Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bored Cultural Gag Reflex

Sometimes my cultural gag reflex is an angry one, one that leaves me heaving and a little teary. Sometimes my cultural gag reflex is a frustrated one, leaving me saying either too many words, not enough words, or incompletely thought out words. But mostly my cultural gag reflex is a bored one; because as a woman the items offered for my cultural intake can be very boring indeed.

I would like to present a short survey of my thoughts as I watch a standard film or theatre offering that does not meet or barely meets the minimum of the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test asks if there is two named female characters in the script that talk to each other for a minute about something other than men. Examples of scripts that fail the Bechdel Test fill our cinemas, our stages and other areas of our popular culture*, and that means I am bored an awful lot, alas.

The first thing that happens with the standard non-Bechdel compliant script is that when I meet the first female character I want to be comfortable in the narrative and I want to identify with her. Usually I have committed about two hours to her and her cast mates, so I am pretty keen to find myself a place in the narrative, and thus in the world for those few hours.

In the days when I repressed my cultural gag reflex, I would identify with the only female character on screen, no matter if I liked her or cared for her, and as a female audience member I would be reduced to a pretty standard list of options within, and reactions to, the narrative. Now that I no longer repress my boredom or cultural gag reflex, I like to exercise nefarious narrative observation of the standard non-Bechdel compliant script rather than participate in it.

So I will present the basic thought processes of the two versions of The Claire Who Consumes Culture:

Buying In to attempt to find common ground

There is one, maybe two female characters. So I had a choice to identify with one set of ideas in the narrative, two if I was very lucky.

Having to Opt Out because the selection was too small to satisfy me

Looking around at all the other (male) characters for the character that was similar to me in thinking. Once identifying with him, feeling disappointed that no female character is given a story arc as rich as his.

Buying In to feel like I could exist in the narrative / world

There is one female character because the (male) characters have included her for their reasons, not because of her actions. So I find myself feeling like I need to be seen by men to exist.

Having to Opt Out because I exist, whether any man likes it or not

Looking around at all the other (male) characters for the character that has earned their place in the group in a way I can identify with. Once identifying with him, feeling disappointed that no female character is included in the group due to respect for her own agency.

Buying In so I feel like I am contributing to the narrative / world

The one female character is in the narrative to support the other (male) characters, sometime literally just to feed, fuck and / or fight them. So I start to feel the only way to exist is to be seen by men and serve them.

Having to Opt Out because I look after myself, so you should look after yourself too

Looking around at all the other (male) characters for the character that looks after themselves. Once identifying with him, feeling disappointed that no female character is included in the group without having to feed, fuck and / or fight the male characters.

Buying In because I want to feel I have some power in the narrative / world

There is only one female character so I really have to like her and identify with her so I can BE in the action and not just observe it from the audience.

Having to Opt Out because there are more positions for women everywhere

Looking around for the other places in the narrative that could be filled with female characters because I am getting PRETTY DAMN BORED ABOUT NOW.

Buying In because I want to learn something from the narrative / world

There is only one female character so she has no female mentors, role models or peers to guide her, inspire her and support her in the narrative.

Having to Opt Out because I am tired of having to always fight to view inspiring women

Looking around at all the other (male) characters that have male peers, mentors and role models to guide, inspire and support them, and trying to learn from their interactions because I am getting PRETTY DAMN BORED ABOUT NOW.

Buying In because I want to survive in the narrative / world

There is only one female character so I have to hope she survives until the end of the script so that I do not finish my allotted time with no female characters, or having to meet another lone female character that replaces the first female character. So I start to feel that I am alone, I have had my visibility conferred on me and not earned, I must either feed or fuck men, there is only one position of power for a woman and I must defend my place in that one position of power.

Having to Opt Out because I want to build my place in the narrative / world

Looking around at all the other (male) characters that survive in the narrative due to their own efforts alongside their peers who support and guide and inspire them to surge forward and grasp and build their own destiny no matter what stands in their way. Once identifying with them I simply give up, because I am sick to death of having to identify with men AGAIN to gain wide experience, because of the lack of female characters in the script.

Thus ends the non-Bechdel compliant script, freeing my brain from all the work it had to do to try and carve out any interest in the narrative from the limiting and limited opportunities offered by the most boring of scripts. I look at the credits, trying not to register the gender proportions, and I speculate on how the world appears to women when seen through the prism of the non-Bechdel compliant script.

I think the worst legacy of the ‘one or two female character only’ model of script is that every woman in the audience is subconsciously standing apart from the other women in the audience to identify with the one female character. And subconsciously stepping away from the rest of the female audience to occupy the only position of visibility, power and agency is a pretty lonely, bitter and destructive way for your subconscious to spend your time when consuming culture. And it doesn't really encourage a sense of working with other women, as the male characters are allowed to do in the non-Bechdel compliant script, especially if there is only one available place for female characters in the narrative / world.

