I have attempted, several times, to try to take this blog in a different direction. It started out as the explorations of a journalism student, and somehow, became primarily, a feminist blog. While I do believe that feminism is my identity, I don’t want to write exclusively about feminism. Unfortunately, I’m not the sort of writer to force blogs out, which is why I post here so infrequently now.

But let’s not talk about women for once. Let’s not talk about feminism. Let’s discuss paranoia.

Please note: the following consists entirely of my personal experiences and opinions, and the sources quoted or linked are amateur research. I am not in any way, trained in psychiatry or psychology, nor am I at all qualified to give valid opinions on the subject. (Although to be fair, not even trained psychologists can diagnose themselves for reasons of objectivity) This blog is purely subjective, and should not be treated as a valid source of information on paranoia (of course, the quotes or excerpts aren’t subjective, and are based on facts, but you know that already)

I wasn’t always paranoid. I was the exact opposite. I was sweet and trusting and innocent. I believed everything everyone said. Seldom questioned their intentions. Had difficulty believing that anyone would say or do anything with malicious intent. I’m lucky that I wasn’t taken advantage of, at least, not completely. Lucky me, that I was older and capable of dealing with the manipulation when it did come along. And then too, I was old enough to recognize what was happening, even if it took me some time to accept that my trust was being exploited.

At first, I thought I had difficulty trusting people because of various negative experiences. Soured relationships with people, family issues, all these easily explained why I didn’t really blindly trust people anymore. And obviously, I thought it was a good thing. I was more critical of people, I didn’t believe everything I was told, I tried to think rationally about my relationships instead of blind trust and love.

Then, things started changing. It wasn’t just that I questioned intentions, I questioned them frequently. It wasn’t just that I didn’t believe people’s goodness so easily anymore; it was that I didn’t believe it at all. It wasn’t just that I tried to think beyond blind trust; it was that I couldn’t trust anyone, ever.

Then one day, I realized that I was in class, rocking back and forth with my hands over my ears, unhappily muttering, “Everyone’s after me, I know they are. They want me to do something wrong so they can all say mean things about me. They’re always trying to spy on me. They think I’m doing things behind their back. They’re all after me. I know they are,” while my friends tried to calm me down.

I calmed down eventually. Then.

I found myself apologizing more and more for over-reacting, accusing someone of lying to me, of going behind my back. I would collapse into hysterical fits sometimes. Episodes, I later learned they were called. I was constantly fearful, seeing traitors all around me. Traitors. Yeah. I actually use that word.

It was at this point, that I was lucky enough to realize I had a problem.

While trying to figure out ways to quit being paranoid, I stumbled across DSM-IV, and was vaguely alarmed by what it had to say about Paranoid Personality Disorder. When I studied psychology in intermediate, my teacher was amused that the class would often be panicked and say, “all of these symptoms match us exactly!” It’s easy to think you have every single mental illness or disorder you read about, something even my med school friends agree with. According to the DSM,

The essential feature of Paranoid Personality Disorder is a pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent. This pattern begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them…suspect on the basis of little or no evidence that others are plotting against them and may attack them …often feel that they have been deeply and irreversibly injured by another person or persons even when there is no objective evidence…preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of their friends… so amazed when a friend or associate shows loyalty that they cannot trust or believe it.

Individuals with this disorder persistently bear grudges…Minor slights arouse major hostility, and the hostile feelings persist for a long time. … quick to counterattack and react with anger to perceived insults…generally difficult to get along with and often have problems with close relationships, their excessive suspiciousness and hostility may be expressed in overt argumentativeness, in recurrent complaining, or by quiet, apparently hostile aloofness.

There are more details in the DSM, these are just the ones applicable to me.  Again, this does not mean I have PPD. I have absolutely no idea if I have any kind of disorder or not, nor am I qualified to diagnose myself. I’ve quoted the DSM to explain to anyone reading this precisely how it is that I feel or operate. I do have friends I trust, yes. People I have the utmost faith in. If I had to count them, I’d say there are about… two people. That’s it. Just two people. I talk a lot, so I tell people things easily, even things I’m supposed to keep secret because I don’t want to hide who I am. But do I trust those people afterward, no. I fully expect them to stab me in the back. And they do, they have, and they will continue to do so, because that’s just what happens to me.

