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.
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.
Hello, friends, stalkers, former lovers, and family members who read this blog to support me, but always wind up finishing an article with a crinkled nose, borne of semi-disgust and disappointment.
This is just a quick post for me to announce, with great excitement, that I have become a regular contributor to Uncommonlot.com.au, which is a space for unusual, dangerous ideas from mouthy agent provocateurs.
The site has freshly launched my examination of sex negativity, gender construct, and the peculiar dance of veils that women must perform to court a lover.
The piece is linked below, entitled (somewhat charmingly):
You can also find an older post, borne of these very archives, freshly dubbed:
Thanks for reading, and don't hold back in your thoughts. I'm a true lover of lively debate, and impassioned response to my opinions will only ever aid me to discern whether I am more or less offensive, in general, than that one time I retaliated to a guy's negging so hard, he cried.
(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.
Brace yourself: spoilers are coming.
This blog post discusses the television show to date, and some details from the books during the same period that did not make it into the show. You'll be okay if you don't mind hearing about tangential plotlines from the books that would have already passed in the show, but didn't actually wind up in it.
I solemnly swear that, to the best of my knowledge, I will not reveal any TV show spoilers... As is my sworn duty as a book-reader who diligently bit her tongue about the Red Wedding for years and then grinned like a maniac when the scene finally happened and she didn't have to keep it a secret anymore.
It's becoming that time of year again, the one where the broadcasting season of Game of Thrones is slowly edging towards a finale that will undoubtedly be magnificent, but is symbolic of its the viewer's tragedy. It's going to be a damn long time before we can dive headfirst into another season.
I've told myself time and time again that I need to restrain my rabid fandom of A Song of Ice and Fire when it comes to this blog. There's seldom a post that doesn't include some obtuse reference to my favourite book series and television program. I geek out worse than most for the Seven Kingdoms and every nasty little human in it. I have the damn boardgame, still shrink-wrapped because I don't have any friends with the time and patience to commit to a 4 hour battle for the Iron Throne with me.
My adulation for the series is so potent that for a recent costume party, I made a dress that depicts the map of Westeros and Esseros... and have worn it out in public on several other occasions because I'm a giant dork.
I trawl a lot of Game of Thrones fan forums. The resounding consensus is that people really don't mind bad guys, as long as they're charismatic. There's something to that school of thought. I hope I wasn't the only person who was nauseously thrilled when Joffrey finally turned the crossbow that he so phalically massaged for half a season on a human being for the first time. There is an adrenaline kick in hating the Boy King, and so we feel indulgently satisfied when he experiences as gruesome a death as any. But let's be honest... in the quiet moments of Season Four, with our homeboy Tyrion not so much outsmarted as outgunned by prison bars, his wit is spoiling away in a dungeon with nobody to do battle against, don't we kind of miss the sparring matches he had with his detestable nephew? Just a little?
Someone posted a glorious series of gifs on the Game of Thrones subreddit, entitled "Out of context Ramsay. So polite and caring." where he and Reek's unsettling scenes are carefully cut to reveal only moments where the psychopathic Bastard of Bolton is grinning amiably, the fuddy duddy Sam to Reek's Frodo. What interests me more is the discussion in the comments section of this post, wherein fans across the world discussed their genuine attachment to Ramsay. Not the actor who portrays him, but the character himself.
Ruminate on that. This is a man who gelds his prisoners, flays those who surrender to him in contravention of all forms of military sportsmanship, literally hunts humans for fun, and gets a psychosexual thrill out of playing mindgames with a Prince of the Iron Islands, rendering him a gibbering mess with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.
I want to say "objectively", but this is the internet after all, so I'll frame it as otherwise so as not to tread on toes: Ramsay Snow is subjectively a more evil, vicious, disgusting person than Joffrey Baratheon.
Seriously, Joffrey at his worst was still basically what you expect of a spoilt kid from an incestuous genepool who has never been told "no." If the game of thrones was a literal sport, those characteristics would see Joffrey queue up at the starting line with a moderate handicap, which is further debilitated by some shoddy parenting. Ramsay, conceived of rape, is probably the best-suited character in the Seven Kingdoms to match Joffrey's starting handicap. I admit, my reading of the books has potentially tinted this perspective, but his complete mania for anything blood-and-guts related is more overt, more sadistic, and far closer to inherent evil than Joffrey on even his worst day.
