At the Movies

It’s been quiet around these parts, we know, we know. But look, we’re all really busy and important (at least one of those things anyway). There has been some moving internationally, some uni assignment completion (and procrastination) and some of us, naming no names, have been playing a lot of Glitch.

On Wednesday the members of SJL, still in the same country (*sob*), went to the cinema. We even managed to get our applicable concession tickets and good seats! Just as an aside, can I just talk about going to the movies? Why is so ridiculously complicated? It’s like one of those mini quests in Glitch which involves a lot of jumping between constantly moving levels and makes me feel intensely anxious because everything just won’t line up and I never played Nintendo as a kid and my fine motor skills suffered.

This complaint should probably be accompanied by the world’s tiniest violin because I don’t think they even have concession tickets in the US? (Presumably because it’s socialism). Anyway, SJL are still in the process of completing Uni, doing unpaid internships and being un/under-employed. Basically it’s like Girls but with slightly more POC and better sex. [1. Rest of SJL: not happy with this comparison]. Also we get some money from the government for being students because, socialism. Basically, we aren’t going to pay $5 extra for movie tickets if we don’t have to, so we must all assemble [2. Who is thinking about The Avengers now?] with correct student cards at the allotted time even though we are all, invariably running late or early. But we totally nailed buying the correct tickets to the correct movie because we are motherfucking adults! [3. Eds note: perhaps writing a whole paragraph about this undermines your point?]

And what movie were we going to see? [4. Further eds note: Are you planning to get to the action any time soon? This is a blogpost not a Tolkien novel, no one wants to know the songs you sang on the way to the cinema, OK. ] We were going to see The Sapphires a movie you have probably heard about if you are Australian and almost certainly haven’t if you aren’t.

Things that are almost always true of Australian movies:

1. There are about 100 credits as the movie starts because it takes a lot of people and a lot of effort to get a movie made in Australia. I know this is also true of American indie releases because it’s hard out there for a pimp/movie maker, but for Aussie movies at least a few of the “this is a [BlahBlah Production]” credits are for government government funded bodies (again with the communism!).

2. It is nice to hear Australian accents on film. It just is, OK? We aren’t in many movies and when we are often we are played by English people or, even worse, New Zealanders. There is a joke in the movie where Chris O’Dowd’s character, speaking in his Irish accent, says “As you can probably tell from my accent I’m not from around these parts, I’m from Melbourne!” Which SJL laughed uproariously at, hopefully foreign audiences also get this.

3. It is exciting to see Australian life/places on screen. Maybe it is condescending for me to say this but I really don’t think many Americans get this. Until I went to America I thought the following things only existed in movies: those red plastic cups at parties , yellow school buses [5. I’d like to make it clear that we do have busses in Australia, even school buses, they just don’t look so yellow and story-bookish (I make this point because when I exclaimed about school buses in the US my American friend looked at me with horror and said “You don’t have buses in Australia?” and as much as I tried to reassure her I don’t think she ever really believed me).] , NYPD cars, people calling their friend’s parents by their last names, prom, high school cheerleaders, high school sport being SRS BSNS,  college sport being SRS BSNS etc. I also have a completely mangled view of the legal system of my own country because I’ve watched a lot of US court dramas. I am forever this close to thinking 911 is the emergency number I should call, whatever country I am in. Which is not to say that American Cultural Imperialism Is Ruining Everything. Because, I really like a lot of American popular culture, but it’s a nice change to see a movie set in outback Australia and the city in which I live (and also Vietnam, a place I have briefly lived. Basically, they made this movie for me).

4. You recognise most of the actors from a combination of the following: being in every other Australian movie you’ve ever watched, being the Australian actor who made it big overseas and is now back to prove their Aussie-ness and “give back”, your twitter feed and that time you once saw them at the shops and thought you recognised them but weren’t sure.

5. They are not very good. I know, I am bringing dishonour to my country but it’s true! Usually Australian movies are cheap and either:
a) so incredibly arty that you know you should be appreciating the art but you find yourself thinking in deep shame about how much fun Magic Mike was,
b) so incredibly broad you feel yourself at once wanting to dive under the cinema seat and suffering deep shame at your cultural cringe or,
c) Animal Kingdom, which I hear is great and all the nerdy movie podcasters/bloggers I follow really liked it but I’m kind of a wimp about violence so I haven’t seen it but I totally pretend to have at parties.

