Trainspotting and the depiction of women

There are few people who are not aware of the buzz that is surrounding the filming of the Trainspotting sequel (styled T2: Trainspotting 2). The film will be based upon Irvine Welsh’s sequel, Porno, which was released to mixed reviews in 2002. Speaking as a member of the generation who was still in nappies when everyone’s favourite degenerates first hit the big screen, I am beyond excited. With this has come a renewed interest in the Trainspotting series (which is now made up of Trainspotting, Porno and Skagboys- in order of publication).

I have been a fan of Welsh for years, and his unapologetic depictions of the more unfavourable aspects of our society was one of the reasons I took a degree in English Lit. Although I was surprised to learn in a group conversation one day, and from some criticism online, that there is a rise in the number of women developing an issue with the depiction of their sex in the Trainspotting series. There are those who feel that Welsh has yet to create a female character who is an example of the better nature of the female sex. This begs the question, why exactly are women supposed to be given special treatment in the series?

The fact of the matter is that most of the characters are not well endowed with a list of attributes as long as Begbie’s hit list; it is not just women who are depicted badly in Welsh’s world. The characters are so well loved because they are startlingly real; they have flaws, make poor decisions and seldom learn from their mistakes. Admittedly, some of the more horrific mistakes are from the women. Alison’s response to finding her child dead from neglect is something which few people did not feel disgust at. However the fictionalised baby Dawn represents numerous children who were neglected by their drug addicted parents; it is not as if we have never heard such stories in the news before. Welsh should not be accused by some of having misogynistic tendencies, for writing about a real issue.

For those who are familiar with Porno, when considering women one particular scene will inevitably spring to mind; involving the degradation of an inebriated woman. It is beyond gut churning, but to me this is still not grounds to label Welsh as being unsympathetic towards women. Very few people will go through life and not see a person who has had far too much to drink humiliate themselves; likewise, very few will have seen a woman in that state treated in the depraved manner which Welsh depicts in that particularly harrowing scene. However, people need to remember the fact that a depiction of women which is negative or unsympathetic does not automatically translate to misogyny.  Welsh sheds light on the underworld of modern society, and he has never held back when doing this.

Although Porno involved one of the most grotesque moments in Welsh’s literary career, it also introduced one of his most endearing characters. Nikki Fuller Smith is given a voice and a perspective; she is intelligent, hilarious and more than a match for any of the men who Welsh has created over an extensive career. Yes, she is a sex worker- but the perspective of a naïve prude would hardly be of interest to those who are attracted to Welsh’s work. Personally, I hope that Welsh continues his tirade of unapologetic realism, he is a reminder that not all art has to be aesthetically pleasing.