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Why I’m thankful for Carrie Fisher

28 Dec

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All I can think about is how thankful I am for Carrie Fisher.

As a kid, Carrie Fisher was the only woman I saw who would not tolerate society’s bullshit expectations – she had no time for that. No time either to hide her intelligence or bind her emotions.She wasn’t going to waste her time hiding her intelligence or zipping her mouth.

Pop culture back then was a different beast – women simpered in the background, occasionally dragged out as props for men. They were more notable for what they wore – spangled superhero corsets, cut off jeans and bikinis. Even if women characters were written as feisty, there was a brittleness to them, that underneath it all what they most desperately needed was the validation of a man to make them friendly or less of a threat.

While pundits ooze over Harrison Ford redefining the role of Han Solo, we should question how much Carrie Fisher changed the role of General Leia Organa. There’s no way George Lucas, who is 70% cardboard, could have conceived Leia – there’s no hints in Akira Kurosawa or Joseph Campbell he could have cribbed to create the the strong, principled, in-amongst-the-fight woman who would go chin to chin against any man. That was Carrie Fisher.

Growing up and watching her was more than three Star Wars movies – she was never just General Leia Organa. We grew up with her books and movies, saw her turn up on chat shows to mock the hosts vainly trying to keep up with her and wordlessly finding a dozen ways to try and kill John Belushi.

Part of Fisher’s power and privilege was that she never appeared over-awed by the industry. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and a damn quick study, she grew up in Hollywood and heard the conversations, saw the deals made in the studios and on film sets. While other women could be quieted by a director telling them they were “lucky” to be there, it was powerless against a woman who always was there. That power and comfort comes across on screen and translated to her work as a script doctor.

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I’m not alone in that. For most Gen X women, there is a direct line between Carrie Fisher and their feminism. Fisher took up public space and made no apologies for her complexity, intelligence or talent.

My entire personality is a childish attempt to emulate her strength: her smartarsery, how she used shock to disarm and delight, feeling lost in the world but laughing at it in defiance and knowing that vulnerability is nothing to feel vulnerable about. Everything about her was hard won and refined to absolute perfection.

I would try to emulate her wit, daydreaming different ways to answer back the way she did. They were complex little daydreams, of a girl sneering at men and their puffed up chests, of fighting back with wit and force no matter what the hell she was wearing so men would get the hell out of her way. Those daydreams change you; practice enough and your daydreams become reality.  

Carrie Fisher was our direct line to feminism because she was open and strong. She created her own careers, owned her talent and looked at the world with a compassionate, weary eye and said “fuck it”. Sometimes you fight for others, sometimes you lead others by fighting for yourself. Fisher did both.

How fucking lucky are we to have grown up with that?

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The Kat Muscat Fellowship

20 Nov
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Kat was a wonderful writer, a brilliant thinker and a tireless supporter of many people. She was drawn to the Voiceworks crowd from a young age and found sanctuary and liberation within, unfurling into the powerhouse we adore and mourn.
 
Her gorgeous work was as much a product of her family and life experiences as it was the support of the Arts community. The Kat Muscat Fellowship recognises this dual legacy by supporting young writers and editors who embody Kat’s mantra: feminism, defiance empathy.
 
Kat’s life showed that arts can transform people both collectively and individually. As she transformed, so did others from her inclusion and work. The fellowship is a staunch reflection of that: that Kat can still transform lives as can the arts, even in a time of withdrawal.
 
Grief is also as collective as it is individual. Maybe one day I will stop talking about Kat, because I am keenly aware I do it too much and get upset. But as part of that collective and individual grief, I see her steps wherever I go. I see her in the work I read, in new emerging artists, in her family’s amazing work and in her influence on my daughter as she grows to contentedly embody Kat’s mantra.
 
So please: remember, give, act.

We need to talk about the white woman vote

17 Nov

With Trump’s election, there seems to be more fingers pointed in blame than actual votes. Many point the finger at white women, with only 43% voting for Hillary Clinton, a candidate mocked as so white and privileged she could only get votes from other privileged white women. Meanwhile, Clinton secured an overwhelming 94% of votes from black women.

