Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Pop Stars in Politics: The Impact of Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga & Beyoncé Speaking Out

It is no doubt a tumultuous time in our society today with politically contentious discourse emerging about women’s rights from #metoo to Dr Christine Blasey-Ford. Social media has lit up with relevant commentary either deriding or commending this movement to acknowledge and believe women’s accounts. Recently, three of the biggest modern female pop stars – Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé – have lent their powerhouse voices to the debate through varying public statements.

Taylor Swift, previously known for being publicly apolitical, made the unexpected move of posting on Instagram outlining the egregious ways that Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn has acted contrary to women’s and LGBT rights and encouraging Americans to register to vote. Taylor described her fans, predominantly young women and teenage girls, as “intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people” capable of becoming agents of change. According to Vanity Fair, 65 000 new US voters registered nationally in the next 24 hours.

Image Source: Instagram

Lady Gaga stunned audiences last week during her interview with Stephen Colbert as she insightfully discussed her own experiences of trauma and disassociation in the wake of sexual abuse. On World Mental Health Day, Gaga opened up about her diagnosis of PTSD whilst urging greater financial support and compassion for those struggling with mental illness. Her nuanced perspective revealed a vulnerability and empathy transcending her usually impenetrable visage of confidence.
Image Source: Esquire 

Beyonce solidified her position as a true activist last December when she advocated for social justice in America whilst she presented an award to Colin Kaepernick. Queen Bey identified her passion to “change perception, to change the way we treat each other, especially people of colour who are still waiting for the world to catch up”. Previously, she protested police brutality and racism by inviting the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown and Eric Garner to the MTV Video Music Awards in 2016.

Image Source: W Magazine

Cynics may suggest that the motivation of these women to speak out may be capitalist or publicity endeavours. Furthermore, there are a multitude of legitimate criticisms of non-inclusivity and their tendency to pander to the ‘male gaze’ in their approaches to feminism. However, I wonder if female celebrities are unfairly judged as too shallow or sexualised to contribute meaningfully to political discourse. Every woman deserves to have their voice heard whilst being given the opportunity to learn and grow in their activism.

Although perhaps less informed or qualified than others, these pop stars are afforded a more powerful position due to their popularity and international fanbases. Taylor Swift reflected upon her symbolic court victory against a man whom groped her: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this … My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.”

It is essential to consider the personal and emotional impact for women who have been affected by these issues to see that an icon has struggled similarly. In this technological age, these stars have an unprecedented ability to instantly influence millions of people and I for one am grateful that they have chosen to wield this power to empower women.

By: Bethany Laura

Editor's Note: It's important to remember that, while celebrity voices have amplified it, the #MeToo movement was first started by Tarana Burke, a black woman working with victims of sexual assault. To learn more about the movement's founder, click here.

Reference List:
Delbyck, C 2018, Lady Gaga Gives Searing Defense Of Christine Blasey Ford After Trump Mocking, Huffington Post, viewed 10 October 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/lady-gaga-gives-searing-defense-of-dr-christine-blasey-ford-after-trump-mocking_us_5bb763cce4b01470d050c539.
Flanagan, A 2017, Taylor Swift Wins Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Former Radio Host, The Record: Music News from NPR, viewed 11 October 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/08/14/543473684/taylor-swift-wins-sexual-assault-lawsuit-against-former-radio-host.
Harmon, S 2016, Lady Gaga reveals she has PTSD: 'I suffer from a mental illness', The Guardian, viewed 12 October 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/06/lady-gaga-reveals-she-has-ptsd-i-suffer-from-a-mental-illness.
Ivie, D 2017, Beyoncé Hails 'Selfless' Colin Kaepernick During Muhammad Ali Legacy Award Speech, W Magazine, viewed 12 October 2018, https://www.wmagazine.com/story/beyonce-colin-kaepernick-muhammad-ali-legacy-award-speech.
Rueckert, P 2017, Taylor Swift Just Donated to Sexual Assault Survivors in a Big Way After Groping Trial, Global Citizen, viewed 11 October 2018, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/taylor-swift-just-donated-to-sexual-assault-surviv/.
McMaster, A 2017, 5 Times Taylor Swift Showed Her 'Reputation' as a Global Citizen, Global Citizen, viewed 12 October 2018, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/taylor-swift-global-citizen-charity-activism/.
Miller, M 2018, Lady Gaga's Stunning Defense of Christine Blasey Ford Leaves Stephen Colbert Speechless, Esquire, viewed 11 October 2018, https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a23611378/lady-gaga-christine-blasey-ford-brett-kavanaugh-stephen-colbert/.
Penrose, N 2017, 7 Times Beyonce Proved She Was an Activist, Billboard, viewed 13 October 2018, https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8061796/beyonce-activist.
Weaver, H 2018, Taylor Swift’s Political Moment Has Already Had a Major Impact, Vanity Fair, viewed 13 October 2018, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/10/taylor-swift-and-voting-registration-numbers.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Problem with “Call-Out” Culture