The roughest part of all that is that people exploit my paranoid feelings for their own amusement. It’s quite easy to, if you’re close enough to me to have seen what the paranoia is like. When I started writing this blog, many moons ago, it was in reaction to a trusted friend thinking it was a funny joke to provoke my paranoia and thus, a panic attack by telling me a lie. It’s not a very nice thing to do, especially if the person knows firsthand how much I struggle to cope with the paranoia.

There are days when it’s less, almost non-existent, and there are days when it’s an all-time high. The key is to remove all negative influences from my life. I’ve known some truly poisonous people on the internet for example, people who truly have mental problems, and do not seek help, and I’ve cut them all out of my life because no one deserves to be subjected to another person’s issues. I’ve cut reality friends out of my life as well, people who just can’t cope with me being different- half the friends I have are from school, where we all knew each other since we were five years old- or people who just became strangers to me. But despite surrounding myself with friends and family, it’s still extremely easy to become paranoid. To think someone’s put a keylogger on your computer, or is eavesdropping on your phone conversations. It’s… maddening, to say the least. And because I do not have any specific disorder or major mental health issues, I’ve managed to get better, and not be as suspicious of everyone and everything.

I’ve known some people in my life who suffer from PTSD or mental disabilities, but they don’t seek help, and instead, lash out at everyone around them. I’ve seen people actually use mental illness as a weapon against people, or use it to manipulate people, or even, fake episodes to emotionally blackmail people. And I truly hope such people get help, fast. But I also know people who have genuine problems, real disabilities, and they seek help, and I constantly see them struggling to live life as a mentally disabled person. I’m just a little bit paranoid, but these people, they have real mental illnesses. They’re going to live with it for the rest of their lives. So the next time you make a cruel joke about bipolar people, or the next time you mock someone suffering from depression, or criticize teenagers for being “emo”, remember this blog. Remember, that my little problem is magnified by a million for teenagers suffering from clinical depression, for adults with mental illnesses or disorders, and show a little kindness. Be a little patient. And show those people that there’s a place for them in this world.

Special thanks to my good friend Sadaf Mujeeb for her encouragement and help in writing this blog.

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I don’t normally write about TV shows, despite being a big TV junkie, but ever since I started watching Once Upon A Time, I’ve wanted to write about it frequently. I refrained from the urge because I felt I would dwell too much on its feminist aspects, something I would not like to do for a show that’s mildly complex. I say mildly, not as criticism, but as truth; it’s a good show, but it lacks the layers and complexity of a show like, say, Fringe for example (another show I’m in love with)

Instead, I’m focusing on the portrayal of women in Once Upon A Time. Its devious of me, I know. Its still a feminist theme, but cleverly disguised as television discussion. I’m evil that way.

And so is Regina. The Evil Queen Regina, who wanted to kill her stepdaughter, Snow White. When the brothers Grimm transcribed this folktale in their first edition of Grimm’s Faerietales, they wanted to keep the evil mothers as stepmothers, not just because it was un-Christian to want to kill your own blood (the brothers were deeply religious) but also, because doing so fulfilled their nationalist intentions for writing this book, i.e. to emphasize that when you are with your own people, be it countrymen or family, you are safe and loved (as indicated by the pure, motherly love of mothers in The Goose Girl, The Wolf and the Seven Goslings, and strong bonds between siblings in The Twelve Brothers and The Brother and Sister, to name a few)but when you are with an out-group, you will suffer, and be treated as a secondary citizen, denied your rights; in the case of the faerietales, those rights were a child’s right to be safe, loved, protected, taken care of.