The Sapphires, though, is actually totally great! It’s the story inspired by real life of four Aboriginal women who go to Vietnam in the 60s to sing for the American forces there. It explores issues of race and gender, and there is singing and dancing. I laughed, I cried! (I actually cried a lot, so much so that it caused SJL to rummage through their bags for a napkin).

But I hear this blog is supposed to be a Social Justice blog so let’s try that. I am not going to “spoil” the movie in this section but I will reveal some background information and some plot developments so if you prefer to go into your movies with as little knowledge as possible, stop reading now!

  • Race. Clearly I am no expert on this and I welcome POC to pull me up if I am missing nuance. The film addresses the level of racism in Australia during this time, and the limitations this placed upon what aboriginal people could do and the places they could go. There are a lot of jokes about race in this movie, but none of them are made at the expense of the POC. They are jokes about stereotypes and about the horror and stupidity of racism. I was particularly impressed with the way that the film dealt with the idea of “passing” as white and the complications that causes. This is an issue regularly brought up by unenlightened “commentators” in Australia . Kay, one of the singers is pale enough to be perceived as white. The film at once acknowledges the privilege this confers upon her while also exploring the pain and confusion this causes.
  • Holy female gaze batman. The film delights in treating male, (often) black bodies in the way that movie-makers usually treat (generally) white, female bodies. So when you see that slow upward pan of Kay’s love interest’s rippling abs remember you are doing it for feminism (feminism is a lot of fun guys, lets be honest). Also, I can’t lie, I do enjoy the reverse-Bella they pull on that guy by making his main, characteristic the fact that he is clumsy. While the love interest we learn the most about is white, the black male characters are shown to be at times desirable, funny, clever, enterprising and nuanced.
  • The feisty female character doesn’t have to submit to the male love interest. You know fairly early on, if you’ve ever seen a movie before, who’s going to end up together and from that point I was concerned that the female character was going to have to give in, to tone down her opinions. She never does. Also the way that he asks her to marry him is probably one of the sweetest and most egalitarian proposals of all time (I welcome alternatives in the comments).
  • Body diversity. At SJL we reject the assertion that some women’s bodies are better, or more womanly than others, while at the same time acknowledging problems of representation and the overall thinness of womens bodies in the media. (This is high level feminism folks, and please do try it at home, on the bus and at parties etc). So, it’s really nice to see a movie where the main female lead and part of a romantic pairing is not thin and her weight is never mentioned. Of course it shouldn’t be an issue because women Deborah Mailman’s size are not some kind of niche minority, they are us, our friends, our mothers and our co workers but they are weirdly absent from the screen.

The movie, unsurprisingly for a feel-good movie featuring musical numbers, is schmaltzy at times. Often these moments are cut through with jokes (because Australians think feelings are gross [6. A massive generalization! Also many English people think feelings are gross.] ). There is a scene where Kay secures them passage through land held by the Vietcong by giving a speech in an Aboriginal dialect. It’s also worth making the point that it is somewhat reductive to view the Vietnam War along entirely racial lines as this scene appears to. If nothing else the (North) Vietnamese wanted freedom from anyone who tried to deny it of them, including the Chinese, the Japanese, the French and the Americans (and not all the American soldiers were white, as the film itself makes clear) and they would fight them all. As guests of the US Army The Sapphires would surely be viewed as the enemy. The Vietcong were pretty hardcore (understatement) and I’m fairly certain that speaking to them in the Yorta Yorta language would not have worked, but I was crying a lot at that point, and narratively it worked so you know, whatevs.

And finally, I’m pretty sure that “bag of dicks” was not a thing that people said in 1960s Australia, but prove me wrong. OK, now let’s chair dance it out…

 

 

Dear Kat Stratford (I think I love you)

Hopefully I am not the only one who still remembers/watches weekly 10 Things I Hate About You. It is the the story of Kat Stratford, and her younger, more popular sister, Bianca. They are at high school and there are boys and bets and Important Dances. It is, ostensibly, a remake of The Taming of the Shrew (?). Mostly it is important to remember that there are a lot of great lines and a bit where Heath Ledger sings a song and that Kat Stratford Is Really Awesome OMG.

I was going to come up with some tenuous tie in for this post eg. “isn’t it still sad that Heath Ledger is dead?”[1], it is [some random year] since this movie came out[2], “isn’t Joseph Gordon Levitt cute?”[3] etc.    However, I have decided to eschew such fakery in pursuance of my art. My art called for me to write a list of things.

