What if all books were given a chick-lit makeover?

This Blog Originally appeared on Lip Magazine:

(http://lipmag.com/arts/books-arts/what-if-all-book-covers-were-given-a-chick-lit-makeover/)
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As an aspiring Lady Writer (or as feminist writer, Inga Muscio, provocatively calls herself, a ‘Word C*nt’), I was intrigued by author, Maureen Johnson’s Twitter project for her followers to ‘Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes, imagining they have been reclassified as by and for women.’ Johnson’s project, ‘Coverflip,’ shows us how there is a socially constructed perception of lower quality of books written by and for women in mainstream Western culture and this is predominantly established through the gendered framing of a book’s cover.

It is almost comical just how effective Coverflip is in demonstrating the “girl-ification” of adult women’s novels regardless of their actual style and plot. By redesigning the covers of typically masculine crime, thriller and action novels, using pastel colours, romantic airbrushed images and squiggley font, the first impression of the novel’s content and quality dramatically changes. My personal favourite was the redesigned Game of Thrones cover that makes it look like a kids’ adventure tale, full of magic, friendship and wonder.

Speaking of magic, J.K Rowling, a lady writer, decided to go with the gender-neutral initials rather than her first name in fear that if a woman’s name was plastered all across her books, young boys would think theHarry Potter series were “girl books” (the horror!) deterring them from reading the novels. She’s now one of the most successful authors of all time, ever. Would she have got to that point had she remained Joanne? Rowling is just one in a long line of writers who have masked their identity as women behind pseudonyms or acronyms to ensure the success of their work. The Bronte sisters. “George Elliot.” “Miles Franklin.” All indications of how gender (read: femininity) just gets in the way of being a great artist and writer.

The Coverflip project not only shows how women’s literature has been perceived of as having less cultural value, but it also demonstrates how men are disadvantaged by the gendering of book covers too. We unfortunately live in a culture were great social stigma is placed on men and boys if they were to appear in public, perhaps on a train, with a lovely pink copy of Pride and Prejudice. However, no one would bat and eyelid if they saw a woman reading The Iliad. ImageEarlier this year, Penguin released its usually orange classics (you know the ones, they’re toted by every hipster from Fitzroy to Portland,) in pink to support the McGrath Foundation. However, it was only the typically feminine books that where included in this release.The Communist Manifesto was not included. Nor was Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Yet Jane EyreA Room of One’s Own and Pride and Prejudice were pretty in pink. This indicates how books “For Men” are constructed as gender-neutral, whereas books “For Women” are exclusively for women and women only, regardless of the importance and universality of their themes, messages and ideas.

I once discussed Jane Eyre with a hegemonic “Literary Bloke,” as Johnson would say, and his view was that ‘you’ve kinda got to be a chick to get into that love stuff, ya know?’ No, I don’t know. Men fall in love and feel emotions as much and in as complex ways as women do. It is an age-old, stale stereotype to always associate romance with women and femininity. Moreover, women are forced to identify with male protagonists all the time in their reading of The Great Canon of English Literature and we seem to get on fine, so why shouldn’t men be able to appreciate and identify with Kathy’s undying love for Heathcliff?

This feminization of romance as a genre also becomes a problem for women writers who have written works that are not even romantic, however because they are women, this is the way they are presented and sold. The best example of this is the recent 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jarwhich angered some (myself included) in its reduction of a valuable and powerful work of literature to what appears to be a fluffy, romantic and substance-less chick-lit giggle. 

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I had a similar reaction to a recent edition of Erica Jong’s Fear Of Flying

which depicts a pretty cartoon woman blowing a dandelion fairy with glossy lips, which has no relevance to the plot or themes whatsoever. This is not to say that “chick-lit” is not of value, just that there is a clear, gendered discrepancy in how men’s and women’s experiences and subjectivities are presented and valued in mainstream literature, where women’s voices are positioned as whimsical and chatty, if heard at all.

Woohoo WoHo!

Laura and I hosted a zine making workshop last weekend! Here are her reflections on this experience. ❤

the cup thief

Woho

So WoHo happened last Friday night, and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!

Twelve women gathered together to share lollies, sushi and creative times, each creating a page (or two!) to add to the collaborative Women in Hobart Zine.

I really did feel a sense of community, purpose and connection in the room. And the venue!! The Craft Hive is the most beautiful place, so safe and cosy! And central!

I can’t wait to put it all together and mail it out to the participants with some extra goodies!

In the meantime I’ll be adding more photos as they are received.

