Thursday, 11 December 2014
Friday, 14 November 2014
I do not fight against men, but against the system that is sexist.
~ Elfriede Jelinek (Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004)
I answered the phone at work the other day and a fellow gave me his name and the company he was calling from. I asked how I could assist him. And he said: “What I’m calling about darl, is – “ I cut him off there and asked: “Did you just call me darl?” He said: “Yes.” So I hung up on him.
He called back within seconds and immediately said: “Look, if you don’t want to be called “darl” you just have to – “ I hung up again.
He called back again within seconds and said one word: “Bitch”.
I should preface this by saying that I knew this was a marketing call. I always try to be polite to marketers (they’re only doing their job) unless they get me on a bad day at which time I tell them the owner of the company, aka The Chosen One, is currently in conference with Satan. I must also add the waiver that I do have clients who call me “Love”, usually older gentlemen who think I’m the slightly-smarter-than-average-secretary, and I have no problem with this because I recognise the motivation is pure and their choice of language generational.
But lately I've been thinking about the fact that for a lot of men, in professional situations, I am either “Darl” or “Bitch”. I don’t know if it’s specific to the industry I work in or not, but I do get called “Darl” or “Love” a lot. Here’s the thing – whether I’m standing in front of you or on the telephone with you, I always seem to remember your name. Miraculous, isn't it? And in a group situation, even when there are more than two of you, I still remember your names. If I find myself in a situation where your name escapes me, I revert to “Sir”, because that is the etiquette, isn't it? You seem to remember the names of all the men in the room, but still I am, always and somehow, “Darl”.
“Darl” might do your laundry, get you coffee, pick up your dry-cleaning, or give you a toothless blow-job in a back alley for $50, but she doesn't pay your invoices, or remedy your contract issues, or carry out the logistical and administrative requirements necessary for keeping multiple construction sites up and running. And confiding in me that your secretary is a bitch tells me a whole lot more about you than it does about her.
And you know when it is I segue from “Darl” to “Bitch”? The moment I insist on being spoken to the same way you would speak to a man calling to hire a chemical toilet. The second I insist on maintaining professionalism when you want to reduce me to a vagina, I become the “bitch” without a sense of humour. I can’t fucking win: if I’m friendly I’m a flirt and if I’m firm I’m on my period (oh yes, that’s been said to me too).
So here's the deal: when you call me “Darl” or "Love" I promise to turn into the nail-filing, gum-snapping, breast-enhanced, fake-tanned, stiletto-wearing, high-school-drop-out you assume I am.
Oh, and did I mention? – My eyes are up here....
Friday, 26 September 2014
“So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
This week children attending the two large Islamic schools in Perth, schools I visited regularly as a bookseller, were advised not to wear their uniforms on public transport. The reason? – They were being emotionally and physically intimidated by members of the public. Got to remember these kids probably also carry backpacks – that’s some scary shit right there. They say they’re just carrying homework and a cut lunch but we don’t want to take any chances.
During the same week, a man entered an Islamic school in Sydney swinging a machete and asking if this was indeed an Islamic school. Kids hid under their desks, got all upset – bit alarmist really. I mean, this bloke was clearly terrified. He has a right to protect himself from little Johnny.
And then there’s the young New Zealander who was bailed up at traffic lights on the Gold Coast by a car full of patriots who threatened to behead him. In their defense, the young man had a beard. I’m sure Mr. Abbott is currently looking into some facial hair legislation to ensure we are at least threatening the right people. Because we just can’t have bearded people with darker skin driving willy-nilly around the neighbourhood. We have a right to feel safe.
Mr. Abbott’s War on Terror. This is some of the best goddamn marketing I have ever seen. The whole idea of marketing a weak product (and you are far more likely to die of Ebola right now than succumb to a terrorist wielding a cutlass) is to artificially inflate the need this product will satisfy. Like the War on Mould in my shower: clearly the mould will kill me so I must buy ridiculously expensive industrial strength toxic products that burn my eyes and irritate my skin unless I’m wearing a full body condom while applying them. Marketing convinces me that filling my house with poison will keep me safe.
