Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spray tanning - a general WTF?

EDIT: This post was republished on Fairfax's Daily Life and can be seen here

I've been ignoring my little corner of cyberspace lately. I haven't meant to, but I've had to do boring things such as move house, deal with medical woes (including a back injury which is never conducive to sitting up and ranting, that's for damn sure) etc, and whilst a great many effects of the patriarchy have bugged me, I haven't got around to writing them down. So apologies to those that have been reading and have been wondering why there has been a delay, and I promise to return you to your regularly scheduled programming ASAP.

Earlier on today I received an sms ad from a beauty therapist whom I've never visited, or if I have then I don't remember doing so. Within the body of the text, the business was flogging $35 spray tans. Now the fact that a beauty therapist would think advertising to me in the first place would bring in the biscuits is rather laughable, but flogging spray tans? Whilst I would actually be interested to hear whether $35 is a good price to pay for the privilege of coating yourself head-to-toe in gunk designed to give you a golden glow, I couldn't help but ponder the number of assumptions contained within that short text message. Firstly, they were assuming that I am a woman. Secondly, they were assuming that having a darker visage would be an attractive proposition to me. Thirdly, they were expecting me to do a whoop whoop dance over their bargain price. Needless to say, it failed to spin my wheels.

As a non-white person, I can't help but think that spray tanning is bizarre. I know that this phenomenon has arisen as an allegedly healthier alternative to baking oneself to a crisp in the harsh sun rays risking burning and melanoma, but I don't really understand why people feel the need to do that either. Perhaps I'm being sullied here by my childhood traumas, but when one of the first things I learnt at school was that having brown skin was not good, followed by others reinforcing it to me that being different was a good thing, these beauty routines geared around darkening one's skin tone really aren't going to make much sense to me. I really don't get why women feel more beautiful when faking a darker hue.

Or I do. I suppose a lifetime of hearing about "exoticness" and "brown skin shining in the sun" (damn you 80s music) can't make me too ignorant about why there's an entire industry geared around women achieving this phenomenon. Apparently darker people don't "age" as rapidly too, and as aging is allegedly a bad thing, perhaps I can draw some understanding from that. But then it all becomes rather hypocritical to me, because whilst it was being reinforced to me that despite any negative (or positive, yet objectifying and othering) attention my skin colour may attract I needed to learn to love the skin I was in, the same idea doesn't seem to occur in reverse. See it's desirable to be "white" in Australia because you're part of a socially-privileged majority, but then with that whiteness, and particularly if you're a woman, you should make some attempt to be brown because being white-white is not beautiful and it makes you look older. Or something. Is anyone else thinking more messages about loving the "skin you're in" are needed?

There are entire industries out there that profiteer by reinforcing some arbitrary beauty paradigm to women, and I find that a lot of the time these industries sell their wares by pointing out supposed flaws that women have. Whether women are white, or hairy, or short, or their labia are too long (don't even start me on the articles on the rise of labiaplasty in this country that I have been absorbing of late!), there always seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the way women are and it can be fixed, for a price. Where does it end? When a woman becomes the ultimate picture of constructed womanly beauty, does she become perfect and is no longer targeted by such campaigns to change stuff? Reckon the answer to that is "no", for some reason.

Fake tan has not been short of scrutiny by health researchers incidentally, despite its claim as a healthier alternative to sun. Concern has been raised, for example about DNA-altering chemicals contained within it that could also lead to cancer. Not that this is much different to the host of other chemicals women are supposed to smear all over their skins on a daily basis to achieve desirability, mind. But considering the relatively short time fake tans (particularly of the spray variety) have been on the market, I think it's rather premature to claim their "safety".

Some people might be reading this and thinking "well, it's all very well that she says this. She doesn't have to worry about getting a tan". I urge them to go back and read my post regarding that Insight programme, particularly the part about their nifty camera work. If anything, it should tell you that you can't win no matter what your hue, and basting yourself in marinade will not solve things. As someone who has seen a lot of stage shows in her time, I can acknowledge the benefits of matting one's appearance when standing under excruciatingly bright and hot lights. But as part of some routine to enhance desirability? Not so much.

Tanning is bizarre. Fake tanning is bizarre. Forking over your hard-earned to be hit with a spray gun is bizarre. And it all makes zero sense to me at all as a non-white feminist. So endeth this rant... ;)  


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frocktober #3 - Why I've chosen my high school uniform as my final frock

Obviously, I have covered some of my reasons for doing Frocktober in the first place. I then followed that up with a few of my experiences as I wore frocks every day and what I was, and was not, enjoying about it all. Anyone who has accessed my photo album on Flickr or Facebook will also have been catching the stories behind the frocks, how I've come about them and what I make of them. So I hope you've all been enjoying the frivolities!

One thing that is glaringly apparent when perusing the photos is this: I have not even remotely managed to find a "style", with the exception of one frock which comes close (will leave that to your guess work). Those that know me best have particularly enjoyed seeing these pics, mainly because they know how much I am loathing having to pose for a photo every day wearing something I feel rather uncomfortable in. It has been remarked to me though that people who don't know me wouldn't necessarily get what the big deal of these pics actually are as, on the whole, I have managed to carry the garments off. Rest assured then, those watching from afar, that I am not dramatising for fun: this really is a month of incredibly strange behaviour by myself and does not come naturally to me at all.

So I have kept to it, and have challenged myself often. Wearing a red leather and strapless number into work was dicey. A floaty number on a windy day was, at times, "Marilynesque". Every day has been a challenge, with some more challenging than others. So considering this, exactly how was I going to lift the bar for the final day of Frocktober and challenge myself just that little bit more? Well, by wearing my most loathed of all frocks ever for an entire day, of course! And it was with this school uniform and the enforced wearing of this item for 5 years that this whole feminist-analysis-of-garments-thing started. So it's being reclaimed for a damn good cause!

By way of explanation, I must return my gentle viewer back to a time before the internet had broad domestic use and telephones existed purely via landline and had rotary dials on them. It was 1989, and after quitting years of classical ballet training, I had chopped off all my hair and ditched what was, in my estimation,a very girly first name for a more "tomboyish" nickname (I have, obviously, reclaimed the "hippy" first name since). See, at 11 years old I had already decided that I wasn't particularly comfortable with being girly and so took a stance. Dresses and skirts were pretty much ditched as well, and because we had a bit of freedom at my Canberra public school as far as the dresscode went (regardless of how hard Mr. Bennett tried to get us to wear our "uni-forms"), I used some of that freedom. Mind you, it was the 80s so I did wear bike pants as outerwear, but the thought was there. It was pretty much the same when I got to high school in Canberra. My hair was still short, and verging on a "mullet" really, but I made it plain to those around me: I wasn't comfortable with being seen as a "girl". I didn't want to be a boy mind, I just felt limited at a very young age by the social trappings of girldom. 

It wasn't all fun either; not being girly. I was given my first bra at a family Christmas and was so mortified that I hid and sobbed to the point of where I was made to apologise to my poor Aunty, who had gotten it for me on my mother's advice, because the folks were embarrassed by my reaction. Additionally, I got mistaken for a boy more than once, and was accused of being a lesbian back before I even knew what the term meant. I also remember a few rather cruel incidents. The key here though is that these moments were not enough for me to change my ways and fit the mould.

Then we moved to Melbourne at the end of year 7 and suddenly that freedom I had in self-expression went away. My school had uniforms and as a girl I was expected to wear a gross, tea-towel-like dress. For winter it was a skirt and shirt, and for sports we had a netball skirt and tshirt. I loathed it. I had two dresses, and the one I have on today was bought 2 sizes too big (it's now 3 sizes too big. YES!) because not only was it the 1990s and baggy was in, but Mum wanted it to have room to grow. Yes, there were trousers and shorts available for girls but they weren't widely worn at that time. Also, they were distinct from the boys' uniform because they were green rather than grey, and my long-suffering mother was certainly not going to be encouraging the wearing of them when it came to me. So there I found myself forced into socially-appropriate girls' attire by school rules and regulations. And I really didn't do too well at it, as earlier posts may attest.

