In Defence of Millennials.

hillary clinton madeleine albright

Another week, another second wave feminist putting her foot in her mouth.

Around this time last year it was Patricia Arquette, having just won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Boyhood, who urged “all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” as if women are monolithic and don’t have identities that intersect with other marginalised groups. While I’m sure she meant well, and the pay gap is real, she failed to take into account that women of colour are the lowest paid people in America and, while gay marriage may be legal, gay people still face massive discriminations. This is not to mention the trans and disability erasure in Arquette’s call to arms.

In this year’s Oscar race, amidst another all-white cohort of acting nominees, Charlotte Rampling and Julie Delpy made insensitive remarks about the dearth of actors of colour being recognised for their work.

And, perhaps most spectacularly, second-wave feminist foremother Gloria Steinem asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that millennial women prefer Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Presidential nominee because “that’s where the boys are”, while Madeleine Albright employed her famous “women who don’t help other women” quote when campaigning for Sanders’ opponent Hillary Clinton.

This is not the first time I’ve heard older women lamenting the decisions of young women today. In fact, I experience it in my own day-to-day life as I’m sure many reading this do, too. For example, at a work luncheon a full-time colleague berated myself and another millennial co-worker for being part-timers. “Part-time work would have never occurred to me when I left school,” she said incredulously. “It was finish high school, start working, get married and start a family.” Another colleague of a similar age agreed as my fellow college-educated part-timer and I exchanged glances.

It didn’t stop there, though; later in the day we were discussing older, single and child-free people traveling the world. The same colleague who gave me her two cents earlier passed judgment on my single and child-free state (it’s well known throughout the office that I do not want children at any stage in my life), saying that she couldn’t imagine being old and having no one to look after her because she’d been “selfish” and had put marriage and family off.

I’m so sick of hearing the word selfish tossed about when it comes to the decision not to have children. Not being perceived as selfish and giving your whole life over to making sure another person is happy, healthy and doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer for at least 18 years of their life might be important to some people, but others value their time being their own and strive to make sure they themselves are happy, healthy and aren’t entertaining murderous thoughts (which I’m sure children drive their parents to at one time or another!). There’s nothing selfish about knowing that you don’t have the time, energy, money, mental health and the myriad other attributes necessary to raise children. If anything, the biological imperative to carry your genes on to the next generation and to have someone to look after you when you’re old are two of the most selfish reasons to have kids.

And to return to Steinem’s comments, young women are either boy crazy because they won’t commit to one man (and it’s always a man; no room for non-heteronormative/monogamous relationships here), or undateable prudes because they won’t commit to one man. I can barely keep up on what aspects of my life are deemed unacceptable.

But if older generations think we’re so problematic, I have this to say to them: you’re the ones who raised us. When you’re pissed that we won’t get off the couch and help with the housework, it’s because you didn’t make us. If you’re pissed that we’re mooching off your paycheck or superannuation, it’s because you didn’t instill a strong enough work ethic in us. If Gloria Steinem’s pissed that we’re not more politically engaged (which I think is a complete overstatement), maybe it’s because many of the candidates have proven themselves to be out of touch with what young voters want and/or are just plain sociopaths (Donald Trump, I’m looking at you).

For the record, I don’t think the state of millennials in society is as dire as Steinem et al. would have us believe. I may work part time, but I also freelance. Last year, I had two additional jobs and the year before that I had two internships. As far as job loyalty goes, I’ve been consistently employed in my primary part-time job for six and a half years (and I’m up for long service leave this year!), while the part-time gig I had before that I worked in for seven. A few of my friends work to travel, and another is working in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet! We’re more educated than our parents and we’re more likely to volunteer and get involved in community projects. Gloria Steinem was a grassrooter from way back, but how many activist campaigns in recent years have been started by millennials? There’s the Occupy movement, SlutWalk, #illridewithyou, Love Makes a Way, #BlackLivesMatter. In the corporate sector, Mark Zuckerberg created the most popular social media platform in the world, Facebook, while Jennifer Lawrence was 2015’s highest-grossing female movie star. (The highest grossing male movie stars are mostly older white men until Channing Tatum makes an appearance on the list at number 13, which perhaps says something about the determination and drive of young women more so than millennial men.) Millennials are hardly left wanting for ways to make an impact on the world.

One career from high school graduation until retirement may have cut it for our predecessors, and certainly there are many people of my generation who have the view to stay in the field they graduated in, but that’s increasingly not the way it works. Furthermore, secure employment isn’t as important to as many of us as it was to our parents, especially as many young people will never own a home. The somewhat-tired phrase “work/life balance” and making a contribution to society in our earlier years are anecdotally what millennials value most.

To return to Steinem’s sentiments, if women get more radical as they age (which I believe to be true, at least in the sense that women do lose power) then they should really be supporting Sanders, whose politics are far more radically socialist than Hillary Clinton’s, who still supports the death penalty, for example, an issue which many young people oppose. To urge women to vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman (and not because she’s clearly the more experienced, diplomatic and better equipped candidate to lead a country) is regressive, reductive and, quite frankly, sexist.

