“Are Women Invisible?” Clementine Ford Seminar – Photos and Live Recording

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The UQ Women’s Collective is pleased to announce the complete success of our event UQWC presents: Clementine Ford. Author, social commentator, and feminist Clementine Ford spoke on the topic of women and girls in the media at UQ on Friday, October 3rd to a full room of excited and engaged feminists. Ford is indeed an eloquent, sassy, and vital voice in modern-day feminism, unlike the world according to Andrew Bolt, who says she’s ‘just some feminist with bared tattoos’. Here are some great photos by UQWC member and photographer Talia Enright, with Clementine and the event’s main organiser and host, Amy Jelacic:

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We also have a recording of Clementine’s talk. Due to technical difficulties, the first five or so minutes of Clementine’s great speech has been cut off. But please enjoy the rest of her hour long talk and Q&A session as an audio recording here!

Thanks once again to all the UQWC members and the UQ Union who helped to make the day possible. You can find more photos of the day at our UQWC facebook page!

~ UQWC

A Public Confession

By Morgana Lizzio-Wilson

TW: Some crude language, sexual references

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed something interesting about myself. Something that has long evaded my attention, but I am now painfully aware of. I must confess this ‘quirk’ of mine – it cannot remain unscrutinised. When I am home, I exude an aura of self-confidence and sass. I am shrewd and bold in my critiques of current events, popular culture, and mass media. I proudly proclaim that I haven’t shaved my legs and underarms in over a month. I show my partner each night, and cheekily say, ‘Like what you see, baby? I’m a-a-a-all natural.’ I don’t care that my hair is greasy, or that a constellation of pimples is forming on my chin. I straddle my partner in bed, and brazenly declare how much I love and want him. I celebrate my vagina. I look at it, inquisitively touch it, sensually stroke it. In fact, I celebrate my whole body. I caress my curves and proudly wiggle my ass in the mirror. Powerful and intelligent women, like Julia Gillard and Franchesca Ramsey, command my respect and admiration.

Then I get dressed, grab my keys, walk outside… and everything changes. Continue reading

Destroy The Joint: A Review

By Molly Eliza

Personally, I was a huge fan of Julia Gillard, and I thought the media and the general public were unfair and at times sexist towards her. Prominent shock-jocks such as Alan Jones would dedicate all their airspace to attacking her and misogyny was rife. One afternoon, as things were really bubbling to the surface, Jones infamously claimed that female leaders are “destroying the joint”. Jane Caro then started the twitter hashtag #destroythejoint which went viral within a matter of hours. From this was born a large online collective action movement, and eventually a collection of essays curated by Jane Caro was published.

Destroy the Joint is well worth reading, especially as a fledgling feminist. Although most of it is very Australia-specific there are some great essays that represent a variety of viewpoints. In the age of the web, tumblr and blogging it is good to have a breath of fresh, local air. Lily Edelstein’s discussion of her experiences as a teenage girl is especially poignant; Rookie magazine gets a name-check along with prolific teen girl blogger Sarah Grrrlfever, whose manifesto has thousands of notes on Tumblr. Continue reading

Joan Smith’s ‘The Public Woman’

A review by Lotte Scheel

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I’m sure I’d be preaching to the converted if my only comment is that feminism is still very much needed. In a sense, Joan Smith is also preaching to the converted. When I started reading her most recent work, The Public Woman (2013), I had long since been branded as the raging feminist in most of my social circles. I didn’t expect anything she wrote to change my opinion on anything: on the contrary, I expected the entire book to consolidate my already existing views. And in a way, yes, it did. It confirmed what I already knew: that society treats women like shit, despite maintaining an illusion that women are equal.

I read this book with an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu. The points Smith makes and the case studies she uses echo a truth that I, as a woman, am eternally confronted with. Smith picks up on a myriad of issues, using case studies and statistics to make her point. She discusses the way women are treated by society, the way they are turned into a commodity, the barriers they face in politics, in the public sphere, social circles and in the home. The whole book carries a trigger warning for general misogyny and violence against women, but the chapters describing in-depth about torture and murder of women (Possession and The Witches of Perugia) carry massive trigger warnings – I managed to slowly work through Possession, but I started and could not finish The Witches of Perugia, because it was just too distressing, due to extremely high levels of sexual and physical violence.