When working through issues both political and social, it often seems we operate based on the way we wish things were rather than the way the world really is. You see this all across the political spectrum; anti-choice advocates operating off the idea that successfully banning abortion will be the magic wave of a wand that stops all abortions forever, when all available data suggests that, of course, this is not the case. This philosophy is also employed, to no great effect, in the War on Drugs (ban the drugs and no one will ever do them again!), immigration (stop the boats and refugees will stop coming!), and so much more. 

Another socio-political technique in which this wishful thinking is evident is in "call-out" culture. For the unfamiliar, on paper, this is what it looks like: a respectful "calling out" of behaviour deemed problematic by peer advocates in order for equally respectful behavioural adjustments to be made and everyone to move forward in harmony and with a united purpose. In feminism, it's often raised by women to their non-feminist identifying or male allies, and in intersectional feminism in particular by POC feminists to their white feminist counterparts. In a perfect world, this would work fine. However, after having been involved with a number of feminist groups with advocates from a huge range of backgrounds and experience, I've observed the rise of call-out culture directly leading to confusion, aggression, a withdrawal from engagement with issues, and more often than not, a complete dissolution of the group itself. A net loss both for those looking to further our cause, and to new advocates hoping to become involved for the first time. 

I believe there are a few key issues that prevent call-out culture from operating effectively. Firstly is the issue of gatekeeping. When one individual is being "called out", there needs to be a clear consensus on who has the authority to do the actual "calling". The problem is that feminism is made up of many moving parts and many branches with many different areas of focus and trying to determine a unified sense of "authority" among sub-groups is much more difficult than you would imagine. Many groups seem to fracture while trying to determine exactly who is permitted to speak on behalf of one group or another. In a perfect world, the demarcations would be clear; however, in the real world, where grey areas are the norm rather than the exception, it's rarely easy to discern with any certainty, making disagreements frequent and derailing.

Relative to this is the second problem - the fact that call-out culture often eliminates the chance for productive dialogue. This is because "calling out" often isn't intended to start a dialogue at all, but rather to correct behavioural problems in another as identified by the gatekeepers. To be clear - being informed of potentially problematic behaviour is a good thing, and everyone embarking on this journey has to be willing to accept that they will make missteps. Of course, being corrected is uncomfortable but it's also part of learning and becoming better - and it should be embraced! But when you call someone out publicly – typically the case in call-out culture - what you’re doing is essentially relying on public shaming, often without a full explanation as to why the identified behaviour is problematic in the first place. This seldom leads to a positive result – particularly when those being publicly rebuked lack any background in feminism beyond a desire to learn more and make positive changes.

This leads to the final problem. I believe the reason call-out culture falters so often is that it operates on a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature and what really motivates a person to change. Movements that elevate gatekeeping and reservation of discussion for a certain few as a modus operandi can never flourish or foster positive change, and not only that - they are rife with individuals misusing the system. This often results in bullying - which is NOT the goal of most people when calling someone out. Having said that, I've seen first-hand several groups fall apart completely after being hijacked by individuals using the guise of call-out culture to engage in serious bullying and doxxing which had very real implications on the lives of some very dedicated activists, and the departure from the group of several would-be feminists hoping to become involved in positive change. People simply cannot be bullied, belittled, or humiliated into lasting change. They must be positively motivated to make better choices - something call-out culture, in my opinion cannot accomplish on a wide enough scale to be successful.