These poisons are a great distraction too. There’s lots of tiny, tiny print on the bottles, and websites you can visit that describe what Mould does to your respiratory tract. I don’t want any of that microscopic shit controlling my life, except all of a sudden it is. And I lose track of the fact that if I rescue one more cat I’m more likely to trip over one on the way to the toilet in the middle of the night, crack my head open, and bleed to death before morning. And the Mould will end up living longer than I do.
It’s the same principle as showing something shiny to a screaming baby.
So climate change, the cost of education, the insidious threat to our personal freedoms, pensioner poverty, homelessness, welfare hysteria, our violation of human rights, the depersonalization of people who look and sound different to us, and every other nasty little right wing agenda-laden product peddled to us during the last 12 months will slip into the back of our consciousness because all of a sudden there’s something much bigger to worry about. But Uncle Tony will protect us.
Fear. No matter how contradictory or boilerplate the origin, fear remains the one great controller and captivator of both individuals and entire populations. And we’re all suckling now...
Monday, 23 June 2014
“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: "It's a girl.” - Shirley Chisholm
Driving to work this morning listening to the radio I heard a disquieting discussion between the breakfast hosts. I am the last one to take things too seriously – anyone who knows me can attest to that. But this really pissed me off.
It was a discussion about hot actors who had “let themselves go”. I've always thought “hot” to be a distinctly relative term, and don’t even get me started on the definition of letting oneself go. However I’m not here to argue semantics. My day started with Kathleen Turner:
“I think she’s the spokesperson now for Winnie Blue. And Bakewell pies.”
“Spokesperson!? I think she’s the taster for Bakewell pies”
“Have you seen her lately?”“I think her last role she was playing a bloke.”
Then Carrie Fisher:
“I finally watched the original Star Wars movies.”
“See what we mean?”
“Yep – saw her in the gold bikini – I DO see what you mean...”
And then Brenda Vacarro:
“Yeah, she’s another one.”
“What’s that film she was in where she was hot?”
What irritates the shit out of me is this expectation that women will remain preternaturally attractive despite age and all of the accoutrements which naturally accompany aging. The things which are forgiven if one is male – weight gain, wrinkles, thinning skin, grey hair. To name but a few. That aging in women is seen as an ugly failure, rather than a rite of passage indicative of a lifetime of experience and enviable wisdom. All of the women mentioned on the radio this morning, and in this Blog, are beautiful. And guess what? – Marlon never came up once...
“Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of 'serious lesions' or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.”
- - Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
Saturday, 7 June 2014
I have been invited to participate in the 6 Degrees of Separation Meme, an original blog tour created by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith. The rules are posted at the end of this Blog. Before I get started I just have to say...Kevin Bacon.
We start this month with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Here is a picture of the lovely cover, which is as far as I have ventured:
Emma has specified that one does not have to have read the first book in the chain in order to participate and can I just say - thank fuck. With a ‘must read’ pile that has left the town of Daunting and is now approaching the borders of Unachievable, I reserve the right to bypass a tome the size of a house brick which someone dear to me recently described as ‘like chewing cardboard’. I have no doubt that Eleanor Catton is brilliant, and well-deserving of the Booker. But I’m middle aged and no longer read things simply because I've been told I ‘should’.
Having said that, I bloody love the idea of The Luminaries. The synopsis, the description of the intricacies of character and plot, the style – it should read like a chic, Victorian-esque cat’s-cradle of intrigue and people you forget aren't real. And I do love a wordy book. Which brings me to the first book in my chain...
Ah, Wilkie Collins. How many nights have we curled up together like cats. The Woman in White (1859) is a wordy book, a Victorian epic, a chilling and picaresque melodrama, and a bit of a feminist shout-out. Wilkie had an understanding of the Victorian Sisterhood. It also deals with layers of reality and identity – and I love that. He’s better than Charlie. You heard it here first. Which leads me to...
John Fowles. Talk about your layers of reality and I’m talking The Magus (1965). Big, fat wordy book about a narcissist having tea with a nihilist, psychological warfare dressed as salvation and manipulation just another mask to wear to the party. Simply put. The fact that a large part of the story involved Conchis’ story of his experiences during Nazi occupation leads me to...
Isaac Bashevis Singer. Specifically, Shadows on the Hudson (English translation 1998). Funny and bitter. It’s dark, but again there are layers of reality – that search for balance between the parameters of orthodoxy, new prosperity and deep grief. What I remember most about this book was being transported. Lifting my head from the page and thinking ‘Where am I?’ Of really forgetting these people were not real. Which brings me to...