The Craft Hive!

Lovely ladies gettin' creative!A big THANK YOU to my lovely friend Ruby for helping and hosting and generally being awesome at facilitating the workshop! I’m feeling inspired all over again from thinking about the fantastic pages everyone created.

In happiness

Laura

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Ten Greatest Songs To (Not) Clean The House To

(http://www.mamamia.com.au/entertainment/songs-to-clean-the-house-to/)

Maybe I’m getting a bit too radical feminist-y. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Germaine Greer, Sandra Bartky, Inga Muscio and SCUM Manifesto. Maybe the patriarchy shit sucks a bit more than usual. Maybe I’m being hysterical. Maybe I’m on my rags and should just calm the fuck down and have some chocolate and cry about the fact that Hanna and Adam were So Totally Perfect For Each Otherrrrr!
But.
I take issue with a seemingly feminist leaning blog page, Mammamia, putting up a ‘greatest songs to clean the house to’ play list. Sure, women still do the majority of unpaid domestic labour, but let’s not perpetuate that shit by making it fun! I dunno. Maybe I’m just being politically naïve and idealistic when I think we should boycott all of that mumsy “I enjoy cleaning once I put on some cute indie pop rock!” post-feminist lets all have it all bullshit. So this is my counter play-list of kick arse songs to NOT clean the house to.
Enjoy.

Caught Out There – Kelis
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3JFwd1bk4Q)

Yeah, I know, When you think Kelis you think Milkshake, don’t you? BUT in this she kicks some serious arse (1:22). I especially like the parade of angry women marching through suburbia against all their low-life, cheating bastard boyfriend/husbands. Perfect break up song for the modern angry feminist. Perfect song to NOT do the vacuuming to.

212 – Azelia Banks
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3Jv9fNPjgk)
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Ugly Boy – Skunk Anansie
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP4EKhcuBCg)
Another angry girl song from an awesome, underrated kick arse band! This film clip is also really well done. Sexy and violent. It’s also dancey, so you can jump on furniture if you so wish. (Other songs by Skunk Anansie that are worth a listen are ‘Intellectualise My Blackness’ and ‘I Can Dream.’

Can’t Hold Us Down – Christina Aguilera
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg8QgUIKXHw)
This one is a bit of a blast from the past for me. You know how people love the 80’s? I think I love the 00’s. With some cool similarities to Kelis’ earlier clip, Ladies Rise Up!

Sheela Na Gig – PJ Harvey
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nojeYbBpbeU)
Look At These My Ruby Red Ruby Lips ❤

Round Round – Sugababes
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHh86ySgKrA)
I bet you thought a radical angry feminist wouldn’t put this on an Anti-Housework play list, didn’t you? Refer to this: (http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2003/01/whatever_happened_to_sisterhood)

So What – Pink
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJfFZqTlWrQ)
Pink is Badass and a self proclaimed ‘Reformed Slut’ and I think that’s cool.
(http://lipmag.com/culture/in-brief-pink-declares-herself-a-reformed-slut/)
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Bang – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PhwhcoM3nQ)
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Oasis – Amanda Palmer
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C17yfGyJjM)
I love Amanda PalmerImage

Doll Parts – Hole
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD9xK9smth4)
In this book called “Why You’re Not Married Yet” there was a section called ‘You’re Crazy’ and it says that if you often reveal your ‘inner Courtney Love’ men are going to be turned off big time and you’re going to grow old and die alone in a puddle of cats. Well, I think unleashing your Inner Courtney Love sounds like fun! Why not be crazy!
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I Want To Be The Girl With The Most Cake.

‘Teaching Out Gender’: The Uncertain Future of Gender Studies Programs in Australian Universities

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com 
(http://lipmag.com/culture/teaching-out-gender-the-uncertain-future-of-gender-studies-programs-in-australian-universities/)

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This week is Bluestocking Week (http://nuswomens.wordpress.com/campaigns/blue-stockings-week/), a week of festivities held to recognize and celebrate the participation and achievements of women in higher education. Much of the progress made by and for women in terms of access to a university education can be attributed to the birth of women’s studies in the late 1960s-1970s, which actively carved out a space for women within the previously male domain of academia. Since then, academic women have been demanding to be taken seriously, regardless of their field, some to greater avail than others.