Exit poll data shows consistent voting difference in three intersecting areas: gender, race and income/education. Mix in the racialised difference in votes from white-dominant American heartland to racially diverse cities, and these three elements form Trump’s trinity to power.

The wide disparity in votes from white and black women voters is interpreted as yet another sign of white women ruining for everyone. White women’s racism made them embrace Trump and leave women of colour to the xenophobic alt-right domestic terrorist wolves.

But can we blame white women for the election?

It’s a tempting proposition – blaming women is a popular past time with fans all around the world.

White women are particularly annoying; we drown out intersectional discussion and believe feminism could be successful if we just placed a few more women on boards, leaned in and found more opportunities for empowerment instead of structural change. Plus, it’s easier to yell at a white woman than it is at patriarchy, which would be telling if anyone indulged in self-reflection.

Undoubtedly, white women benefit from a culture of racism that ensures they’re stopped less by police, are less likely to be imprisoned, will earn more than black women and other women of colour, access housing and services with greater ease and appropriate black culture. In our quest to ignore and erase race from white discussion, white women are consistently intentionally and unintentionally racist.

So can we blame white women for the election too? Not entirely.

The white woman vote didn’t just recently convert to Republicans in a fit of racist pique: they’ve always preferred Republicans, even if they’re Donald Trump. Over the past four elections, voting data consistently shows white women vote for the Republican candidate.

The Democrats have a problem with every election – they require extraordinary vote surges to win. Over the last four elections, Republicans can sit on 58-60 million votes and win. To beat this holding pattern, Democrats have to truly leap over the Republican standard to win popular and Electoral College votes (Obama managed 65-69 million, Clinton was neck and neck with Trump at 59 million).

Mix the Republican holding pattern with white women consistently voting for them and consecutive drops in voter turnout, and suddenly the role of white women changes. The question isn’t why did more white women vote for Trump – it’s why didn’t they change their vote to Clinton?

For all their talk of empowerment, women have tacitly absorbed the message they are not as competent as men. Known as internalised sexism, women often cling to sexist reinforcements – they are unworthy of senior appointments and reject women in political or media roles unless they are presented in a non-threatening way (friendly and hyper-feminised, no angry women here, please). One study found that women show signs of internal sexism 11.29 times in 10 minutes of conversation [PDF].

It’s almost touchingly naive to think Clinton ever had a shot at the presidency when Australia’s fractious political history. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced a similarly split vote, gaining power after careful negotiation with minor parties. Her administration gained buckets of vitriol – a feat for Australia – and women denounced her dexterity to be both a “reverse sexist” that “let women down” – and those women made their anger known in disapproval ratings .

But Americans shouldn’t be surprised women vote against themselves. A Washington Post survey into American feminism found 58% of women would not vote for a politician based on their support of women’s rights. The same survey asked “which of the following do you think is a bigger factor keeping women from achieving full equality with men?”, only to discover that while 44% said sexist discrimination was to blame, another 44% maintained it was because of “the choices women make themselves”. A sizable 39% of women don’t consider themselves feminist at all.

It is highly probable that white women betrayed women of color with their vote – but that vote was always a betrayal – of color, of economics and of their gender and independence.

The big question is whether white women will mobilise themselves to become a true political force, one that votes for intersectional equality. Hopefully that change occurs before people wonder why all women are expected to act as janitors for male misbehavior.

[This was a commissioned piece for a news publication last week that closed commissioned content an hour before it was supposed to publish. I hate wasted words.]

Stop pathologising selfies

19 Sep

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This is a really important point.

The aggressive anti-selfie schtick is really seen on image sharing sites like Imgur where guys will post sexualised photos of women all day long but the minute a woman posts one that isn’t related to a story and she’s an “attention whore”. Both sets have posted the photo(s) for the same reason – sexual gratification – but the minute they suspect a woman may get some pleasure or benefit, all hell breaks loose.

Part of this is because the posters are most likely still focusing on women through the male gaze – inanimate objects who only come to life to service men in some way or another. But there is power in that. Men get to choose when and where and in what capacity women come to life. Men demand women stick to that for male pleasure and benefit only.

