The next time a man I barely know sits at the dinner table in my mother’s house and jokes derisively that he has a feminism filter on his web browser, it will be a miracle if I don’t kick him in the dick.
‘What kind of magazine?’ he asked me in mock confusion, having heard exactly what I had said.
‘A feminist web zine’ I said. Again. ‘It’s called The Hairpin.’
‘Oh, well I don’t know about that. Will I even be able to access that?’
Then he chuckled contentedly at his funny, funny joke.
We had been discussing, of all things, how to remove water stains from wooden surfaces. My housemate had supplied the answer, sourced (as is all excellent cleaning advice) from ‘Ask a Clean Person’, a long-running column on cheerfully feminist web zine, The Hairpin.
Aside from myself, sitting at the table were my two housemates, my mother, her friend and the aforementioned man. Mum’s friend and this guy were also having an on again off again affair.
My mentioning the word feminism, even in this incredibly casual and tangential context was enough to stop his speech, widen his eyes and produce the mock-shocked ejaculation described above.
Not wanting to be impolite to my mother’s guests, I refrained from the full verbal shanking that I might otherwise have delivered. I was actually still pretty rude, earning myself a subtle ‘stop that Rebecca’ look from my mother, but true to form, this man’s blind arrogance allowed him to completely miss my not-even-remotely-veiled snark.
If I had been subtitled on that evening (for the benefit of the hearing impaired and also the profoundly bigoted), they might have read something like this:
How can you, an (apparently) intelligent and educated man sit comfortably as the only be-testicled guest in a room full of women and so casually and arrogantly deride feminism? Even with the excuse of ignorance that your generation so frequently employs, how can you suggest that Feminism is one big terrible, embarrassing, radical faux pas?
You are sitting at a table with a woman who raised two kids single-handedly. I’m one of them. Without feminism, she would not have been able, or even ALLOWED to do that. She would have been shunned and stigmatised for even wanting to leaver her husband. We might have been taken away and raised by a properly married couple.
You have two daughters. Do you know why they have jobs? Because feminism. Do you know why they could leave their husbands if their husbands hit them? Feminism. Do you know why the police would arrest their husbands if they accused them of domestic violence instead of refusing to become involved in ‘people’s private business’? Feminism.
Do you why they were able to attend university? Feminism.
Do you know why you and your lover are able to have an affair without her facing ostracism, or even threat of death? Feminism.
Do you know why you get to use contraception and have a greatly reduced risk of contracting STIs and accidental children?
Do you know why my mum is allowed to own this property?
Do you know why women are allowed to own any property?
Do you know why we can drive, or even ride a bike?
Do you know why we can goddamn vote?
Do you know why your girlfriend is able to wear a stretchy dress and bare feet right now? Why I am able to wear pants? Why any of us can breathe and eat comfortably in our clothing? Why we can walk easily in our shoes? Why our feet, or even our genitals are not subject to ritual mutilation?
Why I could choose, of my own free will to not marry a bigoted, inconceivably arrogant airbag twice my age who condescends to tell me how ludicrous my ideas about basic human rights are?
Because Feminism. You fucking douche-canoe.
I didn’t make it to the inaugural rally last time and this year I was awfully glad that I made the effort. There was a reasonable turnout of maybe, 200 people – Melbourne can be a terribly ambivalent city, so anyone showing up is a good sign!
SlutWalk has never been more relevant, with the year between marches filled with attempt after attempt by western politicians to misappropriate women’s rights and bodies for their own advancement. The rally was, if nothing else, a reminder that no matter how cleverly* certain fuckwits may try to slice and dice rape to suit themselves, the quotidian reality of rape and sexual harassment remains that same for women. It happens. It happens a lot, and it happens to all of us.
The name may be controversial – I know many women and feminists are dubious regarding the reclamation of “slut” – but the core message of the rally is clear and extremely powerful: survivors of rape and sexual assault should never be made to feel responsible for the crime done to them.
I still believe that slut-shaming and victim-blaming are intrinsically linked. Both rely on the precept that a woman exerts some kind of inexorable sexy-force that causes mens’ pants to fall off, that they are asking for it, that they should have done more to not get raped.
Calling someone a slut, or a “tease” is in my opinion, informed by the same attitudes that give voice to victim-blame. It is a suggestion that the woman in question is exhibiting unladylike behaviour and as such deserves any unwanted attention she receives.
I hope that SlutWalk will continue for many years, so that we “sluts” might stand together and refuse to let blame be placed upon us. So that we might continue to insist that the relevant ‘choices’ in an incidence of rape do not include what a woman wears, how much she drinks, who she speaks to or where she goes, but ONLY that of the rapist to rape.
*by cleverly, I mean idiotically.
When I first fell down the feminism rabbit hole in my early years at university I, and my classmates, were encouraged to apply our new-found ideology to our lives in whichever ways we felt comfortable.
My story was one which I’m guessing was mirrored by many other twenty-somethings; I stopped shaving and wearing makeup, avoided binding clothes and ditched heels. I also had some pretty uncomfortable conversations with my then boyfriend and learnt the hard way that ‘feminist’ is still a dirty word.
