The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

The Twenty-Eighth Down Under Feminists Carnival

Posted by caitlinate on September 4, 2010

Oh my gawd, hi everyone. So this is the first time I’ve done a blog carnival and I put my hand up for it 6 months ago not realising that this was going to be like the busiest two or three weeks I would be having all year. So! There is no theme and things might be organised a little incoherently but I hope I’ve done a good job and you like…

WELCOME to the 28th Down Under Feminists Carnival!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Announcements, Blog Watch, body image, domestic violence, Family, glbt, Interviews, law, Media Watch, music, Politics, porn, Relationships, reproductive rights, sex, Trans, violence against women, women we love, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Women we love: Emily Maguire

Posted by Nic Heath on August 20, 2010

Writer and feminist Emily Maguire is the author of Princesses & Pornstars (2008), reworked for a young adult audience as Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power & Choice (2010), as well as novels Smoke in the Room (2009), The Gospel According to Luke (2006) and Taming the Beast (2004).

One of the most prominent feminist voices in the Australian media landscape today, Emily has written articles and essays on sex, religion and culture that have been published in newspapers and journals including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Age, The Monthly and the Observer.

In an interview on Radio National’s Book Show recently I heard Emily say that despite people regularly decrying the death of feminism, she thought it was doing really well. ‘I think the issue is that feminism doesn’t look like it used to look,’ she said. ‘It’s everywhere…there isn’t one monolithic movement’. Interest piqued, I wanted to hear more about her feminism, so I asked Emily about her fiction, writing for a young audience and of course, about the healthy state of feminism today.

 ***

How and when did you become a feminist?

My feminism emerged over a period of a decade or more. As a teenager I thought feminism was great, but over. By my early twenties I’d realised that our society was soaking in sexism and misogyny and I began to search for answers as to why that was so. Feminist writers helped me to understand why things were they way they were and gave me ideas about what I could do about them. I suppose I started to call myself a feminist in my mid-twenties.

I became an active feminist – meaning I began to speak and write about it – when I realised that I wasn’t the only one to have reached adulthood without being exposed to feminist ideas. So many people in the generation above mine (as well as those of my generation lucky enough to have been schooled in feminism at uni or home) think that it’s all been said, but there are many of us who more or less missed the 2nd and 3rd waves. Ideas and ways of thinking that some think of as elemental or tired are brand new and exciting to many others.

You’ve written three fiction books, with the latest, Smoke in the Room, published in October last year. Do you consciously work feminist themes into your fiction?

No. I am very wary of infecting my characters with my political views or of writing fiction with a ‘message’ in mind. However, I think that noticing is key to writing fiction; what a particular novelist notices about the world around them will inevitably make it into their fiction. So of course the way I view the world is coloured by my feminism (among other things) and my writing is influenced by the things I notice and the way I think about those things. Some people might call the creation of complicated, flawed, vibrant female characters feminist; I call it realistic.

What motivated the decision to publish Your Skirt’s Too Short, a revised young adult edition of your non-fiction work Princesses and Pornstars? What changes did you make to the original text?

I originally wrote Princesses and Pornstars out of frustration. I was sick of seeing and hearing sexism and antiquated gender stereotypes day after day, while at the same time hearing that we’re a post-feminist society and sexism is no longer a problem.

I also was terribly sick of the way teenage girls and young women were being constantly berated and shamed by media hype over ‘raunch culture’ and I was annoyed that many of those who claimed to be on the side of young people, who claimed to want to empower girls, were themselves perpetuating gender stereotypes, telling girls they’re princesses and talking about them like they’re delicate flowers who must be kept pure and protected.

My objective was to tackle the gender-coloured issues facing young people – porn, raunch, sex, romance, body image – in a non-academic way, a way that engaged with the culture that young people are immersed in rather than looked down on it. I also thought it was important to write the book through a personal lens, because I didn’t want to be placing myself above it all, speaking as an authority. I wanted to be speaking as someone who is still/or has in the past struggled with all this stuff.

After Princesses and Pornstars was released I started to hear from a lot of readers who were quite a bit younger than the audience I’d imagined when I was writing the book. In light of this, I – and my publisher – decided that a revised edition, especially for those teens was worth doing. So Your Skirt’s Too Short was born.

Some of the changes are simple updates – we’ve had a change of government since P&P was released and so I needed to update most of the information on legislation and policy. I also updated a lot of the pop culture references not only to be more current, but to be more relevant to younger teens rather than women in their early 20s. The tone is different in some places, too: I’m speaking to teenagers rather than about them. There’s also a new section on ‘sexting’ and a chapter about bitching, bullying and the idea that women are our own worst enemies (which is something I hear a lot).

In September you are appearing on a Melbourne Writer’s Festival panel looking at four feminist classics – A Room of One’s Own, The Second Sex, The Female Eunuch and The Beauty Myth. What do these books mean to you?

