Books: Marilyn Monroe as Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

Marilyn-Monroe---Glasses

As with yesterday’s post, this comes from Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions in an article entitled “Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Who Died Too Soon”:

“[Marilyn Monroe disliked] to be interpreted by them [her male admirers] in writing because she feared that sexual competition made women dislike her… In films, photographs, and books, even after her death as well as before, she has been mainly seen through men’s eyes.”

Just like our favourite Manic Pixie Dream Girls Holly Golightly, Ruby Sparks, Annie Hall, and Zooey Deschanel.

Related: Procrastination Proclamation.

Posts Tagged “Ruby Sparks”.

Manic Pixie Dream Girly Girls & Not-So-Girly Girls.

Image via Discount Poster Sale.

On the Net: The Sexual Double Standards of Celebrities.

When it comes to the sexual politics of celebrities and blatant double standards between the genders in Hollywood, Clementine Ford sums it up best in a recent Daily Life piece:

“Kristen Stewart has found herself in a similar position [to Lara Bingle and her affair with Brendan Fevola] after the revelation she had an affair with the married director of Snow White and the Hunstman. The much older Rupert Sanders has a wife and children, but it’s Stewart who’s been labelled a ‘trampire’ and a home wrecker. A recent US tabloid cover story warned Jennifer Garner to be ‘very, very worried’ at the news Stewart was in talks with Ben Affleck to make a film together. For Stewart and Bingle, the message is clear—they were caught using their sexuality inappropriately, and now they have to pay the consequences. Sanders and Fevola have since gone back to their wives. Unlike Stewart, Sanders didn’t lose the lucrative contract to work on the next Snow White film. Meanwhile, Fevola has since featured on Channel Seven’s Dancing With The Stars, and shared the reconciliation with his wife in a saccharine spread for New Idea. Will their sexual indiscretions and choices follow them around, ad infinitum? It’s highly unlikely.”

A girl after my own heart.

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

In Defence of Lara Bingle.

Was Kristen Stewart’s Public Apology Really Necessary?

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] The Purity Complex.

[TheVine] All Dogs Go to Seven.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Her songs may be catchy—even I can’t stop singing her latest, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”—but Taylor Swift is one of the most detrimental-to-young-peoples’-self-esteem artists out there in my opinion.

I know a lot of people who would beg to differ: but she’s not overtly sexy, so therefore she’s portraying a healthy message to young girls. And she actually writes her own songs and plays instruments, so that’s positive for young people to see, too. But I liken her to pop cultural phenomenons like Glee and 50 Shades of Grey: on the surface they give off the impression of acceptance for the former and empowerment for the latter. When I’ve expressed disdain for these things I’ve literally had people feed me these lines of reasoning. And just like Swift is feeding the messages of the fairytale of young love and not to settle for second best to her fans, what she’s really espousing is an attitude to the opposite sex and to relationships that is toxic.

For example, she waffles on about princes and castles and Romeo, but anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than five minutes (just how long have Swift’s high-profile partners stuck around?) knows that it doesn’t really work like that. Swift is 22 years old and is still singing about relationships and boys as if she were 17, the age she was when her first album was released.

Natalie Reilly writes in the article that inspired me to muse on Swift:

“What if he doesn’t look at you in the right way at the right time of day when the dappled sunlight is falling just the right way across your face? Well, you’re going to WANT TO DIE. Is it any wonder Swift’s songs contain so much wounded anger when her expectations are so teeteringly high? Which guy could ever live up to this Instagram-worthy narrative and still be considered a human?”

I know a girl who loves Swift, has all her albums and went to her concert in Melbourne earlier this year. Recently, she started dating her first boyfriend. I quietly observed that their relationship seemed to progress as if it were taking place on a teen soap or movie: have sex after three dates, publicly announce the progression from “dating” to “boyfriend and girlfriend” after a month… And after two months the relationship fizzled because one party apparently wasn’t making enough “grand gestures” to satisfy the Swiftian ideal of what a relationship should be.

And that’s one of my many problems with Swift: she perpetuates the notion that men are the arbiters of happiness in relationships and unless they are standing outside your bedroom window with a boombox, riding off into the sunset on a lawnmower or sneaking into your room to watch over you as you sleep then there’s some crucial romantic element missing in your union. Why must Swift insist on portraying these archaic heteronormative notions of men being the “doers” and women are just there?

