Tag Archives: Helen Razer

The memoir police

2 Jun

Derrida Quote

 

A couple of years ago, British concert pianist James Rhodes succeeded in his efforts to have the English Supreme Court overturn an injunction granted to his ex-wife that prevented him publishing his memoir of a childhood in which he was sexually abused.

Hs ex-wife was granted the injunction on the grounds that the book would upset their son, should he ever read it.

Rhodes’ memoir has since been published.

Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill thought this was a just outcome, however, as he argues in this piece titled Another child-abuse memoir: why can’t the past be private, the injunction should have been a personal one, applied by Rhodes against himself, because people should simply not write “misery memoirs” whose “take-home message is that humanity is ultimately wicked.”

A few days ago, SMH journalist Kath Kenny published this piece titled Our insatiable appetite for women’s tragic stories, in which she expresses her frustration with what she calls a “first-person traumatic complex” or as O’Neill would have it, the misery memoir industry. Apparently it’s virtually de rigueur to disclose traumatic events if you want to get ahead in reality TV or the published world, and people who don’t have anything traumatic enough to relate are being discriminated against.

Then Helen Razer published this piece titled Writers and artists your personal pain is not a blow for justice, in which she argues that the personal is no longer political and, puzzlingly, that we don’t need any more personal stories, we need more bulk-billing, as if one has any effect at all on the other.

Like O’Neill, Razer states her belief that some traumatic tales are too horrifying to be publicly told, and it would be better for everyone if they were kept private. There is, she argues, no longer a possible political outcome from  the writing of the self: that ship has sailed. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends entirely on your definition of the political.

Razer’s piece is more interesting than either of the others, and I believe that out of the three, she is the only one to have written her own memoir of surviving suicidal depression. I learned this from someone who took her on in the comments with barely disguised accusations of hypocrisy.

While none of these journalists have the ability to silence those who choose to write or speak about traumatic events they’ve survived, it is interesting that all three are making a bid to prescribe what our public narratives should and should not accommodate, and to determine what is suitable for public consumption and what ought to remain private. None of the journalists offer any evidence to substantiate their views: apparently they just feel it’s all gone too far, or to be specific, it’s gone too far for their comfort.

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to these complaints from the privileged about there being too many published accounts of private trauma. I think, certainly for women, it has only been possible to write the self at all for the last three decades or so, which in the scheme of things is barely a nano second so it seems a little premature for cultural critics to be telling us we ought to shut up about it.

There is also an enormous amount of scholarly literature on autobiography and memoir, that reveals the genres to be rich and complex. Indeed I wrote my Honour’s thesis on that very topic. For example, who is the “I” who writes? “I am spacious, singing Flesh, onto which is grafted no one knows which I…” exalts Hélène Cixous.

“Writing so as not to die,” observed Foucault “is a task as old as the world.” There are trauma survivors who write so as not to die, either metaphorically or literally. I find it extremely difficult to speak about my childhood trauma. Writing is my liberation, my mastery of what once governed me.

Nobody is forcing anyone to read our work.

To claim that work isn’t political is ridiculous.

To be sure, there’s some bad writing in the memoir genre, as there is in every other genre but that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. I’m about to read Nick Cave’s The Song of the Sick Bag and after that there’s Patti Smith’s The M Train waiting on my bookshelf. There’s some memoir I wouldn’t go near, which doesn’t mean it ought not to have been written, but that this is a question of interest and personal taste.

It is, I think, mean-spirited and not a little ignorant to complain about others writing memoirs of trauma.

The division between public and private has always worked in favour of the powerful and the abusive. It’s not a little chilling to find our cultural critics calling for a withdrawal of traumatic stories back into the private from which they have so recently been liberated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On what Clementine did

8 Dec

Online Abuse

 

I’ve read two opinion pieces today on how Clementine Ford handled the online aggression and threats against her by  naming and shaming the individual responsible, and publishing a compilation of the obscenities fired her way over a period of several months.

There’s this one by Helen Razer in the Daily Review, and this one by Jack Kilbride in New Matilda.

Razer argues that the significance of public commentary is lately at risk of being measured by the amount of hate the author is subjected to, rather than the work the author produces.

Kilbride argues that if women only handled it better the nasty trolls would stop trolling, which is roughly the linguistic equivalent of telling us not to dress provocatively because if we do we’re asking for it, and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.

