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.
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.
The Victorian police force, in conjunction with TAC, busted out a new promotional advertising campaign this holiday season in order to remind people that it's a bad idea to drive around with the top down after guzzling down too many cocktails at the work Christmas party, only to puke in the one pot plant that's actually plastic. You guessed it, the enemy of the summer of fun, 2013, is driving whilst intoxicated.
I have no qualms with this whatsoever. Drinking and driving is the kind of hobby that a Darwin Award candidate lists at a hobby on their eHarmony file, right before they hitchhike to a blind date. I'm all for any campaign that encourages people to drink responsibly and drive safely. It's not the seventies anymore, and "I'll just take the back streets" isn't cute.
That said, VicPo totally hired the wrong promotional team to get the message across this time. Envisage, if you will, a slow-motion, dark-hued, almost action movie-style cinematography, with a stern tenor intoning "This holiday season, the police are throwing a party" with all the ominousness of a Bond villain in the moments before a big reveal. That is the benchmark of silliness the advertisement sets, and it comes crashing down shortly thereafter. Brace yourself for a metaphor that is butchered so artlessly that it relinquishes any meaning that it may have had.
I can't wait to see how they cater dip and carrot sticks for that.
"There will be dress-ups-"
Cut to someone putting on that fluoro vest thingy that somehow never seems to make it into novelty Sexy Cop costume kits.
I must have missed the memo, but apparently hats are mandatory for parties now. Like, fedoras? Straw boaters? I feel suddenly underdressed.
"-Some people will get a written invitation-"
But how can that be when the party's clearly already started? And why does the bearded driver from the advertisement look so sad to receive one?
"Of course, they'll be keeping an eye on numbers-"
What do you mean, 'of course'? We just established that EVERYONE is invited.
"-And checking I.D.'s."
That seems somewhat difficult to do if you've already invited everyone. Which you did.
"There'll be loud music-"
Does this mean the police band 'Code One' is no longer being shut down as part of budget cuts?
Doesn't sound too bad, actually.
"-And lots of photos."
Emphasis totally not my own. You can practically hear the narrator congratulate himself on executing the perfect level of pathos right there.
I could keep going, but at this stage I've made it 33 seconds through a one minute video and I'm going to need a scotch and Coke before I can even think about the next part. Which probably isn't such a good sign for how I'm interpreting these advertisements, because now my understanding is that drink driving is a police-mandated, glow-stick-riddled rave cave waiting to happen. And you, too, can have it... If you're just brave enough to reach out and crack that beer whilst flicking the dome light above your rear-view mirror for the perfect party vibe.
But alas, all cringeworthy videos must eventually come to an end. I hold out for the punchline. The overarching message. The one that will set me to quaking in my boots despite the audio, when isolated, promising a rollicking good bit of family fun. But wait, confusion! The slogan is "The Party's Over". And I am left confused.
This advertisement has inadvertently promised drink drivers some golden good times, and yanked this promise out from beneath them, not unlike that time I tried to do the "pull the tablecloth away without disturbing the food on top" trick. And like myself on that occasion, TAC have been left with egg on their faces.
If the police wanted to frighten people away from drink-driving, perhaps the prospect should not have been pitched as the kickass social event of the season. After all, the metaphor of the fun-sponge police officers coming by to break up a house party is so ingrained in pop culture, even I've caught myself in tipsy moments planning my escape from the venue in case the police rock up... and that's not even a thing in Australia.
To be fair, maybe it's because my parties aren't hardcore enough to be allocated police resources. A large portion of my Breaking Bad fandom was spent ruminating as to why Gus Fring have any interest in the meth world when he owns a lifetime supply of free fried chicken. I mean, isn't that the American dream? Alberquerque isn't far from Mexico, so you know that Los Pollos Hermanos' spicy chicken is destined to be the perfect amount of piquante. The whole drug thing, on top of that luxury? That's just being greedy. Although maybe that's my lack of street cred speaking.
But I digress. "The Party's Over"? Seriously? Way to alienate anyone who loosely likes the idea of "fun". One bad campaign is all it takes to undo any empathy for police officers that television shows like "Highway Patrol" work so hard to foster. The Average Joe's perspective flips from, "Geez, that hoon was acting like a jerk, wasn't he? The police really don't have an easy job." to "You wanna tread on my right to party? Screw you, guy!"
TAC misjudged their audience when they authorised an advertising campaign in the vein of a stern grandfather who has lost his train of thought mid-reprimand with this schizophrenic "We're throwing a party/the party's over" madness. And, like grandparenting, this moral lesson would probably go over better if it was framed more along the lines of something like this:
"Hey, we want you to have fun, but it can be dangerous out there, so just be careful, okay? Cool, love you."