A (not entirely) random number of things I love about Kat Stratford, in a mostly random order.[4]

  1. “I suppose in our society being male and an arsehole makes you worthy of our time.” When I watched this movie I was in early high school and critical and/or feminist approaches to texts were not something with which I was familiar. The scene in English class near the beginning of the film is so perfect. This scene includes Kat informing Heath Ledger’s character (Patrick) that all he has missed is “The oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education.” I didn’t know what patriarchal values were but gee they sounded bad and I wanted to know more.
  2. Kat is angry about things which are angry-making. So maybe injuring someone to extent that they need a testical retrieval operation because they groped you in the lunchline is somewhat disproportionate but also it’s awesome… Oups?
  3. Banter! So much beautiful banter. When I watched Ten Things the first time my “moves” around boys I liked were mostly a mixture of blushing, sweating and mumbling, sometimes I managed all three moves at once! So that exchange where Heath Ledger’s character says “I know a lot more than you think!” and Kat whips back with “Doubtful, very doubtful” and others like that, were very aspirational. Would I ever be so cool?[5]
  4. According to (unethical!) sleuthing it is found that Kat likes “Thai food, feminist prose and angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion.” Would I still like Pad Thai and The Handmaid’s Tale and Bikini Kill if I hadn’t met Kat Stratford at such a crucial time? A controlled trial is not forthcoming. I do know that I lived pretty far from a shop that sold Riot Grrl, so it certainly helped. (Shortly after watching the movie I used my parents newly acquired dial up internet to download Rebel Girl and it made my life better).
  5. Aside from Bikini Kill, Kat references some other pretty great stuff: Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir, Charlotte Bronte and the Feminine Mystique[6] for example. Women make great and important cultural works!
  6. The conversation between Kat and Bianca at the party. I was long from attending such events, and of course such events don’t really exist because yay, Hollywood movies![7] But that scene where Bianca refuses to talk to her because she’s not cool enough and Kat looks genuinely hurt? Oh my heart. She’s fierce and badass and has all the best comebacks but she is still a teenager girl capable of feeling hurt in the way that teenage girls are so very skilled at inflicting it.
  7. “You don’t always have to be what they want you to be, you know?” Which is just the best advice and an excellent tattoo idea and great words of wisdom I hope to impart on my future hypothetical sons and daughters. ([2] Of course my hypothetical future children will also no doubt fail to listen to me, just like Bianca).
  8. That bit where she makes out with Heath Ledger while rolling in the hay, covered in paint.[8]
  9. So Kat isn’t great at communicating all the time, but eventually she brings Bianca ‘round and then Bianca hits The Douchebag in the face. Who wouldn’t want to be that much of a positive inspiration in someone’s life???[9]
  10. That she takes him back. So maybe this is counter-intuitive but stay with me OK? You really like this hot guy and he seems to like you but then it turns out it was a bet.[10] So you think a) can I trust this guy again? b) does he even really like me? And then it turns out that yes you can and he does (as far as you can tell) actually like you. Choosing not to be in a relationship with someone should not be about denying someone the gift of your presence/vagina in payback. If you still really want to be with someone and have assessed things as levelly as you can, I say go for it! (Shockingly I may have over-thought this).[11] Also, he bought her an awesome-looking guitar!!!

An aside:  Black “panties” don’t mean you want to have sex some day. Those underpants don’t even fit the stereotype given they look like the type of cotton hipster bikinis you get in a ten pack at Target.[12]  That bit is so weird and I am impressed with Patrick Verona’s skeptical face when delivered with this as evidence that Kat is worth pursuing.


[1] Yes.
[2] It is… twelve years. God, who feels old now? Also why the fuck does this movie only have a 6.9 rating on IMDB?
[3] Yes.
[4] Other keen scholars of the film will note that actually in that (I think we can admit, pretty bad) poem there are actually more than ten things! Scandal! Lied to by Hollywood!
[5] The short answer is no because I don’t have a script writer, or a soundtrack, to my ongoing disappointment.
[6] I read this book when I was 16 mostly because of Kat, but also because of a great sociology teacher I had and the fact my mum already had it sitting on the bookshelf. In short: women are great!
[7] Although I have discovered that American parties do actually feature those ubiquitous red plastic cups.
[8] This was also very aspirational to teenage me.
[9] Disclaimer: violence is not the answer. Most of the time.
[10] Happens all the time, am I right? Oh late 90s/early 00s teen movies, why all the bets?
[11] Note to SJL: possible series idea “Sex Advice for the Protagonists of Teen Movies”???
[12] I suspect they are, in fact, “period panties”.