Having said all of this, I understand where call-out culture comes from. Every feminist, from every background, has the right to be angry - even angry at each other. Indeed, anger has its place. No doubt many of us were spurred into action by anger at the current system and a belief that things can be, and must be, better. But I also firmly believe that to truly change hearts and minds, we must be able to meet people where they are - which often means explaining things that you or I already know. No, we shouldn't have to do this. And yes, it's emotionally exhausting. I advocate taking breaks when necessary, directing those with questions towards existing resources or those who are ready, willing, and able to engage, and educating gently when interacting with people who are attempting to learn if they are doing so in good faith and not merely playing devil's advocate.

I also believe in taking ownership of what you don't know, and accepting that sometimes you will make mistakes on the often-uncomfortable road to change. But if we work together in mutual respect and correct others with kindness, patience and respect, we can reach our goals strong, united and above all, as equals - and after all, isn't that what feminism is all about?

By: Siri Williams

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Book Review: Faking It by Lux Alptraum

Image Source: luxalptraum.com

“… lies are strategic. Whether we are faking our orgasms or inventing boyfriends or concealing our pasts, women lie for specific reasons, ones that are often deeply connected to our very survival” (p. 224)

Alptraum’s debut book Faking It is a provocative and progressive analysis of the restrictive stereotypes of female sexuality in our society. She writes in a passionate yet academic tone peppered with personal anecdotes and quotes from women from a variety of backgrounds. The central theme of Faking It revolves around the concept of women habitually lying as a means of protecting ourselves and attempting to embody impossible expectations. Alptraum’s arguments are thoroughly researched from a myriad of sources including historic scientific studies, TED Talks and legal statutes with pop culture references from When Harry Met Sally to South Park. The author demonstrates a breadth of knowledge of contemporary feminist theory with allusions to some of my personal favourites like Jessica Valenti (author of many books including Sex Object and The Purity Myth) and Kate Harding (author of the book Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and host of the podcast Feminasty).

Lux Alptraum is a writer, speaker and adult-entertainment business consultant (See her site: http://www.luxalptraum.com). She has written a myriad of feminist and sex-positive articles for magazines including The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Hustler. Her Twitter feed (@LuxAlptraum) is frequently updated with witty musings, sex education and Star Trek references.

Image Source: luxalptraum.com

 ‘Chapter One: I Just Came’ takes a straight-forward almost clinical approach to discussing the human body in terms of sexual organs whilst evaluating the role of the romanticised and elusive female orgasm. Alptraum suggests that orgasms are faked as a means of women trying to live up to their partner or society’s expectations of ‘good sex’. However, in reality, orgasms can be awkward, unfulfilling, confusing, overwhelming or underwhelming. There is no single definition or universal experience of sex as everyone has their own needs and preferences. The book explores accounts from women whom express their sexuality and gender in a variety of ways.

Faking It also explores the dichotomous pressure for women to remain pure yet sexually appealing. Alptraum analyses prevailing cultural attitudes such as cultural expectations of female virginity prior to marriage ranging from shame-filled self-denial to purity rings to human rights violations like female genital mutilation. She asserts that “perhaps virginity continues to carry social weight because, unlike celibacy, it’s an effective way of policing women’s bodies and behaviour” (p. 92). ‘Chapter Three: I’m a Virgin’ contains remarkably honest and touching anecdote from a young Egyptian Muslim woman grappling with the contradictions between her emerging sexuality and rigorous expectations of female chastity within her community.

I found ‘Chapter Four: I Woke Up Like This’ particularly engaging in its discussion of society’s obsession with pressuring women into self-modification of the body through rituals of makeup, waxing, tanning and so on. It is especially ironic that makeup is painstakingly applied to make women appear naturally and effortlessly perfect. The technological age adds extra demands for physical perfection through limitless exposure to posed and filtered selfies. Insightfully, Alptraum adds that “we erase diversity and normalize whiteness as the default beauty standard” (p. 104).

