four or five days to complete and a tour guide will be able to educate you on the history of the Incas and their lifestyle and architecture. It’s important to visit sites such as these in order to preserve the history and learn about the grounds in which the modern day is based. Similar to the Ancient Egyptians and their Great Pyramids, Machu Picchu depicts the excellence of those that came before us and all that was achieved in their respective civilisations.

Booby Birds on the Galapagos Islands Photo by Andy Brunner on Unsplash

Conversely, places such as the Galapagos Islands allow an education on flora and fauna that is completely unique. Distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are known for their tortoises, iguanas, lizards, penguins and their 56 species of bird. The wildlife here was made famous by Darwin and his theories of evolution. When visiting you can learn about his theories whilst experiencing the environment in which they were born. Not only is the Galapagos incredible for learning about nature and evolution, the islands are filled with geological features, such as volcanoes, which offers a whole new educational aspect. The limited population of the islands means that the vast majority of the natural elements remain untouched, resulting in the Galapagos being the perfect place to educate yourself on nature and Darwinism.

Whilst all these locations and holiday destinations offer educational benefits in a multitude of areas, you can also weave a lot of fun into your trips. Of course, both the Galapagos and Peru’s Machu Picchu can offer sea and sun, whilst Belgium and Eastern Europe are filled with vibrant cities and nightlife. You can drink and party to your hearts content just about anywhere on the planet, but it’s important to brush up on their unique and individual cultural backgrounds to get a well-rounded and full experience!

Cheers! The 1980’s cocktail trend

Photo by Proriat Hospitality on Unsplash

The 80’s cocktail culture was characterised by sexual innuendo, neon colours, sour mix, Southern Comfort, Baileys, Peach schnapps and glasses that was either huge or tiny. The cocktails were sickly and lurid, adorned with rainbow coloured swizzle sticks and sparklers. Drinking was largely popularised by the American sitcom Cheers, as the 80’s youth followed the lives of the characters as they drank and relaxed in the iconic Boston based bar. The release of Tom Cruise’s Cocktail saw a new insight into the romantic world of cocktail mixing and the art of bartending, fuelling the 80’s love for a fun and sexy drink. My mum fondly remembers her regular haunt, the Covent Garden bar, Rumours, which she believes perfectly characterises the cocktail scene. With its neon purple logos, dark corners, vinyl bonkettes and C-list celebrities, the crowd would be swarming with their pitchers of mai tai and Long Island Iced tea. Many of the iconic cocktails drank in the 80’s were created in the 70’s but they were branded by the 80s consumption and lifestyle. Want to experience the perfect 80s evening? These cocktails will help you get there!

Mai Tai

One of the most famous tiki drinks in the world, this cocktail was famously served in pitchers during the 80’s. The name is said to come from the first person to try this cocktail as they called out “Mai Tai” which means “the best – out of this world” in Tahitian.

  • 1 ½ oz white rum
  • 3/3 oz orange curacao
  • ¾ oz lime juice
  • ½ oz orgeat
  • ½ oz dark rum

Add the white rum, curacao, lime juice and orgeat into a shaker with crushed ice and shake. Pour into a double rocks glass and drizzle the dark rum onto the back of a spoon so it floats on top. Garnish with a wheel of lime and sprig of mint.

Long Island Iced Tea

Born out of Prohibition when thirsty scofflaws wanted to disguise their booze, this Long Island cocktail was an 80’s favourite. As one of the most alcoholic cocktails ever, there is no surprise that the popularity of this drink has lived on.

  • ¾ oz Vodka
  • ¾ oz white rum
  • ¾ oz tequila
  • ¾ oz gin
  • ¾ oz triple sec
  • ¾ oz sugar syrup
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • Coke to top

Add all alcoholic components, sugar syrup and lemon juice to a glass filled with ice and stir. Top up with a splash of coke, garnish with a wedge of lemon and serve with a straw.

Harvey Wallbanger

This luridly coloured cocktail defines the tackiness of the 80’s. Easy to make, it is essentially a fancier version of a classic screwdriver. Drink this cocktail to channel the days of a classic disco.

  • 1 ¼ oz vodka
  • ½ oz Galliano
  • 3 oz orange juice

Fill a tall glass with ice and add the vodka and orange juice followed by a good stir. Float the Galliano on top by pouring on to the back of a spoon and garnish with a skewered orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Slow Comfortable Screw Against The Wall

This is a good summertime cocktail of the 80s. The sexy name can be broken down into parts to represent each ingredient. Slow – sloe gin, Comfortable – Southern Comfort, Screw – Orange juice, The wall – Galliano.

  • 2oz vodka
  • 1oz Sloe gin
  • 1oz Southern Comfort
  • 1oz Galliano
  • 2oz Orange juice

Add the Vodka, Southern Comfort and orange juice to a highball glass filled with ice and stir. Drizzle the Sloe gin around the surface and pour the Galliano onto a spoon so it floats on top. Do not stir.

Between the Sheets

The name of this sexually provocative cocktail accurately depicts the 80’s cocktail culture. This twist on a classic sidecar is a delicious cocktail to try!

  • 1oz Cognac
  • 1oz Triple sec
  • 10z Light rum
  • ¼ oz Fresh lemon juice

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with a scoop of ice and shake, strain into a martini glass and top with an orange peel.

Alabama Slammer

The Alabama Slammer was supposedly born at the University of Alabama and is intended to be slammed back to make a point. Initially created in the 70’s, it was popularised in the 80’s scene with its use of Southern Comfort and Sloe gin. You can shot it, or allow it to mix and blend in a long glass and enjoy all of its flavours.

  • 1oz Southern Comfort
  • 1oz sloe gin
  • 1oz amaretto liquor
  • 2oz orange juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and a scoop of crushed ice. Give it a good shake and strain into a highball glass filled with ice and garnish with a wedge of orange.

The Fuzzy Navel

With the release of Peach Schnapps into the American market in 1984, bartenders were eager to incorporate it into their drinks. With equal parts schnapps to equal parts orange juice, this simple cocktail is a great one for beginners. Propelling peach schnapps into popularity, this questionably named, and luridly coloured cocktail is what the 80’s were all about.

  • 3oz Peach Schnapps
  • 3oz Orange Juice

Pour the Orange Juice and Peach Schnapps into a highball glass filled with ice and top with ice and an orange wheel. Serve and enjoy! Simple and delicious.