The old “tits or get the fuck out” adage is a corrective – not that the men only view women for their sexual pleasure, but to remind them that men decide how women are presented. It’s a barked demand of power – we decide when you will come to life and any intellectual or sexual evidence you’re an independent actual person. The demand of “tits or get the fuck out” tells them to shut up and submit.

Any deviation from this – women posting photos of themselves for themselves – is pathologised as a new mania, a neurosis showing decaying morals.

This is often seen in people criticising women’s selfies. Over on Twitter, one account finds a man saying “women who post topless selfies are nothing but sluts” (etc) and includes a topless or sexualised selfie of the dismissive author. It’s simple for how easily it highlights the hypocrisy and emptiness of the moral pathologising.

The true concern is in technology becoming not only an equaliser but exposing what has lain in plain sight: women exist.

Not only do women exist but they take photos. Perhaps for themselves, for pride or happiness or a need for attention (a good portion of why we express ourselves on social media). Astoundingly, women feel and desire pleasure. To deny this from our politics and lives is to, again, deny women.

And when women remind you they exist and dare to do so with few apologies, it disrupts the power men have often assumed and pressed.

And when women present themselves for sexualisation without men involved, that independence can be uncomfortable for men. Because when an actual woman presents herself, she’s reminding them that she not only exercising choice in publishing a photo of herself, she will probably exercise the same choice in what man she will want (if she does at all).

Sometimes I think the greatest threat with women’s selfies isn’t that they remind men that women exist; it reminds them the women might not want them.

Debating online, some ideas and dance moves.

29 Aug
As a busy working single muvva* with an opinion on the internet, I’m used to getting into arguments. Hell, I was getting into arguments before the internet because I have unique social skills and a need to annoy people.
 
But goddammit, if you want to argue, if you want your argument to be taken seriously and credibly, many people need to reconsider how they argue. You seriously want to make change? Learn how to argue.
 
A few pointers:
* your experience or your friend’s experience does not constitute a social model.
* Please note that some people have more expertise than you – to claim otherwise is a continuation of the “freedom of speech, my opinion is equal to yours, etc”. No. Not all opinions are created equally. I have expertise in some areas, I have zilch in others. Sometimes it’s humbling to realise – but own it.
* Don’t mistake experience with expertise. A moment of your life is not a lifetime of immersive research or community immersion.
* Statistics and theory are your friends. Treat them better. 
* That means reading. Read widely, read those you disagree with, read back into history, read wider than your identity.
* Listen. Not every argument needs you, especially if you have no expertise or research to back up your argument.
* You may not be represented in every single argument on the planet. That’s ok. You can augment it to show a contributing theory, but not everything is about you.
* No, really. Not everything is about you. Not in day to day life, not in activism. Not only is everything not about you, but sometimes people don’t care about your identity. What’s the answer to that? Go build. Activism isn’t always about conversion, sometimes it’s about building and you don’t always need everyone on board to build something for you.
* Irrationally angry about someone’s view but not entirely sure why? THAT IS A MAGICAL FUCKING TIME. Sit with that reaction, explore it, research it. You’re about to challenge yourself.
* Recognise that “gut instinct” and “intuition” are culturally conditioned responses and not the basis of an argument.
* Debate ideas, don’t debate people. For example, feminism is a series of theories (MANY of which are worthy of critique and improvement) and very definitely NOT a Miss Universe contest.
* If you want people to accept you as a complex individual of contradiction, un/learning, emotional responses, experience and expertise please extend the same as others. No one is perfect and fully enlightened, including you.
* Realise that debating ideas isn’t the same as debating your personal worthiness. Not everyone has to agree with you, or like you.
* Be polite with polite people. If someone’s being hostile, sure, go ham. If they’re not, no one is entitled to wear your rudeness. The moment you get rude is the moment people shut down and stop listening to you – and when you get to that point, you have to ask yourself if you want to have a conversation with potential of conversion or just yell at someone who hasn’t consented or shown hostility to you. So, have some fucking grace, mate.
 
