Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An end to the slut-shaming

I used to be one of those people who policed women's sexuality. Whenever people made remarks which identified them as more than conventionally sexual, I would frown and make remarks of disparagement. All my friends did it too - we would self-consciously slut-shame together. We were intelligent, but we were dumb.

Even as the media tries to tell us that Miley Cyrus' act is "too much" sex and not enough restraint, our attitude towards sex is quite conservative. I remember going to a fetish-themed party some years ago, witnessing a man and a woman wearing some leather pouring milk on each other and simulating sex on stage, and wondering if we will ever get to the point where mainstream performers have live sex to please an audience. At the time it was a shocking thought, but now I have no doubt it will happen, and I say bring it on.

Fifty years from now, people will look back at what we found shocking and laugh at what prudes we were. At how stifling the norms were, and how stifled we felt. Well, maybe they won't laugh. More like feel sorry for us.

I am in favour of everyone being a lot more sexual with one another. We should stop seeing sex as getting in the way of the rest of our neat lives, and actually enjoy the sexual dimension of our experience as much as we dare. As much as we want to.

I look forward to the day when a tongue-kiss replaces a hand-shake, and when public nudity is not just reserved for a tiny percentage of beaches, but is part of everyday life.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Power

Lost again. Somewhere in between the postmodern paralysis and the repetitive activities she comes alive. But she doesn't know how to articulate this space. She doesn't know if she's ever done so before. Probably not. It's important to remember that each moment is unique, comes once in a lifetime. Even so, she's hosting a veritable tableau of experiences of deja vu. She suspects that her mind has grown lazy, and that is why they are infecting her, but there's not much she can do. Not much she intends to do. Life insists she places herself in the position of victor, resumes the battles no matter how many indignities threaten to make her come undone. People ask her to smile - no, demand it! She can't hide from their indiscreet meanderings into her sensibility. They'll encroach upon her boundaries with regularity, and there's not much she can do about it.

And yet, somewhere between the spaces of discomfort, she lives and breathes pure magic. It's all in the power to transform her gaze, to change her focus. From acutely focused to gorgeously dazed, the choice is hers to reinvent her selves. She keeps searching.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The exhausted activist keeps going

I realised that ignoring the problems of the world won't make them go away. I need to go on fighting. I can, however, change my attitude to a more self-loving one. I can congratulate myself more on the things I do well, and be kinder to myself when I stuff up.

I was just reading a post from The Militant Baker in which she admits that she is always fighting an uphill battle ("just to feel okay"), but that she knows that if she doesn't do it, no-one else will. I can relate to this... I may take medication which "stabilises" my mood (oh, the horrors) and acts as a mild antidepressant, and my experience with the mental health system has self-censoring my rebellious urges all over the place (don't worry, I still manage to be very non-conformist ;) ), but activism makes my life more meaningful, and isn't the thing to excise from it.

Incidentally, I made a new friend over the past few months, which has lifted my spirits. The benefits of this are impossible to overstate. I have also gotten back in touch with an old friend who lives in another country, but we find the time to communicate via Facebook or Skype and he is an inspiration to me. Add an old high school friend whose irrepressible energy is a delight to be around on those occasions that I do see her, and my life is looking better these days than it did at the start of the year, when I made my lonely journey to Bulgaria in an attempt to start a new life.

Life in Sofia consisted of a very closed social circle consisting of my grandmother, uncle and a friendly neighbour. None of these connections were particularly robust, and so it is perhaps not surprising that I fell apart.

Earlier today I was watching Pantene's feminist commercial for the Philippines -


- and I realised that I had let a neighbour in my old block shame me for my confidence. Upon getting a new haircut, she tried to make me feel bad about going about the world with my level of self-esteem by exclaiming: "I know you! You're going to go out there and show it off, aren't you?"

Yet I deserve to feel good about myself, appearance and the ideas that zigzag underneath it, from the tips of my Adidas or Diana Ferrari shoes to the hint of a fringe that the Taiwanese hairdresser gave me which sometimes curls high above my hairline. I'm going to keep respecting the way I look and what I wear. I'm not going to let other people undermine my confidence.

The internet keeps surprising me with its choices of which injustice to draw out next, especially in the field of feminism. There are some issues which feel very familiar, and others which catch me unawares. For example, did you know that female characters are grossly underrepresented in crowd scenes? That's what Geena Davis taught me here: 


I never, ever would have thought to analyse crowd scenes in animations for gender imbalances, but there you go. It's a testament to the multiple talents of the people who are making the feminist movement come alive today that they approach the empowerment of women and men in such diverse and interesting ways. We are much stronger together than alone.

Hope you're having a happy holiday season! :)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Silent

She is silent as she watches them go by. All of them bitterly lost, conscious of being displeasing to the extreme. All of their judgements under intense scrutiny, mostly invalidated.
I have somehow resisted my right to droop my head. 
I have somehow resisted.
She keeps her head up high because it's the only thing that's getting her by. She tries to avoid the indignities, with their daily, invasive presence. She's letting them know that she's as human as they, that they ought to know better. She's extremely intelligent, they say. We will keep her here against her will anyway.
She keeps silent because speaking out makes it worse. It's all very well for people whose sanity isn't questioned. When you're in a situation like that, your very agency is ultimately suspect. People dismiss your thoughts as a general rule. What you say doesn't matter. Want medical treatment? You're probably lying. Want to say something? You're probably delusional. Why should we listen to you? Go back to your confusion.
She hits all the right notes, for the time being. Saving time.
She's going to be. She's going to be alright. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ever vigilant, always watching

If I attempt to etch into the monitor
How monitored I feel
Will I be able to escape unscathed
From the surveillance machinery, still?

