A Handmaid’s Place.

A Woman's Place

*The following contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale, particularly episode six, “A Woman’s Place”.

The Handmaid’s Tale has often been described as the future for women if politicians such as Donald Trump and Mike Pence get their way. The sixth episode of the Hulu adaptation shows us, through the backstories of Commander Fred Waterford and Serena Joy Waterford, how easily current society could slip into a dystopia like Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale indulges, though not as much as other prestige television shows, in humanising slightly the villains of the story, the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and particularly Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who enjoyed a career as a “domestic feminist”, writing books about how women neglected their homely duties for professional ambition (that’s the pot calling the kettle black there, isn’t it Serena?), resulting in a low birth rate. She enthusiastically describes to Fred an idea for a book about “fertility as a national resource; reproduction as a moral imperative.” Through contrasting, present-day scenes, we see how Serena Joy helped implement Gilead, a civilization in which she and all women no longer have agency.

The crux of the episode is on a Mexican diplomat’s meeting with Commander Waterford and the other gatekeepers of Gilead. Mrs. Castillo (Zabryna Guevara), whom our heroine Offred (Elisabeth Moss) initially overlooks in favour of one of her male aides, internalising the stifling patriarchy of Gilead and, indeed, contemporary culture that dictates that women are not usually the ones in power, asks Serena Joy how she feels about being instrumental in bringing about “a society in which women can no longer read your book. Or anything else.” Serena Joy replies by rattling off a list of achievements Gilead’s made in its young life, such as reducing carbon emissions by 78% in three years.

In this way, it’s hard not to sympathise with flashback Fred and Serena, or at least their concern about the environment and the human race hurtling towards extinction. The Handmaid’s Tale offers a glimpse into the motivations of the religious, politicians, and conservatives who probably, like Fred and Serena Joy, think “we’re saving them. We’re doing god’s work.” So we never end up becoming complacent and siding with them, though, this episode—entitled “A Woman’s Place”—is sure to inject flat out statements about just that. “We put so much focus on academic pursuits and professional ambition we let them forget their real purpose,” one of the Commander’s colleagues tells him after Serena is prohibited from presenting her ideas to the forefathers of Gilead. “We won’t let that happen again.”

However it’s the underlying themes and motifs of “A Woman’s Place” that are far more interesting than the statements that are designed to shock, especially because they’re so prescient to present-day society.

The Handmaids’ infantalisation is front and centre this episode, with Mrs. Castillo asking about Offred’s former name and the Commander, speaking for Offred, explaining that Handmaids choose to take on their patronymic alias. Then, at a ball celebrating the arrival of Mrs. Castillo and Gilead’s impending trade agreement with Mexico, Serena Joy lauds “the devotion of a group of girls” for their sacrifice, yet another theme of the episode. The obvious coercion of the Handmaids, paired with the stripping of their bodily autonomy, their birth names (which calls to mind the exchange of the father’s name to the husband’s upon marriage) and the parade of the children of Gilead birthed by them then ripped from their arms, is a chilling parallel to slavery.

This conclusion is much easier to come to with the Hulu adaptation than Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, in which she drew from the slavery, segregation, internment and genocide to cast people of colour and other religions out of Gilead, where they have been shipped “back” to their countries of origin. Only white people reside in Atwood’s Gilead, a likely result of the regime’s religious and white supremacist ideologies. But a television adaptation with as lofty, prestigious goals as The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get away with such blatant whitewashing in 2017. The boycotting of films such as Ghost in the Shell and The Great Wall for eliminating non-white characters indicates that The Handmaid’s Tale would be met with bad press and lose a significant following if it adhered to the source material. And while the inclusion of non-white Handmaids, Marthas, sex- and (presumably, though we never see them) colony-workers, and the handful of peripheral non-white Wives and Commanders, reflect the show’s viewership and thereby make the comparisons to real-world racist atrocities all the more triggering, The Handmaid’s Tale has rightly drawn criticism for centring the experiences of white Handmaids like Offred at the expense of characters such as Moira (Samira Wiley).

There is also a clear correlation between talk of the Handmaids’ sacrifice and similar rhetoric expressed by real-world government. Australian viewers will remember former Treasurer Peter Costello’s 2004 remarks upon an ageing population and decreased birth rate that women should have “one [child] for mum, one for dad, and one for the country”, just as Gilead, Mexico (where in Mrs. Castillo’s hometown there have been no live births in six years, prompting her to trade for Handmaids) and presumably other countries in this dystopic fiction are seeking to bolster their populations. When Mrs. Castillo implores Offred to sympathise with the fact that her country is dying and Offred replies, “My country is already dead,” this is but one of the ways Gilead is hurting the majority of its citizens while professing to help them. 

Despite what some of the cast and crew initially said about The Handmaid’s Tale not being a feminist story, “A Woman’s Place” is perhaps the most obvious episode of the 11-instalment first season to prove that what’s going on in Gilead is, indeed, urgently so.

Related: Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts To Right Last Season’s Wrongs.

Elsewhere: [SBS On Demand] The Handmaid’s Tale is Streaming Now: Here’s Why You Should Watch it.

[The Undefeated] In Handmaid’s Tale, A Postracial, Patriarchal Hellscape.

[Vulture] In Its First Season, The Handmaid’s Tale’s Greatest Failing is How it Handles Race.

[io9] The Biggest Problem with The Handmaid’s Tale is How It Ignores Race.

[Vulture] Elisabeth Moss Isn’t Convinced The Handmaid’s Tale is Feminist.

Image via Vice.

