Tag Archives: women

On Autonomy and the Role of Men in Feminism, and Wom*n Only Spaces or Events

Paper doll graffiti in a public street - Rome

I’m going to attempt to preemptively answer some questions that come up time and time again. These are often the questions that come from men who encounter the wom*n’s edition of a journal, a feminist-themed talk, or anything that is discussing things that are branded as “wom*n’s issues”. In a university specific setting such questions include: Who is the Men’s Officer? Where is the Men’s Room? And sometimes ‘I’m a Feminist Guy, let me in Your Freakin’ Wom*n’s Room Already’.

Why do we have a Wom*n’s Room?

Wom*n’s Rooms are safe places for those who are female-identifying to escape the daily grind of living in a sexist society, a place to chill out and a place to access resources, and to talk to and connect with other wom*n on campus. For wom*n students, there are lots of subtle (and often not so subtle) reminders that the university (and uhh the world) can be a bit of a boys club. Female students experience sexism and in their daily lives and this impacts on their work and study. Wom*n still make up the vast majority of violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence victims. On average, wom*n earn less than men. We also still don’t have full reproductive freedoms or accessible abortion.

Dale Spencer did an experiment on what happens when men enter what is designated as a wom*n’s feminist space as research for her PhD thesis.[1] She writes:

Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

[…]

There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Wom*n’s Rooms aren’t perfect. I’m not here to tell you that. They aren’t a solution to the problem — but they’re a start to redressing those problems by giving wom*n a forum where men do not verbally and intellectually dominate conversational space.

When wom*n call a space or event ‘autonomous’ what does that mean?

 The word autonomy has been dissected and re-evaluated numerous times in academic literature. In terms of feminist and oppression politics, the term autonomy has a fairly unique meaning. Autonomy is by no means a simple concept and it means different things to different wom*n in the feminist movement. But, simply put it’s about reclamation of personhood and agency by being free to organise and collaborate exclusively with other wom*n, without the immediate influence of men. It also means decisions affecting wom*n should be made exclusively by wom*n.

c9437d68fc89b04f4616fa461349481eAnd I can hear you now with ‘men are important, too!’ and ‘the patriarchy hurts men as well!’ or ‘you’re being a “feminist elitist”. I agree with most of those statements, actually. But here’s why autonomy, wom*n’s only spaces and wom*n’s only protests and events are still totally fucking necessary.

Here’s the thing: feminists don’t necessarily want your help. Sometimes we would prefer to be only in the company of other wom*n. Sometimes we want to feel that our voices are truly our own. The truth is those male feminists are often seen as being way more brave, and way more valuable than female feminists. I’m kind of tired of that. Because the truth is that as a woman, being a feminist is much more difficult. You’re accused of being crazy. People might even stop being friends with you if you speak out too much. You’re told you should be an “equalist” instead. Because ‘liberation’ is a dirty word (like feminism); it has to about ‘equality’ rather, because men feel threatened by the word ‘liberation’. For many wom*n their feminism aligns with their subjective lived experiences, such as sexual assault and the different ways that their race, sexuality, (dis)ability, gender identity and class intersect with their status as a woman. For most men (and especially those whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth) their ‘feminist’ beliefs don’t have the lived experiences like these, which directly inform their feminism. However there are ways you can be constructive (and I’m getting to that, I promise).

This is why it may be requested that you do not attend certain events. Most wom*n who seek out wom*n’s only spaces might get a small amount of enjoyment out of feeling safe for half an hour or so. I’m not suggesting that all wom*n who desire this have had horrific experiences with men, but it might be helpful to think about what might cause someone to do that if you’re considering getting into to a heated argument with them. Topics discussed in what are designated as autonomous, wom*n-only spaces are often highly sensitive, and many wom*n who have experiences with these issues don’t feel comfortable discussing them in front of men.