Because Taylor Swift hates feminism. An article a few weeks ago asked Swift whether she viewed herself as a feminist, a key question in most interviews with successful women who haven’t already come out as a women’s libber. Here’s her answer:

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Paging Taylor Swift: that’s exactly what feminism is. And as I originally commented, if Swift is about nothing else, she is about guys versus girls. Her prime song lyric generator is breaking up with men who’ve wronged the poor, innocent Taylor. You know, when she’s not slut-shaming the popular girl who’s the girlfriend of the boy she wants for herself, and if only he could look past her sluttiness he would see Swift is the one he’s really supposed to be with. See: the “You Belong With Me” video for which, handily enough, Swift was awarded best female video at the 2009 MTV VMAs in the infamous Kanye West-“Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time” incident. Poor little Taylor cast as the victim yet again.

Swift really is the perfect victim (Reilly notes Swift is a key proponent in the “‘lover as victim’ trope”), though, because she manages to hide the playing up of the victim status so well. Sure, she writes songs teens can relate to, but the self-absorbed, angsty and tormented world of a teenager is a far cry from the real world a 22-year-old should be inhabitating. There comes a time when you need to stop blaming other people for relationships gone awry and maybe look inside yourself for the cause of the problem.

As Reilly asks, is Swift’s ideal of relationships “the narrative we want for young women? For any women?” Certainly not.

Related: 50 Shades of Grey by E L James Review.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] The Problem with Taylor Swift’s Love Songs.

[Jezebel] Don’t Go Calling Taylor Swift a Feminist, Says Taylor Swift.

Image via Jezebel.

Happy Slut-O-Ween: The Hyper-Sexualisation & -Feminisation of Costumes for Women.

It’s that time of year again when U.S. residents in particular, but an increasing amount of Aussies, too, start gearing up for the last day of October when the jack-o’-lanterns are lit, trick or treating is had, and costumes are curated: Halloween.

The holiday that is believed to have pagan roots in preparing for the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere and warding off evil spirits when the barrier between the dead and the living is at its thinnest, but is more traditionally an excuse for kids to dress up and gorge themselves on lollies, has been appropriated by the mostly-Gen Y masses as an excuse to get your kit off.

Obviously not everyone celebrates Halloween by finding the shortest, tightest, most low-cut outfit available, but the perception of female sluttiness is, if not encouraged, then more acceptable on All Hallow’s Eve than on a regular night out. (Not to worry; garden-variety slut-shaming is sure to be had on October 31st as well.) As Nicole Elphick points out, slutty Halloween costumes are acceptable because we’re often portraying if not a different version of ourselves, then someone else completely: “Oh, it’s just a costume – it’s not me!”

Certainly there are less mainstream Halloween-centric events out there, where party-goers take pride in creating the most original, obscure and ugly costumes they can. But for the not-so-dedicated novice Halloween goers who don’t have the time or money to come up with a truly fancy or left-of-centre costume, there’s always the “one slut fits all” section of the costume store brimming with options.

You know the area of Lombards or any costume hire store that’s segregated from the “serious” party paraphernalia and stocks such run-of-the-mill outfits as the sexy maid, the sexy nurse and the mediocre “tuxedo bunny” that resembles the traditional Playboy bunny costumes not one iota. (This Halloween I’m dressing up as Gloria Steinem when she went undercover at The Playboy Club in the ’60s, so I can attest to the poor quality and unrealistic [oh, the irony!] Playboy costumes available for purchase, so much so that I had mine made.) Sure, these costumes are quick, cheap and come with most of the accessories needed to complete the look—in fact, some of them consist solely of the accessories and little else, fabric-wise—but they’re boring  and flash as much flesh as possible. Where are the options for those who don’t want to default to eye-candy or the “sexy nurse” or “sexy nun” instead of a legitimate doctor or person of the clergy?

Furthermore, the problem with the sexy person woman-in-uniform, sexy animal and sexy Scrabble costumes is not only the unoriginality of the former and the absurdity of the latter, but the blatant feminising of these costumes: apparently only women can be sexy fire-fighters, sexy Nemos and sexy showers, while men are just fire-fighters, Nemo and a shower. (The argument could be made that all men in uniform are inherently sexy, but their occupations definitely aren’t sexualised the way in which women in these professions—or even just in these costumes—are.) Elphick adds that, “You can think of almost any regular costume and odds are some costume manufacturer has already made a risqué version for full-grown women.”