Recently the University of Queensland announced that as of 2014, gender studies would no longer be available as a major. This comes as disheartening news in light of the announcement that Australian universities will undergo serious funding cuts in order to facilitate the Gillard Labor government’s proposed education reforms. According to Fred D’Agostino, the executive dean of arts at UQ, the decision to cut gender studies was due to ‘low demand for the major.’ In times of budget cuts and school structure reforms, it is the small disciplines like gender studies that are the first to go. The discontinuation of these smaller, yet no less important, areas of study clearly indicate which kinds of knowledge and expertise are valued in our society.

I am in my final year of a gender studies major at the University of Tasmania. When I tell people I am majoring in gender studies I am usually met with confusion or belittling amusement. ‘You’re not one of those man-hating feminists are you?!’ ‘Men are discriminated against TOO, you know?’ ‘But what are you going to do with your life REALLY?’ These are just some of the reactions that have lead me to sometimes just say I’m majoring in sociology to make it less confronting and easier for people to understand and accept. But this is not ok. I’m proud of my degree and believe it has legitimate and intrinsic value. Studying gender has changed the way I think about and experience the world, it has changed my relationships and it has changed my life. If that is the result after just a few years of undergraduate study, imagine what it could do for more people if it were more widely accepted and respected as a discipline.

At UQ the gender studies program is now being ‘taught out’ as a separate discipline, but aspects of gender studies will still be taught through other subjects and these could be used to complete a gender studies major. However, there are problems for students who wish to pursue honours in gender studies, which has not been offered at UQ since 2005, causing students to have to move interstate if they wish to do honours in gender. At UTAS I have experienced these kinds of problems first hand in that the gender studies department is so small that majoring in the subject is difficult in terms of gaining the requisite number of units to complete a major. Downsizing and school restructures have caused me to have to scrape together units from other disciplines like sociology just to complete the course I want to specialize in.

Next year I will be doing honours in sociology because I am concerned that the honours program for gender will not get me where I need to go. According to Professor Carol Ferrier at UQ ‘up to a third of the research higher degree thesis students are doing topics in the area of gender or women’s studies in many parts of UQ, especially humanities and social sciences.’ This indicates that the relevance of gender relations in society and the demand for gender as a subject is not low. When a subject is perceived as poorly facilitated, lacking in choice and devoid of opportunities, enrollments will decline. In first year I changed my major from philosophy to gender studies because I could not live with the fear of graduating from an abstract degree with little clear job prospects or relevance to every day life. (I also couldn’t stand the overrepresentation of cocky 19-year-old undergrad boys who studied Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche and thought their own opinions were the best thing since, well, Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche).

Most people think that gender studies, like philosophy, has no tangible job outcomes and people like me are just wasting time getting angry about “The Patriarchy,” eating organic trail mix and analyzing the gendered aspects of Girls. I believe that although jobs are important, a university education should be about much more than getting a bit of paper and slotting into a job at the end of it all. It should be about enriching your mind, your sense of self and your understanding of the world around you. Similarly, Professor Ferrier argued that gender studies ‘should be maintained on the basis of the distinctive contribution made by such programs to intellectual and social life, and human progress, in the past, the present and the future.’

I am concerned for the future of gender studies programs, not just in my own university, but also in universities all across Australia. The discontinuation of gender studies programs is ominous at a time when we need in-depth studies in gender the most.  As we are living in times where we need to be more compassionate to others and more thoughtful about the world in which we live, we need disciplines like gender studies for us to be able to see the way into, what at times can seem like, a dark future ahead.

Masterchef 2013 Whips Up A Steaming Hot Serve Of Sexism

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com 
(http://lipmag.com/culture/masterchef-2013-whips-up-a-serve-of-steaming-hot-sexism/)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bNLX4VymO4&feature=player_embedded

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MasterChef Australia released a promotional video for its new season that has caused uproar among fans due to its blatant gender stereotyping. The 2013 season is set to play out in an old-school “battle of the sexes” format. How original. The clip is awash with pink, blue and heteronormativity. Not only is it sexist against women, playing on traditional ’50s house-wife stereotypes, but it is also sexist against men, depicting them as barbequing, knife-wielding, flanny-wearing beef-cake. The set looks like a ’50s game show. There’s even women pushing pink shopping trolleys and men with comical blue barbeques, all underscored by cutesy jazz music. And of course there are cup cakes. So many cup cakes. The latest symbol of kitsch consumer capitalist hyper-femininity (http://jezebel.com/fuck-cupcakes-475125988).