The Beauty Myth  blew my body-hating, self-loathing teenage mind. It had genuinely never occurred to me that anything other than vanity was behind the beauty rituals and obsessions of every woman and girl I knew.  A Room of One’s Own was incredibly important to me. I used to think I couldn’t be a writer because I was a high-school drop out with no contacts and no clue about how the literary world worked. I thought there was a correct way to go about it and if I didn’t know it I couldn’t do it. Woolf inspired me to ‘write all kinds of books hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast,’ and to ‘dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’ I didn’t read The Female Eunuch until a few years ago. I was delighted that a book I’d expected to be dry and academic was so chaotic and emotional. It inspired me to be braver in my writing.

Australia is in the midst of a federal election campaign that has been fixated on gender, without too much discussion of policy. What do you think are the big issues affecting women that we should be talking about in this election campaign?

Pay equity is a big issue as, depressingly, Australia is going backwards on this. Paid parental leave and access to quality, affordable child care continue to be important. We should also be talking a lot more about the poverty suffered by older women who don’t have sufficient superannuation or retirement funds to live on thanks to all those years spent in unpaid caring work.

Of course, these are only the explicitly gender-related issues. Women make up half of the population and are responsible for a great deal of the care of another huge proportion of the population. It’s hard to think of a policy area that does not affect the lives of women.

What are your greatest concerns for young women today? What do you think feminism can offer them?

My concerns vary depending on the particular young women we’re talking about. Even if I limit my answer to concerns for young women in Australia, there’s no one answer. Domestic and sexual violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate access to healthcare (including reproductive healthcare), workplace harassment or discrimination – I could go on and each concern I mentioned would be relevant to some young women and not at all to others because gender injustice and inequity are compounded by other inequities and because sexism has many different manifestations.

I think of feminism as a super-flexible, multi-function tool. Whether you’re concerned about pay inequality or reproductive rights or domestic violence or one of a thousand other issues, there’s this amazing body of work created by feminist academics, writers and activists that can help explain the causes of the problem and suggest ways to solve it.

Looking at raunch culture, what needs to change to counter its spread?

I think the term ‘raunch culture’ has been misused and abused so much that it’s become almost meaningless. I mean, I’ve seen it used in relation to everything from children’s beauty pageants to footballer’s gang-bangs. If you’re using it in it’s original sense – as coined and defined by way Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs  –  then I think its spread has already been countered, in large part thanks to the conversation begun by that book. Really, if you take a look at media and social commentary over the past decade you’ll see that, increasingly, overtly sexual women (whether that overt sexuality is authentic or faked) are far more likely to be shamed and stigmatised than celebrated.

In an interview on The Book Show on Radio National recently you spoke of how healthy feminism is today, despite detractors claiming otherwise. What signs of health do you see?

Well, to start right here, the feminist blogosphere is populated by a wonderfully diverse, argumentative, generous, creative, activist and ever-increasing number of feminists. Then there are the thousands of people who buy and discuss (in real world or online discussion groups) any one of the many popular feminist books that have been published in the past few years. (Just off the top of my head: Female Chauvinist Pigs, King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, The Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, Bodies by Susie Orbach.)

Then there are all the feminist women and men working in the community, in social services, in academia, in politics and in the corporate world. (The anti-feminists’ nightmare has come true – feminists really are everywhere!) Many of these feminists were in attendance at this year’s F Conference in Sydney which was a sold out event. Over 400 feminists from every walk of life spent a weekend engaging in discussions and workshops on everything from indigenous women’s knowledge to sex work.

What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new novel. Right now, it’s a glorious, shining, amorphous thing that I adore but can’t describe. I may be able to talk about it once  I’m on to the third, fourth or fifteenth draft and no longer besotted.

***

Emily Maguire is set to revisit four classic feminist texts at Melbourne Writer’s Festival in From Woolf to Wolf, with Sophie Cunningham and Monica Dux, and hosted by Jo Case.

You can also catch Emily at MWF discussing young people and the media with SBS’s James West and editor of The Monthly Ben Naperstek.

Check here for dates and tickets.

Posted in Books, events, women we love | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Best of the rest on PM Gillard

Posted by Nic Heath on June 25, 2010

Australia might be ‘tickled pink at having its first female prime minister’, but what else is being said about the dramatic leadership change that saw Kevin Rudd suddenly ousted by Julia Gillard this week? 

Eva Cox at Crikey sees Julia Gillard’s achievement as the first step, rather than the end point, for those desiring gender balance in positions of power: 

‘We will know we really have made progress when women in top positions become normal and not worthy of comment. It will also mean we get better leaders, not just because many are women, but because we no longer exclude good people because of their gender.’ (register to read) 

Also at Crikey Shakira Hussein warns us that Gillard’s ascension to the top job means that some will think that feminism is finished: 

‘The danger now (well, one of the dangers) is that feminists will be told that the battle is won, that anyone who is still on the battlefield is just a whinger, that if a woman can become prime minister, then we have no further reason to complain.’ 

