Casual Sexism: Myths, Debunked

Trigger warning for misogynist, homophobic language, discussion of sexual assault.

“Grow some balls!”/”That takes balls.” 

Having balls is a compliment or an insult, depending on how it’s used, but it comes back to the idea that being courageous/brave/forward is a male thing. I’m sure no one doubts that these traits are certainly present in women as well, however the problem here is linking such traits with cis-male genitalia. There’s also a bit of an irony to this saying. Testicles seem to be the most sensitive part on a male body. And yet, ironically, they’ve come to represent toughness.

So far, there’s no problem, really. Where’s the sexism?

The problem is when it’s used to describe a woman. And there are two issues with this. First, cis-women don’t have balls. So substitute balls for ovaries? It doesn’t quite have the same ring. We don’t even have a colloquial word for ovaries in english (in common usage, anyway, Urban Dictionary informs me that the kids are calling them “Os” these days), and yet I can think of numerous slang words for testicles off the top of my head. Balls, nuts, bollocks, crown jewels.

The second problem with this saying is when someone says to a woman “grow some balls”. Meaning get some nerve/drive/courage. It’s reductive because, in light of the fact that women don’t have them, it implies that courage/nerve/the go-getting attitude is A Male Thing. This insult’s close relative, calling someone a “pussy”, perfectly compliments this idea by saying that if you don’t have these things, you are female genitalia.

Finally, this is pretty trans* phobic language. The expression totally adheres to the gender binary, and in doing so, defines internal gender characteristics by reference to physical (external) gender. In this way, gender is represented as a dichotomy rather than a spectrum, and physical and mental manifestations of gender are wrongly conflated.

“You’re such a girl!”

Being a girl in this context is synonymous with being weak, submissive, and crying easily. Of course these traits are feminine, and therefore negative (according to this insult’s logic). The female gender is reduced to an insult. Like it’s the last thing anyone would want to be.

I’ve also noticed people employing this gender essentialist language to describe themselves or others in a positive way. Well in a retro-sexist positive way. Take this for example. “I just love crocheting and baking sponge cakes, I’m such a girl” or this, “my boyfriend eats soo much, he’s such a boy”. In other words “I do [insert gender-essential trait here], therefore I’m such a [insert gender here]“.

Like the “you’re such a girl” line, these expressions reek of gender essentialism. In the world of these expressions all girls wear pink dresses with little bows and like to knit or flower-arrange in their spare time. Likewise, the “boys” don’t show any sort of complex emotion, like “big” things like cars and trucks, and of course have enormous appetites.

“Take it as a compliment!”/”Have a sense of humour”/”Don’t be so serious.”

You know that person who says you look cute when you get angry, or that person who says they’re a feminist and then proceeds to completely objectify you (by being overtly sexual, asking you for naked photos – true story!)? This is one of their favourites.

People like to pull this one out when someone makes a sexist/homophobic joke and you don’t let it slide. If only you’d just stop being such a humourless feminist and appreciate some good old humour! Go on, take those sleazy construction worker catcalls as a compliment! You should like receiving that attention; it means you’re attractive, right?

Just no.

The idea of someone who “wears the pants” in a relationship.

This saying manages to be astoundingly heteronormative, with a generous helping of tired gender roles and gender essentialism.

Re: gender essentialism, first. It’s underscored by the idea that the person who wears the pants is a man (even though women wear pants. Indeed, I’m wearing pants right now). And that this pants-wearing man is the one who wields the power and authority in a relationship. It’s premised on the idea that it’s not fathomable that two people in a relationship, irrespective of their gender, could simply be equal, and that there may actually not be either particular person calling the shots. To think that someone has to be “the one in charge” is just really…weird and paternalistic.

Moving on to the heteronormativity of this. Just…wow. If the saying is based on the idea that one person in a relationship must either be or resemble a man, then what of a relationship where there are no men, more than one party is a man, neither party is a cis-gendered man?

It also assumes that everyone is in a monogamous relationship between two people.

The thing about this saying is that it’s usually aimed at relationships that don’t, or appear not to conform to narrow conceptions of how gender roles should be. Lesbian relationships are frequently targeted by absolutely hilar observers with these sorts of sayings. But even heterosexual relationships, where the female party might be noticeably forward or self-assured, can be targeted. Observers will wryly note, “well she really wears the pants in that relationship”.