Sure, there are plenty of young people who give the rest of us a bad name just as there are many older people, such as the ones mentioned above, who verify their out-of-touch and change-resistant stereotype. Young people and young women are very engaged in the political process as we find new ways to get our voices heard about the issues we’re passionate about which don’t always happen to be the ones our forebearers deem we should be.

Elsewhere: [Centre for American Progress] Women of Colour & the Gender Wage Gap.

[Guardian] Oscars 2016: Charlotte Rampling Says Diversity Row is “Racist to White People”.

[Daily Mail] Julie Delpy Weighs In On Oscar Diversity Issue Saying It’s Harder Being a Woman in Hollywood.

[Guardian] Albright: “Special Place in Hell” for Women Who Don’t Support Clinton.

[The White House] 15 Economic Facts About Millennials.

[National Conference on Citizenship] Two Special Generations: The Millennials & The Boomers.

[Silence Without] #illridewithyou.

[Junkee] An Interview with Jarrod McKenna On “Love Makes a Way”, Asylum Seekers & Christian Activism.

[Black Lives Matter] Homepage.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actresses 2015: Jennifer Lawrence Leads with $52 Million.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actors 2015: Channing Tatum.

[Sydney Morning Herald] “We’ve Just Given Up on Buying”: Young Australians Go Backwards as Old Get Richer.

[Skepchick] Hillary Clinton is Not My Feminist Hero.

[Vox] Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Have a Rare, Real Debate Over the Death Penalty.

Image via Wall Street Journal.

Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

charlotte flair rainmaker inc

This article originally appeared in The Tag Rope Issue 6. Republished with permission.

Women’s wrestling has experienced a resurgence of sorts over the past couple of years, arguably initially spearheaded by the popularity of Total Divas. The E! reality show, which aims at giving fans a better look at the lives of eight World Wrestling Entertainment Divas—along with the increasingly positive portrayal of and dedication shown to Divas-in-training in WWE’s developmental brand, NXT—perhaps contributed to the trending of #GiveDivasaChance on social media earlier in the year. The hashtag, along with #WomensWrestling and #DivasRevolution, continues to urge WWE management to give their cohort of women’s wrestlers more than five minutes of match time per three-hour episode of Raw, and furthers the apparent change in the characterisation of Divas as “former fitness models and Playboy Playmates”, as Grantland writer David Shoemaker put it, to the talent athletes they are.


But what exactly is a Diva?

The term surfaced around the late nineties and was officially uttered for the first time in 1999 by Sable, however fan favourite Sunny later claimed that her revolution of the role of women in wrestling meant that she was “The Original Diva”. (Sunny has since defamed the current crop of Divas on social media, saying she’s “never been a fan of womens [sic] wrestling”.) While the word is often used to describe difficult women (read: assertive women who know what they want and refuse to be treated like crap), in this context it is simply WWE’s adjective for their female wrestlers (sorry, “sports entertainers”).

Some of the best-known former Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita, have said multiple times that they don’t identify with the moniker “Diva”, though. Lita told WWE Superstar Chris Jericho on his podcast, Talk is Jericho, that she feels it’s another term for “window dressing” and that—“not to be sexist”—she was always “thinking like a guy” in the ring as opposed to worrying about how hot she looked. Stratus reiterated this notion of a Diva as a “sideshow” term when she spoke to wrestling announcer, Jim Ross, on The Ross Report:

“We get it: you’re beautiful and you’re a woman. Great, now let’s get in the ring. Let’s be athletes.”

Lita and Stratus were instrumental in changing the notion of what it means to be a women’s wrestler. Both wrestled in the first ever one-on-one women’s main event to close Raw in 2004 (not including Lita VS. Stephanie McMahon for the WWE Women’s Championship in 2000 in which, as Lita puts it, they had male “props” including The Rock as special guest referee and McMahon’s on-screen and real-life husband, Triple H, at ringside). Lita also wrestled in WWE’s first ever women’s cage match and was part of the highest rated Raw segment in the show’s then thirteen-year history in 2006. (Let it be known that this segment was marketed as a “live sex celebration” in which Lita was topless but her breasts concealed from view so it probably isn’t an exemplar of gender barriers being broken.)

Come 2004, the WWE Diva Search—a reality competition that took place during Raw and in which wrestling fans could vote and which is apparently returning to WWE programming later this year—was introduced and many of the Divas began posing nude for Playboy in a period that became known more for promoting the Divas’ looks over their in-ring abilities. Former WWE Diva and two-time Playboy cover girl Torrie Wilson made reference to the ubiquity of bikini contests and bra and panties matches she was required to perform in on The Ross Report during this time.

These days, in the “PG-era”, Divas Brie and Nikki Bella, Nattie, Eva Marie, Paige, Trinity and Alicia Fox have their own hour-long reality show, Total Divas. Seeking to capitalise on the 35% female viewership of WWE’s traditional wrestling shows including Raw, SmackDown!, and the myriad of other weekly shows on the WWE’s online, on-demand network, it’s no surprise that Total Divas airs on E!, a channel whose primary audience is 65% female.