Razer’s perspective on publicly revealing personal trauma is an interesting one. Her piece is titled, Why violent threats don’t make you an important commentator, so obviously she’s working from the premise that there’s an audience daft enough to measure the significance of one’s work by the amounts of threats one receives, and their degree of severity. This makes me absolutely negligible, as I receive practically no threats, and barely any abuse, except I did for a while cop a fair bit of upsetting reprimand, public and private, from Razer.

Razer writes:

The idea is not important. The trauma victim becomes important. The claim that “Clementine Ford is important for women” should be made about the growing body of this writer’s work and not about the threats she has received. The violent attention of barely literate misogynists has become the register of a good thinker. 

Good thinkers have always been the targets of abuse, and injury, and not infrequently death, since long before there were internet trolls. Online attacks are merely the most recent manifestation of hatred for good thinking: with the Internet haters have discovered an opportunity they’ve never had before to globally spew their bile, and so of course there are more visible victims.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t make anyone an important commentator or a good thinker: Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine cop their fair share of threats and abuse and nobody capable of thinking straight could call either of them good, or important, or even really thinkers, to be honest.

Razer links to this interview with Yasmin Nair, titled The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma, in which Nair makes the claim that everyone must identify as a trauma victim to be considered a legitimate subject:

It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say “if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing…There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

Is the narrative of personal trauma obfuscating the bigger discussion of context, policies, and the state? Or are the two narratives  more compatible than Nair (and Razer) argue?  And after thousands of years of silence on the subject of our trauma, who, after a mere couple of decades of public discussion, has the right to suggest that the traumatised are silencing another, more important conversation? Hasn’t this always been said to women?

Does revealing personal trauma make one more authentic? Or does keeping silent about personal trauma add to one’s authenticity? Does revealing personal trauma detract from the value of one’s work? Or add to it because experience complements abstract knowledge?

I am more interested in the fact of those questions than I am in any answers. In speaking and writing about my own traumatic experiences, I’ve never once thought to ask myself, will I seem more authentic if I say this, or if I don’t say it? This could well be a grievous oversight on my part, however, I’m not in the habit of wondering whether or not I seem authentic, and it seems to me a tortuous thing to have to ask oneself before writing and speaking, the kind of core self-doubt that can do little other than reduce me to quivering silence.

Why should a woman have to ask herself before she writes, will writing this make me more or less authentic?

In her piece on Ford, Razer links to this earlier post, written in 2014, in which she writes at length about her own experiences of being stalked, threatened, and extremely frightened, and the long-term effects these experiences have had on her life. It hurt me, I think irreparably, she writes. I don’t think any the less of Razer’s body of work because she reveals this about herself.

Indeed, she has apparently written a book on the subject, and I don’t think any less of her intellect because she’s written a book on her personal trauma. I am, however, more than a little irritated by the apparent double standard at work here. Razer has confessed her suffering and revealed herself as a wounded subject, yet seems to be arguing that others should not.

Thinkers are at times simultaneously wounded subjects. It seems to me an admirable goal to enable us wounded subjects to contextualise our experiences of wounding in terms of the systems and regimes that govern our lives. If we do not speak about our trauma in the first place, we have no hope of contextualising it for ourselves and others.

If you are exasperated by the sheer number of victims using their voices, perhaps it is wiser not to blame them for your exasperation, but rather go to the source, and hold the source accountable. As I noted earlier, women have been silenced for thousands of years, and it is only in the last three decades we have begun to speak. It would seem a little early for exasperation.

As far as I’m aware, there is no guide-book for how a woman should react to trauma. Each of us does it in our own way and nobody has the authority to police that. Ford does it her way, as does Razer, as do I.

Each one of us who confesses herself as a wounded subject does it in a way that can have significance for somebody else, because there is no one way, and there is no right way, and there is no time limit.

The idea is important. The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or.

This is authenticity.

 

 

 

Nous sommes tous Charlie

9 Jan

 

I'd rather die standing

 

Helen Razer has an interesting piece here today on why we are not all Charlie, in which she argues quite rightly, that ridiculing terrorists and murderers does absolutely nothing to stop their hideous activities. Jokes, she observes, do not prevent wars, and personally I can find nothing in the least amusing about the actions of murderous ideologues of any persuasion. The recommendation that I laugh at terrorists seems to have its origins in a thousand sentimental Disney movies in which evil doers crumble into dust in the face of hearty laughter from their potential doe-eyed victims. This crackpot notion has always irritated the shit out of me.

