2013: A Bad Year for Women.

Not to discount Wendy Davis’ reproductive rights filibuster in Texas, abortion drug RU486 being added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and feminism trending worldwide thanks to Beyone, Miley et al. clamoring to claim the movement for themselves, 2013 was a very bad year for women. But what year isn’t, really?

On Valentine’s Day in South Africa, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead, claiming he thought she was an intruder. Abusive relationship whispers abounded, but all the media could talk about was that Steenkamp was a hot, blonde model, and many news stories didn’t even bother to mention her name.

While Melbourne woman (by way of Ireland) Jill Meagher was brutally raped and murdered in 2012, the trial of her killer, Adrian Bayley, dominated the Aussie news this year. It was revealed that Meagher was the latest in a long line of rapes and abductions spanning a twenty-year period due to the failure of the parole system. Bayley was sentenced in June to 35 years in prison.

Many of Bayley’s rapes were targeted at St. Kilda sex workers, which brings us to the murder of Tracy Connelly in her van on 21st July which made news in the wake of Bayley’s sentencing. Melbourne writer Wendy Squires furthered Connelly’s story by writing about the woman she never knew by name, but with whom she became friendly as she passed her in her neighbourhood most days.

In the mid-year political uprising in Egypt, up to 43 women were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, but they’re just collateral damage when the larger issue of political freedom is at stake, am I right? And while the brutal Dehli gang rape and bashing of an Indian student and her male friend which resulted in the student’s death from internal injuries happened late last year, 2013 has been rife with other sexual assaults. (It’s important to note that these are just the rapes that have been publicised and picked up by the Western media. Countless rapes have been and are continuing to be committed that we just don’t hear about.) Most recently, a 15-year-old Indian girl committed suicide after being gang raped six months ago.

The U.S. has seen a spate of woman-hating crimes come to light this year, too. In May, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Berry’s six-year-old daughter were rescued from a house in Cleveland, Ohio after being held captive by Ariel Castro for up to ten years. At trial in August, Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus and addition 1,000 years. One month later, Castro was found dead in his cell.

The football town of Steubenville, also in Ohio, made worldwide headlines for the rape and kidnapping of an unconscious teen by members of the town’s high school football team. The teenaged victim, whose identity is protected, was transported from party to party whilst she was unconscious (resulting in later-dropped kidnapping charges, in addition to rape and child pornography charges), had photos taken of her and shared on social media, and had her case picked up by vigilante hacking group, Anonymous, which forced the authorities to take the case seriously. The teenaged perpetrators, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, were given the minimum sentences of one and two years, respectively, in juvenile detention while investigations have been launched into the role school officials played in covering up the case.

In another -Ville—Maryville, Missouri—two teenaged girls were raped by boys on their school’s football team… Sound familiar? One of the victims was left passed out on her porch in minus temperatures, has attempted suicide and allegedly had her house burned down as a threat. The case was dropped due to “insufficient evidence” but has recently been reopened as a result of public pressure.

Back at home, the deaths of two young girls and the abuse they suffered their whole lives at the hands of their parents were in the news. Kiesha Weippeart’s mother, Kristi Abrahams, was sentenced to up to 22-and-a-half years in prison in July for the murder of her daughter in 2010. Her partner, Robert Smith, was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years for being an accessory to the crime. It’s no excuse for the brutal murder of a six-year-old, but this Good Weekend article is a harrowing account of the cycle of abuse in the Abrahams family that Kiesha was a victim of. Also making headlines was the sentencing for the murder of toddler Tanilla Warrick-Deaves. Donna Deaves had earlier in the year been sentenced to 12 years in prison for doing nothing to save her daughter from the fatal beating inflicted on Tanilla by her partner, Warren Ross. Ross was found guilty of Tanilla’s murder on 5th December.

But probably the two take away moments of misogyny in 2013 are Robin Thicke, who has been named sexist of the year, for his rape anthem, “Blurred Lines”, and its accompanying god awful video, and the ousting of Julia Gillard from the prime ministership. Now, before all the MRAs get up me for deigning to insinuate that a poor leader shouldn’t stay in that role because she’s a woman, I’m not talking about just her ousting. It was everything leading up to that: the “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” placards; the sexist menu in which Gillard’s body parts were likened to meat; Alan Jones’ comments; the questions about her partner’s sexuality; the misogyny speech… Hell, Anne Summers didn’t write a book about it for nothing! I don’t necessarily agree with all of her sentiments, and she did make some bad decisions in parliament, but when we look back at Gillard’s time as the first female Prime Minister of Australia, there has been at least one positive development to come out of it: Gillard is now a feminist hero!