So I Opt Out of the ‘one or two female character only’ model of script so I can feel alive, powerful and productive in the narrative and in the world. And no, that is not by identifying with the male characters, because that is not a real option, simply an exercise in Opting Out. I Opt Out by making sure I stop suppressing my cultural gag reflex; I let my healthy disrespect for a non-Bechdel compliant script throw it right out of my brain, never to darken the doors to my soul again. And then I go talk to a real life woman who inspires, supports and guides me, because your average non-Bechdel compliant script couldn’t handle the women of the real world in its wildest dreams.

* I must acknowledge Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency for her fabulous Tropes vs. Women series, especially The Smurfette Principle.

And, bless them, the Axis of Awesome even comment on the 'one female / many males' model in How to Write a Love Song

Girl, you might think it's weird, Girl, that there's three guys singing about just one girl, Girl, but let me tell you something, Girl, it's not weird at all, in fact, Girl, it's an industry standard and it happens all the time.

Thank you Boys!

NOTE: I adjusted this post on the 9 August as I completely forgot to mention women who practice ultra-violence either physically or mentally while fighting the male characters.
non-Bechdel compliant script REVIEWS

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cultural Gag Reflex

When I didn’t know the lyrics and hadn’t seen the video clip, I really loved listening to Blurred Lines. I only heard it on the radio in the office and, due to actually working and sitting some distance from the radio, all I could hear was the bubblegum pop and Pharrell’s hoot. And then came the day that I watched the video clip, read the lyrics and my now robust cultural gag reflex kicked in; who is this Thickehead for whom respect and consent is a blurred line? And why is every sentiment in his song and video achingly retrograde and yet somehow so mainstream?

I love to listen and dance to Rap and Hip Hop. I bought my first CD because of Pony, my second for Ooh La La and for close on fifteen years I have suppressed my cultural gag reflex at the lyrics of the Rap and Hip Hop songs I like, especially when I was singing along. It takes a special kind of socialized Stockholm Syndrome to actually sing along to the kind of dehumanising words that these genres encourage for describing women. It leaves a special aftertaste in one’s brain when you finally ignore the blurred lines and acknowledge the spectacular misogyny in the lyrics and videos of most of the mainstream offerings from the genre.

In rare karaoke moments I usually try to be cool by trying an Eminem song as I am a bit of a rabid fan; I used to posit that Eminem’s rhyming structures were so very impressive he was the Shakespeare of Rap. His misogyny is overwhelming however, and today I viewed the Shakespearean play that could be argued to be the Eminem play of his oeuvre – The Taming of the Shrew. This production from The Globe would have been the highlight of my weekend if the eponymous Katharina Minola had not been on stage at all; there is only so much culturally sanctioned domestic abuse that I can stand from my favourite playwright.

The play is a relentless stream of insults aimed squarely at women, although because of the truly impressive comic delivery of lines by a baker’s dozen of talented male actors, I did laugh quite a bit during the play. But it is pretty hard to laugh when one must watch the universally hysterical and often psychotically directed Katharina being beaten, starved and gaslighted* into submission by Petruchio. Petruchio’s ‘taming’ of Katharina plays itself out on stage as a textbook study in domestic violence and Katharina’s final speech is still the most perversely modern moment of the play. It is a litany of the very worst arguments of the patriarchy project for not affording women respect and removing their ability to control their own lives, an almost perfect converse of the feminist theory I am reading in The Second Sex at the moment.

I continue in my sadomasochistic attendance of productions of The Taming of the Shrew because I long to one day see Katharina played more like Beatrice, with intelligence and no hysteria or violence. I fear I will never see that day as the whole play hinges on justifying Petruchio’s abuse of Katharina as romantic because she is a 'shrew'. If you had Katharina playing the intellectual fire of her lines and not the implausible violence that is inevitably directed into the physicality of the role, Petruchio’s behaviour would be unconscionable. And then maybe The Taming of the Shrew could retire from the stage, residing in the purgatory of Shakespearean plays that do not translate into the modern.

The last scene of The Taming of the Shrew always leaves me feeling intellectually dirty, and while my companion was robustly vocalising her own cultural gag reflex during the endless scene today, I was formulating an idea about this ludicrous play and its incomprehensible popularity. If I embrace the theory that Shakespeare wrote plays that were meant to influence the masses to support his powerful patrons, it occurred to me that the need for The Taming of the Shrew, a play centred solely around arguments for keeping women in a subservient position, was actually an indication of a population of women who were exercising their right to decide things for themselves.

To prompt an entire disciplinary play from Shakespeare there must have been a lot of women who were foul contending rebels and graceless traitors to their loving lords due to exercising independence. And the modern productions, directed with insulting misogyny, are conceivably a reaction to a similarly independent population of women, else the play would be of no interest to anyone because of its relentless misogyny. And while this little theory doesn’t mean I am ever going to be comfortable with The Taming of the Shrew, it does make my cultural gag reflex more a reaction of reluctant amusement than weary disgust, blurring the misogynist lines just a little, just enough to mean I may endure the next staging of the play on the off-chance a really radical Katharina Minola is allowed on stage to warrant an entire play about her behaviour.

