Category Archives: Editorial

Pride & Privilege: Why white men don’t need a parade.

“The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsive.” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays.

Apparently, all men are created equal.

Some old dead white guy said that once, or something close to it at least. Which is typical. Of course he’d think so, he’s an old white guy. One may even strive to say that all people are created equally, but that was a bit before women could, like, vote and stuff, so Tommy Jeff was probably just being realistic and true to the era.

Perhaps there’s some poetic truth to that statement. It’s nice to think that everyone on this earth is equal to everyone else at their core. We’re all human, we all bleed red, right?

But actually, we just really aren’t. We are not all equal and we never have been, we probably never will be. We are certainly not all treated equally and we are not all born into the same circumstances.

In America, they tell their school children that any of them can grow up to be the President of the United States one day. But before 2008, that was really only a theory. The people who grew up and became president were white, male, reasonably affluent, and openly (if not actually) heterosexual.

Of course, we liberals hailed the election of Barack Obama as a time of true change, that yes, a person of colour could be elected to the highest position in the land. The leader of the free world could be a biracial man born to an unwed teenage mother. It was Change and Hope and really great marketing and it was beautiful.

But he’s one anomaly in a long line of rich old white dudes who have held that office. He’s the exception, not the rule. It is progress, but one black president after a litany of white ones is not equality and it is certainly not justice.

Most people have some privilege. For one reason or another we value some people more than others because of an accident, a circumstance of their birth that they have no control over. Be it a Y chromosome, a lack of melanin pigment in the skin or an inherent attraction the sex opposite your own, your life will be just that bit easier because of it. It is what it is, society is weird. Life isn’t fair. But the problem occurs when we fail to recognise and accept the fact that inequality exists.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen a white person get upset when someone tells them you can’t be racist towards white people.

“NO! Racism is totally all the rage right now, and I WILL be included as a victim of it! REVERSE RACISM!!” they type furiously on social media.

It’s not strictly true that white people can’t have racist words thrown at them, though let’s be honest, when has a white person ever flinched at being called a ‘cracker’? It’s just so incredibly benign. There’s no history to back the word up, to make it painful.

Yes, technically, according to the dictionary definition anyone can experience racism. Oxford defines racism as, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race, based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

But here’s the thing about dictionaries: they don’t understand the human condition.

What is perhaps more correct, is to say that white people are not truly affected by the experience of racism in the Western world. White, heterosexual males may individually have struggles in their lives but they aren’t marginalised by society. No one looks at a white guy and thinks twice about whether or not he’s right for the job, or might be about to steal that nice car over there based on his skin colour or gender alone. He’s not right for the job because he lacks the experience or someone else is more qualified. He’s a possible car thief because he’s been standing around that car for a while and looks jumpy. But it’s not because he’s a white man.

White men are judged on their merits and aptitudes and benefit from simply being male and white. People of colour don’t have that luxury, nor do gay people, trans people, women, disabled people (intellectually and physically) or people of a lower socio economic class or religious minority ie. Muslims. White, hetero, upper middle class, cis gendered, privately educated, able bodied males and frankly any mix of these circumstances hold privilege and they have advantages from birth that others never will.

“But I can’t help that I’m A, B and C and not X, Y and Z! Why are you bullying me, I can’t do anything about my privilege! And why don’t straight white men like me get a special day and a parade?!” said that one guy that doesn’t ever get it.

Every day is your day, white hetero male. Every damn day from the beginning of time has been your special day.

If you don’t want to be that guy then all you need to do is recognise your circumstances and maybe have some humility about it. Take responsibility for recognising what you have and not apologising for it, but understanding that your life will be easier than someone else’s for no reason other than the circumstances of your birth. Accept your privilege and understand that you lucked out. If you want, strive to close the gap by being decent and empathetic. You can’t change the world on your own but you have the power to reflect inwardly and start by looking at yourself when someone reacts to your actions negatively.

For example, when you’re a white guy, and a woman doesn’t seem to appreciate you opening the door for her, don’t turn around and call her a dumb feminazi bitch for rejecting your swarthy chivalry. Firstly, you should never use the term feminazi as it was popularised and perhaps coined by Rush Lambaugh, and you are better than that. Then, once you’ve erased that word from your vocabulary, keep in mind that all women are not a collective swarm of likeminded beasts, we are individuals and will react to situations differently. Women are complicated, because people are complicated and women are people.

