Tag Archives: Feminism

Bruno Fernandes: Convicted Killer; Contracted Football Star, Sponsoree of Brazilian Government

I try not to use strong language when posting to such a public network, but this is absolutely FUCKED.

Bruno Fernandes is a newly signed football star for Boa Esporte and a convicted killer.

In 2010, this man abducted, tortured and murdered his ex-girlfriend Eliza Samudio, a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair resulting in the birth of a son. When she made to claim child support, Fernandes conspired with his teenage cousin and another accomplice to kidnap Samudio. He tortured her, killed her then dismembered her body and fed parts of her to his dogs.

After serving less than 7 years of a 22 year sentence for his convictions of abduction, murder, conspiracy to murder, hiding a body and corruption of a minor, he was this week released and inundated with contract offers from a plethora of Brazilian football clubs.

Not only that, but he is sponsored by THE BRAZILIAN GOVERNMENT – the city in which his club is based is his primary sponsor.

 

 

This is why we cannot accept it when we are told that equality is protected by the law; that women have already attained the degree of opportunity and safety that men have and that crimes against women are adequately prosecuted. For some of us, this is the case. But for millions of women, it is far from it, and it is harmful to the cause of equality when we allow ourselves to be pacified by the popular ideology that equality has already been achieved and feminism is petty, redundant and antagonistic.

The law failed Eliza Samudio when she was brutalised and killed by Bruno Fernandes in the course of claiming the child support monies to which she and her son were entitled.

The law fails women everywhere when a convicted killer is pardoned of his crimes and rewarded with freedom, fame and wealth on a dangerously public level.

As soon as I find the petition, I will sign it and post it.

US Presidential Election Donald Trump

Trump Wins US Election: 2016 Results Mark Trump’s Official Launch Of Backwards Evolution

In the year that Great Britain voted to leave the EU, people around the world today tuned in to the 2016 US Presidential Election results live as Trump vs Clinton votes stacked up perilously in Donald Trump’s favour. Trump, now the elected leader of the United States of America and victor over rival candidate and typical woman, Hillary Clinton,  is excited to spearhead Republican initiatives to cease dangerous, leftist progression towards equality and world peace.

President Trump’s arsenal of cataclysmic policies can be credited with winning over the American public, who have been waiting for someone to grab them by their collective pussy and plunge them into insular prosperity.

The answer to their (strictly Christian) prayers may seem to have risen quickly to power, but in fact dedicated years of his life and untaxed income towards becoming a household name. Since he was spawned in the orange garbage juice of Queens, New York, Trump has pioneered gentrification, beauty pageantry and general capitalist greed with his powers of articulation.

Inevitably, Trump’s charms were irresistible, and humans throughout the former most advanced nations in the world can now look forward to a more sexist, racist, xenophobic, mono-cultural and intolerant socio-political climate. In this climate, we no longer take pride in moving forward, but instead, winding the cultural clocks backwards: closing the borders, deriding women, mocking the disabled, ignoring the problems and fearing the foreign.

Despite of today’s results, which are devastating for ethnic and religious minorities, women and ability-impaired people around the world, it is not time to give up yet. Today we can mourn the loss of a great, open-minded and altruistic leader and the introduction of a loathsome Oompa Loompa in his place, tomorrow will be time to band together and continue to fight to keep the world a beautiful, peaceful, tolerant place where everyone is equal.

Misconception Corrections: Feminism Is Not Hate or Terrorism

Man is not the enemy here; but the fellow victim.

— Betty Friedan

Popular opinion nowadays frequently labels Feminism as ‘Hate’. Feminism as Women Hating Men, feminism as the flag of Angry Lesbians, feminism as Terrorism enacted by those hateful females to instill fear in our enemies, men.

The actions of women before us – radical gestures of empowerment, outrage or defiance – often define the feminist movement, providing memorable samples of revolutionary behaviour to be assembled in a case against it in our contemporary, politically-correct society. Why, were Feminists not those who stormed court houses to make their case, who smashed shop windows on London’s high streets, who marched with banners bearing messages of impassioned resistance to patriarchy, who used their naked bodies to make political statements on a global scale? Did they not hijack mainstream media with their own agenda, throw themselves into public disgrace by breaking the law, fill gallery spaces with graphic vaginal iconography (representations of female genitalia), make paintings with menstrual blood and rally women to revolt against the very foundations of western society?

These are things that women did for the cause of feminism, yes: they adopted the language of social change because passivity and acquiescence had proven ineffective. What was heard – what was moving and memorable – were words and actions that so shocked and disquieted the public that their plight became at least a blip on society’s radar. Feathers were rustled to rouse rigid minds to flight: this, irrefutably, is still the case. Almost everything you think of has been done before; you need to find a way to shock and move your audience lest your work go tragically unnoticed.

Susan B Anthony: helped establish the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which vocalised her calling for the same rights to be granted to all regardless of race or sex. Anthony and Stanton created and produced The Revolution, a weekly publication that lobbied for women’s rights in 1868. The newspaper’s motto was “Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less.”

Alice Stone Blackwell: in the early 20th century, Blackwell translated and published several volumes of verse from various oppressed groups, notably Armenian Poems (1896 and 1916), Songs of Russia (1906), Songs of Grief and Gladness (1908; from Yiddish), and Some Spanish-American Poets (1929), and she wrote against czarist oppression in The Little Grandmother of the Russian Revolution—Catherine Breshkovsky’s Own Story (1917). Her focus was not on her own experience of oppression: it was on the cause of equality for every person, everywhere, regardless of gender, race or religion.

