Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Being inspired by Roxane Gay

The 'Bad Feminist' author was in town for the Sydney Writer's Festival and I was lucky to attend with a friend. She spoke about the need for white women to 'get their shit together' in terms acknowledging there's a problem in the West with race (she referred to a whole subgroup of white people who refused to acknowledge that the primary factor behind Trump's election was racial hatred towards people of colour, blaming economic anxiety amongst disenfranchised working class people instead), before they can get on the same page as people of colour who are already all too aware of the detrimental effects of white supremacy. Gay's goal is for us all to work together, but she's realistic about the fact that white people need to acknowledge their own complicity in the structures that empower them at the expense of people of colour. It's in recognising our privilege and investment in systems of oppression that we can start working against said oppression.

I was also pleased to hear Roxane imply that she was fighting for the rights of trans people. She mentioned this within the context of resisting 'allyship': she felt that to claim to be an ally was detaching yourself from a vital cause, and advocated for taking on each cause you deem important enough to fight for as your own. 'Your issues are my issues,' so to speak. It's about empathy. It's about respect. I agree whole-heartedly. Bring it on.

Roxane finds resistance where she finds it: Melania Trump shunning her husband's attempt to hold her hand, for example. She was at pains to point out that this was a rare moment of inspiration from a woman she considers 'evil'.

Also discussed was how many feminist cultural commentators focus on the most misogynistic aspects of society (e.g. Trump, Kyle Sandilands, Tony Abbott, etc), but work also needs to be done in recognising subtler misogyny all around us. The example given was of the opera 'Carmen', which was at first read as a gender-neutral classic by the feminist who spoke of her experience, but, on multiple viewings, revealed itself to contain domestic violence and what not.

On that note, I'd like to bring up my own recent experiences listening to Ariana Grande's song Moonlight. It's my favourite song on Ariana's Dangerous Woman CD, with a beautiful melody. I want to enjoy it wholeheartedly, but then there are lyrics such as 'Every look / Every touch / Makes me want to give him my body' which hark back to sexist stereotypes of women bestowing upon men the ultimate gift of their sexuality, which was previously unattainable. This is a harmful stigmatisation of a woman's supposed purity, perpetuating the idea that 'giving it away' diminishes her worth.

Ariana Grande is actually one of the more empowered pop stars out there. She wrote a piece on recognising her individual worth as a woman, and not being defined by her romantic relationships with men. She wrote that she was Ariana Grande, not somebody's girlfriend. It is precisely because she is considered a semi-feminist icon that it's important we recognise and challenge regressive attitudes within her work, because we will surely find similar attitudes all over the pop culture landscape, and they remain the more insidious for being unarticulated as harmful.

No one person can single-handedly carry the torch for all of women's empowerment, and it's important to appreciate the pop star to the extent that she does work that can be considered helpful to the feminist cause. Her collaboration with Nicki Minaj, Get on your knees has more attitude than Beyonce's Blow. (Not that I'm pitting these songs against each other...) We all know we need as many songs about women expecting cunnilingus as possible. There are frightfully few of them as it is. And that's just one example.

If you want to create your own feminist revolution, it's important to surround yourself with feminists who inspire you - that will help you raise your own voice. That's what I did today; will you join me?

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