We live in a justice-hungry age, and with good reason. Through the magical communications tool that is social media, injustices can be exposed to the world's critical eye for examination almost immediately after their happening. Whilst it is empowering to view the world without veneer, this comes with its own erosion of perspective. Where an individual's story might move the world to rally around a cause, engage with an issue, or simply become aware of an injustice to which they were otherwise ignorant, it also has the power to desensitise. Humans are fascinating in their engagement with world affairs - we are moved by that which shocks and horrifies us; we quickly become bored and lose compassion by that which does not.
In 2006, nine Australian citizens were arrested trying to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin into Indonesia, a country with strict drug penalties. Of the infamous "Bali Nine", comprised of misguided and vulnerable souls, seven people were sentenced to life imprisonment. The two ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumuran, were sentenced to death by firing squad. This sentence sparked a series of lengthy appeals processes, humanitarian calls for clemency, and a boorish and completely insensitive attempt at intervention on behalf of then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the Indonesian Government, all in the name of sparing these men from a gruesome death. With the figurative guillotine hanging overhead for nine years, Chan and Sukumuran had little option but to continue to live their lives and pray that mercy would be bestowed upon them. And though the prison system so seldom yields rehabilitation, for these two men, such was the outcome. Such model prisoners that even the prison governor petitioned for them to be spared the death penalty, the pair engaged with others graciously and generously. Sukumuran taught English and computer design classes to other prisoners and became a trusted liaison between prisoners and prison authorities, Chan found love and married, provided spiritual counsel to other prisoners, and even privately coordinated the development of an orphanage - the latter of which was kept under wraps in order to sidestep any cynical accusations of currying local favour to avoid the death penalty. Both men found faith in prison, and undertook university degrees by distance education.
In 2015, after nine years of uncertainty, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumuran were executed by firing squad. In Australia, opinion was staunchly divided. Polling reflected my own experience, where half of the population related deeply to the plight of two men who had done all they could, over the course of a decade, to atone for their original sin, whilst the other half were not so sentimental. I scrolled my facebook news feed, horrified by the number of statuses posted by those who declared such a lonely and violent death "served them right" - not as justice, no, but as retribution. And such callous condemnations were spewed oftentimes from the mouths of those whom I knew personally to have quite merrily dabbled in illicit drugs themselves. To the minds of these cavalier individuals, a poor decision did not warrant equilibrium in the eyes of the law, but an additionally bloodthirsty revenge. As if in making a severely poor choice (or perhaps several in the lead-up to their arrests), these two men had forfeited their right to be seen as human altogether.
The Black Lives Matter cause similarly straddles such jarring moral piety. When an extrajudicial killing of a civilian at the hand of a law enforcement official is made, the general public immediately scrabble for information. Generally the questions posited do not follow the line of what the trigger-happy officer's thought process may have been, or why this unhappy scenario of a black body created under suspicious circumstances seems to occur often... So often, in fact, that all the names and stories have begun to blur together. Instead, we ask what minor offence the victim was committing when they were killed. We liken them to another, beforehand, who was more or less guilty or more or less likeable. We don't remember. We are too overwhelmed by their similarities to recall and when we are too overwhelmed, it's simply not possible to care as intensely each time without effort.
"Trayvon Martin was the one selling cigarettes, right?" someone asks.
"No, he was the one with the bag of Skittles." another replies.
"Oh." the first says.
There's not much else to add. When the differentials between these stories are so minuscule, it is no surprise that the average disengaged person begins to hear only white noise when Black Lives Matter rallies against another unfounded death.
In 2015, American police killed 1,134 young black men. Sure, some may have been armed, and others may have been aggressive, and others still may have been caught in the midst of a criminal act. But even so, what justifies such bloodthirst in us to ever presume that these 1,134 men received only as much force as was warranted, perhaps even that they perpetuated? How can we be so confident that these men "deserved it" at all? We have become so desensitised to the sheer number of black lives extinguished due to poor police processes, internalised racism, and insecurely masculinist trigger happiness that we hear "a life has been extinguished prematurely" and we think "well, it wasn't in the most appalling set of circumstances I've heard recently, ergo, who cares?"
When white people tell Black Lives Matter campaigners that they are approaching their agenda incorrectly - be it promoting their message "too aggressively", or interfering with the much-loved Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign to demand he pledge greater political support to their cause, or even the Baltimore riots, which were not incited by Black Lives Matter but a public response to another black death in police custody (later ruled homicide) - what they are effectively doing is neutering their message so as to better disregard it. Because if we are not horrified by these murders, we tell ourselves, then surely it is because they were just. What a dangerous supposition to make that in some circumstances, a petty crime (such as Eric Garner selling cigarettes, or Sandra Bland not using her indicator during a lane change, or Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun) justifies the taking of a civilian life. Regardless of what the legal system determines these instances, the court of public opinion is not beholden to such standards. We can and should empathise with lives taken prematurely with violence, through a racist or sexist or transphobic or wh*orephobic lens... or any other derivation of misplaced moral piety.
I'm not admonishing people for not sitting in front of the television watching twenty-four hour news programming whilst sobbing. There is too much tragedy in the world for anyone to feel profoundly and significantly regarding every instance. But that does not mean indifference. That does not mean passing an ego-based judgement. Instead, our focus should be on exercising greater compassion when these stories arise. Compassion is humanity's saving grace, even as it is devalued by contrast to "having an opinion" (read: judging others). It's funny that a bad attitude or grievous error on behalf of the victim seems justification to some for their murder.
When considering the chalk outlines tallied as reasons for Black Lives Matter to keep fighting, or the didactic lesson of drug smuggling in Southeast Asia, or any number of other victims who are just that tiny bit too human to make a hundred-percent-unproblematic protagonist, their post-mortem condemnation is an additional twist of the knife. Critical engagement is important means of interacting with the world around us, but when it comes to passing judgement versus seeking empathy, the Devil is his own advocate. He doesn't need any one individual to posit why, through a system of loopholes and circumstances and a non-simpatico "attitude", there are some circumstances in which extremely inhumane retributive violence can be justified.
It is possible to be both critical and empathic simultaneously. To feel an emotional understanding of a wrongdoer's situation does not immediately equivocate to advocacy for their wrongs; this lack of correlation is the basis of redemption. But like all else in the world, empathy requires practice. One must nurture a capacity for multi-layered processing of information, an ability to discern nuance, and nurture a fundamental core of empathy. In a world so riddled with injustice, a little compassion for a less-sympathetic victim can make an astounding difference. And it's not so hard as you'd think.
... After all, people seem to be able to do it effortlessly for white athlete rapists on college campuses.
“Oh, you don't eat wheat? Are you a coeliac?”
I may be new to the food intolerance game, but I know a loaded question when I see one. If I lie and say yes, and I’ll be peppered with questions intended to trick me into revealing my disingenuity. Tell the truth and say no, and there’s no point in elaborating my condition, because the silent judgment has fallen regardless of whatever explanation I do provide. To the self-proclaimed prosecutor, judge and juror, I am just another pretentious white girl heralding a crash diet beneath the barbarous appropriation of someone else’s illness.