Vagina Dialogues

OK, let’s get some comedy nerdery happening on this blog. Australian comedy nerdery, that’s right, niche. (Some of the things I’m nerdy about are stuff you literally probably haven’t heard about unless you’re Australian and like comedy).

This week Corinne Grant wrote an opinion piece  about gay male comedians making sexist comments about women. Her main contention was that:

Gay male comics can declare how disgusting they find women’s bodies, how ugly older women are, how women are hags, nags, sluts, bitches and whores and the audience will laugh.

It was quite a provocative piece and in the latter part she speaks with Tom Ballard, a gay male comedian who is kind of a big deal, used to date one of the other best known Aussie gay male comedians (it’s a small country OK) and now does the youth radio station breakfast here. Ballard later wrote his own response blog.

I think the politics of this issue (in the social justice sense) are murky and ripe for getting into a oppression-Olympics showdown so lets try and avoid that. I can see the political validity in gay male comedians challenging heteronormativity, of course. Masculinity is often defined as being intrinsically related to being attracted to women. So getting onstage and saying “I am a man and I find lady bits gross” can be seen as a radical move.

However, the paradox of the way women’s bodies are viewed in society is that while women’s bodies are constantly arranged and displayed in a way that is pleasing to men and stresses the desirability of “womanliness”, so too women’s bodies are constantly attacked for failing to reach those standards. An almost impossible criteria of attractiveness are expected for women. Not too fat but not too thin, curvy but not too curvy (because then you’re tacky), enough makeup to appear with perfect skin but not so much you look “cheap”; women’s bodies have to be just right and they are regularly judged to be lacking. And let’s be honest, constructions of female sexiness are usually not about how great vaginas are. Framed in this context, a man on stage talking shit about women’s bodies seems less than politically-pure.

Now let’s get real here, I think that we can all agree that jokes about how old women are gross and people with penises are the only ones worth talking to are not OK. We’re all humourless feminists here, right? But seriously, if that’s the point of your routine, you should really be trying harder. I spend enough time putting up with sexist bullshit in my life, and that stuff makes me want to cry not laugh. Constantly calling women by nasty names is just not cool. Here I am talking about a context where it’s on-stage and public, and the women in question aren’t OK with it. I mean if all your female friends love being referred to as sluts face-to-face I would first triple check and then go for it (because there IS a difference to what you say when performing for the public and what you say to our friends, and there should be). Tom Ballard’s response blog is actually pretty on board with this, and I really admire how both he and Grant have managed to have an actually civil and respectful conversation. I’m also glad that both of them are coming from a standpoint that “political correctness” is worth considering and if you are going to comment on this post this will also be expected as a baseline.

So the real issue here is vagina (and isn’t it always, amirite? Urgh. I don’t even know what that means).  That’s right, we’re going to have an in-depth conversation about what is OK to say about vaginas, PC police/Social Justice League, suit up! I suppose the question is “can you hate vaginas and love women?” There are plenty of women (I have even met some of them!) who would say yes, because that is them. It is really problematic to tell a group of people how their experience of being part of being a member of that group can be, especially if that group is marginalised. (I say “can be” because as is sadly, but not surprisingly, missing from this debate is that not all women have vaginas and not all men don’t, but urgh, society).

I think an interesting corollary to this is that my friends and I went to see Josh Thomas (Tom Ballard’s ex, as mentioned above) a couple of years ago, after he had just recently come out. He talked about how terrifying gay sex was and how you should really avoid it if at all possible. (He also made a particular comment about how great and useful vaginas were.) One of my (straight, female) friends thought that this was a homophobic attitude for Thomas to hold. I vehemently disagreed and then attempted to get into a discussion about the mechanics of anal sex (something it should be pointed out, that is not reserved to gay men), in a quiet cafe, you guys should all be very jealous we aren’t friends IRL. (Sadly my friend was not keen to discuss lubrication right then.)

I suppose my point here is that just because you’re gay you don’t have to be overjoyed about every aspect of the experience of being a gay man, and if you have a vagina you don’t have to be delighted by all its functions. I mean, let’s talk about periods here. There are women for whom menstruating is a beautiful and natural cycle of life (apparently). I mostly find that it hurts, makes me cranky and is kind of gory (yeah that’s right, so much for the fairer sex, blood GUSHES out of my body once a month). I feel pretty silenced by the whole ‘it’s all beautiful and natural’ approach.