What have been some of the worst moments for women in 2013 that I haven’t included here? I would love to get your thoughts in the comments.

Related: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

Anne Summers in Conversation with Julia Gillard.

Elsewhere: [The Age] An Innocent Woman Slain. Where’s the Public Outcry?

[Sydney Morning Herald] Duty of Care: What Happened to Kiesha?

[The Guardian] Robin Thicke Named Sexist of the Year.

The Week in Twitter.

Not since news of Wendy Davis’ reproductive rights filibuster broke the same day, Australian time, as Julia Gillard’s ousting as Prime Minister has Twitter seen such a flurry of feminist activity. This week, Peppa Pig emerged as our new leftist, Marxist, socialist, feminist hero. That is, until Beyonce dropped her latest album—replete with critiques on beauty, a sample of Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent TEDx talk and 17 ready made music videos to go with—at midnight last Thursday (Friday afternoon Australian time) with no fanfare and the interwebs lost its shit. Oh, and then there was the Village Voice interview with Jim DeRogatis by Jessica Hopper about the decades-old sexual assault and child porn charges against R. Kelly that went viral and is finally seeing the singer being—rightly—harshly judged in the court of Twitter opinion in the wake of his critically acclaimed new album, Black Panties (gag me).

While I haven’t heard or watched Beyonce yet (an iTunes gift card is on my Christmas wishlist), I’ve been devouring all the think pieces on her, her album and her feminism. Critiquing pop stars’ feminism is one of my favourite things to do, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the 14 tracks and their copious accompanying clips live up to the feminist hype.

On the R. Kelly front, I’ve never been much of a fan of his: I’ve got “Ignition (Remix)” on my iTunes and I enjoyed a boogie to it at my work Christmas party before the resurgence of interest in his pedophilic tendencies. But I have to say I’ve enjoyed scouring Twitter and the wider ’net for other opinions on separating the man from the music, the racial elements of the allegations and why we give artists a pass.

As far as Peppa Pig goes, her moment in the feminist sun was overshadowed by Beyonce. But some feminists are still holding on to their fondness for the children’s propagandist cartoon: Van Bandham has made Peppa her Twitter avatar and at Cherchez La Femme’s Christmas event, Feministmas, last night in St. Kilda, writer Jessica Alice performed a poetic ode to the pig in what I thought was the highlight of the night.

And so, as Christmas approaches, we wonder what pop cultural presents Twitter will gift us next…

Related: The Year of Beyonce.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Accused: Peppa Pig, a Tool for Dangerous Feminist Left-Wing Propaganda.

[YouTube] We Should All Be Feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at TEDxEuston.

[Village Voice] Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full.

[Ebony] Beyonce Preaches on “Pretty Hurts”.

[xoJane] I Repeatedly Fought Back Tears While Jamming to Beyonce’s New Album Because Free Black Girls Are Not As Much of a Thing as We Should Be.

[The Gloss] Beyonce Isn’t a Feminist, According to White Feminists.

[Grantland] Rethinking R Kelly: A Fan’s Second Thoughts.

[Twitter] Van Badham.

[Twitter] Jessica Alice.

The Year of Beyoncé.

Beyonce-Album-Cover

Last week Peppa Pig had a moment in the sun as a viral feminist icon… That is, until Beyoncé secretly released her apparent feminist manifesto cum visual album and collectively blew Peppa out of the water and our minds.

But it wasn’t just last week that Beyoncé made headlines; 2013 has really been the year of Beyoncé. Let me count the ways…

In January, Beyoncé performed at the second inauguration of US President Barack Obama and caused controversy when it was revealed that she lip synced her performance.

gq-names-beyonce-the-sexiest-woman-of-the-21st-century_h

Also at the beginning of the year, GQ named the singer the sexiest woman of the century; never mind that we’re only 13 years into it. Inside the mag, ‘Yoncé talked about the unrealistic beauty ideals foisted on women by the patriarchy and lauded the importance of economic independence. Feminist debate ensued over her obviously feminist sentiments but her reluctance to call a spade a spade.