Except there myriad food intolerances in the world beyond coeliac’s disease (an autoimmune disease that presents as an intolerance to gluten). And in their haste to judge those who make dinner parties inconvenient by bringing their own food, or politely request the kitchen at a restaurant not include one or two ingredients, people have started their own personal lynch mob. It’s the new fad to hate du jour: the food intolerant are now more loathed than veganism, Scientology, and Justin Bieber combined.
I’ve worked in hospitality for years, I know the routine well: sneer, roll eyes, bitch to the kitchen about the pickiness of some people. Create a false correlation between the increase in food intolerance identifiers compared to when we were (hardier) kids. Ignore the fact that people were still sick from eating foods they couldn’t digest back then, but they simply didn’t know why. Get huffy and judgmental that anyone would dare eat the food they like with alterations that will allow them to be consumed without a negative impact to their health. Remark that people who “fake” intolerances make life harder for the “real” sufferers despite the demand for such products increasing the accessibility of all alternate food products everywhere, which is a net win for everyone.
Oh yeah, but guess what? It’s also nobody's fucking business.
I have a food intolerance. I was diagnosed in early 2014 when someone who had known me for years on end insisted that it was not normal to feel nauseous, fatigued, bloated and sickly virtually every day. I had protested against it at the time, but later began to notice that nobody else in my life seemed to grit their teeth against pain and exhaustion just to get through the day like I did. I reluctantly came to terms with the possibility of actually being afflicted by some chronic mystery illness.
The next few months weren’t fun. I was subjected to ultrasounds, blood tests, gastroscopies, and referred left and right for a handful of symptoms that were too unpredictable for me to map back to any one source. Finally, my doctor said: “I'm pretty sure it will yield nothing, but we should try hydrogen breath testing before opting for the next step considering that will involve invasive exploratory surgery”
Boom. Two weeks, three tests, and a strictly limited control diet later, I was diagnosed as FODMAPS intolerant with the addendum that lactose products were uncharacteristically okay for me, despite most people in my position being additionally lactose intolerant.
Being FODMAPS intolerant is, simply put, awful. Being forced to farewell not just wheat, but garlic, onion, almost all fruits, beans, legumes and a handful of vegetables was devastating at the time of diet alteration. The list of things I can’t eat is so expansive, I have to keep an app on my phone that updates as new scientific research classifies further additions as tolerable or otherwise. I’m not ashamed to admit that in those early days, I cried in restaurants more than I’d like. Hard to be a food blogger when you can barely eat anything on the menu.
Adhering to dietary restrictions is a daily battle of wills. To capitulate is to endanger both my short-term and long-term health, running the risk of depression, fibromyalgia, fatigue, chronic headaches, autoimmune conditions and even cancer in later life.
In the last year, I have tried to navigate this minefield as best I can. Research indicates that the body of a person with FODMAPS intolerance can tolerate small amounts of these foods without gastric distress, but will suffer punishing symptoms if this (low) quota is exceeded. As such, I am acutely aware that my daily mental mapping of meals will likely sound inconsistent to others… perhaps even suspicious. As if I have fabricated "the rules" so as to conveniently be permitted the food that I want when I want it.
And it’s exhausting. I am habitually forced to trounce out the minutiae of my condition for people who make their enquiries as part of a “gotcha” ruse, rather than from a place of genuine concern. I have made an art-form of flippantly attributing my condition to karma, following my hospitality days of scepticism regarding some guest’s orders. Maybe that joke rings true.
What I find the most frustrating, however, is my own submissiveness about my intolerances. It is not fun to routinely fall into pathetically evasive “not like the others” language when identifying my dietary needs, a refrain so underscored by the subtext of “please accept me”. Even to this day, I often am plagued by guilt when listing everything I can’t eat. Instead, I tend to order food with only minor variations that will ultimately do little to allay the severity of my inevitable symptoms when they strike. Essentially, I compromise my health so as to avoid the sneers from waiters or dining companions who think they know more about my body’s capacity to process food than I do.
I shouldn't have to throw myself at the mercy of a peoples' court on the rare occasion that I must posit a question or two about the ingredients in a meal when it’s necessary for my health. But for some reason I am consistently pressured to feel apologetic for saying no to foods that I wish I could eat, which is already depressing enough. I despise being side-eyed as if a liar, a pedant or both. And yet even if this condemnation was reflective of my character, it’s hard to comprehend why my choices about what I put into my body seems to be so upsetting to other people.
So to the food intolerance-policing circlejerk: I hope this resolves any and all of the smug interrogations to which you have subjected me. Because I am no longer willing to compromise my health to dodge your criticisms… and I am not sorry.
The older I get, the more I realise that the personal is the political. The old adage “the standard you choose to walk by is the standard you accept” has never rung quite so true. Malevolence is not the true enemy of human kindness, it’s ambivalence. And when enough people suppress a quiet dissatisfaction with a social expression, the aforementioned social expression becomes a standard, and when it becomes a standard, it becomes an ingrained cultural norm that requires a concerted effort to pull from the roots.
And we all know weeding the garden of human decency is gruesome work. To point out the ingrained biases in ourselves and others is confronting, which is why people are quick to react adversarially to preserve these biases. To the average person, justification reads like, “Who are you to judge me? I am a good person.” And to an extent, they’re right: every villain thinks they are the hero of their canon. The world would be a strange place if self-awareness was so honed as to prevent anyone from ever making an error in judgement that saw another hurt.
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise then that when a group of male friends back home were sprung by a mutual female friend for maintaining a Whatsapp group which, amongst the usual banter, was used to share compromising photos of their romantic and sexual partners without consent, the reaction was one of anger and defensiveness. The female friend, upon expressing her disgust, was immediately treated as if a traitor; accused of histrionics, of making mountains of molehills, of having some disloyal agenda. But she held fast, determined to have the necessary emotionally-exhausting conversations with each individual regarding how their actions – from passively viewing these images to actively sharing them – were equally harmful, criminal, and cruel.
Sadly, but not surpisingly, the clique closed ranks. Several resorted to emotional blackmail, even going so far as to threaten to terminate their individual friendships with her if she would not let the issue lie. Despite this, she persisted with encouraging them to do the right thing by closing down the Whatsapp group, and contact the women involved to both disclose their actions, and apologise.
Considering the ongoing insistence that the sharing of these images was harmless, none of the men involved were comfortable with informing their sexual partners of their photos’ divulgence. And this, I feel, is extremely telling of the undercurrent of semi-self awareness that ripples through issue: if the act of sharing these womens’ images without consent was not an inherent misogynistic criminal act, then why were these men so anxious to conceal it from the victimised parties?