Now, think about why you opened the door for her and take gender out of the equation.

If you opened the door for a stranger because she was struggling with a heavy bunch of boxes then you have nothing to worry about. You probably got a smile and a thank you. You treated her like a human, that action is genderless. A human was struggling and needed assistance. It’s a nice thing to do. Bravo, pat on the back for you.

If you opened that door for a woman you don’t know at all who is not encumbered with obstacles, and appears completely capable of opening said door themselves but you feel it necessary to step in anyway because she’s a woman, that is sexist. Maybe you didn’t even think about it and you meant no offence, but she can’t read your mind any more than you can read hers.

To her, your actions said: Hey little lady, allow me, a big strong capable male stranger, to assist you with a task as simple as opening a door because I don’t think you can manage it even though your hands are free and you are completely able bodied, you adorable little thing, you. Perhaps not those exact words, because as I said, we’re all different, but it’s definitely an option.

Maybe you’re a good, decent, non sexist guy but this woman perceived you differently because of her experiences. Maybe she was not flattered by your attempts at chivalry because in her lifetime, men have always treated her as incapable of simple tasks. A life that might include a time before the mere concept of equal pay for equal work was established (1972)* and when rape within marriage was still legal (pre-1976)*. Things that you as a white male have never had to think about due to your privilege, your lucky accident. She’s not treating you with contempt for holding a door open, you just reminded her of a different time, a time that treated her with contempt because of her gender.

Or, consider that it’s not even about you. Maybe she’s had a shitty day and doesn’t feel like throwing you a fucking parade because all you did was open a goddamn door.

And that’s fine, you don’t need a parade, because life is your parade.

*Stats relate to Australia.

Advertisements

My Pursuit of Happiness: Living with Depression

by Tara Beckett.

I love New York City… because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.

– Lewis Black

Image
Central Park, New York, NY Autumn 2012. Photo by Tara Beckett.

This past July I found myself sitting in a small doctor’s office in Melbourne. There was a  woman not too much older than myself sitting patiently in the chair opposite mine as I stared at the ceiling. I was trying to remember the last time I felt truly happy without the assistance of hallucinogenic drugs. As she waited for my answer, my mind scrolled back to the previous year.

“I think… New York. I was happy in New York,” I said, finally, and she smiled knowingly.

One of my favourite things is Central Park in the autumn. Of course, that’s the only time of year I’ve ever seen Central Park, but I stand by it.

A full year ago I was walking the twisting pathways alone, rugged up in a thick coat, the cool Manhattan air biting my cheeks and nose as my boots crunched through crisp auburn leaves. I was looking for the Bethesda fountain but in no real rush, taking the odd photograph along the way.

I didn’t bring many photos back with me from my month in New York. I preferred to stroll the streets and avenues like a native, stopping as little as possible so as to not paint myself as a tourist. My favourite snaps aren’t on paper (or Facebook); they’re little flashbulb memories, locked up inside my mind and triggered by the simplest things.

Last week, I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I was transported back to the first time I saw it. It was nighttime in an old cinema in Lower Manhattan and the film moved me so incredibly that when it ended I hailed a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. I needed to see the city immediately, all of it, and so I found the best view I could think of.

Alone, on top of a building, a world away from my home and all my family and friends, was the last time I could remember feeling happy. I felt so free. It was freedom from any judgment or expectations; freedom from my life.

I often muse about what it would be like if I died. How would people react? Would they go to my funeral? Would they mourn?

My doctor – my psychiatrist – says it’s very common and natural for people to think about their deaths and mortality. It only becomes dangerous when you begin to make plans. I’m inclined to believe her, and I want to make it clear that I don’t make plans. I never did, but I did occasionally wonder what it’d be like if it was all over, to peacefully slip away into nothingness.

When I first started seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t want anyone to know. I saw it as a weakness, and I was in pretty deep denial about my mental health. I thought it was perfectly normal to sleep days away, and spend an entire weekend in bed. I’d stop eating regularly and I wouldn’t shower for days at a time. My hair started falling out and my nails were brittle. But I still held down a job and paid my rent on time and had a bounty of people I called friends around me so I thought I was fine.

But you can only keep up appearances for so long.

I’d gone from this huge high of living my greatest dream and visiting New York, seeing far too many musicals, meeting incredible people including some I admired, like Matt Doyle. It’s okay, I know you don’t know who he is, but he’s amazing and he said I was sweet so it doesn’t matter.