Orange is the New Black: Sacrificing One for the Good of the Many.

Orange-Is-The-New-Black-season-5-896976

*This article contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black season five.

While the three-day riot that threads through season five of Orange is the New Black brings Litchfield together, if only for a time, in an attempt to agitate for better conditions, it’s the sacrifice of several individual inmates that are the most pivotal moments.

Last season was remembered for the shocking and devastating death of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) at the hands of an untrained guard that mirrored the real-life death of Eric Garner and was the catalyst for the aforementioned Litchfield riot. When warden Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) fails to #SayHerName is a press conference absolving the guard who killed Poussey, CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), Taystee is livid, but takes the opportunity the riot presents to get justice for her best friend.

Demonstrating her level head and mind for business, Taystee negotiates with authorities, including a somewhat sympathetic representative from the Governor’s office, former warden Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), and Caputo, tasking the inmates with devising a list of ten demands in exchange for the release of their hostages, a mixed bag of guards that served as Litchfield’s tormentors last season. However, in an example of dissention in the ranks and the individual concerns of prisoners that will come to a head again in later episodes, the arrest of Bayley for the death of Poussey is voted ninth on the list of Litchfield’s priorities, below Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and tampons in commissary.

While the provision of some of these items is a gesture of goodwill from the Governor’s office, it is season five’s first glaring example of sacrificing one for the many. In case this wasn’t obvious, OITNB makes it so by having Piper (Taylor Schilling) bring up the trolley problem, an ethical thought experiment that asks if a train or trolley was heading towards a group of five people tied to the tracks, would you pull the lever to divert it to another track to which only one person was tied, or would you do nothing and let five people die instead of one? Unfortunately for Daya (Dascha Polanco), who ended up shooting CO Humphrey (Michael Torpey) in the cliffhanger from last season, she is the one whom Taystee, Piper and co. direct the trolley towards in an effort to continue negotiations.

While Daya might have been the sacrificial lamb to save the flock, her surrender sets in motion several other inmates acting in their own immediate best interests instead of what could make life inside easier for hundreds—and possibly hundreds of thousands, if the fictional Piper goes on to advocate for prison reform as her real life counterpart Piper Kerman, whose memoir the show is based on, has—of other women in prison. Daya, a surrogate daughter to Gloria (Selenis Leyva), and especially so now that Daya’s mother, Aledia (Elizabeth Rodriguez), has been released, no doubt reminds Gloria of her biological children, who come into focus this season. Benito, Gloria’s son, needs brain surgery after getting beaten up. Desperate to see him when he wakes up, or in case he never does, Gloria hatches a plan to take the hostages for herself and release them in exchange for furlow. Despite this being an empty promise made by Caputo, who is in no position to make deals as one of the hostages, and the head of MCC, who isn’t even involved in negotiations as the riot is under the Governor’s jurisdiction now, Gloria is guided by her singular need to see her child.

It is a similar castle in the sky that inspires Maria (Jessica Pimentel) to muscle in on Gloria’s bright idea after she finds out that the paperwork concerning the extra time CO Piscatella allegedly added to her sentence last season was likely never completed. Governed by the hope that she might be able to see her baby daughter, whom she gave birth to in prison in season one, sooner than she thought, Maria employs the natural hustle on display in her season four backstory and snatches the guards right out from under her friends’ noses, who took over guarding the… erm… guards when Maria decided she wanted to stay out of the riot that she was ostensibly the initial leader of.

The motherhood that binds Daya, Gloria and Maria together is reminiscent of the themes of season three, which was promoted as being about motherhood, opening with a Mother’s Day fete, the episode in which Maria’s partner Yadriel tells her he doesn’t want to bring their daughter to see her in prison any longer. Episode 11 is particularly heavy-handed its exploration of motherhood, exchanging OITNB’s proverbial flashbacks for glimpses into the present-day lives of Cindy’s (Adrienne C. Moore) daughter, whom her mother raised as her own, and Ouija’s (Rosal Colon) son, who recognises his mother in the background of one of Flaritza’s (the amalgamation of Maritza [Diane Guerrero] and Flaca’s [Jackie Cruz] names) YouTube makeup tutorials. We see this again when Piper, Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Leanne’s (Emma Myles) mums show up at Litchfield to see if their daughters are safe amidst news of the riot. Whether intentional or not, OITNB positions these women as having nobler intentions for wanting the riot to end because they’re mothers, rather than the arguably more benevolent motivations of Taystee and co. This is particularly evident in Maria and Gloria’s exchange in the TV room, where Gloria tells Maria her designs on breaking out the guards, in the same episode.

The fact that Daya, Gloria and Maria are all women of colour isn’t insignificant, and their own marginalisation perhaps prevents them from seeing a bigger picture that the real-life Piper, as mentioned above, has the privilege of.

With the season finale seemingly splitting up the Litchfield prisoners and moving them to other facilities, it remains to be seen whether Taystee’s, whom we last see in the bunker with an assortment of other prisoners, efforts were all for nothing. At least Maria got to hug her daughter before she’s presumably relocated to another prison further away with the time she believed wasn’t added to her sentence put back on.

Related: Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts to Right Last Season’s Wrongs.

The Perception of Power on Orange is the New Black.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Junkee] This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet.

Image via Express.

Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts to Right Last Year’s Wrongs.

oitnb season 5 bunker

*This article contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black season five.

Last month on the New York Times podcast Still Processing, hosts Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris criticised the Netflix show Dear White People, asserting that “it’s a bunch of bumper stickers and tweets” in a twenty-two minute comedy that amounts to “an IRL exchange about how to be black”.