Because of this, women in the Grimms’ stories had one-sided characters. Ambition was a characteristic for evil women such as Aschenputtel’s evil stepsisters, who aspired to marry well. Submissiveness, an inability to fight against injustice, being a constant victim, were characteristics of good, modest, pure women awarded in the end with the overly hyped knight in shining armour.  Strength, more importantly, was a vice, wielded, along with power, by the evil female characters. And so, Snow White’s evil stepmother tried to kill her, because Snow White was prettier than her. Note that Snow White is all the more fairer for being unaware of her beauty, whereas the Evil Queen is less beautiful because she is conscious that she is attractive; a confident self-image it seems, is not worthy of the good Christian woman the brothers Grimm wanted to portray.

So is that who the Evil Queen Regina is in Once Upon A Time? A woman driven by jealously to murder her own stepdaughter? No, not really. Actually, Regina was a sweet, kind, gentle soul. She hated magic which her mother wielded with darkness. She strove to escape her mother’s evil influence several times, and feared her so much that she did not even tell her of the stablehand she loved, afraid of her mother’s rage, since her mother wanted her to “do well” in life. And as for Snow White, Regina saved her life when she was a little girl. She was friends with Snow as well, something that Snow’s father deeply appreciated, and therefore, asked for Regina’s hand in marriage. Regina’s ambitious mother, happy her daughter would be a queen agreed to Regina’s dismay. Then Snow discovered that Regina loved someone else, and accidentally let it slip to Regina’s mother, who promptly killed the stablehand. And that was why Regina hated Snow; because her childish naiveté cost Regina all her happiness.

Regina didn’t kill Snow immediately though. It took her many years to formulate her revenge, culminating when Snow was an adult, starting with the death of Snow’s father. As events unfold in the TV show, a battle resulted, where Regina was defeated, but banished instead of being executed. She then transported all the citizens of the kingdom to a land without magic, a town named StoryBrooke in our world. Here they would live their lives stuck in stasis for 28 years, remembering nothing of their past lives. What would happen in 28 years, though? Snow and Prince Charming’s daughter, Emma the Saviour, would come to break the spell on the town. And in the meantime? Emma had a baby she gave up for adoption. This baby was adopted by Regina, who grew up to be a precocious eight-year-old and brought his mother back to StoryBrooke to break the spell.

This is where the show starts, with flashbacks to the past in The Enchanted Forest, the land where it all started. And Regina is evil, yes. She’s evil not for insane jealously, but out of love; her son Henry has found his real mother, and knowing the truth about Regina, drifts away from her. Regina loves her son with the fierce, protective love only a mother can possess, which is why Emma is her enemy. She takes steps to ensure Henry remains hers and hers alone, from keeping him from meeting Emma, to finally resorting to poisoning Emma. Tragically, its Henry who eats the poisoned apple pie meant for his mother, which results in Regina breaking down, and teaming up with her enemy to save her son.

The layers begin to unravel. From a mean, vindictive, petty woman, Regina turns into a young girl who lost her happily ever after, and swore to deny the person responsible every chance at happiness as revenge. From the embittered witch that does so, she transforms into a mother terrified of losing her son, and willing to do anything to keep that from happening. This evil stepmother is apparently, an onion. That statement is hilarious for me but unfortunately, people don’t understand my sense of humour, so you probably think its lame. I apologize. Amidst much chortling.

By season two, Regina starts to see parallels between her mother and herself. She uses magic to keep Henry from escaping her clutches, the same way that her mother did with her so long ago. Whatever her reasons, she remains evil, you think. Ah hah! That’s where you’re wrong. In an episode which critics described as pivotal in Regina’s redemption, memories of Regina’s tortured childhood drives her to “free” Henry, allowing him to live with his grandfather, Prince Charming/David Nolan in the absence of Emma. Her redemption continues when, to keep a promise she made to Henry, Regina refrains from using magic, making a conscious effort to change and be a better person for Henry. Though once again, Snow and her daughter Emma keep Regina away from her happily ever after with her son, she doesn’t remain the static evil character throughout the show; she evolves, as a woman, a mother, a human being. She’s driven, not by insane hateful jealousy, but rather, by an aching loneliness from the ever-human yearning to be loved, channeled into vengeance against the person responsible for the loss of her happiness. In StoryBrooke, she’s driven by the same desire to keep the amnesiac Charming and Snow apart, but also, by love, love for her son, and her heart is broken time after time when Henry rejects her. She isn’t an evil, stone-hearted monster; she feels, loves, aches, weeps, and when Henry, out of his still-childish love for his mother, spends time with her, she smiles from happiness and contentment at being with her son.