Traditional reality TV tropes have been at play on Total Divas, which at times only marginally passes the Bechdel test (at least two named women who speak to each other about something other than men) and casts “bad girl” Eva Marie in the role of the temptress bitch who comes between the other Divas; the other Divas and their men; and the other Divas and their aspirations to climb the wrestling ladder. This season though, the show has increasingly highlighted its stars’ careers amidst the #GiveDivasaChance movement that has evolved into a #DivasRevolution. Eva Marie finally put in the work in the ring; Nattie updated her gimmick from wholesome sweetheart to black-clad dominatrix; and Nikki Bella decided to stay with WWE and “continue to help women conquer this industry”. Total Divas is still reality TV after all, so rote catfights still take pride of place, but at least the women are fighting about their careers and livelihoods and not men as in seasons past.

Maybe because it doesn’t deviate too far from E!’s formula, the mainstream has responded well to Total Divas: its first season averaged 1.3 million viewers in the all-important 18-34 demographic with the highest season premiere of 2013. Due in part to its success, along with the WWE audience’s agitation on social media, the #DivasRevolution is taking steps to elevate women wrestlers from the way they’ve been portrayed for much of the past decade.

In 2013, for example, the Divas tag team match at WrestleMania got cut due to time restraints; the 2014 event’s obligatory women’s match was an invitational battle royal featuring fourteen Divas vying for the sparkly pink butterfly-shaped Diva’s Championship; and this year’s WrestleMania 31 tag team Divas match only went for 6:40 minutes on a four-hour show. As Lita told Stone Cold Steve Austin on his podcast, “It seems like you don’t see a lot of them until it’s a big free for all and you don’t even know what’s going on.” It would stand to reason that if WWE is promoting the Divas to a mainstream audience, they would want to showcase them as much as possible in order to lure those E! viewers over to the larger WWE product.

It seems the company finally cottoned on to that notion with the #DivasRevolution taking place on the July 13th Raw that saw NXT trail blazers Charlotte, Becky Lynch and then-NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks dominate the other Divas with their submission moves as the live audience hollered “this is awesome!”, a chant usually reserved for high risk stunts in men’s matches. Since then, WWE has at least paid lip service to the apparent “revolution”, with subsequent Raw and SmackDown!’s featuring multiple Divas matches often spanning numerous segments, a marked improvement on the 30 second Raw tag team fare (is 30 seconds even long enough to get a tag in?!) that sparked #GiveDivasaChance in February. A champion vs. champion match between Nikki Bella and Sasha Banks even technically main evented the final Raw before SummerSlam. (This is not to mention its spot on the card right before Brock Lesnar’s homecoming in Minneapolis and the lack of relevant hype surrounding the match.)

Perhaps the most obvious disconnect between the revolution in theory and in practice can be seen in Sasha Banks and Bayley’s meeting at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn for the brand’s women’s championship in what was the match of the night and maybe even 2015. Stephanie McMahon (whose character thinks of herself as the arbiter of the revolution) made sure to announce that it was the semi-main event while smarks scoffed at WWE’s hypocrisy.

In Lita and Stratus’ heyday women arguably played a more integral role in the product, such as in intergender matches in which women wrestle men. “Intergender matches were some of my favourite matches to be a part of. There’s [sic] just so many elements: sexual elements, comedy elements and you can also be a real badass interacting with the dudes [on a level which] you don’t normally get to interact,” Lita told Ross.

The argument could be made that men wrestling women normalises violence against them. On the other hand, feminism works to promote the idea that all genders are equal so therefore, if a woman can physically match a man (*cough* Charlotte *cough*), then it makes sense that they would compete. The tag team of Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae are an example on this on the indies. In wider society, the abolishment of gender restrictions in combat roles in the military reflects this notion (the actual uptake of women in these roles leaves much to be desired, though).

One of women’s wrestling most influential pioneers is Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna. She was the first woman to compete in the all-men Royal Rumble match, the first woman to hold a men’s championship and the woman who made it widely acceptable for women to wrestle men. Following her WWE departure in 2001, Laurer’s tumultuous personal life—including a high profile stint in (Celebrity) rehab, an abusive relationship and a sex tape that she parlayed into a porn career—has prevented her from getting the professional recognition she deserves. In an upcoming documentary funded through Kickstarter entitled The Reconstruction of Chyna, Laurer will attempt to tell her side of the story. She’s also undertaking a social media campaign to get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Total Divas’ reality TV predecessors, such as The Hills, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives, predictably portray women as dramatic layabouts who are famous for being famous. Though you wouldn’t think it from Total Divas’ past focus on the personal dramas of its cast, female wrestlers are the antithesis of this, putting their bodies on the line whenever they’re given the opportunity to do so. Matches such as Sasha and Bayley’s Takeover clinic prove this. If WWE and Total Divas can look beyond characterising women as eye candy without any discernible motivations and instead focus on healthy competition between women who respect each other but also strive to beat each other (again, as with Takeover’s four horsewomen curtain call), only then can Divas truly be given a chance.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance as Long as It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [Grantland] What We Learned From WrestleMania 31: Notes on an Event That Could Be Remembered as One of the Best in WWE History.

[Wrestling Inc] Sunny: “I’ve Never Been a Huge Fan of Women’s Wrestling”.

[WWE] Corporate Overview.

[National TV Spots] Homepage.

[Junkee] How Caitlyn Jenner, The Kardashians & Total Divas Are Making Reality TV Relevant Again.