Can I have that next intake of breath
My reward for exhaling on such a radical note
Can I unleash my furious activism upon the world
Without throwing in some hesitation

Wherever I turn, there's someone watching
I must be careful in how much quirkiness I evince
Everybody claims they're being their true selves
But no one will admit how much they conceal






Monday, December 9, 2013

One Feminist's Body

Tip to toe, the way I wear my body has a lot to do with my feminist politics:

a) Hair

I've grown my hair long ever since I was a teenager, something I was determined to change in Taipei this year (taking inspiration from an acquaintance who said that she got her hair cut in each new location she travelled to). Before anyone could talk me out of saying goodbye to years' worth of conditioning, I asked for a short 'do and was thrilled to have my hair be sculpted at a height that hadn't previously been touched. I was trading in the traditionally feminine long hair for something more bouncy, free-flowing, and, most of all, healthy. Growing my hair long meant that I had a lot of split ends. I find that my hair gets in the way less now - I'm not constantly brushing it out of my face anymore.

b) Eyebrows

I used to paint them on, but I've left them to grow out naturally and assume whatever shape they will. I feel more confident as a result, because you never know when something is going to rub across your face and wipe your eyebrows off when they're drawn on. I felt perpetually anxious wearing them that way.

c) Skin

I clean my skin with Dove's Beauty Bar when I shower, a more gentle alternative to soap. I exfoliate occasionally, but most of the time I can't be bothered. I don't wear any make-up. I used to be obsessed with the stuff back in high school, but reading Naomi Wolf's 'The Beauty Myth' on the cosmetics industry opened my eyes to how unnecessary it all was.

d) Clothing

I tend to wear T-shirts and other shirts which don't have a low neckline. It's a conscious decision not to make an effort to look sexy through my clothing, as unfortunately rape myths still exist. Once upon I owned a short skirt, but now I invariably wear long pants. Sometimes I don't wear a bra, but most of the time I feel pressured to wear one.

e) Body hair

I don't remove any of my body hair.

f) Jewellery

I rarely wear jewellery, although I have a fine collection. I find it gets caught in my clothes and causes me to feel uncomfortable. 

g) Shoes

I never, ever wear high heels. Not only do they limit your mobility, they're also bad for your entire body.

Motion

Singing under my breath
I avoid one gaze
Bring out the other
The world and I shine together
Unduly whisked from our innermost thoughts
The day won't allow for their fruition
So I make motion my mission
While away the hours
Carefully covering the miles
Before I can rest my feet
There's some new old places I've got to meet

Thursday, December 5, 2013

French rhythms

I had no plans to study French: until I discovered a great, free program which made it easy to do so. Learning another language is a fabulous way to increase my articulative possibilities, and the further marvel of learning a language which is used in different nations around the world is that I can talk to someone from Vanuatu or Cote d'Ivorie and learn a different perspective on the language, and what it can be used for. DuoLingo is the program I'm using, and it helps me remember that English is not some invisible or all-binding social adhesive, but just another in a long list of lucrative languages.
I do admirably well with English, but the more I learn about the world, the more interesting it becomes to learn from a different perspectives. One of the attractions of French is the possibility that I may one day be able to read Derrida in his mother tongue, or Sartre, or even Foucault.

I find my sudden encounters with French do not take away from my Swedish experience - they only enhance it. The languages have different roots so it's not too confusing to learn them at once.

France, unlike Australia or Britain, isn't best known for its egalitarianism, so I'm learning a new dynamic which is similar to that of Bulgarian.

Speaking of Bulgaria, I find that I am pardoning it for being quite a rude awakening this year. Like any developing country, it has a lot of far-reaching improvements to make to its systems before it can support its citizens adequately, but it also has a lot going for it. Unique charms that can't be located in any other culture or society. I will probably return.

I've decided that I was paranoid about the taxi drivers of Sofia - those two men probably weren't plotting to rape me. I was going through a very stressful time and interpreting their misogyny as possibly directly harmful to my physical integrity. Misogyny shouldn't be taken lightly, but I believe I overreacted, so I will ask my readers to pardon me.

One interesting thing about Bulgaria is that it has the highest achievements in narrowing the gender gap than all of the surrounding nations - that's Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia and Romania. It even has a higher level of gender equality than France, to bring things round full circle.

But then gender equality is not the only barometer of a successful society.

If all goes well I will try to learn a bit of Dutch or Norwegian later on. :)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dehumanisation & Empowerment, Inextricable?

I have been thinking about Lily Allen's 'Hard out here' (the song and its video) for the past week or so. I won't be addressing the video's problematic treatment of black bodies (many have already done that), but I'd like to focus on the lyrics instead.