It's interesting to me that uniforms in school are allegedly used as a great equaliser. There is some view that they are good because they level the playing field somewhat by providing a code that fosters collectivity and equality via common identification and removes visible signs of class disparity between students. Yet this is not the case, at least not in my experience of them. For starters, the uniform enforced gender differences visibly and socially. Visibly by, of course, framing distinctly who was male and female just in case there were any students who may blur those boundaries without these feminine or masculine garments. Socially, well as I have mentioned before, dresses are so structured that they dictate how a girl may sit and how she can move. As dresses also work in opposition to, rather than with, the body's natural structure, due care must be taken in the event of gusts of wind and the like to ensure that modesty is preserved. Oh, and they can be hoisted upwards in cruel pranks. If the boys ever had to worry about how they sat or moved in their grey shorts and trousers, then I call me "surprised". So whilst uniforms may create class equality in one respect, they reinforce gender disparity and therefore the most social and formal environment for young people, "the old school yard", reinforces the social construction that is "gender" at a most crucial time of a young person's development. 

I haven't noticed this changing much since I left school way back in 1996. Most school uniforms still have a distinct "male" and "female" form, and the girls whose bags I am now tripping over in the aisles of our public transport system in what can only be described as a "passing of the teenage baton" are, more often than not, still in dresses. Moreover, in these allegedly more enlightened times when society is apparently more up-to-speed with transgender or non-binary identities, it still doesn't seem to have shifted the dresscodes to unisex in most instances. Why is this? I am not naive enough to believe that if gendered garments were removed from school grounds that gender disparity would cease, but I do think that it would perhaps enhance the equalised environments that schools so believe they strive to achieve.

Yes, I did rebel, although admittedly it took me a number of years before I had the self-confidence to do so (high school really is a horrible place, generally, regardless of any dresscodes). I wore boots frequently with my uniform in later years (Blundstones and some other generic type back then. Nice) and on one open microphone day held in our school quadrangle, I did take to the stage to encourage girls to not shave their legs or armpits. But I also did conform by growing my hair long and observing ritualistic depilation (usually...). On weekends I tended to get around in hippy cheesecloth stuff, and long, floaty garments which, whilst still "feminine" were unstructured and allowed free movement. And the moment I left school, I broke up with formal, structured dresses altogether and my weekend wear became everyday stuff at uni. 

This month has been a month of me re-embracing these structured garments I so loathe in the name of a great cause. Despite all my whinings and whingings, I reckon I have done a pretty good job of it! So, in my estimation, the only way to end this month was to go that extra yard and pick the one frock that I have loathed always, and above all others, as my grand finale piece. Plus nothing says "Halloween" quite like a school frock. Thanks for coming on the journey of Frocktober with me, and please, continue to give generously to what is a fantastic cause run by fantastic people. The link to my donation page is on the side panel.    


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I wonder if I am too weak to write a blogpost?

"Our women are the backbone of our community, and the Aboriginal community is weak if our women are weak, we need to bring our women up with us and embrace that,"  

"We are a dying species, an endangered species, our mortality rate is far worse than our birth rate. We are probably one of the only races on Earth like that right now. So we need to populate and multiply."

Late last week, in amongst a diatribe that can only be described as a severe synaptic misfire, Anthony Mundine made these two comments. You could be forgiven for missing them because the mainstream press seemed more focussed on his disparaging remarks on the identity of his upcoming boxing opponent, Aboriginal boxer Daniel Geale, as well as stupid comments on Tasmanian Aborigines having "died out" and Mundine calling Australia "racist" and calling for a new anthem and flag (that part I don't actually disagree with).

Similarly, the response to what Mundine said, as reported in mainstream and Indigenous publications, has mainly been in response to his comments on Tasmanian Aborigines, his comments about Geale and his family, and, of course, calling out his "racism". Even Danny Green has had a swipe on Mundine's comments about racism on his own Facebook page (guess he is still bitter about losing). Mundine has received a bit of a publicity flogging, and rightly so because him cracking a couple of books could have prevented this in the first place. He has also been made to publicly apologise to Geale's family and to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. A simple google search shows the action-reaction sequence of all this, and frankly, it's quite telling.

So my question to those out there who would read my stuff is this: how is it that Mundine has been allowed to offend pretty much half of all Aboriginal people and it barely raises an eyebrow, much less a commentary and a call for an apology? Is his implication that Aboriginal women are weak and not breeding enough with Aboriginal men at this point in time less offensive than everything he said about identity and Tasmanian Aborigines? What about those Tasmanian women who have been flogged twice by Mundine, firstly for not existing and secondly for being weak and not breeding correctly? Are offences caused to Aboriginal women really that secondary to all other offences that they are barely worth a mention, much less a headline? I myself probably wouldn't have noticed if some of the wonderful, strong Aboriginal women on my Facebook list hadn't reacted to it (not big on reading sport news personally), and I'm usually on the look out for these sorts of things!

Or perhaps it doesn't need to be covered because Mundine's comments were so utterly ridiculous in the first place. Listening to my father talk about my grandmother and all this single mother of 10 Aboriginal children did tells you Aboriginal women are not even remotely weak. Right now, I could tell you the names of 10 strong Aboriginal women who inspired me and probably had some part in creating the ranty monster you now see typing before you... One look at the key speakers in the NT Invention debate on both sides of the argument will show you Aboriginal women leading charges, regardless of whether you agree with those charges or not. Then there's all the conversations I've had in Aboriginal women's groups over the years on how women can best support the men because they have fallen behind as one glance at the statistics will show you. Perhaps check the statistics on life expectancy, educational attainment and mental health in the first instance. Aboriginal women have been pivotal in holding families/communities/societies for a very long time, and the idea that they are even remotely "weak" or not living up to their "role" as the "backbone" is laughable. Indeed, it's as laughable as arguing that there are no Tasmanian Aborigines in my book.

Similarly, the statistics show that the birthrate of Aboriginal babies is still significantly higher than the mainstream rate. We're not going to become a majority any time soon, granted, but looking at the age distribution charts for the mob, I think it is fairly safe to argue that Aboriginal women are breeding (even if I have not personally contributed to that growth rate). But that's not necessarily what he is arguing here, according to the article. Indeed, what he is arguing is that there needs to be less "inter-species" breeding and more "intra-species". It's news to me that we are again a species as I thought we'd moved past Flora and Fauna Act definitions, but the implication here is that when Aboriginal women breed outside the race we don't breed Aboriginal children. Well, I'm personally all for Aboriginal women being allowed to choose their own partners to have children with, and then bringing those children up in the tradition of their Aboriginal family. I certainly don't think that anyone, particularly after years of the discriminatory legislation, has a right to dictate the terms of breeding to anyone in our community.

It's a huge shame. I have, for years, been a big fan of Mundine. I have quite enjoyed that he is an outspoken blackfella in the public eye who has managed to unashamedly get the rednecks all jittery on more than one occasion. I have had stand-up arguments with those who have bought into the media hype and discredited Mundine's amazing sporting achievements with no reason or knowledge to do so except that "he's a loud mouth". I have pointed out to people the community work Mundine does that rarely gets a mention in the media and how many young people he has inspired. But I think I have fallen off that bandwagon now and, as I said, it's a shame. I can't support his comments regarding Geale's identity. I can't support his comments about Tasmanian Aborigines. And I most certainly cannot support, nor ignore as so many others seem to have done, his comments about Aboriginal women. And I am disappointed that the media, and the broader community, have failed to hold him to account for his comments on our women. I believe that this neglect shows us once again to be secondary in consideration and I'm over it.

PS This post was delayed, but the coverage didn't change so I'm running with it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Frocktober - a check-in

When I started this frock-wearing malarkey in a bid to raise money for ovarian cancer research (see side panel) I promised a blog post or two on how I was going with it all. It's been 13 days now, and although I probably had enough material for a post before now, something rammed this all home to me yesterday and so it's kicked me into action. Plus I am sitting at home on a Saturday night by myself and not dancing somewhere so I may as bloody well! Anyway...

I know people are wondering whether this has all been as terrible as I anticipated it would be and whinged about in the weeks leading up to it all. I can say, without a moment's hesitation that indeed it has. And at times it hasn't. But mostly it has. You see, for other people putting on a frock is not a big deal. Hell, it's not even a deal. It's just a thing. I though have found it everything from uncomfortable to painful to confronting (both positive and negative in that respect) and whilst part of this is probably down to my "childhood traumas" or the fact that I do possibly, maybe, potentially, over-analyse stuff perhaps a just little (...?) some of it is clearly not.