On Twitter I saw someone (actually another one of Josh Thomas’ exes, lolz Australia) suggest that unless Grant loved everything about vaginas she was being a hypocrite (see Grant’s pretty hilarious response). I don’t really think women expressing negative opinions about their genitalia and not being happy to hear this as a punchline from men is “hypocritical”. Just like there are words which are acceptable if used by African Americans and not if used by white people, this is not a level playing field situation. You know why? Because it was NEVER a level playing field to begin with. See: privilege. Of course there is overlap here, and maybe gay male comedians would argue that being grossed out by lady parts is an intrinsic part of being gay and by telling them not to I am silencing them.

Tom Ballard in his response to Grant talks about the special relationship that women and gay men share. I certainly think there is merit to this argument, often there is a different dynamic to this kind of a relationship, although obviously its not a get out of jail free card. I thought it was particularly interesting that he referenced the relationship that female comedians have with their gay fanbases. He mentions Kathy Griffen and I was reminded of this clip from her (seriously great, omg I love her) show where she objects to being called “fish” by members of her gay male fanbase. So the relationship is clearly far from perfect.

In the end, I have failed to come up with some kind of grand unified theory for comedians talking about vaginas on stage. I think there probably isn’t one to be found, because there are a lot subtleties, statements like “I think vaginas are gross” “We all know vaginas are gross” and “Every time I hear the word vagina I want to gag” are different levels of problematic to me, and I think there is an argument that the first one is acceptable but you can argue with me in the comments (respectfully! And I don’t promise to answer. I have important things to Tumblr work on, OK).

Girls are not like apples and other hard facts about the world.

Oh fuck off!

The above quote keeps doing  the rounds on Tumblr (by which I mean, keeps appearing on my Pete Wentz tracked tag. Um…). From my attempt at investigation (otherwise known as “googling it”) it seems that Pete Wentz never actually said it. I hope Pete didn’t say it, because I think he’s kind of awesome and he named his kid BRONX MOWGLI, come on (which is to say he and Ashlee Simpson named THEIR kid that and I’m sure she’s also awesome). ANYWAY, the point is that while an idle google search will not throw up the authorship of the quote it does present enough hits to suggest that this is a popular sentiment (even just searching for “girl apples” gets you this quote). Not to mention every time someone updates their facebook status to something about how unfair it is that guys always like the slutty, easy girls and not them – there is currently no search capability for this but I confidently state it’s probably happened a bajillion times.

Let’s get out of the way how heterosexist this quote is, it is hopefully pretty obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. Not all girls are interested in boys. Boys aren’t the only ones who get to do the “apple picking” (urgh, gross). A girl’s role is not to sit around being awesome and complicated/hard (the antonyms of easy) waiting for a big brave boy to like her. Most importantly: male attention is not a gauge of anyone’s worth. This is slut-shaming. Slut shaming aims perpetuate the control of the patriarchy over female sexuality. This quote isn’t even being coy about the slut shaming, I mean, easy?! FFS I wish we were past this bullshit.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the quotes references “girls” and not women. Beyond annoying paternalism, I think that quotes like this have particular resonance for teenage girls. High school (for many people) is all about hierarchy, hierarchy decided by some pretty arbitratry criteria. So of course it’s comforting to get told that not only is the hierarchy sorted all wrong but that you’re actually at the top. That’s a pretty easy sell, whether Pete Wentz said it or not.

Let’s not forget that it IS shit being a teenage girl (of course, your mileage may vary). If you desperately want a boyfriend and no one is interested and society is telling you that teenage school girls look like this, and you have to take fucking French even though you don’t want to, and that guy you thought liked you was only talking to you because he likes your hotter friend and HORMONES. Yeah, globally, statistically speaking if those are your big problems, you are pretty damn lucky, but that doesn’t stop it feeling pretty shitty. It’s also difficult to have a whole heap of perspective, because being in school limits your exposure to other people who don’t buy into hierarchical bullshit. So I do get why this quote is totally appealing.

The only message I would salvage from this quote is that if boys don’t like you it’s not because there is something wrong with you — I am totally with you on that, Pete (allegedly). Although it is worth noting that no one owes you their affections, so let’s just try and remove all guilt/blame/value judgement from the equation. It is true that lots of people are kind of a mess in high school and there is a whole lot of macro and peer pressure on guys (and girls) to be attracted to prescribed beauty norms. That’s shit, but metaphors about apples aren’t the answer.

The thing is, internalizing that rubbish about “good girls” and “bad girls” is only going to make you feel better in the short term. That kind of message is in no way elevating, it doesn’t make you genuinely feel better about yourself, all it does is give you a whole lot of bitterness and hate directed at those girls, the easy apples, you know (just typing that makes me feel gross).