The Redstockings: Womens’ rights lobby group The Redstockings stormed a hearing of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Public Health in 1969, which was considering abortion law reform. They objected to the hearing, asking “Why are 14 men and only one woman on your list of speakers—and she’s a nun?” The committee chairman countered that these were the experts on the subject, to which The Redstockings responded by saying that there were no better experts on abortion than women.

We need to be long-distance runners to make a real social revolution. And you can’t be a long-distance runner unless you have some inner strength.

Steinem to People magazine, 1992.

The Guerrilla Girls: a group of female artists passionate about leveling the patriarchal playing field that had always been the Arts, this group’s motto is reinventing the F word: Feminism! The Guerrilla Girls formed in 1985 and threw long-accepted ideas into the light of interrogation, and the under-representation of women and racial minorities in major galleries and publications was their overarching focus. To me, the more important message is conveyed by their decision to mask their identities with gorilla masks, drawing the focus away from their identities and directing it solely towards the issues. In this way, their modus operandi was not to terrorise, to obfuscate, or to hide; it was not about who they are or gaining notoriety for championing the cause of women everywhere or ingratiating themselves as artists with political motivations.

Judy Chicago: few will be unaware of Chicago’s iconic work, Dinner Party (1979). Indeed, Chicago chose to depict the women of Western society throughout history with fine porcelain sculptural representations of their genitalia. Widely misunderstood and considered, at the time, obscene and antagonistic, I see this work is the wrangling of femininity out of obscurity and into a self-contained symbol of power, pride and beauty. By taking the institutionally and socially taboo vagina and flipping into an art object and symbol of female empowerment, Judy Chicago subverted prevalent notions of femininity as inferiority—as lack of masculinity—and earned herself a permanent place in feminist history.

the-dinner-party-by-judy-chicago

Today, what characterises ‘feminazism’ is the impassioned expression of outrage, defiance and frustration by women online and in the streets. ‘Feminist rant’ has become a term with which such expressions can be swiftly and subtly discounted, and one that is frequently stamped on outspoken womens’ rights activists, from Australian politician Clementine Ford to global comedic success Amy Schumer. Other MPs who have voiced feminist notions have been hit with criticism for ‘not being able to handle mean tweets’ (mean being physically threatening or using, more often than not, the words ‘slut’ or ‘whore’) or labelled as humourless ‘control freak feminists’ taking issue with petty annoyances.

It is easy to forget that we are all victims of a distorted way of thinking that inhibits global equality, and that equality, not antagonism, is the purpose—the only reason—that women express their frustrations, or at least it should be when they call it Feminism.

In the fight for equality, we are not fighting against each other: women are not fighting against men or fellow women, nor race against race, nor religion against religion.

 

Wound Up By His Wounded Ego: Exchanges With A Stranger

A few months ago, I had just moved to London from sunny Australia to pursue a more creative career path. The shock of transposing myself from the warm wading pool that was Brisbane – my beloved hometown in which most of my family and close friends reside – into the immense and choppy ocean that is London had me feeling a bit lonely. I was in a particularly low mood one Friday evening when I was the only person I knew in town for the weekend, and thus, for the first time in months, at a loose end with no one to hang out with.

I felt invisible – the only people who knew of my existence were myself and my otherwise-occupied flatmates, who I’d only just met a week before.

As I lugged my bag of groceries back towards the flat, a fresh-faced lad approached me.

“Hi… I’m sorry if this is a bit forward, but you are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen… what’s your name?”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, blushing and caught utterly off-guard. “I’m Sally.”

“Hi, I’m Cameron.”

We exchanged pleasantries, gave each other a couple of sentences worth of information about ourselves and what we do, then he asked if he could have my number to ask me out on a date.

I know what you’re thinking, and of course I was too. This is weird. I don’t know this person. But, let’s be honest – I didn’t know anyone, and I was literally just thinking I was invisible and have no one to hang out with. So… I might as well make one friend (or something), and what’s the worst that could happen? I could always say no later down the track.

I sheepishly gave Cameron my number and we parted ways.

Back at the flat, I was sitting outside on my balcony, enjoying a thoroughly uplifted demeanour by having a glass of wine and cooking dinner.

All of an hour later down the track, I got a text from Cameron. Hey Sally, any plans for tonight and the weekend? Not overly compelled to talk to this stranger again already, I ignored it and went back to what I was doing.

An hour after that, my phone rang. It was Cameron.

Cameron wanted me to go and see him at his professional weightlifting group training tomorrow morning. Already put off by his slightly tactless impatience, I politely declined his offer. To be honest, I wasn’t interested in watching a complete stranger lift weights and had some freelance work to do over the weekend, so the decision wasn’t difficult. He reluctantly accepted ‘no’ for an answer and promised to message me to arrange another date.

More or less certain that things would not work out between me and Cameron, I didn’t think about it again until he messaged me again a month later.

Hey sally

Not sure of what I would say even if that was worthy of a response, I ignored it again.

I thought it was over when Cameron didn’t message me again until a month later – yesterday – with this charming meme to give me a piece of his mind.

File_000

Discomforted and rightfully pissed off, I showed my colleague with whom I was enjoying a beer in the sun at the time and asked if it was reasonable to respond harshly. I was urged to just ignore it and block him. A good option, I’m sure, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I was pissed.

I’ve been flashed, wanked at, harassed and upskirted many times since my early adolescence, and I’ve never bit back at the perpetrator. I’ve been too shocked or reserved to stand up for myself – passivity is ingrained in the female psyche, but equally, I prefer to take the high road. But this time, I was fed up.

Look mate, I’m not interested. Stop messaging me. Also, f*ck you, that’s disgusting.

I blocked him on WhatsApp and thought I was done with it.

Ten minutes later (ever the model of patience) Cameron sent me a regular text message.

File_000 (1)

Right then. Making the obvious decision to block him immediately, I spent the rest of the day thinking about exactly what this says about Cameron, about the society and culture in which we live, and – if anything – about me.

