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 articlefrom 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.
Sometimes I think I can kind of trick people into thinking I’m cool. I try to impress people with my ability to sing along to Rage Against the Machine and my love for Fight Club, and sometimes I even convince myself that I’m a little bit rock and roll. But other times, I just come right out with it: I wish Taylor Swift was my best friend.
Listen for a minute. It’s easy to dismiss her and think she’s all sugary sweet and stupid. I mean, a) she’s a young female pop singer, b) she hangs around with that whole Disney Channel crowd, c) she sings about boys and high school, and d) she’s so pretty, with her long blonde curls and a wardrobe full of sweetly romantic dresses. But seriously? She’s just about the coolest girl in the world. She’s smart, she’s hilarious, she has class, and she has guts. And yeah, she’s so nice – but she also has just the right amount of bitchiness that I think we’d get along just perfectly. (more…)
I just haven’t been able to stop watching this video. It’s completely brilliant and beautiful – a young girl called Riley paces angrily around a sickly pinkified toy aisle and rants to her father about the toy industry’s narrow view of gender roles. She seems so exasperated: “Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses! Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses! So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
She also shows a pretty astute awareness of marketing. She knows that the stores are “trying to trick girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want to buy,” but she seems so baffled as to why. My favourite part is probably her dad’s resigned sigh at the end: “That’s a good question, Riley.” Sometimes the way children see the world is the most logical, and this is a great example of how sometimes we need to take a step back to see how absurd something really is. (more…)
Interestingly I read this essay by Christopher Hitchens on Friday morning, just a few hours before it was reported that he had passed away. Even more poignantly, his article is about death and the pain of dying, or, more accurately, the pain of not dying. He questions the veracity of Nietzsche’s famous maxim “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” That might be true in the case of heartbreak or walking away unscathed from a car accident, but Hitchens talks about the reality of intense suffering in terminal illness, describing his own ordeals and the experiences of the late political philosopher Sidney Hook (who just by the way, happened to be Jon-Jon Goulian’sgrandfather), who survived a horrifically painful stroke and fervently wished he hadn’t. (more…)
(Edit July 2014: This was written when Andreja was going by Andrej and using male pronouns. At the time, it was to the best of my knowledge that she identified as male. Any essay I would write about her today would look very different, though still celebrating how amazing she is.)
Andrej Pejic modelling bras for Hema, and why I think he is just the coolest
Okay, so anyone who has spent any time with me in the past six months or so will know thatI’m completely enthralled by Andrej Pejic. I think he’s an absolute genius, and he inspires me in a lot of ways. Firstly, in the obvious sense – he inspires me because of his utterly captivating, otherworldly beauty, the way he challenges boundary after boundary, the way he continues to take everyone’s breath away with every new outfit, every new runway show, every fashion editorial.
But maybe more than that, he inspires me because he just seems so completely serene while he does it all. Obviously I have no idea how he really feels inside – but you get the sense that he’s genuinely just really comfortable with who he is, that he actually doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He just does his own thing, and he does it without being all defensive and “hey fuck you man!” about it. He’s only just turned 20, but there’s something really mature about they way he seems to really know himself.
Anyway. So this week he’s making headlines for one of his latest gigs –modelling push-up brasfor Hema lingerie. Which is pure genius, and with Andrej’s sassy, sardonic sense of humour you can just tell he loves the whole idea of it. A lot of the things he says or does, it’s like he’s secretly laughing, and you can just tell he kind of thinks this is a scream. It’s kind of on the same wavelength as the incredibly cleverDermablend concealer adRico Genest (better known as Zombie Boy) starred in, and I think it’s very cool.(more…)
For the past few years, I have been involved with a small Melbourne-based group called Friends of Kolkata, which raises money and awareness on behalf of the Institute of Social Work in Kolkata. Together we run several projects to help improve the livelihood of women and children living in poverty in Kolkata, including a scholarship program, a day care centre, and computer and English literacy classes.
This year has gone fast, and we want to thank you everyone who has supported us in any way. Your interest and contributions are so valuable and make a real difference to lives of women and children in Kolkata who need it the most. And trust me, these kids are adorable.
The year began with our trip to India, which was an incredibly valuable experience that allowed us to reconnect with ISW and see for ourselves how fantastic our scholarship recipients are doing. Since our return, we’ve been working at getting our new website, online store and online donation system up and running – so make sure you check it out if you haven’t yet!
Here’s what else we’ve been doing this year: (more…)
One major problem with the whole “real women have curves” thing is that it still places female body types in adversity with one another. Instead of saying it’s okay to be any size, it just reverses the typical preference for super-skinny types and disparages those women. Saying that having curves is “better” or “more real” and “more womanly” than being skinny doesn’t help anyone. This is such an interesting and complex issue, and Clementine Ford expresses all these ideas quite eloquently. Importantly, she points out something that is easy to miss, but that’s pretty salient to the whole issue: the “men prefer curves anyway” argument that always comes up just reinforces the idea that male desire should be integral to the way we feel about our bodies.
Jon-Jon Goulian is one of the strangest people I’ve ever met. He’s also one of the sweetest, and his utterly lovable memoir is both heartbreaking and heart-warming, leaving you with an intense desire to give him a big hug – and maybe go out shopping with him.
For anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water, Goulian’s story strikes a familiar chord. On the surface, there was no real reason why he should have felt out of place. Growing up in the sunny beachside town of La Jolla, San Diego, surrounded by a family of doctors and lawyers and political philosophers, and blessed with a sharp intelligence and talent for soccer, he was all set on a very conventional path towards success. (more…)
In my final ‘Flotsam and Feminism’ column for Farragomagazine, I talked about the digital retouching of vaginas…
Earlier this year, UK sculptor Jamie McCartney unveiled his masterpiece: The Great Wall of Vagina, a series of 400 plaster casts moulded from real women’s vaginas all laid out in a grid. It’s such a simple idea, but the effect is extraordinary, because every single one looks completely different.
This is exactly the point he was trying to make. “Vulvas and labia are as different as faces, and many people, particularly women, don’t seem to know that,” he said. “For many women, their genitals are a source of shame rather than pride and this piece seeks to redress the balance, showing that everyone is different and everyone is normal.”
It might sound trite, but it does highlight a very real issue. There is a myth about what a “normal” vagina should look like, and most women have no idea how false it really is. Peeking at a copy of Playboy won’t help—one of the major things that reinforces the myth is a censorship law. This law means the only images of vaginas most women see are almost always digitally altered.
The main reason I decided to write about this is that it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to look at vaginas. I don’t want to think about them too closely. I don’t even like the word vagina. (And yes, I know I should technically be saying vulva anyway—but let’s face it, nobody does.) So my discomfort says something in itself, because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The subconscious feeling that the vagina is somehow kind of shameful is something I believe a lot of women experience, even if it’s not often talked about.