“This show does not really appear to be about the experience of what it is like to be black and in college, it appears to be an education for how [white people are] supposed to understand what it’s like to be black in college,” Wortham says. “In case you don’t know how to feel about saying the n-word in a rap song we’re going to tell you and we’re going to do it in a way that you can just retweet this line… This is how you know how to talk about this issue [and] to be a good ally. It feels very prescriptive.”

So with Wortham and Morris’ words ringing in my ears, I approached the fifth season of Orange is the New Black, which dropped on Netflix over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, with trepidation. Though I was initially complimentary of last year’s outing which mirrored many of the real life atrocities inflicted upon black bodies, a predominantly white writers room that created racist trauma porn and failed to add anything to the discourse highlighted the importance of listening to people of colour when making and consuming TV about and for them.

Many of these issues echoed throughout the first several episodes, with hot-button topics such as gaslighting, mass shootings, poor working conditions in nail salons and acquired brain injuries being condensed into witty one-liners not out of place on a progressive Twitter feed and regurgitated by peripheral characters to prove they, or at least the show, are woke.

During one such moment, disgraced celebrity chef Judy King (Blair Brown), who managed to become entangled in the riot prior to her early release last season, convinces Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman), DeMarco (Lin Tucci) and the Nazi skinheads, Brandy (Asia Kate Dillon) and Helen (Francesca Curran), that a supply drop is coming for her on the roof. With Judy’s arms tied to a plank resembling a crucifixion to prevent her escape and headscarves disguising Brandy and Helen, a news helicopter distorts their ill-conceived quest for snacks in a situation in which food is quickly running out into terrorism. The irony of Nazis being mistaken for Islamist terrorists is echoes the “fucking media’s”—which OITNB is sure to have Brandy parrot in case we missed it—tendency to explain away terrorism committed by white people as mental illness or the actions of a lone wolf, and our quickness to dub every crime committed by a brown person as terrorism, rendering nothing terrorism.

If a social justice movement doesn’t have a resistance, does it even exist? When one of the riot’s initial instigators, Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel), takes last season’s tormentors, the guards, hostage, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) seeks refuge in the yard rather than be a part of the sexualised torture and humiliation they are subjected to. Several of her fellow inmates follow, desperate for a political counter culture rather than getting to the root of the hell they’re already in: a minority woman’s death by state-sanctioned violence due to institutionalised racism and the prison industrial complex. For a devastating look at the relationship between the two, one should watch the documentary 13th, also on Netflix.

OITNB indulges in the humanisation of villains, most recently seen on shows such as the upcoming The Handmaid’s Tale, which has often served to help audiences understand characters such as Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), Pennsatucky (Tarryn Manning) and Leanne’s (Emma Myles) motivations and journeys to prison. This time it’s CO Piscatella (Brad William Henke), who murdered an inmate in a former prison by burning him to death in a shower for raping and beating his former lover, calling to mind the death of Darren Rainey, who died in prison in 2012 under similar circumstances, and Linda (Beth Dover), head of purchasing at MCC, the company that owns Litchfield.

Trapped inside Litchfield during the riot, Linda poses as inmate Amelia von Barlow, the Counterfeit Cunt of Connecticut, to hide her true identity, which perhaps speaks to her fetishisation of women in prison, a troubling ideology for someone who controls the flow of essential items to them. Linda realises the injustice she helped enforced when faced with it herself, particularly when eating prison slop. Linda is a cipher for privileged, predominantly white viewers who might think the camaraderie and shenanigans that take place in Litchfield would be fun to experience for a while.

Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Jenae (Vicky Jeudy), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and the memory of Poussey (Samira Wiley, who appears in an all-too-short flashback to her first meeting with Taystee) are always on hand to remind us both just how hellish being in prison actually is, especially for women of colour, and the purpose of the riot. “Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor, brown people. Our fight is with the folks who hold our demands in their hands,” she announces to the news vans covering the riot in the arresting closing scene of episode five. Taystee successfully negotiates with authorities to provide the prison with a list of ten demands as voted on by the inmates. Some are frivolous (Flaming Hot Cheetos stocked in commissary) and some harken back to the injustices of last season, such as inadequate healthcare and personal hygiene supplies, but this storyline at times helps OITNB return to the strengths of its first few seasons, melding the tragic with the comedic and prioritising tender storytelling for which Brooks and Aduba deserve all the awards.

Though it ultimately fails to capture the magic of its heyday, OITNB seems to be learning from its past mistakes and the mistakes of other shows, such as Dear White People and UnREAL. As Jenna Wortham reiterates, “Most of these shows are very conscious of the fact that white people are going to be watching for clues for how to understand blackness.”

Related: The Perception of Power on Orange is the New Black.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Junkee] This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet.

[SBS Guide] White Writers Telling Black Stories.

[Wear Your Voice] Orange is the New Black is Trauma Porn Written for White People.

[Teen Vogue] Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.

[New York Times] The Price of Nice Nails.

[Fusion] Inmate Darren Rainey Was Boiled Alive in a Shower by Prison Guards…

Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People.

beyonce

This article was originally published on The Vocal.

By now I’m sure most of us have seen and heard LEMONADE, Beyoncé’s latest visual album and perhaps her most personal in which she utilises unashamedly black imagery to tell stories of being let down by men, supporting and supported by women, civil rights, hope, forgiveness, and love.