She explains the problem is that our patriarchal society trains both men and women to accept and in some cases even relish a perverse simultaneous infantilising and hypersexualisation of women, using the glamour model Jordan and the description of a particular strip club as examples.

The title of her chapter on women in politics, Calm Down, Dear, actual words spoken by the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to a female Labour politician, perfectly embody the blatant condescension and disdain most male politicians have for women. While this chapter deals with British politics, one could easily switch David Cameron’s name for Tony Abbott’s.

While I said previously that in a way this book confirmed my already existing views, Smith actually managed to change my mind on an issue I had been sure of my stance on. It was in the chapter Buying Power, which discusses sex work and the shocking commonplace of child prostitution in supposedly developed countries.  I already knew that sex workers had very dangerous working conditions, and because of this, I was convinced that legalisation of prostitution was a good attempt at lessening the danger for women in the industry. However, Smith explains that where prostitution has been legalised, both legal and illegal brothels multiply (for example, when Victoria, Australia, legalised brothels, illegal brothels ended up outnumbering legal ones four to one).  I was also horrified to learn that in areas where prostitution has been legalised, the number of trafficked women to the area skyrockets, and the number of underage girls who are groomed for prostitution increases. Since finding out that while it provides security to some sex workers, the legalisation of prostitution actually increases the number of women who are exploited and trafficked, I have changed my stance on the issue and support the Swedish model, where pimps and those who buy sex are punished while women who are selling sex are not and are provided with safe exit strategies.

While I was impressed with the majority of Smith’s book, I did have a problem with Queen Wag, her chapter on Kate Middleton. Here Smith argues that Middleton has always played a traditionally feminine role, first literally being a lady in waiting for her prince, and then taking on the role of princess, dutifully becoming pregnant with the future monarch soon after her wedding. Smith points out that while the princes would serve in the armed forces, Middleton “stuck to the most traditional of female roles, visiting projects to do with children” (p92). While I agree that limiting women to traditional roles is problematic, and there is no doubt that the royal family’s traditions are certainly patriarchal, it seems that Smith is almost attacking Middleton herself for her adoption of these roles. On the last page of this chapter, Smith writes that Middleton has “done little since leaving university except play a supporting role to her boyfriend, marry him with great pomp and ceremony and get pregnant for the first time…unambitious, uncontroversial and bland, Kate Middleton was Queen Wag in everything but name.” This seems inappropriate considering that the main sources we have on Middleton’s life are tabloid newspapers, which offer a sensationalistic representation of everything:  there are many aspects of Middleton’s life of which we are not aware. And regardless, while I am aware it can be frustrating to watch women accept traditional societal gender roles, it is more beneficial to critique the system that constrains women, than to condemn the women who are trapped in its snares.

As Smith concludes her book with the slogan Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, I conclude with my wholehearted agreement with the dominant message of the book. Women’s rights are human rights, and as the book has demonstrated, they are sorely lacking.  Patriarchy is entrenched in our society, and it is up to the younger generation to grow up and enter the world with a new attitude. The Public Woman on the whole gives a wonderful overview of the state of women in the world today, and as such it deserves a place on mandatory reading lists for Year Twelve English in all schools, to educate young men and women: to make them cognisant of the terrible state of women’s rights – human rights, and gift them with an awareness that will ready them to make the world a better place.

~ Lotte Scheel

Themes and Characters in Charlotte Brontë’s Novels

By Kita Marie Williams

Spoilers for Brontë’s The Professor, Jane Eyre, Vilette and Shirley.

“The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and asserting a right to predominate: to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last; yes,—and to speak. (Jane Eyre: 331).”

The above quote comes from Jane Eyre, a book I’ve loved ever since I first read it in my late teens and felt stirred by its zealous and daring heroine. From then on I was fascinated by the Brontë sisters and their incredible literary work, and with the social conditions of the Victorian era. So here is a brief discussion of the themes and characters in Charlotte Brontë’s novels – and a salute to her as a brilliant woman and an outstanding author. 

The four novels of Charlotte Brontë are regarded as masterpieces of English literature. The characters she created are powerful, heartfelt, fiery and clever – and their stories are compelling, exciting and profoundly original. Brontë also wrote beautiful and poetic descriptions of nature, deeply explored human experiences, and developed her own strong ideas on religion. Through her novels Charlotte Brontë firmly challenged and criticised the conditions surrounding women, marriage, social class and employment in the 1800s. Writing under the masculine-sounding pseudonym Currer Bell, she received acclaim for her work in spite of criticism for characters and language that were thought to be violent, passionate, coarse, immoral, and depraved.