This quote really does “objectify”, in a very literal sense. Girls are not apples or anything else (I welcome further examples of objectifying metaphors in the comments!). Inverting the stereotype doesn’t make it go away. In fact you are really just enforcing the idea that there is some kind of hierarchy of worth, and that it applies just to women. Just as with the “those thin models aren’t even attractive to MEN” argument you are enforcing men as the arbiters of what makes a “good” girl and at the same time separating women from each other.

And now for a real world example and a demonstration of why my friends are awesome: The other day I was hanging out with my friends and a male friend, let’s call him Tom, made a comment about the kind of girls who have one night stands. I quickly got on my Social Justice League leotard (it has sparkles!) and spoke up. Obviously what I said was awesome, but what my friend did was even better. She said, looking around at the two girls in the room, “you know, at various points, we have been the kind of girls who have one night stands. Do you mean us?” and it was a kind of beautiful moment because Tom didn’t know what to say. It was also just the kind of thing I would never would have had the guts or awareness to do in high school (and that’s the first step, evicting the patriarchal police in your brain that reinforce these ideas).

I encourage you to pull this “I am Spartacus” shit the next time someone talks to you about “kinds” of girls. I’m sorry to sound preachy, but we have to stop letting the patriarchy divide and conquer us on this issue. So I encourage you to put on your sparkly Feminist Activist leotard, pump some Bikini Kill (or other music of your choosing) and stand up for all women: sluts, skanks, virgins, frigid girls and the ones in-between. Because we are all fucking awesome and none of us can be contained by RIDICULOUS METAPHORS ABOUT APPLES!

Adventures in the Lipstick Jungle

I never got the hang of most makeup. Eyeliner remains largely a mystery to me. I can’t put on eyeshadow without looking like I have suffered severe bruising. I don’t get my eyebrows waxed or plucked or whatever it is other people do (I’ve heard threading is a thing?). I don’t wear or own perfume. The most makeup I ever wear is tinted moisturiser, mascara when I’m feeling particularly fancy and lipstick.

Lipstick I love. I love the nice little shiny tube it comes in and the way it smells. I like the greasy feel of it on your lips (something which sounds terrible). I like getting the colouring in just right and then smacking my lips at myself in the mirror. I put a little bit on my finger and use it as makeshift blush and any leftovers I use to slick back flyaway hairs (this was not a technique I learned in any women’s magazine but it works).

Sometimes when I am at home by myself I put lipstick on just for fun. Putting on lipstick before a job interview, or a first date or even just on one of those days where I feel like just leaving the house might be impossible, makes me feel like I can do anything! (I feel, just a little, like those American footballers who smear black paint under their eyes before the game, ready to win!)

I realise that for many people, being “femme” is complicated by very serious issues, that it and its gatekeepers are mentally and physically dangerous. Many trans people are confronted by violence from (formally recognised or self-appointed) gatekeepers when they perform or embody their gender identity. For me, a straight, cis gendered, white girl growing up in Australia, it was just insecurity – assisted by high school bullies – that complicated my relationship with being femme, with what being a girl or a woman meant. As a teenager I strongly believed that you only got to wear short skirts, low tops and “girly” shoes if you were hot and popular. I was neither.

My boobs weren’t big enough, my hips weren’t curvy enough, my hair wasn’t straight enough. I talked too much in class and not enough the rest of the time. In general I wasn’t enough. Boys at my school firmly believed that the worst thing you could call a girl was a lesbian and it was clear that that was the opposite of feminine. Gender lines were very fiercely guarded. In grade 9 I bought a backpack for school, it was grey and purple. One of the popular boys recognized that it came from the “boys” side of the overpriced surf shop in town. I remember being deeply mortified by this knowledge, blushing furiously with embarrassment.

So when my mum taught me about makeup it was a little bit scary, because I kind of felt like I wasn’t really allowed to wear it. I remember that every time she helped me with my makeup I would blot most of the lipstick off. When I think about makeup I always think about my mother. She still hasn’t given me the advanced lessons (eyeshadow, how does it work!?) but she taught me about lipstick.

I have a very strong memory (not just one either, memory on top of memory) of what my mother would smell like as she kissed me goodbye, leaving me with a babysitter when I was a child. There would be a quick whiff of perfume and then smacking lipsticked lips against my cheek, a jangle of jewelry. It is at least partly because of her that I have never bought a tube of lipstick. My mother would (and still does, when I go home) invariably have some lying around that she had deemed “not a colour that really does anything for me” and which she will happily pass along. (My mother does this with other things, tshirts and belts and scarfs, to such a degree that I suspect she is just covertly buying me stuff, but I see no reason to object).

