News Roundup – April 2013

Spiffing Sports

Over 100 of Australia’s best and brightest sportswomen have converged on the nation’s capital for a one day conference, to celebrate Canberra’s centenary and recognise The Canberra Times’s award for ”Best Coverage of Women in Sport in 2012” by the Australian Sporting Commission. The conference will wrap up with a list of Australia’s top 100 female athletes: among those to be honoured, star swimmer Dawn Fraser and sprinter, Cathy Freeman.

A five-stage Tour of Britain for female cyclists is in the final stages of planning, to take place in the spring of 2014. Race director, Mick Bennett, confirmed the decision to European media and outlined the need for an increase in publicity within the arena of women’s competitive cycling. “It seems an obvious and logical step forward given the strength of women’s cycling in this country and the enthusiasm for the sport generally… It’s a great sport and all that is needed is more opportunity for the women to race.”

The first ever round of the Tasmanian Women’s Motocross Championship was held on March 23rd, and saw 14 women compete in this typically male-dominated sport for the first place title. Sarah Knee, a local racer from Launceston, currently competes in both co-ed and women’s only races and was delighted with the opening of the women’s championship to support the increase in female participants. …

They Said What?!

Alex Bilmes, editor of British Esquire magazine, has defended his publication’s “honest” portrayal of women with a few particularly unenlightened statements at a 2013 London panel discussion on ‘Feminism in the Media.’ Sifting through his quotes was an ordeal unto itself; the following comments are perhaps the most cringe worthy offerings. “I could lie to you and say we’re interested in their brains as well, but on the whole, we’re not. They’re there to be beautiful objects. They’re objectified.”

We’re at least, or possibly more, ethnically diverse [than other magazines]. More shape-diverse. We also have older women. Not really old, but in their 40s… Cameron Diaz was on the cover three issues ago. She’s in her 40s.

Brazil’s human rights boss has warned that gender equality could undermine the classic maternal roles of women and turn society, quote unquote, ‘gay’. The following comments are excerpts from Marco Feliciano’s recently published book. ‘When you stimulate a woman to have the same rights as men…. her part of being mother starts getting diminished… I see a subtle way how this affects the family, when you stimulate people to release and liberate their instincts.’ Feliciano has been slammed by Brazilian Feminists for his views. Economics professor Hildete Pereira de Melo, from the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, has labeled the statements as ‘delusional, misogynistic and homophobic.’ Which just about sums it up, really!

Women of Words

(Trigger Warning: this news segment contains a brief mention of sexual assault and rape.)

Melbourne writer and Herald Sun contributor, Alice Clarke, has responded to the recent trend of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry rejecting Feminist labels. “It’s OK, I guess, not to be a feminist,” she writes in a recent column. “We all get to have our own opinions and that’s great (though if you don’t believe in equality, you have some issues to work out).” Her article tackles the current problems of gender stereotypes and victim blaming in cases of sexual assault – the message to women being, don’t invite rape, instead of a much needed educational standard that teaches people not to commit rape. She ends by imploring men and women to embrace Feminism, to understand that the fight for gender equality in Western society is not null and void but an absolute necessity.

Jackie C. Horne, a writer, independent scholar and author of the site Romance Novels for Feminists, has come out in celebration of a modern wave of romantic literature that moves beyond the “bodice ripper” genre popular during the 1970s. She recognizes these authors as taking ideas that were once novel or provocative – the idea of powerful, self possessed heroines – to be givens. Houston author Delphine Dryden is very much aligned with Horne’s views but still sees problems for women in the world of erotic literature, noting that some writers are too quick to fall back on tropes of slut-shaming and female helplessness. She posits the presence of heroines who can make choices as a critical starting point for Feminist authors – a woman who acts, rather than being “acted upon.”

SAVE Gender Studies at UQ!

The proposed eradication of the Gender Studies major at UQ – part of a wider scaling back of humanities subjects across the country – has sparked fierce opposition from UQ students and members of the UQ Women’s Collective. The first meeting of the counter campaign, ‘Save Gender Studies at UQ,’ attracted over 30 students and staff on the Great Court at St Lucia. An educational forum is planned for Thursday, April 11th, to precede a larger rally in opposition of the university’s cutback. Members of the Women’s Collective will be handling a social media campaign through the creation of a video, informing viewers on the importance of gender studies at a tertiary level.

If you consider yourself a bit of a tech head/actor extraordinaire/directorial genius and like to get involved in the video (or in any other aspect of the campaign) check out the Facebook page online or express your interest within the UQWC Facebook group!