The video not only oozes gender essentialist barbie-ken dichotomies, but it also places labels on the contestants within this gender binarism. There’s ‘The ’50s Housewife,’ ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ and ‘The Tiger Mum’ to name a few. The either/or mentality of the clip is reinforced by back and forth ridiculous claims about men and women from the opposing side, the kinds of sexist generalisations that would probably get you in a bit of trouble with the HR department if you made any of these statements in the workplace. The clip opens with ‘The 50’s Housewife,’ an attractive late 20s/early 30s lady, claiming that ‘the average woman cooks a thousand meals a year. Men can’t compete with that!’ I just did a little bit of math and 1000 meals a year is 2.7 meals a day. Sure, 44% of the Australian population live in couple families with children (http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/0), however the rates of childless-ness and living alone are rising. And therefore so are the rates of Mi Goreng consumption. The use of “average” here seems to not only represent that, statistically, a large number of women do the majority of unpaid household labour which includes cooking, but that “normal” women do the majority of unpaid household labour. And love it. Excuse me while I get my husband’s slippers. Next, ‘The Cattle Rancher,’ a generic Aussie bloke in a blue flanny points out that ‘if you look at all the top chefs in the world they have one thing in common: they’re all men.’ Thanks for that, buddy. Just drum in the point that while women do the majority of unpaid household labour, including cooking 2.7 meals a day, they’re not quite up to scratch to get paid for it, or for it to be culturally valued.

The women also make scathing remarks about men, perpetuating stereotypes that position men as childlike incapable buffoons. ‘Men are a one trick pony: they have one dish they’re good at, and that’s it’ says ‘The Tough Cookie.’ My word processor is already telling me that the grammar of that sentence is wrong and it doesn’t have a bachelor degree in women’s studies. Neither men nor women are a homogenous group that can be generalised about in this way. Sure, my housemate loves to fry himself up a chicken schnitzel every day, however my dad cooked multiple and complex meals every night of the week throughout my childhood. Diversity, people!

At least by the end of the clip, I get to have the cathartic experience of watching a cake get squashed into the face of judge and host Garry Mehigan. In that moment if I take off my glasses and squint really hard I can almost imagine it’s me smashing the patriarchy, burning a flanny or stomping a cupcake under a heavy Doc Marten boot. 

The Spoils of War: ANZAC Day, war and the military rape of women

This article originally appeared on lipmag.com
(http://lipmag.com/opinion/the-spoils-of-war-anzac-day-war-and-the-military-rape-of-women/)

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On ANZAC day it seems pertinent to point out that this is a tradition that exemplifies the masculine aspect of Australian culture and history.  In high school, my sociology/psychology teacher enacted a social thought experiment, asking us to draw a picture of our conceptualisation of “A Quintessential Australian”. In a class of thirty young adults I was the only person to depict my Australian as a woman. People drew bushrangers, swagmen, male indigenous Australians (in terrible tribal stereotypes), surfers, “bogans” and other stereotypical depictions of the Aussie Bloke archetype. This is Australia. This is Australian culture. Although around 51% of the population is female/woman-identified, Australian cultural past times exude a male ethos. The central values of “Australian-ness” are concepts of the “Fair Go” (as long as you’re a white Aussie bloke who likes sheilas) and “Mateship” (Maaaaaate!). These are all stereotypes which may not be as relevant today, however, come Australia Day or ANZAC Day, these old generalisations bubble up from the cultural-historical ooze, along with the Southern Cross symbology, Australian flag thongs, cork hats and other articulations of patriotism.

Throughout my public school primary education nearly every year from as soon as we could read and write, we were taught about Australian history and culture, even if it was as basic as colouring in a flag, a map or a vegemite label. We had ANZAC and Remembrance Day observations in which the minute silence, for a hyperactive tomboy 8 year old, seemed like the agony of war itself. Through all this I didn’t learn much at all about women’s place in Australian history apart from the fact that it was women, like my grandma, who baked Anzac cookies which were sent to soldiers in the war.

When we commemorate soldiers as the fallen heroes of war, though a legitimate and necessary practice, it is largely forgotten that women are also major victims of war. In 1998 at a conference in El Salvador, Hilary Clinton said that:
‘Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising children’. My grandfather died from a heart attack caused by the mental illness he developed from his experiences serving in the navy during the Second World War. When my grandfather died my dad was only sixteen. My grandma was left a widow, never re-marrying. The effects upon the experiences, emotional structure and individual subjectivities of my dad’s side of the family have been profoundly shaped to this day by what happened to my grandfather. However, it was my grandma who pulled everyone together.