The very first line introduces the word 'bitch', which is used liberally all over the song for its so-called empowering qualities. The movement to reclaim 'bitch' doesn't help to denounce the dehumanisation that is associated with being female. In a world where women are treated as 85-59% of men (see the Global Gender Gap report), reducing them to the status of an animal simply emphasises their disempowerment (and quite cruelly at that).

Fortunately, the song gets better, and it's in some of these witty lines to follow that I find an epiphany: It's impossible to be 100% empowering, or even 100% disempowering. Everyone has their own mix of emboldenment and cowardice, and any text they create will almost always represent that. More specifically in the context of feminism, every woman is disempowered in some way (we have all experienced sadistic male social aggression, for example), yet has special gifts which have allowed her to sail on relatively unscathed in some other way.

Anyway, I enjoy the dismissal of the traditional sphere of cooking as Lily Allen's role. She sings about being 'in the studio and not in the kitchen', a line I could relate to if I had a job (blogging notwithstanding), since I try to spend as little time preparing food as possible. I prefer to buy food from outside if there's nothing available in the fridge.

I think Jessica Valenti would be proud of the line 'If I told you about my sex life / you'd call me a slut / but when boys be talking about their bitches / no-one's making a fuss' - she was the first major feminist commentator to point out the double standards with which female and male sexualities are treated. The line is a postmodern reference to 'Not Fair', in which Lily complains about not being sexually satisfied in an otherwise good relationship, for which she obviously received a lot of backlash.

'You're not a size 6 / ... / You should probably lose some weight / Cause we can't see your bones / You should probably fix your face / or you'll end up on your own' - This is the kind of abusive attitude women have to put up with all the time. Constant criticisms about not living up to the beauty standards of the day, which are impossible to reach anyway, considering almost all women's magazines use Photoshop on their models. These lines bear a special importance coming from Allen, who has battled with anorexia herself.

'Don't you want to have somebody who objectifies you?' - I have to confess that I think about what my body looks like way too much, even when no-one else is sharing the same space. I adopt poses which I believe make my body look more aesthetically pleasing, as if it's somehow my function to be. This line reminds me of how complicit I am in attracting people who objectify me... it's a condition which I find hard to shake.

'Have you thought about your butt / Who's gonna tear it in two' - this is a criticism of the rap in Blurred Lines, when (I think it was) T.I. sings 'I'll give you something that'll tear your ass in two'. It postulates that women are *not* interested in experiencing pain during their sex lives (unless they're into a certain kind of S&M), whatever is encouraged by misogynistic lyrics or pornography.

'We've never had it so good / We're out of the woods / And if you can't detect the sarcasm / you've misunderstood' - I love the first two lines because I hear this kind of post-feminist excuse-making all the time. 'Equality already exists, there's no need to fight for anything anymore' -  that's the sort of thing I'm used to hearing, and I'm glad to hear Lily sending it up. It seems like Lily is aware of how her lyrics might be taken out of context, and so wishes to affirm her sarcastic/satirical message.

Her last two lines make her stand out as a keen cultural critic indeed: 'Inequality promises that it's here to stay / Always trust the injustice 'cause it's not going away'

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mumbling towards Melbourne

My trip has more to do with an ongoing desire for perpetual self-discovery than a celebration of my birthday, though the latter is how I got my parents to sponsor the former. Last time I was in Melbs I had a fabulous time strolling the streets and popping into the galleries and exhibitions I chanced across. This time around I come unprepared for anything in particular, without much ambition beyond seeing St Kilda for the first time. I am open to the moment carrying me where it will, rainy weather or no.

I doubt there are many people who organise their travels around 2thinknow's Innovative Cities index, yet it is always my ambition to find myself amongst the most inventive venues, sounds and other practices around. Places where opportunities abound.

Lately I've been a regular at arthouse cinemas, watching the sights and sounds of Italy and Japan float past in film festivals designed to showcase the best of the countries' artistic practices. Film has a wonderful way of drawing upon every other art form (music, art, photography, architecture, etc) in its evocation of various realities, gritty or fantastical, or somewhere in between.

I could have gone to Hobart instead, and I will someday, but for now I long for cities and the colourful individuals that loiter within their borders. I want to be challenged into understanding different people, with their eclectic mixes of culture. I want to understand how the national identity becomes the personal identity, and explore the places where it intersects. I want to theorise cities, breathe them in and weave a dancing trail within them.

I wonder what I'll discover within Melbourne this time...


White keys, yellow walls

My white keys don't serve the stories I want to tell. They look too pristine; you kind of want to leave them alone, lest they should accumulate dust and other pollutants. There are many things I love about Apple, but their white packaging is not one of them... back when I had a Dell the keys spoke of mystery. If black is the saturation of colour, all the colours combined, then black was always already rich in context. On the keys of a piano, black marks the sharps and flats, and typing is a bit like playing the piano, with your fingers flying all over the keyboard, rising and falling in gentle or sharp rhythms depending on your mood. Only there are no blacks; the all-white ensemble oppresses me. It's too innocent, too pure, somewhat sterile, close to clinical.