The female friend’s persistent challenging of these attitudes were grueling and came at great personal cost to her, something that I sadly only learnt of long after the fact and from a different party. But ultimately, a modicum of progress was made. Some perspectives changed, some apologies were made, and some women were contacted to explain how their images had been used with a request for forgiveness. Others, unfortunately, opted instead to double down. Such is the way when emotionally immature people who, fortified in the privilege of never needing worry about the commodification of their bodies, are confronted with how their so-called harmless fun victimises others. Curiously enough, the staunchest proponents of the “it’s not a big deal” camp were seldom the individuals who shared any pictures in the first place. It would seem that in this situation, the bystander effect – or perhaps a mere combination of guilt and defensiveness regarding the exposure and attack of “secret men’s business” by a woman - remains a powerful psychological motivator.
It is not a complicated exercise in empathy to determine the moral failings of this situation, and the countless others that have seen revenge porn increasingly criminalised across the western world. These women shared their bodies with a partner, an act of inherent vulnerability in a world that perpetually shames them for having a sexual appetite, even as they are burdened with unreasonable expectations to play the part. They trusted these men with their physical bodies with the expectation that to do so could be reciprocally enjoyable, not to mention void of commodification and objectification. Instead, that trust became the basis of mockery – the images were used to flaunt a trophy, to denigrate the women for being so arrogant as to think their bodies were their own, to shame them through covertly laddish bro-culture.
When the personal is political, placing one’s sexual vulnerability in another person is an innately political act. It is unpleasant to think even sex must be seen in this light, but the reality is that sharing someone’s unclad body without their consent is criminal, and with good reason: in the process of sharing or passively receiving these shared images, we are perpetuating a socio-political norm that shames women for daring to embrace their innate sexuality, even as we try to nurture it for our own satisfaction.
This is beyond “boys will be boys” or “we meant no harm” or “I was just so proud to be with a woman this beautiful.” This is “look at what I snapped when she was going to the bathroom the morning after” and “the image stopped being just hers when she pressed send” and “I thought the guys would find it funny” and “who the fuck does this slut think she is to demand I keep this private?”
These men have been my close friends for many years. We have laughed together, cried together, exposed our soft underbellies, and celebrated each others’ successes. I know them to be, at their core, well-intentioned people. But their actions victimised other women and I’ve struggled to reconcile the ways in which they have treated me – a girl “friend” rather than a girlfriend – by contrast to the women who sit lower down the hierarchy for trusting them with a side of themselves a platonic friend has no need to. It is when good people go to extraordinary lengths to preserve a status quo that repeatedly oppresses and humiliates others that the true degradation of their moral character becomes apparent.
I don’t know how these friendships will play out when I return home. Maybe by virtue of writing this piece, I will have negated my right to have them in the first place. But what I do know is this: uprooting ingrained misogyny is dirty work, and I would rather be elbow-deep in filth than ever be passive when women are treated as prize pigs or a cheap punchline for daring to have sex. And if that precludes me from remaining part of the clique, then so be it. If norm-challenging women are unwelcome anyway, then maybe I never was.
And now I think of it... even in its innocent heyday, there were never any women in the Whatsapp group in the first place.
Racism has become an immensely troublesome subject to tackle of late, with the Charleston shooting and Rachel Dolezal appropriating a black culture to which she doesn't belong and so many, many white commentators telling people of colour how they should feel about their ethnic origins.
There is nothing more obnoxious than a person who has not lived the experience of racial discrimination telling someone else what is and is not racist. When it comes to oppression and prejudice, two terms which have become repeated so often in mainstream media that some people have conflated them with "gratuitous martyrdom", I have but one belief: as a white-cast Italian-Maltese-Australian woman, it is not my goddamn place to tell people they don't qualify for "feeling oppressed." Instead, I have cast aside judgement, and made it my mission to listen and understand why, rather than scrabbling for justifications as to why not. And I have learned.
Every single day during my travels around the world, I am finding myself humbled and awed by both the diversity and commonality of human experience. All people have basic similarities that transcend identity, race, geographic location, gender, or sexual orientation: we value happiness, and dignity, and community, in whatever form that may take.
But the chains that connect all people can carry the great weight of humanity's flaws, also. Opportunism is one example. Greed is another. Selfishness, to a degree, exists within us all. But the most disappointing baseline upon which all humans seem to function has, for me, been proven to be racism.
People have always been tribal in nature; it comes back to our deep need for interpersonal relationships in the form of community. To feel like we belong somewhere and with some people is to mandate places where we do not belong, and people with whom we do not relate. And so racism is an international constant.
In Myanmar, even the oppressed ethnic minorities have little compassion for the Rohingya people. In Hong Kong, a peculiar social hierarchy exists in which expats trump locals, who in turn are superior to the Filipino domestic servants, who in turn denigrate the Indonesian domestic servants... and somewhere beyond this microcosm of racial ranking, there is an overarching contempt for the "mainlanders" who hail from China proper. In Canada, the persecution of First Nations people is in the slow, tenuous process of atonement from government and general population alike, but the loathing of Chinese economic migrants remains scathing in the extreme. And always, regardless of minority, there is the same refrain: "They don't have it so bad. They're just playing the oppression card." As if anyone finds empowerment in being pitied, prostrating themselves before others to proclaim, "I am a victim."
And the examples that I have witnessed are just a few amongst dozens and hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups and nations and statehoods and personhoods of places I have been, have not, will, and will not. And it breaks my goddamn heart.
So instead of blindly following the casual tribalistic patterns that have become so ingrained in the human psyche, I am making a conscious decision to call out (politely) any such casual racism. Because it is confronting to hear someone slam Vancouver as "Hongcouver", just as it is to see the greater Australasia region effectively spit in the dirt at the mention of the Rohingya people, fleeing genocide. And I am finding it harder and harder to discern a context in which the word "assimilate" is not as loaded as a chambered bullet.
To those I meet along the way: forgive me if my "naive foreigner" gambit becomes prying. But as someone who comes not from the communities who are kindly allowing me entrance, I do not intuitively recognise who are the "haves" and who are the "have nots" until I am told - because that is the only way these groups are determined at all, is it not? So I will ask questions that may be uncomfortable to answer. Questions like: "Why would you say that about this race? Can you explain this stereotype to me?".
And if the answer fails to satisfy... well then, you will know what my face looks like when equal parts bemused and confused as I remark, "Wow. That's straight-up racist."
And I hope that this label, not so dissimilar to those that you have bandied about so wantonly in stereotyping others, inspires you to take pause and ruminate upon the venom you have burbled. I want to help bring compassion and acceptance to the fore.
And so I will comfortably trot out my ignorance... in the hopes of curtailing yours.
As a feminist, it's not uncommon to be subject to that old fallacy - "no true Scotsman". As one who loves Scotsmen for literally spending centuries not getting self-conscious about their masculinity due to the awesomeness of kilts, I have little tolerance for their esteem to be manipulated by those seeking to justify exclusionary practices. The strategy of divide and conquer has historically been used as an anti-feminist means of wreaking sectarian havoc between feminist thinkers. As you can imagine, I am always wary when feminists are excluded from beneath the banner by virtue of practicing the "wrong" kind of equality.