I’m tired of trying to get men on side with feminism, tip toeing around and sugar-coating things, which might alienate male allies. I’m tired of self-professed feminist men thinking they are entitled to criticise wom*n’s approaches to feminism. I’m even getting tired of the numerous hours spent on articles rallying men to the cause with ‘The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too’ thing because yes, of course it does but, overall it is actually overwhelming good for men. That’s why it exists in the first place. Because the majority of men are invested in its continuation. The more time spent on men’s issues as feminist issues, the less space and time exists for issues, which directly affect wom*n in feminism and go to heart of how we can restructure our oppressive environments. Men who can appreciate the importance of feminism, because they understand decent human behaviour don’t deserve more room in feminism than currently exists.

Men who call themselves feminists are often looking to be part of your circle, in my view. They’re looking for a feminist card that gives them an equal voice in feminist circles, they’re looking for a feminist card when they screw up and get called out on being sexist. They have no role in feminism in my view aside from being pro-feminist or a feminist ally and getting the spaces they dominate and making them feminist. Ask how you can help out instead. Can you put up some posters for a feminist group on campus when they’re campaigning? I’m sure there’s not going to be a problem with that. Offer to help set up the Wom*n’s Collective’s stall. Have meaningful conversations with the other men around you about gender roles. Speak up when you hear something sexist happening or being said. Listen if someone is telling you about an experience they’ve had that they said was sexist. Listen and act if someone is telling you that something they think you said was sexist.

And after all this if you still feel threatened (albeit even slightly) by the idea of wom*n exclusively meeting in public for some purpose, feminist or not, then ask yourself why. You might be part of the problem.

 

By anonymous

 

 

 


[1] Results were published in Man Made Language, 1981.

 

Media for Men?

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Hannah Smith is the Women’s Officer at the University of Sydney and the NSW Women’s Officer for NUS.
She studies Government and IR and Gender Studies and as a result is known to use too much Foucault and Connell in everyday conversations.She likes to claim that her lack of cooking skills is in fact a result of her commitment to the feminist cause… but it’s really not.
On May 11th, Julia Gillard spoke about the threat of an Abbott Government for Australian Women at the “Women for Gillard” launch at Trades Hall in Sussex Street, Sydney. What transpired in the media in the days to follow was the most tremendous farce of partiality and journalistic integrity I have seen in my life thus far.Among the articles written about the event, many critcised Julia for playing the “gender card” or the “abortion card”, others criticised her joke about men in blue ties, one telegraph article was outraged that many of the women involved in the event were already labor party members. One of Bolt’s readers accused Gillard of “gender apartheid” and “reverse sexism”. Sunrise- hard-hitting as always- ran a panel segment on the event, featuring David “breastfeeding is gross” Koch and Alan “died of shame” Jones.

First things first, what the hell is a ‘gender card’? Do people really believe Julia Gillard mentioned the threats to abortion rights under an Abbott government to rouse up sympathy from voters? Abortion has never been a vote winner and there is a possibility that Gillard mentioned abortion because it is an important womens issue, and she was at a women’s event. maybe. And can someone please tell me how a complex and vast spectrum of movements, issues, groups and individuals like the women’s movement could be contracted and defined merely as a ‘card’ to be played to win votes?

But really though, Gender Apartheid? A women’s event is Gender apartheid? That these sorts of comments go by unnoticed is a testament to the undeniable right-wing bias of Australian media outlets. Even Fairfax, who are supposed to be at least somewhat more balanced and fair, called the event an ‘act of a desperate prime minister’.

In a case of bittersweet irony, the very next day, a menu from a liberal party fundraiser was released that poked fun at the Prime Minister’s body type. What more justifcation did we need for a ‘women for gillard’ campaign? a lot apparently. Still today, media outlets bemoan the politically motivated and desperate attempts of the “Women for Gillard” campaign.

I am proud of our Prime Minister. I believe she has worked for Australia consistently and competently, despite the disgusting misogyny levelled against her. I don’t believe that the “Women for Gillard” campaign is a desperate political act- I believe it is a natural next step from a woman and her government who have delivered many historical reforms for the women of Australia. I remember seeing Gillard speak at the UN Women International Women’s Day breakfast earlier this year, where she declared that “If the women’s movement has changed only one life- it’s worth it”.

