Tuesday, 28 August 2018

I Want to Talk About Boobs

I want to talk about boobs.

Specifically, I want to talk about the climate around breast appearance that has allowed cut price breast augmentations performed by cosmetic surgeons to be marketed to women receiving Centrelink payments.

When I talk about climate in this sense, what I mean is that though we each have our own individual perception of our environment, these perceptions culminate and create a climate of shared norms and expectations of how we should look and act. This climate is ever changing and in turn influences us, our decisions and behaviours. This is admittedly a tricky line to tread, because I don’t want to tell anyone their choices are not their own, or that they didn’t make them alone.

An example of how this works: When Kylie Jenner, among other celebrities, got lip fillers they introduced a trend towards younger (usually white) women getting lip fillers; this trend altered the climate around expectations of physical appearance, especially in regards to lips, and this expectation altered the social acceptance and then uptake of lip fillers. In this example you can see how individual choice and perception influences society, which in turn influences individual choice and perception. To me, this is climate.

Conspiracy Keanu, credit: memegenerator

No I’m not telling people they can’t get lip fillers, and no you don’t have to agree with my theories.

The Cosmetic Institute (TCI), apparently Australia’s cosmetic surgery providers, has been the subject of controversy for years. They are at the focus of a class action (link here). They were mentioned in investigations years ago, that led to a change in requirements for cosmetic procedures because they were found to be over dosing clients with anaesthetics, without consent, leading to two women having heart attacks in 2015. (link here). They’ve been included in a parliamentary inquiry. And now they've been found to be actively marketing their products to women on Centrelink payments.
Also, the company's turnover for 2014-15 was $35 million to $40 million. (link here)

To understand why this place is so controversial, first we have to define some terms. Plastic Surgeons and Cosmetic Surgeons are different things. Plastic surgeons have 12 years’ experience of medical training and practice. Cosmetic surgeons are anyone with a medical degree who wants to perform cosmetic surgeries. This can make a difference when we're talking about level of expertise. I think what frames this distinction perfectly is what former nurse at TCI, Nicole Montgomery, told the parliamentary inquiry:

“None of the people I worked with were actually surgeons until closer to the end — they had no experience or training in cosmetic surgery  … We had one surgeon who had every single patient get an infection for the first month … until they learned to suture.” (Link here)

Nicole Montgomery has been speaking out about the low-cost breast augmentation industry for years and she’s right to. This industry has devastated many women; at least 200 are involved in the class action lawsuit for TCI alone.

Complications from breast implants surgery can span across issues such as infection, anaesthesia risks, chronic breast pain, breast or nipple numbness, scar tissue, hardened or misshapen breasts. (Link here) There have been studies to show bacteria or mould can grow in saline implants. There can be complications with deformity if implants are removed, but no breast implants will last a lifetime. They all degrade. (Link here).  So once you buy in, in a way, you have to stay in, which can be an issue if you don’t have money to spare.

Nicole Montgomery advised TCI "preyed on women who were divorced, who were single and who were low socio-economic status.... easily 1 in 5 patients were on Centrelink benefits" (link here)

"You're talking about a low socio-economic group who are taking on a loan for $20 a week and getting a boob job for the cost of a coffee a day, that's how it was advertised," (Link here)

To me, there is no denying that the current climate regarding breast appearance informs choices around breast augmentation surgeries. It’s simple for me to see that breast augmentation surgeries would not be as popular if more women were happy with their breasts. But I understand the climate we exist in has expectations for how we look. Women can choose to change their bodies however they like, but in this case, it’s the climate that’s being exploited here. And the exploitation is targeted at lower socio-economic status women. It’s putting them in danger. Medically, financially and emotionally.

TCI is not the only surgery doing this: it’s just the biggest. They all exist because there’s a market for cheap breast augmentations.

Now, I don’t want to take away the choice of women to choose what to do with their bodies. If you want a cheap breast augmentation and you don’t care about any of this, go for it, be happy.