Satire, though, has its place and god forbid we should ever be without it, but in and of itself it cannot and does not prevent anything, though it obviously can cause terrible, unthinkable consequences for its purveyors.

If the slaughter of the French cartoonists tells us anything, it is that we are at war with those who would silence us. This war is waged on a continuum. At its extreme, as in Paris yesterday, it robs those who would speak of their lives. No matter how objectionable or unaesthetic their cartoons may have seemed to some people, they did not deserve to die for expressing their opinions.

At another place on the continuum legal threats are employed by those who can afford it, to silence those whose speech is in some way perceived as a threat. Governments use their power to refuse to allow the accurate recording of our history. The voices of Australia’s Indigenous first peoples have been scandalously omitted from the narratives of our country. The voices of women have frequently suffered a similar fate. Silencing is a tool as powerful for the orthodoxy as it is for extremists.

In my experience, if you have a public voice there is always some fucker who wants to shut you up. When they don’t murder you, they threaten you with ruin. There are people in this world who cannot bear to hear,and cannot bear to listen, and cannot bear to sit across a table from you and sort it out. These people are cowards and liars, and sometimes they are literally murderers.

In this sense, Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes tous Charlie, or potentially Charlie.

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” said Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, quoting the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. He did die standing. Whether you admired their work or not, Charbonnier and his colleagues died standing and this matters, this counts, this is why they must be honoured, and this is why we are all Charlie, because any one of us at any time could find ourselves at risk for speaking our truth, and sometimes, some of us who refuse to live on our knees will, one way or another, die for it.

 

On ladies who fear being silenced by trolls

17 Feb

In order for this post to make any sense, you’ll need to read this piece titled “Twitter: a new world of abuse against women” by Julia Baird in which the author addresses the problem of “evil” trolls.

Then I strongly urge you to read this piece by Helen Razer, titled “A troll in the park” in which, among other things, the author points out some crucial statistical absences in Ms Baird’s argument.

Then you ought to read this piece by Cathy Young, titled “Is there a cyber war on women,” and if you want further complexity, you could read this piece by me, titled “Toxic, online and feminist. Really?” in which I address the matter of white media feminists claiming they are being “trolled” and “silenced”by women of colour, and am chastised in the comments for my audacity by a couple of white media feminists who no doubt have added me to their list of trolls.

No thinking person could quibble with the disagreeability of being targeted online for abuse. While I can control this on the blog, I’ve been surprised by the abuse sent my way when I’ve written for media outside of my control, and sometimes have had cause to wonder if the moderators were sleeping.  It is not nice. It is not acceptable. It can be frightening.  For women who are usually relatively safe, and have managed to construct an environment for ourselves that is relatively safe, the internet is an area over which we have no control.

An argument made by Ms Baird is that if  anonymity is forbidden at sites that provide the opportunity for engagement, the problem of online abuse will disappear. Very few trolls, apart from the famous ones who make a living from it, use their names, so there is some sense in the argument against anonymity.

However, many, many internet users prefer anonymity, not because they wish to abuse and troll, but because they prefer to maintain their own privacy for any number of good reasons. Should everyone be forced to identify themselves in order to provide a safe space for ladies who fear the troll will silence them?

To my mind, this would result in an appalling silencing on an appalling scale, and so is in no way acceptable.

If we are to participate in an online world we have to be able to deal with its reality, which is that we are not discussing topics around the dinner table in our homes, or only with the like-minded, but we are participating in a global exchange that lacks any of the usual social protections normally enjoyed by the privileged. Anyone can say anything to us. And they do.

Some of us may well be silenced by trolls and this is, of course, wrong and unfair. Yet I know many, many women, myself among them, who have endured enormous abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, mental and spiritual, and who have not been and never will be silenced by abuse we’ve experienced.

The world does not adapt itself to protecting us from the massive potential for abuse it contains. In the scheme of things, the sorry-arsed losers whose only source of pleasure is attempting to intimidate someone else on the internet are very low in the hierarchy of potential abusers. Yes, they say very mean things. Yes, they make threats that are alarming and intimidating. No, of course they shouldn’t do it, and we shouldn’t have to be subjected to it.  However, as there is no way of making the internet nice, and perhaps we should be grateful for that, we’re going to have to toughen up and learn, like the man kicked by a donkey, to overlook the insult on considering the source.

