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)