California Love: Straight Outta Compton, Tupac Shakur & Misogynoir.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

The surprise smash of the year, Straight Outta Compton, which follows the formation and subsequent breakup of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A., hit Australian screens last week.

The film, produced by its subjects Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomika Woods-Wright, comes at a time when race relations between police and African Americans in the U.S. are fraught, much as they were around the time N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes) was coming up in Compton in the ’80s and the 1992 Los Angeles riots that punctuate the biopic.

There is no doubt that these are important issues and it’s refreshing to see them being dealt with by Hollywood however, as The New York Times claimed of unarmed black teen Michael Brown gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Dre, Cube and E are “no angels”.

Much has been written about the misogynist lyrics in N.W.A.’s music, with songs such as “A Bitch Iz a Bitch”, and its members’ abusive history. Dre’s ex-fiance and the mother of one of his children, R’n’B artist Michel’le, claims he physically abused her during their relationship, while his assault on music journalist Dee Barnes in a nightclub in 1991 is widely known. Female rapper Tairrie B has also alleged that Dre punched her twice in the head and face at an afterparty for the 1990 Grammy Awards.

Much has also been written about these women’s absence from the film in an effort to make its subjects and their plights more palatable to a mainstream audience. Is the inclusion of Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and infamous music producer Suge Knight’s unhinged violence towards randoms who park in his spot and dog fights at Death Row Records really pertinent to the trajectory of N.W.A.? Knight’s reprehensibility aside, why take pains to paint Knight in such a bad light while glossing over Eazy-E’s drug dealing beginnings and Dre’s violence towards women? Surely movie-goers are savvy enough to feel empathy towards characters portrayed with nuance, truth and humanity.

Speaking of Tupac Shakur, his brief cameo in Straight Outta Compton (where he is played by Marcc Rose) betrays his prolific rap career that extends to this day despite his death in 1996 at the age of twenty-five. Though his music is at risk of slipping away according to the new generation of Spotify users, he remains my favourite rapper despite the dichotomy between his progressive lyrics and significantly less so actions. (My fave is problematic.)

His portrayal in the film also comes at a time when Dre and Knight took him under their Death Row wing upon his release from prison (the company posted his $1.4 million bail) for the sexual assault of a young black woman in a hotel room in 1993. During Shakur’s incarceration he became the first artist to simultaneously have a number one album on the Billboard charts and be in prison. And we wonder where our reluctance to vilify violent and criminal men who happen to create stuff we like comes from.

Unlike much of N.W.A.’s music, Shakur wrote many pro-women lyrics that can be heard in “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. So how do we reconcile his apparent entitlement to women’s bodies with said lyrics?

“Keep Ya Head Up”, for example, could be held up as a feminist anthem that extols reproductive freedom, safety from sexual assault and gender equality in general:

“And since we all came from a woman

Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman

I wonder why we take from our women

Why we rape our women, do we hate our women

I think it’s time to kill for our women

Time to heal our women, be real to our women

And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies

That will hate the ladies that make the babies

And since a man can’t make one

He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”

On the other hand, Shakur’s missive could be seen as a precursor to songs such as John Mayer’s “Daughters”; a Nice Guy™ who wants a cookie for demonstrating basic human decency towards people of the opposite sex and other minorities.

But I’m not sure that’s the case with Shakur; released posthumously and featuring Shakur’s side band the Outlawz, “Baby Don’t Cry” explores similar themes to “Keep Ya Head Up” and is actually dually billed as “Keep Ya Head Up Part II”. With shared narration by Shakur, Edi Amin and Young Noble, the song empathises with the molestation, rape, teen parenthood, drug addiction and poverty of a young black woman.

Furthermore, one of Shakur’s best-known singles and Mother’s Day staple “Dear Mama” sifts through the rapper’s mummy issues. Shakur’s mother Afeni was a member of the Black Panther political party, a drug addict, and pregnant with Shakur whilst serving jail time for domestic terrorism charges. The single mother–helmed family moved around the U.S. often and lacked stability. Much of this is rapped about in “Dear Mama”:

“And I could see you coming home after work late

You’re in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate

You just working with the scraps you was given

And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’”

And:

“And even as a crack fiend, mama

You always was a black queen, mama

I finally understand

For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man

You always was committed

A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it”

As illustrated above, Shakur muses often about “black queens” and makes explicit reference to them in both “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. The strong black woman trope, as explained by Trudy from the black womanist blog Gradient Lair, portrays black women as “unfeeling objects to project pain on based on compliments of us being ‘strong,’ a word often used as permission to dehumanise [us]”. In “Keep Ya Head Up”, Shakur challenges this notion, acknowledging that “Because there’s too many things for you to deal with/Dyin’ inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.”

This empathy for beaten down women extends all the way back through Shakur’s discography to his debut single, “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Inspired by a newspaper article, Shakur raps about a pre-teen who was raped by a cousin, fell pregnant, briefly abandoned her baby in the garbage but had a change of heart and decided to raise the child on her own. She turns to drug dealing and sex work, and eventually ends up as the headline, “Prostitute found slain and Brenda’s her name”.