Lisa Wade elaborates on the dearth of “sexy” male costumes in an article on Sociological Images. Not only that, but the “sexy” costumes that areavailable to men focus on sex as something to be laughed at or on a man’s status as a recipient of sex from women, not as sex objects themselves:

“When men go sexy, it means joking about how men should be sexually serviced, have access to one night stands, or being in charge of and profiting from women’s bodies. A different type of ‘sexy’ entirely.”

Maybe with the success of Magic Mike this year we’ll be seeing an influx of male stripper-inspired costumes… Something tells me this is doubtful.

*

I think this obsession with Halloween hyper-feminisation is just a magnified reflection of society’s need for women to be heteronormatively feminine: long hair augmented with extensions for the event, facial symmetry exaggerated with over-the-top makeup and false eyelashes, slender (I, personally, have upped my fitness regime over the past couple of months in preparation), wears dresses (have you noticed how even if the effigy’s garb resembles a dress in no way, the Halloween costume will inevitably appropriate it into a skirt or, less-often, short-shorts if it’s marketed towards women? The “sexy” Sesame Street costumes that have been in the news of recent come to mind).

Rachel Hills hit the nail on the head when, in a response to a similar post earlier this year, she pondered whether the gravitation towards hyper-feminine and-sexy get-ups either in daily life or for special events reflect a fear of not being seen as attractive enough.

Reflecting on my past costume party ensembles, which include Catwoman, sexy Rosie the Riveter and Eve bare as much flesh as possible, it would seem a fear of being perceived as unattractive, unfeminine and/or unsexy is inherent in them, too. As someone who is relatively content with her appearance and in touch with her feminist side (no matter how “slutty” my costumes appear to the naked eye, I always try to incorporate my feminism in there somewhere), this is not something that is front of mind when putting my outfits together, but I guess the evidence speaks for itself: the most conservative Halloween costume I’ve worn was a long, pink vintage dress that I accessorised with fishnets, a feather boa and a headband to portray a 1920s flapper. The only time I’ve ever incorporated pants into the mix was when they were skin-tight pleather leggings (Catwoman, a female wrestler, and one of Barbie’s Rockers), going back as far as my first outing as Catwoman at my tenth birthday party. Inappropriate? Perhaps. But I guess that also conveys a telling tale of our expectations of femininity and, increasingly, sexiness, when it comes to young girls, a topic which is probably best left unpacked til another time.

But maybe we’re reading too much into this? Just because a woman chooses to amp up her sexuality and flash some flesh on Halloween doesn’t necessarily mean that this desire is insidiously ingrained in her by the patriarchy. Feminist du jour Caitlin Moran insists that women are “not dressing up sexy: It’s a parody of sexuality. They’re being silly,” while sex and gender writer Hugo Schwyzer thinks that “the lack of options for any other kind of costume make sexiness the default position rather than the chosen one.” But I have plenty of friends—both female and male—who enjoy getting their sexy on as often as they cover up in the costume department.

When I asked a friend who is so dedicated to her more masculine costumes that I often don’t recognise her for all the faux facial hair, but who also tarts it up with the best of them, most recently in a “sexy” Little Bo Peep costume for her birthday, she said she honestly doesn’t give it much thought. “[Costumes] allow me to hide any insecurities I would usually have… I can hide who I really am for the time I’m in costume,” she said, which is not unlike Elphick’s above assertion that “Halloween is all about taking on an identity that is explicitly not yours.” None of said friends are particularly feminist in their thinking so, as “civilians”, it’s refreshing that they dress up this way without pushing an anti-gender stereotyping message; they haven’t given it a second thought and do it because they want to. Perhaps there is hope for us yet…

Schwyzer sums it up thusly:

“[The] mandatory sexualization of girls and women reflects a culture ill at ease with women’s power. Halloween is at least partly about how we manage fear—and one fear we seem to still have is of powerful women. Sexualising everyone from tween girls to grown mothers is actually a way of reinforcing traditional values. Underneath it all, the message is, all women are the same—they just want attention from men.”

Going back to the earlier point that the reason we see so much skin on Halloween is because of the utter lack of pre-packaged sartorial alternatives, you have to wonder about the costumes that mimic their real-life and/or fantasy life counterparts to a tee: is the reason Halloween has strayed so far from its pagan roots because of our increasingly sex-obsessed society and need for the genders to perform as they always have? For all the absurdly sexualised children’s characters, pets and household appliances, there are as many traditionally scantily attired female superheroes, pop stars and influential women in history to choose from.

As for the guys, Schwyzer thinks the popularity of Magic Mike might see the odd male dressed in short shorts, a bow tie and not much else, but for the most part, they’ll stick to the established costumed-gender norms of “endless capes and Harlequin masks”, just as most women will go for the shorter, tighter, sexier option.