Firstly, the mechanics of dress-wearing. I have gotten incredibly used to sitting however the sod is most comfortable over the years. This includes lotus positions on office chairs, feet propped up on boxes under my desk, seat back reclined as far as I like; the works really. Now, ignoring what is clearly my blatant disregard for OHS legislation despite my career choices, the key factor here has been comfort. I move freely into positions that I find comfortable as I need to. 

I haven't been able to do this now for the past two weeks. Gone is the lotus position as I find myself sitting feet planted on the floor or one leg slung over the other as I attempt to preserve modesty in restrictive short garments. Slouching is out too, particularly off to one side (I tend to favour my left) because things might ride up and we simply can't have that. I feel less self-conscious in full-length dresses or when wearing thick hosiery because I do gain some more freedom in movement when wearing those. On my worst day thusfar (which, ironically, I think as far as frocked up feminine impersonators goes I actually looked my best), I was wearing a short, form-fitting bluish-purple number. The cut was flattering on me, but it was a particularly difficult day because due to the form-fitting nature of it, my movement was more restricted than it had been on any other day. My shoelace came undone whilst walking down the street, and rather than just crouch down and do it up again, I had to duck down a side street and discretely go about the operation so I didn't "flash" anyone. At the end of the day, I was suffering from back pain due to the rigid way I had to sit so the hem didn't advance too high, and my shoulder was killing because the dress required I wear a proper bra for a change. 

Walking has changed too. The length of my gait is reduced in shorter and/or tighter numbers and/or if I am wearing certain shoes to go with the outfit (usually I pick whichever Docs match my mood that day, but now I'm trying to "match"). I don't like that one bit! I have turned into one of those annoying slow walkers on the footpath and it bugs me. I also can't run up the stairs most days. So I can't sit and walk how I like, and I have had to pair outfits up with other clothing items that cause discomfort. Yep, I have been whinging.

The next part of this I am not entirely sure of how to frame, so perhaps what I will do is first refer people back to my post on Miss NAIDOC to gain some insight into how I may react to attention on my appearance, and then push forward. Wearing a dress, or probably more accurately changing your appearance dramatically, does return commentary from others on your appearance and if I am honest, it's commentary which I am never mentally prepared for. It is a huge thing for me to not only dress in clothing that makes me feel uncomfortable AND that also shows off bits of my body that rarely see the light of day, but also to parade around in it all day AND post pictures of this for public viewing. People comment, and they mainly compliment, and for someone who has actively deflected commentary about their appearance for years, this is quite intimidating. I knew it would be, and hence why I took up this challenge for a good cause, but still I am finding that tough.

Indeed, I have been most comfortable when people have laughed at my effort of the day. Floral frocks have had that effect more than any other type because pairing my personality with a floral print is a mismatch I readily acknowledge. So when people have laughed at that mismatch, I have been able to laugh too and it has made the experience more fun. I have also had comments on my legs, and therein lies "childhood trauma #1". I found out that my legs were an "asset" (whatever the sod that is) back in high school when I got some uninvited commentary on my calf muscles. It was also fairly common to hear "nice legs, shame about the face" in the family home growing up. So when deflecting commentary on my appearance, they were the first thing to go. I therefore didn't greatly appreciate it the other day when I noticed a bloke turn around after I walked past him and gawp at them. Indeed, I was absolutely fuming. As I mentioned earlier, I think it comes as no surprise then that full-length and thick hosiery have been where I have been most comfortable. But it's also the least challenging for me and I didn't take on this fundraising effort to simply cruise through it.

People have been incredibly complimentary most of the time where they have made comments. I don't think I have ever had so many people say so many things about my appearance in such a short time. As you can see though, since I have issues dealing with commentary about my appearance even when it is genuine, encouraging, positive and flattering, I deal even less well when I get negative comments. This happened yesterday and it hurt like hell. Long story short, I was accused of "attention seeking" because I posted a picture of myself in my daily frock on Facebook. The person who made the comment had missed all the posts I had made about my fundraising effort, my previous blog post and all my other photos and so was unaware that I was doing this for a good cause. It made me wonder what someone has to do because I am here trying in my own way to make a little bit of a difference for other women, and have committed to doing something that I find quite confronting in order to make this difference, and yet still it can be seen in such a light. I have had to adopt false confidence and channel some of my staunchness in other ways in order to undertake this activity, so perhaps the comment misread those traits and reacted to them. I don't know, but it did serve as a reminder to me that putting yourself out there is always a risk, and that despite many gains I have made over the years in different ways to better handle that negative feedback in some areas, I have a long way to go when it comes to others.

So, all that whinging aside now; what have I enjoyed about undertaking Frocktober? Well for one, there has been the encouragement and support from others. Thanks to a bunch of wonderful people making a shed load of donations, I am currently #4 on the top fundraisers list! I can't thank you enough for your support. I have also enjoyed playing around with colours. By way of explanation, I have always been a bit of a magpie when it comes to colours and tend to gather up bright primaries and secondaries as opposed to muted tones and pastels, and so I have actually had a bit of fun finding some outrageously-coloured frocks and just going with it. Also, as people have helped me raise money for ovarian cancer research, I have also in turn managed to donate to a number of other charities as any dresses I have not previously owned or borrowed from someone, I have picked up from opportunity shops. This means that I have plugged money back into diabetes research, Scope and the Salvos. I think the best of all of this though have been the amazing women who have gone through their wardrobes and offered me frocks to wear for the cause. There is something incredibly special about women supporting other women for community betterment that I wish I could just bottle and that reminds me only too well why I am such a committed feminist in the first place. So a special thanks to those who have done this. I think you're amazing.

'til next time...  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do they wobble to and fro?

I was flicking through the news sites today when I came across the horrifying news that Kim Kardashian has been photographed in public whilst not wearing a bra. I know, terrible, hey? The article pointed out that what was pointing out was somehow unsightly, and apparently not “sensible” dressing, and Kim was apparently drawing attention to herself in a way that was uncommon behaviour for celebrities. I am so glad that useful binary coding was utilised to inform me of this so I too could look at Kim and shake my head at her braless faux pas like a good social participant...

For all I know, Kim Kardashian could have been drawing attention to herself on purpose by going braless. For me though, that's hardly the point. I acknowledge that I had to ask both my younger sisters what a “Kardashian” was about a year ago and following their explanations and still not getting why such a name was something I was supposed to know, I asked friends, Facebook contacts, Wikipedia... I still don't really get it, and I proudly have not ever watched a Kardashian show, but I think the gist is “famous for being rich”. So when your main talent is being born into exorbitant wealth, I suppose a certain amount of opportunistic posturing for the cameras is desirable if you wish to maintain public interest in your show. But what proof do these tabloids really have that Kim Kardashian has, in this instance, chosen to be showy and not simply comfortable and possibly health-conscious?

It's time for me to come out and share the shame with KK: in the past week alone I have been photographed no less than three times whilst not wearing a bra. And the evidence is in my Frocktober Flickr album in case you're curious (no, this is not a shameless plug. Well, maybe a little...). Yep, like Kim Kardashian, and if we're honest a great number of other women out there, I may have, inadvertently or otherwise, made an “undesirable” public statement. And why did I commit such a travesty? Well here are a few reasons:
  1. Bras are f#$king uncomfortable
  2. My shoulder (injured in a car accident a couple of years back) was sore and after months of medicating, strapping and icing, I've found that the best way to ease discomfort is to not constantly use my shoulders as a convenient platform over which to throw a couple of tethers so some inert lumps of fat can be hoisted upwards to a certain, more socially-acceptable, level
  3. The items of “feminine” clothing I have embraced this month for a good cause, despite allegedly intended to be paired with other items of feminine clothing, don't always lend themselves to such pairing freely. Thus ditching a bra made perfect sense.
  4. Not only are bras f#$king uncomfortable, designed to hoist things unnaturally in order to maintain a youthful and desirable appearance, and bad for my shoulders, but recent research I've read also links them to back pain (due to localised, rather than distributed, weight and pressure) and it has been known for a long time that breast cancer is much more prevalent in societies where women wear bras, so at the very least their use should be limited.
  5. Have I mentioned that bras are f#$king uncomfortable?

