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The Colour of Love #NotGrey

by Sabrina Mahmood


Did I really just read that? That was my initial reaction after I read the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series. Everybody was talking about it, it was trending in all the charts, and I just had to know what the fascination was. And we all love a good love story right? As I began reading, I immediately took to Ana, a student like me I at once understood her naivety. She was intrigued by this mystery man and of course so was every avid reader on the planet. But as the book, and eventually the series continued, I was deeply troubled by many of the not so blatant undertones in the book.

“…we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship.”

Image by Jeffery: by Jeffery:

The whole idea that a man was able to dictate the way a woman dresses, eats and spends her free time really stuck with me. As a society, we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship. I had many discussions about the book and people always said “but she has a choice!”

'Fifty Shades of Grey' book cover

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book cover

Do you really believe that any woman would choose to be treated in such a way? Yes, everybody has their preferences but when you take away all the superficial aspects, and look just at Ana, can you relate to her on a human aspect? She wants to be loved, and she will do anything she can to try and make this man love her. Clearly, she doesn’t realise what she is in for, and is hurt physically and emotionally through the course of the story. I felt that E L James created a very stereotypical idea of Ana, whereby she becomes dependant on a man’s love, even when she leaves him she cannot stay away, she is clumsy and needs’ to be ‘looked after’. When I read it, I was willing Ana to be stronger, to leave him, but of course that never happened.

And if you look at real life abusive relationships, women often believe that the man loves them, despite years of suffering abuse. In the end his character does change, but the fact remains that he is still a controlling man that clearly has issues. It is my personal belief that if any person loves another, they would not do anything to harm them. In the first book towards the end, there is a belt whipping scene which epitomises the abusive nature of this relationship, and highlights the growing concern that  Ana has for her wellbeing. Every woman deserves to feel safe, without concerns for her own safety when she is in a relationship, and that is the message that James should have been promoting.

The most shocking aspect of the whole thing was the way the 50 shades phenomenon took off in the media, it fast became a trend. Everybody wanted to have a man like ‘Christian’, and although a huge part of the story is about sex, the things that really troubled me was the ongoing lack of freedom and choices that Ana had. People wanted to be ‘dominated’.  And in a world where freedom of expression is celebrated, I really don’t think we should be accepting a book that promotes anything less.

“As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.”

Christian had a troubled past, and the cause for his control issues stems from a neighbour having a relationship with him when he was a young teen. If we read a news article of a 15/16 year old boy engaging in a sexual relationship with an older neighbour we would immediately think grooming or sexual abuse. Yet, at no point in the trilogy, does James suggest anything of the sort. And for me, that is deeply worrying. In real life, a man with such high levels of emotional trauma would need psychological help and counselling. And if James wanted to write a book about a troubled man she should have done it responsibly, rather than making him take out his aggression and problems on vulnerable young women. As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images credit: Jeffery and Wikipedia

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Perks of Being a Somali American Wallflower

by Hafsa Guled


Image credit: Chiarashine

Image credit: Chiarashine

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2013). I distinctly remember reading that quote on every corner of the internet in late 2014. It was typically accompanied with a black and white gif of a crying, dark haired boy mouthing the words stop crying, stop crying. The pure unfiltered agony and sadness radiating from my laptop screen captivated me. His hands were gripping at his face and I instantly needed to know his story. I was always a sucker for sad movies with morally correct lovable  protagonists. This is how I, a shy anxiety ridden Somali American hijabi girl, fell in love with a movie just by a mere silent gif found in the corner of Tumblr.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2013).

Growing up, I was taught that being quiet and shy wasn’t a desirable personality trait. Whether it was through well- meaning family members insisting that no job would hire a quiet girl or teachers putting me on the spot to read in class even when I slowly shook my head.

Not mention the constant media narrative of so- called oppressed hijabi women being pushed down my throat. I felt immensely guilty for not being like my other hijabi friends who had no problem speaking up. Every time I swallowed what I wanted to say, I personally felt I was contributing to the stereotype of all Muslim women being submissive and passive. That is why a movie essentially about a brilliant, fiercely loyal introvert resonated so deeply with 17 year old me.

Charlie, a fifteen year old freshman, is a quiet awkward boy who feels lost in high school. To the audience watching the movie from the outside looking, we could see that Charlie really doesn’t possess one bad trait. In fact, he seemed like the type of character you’d want by your side during a time of chaos. Unfortunately, typically in high school, character isn’t what counts. His struggles to fit in and yet stay true to his core, whilst in high school are universal themes that I, and nearly everyone, can deeply connect with.

For me, this film represented a realistic almost eerie coming of age story. It showcased the overwhelming sweet power of accepting friendships. It taught me that being quiet and reserved was something to celebrate. Perks let me know in many ways more than one that quietness was not equated with lacking in creativity and depth. Perks also helped me realize the parts of my being I loathed the most were actually the most wonderful aspects of me. It did all of that in the pretence of a teen movie.