Related: Slut-Shaming in Romantic Relationships—It’s Not On Unless It’s Not On.

‘Tis the Season…

Costumes & Gender.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Why Sexy Halloween Costumes Are Okay.

[Jezebel] A Musical Reminder That You Can Wear Clothes on Halloween & That’s Okay.

[Sociological Images] What Do Sexy Halloween Costumes for Men Look Like?

[io9] Slutty Sesame Street Halloween Costumes Prove (Again) That Nothing is Sacred, Culture is a Sham.

[Salon] Caitlin Moran: Women Have Won Nothing.

Image via Buzzfeed.

TV: The Puberty Blues Give Way to Feminism.

There was an inkling that Ten’s standout show, Puberty Blues, would touch on ’70s-era second-wave feminism a few weeks ago when Sue tried to borrow her boyfriend’s surfboard. Then, last week, she expressed dissatisfaction with their sex life and her partner told her not to “get all femmo” on him. Throw in Sue and Debbie’s strong mothers, and Puberty Blues really taps into “the problem that has no name”—The Feminine Mystique—that both Gary and Debbie’s mums experience, as well.

The show deals tenderly but realistically with Debbie’s parents’ relationship breakdown and how a strong woman in the house both working and doing the domesticities can cause tension in the home. Debbie told her mum in last night’s final that she really admires her for working and having a family, and that makes her believe that she, too, can lead a “big life”.

After saving an old friend from repeated gang rape in the back of a panel van, Debbie and Sue feel empowered and emboldened to do something else with their newfound feminist leanings. So, with nothing to lose in the form of boyfriends and keeping up appearances in the “cool” clique, the young girls the show is centred around venture away from the towels on the beach that is the domain of the “molls” and try their hand in the surf. You go, girls!

Image via This Island Continent…

TV: Feminism, Barbeque & Good Christian Bitches.

For a show as fluffy as GCB, it sure does tackle some pertinent ethical issues.

Obviously, there’s the comedic take on religion that is the shows hallmark, but there’s also politics, money and, according to last night’s episode, “Adam & Eve’s Rib”, feminism.

Bad girl gone good Amanda Vaughn is always looking to set an example for her fatherless children after he cheated on Amanda with her bestie, died in a car accident and left them without a cent to their name. She doesn’t want her rich mother buying her kids designer threads and she doesn’t want them to be part of the popular crowd that she reigned supreme over at high school. (Well, this really only applies to Amanda’s daughter, Laura. I’m not really sure where the son’s at.)

When the annual Dallas Interfaith BBQ Invitational comes around and it emerges that only men are allowed to participate, Amanda throws her hat in the ring with her team consisting of only her daughter and, begrudgingly, her mother at that time. As each of the other female characters’ partners wrong them, they slowly join Amanda in her feminist crusade, helping to provide the meat, the secret sauce, and the wood that makes the smoke smell—and therefore the ribs taste—so good. It goes to show that if men from different religions can get along in the name of barbeque, then so can women who hate each other in the name of feminism.

Of course the show steers clear of invoking the “F” word too much, though there is a nod to Gloria Steinem (“Glory what?!” Laura exclaims. It might have been wise to teach your daughter about gender equality before you decided to adopt the movement, Amanda.) But we all know that the crafty incorporation of moral and ethical issues into pop culture is how we get the message across to the layman.

With all of GCB’s posturing on the oftentimes absurdity of religion, the hypocrisy of white, rich, straight (or presumed straight, in Blake’s case) male-dominated Dallas (and, indeed, Church) life, and the role of the female in these institutions, it’s a shame the show has been cancelled. Only one more episode to go on Australian shores…

Image via ABC.

To Live & Die in Brunswick: Reflections on Jill Meagher.

I’m not usually one to be so deeply affected by violent crimes resulting in the deaths of people I don’t even know, but there’s something different about Jill Meagher’s brutal abduction, rape and murder that has touched the hearts of many. Perhaps later this week or next I will attempt to unpack what Jill’s death and the litany of speculation surrounding it means to me, but first, I thought I’d ask a friend who lived in the suburb that Jill also lived and (presumably) died in for her experiences in Brunswick.

Laura Money is no stranger to guest posting on The Early Bird, just as she’s no stranger to the pitfalls of living in Brunswick, a suburb that both I and she, and I’m sure many other women, have experienced street harassment in. Maybe it’s not just Brunswick, as Laura asserts below. Maybe it’s just a Melbourne thing. Or maybe it’s what comes with the territory of being female in public.