I'm no statistician, but I'd bet money (one dogecoin. That someone else must mine for me because I don't know how to internet) that people would be more receptive to a message where they don't feel like they're being scolded by that one teacher in primary school who they hated.
If, to borrow a phrase from Mac in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the TAC approach was "laughs are cheap... I'm going for gasps!" maybe they should have gone for broke. I guarantee you, nobody would dare drink and drive after hearing the song "Limousine" by Brand New, and then hearing the story that inspired it. Though, to be fair, that's probably the equivalent of assuaging a child's fear of monsters under the bed by showing them American Horror Story, to show that there are far scarier things in the world than what's under a bed. Or perhaps it's just on my mind because I recently started watching American Horror story.
... Now I'm scared of the dark.
(A conversation with self:
"Did you just write over a thousand words relentlessly mocking a public health awareness campaign?"
"Hey. Not cool."
Whisper: "...I'm being a larrikin.")
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?"
There's something peculiar about aspiring authors. It's unique by contrast to almost every other profession, aside from perhaps how American Psycho depicts Wall Street bankers. An illogical paradox granted that success does not require hierarchical beat-downs of one's competition, as is common in other industries, but rather an intelligent channelling of creativity and appropriate marketing. It is a scourge on the creative world to bear witness to the insane jealousy between struggling artists, who see not only their peers as inferior to them ("I can't believe she got an agent with such a cheesy story, when mine is so much better!"), but already-successful authors too ("Audiences really are getting stupider if that's winning prizes.")
Such toxic envy is baffling to me. Sure, the green-eyed monster stirred in my belly slightly when a peer was signed by an agency that doesn't even accept manuscripts, and was thereafter picked up by Random House. But it took no effort to put the jealousy from my mind and be happy for her. The magnitude of her success is audacious. She was the only author that her agent signed in the last year, which is testament to the quality of her work. Opportunity didn't fall into her lap; she wrote something, and pitched it well, and she reaped the rewards of being good at it.
There are many people more qualified to write than I am. Some have undertaken Creative Writing degrees, and have years of editing experience, but it's not always that easy. I've met many people who say they "should" be an author, but have written nothing. I feel for them, because the muse can be fickle sometimes. But when someone from such a background turned his lip up at me and said something to the effect of, "I'm working towards producing good writing. Maybe you should have considered getting an education in the industry to produce better work too," I peaced out pretty hard. I know it likely stemmed from insecurity on his behalf, but that's not my problem and his childish reaction did not incline me towards feeling sympathetic.
Elitism about what constitutes "good writing" in the published world irks me more than much else. I can't justify the prevalence of tall poppy syndrome amongst aspiring authors towards those who know success. Writing blogs relentlessly tear strips from people like Dan Brown and E.L. James, but to my mind, their work has a valid place in the world. Because it's making readers out of people who would not pick up a book otherwise.
I love to read. I've read hundreds, maybe even thousands of books, and even if the narrative is absolutely killing me, I'll generally try to commit to the end. Even when a book, in my respectful opinion, sucks, it doesn't mean I can't see the merit in it for other people. My taste is not the barometer for all that is sacred in the literary world.
So when people refer to Dan Brown's books as meaningless pap, I can't help but cock an eyebrow. I appreciate that some people prefer to read dense, non-fiction accounts of history rather than tearing through Rome chasing assassins, but I'm not an academic of Roman history. I'm a fiction reader. And people are supposed to have fun with those types of books, because regardless of their failures to be realistic or historically accurate of whatever, at their core, they're entertaining. What's more invigorating than conspiracy, or subterfuge, or a world of intrigue that could easily slip into our own? I don't mind winching my suspension of disbelief a few degrees higher for some books. It's the non-restrictive nature of fiction that makes it so fun.
Admittedly, I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey, which was gifted to me for my 21st birthday in a swathe of gag gifts. The spine remains uncracked, and the cheeky troll face my friends glued into the corner of the front cover continues to leer at me, inviting me into a world where nobody understands the difference between BDSM and rape, and everybody murmurs.... well, everything they ever say.
Just because 50 Shades of Gray does not interest me, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate its value. It was picked up by a publishing house after being self-published, which is essentially unheard of. Whilst I take issue with some of the interpretations of kink, which blur the lines between consent and non-consent, I suppose it is engaging conventionally disinterested readers with literature again. At least until the film gets made.