Which brings me back to fan adulation, a subjective and fickle thing if ever there was a clear-cut example. The question is: "If people can root for someone like Ramsay, is there any character in Game of Thrones who schemes, plots, and commits depraved and cruel acts that we can't find a way to love?"
It's with great reluctance that our first thought always flicks to one of the original baddies: Cersei Lannister.
All in all, she's not a great chick. She tries to kill her brother, Tyrion, who is basically the posterchild of wicked and wonderful protagonists with a hedonistic streak and a serious case of "Smartest Kid in Any Room." She bangs her other brother, and is kind of mean to him when they're reunited after his stint as a prisoner of war. She hates her husband, King Robert Baratheon, and, by virtue of a well-placed squire and an enormous flagon of wine, contributes to his premature demise. Sort of. On their face, yeah, these things make her the kind of woman you probably don't want to trust.
Hate her, if that's how you're so inclined, but to prevent a cognitive dissonance, we must refuse to differentiate her scheming from those of the aforementioned characters, whom we love from the get-go, or grow to throughout the series.
Forget the fact that in the books, Tyrion literally arranges for a singer to be killed and served in a tavern that sells "bowls of brown" in Flea Bottom, the medieval version of a ghetto. What did the man do to slight him so badly that having him cannibalised seemed the only reasonable option? He tried to blackmail his way into performing at Joffrey's wedding by singing to Tyrion about his secret lover. Yup. His asking price was one gig. But all the better to feed him to the poor, right?
Forget that Jaime pushed a child out of a window with the intention of killing him, murdered the King he swore to protect with a literal stab in the back, and then raped his sister/lover when she broke up with him.
Forget that Robert ritually humiliated Cersei in front of the court, made it no secret that he loved another woman, and declared she that would perpetually fail in her efforts to enchant him. All whilst he bedded down merrily with prostitutes in their marital bed to put on a show that would hurt his wife. What did she do to slight him so badly that he took pleasure in her humiliation? She was "cold".
But if you don't want to forget those factors to draw the lines in the sand that determine "good guys" versus "bad guys", consider this: is anything that Cersei does really so wicked as any other character whom we know, and love?
Cersei plays the Game of Thrones in a manner not unlike Tyrion's: with cautious thought, utilisation of her best skills, and hefting a massive chip on her shoulder.
The Queen Regent is a born leader with an intellect that certainly outweighed that of the King to whom she was married. She may not have ever been smarter than someone like Tyrion, but given the perpetual nature of their rivalry, it's not as if he ever did manage to best her, either. All things considered, perhaps the rivalling siblings have more in common than either would admit. She is the one who utters the most famous line in the entire Song of Ice and Fire collection: "In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." She knows the stakes of her involvement, but never once does she balk at entering the fray.
Cersei is fiercely loyal, but on a small scale. Whilst a simple notion, this quality is frequently bartered away throughout the series by more "noble" characters (more on that, later), so it is not something to be sniffed at. She places her family first and foremost in every choice she makes. Tywin Lannister even acknowledges that of all his children, his daughter is the strongest fighter for the family name. However, given her gender, she is severely restricted in how she can best contribute to the familial needs - by being wed for strategy and holding down the fort, rather than being granted a leadership position befitting her skills.
The Lannister name is literally everything to Cersei. She fights for it, she kills for it, and she's not afraid to put her neck on the line to defend it. Some fan theories have even suggested that the reason she so dearly adores her children, even Joffrey, whom she acknowledges was a monster, is not solely attributed to natural maternal instinct (because let's face it, she's ruthless towards almost all but her progeny), but because they are the living, breathing embodiment of the love she and Jaime share.