Annabel Crabbe acknowledges the sense of hope that has accompanied Gillard’s promotion:  

‘The approbation of her colleagues, seasoned with a groundswell of genuine delight at the elevation of Australia’s first female prime minister, give her an opportunity to make the sort of progress that eluded her predecessor.’ 

Catriona Menzies-Pike at New Matilda considers Gillard’s momentous caucus win and is left seeking answers: 

‘Once the fuss dies down, some of these questions will be answered and a bigger one will emerge: are Australians really ready to elect a female prime minister? 

‘There’s no doubt that Gillard’s promotion is an important symbolic victory for Australian women. But is this the exemplary trajectory for female success? To act as deputy until those whom you have vehemently opposed act to support you?’ 

 The Australian’s Caroline Overington sees evidence of change stamped all over our new PM: 

Julia Gillard is a woman, but that’s not the only extraordinary thing about her rise. 

She’s got a de facto. 

Imagine that, 30 years ago: an unmarried woman, living in sin with a man. Who is a hairdresser. And aspiring to high office. 

Leo Shanahan at The Punch believes Gillard could be the person to get the government back on track: 

Call me a honeymooner if you want, but in both policy and rhetoric Prime Minister Gillard made a lot of sense today, and that’s something that’s been missing from the Federal Government as of late. 

In Josephine Tovey’s piece at SMH, Gillard’s fruit bowl runneth over, Tovey wants women to stay on their toes: 

Just being a woman in power is not enough. There will be questions, rightly so, from women across the feminist spectrum. 

Will she, as Prime Minister improve the lot of other women, and make their paths to equality easier? 

But these are all questions for tomorrow. For now at least, we should all celebrate this landmark moment. 

 More excitement over at Femisting, with another reminder that all is not yet equal:

Julia Gillard, our new WOMAN PM – sorry, I can’t stop writing that in delighted caps – is a very impressive woman, and I have high hopes that this ouster will get voters’ approval in the upcoming Federal election. But one woman leader does not an egalitarian society make. 

At The Drum Helen Razer, enjoying ‘a little gynaecological bloat as Her Majesty’s female representative swore in the female representative of the people’, writes: 

‘A colony founded in masculinity, Australia can still feel like the land that feminism forgot. On this “historic” day, perhaps Overington, Wilkinson and co can be excused their greeting card gush.’ 

Mia Freedman briefed her readers about their new PM, adding: 

Julia Gillard is a remarkable woman. A fighter who has fought and won against many odds. A self confessed feminist and socialist, Gillard has survived the many attacks from the media and conservatives in Australia to become the Prime Minister of Australia, put in the position by the right wing factions that have previously tried to tear her down. 

Catherine Deveny sees Julia Gillard’s win as ‘a victory for all who do not fit into the category of white, middle aged, middle class, straight (or acting), god fearing (or pretending) university educated males granted a priority pass access to power (and therefore money, control, leisure and choice) at birth.’ Deveny affirms her faith in Gillard, writing: 

I believe in Julia Gillard. Not because she is a woman. But because she’s Julia Gillard. Smart, brave, strong, experienced and independent. I believe in equality and diversity. Which means knowing she can be a maggot and a mongrel when necessary. Delight and disappoint. Her promise not mine.  

  

If you have read any great comment or analysis that I have missed feel free to post it in the comments.

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Women We Love: Judith Wright

Posted by Nic Heath on June 3, 2010

“I wither and you break from me;
yet though you dance in living light
I am the earth, I am the root,
I am the stem that fed the fruit,
the link that joins you to the night.”

From ‘Woman to Child’ (1949), by Judith Wright

Judith Wright (1915-2000) was an acclaimed Australian poet also known for her environmental activism and as a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. I recently read Wright’s memoir Half A Lifetime and was captivated by her independence and the determination of her younger self to forge her own way.

Wright was born in Armidale in 1915. She attended New England Girl’s School and later studied at Sydney University. Wright left Sydney and spent the middle years of the Second World War in NewEngland before moving to Brisbane in 1943 where she found work at the University of Queensland. In 1946 Wright’s first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published. In 1950 Wright moved to Mount Tambourine with her future husband Jack McKinney, and that same year Wright gave birth to their daughter Meredith. Jack McKinney died in 1966 and Wright lived in Braidwood, NSW until her death in 2000.

Wright was born 95 years ago on May 31, and to mark the day I have asked Sydney University’s Dr Brigid Rooney to answer a few questions about the legacy of this remarkable, unconventional poet, and particularly about Judith Wright’s relevance to women today.

What was remarkable about Judith Wright?