Australia’s media should be ashamed of their central role in unfairly besmirching the work of a Prime Minister and I hope that all those women out there who are for Gillard stand up and make their voices heard before September 14.

Hannah Smith
University of Sydney Women’s Officer

It’s time! For more women in Government

Criticalmass

Politics for to long has been viewed as a ‘men’s game’, but it shouldn’t be. Politicians are our representatives and make decisions on our behalf, they decide how to run our country, what sort of things we need to do, what our money should be spent on, what laws need to be in place to protect us and what needs to be done to support us. So why should half the population be cut out of the discussions that make these decisions. The answer obviously is they shouldn’t,  you need to have a well rounded group of people figuring out what needs to be done now, what can wait and what doesn’t need to be done. You can see by looking at the gender break down of our parliaments that women are still being overlooked, but how do you fix this?

You can have affirmative action and quotas which have both been proved to increase the number of women participating in the decision making process. But I feel that this is almost treating the symptoms of the problems but not the cause- the cause being there is obviously a systemic problem that is preventing women from engaging in preselection processes and managing to get elected.

 

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A study in the US has shown that young men are twice as likely at having considered running for office many times than young women.  While 63% of young women and 43% of young men had never considered a career as an elected official. This is where the problem becomes evident.  What is it that is making young women not consider the idea of running? Particularly when American youth have gender parity in political participation.

Is it that the life of a politician is not overly enticing for young women?

There have been points made before that being an MP is not a desirable job when raising a family and our society still expects that the mother will take a primary role in raising the child as well as leading the charge on the domestic duties due to the large work load, erratic hours, travel and unpredictability.

There is also a legitimate argument to be made that the ‘boys club’ simply does not include women enough for them to rise through the ranks and take on a preselection in winnable seats.

New ideas are coming out saying that as young men grow up they are more likely to have been encouraged to engage in the political process and consider a career as a politician than young women. Which from a young age could incredibly impact on a young persons decision.

Or is it simply that the rusted on old men that have been kicking around since almost the dawn of time are more comfortable with the know, the way things are and its easier for them to train and promote men rather than women.

The same study also said among young men and women who didn’t feel as they’d be qualified to run for election after becoming established in their careers, 23% of young men and 15% of young women still considered the idea of putting their name on a ballot anyway. Which shows that there is something that is making our young women feel unqualified and therefore decide not to run where as young men decide they can simply wing it.

Other studies have shown that women wouldn’t consider running if they had less than a 20% chance of winning where as the odds did not affect whether a man would run or not. Meaning long shot elections favour men because women wont run.

Quentin Bryce is Australia's first female governor-general.And the age old argument that you want to be what you can see could also be playing a part, which I almost hope is the biggest reason for us not having gender parity in our parliaments because we will soon be seeing the first group of young women who the first or second Prime Minister they remember was a woman as well as many of the senior ministers so the idea of a women being powerful in Canberra or in our states wont be this new crazy idea. It will be what they are used to and can view themselves doing.

While I know AA is not fixing the root of the issue directly it is an attempt to deal with the problem and it is working, because of AA we have more women in parliament than ever before and hopefully they can inspire and encourage  young women but also work to fix the barriers that are preventing women form engaging at a more senior level.

I am lucky enough to have had some amazing role models through student politics, party politics and through politics in general who have inspired me to strive and fight and not take no for an answer or let any of the boys push me around and for that I am more grateful than I can express and I can only hope that soon my experience of have political women as role models will be the norm and evey young woman will have these people to look up to.

 

You can find the study(Girls just want to not run) here

You can find a video talking about the gender political ambition gap  and girls just want to not run here

Mikaela Wangmann

National Womens Officer 2013 

10 out of 40, ‘aint bad? Wait.

i need feminism because

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who spoke to me about how he thought that it really was bad how women were treated in the past but was super glad that they weren’t treated so bad anymore.