Consider the painstaking efforts she went to in order to prevent Robert from siring a true heir with her. He had illegitimate children left and right, but not once did his fertility ever win out when pitted against the cunning of his wife. Though she could have easily relented to all manner of "wifely duties" in the pursuit of power, including having Robert's children, Cersei's fights instead to protect the Lannister name, and avoid perpetuating the Baratheon line by her hand at all costs.
There is a reason that despite her marital status, Cersei is seldom, if ever, referred to as "Cersei Baratheon." The woman is a Lannister to the core. Whilst Jaime is prepared to sacrifice his family name at the altar of career ambition, and Tyrion is similarly inclined, but for love, is it any wonder that she is perpetually frustrated that her gender is the only thing holding her back from the privilege she deserves, and that both her brothers discard so casually? For all her callous pragmatism, Cersei seems to be the only Lannister who is concerned about what happens to the family name after Daddy-O croaks.
Cersei has ugly qualities, much like any other character. She's jealous, she's sly, she's insecure and she's pissed the fuck off that she is not getting her due. But aren't these qualities arbitrary in a narrative where, in all actuality, Cersei is just playing the game in the same manner as all the other men - with ruthless ambition?
The women of the Song of Ice and Fire universe are fascinating, and discussions about "strong female characters" have been done to death, so I won't subject you to it now. But if we can fleetingly toss each of these brilliant characters under the microscope, and establish why we can justify liking them but not Cersei, we might have a little better insight as to why her personality is so grating for the readership at large.
Game of Thrones is, at its core, about the pursuit of conviction, strength and mettle to rule. Femininity is quite the disadvantage in these stakes, and so personality is everything.
Daenerys Targaryen has the birthright, the diversity of experience (from King's Landing, to the Khalasar, to laying waste on Slaver's Bay), and commands the respect of her posse. But she has proven herself to be an idealistic leader, which is why she's still pissing around on the wrong side of the Narrow Sea and will be easily gutted if she keeps showing her soft underbelly so carelessly.
Margaery Tyrell is a siren, luring men to crash on the rocks, but her notoriety is for fickle camp-changing everytime the wind blows in a different direction. We like her gumption, and the fact that she uses a restrained sexual charisma to get what she wants. Plus, she's got a fun little tussle with Cersei brewing which, more so than a "catfight", is, at the core, about a fundamental misalignment over perception of loyalty. Cersei doesn't trust Margaery not to undo the family name, and to be fair, the precedent Margaery has set is aligned with that narrative.
Sansa Stark cops flak for several seasons for being a weak-willed little kid, and she seems to bear the brunt of the hatred the fans felt when her Dad got his head lopped off due to her inadvertent tattling. Her poker face is a joke and she spends several seasons appearing to be one nasty barb away from throwing herself from the Red Keep. It takes a change in prison warden (from Joffrey to Littlefinger) for her to realise that if she's going to be forever caged by some man, she might as well use her attractiveness to her advantage. It's manipulative, but can we blame her? The strange dynamics between she and Littlefinger are heinously uncomfortable, but after 4.87 seasons, at least she's finally entered the game.
Arya Stark is "grit" incarnate. She has a very rudimentary education, but a ton of oomph. She's flighty, obnoxious, unapologetic and obsessed with nothing but revenge. She isn't squeamish, and is fully prepared, even eager, to kill based on her own self-righteous sense of right and wrong. Her tempestuous road trippin' with the Hound shows her lack of reluctance when it comes to hunkering down with someone she loathes in the interests of longitudinal self-preservation. The question is, if she ever finally winds her way through the list of people she plans to kill, what will keep this storm in a teacup moving? Arya has lost literally everything in her life throughout the series. When she is no longer propelled by vengeance alone, will she crumple into the lost little girl that her character has refused, time and time again, to be?
Then there's Brienne, and the Queen of Thorns, and Shae, and the many other women who are working to some end to protect themselves and succeed in whatever their scurrilous missions may be.
These characters, all of them uniquely flawed and morally ambiguous, capitalise on some disingenuous, cruel, or outright loathsome traits. Cersei is not the only one to kill, not the only one to lie, not the only one to tug on the puppet strings of somebody else's life, and smirk when they break.
