The Dark Side of Hollywood.

hollywood sign in ruins

Ever since reading Dominick Dunne’s Another City, Not My Own—a fictionalised account of his time spent chronicling the O.J. Simpson murder trial for Vanity Fair—a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the dark side of Hollywood. You know, the Tate–LaBianca murders, the Black Dahlia mystery, the strangulation murder of Dunne’s own daughter, Poltergeist actress Dominique, at the hands of her former partner… The list goes on.

Recent pop cultural products that tap into said fascination include The Black Dahlia novel and subsequent film, the Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone­-helmed Gangster Squad, and the first season of American Horror Story, which renewed my interest in the macabre underbelly of Los Angeles and prompted me to book a Dearly Departed Tragical History tour of the city as well as visit the Museum of Death on Sunset Boulevard on a trip there a couple of years ago. (Warning: extremely graphic contents abound in the Museum of Death. I was so overwhelmed by the objects on display that I had to exit the gallery space, so only those with a strong stomach and dull imagination should give their patronage, as there are no refunds.)

Despite not being a fan of horror movies due to my overactive imagination, I somehow thought the Museum of Death was a good idea. After all, they had crime scene and autopsy photos of Nicole Brown Simpson and JFK, respectively, among other morbid memorabilia such as serial killer artwork and letters, which I do have an interest in. But the Museum of Death also houses the decapitated head of the Bluebeard of Paris, graphic images of bodies in various stages of death, and an effectively frightening layout that saw me having to leave after ten minutes. The overwhelming watermelon­-scented cleaning products that seem to be favoured by much of America’s hospitality and tourism industry and that wafted through the museum elicited in me an aversion to the aroma. It just so happens that watermelon-­flavoured gum is also my sister’s breath ­freshener of choice and now whenever she’s chewing my heart races, I start to perspire and I feel a headache coming on. Sisters: they really know how to push your buttons.

When my companion was done touring the museum while I sweated my anxiety out and chatted to the proprietors in the gift shop, she escorted me back through to the Hollywood section, much of which I’d already seen online and was prepared for, with my eyes closed lest I happen upon something grisly and be (further) scarred for life. Having recently read prolific filmmaker, actor and author Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, which delves further into famous Tinseltown deaths, prior to my visit I recognised many of the objects on display at the museum as being donated by him.

When it comes to Anger, though, some might argue that certain details in his books are fabricated. The following day, on the Dearly Departed Tragical History tour, it was alleged that when destitute actress Marie Prevost was found dead in her apartment of acute alcoholism in 1937, her body was not partly eaten by her dachshund, as Anger wrote, but that the pet was merely trying to rouse its master by nipping at her. It is true, however, that an IOU for $110 to Joan Crawford, who ended up paying for Prevost’s funeral, was among some of her belongings. In the wake of Prevost’s death, the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital was set up to prevent similar fates for others in the industry. Speaking of stars forking out for their peers funerals, it emerged on the tour that Frank Sinatra was quite generous when it came to interments. He ensured that Bela Lugosi, who played the original Count Dracula, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr. were all given fitting farewells in the wake of their troubled demises.

It is also alleged by Hollywood historians, most recently Jackie Ganiy in Tragic Hollywood: Beautiful, Glamorous, Dead, that Anger’s account of Lupe Velez passing out and drowning in her toilet bowl is trademark Anger sensationalism. It is more likely that Velez died making her way from her bed, where she ingested hundreds of Seconal pills in a suicide attempt, to the bathroom upon her body rejecting the overdose. This theory was cemented in with the first publication of Velez’ crime scene photos in the 2012 book Beverly Hills Confidential: A Century of Stars, Scandals and Murders by Barbara Schroeder and Clark Fogg.

Another Hollywood legend that’s seemed to gain traction despite its unknown origins is death ­by­ jumping ­off ­the Hollywood sign. In actual fact, as pointed out by Dearly Departed tour guide Brian (but is also easily found in many a Hollywood history exposé), Peg Entwistle was the only person to ever have committed suicide­-by­-Hollywood­-H in 1932.

Entwistle was a Broadway star who migrated West to make it in the movie business. She married fellow actor Robert Keith who neglected to mention he’d previously been married, a union which produced a son, Brian Keith. Entwistle’s unwitting stepson would go on to star in the original Parent Trap and TV series Family Affair. Another tragic young suicide would haunt Brian in his later years, though; his daughter committed suicide in 1997 at the age of twenty­eight using a gun he gave her. Brian, suffering from lung cancer, emphysema and grief, would use this same gun to end his life two months later.

