Three days in Australia, or, “Sexism. Sexism everywhere”.

Ever since Julia Gillard was elected, Australia has been forced to shine a light on its attitudes towards women – and more specifically, women in power. At times the ride has been exhilarating and empowering, and at times it has drifted towards the ugly and downright rude.

But the last 48 hours have really demonstrated to me just how far we have to go. So, without further ado, I present to you the last two days in the life of an Average Australian Woman:

Tuesday morning: Wake up, make a cup of tea, and read the front page of the paper. Try to keep your toast down as you realise that the murderer of Jill Meagher was on parole, and had been convicted of 16 other counts of rape. Your mind immediately jumps to how many others serial rapists are currently “rehabilitated”, and are now out in public.

Tuesday afternoon: You read that Julia Gillard has attempted to start a “gender war” – and remain somewhat confused, because you were under the impression that this particular war was started centuries ago. You realise that Julia Gillard is concerned about Tony Abbott’s views on abortion, which is, in all honestly fair enough. The man does have a track record.

Wednesday morning: You read the victim impact statements from the Jill Meagher case, and wonder if it will stretch on years. The answer, of course, is yes. You will think about it next time you’re walking down the street, or next time a strange man approaches you when you’re alone.

You jump to the next news section, only to read that the Australian Socceroos coach has told a press conference that women should “shut up in public”. You wonder what his mother, wife, and other female friends and family members think about this, before realising that it doesn’t matter – their voices probably won’t be heard in the media, anyway.

Wednesday lunch time: Your social media feeds spring to life, with the words “menu” and “Mal Brough” cropping up. It only takes you a minute to work out that yet another LNP member has had a serious lapse of judgement – this time, in relation to a menu, of all things. You scan through the articles until you finally reach the image of the menu in question – and find the phrase “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”. Your thoughts sway between immediate, explosive outrage for the PM and a sense of disgust that the menu ever reached the public eye. You also take a moment to note that although Simon Crean, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are also mentioned, none of their menu ‘items’ feature a reference to their appearance (or, indeed, their genitalia). 

Wednesday afternoon: You hear your two male colleagues laughing at something on a computer screen. You glance over, only to see an enlarged version of Brough’s menu appear. Your colleagues then ask you if you think it was funny – and when you reply that you don’t, are told that this sense of humour is “just the Australian way”. You point out that none of the male politicians that appeared on that menu were sexualised, or had attention drawn to their physical appearance. You then exit the room to get a coffee and bang your head against a wall.

Wednesday evening: You avoid watching the news or hopping on Facebook, because you don’t wish to buy into everyone’s outrage about a menu. You’re just as outraged as your friends and family members – but you’re also tired of nothing ever changing, and would prefer to spend an evening pretending that offensive menus never existed.

Thursday morning: You wake up to the news that a restaurant owner has taken responsibility for the ‘offensive menu’, and that the LNP party has “condemned the menu in the strongest terms”. You wonder if the LNP keeps a document on its shared hard drive entitled “Apologies for Sexism”. What would it read like? Perhaps, as this: “We apologise for [sexist comment] made by [sexist politician] here. We will try harder next time. Plz vote 4 us, c u in September, kthanxbai.”

Thursday lunchtime: You venture back to the wide world of the mass media, only to read the news that 17 Australian Defence Force personnel are under investigation over “offensive emails“. You don’t need to read any further to guess that the emails were related to women. Instead, you wonder how common these “offensive emails” in workplaces are, and recall the incident with the menu in your workplace yesterday.

Thursday evening: The media wrap-ups for the entire menu-related affair start coming through, and you brace yourself for a mention of the term ‘menu-gate’. You then reward yourself with a coffee when News.com.au and the ABC (yes, the ABC) follow through on your expectations for the most unoriginal journalism.

….. And these are just the local examples. I thought about including some of the international examples of sexism within this run down, but then I realise I would be typing this until midnight.