I never did like leaving walls white; I look forward to painting my new room yellow. A rich, creamy yellow would be ideal, however the other occupants of the household insist that I use a lighter shade. Anything to make the room a bit warmer. I'll aim for a lickable shade.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Raindrop-studded evening

My jumper soaked
We jumped a bit
To escape the onslaught
Of heavy rain
We trumpeted
Our arrival to no-one
Seeking solace
In the warm glow
Of the cafe
Pink umbrella
Macho fella
It all swirls together
At this time of nite

(We are both friendly and polite
So it is no wonder
We make good company for each other)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Life's a breeze: Sun Moon Lake


Four hours away from the hectic pace of Taipei, I found myself looking out from the pier of Ita Thao village, one of the smaller communities clustered around Sun Moon Lake, my big city troubles being swept away by the breeze as the sunset turned the misty atmosphere a lucrative shade of mauve.

I probably wouldn't have made it to SML if not for a last-minute search for free events in Taiwan, and although I missed the concert I had come to see, I came away feeling that the magical interaction of land, water and air (that glorious mist that gave the mountains added dimension and definition) was one of the highlights of my trip.

Sometimes I think about buying a small property in Ita Thao, so I can escape to this special Taiwanese holiday spot whenever I'm feeling the need to diversify my understanding of the colours blue and green...


Monday, November 11, 2013

Thirty Tomorrow

I spent much of my twenty-ninth year extremely stressed and unhappy, and while my trip to Taiwan cheered me up and provided me with many feel-good moments, I'm thoroughly pleased to kiss this year of my life goodbye. Bring on 30, which I'm not keeping track of how symbolic it's supposed to be. In Japan, 20 is the 'coming of age' year, not 18 or 21, so I'm not going to concern myself with supposed milestones, unless others thrust them upon me in a hard-to-resist, cheery manner.

In honour of my last few hours of being 29, I've assembled a bunch of photos from my last trip for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy. (And remember to credit me for the photography if you're going to steal any of them. :o) )








All of these photos are taken in Taiwan, mostly in Taipei. I may have a special 'Sun Moon Lake' edition sometime soon. Keep an eye out! :o)




Thursday, November 7, 2013

Possibilities for the future

I could focus away from the heaviest of feminist issues, and write about initiatives such as this instead. Once again, Sweden pioneers the field of gender equality by creating a new consciousness about the representations of women on film. It's a repetitive experience, seeing the female presence be locked into romantic fodder, eye-candy or other two dimensional characters. I have given up on mainstream films (including Hollywood) due to the abundance of such stereotypical casting choices.
While we're at it, I'd like to see more women out of high heels and masks of make-up. I'd prefer to gawk at the display of an impressive headspace more than a cleavage.

Now, about the open letter in the last post... I am actually against keeping the so-called mentally ill locked up in a small space together, because when you have a bunch of highly stressed people going through some of the worst time of their lives, you're opening the door to bad things happening. People get angry at each other and start yelling, rattling the other patients even further. It all contributes to an atmosphere of terrible tension. Even on the best days, a mental institution is, far from a healing place, a highly stressful one to be in. That said, I know that I'm not going to overthrow the system with one letter, so I'm strategically trying to make a difference by nudging it along in the right direction. I have no idea if my letter will have any impact, but I hope it brings attention to the issue of accessing a psychologist and how big a difference it can make to the consumers.

On yet another feminist note, I have recently discovered LeanIn.org, an initiative by Sheryl Sandberg, who some of you may know as the COO of Facebook. Due to the wide scope of the community, it offers a wealth of resources for anyone interested in feminism.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

BIU

Bold, Italics, Underline. Pick your emphasis, select your variation. The exception to the rule that proves the rule, right? You will use us sparingly. Uniformity becomes you. Oh, go forth and prosper.

<"I live for the applause, applause, applause">

I try so much to want to be published. I try to distance myself from the cocoon of Blogger, pretend it's not the ideal arrangement; I've already had my poetry published, and I couldn't care less if I published any prose. I'm happy to write what I truly want to, not what someone else expects for me. I'm happy to conform to my own, very radical leanings. The appeal of fame? It's slim pickings. <"Way that you shout and scream at me.">

My American boyfriend always wanted to reach a lot of people. I was always radiant over my sense of obscurity. There's a freedom in being on the extreme margins that gives me a high. To be honest, I don't even put my most radical ideas on Blogger. It would be too risky. I want to, it's tempting, but I'll refrain for now.

