Event: Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

tavi gevinson melbourne writers festival

The coup of the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival, which kicked off late last week, is undoubtedly 17-year-old blogging wunderkind Tavi Gevinson.

Her keynote address on Friday night at the Athenaeum Theatre sold out in a matter of hours, and we were stuck up the very top, practically in the rafters, which is what we get for arriving nigh on 6pm. Anyone who’s been on the internet in the past five years can see why Tavi is so popular; she’s an anomaly who attended fashion weeks before she was in her teens and now runs one of the best online magazines out there for not only young girls, but people in general, called Rookie. If I can’t be Tavi or have her as a friend, I’d like to know how, as Carrie Bickmore mused on The Project, to make a child like her. She’s got her shit exponentially more together than most adults I know.

Having said that, though, I’ve never been a die-hard Tavi fan. It wasn’t until she launched Rookie and started writing about feminism that I really caught what she was kicking. Her TEDx talk sealed the deal for me.

So apart from what I read on Twitter and in the odd interview, there was much that was new to me in Tavi’s talk. For example, I didn’t realise what a stone cold geek she is. If anyone else revealed they colour-coded Beyonce and Taylor Swift lyrics and made maps of the locations mentioned in Lana Del Rey songs I would have thought them tightly-wound nerds. (This coming from someone who spent hours cataloguing pictures from WWE.com by wrestler, colour-codes her bookshelf, and still stuck pictures of celebrities all over my school books well into university, mind you.) But Tavi has an endearing authenticity (which was a theme that ran through her talk) about being a “professional fangirl”. Her mantra, which I’m now going to adopt, is “let others like stuff the way you like stuff unto you.”

When many kids her age are more concerned with partying and their iPhones, it’s amazing that someone who’s still in high school and runs a business that sees her jetsetting across the world (and road tripping across the country) has time to compile in-depth journals about “Strange Magic” (the synchronicity of a location reminding you of a song reminding you of a memory reminding you of a movie reminding you of another song…) in between utilising her “pop culture tools” (the books, movies, tv shows and music that take her to her happy place; another Tavism I’m stealing).

I am so in awe of Tavi, honestly. It takes so much courage to reveal her fangirl idiosyncrasies to worldwide audiences whilst going through the awkwardness that is adolescence. Again, how do I make one of her…?

Elsewhere: [The Project] Tavi Gevinson.

[Rookie] Rookie Road Trip.

Image via MWF.

Event: The Reading Hour 2013.

It’s that time of year again—National Reading Hour—and last year for the event I chronicled the books I’d read and what I thought of them and thought I’d do something similar this year.

Without further ado, here’s an incomplete list (I threw out my day planner from last year in which I’d pencilled in time for reading certain publications so some of this is from memory) of the books I’ve read since then.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog & of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andre O’Hagan.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

After the Fall by Arthur Miller.

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later by Francine Pascal.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Night Games by Anna Krien.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Feminism & Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler.

What books have you been reading in the past year?

Related: The Reading Hour.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Review.

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

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf Review.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

Event: Kin Collaborative’s Gaga & Assange at MUD Festival.

kin collaborative gaga assange

Lady Gaga and Julian Assange are two of the most recognisable names and faces in the world, so it was inevitable that someone would conceive a musical about the two.

And that someone is William Hannagan, the writer and co-director of Kin Collaborative’s MUD Festival entry, Gaga & Assange, a what-if reimagining of their meeting at Assange’s current home at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last year. Hannagan describes Gaga & Assange as “a hypothetical romp with songs of epic pure pop proportions,” and it certainly was.

I thought Gaga & Assange was going to be a lot darker from the “leaked” trailer and premise of sex tapes and STIs, but I was pleasantly surprised by the campiness and outright hilarity of the show. Laura Raiti is the second coming of Gaga, not only physically embodying Mother Monster but tapping into her speech patterns, inflections and mannerisms (I would have liked to see some more paws up, though). And Chris Runciman is a convincing Assange, making an odd and unlikable (from my point of view) man a plausible love interest for Gaga.