*

Hi, I’m Laura and I’m from Brunswick. Sounds like a confession. In the wake of the rape and murder of Jill Meagher the idea of living in Brunswick has become hollow. I lived in Brunswick from 2009 to January this year after moving to Melbourne from Perth. It’s a similar story to Jill’s: her family are in Perth as well.

When I first moved to Brunswick I was so excited. My street had beautiful old cottages and Victorian-era terraces. Old people peered over their white picket fences to chat to one another. They gave me lemons and sometimes herbs. (Always legitimate!) It was a beautiful place to live. My boyfriend and I secured a one-bedroom unit you couldn’t have swung a cat in but we loved it. One of the reasons was its location: we were only two streets away from Sydney Road, where Jill disappeared. Pubs, bars, late night restaurants and enough kebab shops to ensure that your night out ended well and not regretfully.

Sydney Road was also a place where I felt pretty safe. I must have walked alone to get home so many times I’ve lost count. Until moving to Melbourne, though, I’d never really experienced much street harassment. Sure, I had a guy show up at my work every day to propose until I had to hide in the back room while my colleagues told him I didn’t work there anymore. I also had one guy decide he liked me that much he brought his whole family to my work to meet me, even though all I’d said to him was “hi”. My mistake, obviously, victim-blamers would decry. There was a creepy guy who requested I grow my leg hair for him and a couple of other incidents. But being harassed on the street was new to me, until Brunswick.

I’m not going to document everything but I will give you my top three not-feeling-so-safe-now moments. Firstly, I was reading on the train. I do this a lot. I was getting so involved in my book that I missed my stop. I do this frequently too! I got off at the next stop and decided to walk; hey I could use the exercise. It was about 6pm and the street was deserted so I decided to be a little cocky and keep reading while walking along the pathway near the train tracks. Hey, it was a really good book! I hadn’t been walking long when I noticed a small group of young men up ahead. As I got closer the cat calling started. I ignored it. They followed me. I ignored them. They postulated how they wanted to “shove that book up me if kept ignoring them”. I put down the book, placed it under my arm and told them to get lost. I then half walked, half ran to a tram stop and caught the tram the rest of the way. Walk home ruined.

Secondly, I was waiting for the tram. My stop was the first one, and the tram came empty from the depot so I always got a seat. As I was waiting, I was reading and standing next to the giant picnic bag I had. An old man came over and asked me for the time, presumably so he could look at the timetable, though I could have told him that it had been vandalised ages ago and you had to text for the next tram time. I told him the time and he asked where I was going. “I’m going to the city. I’m having a picnic with some friends,” I replied. “Oh, are your friends men? Are you married?” “No, just a few girlfriends. I’m not married.”

At this point I put my book back up and hoped the tram would hurry up. The tram came and I hoisted my picnic bag up, found a seat and continued reading. The old man walked up and down the tram before sitting down next to me. Seriously, he had the whole tram. I tried to keep reading.

“You must like that book, is it good?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it about?”

(Why did I answer?) “Oh, it’s just a detective series I’ve been reading.”

“So, are your friends single?”

“Sorry?”

“The girls you’re meeting, are they single?”

“Yes, it’s just a picnic in the park. Good weather, isn’t it?” I tried to change the subject.

“I’m single. Keep looking for a nice girl. I can’t go out with women my age, they’re all too boring. I need someone young, like you.”

At this point I start to panic and smile sympathetically for lack of another option.

“You don’t have to go and meet your friends. I’ve got a high-rise apartment in the city. If you come with me, I can give you a present.”

This on-sided conversation occurred throughout the entire tram ride, he even followed me when I moved seats and spoke like that in front of other passengers. A few of them laughed. I kept my eye out at the tram stop for him for weeks.

Thirdly, I was stalked home. I wrote a post a about it. It was pretty scary.

I know this sounds like Brunswick-bashing but hear me out. Despite all of these things happening, I just thought it was Melbourne. To a certain extent it is. These things happen anywhere. I’m back in Perth now and have already had a few incidents occur. My dad didn’t want me to move to Melbourne; he said it was too dangerous. In the first two months of me moving there there was a shooting, two bashings, a building collapse and a warehouse fire all within a kilometre radius from my dream-unit.  This didn’t stop me from living my life, though. I was often out late, heading home to my boyfriend. My mum reads and watches a lot of true crime. Because of this, I would call her or my brother in Perth late at night—time differences are great, aren’t they?— and say “I’m calling you while I ‘m walking home so that if I get attacked or something they will know my last whereabouts!” It was always a bit of a joke but I used to think that it was unlikely that they would attack someone on the phone because they’d get caught. When I saw the footage of Jill Meagher calling her brother in Perth shortly after talking to the man in the hoodie, I knew what she was doing.