 

While I know he had the best of intentions and was not being malicious, he was merely ignorant and the discussion frustrated me. I spent a significant period of time explaining all the inequalities to him but the one that he could not get his head around was that we value men and their achievements significantly more than we celebrate those of women. I tried to come up with several examples that I thought he could relate to a really understand. I ran through a few examples and he couldn’t see what I meant, then as we got the bill for out coffees and we jostled over who would pay I realized the perfect example of sexism in our society.

 

Of the forty people who have been featured on Australian money only 10 have been women, while I acknowledge that it is better than I though it would be its still bullshit! Money which is one of the things that we value most in our society, and having your face brandished across it is one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed features thirty men and ten women. Thirty to ten. TEN.

 

So this is basically saying that of the forty most noteworthy people  printed on our money only ten were women. Yea because I am super sure that there have defiantly not been more cool, inspiring, hardworking or just generally boss women who could have been chosen.

 

This disregard of Womens achievement really bugged me, but at least I finally got my message across. Feminism win. It is little victories like this, explaining and recruitment to the cause that is what has kept our movement strong for so many years, and what we need to do to keep it strong and continue to progress. So I guess the moral of the story is don’t back away from these discussions and don’t give up if you can’t win someone over immediately keep pushing because we can never have to many feminists. And really- everyone who believes that women and men should be treated equally is a feminist.

Mikaela Wangmann

National Women’s Officer 2013

On the Offensive: A Case for Furious Feminism

its ok to be angry

Alison is just a really angry person who has been blessed with being UTS Wom*n’s Officer for 2013. Alison liked to write letters to the editor before the internet made it the bastion of time-rich conservatives. In leiu of this, Alison likes to be an advocate and, short of a serious criminal record or parking fine, will hopefully one day be of the silk or in a suit, yelling at people for a living.

 

Wom*n’s bodies have been the site of patriarchal conquest for aeons, and if you’re reading this blog, I’m sure I don’t have to delve much into that conquest. But how often do we think about the conquest of more abstract rights, bodies and expressions of wom*nhood and feminism? And how do we negotiate these when, as wom*n, we have internalised a great deal of social boundaries regarding what conduct is proper?

I’m talking about emotions, specifically, anger, and its expression in feminist circles.

Why is it that a man’s anger on wom*n’s issues (read: White Ribbon Day) is noble and righteous, but a wom*n’s (read: Every Other Frickin’ Day) is unreasonable, embarrassing and laughable? For a man to sway with rhetoric and quaver his voice with passion was the sign of a good speaker. A wom*n’s furious vibrato is nothing but hysteria.

For an embarrassingly long time, the man thinkers of the day treated a wom*n’s unruly emotions in the most patronising, pathological and bizarre way. It was considered that an angry, upset or noticeably emotional people with egg-producing reproductive organs had the condition hysteria, and for some time, it was thought that egg-producing reproductive organs were malfunctioning, spurting hormones everywhere or leaping about the body, inducing within the wom*n some unnatural and perverse state in which she expressed unpalatable feelings, often relating to grief.

The vibrator was invented as a more automated treatment after doctors subjected wom*n to manual stimulation (read: sexual assault) in order to ‘cure’ this grave condition and the scourge on society that an angry wom*n was.

In particular WOC and ATSI wom*n have suffered significantly under this construct, denied rights and believed to be racially inferior due to their non-complicity with colonialism (see: Sapphire caricature). It’s apparently funny, even meme-worthy, for a WOC or ATSI wom*n to express fury or upset. Some of my un-favourites include “Aboriginal Woman Yells at Man on Train Lolz” or, if you want to delve into history “African-American Woman Gets Angry When She’s Catcalled ROFLMAO”.

We have a long and grievous history in which we have been subjugated, bodily, ideologically and physically based on our anger for an infuriatingly long time.

Cut to today and one would guess that this would be an issue solved and lain in our past.

