In Defense of Kylie

If you were to google Kylie Jenner, the top result you would find, is the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’. A couple of weeks ago, this phrase was trending all over social media, as we collectively pointed and laughed at the teens who had attempted the (frankly dangerous) “challenge” of suctioning their mouths – ostensibly to try and replicate the famous lips of the youngest member of Kris’s Kollective.

It has since faded from popularity – the trend quickly lost traction as more and more testimonies emerged, showing the horribly bruised, distorted, painful results. But our collective fascination with Kylie Jenner’s lips, remains. Speculation as to whether she uses lip fillers has been rife for over a year – before the May 6 reveal that on an episode of KUWTK (Keeping Up With The Kardashians, for the uninitiated amongst us), Kylie would confess to the procedure, the media had still rarely mentioned Kylie without reference being made to her lips.

And sure, she wasn’t fooling anyone. We all knew, in our hearts, that the lips were fake. At most it was an entertaining game, the knowing and pretending to accept feigning ignorance.

But what’s it to you? What’s it to any of us? For starters, the lip fillers were being applied to Kylie and Kylie alone. I sure wasn’t suffering beauticians beating down my door with needles full of lip filler every other month – were you? If she wants to experiment with minor procedures, if her lips were an insecurity that she had the means to alter then I say more power to her! I’m all for making yourself the best version of you – and if that requires surgery and implants and fillers; so long as you know what you’re getting into then I’m all in favour.

The reaction I’ve observed over and over again has been one of outrage and betrayal. As though she broke some sacred bond of trust, people have been quick to blame, label her a liar – entire articles have been written on “Lipgate”. This is weird to me on many levels. First of all, if you fall into the outraged and betrayed camp – I have to ask; is this your first foray into celebrity culture? If so, I have some bad news for you….celebrities undergo cosmetic procedures! It’s well documented! Non-celebrities do too!

More crucially, I’ll say it again – what’s it to you? Rather than interrogate and attack, I would question why Kylie felt compelled to lie. To hazard a guess – because this was the kind of reaction she could expect to receive from the world. One of judgement, outrage, anger rather than the reaction that anyone should be given upon revealing their cosmetic surgery, or any choice they have made in their lives. Respect and understanding, a simple “I’m glad you’re happy” if you can’t manage more. This is the kind of etiquette taught in kindergarten, I kind of can’t believe I’m even devoting a whole paragraph to trying to explain this.

Teenage girls are disrespected, not taken seriously, actively laughed at across society and their agency is often denied or stolen. If plumping her lips has made Kylie Jenner feel better about herself, it has reclaimed her agency and that can only be a good thing. Its not anybody else’s business and while I do understand that the very purpose of popular, tabloid style media is to make things their business, the general attitude of contempt being exuded in her direction is unpleasant at best. It’s such a vicious cycle – you discover the young girl who is insecure and you give her attention; you build her up but still remind her she is one of many; you let her feel the weight of the pressure you place on her to be exceptional and then you tear her down for trying.

Lastly, and I believe crucially, Kylie Jenner is seventeen years old. She – as she points out – has been in the public eye since she was nine years old and it can be easy to forget, but Kylie Jenner is still a child. Developmentally, emotionally, legally she is a minor and the fact that real actual qualified adult career members of the media are falling over themselves to tear her to shreds is gross. Kylie Jenner is lucky to have a closeknit family who do love and protect one another (I won’t hear a word to the contrary about them) because at 17 she has a long way to go, you can be sure this won’t be the last time she’s picked apart for the whole world to see. I for one love her lips – fake as they may be, and I fully support whatever decision she chooses to make regarding them or any other part of her being, just so long as she keeps posting selfies on Instagram

Power

I am afraid, every moment of every day.

Sounds extreme, right? Maybe I’m a little paranoid? You would be too if you were me.
I’m far from paranoid; as my mother regularly tells me, I’m not cautious enough.

