Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Freshers' Flu Blues?

So Freshers Week is upon us once again, and for many of Manchester’s first year students this weeklong cycle of drinking, dancing and Popolino’s pizzas will give birth to numerous anecdotes: “Do you remember that time in Freshers when…?” But for some students however, Freshers’ Week, like many other highly anticipated social events (I’m looking at you New Year’s Eve) may fail to live up to such high expectations.

Before going to university you may have heard epic tales of drunken debauchery involving traffic cones and sprained ankles, but it’s very likely that no-one ever told you that at some point during your first week you will find yourself crying in the toilets of some club with a girl who you’ve just met over how you miss your friends from college and how great they are and how you only just broke up with your boyfriend because you’re going to uni and it just wasn’t going to work anymore. This. is. normal. And inevitable. Moving to a completely new city away from your parents and friends is hard, no matter how easy some people make it look. Think about it, when was the last time you had to create a whole new social circle from scratch? If you’ve carried the same friends through both primary and secondary school and then to sixth form, you’ve probably never been in this sort of situation before AND been away from home. Of course this can be the best thing about university, you can be whoever you want to be and ‘start again’ in a sense, but it can also be the worst thing about university and it’s something many people struggle with.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘everyone’s in the same boat’ one too many times from friends and relatives as you slowly pack away all of your belongings and say your goodbyes, but it is true, despite the fact that it may seem like everyone else is on the party boat whilst you look on from the shoreline. If it feels like you’re sat in your room watching iPlayer whilst everyone else is out enjoying themselves, then do something about it. Get involved: suggest going to the pub after a seminar, join a society, invite people round to your halls for DVDs, add people on Facebook. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself and don’t suffer in silence.

If you’re finding it particularly hard to settle in to university life, then talk to someone. Most universities have great support systems in place for first years. Contact your personal tutor, or one of your seminar leaders. If you have a 2nd or 3rd year mentor, talk to them - they’re great at helping out with questions you might not want to talk to a tutor about. Your union should also be able to give you some help and advice. They most likely have a range of contact options available so check their website or read through all the pieces of paper you’ve been handed at Freshers Fair. You could also contact Nightline, which is a confidential listening service run by students for students if you don’t feel comfortable approaching anyone.

Your first few weeks at university can be amazing, but they can also be pretty overwhelming at times. The best thing to do is to realise this and accept it, and ask for help if you need it. Yes, you’ll miss the group of friends that you had at school, and yes, there’ll be times when you’ll wish that your flatmate would flush the toilet just this once, but despite all of this you’ll make some equally amazing uni friends and some equally amazing memories. With your own traffic cone to boot. 

(me and @jack_efc having an ace time in first year)
(yes, I shouldn't have dressed up as a geisha as it's part of Japanese culture and not a fancy dress costume, but I was a naive first year...)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Why every little girl should see Disney Pixar's Brave

Since Dreamworks' Shrek turned the classic fairytale model on its head in 2001, many films aimed at families have continued to rework old myths and legends in an attempt to update them for a modern audience. Disney Pixar's Brave does just that and Merida, the young princess of Clan DunBrock, is a far cry from the usual fairytale princesses of the Disney archives with her untamed ginger hair and immense archery skills.

Merida's mother, however, has more traditional views on how a princess should behave, and insists that Merida learns how to behave 'properly' and act 'like a lady' - a princess 'rises early', 'does nae stuff her gob' *nom nom nom* and 'doesn't place her weapons on the table'. It's a constant battle between how Merida's mother, Elinor, wants her daughter to act and how Merida actually presents herself to the world. Kind of like the old-fashioned version of someone telling you that you can't drink out of a pint glass because it's 'unladylike', or a bloke saying that women can't play football because it's a male sport, or that girls don't fart *parp*...

Instead of aimlessly wandering around the woods singing 'one day my prince will come' to a swarm of woodland animals who are transfixed by her beauty and do her every bidding (pick your Disney classic), Merida also decides to take charge of her fate and change it. Her life goal is not marriage. Hurrah! She fights for her own hand in marriage by beating all of her suitors in a game of archery. She quite literally breaks out of her constricting dress to do so however, which cleverly depicts how women's fashion and women's rights can, and have gone, hand in hand. You can't do much if you're forced to wear clothing which not only inhibits your every movement but also your breathing. The addition of a female director (Brenda Chapman) to Pixar's predominately male creative team has clearly had an effect and is definitely something that should have happened a long time ago.

Without revealing too much, the plot does not center around a romantic relationship, in fact there isn't even a hint of it when it comes to Merida, instead it's about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, which rivals that of the father-son relationship in Finding Nemo. One particular scene between Merida and Elinor towards the end is especially heart-rending, and will resonate with any girl or woman who has ever felt misunderstood or suffocated by their mother (or even any mother who has ever felt snubbed by their daughter). They go on a journey together and the customary Disney happy ending is not one in which Merida finally conforms to her mother's wishes, but that they eventually learn how to listen to each other's frustrations with a new found understanding of one another.

But just when you think that Pixar have successfully managed to create a story which both tackles gender stereotypes and maintains plenty of fanatsy, magic and humour, the marketing and merchandising team release this...

(source: @meanderingmthr)

Which yet again shows just how strong such gender roles remain for young girls. How about a toy bow and arrow set or something like that? No, instead we get makeup jewellery and a trinket box.


*all images copyright Disney Pixar yadda yadda...

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