~ Laura Howden

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A Lighthearted Look At Sex Myths And Women

Myth #1: “Girls? No, girls don’t do that…”

“Yeah, I’ve been away for two weeks. She must be dying without sex.”

“Um, dude? She’d probably just have a go at herself.”

“Nah, chicks don’t do that.”

*footnote: adaptation of a conversation I overheard.

Excuse me, sir, but you’re a tad misinformed. Your misogynistic approach is really fucking wrong. Excuse me while I set the record straight, because mate, honestly? Women MASTURBATE.

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Sex Scribbled On My Skin: Body Politics and Sexuality

by Johanna Qualmann

As featured in Wom*news #7: The Body Issue!

Whether it’s in the way we dress, the gender we perform or the shape we are, our bodies shape the way we think about ourselves and the way that society thinks about us. Our bodies are texts to be read, with meanings and values and rules scribbled onto our skin. Some are personal, and some are political. Some are our own choice, while others are dictated by outside influences.

When it comes to sexuality, they way our bodies are read play a central role in what is seen as appropriate. Who is allowed to be sexual, or even required to be? Who is not allowed to show their sexuality? In what contexts are our bodies acceptable?

Despite sex being so naturalised in our society, there are still a multitude of rules imposed on different kinds of bodies, allowing them sexuality or denying it. Simple acts like kissing a partner in public are problematised as soon as the bodies of the people kissing don’t fall into certain categories such as heterosexuality. Queer bodies still represent a challenge to mainstream opinion and media- among other issues, gay men are often chastised for “flaunting” their sexuality, and lesbian or bisexual women are put on display for the eyes of male heterosexual viewers. Our bodies seem to be subjected to an absurd double standard of compulsory, but immoral, sexuality.

So who is allowed to be sexual, and own their sexuality in public? In many spaces, this is reserved for heterosexual bodies only. But there’s more to this designation than sexual orientation alone – all sorts of marginalised bodies are denied sexuality. Fat bodies are among the most frequent to be portrayed as non-sexual, because the underlying idea is that fat cannot be attractive. Fat people who are openly sexual threaten this belief, and as such, and when fat women do represent themselves as sexual (or are represented as sexual in the media), they’re cast as hypersexual or vilified as ‘sluts’.

Likewise, disabled bodies are denied ownership of sexuality by also being portrayed as non-sexual entities in both public representation (such as in the media) and in private (such as by carers). Self-described body revolutionary and disability activist Jax writes:

I am invisible as a lesbian in the queer community because my disability renders me a-sexual, and I feel invisible as a lesbian in the disability community due to dominant heterosexual discourses. My disability negates my sexuality; my sexual identity becomes ‘unintelligible’ to the gaze of others (Personal communication, 9th September 2012).

In general discourse, disabled bodies are perceived as non-normative and even defective or incomplete, and sexuality is the first casualty.

The list continues: ageing bodies, non-white bodies, non-heterosexual bodies and non-gender-conforming bodies are all limited in the extent to which they are permitted to be sexual. Attractive bodies, then, are allowed to be sexual and express their sexual identity however they wish, while bodies classed as ‘undesirable’ or ‘defective’ – indeed, any bodies that are not valued and upheld as ideal – are not.

At the same time as bodies are being denied sexuality, however, the bodies of those who are generally allowed to be sexual (young, attractive, gender-conforming bodies) are required to be sexual – often for someone else’s gaze or benefit. Being sexual becomes a requirement rather than an option. For people who actually identify as asexual, this poses a whole new set of issues, because their bodies are expected to conform to sexuality, to act sexually, to be sexually available. Indeed, when sexuality becomes compulsory, it often just as many negative effects as being denied sexuality.

It seems to all come down to value: whose bodies are valued, and whose bodies are marginalised. Those that are valued are required to express sexuality – albeit in a narrow range of ways, and whether they want to or not. Those that are not valued – disabled bodies, fat bodies, queer bodies, old bodies, non-white bodies, non-gender-conforming bodies and many more – are limited or denied access and expression. The scribblings on our skin are never fully our own – not unless we make a conscious effort to understand them and reclaim them.

~ Johanna Qualmann

Why Am I So Short?

by Izzy Manfield

Have you ever wondered why you are the way you are? More importantly, have you ever excused your characteristics or behaviours with your gender?

