Archive of ‘Gender’ category

Andreja Pejic – the coolest girl in the world

Andreja Pejic by Patrick Demarchelier for US Vogue, May 2015

The sultry black and white photographs show a girl with the kind of coolness that can’t be defined. She’s iridescent, and effortlessly stylish – all quiet composure and impossible cheekbones, a classic trench coat slung over her shoulders. At 23 years old, she has the serene smile of a young woman who really knows herself, and is comfortable in that self. If you didn’t recognise her, you’d never guess that a couple of years ago New York magazine named her “the prettiest boy in the world.”

Andreja Pejic has been in hundreds of fashion shoots throughout her career, but this is her first time in American Vogue – and it’s the first time a transgender woman has been featured on those hallowed glossy pages.

To the more cynical among us, it might seem like a small milestone. But it’s one that matters, dovetailing with a larger movement in popular culture towards acceptance of gender and sexual differences.

Whether you’re interested in fashion or not, Vogue still has incredible authority over what’s cool, what’s desirable, and what’s acceptable. For a cultural influencer on that scale to make a gesture towards diversity, that’s a sign of something pretty cool happening.

It’s less than a year since the Melbourne-raised model publically came out as transgender. The four-page Vogue feature, appearing in the May 2015 issue, relates Andreja’s story – from a childhood in a Serbian refugee camp, to ruling the Paris runways in Jean Paul Gaultier – and takes it as a starting point to explore the growing cultural and political acceptance of transgender identity. “There are just more categories now. It’s good,” Andreja says in the interview. “We’re finally figuring out that gender and sexuality are more complicated.” (more…)

How Jean Paul Gaultier changed fashion

Jean Paul Gaultier at NGV Andreja Pejic Cage Dress Frida Kahlo Dress

Or, why you should see JPG@NGV before it closes.

The world of Jean Paul Gaultier is one without boundaries. It’s sexy and witty, blending high and low culture, using materials in unpredictable ways to graft together unique statements, often about gender and sexuality. This is a designer who says “why not?”; who approaches his work exuberance and zest, and uses his creative energy to question, provoke, and make people laugh.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk has been on display at the National Gallery of Victoria since October, and there’s now just a sliver of time left to catch a glimpse before it closes on February 8. And if you haven’t been down there yet, I really think you should. (more…)

Swifty on feminism, feelings and not being cool

Taylor Swift
Three things Taylor Swift said in this Guardian interview that make me think I’m not completely insane for wanting her to be my best friend.

(Also, I love that she and Lena Dunham became friends because Lena sent her a message on twitter saying “Can we be friends please?” It makes me wish I had an HBO show so that kind of friend-making strategy would work for me.)

On feminism:

“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all. Becoming friends with Lena – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realise that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”


Love and sequins for Andreja Pejic, and other girl-heroes

Andreja Pejic drawing by Rebecca HowdenThe world can always use more courageous, poised and vibrant women like Andreja.

I feel like it’s appropriate to write one more essay in admiration of the iridescent Andreja Pejic, formerly known as Andrej. I’ve talked a lot about how cool it is for a man to embrace femininity, and that’s true… but it’s even cooler for a woman to find such a strong sense of self, and the courage to express that to the world without apologies.

I’m thinking of a passage from John Irving’s In One Person, where the narrator is reflecting on the particularly alluring poise of the transgender women he has known: “It’s daunting to be around them; they know themselves so well. Imagine knowing yourself that well. Imagine being that sure about who you are.” I can’t pretend to even begin to know what it’s like to grapple with things like gender and sexual orientation, and I don’t want to compare anything I’ve struggled with to that. But identity is something we all grapple with in our own ways. We’re all at war with ourselves ­– sometimes quietly, sometimes frantically – and it can be lonely, terrifying. For me, seeing someone reach a place of real self-knowledge­, and being serene in that knowledge, is always an uplifting thing. (more…)

The gender politics of Kurt Cobain

Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA

I was feeling all kinds of sentimental about Kurt Cobain in the lead up to his 20 year anniversary, so I wrote an essay about his feminist activism, his challenge to ideals of masculinity and his general beautifulness for the latest issue of Kill Your Darlings. If you were ever a gloomy grunge kid like me you might like it?

Anyway, you can read it here.

“Loving him was red”: Finding feminism in Taylor Swift


Taylor Swift, the flaxen-haired, cat-eyed girl who grew up on a Christmas tree farm, who makes millions of dollars out of the teardrops on her guitar, who this weekend wrapped up the first full-stadium Australian tour by a female musician since Madonna, has a way of inspiring a lot of venom in people.