Charlotte Brontë was born in 1816 in Yorkshire, and lived until 1855. Alongside her surviving brother and sisters – Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë – she wrote poems and short stories for much of her life, and became a successful author after Jane Eyre was published in 1847.

Charlotte’s heroines each search for their own place in society, struggle to gain control over their own lives, and grapple with reason and passion, religion, moral dilemmas and the power to have both meaningful relationships and professional autonomy.

Her first novel The Professor (published posthumously in 1857) related the story of William Crimsworth, a working man who becomes a teacher in Brussels, where he meets and eventually marries Frances Henri, an Anglo-Swiss student and (later) teacher. Their marriage is highly unusual, as Frances accepts on the condition that she can continue to work as a teacher; allowing her to have professional independence and a satisfying life:

“Well monsieur, I wished merely to say that I should like, of course, to retain my employment of teaching [….] Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, monsieur! I could not do it; how dull my days would be!  [….] I like a contemplative life, but I like an active life better. I must act in some way, and act with you.” (The Professor: 167-168.)

Crimsworth’s thoughts on her request are almost revolutionary for the time, as Davis notes in her 2008 work on autonomy in Brontë’s novels; despite some initial misgivings about her role as a wife, he decides to support and assist her plans.

“I knew she was not one who could live quiescent and inactive, or even comparatively inactive. Duties she must have to fulfil, and important duties; work to do, and exciting, absorbing, profitable work. Strong faculties stirred in her frame, and they demanded full nourishment, free exercise. Mine was not the hand to starve or cramp them; no. I delighted in offering them sustenance, and in clearing them wider space for action. ‘You have conceived a plan, Frances,’ said I, ‘and a good plan; execute it. You have my free consent, and wherever and whenever my assistance is wanted, ask and you shall have.’” (The Professor: 185)

This theme was one Brontë returned to again and again in her novels; the struggle for women to lead active, purposeful lives while exploring love, relationships and their own natures. Her second novel Jane Eyre (1847) is a powerful, moving novel detailing the life and development of the protagonist as she fights to find her voice and freely express herself. Jane’s empowerment through achieving an authoritative voice of her own and breaking from various oppressors forms the heart of the novel; though she painfully tries to subdue herself and forcibly keep her low place in society. After confronting her cruel aunt as a child, she feels guilty and remorseful, and tries to silence herself:

“Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavour, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned […] I would fain exercise some better faculty than that of fierce speaking.” (Jane Eyre: 52)

However, she overcomes her own dependent place and submission continuously later in her life, as shown through her daring and passionate address to Rochester:

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are!” (Jane Eyre: 332)

The novel Shirley (1849) concerns a number of prominent characters, including Shirley Keeldar – an independent woman who has inherited an estate and a business, and Caroline Helstone – a relatively poor young woman who is raised by her uncle. Together these women discuss many topics from business, religion, to gender inequality and misperceptions of women:

“Caroline,” demanded Miss Keeldar abruptly, “don’t you wish you had a profession – a trade?”

    “I wish it fifty times a day. As it is, I often wonder what I came into the world for. I long to have something absorbing and compulsory to fill my head and hands and occupy my thoughts.”

    [….] “But hard labour and learned professions, they say, make women masculine, coarse, unwomanly.” (Shirley: 171)

Shirley later discusses the nature of women and how they are perceived:

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women. They do not read them in a true light; they misapprehend them, both for good and evil. Their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend […] If I spoke all I think on this point, if I gave my real opinion of some first-rate female characters in first-rate works, where should I be? Dead under a cairn of avenging stones in half an hour.” (Shirley: 264)

One of the principal themes of Shirley is the limited opportunities available to genteel women – which primarily amounted to marriage, becoming ‘old maids’; who were despised and ridiculed in society, or to be governesses; a position of tiresome work where they were likely to be treated poorly by their employers and live isolated, joyless lives.