I’m sure everyone reading this has had their own little adolescent identity crisis, but why did you subsequently decide that your gender is what limits your identity? I personally hate the fact that gender differences are all too often attributed as sex differences. (Try not to confuse gender with sex; it tends to close your mind.) It’s become apparent to me that most people’s minds are totally closed when it comes to height, or shortness, or women: there’s no doubt to most lay people (non-feminists and science avoiders)  that the reason I’m so much shorter than my boyfriend is being I’m a woman. And we females are meant to be shorter than da boizzz. It’s how biology works.

But – gasp! This gender stereotyping totally incorrect, and while the determining of height or shortness has some basis in sex, it’s really society’s fault that someone will coo, “Ohh, you’re so cute and little!” like it’s perfectly justifiable to be cute and short because you’re female, and that’s an admirable trait in women in comparison to men.

Gender stereotypes appear to have some biological basis to them, but evolution is perhaps the most significant playing card in the success of the development of sex. Genetics and evolution interplay with each other to create diversity in life. Where mutations create new genotypes (types of genes and proteins being encoded) and phenotypes (types of characteristics displayed as a result of the genotype), natural selection selects these phenotypes by acting on environmental pressures. This allows particular phenotypes or traits to be favoured as more desirable traits will potentially be passed on to the next generation and thus will spread throughout the population in only relatively few number of generations. This is exactly how sex and sexual differences arose.

The development of sexual reproduction (and therefore sex) brought a whole new range of diversity to the planet. Suddenly DNA could be passed on to the descendants of individuals not as exact replicas of the parent bar a few mutations as in previous generations, but as a combination of genes from two parents with potentially different genomes in a process called recombination. Sex is beneficial to life because it creates diversity which therefore leads to a better chance of survival as there are varying traits to work with. I regard the development of sex as simply one big mutation that got out of hand. But sex in living organisms does not necessarily mean one male and one female individual like we see in humans; mosses, for example, experience most of their life cycle as haploid (basically as asexual) and only have very small segments and time frames for their sexual stages. In addition to this, sponges (amount many other organisms) can reproduce both sexually and asexually depending on their circumstances. The idea that being male equals this and being female equals that is very, very narrow in popular culture. Some may argue that differences between the sexes exist as fundamental differences in the human genome, which is true. But what we need to expand in our thoughts is the idea that our society existed before these changes. Society came before sex differences such as average height did. Society is humanity’s own form of natural selection. Society selects whose genes will be passed on to the next generation, and whose will be lost in the sands of time. This is an important concept to understand the differences between the sexes.

So, does sex have any correlation to height? Well, yes it does. Height is a polygenic trait, which means it is controlled by many genes. There are many components that can attribute to height; some people may be tall because their legs are long, while others have an elongated backbone. Of course, one gene does not encode for all these things entirely. Each of these features are controlled by the aptly titled growth hormones, thyroid hormone, cortisol and the sex hormones, or rather, oestrogen and testosterone. It is also normal to experience growth spurts in puberty, and girls can experience these two years in advance of when boys experience it. Again, another sex difference. Males have more testosterone than females, which could perhaps independently account for the average male being taller than the average female. What this article is trying to stress is that these differences are in existence because our environment, or our society, has selected those traits as desirable for each sex. Height differences were not inbuilt in women and men because of their sex, but because our ancestors continually throughout herstory have selected their sexual partners on the basis of their height relative to their gender.

Both societal and scientific discourse surrounding height and shortness is important for feminism. Height, in both reality and in our language, is thought of as a display of male dominance to some degree. Height is a desirable trait for humans, particularly for men. Women being shorter than men on average feeds the argument that men are naturally dominant over women. Some anti-feminists will use this kind of information to ‘support’ their claim that women have no right to want more for themselves because they are physically or biologically made to be subjugated by their male counterparts.

I’d like to conclude that this is pure ignorance of evolutionary processes that are truly the basis of height differences between the sexes. Men were not born taller to dominate over women; but because men played a more dominant role in very early western society, over time have evolved to be taller.

My shortness it doesn’t make me less dominant than any man – but in order for wider society to accept this idea, we must educate the masses on the vital difference between gender and sex.

~ Izzy Manfield

‘I’ is for Intersex: Identity and ‘I’

‘I’ is for Intersex: Identity and ‘I’
By Anonymous.

 “After stillbirth, genital anomaly is the most serious problem with a baby, as it threatens the whole fabric of the personality and life of the person. The trauma of discovering a genital anomaly in the labour ward is great for both parents and doctor.” – Dr John Hutson, MD.