Sure, she’s adored by millions of girls around the world, and parents are pretty happy about that – let’s just say, she’s not likely to pull a Miley any time soon. From interviews, she seems genuinely down-to-earth, considerate and poised. The girl has talent, and she works hard – she’s been writing her own songs since she was 14, she plays guitar, piano and the banjo with reasonable skill, and at just 24 years old she’s won seven Grammy Awards and sold over 26 million albums and 75 million digital single downloads worldwide.

But to a lot of people, she’s ‘a feminist’s worst nightmare’.

Being a feminist who loves Taylor Swift comes with a set of challenges. From first glance, it’s understandable why people would take issue with her. Some say she plays up to an image of innocence, reinforcing patriarchal ideas that a girl’s worth is based on her purity. Some say she dates too many boys, that she’s fairytale obsessed and hopelessly dependent on male affection and approval. Some say she’s like a bitter black widow, always waiting to ensnare a new boyfriend, just so she can write a song about how badly he treated her. (more…)

Latest work

A few of my latest articles, essays and reviews.

Beautiful and Damned: Myths of Zelda Fitzgerald (Kill Your Darlings) Looking at the legacy of Zelda Fitzgerald, as captured in three new novels imagining her life.

Putting on the ritz: Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV (Killings) A review of the NGV exhibition.

In review: Domestic Renewal ((inside) Interior Design Review) A review of a collaborative, interdisciplinary exhibition curated by Rohan Nicol, recently on show at Craft Cubed.

Making magic (Carnival) Inside the studio of Melbourne milliner Kim Fletcher in the lead up to the Spring Racing Carnival.

A stylish provocateur: Periel Aschenbrand’s On My Knees (Killings) A review of Periel Aschenbrand’s provocative new memoir.

Solo Voyage (Carnival) During World War I, at least 136,000 Australian horses were sent overseas to accompany troops. Only one came home – a chestnut waler named Sandy.

Review: How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (3000Melbourne)

Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (3000Melbourne)

Review: Dear Life by Alice Munro (3000Melbourne)

(Oh also, my portfolio is here.)

In which we are successful in some field of living


A colleague brought this in to work for me, knowing how much I’d go crazy for it. And she was right – I’m nuts about this stuff.

The Successful Wife’s Pocketbook is a handy little pamphlet by Woman’s Journal from 1962 that offers kind, sisterly guidance on how to satisfy your husband – and to do it all with a sweet, pleasing smile. You wouldn’t want to annoy him by not having dinner ready on time, or not having your hair styled properly when he gets home, or by accidentally letting slip that you experience feelings like boredom and tiredness and frustration and sadness every once in a while. So take notes! (more…)

But I don’t want to be at war with other women

Last night, I was flipping through a fashion magazine and I came across an ad that made me sad, and a bit confused, and then irritated at myself for being irritated by it – which was annoying in itself, because all I was really looking for was inspiration for how I should do my makeup. It’s an ad for Trilogy’s Rosapene rosehip oil, and unless I’m missing something or reading this wrong, it’s telling me that it will give me a better edge in the war I’m obviously in against other women. (more…)

Feminism and being multiple

One of the oddest things I find about “being a feminist” is the amount of difficulty and debate such a label tends to conjure up. There are thousands of variations, but three key problems seem to always rear their spiky heads:

1. Many women are reluctant to identify as feminists, even though if you ask them their thoughts on specific issues they’ll respond with feminist ideas. There’s a certain ugliness associated with the label that a lot of us grow up learning to be wary of. Take this Maxim “cure a feminist” feature as exhibit A. This article from Mama Mia a few days ago also captures some of the frustrations of this situation.

2.Some feminists believe there should be a core set of bullet-points that a person must subscribe to in order to call themselves feminists. A lot of us do this even subconsciously, because it’s hard to understand how someone who agrees with us on one point could offend us so much on another. We question whether Cosmopolitan should be allowed to call itself feminist, whether Melinda Tankard Reist should be allowed to call herself a feminist.

3. The flipside of the point above is that many women feel like they’re not allowed to be part of the discussion, because they don’t meet the criteria they believe has been set out.

My thoughts keep going back to something Julia Kristeva wrote about in Women’s Time. Okay, I know it might be a bit naff or maybe just pretentious to reference Kristeva, but listen for a minute: in Women’s Time, she makes a case for a new generation of feminism (where ‘generation’ refers not necessarily to a period in linear time, but rather a signifying mental, emotional and intellectual space) that focuses on the multiplicity of individual experience. That means not only accepting that everyone will have different views and ideas, but that within each person exist myriad possible identifications, some of which might seem contradictory.


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