So when a vegan friend asked for my opinion about an article addressing the sexual politics of meat, I found myself tripping up less so on the feebleness of its content than its underscored command for feminists to forego meat lest they be no true feminist (because according to the author: "feminism isn't just about finding things on the internet to hate on." Ugh.)
I read the article several times, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the heavy-handedness of the contention. In only one part do I agree with the author: Veganism is a wholly positive cause for one's health (when adequately balanced and, if necessary, supplemented with vitamins), for the environment, and for the advocacy of animal rights. All of those things are selfless, noble outcomes and I have nothing but love and admiration for my vegan and vegetarian friends who make a conscious contribution to a better tomorrow each and every day. But the nutritional deficit of actual persuasion within the article stoked within me a surliness that did not abate - the clunkiness of its construction and the preaching of holier-than-thou feminism made me want to reach for the closest living creature, and defiantly swallow it whole.
Allow me to provide a speedy summation of point number one in this article, lest ye not have the energy or inclination to give it another pageview: "hurr durr men r so dum n masculine dey can only cook meat on a bbq". This argument generalises that men only ever cook in the context of presenting oneself as a super strong alpha cavemen hunter when grilling meat on a barbecue, and as such, never deign to make fiddly little lady dishes like a bunch of - and I quote the article here- ... sissies. Ignoring the absolutely vile word choice, which dovetailed the argument into a gratuitous cheap-shot of contextless homophobia, this entire premise is, simply put, false. The majority of professional chefs in both high-class fine dining and standard restaurants are men; men who happily make fancy desserts, caramelise walnuts, or season vegan tofu masala, because it is their damn job. To negate the contribution of masculinity to the modern dining landscape is completely reductionist and, to be blunt, sexist. Not a great start.
The author then draws a tenuous link between femininity and the animal kingdom, cherry-picking certain terms to push a contention that women are prey ("A woman can be hunted like a "bunny" and pursued like a "vixen" or "fox"). However, the myriad ways in which femininity is animalistically praised goes conveniently unmentioned: that a powerhouse in the boardroom might be likened to a tigress, that a fiercely loving mother might be deemed a lioness, or that a girl surrounded by friends and admirers might be dubbed a queen bee. Whilst patriarchal echoes are prominent throughout the English language, to draw a fragile link between reverse anthropomorphic imagery and oppressive intent is to yield very little by way of argumentative substance, and so deserves disregard.
The article then attempts to draw a parallel that does not exist between "veal/tortured baby cow" and "slut/woman", as if aggrandising a notion that the English language is actively conspiring to obfuscate feminist/vegan truths. If I were to try to advocate for this stance, which I wouldn't since South Park already did it for me over a decade ago, there are better ways to argue that depersonalised language distances us from horrifying realities. An example of this might be how we predominantly label the issue of domestic violence in its original manner, (unspecified cause, unspecified perpetrator, unspecified victim, rendering the issue in a vacuum) rather than the new, and gradually-mainstreaming "male domestic violence against women", which identifies victims and perpetrators from the outset, humanising both parties, and highlights the prime audience for education and rehabilitation in the same breath.
But the biggest issue I have with this article isn't in the semantics so much as its complete disregard for the intersectional nature of feminism. Whilst touting a bourgeousie philosophy that feminists are obliged to turn their backs on meat, the author hefts an immense presumption about the lifestyles of those to whom she preaches. The reality is that veganism is, at its core, accessible only to those with a lifestyle to permit it. Whilst it is possible to have a completely balanced and healthy diet with attention, care and supplements, many people simply aren't in the realm of having time or financial freedom to do such a thing. So what can we say to a feminist who cannot afford this type of diet, or lacks the time and energy to prepare these dishes, or, like me, struggles daily with pervasive food intolerances that necessitate the need to avoid almost all fruits and a large majority of vegetables? For one feminist to give another permission to break rank from the "feminist vegan" elitism is to condescend the latter's intentions and autonomy. And yet, for this same arbiter of feminism to condemn another for disobedience is to piss upon them from a pedestal. When feminists dictate or absolve their peers for not being "feminist enough", the main priority of the cause - equality - is undermined completely by the solidification of hierarchy.
I'd be the first to admit that if I had to kill the cow from whence came the steak I'm about to eat for lunch, I'd forfeit all meat in an instant. It would be inconvenient, tiring, and expensive (and would probably make me very sick for a while as I spice up a bored palate by slipping FODMAP-laden fruit and veg into my food), but I'd do it. But I don't because I don't want to, and "no" is, as we feminists preach, a complete sentence.
Perhaps part of my vigour to defend meat-eating feminists comes from being a subversive soul, the kind altogether too trigger-happy to raise hackles when I feel I'm being patronised. I suspect most people can relate. That's why we universally loathe when Gwyneth Paltrow tries to give us her out-of-touch, millionaire white woman "life advice." And so when the black and white judgement of "veganism is your feminist duty (subtext: or you're not a real feminist)" is shoved down my throat, I'm altogether too happy to spit it out and bury my face in a rack of lamb instead. Nobody is ever obligated to take on a completely unrelated cause to justify the legitimacy of their passion to others. Intersectional feminism is about celebrating diversity of ideas, application, and identity. So go forth and be yo bad self... however that may taste.
(Trigger warning: sexual violence)
I don't remember a time when I haven't grappled with the notion of angry feminists, be they young, old, bra-burning or bra-padding. There was something about the notion of outrage in conversations around gender equality that unsettled me. Perhaps it was because I had inadvertently absorbed the societal messages that tell women that they need to be, above all, nice. Nobody likes an extremist. I don't like extremism. Therefore, it made perfect sense to approach social justice issues with a calm and thoughtful inoffensiveness. After all, it's more palatable to be passive than to be aggressive.
As I struggled with my identity as a feminist, I fell down the usual rabbitholes: the "I'm an equalist/humanist" debacle, the "real feminists aren't aggressive" reassurances to people who would never be persuaded, the stoic conviction that if I was polite and considerate enough, even the most outrageous bigot would find no fault to pick my arguments for equality, and would soon experience a reality check.
I had a fascinating conversation with a peer around the notion of shame that evolved my understanding of its place in gender dynamics. How pervasively shame rules our lives, dictating expectations so subconsciously that people don't even consider why they do the things they do. So much of it, in the form of victim blaming, is perpetuated in campaigns to teach women to be safe in public spaces so as not to entice harm.
And so I internalised this shame.
For years, I crossed the street at night to avoid men approaching from the opposite direction. It's never been something I've thought twice about. For all my fervour to be valued as a capable human above my gender, I was socialised to play the pantomime of "not looking like a victim". At night, I walked with tall posture, gaze directed towards some imagined horizon, house keys studded between my knuckles. Yet despite all this, reality tittered in the back of mind, chiding me with the harsh reality that despite all efforts, I may still be a target to the wrong person. It wouldn't be my fault, per se, but then, the voice reasoned, I should have known better. This voice taught me to feel audacious and reckless for daring to catch a metropolitan train, or walk the suburban streets at night.