Judith Wright was remarkable, first and foremost, for the brilliance of her poetry – publication of her first two volumes, The Moving Image (1946) and Woman to Man (1949), met with almost instant acclaim, and many Australians (of various generations) encountered several striking poems from these early works when we were at school – such as ‘South of My Days’ (1945) and ‘Woman to Man’ (1946). She continued to produce remarkable poetry beyond these first collections, but they are perhaps less widely known, although increasingly some of the later poems and collections have become iconic for environmentalists and Indigenous groups – such as ‘Eroded Hills’ (1951), ‘At Cooloolah’ (1954) and ‘Two Dreamtimes’ (1973). Indeed her collection, The Two Fires (1955), was inspiration for a festival of arts and activism (established in 2005) in the NSW town of Braidwood where Wright lived during the last decades of her life. But she also offered an example of someone for whom the values relayed in her poetry seemed to fuse entirely with the choices and commitments she made in both her personal and her public life. She became a tireless campaigner for Indigenous and environmental causes, and – although she worked largely behind the scenes, writing letters, administering committees, lobbying politicians and so on – hers was also an influential voice for these causes in Australian public life, partly by virtue of the respect and admiration engendered by her poetry. Her poetry and public roles were reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.

What does Wright’s poetry offer a feminist analysis? What are the feminist themes that run through Wright’s work?

Some of my answer to this is contained in my response to your last question. I have many favourites among her poems. Wright’s poetry offers a powerful exploration of experiences that pertain particularly to the female body and female-oriented experiences of ‘time’ and of life cycles – of death and birth, of pregnancy, and desire, and the interconnections and rhythms of these processes or states. Her very acute observation of the natural world – of the land, of its plants and animals, its birdlife, of the seasons and the elements – is often mediated by this gendered experience. She moves from enclosed, intense, private and individual experiences, through symbolism, outwards toward that which touches the universal human condition. Her voice is captivating, magnetic, yet her versifying is often quite traditional, looking back to her favourite poetic models – the Romantics in particular, like Blake, Keats and Shelley, yet also to some of the modernists, like Yeats and Eliot. These male literary progenitors provided a poetic framework, but what she does with this framework is to convert and transform it to express a woman’s experience. Later she experimented with other poetic forms, from other cultures, from Japan and elsewhere, and they sit alongside these Anglo, often patriarchal models, quietly interrogating a world that operates too rationally and mechanistically to divide body from spirit, human from nature, and so on. From a feminist point of view, Wright’s work is both productive and ambivalent, an occasion for reflecting on the relationship – or tension – between traditional poetic forms or modes and her distinctive qualities of voice, imagery and thought.

What was the relationship between Wright and second wave feminism?

In summary, Wright was a very sympathetic supporter of feminism, and spoke from her position as a woman and as a feminist sympathiser. She did not become deeply or personally involved in activist forms of feminist campaigning. She was much in demand as a speaker, however, at literary and other public events, and she canvassed her views on the topic of women and writing, for example, at an Australian Society of Women Writers’ Biennial Conference in 1980.
 
In Half a Lifetime, Wright relates her bitterness at realising the different destinies open to boys and girls and yet as an adult she devoted herself to environmental and indigenous causes, particularly after she stopped writing poetry. Do you have any idea why she didn’t invest herself in the feminist movement?

This is a tough one and my thoughts on this come from my overall impression of Wright’s life choices and her writing. I think that her lesser engagement with feminism, despite her obvious sympathy with feminist goals, was partly to do with her generational position and experience, and partly to do with her own personality, inclinations and orientation towards others. Wright was a fiercely independent and strong-minded woman, yet in some ways typical of a generation of Australian women (if not also of other white, middle class women in other first world nations) whose careers fell between the two public surges of activism associated with first and second wave feminism. For this generation, youth and maturity encompassed two world wars and the Depression, and they had to negotiate separately and individually the complexities these circumstances brought for women around social destiny and career path. Judith Wright, as the fifth generation descendant of a white pioneering family, however, was also born into a privileged landed class. This circumstance imbued her with a double sense, of closeness to the land, and an increasingly acute awareness of the illegitimacy of white belonging, its basis in the historic dispossession of Aboriginal people. So care for the land and redressing the wrongs done to Aboriginal people were understandably her sustained and driving commitments and top priorities.

I also think that, for Wright, a more vigorously activist approach to feminism would not have been completely congenial, in personal and emotional terms. She was dutiful towards and bonded with a number of men in her life, yet also perfectly capable of standing up for herself and for her views. It seems to me that, in the earlier part of her life at least, she enjoyed loving connections with often mature, older men, either within her own family (father and brothers), or role models and life partners. She had deep, loving and lifelong friendships with a number of women of course, including her daughter, Meredith. Her first life partner and later husband, Jack McKinney, a World War One veteran and self-taught philosopher, was very much her senior in age. His philosophical orientation and passion attracted her. She took on and championed his in some ways eccentric intellectual endeavours, and his ideas entered her poetry. Her poems engage seriously and deeply with McKinney’s ideas, giving them a life and longevity that they might not otherwise have achieved on their own. It is clear from their letters that Judith and Jack enjoyed a profoundly loving relationship. After his death, and at a time when she had assumed both governmental and activist roles in the areas you mention, she developed another very close relationship and intellectual partnership with one of Australia’s most senior and influential public servants, H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs – knowledge of their relationship was long confined to themselves and a small inner circle but more recently, belatedly, has been revealed in the public domain. None of this ever precluded Wright’s interest in and sympathy for feminism, but I think that these orientations and positions militated against her making a very strong investment in the feminist movement as such.