Before we go into any stereotypes about bra-burning feminists and so forth (although it is important to note that those feminists at the Miss America 1968 did not actually burn their bras. They just chucked a few of the horrid garments in a drum), I think it's important to look at why it might be a bit transgressive for a woman to appear in public braless. Granted, Kardashian is a fair bit more endowed than Liddle, but could it be that a part of her anatomy is being sexualised regardless of whether it is her intent to do so or not? We see blokes walk around topless all the time, particularly during Summer (whether we want to or not) so why are their nipples, naked for the world to see, not even remotely offensive? Or more to the point, why are KK's covered but untethered ones cause for tabloid alarm whilst her beau Kanye could walk around flashing his nipples everywhere without the world batting an eyelid?

Women's breasts are continually interpreted as sexual objects, and this is why the site of KK's naturally hanging ones are considered not “sensible” by our noble news publications. It's funny, but this article reminds me of being back in primary school watching a video with my classmates in our “Aboriginal studies 101” session, and hearing my classmates laugh at the bare and droopy breasted women dancing as if something that these women were doing was wrong. Yet I knew that these breasts they were laughing at denoted womanhood. That their size and droop denoted fertility, nurturing and age; things that were cause for respect rather than jeering. I have little doubt then which is the more messed up interpretation of a natural part of a woman's anatomy.

As I stated earlier, I have to wonder what the reaction would have been if the press had chosen to label this article “Kim Kardishian embraces comfort and good health!”. If there is anything I want people to ponder from this rant, it's this: why don't the press ever do this? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that lingerie manufacturers advertise in the media and therefore pushing these items as a necessity is lucrative for both the media and the manufacturers, could it?

My name is Celeste, and more than occasionally, like Kim Kardashian, I go out in public braless. I'm not the only woman who does so, and of those that don't, I can pretty much guarantee that a good proportion of them fling the blasted garments across the room the minute they get home because bras suck and they deserve to be flung. It's not a big deal and it damn well shouldn't be made to be one by a media that has clearly run out of stories about skateboarding budgerigars!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Frocktober 2012

Day 1Day 1Day 2Day 2Day 3Day 4
Day 5Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8

Frocktober 2012, a set on Flickr.

Just in case anyone is even remotely interested, here is my Flickr album featuring all Frocktober frocks thusfar. I am adding to it as I go along (although there may be some delay on account of my slackness). Blog post soon to come as well (also delayed though on account of my lack of A/H internet access at this point)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes, yes, I wear a dress...

You know you are surrounded by amazing people when you decide to do something so completely disturbing and out of character in order to raise money for a good cause because you have been inspired by those around you to go that extra mile. Year in, year out I have witnessed some of my wonderful friends do everything from door-knocking to growing or removing body hair, to undertaking awareness-raising road trips, to performing charity gigs. Some of them have been at it for years, and as long as they continue to do that extra bit, I will continue to support them by flinging some dollars their way. But apart from door-knocking for muscular dystrophy when I was 13, it has been a while since I actually have done a bit more than donate some cash.

So for the entire month of October I will be wearing dresses. Yep, when I heard about Frocktober, I couldn't resist, not only because raising money for ovarian cancer research is such a damn worthy cause, but because if there is one thing that is going to be challenging for this blackfeministranter to do, it is wearing dresses as a daily practice.

I hate dresses. Whilst I used to get around in a heap of them the first time I went to uni, they were usually incredibly long, made from calico or rayon, and bought cheaply from some hippy shop. I ditched stock-standard dresses the minute I left high school with enthusiasm for many reasons. I hated the way they restricted my movement. I hated the way they forced me to sit in ways that were generally uncomfortable and unnatural. I hated the way that I was constantly adjusting them and holding them down to protect my “modesty” as a mere gust of wind was enough to produce public shame. I hated the fact that at my school it was expected that I would wear one of them, whereas the blokes had slacks or shorts (we eventually got those too, but I never got a pair, and they didn't come in until about year 10). I hated that it was expected, not only that I would have smooth, hair-free legs whilst wearing one of these contraptions, but that my legs were would be fair game as far as comments about them went AND that I would take such comments as “compliments”. The way I saw it, through restricting my movement, making me self-conscious (I STILL have a complex about my “desert legs”!) and being generally uncomfortable, I was being subordinated as a female via my clothing. I reasoned that this was not a new phenomenon as dresses had a long proud history of modifying women's bodies and movements (corsets and hoops anyone?) and they were just carrying on a tradition of being freakin' evil. Thus they had to go.

I've pretty much stuck to that since. On occasion, I have been known to glam up for a ball or the like, but I live in jeans. I generally feel so self-conscious when I do glam it up anyway that it makes me not want to repeat the exercise for an indefinite time period. And I think I work the jeans/Docs/etc look pretty damn well. Plus I save a small fortune on depilation routines that most adhere to when wearing frocks. So then why, oh why, after all this whinging, would I consider wearing these horrid garments for an entire month?

Well, from a feminist perspective I am fascinated. I am curious how I will modify my behaviour over the month. I am curious to see if others will modify their behaviour when encountering me in a frock and if I will be treated differently by donning more traditional feminine attire. I have asked for dress donations (due to me having two of the things, both of which are “evening wear”) and I am curious to see the range of dresses over various eras and what these potentially say about how the way women's bodies were viewed and modified at any given time. I am wondering what sort of strange looks I will get when I pair one of these garments up with my biggest, most shitkickery pairs of boots. I am wondering what the dominent colours of these garments will be and how this also restricts me as one of “golden hue”. The potential of this experiment, from a feminist perspective, is endless and frankly I am looking forward to reporting back on it, even if the idea of donning a frock is still making me shudder somewhat...

Plus I'm raising money for ovarian cancer research. I have not suffered from ovarian cancer, and it's not been something that has afflicted members of my family. As a woman who has endured many of her own health trials and tribulations I am however incredibly passionate about women's health and know just how much more research needs to be done. To quote the Frocktober stuff, 1 woman in Australia dies every 10 hours from ovarian cancer, and ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death of all gynaecological cancers because it is usually diagnosed so late. This needs to change, and I am proud to be frocking up and doing my bit to support my sisters. Plus me putting up with the discomfort of wearing a flimsy garment is NOTHING compared to what the sufferers of this insidious disease go through. So let the whining and hem-holding commence...

Oh yeah, and give generously. I've sneakily put a link to my donation page at the side of this blog ;)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greer fear and if wishes were arses

Germaine Greer thinks Julia Gillard has a fat arse. She's said it not once now on TV but twice. Never mind that in the same ABC show, Greer spoke in some interesting depth with regards to her take on Female Genital Mutilation. Just ignore that Greer also spoke in some detail on abortion and highlighted (albeit, at times, clumsily) the stigma attached to pregnancy termination. Nope, Julia has a big arse and National newspapers are currently revisiting this point over and over again. It's a bit silly really.

If you ask me, all this has a hell of a lot to do with the polarising force that Germaine Greer can be. Let's face it, social media commentators spent a hell of a lot of time bagging her out last night and in the course of only a few hours I read everything from "she's so second-wave" to "Greer is utterly freakin' nuts!". In all my years of watching reactions to Greer, I have always tended to find the fact that she manages to get so many people offside the minute she picks up a pen rather inspirational, even when I don't agree with what she is on about. Hell, that infamous tet-a-tet with Marcia Langton (that I believe was last visited with regards to Baz Luhrman's film Australia) kept me mulling over various points that both of them were raising, and whilst I found neither particularly correct, I got worth from both. But as this post is intended to highlight why I think Greer remains a polarising figure, I will move on.

I think at times I benefit from being a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s when it comes to my approach to Greer. I used to love it when she popped up in the media when I was coming into my own feminism with some comment which would immediately get the press churning overtime. Frankly, it was inspirational to see that a feminist could still command that much hype. I also quite liked that she was not adverse to the odd folly. People, for example, are still talking about her old suggestion we taste our own menstrual fluid. Additionally, her oppositional staunchness, followed by her individual back-pedal on HRT so she didn't experience "vaginal gravel rash" with a new partner was quite human. I make several arguments at one point in time only to disagree with them years later on the basis of further lived experience and knowledge, and whilst Greer was labelled a hypocrite for this type of action, I found it rather refreshing. 