What does it say, when this is almost an “average” day in Australia? Firstly, it says that gender is still an issue, and will continue to be for quite some time (indeed, until the election results are counted). I’m grateful for the focus on the topic of gender – but some intelligent debate wouldn’t go astray. I’m tired of the petty name-calling, the exaggeration and simplification of all “news” content to suit the biggest audience. I’m sick of attention-screaming headlines, and “gender wars”. What I would like is an honest, forthright discussion about the current treatment of women within Australia. One that carries on up until the election, and spans across the issues of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault, attitudes of victim blaming, the representation of women in the media, the issue of female CEOs and politicians, paternity leave, equal pay, single parent (and mother) payments, and everything else I have simply missed. Of course, this is a vast discussion – but it is one that every single problem raised earlier shows we need to have. What we don’t need are any more infantile “menus”, or sports coaches with jacked-up opinions on whether women have the right to a “voice”.

Oops, I forgot my femininity

The suggestions that modern-day women have somehow ‘lost’ their femininity have been floating around for quite some time (and yes, each of those is a link to a separate blog. If you ain’t convinced, just Google ‘modern women losing femininity’, or something to that effect). Often, the accusers are people who wish for more home baking and less pointing out of their inherently sexist attitudes. However, this article by Sarah Berry reached a new level of ridiculousness. Not only does she manage to suggest that modern-day women are somehow ‘less feminine’ (because they’re working more, y’see – that inherently more work = less feminine) but she also spruiks a hilarious sounding ‘workshop’, whereby women can ‘reconnect’ with their feminine ways via a heart-shaped pillow, a tour of their own genitalia, and an outline of which archetype they need to channel (do you need more ‘Warrior’ in your life, or are you lacking a little ‘Caregiver’?).

I’m about as impressed as this cat:

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“I believe we strongly undervalue the feminine in this society,” says sex therapist, Jacqueline Hellyer. “Women’s liberation in the 70s… was a great thing [and] led to definite improvements in the status of women… but, to achieve that status, women had to prove that they could be like men… that’s fine, but… what it did show was that… women have to be like men to succeed in society.”

Conversely to male stereotypes, “the essence of the feminine is to be soft on the outside and strong on the inside,” says Hellyer. “In fact it’s only by being soft on the outside that your inner strength [can] emanate. Otherwise, as a woman you’re creating a false strength on the outside, which is hard to sustain, is brittle and prevents your true strength from blossoming and showing.”

Hang on. CONVERSELY to male stereotypes is the “essence of the feminine”. So….wait on. You’re firstly saying that the opposite to male stereotype (which, stereotypes in and of themselves are not something to aspire to) is an “essence of the feminine” – and THIS is something we need to be reaffirming? We should reinforce a traditional, sexist stereotype in order to length our “inner strength emanate”? Well, heck. You sold me. Saddle up the pink ponies, y’all, because tomorrow, WE RIDE FOR THE 1800s!

To be quite honest, I’m going to go ahead and let my inner strength emanate in all kinds of places – and none of them involve releasing my “feminine essence” and having to bake a cake. What I will do involves kicking ass at runs, or writing a ranty blog (like this!), or simply doing well at work. I may also involve the occasional “traditional” feminine activity, but I don’t NEED TO DO THAT in order to reaffirm my femininity.

The idea that we have to get ‘back in touch’ with something that we have apparently ‘lost’ is completely untrue. Gender roles change as society changes – and this isn’t a bad thing. The idea that a woman’s femininity is somehow inherently linked with her ability to bake a roast dinner is at best misguided, and at worst an outright and oppressive lie. Not all women are traditionally ‘feminine’, and femininity is a concept that is completely up for grabs. It’s insulting to the vast array of females (and males!) on this planet to suggest that women have somehow “learnt to withhold their warmth and tenderness”. And I say this to you with all the warmth and tenderness I can conjure after reading that steaming pile of rubbish.