Tour guide Brian made mention of this family curse as we drove through Hollywood, but the only other reference I could find comes from James Zeruk, Jr.’s book, Peg Entwistle & the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography.

In addition to the marital abode of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio; the “Nightmare on Elm Drive” property, as Dunne so accurately wrote in an account for Vanity Fair, where the wealthy Jose and Kitty Menendez were slain by their own sons, Lyle and Erik; “the cheapest house in Beverly Hills”, as Brian put it, previously owned by American Idol’s Simon Cowell; and Johnny Depp’s secluded abode overlooking Sunset Boulevard, another house featured on the tour was that in which Lana Turner’s teenaged daughter (allegedly) stabbed to death Turner’s lover, mobster Johnny Stompanato, during a domestic dispute in 1958. It is widely believed that Turner was the one who committed the crime but the star reasoned that no jury would convict a young girl endeavouring to protect her own mother. Dunne, in his pictorial memoir, The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well­-Known Name Dropper, writes that he lived around the corner from Turner when the murder took place. As we drove past this Beverly Hills property whose history helped form the bedrock of Hollywood’s golden age, I eerily noticed children’s toys and bikes strewn across its front yard. I wonder if the current owners are aware of the debauchery and tragedy that occurred in their family home years earlier?

Speaking of, a suite of homes even the shrewdest real estate agent would have trouble moving happens to be situated across the street from Lea Michele’s modest pad and only blocks away from where I stayed during my vaycay.

In 2004 screenwriter Robert Lees, best known for his work on Lassie, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and with Abbott and Costello, was decapitated by a drug­-addled, breaking-­and-­entering homeless man Kevin Lee Graff in his home on Courtney Avenue at the age of ninety-­one. The horror story doesn’t end there, though: Graff then took Lee’s severed head and entered the neighbouring residence of Morley Engleson and murdered him before stealing his car to make a getaway. The following day Graff was noticed by guards at the entry to the Paramount Pictures lot due to his erratic behaviour and was picked up by police. He is currently serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Brian also cruised by famed Mexican eatery, El Coyote, which isn’t so much known for its food as its clientele. Its biggest claim to fame is that Sharon Tate’s last meal was eaten there before her murder by the Manson Family. But after eighty years of service, there must be something else about the place that keeps ’em coming back. (It was at this point on the tour that I found out I don’t just dislike coriander [or cilantro, its Mexican derivative]; I’m allergic to it, as is tour guide Brian. The allergic reaction manifests itself as a soapy or metallic taste when consuming the herb. You learn something new every day!)

The apartment building where budding ingénue Rebecca Schaeffer was shot dead by a stalker in 1989 is located in the Fairfax district of L.A., also the home of the famed outdoor shopping mall and celebrity hangout The Grove. After hearing the story of how overzealous fan, Robert Bardo, obtained Schaeffer’s address from the Department of Motor Vehicles by paying just $1 to access their records, we stopped at The Grove to revive our blood sugar and relieve our bladders. Laws have since been put in place to prevent such access to DMV records.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom behind the scenes of the golden age of Hollywood, though: when Mae West’s landlord at the exclusive Ravenswood apartment complex barred her boxer boyfriend, Gorilla Jones, from the premises because he was black, she bought the whole building and abolished his ruling! Fun fact: the current phone number for residential enquiries is the same number that was listed as West’s in the phone book way back when, before her death in 1980.

Unless you include TMZ presenter David House, who gave an intimate tour of Hollywood’s hotspots to myself, my friend April and two other patrons on my first rainy day in L.A., and a former World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar I’d met through friends earlier that year, I didn’t encounter any celebrities in Tinseltown. Dearly Departed tour guide, Brian, wagered that the most opportune time to get up close and personal with your favourite celebs is Halloween: hire a car, bring your kids or borrow someone else’s, get gussied up and go trick or treating in Beverly Hills. As door knocking in the neighbourhoods featured in Star Maps is illegal every day except October 31st, All Hallows Eve not only blurs the line between the living and the dead, it blurs the line between the famous and the non­-famous.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Image via Epic Times.

Interview with The Sex Myth Author Rachel Hills.


A condensed version of this article was published at Junkee.