This is what I could discern.

  1. Cameron’s ego had been wounded, and – being extremely insecure – he lashed out at the girl who rejected him.

He ascertained some catharsis from insulting me, putting me down because I had slighted him and hurt his feelings.

Never mind that he doesn’t know me at all – after all, we had met for all of two minutes – he felt that I was now deserving of the titles fat, ugly and whore.

  1. My beauty – previously exceptional to him – and respectability – previously intact – were disqualified by my non-reciprocation of his romantic interest.

To Cameron, women – or at least, this woman – are only attractive and worthy of respect if they do as he pleases. If, however, they are not interested in him and reject his advances – however politely – they should no longer be told they are beautiful, but should be cut down and insulted, degraded for the promiscuous, mean-spirited whores that they are.

  1. In Cameron’s eyes, women to whom men express romantic interest owe those men the same in return, and that any failure to do so is a rude transgression of social codes.

Cameron believes that I owe him something because he wants me, and that I am a bitch for not electing to spend time with him, flirt with him and watch him lift weights. For the small ego boost he gave me all those months ago, I was indebted to him. When I failed to feed his fragile ego by watching him flex his muscles at training, Cameron wanted to take that boost back and punish me for not giving him what was rightfully his. He meditated on all that he knew about Sally, the girl he met for two minutes, to generate a highly original and factual insult with which he would put me back in my place.

Fuck you, you fat ugly whore ;).

Yep, you really made me look stupid.

This kind of exchange is an outrageous example of the kind of cultural problem that women still face today with the small demographic of men who share Cameron’s beliefs.

To those men, I deliver a response on behalf of women everywhere who have been antagonised for declining a man’s advances:

  1. You are not entitled to speak to women – or anyone – that way just because they rejected you. I am entitled to say no;
  2. My beauty and worthiness of respect are in no way qualified by my romantic interest, or lack thereof, in you; and
  3. I don’t owe you anything.

From the bottom of our hearts, f*ck you.

Kind regards,

Sally.

Misconception Corrections: 1) Feminism Is Not… Degrading | Self-Victimisation | Redundant

While Feminism never disappeared from the collective consciousness, its manifestation has ebbed and flowed in four unique waves. Each wave served an absolutely vital purpose in improving life for women by advocating for social, economic, political and cultural equality.

Feminism in its earliest form rose from the dormant embers of 1900 years of inequality and oppression. Women’s social duties and responsibilities were not treated as equal to those of men: they worked longer hours for smaller wages, held no agency for those meagre earnings and were denied self-ownership because they were represented by their husbands and fathers. Its pioneers, the Suffragettes, challenged patriarchal power as it was, in this way, institutionalised in law and government. University professor and author of several essays on American culture, feminism and gender politics, Christine Stansell, once poignantly expressed the complex circumstance of early feminism.

Such challenges do not arise simply from a collective sense of sisterhood; they do not grow automatically from women’s everyday relations with each other. They involve a conscious organisation, collective changes in consciousness, and a shared set of ideas about the nature of power and how to seize it.”

They had no other choice: either they do something or forever be owned by, and inferior to, men, subject to laws they had no part in making or enforcing. In the utter absence of power, women banded together to develop strategies for change and advancement, with a focus on obtaining the right to vote. To do this required action above and beyond themselves, those men and those employers: they had to change the policy that upheld legislated inequality.

Emboldened by their dissatisfaction with their societal position, women – mothers, wives, workers and scholars – launched peaceful demonstrations and political protests for equal pay, self-ownership and voting rights. Their messages fell on deaf ears, and their punishment into hands desperately clinging to their privileged position. Suffragettes were beaten during protests, fired by their bosses, abused by their disapproving husbands and estranged from their children, for whom men were the sole legal custodians. They garnered negative publicity by staging happenings of public nuisance, ignoring the laws that ignored them, and were subsequently imprisoned in endless attempts to silence them.

Their battle was eventually won, but at great cost and with great sacrifice: women lost their families, jobs, freedom and even lives in the fight for these fundamental rights.

Just because we now enjoy social, economic and political equality does not mean that the driving purpose of feminism is redundant, nor its principles stuck in those decades in which women were victims of patriarchal mistreatment.

Feminism is Not Degrading | Self-Victimisation

Referring to the plight of the Suffragettes is a way of contextualising the social, economic and political rights that we now take for granted. The fight for equal rights was a war, and holding those who fought the battle – or suffered oppression before it was won – in living memory shouldn’t be frowned upon. Feminism does not decree that without it, you wouldn’t be able to get a job, it embodies the beliefs, actions and sacrifices made by others before you which are the reason that you can get a job. Feminism is not about what a disadvantage it is to be a woman: it is about leaving all remnants of disadvantage behind and addressing areas of society in which this progress – whether due to bureaucratic complexity, corrupt management or lacking information/education – lags.

Feminism is Not Redundant

Aside from the fact that there are still countries in which women are equally as oppressed – or worse so – as the Suffragettes, there are many reasons why Feminism is still a positive, relevant and important movement.

I’d like to put this into perspective, but I have long struggled to express my frustration with the ‘women are equal now, get over it’ logic (with which I believe many of the video’s stars are familiar). Lost for words, I turned to more primal communicative tools: a black Biro, some coloured felt pens and a piece of paper:

IMG_4213

To say that, in less than one-twentieth of the time in recorded history, almost 2000 years of oppression can be resolved and forgotten, seems preposterously ignorant of the bigger picture here. Can colonising races, having destroyed the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people of their acquired lands in a mere fraction of their existence, declare the score even by outlawing racial discrimination and granting rights to the formerly persecuted some decades ago? No. The score is not even: the colonised and the colonising are not born on equal footing. Resolution to any degree requires a doctrine of equity rather than equality, whereby consideration of the significant, continuing financial, cultural, social and ethical difficulties faced by disenfranchised indigenous people.