Diary of a Young Girl (1947). I read an abridged version of Anne Frank’s diary as a child, then read the unabridged later in life. Singer never used the word ‘Holocaust’, but by the time I came to both of these books I was emotionally raw to the word. This is also a book that deals with layers of reality – Anne’s loneliness and isolation pressed hard against the struggle for a sense of normality in extreme circumstances, where no one actually uses the words ‘I’m terrified’. Which leads me to...
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003) by Lionel Shriver. And can I just say ‘I’m terrified’. Again, loneliness and isolation struggling to be understood. Fiction dressed as non-fiction (i.e. a collection of letters) - again the layering of reality. We have the story of multiple people told through the reminiscences of one biased narrator/letter writer. And that slow, torturous lifting of the veil, the realization of what’s really going on, the deliberately measured pace which is still too fast because as you’re reading you’re begging not to be taken where you’re obviously being taken. Which brings me to the final book in my chain...
The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo. I can’t believe I've ended up with non-fiction. Is that allowed? Zimbardo is best known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and the subtitle of this book Understanding How Good People Turn Evil sort of says it all. We’re all born with a clean slate. Sure, genetics may load the gun, but that begs the question – Who or what pulls the trigger?
So there’s my chain. Please check out the chains of Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith, and everyone else who has taken part. And have a go! – Here are the rules...
Thursday, 20 March 2014
Emma Chapman has a lot to answer for. I stayed up well into the night reading How To Be A Good Wife regularly muttering “You won’t believe this!” to an increasingly confused dog. She then gave me the worst book hangover I've had in years – I couldn't think about anyone but Marta and Hector for weeks. She screwed with my life and I love her for it. I await her second novel in much the same way I anticipate my hip replacement: “Oh God I can’t wait! Oh God the recovery time...”
Emma has invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop. You can read Emma’s responses to the questions here. My answers are as follows:
1. What am I working on?
Who can say balls? I've got a couple in the air. First, I am busy editing my second novel due for publication with Allen & Unwin in February 2015. It has one question at its heart: Does doing something monstrous make you a monster? I refrain from answering this question myself as I refuse to judge my characters. People do the best they can at any given time given their histories, hurts, and limitations. And sometimes they mistake denial for strength.
Secondly, I am busy with the WIP which has a deadline of July 2014 (pause for maniacal laughter...my publisher isn't reading this, right?) This one is scheduled for publication with Allen & Unwin February 2016. This is a book which asks the question: What gives a person personhood? What defines us? Is it our ‘selves’ or our history, and what happens if our history is obliterated?
I have also had a sneak preview of the brand new German cover of Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012) from Königskinder Verlag (Carlsen) in Hamburg, due for release later this year.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s not cautious in its representation of people and their foibles and never underestimates the strength or intelligence of young adults. Which is a nice way of saying I have been known to make some gatekeepers uncomfortable. And by uncomfortable I mean some place on the outskirts of anxious travelling towards appalled. I suppose I never forgot what it was like to be a young adult.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to. Because little people have set up shop in my head and are constantly whispering stories at me (I think there’s a medication for that...). Because the minute you condescend to young adults, or try to moralize their experience, you lose them.
4. How does my writing process work?
Badly. I am constantly distra...Oh look! – Something shiny!...
I don’t plan other than to hurriedly pause to scribble a post-it if something pops into my head mid-sentence which I think might be useful at a later point. I then lose the post-its. My desk looks like the inside of a skip bin colonized by cats. When I sit down to write I set a word limit for myself which I really shouldn't do because it annoys the shit out of me. I don’t move on to a new sentence until the sentence I’m working on is completely finished, scrutinized, torn apart and reconstructed. I must have two things: absolute quiet and time. If the neighbour starts mowing the lawn during the limited time I have to sit down and write it can make me homicidal.
So that’s me. And now I’d like to invite some other writers to share their processes:
Robert Schofield is the author of Heist (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and the upcoming sequel Marble Bar (Allen & Unwin, 2014). He makes me laugh and listens to me whinge. Sometimes he says philosophical stuff at me.
Vikki Wakefield is the award winning author of All I EverWanted (Text, 2011) and Friday Brown (Text, 2013). I love her books and I love the way her head works.