Writer Rachel Hills first began thinking about the ideas discussed in The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies & Reality, her first book released this Wednesday, in around 2007 or 2008. “There was a lot of stuff in the media about hookup and raunch culture and it painted a very exaggerated and hedonistic picture of young people and sex,” she says.

Hills’ sex life at the time didn’t look at all like what pop culture, like Gossip Girl and the Sex & the City movie, was telling her it should. To assuage her insecurities, she started writing on her blog, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, and places like Vogue magazine about sex and found “lots of other people were feeling the same way, [and] that’s what inspired me to start looking seriously into those ideas.” After seven years of research and interviews spanning Australia, the U.K., Canada and college campuses in the U.S., The Sex Myth was born.

Currently living in New York, Hills is a veritable Carrie Bradshaw for a new generation, having parlayed her interest in The Sex Myth into a regular column for U.S. Cosmopolitan. She also tweets at @rachellhills.

I know you’ve spent at least seven years working on The Sex Myth. Can you give me a brief rundown of how the book went from concept to fruition?

I started thinking seriously about the ideas that are in The Sex Myth in about 2007/2008. There was a lot of stuff in the media about hookup and raunch culture and it painted a very exaggerated and hedonistic picture of young people and sex. I think most people have the media literacy to be able to look at articles that talk about 17-year-olds falling out of trees while they’re having sex or “g-stringed baboons in oestrus”, which is one of my favourite phrases, and understand that this is not what’s happening on most people’s’ Thursday or Friday or Saturday nights.

What was interesting to me was that those stories were the pointy end of the bigger narrative  happening around sexuality in our culture. Even if we weren’t hearing these very exaggerated stories, the same narratives were being told in a more subtle, insidious way in magazines, on the web and in TV shows. So there was this overall picture of sex as something that was constantly available and of course you were doing it and if you weren’t doing it there was something wrong with you.

My personal interest in the subject came from the fact that my sex life didn’t look at all like that at the time and it was something that I felt a little uncomfortable about; like maybe there was something wrong with me. When I realised that lots of other people were feeling the same way, that’s what inspired me to start looking seriously into those ideas.

The case studies and the way you weave certain people’s stories throughout the book, like Portia, Courtney and Yusuf, lend a certain familiarity and an informality. Was that intentional?

It was really important to me that the book was accessible to its readers. I wanted to write a smart book, and in some ways it’s a very theoretical book in that it references Michel Foucault and Anthony Giddens, but I think that those theories are most useful when you can see how they apply to people’s everyday lived experiences. The case studies both give the reader a break in something that could otherwise be exhausting to read but it enables you to find yourself in other people.

What was the interview process like?

I just wanted to talk to anybody who wanted to talk to me! I wasn’t particularly fussy.

My main criteria when I started working on the book was age. The vast majority of the people interviewed in the book are in their twenties, ranging from 16 to 32 or 33 for the most part. The reason I decided to interview younger people primarily was mostly because I was quite young myself. When I started working on the book I was 25, and part of my question was around the portrayal of my generation’s sexualities which then became the scope of my research. I now feel like the book could have benefited from interviewing older people as well but that would have taken longer. It took eight years to start with so it’s probably best to limit the sample to some extent!

The people I interviewed in the book are from Australia, the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. The reason I spoke to people in those countries is because we share a common language and that enables a similarity of culture. When the language changes, often social ideals and standards change as well.

In chapter three you talk about asexuality. Last year Time magazine declared a “transgender tipping point”. Though one is about gender identity and the other sexual orientation or preference, do you think we’re close to an asexuality tipping point where people might start to understand what asexuality is?

Five years ago would we have known that trans issues would be such a big part of the conversation around gender and sexuality? Not necessarily because those issues were much more marginal then.

I wonder, what would an asexuality tipping point look like? If it means a discussion of asexuality in the media, then I feel like we’ve already been there. What’s most important in understanding asexuality as a sexual orientation is to come to an acceptance that sex isn’t this constant thing that everybody is always doing and thinking about and at the centre of everybody’s lives. Like gender, sexuality is a spectrum, so it’s not just that you’re sexual, so you’re constantly humping people, or asexual, and you have no interest at all. We all sit along different points of it and I would like to see an acceptance of the fact that we all have a different interest in sex and access to sex and we don’t all want to lead the same kind of sex life.

And a difference interest in sex throughout different points in our lives.