I wish it was so.

Feminism has this bizarre lateral trend which I have noticed where we call out people for calling out, we bring shame and scorn upon those wom*n who yell at the patriarchy. We are happy to make subversive bunting, but very unhappy to back a wom*n up in a confrontation against her cat-caller, a misogynist bro in caucus or in a fight with a microagressively sexist friend.

And I’ve tried this ‘Nice Wom*n: Please, Sir, I Can Haz Rights Nao’ thing, and it is soul-destroying. I grew sick of explaining things to people for whom patriarchy and feminism was a series of non-sequiturs and strawman arguments. When people would see a wom*n’s cheeks become flushed as they pick apart her experiences under a lexical microscope and laugh because she takes it too seriously. But a Daily Life, Mama Mia, Kochie’s Angels brand of feminism is riling against that, saying that we’re something more, that Angry Feminism is something that we should move beyond, that it’s a stereotype and that Feminist Killjoys and Misandrists are forcing everyone to shy away from the big F word.

I’m not for a second going to tell you what to feel or how to act, and I can tell you that acting on my feminist anger has won me exactly zero friends, zero jobs, and zero Mama Mia articles on my nifty range of cunt-cakes, yet has stirred within me a huge affirmation for my ideas, an understanding of my self-worth, a more complex contemplation of intersectionality and my role in the activist realm. My anger is a great enabler, it drives me to get things done, it drives me to examine privilege and it drives me to consider my feminism in forever changing lights and to temper my anger with pragmatic empathy, not to those who perpetuate ‘-isms’, but with those who are subject to them.

This is not a free-for-all pass to screaming. We must also consider the safety of others. But we must also consider substantive violence. A yell here or there may be nothing compared to years of lateral ideological subjugation and cruelty. A yell may be just and furious and fitting in all the right ways for a person who has been subject to this cruelty and, though it is not the focus, may bring a shameful call to action for the receiver. A yell, though, may also trigger a stander-by with significant history, and so we must be careful.

But these things haven’t really been mapped out yet, or set for negotiation, because respectability politics and the cringe of the modern feminist at the howling, unshaven, buzz-cut hulk of a feminism supposedly passed, have yet to really shift and make space for such a discussion. The answer has always been a resounding ‘No’, even from our own, an ejection from the feminist table.

It’s alright, if you want to, to be that rabid, furious, screaming, crying feminist, because it is nothing else but your prerogative, your right, and potentially, your joy.

And, in the face of things, there’s a lot to be furious about (here’s a sampler of some pretty standard run-of-the-mill bullshit).

  • With every student/pensioner/everything discount you can pull, the average cost (excluding transport, accommodation, time off work, recovery and pain medication) of a medical or surgical termination from a not-for-profit is $300;
  • Forced sterilisation of (dis)abled wom*n is still happening;
  • Revenge porn is a thing;
  • Sistagirls (trans* ATSI wom*n) are still dying in custody in men’s prisons and no-one’s saying a word;
  • Nice Guys ™ are everywhere right now, and they’re going undercover, without their fedoras and chain wallets;

And my un-favourite;

  • We’re encouraged to be polite in the face of all this.

 

By

Alison Wonderwound

UTS Womens Officer 2013

 

 

 

On anxiety and the feminist movement- how mental health issues made me a ‘bad feminist’

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By Hannah,

This week is mental health week and I wanted to reflect on something that has been bothering me within feminism for a while. While I believe feminism has made amazing inroads into facing up to intersectionality and integrating various oppressions into its movement, I believe there is a fundamental issue which is consistently ignored: mental health issues.

I want to write only on anxiety because that is where I have personal experience. I should state that everyone experiences anxiety (and all mental health issues) differently- and my experiences may be different to others. I acknowledge that anxiety, along with depression gets alot of attention in the media and public discourse, at the expense of other illnesses that are just as important, however with this article, I do not want to generalise about mental health experiences, but instead use my own experiences to hopefully start a larger dialogue.