Her discussion regarding the classic ‘imaginary boyfriend’ technique of rebutting unwanted suitors is scarily relatable: “Viewing male sexual aggression and persistence as a power struggle and a display of dominance as much as— if not more than— a genuine romantic appeal makes the boyfriend lie an even more obvious strategy for a woman eager to extricate herself from an uncomfortable situation. If it’s male power that matters here, then only the presence of another man— imaginary though he might be— can adequately push back against unwanted attention.” (p. 128).

The second half of the book takes a darker and more heart-wrenching turn. Faking It thoughtfully considers recent real-life cases of sexual assault including the Steubenville rape case, Brock Turner and Emma Sulkowicz. Alptraum delves into women’s experiences of harassment through cat-calling, online dating and the new phenomenon of Pick-up Artists. Furthermore, she discusses issues of reproductive control and coercion through manipulations such as ‘stealthing’.

Faking It is remarkable in its breadth of content and research on contemporary women’s issues. Throughout the book, Alptraum advocates for meaningful sexual health education, positive attitudes regarding women’s sexual exploration and the necessity of a cultural shift towards prioritising affirmative consent.

By: Bethany Laura

Faking It is available for pre-order online (https://www.amazon.com/Faking-Women-Sex-Truths-Reveal/dp/1580057659) and will be out in book stores on November 6.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Self Care for Badass Feminists

It's not an easy time to be a feminist - but then, it never is! Whether it's keeping tabs on the debacle that is American politics, reflecting on the sad state of our own government's non-reaction to the national issues of female representation in positions of power and appalling rates of domestic violence, as well as the rising tide of conservatism globally - it can often feel like pushing a boulder uphill without rest or respite.

We all know, and believe in, the slogans: never stop fighting! Resist! Nevertheless persist! They are all admirable sentiments and goals we should all aspire to. But they also encourage a persistence that is almost super-human - and it can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy when we need a break or, if we don't take one, when we inevitably burn out. This is why it's SO important to prioritise self-care - it's the fuel in your tank that allows you to get up and keep going. If you think of it that way, rather than as an indulgence, you'll avoid misguided feelings of guilt or shame that can come along with calling a time out - and learn to keep yourself in tip-top shape to keep fighting for another day.

Here are some suggestions for self-care that will help you feel rejuvenated, mentally and physically. Use one or all of them as needed and remember: just like on an airplane, you have to secure your own air supply before assisting anyone else - or you won't be much help to anyone at all.

1. Log Off and Look Around
The Internet can seem like an absolute assault on the senses when you're in tune with the political sphere. You can be bombarded by news - much of it negative - from all fronts, 24 hours a day. With access to more information than ever before, it's almost impossible not to feel overwhelmed - so make sure you take time to log off and focus on the here and now. Pick up a book and lose yourself in another world, spend some time with your family, or partner, or pets, or take a long walk and focus on what's around you. The flowers just starting to bloom, the sound of birds singing, the sight of people on the street going about their day - whatever you need to remind yourself that there is beauty and light in the world if you just stop and take a look.

2. Do Things That Bring You Joy
The first and only rule here is absolutely no judgement! It doesn't matter if what brings you joy is scribbling a comic or two, baking delicious treats, watching trashy reality television or crocheting tiny outfits for your dog - indulge in it, enjoy every moment, and push any feelings of what you "should be" doing right out the door. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself permission to relax. When the rest of the world seems awful, it is worth taking time to do whatever it is that makes life enjoyable, in whatever way is necessary. I promise you, the fight will still be there tomorrow - and time spent filling yourself up with joy and light will allow you to tackle it with more energy and focus.

3. Connect with People Who Inspire You
If you spend enough time on the Internet, it's easy to start believing the worst of humanity is having the last laugh, especially when it comes to feminism. This is why it pays to seek out and connect with people who inspire you - whether they're friends, family, or people you've never even met. Take time to catch up with friends who value your spirit and the truth of your experience, connect with your family (the one you were born into or the one you've chosen for yourself), and reach out to the brave, bold people out there who inspire you to keep fighting each and every day. Perhaps it's a favourite author, maybe it's another activist or a leader in your community - take some time to drop them a line in some way, however small, and let them know that they've impacted your life. It will pay forward some major positivity - and who knows? Maybe one day you'll log on to find someone reaching out to share how you've inspired them!