To the naked eye, these themes seemingly came out of nowhere but Beyoncé has always imbued her work—and her activism—with them. For example, Bey co-founded Chime for Change, a foundation that amplifies the voices of women and girls in marginalised communities across the world, and she built a homeless shelter in her hometown of Houston. On her website, Bey addresses recent anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina, a state her Formation World Tour recently visited, striking a balance between speaking out for what she believes in and making bank. In 2013, she and Jay Z were seen at a vigil for slain black teen Trayvon Martin and gave $1.5m to Black Lives Matter.

Beyoncé centres Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the mothers of other young black men murdered at the hands of police on LEMONADE. Alongside them are Serena Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya, black women who’ve been demonised by the largely white media. “Formation”, released in February, was perhaps Beyoncé’s most contentious song and video to date with unapologetic blackness, Hurricane Katrina symbolism and a young black boy dancing before a militarised police force taking pride of place and thus drawing the ire of pro-police protesters. To emphasise her point, her SuperBowl halftime show performance the following day saw her all-black female dancers don natural hair and Black Panther costumes.

Her most recent visual album not only throws back to a time before paparazzi and social media when artists used their medium to tell their personal stories but demonstrates that vulnerability and absolution are virtues that many mere mortals lack. On LEMONADE, though, Beyoncé shatters the illusion of herself as the untouchable mythic goddess we’ve seen on “***Flawless” and “Diva” and reveals her humanity in lyrics such as “I ain’t too perfect to ever feel this worthless” from “Hold Up”. While the album is no doubt revolutionary, it’s not the first time Beyoncé has peppered her work with hints to her personal life. On 2011’s “Countdown” she sings about trying to get pregnant, and miscarriage and postpartum depression are themes on “Heaven” and “Mine”, respectively, from 2013’s self-titled visual album, which set the stage for LEMONADE.

Beyoncé has always been an exemplar of humility and humanity. She remained poised as her sister Solange went to town on Jay Z in that elevator incident at 2014’s Met Ball, later incorporating it into Nicki Minaj’s remix of “***Flawless”. She resists the urge to vocalise what Kanye West says—and everyone else thinks—when she’s repeatedly looked over for awards, instead funneling that rage and indignance into game-changing masterpieces like Beyoncé and LEMONADE to prove just how innovative she is. We all know someone who says they’re gonna do things that never eventuate: Beyoncé shows us the virtue of staying mum on something until we’re ready to put it out into the universe. Beyoncé bides her time, not speaking on issues she doesn’t feel she’s knowledgeable enough about or topics people may not be ready to hear from her until she is well-positioned enough for her ideas to have maximum impact.

She seldom grants interviews, indicating that she’s reached an echelon of fame where her facade alone expresses all she needs and wants it to. When Bey does speak she leaves an impression, as they did when she responded to the furore in a rare interview for Elle magazine. She said, “Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken. I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me.”

For anyone who tried to invalidate her words, as so often occurs when black women are speaking, she reiterated it with equal parts dignity and impact by selling Boycott Beyoncé merchandise at her Formation World Tour.

So how can we apply Beyoncé’s fount of grace, creativity and ingenuity to our own lives? Fans have been inspired to use her work as a jumping off point to make their own art. Writer and educator Candice Benbow has published the LEMONADE Syllabus, a collection of works that perhaps inspired and as lenses through which we can better understand the album. Rutgers University professor Kevin Allred teaches the class Politicising Beyoncé, with a book to follow. Beyoncé courses are also offered at other universities across America. There’s Bey Dance, an inclusive dance class emanating in Melbourne and with branches now in Adelaide and Perth. Donating to causes we’re passionate about is yet another way we can do the work of Our Lord and Saviour Beyoncé, not to mention taking the lessons of LEMONADE as gospel.

Let’s also remember, though, that Beyoncé has the luxury of a million dollar empire behind her, a full staff, and access to media to portray her best self to us. And as much as Beyoncé is a champion of women of colour the recent controversy over her clothing line Ivy Park being made in Sri Lankan sweatshops shows a reluctance to stand up for brown women outside of the U.S.

Black feminist scholar bell hooks recently criticised Beyoncé for the capitalism inherent in her work, particularly on LEMONADE. Many of her “empowerment” anthems, such as “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Independent Women”, “Diva” and “Girls (Who Run the World)”, are indeed about capitalism. But whereas some of her earlier tracks have been less subtle, when Bey sings about money these days, the focus is increasingly on self-sufficiency (“6 Inch”, “Formation”) and financial independence from a partner (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) which are laudable lessons.

A black woman as influential as Bey is bound to have her haters but increasingly she’s thriving on constructive criticism, checking her privilege, giving back to her community and growing as an artist and as a person. Through her music, activism and philanthropy Beyoncé inspires us, too, to be better people.

Elsewhere: [Rolling Out] Beyoncé Builds $7 Million Housing Complex for Houston Homeless.

[Beyoncé] Equality NC Works to Prove “Y’All Means All”.

[Billboard] Tidal to Donate $1.5 Million to Black Lives Matter, Social Justice Groups.

[Elle] Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation.

[Issuu] LEMONADE Syllabus.

[Bey Dance]

[Daily Life] Beyoncé Clothing Line Made by “Sweat Shop Labourers on $8.50 a Day”.

Image via Online Academic Community.

The Internet Can Be the Best Place to Find Your Tribe.

This article was originally published on The Vocal.

Recently I’ve been thinking about all the female friends I’ve made over the years, particularly the ones I’ve met online, and more specifically through Twitter. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re all feminists. Increasingly, feminist movements begin and prosper online, with hashtags, event invitations and unique perspectives not available through traditional media streams rearing their heads through the white noise of #NotAllMen and cat gifs. As these modes of communication continue to thrive, it only makes sense that feminist connection and friendship do, too.