My first example is from a collective I was involved which was organising events around violence against women. During one meeting in particular, I left quite upset as a result of the discussion we had around sexual assault. One of my friends recommended to me that I simply leave the room when I found discussion triggering. I think I can generalise to say that this is a common recommendation given to people suffering from PTSD and anxiety. Personally, I found that suggestion inadequate. By having to leave the room I am highlighting to everyone that I have problems with these issues. While there is nothing wrong with being upset or triggered by particular topics, and alot of people feel comfortable speaking about their experiences with mental illness; some people don’t- and having to out themselves as suffering from anxiety certainly isn’t going to alleviate it.

But more importantly, it shouldn’t simply be the person who suffers from anxiety who has to ensure that a space is safe for them- it should be everyone’s responsibility. As I stated earlier, I believe feminism has made significant progress in ensuring intersectionality and the removal of language which is offensive to particular groups- but I don’t see that in regards to anxiety.

To use another example, I recently had a discussion with some women about an upcoming rally in Sydney. These women were frustrated that the rally would also have events that were not traditional protests as they believed it would detract from the importance of the march. When I stated that I was happy with the new format because it made the event accessible to people with certain physical disabilities and people who may feel uncomfortable marching at night because of anxiety, I was berated as not being committed to ‘real’ feminist protest. Obviously, I found this offensive. I think re-examining the way we go about protest is definitely called for. While I enjoy rallies, they can be alienating for a range of people, and I don’t think it is too much to ask that we run other forms of protest alongside rallies so that all voices can be heard- regardless of abilities.

I have been thinking about things that can be implemented to make feminist organising and protest a safer space for women with anxiety. I personally believe progressive speaking lists should be implemented and upheld to ensure that everyone’s voices can be heard and anxiety-inducing conflict can be minimised. I also think that electing a grievance officer no matter how informal a collective/event is, ensures that we are all constantly considering how spaces can be kept safe and inclusive. These are, however, only from my own experiences and I want to reiterate that each experience is different. I encourage you to start a dialogue with any collectives you are involved in and consider implementing simple steps to ensure that the invaluable opinions of people with anxiety continue to be heard.

“I am not my hair“: one woman’s journey to loving her ‘fro

By Hiba

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my hair since I was 8 years old. That’s the age when I was erroneously called ‘spring onion’ by my classmates because short, frizzy strands of my thick North African hair would escape from the tight braid my mother put it in and would stand vertically like little springs. The bullying made me self-conscious of my appearance and begin to resent my natural hair, but more importantly that was the first time that I had a concept of ‘difference’ and that I was not like everyone else in my almost entirely Caucasian public Primary School. To stop the name-calling I tried to cut off the rebellious frizzy hairs, which was my first act of trying to change my body to fit other’s expectations of what I ‘should’ look like.

Only a few years later mother changed my hair colour with a gradual lightening product. I was confused as to why she did so and didn’t like pretending to be something that I wasn’t and how the lighter brown hair clashed with my tan skin, but my mother wouldn’t hear any of it. In her mind fairer and more Caucasian-looking was better, a concept remnant of her own upbringing in post-colonial North Africa where skin, hair and eye colour still corresponded to class and social status.

At age 13 I finally convinced my mother to let me cut my hair short. Up until that point my mother had never let me cut my hair, so it was long and grew past my hips and was a nightmare to maintain coupled with its thickness and frizziness. I convinced her on such practical grounds, but for me it was a symbol of finally taking some control over my own body and making a decision for myself about how I ‘should’ appear.

Over the next decade I subjected my hair to every hair product and device you can imagine to make my hair look more Caucasian: chemical relaxers, flat irons, curlers, serums, mousses, sprays, gels, waxes, braiding, thinning, extensions… if you can name it then I had tried it. I spent thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of my time and my mother’s time trying to change my hair into something different. I tried to rationalise and  justify it to myself on the grounds that it would be easier to manage if it were straighter, that it would look more professional or employable, that others would see it as more attractive, and so on. All the while I knew deep down that there was something amiss and that I wasn’t happy with the lengthy daily process of burning, stretching and moulding my hair.