Come February it was time for the SuperBowl, and Mrs. Carter performed at the halftime show, which included the badly-kept secret reunion of Destiny’s Child. Yet more hullabaloo was stirred up as Beyoncé’s publicist requested that certain apparently unflattering photos be removed from the internet. Nice try, Bey.

This perfectionism that Beyoncé is so concerned with reared its head again in her HBO documentary, Life is But a Dream. While I found it quite inspiring to watch the process behind her art, you could see how heavily curated by Beyoncé the documentary was. Just like a live-action version of her Instagram feed…

Her Pepsi commercial came out in April and features some of her best known looks from her music videos—“Crazy in Love”, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “Bootylicious”—for a cool $50 million.

beyonce ms magazine cover

By mid-year Beyoncé was covering feminist title Ms. magazine, once again calling into question her feminist credentials. There’s not a copy of the cover story online, but head on over to Bitch magazine for a recent feature unpacking Beyoncé’s feminism.

Beyonce brunswick melbourne

Bey fever hit Australia, and in particular Melbourne, in October, as a photoshoot in Brunswick took over Twitter and the Tumblr Beyoncé in Brunswick went viral. I attended her concert at Rod Laver Arena and the $150 for nosebleed tickets was worth it.

That photoshoot would actually form the basis for the video for “No Angel” off her aforementioned self-titled, no-hype visual album. Never before has such a big star released an album—for which its 14 songs have 17 ready-made clips—with no promotion. As many a Tweeter has observed: take that, ARTPOP!

With the release of Beyoncé, Queen (or is it King?) Bey has certainly cemented her place as not only the biggest pop star in the world today, but someone akin to Michael Jackson, Madonna or The Beatles: an icon that has far surpassed her beginnings as an RnB singer in a girl group.

Related: Beyoncé Name Sexiest Woman of the Century.

Midsumma Festival & Women Say Something’s Should We Destroy the Joint?

Ms. Carter?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Accused: Peppa Pig, a Tool for Dangerous Feminist Left-Wing Propaganda.

[Bitch Magazine] All Hail the Queen.

Images via The Honesty Hour, TheVine, Ms.Herald Sun.

Music: “Work, Bitch” as Feminist Anthem*.

britney spears work bitch rosie the riveter

Like Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women, Part 1” and “Bills, Bills, Bills” before her, Britney Spears’ latest single, “Work, Bitch”, professes female autonomy and financial independence as supreme. A sampling:

“You wanna hot body
You wanna Bugatti
You wanna Maserati
You better work bitch
You wanna Lamborghini
Sip martinis
Look hot in a bikini
You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy
Live in a big mansion
Party in France.

“You better work bitch.”

Now, Britney and her songs have long stopped being coherent, and just as “Work, Bitch” could be seen as a feminist anthem for earning your possessions and accomplishments instead of waiting for a significant other to give them to you, it’s also a nonsensical club hit that could just as much be about getting your groove on on the dance floor. It does give off flavours of “Gimme More”, but less fully-realised.

But as with the abovementioned Destiny’s Child songs, there’s more to feminism than money. It’s great to be able to “buy my own diamonds and… my own rings”, and poverty is a major feminist issue, but it’s so easy to put a musical call out to women who make their own money to “throw your hands up at me” and disguise it as feminism.

Obviously I’m giving Britney and the hitmakers behind her far too much credit; her songs have never pushed an agenda other than being infectious ditties that get everybody up off their asses, with the exception perhaps of “Piece of Me”, a musing on the insatiable nature of the media and paparazzi. But appropriation, cultural and otherwise, is the trend du jour, so why not reimagine “Work, Bitch” as a feminist anthem?

*Written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Elsewhere: [Thought Catalog] Cultural Appropriation is a Bigger Problem Than Miley Cyrus.

[Jezebel] Robin Thicke Calls “Blurred Lines” A “Feminist Movement Within Itself”.

Image via Instagram.

Mother to Daughter: Second- VS. Fourth-Wave Feminism.

While I’ve only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I’ve tried never to judge a woman based on her choices and it’s been instilled in me that, as a woman, I can do and be anything I want to.

A lot of this is thanks to my mum, who is a ’70s bra-burning hippie feminist through and through.

Though recently, as I increasingly immerse myself in current readings of feminism, I see just how far we’ve come, baby, and how the second-wave feminism of my mother’s era is worlds apart from today’s discourse on gender equality.