[TV By the Numbers] E! Delivers 20% Year on Year Growth in Primetime Among Adults 18-49 in Primetime During Fourth Quarter.

[Wikipedia] Women in the Military.

[Kickstarter] The Reconstruction of Chyna.

Artwork by Rainmaker Inc.

TERFS & SWERFS Aren’t Radical Feminists*

*Trigger warning for transphobic language and discussion of sexual assault.

TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and SWERFS (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have been making headlines of late.

First there was Germaine Greer and the protests surrounding her talk at Cardiff University in Wales over her trans-exclusionary history. Appearing on BBC Newsnight, Greer asserted that trans women “don’t look like women”—a completely regressive and anti-feminist proclamation if ever there was one—and “a man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself”, ignoring the fact that many trans women don’t undergo bottom surgery and that being trans is about more than what parts you have. Doubling down on her previous comments, Greer spat in a follow up statement to the Victoria Derbyshire Show that “just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”

While a petition to prevent her speaking at the college garnered over 3,000 signatures, it was ultimately unsuccessful and the talk went ahead late last month.

Meanwhile, rape allegations against the porn industry’s crown prince James Deen by his ex-partner and fellow porn performer Stoya, as well as others, have illustrated how much of the world views sex workers: undeserving of rights and incapable of being raped. Even Lena Dunham, who is usually pretty progressive on feminist issues today, has joined other famous women such as Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet in a bid to urge Amnesty International to reconsider their recommendation to decriminalise sex work, a move that could improve labour conditions in the industry.

While the title of this piece might be triggering for some in this age of click- and rage-baity headlines, you can rest assured I’m not defending TERFS and SWERFS; I’m asserting that the acronyms to describe them need to be rethought because feminists who exclude trans women and sex workers from the equality they’re allegedly fighting for aren’t radical at all. (I would go as far as to say they’re not feminists at all, but that’s another piece for another time.)

What’s radical about subscribing to widely held notions that trans women aren’t “real” women and therefore don’t deserve the rights feminists have been fighting for since the dawn of last century? What’s radical about pushing sex workers even further into the margins of society than they already are? Nothing.

Radical feminism, to me, is one that is accepting of not just all women, but all people. It’s one that supports movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, refugee and asylum seeker rights and labour conditions. It’s as concerned with tearing down the patriarchy that prescribes only one way to be for men as it is for the rigid guidelines for femininity. It wants to give visibility to old women, poor women, immigrant women, trans women, disabled women, queer women, women of colour and women in sex work alongside the predominantly white women who get to voice their opinions and have them heard, at least in some form. I would even go as far as to include environmentalism and animal rights in radical feminism, which have so often worked side by side. Not being in favour of these things, or only being in favour of them for certain people, is conservative, anti-feminist and not radical in the slightest.

Truly radical feminism—which I guess is really just intersectional feminism—needs to continue to stand up for society’s most marginalised people and take ownership of that title once again. Greer and co. are old hat and painfully conservative. It’s the women who started #BlackLivesMatter; women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the Stonewall uprisings; women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are giving increased visibility to trans people and, specifically, trans people of colour; young women like Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard who are showing that young people aren’t ambivalent about human rights; women like the those who started the Sex Workers Project and those who speak out about sexism and violence in the industry, like Stoya; women who work and campaign for Planned Parenthood in the face of defunding and violence, like the post-Thanksgiving shooting; the women who started THINX, period panties for, yes, privileged women who can afford to buy them, but also for trans men and women in rural, developing areas who struggle with the stigma surrounding menstruation; and women who fight for the education of women and girls in the developing world, like Malala Yousafzai, who are the real radical feminists.

Elsewhere: [BBC] Germaine Greer: Transgender Women Are Not “Real Women”.

[The Telegraph] Germaine Greer in Transgender Rant: “Just Because You Lop Off Your Penis… It Doesn’t Make You a Woman.”

[] Cardiff University: Do Not Host Germaine Greer.

[The Guardian] Germaine Greer Gives University Lecture Despite Campaign to Silence Her.

[The Guardian] Actors Call on Amnesty to Reject Plans Backing Decriminalisation of Sex Trade.


Why Do We Insist on Calling Women Girls?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 24th February, 2015.

Pop culture would dictate that women are girls until they’re too old to warrant being a part of public life: so, like, 50. I probably internalised this as it’s only in recent years that I’ve felt a) old enough and b) confident enough to call myself a woman. Up until then I was, to borrow a line from Britney Spears, “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”. Now that I identify as a woman, I find it all the more noticeable when other people refer to women as girls.

As one of the strongest influences in many people’s lives, how certain cultures and minorities are represented in pop culture informs how we feel about them in wider society. Just listing the shows and pop groups with the word “girl” in the title already says a lot.

There’s Gilmore Girls, about a young woman and her mother; Gossip Girl, which follows the trajectory of high schoolers to just-as-immature adults; Girls, the brainchild of one of the most influential women in pop culture currently, Lena Dunham; and Gone Girl, about a very-much-adult woman who disappears. The Spice Girls are now grown women who still trade on that moniker. Even Sex & the City, which follows the lives of four 30-somethings, and later 40-(and 50!-)somethings in the ill-fated movies, insists on referring to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda as “girls”. “I couldn’t help but wonder about brunch with the girls”, Carrie would muse from her laptop.