I just don’t want us exploited, or backed into financial or medical cages. We can push back against the climate that tells us cosmetic surgery is mundane, so trivial that it doesn’t require plastic surgeons. We can push back against the climate that wants us to overlook the bodies of women who have been harmed in the pursuit of “nicer” breasts. And we should push back. We should share the information about these cases widely.

We should arm ourselves with info so when we make our choices, they will be informed.

By: Tee Linden

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Stuntwomen of the Silent Era

Stuntwoman Helen Gibson

In its infancy, Hollywood employed roughly 50% women and 50% men. Everyone worked extremely hard and created 10,919 silent films between 1912 and 1929, of which approximately 14% still exist. Women acted, wrote, directed, produced and, in many cases, performed their own stunts. The work was dangerous and safety was not taken into consideration; it was a pioneering time and the risks had not yet occurred to people. Some of the stunts were performed over multiple takes and sometimes they resulted in death.

The first stuntwomen came from theatre, dance and vaudeville backgrounds. Some had to jump into freezing cold water, some hung from buildings and others crashed cars, repeatedly. It was reported that during 1918 and 1919, between 37 Hollywood companies, 1,052 women and men were hurt performing stunts on set, 18 were seriously injured and three had died. Stuntwomen used to joke that pants were a luxury when they typically had to work in dresses.

Holmes Publicity Photo

Helen Holmes dreamed of being a race car driver when she was young. And she also had a natural talent for it. The problem was racing was a male-only sport. She looked elsewhere and turned to Hollywood. She impressed a number of industry heads on one of her first films, The Railroad Raiders (1917). Holmes drove a car at full speed off a nine-meter-high (30 feet) bridge onto a moving barge. It took four tries but she succeeded in the end. Journalists were on set during the shoot and were blown away by her fearlessness.

Holmes and Leo D. Maloney in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916)

Holmes was also known at the time as the titular character in The Hazards of Helen (1914-1917) serial. She made nearly 50 episodes of it before moving onto other projects.

At age 18, Rose August Wenger was entranced by her first Wild West Show. With no prior experience, she set out and learnt to ride a horse. In a short period of time, she mastered picking a handkerchief up off the ground with one hand while riding a horse at a full galop, an achievement only a small number could do. She worked for a rodeo company for a period before setting her sights on Hollywood. Skilled female riders were utilised as extras in Westerns, sometimes doubling for men. She got a part in Ranch Girls on the Rampage (1912) making $15 a week (no figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation).

Her next break came playing Helen Holmes’s stunt double in The Hazards of Helen. After Holmes left, she became the new lead. The studio changed her screenname to Helen Gibson.

Gibson in 1920

In one of her most daring stunts, she had to jump off a platform and onto a moving train. Gibson performed the stunt several times with a stationary train. The stunt was accurately measured by professionals but with a moving train the chances of failure increased and so did the danger. She jumped onto the moving train perfectly, but fell backwards and lost her balance. She landed on the carriage roof and nearly toppled off. She was okay and the footage was used in the short.

Gibson starred in 70 episodes of The Hazards of Helen before it ended in 1917. She is regarded as the first official Hollywood stuntwoman.

Gibson leaps onto a train in The Governor's Special (1916)

Holmes and Gibson retired from stunts and moved into producing and directing for the rest of their careers.

Stunt work didn’t always go according to plan.

In 1916, actress Mary MacLaren had to drive a car 40 kilometres per hour (25 miles per hour) in reverse down a hill and lost control. She sued the studio wanting to be released from her contract.

Ann Little in Nan of the North (1922)

Ann Little had to sneak out a house window and onto a horse to escape her character’s kidnappers in a scene in The Valley Feud (1915). Director Frank Cooley had real bullets fired at her and the horse. He wanted the effect of splitting wood to show up on camera. Little was unharmed but the horse was injured and had to be put down.

Gish in Way Down East (1920)

Way Down East (1920) is regarded as an early Hollywood masterpiece. The film’s climax takes place on a snow-covered river and filming required star Lillian Gish to dangle her limbs and hair in freezing cold water for hours. She was happy with the movie’s end result, though she lost partial feeling in her hand and would have health issues with it for the rest of her life.