Caroline Helstone thinks deeply on the subject of her own prospects:

“I feel there is something wrong somewhere. I believe single women should have more to do – better chances of interesting and profitable occupation than they possess now [….] Look at the numerous families of the girls in this neighbourhood […] the brothers of these girls are every one in business or in professions; they have something to do. Their sisters have no earthly employment but household work and sewing, no earthly pleasure but an unprofitable visiting, and no hope, in all their life to come, of anything better. This stagnant state of things makes them decline in health. They are never well, and their minds and view shrink to wondrous narrowness.” (Shirley: 293)

She thinks further about marriage, which is the only means to gain a respectable position for women – they are left to use methods such as “coquetry and debasing artifice” to ‘catch a husband’, which Caroline believes to be degrading to them, and for which they will also be ridiculed by men and other women:

 “The great wish, the sole aim of every one of them is to be married, but the majority will never marry; they will die as they now live. They scheme, they plot, they dress to ensnare husbands. The gentlemen turn them into ridicule; they don’t want them; they hold them very cheap. They say – I have heard them say it with sneering laughs many a time – the matrimonial market is overstocked. Fathers say so likewise, and they are angry with their daughters when they observe their manoeuvres – they order them to stay at home. What do they expect them to do at home? If you ask, they would answer, sew and cook. They expect them to do this, and this only, contentedly, regularly, uncomplainingly, all their lives long, as if they had no germs of faculties for anything else – a doctrine as reasonable to hold as it would be that the fathers have no faculties but for eating what their daughters cook and for wearing what they sew.” (Shirley: 293-294)

Through this and similar speeches made throughout her novel, Charlotte Brontë encouraged female professionalization and independence, and criticised social norms, attitudes, opinions and restrictions of women during the 1800s. Davis explains the views of women working of the time – “while most women of the classes below the aristocracy worked hard within the home, managing the household and raising children, work for pay was generally condemned as making a woman less feminine, distracting her from her more important domestic duties, and demonstrating the failure of her father or husband as a provider.” Many of Brontë’s heroines challenge these ideas by successfully holding professional positions while also marrying and raising children.

Charlotte Brontë’s final completed novel Villette (1853) details the life of Lucy Snowe, a young woman without living family who takes a teaching position in a foreign school and suffers through solitude and anguish in her isolation, before gradually falling in love with Paul Emanuel, a professor of literature. Lucy is a secretive, enigmatic but ambitious character, who actively seeks her own position, furthers her own education, and with the help of others finally achieves and expands her own independence as the director of a pensionnat school. Lucy’s narrative is of an unusual and difficult life as she seeks fulfilling relationships and religious understanding. Villette is considered Charlotte Brontë’s most poignant novel, as it draws deeply from the author’s own experiences in Brussels (experiences which are also explored in The Professor), and contains achingly powerful descriptions of human loneliness. The story ends with ambiguous events as Lucy anticipates Paul Emanuel’s return after three years in the West Indies. Here Brontë describes a storm and Lucy’s fears for his voyage:

“That storm roared frenzied for seven days. It did not cease till the Atlantic was strewn with wrecks: it did not lull till the deeps had gorged their full sustenance. Not till the destroying angel of tempest had achieved his perfect work, would he fold the wings whose waft was thunder – the tremor of whose plumes was storm.

   Peace, be still! Oh, a thousand weepers, praying in agony on waiting shores, listened for that voice, but it was not uttered – not uttered till, when the hush came, some could not feel it: till, when the sun returned, his light was night to some!

   Here pause: pause at once. There is enough said. Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.” (Villette: 657) 

This segment of the novel depicts Lucy’s sorrow and love, and allows us as readers to see her final position as an independent woman who has experienced many hardships but endured, and lived a long full life in spite of pain and misery. Lucy Snowe’s endurance in the face of tragedy is particularly moving as it echoes Charlotte Brontë’s own life following the deaths of her brother and sisters, and her struggle for the strength to overcome her grief.

Charlotte Brontë’s work continues to be celebrated for its originality, beautiful language, complex and compelling protagonists, and its exploration of love, religion, nature and society. In a paper on Charlotte Brontë’s female characters, Abboud explains that Brontë’s heroines disrupted the social norm and were an examination of the author’s own experiences and psyche, as she sought to prove that (in regards to women) “society’s expectations had to be rethought and reworked”.

A painting of the three Brontë sisters by Branwell Brontë; from left to right,  Anne, Emily, and Charlotte. In the centre of portrait is the shadowy image of  Branwell Brontë, who painted himself out of the picture.

