so a small chunk of this country has achieved same sex marriage. but. it really is historic and significant, but. but it still isn’t for everyone. but the only peole who are excluded are people with a ‘legal gender’ of ‘x’, because even if it’s thoroughly problematic that everyone else is slapped with a ‘m’ or ‘f’, they are. is there even more than one person in this country who has achieved an ‘x’ so far? but even if only one person is excluded, it’s both unjust and insulting, the exclusion having been slapped on a previously inclusive bill at the last minute. hmm.
i wonder how many people will now run off to canberra to get married away from their family and friends. i’d think marriage was about celebrating with them, not getting a certificate, but at least three friends have announced their intentions on facebook already. hmm.
on the other hand, my concerns about success making the movement disappear have not eventuated. the progress towards obviousness is going to be so piecemeal, and so contested, that they’ll keep us fighting for years and years.
i’m glad that my friends who care about this development are happy. whatever happens, whatever it means for the rest of us and the country, if legal recognition makes you feel accepted or vindicated, or you plan to take up the opportunity to get legally married, then i wish you well.
this is my late night contemplation after the emotionally exhausting experience of a long day of election campaigning and an agm.
in other news, it’s raining. hopefully this extends to where it’s really needed.
update: i hear that same sex marriage has been established as something completely separate to ‘normal’ marriage – and if a married person transitions, their marriage is no longer valid and they’ll need a new one of the other sort. ‘different but equal’? ouch.
also, that there are indeed more people who already have a legal gender of ‘x’: some intersex people got shunted onto it by default. so despite all these changes, it seems that the concept of autonomy over one’s own identification is moving much slower than the details.
wow, looking at the comments on http://www.beautifulcervix.com , there is an awful lot of people out there who are completely unnecessarily terrified of their own bodies.
i can’t say i wasn’t one of them. when i first found my cervix, i was worried it was something that wasn’t supposed to be there, and i had nobody useful to ask. that was pretty scary.
what’s inside looks and feels nothing like those cross-section diagrams you get shown once in highschool, then are apparently supposed to remember throughout your life. the ones that show the vagina as something narrow and the cervix as a the end of the womb – nothing but another label, certainly nothing with a distinctive shape or behaviour.
from a quick look at this website, it seems that my embarrassing misunderstanding is very, very common.
at least i never suffered from the other thing that so many are panicking about – cervical fluid. i know i was told about periods, so i didn’t think i was dying when blood first came out. some people aren’t that lucky. maybe my mother mentioned the white stuff too, or maybe i just associated it with the right things myself.
think of the difference it makes to your life whether you had sex ed and that very basic knowledge that blood happens and is natural, or whether you didn’t get that and for years and decades you didn’t know what was happening to you and were afraid to ask.
now think of the difference it would make to your life if you had a useful education where you knew what your insides actually look and feel like – what’s healthy and what’s not, what comes out and when, and you never had to feel ashamed or terrified or ignorant of your own body, relying on (probably male) experts to tell you about it.
i remember talking with a friend about how we should make a zine of vaginas, because very few people who have their own ever see anyone else’s, to understand, to compare, to even know there are differences. it never happened, but something similar recently has.
honi soit, sydney uni’s student publication published a cover with pictures of vaginas on it. there was a big fuss and it was censored, but the cover went out, though there is a black rectangle covering the middle of each picture. the censored version can be found at http://www.honisoit.com/2013/08/honi-soit-week-4-semester-2-2013/ and is discussed by a participant at http://birdeemag.com/thats-my-vaginas-on-honi-soit/ . the uncensored version can be found at https://twitter.com/lucytheriveter/status/370006101078466562/photo/1 . yay for internet archives!
since then, there’s been more: vulvas on display at galleries and in a book: http://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/arts-and-entertainment/article/101-vaginas-display and http://www.101vagina.com/
unashamed depictions of menstrual blood in http://www.theardorous.com/portfolio/there-will-be-blood/
and even more amazingly, in the mainstream: http://www.dailylife.com.au/dl-people/american-apparel-is-selling-a-menstruating-vagina-shirt-20131008-2v51f.html
and the site that prompted this post: http://www.beautifulcervix.com/
edit: and there’s more! performance art on the theme: http://www.iamnotthebabysitter.com/vaginal-knitting/ , coffee table book: http://www.101vagina.com/ , sculpture: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/the-great-wall-of-vagina_n_4556309.html
niephling, nibling, niefling. no consensus yet, but people are working on it: a gender-neutral word for nieces and nephews.