And in “Wonder Why They Call U Bitch”, Shakur makes it clear he feels a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body, whether that be “Giv[ing] it up free/or make your money on the corner,” but not everyone in his ’hood feels that way. Harkening back to “Keep Ya Head Up” again: “I was given this world, I didn’t make it.”

To be sure, the misogynoir (the intersection between blackness and femaleness) of gangsta rap, and wider culture in general, is rife in Shakur’s music. In “All About U”, Shakur, Snoop and Nate Dogg et al. rap about the “tricks”, “bitches”, “hoochies” and “sluts”—groupies, essentially—who are only after rap stars’ fame and money. Juxtaposed with Shakur’s other music mentioned above, he implies that there are different kinds of women, those worthy of respect and those who aren’t.

Echoes of this notion can be heard in Ice Cube’s recent defence of his misogynist lyrics:

“If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us… If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us. If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defence of these despicable females. Just like I shouldn’t be jumping to the defence of no punks or no cowards or no slimy son of a bitches that’s men. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”

One  would assume drug dealers and wife beaters would fall under the category of punks, cowards and slimy sons of bitches yet Cube continues to keep company with Dre…

*

In Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giammati), defends the group when they’re roughhoused by police outside of the studio. “They’re artists. They’re rappers.”

“Rap is not an art,” a white police officer replies.

A lot has changed since the mid ’80s, with performers such as Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Kanye, Kendrick and Nicki helping to redefine the rap game into something explicitly resembling art.

Which leads us to ask, can we separate the men from their art? Straight Outta Compton attempts it by denying us any real insight into its subjects. Surely audiences are smart enough to feel empathy for victims of racial profiling, police brutality and human rights abuses who also happen to victimise people themselves. But in such a racially fraught time, maybe Straight Outta Compton’s producers (who are also, without question, protecting themselves) couldn’t risk providing White Audiences with any ammunition against this plight.

Elsewhere: [NYTimes] Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling with Problems & Promise.

[NYTimes] Dr. Dre Apologises to the “Women I’ve Hurt.”

[The Daily Beast] Suge Knight’s Shocking Rap Sheet.

[Yahoo!] 50 Cent’s Sales Slide.

[Pudding] The Most Timeless Songs of All Time.

[Your Fave is Problematic] Homepage.

[Gradient Lair] What the 20-Year-Old Tupac Song “Keep Ya Head Up” Means to Me as a Womanist.

[Gradient Lair] Explanation of Misogynoir.

[Rolling Stone] N.W.A. Tell All: Inside the Original Gangstas’ Rolling Stone Cover Story.

[Jezebel] Was Banning Tyler, the Creator the Victory International Feminism Needed?

[Reappropriate] When White Audiences Have Problems with TV Diversity.

The Guilt That Comes With Putting Down Your Pet.

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The first time my dog, Mia, presented with symptoms of a UTI or bladder infection that actually stemmed from the kidney problem that would kill her was right before I went to Sydney for the weekend. She was put on antibiotics, incontinence medication and given a topical cream for the irritation caused by incessantly licking her lady parts. My sister looked after her while I was away.

The second time was while I was right before I became homeless and I was so stressed out I cried—I rarely cry—to the very lovely and maternal veterinarian when she couldn’t offer me any answers as to Mia’s prognosis.

Though there’s never a good time for an animal to get sick, Mia’s recurring UTIs and subsequent vet appointments over the ten months prior to her death always presented themselves at inopportune times, such as housesitting obligations or an overseas trip. The most recent visit, which turned out to be her last, was right before my mum came from out of town to stay with me and we went to see Paul McCartney. Though I wasn’t all that interested in seeing him perform personally, it was a $350 60th birthday present that I didn’t really want to throw down the drain, especially when staring down the barrel of a $4000 kidney surgery.

She would never have that surgery.

I got the news the morning of the concert that Mia was too weak, took old and had too many other health problems to be a viable candidate for surgery. Though teary throughout the day, I pushed my feelings down in order to keep the date. Should I have spent that time with Mia instead and put her down a day sooner so as not to prolong her pain?

Though the medical records showing her frequent vet visits over the past 18 months (because the symptoms of what I now know was kidney failure were present long before the frequent and painful UTIs) and reassurance from multiple vets in the last days of her life  will attest that I did all I could for Mia, it doesn’t stop the what ifs. What if I had’ve sought out a specialist sooner? What if I realised her loss of appetite and heavy breathing in her last week wasn’t just her usual shunning of food for a few days and dislike of hot weather but symptomatic of something larger? What if I had more of a disposable income to pay for the surgery that would have likely killed her in the off chance that it didn’t? What if she was still the good dog she was before she got sick?

I not only miss her, but I miss the dog she used to be. I miss taking her on long walks and the joy we both got from her frolicking off leash. I miss watching her suckle her soft toys like they were pacifiers. I miss her sitting on the bed or couch next to me and not leaving a puddle of urine in her wake. I’ve since gotten a new dog, Lola, who has behavioural issues from being abused, which makes me miss Mia’s well-trained and easy going demeanor.

