Archive for the ‘Things I don’t like’ Category

A few weeks ago, a couple of friends here asked me how my US friends were coping with all the negative news out of the US. They were referring both to recent events – yet another mass shooting at a school, and the leaked draft decision on Roe v Wade from the Supreme Court – as well as to the handling of the pandemic, and the mess that has been US domestic politics since 2016 and earlier. “How can they bear to live in that country?” they asked.

“It’s their home,” I replied, noting that (at the time) only one of my friends had jokingly talked about moving. Though we then had a discussion about whether their culture colours their views. Here in New Zealand, most people have friends and relatives who live overseas, either because we ourselves are immigrants, or members of our family and friends have moved overseas to live. We see the world as a moving feast, and I think we are all pretty realistic about the pros and especially the cons of living in our country. I know most of my US friends are realistic about the good, the bad, and the ugly in their society. Even though it sadly seems that there are many of their fellow citizens who are not.

However, in the last few days, I’ve seen some of these US friends talk about leaving not only their state but their country, people I never thought would even consider it, people who have never even been out of the US. My heart bleeds for them. Some of them can’t even bear speaking about it. Their country no longer feels like their country. And worst of all, they can’t see a way out of this.

I spoke to a US relative back in 2016, and said I felt sad about their election result, especially for his daughters. He immediately jumped on the abortion issue, which was not top of mind for me at the time, as it has never been a major political issue here. I pointed out that I had many other concerns around the freedom and equality of the society they would live in as they become adults. Not least that they could have a leader and government who would see women as equals, and treat them with respect. Not least that they could see a woman leading their government at some time. But amongst so many other concerns, I also hoped then, and even more so I hope that now they never become pregnant and find themselves in a state that forces them to give birth when that would not be their choice, for whatever reason. I hope that they never have a miscarriage and struggle to access medical help, or have to face accusations of criminal behaviour as a result. I hope they never have a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy (as almost all ectopic pregnancies are) and can’t access medical care, or have to fight for it, because some ignorant law-maker believes that you can move an ectopic pregnancy. (For the record, you can’t, it is impossible, and untreated ectopics are the leading cause of early pregnancy maternal death.) I hope they never have a second or third trimester scan and find severe abnormalities that are incompatible with life, a tragedy in itself, one that is grieved as a loss and is never a chosen situation. Imagine going through that and yet being forced to continue with the pregnancy and birth, at the risk of their own mental and physical health. I may have wanted to have children, and I have certainly grieved my pregnancy losses, infertility, and resultant childlessness. But these made me more aware than ever that, wherever medically possible, it should always be my choice, and my choice alone.

At a time when New Zealand and Australia and most of the western world have been slowly liberalising our laws, it is very scary to see the US doing the opposite. Because at its worst (and right now, it is at its worst), US culture is a disease. It spreads, it infects other cultures, and it twists realities. We’ve seen it turn insidious here in New Zealand this year around the pandemic. I hope our political systems and social systems can resist this. I hope the US too can turn things around, and hope above all that it is not too late. And I send these hopes and my love to all my US friends and readers. Women all over the world feel this loss, and the coming threats, intently. We feel it with you. You are not alone.

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I’ve ranted to some of my friends in person, but I haven’t ranted to you yet. As a woman approaching a big number birthday (read on, you’ll be able to figure it out), I am fed up with the way women around my age are portrayed in movies, TV, and the media generally. Invariably, we are described or portrayed as grandmothers. Aside from that being completely impossible in my case, it is inaccurate for all but a few of my friends and family. It certainly doesn’t provide any guidance in terms of a person’s character, occupation, or age, given that you can easily be a grandmother from the age of about 32 through to your 90s.

But it is the way they portray grandmothers that prompted my recent rants to my husband and friends. As the years have gone by, I have increasingly bristled at this, but two movies, starring two extremely well-known actresses, recently brought this to a head. We went to see Belfast recently. Dame Judy Dench plays the grandmother of a young, 9-year-old Kenneth Branagh. At 9, his mother was most likely in her 30s (she had two older children) or early 40s (and for once is played by an actress of that age, Caitríona Balfe who is 42), and his father around the same age. Dame Judy is 87. Whilst it is within the realms of possibility that she could be the parent of someone in their mid-40s, it is unlikely, especially if Kenneth Branagh’s parents are younger than the higher estimates I’ve made here. She herself has admitted that she “played young” in this role.

However, she did not “play young” because they portrayed her as a very old woman, shaky on her feet. Yet they coloured her hair so that it was not showing any grey, so the character she was playing could have been in her mid-50s. Even if she was in her mid-60s, Dame Judy is still 20 years older.

Before watching the main feature Belfast at the movie theatre (wearing masks and with separation between groups), they advertised another British movie – The Duke – starring Dame Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent. It is also based on a true story, portraying real people. By watching the trailer, this couple is meant to look quite elderly. Yet Kempton Bunton (the main role) was only 60 at the time of the movie’s events, and I’m assuming his wife was around the same age. He is played by Jim Broadbent who is 72, and Helen Mirren, at 76, plays his wife. I almost spat at the screen when I saw this! Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson might have been better choices. At least their ages would have been closer to the characters they were playing.

