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Monogamy’s police

31 Jan

 

Wandering eyes

 

I saw an advertisement on television the other day in which a man, thinking himself unobserved,  is “caught” by his wife looking longingly at a young woman. The wife’s face assumes an expression of furious exasperation, of the kind that infers the intense frustration of one who knows they have little control over such situations, that is, the male randomly desiring gaze, yet will not, ever, give up seeking that control.

When the husband realises he’s been “caught” he cringes with guilt, averts his gaze, then attempts to placate his aggravated wife with a shrug intended to convey his both his apology, and his helplessness in the face of his nature.

What I immediately saw in this small scenario was a deeply embedded heterosexual cultural belief that it is wrong for men to look at women other than their partners with admiration or any form of desire, and it is the female partner’s job to police his gaze and wrangle him back under control.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of this infantilising by women of men. They are such children they must be micro managed and surveilled by their female partners to the point where looking at another woman is a cause for her anger and his guilt? Are even children subjected to such an intensity of repressive surveillance?

Haven’t we got anything better to do? I mean, really. Haven’t we? We must be mummy-wives for our entire lives?

According to the advertising industry, which one imagines has its finger on the majority pulse, yes we must.

I’m not sure about how this works in reverse. There is a prevalent myth that women are not as visually sexually stimulated as are men, so our gaze is not as inclined to wander. However, I would vigorously contest that myth. I think women are very capable of experiencing and enjoying visual stimulation, but we aren’t supposed to be. It’s another of those culturally imposed gendered beliefs that are attributed to biology, the “nature” of things, essentialism: men get turned on by looking, women don’t. It’s elephant shit. I speak with the authority of personal experience. So instead of watching who he’s watching, get some visual pleasure of your own.

Apart from all that, the idea of being constantly watched by a partner when we’re out and about, just to see who I’m looking at so I can be brought under control is, quite frankly, absolutely creepy.

We are rightly infuriated when women are blamed for being raped because of what we wear, where we go, whether we’re drunk or sober. Rape is the rapist’s responsibility, not ours. Yet at the same time, women are encouraged in monogamous heterosexual culture to believe we have sole responsibility for controlling the male gaze and what that gaze might lead to, because he can’t be trusted to do it himself. Apparently many of us accept this responsibility and in the acceptance, enable the man-child, not the man.

If heterosexual monogamy needs this much policing by women, it’s a failed project.  Struth, any relationship with policing at its core is a failed project, isn’t it?

I can’t remember what that ad I saw was for. I can only remember the ludicrous content. So epic fail in that project too,  advertisers.

 

 

 

 

herself.com, the image and the battle to contain desire

21 Jan

Herself.com

 

Female nudity continues to exercise the minds of media feminists, with the latest source of controversy being actor Caitlin Stasey’s new website herself.com The site features nude portraits of women of diverse shape, colour and size, along with interviews with the subjects. Caitlin’s aim is to reclaim the female body from the objectification of the male gaze, and the demands of the film and beauty industries for a particular female look that is unrealistic, and excludes the majority of us.

Reaction has been swift, analytical, condemnatory, celebratory.

What is most interesting in these responses is the ongoing battle to define, own, and control human desire through the analysis, condemnation and celebration of images of the female body.

There are feminists who experience female nudity as unnecessary and distracting, it’s our brains we should be flaunting, not our breasts, they maintain. There are feminists who defiantly expose their bodies with a big “fuck you” to the patriarchy. There are feminists who rightly point out that the problem is perhaps not the exposure of the female form, but the industries that exploit and commodify us. There is ample food for thought in all these perspectives, however, nobody seems to be tackling the tricky question of desire.

There is arguably no stronger force than desire, be it for sex, intimacy, power, money, control, freedom, equality.  There is no human activity that is not driven by desire. As feminists have argued since the seventies our desires are constructed, that is, we are taught what we should desire and how we should desire it. While the energy we know as desire is inherent in us, how we experience and express it, or indeed deny it, is learned from birth, and the learning is gendered.

So much of the public turmoil centred on images of the female body is driven by an unexamined  need to contain desire that simply will not be contained. Whether this need to control takes the form of a puritanism that is based on notions of immodesty and the ‘wrongness’ of nudity, or whether it takes the form of pole dancers paying their way through their PhD (look! I have brains as well as tits and a shapely arse!) the basic struggle is to own and control desire, and its expression.