In actuality, all but a few of these pop cultural representations could more accurately be described—and titled—with the word “women” in mind. Calling the career women of Sex & the City or The Spice Girls… erm… “girls” undermines the positions they are in their careers and personal lives.You would hardly call a Samantha Jones-type an “It girl” in her field if you met her in real life. Anne Helen Peterson continues to unpack the notion as it pertains to “It Girls” in a recent article for Buzzfeed.

Further to this, in a 2008 piece on Jezebel, Dodai Stewart writes, “A girl is insecure, incomplete; a woman is confident, competent.” With this in mind, calling the women of Girls girls might not seem as out of place as using it to refer to, say, Beyoncé, who sings about being a ‘Grown Woman’ on her self-titled album. (I am well aware that she also has a contradictory song called ‘Run the World [Girls]’).

Madonna addressed the stigmatisation and violence that trans women and girls face in ‘What It Feels Like for A Girl’ in 2000. Her voiceover states that boys who want to look like girls are “degrading, ’cause you think that being a girl is degrading.” Certainly, in some communities there is no distinction between women and girls: they both wield a dismal amount of power. The transmisogyny that Madonna sings about surrounds Bruce Jenner’s rumoured impending transition and shows that we might not be as progressive about gender relations as we fancy.

It’s not always necessarily about explicitly saying “girl” but the sexist connotations applied to the word. This is perhaps none more evident than in sport, as we’ve seen at the Australian Open. World number seven Eugenie Bouchard was doubly infantalised by the male interviewer who called her and her fellow female tennis players “you girls” and asked her to twirl in her pretty tennis duds.

The distinction comes down to the sexist ideal of girls being perceived as fun and fancy-free and women as hard-to-please shrews. Women have agency and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want; girls are agreeable to anything.

Law professor Kate Galloway writes further about this relationship between language and treatment at law blog Amicae Curiae, specifically referencing how the “girls” of our Olympic basketball team travelled to the London Games in 2012 in premium economy while the male team flew business class.

This, along with the lack of mainstream support and coverage, would seem to indicate an obvious disregard for women’s sports. “Throw like a girl” being used as an insult solidifies it. The term was, however, used positively in the recent Superbowl commercial for feminine hygiene brand, Always, and was the title of the Spike Lee-directed doco about baseball player and Associated Press’ Female Athlete of 2014, Mo’ne Davis.

In daily usage, we may not be actively diminishing the independence of our women friends when we “catch up with the girls” but it’s amazing how prevalent the term is. I’m just as guilty of it. I’ll sometimes refer to the saleswoman who presents as younger than me as “the girl who served me” or I’ll comment on something on social media with the cliché, “You go, girl!” Sure, “girl” can be used as a term of endearment between equals, just the way “queer” has been reclaimed by the gay community.

But as Galloway says, “I acknowledge that sometimes it might be [okay] to be ‘one of the girls’… I use the term to refer to my women teammates or close women friends. For former women team members now commentating on their sport at the Olympics, it may likewise be acceptable during an interview to refer to ‘the girls’. It should not however be presumed that any woman athlete can acceptably be referred to as a girl.”

When being a girl—indeed, being a woman—is still seen as less than, whether blatantly or more insidiously, I’m making a conscious effort to instead interact with and encourage my fellow women without pigeonholing them as “girls”. Women are capable of so much more than the gossiping, brunching and winging our pop cultural compatriots would reduce us to when they call us that.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] The Trouble with “It Girls”.

[Jezebel] Ladies, Let’s Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Asked to “Twirl” By On-Court Presenter Following Australian Open Match.

[Amicae Curiae] Don’t Call Me Girl. I’m a Woman.

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Deserves Better Than Sexist “Twirl” Request.

[Bitch] Is “Girl-Power” Advertising Doing Any Good?

When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 8th January, 2015.

Recently, I attended the exclusive, two-day, $800 Blogcademy workshop in Melbourne, hosted by blogging extraordinaires Gala Darling, Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet and Rock N Roll Bride Kat Williams, who have turned their almost unprecedented success as bloggers into an international business. For that amount of money and time, my fellow attendees and I were expecting to come away bursting with fresh inspiration and tools to turn our blogs into mini success stories in the vein of the Headmistresses own blogs. What we emerged with, however, was an hours-long lesson in taking the perfect selfie and disappointment in our former entrepreneurial role models.

Before I turned my hand to the blogosphere, I fantasised about becoming a high-powered magazine editrix the likes of former mag hag turned web impressario, Mia Freedman. Ever since I cracked the glossy spine of my first Cosmo as a teenager, I wanted to be Freedman, so much so I even named my dog after her.

But, as with the Blogcademy Headmistresses, in recent years I’ve been forced to stop gazing adoringly at Freedman and acknowledge the stray, misguided comments coming out of her mouth.