A painting of the three Brontë sisters by Branwell Brontë; from left to right, Anne, Emily, and Charlotte. In the centre of portrait is the shadowy image of Branwell Brontë, who painted himself out of the picture.

References

Continue reading

The Acid Tongue Orator

As seen is Wom*news #9: Myths! 

She charges on stage, a beleaguered veteran of comedy, and launches into a set that tends to leave a stinging sensation.

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“I was in the valley the other day and I heard some guys talking about chasing some pussy. They said they were going to chase some pussy. Let’s go chase some pussy. I felt like saying if you have to chase pussy that means pussy is literally fleeing from you. I don’t know about you guys, but being chased is my least favourite form of foreplay. A little game of tiggy isn’t going to negate the fact that you are wearing white leather shoes and have red rapey faces.”

Her name is Becky Lucas, a rising star in the Brisbane comedy scene. Next month will see her in a run of shows during the Melbourne Comedy Festival with Corey White and Dan Rath, titled Undiagnosed. I was fortunate enough to chat to Becky about her time as a comic, what makes her laugh, and the myth that women aren’t funny.

Mitchell: How did you get your start in comedy?

Becky: I told this really good comic that I was thinking of doing it and he booked my first gig for me at the New Market Hotel. Looking back it was such poor quality humour; I thought it was really good. It was fine for my first go. I look at it now and I just know I would have hated me as a comic.

M: What were some of your jokes?

B: I had a joke about the bikes Campbell Newman set up and apparently people would hire out a bike and get to their destination and there was no space, no one had taken any at the other and so they had to go back. Nothing says convenience like a round trip. That’s my punch line, that wouldn’t even get laughs in a conversation. People think on stage that things are heightened, that they are funnier. But it is the exact opposite.

M: How would you describe your comedy voice or style now?

B: I think I am still finding my voice. I have recently become aware that I am quite mean. I don’t want to be, but when I look over my material it is very ‘this is this’ and I kind of attack. I’d like to think of it as satirical and observational, just mean things that I try to give a punch line so people don’t hate me. A friend of mine always calls me an acid tongue orator.

M: Where do you draw a lot of you inspiration and influences from?

B: I really like Louis C.K, Maria Bamford, Dylan Moran, and Bob Saget which might seem ridiculous. I love Jerry Seinfeld, I would probably feel like I am Seinfeldish, but meaner. Like I’m the unlovable Seinfeld. I’m Jenny Seinfeld.

M: Do you have a favourite joke that is not one of yours?

B: It’s this local comic named Dan Rath and it’s his joke about how old white guys a rarely on the fence when it comes to Asians. They either hate them or they are married to one.

M: What do you think about the article by Christopher Hitchens that proposes that women aren’t funny?

B: It sounds really bad, I know funny women. I know myself. There are funny women. There are funny women out there. But it is hard, because the article talks about how women don’t need to be funny and that is the depressing thing that biologically a man will go out with you because you might be beautiful or smart or you provide and then they can go off with their friends and be funny with their friends. But I think it kind of depends on what kind of woman you are, I mean I am quite independent, I have always been.

I think men aren’t really willing to listen to a girl being funny. They just don’t want to. They go up and say something funny and instead of laughing and processing it the way they would if a guy said it they have to give a quick scan of what she looks like. Even to this gig I was wearing this dress that is kind of short and with skin showing. I have to change into a dress where I can be a mole underneath it. It is about how you appear and whether that affects humour. I think we are hardwired to think of humour as a fat, down and out guy, or someone that is a little askew. But women aren’t taught to be pathetic. You are taught to wash your hair and do your hair and be reasonable and trot off and be independent and don’t be a fuck up. Whereas guys can be a fuck up and people will go ‘what a larrikin’. He is one of the boys and there is none of that leniency for girls.

M: He makes the comment at one point that the only women who are funny take on a masculine voice and are ‘dykes’. Do you think this is true?

B: I completely disagree with that. I think they are maybe the ones men are comfortable with listening to because they can place them into a category. I will never fuck you so I will laugh at you. I don’t think men like women who can do it all, you can’t be pretty and funny. That’s a man’s job. You don’t need to be funny. It is such bullshit. Anyone can be funny. I have met funny people who don’t even speak English, we don’t even speak the same language, and they are just charismatic

M: Germaine Greer wrote an article in response and she says that it is not true that women aren’t funny. It is just because they are less competitive. The joker is always looking for acceptance and women just don’t really care about that. What do you think about this?