Fear for me is nothing out of the ordinary, far from it, it’s a sign that the world continues to function as I know it. As a woman, fear is in my best interest. My fear keeps me safe, stops me risking my life by undertaking such high-risk activities as walking home late at night, or buying a drink at a bar, or god forbid, speaking to someone.
Last week when I was walking home after work, a car drove past me and then turned around and drove back again. In all likelihood, the driver had turned down the wrong street, or had just needed somewhere to turn around, but in the 5 seconds that it took, I saw my doom.

“They’re coming to get me”, I was dead certain. Like a dream I could see it happen – the car would pull over, they would grab me and shove me into the boot. Before I knew it I would be kidnapped, drugged, beaten, raped, dead.
Before my nightmare could finish playing out, the car was gone.

In any moment, I could become another statistic that gets read out to teenage girls, to try and scare them into staying safe. So I remain afraid, because I know that I am a second class citizen.
On the basis of my female identity, I am less than the human man who decides I am theirs to take, to hurt, to remove from the world.
Like a dog who cringes before he is kicked, I learn to expect the worst from the world, not to trust those with whom I come into contact.

And it’s a political act, the instilling of fear. Men who abuse women don’t just abuse women because they feel like it. They abuse them because they hate them. Claiming “I love my mother, I love my wife” is meaningless; on some unconscious level, men who perform these acts hate women. All women.

But why? For what they represent, for what they are, who could speculate? What is important here is to understand –it is asserting power over the female population of the world to be able to cause fear by your actions.
And it isn’t always so overt. Cat calling, that innocent past time of louts; is an assertion of power. Even every day comments spoken in the street, are a reminder to women – you are not in control.
And I’m no hero, I’ll readily admit that it makes me nervous to be spoken to like that. I’m not just angry or offended (though my pride wishes that was all I felt), but fear bubbles in my stomach because you just don’t know.

I don’t know that the man who yells at me from the window of his car won’t decide to come back and take me with him; I couldn’t stop the grocer who wink and whistles at me as I walk past from dragging me into an alley if the urge struck; even the schoolboys who call comments to me as I walk past are a potential threat. Fear becomes a protective blanket when you practice it long enough, it is second nature to the women I know.

I heard someone recently say that the way we teach women to protect themselves from harm (hold your keys between your fingers, stay focussed on your goal, don’t engage others in conversation, keep your head down and keep marching) is akin to the lessons drilled into the military for war conduct. The analogy struck me because, we are fighting a war. Women have nothing with which to fight back, so we defend, defend, defend until we’re cornered.
We’re losing our war, and we should all be afraid.

originally posted in Degenerate magazine issue 2: Fear 

“It Will Never Happen To Me”

Like many – I would even take a gamble here and say all – people on New Years Eve 2014,  I eagerly anticipated the dawning of the 16th year of this millenium. Having graduated one degree and being on the cusp of another, I was sure that this year would hold big things for me.

To be fair, you could hardly say my year has been uneventful thus far, but it certainly hasn’t unfolded how I might have wished.

First – the pesky swelling in my abdomen got to a point where I finally agreed to go to the doctor…who referred me to a gynecologist who recommended immediate surgery which then turned into surgery in-a-few-days-because-this-thing-ain’t-benign-after-all. Then, two weeks later as I recovered from a surgery that had cut me from pelvic bone to navel, I was told in no uncertain terms that a mere week later I would begin the first week of a nine week course of chemotherapy.

Dear reader, I wish I could tell you that I was brave, stoic in the face of adversity, kept a stiff upper lip and looked on the bright side. Sadly, that is not the way I was wired to respond to such an event. Instead? I cried. For nine weeks I cried almost without rest, stopping only to sleep and rehydrate.

Luckily, I’m now six weeks post-chemo and I’ve never felt better. My hair is growing back, my energy levels are increasing every day, food doesn’t taste like metal anymore. Things are definitely looking up for me now and so it is with this renewed energy that I
have undertaken my new mission: Operation Make Everyone Aware Of Ovarian Cancer All The Time.