So there you have it folks. An Evil Queen in a faerietales with a heart, layers of complexity, and more importantly, despite her power, frequently vulnerable, like all humans are. The brothers Grimm gave you countless women to hate simply because they were powerful females; Once Upon A Time gives you powerful females that you not only have difficulty hating, but can also relate to. Can anyone really blame a mother for trying to keep a son all to herself? For saying, “No, you gave him up for adoption and I gave him the love you denied him, how dare you come back and try to make any claim to the child that’s rightfully mine?” Can anyone blame a woman who lost the love of her life for her anger at those responsible, for trying to destroy that person’s happiness? We’ve all had dark moments when we have either come close, or done the same. I know I have. I know I’ve tried. At times, I’ve successfully stopped. Other times, I haven’t. And such is that darkness that to this day, I don’t regret a thing. That darkness, along with the knowledge of knowing there’s no justification for cruelty no matter how great the wrong (let’s not confuse justice with cruelty here)but being capable of both immense good and evil makes us human.

Like me, like you, like all of us, Regina is very much human. She’s capable of good, like saving a child’s life, and evil, striving to destroy that same child years later. And like all of us, she’s capable of learning, changing, redeeming herself, of leaving her past to be a better person for the sake of someone she loves. And isn’t that more interesting and realistic than the evil stepmothers of the Brothers Grimm?

Short story- Fields of Gold

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Fiction

This is something I wrote years ago, back in college or maybe school. The obvious inspiration for it was Georgette Heyer, I’m not a fan of romantic fiction or chicklit but Heyer’s ability to paint complete pictures of the era she wrote about blew me away. And the women in the stories had a personality for once, they may have swooned and needed rescuing sometimes, but a lot of times, they were the ones in control, an obviously stark contrast to your typical “girly” novel. I suppose this was my attempt to write something similar, and was inspired by a painting of a ship my aunt had made. Hopefully, its not as bad as I think it is. I mean, I know its pretty bad, but it must have some sort of saving grace to it. I hope.

She’s admiring the hat in the shop window when she hears a snatch of conversation from two women passing her by, and all she catches is “ship” and “returning today.” Her heartbeat quickens, and she turns to her aunt and chaperone, murmurs a faint excuse about the headache. Aunt  seems to believe it, considering that her young ward’s gone pale, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. They settle in the chaise, and once they’re home, she retires to her bedroom under the pretense of resting.

Once she’s in the sanctuary of her own room however, she gives in to the trembling excitement she’d been fighting in her aunt’s company, and rummages through a box of odds and ends, coming at last to the small miniature of him that he’d had made specially for her before he left. She remembered stealing away secretly at Almack’s with her friends, curious and wondering if he was going to propose, only to have her world crash down around her.

“Please don’t go,” she begged, tears in her eyes. “Please Matthew, if you love me at all, you won’t go!”

“I’ll be fine darling, I will,” he said reassuringly. “I just have to see to some business, that’s all. I’ll be back before you even know I’m gone.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “It won’t-Matthew, I can’t help but feel something terrible will happen if you leave!”

“As long as we love each other, that is all that matters,” he said firmly. “Our love is all that matters.”

“No it’s not Matthew, don’t give me that,” she said fiercely. “Do not insult me by speaking to me as if I were just out of the schoolroom! What if the worst should happen? What am I to do without you?”  Her voice broke and she whispered, “How am I to live without you?”