A palate cleanser for the brain - The Best Blurred Lines Parodies here and here, and, gloriously quotable when you are really unwilling to mince words, HERE! And while there are many articles about the song, this article was the one that struck me the most.

*Thank you Eva for pointing out the gaslighting in Shrew! Once it is pointed out, it’s hard to unsee it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Being humble in the face of History

In the flood of Facebook Outrage (ie, not really worth anything unless you write to all the elected representatives of Australia and then vote to get every last one of the Xenophobic Asshats out of their seat) about the policy announcement on refugees, a buried comment of mine is proving popular.

STATUS UPDATE

Dear Australian Politicians who think refugees should be sent to PNG.

You are Actual Asshats.

I think you should read your own advice.

http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Papua_New_Guinea

COMMENT

There are so many things I could say, but I will stick with the topic in which I am trained - history. Not a single one of those politicians can claim to come from a genetic line that did not come to Australia as a refugee/asylum seeker/immigrant/migrant. Oh, unless they are ALL indigenous Australians? Fuck them and their 'Because I am here now I belong, and I am going to ignore how I got here and ignore what that arrival and continued presence has done to the society of the original population' There is only one population in Australia that gets to say that, frankly, with any historical veracity. I wish they would stop trying to 'Wag the Dog' and get on with actually working towards the rightful equality of the entire population of Australia. Fuck. Them. Truly.

Despite the language even a British Rector has liked the comment! Bless you Jules.

The gobsmackingly retrograde policy announcement from our Prime Minister regarding refugees coming to Australia by boat is a little frustrating for me, so I just want to, uh, remind every Australian reading this who is not of Indigenous descent of a really important historical reality.

The only people in Australia right now who are not either refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants, or who are not a mere five or six generations from a refugee, asylum seeker, immigrant or invading criminal, are the Indigenous population of Australia.

It's pretty simple stuff. We all claim residence of this continent through one of our recent ancestors bringing a new ethnicity, religion, language, moral code and society to this continent. And we all claim residency of this continent despite the wishes or policies of the Indigenous population. You know, the population that had been resident of this continent for 80,000 years?

So I hope every Australian reading this who is not of Indigenous descent does four important things:

1. Gets a handle on the basic historical facts and does some important work to get rid of their prejudice, privilege, entitlement, xenophobia and racism RIGHT NOW.

2. Writes to every last xenophobic, racist, entitled, privileged and prejudiced politician who is legislating against refugees despite being refugees or immigrants themselves and tell them to get rid of this ridiculous policy RIGHT NOW.

3. Vote all the fuckers out in the next election. ALL. OF. THE. FUCKERS.

4. Vote in a politician who is going to close the gap between Indigenous populations and Immigrant populations (those of us who are not Indigenous, just in case you hadn't realised) right now, RIGHT NOW, and who is going to let every refugee and asylum seeker into Australia, RIGHT NOW.

We need to become humble in the face of history; we are all either refugees or immigrants, we all displace and shorten the lives of the original inhabitants of this continent, and we all have an awful lot to do to make this right, RIGHT NOW.

For further reading, Julian Burnside.

The Tampa: Defining the threat of the other

This essay was written for a UWA History Unit in September 2001, so soon after September 11 that I referred to those events in their long format. I actually haven't had to change a word to publish it twelve years later, which is a sad state of affairs for Australian narrative on refugees.

In the current affairs of Australia in the last month a fascinating example of metaphor and narrative has surfaced. The Tampa Affair alone could have been a watershed in the development of the Australian multicultural psyche if not for the tragic World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks and the resulting USA focus on Afghanistan. In its nearly two weeks alone on the Australian stage, however, the Tampa Affair brought to light some very interesting ‘truths’ in Australian public opinion and illuminated some of the intrinsically Australian metaphors and narratives regarding our presence on these shores and how racially tolerant we really are. As my references for this essay I am using the letters to the editor of The West Australian newspaper. I have read all the letters from the start of the standoff until the 11th of September when the World Trade Centre collapsed and the Afghan refugees on the Tampa became part of a much bigger and potentially troubling picture.