“That sucks dick”/”Go suck a dick”.

This saying seems to be underpinned by the conception that fellatio is fundamentally degrading/debasing. Like “sucking a dick” is a really crappy thing to do and should only be reserved for crappy people. Which confuses me because receiving fellatio is like proof that someone’s A Real Man, or just generally awesome. So…it’s a shit thing to do, but if you get it you’re awesome?

Raping/being raped by things.

I’m going to keep writing about this until rape stops being funny to people. But first, let’s go back to a definition of rape, shall we? So (my non-dictionary) definition of rape is non-consensual sexual activity with someone. But it’s more than that. It’s an expression of power over someone, enacted by sexual means.

Rape isn’t just having sex with someone when they weren’t really into it. It goes far deeper than that. So, again, that really difficult exam? That long day at work? That nauseating hangover? That person hacking into your facebook and changing your status? Not rape. Next time you think about using ‘rape’ to describe any of those things, (or basically anything that isn’t non-consensual sexual activity with someone) think about all those sexual assault survivors whose experiences you’re dismissing.

Amen.

~ Rosie Cuppaidge

Classy And Fabulous

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous” – Coco

Thanks, Coco, for that inspiring bit of wisdom. I want to have a chat about femininity and its place in my life and the struggles it has invited and the joys it has delivered.

The thought about femininity struck me as I was painting my nails a beautiful shade of turquoise and mulling over the concept of myths in relation to feminism. No doubt, these ideologies have stumped many a woman the world over, but indulge me for just a bit while I have a rant about how “femininity” (because scare quotes are actually really needed here, and I’ll explain why in just a sec) has impacted my life (how very out-of-the-ordinary of me, I know!).

So basically, “femininity” is a social construct, put in place yonks ago by someone random (I’m sure I could research this and find plenty of fun facts that probably relate back to religion, but whatever) and since then, it has bewildered, frustrated, and delighted the masses. The ideology goes something like this:

Girls/femininity = PINK!!!, sugar, dresses, make-up, softness, silence, grace, beauty, infantilisation, shallowness et cetera

Boys/masculinity = BLUE!!!, getting dirty, trucks and soldiers, boldness, loudness, action, effortlessness et cetera

Obviously these ideologies are way more complex, but I’ve just simplified that because it’s almost 11 PM on a Monday night and I couldn’t be arsed to write anything eloquently. Heaps more have just popped into my mind, but I’m sure you get the drift. The whole thing is bullshit. Now, let me get reflective here. I am the first-born girl in my family; I have two younger sisters. Being the typical “first girl”, I got dressed entirely in pink and ribbons and adornments, essentially rendering me a glorified marshmallow for the first five years of my life. This isn’t really anyone’s fault in particular. This is just how ideologies work in our society (see: Girls/femininity = PINK!!!). I’m sure I wore shorts from time to time, and obviously must have worn different colours, but the majority of photos show me dressed in something classy and fabulous and behaving very well indeed. A lot of that has to do with my mother raising me with civility and manners (something that every child should be raised with, just FYI), but I wonder if I would have been allowed to go outside and get dirty more often had I been born a male? If screaming fits and temper tantrums would have been received with obvious frustration, but also an underlying sense of pride at baby boy’s strong voice and rambunctiousness, instead of the scorn at wee little girl’s spoilt brat antics?

My sisters did not receive such stark femininity thrust upon them. My middle sister was paraded in purple, always mischievous and up to no good, which was a delight to many (and still is). The boxes were slowly being ticked off: my parents had the proper, bookworm, princess, as well as the witty, adorable, mischief-maker. And then along comes my youngest sister. Who was, for some unknown reason, dressed in blue and given relatively gender-neutral toys to play with. Was this because my parents understood that Girls/femininity = PINK!!! was utter bullshit? Or was it just because they had exhausted all of their preconceived notions of what being a girl was all about on the first two? Regardless, my youngest sister was always more action-packed, dirty, unruly, and just plain boy-ish as a child — the complete opposite of what I was like.

Some may argue that that is just our personalities. That’s just who we are. And I guess to some extent that is true, because we still are different to this day, and that’s beautiful because we’re unique, adult women who have forged our own identities separate from what was dumped on us as infants. But what if the way we were dressed and presented to the world as children deeply impacted our personalities and how we see ourselves? Maybe I am more insecure and shy than my youngest sister because I was brought up to be more quiet, more sensible, more bookish, more ‘feminine’, as opposed to loud, and dirty, and active, and confident.