Don't feed the trolls

Feminism. Feminists.

15 Mar

 feminist-doormat

The recent public stoush between Helen Razer and Jenna Price is of a kind that quite regularly erupts in feminist circles. Such eruptions are not peculiar to feminism: they occur in any ideological movement, but for some reason seem to be treated as more of a spectacle when women are involved. I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer, George and Jerry reach a state of ironic hysterical excitability at the prospect of a “Cat fight! Cat fight!”

Briefly, Razer accuses Price’s Destroy the Joint movement of overly concerning itself with “everyday sexism” and likens this concern to a “cultural studies tute from 1991.” Price responds by pointing out that Destroy the Joint is involved in practically assisting women, as well as calling out media sexism. One immediate practical achievement that seems to me amazing, is that of persuading Telstra to agree to provide silent phone numbers at no cost to women who are in hiding from abusers.

Price also objects to Razer’s  instruction on what feminism is, or should be. The overall impression I gained from reading both women is that they are coming from different perspectives that can, to my mind, be complementary.

Thinking about difference and complementarity put me in mind of my doctoral thesis. I wrote what’s known as a composite thesis, that is, it’s comprised of a creative work, and an exegesis. A short extract from the introduction by way of explanation:

The Practice of Goodness is a work of creative non-fiction, a memoir of some of the significant events in the protagonist’s life, written in reaction to a diagnosis of terminal illness. In the theoretical perspective offered here I discuss the central themes of the memoir. These are those of violence, both domestic and political; the role of language in cultural constructions of death and dying; and the possibility of a secular ethics centred round responsibility, forgiveness and respect for our common vulnerability.

The overarching argument of the thesis is for the embodiment of theory in practice, an argument that is symbolised both by its composite form, and the decision to theoretically interrogate the themes of the creative piece. In the creative piece, these themes are explored experientially. The actual effects of violence, of cultural representations of death and dying through the use of figurative language, and of acts of forgiveness on human life, are noted in their practice. In the exegesis, I engage with various theoretical perspectives on these practices with the goal of demonstrating that extraordinary events may be more fully understood, and finally come to terms with, if the experiential is supported and informed by a theory that lends itself to practical application in life.

To suggest that either Razer or Price confines herself to such a sharply defined position, one theoretical, one practical, would be to insultingly reduce both women. It is never that clear. Reading Price’s account of her life’s activities, I’m left with the impression of a very hands-on feminist practice, of the kind from which I have benefited enormously at times in my life, when women have offered me assistance and support without which I think I might have died.

Reading Razer, I’m delighted and nourished by her wit, and her intellectual passion, a passion expressed by many feminist thinkers and writers over decades, without which I would also have died, in this instance an intellectual death. Razer’s hilarious account of Anne Summer’s ill-informed  “misogyny” call in the matter of the mouth-shaped urinals is a cautionary tale: it’s easy when seeking out sexism in media to think, based on a cursory inspection, that you’ve found it, so always check the context and the facts.

I share Razer’s passion for theory. I’m invigorated by the challenge of doing a close reading of really difficult stuff, and have been ridiculed many times for selecting something of Foucault’s as my bedtime book.  At one point my passion for Michel was so great that my students trawled the Internet trying to find me a Foucault doll.

But I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’ve learned much from Butler, Kristeva, Derrida, Levinas and so many more from whom I’ve borrowed a framework, or a lens, through which to consider my life and the culture in which I find myself. Not everybody shares this passion, and why should they?

I share Price’s passion for educating women to recognise sexism wherever it appears. I know there are many women who have not undertaken cultural studies, women’s studies, or gender studies, or who do not have the tools of high feminist theory with which to decode the world around us. There are women who do not have the time to equip themselves thus, and there are women who do not have the interest. The immediate success of a movement such as Destroy the Joint indicates to me that there are women hungry for an accessible feminism that has application to the lives they lead, and offers the possibility of naming and articulating the sexism and misogyny that surrounds us.  Are they middle class women? Quite likely, but so what? Middle class women are also subjected to domestic violence, rape and childhood abuse, though it is often extremely difficult for them to reveal this. The imperative to conceal such things is strong in the middle class. Who can say that beginning with “everyday sexism” won’t pave the way for the harder discussions?