Exactly. When I was doing some of my more academic research, I came across a couple of sociologists from the U.S. who were doing most of their publishing in the 1970s called John Gagnon—great name!—and William Simon. They were the first people to look at sex as a social activity. One of the points they look at is the fact that sexual desire does change throughout the life cycle. Sex can feel incredibly urgent in youth, the early years of a relationship or when having an extramarital affair. But there are other times in your life when sex falls into the background and other things might be a priority.

There’s a portion on beauty and how being beautiful not only makes you desirable to others and in turn makes them desirable but that a certain level of beauty makes people think you’re sexual, even if you’re not. Does beauty take the power structure of sex to another level?

The relationship between desire and desirability is the core of The Sex Myth. If you want to succeed in any one aspect of the contemporary sexual ideal probably the most important are being desirable and desiring. First you have to want sex, then you have to be attractive enough to get it.

There was a lot of talk from your subjects about who chooses whom when it comes to sex. Ashley says “you want to appear like you are choosing to sleep with the other person, not like they are choosing to sleep with you” while later in the book Brit says “if a guy wasn’t having sex, people figured it was because he chose not to. Whereas if a girl wasn’t having sex, the only explanations were that she was religious or because she was undesirable.” It reminds me of Jersey Shore, for example, when the guys were lauded for picking up as many chicks as possible but the women were called sluts when their sluttiness actually enabled the men to get some! Can you unpack these double standards a little further?

I don’t know if Brit’s point necessarily reflects my own experiences and observations, but if we take it as being true, she is inverting the expectations. So instead of being slut-shamed, like the girls in Jersey Shore, she is shamed for not being attractive enough to get a man in that heterosexual situation.

One of the things I talk about in the book is that the feminine ideal that women are aspiring to is not this pure, submissive virgin/wife character that women might have been taught to aspire to in times past. It’s someone who is self­-actualised and in control, as Ashley spoke about, and who has sexual agency, who wants and likes sex. This new feminine ideal where we’re expected to desire sex still happens primarily in relation to other people. As a society we’re largely for it for women, but it still seems to be more responsive; so her desiring sex means that she says yes to somebody when they want to have sex with her. There’s still a taboo around female masturabation or owning a vibrator because they’re associated with female desire and getting off because you want to not because you want to please your partner.

In chapter five you talk about masculinity and sexual assault. How important was it for The Sex Myth to explore “the rape myth” that certain kinds of women/people can’t be raped?

Rape culture is obviously a huge issue within feminist debate at the moment. There are some really great thinkers—Clementine Ford in Australia comes immediately to mind and in the U.S. Kate Harding has a book on rape culture coming out a couple of weeks after mine—working on that issue. Rape culture is only one part of the politics of sex and what I wanted to do with the book is take a very broad view of how we’re expected to be sexual beyond the gendered politics of sexuality in which men behave one way and women behave another so I wanted to go beyond that but I was conscious that there were other people who were doing it really well.

Men bragging about how many women they’ve slept with solidifies heterosexuality. Do you think “bromance” movies like Magic Mike XXL play into and/or subvert “masculine straightjackets”, as you call them, and if so, how?

The “masculine straightjacket” is this idea that in order to be a “real man” you have to behave in a certain way. You have to be sporty, good with women, tough, you can’t show emotion, you can’t be a girl and you can’t be gay, because those things are treated as the opposite of what a real man is.

In terms of Magic Mike XXL, I think it does challenge some conventional aspects of masculinity. I like that the men in Magic Mike are in some ways incredibly masculine and stereotypically heterosexual but they’re also allowed to have this softness to them. They’re allowed to do things, maybe because they’re so conventionally masculine in other ways, like be into yoga or dance to the Backstreet Boys, that aren’t considered a threat to their masculinity. But on the other hand, they’re still fist bumping about the women they’re picking up and their masculinity is still very much derived from their success with women so I’m not sure that it completely challenges it; it’s still very conventional in a lot of ways.

I don’t talk about this in the book, but I met an academic from Connecticut recently, Christin Munsch, who’s looked at how men are able to play with and challenge masculinity. The interesting thing she found in her research is that guys whose masculinity isn’t going to be called into question—who are socially powerful or considered to be attractive by most people—actually have the most latitude to challenge other forms of masculinity. So men at the top of the social strata are most able to challenge things and men in the middle, who might be more insecure about themselves, might be more likely to cling to the “masculine straightjacket”. So Magic Mike is very much in line with Munsch’s research.

Have you seen Trainwreck?