Every year 1400 women in Australia are diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, a tiny section of society but it is significant because while other cancers are well researched and curable; OvCa (as it’s known in the biz) still has a shockingly high mortality rate due to a lack of public support and funding. Although I was relatively lucky (on the spectrum of cancers at least) by being diagnosed with the highly curable Germ Cell Tumor; OvCa is notoriously tricky to diagnose and many women don’t realise the severity of their illness until it is too late. I can attest that the symptoms can be relatively mild and easy to dismiss as normal fluctuations in the body – bloating, feeling full after eating a small amount, increased need to urinate. By the time I entered surgery, a 13cm tumor had grown on my left ovary and I hate to think how bad things could have become, had I ignored the voice in my head/my mum and put off going to the doctor even a couple more weeks.

I urge every person who thinks they recognise some of the symptoms, or just has an uneasy feeling about the whole thing to go to their doctor as soon as possible and request the CA125 blood test. Stick to your guns if they try and talk you out of it – my GP asked me repeatedly if I could maybe just be pregnant and then made me do a pregnancy test even though I said no! You know your body better than anybody else and if you feel that something is wrong – well it’s better to find out it’s nothing than to ignore something that could become serious.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Awareness is growing – only a few weeks ago one of Australia’s AFL teams dedicated a football match to women with Ovarian Cancer and this week, scientists announced a significant breakthrough in treating Ovarian Cancer with chemotherapy. Things are improving but we can only reach Ovarian Cancer Australia’s goal for a 25% improvement in the survival rate by 2025 by accelerating our progress.

Oh Captain, my Captain

In light of the sad news this morning, that Robin Williams has died at the age of only 63, I wanted to (somewhat selfishly) document the inadvertent influence he has had in my life, and reflect a little. 

Today has been full of stories, memorialising Robin Williams and the impact he had on generations of children. I look back fondly on childhood movies – though the fact is that I had actually never seen much of his work until I was at least 10 years of age. I only saw Aladdin the entire way through at 18, I was afraid of both Flubber & Jumanji for an embarrassingly long time and Mrs Doubtfire (as I discussed with a friend today) was funny but hardly formative. However, at 15 years of age my life was altered – and I don’t hesitate to say altered – by seeing Dead Poets Society, and it is for this that I love, and thank, and will remember Robin Williams.  Excuse me for talking about myself for the entirety of what follows, but I wanted to share my own story.

In year 9, I changed high schools. It was a time of immense stress and distress in my life and to say I took it badly would be an understatement.

In the midst of this upheaval, I was given two blessings-in-disguise, which would go on to shape my life, though I could never have known it at the time. The first of those things, was an English teacher who arrived at my high school in Term 2. She taught us both English and History, and from the first day that she was in the classroom – she was unlike any other teacher I’ve ever encountered.

In History, far from the regular Year 9 curriculum (to this day I honestly couldn’t tell you what Year 9 history students should be learning), we analysed the political motives behind the outbreak of the First World War, interrogated the European settlement of Australia including the documentation of Indigenous people by early settlers, the trope of the ‘noble savage’ and a whole host of other subjects that I honestly couldn’t comprehend at the age of 15. Was it advanced? Yes. Was it too complex? Possibly. But it encouraged us to push ourselves – which as high achieving students we had rarely encountered before, and most importantly it asked us to challenge our views, and the beliefs we held to be self evident.

In English, we studied the usual, Romeo & Juliet; some contemporary Australian novel that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of; but when it came to Poetry, she had us look at the political purposes and uses of poetry and we analysed poems by Indigenous Australian poets and discussed the relationships between poet and Country and once again – were asked to extend our capacity to the brink. I learned more that year than I can ever possibly put in to words, and I regularly hope that one day I’ll bump in to the teacher in question in the street (as I did once, a couple of years later on, before my epiphany and need to wax on about politics at all times).