Whether herself.com will do anything to reclaim our bodies from the desiring and objectifying gaze of males who want us, females who want us, and industries who want us, I can’t predict. It is fairly obvious that the one-dimensional photographic image of a desirable body is hardly going to encourage anyone to focus attention on any other aspect of that human being, and why should it? “I can’t stop looking at her tits,” moaned one woman when asked if she was interested in the narrative accompanying the image.

Perhaps the struggle to make an image of a human body anything more than an image is a waste of time. The whole project of making women “real” through images of us seems contradictory. An image might not make me a sexual object, but it will inevitably objectify me, because that is what images do, and it is all images can do. Perhaps what is needed is a more realistic understanding of the limitations of the image, rather than the likely pointless attempt to make the image “real.”

Apart from those quibbles, I quite like Caitlin’s herself.com I like the challenge it presents to repressed bourgeois prudes. If I met any of those women, I’d be very interested to talk to them about their participation in the project. I like the “fuck you” attitude to patriarchal objectification, though I concede there will still be patriarchal objectifiers who get on the website and ogle and wank. They will always be among us, no matter what we do.

Desire takes a billion forms. The battle to own and control desire will likely be unending, because it is the battle to control human beings. In the meantime, herself.com and like-minded women continue to give the finger to those who would own and control desire, and for taking this small step, they are to be commended.

Grief Porn: the money shot

4 Dec

cricket

The Courier Mail coverage of cricketer Phil Hughes’ funeral includes a heart-rending close-up of his dad Greg, face contorted with grief, carrying his son’s coffin on his shoulder. It also includes a similarly heartbreaking shot of Hughes’ mother Virginia, in deep grief and shock.

I wondered what could be the purpose of these shots. Anyone with a gram of imagination would know the parents are devastated at the loss of their son. None of us needs to see images of their devastation in a newspaper to convince us this is the case.

I could barely look at the images. Not because I’m squeamish about grief, but because I couldn’t help thinking how I would feel if similar images of me and my grief-stricken family were used to sell newspapers. I think that is the only possible reason for these photographs  to have been taken, to sell newspapers. I don’t think there is any public interest issue involved in showing us close-ups of the Hughes’ family’s shock and devastation. It’s grief porn. It’s disgusting.

A subject photographed without consent surely becomes an object. If the image is then used for profit, the objectification is complete. We are so inured to this process it generally passes unremarked, but really, what right does the Courier Mail have to profit from a deeply private expression of grief?

The funeral was a public event, it can be argued. Anyone attending was fair game for the media, no matter what their state of mind. This apparently justifies appropriating grief as spectacle, for Murdoch’s profit.

The agonisingly distorted faces of the bereaved family will always be the money shot in grief porn. As if their loss is not enough to bear.

Tim Wilson HRCommissioner spruiks for Abbott on ABC

1 Dec

Tim Wilson

 

I can’t believe what I just saw with my own eyes. On ABC’s The Drum tonight, Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom Tim Wilson, parachuted into his $320,000 a year job by Attorney General George Brandis without even so much as an interview, was a panelist on a program that had nothing to do with human rights or freedom of speech, the latter being Wilson’s specific portfolio. Instead Wilson spruiked for the Abbott government and Tony Abbott, in a display of political partisanship that I’ve never seen before from a public servant.

Wilson resigned from the Liberal Party when he took up his new job with the HRC.

Questions.

Why was Wilson invited to be a panelist on The Drum when his area of expertise wasn’t on the agenda?

Why did Wilson accept the invitation when his area of expertise was not on the agenda?

Is Wilson exempt from the APSC Code of Conduct as regards taking care to avoid partisan positions?

Is it mere coincidence that Wilson appears on The Drum to support Abbott on the day the Prime Minister admits the government’s had a ragged week?

If it isn’t a coincidence, at whose insistence did host Steve Cannane invite Wilson on the panel when his only possible purpose for being there was to talk up the Abbott government?

Why was Wilson given a platform on the ABC to express his personal views as he clearly wasn’t representing the HRC or his portfolio?

What does Wilson’s boss Gillian Trigg think of his blatant public political partisanship?