Not yet, but I love Amy Schumer so I’m planning on seeing it at some point. I’ve heard about the narrative the film takes [damaged, promiscuous woman is saved by good man] which is weird because it’s not what you would expect from Amy Schumer. She proudly and deliberately talks about the fact that she is sexually active and that she has slept with a lot of people in situations that some people would consider to be unsavoury or promiscuous and reclaiming that is a big part of her work. So it’s kind of strange that this film would follow that conventional narrative. I wonder if that’s just about the rom-com format; it’d be pretty hard to create one that doesn’t end like that. It’d be pretty cool, though.

It might also be that it wouldn’t have gotten greenlit if it didn’t have that fairytale ending…

That’s a great point. Because films do need a large number of people to see them, compared to books! They really do have to appeal to a broad audience.

I watched a couple of interviews with Amy that have gone viral and I know that she really rejects the idea that that character is damaged. I think she said in that interview with KIIS FM that she thought of the character as someone who was having fun and [the character] didn’t think of herself as damaged. And then things change and she falls in love hence that conventional happy ending.

Something that I was aware of with The Sex Myth is that I wanted to veer away as much as possible from this narrative that people’s sex lives weren’t up to scratch but then something happened and oh, they’re having great sex. It’s a trap I fall into a little bit in the book but it’s really hard not to because those are the stories people tell about their own lives. We all like to tell our stories about our happy endings. I once was lost but now I’m found. Things used to be bad, now they’re better. That narrative of we’ll be happy in the end when we find a nice man or woman to be with is as much entrenched in our culture as the narratives that I talk about in The Sex Myth.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills is out now.

Image via Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

Writing About Taylor Swift Ruined My Friendship!


This is a version of a post that originally appeared on Writer’s Bloc as part of their May series on balance. Republished with permission.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about Taylor Swift’s anti-feminist lyrics. Perhaps ill advisedly, I used an example from my friend’s love life to illustrate my point about Swift’s detrimental view of gender roles in her music without my friend’s consent.

This friend has a soft spot for Taylor Swift, along with Twilight, Glee and young adult fiction, and I believed these biases informed her actions when she started hooking up with my roommate. When their courtship fizzled out a short time later, she revealed to me that because they were friends first, she didn’t feel that as lovers their relationship was any different: where were all the grand gestures on his part, she wondered?

Now, at the time I thought this observation would perfectly prove my assertion that Swift’s lyrics and anti-feminist rhetoric in interviews enforced an ideal that heterosexual relationships must take the shape of fairytale romances that are performed primarily by the guy, while the woman is just a passive receiver of surprise weekend getaways, jewellery and flowers.

In hindsight, perhaps my opinion about my friend’s love life wasn’t something I should have published on my blog, or even passed judgment on in the first place. Needless to say, she didn’t think so either as we’re no longer in contact.

Funnily enough, after that shit went down, I suffered a bout of writer’s block that lasted the better part of a year. Karmic retribution, perhaps?

This is not the first time I’ve gotten into trouble with a friend for airing their dirty laundry in my prose. About a year and a half before the post that ended a friendship, I wrote about how I thought one of my friends wasn’t very socially adept due to a sport-focused sheltered upbringing and how this informed my broader point that sportspeople shouldn’t be held up as heroes (a topic that was doing the rounds in the news that week). Understandably, he was very hurt that I used personal details he’d told me in confidence to further my agenda and that I had those opinions about him. He’s a bigger person than both myself and my former friend, though, as he was able to see both points of view and hash it out with me like an adult and our friendship has since recovered. (Yes, I ran his inclusion by him prior to publication!)

The irony is that the singer herself is all too familiar with mining her and others’ personal lives for her work. I’m not trying to equate my writing with Swift’s or that using other people’s stories is the same as using your own, but I’d like to think she could relate. Either way, we both wrote and write about people who are no longer in our lives, a feat some writers are more adept at that others.

But how much of the personal anecdotes of the people in our lives do writers have the permission to share? Obviously, I had permission to share neither experience, but in the absence of anything happening in my own love life and the desire to act as therapist to another friend, respectively, I crossed a line.

And it’s a fine one to write on when you’re crafting memoir. Increasingly, I’ve been delving into the personal essay and wondering whose stories and lives I share I have the permission to make public.

How specific can you get when using identifying details in your writing? At the time of publishing the pieces in question, only a few of my friends were reading my blog and would have realised who I was writing about. The majority of people who read my work are unknown to me. But just because only a handful would recognise the subject in question doesn’t necessarily mean writers have free reign over how they’re represented.