The thing is, Germaine Greer has been such a cult figure over so many years that nowadays she barely needs to sneeze in the direction of a reporter before people take offence. People have been taking offence at Greer for a very long time. First it was the patriarchal "establishment". Then it was the moderates and liberal feminists. Now it's just other women. Women who sometimes call themselves feminists, who have profiteered from the feminist movement, yet buy into the whole "Germaine Greer's an old bat who's lost the plot" rhetoric the patriarchy/media/etc have been selling for decades. It's bizarre. The criticism may have been warranted when Greer spoke about Steve Irwin, but as I had never seen any of Irwin's work like so many other people in this country, the comment barely left an impression on me. I thought Greer's book focussing on male beauty, rather than a complete rejection of the concept of beauty was weird. But this doesn't mean that I did not respect her exploring the topic to problematise "beauty" in the first place. Greer has been contributing to feminist thought for a bloody long time now, and the point is to agree or disagree with her, not to parrot the bullshit patriarchal messages from the media with regards to her as a person. Seriously, folks!

Which brings me to arses. I don't give a sod what Gillard wears and I certainly do not care about the circumference of her hips. I do give a crap that she has sold refugees down the river. I am pissed off that the Intervention has been given another 10 years under her watch. But the size of her backside? Nope, can't say I care. 

Greer stating on QandA last night that women are big-arsed creatures had me, as a flat-arsed black woman, questioning body image again. It was annoying enough having to hear all about bootilicious and "baby got back" celebrating the wonderful curves of black women for YEARS and realising that when they were handing out "black booty" I was clearly standing in the "great taste in music" queue. I was over the moon a couple of years ago when some jeans company finally had the gumption to release a range entitled "slight curves" for those of us who did not fit some weird womanly ideal.  We are bombarded with ideals, whether it's size 0, curve pride or bootilicious, and all of them are ridiculous and need to be thrown out in preference for appreciation of diversity.

I would definitely have preferred that Greer had not revisited that original comment because I don't think she did a particularly good job of explaining what it was she was on about in the first place; the pressure on women in power to assume an image that is not personal and serves to eventually distract from what it is that they are on about. Gillard has copped it many times for her dress sense. She has copped it many times in a way that none of her male predecessors ever had to put up with. Whilst Greer is arguing that Gillard can remove that social fickleness by embracing her physicality and uniqueness, I come down more on the side that society simply needs to grow the hell up and stop judging so harshly on appearance. Criticise on things that actually matter for a change. It would be nice...

And I hope that Greer never stops commenting. I just wish that people would take the opportunity to pull her arguments apart if this is what needs to happen than paint her as some degenerate. For she is not. She helped carve out these spaces for women's opinion and through the perpetuation of these spaces she continues to contribute a lot more worth than those who simply parrot the patriarchy. And that's my final word of advice: beware that you are not just perpetuating years worth of feminist slander when buying into Greer Fear. Use the opportunity that Greer's points getting airplay provide to construct your own views. It's much more helpful.        

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And so we pause for a moment from this feminist broadcast to bring you an important note about identity...

EDIT: This post was linked to on Fairfax's Daily Life via a published article. My original blogpost for that article can be seen here

I have written on identity politics many times before. Back when I did honours, I wrote a play about it. Last year, during the Bolta case, I contributed to an article on it. This year, of course, there was that Miss NAIDOC article. Aboriginal identity politics has long been a pet topic of mine, which I've discussed at length with mob and non-mob over the years. Over the past week, however, identity politics has been discussed pretty far and wide by a number of mob in light of the SBS Insight episode entitled "Aboriginal or Not", and it has made me realise that of my writing, most has been about reinforcing identity in the face of non-Indigenous questioning. Tackling internal identity politics is another deal altogether and so I have decided to write this post (which has said it will be my first non-feminist-focussed post, but I am, after all, still me...) as frankly I think that the SBS Insight episode was as likely to assist in the understanding of the issues as I am of becoming, as remarked earlier in the week, a Liberal-voting baked potato. 

I have never (to my face) had my identity questioned by a fellow blackfella. True story. One of the things I have always recognised is my privilege in this regard: I come from a known desert family and my last name readily ties me into that family. For those who are not aware of that family (which are few in the community, but this also proves useful for whitefellas as well when placing me), I will then often tell them my Grandmother's "maiden name" (anyone else hate that term? Non-feminist post fail #1...) as her family have members who were in the public eye and are more universally known. In addition to this, my father has been working in the Vic community for 20 years, so when I entered the workforce, I was quite readily placed by Vic mob as his daughter. I have, in my time, met so many who don't know their family/mob/country etc and were putting those pieces together and so I know how lucky I am to have that knowledge. I have also, living in Vic, seen the mob here fight tooth and nail for culture and community rights. I feel really lucky that my political knowledge has been forged not only by family story but also by living in this state, meeting some amazing people, and seeing those battles unfold. 

I do not have a current "Proof of Aboriginality" and I have no need, or desire, to get one at the moment. My proof document was lost when I changed jobs, and I haven't replaced it because I have been lazy but also because, frankly, I have always resented having to have it. The reason why I have resented it is simple: whilst I have never had to produce this document amongst mob to prove myself, I have had to produce it to prove my background to whitefellas and govt departments. I have once had my proof knocked back by a government department because the Statutory Declaration that accompanies it was out of date. This made me resent the process even more because despite the fact that mob still recognise me, the government clearly valued the whitefella legal part of the document more and I kind of felt that this defeated the community-driven purpose of the "three-tiered definition". I have also refused to get it as I have been asked more than once for these same documents that I have previously supplied to a couple of bodies, and frankly, I think that once one has "proven themselves" in a whitefella system, that should be it and asking those that have proven themselves to do so again is really quite annoying particularly if their status within the community has not changed. But I have digressed, and in the interests of keeping this about proving oneself within mob, let's return to Insight.

I think those that were watching Insight and had no real understanding of the inner-workings of Indigenous community and our organisations could be forgiven for thinking that the system is well and truly stuffed and rarely works when it needs to. Insight constructed their programme to reflect that in my opinion, and in reality, whilst I have witnessed times where it has not worked, on the whole I think it works for most of the people, a majority of the time. I also support a three-tiered community-auspiced definition over anything that the government has cooked up over the years. I mean, let's face it: their previous blood-quanta definitions and being a part of the country's native fauna weren't exactly designed to keep families strong, proud and together... SBS, in all their wisdom, decided to pursue the show from the angle of those that had been refused community confirmation and what the consequences were. They also, quite deliberately, focussed the issue on appearance by setting it up so that we had dark-skinned and fair-skinned people battling it out over who had the most right to proof of Aboriginal documentation. Apart from a couple of brief moments when audience members got the opportunity to say something in a set that was, to put it mildly, getting out of hand, the process itself was not discussed in any huge way.

On watching it back, and following conversations with others who watched it, I think folks could be forgiven for thinking that Aboriginality comes down to how dark someone is, what their financial need is, and whether or not they can hail a cab to get home. Yes, I was on the set myself and despite the fact that what I said barely went to air (I promise I didn't swear), the camera felt the need to focus in on me about 10 times probably because I was all "in between" coloured, and looked like an outer-suburban Melbourne hipster with OTT hair. I am sure that I provided a nice "contrast" to a couple of others on the set, because if Insight weren't interested in what an Arrernte/Collingwood feminist trade-unionist protopunk aficionado had to say on the topic of identity, then they really had no other motives for the numerous extreme close-ups. I did bring up the topic of social Darwinism and past use of those ideas by governments to divide our mobs after listening to a couple of people on set adhering to those exact same principles and that comment kind of made it to air, but it was not really pursued and we remained stuck on skin colour and money. Isn't Aboriginality so much more than this folks?