I eventually reached peak in my ‘radicalness’ (which I suspect some would rather refer to as ‘militarism’) and began to wind back many of the changes I had made. I started to wear makeup again, grew my hair and stopped yelling at men on trains who unwittingly invaded the personal space of their female co-passengers.*
Some changes however, I kept; I haven’t worn a pencil skirt or a pair of heels since 2007 except when in costume.
The truth is, that whilst I still appreciate the theory behind many of these feminist practices, they are not always, well, practical.
I recently had a discussion with a woman that I was friends with back when we share gender studies classrooms – she is undertaking a masters of law now and has recently started shaving her legs again. Some of her feminist friends have given her shit for it, but the reality is that she simply cannot expect to advance professionally if she continues not to.
“But that’s FUCKED!!” you say, “fight the power!”
And oh how I agree. But where do you draw the line between damning the man and damaging your opportunities? If wearing mascara and skirt is necessary to get you into the boardroom, then is it more important to take a stand and be left outside than to access your potential to be chairing the fucking meeting, skirt and all?
Because the way I see it, the end-game of feminism is to achieve equality. Pretty basic. But it appears that the path to success is paved with compromise, and sometimes I’m not sure whether the practice is still truly feminist if it prevents the end result.
I have no answers here. A part of me sees frightening parallels between the above and the argument that women should exploit their own sexual objectification in order to gain power. Which I do not endorse.
So tell me blogosphere: what kinds of compromises do you make to get by in the actual fucking RL? And what will you not change for anyone, anytime?
*Total bullshit, I still yell at people on trains.
I nanny a twelve year old girl and her older brother. They are both bright, friendly and pretty well behaved; I love my job.
12 had a vocal recital at her school this week and I went along to witness the effect that very expensive private tuition can have on aspiring starlets.
Three of the five performers (including My Girl) chose songs by Taylor Swift. Three.
One sang Miley Cyrus and the last, Adele.
When I poked gentle fun at 12 after the recital, she felt compelled to defend her decision – saying repeatedly that Taylor Swift was A Good Role Model.
Miley Cyrus on the other hand, is apparently not.
Taylor Swift as an appropriate consumer product for 12 is not a new topic in her household – last year she was allowed by her mother to attend Swift’s concert for that reason whilst being banned from Katy Perry by the same logic.
I cannot disagree with a mother’s decision to prohibit the latter given sexualisation of Perry’s stage presence (she is twelve after all), but I railed against the quick condemnation of Miley for, let’s face it, behaving like a perfectly ordinary teenager.
12 and I had also recently engaged in an argument over Justin Bieber and the fact that she did not ‘like him anymore’ because he ‘did drugs’.* I’m pretty ambivalent to The Biebs, being well past the age where floppy-haired, baby-faced teen popstars graced the walls of my bedroom, but this particular discussion was about not believing every single rumour the media cooks up and provides only a thin veneer of severely skewed evidence for, so I defended him.
She also expressed her disinclination to like The Veronica’s any longer last year, because ‘they are all yucky and have tattoos now’.
Back to Taylor. I like Taylor Swift pretty well. She has catchy pop tunes and really amazing hair.
Up until now I have been on board with the idea that she is a Positive Role Model for Young Women, and I still think she has a lot to offer. She writes her own songs and is genuinely talented in an industry full of auto-tune and even though she is undeniably beautiful, she seems to committed to getting by on that talent (wikipedia tells me that she refuses to take part in sexualised photo-shoots).
There is definitely a case for her lyrics and videos endorsing the whole purity/virginity/helpless damsel deal (I really enjoyed reading this article that cuts right into her) but I want to talk about HER image here; Taylor as an actual live human being. If she wants to avoid alcohol and not get her tits out for FHM, then that’s her prerogative.
My argument is that by censoring and censuring the ‘role models’ available to young we:
a) prevent and avoid discussions about diversity
b) fail to facilitate conversations about choices and stigma
c) endorse the Madonna/Whore paradox for young women
Miley Cyrus led me to this, so let’s work with her. So she drinks and parties and probably makes questionable clothing and/or party pash choices. Why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, it’s because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I DID when I was in my late teens (read: continue to do, albeit with less frequency and stronger hangovers).
I have issues with the culture of binge drinking in Australia, and I don’t endorse reckless behaviour (particularly the unprotected variety) but it would be super-naive and extremely hypocritical of me to criticise a teenager for behaving like a teenager.
Of course I want 12 to wait several more years before even looking at a pint glass, but when the time comes, I would encourage her to enjoy her late highschool and university years. If she chooses to do that by joining her friends at the pub, well good. If she decides to go the full Swift, also good.
By simply labeling teen icons like Cyrus or Swift good or bad, we avoid a vital conversation about agency, consequences and stigma. I think it is far more important for girls to learn about making choices they are comfortable with preparing them for the many social pressures they will face. Alcohol, drugs and…let’s call it ‘hoodlum mentality’ for bonus kitsch, are going to be a part of their lives no matter which path they choose for themselves, but relegating certain behaviours to a spectrum of evil does nothing to help them negotiate the pros and cons of that world.