There have been many debates between second-, third- and fourth-wavers about who did, and is doing, more for the movement.

At a 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival presentation on why we still need feminism, Sophie Cunningham asserted that feminists under 25 can’t really grasp the concept because they’re still young and beautiful and have men falling at their feet. She also observed “a sort of ‘bottleneck’ in modern feminism”, where white, Western feminists aren’t able to incorporate intersectionality into the fold, which was a criticism of SlutWalk, one of latter-day feminism’s most high-profile conquests. Pardon me, but wasn’t it foremother Betty Friedan who was accused of being racist and homophobic with The Feminine Mystique?

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the constant bickering amongst young feminists as to what, exactly, feminism is. You’ve got women undertaking such obviously feminist tasks as Marissa Mayer overseeing Yahoo! and Beyonce nearing total world domination, yet they’re reluctant to call a spade a spade. And the non-feminist media would have you believe there’s infighting going on about who is allowed to be a feminist (definitely not Taylor Swift!).

But, I think, the feminist movement of today would like to believe it’s accessible to all kinds of women (and men): straight, gay, bi, male, female, trans, black, white, mixed-race, rich, poor, able-bodied and non-able-bodied, sex workers, etc. Can second-wave feminism of yesteryear say that?

This divide is illustrated by Germaine Greer’s infamous comments about Julia Gillard’s clothing choices and how they accentuated her apparently undesirable body shape last year on Q&A and feminists everywhere taking to their respective platforms to mostly disagree with her. One such vocal detractor was Mia Freedman, who said Greer “broke my heart a little bit” when she took herself “down in a hail of self-inflicted friendly fire while the world watche[d] in embarrassment.” When the two women appeared together on a recent episode of Q&A, Freedman was asked to clarify her response: did it mean she wasn’t a fan of the “ground-breaking, arse-kicking lightening rod for social change who ignited a feminist movement from which every woman in the western world has benefited” anymore? Was this an example of the abovementioned feminist in-fighting?

Freedman responded that while she has nothing but respect for the woman in whose water she grew up and who influenced her mother’s feminist awakening, “feminism needs to have a lot of different voices… It should be really, really broad and inclusive.” Essentially, feminism should accommodate both the foremothers and their daughters.

Freedman went on in that same episode of Q&A to—what some would describe as—shame sex workers, or “prostitutes” as she archaically called them, which ignited a backlash of her own. So much for that broad inclusion she waxed lyrical about…

While liberating housewives of Germaine and Freedman’s mother’s era from “the problem with no name” and ushering in the birth control pill are milestones women of today must be thankful for, they’re very much narrow-minded accomplishments: The Feminine Mystique appealed to white middle-class women and many women can’t afford the birth control pill, a predicament that still exists today. And second-wave feminism was very much responsible for the sexual liberation of a generation of people, but I’m not so sure that transfers to the hook up, raunch and porn culture/s of today (as Freedman’s comments about sex workers above would indicate).

For example, when I was living at home and Girls of the Playboy Mansion came on the TV, my mum would make me turn it off (keep in mind I was 22 by the time I moved out and this was not long before that). When I brought this up recently as an example of her generation’s reluctance to embrace sex positivity, she launched into a tirade that ended with her calling into question the women who pose for Playboy’s sexual promiscuity.

We must acknowledge that media like Playboy is an inherently patriarchal construct, but I think making the assumption that any woman who uses her sexuality as a commodity is a slave to said patriarchy is buying into the notion that feminism works against: women have no autonomy. Much like the debate over women in Islam (and don’t even get me started on the fight I had with my mum about asylum seekers that, similar to the Playboy exchange, ended with her defensively inquiring about the legality of people seeking asylum via boat), certain kinds of feminism need to broaden their scope to take into account the lives of all women, whether we agree with their choices or not.

This close-mindedness comes from a lack of access to new information and technologies and willingness to learn from and hand the reigns over to the feminists of today, I think. While many feminists of all ages count the works of Greer, Friedan and Naomi Wolf amongst their collection of feminist tomes, how many second-wavers can say the same about the musings of Jessica Valenti, Clementine Ford, Rachel Hills and the myriad feminist bloggers? That face of feminism has certainly changed to make it much more accessible. What once was narrowly accessible at rallies, underground meetings and in academic journals is now available wherever you look: Gillard speaking up against sexism in parliament, movements like SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint and all across the interwebs.