Though it’s shameful, I resented Mia in her last month or so. On her worst days, I thought it would be easier if she was dead, not so much to put her out of her misery but because she was becoming an inconvenience to me. She was such a good dog for so long, and on the days I’d get glimpses of that dog, I’d feel so bad for ever wishing that upon her. Now that she’s actually gone I’m wracked with guilt. Did I talk about it too much and will her death into existence? Admitting that I thought those things might make me the worst (former) dog-mum in the world but maybe there are other people dealing with sick animals who also have those uncomfortable reflections. If so, I want them to know that their feelings are valid.

2017 toppled 2016 as the worst year. I became homeless, in large part because I wanted to stop hiding Mia which is increasingly hard when you can only afford to lease an apartment in a major city, finally moving into a pet-friendly rental only six weeks before her death. Though I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, I have to wonder what the upheaval of my and Mia’s lives in the last year was even for.

Observing a chart on the wall of the veterinarian’s surgery, it’s estimated the average cost of dog ownership—assuming everything went smoothly and the extent of vet visits was a yearly checkup—was $750 dollars. The friend who was by my side throughout this whole ordeal and whose own pets have had major health complications in the past year, too, balked at that estimate. But Mia had always been pretty low maintenance and, in the first few years after I adopted her during which she had no health issues and subsisted on homebrand dog biscuits mixed with a slightly more expensive wet food, gave me little emotional or financial grief. She was a no-fuss dog: as long as she was by my side and I took her for a walk every day, she was happy. Even on the few occasions she would escape the backyard, she’d wait patiently on the other side of the fence, which backed directly onto the street, until my housemate or I would get home!

There was a thunderstorm the day after she died. I looked to make sure she was all tucked up in her bed by the window and I realised I enjoyed the responsibilities that became so burdensome lately. I want to get up at 5:30am to take her for a walk. I want to rush home after work to feed her. I want to brush her teeth and give her her vitamins for her joints every night because I enjoyed looking after her. I would gladly take these slight inconveniences for the heart-filling presence of Mia yelping with excitement before a walk, following me into the toilet and looking around to make sure I was still there when she woke from a nap. Rationally, I’m very self-assured, but for a moment, watching the rain fall, I pondered, who am I if I’m not Mia’s mum?

Elsewhere: [SBS Life] I Can’t Get a Rental Because I Own a Dog. So Now I’m Homeless.

Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People.

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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.

My Favourite Articles That I Wrote in 2016.

2016, it’s fair to say, was a pretty shit year for humanity in general. For me personally, though, it was pretty good. I’ve published the most freelance work I ever have, and I’m writing this from New York City, where I’ve been seeing out the apocalypse (the Mayans were wrong: 2016 is the end of their calendar and, thus, the world) for the past two months. Here are some of my favourite things I’ve published this year.

“Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People” & “The Kardashians Are Better Than You”The Vocal.

Some of the most fun I’ve had writing was for The Vocal and I think these were two of my best pieces. I love writing about controversial issues and controversial women, and these two subjects certainly tick those boxes.

“Kim Kardashian: Our Modern-Day Monroe”, The Big Smoke.

Similarly, what’s more controversial than comparing perhaps the most reviled woman in contemporary culture with the iconic, though equally disdained, Marilyn Monroe?

“In Defence of Eva Marie”Calling Spots.

And in the wrestling world, who is more controversial than Total Divas star Eva Marie? I wrote in defence of her for Calling Spots magazine.

“Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit”, Harlot.

Short-lived feminist site Harlot let me write about what a travesty it was that woman wrestler Chyna wasn’t inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. She died a month later.

“The State of Women’s Wrestling”SBS Zela.

Writing for SBS’s now-shuttered women’s sports site Zela was one of the defining moments in my career. A writer and editor I’ve long admired (but who I thought didn’t even know I existed!) recommended me to Zela editor Danielle Warby to cover the women’s wrestling renaissance. My favourite piece was an overview of the year in women’s wrestling up to that point in one of my last articles for the site.

“Nia Jax: Not Like Most Girls”, “Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny” &  “A Woman’s Place Should Be in the White House—And in the Cell”Intergender World Champs.

With Zela and Harlot shutting down, I was without a place to write about women’s wrestling for a time. Then along came Intergender World Champs, for which I’ve written an assortment of things.

“Why Celebrities Prefer Empowerment to Feminism”Daily Life.

I’d long been thinking about “women’s empowerment” and what it even means, and I got to write about it for my first piece for Daily Life, an outlet I’d been trying to crack for years.

“Trading in the Beauty Economy”feminartsy.

I’d been pushing words around in this piece for ages and feminartsy allowed me to publish it.

“The James Deen Allegations: How Porn Sets the Example for Responding to Sexual Assault”Archer.

My first piece for Archer was a look at the rape allegations against James Deen and what mainstream industries can learn from porn’s response to them.

“This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet”Junkee.

Getting paid to write about things you enjoy doing is a pretty good gig.

“Women of The People VS. OJ Simpson, The Big Smoke.

Ditto.

“Why An Australian Woman Felt Compelled to Go Door-to-Door Campaigning for Hillary Clinton”Daily Life.

Though not my last published piece for 2016, what better way to cap off a tumultuous year than by writing about volunteering for Hillary Clinton?!