I also share Price’s passion for the hands-on feminism to which I owe so much, the practical expression of the ideology Razer defines thus: “Feminism is the struggle against masculinised violence and feminised poverty.”

Although my definition inclines more towards that espoused by bell hooks:

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

I have very little interest in the number of female CEOs in Australia. I find the outrage at so-called “sexualisation” dangerously silly. But I do think it’s important that women continue to learn to read the signals sent to us about us, by the society in which we live. I know it all so well by now that I don’t even have to think about it. However, I wasn’t born knowing. I didn’t know how to read the signs until feminists taught me. They didn’t teach me initially through high feminist theory. That came later for me. I needed something far more accessible to get me started.

Destroy the Joint can fulfill this educative role for women, and much more.

At the same time, I frequently feel a frustration of the kind that emerges in Razer’s critique. Why are we concerning ourselves with this banal twaddle when women are still subjected to appalling violence, and unforgivable poverty? Who cares if there’s a sexist ad somewhere while at the same time a woman is being brutalised or murdered, or thrown out onto the streets? What is feminism for, if not primarily to address these most grave matters?

I don’t know the answers. I do know that not every woman can undertake the hard yards in refuges and rape crisis centres, or is in any way less for not doing so. I couldn’t do it, because it’s far too close to my bones and I would be useless in those environments. I worked for years with women who wanted to address the aftermath of their abused and lost childhoods. I think I was useful, and I know I learned much from the encounters we shared. I’ve taught feminist theory, I think usefully, but I do know that not every woman can or wants to undertake those hard intellectual yards, and I can see no reason to expect that every woman should, or is in any way less for not doing so.

I’m pleased when young women I know remark on the everyday sexism they’ve learned to identify. I consider it part of my feminist task to remember the days when I too knew nothing, was avid to learn, and sought and found women who would teach me, taking me patiently through what they already knew so well.

It doesn’t surprise me when there are eruptions among feminists. As Razer points out, we are no nicer than any other human group and there’s no reason why we should be. It annoys me that all too often a dispute among women is taken as evidence that we are back biting bitches who can’t agree on anything, and that’s good enough reason to patronize and dismiss us. Last time I checked, it wasn’t women who were starting the majority of the world’s wars, for purposes far more deadly and self-interested than ideological spats.

I want women of Price and Razer’s calibre to continue to give voice to their interests and concerns. I don’t want a world in which either of them is silenced or disparaged.  Neither do I want a world in which feminist theory and practice are falsely framed as adversarial, and pitted against one another in a struggle for dominance and acclaim. When that happens, the patriarchy wins.

foucault-1

 

BREASTS. NIPPLES. BREASTS. NIPPLES. BREASTS BREASTS NIPPLES BREASTS.

21 Feb

Some weeks ago my fellow tweep, writer and philosopher Dr Damon Young, posted this cheerful image of himself naked from the waist up on Twitter, and on his website.

Damon Young

It was around the time many of us were becoming highly exercised at David Koch’s unfortunate take on public breastfeeding. Breasts were a thing, or even more of a thing than usual because if it’s a thing you’re seeking, you can’t go past breasts.

This coincidence of Damon and David stirred my outrage, albeit for very different reasons. I’ve addressed my Koch angst here.

If Damon can plonk images of his torso all over the interwebs, I railed, without fear of any consequences other than some good-natured joshing, why can’t I? Because no matter how much anybody tells me I can, I don’t think it is actually so.

Damon’s image is unadorned, taken, I imagine, as he paused in his progress from bedroom to bathroom, his mind occupied, I later discovered, with his BMI. There’s nothing vain or self-conscious about the photo: he’s a bloke in his shorts wondering if he needs to take better care of his physical vehicle.

And here we careen into the first thing a woman can’t do that a man is allowed. If I were to post an image of myself in exactly the same state of ordinary (as opposed to contrived) deshabillé, clearly preoccupied (and not with showing myself off) I would likely bring torrents of nastiness down on my head. Why? How long have you got?

Most obviously, because I’d be transgressing the cultural expectation that when a woman shows her breasts she’s got to be sexy about it. We learned that from the Koch situation, with this male commenter making no bones about it. A woman shouldn’t just let her tits hang out, especially at the dinner table, if not for erotic purposes. That is, our tits are only for display when they are being usefully employed in sexually titillating somebody. Standing in your hallway, in your knickers, concentrating on something other than how desirable you have contrived to look in that moment, is likely to be regarded as disgusting. How can she let herself be seen like that?