But it is not negotiable to me that blaming a victim for the manner in which harm befalls them is unfair. This is a fundamental tenet of my belief system. So, then, I began to wonder, what of self preservation?
Only then did I realise that despite my smiles, my logic, my softly-softly approach, I was angry. And I had every right to be.
Because there is no fucking reason for a person to ever feel ashamed of patronising a public space. It should not feel like flying too close to the sun to innocuously go about my day. Shame, the cruel arbiter of blame and fault and guilt, motivated all of my decision-making, and that revelation sickened me. Especially when I learned that these fears, this self-policing, this abject fear of some malevolent "other", was not the internal monologue of any of the male friends I asked.
There is a big, wide world out there that women are terrified to occupy in case their confidence is interpreted as arrogance, and arrogance is an invitation for trouble. This is why I am an angry feminist. This anger motivates me to do something to change the way the world works. For some, this anger will be off-putting. I know this, and I've made my peace with it.
I am livid that despite Australia being a privileged country of relative opulence, women are groomed before they have the capacity for critical thought to act as chameleons. We are asked to fundamentally change ourselves to match the environment in which we have entered, as a defensive measure against harm. I am outraged that in the 21st Century, any teenage girl, when asked, can detail a veritable novella on the ways in which she tries to render herself as less of a potential victim, but teenage boys cannot confidently identify sexist attitudes that contribute to this fear. I am furious that so much discourse is dedicated to the male fear of sexual rejection, whilst by contrast, women are tarred and feathered as "hysterical" when their greatest fear is that men will rape or kill them.
Over the weekend, my teenage sister was preparing to go for lunch with some girlfriends. As I passed her in the hallway, my mind immediately started tallying up the low neckline, short skirt, long hair and bare legs, as perhaps an outfit that may court unwanted attention. My instinct was to suggest that she change her clothes. This was followed by a second thought: why did I consider it to be any of my goddamn business? She looked great, she felt confident, and, having been raised by the same parents, I knew she was aware of the realities of a sexist (and potentially dangerous) world out there. But this did not intimidate her into dressing in a style that did not feel like her own. I respect that immensely.
It's was not my right to police the clothing of an autonomous individual out of some self-righteous notion of "protecting" her from harassment or harm. People who hassle women are solely responsible for that. Feeling proxy-shame for my sister's clothing choice was more of an indictment upon my attitudes than anything she had done. That, right there, is what is known as rape culture. It is a term rooted in academic validity, and yet despite this, the phrasing is derided for being a weaponised, hysterical radical feminist conspiracy theory. Because when feminist theorists attach a label to the ways in which society marginalises women, people are reactionary, defensive, and hypercritical without offering any justifiable alternative. Why is there often so much pushback against calling things as they are when it comes to identifying the ways in which we live in a gendered sphere?
Women live in an unmalleable society that expects us to be fluid and ever-changing to accommodate it. To armour ourselves in long-sleeved shirts and hide away in our homes after dark and change ourselves fundamentally to give way to a sexist world. That's not fair. Why should people be forced to compromise if they don't want to? Why is the expectation on women to be easygoing and flexible for the benefit of societal rigidity? It baffles me that people are more comfortable with fighting for a status quo wherein women are expected to negotiate all manner of decisions and behaviour, rather than addressing the disparities of a system that actively works against half the population.
I once dated someone who identified himself as a feminist, yet he was also a traditionalist in many respects. When the topic of the future arose, I was perpetually treated with contempt for wanting to preserve fundamental aspects of my identity that I was expected to yield. Despite how progressive this man gilded himself, he considered it my responsibility to take his name if it came to marriage. He wilfully refused to accept that I, too, have been attached to my name for the same number of years as he was to his own, and was in no hurry to sub it out for a surname that, coupled with my adjective for a first name, made me sound like a B-grade superhero.
He also hefted the expectation that because he wanted children, I would bear and birth them. My tentative inclination towards remaining childfree was ignored. The decision of how I would change my name and my body was easy for him to make, because it required no compromise on his behalf.
Sure, sure, his defence was that he was "traditional". But my attempts to find neutral ground on something I had no obligation to budge on were for nothing. All my suggestions were, to his mind, extreme. But why was "if having the same surname is so important to you, we could choose a new one together" considered so radical? Or "I come from a social work family and would prefer to foster or adopt if I changed my mind about having kids" not acceptable? Those suggestions were weighted by a willingness to negotiate. But they were loathsome to him, a rejection of the "gift" he was offering me... to be his little wife.
I am an angry feminist because I am frustrated and furious with the double standards of a world that sees only two genders, rather than a spectrum, and consigns us all to one side or other. The anger does not fester inside me, like poison. Instead, I harness it in the hopes of facilitating change. I refuse to perpetually bend over backwards for an inflexible world that tells me "you are the woman, and there are expectations of you", be they to avoid my own assault as incited through fashion or access to public spaces, or to perpetuate someone else's gene pool, or to heft a family name on my shoulders that does not feel like my own.
I have nothing but respect for people who make these decisions for themselves without discomfort. I'm sure life is easier when every choice is not a battle.
But I don't want an easy life. I want an empowered one. To that end, I will never compromise my autonomy for a world that doesn't care for women who make life inconvenient. I am not ashamed anymore.
And if my reckless impetuousness sees me sink into a deep puddle of moralistic head-shaking, so be it. At least I'll make some ripples as I go down.
I had come home from work at 6pm after your standard day chock-filled with First World Problems: I was too busy at work to take my full lunch break, someone nearly ran me off the road by merging without indicating, my health insurance card didn’t work when I went to pay for a dental appointment, and I was rostered to work at my second job at a time that clashed with the weekly meeting of my passion project. Suffice to say, it was with a barely-veiled frustration that I walked through the front door to encounter my mother, scanning the contents of another spam email detailing an online petition.
She began to read me the petition’s purpose as I peeled off my fifty thousand layers of clothing that comprise my armour against Melbourne’s erratic interpretation of springtime.
“The rape, torture and abuse of animals are all prohibited in Denmark. But it is still legal to have sex with an animal. The absence of such a law has led to a huge bestiality business. In Denmark, people can actually go to animal brothels and, for less than 100 U.S. dollars, pay to molest animals.”
“It’d be cheaper in Thailand,” I replied. This throwaway comment elicited a scandalised giggle from mother dear.
The combination of my stress-induced delirium and her moderately-encouraging reaction was all it took for me lapse into one of the divisive, albeit amusing, rants of which I am so fond.
My fury, laid bare, is as follows: is this really a problem worthy of such outrage?
Animal abuse is completely abhorrent, though I acknowledge my own hypocrisy given that I’m pretty much as close to a carnivore as you can get without being some kind of feline, or an Australian man in his sixties. But is the world really so tapped dry of social justice issues that this is the headline protest du jour?
Maybe I'm just a very pedantic kind of political critic, but to my mind, there are a myriad of human rights and environmental issues happening all over the world right now, all of which warrant a greater outcry than they have received. But even if that argument is, in itself, a straw-man, and my focus is narrowed solely to the context of animal abuse, I still take issue with the purpose of this petition.