To reiterate, my name is Laura and I used to live in Brunswick. I now live in Perth again and the harassment has slowed down. Actually it’s pretty much just at my new place of employment—gotta love that! For those who think, “if you felt threatened, why not just take a taxi?” Firstly, it’s only two blocks: so not worth it! Secondly, I used to get taxis after work f I was working late and the company paid. I got hit on in those taxis on most nights. Sure, I like a chat. I even chatted to a taxi driver so much that he remembered us later on when my friend left her phone in the cab. He was able to identify us because I’d been taking to him. By the same token, often when I got in the taxis from work, the male drivers would stare at my skirt. One driver focused the rear-view mirror onto my cleavage and one dropped the receipt onto my lap and groped around to find it. Fun stuff.

—Laura Money.

Related: On Stalking.

The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

The Harassed & the Harassed-Nots.

I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Brunswick, Alone & After Dark.

[unWinona] I Debated Whether Or Not to Share This Story.

Image via Daily Life.

Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — In Conversation with Germaine Greer.

Germaine Greer is an Aussie feminist icon who’s kind of passed me by. After the whole “Julia Gillard has a fat arse” debacle earlier in the year, I officially declared her irrelevant to a friend when the opportunity to buy a book of hers came up.

Nonetheless, I attended her talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival, hosted by Germaine’s new bestie Benjamin Law, whom she met at that infamous episode of Q&A, in the hopes that she would address some of those issues in more depth.

I wasn’t wrong, but instead of Greer herself admitting she was, she dug a deeper hole for herself, both at the session and on 60 Minutes the week prior, where she was interviewed in relation to Samantha Brick’s months-ago comments that women find her threatening because she’s beautiful and she enjoys being a “trophy-wife” to her chauvinistic French husband.

Sometimes I just wish public figures would admit it when they’ve said the wrong thing, instead of trying to justify or cover it up (Todd Akin, I’m looking at you). Where Germaine could have taken the opportunity to own up to speaking out of turn about Julia Gillard’s appearance, a snarky phenomenon that most women—and, indeed, most feminists—succumb to at some stage or another, and use it to start a dialogue about how we treat female politicians based on their looks and not their policies, she just said “women have fat asses” and “a woman is not her jacket”. Greer’s a smart woman, no doubt, but I think she needs to think more before she speaks, as her comments on cosmetic surgery, genital mutilation and the morning after pill on Q&A will attest.

However, Germaine did make some good points about her past, present, our ecological future, and “what turned her into a feminist” (a question I was asked at the work watercooler a few weeks ago when I revealed I write about gender studies and feminism. That co-worker is so misogynistic he now avoids me. One less woman-hater I have to make nice with on a daily basis: score!), citing her work on the 1974 university porn magazine she helped create, Screw. After concluding that the name “screw” was too “sadistic” and implied that a woman was “ruined” after she’d been “screwed”, they changed the name to Suck, which connotes a more female-friendly vibe.

Germaine talked about her willingness to get her gear off for the magazine in an effort to portray women differently in porn magazines. She was offered money to pose for Playboy and she insisted her pose be standing with her body away from the camera, bent over, and looking at the photographer through her legs, her vagina and anus on show. They rejected the image, obviously, which turned up in Suck, an alternate copy of which someone in the audience had brought along!

She also had some interesting things about our definition of consent and SlutWalk to say and, to my surprise, they weren’t out of step with current feminist notions of the two. She championed women who take their rapists to court and show their faces to the public to lend support to the wider anti-slut-shaming movement.

Those who still follow Greer’s work know that she now leans towards writing about Australian culture and the environment as opposed to being the authority on all things feminism (see abovementioned irrelevance), and she concluded with a conversation with an audience member, who probed her in overtime about recognising the similarities between feminism and vegan-/vegetarianism. Indeed, feminism these days is about human rights, and most people I know who are for feminism are for human rights, animal rights and practice vegetarianism. I, myself, am a budding ecotarian.