I think Dallas and Tarran, who were on the stage, both showed so eloquently when the system fails the people. I am not a supporter of Dallas' blog for a number of reasons, but what really shone through when he was sitting up there telling his story was a man who was fighting so damn hard to keep his young family together in extraordinary circumstances but who was also sick to death of seeing so many of our mob not looked after. If we are a "community" then the likes of Dallas need to not be failed by our processes. Additionally, Tarran who had her identity incredibly publicly questioned on stage which I found totally unacceptable, had also been failed by our community system not once, but twice. So why was the focus of the show then essentially whether one was more entitled to identity documents than others based on skin colour and not that two people who had identified as black their entire life and had a right to do so had been failed by a system that perhaps needed to improve? More to the point, why were mob on the set so quick to buy in to this discussion? Have we forgotten years of bad government policy, and the right for people to identify with their families? Is it not occurring to people that this pot of poorly-divvied up money we're squabbling over is the spare change of an imposed government that refuses to acknowledge black sovereignty and enter into some proper negotiation of how first peoples may be properly compensated for lost land, people, culture, and language? Is there another way this discussion could have possibly been framed so that we are discussing, as First Peoples, these things and exploring alternatives rather than turning in on each other and reducing our identities and experiences down to the exact same things that have been used against us? I do resent SBS for setting the show up like that.

Here's my take: I learnt pretty young that skin colour is nothing compared to family. Within my own family we have a huge diversity in appearance in my generation, and some of us are not more Aboriginal than others because we range from dark to fair through some random assortment of genetics. We're family and we're Aboriginal, end of. Additionally, we have never denied mixed heritage. Our last name came from somewhere after all, and a lot of us have one non-Indigenous parent. Our grandmother was taken to Jay Creek and then the Bungalow in Alice where language and culture were most certainly not encouraged. So do I think that someone has more right to claim identity than someone else because they are darker, have been through ceremony and they know songs, language and land? No, and particularly not if those making the assertion are directly profiteering from the displacement of other mob and their ability to practice culture by living on lands that are not their own and that have been made available to them to purchase via past government policy. People have a right to identify with their families and they damn well have a right to have their history acknowledged. By the same token, those that have these things deserve admiration, dignity and respect and it should not be the case that they often seem to be the most socially and financially disadvantaged amongst us. Do I think that monies are inadequate? Bloody oath I do. It's a disgrace that so many of our mob don't even have the bare essentials and this has been going on for so damn long. I just question whether mob, rather than government, are where the anger needs to be directed. Do I think that there are some folk that rort the system? I'd say there would be but I doubt that this is infinitely more than any other system out there (tax evasion, dole cheats, anyone?) and in my years of student support, I certainly didn't experience an avalanche of those looking to profiteer falsely identifying so they could do so. Moreover, I question whether the provision of scholarships (for example) needs to come at the cost of proper funding in destitute communities. Why is this an either/or scenario? Shouldn't our community be catered for and encouraged in as many ways as possible? I certainly don't accept the idea that our mob become less Aboriginal when they go to University, and considering how my uni-educated blackfellas were in that studio of all colours and claims, I can't actually believe that this was even part of the discussion. Hell, a members' survey conducted last year by the NTEU may prove illuminating on that front, particularly if people take the time to read the individual responses at the end.

So my final word on it is this: through buying into these arguments and perpetuating them on screen, we are simply buying into "divide and conquer" tactics. We are being assimilated into the processes that have been used against us for so long, and frankly I think we need to remember to look elsewhere as well. I know one thing: I sure as hell will be thinking damn hard about any future TV appearances. Taking breath and posting now...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I support marriage equality, but not marriage

In what is possibly going to be one of the most confusing posts I have ever written (not so much the points I'm making, but more the way I go about expressing them...), after years of explaining my rather contradictory thoughts on these two things I have decided to write these thoughts up. The good thing about this is that I know, on this front, I am not the only one who feels contradictory in their stance and so I am in good company here!

I state up front: I 100% support marriage equality. I have been to rallies, signed the petitions and promoted the cause constantly. I remember all too well when the Marriage Act was changed in Australia to specify that marriage is between a "man" and a "woman". I remember when the ACT got its Civil Partnership Bill up only to have it maliciously squashed by the Federal Govt. I remember when the ALP proudly announced that it was FINALLY recognising same-sex relationships for the purposes of Centrelink payments (which if you ask me was just a ploy to stop same-sex couples from being able to claim separate single payments). I found it incredibly hypocritical that the Govt would recognise same-sex relationships for this process, but not for the process of marriage. I do not have any religious ties and therefore my take on same-sex marriage is completely state-based: we have a law that discriminates against an entire section of the community and it needs to be changed. Same-sex couples who wish to formalise their relationship in the state via marriage should have the right to do so, and the sooner that this discriminatory legislation is removed, the better!

Now to throw the contradictory part in: I am anti-marriage. Yep, back when I was a teen-femoranter and changed my title to Ms. (rather than the irksome "Miss") I did so because I had decided that I did not support marriage, and that I would not buy into it. Apart from a couple of weird discussions when I was 16 about marrying in a pair of Stubbie shorts (?), I have not wavered from that stance, and indeed, it has strengthened. I have also made it clear that I would not shift from this stance depending on any future choice of partner. This has not stopped me supporting many of my most wonderful friends in their choice to enter into marriage and if anything I have felt incredibly privileged that they have invited me to be a part of their special day despite listening to me bang on for years with my views! But marriage, as a concept, is something I find deeply problematic on many levels.

To take the obvious level for a feminist first: marriage has been used for millennia as a tool to oppress women and reinforce their second-class status. I have been told by so many that marriage has changed, that people have the ability to make it what they wish, and I do believe that this is the case PROVIDED people have privilege (eg: white, western, middle-class etc). I feel personally that for me to acknowledge the majority local reality whilst ignoring the reality for so many other sisters is just unconscionable. Across the world, many women have no choice and no sense of equality when it comes to marriage. Forced marriage, for example, still occurs across many parts of Asia and Africa and it has gotten to the point where the UK government has just recently criminalised it and introduced tough penalties. Whilst both sexes can be forced into marriage, it is much more likely to be young women, and a third of the cases in the UK involved minors with the youngest recently being a girl of just 5 years old. Forced marriage is also rising in prevalence in Australia.  If it is rising in migrant populations within western countries then it can only be imagined how common it would be in the home countries.

Women's second-class status, their rights of inheritance and the cost of them entering into marriage are directly linked to why there are approximately 200 million girls "missing" across the world. In many parts of the world, baby girls are seen as a burden. Future dowry costs are a part of the reason why firstly, pregnant women are sometimes subjected to sex determination tests and forced abortion, and secondly why girls are killed, abandoned or trafficked at still alarming rates. Because there are deeply ingrained notions that girls are dependant on fathers, and then need to find good marriages in order to be supported (because they are not seen as independent and capable beings) the cost of having a girl is simply too much for impoverished families to bear. It is hard to be okay with a practice that contributes to the death, neglect or trafficking of so many women globally.

Polygamous marriages are still very much part of the majority experience across the world. Now, as much sense that this is going to make, I don't have a problem with "polyamory" and indeed wonder sometimes if it is more practical than monogamy for some people. But I do actually have an issue with polygamy in so far as the dominant form practiced across the world is "polygyny", not polyandry or polygamy of any other form. Whilst it is seen as noble and dignified for a woman to curb her jealousy and accept her husband and his other wives in many of the cultures that practice polygyny, it is unacceptable for a woman to take multiple husbands with the expectation that these husbands will also act noble and dignified. The subsequent wives in polygyny are usually younger to best ensure fertility. In many polygamous communities, this leads to teenage boys being cast out of their homes in fear that they will compete with older, more powerful men for brides. Polygamy (or more accurately, polygyny) was recently covered on Insight, and rather than delve further into some of the opinions on it, I will let people judge for themselves if they wish to view it. I will say that my huge extended family is no doubt partly as a result of historical polygamy, and whilst I would not trade that family for the world, I also have no wish to adhere to that tradition. I don't expect people to just be cool with that statement, but considering all my issues with marriage, that's how I feel.