What is her legacy to Australian women today?

I think Wright’s poetry, which conveys a woman’s perspective without being ‘feminine’ in a simple, domesticated sense, is perhaps her greatest legacy. It’s a legacy made more powerful and resonant through the energy with which she also contributed to and advanced those twin public causes – of caring for the environment and dealing with the ongoing impact of Australia’s colonial past and present. Her poetry – not just her miraculous early poetry but right through to the work of her maturity and older age – conveys the wisdom and experience of life, of birth, of love, and of the self in dialogue with the other. It possesses extraordinary lyrical power, a vivid clarity and an emotional truth that surely means it will continue to be loved by women (and by men), young and old, for a long time to come. Wright’s poetry is a legacy for all, but I suspect it holds a particular power for women. She has inspired innumerable younger women – especially poets and others – through her writing and her activism. I think women often pass their appreciation of Wright on to other women, to their daughters, and even to their sons. Inseparable from this legacy is the evidence of her active commitment to making the world a better place for both women and men, and for present and future generations. At times she expressed pessimism, in the face of the threats to humanity and to the natural world that she apprehended all around, and in some of her thinking in these areas she was ahead of her time. But her response to these threats was not to withdraw, but to engage and act, and this example might also be her legacy.

Brigid Rooney
27 May 2010

Many thanks to Dr Brigid Rooney for both her time and her wonderful response.

Posted in Interviews, women we love | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Spill fever and the feminist fallout

Posted by Nic Heath on December 9, 2009

Politicians, pundits and the public alike have been giving women’s role both in the electorate and in elected office a fair amount of thought recently following the spill fever in federal and NSW state politics.

First off: the Liberal spill that led to Tony Abbott’s surprise ascension to Leader of the Opposition. As the Twittersphere lit up and the nation tried digesting this unexpected development one thread of analysis looked at Abbott’s somewhat erratic relationship with female voters.

I must admit I rarely pay mind to anything that flows from Miranda Devine’s pen, but now I’ve read her defense of Abbott’s inherent appeal to women (or rubbishing of “the aggressively secular, paleo-feminist, emasculating Australian broad, for whom unabashed red-blooded blokeishness is an affront of biblical proportions”) I might as well take a moment to disagree with her.

In Abbott’s real trouble is the sisterhood Devine’s premise is to refute the claim that the “popular perception of the new Opposition Leader is that women can’t stand his blokeish, confrontational style.” This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the reason women voters may steer away Abbott. By pinning the problem on Abbott’s style, Devine skips over the real problem – which is the substance of Abbott’s views on social policy.

What women voters are more likely to find worrying than political bluster is Abbott’s previous history of blurring the line between his personal religious beliefs and his public role in federal cabinet. A notorious example of this is Abbott’s handling of RU486. As Health Minister Abbott was seen to make a decision based on his personal morality rather than for the overall good of Australian women’s reproductive rights, which effectively constituted a violation of trust.

I would argue that the big issue here is not Abbott’s attitude to women per se, but how his Catholicism affects his political and social views. Is it acceptable in Australian secular society to have the country governed by leaders who have trouble separating religion and politics? It strikes me as dangerous territory.

So what makes Abbott potentially divisive to the electorate lies in his conservative views and whether you are sympathetic to them or not, rather than your sex. Miranda Devine for one is clearly unperturbed by Abbott’s views on abortion (she probably thinks he’s a bit liberal). It is likely though that an openly religious politician whose faith directly informs his politics such as Abbott has a greater chance of alienating women when his religious views clash with reproductive rights.

More worrying than his perceived ‘blokeish’ demeanour is Abbott’s reshuffled front bench. As Crikey’s Bernard Keane puts it:

“In the event of an Abbott election victory, this line-up would almost certainly drive action on abortion and other social policy touchstones in government. Eric Abetz tried to stop Medicare funding for abortions in the last term of the Howard government. Hardline Catholic Kevin Andrews first came to prominence striking down the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws. Barnaby Joyce, another Catholic, has described abortion as “carnage” and has said he wants sexual assault victims to take a resulting pregnancy full-term. Bronwyn Bishop, Phillip Ruddock and Sophie Mirabella all voted in support of retaining the ban on RU-486”.