My opinion, unpopular though it may be, is that Cersei is one of the best characters. I am unilaterally rooting for her to ride the rise and fall that we see with so many of the greatest heroes in the series. She has the capacity to thrive in the cesspool of King's Landing. Her biggest failing is her gender, which restrains her from grasping any inkling of power that she truly deserves... unless, of course, such power is obtained via the casting couch or a sneaky back-room political dealing.
Cersei is my Frank Underwood, my Mellie Grant, my wolf in wolves' clothing. I hope the time finally comes for her to acquire political capital in a manner befitting her abilities. And then I hope she brings down the Rains of Castamere on her enemies. I would expect no less of her. After all, a Lannister always pays their debts.
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.
Because everything on earth becomes trivial after the loss of a loved one, it only makes sense to go fully trivial, and bury yourself in the inanity of life. Rave at what really grinds your gears, only as long as they're at arms' length enough so as not to hurt you. Rail against the unfairness that small cars driven by female P-platers will almost always be more frequently tailgated than any other car or driver, that hangovers are getting worse, that music doesn't speak to you like it did when you were fourteen and every line from every song made you feel like you were going through a horrible break-up with someone you've never even met, but loved profoundly. And nothing, nothing is more trivial than lamenting that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. So that's exactly what I'll do.
It's no secret that I'm a feminist. I'm okay with the title, though I'm not okay with the reaction that it elicits from other people. And if I wasn't entirely sure what being a feminist actually meant, I would be confused by my decision to be one, too. I absolutely adore silky, satiny, lacy underwear and shirk all undergarments in shades of beige with a disdain that Wall Street executives probably reserve for, well, poor people. I seriously contemplated buying a pink car, because the engine specs were decent, and as far as I recalled from my childhood, my Barbie never looked bummed out when I pushed her around in her giant, pink convertible. I got all giggly when I had the good fortune to meet Cosmo Jarvis, a musician so amazing that I foolishly struck up a conversation with him about the world's least-sexy topic... Reddit. Yeah. Talented and attractive people make me dopey.. If you were looking for quantifiers of femininity, it's safe to say that I'm a Girl with a capital G.
Being a feminist doesn't preclude me from these facets of my identity, which is sweet, because I wouldn't sacrifice them for any cause... well, except for the pink car bit, which ended up being an insane whim. Fun fact: most cars that come in pink are of a heinous shade, and can be bettered by other similarly-sized cars that aren't pushing for a twee "I don't know how to check my oil, I'm a girl!" demographic.
Being a feminist means acknowledging and accepting that there is something wrong with a status quo wherein women who are murdered receive less sympathy if they just so happen to be sex workers. It means finding it unsettling when female sexual predators are given more lenient sentences for the molestation of children than men, because "that's the luckiest ten-year-old-ever". It means believing that nobody, man or woman, should be mocked for asking for emotional support through a trying time.
On a tiny, trivial platform, it means understanding that some differences between men and women are inane, moronic, and unreasonable. It means acknowledging the sensitivities of the unspoken word and the implied negotiations between individuals, be they of the same gender or otherwise. In short: it means doing away with the fucking notion of the "friendzone."
For those unaware (or blessed by virtue of having never experienced unrequited infatuation), the friendzone is a simple concept: that if you play your cards incorrectly upon getting to know someone whom you are romantically interested in - that is, by not projecting your "best self" or someone else's self altogether - then you will be consigned to the friendzone, a dark and decrepit place in which you are forever to be seen as "nothing more than a friend." Every person who has ever been told "I care about you, but just want to be friends" by the object of their affection has felt the burn. Rejection is hard. But for some people, there is an inexplicable need to react to rejection with aggression. To denounce the spurning party for "only wanting jerks/sluts", allowing bitterness to taint any interactions with the object of one's desire until their intended paramour awkwardly extricates themselves from a poisonous man-o-war embrace. All the while, these sad, insecure people thrash around so wildly in the so-called friendzone that the entire friendship, which was a privilege and not a punishment, is decimated beyond repair.
Here's the dirty little secret to avoiding the friendzone: don't be an entitled jerk!
