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.
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.
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.
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 peer from University turned to me at the tail end of my degree and asked me why she never saw me in any of the core Biomedical Science units. When I snorted with laughter, and explained that my degree was Global Arts, and am profoundly unskilled in the ways of extrapolating data from the prodding of poor little lab mice, she was shocked.
"There's no way you studied Arts," she gaped. I doubt she even knew she did it, but she uttered the title of my degree with an inadvertent curl of the lip, and a curious gaze, as if I had a second head that she had not, until that moment, ever properly noticed before. The emphasis said it all; indicating the clicking-over of every nub in the cogs if her mind.
I can't say I blame her for being surprised. I'm not offended by the implied elitism of a peer who has structured three years around hardcore microbiological science, particularly in contrast to some of my more creative, but less analytical units. I could pass for a left-brain learner, if you didn't spend too much time with me. All of my closest friends in undergrad studied Biomed, or Science, or Psychology. I had a key to the Biomed Society Office, and ran the Activities portfolio for two years in a row. Once someone gets me to talking about the so-called "legitimacy" of the autism-vaccines link hoax, I can argue about due scientific process until my opposition has been backed into a corner, cowering against the onslaught of my rage. I could pass for a Science student, until someone hands me a test tube and expects me to do... whatever people do with test tubes.
As a recent graduate, I didn't have much time to plot out the definitive arc of my future. Given I am prone to overexcitement about things in the distant future, and race through the days of anticipation like an overclocked wind-up toy, perhaps the lack of forethought was a good thing. I had decided on a career path, and a Masters by coursework was going to get me there, and I was going to use that leverage to ease myself into a swanky government job. With all of the responsible stuff out of the way, I'd be a hobbyist author who never needed to starve in order to create.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. (Warning: if you're not familiar with the term, maybe don't try reading Steinbeck as an introduction. You will feel feelings you have never felt before, and most of them will overlap with soul-crushing anguish.) But a bit of feedback on my penultimate undergrad assignment threw a spanner in the works: "I seriously hope you're considering Honours." My best-laid plans went awry. They went awry hard.
The notion of Honours had almost always made me want to gag. Intensive research, heavy self-directed learning, no exciting coursework options where a diverse spread of great minds explain the nuances in their logic... I have tried to create a witty denigration of the concept, like "Chlorophyll, more like bore-ophyll!" but the best I could craft with was "Honours; more like Horrors." Insert bah-dum-tish at your leisure.
There was a different factor, however. Something I had been bullishly trying to ignore: the prestige. Not many people can so easily stroll into Honours. Before I knew it, I had two offers sitting in my email inbox, smiling malevolently: the invitation to undeetake my Masters, staring at me with puppydog eyes in the hopes I would not abandon it, and the offer for Honours, wearing a shit-eating grin that said, without saying "It was always going to be me, baby." So I abandoned the former in favour of the latter, and lost my meagre 3 weeks of holidays chasing up supervisors, course advisors, and spitballing thesis ideas. "After all," I told friends and family, "A thesis is only 18,000 words. Even multiplied four times, that's still less than my first novel." (Don't worry, I used a calculator.)
About a week from commencement, I became overwhelmed and realised that, given my severe weakness for not being able to put off until tomorrow what responsibility suggests I should do today, I was saddling myself up for an arduous, painful tilt. There would be backbreaking loads of research, a forfeiture of all my spare time to write, an inability to make time for fiction writing, and all for a career path that was okay, but not necessarily my true passion.
Some people have a natural gift to do one thing, with perfection. I am not one of those people. I'm impulsive and showy and everything is my all-time-favourite-thing, if only for twenty minutes. And a year of research for something I felt lukewarm about, at best? Well, you can see what inspired me to run from that commitment with nary a backwards glance before I fell in too deep.