She was passionate about feminism, and politics, and questioning that which you accept unquestioningly and she deeply desired us to feel the same. ‘A box is never just a box, girls’ she would insist as we suggested that maybe a poem could be taken at face value, and we rolled our eyes and muttered ‘yes miss’.

I’m sure you can see where this is going – she(consciously or otherwise) attempted to fashion herself into our very own Mr Keating a la Dead Poets Society, and though her success in the grand scheme is questionable – she certainly had a lasting impact on me.

And, in some kind of crazy coincidence – the film that we were to study that year, turned out to be Dead Poets Society. The second of my life-altering blessings.

Despite the typical adolescent moaning about having to watch a movie which (shock horror) wasn’t from the 21st Century, I was captivated from the first viewing and totally under Mr Keating’s spell. To say that the movie itself was important for me isn’t sufficient. I have watched it countless times in the years since (even once made my totally bored sister sit through it – sorry Olivia!) and it never loses its magic. The character of Mr Keating, brought to life with that Robin Williams magic is one that will never become less fond to me; the lessons to be learned from DPS aren’t ones that were immediately apparent, but have been absorbed and executed through repeated viewings and in it’s entirety, it speaks to me. In the muddled memories of Year 9 (I’m making myself sound so old here – looking back through the fog of the years) the characters of John Keating, and my teacher have somehow merged; she was unquestioningly the one teacher I had throughout high school for whom I would stand on a table and declare “Oh Captain! My Captain” (and her abrupt departure from my school draws entertaining parallels – suffice to say she was too radical for the conservative institution of all-girls education) and it was on the backdrop of Robin Williams’ portrayal that I learned what it was to be inspired by a teacher.

The influence of these two is somewhat intangible, what Keating preaches is an attitude more than concrete action, and the influence of my teacher while evident in my everyday behaviours, is difficult to pin down beyond ‘question what you are told’ and the importance of pursuing justice. The value of language, of literature, of poetry beyond something “cute” is impossible to overstate, the implicit imperative for each student to enter the world and strive for what they love, to be real and to be true to yourself, and to ‘seize the day’ is advice that too often goes unspoken. I needed to hear it, though, I think more people do than we realise.

Thank you, Mr Keating, thank you, Robin Williams, thank you.

Oh Captain! My Captain!

Rest in Peace

National Sorry Day

Last week, Monday May 26, was National Sorry Day across Australia – but you could be forgiven for not realising. I’m not usually unobservant but I personally didn’t realise until I arrived at my job (as a sales assistant in a generic retail outlet) where our daily planner had a “National Sorry Day events in your area” notice laid atop it. I am an Indigenous Studies student at one of the preeminent institutions in the country, I spend 6 of my 9 contact hours a week engaged in discussion and debate about the potential pathways forward for Indigenous and nonindigenous Australians – and I had no idea that National Sorry Day even existed until a couple of years ago, never mind what date it falls on. As far as I can tell, The Age (my main source of daily news and one of the most popular newspapers Australia-wide) failed to report it’s occurrence at all this year.

For those who are totally confused as to what I am referring, let me clarify. In May 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a public apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Australia; on behalf of the Australian public and in particular on behalf of the Australian Government. The apology was intended to start the ball rolling in settler Australia giving reparations to the Indigenous population for the 200+ years of a genocide which has been enacted against them since the time of first white colonisation of this island nation, at every level of society – from outright murder and dispossession of their ancestral lands; to the Stolen Generations who were ripped from their families, homes, ways of life, cultural heritage and expected to assimilate within white Australia; to the ongoing cultural appropriation and profit resulting  from the exploitation of what is regularly referred to as “the oldest surviving culture on the planet”. Having spent somewhere in the realm of 60, 000 years in Australia before the white man dared swoop in and declare it Terra Nullius, an apology was well overdue. The apology was hailed as everything on the spectrum, from insufficient, to tokenistic and indulgent. While well meaning, many voices have arisen in the subsequent years, criticising the government for simply paying lip service to the horrific acts which have been enacted against the Aboriginal people of Australia. No real action seems to have been taken and although change is happening – it is painfully slow and many argue that it still isn’t enough.

