No longer just the Blade Runner: since the death of Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius’s story has become “a classic tragic hero’s fall”. Photo: Getty
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We are drowning in stories that privilege the perspectives of white males

Women’s bodies – naked, airbrushed and objectified – are everywhere but our names, passions and histories remain invisible. Too often, women are reduced to a footnote in the tragic story of someone male who still gets to take centre stage.

Prior to the death of Reeva Steenkamp, the Oscar Pistorius story veered towards the schmaltzy. An inspirational, against-the-odds cockle warmer, it never quite seemed to suit the man himself. It’s only now, following the night of 14 February 2013, that it’s achieved some gravitas. Finally we have, to use the words of biographer John Carlin, “a classic tragic hero’s fall”:

. . . there's a universality about this story. It fits into a recognisable narrative pattern going back to Homer.

Fellow Pistorius biographer Barry Bateman takes a similar view:

This is a classic tragic tale, the man who overcame disability to compete in the Olympics, the beautiful girl . . . He was a national hero and lost it all on 14 February.

No longer just Blade Runner, he’s now Othello, or Woyzeck, or Raskolnikov. Killing women: the ultimate genre boost.

While I don’t expect the current slew of Pistorius biographies to turn up on GCSE reading lists in the near future, the use of terms such as “classic” and “tragic” – applied to Pistorius, not Steenkamp – horrifies me. It illustrates, if nothing else, the extent to which much of the literature we revere centres male subjectivity. Women die, yes, but this matters only in relation to how their death makes their killer feel. Women are expendable, not really there at all; it’s the man who’s left behind, making his excuses, expressing his remorse, despairing of his future, who gets all the attention. It is, we tell ourselves, intriguing; if slaughtered women didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them (and even though they do exist, in shocking numbers, we carry on inventing anyhow; you can never have too many plot devices).

It is for reasons like this that campaigns such as For Books’ Sake’s attempt to achieve greater diversity in GCSE English Literature specifications seem to me vitally important. We are drowning in stories that privilege the perspectives of white males; in spite of ourselves, we buy into the view that the world as they see it is all that there is (if Pistorius is “the only person who can say what his state of mind was,” does anything else matter?). I know there are arguments against demands for more female viewpoints: some of the most prolific crime writers are women; women write about women dying; not every female writer is a feminist by default. I know all this yet I still think it matters that women write, and that young people get to read women writing, whatever the subject matter. It matters because women have stories, too, and all too often ours get cut short. When narration is seen and experienced as male, so, too, is real life.  

Whenever women ask for greater representation in politics or the arts, we are of course reminded that not all women are the same. We don’t have some monolithic shared experience so what could we have to offer that isn’t available already? If there’s no single definition of womanhood, then why should we care if most of time it is men who speak? But this is to miss the point. What matters is not that our stories are the same; it is that these stories are ours.

If we have a shared experience as women, it is that of not being seen as, and instead being defined by, men. And yet we are neither mirrors, nor props, nor decoration. We are not mere plot devices in the lives of self-styled tragic heroes; it is just our lot to be positioned that way. When members of the ANC Women’s League stood outside in the courts in protest at the Pistorius verdict, they knew that Reeva Steenkamp’s life – the life of a privileged white woman – had been nothing like their own. They still spoke for her, in sisterhood and solidarity. Steenkamp’s life was not emblematic of other women’s lives but her death, and the shoddy, shameful responses to it ever since, symbolise the low esteem in which all women’s lives are held simply by virtue of them not being the lives of men.

Feminists who focus on (among other things) the representation of women in public life tend to be mocked and derided. Why should they care about bank notes or GCSE specs or all-women shortlists, when there are more pressing matters to deal with? Yet representation is never a side issue; it is a fundamental challenge to the pervasive denial of our subjectivity. Women’s bodies – naked, airbrushed and objectified – are everywhere but our names, passions and histories remain invisible. We cannot expect men to believe that we are people, too, when every newspaper, magazine, political debate, court room, film, music video and novel suggests otherwise. Why wouldn’t a man feel that to lust after a woman, to rape her, even to kill her, is his tragedy alone, given that a woman’s perspective on anything at all is such a rarity?

Men do not notice that they own life’s narratives; most of the time, women don’t, either. It is what passes for normality. Nonetheless, this is the normality which goes on to justify a million “isolated incidents”, each one reducing a woman to a footnote in the tragic downfall of someone male who still gets to take centre stage. The dead women pile up, wasted flesh, useful only to those who wish to imbue the hate-filled souls of killers with complexity and meaning. If you find it hard to see the link between this and the objectification of women in society at large, just pick up any newspaper. Try rewriting each story, one by one, as though the perspectives of women mattered just as much as the perspectives of men. Imagine a world in which women were always represented in this way: not as objects, but as subjects. Imagine the mirror talking back.

We need women writers on GCSE specifications not because of what women write, but because of what women are: people, with as much right to occupy space as anyone else. It is an absurdity that the equal representation of women in public life – in arts, literature, politics, media – is still seen as both unnecessary and impossible to achieve. It is neither.

If our concept of “universality” only extends to what men experience, then it is not universal at all. I am sick of “classic tragic tales” in which a woman’s main role is to lie still, either being fucked or being dead. The subjectivity of women is not some outlandish feminist hypothesis; we, too, must speak. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.