Pearl White had performed all her own stunts but refused to for one in a scene in Plunder (1922). She felt the situation was too dangerous to perform. A stuntman, John Stevenson, volunteered to double for her but, while filming, fell at a crucial point and went under the wheels of a car. He was killed instantly.

By 1927, the film business was the fifth biggest industry in America. Talkies (films with sound) had been introduced that same year and it was the beginning of the end for silent movies. Women also had less opportunities open to them as men predominately ran production companies. Stuntwomen are still around today but it seems, for now, that their heyday was the Silent Era. It was reported that in the 1980s there were a total of five working stuntwomen in Los Angeles all up.

Gibson in The Wrong Train Order (1915)

By: Matthew J. Healy


What Women In Film Can Learn From The "Manless Eden" That Was Hollywood's Silent Era (https://www.refinery29.com/2018/04/197006/women-silent-era-hollywood-prominent-directors-writers)
Why Stuntwomen Face Unequal Pay for Equal Stunts (Guest Column) (https://variety.com/2015/film/news/stuntwomen-unequal-pay-hiring-gap-1201605297/)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Privilege Within The Feminist Space

A subject very close to my heart is how to use privilege to build, not destroy.  
Feminism has improved the collective status of women globally – but that is only true by aggregating the monumentally larger improvement to some women’s lives to hide the fact that thus far feminism has not shared its victories equitably.
In fact, when the first feminist movement's victories were achieved, and some women began to enjoy the opportunities this afforded, this glow obscured the experiences of women who remained excluded. There were women whose life circumstances didn't allow them to enjoy those freedoms.
The victories of the first two waves of feminism were monumental if we consider women as an amorphous homogeneous group.  The right to vote, participate economically, liberation of contraception and abortion, and laws enshrined to support women with children who wanted to work were staggeringly hard-fought achievements that benefit me – that benefit all women (to varying degrees) to this day.
But if we unpack it further - were these victories shared fairly among women who aren’t homogenous, whose identities are richer and more complex than simply ‘woman’?

Consider the laws designed to support women with children to work.  Did any women come off worse through this, and was this possibility even considered in its design?  What if legislators used this new law to reduce social security payments for single-parents - who don’t work in order to raise their children - as a way of reducing the social security spend and encouraging economic participation?  
Who are overwhelmingly overrepresented in single parent households?  Women. Women from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds and non-whites are represented at a higher rate in this metric. So, here is a feminist victory that could actually make life worse for a woman.  Consider a poor, single mother forced back into the labour market because her social security was cut – it’s likely she will have 1 or 2 low-skilled, low-paying jobs probably at a great distance from her home, often using up much of her wage to pay someone else to care for her children. Not to mention that her ability to find work might also be hampered by further systemic discrimination, such as if she were a woman of colour (who are routinely paid less than white women) and/or had a disability.
Let’s also take a look at the liberalisation of contraception. This is without a doubt a crucial victory for feminists – but perversely it has stalled continual progress in the security of women’s full sexual autonomy.  Since the introduction of the pill, medical science has done some pretty rad things and gains are made every day, yet the oral contraceptive pill survives relatively unchanged.  
This pill, while it might deliver on its promise of reliably stopping conception, comes at a huge cost that women know too well.  The weight gain, acne, emotional upheavals, depression, irritability ad infinitum are some of the lovely side effects you can expect on the pill.  
In addition, men became less responsible (yes it’s possible) as the expectation was women would be wholly responsible for her contraception, even though we all know it takes two to tango.  We have been hearing about this mythical ‘male contraceptive pill’ for years, but unsurprisingly, it hasn't garnered much interest or support from most men, who still do not view it as their problem or responsibility.

