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.

TV: Are We Dumb, Drunk & Racist? Yeah, We Kinda Are.

 

I’m loving all the independent Australian programming that attempts to show how racist we really are.

Last year, it was Go Back to Where You Came From (which is apparently airing a “celebrity” version soon!) which drew on our contempt for “boat people” and this year it’s Joe Hildebrand’s Dumb, Drunk & Racist, not only about Australia’s racism, but our drinking and thought habits.

Hildebrand introduces four Indian expats to the world of sun, surf and skin, but which could more accurately be described as “Dumb, Drunk & Racist”. Can you blame the Indians for having such a closed-minded view of the land down under when their students are constantly bashed and their call-centre workers denigrated for doing an honest day’s work? I think it was Radhika who asked, “Why Indians, not Bangladeshi or Pakistani [people who are bashed]?” To be honest, I don’t think racists are that savvy: they see someone who doesn’t look like them and it’s on. I think it’s pure coincidence that a lot of the student bashings that go on in Australia, and particularly Melbourne, are of predominantly Indian students.

And there’s an insidious kind of racism that’s embedded in a lot of cultures, not just Australia’s. Amer contends that sometimes a fight is just a fight, and sometimes there’s no racial undertone but people want to put the racism sticker on it because it helps explain what we can’t:

“Two white guys fighting is just a fight; a black guy and a white guy fighting is ‘racially motivated’.”

In the show, which aired its last episode last Wednesday, Amer, Gurmeet, Mahima and Radhika go to the outback, hospital rooms, Cronulla beach and Melbourne’s train lines after dark in an attempt to work through our apparent inherent racism, alcoholism and unintelligence. I hate to say it, but by and large, Australia is a Dumb, Drunk and Racist country. That’s not to say that all Australian citizens abide by these lifestyle rules, but as a whole, the quintessential Aussie does.

Having said that, though, the Indian’s weren’t exactly open to some of our ways of life. While racism is bad, so is homophobia, but Gurmeet had no problem frowning upon a lesbian couple they met a few weeks ago.

And I hate the notion of reverse racism, but Gurmeet was guilty of it when he said that we’re Dumb, Drunk and Racist because of our “criminal DNA”: “It’s in the mind of the Australian people.” So I suppose that means that oppression of women, arranged marriages, extreme poverty and third world living standards are in the “DNA” of Indians? (To be clear, I don’t actually believe this.)

In one of the episodes, when India was being compared to Australia and the different standards and living conditions of each country, Hildebrand scoffed, “Why should we compare our statistics to those of a developing country?” Here, here.

The most sympathetic of the bunch is Radikha who, when faced with the plight of Indigenous Australians who are so marginalised they often don’t warrant a mention when talking about racism, said:

“When there is a community which feels so hurt, so wronged, so scarred, so alienated there will be a hesitancy to come forward. Even if they have any kind of motivation, there are a million things to quell that motivation.”

What did you think of Dumb, Drunk & Racist? Do you think we are?

Related: My Response—Go Back to Where You Came From.

Image via Xceler8.