National Sorry Day is intended to commemorate this occasion. Lip service or otherwise, the occasion was a significant one in Australia’s history; Prime Minister Rudd was in office after a previous Government who had denied that there was any basis for an apology of any sort. It deserves to be recognised alongside other national days of celebration in the Australian psyche; at the very least held on the same level as Australia Day which remains an affront to many Indigenous people. The fact that it is so underreported and out of the public eye is an absolute crying shame and indicates that to the average Australian, Indigenous affairs and the ongoing change that is needed is not their problem, and not even on their mind. While the apology has been pointed to in the years since, as an example of Australia striving for reconciliation in the contemporary age, the truth is that little has changed since and indeed with the recent budgetary cuts to Indigenous programmes it certainly seems that matters are likely to get worse before they get better.

Why does it even matter? Indigenous Australians, the “oldest surviving culture”, report lower life expectancies than the non-Indigenous population, their educational outcomes are dismal across the board, incarceration rates are absurdly high and health is poor in general. They are neglected and forgotten, a race who were previously considered “doomed to extinction” and I think – I strongly believe – that Australia as a nation holds a great responsibility to further face up to the wrongs that have been done and to attempt to make reparations. Many seem to believe that colonialism is over, that we live in a post-oppression society and that the world is there for those who want to avail of it. This simply isn’t the case. Significant change, both institutional and at a societal level, needs to happen to even begin to improve the quality of life that is currently the norm for much of this country’s Indigenous population. The quality of life that I, my family, and probably most people who read this post, are largely complacent about enjoying. This won’t come from speeches in Parliament (though recognition at that level is fundamental) but from hard work, understanding, humility, cooperation and empowerment. After generations of dictating the rules, it is past time the reins were handed back to the Indigenous people of Australia to determine how their future looks and for the rest of us, that means sitting down and listening for the first time in our collective consciousness, and asking not “what do we do?” but “how can we help?”

Misogyny Kills

Across the world, great lengths have been gone to this weekend to separate the particular brand of gender politics popularly known as ‘Mens Rights Activism’ from the fatal shooting in California committed last Friday evening, allegedly carried out by Elliot Rodger.

It has been hotly debated whether Rodger’s self identification as a Men’s Rights Activist had played a role in the events which unfolded; where Rodger shot and killed 7 women as well as wounding others. I personally believe that this is diversionary and only serves to distract from the issue at hand. Whatever your stance on the responsibility of MRAs in this situation, the fact remains that Rodger can be seen on video, saying “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it”; which reeks of entitlement, misogyny and the acceptable conduct of men which is habitually institutionalised and normalised; and never called into question until a crisis point such as this is reached.

Debating whether he was an MRA or not is missing the point and manipulating the conversation that is required –  what we should be debating are the kinds of expectations of women that our sons, fathers and husbands are being taught to have, and the levels of entitlement they are permitted to assign themselves; and indeed are assigned by the world at large.

This tragedy has and will continue to play itself out in lesser and greater ways across our world – from the unequal treatment of boys and girls in schools, to unsolicited attention in nightclubs and on the streets, to sexual comments being catcalled from cars or said with a smirk in the office, to the murder of innocent women – until everyone learns to take it seriously. Misogyny is alive and well, and this weekend, it has killed. Elliot Rodger hated women because they wouldn’t give him the sex he thought he deserved and he killed them because he thought that warranted “punishment”.

The rhetoric of Rodger’s videos (the little of them that I have watched, at least) isn’t new – he complains that girl’s don’t pay attention, that they instead “give themselves” to other men and he calls them slurs such as “sluts” for both being involved with other men, and for not paying him attention. The language at use here is the most basic element of analysis available and it is the language of misogyny. The judgement of the women he speaks about for expressing their sexuality, his demands of them, the entitlement he feels – are all symptomatic of men who actively or covertly oppress and subjugate women.