If the sexual exploitation of animals is so offensive and debauched that it deserves prime position on a mailout to every subscriber of this (not unknown) website, why the hell isn't this protest about Thailand, where the breach of sexual taboos is a tourist staple, or in Mexico, where "donkey shows" are a major income stream? Why get all hot under the collar about an occurrence that, despite the feigned moral outrage, is stated in the opening line as something that is already prohibited?
Because those countries aren't the same, to the general Australian perspective, as Denmark. Some collective of one-click world-changers are seething because animal abuse exists in Europe, where people are "civilised" (read: white) and therefore should know better. By contrast, those celebrating a vicarious thrill in the wake of their indignation are not so frazzled by the more socially acceptable “barbarism” of animal abuse in Asian and Hispanic countries. And when one asks why that is, an awkward silence follows. Because, consciously or unconsciously, these people justify their indifference under the guise of animal abuse being part and parcel of "those" cultures. It’s not cultural relativism. It’s “othering”. And it’s not okay.
Animal abuse offends me, same as anyone else. But I am moreso offended by what this petition implies, that we should not care about animal abuse in some cultures, because their standards of human decency are perceived as lesser. One of these days, I hope that Australians can come to terms with the fact that we are not a glamorous Anglo-Saxon outpost of exceptional civility, studded amidst an archipelago of Asian savages. I can only pray that eventually, Australians will realise that our country, too, is a largely Asiatic culture.
But that is a despicable dream, because the pearl-clutching of this petition is the bite-size sample indicator of Australia’s modern-day priorities when it comes to internet slacktivism. If this is where well-meaning discourse has taken the average Australian, then I can only imagine what the subject line will be for the next moral panic that lands in my mother's email inbox.
I learned recently that in Michigan, USA, a man is legally considered the owner of his wife’s hair. Since apparently all of the world’s problems more severe than “things that are forbidden and prosecuted but not, technically, written into law through the very complex process of legal amendment” have been fixed, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the subject line of the next spam fury-fodder.
Yes, my life is choc-a-block with white, middle-class privilege, but I don't use that as an excuse to presume my problems are greater than the problems of, oh, everyone that isn't me. I am livid by the arrogance with which people whip themselves into a frenzy over something purely logistical. And that's disregards entirely the complex argument as to whether internet petitions actually make a difference in the first place.
At the culmination of my rant, which expressed much of these sentiments and certainly contained more curse words, my mother turned to me with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk.
“How do you even know so much about animals being sexually abused?” she asked, and then, running with a recurring joke, “And does your perpetual rage mean you don’t have a new boyfriend yet?”
“I’m a worldly, worldly cynic.” I replied, the stormcloud over my head finally passing over, and leaving amusement in its wake, “And if you must know, my new boyfriend is a donkey.”
When I was a kid, I loved to read a good book more than once. Stories are complicated and layered and beautiful, and, to my teenage self's chagrin, I have learned since writing my own books that yes, every single detail was considered thoughtfully and planted by the author. None of this "the curtains are just blue because they're blue!" rubbish. The curtains are blue to symbolise the desolation of having to study D.H. Lawrence in Year 12, just like the bastard intended.
One of my favourite books to read and reread was Enid Blyton's "The Naughtiest Girl in the School." It's a children's book that I've definitely read again sometime between the ages of 16 and 21. In fact, now that I'm thinking of it, I'll probably pick it up again soon, just for nostalgia's sake.
At the risk of posting spoilers of a book written in 1940, the story follows a bratty little girl called Elizabeth Allen. Her hobbies include playing cruel pranks on her governesses until they have a breakdown and quit, stressing her parents out because there's no "help" to palm her onto, and most likely torturing small animals, though that involves a degree of reading between the lines and interpretative embellishment on my behalf.
Elizabeth is carted off to a private school which, despite her attempts to loathe every aspect, is basically the utopia that Communism wishes it could be. Kids share their allowance into a group pool not just willingly, but happily, the student body is run by a government system comprised of students rather than teachers and, as a glaring reminder that this book is, indeed, complete and utter fiction, not one child seems to hoard chocolate in their bedroom drawers so they don't have to share.
Because Elizabeth is a little sourpuss, she makes it her mission to get expelled despite this particular boarding school being as lavish as one of the mansions in a rap music videos. Kids have weird priorities. She gets up to a series of hijinks to this end but, despite her best efforts, comes to love Big Brother... I mean, the school. Though she proclaimed loudly and regularly that she intended to be expelled throughout her journey, Elizabeth learns through the wisdom of her fellow students that it is better to change your mind and admit that you are wrong, than to obstinately stick to something you no longer believe.
Yes, there is a life lesson in there. Thanks for sneaking that one in, Enid. Next thing you know, you're going to tell me the Saucepan Man from the Magic Faraway Tree is a metaphor for the need to be gentle with developmentally-delayed folk. Oh. Wait.
I latched onto the moral of the story in that wide-eyed way that only children can. To this day, I strongly believe that it takes a big ole serve of maturity to be malleable about your personal beliefs, and I try to live this philosophy as best I can.
Here's the thing about having an openminded stance on literally everything: it's bloody exhausting. I won't allow myself to become passionate about my opinions on an issue until I've weighed them against the other side and found them to be the victor. This means that I let self-proclaimed devil's advocates chew my ear off on a litany of subjects before I realise I've just invested an hours of my life listening to somebody spout their thoughts on topics that I know more about than they do.
That's not arrogance speaking, either... I mean, let's just make it clear right off the bat that there is literally no amount of political pressure going on in the world right now that would see Australia end up at war with the U.S.A. There just isn't. That's not my opinion because I did a damn degree in International Politics and Counter-Terrorism. That's my opinion because it's not bloody ridiculous. But hey, silver linings: at least I know my philosophy can be subjected to hardcore debate and not be found wanting.
Sometimes this egalitarian openmindedness has got me into a bind, especially if somebody has done me wrong. Many a time have I tried to place myself in the shoes of some spiteful jerk who's been rude to me, or taken advantage of my generosity, or said something nasty to put me down in a seemingly benign conversation. I used to drive myself half mad trying to work out what I had done wrong, how in the mind of someone who has wronged me, they felt I deserved to be hurt or humiliated.
That was until recently, when an exceptionally wise person on my Facebook (you might know him as the face of the Middleditch meme) posted a status. His words are as follows:
"When you understand and accept that no one is obligated to do anything for you, and that you can't make them feel obligated with anything you do, you start feeling so much better about being with people, and not being annoyed or upset when things don't go the way you thought they should have."
For some reason, I read those words at the exact right moment and a lightbulb went off in my head. I realised, far later than I should have, that I can be openminded about other peoples' opinions without reorienting my entire life around their thoughts. Nobody had the right to trample my perspective. It's okay to back myself.