My return to Melbourne brought with it a crash of reality. I quit my retail job two weeks after landing home because I couldn’t stand it. (I don’t know if you’d heard, but I had just been in New York, you guys).

My plan was to get an office job, work full time and pay off my ridiculous post-holiday credit card debt (maybe the $500 cut and colour at the Warren Tricomi Plaza salon was overkill) and then get straight back to New York for Christmas 2013.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I wallowed in unemployment for six months, a string of knock-backs and unsuccessful interviews. I was struggling and living week-to-week, too proud and too stubborn to move back in with my parents. Too afraid of what people would say if my postcode slipped back to the decidedly unimpressive outer-eastern suburbs of my upbringing. Too afraid of being a failure. Too busy keeping up appearances to realise I was drowning in debt and despair.

On a friend’s sage advice, I conceded to getting a psych referral from my GP.

I hated it. I cried from shame and defeat, seeing a psychiatrist meant I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it on my own anymore, to hide it from everyone. My psychiatrist quickly diagnosed that I’d been battling depression and anxiety on my own for several years.

Every day is different. Sometimes I have good days where I love my life and I feel wonderful to be here. Some days are bad and I get lost in nostalgia and melancholy of easier times. But I can usually get out of bed now.

I know that therapy is the best thing I have ever done for myself and as I started to talk about it more openly, I realised how many of my friends were in therapy or had been thinking about seeing someone. It’s not something to be ashamed of and I implore just about everyone to try it.

I’ve mentioned my diagnosis before on social media, but deleted a post after a dear friend voiced his concern that others may “take it the wrong way” and think I was looking for attention. The opposite is true. I think it’s important to have a discussion about mental health, not deny like I did. It doesn’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist, it just gets worse.

I have grown so much as a person over the last five months, and I’m proud of my progress. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think of better days, those New York days I crave so much. This last month hasn’t been easy for me, as it’s the first anniversary of my trip. It’s difficult to explain how much that time, that freedom, meant to me. I have felt happiness since then, but it definitely hasn’t been in the same league as that gorgeous city skyline.

There are people who don’t realise how much I’ve changed this past year. They still expect a litany of wisecracks that I just can’t muster anymore. My life is different now, it’s better, and they don’t really know me anymore. They may roll their eyes and tell me to move on, but how can I move on from happiness? I can’t, I have to savour every drop. I’m tired of putting on a performance for them.

I am a person who lives with depression. I’m not afraid anymore.

#RIP Feminism?

by Tara Beckett

I love twitter. It’s just the right combination of serious news and semi-anonymous snark rolled up to make a pleasantly humourous cocoon of witty and bizarre entertainment. It’s also free, which is always a plus, because I hate having to pay for my daily dose social commentary (stop the threats, gullible Facebook users).

Having sung its praises, I fear that I must now highlight twitter’s downfall: there’s a lot of stupid out there and it’s having its voice heard. I weep for the future.

Sure, there’s funny, sometimes meme-creating stupid like 18-year-old American, Kristen Neel’s tweet that went viral, claiming that if Obama was re-elected she’d move to Australia because “their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says”. Of course, Australia’s Prime Minister is both female and a professed atheist so obviously the rest of the world laughed at the stupid American being all misinformed and stupid like a big stupid head.

But while Ms Neel was comically mistaken, she wasn’t really hurting anyone. She wasn’t spreading hate speech against President Obama, she didn’t say anything racist and in fact defended herself by clarifying that she was talking about the former Australian leader, Kevin Rudd who is indeed male and a staunch Christian. Perhaps she hadn’t heard about the leadership change; she does live on the other side of the world, it’s not totally out of the question. But why pick up on that factoid? It’s almost logical, just point and laugh at the foolish American girl, oh how fun!

The real problem I have with Twitter is the hash tags. Not the ones that lead you to helpful news or entertainment, but the ones that are sort of games. You know, finish-the-sentence type things like #endoftheworldconfessions that are usually harmless and then others like #LiesToldByGirls, which are bound to become sexist. I hate these tags; they’re pointless and boring and crop up every few months under a different guise but still spouting the same offensive and sexist rhetoric.