In a similar way, thousands of years of inequality have left remnants in our social and cultural consciousnesses which perpetuate the values of patriarchy. They are so deeply entrenched in our society and collective psyche that we are often not aware of their operating in our homes, workplaces, governments and everyday interactions. The biological designation of child-bearing to women continues to hinder their career trajectory due to management strategies in the recruitment and return to work stages, and parental leave legislation sustains a salary (and superannuation) gap which undermines the tenet of equal-pay-for-equal-work policy to which many cling as a comprehensive solution. And, though targets are being ardently worked towards by our businesses and governments, women remain largely unrepresented in management and policy-making positions.

This is the purpose of contemporary feminism: addressing and removing those remnants of inequality that imply women should be a certain way, do certain things, choose a certain lifestyle and limit us by doing so. Women, as well as men, should be, do and choose of their own will. But for their choices to be made free of these inhibiting stigmas, as are those of men, there is much still to be changed, and much to be understood.

Misconception Corrections: Feminism Is Not…

Feminism has always been, and will always be, an evolving set of values and principles. Like all ideological movements, it is socially, culturally and politically receptive. The time and place in which it operates necessarily dictate the circumstances it fights to overcome and the ideals it fights to achieve.

Having become a loaded term, Feminism suffers now more than ever with damaging misconceptions about its purpose, its people and the progress that it has made and can continue to make. This video, in which people from all walks of life are asked to describe what Feminism means to them in one word, provides a comprehensive summary of these misconceptions, which include labels such as ‘self-victimisation’, ‘terrorism’, ‘hate’ and ‘female privilege’.

 

The next few Femoirs will comprise a series of responses to the misconceptions voiced by men and women in the video, who represent far larger social groups who hold similar ideas. Using the developmental timeline of feminism, I will respond to each of these misconceptions by following the trail of social, cultural and political opinions voiced about the movement throughout its lifetime.

I believe that the cause of these distorted impressions is lack of- or misinformation, and the false representations of feminism created by misinformed people using its name in the public arena. By addressing these misconceptions with information and analyses echoed by university curriculum, I hope to begin to resolve them and restore the integrity and reputation of the feminist movement.

Taking back the female body

Truth be told, we live in a society that objectifies women. Women’s bodies are used to sell anything and everything in advertising, acting as objects of visual pleasure in television, cinema and magazines. Historically, this has been because advertising and mass media industries have been dominated by men, whose primary audiences for cars, real estate, technology and household products were men as the breadwinners in patriarchal society.

Many women now work in advertising and media, political correctness in advertising is legally mandated, and transgressions from it are quickly repealed and publicly roasted by media watchdogs. fairlife-pinup-ad-2But this does not preclude the use of barely clothed female bodies in advertisements for completely unrelated products, nor the brazen reinforcement of gender stereotypes in the construction of a selling point. It’s gotten to the point that women are even objectified in media and publications aimed at female audiences: sanitary products, clothing lines and toiletries provide fertile ground for examination of this problematic tendency.

waxing

The way mass media portrays it, women relish their own objectification. Let’s take ads for hair removal products: women in these advertisements sensuously extend their smooth, slender, long legs, relieved to have avoided the disaster of baring any hairs at all on their limbs in public. This 2012 ad for beauty salon Uni K Waxing, which offered 50% discounts on waxing treatments for girls 15 years and younger, perpetuates the notion that hairlessness is a basic necessity – the norm – thereby including girls not even legal to have sex yet in the sexualisation of their bodies.

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“Are you summer-ready?” this protein supplement ad asks. Why, yes, I would say. I can’t wait to hit the beach. But this advertiser isn’t asking about my emotional or psychological eagerness for summer: it’s asking if my body is ready to be shown in public. Let’s see: am I completely hairless? Have I done a summer slim-down by one form or the other of starvation? Have I bought antiperspirant that will prevent my production of body odour, lest I be revealed as a real, hair-growing, food-eating, perspiring human being? The answer to these questions from all women in ads is “Yes, of COURSE I am, and I’m pleased to be so!”

Because of this treatment of women in mass media, the denial or concealment of our own biological truths has become normal. One aspect of the female biology is particularly taboo, and has been appropriated for advertising audiences in a far more palatable form. Menstruation is a fun, music and laughter filled time at which we gather for sleepovers to discuss sanitary products and embarrassing period-related experiences. We valiantly go about our daily business – yoga, shopping, wearing white skirts – comfortable in the knowledge that this pad will absorb any pastel blue, water-like liquid that comes its way, while maintaining maximum flexibility and minimum visibility. Clearly, up until now, girls have had to stop going on dates, wearing anything but granny undies, working out or being in the public eye while menstruating. That way, no one ever has to know. Because that would be the worst thing: for anyone to find out that you were menstruating, because that is GROSS.

In this recent ad by sanitary line Sofy, a beauty’s period arrives in the form of a plain-faced, overweight caricature of herself enacting period-related behaviours: eating junk food in front of the TV, erupting in anger over the non-delivery of pizza and bursting into tears in the same breath; leaving her after a few days as her usual, acceptable self. To be honest, I actually found this ad hilarious – my own experience of periods and PMS is typified by involuntary crying about anything from cute animals to everyday frustrations (opening a tricky latch; having to re-load the toilet paper in the right direction), and the immense bloating of my abdomen renders my self image to cavernous, pizza-ridden lows. But it is offensive in a number of ways, most obviously, its trivialisation of an aspect of female biology that has in the past been used to discredit and belittle women.

