Arming the nerd girls – an appreciation post for Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown

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Cinders was conceived as a free online haven for nerd girls. Fandom, the internet and popular culture are our absolute favourite things. And that’s why it upsets us so much to see bullying and toxicity win on platforms that we use to spread our stories and others. So, in the spirit of Hear me Roar Méabh McDonnell decided to share our anger for actresses Millie Bobby Brown and Kelly Marie Tran. 

I was going to call this post ‘In defense of the nerd girls’ but you know what – I’m not writing in their defense. These girls are talented and powerful and shouldn’t need defending. It shouldn’t be any sort of controversial opinion that young women who are hard working, good at their jobs and take the time to be considerate and open online are in the right.

The fact that the last few weeks has seen both Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown driven off of social media, because of the actions of despicable bullies is a truly sad and desperate state of affairs. It is one that reflects the toxic atmospheres that can develop around fandoms. 

As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture (particularly female fandom and pop culture) the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women. 

As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women.

This culture of people – often women – being driven off of the internet because of the place they occupy in an industry that many people take ownership over is so despicable. It is the dark side (pun fully intentional) of fandom that should be at the forefront of our discussions. 

We’ve seen this in gaming, where female gaming reviewers have been victims of cyberbullying. We’ve seen it in reactions to the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. We see it when girls part-take in cosplay and are quizzed about their inherent knowledge of whatever aspect of pop culture they are portraying. 

The fact that we see it time and time again in a community called ‘fandom’ is truly upsetting. Fandom is about celebration. It’s about finding something: a tv show, a movie, a book series, a comic book, a game; that you fall in love with and then finding all of the other people who love it as much as you do. It’s about passion and creativity. 

Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone. It hurts when we see it tarnished by the experiences of some fans and it hurts when we see it tarnished by the actions of so-called ‘fans’ against actresses, producers and reviewers.

Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone. 

It’s also worth noting that it is within fandom that many who find themselves on the fringes in life find a tribe. It is the refuge of those who are often struggling and trying to find something they can hold onto. 

And in finding that community and that shared experience people’s lives can be saved. Fandom is often the thing that shows those of us who felt alone, who felt different, who felt under-represented, that there are others who see us and that we are valued. It’s not just within the shows and books that fandom springs up – but through the creativity and community that those stories inspire. People create art and stories inspired by the things they love and share them with a group who love them too. Fandom is a place of inclusion. 

Or at least it should be. 
This is why it is so very heartbreaking to see self-declared Star Wars ‘fans’ drive the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram. Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, was a ray of sunshine online. She happily invited people into her experience of being a part of one of the world’s biggest franchises – something she did not have to do – and was repaid by bigoted, short-sighted bullies who accused her of tarnishing a series that they saw as something they had ownership of. 

Here is something we are very clear about – fandom is not ownership. It is celebration, it is inspiration and it is community but it is not ownership. No one person can claim to own Star Wars. The same that no one – save maybe JK Rowling, and even that could be argued – owns Harry Potter. They are shared commodities.

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Because of The Last Jedi Kelly Marie Tran is a part of the Star Wars Universe and because of her portrayal of Rose Tico the universe just got a bit more inclusive – something it always should have been but better late than never. She is in that world. I’m looking at her face on a piece of merchandise right now. She’s in. So the idea of her being forced out of a space where she no longer felt free to be herself because they are unaccepting of her – that’s unacceptable. 

As is the awful treatment of Millie Bobby Brown, a 14 year old child who has the difficult experience of growing up in the public eye because of her talent and has bourne it very gracefully. Yet despite this she was chosen as the target of a series of homophobic memes. This is a truly horrible and cowardly way to treat anyone, let alone a child who has always supported LGBT causes. Their actions led her to leave Twitter, a platform she has been vocal on and has been open about her experience as a young actress in Hollywood.

Unfortunately these are the actions of bullies and of cowards. People who are getting a lot louder in this Trumpian nightmare. They hide in groups. They hide behind people they see as powerful. They anonymously torture 14 year olds! Because they think it’s funny. Because they think they have something to prove. Because they are terrified someone will see just how small and insignificant they are. 