A few days ago I submitted a poem for publication to Cordite, an Australian poetry journal, and while it would be very nice for them to publish it, a part of me is just as invested in remaining as obscure as ever. But, to be honest, I feel like, at the age I'm about to turn, I need to start taking being published more seriously. A couple of token achievements to point at come in handy. I don't wish to sully my obscurity though. I want to be thoroughly ignored by the mainstream.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Words to play with

Words like pre-existing pearl drops
Containing reality-formation, full of light
Fill them up with bursts of colour
Make them sparkle in the night

Meanwhile I reinvent each word as I go
My language knows not the grittiness of a finite bite
They are not red balloons waiting to be blown up
I have a new word for a name; it means night

I am the stars, I am the night
The diamond-studded shawl of velvet hours
I am the glorious outbreak of rainbow lights
I fight for the dignity that should be ours




Thursday, October 31, 2013

Parallel

You slide with me as I
sashay down this
strip of spotty pavement
It's a never-ending journey
From I to we
Ever learning

*

I've been back in Syd for about a week now, and it's time to find a new psychologist. The woman I was seeing turned out to be manipulative, which is really a shame because she was the only narrative therapist I could find. I might have to be daring and try a new approach, perhaps CBT. Perhaps I should see a social worker instead, someone who holds a 'counselor' qualification? There is this 'find a psychologist' service which I've been using, but I'm not sure it's the best place to look anymore.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The intersection of gender and sexual orientation

Having homosexual relations is just one more thing that so-called 'normal women' don't do. Identifying as GLBTI gives you a head start in breaking out of the patriarchy-sponsored mould. It's no wonder, then, that non-normative identities of sexual orientation and gender frequently complement each other, and often overlap. It's more difficult to work race into the intersectional equation, when it comes to the big three (perhaps it needs more of a push).

Women who don't need to be needed by men provide themselves with a high degree of emotional and intellectual independence, and attract the like-minded. While I am still 'kept in check' by male surveillance, I feel a lot more free to say what's on my mind than most of my female contemporaries. This is why I write about politics so much. I know I might attract personal attacks in doing so, but I keep on doing it anyway.

It does get tiring, but it remains rewarding. I have recently discovered that I need to consciously make more room for positivity in my life, since the level of drainage my relentless fight against discrimination has been causing has taken a serious toll on my mental health. It may be that I write on this blog less often, or that I write about more varied subject matter.

Anti-discrimination activism has been dear to my heart ever since I started PADSOC, a blog dedicated to the big three. It was a response to being told that I should work in the pornography industry by an obviously insecure individual who felt cowardly enough to attempt to degrade me. It had the opposite effect to that intended: It made me more vocal about my causes. PADSOC became a successful blog, attracting bright and enthusiastic writers who each had their own spin on the most relevant issues of the day. It was out of this keen interest in promoting peace and equality that I reinvented my writing under the blog you are currently reading a couple of years later. It's been a remarkable ride.

Now it's time to turn my attention a bit more to promoting peace and equality by fostering a sense of well-being... so, cya around! ;)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

People watching in Randwick

One day I was walking through Randwick Junction when I noticed a young woman carrying a bottle of water. She seemed vaguely dissatisfied, and decided to cheer herself up by being playfully sexual in quenching her thirst, bringing the bottle to her lips in a way distinctly suggestive of fellatio. I was the only person really watching, and I was torn between giving her a knowing smile and silently pointing out that such gestures cannot be made without reinforcing the notion that it's rewarding to be a woman who satisfies men - with or without them satisfying her back.

Should I have done the former? It's difficult enough for a woman to find a way to enjoy her sexuality without onlookers judging her, right? So what if her performance affirms the patriarchy? I do a lot of things unintentionally that have the same effect of playing into social expectations. Sexuality should be celebrated, not scrutinised. And yet, if it's that hard for me to break out of my social upbringing, I imagine it's even more difficult for others.

About-turn

I'm going to have to stop writing about anti-discrimination for a while. It's really bringing me down.

Scattering ignorance, resignation
With a single throw of the proverbial mind
Congealing wonders left neglected
Selectively caring, selectively blind

And there's that 'last lingering morsel of information'
That must be alighted upon, picked apart
Can't see the trees but for a forest of leaves
Where it has left me is a place I must depart

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Things I've noticed while travelling

a) People tend to fly the national airline. For me, the appeal of travelling on an airline other than Qantas is the prospect of a stop-over in a city I haven't been to previously. Fly Korean Airlines and you will stop in Incheon (serving Seoul), board Vietnam Airlines and you will end up disembarking in (or is it around?) Ho Chi Minh City. There are also great discounts to be found for those willing to try something new. It's usually cheaper to fly with China Southern than Singapore, for example. Flying through Tokyo (JAL) and Hong Kong (Cathay) is pricey, while the Southeast Asian airlines are less expensive and offer good food. Meanwhile, the majority of people flying Etihad Airlines are, predictably, from the UAE.

b) Sometimes it's best to ditch the Lonely Planet. I usually travel with a guidebook, unless I'm going back to Thailand or another place I know well, but the problem with the meticulously researched, lovingly produced Lonely Planet is that most savvy travellers are bringing their own version into the country (except the French, who have Michelin). Unless the point of your trip was to meet other travellers (and sometimes it's a nice bonus), you're better off following your instincts and letting the LP sit quietly in the back of your suitcase for a bit. You'll find people indulge their curiosity about you more often when you're the only visitor for miles, increasing your chances of making friends. I learned that there is a lovely karaoke facility in Jiali, which was an hour outside Tainan, and I never would have known what to expect in an ordinary, rural township, if I hadn't taken the chance on an offbeat location.