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I’m not disagreeing with the idea that femininity is a strength, but I don’t wish to get femininity confused with the stereotype of a 1950s housewife. Not all women are “warm” and “soft”, and not all women are preventing their “true strength from blossoming and growing” simply because they naturally aren’t inclined to be a caregiver, or to want to insanely well at their job. Some women may perform more stereotypically masculine roles, and some men prefer to emulate more traditionally female roles. This is a wonderful, great thing, because it means we’re breaking down gender barriers. I have enough faith in humanity to be assured that we’ll work out who takes care of the kids and who runs the companies along the way. We don’t need to divide this shit up based purely on a person’s gender.

As for the ‘archetypes’ offered at these women’ only sexuality based workshops? You know, these ones:

The Amazon (Engages on an equal level), the Good-time Gal (About playtime and fun), the Maestra (Virtuosity and sexual skill), The Empress (Likes to take control), The Earth Gypsy (Sensual and spiritual), The Madonna (Nurturing), The Susceptive (Yielding and responsive) and The Seductress (Alluring).

Obviously, NO. NO, and uh, NO, and again just for good measure, NO. These are ridiculous. No matter how you try to say it, this is just a new and improved version of stereotypes. Women are different – they can’t be shoved into neat little boxes according to how “nurturing” or “alluring” they are. More particularly, these archetypes are frustrating purely because of the lack of terms. Sure, there’s a tonne of traditional female-based ones (yielding, responsive, susceptive, alluring, nurturing, virtuosity) and then there’s a few non-gendered ones (likes to engage on an equal level, playtime and sexual skill) and then there’s one (ONE!) measly ‘take control’ archetype – the ‘Empress’ (and doesn’t she just sound like a barrel of laughs). In sum, this won’t be making for gender-equal bedroom fun times, my friends. This makes for females being provided with a number of susceptive, responsive, yielding sexual roles, and only one that I would argue is truly ‘active’. Same stereotypes, updated names.

Femininity is completely up to the individual, and it is none of society’s goddamn business what a woman wants to do with hers. If she feels more ‘feminine’ after running 10 kilometres in the mud and rain, then more power to her. Modern day women put up with enough shit without being guilt-tripped into attending completely bonkers, outdated workshops on how to ‘reconnect’ with their inner feminine strength.

My legs, the weapons

“Be prepared for some comments when you take them out in public.”

I’ve stopped shaving my legs. I’ve jumped from one stereotype (a girl who shaves her legs, and ‘cares about her appearance’) straight into another one (a crazy, ranty feminist who deliberately doesn’t shave her legs, and therefore ‘does not care about her appearance’).

It wasn’t a deliberate ‘thing’ at first. It was more “I’m too busy, and it’s too cold to spend that long in the shower”. Except every other year (even in winter!) I’ve bothered. I’ve taken the time to scrape a razor across my shins and knees, regardless of whether I was single or coupled at the time.

And suddenly, here I am. Two or three weeks in (I lost count) and I’m suddenly one of ‘those girls’. I have unshaven legs, and when I have a shower, I can feel the water trickling down my legs. When I put jeans on, I can feel the spiky hairs sticking into my jeans. It’s all rather strange.

To be honest, I’m more interested in what my legs are going to look like if I carry on with just not shaving them. For years, it’s always been such a ‘big deal’ to make sure that my legs were clean-shaven, and smooth. Heaven forbid that I had not shaved in a while, and my legs had a tiny bit of stubble across them. And now – I’m interested in the end result. What happens if I don’t shave? Will I suddenly be cast out from the herd? Will anyone notice, or even care?

The answer here, obviously, is ‘probably not’. Which is fair enough. My stubbly legs make up a teeny, tiny part of the universe as a whole, and I doubt that anyone else apart from me is vaguely interested in them (well, maybe my boyfriend).