B: I agree with that. I have had boyfriends where I would be sitting in a group of his friends and I will be zinging hard and later he will be like, ‘you are just trying so hard.’ And I will say, ‘That is because I want to be a part of it and it is so easy to not be’. Competiveness in a woman isn’t seen as an attractive trait and because we are conditioned so early to be attractive often women won’t pursue it. That is why women can be funny together and then separate them into a group of men and they get withdrawn. I still have that underlying urge to be liked or to be considered a woman.

M: Thank you for your time, it was great to an insight into your mind!

“Undiagnosed” can be seen at the Ball and Bear Bar in Melbourne from the 27th of March to the 20th of April. Tickets are $15.

~ Mitchell Firman

Call for Submissions #10: Cliterature!

Gasp! We’re double digits! Wom*news, the UQ Women’s Collective’s magazine, is calling for submissions for our 10th issue, with the theme of “women in literature”!

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We accept short stories, opinion pieces, research articles, lists, interviews, poems, photographs, song lyrics, illustrations, paintings, collages, cover art…and anything else creative you can think of…
on the subject of women in literature, ergo; female authors, authors of other genders, characterisation, sexism, feminism, gender and queer representation in literature, female-only novel prizes, chick lit, erotica, females in novel to film/tv adaptations, literary stereotypes and tropes, females and feminism in the publishing industry, the history of female authors, best and worst female role models of the literary world, etc
from members and allies of the UQ Women’s Collective.
Submissions are open on June 8
and close July 8, 5pm.

Your work will be featured both in the hard copy of our zine, the pdf version and as a post here at the wom*news website.

Please:

Thanks,
Emma, Rosie, Lorelei, Emily and Laura
The Wom*news Team

PS. You can find full pdf versions of our past zine issues here.

“A Silent Struggle for Women” – Women and Sexism in Parliament

Here’s a much awaited copy of Izzy Manfield and Hannah Tilling’s speech (UQWC, represent!) from the UQ Social Justice forum held back in April this year. Our topic was “Women in Parliament” :) 

Hi everyone! I’m Izzy…

And I’m Hannah…

And we are here tonight to discuss women in Parliament, and how our perception of women and our reluctance to grant them power has prevented and is preventing equality in the Australian Parliament.

Let’s cut to the chase with some stats. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women comprise approximately half of Australia’s total population. However, women are less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australian parliaments. Considering Australian women only achieved the vote in 1902, you might say this will only take a matter of time and us women shouldn’t be so pushy. But is time all it will take to achieve equality in Australian Parliament?

We are here to tell you that we need more than time. We need a complete renovation of our female stereotypes in all walks of life and in all professions and situations. We need to investigate the role of women and the sexism they face to combat this discrimination. It’s a difficult issue to overcome. While this speech may not change the world straight up, we are hoping it will give you food for thought that all of you, both male and female and anything else, can and should take this information into your own workplaces and your own careers.

Sexism is difficult because it’s rarely out in the open. It’s covert, it’s hidden, it’s a silent pressure and a silent struggle for women. It’s hard to detect and even harder to prevent.

When a woman is in Parliament, no one is going to blatantly disclaim they are uncertain of her leadership capabilities because she is a woman. They disguise their uncertainties by dragging attention to her manner of dress, her intimate relationships or family or lack thereof or any other factors that have traditionally been applied to women to keep them out of power and in the household.

How can this be changed? What are we doing about the issue now, today, so we can have a better tomorrow? What will we see when we ‘look towards the future’?

In the past half decade, all appears to be looking up for women in Parliament in Australia. With Anna Bligh, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, there seems to be a lot of recent firsts for women in Australian politics. But is this enough?

A lack of women in Parliament isn’t simply going to solve itself by us pumping BULK female members into seats. The issue is how society perceives women in daily roles and the public’s perception of ideal leadership qualities. The lack of women in Parliament starts with who you think is most worthy of your vote. If there are a man and a woman with equal capabilities and they are equally level-headed policy makers and both are excellent organisers and public speakers, who are you going to vote for?

And it’s not even that. Do we really have a society that makes it socially acceptable for a woman to be interested in politics? And once a woman is involved, is she actively encouraged to be as engaged with the debate and can she actually take control of the meeting room without receiving increasing criticism from her peers?