This language and the associated behaviour is normalised to a point where the videos made by Rodger which today are uncomfortable at best, stomach turning at worst; failed to get a response from the police. Rodger’s parents approached the authorities for help upon seeing their son’s videos several weeks ago; but after seeing the videos and interviewing him, police reported back to his parents that he was a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human”. To have watched the videos that Rodger filmed and uploaded and to still refer to him as “kind and wonderful” must call into question the acceptability of misogyny in 2014.

The argument that it’s simplistic to suggest that misogyny was the basis and sole motivation for this and other gendered hate crimes has been raised time and time again and my response remains the same – yes there are many factors at play in Rodger’s life which lead to the point of his attack but misogyny alone pinned it all together and gave him the motivation to gun down innocent women. His class, his age and his alienation from his parents are all aspects of his life which may have altered his perceptions of the world, or his methods of dealing with it. His sense of entitlement could very well be heightened by being a young adult, as well as a wealthy upper class member of society. Nothing happens in a vacuum as we are always well advised to remember but I still persist in pointing a finger most determinedly at the continued normalisation and acceptance of misogyny as the underlying cause of this act of violence.

This brings me to the loudest and seemingly most influential argument currying support for Rodger; that he had Asperger’s syndrome. Once again, this variable added to the melting pot was undoubtedly of some influence in his approach to life, the ways in which he interacted with others and his outlook on the world. However it still doesn’t account for a hatred of women that was so fuelled by personal offence and so ultimate that Rodger felt fully within his rights to kill those he felt had wronged him. Asperger’s may present a lack of cognitive empathy – yes. It commonly leads to difficulty in forming and maintaining friendships and relationship, but this still doesn’t explain nor excuse the cold blooded murder of women because they didn’t express desire toward you. He didn’t shoot at random because he lacked an understanding of social cues, or because he was distant from his family. Rodger planned and shot, in cold blood. To suggest a lack of comprehension of social norms or empathy to that great an extent is absurd and quite frankly offensive to those living with Asperger’s, and to use Rodger’s mental health as a scapegoat for what was blatantly a gendered hate crime is to alienate every member of the community who has lived with or continues to live with any kind of a mental illness; to mark them as ‘abnormal’ and to suggest that they too could “turn”.

(it also bears note that people living with mental illness are more likely to fall victim to violence themselves (self inflicted or otherwise) than to hurt others.)

I would like to signpost the particular treatment that crimes such as this one are given by the media at large. A white,  heterosexual, upper class, university student is given the scapegoat of mental illness and a poor relationship with his parents – while a man of color could just as easily be relegated to the realms of gang violence or terrorism. While this is a trend that may be changing, change is slow and painful. Why is this man being excused? The media should be interrogated just as thoroughly as we know how, and every piece of information that we consume requires a critical approach and the endless asking of “why?” Nothing created through or by the media is wholly without bias and to get as close as we can to the truth requires constant vigilance.

We could discuss endlessly the different factors which have all been at play in the trainwreck that led to the tragedy seen on Friday evening, but that isn’t the crux of it. The fundamental fact remains that this was a crime committed deliberately against women – a hate crime of gender and whatever his mental state at the time of committing it, it cannot go without notice that Elliot Rodgers hated women because he had been born in a world that told him he had an inalienable right to the bodies of women. Not his mental health, nor his relationship, nor his parents, nor the behaviour of the women in his life or any woman anywhere is the cause of Elliot Rodger’s attack on the women of his community. All that is relevant is the fact that this man thought he was so entitled to women that he had the right to deny them life.

I don’t view it a stretch of the imagination to suggest that targeted violence against women is underpinned by hatred for women, and when this violence is seen enacted again and again across the globe this is more than a freak accident. Men who hate women are not an isolated phenomenon, nor a small threat.

**please excuse what a mess this post is right now, it’s almost 11.30pm and i’m incredibly tired and just needed to get my thoughts down on this horrible tragedy. my thoughts are with families and community of the deceased, as well as Elliot Rodger’s parents**