Thursday, 28 November 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, 18 November 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, 17 November 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, 13 November 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, 11 November 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, 7 November 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, 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, 5 November 2013


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, 2 November 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