Nobody says that about Damon, I’m willing to bet.

For a couple of weeks I yearned to post an image of my naked torso on Twitter and this blog, because why shouldn’t I? I was, though, both infuriated and appalled by the powerful ambivalence I felt at the prospect of thus exposing myself to the public gaze. I bet Damon didn’t go through this either, I fumed. I bet he blithely stuck up his picture and thought no more about it. I don’t begrudge him or any man that freedom: I want it for myself. I want to feel as safe as a man does about just being in my body, as it is, but when it comes to publicly revealing myself, I don’t.

I then had a Twitter exchange with Helen Razer in which we contemplated our breasts, confiding to one another and thousands of other tweeps, that we both believe them to be our best feature. Neither of us posted twit pics, however, as people do with their favourite kittehs and puppehs. We also discussed our skin, our feet and our arses, but no other body part, for me at least, has the same frisson. I’m a breast woman. The word alone stirs complex and mysterious emotion in me, all of it good. It’s not until breasts collide with society that they become problematic. Left alone, stripped of imposed culture, they are, quite frankly, gorgeous.

It’s my considered belief that Western culture is alarmingly dysfunctional when it comes to breasts. Author Sarah Darmody explores this normalised peculiarity in this readable piece, titled “Why are we so embarrassed about breasts?” Having lived in the UAE, Darmody is asked what she thinks about life in a society where women are forced to cover up. “What, you mean Australia?” she retorts.

Breasts are fetishised to a degree that is maddeningly unfair. The rules about which breasts may be displayed and how are so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that to consider transgressing them fills a woman like me with something close to terror. For example, I will not usually go out of my house on a cool day without a bra or layers, in case my nipples expose themselves, hardened, as if with desire, through my t-shirt. This is falsely described as modesty, a commendable quality in a woman, I’m told. It feels like enslavement. It feels like repression. It feels like a shocking waste of my energy.

At the same time I don’t want to send the message of sexual availability hardened nipples signify, because that is a false message and I don’t need to deal with the repercussions. A woman’s day is full of such decisions, made largely unthinkingly, in robotic obedience to received wisdom we absorbed with our infant formula or mother’s milk. There are brave women who make it their business to thwart the ingrained conventions. It’s my goal to one day join them.

Damon’s self-exposure will do nothing to detract from his reputation as an erudite, intelligent philosopher, author and commentator. On the contrary, the image reveals another side to the scholar, one that is endearingly human. Were I, a female scholar, to publish exactly the same image of myself, I suspect I would incur all kinds of lewd and derogatory commentary, and I wouldn’t endear myself to anybody. Especially not my family who would be appalled, and likely wouldn’t find it possible speak to me for some time without averting their eyes.

If a female scholar, or any female exposes her breasts on the Internet, will that become the first thing anyone remembers about her? I suspect the answer is yes.

I’m very fond of my breasts. They’ve served me well, they’ve given pleasure to me and to my lovers, they’ve kept my babies alive and thriving, they continue to please the eye. They aren’t twenty anymore, but I’m told they still have a bit of phwoar factor. Be that as it may, the kind of exposure I’m talking about doesn’t require phwoar: I wasn’t planning a page three spread. I just wanted to do what Damon did.

Well, as you know, I didn’t. I feel like an abject coward. I still can’t even think about doing what Damon did without hot horrible squirmy feelings. If I did what Damon did I fear I would be doubly condemned, on the one hand for revealing my breasts at all, and on the other for revealing them in a non-sexy way, and with complete lack of concern for how they and I look.

It’s taken me weeks to even write this piece, not least because I understand that in the personal and universal hierarchy of women’s needs, the fact that I don’t feel free to do what Damon did isn’t in the top layer. Nevertheless, it does speak to the more urgent problem of how women are gazed upon, and how that gaze affects our way of being in the world.

Neither do I want to extrapolate my personal squeamishness to “women,” but there is no denying you hardly ever come across similar representations of a casually comfortable topless woman leaning in her doorway in her knickers.

Whining is unattractive, I know. But I don’t care. I want what he’s got. I want it really, really badly.