Since I can remember my life has been carefully constructed around the sexual binary. During my childhood I was told both explicitly and implicitly how boys, men, males, must behave. And I obeyed – I was, after all, male. Following high school I was able to achieve financial independence and a degree of control over my life and in doing so I found that the gender binary that I had been brought up to obey was not as an immutable construct as I had believed. While undertaking a Women’s Studies major to better understand this realization, I have grown to comprehend the role that feminism, and feminist theory, has not only in helping women, but all of society. It is coming from that background that I now explore the role that intersex, those that have atypical combinations of chromosomal, morphological and/or genital presentation, have in feminist discourse.

I was born in the afternoon of early autumn here in Brisbane, a fact that took doctors 31 days to acknowledge before signing my birth certificate. I was born with gonadal dysgenesis[1] – an intersex condition – and until the doctors had decided on my ‘true sex’ I remained in that state of limbo. At the time (and, to a degree, still today) the accepted model of treatment for babies born with ambiguous genitalia was originally put forth by Dr John Money in 1972 after a ‘successful’ re-assignment of a baby boy into a girl. Money believed that by performing sex reassignment surgery to make the child appear female and instructing the parents to raise the child unambiguously as a girl, then the ‘nurture’ would override the child’s inherent ‘nature’. Only by conforming to the physical and behavioural expectations of the sexual binary can a child be ‘normal’. So how did this apply to me?

Under this model my parents were instructed, and perhaps determined themselves, to raise me ‘unambiguously’ male – ‘hypermale’. I was to have a surgery before I could even walk to try to remove my ‘ambiguity’, several more during my childhood, and lifelong hormone injections to take the place of my ‘failed’ testes. As a child I was not permitted to play with my sisters, especially if it involved any kind of ‘feminine’ activity. Neither was I able to join in any event where I could be seen naked by others. To my doctors I was seen to be a ‘success’ in that I do not identify as being female – however what they could not comprehend is that I do not identify as being male either. For all the efforts made, once I was able to live independently I found that what I was doing was merely an ‘act’ of male; the degree to which I was raised, as ‘hypermasculine’ (or, rather, hyper un-feminine) allowed me to realise this as it clashed with my own sense of self. So while I continue to ‘perform’ as male – in my clothing choices, hair style, e.g., I have become increasingly aware of that such choices do not have to be at the exclusion of ‘feminine’ ones, and that if that is the case, then what is the purpose of separation? Why do we place so much importance on the division of the sexes?

In Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, Judith Butler put forth her theory of the heterosexual matrix – that normative Western assumptions about sexual identity are based on a belief that anatomical sex causes gender development which, in turn, causes sexual orientation. By not being able to separate between biological sex and the social and cultural categories of gender means that in order to obtain a gendered place in society, one must have a linearly associated sex as well (as per my state of limbo at birth). My own experiences attest to the existence of this matrix – the importance placed on having ‘normal’ genitals, and that I be raised unambiguously male. It was reading these texts that I was able to realize the intended purpose of my upbringing, and its effect on my identity. I could see that how I was raised enabled me to ‘act’ male, but it did not bind me to the male identity. And if I did not have to be bound to a gender identity, why was one forced upon me?

As expressed in the opening quotation, the trauma the doctor speaks of is “for both parents and doctor”, not the child. I would argue instead that the degree of ‘normalization’ wrought upon an intersex child is not so much on their behalf, but for others’. For those that have never had to question the validity of the heterosexual matrix, to acknowledge the existence of those upon whose bodies the fallacy of the sexual binary is written must be intolerable. In fact, regarding the importance that others place on the necessity of ‘normal’ genitals, David Reimer, the ‘failed’ child of Money’s John/Joan experiment, recalls thinking: “Leave me be and then I’ll be fine… It’s bizarre. My genitals are not bothering me; I don’t know why it is bothering you guys so much”. Likewise, I can honestly say that my own genitals have not caused me any distress directly, and that any negativity – recurrent pain and infection, insensitivity – were brought about by doctors in their efforts to make me ‘normal’ so that I did not pose a threat to the heterosexual matrix. This degree of effort and the magnitude of its effects on my life only serve to reinforce to me the validity of the heterosexual matrix paradigm – why else would they go to such efforts?

Unfortunately, this adherence not only affects the intersex, but also innately priorities one sex over the other – a prioritisation that invariably leaves women as inferior to men. As Humm said, when societies divide the sexes into differing cultural, economic or political spheres, women are less valued than men. Until the artificial separation of male/masculine and female/feminine is broken down, then the prioritisation of the masculine male is always going to cause inequality.