I’d ask Wilson these questions myself but the Commissioner for Freedom blocked me on Twitter when I asked him how he would handle a situation in which there were competing rights.

 

 

 

Save the last dance for me

1 Dec

When a performer has reached the age of  seventy-nine one can be forgiven for fearing every appearance might be his last, and it was clear at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Brisbane last night that thought has also crossed his mind.

Though he is enviably fit (he drops to his knees with strength of feeling, and there’s not a catch in his voice when he rises again without even putting his hands on the floor) and his voice has thrillingly deepened since I saw him last some three years ago, he is an old man and I have prepared myself for last night to be the final time I see him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey 
I ache in the places where I used to play 
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on 
I’m just paying my rent every day 
Oh in the Tower of Song

The man was on stage for well over three hours, finally remarking that he really wouldn’t mind if we all decided to go home, but nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to leave him,  and we stamped and clapped and yelled “More please, more please,” like two-year-olds presenting our empty bowls for refills.

And refill them he did. Perhaps it’s to do with his sojourn in a Buddhist monastery, but Cohen has a talent for living in the moment that allows him to sing every song as if it’s the first performance, with a freshness and passion that lets the audience hear the lyrics anew, even though some of us can recite them in our sleep. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can do exactly the same thing, performers for whom Cohen expresses the most gracious respect, granting them time and space to shine as he steps quietly away, his hat doffed, his head bowed in deference to artists such as Javier Mas, the “sublime” Webb Sisters, and long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, whose breathtaking interpretation of Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” I present here for your pleasure.

Music is, of course, from and for the emotions, but it takes a rare talent in any genre to convey the kind of feeling that deeply moves the heart, mind, body and spirit. Cohen and his fellows share the ability to imperceptibly nudge their audience out of the everyday into the realms of poetry, that is, to evoke meaning over and above the prosaic, the obvious. Cohen stirs the emotional imagination, the man can’t help it, a brief account of his journey through the Brisbane tunnels on his way to the Entertainment Centre becomes a metaphor for life. The tunnels were therapeutic, he says. He entered them feeling not so well but by the time he emerged he was feeling splendid. Through darkness into light: there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Although Buddhism became a significant part of Cohen’s life, like Bob Dylan he is also fascinated by Christian imagery, and often references the traditions of that faith, especially in his latest album, “Old Ideas.”

I have to add here that there’s not much else Dylan & Cohen have in common attitudinally. Cohen assumes everybody likes him and won’t hold it against them if they don’t. Dylan assumes everybody is his enemy and especially hates them if they like him. I could write a thesis comparing the two, and I might well one day.

“Old Ideas” has the feeling of a man preparing for the end of his life, especially the quite lovely “Come Healing:” Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space, and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace…

Yet it is a measure of Cohen’s astounding talent that he can imbue the 1960’s Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me,” recorded by, among many, Dolly Parton, the appalling Michael Buble, Ike & Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Emmylou Harris et al, with such poignancy, as he performs it as his last song of the evening (no matter how much we shout and plead he’s skipped off stage, yes, he skips, and he won’t come back) and the familiar song takes on the quality of a farewell to the audience that he loves, but knows he must finally leave, and he wants us not to forget him, he wants us to save our last dance for him cos he loves us, oh so much.

Ah, Leonard. Right back at ya.

The Convoy of Cleavage. In which the breast strikes back.

17 Jun

After a week of astounding personal attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard, some of us Twitter women have decided we’re done with this shit, and we’re not taking it anymore.

The last straw (at least up to this morning) came yesterday, when AFR columnist and industrial relations consultant Grace Collier complained on ABC Radio National’s Sunday Extra that Ms Gillard had, offensively, according to Collier, revealed cleavage in the House of Representatives.

The PM had displayed too much flesh, Ms Collier declared, and in her professional opinion cleavage is inappropriate in the work place.

Bind your breasts, sisters, lest they cause any man or woman to be distracted from their tasks by that enemy of capitalism, desire.

It seems to me that if we are to stamp out this irrational horror of the female breast, (see DSM-V: Horror of and Repulsion Towards the Female Breast, A Disorder in Both Genders) we have little choice but to use immersion therapy, in which we expose Ms Collier and fellow sufferers to images of that which they so fear, in the informed hope that they may become desensitised, and return to their normal, hinged lives.