As a ‘multicultural’ country, Australia has a population of the peoples of the world, but is governed by an identifiably Christian, Capitalist, Anglo-Saxon power class. So while we should be a country that can claim fellowship with the world as we contain many representatives of that world, we instead are very clearly ruled by the ‘truths’ of our governing class. In reading the letters to the editor I was able to identify certain prevalent themes that ran through the arguments on all sides. These themes can be directly linked to metaphors and narratives from within Australian society and especially from the governing class. For ease of reference I will list the main themes so that I can refer to them later in the essay. The themes are ‘charity at home’, ‘White Australia Policy’, ‘invasion by others’, ‘do-gooders’, ‘legal solution’, ‘return to sender’, ‘independent nation’ and ‘political stunt’. For this essay I have deliberated on how I am to refer to the people who seek to cross Australian borders, including of course those 450 people on the Tampa. I am what the writers in letters to the editor might call a ‘do-gooder’ and so I regard these people as refugees and asylum seekers and not as illegal immigrants with all the connotations of that label. And so I will refers to these people, genuine or not, as refugees.

The problem with refugees is that in seeking to penetrate the borders of Australia, they are threatening the Anglo-Saxon power class’ right of ownership of the land their forebears colonised. Now this metaphor of the ‘invading other’, dating from the days of the ‘Red Peril’, is utilised to produce the unifying effect of ‘us and them’. I think the most evocative of the quotes that brings this metaphor to our attention is from A Cameron (29/8) ‘Do we then, down the track, have to fight for the State of Western Australia because they have become so numerous that they want to take our land from us?’ A perfect example of a metaphorical Australia suitably assumed uninhabited to allow European explorers absolute ownership of the land, yet allowing an influx of new settlers are portrayed as invaders. This idea is an example of the absolute narrative of the capitalist ownership of that which it exploits and has tamed. R W Corfield (1/9) observes, further, that ‘no matter how the current crisis is ended, the need to enforce our sovereignty is overdue.’ As a nation, Corfield proposes that we take steps to make sure this usurpation of our ownership and border rights by the ‘invading other’ is discouraged. As a counterpoint to this argument for the absolute ownership of land borders is the idea of Australia as a decent global citizen. One commentator observed that as a compassionate nation the refugees were perhaps attempting to intimidate us by our own decency, a decency that leads people like J Williams (3/9) to assert that ‘we have a saying: possession is nine-tenths of the law. The human cargo of the Tampa is in Australia’s possession. Thus we are nine-tenths responsible for them.’ Williams is using the narrative of ownership of the land and the sea as proof the refugees should allowed into Australia, quite a different proposition to Corfield and Cameron.

Another interesting aspect of the entire affair is what may be called the 'Tony Bullimore / Afghan / Zimbabwean triangle of equality'. R Laslett (3/9) asks ‘what would you do for 450 Tony Bullimores or 450 white Zimbabwean farmers desperate to save their kin from butchery?’ This question sums up the hypocrisy of the ‘White Australia Policy’ attitude to immigration neatly. Tony Bullimore was one of us and the Zimbabwean farmers can become one of us, but R Pomfret (24/8), who was attacking the government for not giving Zimbabwean farmers priority entrance, argued that we are refusing our ‘own kith and kin entry while giving sanction to entry at a moments notice to people who come from God knows where.’ That this is a clearly racist attitude to immigrants cannot be argued, and it is still expressed because the power class that dominates Australian society is still Anglo-Saxon as in the time of the ‘White Australia Policy’. This argument for a ‘White Australia’ attitude has taken an almost prescient turn with J McPhee’s (31/8) question ‘what will be our internal situation if Australia should find itself in conflict with any of the countries that our ethnic communities identify with?’ With the USA’s current focus on Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist bombings, the pressure is showing in Australian society between those that can be identified as Muslims and non-Muslims. No matter how the USA resolves its revenge, Australia’s multicultural narrative is being picked apart. The Soccer Australia incident and the rash of suspected racially motivated rapes in Sydney are but warning signs of the fault lines nations of mixed cultures historically manifest. In their letters C J Fernandes (31/8) and V Brady (30/8) drew parallels between colonisation, invasion and the influx of refugees, proposing that this flood of refugees around the world is a product of colonisation and a backlash against it, the colonised are recolonising, with all the social upheaval so inherent in the concept of colonisation.

T Scott-Morey (3/9) makes an interesting claim in that ‘the only people unhappy with this solution [the Tampa refugees going elsewhere] would be the people who thought they could pay $10,000 for an easy life in Australia … These people are not asylum seekers, they are fortune seekers.’ Of course, this argument has two sides. In the capitalist narrative these people have indeed paid money for a life that allows them more wealth and provided that they have suitable training, no language difficulties and financial backing, they have benefited from coming to Australia. Yet in the humanitarian narrative they are simply looking for a safe haven and have saved their money to go to a country that will offer them shelter, a country in which they are almost certainly destined for a lifestyle that would be far below the host country’s accepted standard. R Laslett (3/9) conjured up a distinctly Christian idea of acceptance within a Christian narrative that predominantly seems to be seeking to rule out Muslim immigrants with ‘let him who thinks he deserves vastly superior wealth and comfort sink the first refugee’. C Ward (5/9) has an interesting point when she addresses the refugees, saying ‘if you had been accepted as refugees and allowed to stay, no matter how long you would have lived here or how hard you worked and contributed to our society, you would never have been accepted by the majority and you would have been resented … The small element of people who try to make a difference are labelled as do-gooders and bleeding hearts. Those who speak out are ridiculed.’ The hard facts of life in a different land and culture detracts from Scott-Morey’s argument.