I deferred the Honours program with the expectation that I may come back in a year, but my indecision about my future tainted my ability every look forward to it. I began a full-time job. I started at entry level, and was promoted twice in the span of a year. I was immediately besotted with the variety, the challenge that comes with my work never being the same two days in a row, the solidarity of my colleagues, the support, the room for growth, and that's before even considering the cashola.
But I'm a lifelong learner. I'm always hunting for some adventure. And just because I'm comfortable, it doesn't mean I'm done. I've merely delayed the question of what I want to do when I grow up for another day.
Career and academic options have crossed my mind, and I have dutifully disregarded them soon after. I've contemplated investigative journalism... but have, alas, become more and more jaded about committing to graduate studies in a bloated industry as the media monopoly throttles the most interesting parts of journalistic debate in Australia. I researched a journalism internship in Ghana, and it continues to cheep in the back of my mind, imploring me to do something risky. But I fear that this is merely the new branch of volountourism, where rich white kids go to somewhere "poor" and pose with turtles, poor kids, and other colonial clichés. I am wary of any program that will admit somebody with no prerequisite but for the few thousand dollars it would cost to go. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but it does beg the question as to what prerequisites these "global experience too-good-to-be-true" organisations do have.
There's always the option to undertake a degree in some realm of creative writing. But even I am enough of a realist to know a bad investment in my future when I see one. This is not to disparage on anyone whose career path has been moulded in this manner, bur rather to acknowledge my own shortcomings. The fact of the matter is that the book industry is discouraging at best, impenetrable at most brutally honest. There's nothing there for me. Editing and publishing are nice ideas, but in practice, I would tire quickly of reading the work of others in perpetual pursuit of grammatical errors and failure/ My sympathy threshold is too low to read a crappy manuscript without writhing in discomfort for its author. I can't study the hard and fast rules of writing without losing my lust for it. I'm not a formulaic person, for better or worse, and to have to nitpick every beautiful, perfect Oxford comma out of existence in somebody else's manuscript would be more than I could bear.
So what is an Arts graduate to do, after the dust has settled? I used to sneer at the lazy jokes about the uselessness of Arts degrees because I had a clearly-defined path in my mind. Now, they actually start to scrape at the sides. And I rage.
I rage against the baby boomers who refuse to retire to give Arts graduates graduate-level employment, and the digitisation of everything that makes genuine, honest freelancing accessible to so many people that one can't even give away their work for free. I rage against the university that gave me no vocational training, and the niggly little traits of my personality that exclude me, as if I have no choice, from chasing honourable pursuits like so many of my friends: ethics, squeamishness, an aversion to the corporate emphasis will likely always keep me at arms' length from conventional success. Because of these factors, and half a million others, a litany of exciting career paths beckon no more to me than the notion of sitting at home all day in beige-coloured underwear, eating cheese that's just that little bit too runny.
I can appreciate how privileged I am to have the freedom to abandon any one career path so easily, or two, if considering the academic one I discarded with all the fickleness of a sub-par student. Ever-present is the temptation to circumvent being a grown-up altogether, and merely stroll into the sunset with a bindle at my back. This is the fantasy that tickles me the most, right now. I have mapped a 24-month Around the World itinerary that encompasses all the irresponsible wayfaring a lass could ever want. I have set a financial target to activate the dream, which was only recently met in the wake of my most recent promotion. It is invigorating to know I could go at any moment, if I really wanted. But still I stay - working hard at my job, spending time with friends, grinding away at a trilogy. I like the space I am currently occupying. And the hardest part of being as spontaneous and ambitious as I am is accepting that there is nothing wrong with living in the present.
Truth be told, I'm happy. I'm flaky and uncertain, but I am only young. I have a whole realm ahead of me to explore. As soon as I crawl out of my own head and the hunger for adventure takes over, my degree is only going to be a stepping stone, bunched with dozens of other stepping stones, that leads me down the garden path to the grown-up I one day want to be.
And when I think about it like that, there's no science in the world that can configure away my optimism.
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?"
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.