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We know this. I hope Millie Bobby Brown knows this. I hope Kelly Marie Tran knows this. But it still doesn’t stop the words from hurting and it doesn’t make the pictures go away. 

Even if they come back to social media – something that I hope they do if it makes them happy – this experience will have always happened for these girls. These bullies will always have been people they had to deal with in a community that these girls did their best to nurture. 

So we can’t undo the past but we can try and fix the future. We can commit to making our own fandoms better. To promote inclusiveness, to celebrate creativity, and to discourage negativity as much as possible. We should respond with acceptance, constructive criticism, and encouragement. We will shout back with our message of inclusiveness and happiness! 

We shouldn’t defend the nerd girls. We should arm them.

Goodness knows we need them now, more than ever.

Hear me Roar! Or, how I learned to deal with my anger at the world

This week we released a new issue of Cinders Magazine, our tenth publication if you can believe it! And in it I had some very strong opinions about today’s society and how I deal with my anger at it.

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‘I am woman hear me roar’ is an anthem, both literally and metaphorically. It originally comes from the song ‘I am woman’ by singer-songwriter Helen Reddy, released in 1971. Since then it has become the calling card of the feminist movement. And given the events of the last year; the revelations, the horrible crimes that have come to light; the general attitude of the world towards women and their bodies: I’d say we need it now more than ever.

THE GLASS ceiling, #Me Too, gender quotas, sexual assault, microagressions. All of these issues affect different women in different ways. All of them make me want to roar at the sky on a daily basis. And among the world’s women, I’m one of the lucky ones. Those of us who were born cis-gendered, heterosexual and white need to accept and acknowledge that among women as a whole, we haxve privilege, and a lot of it. And this doesn’t mean that terrible things can’t happen to us, or that when they do, the trauma of those actions are diminished. But it does mean that we get given a start that is a couple of rungs up the ladder from other women.

We have to work a little less hard to get to the top. And that’s important to be mindful of when we are looking at our lives. Privilege is just that – a gift. It’s not something that other people want to take away from you – it’s something that they wish that they could share in. So it’s our job to constantly ask questions and learn from other women about their truth, about how we can help make a better world for each other. And then we can go on roaring for ourselves and for each other.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have a lot of things that I want to be roaring about, all of the time. Every time I read a story about a girl who has been attacked; when I see hard working women abused for their jobs online; when I see the lengths some women have to go to be taken seriously in the workplace. And that’s just the macro scale. The big things that make my blood boil. There’s the small scale stuff too. The fact that if I pass a bunch of drunken men on a night out, they will make a comment. The fact that I get nervous every time I see a man walking near me when I’m walking back to my car at night.

The fact that if a sexist joke is told in my presence, people think it’s okay because they have prefaced it by saying ‘Now I’m not a sexist but .. .’ The fact that when I mention that I run a feminist pop culture magazine there are so many people that say: ‘Feminism? Isn’t that a bit extreme?’ Or ‘Are you just jumping on the bandwagon?’ Or ‘Oh, well I wouldn’t know anything about that, I don’t think I’d be interested in it.’ Sigh. I get angry and frustrated by the world around me all of the time. It boils up into a white hot ball, burns up inside and ends up hurting precisely one person: me.

Creativity is the best thing I’ve ever found for dealing with my own anger with the world.

Because those of you out there who are introverts know: inside anger doesn’t do us any good. And unfortunately for us, we’re not great at expressing outside anger all that well. I’ve tried all of the big things. I’ve tried breaking things. I’ve tried meditating at things. I’ve tried to ignore things. None of it works. None of it makes the white boiling ball go away. The only thing that I’ve ever found to be in any way effective is not breaking things, but making them instead. Creativity is the best thing I’ve ever found for dealing with my own anger with the world. I write a poem about my anger. I play my piano as hard as I can, hitting all of the keys too forcefully. I draw a picture with heavy black lines to emphasise what I’m feeling course through me.