For example, in April 2013, Freedman appeared on Q&A on an all-women panel with former sex worker and author of the book-turned-TV-series Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, Dr. Brooke Magnanti, where Freedman stumbled over the use of this preferred term—sex worker—and said she would be “disturbed” if her daughter grew up wanting to work in the sex trade. In May that year, Freedman wrote on her website MamaMia in defence of Tony Abbott’s classist comments about “women of calibre” taking advantage of his paid parental leave scheme. Two Octobers ago she victim-blamed women who are assaulted whilst drinking. Freedman tweeted in April last year that she agreed with Joe Hildebrand’s attack on Rosie Batty whose son was murdered by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident in February 2014, in which Hildebrand essentially blamed Rosie for her son’s death for not escaping her violent partner on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio 10. And late last year Freedman came under fire for comparing gay sexual orientation to pedophilia. To her credit, though, Freedman immediately owned up to her mistake on The Project, admitting she was “mortified” that she caused offence to a community she’d so long been a champion of.

Freedman herself is no stranger to the disenchantment that comes when your icons speak out of turn. She confronted Australia’s once-patron saint of feminism, Germaine Greer, who was also a panelist on the abovementioned episode of Q&A, about those comments she made about Julia Gillard’s body and fashion sense. Freedman further lamented that Greer had “stayed too long at the party”. The most recent example of this has been Greer’s remarks about Duchess Kate’s pregnant body.

Another woman I look up to in the publishing industry is author of the forthcoming book The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills. She wrote about a similar phenomenon when her former feminist role model Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina: A New Biography, equated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still evading extradition on said charges in the Ecuadorian embassy in London four years later, with “honey trapping”.

When I spoke to Hills about how she felt about Wolf proving herself to be out of touch with rape culture she had this to say:

“My initial dismay over Naomi Wolf’s Julian Assange comments weren’t so much about what she said, as the way she responded when people criticised her for it. Why was this person I admired being so pigheaded and insensitive to the criticisms of people who were on her side? That was the moment when the Naomi Wolf gloss started to wear off for me.”

Likewise, my memories of the glossy pages of a Freedman-helmed Cosmo, with its Body Love campaign and articles on sexual assault and reproductive rights, have become disillusioned by Freedman’s continued tendency to put her foot in her mouth. But, as with many public figures we insist on asking for their opinions on any and all topics (ie. asking young female celebrities if they’re feminists), they’re “damning [themselves] to irrelevancy if [they] don’t stay up to date”, Hills says. (See Wolf’s ignorance of the term “cisgender”.)

We’re all human and, in the case of Freedman, Greer, Wolf et al. and their feminist faux pas, it’s not to say that they should be foisted out of the feminist club for being “bad feminists”, as Roxane Gay might put it. When an idol or hero has shaped so many of your formative years, whether positively or negatively, you can’t just turn their influence off as easily as a switch. We all say and do things we shouldn’t at times but a reluctance to appear vulnerable or ill informed shouldn’t prevent us from using those moments for growth. Failing that, we can start looking to other influences in our lives that are perhaps a little more positive and progressive and strive to be those influences ourselves.

Related: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

Elsewhere: [The Blogcademy] 

[Gala Darling]

[Nubby Twiglet]

[Rock N Roll Bride]

[Hello Tillie] Six Things I Learnt at The Blogcademy.

[Happy Hotline] Why I Don’t Have Idols. Anymore.

[ABC] Q&A—The F Word, 8th April, 2013.

[MamaMia] In Defence of Tony Abbott.

[MamaMia] This Isn’t Victim-Blaming. This is Common Sense.

[MamaMia] A Statement from Mia Freedman.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer, You’ve Lost Me…

[Newsweek] The Duchess of Cambridge: How Britain Stopped Believing in the Royal Fairytale.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Naomi Wolf & Me, Or Why Heroes Are Only for the Young. 

[Jezebel] Feminist Gathering Sadly Lacking in Matricide.

Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 14th May, 2013.

Being a professional wrestling fan and a feminist don’t necessarily go hand in hand albeit I identify as both of them.

While I’ve been a wrestling fan since the age of 13 and have only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I try—and often fail—not to judge other women for their choices, and it’s instilled in me that everyone is and should be treated equally, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, abilities or class.

So to have an affinity with professional wrestling has, at times, baffled me personally and anyone who knows my dirty little secret.

Because professional wrestling is very much a guilty pleasure: the homoeroticism of a bunch of muscular, oiled up and sweaty men grappling with each other’s flesh for the visual gratification of (primarily) other men and the reliance of tired and bigoted male stereotypes that go along with it don’t always connote a proud admission of fandom from its more self-aware enthusiasts.

For example, one of the most high-profile and long awaited feuds—between John Cena and The Rock, culminating in their match at this year’s annual WrestleMania, the 29th in the franchise—employed the use of homophobia and gay jokes in the several-year lead up. In 2011, the two traded barbs that included The Rock making fun of Cena’s purple garb, calling him a “Fruity Pebble” (a cereal for which he is now a mascot), and Cena retorting that in his movie career as Dwayne Johnson, The Rock tends to accept roles in which his character wears lipstick (Be Cool) and a skirt (The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy), which got them into trouble with GLAAD.

Earlier, in 2002, a same-sex life partnership ceremony between tag team partners Billy and Chuck was set to take place on live television, but was abolished at the last minute despite GLAAD previously showing support for the storyline.