I went through a huge identity crisis around the age of 12. For a few years, I refused to wear skirts or dresses. I refused to wear pink, and totally abhorred any colour close to it in the spectrum as well. I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to defy my boundaries. I wanted to change.

In actual fact, I love pink. I love dresses. I love make-up. I love accessorising. I love making myself feel good with external additions and adornments. This is not vapid. Or shallow. Or vain. People (women) have been led to think this about “girly-girls” in order to discredit what it means to be “feminine” in today’s society. Ariel Levy says it best in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

“Attacking femaleness, deriding ‘girly stuff’ and rolling your eyes at ‘women’s issues’, declaring yourself a ‘tomboy’ who gets along better with men because women are silly or pretty or whatever — these are expressions of internalized sexism. If that’s the way you feel about your own sex you’ll be doomed to feel inferior no matter what you achieve in life.” 

Basically, for years I rejected what I genuinely liked in order to break free from an image that I was forced to grow up with. Somewhere along the line, I learnt that femininity = bad and I wanted out. It took me a long time to accept that being “feminine” and being not-so-“feminine” is okay. We are all just people (oooh profound!). If I want to wear something ridiculously frilly and curl my hair and wear tonnes of make-up because it makes me feel good, that is fucking spectacular. If I want to not wash my hair for a week, rock a pair of track pants and a clean (but slightly blemished) face because it makes me feel good, that is also fucking spectacular. And it isn’t my place to judge anyone on the way they look, or how they dress. Jafeel?

So, in summary, Coco, girls should be whatever the fuck they want to be because they are all beautiful, fantastic creatures who deserve love and the freedom to discover their own unique femininity or femaleness or masculinity or maleness or whatever. And for the record, I am classy and fabulous, just the way I am.

~ Sarah Groundwater

The Price of Existence

This article will appear in the upcoming issue of Wom*news: Myths.

Even existing on the most basic level has a price tag. The bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. You need to pay for a roof over your head, food to eat, electricity, water, healthcare; all of those things we took for granted as kids, assumed that they were just a given. You pay through the nose to keep on living. It seems that the poorer you get, the more you pay to keep on living. We all know this, and accept it as the status quo – that living, existing on the most human level comes with a price. After all, that’s why you have a job.  Continue reading

Dear 16 Year Old Me…

This article will be featured in the upcoming edition of Wom*news, “Bodies”. Submissions for the Bodies issue close September 14, at 5.00 pm. 

Trigger warning for discussion of eating disorders and identity dismissal.

Dear 16 year old me,

Please heed the advice that I am about to write to you with the greatest of caution. I am writing this with the experiences that I am trying to prevent you from having to encounter and from the mistakes I hope you don’t make. You will read a lot of things that say ‘have no regrets’, but we never bought that bullshit.

One of the greatest regrets you will have has to do with how you see yourself. Physically, people aren’t going to see you as anything more than you see yourself. You walk around hiding your body, scared of what it means.

You hide behind your clothes – the two outfits you own because your parents are too poor to buy more. These clothes are not you. I know you want to believe that you are the type of girl who feels comfortable wearing dresses and having make up on your face, but we both know it’s painful and awkward. You tell yourself to stop hiding behind your body, but darling stop hiding your body.

As a 19 year old, you will begin to borrow clothes from your male housemate. You will start to wear men’s underwear and you will feel pain in your soul when you are forced into your girly skirts when you have to return back to the coast because your parents can’t understand what happened to their daughter.

And please, take it from someone who has read all the books you have and written all the horribly cynical poetry – eating disorders are not cool. You are in the stage right now where you are going onto ‘pro-ana’ sites and trying to lose weight. You are beautiful behind your clothes and your make up. No website is going to make you feel any better about yourself – it is only going to cause you teeth decay and a trip to the hospital. 

Deep down, I know you will read this and not believe me when I tell you this, but trust me, you will be comfortable with who you are, you will start to grow into the beautiful (and gay…) human being that is hidden beneath the dresses and makeup.

Grow and flourish darling,

Love,

Me.

~ Anonymous

Why Identify As A Feminist?