It remains to be seen whether this conservative shadow ministry will campaign on conservative social policy, or will Abbott as Opposition Leader put his electoral responsibilities before his faith? This comment made by Abbott on the 7.30 Report isn’t at all encouraging:

“Well, I’m not gonna try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – women’s or anyone else’s. I will be myself. I will not try to remake myself. I imagine that as my political circumstances change, people will see different aspects of my political character, and they’ll make up their own minds.”

It will be interesting to see how women vote in next year’s federal election.

Meanwhile, Kristina Keneally has the dubious privilege of becoming NSW’s first female premier. Dubious of course because it is NSW, and a privilege because Keneally has made one more crack in the glass ceiling.

Or has she?

Much has been made of Premier Keneally’s ties to factional heavyweights in the Labor Government, with the epithet ‘Puppet Premier’ appearing in dozens of headlines reporting her promotion last week.

So is it true, as Tory Maguire suggests, that “those looking for a feminist victory to celebrate should probably look elsewhere”?

Is it fair that every female politician in leadership roles be assessed for their suitability as a clear-cut feminist role model? What makes a ‘feminist victory’ anyway? Keneally is an imperfect candidate for the post of premier in much the same Nathan Rees was 15 months ago. She’s inexperienced and at the helm of a government flawed by its factions, so we’d best wish her luck.

So where do I look for my feminist victory? Can it be argued that KK makes the cut? Julie Bishop – Stepford Deputy?  Who in Australian politics constitutes a bona fide candidate for feminist success? Who can we be proud of?

My vote is for Julia Gillard, but comment with any other suggestions of female politicians who float your boat.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

And now for feminist pornography

Posted by Nic Heath on November 24, 2009

Popular pornography is undeniably big business and, thanks to the internet, virtually ubiquitous. I mean, it isn’t something I encounter often when I’m online checking the news but if you’re halfway interested, porn is a click away.

Pete Malicki’s ‘How Liberating is Porn Really?’, published at New Matilda, sums up my thoughts pretty well about the problems in the way mainstream pornography portrays women and sexuality. He also provides a neat description of what makes your bread and butter porn, which you can read for yourself at New Matilda. The thrust of his definition hinges on the preoccupation in popular pornography with male desire and the concurrent indifference to women’s sexuality.

I recall as a teenager when the porn craze hit. Girls and boys would watch it, probably mostly a typical teen taboo-breaking exercise. Adult audiences aside, the most dangerous consequence of young people viewing mainstream porn films is that the watching often constitutes a first explicit glimpse of a sexual act. It would be impossible for a young person to be impervious to its influence; pornography sets unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for boys and girls to try to emulate in the bedroom (or wherever). I can’t imagine that sex education in schools offers a correction to this skew.

As Pete Malicki says:

“Given that porn overwhelmingly represents a version of male fantasy, female viewers will be shown what males “want” sexually. It’s pretty easy to understand why women who have been overexposed to porn might feel pressured to fit that fantasy, even without being asked to perform [such] acts.”

Behaviour isn’t all that can be affected – porn provides an aesthetic template too. Arguably the rise in labioplasty, or cosmetic labial surgery, is in some part attributable to the unrealistic “elegant-looking labia” you can see in mainstream pornography.

I suspect women who voice any opposition to popular pornography are often accused of being sexual spoilsports. Statistics show that many women watch porn, and it is possible that many of them watch your standard money shot stuff in the absence of explicit films that pay more mind to a woman’s pleasure.

Of course there is plenty of pornography out there that resists adhering just to the male gaze. In October this year the first Feminist Porn Film Award was awarded in Berlin, and you can read about the awarded film makers here, and the criteria – which include ‘no misogynistic portrayals’ and more women in production roles – here. Films that fulfill the criteria will be given a ‘PorYes’ stamp.   

It’s safe to say that watching pornography can be an ethical minefield and for those who’d like less degradation with their titillation, the PorYes seal of approval could prove helpful in finding enjoyable erotica, and the internet – often blamed for spreading misogynistic material – is the perfect vehicle for the dissemination of feminist pornography.

And I note that while the Sydney Morning Herald recently reported on the PorYes movement, Life & Style web editors stuck to house pictorial policy and used a breast-enhanced image to accompany the article.

Posted in porn | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The pastel divide

Posted by Nic Heath on November 11, 2009

Code Pink, posted by Lauren Sandler at Mother Jones’ Culture & Media blog, examines the implications of the gendered pink-blue split among children. Gender as represented by pink and blue goads me particularly because it is emblematic of the first step of applying gender to an individual; the first aesthetic step in a socialising process that will ultimately determine or at least heavily influence lifelong behaviour, relationships, occupations, treatment at the hands of others, education etc.