The successes of the first two waves of feminism should not be minimised and there is no doubt that, for the most part, women fighting for them intended that all women would benefit as a result.  
But these victories were won inside a political structure designed to keep the majority of the population, not just women, disempowered. The levers available to you, or the opportunity to be at the table when laws are written, are strictly controlled by the powerful few.  
Everything has a cost - and that cost is that some women were worse off through feminism’s collective action.
Understandably then, the third wave of feminism started to question whether a homogeneous feminist singular force was the right way to improve the lives of all women.
And so the idea of intersectionality started to gain favour in feminist discourse. The complex nature of identity, belonging, power and autonomy, as well as race, class, economic status, sexuality, able-bodiedness, migrant status, physical shape, cultural norms, and societal expectations were now discussed in relation to the feminist agenda.  

And in this beautiful complexity came disagreements.

Privileged feminists - seeing their previous victories as proof that their feminism was the right sort -began to dominate: in politics, in the media, in our shared language.  This was seem as a more palatable form of feminism (read: palatable to men) and so had more influence in the political space.  
Furthermore, there are many men out there who think feminism is done. Feminism won what it wanted by securing equal rights for women by law (in Western democracies).
Again, the lives, experiences, and stories of those excluded from this group were silenced.
This shift of how feminists identify, collaborate and seek to effect change has highlighted that feminism is not simply outward looking (in terms of how to improve the world for women) but it is necessarily inward looking.  
Changing the structures and institutions designed to oppress women makes the world better – but the inward work of feminism is where all women, regardless of their diversity, can start to heal.
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." - Audrey Lorde

This is my call to action, as the third wave rolls into the fourth and we see the invisible becoming visible: what are you willing to do as a privileged feminist to help other women unshackle themselves?
I have begun to see that my greatest contribution to feminism might be the daring act of listening and really hearing about the experiences of others, even when it made me uncomfortable.
I can only speak for myself but these are my commitments to the cause. I urge you to create your own:

  • I will listen and really hear the experiences of others who are not like me. And I will keep listening even when I am uncomfortable or I am called out as being complicit in their oppression.
  • I will seek ways to create safe spaces for women where opposing views can be discussed from the starting point of agreement of common ground.  Differences on particular issues should not divide feminists.
  • I will consistently check my privilege and internalised misogyny in my thoughts, behaviours, and political pursuits. I will take responsibility where I might use this to benefit myself, whether intentionally or not, and ask those affected by it how to rectify it.
  • I will include anyone who wants to identify as a feminist into the club – it’s not exclusive and there is only one hurdle to cross:  If you believe that feminism is, at its root, the idea that women are human beings, and you live faithfully by that, then you are welcome. 
  • I will repeat daily – I am not the epicentre of the female experience but my experiences are as valid as everyone else’s.
  • I will seek ways to engage politically that don’t rely on the current structures and institutions.

It is time that privileged feminists step down, shut up and begin to redistribute the goods they have to the previously voiceless. Women are not an amorphous homogeneous group. Let’s use privilege to build, not destroy. I promise feminism will be all the richer for it.
By: Rachael Thurston

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Vaginal Rejuvenation and How Ideals Can Harm Us

The Washington Post (link) and New York Times (link) published articles this last week about the FDA warning that cosmetic ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ laser treatments can cause burns and pain.

The FDA issued a warning (link) stating that Energy-based devices shouldn’t be used for cosmetic procedures. The energy-based devices are cleared for things like destruction of abnormal or pre-cancerous cervical or vaginal tissue and genital warts, but haven’t been cleared for cosmetic vaginal procedures or “rejuvenation” or for vaginal symptoms relating to menopause. They warned that using energy-based devices may lead to vaginal burns, scarring, pain during sexual intercourse, and recurring/chronic pain.

“These products have serious risks and don’t have adequate evidence to support their use for these purposes,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the F.D.A. commissioner. “We are deeply concerned women are being harmed.

…The F.D.A. said the full extent of the risks is unknown, but that the agency has found cases of vaginal burns, scarring, and lasting pain following the treatments. The agency has received 14 reports of adverse events related to the treatments, including burning sensations and significant pain.