“You won’t have to,” he whispered, gripping her hands tightly. He slid off the ring on his finger, the signet ring he wore, and slipped it on hers. “I’ll come back and we shall be married. That’s a promise.”

She’s startled out of her nostalgic musings by a knock on her door, and hastily calls for her maid to enter. The girl herself is all agog, speaking in hushed whispers and confirming what she had suspected; the ships had returned.

Her heart sings with joy, and she wonders when he would call upon her. There is to be a soiree that night, and while she had initially thought of declining on account of the headache, she now commands the maid to bring forth her best dress-no not that one, the pale blue silk!-(He told her once that she reminded him of a field of bluebells he’d once stumbled upon) and her heart flutters with excitement at the thought of seeing him again.

At the soiree, she makes a fetching figure, with her hair gathered in a chignon knot, decorated with small gemstones, ringlets escaping to frame her face. Her pale neck is accented by a gold chain necklace of dark rubies accenting her painted red lips.As she exchanges pleasantries with friends and suitors, her eye constantly on the door. His partner enters, and makes his way over to her with a strained smile. Her heart sinks and she excuses herself from her present company to go meet him.

“My brother sends a message,” he says quietly, without any preamble. “He-He can not return at the moment. He begs you to wait, and to remember his promise.”

Her eyes start to sting with tears, and she manages to nod in affirmation, swallowing the lump in her throat and accepting his offer to stand up with her at the next dance. That night, she’s the perfect example of a lady, but when she gets home, she flings herself on the bed and sobs her eyes out, her maid hovering anxiously over her, wondering how much longer she must wait.

**********

It’s been five years when he returns. She’s at home, reading in the library when her butler comes to her frazzled, saying some gentleman insists on seeing her and wishes to leave his name undisclosed. Her curiosity aroused, she asks to let him in, ignoring the fusty old man’s disapproving gaze as he nods in acquiescence to her command. If she wanted to fear decorum and propriety, she would not have worried so little of the gossip whispered about her in her youth. When he strides in, she feels like she’s that young girl again, out to her first Assembly, seeing the big, handsome looking man walk in and own the room with his mere presence, swept away on a whirlwind romance lasting years. He smiles at her, his eyes crinkling up the way they used to, and says, “I made you a promise didn’t I?”

At that moment, a little boy rushes in, calling, “Mama, Mama, there’s a ghost in my bedroom!” She sees the look in his eyes, the betrayal, introduces her son to him, not knowing how to introduce him, the man who’d almost ruined her. Indeed, he must have thought the grand house to belong to her brother, for surely, if she had carried out her plans to set up an establishment with a governess (all before she found a reason to favour marriage of course) she would never have lived in such a lavish fashion, despite her vast inheritance, or her brother’s doting nature.

Her son reassured of the lack of spirits in his bedroom by his mother and kissed goodnight, is escorted out by the maid, leaving her alone with him. Neither of them speaks; there’s nothing to say.

“You know how it is for an unmarried woman Matthew,” she finally says. “We carried out our romance for two years, wanting to wait for the right time. And you left and never returned and they began to talk, and-they gossiped about us Matthew. Said you’d jilted me. They said you’d died. I had to ,I was facing a life alone, though I seldom cared for the gossips- my husband loves me.”

“But you don’t love him?” he asks, hope shining in his eyes.

She looks down, unable to answer. “He will be returning from White’s soon,” she finally says. “If you wish to see him-“

The butler enters, announces her husband’s presence, and she immediately goes to him, her eyes pleading that he remains civil. He is as blunt and rough as Matthew was-had been- sweet and gentle.

“The man who jilted you eh?” he says, looking Matthew up and down. “I owe you my thanks. I wouldn’t have such a lovely wife if it weren’t for you.”

“Her loveliness is surpassed by her intelligence and good humor. At least in my eyes,” Matthew replies disdainfully.

“It was what drew me to her in the first place,” Michael retorts, and she can’t help but gaze at him adoringly.