A few years ago, I attended Clementine Ford’s address at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne. During question time, a young woman sitting next to me asked, as someone new to feminism and Melbourne, where she could find her tribe IRL. Ford gave a great answer that escapes me two years later, but before I left the event I was sure to pass on both my knowledge and the Facebook and Twitter handles of one of the best feminist meet ups in Melbourne: Cherchez la Femme, a monthly talk show-formatted event hosted by Karen Pickering that has also parlayed itself into a film festival and feminist meet cutes where you can connect with other likeminded people. It has been pivotal in forming my feminist beliefs and integral to making connections within the community.

At last year’s IWD address at the Centre, Cherchez La Femme panellist and keynote speaker Amy Gray reiterated the strength of the relationship between women and the internet:

“Without the internet, I would not be able to know the friends I love so dearly, learn what I have about feminism and politics or get the dream writing job I wanted but couldn’t find a way into the industry. Without the internet, I wouldn’t be here talking with you tonight (you may want to burn down the internet after this speech though)…

“The internet is a place to have so much fun and waste so much time by yourself or with your newest, greatest friends that you’ll forget the damn place was actually created with a military purpose.”

(I wasn’t able to attend this year’s IWD address by Celeste Liddle, but the transcript of her talk, published by New Matilda, has seen Celeste banned from Facebook for the inclusion of an image of topless Indigenous women in ceremonial body paint. Meanwhile, near nude photos of white-identifying—or at least white-passing—Kim Kardashian remain.)

Online (Friend) Dating.

It may be more difficult for older, possibly internet distrustful generations to understand that many millennials not only shop and date online but we also find our tribes there. So when an older colleague asked me how I make new friends, I explained to her that it was mostly electronically, giving her the example of meeting Global Women’s Project manager Carmen Hawker at the book launch for The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers a few years ago. Carmen was sitting next to me and commented on the book I was reading. Later that I night I saw Anne retweet a photo of herself and none other than Carmen, who I immediately followed and tweeted at. Since then, we’ve bumped into each other at movie screenings and even at Bey Dance!

Similarly, at Roxane Gay’s sold-out talk in Melbourne this time last year, I was sitting next to a woman who was furiously live tweeting the event, almost more than I was. I glanced over at her iPhone screen to see my own handle and moments-ago tweets in her feed and I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I think you follow me on Twitter!” It turns out she was someone I’d been following for awhile and who I had even encountered at the abovementioned Cherchez La Femme a time or two: Jessamy Gleeson, producer of CLF. She was there with her girl gang, whom she introduced me to and whose tweets add a wealth of feminist insight to my feed.

Feminist meet ups have always been around, advertised by flyers and word of mouth. For some, nothing beats face-to-face interaction and connection and, when we do meet like-minded people at these events, asking for a Twitter handle or blog address instead of a phone number to keep in touch can be less nerve-racking and invasive. At one CLF, I remember attendees wore their Twitter handles on their breast instead of name tags. If worse comes to worse, the unfollow button is close at hand. Increasingly, though, these events are organised and, sometimes, take place solely online. Conversely, they can then be a jumping off point to get together tangibly for coffee or as a group at CLF, SlutWalk or #madfuckingwitches protests.

All the Platforms.

Twitter is by far the social media platform that’s enhanced and complimented my feminism the most but there was a time a few years ago when I wasn’t tweeting. As a new and astoundingly self-assured blogger, I contacted and friended on Facebook fellow writers like there was no tomorrow: Rachel Hills, Sarah Ayoub, Camilla Peffer, the list goes on. I had coffee with Sarah prior to Rachel’s session about her book, The Sex Myth, at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House last weekend, and Camilla is one of the first bloggers I met IRL after connecting with online, who stayed at my house when she moved from Perth to Melbourne and who I often attend CLF monthly events with.

Lesser-known, upcoming platforms like Peach allow you to sequester all your femmo friends in one place without eliciting the ire of #NotAllMen’s everywhere, as well as create a safe space for open discussion. Tumblr has long been a source of alternative content, activism and love-sharing. One recent example: Safe Schools launched a Tumblr where young queer people can share their stories about what the initiative means to them and the people that will most be affected by the program: queer school kids.

A Community of Changemakers.

Though it can be a place of harassment, abuse, doxing and GamerGate, Twitter is also, like Peach and Tumblr, a place where women can agitate and, being a far more popular platform, create large-scale change. For example, survivors of sexual assault by music publicist Heathcliff Berru came together on Twitter to out the abuse in January, while reports are surfacing that Dr. Luke, accused of sexually assaulting Kesha, has been let go by Sony amidst both online and IRL protests to #FreeKesha.

On a smaller scale, Twitter allows those whose voices may be stifled in other areas to simply have a voice. That, in itself, can be a radical act. As editor of online magazine The New Inquiry Ayesha Siddiqi told The Guardian, “New platforms like Twitter are also more accessible to people who have been traditionally marginalised.”

I asked a trans friend I connected with on Twitter and whose intersectional feminist website I now write for, Jetta Rae Robertson, how the app factors into her online life. “A lot of to-do is made about how social media is not a kind place—but the meatspace… is also not a kind place, and after a long day of getting catcalled, followed into the bathroom or having people roll their eyes at me when I correct their pronouns, it’s nice to have a group of friends who will get into therapeutic little fan rants and shitpost exchanges on… feminism. In a lot of ways, Twitter has helped me lower my guard around people who I’d assume aren’t worth the effort.”