But the idea that such a small thing – not shaving one’s legs – can lead to such a huge number of conclusions drawn about a woman, is ridiculous. My boyfriend said to me (in a nice way) “be prepared for some comments when you take your legs out in public.” The question is, well, really? Will my legs, those fantastic, muscular, unshaved weapons, really attract comments from strangers? Who are these rude people that feel the need to comment on my body?

And then I remembered that being rude has never stopped other strangers from commenting on my body before. A woman’s body is, in many people’s eyes, public property. It is open for comments, compliments and ridicule. And if you reject any of this unsolicited ‘advice’, well, then, you’re the one that’s being rude. Not them.


The ten plus times I’ve been told I lost weight? All unwelcome. I don’t need to be told this. What about when I’m told that I’m “looking good”? Well, thanks, but again, not intentional, and definitely not for your benefit (in fact, I distinctly remember someone telling me this when I was wearing my supermarket check out chick uniform). The times I’ve been told I forgot to tweeze my eyebrows, or dye my hair, or put on make up, or any other ridiculously trivial aspect of my appearance. All of these, and more. I’m sick of my body being public property. Hence, I am now reclaiming what society expects me to do my body by NOT shaving my legs. Even if it’s just for a little while.

It’s not as simple as me not welcoming comments. It’s more, I don’t welcome comments from strangers.

 

And as for the idea of me not shaving my legs because I’m a feminist? I guess that’s partially true. I object to the beauty industries (specifically, the company that I buy razors from) making money out a ridiculous presumption that women need to shave their legs (if you’re interested in why women started shaving their legs, see this website). I’m quite certain that the $8 I contribute every few months to my razor company isn’t exactly going to have a huge impact on their financial bottom line – in this way, I am the worst example of a person that has stopped shaving her legs. I don’t wax, I don’t use the funny cream stuff – heck, half the time I don’t even use shaving cream. But I like think that, at least for a while, I don’t have to be concerned about how smooth my legs are.

P.S. If you’re looking for some hairy legged inspiration, head on over to this Tumblr blog. It’s wonderful.

Dear Goddess Greer

Dear Goddess Greer,

I am writing to discuss with you your recent column, published in the Good Weekend section of The Age. I am one of your many unworthy minions, out there every day supporting and defending feminism against the crazy imbeciles who have next to no idea about what feminism actually is. In short, I am unworthy – but please take pity upon me for a moment, because we need to talk.

Specifically, we need to talk about your opinions on this other strong, independent woman:

Good ol’ J- Gillard. J-to-the-nizzle. Joo-lee-ah. Jooooles. Aka, our current Prime Minister.  One who is, albeit, struggling in a wee bit the polls, but who nonetheless deserves a bit of respect for simply obtaining the Prime Ministership in the first damn place. *insert feminist cheer and high-five here*

Germaine. Ms. Greer. Your Professorship. I am not here to tell you what to do (mostly because I am afraid you will destroy me with a single, withering glance). Rather, I am here to express my disappointment about the aforementioned article you wrote last Saturday.

Shall we begin?

“Few issues can be less important than what the Prime Minister wears. As long as prime ministers are male that is. Nobody knows how many suits a male prime minister might have, and nobody cares. An appearance before the public in a brown suit might cause a frisson, and blue isn’t seen all that often, but as long as the general impression is subfusc, he will pass muster. The issue of collar and tie has been resolved in even the torridest parts of Australia in favour of that combination.”

I cannot agree more. And yet, how hideous is it that this is the case – that a woman is still judged more on what she wears, rather than what she does? Why don’t we all stop this hoo-hah right now?

“For women heads of government the issue of what they wear is crucial. No matter how heavy her workload the female prime minister must appear ”groomed”, that is, with not a hair out of place, uncreased and uncrumpled. She must smile…..A female politician is expected to look serene and unruffled; if she looks as if she has any appreciation of the momentousness of what she may be called upon to say or do, she will be described as looking grim or worried. Julia Gillard wears her face like a china mask; even when she is sneering bitterly at an opponent, her face is smooth, her expression of the blandest. Her smile may not be dazzling but it is ready.”