Writers such as Lena Dunham and Janet Mock share that problem on a global scale. Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, drew controversy last year when she wrote of her curiosity about her sister’s body parts and an alleged date rape in college. Though names and other details were altered, a fellow student of Dunham’s alma mater was falsely identified as her attacker. Mock shared concerns about the portrayal of her family in Redefining Realness, her memoir about growing up trans in Hawaii. When the stakes are that much higher—being perhaps the most influential millennial in a decade and coming out as a gender identity much of the world is yet to accept as legitimate, respectively—there’s an increased likelihood that your audience and subjects take issue with your words.

Call it the life of a writer or chalk it up to my own narcissism or lack of imagination but it would seem that I haven’t learned my lesson as I’m still writing about the people and situations that caused friction in my personal life in the first place.

Related: Taylor Swift—The Perfect Victim.

In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Elsewhere: [Writer’s Bloc] Writing About Taylor Swift Ruined My Friendship!

Image via Blank Space.

Blood Bonds: The Sisterhood of Menstruation.

instagram period

Periods are a hot topic at the moment. There was the recent Instagram furor that saw a photo of a fully-clothed woman in bed with a blood stain on her trackies and sheets banned for violating the social media platform’s guidelines and Rebecca Shaw—also known as the holy saviour of the interwebs, Brocklesnitch—wrote at Kill Your Darlings about the menstruation taboo. Like a period, these both came around the time that I had also been thinking and talking about the bonds of blood that signify womanhood.

A female friend and colleague and I were discussing the ins and outs of periods. Topics on the agenda included trepidation about going back on/discontinuing the pill, men’s fear of anything to do with menstruation, and the miracle of being able to go about our daily lives whilst shedding parts of our internal organs on a monthly basis.

My friend assumed she was the only woman she knew not on the pill, while I increasingly feel I’m alone in my medicated state. I’ve been on the pill continuously for ten years (cue blood clot panic), originally to regulate the intensity of my periods, and now mostly for the convenience of being able to choose when to bleed and the fear of breaking out. (I don’t have unprotected sex regularly enough to use the pill for this purpose.)

On the topic of men, I reminisced about a male former housemate, who couldn’t even speak the name of a pantyliner when I accidentally left one unwrapped in the bathroom. Additionally, such frank period talk in the vicinity of men is usually met with groans and the covering of ears. Sorry (not sorry), but if you’re an adult man and you exist in the world with women, periods are a fact of life. The fact of life, if you will. Deal with it.

Something that becomes so routine as to not even phase you is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Comedian Cameron Esposito’s routine about periods, above, reiterates my point as she hilariously and disgustingly muses about chunks “the size of strawberr[ies]… coming out of my body” but still endeavours to “have that report for you by tomorrow.” Add it to the checklist of things that many women have to do above and beyond the roles of men.

All of this chatter would indicate that periods also serve as a female bonding ritual. “I wonder if men bond over foreskins the way women bond over periods,” my friend asked. Firstly, eww. Secondly, while there is the brit milah in Jewish culture, nothing comes close to the social and cultural rituals surrounding menstruation.

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, asserts that menstruation is a god given process essential to the creation of any human being. In Indian Hinduism menarche is a cause for celebration with the young woman in question receiving gifts, not unlike Judaism’s bat mitzvah celebration which focuses more on physical age than puberty. Similarly, in Native American tradition puberty and first blood are cause for celebration with menstruating women’s power revered. Shaktism has perhaps the most positive attitude towards periods, with the annual fertility festival Ambubachi Mela taking place in June in which the menstruation of goddess Kamakhya is celebrated.

The act of purchasing sanitary products may not be highly anticipated (and don’t even get me started on the added burden this puts on homeless women and women on Nauru, for example), but the sharing of them, whether that be between mothers and daughters or other family members/adults of influence in a young woman’s life at puberty, friends or other women who happen to be using a bathroom in tandem, is a ritual in itself. While Carrie may be a horror story about the denial of womanhood, many other films and TV have a more realistic portrayal of blood bonds: think the power dyanmics at play when Carrie lends “Face Girl” Nina Katz a tampon on Sex & the City; White Chicks’ white friends offering them an assortment of sanitary products; and the “super jumbo tampon” scene in Mean Girls. Lauren Rosewarne even wrote a whole book about the pop cultural representations of periods.