Rebecca Raisin is the author of contemporary romance and adventure. She is enjoying crazy success with digital publications Christmas At The Gingerbread Café (Carina, 2013), Chocolate Dreams At TheGingerbread Café (Carina, 2014), The Heart of Bali (Escape, 2014), and Mexican Kimono, under the pseudonym Billie Jones (Really Blue Books, 2013).
If you’d like to take part in this Blog Hop, get in touch with these wonderful people before they tag elsewhere!
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
“Nothing wears me out so, body and soul, as anger, fruitless anger...” - Josephine Butler, September 1869
Nothing gets people crankier than sex. They’re either not getting enough, or not getting it good enough, or telling others who they can and can’t have sex with. People pretend sex is a personal matter; however those most coy about it seem to be the most interested in the sex lives of others. Our holy men and our politicians have a long, well-deserved reputation for being nosey bastards when it comes to sex – entire legislative acts have been devoted to governing the sex lives of others out of the bizarre belief that
people women will
drag entire nations into moral disrepute and economic failure should they have sex
without permission and/or with someone other than a socially sanctioned partner. Honest discourse about sex has historically
been curtailed by the protestations of upper middle class white men whose
entire understanding of the female sex organs fell into two categories: our
clitorises either made us whores or made us hysterical. Both were moral and medical failures we could
neither challenge nor confront without being told our very indignation was supporting
evidence of us either being whores or
hysterical. What’s a girl to do?
There was a Sister in the 19th century who refused to look at women’s bodies as crime scenes on legs, brazenly walking the streets waiting to lure innocent men into disease ridden traps. Men had long been thought to be the innocent victims of prostitution, the wounded prey of their own uncontrollable desire coupled with a surplus of tarts on the loose. My Sister shined there, getting behind the Moral Reform Union in 1884 which petitioned Parliament to criminalize the Johns as mercilessly as they did the tarts. But it was her work against the Contagious Diseases Acts (passed in 1864, 1866 and 1869) that leads me to champion her as the Queen of Crank. I speak of Josephine Butler, and she had sex on her mind.
The Contagious Diseases Acts were virulently anti-female and although there were many mumbles, even some of the most courageous feminists of the time were shy of attaching their names to this cause. Doing so would not only destroy their own reputations, but that of their husbands also. But Josephine got cranky and began demanding that her highfalutin feminine sisters wake the fuck up and begin to recognize that all women were victimized and abused by what only a few had to suffer. (No vapours please).
So what were the Contagious Diseases Acts? Here’s the rub: they began as a way of stamping out the rampant spread of STI’s in Army and Navy bases in Great Britain. (That’s our fault, right?) The law stated that any woman even suspected of being a prostitute in areas where the CDA was in force (mostly ports and towns near army bases) could be forcibly removed from the street (“But I was just going to buy apples!”) and taken to the nearest police station for a non-consensual and invasive intimate medical examination. If she had an STI she was immediately committed to a “Lock Hospital” (name says it all) until such a time as she was deemed “clean”. If she was not suffering an STI, she was given a shilling and sent on her way (“You keep being a good girl now!”). Of course her hymen had been broken by the examination, she was bleeding and no longer thinking about apples, but at least the armed forces were safe.
It was working class women who bore the brunt of this, and my Cranky Sister Josephine exposed herself to unimaginable abuse as an upper class woman championing the rights of her lower class Sisters. Josephine Butler argued, quite rightly, that if there were any unclean women on the streets they didn't get that way all on their lonesome. There was a dick involved. So either arrest and punish both guilty parties or...neither. In 1886 and CDA was finally repealed. But it had been a 20 year battle for Josephine Butler. She formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1869 and her anger kept her going until she saw success. Not pity. Not moral indignation. Josephine was the ultimate Cranky Sister.
Josephine Butler died on December 30th 1906. She was 78. She outlived a husband she adored and predeceased sons who respected her. Josephine formed many of the strategies still now used in feminist discourse and called a spade a spade at a time when euphemism threatened to cleverly cloak some of the darkest crimes against women in history. Her triumph over the CDA has been overlooked, as has her anger.
And so I celebrate my Cranky Sister - Josephine Elizabeth Butler (nee Grey) - born 13th April 1828, died 30th December 1906.
If I were half the woman...