The audience could see the themes of hypocrisy, fame and pretension both in the script and the music, composed by Jeremy Russo, which was brilliantly original and would not be out of place on an actual Lady Gaga album. Essentially, Gaga & Assange dealt with the fame and artifice of both figures; Assange may be perceived as the more “serious” of the two, but they both espouse messages of transparency whilst hiding behind embassies and prosthetics, claim to be “freaks” (“I was thrown in the trash!” as a child, Gaga cries) and are slaves to their respective brands.

I will admit the show gets a bit tedious towards the end, going a smidgen too long in my opinion, but on the whole it’s a riotous musical that hits Gaga and Assange’s public personas on the head whilst wondering what goes on under the surface.

Related: [TheatrePress] A Very Gaga Variety Fundraising Night.

Image via Kin Collaborative.

Event: Stella—A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

the wheeler centre stella prize

Last Tuesday the first women’s-only literary prize in Australia—the Stella, after the lesser-known first name of Miles Franklin—was awarded to Carrie Tiffany for her novel Mateship with Birds. On Thursday night, the winner; founding donor, Ellen Koshland, and chairs, Aviva Tuffield and Kerryn Goldsworthy, of the Stella Prize; and panel facilitator Sian Prior met at the Wheeler Centre to discuss the landmark event.

I’m sure most have heard of the dismal representation of female writers being reviewed and writing reviews in major publications, and winning prizes, despite the breakdown of actual books being published by women being pretty even with men. The Stella Prize was born of this with the goal to “put gender on the agenda”, and if the 80% of books by women being shortlisted for the Miles Franklin this year and the accompanying press is any indication, the Stella committee has certainly succeeded in opening up the discourse.

Most of the news media I consume is feminist-, or at least left-, skewed, so everything I’ve read about the Stella has been positive. However, on the panel Tiffany quoted this choice headline from a certain newspaper with this country’s name as its title amidst the news of her win: “Bush Romance Novel Wins Writer’s Prize” [online title differs slightly].

Because all women are capable of writing about is romance, right? Specifically, vampire- and sadomasochistic-romance. But as Prior asserted, if that’s the case, “what’s so wrong with vampire- and sadomasochistic-romance, anyway?”  And romance is a “small subject”, just like all the other “small subjects” apparently only women write about: domestic life, relationships, etc. And on the occasion that a man does write about these topics, they’re looked at through a different “scope” than when a woman tells the story.

stella prize shortlist

While I shamefully haven’t read any of the books on the Stella shortlist (although I did pick up Mateship with Birds and Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard her speak at the Bendigo Writers Festival last year), not all of them subscribe to this “gender of genre” talked about above. Sea Hearts is a fantasy novel, while The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson is speculative fiction. Goldsworthy mentioned that the judges were wary of choosing books that ticked certain boxes; being a genre novel, fact-laden non-ficition, or from an Indigenous woman, for example.

When an audience member asked about Indigenous writers included on the longlist and quotas for them within the Stella prize during question time, Goldsworthy mentioned they didn’t want to “ghettoise” the prize by awarding it to a token Indigenous woman. By using this reasoning for not awarding the Stella to an Indigenous longlistee, doesn’t that just “ghettoise” and “tokenise” the longlist? What’s the point of including them on the longlist at all if they don’t have a chance at the main prize? I noticed a lot of head shaking during Goldsworthy’s answer, including my own, from people presumably on a similar train of thought. Indigenous people are a marginalised group, as are women (despite being more than half of the population and, indeed, about the same number of written word consumers). Born of the need to hear marginalised voices, would the Stella Prize even exist? I hope next year more Indigenous women are selected as contenders, not just for their tokenism.

Related: Bendigo Writers Festival.

Elsewhere: [The Australian] Bush Romance Tale a Stella Achievement.