I write a story about a girl who is stronger than the world around her. I make a short film about the pressures and anxieties that I deal with. I create a feminist pop culture magazine. In short, I roar. I roar with music and with art and with writing. I roar in a way that my brain will allow me to, in a way that I never regret, feel guilty or embarrassed about. I think it’s because making things doesn’t mean you have to stop being angry. You have to stay angry. The anger is in the thing I’ve created. And if it’s something permanent, then my anger is permanent too. And that’s the biggest relief there is. Because I’m able to put my anger into something constructive, into something new, I can walk away from it. I’ve thrown the big white boiling ball out of me and into something new. And it might not be great, it might not even be good. But it’s no longer in me, and that’s the important thing. I plan on staying angry, and I’ll keep on roaring for as long as I keep on creating. Because I am woman, and they will hear me roar.

Photograph of the author by Martin McDonnell.

Re-reading Ursula Le Guin

Cinders Editor Méabh McDonnell can list five books that changed her life, Ursula Le Guin’s Very Far Away from Anywhere Else is one of them. To mark  Ursula K. Le Guin’s death earlier this year, she talks about how her books affected her. 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Those are the words of the late, great, Ursula K. Le Guin, a writer of fantasy, science fiction, brilliant short stories, and one of my favourite books of all time.  She wrote more than 20 novels, over 100 short stories, collections of poetry and was an all-round literary master. She was a wife, a mother, a feminist and a very wise person. She died in January at the age of 88 and is someone who will be remembered for a long time. I’m not going to eulogise Le Guin here because there are many people who have done the job better and more articulately than I can. Since I never knew her, I can’t say that I will miss her, but what I will miss is knowing that she’s somewhere out there in the world.

And I’ll miss knowing that there are new places for the worlds she has written to go.

I first discovered Ursula Le Guin’s writing when I was about 14 and read The Wizard of Earthsea, the first in her novels about fictional land of Earthsea,  where wizards wield incredible power both for good and ill. I was fresh from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and going through what I now refer to as my ‘High Fantasy phase’. If it had a poorly painted figure glowing on the cover, and was over 300 pages long, then I was all over it. Le Guin’s wizard Sparrowhawk – whose true name is Ged – was one of the first of those I encountered. Reading her books – although aimed at teenagers – felt like reading something ‘for adults’.

Le Guin doesn’t talk down to her readers or treat them like they aren’t smart enough to understand her writing. She trusts, and delves into the depths of story with us. Just like Ged has to delve deep to discover his talent as a wizard, so have we. I continued them with the Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu (which are both excellent).

Reading this tiny book – just barely longer than a short story – changed me. It changed my outlook on life and my perspective on where I wanted to be in the world, and how my own feelings might be too much for me to understand right now. 

Earthsea gave me a fantasy that was rich but was also filled with flawed people. Ged and Tenar are by no means perfect, they struggle with doing the right thing and they both commit atrocities because of the power that is given over to them. But Le Guin shows us that this is how we learn. Earthsea places great power on education and learning from mistakes.

Earthsea was a story that woke me up to what great fantasy could be, and gave me an interest in fantasy that is clever and complex has stayed with me ever since. I returned to Le Guin with her fantasy series The Annals of the Western Shore, Gifts, and in it found a wonderful story about power, restricting oneself from power, and the tragedy of not living up to our parents expectations. The series continues with Voices and Powers, two stories which examine religion, power and it’s place in society and is one I’ve found wandering back into my reading list over the years.

But, despite thinking that and finding other people difficult, Owen and Natalie somehow manage to figure each other out. They become friends, and then Owen wants to be more and Natalie doesn’t – or rather she doesn’t want to rush into the intensity of a relationship. Owen then goes off the rails – because he’s a teenager and that’s what they’re want to do when they don’t understand how they feel. Owen’s reaction is by no means a good one – but it feels like a realistic one.

Owen and Natalie find themselves going back and forth between each other because even though they don’t know how to deal with anything else in their lives – they know how to deal with each other. And it gives us one of my very favourite lines in all of literature to prove this:

“See, I don’t understand how you play the piano. But when you play it, I hear the music.”

I was on the high mountain with a friend. There is nothing, there is nothing that beats that. If it never happens again in my life, still I can say I was there once.”