c) Talking to the person next to you on the plane is always a good idea. Sure, the Japanese guy I chatted up gave me a subtle hint that 'Australians are too friendly' but not before I learned that Hanoi was more polluted than Ho Chi Minh city, the extent of anti-Japanese sentiment, and that he was one of a trend of young singles currently being picked up on by the Guardian. My hour-long chat also delivered me from the anxiety I normally experience upon take-off. It was only when dinner was served that my companion and I turned to worlds interior.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mrs

Feminism often focuses on the overtly problematic aspect of gender relations: rape, domestic abuse, murder, prostitution, misogynistic pornography, etc. What I don't hear enough about is supposedly happily married couples where the woman does all the housework, has changed her name to that of her husband's, and does the majority of childcare. They claim they have a wonderful relationship and are held up as role models for the rest of us approval-seeking souls. They are on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to what keeps sexism deeply entrenched in modern societies. This model of female subjugation is regarded as the ideal undertaking, an agreement to withhold, subdue or erase one's agency in the service of social conventions. Women and men are equally guilty for endorsing each other's misery in the matter. If men demand that their partner change their name, do the cleaning and cooking and sacrifice their careers in order to bring up the kids, women are taking on these roles readily and without much complaint. If women expect that their male partner will earn more than them, hold a higher level of authority than them and their say is ultimately more powerful than theirs, it's because men live up to those expectations. It takes two to create inequality, and the majority of the population is busily replicating the injustices they can't sense they want to live without.

When I got married in the US (I am now divorced, but then we were never in love) I was surprised at how easy it would have been to change my name to his. All I would have had to do was tick a box, and just like that, my signifier would have been chopped in half and rearranged. The hubby would have liked me to appropriate his moniker, his enthusiasm for such an enterprise underneath his ostensibly neutral enquiry as to my wishes. I replied that I had changed my name to Epiphanie Bloom so that I wouldn't have to change it again, which was partially true, but not the entire story. I didn't want to change my name. Why should I suddenly be associated with a different lineage when I held my own in high regard?

My Mum claims that there is no need for feminism because women have already achieved equality, so I expect her to believe that her relationship with Dad is an equal one. But they don't divide the chores around the house - while Dad lies around on the couch and reads the news she is cleaning, tidying, scrubbing and creating edible dishes from the contents of the fridge. She sometimes complains bitterly about the amount of work she has to do, but no amount of nagging will motivate Dad to take on an equal share of the housework. It's sad, but it's normal - it's actually very rare that couples split up the responsibilities in half, and/or distribute tasks not based on gender but on who is better at solving each individual thing to be done as it arises.

We in 2013 are still invested in those ancient archetypal categories which associate women with nurturing. Even if fathers taking more leave from work is becoming more common, the typical Australian family still delegates the bulk of the childrearing to mothers, and the cruel double standard of the extra-filial community is that they're not happy if a woman is "just" a housewife, and neither are they pleased if she is focused on her career. Most try to find a balance between the two, find themselves juggling a million things, being permanently stressed out and it is expected of them to continue that pattern in the role of being good citizens.

I don't want to have kids myself, a decision which I once articulated on the Facebook pages on The Guardian and was called ugly by some random enraged moron on the internet. Opinions I've previously felt comfortable with occasionally are exposed as extremely objectionable once made public knowledge, which is why I'm careful about how I write about what I write about. I am no stranger to flaming and hate posts. Perhaps the worst abuse I've received is for being a feminist and postmodernist, two identities which I love. Anyway, back to wanting to remain childless: I simply don't feel that conditions on Earth will be good enough during my lifetime for me to bring up a healthy, balanced individual. There are too many causes for depression and other forms of mental illness, and since I am that way inclined it's likely that I'll pass on my conditioning to any offspring. What's more, I want to do a vast amount of travelling in my life, something that would be made a lot more difficult if I had to take care of a young one. Children cost money and require time and energy. At this point I'd prefer for the rest of the world to reproduce and leave me out of it, if they want little ones so badly. I have nothing against children or parenthood, I just don't think it's a choice I want to make for myself, and people should respect that. And if they don't that's their problem, not mine.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lovably weird

My Lonely Planet guidebook calls Taipei a 'surprisingly weird' city. Perhaps the straight-and-narrow part of its reputation owes itself to its focus on technology and the East Asian flavour of conformity, but here in Ximending I'm finding thinking inside the box the exception, not the rule.

It may be the colourful shop names, like Psycho Nerds or O'Girl, with a liberal use of the palette animating the ideographs even when they're not glowing at night, or the vast range of youth-oriented companies sprouting here, there and everything. Walking from my guesthouse to the nearest internet cafe takes only a minute, but in that time I have a lot of adventures: Whether it's giggling at the chemistry-friendly number of my room (CO2), the unself-consciously hip boutique Good Hands or the handmade candy store called Papabubble, there's always something fun to wrap my eyelashes around. All that, and there are eyelash extensions if I want them. (I don't, but occasionally you wonder what you would look like.)

To be fair, I do get tired of the constant noise of Ximending, and dodging motorcycles and taxis loses its appeal after the first five days, but its the sheer exuberance of the people and their funky gadgets that keeps me from spending too much time on the net or reading in my tiny room. Taipei has charisma.  