Sure, it's unfortunate when the person that makes you want to watch musicals and frolic in meadows isn't smitten for you. It's a bummer. Really. But guess what? That person was adult enough to be honest with you their feelings! They think you're a friend!! That means they want to be able to support you through ups and downs, as lovers and partners traipse in and out of your life through revolving doors, and hope for you to be a similar supporter for them on their adventure, too!!!
How can this kind of mutual respect and camaraderie seem like something "less" than dating when they're both completely awesome, albeit different, things?
This might be controversial, but I'm of the opinion that there is something far worse than the friend zone: being hefted bodily into the "girlfriendzone". You will know if you are currently in the girlfriend (or boyfriend) zone by the breadcrumb-trail of passive-aggressive implications that you're "leading [someone] on", or being resented if a friend or acquaintance's declarations of everlasting adulation aren't met with immediate enthusiastic reciprocity. In the girlfriendzone, "that's really sweet, but uh, that's not how I see you" is an invitation for the spurned to pursue you more aggressively, because whilst your words weren't encouraging, you didn't sound totally committed to the rejection. By contrast, stating plainly "I am not attracted to you" seemingly means "I'm literally a succubis, and the knowledge that I've broken your heart helps me get over the edge when I'm having evil, sinful bedtime hijinks with some other guy. Oh, and the guy is a handsome jerk. He probably plays some kind of team sport."
When we consign meaning to our interactions with the opposite (or same, or non-binary, whatever you like) sex, perceiving other people as potential nemeses with whom we must negotiate a relationship through butted heads and gender warfare only perpetuates the adversarial nature of dating. If people see one another as mere conquests, begging to be taken, they disregard the other person's autonomy through necessity. Nobody likes being told who or what they are. Is it not utterly entitled and patronising to imagine someone else telling you that they know what's best for you, even as they refuse to consult with you about it?
If the friendzone is a sad, poorly-lit room hosting a Lonely Hearts Club, the girlfriendzone (or boyfriendzone) is a noxious pit of snakes over which people suspend each other with Bond-villain level wickedness, declaring the ultimatum: "return my affections, or become dead to me!". When I think of it like that, I sure know where I'd rather be.
I'll be the first to admit that I've been guilty of the self-indulgent "why don't they like meeeeeee" pity party in the past. Spoiler alert: it did nothing for me. All it did was ostracise people who could readily have been good friends, if I hadn't set my scope so narrowly that I figured romance was all they had to offer me.
I dated someone for four years. We were friends for many more before that, despite the fact that he had feelings for me. To this day I'm not exactly sure why, but people who didn't know either of us particularly well felt invested in the slight that my friendship had inflicted on him. I was called all kinds of cruel names for my supposed "selfishness" by people who had never actually asked him how he felt about our friendship. I was blasted for confining such a "nice guy" to the friend zone, whilst still being so presumptuous as to enjoy his company. Yet when we finally had a discussion about the belligerence of those accusations, I was reassured that my friendship was more than enough for him... until one day, we both decided that it wasn't. And I'm sure that for neither of us were those years of friendship a waste of time. Not surprisingly, all the mud-slingers faded into obscurity sometime after, where they damn well belonged. And if we hadn't dated? Then heck, he'd have still been a good friend for however long we may have remained friends.
Since re-entering the land of single people, I won't lie, it's been interesting. It's a merciless meat market out here, though I'm having a blast. But in getting to know people whose intentions aren't always of the PG realm, I have had to learn to assert boundaries in a big way. And from various nasty little girlfriendzone experiences, I know enough about my principles that when somebody tries to guilt trip me or assert dominance over my favour, I recoil. Vocally. I'm less soft and malleable than I once was, but I like myself better this way. The people I've discarded for befriending me with ulterior motives were never really friends anyway, so it's not as if I've lost anything of value.
So when your heart gets all fluttery at the sight of a message from your pal, but its contents are a lamentation of the ways her boyfriend is being mean, and she just wants to hang out and be allowed to feel her feelings with a friend, don't immediately assume that it's some sick game. Because this is someone who has trusted you enough to be vulnerable around you, and, implicitly or explicitly, is optimistic that even if the boyfriend goes one day, you won't.