There is an argument from F Mason (30/8) and others asking those ‘do-gooders’ who wish to admit the refugees ‘how many homeless Australians or sick strangers have you invited in your homes recently?’ using the classic ‘charity at home’ narrative. Mason implies that if you do not practise such charities on a personal level why should these same ‘do-gooders’ impose it on a national level. This argument and others from people such as I Crimp (31/8), ‘more economic refugees be allowed in and given the very dollar that could have been spent on the sick and aged in Australia’ and J Griffiths (30/8), ‘you could be building badly needed hospitals now instead of reception centres’, ring false as our politicians sell off the obvious wealth of the nation and implement ineffective policies. The narrative of Australians making good in the land of the ‘fair go’ leads to many of the complaints against the refugees. The refugees are portrayed as queue jumpers displacing those who have waited lawfully for entrance to Australia. While this is an argument for a fair go for everyone trying to get into Australia, are there those who are in fact acceptable queue jumpers? Perhaps Pomfret’s desperate Zimbabwean kith and kin? C and L Annoni (30/8) have an even more insidious plan for refugees caught queue jumping. Rather than simply turning them away the government should be ‘keeping them offshore and repatriating them immediately.’ This is a mentality of ‘return to sender’ that simply keeps the refugee flood moving on with no attempt to alleviate some of the pressure, paying an insult to global citizenship.

With a typical Australian distrust of institutionalised power, public opinion on the legal, international and political ramifications of the Tampa Affair are equated by D Coates (5/9) with subversive lawyers, clerics and migrant organizations forming a fifth column. Once again I am mindful of different rules for different situations, the lawyers are attacked for fighting for what they see as human rights, for according to B Wood (4/9) ‘now we have a handful of self-serving lawyers hijacking the country against the wishes of the majority.’ Yet I am sure Wood would not stir a finger if those same lawyers were to chase Brian Toomey for every last cent of Ansett entitlements. G Mascord (7/9) goes so far as to question the validity of the lawyers right to challenge the politicians on the matter of the Tampa, ‘I can’t recall being given the option to vote for the Law Society.’ Yet Australians have a profound distrust of our elected statesmen and at any other time would welcome a challenge to our politicians’ powers. V Brady (30/8) has articulated clearly why many of the writers to the letters to the editor believe that the Howard government had taken a leaf from Pauline Hanson’s book to gain the ‘votes [gained] in whipping up hostility to ‘foreigners’ and promoting myths of thousands waiting to descend on Australia, or even invade us.’ As for Australia being a good global citizen, P J Doody (30/8) believes that the international community has its own problems to deal with without looking over our shoulders. If this is the case then we should be careful not to do something the could be seen to tarnish our global reputation for citizenship, so as not to have the shame of another UN inquiry into our track record as was threatened in the issue of the Stolen Generation.

This limited survey of Western Australian opinions published in The West Australian has never the less allowed for a study on how ideology addresses those inside it and creates metaphors and narratives that shape the reality of public reactions to highly charged situations. While the solution to the Tampa Affair is still to be implemented successfully, the conflict between borders and global citizenship has been somewhat blunted while the cracks in the ‘multicultural’ fa├žade of Australian society are on show, again.
For further reading, Julian Burnside.
And my own writing on Australian Politics.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Attracting the right people

In general I have very much enjoyed articulating, writing and reading whatever I wished regarding my ideas on feminism. The interactions I have had with people because of this openness have been unexpected and are all the more precious because each has taught me something important about people I thought I knew, and people I only know now because I said what I thought.

I decided recently not to keep my ideas about equality for all women only to sympathetic and comfortably political audiences because it felt as if I was old enough now to own up to my opinions. I also decided to go all out with the F Word because I didn’t want to have to fight through layers of political correctness or degrees of political engagement in my audience – I was either in or I was out – and I had to declare it. I have found that declaring for a clear line of politics and communication has focussed my frustration with inequality to a productive degree.

The most interesting manifestation of this focus is that I now genuinely attract people in a crowd to talk to me about feminism. On one of the first F Word Fridays I was at the theatre with a friend and two strangers struck up a conversation with me and their only topic was feminism. The first interlocutor was making a point about sexism that was easily prompted by the play we were watching, and I did enjoy meeting a man more unforgiving of sexism than I was – you should always have people ahead of you in politics.

The second person who talked to me that night was the mother of the Director and from the moment she opened the conversation with feminism I could tell that I was standing in front of a woman who had walked the walk. I know I had to use the F Word every time I talk because I am a baby in politics and feminism and I need to ensure that people will pull me up on my opinions so as to develop them. But this woman didn’t have to ever use the F Word, because she lived it and spoke it and her personal embodiment of it was so natural and strong I felt I was swimming in the ocean of experience, not paddling in the stream of theory.