Post-typhoon weather

With the waving of a finger, glancing off the screen
Back into the misty neon jungle of my dreams
Eager to accept, dismiss, and stumble
In a pleasant jumble of sequences

That was yesterday, and now I see the sun
Curious onlookers, both me and they
Watching them watching me
Some of them do ignore me (there's nothing to see)

I can't say that it's all straight lines
I can't say I remember how to say goodbye
I can't say I forget how to say hello
Taipei is a frenetic lullaby

To "Obey" in Taipei

You may have noticed the brand OBEY. They sell T-shirts and the like for progressively oriented, young-at-heart types with the word written in bold. It is not obvious what the philosophy behind the satirical creed is, so I'm dedicating my new yellow hat to President Obama. The same Obama who ordered peaceful protesters against Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be moved along by police outside the Whitehouse back when the law was still in force; the same president who ridiculed a female Australian journalist who dared to suggest that there was a schizophrenia between the readiness for war with China symbolised by the influx of troops to the Top End of Australia and the official denial that they were looking that far north.
Recently a top journalist complained that everyone was lapping up the official story given out by the Whitehouse, and there weren't enough outsiders.  Obama, possibly embittered by the Republicans' treatment of him, has turned to increasingly authoritarian methods to impose his own agenda of "protecting" (more like spying on) the general populace.

So if anyone asks, my hat is dedicated to the farce of democracy that is the US (and Australian, and British, etc) government. If I had closer ties to China I may be worried about them spying on me too, but I'm not. I will probably never visit the Mainland again - as a person who has "experienced psychosis" they don't want to let me in, and I'm not exactly jumping up and down to go. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Subtle forms of homophobia

If you run in certain progressive circles in Western countries, it's increasingly unacceptable to hold an outrightly homophobic opinion. Unfortunately that doesn't mean that homophobia has been eradicated; it's simply taking on more sophisticated forms which, if left unchecked, can become insidious.

Growing up, I was exposed to predominantly heterosexual narratives. Anyone who has developed a love affair with books from previous centuries would know that homosexual narratives are uncommon to the point of invisible. And even though I have a very contemporary reading agenda for the most part, I am constantly surrounded by people who prioritise those heteronormative narratives, and are constantly deprioritising the lack of stigmatisation towards homosexuality.

People get inordantly excited about sexuality of a hetero bent, insisting subconsciously that there's something ultra-lucrative about a practice which often depends on male dominance and female submission (just take a look at how frequently women erase their family histories by changing their last name to that of their husband's, for example). They aren't even aware they are doing it, but it's similar to the way a racist reserves their highest attention and respect for humans who they identify as having shared characteristics. It's everywhere.

Heterosexuality can make you popular in a way that homosexuality can't. I speak from personal experience: people suddenly became more interested in sharing their time with me in high school upon the discovery that I was interested in men as well as women. It was like this whole new social circle opened up for me - and of course I wanted nothing to do with the bigots. It was a depressing wake-up call to the level of acceptance that I had previously been excluded from.

This is 2013, they say. Yes, it's 2013, and it's a homophobic year. Even though some countries have legalised same sex marriage, discrimination remains responsible for disproportionately high rates of depression and other forms of mental illness in the GLBT community.

Richard Florida, a leading academic (he self-styles himself as an Urbanist), has identified economic innovation as being led by three social groups, of which "gays and lesbians" are one. (The other groups are immigrants and bohemians.) This doesn't surprise me, because people who choose to have same-sex relationships dare to defy both the written and unwritten social codes. They have decided that they are secure enough within themselves not to cling to heterosexuality, but to pursue their own romantic (and/or sexual) interests, and that makes them more open-minded than the heteronormative status quo. (NB: I'm not saying that homosexuality is better than heterosexuality - love is love.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Saying Hello to Taiwan


On the 30th of September I will depart Sydney for a 3 and a half week trip to Taiwan. I can't wait! I'm flying with Vietnamese Airlines and I will stay overnight at Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) before continuing on to Taipei. I plan to spend 8 days in Taipei before making my way down the island and visiting a friend of mine called Jenny. I might attend this festival, if I can fit something scheduled in, in between being as spontaneous as possible.

Taiwan appeals to me because it complements traditional Chinese culture with a functional democracy and a youthful sensibility. I plan to drink more bubble tea than you can poke a bamboo stick at, visit as many temples as possible and catch contemporary modern art where I can find it.

You might have heard that Australia elected Tony Abbott to be our next Prime Minister. This is pretty depressing from a progressive point of view, with The Independent newspaper reporting that Australia will be 'less green, more mean'. Abbott opposes marriage equality and thinks that there is too much emphasis on how much Aboriginal Australians were discriminated against in history books. He has also been compared to George W. Bush, which is sadly appropriate, given his tendency to make gaffes, social conservativism and general idiocy.

My psychiatrist suggested I take up drinking. (No joke! I'm sampling an Italian red wine as I speak.)

You may remember that I was very glad to be back 'home' in Sydney earlier in the year... well, I've decided to continue trying to move overseas, even if it's difficult and I find it difficult to make new friends at first and I have to make some sacrifices on the way. I just feel like I have 'done' Sydney, and now it's time for something new.