For those who may not have authority figures or friends to teach them about the bloody birds and the bees, teen and women’s magazines such as Dolly and Girlfriend and websites like Birdee come with an abundance of information. This is not to mention the sanitary products bursting from their pages and attached to their covers as free samples.

The ostracision of periods in polite company and the freak outs that men have when confronted with them mean women only have each other to talk about periods with, creating a bond whether we like it or not. That the specifics of who is and isn’t on birth control; who has painful periods that land them in the emergency room; the age of menarche; and, for older women, when their periods stopped are discussed freely amongst friends and even acquaintances is a testament to both the bonding rituals and banality of periods. The very phenomenon of synced cycles for women existing in close quarters is proof enough of the sisterhood of menstruation for better or for worse.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Should We Be Treating Periods as a Feminist Issue?

[Kill Your Darlings] An Inconvenient Truth: Social Stigma & Menstruation.

[Vice] For Homeless Women, Having a Period Isn’t a Hassle—It’s a Nightmare.

[New Matilda] Sanitary Pads “A Fire Hazard”: The Realities of Life for Mothers and Children on Nauru.

[Amazon] Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film & Television by Lauren Rosewarne.

Image via Daily Life.

Women Who Are Unsuccessful with Men Are Presumed Gay.

I’ve been single for pretty much my entire adult life. The total amount of time I’ve spent dating the handful of guys I have has totalled no more than six months as I get sick of them and crave my own time and space after about a month.

I’ve been very happily single for about four months. The chemistry I had with the last guy I dated fizzled out around then and I ain’t mad about it. I realised I’m probably not a relationship person and that I already have an awesome, lifelong relationship with myself. Being that I’m an introverted homebody who likes to spend as much time as possible alone I’m okay with it just being me for however long it takes to meet someone who I want to carve out time for and whose needs I want to put before my own, if that ever happens.

But it seems that other people have a really hard time accepting that a single woman can be happy with just herself. The amount of times I’ve been questioned with, “But don’t you want to find someone to have kids with and be with for the rest of your life?” are countless; the amount of times I’ve been asked if I’m gay even more so. Because a woman who’s unsuccessful with men must play for the other team, right?

I find this analogy laughable on so many levels. One, what makes you think I’d be any more successful with women if I did indeed swing that way? Secondly, as someone who takes a keen interest in feminism and social justice and has to school almost everyone I know in acceptance of the other, wouldn’t I already be out of the closet if there was one for me to come out of? (And I think I’ve hit the stereotype on the head there: feminist automatically means man-hating, hairy-legged lesbian. As of last night when I shaved my legs in preparation for an unseasonably warm Melbourne autumn day, only one of these was true.) Finally, it puts not subscribing to traditional, heteronormative, romantic pairings that include marriage and children and being gay in the same negative boat, implying not only that something’s wrong with both but that just because you aren’t one doesn’t mean you are the other, and vice versa.

Further to that, the latest accusation of my apparent sad, cat-loving (I actually prefer dogs) lesbianness came when I objected to the use of the word “gay” to describe something that was bad. Again, because you can’t be offended by minority slurs without being from that minority, right? Has anyone heard of being an ally?

And what if I never meet someone, get married and have kids? Is that to discount all the things I’ve done in the past 26 years—travelling overseas; being a published and paid writer, broadcaster and TV personality; being able to afford to live alone and fend for myself; having a university degree; completing internships and work experience with some of Australia’s most well-regarded publications; maintaining meaningful relationships that just so happen to not be romantic—and all the things I still want to and know I will do? Is marriage and babies the be all and end all?

Sometimes I wish I could wipe the slate clean of all the shitty people and their shitty ideas of how people and things should be and just start over surrounding myself with people who already share the same ideas as me. But it takes all kinds to make the world go around. I have to realise that their traditional notions of femininity are more about them than me: I and every other person who doesn’t fit these predetermined roles threaten what they have come to believe as right. It’d be great to go about my business as, oh I don’t know, an autonomous human being but I guess sometimes we just have to make peace with being relegated to setting examples for those too small minded to fathom that a single person can be a whole one.

Related: Celebrating the Single Life.

Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: Where I’m Taking My Career in 2015.

Celebrating the Single Life.

sex and the city woman's right to shoes

A colleague at my day job is getting married. This would be a non-issue to me but our site manager decided to throw a morning tea and send around a card an envelope of cash to go towards a wedding present for her, an unprecedented gesture. Sure, there’s been going away parties and maternity leave soirees, but never before have we been asked as an organisation to help celebrate the marriage of a colleague.