As I sorted through the #LiesToldByGirls tag, (because I’m a masochist), I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw: clichés and wildly stereotypical portraits of women as needy, insecure, man-obsessed, possessive bitches who pile on makeup and lie about it. Apparently, we are never fine, we always care and we are not okay with “our men” talking to other girls. But what was really disturbing were the more sexually explicit tweets that came from men, like these:

Cuddling means fingering, right?
Cuddling means fingering, right?
Well, it's actually "you're a whore" not "your", but you get the idea.
Well, it’s actually “you’re a whore” not “your”, but you get the idea.

Classy, right? But it’s also actually quite dangerous.

There were several tweets about “cuddling” being synonymous with “fingering” made by men as their interpretation of a woman’s “lie”. I guess we’re wasting our time on advertising campaigns that remind us that ‘no’, really does mean ‘NO’. If saying we want to cuddle basically means we’re begging to get penetrated by a few digits, then what constitutes conceding to penile rape? Sure, women just say they want a kiss goodnight at the door but actually it means they’re up for anal.

Oh wait; actually no, that’s not it at all.

Giving consent for one act is not tantamount for giving the okay for the whole smorgasbord. You’re wandering into rape territory, and you need to leave.

Equally as concerning is the notion that if a woman or girl prefers to spend her time with men or boys rather than other females, she’s just a whore and probably up for a gang bang.

Throughout my high school years, I hung out with the boys a lot more than I did girls. They were easier to deal with. I’m hardly the first person to say this but I’ll reiterate: teenage girls can be mean, especially if you don’t particularly fit in generally, which I did not. I was comfortable around boys, there were no guessing games, and they were to the point. Apparently, I was just a whore after all. I really hope that’s not what they thought of me and that I was just allowed to hang out with them as some sort of attainable, coquettish cock tease.

These tweets are disturbing and degrading, but those from other women are almost worse. Where has girl power and sisterhood gone? Why are we not only allowing and condoning men to spurt such awful and dangerous statements, but also confirming and promoting damaging clichés and stereotypes ourselves? The amount of women, or rather girls, on twitter that have participated in this demeaning hash tag and others like it, is really upsetting. These girls are young, still in their teens and they are our future. We owe feminists of the past for our freedoms today, but are we not doing a disservice to the Suffragettes of the early 20th century who fought for our right to vote, by indulging this behaviour rather than condemning it.

Why is our generation becoming complacent when it comes to feminism and rejecting these harmful stereotypes? Well, it’s just not very cool.

Feminism strikes up images of bra-burning, man-hating, hairy-legged hippies in younger women. During the recent US election, former American Idol winner and Republican Kelly Clarkson made news (somehow), by putting her support behind President Obama’s re-election, even though he is of course a Democrat. As well as supporting marriage equality, Clarkson supported the president on his pro-women efforts, which put her at odds with pro-life Republican nominee, Mitt Romney and was quoted as saying:

“I’m not a hardcore feminist but we can’t be going back to the 50s.”

Right. See the problem here?

Clarkson is 30 and has been in the public eye for the last decade after her Idol success. She’s been a positive role model to teenage girls, boasting a miriade of female-positive pop songs and not giving a damn about coping flack by the media for her fuller figure. But here she demonstrates what many women of generation Y and younger are buying into; standing up for women’s rights and rejecting a stereotype is equated to being a “hardcore” feminist, an extremist.

I’m guilty of buying into this too. When a male friend called me a feminist, because I was vocally annoyed over something I saw as sexist, I was quick to deny it and take offense. It wasn’t because I’m not a feminist; I am a feminist and I believe obtaining equality between the sexes, but it was because I didn’t want to labelled and lumped in with the image of the smelly, hairy, saggy man-hater, the ugly brush that the women we owe our freedoms to have been painted with. Younger women are afraid of coming across this way, so we don’t stand up and say, “Stop sanctioning rape on twitter, you moron” and “This hash tag is offensive and I’ll have no part of it”.

We stay silent, or we join in. And that is not okay.

Believe it or not, you can wear high heels and make up and dresses and still be a feminist and support women’s rights.

Even as I proof read this essay, there’s a niggling doubt left in my mind. Am I being too preachy? Am I sounding like some awful harpy, banging on about feminism? Am I somehow going to sound less credible by admitting that I’m happy to be a feminist?

All of these doubts are ridiculous, but they still exist because of the completely unfair and negative image of feminists that I’ve been fed over the years. This needs to stop.

I’m proud to be a feminist and I still love Twitter, I’m just a bit disappointed right now.