Matthew sees it, and he knows how she felt when he’d left her so long ago. She quickly looks at him, a look of longing in her eyes, wanting what could have been. Then she goes to a small box lying on a bookshelf, seemingly ornamental. It’s a pretty trinket, black and the lid carved into a peacock, with gems decorating its fan of wings. What lies inside though, was once more precious than this box. She opens it, and retrieving something approaches him. “This belongs to you,” she says quietly.

“Keep it,” he says, choking out the words. “It was a gift. Like my love.”

“You left me!” she bursts out, angry. “You left me.”

“My dear, it’s late,” Michael interrupts. “You should go to bed. Leave us gentlemen to our talk. Would you like a cigar Matthew?”

“I thank you, but I must beg your leave,” he says quietly. “You have a lovely home, and a lovelier family.”

Once he’s gone, Michael takes her in his arms, not saying anything as she sobs out her grief. He leads her to the armchair, getting her a glass of brandy, sitting there on the floor looking up at her, holding her hand as she weeps. When her tears are dried up, he says, “Will you leave me thus? Say nay, say for shame, to save thee from the blame of all my grief and grame! “

She can’t help smiling, and clasps the hand resting loosely in her lap. She married him out of necessity, and he, out of infatuation. He asked for her hand knowing she loved another, and stayed with her for all these years.

He rests his head in her lap, and speaks, so low she barely hears him, words unfamiliar on his tongue, “I could not live without you.”

Her hand rests on his hair, slowly stroking it. She looks at the ring she’s still holding in her hand, once a promise, and now, remnants of the child she used to be. She remembers how Matthew used to look at her, love and devotion shining in his eyes. Sees the same look intensified in Michael’s intent gaze. “You won’t have to,” she says simply.

2010

Posted: February 9, 2013 in Fiction

I’m trying out something new. I’m finally brave enough to venture sharing some- note, SOME- of the more tolerable fiction I’ve written in the past. I pretty much dropped it like a hot potato when I figured out that a) I suck and b) I really love journalism and blogging. So here you go, the grand ole fiction experiment.

This little fellow here though, he’s brand new. Just wrote him right now because I’d been upset earlier about a friend whose sister was beaten by her boyfriend for all three years of their relationship. The woman is seriously traumatized because she was scared the boy would spread rumours about her. Sick, no?

Why do you like me?

You don’t give me any attitude and you’re simple. Plus you’re cute.

Later, much later, he was more honest.

I had a feeling that you were the easy sort. I figured you were just acting like a Catholic schoolgirl, and even if you weren’t, I knew I could easily coax you into bed by saying I loved you.

At least he was clear about his intentions. Much later. Made it obvious that he wasn’t interested in a relationship. She just wasn’t his type, and that’s not a crime, two people just aren’t made for each other sometimes.

You think I’d ever date a girl who my friends know I fool around with? That I’d introduce such a girl to my mother?

He never did get used to her, after all. She was always too blunt, too straight-forward. Never pretended, never kept secrets, always up front about everything.

Did you just slap me? Did you seriously just- what the FUCK?!

Listen, it’s your fault. You think I was going to let you stand there cussing at me, and let you get away with it? That I won’t react if you use rude language with me?

She was too clingy, too needy. All those daddy issues worked themselves out in epic kinks, but unfortunately, it made her desperate for male attention, male validation. And the more it was denied to her, the more she sought it. The clingier, needier she got. And her hot temper didn’t help matters either.

That hurts! *sobs*

Look, you shoved me okay? You can’t just shove someone and not expect to be punched in return.

*continues sobbing*

Oh come on baby. You know I didn’t mean it. I’ll be nicer to you, promise. It’s your fault, you know I get angry easily. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I’d hit you so hard. I don’t know my own strength.

She hisses in pain suddenly and leans forward on her chair, remembering the sting of nails digging into her back, marks left by teeth that had her sleeping on her stomach for days.

Absent-mindedly, her fingers brush her left eye, remembering how it had purpled, bruised, so many times.

Her thigh twinges in pained memory of a cricket bat smacked into her, fortunately missing her knee, but still making her limp for most of the next week.

She wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating and tears running down her cheeks, the nightmares all too real.

No, stop I don’t want to. Ugh, no, I’m not in the mood. Stop it, get away. Please stop. No, let go! Stop it, please stop you’re scaring me, I don’t want this, stop it just stop, please!

The year ended. So did they. Life went on. Or did it?

Never forget. Never forgive. That’s always been her policy in life. Some things though, she wishes she could forget. Some memories, you can never escape.

Haunted.

Billie Joe Armstrong croons from the speakers about wanting to wake up after September ends.

She wonders if she’s ever going to wake up from 2010.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge TV buff. Nor do I hide the sort of television shows I watch. Back in 2011, a newly-made friend was surprised when I told him I liked Californication for example, and immediately chuckled and said, “Don’t tell the feminists you watch it, they’ll eat you alive!” The statement was less of a slur to feminists and more an acknowledgment that as charming as Hank Moody may be, he’s a womanizing, misogynist douche who cannot be vindicated by his true love for Karen of how he sexually objectifies women.

Meh. The man’s a pig, but what can a feminist who was watching The X-Files when she was nine years old do?

Other favorite shows of mine are the old historical dramas like Spartacus, The Borgias, The Tudors and lest we forget, Game Of Thrones. All the shows have gratuitous soft porn in common, as well as a generous dose of misogynist societies where women, even those in power, often wind up victims of crimes, abuse, or just plain unfortunate circumstances. There is also the fact that even the women in power have limited authority, which is second after their husband or father’s authority. Patriarchy you see, still prevails, despite the illusion of female power. And this power is displayed in fascinating ways; on the Orbis Mediology blog, a post regarding Spartacus describes this female power;

Women’s roles in Spartacus are complex. Lucretia and her rival, companion, and ‘frenemy’ Illythia, often call the gladiators to them. They gaze upon them as objects, just as women were so often objectified by the ‘male’ gaze in traditional Hollywood cinema and film. This new female gaze is no more kind, for the men are viewed as objects to be used and abused and little else, for they are slaves, and in the eyes of the wealthy Romans, living toys and workers. Hulking men with exquisite bodies and complex personalities are treated like toys by the women.

I’m not a fan of the soft porn at all either, at times, it gets tedious waiting for it to end. I feel that perhaps, the defense of the producers and writers of the show would be that they aim for a historically accurate show, which means getting the social system of a society right, however misogynist it may have been, and considering that slavery, which is a key aspect of Spartacus, was as common as the show portrays, that the slaves were helpless to their master’s whims, to see how casually women are fucked or used as currency for sealing deals isn’t really surprising. But does that justify the graphic nature of the show? A feminist writer to whom I expressed my disgust to regarding subliminal advertising responded, “Sex sells sweetheart. Number 1 rule of advertising.” I’ve never forgotten this, or how accurate it is for television overall. But, I’m also reminded of The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken’s interview in The Advocate, where she’s asked about a plot twist involving a character Jenny Schecter, and the revelation to the audience that she was sexually abused as a child.

“We all know that it was an incident of sexual abuse. I had not wanted to be more explicit about it than that… I really am loath to portray rape as a film-maker. I think it’s really hard to do it without becoming complicit and exploitative.”

Veering off from that statement into Spartacus, we return to the point regarding gratuitous soft porn and too-frequent images of women being fucked. What happened to the days of television shows where all you saw were two people making out, and then suddenly under the sheets in bed, smiling at each other? The answer is quite simple; sex sells.

But if we move beyond the crude sexuality and porn and the station of women in Rome, the show is complex, to say the least. Its premise is Spartacus, the soldier taken from Thrace, away from his wife Sura, to serve Rome. Lets talk about Sura. She reminds me of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, firmly rooted into the earth, gentle, wise, and yet, fierce in her own right. At first, she’s just the pretty, wise wife whose husband marches off to war; then the Romans attack her, and she whips out a knife and well, shows her fierce side. Nor does Spartacus sweep her aside when he rides in, not to the rescue btw, but to fight side by side with her.