Dressing a newborn in either pink or blue is not a benign social tradition. Like expecting a woman to change her name upon marriage, it is an unquestioned convention that is hugely symbolic – in this case of the enormous gulf between sex and gender, and the widespread indifference to this disparity. In contemporary society pink and blue each carry codes of behaviour that children comprehend at a very young age. From Code Pink:

“Pink itself isn’t the problem; it’s the message it conveys. That troubling message…is that girls and boys are deeply dissimilar creatures from day one. Lise Eliot [a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It] argues that the pink-blue split shapes some enduring assumptions about babies’ emotional lives—at a time when girls’ and boys’ brains are almost entirely alike.”

A girl in pink will be encouraged to be passive and appearance obsessed. She will have different opportunities to her brother in blue, and different expectations placed upon her. Despite her own personality, she will have been shaped by forces beyond her control all her life – without ever really exercising her choice.

Monica Dux highlights how dramatically young girls can be affected by adherence to gender colour-codes and its accompanying behavioural baggage.

“Like raunch culture, the fairy princess aesthetic and its associated paraphernalia serve to entrench an extremely narrow idea of femininity, impressing on young girls that they are pretty, flighty little objects to be admired and marvelled at, rather than active young things seeking out adventure.

“This reinforces a passive understanding of what it is to be female, encouraging fantasies that are focused less on action, and far more on how you look. Of course, fairies and princesses can have adventures, but hyper-feminised modes of dressing put the focus squarely on appearance, teaching girls that self-worth is measured by how pretty you are, and not by what you do.”

The gender split that begins with the pink/blue dichotomy has other more sinister effects.  Kate Townshend, a British primary teacher, has written about ‘gender in the playground’ for the F-Word. Calling on her experience in the classroom, she links infant pink to the sexualisation of young girls – a topic which has had a great deal of media attention in recent years.

“They don’t call it grooming for nothing, and it starts with the indoctrination of ‘pink’ for girls from infant-hood onwards. Or so say the organisers of Pink Stinks, “a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the ‘culture of pink’ which invades every aspect of girls’ lives”. They argue that by the time they reach their teens, female children have a life-time of learning to become sexual objects behind them, so perhaps we should be far from surprised when 10-year-olds start clamouring for the latest porn star t-shirt, or worrying that their legs are too short…

“These kinds of attitudes hurt children of both sexes, not least because they leave them bereft of positive examples of male-female interaction in the media world they tend to worship and adore. But though they lack the words to articulate it, it seems obvious in some of the schools I go into that the boys know things are weighted in their favour, at least in the short term. By 11, they have already learnt that calling a girl fat effectively finishes the argument. It doesn’t matter whether she is actually fat or not. It has become a code word which makes it clear that since female self worth is built upon looks, it is easily destroyed by male indifference or antagonism.”

All of this is fairly self-evident. What is illuminating is that this convention, so entrenched as to be accepted as reflecting human nature, is a relatively recent social development:

“Assigning colour to gender is mostly a twentieth century trait. It should be noted that it is a practice limited most often to Western Europe and the Americas. It would also seem that the effect of colour-coded gender differences (pink for girls, blue for boys) existed oppositely initially.”

As Sandler explains in Code Pink, “this was a nod to symbolism that associated red with manliness; pink was considered its kid-friendly shade. Blue was the color of the Virgin Mary’s veil and connoted femininity.”

Which makes pseudo-scientific breakthroughs that support an evolutionary basis for every perceived gender difference, from a woman’s predeliction for shopping to a man’s fear of commitment, look ridculous – such as this one linking the pink/blue split to blue skies and blushing berries in our prehistory.

Still, pink for girls and blue for boys remains the dominant code used to consider sex and gender, and this stereotype is exploited and perpetuated by advertisers.  

So colour-coded gender and the ideology it represents – clearly such an effective marketing tool – is not likely going anywhere soon.

razor-women

Venus women's razor

razor-men

Schick Quattro Titanium men's razor

Posted in Parenting & Family | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

On banning the burqa

Posted by Nic Heath on August 18, 2009

As has been widely reported in the last few months, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has the burqa in his sights. In June he announced to his compatriots that France would not accept a garment that made prisoners of the women who wear it. The latest controversy has seen a woman banned from wearing a burqini in a French public pool, ostensibly on hygiene grounds.

Sarkozy is the latest in a long line of politicians who have attacked aspects of Islamic dress in the name of women and their rights. These moonlighting feminists, by headlining their stance with a women’s lib tag, I think mask the true scope of their agendas – which in Sarkozy’s case could be to protect a certain aspect of a country’s cultural identity, or to marginalize another, or to assert authority.

As much as I dislike the burqa myself, vilifying the aesthetics of fundamentalist Islam – rather than say, focusing on the actions and beliefs of those who oppress women in the name of Islam – is a misalignment of energy and policy. Symi Rom-Rymer says it well in the Christian Science Monitor:

There are, no doubt, some women who are forced to wear this all-encompassing garment by their families, just as there are non-Muslim French women who are mistreated by their families in other ways. But to view the garment solely as a prison and as a symbol of male oppression, as Sarkozy does, oversimplifies a complex issue and may end up hurting the very women he’s trying to help.