Le Guin doesn’t talk down to Owen and Natalie, she treats what they are going through as something legitimate and real.  I have never identified with characters so much. As a teenager I felt like I didn’t know anyone like me – but thanks to books like Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, I knew those people were out there. I just hadn’t met them yet. It’s  88 pages of hope and it is still one of my very favourite novels. I’ll always be grateful for that.

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Thanks to Ursula Le Guin I felt a little less lonely on bad days. And that means so much more now that I’m not lonely anymore.

“I was on the high mountain with a friend. There is nothing, there is nothing that beats that. If it never happens again in my life, still I can say I was there once.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Photographs Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch and  Euan Monaghan/Structo

 

More than true – how fairytales defined me

For Cinders Editor Méabh McDonnell, few things have been more influential in her life than her love of fairytales. Here, she looks at why the stories she heard as a child became lodestones for her as and adult, inspiring and empowering her along the way.

 

A boy and a girl, a glass slipper, and a poison apple, a witch and a king, a curse and a ‘happily ever after’. Everything it takes for the perfect story. But is it really that simple? Is a few well worn ingredients all that it takes to capture our hearts and take these simple stories from childhood to adulthood?

It would certainly seem so. From Disney to sci-fi, fairytales are the stories that follow us around from our earliest bedtimes to modern day adaptations. They are the stories we learn the magic words from: once upon a time… far, far away…and happily ever after.

Everyone has their own relationship with fairytales. For me, fairytales carved me out and spun me into life. They are the first stories that I ever fell in love with.

Fairytales were an ever-present constant throughout my childhood. From the books that my parents would read to me at bedtime, to the movies that I flocked to growing up.

What child of the 90s didn’t have an animated heroine that she secretly hoped to grow up to be?

Fairytales have permeated the soft core inside me, being the first stories that I read on my own. Fairytales represented independence, something I could do by myself. They also represented the kinds of stories I have always loved most, ones that are steeped in imagination. Give me a pumpkin carriage, a cursed spinning wheel and a pair of shoes that will never stop dancing  over gritty reality any day.

I didn’t know the difference between Hans Christen Andersen and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as a child but looking back on the stories, Hans Christen Andersen’s were the ones that appealed to me most. The Tinderbox, The Princess and the Pea and most of all, The Snow Queen, captured my imagination and took me by the hand into another world.

Gerda boldly setting off into the dark to save Kai has  always captivated my secretly adventurous heart. The knives that torture the poor little mermaid’s feet,  were images that stuck with me and followed me around. I can still hear the descriptions of the dogs with ‘eyes as big as saucers’ and the lock of hair the goose girl’s mother gave her before she left home. These are stories that stick like glue and don’t let go.

As I grew older, my interest in fairytales grew stronger. I was fascinated by the scope of the different stories, of their many variations present throughout multiple cultures. I love that you can find the core tales of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast throughout the world, with different beauties, different beasts and other princes, but all have the same core elements of the stories.

The hope and fear that permeates each one. The feelings of inadequacy, and of loneliness that so many of the heroes face throughout their journeys were so familiar to me. And the fact that they must fight it to get to the other side, well, that felt familiar too.

Every time I talk to a stranger, I answer a phone call I’m reluctant to, every time I voice what I’m thinking instead of keeping quiet,  every time that I can bring myself to ask for help, I feel like I’ve lifted my own sword and fought against my very own dragon. I don’t always win, but I try to fight.

And I truly believe that fairytales gave me some of that power.  These are stories that mean more to us than cautionary tales or stories to help children sleep. They have heartbeats throughout history and weave their way into our lives as adults.

Fairytales took me into the deep, dark wood, to the places where I was lonely and lost. But all the while, even though they realised my deepest fears: kidnapping, drowning, predators in the centre of the woods; in a fairytale, the heroine always makes it out the other end. She escapes the woods. She finds friends and she thrives. I never needed a guarantee of happily ever after, but I always wanted to know that, in the words of  fairytale professor, Theodora Goss, ‘this too will pass’. That the woods will reach an end and the moonlight would gather me out.

I was always a little braver entering my own woods because of that. Knowing that the fairytale heroine has to step off of the path to have her adventure always made it a little easier to take those steps myself.

I’d like to think that’s true for other people. Not just me. Fairytales are the best kind of magic.