These days most of my skirts are short, I still don’t wear high heels, but only because they hurt my feet when I do, I think my hair is pretty great (and my boobs too!) and as I said at the start I love a good coat of lippy, but I still can’t bring myself to buy my own fucking lipstick. The reason for this? To me there is probably nothing as terrifying as the makeup counters in department stores. Do you know what I mean? They always seem overly warm so that your face will immediately go pink and your fingers clammy upon entering their white and pungent depths. I think they put something in the air that makes your hair messy. And EVERYTHING is reflective, so you bet you are going to see your pink, sweaty face and flyaway hair.

The floors are always slippery, to give an extra hint of danger. And the people, the people who work there! The women always seem perfectly perfect. They don’t just have hair (like me) they have hairSTYLES, and God do they know how to use eyeliner. I know, it is completely unproductive to judge myself against other women. The world is not divided into girls who like reading and those who like makeup (for a few years in high school I was pretty sure it was, but it turns out I didn’t know everything then).

But the cosmetics section of David Jones makes me forget that. I posses everything I need to march up to that counter and buy that tube of “Burning Sunset” Loreal lipstick, but I suddenly feel like the money in my pocket is useless here, I don’t know the right words, I am probably not even WALKING right… Am I alone in feeling this way? Should I just give up and buy lipstick online? Won’t you hold my hand while I buy lipstick at a department store? (To be sung to the tune of this)

A Letter to Cobra Starship

Disclaimer: If you think pop music isn’t worth analyzing… well, you’re wrong. Pop music reflects and reinforces our cultural norms. Therefore it’s a completely valid form to examine when we discuss social justice issues. If you don’t wanna analyze the feminist credentials of pop music you probably don’t want to read this post. Definitely don’t comment saying “it’s just pop music, it doesn’t mean anything.” Seriously. An Arts student dies every time you do that and no one wants to be responsible for that, do they? (This is a rhetorical question, just to be clear).

Cobra Starship – Good Girls Go Bad 

Dear Cobra Starship,

Firstly I’d like to compliment you on making awesome boppy pop music for people who still want to feel indie. I explained your music to a friend as Fair Trade Pop Music, an analogy which you don’t want to over-think, but it made me laugh. Vicky T, I’d particularly like to commend you on being totally kick-ass and also hot (call me!).

So, Cobra Starship, what I really want to talk to you about is Good Girls(TM) and Bad Girls(TM).  You know that song where you mostly just say “I make them good girls go bad” over and over again accompanied by loud noises and the video clip has Leighton Meester in it for some reason? That song? It’s a problem. Don’t feel too bad! If I didn’t enjoy the repetition and the loud noises and the inexplicable!Leighton I wouldn’t even have to write to you. It’s really a compliment. (You wont be getting any nasty letters from me, Katy Perry, take that!)

I hate to be the one to break this to you Cobra Starship, but, the thing is… Good Girls and Bad Girls don’t exist. Turns out that girls are just a lot more complicated than that. You say “I know your type, You’re daddy’s little girl” Which is just kind of… creepy? Sadly, Gabe Saporta (I assume he is to praise/blame for this song), offers no further commentary about what indicates this type. I really tried to do a close reading of the music clip for clues but I always get distracted and bored before that clip ends so I never really get the Narrative Arc. So let’s just wildly speculate instead!

If we were going to divide all women up into these two arbitrary categories, we have to decide how to do it. Should we use skirt length? Number of dudes banged? What do we do about those girls who kiss girls, and not just for fun? It gets real complicated real quick. There are girls who wear “revealing” clothes, bright red lipstick and insert other “trashy” marker here who aren’t interested in sleeping with anyone. There are nerdy girls in the corner with thick glasses, unshaven body hair and no interest in sexy lingerie who will fuck your brains out. Girls, they contain multitudes, man. Multitudes of fashion decisions and desires and interests and it’s not your job (or anyone else’s, regardless of gender) to categorize them as good or bad.

Now let’s get onto the whole, sex makes you bad business. Your song implies that a man is able to change this good/bad girl distinction, presumably with his penis, or tongue or whatever? To quote: “Let me shake up your world/’Cause just one night couldn’t be so wrong” I don’t like that because a man being in control of whether a girl is “good” or “bad” is a pretty blatantly misogynist idea. It’s not difficult to see the power over women’s sexuality that this gives men.The contention that we can divide half the world’s population into the good and the bad is pretty fucked.