If Sarkozy is truly concerned about the rights and dignity of these women, he ought to use high-profile speeches to discuss their needs, their concerns, and to focus on what they can contribute to and gain from French society, rather than on what they wear while doing it.

What will happen to women not permitted to wear the burqa in French public life (of whom there are reportedly 400 in France)? Will they happily cast it off and bare their exposed faces to shopkeepers and bus drivers? Will they enroll in university or vocational courses? Will they leave abusive husbands? Will it solve all their problems?

I have no definitive answers of course but I imagine that the result could be otherwise – could lead to further marginalization, could leave women further ostracized and isolated from the general community. As difficult as it is, if one is concerned about the rights of women wearing the burqa, it would be more useful to take a positive stance through giving those women support and fostering opportunities for their self-determination.

The wider Australian community also has a strained relationship with Islamic dress. The burqa perfectly manifests the other when held against Australia’s traditional cultural identity – laidback laconic larrikins living it up on the beach etc. The burqa threatens many people’s sense of self and of belonging. As Irfan Yusuf noted in July in The Age, Muslim women wearing the burqa provide the media a ‘potent symbol of Islam in the West’, one that is regularly exploited by news outlets.

When one Sydney Muslim man called for polygamy to be legalised, the Herald Sun website carried a photo of two burqa-clad women crossing the street. The website of its Sydney equivalent regularly carries photos of burqa-clad women in any story even mildly related to Muslims.

Julie Posetti, speaking at a forum at the ANU in July (which you can watch at ABC Fora), sums up my position pretty well. She argues that banning the burqa would be an oppressive move, and that much of the language used in calls against the burqa recalls cultural imperialism. She rightly says that the state has no place in a woman’s wardrobe. Imagine the government legislating against bikinis, or Catholic nun’s habits – it becomes an ethical minefield. Similarly murky of course is the boundary between cultural sensitivity, or regard for an individual’s rights, and cultural relativism.

Banning the burqa looks more like another symptom of France’s troubled relationship with ethnic minorities than a step forward for feminism and women’s rights. Policies of social inclusion and education would surely be more beneficial than those of prohibition and exclusion.

Posted in Faith and Religion, Fashion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fifteenth Down Under Feminists Carnival

Posted by caitlinate on August 6, 2009

DUFC15

The Fifteenth Down Under Feminists Carnival (July 2009) is now up at Hoyden About Town. I always forget to mention it here but you should all definitely go check it out – and have a look through some of the older Carnivals too!

Posted in Blog Watch | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Your inner sexpot consumer

Posted by Nic Heath on June 24, 2009

 

american apparel

The image accompanying The Age article

A couple of Sundays ago The Age website featured “Cheeky ad campaign or sexploitation?” – an article about “a popular clothes retailer using highly sexualised images of young women – many of them company staff ” in its advertising.

 

There are tons of photos of women in provocative poses on the Models page of the American Apparel site. I’m not arguing for the complete removal of sexual provocation from advertising images – sex has a place in the public arena – however some of the photos have no discernible relevance to American Apparel products. In this slideshow, for instance, Hannah Lee is pictured topless, with no American Apparel clothing in frame. Sunday’s Age article describes Hannah as ‘very young’ and the pictures ‘all provocative poses and barely covered breasts.’

The DIY aesthetic of many of the photos – taken in front of door frames, on couches, but mostly on white-sheeted beds – gives the viewer a sense of the voyeur. The many pictures of Natasha look like they were taken by a lover. Sophia, on all fours, arches her back and cocks her hips. Veronica, looking over her shoulder towards the camera, juts out her buttocks. Many of the other photos stick with this soft-porn script.

It is not hard to work out why businesses such as American Apparel opt for overtly sexual images to advertise their product. As Daily Finance points out, this strategy has been very effective for Calvin Klein in the past. “Every year or so, Calvin Klein manufactures a fresh “controversy” with a button-pressing, taste-defying ad campaign calculated to generate stories on the evening news without quite crossing the line into outright indecency of the sort that would provoke the authorities.”

I followed the Daily Finance article to this early incarnation of teenage sexual innuendo as a marketing strategy, when Brooke Shields reminds us nothing comes between her and her Calvin Kleins.

Do these images constitute the “caricatures of female hotness” identified by Ariel Levy? Last year the Herald Sun reported that many women “felt the way they were portrayed in advertising and marketing harmed their ability to be taken seriously in the workplace.” Citing the results of a survey conducted by Splash Consulting Group, the article said “most of the 500 women surveyed said they would go out of their way to boycott a product or service if they were offended by an advertisement for it.”

While the sexualisation of women in advertising uses women as commodities, as Monica Dux and Zora Simic point out in The Great Feminist Denial, young women ‘make ideal consumers’. Will women use their buying power to render obsolete exploitative advertising?

Posted in Media Watch, Watching The Ad Breaks | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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