 

BMW Ultimate AttractionSome ads encourage the “boys will be boys” mentality – man creates secret cave to avoid his wife while she makes dinner for the family; bikini-clad women apparate to fulfil a beer’s promise of something good upon consumption; girlfriend vetoes the cordless drill purchased by her disobedient boyfriend and trades it for cash. Or this BMW ad, my objection to which I can’t imagine needs explaining.

 

 

Or this Old Spice ad in which bikini-clad women fawn over a man because he just smells so damn good – whether it is his irresistible fragrance, the sensual bubbles massaging their bodies in the hot tub or their implied lack of cognition, they don’t even realise that he is a robot rather than a real man.

There are so many things wrong with these representations of contemporary culture – in fact, they are insulting not only to women but also to men in a society moving away from gender stereotypes – that I hardly know where to begin.

I think what needs to be said is this: bikini-clad women may continue to appear in ads for television channels and phone plans, hairlessness may continue to be next-to-godliness, and menstruation may continue to be a misunderstood, unsavoury spectacle for us to conceal at all times (it is only the reason that all human life exists, and the source of approximately $25 million per year in taxes on sanitary products in Australia, after all). We may not be able to stop it – at least not without years of laborious legal action. What we can do is move away from passively enabling this objectification by taking back ownership of our bodies, as was the message of feminist art group COMBO’s Paris demonstration (featured image).

With so many factors appropriating our bodies for commercial use, it’s easy to be swayed by the notion of femininity that they perpetuate. But as owners of our own bodies, the only thing that matters is our own perception and our own prerogative: wax when we want, satirise periods how we want to, be naked when we want, be sexual when we want to be. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop enacting the gestures of femininity to which we are accustomed: being an empowered woman does not forbid grooming, waxing or relishing sex appeal. It just means liberating ourselves by considering only our own opinion, our own wishes and our own self image in matters of body and beauty.

Foremothers

What makes a woman a Feminist? Some things that shape our identity are universal: from our parents we inherit our biological make-up, our language and a spate of social and personal mannerisms. But change is instigated by those who break away from the frictionless familial, societal and cultural mould and forge a new path for themselves, undaunted by uncertainty. I cannot claim to have taken this kind of solo leap into the unknown: a century of empowered women have fought policy and prejudice to allow me – us – the opportunities that are now my rights. Moreover, the lives of my foremothers are emblazoned with tenacity, independence and self-belief in times before these values were so ardently indoctrinated for women.

With this in mind, when my maternal grandmother recently asked for help in recording memoirs of early life on a Dictaphone, I took the opportunity to enact my own information-gathering agenda. I prepared some questions with which to gently nudge her through cloudy memories and meandering stories of formative years (allowing maximal flexibility for the elderly person tangent factor).

My grandmother grew up in small town New South Wales, the second of nine children. I’m told that they “lived off the smell of an oily rag,” but not by Nan, to whom this seems to be an extraneous detail. Her father was a ‘service car’ (taxi) driver whose strict, Methodist parents had rejected him on account of his choice of wife: when he chose to marry a woman whose unapologetic delight in dancing would surely drag him to hell with her, they wrote him out of their wills and wiped their hands clean of him.

His defiant resolution to marry for love rather than socio-economic or religious propriety marked, I believe, the inception of a culture of respect for women that would expand the possibilities in life for his wife, his daughters, his granddaughters and their daughters after them. Ken Wein set a precedent: rules imposed by, and opinions of, institutions – be they religious or cultural, or people, be they politicians or your parents – should not overshadow or eclipse one’s own educated judgement of character and personal code of ethics. Ergo, just because others alleged that women should be a certain way, did not mean you should believe or endorse it. Love and personal freedom are our rights and universal, primal needs, and by holding them to be more important than social and cultural regulations, Nan’s parents modelled liberal ethics that recognised and promoted equality, respect and acceptance.

Indeed, they were unfazed by Nan’s unusual tom-boyish behaviour. At age 5, her hair entwined in curling rags per her adoring, unsuspecting aunt’s tradition, she had her brother hack it off with craft scissors and ran excitedly to inform her parents of the change: “LOOK! YOU’VE GOT TWO BOYS NOW!” Nan and her hackjob bob clung to her father’s and brothers’ company more often than her mother’s and sisters’, playing with sticks and stones outside rather than babies and bonnets inside. Nanny’s parents were supportive and gentle, never smacking with a disciplinary hand, and their preoccupation with maintaining the familial home meant she quickly developed intellectual autonomy and maturity far beyond her years. By the time she was 12, Nan was the acting Eldest Child for 7 younger siblings, a role that she took very seriously. She coordinated the Sunday Schooling of her siblings which they did by correspondence, leading them to the Homework Tree and supervising their completion of all coursework satisfactorily. Nan was bright: her performance at school earned her a scholarship to local government school otherwise beyond the reach of her parents’ income.

She continued to excel in her studies as well as extra-curricular activities – she was a writer for and co-editor of the school’s magazine along with her best friend, a role that she would have pursued as a career in an ideal world.

Unfortunately, the world is not ideal, and university was not free. Nursing was within the familial budget, and unlike Journalism or Teaching, both scholarship and board were provided. Nan became a nurse at age 20 and got a job at Beaudesert Hospital where, a few years later, she met her future husband, Bernie. They married at age 24 and had their first of four kids shortly thereafter, and just like that, aged younger than I am now (having barely started my career), Nan’s career was over: by law, women could not return to work as public servants after having children. While the post-war government had employed married women to alleviate the shortage of labour, the marriage bar remained until 1966, as did widespread unease over the ‘proper’ role of women. Still, she was happy – this was the norm, and she loved her husband and children – but what happened to all that promise, all that pent up intellect and strength and drive?