I am looking forward to the day when I have had to apply feminism so practically to my life I no longer have to use the F Word because I will be living it. And I am looking forward to the day I no longer feel like bathing after I have encountered the other type of people who are now compelled to speak politics with me – the Entitled Street Harasser Misogynist/Homophobe/Racist Asshat type.

A friend and I were at a very civilised neighbourhood bar tonight and we were talked at by a tipsy middle-aged man who observed us holding The Second Sex and decided he wanted in on the conversation, twice. The first time he imposed himself on us he claimed:

1. To have read de Beauvoir
2. To have read lots of Feminist Literature
3. To think that what happened to Julia Gillard was abhorrent

We listened politely, smiled and nodded. We did not give him a medal for the Gillard commentary, despite the way he seemed to think the sentiment would get our sympathy. He left and we went on with our dinner and conversation.

The second time *sigh* he talked at us we were in the middle of a really quite important conversation and I tried to be respectful after he opened with Gillard and Feminist Literature. Again. I asked him what I could read that would talk about being a man, what book had inspired him, what he would recommend.

I was bemused when this man told me that he was so good at life he didn’t need to learn stuff from books. I rather naively felt sorry for him, so confident was he that he was right, and I wished he had been able to give me the name of a book, any book, so I could catch a glimpse of the other side of the argument. Then he went full Asshat:

1. He asked me directly if I was gay because I didn’t want children
2. He asked my friend directly if she was gay
3. He tried to make some theory of Feminism and attractiveness – I think, it wasn’t quite clear
4. He leant on my shoulder and claimed his hip had given out, causing him to loom over me, touch me without permission and hover his rather substantial stomach in my face

Luckily he wandered off of his own accord and, I hope, because we so carefully and quietly did not give a flying fuck about his opinion on our lives or the books we had with us. But it does still amaze me, his Entitled Homophobic Misogynist Street Harassment and Asshattery.

All because of two girls and a book in a public place - there is truly nothing more disconcerting for an Asshat than two girls and a book in public.

NOTE: This is what happened when I got home from the bar.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Gymkhanas, Gumshoes and Trophy Guys

I have been trying to work out where my Female Misogynist Asshattery comes from, and I think some of it results from progressive influences on my reading material and education while I was growing up. I often reconsider my reading material in order to speculate on where I get my ideas, because books have always been a very strong influence on how I think and how I view the world. I read a lot of books from specific genres when I was young, and they presented me with ideas about life that were contradictory and have meant that I, thankfully, stand at an ideological fault line between several projections of women and their place in the world.

I am a reader first and foremost in life, and my Dad guided a lot of the decisions I made in my formative reading years. My Dad never restricted my reading, I could read whatever I want, and I took full advantage of this fact. At home I read the books from his childhood and they were a unique set of books to grow up on, because my father grew up in the Fifties and Sixties reading mainly American horse stories for boys. In substance his books were surprisingly similar to the American and Australian horse stories for girls in my school library during the Eighties and Nineties.

Young people need to learn responsibility, leave home, travel the world and find their destiny. In the books of my father’s childhood all this was accomplished by young men owning their first horse, learning to take care of the horse and tack, travelling to the frontier with the horse and their wits and learning to be an adult in the world. I loved these stories and didn’t even noticed the overwhelmingly male protagonists; my parents had worked hard to allow us to grow up on farms with horses, so I had enough of my own experiences as the female protagonist to fill many more books!

By the time the children’s stories of my generation were being written young men bonded with cars as a sign of freedom and young women were given horses, but the horses were mostly used in gymkhanas, and gymkhanas and teenaged-girl-politicking was of no interest to me. I was saved from insipid Pony Clubs by the marvelous Girl Gumshoes of my generation though – Trixie Belden, Robin Kane, Nancy Drew and others – who were thankfully way smarter and more interesting than their male counterparts from my Dad’s books. These young women were brave, intelligent, active and very determined characters that regularly saved their male friends from harm while solving mysteries and acing their homework. I adored them.

By twelve I was convinced that anything a boy could do, I could do, especially using my brain and showing responsibility in an adult world. Then I started reading the genre that shaped my adult life – spy fiction! Dad handed me Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre and I never looked back. I loved the history, the action, the politics and I loved the men – Jason Bourne from the BOOK was my first teenaged crush. The strangest legacy of those books however was the role of grown women in the genre – there was only ever one female, she had very hot and fast sex with the male protagonist and then either died as collateral damage, was hideously tortured because of her contact with him or simply appeared at the end of the book as a reward.