More recently, WWE announcer Michael Cole tweeted fellow commentator Josh Matthews with one word: “faggot”, which was later deleted and apologised for. And just last month TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bully Ray was caught on camera living up to his name and calling a fan a “faggot” and a “fricken queer”.

For those with a passion for wrestling and who are also capable of intelligent, critical thought, such marginalising slurs are just embarrassing. As Anita Sarkeesian asserts in her exploration of the damsel in distress trope in video games, it is “both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” Similarly, in her fantastic article about the intersection of rap, feminism and cunnilingus (!), Maddie Collier urges us to acknowledge the instances our pop culture of choice “sickens and disappoints us” in order to “fully appreciate the moments when it’s good and kind and real”.

But if you thought the blatant promotion of one kind of masculinity (ripped, strong and, perhaps above all else, heterosexual) as supreme is the only agenda professional wrestling is guilty of pushing, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problematic nature of the sport (entertainment).

From a gender equality point of view, for example, professional wrestling most certainly has a long way to go, baby. Sure, there are female wrestlers, like Chyna, Jazz and Lisa Marie Varon (better known as Victoria in WWE and Tara in TNA) who eschew traditional femininity, but the bulk of women in professional wrestling are employed as eye candy, not as athletes. Those who do get to face off in the ring are often limited to three minute gimmick matches, which involve such male-gazey stipulations as Paddle on a Pole matches, where the winner is determined not by pinfall, submission or countout, as in most traditional (read: male) matches, but by retrieving a bat suspended from a pole with which to spank their opponent, and Bra & Panties Matches, in which the winner emerges victorious only after stripping her opponent of her clothes.

There are exceptions, though, such as a cage match between the aforementioned Victoria and Lita in 2003, which could be seen as damaging to the status of women in a whole different way in that it normalises violence against them, but by and large women in wrestling are used as managers, valets, guest ring announcers, wives and girlfriends. This attitude is evident in the demotion of the WWE Women’s Championship, held by such legends as the late Fabulous Moolah and Sherri Martel, Lita, Chyna and Trish Stratus, to the renamed Divas Championship, replete with a sparkly pink butterfly design, to better signify that it’s meant to be fastened around a slight, feminine waist.

This is not to mention the blatant disenfranchisement of non-able bodied wrestlers, often called “midget wrestlers”. At one point the SmackDown! brand of WWE had a “Juniors” midget wrestling division, and employs a little person on their roster whose character borrows from the leprechaun trope. As Margaret Cho once wrote, perhaps some kind of representation of minorities, stereotypical or not, is better than none…

Arguably above all of this, though, wrestling is one of the most obviously racist modes of mainstream entertainment going around. Let me count just some of the racial stereotypes throughout wrestling history that come to mind: The Iron Sheik was pitted against such all-American opponents as Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Gulf War; the Mexicools’ ring entrance comprised the use of a ride-on lawnmower, insinuating that people of Mexican descent make excellent yard workers; African American wrestler Charles Wright went from one black trope—a witch doctor named Papa Shango—to another—The Godfather, a pimp who came to the ring followed by his “Ho Train”; the Boogeyman was another witch-doctor-esque character played by another African American wrestler, Marty Wright (of no relation to Charles Wright); Native American wrestler Tatanka got around in traditional Native garb, such as headdresses and warpaint and carried a tomahawk; Kofi Kingston is from the Republic of Ghana, but somehow a Jamaican gimmick for his character made more sense; we all know people of African American descent are probably criminals, so why not bring two black wrestlers together in a tag team and call them Cryme Tyme?; Jim Harris played the wild “Ugandan giant” Kamala, while the late Edie Fatu had a similar, albeit as a Samoan giant, gimmick as Umaga; and Mohamad Ali Vaez, of Iranian heritage, plays up the Islamaphobia angle for his character. In a documentary entitled Wrestling for Rotary, which chronicles an independent wrestling gig for charity in country Victoria in 2011, Vaez talks about the internal struggle he faces in “perpetrating stereotypes that my family suffers because of.”

But, at the end of the day, “I’ve suffered inherent racism in the United States, so you know what? I’m gonna make money off of it.”

So while Vaez chooses to be an active participant in the culture that disenfranchises his people, fans have to acknowledge the part they play in holding up the gospel according to pro wrestling.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to be involved in the filming of a mockumentary about professional wrestlers on tour in Australia. My role encompassed escorting male wrestlers to the ring and looking pretty whilst doing it. While it was not something I initially wanted to do, after spending time with the seven men (Chris Masters, Carlito, Orlando Jordan, Rob Conway, Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore, Gene Snitsky and Vaez) I’d watched on TV in the past five to ten years, it became evident that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.

As I got to know the wrestlers better, and they were made aware of my equalist proclivities and my intent to write about the experience, I became quite a novelty to them; I don’t imagine they encounter self-identifying feminists often in their line of work. One could argue that this is just substituting the fetishisation of women in wrestling with the tokenism of feminist women in wrestling, but I elected to be a consumer of a product that thrives on the objectification of women and to be an active participant in my own objectification which, to me, is no different from donning heels and some thicker eye makeup than usual for a Saturday night out on the town. (Apparently this makes me a bad feminist, according to the mansplainers. A choice response: “How can you play the role of a pretty cheerleader on the sidelines and still be a feminist?” How indeed.) Just because a woman happens to dress in a hyper-feminine way for her own pleasure, as I do, doesn’t mean she’s betraying the sisterhood. It makes her a person choosing her choice to go about her everyday business without being chastised for it.