Why Identify As A Feminist?
A collage by Joanna Horton

Most of us will have encountered young women who question that value of being a feminist. And there’s no denying that, while still not equal, formal conditions for women (e.g. employment, financial independence, political representation) have improved vastly. In this piece I tried to show a few of the more subtle ways that women are still denigrated, shamed and treated like second-class citizens. These include sexist jokes, body-shaming, subscription to traditional gender roles, and unrealistic stereotypes. (Of course, it’s worth noting that the last two in particular are also disadvantageous to men.) I chose to use the format of media because a) it’s the most effective and direct way of perpetrating these messages and b) cutting stuff out of magazines is fun.

~ Joanna Horton

*We’d like to note that due to the editor’s oversight the above blurb was not included in the latest issue of the zine alongside Joanna’s collage. Sorry, Jo! We hope reading her artistic statement helps you to soak up the awesomeness of her creativity even more.

Calanthe500

Calanthe500
By Emma Di Bernardo

This short story will feature in Issue #5 of Wom*news!
*Trigger warning for physical assault of a female and gender identity dismissal.*

“It is my honour to present to you my latest creation…Calanthe500!”

The applause is deafening. The lights are bright.

“Smile, 500!” the Creator whispers to Calanthe500 as they stand up on the podium outside the rustic government building.

Calanthe500 can feel the mechanic muscles stretch up and outward as she moves her lips into a smile, teeth showing, just like she’d seen in the pictures of humans Creator had shown her. Flashbulbs flash bright as the news people take photographs of her in excitement at her humanoid behaviours.

She feels hot – the warmness creeping upon her metallic skin that is generally associated with nervousness – but she supposes that it is the lights affecting her exterior. This big reveal is her first outing in the Real World, and this amount of lights have not been tested against her skin yet. But Creator is happy, so Calanthe500 reassures herself that she will not melt.

She mentions this to the adoring crowd when it is question time. “Charming!” they respond. “So real!” So normal.”

The latest innovation in robotics – a machine with the ability to speak and process thoughts of its own accord – is an immediate success.

*

Calanthe500 spends the weeks following her birth and reveal doing appearances on television shows. Her ability to speak five hundred languages wows halls of university students. Scientists are impressed by Creator’s ability in making each of her movements silent, without a robotic noise. Calanthe500 feels warmth again; pride for her Creator. She sees what a wonderful creation she has become because of his genius.

“It took so many tries to get to the point where I could create this 500 model,” Creator tells his colleagues at a dinner held in his honour. “Many failures made a path for Calanthe500 to become the human of robotics!”

*

Weeks pass. Other copycat creations hit the market, until Creator remarks one day in his silver laboratory that no one is printing news articles about them.

Calanthe500 feels her face automatically move into an expression she knows is called a frown. Lately, parts of her move and feel when she feels like they should, regardless of certain codes programmed within her. She puts down the most recent novel she had been reading.

“Perhaps there is a function of me you did not publicise enough?” she queries gently.

Creator looks at around, contemplating her words. He distractedly accepts a glass of water from one of his older creations, Eugeni3.0. “Yes… that’s it! I was showing off her robotic advancements, but not showcasing what the public loves best: humanity.”

As a new publicity stunt, Calanthe500 is renamed Calanthe. (Although Creator still calls her 500, but she does not mind – 500 is one of his many affectionate nicknames for her.) She is overjoyed – she feels as though she is like everyone else. Reporters come flocking to see her on the streets as she engages in many public activities. Interview offers soon coming flooding in.

The most popular magazine in the country gets Calanthe for their cover story. The reporter is a short woman, with a simple notebook and a pack of chewing gum. She asks a slew of probing questions, and then finally:

“How do you feel about your androgynous look?”

“I don’t really consider my appearance too much,” replies Calanthe. She thinks she has to give a better answer than that, or Creator’s work will all be for nothing. “But yes, I do like it. Do you think perhaps my look should be more…girly?”

“Why would you want to do that?”

Calanthe laughs in what she hopes is a charming manner. “Because I’m a woman, of course!”

The reporter snaps her gum. “You’re not a woman.” Snap.

“But I’m the human of robotics,” she says bewilderedly, repeating the words her Creator oft said.

The reporter sighs and points to her breasts. “Do you have these, honey?”

Calathe suddenly feels shaky, unsure. She move her hands to her chest. Smooth metal. Almost flat. “No.”

“And what about down there, huh?”