Injuring vaginas in an attempt to “rejuvenate them” is not just an issue for Americans. This echoes a story in the Sydney Morning Herald from 2015 (link), about unnecessary vaginal surgery, more “vaginal rejuvenations”.

The article discusses labiaplasty (where labia is trimmed to matching pairs and usually very short) and vaginoplasty (where skin from inside the vagina is removed, and then the remaining skin stitched to narrow the canal).

“It’s alarming that women whose bodies are quite normal and healthy can be enticed into this type of serious, potentially risky surgery," says Thierry Vancaillie, professor of gynaecology at the University of NSW and a world expert on pelvic pain. Vancaillie says there’s now clear evidence that women who experience unnecessary "vaginal rejuvenation" surgery can suffer life-long problems because of post-surgical neuralgia – pain from the surgical scars.”

This isn’t just adults either. In Peggy Orenstein’s fantastic TED talk, “What young women believe about their sexual pleasure”, (link) Orenstein states:
“labiaplasty is the fastest growing cosmetic surgery among teenage girls. It rose 80% between 2014 and 2015 ….

The most sought after look incidentally – in which the outer labia appear fused like a clam shell – is called… wait for it … the Barbie…”

Seems the trend continues here in Oz. The number of Medicare subsidised labiaplasty leapt from 240 in 1993 to 1584 in 2013-14. It’s now mostly off the books in Medicare, it’s only considered for certain cases, so the surgeries are happening privately - meaning there aren’t any decent stats anymore.

I want to make it clear that I’m not here to question individual choices or to state labiaplasty or vaginoplasty should never be conducted. But individual cosmetic choices don’t take place in a vacuum. They are informed by a social climate. I’m questioning the climate in which those choices cooked. When we’re lining up to have labia clipped off to look like a Barbie for instance, I think we’re alright to question why without disrespecting anyone.

Why don’t we want our labia? What’s wrong with our labia? Who or what is making us think we need a different labia than what we have? 

Who does it benefit if we dislike our labia? When the procedures are worth upwards of $5000 AUD it’s fair to question whether there's a cost benefit for someone disliking their labia.

Women’s Health Victoria created the Labia Library (link), an attempt to help share non-airbrushed images of labias and educate people about the vast variety and shapes of labia. For those who don’t see many vulva/labia outside their own or pornography, I think this is a great initiative.

From the Labia Library:

Risks of labioplasty (which is sometimes called labiaplasty) include things like scarring, numbness, pain, asymmetry, discoloration of the labia and an abnormal appearance to the skin along the edge of the labia. It can also affect sensation during sex. The labia minora have an important sensory role in sexual arousal and it’s not clear how this is affected by cosmetic surgery. 

I consider cosmetic “rejuvenated” vaginas and trimmed Barbie-labia just another facet of the ideal female form. These ideals never seem to benefit us, and, in the case of unnecessary vaginal surgeries and labiaplasty, can outright harm us.

Maybe instead of immediately thinking there is something abnormal or wrong with us or our body parts, we should remember that there is something wrong with a social climate that would make us feel this way.

Tee's drawing of a "stylized" vulva.
By: Tee Linden

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Melbourne does not have an African gang problem – it has a violence against women problem – and it’s deplorable

Another vibrant, talented young woman died recently at the hands of young men.  Laa Chol was at a party with friends, like many young people over the weekend.  Her life ended as she attempted to diffuse a situation where uninvited, or unwanted, guests had overstayed their welcome.  But this is a situation that happens all the time – all of us can remember our teenage years and being at parties where ‘gate-crashers’ had to be asked to leave.  Some of us may have witnessed fights and police involvement but very few of us will have been at a female-only party where the gate-crashers were young men and it resulted in the stabbing death of a woman.

From what I can glean from media reports, the group of people who were supposed to be at the party were women and the gate-crashers were men.  So I was confused as to why the media’s reporting of this focused more of the race of persons involved over another, at least to me, salient fact: why a group of teenage boys and young men would bring weapons to a party where there were only teenage girls and young women? 