Because they may not be real. But they are true.

 

 

Winning the vote: 100 years of women’s suffrage

Today is the 100 the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in Ireland and the UK.

It was a day that marked a victory in a significant campaign that had been raging for decades before it and represented paving the way towards a future that they would have a more equal hand in deciding.

They paved the path towards a society where all women would one day have the right to vote and make decisions in the running of their countries.

For the likes of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Emmeline Pankhurst and Constance Markievicz the Representation of the People Act, 1918 represented the culmination of a fight they had sacrificed for and a world they had rebelled against.

However it’s important to remember that the vote for women that was legalised in 1918 came with large restrictions. Only women over thirty who were landowners or possessed a university education had the right to vote. This meant that only 40 per cent of women were actually entitled to the vote. In Ireland women over 21 didn’t win the right to vote until 1922.

All citizens of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) without distinction of sex, who have reached the age of twenty-one years and who comply with the provisions of the prevailing electoral laws, shall have the right to vote for members of Dáil Eireann, and to take part in the Referendum and Initiative.

Over the 100 years that have passed  and we have gained the full right to vote, to decide in referendums, to vote for our president and to vote for our political leaders. We have gained the power of choice.

And on days like today it is important to remember that to women 100 years ago that choice was a something that needed fighting for. Something that had to be decided for them. Something they had to hope came true.

So next time an election or a referendum arrives, make sure you use that right.

Vote.

 

Illustration by Méabh McDonnell

Ballerina, Baker, Etsy Shop Maker?

First published in Cinders Issue Five

Thinking about school and examinations, editor Méabh McDonnell looks back on her own years of exams, prospective careers and the ever present intimidation of internet geniuses. She has one piece of advice: don’t panic.

Let me tell you a story. When I was six years old, I thought that a ballerina would be a nice career to have when I grew up. I’m not sure if it was the pretty costumes or the interesting shoes – it definitely wasn’t any burgeoning dance ability – because I had none. But whatever it was, I remember looking into ‘ballerina’ as a prospective career i.e. looking it up in my Childcraft encyclopedia.

That was when I discovered that most professional ballerinas begin their training at three years old. That’s when I had the thought: ‘Three?! But I’m already six! I’ve missed my window!’ And thus my ‘promising’ ballet career came to an end.

Continue reading Ballerina, Baker, Etsy Shop Maker?

Queen takes Crown – Interview with Diana Mirza

First published in Cinders issue four

Sixteen year old Diana Mirza recently won the World Schools Under-17 Chess Championship.She is Ireland’s first ever world chess champion and has filled Cinders in on openings, tactics, non stop practice, and how it’s never too late to get into chess.

When did you start playing chess? 

I started playing when I was five years old, my Dad runs chess classes after school so I used to be around it all of the time. I began playing in competitions when I was nine when I started to improve. As I got better, the more I liked doing it. I suppose it’s like anything, when you discover you’re good at it then you’ll want to stay doing it.

Continue reading Queen takes Crown – Interview with Diana Mirza

Feminism Forwards – An interview with Rosita Sweetman

First published in Cinders issue three

We had the pleasure of speaking with author, writer and feminist Rosita Sweetman. Author of Father’s Come First – which we reviewed in issue two of Cinders – Rosita gave us her impression of feminism today, how it has changed since Ireland of the 70s.

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What with the strides that the feminist movement has taken in recent years for privileged women of the developed world, it can be easy to forget how much more change is needed – but also how recently in Ireland that women’s power was os much less and so reliant on the men in their lives. But that is the world that Rosita Sweetman’s Father’s Come First is set in. Rosita wrote the small but powerful novel when she was living in East Africa and thinking of home.

Continue reading Feminism Forwards – An interview with Rosita Sweetman

16 things I wish to tell my 16 year old self

First published in issue one of Cinders magazine

I wrote this piece on my 26th birthday, thinking about all of the things I would tell my 16 year old self if I could.

I then performed the piece at the Cinders magazine official launch on December 16, 2016.

You can view my performance here, kindly filmed by McDonnellHouse Productions.

Continue reading 16 things I wish to tell my 16 year old self