War has the most tragic impact upon women in that throughout history military conquest has been almost inseparable from mass rape. Saint Augustine stated that rape in war is an ‘ancient and customary evil.’ When a military body invades another nation it seems to go without saying that the women of the attacked culture will be raped. Rape and Pillage, since the dawn of civilisation, from the Vikings to US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the UN Security Council described rape as a strategic ‘weapon of war,’ and that it is. Women’s bodies symbolise the culture of a civilisation, and by their literal penetration and defilement, an attacking force symbolically infiltrates the attacked nation causing not only individual trauma for women raped, but widespread social despair.

In the 1970s-80s women controversially demonstrated on ANZAC day to raise awareness of the impact of war rape on women. These protests were met with scorn from RSLs and authorities, claiming that feminists were sullying the honour of Our Nation’s Heroes. When we use the words “Lest We Forget” we must use them to include not only men who fought for our country, but also the women everywhere throughout history, long before Gallipoli, who have fallen prey to war, which Jocelynne Scutt describes as ‘a madness of a particularly male kind.’ 

Abortion Debates From Australia’s Deep South

This article originally appeared on Lipmag.com 
(http://lipmag.com/opinion/abortion-debates-from-australias-deep-south-tasmanias-battle-over-reproductive-rights/)

ImageLike countless other young women, the “war on women” during the 2012 American presidential election campaign was a shock to my system. It can seem so easy to take our rights for granted in a time and culture where postfeminist discourses tell us that we can “have it all,” where Beyonce’s power-femininity dominates the all-American-male past time of the super bowl, whilst here in Australia we have women in some of the highest echelons of political power. As Gen Y’s we have grown up amidst a sense of girl-power, freedom and mobility as women. However, moral and political debates on abortion rights bring me back to earth in the stark realisation that in some areas of privileged, democratic and “egalitarian” Western societies, women still do not have full reproductive rights, and the road ahead is a steep and rough climb.

Access to safe and legal abortions has been a long-standing goal of feminist movements internationally since the early days of Women’s Lib. The issue is fraught with political, moral and religious discourse, producing highly emotional responses. The termination of pregnancy symbolises death, the opposite of life, in a Christian-influenced culture where birth and motherhood have been consecrated and valorised as ideal functions of femininity. Although pregnancy is an internal state within an individual woman’s body, it becomes a social and political issue when a pregnancy is unwanted and zygotes are personified as human. Individuals who have never had to face the reality of an unwanted pregnancy, the hollow feeling of having something inside your own body that could threaten your social, economic, physical and mental wellbeing, are quick to label the choice to terminate pregnancy as “selfish” or “cruel.” Such sentiments arise in a culture that values feminine self-sacrifice over individual women’s subjectivities and what they can contribute to the world in and of themselves.

I have always associated heated and concerning debates on women’s reproductive rights with American republican politics. I have felt secure in thinking that misogynous religious fervour is something that happens in the Deep South, but not here, not in Australia. Recent events in my home state of Tasmania have caused me to rethink my naivety. 

The Tasmanian minister for health, Michelle O’Byrne, has recently proposed changes to abortion law endeavouring to make abortions legal and supported under the public health system. In Tasmania, abortions are the only medical procedures that remain under the criminal act, making access difficult and stigmatising for many women. The public response against the proposed Reproductive Health (access to terminations) Bill has been alarming. Full-page anti-abortion advertisements funded by conservative church groups have been rife in local newspapers, many of them shaming women who choose abortions. A (predominantly male) group of church leaders have banded together to oppose the apparent ‘Culture of Death’ new abortion laws, along with proposed euthanasia, same-sex marriage and same-sex adoptive parenting rights reforms would bring to Tasmania.

This is nothing new or very shocking, and these groups have the right to protest their views as much as pro-choice groups do. However, there has been public uproar over an anti-abortion protest staged in the last week by primary school children from religious schools, supported by school officials and affiliated religious groups. Amidst this silent protest were girls as young as nine holding placards with slogans such as ‘Abortion Is Murder’ and ‘Protect Unborn Children.’

This shocking display of religious indoctrination particularly upset me in that these girls will grow up to be young women who may one day be faced with an unexpected pregnancy. As is the case with purity balls, abstinence and the general glorification of virginity, a young woman faced with an unexpected pregnancy who is situated within such an ideology would experience intense stigma and shame that is unhealthy and cruel and may result in self harm or the seeking of a back yard abortion which could severely threaten her health and even her life. This would perpetuate more of a “culture of death” than allowing women equal, legitimate access to safe and legal abortions under the public health system in Tasmania.