4. Let's Get Physical
Exercise is fantastic for helping to work out excess frustration - it's like you can almost feel the rage sweating out your pores. So strap on your sneakers and engage in physical activity you actively enjoy. Don't force yourself to take part in anything you don't like; the best form of exercise is something you will actually do! Go for a long, brisk swim in the ocean, take a silly dance class (RetroSweat anyone?), or go for a hike and soak up the great outdoors - whatever you enjoy that will have you working up a sweat! When you feel powerless, taking time to focus on all the fantastic things you can physically do can be incredibly fulfilling... So get moving!

5. Make Time for Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the art of anchoring yourself to the present moment, and you can practice it in a number of ways. Probably the most well-known is through meditation. If you have yet to try it, there are plenty of apps that can help guide you through. Don't be frustrated if you don't get it right away - or even after months of practice! There is nothing to "get" - rather, it's about focusing on your experience in the here and now, and gently guiding yourself (without judgement) back to the present moment.

These are just a few ways to replenish your body, mind, and soul and bring you back to fine, feminist, fighting form. Take as much time as you need to feel strong and inspired again and when you're ready - and only then - get yourself back out in the fray and continue being the bold, badass activist you are. You've got this!

By: Siri Williams

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Problematic Nature of Catcalling

Catcalling is a form of street harassment that primarily affects women across all nations. It is any form of verbal harassment to another person in public. Current laws have been changed in France regarding street harassment, with offenders receiving fines on the spot for up to 750 Euros ($1206 AUD). The legislation followed the circulation of a video where, after a street harasser was told to ‘shut up’ after catcalling a woman, he reacted by physically attacking the victim. The flimsy opposition to the amendment is that the ideal of French lovers will be destroyed, an ideal unrelated to the sexual harassment occurring in public. Street harassment is not a new phenomenon, but only recently have legislators have taken action.

Other countries like Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand and some states in the US are up to date with street harassment laws. Countries like Argentina who experience high rates of femicide (gendered murder of women), have tried to address severe killing rates without considering smaller offences like street harassment as a way to change perspectives about women. In creating legislation against catcalling, the government would be indicating that women’s bodies are not on display for a man’s interest. This would encourage men not to consider women as an accessory for their pleasure, but instead, see them as autonomous humans who deserve the right to coexist without gendered targeting of any kind.

Catcalling goes beyond causing discomfort to the victim; it amplifies the idea that anyone can comment on women’s bodies. Further, ignoring the prevalence of catcalling reinforces the importance placed on female appearances. Catcalling is directly linked to female objectification, which demonstrate to generations of women that their appearance is only validated by a man’s opinion of it. The Stop Street Harassment organisation conducted a survey in the US in 2007 in which 90% of respondents (men and women) had been harassed more than once, with higher than 65% being harassed at least monthly. Catcalling has a place in the deepest roots of sexism and yet is not prioritised as a problem within society.

Emotional labour is where someone has to endure an event that uses a lot of emotional strength/work. This is especially common with women experiencing a confronting or uncomfortable situation. Catcalling creates significant emotional labour for victims. On some occasions the catcaller will ask the victim to smile and if they don’t, they face verbal or even physical abuse. Catcalling can make an individual exhausted from being witness to something degrading and still having to plaster on a stoic façade.

Theft is defined as stealing something from someone without their consent; therefore, a catcaller (mostly men) taking up the time and emotional labour of a women through catcalling, is also a thief. This event can be stuck on a woman’s mind for days after and can be the cause of feelings of insecurity and embarrassment.

As many of readers will understand, there is no privacy in the experience. For me personally, it makes me furious. Having the realisation that men believe they are justified to use up my time and emotional labour when they comment on my appearance, is infuriating. Of course, there are many experiences only women face that are emotionally draining, and ignoring them is not the way to progress in society. Street harassment is the suppression of women at its most pure and is distressingly common.

Street harassment is part of a larger problem; supressing and sexualising women for the comfort of a man. It is entirely archaic and emotionally fatiguing, and therefore in dire need of tougher legislation. There are some countries which have adapted to this issue, recognising the everyday struggles of women. Many, however, have not and are therefore permitting the objectification of women.

By: Esther David








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