Throughout the first season of the show, Sura is the driving force behind everything Spartacus does, first to reunite with her, and then to avenge her death. Spartacus cannot develop as a character without Sura. Essentially, he has no storyline without her. And this storyline comes full circle in the end of season 2, when as he raises his sword above the last person who was complicit in Sura’s death, we see flashbacks of the woman who wasn’t behind Spartacus, but right beside him.

Crixus, who is the champion of the ludus and Spartacus’s initial rival, falls in love with a slave girl. Unfortunately, he has earned the fondness of Lucretia, the dominus of the house, and therefore, their relationship is doomed due to her jealousy. And sort of dull. This excellent, fangirly blog describes my feelings for season 1 Naevia/Crixus perfectly.

“He went from caring nothing about glory and honor in the arena to being blindsided by feelings that he obviously had no experience in.. seeing him struggle to keep this relationship alive while he and Naevia were at the mercy of those above them. But of course, this was at the expense of Naevia, who seemed nothing more than a faceless cipher for the development of Crixus, who had no characterization beyond being beautiful and gentle.”

So let’s flash-forward to season 2, and the real reason behind writing this blog; Naevia’s rescue. It is revealed that she was ferried around to various influential men by Batiatus to curry favour, once the cunning slave Ashur exposed her secret relationship with Crixus, and when this was finished, she was sent to the mines. Naevia is traumatized, and suffering a great deal. But then, something magical happens that seldom happens on television;instead of continuing to mope and die a tragic victim, doomed to be eternally exploited and harmed, Naevia asks Crixus to teach her to fight, so that no man can ever hurt her again. And Crixus agrees. The transformation here is staggering. It is as if learning to fight is the healing Naevia needed, bringing back courage, and strength, so that the passive little slave-girl is but a thing of the past.

And then, there is the climax to her transformation; Ashur visits the rebel encampment, and Naevia asks to avenge herself for the crimes he committed against her. The ensuing scene is beautiful. As Naevia battles Ashur, the men stand by. The terror and anguish on Crixus’s face is visible; he is terrified that he may possibly lose her a second time. But, oh the beauty of this fact, he would rather risk losing her as she fights to avenge herself, rather than swoop in as her white knight and lose her by dishonouring her in the worst way possible. There is a point when Spartacus starts to step forward, seeing Naevia’s possible defeat. And the cocky prettyboy-turned-lover Crixus stops him. And then, it happens; Ashur stands above Naevia, mocking her, saying that she was and remains weak. The men stand by, anguished but determined to honour their fellow warrior. Then it happens; Naevia stabs Ashur in the crotch, screams that she is no longer weak, and rises to lop off his head. As a relieved Crixus embraces her, Naevia admits that he was right, that it is not easy to take a life. A humble man,  gazing at the woman he loves and his equal, solemnly says, “then I will teach you,” and embraces her again. The beauty of this entire scene cannot be forgotten. Naevia seems to have come full circle.

Lets not forget Mira, Spartacus’s lover, whom he drifts away from and eventually severs romantic ties with amiably. Mira weeps as this happens. But she also wipes away her tears and tells him that she needs to go conduct archery training, as she is one of their best archers. This is the same Mira who, in season 1, was so helpless to her master’s will that if they told her to have sex with Spartacus, she had no choice in the matter. And when Mira is training in archery herself, another slave-girl who uses sexual favours to win protection from gladiators says that she is trying to make her place in the world. Mira tells her to do so of her own worth, and not by what’s between her legs.

The show’s also LGBT-friendly and multi-racial, by the by. That wasn’t part of this blog, but I feel it important to mention this fact, because it adds to how much win this show is made of. While I’m still uncomfortable with the porn and the way women are treated and portrayed, I’m still a fan, for Saxa, the fierce, madcap Germanic warrior woman, for Mira, for Naevia, and for feminism. It isn’t an ideal feminist show, no, but for me, it’s a step in that direction.