These days, Germaine Greer is someone to be hated, feared or admired, as Law contended in his introduction of the great Australian thinker. While these women don’t necessarily practice feminist acts or even call themselves feminists, Madonna and Lady Gaga are two iconic females Greer mentioned during her sermon. They’re also two icons who polarise almost as much as Greer. I don’t think she’s that different to them, really… They’re all outspoken, brash females who have undoubtedly contributed so much to the plight of women, and culture as a whole, some more recently than others.

Related: Should Meat Be Off the Menu?

Images via TheVine, Flickr.

Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — Notes on Women in Culture.

The panel was chaired by the director of feminist publishing house, Spinifex Press, Susan Hawthorne, and the speakers were Tamil writer CS Lakshmi, and feminist fiction and non-fiction writers Emily Maguire and Sophie Cunningham.

I saw Cunningham speak at last year’s festival, and some of her comments on third and/or fourth wave feminism really rubbed me the wrong way. This year she spoke again about the discrepancies between the pay rates of men and women and where that money goes. While only $0.40 for every dollar earned of men’s income goes to the family, $0.90 of women’s money goes to the family. Therefore, “women need to work or our culture falls apart.”

Cunningham also spoke about her pet project, women in literature. As the chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and of the Stella Prize, she knows her stuff. Apparently when the representation of women in literature hits 30%, people think it’s about half. (I believe she mentioned it’s at about that percentage currently, in terms of how many books by women are reviewed and how many books are reviewed by women in major publications.) This reminds me of the 33%–66% division of labour rule in male–female households: that women will do up to 66% of housework before they start to think they’re doing too much, while men will do 33% before they start to think they’re doing too much.

I think both of the following quotes came from a piece Lakshmi read to the audience. They’re poignant no matter who wrote them and where they appeared:

“Women pretend to conform whilst they’re breaking the rules.”

“Sit still otherwise you’ll rock the boat.”

That last quote reminds me of 50 Shades of Grey, in which Christian makes Anastasia “sit still” and not move when he’s performing sexual acts on her. I don’t know many men who prefer a woman to be physically non-responsive to their touch, but there are a lot of things about the book I don’t understand.

Speaking of 50 Shades (at this point in time, when it’s the highest selling book ever, who isn’t?!), in another panel I attended on Saturday about writing about sex (featuring Susan Johnson, Chris Flynn and another appearance by Maguire) it was brought up. Nothing of note was added to the discussion really (sex and gender roles are conservative, defined; the sex is clinical, etc.), but Johnson did, it’s worth noting, spoil the ending for me! Not that I was planning on reading the next two installments (one’s enough!), but there were a few audible groans from the audience when she revealed that *spoiler alert* Christian married Anastasia in the end.

Johnson has a piece on the trend of the trilogy in this weekend’s Q Weekend magazine, for which she is the senior features writer. She mentioned how she finds the book like a sexed up version of Beauty & the Beast, which made my heart yearn for a simpler time, when feminism and Stockholm syndrome and abusive relationships were not at the forefront of my mind when examining my favourite Disney movie. Sigh… I’ll never be able to enjoy it like I once did thinking about the Beast forcing Belle to eat and suspending her from the ceiling of his Red Room of Pain if she doesn’t do as she’s told!

But back to the panel at hand.

The notion of positive female representation in science fiction and fantasy came up, an issue about which I’m quite passionate, but which I’d like to know more about, too. Maguire says it’s easier to write a “strong female character” in sci-fi because you “don’t have to have the rules of this world” posed onto the character. I think it was Cunningham who then mentioned that that’s why a lot of sci-fi is set in post-apocalyptic worlds where the restraints of our current notions of society and culture are abolished so writers can explore different aspects of the characters that they might not have should they exist in this world.

Author John Banville was brought up, who has said he’s “never understood women… Don’t want to… I’m in love with all of them, always have been fascinated by them… They always do the unexpected—at least I don’t expect what they do. They say: ‘We’re ordinary, we’re just like you.’ I say: ‘You’re not. You’re magical creatures.’”

While that’s a lovely gesture on the surface, do we really want to be seen as otherworldly? At the end of the day, everyone’s just a person. And, at the end of the panel, Lakshmi told a story with the theme that gender has “no specific qualities”. So how can one be “ordinary” and one be “magical”? Reverse sexism on Banville’s part, perhaps?!

Related: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011: A Long, Long Way to Go—Why We Still Need Feminism.

My Week in Pictures 16th August 2012.

Sexism in Fantasy.

Image via TheVine.

In Defence of Lara Bingle.

Not since Nicole Kidman and Delta Goodrem have we seen an Aussie woman polarise the population like Lara Bingle.