At this point, I feel a couple of western context questions need to be addressed. I do understand that (in most cases) in Australia, people enter into marriage of their own free will and therefore they question whether patriarchy still plays a part in those marriages. In my political spinster observance, I would have to say "yes". Take for example the tradition* that the wife takes the husband's name and the resultant children do too. The majority of women who enter into marriage in this country adhere to this custom and state it is their choice to do so. However, on observing female friends that did not take their husband's name, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that it is a very socially-enforced "choice". Of my friends who have kept their surnames, all have stated that they have had to correct people on several occasions when it has been assumed that they are Mrs. Such-and-such. This has happened in conversation, via mail, even at a Christening. Of those who did change their name, quite a few have said that it was simply easier, or that it was about forming a family, or so forth, but if that's the case then why is it not just as easy for family-orientated for men to do the same? 

I feel too that even in the most civil of ceremonies, the many religious markers remain (and religion has hardly been neutral territory for women over the years). Most women don't shirk the tradition of being "given away" by their fathers (or a close male relative should their father have passed away or not be in their lives) to their husbands. A lot of women still choose to spend fortunes on a white gown. The engagement ring, a symbol of commitment, is only usually given to the betrothed wife. Marriage and babies are socially-enforced for women from an incredibly young age via stories of princess brides to dolls that poo and wee on command. With all this in mind, I do have to wonder how truly egalitarian an event that is so heavily embedded in the patriarchy can ever be?

So back to the original point. It is my hope, despite all of this (and really, this is actually just a short version as anyone who has ever had this discussion with me knows), that marriage equality is won, and that this becomes a worldwide phenomenon with time. I hope that not only will same-sex couples have the choice to enter into marriage if they so desire, but that through same-sex marriage, some of the inherent gender and sex disparities of marriage and culture are challenged and dissolved leading to a more egalitarian situation for all. I hope that through marriage no longer being "between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others..." the idea that women are tradable commodities ceases to exist and more women are able to live their lives and freely chose their situation. And I hope that all those who enter into marriage have long and wonderful lives together! But I still will not be joining in and walking down the aisle myself. After all, I'm going to be trying to shake all the historical issues still ;) 

* I speak, of course, of the dominant local tradition. In many other cultures, this is not the case
** I also wish to note that it has been pointed out to me by those who know a hell of a lot better than I that freedom to marry whomever you chose, whilst being part of the 1967 referendum fight, was only a small part. I wish to note that here, but not tackle it in detail and rather leave it until later or until someone with more knowledge covers it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Purity Balls and magic rings...

This is the third blogpost that I have started in a week, but the difference is that I am 100% confident that this one will actually be published. Why? Because this one is about the utterly ridiculous idea of the "Purity Ball" and the other posts are more serious and researched. Frankly, I feel like a good, old-fashioned, off-the-cuff rant today.

I heard about Purity Balls quite a while ago, and honestly, the whole idea was so very absurd that part of me hoped it was simply a joke so it got shuffled on to the back of my rantisphere. Then this article came out today and I found myself confronted by this absurd and revoltingly sexist concept again. In a nutshell: a couple of church-affiliated blokes back in the 1990s got a little bit concerned about the increasing infection rate of STIs amongst younger people, so came up with an ingenious idea: they were going to have young women pledge their virginity until marriage and additionally get their Dads on board as guardians of their daughter's chastity. The logic with that was of course if you reaffirm a girl's father as the most important man in her life until she gets signed on over via contract to her husband, she's less likely to be engaging in naughty stuff... To make this concept even remotely attractive to the young women, these blokes decided to dress the entire thing up in formal wear, chuck on some Christian rock, and have some weird presentation ritual for the young women in amongst it all. Wikipedia (source of all reliable information) also mentions that at some of these balls, the young women carry in a giant cross, and take their pledge with their father kneeling next to them under a pair of crossed swords (nope, leaving that one alone...). Why didn't they have these events back in my day?

In addition, thanks to my addiction to old and new Degrassi, I found out about "Purity Rings"; a ring someone who has taken a pledge to maintain their virginity until marriage proudly wears. And in more evidence of my addiction issues with teen drama, I found out about Purity groups through Glee. Yep, there is an entire movement out there reinforcing the benefits of "virginity" by leaking them through our airwaves and into the minds of impressionable youth. I have been told that both boys and girls do take these pledges, but until a heap of Purity Balls for young men start where they are swearing their virginity to their mothers, I'm going to interpret this "chastity chic" movement as one that is mainly targeted at young women.

So what exactly is wrong with a young woman choosing to not have sex? Absolutely nothing, in my opinion, provided that the choice is an actual "choice" and isn't about regulating or controlling her body, or portraying her as impure if she does have sex, or as a potentially evil temptress of men, or an STI-spreader, or putting unfair and unequal responsibility on her compared to the men of the world, or reinforcing the institution of marriage as a "must", etc etc. And these pledges reinforce all these things in my opinion. There is nothing here except for vile sexism, pure and simple.

Let's take the concept of "virginity" to begin with. Anyone else find this whole idea rather problematic? On the surface it seems to state that one is considered a virgin until they have sex, but what exactly is sex? Can a girl lose her virginity if she engages in oral sex? What about if she tries anal sex? Solo sex? Does a woman who only ever sleeps with other women ever lose her virginity? What's more, when a virginity is "lost", what is actually lost? I think, in the main, and whilst occasionally it gets redefined to be more inclusive of same-sex experience, it is pretty socially-reinforced that a girl loses her virginity once her vagina (whoops, there's that word again!) is penetrated by a man's penis. So up until the point where you are penetrated you are "pure", then following that moment you are impure. Madonna/Whore here we come! When it's all sold like that, and becomes an action of a woman submitting purity to a man, it frames the action as dirty, frames any other experience that a woman may have engaged in as secondary, and basically promotes the penis as central to a woman's sexuality. Is virginity then really something that we should be pushing on to young women, or are there better lessons about sex and all it entails to teach?

Next in this entire concept of Purity Balls etc is the idea that a father is the guardian of his daughter's purity, until such a time as she marries in which case her husband is allowed to take that purity. So straight away, a young woman undertaking this ritual is taught that her virtue and her respectability, not to mention her worthiness in the eyes of God, is directly tied to the rule of man. She is also being taught that her virginity can be traded from one man to another. This whole idea just makes me ill. For starters, I love and trust my father but at no point in my entire life have I wanted him to know the details of my sex life. Nor has he been so controlling of my alleged bodily integrity that he would wish to know. Additionally, if I wasn't a sworn political spinster who is not fond of limiting labels, I would most certainly not want some bloke thinking he is the saviour of my virtue because he decided to drag me down the aisle in yet another bizarre ceremony. This whole idea reinforces that a woman, her bodily autonomy and her status is secondary to a man's and I question how it is even allowed in allegedly "civilised society".

So what of a young girl's body? Well firstly, it appears that many of these purity balls are held right around the age when a girl starts her period, and let's not even get me back on that rant again... Secondly, as stated, reinforcing female purity was seen, by two blokes, as a way of stopping the spread of STIs so it's reinforced that it's a girl's fault rather than a boy's if a case of the clap does the rounds. Thirdly, her constructed femininity is reinforced as a desirable state because she's clearly not rocking up to the purity ball in cargo jeans and a singlet top; she's only pure if she is in a white dress. So not only are these girls taught that their sexuality and their virtue is directly tied to the men in their lives, but their bodily sub-ordinance is reinforced in as many ways as possible. And people actually want their daughters to go through this?

This whole concept is frightening, quite revolting, and utterly reeks of the patriarchy. I stand by what I said earlier: there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing not to have sex. But this choice needs to be contingent on her deciding what sex actually is, which values are important to her, and her retaining autonomy over her own body. It certainly does not need to be dictated to her by a coterie of men, some holding swords over her head, as a way of controlling her and her body. The sooner these rituals, "celibacy chic" and anything else are eradicated and proper, woman-focussed and controlled education can begin, the better. Yet according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, purity balls are starting to pop up around Australia... 

EDIT: Couldn't resist adding this to the post

Monday, July 16, 2012

In defence of the radicals

I am writing this note in defence of the radical feminists. They do not need my defence as they are more than capable as strong, committed, usually well-educated women, of defending themselves. But I feel compelled to write not only after a number of snide comments I have read about RadFems and their views, but also after reading an article on how a male academic at James Cook Uni resigned in protest because a radical feminist colleague of his was not disciplined following a confronting blogpost she'd written for RadFem Hub. I am also writing this to reinforce a position I stated in my very first post about where my own understandings and interpretations come from when it comes to both feminist and Indigenous politics. I daresay this will be quite the rant! It will simplify some things for the sake of keeping it rant-length, but I do plan on writing some more on specific points at a later date.