So on this Mother’s Day eve, it’s important to acknowledge the gender equality path paved for me by my feminist foremothers, including my actual mother, but also to recognise that we have, indeed, come a long way, baby. Maybe that’s something that second-wavers need to consider, too.

Related: Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” In the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [The Atlantic] 4 Big Problems with The Feminine Mystique. 

[The Guardian] The Tragic Irony of Feminists Trashing Each Other.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer: You’ve Lost Me.

[MamaMia] No, I Won’t Apologise for My Sex Worker Comments.

[Daily Life] Stoned for Having Short Hair.

TV: The Carrie Diaries — Vagina Monologues.

carrie diaries read before use vagina

The Carrie Diaries, Fox8’s new series based on Candace Bushnell’s Sex & the City prequel publication of the same name, was not a show I had high hopes for. Maybe that’s why I like it so much!

It’s successfully carved out a niche for itself that’s very separate from the HBO series that made Carrie Bradshaw famous, and even though it’s set in the ’80s, it’s so relatable it could be unfolding in the present day. Unlike Rock of Ages, for example, which was so distracting in its bid to recreate the ’80s, The Carrie Diaries just gets the fashion, hair and music so right.

Not only that, but last night’s episode, “Read Before Use”, really tapped into the essence of Carrie and Sex.

Carrie and Mouse attend an art exhibition in the city with Larissa in which former porn star Monica Penny displays her vagina for a penny in what Larissa calls a reclamation of her power. When it’s Carrie’s turn to place a penny in the jar and view her vagina, Monica takes a liking to the young ingénue and tells her never to let a man make decisions for her and to own her power. This, of course, means Carrie should take to Monica’s throne and show her own vagina.

Being underage but still faking it masterfully, Carrie declines, which leads Larissa to tell her that she’s not the girl she thought she was. Larissa thought Carrie would one day be on a billboard or “on the side of a bus”, in a throwback (forward?) to SATC and Carrie’s column promo. Carrie, exhibiting shades of feminism, tells Larissa it’s her choice not to show her vagina, and asks if that isn’t a form of power, too?

For a show that’s aimed primarily at the high school set, you have to applaud it for using the word vagina more than many other cable television shows. In using “vagina” so unashamedly and weaving the politics of choice and power into the fabric of the episode so seamlessly, “Read Before Use” was like feminism in training for the show’s young viewers. Let’s hope they keep it up.

Image via YouTube.

Book Review: Marilyn — The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

marilyn-the-passion-and-the-paradox-by-lois-banner

Marilyn Monroe as feminist icon? Who knew?

The best-known sex symbol of the 20th century (’cause we all know Beyonce’s got dibs on this century) is easily dismissed as just that, but as Lois Banner’s heftily researched tome on the woman born Norma Jeane Mortensen will attest, Monroe had some radical views for her time, embracing the ideals of the Communist movement, endeavouring to expand her mind even though Hollywood would rather her stick to her dumb blonde schtick, and engaging in activities unbecoming for a woman of her time. Banner is sure that had Monroe lived long enough, she would have been a keen supporter of the feminist movement.

Personally, I have always been an advocate of Monroe as feminist, refusing to take on my mother’s, amongst many others’, dislike of her for her bombshell image. As Banner maps out Monroe’s family history, her life as a sexually abused orphan, her first marriage at 16 to Jim Dougherty, her early days in Hollywood and the way she crafted herself into a star, the reader sees Monroe not as the ditzy Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes like so many others did, but as a gifted actress merely playing up to one of the many archetypes (sexy “Marilyn”, comedienne “Lorelei” and the glamourous star of later years [from p. 237]) she was perceived as when it was called for: there was much more to Marilyn Monroe than meets the eye, as is detailed in The Passion & the Paradox.

By interviewing a myriad of sources, some of which only fellow feminist biographer of Monroe, Gloria Steinem, had interviewed before, Banner debunks some common myths about Monroe, including those surrounding her death. By doing so, she delves much further into Marilyn Monroe’s psyche than any other book about her I’ve read.

I’m probably a bit biased, as Banner pretty much reinforces ideas about her that I already held, but if you’re only going to pick up one publication on Marilyn Monroe, let it be this refreshingly modern take on her as a person, not a sexual object.

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This review has been submitted to The Australian Women Writers Challenge as part of their 2013 Challenge.

Image via These Little Words.