In 2012 I took the plunge and stopped chemically relaxing my hair, cut off the remains of the straightened hair and left a curly, frizzy ‘afro‘. The main reason I did so was the simple fact that I could no longer afford both the money and time that went into chemical and physical hair-straightening process. I was also curious to see how my natural hair, unseen since I was a pre-teen, would look like. Neither of these reasons were particularly serious or heavy, but that decision would nonetheless still have a significant impact on my self-perception.

Considering how often I had changed my hair in the previous decade, I didn’t expect a change in the way that people would treat me after I went natural. However, I began to be subjected to ‘micro-aggressions’ in conversations where people would mean to compliment me on my “exotic” hairstyle, which as an occasional comment was fine, but would happen so frequently that by the end of a day I would feel ‘othered’ and constantly singled out as different and an outsider who didn’t belong. More damaging was my parents’ reaction to my new hairstyle which was of disapproval and shame, believing my hair to look “too African” and “ugly”, in denial of their cultural background and the lingering effects of colonialism on their self-hatred. Even more serious was that my personal space was frequently violated by complete strangers on the street, in shopping centres or at social events who would without asking for consent pat my head, run their fingers through my hair, or hug or embrace me while also touching my hair. In the first few weeks after changing my hair I felt dehumanised and reduced to an alien object on public display for Caucasian people’s amusement and whose consent was irrelevant.

That was the first time that I began to reflect on my relationship with my hair over my lifetime, how I had felt about it over the years, how people’s treatment of me changed with it, and how both I and others defined me by it. I began to see my hair as a site of resistance, where over the years I had fought myself, my mother and wider society for control over my body and on how I ‘should’ look. I began to understand why it was a site of such controversy, why hundreds of years of European colonialism has shaped what we deem as ‘beautiful’ and how that concept has never included my natural state. I questioned why my body was seen as a ‘public space’ that complete strangers had the right to comment on or touch without consent, and how that was compounded by the dehumanising way that this society views women’s bodies, people of colour, and fat people – all three of which were true of me. I began to realise that the very act of wearing my hair in its natural state was a political statement and a physical representation on my body of a “f*** you” message to a society that had warped my self-perception for most of my life. Most importantly, I accepted that I am not my hair and that I could define myself beyond just physical appearance and that how I wore my hair had nothing to do with how good a person I was or my potential as a human being.

Plus What?

By Caroline Baker

 

I used to have a favourite online clothes website to scroll through, it’s rather expensive so I’ve been telling myself I’ll keep patrolling the website for when I find the one piece that steals my heart, and then I’ll treat myself to it. While scrolling tonight I realised it wasn’t the price that deterred me from ever purchasing any of their merchandise. It was the fact that they never use a model over the size of a small. It’s quite obvious that the models are as you would call a ‘Skinny Minnie’. Photo after photo of tiny waisted girls in beautiful clothes made me self-conscious, something that I’ve never really felt before, as I’m quite comfortable with who I am.

So I decided to write an email to them explaining that they never used a ‘plus sized model’ in their photo shoots. It was heart-felt and passionate, and in no way spiteful to the company, simply explaining that a range of models could be an effortless way to make all girls comfortable with who they are.

And then, as I was writing the email, I was unpleasantly struck by the word ‘plus size’.

What does this mean? Who does this encompass? As a healthy size twelve was I now considered a ‘plus size’? And then there were even more questions, such as who on earth gets to decide what is the right/normal/average/acceptable/standard/regular/typical/ordinary/characterised and standardised size that a women, or anyone should be?

I’ve never been one for stereotypes or labels, but it seems that however hard I try to ignore them, society has already decided what and who I shall be.