And when it's framed like that, does friendship really feel like such a second prize?
Recently my mother gave me the intellectual equivalent of asking me to help her choose a puppy: to collect for her a series of articles explaining why feminism still hasn't "fixed it all" yet, and why young people (read: not girls, ladies, or women, but any and all genders) still have an aching need for equality. It was so hard to know where to start, I became quickly overwhelmed. I'm constantly posting interesting articles about human rights and equality on Facebook, which presumably has lost me many a virtual friend in my time... though I couldn't say how many "friends" with which I had started, so it's not particularly upsetting. But I digress.
It's funny how gender equality, as a passion, snuck up on me. As a teenager I was extremely passionate about virtually every meaty human rights issue there was, but considered the feminist movement "done" after the suffragettes sorted out all the contraceptive/right to vote business.
Teenage me was a heck of a cynic. She balked from extreme binaries and loved to advocate for the devil. Many examples come to mind. After all, it is not the victims, rather than perpetrators, of physical and sexual violence who are blamed for their abuse. And it's not like men still capitalise on seduction guides that dictate on how to commodify women, appropriately belittle and intrigue them, and then push their physical comfort barriers because consent isn't about enthusiasm, but about ensuring that a man doesn't stop escalating physical contact until he can "make the ho say no." It's not like people still make jokes about outdated gender roles by telling an assertive woman to "get back into the kitchen". Nobody complains that men are emasculated by the existence of women in gaming, or engineering, or politics.
Oh, wait a minute.
Feminism still has a metric fuckton of equality to achieve.
Believe it or not, those examples are only the tip of the iceberg. That form of sexism is slimy and unpleasant, but relatively easy to identify and call as being overt. It's rare that anyone won't agree that it is deplorable that in Australia alone, one woman will die every week at the hands of a partner, or ex-partner. But the insidious undercurrent of sexism is what sees these stories become framed as "he was under so much pressure/he snapped/she goaded him/this is a men's mental health issue more than it is a domestic violence issue." Feeling your jimmies rustling as you read that contention? Boom. Point proven. People don't like to confront their own ingrained sexism. Heck, my fingernails gouged deep grooves in the floorboards of my mind as I was dragged, by logic, through a metamorphosis into proud feminist.
It's a harsh truth, but sexism is deeply rooted everywhere, even in the most seemingly "civilised" of cultures. It's in the millisecond-long pause before you commit to a gender-trope-heavy punchline, and the moment when a woman is heckled from a car and struggles to establish whether it should be flattery, or offensive. It's in the need for women to be amiable, polite, and never abrasive. Because to be abrasive is to be a leader, and a woman "acting like a man" is abominable.
When I discovered the Everyday Sexism project, it took a lot of self restraint not to bubble over with excitement as I read men and women recount moments that made them feel as if they were constrained by their gender to accept behaviours of others that made them uncomfortable.
I have the fortune of being seven years older than my younger sister. This allows me freedom to not worry about needing to impress her friends, all of whom have seen me slob around in a dressing gown so often that I suspect my sister tells them that I lost all my clothes in a suspiciously-concentrated fire. Simultaneously, she's razor-sharp, and we have some awesome conversations. But best of all, above any sisterhood: I got to have Christmastime tradition far, far longer than anybody I've ever met. And it's been ace.
When I was sixteen, our family went for the annual family photo with a mall Santa. It's been a tradition in our family for over twenty years, and the album captures, in one snapshot a year, my every awkward teenage phase of my life. But age sixteen was a special year, and not in a jolly way. Because Santa took one look at my mother and I, and insisted we sit in his lap, whilst my sister, aged nine, stood to the side.
You thought I was kidding? Hell, no. We still have the photo, complete with awkward-as-fuck grimaces.
When I think back on that moment now, all I can feel is revulsion. Revulsion that some disgusting old dude in a fleecy fake beard exploited a happy family moment so he could get a sneaky grope in the one context where nobody wants to shatter the suspension of disbelief, and call out his bullshit in front of a child.
That is everyday sexism.