So while I’ve resigned myself to feeding my wrestling addiction it doesn’t mean the myriad examples of racism, misogyny, homophobia and ableism can be ignored. In discussing this with a friend, he raised the notion of whether these bigoted views aren’t better off in the cultural underbelly of professional wrestling which, in Australia at least, doesn’t get paid much lip service, than industries like politics, for example, or the corporate world.

I wouldn’t argue that such ideologies aren’t rampant in politics and business, but pop culture can be a form of education to many and it helps to work through larger societal issues. Your average Joe wrestling fan doesn’t necessarily have a vested interest in dismal numbers of women (19%) and people of colour (16%) in United States Congress, the suicide rates of LGBTIQ youths or the selective abortion of disabled foetuses, for example. And younger fans, which WWE is increasingly marketing itself to, probably aren’t going to be as open to accepting the local gay or trans kid if their idol, John Cena, comes across as homo- and transphobic. So if some more progressive attitudes about non-white, non-straight, non-cis, non-able bodied, non-males can be snuck in amongst the titles, Hell in a Cell’s, blood, T&A and tables, ladders and chairs, then that’s a step in the right direction.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [] All the Homoerotic Photos from WrestleMania 29.

[Cageside Seats] GLAAD Forces WWE & John Cena to Knock Off the Homophobic Jokes.

[TMZ] WWE Announcer Tweets Gay Slur, Deletes It.

[HuffPo] Bully Ray, Professional Wrestler, Apologises After Engaging in Anti-Gay Rants Towards Chicago Fan.

[Think Progress] Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes VS. Women Series Is Up—And It’s Great. 

[The Pantograph Punch] Eat It Up & Lay Wit It: Hip Hop, Cunnilingus & Morality in Entertainment.

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[ABC] Behind the Scenes of Wrestling for Rotary.

Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 5th September, 2012.

Earlier in the year a rumour was circulating around the interwebs that Jay Z had shunned the age-old method of addressing women in rap and hip hop—“bitch”—after the birth of his baby with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, had made him realise the error of his ways. Alas, the poem in which Hova allegedly “curse[s] those that give it [bitch]”, turned out to be a fake, but it did raise some pertinent issues about calling women “bitches” in the rap game.

More recently, Jay Z’s bestie Kanye West revealed he wrote his song “Perfect Bitch” about Kim Kardashian, who took it as a compliment, showing how one person’s misogynistic insult is another’s compliment.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco’s latest track and accompanying video ask is “Bitch Bad”, using children to show the different ways we internalise the term. Again, one person’s put down is another’s feminist manifesto, like Bitch magazine, Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and “Queen Bitch” by Lil’ Kim.

Perhaps in response to Fiasco’s request to start a dialogue on the “destructive” and “troubling elements” of bitch, Kanye has taken to Twitter to add to the discourse. He asks, perhaps in relation to “Perfect Bitch”, “is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing?” To those who tend to towards “yes”, he asks, “would we refer to our mothers as bitches?”

A similar question comes to mind as the one brought up when the Blue Ivy poem, “Glory”, was released: why did Jay Z only shun the word after the birth of his daughter, as opposed to when he wed one of the most desirable women in the world, Beyonce? Is she not good enough to warrant not being called a “bitch”? I guess in this case, baby trumps baby mama.

But supposing that because women are addressed as “bitches”, “tricks” and “hos” in rap music they must automatically be viewed as such (and, really, what is a bitch or a ho? Someone who speaks their mind? Someone who gets some action between the sheets? If so, sign me up!) IRL is to subscribe to the outdated “hypodermic needle” theory of media studies. Certainly, though, popular culture does infiltrate other aspects of daily life so it’s important that Fiasco and West are contributing to the unpacking of this word that’s so inherent in rap and hip hop.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, though. 2Pac “Wonder[ed] Why They Call[ed] U Bitch” on his 1994 album, All Eyez on Me, concluding that having unprotected sex, getting paid for it, looking and moving a certain way and abusing the welfare system are all reasons why someone might “call you bitch”.

Eighteen years on, “bitch” is still “so prevalent in our culture right now,” says Fiasco. Because, as mentioned above, “bitch” is most certainly a derogatory term for many in the hip hop industry, as evidenced in “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre and Too $hort’s pertinently titled “Call Her a Bitch”, but also in wider society to address a woman who doesn’t conform to femininity norms: mouth shut, “legs closed, eyes open,” from 2Pac’s abovementioned battle cry.

But, alternatively, as Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch”, Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and Kim’s reaction to “Perfect Bitch” will attest, it’s also a term of endearment.

In a rare moment of clarity, Kanye Tweets, “Perhaps the word BITCH and N*GGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how they are used and by whom.”

Indeed. So while friends and lovers might use the word in passing affection, those who want to stifle independent women or ones who’ve scorned them, it’s still very much a problematic term.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Rapper Lupe Fiasco Weighs in on the B-Word: “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.”

[The Wire] Discussing Linguistics with Kanye West.

[The Rap Up] The Unified Bitch Theory.