With this in mind I tweeted that obviously we must all post images of our cleavage on Twitter. This suggestion was enthusiastically received by one @MsBaileyWoof, herself a deceptively ditzy blonde with attitude who likes to sleep on picnic tables. In an astonishingly short time Ms Bailey Woof created the hash tag #convoyofcleavage which in turn was taken up by racy Twitter women who believe it’s time everyone accepted that women have breasts and got over it, to the best of their ability.

As MPs return to Canberra today, we hope women all over Australia will join us in our Convoy of Cleavage by posting images of yours, remembering of course to use the hash tag. The Convoy will be led by myself and women who have pledged to join me. (Don’t leave me hanging out there on my own, sisters. You won’t, will you?)

They didn’t!

Update: As I have now unveiled my breasts on Twitter, it seems cowardly not to do the same here. In solidarity with Ms Gillard, this is No Place for Sheep’s contribution to #ConvoyofCleavage

DSCN1988

But wait! There’s more! Understandably there will be women who do not feel comfortable making intimate images public. However, it appears that almost every one of Ms Gillard’s physical characteristics have been fair game for the loons. Please feel free to tweet images of your fingernails,your ear lobes, your hair, your glasses, your jackets, or, if you feel like it, your arse. Do use the same hash tag, in the interests of order.

Yes, this exercise is entirely frivolous and will achieve nothing. Yes, I expect we will be gored by Helen Razer (after Baudrillard) for our mindless capitulation to empty symbolism. Though as that lady recently posted an image of her own cleavage, struggling to escape an appallingly tasteless pink brassiere as she held aloft the dripping carcass of a Peking duck, maybe not.

For any of you who are uncertain about cleavage etiquette, here’s an excerpt from Seinfeld, in which Jerry instructs George on how to behave when two breasts loom.

Enjoy your day.

The Good Feminist: Anarchic and slightly deranged

21 May

feminist

 

 

Helen Razer wrote this about feminism today.

In response, Clementine Ford wrote this about what Helen Razer wrote about feminism today.

Make of these differing view points what you will, that’s not my goal. What did catch my attention was Ford’s use of the words “anarchic and slightly deranged” to describe what she calls Razer’s “moments of incisive clarity” [on feminism today]

It seems Ford is using the term “anarchic” in a pejorative sense, which is interesting, as I’ve never thought of anarchic as a bad look for a woman, especially a feminist, to adopt.  It is a surely part of our job to do our best to transgress the hierarchical, patriarchal systems that repress and oppress us. Quite how one does that without a bit of anarchy, I don’t know.

“Deranged,” even slightly, is another kettle of fish. This is to do with insanity, psychosis, loss of contact with reality, a disturbed “normality.” It’s no different from calling a woman crazy, and we all know the power of that descriptor to hurt, intimidate, and silence when applied by the orthodoxy to the words of women it does not want to hear, or wishes to discredit.

Personally, I have no time for words such as “deranged” in a feminist vocabulary. They belong to the Law of the Father, as Cixous would have it. They are the consequence of a social process whose product is, among other things, concepts such as “sanity” and “madness.”  Part of our feminist task is, as Foucault would have it though he was not speaking specifically to feminism,  that we must disrupt discursive practices which establish meaning. Perhaps there is little more important than disrupting those established practices that create a narrative of derangement that has long been used to contain and oppress mouthy, disruptive, revolutionary women.

Has feminism now become so tamed that words such as “deranged” are required to invalidate commentary because its content may not be immediately accessible and its form extraordinary?  Strategies of excess can be used most effectively to challenge the binaries of patriarchal thought, but has feminism become so tamed it must now regard such strategies as “deranged?”

Women today would not have a fraction of the privileges we have were it not for radical, anarchic women who were frequently described as “crazy.” No successful political movement ever existed without radicals to initially break through the barriers.

There is practically no one influential in Western feminism today who can be described as radical. I wonder how much this is due to so many feminists becoming so much a part of the bourgeoisie with its safe, bourgeois values that radical voices are now inevitably named as “deranged,” and thus ridiculed, or silenced.

Naming is a political activity.  “…all expression is always indirectly political.” Cixous.

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