Unfortunately for me, I was young and I absorbed ideas without questioning the problematic relationships they would have with each other as I got older. On the positive side I thought that girls could do anything boys could do, and in less violent and more intelligent ways. On the negative side I absorbed the view of women that was inherent in books with male protagonists and while I never applied those rules to myself, I did apply them to other women. Thus I arrived at my own Female Misogynist Asshattery all because my reading development was not treated with actual Asshattery!

But the good news is that from the world of books about male spies I formed my own unique perspective on sex; men were created to look pretty, satisfy me in bed and turn up as a reward after I had saved the world. Don’t ask me how THAT happened, but it did, and I quite enjoy its use of one trope to the tune of another!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Freed women make for better men

At the end of the Eighteenth century Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to discuss the rights of women in the public political sphere, via natural and reasonable justice in the private domestic sphere. She supplemented her arguments for women's rights with appeals for social utility; that freed women make for better men. The dichotomies of reason and feeling, of nature and culture, and of private and public were the chains of female servitude to the pleasing of men in her time.

Wollstonecraft questioned why equality is equated naturally with women displaying masculine qualities and not men displaying feminine qualities or equating masculine and feminine as the two equal parts of the same indivisible whole. If the reasoning mind is sexless, and humans only divided into differing parts for reproductive purposes and not to divide the power of reason and feeling between the sexes, why must the victim become the abuser or one sex emulate the other to obtain equality?

Wollstonecraft knew that it is only with a stable and just private sphere that the public sphere will acknowledge the existence of and encourage the development of women's rights. Throughout liberal political discussions the private sphere was acknowledged as the foundation of the public, but it was never considered as the source of political change as it fell outside the liberal parameters of governmental power and therefore of political thought.

Wollstonecraft knew that to free women in the public sphere justice had to enter the fundamental political institution, the private family, and women's work in the family domestic sphere must be accepted as viable in social exchange. The raising of her children and her household duties is regarded simply as natural for a woman and is therefore unacknowledged. Following the logic that it is woman's nature to nurture and clean as a feeling creature, would not men's accomplishments in the public sphere be similarly natural for a reasoning being and therefore not worthy of exceptional praise, payment or prestige?

Wollstonecraft argues that the differences between the sexes and their assigned societal roles in the family are results of gender and not sex. She argues that the supposed differences between the sexes is due entirely to education; girls do not like dolls and therefore stay inside, they are kept inside thus dolls are their only amusement. The 'feminine weaknesses' are caused by their education; not their ability to be educated affected by their feminine nature. She notes that girls left to run 'wild' show the true nature of the woman, that of being able to show vigour of intellect as equally as men.

The culture in the Eighteenth century was that of men educating women to serve and please them in marriage. Wollstonecraft believed that such social conditioning created coquettes who make dangerous mothers and disloyal and unappreciative wives. Thus the misconceptions of women are perpetuated, for women must please their masters, and their masters are vindicated in their subjugation for their subjects pander to misconceptions. She maintains that educating women to exercise their reason will result in a equal partnership that is mutually beneficial in that it produces a useful and natural mother and wife and a fulfilled and contented father and husband.

Wollstonecraft's arguments are not so much an appeal to women's reason, which she believes is merely obscured by inadequate education, as it is an appeal to men's reason. The subjugation of women is supported by the hypocrisy of accolades for man's natural reason and punishment for women's natural nurturing, and the attitudes which encourage dismissal of women's essential role in the private sphere by the public sphere, which directly profits from the support of the private.

This is an excerpt from a never-published essay I wrote to avoid writing my Marxism essay in Historiography 2007. I am finally publishing this piece to acknowledge just how long ago I first started really understanding my own natural inclination towards feminism.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

No longer kittens, but where are our claws?

Email forwards are gendered, I propose, in some areas of content. I find that women do not spend the majority of their time forwarding pornographic images to their female friends (unless you count nude sportsman calendars as pornographic), and I would presume that men do not spend the lion’s share of their time on their emails giggling at cute photos of kittens sporting sassy lines about liking their chocolate, coffee and men strong, rich and dark.

Lately there have been a spat of ‘Girlfriends and Sisters Week’ emails arriving in my inbox with wry salutes to the sisterhood of women, the tongue-in-cheek comments about discrimination and stereotypes treated with that special kind of humour that women use to blur the sharp edges of the inequalities we encounter in our society. Whether is it is a joke about body image, gynaecological matters, marriage, age, clothes or men, these emails use comedy to do what every minority political group uses comedy for, to get to the punch line first.

I don’t forward on soppy duckling-infested emails - I err to the side of forwarding on satirical and sarcastic emails - but saccharine sweet offerings of Disney characters giving you a hug and Anne Geddis babies dressed as rowboats spread across the internet on email lists that make me sit up and think ‘Now, if all those women on those forwarding lists felt like forwarding something a little more powerful, I wonder what would happen?’