When I was walking through a narrow doorway at 8pm in a pub, and some guy going through the door the other way shot his hand out and groped my crotch for one, fleeting moment. That was everyday sexism. Not because he liked the look of my body - I doubt he even gave me a second glance before that moment - but because I was a woman who dared exist in a public space, arrogantly exuding the confidence of someone whose body is my own. He clutched at my pelvis not because it did anything sexual for him. He violated my space, and then the space of the girl next to me a split-second later, because he wanted to feel the power of depriving me of mine.
When I was walking down a residential street one beautiful summer's day at age fourteen and was flagged down by some stranger in a car who told me that my "legs were hot" and asked if I'd get in and go for a coffee with him. That was everyday sexism, too... but at least he had the good grace to drive off quick-smart when I blurted out my age with shock and condemnation dripping from every syllable. And it pains me to add this disclaimer, but no, there is no chance on earth that Scarlett circa 2005 looked even remotely close to over 18. The need to clarify that as some form of self-justification is part and parcel of the pervasiveness of everyday sexism.
It is in my ex-boyfriend curling his lip in offence at my desire not to take somebody else's name. It is in political enemies of my employer crying "who will do the work when she is on maternity leave?" and then, "she isn't taking maternity leave! What kind of mother abandons her family like that?". It is in the jokes of my friends who praise the windy campus of my alma mater which causes the skirts of pretty girls to fly overhead, as if the internet is not rife with women who would happily consent to showing your their underwear, and all else under it as well, without violating their comfort zones. It is in men being told that they need to don a stiff upper lip, because crying is for women and being vulnerable is for homosexuals.
Or maybe it's something as simple as: "Women have got it fine. Feminists just being pissy because they're too equal now, and they're making things up to elevate themselves above men."
I guess what I'm trying to say that if any of this strikes a chord with you, I'd encourage you to talk to your friends and family about the everyday sexism that they have experienced, or witnessed. It might actually surprise you how much of the things you say and do are dictated by gender roles. And there's no better time to call this shit out.
After all, who wants to live in a world where a teenage girl could ever start a story with: "Have you ever been groped by Santa?"
To the acquaintance who suggested I was bulimic because I sometimes went to the bathroom after lunch;
To the mother of a high-school boyfriend, who asked me when I was going to get my pigeon-toed walk fixed;
To the girls who mocked the way I spoke, likening me to the pedophile from Family Guy, until I left a party in tears;
I'm sick of the way that self-loathing, and all the heady analyses it incites, has seeped into every facet of civilisation. This new era of hyper self-criticism is not limited specifically to women, though they are the predominant victims. People from all walks of life can be found second-guessing individual features their appearance, noticing something about their body, and then, in the split second after, trying to make a judgement of something that does not demand it: "Wait, is this 'good' or 'bad'?"
And it's hard, isn't it, when fashion changes too fast to even keep up with the ideal body? The 80's was the age of the heroin-chic look, which requires no explanation. Those of my generation are probably more familiar with the very carefully constructed trope of exoticism, where cookie-cutter white girls were supplanted by cookie-cutter Hispanic and black girls. It's not my place to say whether this shift was a good or bad development for minority women, because I don't have the lived or academic experience to be sure, but I can appreciate how hard it is to be perceived as exotic. There are so many extra clauses to accommodate. For women, it's generally a need to be top-and-bottom heavy, but with a tiny waist. Blowjob lips are a plus, but hairlessness is a prerequisite.
Though I'm undoubtedly the palest family member of my Mediterranean lineage, I can assure you this on behalf of my extended family: these specifications are near-impossible unless you've already conquered the genetic lottery... and even then, you'd have to solicit a little help from your local beautician to get the hair thing under control.
It seems nobody remembers that give or take some decades, a century, and a totally different geographical location, (since Australia was not yet the land of bush-pigs and convicts), it was chic to be pale and rotund. Just as Rubens. Pale skin exemplified a charmed life, where one was not required to labour in the sun. To be large was testament to your wealth, because you weren't starving.