we have parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. children and kids and offspring are not perfect but will do. now we need one for aunts and uncles – aurents has been suggested.
these words will not only make me more comfortable, but have the potential to lessen the gendering of the newest people in our gendered society, the ones people people still argue over, swearing that preferences for pink dolls or blue trucks are inherent because they start so early. of course they don’t start nearly as early as people start using the words niece and nephew for their niephlings.
of course good words will also make plurals much easier – and who wouldn’t want plural niephlings and aurents? they’re all potential and no responsibility (well maybe not, but it’s much less of an issue than whether you want to breed yourself). so everyone should get behind them!
stitch and bitch. sewing group. knitting circle. i’ve run them on and off for years. at first i was wary of the most popular name for such things, but over the years i was won over by its recognisability and openness – i don’t care if you knit or sew or crochet or tat or do something obscure like making friendship bracelets.
at QC 2012, i scheduled a stitch and bitch, and it was so popular that we ended up having three of them, and our crafting spilled joyously onto conference floor. however the women’s caucus took issue with the name and reprimanded me, with no right of reply.
this year we scheduled four sessions straight up. it wasn’t as novel as the year before, but there was still an impressive number of knitters on conference floor. i didn’t change the name, and there were no complaints. i thought about addressing the issue with the new caucus, but refrained.
over the year i’ve thought about the term, and i can’t find any reason i can credit, to not use it. surely ‘bitch’ is a sterling example of a word ready for reclamation. we can’t just get rid of it because it actually is a legitimate word in the english language, and even though it refers to dogs, it is very specifically gendered. the concrete implications of its initial meaning will not fade away, even if we try to exile it. all that does is make yet another feminine word bad and taboo.
if we embrace it, however, by accepting this positive usage that has evolved organically, we are associating a feminine word with something good, changing it from a word which attaches an unequivocably negative connotation to femaleness, to a word with mixed usage. after all, what could be more positive than the informal political learning and exchange of ideas encouraged when we come together as a group to share our communal love of fibre arts?
i know why we use this term, i understand it’s important to support groups of people who are discriminated against and put at a disadvantage. i understand that it’s just as important to catch all the various people who have experienced these things, and not just aim our support at the people who fit into groups big and obvious enough that we can name them. i understand that trying to list them all doesn’t work, even if we keep going, from women to trans women and trans men to genderqueer people and intersex people and sex and gender diverse people (let’s not get started on what it would mean for an individual to be diverse).
still, i’m anxious for the next change in terminology. a non-cis male is, gramatically, a male person who is not cisgendered. that’s about as good as arguing that the term ‘men’ includes everyone. you can insist… or you can look for something better.
i’ve been thoroughly enjoying the recent upswell of new words. mansplaining is one of the wonderful ones, an evocative package for a behaviour that has been allowed precisely because we didn’t have such a nice, concise, powerful word to call it out with.
it’s a valuable addition to the feminist arsenal, without the essentialism which makes so much of feminism difficult. it defines a behaviour attached to a performance of masculinity as a cultural category, rather than defining the actor themself.
however the first time i heard it, what i thought i heard was manspleening. and maybe i should’ve. for i’m much less likely to be subjected to a man telling me why i’m wrong about feminism than i am to hear one going on and on about how they have body image problems too and women rape too and why should unis have women’s officers and women’s rooms and affirmative action in general.
these rants bear no resemblance to explanations at all, and are a concrete step up from mansplaining in terms of aggression, selfish incoherent venting and, frankly, bullying.
and with all the usefulness of a spleen.
today i had another conversation about fear and safety. there have been quite a few recently, though mostly me just explaining my ideas without getting too much back in return. i began thinking about it when i started attending the usyd feminist discussion group, but it hasn’t come up as a topic yet. hopefully one day it will and i can hear others’ considered thoughts on the matter, too.