To return to Celeste Liddle, her banning from Facebook is illustrative of the white male supremacy governing the site. This is not to say that Twitter and other social networks aren’t ruled similarly, but it’s mighty suspect that an Indigenous woman was restricted from Facebook while corporations such as The Daily Mail and the ABC were able to share articles referencing Celeste’s plight on the platform but remain unbanned. Twitter and her own blog remained the only social media available to Celeste during this time.

The Personal is Technological.

Jazmine Hughes, the editor of New York Times Magazine and formerly of The Hairpin, wrote about finding friendship online, saying that “The Internet is where I’ve found all my friends.”

“It’s easy to dismiss friendships that originate online as superficial,” Hughes continues, “with the broad assertion that no one is their ‘true’ self online, but instead a distilled curation of snapshots, quips and restaurant check-ins, all rolled into one cohesive personal ‘brand.’ But why can’t our social media presences serve as a primer to our real-life selves, a tangible way to say, ‘What you see is what you get?’ There’s a person behind that hashtag.”

For me, too, Twitter is a space where I can be myself, a lot of the time free from expectations and prejudices of family, coworkers and other miscellaneous acquaintances I’m still “friends” with on Facebook in a half-hearted attempt to keep up appearances and in contact should the need arise. It is where I can voice my opinion about controversial topics such as asylum seekers, reproductive rights and professional wrestling without judgement, passive aggressive comments or downright bigoted responses. Whereas Facebook is the fake-smiling family/high school reunion version, Twitter is representative of my true self. I think a lot of my Twitter-cum-real life friends would agree.

Elsewhere: [Cherchez la Femme] About.

[Girls on Film Festival]

[Pesky Feminist] How the Internet Has Become a Battleground for Women’s Rights.

[New Matilda] Looking Past White Australia & White Feminism.

[New Matilda] Kim Kardashian VS. Aboriginal Culture: Only One of These Images Has Been Banned by Facebook.

[The Daily Dot] What the Debate Over Kim Kardashian’s Race Says About the Changing Face of America.

[Bey Dance]

[SlutWalk Melbourne]

[The Safe Schools Story Project]

[Jezebel] How Women on Twitter Brought Down a Music Publicist Accused of Sexual Assault.

[Daily Life] Kesha & Dr. Luke: Sony “to Cut Producer Loose”.

[The Guardian] Ayesha Siddiqi: “We Need to Stop Waiting for Permission to Write.”

[Harlot] Does the LFL Have a Place in the Women’s Sport Revolution?

[Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist] Statement Regarding the Facebook Banning.

[The New York Times] The Internet Can Make Real Life Friendships Easier.

The Kardashians Are Better Than You.

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This article was originally published on The Vocal.

The Kardashian family burst onto the scene in 2007 with their groundbreaking reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. What began as a vehicle to spin Kim Kardashian’s career into something other than being famous for a leaked sex tape has evolved into a global brand, parlaying itself into fashion and lifestyle, multi-million dollar mobile games and sold out lip kits. We’re often quick to write the family off as fame-whores with no discernible talent, but the Kardashians have proved in recent years, especially with the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner as trans, that they’re compassionate people with human problems rather than money-hungry robots. And here’s how that might just make them better than you.

Despite a few stumbles in the early seasons of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim and her family have seldom expressed shame at having one of Kim’s most intimate moments caught on camera and distributed for the world to see. Instead, Kim uses her oft-discussed visage as a commodity, raking in money not only from the sex tape and the reality show but from Playboy shoots, “breaking the internet” for Paper magazine and as an avatar in her very own video game, encapsulating all aspects of media.

The release of the sisters’ mobile apps last year further cemented the Kardashian brand, allowing unprecedented access to their lives even more so than KUWTK and Instagram provides. Youngest sibling Kylie routinely makes headlines with her risque Snapchats, revealing app videos and the aforementioned lip kits in perhaps a testament to the effects of fame on young Hollywood.

But Kendall and Kylie’s professional acumen at such a young age is more likely a byproduct of coming from a family of such strong business women. Kim has spoken about how she never stops working and Kris is depicted as always commandeering some business venture or another. Even when getting their makeup done for a photoshoot or being filmed hanging out at home on KUWTK, the Kardashians are still working to promote their brand. Perhaps we’re hesitant to see it as work since our own working lives so scarcely resemble that of the Kardashians. Or maybe we devalue their empire because it’s one helmed by women and women who simultaneously uphold (perfect makeup, hourglass figures, flowing hair) and tear down (revealing the work that goes into looking flawless, Kim speaking about her ambivalence towards pregnancy) many aspects of modern femininity at that.

Instead of applying credit where credit is due, those who denounce the family are quick to remind us of Kim’s beginnings as if having, enjoying and filming sex is unspeakable and, furthermore, that everything she’s done since then hasn’t eclipsed it.

Similarly, as if sex and compassion were mutually exclusive, Kim and the rest of the Kardashians have proven to be more compassionate than many of their detractors when Caitlyn Jenner, their put-upon, ignored and shuffled-to-the-side dad came out publicly as a trans woman in April 2015.

Making the revelation to Diane Sawyer in an interview with 20/20, Jenner said she identified as a woman and would begin transitioning, which was further explored in a two-part Keeping Up with the Kardashians special, “About Bruce” (when she was then going by her birth name and male pronouns).