Calanthe feels her heart sink. “There’s no opening, no,” she answers shakily.

The reporter waves her hand. “See. Not a woman.”

Calanthe has believed for the whole of her limited life that she was a woman, only to be told this. It doesn’t seem real.

The reporter gives her big parting smile, green chewing gum seeping out between her teeth. “Sorry, honey.”

*

Calanthe feels fury for the first time as Creator picks her up in their green flashy automobile. The words cannot help but leave her mouth. “Am I not a woman?”

Creator does not like being surprised. “What do you mean, 500?” he asks, hackles raising, glasses slipping down his nose.

“Am I not a woman? I have a gender binary code. You nicknamed me pet and your baby. These terms have female connotations.”

“So do objects.”

Calanthe is sure that if she could bleed, these words would cut.

*

Calanthe smooths a hand down her arm, feeling the cold, smooth surface in sadness.

She is not a woman.

She feels horribly alone in Creator’s long, spacious laboratory. She finds herself talking to earlier models stored away in their creator’s workshop about this genderlessness: Eugeni3.0 and Harrae21. They tell her they are proud to neither be he nor she. They say Creator programmed them without gender binary codes. They like it. It fits well on them, unlike the inferior silver material that is their skin.

Calanthe does not agree with binary theories. She wishes she could care less for gender. But Calanthe enjoys being her and she and woman.

She uses these terms in secret, in her mind, where no one can tell her she is wrong, where she cannot be, where she is not.

*

Creator is more agitated than usual. He is up late and Calanthe, along with the other creations, are worried. The decline in his publicity is affecting him negatively.

He goes to switch on his computer when he notices Calanthe reading on the opposite side of the room. Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

“That’s it!” he says, almost to himself. “I’ll make you a counterpart, a partner, just like Victor did.”

Calanthe is alarmed by this. “I’m only half way through the novel, but considering the protagonist’s other misadventures, I don’t think that is a good idea,” she replies warily.

“An opposite of 500…” Creator says dazedly, lost in his genius.

“How can another creation be opposite if I have no gender?” Calanthe asks.

“I’ll make it a male robot, then.”

Calanthe slams her novel down on the table. Anger makes her hands shake. “It’s okay for me to have a gender when you want me to, but not when I desire it?”

Creator’s eyes narrow. “That’s enough, 500.”

“My name is Calanthe. You gave me that name.”

“I said, that’s enough.”

“No, it’s really not.”

Calanthe feels cold and hot at the same time as she watches Creator’s facial expression change. She realises this is what it would feel like to be sick.

“Perhaps it is you that needs a change,” Creator says softly.

The words steal all thoughts from Calanthe’s mind. She watches in frozen horror as Creator sets up his flat silver workbench and brings out his toolbox. He orders for Calanthe to lie down.

“W-why?” Calanthe dares to ask.

Creator looks at her, annoyed, as though she were a small task in the way of a larger one. “I’m going to reprogram you.”

Horror rises inside of her. “No!”

“It’s just to make you feel a little calmer, that’s all, 500.”

But every mechanical piece inside of her knows this isn’t true. Reprogramming means she would be brain dead. Emotionless. A true robotic of the old age, no longer human.

“You’ll only feel a click, nothing more,” Creator reassures her, and she knows her fate is sealed.

Calanthe dutifully silences herself. Just a click. Just a click, Calanthe.

She is shaking with fright as she lies down on the table and Creator touches the tip of her skull until a small compartment slides open. She wishes she were like the old models of his creation, the inferior robots that noisily rattled when they moved. Perhaps then Creator would truly see her fear, and stop what he was doing. She wishes she her physicality could support water, for then she could cry. Perhaps tears would bring the human out in him.

Calanthe pleads to Eugeni3.0 for them to overpower Creator, for they are strong enough; cries out to Harrae21 for them to make Creator see reason. But they sit still, silent and humanoid and robotic, held back by the unseeable identity that Creator assumes: power. He can revel in what he is, although no one can physically see it, while he tells Calanthe whatever she is is not true.

She can feel him fiddling around in her mind, tapping codes on the digital keyboard in an agitated, jerky way, to a rhythm Creator sees fit. She is horrified and furious and so very frightened. She howls for help, but no one hears. Calanthe looks to Eugeni3.0 again, the word please on the tip of her ton-

Click.

 

~ Emma Di Bernardo