Again, I agree that what women wear is crucial – and yet, I try to place as little emphasis on it as possible. I instead try to focus on what they do. Given, if Julia turned up to work in a bikini and board shorts (or, Lord forbid, some budgie smugglers) I might have a little trouble focusing on what she’s saying – but all this crying and pearl clutching over her jackets? No.

I am also in agreeance that Julia “wears her face like a china mask” – in that yes, she does sometimes appear to be a bit impassive. She’s probably wondering about what she’s going to have for dinner. If I had Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott bleating at me from across the floor in the House of Reps, I too, might tire of this after a while. And if I were her, my solution would be to get a bit more angry occasionally. But then again, I am not a political advisor, and nor am I Julia (because if I was, I would have marched across the House of Representatives to stick a well placed heel up Abbott’s arse. But I digress.)

My point here is this: by simply adding to the continuing commentary and criticism of Julia Gillard’s appearance and expressions, you are not doing anyone an ounce of good. Attack her politics, by all means. Attack her carbon tax, or her stance on gay marriage, or any other form of policy that has seriously pissed you and got on your goat in the last few years. But please, please, PLEASE do not attack her appearance. Because by doing this, you just add to the overloaded pile of shitty, snarky comments about What Women Wear and Why They Are Wearing It Wrong. And no one needs to hear that.

“Julia Gillard isn’t a clothes horse. She’s a hard-working professional politician, but she isn’t allowed to look like one. Hence the dreaded jackets. Underneath are her workclothes, the same black pants and black top she once would have worn under her gown for court appearances. The jackets are intended to brighten up her image, each one fresh out of the box. Instead she looks as if she’s wearing clothes that don’t belong to her, like an organ-grinder’s monkey.”

I am a little confused about this paragraph. Are you critiquing the system in which Julia is not allowed to look like a politician? Are you simply saying that she should dress more like a hard-working politician?

If it is the first one, by all means – carry on. If it’s the second, well, I am still confused. Because surely we can tell that she is a hard-working politician without consulting her wardrobe?

“There must be decent dressmakers left somewhere in Australia but Julia’s wardrobe-meisters haven’t found them. A jacket that rides up and creases between the shoulder blades is worse than no jacket at all. If Labour is not to be annihilated in the next election, something has to give. The Prime Minister’s stage-managed image is less interesting and engaging than the real person we used to know. I think Australians are big enough to cope with the sight of their female Prime Minister in shirt-sleeves.”

Okay. I see. In this part, you are critiquing the stage-managed image of Julia Gillard here.

If you were one of my university students (please, dear God, make this happen. But give me sufficient time to gird my loins beforehand), this would be the point at which I add a little comment saying, “You need to make this part clearer. Move this point up a few lines, and emphasise that you are critiquing the stage management of Julia Gillard, not the woman herself. Otherwise, it appears that you simply have a deep-seated hatred for Julia’s jackets.”

Make it clear, Goddess Greer. Make it clear. Because otherwise, you appear to simply be joining the uninformed masses in criticising a woman’s image, and not her actions.

Look, Germaine: you stand for a lot. You are everything I want to be when I grow up. You deal out snarky, cranky opinions on every single topic that pisses you off. You attract equal amounts of love and hate wherever you go, and you made a dent the size of an asteroid in the field of feminism. And for that, I adore you.

But it makes me immensely sad to see one woman critiquing another’s appearance. I understand that it happens, and that everyone does it to some extent. But your voice is so wonderful for feminism, and so loud, and so well-known that I can do nothing but beg you to please use it more wisely. Can we please not turn this into a Fashion 101 session for women, and instead focus on Julia’s politics?

Yours in true servitude and awe,

xxxxx