A movie like this that encompasses so many heavy topics is truly hard to come by. As a director, Stephen Chbosky, really captured what it meant to be a teenager growing up. He cleverly captures the beauty of coming of age amidst chaos. The reason why the movie is so resonating is its ability to be unabashed and utterly honest in its portrayal of high school. Many teenagers can relate to Sam’s struggle of getting the perfect SAT score to make it into her dream college.

Charlie finds it challenging to find friends in high school. Mary Elizabeth tries to find the balance between being quick- witted while being vulnerable. Patrick struggles with violent, internalized homophobia from the boy he sees as the love of his love. And while all these aspects of the movie made it that much more real and heartbreaking to me, one scene in particular will stay with me for eternity.

Image by myinfiniteabyss:

Image by myinfiniteabyss:

The moment when close friends Patrick and Mary Elizabeth talk poor, shy Charlie into stripping down into his underwear and getting on a stage to perform The Rocky Horror Show was hands-down the most riveting moment in cinema for me. Charlie loses himself in stage and even subtly flirts with Sam, his long term crush. We see him break completely out of character and it is truly awe inspiring. For awkward me, it let me know that getting out of your comfort zone is not always disastrous.

At the end of day, never underestimate that quiet kid in your class. They may be hiding a whole world your extroverted self might not be aware of.

Hafsa Guled is a 19-year-old aspiring writer and social advocate, and you can follow her on Twitter @QUESADILLABABY

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
Images credits: Chiarashine and myinfiniteabyss


Talking Taboos #Porn

by Sabrina Mahmood

'Hot Girls Wanted' promotional poster

‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster

Yep.  You heard it. It’s time we all stopped blushing and avoiding the hugely important topic of porn. By chance I came across a documentary called ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ about how young women (aged 18/19/20) break into the amateur porn industry in America. It was scary but gave an insight  into the mindset of some of the young  women who wanted to ‘make it’, have ‘freedom away from home’ and ‘make money’. It’s a perfectly normal aspiration to want to be successful and to be known for something, and everybody is entitled to their own lifestyle choices. Let’s be totally honest, porn is never going to be eradicated, especially not in the digital age that we live in.

However, our approach to it needs to change. If we look at the girls in the documentary, they were looking for jobs through an online advertising site called ‘Craigslist’. The advert was entitled ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ and immediately drew their attention to a ‘new life in the city’. After a quick search on Google myself, I found the UK ‘Craigslist’ and went to the TV/film/radio section where the adverts, as in the documentary, are centred on adult film work. One push of the button and it is so easy to source work like this. Imagine young and vulnerable people who are looking to ‘make it big’ and they find adverts like this. Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content? Surely if people wanted to find adult work, it should be posted within specific adult sites or adult job search engines, rather than the wider search engines.

“Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content?”

Sex EducationTo break down some of the key issues from the documentary, one of the first things I noticed is that the young women believe sex is just a part of modern society and no longer has any value or meaning. And that’s where sex education  comes, our children are taught about the mechanics of sex and porn, but not the principles and values. If as a society we are so adamant for them to learn, let’s at least teach them the crucial things. When did we actually ever learn about the mechanics of a healthy and normal relationship both emotionally and physically? And the emotional connection between a couple or the huge amount of trust and respect involved? When did we have an understanding of a woman’s role in porn and subsequently a woman’s role in society? If we aren’t taught about respect, and if we aren’t shown it, we will never learn it or have it.

One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit. She said that ‘acting’ in scenes like this were ‘harmless’ as people were watching it on their screens rather than committing the acts in person. In the UK crime and statistics release from 2013/2014, the number of sexual offences recorded was ‘highest recorded’ in over ten years (64,205)–2013-14/index.html.

“One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit.”

So, evidence shows otherwise, when young people consume these violent and graphic portrayals of ‘normal’ sex, there is a greater chance of replicating the violence they have seen. In the Prevent Together report on impact of pornography on youth, results from meta-analysis show that there is a “significant overall relationship between pornography consumption and attitudes supporting violence against women”. And all of this is available freely by typing the word ‘porn’ into Google.

A hugely concerning issue raised in the documentary was the lack of protection for the women in terms of contraception and sexual health. Without the use of condoms, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS is significantly high. The young women in no way were warned of the dangers associated with their sex work and they were led to feel a false sense of security in the routine fortnightly testing for STIs. As with any job, health and safety issues should always be prioritised and there should be safeguarding protocols in place to allow these women sufficient training and education to understand the great risks they are face whilst performing sexual acts. As a society we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable women and girls regardless of the choices they make. Sadly they are often misinformed or coerced as shown in the documentary.

Some of the women discussed having breast enlargement as they also felt it was more desirable in the industry. On the other hand the documentary states that the word ‘teen’ is the most common one used in porn searches. So there are two main desirable pornographic ideals, a young under-developed female, and a woman with big breasts and a curvy figure. Both of these images cannot relate to real life women, who all vary in shape and size. When the viewers of porn are looking for gratification in these images, they become disillusioned with real life women and therefore real life sex. And isn’t it a horrific thought that grown men are increasingly looking to watch porn that involves young females?