usually i only engage with feminism as an intersectionality. women and gender in queer. women and queer in atheism. but gendered narratives of fear and safety is a topic that is troubling me for myself. i started noticing it whenever i went hitchhiking. hitching is not a common practice these days and the default reply from anyone i tell is ‘oh you’re brave, i could never do that’. it comes from almost everyone, but especially women.
that’s case one: people accepting that there are limits to what they can do, and that these are forever fixed. more important, however, is case two: very few women ever stopped to pick me up. several have, but over the twenty thousand kms i’ve hitched, it’s a shockingly small number. of those who did, several expressed uncertainty over the decision, and some mentioned that they only stopped because i looked harmless and female – and even then they were conflicted and didn’t stop immediately, but stopped half way up the road or doubled back. rides with families were even rarer.
in the hitchhiking community itself, a gender divide is not so noticeable. i met more male than female hitchhikers, but not by much. only male hitchhikers have traveled a leg with me and only male travellers have agreed to try hitching with me, despite how interested everyone in a youth hostel tends to be. however hitchhikers are few and far between on the road and i can’t say i’ve met enough to be able to make judgements. maybe i’ll start talking to the people on hitching websites one day to get some answers. yet it stands to reason that the pattern would differ from the mainstream: hitchhikers are seen by many as extraordinary and outside the norm, and in some ways they are. surely a hitchhiker can’t possibly subscribe to the same normative concept as someone who feels the need of the trappings of modern security culture – walls and locks and laws.
when i was an undergraduate at my suburban university, living on campus was wonderful. i lived with five others in a little terrace, and while we locked our bedroom doors when we went out, we tended to leave the outside doors wide open. i could wander in and out, my friends could wander in and out, my housemate’s friends could wander in and out. it was idyllic.
however once we got intruders – two young guys with a big carving knife that may or may not have come from our own drying rack. 12.30am on a hot summer night, they broke into my room and demanded money.
we had been trying to build the place into independent cooperative student housing, since the uni wanted to be rid of its obligations, and i still believe that the outcome would’ve been better if we had.
back at tafe again
back at my parents’ again
feeling more female again
discovering old friends again
hearing my voice lifting again
talking to people who knew me as a child again
getting close to an old partner again
sorting through forgotten belongings and memories again
letting my hair get longer again
falling into old habits again
but it’s all as an adult, walking around in my old life with recontextualising adult feet. reconciling more aspects of myself, again.
it’s much better than it used to be.
when someone in the wider, straight world is homophobic, there’s a chance that they’ll eventually meet with a shock when their friend or family member comes out, and they’ll think and change their attitudes.
our own nice little enlightened communities are not always so much better than the rest – there are plenty of men who call themselves pro feminist but still act misogynistically or homophobically. not only men of course, but the category certainly makes a case in point. some of these people think they know everything, and are not about to rethink their attitudes and behaviours, because they’ve already pondered the world, and placed themselves above the rest. they have the correct vocabulary, and the argument skills to tell you they’re right, whatever the content.
they’re always around people who would make others think, but it’s like they’re immune. how does one impress on someone, who thinks themself perfect, that they actually aren’t?
i was at the frontline management course today. it was very interesting. after class yesterday sylvia and i had mentioned to the teacher that we didn’t appreciate the sexism that was coming out. today, we had to sit boy – girl – boy – girl around a u-shape. this was justified by a story about army dinners with her army husband, with the men getting up and moving down two places like a barn dance, to keep the ladies entertained.
then she got someone to keep time for ten minutes, in which none of the men were to speak. they couldn’t do it, with people starting to speak and being hushed, whistles, noise, and someone making a sign, with lots of antics to try to make people read it. the women meanwhile, got the fairly basic work done with a minimum of fuss, and i enjoyed the quiet immensely. the noise level in the room had been loud and constant.