I know you’ve heard it all before. The stereotypical qualities of a man include being responsible, protective, capable, and in control. When a man is assertive, he is perceived as in control; while for a woman, she is instead aggressive and abrupt. Even if a woman is assertive, we disguise this quality by applying these feminine qualities (such as bitchiness) which all have negative connotations. The way we can accept women into positions with power is to redistribute the adjectives we use to describe them. Masculine words are seen for the most part as gender neutral, while feminine words are explicitly engineered for women alone. We think Nicki Minaj sums this up quite nicely in her infamous ‘Bossed Up’ clip.

Since a woman is seen to be aggressive if she’s assertive, therefore a woman is conveyed as quite manipulative, secretive and passive aggressive: none of these qualities are desirable for leadership positions and hence make acquiring such positions as a woman all the more difficult. These qualities are more than just a stereotype, they are expected behaviours that are covertly enforced.

A woman can never win when it comes to leadership in this climate. Even if she isn’t manipulative or secretive, she is just thought to be cunning enough to hide her true character; instead being branded as fake and a liar. Take Julia Gillard for example. Her appointment as Prime Minister was entirely justified under the Australian political system, and yet her entire reign has been poisoned with her fellow Australians calling her a liar; a cheat; a back-stabbing bitch. Just imagine if Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s positions had been switched with Gillard running for office in the election and Rudd then taking over shortly afterwards, how different the public reaction would have been.

Leadership qualities should be encouraged in all women, not just those who seek a political career. We can’t keep pretending all women are naturally submissive and family-orientated except for the rare, outstanding few ‘career women’ who are different. ‘Career women’ are not some aspirational, testosterone-pumped, genetically variant breed of female who are just men disguised in a woman’s body. All women have the potential to grasp and maintain power through a successful career; only in our current culture, it is seen as too difficult. I mean, the ideal woman is a fashion model for goodness sake! Yes, there is this painful idea that a woman can exist as an entity known as the ‘career woman’. This creature first appeared in the fossil record circa the second world war, but the species really began to thrive in populace during the seventies. The ‘career woman’ is, simply put, a mutant female specimen who has sacrificed her womanhood for her career. She is not expected to care for a family, and if she does she is encouraged to sacrifice her career; or vice versa. But of course, career and family cannot be combined by any female, not even this new ‘career woman’ type. Of course, family is only a lovely pasttime for a man, as opposed to a full-time job for a woman. Women who choose career over a family life are doomed to a lonely existence as a spinster and are missing a key organ that is a key characteristic of the ordinary female: the heart. If these career women don’t have an interest in fashion or a particular interest in how she presents herself, she is never going to get very far. Accordingly, the process of natural selection acts to remove such women from the gene pool through discrimination and criticism. The reality is, labelling women in power as ‘career women’ is demeaning and just goes to show how shocking a woman in power still is to the public eye.

It’s not just an annoying social dilemma with a bit of ‘shock factor’ to boot. Sexism in parliament is a form of harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. Somehow there is still a covert kind of status quo that appears to rank women incapable when it comes to making decisions and executing them.

Instead of sweeping this under the table, we need to recognise it for what it is. Sexism. In the words of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her internationally acclaimed Misogynist speech – ‘Sexism should always be unacceptable’. Why should we take the opportunity to disregard women in politics, such as Gillard herself, and cast off our negativity simply as political banter. Women should be encouraged to speak out and be passionate about social justice issues; to be honest and assertive, not be afraid to have leadership qualities and to be empowered. Looking forward to the future, I think that our country and the global community have a huge potential for equality in Parliament.

Instead of looking to others and waiting for this thing we call society to pick up its game, you, the people sitting in this room right now, need to recognise you are a part of this society and what you say, do and – even more importantly – think really impacts on even big things like equality for women in Parliament.

For if not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who? This change starts with you and it starts when you assess your own behaviours and realise that sexism is everywhere – even in your own subconscious mind.

We hope this short speech has perhaps opened your mind to the possibilities for women. Imagine a world where women were given equal opportunity to participate in politics at a Parliamentary level, and imagine a world where the new glasses of a female Prime Minister didn’t make frontpage headline news.

So good evening. We hope you’ve learnt something new and we hope you can question your own thinking enough to see more women in power, and thus more women in Parliament. Achieving this will open the window of opportunity for Australian women, which make up 50% of the population, to have equal representation in decision making for the country.

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