But centuries change, trends change, and people internalise shame for things that should not make them feel ashamed. This live in an era where even "real beauty campaigns" make people self-loathe further. Why else would these shoots comprise entirely gorgeous models with flawless skin, teeth and hair who dance around at 170cm and size twelve, harbouring the pretence that they represent the stretch-marked, mole-smattered, flat-arsed masses.
Nobody questions the purpose of nasty, paparazzi-style analysis of other peoples' bodies much anymore, either. It's become a standard that we've accepted and internalised as part and parcel of humanity. There's a far more sinister, below-board bullying that pervades social interactions between millenials. It doesn't have a name, but it's easy to spot: a subversive critique of another person's appearance or mannerisms under the guise of friendly banter. It's a way of blindsiding someone, leaving them self-conscious, winded, and pathologising their every feature. I've been on the receiving end... and boy, it hurts.
Teenage me was a dancer, and extremely skinny despite an overzealous habit of devouring two or three king-size Crunchie bars a day. I can't count how many times people asked me whether I had an eating disorder to my face. Admittedly, some of those people might have been jealous and just wanted to bring me down a peg, but what irked me the most about these remarks was that if I objected to having my body policed by someone else, suddenly the fault was mine. After all, I "couldn't take a compliment".
Having friends who have grappled for enormous chunks of their lives with eating disorders, I would never want to perpetuate somebody else's shame-cycle. To be dressed down for objecting to someone being overtly rude is just beyond belief. And yet some people are so offended by somebody else taking offence to their offensive statement. Do you see the predicament here?
I was lucky to have an amazing mother, who kept my self-perception in check by reminding me that my body would eventually "catch up" to the size it was meant to be. If she hadn't, I would have been horrified to one day wake up on the wrong side of 50 kilograms. It's scary to imagine becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-loathing that other people so desperately hoped I would be. I'm not arrogant enough to think that I was above falling into such a snare, because although the constant critique of my body was upsetting, it fed into itself. What I didn't expect was how deeply self-conscious I began to feel when it... well... stopped.
I didn't throw the yoke of scrawniness off until university, which should have been exciting, right? Except that there's something about those negative feedback loops that makes you feel like that even if you don't agree with them, you should. I tuned into seemingly subconscious thoughts that fluctuated between "I have boobs and a waist, hurrah!" to "blergh, my thighs rub when I walk" and "my arms seem to be the only ones on earth that don't look slimmer when I do that stupid hand-on-hip pose for photos." Like that was the sum total of what my body was capable of. What a sad thought process.
It's so strange to think all I ever wanted were curves, but that when I got them, the line between "ideal" and "fat" seemed to blur in my silly little mind. I joined a gym (fun!) and a had brief flirtation with calorie-counting (less fun), and long before my weight shifted, something else did: my self-perception. Because this body, with or without a box-gap, is the only one I've got. I've realised that pathologising perfectly normal parts of my body is exhausting, not to mention self-indulgent. And for all my research into stupid fitness regimens and diets, I've realised that none of it matters if I have enough self-esteem to refuse to buy into it.
So it comes down to the only question that actually matters: can I be happy the way I am? I think I can.
I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a voice in the back of my mind that had spruiked its discontent at the idea of me accepting myself. But I try not to heed it anymore, because it's a product of the world around me. It's not what I really believe.
When I realised all of this, I made assertive, though truly terrifying, changes, such as flat-out refusing to compare my body to those of celebrities anymore. I seldom weigh myself, and value my body instead by how I confident I feel when I play dress-ups, and how bendy it will let me be in yoga classes.
But my reckless pursuit of self-satisfaction did not end there.
My lifelong project is to prune myself of poison. That means cutting out self-loathing thoughts and cancerous connections as they arise. If I'm being cheeky, I'd call it trimming the fat. After all, what's more detrimental to your self-worth than people who make you hate yourself?
So to the person who pointed out flaws I didn't know I had: get ssssssssssstuffed. With as big a lisp as I can muster, my left foot pivoting inward, and both my middle fingers raised high.
Author's note for the curious: In the year or so since writing this post, I have shed 8 kilograms, a viper nest of friends, and a boy... and I've never been happier.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.