Well, no, I won’t stand for it. I am not a plus size. Plus what?
Plus the extra guts to stand up and tell companies they should display a range of sizes in their advertisements.
Plus the extra little confidence all females should have to wear whatever they want and not believe they’re not part of the ‘ideal’ weight size that society has told them they must be.
Plus the little extra fire within me to say it on behalf of all the girls out there who should be proud of who they are.

Caroline is the Vice President of the Swinburne Students’ Union and is actively involved with their women’s department. You can ‘like’ the SSU here. If you’re a student at Swinburne you should join your democratically elected student union. 

Blue Stockings Week Dance!

Are you ready for Blue Stockings Dance? Or Blue Stockings?

We’re pretty excited because we’ve put a dance-o-mercial or dance lesson (to be boring) on youtube to teach y’all how to do the dance! You can learn it alone, with your collective or as a flash mob and record it and send it to us so we can cut it all together!

If you’re from Victoria you’ll have two exciting opportunities to do the dance with other people from around the state. First will be at the launch of Blue Stockings at Eagle Bar, La Trobe University Bundoora for the launch with Jane Garrett MP and Jeannie Rae, NTEU National President! Then on Friday the 10th at 10am on the steps of the state library on Swanston street in the city we will be flashing our stockings and dancing up a storm!

Are you ready for Blue Stockings?

Baby kings and ‘sluts’ – the danger of O-Camps, clubs and societies and unchecked power


The UWA O-Camps disclosure this week has lead to some serious questions regarding the roles and responsibilities of clubs and societies and student organisations in keeping women safe. If you’re not familiar with the events at UWA the Feminist Action Network (FAN) blogged yesterday for NUS Women’s and you can read it here.

The issue of women student’s safety in clubs and societies is something that the NUS Women’s Department has been concerned about many years. More recently, during O-Week at a Victorian University the department was approached with information about sexual assaults at student organisation run events and faculty club camps. The sexual assaults were of a serious nature but the women had chosen not to report them.

Following these disclosures the women’s department sought information from student organisation presidents about instances of harassment and assault at the events they run, the response was overwhelming. Almost every student organisation had at least one serious incident, almost every president wanted more information and resources.

It is important to note that these events and incidents do not occur in isolation, they occur as a result and a part of a culture which devalues women. Clubs and societies are just a microcosm of a wider societal values. Existing within these clubs are clear power differentials between those that run the clubs and new members, particularly first years.

These power differentials are even more pronounced on camps organised for first years during O-Week. Although it varies from university to university there is often very little oversight or training given to those who have an inordinate amount of power over others. People who run the camps take on the role of both leaders and peers, this gives them significant degrees of influence over those under their care. This power, coupled with the social isolation that can occur as a result of being seen as a ‘prude’ or a ‘chicken’ allows the leaders of the camps free reign over what sort of behavior is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.

Ignorance should not be misunderstood as maliciousness in these circumstances. Nor should all clubs be tarred with the same brush. The majority of young people charged with running clubs and societies do an excellent job and provide an important service. However, student organisations do need to do more to ensure that all clubs are required to undertake training. A continuing failure to do so is increasingly a failure in the duty of care student organisations have to their members- particularly in a post SSAF environment.  

There are obvious reasons that the way clubs operate don’t change, particularly the ways that toxic clubs don’t change. Those who refuse to participate or dislike the way clubs are run are unlikely to continue to be involved in clubs. If you had a heap of fun getting wasted and having sex at Arts camp, you’re going to organise Arts camp the same way when you’re in charge 

Before anyone jumps in and starts using this as an argument against the SSAF they need to take a moment to understand that not all clubs, o camps, o weeks and societies are like this. Not to mention that the solution comes within the organisation and who it affiliates to – NUS.

In conjunction with the South Eastern Center for Sexual Assault there will be a respectful relationships training designed especially for members of clubs and societies executives. This training, part of a wider resource called Safe Parties, Respectful Clubs and Societies, will be launched at NOWSA in July. This resource will not be a final step, it’s a beginning to be built upon within your student organisations to ensure that we can create a vibrant campus life that is accessible and safe for everyone to participate in.