You know that saying about dividing and conquering? Yeah, the patriarchy is totally on top of that shit. So why are you making music that reinforces they idea that such a dichotomy exists? People who believe this shit use it to decide how seriously a woman should be taken as an individual. I’m into this hot new thing where the worth of women isn’t determined by their personal sexual appetites. It’s pretty new, you’ve probably never heard of it.

(Now that I’ve finally paid attention to the end of that video clip, I find myself with more questions than answers; what the fuck is happening?? Why are there undercover police….? Oh I get it, it’s a “douchey white framed glasses” raid, right?)

In practice I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you mean “bad” in the fun sexy way and not the slut shaming way. But would it have been too hard to get someone to switch that chorus up to “I make the good boys go bad” at least a few times? It would have made me so happy!!! On that note, and in a vague attempt to add some kind of binding theme to this post, let me end by pointing to this cover for its fucking with the something something male gaze something patriarchy qualities. After all, I love you really Cobra Starship.

XOXO

 

Musings on the judgements teachers make about their female students (and a sneaky Taylor Swift reference)

I am a teacher. Which to me seems a faintly ridiculous statement to make because it conjures up someone with far greater knowledge and teacherly-attitude than I could ever hope to have. The other day a student asked how to spell liquorice, and I couldn’t remember. Would that happen to a Real Teacher? (My investigations suggest you can spell it two ways).

That caveat aside I am, for all intents and purposes, a teacher. Just like the ones that you used to have, who would say things like “students if you’re not quiet now we can do this at lunchtime” (sometimes I say this!). One of the discoveries of being on the other side of the staffroom door is that teachers are, despite teacherly-attitude to the contrary, exactly like everyone else. This means that we don’t really want to stay in at lunchtime in order to instill some discipline in our uncaring students. Sadly it also means that teachers are beset with the usual prejudices. Just as within the rest of the world in our schools young women are repeatedly judged by their looks.

This week I was waiting for a student to join one of my classes. Every time I talked to another staff member about her they said some variety of the following “You’ll love her, she works so hard. Also she is very pretty.” Sometimes the fact that she was pretty came first! This made me feel increasingly uncomfortable. Her prettiness is clearly unimportant in her academic abilities but still it was remarked upon. It seemed the other teachers were unable to stop themselves from mentioning it.

In the above example the other teachers seemed to be suggesting that this student was worthy of greater attention from her teachers because of how she looked. Attention is a keyword when talking about beautyism in the classroom because a whole lot of teaching is based on getting and keeping the attention of your students. Furthermore, being the idealistic teacher that I am, I believe students who get more of my attention are more likely to succeed at school.

It is wrong that we grant greater attention to female students who are good looking. However, pretty girls who distract male students attention in class are also quickly judged unworthy of teacher attention. As with everywhere, it is desirable to be “pretty” but only if you’re pretty in certain ways.

Attention seeking behaviours of boys are deemed cheeky. Boys who act the class clown are maybe reprimanded and sometimes punished with detention, but invariably teachers will make an ongoing effort to get them engaged in class work. If you are a pretty girl who distracts the attention of the male students in your class, in my experience you are not so lucky. Teachers in the staffroom will talk about the length of your skirt and the colour of your makeup, they will even explicitly call you out for being a slut. And guess what? They won’t help you catch up in class.

Disclaimer, disclaimer: Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data. These are just my (limited) experiences of teaching and talking to other teachers. In fact, on the macro level the data is against me, everything I have seen in the last twenty years of education research suggests that girls out-perform boys in almost all subject areas. Furthermore, maybe I am putting too much stock in the importance of having the attention of a teacher. There are also issues around class that intersect with gender in this area (there is at least another blogpost in that, probably a book).

However, my experience has been that school systems often work to reinforce and perpetuate the societal norm that women and girls should be judged on their looks, and that there success is dependent upon them. It is so easy to fall into the trap of reinforcing this. Difficult teenage girls are fairly terrifying. Plus, they can totally remind you of when you were in high school when you were the one with the sneakers and she is clearly the kind of girl that had the high heels and the shorts skirts. So, one promise I’m going to make as a young teacher is not to reinforce this idea, not to support the pretty girl just because she is pretty and not to stop helping the difficult girl. If anything we should all be working not to confirm the ridiculous distinctions made by Taylor Swift songs, surely?