With thanks to Damon Young, whose latest highly acclaimed book is:philosophy in the garden - cover200x312

Accidental nudity

25 May

Lingerie Football

 

I know I won’t be buying tickets to watch the Lingerie Football League because I have no interest in football. If I did and the women were good at it, I’d probably think about it.

What I do know is that players wearing lingerie neither entices nor repulses me. I have concerns about injury to exposed flesh that would make me squirm in visceral sympathy were I to witness that. However, in my experience exposure to flesh is interesting for a nano second, unless I’m personally and privately engaged with that flesh, which is a whole other ball game, so to speak.

Commissioner of moral police Melinda Tankard Reist is outraged at the possibility of the Lingerie Football League coming to Australia, to the degree that she has ordered her troops to set up the usual petition and boycott of every business with an interest in promoting what they perceive as sexualisation of women in sport.

One of the claims made by Reist’s battalion is that women who wish to play football at this level are forced to do it in their underwear because there are no options available. This is apparently untrue. A small exaggeration, by those who don’t let the truth get in the way of their propaganda. In the US, home of the LFL, there are three women’s football leagues, none of which require their members to play in their undies. So presumably the women involved in LFL are there because they want to be.

You’d never know this from reading Reist’s rant on the subject. Once again, women are positioned as victims, forced by men into sexualised exhibitionism if they want to play their sport.

In this interview with Derryn Hinch, Reist admits that she doesn’t like beach volley ball either because the uniforms, while not styled by Victoria’s Secret, are nonetheless far too skimpy. Wearing skimpy garments is exploitative of women, the argument goes, who only want the chance to play their sport. Men don’t watch the sport they watch the women’s bums and breasts, desperately hoping for wardrobe malfunctions and a bit of accidental nudity.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is, it doesn’t seem so extraordinary. Heterosexual men are generally on the lookout for a glimpse of female flesh as far as I can tell, and I’ve yet to understand why that is regarded as offensive. Of course there are situations in which it is entirely offensive, but that isn’t every occasion and circumstance.

I have to admit that if I find myself trapped in a room with a television broadcasting the football, especially if it’s the Sydney Swans, I watch their bodies. I very much admire their athleticism and their bums. I suppose I’m objectifying them, but I mean them no harm. I also like to look at female athletes, especially the gymnasts. Human bodies can be powerfully beautiful. There is a very strong link in the human imagination between beauty, the erotic, and the sexual. When all is well with us we know better than to act out this link unless invited.

It is ludicrous to demand that the human gaze be bereft of sexual interest. To be sexually stirred by a human body is not to inevitably objectify. We are capable of simultaneous reactions: admiration and desire are companions.

The bottom line (sorry), as Helen Razer put it in a tweet yesterday, is that it’s demeaning to tell adult women they are being demeaned. One has to assume a position of  vast superiority in order to do this. Whatever their reasons, the women of the Lingerie Football League  have freely chosen their careers. Reist et al claim, as they always claim, that many women don’t know when they are being sexploited. These women are dumber than Melinda, in other words, and need to be taught what’s really going on here by taking their jobs away from them and telling them they don’t know their own minds.

This ongoing fight about sexualisation and objectification of adult women is really all about dress codes. As someone else said on Twitter, we wear bikinis to the beach, not bras and pants, but the amount of flesh revealed is the same. Reist and her gang start from the premise that the female body is a dangerous thing, dangerous for its inhabitants and dangerous for heterosexual men. Therefore it must be kept under control and one of the methods of control is how it is allowed to be clothed.

If to sexualise, that is to make sexual, is “wrong,” then it follows that sex outside of prescribed circumstances is wrong. To “sexualise” apparently means to display flesh and wear garments suggestive of the privacy of the bedroom.  If we “sexualise” the adult female we are apparently inciting heterosexual males who do not own her in marriage to inappropriate desire. Reist is primarily engaged in a form of attempted mind control: she doesn’t want men desiring women unless they are married to them. She is incapable of distinguishing between desire and objectification, therefore desire is her enemy.

I have no problem with Reist holding her opinions on sex and its purposes. She’s entitled to them. But what she must one day realise is that these opinions are not shared by everyone, and she has no right to attempt to impose them as the norm.

I give the final word to my friend H: “If we cannot do what we want with our own physical vessel (when it does no harm to others) we have/are nothing.”

 

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