Like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & the City, I couldn’t help but wonder about the episode in which her shoes get stolen at a baby shower which leads Carrie to question the amount of money she’s spent on her attached and parenting friends when no one has done the same for her. “We all have birthdays,” Carrie retorts when Charlotte offers that as a day that everyone lauds you. And while not even close friends can sometimes make it to birthday galas (for those who choose to acknowledge the day with celebration), we certainly don’t get conference rooms reserved, Outlook events created and envelopes circulating the workplace every time we turn a year older.

As someone who doesn’t know if she’ll get married and who doesn’t want kids, workplace gatherings celebrating these milestones will likely never happen for me. (Never mind that I don’t hope to be working in that company when these hypothetical events would roll around.) After six years’ service I’ll probably get a shindig when I leave but the party is not the point. Nor is the fact that there have been many other people to have gotten married in my time there and no such fuss was made about them. *cough* Favouritism *cough*.

Why should people who subscribe to the boring notion of marriage, kids, one career for life and a weatherboard in the suburbs be celebrated for doing exactly what society expects? We have plenty of gay colleagues, for example; isn’t that just rubbing it in their faces? I’m content enough with my decisions not to go down the abovementioned route that I’m not going to let one little event notification shame me into submission but what about someone who’s marriage has just broken down. Or someone who can’t have children or who has lost a child when the inevitable maternity leave announcement occurs?

You may chalk it up to being a Negative Nancy and pooping on free food and an excuse to get out of work. But until the lifestyles of people from all walks of life are respected enough to throw a party for them just because (and let’s be honest, weddings—and divorces!—are common enough that this really is throwing a party just because), celebrate it on your own time.

Image via Pinterest.

Blogging & Jogging & True Blood: When You Realise You’re No Longer Passionate About Everything You Used to Be.


The title of this piece comes from my friend April, who once summed up my life as blogging, jogging and True Blood(ing).

Four years later and True Blood is off the air, I’m focusing more on freelancing than the vitality of this blog and I’ve given up jogging the streets of Melbourne for the elliptical machine inside the four walls of a gym. My life can probably better be summed up by the three W’s, as my mum recently coined it: work, writing and wrestling. It still ticks many of the same boxes that April’s analogy did, but it shows how much I’ve changed and where my priorities now lie.

I’ve come to the realisation that many of the things that I thought defined me for the past five, ten and even fifteen years I no longer identify with.

For example, last month I had a story published on TheVine about my disillusionment with past heroes, specifically Mia Freedman, who had been my life role model for a good ten years.

Also in recent months, I’ve started to warm to artists such as Taylor Swift and Kanye West who I thought were overrated and obnoxious in the past. (More to come on this.)

And a few weeks ago I was listening to Triple H, who’s long held a place in my heart as my favourite wrestler, on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast and his ignorant words about gendered double standards in World Wrestling Entertainment blew me away. (More to come on this as well).

These pop cultural points may seem frivolous, but they inform larger changes. Where once I would defend Freedman to the death and damage friendships over my hatred of Swift (more to come on this), I just don’t think those convictions are worth it anymore. Furthermore, as a single woman who’s only accountable to herself, I always prided myself on being someone who wouldn’t do things she didn’t want to do, but now I find myself sticking out predicaments that aren’t necessarily making me happy as a means to a much more satisfying end, but I just wish that end would come sooner. (Again, more to come on this.)

Of course this is all just a part of growing and changing as a person but it is giving me anxiety akin to a post-quarter life crisis that makes me want to pull a blankie over my head and tune out the world. (I’ve already had a pre-quarter life one so I can recognise the all too familiar feels.) I know I’m not making perfect sense here, but hashing these issues out on the page helps remind me why I consume and produce.

Tavi Gevinson talks about the “pop culture tools” that aid her in crises like mine but what happens when everything you had in your toolbox don’t quite fix things like they used to? I don’t necessarily have the answers yet. I’m taking comfort in reading short stories, personal essays and memoirs, for example; an inkling that wasn’t there before.

I think the main take away from this identity crisis is that I really want to consume things I can relate to or that can enhance my view of the world. It just so happens that those things and that view has skewed so that what I once held dear no longer cuts it.

Related: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: Where I’m Taking My Career in 2015.

Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Taylor Swift: Perfect Victim.

Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

Catching Up on Women-Friendly Media.

Elsewhere: When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

Image via Rookie.