Fate was kind to have given her two daughters who grew to match Nan’s indefatigable industriousness and incredible self-discipline. Studies have shown that communities with strong female leaders and daughters of working mothers have higher aspirations, complete more years of education, are more likely to be employed in management roles and earn higher incomes. Like many daughters of 1950s women, mum and her sister were raised with the knowledge that they could do anything they put their mind to – a climate of infinite possibilities and therefore, extremely high expectations.

It’s possible that my mother’s upbringing in this environment is responsible for a range of neuroses: a catastrophic, nuclear explosion probably still couldn’t stop mum from getting up at 5, going for a run, working a 12 hour day, doing a few selfless favours and coordinating the affairs of her parents and (adult) children. But it’s also the reason that she and her sister are both in high level management positions, my mother at a girls’ high school, being a strong female role model for not only her own two daughters but hundreds of other young girls at the precipice of their own independent, adult lives and potential careers. It’s the reason she chose to return to work after having my siblings and I, and that she was unfazed and resolute in doing so despite her (purest of heart and intention) mother-in-law’s repeatedly outspoken disapproval. It’s the reason she tactfully calls out everyday sexism with flawless argumentative intellect and points a finger at the remnants of patriarchy in our culture with an educated, analytical mind. Ultimately, it’s also the reason that I now do as well.

Through this retrospective of my maternal ancestry, one thing has become clear. I learned to demand respect and fight for equality down to the last socio-cultural stigma from Mum, and Mum would not be a model of feminist values if it weren’t for Nan: an obvious testament to the importance of strong female role models in the empowerment of women. But Nan would not have believed herself deserving of equal respect, rights and opportunities if it weren’t for her father, whose choices in life were manifestations of his own belief in equality, tolerance and liberal ethics. And to me, this is a powerful illustration of the fact that equality is a paradigm upheld by both male and female role models, never more powerfully than in collaboration.

Advice to my teenage self

If I could pass only one message of wisdom to my adolescent self, it would be this:

STOP READING FASHION MAGAZINES.

I used to torture myself on a weekly basis with the latest runway pictures, supermodel editorials and beauty features in Bazaar, Vogue, Yen and Cosmo. I’d starve and self-loathe to inch closer to the unattainable goal of waifdom, forcing my blessedly healthy teenage mind and body through years of demoralisation and damage. I’d obsess over photoshopped images of underweight models in exorbitantly luxe clothing and jewellery, bargaining with the universe to make me exactly like her.

I watched movies with Cool Girl / Beautifully Damaged / Deceptively Vulnerable Ice Queen protagonists and took internal notes on Ways To Be Desirable. Wear hair in messy bun. Wear adorably mismatched socks. Buy lingeree. Be aloof and cold / vulnerable and innocent. Be wild and impulsive / dorky and creative. Be a carefree tomboy / smouldering glamazon.

All of these things that I desperately wanted to attain – would have traded my own body for in an instant – are completely removed from my actual self, and in fact any real person. They are constructs: edited images of elaborately designed settings and heavily made-up faces and hair. Celebrities, movie heroines and television stars are characters created to engage with audiences (including my impressionable teenage self) by possessing qualities we desire, such as beauty, spontaneity, mysteriousness and sex appeal. These archetypal identities are so cogent and mesmerising that we are convinced they are attainable realities. In his book Money for Nothing (2007), media theorist Saul Austerlitz proffers that we in turn project our own self-image onto these constructs and make adjustments to assimilate – a theory validated by the Advertising industry’s best known strategies, particularly for selling products to women.

Hollywood cinema, reality television, advertising and popular media outlets historically present women in a shallow, limited way, usually fashioning female characters into passive, compliant, sexualised and disposable objects of desire. By shoving it down our throats from every possible platform, a series of roles have been created which we inevitably try to perform in order to conform to mass media’s idealistic contemporary identity – Cool Girl, Damaged Beauty, Sex Kitten, Trophy Wife. We don’t want to be like us, we want to be like them, because their perfect faces, perky breasts, effortlessly cool demeanour and happy-ending-romance story are almost all of what we see and are told is right.

One tenet of feminist ideology is exploration of the effect of mass media’s representation of women on the contemporary female experience. Theorists Laura Mulvey and Mary Ann Doane are key contributors to this discourse, placing the onus for imposing a severely limited range of roles on women on the ‘boys club’ that is, or at least, historically has been, mass media. Also perceiving mass media as operated by men with the primary objective of engagement with male audiences, theorist Joan Riviere proposes that in a mass media world, femininity is defined only by its absence of, or opposition to, masculinity.

Jose Gomez Fresquet circa 1970

The effects of this on our formation of identity are complex and variable – Doane claims that women can be compelled to exaggerate gestures of femininity, calling to mind contemporary normalities such as breast augmentation, lash extensions, garish make-up and the almost mandated, never-ending quest for hairlessness.

I cannot overlook  mass media’s effect on school-age girls, either: anyone privy to the goings-on of high schools and their students will know that the objectification and sexualisation of women in mass media trickles into impressionable communities, resulting in a range of scandals of the nudity-on-social-media variety.

In her study of mass media and related technologies effect on contemporary identity formation, theorist Rosalind Krauss  suggests that in a world in which disembodied versions of ourselves can be constructed with images, ideas and social or material associations – i.e. our social media profiles – that now the self requires mediation in order to be verified or completed (1986, p184). This theory is corroborated by ‘instafamous culture’ in which young women attain a type of fame predicated on their construction of an idealised lifestyle and selfhood, usually by exploiting their bodies. The culture perpetuates the notion that self-worth can and should be externally validated, in this instance by the number of likes on a photo and followers on a profile.