When Jenner posed for the cover of Vanity Fair that June, asking to be called by her preferred name and female pronouns, the response from the general public was mixed. Some assertions I heard around the watercooler and read in the news about Jenner were that she was “actually pretty” or “hot for a guy” (:|) while others were more overtly transphobic, continually deadnaming her and who can forget the time In Touch Weekly photoshopped Jenner’s face onto the body of another woman before her coming out. Think pieces abounded from the likes of Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, who urged us not to focus on Jenner’s looks and provided the necessary balance missing from the commentary.

Meanwhile, the Kardashians eventually went on talk shows and took to social media, as Kardashians are wont to do, explaining how they came to terms with Jenner’s coming out. Khloe was perhaps the most obviously unsure as to how to proceed, which was a large focus of seasons ten and eleven of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Jenner’s subsequent reality show, I Am Cait. Jenner is still often called “Dad” in clips from the Kardashian konglomerate’s shows, again illustrating that if anyone needs time (and privacy!) to come to terms with Jenner’s transition, it is her family, not the peanut gallery.

The argument can be made that when the Kardashians invited us into their lives nine years ago—and with their continued exposure via their apps and social media, as well as the situations they choose to get themselves into on screen—they forfeited their right to privacy. But I’m not sure the Kardashians want privacy. Instead, they choose to be strategic about what gets shown, how it gets shown and when.

Everything they’ve done since 2007 has been measured and adhered to a strict timeline. It either addresses the big issues like Caitlyn’s coming out or deals with Kanye’s Twitter rants and Rob hooking up with Kim’s ex-best friend and Kylie’s boyfriend’s ex Blac Chyna (phew! hard to keep up there) in their own time and way. There is a reason for Caitlyn revealing herself as trans via a series of media appearances and that is for maximised impact and to ensure the rest of the family can address it. History shows the Kardashians will wait to address Rob’s new relationship and Kanye’s social media references in future episodes of KUWTK. The media can have a frenzy over these things as much as they like but they’ll have to wait to get the official word from the main source itself, which gives them a kind of power.

With their wholehearted embrace of fame comes things like role model status, however tenuous, and the buzzed-about “visibility” for the trans community that many other trans people don’t have the luxury of. This is evident in some of the interactions between Jenner and the trans women she meets during the first season of I Am Cait, like Blossom and Chandi, who are marginalised because of their race and financial and trans statuses, things Jenner is still coming to terms with and will hopefully be addressed further in the show’s second season.

Jenner’s acceptance by her family is yet another luxury trans people often don’t have. If the Kardashians are indeed as shallow as we often prescribe them to be, then they could have shunned Jenner upon her coming out and it might have been expected of them, especially thanks to the shallow and vacuous stigma often aimed at reality TV celebrities. Instead, they flip those expectations on the head and choose to accept Jenner and embrace her coming out. Of course, they do so knowing they have a huge financial juggernaut and brand empire to cushion them from the stigmas other families with trans members might face, showing their immense privilege in this situation, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

It’s important to understand the things Jenner has access to as a rich, famous woman, which I Am Cait attempts to do at a surface level. Look at the way Jenner is sequestered in her own Malibu mountaintop fortress, where her friends and family come to her lest she risk going out and being hounded by the paparazzi. Jenner was able to undergo facial feminisation surgery before her Vanity Fair cover, as discussed on “About Bruce”. She’s able to take road trips to trans activist centres and camps along the West Coast to learn more about gender identity and what it means to be a role model. She’s been named Glamour’s Woman of the Year and one of Time magazine’s People of the Year despite saying less than inclusive things when promoting these accolades. Considering trans people are four times more likely to be living in poverty than cis people in America, and 41% of trans and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, Jenner’s privilege is far removed from much of the community she’s become an overnight spokesperson for. With I Am Cait, we can learn from Jenner as she navigates these stumbling blocks.

For those who understand the adversities faced by the general trans community, it’s clear that Caitlyn Jenner and the Kardashians aren’t the most representative example of their reality and experiences. But, as is evident in the abovementioned transphobic responses to Jenner’s coming out, not many people are, in which case America’s first family is an important touchstone to understanding transgender issues with empathy and acceptance.

So, instead of deriding the family for every magazine cover and Instagram post maybe we can watch a few episodes of KUWTK or actually listen to what’s coming out of Kim’s mouth when she’s interviewed.

Whether we like it or not, the Kardashians are representative of the state of fame and power in our culture and, in using their popularity for a good cause, they just might be better than you after all.

Elsewhere: [Ad Week] After Conquering Reality TV, Kim Kardashian is Taking the Mobile World by Storm.

[Entertainment Tonight] Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kit Sells Out in Seconds, Now on eBay for 10 Times the Price.

[MTV] Kylie Jenner Clears the Air on that ” High as F__k” Snapchat Video.

[Style Caster] Kylie Jenner Reveals Lip Kit Packaging on Her App—And It’s Predictably Suggestive.

[YouTube] E! News: Kylie Jenner Admits to Doing What to Her Lips?!

[YouTube] Ellen: Are Kim & Kanye Going to Have More Kids?

[Complex] In Touch Magazine Photoshopped Bruce Jenner to Look Like a Woman.

[Laverne Cox] Caitlyn Jenner Cover of Time Magazine.

[Cosmopolitan] Khloe Kardashian: “It’s Hard When, You Know, Dad’s Wearing a Dress.”

[Complex] Waiting on the Jenners: What Happened When Kendall & Kylie Came to Melbourne.

[Think Progress] What Bruce Jenner’s Interview Means for Trans Visibility.

[Time] Caitlyn Jenner on Privilege, Reality TV & Deciding to Come Out.

