Educating Rita, and me

Educating Rita, and me

We love theatre, movies and TV shows because they tell our stories.

When we see ourselves and our lives reflected back at us we know we’re not alone in our experiences, we feel connection with both the story and its writer, and life, for a while, seems to make more sense.

There’s a movie called “Educating Rita,” (written by one of my favourite writers, Willie Russell!), which has meant so much to me from the first time I saw it at the movies, with my mum.

It stars Michael Caine as a university professor and Julie Walters as Rita who comes from a working class family. In Rita’s family people don’t go to University. They leave school and get a job and that’s it, and if you are a woman, you get married, have children and resign yourself to your lot in life.

Rita is a hairdresser, married to a bloke who wants her to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to. She is hungry for education and feels there is so much more to life. Her studies begin to separate her from her family, because none of the others have trodden that path and they can’t seem to understand her need to fill that hunger, that curiosity.

In one tellingly emotional scene Rita is in the pub on a Saturday night with her family and they all begin to have a sing along in the pub. You can hear Rita’s voice narrating over the top of the scene, and she looks over and she sees her mum’s face. Her mum looks so miserable, so heart-breakingly sad.

In that moment Rita realises that her mum harbours all those same feelings for getting more out of life, and that she’s squashed those feelings down to fit in with the expectations of other people. Rita realises there are tears on her mum’s face, and says, ‘Why are you crying, Mother’, to which her mum replies “There must be better songs to sing than this.”

I can remember seeing that movie for the first time with my mum. I was 22 years old. I was also in the final stages of a four-year hairdressing apprenticeship and I too felt that ache for life to be something more, to sing a better song than this. I found myself sobbing there in the cinema, because right up there on that huge screen was my experience.

Then I turned to mum and she was crying too, because she also remembered her hopes and dreams that had been halted by life, and for a few moments we weren’t divided by generations, by history, a world war and the advent of feminism. We were simply women, equal in our hopes for a life well lived.

I recently saw a production of Educating Rita here in Adelaide and it blew me away. Stunningly, simply produced, directed and acted. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

The great news is that this production is being given another outing due to the first run being totally sold out and I cannot recommend it enough. It has Lauren Renee and James McCluskey-Garcia in the roles of Rita and Frank, with direction by Nathan Quadrio of IpSkip Productions.

It runs next week, Wednesday 19 to Sunday 23 April at The Bakehouse Theatre and tickets are only $18.

If you love to see a great story well-told, go see it.  I promise you, it’s a wonderful night of theatre.

A Generation of Stupid Girls

It occurs to me that we have succeeded in raising a generation of stupid girls.

Not that this applies to all girls, I have to say. Thankfully there remains a decent cohort of sensible, balanced young women who have self-respect aplenty, ambition for better lives and a sense of their worth in society.

Society, however, hasn’t contributed to this, though. It gives the sensible women no worth while at the same time promoting the living Bratz dolls that are better camera fodder.

I detect that one of the major changes took place when the television program ‘Sex and the City’ became popular, and a whole set of false values were sold to our girls. The importance of designer shoes, no matter your income level; the importance of promiscuity; overall the importance of materialism.

At the same time we had the rising tide of celebrities being implicitly positioned as role models via their constant presence in a material-hungry and morally vacant press, while their behaviour wasn’t really fit for anyone to witness, never mind emulate.

And so on the cusp of a new decade, forty odd years after the women’s movement began to enjoy the first fruits of its long-fought battle to gain equal rights, we have the spectacle of girls in their early teens dressing like prostitutes and calling it fashion, and by that I mean no disrespect to prostitutes – they’re women with a job to do. Could a girl dress as a welder and then be surprised when people think she’s a welder – even if she is 13?

The cult of pleasing men has reached ridiculous proportions amongst the teen and twenty something women.

We have the ‘trend’ of bisexuality displayed by young women for the viewing pleasure of their partners or any onlooker who’s passing, and we have the growing feeling that one should always accompany one’s male partner to a strip club to view the ladies, as to do otherwise would not be cool. It brings memories of University and Stuart Hood’s work on ‘women as the watched, and men as the watchers’. One can only wonder how the young woman struggling to come to terms with her own genuine lesbianism feels when she sees so many others try it ‘off the peg’ for a bit of a laugh.

I often work with young female journalists. To a woman they look like gorgeous china dolls, and I wonder what happened to all the talented female writers who don’t happen to look like that? Are they automatically discounted from the shortlist because of their looks? The same stringent quality controls are very obviously not applied to the male equivalents.

I shiver when I hear young women declare ‘I’m not a feminist’, because by saying that you are telling everyone that you do not believe that you deserve equal rights, you are negating the pain, suffering and sometimes deaths of women who walked before you in order to gain the freedoms that you take so much for granted.

Worst of all your mothers and grandmothers have allowed this to happen.

Shame on all of this. We have sold our daughters’ and granddaughters’ futures to a world where they’re held less than worthy if they don’t look like a model while achieving that PhD.

Maybe it’s more apparent to me coming from a non-Australian background, but I’m still shocked at the way a good proportion of Australian men speak about women; the utter disrespect, arrogance and ridicule that is the starting point for any interaction with the opposite sex depresses me on a regular basis. This is in contrast to the many Australian men who I know who do treat women well, who know how to be real gentle-men and have no problem with being on an equal footing with women. So how come the latter never get the limelight in this macho society. What are the Neanderthals afraid of?

I certainly never heard men speak of women like this in Europe or UK. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but that it’s not tolerated openly in society, which is a starting point.

The hero worship of the Sam Newmans, Shane Warnes and the like is beyond belief in a supposedly modern society. Until women – especially young women – get the guts to say ‘no’ and stop playing the gender politics game to the agenda set by the Neanderthals – whether on a domestic, professional or political level – and start working together with the many men who do want to work together with us, it will remain as it is, and our daughters and granddaughters will have been cheated of their legacy – a world where they can ditch the stilettos and the diets and still feel they’re worth something.