Event: Midsumma Festival & Women Say Something—Should We Destroy the Joint?

women say something midsumma should we destroy the joint

Prompted by Alan Jones’ admonition that women in parliament and positions of power are “destroying the joint”, which spurred the online feminist movement of the same name, feminist group Women Say Something brought their panel consisting of such high profile Aussie feminists as Tara Moss, Catherine Deveny and Gretel Killeen to the Thornbury Town Hall on Saturday night to ask whether we should, in fact, destroy the joint.

I must say I didn’t know much about Killeen’s feminist credentials prior to the event, but her total rejection of the Destroy the Joint movement, and most modern movements, was the surprise of the night. Killeen said she didn’t really believe in the premise of feminism and that she identifies more as an egalitarian. Tara Moss interjected here, saying that there’s not just one Feminism and that everyone has their own version of what feminism is. While I do support this notion to a certain extent, I think feminism is first and foremost about equality for all, not just for women. And I also take issue with different feminisms for the fact that this allows people like Tony Abbott and Sarah Palin, who are the furthest things from feminism out there, to claim themselves as part of “the club”.

This idea certainly didn’t go undiscussed, either, as Killeen raised the point that modern feminism is always looking for “aggressive marketing terms” like Destroy the Joint, SlutWalk and reclaiming the word cunt to recruit new members, like Abbott, no matter their ideologies and at the risk of offending the general public. Who cares about the general public? They’re always offending me with their sexist, racist and homophobic ways, so why not ruffle some feathers with feminism?

This lead Killeen to ask when feminism became a label that just anyone could apply to themselves. While I agree with this, and it’s the point I tried to make above, it is contradictory to what (my) feminism is about: equality. Moss then raised the argument of who’s more or less of a feminist, which is an issue I struggle with and which I’ve written about before. Someone then said that feminism allows room for discussion and disagreement, which the panellists certainly demonstrated; feminism isn’t a one size fits all movement.

It seems as though Killeen was playing devil’s advocate at first, with all her snubbing of most of the other panelist’s ideas. But as the night progressed, it became clear that she actually has some pretty radical views of human rights. As Catherine Deveny asserted, it’s not about feminism: it just comes down to being an “asshole and not [being an] asshole”. Here, here.

Some current pop cultural issues came up during question time, such as Beyonce’s recent underwear-clad GQ cover and accompanying article in which she espouses some feminist ideals, without actually saying the word itself. (Let’s remember in 2011 that she neither confirmed nor denied that she was a feminist, instead she suggested we create a new word for the movement.) Moss again reiterated the notion of many feminisms and that “if one of them happens to be in their underwear then that’s great,” which I wholeheartedly support (even if I don’t support feminism being thrust upon an undeserving pop star).

If Abbott’s declaration is anything to go by, seemingly every Tom, Dick and Harry are clamouring to get a piece of the feminist pie, what about all the damning of feminism as a “failed” movement? Deveny insisted that, as many a book, blog post, feminist or historian will tell you, feminism is the most successful human rights movement alongside the black civil rights one. Without feminism, we wouldn’t have the Pill, childcare, pay advances, or the vote, amongst a myriad of other rights.

So, should women destroy the joint? As one panellist said (who it was escapes me now), movements like Destroy the Joint and SlutWalk are “training ground[s] for activism”. Killeen suggested, again, that they’re just angry marketing ploys and that they don’t do anything to further our cause. Facilitator Kate Monroe and fellow panellist Casey Jenkins insisted that primarily social media movements are vital in “chipping away” at the patriarchal zeitgeist, and we need that as much as the “fireworks” of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, for example.

On anger, Gillard managed to harness hers at her treatment by pretty much the whole of Australia and turn it into one of Aussie feminism’s most important moments heard ’round the world, regardless of her personal or political beliefs. Many of the panellists (except, again, Killeen) agreed with an audience member’s assertion that anger is an important virtue when it comes to feminism. Far from the archetype of the angry, man-hating, hairy pitted feminist, anger can be fermented into passion which is essential for any feminist and feminist movement, wouldn’t you say?