[The Advocate] Trans Americans Four Times More Likely to Live in Poverty.

[Vocativ] Transgender Suicide Attempt Rates Are Staggering.

[The Root] Cosmo Was Right: Why the Kardashians Are America’s First Family.

Image via TKM.

Has The Rock Lost His Electricity?

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 22. Republished with permission.

We last saw The Rock at WrestleMania 32, when he contributed to the continued burial of the Wyatt Family by defeating Erick Rowan in six seconds and beating down Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman with the surprise assist of John Cena. The injured fourth member, Luke Harper, didn’t get a WrestleMania moment but it’s hard to argue that he got the raw end of that deal.

The Rock had been harping on about how he would electrify AT&T Stadium since December last year, so expectations were high. But they didn’t include him entering to an introduction by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders (especially after the historical retiring of the Divas Championship, the inauguration of the WWE Women’s Championship and the accompanying press release stating that women’s wrestlers will henceforth be addressed as female Superstars) and setting an erection of his name on fire with a flamethrower like he was Chyna (RIP) in the poorly received segment. Was it when he derided Bray Wyatt—the man billed as the new face of fear and successor of The Undertaker—as a hot pocket-eating, gimmicky joke that The Rock lost his electricity?

No.

Was it when he did chiefly the same thing to New Day in January by mocking their unicorn horns and calling Big E a woman (not The Rock’s first transphobic joke. Also, what’s more insulting than femininity?) and, frankly, coming across as out of touch and stale on the mic compared to the charismatic witticisms of New Day? While it did highlight that The Rock is arguably out of step with what wrestling fans want, it wasn’t then that he misplaced his electricity.

It could be deduced that it was a year prior at the Royal Rumble when The Rock aligned himself with his cousin, Roman Reigns, who has been anointed to follow in the steps of Cena, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and The Rock himself as WWE’s “Chosen One”, to a chorus of boos. Evidently, not even The Rock could get Reigns over.

But perhaps it goes back even further than that, to WrestleMania 29, when he met his Dallas compatriots on the opposite side of the ring in a rematch from the year prior, WrestleMania XXVIII, which was dubbed as a “once in a lifetime” event. It’s hard to believe in the electricity of an allegedly one-time-only occurrence when it happened again only a year later.

Many would say it was when The Rock took a hiatus from WWE in 2001 to film a cameo in The Mummy Returns, which parlayed itself into his debut carrying a feature film, 2002’s The Scorpion King. Modest success throughout the ’00s in action films Walking Tall and The Rundown and comedy The Tooth Fairy followed, but he garnered perhaps the most praise in scene-stealing bit parts in Be Cool, Get Smart and Pain & Gain. 2011 saw The Rock’s casting as Hobbs in Fast Five, the re-emergence of the franchise as the pre-eminent action series perhaps not wholly unrelated to The Rock’s own rise. The Rock, going by his birth name Dwayne Johnson, is now the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Wrestling fans are notoriously disdainful of anyone who achieves fame outside of wrestling. The Miz, Batista and Eva Marie come to mind, with The Rock being the most obvious example. This could be why his most recent returns to WWE have been met with a lukewarm response from fans. It could also be because they have largely included the burying of younger, arguably more electrifying talent. Or maybe it’s just that The Rock’s character is actually shit.

Back in the Attitude Era, his cocky, overblown facade was a perfect match for the larger-than-life characters he shared the ring with: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Mankind and The Undertaker. In the crossover period between Reality and New Eras, though, his misogynist, predictable schtick that often borders on stream-of-consciousness nonsense seems tired and embarrassing. No one but little kids (who could be said to be WWE’s target audience) are entertained by llama penis jokes and, in a climate where women in sport are slowly but surely being taken more seriously, his sexist, slut-shaming encounters with Lana are cringe-worthy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about Dwayne Johnson, the real man behind the character, who by all accounts is one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. His Instagrams illustrate his penchants for saving puppies, celebrating the birth of his second daughter with fiance Lauren Hashian and modestly throwing back to a time when he was poor and homeless. He possesses a warm smile, a big heart and a red carpet and on-screen presence that confirms his status as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet who can sell the shit out of dime-a-dozen disaster movies and campy, male-sexualisation romps on the back of the success of films like Magic Mike.

So where is this guy on WWE television?

Think back to how many wrestlers who are great on the mic have tanked it in their crossover attempts, such as Triple H. For some reason, they just don’t translate. Could the reverse be what happens to The Rock when he makes his obligatory returns to promote his latest blockbuster once or twice a year? Or is it simply a case of having outgrown the industry that gave him his start? Surely, with ten movies in various stages of production, not to mention his HBO show Ballers, he doesn’t have time to keep up with the constantly evolving WWE Universe.
So, to answer the question posed at the outset: yes, I believe The Rock has lost his electricity. It’s not an indictment of the character or even the man who plays him but rather of a bygone era that insists on holding on while new wrestlers surpass it. WWE is brimming with talent, arguably too much, so why does it insist on bringing back guys like The Rock and the Clique to give new talent the rub? Politically, we know why, but New Day and even Roman Reigns before he was anointed “The Guy” were getting over just fine without them. Wrestling is a deeply nostalgic sport, so there’s always going to be a Legend lurking in the background, but they need to recognise when the flame has been extinguished on their torch and to let the next generation electrify. The Rock has Hollywood: let us savour the charisma of Xavier Woods and Lana while we have them, before they put it to use elsewhere, just like The Rock did.

Related: In Defence of Eva Marie.