This revelation (and no, I am not afraid to call it that) came just days after my twenty-third birthday, which was shared with my closest friends and my generous family. Feeling surrounded by love undoubtedly helped this idea to germinate. Since then, "no obligation" has spouted legs and taken off running. I am still the person I was: measured in my opinions, cynical until I'm certain, and utterly immune to marketing ploys because cheap empathy-tugs and faux-environmentalism don't tug my heartstrings before my brain can evaluate the agenda. I am open to negotiation of thought, but not when it comes to judging myself.
Like most people who aren't sociopaths, I want to be the most generous, empathic, thoughtful person I can be. But I am not obligated to be guilt-tripped, or pushed past my comfort level, or to bend over backwards as a means of keeping the peace. I have accepted that other people do not know more about me than I do about myself, so there is no benefit in giving this kind of denigration power.
Since adopting this "no obligation" stance, I have felt liberated. I can now assert myself where I would otherwise have let myself be stepped on. I have been able to let go of any bitterness towards people who have stolen from me, lied to me, or cheated on me. I have been able to gingerly laugh at derision and passive-aggression, instead of letting it make me so sick with stress that I vomit.
I did not realise for many years that this perpetual reassessment of self, which I interpreted as a hallmark of maturity, was actually doing me harm. Whilst contradiction helps a person sculpt a wider perspective in the context of external issues (like politics, religion, and whether breakfast is a bullshit meal), I allowed it to leach into my sense of self. In this headspace, I gave power to others - some of whom did not have my best interests at heart - to tell me who I was, rather than me telling them.
I am twenty-three years old, and under no obligation to let someone else feel stronger and wiser by virtue of standing on me.
I am twenty-three years old, and I am changing my mind.
Being an ethical consumer is just about impossible in this day and age. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try, of course, but there is an undeniable drive for international powerhouses to lock into an economical "race to the bottom", a term I have come to loathe after an exceedingly dry International Studies class in first year. As such, it's hard to determine which brands, of the hundreds we passively consume weekly, are doing right in a globalised world.
Google's modus operandi has always been "do no evil". Whilst it seems a peculiar tagline for a business that exists predominantly for people to remember for the title of a movie they watched a few months ago by keying in the premise, it's an admirable one. Because there are hordes of big businesses out in the world that, despite their fluffy, feel-good branding, are actively doing harm.
Before I put anyone offside by this statement, I would like to iterate that I am not averse to capitalism, big business, or aggressive economical management. I work, I pay taxes, and I'm proud that as a consumer my needs are met by a system that works very bloody hard to sell me products I might actually like. Whilst it occasionally freaks me out that Facebook advertisements are basically sentient to my needs now (seriously, keep suggesting EVERY kind of beef jerky to me), I'll be honest, I'm a fan of technology trying to personalise its pitch to me. Now if Pirate Bay could just stop trying to convince me to meet hot singles in my area, I'd be in technological heaven.
(Oh, and if my ISP is reading this, I don't know how to computer. I thought Pirate Bay was just a wacky new extension of the Neopets world. I read detailed plot synopses about the new episodes of Game of Thrones so I can save up my money to purchase all the episodes at the end of the seasonal run from Foxtel. Now that's a company that clearly knows that its market will wait for a premium product. Chortle.)
But insofar as "do no evil" goes, Google is basically a lone beacon of virtue standing in a cesspool. Because most of the "best" brands do a metric fuckton of evil. And this is where the dissonance of the ethical boycott comes in.
I have never owned a pair of Nike shoes. They epitomise to me everything that is wrong with cheaply-made, tacky, overpriced products borne of human suffering. When I was eight or nine years old, I saw Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children, speak about the horrors that went on in Nike's sweatshops. I couldn't fathom how someone needed to fight so hard to bring basic human rights to others. After that speech, I settled privately into my own personal boycott. But the reason I do so is not, admittedly, 100% pure organic, free-range, grass-fed altruism.
I'm going to lay down a harsh truth right now: The main reason people boycott a product or service is because there is such a litany of alternative products, they don't really have to sacrifice anything.
It's not hard for me to maintain my Nike boycott, nor any of the many others I maintain. Diamonds, BP petrol, the Pancake Parlour, canned tuna, and flake at the fish and chip store. These are all causes that I have, for years on end, happily boycotted without a second thought, for a litany of the reasons. In the case of Nike, I can readily snub its wares because Nike products are shit.
But if I'm being frank, it would be far harder to boycott Nike if their products were even remotely appealing to me. Such is the case with all products I veto. It's hard to say "no", over and over again, to something we really, really want.
This is a discomfort I sit with regularly, because arguably the worst of all companies when it comes to human rights abuse and sneaky exploitation of developing nations is not the one we expect. Imagine the following products as the financial backbone of a malignant, evil empire: Milo. Nespresso coffee, with George Clooney's smug face slapped all over it. Perrier water. Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Oreo cookies. Musashi protein powder. Maggi two-minute noodles. Milky bars. Kit Kats. Friskies cat food. Violet Crumble.
Yep. The most evil company in the world is Nestle.
Noxious, wicked Nestle boasts twelve separate scandals under the "Controversy" subheading on its Wikipedia page, including (but not limited to) child slavery, melamine poisoning in China, fiscal trading with Mugabe, misinformation about milk formula's nutritional benefits over breastmilk that saw babies die of malnutrition in Africa, and statements from its CEO saying, and I quote, "free water is a privilege, not a right."
If Nike is a nasty, exploitative company that deserves my boycott, Nestle deserves it just as much, and more.
So why aren't I boycotting Nestle with the same impetuousness?
Short answer: because it's just too damn hard. As an owning company, it's just too pervasive in the foods I eat and products I buy for me to consciously abstain effectively. Hell, they even own the controlling shares of L'oreal, Maybelleine and other beauty brands. And that's just one company or thousands that deserve my principled outrage.
Where the line is drawn is so subjective. Everyone has their own opinions on how other people "should" ethically consume. One person might advise me to change banks because mine is owned by the Rockefeller family. Another will caution others away from pet stores, because it's better to rescue a pet than perpetuate the puppy farming industry. Another might think bigger, and urge for vegetarianism, or veganism. And they'd all be right, in their own way. But it's not feasible to do them all, all the time.
I admit my own dissonance freely when it comes to a boycotting a product. I make the decision to abstain from contributing financially to a company by considering two separate factors. The first is always because I ethically believe that the company should not be supported with my money. The second depends upon whether to veto this product is, personally, convenient for my lifestyle. Sad, but true.
To elaborate on the above examples of my current boycotts:
I don't buy diamonds because it's virtually impossible to be certain that any stone is truly conflict-free, and it has been proven time and time again that these products are duplicitously inflated in pricing. But on a personal level, I have a much grander preference for coloured stones. Added perk: if some fool ever decides he likes me enough to put a ring on it, he can fish said ring from a bargain bin.
BP Petrol has leaked thousands of litres of oil into the ocean and refused to take responsibility for the clean-up efforts. Legitimate reason to snub them. Even easier to do when I have five different brands of petrol station within a five-kilometre radius of my front door.