Over the years I have read a lot of feminist opinion, but mostly, it seems to be those that continually unpack social structures and examine where these oppress that have appealed to me the most. In the main these have been the Radical Feminist and the Marxist and Socialist Feminists writings. My reason for this is straightforward: I find synergies between these arguments and the arguments I find most useful when it comes to Indigenous politics. I also think, although I may be showing my own bias here, but we tend to appreciate our radicals more in the Indigenous movement because we see them continually challenging the status quo, decolonising dominant opinions, and getting others to think. Additionally, although I have read a heap and will continue to do so, a lot of my understanding comes from a practical basis: as an Arrernte woman living in hipster Melbourne I have experienced enough to know that slipping into existing power structures may change the circumstances of the individual in a couple of ways, but overall tends to change little with regards to broader society.

Take black experience in the workplace as an example. For at least 20-30 years now there have been equal opportunity policies and employment programmes in existence to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the workforce and in a number of different capacities. These in part have led to what has sometimes been referred to as a "black middle class"; a bunch of Indigenous people have moved out of poverty and are earning enough to live a reasonable lifestyle. Yet despite this, it seems that dealing with direct and structural racism is still an ongoing issue. Also, colleagues having disrespect for your work and specific knowledge continues no matter how high up the chain you are. A survey conducted last year of Indigenous union members working in Higher Education shows that a majority of Indigenous staff were still experiencing racism in the workforce, were fighting hard to get academic respect for Indigenous knowledges they brought to the academy, and were continually thought to have gotten their qualifications on a concessional basis rather than having worked damn hard for them. Indeed some expressed that they had worked twice as hard to get half as far due to lack of recognition of their knowledges and community links. They also felt they continually hit barriers when it came to academic respect and promotion. Additionally, for nearly a century in this country, many Indigenous workers were free or cheap labour (hence why there are "stolen wages" cases being mounted) and so accumulation of wealth for a lot of non-Indigenous families was done off the back of unpaid Indigenous labour, and the accumulation of any independent wealth in Indigenous families is only a recent thing. Sound familiar?

After years of having their work undervalued with pay rates significantly lower than similarly qualified people in other industries, only in May last year did community sector workers win the right to be paid fairly. Why? Because the Australian Services Union was able to prove in FairWork Australia that the work of community service workers had been continually undervalued because it is a female-dominated industry. Despite the years of study and experience that it takes to be, say, a social worker, the rates of pay are significantly lower than they are for someone of similar levels of qualification and experience in a male-dominated industry. Therefore again, we're talking about working twice as hard to get half as far, and an undervaluing of skills and experience because they don't adhere to some dominant understanding of what is valuable. Additionally, domestic labour is argued to be the unpaid labour that women were expected to partake in order to allow men to participate in the workforce, and therefore society has been reliant on it in order to develop. Due to this, women have only recently really been able to accumulate their own independent wealth. Women for years have also had policies and employment programmes in place in many areas to assist them in gaining entry into the workforce, but women still complain about having a hard time climbing corporate ladders, hitting their heads on "glass ceilings" and difficulties achieving work/life balance because women still do the majority of the child-rearing and housekeeping. Whilst it's not as straightforward as a "swap women for black" scenario, the similarities are striking.

The radical argument for both is that workplaces are set up in the image of the majority life experience for white, male workers and so through the various structures that exist in a workplace, this experience is continually preferenced therefore actively prohibiting others from participating fully. Therefore these structures need to be examined and changed so that they are inclusive. As the evidence piled up for me, both through my own experiences in the workplace, and through observing those around me, I came to agree more and more that this was the case and that things weren't as simple and straightforward as someone being able to achieve because they had the opportunity, the drive and the ability to do so.

One of the most appealing things about radical opinion to me is that it is focussed on collective rights.The source of the oppression is the patriarchy and therefore arguments are framed accordingly with "men" being called out. This is done because the movement is committed to the breaking down of the patriarchal systems that oppress women, and building a more egalitarian society, as opposed to merely assimilating within something that is inherently corrupt. I was reading this piece by Julie Bindel the other night and I found it really useful because in it she highlights the many arguments that current mainstream feminists use against the radicals. It's striking to me that when I read those arguments, I could remove "women", insert "black", then remove "men" and insert "white" and directly reflect what a lot of our older Indigenous activists have to say about the direction of black movements nowadays. This is why the push for Sovereignty (reinvigorated through the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy), rather than Native Title, is so important; Sovereignty is not about mob being recognised within existing Australian laws, it's about questioning the right that Australia has to enforce these laws on a Sovereign people who have never ceded that sovereignty, and then building a more egalitarian society. 

Moreover, when my article was published by Daily Life recently, I scanned the comments. It wasn't the predictable couple of comments from people questioning my right to claim sexism and racism in the article or the "we're all Australian" comments that got my goat. No, it was the one or two comments from (allegedly) Indigenous apologists who not only undermined what I had to say, but managed to validate both sexism and racism by essentially stating that both "didn't bother them (to be called "the prettiest Aboriginal I have ever seen"), indeed I saw it as a compliment". Seriously? So it's okay, as a woman, to be reduced down to your looks? So it's okay, as an Aboriginal person, to hear someone make a disparaging comment about everyone else of your racial group? I'm sorry, but apologists bug me. What's so wrong with calling someone out a bad action? Are people's feelings of self-worth so diminished that they actually would see something like this as a compliment? I'm about building esteem through worthwhile means rather than reinforcing a false economy.

But enough about me! The crux of what I am saying is this: the radicals want to change stuff on a big scale. They believe that society, that structures, that laws etc have been built by those who have the power, to reinforce that power, and these need to be challenged and restructured so that society becomes a lot more fairer. This leads to a lot of dualistic terms: men and women; black and white, as way of explanation when discussing the issues. The issue others express with radical thought seems to often come down to this dualism, and how individuals believe that they don't fit within these terms. But this, to me, is where those arguments lose the plot because these terms are not geared around individuals, they are geared around social power struggles. And there are plenty of individuals who recognise these power structures and act against them despite being named as the dominant group. I have seen a lot of white people devote their lives to Indigenous politics, working in collaboration to achieve change. I have a lot of amazing male friends who refuse to buy into social dominance and do everything they can to assist with change. Hell, Julie Bindel mentions that men can make a commitment to not rape or not perpetuate violence, and I know that a group of proud men marched through the streets of Alice Springs a couple of years ago promoting anti-violence. I also personally know a heap of men that have signed the White Ribbon pledge and assist in visibly stating to their brothers that violence against women is wrong by wearing their ribbons. If you're a member of a dominant group, you are not being picked on by radical feminists or by the Indigenous left. You are being handed an opportunity to challenge yourself, assist equality through your actions, and build something better through the messages that you relay on to other members of the dominant group.

The third wave of feminism reckoned itself to be in response to the essentialism that the second wave was prone to. It argued that the dualism was erasive of the varied experiences of different cultural groups, sexualities etc, and also negated people's individual agency. I think this has opened up a space for feminist politics to be discussed in many different ways that did not necessarily exist before. But I also think that this has led to unnecessarily disparaging remarks with regards to the radicals that throw the baby out with the bathwater (so to speak). I think it is also no coincidence that the women whose views created in the push for greater cultural recognition within the third wave, such as Audre Lorde, were proud radical feminists who saw racism also as a tool of the patriarchy and who felt feminism could be used to fight both provided feminists addressed their own racism. The radicals may say stuff that is unpalatable to some in a post-structural, third wave, queer theory, rauch culture world, but it does not mean that they offer nothing to the debate. In fact, in a country where the government can so completely violate human rights by introducing the most paternalistic of policies on a specific cultural group so that their income, their activities and their education is completely controlled, I think the voices of the radicals are needed in the mix more than ever before.

Oh, and I also think it is rather lame that someone would resign because a workplace did not discipline a feminist colleague who wrote an opinion piece in an independent forum. If that's the opposition, then we have nothing to fear!