In the meanwhile, I will be continuing to travel to great places like Taiwan... next on my list are Argentina and Chile (remember how I've had my eye on Argentina for a while?), and after that I am thinking of Bali, Israel and somewhere in Africa (possibly Nigeria).

Now, how do you say "Hello" in Chinese again...?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Equality between women and men

Have you noticed that we usually talk about 'men and women' and not about 'women and men'? If we are to achieve equality for all we must get to the stage where we feel comfortable using both these phrases interchangeably. That isn't the only thing that must change. We must have equal representation (about 50%) of women and men in politics, in boardrooms, and in other workplaces. This alone would revolutionise how we perceive men and women, but there's a lot more to equality than this. For now, though, it's a good place to start. I'm sick of women not being taken as seriously as men. In 2003 I wrote to the Oxford University Press because they used 'he' to speak for humanity in general on their website, not 'they' or 's/he'. The woman who responded to my complaint failed to find fault with this privileging of the male over the female. I wonder how she would respond today in the light of the renewed feminist consciousness the world is currently experiencing. Would she have the same ignorance?
It took me a long time to notice that most protagonists in everything from children's books to crime fiction are male. A woman learns to put herself in the shoes of a male early on, to prioritise 'his' voice over 'hers'. This leads to an imbalance in our society where men are seen as the default setting for humanity, and we assume that the male point-of-view is universally relevant. What we need is more stories that focus on the female experience - approximately half of protagonists should be female, and equally authoritative. That is what equality means to me, and it would change a lot of things in the world, not least of which the self-esteem of all of society's members for the better. I don't believe for a second that men really want to be dominant. I believe it is a burden, the disadvantage that comes with being advantaged, and they would want change as much as female feminists do if they really had the time and space to think about it (and do some soul-searching). All of us need to help each other understand the obstacles to understanding the other, so that we can overcome them, and have females empowering males and males empowering females equally.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On not wearing a bra

"You really need it," an acquaintance told me with good-natured amusement when I admitted that I was happy to go bra-less - my cup size is E, so it's quite noticeable when I don't subject my chest to uncomfortable restraints. But the thing is, I don't need it. Not at all. I leave my bra behind as often as I can work up the courage to face the negative attention. I feel infinitely more comfortable, and since it's a conspicuous sign of my activism I don't necessarily need my custom-designed tee with Feminist written on it to indicate visually that I am one. 
As for the lash-back from the more conservative elements of Sydney's eastern suburban society, I try not to let it get to me, especially since they are in the minority. Most people don't seem particularly affected. After all, it's not like they haven't seen a breast in its natural state before. The freedom I feel when I choose to go bra-less often makes up for any uncomfortable glances I might receive.
A recent French study claims that women who don't wear bras have greater pertness to their breasts, which is just one more reason to go without.
I believe that bras are another means of controlling women's bodies in society. Women are expected to conceal their nipples (which are usually read as sexual) and to have their chests conform to certain norms of contour (to be more easy on the eye). Who's to say that the rounded shape that most bras encourage is more aesthetically pleasing than a breast left unlifted? A lot of us have been brought up to believe that this is true, but then we have been exposed to very few alternatives, and not given enough opportunities to develop a different taste. I would like to see more women go bra-less, so I can get a chance to find the natural look more appealing.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Guilt, Curiosity

I like to think of myself as pretty enlightened. My best friend used to be racially identifiable as of a different originating continent to mine. Most of my friends follow this pattern, truth be told. Yet I feel like I am handicapped when it comes to appreciating a great number of the world's cultures. So much so that I feel obliged to pay extra attention to people just because I don't have much experience with their racial group, the idea being that I can learn more about them if I increase my focus and keep my mind open for just that extra time period.

The problem with this is is that it's at the expense of my instincts. I have an intuitive insight into human nature and if I am choosing to pay extra attention to someone it's because instinctively I feel like I've already given them enough. Perhaps the most appropriate word is 'overcompensation' for my perceived ignorance. I would do well to remember that the whole point of human interaction is to appreciate people for who they are, not their phenotype. If I want to get closer to someone, my instincts will tell me, and I need to learn to trust them every time.

In my ideal world, human connections are forged not based on exteriors but genuine curiosity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thinking Green

Iceland is known for a natural beauty as stark as it is unusual, and as verdant as it is treeless. It´s part of its unique calling card, yet I have an idea for the nation: what if all 319,000 of you planted a tree? It might seem like I want Iceland to be just like everywhere else, but I see a vision of the world in which Iceland becomes one of its most powerful ´lungs´, purifying the air from a position no one else could. Every little bit helps, Iceland! Spread your butterfly wings and prepare to take the world by storm! ;D

Norway is known for indulging its sense of nostalgia these days, with much ado made over the burning of firewood. The sad thing is that burning those Norwegian woods has a deleterious effect on the environment´s natural ability to fight pollutants. It seems we need to sacrifice some of those unhelpful traditions in order to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing climate. Every stick of firewood that is left as a tree helps, my dear Norwegians.

The entire world needs a timely reminder that switching from petrol to electric cars would make a profound difference in reducing carbon emissions. Let´s not wait until the weather threatens to get totally out of control; let´s act in constructive ways now! Let your enthusiasm for the world around you shine.