Earlier this month our news feeds were saturated with the story of an Australian teen who revealed that her instagram profile was conflated with photoshopped images and painstakingly curated product placements. Essena O’Neill went on to say that her ‘perfect’ slender figure is tortuously maintained by starvation and enhanced by state-of-the-art breast-boosting bra technology. These revelations, while staggeringly obvious to me as an educated 25-year-old woman, are far less clear to teenage girls, whose social vulnerability makes them susceptible to mental health issues such as eating disorders for which social media can be a breeding ground. But the reality is this: statistically speaking, only about 5% of women have the body type represented in fashion media, yet over one half of teenage girls and one quarter of university-aged women use unhealthy weight control behaviours such as fasting, vomiting and taking laxatives – 35% of whom will progress from ‘normal’ to pathological dieting or full-syndrome eating disorders.

And it’s for this reason that I deliver this hypothetical address to my teenage self, still under mass media’s spell, fruitlessly trying to match my appearance and behaviours to the falsehoods it peddles.

Beauty is subjective: everybody has different looks, figures, personalities and lifestyles that they desire and seek. I am gobsmacked by this reality at times: a friend of mine recently scoffed at my declaration that Kim K is irrefutably and extremely hot. She’s just not my jam, he said. Another male friend was discordant with my similar assertion that Heidi Klum was the perfect woman. These opinions were incomprehensible to me before I’d heard them – they have the sexiest possible figures, most flawless skin and hair, most covetable wardrobes and enviable, opulent lifestyles.

Of course we think like that – they have millions to spend on beauty and wardrobe, maintaining gorgeous bodies comprises a large part of their occupation, and a gaggle of PR agents, publicists and marketing professionals are paid to deliver their perfect public image right to our doorsteps.

Furthermore – and most importantly – they are not everyone’s type. It shouldn’t take a man’s opinion to make me realise that, either: decades of taking the mass-mediated archetype of female desirability as gospel is what’s backed us into this corner in the first place. Enormous breasts, a tiny waist, a big, beautiful behind and long, black hair is not everyone’s type, nor is statuesque and svelte with Scandinavian colouring. The rule applies to traits beneath the surface, too: some like bubbly, extroverted personalities while some find them irritating and tiresome. I, for example, have an unshakeable (and non-deliberate) penchant for European men, while I have friends whose dating records feature locals only. Hell, there are people out there who love rat’s tails and merkins, and who are we to judge?

What I’m trying to say is this: there is no point trying to be or look like someone else, because ‘beauty’, ‘sex appeal’ and ‘attractive personality’ are completely subjective. The qualities that are universally desirable are confidence, happiness and authenticity. We are drawn to happy, confident people whose qualities we are inclined to admire and emulate in the course of being happy and confident ourselves. Confidence is the greatest marketing tool for our authentic selves, and authenticity – being true to our personalities – is the only way that I have found to be truly happy.

After years of insecurity and self-loathing, I now consider myself enlightened through this knowledge. I love myself, exactly as I am. I’m a homebody no longer masquerading as a night-clubber; I’m a mesomorph no longer attempting to defy the laws of genetics; I’m a planner no longer pretending to enjoy utterly unplanned weekends or holidays. This is my own kind of cool, my own kind of beautiful and my own kind of desirable, and everyone has their own brand. If we had the reach and power of mass media our brand would be popular too. But to be honest, I don’t even care what everyone else thinks – since accepting myself as awesome, I am infinitely happier, and since accepting my body as beautiful, I am healthier. Confidence in myself allows me to dismiss any negative opinions or actions as ill-conceived, immaterial and/or false; and ceasing to act out of insecurity makes my actions and words authentic. No pretending, no lying and no self-hatred.

If I could have imparted this wisdom on my poor, hungry, confused, desperate, insecure, depressed adolescent self six years ago, I would have half a decade of extra happiness under my belt. I believe, though, that those years are responsible for the intensity with which I value myself and the understandings of my experience as a woman I gained which freed me from the futile quest to be someone else. Central to this is to stop allowing false and constructed images and ideas define beauty and start looking, lovingly, within.

Images: 

Inset: Jose Gomez Fresquet (Cuba), Lipstick, c. 1970

Featured: Installation view (courtesy of Capricious 88 Gallery) of Swedish artist Cajsa von Zeipel’s Pony Tails: To Live, Play, Move and Clash As She Will (2014) at Capricious 88 in New York City. Von Zeipel’s work explores the objectification of women for visual pleasure, making a statement by showing them as sexualised, fetishised objects on display in an art museum. I first came across Von Zeipel’s art at Goteborgs Konstmuseum in 2013 where I saw part of her similarly topical exhibition Sex, Cigarettes and Angry Girls and snapped one of her striking muses for my Samling:

sweden kunstmuseet.jpg

 

The Gaze

Beauty is sometimes said to be a curse – I don’t believe that: beauty in this world is a social, economic and physical advantage. Indeed, there are times and places to enjoy being the target of desirous attention. There have been times of drought when a lingering stare or earnest compliment from a friend or passer-by has made my day. But there are also times and places when they irritate, unnerve and upset me: times when I don’t want to be looked at, fantasised about or antagonised by random strangers.  In this way, feminine beauty is more a double-edged sword: my breasts, bum, legs and any skin bared can feel like biological Hi Vis gear and collar bells robbing me of private and undetected passage in public spaces.

This is not to say that the Male Gaze is inherently malicious or intentionally offensive – it is natural for human eyes to seek attributes in the physicality of those around us to generate sexual attraction. Males and females alike find their eyes drawn automatically to bare skin and body parts associated with sex, and neither I nor feminist ideology, I proffer, take issue with biological truths and the behaviours in which they manifest. But there exist key biological and socio-cultural truths that problematise the female experience in today’s public spaces due to the Male Gaze: our generally inferior size and strength which can make us feel (accurately or not) vulnerable, and the statistically irrefutable implications that it has on our safety in public which we are loath to ignore.