What do you think? Should we be destroying the joint or do you think there are less radical ways to bring people around to feminism?

Related: Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

Image via Facebook.

Event: Legally Blonde—The Musical Review*.

 

Sydney is the host city for the Australian premiere of Legally Blonde: The Musical, and this time last week, a couple of friends and I came together from two other cities (Melbourne and Perth) to check out the latest import from Broadway.

I first became familiar with the musical version of the ditzy blonde from Bel Air with a heart of gold who makes good at Harvard a few years ago when I watched The Search for Elle Woods on MTV. I’m all over the pop-feminism of the Reese Witherspoon version (in fact, my friends and I gathered around my laptop the night before the stage show to watch the original as our hotel didn’t have a DVD player and the only thing I could fault about it eleven years on is the use of “spastic” and “retard”), and I’ve come to love musicals since seeing Wicked which I use as the benchmark for all theatre, so it was a no-brainer to make the jaunt to Sydney to see the Aussie version, starring Lucy Durack as Elle.

Let me start by saying the highlight of the night was the fact that we actually got to meet Durack, Rob Mills, who plays Warner, Cameron Daddo (Professor Callahan) and I Will Survive winner, Mike Snell as the UPS guy, after the show. Maybe because the theatre was only half full they encourage ticket holders to come to the stage door after the performance to meet the cast, but if you’re a fan of any of the above, you should pop along just for that little extra (or hang out in the back streets of the Lyric Theatre!).

I also thought the elaboration of Elle’s outing at a party dressed as a Playboy bunny was a genius addition to the play, but I might be a little biased: when a fellow party-goer tells Elle she looks like a skank in her costume, she comes up with the defence that she is actually dressed as Gloria Steinem when she went undercover at the Playboy club in 1963 and subsequently wrote the feminist manifesto “I Was a Playboy Bunny”, asking, “Would you call Gloria Steinem a skank?!” Token feminist/(ergo) lesbian Enid blurts out, “Who called Gloria Steinem a skank?!” We cheered and whistled from our third row seats and were pretty well the only ones who got the joke which was made a little more special for me personally as three days later I dressed as that exact incarnation of Gloria Steinem as a Playboy bunny for Halloween!

Perhaps watching the movie the night before the show wasn’t the best idea, as it made me appreciate the flawlessness of the former and the problematic nature of the latter, which I thought was rife with homophobia, racism and utter “what the?!” moments. Durack, Snell, Mills, Erika Heynatz as Brooke Wyndham and real live puppy dogs on stage were superb, but the clunkyness, out-of-place inclusions to the story and the abovementioned problems overshadowed the better aspects of the show.

Staying with the film, I think it’s a truly feminist piece of art because feminism isn’t really mentioned once, despite Enid’s blatant characterisation as a militant feminist, yet Elle exceeds the expectations placed on her based on her sex and sexiness. In the end you love her because she’s an awesome person, not because she’s hot, blonde, has a vagina and wears pink.

In the musical, however, feminism is almost shoved down the audience’s throat, but from an outsider’s perspective, as if the writers said, “Shit, we need to make this a bit more feministy. Quick, what do we think feminists value?” Whereas in the Witherspoon version, Elle truly does make it at Harvard on her own, on stage Emmett’s character features more heavily and he pretty much guides her through her trials and tribulations which Elle takes credit for solving all on her own. Not to worry, though: to really push the feminist point home, Elle proposed to Emmett because, you know, only feminists do those kind of newfangled pro-equality kinds of things.

If the dismal turn out in the session I bought tickets for is any indication, I don’t think Legally Blonde will continue its run to other Australian cities. Unless you live in Sydney, I wouldn’t recommend making the trip to see it.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Time Out Sydney.

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.