Writing About Taylor Swift Ruined My Friendship!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wrestling with Obsession.

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This post originally appeared on Writers Bloc as part of their February series on obsession. Republished with permission.

Many women who watch wrestling are introduced to it by fathers, brothers and other male family members.

My initiation to the sport(’s entertainment) came at 13 when a high school friend invited me over one night after school to watch VHS tapes of World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) her neighbour had made for her, and I thought, “Why not?” As I continued to receive the tapes from her weeks after the episodes had aired I realised Foxtel could sate my increasing appetite for in-ring action merely a day after the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!, played in the US. As my friend’s interest in wrestling waned and mine continued to grow, I soon became known as my class’s biggest wrestling fan.

At first, my parents would try to wean me off the product, convinced it was a phase along with the nu/rap metal of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit I had started to blast in my bedroom with the door slammed shut (it was 2001, okay?). My mum made me change the channel when anything involving “foreign objects” (chairs, ring bells, sledgehammers etc) and intergender matches (women wrestling men) came on but those stipulations soon fell by the wayside like a formal dress from the shoulders of a Diva in an evening gown match. Hey, no one ever accused pro wrestling of being a bastion of gender equality. (On the other hand, the most recent live wrestling event I attended combined the two aspects of wrestling my parents feared the most: hardcore and women, with local women’s wrestler Vixsin coming away bloodied from being battered with barbed wire and thumbtacks, proving that women can wrestle just as hard as men.)

A year later my parents submitted to being dragged to Melbourne from country Victoria for the WWE’s first Australian tour in 20 years, 2002’s Global Warning. It was at that tour’s fan convention that I met my first wrestlers—Brock Lesnar (the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion), Randy Orton (boy, do I have a story to tell about that one!), and Batista, who wrestling laypeople might also know as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I would go on to meet many more, waste copious amounts of money on now-useless VHS tapes to record every episode of Raw and SmackDown! for about six years, and become a walking contradiction of wrestling fandom meets feminism, which I’ve written more about here.

When I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I couldn’t afford cable TV as a single girl trying to make it in the big wide world, so I fell out of touch with the machinations of the wrestling one. It wasn’t until I reconnected with a family friend at a wedding in 2013 that wrestling became a part of my life again.

I was first introduced to this friend years before when my 92-year-old grandmother was in hospital convalescing after a hip injury and we bonded over wrestling. He brought along his new baby and his American wife, who happened to be the cousin of a guy named Nick Nemeth better known to wrestling fans as former World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler.

At the wedding, my friend informed me that he was bringing out a slew of my favourite wrestlers that week for a mockumentary he was making and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. While as a young girl I entertained notions of movie stardom, I was reluctant to appear on camera. In the end, I figured it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

That’s how I became involved with my friend’s other brainchild, Outback Championship Wrestling, Australia’s premiere sports entertainment company based in Melbourne and airing its second season locally on Channel 31 from March. Again, being on camera is still not something I’m comfortable with, but somehow I agreed to be the host of the show.

As a teenager obsessed with wrestling I dreamed of working in the WWE. Not as a wrestler, or even an on-screen personality—though I wouldn’t mind Renee Young’s job—but in more of a backstage capacity. Writing storylines, perhaps, or as a reporter for their website or magazines. Fast-forward to 13 years later and it’s still inconceivable to me that I actually get to do these things as a part of OCW.

When most people find out about my dirty little (not-so-)secret, they find it hard to wrap their head around the apparent contradiction of a stereotypically feminine woman and a feminist (not to mention the cognitive dissonance of that pairing if popular opinion is any indication) having a passion for wrestling. Then they ask me why I love it. Is it the violence? The “body guys“? The soap operatics? Disappointingly, I myself can’t even pinpoint the source of this obsession. It may be about holding on to coming-of-age nostalgia. Or a love of the game I imagine fans of other sports have (wrestling is the only “competition” in which I indulge). It could be an utter ’Mania only paralleled by Star Wars and Doctor Who cosplayers.