I also think that allowing stereotypes concerning physical appearance or ‘lifestyle choices’ (read: tattoos) to determine the pre-teen social value of a celebrity is one step away from straight up bigotry. As someone with tattoos, I was under the impression that the (obviously sad) but inevitable death of the baby boomer generation would free up a lot of the freak factor generally allotted to those demon spawn besmirched by ink. Hearing a twelve year old disparage the virtue of performers she admittedly used to like because they put some pictures on their skin made me feel pretty low.
Once again I feel the good/bad role model mechanism at work. Parents utilise it in this situation because they don’t want their kids to get tattoos, but they are also encouraging their kids to discount people on the basis of appearance, and of difference.
Finally, the Swift/Cyrus dichotomy reeks of Madonna/Whore to me.
This mutually exclusive distribution of teen behaviour seems to me to offer girls but two options for gaining attention and approval once they hit their teenage years: be a white, middle class virgin with shitloads of talent and amazing hair OR get drunk and ‘forget’ to wear underwear every now and again.
Obviously it is not my place to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for every twelve year old in the country, but I would encourage parents, sibling and other peers and caregivers to be less hasty with those labels. After all, we are their real role models, and defining our own behaviours (and what will come to be, for most, normal behaviours in later years) as either intrinsically plus or minus in the morality meter can only end with confusion, uniformed choices and misplaced guilt.
*Apparently there was a picture of him with cigarette. I made a pretty half-hearted attempt to find it, and couldn’t.
Literally the best thing I have ever read, including the comments:
As a former student of Linguistics, I fail to understand the semantic link between ‘this is my girlfriend’ and ‘I very dearly want you to fuck me with your manly penis’.
No seriously, I don’t get it.
I have been in a lesbian relationship for over a year now, and I am beginning to sympathise with the Angry Lesbian stereotype. Not because, in addition to requiring low slung jeans and banded underwear, I am genetically programmed to simply BRIM with angst, but because:
+ Unless I take specific care to be in a gay bar at the time, men interpret my dancing with my girlfriend as an invitation for sex.
+ If I introduce my girlfriend to a straight man whom I have recently met, they interpret that as an invitation for sex.
+ If I tell a man that I am unavailable due to my being a committed relationship with a woman they INTERPRET THAT AS AN INVITATION FOR SEX.
I would argue (perhaps radically) that a vast majority of general populace do not in fact, believe, in lesbians.
Hear me out.
I recently attended a university club event with my girlfriend and several other friends. We had several (read: all of the) drinks and were enjoying ourselves immensely. We were also on a boat, which is necessarily a good time.
During the last hour or so of the event, I made friends with a few young men on the dancefloor. I learned their names, I told them a bit about myself, I danced embarrassingly and they danced embarrassingly. Then my girlfriend approached, and I introduced her to my new friends.
They looked surprised, then disbelieving, then interested. We had drunk dancing fun together, and when the event finished we convinced them to attend our favourite trashy gay bar with us, instead of the official after-party.
On the way to said after-party, my girlfriend got into a cab with these boys and I followed separately. I was several minutes behind, and when I finally managed to track down my girlfriend (she had left her phone in my coat pocket), she was in tears.
Upon arrival at the bar, the boys had become irritable at my absence, and had admitted that they had only come with us in order to ‘watch you make out’. When I failed to turn up on time, they stormed off, asserting that we had ‘ruined their night’.
After years of making out with women in public (well, in venues) I have a hundred of these stories to tell.
It gets a little…tiresome.
That covers my interactions with the majority of straight men with whom I do not have a prior acquaintance.
I attended the birthday of a woman with whom I have been friends for many years. We boarded together at high school and became a member of each other’s families.
He family was at the party; I spoke with them all and introduced them to my girlfriend for the first time.
Two weeks later when I was meeting my friend for A Nice Glass of Wine, she said to me (slightly shocked and moderately offended):
‘You’ll never guess what Dad said after meeting your girlfriend!’
I said: ‘I bet I will. But she’s too pretty to be a lesbian’
I probably don’t need to unpack this statement (which I have heard a great many more times than once) for people who read this blog, but I will anyway.
‘But she’s too pretty to be a lesbian’ = ‘But you are attractive, so you must be able to get guys to fuck you. It’s only women who are too ugly/aggressive/fat/etc to get men who need to resort to lesbians.’
On the one hand, I experience men who absolutely can not conceive that two women might sexually interested in each other for any other reason than to attract or enhance the pleasure of men. I have tried to convince them. I have been firm, angry, polite, charming, and even borderline violent (of which I am not proud). I have spent literally hours trying to cheerfully explain my own experience to men, before realising that they were just glazing over until such a time as they deemed appropriate to cut me off and deliver their own personal reflections.
So I have decided that for most people, Lesbians are less a concrete reality, and more an abstract concept with which they can account for the failings of women and/or their failings with women where applicable.
I would really appreciate any handy tips for deflecting such attentions in the future, for I fear that the next time it happens I may headbutt someone.