Why do these men feel entitled to respond with violence when women stand up to them?

Were the accused South Sudanese?  Yes. Is it possible that these young people have lived the vast majority of their lives in Australia? Yes. Is it possible that their current life situation could influence their current behaviour? As Nyadol Nyuon posits in a thoughtful opinion piece (click here) regarding the recent spate of violence and anti-social behaviour by young African men, “the boys’ race was not their only commonality.  There was also housing, unemployment, struggles with school…”  These are Australian problems, not African-Australian problems.

The fact that a woman (in her second-year of legal studies and a talented soccer player), was killed, and the fact that male violence against women has not been discussed in this context, as it has been where the race of offender and victim are both white, obscures feminists’ collective pursuit in highlighting and addressing the reasons why men commit violent acts against women in this country on a daily basis. 

Instead, the reports stated that African youth gangs are running havoc in our fine city. Headlines proclaimed that we have an African youth gang crisis.  Media and politicians are creating a moral panic where any two African teenagers associating together in the same place at the same point in time is a “gang”. Insinuations have been made that due to Laa’s African heritage, she may herself be a “gang-member” and that in some way makes her complicit to the context in which the offending against her took place.  Further, us good non-gang folk should be, or are living, in perpetual fear of these “gangs”.

Image source: abc.net.au

Accusing specific community groups deflects from the broader evidence that the problem is male entitlement and the dominance they assert on women across all races, classes, and socio-economic sectors of our community. Further, to make this a racial issue draws attention away from what is Australia’s real problem – one average more than one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. (Click here)

The problem is Australian male behaviour – the cultural background of the killers of Eurydice Dixon, Qi Yu, Jill Meagher, Laa Chol, Sarah Cafferkey and so on is not their defining common feature, although if it were it would be that they were overwhelmingly white.  The common factor is their maleness and Australia’s cultural acceptance and attitude towards violence against women, about who makes an appropriate victim, about who is deserving of media coverage and who is not, about who gets to be defined by their humanity and who gets to be defined by a stereotype. This has to change. 

Australian teenage boys and men are killing women and children because many, many men still believe that women ought to submit to men. Australian men seem to believe this because religious text suggests this, or because women are physically weaker, or because women are "emotional, illogical, hysterical" and need strong guidance to navigate the world, or because *insert some flimsy reason here* ad nauseam. Many, many men think the work of feminists has been completed – women can vote, get jobs, own property.  In fact, they think the pendulum has swung in favour of women – so scared are they now to flirt with us for fear of being called rapists (calling you out Henry Cavill). 

OK, in reality men don’t verbalise or rationalise their behaviour in these terms – if men knew they were misogynistic shits I’d hope a few more of them would start forming orderly queues for extensive behavioural therapy.  Toxic masculinity is so ingrained and pervasive and dominant in men’s identities that to question it may feel like the complete destruction of self. 

Society at large is only now starting to call out their bad behaviour. But not all men have their behaviour called out. Further, given #notallmen are rapists or wife-beaters, and they benefit so much from the status quo, there is little motivation to start the work required to reflect on theirs and all men’s role in the subjugation of women. 

The way the media control the normative discourse helps men to continue to do nothing – Australian men cannot recognise in themselves the man capable of raping and strangling a complete stranger.  Australian women are taught how not to be victims, how not to put yourself into a situation where the aberrant, dishevelled, wild and sexually deviant predator lurks.

So, when two teenage boys are charged with the stabbing death of a woman simply trying to diffuse a situation, the reason for their actions become attributed to race, not gender. We choose to blame “gangs”, not our social norms.  We do this because it’s easier.  It’s easier to blame the ‘other’, to create an enemy that is smaller than 50 per cent of the population or to admit that more often than not, women’s experience in the world is ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’

So this is a call out to media and politicians – stop politicising the deaths of certain women to avoid doing the work you need to, which is to make it safer for all women, of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, races, and socio-economic status. 

By: Rachael Thurston

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