They also ask me if I know wrestling is “fake” which is like asking a Breaking Bad fan whether Walter White’s just a character.

Being a part of the inner workings of Outback Championship Wrestling is probably similar to working on any other scripted production. A good analogy is that wrestling is like theatre with fighting. It also gives me a newfound respect for the men and women who put their bodies on the line every week in a capacity that’s anything but fake.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

The Year of Scarlett Johansson.

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2014 has been a big year for Scarlett Johansson.

It didn’t begin all that positively, though, with the actress drawing heat for her association with soda water company, Sodastream, whose headquarters are based in Israel, specifically the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. Boycotts of the product damaged both Johansson and Sodastream’s reputations, leading the actress to resign from her position as an ambassador for Oxfam in order to appear in the company’s Superbowl commercial. Get your priorities in check, girl.

Another stance Johansson took that arguably damaged her reputation in the eyes of many was her defence of Woody Allen who, earlier this year, had child molestation charges against him resurface. Johansson said about Allen’s daughter’s allegations, in which she called out Johansson and other actors associated with her alleged abuser, “I think it’s irresponsible to take a bunch of actors that will have a Google alert on and to suddenly throw their name into a situation that none of us could possibly knowingly comment on. That just feels irresponsible to me.”

Irresponsible isn’t the word I’d use, but I digress.

Johansson attempted to smooth over her feminist faux pas by designing a line of t-shirts for Planned Parenthood in August.

And finally, before we get to the work she’s actually known for—acting—Johansson demonstrated her assertiveness in an interview in Glamour’s May issue in which she laments the nickname ScarJo:

“I associate that name with, like, pop stars… It sounds tacky. It’s lazy and flippant…There’s something insulting about it.”

Perhaps Johansson’s biggest film this year was Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which she reprises her Marvel universe role of Natasha Romanoff or The Black Widow. But her most creatively satisfying projects, at least from the audience’s viewpoint, weren’t as big budget as The Winter Soldier.

While both Her and Under the Skin were released in the U.S. last year, they made their Australian big screen debuts in 2014, and both films were a departure of sorts from Johansson’s usual fare. The sexy husky voice Johansson has become known for was the star of Spike Jonze’s Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore, falls in love with his artificial operating system, voiced by Johansson. The film was a different kind of romantic comedy that spliced futuristic sci-fi into the mix.

Speaking of sci-fi, Under the Skin is certainly an otherworldly experience that leaves the viewer unsettled. For those who haven’t seen it, Johansson plays an alien who seduces men off the street, the reasons for which are unclear. You may remember controversy surrounding the reality-based filming that left audiences unsure of who was an actor and whom Johansson actually accosted on the streets of Scotland. It is also one of the films in which Johansson bares her naked body, but sexy, it is anything but.

The film for which Johansson garnered the most buzz, though, was probably Lucy, another sci-fi action flick about what happens when we use parts of our brains that are usually dormant that kicked butt at the box office. Like Frozen, Maleficent and The Hunger Games, Johansson is helping to prove that action films and blockbusters starring women can make bank.

While Johansson was a prominent fixture at the cinema this year, she also had a banner year personally. Johansson and her partner, Romain Dauriac, welcomed baby girl Rose Dorothy in September.

Beyonce will probably make many of the year-end lists but we can’t forget the prevalence of Johansson in pop culture this year. I certainly haven’t.

Related: The Year of Beyonce.

Elsewhere: [Salon] Scarlett Johansson’s Awful Defence of Woody Allen & SodaStream.

[E! Online] Scarlett Johansson Designs T-Shirt for Planned Parenthood’s New Women’s Rights Campaign.

[SMH] Scarlett Johansson’s Fuse Shorts Out Over Nickname.

[News.com.au] Scarlett Johansson, Romain Dauriac Welcome Baby Rose.

Image via Poejazzi.