There is a rule in polite society that one should not impose one’s politics or religion on those with which you have a social relationship; and I think most women try to forward on emails that are based on principles of care and love. They send funny emails, they send sweet emails and they send thank you emails. They send religious ones as messages of faith, political ones to stir sympathy and they send nude sportsman calendars to give hope.

I think that keeping religion and politics to a minimum is quite a good rule to follow when forwarding emails, or replying to mass emails. Thus, I hope that my next paragraphs are going to be any more political or religious than they are going to be about care, empathy and hope. I am going to talk about the pointy end of being a woman. The end that is, to make some rather off-colour puns, more about the punch than the punch line, more about dark acts than dark chocolate. I am going to talk about women dying every day because of politics, religion and the strange reluctance of freed women to wield the power that they have in their society.

Women are not equal to men in this world, not legally, not socially, not culturally, not economically, they are just not equal. Some women in the world are better treated and better educated, but that is about it when it comes to the political revolution of the Feminist moment. As my aunt, proud warrior of the fight for equality for women pointed out to me in horrified tones ‘What happened to the Feminists? Why don’t your generation care about the fight for real equality?’

When I sat down and thought about it I had to agree with her. The movement to obtain equality for women has become the Jocelyn Wildenstein of political revolution, changing the appearance of the problem rather than addressing the actual causes of inequality. The rights of women to their own bodies, their own minds and their own safety and destiny is the battleground for those who wished to free women centuries ago and today.

This is an excerpt from a never-published essay I wrote to avoid writing my Marxism essay in Historiography 2007. This essay was composed mere months before I joined Facebook and I have left in the quaint references to email forwarding lists to acknowledge just how long ago I first started really understanding my own natural inclination towards feminism.

Monday, July 01, 2013

From Our Own Correspondent

I don’t cry often at all, maybe once a year? I am getting better at crying, but it still isn’t something that I do much unless I am arguing with my mother. The surest way to make me cry used to be to let me read Bridge to Terabithia; I read it each year in school simply to have my yearly cry.

There is one time I remember crying and not even realising it; I was cleaning my bathroom and listening to From Our Own Correspondent from the BBC. The story covered UN Peacekeepers in Africa and it was utterly heart wrenching listening. At one point the reporter’s voice broke with emotion and I found myself having to mop up my own tears from the tiles, tears that fell without me feeling them at all through my sympathy and sadness. I can still feel how cold those tiles were under my knees as I really let myself feel the personal impact of knowing of the great suffering in the world.

That was the year that I listened to the BBC World Service in the morning as I had breakfast and, as it was midnight at Greenwich Mean Time, I was usually listening to a world news magazine programme. One morning I caught a very unusual moment of live radio because prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a vocal detractor of Putin, had been gunned down in her hallway.

One of her fellow journalists talked to the BBC briefly to comment on government involvement. She boldly accused Putin of killing her friend, and spoke quickly but disturbingly about journalists and their families diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and sent to camps in Siberia. The BBC presenter asked her if she could say more or speak again to journalists outside Russia. She said she would not, that this would be her only statement, because it would not be her gunned down in retaliation, but her family sent to camps for no reason.

I remember standing in my kitchen, every hair on my body standing up in horror at the unsentimental communication of the nature of the regime in Russia at the time. It gave me an out of body experience as I fully understood that I lived in almost unbearable political safety compared to the entirely shocking conditions evident elsewhere in the world. It was a painful moment, but one that I had to go through to develop a wider perspective in life.

There is an almost overwhelming record of personal experiences of oppression and discrimination in the world, a record that once encountered, cannot be denied by any human possessing the smallest quota of empathy. I personally used to treat the War on Women as a distant warzone because it was not happening to me, until a perfect storm of generational misogyny and a surprisingly feminist experience opened my eyes. And when I opened my eyes I found myself in the middle of a gendercidal war, intent on turning all the people closest to me into sleepwalking soldiers.

And I have to say, I am writing this after having gone into my room on a warm and sunny day and crying with shock and surprise, something completely unusual for me to experience. The completely spontaneous crying is certainly a surpise, but it was the thought that prompted the crying that was the biggest surprise. You see, I was trying to think of a proper image to describe the transition from blissful ignorance of the War on Women to the terrifying reality as communicated by the correspondents around the world reporting on the women tortured and dying because of their gender. And what sprung to mind was my favourite piece of writing, written over four years of writer's block and crafted from countless difficult emails to friends trying to explain the screaming inside my head. What sprung to mind was an essay on feminism written passionately but never published.

I cried because for some reason, I have known all along that I am not actually skipping along in a meadow of flowers in a utopia of safety and freedom. I was taught that image, I was given that image, I was encouraged to buy into that image. And for a very long time my writing, flowing out of my brain and through my fingers into the pen and onto the keyboard somehow bypassed that conditioning and found the truth, the unpalateable, the destructive truth. And the reason I cry easier now is because I ignored the foreign correspondent and investigative journalist inside me for a very long time, and that is a sad thing to have to admit.