If you want to learn about argument traps and how to debate, I’d recommend Tara Moss‘s “Speaking Out”. I’m also a fan of “Thank you for arguing” by Jay Heinrichs and “How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age”.
 
*I’m really not that busy.

Feminists: stop talking over mothers

28 Aug

I’ve spent five years discussing feminism and parenting. I’ve had my work not read or considered less important because people didn’t think it was relevant to them or because it seems ‘soft’ in comparison to so many other issues – despite reading feminist literature on almost any other topic. I was told by other writers to never write about parenting because I would not be taken seriously.

When editors discovered they could make a buck (and possibly even believe in) feminism, the churn began and eventually wanted to cover feminism and parenting. Places like EB had to fight to maintain the original stream of feminist parenting articles they had been publishing for a long time.

EB were fucking brave to publish anything on feminism given their community’s often overwhelming rejection of feminism. These are people juggling work and home, or just enjoying being at home, and wondering why the hell people are pointing at their lives as an example of wasted potential. Feminists have not been nice to mothers and I have long maintained this has been a combination of elitism, classism and ageism. (Here’s a goddamn piece of mine Fairfax republished back in 2012)

So, to hear that Anne Summers is still denigrating women doing work at home – looking after children, finding pride in the ability to cook – is a really thorny one. Yes, there is a valid argument that women have hobbies (cooking), men have professions (chef). Yes, it may even be a rationalisation for some in their suburban oppression.

But here’s the thing: you can’t claim to want to help women when you denigrate their way of life and activities, when you judge them for having children. You can immediately mock the choices of women if they enjoy something as simple as cooking (seriously? You have no idea how you can fuck the system as when you’re poor and manage to feed your kid on $30 weekly budget).

There are HUGE issues when it comes to families and how women can parent with autonomy and safety, free from professional, personal and economic penalty. To reduce their lives to line about baking trivialises this, something Summers would know given her tireless work with DV. It’s just an aside, sure, but how many other asides would feminists let slide from anyone else, especially in today’s call out culture.

You cannot ignore mothers. You cannot think the sum total of motherhood is a bump and kids under the age of 5, who say cute things. Want to know a gigantic group of women? Mothers. Want to know who is at the coalface of so many sexist threats? Mothers.

But don’t think you can start speaking for mothers either. The amount of times I’ve had people tell me they understand mothering because they have a nephew or neighbours or were once a child themselves, the amount of times I realise you’re just talking over another woman without discovering what her life is like, her identity or her experience. We are not a new topic for thinkpieces, we are not an identity you can ignore until you become one yourself (oh Valenti) and, we are not a group you can ignore the identity politics maxim to listen to/read up/stop speaking over.

Life lessons from Kat Muscat

21 Jun

docsThere is no cognitive dissonance in rocking out with equal fury to death metal, “Welcome to the Black Parade” or S Club 7’s magnum opus, “S Club Party”.

Flirt with everyone.

Enthusiastic consent can be the sexiest thing imaginable.

So is pashing all your friends and lovers at every social occasion, work event, stuck lift or fuck it, pash in the supermarket snack aisle because there’s a bucket of chocolate on sale. Ya gotta celebrate that shit.

Write as you speak. Let long, laconic sentences curl around your readers. Make them feel like they’re in love with someone they’ve never met.

Don’t be afraid to give up your article’s message in the title, like Kat’s manifesto on cis-het male sexuality “so your dick isn’t perpetually hard”.

Now everyone loves you, push those boundaries. Be genial and respectful, but challenge them to realise the shit they really don’t want to give up.

Accept that pretty much everything is problematic and you can call it out and still enjoy them, albeit warily. Like when you call out the things you love most – like Orange Is the New Black and Buffy. You will look at your friend Amy like the idiot she is when she mentions her irrational dislike of Tara because you know the power of wallflowers. Now chide her playfully. She’ll eventually accept you were right (well…).

You can maintain a friendship by texting each other links to menulog even though you’re less than 10 metres apart.

Sensitivity is the most beautiful accessory of all. Listen to people – when they love you, when they praise you, when they criticise what you have done (but not who you are) and when they say you’ve hurt them.