From my own experiences I have seen that not only is the concept gender socially and culturally constructed, but having had them forcing upon me, that they are remorselessly unaccepting of those do not fit within its narrow range. When a society linearly regards sex and gender, they then both limit those with non-typical sex and non-typical gender expression. This practice of conflating sex with gender, as well as insisting on the sexual binary not only affects the lives of intersex individuals, but also results in an inherently unjust society that favours one division over the rest. Through my own life story I know that it is possible to develop as a person without needing a male sex identity or typical male anatomy, and going against my strict upbringing. ‘Being’ a man or woman cannot simply be ascribed to chromosomes, anatomy, or hormones – neither can it be solely determined by social upbringing. Rather, to me, sex, gender and sexuality arrive from the result of complex interactions between all of those variables and more. In addition, regardless of the mechanism for sexing or gendering an individual, I see no reason why one must subscribe to one, more, or none of these identities, nor why a society should prioritise one identity (white, heterosexual, masculine male) over others.

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There’s No Such Thing As A Slut

There’s No Such Thing as a Slut, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Having As Much Sex as I Want
by Joanna Horton

“I felt that if I wrote “slut” or “whore” or “incest victim” on my stomach, then I wouldn’t just be silent … a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they look at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking.” – Kathleen Hanna

(Riot Grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna, of the band Bikini Kill)

We can all agree that the word ‘slut’ is thrown around a lot these days, even sometimes used as a casual term of endearment between friends. Some feminists have even used it as a ‘reclaimed’ term, much like the non-straight community has adopted the term ‘queer’ and re-constituted its meaning into a positive one.

And yes, I am the first to argue that a fundamental part of feminism is the recognition of female sexuality in all its forms. Some women like to have sex a lot, some not so much. Some like sex with other women. Some like bondage, some like anal, and so on. You get the idea. The important point is to debunk the various myths surrounding feminine sexuality; to understand that all women do not fit into one of the two categories prescribed for our sexuality – virtuous virgin or nymphomaniac whore. (In recent decades a new category has been introduced – that of the frigid bitch.) Of course, all of these myths have been conceptualised and circulated by men, not women. And of course, they’re not truly representative of the diversity of female sexuality.

These ongoing efforts have made some progress in portraying women’s sex lives as nothing groundbreaking or terrifying, but just a normal part of life. However, the fight continues. One of the most contentious myths remains that of the Slut. This woman has many sexual partners, sometimes recurring and sometimes one-night-stands. She doesn’t establish a romantic connection with any of them, and she doesn’t want a monogamous relationship. Her partners presumably are of the same mindset as her, and if they want anything more serious, she kindly but firmly sets them straight.

In other words, she exhibits exactly the kind of behaviour that is considered normal and healthy (if observed with a wry grin and a ‘boys will be boys’ truism) if it ever occurs in young men.

Perhaps her behaviour is not ‘emotionally fulfilling’. Perhaps she is ‘acting out’ against some unhappiness in her life. Perhaps sleeping around does not, in fact, make her happy. These may all be true, but they’re not the point and they’re none of our business anyway. Society seems unable to accept the phenomenon of a woman sleeping with multiple men without labelling her a slut. And that wouldn’t even be so bad, if not for all the connotations accompanying that label.

Here are a few assumptions that come with the word Slut:

–       She is desperate
–       She’s a ‘nympho’ or has some other kind of disorder
–       Men don’t respect her
–       She can’t form close friendships with women due to jealousy
–       She can’t possess maternal instincts or want children
–       If she does have children, she can’t be a good mother to them
–       She has no morals
–       She seduces men (who are positioned as basically good people lured in by her feminine wiles, rather than equal partners in an exchange)
–       She has no other characteristics or features other than her promiscuity
–       She wants to get into the pants of every man she encounters
–       She is largely heterosexual, unless she fits the idea of a ‘lesbian nympho’ (a fantasy conceived almost overwhelmingly for a hetero male audience)

I know many women who enjoy casual sex with multiple partners. I don’t know anyone who fits the above descriptions. Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest that sex – such an integral and formative part of the human experience – can be decoupled from the rest of a person’s life. But it’s not ridiculous to suggest that a woman can practise a certain kind of sexual behaviour without subscribing to everything that apparently ‘goes along’ with that kind of behaviour. To return to my original point, nobody fits a sexual stereotype. Sexual stereotypes do not exist. They were constructed to sustain and perpetuate a certain kind of power structure called patriarchy. It’s no secret that this structure – rigid in its very nature – makes no room for diverse realities. So yes, I can be a ‘slut’ and a good friend. I can be a ‘slut’ and a good mother. I can be a ‘slut’ who makes a valuable contribution to society, or I can be a ‘slut’ who doesn’t.


Because there’s no such thing as a slut.

~ Joanna Horton