The Pancake Parlour is owned by Scientologists, and they own a homophobic, discriminatory "fun park" out Ballarat way that has turned away marriage equality groups because they're bigoted. Also, food at the Pancake Parlour is terrible and overpriced.
Tuna and gummy shark are both overfished, and are teetering a little too close for comfort to the brink of extinction. Easy enough to substitute for some other, more plentiful, fish. Even easier in the case of tuna... because I can't bring myself to like the taste, even a little.
But as much as I love a cheeky boycott that requires me to only ever moderately make an effort, it does leave me in a conflicted space.
My dream is to next year go to Thailand and work in a particular camp that houses refugees from Burma/Myanmar. I want to go not as a voluntourist, which is a fascinating and brutal debate in and of itself, but as someone living in the same conditions, doing the same work as everyone else, and perhaps one day gaining enough experience to see me do the same with displaced people in the Middle East.
I care about the plight of refugees to an almost obnoxious degree, but I don't pretend to know much about the plights of different diasporic spreads in different regions. Kareni people are not the same people as those displaced by the Balkans conflicts, and they are, in turn, not Palestinian people. But to learn about the differences and similarities in person... wow!
However (ah, the dreaded however!) it is proving really, really bloody hard to establish whether it is a net good or net evil to travel to Burma/Myanmar, which is something I've always wanted to do. Anonymous strangers on travel forums wholeheartedly endorse tourism to the country, provided one spends their money with vendors that aren't government-controlled. Others say nay, because ultimately a tourist's presence endangers the people they meet, and money eventually trickles back to enabling an economy controlled by a military junta that forces its people into work camps.
I wouldn't travel to North Korea just for thrills, when it is becoming increasingly common knowledge that crimes against humanity are happening deep within its borders that resoundingly echo the Holocaust.
So would my going to Burma/Myanmar be like taking a holiday in Cambodia, in a "boost the economy" sense, or would it be like taking a Holiday in Cambodia, in the Dead Kennedys sense?
I wish I had the faintest idea, because Burma ranks high on my fantasy travel itinerary... along with a myriad of other dangerous countries that make my loved ones figuratively clutch their pearls.
If you have the faintest idea where, on this grey-scale of "OK" and "NOT OK" a cheeky sojourn through Burma/Myanmar falls, let me know. I can pack a suitcase mighty fast these days. Just don't ask me whether the company that stitched the damn thing is ethical or not.
A little while ago, I read a post about the notion of the “Cool Girl”, and it really struck a chord with me.
“Does the ‘cool girl’ exist? It’s so exhausting trying to be her” was a fascinating insight into the internal struggles that women feel to try to embody an identity that is inoffensive, affable, and hits a few choice clichés of masculinized attitudes, gift-wrapped in a sexy body.
The post highlighted excerpts from the book “Gone Girl”, which I am eagerly awaiting to arrive from Book Depository, in which the main character laments that she is not a “cool girl.” She doesn’t love blowjobs and burping and videogames, and she has emotions, and sometimes they win out. The reddit post, linked above, explored how women are socialised to emanate these qualities without even considering whether they have merit. For many women responding to the post, the penny was dropping: they had been modelling their own behaviours and attitudes inadvertently to reflect the expectations of a "cool girl" put to them by a patriarchal world. To quote the passage from Gone Girl - "Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them... They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be."
Once the post itself started a ball rolling in my mind, I was able to distinguish a very specific kind of gender profiling in common media, and in particular Disney, where desirable women evince an aloof, extraordinary quality. Belle in Beauty and the Beast is an outsider despite her looks because she’s academic, which in the provincial-town context makes her worldly and thus, strange. Ariel looks beyond the prejudices of her people in her hunger to learn more about life on land. Princess Jasmine yearns to lose herself amongst the common folk, rather than living a cotton-wrapped life of luxury, which paints her as more human and pragmatic than conventional women of wealth and power.
The common theme, one slipped into our subconscious as smoothly as moral lessons and questioned even less, is that in order to be a desirable, interesting woman, we must first be exceptional. To wit – we must be told by others, and ideally by men, that we are “not like other girls.”
Perhaps this is what breeds many women to envy and loathe the accomplishments of others, rather than boosting each other up the ladder. I am aware of the controversial nature of this generalisation, but I believe it has merit. Women internalise sexual competitiveness before they are even knowledgeable about sexuality, because we are groomed to yearn for exceptionalism without every quite knowing why.
The revelation of this cool girl cliché has detonated a cluster-bomb of concerned introspection in my mind. Upon learning of this trope, I have slipped every aspect of my identity under to the microscope, determined to excise any part that may be contrived from insincerity. My ear-splitting burps, my love of Bioshock games, my predilection towards giant steaks, filthy jokes and punk music all came into question. I ruminated at length upon how these things can be compatible with the rest of me. Although I love and like these things about myself in earnest, it was terrifying to me that I could not be sure as to whether I had developed them for the right reasons. How to guarantee that in my mouthy, punky pubescent phase, I had not carefully contrived this persona for the novelty of being "not like other girls"?
I have angsted over trying to make a good first impression when meeting new people, for fear that I did not only need only be myself, but be someone better. For lack of time and interest in crafting an entirely new, inoffensive, affable persona, time and time again, I simply work with the crude tools that I have, and a persona that is simply my own. Generally, it goes over fine. And when it doesn't, well, that's fine too. Can't win 'em all.
It was after one of these introductions to a new social circle that solidified my confidence in my mind. I can freely admit that I may bear some of the hallmarks of a cool girl. I don't know for sure how they came to be, whether it was manufactured or authentic, but however these features arose, they are mine now. There is no doubt in my mind that I was always going to wind up somewhat similar to the person I am now. My personality has seldom changed from the three-year-old version of myself in old home movies, who paired dainty dresses with Doc Marten knock-offs, had a finger jammed up my nose with a cheeky smile a lot of the time, and proudly declared to the camera that I could do “blurps” on cue.
There was probably a cool girl deeply-rooted inside my identity, once. Someone who wanted to be special and exceptional. Maybe some of her qualities germinated, and flowered. But if that is the case, then whatever those qualities may be have been absorbed by the greater picture. My cool girl mannerisms are complimented, rather than contradicted, by my less cool traits. It is not cool to respond to ideas and debate with emotion, but it does not shame me. I will proudly identify as a feminist and have become better at assertively challenging ingrained cultural sexism. I still get giggly over the rare occasion when my underwear matches my bra. I have amazing friends, and no longer plump for any elitist “I get along better with boys” bias out of some self-serving need to feel above other women. I do not stress about making my friends based on gender, as perhaps a teenage version of myself would have preferred due to the influence and adulation of my older brother. Now I seek only common compatibility.
It is hard work undoing a subconscious desire to be above other women when that is considered a prerequisite to win at life. But by refusing to buy into competing with other women for the validation of men, I already feel less burdened. Rather than anguish over whether my girly qualities undermine my affability, I am reorienting my scope. The qualities that define my identity do not fall into a binary “cool girl” and “crazy girl” columns. The qualities that define me require no more classification than the fact that they are mine.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.