Accept and revel in all the love you get but reject the canonising praise.

Talk to your friends about that love and sex with clarity and respect.

Every moment is an opportunity to learn about sex. Like your erotic fan fiction about Captain Planet getting it on with Voldemort and taking a moment to explain to the audience good anal sex etiquette.

Find the delicate balance of empathy with not putting up with a single. ounce. of. shit.

One can never have too many piercings.

dfeOr tattoos. Of all the tattoos you get, make space for your personal mantra. Like “Defiance Feminism Empathy” because Kat knows those are the three things that will change the world.

See those new people at the event who look nervous but are most likely cool? Go up and welcome them like an old friend you’ve wanted to catch up with for years.

Always have a giggle in your voice before you joke about something.

Have the world’s dorkiest fucking laugh that splutters and husks at high concept jokes to cringeworthy puns.

It’s ok to lay in bed and wonder when a feminist death metal band will emerge. It’s even better to plan one of your own while watching Metalocalypse in bed, rolling perfect cigarettes and intermittently yelling “THIS IS DILDOS”.

Hug. Hug like you mean it. Hug like you want to give every cell in the body all your love. Team it with a little moan just to make that hug travel further and take up residence in your soul. Let people marvel at the strength of a tiny, slight woman who can hug you like a bear that’s ready for arms day.

There is never a bad time to dance. Do it right now. Have you ever listened to S Club 7?

Snoring together on the couches as you pass out from beers, pizza and binge viewing is an act of bonding that cannot be replaced.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.40.33 PMBe that person who is filled with love for their friends. Make sure they always know, even if you have to resort to poetry.

Avoid bitching about people as much as possible unless they’ve really done you wrong and fucking jump into it.

Know that friendship is a mixture of give and take. Like listening and helping, or trading one exquisitely rolled cigarette for one exquisitely made cup of tea. Become the embodiment of generosity and respectful need in all that you do.

If the sun is out, part of the social contract demands you grab a six pack and drink them in a park. Ok, maybe it’s more than a six pack.

The only point of social media is to post pics of babes, Harry Potter references and request people to deliver valium to you at work. Or ask them to meet you in the park for a beer, hey.

You can be the most beautiful woman in the room and still look into the camera with the face of an unsure kid on her first day of school. But it’s ok, because you know vulnerability is nothing to feel vulnerable about.

Honesty and reflection are radical acts – combine them both and they’ll become your superpower.

Be open about sex and realise it’s equal parts sacred, profane and inutterably stupid.

photo 2Even the bad times can be good. Did you know it’s possible to have an amazing night in the Emergency Department at St Vincents? Here’s how you do it – crack your head open like you’re Harry Fucking Potter if he went through an alt-lit-emo phase, tell your friend Amy you won’t go to hospital but eventually agree after a cup of tea and chocolate while you slowly make the apartment look like Carrie’s prom. Then sit in the Emergency waiting room for four hours where together you unlock the highly contested prize of most annoying people in the room by continually laughing, making jokes, updating Facebook with a series of viscerally goofy selfies, watch tv and agree Ben Whishaw is a “generic-brand Cumberbatch”. Eventually once the doctor patches you up, you can skip down the street at 4am with a head full of giggles and start singing “take me out tonight”, reaching to devious glee of the chorus, jumping up and down and pointing at the 24 hours Maccas that “there is a light that never goes out” because it’s the last thing vegan Morrissey would want. Then eat burgers as you wait for your beloved.

For those of you who love Kat, the next few weeks will be hard. She would have been 26 soon. She would have written at least 20 essays we could have read and learnt from. She would have shared 372 hugs with you. Double that for beer. Triple it for exquisitely rolled cigarettes.

I don’t want to give you sadness. You need happiness for the time ahead. Let Kat spark up from those sad, tear-sodden embers. When you think of her, think of it a hug hello. Hug those memories for then you keep her alive. Then Kat lives.

Because there is a night that never goes out.

 

This piece was performed at “Amazing Babes” for the Emerging Writers Festival. Kat was present and spoke at the first Amazing Babes. Here is her speech

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