It’s time we muster up the courage to speak up about the issues surrounding violence against women and girls every day. We need to be brave enough to challenge the abuse our young people endure in a culture created to view porn as a norm.  We must give appropriate and relevant sex education to our young people before they start seeking answers themselves on the all too familiar Google search box.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credits: ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster; ‘Sex Education’;‘Girl with heads in hands’

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Where do we stand with Rape on Our Screens?

by Sabrina Mahmood

(Trigger warning: this article contains references to rape, which may be distressing for some)


Have you ever seen ‘The Last House on The Left’? It’s classified as a horror film, and being a well-known name in the horror world, I decided to watch it. When I read the info on the back of my dvd case, it mentioned something about an isolated house and a family, so I assumed it would fit the bill of many similar films where people go to an isolated house and get haunted or killed by the strange locals.

Theatrical release poster

The film started off like any other, but halfway through there was an unimaginably traumatic rape scene. It was completely unexpected, and although the film is rated 18, I did not ever imagine witnessing such horror. The scene continues for over 3 minutes, showing in gruesome detail a minor watching his father rape another minor with the help of his girlfriend.

That sounds horrific doesn’t it? It was. Absolutely and brain numbingly horrific. I thought about why anyone would want a visualisation or to depict an image like this in such detail. Was it to get viewings and ratings? Was it to make the film more credible, more ‘extreme’ than any other horror film. Horror as a category is not always about ghosts, but in the main there is supernatural influence or senseless killing by deranged humans. Even if there is a rape scene it is insinuated or referred to verbally but I had never seen anything like this. It left me with so many questions.

Is this what we accept in society? That to make something more exciting or watchable or to have higher ratings, we incorporate graphic rape scenes and sexual violence. It’s massively important to talk about these issues in our society, and to make sure that our children know about rape, but in an appropriate fashion. By showing it in such detail, do the moviemakers desensitise us to it? So that the next time we watch a tv show or film that shows a rape scene, do we say ‘it was just a rape scene’. Because it’s not ‘just’ anything.

Rape ruins lives and I guess it’s the same argument that parents use when they don’t want their children to watch violence on tv, because unknowingly they start to mimic it. I’m not saying that we will all become rapists by watching rape scenes, but merely that when societies’ impressionable and often vulnerable people see these acts of sexual violence as an ‘exciting aspect’ of a film or tv show, will it make them look for similar ‘exciting’ experiences in real life?

Does the graphic depictions of rape on our screens stem from a wider rape culture that exists in society? If we look out our music charts as an example, the song ‘Blurred Lines’ in 2014 peaked at number one in 14 different countries. The uncut (explicit) version of the video features fully nude women and the censored version has ‘censored nudity’. When did it become okay to show a naked women on any other platform but porn? And even then it was acknowledged that this was reducing women to mere sexual objects! The song’s key theme is pushing boundaries with women and there is an undertone of coercion.

Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell performed 'Blurred Lines'. Image credit:

Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell performed ‘Blurred Lines’. Image credit:


Robin Thicke sings;

‘What do they make dreams for

When you got them jeans on’


He insinuates that the womens’ choice of jeans are merely as a tool to be provocative in seducing men. The lyrics and video itself completely objectify women, making them sound as though they are purposefully seductive for men to ‘blur lines’ with. Yes it’s catchy, but when you consider the real message of the song, it becomes sinister. That song stayed in the top of the charts for months, and it’s not just in music, even on our TVs and basic advertising that we are exposed to on a daily basis. We’re constantly shown images of women which turns them into objects and this contributes to the the way in which women and girls are viewed less equally to men, in wider society. Isn’t it time that we took back our bodies?

Below is a short spoken word poetry piece, that I wrote which considers the embodiment of rape culture and how widespread and normalised it is in todays’ society.

Isn’t it okay to be real?

Isn’t it time we stopped
pretending that it’s okay
to judge a woman on her beauty
and not the strength of what she says
only cup size that matters
her intellect dismissed
if she wants to succeed
seal the deal with a kiss
it’s a time old concept
take a woman as a book
before you’re quick to judge
at least give it a proper look
read between the lines
get to know the real story
before you assume
that the cover is its glory
every single place we go
models and adverts
selling woman after woman
in an industry of perverts
because they say that sex sells
but don’t they have daughters
born from a womb
it’s the mother that taught us
shatter the ceilings
and don’t ever stop trying
when your told that you can’t
show them strength without crying
but most important thing of all
never take off your clothes
selling your dignity
while they show no remorse
because every woman is honour
but they want to create ‘whores’
feed into pornographic ideals
making us forget what’s real
just imagine
one of the most successful females
emerged from a sex tape
and while hers was a choice
so many come from rape
as a society we accept
that it’s a claim to fame
but shouldn’t we be showing our women
that they don’t have to perform acts
of submission and shame
isn’t it about time
we drop the patriarchy
show everybody that education
is the only real hierarchy
and that your looks or your hair
it doesn’t matter what’s there
or not
or whose hot
I mean who are we to decide
when we don’t even know what’s inside
it’s about time
we create a new ideal
I mean
Isn’t it okay to be real?

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credits: Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines image taken from  and ‘The Last House on the Left’ image taken from