If the power-dynamic of authors, agencies and publishers is framed like a nuclear family, then authors would have to be the children. Jealousy is what causes them to grapple with spiteful sibling rivalry, perpetually trying to usurp all others to land some parental approval. But in reality, other authors are not to be blamed for someone being kept at arms' length from their dreams. This blame lies with the agents, the ambivalent parent figure who chain-smokes whilst reading dense academic theses, looking up only to criticise the story of a fairy princess that the child has written in crayon. And though the author may have worked hard their manuscript, an agent will not lavish praise where it is undeserved. Nobody likes their work to be denigrated. In my humble opinion, this is why people equate the success of other in the literary world to their own failure.
The envy does not truly stem from a feeling of injustice, that the wrong authors are being picked up. It is instead a systemic bloat wherein a competitive industry is inundated with talent, and slush, alike. So-called "hacks" like Dan Brown or E.L. James do not strike gold in the publishing world because agents somehow loathe the craft of writing and want to drown the world in pulp. Authors need to accept agents and publishers know their stuff. If one's work isn't to a standard worthy of praise, it should only fuel the fire to work harder.
Whether they like it or not, literary snobs need to face up to a hard truth: good bad books are good for books, full stop. They encourage the industry to produce content, forces authors to be more innovative in their work, and encourage people who might not otherwise read to pick up a book. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, the revelation that the only way to be better is to dust oneself off, solicit the bejesus out of the manuscript, and stop seeing the success of others as an indictment on oneself. It's scary to render one's heart and soul in ink and put it on the line for criticism. But if it yields some form of success or other, what right should anyone else have to say that you don't deserve it?
You know when you're knee-deep in work, and you feel like despite ratcheting up the "crazy scale"* more and more everyday, you're just failing all over the place at being a normal human being? I'm talking about that feeling that the minute you achieve something small, you realise your achievement was a globule of spit in the great roaring bushfire of your workload.
In my world, it goes: you get your readings for classes under control (whoops, speaking of which...), you have to rush off to one of your two paid jobs; or pop into a Google Hangout/meeting for one of your two volunteer jobs; or your father accurately describes your bedroom as a "brothel", (which, fun fact, is a legitimate synonym for "messy"); you have a class presentation to make in the same week as three lengthy essays are due; your gym membership is going to waste because you went and fell down the stairs and messed up your foot so you limp like a cross between a bad pirate impersonator and Bigfoot stuck in a bear trap; and you haven't washed your clothes (or yourself) for a suspiciously long time... and, most unforgivable of all, it's taken you five days to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
Well, that's the level of pandemoniac I rock on a regular basis. I know it all may be manageable if I were to drop maybe one or two of my four external time commitments that fall loosely beneath the category of "paid/unpaid work", but in truth, I am in my element. It probably has something to do with the adrenaline rush that comes with teetering on the precipice of madness. I enjoy knowing that I've got more commitments than I should be able to handle, but the wheels are refusing to fall off. I'm the little engine that could, motherfucker. Toot toot.
Many of you probably know the amazing pop anthem of energetic apathy, "I Love It." You know, the one about driving bridges into cars or some such business. It is the victory song that I wish I could have written myself, if I'd had more than three years of recorder lessons... and before you get into it: yes, I am aware that the minimum primary school requirement for recorder lessons was one year. For some misguided reason I thought that I had picked the one musical instrument would never fade into obscurity.
The thing that I love so much about this song is that it has maybe all of six different lines, which I simply can't seem to recall when I'm enthusiastically rocking out. I riff the lyrics without a self-consciousness or capability, and ten out of ten times, the words mangle badly. But I don't let that stop me, because I'm stubborn as a mule, and "I Love It" is my victory song!
And sing it I did upon the moment wherein I tapped the final sentence of my novel, and pressed the image of the floppy disk that signifies a bygone era.
Yes, dear friends, readers, acquaintances, stalkers, and that one random family member who might accidentally stumble across this post whilst practice-Googling my name to make sure that my cyber-footprint is concealed to protect me from baddies:
I have finished "Softly Screamed the Devil".
Upon raw completion, it clocked in at a solid 345 pages in length, but its girth has shifted frequently with each of its, thus far, six full edits. Writing a book is hard, no doubt about it, but editing is work. The time-vacuum kind. The "can't multitask doing this" kind. Therefore, I'm all about it.
Despite my life being fifty shades of cray on the time-management front, I'm loving nigh on everything. Admittedly, I'm not shameless in the way an author should be when it comes to pitching my own work, so the next insurmountable obstacle will be to let people who aren't my Nonno or my agent actually read it. But that can be "tomorrow Scarlett"'s job. Today Scarlett is busy.
*Not crazy-hot, just crazy. Because if you saw the split-ended, curtains-wide-open fringed, pimply yet dry-skinned mess I have become, your first thought would be "Damn, girl", but for all the wrong reasons.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.