Traditionally, we don’t respond well to reality television and its stars who get too big for their britches: remember the Heidi Montag–10 plastic surgeries in one day hullabaloo? Or the whole Kardashian family, especially after Kim’s 72-day marriage and subsequent divorce proceedings. While there are some reality stars who’ve come out on top of the collective consciousness (Nicole Richie, the MasterChef contestants, and mostly those who participate in shows based on talent and skill and from which a winner is chosen based on these things), most are destined for a life of C-list celebrity and/or the descent of their career. Being Lara Bingle so far would indicate the latter.

Almost one million tuned in to the premiere episode, in which the nude-pics-on-the-balcony violation was dealt with, but since then, the show has failed to return to these numbers, with last night’s final coming in last place amongst the three big networks. My party line when it came to watching the show was that “it’s for research”, but despite the inanity that was Being Lara Bingle, I actually like—and have some sympathy for—the show’s namesake for this reason: what has Bingle done to incite such hatred?

On a train ride home on a Tuesday night which meant I’d miss the show (that’s what the Ten video player is for), I raised this issue with friends. One shriveled his face in disgust while the other proclaimed that she didn’t like the way Bingle dragged Michael Clarke’s name through the mud. Upon further inspection, I couldn’t find any evidence to support this assertion; in fact, everything I’ve read and seen on the show indicates that Bingle and Clarke split amicably, and Bingle still speaks of him fondly.

So what did my friend mean by saying that Bingle tarnished Clarke’s image? I dare say what everyone else means when they talk smack about Bingle: that she’s “not good enough” for Clarke. That she’s an untalented famewhore who trades on her looks for money. How this is any different from the career of someone like Gisele Bündchen or Heidi Klum, who also has several of her own reality shows, I don’t know.

What I do know, however, is that the bullying of Bingle is about misogyny. We don’t like her because she’s a young, attractive woman who uses her looks and body to get ahead and is unapologetic about it. What troubles me is that we dedicate countless column inches, a trend which I’m no doubt contributing to with this article, to berating or defending Bingle, whilst male celebs like Ashton Kutcher, his Two & a Half Men predecessor Charlie Sheen, and Bingle’s former lover Brendan Fevola, get away with murder… or what could be seen as attempted murder, in the multiple intimate partner assault allegations against Sheen. (Just look at the Kristen Stewart-cheating scandal. Sure, she’s just as much to blame as her married-with-children car-sex buddy, but we seem to be heaping the shame onto only her.)

Maybe it’s because before all the sex, drugs and debauchery surrounding Sheen, he was once a good actor. Maybe it’s despite—or perhaps because of—Kutcher’s cheating, he’s a very successful businessman as well as actor. Maybe, according to Roger Franklin writing in Good Weekend, Fevola is just a “lovable larrikin” gone down the wrong path. But how are histories riddle with drugs, violence, infidelity, gambling problems, abuses of power and lewd behavior, amongst other things, spread across these three men better—or at least more acceptable—than Bingle’s relatively mundane existence?

Like Kim Kardashian, who rose to notoriety via a sex scandal and not much else, Bingle is apparently trading on her status as a “celebrity” or “personality” as opposed to hard work and talent. The quintessential tall poppy, you might say.

Funnily enough, for those who tuned out after the first few episodes and those who never tuned in at all, they missed out on seeing the “real” Lara Bingle—as the reality effort was so often touted as attempting to show—as the series drew to a close. As friend and fashion designer Peter Morrissey told Bingle last night, “you need to show people the real you,” not the perception of Lara the media presents that they initially expect to meet.

Obviously, no reality show is ever going to project a true image of someone. I dare say we can never truly project a true image of ourselves to even our nearest and dearest, as no one really knows us better and can understand our idiosyncrasies and contradictions better than ourselves. But Lara Bingle isn’t exactly the worst—or most un-real—person to grace our television screens. She may be pretty boring in that girl-next-door way, but at least hasn’t hurt anyone, which is more than I can say for some others.

Related: Shaming Lara Bingle. 

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less? 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Charlie Sheen’s Witness. 

Was Kristen Stewart’s Public Apology Really Necessary? 

Lara Bingle in Who: A Prized Tall Poppy Who Polarises.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Why Does Nicole Kidman Inspire Such Vitriol? Seriously, Why? 

[MamaMia] Enough With the Delta Hate. Be Better Than That. 

[TheVine] No One Watched the Finale of Being Lara Bingle.

[TheVine] All Dogs go to Seven. 

Image via PedestrianTV.