True grit, semiotic differences and advertising

Last week, a few of us Old Doom Bar regulars and our partners hired a minibus and went to the Picture House Exeter to see the nationally streamed Greenpeace documentary How to Change the World.

Only one or two of us were paid-up supporters but all of us were old enough to remember the astonishing impact of the movement’s early campaigns. We were of course much of an age with the main protagonists – young in the sixties, so there was a nostalgic element in our enjoyment of the film.

The Greenpeace story is pretty heroic as the historic and long lost film clips linked by editorial narrative and present day interviews showed. Blood, guts and giant rusty whaling ships surrounded and threatened our hairy, hippy heroes – very close up and very personal. The results then and later were considerable, beginning with an IWC moratorium on commercial whaling.  But the tale is also one of politics, power struggles and schism. These themes are it seems intrinsic to revolutionary movements of any sort.

Also intrinsic to revolution is the role of women. The Greenpeace girls (as represented by the wife and daughter of leading campaigner Bob Hunter) admitted that it was the boys with the toys who stole the limelight. Nonetheless wife Bobbi and daughter Emily made major contributions to the campaigns and continue along with many other women to directly challenge governmental and commercial predators.

Women have of course, always played better than mere support roles in revolutionary and political dramas – as well as numerous other aspects of human endeavour not least science. Their plaint has justifiably been that history has never fully acknowledged their participation for the obvious reason that it has mostly been written by men.

Two modern exceptions have to be the Suffragette movement and latterly, its legitimate heiress Feminism. Despite just cause, Feminism has had a set-back in the new all-male leadership of the Labour Party and, it is possible to argue, with the furore over barrister Charlotte Proudman’s (in the circs might a name change be called for?) apotheosis as insulted and oppressed woman.

Female opinion does seem to divide on the issue of the lawyer’s Linked In photograph. The debate was given an airing in Woman’s Hour Radio 4 Friday 11 September. One female witness suggested that the portrait was carefully devised to make its subject ‘enticing’. She was sharply brought to heel by Jane Garvey but refused to recant on her allegation that Proudman had chosen an image of herself intending to influence others by her appearance. ‘Don’t we all’ snapped Garvey, clearly keen to close down what she saw as an unhelpful line of discussion.

There are echoes here of the Chrissie Hynde spat – where does a woman’s responsibility for herself begin and end? It is also reminiscent of the major schism in feminism. Some hold that the male is irredeemably bad and the female entitled to reject ‘male gaze’ trespass on their sanctity in all its manifestations. Others see us as simple creatures albeit ‘very naughty boys’ who need a high degree of effective management.

The lawyer who became the object of Proudman’s ire is of course a silly ass. He should know better. But Proudman herself might reflect on the semiotic differences between the particular expression of her persona on one part of the web with the picture in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free. She might come to some conclusions about what responses she was trying to create to her overall proposition and the image she wished to project in the context of the medium and its audience. This used to be called advertising. It shouldn’t be too difficult, she is a barrister and the Bar is one of the great theatres at which to perform. Be that as it may, she is a feminist heroine now and should enjoy that while she can.

Meantime, Bobbi and Emily Hunter, entirely likeable in their congenial and forthright self-presentation told their stories. Whether organising an initially ramshackle and ultimately world-wide protest movement or confronting aggressive Russian and Norwegian whalers on the ice floes of the Arctic, their love of husband and dad and their evident self-confidence as women-type people made them notably admirable representatives of the human species; never mind which half.

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