then we had to switch. the noise level went back up, though not quite as high as before, and they discussed everything at rambling length, with plenty of not-quite on topic comments, and heaps and heaps of commentary on what the women were doing. if we looked at eachother we were communicating. hand gestures was not allowed, and got heckled. sylvia came in for lots of hassling, when she couldn’t reply. the work talked about anti discrimination and stereotypes, and i was not happy to be unable to contribute. there were lots of dubious comments and laughter, and one particular comment from a certain person sitting directly opposite me, about male florists and female mechanics, and how if there was an all-female auto mechanic business, it wouldn’t go well because noone would trust them. or something. i sat bolt upright and glared at him.
the third ten minutes, only the five most noisy people were allowed to speak. this included sylvia and the main offenders from the previous set. it continued largely as before, but sylvia could argue. she was unsupported however, so she couldn’t fight everything.
the fourth round those five had to stay silent. it was a farce; the sign holder had decided he had something that was worth saying, and we tried to shush him many times, but he refused to follow the rules. the rules we had all been following, which meant i had spent twenty minutes already forced to listen to his blather with no recourse. the other barred boys got in on the shushing, which was even worse. in the end, i raised my voice to approximate the total noise level we’d been having in the room, and commenced speaking, trying to shut him down by taking up all the verbal space. i had to go on and on, talking about how i would have to keep this up until someone else who was allowed to speak joined in, as that appeared to be the only way to keep others from assuming all the space. it worked a little, shutting him down, but everyone else decided that they had comments to make about this display. eventually the woman who was moderating that bit came to the party and opened her mouth, and asked me to read a passage. i dropped my voice down as low as i could considering i was shaking with adrenaline, and read. and then people listened!
many years ago, when i attended even more meetings than i do now, i was in one that was as noisy as usual. when katrina, the vice chair, dropped her voice to speak rather than raising it to compete, everyone stopped talking, leaned in and listened. i was amazed! i have always kept that in mind, and tried it a couple of times, but this was the first time it had worked.
at lunch time, i wanted to tell mr female-mechanics-are-ok-in-a-male-business that i don’t like his constant sexism. he actually approached me first, and it ended up as the two of us with the teacher for quite a while. he said he was using examples of prejudice to make a point; he didn’t mean anything against female mechanics. i told him that i appreciated that, but it wasn’t just the comment, it was the constant sexualised environment he was creating. i also talked about how examples have subtexts, and are read differently by different people, and his were fuelling the general environment in a way that i and other women were uncomfortable, and being prevented from talking as much as others. i didn’t say that if i were a female mechanic i would be delighted to work in an all-female company, and i think it would go very well indeed because there wouldn’t be a man for customers to view as better, and anyway there should be enough people who have trouble with male mechanics for us not to need the chauvenists. much was said, and i was very impressed by how he took it on and affirmed a commitment to do better on these issues, instead of belligerently repeating how it was all humourous, as i have been subjected to by so many people i’ve tried to explain things to. he was very quiet through lunch and all afternoon; i hope it was just lots of thinking. it would be very good if he becomes better on this, he acts like he is in charge wherever he is, and often enough it’s true. what’s more, i think he knows more about how to make things work at tafe than anyone else, and i hope to learn more from him.
interestingly, the one example of defensiveness in that exchange actually came from the teacher. i was explaining that i was a little uncomfortable with the heterocentricity of the environment, with a touch too many examples and questions about husbands and wives and children, and not enough talk about tafe student associations. and too much talk about restaurants, thanks to one person – but we all knew that! she acted a touch offended, saying, many times, that she didn’t realise her examples were a problem, they were just from her life. she took it like an attack on her, not a comment on the whole classroom and something to be aware of. after lunch she apologised beforehand for every comment she made that was personal. maybe she took half the point, but at least half was missed.
eventually we joined the others for lunch. i was much happy birthdayed, and my lunch was payed for. several people also came up to me and asked if i was ok, if i was very upset. it was because i had raised my voice. it was unexpected, from me, and lots of people thought it meant i was very upset. i had been a little upset, but that wasn’t the point! they hadn’t listened to the content, just the volume. is this always the case? the sign writer seems to have been leaned on to apologise, as he did, gracelessly; demanding to know if he had upset me, then cutting me off with his ‘well sorry if i did’. twice.
the afternoon was more subdued, between silence in one corner and apologies from the front (for herself and her examples, while she was talking about assertive behaviour no less) but possibly productive.