The Male Gaze can make public space perilous for women because of the generally heightened intensity of flirting, the blatantly sexual nature of attention often received at bars and clubs and antagonistic behaviour that sometimes results from politely ignoring, firmly declining or outright rejecting it.

On a recent trip to Bali, my sister and I donned our ‘kinis and beach kits to hit Potato Head, one of Seminyak’s most popular clubs, for sunset cocktails. We had no misconceptions about the type of people we might meet at night clubs in Bali, so we were wholeheartedly unsurprised to see trios of Brits Abroad (identifiable by their vibrant, salmon-coloured skin), 18-year-old squads in cheeky shorts and Cons, and least of all, Australian bucks parties, boistering sloppily at the swim-up bar. After making brief eye contact, our expressions coloured with hesitance and disdain, we took a deep breath, squared our shoulders and sat at the pool’s edge with our feet in the water. We smiled – the sky was a soft, pastel peach, the music was popping, waves were crashing in on the beach beyond the club’s sprawling day beds as the sun set in the distance.

As we settled in, our skin prickled with droplets of sweat in the humid 5 o’clock sunlight. We decided to take a dip. No sooner had we stood and raised our hands to remove our shirts than did we notice the muttering, glassy-eyed gangs of drunk men moving towards us, looking us up and down. We exchanged a glance – nope, shirt’s good. As I re-took my seat, burnt ochre-coloured alpha-Geordie edged over and bellowed, I thor’ you wa gonna tehk I’ off, swee’heart? Cum on luv! TEHK – I’ – OFF! TEHK – I’ – OFF!

Some of the Australian yobs that happened to be co-mingling with the chavvy Bucks from Newcastle joined in on this detestable chant as we stood, frozen in horror. Not wishing to be sour and accepting the drunken sleaziness of Bali clubs in general, we laughed it off and continued to talk amongst ourselves and with the chanters and their friends who elected to occupy our immediate area of the poolside in great numbers. This was fine – meeting new people and socialising is part of going out. What tarnished and eventually ruined our experience was the incessant, obnoxious and inappropriate behaviour some of them showed.

Are you girls single? Are youse sisters? You look heaps alike, are youse twins? Can I buy you a drink? Where are you staying? What are you doing tonight? Who are you with? Got boyfriends? Are you gonna finally take that top off and get in the pool, love? I felt slightly discomforted by the eight sets of eyes hungrily looking my sister and me up and down, over and over, and was tiring from the energy exerted in avoiding further advances – no, I don’t feel like a swim, no, thankyou, I don’t need a drink, thanks but we are just doing our own thing tonight, no, I am leaving my shirt on. I felt uncomfortable and irritated when our polite but firm refusals began to be met with antagonistic and rude comments. Not havin’ a good day, luv? Come on and just get in the pool luv, I won’t bite! Aw, this lass don’t like me, too good for me ey? One of them had three strikes before he was out for fondling my feet in the water and tugging at my leg to lead me into the pool, and the final straw was his assertion that his plan for tonight was to fuck hot chicks and asked if I would like to be a part of that plan.

Ferk this. We got up, fished our scarves from our backpacks and draped them loosely over our torsos like makeshift Burqas and made for the beach. On our towels we took refuge from the Gaze and launched into astonished recounting of our time at the pool.

The behaviour of these men, though perhaps not ubiquitous, exemplifies perfectly the cause of negative experiences of the Male Gaze which taint public space for women of today. It occurs to me that while in the past I have looked at Muslim women wearing their Hijabs and Burqas and thought how uncomfortable, hot and restrictive they must be, they probably look at me in skirts and singlets and think how objectified and harassed by the male attention I must be.

I HATE this behaviour; it features in many of my top 10 worst experiences ever in one way or another. While we can not necessarily expect privacy in public spaces, we deserve respect of our ownership of our bodies, and what is owned is private property. There are boundaries which should never be crossed unsolicited, and this behaviour turns harmless visual admiration into obnoxious, invasive harassment. The feeling of being visually feasted on, persistently approached and propositioned is awful, worse still when you’re not prepared or in the mood for it. This behaviour objectifies women, treating us as objects of desire existing to be looked at and fantasised about while in public. It disrupts, however briefly, my confidence and sociability, and I am ready for a change.

When we go for an afternoon run, walk home from work at dusk or interact with flirtatious strangers ogling us in bars, gyms, shops or streets, we have this in the back of our minds: 17% of women in Australia have been sexually assaultedwomen make up 83% of sexual assault victims in Australia and 58% of kidnap or abduction victims, and 3.8% of all Australian women have been sexually assaulted by a stranger, more than double the 1.6% of men. These morbid truths, I believe, are often miscommunicated and misunderstood: our hesitance or refusal to engage with men in public can be read as an unnecessarily phobic distrust of all men as perpetrators of violent crime. Feminism suffers the same misunderstanding for its encouragement of assertiveness and empowerment for women, particularly victims of assault. But the truth is, we would be naïve or ignorant not to acknowledge our instincts for self-protection, and our experience of public spaces would comprise less angst, discomfort and irritation if the Gaze was executed with greater restraint and empathy.

Ogle subtly if you must, not obnoxiously. Flirt politely, not aggressively. Compliment kindly, not perversely. Proposition once, not persistently. Take no for an answer, not for an insult. Read body language and back off when it’s closed. Meet refusal with respect, not antagonism. Touch solicitously, not unsolicited. And never, EVER, initiate chants for clothing removal. With a little decorum, we might someday enjoy an unperturbed sense of safety and privacy in public.