Over and over again, we see this on our screens; the grandparents of young children are almost always portrayed as extremely elderly. Yet the reality is that most young children have active grandparents in their 50s (give or take a decade). They talk about these grandparents onscreen, yet the portrayals are much closer to that of great-grandparents. The grandparents I know are active, fun, up-to-date with technology and cultural tropes. They are not sitting in rocking chairs on porches!

But this is so reflective of the way adults between 55-65 or older are often portrayed on TV and movies. They are seen as elderly, played by more elderly actors, and their age and “elderly” habits or level of infirmity are frequently exaggerated and emphasised and even mocked. It teaches younger people that people of this age are declining, legitimate subjects of amusement, and certainly are not to be taken seriously. It’s that assumption that people of this age can’t learn anything new, are stuck in their ways (and yes, some might be, but I know 18 and 30-year-olds who are “stuck in their ways”), and are not productive members of society. Despite the fact that 55-65/70 year olds are often still working, leading countries or companies, innovating at work, saving lives in hospitals, designing buildings and bridges, active in the community, volunteering, etc. (I won’t get into the issue of gerontocracies – that’s another issue entirely.)

Women in particular suffer from assumptions about our age. We are told not to go grey (though I have ignored that idea), to hide wrinkles or undergo plastic surgery to banish them, and we all know people who talk about women becoming invisible post-menopause. We see women in their early or mid-20s portraying highly successful professionals as a matter of course, when such success would normally come 10-20 years later. Is it simply about physical attraction? Likewise, teenagers are often played by women who are ten years older, portraying these minors as more mature and perhaps more sexual than they really are. Likewise, female actors often talk about being offered roles only as mothers or grandmothers once they turn 40, playing the mothers of actresses who are only a few years younger, whereas men of the same age can continue taking “leading man” roles. What it means is that women in the 40s, 50s, and 60s are often invisible on screen, misrepresented as either much younger or much older than they really are. It seems that directors are loath to portray a woman in “middle age” as actually and accurately being that age.

Yet if these actors were portrayed by 55-65 year olds, people would see real women who are simply acting their age. There’s no shortage of them. I’m thinking about international actors such as Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis, Sigourney Weaver, Kristin Scott Thomas, Annette Bening, Angela Bassett, Julianne Moore, Jodie Foster, Cate Blanchett, Demi Moore, Viola Davis, Sandra Bullock, and Holly Hunter, to name* just a few. Wouldn’t that help change the perception of the skills and capabilities of women of their age?

I so wish we saw more roles that had women at this age doing what women of this age do – we work, we are retired, we are athletic or adventurous or creative or … you name it. We are (largely) not yet decrepit, even if we might groan a little when we stand up. We’re so much more interesting than we were in our 20s or 30s. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

* I looked up previous Oscar nominees to get me started, so there will inevitably be huge gaps in my list.

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Why why why do my favourite food items always vanish from the shelves? Examples:

For years I had a favourite pasta tomato sauce. I have complained about this before! One day, it simply vanished from the shelves. The creamy pasta sauce from the same brand stayed, as did another (less delicious) tomato pasta sauce. Sigh. That led me to another brand which I eventually found and fell in love with. The particular sauce (Arrabiata) I liked was always the first to go from the shelves, so I obviously wasn’t the only person who liked it. But at the very beginning of the pandemic, the whole brand just vanished. And very sadly, has not reappeared. I know I can make my own, very deliciously, but sometimes I just want one out of a jar!

My husband and I have a favourite Thai basil and garlic stir-fry sauce (Pad Kaprow). Yes, I could make it myself, but would it be the same? No. The answer is no. We’ve bought it for around five years, a regular stir-fry with chicken and veges, a quick, easy, and healthy dinner. Our big supermarket in the city always stocked it, even though other supermarkets and warehouses don’t – they stock all the other items from that one manufacturer, all the curry pastes, the kaffir lime leaves, the lemongrass, but never the basil and garlic paste. Supply issues meant the range was being depleted at our supermarket recently, but it was obvious when there was a new shipment. This time, however, for the first time ever, no basil/garlic sauce. Argh!

My absolute favourite ice-cream in the world was Kapiti (a local producer) Gingernut ice-cream. A gingery ice-cream, made with bits of gingernut biscuit in the ice-cream and preserved ginger, it was heaven to this ginger-lover. (And the best part was knowing my husband – not a fan of ginger – wouldn’t eat it!) I know many others who loved it too. I bought more than I should have as an occasional treat, but obviously that was not enough to singlehandedly sustain production. I notice now that they have a lemongrass and ginger ice-cream, which will have great Asian flavours (and which I must hunt up before it disappears), but it won’t have the nostalgic taste of the gingernuts my Nana used to make. And so my loyalty to Kapiti has waned. How dare they remove my favourite flavour?

I rarely eat chips or crackers, though my husband loves them. But when we do have something like that, usually only when we have visitors and I buy or make a dip to go with them, we used to always have Grain Waves, Honey and Mustard flavour. Of course, a year or two ago, they also vanished from the shelves. We can still get a range of other flavours. But they’re not honey and mustard.

Why, Universe? Are you trying to tell me not to get attached to things I love? Are you trying to remind me that everything in this world is transient, that nothing is guaranteed? I know that. I think everyone knows that after the last few years. Can’t you allow us a few simple pleasures? A garlicky stir-fry, a tangy tomato sauce, and a gingery ice-cream? That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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